A Caryn Review: Trysts and Burning Embers (Lijun #2) By Freddy MacKay & Angel Martinez

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Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

I have to say, this series is growing on me, and though I still have issues with some of the writing, the pacing, and am still getting bogged down in the unfamiliar Japanese elements of the book, I am now in that happy/unhappy limbo of being so completely immersed in a story that when I reached the end of the book I just wanted to get to the next one NOW!!  The ending of this one was incredibly sweet and satisfying – even though the forces trying to bring down the Bastille clan are just as strong and mysterious as ever…

At the end of Fireworks and Stolen Kisses, Haru and Tally were married, and had become parents of 3 orphaned opossum lijun children.  They were just starting to understand and trust each other, Haru was gaining the respect of the Bastille clan, and was coming to understand the American culture as Tally was learning how Haru’s traditionalist upbringing informed his actions and thoughts.  Tally was cautiously hopeful that he was breaking through Haru’s walls, and all he needed was time and patience and his em’halafi would grow to love him as Tally loved Haru.

Time, unfortunately, was something they were not to have.

Although most of the elements that set up the conflict in this book were introduced in the first of the series, there were some new ones that were a little jarring.  There were extremely dark elements of Haru’s past introduced (although not exactly explicitly, so there is still a little revelation that may come later) that I truly did not pick up on in the last book, so I wonder if the authors created them after the first book was written.  The plot also took a decidedly violent turn that I did not expect, and though it was shocking, from that point on I could hardly set the book down – prior to that point, it was moving really slowly, to the point that I might have DNF’ed it had I not committed to the review.

I think what engaged me so much in this book was the focus on how Tally and Haru continued to function in the limbo of excruciating waiting after the initial tragedy and violence.  It was truly heart-wrenching.  In so many action novels, the characters are moving so quickly from one event to the next that they never have the chance to react and absorb what just happened.  Tally had spent his entire life learning to temper the extremely threatening power of his Uktena (snake) nature with restraint in order to fulfill his role as leader of the clan in a way that fostered trust and cooperation.  Violence had become anathema to him, so his reaction was as much bewilderment as it was grief.  Watching Tally find the balance between violence and restraint in response to the threats to his family was also fascinating to read.  At the end of the book, I might have been a little frustrated with Haru, but Tally was my hero.

The cast of characters is still quite large, but seemed a little more comprehensible in this book than they did the first.  I felt like I finally had them all straight, which was a definite improvement over the first book!  And though the players and the setting are much more defined than they were at the end of the first book, there is still a wide scope of possibility for the next one.  Which I am anxiously looking forward to reading now!  Overall, a slow start, but well worth the time to read this second installment of an epic series.

Cover art by Emmy@studioenp uses the same models from the first book of the series, but the poses have a deeper meaning this time.  The models are still excellent representations of Tally and Haru.

Sales Links: Pride Publishing | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 1, 444 pages
Published November 20th 2018 by Pride Publishing
Original Title Trysts and Burning Embers (Lijun, #2)
ISBN 139781786516978
Edition Language English
Series Lijun #2

A MelanieM Review: Fireworks and Stolen Kisses (Lijun #1) by Angel Martinez and Freddy MacKay

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Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5 (world building, creativity, characters)

Enjoyment Rating: 2 stars

Book one in the Lijun series

No. Eating. Pixies.

At the annual Global Lijun Alliance conference in Tokyo, Tally Bastille makes the first impulsive decision of his life. Others perceive his uktena—the enormous legendary serpent that’s his dual-spirit—as a threat, which makes him all too aware that he frightens fellow lijun. But an encounter with a passionate, obviously not-straight otter lijun one evening convinces Tally that he’s found his Em’halafi, his destined match. Tally is determined to barrel through all obstacles to make the match happen, including the otter’s conservative, traditional family.

Trained as a Satislit—a bride-son—Haru Tanaka chafes at the strict boundaries set around their life. They rebel against their clan’s constant attempts to force an arranged match and wish desperately for someone who will love them. At the conference, Haru is horrified to learn their family has accepted an offer for them, one too lucrative for the clan to refuse. Not only has the Urusar sold Haru to a stranger, but the lijun is also a giant snake and one who believes in the tired old superstitions regarding Em’halafi. Threatened with banishment if they refuse, Haru has no choice but to marry the wealthy American serpent.

Back in Tally’s home in Wisconsin, Haru and Tally must navigate both the widening gulf between them as they realize how much they’ve misunderstood about each other, and the tricky politics of the lijun clan Tally leads. Murder, intrigue and increasing hostility threaten to tear apart the little town of Wadiswan and the arranged marriage they’ve barely managed to begin.

I have been debating over how to write this review since I finished this story.  And honestly I’m still not sure how this review is going to turn out.

Never have I been more conflicted about a novel than I am about Fireworks and Stolen Kisses (Lijun #1) by Angel Martinez and Freddy MacKay.  First its written by two of my all time favorite authors and bears many of the elements that makes them so.

First of all there is the world building.  Its  highly imaginative, working mythology, natural history, and various cultures into a rich tapestry upon which they weave their story.  Native American and Japanese cultures are highlighted to an impressive degree right down to the clothing different individuals will wear at various times.  The research done and the manner in which all the details are woven into this  story is absolutely wonderful.  I  found myself enchanted by detail after detail.

I loved the idea of the two spirits, the Lijun, the name of the series.  The way this is brought to life with many species here, not just otter and snake, but some adorable opossums too is truly heartwarming and for me the best part of the story.  They  kept me coming back truthfully when I often wanted just to put the book down.

Angel Martines and Freddy MacKay’s ability to create characters (fantastical or otherwise) that jump off the page, alive and breathing, is without doubt, one of the major reasons I love them so.  I remember their characters, their worlds, and what happens to them. I go through it with them, emotionally every step of the way.

As I did here.  Unfortunately.

I’m not sure what I thought I was getting into with this story.  The first few pages sparkled with a lighthearted delight, lovely, intriguing as we met both Tally and got glimpses of Haru as they led children on a great desert battle.  I was captivated by both Tally’s charm and Haru’s drunken kindness with the children.

What a great start! Then with one false move Tally, Haru, and frankly, the story, took a dive that it never pulled out of.  Not even until 90 percent when it looked like Tally and Haru might find a way to make things work.  That’s right not until you  reach 90 percent finished.

Until then it’s almost stomach churning in the constant refrain from Haru of “he bought me, he owns me, I’m stuck, etc”.  With no attempt to talk to Tally who   has no idea Haru feels this way at all.  Tally who feels that he’s married his soulmate and thinks Haru feels the same about him.  And while at first you feel sympathetic towards Haru, that starts to chip way…faster than you might think.  He’s befriended by an otter, one who will bear their children, feels comfortable enough to have sex with this otter before the marriage ceremony, and yet doesn’t believe them when they tell Haru they are safe and within a wonderful environment.  Especially when Haru is shown that over and over, and Tally asks them to communicate. Instead Haru remains tightly within their established emotional and cultural boundaries without making any attempt to step outside, even given amble evidence things aren’t as “black and white” as Haru thinks.  On one hand Haru seems to be one individual, all rainbow suspenders and modern, and another so held by culture that they are totally victimized by their situation.  Its a dichotomy not resolved by this story in my opinion, even if planned that way.

On one hand it’s an interesting argument of “What would happen if the mating bond is one sided” sort of thing.  It’s also a look at an arranged marriage with a species twist on it.  But does it make for romantic or happy reading? No. Its as pleasant you might think listening to someone’s refrain of “he owns me, he bought me, I’m stuck, I’m in prison”. etc.  Its non stop  yet they do little to communicate to the person their true feelings when given the chance. Haru says they grew up accepting this would be their fate and yet their treatment of Tally is anything but.  Somehow it’s forgotten that Tally is also a victim here along with Haru.  He believes strongly that Haru is his soulmate and thought Haru would feel the instant attraction he felt.  That caused he to act with the disastrous results.

In so many scenes I just put my Kindle down or switched to another story because I needed a break from the nastiness this was leaving with me. I ended up reading with an Excedrin bottle next to me.  Still, the story is beautifully written for all that.

And there’s a murder mystery too but with everything else going on, I barely noticed.

At around 88 to 90 percent, Tally and Haru finally talked, lightbulbs went on and they looked to salvage something of their marriage.  I was exhausted.  And more than ready to move on too.

This is the first in a series.  I’m flummoxed as to what to tell you.  About the book or series.  I’ll leave it up to you. I’m still divided.

Cover art is exquisite. Exactly how I would have picture them both.

Sales Links:

Pride Publishing | Pride Publishing (print) | Amazon | Amazon UK | Amazon Canada | Kobo | iBooks | QueeRomance Ink | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


 

Book Details:

ebook, 1st edition, 246 pages
Published June 26th 2018 by Pride Publishing
ISBN139781786516701
Edition LanguageEnglish
URLhttps://www.pride-publishing.com/book/fireworks-and-stolen-kisses
SeriesLijun #1

 

Special New Release Tour for Firelights & Special Kisses (Lijun #1) by Angel Martinez and Freddy MacKay (guest post,excerpt, and giveaway)

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Freddy MacKay and Angel Martinez have a new M/NB Urban Fantasy: Fireworks and Stolen Kisses.

Opossum are Your Friend

Why lijun opossum? Because we felt that the opossum gets a bad rap. They’re actually pretty neat critters.

So how about some fun facts about opossum?

Opossum are naturally immune to rabies, and not only rabies, but some or all immunity to different snake venoms. A neat superpower if you ask me. It was this immunity that actually attracted us to them as a lijun type we wanted to showcase.

Baby opossum sneeze to get their parent’s attention. How adorable is that? It’s f**king priceless. The babies are also referred to as “joeys.”

Opossum have prehensile tails. It’s a useful thing to have when running about. They also have opposable thumbs, which means they can cause havoc because they have skills when it comes to using their paws.

Eclectic diet habits of opossum are good for you and your garden. Opossum eat ticks. This is a good thing. That means the ticks don’t get on you, and with the way the climate is changing, a certain type of tick that causes a meat allergy in humans is slowly moving north. You really want to be bit by a tick like that? They also eat snails, slugs and other garden pests. To be honest, opossum eat a lot of things—they’re not picky eaters for sure. Snails? Small birds? Grain? Good. Dead animals? Also good.

Opposum have a beef with cockroaches and rats. It’s over food, of course, but if either of those two pests are around, opossum kill them too. Helps they have 50 teeth to do it with.

A group of opossum are called a passel.

There are more than 60 species of opossum and they are the only marsupial found outside of Australia.

No. Eating. Pixies.

At the annual Global Lijun Alliance conference in Tokyo, Tally Bastille makes the first impulsive decision of his life. Others perceive his uktena—the enormous legendary serpent that’s his dual-spirit—as a threat, which makes him all too aware that he frightens fellow lijun. But an encounter with a passionate, obviously not-straight otter lijun one evening convinces Tally that he’s found his Em’halafi, his destined match. Tally is determined to barrel through all obstacles to make the match happen, including the otter’s conservative, traditional family.

Trained as a Satislit—a bride-son—Haru Tanaka chafes at the strict boundaries set around their life. They rebel against their clan’s constant attempts to force an arranged match and wish desperately for someone who will love them. At the conference, Haru is horrified to learn their family has accepted an offer for them, one too lucrative for the clan to refuse. Not only has the Urusar sold Haru to a stranger, but the lijun is also a giant snake and one who believes in the tired old superstitions regarding Em’halafi. Threatened with banishment if they refuse, Haru has no choice but to marry the wealthy American serpent.

Back in Tally’s home in Wisconsin, Haru and Tally must navigate both the widening gulf between them as they realize how much they’ve misunderstood about each other, and the tricky politics of the lijun clan Tally leads. Murder, intrigue and increasing hostility threaten to tear apart the little town of Wadiswan and the arranged marriage they’ve barely managed to begin.

Series Blurb:

From the time humans became a unique species, the lijun have lived among us. Dual spirit beings able to change at will between their human halves and their animal halves, at different periods throughout history lijun have been revered, feared and reviled. Modern lijun realized some time ago that their survival in the human world depends upon successful, peaceful integration—a partnership with humans who are unaware of their existence. But in the little town of Wadiswan, Wisconsin, tensions between rival factions run high, escalating to the point where the secretive lijun community risks exposure. The survival of lijun everywhere may depend on which side wins.

Pride Publishing | Pride Publishing (print) | Amazon | Amazon UK | Amazon Canada | Kobo | iBooks | QueeRomance Ink | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


Giveaway

Angel and Freddy are giving away a $25 Pride Publishing gift certificate with this tour. Enter via rafflecopter for a chance to win:

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Excerpt

Back straight, back straight. Is this person my social equal? Tally offered a futsurei to be safe while the evening’s host introduced him as the new Urusar from Wisconsin. He wished Dad had come with him. As hard as he tried to think of this as just another business conference, the names and places had started to run together. Back home, he might have reached for the worry stone in his pocket. Here, that might be rude.

The ballroom was gorgeous, with the doors to the terrace rolled back to reveal the view of Mt. Fuji. Tables groaning with food lined the walls. Arrangements of blood-red flowers decorated every table. Everyone seemed to know everyone else, though that might have been an illusion created by nerves.

“Wisconsin?” the middle-aged woman inquired with reserved decorum. “That is the state of cheese, yes?”

“Very true.” Damn it, he’d forgotten her name. She was the Uruma, the village mother, to one of the larger cities to the south. “Though thankfully the state is more than just cheese.”

She laughed politely, turned to greet another conference-goer, and Tally hoped it had been a dismissal. He shouldn’t have felt out of his element. Employees depended on his decisions all day, every day. Meetings were his lifeblood, or at least took up most of his life. Not to mention these were his people. The perfectly draped Global Lijun Alliance banner dominated the front of the room—there for anyone, human or lijun to see. For the humans, it was simply a trade organization. For the lijun, it was survival, a shared bond of secrecy and a way for lijun communities to thrive.

Except Tally would always stand outside, which simply made diplomacy that much more important. When his father had gleefully announced his retirement as Urusar, village father of their community in Wadiswan, Tally knew his duty. He’d been groomed for it all his life. He’d taken up the leadership mantle with the sobriety and respect it deserved, even though some of their lijun neighbors had whispered about another deadly serpent leading them.

Uktena.

Tally couldn’t escape his heritage or his lijun type, but he was here at this conference to continue his father’s work—to ensure his community thrived, that the lijun under his care were safe, and to fight against the ancient prejudices that branded him as dangerous.

He retreated to one of the buffets to nibble on sectioned oranges with his back to the wall so he could observe. Not everyone at the welcome dinner was as bound by formalities. The younger attendees had dressed in a variety of styles and more or less appropriately. Nearer the terrace, a young woman in a leather miniskirt tapped her boot heel to music only she could hear. On the other side of the room, a handsome young man in a strange mix of business formal and rebel-casual lounged against the bar. The suit jacket and expensive jeans fit in well enough. The faded T-shirt and rainbow suspenders? Not so much.

Tally thought he would introduce himself to this interesting person, but an older gentleman beat him there and spoke urgently to the young man, who made an impatient gesture and stalked off.

Too bad. He’d been an…otter? Tally surreptitiously flicked his tongue out to taste the air. Difficult to tell in such a large gathering, but he was sure he was right. Something beyond the rainbow suspenders drew him to the otter, a yearning that he didn’t want to deny. He was about to follow when someone touched his arm.

“Herr Bastille, is it not?” A man with flame-red hair, an educated European accent and a calculating smile stood at his elbow. “I am Gerhard Klug. I understand you are a hotelier?”

Tally offered his hand rather than a bow and smiled in return. “Good to meet you. Tal-tsu’tsa Bastille. Everyone calls me Tally. Yes, I run the family business back home. Several properties.”

“Good. Good.” Herr Klug put an arm on his shoulder and steered him toward the bar. “I’m hoping we could discuss a possible business arrangement.”

“I’m always interested in discussion, Herr Klug.” Tally signaled the bartender. “What are you drinking?”

“Gerhard, please.” The fox lijun laughed. “You’ll make me feel old. And they have a pear brandy here that is good.”

Tally ordered the brandy and a whiskey sour for himself. Yes, Gerhard was obviously here to woo him, but Tally didn’t like being put at a disadvantage right from the start, even with something as small as who paid for drinks. “What is it you do?”

“I have glassworks,” Gerhard said as he hopped onto the stool next to Tally’s. “My family has been in glass for several centuries. While we have commercial lines, we have sites dedicated to custom work, as well.”

Tally had the oddest image pop up at the phrase in glass of littles foxes running about under cheese domes. Of course he knew what Gerhard meant and the more focused part of his brain perked up at the mention of custom work. “Oh? What sort of custom work?”

Gerhard pulled a small tablet from inside his suit jacket. “For restaurants. For hotels. Erholungsort…what is the word? Resorts.”

Tally answered the fox’s calculating look with a soft laugh. “I have the feeling you’ve brought a portfolio. Please, let’s have a look.”

“Thank you. It’s very kind of you to give me a hearing.” Gerhard opened the tablet between them as their drinks arrived. “We have contracts across Europe. This first set is work we recently added for a winter resort in Sweden.”

They leaned in together to inspect the photos, Tally nodding and asking questions here and there. The images showed wine glasses, water goblets, tumblers and beer glasses in beautiful shapes and colors, with the property name and logo etched discreetly into each piece. Tally particularly admired the champagne flutes with the snowflake-shaped feet. Lovely, though he gave no outward indication that he reacted to any one set more than another.

When they reached the end of the photo samples, Tally sat back, sipping at his whiskey and making Gerhard wait. “It’s a very interesting thought. Though I imagine a certain percentage of that pretty glassware vanishes from the properties as souvenirs.”

“Ha. I’m sure some of it does. Though not offering the prettiest glasses in the guest rooms most likely reduces that number.”

Gerhard’s eyes twinkled as he laughed and if Tally had been someone who craved casual sex, Gerhard might have been a candidate, but his heart would only be half in it. The other half had already left the room with the handsome otter. The suspenders were a beacon, a flare sent up, and Tally was going to speak with the otter of definitely-not-straight orientation that evening if it killed him.

“I’d like you to work up some samples with the resort manager at Sapphire Lake.” Tally didn’t mention immediately that the manager was one of his sisters. “We’d need to see physical pieces, of course. Then we can discuss the possibility of starting a small contract there first. I do have properties in Europe, but allow me to begin closer to home.”

“Very good. A pleasure, Tally, surely.” Gerhard extended a hand and they shook—a gentlemen’s agreement to further negotiations.

When Gerhard Klug finally let him go with an exchange of business cards, the otter was nowhere in sight. Uncharacteristically disgruntled, Tally left the main ballroom to check some of the smaller venues where different sorts of food were on offer. The first meeting room had been set up as a sushi bar, which seemed a good place to find an otter. He wasn’t there. The second was a room dedicated to international cuisine, offerings from host countries of previous years. No otter.

The third was a paradise of desserts which had drawn the children since the beginning of the evening with its siren song. Tally hurried his steps when he picked up shouting from that direction and he skidded to a stop in front of the door.


Author Bio

Freddy MacKay

Freddy is a bisexual, biromantic, genderfluid nerd and geek who grew up in the Midwest playing soccer, diving, swimming and doing gymnastics, along with running around outside as much as possible—preferably spending that time in swamps and hiking through forests. The haphazard escapades have not changed, except some of them have been replaced with a healthy geocaching addiction and a love for Science Fiction and Fantasy. This love of SFF developed into a writing passion and has led to several awards in the gay science fiction and fantasy categories. Freddy likes worms, dancing and being outside… and toll passes, but you’ll have to ask on that one. (They/Them/Their pronouns.)

Angel Martinez

The unlikely black sheep of an ivory tower intellectual family, Angel Martinez has managed to make her way through life reasonably unscathed. Despite a wildly misspent youth, she snagged a degree in English Lit, married once and did it right the first time, (same husband for almost twenty-four years) gave birth to one amazing son, (now in college) and realized at some point that she could get paid for writing.

Published since 2006, Angel’s cynical heart cloaks a desperate romantic. You’ll find drama and humor given equal weight in her writing and don’t expect sad endings. Life is sad enough. She currently lives in Delaware in a drinking town with a college problem and writes Science Fiction and Fantasy centered around gay heroes.

Author Websites:

https://freddysstereograph.weebly.com/ http://angelmartinezauthor.weebly.com/

Facebook (Personal):

https://www.facebook.com/freddy.m.mackay https://www.facebook.com/amartinez2

Twitter:

https://twitter.com/FreddyMacKay

https://twitter.com/AngelMartinezrr

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5355677.Freddy_MacKay https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1010469.Angel_Martinez

Author QueeRomance Ink:

https://www.queeromanceink.com/mbm-book-author/freddy-mackay/ https://www.queeromanceink.com/mbm-book-author/angel-martinez/

Author Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Freddy-MacKay/e/B006GQV29U https://www.amazon.com/Angel-Martinez/e/