Review: Creature Feature by Poppy Dennison and Mary Calmes

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Creature Feature coverRating: 4.25 stars out of 5

Diagnosis Wolf by Poppy Dennison  

Rating: 4 stars

Andrew Hughes life sucks and its all due to his twin brother.  For as long as Andrew can remember his twin has caused problems for everyone, especially Andrew.  His brother has gambled, lied, then stolen Andrew’s identity and savings. This has left  Andrew miles deep in debt, with an unsalvagable credit rating, and scrambling to rebuild his life and move forward.  Andrew can’t afford to be choosy, so when his temp agency offers him a job with a client that has run off all other nurses, he takes it for the money he can’t afford to turn down.

His client is Caleb DiMartino and no one will let him see his chart or tell Andrew what illness his new client has.  Caleb comes with armed body guards, a mansion and an intimidating father.  But the pale unconscious patient pulls Andrew in and Andrew wants to help him despite the mystery that surrounds him.  But the truth behind Caleb’s  illness will bring Andrew’s brother back into his life and pose a threat to Andrew and Caleb that neither expects.

Diagnosis Wolf spells out  the problem in the title and wolf shifters is something that Poppy Dennison is very familiar with.  She has her own take on wolf shifters and does a great job in creating a universe for them and Andrew.  Andrew is a lovely, sympathetic character whose twin brother has made his life miserable their entire lives.  I liked that Andrew had reached a point with his twin where he no longer enabled his twin’s problems (that his brother stole his identity and savings helped push Andrew over the edge).  I loved that Andrew was a nurse and his empathic caring nature made it plausible that he would stay with Caleb, even as the situation escalated past complicated and into scary.

I had some issues with the villain of the piece because I kept wondering how it was that the rest of the pack had not figured it out. And maybe a little more exposition would have been nice with respect to Andrew’s brother, Danny and his future at the end.  But those issues aside, I loved Poppy’s wolf shifter culture, especially when it came down to the mate bite and the politics surrounding it.  So nicely done and the complexities surrounding the status of the bite made the “aha” moment more angst and adrenaline filled.  It also made the slow build to a permanent relationship between Caleb and Andrew extremely satisfying at the end.  All in all, a really lovely story.

Landslide by Mary Calmes

Rating 4.5 stars

Courier Frank Corrigan is injured again and while he is waiting for his wounds to heal, he gets a call from his sister, Lindsey.  Lindsey is in trouble as usual, but this time her impetuousness has lead her to  get bitten by a werewolf who just so happens NOT to be her fiance.  And the wedding is this week and she doesn’t know what to do and needs her big brother now.  Frank feels certain that his boss, the demon Cael Berith has the solution to his sister’s problems.  But Frank is also  certain that there will be a price to be paid for Cael’s assistance.  Cael told Frank that Frank was Cael’s mate. That was three years ago and Cael’s patience is running out.  With a love hungry demon on one side and a werewolf sister to be on the other, what will Frank do to save the situation and perhaps his love life in the bargain?

I will admit this was my favorite story of the two.  It was perfect Mary Calmes in every way from the characters involved to the plot.  First let’s take a look at the characters.  Paranormal courier Frank Corrigan is tall, a former Marine who just so happens to be a mihr.  A mihr is a mutant human who has all the typical human frailties except that he cannot be influenced by any otherworldly magic or glamour or tricks.  And in the universe Mary Calmes has created for Landslide, this makes Frank the perfect go between the paranormal beings.  It seems that wolf shifters, vampires, ghouls, demons and what have you exist openly in human society.  All must register with Homeland Security and various rules and regulations apply to their movement and existence within human societies.  Take everything currently going on with border regulations and green cards, illegal aliens and extrapolate that  times ten and you begin to get the picture that Calmes is so vividly painting for us.

Into this world, we meet Frank, a bundle of complexities.  A former Marine with excellent combat skills, he also has huge self image issues and an abusive family in the background that has made him doubt his  worth and attractiveness.  His friends are a odd group of non humans, and his sister is his one family member who loves and supports him.  Frank also has a secret that is helping to keep the one person he wants at a distance.  And that would be his current boss who also claims Frank is his mate.

Incubus demon Cael Berith is 1,000 years old and only now has he found his mate in Frank Corrigan.  But misunderstandings and Frank’s insecurities have kept them apart for three years and a demon can only take so much frustration.  Cael is such a mouthwatering character.  He has so many facets to his personality.  Scary demon, check.  Romantic suitor? Check. Patience personified? Check and check.  Mary Calmes makes us see Cael in all of his dimensions and still gives us a character to fall in love with.  And when you add him to the soft, insecure and honorable Frank Corrigan, well then, just sit back and watch the sparks fly.

Typical of a Mary Calmes story we also are given  memorable secondary characters too from the  werewolf called Charming to Sheriff Gordy Roller.  All perfectly drawn with interesting layers of their own.  As the ending neared, I found myself wanting to know more about Lindsey’s future and other peripheral characters.  And I wanted  more of what life had in store for Frank and Cael.

And that is almost always the issue with these anthologies or collections.  If the plots are well done and the characters engaging, then when I reach the end I find myself wishing for more.  But Creature Feature has plenty to offer from Poppy Dennison and Mary Calmes in terms of great stories and characters that will stay with you.  Pick up some popcorn and settle in for an afternoon double  feature.  You are going to love it.

Cover Art by Paul Richmond  just takes you back to the theatre and the Saturday matinees with the double features and creatures galore.  Just perfect.

Review: Storm Season by Nessa L. Warin

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Rating: 2. 5 stars

Storm Season coverStorm season is coming and ranch owner Jasper Borland and the rest of the townspeople of Brightam’s Ford are preparing their farms, shops and homes for the months during the wet season when they will be inside, safe from the destructive weather of the season.  With rain that can strip off a man’s skin and hail that demolishes buildings, most people even have safe rooms that they can escape to if necessary.

During one of the precursor storms that lead into the wet season, Jasper finds a young man, Tobias Thatcher, wounded and scrounging for shelter near his barn.  Tobias is amazed to see Jasper talk to him and when he touches Jasper’s lips, Tobias’ thoughts fill Jasper’s mind.  Tobias is a telepath from a race of telepaths.  He has never seen someone talk before.  Jasper takes in Tobias to give him shelter and bind his wounds.  Much later Jasper learns that Tobias’ sister has been kidnapped and he is trying to find her.  When the same people come for Tobias, Jasper agrees to help Tobias in his quest to recover his sister.  But the dark forces find them first, and both men must flee Jasper’s home to avoid capture.  With the storms coming and every move they make being watched, can Jasper and Tobias find his sister before its too late for all of them?

Well, let’s just make this short, shall we?  Nothing about this book works.  I  usually try to find some redeeming feature or positive aspect of the story to report on but really there’s nothing here to grab onto.  Starting with her world building, nothing makes any sense.  We are given very little information about the planet they are on or the civilizations scattered across the continent.  Apparently, the majority of the time (11 months or less depending upon the paragraph), the climate is mild, but  for one (or several months again, all facts here are very “fluid”), the climate turns killer and all flee inside, locking themselves away until the season is over.  Apparently the weather is worse towards the coast so many move inland (towards the river/sea?), a wild territory I think.  Goods are moved by ships which is just darn confusing because where do all those huge ships go during storm season?  Apparently, they have cars, trucks and trains but on a very “non tech” level.  Again, what?  Its as though the author can’t decide if this is Little House on the Prairie time or space colonists without a clue.  Phones, letters but the technology they would accompany those things are missing.   Just bits and pieces cobbled together that never come close to any cohesive history.

The characters are much the same although I have to admit I have not had a character that I could classify as dumb as a box of rocks before.  That would be Jasper.  Where to start?  Jasper never questions anything.   A person shows up who is a telepath, a heretofore unknown creature, who can project his thoughts and feelings onto him and what is Jasper’s response.  Nothing, just invites him in without question.  No really, Jasper doesn’t ask him any questions.  No “hey man I can hear your thoughts, that’s cool,” no freaking out, nada.  Then the man’s dog shows up who is over the top smart.  Questions? Nope.  Crazy man with green and black facial tats,  Matrix like overcoats, and jewels embedded in their hands, they have guns, things that scream bad men. Questions? Nope. So of course, he opens the door.  Jasper has one layer and its total absence of any interesting features let alone common sense makes him one dull boy.

Tobias comes close to Jasper.  Yes, he is a telepath, just not a smart one.  It’s a case of  dumb and dumber go to an alternative universe or whatever.  Tobias has one conversation over and over.  Condensed it amounts to :  “Someone is coming.  They are here.  Run.”  Repeat often.  He also sets off town riots (cue the pitchforks and torches), and  is adamant that they have to find his sister.  When he gets hurt , Tobias still says he will set out to find her (although he can’t walk), so you assume she has just been recently kidnapped, correct?  Uh, no, that event occurred over a year prior but he is just now in a panic?  And don’t get me started on characters that are given large roles than disappear forever or the fact that these people write letters, have phones, cars and such but no one knows of the group of telepaths that live over the rise and visa versa? Big things don’t add up, little things don’t add up.  Nothing makes any sense and after a while, you stop trying or caring about any of it.

And then there are the unintentional howlers you find throughout the story.  The book is just past the halfway point and it looks like the boys are going to have sex, (their attraction to one another comes out of nowhere).  Now at one point, Tobias pushed his feelings onto Jasper who wasn’t happy about it.  Now as they head to bed, this conversation occurs:

 Tobias: “It’s too hard to stop, too hard to keep it from happening, and if I lose that concentration, I don’t know that I’ll get it back. I know I won’t get it back if I have to try again and again and again”

Jasper: “huff. “I need to know that you’re not going to make me feel things.”

Wait, what? Isn’t that the perfect time to “feel things”?  *head desk*

Plus the cliched scenes are endless.  Kryee, Tobias’ dog is hunting him and here is the passage:

“What is it, girl?” Jasper asked, crouching to scratch behind the dog’s ears. He was allowed to for only a moment before she barked again and repeated her earlier antics. Carla sauntered up, her hands stuffed into her jacket. “I think she wants you to follow her.” It was a brilliant idea.

Thata girl, scifi Lassie, we get it.  Timmy’s in the well. Now disappear from the narrative.

I could continue quoting but really, what’s the point?  I could pick any passage in the story and you would be able to see the lack of originality, problems with continuity, shallow characterizations and poor dialog that abounds in Storm Season.  This is the first book I have read from Nessa L. Warin so I have no idea if this is typical of her writing or something out of the norm for her.  I sincerely hope it is the latter.  At any rate, I read this so you didn’t have to.  Give it the pass it deserves.

Cover: Two generic guys in generic winter wear.  Problems with this book are everywhere, including the cover.

Review: Silver/Steel (Arcada #2) by Belinda McBride

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Rating: 4 stars

Silver:Steel coverDream Hunter Dylan Ryve has one last mission to fulfill, one last hunt to finalize so his geas is honored and he will be free of the one who has entraped him.  The problem is that the one he hunts is inside the town of Arcada and the town won’t let him inside.  Frustrated Dylan waits outside of town in a bar hoping for a way in when a young shifter looking for trouble enters the bar and promptly finds it.  Travis Feris is young, impulsive, and insecure and he hides his pain behind outrageous behavior and stupid acts of hostility.  These actions often find him deep in trouble and this night is no different.  But the men he chose to offend have a far more ruthless, horrific plan for Travis and only the actions of fae named Dylan saves unconscious Travis.

When the town lets Dylan bring Travis home to heal, the assassin has his way clear to find his target and complete his bounty.  But things are never that easy in Arcada.  First of all there is Travis.  Dylan sees the true nature of the shifter and Travis’ innocence and inner beauty calls to him as nothing has in a thousand years.  And worse, Travis seems to return his interest,and  affection.  Plus Arcada is talking to him, making him question his path and his future. The town makes Dylan remember what it feels like to have a home and people around him to care for him.  But always there is Travis, luring him in, making him question everything. During one night as Dylan walks Travis’ dreams to help the shifter find his path, he inadvertently shares much of his own history with Travis too.  And in his vulnerability, Dylan opens himself up to love and the possibility that he will fail in his mission, forfeiting his freedom and possibly his life.

But the evil that owns Dylan is waiting impatiently for Dylan to complete the last mission and when it stalls, he takes things into his own hands, putting Arcada and its inhabitants in peril.  Will Dylan betray Travis and all of Arcada to finish his bounty or will he make the ultimate sacrifice to save those he loves?

This is a very different book from Blacque/Bleu which started the series I have fallen in love with.  And it is that difference that most readers will have a problem with when approaching Silver/Steel.  I too found I had some basic issues with this story and even, now find myself wavering in my feelings over some of its elements and scenes.  But let’s start with some of the basics first.

I love the whole idea of Arcada, the sentient town that gives the series its name.  In Silver/Steel, the town makes an actual physical appearance, in that it gives itself a temporary shape and we learn a little more about it, but never enough to satisfy the questions that the story brings up.  I love  everything about this town.  Its protective nature, the fact that it nurtures a diverse group of citizenry from gremlins to a pack of wolf shifters and everything in between.  Such a great idea and I look forward to how the author develops this concept further.  This is one of the best elements of the series.

Then we come to McBride’s characters.  I fell in love with Lukas Blacque and Oliver Bleu immediately and never lost my connection to them throughout the novel.  That did not happen here.  Travis Feris initially comes across as a sullen, somewhat infantile brat.  He is constantly picking fights, he’s impulsive to the point of obnoxiousness and although everyone tells us how talented he is, we are given almost no examples of his artistry.  He is just not that likable at the start.  Then McBride pairs him up with a main character his equal in spirit and inability to connect with the reader.  Dylan Reyvn is an ancient fae who gave up his freedom to save others but that is not the person we meet,  Instead we are given a single minded killer on  a mission.  The complexities of this character reveal themselves more slowly and with each revelation, I found my liking for Dylan growing as well.  For me  that never really happened with Travis.  Travis remained a five note character.  Loves Mom, loves Pack, loves Arcada, loves Dylan and some bdsm.  Where as for Dylan, he has a past to equal his many layered persona and I appreciated that.   True, the Travis at the end of the book is far more palatable than the first one we meet, but I never felt that the growth he achieved was realistic within the context of the story.  Dylan on the other hand is on the cusp of a major transformation and I wished that we would have seen more than just hints of what the future has in store for him and Arcada.

Finally, there are two more elements that have me divided about the story.  One is a major scene towards the end of the book where our main characters and the evil fae come together in a traumatic scene that for me was just on this side of nauseating.   It was very well done in terms of the emotions it will bring forth from the characters and the readers. However, that said, it was just not my thing and only my need to get to the end took me through it.  For others, it won’t be a problem at all.  But I found it a little too graphic in nature for my comfort zone.  There are elements of bdsm and dominant/submission here between Dylan and Travis that do fit in with their personalities.  I didn’t mind that so much, but others might.  No, my largest quibble I save for the plot at the end.  We have a major battle going on, we see and hear some of the aftereffects.  This section is very well done.  But where is the conclusion to this part of the story?  I don’t want to give anything away by going into details but what  happened to the instigators here?  I went back and forth, electronically flipping pages and found nothing to satisfy my biggest question. That frustration alone almost knocked this story down into a 3 rating.  But maybe it really is there and I just could excavate it out.  If you know otherwise, write me and tell me where it happens.  Perhaps McBride is saving this for the next novel in the series.  If so, then she could have done better than just vanishing an important thread to the woods and leave it dangling there.

So, yes, this book has some remarkable components and  characters that will grow on you if you take the time to get to know them. Lukas Blacque and Oliver Bleu are back as well.  It is not a stand alone book by any means, you need to have read the first in the series to have a basis for this one.  Not a problem as that is a 5 star rating story.  There are some editing issues here, some vanishing plot threads as well but the town of Arcada is mesmerizing and will keep you coming back for more.  So will the promising stories of the various inhabitants you meet here.  I want to know what happens to them too.  Belinda McBrides offers you so many tantalizing glimpses of future Arcada stories that she has me truly hooked.  You will be too.  So pick this one up, just lower your expectations a little as you find yourself in Arcada once more for another terrific paranormal tale.

Cover is the least favorite thing about this book.  From the models to the poor photoshop work, just awful.

Books in the Arcada series in the order they were written and should be read to understand the characters and the plots:

Blacque/Bleu (Arcada #1)

Review: Blacque/Bleu (Arcada #1) by Belinda McBride

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Blacque and Bleu coverRating: 5 stars

Lukas Blacque is a werewolf in a unique position.  A son of the alpha wolf, he prefers life lived on the fringes of the pack, removed from pack politics.  He has a college degree but prefers his car shop, bringing old vehicles back to life as well as performing normal maintenance.  Another surprising element is that he is lonely for a shifter with a pack, but he has a secret.  Lukas Blacque is gay and deeply in the closet and so for that his lifestyle works as long as no one looks too closely.  There is one person who has caught his interest but the  danger factor is too high for him to act on it, and that would be his neighboring vampire in the shop next to his.  But he refuses to act until one night when his father decides to change everything and Lukas’ life is upturned.

Oliver Bleu is a vampire plagued by nightmares from his time on the front in WWI, nightmares which keep him from sleeping and replenishing his strength.  Now he finds himself slowly fading away, even his hunts don’t quench his hunger.  But then there is his neighbor next door to Oliver’s shop.  Oliver knows he is more than attracted to the shifter, Lukas’ blood might be able to bring him back to strength.  The walls between their businesses are thin and he hears the family arguments going on next door when Lukas’ father arrives for a meeting with his son.  When Oliver goes to check on Lukas, their encounter turns into a passionate weekend neither can forget nor wants too as lust turns into love.

But Lukas has made a commitment to his father and his pack, and is determined to honor it even if it breaks his heart and Oliver’s as well.  Lucky for both shifter and vampire, they live in a very special town who  looks after her citizens,  And when evil from Oliver’s past follows him to Arcada, things are set in motion that will have lasting impact on all around, including Lukas and Oliver.

I just loved this book.  It is the first book by Belinda McBride and it puts her on my must have list immediately.  From the start she gives her characters a marvelous world in which to inhabit, the town of Arcada.  The town is sentient and although we don’t know how that happened, her affection for the diverse citizenry reveals itself in a myriad of ways.  Perhaps she makes it impossible for them to leave or her protection manifests itself in prodding others to act in ways that benefits others.  No matter, Arcada is a benign and loving presence and this leaves us just dying to know more about the town and its diverse community of  humans, vampires, shifters, fae and so many others that we are given brief glimpses of.

But the heart of the story is McBride’s characters, Lukas Blacque and Oliver Bleu, a terrific play on words that fits in beautifully in their interactions with each other.  Lukas Blacque is a complex giant of a man, gentle of spirit, lonely and sad because as much as he wants to be a part of his pack due to his wolf nature, the fact that he is gay keeps him separated and aloof.  He is such a lovely creation that we connect to him immediately and we can empathize with him at this point  in his life.  Then we meet Oliver Bleu, in many ways the anthesis of the vampires we have meet in other novels.  Far from the powerful, immortal beings we have come to expect, Oliver Bleu is a victim, struggling to survive.  In a horrific element of the story, we learn that Oliver died from mustard gas in the trenches at the front.  If you were not familiar with the horrors of WWI before, by the time you learn how Oliver was affected, the true evil that man can create in the name of war will be brought home in gritty, pus filled painful authenticity.  Sometimes the horror of the paranormal universe has nothing on the real one we already live in.

Circling around these main characters are others of equal strength and complexity.  From Dane Blacque, the Alpha wolf to Lukas’ sister and Oliver’s great grand daughter (yes, you read that right), McBridge gives us one compelling persona after another to capture our interest and move her narrative forward.  Even her villains have a startling depth to them that enables you to feel some compassion for them even as you hate their actions, past, present and fear what they are going to do in the future.

This is the first in the Arcada series and really after one memorable walk through town with Lukas and Oliver, you can see she has the basis for many books to come in the fascinating town dwellers and their identities as revealed in bits and pieces.  My only quibble is that I felt it ended too soon.  That’s what happens when all the right elements come together in a story that will stay with you after you are finished reading it.  Blacque/Blue is just that story.  Now I am on to the next with great anticipation.  I will let you know what I find.  But pick this one up and start reading.  You are going to love it!

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

Blacque/Bleu (Arcada #1)

Silver/Steel (Arcada #2)

Cover art is just gorgeous and perfect for the story within.

Snowquestration, A Time Change and the Week Ahead in Book Reviews

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For those of you outside of the  DC Metropolitan Area, you may not have known but on Wednesday last week this area was expecting a snow storm of “historic” proportions.  Forecasters got out their shovels and measuring sticks as the TV channels were full of giddy meteorologists pantomiming digging out driveways and anchors were busy imploring people to be prepared and stay home. Hour by hour the weather alerts increased the amount of snowfall we would see, Pepco our dysfunctional power company sent out text messages and robo called homes letting everyone know that they were on top of things, getting in crews from as far away as Alabama to keep the power on and lines clear of snow (for once).  Schools in countries around the area from MD, DC and VA quickly cancelled classes the day before and the Federal Government closed all offices with all local governments following suit just as quickly.  Grocery stores ran out of milk and other essentials, so did the liquor and wine stores. Streets emptied, stores shut down and our normally hyped up busy region turned into a ghost town.  And we waited for the storm to start.

And we waited for the storm to start some more.  Curtains were pulled back, and necks craned up as all eyes searched the sky for the first flakes to fall.  And soon they did.

Big, fat, ginormous flakes fell.

And then they stopped falling.  And it started to rain.  And rain.  And more rain.

Why did it rain?  Because it had been f*&king warm all week long.  A kindergartener could have told you that when it is that warm, it is not going to snow.  And it didn’t, at least not here.  It snowed in Pennsylvania, and in the mountains of VA, and the Midwest, and New England and  out west, everywhere but here.  Where it rained.  OK we needed the rain, so that was great.  But really, our entire region shut down because of rain.  Is is any wonder that people outside the Beltway  (the huge highway that encircles DC) think our area has lost our collective mind?  That common sense and sound judgement are but vague concepts that make only fleeting appearances in the thoughts of those who inhabit Congress, run the World Bank, plot the course of the country on levels both small and  large?

What name did we call this “historic” snowstorm?  Why Snowquestration of course.  That alone made perfect sense.  A name that conjures up thoughts of dysfunction, of something that doesn’t work on the most basic level, something thought up in Congress that unfortunately affects everyone but Congress.  Really, is that not  perfection in labeling?  I think so.  It was the only thing that rang true for this storm and our area.  Pundits will be using this for years in their columns.  Ah, Washington, DC you have done it again.  So proud to be from this area. But on the other hand it really is good for a laugh and we all need those.   We closed the Federal government and schools because of rain. Have you stopped laughing yet?

The time changed.  We sprang forward an hour.  I hate this.  Leave the time alone.  Enuf’ said.

So spring is back (not that it ever really left), our DC Metro Book group is meeting today and I must be off.  So without further ado, here is the week in reviews:

Monday, March 11:                 Blacque/Bleu by Belinda McBride

Tuesday, March 12:                 Venetian Masks by Kim Fielding

Wed., March 13:                       Silver/Steel by Belinda McBride

Thursday, March 14:              Metal Heart by Meredith Shayne

Friday, March 15:                    Open Cover Before Striking by Willa Okati

Sat., March 16:                         Unconventional Union by Scotty Cade

Dreaming of Spring while Singing the Flues Blues and the Week Ahead in Reviews

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Maryland seems to have dodged another major “storm of the century” that is still leaving its impact on New England and the NE corridor from Philly to Maine is coated with the white stuff.  While those unfortunate fellows are digging out from under several feet of snow, we had to deal with wind and rain and little else.

Unless you count the flu.   Yes, that’s right, the flu. Or maybe you have the norovirus, that’s going around too.  Either way, like myself, you are probably feeling less than stellar.  I did gather all the right stuff around me as the symptoms hit. Hot tea? Check.  Loads of tissue? Check.  Blankets to huddle under?  Check. Every over the counter cold drug you could buy? Check. Reading material and knitting projects? Check.  So what is missing?  My ability to focus and stay awake.  I have no energy.  Sigh.  So while I have a schedule for this week, it might be touch and go to stay by it.  Let’s see what happens in between doctors appointments, shall we?

Here are the reviews planned:

Monday, Feb. 11:              Lessons in Seduction by Charlie Cochrane

Tuesday, Feb. 12:             Feeling His Steel by Brynn Paulin

Wed,, Feb. 13:                   Brothers in Arms by Kendall McKenna

Thurs., Feb. 14:                 Superpowered Love: Losing Better by Katey Hawthorne

Friday, Feb. 15:                 The God Hunters by Mark Reed

Saturday, Feb. 16:             Reader Questions.  If you could talk to an author, what would you ask them?

Meanwhile here is a vid making the rounds that cheered me up.  Love the reaction of the older sister.  These kids rock.

Review: Trick of Time by J.L. Merrow

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Rating: 5 stars

Trick of Time coverDevastated and scarred from the car accident that killed his husband and parents,  Ted Ennis decides to  work as a theatre assistant at the Criterion Theatre for his friend Rob,the manager of the theatre, rather than return to the bankers job he held prior to the accident and his disability. The crash has left Ted with some permanent physical issues as well as emotional ones, his hand shakes and his voice and speech changes under duress.  When stressed, one the of the things that helps to calm Ted is smoking.  One night during a production at the Criterion Theatre, Ted slips out the backdoor to grab a smoke and steps back in time into Victorian London.

With its dim lamps for street lights and sooty air, the sights and sounds of a 1800’s London surrounds him and Ted starts to wonder if the accident had not caused more damage to his brain than had been acknowledged.  Then amidst the horse carriages and people rushing by Piccadiily Square, Ted sees a beautiful young man leaning nonchalantly against a lamppost whose very face beckons Ted away from the theatre doorway.  The lad’s name is Jem and he’s a local whore who has mistaken Ted for competition.  At first, their relationship is a monetary one, but it quickly turns into something neither man is quick to label, drawing Ted back in time again and again searching out Jem just to be with him. But Ted doesn’t understand how or why he can travel back in time, and each time he returns, Jem is getting thinner.  Something tells Ted that time may be running out for them both unless he can figure out the trick of time.

J.L. Merrow has pulled from one of the most romantic, haunting of themes for the central basis of this story – that of opening a doorway or portal and stepping back in time.  Whether it is a door to a wardrobe,the sash of a window,or an unlikely looking machine,  the idea of actually being able to visit the past has enthralled and enchanted many a author and reader.  A Trick of Time, J.L. Merrow’s marvelous take on this theme, gives us a romantic, haunting and satisfying addition to this genre.

I am always so appreciative of Merrow’s ability to bring history to life through the author’s books and tales.  Within Merrow’s stories, the reader is thrust back in time where the air with thick with coal dust, the streets dingy, and life perilous for those poor or gay or just unlucky.  Here is a sample.  Ted and Jem have just sat down at a lowly pub near the theatre .” I looked down at the table, its surface scarred and pitted with use, crumbs of long-digested meals wedged in its crevices.”  I felt as though I could see that table, smell that table with its remnants of old food and greasy stench wafting up from its scarred wooden surface.  Merrow brings that pub to life in vivid detail, and does the same for every other part of this story.  I felt as though I had walked the streets accumulating grime as I strolled.

But it is her characters that bring the magic to the story.  Ted is a haunting and haunted figure with his scarred head, shaking hands, and survivor’s guilt.  How he grabs our empathy from the start and keeps it close throughout the story. We feel his disbelief when he steps into the past, and his terror that it might be his sanity at error. And as Ted’s desperation to see Jem, to be with Jem grows, we feel it as well.  And always in the back of our minds and Ted’s, is the fear that the doorway will close and Jem will be lost.  Merrow skillfully balances the deepening relationship with the growing fear of loss of same and keeps us teetering on the edge, caught between happiness and horror, joy and pain for Ted and Jem.  And make no mistake Jem is as beautifully realized a character as Ted Ennis.  Cocky, beautiful and very much a survivor but for how long?

Yes, there are places where some will argue that you have to suspend your belief, but don’t you have to do that to accept time travel as a possibility? This is a story of magical possibilities, a visitation to those dreams held close to the heart, of a love that not even time can deny to one who hopes. And who can deny the enchanting miracle of that?  Not me.  I loved this story and I think you will find it magical too.

Lovely cover although credit is not given to the artist in the book.

Review of The Gleams from a Remoter World by Fiona Glass

Standard

Rating: 3.75 stars

Chris Mullens is a reporter/investigator for The Paranormal Times and he is slowly coming to the realization that the years have been piling up behind him while he has stayed relatively static.  He has remained at the same job for over 10 years, with no social life or partner to speak of.  He lives with Jo Perry, his co worker at The Paranormal Times and  has been her intermittent bedmate when she wants it.  The book he meant to write has never been started and lately all the leads he has followed for paranormal activity have not panned out, either they were hoaxes or just someone’s overactive imagination.  The one thing Chris has decided he wants is to win the coveted Moondust Award for the first journalist to prove the existence of ghosts and the next case their editor hands them just might do the trick if its authentic.

Their editor tells them that in the village of Kilveenan, off the coast of Galway in Ireland, there is a church said to be haunted by the ghost of a dead priest’s son, but the twist is that the son supposedly died in the Great War, so why is he haunting his father’s church? Chris readily accepts the assignment and is eager to be off, Jo Perry, his journalistic partner for the story, seems less so.  In fact she is starting to sound as though writing about paranormal events are the last thing she wants to do.  When the unhappy couple arrive in Kilveenan, they discover it’s not the church that is haunted, but the priest’s house next door and by a spirit so filled with rage that just for Chris to enter the cottage puts his life in jeopardy.

The more Chris investigates the cottage’s history, the more evidence he uncovers that involves, murder, murky family relationships, and a son that never returned to the battlefield.  And what little relationship he had with Jo is disintegrating the longer they stay in Ireland. When Chris and Jo meet up with Paulie and Bill, a gay couple on holiday staying at the same inn, Chris’ attraction to Paulie confuses things further for Chris, just when he needs all his attention to be focused on his investigation.  The ghost in the cottage is shaking Chris to his foundations, tearing him apart in every way.  Will he survive his ghostly encounter?

Gleams from a Remoter World has so many lovely elements to it, especially at this time of year.  The first thing that attracted me to the story is the setting.  I love Ireland and when a story is situated in a coastal village, you have my attention.  But even better is when the village and it’s inhabitants are so beautifully described that you feel a part of the place itself, then mark me down as a happy camper.  I loved Glass’ vivid portrait of life lived at the edge of the ocean, cold, wet winds whipping up the cliffs, moisture clinging to every surface.  The rain hitting you so hard it pummels you.  I loved the variety of people we meet (thank goodness, none are of that Irish leprechaun variety, twinkling eyes sort of thing), more of the brusk common sense type of folk.  Had this been a travel guide I would have been booking a flight out immediately. off to see Kilveenan.

I am unfamiliar with all those ghost hunting shows or the people who track down paranormal happenings, so I don’t know anything about the equipment they use.  I can see the running around ruins and graveyards (done that myself a time or two) and again the author’s gift for describing the Irish landscapes and buildings give the reader an immediate closeup feeling to the scenes underway.  I loved the ghost story here that incorporates all the good elements of a murder mystery, familial relationships, and a love affair that was hidden.  The author did a wonderful job of building the suspense with the ghostly apparitions, the drops in temperature that herald the appearance of the angry spirits, the change in color of the surroundings when history unfolds before Chris’ eyes.  Also realistic is the boring, tedious research that had to be done into the background of the church and the Anglican priest who presided over it and its members.   Fiona Glass made this part feel so very authentic, right down to the dusty tomes and hard to read signatures on ledgers.  Again, the author brought this element to life for the readers to the point we could almost breathe the musty air of the small town offices they had to visit for their information.

And then there are the characters of the story and my main quibbles come forward.  I can pretty much narrow down my issue with this story to two words: Jo Perry.  Chris Mullen, his interaction with the paranormal, and his interest in Paulie should be the main focus of the story.  But Jo Perry keeps interfering in almost every way possible, including my enjoyment in the book.  This is a m/f story that becomes a m/m story as Chris is clearly bisexual, which is just fine.  But the problem is with the amount of time she figures in the story, which is too predominate for my taste and the fact that she is inherently unlikable.  Jo Perry is supposedly a long time friend/partner of Chris, they graduated from the university over 20 years prior but does she act like a friend?  Not in any  way you would recognize.  She is distant, dismissive, uses Chris as a sexual partner when it is on her terms but possessive when he looks elsewhere.  She is rude, bratty to all about her, treats Chris like a doormat, and it turns out she is homophobic to boot!  All of this would have been fine if first she had taken up less of the story, and secondly, the author had the other characters around her react to her behavior in a realistic manner. That did not happen unfortunately.

Then there is the character of Chris Mullen, who I happened to like quite a lot. He is a quiet, thoughtful person whose good nature and calm demeanor seem to make it easy for Jo to take advantage of him.  Chris apparently dislikes confrontation to the point of submerging his wants almost completely in deference to other peoples needs and expectations.  While some might attribute that to a “lack of backbone”, I can see the glimmerings of a different take on his behavior altogether, such as an inclination towards depression.  Two much of this book involves conflicts between these two characters of Chris and Jo instead of centering in on Chris, Paulie, Paulie’s long term partnership with Bill who is suffering from full blown AIDS, and Bill, who I was sure realized that Chris was attracted to his partner.  What a wasted story element. This awkward triad had so many interesting elements going for it.  Apparently Bill has been suffering from AIDS for three years and this was a “last vacation” for them both. I wanted to know when was he diagnosed with HIV?  How had that effected Paulie? When you have a ghost filled with rage, how interesting would that have been to contrast that with the rage/anger of Paulie? Or even Bill?  Like I said, a missed opportunity to concentrate on people I wanted to know so much more about than Jo Perry.

We are given one or two hints to explain their behaviors.  She is bitter about a divorce, he is “depressed” but neither explanation is gone into detail, and it never redeems her behavior.  This is especially true when it turns out that she is homophobic to the point of rudeness and anger, attacking Chris for his bisexuality and the other men for their gay partnership (even one that is critically ill!). Chris’ depression is mentioned once or twice, but it is clear that he has never done anything about it.  Then there is the weight around his neck (and the readers) in the form of Jo.  Towards the end of the book when she has left (of her own accord by the way), Chris’ boss mentions how much Chris has moved forward in the last several weeks.  Does no one in the UK come right out and say  “Well, thank god, that soul sucking monster has left the building?” Is that not “done” over there?  And for one final blow, literally, to the reader and Chris, on her last appearance, she smacks Chris a hard one across the face when she takes insult over something innocuous he said that she misconstrued.   But does he finally let her have it, at least verbally?  No, she has her homophobic way one last time.  Little by little this character interaction just leached away my good feelings about this  book, leaving me with a sour taste in my mouth over abusive behavior given its own reward in a manner of speaking.

So, after all that, it does have a wonderful and wonderfully realistic ending, a HFN that is in keeping with the final two characters I think.  It also left me very conflicted over the rating.  So much of this book is deserving of a 4 rating or higher from the settings to the paranormal mystery to even the character of Chris Mullen himself.  But it is dragged down by the repellant persona of Jo Perry and her over the top involvement in the plot and her overextended presence on the page.  I cannot tell you how many times I wanted to pull up a chair next to Fiona Glass, hand her a red pencil and a glass of cabernet and talk about this book! Because really this is ¾ of a wonderful book.  Oh well, in any case I will certainly be looking forward to others Fiona Glass writes but color me divided when it comes to Gleams from a Remoter World.

Cover art by LC Chase.  I like the gray color tones and the ruins in the background, perfect if you are looking for ghostly ambience for the book cover.