Review: The Choosing by Annabelle Jacobs

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Rating: 3.25 stars out of 5

IThe Choosingn the shapeshifter village Eladir, all are shapeshifters regardless of gender.  But how they become shapeshifters differs dramatically for the boys.  Unlike the girls who are able to shift almost from birth with their animal already tattooed on their bodies, the boys have to wait until their 18th birthday or so when their fangs first drop and then must go through The Choosing in order to find out what animal they are, have the ability to shift and find a mate.  And what Jerath fears the most, at 19, is that his fangs will never drop and he will never have an animal spirit of his own let alone find someone to mate with.  On top of his insecurity about his lack of fangs is the fact that Jerath is attracted only to boys, not girls, and the ritual through which he is chosen depends upon his sexual union with a girl, something Jerath is not sure he can do.

The Choosing must only be performed at a full moon which is still some time away so Jerath and his best friend Serim spend their time running in the woods and discussing their hopes for the future.  While on just such an afternoon, the village Eladir is attacked by slave raiders who capture all the boys still unmarked as well as others.   Fearful and in need of help, Jerath and his best friend, Serim, head out cross country to the one place they hope will help them, a village and people known to them only through stories. Along the way, they meet Meren, a handsome warrior who is returning to the very village they seek.  The attraction between Meren and Jerath is immediate and deep.  But Meren is not a shapeshifter and his feelings towards sexual encounters is far more relaxed than the virginal Jerath’s.   With the full moon fast approaching, it is imperative that the prisoners be rescued or they will lose not only their freedom but the ability to shift forever.  Jerath needs Meren’s help but his own shifting moods and emotions are not helping, making the search harder as does the increasing depth of their attraction towards each other.  As the obstacles in their path mount up against them, will Jerath be able to save the prisoners and keep his heart from breaking?  Or will all be lost before the next full Moon?

The Choosing by Annabelle Jacobs brought about a myriad of emotions and thoughts about this book.  The author has painted a story that has a broad canvas with a far reaching story that covers religion, coming of age, and differing cultures, perhaps too large a canvas.  Jacobs has created a geographical universe bound together by a Goddess and the limitations of population upon a singular habitat.  There are several villages surrounded by Arachia Mountains whose four peaks protect the valley and the villages from being attacked “from the rear”.  The villages are surrounded by woods as well which are being cut down to make room for more families as each village contains three to four hundred people.  The villages are governed by the laws of the Goddess of the Woods.  Here is an excerpt that will explain it in village lore:

He listens to Serim sigh before she begins to recite the oldest of the forest laws. “When the moon is full, each and every boy who is of age shall choose a willing female. If the boy is deemed worthy, together they will consummate their union and invoke the spirits of the forest to bless the boy with their magic. Only then will his animal form be revealed.” The people of Eladir can shift their human form into that of one of the sacred beasts of legend: the lynx, tiger, black panther, and jaguar. These animals used to roam the forest when there were no villages here, so the village elders tell. It was by the Goddess’s goodwill that people were allowed to settle in the forest, and in return the villagers accepted her magical gift—the power to shift—and helped protect her animals whenever they were in danger.

By now some of the oddities in her world building should be popping up at you.  A confined habitat ruled by one Goddess that has given her people the ability to shift into animals to help protect her other animals and the woods.  The animals chosen just happen to be four large cat species that used to roam the woods the people now inhabit.  Hmmm, so what happened to those original cat populations?  And would you really chose large predators to protect deer, fish and bunnies? Perhaps not in my universe but it definitely happens within Jacobs’ world building.  Now add to that the fact that the villagers are growing in families. What happens to a habitat that becomes overcrowded? I think a Woods Goddess might have a problem with that.  And she did and she took care of it. By banishing another whole village from the woods and mountains because of overhunting.  That’s where Meren’s people comes in.  But no where it is addressed that Jerath’s villagers are rapidly deforesting said woods because of their own exploding populations, so the world building starts to break down even further.  I also wonder about a Goddess that has a finite range of influence because the raiders definitely aren’t Goddess worshiping people.  Now I have many, many more questions, observations about the incongruities in this author’s world building but by now there are so many piling up that its just not necessary.  It’s kind of neat, but all the elements just don’t add up to one cohesive universe in which to place her story.

The Choosing is Annabelle Jacobs’ take on the ritualized coming of age in fantasy stories.  I liked the fact that each gender has its own path with the females born with fangs and the ability to shift, their animal already identified by marks (really cool birthmarks not tattoos which are artificial), cat figures on their skin. Gender specific characteristics do occur in nature and I liked that she picked up on that. Then for some reason, the Goddess later decides the men should have the ability to shift as well and gifts them with the chance to choose a cat and shift through a ritual called The Choosing.  It includes male/female sex that brings the Goddess, a real presence, into the situation and lets her bless the joining.  But Jerath just happens to be gay and doesn’t want any f/m joining and doesn’t think he can apply himself as it were to the situation.  No worries, it turns out that when the time comes, he does too and the Goddess smiles on him.

And that large part of the story will leave most readers of m/m fiction frowning and wanting to leave this story behind. Because the m/f joining and the het sex does  take up most of the first part of the story.  Jacobs does handle it by saying it gives Jerath and his friend a deeper connection to each other (well, yes) while leaving them free to find their mates but I think more readers looking for primarily a m/m romance will be gone by that time.   Honestly, I felt this aspect of the story could have been made smaller and the romance between Jerath and Meren enlarged without hurting the plot but that is just my opinion.

The rest of the book is the hunt for the villagers taken by the raiders and the will they, won’t they romance of Jerath and Meren.  I still don’t feel that the author gave us a good explanation as to why a village of over three hundred cat shifters was taken by surprise by a smaller group of raiders.  Or if it was a larger group of raiders, it would have to have been a city’s worth and they would have sounded like elephants.  Surely the Goddress would have let them know danger was coming?  After all didn’t she create them to help protect her woods and creatures?  Wouldn’t all those birds have given flight and sounded alarm? How about all those cat senses?The more I think about it, the more holes appear in the plot and I just have to leave it alone.

So I think I will leave this review here.  The Choosing has some inventive  elements and some nice characterizations in a story that takes 210 pages to tell and for me those pages did not go by swiftly.  If you like your m/m romance minus het sex, than this is not for you.  If you like your stories cohesive and powerful, this isn’t for you either.  But if you are a fan of fantasy and shifters and love them all, pick this up and add one more cat shifter universe to your collection.

Cover art by Brooke Albrecht is just stunning.  I so wished the story had lived up to the promise of the cover.

Buy Links:    Dreamspinner Press          All Romance eBooks (ARe)           Amazon     The Choosing

Book Details:

ebook, 210 pages
Published October 18th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 1627981918 (ISBN13: 9781627981910)
edition language English

Review: Kick Start (Dangerous Ground #5) by Josh Lanyon

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Kick Start coverSpecial Agents Will Brandt and Taylor MacAllister have both left the DSS (Department of Diplomatic Security) after the events in Paris and now operate their own security agency.  But things are not going  particularly well for them, either in their business or relationship.  Will and Taylor’s business is lacking clients and they are running out of money to keep afloat.  Taylor isn’t happy that Will made the decision to quit and go out on their own without consulting him . Now it’s the Brandts that come calling and Will is expected home at his parents house as his younger brother isabout to ship out as a  Marine and wants to spend time with him.  The problem?  Will hasnt’ told his family that he is gay and that his partner, Taylor, is his partner is all ways.

This trip home promises to be anything but a happy visit home.   There is an “Cousin Dennis” staying with Will’s parents who isn’t his cousin and a past felon looking for revenge at Christmas time.  Could things get any worse?  Will and Taylor are about to find out while trying to save their business and their relationship.

Kick Start is the fifth book in the Dangerous Ground series by Josh Lanyon and the pairing of Taylor MacAllister and Will Brandt return in rare form in a story that finds the men on rocky ground, professionally and emotionally.  Since the first installment, Dangerous Ground, the road to love and a relationship has been a tumultuous one.  Special Agents and partners for the Department of Diplomatic Security, their friendship changes with one confession of love from Taylor who is then wounded hours later.  While Taylor has always known of his passion for his coworker, it took Will a much longer time to arrive at the same conclusion, both about his feelings towards Taylor and his sexuality.  Up and down, over but never quite out, these two men have doggedly pursued criminals with the same fervor they save for each other.   Now Josh Lanyon picks up their romance after the events of Dead Run (Dangerous Ground #4) and deepens the issues for these men by separating them (by their choice) from the agency they worked for and placing them on uncertain ground with a new company that’s floundering and trying to set the parameters for their personal relationship.  In Kick Start, these men have never been better.

Josh Lanyon returns to this series and his characters and infuses it with high energy and his trademark humor.  I have always been especially fond of Will and Taylor and have enjoyed watching their relationship deepen and grow despite all obstacles thrown at them including ones they have created themselves.  In Kick Start, Lanyon forces the men to confront the issues facing them, both about their floundering business as well as the problems surfacing in their romance.  And there is no better time for stress and reflection than visiting the in-laws, especially when they don’t know they are the in-laws.  Returning Will to the Brandt home, Lanyon affords the readers a glimpse into Will’s home life and his relationship with the town he grew up in as well as his younger brother.  I thought that the dynamics between Grant and Will were very authentically crafted.  Grant the younger brother forever in his famous older brother’s shadow, a little resentful as well as adoring.  And then he finds out that Will is gay, shattering his image of his brother and making him realize that there was an essential part of Will he never. The resultant sibling explosion feels real in every aspect as does Will’s talk with his father.

Added to the changed family dynamics and their own evolving relationship, Lanyon starts throwing in complication left and right, including a local family of ne’er–do–wells called the Dooleys who just insist on causing their own brand of trouble.  The author is clearly having fun with this surly,unkempt band of brothers:

One of the yahoos, dressed in woodland camo — complete with matching bandana — crawled out of the truck window and jumped to the ground.

“Is Brandt here?” he yelled. He was a big man. Some of it was muscle, some of it was flab, a lot of it was hair. Long black hair and long black beard. Altogether, it amounted to a sizeable and sturdy form.

Taylor relaxed. Not that he had really thought this was some country cousin branch of the mob come hunting Cousin Dennis, but life could be weird. He called back, “Nope. Anything I can do for you?”

“Who are you?”

“Who wants to know?”

The guy said impatiently, “I want to know.”

I’m Larry; this is my brother Darryl, and this is my other brother Darryl. Taylor bit back an inappropriate smile. First rule of visiting the in-laws: No laughing at the local wild life.

“And you are —?”

“Going to kick your ass if you don’t tell me what I want to know!” The big man drew himself up as though readying for battle.

Really? Taylor sighed.

The weary sound carried in the sharp, crystalline air and Larry looked a little discomfited.

You know this is just not going to end well for the Dooleys, as nothing ever does.  It’s humorous and it contains media references that bring up sharp images that just snap  a portrait of the Dooleys immediately into place.  A lovely bit of character shorthand that Lanyon excels in.

Of course, there are gunshots, car chases and several inexplicable turn of events, including one very incompetent sleuth, that should carry over into the next novel in the series.  You will find yourself  reading along at a fast clip to keep up with all the action.  It’s that fast paced, full of snappy dialog, a couple of mysteries, and of course, the love between Will and Taylor that just grows better and better.  This is really my favorite of the series  to date.

If you are new to the series, go back to the beginning, Dangerous Ground, for your first introductions to  Will and Taylor at the start of their relationship.  For those fans of the series, I know you found Kick Start a welcome way to finish out 2013.  I can only hope that it won’t be as long a time before we see another Dangerous Ground story from this wonderful author.

Books in the Dangerous Ground series in the order they were written and should be read to understand the characters and the events that occur (the first four books preceded the start of my review blog):

Dangerous Ground (Dangerous Ground #1)
Old Poison (Dangerous Ground #2)
Blood Heat (Dangerous Ground #3)
Dead Run (Dangerous Ground, #4)
Kick Start (Dangerous Ground, #5)

Book Details:

ebook
Published November 30th 2013 by Just Joshin (first published November 29th 2013)
original title Kick Start
edition language English
series Dangerous Ground

Review: Fool For Love by Cassandra Gold

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Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Fool For LoveCollege professor Vincent Norton is feeling every bit of his forty-five years of age.  Three years ago his partner of 20 years died in a car accident. Estranged from his family, now just his dad, Vince has used all his energy and time at his profession, teaching college kids and not much else,  Even his apartment of three years still looks empty of personality or his past.  His life is in on hold until he meets one of his neighbors from the apartment next door. One of a group of four college students, Vince finds the young man attractive and that is something he hasn’t felt for 3 years.

Rob Bridges is 21 and getting ready to graduate at a nearby college.  He has been secretly crushing on the older man in the apartment across from his.  That man is tall, gorgeous with just a little silver starting to show at the temple and Rob wants to date him.  But he doesn’t even know anything about him other than he is a professor at Washington University, let alone that he is gay?  What is a man to do?

An accident in the hallway brings the two men together and a date soon follows.  And while Rob is sure Vince is the one he wants, Vince is having second and even third thoughts.  The age gap between them is huge and surely Rob will tire of an older man, won’t he? Opposition to their dating mounts from all sides.  Will Rob succeed in making Vince  believe in their love or will Vince’s own doubts and outside influences push him away permanently?

In Fool For Love Cassandra Gold has written a very sweet love story.  Her May – December romance between Vince Norton and Rob Bridges has many lovely qualities, including two believable characters who talk and act their age.  Vince Norton is every bit the still grieving, stuck in stasis middle aged professor.  He cares about his students and mourns the loss of the man he thought he would spend the rest of his life with.  In an authentic touch, Gold has his apartment reflect this inability to move forward.  It’s not decorated, bare walls and barren of spirit, it states that it is more of a staging area than a home.  And I absolutely believed in Vince and his current situation.  Her characterization is of a man who finally realizes he might be ready to move on but how and with whom?

Then into the picture comes Rob Bridges, another likable persona.  He is intelligent, compassionate, and kind. He is also quite handsome.  And Rob likes older men and has been secretly crushing on Vince next door.  All well and good.  Rob has three roommates who are also his friends.  I liked their easy acceptance of his sexuality as well as the layers to their characterizations.  If one acts like a jerk, he is also capable of an apology that makes sense.  Again, I like the secondary characters involved in Vince and Rob’s story.  They are all quite human, funny and flawed. And their presence goes a long way in making this story more viable and lovely to read.

Another moving element is the scenes with Vince’s Dad.  I think Gold handled this aspect of taking care of older parents realistically and quite movingly. And unfortunately, I think it helped highlight what might be the one obstacle that will keep readers from connecting to this book and Vince and Rob’s relationship.  And that would be the huge gap in their ages.

We aren’t talking 5, 10 or even 15 years here.  No, the gap is that of 25 years and for many people that will be an insurmountable obstacle.  And I think I count myself among them.   Cassandra Gold did such a good job with her characters that Rob feels way too young for Vince.  And yes Vince is far too old for a young man of 21.  As the author has Vince point out, they are at two very different stages in their lives and that gets brushed over a little too quickly.   When Rob breaks down in tears because Vince had to cancel out on an important date,  while we might have had some empathy for him, it also highlighted just how young Gold had made him emotionally.  Vince gets mistaken for Rob’s father while out on dates (again I can see that). And as Vince cared for his dying father and thought about himself and Rob in the same position, I found myself agreeing with him that it was entirely plausible.  It’s not something you want to bring up in a love affair but 25 years is 25 years and Vince is turning 47 as the book ends.

And finally, because yes, my mind goes there.  There is the physical differences in physiology between a 21 year old man and a 46* year old man.   At 21 years old, the sexual drive can match up with the body’s ability.  Unfortunately, not so with middle-age.  And that wasn’t touched on at all.  Perhaps because it’s not a very sexy thing to think about. Athough I have read some books where the authors treated aspect realistically and still made the relationship sexy.  Certainly though it is a fact of life, not exactly dealt with here.   But that’s what I kept thinking about.    So yes, I just couldn’t make myself believe in this romantic relationship.   To be honest, I don’t think I would by it as a M/F romance either.  The difference is just too great.

There are a couple of odd phrasing here and some confusion about ages, all that is minor issues in an otherwise sweet narrative.  So again, how you feel about the age gap between these two realistically portrayed men will define how you feel towards Fool For Love.  It has many lovely elements but in the end I just couldn’t connect to the love affair.  You make up your own mind.

Cover art by Valerie Tibbs is far preferable to the original.  At least it shows two men of difference ages.  But the blue tone makes it all a little hard to see.

*It states that Vince is 45 at the beginning of the book, then 46 and at the epilogue which occurs one year later, Vince is turning 47.

Book Details:

Note:This book is a re-edited, revised version of one previously released by another publisher.
Published August 20th 2013 by Loose Id, LLC (first published April 9th 2009)
original title:  Fool For Love
ASINB00EOA5Q8I
edition language English
characters Vince Norton
setting United States

The Winners Are Announced for The Tameness of the Wolf Week! Happy Birthday, Kendall McKenna!

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It’s here, our final day with Kendall McKenna and The Tameness of the Wolf Week.  It’s been a great week with terrific prizes and  author insight into a series that is just outstanding and one of Scattered Thoughts Best of Lists for 2013.  I am sure you all are with me when I say I can’t wait for more.

Thank you, Kendall, for the wonderful posts and gifts.

ScatteredThoughtsandRogueWords

Strength of the Wolf Banner

Whew! It’s been a helluva week! I was already behind on some administrative duties when Strength of the Wolf was released. The reaction was so strong, it was all I could do to keep up with email, Facebook PMs, and messages left on my wall, and on The Tameness of the Wolf’s Facebook page. I’ve been participating in the Suicide Prevention Blog Hop (because as of 2013, more military personnel take their own lives each day/year, than are killed in combat), and I have two new guest blog appearances starting today, and it’s been rough keeping up!

Who am I kidding? I’m even farther behind than I was!

And don’t think any of this is a complaint, because it certainly is not! What it is, is an observation of the escalation of the reaction to the Tameness of the Wolf books as they come out. I think the love of paranormal stories gave Strength of the Pack a good launch, but Strength of the Wolf was met with a perfect storm of paranormal, sequel, and my own slightly higher author profile. From an objective standpoint, it’s fascinating to watch how each series generates its own unique reaction. Each new title generates a slightly more intense reaction than the one before.

So here we are, one week into the release of Strength of the Wolf, it’s topping the bestseller lists, and I’m still behind in admin work! Just in case it’s not clear, when I’m behind in admin work, that means I’m not working on the next book! Yikes!  Today, none of that matters!  We’re celebrating my birthday, today, by announcing the last of the contest winners!  My thanks to everyone who has stopped by, read my posts, read the wonderful reviews for both books, and entered the contests!

A huge thanks to Melanie (aka Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words) who stayed in stealth mode! I knew you were out there, even though you stayed in the background. I appreciate the two great reviews for Strength of the Pack and Strength of the Wolf.

So, to celebrate my birthday today, I’m going to finish giving out gifts to YOU!KM Dog Tags

Jumping back a bit, the winner of Noah and Lucas’ dog tags is Carissa! Congratulations! Drop me an email at Kendall.mckenna3 at gmail dot com with your shipping address.

Next up, the winner of Tim and Jeremy’s dog tags is Fedora! Congratulations to you as well! Be sure to let me know your mailing address.

And for the GRAND FINALE! The winner of the e-book copy of Strength of the Wolf is: Lyra L! Congratulations! I just need to know which format you need!

Once again, my thanks to everyone for participating!  Congratulations to all the winners!  I hope your prizes help you enjoy my birthday!  Now, go run and tell all your friends and family about this wonder series of books you’ve read and how they need to check them out now, before too many of them get released! 😉

Time for me to lace up my LPCs and step off! Kilo-Mike out!Strength of the PackStrengthoftheWolf4

Kendall McKenna

love & dog tags

www.kendallmckenna.com

www.facebook.com/kendallmckenna

www.facebook.com/thetamenessofthewolf

www.facebook.com/therecondiaries

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Review: Open Cover Before Striking by Willa Okati

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Open Cover Before StrikingRating: 4.5 stars

Davis Carmichael has one focus in life, his job as a writer for Tatterdemalion’s Voice, and he let’s nothing else distract him from that.  This includes sexual encounters, then he meets Cristián in an airport while both are waiting for flights out.   Their one night stand is not only white hot but revelatory and neither man can let go of their memories of the encounter.  And neither man expects to see each other again, afterall they don’t even have each other’s full name.

But fate has something else in store for them.  Because the subject of Davis Carmichael’s next column is a matchmaker who Davis intends to expose as a fraud and that matchmaker is none other than Cristián Baranov.  Cristián Baranov is a believer in the adage that there is only one true love for each person and he believes he has a real gift in his ability to see those who are soul mates.  When Davis travels to the home and office of the matchmaker, he is astonished to find his one night stand is the person he has been sent to interview and the surprise is not at all one sided.  Cristián too is surprised to see Davis but also delighted.  It is a case of big city snarky pessimism versus warm country romance and the winner will be anyone’s guess.  But both will be losers in love if Cristián can’t make the biggest match of his life, that of his own.

I will say immediately that while I loved this book, I can see where it is going to be one that people either love or hate depending upon their taste.  And they are going to feel that way from the beginning to the very end.  It will be due to one character and maybe also because of a slight paranormal element that glides throughout this contemporary romance with all the subtly of a light fragrance you can’t put a name too.  It will either  tickle your fancy or make you retch and not too much in between.

First to the characters Willa Okati has created for her story.  I actually loved them both.  The first we meet is the one that will decide this story for the reader.  You might love him or detest him as a total jerk.  I loved him.  Davis is that hot tempered, small bodied prickly hedge hog of a man.  He has a vocabulary both quick witted and foul mouthed and uses words as a weapon more often than not.  Davis pokes and strikes out at people to keep them at a distance and he does not make it easy to like him.  But I did, from the first opening snark.  Because for all his spines, and they are plentiful, there is something about him as Okati has written him that cries out “Don’t discount me, I am going to surprise you”.  And he does.  He has layers, the top of which are distrustful, sarcastic and defensive.  But keep going and the real Davis appears and he is startling!

The one character that will keep the wavering reader going is Cristián Baranov.  A creature of the country and a true romantic at heart, he really does have the power to see personal matches, all but his own in an ironic turn he is not blind to.  He is compassionate and very much aware of human foibles, saying to the couples he brings together that while he can unite them, the rest is up to them.  And as we all know “humans screw up”, and if things don’t work out, then it is only ourselves we can blame.  Not that this makes his pain any less when the couples he brings together don’t make it.  The author makes us believe so totally in his abilities that by the end of the book, you will wish that Cristián Baranov was real and that you could meet with him soon to find the one  you were meant to be with.

The other element that the reader must take on faith is that the events in the story happen very quickly, this is no drawn out love affair, although there is a troubled long term couple also involved.  It all comes down to faith.  Faith in Christian’s abilities and faith that we have a perfect match for each of us out there.  If you can take those concepts to heart, then this story will beguile you and the ending will make you cheer.  And while I may not believe that there is only one for each of us, I loved these characters and their story.  For me it was a darn near perfect Okati, just what I expect from her.  So give this book a chance because really these characters and their story is worth it.

Cover art by April Martinez.  I think you all know by now how I feel about red or yellow cover colors.  I really dislike them and that is once again my only problem with this cover.  I get why the artist did it but still while the models are perfection, ditto the lit match, couldn’t another background work just as well? Sigh.