A MelanieM Review: Otter Madness by Winnie Jerome

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Rating: 3 stars out of 5:

All I Want For Christmas Otter MaddnessOtter shifter Bryon is not happy.  His terrible boss wants him to work on Christmas and his mage boyfriend has been distant and uncommunicative lately.  What is an wereotter to do?  Get in trouble, that’s what.  When Byron goes snooping around his boyfriend’s workshop, he accidentally unleashes a second Bryon.  Now with two Bryons on the loose, can his boyfriend Lucas handle two mischievous, highly-sexed shifters just in time for Christmas?

Uh…wow.  Otter Madness is a perfect title for this wild concoction of a holiday story.  It contains nothing less than two wereotters ( should I say one were otter and one wereotter doppleganger), a homophobic boss, a mage boyfriend who is also a Dom, and quite a bit of bdsm toys and kinky sex scenes.  Mix that all together in 27 pages and you end up with a wild mess of a Christmas tale with some very funny elements, some sexy kinky bits and some things that are just so discordant that the story goes awry.

For me the best scenes in this story are the ones with Bryon in his otter form.  Jerome manages to convey the playfulness, the joy, and willy-nilly scatteredness of an otter in motion during these scenes.  But for every scene that reveals just how great it must be to be an otter rolling about in the towels, Jerome then gives us something to shudder at. A homophobic boss who is so unpleasant (calling Bryon and his boyfriend the “f” word and more) that you wonder why Bryon still wants to be employed there. . It’s just such an ugly segment, ok that whole restaurant segment is awful, that I can’t begin to understand why it was included.

Then there is the Bryon on Bryon sex, the D/s relationship between Bryon (and eventually Bryon) and Lucas, that  D/s relationship that never quite works because you don’t get enough of the personalities behind it to make it viable.  Otters are smart, playful, inventive, and high energy.  Submissive?  What is it about Bryon that makes that a part of his emotional makeup?  We haven’t a clue, especially when the second Bryon shows up and doesn’t quite seem to have the same personality even though they are supposed to be identical.  The story just continues on its messy way, dilly dallying over the kinky sex through a story that never quite comes to an end.

A wereotter is a terrible shifter to waste.  The mere creation of such a wonderful shifter elevated this story to a 3 star rating.  It’s antics, in his human form, kept it there.  It’s the holidays.  If any of the above appeal to you, then this is the story for you.  Other than that, treat it as the otter madness it is.

Torquere Holiday Sip generic cover is used, the artist is not given credit in this release.

Sales: Torquere Books        All Romance        amazon             buy it here

Book Details:

ebook, 27 pages
Published December 11th 2013 by Torquere Press (first published December 10th 2013)

A MelanieM Review: Changing Tide by D.P. Denman

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Rating: 2 stars out of 5

Changing Tide coverPhotographer David sails into Vancouver Island harbor looking to shoot Orca whales for a photograph book he has in mind and not much else.  David’s 30 ft sailboat, Wanderer, is all the home he wants or needs. Then David hires Capt. Jack Lewis’ charter boat for a  whale watching trip and everything changes.  David’s anguished past has kept him from any sort of permanence, whether it is of a location or of the heart.  David’s recent history is that of transience, always on the road or water as the case maybe.  It’s his way of protecting himself and his heart from any additional pain and commitment.   But meeting Jack Lewis and getting a taste of a relationship is making inroads into his heart and scaring him senseless.

When Jack Lewis looked into the eyes of the man who wanted to charter his boat, he was lost.  David is gorgeous, mysterious, but the pain Jack also sees reflected back to him makes him want to take David into his arms and never let him go. Jack has had his fill of casual sexual relationships and hookups, especially in the case of Emerson, a young man who trades sex for status and perhaps money.   David is everything that Emerson is not, David is older, fascinating, and as a freelance  photojournalist, independent.  Before he is aware that it is happening, Jack is falling for David and soon wants much more than perhaps David is capable of giving.

The unexpected relationship between Jack and David moves into dangerous waters as Emerson’s emotions and jealously spiral out of control  combine with David’s fears of commitment and permanence. The emotions build until an explosion born of unresolved relationships and expectations shatter the bonds that holds all the men together.

Sometimes when you read a book, all the good elements you find in a story will be overwhelmed by the issues and outright problem  areas also to be found at that same time.  Unfortunately, that is the case with Changing Tide by D.P. Denman.  In fact there are so many issues to be found within this story that I am going to start with the aspects I liked and enjoyed the most.

I loved the location.  Denman does Vancouver Island proud by portraying the climate, landscape and natural marvels in such a way that I wanted to grab a plane, then charter a boat myself to see the wonders that Vancouver Island and the surrounding seas have to offer.  This includes the majesty, and magic of whale watching.  Even if I was not a naturalist, the passages where Jack spoke in awe of his experiences with Orcas would have reached me emotionally.  Here is an excerpt:

“So tell me about these killer whales,” he shifted the conversation in a not so subtle new direction.

“I bet you’ve seen a lot of them over the years.”

“Quite a few. We’re getting to be old friends,” Jack smiled into his mug.

“Does any particular sighting stand out or do they all just flow together?”

“Some stand out, usually because of people’s reaction. A lot of them burst into tears at the sight of an orca.”

“Scared?”

“Amazed. It can be a bit awe-inspiring if you’re not used to it. Hell, it can be awe inspiring even if you are.”

“Nothing like Sea World, huh?”

“Not even a little. They don’t look like much when you see them out of context.

They’re just another fin in a tank.” The look on his face and the tone in his voice reflected the same awe he tried to describe.

That describes in a nutshell some of the highlights and problems with this story.  It starts out well but somewhere around the middle it goes awry. Orcas are pretty amazing no matter how or where you see them (in my opinion) but he is saying that they are just another fin in a tank in captivity while his “voice is reflecting” awe?  Something got lost there.  And the following description of the encounter displays the same missed opportunity by the author.  Its almost right but something in the writing is out of kilter.

“I was out in my old boat, a 30-footer. I killed the engine a few yards out of the straight, right in the middle of the water so we wouldn’t miss anything. Half the group was on the aft deck. A few of us were crouched at the bow and I saw this fin come up out of the water a few yards away. I knew it was going to be close so we called everyone up to the bow. The next thing I know I’m watching this animal as big as a semi come up from the deep almost right under us. The bastard broke the surface close enough to look me in the eye and suddenly all I could see was killer whale.”

An experienced captain is in a 30 ft boat with passengers.  A huge orca’s fin breaks the surface of the water only a few yards away.  And he calls the people over to the side? That makes no sense, and ruins Jack’s credibility as a native and experienced boat captain.  But that is probably my mildest complaint with this story.  We are still getting some wonderful descriptions of how it feels to be on the water, and in Denman’s hand, I defy anyone not to want to make Vancouver Island a vacation destination for any future travel plans.

The author also appears to be familiar with sailboats and her description of David’s small living area aboard the Wanderer felt authentic enough to make me a little claustrophobic.  The same goes for Jack’s gorgeous house that faces the Sound.  I would love to see that one too.  Actually I would love to live there.  From the descriptions of the views seen from inside the bedroom, that would have me moving in a heartbeat.

But this is not a travelogue, nor a real estate brochure.  Nor even a finished product. And that brings me back to the issues and problem areas I spoke of earlier.

First would be the editing and format.  My copy starts out with the first chapter mislabeled as the Epilogue.  Now aside from the fact that an epilogue is found at the back of the book, an epilogue usually shows some sort of closure for the main characters or aspect of the story and this is not a epilogue in any way.  It is merely a mislabeled chapter 1, not even a prologue.   These items (and others) were easily corrected problems and I am flummoxed that they were left in.  I hope it is due to a lack of experience and assistance but the book as received is not something I would expect a reader to pay money for.  It is not polished in any way other than a nice cover.

Then there is the issues of characterization.  My mildest complaint again is that the author shows little continuity starting with the fact that two of her characters have last names and one of her main characters, David, does not.  Either all of them should have complete names or leave it on first names only for everyone in the book.  There’s Crystal, David, Kathy, Cindy and Brett.  Then there is Jack Lewis and Emerson Reid.  Yes, it’s a small issue but descriptive of the bigger ones to be found with the characters and the narrative.

David is probably the only character I enjoyed as he also seemed the most fleshed out.  His back history combined with his present situation seemed realistic   He earns our sympathy and affection.  Then there are all the others, primarily Jack and Emerson.  It seemed as though the author had two personas for each of them and couldn’t decide on which was the one they wanted to use.  So Denman used both.  Jack is an enabling jerk, a selfish and lazy, he is shallow and self deceiving. Jack is also thoughtful, respectful of others, and too kind for his own good. And for me Jack is also finally unlikable.  Then there is Emerson, a 23 year old of murky background and obvious mental and emotional issues.  No one knows Emerson’s true back history so the idea is planted that he is both a gold digger as well as someone also so emotionally unstable that he lives in a fantasy world.  Every one appears to know that something is really wrong with Emerson but no one suggests that he gets help.

Then Denman combines these two somewhat distasteful personas into a convoluted relationship and the story bogs down under its own issues.  At times Jack is supposedly so sexually attracted to Emerson that he can’t stay away, having sex with him even after declaring his affections lie elsewhere.  At other times Jack is treating Emerson like an annoying vagrant dog, petting him, giving out scraps then shutting the door on him.  The author’s treatment of Emerson is no better.  Emerson screeches like a “drama queen”, begs, pouts, shouts , lies and acts hurt.  The reader is left unsure as to what they should be feeling about Emerson.  Should it be pity or irritation or something more? And it’s not like these are realistic, layered characterizations but rather small distinct shallow ones that are constantly deviating from one scene to the next, as slippery as a fish out of water.  And these two characters have the same scene over and over again throughout the story.  This is a typical exchange between the two men:

Emerson pushed the door closed, wrapped arms around him and tried to kiss him. He grabbed his arms and pulled him right back off.

“We need to talk.”

“We can talk later. Fucking first,” Emerson tried to squirm out of his grip.

“This isn’t one of those visits,” his tone got Emerson’s attention.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong, exactly. I just think you and I have reached a point where it’s time to end this.”

Emerson blinked back at him and the eager expression slid to a pensive scowl. “What?”

“It’s obvious you want something I’m not willing to give so I think it’s better if we stop seeing each other.”

“Who says I want something else?”

At some point you move on.”

“Why?” Emerson looked stricken.

“Because that’s how it works. Come on, Em, you know I’ve wanted out of this for a while. It’s just time,” he reached out to caress his arm and Emerson pulled out of reach.

“We don’t fit.”

29 Changing Tide DP Denman

“We’ve been fitting just fine until now,” he snapped, stricken turning to anger. “It’s because of him, isn’t it?”

“Who?”

“Don’t play dumb with me, Jack. That tall drink of whore you were with the other night.”

“It doesn’t have anything to do with him. Besides, you and I have never been exclusive. Just because someone else shows up doesn’t mean I have to choose between you.”

Emerson reached out to slap him and he caught his wrist before the hand made contact.

“That’s not news to you so don’t pretend it’s any kind of insult.” “Let go of me,” Emerson snatched his hand back.

“It doesn’t matter,” he shook his head. “The point is we’ve been at this too long. Casual doesn’t last forever, right?

Now this scene goes on for another page or two. More dialog of exactly the same thing until Jack finally leaves  but not before telling Emerson that he likes him and touching his cheek in a lover like manner, totally negating everything that Jack said prior.  Talk about mixed messages and not just from Jack, but the author too.   Then take this sad, irritating, and confused scene and repeat it in some form numerous times throughout the story.  I said in some form because sometimes Jack stays and they have sex, then the same dialog picks up from there. There is no growth shown, no real change in how the men act or feel, just a repetition of the above back and forth argument and enabling behavior.  Trust me when I said the exasperation sets in around the halfway point and never actually goes away.

And in between this never ending argument and emotional stalemate, Jack and David are trying to have a relationship that comes with its own issues as well.

So in between lovely descriptive scenes of Vancouver Island and water, the reader is forced to wade through pages of confused characterizations, dense dialog and what might have been a terrific little plot in another author’s hands.  However, in Changing Tide the negatives ends up overpowering all the positive aspects. The writing is uneven, the narrative dense and repetitive and the format is rough and unprofessional.

And that’s so sad and unnecessary.

Given an editor, great or otherwise, with a ruthless, objective idea on how to write fiction, this story and this review might have been all together different.  As it, I have to tell you to give it a pass.

Book Details:

I have none.  Although the author’s website states that it will be released October 4th, although I am told it is scheduled for the 11th for publication, book facts such as page numbers, word counts, ISBN numbers are all missing.

Review: The Choosing by Annabelle Jacobs

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Rating: 3.25 stars out of 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Details:

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

Review: Angel’s Truth (Angel #2) by Liz Boreno

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Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Angel's Truth cover  “Freeze or I’ll shoot!” Aaron yelled and aimed the gun at Jordan’s chest.
“Angel, no, please.” Hacking fluid-filled coughs broke up Jordan’s words.
“Jordan?” Aaron whispered his name as recognition painted a mural of memories of their life together on his face.
“Yes.” He coughed red into his dirty hand. “Please help.”

And with those words, Angel’s Truth begins, picking up immediately from Angel’s Hero when supposedly dead Army Captain Jordan Collins arrives home after a month as a POW in Afghanistan.  Sick and injured, Jordan finds his enemy Major General Troy Hart  just leaving his home before Jordan reaches out to let his husband, Aaron “Angel” Collins, know he is alive and home once more.  As Aaron welcomes Jordan home and rushes Jordan to the hospital, Jordan reveals that Hart is the man behind his imprisonment in Afghanistan and death sentence he was under.

As Jordan adjusts to freedom, he also has to contend with PTSD, a shattered confidence, and the fact that his enemy,Troy Hart, is still free. Aaron realizes that the man he thought was a friend to him during those painful times where Aaron was looking for answers about his husband’s disappearance and unlikely death is actually a danger to them all.  Now Aaron must help Jordan recover his emotional and physical health and together discover just what Major General Troy Hart’s betrayal and deception means to them and to the nation.

As stated in the publisher’s blurb, Angel’s Truth picks up exactly to the word where Angel’s Hero ends.  If you haven’t read the first story, this one won’t make any sense as there is very little back story included in this sequel.  At 64 pages, it is a tad shorter than Angel’s Hero and somehow that works to this story’s advantage.  The narrative is tighter, and some of the more problematic plot elements from the first story are gone, including a fractured timeline that jumped back and forth between present day and the beginnings of their romance.  That was more confusing than helpful.  Luckily, that is absent here.  But other larger errors appear.  Let’s get to those now.

But while the loving relationship between the men is reestablished by their reunion, some of the issues I had with the plausibility of their professions and Jordan’s escape still stand.  This is Jordan’s explanation as to how he arrived (sick, coughing up blood and in Afghanistan Army uniform pants) back in the US, apparently only miles from Bethesda, MD.  The conversation picks up at Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital in Bethesda where Jordan is telling his story to his superior officer:

“… had “accidently” dropped a piece of paper with information about a cargo plane to the United States in his cell weeks before. Jordan then explained that he hitched a ride on a delivery truck, and offered to read the English map to the US for the pilot in exchange for a ride home. “

Now Jordan changed some of the details about the nurse who helped him get free to protect her. But all this took place in two days time.  In two days, he got free from a horror of a desert prison, just before his date with a firing squad, hitched a ride out of said desert (not that a mixed heritage of black and Korean American wouldn’t stick out like Uncle Sam) but he is also limping on a severely broken ankle, with a bad case of pneumonia, and wearing an Afghanistan Army uniform.  And after the reader makes a huge leap over that implausible plot canyon, you still have to believe that he then hitches a ride in a native’s truck to an airfield, hitches another ride (still coughing up blood, same attire) on a foreign cargo plane, which lands in Bethesda (with no problem apparently even without an airport or the ever present homeland security), and then makes it to his house on foot, just a couple of streets over.  Only in a comedic send up of the military and Washington, Dc would such an escape be possible. Or remotely realistic.

Then there is the fact that in the story Aaron calls 911 and Jordan is taken immediately to Walter Reed Army Hospital in Bethesda, MD.  Our local 911 responders are not allowed to do that even if the person being transported requests/demands to be taken to Walter Reed for emergency care.  Instead the injured party would be taken to a civilian emergency room, evaluated, and then later transferred if required.  That’s the law and that fact can be easily checked with Walter Reed authorities, also known as Command Personnel.

In addition, it says Jordan was a prisoner for over 2 months time.  Sometimes its a “little over a month”.  As a prisoner of war under harsh conditions, a month or so would have an enormous impact on the prisoner’s health and mental state.  But the actual time as a POW seems to fluctuate from page to page. These things alone serve to disconnect me from the story, pulled out of whatever dramatic action is happening to think about the errors in front of me. If the reader can’t believe in the characters or the plot, how can they invest even a part of themselves in a story?  I don’t think they can. Then there is the lack of security and isolation around an escaped ill prisoner who just “came back from the dead”. These days that happenstance is called a major security risk.

Unfortunately, this author just stumbles into one pitfall after another with her characters and story location to this story’s detriment. And this leads into one of my issues with this series.  To some it may land on the side of nitpicking, but to this reader it says the author hasn’t done their research.

Writing about Washington, Dc and it’s surrounding environs can be tricky. You either get it right or you don’t. And Liz Borino mostly doesn’t get it. Built as the only Federal city in the United States so many people have decried its lack of “thereness” , of that inescapable uniqueness that cities such as Baltimore, Chicago and New York City have and are associated with. And that’s intentional. On our maps should be the sentences “here lie the NSA, the CIA, the FBI” and all the other alphabet agencies so necessary to the security of our nation just like it used to say “there by dragons” on ancient maps. Here lie Congress, the Capitol, the White House, and all the other government organizations meant to reside here from the very beginning. Then the World Trade Organization, all the embassies….and soon you can understand why the District of Columbia lacks the very individual nature, the vivacity associated with other cities. It’s not built into its personality on purpose. It thrives on anonymity, on power disguised behind common tailoring and less than modern haircuts….on people who are secretive and withdrawn by nature. No one who burbles on at work makes it here…unless its done on purpose and with a hidden agenda.  How long would Aaron have lasted at the CIA?  Not long, if he even made it through the door.

None of the characters here are believable within the ethos of Washington, DC , whether it be political, military or intelligence agency.  I think Borino had a good idea somewhere in here but not the attention to detail that these characters, their professions, the location, and even the plot requires.

Do I think all of the above will bother every reader?  Probably not, which is why this got by with a 3 rating instead of the 2.5 it deserved.  Some readers will love the romance and the “aww” factor found in the reunion and HEA.  I will admit this is a tighter narrative on the surface than Angel’s Hero, and thus a better story as far as that goes. But as someone who lives in the Washington, DC Metro area, all the errors committed within these stories caused any enjoyment I might have found in the Angel series to fade away, like Cherry Blossoms in a stiff wind…in the Spring of course.

Cover art by Anthony Walsh.  Again, very nice cover. Works for the story and characters.

Angel series include:

Angel’s Hero (Angel #1)
Angel’s Truth (Angel #2)

Book Details:

ebook, 64 pages
Published March 14th 2014 by Lazy Day (first published March 10th 2014)
ISBN 1612581250 (ISBN13: 9781612581255)
edition languageEnglish
seriesAngel #2

Review: Lofty Dreams of Earthbound Men (Isleshire Chronicles #1) by Susan Laine

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Rating: 3 stars (rounded up) out of 5

Lofty Dreams of Earthbound Men coverObadai Bashim is walking through one of the city’s parks on his way to the solstice celebration when he hears someone calling him. That voice belongs to a young boy, clothes in tatters, who begs for his help.   Jules Sterling, a young engineering sage, has been on the run from The Theocracy’s assassin since his master was killed by the ripper who is now after him.

The political instability between the Five Kingdoms and the Divine Theocracy has always stayed far from County Isleshire where tolerance and freedom from religious persecution has been the norm.  But now the Theocracy has gotten bold under the complacency of the Five Kingdoms rulers and they threaten to overturn the years of acceptance and freedom to destroy all science in the name of their religious doctrine.

Jule’s Engineering Guild is the target of the Theocracy and the death of his master is just the beginning.  For Jules is hiding a larger secret, one that he must protect as well as finish the job that he and his master had been contracted for….repairing a broken  airship inn.  If Jules can’t make the repairs the entire airship will crash at the solstice celebrations, killing many.

Obadai has his own secrets, ones that could make him the object of one of the Theocracy’s hunts.  So will helping Jules finish his mission.  But Obadai’s sense of duty and the attraction he feels towards Jules makes Obadai agree to help.   With the ripper on their trail and an airship beginning to founder, Jules and Obadai face a multitude of obstacles before them.  But its the Solstice and magic is in the air and anything is possible under the stars.

After reading Susan Laine’s Acknowledgement page for this novel and learning that this has been a beloved project of hers for over 20 years, I really wanted to like this story, if for no other reason that to reward her diligence and creativity.  But unfortunately I have had to work hard to get past the narrative which is so dense, so jam packed as to be impenetrable.  You know the author is in trouble when this is the start of the story.  Look how quickly the action turns into a morass of descriptions:

 A small shape climbed out of the bushes, nothing more than a silhouette. “Please, don’t hurt me.” The tiny voice cracked. It was a masculine voice, but shaky, scared, and on the verge of tears.

“Who are you? Why were you following me?” Obadai asked just as the midnight bells rang in the Abbey’s clock tower, their deep, gloomy sound echoing throughout the fortress town of Dunbruth. Everyone knew that the chartered town’s name was old Scottish Gaelic. The founder of Larkhall—the old bailey and keep—Sir Ector Macaledon, had been of Scottish descent, a rogue who had been granted this faraway county to rule as an Earl. The initial town name had been longer, Dùnan Bruthach Súmaid, which meant “Small Fortress on a Steep Slope of Waves.” The current form had been abbreviated and twisted by time, wrongly, as it happened. It was supposed to mean “A Fort on Surf Mountain” since the hilltop castle stood on the summit of Surf Mountain—but because the word bruthach didn’t abbreviate correctly, the literal translation was “A Fortress on Pressure.” Considering the crazy times, it had begun to make insane sense. Of course, all that business with Sir Ector had happened seven hundred years ago and had no bearing on the events of tonight. The Dunbruth Clocktower chimed for midnight mere moments after the Abbey bells, more melodic and higher in pitch, like a cheerful echo to the prior darker rings.

.And that is only the beginning.  Each time a small step forward is made toward momentum in the plot, the author inability to restrain herself from giving the readers what is clearly 20 years of thoughts about her universe building steps in.  From that moment the plot is gone, smothered under endless details and nonsensical names.  It becomes almost impossible to concentrate on the characters because we see so little of them from page to page.  The action gets underway, the characters start making their way towards the airship.  All good, with some really terrific scenarios and ideas sketched out before us.   Then this happens.  Again, And again.  Here is  Obadia trying to explain to Jules how the Snow Maiden Bridge (a bridge they have to cross) got its name. Keep in mind that the killer is on their tracks, the airship is about to fall and they have just met.  See if you can follow it:

“No, I guess not,” Jules agreed slowly, wistfully. Then he studied Obadai with a curious frown. “I thought it was called Stone Maiden Bridge. Yet you call it Snow Maiden Bridge. Every time.”

Obadai chuckled. “Both are correct. It’s a matter of personal preference what to call that huge block of stone on the side of Surf Mountain, from where the lake waters spring and which vaguely resembles a gray-cloaked nun bent over in prayer. Sir Ector brought the myth of the Cailleach here with him from his native Scotland. It has become rooted here, part of the local folklore.” Jules’s eyes widened with bemusement. “What is a…Kai-luck…?” His voice rose at the end in a question, indicating his doubts about proper enunciation. “In Scottish mythology, Cailleach is the Crone Goddess and the Queen of Winter.” “Ah. The Snow Maiden.” Jules looked pleased at having figured it out. “Exactly.” Obadai was becoming quite fond of the sight of a smiling Jules. “Also known as the Storm Hag, Cailleach is a terrifying natural force. Wise but frightening, a blue-skinned figure wielding a freezing staff and clad in a gray shawl and cloak.” “Gray… Hmm. Stone Maiden?” Jules seemed pensive and intrigued. “Kind of. Cailleach reigns during the winter months. Then, during the vernal equinox, she is defeated by the radiance and warmth of St. Aestasia.”

Jules’s eyes shone with glee upon hearing a familiar name. “I know her! She’s the patron saint of the Virtue of Benevolence with Fervor.” “Yes. A pioneer in charitable works, she had a passion for kindness and doing good. Here, in County Isleshire, as the Sun Maiden, she embodies the victory of summer over winter, a lady of fire, light, and heat. At the equinox, St. Aestasia turns the Cailleach into stone, to be awakened again during the autumnal equinox.” Jules nodded, smiling. “Ah. Stone Maiden.” He got a faraway look in his dreamy eyes. “So many stories here, so much history and legend. Almost makes me forget the troubles we’re in. At least makes me hopeful of things to come.”

Do they now get underway?  No, they do not as pages of more description is to follow which does nothing to build any anticipation over the impending crash or suspense over the killer after them.  Long run on sentences in which Laine attempts to further describe universe she is building quickly impede her story. Instead of letting the information come out more naturally throughout the narrative, in small bits and segments, the rush to get everything she has created comes out as a gusher, washing characterization and plot out of its path.   Never has 76 pages felt so long. Plus, this the first book of a series, surely some of the information dump could have been left to succeeding stories.

There are some truly delightful elements here, ones that I expected from the author of Sparks & Drops.  Obadia is a type of plant mage (although he has another title which I won’t give away).  In his garden can be found Snapdragons. No, not our snapdragons but plants capable of snapping in two the hand that feeds them the fertilizer, a very funny and engaging idea (at least to this gardener’s mind).  And then there is a wow of a fight scene on the floating inn that is marvelous in combining action with other unexpected elements.  As I was reading it, I kept wondering why the rest of the book was so enervating. Here was the vivid descriptions, concise and exciting I had been waiting for.  Here the characters exploded into life along with the plot.  Too late, however, to save the story.

There is also a case of instant love and hot sex (yes, all in 3 hours of meeting each other,  with fights and killers).  In fact the whole time frame of the story is three hours. In another story that might have been a larger issue.  Not here where  so many others took precedent.

Why did the fight scene not save the book?  Because the author couldn’t let go, even then.  This is almost the end and Obadia introduces Jules to a man who will help them.

Quickly, Obadai expressed his opinion of the nobleman they had just met. “Yes, he can be trusted. Mr. Graham is a scientist himself. A dendrologist only, but still apparently on the Theocracy’s watch list. Residing in a manor house by the village of Sun Rock these days, the House Dikunu has a history of shielding sages and inventors from the clutches of those who oppose factual knowledge, scientific progress, or just freedom of choice. They’ve even waged a war or two for those ideals in the course of the past couple of centuries, and they have loyal soldiers at their beck and call. So yes, I do trust him.” Jules nodded, lifting his chin firmly.  “Then I shall trust him as well.”

Laine should have stopped at “yes, he can be trusted” but of course, she didn’t.  I should have stopped when I saw each chapter was  labeled thusly and didn’t.

“11:59 p.m., Newsday, 24th of Golden Peak, Year 2659 of Epoch of Pious Virtues”

You the reader now have the choice.  If everything you have read above is just the thing that tickles your fancy, then grab it up and settle down for several hours, no days, of reading.  If you are like me and found all that verbiage overwhelming, then I would skip it and read Susan Laine’s Sparks & Drops (The Wheel Mysteries, #1).  There be the magic not here in the Lofty Dreams of Earthbound Men where it should be.

Cover artist is Paul Richmond who did his typcially wonderful job in conveying elements of the story on the cover.

Book Details:

ebook, 76 pages
Published January 29th 2014 by Dreamspinner Press (first published January 28th 2014)
ISBN13 9781627983716
edition language English
series Isleshire Chronicles

Review: Hunter By Blood by Robin White

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Rating: 2.75  stars out of 5

Cover - Hunter By BloodWerewolf hunter Kayn is in pursuit of a  werewolf when he is bitten by his prey.  Found by another hunter, the injured Kayn is returned to headquarters to shift and meet his fate.  But there is something different about Kayn.  The transformation isn’t normal.  Kayn can control the  wolf and its hunger.  Kayn is also much bigger and a different color than was expected.   The leader of the Hunters lets Kayn live and his decision has long lasting ramficiations for all.  For the answer to Kayn’s transition and the new werewolf he has become is hidden in plain sight.  Behind the red door in the Hunter Headquarters lies the answers Kayn needs and his future requires.

Well, all I can say is that its just too bad that so many neat ideas ended up in such an less finished, and disconnected story.  I love werewolf stories and the author has included some intriguing elements  created for Hunter by Blood.  Unfortunately she has buried it in a morass of confused storylines, a lack of any sort of universe building, frustrating disconnected plot threads and lack of defined characterizations.  Everything about this story is as murky as its cover.  From the start we have no information about the universe we are reading about.  We learn nothing  about the city and society.  Ditto about the band of hunters killing the werewolves. And sometimes vampires?  We don’t know anything because the story lays no foundations for anything, it’s just confusing.

Equally confusing are the relationships among the men we meet.  Or the people we meet, some might be men and some are…..something else?  Not human?  Again, just don’t know.  Kayn and another hunter, Bryce.  They arrived to join the Hunters on the same day (which according to the story is odd but it never explains why). Since that moment, the men have competed (in what again we dont know) and have been at odds ever since.  Or have they.  One, Kayn, has dark coloring and  Bryce is his exact opposite.  What does that mean if anything?  Kaye’s wolf shape is white with red stripes., when he should be black.  Again why?

At certain points in the story its  mentioned that they might have feelings towards each other but as we aren’t supplied with any history or evidence of such, it turned into a throwaway line until it reappeared towards the end.  The Hunter group appears to have been created along the lines of the French Foreign Legion where each person leaves their family and past behind.  Only the author keeps bringing Kayn’s past up, although without any details, just vague references to some family ties that make him an even better hunter.  Trust me, after 20 pages or so, you will be frustrated beyond belief at the lack of details given that the author clearly wants you to think is a great mystery instead of the great pain in the you know what it actually is.

Here is an example with Aaron, the head of the Hunter group in his rooms and a furred demon snake appears floating at his head. sigh:

“I haven’t seen you this nervous in quite a while, Aaron.”

The voice seemed to come from nowhere, and something like smoke seemed to rise from the shadows. Aaron sighed quietly, but he smiled as the smoke formed into something he often compared to a snake covered in fur and and infused with a very talkative personality. Biblios, a word demon, had been one of his few trusted companions for quite some time and was always offering his advice. The other hunters didn’t know about the strange creature, and for that Aaron was grateful. His long, sleek body curled up on top of Aaron’s desk, silver runes glowing in his dark fur. Biblios seemed to have recently digested, in his way, a story once again. The way it worked was a riddle to Aaron, but it wasn’t of concern for the moment. He needed to talk about his current situation to someone, and Biblios was just the right … entity to talk to.

“You are worrying about Kayn’s condition, correct?”

“Yes. It should be impossible for him to even think rationally any longer, yet he stood before me and even talked about his worries about what the infection might entail for him.” Aaron tilted his head to one side. “I simply don’t understand it.” “Well …” Biblios exhaled, a cloud of silver-white smoke coming from his nostrils. “That is a mystery indeed. We already know that there’s a multitude of different werewolves out there, every single of those variants with very specific attributes and abilities. But what we see happening with Kayn might be a completely new species, without any ties to a werewolf.”

Aaron shook his head. “No, Biblios, that strains credulity too far. He was bitten by a werewolf. There is no doubt he will— well, you know …”

No we don’t know and quite frankly neither do they.  Although I have to admit I liked Biblios, a word demon who consumes words the way others devour hamburgers. He is a inventive creation, quite wasted in this story.  But liking a segment here or appreciating an element there doesn’t add up to a whole story.  For me, it just frustrating because even with all the small interesting bits, it just doesn’t work as a finished product.  So I am giving this werewolf tale a pass.  You should too.

Cover design by London Burden.

Book Details:

ebook
Expected publication: November 13th 2013 by Less Than Three Press LLC
original titleHunter by Blood
ISBN139781620042830
edition languageEnglish

Review: Night Fall (Frostbite #2) by Jenna Byrnes

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Rating: 2.75 stars out of 5

Frostbite- Nightfall coverSouth Side Chicago Detective Cullen Ryder lives for his job after a drunk driver killed his lover, leaving Ryder alone and grieving.  In the past few weeks, the number of homicides has jumped dramatically.  Someone is killing the homeless and prostitutes, leaving them drained of blood in the streets and alleys where they were found.  The coroner laughingly suggests a vampire on the hunt but why are they drained of all their blood?

Vampire Ethan Harte has returned home to Chicago after the last city he visited got too hot to stay.  Even in winter the poor seedy side of Chicago is full of victims for a hunting vampire.  Than Ethan runs into his old high school friend, Cullen Ryder in a bar and things turn sexually and emotionally intense in just one night.

But Ryder is a Homicide Detective with 15 years of experience and he’s hunting a killer. A killer that just happens to be his old friend and newest love. Ethan knows it dangerous to stay in Chicago with Ryder on his trail but he wants just a little more time before he has  to leave.  If Ryder discovers who and what Ethan is, can their newfound love survive the discover and Ryder’s sense of duty?

I loved the premise of this story but found the author’s Night Fall lacking in quite a few ways.  Cullen Ryder is the better of the two characters.  He is a seasoned detective, still hurting over the death of his lover by a drunk driver.  Byrnes gives this character a back history that rounds out his persona while letting us into his every day life to see the respect he has garnered as a detective on the force.  Unfortunately as the story progresses the author seems to forget about the character she has created as Ryder changes and his character adjusts to accommodate her storyline.  Furthermore, her vampire, Ethan Harte enjoys being a predator while giving lip service (however, briefly) to the moment he was changed.  Statements from Ethan to Ryder like “This relationship is over when I say it is over”, and the unpleasant actions that follow serve to derail the story and any sort of romance the author had intended.

The ending was, in my opinion, so off putting that I have no intention of reading the followup story even though an excerpt is included at the end of Night Fall.  Unless you are a diehard fan of jenna Byrnes or must read every vampire story that comes along, I would give this a miss and head over to the other Frostbite tales instead.

Book Details:

ebook, 1st Edition, 52 pages
Published December 13th 2013 by Total-E-Bound Publishing (first published December 12th 2013)
ISBN 178184853X (ISBN13: 9781781848531)
edition language English
series Frostbite #2

The Frostbite Collection includes:

Gravedigger (Frostbite #1) by Aurelia T. Evans
Night Fall (Frostbite #2) by Jenna Byrnes
Succulent Dark (Frostbite #3) by D.J. Manly
The Study of Blood in Winter (Frostbite #4) by Catalina Dudka

Review: Dime Novel by Dale Chase

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Rating: 2.75 stars out of 5

Dime Novel coverDime novelist Benedict Bright has come out west to meet the man he has made famous in his dime novels, Arizona Marshal Evan Teague.  But the real man and the actual American west are very different from the popular stories he has written, stories that the Marshal has nothing but distain for.   When Benedict convinces the Marshal that he wants his next book to be authentic, Evan Teague begins Benedict’s education about life, not just surviving in the wild west but about his sexuality as well.  Nothing is like Benedict imagined it would be especially Evan Teague.  The longer Benedict stays in Arizona, the more he changes, including falling for the man he writes about.  When his education is over, will Evan continue to be a part of his life or will the Marshal break his heart?

I am a long time fan of western fiction, starting with the outstanding Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey.  So I am always excited to come across a new story set in the old west.  Dime Novel refers to those stories that were both cheaply made and cheaply sold.  Known as Penny Dreadfuls in England, as the format crossed the Atlantic the price was raised to a dime, hence the name dime novel.  They were overly dramatic ( think soap opera) stories with covers to match. While other genres appeared in dime novels (most notably the detective genre), it is the westerns that are the most fondly remembered.

The first dime novel was published in 1860 and flourished well into the early 1900’s.  So it works well that Dale Chase sets his story about the adventures of a dime novelist in Arizona 1897, just as the dime novel was at its height of popularity.  But writing historical fiction comes with pitfalls not found in contemporary fiction and Dale Chase walked into most of them.

The story is told from Benedict’s pov, one that seems to veer from the vernacular of the late 1800’s to that of current phraseology. Benedict will converse in courteous, polite tones one would expect from an “easterner”of the times, then drop into sexual language that could be found on Grindr.  Phrases like “sob sister” also pop up in Benedict’s dialog, however, that term did not appear in the American lexicon until 1912, years after 1897.  And with the dialog fluctuating between centuries, I was not surprised to find the behavior of the main characters follow that pattern as well.

Would a well known U.S. Marshal sexually accost a stranger almost immediately upon their arrival in town?  Especially if that stranger just happened to be a novelist from the East?  I am thinking no.  Actions like that would get them hanged, especially the rough sex that occurred in “the common two-story wooden boarding house” where the Marshal made his home, one that had “an atmosphere of cigar smoke and cooking grease”.   Those structures were notoriously flimsy with thin walls perfect for eavesdropping.  So a well known marshal takes the eastern novelist past the “heavy set woman” who oversees that establishment up the stair for a good fucking? No, I think not.  Not without a hanging party appearing shortly thereafter.  Any sexual  same sex relations would have been circumspect at best with hidden signals and masked intentions.Plus cigars were expensive and if you could afford a cigar then you could afford to live in a boarding house that didn’t reek of rancid oil .

With the dialog and character actions out of sync for that historical time period, the story is lost amidst glaring inaccuracies and inconsistent characterization.   The characters of Benedict and Evan never solidified into real human beings as their actions and interactions seem both “out of character” given social mores of the times and of the personas created for them by Chase. And as the characters lacked substance than so did any romance that happened between them.

There are many outstanding western novels available to read.  Among m/m authors who write great historical fiction of the American West, I count those novels of Lucius Parhelion, Shelter Somerset or Barry Brennessel.  All of those authors brought the American west to life with accuracy towards characters and time period.  Run and grab up one of their stories and give this one a pass.

Cover art by Wilde City Press.  No artist is credited with this cover.  The design would have been fine in another story, perhaps a modern western.  However, given that the title and plot is formed around a dime novelist, should there have been an attempt to model the cover after a typical dime novel.  What a missed opportunity. Here is an example: Buffalo Bill dime novel cover_buffalo_bw

Book Details:

12,000 words, Published 2013 by Wilde City Press

Review: Burning Now by A.R. Moler

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Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Burning Now coverFireman Gideon Sato is combing through the remains of a burning warehouse when he finds the body of a man buried under the  timbers and ashes of the building.  At first, Gideon believes the man is dead so he is stunned when the body moves, the man groaning in pain.  How could anyone survive such a blaze?

Vanya Stravinsky is leaving the restaurant where he works as a chef when he is mugged and knocked unconscious.  The next moment Vanya is waking up in the ashes of a burning warehouse with a fireman standing over top of him.  Shaking from the cold and naked, Vanya is rushed off to the hospital for treatment and questioning about the fire.  One thing all the investigators want to know….how did Vanya survive the blaze?  While the events of the evening are still foggy, Vanya is alert enough to hide his biggest secret and the reason why he was in a burning building making everyone suspicious.

A police detective is sure Vanya is an arsonist and working for the mob.  A panicked Vanya turns to Gideon for help and comfort.  It will take both men to clear Vanya’s name but will their love survive when Vanya reveals the secrets he has been hiding?

Burning Now is A.R. Moler’s take on the slavic folklore of “Zhar-ptitsa”also known as the firebird.  As the story opens, Vanya is a chef in a small Russian-Ukranian bistro, and is mugged leaving work.  The next instant we watch as Gideon, a fireman, finds Vanya under the debris in a still burning building and mistakes him for a dead body.  Moler does a nice job bringing the reader into the scene and action of those personnel involved in putting out a fire.

No fire was ever done until all the hot spots had been extinguished, and the chief declared it out. Gideon Sato poked through the rubble of the warehouse with his pike pole. The men of Station 18 had spent most of the night getting the blaze under control and out. Smoky steam still drifted up from numerous spots of semi-collapsed debris. Gideon hooked the end of the pike under one suspicious looking metal slab that had probably fallen from above and flipped it back.

He froze. A filthy soot covered pair of bare feet protruded from under smaller chunks of debris. Aw hell. There was a victim. Gideon shouted back over his shoulder at a colleague. “Hey Victa, got a crispy critter over here. Better tell Cap’ we’re going to need a body bag.”

As you can tell from that scene, Moler inserts dialog that would probably found at any arson site in the nation where firefighters might use callous sounding terms to gloss over the horrifying nature of finds like this one.  Unfortunately, the next bit of inner dialog and descriptions of Gideon pulling out Vanya from under the debris counters that effectiveness with some disastrous and confusing intermingling of thoughts and actual events.  This is an example:

Gideon began to shift some more of the debris. The feet and lower legs weren’t charred. Interesting. He pushed away chunks of burned boxes and there was an overlapping set of metals rods held off the floor by a toasted ex-washing machine. As Gideon shoved back the rods and a layer of burnt cardboard, there was a whole body beneath, lying face down. Wow. Whole as in filthy dirty but completely unburned. Also very, very naked. Mr. Dead-of-Smoke-Inhalation was one deliciously built guy. Ewww. Gideon gave himself a little shake. Skeevving on a dead body was just gross. Still, he did have to wonder why the guy was naked.

While I don’t fault the content, the format is confusing and hurts the overall cohesion of the story.  This is a pretty typical example of the style of narrative of Burning Now. Why not break out the dialog from the events that are happening?  As it is written, it strikes me as more confusing with the commentary buried within third person narrative.

There are some good ideas within this story.  I would have loved to have been given more plot to go along with the folklore.  From the sources I found ” In Slavic folklore, the Firebird (Russian: жар-пти́ца, zhar-ptitsa), is a magical glowing bird from a faraway land, which is both a blessing and a bringer of doom to its captor.”  But we never really get any background on Vanya or his family, except for the city in Russia where they came from.  This is a huge hole when you are basing your story around a mythical beast.  You need the background material in order to ground your story and that is missing here. Is Vanya a curse or a blessing? How does the reality of being a firebird relate to the folklore?  We never find out.

Equally absent is any sort of meaningful relationship between Vanya and Gideon.  When a main character reveals something as outrageous and mind boggling as the fact that they are a mythical being,  the relationship between the men should be solid and believable enough to make that scene emotional and dramatic as the reader would reasonably  expect it to be.   Unfortunately, I found it hard to invest myself in either man or their relationship.

The fact that Burning Now is only three chapters in length also hurts the story.  The author just did not have enough pages to round out their story and invest their characters with the necessary back histories to make the events and relationship seem realistic (even with the mythical element involved).

In the end, while I found parts of this story interesting, the main characters and plot fell short for me.  I would recommend this story only to those diehard fans of A.R. Moler’s or those who covet one more story involving the firebird legend.

Cover illustration by BS Clay is lovely and vibrant.

Book Details:

ebook, 89 pages
Published September 8th 2013 by Torquere Press
ISBN 1610405293 (ISBN13: 9781610405294)
edition language English

Review: The Unwanted – The Complete Collection by Westbrooke Jameson

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Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

The Unwanted Complete CollectionThe unwanteds, that’s what society calls the people who make up the lowest of society.  The prostitutes, the drug users, the poor, the discarded and the dying.  Shots, Derek, Ambrosia, Renzo, and Sara are all young prostitutes.   In addition, they picked up Joel, a gay teenager thrown out of his house because of his sexuality. Together they form a family, willing to do any to keep each other safe and fed.  Unfortunately, Derek is sick.  He contracted the deadly VIS virus and is moving into the final stages of the disease.    The group is barely scraping by when an encounter with an alien john changes everything for all of them.

Recently a race of aliens called Narsoreal made contact and landed on Earth.  In three years time, several major diseases were cured and human technology advanced because of Narsoreal information and assistance.  In return, the alien race asked to collect and bond with humans who are genetically predisposed towards symbiosis with the Narsoreal.  For the governments of the world, only the unwanted were viewed as available for collection and bonding.

When Shots picks up a john called Alimund a Norsoreal, Shots changes not only his life but the lives of everyone in his small family of unwanteds.  Because for each one of them, there is a Narsoreal who is their bondmate, if only they will accept them.

There is so much promise buried within The Unwanted that I wanted to rate it much higher than it deserves.  Originally, each Unwanted had their own story released separately, then a collection of all the stories was published.  And it is much easier to read as a collection than they would have been as individual stories if for no other reason than the flow of the narrative works better.  Unfortunately, whether it is as a collection or separate short stories, there are just so many issues and missed opportunities that I have to give The Unwanted a fail.

Let’s start with some of the most basic issues, the world building.  It just doesn’t make any sense nor does it feel “alien” in any manner.  Jameson makes the aliens and their planet pretty much just like us, only with a few alterations that are so unbelievable that they further disconnect the reader from the Narsoreal and these stories.  The aliens land because they are looking for love.  They bring advance technology, enough to cure some diseases but not VIS or at least that’s the accepted knowledge.   There’s some nonsense about not having the right materials for them to help us build space ships ( a throw away line that makes no sense either) but really the author makes no attempt to give us anything authentically alien.  Not the people, not their abilities (more on that later), not even their technology.  And when we do find out what elements make them “different” from us, its laughable. Really the Narsoreal are so dubious a creation that its screams worst alien ever. They are poorly thought out and mindbogglying lame brained unless you are a prepubescent boy.   If you are going to create aliens, complete with alien physiology and culture, then make it believable.  Don’t make them a reflection of juvenile wants and desires, a cardboard alien worthy of  a Space Hooters or sex doll.

That brings us to characterization or the lack of it.  The only members of the Unwanted that come close to being a layered personality are Shots and Ambrosia, with Ambrosia being my pick of the litter.  The rest of the small group of prostitutes and discarded never rise above a character outline.  They certainly have no credibility as young people who have been abused, abandoned and made to prostitute themselves as the only means to survive. As a described by the author, this group has seen it all from their lowly position on the streets but the reader never gets any sort of desperation or emotions that would reflect this status.  Its more what they say they are then what actually comes across, and that’s a huge fault when it comes to characterization.

But if they are bad, then the aliens are so much worse.  The really only alien thing about them is that they physically morph or their body changes (permanently) according to the wishes of their bondmate.  Of course, they don’t tell their human bondmates that fact.  So  one ends up looking like Legolas with long white hair and elf ears.  Another ends up with wings, and another with a penis and a vagina.  *shakes head*  If you are going this heartstoppingly stupid and young, why stop there?  Where is the woman with three breasts?  Of course, there is no continuity here.  So the one alien is another species, a worker bee, who doesn’t change. Which is a good thing because his human bondmate thinks he looks like a bulldog.  Awkward. But if there were any logic to this, then it would be the worker class who would change their physiology, to better help them shoulder the load so to speak.  Another thing is that these aliens are rich.  So you have rich aliens who change their physical state according to their lovers wishes?  And the upper echelon of the world’s societies doesn’t want them to bond with?  That makes no sense either.  Who among the rich wouldn’t want a mate who is rich, changes according to your desires and cures diseases by their bond.  Oops, did I forget that exchanging fluids with these aliens cures every disease you could humanly have?  The Narsoreal are a kind of one stop shopping for any of your sexual, emotional, financial and pharmaceutical needs. Do they have personalities too?  Not really because how could they?  They aren’t real in any respect, merely objects that reflect the needs and desires of their human companions.

And that’s both my problem with these stories and the promise I see as well.  Had these stories been a treatise of the objectification of others, or a humorous take on loving yourself, or some sort of allegory about making love to one’s dreams, that would have been one thing.  All the elements are there for any of those takes on the human condition or maybe just an alien comedy.  All but one human changes the alien into the lover of their dreams and that one can’t because that alien’s different? It’s all instant love and instant bonding.  But how is that believable is that love if you change them almost immediately without getting to know them?  These humans don’t love the aliens, they love what the alien becomes. What a great subject for these stories!  But was that ever addressed any where? No, I mean even their cum changes from purple grape flavor to black licorice, a sort of Skittles of choices. Oh look, he shoots purple jism, If that’s not a juvenile giggle fest in the making I don’t know what is.  If you were the alien, wouldn’t you be a teensy bit upset over wings, a purple penis,  purple nipples and purple cum, a purple grape tasting cum?  That other alien has it worse, his human loves the color pink. But as written, the Narsoreal are both intergalactic doormats and any teenagers sexual wet dream mashed up together.

Add to that just awful dialog.  The aiiens say things like  “Yes, my treasure, I will change for you. I will become whatever pleases you most, my prince, my darling.” or to Joel Flowers . “I will be your giant if you will be my flower.”  The group explains it away as the aliens speak “formally”.  No, that’s bad romance talking, not Downton Abbey.

Add all of that up from the terrible world building, poor characterization, cheesy dialog and a plot with promise that misses on every level, and you have a collection of stories I can’t  recommend to anyone other than a friend of the author’s.   I think thats one of the problems when you self publish, not enough eyes and assistance (read that as editing) for the author and their writing.  I hope that the next stories from Westbrooke Jameson achieve the promise I saw here.

Cover Design by Morris Duncan. Cover Photo Credit to Joel Kramer via Flickr Creative Commons License.  The cover makes no sense either.  No aliens, nothing other than an alley?  Consider the cover a missed opportunity too.

Book Details:

ebook
Published August 2013 by Westbrooke Jameson
edition language English
series The Unwanted