January 2014 Summary of Books Reviewed

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Winter trees longs

The new years has started with an explosion of wonderful books and new authors for me.  SE Jakes and two of her marvelous series dropped into my hands and heart so I will be passing those recommendations on to you.  SA McAuley released a new contemporary fiction novel, Treadmarks and Trademarks, the start of a new series.  Ditto Susan Laine with her Sparks & Drops.  LA Witt inspired with her gender shifter novel Static, a must read for all.  Shira Anthony’s Symphony In Blue brought her Blue Notes characters together for a series holiday story, perfect reading for all lovers of romance and music.  Horror, fantasy and comedy are all represented here as well as a great non fiction tale by Joel Derfner, Lawfully Wedded Husband:How My Gay Marriage Will Save The American Family, a must read.

So many great books, see what stories you have missed, and make a list.  And don’t forget to check out the best book covers of the month at the end.
*Key:Winter_2
S series
C contemporary
F-fantasy
SF-science fiction
PN-paranormal
SP-supernatural
H-historical
HR-horror
N-Nonfiction
YA-young adult

Rating Scale: 1 to 5, 5 stars is outstanding
5 Star Rating:

Catch A Ghost by SE Jakes C, S
Long Time Gone by SE Jakes C, S
Static by LA Witt, SF
Symphony In Blue by Shira Anthony, C, S
The Engineered Throne by Megan Derr, F
The Fall by Kate Sherwood C. S

4 to 4.75 Star Rating:

A Small Miracle Happened by Mari Donne, (4.5 stars) C, holiday
Dirty Deeds by SE Jakes (4.75 stars) C, S
Home for the Hollandaise by BA Tortuga,Julia Talbot *4.5 stars) C
Horsing Around by Torquere Authors, (4.5 stars) A, C
In Discretion by Reesa Herberth (4.5 stars), SF
Lawfully Wedded Husband by Joel Derfner (4.75 stars) N
Refined Instincts by SJ Frost, (4 stars) SP, S
Serenading Stanley by John Inman (4.5 stars), C
Sparks & Drops by Susan Laine (4.5 stars), P, S
Texas Christmas by R.J. Scott (4.75 stars), C, S
The Dreamer by M. King (4 stars), HR
The Lightning Moon by Sylvia A. Winters (4.75 stars) SP
Tread Marks & Trademarks by S.A. McAuley (4.5 stars) C, S

3 to 3.75 Star Rating:

Ashland by Lynn Lorenz (3.5 stars) SP, S
The Actor and the Thief by Edward Kendrick (3.75 stars) C, S
Tor by Lynn Lorenz (3.5 stars), SP, S

2 to 2.75 Star Rating:

Dime Novel by Dale Chase (2.75 stars) H

1 to 1.75 Star Rating:  None

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Best Book Covers of January 2014

This month includes just an overall gold star to LC Chase whose great covers include the Hell or High Water series and Dirty Deeds.

InDiscretion_500x750Mindscape_500x750Sparks & Drops cover

Tread Marks and Trademarks cover

Static coverCatch a Ghost cover

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In Discretion by Reesa Herberth, Artist Simone’
Mindscape by Tal Valante, Artist LC Chase, who is having an incredible year
Sparks & Drops by Susan Laine, Artist Brooke Albrecht
Static by LA Witt, Artist LC Chase.  A Stunner with it’s Shifting Gender Person
Tread Marks & Trademarks by S.A. McAuley, Wilde City Press, no artist credited

Review: A Small Miracle Happened by Mari Donne

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

A Small Miracle Happened cover DonneA job opportunity just brought Daniel Sobel to a small Midwestern town, a move he is now regretting. The location and population of his new place has quickly made Dan feel like the only Jewish gay man in a small Midwestern town, especially with the approach of Hanukkah. Dan is feeling isolated and lonely, removed from his large Jewish family and his culture. The only welcoming sight is his new neighbor’s rainbow flag hung in the window of the condo next door, the only color in a sea of blandness.  On the first night of Hanukkah, Dan is missing the items he needs to celebrate Hanukkah, things that cannot be purchased in this small town. But with a ring of a doorbell and a misplaced package everything changes.

Christian Parsons, neighbor and owner of the rainbow flag, is standing at his door holding a package from Dan’s grandmother. Inside is a menorah, candles— a dreidel, some chocolate coins, and a tin of cookies shaped like a Star of David. Delighted and overcome with the love and warmth of family,   Dan invites Christian in and is soon explaining the meaning of the contents of the box and Hanukkah. Chris is unfamiliar with the Jewish religion and its holidays but if it means he can spend time with Dan, he happily accepts.  Soon the men are spending each night together, lighting a candle and discovering more about each other.  Flirting turns to fun and games and then something deeper.  What will happen when the eight days of Hanukkah are over?

A Small Miracle Happened by Mari Donne is a lovely, warmhearted romance set against the backdrop of the Jewish holiday, Hanukkah.  Two young men, one Christian (literally) and one Jewish, have recently moved into neighboring condos.  Dan and Chris are people out of place in this homogeneous Midwestern town, one by religion and both by their sexuality.  The author employs the much used plot device of a “misdirected package” to bring Dan and Chris together then turns that happening into a story richly textured with the story of Hanukkah and Dan’s warm and loving Jewish family.

I loved the manner in which Mari Donne relays the facts behind Hanukkah and the elements associated with the holiday, from the menorah (in all its aspects) to the making of the latkes.  Its all gently incorporated into the story with an appreciation and love for Jewish ritual and Judaism.  That’s not to say its not without its humor, because there is plenty of that to be found within A Small Miracle Happened as well.  The meaning behind the letters found on the side of a top called a dreidel are revealed during a very sexy game of “Strip dreidel.” And the nightly dinners, researched and cooked by Chris, are used to define and explore kashrut law, keeping kosher as it were.

As Dan teaches Chris, the reader unfamiliar with Hanukkah and Judaism learns as well.  It’s a wonderful technique, lovingly employed here by Donne.  It enriches the story while adding depth to the characters.  I loved both Dan and Chris, neither of which is the typical gorgeous gay single guy.  Dan is overexcitable, family oriented and comfortable in his homosexuality.  Chris is none of those things.  Chris’ family is not eager to accept his gayness and is just as happy for him not to appear at the Thanksgiving or Christmas celebrations at home.  Chris is tall, awkward, and shy.  Yet Donne makes their relationship and attraction believable and endearing.

A Small Miracle Happened is a short story at 79 pages but the author makes the most of this length to deliver a story that feels much larger in heart and scope.  It has been divided into eight chapter, one for each night of Hanukkah.  And then the author goes one step further and gives the reader a delightful epilogue that made the story even better.  I try my best to avoid the avalanche of overly saccharine stories that appear at this time of the year and I know I am not alone in that.  But A Small Miracle Happened is that marvelous seasonal read that sidesteps most of the holiday story pitfalls while retaining the charm and joy of the season.  I loved A Small Miracle Happened and think you will too.  Make it part of your holiday reading list.  I highly recommend it.

Cover art by April Martinez is simple and effective.  I thought it was perfect for the story within.

Book Details:

ebook, 79 pages
Published November 26th 2013 by Loose Id
original title: A Small Miracle Happened
ISBN13 9781623006372
edition language English

The Eternal Optimism of Dogs and the Week in Reviews

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Winter trees longs

It snowed on Friday.  Only 3 inches or so but the first accumulated snow we have had here in over 2 years.  And Winston is not happy about it. Not happy at all.  Now Kirby is in snow heaven.  Like the good Irish dog he is, the cold and snow just rolls off him.  Even now he is bounding around the back yard communing with nature, racing the squirrels along the fence and in general, just having a blast.  Willow is asleep.  And Winston?  Well, he is gazing longingly out the front window in hopes that the weather there is dramatically better than the one outside the back door.

He reminds me of that quote from Robert A. Heinlein’s wife, Virginia, that inspired his novel The Door into Summer. Virginia remarked when their cat refused to leave the house: “he’s looking for a door into summer.”  That’s Winston.  Going from one door to the next, eternally optimistic that he will find that the door opens into summer, or spring, or fall, anything but a season thatWinter_2 contains snow or ice.  We head out the backdoor into the snow, Willow and Kirby marching resolutely ahead.  Only Winston stops at the door, peering out, dubious at the thought of putting paw to the cold snowy ground.  Eventually he goes out, does his business and quickly returns to the warmth of home after venturing out perhaps 5 ft in all.  Willow returns next, and then we all gather at the door to watch as Kirby runs and gambols around, only returning with a sigh when I call him in.

Then and only then does Winston begin to bounce.  He twirls, he whirls, he grabs his leash and heads to the front door where surely it is sunny, warm and green.   Several times I have accommodated him.  I hook up his leash, grab my hat, gloves, scarf and coat (and his sweater) and we head out the door.  And every time Winston freezes as he looks out upon the snow and ice.  We get no further than the driveway. The disbelief and disgust is written on his upturned face as he looks back at me.  The little balloon above his head so clearly stating “really? here too?” And without me saying a word he pulls me back to the front door and the warmth he knows is inside.

So here we sit, all four.  For myself, I think the snow is beautiful and fleeting, it is Maryland these days after all.  Kirby is waiting for his next adventure in the backyard where the foxes and squirrels await.  Willow is asleep behind me, content in her red sweater. And Winston?  Well, he is watchful and waiting too.  For the grass to be green, the bunnies appear along with the bees and the warmth of his favorite seasons.  I love that optimism.  For Winston a change in the weather is only a door away.  No matter how many times it proves otherwise, the promise of Summer remains just on the other side of the door.

Always hopeful.  Not a bad way to live at all.

Here is this week’s reviews.  There are holiday stories, a wicca story, a humorous tale of romance and a fantasy book from Megan Derr you won’t want to miss.  Truly something for everyone.

Monday, Jan. 6:              Home for the Hollandaise by BA Tortuga,Julia Talbot

Tuesday, Jan. 7               Texas Christmas by RJ Scott

Wed., Jan. 8:                   A Small Miracle Happened by Mari Donne

Thursday, Jan. 9:          Sparks & Drops by Susan Laine

Friday, Jan. 10:              Serenading Stanley by John Inman

Saturday, Jan. 11:          The Engineered Throne by Megan Derr

Review: Closet Capers Anthology

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Rating: 4.25 stars

Closet Capers coverCloset Capers contains a series of stories revolving around mysteries or capers if you will.  From a riverboat gambler trying to find out who is trying to ruin his good name to a thief who continues to steal cans of coke from a office refrigerator and everything in between, this anthology mixes the romance with a little detective work to uncover new and different paths to love.

Closet Capers stories are:

Kitsch Me by Mari Donne
Leveling Up by Jude Dunn
Philip Collyer vs. the Cola Thief by Amy Rae Durreson
A Kiss in the Dark by Eli Easton
Calberg’s House Specialty Blend by Skylar Jaye
Small Change by Danni Keane
Lawrence Frightengale Investigates by Aidee Ladnier & Debussy Ladnier
The Whole Kit and Kaboodle by Ari McKay
Le Beau Soleil by Christopher Hawthorne Moss
Joie de Vivre by Pinkie Rae Parker
Made Good Under Pressure by Maja Rose
Tempest for a Teacup by Andrea Speed

I love the idea of mixing romance and detective work, how better to sleuth out the mysteries of the heart?  The stories contained within this anthology  run the gamut from a 1800’s riverboat gambler to a lovely story about a cable tv horror host and a missing Cadillac.  A number of these authors are unfamiliar to me, like Aidee Ladnier and Debussy Ladnier of the wonderful “Lawrence Frightengale Investigates”.  For me, buying an anthology means getting a quick introduction to authors I might not have found any other way and for that alone, it is always worth buying the book.  And of course, there are authors involved that I love, like Andrea Speed and her “Tempest for a Teacup”.  I loved that story, it was one of my favorites of the group.

Closet Capers gets off to a strong start, wobbles a little in the middle and finishes with the best of the stories included.  Here are my teacup reviews in the order they are placed in the book:

1. A Kiss in the Dark by Eli Easton

4 stars.  An anonymous kiss during a blackout at a office Christmas party disrupts Lester Lane’s life as he tries to figure out just who the great kisser is and why the person won’t come forward to admit it.  A cute story with adorable characters make it easy to overlook the fact that the reader can spot the drive-by kisser from the beginning.  Totally enjoyable and one of the longer stories.

2. Calberg’s House Specialty Blend by Skylar Jaye

3.75 stars. Lawyer Jonathan Mayer needs his coffee in order to function, specifically he needs Calberg’s Houe Specialtiy Blend.  But one morning Jonathan arrives to find that Calberg’s coffee shop is closed and his desperately needed morning cup of the Speciality Blend vanished with the store.  What follows is Jonathan trying to find out what happened to his beloved coffee shop and finding love with its former owner.  This story had great characters but could have used a little extra length to fill out the story resolution.

3. The Whole Kit and Kaboodle by Ari McKay

5 stars.  Dr. Grey Harris, history professor at Hartwell University has a mystery on his hands and it comes in the form of the new librarian, Henry Adams.  Grey knows that Henry is gay and the way the shy librarian gazes at him when Henry doesn’t think Grey is looking tells Grey that the librarian is attracted to him.  So why won’t the man go on a date?   The answer to that question is not only surprising but over the top charming as well.  Ari McKay has combined great characters with a intriguing mystery that ends up being one of the best stories in the anthology.  I am still smiling over the ending that is completely satisfying in every way.

4. Le Beau Soleil by Christopher Hawthorne Moss

4.25 stars.  It is 1855, New Orleans, and riverboat gambler François “Frankie” Deramus is hearing the first of the rumors that not only threaten his livelihood but his great love, the riverboat he owns and operates.  A gambler is only as good as his reputation and up until now, Frankie’s has been flawless.  But recently, some of the top gamblers have been refusing to play with him, referring to whispers of tricks and cheating.  Frankie has to find the culprit and quick before he is ruined.  Enter Michael Murphy, former soldier and now  private investigator.  Its up to Frankie and Michael to find and confront the person intent on ruining Frankie before the riverboat sails from New Orleans.  Time is running out but the attraction between the two men is running high.  Nothing like lust and mystery in New Orleans.  Moss does a terrific job in capturing the flavor of the times with the setting and secondary characters in the story.  I really enjoyed the tone and quality of the writing.  My only quibble would be the ending and the length, otherwise, great job.

5. Leveling Up by Jude Dunn

4.25 stars.   Game designer Adam Chandler is running late for his anniversary with Ben Randal, his partner and love.  Ben has arranged dinner for them at a restaurant and hotel downtown but when Adam arrives, he is mistaken for a man named Chandlis and the mistaken identity pulls Adam into a mystery he never expected, a mystery that also asks where is his lover?  Dunn delivers a sharp little story, full of likable characters and a neat little twist to keep us and Adam guessing.  Throughly entertaining little read.

6.  Kitsch Me by Mari Donne

3.25 stars.  Brian is obsessed with all things Hawaiian, including the hula dancer objects found at a store called Cunning Collectables.  But with his salary and the little money that his lover brings in, Brian and Craig are barely making ends meet at their barren little apartment.  Brian is curious about all the weird things that Cunning Collectables offers for sale, things like Lord Shiva in a tortilla or a tree trunk with a knot that looks like a Star of David.  A little investigating brings a most unexpected answer, and the trip of a lifetime.  Donne has a neat story buried somewhere inside Kitsch Me.  Unfortunately, somewhere towards the end, it just turns so unrealistic that you can run whole semis through the holes in the plot.  Up until then, it is a nice little story with interesting characters.

7. Made Good Under Pressure by Maja Rose

2 stars.  Awkward narrative ruins this story about Billy in New York City, 1926.  Written in a manner certain to bring to mind David Attenborough narrating a nature film, this peculiar style of writing makes this story almost unreadable.  Here is an example:

Billy’s just a glorified errand boy at the moment anyway, so after the day spins to a close.

Everything is pretty much, Billy cocks his head, Billy rolls his eyes, Billy thought that, Billy, Billy, Billy, and before you know it, the reader is so disconnected from Billy and his story that it almost becomes a DNF.  Unfortunately, one of the longer stories (or at least it felt that way), skip quickly over this one and head to the next.

8.  Tempest for a Teacup by Andrea Speed

4.5 stars.  One look at the young man asking for help, and private investigator Jake Falconer wanted to say no before even knowing what the case was.  Sarcastic, morally flexible Jake still ends up taking the case of the missing Morkie, much to his chagrin and his cop boyfriend’s delight.  Tempest for a Teacup is one of the shortest stories in the anthology but it is still long on laughter and full of memorable characters that will leave you laughing in appreciation even after the tale is finished and the doggynapper uncovered.  One of my favorite, I mean really a Morkie called Princess? That’s perfect.

9. Small Change by Danni Keane

4.75 stars.  Dom is the site attendant for Little Lexington, a model village of endless charm and timeless beauty.  Dom makes sure that all the people, houses, streets, everything is kept in perfect order, adding new elements as needed.  The little village and its perfect unchanging order give something to Dom he has never had anywhere else, stability and an unchanging future.  So when someone starts tampering  with the little figures he has so painstakingly created, Dom is determined to find out who is upsetting his village and Dom’s life.  So sweet and a little sad, Small Change brings a different feel to the anthology, giving the collection a touch of pathos and depth that has been lacking up until now.  As the story slowly unfolds you learn more about Dom and his need for the stability of Little Lexington, meet the person who has brought change to Dom and the village and get a delightful ending too.  One of the strongest stories of the collection and a new author for me as well.

10. Lawrence Frightengale Investigates by Aidee & Debussy Ladnier

5 stars. Lawrence Frightengale, aka Larry French, and his lover cabaret singer Myrna Boy (also known as Nicholas Benson when out of drag) are getting ready to ride in the annual Out & About Parade in the classic black Cadillac El Dorado convertible. That car had once been owned by the original host of Channel 11’s Terror Time, Harry Ghoulini, the morbid magician.  Now Lawrence Frightengale is the host of the resurrected show and for the first time, he will be riding, along with his lover and cohost, in the historic Cadillac convertible.  But when the car is stolen, the tv host and his cohorts must find the black convertible before the parade starts or lose their jobs in the process.  Who would want to steal the El Dorado? Who is after Lawrence Frightengale?  The answers must be found quickly as the parade is soon to start.

Wow, this story is such a delight in every aspect.  I grew up with Count Gore DeVol here in the DC area but I am sure that everyone will fondly remember a corny dramatic horror show host somewhere in their past.  The authors Ladnier are careful to treat the horror show host with affection and in loving tribute to their shows.  These are fully realized characters, the setting authentic and the mysteries, yes two, nicely planned and resolved.  The main characters are endearingly quixotic and yet oh so relatable that the reader will be left wanting more of their exploits or at least their cable show.  Love this story and the authors.

11. Joie de Vivre by Pinkie Rae Parker

4.25 stars.   Jules, a chef, has inherited his Aunt Mathilde’s country home, a place he remembers fondly as his escape from his battling parents and a person to whom he was always accepted as who he was.  During the years Jules spent training to be a chef and opening his own restaurant, he had not been to visit as often as he wanted and now returns to the only real home he has known to settle her estate.  Aunt Mathilde’s house is in dire need of repair but clearly someone has been there after her death.  Her cat is missing and so is her box of recipes, so important to Jules as Mathilde taught him to appreciate great food and cooking.   Who has been in the house? And where are the cherished recipes?  The answer lies in Jule’s past and a motorcycle he hears in the night.

Again, another lovely story, full of the ambience of the French countryside and the love of great food.  Vivid descriptions bring Aunt Mathilde’s crumbling french country home to life, from the decrepit plumbing to the disaster they call a roof.  Jules is well drawn, the mystery man less so.  I wish that Parker had fleshed out all of her characters, not just Jules and the ending felt a little more realistic than the one that occurred in the story.  Still, the charms and ambience of Joie de Vivre outweigh the few issues I saw and carry the story into the must read realm it deserves.

12. Philip Collyer vs. the Cola Thief by Amy Rae Durreson

Rating 5 stars

The collection ends on a strong note with a story by Amy Rae Durreson.  Philip Collyer vs. the Cola Thief takes a everyday office occurrence, that of an office communal refrigerator and stolen food and elevates it with humor and and a touch of realism in this tale of one man’s obsession to identify the person stealing his cola from the office refrigerator.  The reader gets it when Phil’s frustration mounts when not only does his precious cola, the one thing he anticipates daily, is taken and not only taken once, but taken every single day.  The culprit is unknown but leaves post-it notes to taunt Phil with their absence.   While the culprit is easy to spot, his motives are not and when revealed are very surprising to all.  Phil gets over his frustrations and issues with the thief a little  too easy for me but still the resolution is nicely done and will make everyone very happy.

If you love a sense of mystery, if the detective in you wants romance as well as something to solve, pick up this anthology and sit back and enjoy.  There is something for everyone inside.

Cover by Paul Richmond is quite delectable, or should that be detectible, and perfect for the stories within.

Book details:

ebook, 282 pages
Published April 22nd 2013 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN
162380650X (ISBN13: 9781623806507)
edition language
English
url http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com
If you want to see what some of the authors thought, head over to Joyfully Jay where I am a guest reviewer.  Lucky for everyone, we will be seeing more of Lawrence Frightengale and crew in a full length story.