Review: Ashland (WereWolf Fight League #2) by Lynn Lorenz

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Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Ashland WWF 2For years Dan Stoltz has dreamed of owning his own werewolf fighter.  He apprenticed with the well-known trainer and friend, Murphy, and now he is ready to make his first purchase.  At the auctions, Murphy points out a slave that he thinks would make a good fighter, one being sold because his owner is broke and can’t pay his back taxes.  Dan is wavering,as he has decided upon an Asian were. Then the slave raises his head and looks into Dan’s eyes.  With that one gaze, Dan is lost and determined to have Ashland at any cost.

Ashland has known nothing but abuse at the hands of his former owner, Durio.  Starved, sexually abused, kept weak for his owner’s amusement, now Ashland is for sale again and fears the new master who buys him. He sees Dan Stolz watching him on the auction block. When Dan wins the bidding war and buys him, Ashland finds that his life has changed for the better. With good food, rest, and training, Ashland thrives, becoming a skilled sparing partner.  And something more happens. Dan and Ashland are attracted to each other, lust and something more threatening the bonds being built between master and slave.

Ashland is the second installment in the WereWolf Fight League series and the main characters make this a very different book from Tor, the first in the series.  In the first book, the relationships are between slaves, the Owner/Master Marrack is a secondary character.  In Ashland, the relationship starts with the characters occupying two different strata in society.   Dan Stolz, Murphy and Ashland’s former owner Durio are free man, Masters in every sense of the word.  Lorenz’ universe seems to mirror ours here, at least as far as economics, as each man above has a slightly different financial reality.  Murphy is doing well as a seasoned successful trainer.  Dan is the apprentice who is ready to branch out on his own, lower middle case on the rise.  And then there is Durio, bankrupt and unable to pay his taxes, someone on the way down and hopefully out.

Next are the slaves, human and were.  Some fighters are breeders and are intact.  Others like Ashland have been “snipped”, they can function but not reproduce, an almost gelding as it were.  There are sex slaves of both genders, and instead of prison, those free men who have committed crimes against the government or society pay by becoming slaves themselves, condemned to perform the worst tasks society can give them (getting rid of the dead and cleaning up the streets).  Owners have total control, including rape, over their slaves, although change is coming via were and slave right activists.

A Master/slave relationship is by  definition an unequal relationship as the Master has total power over the slave.  So I was expecting to see something of that  reflected back in the story. And outside the brief mention of Durio’s actions towards Ashland, I didn’t see that. In fact I found this owner/slave dynamic  missing in this slave/owner relationship story.  Almost from the first, Dan is treating Ashland less like a slave and more like a person he wants to get to know.  Yes, Dan is a new owner, one of the people who believe in humane treatment of slaves, but still I found his attitude and behavior towards Ashland anything but masterful.

I have to admit I didn’t mind that this aspect was missing from the story (I actually preferred it this way) but just found it a bit odd. Their love for each others develops at the same pace as Ashland’s training, with the traumatized Ashland wanting Dan’s affections to Dan needing Ashland yet not wanting to abuse Ashland’s trust.  Apparently men don’t communicate very well in alternate worlds either.

New characters are introduced, another Master/slave/slave grouping, that I expect to appear in the third book.  I liked this trio.  They have real possibilities as men who respect each other within the limitations of their society.  I think my problem here is that the inequality within Dan and Ashland’s relationship continues even when Dan professes his love for Ashland.  Dan calls him “baby” which is accurate given his inability to read or navigate in Dan’s world.  Ashland remains emotionally unprepared for the status Dan is laying on him.  At least that is the way it seems to me.

There is a measure of suspense with regard to Ashland’s former owner trying to reclaim his slave.  The resolution of this plot thread is so pat that it felt perfunctory.  Wrapped up all too quickly, with many issues left unanswered, I found myself wishing that Lorenz had added at least a chapter or two of the “behind the scenes” mechanisms that made the ending possible.  I found myself liking this story marginally less than Tor perhaps because of the difference in relationship as well as the ending.  I think that the people who liked Tor will find themselves divided over this story.  And perhaps those that didn’t care for Tor will love the dynamics in play here. Either way Lynn Lorenz’s wonderful, heartfelt characters make this a werewolf story to add to your collection.

Stories in the WereWolf Fight League series include:

Tor (WereWolf Fight League #1)
Ashland (WereWolf Fight League #2), in many ways a prequel to Tor

No Publishers warnings accompany this story, unlike Tor, the first in the series.

Book Details:

ebook, 1st Edition, 151 pages
Published November 5th 2013 by Loose Id (first published November 4th 2013)
ISBN13 9781623005528
edition language English

Review: Infected Undertow (Infected #7) by Andrea Speed

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Infected Undertow cover

In a world where a werecat virus has changed society, Roan McKichan, a born infected and ex-cop, works as a private detective trying to solve crimes involving other infecteds.

While Roan McKichan remains comatose in the hospital, his status is grievously affecting all those around him.  Dylan, his husband, remains at his side, waiting for him to wake up.  Holden, prostitute and sidekick (as much as he would hate the word) is trying to handle a tentative relationship with one of Roan’s hockey player friends, and not handling it well.  Fiona, friend and secretary, is trying to figure out if her life is with Tank, the hockey player traded to a new city or with her old life here.  The new head of the Church of the Divine Transformation is causing problems for infecteds and noninfecteds alike, including a connection to an illegal fighting ring.  All is in turmoil as Roan finally wakes up.

When Roan awakes, it is to a reality in which his virus has mutated once more.  The lion/virus has strengthened and Roan must fight against his belief that he is turning into a monster while holding on to what is left of his humanity as well as relationship with Dylan.  And as Roan struggles to deal with his new reality, new cases arrive needing his help.  It will take all of Roan’s emotional strength to adapt and continue on with his life, no matter how much the undertow threatens to pull him under.

Undertow is an astonishing addition to an outstanding series.  Really it is hard to know where to start with the acclamations.  In Roan McKichan, Andrea Speed has created one of  the most haunting and extraordinary superheroes in recent fiction.  A virus has swept the nation that forces people to regularly change into different species of big cat, a torturous transformation and one that shortens the infected persons life.  No one is sure of its origin in this world. All the reader knows is that one day it just appeared.  Unlike those who acquired the virus through unsafe sexual acts, dirty needles or blood transfer (just as the AIDS virus) Roan was born with it, a virus child.  The author has created Roan as a being set aside from both populations, giving him a unique status with an ever changing physicality to go along with a separate entity that shares his body.  And with each book, we watch as the virus mutates and changes Roan along with it.  Roan’s struggles to adjust to the changes in his body and the increasingly strong virus are Herculean, both for the character and the reader.  Roan’s transformation reaches into the most primal of questions about identity, self, and what it means to be human.  It asks what is more fundamental?  The inside you or your physical exterior? Or in Roan’s case, is who you are dependent upon what species you are, a question becoming more central to Roan emotional makeup by the day.  Roan was a remarkable character in the beginning, intelligent, wry, and so adaptable that he survived an abusive beginning as well as the loss of Paris, a man he continues to mourn even as he found another.  Roan has so many layers and facets to this personality that detailing them would take a book of its own at this rate, Andrea Speed’s Guide to Roan McKichan.

And Roan is surrounded by a cadre of characters almost his equal in complexity.  I have to admit that Holden is my favorite.  Holden is a lethal combination of charm, brains, survivability as well as a flimsy, flexible morality that makes him a perfect companion for Roan in his endeavors to help those who come to him in need.  But Fiona, Gray, Scott, Seb, and all the rest stand on the platform with them.  I often forget that these people and their situations aren’t real, so involved do I feel in their current situations and futures.  Really, its just a parade of people so indelible that they will leave their marks in your heart and memory long after this story and quite possibly the series is finished.

And the world in which Roan lives is equally astounding. Andrea Speed has created a universe so densely layered and elastic, that each book can continue to build on the foundations laid out at the beginning, and still expand, growing ever more complex along with the virus and Roan. We are hearing hints of concentration camps or bills in Congress meant to incarcerate infecteds to protect the public, specific overtones of WWII with the Japanese Internment camps in California and the concentration camps of Nazi Germany.  At first it was mere whispers in the beginning books but the possibility has been increasing through each addition to the series as the public backlash grows against the infected population and Roan’s solidification as something so new, so extraordinary that those closest to him are having a hard time wrapping their brains around it. Of course, Holden is already aware of the ramifications to society and enjoying the heck out of it.  Undertow breaks out of the others books parameters as we really start to see the possibilities ahead for Roan and for all the infected populations.  It’s chilling, it’s exciting and it’s tantalizing in the hints laid out throughout the narrative.  I mean, there are parts here I kept rereading, not only for the power of the moment but also for the implications for the future.

Undertow has several threads running through it, just as the other books.  There are several mysteries to solve, including a woman haunted by the unsolved death of her mother, and a sordid fight ring to stop that uses infected as combatants.  As always the Church of the Divine Transformation is at the heart of at least one of Roan’s problems, an organization that never fails to live down to its reputation.  Several characters are undergoing transformative events in their lives to mirror on a lesser scale the major ones affecting Roan, which is perfection given that Roan is the central focus in each of their lives.

Normally I like to add in a few quotes to give a feel for the author and characters involved but the Infected series almost defies me to do that.  Taken out of context removes some of their power and put into context, the quotes contain far too many spoilers.  The narrative is powerful, angst filled, humorous, wry and concise, even to the names of the chapters like Subterranean Homesick Alien, Tiny Violin, Pretty Nettles,and St. Matthew Returns To The Womb.  Just trust me on this, quotes aren’t needed for something this great.

Unlike Lesser Evils (Infected #6), this is a complete story, with no cliffhangers (as such) to worry about.  That’s on the surface, of course.  Because the underlying issues remain, lying just ahead like fissures in the ice, or an undertow in the ocean current, waiting to pull the unwary down.  That’s what makes Roan and this series so exciting, so compelling and ultimately so addictive.  I finish one and then keep thinking about all the possibilities that lie ahead for Roan, Holden and everyone involved, including humanity.  This series is at book 7 and gathering speed and strength. Where Andrea Speed will take Roan and us, I have no idea but I can’t wait for the next part of the journey to continue.

If you are new to Roan and the series, go back and start at the beginning.  These books must be read as part of a series in order to understand the characters and the events that occur.  Trust me when I  say there are NO stand alone books here.  Here they are in the order they were written and must be read:

Prey (Infected, #1)

Bloodlines (Infected, #2)

Life After Death (Infected, #3)

Freefall (Infected, #4)

Shift (Infected, #5)

Lesser Evils (Infected, #6)

Undertow (Infected #7)

Andrea Speed has also created an Infected Undertow soundtrack that can be found here.  There are over 28 tracks that you do not want to miss out on, including Wolf Like Me by TV on the Radio and so much more.

Cover art by Anne Cain.  This cover is outrageously splendid, one of the best of the year as far as I am concerned (and considering how good all the covers are for this series, that is saying something).  Visit Andrea Speed’s website and download the covers for your computer.

Book Details:

ebook, 344 pages
Published June 14th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN139781623805661
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=3913
seriesInfected #7

From Mourning To Joy Once More, Animal Adoptions and the Week Ahead in Reviews

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You always hear that things have a way of changing overnight, but few experience it.  It didn’t quite happen like that here but it was close.  In my instance, things changed exactly one week to the day that I felt my heart shatter.  On June 4, 2013, my companion of 18 years, Winston died.  Exactly one week to the day, on June 11, another Winston came into my life, through circumstances so unusual, so connected, that I knew it was meant to be.   I have written that story, The Tale of Two Winstons – A Terrier Comes Home, to chart the beginning of our journey together.  Before that I had written of my first, indomitable Winston, my love of 18 years in My Winston.  But there was one fact I had left out.  You see, exactly one week before I found Winston, I had another dog, Snowflake, a rescue American Eskimo.

Snowflake was with me for two years, gorgeous and unfortunately so emotionally scarred by her previous family that only I could handle her.  I never got the entire  story but from her hatred of children and families in general, apparently she had been used as a target and punching bag by the people who owned her before me (and was rescued from).   One day we were out in the pasture, running and checking around for a loose horseshoe, when bikers sped by and Snowflake gave chase down the fence line.  Normally, that would have been fine as she couldn’t get through the wire and post fence, but sometime during the night a car had sideswiped the fence and taken down just enough to leave a Snowflake sized hole.  I am sure you all can imagine what happened next as Snowflake darted out onto that winding country  road.  Even as we raced to the vet, I knew my Snowflake was gone.

One week to the day, on that same spot, a shivering, heavily matted, rail thin Winston was found and went home with me carrying him in my arms, the same way Snowflake left that same spot.  Now 18 years later, exactly one week apart, my beloved Winston was gone and another Winston had arrived.  And each time, I knew it was meant to be.  How could it not?  I am not sure I believe in Fate but all these connections?  All these events strung together in order for one magical moment to happen?  How do I not believe in that?  Many people have said that Winston sent the other Winston to me, and I think I can agree there.  During that week of almost overwhelming grief and loss, I swear I could hear the thunk Winston made as he jumped down off the bed to investigate something in the house during the night.  Several times that occurred during that week, but since Winston arrived, not a sound.  This Winston likes to bury his food bowl (on tile no less) just like my old Winston did.  Perhaps one has taught the other his tricks without me knowing.  Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

My family now includes two rescued dogs, Winston and Kirby whose face adorns the banner of this blog.  They aren’t my first rescues and most certainly won’t be my last.  There are so many dogs (and cats) that need homes in shelters around the country.  And there are so many shelters in need of support, both monetary and in donations of supplies.  I know it is Father’s Day today but perhaps if your Dad is someone who has everything possible and you don’t know what to give him, maybe make a donation to your local animal rescue organization or humane society in his name as a gift.  I know it would be welcome.  I found my Winston by donating food to the shelter.  Who knows if a four pawed love awaits you there as well?  The larger groups, ASPCA, and the Humane Society of the United States, rescue animals from devastating events such as hurricanes and earthquakes and more.  They need your help too.

So here are some links to get you thinking about rescues and the organizations who need your help to continue their mission to save animals in need:

ASPCA

Humane Society of the United States

Montgomery County Humane Society

Days End Farm Horse Rescue – located locally in MD but travel all over the US to rescue large animals. Truly an amazing organization.

I am sure there are so many local rescue organizations around you that need your assistance.  They are only a tapped computer key away. Check them out as well.  Here are a few pictures of Winston and Kirby playing, they have turned into the best of friends.  Look below the pictures for the week ahead in reviews.  Happy Father’s Day!

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The week ahead in Reviews:

Monday, June 17:               Flawless by Cat Grant

Tuesday, June 18:              Fennel and Forgiveness by Ari McKay

Wed., June 19:                    In Search of a Story by Andrew Grey

Thursday, June 20:           Infected: Undertow by Andrea Speed

Friday, June 21:                 The Heir Apparent by Tere Michaels

Saturday, June 22:             Stonewall by Martin Duberman