Review: Justice (Leopard’s Spots #10) by Bailey Bradford

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Rating: 2. stars out of 5

Justice Leopard Spots 10 coverAfter being rescued by his twin brother Preston and his brother’s mate, Nischal, Paul Hardy is suffering horribly from the aftermath of his capture and two years being tortured and sexually abused as a shifter’s “pet”.  Prior to his experience at the hands of a human trafficking ring, Paul had no idea that shifters even existed, now he can’t get their existence or his trauma out of his mind.  And with his brother mated to a  shifter, Paul can’t even escape from the day to day contact he dreads. Paul, Preston, Nischal and his brother Sabin are all headed to Colorado and the snow leopard family compound hoping to find sanctuary and therapy for Paul.

Snow leopard shifter Justice Chalmers and his sister Vivian are traveling to Grandma Marybeth’s place in Colorado.  Justice was working at his dream job of being a police officer in Phoenix, Arizona when the call went out from his family about a human with a connection to them needing help immediately.  That call irequired Viv with her new therapy license to travel to Colorado and she doesn’t drive.  So Justice is currently on leave to drive his sister to their family compound.  Justice knows that there is more to the story than they have been told and his experiences as a Marine and cop, tell him to be on his guard.

A chance meeting between Paul and Justice on the road to Colorado changes the lives of both men permanently as Paul turns out to be Justice’s mate.  But their future together is cloudy.  Paul is severely damaged from his years of abuse and his abusers want their pet back.  Can Justice and Paul fight their way to happiness or will Paul’s past bring them both down?

Well, here we are at book ten in the Leopard’s Spots series and I am just as conflicted about this series as I was at book one, perhaps even more so.  To reach the tenth book in a series is sort of a benchmark for an author, an occasion to bring various plot strands together and move the entire series forward with new vigor, purpose and cohesion.  And I wish I could report that sort of growth happened here with Justice but it didn’t. There are so many missed opportunities here, so much jumbled nonsense, and quite frankly irresponsible writing that it is hard to know where to start.

Just the title alone starts the book off in a misleading fashion.  The book is called Justice but it really should be called Paul as it revolves around Paul Hardy, twin brother to Preston Hardy, Nischal’s mate  in book nine.  Justice almost serves as a secondary character here and the book suffers from that element.

Then the trajectory of the book really goes askew with the character of Paul and the author’s treatment of his traumatized state.  Back history for a moment.  Paul was captured two years ago (Nischal, Leopard’s Spots #9) by human slave traders and sold to a pack of wolf shifters keeping humans as pets.  For two unrelenting years, Paul was tortured,in every way possible from being sexually abused included gang rapes, being raped by the shifters in wolf form. Paul was tortured mentally, emotionally, and physically until he was broken so throughly that he could not even look his brother in the eyes or raise his head when rescued.  The author supplies us with all these facts and much more, although thankfully no explicit scenes of torture.  No, the reader gets flashbacks, nightmares, and stories about his numerous scars to help cobble together a picture of his time with his torturers.  Bradford wants us to believe in Paul’s traumatized state and at the beginning we do.

When we first meet Paul, the character is having multiple, desperate sexual encounters while feeling nothing. He is acting without consideration of his own safety and physical well being, trying to see if he can get himself killed without actually having to do the job himself.  His actions are understandable and the compassion the reader feels for this character is well grounded in reality.  Then he meets Justice and Viv and all that flies out the door.  Why?  Because of mates and sex, the bandaid of bandaids.  Sigh.

Apparently with Justice, he wants to have sex with a shifter, lots of it (although to be fair, it is mentioned that Justice being a snow leopard shifter instead of a wolf makes some difference).  Not only that but Paul has five therapy sessions, yes only five, with Viv, who just graduated and got her license and he’s soooooo much better.  No mention is made of a new therapist having the experience to deal with someone as traumatized as Paul.  Nope, he just improves rapidly.  Not 100 percent, as he still has flashbacks and nightmares but nothing so substantial as to immobilize him.  Now balance that picture against the one that the author built up for Paul in captivity.  It just doesn’t match up.  If the author wants the reader to buy in on Paul’s past and the horrors he endured then there is a reasonable expectation on the reader’s part that his recovery would be just as slow, hard and realistic  to deal with all the things that were done to him and that he was forced to do.

But that doesn’t happen.  Instead Bradford uses the mating urge to slap a bandage over the pain and scars left by the experience.  It’s slapdash and insufficient, believe me.  Shortcuts rarely work in fiction, and this one certainly doesn’t. Instead the reader feels as shortchanged as they should by being denied the satisfaction of seeing Paul slowly work through the horrendous events and traumas of the past two years.  That just isn’t a missed step, that a whole Marianna Trench!

And this type of plot device and jumbled narrative happens over and over again.  A wolf shifter named Cliff pops up like some vengeful enforcer but does his thing “off stage” as it were.  Totally unsatisfying too.  His captors come after  Paul again and Justice acts with such unbelievable stupidity for someone whose character was portrayed as a Marine for 10 years and then a cop, that I almost thought that Bradford had shifted the story over to a parody.  Totally lacking in any authenticity, watching Justice in action was similar to watching those actors run into spooky houses on Scary Movie.

And after all this nonsense, the author ends it with a cryptic message and not much else.  Trust me when I say my head hurts from banging it against the wall in frustration over this story, series and author.  So much promise is thrown away so casually and repeatedly over a series of ten books that it boggles my mind.  And still I want to know where this series is going and how much worse is it going to get.  I expect that the answer is much, much, worse.

How to balance an author who gets the reader to commit to believing in a character’s degradation and two year ordeal only to see that author then negate that commitment by not treating it seriously? And all within a framework of ideas that remain compelling and new? I just don’t know.  As I said I am conflicted over this series and author and so I am not even going to say whether I will recommend this or not.  I will leave it up to you.  But if you continue on as I will, get yourself prepared to encounter all sorts of frustrations and puzzling events and characters.  This is a wild grab bag of story elements and I never know what will appear.  Consider yourself informed.

Book Details:

ebook, 145 pages
Expected publication: October 4th 2013 by Total-E-Bound Publishing

Cover art by Posh Gosh is gorgeous as always. Models are on target and perfectly represent the characters involved. Just beautiful.

Here are the books in the Leopard’s Spots series in the order they were written and should be read (mostly)

Levi (Leopard’s Spots, #1)
Oscar (Leopard’s Spots, #2)
Timothy (Leopard’s Spots, #3)
Isaiah (Leopard’s Spots #4)
Gilbert (Leopard’s Spots #5)
Esau (Leopard’s Spots #6)
Sullivan (Leopard’s Spots, #7)
Wesley (Leopard’s Spots, #8)
Nischal (Leopard’s Spots, #9)

Review Repost: Strength of the Pack (The Tameness of the Wolf #1) by Kendall McKenna

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Strength of the PackAt a time when tales of the Human Dominant and his True Alpha Shifter have been consigned to myth, along comes human Marine Lt. Lucas Young.  As he readies his command of mixed human and shifters for their deployment to Afghanistan,  he is assigned True Alpha pack leader Sargent Noah Hammond to his platoon. From the beginning, Lucas and Noah circle around each other, Noah pressing for dominance and control while Lucas is equally determined that his authority and rank be recognized and respected by the True Alpha. Small skirmishes and exercises bring human and shifter together in an ever strengthening bond as Lucas learns to dominate Noah and understand the ways of the Pack.

Once their platoon has landed in Afghanistan, they find themselves under fire, and the wartime stresses find their bond deepening and getting stronger with each trial and success. Soon the pair are mirroring the legendary bonding of Dominant and True Alpha from ancient lore. But the bonding is incomplete and when one is wounded, can misunderstandings and military regulations be overcome in time to save them both?

It has been a while since a new shifter book blew me away.  Strength of the Pack has done that job and then some.  McKenna gives us an alternative world where shifters and humans have been together for millennia and throughout much of history.  But through human rewriting, their place in our history has been purposely obscured. Now, because of some unmentioned war or occurrence, shifters are now partnering with humans in all aspects of life, including the military.  McKenna gives us just enough back history to whip up a thirst for more while still making her current setting feel realistic and well thought out.  Little by little, McKenna delivers glimpses of this magical back history, reinterpreting such legends as Joan of Arc and Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

McKenna’s world building is a wonder with no element left to chance.  We are given pack hierarchy, which is folded  into Army and Marine structure in such a way as to feel utterly real and authentic in every detail.  She has a way of describing army life as lived while deployed that I wondered if she was a Reservist or active in the military.  From their packs to their guns, to the dust and heat of the land they are bivouacked on, it felt as though you were there with them, close to the insurgents and ambushes.  It just rang true, right down to how the Pack reacts after skirmishing with the enemy.

And that brings me to another aspect of this book that I loved, the natural history of the wolf.  Unlike other shifter stories, here the wolf shifters act like wolves, including their rank and status within the pack and how it regulates their behavior to one another.  While I enjoy seeing different authors take on shifters, as a park naturalist I love seeing an author who gets the science right, especially where natural history is concerned. Kudos to McKenna for that lovely take on wolf shifters and shifter society.  She also opens up for an explosion of options in the books to come.  I can’t say more without giving away some of the plot but oh my, what possibilities could be in store for us in the books ahead.

Kendall McKenna’s characters are worthy of such marvelous world building too.  I loved the reserved nature of Lt. Lucas Young.  He is brilliant, concerned about regulations and the safety of those under his command.  There are so many levels to this man and they are slowly peeled away as he  realizes that he is not prepared to handle the presence of either a True Alpha or shifters in his platoon.  The decisions he makes (and we are inside his mind as he makes them) paint a portrait of a man, honest to his true nature with the capacity to grow with the challenges before him. Lucas is matched up with the indomitable True Alpha, Noah Hammond, a nordic warrior shifter.  This is not a cardboard hero but again a being adjusting to a bond thought unheard of and having his own problems with it.  McKenna has made Hammond vulnerable, at least to Lucas, a necessary facet of his personality if we are to believe their bond to be true.  This will be one of my favorite new pairs of the year.  The needs of the wolf for taste, touch, smell and markings deliver sensual scene after sensual scene as Lucas and Noah adapt to each other and their needs.

This book is 336 pages long and felt like 90.  I got to the end and wailed because I wanted much, much more.  I have so many questions for McKenna.  Has the government been working to find this combination again?  When did the shifters come forward again?  And what happens to Tim Madison?  Consider my feet stamped in frustration.  Lucky for all of us, this is just the beginning.  I hope the series is a long one.  But either way, long or short, I can’t wait for the next installment in The Tameness of the Wolf.  Go get your copy and let’s start this journey together.  I can’t wait to see where it takes us.

Stunning cover art by  Jared Rackler

Scattered Thoughts Welcomes Kendall McKenna and the book contests for The Tameness of the Wolf series

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Strength of the Wolf Banner

Greetings! My name is Kendall McKenna and I write gay erotic romance novels that feature U.S. Marines (www.kendallmckenna.com). I’m really happy to be back here again, sharing the release of my new military paranormal book, Strength of the Wolf. We have a lot planned for you, and a lot to share over the next few days. It’s a major book release celebration!

Strength of the Wolf released Friday, September 6th on MLR’s website . Strength of the Wolf is Book #2 of The Tameness of the Wolf, and is the followup to Strength of the Pack. Noah and Lucas are back, but they’re taking a backseat to Tim Madison, and the civilian Alpha who quickly realizes just how lucky he’d be to have a Marine Corps officer as his mate. Terrell Hubbard, Elijah Chandler, and Logan Grant are all back a well, along with a new cast of fascinating characters – both human and werewolf, Marine and civilian. There are new werewolf behaviors, rituals, and legends. And of course, there’s an intimate romance and some hot, hot sex!

If you’re new to the universe of The Tameness of the Wolf and my werewolf Marines, you’ll have a chance to win an e-book copy of Strength of the Pack. Once you read it, you’ll understand why all of the book reviewers are competing with each other to be the one to review Strength of the Wolf for their site.

Along the way, I’ll share with you how I built the world of The Tameness of the Wolf, and how I created a breed of werewolf unlike any other found in the genre. I’ll discuss how I managed to write unique werewolves, despite the fact they seem to be everywhere!
If you’ve already read Strength of the Pack and are a fan of Lucas and Noah, you’ll have a chance to enter to win a highly coveted set of their authentic Dog Tags. If that’s not enough, I’ll be offering a chance to be the first reader ever to win a set of Tim and Jeremy’s authentic Dog Tags. These are brand new, created just for the release of Strength of the Wolf, and have never before been offered as a prize!

Finally, in a culmination of fun and excitement, I’ll be offering THE GRAND PRIZE of a chance to enter to win an e-book copy of the highly anticipated Strength of the Wolf!

Beginning tomorrow, September 10th, you can enter to win an e-book copy of Strength of the Pack. 
September 12th I’ll announce the winner of the e-book copy of Strength of the Pack. You’ll also be able to enter to win a copy of the follow-up novel, Strength of the Wolf. 
September 14th we’ll all celebrate my birthday by announcing the Grand Prize winner of Strength of the Wolf!

Along the way, I’ll be offering opportunities to enter to win AUTHENTIC DOG TAGS for the main characters of Strength of the Pack and Strength of the Wolf. These are highly coveted, genuine military dog tags for Lucas and Noah, from Strength of the Pack. With the release of Strength of the Wolf, Tim and Jeremy now have their own set of tags! I’ll be offering chances to win a set of each, over the course of the week so be sure to keep an eye out.
Join me back here tomorrow, September 10th, to kick off the festivities, and find out how to enter to win an e-book copy of Strength of the Pack!

Love and Dog Tags,StrengthoftheWolf4Strength of the Pack
Kendall

www.kendallmckenna.com

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A Little Something Different This Morning and the Week Ahead in Reviews

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Good morning all.  Usually this is the space where I ramble on about whatever has captured by attention.  Those stray thoughts that glitter in the mind like so much pretty baubles that like a magpie I can’t help but snatch them up.  And I do.  But today they are going into a Sunday column of their own called Sunday Ramblings.

On Sunday mornings I like to nurse my coffee along, read The Washington Post as leisurely as I want without having to be too organized.  So I am going to separate these two things (the schedule and scattered thoughts) out and see what happens.  Maybe I will like it and maybe I won’t.  Who knows?  Today’s ramblings will be posted in an hour or so.  What captured my thoughts and whimsey today?  Words.  I love words.  And new ones were just accepted into the dictionary.  So be on the look out for It’s All In How You Word It, my first Scattered Thoughts Sunday Ramblings.

Now, this coming week, we really will have the two book contest and author blog from Kendall McKenna. Her new book is superb and I can’t wait to give away a copy and that of the first book in the series, Strength of the Pack.  I am also continuing the L.E. Harner series, Triple Threat before moving on to the last author and series in the Pulp Friction offerings.

It’s a great day and a wonderful week ahead.  Please join me all week.  I look forward to hearing from you.

This week’s schedule:

Mon, Sept 9:         Kendall McKenna Guest Blog Part 1 – Start of contest
Tues., Sept.10:      Repost: Strength of the Pack review
Wed.,Sept 11        Kendall McKenna Guest Blog Part 2,winner of 1st book announced, start contest for 2nd book
Thurs., Sept 12:    Review : Strength of the Wolf, Winner of Strength of the Wolf announced
Friday, Sept. 13:   Defiance (Triple Threat #3) by L.E. Harner
Sat., Sept. 14:        A Surprise!

Review: Nischal (Leopard’s Spots #9) by Bailey Bradford

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Rating:          3.75 stars out of 5

Nischal Leopards Spots 9Preston Hardy’s brother, Paul,  went missing over a year ago and is presumed dead.  But Preston hasn’t given up hope of finding his twin.  Preston knew his brother’s fascination with snow leopards and has found his way to Texas , the last place Paul was seen, and a side show with two snow leopards on display.  The people  exhibiting them seem suspicious and the snow leopards themselves are in bad shape.  As Preston investigates further into the show’s owners and his brother’s disappearance, he falls into a perilous trap and a situation that will change his life  and his perception of the world forever.

Nischal and his brother Sabin are snow leopard shifters.  Trapped and taken away from their mother in their leopard form, the two young men have been drugged and starved while in captivity, their poor mental and physical condition keeping them from shifting back to their human form.  Years of being caged have deprived them of hope but the appearance of Preston outside their cage changes everything.  From the moment Nischal sees Preston, he knows his mate has arrived.  But their captors will do everything in their power to keep the snow leopards as theirs and prevent Preston from the truth about his brother.

Nischal is the ninth book in the Leopard’s Spots series and a return finally to the story basics that made this such a fascinating series.  Nischal starts at a seemingly random point with two captive Snow Leopards caged in a side show in Texas.  A reader familiar with this series will search their memories for some prior mention of these brothers to no avail.  This is the first we have heard of them.  They are unaware of other Snow Leopards, including our foundation family, the Traveses, in Colorado, existing in a bubble created out of their mother’s isolation of them as cubs and their continued existence in captivity.  Preston Hardy too has not the slightest connection to the previous books.  He, like the shifter brothers, arrives outside of the previous narratives.  It is not until mid-story that a character from the other books arrives and heralds the beginning of a connection to the series plotlines and universe.  From there on out, this story’s twists and turns will surprise the most jaded of Bradford’s readers, especially a bombshell close to the end.  I never saw it coming, and loved that surprising turn of events.

Really, Nischal exemplifies what is most frustrating and wondrous about this series.  Bradford’s ideas are startlingly original, pinging off here and there but always eventually finding their way back to the pattern she is weaving in this series.  Just as the reader is getting frustrated that she has left her original premise with the leopard shifters far behind with her wolf shifters and cougar shifters and shaman, she manages to bring all these disparate elements together in a wide ranging plot that continues to exasperate and involve us deeply in the futures of the leopard shifters and their mates.  I loved all the different aspects of Nischal’s story.  There is several mysteries, including that of Paul’s disappearance and the origin of the shifter brothers.  A wolf faction from a previous book makes a reappearance here.  And always there is the mate sex.  Tons and tons of mate sex.

That is always my biggest issue with Bradford’s stories, that she sacrifices almost half her books story to over the top sex scenes involving various mated pairs.  It usually starts right before or after the men realize they are mates.  They leap into  bed and spend the next five or ten pages staying there.   Now I love a good sex scene and this book has many.  But there are so many that the plot suffers under the weight of all that sex.  When they finally stop you have to try and remember where you are in the storyline because its been that long since she has made reference to it.  And that is a shame because she is giving you glimpses of a much larger picture here, one that will encompass all the story lines of the previous books.  The possibilities I see within this story are intriguing and addicting.  It is the reason I have stayed with this series even when certain books in it have almost caused me to abandon the series.

I came very close to giving this story a four, but the numerous sex scenes once more worked to the detriment of the story and pulled it down.  I know that I must sound like a broken record with the same issues at book nine, but I keep hoping the author will surprise me with a change in writing style in much the same manner she surprised me with the plot twist at the end.  Like Nischal and Sabin, there is always hope.  And in this case, there is hope and a darn fine story to go along with it.

Cover art by Posh Gosh is gorgeous as always.  Models are on target and perfectly represent the characters involved.  Just beautiful.

Here are the books in the Leopard’s Spots series in the order they were written and should be read (mostly)

Levi (Leopard’s Spots, #1)
Oscar (Leopard’s Spots, #2)
Timothy (Leopard’s Spots, #3)
Isaiah (Leopard’s Spots #4)
Gilbert (Leopard’s Spots #5)
Esau (Leopard’s Spots #6)
Sullivan (Leopard’s Spots, #7)
Wesley (Leopard’s Spots, #8)
Nischal (Leopard’s Spots, #9)

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Book Details:

ebook
Expected publication: August 9th 2013 by Total-E-Bound Publishing

Dog Days of Summer and the Week Ahead in Reviews

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Canis Major Dog StarHere it is mid – August and the Dog Days of  Summer are almost over.  I know many of you have heard the term but do you really know where it came from?  I know that some of you are looking at your four pawed companions panting away the summer heat beside you, whether on shared walks or just sitting together in the backyard. One look at how the heat is affecting them, and I am sure you think “ah, dog days indeed.” But to understand where the term Dog Days of Summer, you must look to the sky.  The night sky that is and the Dog Star, Sirius, the brightest star above (no, we are not talking about the Sun right now).

Osiris

The Egyptians called Sirius the dog star after their god Osirus, whose head in pictograms resembled that of a dog.  In Egypt, and in ancient Rome, Sirius was in conjunction with the Sun in the summer (ie. it was up in the sky at the same time as the Sun) and ancient Egyptians and Romans argued that it was responsible for the summer heat by adding its heat to the heat from the Sun. Those in ancient times called the period of time from 20 days before to 20 days after the conjunction “the dog days of summer” because it coincidentally fell at the time of year when it was very hot.

The Dog Days of Summer start around July 7th ( I have also seen July 3rd at the start date as well) and runs until August 18th, normally the time in the Northern Hemisphere when it is the hottest.  It is the time we head for the beach, the air-conditioning, anywhere but the office.  It is also a great time to catch up on your reading and make headway on your “to be read” pile. Here are some books and one great series (Wicked’s Way by Haven Fellows) that you will want to add to the list.

Monday, Augusts 12, 2013:                   Nischal by Bailey Bradford

Tuesday, August 13, 2013:                     Wicked Incarceration by Haven Fellows

Wed., August 14, 2013:                           Wicked Guidance by Haven Fellows

Thursday, August 15, 2013                   Guest Blog by Haven Fellows

Friday, August 16, 2013                          Fall For Me by Ann Lister

Saturday, August 17, 2013:                   Home Sweet Home by TA Chase

Sirius

I will leave you all with two quotes about the dog days of summer.  Both perfection in tone and ability to paint a portrait of this time of year.

“Sophia and Grandmother sat down by the shore to discuss the matter further. It was a pretty day, and the sea was running a long, windless swell. It was on days just like this–dog days–that boats went sailing off all by themselves. Large, alien objects made their way in from sea, certain things sank and others rose, milk soured, and dragonflies danced in desperation. Lizards were not afraid. When the moon came up, red spiders mated on uninhabited skerries, where the rock became an unbroken carpet of tiny, ecstatic spiders.”
― Tove Jansson, The Summer Book

“The first week of August hangs at the very top of the summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color. Often at night there is lightning, but it quivers all alone. There is no thunder, no relieving rain. These are strange and breathless days, the dog days, when people are led to do things they are sure to be sorry for after.”
― Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting

Review: Wesley (Leopard Spots #8) by Bailey Bradford

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Rating: 4.25  stars

Wesley Leopard SpotsWhen Wes Ward’s older brother Sully left home for college, Wes felt like he had lost the only friend he ever had.  Painfully shy as a child, Wes depended upon Sully for everything and Wes was unable to fill the void Sully left behind him.  Then Sully found his mate and forgot about his little brother completely.  In pain and full of bitterness, Wes turned to drugs and alcohol and his addiction almost cost him his leopard spirit.  When his parents catch him using, they send him to San Antonio and to Sully who lives there with his mate Bobby and Wes must confront his true feelings and see if he can heal the bitterness within.

It’s been two years since the vicious sexual assault Armando suffered in the club owned by Bobby and the wounds have not healed.  Armando now works at a Center for Homeless GLBT youth, helping others who were thrown out of their home like he was.  The center is his life as he cannot bear to even think about dating or getting close to another man since his rape.  Then Armando sees Wes when Wes starts to volunteer at the shelter.  Wes is almost a twin to Sully in their looks and his presence brings conflicting emotions to the surface in Wes.  Wes has hated Bobby and Sully for two years and seeing Wes makes all those memories Armando has tried to bury come out.  Equally shocking, he also finds himself attracted to Wes, an attraction Wes returns.

Both men have problems in their past they must face before either can go forward with their lives.  Wes is sure he has found his mate in Armando but can Armando put aside his hatred for Wes’ brother to see Wes for himself or will Wes be an way to revenge himself on Sully and Bobby.

This is one of the most tightly knit and well written books of the series.  Bradford’s focus is two badly damaged people and she treats both the characters and their issues with sensitivity and care.  Wes and Armando are also two of the best characters Bradford has written in a while, each having more depth and dimension than those in the past book, namely Sully and Bobby, who return here.  Wes is facing issues rare in shifters, that of drug and alcohol addiction.  Normally, shifters can’t get drunk or stoned due to their metabolism but Wes learned that certain combinations and amounts of drugs will see him either intoxicated or high.  With Wes, she paints a portrait of a young man whose poor self esteem and debilitating shyness make Wes unable to cope once his support in Sully is removed.

Given the treatment of Armando in the last book (Sullivan), I was unsure what would happen to him here but Bradford handled Armando and the trauma of his sexual assault with sensitivity and realism too.  Armando is stuck in the past, unable to go forward with his recovery for many reasons but one of the strongest is that he cannot be truthful with his therapist as to the exact nature of the assault as the predator was a shifter. So we find him two years later still having nightmares and suffering flashbacks.  He has purposely gained weight to appear unattractive and wears loose clothes, all authentic markers of abuse.  Normally Bradford fills her books with pages of mate induced sex which includes biting, claws and bloodletting.  Thankfully, most of that has been left out of a book dealing with two traumatized souls and she treats their slow path to a sexual relationship with thoughtfulness and tact.

In fact, I find this is the best book of the series if you can discount the lack of any continuing threads the previous books have established.  I think that had a little more of the themes of the series been included, this would have gotten a much higher rating.  It seems as though we are heading away from the Leopard element and more towards the wolf pack with the next in the series which I find a little disappointing as the Snow/Amur Leopard theme seemed to be  central to the series.  But if Wesley is any indication of the future of this series, than it is very bright indeed.  I can only hope for more like this one to come next.

Cover art by Posh Gosh who has done a fantastic job with the series with rich covers that are treats for the eyes.

Here is the Leopard Spots series in the order they were written and should be read (mostly):

Levi (Leopards Spots #1)

Oscar (Leopards Spots #2) read my review here.

Timothy (Leopards Spots #3) read my review here

Isaiah (Leopards Spots #4) read my review here

Gilbert (Leopards Spots #5) read my review here

Esau (Leopards Spots #6)

Sullivan (Leopards Spots #7)

Wesley (Leopards Spots #8)

Baby, It’s Cold Outside and The Week Ahead in Reviews

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Maryland has actually been feeling like winter for the past week and my body is going into shock.  Last year was Nomageddon (nothing, after Snowmaggedon) but no one really knows what will happen this year.  We really haven’t had any snow or ice and believe me, I am not complaining about that.  It’s been cold but not for very long.  In fact we are due to go back up into the 50’s in a day or so.

I look at my bird feeders and find that they are staying fairly full for longer periods of time, Ditto the suet feeders,  Even our squirrels are looking complacent as opposed to frantic for food.  But it is early yet.  February is normally our fiercest winter month here and that is still a month away.  I will let you know how it goes.

Until then, today the Redskins play the Seattle Seahawks and the area is on pins and needles.  I must go climb into my Redskin regalia and prepare to lose my voice.  So here is the week in reviews:

Monday, 1/7:                   Daddy’s Money by Alan Chin

Tuesday, 1/8:                   Bayou Loup by Lynn Lorenz

Wed., 1/9:                         Pete’s Persuasion (Shifters’ Haven #7) by Lavinia Lewis

Thursday, 1/10:               All I Want Is You by Marguerite Labbe

Friday, 1/11:                     A Boy And His Dragon by R. Cooper

Saturday, 1/12:                 Aria (Blue Notes #3) by Shira Anthony

I will leave you with this image of the man who has made the Redskin fans smile once more and dance in the streets, RGIII!

RGIII

Review of With or Without Series by JL Langley

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ating: 5 stars for the series

My first introduction to JL’s shifters came when I picked up the Hearts From The Ashes anthology and read With Love, the first in Langley’s shifter series.  It featured a young clutzy Omega wolf named Laine Campbell who was perpetually in hot water over things he said or creating chaos with the things he did.  Everything about Laine was adorable, from his hair to his manner of speech and I fell in love immediately.  So did Dev, the Alpha wolf moving to Ashton with his betas and business partners.  He was hooked on Laine and I was hooked on Dev.  I could not believe it when the story was over. I wanted more shifters, specifically I wanted JL’s shifters and I wanted them now. This is a reoccurring theme with JL Langley’s books so be prepared.

Then came Without Reservations in 2007 and my addiction was official.  Without Reservations is the story of Chayton Winston, a veterinarian living in New Mexico.  He is also a shifter and all his life he has been dreaming of a fair haired mate, much to his Native American  parents chagrin.  His entire life Chay has considered himself heterosexual until an injured wolf is brought into his office.  The wolf is a gorgeous male shifter and his mate.  He is also Caucasian something he is sure his mother will never accept.

Keaton Reynolds wakes up in a veterinarian ‘s office to find himself injured and being treated by his mate.  He should be overjoyed except he just got out of a relationship from a shifter who had a girlfriend on the side but also said he was Keaton’ mate.  Keaton is not one to repeat his mistakes and a hetero shifter is not someone he wants to take a chance on, no matter what his body and even his heart may think.  But Chay won’t give up on Keaton and finally Keaton agrees to get to know Chay better.  And slowly they start to build a relationship together.  But there is Chay’s mother’s disapproval to overcome and a power struggle in Keaton’s Georgia pack that threatens them both.  How will they overcome the odds to find the happiness they both deserve?

I reread this book all the time.  Chayton Winston and Keaton Reynolds are such wonderful creations that I return to their story time and again.  Chayton is one of the nicest people you will meet in the author’s novels.  He is both elementally patient and rock solid in his beliefs so that when presented with a man as a mate, he accepts it.  If it switches his sexuality over to gay, ok as long as he gets his mate, something no wolf shifter would ever turn down.  And you believe this paradigm shift absolutely as being in character for Chayton because he is so real from the moment we meet him.  Keaton also engages our hearts and affections with his prickly nature  and forceful personality packed into a slight build.  A small white wolf, he has the personality and power of an Alpha without needing to lead. Keaton would rather teach and help educate so the fact that his mate would be a healer, a veterinarian makes complete sense.  JL Langley surrounds these two with people as authentic and believable as they are and gives us a mystery to boot.  Just an outstanding novel.

With Caution came next.  It remains my favorite of the series and again one I read over and over again.  With the characters of Remington Lassiter and Jake Romero, JL brings a level of complexity and depth to her characterizations that I had not seen before.  And added to our main characters, she introduces us to the rest of the men who will become their pack.  Each man is a unique unforgettable creation as they sit astride their motorcycles and roar into our hearts.  Remy is a shifter we meet in Without Reservations and he makes a rather disastrous first impression upon us in that story.  But here we discover the dark background that surrounds him in shocking detail as well as the reasons for his actions.

There are parts of this novel so bleak and despairing your hearts will bleed for Remy and his brother Sterling  even as our hero bleeds out from the abuse.  Remy’s sexuality and his acceptance of a male mate is a huge part of this story and his past as well.  I cannot give Langley enough credit for the sensitive way she deals with child abuse and recovery as an adult.  There is also a murder mystery to be solved, and the exploration of a naturally submissive nature.  There is some mild bdsm that works beautifully within the plot of the story and the glimpses of new couples, mates, for future stories.  One couple in particular has had the fans clamoring for their story since this book was published.  This story has depth, multi-layered characters and a multitude of themes running through it, not the least of which is how Reservaton law can also isolate the members it is supposed to protect, control issues and child abuse.  Heavy themes indeed but this book is also packed with love and redemption.  With Caution is an incredible read you won’t want to put down.

Next comes a series of free stories that can be found on the Fiction With Friction website until JL Langley’s site is back up and running.  These are in order:

A Lot To Be Thankful For (With or Without Series 3.1) Sterling Lassister and Rhys Waya (the fans just wouldn’t shut up for their story)

A Sterling New Year (With or Without Series 3.2)  with Sterling Lassister and Rhys Waya (love, love these two and so will you, get on the bus)

With Abandon (With or Without #4) brings back Aubrey Reynolds and the rest of the Georgia pack that we met in Without Reservation.  Aubrey is Keaton’s brother and our introduction to him in Without Reservation was not exactly a positive one.  Matt Mahihkan, one of Gadget’s sons from With Caution is back and going to college in Georgia. Matt was a quirky young man who we got to know only superficially but JL Langley brings him together with  Aubrey Reynolds and that combination sparks all sorts of problems not the leasts of which is that Aubrey is not out to his family or the pack. And Matt is not only out and proud but turns out he is Aubrey’s mate. It took me a while to like Aubrey, perhaps some of that was left over emotions from Without Reservation.  But his reluctance to accept Matt officially as his mate made him hard to like.  He has to grow on you, something none of the other characters has had to do.  Matt, of course, is absolutely adorable and we entrust our affections with him from the get go.  And with Matt, comes some of the members of the New Mexico pack we have come to love as well.

Next come three free short stories in succession. I am convinced JL Langley thought the fans would be showing up on her doorstep if she didn’t at least throw them all several bones. I will admit to being one of them:

Christmas Dinner at Reynolds Hall (With or Without, #4.1)

Attack of the Killer Dust Bunnies (With or Without, #4.2) 

Christmas Cookies and Garland (With or Without, #4.3)

So what and who are coming next?  That would be Sterling and Rhys.  This is the story everyone has been yelling for, myself included. I believe JL Langley said it will be done in a few month from now but isn’t sure when it will be published. That will depend upon Samhain Publishing’s schedule.  Be still my heart.

Without Fear (With or Without series #5) – coming from Samhain Publishing.

So that’s JL Langley’s shifters in a nutshell.  I am not sure I did them justice.  Shifters of all species hit my buttons. Native American shifters hit them twice.  I don’t care if they are wolves, big cats or even weresloths of London (thank you, Charlie Cochrane for that memorable story).  But thinking back to the beginning, it all started with JL Langley’s wolves who come to life on the pages of the With and Without series, grabbed both my attention and my heart and have never let them go.  I have these books in paperback (prior to my Kindle) and I have them now in eBooks as well.  From their killer covers to their outstanding characters and plots, I return to them often.  To reacquaint myself with old friends and find comfort in their presence.

Some find JL Langley through her cowboys and others through her sci-Regency series.  I found her through her shifters.  If you are new to JL Langley as an author, try them all.  Start from the beginning of each series and work your way down.  You will find yourself with a new  addiction just as I did.  Write me. Let me know what you think. I will be waiting.

Review of Gregory’s Rebellion (Shifters’ Haven #6) by Lavinia Lewis

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Rating: 4.25 stars

Leopard shifter Gregory Hale has been sent by the supernatural council to pick up a young jaguar shifter in Las Vegas and bring him into Council headquarters as they have determined the young man’s loner status has made him a potential danger to the humans around him.  But Gregory has watched Hayden at a distance for days and everything about the young shifter shouts neglect and pain.  When Gregory finally contacts Hayden, he realizes that Hayden is his mate but there is no acknowledgement on Hayden’s part that the recognition is mutual.  Hayden is skinny to the point of starvation and his face is marred by a raw scar that stretches from eye to mouth on one side of his face, a scar that should have healed when Hayden shifts.  Hayden has come from a traumatized past, but he won’t confide in Gregory, not yet at least. More than ever, Gregory is determined not to let Hayden fall into the council’s hands and he pretends to his superiors that Hayden has slipped away from him, to their immediately displeasure.  Gregory is, in fact, taking Hayden to Kelan’s Crazy Horse Ranch knowing the Alpha will help him hide Hayden and keep him safe.

Gregory still has the corruption within the council to deal with and a new series of murders to investigate.  Someone is murdering the mates of council  members, as Gregory knows all too well. Now with a mate of his own to protect, Gregory needs to get to the real culprit behind the killings before its too late.

The Shifters’ Haven series is built around Wolf Creek, Texas and its pack of wolf shifters.  Wolf Creek is two thirds shifters in population, a situation that the human population is ignorant of as all shifters have worked hard to keep themselves hidden. Each book brings together a different mated pair with a continuous plot line of dissension among the Supernatural Council which is composed of shifters of all types, from hawk to cougar. From the first installment, you are made aware of the Council who governs all shifters with their rules and regulations and the possibility of corruption within that impacts Wolf Creek and beyond.  From book to book, each time a member of the Council intervenes or arrives on the scene, you become less assured as to who the “good guys” are.  Also each book widens the Wolf Creek pack with new family members and sometime new species of shifters are given haven.

Gregory’s Rebellion picks up right where Nate’s Deputy leaves off, with Gregory on his way to Las Vegas on council  business. Gregory is still heartbroken over the events that happened back in Wolf Creek and unsettled because the real leader behind the shifter problems and crimes has  not been fully identified, at least not with proof he can use.  There has been a really nice development of Gregory’s character from book to book, from his first appearance as a council member somewhat rigid in demeanor to the compassionate person he is here.  But my focus was on Hayden, who was kicked out of his home at the age of 16 by his parents for being gay, an all too real occurrence.  Hayden has suffered since being thrown out of his home and family and has done what he had to in order to survive on the streets.  He has no self confidence, he is all shame and humiliation, his trauma written across his face in a scar he refuses to heal as a measure of his torment and degradation.  When Gregory comes into his life, he has just arrived at a modicum of security, with a boss who regards him as more family than employee and a job he likes.  Now all of that is gone in an instant, disrupted by a stranger who tells him the council is after him and wants his trust.  Lewis does a beautiful job in conveying Hayden’s confusion and fear.  I became invested in Hayden from the very beginning and stayed so to the end.  You will too.

Also carrying over is the issue of corruption in the council and the fact that someone is murdering the mates of council members, but to what end? Gregory gets caught up in trying to deal with his new mated status as well as his investigation into the problems of being part of a council he no longer trusts or believes in.  Again, all very credible and in keeping with the persona of an honorable man trying to do what’s right when confronted with the reality behind the supernatural council.  Lewis’ wonderful way with location and characterization is in top form here. It is becoming a saga of Wolf Creek versus the old order of council rule, a storyline that has intrigued me since the start of the series.

Once more, I felt the ending rushed and not as satisfactory as it might have felt to have the villain meet his comeuppance. Had the story lasted a little longer and with a more detailed exposition, then the end would feel more complete given the buildup.  Perhaps Lewis is doing this intentionally to keep the thread going in the next book up, Pete’s Persuasion (Shifters’ Haven #7).  I hope so, for it’s an interesting part of all of their stories  and it doesn’t feel finished yet.  So I am waiting impatiently for October and the next in the series.  Pick up the first book, read them all and meet me here for No. 7.  See you then.

Once again Posh Gosh is giving us lush, gorgeous covers for the entire series. Beautiful branding and great design for each and every book.

Here are the Shifter Haven series in the order they were written and should be read in order to fully appreciate the characters, relationships and plots.

Luke’s Surprise (Shifters’ Haven #1) . Luke Morgan and Mark Malone’s story

Cody’s Revelation (Shifters’ Haven #2) – Cody Morgan and Stefan Drake’s story

Kelan’s Pursuit (Shifters’ Haven #3) – Kelan Morgan and Jake Bradfield’s story

Aaron’s Awakening (Shifters’ Haven #4) – Aaron Drake and Cary Lewis

Nate’s Deputy (Shifters’ Haven #5) – Nate and Jared. Read my review here.

Gregory’s Rebellion (Shifters’ Haven #6) – Gregory and Hayden

Pete’s Persuasion (Shifters’ Haven #7) coming in October 2012