A MelanieM Review: Winging It by Ashlyn Kane and Morgan James

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Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5

Winging ItGabriel “Banksy” Martin is living the life he has always wanted.  A forward for the young hockey team, the Quebec City Nordiques, Gabe stays focused on his job and his team leaving him little time for anything else.  And that includes the so so boyfriend he’s been seeing on the sly.  Because nothing in his life says that Gabe wants to be the first out hockey player. What Gabe wants is a great season and to win the Stanley Cup…nothing more.

Teammate Dante Baltierra is young in almost every respect.  Dante, aka Baller, is careless, reckless… shameless. He’s a known horn dog with a penchant for women and partying.  But no one questions his dedication to the sport and Gabe can overlook a lot of young-and-stupid in the name of great hockey. Plus Dante has a superlative ass in a sport filled with superlative asses.

Gabe is determined to keep the attraction he feels building towards Dante buried deep but a jilted boyfriend and fate have other ideas.  When a tabloid expose’ threatens not only Gabe’s career but the stability of the team, what happens in the aftermath is something Gabe never expected or could have hoped for…a love that just might last a lifetime.

The writing team of Ashlyn Kane and Morgan James  has produced quite a few favorite stories of mine in the past.  But it has been a while since I have read any of their novels and the reason escapes me because Winging It is a prime example why I adored their books to begin with.  It’s simply terrific storytelling.

I love plots involving hockey players!  I love the game (Caps fan here)! And I love the physique that years of playing hockey leaves these players with, heavily muscled legs and the well known “hockey ass”.  Combine all that with romance and a fast played exciting game on ice, and well, I just melt.  In Winging It, Ashlyn Kane and Morgan James deliver on all fronts.

Winging It is a superb look at the dynamics of a group of young players still trying to find itself as a team and play well.  The Quebec City Nordiques actually existed once (and Kane hopes they will again).  The Dekes stand out among all the other teams for a number of reasons.  Their amazing coach?  A woman.  Their owner?  A woman.  Their formidable PR person?  A woman.   Kane and James brings this team vividly to life and no part of the organization is overlooked or made to feel less important to the plot and the team.  I thought all the characters were just so well conceived and fleshed out that I was totally bought into the team and its run for the Stanley Cup.

The characters of Gabe “Banksy” Martin and Dante “Baller” Baltierra  feel as real to me as the snow I see just outside my window.  Boisterous, lively, intelligent and focused on the game,  they never come across as anything less than authentic hockey players having the time of their lives.  The authors are careful to include the long hours, the pain and muscle spasms, along with houses and condos that rarely see their owners because of the demands of the sport.  We get the camaraderie that’s so important to helping a team gel as well as the conflict that can tear it apart.   I mean really you can almost smell the stink of the locker room after a hard game, the descriptions are so on point.

And the romance, if you can call it that, so well done and believable.  It did feel more like a hockey player’s idea of a romance and that’s fine by me.  Because even the romance has so many aspects to it.  It’s not just Gabe being out…it’s Baller looking at his sexuality.  It’s not just what exposure means on a huge scale but what it means to have a ‘first meaningful” relationship at all.  It’s watching these two navigate typical first love and relationship “stuff”, along with team and family dynamics. All while playing the season of a lifetime. Talk about sizzle!

Kane and Morgan set the bar high for themselves here and made it look easy.  The narrative flows, the scenes are exciting and full of suspense, and the outcome for Gabe and Dante’s relationship and every game they play is always in question.  We are never sure of anything in this story just as there are no sureties in the sport.  Teams and teammates don’t remain the same, injuries happen, and sometimes a team just can’t catch a break.  It’s all there, gripping and full of drama and excitement.  Trust me when I say your attention is engaged from start to finish, along with your heart!  Take all the elements at play here, the crowds, the teamwork, the plays, and the opposition and media, throw in romance and love.  Stir vigorously and out flows Winging It, one of my highly recommended reads.

Oh, and be sure to read the forward and afterword by the authors.  Its highlight is Kane’s introduction to the game of hockey and a wonderful summary of the teams now playing.  I loved that too.  Go, Caps!  Rock the Red!  And may the Nordiques come back, if not an actual team once more, then at least in another story by Ashlyn Kane and Morgan James.  Pretty please?  With hockey pucks?

Cover art by Paul Richmond.  People either love or dislike this type of rough cover. I thought it worked in the sort of stylized way because Im not sure any model could have “stood in” for Gabe or Dante (or their bodies).  For examples, check out the Tumblr blog “Hockey Asses”. You’ll thank me.

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press eBook & Paperback      All Romance (ARe)         Amazon    Buy It Here

Book Details:

ebook, 300 pages
Expected publication: February 20th 2015 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN139781632166173
edition languageEnglish
url http://ashlynkane.blogspot.com

Review: It’s Only Make Believe by Havan Fellows

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Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

Its Only Make Believe coverDyer Cambell learned early that escaping into make believe was the only path to survival for him.  Life with an abusive father taught him to hide his true nature  behind a facade, the pretense of being something he wasn’t kept him alive if  not always able to  duck a fist or boot.  And once stuck in that behavior Dyer never came out of it so the profession of actor was the perfect one for a man who never stopped acting.

Dyer tries out for the role of a lifetime becoming one of two actors in the running. But when the producers of the new gay dramedy decide to cast only gay actors in the lead roles, Dyer sets out to  make sure they see him as a gay man even though he is straight or is he?

Dyer’s best friend brother is the solution to all his problems.  Derrick Verns is gay and has know Dyer for most of his life.  Surely Derrick won’t mind playing along with Dyer’s scheme by pretending to be his boyfriend?  Derrick reluctantly agrees but with one provision, one that will have a profound impact on both their lives.  Is Dyer up to the challenge of letting Derrick see the man behind the mask?

Havan Fellows’ short story packs an emotional punch in only 34 pages. Dyer’s abusive upbringing has taught him to escape deep into himself while leaving only a mask to face his father and real life.  Fellows’ narrative slowly introduces Dyer’s painful childhood, bringing the abuse into stark relief as it recounts the broken bones, bruised body and face that came with life with a violent drunk as a father.  It’s a sharp contrast to the glib, scattered young man that the rest of the world sees, with the exception of his best friend Harry.  Harry is the only one who knows the extent of the abuse Dyer took at home.  His casual acceptance of Dyer’s crazy schemes is telling for only a friend who can see past the mask would put up with the front Dyer presents to the world.  Havan Fellows descriptions and dialog  presents the reader with not only a young man hiding from himself but a portrait of a long term friendship.  It becomes easily not only to identity with Dyer but to understand how Harry has been his only support….at least up until now.

Enter Derrick Verns, gay older brother of Harry and struggling artist.  Derrick is a startling change from Dyer and Harry.  He is bold, openly gay, and sure of himself.  The contrast between Dyer and Derrick is both needed and well defined.  Dyer who has hidden so long he is no longer sure of who he really is inside versus Derrick, the self assured, self confident gay man.  And once Dyer is presented with someone who is everything he wanted to be, it is no wonder he starts to crumble.  A terrific choice by the author in choosing how to define the main characters of her story.

I loved this story.  Havan Fellows introduces us to this damaged young man and then proceeds to show us not only why we should care for him but how he became the man he is.  It’s troubling and painful, especially when you take into account how many young gay youth have trod the same path as Dyer.  The need to hide their true sexuality, even from themselves, in order to survive a childhood of hate, abuse and bullying.  How can we not love him?

Derrick too comes into his own as a multidimensional character.  He is older, artistic and self assured.  And he is also compassionate.  So we get it that while he is affronted by Dyer’s offer he also sees something in the man before him that makes him want to help Dyer too, just not in the same capacity as Dyer plans.  The author’s plot is a dramedy itself, veering from a slight comedic scene to one of gravity , then moving on to one of compassion and total sexiness.

I only wish that the story had lingered a bit longer at the end so we could see a little more of what the future holds for this pair.  But it’s still such an amazing story piled into 34 pages that I heartedly recommend you pick it up immediately and start reading.

Cover Art by Pamela Sinclair.  The cover is delicious and I love the subtle inclusion of the film reels down at the bottom of the graphic.  Great job.

Book Details:

Reader Advisory: This story has been previously released as part of the 50s Mixed Tape anthology by Totally Bound Publishing.
ebook, 34 pages
Published December 13th 2013 by Havan Fellows
ISBN 1781848971 (ISBN13: 9781781848975)
edition language English

Review of Eight Days by Cardeno C

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Rating: 5 stars

Eight Days (Evergreen)Maccabe Fried and Josh Segal have virtually grownup together, curtesy of their parents who are the closest of friends.  They have spent their vacations together, celebrated the Jewish holidays together and even attended the same schools.  And through the ages, one thing never changed, they were always the best of friends even though they had nothing in common.  Maccabe was obsessed over baseball, sure in his knowledge of himself that one day he would play in the major leagues and become one of the best players ever.  Josh, on the other hand, had absolutely no interest in sports.  Josh loved his legos, and books, and the snow globes that Maccabe bought him every year for Hanukkah.  But somewhere as both boys aged into their teenage years, things changed.  Maccabe started noticing Josh in a way he usually noticed girls to his total amazement.  And Josh? Well, it turned out that Josh had always had a crush on Maccabe.

A revelation turns into a stolen kiss which morphs into a hidden love affair that lasts several years.  Hidden because Maccabe is still obsessed over having a career in baseball, and everything else comes second, including Josh.  As Maccabe climbs from college baseball and into the minor league, things remain the same, not even their parents know they are a couple. And Josh decides he is tired of hiding their relationship. One night Josh explodes, yelling at Maccabe that either Maccabe tells everyone that he is gay and they are a couple or it is over.  Maccabe hesitates, Josh is devastated and runs away before Maccabe can stop him.

But Fate is not through with either of them, and it is the season of Miracles.  And it all starts one night at Hannukkah.

Eight Days is that most wondrous of holiday stories that combines laughter and angst in equal measure and the final product is a story I will return to year after year.  While not Jewish, I have always enjoyed the few Jewish stories of Hannukkuh that appeared at this time of year, usually the Bellski series from Astrid Amara.  But Cardeno C has given us a classic tale of two families and their sons, Josh and Maccabe, and the traditions that bind us together.  I will let you know right off the bat, that my daughter knew a Maccabe all through elementary and middle school.  Baseball obsessed, he devoted all his time to the sport and went on to play minor league ball and I can see him in Maccabe so clearly.  Cardeno  C understands adolescence and teenagers.  The author grasps that what can come across as self absorbed is sometimes just a focus so strong that it can obliterate everything else on the outskirts, even people who love you.  When you are that young and that centered on one thing, you can come across as a bit dense, and self centered just as Maccabe does, but that is the beauty of his character.  He is absolutely realistic in every way.  I felt I knew him intimately because he was a realistic kid.   The same with Josh.  Young, more orientated inward towards puzzles,school and chess. Just take a quick mental trip back to a class of yours and you will find that a “Josh” pops into your head almost immediately.  C Cardeno gets every facet of their lives perfectly, right down to their very distinct voices she creates for each of them. Perfect characterizations in perfectly realized situations, how I adore this story.

And how I loved the adult Maccabe, so self assured that he almost comes across as arrogant, Maccabe has matured into the man he was meant to be and the one Josh needs so badly.  Sigh.  And finally we get the ending they both deserve and the one we have been waiting for.  I love Eight Days and am putting on my Advent list of stories I reread every holiday season.

Available at Dreamspinner Press, Amazon and All Romance.