A MelanieM Review: The Last Wolf (Sapphire Ranch Wolves #1) by Sue Brown

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The Last Wolf 400x600Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Professor Joseph Lowther Jr. returned home to the Sapphire Ranch when his father became gravely ill. His dad is now hospitalized and its up to Joe Jr. to run the ranch he left years ago.

When Joe hears a commotion out near the barn, he shoots a wolf he thinks is attacking their sheep.  But to his astonishment the wounded wolf turns into a young man, a wolf shifter in need of help and refuge.

Callum Pope just might be the last of his pack.  On the run from hunters who specialize in hunting, killing, and the destruction of all shifter wolf packs, he was on the run until he landed on the Sapphire Ranch and was shot.  That may have been the best thing to ever happen to Callum.  Joe offers him safety, friendship, and perhaps even sanctuary from those hunting him.

For Joe, his view of the universe has been shattered.  But in its place just might be something he never expected….a strong connection to Callum Pope, a bond that grows deeper by the day.  Now all Joe has to do is keep Callum alive long enough to figure out what it all means to himself and to Callum.

When a story manages to combine author Sue Brown and wolf shifters, I know I am in for a treat.  That the story is the first in a new series just makes this all the sweeter.  The Last Wolf by Sue Brown sets the stage for the series and the stories to come.  In that respect,  it tended to try to do too much in this first novel.  But the sweetness of Callum, the likability of Joe Lowther and his father, and  the undeniable terror of hunters bent on exterminating an entire race combine to make this story one to read.

I loved the premise of the series.  Its heartrending in its small details, and shocking in scope.  Hunters out to exterminate an entire race of beings on a world wide scale. That the hunters target all ages and genders, from babies to the infirm just intensifies our fear and horror.  They are killing machines who seem unstoppable.  When you put that type of villain up against a vulnerable young main character who has already lost so much, then your empathy is easily engaged and your connection to this shifter and Joe snaps into place.

The relationships make this story shine.  From the father/son bond between Joe Jr. and Joe Sr., this is a family you adore immediately.  Then there is the growing bond between Joe Jr. and Callum, which is swift but understandable given the circumstances.  I loved that one too.  As the story continues, more people and different types of bonds and deep relationships come into play.  Brown is also setting up some of the potential couples for the stories to come.  One is particular has me “growling” in anticipation.  The author has always been able to make her people and their relationships believable (even if one is a supernatural being), and she continues that  here.

There are some shaky moments in the narrative where the author clearly is trying to get in all the elements she needs for the rest of the series, even if they are only hints and glimpses of things to come.  So at times it can feel rushed or scattered.  But the story and characters are strong enough to pull you into their journey to safety, sanctuary, and love.

What makes a pack?  I think Sue Brown is delivering that answer in her Sapphire Ranch series.  It has a wonderful concept, terrific characters, evil hunters, and the type of elements that  will keep the reader returning to see what the author has in store for us next.  While the ending is not exactly a cliffhanger, Sue Brown leaves us with enough questions that the next installment will be eagerly awaited.   What is in store for the Lowthers, Callum Pope and the Sapphire Ranch?  I have no idea but  can’t wait to find out.

If you love shifters, add this to your TBR list today.  If you adore Sue Brown, this story and series are probably already there.  Now the anticipation begins for the next story.  I will be waiting to see where Sue Brown takes her characters next.  I hope you will be along for that journey!

Cover art by Meredith Russell.  Love that cover.  Great job.

Sales Links:   Love Lane Press          All Romance eBooks (ARe)     Amazon     The Last Wolf

Book Details:

162 pages
Published September 5th 2014 by Love Lane Books Limited (first published September 4th 2014)
edition languageEnglish
seriesSapphire Ranch Wolves #1

Review: Texas Christmas (Texas #5) by R.J. Scott

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Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5

Texas Christmas coverWith the holidays upon them, Jack and Riley Campbell-Hayes are stressed out. Jack and Riley are anxiously waiting for the courts to decide if they will be able to adopt Max, the twins are growing rapidly and they still haven’t found a nanny. Meanwhile Jack’s sister Beth is about to give birth after a dangerous pregnancy, and their new employee, Liam, is having trouble adjusting to life on the Double D .

Liam Frazier loves his life working with the horses on the Double D Ranch.  His bosses are wonderful as are the other ranch hands he works with.  The trouble?  His abusive past that won’t let him go.  Now Marcus Walker, co owner of the surrogacy agency that helped Jack and Riley find a mother for their children, is flirting with him and Liam doesn’t know how to handle it.  He finds Marcus attractive but his abuse is a barrier he doesn’t know how to get past.

When Liam’s past follows him to the ranch, it puts everyone in danger.  It will take Marcus and the rest of the Double D family to help Liam  face those who hurt him so he can move forward.

I have enjoyed this series from the beginning story, The Heart of Texas, which introduced us to Jack Campbell and Riley Hayes. I have been with this couple through their rocky start with a fake marriage and tumultuous family histories, their declarations of love, the murderous events that took place and the fire that almost cost them their lives and home.  In the previous story, Texas Family, Jack and Riley’s family had grown to include twins as well as the children and partners of the rest of their extended family.  It was a joyous layered story that took us through the surrogacy issues for gay families and introduced us to Max, a young foster child with autism.

Texas Family was a book packed with relevant issues and new characters.  It also left us with some unresolved elements, specifically those that focus on Max’s adoption fight and the new ranch hand Liam Frazier.  I am happy to report that with Texas Christmas, R.J. Scott ties up all those loose ends happily and on a perfect note for a book about families,friends, and the holidays.

Jack and Riley’s relationship is still the foundation upon which this series rests and they are still working on their marriage here, adjusting to the twins, their daughter getting older, and all the other stresses life can put on a marriage.  It’s a healthy, sexual and deep relationship and the author relays that beautifully.  But I have to admit its the newest member I wanted more of.

I was entranced with Max from the moment Scott introduced him to Jack and Riley.  The little boy clutching his Thomas the Tank Engine toy caught at our hearts.  RJ Scott did not shy away from the issues of adopting a child with autism.  Max’s emotional issues, his inability to deal with certain social situations, the manner in which he communicates, and well, everything about a life with an autistic child is relayed realistically along with the love.  There is a magical moment that RJ Scott brings to life as Max explores a sensory room Jack and Riley have created for him.  The wonder of a child caught up inside his mind is revealed in such a way that we feel we are on the floor with him, holding our breath as Max explores with a quiet joy a place created for him out of love.

Liam Frazier is another special character and his story is brought full circle as well.  But as his started in pain and abuse, those elements reappear to be dealt with before he can move forward.  The elements where Liam decides he needs outside help to deal with his abuse, the frustration Liam feels as he tries to deal with Marcus and a real relationship have a feeling of authenticity to them. Liam brings out our empathy and our compassion.

There are several scary and heartrending scenes.  But they serve to heighten the satisfaction the reader will feel as all the elements come together to give Jack, Riley and all the others a Christmas to remember.  Consider this story and this series highly recommended!

Here are the stories in the Texas series in the order they were written and should be read:

The Heart of Texas (Texas, #1)
Texas Winter (Texas, #2)
Texas Heat (Texas, #3)
Texas Family (Texas, #4)
Texas Christmas (Texas #5)

Cover by Meredith Russell.  The cover is adorable and perfect in every way.

Book Details:

ebook, 189 pages
Published December 12th 2013 by Love Lane Books
ISBN13 LLBTEXAS5
edition language English
series Texas #5

Not What I Expected and This Week’s Reviews

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Doctor__NeedleSo, there I was lying on the hospital table waiting for the fluoroscope to start up and the doctor to appear to give me an injection. With a very long needle.  One the size of the Empire State Building. And of course, the first words out of his mouth are “well, this shouldn’t hurt very much” and my heart sinks.  Because between you and me, I have a long history with that phrase (as I am sure most of you do as well) and it isn’t a good one.

I can remember various dentist offices and dentists themselves saying that just before annihilating my mouth in a frenzy of drills and numbing injections that never seemed to work.  I remember vaccines and pops of cotton that, yes indeedy, hurt, even though the doctors swore up and down they wouldn’t.

And then there were the injections I received for rabies (8 of them at the time) that alternated sites, left, cheek, right cheek (not the face mind you), left arm, right arm, stomach…well you get the drift.  Oh the perils of being a park naturalist.  There have been ones for the flu, tetanus, and during anaphylactic shock, epinephrine.  I have had ones for antibiotics and ones for steroids.  Lots and lots of shots over time and always with the same result.  Shot then pain.

And you know what?  Each time, the doctor assured me it shouldn’t hurt very much.  And  each time it most certainly did.

drag queen sharon needles

knitting needlesNow I don’t have a problem with needles themselves.  I even adore certain needles, like my mahogany knitting needles or knitting needles of any type.  I also think the drag queen Sharon Needles is pretty darn awesome.  I even have a certain fondness for sewing needles even though I am hardly proficient with them.  They have repaired many a beloved teddy or tiger and for that I am grateful.

But medical needles, long, long medical needles?  I think not.  True they are necessary but I don’t have to like them and once more here I was waiting to be injected.  But first they had to find the right spot….yeah, topical anesthesia  doesn’t help there.  And yes, I felt that needle going in…and in…  and the doctor asked me…wait for it…did I feel it and did it hurt?  He’s lucky all I shot him was a glare. Cause yes I did feel it and yes, it hurt.  Argh.  And I am not, repeat not a baby about these things and I have a high tolerance for pain. But yeesh….they need to find something different to say…cause I am telling you that has truly gotten old.

So here I am, my hip is throbbing.  The doctor said I should feel better in a day…if the shot works.  Sigh.  Sometimes life is a crap shoot.  Sometimes you role doubles and sometimes snake eyes. And by now I really should know to stick to the needles I like when given a choice, and leave the others alone.  Because here is something I have learned over the years….when someone tells you its not going to hurt, run, run like the wind in the opposite direction, it’s going to hurt like hell.

Now for the week ahead in reviews.  It’s one terrific book after another this week.   There are two guest blogs on our schedule. One by the fabulous Abigail Roux for the release Shock & Awe.  And the other by an author whose books have always appeared on my must read list, L.B. Gregg and her latest release How I Met Your Father.  Added to that are two new books in series I just love, R.J. Scott’s Texas Family and Kate McMurray’s The Stars That Tremble and this will be a stellar week indeed!

Twas the week before the week of Thanksgiving…..

Monday, Nov. 17:   Texas Family by R.J. Scott
Tuesday, Nov. 18:   The Stars That Tremble by Kate McMurray
Wed., Nov. 19:         Guest Blog by L.B. Gregg for How I Met Your Father
Thurs., Nov.20:      Guest Blog and Contest by Abigail Roux and Shock & Awe release
Friday, Nov. 21:       Shock & Awe by Abigail Roux
Sat., Nov. 22:           How I Met Your Father by L.B. Gregg

Review: Worlds Collide (Sanctuary #7) by R.J. Scott

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Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5

Worlds CollideDale MacIntyre, Sanctuary agent, is in charge of protecting Emily Bullen, wife of Senator Thomas Bullen, from her husband and the rest of the criminally inclined Bullen family. After turning states evidence, Emily is headed back to Albany on a jet.  Accompanied only by Dale, the pilot of the plane, and the copilot, she is horrified when word reaches them that a key player in the Bullen family crime syndicate was mistakenly freed from jail and is now able to hunt down the only person who can put him away for life.  That person is Emily Bullen.

Midflight, Dale realizes the extent that Ryland Griffin will go to in order to eliminate Emily Bullen. Dale reaches out immediately to the person he knows he can trust to have immediate answers, have his back and that of the person he is protecting. That person is his lover, Navy Seal Joseph Kinnon.  When Dale’s assignment gets more dangerous, Joseph and his Seal Team intervene and the resulting events bring about a serious introspective search for Dale and Joseph about where their relationship is headed.

I have been waiting for another Dale and Joseph book since they first appeared in The Only Easy Day (Sanctuary #2). In that story, Dale, an ex Seal and Joseph, current Navy Seal, meet, clash and lust as the investigation into the Bullen family crime syndicate is in its initial stages with Joseph’s murdered sister as one of Bullen family’s first known victims.  The start to their romance is white hot, primal and short lived.  Since then, R.J. Scott has kept the readers on high anticipation with teasers of the couple in book after book but nothing notable or even remotely satisfying.  This is how it all starts:

“It’s not too late, we can still get out of here,” Chief Petty Officer Joseph Kinnon said urgently. He pressed both hands to the glass and stared down at the street below. The city was a white, snowy landscape and at any other time would have been stunningly beautiful. They were ten stories up in a hotel in the heart of the historic district and the place had ledges at each level. As a team they’d dealt with worse. Assessing the situation, he considered the options.

“Fuentes, talk to me.”

Luca Fuentes, young, tall, and built like the side of barn with muscles on muscles, was the team’s resident hacker but was also a tactical genius. He joined Joseph at the window. “Chief,” he said formally. His green-eyed gaze unerringly focused in on the view that Joseph had. He frowned as he looked out.

“Can you find egress here?” Joseph asked.

Luca tapped the glass.

“Reinforced; we’d need some pretty heavy ordnance to get out—I can get Viktor on that—then zip wire. Get it hooked to the top of the plaza building.” Luca looked up and down, then turned to Joseph. “Forty degrees. We can get down to the roof and get out that way.”

“Assessment?” “Fifty-fifty. I think most of us will be okay, but one of our team is scared of heights,” Fuentes said seriously.

Joseph nodded in agreement. “You’re talking about Mike Dexter.”

“He’s a liability, sir,” Luca answered. “I’m not sure his underwear would remain unstained and survive the fall.”

Joseph and his Seal team are assembled for a very different type of mission, a personal one.  This is a funny and really moving introduction, just what I have come to expect from R.J. Scott.  Joseph and his team are truly a band of brothers,unchanging until now.  But the event they have gathered for marks the beginning of transitions for more than one member of the team.  We have not met Joseph’s team until now and what a diverse group they turn out to be.  I can easily see R.J. Scott building an entire new series around this team, especially the randy Viktor.  While Scott has let us see Joseph in action, this is the first time we get to see Joseph operating as a member of his Seal team.  By their interactions with each other and their dialog the author lets us feel why being a Seal and a part of this team is so important to  Joseph.  And it also lets us into the pain Dale felt when he was forced out.  Since being a Seal is fundamental to Joseph’s character, what plays out next highlights the importance of Dale and their relationship.

And that is really what Worlds Collide is all about, an internal shift in both men that will allow them to have a future with each other.  This is more a relationship book than any of the other stories in the series to date.  Yes, we are still dealing with the fallout from the Bullen family crime investigations.  One important criminal has escaped and Dale is in charge of getting Emily Bullen to safety so she can testify.  But this section is just the impetus for providing the platform for change in both men’s lives.  Here is Joseph with a note from Dale:

Just touching the note grounded Joseph in the here and now. Slowly, over the course of the last few months, the space in his life that had once been filled by the team he was with, by the job, by staying alive, had seen a full-frontal assault by the man he had fallen in love with.

This is a huge ground shift by a man who lived for the Seals alone.  Dale too has undergone his own emotional introspection about Joseph and their possible future ahead.  I love the way Scott has developed their story.  Our first meeting and theirs was explosive, a fight turned sexual.  It was incendiary.  But after that, something else occurred, they started to care about each other and so did the readers.  From time to time, we heard about each man and their tentative relationship in the other books. Nothing concrete for them or us, just tantalizing bits that kept us engaged in their future.  So this book was more than welcome, I am sure we felt it was long overdue after being teased through five books. And  the author doesn’t let us down.

We alternate perspective, from Dale to Joseph and back, as the events brought on by  Dale’s assignment, guarding Emily Bullen, brings out those determined to stop her at all costs.  We get to see the fluidity of motion and deadly competency of the Seal team in action, and the intrepidness of Dale’s Sanctuary training coming together to achieve one end.  But the highlight of the story must be the time that Joseph and Dale get to spend together after the mission is finished.  It’s heartwarming, it’s sexy and it fulfills most of the dreams we have had about this couple.  But of course, not all.

It’s all here. All the things that have made this series such a great one.  Realistic, fully rounded characters, a complicated criminal investigation that spreads through the series, and a narrative that moves the plot forward swiftly and smoothly.  I love that the Bullen investigation is still ongoing, with loose ends out there waiting to trip up Sanctuary and the other agencies. Just a terrific aspect of this series and beautifully plotted out. There are one or two small chinks in the armor here.  One small scene with the Seals and the criminal that I thought was unrealistic given their training and readiness. And then there is the ending.  Absolutely realistic as always. For those expecting a finality to Dale and Joseph’s romance, we haven’t gotten it …yet.  But you know that it is coming and this ending will leave you satisfied for now.

If you are  new to the series or Dale and Joseph’s romance, go back to the beginning.  An absolute must in order to understand the characters and the events as they play out.  Here are the books in the order they were written and must be read:

Guarding Morgan (Sanctuary #1)

The Only Easy Day (Sanctuary #2), Dale and Joseph’s romance begins

Face Value (Sanctuary, #3)

Still Waters (Sanctuary, #4)

Full Circle (Sanctuary, #5)

The Journal Of Sanctuary One (Sanctuary, #6)
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Worlds Collide (Sanctuary #7)

Cover design by BitterGraceArt is lovely and in keeping with the characters.

Book Details:

ebook
Published June 28th 2013 by Love Lane Books (first published March 30th 2013)

Mired in the Miasma and the Week Ahead in Reviews

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Miasma, such a wonderfully descriptive word.  Miasma: from the dictionary, literary the miasma from the stagnant swamp made us choke and gag: stink, reek, stench,fetor, smell, fume, odor, whiff; gas, cloud, smog, vapor.

Yep, that is exactly what it feels like in the Metropolitan DC area these days.  Most people forget that Washington, DC was built on a swamp and the regions around it are riddled with water.  There is a reason Foggy Bottom is called Foggy Bottom.  We have water everywhere.  The Potomac, the Patuxent, the Severn and a ton of other rivers and streams, the Chesapeake Bay and of course the Atlantic Ocean.  It’s delightful, it’s outstanding, except when our humidity is around 99% and stays there, making our area feel downright tropical and swampy.  The air is thick, stagnant, some call it soupy.  It is so heavy  it almost takes on a form of its own.  The skin feels clammy, your clothes stick to the skin as though they were glued, perspiration rolls down the face to disappear into your collar and sandals are the only footwear you can bear on your feet. And when someone mentions that they didn’t have air-conditioning in the “olden days” so we should all come outside and enjoy sitting on the porch…well,  you just want to swat them.

Back to miasma.  I grew up in a Southern family where the word miasma could be frequently heard in conversation, especially by my grandmothers.  It went something like this:

“Oh the miasma is so bad for you, stay away from the window.”

“Heah, keep those windows closed so the miasma doesn’t come inside.”

Or when my Mamaw smelled something bad, well, then of course, it was the “miasma”.

I love that word but it seems to have fallen out of favor.  I mean, scientifically, we know that swamps are a wonderful thing, necessary for the environment as delicate habitats and nature’s filtering system.  A swamp is not a purveyor of disease and that illness did not waft in on the moisture laden air (hey, we are not talking mosquitos today). So with knowledge in hand, the word miasma started to disappear.  But I want to bring it back.  Miasma a term rich in eloquence, laden with romantic images, mired in the gothic and teaming with meaning.  If I am to be drenched in sweat, with hair and skin soaked with moisture, miserable and lethargic, then I want to put a layer of something magical, otherworldy and significant on it.  I want miasma!  I will have my miasma.

And besides what other explanation is there for Congress?  Its miasma. Stay away from the windows.

We are all over the place in book reviews for the coming week. Plus I am still focused on the subject of short  stories so expect another Scattered Thoughts blog on the subject on Saturday.  This is how the week looks to play out:

Monday, July 15:                Tattoo You by Willa Okati

Tuesday, July 16:                Forever Promised (Promises #4) by Amy Lane

Wed., July 17:                      Worlds Collide (Sanctuary #7) by R.J. Scott

Thursday, July 18:              Waiting for Ty by Samantha Ann King

Friday, July 19:                    Side Line by Ben Ryder

Saturday, July 20:               Anthologies? Love Them Or Hate Them?

And to help fight the miasma, a Red Sangria recipe to cool you down:

Ingredients
1 bottle (750 ml) dry red wine
1/4 cup brandy
1/4 cup orange liqueur
2 tablespoons sugar
2 sliced oranges
1 sliced green apple
1 1/2 cups seltzer

FNM050111_143
Directions
Mix the wine, liqueur and sugar in a pitcher, stirring to dissolve the sugar, then add the fruit.

Refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.

Add the seltzer just before serving.