Review: Delsyn’s Blues (Vasquez & James #2) by Lou Sylvre

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Rating:  4.25 stars out of 5

DelsynsBluesLGAfter the deranged events of last summer, things should have gotten better, less complicated for fiber artist Sonny James and security specialist Luki Vasquez. Instead, it all sort of imploded.  Sonny sent Luki away while his nephew Delsyn recovered from his ordeal at the hands of his kidnapper.  And while Luki roamed Chicago wondering where it all went wrong, Sonny hid in his house, haunted by guilt and plagued by his fears.  Both separate, alone and missing each other.

Then the unthinkable happens and Luki is called back to Port Clifton, to help Sonny deal with his grief, and a police investigation that points to Sonny as their main suspect.  Sonny is drowning under the depths of his feelings of guilt and remorse.  He has raised a barrier between himself and Luki that Luki is finding hard to pull down.  But just as those barriers seem to be shattering, a man from Sonny’s past comes between them and their future.

All around Luki and Sonny is shrouded by the mists from their past and the uncertainties of their present.  As more violent acts occur and the investigations widen, Luki and Sonny aren’t sure who they can trust, even each other.

A voice singing the blues points the way, but will Sonny and Luki hear the sad refrains in time to save them all?

Delsyn’s Blues is the second book in the Vasquez and James series from Lou Sylvre.  The first story, Loving Luki Vasquez, pulled me into these amazing characters with their haunted pasts and complicated lives.  Each character is so different from each other and others that I have read about.  Especially Sonny Bly James, a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Yakama and a fiber artist whose weavings are highly sought after.  The minutiae of Sonny’s craft is intriguing, especially his dyes.  It gives him an unexpected depth of background and unique quality to his character.  Sonny is grounded by his art, his mind awash with colors, designs and fibers of all types.  He is a person who seems scattered by those who don’t know him.  And Lou Sylvre is slowly revealing Sonny’s depths and complications book by book.  What an amazing journey we are on with these characters.

But Luki Vasquez, of Basque and Hawaiian roots, is Sonny’s equal with his Hawaiian ethnicity a large measure of Luki’s personality and family support system.  Luki’s past is one he wears on his face, but the scarring inside goes much deeper than the one that bisects the side of his face.  He too has a past full of pain and trauma, only some of which we know about. Both men find strength in their native heritage and that is so important here in Delsyn’s Blues where both Sonny and Delsyn are/were tribal dancers each in their own manner of style and dance.  This element of Delsyn’s Blues and the series are one of its highlights for me.  Luki and Sonny’s close connections to their heritage provides a foundation for each man and a support system if they choose to use it.

Around these two multidimensional characters flow plots of great intricacy and deceit.  And it reverberates from one story to the next, the past like a river who continues to overflow its banks and cover all the events to follow, its dirty waters touching everything and everyone in its path.  Delsyn’s Blues opens one year after the end of Loving Luki Vasquez.   The men are separated and Delsyn is in a wheelchair due to his prior blood loss.  What a painful beginning for all, readers and characters alike!  From that moment on, we are in for one shock after another.   And it won’t stop until the book is over.

Are there things here readers will have issues with? Certainly, but Sylvre’s books have always had that element of realism and sometimes life just sucks to put it bluntly.  And once you get past the first shock, the rest of the story is gripping, suspenseful, and yes, frustrating.  I had a few more issues with this story than I did with Loving Luki Vasquez.  One issue?  I figured out almost immediately who one of the villains of the story is.  While I wish the author had made that a little harder to guess at, I found the anticipation she built around that person’s identity reveal  rewarding.

But my honest issue here?  Totally inconsequential but it bugs the heck out of me.  A drug dealer’s dog appears and goes along for the ride for about 1/3 to 1/4 of the story.  He becomes a real character.  He’s important until he totally disappears from the story, at least as much as I can figure.  He’s there then he’s not.  What happened to the darn dog?  Continuity!  It makes even the smallest things important when it is flawed.  So, if someone out there can tell me what happened to Bear, please I beg you tell me.  Did I miss something or did he really disappear?  (Note: I heard from the author, the dog is still around and latched onto  Luki.   We will see more of him later.)

Disappearing dog notwithstanding. I still highly recommend Delsyn’s Blues.  It’s an absorbing  story and its characters continue to grow in depth and backstory.  I love it when that happens.  Now on to Finding Jackie (Vasquez & James #3)!  Remember, please to read all these books in order.  It’s important for  character development and for understanding the events that occur.

Cover art by Reese Dante.  I love these covers, so beautiful and perfect for the stories and series.

 

Buy Links:     Dreamspinner Press        All Romance eBooks (ARe)     Amazon      Delsyn’s Blues

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 309 pages
Published January 1st 2012 by Dreamspinner Press
ASINB006SBC6KM
edition languageEnglish
seriesVasquez & James #2

Books in the Vasquez and James series to date in the order they were written and should be read to understand the characters and events that transpire:

Loving Luki Vasquez (Vasquez & James, #1)
Delsyn’s Blues (Vasquez & James, #2)
Finding Jackie (Vasquez & James, #3)
Saving Sonny James (Vasquez & James #4)
Yes (A Vasquez and James Novella)
Because of Jade (Vasquez & James #5)

Review: Continental Divide (Separate Ways #1) by Laura Harner and Lisa Worrall

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Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

Continental Divide coverBumped to Missing Persons after an argument with his Captain months prior over a case he solved,  Phoenix PD Det. Remy Remington knew he was onto something big when he discovered that his latest missing persons report for a young boy was just one of 6 young men to have disappeared in the Phoenix area recently.  Although the boys had been reported as runaways, the details and timing of the disappearances made Remy’s cop instincts twinge and not in a good way.  Not trusting his Captain after past events, Remy starts to dig deeper on his own into accounts of missing boys elsewhere in the nation and comes to the attention of  an international squad already deep into the same investigation.  One phone call later and Remy finds himself on the way to London and a case that will change his life forever.

In London, Inspector Jamie Mainwaring is looking at the cases of 6 young men who have disappeared in the London area in recent weeks and immediately he knows something is terribly wrong.  As he starts to research the disappearances of young men in other areas, his computer searches send out a signal to a special branch of Interpol and soon Jamie finds himself assigned to Interpol who needs Jamie’s name as Lord Mainwaring as much as they do his skill as an inspector who spotted the pattern.

Remy and Jamie must find a way to work together even as their personalities and social status serve to drive them apart…at least at first.  The men find their attraction to each other growing stronger as their case gets larger and more evil in scope.  Soon it’s a race against time to recover the boys and solve the case, before the criminals and the boys disappear from England.  When it all comes down to culture and cowboys, can the two mesh their approaches and put aside their feelings to catch the criminals and bring the boys safely home?

I was introduced to Laura Harner through the Pulp Friction group and loved her Triple Threat series .  So I was really looking forward to the Separate Ways series and I have not been disappointed.  Continental Divide,written with Lisa Worrall, marks the start of a tumultuous relationship between American Remy Remington and British Lord Jamie Mainwarring (that’s Mannering to us in the US).  And how diametrically opposite these two characters are.  Remy, the Phoenix PD Detective,  is all brash cowboy in outlook and approach.  He likes working alone as his dark past has taught him little about trust and working with others.  Only his high solve rate and intelligence have kept him on the force to date and that’s about to change.  Remy is quite the dark character and this case only makes things worse, from old nightmares reappearing to being a “fish out of water” after landing in London with a partner he underestimates from the start.  Remy is someone people are afraid of at first meeting and later afraid for when they get to know him, an absolutely wonderful characterization.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Jamie Tristen Mainwarring, forty-second Earl of Fordham, and to his mother’s dismay and disapproval, an Inspector at Scotland Yard.  Under constant pressure by his high-powered and influential mother, Lady Mainwarring, to marry, settle down and run the estate, Jamie has persisted in going his own way.  That includes being out about his sexuality and becoming an Inspector.   Cultured, intelligent, and loyal, Jamie goes out of his way to avoid conflict with his mother while still trying to be his own man away in London, a balancing act he is not always successful at.  He’s also very pretty and that combined with all his other titles and characteristics lead Remy to underestimate him and his skills as a police officer.  It might take the reader a little longer to relate to Jamie given his social status and attitude towards his overbearing mother.  But once the reader accepts Jamie, then the man works his way into the reader’s affections never to leave.

It’s that clash of cultures and backgrounds that ignites first an attraction and then love that is so realistic, so believable that it hurts. It is so easy to see how that rough, gruff American cowboy with his boots and well worn jeans  manages to attract the urbane and civilized Lord Jamie.  Jamie has never met someone like Remy before and the authors show us how completely Jamie is unseated by someone outside his social range who never “fawns” over him as others normally do.  Of course, the flip side to all this is Remy with a background of child abuse so dark and so horrific that you almost bleed for the man the more his pain filled past is revealed.

Tying the men together is a case so chilling, so appalling that you will feel a bit nauseated as the case unfurls.  I think one of the things that makes this case so dreadful are the recent articles on sexual slavery world wide that are appearing in the media.  Harner and Worrall get it right. The authors steadily increase the anxiety and dread the readers are feeling as more details about the boys situation come to light and the race to rescue them unfolds across a London background.  Another element I appreciated, while hating the authenticity of it, is that the authors understand and chronicle the reality that nothing will ever be the same for the rescued boys. That those boys that were found are profoundly damaged and will require long term psychological and emotional help if they are to even make a semblance of recovery.  Too often I have seen this aspect of abuse glossed over and I was happy to see this issue treated so responsibly.

Now about that romance.  Yes, there is one, a romance as complex and intense as the men themselves.  It is also one that can’t last, at least at the moment.  That is just not realistic considering each man’s responsibilities and continent of residence. Note that the series is called Separate Ways and is four books long and that will tell you volumes about what is in store for Remy and Jamie.  This is a love that has a long path to travel before the men can be together or at least I am assuming that ending.  We won’t know for sure until Spring of 2014 when the final story in the series is released.   Is it worth the journey you will take with them?  Absolutely!  These men are going to tear you apart, make you bawl gallons of tears, shock you and make you laugh as well as shout in anger.  I have done all that and more and still find myself breathless in anticipation for that last story.

The only reason this story did not rate a 5 rating is because I know what’s coming.  Harner is taking this series to  even greater heights with Oceans Apart and Moving Mountains.  Trust me, it just gets better and better, deepening in complexity while changing and widening the relationships of Jamie and Remy as their saga continues.  So consider Continental Divide a solid, compelling foundation for the suspense and gripping stories to come.  I highly recommend this book, this series and these terrific authors who told it so well.  Follow me over to the next in the series, Oceans Apart (Separate Ways #2). You won’t be sorry, shocked, angered even, but not even remotely sorry!

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

Continental Divide (Separate Ways #1) written by Laura Harner, Lisa Worrall
Oceans Apart (Separate Ways #2) written by Laura Harner
Moving Mountains (Separate Ways #3) written by Laura Harner
Untitled Fourth Book coming in April 2014

Book Details:

ebook, 225 pages
Published March 9th 2012 by Hot Corner Press (first published 2012)
original title Continental Divide
ISBN13 9781937252120
edition language English
series Separate Ways

Book Contest and Guest Post by T.A. Webb, Pulp Friction Author of the City Knight series

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Scattered Thoughts (that’s me) has loved having all the authors here this week.  And we still have another surprise day to go where I will announce the winners and the Pulp Friction authors will have one last post together.Darkest KNight cover

So, don’t forget to leave a comment, either at the end of today’s post or on the review post.  Either way, we will count that as an entry.

And now for our fourth and final Pulp Friction author, T.A.”Tom”  Webb and his City Knight series. *offers up a chair and a cup of coffee*:

TW: Thanks for having me, Melanie. Well, me and my guys Marcus and Benjamin. Now, these two men are rather mouthy and will tend to jump in and say what’s on their minds before you or I know it. So, bear with us and I’ll try to filter it all into something that makes sense for us all.

ST: *sinks into her chair, pets the pups*

TW: When Laura, Lee and Havan and I started talking about some kind of series that would be like the old pulp fictions, what immediately came to mind for me was the Doc Savage pulps I read as a kid. I loved Doc Savage with hathim, and always thought he was kind of like me, in that he was different. When I put a name to it—gay—I realized he never was with a person of either sex, but I could easily imagine him as mine.

So, when we put the series here in Atlanta, we talked about each of us putting out six stories. My first idea was to write two sets of three stories—a trilogy—for two sets of characters. Then Marcus whispered in my ear, and he was this mature cop who patrolled the area around his home. I asked him why, and the whole story came out about his doctor lover who was shot and killed senselessly, and how he made a promise to protect the neighborhood. Kind of Doc Savage meets Batman.

A man like that deserves a happy ending, so I imagined who would crack through a man like that’s shield? Because Marcus, he deserves someone who would make him laugh, someone who would light up his dark nights and make his heart beat again.

Enter Ben.

Now Ben, or as Marcus calls him, his Benjamin, isn’t a slam dunk. He has a past of his own that tried to keep him away from Marcus. He’s younger, smart as a whip, but so closed off from his own feelings because of his own soul-crushing experience—he was raped—that it was a challenge for him to connect to Marcus for more than sex.

But he does. And the trilogy follows how they two men circle each other and gently open up despite all the horrible things in their pasts, and the bad things coming after them in their present. But, they make it.

So, when it came time to write the other two men I had in mind, Marcus and Benjamin said they weren’t ready to step aside. Plus, we—Laura, Lee Havan and I—had started interweaving Chance and Zachary and Archer and Wick with my boys, so how could I leave them hanging?

ST:  You can’t, that obvious, plus it would make your fans cry. Not a good thing.

TW: Plus, slowly but surely, the fans caught on and would have killed me if I let them go. And we had to find out who killed Travis, and then Marcus’s brother Frankie showed up with little Marcus, and they have a loud voice too.

My plans, now that all five books are written as well as the final book we all will co-author, are to write a small holiday story for Marcus and Doc_Savage_plus_Five_by_SilvreBenjamin called “Christmas Knight”.  And at some point there will be a novella for Frankie and Brady, because they are screaming in my head that they need their story told.

ST:  I am so happy to hear that because I fell in love with Brady and Frankie!  They do need a story of their own. Oops,  sorry to interrupt.

TW: This has been such a fun process, and I have learned SO much about how to write from these three talented friends of mine. I almost hate to leave Atlanta behind, but Flagstaff calls and that makes my creative juices flow.

ST:  Hmmm. Flagstaff…..more stories perhaps?  Another secret for another day.

TW: Thanks to everyone who’s read City Knight, and it’s on sale for $0.99 for everyone on Amazon and ARe.

Please, leave a comment, and you can have your choice of any book in the series in a drawing especially for Melanie’s blog. She’s been so wonderful about reading all 20 of the books and reviewing them, and Marcus and Benjamin have her in a big hug for liking them. They have no words, and neither do I!

ST: Aww, shucks.   *hugs back*  Plus you mentioned Doc Savage.  I remember seeing plenty of those paperpacks on my dad’s shelf near his chair.  Oh that did bring back the memories.  Thanks for the great guest post and wonderful stories, Tom.

TW: Thanks all!  Remember to leave a comment and win!

Tom

Here are the books in the City Knight series in the order they were written and should be read to understand the men and their relationships and the events that occur:

City Knight (City Knight #1)
Knightmare (City Knight #2)
Starry Knight (City Knight #3)
Knights Out (City Knight #4)
Darkest Knight (City Knight #5)
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Review: Starry Knight (City Knight #3) by TA Webb

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Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5

“What happens when two broken men collide?”

Starry KnightWhen Marcus Prater has found his Ben, several things happened at once, including an ambush by the very men who had raped Ben in the past.  The aftermath of that battle sees Marcus in the intensive care unit, surrounded by those who love him, his friends Wick, Zachary, Chance and of course Ben Danvers, the young prostitute that brought Marcus emotionally back to life after the death of his partner.

But Marcus needs to recover in more ways than just physically.  He needs to let go of his past if there is going to be room in his life for Ben and a future together.  It will take all his friends and more for Marcus and Ben to make the transition from a HFN to HEA.

Starry Knight is more about an internal investigation and exploration than an external one.  The past two stories have focused on the beginnings and rough path to romance for Marcus and Ben.  Marcus  withdrew from everyone around him who loved him in his grief over the death of Jeremy, his long term lover. Now with the arrival of Ben and the numerous setbacks their romance entailed, those friends have reappeared in Marcus’ life and its time for Marcus to ask for forgiveness and support.  And it is also time for those friends to let go of their anger and pain and give Ben their forgiveness as well.

I loved that this story turned inward and dealt with all the emotions and ramifications of Marcus’ past that had never been dealt with.  By bringing together all those people in the formerly close-knit group of friends, brothers in arms actually, the reader is given a clearer picture not only of their relationships but their past as well.  These passages are emotional punches to the gut not physical ones and many of them are long overdue.

T.A. Webb does a spectacular job of bringing the reader intimately into this group of strong individuals who consider themselves a family by choice instead of blood.   Or in their case, the blood may be that shed on each others behalf, a most singular blood tie that continues no matter how much rejection they might face from each other at any given time.  We have been bonding with all of these men through the various Pulp Friction series, and bringing them together gives a real feeling of totality that will satisfy the reader and in sure that we are hungry for more stories involving each of them.

But the most important element of this story is Marcus’ letting go of Jeremy and the love that meant everything to him.  It’s necessary in order for us (and Ben) to believe that there is a future available for this couple and the author  accomplishes this mission in a heartfelt and totally realistic series of emotional exchanges.  Starry Knight ends up being about emotional growth and acceptance, forgiveness and love.

However, this is also in keeping with the previous installments, so there is the rough talk, hot sex, and heart stopping moment of …..well, you will just have to get the book to read about the rest.  I love this series, and this couple,  Each additional story brings a new dimension and depth to their relationship and the dynamic group of men that supports them.   I can’t wait to see what happens next.  Consider this story and series highly recommended.

Stories in the City Knight series in the order they were written and should be read to understand the characters and events to follow:

City Knight (City Knight #1)
Knightmare (City Knight #2)
Starry Knight (City Knight #3)
Knights Out (City Knight #4)

Book Details:

ebook, 65 pages
Published June 13th 2013 by A Bear on Books
ISBN13 9781301484867

Review: Son of a Gun by A.M. Riley

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Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Son of a GunStefan Sanchez’s has returned home to Boerne, Texas after twelve years in Los Angeles as a successful childrens book author.  He has come home for the funeral of his best friend, Tommy O’Connor, scion of one of Texas’ wealthiest and influential families.  He left over a decade ago under the stigma of his deceased father, a corrupt agent and fleeing his secret relationship with closeted deputy Chet Blain.

Now that he is back, all those secrets and more rise up, threatening to pull Stefan down with them.  His alcoholic mother wants to see him, Tommy’s death is suspicious, Tommy’s wife is missing and then someone leaves drugs in Stefan’s rental car, framing him and bringing him to the notice of the FBI.  Chet Blain wants to restart their old affair while the sexy Secret Service agent hovering around him seems interested in Stefan in more ways than just business. The O’Connor family is full of hidden agendas that Stefan must unravel for his safety and sanity.  Everything, including Stefan’s life, hinges on him piecing together clues from his childhood, and coming to terms with a past that has haunted him through the years.

I really liked Son of a Gun enough to give it 4 stars even while feeling ambivalent about aspects of the story. I found the character of Stefan Sanchez to be especially intriguing, in particular his profession as an author of a highly successful childrens series, The Adventures of the Backtree Boys.  Think an updated version of the Hardy Boys based upon Stefan’s childhood up to his father’s treason and death.  Interspliced with Stefan’s thoughts on his current status and events are parts of episodes he is mentally writing to go along with what is actually happening.  It works something like this:

In San Antonio, Stefan emerged from the airport hangar, crisp air-conditioning giving way immediately to deep, humid Texas heat. His sparse luggage and light clothing all seemed to gain twenty pounds of wet, his hair sticking to his nape, and he remembered one of the dozens of reasons he’d had to leave Texas. (then Stefan starts thinking Backtree Boys dialog)

“The weather is reason enough.”

                   “Nope. Reason number one: snakes.”

                   “When was the last time you saw a snake, Tommy?”

                   “It’s the fact that they could show up ANYWHERE. Did you see that blurb in the paper about the assemblyman who              found one in his mailbox?”

                    “I think someone put that there.”

                   “And your point is?”

Dialog from the Backtree Boys is used effectively to accentuate Stefan’s thoughts as well as introduce a snapshot of his childhood growing up.  In fact, much of Stefan’s personality traits came be traced back to the fact that Stefan is still tethered to his past, unable to move forward because he ran rather than bringing any type of closure to the problems he left behind.  He is a complicated character and Riley brings him to life vividly and compassionately.  And the use of the idealized Backtree Boys adventures against the twisted, complex true life events happening to Stefan further serves to demonstrate just how wide the divide is between the two.  A wonderful technique that Riley uses very effectively in the narrative, especially as the Backtree Boys start to get more realistic in Stefan’s head as the events around him turn convoluted and more dangerous.

Riley has laid out a plot with multiple complications and layers to it.  We have a difficult homecoming to a small, bigoted Texas town by a man whose reputation has been soiled by his parents (mother is an alcoholic, dad a traitor).  Stefan is out about his homosexuality, not something the town finds acceptable either.  The funeral brings out the worst in the family, there are many mysteries that start to pop up and the author has Stefan following clues and codes from his childhood, just like in his Adventures of the Backtree Boys but on a much more complicated level and with more profound consequences than being grounded for a week. There are many twists and turns to the plot that serve to frustrate Stefan and the reader along the way, although I have to say I saw the identity of the villain almost from the start.  That fact didn’t stop me from enjoying the  trail to the finish for Stefan, it just upped the anticipation and anxiety for Stefan’s safety.

I enjoyed the character of the Secret Service agent, Evans, who hounds Stefan every step of the way, including a very hot and sexy rough tumble into bed.  His pursuit of Stefan (in more ways than one) was the highlight of the book for me.  I enjoyed the tension between them, just delicious. There are also many secondary characters to draw in the readers interest, from Colin the stoner brother with a skateboard empire to Patrick O’Connor, the patriarch of the family with political aspirations.  But my biggest issue with this story hinges solely upon one character and his interaction with Stefan and that would be the character of Chet Blain, the closeted deputy.

Chet Blain almost ruined the book for me.  I will admit that part of my reaction to him is that he is well constructed and believable in his actions as a closeted man in a small town in the South who wants to have it all his way.  There really is nothing likable about this character, from start to finish and I am not sure the author wants us to feel that way. My ambivalence starts with the fact that Stefan has been holding a misguided love for this man all these years and gives in to a sexual act almost immediately upon seeing him again.  True Stefan sees the trap in heading back into the closet with Chet, the only way they can be together.  And we want to see Stefan hold out against his ex but Chet’s character is all pervasive in scene after scene, until the mere mention of his name on the page had me wanting to flip past just to get rid of him.  I think we are supposed to feel some compassion towards Chet but Chet’s actions in the last couple of chapters as well as Stefan’s reactions almost found me tossing the book down in disgust.  At that point I had a major headache and was ready to bill Riley for a bottle of Excedrin.

I was happy I hung in there because the resolution to all the tangled events in the plot and the ending are worth it.  It was so very satisfying to see how it all plays out (with one teensy bit with Chet, really I just wanted to smack him).  The ending gives Stefan a strong promise of a HFN or even a HEA.  It’s funny and it’s absolutely realistic.  I loved it, and this is from someone who loves her HEAs!

There was a previous version of Son of a Gun published by MLR Press that was shorter in length with a different ending. This version, which is the only one I read, is supposedly longer and was rewritten and reedited for Loose id LLC.  I cannot speak for the earlier version but I can recommend this one.  I enjoyed it even through the moments of frustration, and loved the ending.  If you buy this book, make sure you have the right edition.

Cover art by April Martinez works well for the story within and the characters involved.

Book Details:

ebook, Second Edition
Published May 21st 2013 by Loose ID (first published April 9th 2010)

Review: Birds of a Feather (Bellingham Mysteries #5) by Nicole Kimberling

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Birds of a FeatherNow that the State of Washington has legalized gay marriage, Bellingham Hamster reporter Nick Fontaine and abstract painter Nick Olson are getting married.  They have planned a simple ceremony but nothing simple is ever possible with Peter in the picture.  Their parents are coming and Peter is sure NIck’s folks are going to hate him.  Peter’s mother is arriving early full of wedding ideas and an ex of Nick’s has arrived as well.

But Peter still has a job to do and his boss at the paper expects an article soon. So when a bald eagle has been found shot to death near the Castle, their home in Bellingham, Peter knows he has the subject for his next story.  But the investigation is proving harder than he thought and then Nick’s father decides to accompany him as his sleuthing assistant, could things get any weirder for Nick and Peter?  Of course, they could……

Birds of a Feather is the fifth in the  Bellingham Mysteries series and my favorite book so far.  I adore everything about this series, from the wonderful main characters, the quirky town of Bellingham, to the mysteries they get involved in, it all works and works serendipitously. Over the course of the series, we have met and fallen in love with so many of the secondary characters as well, Evangeline (Peter’s BFF), her stoner boyfriend, Detective Patton (Peter’s favorite lesbian police officer) and so many more.  They are all present and accounted for in Birds of a Feather, just as they should be in a book focused on Peter and Nick’s marriage.

All of Kimberling’s characters come across as not only completely human but whose personalities lend themselves to living in a town where everyone is involved in everyone’s business (personal and otherwise), where green rules, quirky is the name of the game, and tolerance and individuality go skipping hand in hand across the town center.  Of course, Nicole Kimberling lives in Bellingham, Washington so her knowledge of the town is authentic and affectionate. This is how Nicole Kimberling describes Bellingham in her Author Spotlight for Scattered Thoughts:

Because I live here, I’m constantly discovering new facets of the city
and new slices of society–more than I think I’ll ever be able to fit
into the stories. There are the illegal mountain bike trail builders,
the rustic folk musicians, the unschoolers, the gamers. And then there
are the institutions, like the bible software company that basically
owns two whole city blocks downtown, the Humane Society, the Alternate
Humane Society, the Alternate Alternate Humane Society… The town is
rich with unexplored weirdness.”

That oddness permeates the Bellingham Mysteries like the terroir does in wine.  And added to each mystery is usually a fount of information about a subject pertinent to the mystery itself.  Sometimes it is beekeeping or perhaps candlemaking or even chicken farming as it is here but I always learn something new and delightful with each story.   The element of charm combined with a certain weirdness lays a foundation for a book and series that pulls you in immediately and refuses to turn you loose at the end.

Placed within this framework is the relationship of Peter and Nick.  It began slowly in Primal Red with Nick as a suspect, and builds to the relationship they have in Birds of a Feather where they are finally ready and able to get married.  Both men have had trust issues, commitment issues, and communication issues, all of which we see them work through, book by book.  And because we have been there from the beginning, this book becomes even more satisfying, emotionally and romantically.  We’ve been waiting for this too!  But Peter remains Peter, and his inner monologue is never far away.  Here is an example:

 The smell probably— calming pheromones or something.

He should look that up when he finally got to work, he thought.

Maybe write an article about the comforting smell of a strong man. Maybe he could write a little historical romance on the side…

Even before Young Peter knew he was shaking, Lord Nicolas had draped his splendid silken frockcoat over the scholar’s slim shoulders. “That arrow came too close for comfort,” he whispered.

With Peter, fantasy is always just a thought away, and his humorous flights of fancy will have you giggling in no time.  So will Nick’s father, Eric who comes up with the outstanding “Jealous Vengeful Canadians” theory for the Bald Eagle killing.  I won’t go into specifics but they are worth the price of the book right there.  Yes, there is more than one mystery here but the real gems of the Bellingham Mysteries are the town, Peter and Nick and everyone around them.

Consider this book highly recommended, consider the series highly recommended too.  But don’t start here! For those of you new to the series, go back to Primal Red, the first in the series.  See how Nick and Peter met and get a feel for one of the most charming and weird towns around.  You are going to love it and them.

Cover art by April Martinez is consistent with all the other covers of the series.  I do wish the models were more in keeping with the characters inside the book.  Otherwise it is too dark to really see what else is incorporated in the design.

Book Details:

ebook
Published June 2013 by Loose Id
ISBN139781623001841
edition languageEnglish
original titleBirds of a Feather
urlhttp://www.loose-id.com/bellingham-mysteries-5-birds-of-a-feather.html
seriesBellingham Mysteries

Here are the Bellingham Mysteries books in the order they were written and should be read to under the characters and the development of their relationship:

Primal Red (Bellingham Mysteries, #1)

Baby, It’s Cold Outside (Bellingham Mysteries, #2)

Black Cat Ink (Bellingham Mysteries, #3)

One Man’s Treasure (Bellingham Mysteries, #4)

Birds of a Feather (Bellingham Mysteries, #5)

Review: Hobbled by John Inman

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Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

HobbledEighteen year old Danny Shay should be having the time of his life, but its not working out like that. Now living with his dad in San Diego, Danny should be enjoying the summer but his own lack of judgement and outrage over his boss’s shorting his paycheck led to his current predicament.  He is under house arrest, hobbled by an ankle monitor courtesy of the San Diego PD and a cast on his leg, the last being his fault at throwing a tantrum at work and destroying an ice machine.  So now he is bored and lonely since his dad is out of town on business. Danny is also horny as only a gay 18 year old virgin can be by himself in the house, unable to leave.

But then the house next door is sold and a young man, a young cute man, is moving in with his father and dog and things start to look up.  Now if only he could figure out how to meet him without setting off his ankle monitor.  Plus there is a serial killer loose in the neighborhood  targeting young men, two fourth grade boys lurking around Danny’s house determined to be the next Hardy boys and the scene is set for riotous goings on.  When the killer targets Danny and his new neighbor, it will take all their wiles and help from unexpected sources to stay alive.

Hobbled is my third book that I have read by John Inman and it cements his place in my “must read” company of authors whose works I grab up immediately with nary a glance at a publishers blurb or jacket cover.  John Inman must either have vivid memories of his experiences as a 18 year old gay teenager or is able to channel his inner teenager because I can’t think of any author whose recent stories brought to life what it means to be 18 as realistically as the author did in Hobbled.  I just enjoyed this story so much that my usual quibbles with consistency and instalove are easily put aside.

If you know  teenagers, then every part of this story will speak to you, from the first feelings of lust and love (oh, the drama of a first love) to the unspeakable eating habits that seem normal as a teenager yet make you shudder as an adult.   Inman gets their dialog right too.  And it’s not just  Danny and Luke, his new neighbor, but two eleven year olds, (“that’s fourth grade”, mind you , they tell people in an instant), Bradley and DeVon.  Those two kids almost steal the book away from Danny and Luke.  Bradley and DeVon are Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, and the Hardy Boys all rolled into the two most intrepid, fearless kids you will want to meet, and then just maybe strangle when you stop laughing.  But back to  teenage eating habits:

Here is a sample of Danny and Luke chowing down at Danny’s house:

Wet like that, it was really red, Danny noticed. Much more so than it was when it was dry. Danny watched as Luke swung a bare leg over the back of the kitchen chair and plopped himself down. He arranged his silverware neatly beside his plate, since Danny had just sort of tossed it on the table, not caring where it all went. Then while Danny still stood there watching him, Luke reached across the table and arranged Danny’s silverware too.

When he was finished, Luke motioned to the opposite chair. “Sit,” he said. “Eat. I’m starved.”

And Danny finally expelled the breath of air he had been holding for the longest time. He sank into the chair, happy to get off his wobbly legs, and they both started loading their plates with all kinds of stuff. Potato salad, ham, pickles, bread, coleslaw, cold pizza left over from a couple of days ago, cold green beans that had been in the fridge for God knows how long but didn’t stink yet so they must be okay. They ate as eighteen-year-olds always eat. With tons of enthusiasm and not a speck of conversation.

.If you have ever watched teenagers eat, then you must be nodding your head in acknowledgement of the accuracy of that moment.  I know I did. In scene after scene, Inman writes realistic, goofy, brave, scared wonderful teenage boys These characters are funny, earnest, heartbreaking and always believable.  And I think that’s why their case of instant love is not only acceptable but in keeping with their teenage years as well. During those years, you fall hard and fast.  Love at first sight?  Absolutely.  A forever love found in under 5 minutes flat? You bet.  Its special that first love, its mind blowing and heart pounding, it’s everything, a moment and a person people always remember.  And for some, it does last forever.  That’s the magic of it, when you are young everything is possible and Inman gets that too.

And on top of being under house arrest, being new in San Diego and living with his dad, Danny is also trying to come to grips with the fact that he is gay.  Danny wants to tell his father that he is gay but like any other LGBTQ youth, Danny is having trouble saying it.  He is pretty sure that his father will still love him, but that small uncertainty is holding him back.  When hearing Danny’s inner monologue as he tries to summon the courage to come out to his father, you realize just how momentous this decision is and just how high the ramifications might be.  One more realistic component in an already marvelous book of self realization and coming out at a young age.

True, there are some aspects of Hobbled that normally would have me rolling my eyes as the events stretch the bounds of believability (especially later on with Danny’s father).  But all the good will and affection the book has built up just steamrollers over those sections, so that if you do find yourself making an eye roll or two (yeah, yeah I know), than it will be with smiles instead of incredulity.  I love this book and fell hard for Danny, Luke, DeVon and Bradley and even Mrs. Trumball.  I think you will too.  So grab a pizza, a stick of Cover Up, a Coke, and your memories of your teenage years, buy this book and settle in for a wonderful story of young love, coming out, and oh yeah,a criminal on the loose.

Cover art by Paul Richmond is perfect for Hobbled in every way.

Book Details:

ebook, 246 pages
Published June 10th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 1623808561 (ISBN13: 9781623808563)
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.dreamspinnerpress.com

Review: Infected Undertow (Infected #7) by Andrea Speed

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Infected Undertow cover

In a world where a werecat virus has changed society, Roan McKichan, a born infected and ex-cop, works as a private detective trying to solve crimes involving other infecteds.

While Roan McKichan remains comatose in the hospital, his status is grievously affecting all those around him.  Dylan, his husband, remains at his side, waiting for him to wake up.  Holden, prostitute and sidekick (as much as he would hate the word) is trying to handle a tentative relationship with one of Roan’s hockey player friends, and not handling it well.  Fiona, friend and secretary, is trying to figure out if her life is with Tank, the hockey player traded to a new city or with her old life here.  The new head of the Church of the Divine Transformation is causing problems for infecteds and noninfecteds alike, including a connection to an illegal fighting ring.  All is in turmoil as Roan finally wakes up.

When Roan awakes, it is to a reality in which his virus has mutated once more.  The lion/virus has strengthened and Roan must fight against his belief that he is turning into a monster while holding on to what is left of his humanity as well as relationship with Dylan.  And as Roan struggles to deal with his new reality, new cases arrive needing his help.  It will take all of Roan’s emotional strength to adapt and continue on with his life, no matter how much the undertow threatens to pull him under.

Undertow is an astonishing addition to an outstanding series.  Really it is hard to know where to start with the acclamations.  In Roan McKichan, Andrea Speed has created one of  the most haunting and extraordinary superheroes in recent fiction.  A virus has swept the nation that forces people to regularly change into different species of big cat, a torturous transformation and one that shortens the infected persons life.  No one is sure of its origin in this world. All the reader knows is that one day it just appeared.  Unlike those who acquired the virus through unsafe sexual acts, dirty needles or blood transfer (just as the AIDS virus) Roan was born with it, a virus child.  The author has created Roan as a being set aside from both populations, giving him a unique status with an ever changing physicality to go along with a separate entity that shares his body.  And with each book, we watch as the virus mutates and changes Roan along with it.  Roan’s struggles to adjust to the changes in his body and the increasingly strong virus are Herculean, both for the character and the reader.  Roan’s transformation reaches into the most primal of questions about identity, self, and what it means to be human.  It asks what is more fundamental?  The inside you or your physical exterior? Or in Roan’s case, is who you are dependent upon what species you are, a question becoming more central to Roan emotional makeup by the day.  Roan was a remarkable character in the beginning, intelligent, wry, and so adaptable that he survived an abusive beginning as well as the loss of Paris, a man he continues to mourn even as he found another.  Roan has so many layers and facets to this personality that detailing them would take a book of its own at this rate, Andrea Speed’s Guide to Roan McKichan.

And Roan is surrounded by a cadre of characters almost his equal in complexity.  I have to admit that Holden is my favorite.  Holden is a lethal combination of charm, brains, survivability as well as a flimsy, flexible morality that makes him a perfect companion for Roan in his endeavors to help those who come to him in need.  But Fiona, Gray, Scott, Seb, and all the rest stand on the platform with them.  I often forget that these people and their situations aren’t real, so involved do I feel in their current situations and futures.  Really, its just a parade of people so indelible that they will leave their marks in your heart and memory long after this story and quite possibly the series is finished.

And the world in which Roan lives is equally astounding. Andrea Speed has created a universe so densely layered and elastic, that each book can continue to build on the foundations laid out at the beginning, and still expand, growing ever more complex along with the virus and Roan. We are hearing hints of concentration camps or bills in Congress meant to incarcerate infecteds to protect the public, specific overtones of WWII with the Japanese Internment camps in California and the concentration camps of Nazi Germany.  At first it was mere whispers in the beginning books but the possibility has been increasing through each addition to the series as the public backlash grows against the infected population and Roan’s solidification as something so new, so extraordinary that those closest to him are having a hard time wrapping their brains around it. Of course, Holden is already aware of the ramifications to society and enjoying the heck out of it.  Undertow breaks out of the others books parameters as we really start to see the possibilities ahead for Roan and for all the infected populations.  It’s chilling, it’s exciting and it’s tantalizing in the hints laid out throughout the narrative.  I mean, there are parts here I kept rereading, not only for the power of the moment but also for the implications for the future.

Undertow has several threads running through it, just as the other books.  There are several mysteries to solve, including a woman haunted by the unsolved death of her mother, and a sordid fight ring to stop that uses infected as combatants.  As always the Church of the Divine Transformation is at the heart of at least one of Roan’s problems, an organization that never fails to live down to its reputation.  Several characters are undergoing transformative events in their lives to mirror on a lesser scale the major ones affecting Roan, which is perfection given that Roan is the central focus in each of their lives.

Normally I like to add in a few quotes to give a feel for the author and characters involved but the Infected series almost defies me to do that.  Taken out of context removes some of their power and put into context, the quotes contain far too many spoilers.  The narrative is powerful, angst filled, humorous, wry and concise, even to the names of the chapters like Subterranean Homesick Alien, Tiny Violin, Pretty Nettles,and St. Matthew Returns To The Womb.  Just trust me on this, quotes aren’t needed for something this great.

Unlike Lesser Evils (Infected #6), this is a complete story, with no cliffhangers (as such) to worry about.  That’s on the surface, of course.  Because the underlying issues remain, lying just ahead like fissures in the ice, or an undertow in the ocean current, waiting to pull the unwary down.  That’s what makes Roan and this series so exciting, so compelling and ultimately so addictive.  I finish one and then keep thinking about all the possibilities that lie ahead for Roan, Holden and everyone involved, including humanity.  This series is at book 7 and gathering speed and strength. Where Andrea Speed will take Roan and us, I have no idea but I can’t wait for the next part of the journey to continue.

If you are new to Roan and the series, go back and start at the beginning.  These books must be read as part of a series in order to understand the characters and the events that occur.  Trust me when I  say there are NO stand alone books here.  Here they are in the order they were written and must be read:

Prey (Infected, #1)

Bloodlines (Infected, #2)

Life After Death (Infected, #3)

Freefall (Infected, #4)

Shift (Infected, #5)

Lesser Evils (Infected, #6)

Undertow (Infected #7)

Andrea Speed has also created an Infected Undertow soundtrack that can be found here.  There are over 28 tracks that you do not want to miss out on, including Wolf Like Me by TV on the Radio and so much more.

Cover art by Anne Cain.  This cover is outrageously splendid, one of the best of the year as far as I am concerned (and considering how good all the covers are for this series, that is saying something).  Visit Andrea Speed’s website and download the covers for your computer.

Book Details:

ebook, 344 pages
Published June 14th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN139781623805661
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=3913
seriesInfected #7

From Mourning To Joy Once More, Animal Adoptions and the Week Ahead in Reviews

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You always hear that things have a way of changing overnight, but few experience it.  It didn’t quite happen like that here but it was close.  In my instance, things changed exactly one week to the day that I felt my heart shatter.  On June 4, 2013, my companion of 18 years, Winston died.  Exactly one week to the day, on June 11, another Winston came into my life, through circumstances so unusual, so connected, that I knew it was meant to be.   I have written that story, The Tale of Two Winstons – A Terrier Comes Home, to chart the beginning of our journey together.  Before that I had written of my first, indomitable Winston, my love of 18 years in My Winston.  But there was one fact I had left out.  You see, exactly one week before I found Winston, I had another dog, Snowflake, a rescue American Eskimo.

Snowflake was with me for two years, gorgeous and unfortunately so emotionally scarred by her previous family that only I could handle her.  I never got the entire  story but from her hatred of children and families in general, apparently she had been used as a target and punching bag by the people who owned her before me (and was rescued from).   One day we were out in the pasture, running and checking around for a loose horseshoe, when bikers sped by and Snowflake gave chase down the fence line.  Normally, that would have been fine as she couldn’t get through the wire and post fence, but sometime during the night a car had sideswiped the fence and taken down just enough to leave a Snowflake sized hole.  I am sure you all can imagine what happened next as Snowflake darted out onto that winding country  road.  Even as we raced to the vet, I knew my Snowflake was gone.

One week to the day, on that same spot, a shivering, heavily matted, rail thin Winston was found and went home with me carrying him in my arms, the same way Snowflake left that same spot.  Now 18 years later, exactly one week apart, my beloved Winston was gone and another Winston had arrived.  And each time, I knew it was meant to be.  How could it not?  I am not sure I believe in Fate but all these connections?  All these events strung together in order for one magical moment to happen?  How do I not believe in that?  Many people have said that Winston sent the other Winston to me, and I think I can agree there.  During that week of almost overwhelming grief and loss, I swear I could hear the thunk Winston made as he jumped down off the bed to investigate something in the house during the night.  Several times that occurred during that week, but since Winston arrived, not a sound.  This Winston likes to bury his food bowl (on tile no less) just like my old Winston did.  Perhaps one has taught the other his tricks without me knowing.  Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

My family now includes two rescued dogs, Winston and Kirby whose face adorns the banner of this blog.  They aren’t my first rescues and most certainly won’t be my last.  There are so many dogs (and cats) that need homes in shelters around the country.  And there are so many shelters in need of support, both monetary and in donations of supplies.  I know it is Father’s Day today but perhaps if your Dad is someone who has everything possible and you don’t know what to give him, maybe make a donation to your local animal rescue organization or humane society in his name as a gift.  I know it would be welcome.  I found my Winston by donating food to the shelter.  Who knows if a four pawed love awaits you there as well?  The larger groups, ASPCA, and the Humane Society of the United States, rescue animals from devastating events such as hurricanes and earthquakes and more.  They need your help too.

So here are some links to get you thinking about rescues and the organizations who need your help to continue their mission to save animals in need:

ASPCA

Humane Society of the United States

Montgomery County Humane Society

Days End Farm Horse Rescue – located locally in MD but travel all over the US to rescue large animals. Truly an amazing organization.

I am sure there are so many local rescue organizations around you that need your assistance.  They are only a tapped computer key away. Check them out as well.  Here are a few pictures of Winston and Kirby playing, they have turned into the best of friends.  Look below the pictures for the week ahead in reviews.  Happy Father’s Day!

DSCN3823DSCN3827

The week ahead in Reviews:

Monday, June 17:               Flawless by Cat Grant

Tuesday, June 18:              Fennel and Forgiveness by Ari McKay

Wed., June 19:                    In Search of a Story by Andrew Grey

Thursday, June 20:           Infected: Undertow by Andrea Speed

Friday, June 21:                 The Heir Apparent by Tere Michaels

Saturday, June 22:             Stonewall by Martin Duberman

Review: Something New Under The Sun (Falling Sky #2) by L.A. Witt

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Rating: 5 stars

Something New Under The SunLiam  Lansing is a genetically modified vampire who makes his living as a contract killer but once lived as a favored scion in his wealthy family’s compound in The Sky.  Daniel Harding, heir to  Cybernetix, hated the modifications his father’s corporation built and loved one person, Liam.  Their relationship cost Liam everything as his family disowned him for loving Harding and cast him into The Gutter.  Daniel remained behind working surreptiously to bring his father down, imprisoned in an ivory tower and thinking his former lover was dead.

Former lovers and antagonists, Liam Lansing and Daniel Harding have been reunited and resumed their relationship under the most traumatic events.  Daniel’s father, head of Cybernetix a modification empire, hired Liam to kill his son but had  laid a trap for Liam as well. But the father’s plans backfired when the men united to escape into The Gutter where they schemed to destroy Daniel’s father and his corporation along with him.  But there are more things at stake than Liam is aware of.  Hidden secrets hold the key to the destruction of their plans and the future of their relationship. Can Liam and Daniel put aside the past to maneuver through the obstacles looming before them?  Or will the forces combining against them bring them down once and for all?

Something New Under The Sun picks up right after the events in A Chip In His Shoulder.  I loved reading one book right after the other and felt that it maximized my enjoyment of this intense, suspenseful series. Not necessary but it satisfied my impatience to more forward after the events that occurred in the first book.  Over twice as long, this second book achieves everything L.A. Witt set out to accomplish with her first story.  We are back in The Gutter, that distempered landscape of grimy factories and downtrodden workers, the unholy existing along side the broken. It is a hellish place that L.A. Witt brings to life and where we meet up with Liam and Daniel once more.

In a neat twist, the pov switches from Daniel Harding to Liam Lansing at the beginning of the story and more of Liam’s back history is revealed to the readers. Witt outlines enough of her previous book that any reader fresh to the series is not totally confused by the events of this story.  From the beginning, the author starts to build the suspense and reader anticipation as we watch Liam and David weave together their plans for retribution and the destruction of Cybernetix.  As they cobble together the plans and equipment, more of The Gutter and its inhabitants are revealed.  We traverse the filty, narrow alleys and meet up with Gizmo, a modifications wizard who has been helping Liam, for a price of course, with his own “enhancements”.  Gizmo is quite a wonderful character and I could see him so clearly in my mind, from his dialog to his physical form.  Gizmo made such an impact on me that I hope to see more of him in the coming installments.

And this brings me back to the marvelous characters that L.A. Witt creates for her stories.  Daniel and Liam, larger than life in the first story, have been given additional depth and dimension here in the second.  We learn more about what drove Daniel to take the actions that set in motion Liam’s fall from grace and his own isolation.  And even more of Liam’s past seeps out to tease the reader further about those first years of survival in The Gutter.  I cannot help but think that more will be forthcoming in future stories to flesh this out this part of Liam’s past.  Even though we still have gray areas with respect to their backgrounds, these are beautifully realized people, flawed and determined to regain what was once theirs.  I loved them more as I discovered the basis for the hurt and pain their past has cost them.

The author, after establishing characters that grasp at our hearts and minds, proceeds to set the reader on a thriller of a ride when Daniel and Liam actually set their plans in motion.  Quickly upping the suspense and anxiety we feel for our heros, Witt moves the action along at a fast pace as they set out for The Sky and the Cybernetix building.  Really, the events escalate so rapidly that it is breathtaking.  We barely get through one nasty surprise, then another is quickly upon us. And neither the reader and the two men we have come to care are allowed a moments rest.  This is a A Ticket white knuckle ride and I loved every hair raising minute of it.

The dystopian society L.A.Witt has created for her Falling Sky series is a vividly realized world populated with people I cannot get enough of.  The ending came a little too soon and perhaps too easily for me but I am greedy like that.  I would have wished for a more drawn out resolution to Liam’s family issues.  Perhaps that is coming in the next books in the series and I still want to hear more of Gizmo, he deserves his own story within this remarkable framework.

After finishing this book, I immediately wanted more, a testament to the author’s power to create a world easy to escape into and dwell for a while.  I absolutely recommend Something New Under The Sun.  Buy it and settle down for a wild ride of action, adventure and romance as lovers reunite in the Gutter and aim high for The Sky.

Cover art by LC Chase is lovely with its easy to read titles and dark towers behind the model.  Again I only wished that there had been a way to put some of the physical modifications on the model that are so important to the plot.

Books in the Falling Sky series:

A Chip In His Shoulder (Falling Sky #1)

Something New Under The Sun (Falling Sky#2)