Review: The Jouster’s Lance by A.J. Marcus

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Rating: 2.75 stars

The Jouster's LanceDale O’Toole makes his living as Diederik, the Demon Knight of Denmark, the dark jouster at Renaissance festivals across the country.  When a jouster is injured and the Colorado fair needs a replacement, Dale figures it is a chance to see another part of the country while earning a living, and promptly heads north.  Dale loves the gypsy lifestyle, jousting, and his horses.  But being constantly on the move leaves little time for romance or a long term relationship and Dale is lonely.

Austin Renfro works in a pirate gift shop at the Colorado ren fair, along with his best friend, Jasmine.  His home life is a wreck with a boyfriend who is constantly drunk or stoned and always abusive.  When Austin spots the gorgeous jouster, he sees his perfect man but their first meeting is nothing but embarrassing as Austin trips and falls into Dale’s horse.   But a renaissance fair is a small village and the two men are constantly running into each other and an attraction builds between them.

But problems abound at the Colorado faire.  A gay hating knight is making problems, and the rumors are rampant that someone is out to harm the jousters.  With so much stacking against them, can Dale and Austin’s build a relationship that lasts past the end of the faire?

I was really looking forward to this story for a number of reasons, the first being the author.  My first introduction to A.J. Marcus was through Animal Magnetism and his story On An Eagle’s Wing.  I found that story to be well researched and equally well written.  The second reason would be the subject matter.  I love jousting and Maryland’s Renaissance Festival is a great one to attend for jousting, and all things of similar in nature.  But The Jouster’s Lance disappointed me at almost every level.

There are so many issues here it is hard to know where to start.  But perhaps lets go first with the characterizations.  It’s hard to put a finger is just what the issue is with them.  They just don’t click, either as real people or imagined ones. Maybe it is the dialog that pops out of their mouths.  Whatever  it is, it makes it almost impossible to connect with them.  Dale starts off fine at the beginning of the story while he is still in Texas but once he has arrived in Colorado, his character just degenerates into a shadow of his former self.  And Austin is just a mess from the beginning.  The only people I enjoyed in the story were Jasmine Porter, Austin’s best friend and the Lady Catherine, a performer on the circuit.  Both women are the best things about this book, and neither is a main character.  Maybe this will give you an idea.  Here is Austin on his abusive boyfriend:

The first few messages from Rick were the basic “where are you” type. Then they got more demanding. Austin stood there listening to them while waiting in line for a steak on a stake with fries. He knew he should call his boyfriend back, but right then he didn’t want to deal with the drama. Rick had obviously forgotten he was working this weekend, but that was Rick’s pattern: anything he didn’t want to remember, he didn’t. It was one of several reasons that Austin had been hoping he would just go away with as little drama as possible. From the tone of the last two messages, there was going to be drama aplenty when he got home. He could hope Rick was passed-out drunk when he got home and stayed that way until Monday morning, so he could deal with the whole thing Monday evening when he got home from the print shop he worked at during the week.

By the end of that paragraph, my eyes are glazing over and there are pages and pages of this. But this is the least of the book’s problems.  I don’t know whether it is intentional or not, but there are so many plot threads in play here and only one of them is resolved by the end of the book.  All the others are left hanging to the reader’s frustration.  Are these red herrings? Or were they just forgotten along the way? Or will they be addressed in future stories?  Hard to say but these multiple plot threads that just trail off give the story a disjointed feel that never goes away.  It’s like going through a haunted house at Halloween time,  You keep expecting something to jump out at you during the tour, and if nothing does, you feel cheated. Plus as the realization sets in that nothing spooky is going to take place, you start to notice just how tacky the tour is, with cheap effects and bad paint jobs. That is exactly how you will feel by the end of The Jouster’s Lance.  When the plot fails to congeal, everything else starts to pop out at you, from the poor layout to the sad structure.

And it’s not just dropped story threads, but the characterizations as well.  A man nicknamed Chipmunk is featured heavily in the story and Dale makes a big issue of calling him Chip because Dale thinks the nickname is demeaning (no reason for that is given either).  I waited for some expansion on that topic or other pertinent information on Chipmunk to appear later in the story. But it never did.  Marcus creates situations where loads of questions swirl around this character but again, they go nowhere.  This happens constantly throughout the story, with characters, with so called ominous events, with the subject matter, with all sorts of things.  I couldn’t figure out if Marcus needs a storyboard or if this is intentional, but either way it doesn’t work.

While I cannot speak to the authenticity of the insiders knowledge of the workings of a Renaissance festival, I can speak to the issues involving the horses.  While the general care is correct, when a fire occurs and Dale leads a horse into the fire, I was astonished to say the least. And by the actions that follow.  It is unrealistic and head shaking unbelievable.  Dale, just coming off major shoulder surgery, lifts a man his own weight onto a horse (spooky and frightened a few paragraphs earlier) as the fire rages around them.  Sigh.  Uh, no.  Trust me, that wouldn’t happen, not the lifting, not the horse standing still, nothing.  And the ending of the book will just garner tons of eye rolls.

I can’t figure out if this book needs a ruthless editor to trim away all the extraneous plot threads and condense it into a sharp little story or if it needed to be expanded to incorporate all the missing elements back into the narrative to give us a satisfying novel.  Either would have been preferable to the final product as it is here.

Based on  A.J. Marcus’ short story in the Animal Magnetism anthology, I will seek out other stories by him.  But give The Jouster’s Lance a pass, not even jousting aficionados will enjoy this one.

Cover Art by Brooke Albrecht.  I actually love the cover.  The model looks exactly like the whip artist I saw at the Maryland Renaissance Festival last year, and the jousting graphic is marvelous.  Wish the book lived up to the cover.

Book Details:

ebook, 212 pages
Published May 3rd 2013 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 1623804779 (ISBN13: 9781623804770)
edition languageEnglish
url http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com

Sneak Peak at the Sequel to The General and The Horse-Lord by Sarah Black (Excerpt)

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Early this month, we had a guest blog by author Sarah Black and a giveaway of her latest book, The General and the Horse-Lord.  Well, the response was wonderful and the book’s reception has been great.  I gave it 5 stars (as have other  reviewers) and picked it to land on Scattered Thoughts Best of 2013.  So I was delighted to hear that Ms. Black was hard at work on the sequel, The General and the Elephant clock of Al-Jazari.

Recently Sarah Black posted an excerpt on her blog.  It was wonderful so I asked permission to post it here for those readers who loved The General and the Horse-Lord as much as I did.  I think it will blow you away.  At the end of the excerpt, watch the You Tube vid on The Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari, such an elegant and amazing invention. Thank you, Sarah, for bringing it to my attention.  Here is the promised excerpt:

The General and the Elephant clock of Al-Jazari by Sarah Black

John received a couple of interesting emails the next morning. Gabriel was up and gone early, with plans to stop by his house and have breakfast with the kids. The first email was from an old colleague and fellow Brigadier General, David Painter. John didn’t particularly like the man. They had worked together several times in the past. Painter was good, had what John would call episodic brilliance, but his work tended to be sloppy. He didn’t always put in the time and research that John felt was needed for their work to bring about lasting change. He also tended to be sloppy in his dress, in his personal manner, as if his wild and original mind meant the same rules didn’t apply to him. But they knew each other well, both strengths and weaknesses. John winced at the name on the email, thinking Painter was exactly the sort of man he did not want to discuss his coming out with in any detail. Not that he had much choice, since he’d splashed every bit of privacy he’d ever had across the cover of Out magazine.

The second email was from Abdullah, a very polite thank you note to himself and Gabriel for rescuing him yesterday. John looked at it for a moment, appreciating Abdullah’s good manners, and then he replied: Are you sending me an email from the garage? Or have you skipped town already?

The answer came moments later: I’m in the garage.

If you would like, you can come into the kitchen and speak to me in person.

Abdullah wrote back: I’m about to climb into the shower. See you in a few minutes.

John shook his head at the screen for a long moment, and wondered if Abdullah and Kim emailed each other from the bathroom. No, email was dead, he’d read that somewhere. Instant Messaging? Texting, that was it. So much easier than speech, apparently. Maybe they would evolve right out of their vocal cords, and human communications would consist exclusively of written messages and a few grunts and gentle hoots, like the Great Apes.

John turned back to the first email, wondering if he needed to complain about the younger generation first thing in the morning, every morning, or if his time would be better spent doing pushups.

“Hey, John, long time. I saw the cover of Out. It’s making the rounds in DC, everybody saying they knew it all along and wondering what took you so long to grab your cojones and tell the truth. Your pilot looks like he’s held up well.”

John could feel his blood pressure spike, a drumbeat behind his eye that might be an aneurysm getting ready to blow.

“I heard you quit the university. Little dust up with the locals? Well, you were always a sucker for a boy in trouble. That’s why I’m calling on you. I’ve got a couple of boys in serious trouble, former Rangers, in lovely Tunisia. They’ve been working for me as contractors in Algeria. I could go in and level the fuckers and get my boys out of there, but things seem a bit fragile in northern Africa right now. Maybe a peacemaker would be a better choice. And no matter our differences, John, you were a peacemaker. You always brought home the right solution. That was your great gift, understanding the right solution to the problem. So how about you hop on a plane to DC and talk to me about these boys? I heard your pilot went to law school. Why don’t you bring him along? I’ve got a couple of plane tickets at the airport for tomorrow, and a hotel reservation. First class, if you care about that shit. I’m assuming you two can share a room? Appreciate it, John.”

He forwarded the email to Gabriel. John Painter knew how to hit the soft spots. “Just give me a little job to do, and I’ll follow you anywhere, you fuckhead,” John said to the kitchen wall. He walked back to their bedroom, pulled an overnight bag from the closet shelf.

Kim found him putting a load of clothes into the washer. “Hey, Uncle J. What’s up?”

John looked at him for a long moment. Kim had his hands on his hips, had prepared himself for a royal ass-chewing. He was a brave kid, John thought suddenly, and the affection he felt for the boy was suddenly on his face. Kim reached out and hugged him, his face buried in John’s neck. Even at twenty-three, his first thought had been to come find his uncle and face the music. But John had no time right now to get into it.

“Kim, I’ve got to leave tomorrow, go up to DC. I don’t know any more than that.”

“What can I do?”

John shook his head. “Everything’s done. I’ll need you to watch over Billy and Juan if Gabriel comes with.”

“Sure, no problem.”

“Keep everyone safe,” John said, and Kim’s face flushed.

“I hear you. You can count on me.”

“I always do, kiddo.”

He followed John to his bedroom, studied the clothes laid out on the bed, and the passport. “Not that white shirt. Take the gray one. You have to leave the country? Where are you going? I can keep an eye on CNN for a sudden flare in hostilities.”

“Not exactly sure, but I heard talk about Algeria and Tunisia.”

“Oh, God.” Kim sat down on the side of the bed. “Tunisia, isn’t that where Arab Spring turned from smoke to fire?”
John glanced at him. “Nice metaphor. And yes, it started in Tunisia. But we don’t have to assume that’s the only trouble that can brew. It’s still a Muslim country at the end of the day. Lots of ways for Americans to get into trouble.”

“That’s what this is? A rescue mission?”

“Seems likely, but I don’t really know. Kim, you know that stupid magazine came out this week and every jerk at St. Matthews High School is going to mention to Juan that they’ve seen it. I’m worried about him.”

“And the Horse-Lord says he needs to just suck it up and take it like a man?”

“No, it’s not like that.” John sat down on the bed. “He wants Juan to stop making Martha crazy with his behavior, using this issue as an excuse to act out every hostile teenaged impulse, and he also wants to let the adults handle issues of bullying. The school authorities, or the police.”

Kim was nodding. “Right. That is so not going to happen. Have you both forgotten Juan is fifteen now?”

“He’s not one of your baby gang-bangers, Kim. He’s an Army kid. He has braces and goes to Catholic school and lives in the suburbs.”

“Yeah, I know. I’m worried, too. He’s hardly talking to me anymore, or Billy. It’s like he’s grown up really fast and he’s tough inside. He’s strong in his anger. Young Luke is turning toward the dark side.” Kim grinned for a moment. “I wonder how I would show that in a picture? Maybe I’ll get him to let me take his picture. Feel him out a little bit.”

“Whatever you think is best, Kim. I usually try to stay out of sight until a crisis looms. He’s not speaking to me, either.”

“You’ll keep yourself safe, won’t you? And the Horse-Lord? Just because I’m grown up doesn’t mean I don’t need you anymore.”

“Now you have Abdullah. Is that what I’m to understand? The two of you, together?”

Kim nodded, pulled at a loose thread on the bedspread. “Yeah. I think so. I think we’re going to be like you and Gabriel. Two bodies, one heart, all our lives. That’s how it seems to me, but I don’t want to jump the gun. It’s early days yet. Half the time we start a conversation getting along and end the conversation fighting and I have no idea why.”

“You’re just feeling your boundaries, defining yourselves to each other. That’s what I’ve always wanted for you, a real relationship, a family of your own. You guys can even adopt kids if you wanted. I’m really very pleased, Kim.” He looked at what Kim was doing and frowned. “Don’t pull on that thread. I’ve got some scissors in the bathroom if you need to clip a loose thread. I know how much you spent on this new bedspread.”

“Speaking of that.” Kim stared at him until he put the tie down on the bed.

“What? We’re not going to talk about the furniture again, are we?”

“No, we’re not. But there is something I want to talk to you about. Uncle John, you need to update your style.” Kim raised a hand to quell any protests, but John was too surprised to complain. “You’re still wearing your military haircut, still wearing suits that look to my eye about twenty years out of date. I mean, a single breasted navy blue with three buttons? Please, stop torturing me. You need a makeover, and you needed it, like, yesterday.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“You’re out now. You have to maintain a certain style, up your cool factor just a bit. You have an image to maintain now you’re out of the closet.”

“Why?”

“Because people will judge you by your clothes. For God’s sake, nobody would believe you’re related to me! This is my rep too, Uncle John. You’re about to go back to DC, and you need to stroll in with some killer style, not like some lonely, bored, miserable retired general who’s mooning around, thinking about the glory days. DC has seen plenty of those. You want to blast in there and have the town talking about you.”

“I think that ship already sailed, Kim.”

“Talking about you in a good way. Look, you’re a winter. You shouldn’t be playing about with all these muddy blues.” Kim was flipping through his ties.

“What are you talking about? It’s the middle of summer.”

That got him a pitiful look. Kim stood up and crossed his arms. “What I am talking about is gunmetal gray with teal accents, made by Emporio Armani. What the Army cares about is the work. But you’re about to jump into a new shark tank, Uncle John, and in this shark tank they care about money. I will not have those dickhead bluebloods look down on you because of your clothes. We’re going shopping tonight, after supper.”

John’s mind was flipping frantically through any reasonable excuse. “But what about Abdullah? He just got here.”

“He’s not going anywhere. I know more about this than you.” Kim’s face softened, and he looked at John kindly, a doting smile on his face. “I know more about this than you, and I’m not going to argue anymore. We’re going to buy a new suit, along with two shirts and ties, and one leisure outfit. I repeat, I will not argue with you. I know there is available credit on your Navy Federal Visa. You paid off the furniture already. If you argue with me,” he said, holding up a hand to stop John, “I am going to start going to the plasma bank and I will sell blood until I have paid back every cent I spent on the couch.” John had no doubt, looking at the angle of his jaw, that Kim meant every word.

What the hell was a leisure outfit? John looked down at himself, jeans and a faded chambray shirt. Kim closed his eyes as if he were in pain.

“These are weapons, Uncle John.” Kim was speaking as if John were a little slow. “This is a new war, and these are your weapons.”

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.

Review: Where Nerves End (Tucker Springs #1) by L.A. Witt

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Rating: 4.25 stars

Where Nerves End coverJason Davis lives in Tucker Springs, Colorado and has most of his life.  But right now Jason would love to be anywhere but in the situation he is in.  Jason’s romantic partner just up and left town with a rich sugar daddy, leaving Jason with a heavily mortgaged house and not much else.  Then Jason’s business partner dies, leaving his with a business in financial disarray, losing money faster than if he had just thrown it away.  With little left to pawn to keep himself, his house, and his business afloat,  Jason also suffers chronic pain from an accident he had.  How could things get any worse? When his best friend tells him about an acupuncturist who could help with his shoulder pains, Jason takes a chance and goes to see him with unexpected benefits far past getting rid of the pain in his shoulder.

Michael Whitman is a divorced dad and acupuncturist.  His new client turns out to be the best thing that has happened in quite a while.  Michael is in debt for school and overhead on his business so when Jason suggests that Michael and his son move into his guest rooms at a rent below what he is paying now, he accepts loving the fact that his son will have a yard to play in when he visits and he won’t be as stretched financially as he is now.

But it quickly appears there is a problem neither man anticipated.  Jason can’t stop thinking about Michael, gorgeous, half naked roommate Michael, who is apparently straight.  And Michael is acting strangely when Jason comes in from his dates.  Can it be that Michael isn’t as straight as everyone is telling him or even as straight as Michael himself says he is?

Where Nerves End is the first in the Tucker Springs series being written by several different authors and it is a  terrific introduction to the quirky town and its equally quirky denizens.  I liked the character of Jason especially.  LA Witt gives us a well rounded portrait of a man who might collapse at any second due to the immense stress and pressure he is operating under.  Every aspect of his life is in chaos, his romantic partner gone, leaving him in debt with a house and unpaid bills, his business, a gay nightclub, is equally in financial jeopardy, and his health is failing due to a prior accident that injured his shoulder.  Then his friend suggests acupuncture and Jason’s skepticism is one that was familiar to me as well before I had my first session.

L.A. Witt has done her homework with regard to acupuncture and how the treatment is handled along with giving the reader some of the knowledge that comes with it.  I enjoyed that aspect of this story along with the acupuncturist himself. Michael Whitman is a complicated man, one who has been deeply closeted for most of his life.  This is definitely not a gay for you story but one with a main character coming to grips with his sexuality later in life.  The author does a wonderful job letting us understand where Michael’s fears are coming from but still I felt more of Michael’s past history would have filled in the gaps that made his closet so deep for so long.

I think the only thing that kept me from giving this story a high rating was Michael’s reaction to the thought of a relationship with Jason and his seeming obviousness to the pain he is causing him.  Michael is at first overly sensitive to the flareups of pain in Jason’s shoulder but clueless as to what his actions are doing to the man romantically?  That was a bit of a harder sell. Plus most of the book deals with Jason, Jason’s situation and his chronic pain.  I would like to have seen an equal amount devoted to Michael, his past, and his son. But again, that is the only quibble I have here.  It does help that I loved Jason and Michael (and his son) so I glossed that over a bit.  There was one character, however, that pulled in my interest immediately and that was Seth, the tattoo artist who is best friends with both Michael and Jason.  It was his reaction to the pair that intrigued me and was never fully explained to my satisfaction.  I definitely wanted more Seth, and I hope a future Tucker Springs book will tell his story.  I have reviewed the other Tucker Springs books and there is another due out soon.  I can’t wait for Tucker Springs has become an addiction for me and with all the wonderful authors contributing to this series like Marie Sexton, and Heidi Cullinan,to go along with L.A. Witt, you won’t want to miss a page either.

Here is the Tucker Springs series as it is being written.  There is a website devoted to this series, so check out Tucker Springs. I have linked my reviews for books 2 and 3 below.
Where Nerves End (Tucker Springs, #1)
by L.A. Witt (Goodreads Author)

Second Hand (Tucker Springs, #2)
by Marie Sexton (Goodreads Author)

Dirty Laundry (Tucker Springs, #3)
by Heidi Cullinan (Goodreads Author)

Covet Thy Neighbor (Tucker Springs, #4) coming in March 25th, to be released by Riptide Publishing
by L.A. Witt (Goodreads Author)

Never a Hero (Tucker Springs, #5) coming May 13, 2013, to be released by Riptide Publishing
by Marie Sexton (Goodreads Author)

Review: Overdrive by Ariel Tachna

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Rating: 4.25 stars

Overdrive cover by Ariel TachnaAfter his last disastrous race, Daniel Leroux knows things have to change for him to achieve his dream of winning the World Rally Championship. For starters, he has to fire his co driver and then look for just the right partner to help him and his team get back in the race.  One person’s name comes up as the best fit for the team – Frank Dufour, a young Canadian.  Frank Dufour was making a name for himself on the Canadian Junior World Rally racing, but then after two years, he disappears from the circuit and no one seems to know why.

After some investigation, it turns out that  Dufour was let go by his racing team because he was gay, not a problem for Daniel as he is bisexual and his sexuality has never bothered his team’s owner or his crew.  Then Frank shows up in France to interview and their attraction to each other is immediate and obvious.  So much so that Jean Paul, the owner, informs Daniel and Frank separately that ” sex and business don’t mix” so no sex between partners.

This rule becomes harder to abide by the longer they work together. They start to discover that the more in sync they are with each other, the better they function as a team and the hotter the attraction between them.  When the competition heats up between them and a rival team and someone starts sabotages the race cars, the stress placed on their relationship strains the partnership and their resolve.  What will break first?

Ariel Tachna consistently demonstrates her ability to get inside the heads of different people and their professions in story after story. Overdrive is another of those wonderful stories she does so well.  This time the profession is world rally racing and the teams that drive the circuit.  After reading this story, I wonder when exactly Ariel last raced over the Sahara because all the details are there, making this story authentic from every angle.  We look into the engines, we get a sneak peak at team strategy,  and alternately feel the cold and heat of the various racing venues. It has the feel of insider information and  our view of these racers is an intimate one.  I may not have known much about world rally race teams before but at least now I feel I won’t embarrass myself in a conversation where they are concerned.  And not once did it feel like an information  dump.

Overdrive is populated with wonderful characters as well.  Daniel Leroux and his sister, Isabelle the team mechanic, are French.  They both work for Team Citroen so we get a wonderful base location of Clermont-Ferrand and the surrounding locale for the story.  The french language as well as Quebecois is scattered throughout the story to a marvelous effect and helps to situate the reader into the French countryside and the Leroux’s lives.  Frank is from Quebec, and I love that we get an explanation between the different dialects there as well  as proper French.  It is the lovely touch of realism that brings that extra layer to a story for the reader to appreciate.   Ariel Tachna has lived in France and her familiarity with the French people and countryside shows.

Is this a case of instant love? No, and I appreciate that as well.  We are given a slow climb into the relationship as each man must weigh their career versus the damage a broken relationship can do to a partnership.  There are some hot sexual scenes and some angst to go along with our tagging along  for a season of world rally racing and the formation of a team hard to beat.  My only quibble is that I wished for more of the real racing towards the end, more of the various locations and circuit conditions.  When we get to peer over their shoulders as they navigate tight turns on gravel at over 100 mph is breath taking and I wanted more, much more to satisfy an itch I never knew I had.  So while I recommend this story to you, I am off to look up more world rally race teams.  Really, like I needed another addiction…..

Cover Art by Justin James    (dare.empire@gmail.com). New artist for me and he has given us a very hot, on topic cover.  Very nice.

Cover Design by Mara McKennen

All I Want Is You (Mountain Boys #1.5) by Marguerite Labbe

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Rating: 4.75 stars

All I Want Is YouAfter the tumultuous events of the past year, Eli Hollister and Ash Gallagher have settled into their lives, taking their relationship one step further by moving in together at the Hermitage.  Ash is still not satisfied, Ash wants a deeper commitment from Eli. Ash realizes that more than anything he wants to marry his strong-minded, independent lover, but Ash is uncertain about Eli’s views on marriage, especially marriage to him.

It’s their second Christmas together and this time Eli and Ash are headed to Tennessee to spend the holidays with Eli’s family, a visit fraught with anticipated family squabbles, too many people and not nearly enough space for Eli to keep his sanity and Ash work up the courage to propose. Either way it looks to be a memorable Christmas for both men deeply in love but will everything be resolved in time for New Year?

All I Want Is You is a wonderful followup to one of my favorite stories, All Bets Are Off (Mountain Boys #1), published last year by Dreamspinner Press.  That novel charted the romance of professor Eli Hollister and former Marine Ash Gallagher from a rocky beginning when Ash turned up in one of Eli’s classes to a couple in love and committed to making their relationship work.

Marguerite Labbe’s characters have always been so realistic that it is so easy to identify with them, become attached to their happiness.  We can relate to them because their emotions,expectations  and problems  mirror those of the people around us.  From lovely settings to authentic relationship issues, the author delivers a remarkable portrait of two men working their way towards a  Happily Ever After that is both realistsic and romantic. We get to watch as Eli and Ash get to know each other.  We listen as they relate their backstories to one another, and exhibit the push/pull on each other that all new relationships exhibit.  And when they full commit to each other as a couple, the reader is right there with them, as fully involved in their story and relationship as they are.  So imagine how happy I was to hear that Marguerite Labbe was writing a Christmas story for Eli and Ash. And what a Christmas present to her readers it turned out to be.

We listen into Ash’s inner discourse ( I love Labbe’s dialog) on his decision to ask Eli to marry him and then slightly panic when he hesitates to go forward.  Eli too has his hurdles to over come this holidays and it is a huge one.  But the issues raised here about family are ones that have to be addressed and dealt with before another relationship can proceed, and this element will ring out as authentic because so many of us have been there too.

This is so much more than your typical Christmas story where the holidays themselves are central to the story but rather another step forward in Eli and Ash’s relationship.  I hope and feel confidant that Marguerite Labbe will be bringing the boys back for further updates, perhaps even a wedding?   What happy speculations stretch out before us, either way I can’t wait.  But the real present here is that this wonderful story is free.  Download your copy here and settle in to enjoy another warmhearted lovely tale about these captivating Mountain Boys.

Length:  71 pages

Lovely cover art by Fae Sutherland.

Dreamspinner Advent Story Roundup – Part II and List of Story Recommendations

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This post will finish up our Dreamspinner Advent Story Roundup started on Saturday, January 4, 2013.Aunt Dee Dee's Holiday Check

A Charming Idea by Alex Mar

Rating: 4.5 stars

DSP: Having fallen on hard times, London-based wizard Evan keeps his charms shop open on Christmas Eve. When he finally gets home, he finds his neighbor, Kian, languishing with a wound that hasn’t healed properly. He takes Kian in and they share the Christmas roast from their neighbor, Mrs. Halfpenny—neither suspecting the magic in the marinade that will make their holiday especially merry.

Alex Mar has written a real charmer of a story in A Charming Idea.  I loved everything about this tale, from the characters to the enchanting descriptions of Evan’s Charm shop to the pixies in his apartment.  I so wished I was able to actually appear in his shop and be able to see for myself the tiny reindeer prancing and peering about the other charms on the old wooden shelves or see the snow butterflies lighting up the firefly glasses.  Even the angel on top of his Christmas tree snored lightly in her sleep and fluttered her wings while dreaming. Entrancing doesn’t even begin to cover it.

The characters themselves were as magical and magnetic as their surroundings.  Evan with his wild mop of red hair and Kian, the mysterious neighbor with his  black cloak and quiet,somewhat menacing demeanor filled me with delight and anticipation.  I couldn’t wait to see how Alex Mar was going to bring them together and Mar didn’t disappoint me.  In fact, my only quibble with this story is that it is far too short.  I wanted to know more about Kian with the phoenix tattooed on the side of his face marking him as a Wizard Guard.  And I wanted to know more about those Wizard Guards who patrol the area.  And Evan’s father whose stags would have been sent to bring Evan home for Christmas if he hadn’t needed to keep his shop open.  There are so many delicious details here that cry out for a larger narrative that I almost couldn’t believe it when the story ended.  Alex Mar, if you are listening, please revisit this wonderful universe you created and give us the story it is meant to have.  Really, if you love fantasy, you will absolutely adore this story.

Aunt Dee Dee’s Holiday Check by Joel Skelton

Rating: 4.25 stars

DSP: After his Aunt Dee Dee sends him a windfall, Ethan decides to bail on the family holiday drama and go on a college skiing trip instead. Then a reservation snafu lands him in the same room as Henry, another student on the trip, and Ethan stumbles onto a bonus present of another kind: one that could last through Christmas and beyond.

Joel Skelton, where you been?  I loved this story and both Ethan and Henry grabbed me from the start.  At 65 pages, it is a longer story than most but Skelton uses that length to slowly build up Ethan and Henry’s backstories as well as give us a slower climb into a relationship.  Skelton’s characters are marvels, more than just sketches, we get fully fleshed out human beings on every level of the story, not just the main characters. I especially loved Ethan’s Aunt Dee Dee of the title.  She is a lesbian who the family disowned and now she is trying to reconnect with them. Aunt Dee Dee, along with her partner Agnes, sent Ethan the check that changes his life.

This is how she describes herself and Agnes:  ”

“We’re day traders by profession, lunatics by disposition, and we like to drink.” Agnes spelled it out. “And smoke,” Auntie D added with a snort.”

How do you know love these two and want to seriously party with them?  The whole story continues in that vein.  It’s funny, heartwarming and is never overly saccharine. Nor does it fall into the trap of instant love for Henry and Ethan, just a lovely romantic weekend with the future of more  waiting them.  Perfect.  This is the reason I loved getting the Dreamspinner Advent stories.  New authors to look up and the possibility of new stories to discover.  If I hadn’t gotten the entire package, I would have missed out on this author  and many others.

The Christmas Snoop by Jean Wolfe

Rating: 3.25 stars

DSP:  After going on a present hunt while his boyfriend, Matt, is in the office, James finds several things he didn’t expect, including photos of Matt in a Christmas jumper, an old teddy bear, and several letters to Santa Claus—one of which states that Matt doesn’t need anything for Christmas because he has James. It seems Matt has been a very good boy this year….

This is one very cute story about a snooping boyfriend, looking around for his presents and finding much more than his expected.  It was sweet, nicely written and a lovely present to find on my computer that December morning.  The characterizations were well developed and the short story  about two men who love each other was completely angst free.  While I don’t feel any need to reread this story, I certainly enjoyed the time I spent with Matt and James.

Rudolph by Sam C. Leonhard

Rating: 3 stars

DSP: Crotchety and cranky Rudy—aka Santa—is in a foul mood every Christmas season. He talks to lots of children and even more parents but not with guys looking for dates. Only when his best helper makes him a very special gift does he meet someone to his liking. Kind of. Because that someone is made of flour and spices—and to impress him, Rudy seriously has to work on his seduction skills.

This is a story that you are either going to dislike it or love it, depending upon how you feel about your Christmas figures.  This will not surprise anyone who has been following my reviews of the holiday stories, but I am coming down on the side of not liking Rudolph.  Here is Santa (son of Santa) who is cranky, hates Christmas and all the trappings, rude to children, with the patience of a pouting child.  It is not spoiling things to tell you that someone decides to gift this curmudgeonly Santa with his own cookie man for Christmas to teach him a thing or two.

Really, someone has to create a man for Santa? Sigh.  The only reason this story has three stars is because despite my dislike for the subject matter, the story is very well written, the characters crystalline in form, and the ending open and full of possibilities.   Some people will adore this story.  So I will recommend it and let you make up your own mind.

This is the second time I have gotten the entire month of Advent stories from Dreamspinner Press and have exactly the same reaction as I did the first time around, that you end up with a mix grab bag of stories.  Most are wonderful, some very nice, some forgettable and a few that resembled lumps of coal.

So I am sure you are wondering, is it worth the price to buy them all or should you wait and purchase them one at a time?  Well, after some thought, I think that it is worth the price, even with the uneven quality in the stories.  I did love getting a new story every morning, that was fun.  And I found some new authors I might not have discovered any other way.  I shudder to think that I might have missed out on Cardeno C’s Eight Days or Kim Fielding’s A Great Miracle Happened There.  The Colors of Pastor Saul by SA Garcia made me think and The Ghost of Mistletoe Lock by Amy Rae Durreson  brought back memories of Christmas ghosts past.  Amy Lane’s Turkey in the Snow can make me laugh just thinking about the scene that produced the title and Andrew Grey’s Snowbound to Nowhere was full of holiday delight and wonder.  And then there was Alex Mar and Joel Skelton too.

So many gifts were received this Evergreen Advent month that I heartily recommend you try it next season.  But don’t wait until then to read these stories, pick them up now and capture the glow of Christmas past!

Here is the list of the stories I loved in no particular order:

Eight Days by Cardeno C

Turkey in the Snow by Amy Lane

Snowbound to Nowhere by Andrew Grey

A Great Miracle Happened There by Kim Fielding

Aunt Dee Dee’s Holiday Check by Joel Skelton

A Charming Idea by Alex Mar

The Ghost of Mistletoe Lock by Amy Rae Durreson

Traditions from the Heart by Bru Baker

The Colors of Pastor Saul by S.A. Garcia

Wish List by J.J. Cassidy

Lessons Learned, Wishes Earned by Cassandra Gold

Dreamspinner Press Advent Story Roundup

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The Ghost of Mistletoe Lock by Amy Rae Durreson

Rating: 4.25 stars

DSP: After lonely divorcé Isaac leaves his job as a banker to work as a conservationist on a country river, he gives up on finding the love he always wanted. Then he meets flirty jeweler Ryan and assumes Ryan’s out of his league, but Ryan’s just as lonely as Isaac. Ryan also has the housemates from hell, and when he storms out of the riotous Christmas party they forgot to warn him about, he soon finds himself lost in the snow.

Ryan passes out in front of the lock cottage where Isaac lives, and once Isaac brings him in from the cold, they finally have a chance to get to know each other. But when their insecurities get in the way, it’s up to the ghost of Mistletoe Lock to ensure they give love a chance

I really enjoyed this unusual tale by a new author for me, Amy Rae Durreson.  It starts off with the haunting (literally) death of a young mother in the lock and then forwards to the present where a young British man is leaving his shoppe for the evening after having helped his last customer, a rough looking man looking for a present for his mother.  It is Christmas eve and the party at his house sends him off on a path down the river and a meeting with a ghost and his destiny.  Durrenson has a lovely way with descriptions and her settings come alive with the cold beauty of the locks and river on a moonlighted  Christmas Eve.  Whether it is the Aga warmed old lock cottage or the vivid descriptions of the men themselves, her vision of her story is so clear that it conveys itself to the reader with the same ease and clarity. I loved both Ryan and Isaac, and found the ghost  Emily haunting in her pain. Christmas ghosts abound through literature, the season always bringing with it the joys of family and friends as well as our losses. Durreson has added so very nicely to that tradition. I look forward to other stories from this talented writier.

Traditions from the Heart by Bru Baker

Rating: 4 stars

DSP: When Aaron finds out Ben is missing out on some important Christmas traditions to be with him, he starts thinking of ways to give Ben new ways to observe the holiday. Can a homemade bear, a friend-made video, and a sock-eating goat become the traditions that keep Ben and Aaron together?

I adored this story.  It has everything I look for as a Holiday story.  It is warmhearted, sappy, contains family, love and Christmas traditions that I can relate to all rolled into one sexy and fun holiday tale.  Baker has a terrific way with the characters and the part about the stuffed cat was fun and kept me smiling.  It was lighthearted but still contained enough of the season’s melancholy memories that it rang true there as well.  Like I said, I loved this one and you shouldn’t pass it by.

Bless Us Everyone by Gina A. Rodgers

Rating: 3.5 stars

DSP Blurb: Edan has spent the past five years hiding in his home, living with the ghosts of his Christmases past and unable to allow for the possibility of a future. So when his vibrant and sexy neighbor, Tim, barges into his life with a stepladder and a plate of cookies, Edan finds himself living for the present. But can he let go of his bah humbug ways and accept this second chance as the gift it is?

Cute story about a man whose past has made him isolate himself inside his house for years until a new neighbor draws him out, and into a relationship.  Nice characterizations combined with heart and warmth.  A lovely story for the holidays.

Lucky by Ana Bosch

Rating: 3.25 stars

DSP:  Ever since Martel Heller rolled his first dreadlock, his love life has been blessed. For seven years he’s had the luxury of cherry-picking the hottest men available. But when the dress code at his new job forces him to hack off his lucky locks, his good fortune comes to an end.

To make matters worse, if Martel shows up at the company Christmas party alone, his creepy coworker Phil will know he’s single. As a last resort, Martel enlists his best friend, Felix, a fashion photographer, to hook him up with a model. Then plans fall through, and Martel ends up stuck at the Christmas party with the last person he expects—but as the hours pass, he wonders if he’s finally learned what it means to be lucky.

I actually came close to giving this story 4 stars but in the end the main character was such an unrepentant jerk right up to the last pages that I remained more frustrated than affectionate towards Martel.  I liked the concept that Martel felt his luck resided in his dreads and that once they were cut off due to an employee dress code, his luck was lost.  Now I do wonder about any company being able to enforce a “dread free zone”, especially as dreads can be pulled back and secured or kept “neat: in so many other ways.  Really the AACP or ACLU would have been all over this here in our area. But ok, even given that, there are other things about Martel that just leaves the reader cold.  When you make your main character a jerk and tell the story from his pov, then there should be some redeeming characteristics that allow the reader to understand or make concessions for his, in this case Martel’s, behavior.

I never felt we got that.  Instead we come to love Felix, Martel’s best friend who he treats poorly in so many ways.  Read this for Felix and for the ending, otherwise, I would recommend you skip this altogether.

On The Rocks by Ari McKay

Rating: 3.5  to 3. 25 stars

DSP:

For years, Mal has given Aidan a little piece of the world for special occasions in the form of unique rocks and fossils—until the year he gives Aidan a piece of the moon instead. Aidan has treasured every gift: in a world of impersonal relationships, they’re the one reminder he has that somebody out there cares about him for who he really is. Then through a twist of fate, their relationship goes beyond personal and into intimate, leaving Aidan shocked and set to run the other way. Despite his feelings for Mal, past experiences have convinced Aidan that he’s a failure at relationships, and he’s afraid to trust his heart. It just might take a Christmas miracle for Aidan to find the courage to love.

I actually liked this more than I think it deserved.  I think that perhaps it is due to the fact that when Aidan finally realizes what he has lost, he goes into therapy to try and fix himself first before trying to establish a relationship.  That realistic touch alone elevated this story for me.  I liked Mal and Aiden, although Aiden had to grow on me because of his self centered personality.  But with the concept of rocks as gifts which totally appealed to someone who has always picked up stones everywhere I go, to the idea of someone getting help to solve serious issues.  Well, kudos to  McKay for handling these elements of the story so well.

Bianca’s Plan by B.G. Thomas

Rating: 3 stars

DSP:  Bianca worries that her daddy, Gavin, is lonely and decides he needs a boyfriend for Christmas. So she enlists her father’s best friend, the straight and unattached Curtis. Gavin has a Christmas wish, too, and Curtis setting him up on disastrous dates isn’t part of it! Meanwhile, Curtis finds life becoming complicated as he tries to please Bianca, make Gavin happy, and fend off his own unexpected mixed feelings. Will anyone’s wish come true?

I thought this was a very cute story.  I have to admit that a story plot line that has a daughter or son setting their father up for a romance has always appealed to me.  And Thomas has one wonderful character in the mischievous and plotting little girl, Bianca.  She is absolutely adorable and believable as a 10 year old little girl who sees so clearly what is right before her Dad, that Curtis is perfect for them both.  Bianca wants two dads and a husband for her father and proceeds to get what she wants.  All the characters within the story have some depth to them, although I would wish for a little more realism.  But one sentence tanked this story for me.  When virgin Curtis (virgin to gay sex that is) and Gavin finally realize they love each other, they jump into bed to have sex (no problem here) but then they decide not to use either protectuion, no condoms, or lube. Why?  Because as Gavin tells Curtis, they don’t need that stuff.

“Not this time,” Gav told him. “Nothing fake. It has to all be real.”

So condoms and lube make have sex be less real?   Uh, does STD’s and pain make it more memorable?  Hmmm, maybe it does at that but not in the way I think the author intended.  That sound you hear?  The rating falling through the floor.  3 stars because I liked Bianca.

The Roommate by Teegan Loy

Rating: 3 stars

DSP: Ryan’s finally home after a long week of hiding in a hotel while his boyfriend’s parents visited. He isn’t happy that Jordan hasn’t told his parents he’s gay but believes Jordan when he promises to come out. When Jordan’s family ends up on their doorstep after a winter storm shuts down the airport, Jordan introduces Ryan as his roommate, leaving Ryan horrified and hurt. Jordan’s little sister notices and tells Ryan she’s going to ask Santa to make him happy… but does Ryan’s Christmas wish have any hope of coming true?

Teegan Loy has written a love story for the holidays both cute and frustrating.  Loy’s characterizations are so good that you fall in love with Ryan immediately.  And the fact that Ryan endears himself to the reader from the start (really that cooking scene is hilarious) that when his live in boyfriend hurts him by pretending to his family who has helped him move in Ryan’s apartment, then the story looses its joy and momentum.  Hard to root for somone’s love affair when you have a main character not as fully fleshed out as the other who is coming across as a jerk.  The author never gives us enough backstory for Jordan’s fear of exposure to make any sense, especially after meeting his family.  All we see is a man who continues to reject his loving partner who has gone out of his way to make things easy for his love and gets kicked repeatedly for his efforts.

Yes, there is a happy ending but I am not sure I ever believed it.  Loved Ryan though.

Soups and Diners by Alex Whitehall

Rating: 3 stars

DSP: Two days before Christmas, just after his best friend’s wedding, Max is in a diner when he’s joined by Stan, another wedding guest. Getting to know each other ensues with some awkwardness, teasing, and fun conversation. They seem to hit it off, but Stan has reservations, wondering if Max is too good to be true, and Max has a history of bad boyfriend choices. Will meeting each other be a Christmas miracle—or a prettily wrapped present that’s really an empty box.

Nice story.  But to be honest, I forgot about it as soon as I was finished.  Nice people, nice story, nice ending.  Nothing memorable about any part of this tale so I would give this a pass on that rationale alone.

Old Flames by Davi Rodriquez

Rating: 2.5 stars

DSP Blurb:

There’s something to be said for old flames. NYPD Sgt. AJ Cooper seems to think so. His ex, Brad Meyers, dumped him to work on getting a starring role in a Broadway show, leaving AJ confused and betrayed. Five months later, while patrolling Times Square, AJ sees a giant advertisement for Brad’s show and misses what they had… and then he sees Brad.

AJ grouchily agrees to meet Brad in Central Park the next evening, but he doesn’t realize what he’s in for. AJ might regain everything he lost five months before—or he might lose it all over again.

I thought this story had real potential.  I liked NYPD Sft. AJ Cooper as he seemed like a fairly realistic New York Cop right until his ex showed up and the story fell apart.  There is not much to the  character of Brad Meyers, no layering or depth to explain Cooper’s feeling for him.  There is also no real explanation as to why AJ was dumped after a long term relationship.  So why are we expected to believe that a smart cop would take this guy back?  We don’t believe it, and there is no passion, no credible love between the two to overcome such a wildly unlikely turn of events.  No amount of elf dust would let someone suspend their belief for this one.

The Perils and Pleasures of a White Christmas by Emily Moreton

Rating 2.5 stars

DSP:  Despite the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, FBI Agent Drake and his Army officer partner Tim keep their relationship under wraps for the sake of Tim’s career. Though they’d rather be open about their relationship, the sex and friendship make up for having to hide. Then holiday stress kicks in with a triple whammy of bad luck and they’ll have to focus on each other to find the cheer in the holiday furor, even if that means coming out.

Actually, this reads as a snippet from a much longer story and has very little to do with the blurb above.  Basically it is an afternoon/night in the relationship of Drake and Tim where the power goes out and they spend it in bed having sex.  That’s it.  No angst, no questions about their jobs or  closeted status, nothing.  Just two men who love each other staying warm under the blankets when the power goes out in their building.  It as though the author (who I love btw) has said “here is a bit from a book I am writing, what do you think?”.  And the answer is well it’s a lovely part, like the couple.  Where is the rest of it?.  So that’s what you should do, wait for the rest of it.  There is just not enough here to warrant reading it.

 

Review of Silver Publishing Holiday Short Stories- Someone Like You by L.M. Brown and An Unexpected Gift by Ashlyn Monroe

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Review:  Someone Like You by L.M.Brown

Rating: 4 stars

Someone Like You Silver storyTodd Hunter and his boyfriend, Deacon Jones, had been inseparable right up until Todd went away to the university, then all communications from Deacon stopped.  Now Todd is home on break and is determined to find out why Deacon hasn’t called or replied to any of his emails.  For Todd, Deacon is the “one and only” and he thought he was that for Deacon too.

While Todd has been away, Deacon has undergone several major upheavels in his life, and he has held them all back from Todd.  Todd is “the one” for Deacon. Now Todd must figure out what has gone wrong with Deacon if the young men are to find their HEA.

Someone Like You is L.M. Brown’s twist on boy from the wrong side of the tracks storyline, and I think the author did a lovely job with it.  Brown’s two main characters, Todd Hunter and Deacon Jones are vulnerable, likable and very easy to relate to.  Brown’s story is as much about family expectations and obligations as it is about a first love that also is the one that lasts.

Too often when a story has young men finding their “soulmate” early, the notion seems a little too much like a teen crush than a love to build a relationship on, but L.M. Brown does a credible job of making us believe that just perhaps the love Deacon and Todd feel for each other  will be a love to last their lifetime.  And Brown does it all in just 89 pages.

So if you are looking for a sweet holiday story, one that is quick to read and yet leave you smiling into the evening hours, this is one for y0u.

A Most Unexpected Gift by Ashlyn Monroe

Rating: 2.5 stars

Aarika Marshal has a mischievous mind, and when she decides to give her boyfriend, Rafe, a most unusual gift on Christmas Eve.  Aarika decides to give herself a sexy gift too, all in the same package.  The gift in question is her bi-sexual best friend Clara who has long held a crush on Rafe.  When Rafe’s twin brother, Rhett joins in, the shenanigans kicks into high gear and it will be a very smutty Christmas for all.

CONTENT ADVISORY: This title contains multiple sexual situations, including MF, FF, MFM, and MFF. Not M/M

“Clara laughed as Aarika pushed her into the closet. “Shh, he’ll be home any minute,” Aarika warned her best friend. “Push your boobs up so he gets a good look.”

That opening line pretty much indicates how the story, and what little plot there is, will go.  Aarika decides to have her best friend have sex with her boyfriend, Rafe and herself too.  She prepares her “surprise” but is surprised in turn when Rafe turns up with Rhett in tow.  This is our introduction to Rhett, who looks over his brother’s girlfriend’s body:

“You told me she had a smokin’ body, bro, but I think you left out just how nice her tits are.”  Classy, so very classy, and a perfect indication of what little character Rhett has.  In fact, all the people involved come across as mostly one-dimentional characters.  And the plot is as simplistic as the men and women involved.

And from that scene the story goes downhill from there.  For Christmas, we are given wooden characters, silly dialog and a plot that would grace a 80’s porn flick.  If this was  your Christmas wish, then Ashlyn Moore has delivered just the short story for you at 34 pages in length.  But for me, I have higher expectations for  my holiday fare and at 34 pages, this one was 34 pages too long.

Review of The Christmas Throwaway by RJ Scott

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Rating: 4.75 stars

The Christmas ThrowawayBen Hamilton is a rookie cop and that means he takes all the shifts the more experienced cops don’t want.  And that is how he finds himself outside St. Margeret’s in a blizzard on Christmas Eve looking at the frozen figure curled up on the bench.  The young man is shivering in his sleep and the snow is quickly blanketing him, soon it will be impossible to tell there is someone there.  It takes Ben several tries before he is able to rouse the young man and ask him his name.

Zachary Weston is only seventeen when his father throws him out of the house for being gay.  Left without any money, clothes or a place to go, Zachary finds himself at the end of his rope, on a bench in front of an old church in town, falling asleep in the cold and snow.  Then a cop named Ben wakes him up, and ends up taking him home to the house he shares with his mother.  Together they show Zachary the true meaning of love and family. This will be the Christmas that changes everything, and not just for Zachary.

“Hey! You can’t sleep here.” That sentence opens RJ Scott’s The Christmas Throwaway, a book I first read last year at Christmas.  It quickly became one of my favorite holiday stories.  The story of Zachary Weston, a teenager abandoned by his family, at the worst time of year in the worst weather imaginable pulled at my heartstrings from the very beginning.  Zachary has given up and is quietly letting the cold and snow pull him under.  But Ben Hamilton is an earnest, kind young man, who is horrified to find Zachary close to death in front of St. Margeret’s.  Well aware that he should be turning Zachary over to child services, instead Ben takes him home to his mom at his family’s house and changes all their lives from that moment on.

Although the story starts out with Zachary as a seventeen year old boy, Zachary is of legal age when he and Ben start their relationship, a element that looms large in Ben’s mind when he realizes he not only likes Zachary as a friend but is attracted to him as well.  RJ Scott gives us wonderful characters to believe in and love throughout this story, not only Ben and Zachary but Ben’s mother who grows to love the “Christmas throwaway” like her own son, Elles Belles Ben’s sister, Mark his best friend and so many others.  But your focus will remain on Zachary and Ben, especially Zachary and his plight as a child thrown away because of his sexuality, a grim statistic across America.  Zachary is saved, but the story makes clear he is one of the fortunate few and that there are so many others out there needing help and support.

I just loved Zachary and Ben and their slow climb into a lovely relationship.  It’s funny, and heartbreaking and always feels so real as they deal with problems that arise, miscommunications and misperceptions by both of them.  And there is Rebecca, the sister Zachary left behind who will supply her own share of trauma and angst to this story.  But this is a Christmas tale and it ends as it started, on the bench in front of St. Margeret’s on Christmas Eve.  From the first Eve to the last, RJ Scott’s shares with us a story of love at Christmas time that will stay with you throughout the year.  It has become a favorite of mine.  I think you will find it becomes yours as well.

At this time of year, the  GLBTQ shelters are over flowing.  If you can donate even a little at this time of year, it would be greatly appreciated.  Here are some shelters in need:

New York City, NY:   The Ali Forney Center for LGBTQ Homeless Youth.

Chicago, IL  The GLBT Chicago Shelter

National Coalition for the Homeless, write them at info@nationalhomeless.org

Covenant House, Washington, DC

 

Cover: That cover by Reese Dante gives me the chills, so perfect in its depiction of characters and time of year.