Review: Blacque/Bleu (Arcada #1) by Belinda McBride

Blacque and Bleu coverRating: 5 stars

Lukas Blacque is a werewolf in a unique position.  A son of the alpha wolf, he prefers life lived on the fringes of the pack, removed from pack politics.  He has a college degree but prefers his car shop, bringing old vehicles back to life as well as performing normal maintenance.  Another surprising element is that he is lonely for a shifter with a pack, but he has a secret.  Lukas Blacque is gay and deeply in the closet and so for that his lifestyle works as long as no one looks too closely.  There is one person who has caught his interest but the  danger factor is too high for him to act on it, and that would be his neighboring vampire in the shop next to his.  But he refuses to act until one night when his father decides to change everything and Lukas’ life is upturned.

Oliver Bleu is a vampire plagued by nightmares from his time on the front in WWI, nightmares which keep him from sleeping and replenishing his strength.  Now he finds himself slowly fading away, even his hunts don’t quench his hunger.  But then there is his neighbor next door to Oliver’s shop.  Oliver knows he is more than attracted to the shifter, Lukas’ blood might be able to bring him back to strength.  The walls between their businesses are thin and he hears the family arguments going on next door when Lukas’ father arrives for a meeting with his son.  When Oliver goes to check on Lukas, their encounter turns into a passionate weekend neither can forget nor wants too as lust turns into love.

But Lukas has made a commitment to his father and his pack, and is determined to honor it even if it breaks his heart and Oliver’s as well.  Lucky for both shifter and vampire, they live in a very special town who  looks after her citizens,  And when evil from Oliver’s past follows him to Arcada, things are set in motion that will have lasting impact on all around, including Lukas and Oliver.

I just loved this book.  It is the first book by Belinda McBride and it puts her on my must have list immediately.  From the start she gives her characters a marvelous world in which to inhabit, the town of Arcada.  The town is sentient and although we don’t know how that happened, her affection for the diverse citizenry reveals itself in a myriad of ways.  Perhaps she makes it impossible for them to leave or her protection manifests itself in prodding others to act in ways that benefits others.  No matter, Arcada is a benign and loving presence and this leaves us just dying to know more about the town and its diverse community of  humans, vampires, shifters, fae and so many others that we are given brief glimpses of.

But the heart of the story is McBride’s characters, Lukas Blacque and Oliver Bleu, a terrific play on words that fits in beautifully in their interactions with each other.  Lukas Blacque is a complex giant of a man, gentle of spirit, lonely and sad because as much as he wants to be a part of his pack due to his wolf nature, the fact that he is gay keeps him separated and aloof.  He is such a lovely creation that we connect to him immediately and we can empathize with him at this point  in his life.  Then we meet Oliver Bleu, in many ways the anthesis of the vampires we have meet in other novels.  Far from the powerful, immortal beings we have come to expect, Oliver Bleu is a victim, struggling to survive.  In a horrific element of the story, we learn that Oliver died from mustard gas in the trenches at the front.  If you were not familiar with the horrors of WWI before, by the time you learn how Oliver was affected, the true evil that man can create in the name of war will be brought home in gritty, pus filled painful authenticity.  Sometimes the horror of the paranormal universe has nothing on the real one we already live in.

Circling around these main characters are others of equal strength and complexity.  From Dane Blacque, the Alpha wolf to Lukas’ sister and Oliver’s great grand daughter (yes, you read that right), McBridge gives us one compelling persona after another to capture our interest and move her narrative forward.  Even her villains have a startling depth to them that enables you to feel some compassion for them even as you hate their actions, past, present and fear what they are going to do in the future.

This is the first in the Arcada series and really after one memorable walk through town with Lukas and Oliver, you can see she has the basis for many books to come in the fascinating town dwellers and their identities as revealed in bits and pieces.  My only quibble is that I felt it ended too soon.  That’s what happens when all the right elements come together in a story that will stay with you after you are finished reading it.  Blacque/Blue is just that story.  Now I am on to the next with great anticipation.  I will let you know what I find.  But pick this one up and start reading.  You are going to love it!

Books in the series in the order they were written and should be  read:

Blacque/Bleu (Arcada #1)

Silver/Steel (Arcada #2)

Cover art is just gorgeous and perfect for the story within.

Review: His Best Man by Treva Harte

Rating: 3.25 stars

His Best Man coverChristian Ramsey finds himself divorced and the sole caregiver of his two girls after 11 years of marriage when his wife walks out the door.  The first thing he realizes is that he has no idea of who his children really are or what to do next.   During his marriage, Chris was the income earner, and his wife did everything else, including parent his children.  Now that it is all on his shoulders, Chris feels incapable of handling the situation and he is not sure he even likes his children.  Chris is adrift in his own life and knows it.

Enter Bill Dowe, former best friend, former best man at Chris’ wedding, and former lover of closeted, deep in denial Chris.  Bill is now the principal at a local middle school and an incident between one of his school’s students and Chris’ oldest daughter brings the men back together again for the first time in 11 years.   During their meeting at the school over the girls altercation, Chris asks Bill for help with his daughter and really his life.  Bill is still bitter over Chris’ marriage and his denial about his sexuality but still he finds himself plunging once more into Chris life and his problems. When affection and attraction grow once more between Bill and Chris, will Chris take the chance he denied himself the first time around or will history repeat itself.

I think Treva Harte knows people and it shows when it comes to the characters she has created for this  book.  They are real people, full of flaws that we all recognize.  They behave badly, run from problems when they should have faced them and make really bad personal decisions.  They also redeem themselves, show an ability to grow emotionally and adjust to stressful situations.  And they accept changes in relationships better than expected, surprising when one there parents.  If you discerned that I was talking about the children here, Chris’ daughters, Pen and Annie Ramsey, then you are correct.  In my opinion, Pen and Annie make this book.  Harte writes tweenagers with a clarity that is astonishing.   And trust me, these girls are heartbreaking in that way that only that age can be.  Here is eleven year old Antigone “Annie” Ramsey in Bill’s office at school, after hitting another student:

“She wasn’t small for a kid her age, but she looked…well, oddly delicate. Like she was too skinny for that body, too fragile for her size. Like maybe she hadn’t been eating right for a while.

I’d heard of kids her age on diets, but—damn…I hoped she wasn’t. The world could screw with a kid’s head way too early. Did she think she needed to be skinny, or was something going on that made her not eat right? Bulimia, anemia, depression…

“I’m here because Miss Dumberson out there made me.”

I tried not to snort at the nickname. Sometimes I wasn’t much older than my students. Antigone sniffled again and peeked up at me through her eyelashes, probably deciding what kind of bullshit I’d believe. “It wasn’t my fault.”

Pen, her sister is a bundle of realistic complexities herself.  Both girls are afraid and uncertain for themselves and their families future .And they react as you expect them to with their mother abandoning them to a emotionally reserved father they only saw after he came home from work.  This is desperation with a capital D. And Treva Harte rolls it out there for the reader to see with all the authenticity and gritty realism of a documentary on dysfunctional families.  I love these girls and connected with them on an emotional level from the first.  And that is my problem with this book.  These are not the main characters. With regard to the main characters, I don’t like either Chris or Bill very much, although Bill comes out much better than Chris does.

When the focus of the story is a dysfunctional, emotionally distant man who dislikes his children (mostly because he has absented himself from their lives and doesn’t know them), who runs from confrontation and problems of a personal nature, how do you engage the reader enough for them to make a connection to the character?  For me it was one instance after another where Chris handles the situation or his children badly and then waits for Bill to bail him out.   Who  ends up understanding and taking care of the kids?  Chris? Uh, no, that would be Bill.  And while I could understand Bill far easier than Chris, he enabled Chris in his behavior and we are meant to approve of that.

Then there is the characterization of Chris’ wife which is very much in the one sided “evil witch” tradition that I despair of when reading m/m stories. Self centered to the point of abandoning her children for a man with more money and status, even a believable backstory is lacking.  I could see it if  she felt that 11  years in a marriage to a gay man left her unfulfilled, especially if that man was Chris but other than a sentence or two, where is her concern for the girls? I know that there are shallow women out there just like Stephanie, I just wish I didn’t  see as many of them as I do in the stories these days.  A more even handed approach would seem not only more sympathetic but more realistic.

In the end, I felt for the children, could have cared less what happened to Chris and wished that Bill would grab the kids and run like hell.  Not the way one is supposed to feel when reading a contemporary m/m romance.  And there is also a bdsm element in play here between Bill and Chris.  I could sympathize with Bill taking a strap to Chris, but trust me when I say sexuality didn’t  enter into my wishful thinking.  Again, probably not what the author had in mind.

But oh those sisters!  They deserve a story of their own, where they ride to each others rescue after thwapping a couple of villains (or maybe their parents) over the head.  Trust me, these girls are more than capable.  I loved them and had the focus been on them, you would have seen an entirely different rating.  It is almost worth it to say to read this book for these two characters alone.  Almost.  So if Treva Harte is a “go to” author for you, you will want to pick up this story.  Otherwise, I would wait and see what she comes up with next.

Cover:  Cover Artist: Kalen O’Donnell.  I am not a fan of red covers, including this one.  They are hard to look at and this is especially garish.