Review: Model Love by S.J. Frost

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Rating: 4.25  stars out of 5

Model Love coverIan Eldridge and his twin brother Aiden were once the world’s top models.  Courted by famous photographers and designers alike, the brothers had the fashion world at their feet and life was spectacular. Then a drunken driver crashed into their limo taking the life of Aiden and Ian was shattered. Now three years later Ian continues to grieve, turning his back on fashion and his career. When his close friends Rodney and Mitch plan a getaway to Bora Bora, they convince Ian to come along hoping a change in setting will alter his outlook on life.

Temaru Marceau, half French half Polynesian, has returned home from France to Bora Bora and now owns and runs a dive shop catering to tourists and local dive enthusiasts.  Experience has taught Temaru to stay away from tourist flings that leave him heartsick and alone after the vacation is over.  Then he spots Ian alone on the beach and everything changes for both of them.

As attraction deepens to love, Ian starts to heal and look to the future and resuming his career again.  But will that future include Temaru or will he be left behind once more.

When I think of S.J. Frost I think of her ancient vampires of her Instinct series, or her edgy rocker boys of Conquest, so I was unprepared for the gentle sweetness of Ian and Temaru of Model Love.  I have to admit I  was charmed by this story.  Every element appealed to me from the Bora Bora location to the Project Runway world of models and fashion.  And to give this story more depth, Frost added an element of loss and grief on both character’s part that gives Model Love a sense of realness that it might otherwise been lacking.

I loved both main characters.  The grieving Ian Eldridge, unable to get past the survivor guilt and crushing loss of his best friend and twin, is especially touching.  Anyone who has lost someone close to them will recognize the pain and depression that envelope this man.  Ian is stuck, unable to move  past this traumatic loss and the world, with the exception of two friends, has moved on without him. These two men, former business associates, are a married gay couple who were also a part of his brother’s life and career. They are instrumental in getting Ian away from his present and into a location so opposite of where he is emotionally and physically living that a change might be possible.   Rodney and Mitch are wonderful creations of Frost’s, and I took them to heart as easily as I did the main characters.

And then there is Temaru with a loss of his own that will help Ian move past his grief and accept the love that is offered.  Temaru is a beautifully layered character with an interesting history of his own.  He is Ian’s equal in intelligence, education and beauty. And its that equality that makes our belief and connection to their romance one that is easy to make and be invested in.  I don’t know if I could have believed in such an instantaneous love if Temaru had been just “an  island diver” instead of the college educated man he is.  For this relationship to work  and for the reader to believe it had a future, both Temaru and Ian needed to have the requisite character and inner compatibility that would resonate with each other and Frost gave them that essence.  And then made us believe in it.

For me this was a story that got better after I finished it. The more I thought about it, the more I connected to the men and their love for each other.  I could easily see a return to these characters and their universe should Frost decide to do so.  I would love to see more of Temaru and Ian, Mitch and Rodney and even a designer Seggio Fabbri who deserves his own happy ending.  Pick up Model Love and be prepared to fall in love yourself with Bora Bora and the men who fall in love on its beaches.

Cover design by Fiona Jayde Cover photography by S Photos.  The choice of models was not in keeping with, well the choice of models.  That one man looks more like a weightlifter than the svelte male models of today’s runways.  A  definite miss of a cover.

Book Details:

ebook, 141 pages
Published October 23rd 2013 by Ellora’s Cave
ISBN13 9781419948534
setting Bora Bora, C

Review: Grime Doesn’t Pay (The Brothers Grime #2) by Z.A. Maxfield

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

The Brothers Grime- EddieEddie Vasquez, one of the three owners of The Brothers Grime, has fallen for his niece’s elementary school teacher Mr.  B. Andrew  Daley.  Each time Eddie drops Lucy off at her third grade classroom, he intends to speak to Andrew about more than just Lucy’s accomplishments and classwork and each time he leaves without saying anything.  Eddie finds Andrew gorgeous but daunting because of his education and learning.  Eddie is profoundly dyslexic, leaving him unable to read without special instruments and a considerable amount of time pouring over the words.  And while Eddie has managed to be successful in life working with his disability, he continues to feel as though he is “afflicted”, unworthy of someone whose conversations are filled full of books and book references.

Andrew Daley has his own hidden problems, specifically his father.   Andrew’s father used to own a bookstore but since his mother’s death, his father has changed severely and not for the better. In fact his father’s problems have gotten so extreme that Andrew has not seen his father in months, staying in contact only through sporadic phone calls.  Andrew too has noticed his student Lucy’s gorgeous uncle and looks forward to every visit Eddie Vasquez makes to his classroom.  He loves to see how deeply Eddie loves his niece and the adoration that shows in the way he treats her. And he wonders why the obviously interested Eddie doesn’t approach him.

Then one of Eddie’s former elementary teachers shows up at school, disoriented, hair and clothes rank, smelling of human decomposition, and the two men join forces to help her and discover the events that have brought her to a school she hasn’t work at in decades.  Mrs. Henderson is the teacher responsible for Eddie’s diagnosis of his learning disability, her support and care helped him to move forward, personally and professionally.  Now when she needs help, Eddie is there, together with the rest of The Brothers Grime and Andrew, to provide the assistance she so badly needs.

Mrs. Henderson brings Eddie and Andrew together but each man is still hiding their biggest secrets from each other.  When those secrets are finally disclosed, will the fragile relationship they have been building survive, and grow stronger under the weight of truths finally revealed?

I loved the first book in this series, Grime and Punishment, published in May of 2013.  It was funny, heartrending and so unusual in that the profession of its main character, Jack Masterson, is one rarely found encountered in fiction.  Jack was a former firefighter whose disability forced him off the job into a new profession, that of crime scene cleanup.  Jack, along with childhood friends, Gabe and Eddie Vasquez, formed The Brothers Grime, a crime scene cleaning service whose motto “Because Life Is Not A Fairy Tale” adorns their vans and advertises their business.   It was a fascinating introduction to this necessary and deeply unpleasant profession as well as the intelligent, multidimensional characters who own and operate The Brothers Grime.  It was a smart, engrossing story, one I couldn’t put down and highly recommended.  But it still did not prepare me for the remarkable and absorbing tale to follow, Grime Doesn’t Pay, Eddie’s story.

In Grime Doesn’t Pay, Z.A. Maxfield tackles several tough and complex elements, all crucial to the story, the characters and the series and she handles them all with intelligence, compassion and an authenticity that educated while removing nothing from a riveting story. Maxfield’s narrative moved me to a better understanding of those burdened with these problems while highlighting the need for more education and enlightenment in the media of these issues and their effects upon our society, a powerful statement for any story.

First lets look at Eddie, a complex and admirable character who has learned to deal with his profound dyslexia while still bearing old pain from the manner in which his family, friends and schoolmates treated him growing up.  I loved Eddie and through him, Z.A. Maxfield taught me so much more about dyslexia and the instruments and  coping mechanisms used by those affected by this disease.  It is a dispassionate, layered portrait that encompasses both the adult who manages his dyslexia successfully while never forgetting the child taunted by classmates and torn down by his parents disappointment.  There is so much to this character, from his courtly manners derived from his family and background to his dancing, a fluid and artistic expression of the inner man.  Eddie is full of complexities, and the story, told from his point of view, is enriched in equal measure.

Secondly, and on par with the misinformation and misunderstandings of the complexities and range of dyslexia is the mental disorder of hoarding.  Too often this mental disorder is viewed through the superficial treatment given in the media, a foil for comics and the subject of cable tv programming.  But in the hands of this author, and seen through the eyes of Eddie, Andrew and his father, it becomes  real and grimly relevant to our understanding of mental illness today.  Each man is a different prism through which the disease can be viewed. Andrew’s anguish as the son lacking the understanding of his father’s illness, full of anger and pain, and reeling with embarassment, is the voice we so often see in the media.  His is the channel through which most of us see the disease and its effects  upon family and loved ones. Next, in Andrew’s father, we see the disease given full reign, but made very human, grounded in his pain and humiliation.  His own embarrassment and pride in full conflict with the reality of his situation and his inability to cope with his mental illness on his own. We are brought into his home, piled up with debris, overridden with roaches, and infused with a stench of old food and rat excrement that you can almost smell coming out of the pages. That picture combined with the pathetic state of his person and the dignity that he is trying to maintain will bring you to tears and still let you understand the fury of the son.  And finally, to give the reader yet one more perspective from which to view this disease, we see it from Eddie’s standpoint.  As a dyslexic who stands outside the norms of society, he is perhaps the only person (outside of a psychiatrist specializing in hoarders) who can reach Andrew’s father and understand him.  And once again, Maxfield makes us feel every bit of their pain, of Eddie, who can’t read, being the one to understand Mr. Daley, a person who has lived his life for books and now uses them as a basis for his hoarding.

Added to these exceptional aspects of this story are marvelous characterizations outside of Eddie, Andrew and Mr. Daley, including Mrs. Henderson and the problem of the aged (another beautifully rendered subject).  There is the culturally rich Vasquez family, surrounding Eddie with love and expectations.  The hilarious morally challenged employee, Skippy, and the ever closeted police officer and childhood friend of The Brothers Grime, Dave Huntley, who figures in all the stories.  So many wonderful characters to challenge the way you view people and the manner in which they live their lives.

If the serious nature of these topics give you pause, don’t let it.  There is a wonderfully moving romance that binds these issues together.  There are scenes of terrific warmth and humor to balance those of grim realism and pain.  Z. A. Maxfield moves her story along concisely and smoothly, leaving the reader so wrapped up in the people and events that you will barely be aware of the pages flipping by.  This story left me floored and throughly addicted to these characters and their future.  I think you will feel the same.  Consider Grime Doesn’t Pay not only a must read but one of Scattered Thoughts Best Contemporary Stories of 2013.

Book Details:
ebook, 241 pages
Published November 27th 2013 by Loose Id (first published November 25th 2013)
ISBN13 9781623005863
edition language English

Review: Long the Mile by Ally Blue

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Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

“Seven out of 10 Americans are one paycheck away from being homeless.” – Pras Michel

LongTheMile_500x750When Judah Jackson is released from prison he has exactly a bag containing two pairs of pants, a shirt, some underwear, socks and $300 in cash, a far cry from the wealthy man who entered prison convicted of insider trading.  At first, Judah thinks it will only be a matter of time before he is working and getting his business back together.  But soon the reality of his situation and new life as a ex con sets in.  No one will hire him and without an income he loses his apartment and ends out on the streets, vulnerable, angry, and alone.

Tobias Simonsen has been homeless for over a year and finds that he has almost adjusted to his status as a man without a job or place to call his own.  Not even his degrees and experience in the restaurant business have been enough to save him from his current life and he is now beyond despair that it will change.  Then he saves a man being beaten in an alley, a man once wealthy and now painfully unable to fend for himself on the streets of Ashville.

Together Judah and Toby find a connection that begins to lift them up into friendship and then something more.  When their relationship starts to heal the wounds for both men, they start to hope for a future together.  Then a change in one man’s situation starts a chain reaction of emotions and events that could shatter their bond forever.  Will their faith in each other and their love keep them together even when reason tells them they will part?

What a moving and timely story from Ally Blue!  Long the Mile focuses on the plight of homeless, a heartbreaking statistic that is rising throughout the nation, especially in these economic times.  Instead of faceless numbers Ally Blue takes this tragic reality for so many and  brings it down to an intimate and relatable level with the characters of Judah and Toby, two men of  different backgrounds and education who end up in the same landscape of homelessness and despair.

This is a tough topic to use as a center for a romance, especially if one of the men is also someone whose criminal conduct and arrogance got him convicted of a felony and sent to prison.  Our first introduction to Judah Jackson is a risky one on the part of the author.  Judah is angry, still arrogant, and not especially sorry that he committed a crime, only that he got caught.  Think of the white collar criminals such as Kenneth Lay of Enron and you can see how such a character might invite scorn instead of sympathy. But that sneering man we meet as he is leaving prison is soon to get a shocking comeuppance as Judah tries to find a job while his small pocket of funds dwindles.  Ally Blue takes us into his mindset as Judah unravels emotionally and physically until he finally runs out of options and ends up on the streets of Asheville.  It is a scary picture, made all the more real by the author’s authentic descriptions and her clear understanding of the humiliation, despair and fear that is the constant state of those who are homeless.

To balance out the picture she is creating, Blue then gives us Toby Simonsen, an educated young man who was working on his career, with a bright future ahead of him until the economy crashed along with his job.  With all hotels and service establishments in trouble, the jobs vanished and so did the hopes of thousands of people along with them.  I loved Toby and my heart broke for him because we understand that Toby has given up after a year on the streets.  The constant search for work as well as the constant rejection wears  upon the soul and only the goodness and understanding of Father Bill and the shelter at Holy Innocents has helped to save him. Ally Blue has endowed Toby with an inner strength that feels real, born out of need and Toby’s innate goodness.  Toby is definitely the easier of the two men to connect with.

Slowly over the course of Long The Mile, the real inner Judah starts to appear along with his history that makes the man he became at least understandable if not  always likable.  And the reader needs that in order to accept Toby’s attraction and eventual love for Judah. If this story has an identifiable weakness, it arrives in the latter part of the book when a event arrives that threatens to tear the men apart.  I think the situation that signals a change in their lives is a perfectly realistic one as is its separate effect on each of them. My only quibble is that Toby seems a little oblivious to what a change in the dynamics would have on Judah with his background.  I kept thinking that perhaps a little more exposition and length would have helped alleviate what felt like a rushed resolution to a terrific  story.

But that quibble aside, Long the Mile is a timely tale no matter what time of year it is.  With its focus on a homeless population that is ever present, Ally Blue has brought this tragedy home and given it two faces we can identify and sympathize with.  When you add the fact that young LGBT youth are a large part of that statistic through no fault of their own other than being gay and the shame and horror deepens.

I  highly recommend this book to all based on its own merit as a heartwarming romance.  But Ally Blue and the publisher just made it easier by donating 20 percent of all proceeds to the Ali Forney Center.  So run, don’t walk and grab it right up.  You will be getting a wonderful story and helping LBGTQ youth as well.

Special Notes:

20% of all proceeds from this title are donated to the Ali Forney Center in New York, whose mission “is to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning (LGBTQ) youth from the harm of homelessness, and to support them in becoming safe and independent as they move from adolescence to adulthood.” To learn more about this charity or to donate directly, please visit http://www.aliforneycenter.org/.

 Book Details:
140 pages
Expected publication: December 2nd 2013 by Riptide Publishing

Review: The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari (The General #2) by Sarah Black

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

The General and the Elephant Clock coverGeneral John Mitchel and Gabriel Sanchez have finally begun to settle into their new lives as an couple and outwardly gay men when an old colleague calls with a request for help.  General David Painter, now CEO of a private security outfit, has two of his men, former Rangers, who have been captured and imprisoned in Tunisia. And they are being held in one of the most notorious prisons in the Middle East.  Painter wants John and Gabriel to get them out and safely home.

With problems on the home front with Kim, Abdullah, and Billy all involved in their own personal challenges, John and Gabriel knows its a tough time to leave but the alternative, leaving those boys to rot in prison or worse, is unthinkable.  The Arab Uprising has left the government unstable and the political climate rife for rebellion in Tunisia.  But liberating the men in only part of the mission, the other is to leave the country with every one involved safe and alive. An old enemy thwarts their every move, puting John and Gabriel in a dangerous position.  As the obstacles mount against them, John finds that one of the men’s obsession with the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari might not only be their ticket home but a way to heal some deep wounds as they go.

The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari is just spectacular!  I think it is the best book Sarah Black has written to date, a great book among many wonderful ones.  This book, the second in The General series, marks a departure from the original in so many ways. While that book, The General and the Horse-Lord, looked inward and focused on John and Gabriel as former Army officers now adjusting to civilian life and their status as out gay men and partners, this book takes all those elements (their  extended family, career adjustments, love for the Army and country,etc) and expands that view while placing the men back in their comfort zone of military action,hostiles, and hostage negotiations.  Its a brilliant move on the author’s part because now we get to see General John Mitchel (and Gabriel) in their element,. It is  here that we see their personalities, thoughts and actions shine and the depth of their partnership and love emerge to support their actions and the group they assemble.

This book is remarkable in that every aspect of this story is well constructed and beautifully implemented.  It has action scenes that will make you hold your breath in white knuckle anxiety yet scream in fear for those involved.  It has pathos and angst, especially in the form of Eli, the young, brilliant ex Ranger captured and abused.  It has the breadth of knowledge and admiration for a ancient rich culture and society now on the brink of meltdown while showing a sorrow for a people caught in the religious crossfires of zealotry and hatred. Black comments on the Arab uprising while bringing its reality to the reader in the scared visages and chaos that is every day life in Carthage and Tunisia.  There is scholarly references to Ibn Battuta’s Rihla, Al-Jazari’s book, The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices”as well as contemporary references to Star Wars, Spongebob Squarepants, and the lyrics of “Take It Easy” by the Eagles and Jackson Browne.   This book is bursting at the seams in an explosion of history, culture, pop society milestones and great characterizations that will cement themselves in your heart never to leave.

Existing on the same superior level as the action and plot are the characters created for this series.  Starting with John Mitchel, Gabriel Sanchez, Kim, Abdullah, Billy and even Juan, Gabriel’s confused and angry son, each and every one is a solid, believable, and often endearing personality that the reader will connect to easily.  John Mitchel, the warrior philosopher, is easily the strongest and probably most magnetic, along with Gabriel.  John is having the hardest time adjusting to civilian life, finding it boring and lacking the mental stimulation that he is used to.  He is also finding it hard to relinquish his role as the commander who sees to everyones safety and directing their safe passage through life.  Gabriel is also finding his new life harder than he thought it would be, with different demands as an ex husband and divorced family man whose kids are unhappy and angry over the destruction of their family unit to a law firm disintegrating under the load of needy cases and lack of revenue.  The pain and confusion of divorce and its effects upon a family are not glossed over but folded in as a matter of fact part of life that the men and Gabriel’s children and ex-wife must deal with.  It’s realistic, and recognizable in this day and age of multiple connected families.  I love these men and their relationship, a work still in progress throughout the story although their love is never to be doubted.

Swimming in the sea of John and Gabriel’s love and support is their wonderful extended family of Kim, John’s brilliant Korean nephew, Abdullah, his godson, and Billy, a young man recovering from a brutal attack on campus.  Now added to the fray are the men  and woman who make up the rescue unit in Carthage.  Eli and Daniel, Jen Painter, Sam Brightman, Wylie and Jackson, all memorable, each a living, breathing human being that will bring you to laughter and tears.  Eli and Jen have to be two of my favorites, Eli one of the young men captured and Jen, the resilient and courageous young woman fighting to empower the embattled women of Tunisia.  And then there is  the director of the Bardo Museum, Ibrahim ibn Saeed ibn Ahmad al-Aziz, old and wise, encapsulating the best combination of humanity, learning and wisdom.  There is a large cast here but each is necessary to the plot and to the group dynamic. You will fall in love with each and every one.  Here is an excerpt.  John is calling  home from Carthage and is met with the usual chaos of multiple voices before talking to Billy:

So how are you, son? I was craving some of your tea today, that one with the blood oranges and rose hips and hibiscus. I can’t believe I’m starting to like it.”

“That’s my favorite, too. I was thinking we could plant some blackberry and raspberry vines in the back yard, make some fresh teas. You think they would grow here?”

“Maybe. If we built them a deep planter that we sunk in the ground. I’ve heard there were some traditional ways to plant up in northern New Mexico where they dug shallow pits, lined them with rocks, and planted trees in them.”

“I read something about the Hopi, how they planted—I was thinking about waffles, or a grid? I can’t remember. I’ll have to look it up.”

“Billy, do you know anything about the museums in Carthage?”

“Not really. Want me to look them up?”

“I would. Just write me a brief and send it to me, okay? That would be a big help.”

“I looked up some pictures of Carthage. It looks so beautiful, with the Mediterranean right there, and the sky so blue. Sad, though. Like that poem, how does it go? Two vast and trunkless legs of stone….”

John concentrated hard, trying to remember. “Ozymandias, and it was Shelley, I think, or Keats. I used to know it. “I met a traveller from an antique land who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desart. Near them, on the sand, half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown, and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, tell that its sculptor well those passions read…. I can’t remember the rest. But you’re right, Billy. That poem looks like Carthage. I miss you, kiddo.”

“I miss you, too.”

Just look at the number of references in that short excerpt, from Hopi planting methods to Shelley’s Ozymandias overlaid with a man longing for home and the respect with which he treats the people who live under his roof. Black also demonstrates her knowledge and love of the military here.  Whether it is the Flying Stallions and the primal sound of the “rhythmic thump, then, the sound of a big helicopter’s rotors” to the pain and sorrow of a young injured soldier unable to fathom his doctor’s distant attitude, you will feel as though you have walked a short ways in a soldier’s shoes.

From vivid descriptions of far away places to the characters and the ever present love of the Army and its mission, The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari, is a must read for 2013 or any year.   Make sure you find a place for it on your bookshelf, digital or otherwise, with space for additional stories to come.  This is a universe that begs for more stories with its wealth of characters and various challenges ahead that each face.  I know at least one more is in the works, lets hope for an abundance.

This is how the story begins:

JOHN studied the candy-colored sky, raspberry pink edging to smudgy purple, the color of a grape lollipop. The colors reminded him of Turkish delight, a candy he’d been offered once in a Bedouin’s tent. He’d been there to negotiate passage for troops and troop trucks over the old man’s lands. It was rumored that the Bedouin was somehow involved in the nasty little conflict that had disrupted the flow of food aid to the region. John had been sent in to stomp on the sparks before civilian casualties escalated.

The old man’s grandson had filled two cups with mint tea so sweet John could smell the sugar over the dust and sun-warmed canvas of the tent. Then he’d offered the plate of Turkish delight with a flourish and a bow. The boy had black liquid eyes, long, thick lashes, and John had felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up. Eyes that beautiful and dark should have been filled with warmth, but the boy was young and didn’t know how to hide what was in his heart. John had watched the boy slide his hand down his leg, clutch the bronze dagger in the top of his boot and pull it free.

Then Gabriel was there, quiet as smoke, his rifle cradled in his arms, and the boy froze. John set his teacup down, refusing the Bedouin’s hospitality. It was an insult, a hard line drawn in the sand, nearly as hard a line as the one drawn when your grandson cut someone’s throat over a plateful of Turkish delight. The old man had eyes like the boy, a raptor’s eyes, cold and wet and black. John stood up, backed out of the tent without a word, and Gabriel spread his arms, the rifle in one big hand. No one could mistake the gesture. It said, No one touches him. You come through me to get to him.

SThe Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari 

Book Details:

ebook, 244 pages
Expected publication: October 25th 2013
ISBN13 9781627982085
edition language English
series The General

Review: Goblins, Book 1 by Melanie Tushmore

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Goblins, Book 1In the 17th Century, the ancient sprawl of Epping forest is bursting with magic and those who go unseen by human eyes: the elves who rule the summer court, and the goblins who rule the winter court. It is said that if a human catches the eye of one of the fey, they are either doomed or blessed.

The Goblin King has seven sons, a number said to be unlucky.  For most of them, home and duties is not enough and when they go exploring chance encounters with humans change their lives forever.

Book 1 contains the stories of Wulfren and  Quiller, goblin princes and the humans that changed their lives.

Goblins is a magical book on so many levels.  From that cover that pulls you in with its haunting and haunted young beings to the lyrical and imaginative descriptions of Epping forest and its dwellers, this book kept me awake thinking about the scenes and settings I found within.

Honestly this is a book who needs more than one rating because of all its standout elements, including that miraculous cover.  But the characters and plots for each brother varied enough for me to rate each story individually.  So let’s start with my least favorite and the first in the book, Wulfren and the Warlock:

1. Wulfren and the Warlock.  Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Wulfren is the seventh son of the Goblin King and the youngest.  Wulfren also has the least amount of magic as the magic increases with age.  A very young spirit, Wulfren is half elf and half goblin. His mother is an elf banished for her passion and love for the Goblin King, she remains the favorite of his consorts and the mother of two of his sons.   His curiosity and youth get the better of him when Wulfren and his brother Garnet spy a warlock in their woods and play pranks on him.    When the warlock turns the tables on Wulfren and captures him, both of their lives change forever.

I loved so much of this story.  The plot is wonderful, the settings other worldly and the descriptions of everything within so unbelievably magical that I never wanted to leave.  So where is the problem?  With one character, that of Wulfrin.  Wulfrin is a very young spirit, so young in fact that his dialog and antics place him in the realm of a 12 to 14 year old.  He himself says at one point to the warlock after being captured:

“I… I have over seven hundred seasons, now. Seven hundred and twenty,” I added.

“Seasons? The seasons … But that would make you …” He sounded surprised, his eyes widening. “Age aside, you must be a young spirit.”

“I’m not young!” I said, indignant. “I do everything the adults do.”

Yes, Wulfren is young, adorably so.  He acts on impulse, doesn’t like doing his chores and feels shuffled aside at his father’s court because no one let’s him do anything.  Any one who has had a child or is familiar with children has heard this plaintive voice a hundred times or more.  It’s the voice of a child and Tushmore has captured it perfectly.  So why do I have issues with this?  Because immediately the Warlock binds him with silver chains and drags him off to bed, introducing elements of bdsm and non con sexual activities to basically what is a immature goblin.  No matter how I tried looking at this aspect of the story, the squick factor was just too big to overlook.  Time and again, I picture Wulfren as Max from Where the Wild Things Are roaring his terrible roar., claws included.  Not an image Tushmore would want to evoke. Even after both admit they have feelings for each other, it still feels like a barely pubescent boy who wants to please an older man, doing small chores around the house and pleading for his attention.  When they are parted, Wulfren writes a letter to his warlock and its contents are those that any tween writing to Tiger Beat would recognize.   Even if you accept that these two characters have a loving relationship, it never feels real or believable, just terribly one sided.

And that is the fault of Ash, the warlock.  We really never get a firm grip on his character.  Who is he?  Why is he by himself on the edge of the woods?  He remains an enigma for the entire story, and that makes it hard for us to believe and connect with his relationship to Wulfren.  Everyone else comes alive in this story with the exception of Ash.  Had his character been more fleshed out and Wulfren made an older soul, then this story would have a completely different tone.

Still, the vivid descriptions and magical air that Tushmore imparts to her tale make this story a lush visit to hidden kingdoms.  Here is a look as the goblins get ready for a celebration when Wulfren is brought home:

They led me downstairs. Random bursts of song filled the air as musicians tuned their instruments, and quarrelled over who played what. Outside in the dark, the court gathered amongst the inner ring, with the toadstools towering above us. Sprites had lit the dew drops that covered the toadstool heads, and they sparkled. Fires lit on twig ends were jabbed into the ground for torches. Brownies rushed about with acorn shells full of wine in their arms, sloshing liquid as they hurried.

“Father has even broken out the mead,” Garnet whispered to me. “Hurry, before it’s all gone.”

I dream of lit dew drops and fire flies tucked into cobwebs to light the great hall.  Just so magical.   Scenes like this elevated this story above the main relationship.

2. Quiller and the Runaway Prince:  Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Quiller is the third son of the Goblin King.  He is half goblin and half bird spirit like his mother, another one of the King’s consorts.  When winter is finished and spring comes to the woods once more, Quiller and the rest of the goblins are free of their duties for two seasons and its time to play.  Flying through the woods, Quiller sees a fallen man and his injured horse deep in the forest.  The horse snorts and tells Quiller he doesn’t think much of the young man but Quiller sees and feels something for the human right from the start.  When Quiller tells the young man that “all runaway princes are mine”, a journey begins that neither is quite prepared for.

This story has it all, great characters, believable relationship between beings of basically the same age (emotionally and intellectually), and the vivid, imaginative descriptions that make this book a must read on every level.  This is how the story begins:

The start of spring, 1648.

Winter was over, at long last. Tonight we were all in our larger forms— as tall as elves— and dressed in vein-thin leaves. It was the celebration to welcome Eostre, goddess of spring. Our home, the rotten ring, had been decorated in her honour. Dewdrops were lit, and fireflies were hung in cobwebs. The musicians piped up and played as the first glimmer of Eostre appeared through the trees. Pale light played on her shapely edges, like it shone from within. The form she took to visit us was more elf-like than anything; tall and graceful, with long, sleek hair of many colours.

Hair that moved. As Eostre stepped inside our ring of rotten tree trunks, I could see her hair crawled with insect larvae. She paid it no mind, as she cast an amused eye over the ring, then addressed Father. “Goblin king. Your line was missing one pair of claws this winter.”

Father’s face twitched ever so slightly before he replied. “Yes, Goddess, we … We managed without.”

We know from the previous story that the missing set of claws belongs to Wulfren, the youngest son of the Goblin King.  The King and his subjects are responsible for Fall and Winter.  And during those seasons, the King holds Court but the scepter passes to the elves in the spring and there the Goddess will hold court through the summer months.  I loved the image of the Goddess, Eostre, her hair full of larvae that writhe as she walks. Its mesmerizing, opulent and yet somewhat repulsive. Yet, Tushmore is not finished with Eostre.  Here is the scene as the Goddess leaves the company of goblins:

The ceremony was almost over; Eostre bid our ring farewell. In each footprint she left, fresh shoots and flowers grew, yet without her touch they soon wilted. All flowers died in the rotten ring.

Eostre inclined her head to Father. “Raedren, goblin king of the southern realm, thank you for the winter.”

“Goddess. Peace be.” Father bowed deeply to her in return, his cloak of cobwebs fluttering around him.

“Peace be.” Eostre smiled, then turned with a swish of hair and flowers. Her hair’s colour was ever changing, like the leaves in the trees. Butterflies and mayflies now crawled from her hair, spread their wings, and took flight. She left in a trail of flying insects and wilting flowers, on her way to the summer court, and the elves.

How wondrous, how enchanting!  And the spell is set for the rest of the story.  I loved the characters here, each a small treasure to be held and marveled at again and again.  Quiller is just the start of a cast we will connect with and remember.  Quiller is the third son of the Goblin King and therefore a prince himself.  But his mother is a bird spirit, a crow and his personality bears the hallmarks of a bird.  He is flighty, scattered in his thoughts and attentions and he recognizes that.  Just his actions as he flies through the forest gives ample example of this character and light hearted nature. Cashel is also a prince, a human one.  But magic aside, these two are each other’s equal in courage, in outlook, and finally in love.  They are everything that is missing from the first story.

Tushmore also uses Quiller’s journey to bring a dark realistic look at the times and ways of humanity.  Along the way, Quiller talks to a group of crows to see if they know where his mother resides.  They reply to look near the gibbet:

“Gibbet?” I asked, puzzled.

“Wood the humans hang other humans on,” he explained. “We peck their bones clean. Nice when it’s dried in the sun.”

“How strange,” I said. “Where is this gibbet?”

“Find the human path,” the crow said. “East of here. Before you get to the human place.”

“Oh, fear not, I shan’t be visiting any humans!” I cawed.

But of course, he does, flying past human remains, evidence of the cruel nature of the times.  Tushmore blends together the magical and the human worlds with a smooth, gifted touch.  When Quiller meets Cashel, a human of royal blood, Cromwell and the Parliament are laying waste to the people and lands all around.  None of that really matters to Quiller but Cashel is mired deep in the midst of political intrigue and fears for his life.  So into the castle goes Quiller (in bird form of course) where Cashel is living with his cousins.  Black deeds abound inside, threatening Cashel’s life and those of his relatives.  With a magical being in the middle, all sorts of things start to happen, and the reader will love every single minute.   I mean, Melanie Tushmore gives us everything we could want and more.  There’s poison, nefarious goings on, villains, a witch and of course, love.  And it’s all believable, and layered and complete.  Well mostly.

These are just the first two books and there are seven sons, five more to go.  So I expect to see Quiller and Cashel appear in the books to come.  Quiller still has his duties to attend to in the fall and winter.  Plus I don’t expect the Goblin King to willingly lose another son to the humans and that is not addressed here.   Still this story is quite marvelous, worthy of the price of this book alone.

After reading Goblins, I can’t wait to see what the author does for the rest of the sons.  I want more of her extraordinary descriptions and spellbinding imagination.  I highly recommend this to you all even with my reservations concerning the first story.

Cover design by Ria Chantler.  This cover is exquisite, one of the best of 2013.  The more closely I look at it, the better it gets.  just remarkable.

Book Details:

ebook
Expected publication: September 25th 2013 by Less Than Three Press LLC (first published September 25th 2012)
original title Goblins, Book One
ISBN13 9781620042373
edition language English

Review: Sonata by A.F. Henley

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Rating: 4.5 stars ouf of 5

Sheet Music with Rose on pianoIan James is feeling every bit of his thirty six years.  His long term partner cheated on him, multiple times apparently, before leaving for good.  Ian’s long promised promotion at work is two years overdue and counting.  Now his sexual hookup, young sexy Jordan, has just told  him to get lost after some quick mutual satisfaction.  Even after Ian tried to pursue Jordan, all he got in return was an outright refusal.  What’s a man to do?

Jordan has more than he can handle at the moment, two jobs and his young son Cole who happens to be autistic. When Jordan hooked up with Ian one night, all he wanted was just a quickie, no involvement, no phone numbers but the universe had other plans.  When their paths intersected not once, but twice, it seemed as though fate was interfering.  Yes, Ian had made it clear that he wanted to see Jordan again but meeting each other again and again was completely accidental.  Can both men overcome their pasts and their fears to make a future together?

There is so much to love about A. F. Henley’s latest book, Sonata.  From the lovely and relevant cover, the chapters titled with the names of musical movements to the in-depth research the author has done on Asperger syndrome, the story kept me involved and emotionally engaged from the opening page.

Henley’s characters are both desperate to connect with someone yet equally fearful for a connection to be made.  Each man’s past makes them question their ability to see clearly about situations and individuals.  Ian’s last boyfriend hurt him emotionally, cheating on Ian on numerous occasions, taking advantage of his generous and forgiving nature.  Now Ian questions his own judgement when it comes to people and relationships.  Jordan is hiding a traumatic past and trusts no one unless absolutely necessary.  These characters contain all the nuances necessary to make them not only believable but endearing.  For Ian and Jordan to go forward past their fears into a tenuous relationship, we watch them slowly let go of their closely held suspicions  to reach a measure of comfort and trust with each other. It’s a slow, subtly shaded journey with pitfalls every step of the way.

Another remarkable character is the young boy Cole.  Cole has Asbergers syndrome and  Henley gives us an authentic portrait of the effects of this genetic disease on an adolescent.  Cole’s behavior as well as the methods used to calm him down are realistic and medically authentic in nature and scope.  But what I love most is that this is a balanced portrait of autism the author achieves in Cole.  For every wail and out of control moment, there is an equal victory to behold.  Small, fleeting and sometimes almost unnoticeable, but there to be seen and applauded. It is a marvelous element of this story and Henley’s treatment elevated this story past a romance into something very special.  For a key to Cole is music.  And Ian with his grandfather’s beloved piano opens the way for Cole to enjoy and communicate with others through music.

This is a age gap between Jordan and Ian and for some, this might be an issue.  Jordan is younger than Ian, in actions and emotions.  But I still felt enough of a real romantic connection between the two characters that it never bothered me.  What did I have issues with? The ending.  As with so many stories these days, it just petered off.  For it to feel fully satisfactory, I wanted to know more about Cole and his current situation.  I also needed more than a paragraph or two to pull all the events of the last fourth of the story together.  It was a good ending but the story that preceded it deserved a great one and didn’t get it.

Still Sonata is terrific.  It’s a story full of characters that pull you in and moments that have you cheering out loud (take that, Aubrey or )tearing up in response to the scenes you are reading.  Leave me leave you with a scene with Cole and Ian:

Cole hitched a breath, mid-shriek, and paused for a second before resuming his demonic call. Ian forced him over to the tub, a square grungy hulk of an appliance, and shoved Cole’s ear against the side of the tub with more force than he’d have liked. But the moment Cole’s ear was pressed to the side of the tub, Cole stilled and silenced. A palm snaked up the slick surface of the bathtub and rested alongside Cole’s flushed cheek. His eyes drifted into unknown territory as he listened to the echo of water through metal.

A scary and ultimately beautiful moment for child and man.  Grab up this book.  I think you will love it as much as I did.

Cover art by Megan Derr.  I love this cover, so relevant and lovely.  Great job.

Book Details:

ebook
180 pages, printed version
Published July 17th 2013 by Less Than Three Press LLC
original title Sonata
ISBN13 9781620042137
edition language English

Review: Heroes & Villains (Heroes & Villains #1) by Harper Kingsley

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Rating: 4 stars out of 5

heroesvillains400Once Vereint Georges realized he had superpowers he dreamed of the day he would become a superhero and help save the world.  He would be adored, famous and hopefully wealthy.  But the reality was far different than he ever could have imagined.  Vereint didn’t like sewing his costumes and he had to keep his day job in order to live. Then his first rescue as the superhero Starburst went horribly wrong.  The person he rescued was badly burned by his superpowers and Vereint threw up in front of the cameras.  To make it worse, his superhero name reminded everyone of the candy and not a hero.  In fact, there were so many superheroes that he was ridiculed by the very people he was supposed to save and mocked by the other superheroes who wouldn’t accept him, especially the superhero Blue Ice.   Vereint hated being a superhero but what else could he do?

Well, he could become a villain and soon Darkstar was born.  Vereint found it incredibly freeing and lucrative to be evil.  He was even good at it!  Soon the populace of Megacity feared and idolized him.  Darkstar even had people wanting to be his minions.  Vereint as Darkstar had finally made it and life was outstanding.

Blue Ice, aka Warrick Tobias, hated Darkstar.  He hated him when he was Starburst and hated him worse now that he was supervillain Darkstar.  Darkstar was all Warrick could think about.  It was almost like he was obsessing over him.  Of course, Darkstar was impossibly gorgeous with that black hair and mesmerizing blue eyes.   Darkstar even invaded his dreams so what is a superhero to do?

When Darkstar and Blue Ice’s clashes turn amorous it leaves both metahumans confused and maybe even hopeful.   A superhero and a supervillain falling in love? Is that even possible?  It’s time for Darkstar and Blue Ice to find out.

I throughly enjoyed this book.  I didn’t know what to expect from the blurb but the reality of the story was so much better than I expected.  In fact, I felt as though I got two books for the price of one.  Heroes and Villains is the story of two metahumans who live in the metropolis of Megacity (of course).  Harper Kingsley starts off the story in a setting than any reader of comic books would recognize.  Those anonymous buildings populated by typical humans going about their business even as superheroes and villains clash in the streets and air all around them.  Disasters and super battles are commonplace and there is such a surfeit of superheroes and supervillains that each has a council to keep them organized.  For the superheroes, it is the League of Superheroes and  for villains it is the League of Ultimate Evil.  There is the Police Commissioner and his Code Black that will summon the superheroes when needed.  It’s all there and accounted for, all the elements we have come to expect, love, and maybe even giggle at when we think of superheroes, supervillains and the cities they live in.  As I was reading, all I could think of was how much fun Harper Kingsley must have had writing this story.

From the names to the costumes and superpowers, Kingsley takes our superhero characters and has fun with them, starting with the position that the reality of being a superhero isn’t what it is cracked up to be.  What if, when a fire happens, not one hero shows up but twenty? And some are great and others? Maybe not so much.  What happens when the superhero isn’t wealthy but just getting by in a Dilbert like desk job?  How do they account for the time they must take away from their jobs to save people and put out the fires?  Like Vereint, they must come close to getting fired because they have used up all their vacation days.  Plus they might not be able to pay their rent on time because they have to spend their money replacing costumes.  It’s a great parody and I loved it.

Kingsley works magic here with the superhero trope.  With their arrogance and position in society, the author’s superheroes act more like a group of mean girls than heroes. Blue Ice in fact is a legacy superhero (five generations of his family have been in the business), and he feels weighed down by the responsibilities he has shouldered since the age of 14.  He lives in the penthouse of Tobias Towers, naturally, and secretly despises the humans he is supposed to protect.   He also resents the  adulation and lifestyle that is Darkstar’s while also being envious of his freedom.  I loved all the details Kingsley brings to the character of Blue Ice.  It’s not only funny, but it also rings with authencity.  Warrick Tobias as Blue Ice really dislikes his job and is in denial about so many things about himself, including his sexuality.  So how does he handle it?  By being a bully.  He is as responsible for Vereint becoming Darkstar than anyone else because of his constant mocking and demoralizing actions towards Starburst.  Warrick is also in his 30’s and now has to follow a Heart Healthy diet. Here is a taste of Warrick Tobias:

It wasn’t like Warrick didn’t understand that he was acting completely insane, but he just couldn’t seem to help himself. There was something about the whole Darkstar situation that just drove him to the verge and maybe a little bit over. The fact that he didn’t really know why he cared that much just made it even worse because the mystery itself was eating away at him.

Warrick spooned up his last bite of maple and brown sugar oatmeal before picking up the plump yellow banana he’d chosen for his breakfast. He squeezed it gently between his fingers, seeing that it didn’t have a single brown spot. It was a singularly beautiful piece of fruit.

As he’d resigned himself to the idea that he was in his thirties— his early thirties, but his thirties nonetheless— he’d had to make a few dietary changes in his life. He’d had to cut back on the sugars, the trans fats, the delicious carbs, and basically everything else that he loved so that he didn’t end up bulging out of his supersuit. He couldn’t have a greasy breakfast of bacon, eggs, and hash browns at his favorite diner anymore, and if he did go there, he had to pick things off the Heart Healthy menu.

I hate egg white omelets and turkey bacon. I want to eat fatty pork bacon and scrambled eggs covered in melted cheese. I bet Darkstar doesn’t have to worry about anything. His super metabolism probably …

“Dammit!” Warrick shouted, flinging the hapless banana across the room to splatter against the wall. Everything in his head came back to Darkstar and he just couldn’t help himself. It wasn’t like he was obsessed or anything. Except that it really seemed like he was obsessed, and not even the self-knowledge that he was out of control helped any.

And Vereint Georges is just as nuanced and believable character as Warrick.  His character changes from a naive, hopeful young superhero to someone who gradually becomes disenchanted with the harsh reality of his dreams.  Nothing measures up.  He’s the new boy, the young “dorky, loser” as the popular kids nee superheroes call him.  Always on the outside, never has the cool clothes, trying to hard to fit in and perpetually disdained for his efforts.  And when he has finally had enough, we are with him 100 percent.

He couldn’t really understand why no one could take him seriously. He tried just as hard as every other hero, so why didn’t he get any kind of respect?

If it was just Blue Ice treating him badly, he might have been able to ignore it, but it was everyone acting like it was a crime that he wanted to save them. They made fun of his name, his ideals, everything about him.

What do I feel about the way everyone treats me?

The answer came in a surprisingly cold voice:   I’m angry.

And of course, they won’t like him when he is angry.

Clenching his hands into fists at his sides, he gritted his teeth and tried to bury his anger deep inside him. He almost had himself back under control and relaxed a little, sure he wasn’t going to completely lose it.

“You know, you’ve got a hole in your shirt,” Blue Ice said, pointing.

“THAT … IS … IT! I have had enough of all this crap.”

Filled with rage, Starburst could feel himself trembling uncontrollably. Violet color began rising around his body and he felt his hair shifting in an unfelt breeze. His eyes felt hot all of a sudden and he was afraid of what was going to happen, but he couldn’t stop it. He was just so frustrated and angry.

Thus Darkstar is born.  But there is so much more to come.  There is the physical attraction both men feel for each other, poseurs who want Darkstar’s attention, more mega explosions and evil doings galore.

Right up until the halfway mark, the story still has the feel of a parody about it.  Then it changes.  An evil deed by Darkstar has profound affects upon his thinking and the story starts to become darker with more real emotions and events that will play with the reader’s empathy and affections.   There were elements of cruelty before but now it fully comes out to play.  All the metahumans really don’t like the regular human beings very much.  They regard them as so much sheep and their actions reflect that.

Kingsley also starts to concentrate on the growing relationship between Warrick and Vereint, the changes in their characters and all the outside influences that effect their lives and potential future.    From the somewhat gentle lampooning of the genre, the author takes this satire to a darker level, bringing a certain amount of grit to the characters and the scenes.  Not everyone will appreciate the loss of the humor and cartoonish takeoff that the first part of the book represents. I liked this element but also understand its lack of appeal to some readers.

I also felt that the story especially the epilogue was a little long.  It certainly could have been shortened without harm to the narrative.   Still, I can say that I really liked Heroes and Villains, it is one of the more unusual stories that I have read recently and I throughly appreciated that.  From every aspect of this novel,  the attention to detail , the inclusion of all the expected comic book elements to the terrific characterizations,  I highly recommend this book to all.  Let me know what you think.

Cover designed by Aisha Akeju.  I am not sure what I make of this cover.  I appreciate the pointillism of the graphics that convey a sense of comic book similarity but I wish it had taken that element a little further in design.

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 1st Edition, 211 pages
Published June 1st 2011 by Harper Kingsley

Review: Re-Entry Burn (Superpowered Love #5) by Katey Hawthorne

Standard

Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Re-entry Burn coverMalory Clermont , a heat superpowered ex-felon, has just finished his time in jail and is now out on parole.  Three years ago, Malory, his Dad and their cousin Brady  (Riot Boy) planned and tried to pull off a bank robbery using their superpowers. But unknown to Mal and his criminal dad, Brady was working with the cops and betrayed them.  It got nasty, people got hurt and Mal and his dad got jail time.  Mal’s lawyer pleaded his case,citing extenuating circumstances, saying Mal’s dad and uncle had brought him up to be a criminal which was child abuse, .  Which is why Mal is out after 2 and half years in the superpowered lockup and trying to re-enter society.  His parole officer has three immediate goals for Mal.  Find a place to live, find a place to work and attend his fellow parolees group therapy session.  High goals when no one wants a ex con as a renter or employee.

Theo McCracken, a cold-superpowered ex-offender, is out on parole too.  His crime?  He murdered his abusive stepfather and would gladly do it again.  Now free after 5 years in jail, he is trying to adjust to freedom outside and not doing particularly well at it.   Theo feels pressured by outside forces and his twisted maternal ties.  Emotionally and mentally Theo is more fragile than he looks.  Theo is just that bit of out of control that is dangerous for someone recently out of jail and emotionally wanting.  Then he sees Mal.

Mal and Theo met in their weekly court mandated group therapy sessions and click.  Or at least Theo does.  Mal just hides in his chair, keeping the lowest profile possible, a mass of confused hurt and passivity.  Theo notices Mal immediately and starts his pursuit which scares Mal just enough to come out of his shell.   Theo’s cold high energy rushes up against Mal’s hot docility in a clash of opposites that reenergizes them both.  And despite abandonment issues, paranoia, traumatic family ties and events, somehow Mal and Theo start to hope that a future for them both is possible if they can just get past the re-entry burn.

Re-Entry Burn is the fifth story in the Superpowered Love series and a clear equal to Riot Boy (Superpowered Love #2), the story that made me fall deeply in love with these superpowered characters and twisted family histories.  The story is told from the haunted, pain-filled voice of Malory Claremont, who we first met in Riot Boy (Superpowered Love #2).  In that story he was a seething vessel of angst, rage and love and it was aimed directly at his cousin Brady who wanted to escape the criminal life that Brady’s family had forced on him.  It is because of Katey Hawthorne’s marvelous gift of characterization that readers saw something more in Malory, something so sad and compelling that it just cried out for his story to be told.   And now we get it and what an emotionally fraught journey it turns out to be with mental quicksand and societal traps everywhere. And in this author’s hands, its a outstanding piece of addictive storytelling

A raw, hip, and often dryly humorous dialog one of the hallmark elements of Katey Hawthorne’s stories.  And it’s an element I can’t get enough of.  When the  word “fuck” flows out of one of her character’s mouth (in this case Mal Claremont) it might be as an adjective, a noun, a verb, an adverb and most certainly an interjection. Basically Hawthorne has made it work as every part of sentence and the end result is a unique, sometimes plaintive, sometimes angry introspective voice that propels you magnetically along the narrative.  Don’t fight it, just go with the flow, following the raw musical tones of a damaged man trying to find his way out of his past and into the present.  This is how the story starts:

You Are Here

I’m not saying I’m getting this all down perfect, but it’s pretty goddamn close. It’s hard not to go back and pretend I felt and did things different than I did, but if keeping that fucking journal taught me one thing, it was that changing the words after the fact changes the point. I didn’t want to do it, but I can’t remember the last time I wanted to do anything like I was told.

I’ll try and not get ahead of myself, but this shit is new to me. Not like anyone’s reading it anyhow. Whatever, fuck it.

The story unfolds as a journal that Mal (and all the other ex offenders) must keep as a part of their group therapy and parole.  Mal writes down his thoughts and the events as they happen, using the journal to work through his mixed up feelings of anger and  abandonment towards Brady and his life.  The author lets the readers into Mal’s thought processes and the emotional and mental work that it takes for Mal to see through to the reality of the reasons behind his words and actions.  It’s tough going for Mal and we aren’t always sure that he will reach the designation we hope for him. Mal and life has placed a lot of obstacles in his way, and he must understand and remove them before he can arrive at his personal truth.  What an amazing character and story!  And his slow, pain racked path is as fascinating and authentic as Mal is.

A little bit of background.  Mal, Theo, Brady and even his parole officer are all superpowered beings called Awakened.  They are elementals with powers linked accordingly whether it is heat, cold, water, or electrical.  So already this is a group of beings on the outside of a society (Sleepers, that’s us) that is ignorant of their presence.  Imagine having such power than not being able to use it.  I think we could all imagine the frustration and the rage that would build up, so a respectable portion of the Awakened are criminals.  Others have chosen to be the group that polices their own (with special prisons to hold them), and some have turned vigilante using their powers to help others.  Hawthorne takes us into the middle of their rage, their divisive gatherings and makes us understand exactly what these beings are feelings and how conflicted their lives are.

Mal is not only having to readjust to freedom, he is also having to readjust to hiding once more who and what he is.  Inside the special prison, Mal could be the heat elemental he was.  No more hiding his powers and that was freeing in itself, a dichotomy.  Now physically free, Mal looks to the outside as being imprisoned once more inside a persona not truly him.  It’s a powerful image and not one conducive to staying outside the penal system.  Theo’s background and personality also raises impediments to a successful future outside the prison system.  His journey forward and emotional healing has  as many potholes in it as Mal’s does.

There are so many heartbreaking elements to Re-entry Burn.   Not just the realistic treatment Mal receives from his new co workers and neighbors which  runs the gamut from wary friendliness to outright hostility and fear.  No Mal is also adjusting to being in an environment where he can safely be a sexual being again as prison was not the place to explain his bisexuality.  Mal’s interest in sex is dead in the water until Theo comes and sparks it back to life. And that has consequences too for them both.  Nothing here is simple, everything has a reactive aspect that potentially could land either man back in prison in an instant. The author maintains a beautiful balance of tension between the readers and their concern for the characters and the needs of her narrative.  If the men often goes to their knees, pounded down by their needs and the pressure, well, the reader is right there with them on the cement floor, feeling their pain and intoxication with each other and their powers.

How I love these people and their stories.  I find them downright irresistible in voice and personality.  Listen to Mal working through “shit” in his journal:

I pulled out my journal on one of my fifteen-minute breaks and wrote:

I am a thief. I am a liar. I am a man. I am crooked. I am uneven. I am angry. I am lost. I am alone. I am alive. I am a queer. I am a supervillain. I am a risk. I am a joke. I am funny, funny Malory, oh so fucking funny.

People throw words at me, and I wait to see how they stick, which parts of me meld into them, which parts of me curl up in a ball and wither. Some of the words are partly right.

Some of them are right sometimes. Most of them mean nothing at all, just weird sounds and shapes when I roll them around in my head. Some of them kill parts of me or put them to sleep so I forget they ever existed until something kicks them awake again.

But the one thing I’ve always been and will always be, the only thing I’m sure of: I am fire. Pyrolysis, a thermochemical reaction, a separating of elements. As long as I have that, I think I can hold them all off. Maybe not indefinitely, but for a while.

But why do I even want to? So I can find more words to apply, this time words I like, I want, I wish? How the fuck would that be any better?

What’s the fucking point?

So puzzled, still so full of pain.  But he’s doing the work, he’s getting there and you are straining to help him every step of the way.  You will feel that way about Theo too.

If this is your first Superpowered Love story, then go back to the beginning or at least start with Riot Boy.  That will give you enough back history and insight into the characters to go forward with Re-entry Burn.  It won’t take much before you will find yourself just as addicted as I am to this universe and these characters.  Katey Hawthorne is a go to author for me and this is a perfect example why.   Go, pick it up and start on the path to a love affair with the Awakened!  You are going to love them.  And just because I can, here is one more hook to reel you in. Malory is speaking with his parole officer:

 Maybe society would start pretending I was human again. I admit, part of me was thinking, fuck that noise, and always will. But it’s as good as it gets. Less trouble too.

“Do you feel like it’s helpful with your reentry, I mean?”

I pictured myself racing through the atmosphere like the Apollo 13 capsule, trailing pieces of myself and fire.

P.L. Nunn’s cover is gorgeous as always.

Books in the Superpowered Love series in the order they were written and should be read:

Equilibrium (Superpowered Love, #1)
Jealousy: A Love Story (Superpowered Love, #1.1)
Best Gift Ever (Superpowered Love, #1.2)
Riot Boy (Superpowered Love, #2)
Willoughby Spit (Superpowered Love, #2.1)
Nobody’s Hero (Superpowered Love, #3)
Losing Better (Superpowered Love, #4)
Re-Entry Burn (Superpowered Love, #5)
Book Details:

ebook
Published August 26th 2013 by Loose Id
ISBN13 9781623005009
setting Arlington, VA

Review: Fall For Me (The Rock Gods #1) by Ann Lister

Standard

Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Fall For Me coverRyan Pierce, music reporter for Music Spin magazine, has an assignment to interview the lead singer of the rock band Black Ice.  But his past experience has not prepared him for the rocker he is to interview.  Dagger Drummond is all swagger,  sex on two legs.  He is also tired and not happy about being interviewed after his last gig.  He tells his manager to cancel the interview and enters his tour bus.  But miscommunication follows, with Ryan, Dagger’s manager in tow, entering his tour bus to everyones embarrassment and anger.  Accident aside, the mens attraction to each other is instant and fierce, not that either would show it.  Dagger is all about manipulation and Ryan is straight, isn’t he?

What follows is a complicated relationship that deepens quickly.  Ryan is left reeling not only over his new found attraction to the very male Dagger but hiding explosive information about Dagger that could make him as a journalist but ruin Dagger’s life.  Will Ryan choose his career over a chance at love?

Ann Lister is a new author for me and her subject matter is one genre I grab up immediately – that of a story about a rock star and love.  So with those things in mind, I really wanted to like the first book of Lister’s that I have read. What I found after enthusiastically diving into Fall For Me is all together different.  Don’t get me wrong, this is a nice story about love and discovering your sexuality.  But in my opinion, it never rises higher than just nice or perhaps sweet.  And the reasons for that are both varied and elemental.  Its all about the characterizations, writing style and editing. Or lack thereof.

When reading contemporary fiction, I want my characters grounded in reality and I can’t quite say that about the character of Ryan Pierce.  As created by Lister, Ryan is an entertainment reporter with years of experience covering the rock music beat.  Yet he comes across as not only naive about the rockers he interviews but unaware of the ethics of his profession. Especially with regard to getting involved with the subject of his assignment.  One of the major ethical considerations for those who work in the news industry is that the reporter stay clear of any bias, so that their objectivity can’t be questioned,and that it cannot be  said of their  article/newscast that it tilted towards favoritism.  But Ryan and Dagger become best friends, texting away almost immediately. Several of Ryan’s actions defy common sense to a huge degree and further disconnect the reader from any belief that he is a seasoned reporter  or responsible adult.  Ryan’s disingenuousness is almost beyond belief as is Dagger’s pursuit of a man in a profession he is wary of and a reporter who could out him to his adoring public.  Dagger mentions numerous times that he doesn’t trust the media.  Yet Dagger’s implicit belief in Ryan’s honesty and trust is swift and unyielding.  Consistency is a problem in Fall For Me especially with regard to her characters and their personality traits and backgrounds. Ryan has worked for Music Spin for years but the interview scene sounds anything but professional.  Here is a quick example.  Ryan is back at the office and meeting a new intern, Sebastian, for the first time.

 “I’ve heard you’re the ‘go-to’ guy for interview skills.”

“Is that so?”

“It’s been suggested I talk to you, maybe watch you work, so I can improve how I conduct an interview.”

Ryan scratched his head.  “Well, I don’t have anything scheduled until next week.  Then I’ll be sitting down with Zander Metcalf and his band Ivory Tower.”

“Damn!  Ivory Tower?  Their new album is their best yet.”

Ryan nodded.  “Well, you’re welcome to tag along with me, if you want.”

“I’d like that,” Sebastian said.  “Maybe you’ll let me take you to dinner a few days before that and I’ll help you outline your interview material?”

“I suppose that’d be okay,” Ryan said.

Never would a seasoned reporter let a new intern outline his work for him.  Not in any respect does the character of Ryan Pierce work as a real reporter. However, the character of Dagger is still more authentic than Ryan and I could easily see him as a rock star, mostly.  Many rock stars today are savvy about media exposure and working the press is as much a part of their business as the music.  Dagger seems oblivious to that as any 80’s rock star would be.  In my opinion both characters could have been shored up by better research and more attention to detail.

Unfortunately, the plot was very predictable.  So formulaic that I knew exactly how the story would play out by the third chapter, not great in a book that contains 19 chapters.  When that occurs in a book I am reading, I would expect other aspects of the narrative to elevate the story past the predictable into a higher state.  A level  that said the author had put their own stamp on the plot in some way, whether it be in the outstanding characterizations, the high quality of the writing or the dialog that is so entertaining and yet pertinent to the characters and situation that it sings. Lister failed to do that here as well.  I know it is hard to add a new element to such a well used story but a savvy writer can find a way.

At issue here is also Ryan’s sexuality.  Ryan thinks he is straight.  He had a long term girlfriend. But his attraction to Dagger has him reexamining his past and his feelings towards Dagger and all men in general.  Even Ryan can’t decide if he is gay for Dagger or just gay.  I liked that the author had him bringing up the “gay for you” question for discussion.  But again, Ryan’s actions and the dialog kept this aspect of the story from feeling authentic and involving.  Plus Dagger goes from manipulator to man in love just as neatly and quickly as can be expected.  Somehow neither man ever really involved me in their issues or their possible future.

One last element to talk about is the editing.  This story is far too long.  It is repetitive and dense in some areas.  There are many paragraphs, even pages that could be cut to make this a tighter, better balanced story.  As it is, getting to that last page made a very long journey indeed.

Not everyone will feel this way about this book.  Some will love it just for the subject matter alone.  Those readers will be very happy to find out that this book is the first in a series about the other musicians in the band and their friends.  But I have read far too many outstanding books about rock bands and their singers and those make this story anemic in comparison.  For those rock star addicts out there and those alone,  this one is for you.

Cover Art Design:  Kari Ayasha.  It is a nice design, a little dark in tone and color.

Book Details:

Kindle Edition
Published May 11th 2013 by SleighFarm Publishing Group
ASIN B00CQWDQA6
edition language English
series The Rock Gods

Review: Worlds Collide (Sanctuary #7) by R.J. Scott

Standard

Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5

Worlds CollideDale MacIntyre, Sanctuary agent, is in charge of protecting Emily Bullen, wife of Senator Thomas Bullen, from her husband and the rest of the criminally inclined Bullen family. After turning states evidence, Emily is headed back to Albany on a jet.  Accompanied only by Dale, the pilot of the plane, and the copilot, she is horrified when word reaches them that a key player in the Bullen family crime syndicate was mistakenly freed from jail and is now able to hunt down the only person who can put him away for life.  That person is Emily Bullen.

Midflight, Dale realizes the extent that Ryland Griffin will go to in order to eliminate Emily Bullen. Dale reaches out immediately to the person he knows he can trust to have immediate answers, have his back and that of the person he is protecting. That person is his lover, Navy Seal Joseph Kinnon.  When Dale’s assignment gets more dangerous, Joseph and his Seal Team intervene and the resulting events bring about a serious introspective search for Dale and Joseph about where their relationship is headed.

I have been waiting for another Dale and Joseph book since they first appeared in The Only Easy Day (Sanctuary #2). In that story, Dale, an ex Seal and Joseph, current Navy Seal, meet, clash and lust as the investigation into the Bullen family crime syndicate is in its initial stages with Joseph’s murdered sister as one of Bullen family’s first known victims.  The start to their romance is white hot, primal and short lived.  Since then, R.J. Scott has kept the readers on high anticipation with teasers of the couple in book after book but nothing notable or even remotely satisfying.  This is how it all starts:

“It’s not too late, we can still get out of here,” Chief Petty Officer Joseph Kinnon said urgently. He pressed both hands to the glass and stared down at the street below. The city was a white, snowy landscape and at any other time would have been stunningly beautiful. They were ten stories up in a hotel in the heart of the historic district and the place had ledges at each level. As a team they’d dealt with worse. Assessing the situation, he considered the options.

“Fuentes, talk to me.”

Luca Fuentes, young, tall, and built like the side of barn with muscles on muscles, was the team’s resident hacker but was also a tactical genius. He joined Joseph at the window. “Chief,” he said formally. His green-eyed gaze unerringly focused in on the view that Joseph had. He frowned as he looked out.

“Can you find egress here?” Joseph asked.

Luca tapped the glass.

“Reinforced; we’d need some pretty heavy ordnance to get out—I can get Viktor on that—then zip wire. Get it hooked to the top of the plaza building.” Luca looked up and down, then turned to Joseph. “Forty degrees. We can get down to the roof and get out that way.”

“Assessment?” “Fifty-fifty. I think most of us will be okay, but one of our team is scared of heights,” Fuentes said seriously.

Joseph nodded in agreement. “You’re talking about Mike Dexter.”

“He’s a liability, sir,” Luca answered. “I’m not sure his underwear would remain unstained and survive the fall.”

Joseph and his Seal team are assembled for a very different type of mission, a personal one.  This is a funny and really moving introduction, just what I have come to expect from R.J. Scott.  Joseph and his team are truly a band of brothers,unchanging until now.  But the event they have gathered for marks the beginning of transitions for more than one member of the team.  We have not met Joseph’s team until now and what a diverse group they turn out to be.  I can easily see R.J. Scott building an entire new series around this team, especially the randy Viktor.  While Scott has let us see Joseph in action, this is the first time we get to see Joseph operating as a member of his Seal team.  By their interactions with each other and their dialog the author lets us feel why being a Seal and a part of this team is so important to  Joseph.  And it also lets us into the pain Dale felt when he was forced out.  Since being a Seal is fundamental to Joseph’s character, what plays out next highlights the importance of Dale and their relationship.

And that is really what Worlds Collide is all about, an internal shift in both men that will allow them to have a future with each other.  This is more a relationship book than any of the other stories in the series to date.  Yes, we are still dealing with the fallout from the Bullen family crime investigations.  One important criminal has escaped and Dale is in charge of getting Emily Bullen to safety so she can testify.  But this section is just the impetus for providing the platform for change in both men’s lives.  Here is Joseph with a note from Dale:

Just touching the note grounded Joseph in the here and now. Slowly, over the course of the last few months, the space in his life that had once been filled by the team he was with, by the job, by staying alive, had seen a full-frontal assault by the man he had fallen in love with.

This is a huge ground shift by a man who lived for the Seals alone.  Dale too has undergone his own emotional introspection about Joseph and their possible future ahead.  I love the way Scott has developed their story.  Our first meeting and theirs was explosive, a fight turned sexual.  It was incendiary.  But after that, something else occurred, they started to care about each other and so did the readers.  From time to time, we heard about each man and their tentative relationship in the other books. Nothing concrete for them or us, just tantalizing bits that kept us engaged in their future.  So this book was more than welcome, I am sure we felt it was long overdue after being teased through five books. And  the author doesn’t let us down.

We alternate perspective, from Dale to Joseph and back, as the events brought on by  Dale’s assignment, guarding Emily Bullen, brings out those determined to stop her at all costs.  We get to see the fluidity of motion and deadly competency of the Seal team in action, and the intrepidness of Dale’s Sanctuary training coming together to achieve one end.  But the highlight of the story must be the time that Joseph and Dale get to spend together after the mission is finished.  It’s heartwarming, it’s sexy and it fulfills most of the dreams we have had about this couple.  But of course, not all.

It’s all here. All the things that have made this series such a great one.  Realistic, fully rounded characters, a complicated criminal investigation that spreads through the series, and a narrative that moves the plot forward swiftly and smoothly.  I love that the Bullen investigation is still ongoing, with loose ends out there waiting to trip up Sanctuary and the other agencies. Just a terrific aspect of this series and beautifully plotted out. There are one or two small chinks in the armor here.  One small scene with the Seals and the criminal that I thought was unrealistic given their training and readiness. And then there is the ending.  Absolutely realistic as always. For those expecting a finality to Dale and Joseph’s romance, we haven’t gotten it …yet.  But you know that it is coming and this ending will leave you satisfied for now.

If you are  new to the series or Dale and Joseph’s romance, go back to the beginning.  An absolute must in order to understand the characters and the events as they play out.  Here are the books in the order they were written and must be read:

Guarding Morgan (Sanctuary #1)

The Only Easy Day (Sanctuary #2), Dale and Joseph’s romance begins

Face Value (Sanctuary, #3)

Still Waters (Sanctuary, #4)

Full Circle (Sanctuary, #5)

The Journal Of Sanctuary One (Sanctuary, #6)
]
Worlds Collide (Sanctuary #7)

Cover design by BitterGraceArt is lovely and in keeping with the characters.

Book Details:

ebook
Published June 28th 2013 by Love Lane Books (first published March 30th 2013)