A MelanieM Review: Double Up by Vanessa North

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Double Up coverWakeboarding legend Ben Warren is retired, 40 and feeling every bit his age.  It was 15 years ago that Ben won the Lake Lovelace Doube Up tournament to considerable aclaim and much pain after a wakeboarding accident put him into the hospital.  Now Ben runs a pro shop and teaches other the tricks he used to win contests with.

Architect Davis Fox wants to learn how to wakeboard.  Specifically, he wants to be able to enter the Lake Lovelace Double Up tournament to get close to a half brother he was forbidden to see when he came out to his conservative family. Davis’ half brother just happens to be Ridley Romeo, the hottest thing to hit the water in wake boarding contests country wide.  This is just the ticket to get him closer to Ridley once more but first he needs to find a teacher.

When Davis Fox arrives at Ben’s pro shop asking Ben to teach him how to double up, Ben tries to warn Davis off about the risks inherent in this sport for a newbie but Davis won’t be denied.  Ben accepts the job but finds teaching Davis renewing his passion for the sport and for David himself.  Davis too is falling fast but old issues from Ben’s past reappear, ones he hasn’t told Davis about.  Ben is going to have to learn some hard lessons all over again before he can accept that he has a future not only with Davis, but back in the sport he loves so much.

I just love Double Up so much that I can’t believe this is the first book that I have read by Vanessa North.  I had to go through her  backlist to be sure (and to start marking stories to read) but, indeed, this is the first time this author has come to my attention.  I love it when that happens and now I have a whole new stack of stories to go through.  Life is good!  But back to Double Up.

What made me love this story so?  I think its because Double Up is such a complete package.  For starters, the plot is great.  Wakeboarding is a new sport for me and within the boundaries of the plot, North manages to be both informative and entertaining about wakeboarding, its maneuvers, terminology, and its equipment.  Her descriptions were so clear, especially once Ben jumped into the water, that I could almost feel the muscles strain when the rope between man and boat pulls taut. Using the extreme sport of wakeboarding as a framework for her story is especially appealing.  Retired athletes, their glory days behind them, are a staple as main characters in romances.  But with wakeboarding as the backdrop, it becomes fresh and contemporary.  Ben is a legend but there are very good reasons other than age, as to why his extreme sports days are behind him.  By his side as friend, boss, and occasional hookup, is Eddie, who came so close to stealing this novel away from Ben and Davis.  Flamboyant, smart, and an athlete in his own right, Eddie was an amazing surprise from start to finish.  When secondary characters are this good, then you can figure on the main characters being fully realized, complex people as well.

Davis’ attraction to Ben is immediate, but Davis also knows what he wants in a relationship and it’s not a quick hookup.  Ben has a past that makes him question his ability to have not only a romance but a real relationship with anyone.  How those two disparate individuals come together against a backdrop of sunshine, water, and wakeboarding is a true joy here.  Throw in a younger brother, a bisexual tournament queen, and a transgendered wakerboarder as well and the gifts from this author never stop coming.

I thought the dialog here crackled with humor, warmth, and a good bit of sarcasm.  The characters?  Top notch.  From gorgeous aged athlete Ben Warren to , successful architect Davis Fox to Eddie Russell, Ben’s oldest friend (and scene stealer), each character flew off the page lively, vivid, and totally believable in their human frailties and idiosyncrasies.  There are actually some spew moments here during a phone call between Eddie and Ben.  It was unexpected, the humor deep, knowing, and yet totally real in demonstrating the depth of the friendship between these two men.  Love, love, loved it!

This book was so much fun and still managed to be exciting, romantic with moments of angst and reflection as well.  I highly recommend this story.  Grab it up today and start your visit with this entertaining, wonderful cast of characters.  Plus you get to add a sport for your watching pleasure too, at least I have.

 

Sales Links:   Riptide Publishing        All Romance eBooks (ARe)        Amazon            Double Up

Cover art by L.C. Chase.  It’s perfect.  If you didn’t have a clue what wakeboarding is, this cover would give you an idea (as it did me)

To watch wakeboarding in action, check out this youtube trailer.

Book Details:
ebook, 118 pages
Published August 25th 2014 by Riptide Publishing
ISBN139781626491595
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.riptidepublishing.com/titles/double-up

Review: It’s All Geek to Me by J.L. Merrow

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Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

ItsAllGeekToMe_600x900When Jez’s best friend Tel is hit by a car while riding his motorcycle, it not only lands Tel in the hospital but costs him his newest, unread comic book.  So with Tel looking at a long stay in the hospital, Jez sets out to replace the comic and maybe  buy a few more for his friend.   Jez is out of his depths when it comes to all things geek, even more so when he enters that bastion of geekness itself, the Hidden Asteroid bookstore in London.  To his amazement,  the man behind the counter is stunning, tall, gorgeous with a wicked smile and Jez is smitten.

Rhys seems to be attracted to Jez too but Rhys thinks that Jez is buying the comics for himself and is a geek just like Rhys.  What is a non geek to do?  After heading back to the hospital, Jez hatches a plan to have Tel teach him how to be a geek so he can talk to  Rhys.  When it starts to work and Rhys asks Jez out, then the act must continue but for how long?  Jez is crazy for Rhys but he’s not the geek he’s made out to be.  It’s everyones guess if love will win out in It’s All Geek To Me.

I am still laughing over this funny short story from J.L. Merrow. What a terrific set up for a romance.  Non geek falls for gorgeous geek in that hallowed hall of geeks, the comic bookstore and tries to figure out how to talk to someone so cool as to be out of his league.  And of course he goes about it all wrong.  Key the laugher because you know that the hilarity is sure to follow and in J.L. Merrow’s hands, it certainly does.

From dialog that snaps, complete with English slang and a compendium of comic book heroes (real and Merrow created), this story just dances right along, feeling real and completely down to earth.  And her characters are absolutely endearing, starting with the insecure Jez.  He has issues with his physique, seeing himself as pudgy and somewhat unattractive, especially along side the gorgeous Rhys.  He is unflinchingly loyal as a friend, especially to his hound-dog best buddy Tel, a straight man on the prowl even when he has both legs in casts and is stuck in a hospital bed.  It’s that loyalty and friendship that sends him to the Hidden Asteroid to begin with.  Jez is funny, intelligent, observant and, of course, completely unaware of his own attractiveness.  He is adorable and I loved him.

And Rhys with his black clothing, dark eyes and hair, coolness emitting from every pore, is every gay geek guy’s dream hunk.  Who just so happens to be attracted to smart, blond and cute gay guys.  Like Jez.  It’s a mismatch made in heaven, or at least a comic bookstore.  And as Jez tries to show Rhys just how much of a geek he is, it just gets increasingly funny and out of control.

Merrow has the relationship dance down proper as she puts the boys through their paces.  And although it is set in London, there isn’t anyone who can’t connect with these two men as they struggle their way towards a lasting relationship.  Of course, there were some things as a Yank I was unfamiliar with.  I had to look up what exactly a vintage Norton Commando was.  I will admit it, I thought it was a bicycle.  Then there was the word “scrumpy”.  Nope, have to use my trusty British Slang Dictionary to find out that was a “nasty drink”.   For me, this is part of the joy of reading stories from authors outside the U.S, including Merrow.  Here is a taste, including the word “scrumpy”:

It was all my mate Tel’s fault I was here. Well, to be fair, not so much his fault as the fault of the idiot in the BMW who’d slammed into his bike on the A10. Not only had the resulting pile-up trashed Tel’s legs and smashed his vintage Norton Commando, it’d claimed the life of his newest, unread comic book. Its virgin pages were now scattered to the four winds, or maybe lining the nests of all those crows that hang around dual carriageways like vultures waiting for roadkill.

So Tel had asked me, his best mate, to replace it.

I’d frowned at him, languishing in his hospital bed with scaffolding all round his legs like a beardy cyborg. That was going to put a serious crimp in his sex life, poor bastard. The scaffolding, I mean. Not the beard. I’ve never really seen the attraction of snogging a Brillo pad myself, but it never seemed to put the ladies off Tel. Dunno how he does it. Maybe it’s that West Country accent of his—he lures ’em in with his long, drawn-out Rs and the promise of scrumpy.

“What if I get the wrong thing?” I’d protested. “I mean, I don’t know one comic book from the other. You’re going to be a bit pissed off if I come back with The Beano.”

That last bit of course sent me off to google The Beano comic book too.  Really, this story is just so much fun.  And I could tell that the author had enormous fun writing it as well.  Terrific plot, and delightful characters, comic book heroes and dialog based in the vernacular. What’s not to love? After reading this, I wanted to dash off to The Barbarian Bookstore, a more dusty, aged version of the Hidden Asteroid and revel in some geekness for myself.  It’s All Geek To Me is a little gem from J.L. Merrow that keeps giving and giving.  Consider this wonderful little story one of ScatteredThoughts Highly Recommended!

Cover art by LC Chase combines photography and comic book style graphics to create a cover that radiates joy!  I loved it!

Book Details:

ebook, 51 pages
Published February 10th 2014 by Riptide Publishing (first published February 8th 2014)
original titleIt’s All Geek to Me
ISBN139781626491144
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.riptidepublishing.com

Review: Cupcakes by Sean Michael

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Rating:    3.5 stars out of 5

Cupcakes coverAllen Jameson was just 21 when he fell in love with Gary, a wealthy man much older than him.  From than on life was perfect for Allen, ensconced in a fabulous house, living a fairy tale life.  Until Gary died of a heart attack.  Then the Allen’s return to the real world was swift and jarring.  Allen was unprepared for life outside the bubble Gary had created for him and now must face the real world alone and unprepared. But one thing Allen could do was bake, so he opened  the Sweet ‘n’ Sassy Cupcake Shop, where he could lose himself in creating exquisite cupcakes and pleasing others with his creations.

Byron “Bit” Bannigan  walked through the door of Sweet’n’ Sassy Cupcake shop and found not only great cupcakes but the man behind the counter.  Byron owns a construction company and on this day he was sent to pickup the cupcakes needed for a company party.  Byron ended up picking up much more to the amazement of both  Allen and Byron.  Quickly Byron and Allen’s relationship flourishes as each proves to be the right man for each other.  But Allen’s business is struggling under its success and Gary’s old friends disapprove not only of Allen’s business but Byron too.  As Allan’s past clashes with his present day reality, he decide if he is ready to let go of his past with Gary to have a future with Byron.

This story started off so well.  Allen Jameson is a man who has been cosseted by his much older partner from the moment they met.  Gary almost “trained” Allen to be the perfect house husband from the age of 21.  Allen baked, decorated, kept the house immaculate and planned all their frequent parties.  Plus he looked great doing it.  Gary effectively cocooned the man inside Gary’s way of life, leaving Allen ill prepared for the real world when Gary dies.  I really liked this plot.  It’s a terrific play  on the idea of a 1950’s wife whose life revolved around her husband and household.  Those housewives  were not prepared for their husbands deaths (or divorce) and the social changes that came with it.  Using a twist on the same relationship dynamic but within a m/m context was a terrific storyline.  How does such a man suddenly adjust to the real world?  Once that bubble is gone, how does he deal with all the everyday chores that his husband took responsibility for and are now his?  Those scenes would have given Allen the necessary character background we miss out on in this story.  Without seeing him in that context, Allen comes across as less believable than he could have been.

The same problem exists with his boutique cupcake store.  How did Allen achieve so much so quickly with no business training and no idea of what he was doing?  It would have been great to have seen those scenes as well as Allen leased the store and then slowly established himself as the cupcake place of the moment.   Instead of showing us Allen as he struggled through Gary’s loss and the startup of Sweet’n’ Sassy Cupcake Shop, we are “told” that it happened.  That gave this story a much lighter but also superficial feel.

Byron “Bit” Bannigan does not come with the same requirements for his character that Allen does.  As a self made man, Byron is a lovely masculine construct and works well both as foil when compared to Gary’s old friends and as Allen’s new, sexy and younger partner.  My only question here is the part about his name.  Byron is called Bit throughout the first part of the story, a nickname from a brother.  Then once he starts dating Allen and finds out that Allen likes his given name of Byron, then that is the name he is referred to for the rest of the story.  It just seems such an unnecessary quirk when the author abandons it completely without any reason.

The relationship between Byron and Allen is sweet and sexy.  Much is made of the lack of sex life in Gary and Allen’s relationship as Gary was not a sexual being.  So Allen’s rediscovery of his sexual nature with Byron is one of this story’s real joys.  It feels both natural and loving, with Allen acting like the happy, sexy young man he should have been all those years with Gary.  It’s probably the most realistic part of Cupcakes aside from the ending and the cupcake recipes Allen creates.

The primary issue here is that this is a very even toned sweet romance.  No real highs or lows, just a “steady as they go” sort of relationship.  Given Allen’s isolated life with Gary, with Gary’s friends, Gary’s things, and Gary’s house, I kept wondering if there was going to be a dark closet somewhere in Gary and Allen’s life as it appeared so very bland.  But then again, maybe the blandness of the 50’s housewife lifestyle suited that of Allen’s role as Gary’s househusband.  I kept waiting for the “other shoe” to drop when there wasn’t one.  There really isn’t much drama here except for a segment towards the end that is as neatly resolved as everything else in Allen’s life.

I think I was disappointed in this story because of the promise of the plot and the author behind it.  Sean Michael has created so many multidimensional characters in the past that I expected that here.  And didn’t get it.  But what I did receive was a sweet, lovely  if facile romance, a little Donna Reed gone m/m (google it if you must).  It’s a nice story, one you will be happy to read even if you forget it as soon as the story is over.  However, I would love to have some of Allen’s cupcakes…now those sounded not only unique but gastronomically memorable.  I only wish I could say the same about Cupcakes the story.

Cover art by LC Chase is as sweet and frothy as the story itself.

Book Details:

ebook, 188 pages
Published January 8th 2014 by Dreamspinner Press (first published January 7th 2014)
ISBN 1627984828 (ISBN13: 9781627984829)
edition language English

Review: Long Time Gone (Hell or High Water #2) by S.E. Jakes

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

When a tornado meets a volcano, nothing is safe.

Long Time Gone coverAfter their last “off the grid” mission was finished, Tom Boudreaux was given a choice of partners,  Cope or Prophet.  Tom chose Cope thinking that he would keep Prophet safe by removing him from Tom’s bad luck.  But now three months later Tom’s decision has brought him nothing but regret.  Regret and a constant anxiety over Prophet’s whereabouts and  safety as Prophet has left EE Ltd and no one is sure of his whereabouts.

When Tom Boudreaux walked away from him and their partnership, Prophet realized two things.  One that he no longer wanted to work alone, and secondly he had just let the man he wanted walk out of his life.  After Tom left, he wrote Prophet emails, including one that asked him for a personal favor, never sure if the man would get them.  He did.  And now Prophet is heading to New Orleans to see Della, Tom’s aunt,  to make sure she stays safe as a hurricane approaches.

Fearing for his aunt’s safety as a hurricane bears down on New Orleans, Tom disobeys his employer’s orders and leaves for his old home town and an explosive reunion with Prophet, a man he hasn’t been able to forget.  The horror that is Tom’s past rises up around them along with the flooding bayou waters bringing alligators, murder, and old enemies to the surface. Tom and Prophet must fight not only to stay together but for their lives as well.

SE Jakes has done it again! Long Time Gone, the 2nd book in the Hell or High Water series, is one sexy, tumultuous, and action-packed roller-coaster of a novel.  A Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and Spy Hunt for adults and it couldn’t be more satisfying.  With  Tom Boudreaux and Prophet Drews, Jakes has added to her pantheon of complicated, conflicted Alphas intensely connected by their pasts as well as professions as spies and covert ops.  These are tough, wary, secretive warriors.  So it makes sense to make these men (and us) work hard to establish any sort of realistic relationship, if one is possible.

As Catch A Ghost ended, we saw Tom accept a new partner, walking away from Prophet and their intense relationship.Three months have passed since that event and things can’t be more different for both men.  Tom is bored out of his skull, buried in a job he doesn’t want with a partner who is making him crazy.  He is missing Prophet so deeply that he is writing the man emails he isn’t sure Prophet will ever receive.  Why?  Because the man has disappeared and even those closest to him are unable to find him.  Prophet left EE, Ltd, their agency after a fight with their boss.  And now he wanders the globe on his own dangerous missions that by their varying nature send pointed messages to the security agencies around the world.  These men are coming to a crossroads and it will take a hurricane to set them back on the path together.

The world is familiar with the impact a hurricane can have on the City of New Orleans and it’s surrounding parishes.  So it definitely works to bring the reader immediately into the setting for this novel by bringing this natural disaster back to life in the same place where Katrina left so much devastation and death.  It lays an emotional, knowledgeable base for the actions that follow and the choice of New Orleans, with its fantastic mix of voodoo and beignets, of alligators and corruption, is the perfect stage for a story where “the seventh son of a seventh son”, and a man named Prophet will reunite to deal with Tom’s demons, ones that have haunted him from birth, just as a new hurricane bears down on a town familiar with disasters of every kind, natural and man made.

With the hurricane coming, and New Orleans as the setting, Jakes has all the elements she needs to create a story wide ranging in emotions, explosive in actions and incendiary in the sexual heat generated by  Tom and Prophet, really this story has it all.  Tom and Prophet were enigmas in Catch a Ghost.  Here we start to flesh out their backstories, Tom’s especially.  The angry, out of control agent seen fighting in the first novel is laid bare, his character explained through the bayou, his family and the past events that continue to stain relationship and friendships today.  The bayou and the Cajun culture flourishes here in the touches  and in the metaphors Jakes creates for her two battled scarred men fight nature and others to be together, including their own  doubts and best intentions.  As the lightning flashes and the storm rages outside the house where Tom’s aunt lives, it parallels the passion and emotional chaos occurring within Tom and Prophet as they meet up again under dire circumstances.  It’s scary hot, swirling with anger and longing yet still oddly humorous at the same time.  The water rises along with Tom’s past, bringing up bodies, old enemies seeking revenge and retribution  in a maelstrom of hate, anguish and pain.

It’s also not just Tom’s past that is dealt with, Prophet brings his own share of torment as well.  The thunder and lightning flashes mimic the sounds of guns and warfare throwing Prophet into paralyzing states of PTSD and flashbacks.  One man’s horror combines with another’s man terrifying upbringing but salvation or success is never a given.  Not with these two, the most they can ask for is time and hope.

I suppose this is the best time to bring up alligator kink.  I now have one thanks to SE Jakes and her boys.  I never saw that coming. I admit that when someone mentions alligator ‘rastling’ in the past, it conjured up images of good old boy poachers ,bootleg tanners and hokey sideshow venues in the south or any show on TLC.  No more.  Now I think of Tom and Prophet and New Orleans. It’s a wild scene as they roll passionately about Aunt Della’s kitchen floor, as well as a cabin in the swamp.  It’s sexy and funny and yes, satisfying as the boys reunite after 3 months of separation. All those wet, naked rolling bodies is further later detailed as Tom puts on a show as he wrestles and rolls an alligator into submission.  It opens a new sexual kink for Prophet, one that plays out in a white hot moment to come.

So much lovely, lusty sex here, which works on many different levels.  Sex is the number one choice of communication between Tom and Prophet.  They use it to defer those “we have to talk” situations while saying so much to each other by their touches,caresses, and telling strokes.  Because these boys have forgotten how to talk, how to open themselves up to another person, if they ever knew how to begin with. So when Jakes’ plot forces them to share parts of their past with each other, its realistically painful and monosyllabic.  It also makes us (and the person on the receiving end of said pertinent data) so appreciative of the information that we do get while making us a little frustrated at how much more there is to know and understand about the complicated men before us.

To continue the metaphor, Jakes’ narrative is a pitching deck on hurricane waters.  If the story feels a little choppy in places, its because that format works to keep every one off balance, as the waves throw one thing after another at our couple.  Sometimes it looks like they are going to drown in their past other times they crest towards the surface and safety.  I love that we are never sure what the next page and scene will bring us.  The suspense is wonderful and agonizing for us as well as Tom and Prophet.

Tom Boudreaux and Prophet Drews are the real deal, that addictive couple that snares us at the beginning of a potential relationship and never lets us go.  Each stumble forward, every tentative gain made towards a lasting relationship is met with a realistic picture of just how fragile and momentary those new stages in their relationship are.  Just one phone call, one appearance by the wrong person and all could be lost.  Such an overview paints a veneer of uncertainty and suspense over all the events and actions that occur within the story.  Tom and Prophet are together again but for long how?  Where is the next enemy coming from?  Their present or their past?  Jakes keeps us teetering on the edge of our emotions along with Tom and Prophet as they navigate the rough waters ahead.  I can’t wait to see how they will handle what this fine author has to throw at them (and us).  It is guaranteed to be chilling, unexpected and downright sexy.  I was always one for the E Ticket rides and this is that in spades.  I just hope we all survive the journey.

Long Time Gone and the Hell or High Water series are highly recommended to all.

LC Chase has again supplied us with an outstanding cover, perfect for the man and  his story inside.

Books in the Hell or High Water series in the order they should be read:

Catch a Ghost (Hell or High Water, #1) 
Long Time Gone (Hell or High Water, #2)

Associated Series: Men of Honor and Dirty Deeds:

Dirty Deeds (DirtyDeeds #1)

Book Details:

ebook, 270 pages
Published October 28th 2013 by Riptide Publishing (first published October 27th 2013)
ISBN139781626490604
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.riptidepublishing.com/titles/long-time-gone
seriesHell or High Water #2

Review: Dirty Deeds (Dirty Deeds #1) by S.E. Jakes

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Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5 (should be 4.99 as it is so close to perfection)

DirtyDeeds_400x600British black op Cillian is deep undercover, his assignment so complicated, so twisted that not even Cillian is sure what the real purpose of his mission is.  Working for Special Branch 20 has meant doing whatever it takes to move his investigation forward.  It has also meant being totally out on his own without any support from his employers, alone for years.  Cillian has made a tenuous connection with the agent in the floor above him, Prophet Drews of EE, Ltd, for investigative purposes and a little pleasure too.  But now there is someone else on Cillian’s radar.  Someone who likes his sex rough and silent.  Cillian knows he should leave it at that.  But this new man is driving him wild and Cillian can’t seem to keep from pursuing him even though it might compromise his mission.

Former Navy Seal Mal is an operative for EE, Ltd.  Wanted in several states and countries, Mal is also considered crazy and dangerous by most of the people he works with. He is also a friend of Prophet’s.  His current assignment?  Tracking Cillian to try and find out exactly what and who the British agent is after.   But the mission has already turned personal for both Mal and Cillian through intimate encounters that should have stayed anonymous.  Soon the dangers are mounting as well as the body count.  But neither man is prepared for the  pain and betrayal yet to come when a devastating secret is exposed.

How can just 94 pages be so explosive?  The emotions and events of this story just seem to erupt like a geyser that has been building up pressure until it cannot be contained.  That’s what the men are like that SE Jakes has created for her Dirty Deeds story and series.  Mal and Cillian are titanium tough loners, made that way through their tortured pasts that include abuse and death, seasoned through brutal training as well as a variety of missions both successful and failed until it has all solidified into the dangerous, intelligent men they are today.

SE Jakes brings her characters vividly to life through descriptions and events guaranteed to have you hanging on by your fingernails.  Both Cillian and Mal have made appearances before in the Hell or High Water series, especially Cillian as he occupied the condo below Prophet Drews, an EE operative.  Now these men are the focus of their own action-packed, suspense-filled storyline,the characters who teased us unmercifully in the previous books are fleshed out with convoluted histories and traumatic events that are still only hinted at.  Mal and Cillian are playing with each other psychologically as well as electronically, each jockeying for the upper position in their investigations and surveillance of each other.  That each man’s methods include a playbook made up of mental games and sexual ones just serves to deepen a portrait of complicated men so sure of themselves and their methodology that they can risk their bodies without question.  It also includes some of the most combustible sex written. I’m talking incendiary hot, so hot and explosive that it starts to melt away the formidable walls each man has erected around their hearts and souls.

Mal and Cillian are men who have killed, perhaps tortured, schemed to reach their many goals.  And its to the author’s credit, that we care immensely for these men as we watch them teeter on the brink of a relationship with each other, against all odds and their own proclivities.  Because as hardened as these men are, deep underneath they still retain the ability to be hurt by the right person and events from their pasts.

Jakes keeps us and her characters guessing at every step in the storyline.  We are never sure who are the bad guys or when they will pop up to deliver a death blow and derail an investigation.  The phrase “pins and needles” was surely meant to be used in reference to the Dirty Deeds men and their stories.  There are so many twists here I stopped counting halfway through the story.  There are twists in their missions, surprises in their backgrounds, mind blowing revelations and one huge whopper of an ending that I never saw coming.  God, I love books like this.

Jakes keeps her narrative flowing rapidly along, like a river about to rise out of its banks at flood time.  It pulls in everything around it, sweeping it along a merciless path.  You are transfixed by the scene in front of you,unable to look away.  It’s dramatic, its mind boggling and its hold on you is magnetic.  Most of you will want to howl at the ending.  So howl away.  What a revelation! What a great way to end this story!  Only a small lack of context kept this from a perfect five but oh how close it came.  Pick it up and run to the nearest place and start reading.  Make sure you are comfortable because you will be there a while.  Consider this story,Dirty Deeds, and its connected series, Hell or High Water, highly recommended.

Cover art by LC Chase.  Once again the artist has created a cover that is perfect for the story and its characters.  Just terrific.

Book Details:

ebook, 94 pages
Published January 13th 2014 by Riptide Publishing (first published January 11th 2014)
ISBN13 9781626490932
edition language English

Review: Catch a Ghost (Hell or High Water #1) by S.E. Jakes

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Catch a Ghost coverTom Boudreaux, ex- FBI agent,  and full time Cajun trouble maker, is wondering why Phil Butler of Extreme Escapes, LTD is offering him a job.  Tom has nothing but failures in his past, including 2 ex partners and agencies that never want to see him again.  But when Phil and EE, Inc. offers him one last chance at redemption he takes it, hoping that his bad luck has come to an end. Then he meet his new partner, Prophet Drews, and realizes it is only beginning.

Prophet Drews, former Navy Seal, former CIA agent and all around genius at chaos, has just been assigned another partner yet again. Then he meets Tom, and recognizes that the Cajun represents all kinds of trouble for him.  Tom is sexy, tough, scarred, and psychic.  He is new to the type of  field work EE requires still Prophet agrees if only for a short time. Why?  Because Tom is fighting some powerful personal demons and that’s something Prophet knows everything about as he has armies of his own to fight, as well as PTSD and a medical diagnosis that can’t be changed.

When a person close to Prophet is killed in underground cage match, Tom and Prophet infiltrate the illegal world of cage fighting to find the killers and the reason behind his friend’s murder.  But the investigation is far more complicated than anyone anticipated, putting not just Prophet and Tom’s lives in danger but their partnership as well.  The most difficult obstacle for both is the fighting the combustable attraction they feel for each other.  But when the investigation pulls them in to a dangerous trap , can Tom and Prophet  fight past their inner demons and learn to trust each other enough to save themselves?

Catch a Ghost is one hell of a wild ride!  SE Jakes creates her own espionage agency, ExtremeEscapes LTD and fills it with damaged, alluring men unable to fight their own demons let alone the attraction they feel for their partners within the agency.  In Catch a Ghost, agent Prophet Drews is matched up with newly hired Tom Boudreaux, an angry, damaged Cajun with two dead partners and two law enforcement jobs behind him.  Neither man is good at relationships, thinking their damaged history and inner demons put them out of bounds for anything other than a quick sexual encounter.

Now I am going to admit I am new to SE Jakes.  I found this author through her latest release Dirty Deeds and am now working my way back through her stories and the Hell or High Water universe.  But between Catch a Ghost and Dirty Deeds, I am a fully hooked fan.  SE Jakes gets it exactly right with her gripping stories of the secretive world of spies and the spied upon, the hunted and the hunters.

Each genre has its own special pitfalls that an author must overcome to achieve a textured, multidimensional story.  In historical fiction,(in my opinion, the hardest genre to write well), its accuracy about the time period the story is set in, attention to detail from clothes to laws, dialog and atmosphere.  With  espionage and action/spy stories, it’s the ability to maintain a certain level of tension as well as creating anxiety concerning  the main character(s) well being, a complex, and intelligent plot that keeps the reader guessing about, well, everything, and a credibility that extends through the operatives and the agencies they are working for as well as the villains of the storyline.  The author has to get the guns, explosives, tech talk, vehicles, and even torture methods accurate in order for us to find the story plausible as well as spellbinding. And then with a solid framework established, the author needs to create memorable characters and a mission to build the plot around.  SE Jakes achieves all of that here.

Starting with Prophet Drews, and his partner, Tom Boudreaux, Jakes makes both men equal yet separate in personal demons that haunt them and abusive family backgrounds.  With chaos swirling around them at all times, some of it self induced, these men need to be able to understand each other intimately in order for their attraction to be something other than just the rut of the moment.

Throughout the story, the author feeds small morsels of information about each man and their past to the readers as well as the characters themselves.  Like the tiny food trails of Hansel and Gretel, these tasty tidbits lead us to a more complete portrait of each person, filling in their history in order to make their present state of mind understandable and something we can relate to.  It’s done through their scars (acquired on the job and by their family), its accomplished through Tom’s tats and piercings as well as Prophet’s reoccurring nightmares and flashbacks.  Jakes descriptions of Prophet in the throes of a hellish flashback are vivid and emotionally devastating.  We are there in as Prophet battles his past and his inability to tell whether he is in a dream hell or reality.  It’s scary and it feels real.  Tom and Prophet are incredible characters, ones that make the reader invest emotionally in their safety and sanity.

What an adrenaline high Jakes puts us and her characters through.    The plot moves along swiftly, dipping and twisting through multiple curves and unforeseen dangers.  Jakes writing is both stylish and dynamic. Each scene is gripping, full of life, whether the men are wrestling each other in a sexual frenzy or pounding a enemy while mentally lost in the past.  Catch a Ghost is a real old fashioned page turner and it ends as it should, in doubt and uncertainty. This may not please everyone but it works here.

Is this a romance?  Not really.  The men, their past, and the plot are far too complex for that designation.  There is an attraction, a sexual pull between Tom and Prophet that might turn into something more if given a chance.  But this story is about the past, theirs, and the agency that they work for.  It also starts each man along a path of self discovery. The author is setting the stage for the next in the series Long Time Gone (Hell or High Water, #2).  That said, this is still a completely realized novel.  To have ended this story in any other manner would have been a negation of all the author has created, including the main characters.  The men have a lot of issues to work through, not the least of which is trust.  Plus there are layers to every operation and a past mission whose disastrous outcome continues to reverberate through the present events and Prophet’s actions.  This story is packed full of great things.  Pick it up, enjoy the wild ride while we wait for the next book to appear.  Consider this highly recommended.

Cover art by LC Chase.  This cover is strong, dramatic and intriguing.  You just have to know more about the person and the story behind that tat.  A winner in every aspect.

Books in the Hell or High Water series in the order they were written and should be read to fully understand the characters and events:

Catch a Ghost (Hell or High Water #1)
Long Time Gone (Hell or High Water, #2)

Related series:

Dirty Deeds (Dirty Deeds #1)

Book Details:

Paperback, 300 pages
Published September 13th 2013 by Riptide Publishing (first published September 7th 2013)
original title Catch A Ghost
ISBN 1626490392 (ISBN13: 9781626490390)
edition language English