An Alisa Review: Blackbird Fly Home (Doyle Global Securities #1) by Kendel Duncan

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Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

 

Sometimes life will surprise you

Sometimes it will disappoint you

Sometimes it will kick you in the balls

Sometimes it will make you so happy you feel like you can fly

And sometimes, just sometimes, it will do all of those things.

The kick in the balls, both literally and figuratively, happened to Noah Pierce a long time ago. Ten years to be exact, when, to cap off a brutal and horrendous four-year relationship with the man who claimed to love him, that man buried a butcher knife in his side. It was the final wound in a seemingly endless cycle of bruises, cuts, breaks, sprains and other things that sent him to the hospital. He thought he was going to die. But when he opened his eyes in that ER room and saw a stranger with kind yet determined eyes looking back at him and with his boyfriend nowhere in sight, Noah knew that life was going to change for him. And it did.

For ten years he was stronger, he was better, he was……hollow.

He didn’t realize that last part until he saw one man. One pair of haunting blue eyes beside the very man who had ruined Noah all those years ago. One pair of frightened eyes. One pair of hollow, hopeless eyes that Noah couldn’t have walked away from if he tried…..because someone else hadn’t walked away from him all those years ago.

Noah didn’t realize it at the time, but by saving Jesse Miller from the clutches of his ex, he was going to learn to fly…..

Trigger warning: This book contains mentions of past sexual abuse.

This was a story with two men who help save each other.  Noah has basically been surviving since escaping his abusive ex ten years ago but helping Jesse escape the same man gives him a chance to really start living.  Jesse has a different but still abusive experience with the man but he clings to the man he knows will understand and help him heal.

Morgan helped Noah escape and also gave him a job and something to focus his life.  He stands beside Jesse and Noah to stand up to their abuser but also to not allow them to push either away. Jesse is finally able to grow into the man he was meant to be.

I liked both of these characters and while they were both damaged in different ways they find way to help each other.  I could feel Noah’s fear that he couldn’t be the good man that Jesse needed but I loved watching Jesse and their friends help him through his doubt.  Jesse is so much stronger than he thinks and many of his action prove that but with the support of Noah he feels that he can succeed and get over what he has gone through.  I loved all the characters in the book and look forward to reading more about them.  I may even go and read some of Kendel’s other series too.

The cover art by Dara Nelson is nice and has a nice picture of the characters together and I love the connection to Noah’s tattoo.

Sales Links: Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 347 pages

Published: September 18, 2017 by Dare Press

Edition Language: English

Series: Doyle Global Securities #1

A MelanieM Review: Level Up by Annabeth Albert

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Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Landon can’t believe he’s let himself get roped into participating in a charity calendar, let alone one that features tastefully photographed nudes. The genius physicist is hardly model material, and he’s dreading the nude part of the photoshoot. Amid his reluctance, the one bright spot is his emails back and forth with the photographer.

However, Bailey turns out to be not exactly what Landon expects, and their first meeting is decidedly awkward. Bailey’s persistent though, and gradually Landon warms to the burly photographer, and they discover they have a shared love of gamer culture.

A tentative friendship is born, but the road from friends to lovers isn’t easy. Landon’s battling past trauma and must decide how much of a risk he’s willing to take. A sexy connection may not be enough to keep them together unless both are willing to put their hearts on the line.

Through series after series, Out of Uniform, Portland Heart, Rainbow Cove, and of course #gaymers in which this story is situated, I have followed, read, and loved every story that  Annabeth  Albert has written.  Why?  Because she writes real people caught up in situations and relationships we can relate to and believe in.  Our involvement with their lives is usually immediate, our concerns for their happiness and future fraught with emotions, and, whether we are dealing with military issues (Out of Uniform series, the connectivity of a small group of shop owners (Portland Heat), the revival of a seaside town (Rainbow Cove), and the development of a highly popular videogame, Space Villager (#gaymers), the veracity and vividness of the characters and stories always makes you feel grounded in them and their lives.

Level Up by Annabeth Albert is exactly what I have come to expect from this author.  A wonderful story that explores the beginning of a relationship between two people who start out their connection based on a calendar shoot, exchanged emails, and of course, their shared love for that game that I really wish was real, Space Villager.

Bailey is the photographer for the naked charity calendar and Landon is the now regretful volunteer.  They have been exchanging increasingly flirtatious emails, based on their shared love of all things nerd and geek but Landon is surprised to find that Bailey is not a pink haired girl he pictured but a rather large man, a shock that telegraphs immediately to a hurt Bailey upon their meeting.  A shock that doesn’t diminish the attraction between them.

Here’s Albert delves into the background of  both characters using two povs to reveal the issues standing between both men, Landon’s history, to create a sweet, heartwarming friends to lovers romance.  I absolutely bought  into the chemistry between these men, the bond forming between them first of friendship and then love.

Even the secondary characters, although I certainly could have used a little more of them as well, are as strong as the main ones.  I wanted their relationship to work out too.

I just love the way in which Bailey and Landon went through all the stages of their relationship here, equal parts sexy, serious, handled with sensitivity and when needed, fun.  What a wonderful story and couple.  I certainly hope they pop up again in the #gaymers universe.  I’d love to check in and see how they are doing.

Yes, I recommend this story.  You don’t have to have read the #gaymers series to read this one, but it certainly enriches it.

Cover art accurately depicts in my mind the character of Landon.  I love this cover.

Sales Link:  Amazon

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 132 pages
Published May 17th 2018 by Amazon Digital Services
Original Title Level Up
ASINB07CZP4BVT
Edition LanguageEnglish

Previously released as part of the EXPOSED anthology, and loosely linked to the #Gaymers universe, this friends-to-lovers, hurt/comfort story stands alone with a guaranteed happy ending. Contains a brief mention of a prior assault, but no on-screen violence or flashbacks.

A Kai Release Day Review: Safe and Sound by Caitlin Ricci

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Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Twenty-one-year-old Mason has to get out of his mother’s house, where her boyfriend subjects him to unwanted advances—and won’t take no for an answer. Since she didn’t believe Mason when he told her about his uncle’s sexual abuse, Mason knows he’s on his own, and it’s up to him to raise the money he needs. He thinks he’s in luck when he takes a modeling job.

Oliver is a photographer, and getting guys and sex has always been easy for him. His current open relationship is no exception: more friendship and fun than anything. But when Oliver meets Mason, he can see the younger man is fragile and desperately in need of help. Before anything can develop between them, Mason needs to free himself of his terrible living situation and start on the road to healing. Oliver wants to stand beside him as he does. What surprises him is the discovery that he might need Mason as much as Mason needs him.

Well, guys, this story just didn’t work for me.

The premise had such a great potential and although is a really short novella, I was hopeful it would be a good one before I read it. But, unfortunately, the execution fell flat.

Even though I didn’t have a big problem with the writing style, I didn’t like the way the story was developed. Or better yet, not developed enough.

I couldn’t connect with the main characters, and maybe if their personality had been more worked, it could be a little better. 

Mason seemed and acted just like a kid. And I get he had a traumatic experience in the past (that could have been more traumatic in my opinion), but his reaction to everybody and constant helpless characteristic seemed a little unrealistic for me.

On the other hand, Oliver personality wasn’t helplessly at all, but it was flat. He avoided monogamic relationships and, ok that’s his choice, not judgment here for it. But I couldn’t wrap why of it. I mean, he kind of tried to explain himself, but it was dull. It would be nice if we could see more depth in him.

Well, the open relationship Oliver had and the way it worked was intriguing, at least. But I couldn’t connect with Mason and Oliver together. It was really super fast and unrealistic the feelings. Like a super fast kiss and they had feelings for each other? 

I also didn’t like much of the supporting characters. Don’t even let me start with the mom. urgh! She treated her son like a kid and at the same time didn’t see what was in front of her nose. Urgh! 

I’ll stop now before I give you a big spoiler. But go there and read it. I recommend it? No. But I’d like to know if you have a different opinion or maybe agree with me. Let me know what you think about this novella.

Well, the cover art by Brooke Albrecht, is a really generic and a nice picture. But didn’t fit the story and I’m sorry, but it isn’t as inviting to read the book as a cover should.

Sales Links

Dreamspinner: https://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/books/safe-and-sound-by-caitlin-ricci-8948-b

Amazon: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36267337-safe-and-sound?from_search=true

Book Details:

ebook, 1st, 84 pages
Published October 18th 2017 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN139781635337839
Edition LanguageEnglish

Review: Justice (Leopard’s Spots #10) by Bailey Bradford

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Rating: 2. stars out of 5

Justice Leopard Spots 10 coverAfter being rescued by his twin brother Preston and his brother’s mate, Nischal, Paul Hardy is suffering horribly from the aftermath of his capture and two years being tortured and sexually abused as a shifter’s “pet”.  Prior to his experience at the hands of a human trafficking ring, Paul had no idea that shifters even existed, now he can’t get their existence or his trauma out of his mind.  And with his brother mated to a  shifter, Paul can’t even escape from the day to day contact he dreads. Paul, Preston, Nischal and his brother Sabin are all headed to Colorado and the snow leopard family compound hoping to find sanctuary and therapy for Paul.

Snow leopard shifter Justice Chalmers and his sister Vivian are traveling to Grandma Marybeth’s place in Colorado.  Justice was working at his dream job of being a police officer in Phoenix, Arizona when the call went out from his family about a human with a connection to them needing help immediately.  That call irequired Viv with her new therapy license to travel to Colorado and she doesn’t drive.  So Justice is currently on leave to drive his sister to their family compound.  Justice knows that there is more to the story than they have been told and his experiences as a Marine and cop, tell him to be on his guard.

A chance meeting between Paul and Justice on the road to Colorado changes the lives of both men permanently as Paul turns out to be Justice’s mate.  But their future together is cloudy.  Paul is severely damaged from his years of abuse and his abusers want their pet back.  Can Justice and Paul fight their way to happiness or will Paul’s past bring them both down?

Well, here we are at book ten in the Leopard’s Spots series and I am just as conflicted about this series as I was at book one, perhaps even more so.  To reach the tenth book in a series is sort of a benchmark for an author, an occasion to bring various plot strands together and move the entire series forward with new vigor, purpose and cohesion.  And I wish I could report that sort of growth happened here with Justice but it didn’t. There are so many missed opportunities here, so much jumbled nonsense, and quite frankly irresponsible writing that it is hard to know where to start.

Just the title alone starts the book off in a misleading fashion.  The book is called Justice but it really should be called Paul as it revolves around Paul Hardy, twin brother to Preston Hardy, Nischal’s mate  in book nine.  Justice almost serves as a secondary character here and the book suffers from that element.

Then the trajectory of the book really goes askew with the character of Paul and the author’s treatment of his traumatized state.  Back history for a moment.  Paul was captured two years ago (Nischal, Leopard’s Spots #9) by human slave traders and sold to a pack of wolf shifters keeping humans as pets.  For two unrelenting years, Paul was tortured,in every way possible from being sexually abused included gang rapes, being raped by the shifters in wolf form. Paul was tortured mentally, emotionally, and physically until he was broken so throughly that he could not even look his brother in the eyes or raise his head when rescued.  The author supplies us with all these facts and much more, although thankfully no explicit scenes of torture.  No, the reader gets flashbacks, nightmares, and stories about his numerous scars to help cobble together a picture of his time with his torturers.  Bradford wants us to believe in Paul’s traumatized state and at the beginning we do.

When we first meet Paul, the character is having multiple, desperate sexual encounters while feeling nothing. He is acting without consideration of his own safety and physical well being, trying to see if he can get himself killed without actually having to do the job himself.  His actions are understandable and the compassion the reader feels for this character is well grounded in reality.  Then he meets Justice and Viv and all that flies out the door.  Why?  Because of mates and sex, the bandaid of bandaids.  Sigh.

Apparently with Justice, he wants to have sex with a shifter, lots of it (although to be fair, it is mentioned that Justice being a snow leopard shifter instead of a wolf makes some difference).  Not only that but Paul has five therapy sessions, yes only five, with Viv, who just graduated and got her license and he’s soooooo much better.  No mention is made of a new therapist having the experience to deal with someone as traumatized as Paul.  Nope, he just improves rapidly.  Not 100 percent, as he still has flashbacks and nightmares but nothing so substantial as to immobilize him.  Now balance that picture against the one that the author built up for Paul in captivity.  It just doesn’t match up.  If the author wants the reader to buy in on Paul’s past and the horrors he endured then there is a reasonable expectation on the reader’s part that his recovery would be just as slow, hard and realistic  to deal with all the things that were done to him and that he was forced to do.

But that doesn’t happen.  Instead Bradford uses the mating urge to slap a bandage over the pain and scars left by the experience.  It’s slapdash and insufficient, believe me.  Shortcuts rarely work in fiction, and this one certainly doesn’t. Instead the reader feels as shortchanged as they should by being denied the satisfaction of seeing Paul slowly work through the horrendous events and traumas of the past two years.  That just isn’t a missed step, that a whole Marianna Trench!

And this type of plot device and jumbled narrative happens over and over again.  A wolf shifter named Cliff pops up like some vengeful enforcer but does his thing “off stage” as it were.  Totally unsatisfying too.  His captors come after  Paul again and Justice acts with such unbelievable stupidity for someone whose character was portrayed as a Marine for 10 years and then a cop, that I almost thought that Bradford had shifted the story over to a parody.  Totally lacking in any authenticity, watching Justice in action was similar to watching those actors run into spooky houses on Scary Movie.

And after all this nonsense, the author ends it with a cryptic message and not much else.  Trust me when I say my head hurts from banging it against the wall in frustration over this story, series and author.  So much promise is thrown away so casually and repeatedly over a series of ten books that it boggles my mind.  And still I want to know where this series is going and how much worse is it going to get.  I expect that the answer is much, much, worse.

How to balance an author who gets the reader to commit to believing in a character’s degradation and two year ordeal only to see that author then negate that commitment by not treating it seriously? And all within a framework of ideas that remain compelling and new? I just don’t know.  As I said I am conflicted over this series and author and so I am not even going to say whether I will recommend this or not.  I will leave it up to you.  But if you continue on as I will, get yourself prepared to encounter all sorts of frustrations and puzzling events and characters.  This is a wild grab bag of story elements and I never know what will appear.  Consider yourself informed.

Book Details:

ebook, 145 pages
Expected publication: October 4th 2013 by Total-E-Bound Publishing

Cover art by Posh Gosh is gorgeous as always. Models are on target and perfectly represent the characters involved. Just beautiful.

Here are the books in the Leopard’s Spots series in the order they were written and should be read (mostly)

Levi (Leopard’s Spots, #1)
Oscar (Leopard’s Spots, #2)
Timothy (Leopard’s Spots, #3)
Isaiah (Leopard’s Spots #4)
Gilbert (Leopard’s Spots #5)
Esau (Leopard’s Spots #6)
Sullivan (Leopard’s Spots, #7)
Wesley (Leopard’s Spots, #8)
Nischal (Leopard’s Spots, #9)

Review: Wesley (Leopard Spots #8) by Bailey Bradford

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Rating: 4.25  stars

Wesley Leopard SpotsWhen Wes Ward’s older brother Sully left home for college, Wes felt like he had lost the only friend he ever had.  Painfully shy as a child, Wes depended upon Sully for everything and Wes was unable to fill the void Sully left behind him.  Then Sully found his mate and forgot about his little brother completely.  In pain and full of bitterness, Wes turned to drugs and alcohol and his addiction almost cost him his leopard spirit.  When his parents catch him using, they send him to San Antonio and to Sully who lives there with his mate Bobby and Wes must confront his true feelings and see if he can heal the bitterness within.

It’s been two years since the vicious sexual assault Armando suffered in the club owned by Bobby and the wounds have not healed.  Armando now works at a Center for Homeless GLBT youth, helping others who were thrown out of their home like he was.  The center is his life as he cannot bear to even think about dating or getting close to another man since his rape.  Then Armando sees Wes when Wes starts to volunteer at the shelter.  Wes is almost a twin to Sully in their looks and his presence brings conflicting emotions to the surface in Wes.  Wes has hated Bobby and Sully for two years and seeing Wes makes all those memories Armando has tried to bury come out.  Equally shocking, he also finds himself attracted to Wes, an attraction Wes returns.

Both men have problems in their past they must face before either can go forward with their lives.  Wes is sure he has found his mate in Armando but can Armando put aside his hatred for Wes’ brother to see Wes for himself or will Wes be an way to revenge himself on Sully and Bobby.

This is one of the most tightly knit and well written books of the series.  Bradford’s focus is two badly damaged people and she treats both the characters and their issues with sensitivity and care.  Wes and Armando are also two of the best characters Bradford has written in a while, each having more depth and dimension than those in the past book, namely Sully and Bobby, who return here.  Wes is facing issues rare in shifters, that of drug and alcohol addiction.  Normally, shifters can’t get drunk or stoned due to their metabolism but Wes learned that certain combinations and amounts of drugs will see him either intoxicated or high.  With Wes, she paints a portrait of a young man whose poor self esteem and debilitating shyness make Wes unable to cope once his support in Sully is removed.

Given the treatment of Armando in the last book (Sullivan), I was unsure what would happen to him here but Bradford handled Armando and the trauma of his sexual assault with sensitivity and realism too.  Armando is stuck in the past, unable to go forward with his recovery for many reasons but one of the strongest is that he cannot be truthful with his therapist as to the exact nature of the assault as the predator was a shifter. So we find him two years later still having nightmares and suffering flashbacks.  He has purposely gained weight to appear unattractive and wears loose clothes, all authentic markers of abuse.  Normally Bradford fills her books with pages of mate induced sex which includes biting, claws and bloodletting.  Thankfully, most of that has been left out of a book dealing with two traumatized souls and she treats their slow path to a sexual relationship with thoughtfulness and tact.

In fact, I find this is the best book of the series if you can discount the lack of any continuing threads the previous books have established.  I think that had a little more of the themes of the series been included, this would have gotten a much higher rating.  It seems as though we are heading away from the Leopard element and more towards the wolf pack with the next in the series which I find a little disappointing as the Snow/Amur Leopard theme seemed to be  central to the series.  But if Wesley is any indication of the future of this series, than it is very bright indeed.  I can only hope for more like this one to come next.

Cover art by Posh Gosh who has done a fantastic job with the series with rich covers that are treats for the eyes.

Here is the Leopard Spots series in the order they were written and should be read (mostly):

Levi (Leopards Spots #1)

Oscar (Leopards Spots #2) read my review here.

Timothy (Leopards Spots #3) read my review here

Isaiah (Leopards Spots #4) read my review here

Gilbert (Leopards Spots #5) read my review here

Esau (Leopards Spots #6)

Sullivan (Leopards Spots #7)

Wesley (Leopards Spots #8)