Review Repost: Strength of the Pack (The Tameness of the Wolf #1) by Kendall McKenna

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Strength of the PackAt a time when tales of the Human Dominant and his True Alpha Shifter have been consigned to myth, along comes human Marine Lt. Lucas Young.  As he readies his command of mixed human and shifters for their deployment to Afghanistan,  he is assigned True Alpha pack leader Sargent Noah Hammond to his platoon. From the beginning, Lucas and Noah circle around each other, Noah pressing for dominance and control while Lucas is equally determined that his authority and rank be recognized and respected by the True Alpha. Small skirmishes and exercises bring human and shifter together in an ever strengthening bond as Lucas learns to dominate Noah and understand the ways of the Pack.

Once their platoon has landed in Afghanistan, they find themselves under fire, and the wartime stresses find their bond deepening and getting stronger with each trial and success. Soon the pair are mirroring the legendary bonding of Dominant and True Alpha from ancient lore. But the bonding is incomplete and when one is wounded, can misunderstandings and military regulations be overcome in time to save them both?

It has been a while since a new shifter book blew me away.  Strength of the Pack has done that job and then some.  McKenna gives us an alternative world where shifters and humans have been together for millennia and throughout much of history.  But through human rewriting, their place in our history has been purposely obscured. Now, because of some unmentioned war or occurrence, shifters are now partnering with humans in all aspects of life, including the military.  McKenna gives us just enough back history to whip up a thirst for more while still making her current setting feel realistic and well thought out.  Little by little, McKenna delivers glimpses of this magical back history, reinterpreting such legends as Joan of Arc and Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

McKenna’s world building is a wonder with no element left to chance.  We are given pack hierarchy, which is folded  into Army and Marine structure in such a way as to feel utterly real and authentic in every detail.  She has a way of describing army life as lived while deployed that I wondered if she was a Reservist or active in the military.  From their packs to their guns, to the dust and heat of the land they are bivouacked on, it felt as though you were there with them, close to the insurgents and ambushes.  It just rang true, right down to how the Pack reacts after skirmishing with the enemy.

And that brings me to another aspect of this book that I loved, the natural history of the wolf.  Unlike other shifter stories, here the wolf shifters act like wolves, including their rank and status within the pack and how it regulates their behavior to one another.  While I enjoy seeing different authors take on shifters, as a park naturalist I love seeing an author who gets the science right, especially where natural history is concerned. Kudos to McKenna for that lovely take on wolf shifters and shifter society.  She also opens up for an explosion of options in the books to come.  I can’t say more without giving away some of the plot but oh my, what possibilities could be in store for us in the books ahead.

Kendall McKenna’s characters are worthy of such marvelous world building too.  I loved the reserved nature of Lt. Lucas Young.  He is brilliant, concerned about regulations and the safety of those under his command.  There are so many levels to this man and they are slowly peeled away as he  realizes that he is not prepared to handle the presence of either a True Alpha or shifters in his platoon.  The decisions he makes (and we are inside his mind as he makes them) paint a portrait of a man, honest to his true nature with the capacity to grow with the challenges before him. Lucas is matched up with the indomitable True Alpha, Noah Hammond, a nordic warrior shifter.  This is not a cardboard hero but again a being adjusting to a bond thought unheard of and having his own problems with it.  McKenna has made Hammond vulnerable, at least to Lucas, a necessary facet of his personality if we are to believe their bond to be true.  This will be one of my favorite new pairs of the year.  The needs of the wolf for taste, touch, smell and markings deliver sensual scene after sensual scene as Lucas and Noah adapt to each other and their needs.

This book is 336 pages long and felt like 90.  I got to the end and wailed because I wanted much, much more.  I have so many questions for McKenna.  Has the government been working to find this combination again?  When did the shifters come forward again?  And what happens to Tim Madison?  Consider my feet stamped in frustration.  Lucky for all of us, this is just the beginning.  I hope the series is a long one.  But either way, long or short, I can’t wait for the next installment in The Tameness of the Wolf.  Go get your copy and let’s start this journey together.  I can’t wait to see where it takes us.

Stunning cover art by  Jared Rackler

Guest Blog – Kendall McKenna and Book Contest!

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ReconDiariesBanner2 Today we are lucky to have as our guest Kendall McKenna talking about her latest release, The Final Line (Recon Diaries #3).  To celebrate its release, we are giving away one copy of The Final Line and one copy of any other Recon Diaries title to a person who comments either today or tomorrow.  So don’t forget to leave a comment at the end of the post.  This is an incredible series and The Final Line is one of Scattered Thoughts Best Books of the Year: The Final Line Hello! My name is Kendall McKenna and I write M/M Erotic Romance novels and novellas. I’m going to talk about my U.S. Marine characters, and give away some free e-books, so let’s have some fun! Thanks to everyone for joining me today! On July 4th, The Final Line, my fifth novel – #3 in The Recon Diaries – was released to great reviews and a lot of excitement. This is the story of Corey Yarwood, who readers have watched grow up during the first two books in the series. Corey falls in love, has some hot sex, but also struggles with Post Traumatic Stress. That’s one of the hallmarks of The Recon Diaries, a hot romance woven together with a realistic military situation.

That’s actually what I do, as an author. My specialty, if you will.

My journey into writing love stories about U.S. Marines is pretty direct. I have never served in the military, but I have worked in law enforcement. There is a lot of crossover. Quite a few of my family members left the military to become law enforcement officers. I grew up in San Diego, where there are more Navy and Marine Corps bases than there are schools. Okay, not really, but almost. You get the idea. Growing up and into my late 20s, I was very close to my maternal grandfather. He had served in the Marines during WWII, and had been one of the founding members of 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion. This all mixed together to become an extensive knowledge base and understanding of all things military, quite specifically, the Marines.

When I got all grown up, I noticed how inaccurately both cops and Marines are portrayed in books, movies, and on television. I desperately wanted to read good books about these characters, that didn’t have glaring errors or clearly indicate that authors had no military knowledge at all. You can tell from my books that military personnel have ways of thinking and speaking. As a sub-culture, they have a language of their own. I understand all of this, and can tap into it. I’ve explained before that it’s a lot like spending your first ten years in another country, speaking English as well as the local language. If you move to the U.S. at the age of ten, it becomes the language and culture you most closely identify with, but you can still access everything from your first ten years.

That’s just one piece of the puzzle, though. My characters are very crucial to my stories. I would say they’re more important than my stories, but I know many would argue. In any event, people who thrive in the military culture, have certain personalities. They also go through a process of socialization and conditioning while in the military. What this means is that military characters have to be created in a specific way for them to be realistic. First of all, they’re emotionally reserved. They aren’t overly talkative, especially when it comes to their feelings. They tend to prefer actions over words. They possess an inclination to ‘protect’ their loved ones from the ugliness of their professional lives. They need something pristine as an escape, so they attempt to keep the two halves of their lives separate.

Anyway, I first tried writing military characters and military themed stories, because I believed I could do it better than in some of the things I was reading. And I’m not just talking in the m/m genre. It’s a widespread issue. So, I sat down and wrote. I edited, I re-wrote. And I wrote again. I went out and found editors and beta readers who I knew could be very critical and push me to be better. I wrote, they corrected me, and I re-wrote. I grew from simple stories of 2,500 words, to my sweeping 100,000 word epics.

It’s one thing to write a series of stories that are strictly about two people falling in love. Obviously, I love a good romance. I wanted to do more, though. I wanted to write realistic, believable (yet, fictional) stories that would serve as the backdrop for the love story. It’s a commonly used technique, but I looked around for something that either affects, or only occurs to military personnel. I start with that kernel of truth, and from it I develop my own story and draw my own conclusions. It’s a really big game of what-if, for me. My characters think, speak, act and react to the fictional situations I devise. I weave the love story in and out of the fictional plot, until they’re hopefully, seamless.

Here’s how it all worked for my latest story, The Final Line. Corey Yarwood is a small, secondary character who first showed up in Brothers In Arms. He reappeared, a little older and more mature, in Fire For Effect. When it came time for his own story, I aged him and promoted him, giving him a few unpleasant experiences to make him interesting, but also to give him some baggage. I created a love interest for him who is just different enough to create some conflict, but different in ways that balance Corey out a bit.

You pretty much have to be living under a rock, these days, to miss the fact that our military veterans are battling against Post Traumatic Stress. I gave Corey a case of PTS, and was careful to realistically portray the symptoms, as well as the treatment. I didn’t make anything easy. Corey suffers, and it takes him some time to heal. Even then, it’s not perfect

Also, if you pay attention to national news, you know that there have been some incidents that have occurred, resulting in military personnel being prosecuted. I created an event that would serve as a war crime, and would feasibly lead to stateside prosecutions. What better incident to trigger Corey’s PTS?

Finally, returning vets are suffering high rates of domestic violence. I used a local incident as a jumping off point for a plot point that sets the entire story in motion. If Corey was affected by an incident in Afghanistan, others in his platoon would be as well. If Corey battles to overcome his PTS, would there not also be someone who sank into darkness following this event? And what would happen if everyone got together to cover up this event? Who would take the fall when someone set out to uncover the truth?

What really sets my books apart from others written about military characters or situations, is the authentic flavor of my narrative. I tell the story I have designed using military jargon, dialog with the cadence of military-speak, and realistic combat scenes. I drop the reader into the story and tell them what it’s like to feel the recoil of an M16. I describe the tooth-rattling, ear ringing feel of being close to an explosive detonation. I write authentic radio chatter, right down to unit call signs. I make the reader’s heart pound and their blood race, as if they were right beside Corey in combat. My military situations could happen; they’re actually possible. My Recon Marines execute real-life missions. They’re not Navy SEALs single handedly saving the White House.

I admit it! I love stories like that! But I set out to do something completely different. The rogue SEAL has been done to death. I set myself apart by going for realism.

If you have any questions about me, my background, or about anything regarding one of my stories, leave a comment, I’m happy to answer.

TheFinalLineEventPicCurious about Corey and The Final Line?

Here’s the blurb: Staff Sergeant Corey Yarwood is an instructor at the Basic Reconnaissance Course. His last deployment ended in horror, but he can’t remember those events. Battling severe PTSD, Corey’s drinking is growing out of control. Sean Chandler walks into a dive bar, and into Corey’s life. An actor and a musician, Sean has the empathy and compassion to sooth Corey’s pain, and the strength to support him as he struggles to heal. Corey’s lost memories are pivotal to a civilian murder, and a military investigation. Remembering could mean salvation, or destruction. Will the truth be too much for Sean to handle?Final Line pic

The Final Line might be Book #3 in The Recon Diaries, but it also stands alone. You can read it without having read the previous two books. However, if you’re curious about The Recon Diaries, you can read more about them at my website: www.kendallmckenna.com

NOW FOR THE FREE STUFF!

You have the chance to win one of two e-books! Our hostess is offering a free e-book of my newest title, The Final Line! I am offering a free e-book of any of the three titles from The Recon Diaries! The Rafflecopter drawings below will tell you what you need to know!

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/1bf30753/

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/1bf30754/

Thank you so much for joining me here, and good luck to everyone with the drawings!

Corey & Sean 1st kiss Corey with puppyMarine Corey

When is a 5 – Star Rating Not High Enough?

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The Final LineA 5-star rating is not high enough when I am reviewing the stunning new book by Kendall McKenna, The Final Line!  The 3rd book in her Recon Diaries is emotionally powerful and absolutely current in topic.  Starting tomorrow, Scattered Thoughts is giving away one copy of this amazing book to one person chosen from those who leave comments on Monday and Tuesday.  Don’t miss out on your chance! Join us Monday and Tuesday as we welcome Kendall McKenna to Scattered Thoughts as a guest blogger and then followup with a review on Tuesday.

A Book Giveaway, Riding the Weather Rollercoaster, and the Week Ahead in Reviews

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So far the Washington Metro area has felt like Seattle, WA, and now we are aiming for Phoenix, AZ.  We have had close to 12 inches of rain in the last month alone, and that doesn’t seem to be letting up as we head towards the middle of July.  Really, folks, nothing like 100 percent humidity for a smokey Fourth of July.  Now the heat wave that baked the western states has hit here as well.  Temperature is rising to 98º today.  Now add to that the fact that the ground squishes with every footstep and a high humidity….well, it is little wonder I expect to see monkeys swinging from the maples at any time.  It is downright tropical outside.  Well ok, we did see a runaway red panda last week that escaped from the National Zoo (now safely back home after a trip to Adams Morgan, a very trendy place).  And a couple of teenage black bears that decided to tour downtown Washington for a suitable condo to live in.  I am betting air-conditioning and a pool were on their list of must haves!   So I am seeing a day spent inside knitting and reading on the agenda for the rest of the day.  I did get my coleus and caladiums bought on sale planted yesterday, as well as some yanking of smartweed but anything else will have to wait until the temperatures go down.

Now on to the exciting week ahead.  Kendall McKenna’s latest release, The Final Line is just out.  It is the another book in her wonderful Recon Diaries series.  On Monday, Kendall McKenna will be here with a guest blog and a book contest.  We will be giving away, courtesy of MLR Press, a copy of The Final Line to one of the people who comment on her blog and my review, which will be posted the next day.  Here is the blurb for the book:

Staff Sergeant Corey Yarwood is an instructor at the Basic Reconnaissance Course. His last deployment ended in horror, but he can’t remember those events. Battling severe PTSD, Corey’s drinking is growing out of control.

Sean Chandler walks into a dive bar, and into Corey’s life. An actor and a musician, Sean has the empathy and compassion to sooth Corey’s pain, and the strength to support him as he struggles to heal.

Corey’s lost memories are pivotal to a civilian murder, and a military investigation. Remembering could mean salvation, or destruction. Will the truth be too much for Sean to handle?

So mark your calendars for July 8 and 9 for your chance to win a copy of this wonderful book!  And thank you, MLR Press and Laura Baumbach for the copies of The Final Line.  Now here is the week ahead in reviews:

Monday, July 8, 2013:                 Guest Blog with Kendall McKenna, author of The Final Line

Book Contest.  One copy of The Final Line will be given away

Tuesday, July 9, 2013:                  Review of The Final Line, last day to comment for the contest

Wednesday, July 10,2013:          Pickup Men by LC Chase, winner of contest announced

Thursday, July 11, 2013:             Changing Planes by Karenna Colcroft

Friday, July 12, 2013:                  Fever Anthology by M. Rode

Saturday, July 13, 2013:              In Pursuit of the Bang On, Well Done, and apparently Endangered Short Story

So that’s our exciting week ahead.  I will leave you with a picture of Winston, recently groomed.  He has settled into our family as though he has

DSCN3917 always been there.  And here is a recipe for a drink to keep this hot weather in its place!  This cocktail is called appropriately Adios Motherfucker or AMF.  I have included the recipe as well as a link to the video on how to make this delicious drink.  A great way to say goodbye heatwave or  anything else to want to get rid of:

Adios Motherfucker CocktailAMF Recipe:

Scale ingredients to servings
1/2 oz vodka
1/2 oz rum
1/2 oz tequila
1/2 oz gin
1/2 oz Blue Curacao liqueur
2 oz sweet and sour mix
2 oz 7-Up® soda

Pour all ingredients except the 7-Up into a chilled glass filled with ice cubes. Top with 7-Up and stir gently.
Read more: Adios Motherfucker recipe http://www.drinksmixer.com/drink735.html#ixzz2YHs7Z756

Review: Fire For Effect (The Recon Diaries #2) by Kendall McKenna

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Fire For EffectIt is two years after reuniting in Afghanistan, Kellan Reynolds and First Sergeant Jonah Carver find themselves back in the States, albeit on opposite ends of the country, trying to make their long distance relationship work. Kellan is still the CEO of Keystone Consulting. Jonah is stationed at Camp Pendleton, and looking to make changes in his career path in the Army, one to put him on course to be a Sergeant Major.  A speaking engagement in California reunites the men after another 6 months separation and a question posed to both Kellan and Jonah stirs up their  curiosity and plunges them both into an investigation.  The question asked at the conference concerns the repeated denial of Medal of Honors to  Marines killed in action in the recent wars. The pursuing investigation into those charges will lead Kellan and Jonah back to Afghanistan and changes the course of their lives.

Fire For Effect is the sequel to Brothers In Arms and the second book in what I hope will be a long and satisfying  series.  The foundation of this book and series is Kendall McKenna’s superb  knowledge of the military in all its aspects.  When Kellan (former Captain in the Army) and Jonah speak or move forward into action, they do so with an innate authority that would come from their history serving together as well as separately in various engagements throughout Iraq and Afghanistan.  The reader never once questions anything about the combat troops movements, their gear, arms, and even how the troops would spend their downtime overseas because it feels absolutely authentic in every detail.

In fact for this reader, the book really sings when Kellan and Jonah are engaged in military action, finding themselves once  more under fire.  Here is an example:

 The paths between camp facilities were all hard-packed and well-worn from the passing of many booted feet. Everything around them was coated in a layer of fine, powder-like dust, the same pale beige as the endless sands that surrounded them.

“Damn moon dust gets into everything,” Corporal Ruhl muttered.

“Excuse me?” Kellan asked, not quite hearing what the corporal had said.

“The top most layer of sand is this fine, powdery stuff we call moon dust,” Ruhl said. “It gets picked up easy by the wind and gets into everything. We can’t keep anything clean for very long.”

“Yeah, I remember,” Kellan replied. He was brushing that sand off and out of things for almost a year after he’d returned home.

And here is  another excerpt with the men accompanying a company in Afghanistan during their investigation:

The translator expressed all of their farewells to Wasim and the Marines climbed back into their victors. Their next stop was at a combat post, which was nothing more than a platoon of Marines dug into a flat patch of dirt and rock. Even now, Marines were squaring walls of trenches with e-tools and stacking sandbags.

“Ammo restock, looks like,” Jonah mused. “MREs, too,” Kellan said, as he watched crates and cartons get tossed and stacked. Their stop was brief and they were oscar-mike again. Kellan was sure his spine was permanently compressed by the time they reached the combat post that was Gunnery Sergeant Galen Foster’s current billet. As soon as the compound gate secured behind them and the Marines began to exit their victors, Kellan carefully stepped out and stretched his aching muscles.

This COP was in what appeared to be some sort of ancient fortification. Tall walls made of mud brick encircled the entire compound. Two single-story structures stood side-by side, also made of mud brick. The original wooden roof had been reinforced with more secure metals, not unlike the hillbilly armor of the Humvees. It was primitive and austere, only slightly less spartan than the first COP they had visited. Activity buzzed around them. Marines wearing Under Armor shirts unloaded trucks, cleaned weapons, and worked under the hoods of vehicles. Kellan heard laughter and swearing, dirty jokes and most of all, complaining. Marines loved to complain.

Just by those passages alone, you get the feel of what it must be like to be in country, fighting the gritty, dusty sand, the extreme heat and cold, amidst a civilian population that just might be a hotbed of insurgents.  Everything from the language to the terminology speaks of the reality of being in the Army in Afghanistan.  Really, it’s just perfect.

McKenna’s characters are as authentic as the rest of her story.  Kellan and Jonah are such perfectly realized characters that it is easy to believe in them.  Jonah, with his cautious reserve and military respect for his uniform and traditions is still the surfer who loves to  spend his time catching waves.  And Kellan, for all that he is now the CEO of a security consultant firm, is still very much the Army Captain in the carriage and attitude that he presents to others that they instinctively call him “sir”.  But together that reserve melts under the flames of their passion for each other once they are alone.   The relationship that McKenna has created between Jonah and Kellan is just as real and human as the rest of the book.  These man have communication issues and their tentative outreaches to each other speaks of their separation over long distances.  Yet you can feel the deep love Jonah and Kellan have for  each other through their conversations and body language, so intimate an affair that the reader almost feels like an eavesdropper.

And lastly there is the subject matter of their investigation.  You can look it up your self, there were questions raised and investigations launched over the fact that fewer medals of honor were handed out to soldiers in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars than there were to soldiers in previous wars.  Some pointed the finger at the racial component (more races can be counted in the volunteer Army than in the conscripted ones of the previous wars) or to the fact that women (and gays) were now serving in higher numbers as well.  In Fire For Effect, Kendall McKenna has put her own spin to these questions and come out with a remarkable story that brings to light some not so savory conclusions about the actions of the Congress and Brass on this subject matter.

All of the above combined, the genuine respect and love for the Marines, the outstanding characters and the “ripped from the headlines” subject matter make Fire For Effect a truly compelling read.  The only thing lacking was the length.  I felt that it was too short to fully develop the investigation and its resolution.  I really wanted more of the story after their return from Afghanistan and more insight into what’s next in their relationship.  I expect that a third book will hold some answers for us, I hope so.  At any rate, that is all that kept Fire For Effect from a 5 star rating.   I do suggest that if you are new to the Recon Diaries, that you start at the beginning, with Brothers In Arms.  In fact pick them both up and read them in one session.  You will love being able to read one after the other.  I can’t wait for the next one to follow.  This pair has me hooked.  I think you will feel the same.

The Recon Diaries in the order they were written and should be read:

Brothers in Arms

Fire For Effect

And don’t miss out on one of my favorites of this year, Kendall McKenna’s Strength of the Pack as well as her Nights In Canaan.

Cover art by Jared Rackler.  Beautiful cover, very hot although I am not sure that it address the subject of the book.

Review: Sensei by Karenna Colcroft

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Rating: 3 stars

Sensei coverIsao Nakamura is a five hundred years old vampire.  He operates a dojo in a neutral territory surrounded by a vampire clan he is at odds with. Isao feeds only on the criminals he comes into contact with and saved many a innocent from the attacks of the vampires around him.  Now his actions threaten the fragile truce he has lived under and all those he has come to care about, including his new adult student James.  James is unaware that his Sensei that he has come to love is a vampire.  Isao returns James’ affections, a perilous idea at best.  Can the Sensei protect James and his dojo or will he lose everything in a final battle?

This is a short story of 73 pages and unfortunately Sensei reads as though we are given just the first several chapters of a much longer book.  The characters are interesting and in Isao Nakamura’s case, we are given to understand that he was once a ninja and that all the ninjas were turned to increase their warrior skills.  But that is our only glimpse of an intriguing backstory and except for one more throwaway sentence, it is forgotten.  Colcroft gives us a vampire clan and again just a marginal understanding of the universe in which they exist.  The small details the author does give us definitely piques the interest for more of her universe making and vampire history but since an overall picture is lacking, it brings the story up short literally.

James is a human without layers or history and that also brings down the interest in the Isao/James union.  Another vampire and former lover of Isao keeps asking the Sensei why James?  What’s so special about him?  But the author never gives him or us a good answer to that question. Again the short length of the story has also hurt her characterizations.

This is a quick read and ends in a HFN with no expectations of a HEA, at least as far as I can tell,  Perhaps the author has a sequel planned, but to bring me back to the table, she will have to bring more history, a more throughly realized universe and characters to the story before I visit here again.

Cover Art by Deana Jamroz is ok.  The design is just ok, but could have been so much better.

Review: Nights In Canaan by Kendall McKenna

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Rating: 5 stars

Nights in Canaan coverEternal redemption, eternal damnation. Two warriors, one good and one evil caught in an timeless loop, forever being reborn, fated to love and then die to keep the balance of the universe intact.  Each time, the ancient vampire pleads with his warrior of light love to let the vampire turn him so they can be together forever and each time the warrior hesitates longer before making the killing blow.  Is this the reincarnation where the warrior for good finally gives in to his hearts desire or will the pattern continue as love is sacrificed for the greater good?

Kendall McKenna continues to astonish me with her powerful stories.  Her writing is precise, compelling, and memorable.  Nights in Canaan is just another terrific example of her ability as an author to bring her vision to life, no matter the genre.

I will say that this story is not for everyone.  If you are someone that needs a HEA or a HFN, Nights in Canaan will not meet either requirement.  But if a haunting story of eternal love is one that you seek, than this is a story for you.

Nights in Canaan opens in the City of Gina, Egyptian ruled Land of Canaan, 3rd Year of Pharaoh Akhenaton (1350 bce).  Both the ancient vampire and his other half, the winged warrior have risen to do battle with each other again.  The warrior for good is fated to kill his lover, the vampire but not before they are given a short time in which to love each other, indulging in blood drinking and sex.  Then memory and duty take over and events repeat themselves.  As time moves forward we watch this happen until we reach the year 2004, City of Fallujah, Iraq. We meet Marine Sgt. Jayden Lindberg on patrol with other members of his unit.  It’s nighttime and Jayden watches in disbelief as one of his men is attacked by a vampire and drained before his eyes.  Somehow he knows that his weaponry is worthless against this enemy, and Jayden does nothing as his man dies.  McKenna’s Marine characters are wonders of realism, and Jayden’s confusion and inner turmoil is shattering.  He cannot understand his behavior in face of his soldier’s death and the easy manner in which he lied about his role.  McKenna captures the dangers inherent of a patrol in Iraq and then ups the terror as the men face not just insurgents but a vampire intent on building his own army.

As the events move towards the inevitable conclusion, memories starts to resurface, and we watch as the viewpoint changes slowly from that of a human to that of an immortal.  Just masterful, using a change in word choice here and there to denote someone removing themselves from a intimate connection that used to be the norm to an elevated dispassionate stance.

At one point in the story, the warrior’s memory awakes and he wonders of his ancient vampire lover:

” Did he experience excruciating pain when his fangs first lengthened and his body began to crave human blood?”

And I wonder as well, wishing for the vampire’s pov as much as the warrior’s.  Both characters are weary of their continued battle, full of pain at the inevitability of their roles and yet their love is as potent as ever.  The story ends as it should, the only way it can.   At 65 pages, it is short in length but will stay long in your memory.

Cover Art by Deana Jamroz is nice but not nearly as good as the story within.

Review: Natural Predators (Mahu #7) by Neil S. Plakcy

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Rating: 5 stars

Natural Predators coverHonolulu homicide detective Kimo Kanapa’aka and his detective partner Ray Donne are called on one of their most complex case when an abandoned warehouse goes up in flames and in the rubble the remains of a prominent statesman are found.  When the cause of death is determined to be murder, Kimo and Ray follow an ever expanding field of clues that stretch from local gyms into the rarified society of Hawaii’s oldest and wealthiest families.

More bodies pile up as the murderer stays just ahead of them, putting their families and themselves in danger.  In addition to his case, Kimo’s personal relationship with his partner Mike is under stress as they decide whether or not to go ahead as donors for their lesbian friends and a young runaway makes Kimo and Mike think about being foster parents.

Hawaii is a place of immense beauty , where predators and prey live and die as nature dictates.  Under the shinning sun and majestic waves, treacherous events happen even as the ambience lures you in.  No one is more aware of the delicate balance than Kimo Kanapa’aka as he races to find the murderer and keep his new found family safe.

Natural Predators is the first book I have read by Neil S. Plakcy and therefore the first book I have read in this series.  I started early evening and read right through until 2am in the morning, pausing only to rub my eyes, adjust the light and continue on until I had finished.  I had heard wonderful things about this series but still nothing prepared me for the richness and depth of the story and characterizations I found within.  It was like going to a nice restaurant only to find out that the restaurant is gourmet, Jose Andres is the chef, and you are sitting at the chef’s table.

Natural Predators is a veritable luau of Hawaiian delights, a banquet of varying aromas, textures, tastes and melodies, something for everyone’s palate.  Plakcy’s characters range from low level thugs to runaway teens to high society lawyers and businessman and everything in between.  Each character has a defining “voice” consistent with their histories and culture, from traditional haoli conversations to the pidgin dialect heard among those born on Hawaii.  Here Kimo and his partner track down two suspects in the case:

“Mr. Campbell. Police. Open up.” We waited, and Ray was about to knock again when the door opened. Larry, a fat Hawaiian guy with dark dreadlocks, stuck his head out. “Hey, Leroy, it’s da kine police,” he said. “Long time no see, bruddas.”

Larry yawned and stepped outside, and big, bald Leroy followed him. “How about your cousin Pika?” Ray asked. “He in there, too?” “Nah, he wen bag two days ago.” “But he was living with you before he left?” I asked. “Sometimes he moi moi wid us, sometimes wid his buddy,” Leroy said.

To Ray’s credit, he seemed to be following the conversation, which meant he was learning our island pidgin. Pika slept at their place sometimes, but had left two days before. “Tacky?” I asked. Larry nodded. “Yeah. Bodybuilder dude. Dumb as two rocks in a box.” That could describe the Campbell brothers, too. “You know where we can find him?” I asked. “Try gym,” Leroy said. “Ho brah, he alla time workin out.”

Picked out of context, it might seem a little jarring but still you can hear the rhythm of the spoken words and in context, you barely notice it so because you have become so accustomed to hearing it throughout the novel.  By the end of the story, you will feel as though you have walked the streets of the city and sat and conversed with all types of Hawaiians,  The authenticity of elements and locations Plakcy has brought to the story make it that real.

We travel with Kimo and Ray as they traverse from one side of the island to the other, collecting Hawaiian history and geographical facts as we go. From the history of Hawaii’s quest for statehood or independence to the polyglot of cultures that makes up a typical Hawaiian conversation, we are slowly pulled in to the draw of the islands and the rhythm of daily life there. And not once does any of it come across as a regurgitation of a history lesson.

Again Plakcy seamlessly folds in tidbits of Hawaiian sayings and facts, as in this example:

“Just before four, we hopped in the Jeep to meet Frankie. In Honolulu, we don’t use mainland directions like east, west, north and south. Makai is toward the ocean, while mauka means inland, toward the mountains. Diamond Head is in the direction of that extinct volcano, while the opposite is called Ewa, toward a town of the same name.”

Actually I could just keep on with quote after quote, Natural Predators is that terrific, Neil S. Plakcy is that great.  His descriptions are vivid, wide ranging and carry with them the tone of a detective familiar with the full spectrum of human society, one that has lost its element to surprise him but manages to deliver an appreciation for life and its special moments no matter the situation. I am in love with all of the characters here.

Natural Predators is a novel not of one plot thread but many, and Plakcy does a remarkable job of not only paying equal attention to every one but also to keep each storyline as strong and rich in texture as all the rest.  The murder mysteries have a complex history to them, the foster child element will make you laugh and cry, sometimes together, you will hold your breath as Kimo and his partner Mike work through yet another potential obstacle to happiness with regard to surrogate fatherhood and still read in amazement as Plakcy rolls in more layers much like the tropical habitats that abound in Hawaii.  If I thought he would have heard it, I would have stood and applauded upon finishing this story.

So what happens now?  Well, hopefully you will go off to buy the book and I am going back to the beginning and start the series from Mahu (Mahu#1).  I can’t wait for the ride to begin again, such an E Ticket!

Here are the books in the order they were written:

Mahu (Mahu #1)

Mahu Surfer (Mahu #2)

Mahu Fire (Mahu #3)

Mahu Vice

Mahu Blood

Zero Break

Mahu Men: Mysterious and Erotic Stories

Natural Predators

I can’t find the name of the cover artist but they did a beautiful job, worthy of the story within.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day and the Week Ahead in Reviews

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sláinte! Happy St. Patrick’s Day.  To start your St. Patrick’s Day, here is some great music from Brogan’s Bar in Ennis, Ireland to get you fired up!

Half Irish, half Scottish, I love this day and today the weather has gone along with the program and seems particularly Irish. Overcast, damp, but not too cold, perfect for marching in parades all over the nation.

I have travelled to Ireland several times and found the leaving of it always comes with a crease in my heart, as though even my cells know that we are saying farewell to home.  My first time visiting with my high school daughter was both a delightful and revelatory, her feet seeming to find paths that she should not know where there.   My nights were filled of dreams of seals and shores and music carried along the winds over gorse covered hills, studded with stone.  And on the penultimate day, Heather and I were hiking in a verdant forest, far away from any others or so we thought.  And then we heard it, or heard them more accurately.  First the sounds of a waterfall, the roar getting louder the closer we got.  But what really made that day magical was the sounds of piping coming from high overhead.  We craned our necks to see where it came from and finally we found him, standing on a rock ledge, eyes closed, bagpipes swelling as he lost himself in the music he was playing.  We listened for a while and then quietly left, rejuevenated and enriched by a magical experience shared before she left for college.  One of my finest memories.

So day I hope for the best for all of you, of laughter shared, of love found and family held close. And as this website is, mostly, devoted to books I will leave you with a quote from an Irish author:

“As a writer, I write to see. If I knew how it would end, I wouldn’t write. It’s a process of discovery.”
– Author John McGahern

Here is the week ahead in book reviews:

Monday, March 18:                An Unconventional Union by Scotty Cade

Tuesday, March 19:                 Never A Hero by Marie Sexton

Wed., March 20:                     Redemption of the Beast by Amylea Lyn

Thursday, March 21:              Family Man by Heidi Cullinan

Friday, March 22:                   Nights in Canaan by Kendall McKenna

Sat., March 23:                        Natural Predators by Neil Placky

So, that’s the week.  Have a safe and wonderful St. Patrick’s Day.  Forego the green beer, that’s gross anyway and have a Irish Manhattan, so much better!

Review: Brothers In Arms (The Recon Diaries #1) by Kendall McKenna

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Rating: 4.5 stars

Brothers In ARms coverMarine Staff Sergeant Jonah Carver is a legend among the soldiers stationed in  Afghanistan and for good reason.  Jonah Carver is the Marine ideals personified, his past missions now part of Corp mystique. So Jonah is the natural choice when a high security mission arrives in Diyala Firm base, Diyala Province, Iraq.  A high level personage needs Bravo company for transportation and protection against the insurgents.  When that person is targeted and killed, a new mission is planned to hunt down the assassins and uncover the agents behind the  plot against the American military.

And that brings Jonah’s past back with the arrival of Kellan Reynolds in the task force created to investigate the assassination.  Kellan Reynolds is Jonah’s former Captain in Afghanistan.  They had one night of hot, unbelievable sex before Kellan left the Marines to become an advisor to the President and Jonah returned to his troop. Now the same attraction and sexual tension is back as though it never left.  But the joint mission requires their full attention and the resumption of their relationship takes a back seat to the investigation.

When Kellan is kidnapped by the insurgents, their mission is thrown into disarray.  Jonah and his company must risk everything to get Kellan back, not only for the mission but for their future together as well.

After reading Strength of the Pack, I had to go out and see what else Kendall McKenna had written.  The book I found, Brothers In Arms,  did not disappoint the high expectations left by Strength of the Pack.  Shorter in length, this book contains the same memorable characters and vivid descriptions of the locales that I marveled at in the previous book.  Really, this author has so many strengths I don’t know where to start.

Characterizations.  Absolute perfection.  McKenna creates these wonderful Marines, gritty, human, vulnerable and brave.  She gives them dialog to speak so believable that I swear I could hear them in my dreams and puts them through events so authentic, so real that I expected to see them appear on the nightly news.  How’s that for great writing.  These men reek of sweat, and dust, and the smell of gun oil.  They are tired, the heat is sweltering, and the enemy is everywhere.  I truly felt as though I was in the middle of the platoon in Diyala Province.

The romance is equally suited to the men involved.  Don’t expect any flowers, that ain’t happening.  But the emotions, however internalized, are as real as the men involved.  I really appreciated that.  I loved that non verbal communication thing that happened between them.  They knew each other so well that at some point, speech became unnecessary until they had the luxury of time to spend with each other, and then the sex is incendiary.

Narrative and exposition are as amazing and detailed as her characterizations.  I felt as though I was embedded in the company and knew these men as intimately as their Sergeant did.  It was both a pleasure and pain to meet and understand these men and women because McKenna made their situations as authentic as their real life counterparts.  I will say no more.

Why not 5 stars?  Primarily due to the story length.  I wish it and the resolution had been longer, I certainly wanted more.  If you are looking for just romance or erotica, this might not be the book for you.  But if you are looking for meticulous writing, beautifully articulated characters and as real a setting as any I have read recently, then please get this book and be prepared to meet a couple you won’t soon forget.  Lucky for us a sequel is on its way.  I can’ t wait, Neither should you.

Cover Art by Jared Rackler. Just as superb as the story contained within.  Loved it.

Kendall McKenna. Brothers in Arms. MLR Press LLC.