A MelanieM Review: Shawn’s Law by Renae Kaye

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Rating:5 stars out of 5

Shawn's Law coverAt the age of  twenty-nine, Shawn O’Hara’s life is full, although not quite in the way he had always imagined it.  Shawn had to quit his job to become the full-time caregiver of his Alzheimer’s-stricken mother.  And if that isn’t enough, Shawn’s life has been a string of unfortunate accidents.  What some people call Murphy’s Law (A rule that states, “If something can go wrong, it will, and usually at the worst time.”), is in Shawn’s case, Murphy’s Law doubled and known by friends and family as Shawn’s Law.

In what little spare time Shawn has, he spends it painting nude men and spying on the guy who walks his dogs along the street every day at four o’clock, someone he has affectionately dubbed Hippy-Hotpants. When Shawn takes a spectacular fall on his front steps, who is there to witness it other than the man of his dreams?

Harley (aka Hippy Hotpants) doesn’t believe in Shawn’s Law.  But spending time with Shawn brings about a change in mind. Shawn is it for Harley and he is determined to make Shawn see it as well.   The two men make it through a memorable first date, full of Shawn’s Law surprises, and still look forward to more.  But when Harley is accidentally injured, Shawn is determined to save Harley’s life the only way he knows how—by breaking up with him. Not once, but twice. Throw in a serial killer ex-boyfriend, several deadly Australian animals, two dogs called Bennie, a mother who forgets to wear clothes, an unforgiving Town Council, and a strawberry-flavored condom dolly, and Shawn’s Law is one for the booksmind.

Ever had a book that made you laugh out loud?  Not just a few giggles (although that happened), or episodes of gentle laughter (ditto).   No, I’m talking about out and out guffaws, side stitching no holds barred cackles!  For me, that is Shawn’s Law by Renae Kaye in a nutshell.  Even now, just thinking about certain scenes and dialog  makes me stop and laugh until I cry.

I have read and loved other books by this author (The Blinding Light, The Shearing Gun, Safe in His Arms) but nothing prepared me for Harley, Shawn, and their fabulous if accident prone path to love.  The humor is searing, but its overlaid by some of life’s worst events, a mother in the last throes of Alzheimer’s, lost jobs, a stressed out sister and a  solitary love life, all of which are realistically portrayed.  Shawn is unexpectedly wonderful in almost every way.  His outlook is positive (because the alternative would be depressingly scary).  His physique?  Well, let’s hear it from Harley how he sees Shawn:

And Shawn is definitely a man. He has short black hair and a strong jaw that needs to be shaved twice a day to keep the shadow off. He wears endearing black-framed glasses that look cute and geeky at the same time. He hates his glasses and is always threatening to buy something hip and cool, but he never gets around to it. Too many other things happen in his life. But there’s no getting around the fact that he’s short and has curves—his legs are curvy, his butt sticks out and his chest is rounded. He would never be called svelte or willowy, and that’s more than okay with me.

Yep, that Shawn, Short, “curvy”, kind hearted Shawn.  He doesn’t even cuss because he accidentally taught his youngest niece the F word, so now everything is fudge, or sugar or any other sweet term you can think of (as in “Sugar creme puffs, Mum’s loose and naked again”) and from Shawn’s mouth it feels natural and unaffected.   Shawn comes across as a human being you would love to get to know (albeit from the relative safety of 10 feet away).  He’s friends with all the nurses and doctors at the local hospital through his many visits.  All the local car towing company, animal wildlife rangers, plumbers,, etc are all of first name basis with Shawn due to Shawn’s Law in action.   Man,  this guy endearing and real.  I love Shawn and he quickly became one of my favorite characters.

Harley is another finely drawn portrait of a activist at home in his own skin and looking for love in one of the most unlikely pairings around.  Harley likes to let it all, I mean all as in his equipment, hang loose.  No binding underwear for him and his dress or sometimes lack of it earns him the nickname Hippy-Hotpants.  Maybe its his long hair too.  Anyway, he cuts quite the figure through these pages and in Shawn’s life.  Harley is far from perfect and Shawn brings about some serious reflection on how he views  his life, Shawn, and the events that happen.  I love that about this character and the storyline.  The characters all show measurable growth. It unfolds realistically and sometimes painfully, although the humor is retained at various levels of intensity.  But nothing is easy.  Relationships take work, people have insecurities about their bodies, and sometimes people do the wrong thing by trying to do what’ they think is right and will create the least amount of havoc for someone they love.  So yeah, their steps towards love are sometimes plodding, full of pratfalls and stumbles and a fair share of misunderstandings.  But that only makes this story and their romance that much sweeter because it feels so real and right.

All the other characters are just as perfectly realized as Shawn and Harley.  Whether its, Lisa (Shawn’s sister) or Shawn’s mum whose lucidity comes and goes (mostly goes), or any of the other myriad people that pop up, you will remember them all with great fondness and wish to see more of them as often as possible.  I could have lived in this story and with these characters for a long, long time.

Renae Kaye’s writing flows so smoothly here.  Told from both Shawn and Harley’s point of view the events unfold quickly and believably.  And this short excerpt gives you a window into how it all starts.  Here Shawn has just realized that his mother has slipped out of the house…again.  And he follows a trail of clothing outside just as he was waiting to catch a glimpse of “Hippy-Hotpants”:

“Mum?”

Then disaster struck. Not apocalypse proportions, but just your everyday oh-man-that-just-ruined-everything disaster. My foot slid on something and flew out from under me. I was racing too hard to find my balance, and ended up falling on my butt, coming down on the edge of a step with a yelp of pain. I slithered down a few more steps before coming to a halt on my back, staring up in shock at the blue sky.

“Oh, holy fuu… udge bars.”

It was a small thing, but I made it a habit not to use the “F-word” ever since I’d accidently taught it to my niece when she was only two. The “Sh-word” was also out, so I now used words like fudge and sugar and darn for expletives. It wasn’t easy. My days usually need a lot of expletives. I turned my head slightly, thanked God that my neck still worked, and caught sight of something white in my peripheral vision. My head was resting on something and I yanked it from beneath me and tried to focus.

Ugh. Bras, briefs, panties, and lingerie. I’d skidded on the latest Target underwear catalog. Perfect.

“Are you okay?”

 

Want a story to keep you smiling and engaged?  Shawn’s Law is one for the top shelf, you know the one where you keep your favorite stories!  It’s a story you will want to pick up again when you want a laugh or when you want to renew your acquaintance with some of the most endearing, wonderful characters around.  Oh, and that last chapter?  The one that consists of 3 short sentences?  Priceless, just priceless.   But don’t take my word for it….go, right now and grab this up!  It’s one of my most highly recommended reads!

Cover artist:  Paul Richmond.  The artist does this story and its characters justice.  It’s perfect in attitude and humor, and I loved it.  And yes, that’s a part of this story.

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press     All Romance (ARe)   Amazon      Buy It Here

Book Details:

ebook, 200 pages
Expected publication: March 6th 2015 by Dreamspinner Press
original titleShawn’s Law
ISBN139781632167347
edition languageEnglish

A MelanieM Review: Splat by Alana Ankh

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Rating:  3.25 stars out of 5

Splat!

Splat coverThat’s the sound Deacon Hearst hears when something  hits his windshield. But what could it be? It’s unlike anything that Deacon has seen before and with good reason. It is a fairy—or rather a Sidhe—with a gaze the color of the moon and thus eloquently named Mooneyes. The little creature’s wing is broken by the windshield and its beginning to pour. What can Deacon do but take the fairy home to heal.

But as Deacon nurses Moon back to health, he discovers Moon’s beauty is more than skin deep. Though they’re very different, especially in size, they’re alike in their loneliness, their need for affection. Despite the weirdness of the situation, Deacon finds himself falling for Moon.

Moon is starting to feel the same.  But they are separated by more than size, their worlds and families are about to collide.  But Moon has a few secrets of his own, secrets that could change both their paths for life.

I have to admit it was that cover, title and plot of Splat that pulled me in.  It was funny and warped enough that I had high hopes for the humor content inside.  Instead what I found was a sweet, if not completely memorable, M/M fantasy romance by Alana Ankh.  And it started off so well…

The story opens with Deacon fleeing his parents home and their continual attempts to see him straight and married to a daughter of one of their friends, no matter how often he tells them he is gay.  To add to his poor mood, it begins to rain.  And on his  trip back home to his house in the woods, a fairy hits his windshield  like a Palmetto bug on steroids.  It’s pretty darn humerous right down to the sound effects of whooshing of the wipers and the visual effects of a small miserable fae going back and forth across the glass (ok, I found that funny, don’t judge).

Deacon meet Mooneyes (and with that name the story started to slide sideways for me).   Deacon gets over the appearance of a fairy pretty calmly and after figuring out that a wounded fae in a downpour is not likely to make it, takes Moon home to heal.   Attraction and lust ensues, albeit on a tiny scale.

Soon the author is throwing in more plot elements, one right after the other.  Seems neither Moon’s or Deacon’s families want gay sons and are going out of their way to ignore their sexual choices in pursuit of their own plans.  Plus there is several more fae complications to plow through.  Ditto on Deacon’s side.  I just wished that the author would have concentrated on the quixotical and funny romance at hand.  But no, that’s not to be.

Ankh pretty much ignores the fairy world building with a few exceptions and that lack is felt throughout the story.  Deacon’s background is better fleshed out but the side bits about his job and boss just add to the confusion.  And a strange bit about a man who offers Moon his assistance.

Still where this story goes right is the interaction and feelings that spring up between Deacon and Mooneyes.  That was sweet, and believable, even given the circumstances and the separation subplot that felt like a reasonable event given what happens beforehand.

Splat held out so much promise for something completely different yet it ended up as one more sweet,outside of the title and cover, love story.  If that is what you are in the mood for and love fae/human romances, Splat might just be your thing to read. I will  comfort myself in knowing I have one of the most memorable titles and covers to add to the Most Humerous of 2015.

Cover art by Paul Richmond.  Pretty funny, I hope that was the intent.  I did keep hearing “oh, no, Mr. Bill…”

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press    All Romance (ARe)     Amazon       Splat! Buy It Here

Book Details:

ebook, 127 pages
Published February 11th 2015 by Dreamspinner Press, LLC
ISBN139781632164841
edition languageEnglish

A Sammy Review: Dirty Dining by EM Lynley

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5:

“Because who we are when we’re not together doesn’t define who we are when we are together. We don’t have ideas and expectations. We are just ourselves. At least I have been.”

Dirty Dining coverLife as a PhD student is anything but a piece of cake for Jeremy Linden. Research is time consuming, and let’s face it, life in California is expensive. He can’t help but be curious when he’s approached with an offer to serve at a special dinner club. The catch? With each course, you lose an article of clothing… and maybe get something more, depending on the menu that night.

He’s not expecting to meet anyone like Brice Martin, or Mr. Green as he comes to know him. He’s shy and respectful, unlike some of the other gentlemen at the club who use their boys freely and like objects. What starts out as an innocent exchange becomes much more when they move their relationship beyond the club’s walls and into the real world… a world that has a lot of surprises and twists, such as Brice’s company funding PharmaTek, the group that oversees Jeremy’s important research.

His brain might be responding to oxytocin, but his body and heart told Jeremy he was falling in love. It felt wonderful, like flying. Jeremy had never experienced anything quite like this headiness before. But the higher Brice took him, the harder he would crash.

I’d never read anything by Lynley before, but when I read the summary, I just knew I had to take a chance and try it. It sounds erotic and delicious and, boy is it.

There were so many layers to the interaction between Brice and Jeremy. I appreciated how their relationship wasn’t an automatic thing. Their first time together was curious and promising, and grew from there (with bumps, of course). I’ve been reading a lot of stories lately where the love is pretty instant, and it’s not been working in my favor, but this wasn’t that at all.

There were also a great line of side characters who really had some strong and memorable personalities, such as Kit, a fellow worker at the club who is as flamboyant as he is sexual.

And speaking of which, the sex – it was incredibly, ridiculously steamy. The chemistry (pun semi-intended) was off the wall with Brice and Jeremy.

This isn’t a terribly hard read, and it was easy enough to devour in one day, and I can really say that I thoroughly enjoyed it, and certainly wouldn’t mind more stories surrounding the Dining Club. I have a feeling I’d devour them just as fast.

My only quibble with the whole thing? I wanted more. Greedy, yes, but this left me wanting another page, another chapter even, in the best way possible. Satisfied, but still wanting another bite.

The cover art by Paul Richmond is certainly sexy, and I do appreciate the simplicity of it. Where it goes wrong for me is in the choice of text. The font for Dirty is fine, but the bulky, ugly choice for Dining made me a bit unhappy. A nice cover, but it needed a bit more thought put into the font/typography.

Sales Links:   Dreamspinner Press   All Romance (ARe)   Amazon    Buy It here

Book Details:

ebook, 230 pages
Expected publication: January 19th 2015 by Dreamspinner Press
original titleDirty Dining
ISBN139781632166265
edition languageEnglish
settingSan Francisco, CA
Berkeley, California (United States)

A Sammy Review: Unfortunate Son (Sons #1) by Shae Connor

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Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Unfortunate Son coverAfter being dishonorably discharged from the military and disowned by his family, Evan Day turns to the world of porn. For Trevor Hardball, Evan’s porn persona, everything comes easily. He can focus himself, knows the way around a good scene… things as Evan aren’t so easy. He’s still dealing with the scars war left internally, not to mention to pain of losing his family, lover, and job all at once.

One night, Riley literally falls into his lap. He’s not Evan’s typical type, but somehow he just intrigues Evan, and after a night of steamy sex, Evan can’t seem to get him off his mind. But life is full of surprises, including his mom reaching back out to him, and Riley’s cold exterior after a hot night…

Their paths may have been different, but they’d ended up much in the same place: isolated, so alone in so many ways, and yet here, together, sharing desire and intimacy.

When I read the blurb for this, I was pretty excited. With porn stars, military, and a loss that’s sure to be gut wrenching, what’s not to love? It should’ve hit all the right buttons, but I’m afraid it was pretty much a complete miss for me.

There was quite a bit of “honey” and other little phrases that just became overused very quickly. It even had me rolling my eyes when a third character started to use them too. It was just… too much. That takes me to another point, which is that I don’t think the characters had enough of their own personality. They all seemed to come from the same template with some slight changes, but I didn’t feel like they were different. For me, it was at times like reading different versions of the same person.

On top of that, the book tries to tackle a lot of issues. Evan had nightmares, sometimes has some conflict between himself as Trevor and Evan, lost his lover and his brother, was disowned by his family (who are now trying to win him back), then you have his best friends in a large part of the story, and then we take Riley who also has family issues and who knows what else – we don’t really get to know, as we hear very little about Riley as a person. I understand that people in general have a lot of stuff happen in their life (to put it mildly), but this was just too much for the author to try to tackle.

I was also very uncomfortable toward the end when there was a BDSM scene that went very wrong, and we knew it would from the very start… but Evan still went into it. We never do find out what happens with that – or Riley’s family.

Having so many issues in one book made it easy to forget to resolve things, or to resolve them too quickly. Besides just the two things I mentioned above, the issue with Evan’s family is fixed super nice and neatly, but then the issue of his nightmares and all the other issues in his life are not paid much attention to.

All of these things got to me, but I think that even if those were all resolved, I would still have a problem in that I did not connect with the characters, and I certainly did not connect with their relationship. I honestly felt more connection in Evan’s porn scene with Adam than I did between Riley and Evan, which made me quite dissatisfied.

That being said, I think the author has potential. The writing wasn’t terrible, and she certainly doesn’t lack for ideas. It’s just a matter of knowing when and how to use them, and making sure that everything is actually treated with the time and respect it needs. If that can’t happen, it probably shouldn’t be in the story at all.

The cover art by Paul Richmond unfortunately did nothing to add flare to the book. I’ve seen Paul do a lot of really great work and praised it, but this isn’t necessarily one of those. Sure, it’s fine, but it’s pretty bland. There’s nothing particularly special about it, and as someone pointed out, it appears that the flag, if considering the height of the model and the way the flag is positioned, is likely touching the ground, something seen as taboo in normal society – so having a model who is meant to depict an ex-marine hold a flag that could be touching the ground is a bit unsettling. To put it simply, I’ve seen Paul do far better.

Sales Links:   Dreamspinner Press eBook & Paperback   All Romance (ARe)    Amazon     Buy it here

Book Details:

ebook, 200 pages
Expected publication: January 12th 2015 by Dreamspinner Press LLC
original titleUnfortunate Son
ISBN139781632165312
edition languageEnglish
seriesSons #1

 

A Sammy Review: The Holiday Hoax by Skylar M. Cates

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Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.

Life should come with signs like an amusement park ride, warning you of all the possible side effects.

 

The Holiday Hoax coverEvan Goodman is like any college freshman. He’s just trying to find his way in the world, find a place for himself. Of course, he knows that the world is truly a stage, and theater is his one true love. It’s on stage that he meets Tyler, another performer. Evan does a cliff dive into the relationship, but when he looks back, Tyler hasn’t even stood within a foot of the edge.

So when Christmas comes and Evan’s supposed to come with a handsome, cultured boyfriend… he’s, well, screwed.

But after seeing JD, a fellow student, being rejected by his brother, he gets a not-so-bright idea. His family doesn’t know what Tyler looks like, and JD needs a place to go, so why not?

Holidays come with a spark of magic though, and maybe Evan and JD might have some magic of their own.

Sometimes it was easier to face the world when I couldn’t see every harsh shape, every flaw. The world could be kinder if everyone was a bit myopic.

I’m not exactly a holiday story fan. I like stories that really tell more than just a few days, I want stories that breathe life. I gave this a shot, however, because the cover, by Paul Richmond, is just plain adorable and totally drew me in (and is a total match for the heart of the story, which I appreciate), and because I’ve liked some of Cates other work.

Unfortunately, the magic wasn’t there for me. This was a perfectly fine story with some cute elements and others that were surprisingly deep, but it fell flat in ways that short stories often do. I felt like something was left missing and things wrapped up way too neatly for my tastes.

So to be clear, there was nothing wrong with this at all, it just wasn’t really a story that suited me. If you’re into cute and fun holiday stories that are short and sweet, then you will probably adore this. If you want some more depth, maybe not so much. Overall the story was nice, but it didn’t leave me with a big impression.

Cover art by Paul Richmond.  Just plain adorable.

Sales Links:    Dreamspinner eBook          All Romance (ARe)         amazon          buy it here

Book Details:

ebook, 83 pages
Expected publication: December 12th 2014 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN139781632165930

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: Kept Tears by Jana Denardo

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Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Kept Tears coverArmy vet Aaron Santori’s time in Afghanistan almost broke him.  An explosion on duty cost him his arm and killed many of his friends.  Now home, Aaron is trying to deal with his PTSD, his scars both  physical and emotional, adjust to his new trans-humeral prosthesis, all while studying physiology as a grad student at Pitt.  A full load, almost guaranteed to keep him so busy that dating or any relationships outside of friendship are a challenge at best.  Then one night at a steampunk event at a local bar, Aaron and friends run into  Rhys Edwards, a YA novelist from Wales and everything changes.  Rhys is not put off by Aaron’s prosthesis and he makes it very apparent that he finds Aaron absolutely attractive no matter what scars Aaron carries.  Soon, Aaron finds himself in a relationship that he never anticipated with a gorgeous man of his dreams.

But Rhys has many secrets, including the fact that he is not human.  As a prince of the Tylwyth Teg, Rhys is fae.  He is an immortal Seelie, with enemies and ex paramours that come with centuries of living.  One such ex lover, Morcant, is determined to have his revenge on Rhys for cutting him loose centuries ago.  Soon  the unwary Aaron becomes the target of Morcant’s plot against Rhys.  The truce between Seelie and Unseelie Courts may be broken, and lives lost, including Aaron’s if Rhys can’t stop Morcant from carrying out his revenge.  Can the mortal Aaron survive being in love with a Seelie Prince?

Kept Tears is a story that has me wavering in setting any ratings at all.  I loved so many parts of this story and yet can see where many readers will want to discard it almost immediately when it comes to Denardo’s idea of Fae morality including her Fae outlook on love and fidelity.  I will get to that later.

First, lets look at the excellent job she did in creating Aaron Santori, a wounded warrior, whose time in Afghanistan has cost him his arm, a horribly scarred leg and left him with PTSD.  Denardo’s descriptions of Aaron’s night terrors and flashbacks, seen from Aaron’s point of view, brings the reader intimately into the character’s mindset and emotional turmoil.  But we are eased into it slowly as we get to know the character better.  Our first introduction to Aaron (and Rhys) is the night of the steampunk event at a local bar.  The scenes let us know that while Aaron has shied away from intimate relations, he has not isolated himself from those that care about him.  We get to see a man involved with life, although on his terms, and it becomes easy to embrace his character.   Denardo has made Aaron  accessible by his interests,his appealing nature and of course, by his frailties.  Aaron’s transhumeral prosthesis is a fascinating element in this story. Aaron is studying myoelectics because of his arm.  I recently saw a piece on a hand prosthesis such as his on a cable science program and was as fascinated as Rhys.  Here is an excerpt as Aaron shows Rhys his arm for the first time:

 “Your turn.”

“Grad student at Pitt. I’m studying physiology. I wanted to be a doctor, went to the Army to pay for it, and ended up a medic. Things went sideways from there.”Aaron gestured with his prosthetic hand and Rhys’s blue eyes widened. “Ah, you didn’t expect it to move.” Aaron grinned.

Rhys studied the transhumeral prosthesis Aaron sported, obviously amazed, awe in every word. “No, I did not.”

“I’m in a program working with myoelectrics, and this arm is part of it.” Aaron moved his fingers.

“How does it work?” Rhys leaned closer.

Aaron didn’t mind bragging about his arm. “There are electrodes under my skin that talk to the arm. I think about moving the arm, and it moves. I’m still learning all the intricacies. I’m working on the physiology aspect as part of my doctoral work.” He couldn’t contain his excitement as he explained, his mechanical fingers clenching and unfurling as he showed off.

“That is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.” Rhys reached over and touched the prosthetic hand.

Aaron wiggled his thumb. “Isn’t it?”

“Absolutely.” Rhys back, tossing his head. His wheat-gold hair flopped into his eyes. “What else do you like besides steampunk?”

Aaron was dressed for the event in a costume where “Aaron had designed his dress shirt to be short-sleeved on the side of his prosthesis so it could show off the gears and brass work he had sheathed the nonmoving parts in.”  Aaron has adjusted to  his arm in a healthy way but is wary of others reactions to the prothetic.  It’s a realistic and lovely moment, especially when Aaron realizes that Rhys has easily accepted it as part of Aaron and moved on.  For me, Aaron is the best, most moving part of Kept Tears and when his relationship with Rhys places him in unknown danger, I found the suspense to be almost unbearable.

Then there is Rhys Edwards aka Myrddin, prince of the Tylwyth Teg. Rhys is a Seelie fae, an immortal who has a Sidhe wife and children who he cares about deeply.  And therein lies the rub for many readers.  One half of the romantic couple is happily married to a female fae and has children.   He has no intention of leaving his wife or children nor would it be reasonable to assume he would do so as he is heir to the Seelie throne. This is not a spoiler as the reader learns about his marital status almost immediately in the story.

I will admit that this startled me at first.  But as Rhys (and Denardo) admonishes/informs us, that is a human outlook, not a Sidhe one.  In fae lore and Denardo’s construct, the Sidhe are immortal, and for them monogamy is unrealistic past the first 50 or 60 years with the same person.  Rhys is bisexual, and has had many partners (and relationships) over the hundreds of years.  Rhys has always found himself attracted to humans, with their mayfly (one day life span) existence.  He has had innumerable human lovers of which Aaron is just one more.  His admiration for humans is touching and real as is his sadness for our brief life span.  Think of Denardo’s Sidhe as beings for whom polyamory is something of a norm.  Rhys’ wife and children are aware and sometimes approving of his  paramours incorporating them, however, briefly into the family.

If you can let go of a need to see Denardo’s Sidhe as extensions of ourselves instead of inhuman immortal beings with their own societal norms then the romance between Rhys and Aaron becomes a lovely, wonderful love affair. I also feel that any author whose story, including one with a love between an immortal and a human mayfly, must contend with the readers imagination and need to “fill in” the emotional plot blanks.  I am talking about the need to extrapolate the relationships past plot and story endings. Think of all the fanfiction out there and you can see where I am going with this.  This will always be a HFN, with an overlay of bittersweetness that comes from the ephemeral nature of a Sidhe/mortal love affair.  Denardo recognizes that and addresses it as realistically as possible in a fantasy story.  This aspect of the author’s story did not bother me after a while as I adjusted my own expectations for Rhys and Aaron.  It helps greatly that Gwenllian, Rhys’ wife and all his children are engaging, wonderful creations in their own right as is their Sidhe world.

The narrative flips from various characters point of view, including the Unseelie villain, Morcant.  I liked this format here is it serves to let the reader in on Morcant’s maneuverings and dastardly plots, upping our anxiety over Aaron’s welfare and increasing the suspense overall.  My only quibble here is that after bringing the reader up to a high threshold of anticipation over the extent of Morcant’s deviousness, the resolution doesn’t measure up to the events that preceded it.  A bit of a let down, unfortunately.

For those readers who can’t get past a main character , even if they aren’t human, who is married and therefore “cheating” on his wife and children with another, this is not the book for you.  But if you can enlarge your view of relationships to include one where one half of the romance is actually a group of people, then Kept Tears will be a story you will want to pick up.  Aaron Santori is amazing, Rhys and the Sidhe universe he comes with are intriguing, and the villain Morcant as  unscrupulous, cruel and self serving as any you have met before.   Denardo’s prose is lively, the plot engrossing, and the ending one I could understand and enjoy.  Pick it up and decide for yourself.

Cover artist Paul Richmond’s cover is amazing, with the prosthetic arm of Aaron’s in clear view.

Book Details:

ebook, 210 pages
Published January 27th 2014 by Dreamspinner Press (first published January 26th 2014)
ISBN 1627983120 (ISBN13: 9781627983129)

Review: Housekeeping by Kim Fielding

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Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5

HousekeepingNicky Hauser has never been able to figure out what he wanted to do with his life so he’s been gliding along from job to job until he rolled his life and love into one person by working at his boyfriend’s restaurant and living in his boyfriend’s apartment.  Then he walks into work only to catch his boyfriend cheating on him with  a co-worker and in that moment loses everything.  Now out of a job, a home and a lover, Nick scrambles from friend to friend, sleeping on their couches while looking for jobs.  Finally Nick lands a job housesitting for a wealthy couple and discovers he can make a living doing the one thing he loves to do – cleaning.

Computer consultant Spencer Cartwright is a messy person and has a cluttered, garbage strewn house to prove it.  When Spencer needs to go out of town on  business, friends recommend Nicky to house sit and clean, changing Spencer and Nicky’s lives forever. But Spencer is coming off a divorce and Nicky is wary of romance and a relationship so soon after being dumped.  Can these men sweep their past failures away and find love in a spotless home together?

Housekeeping by Kim Fielding is a charming little romance, a happy quick read that is perfect to way to spend some free time over the holidays.  Nicky Hauser and Spencer Cartwright are two quirky and complementary characters, each totally endearing in their own way.  Nicky is somewhat recognizable as that person who has never quite found their way in life.  Not quite emotionally a grownup, too old in years to be a teen, he has managed to go through life without making any real decisions over his future whether it be a profession or even something to be passionate about.  Fielding has made him totally believable, letting us connect with someone lacking direction in life and uncertain how to proceed.  He’s just too nice and gentle, and lacking in ambition.

Kim Fielding has crafted Spencer Cartwright  with a different set of issues.  Spencer’s been married, to a woman, before finally admitting his homosexuality.  He’s colorblind, constantly busy, and a total slob.  Clearly his life needs cleaning up and Nicky is just the person to handle the job.  And happily for us, Fields lets her characters turn from employer/employee to friends and finally to lovers, letting us watch as their relationship builds over trips to Ikea and a mixing of friends and relatives.

Don’t look for any angst, there isn’t any.  No real highs or lows to be found in this story, just a group of funny, lovely friends and two men looking for love and finding it where they least expected it, at home amongst cleaning supplies.  It’s charming and smile worthy.  I love Kim Fielding’s stories, she rarely lets me down and didn’t with Housekeeping. Consider this definitely recommended.

Cover art by Paul Richmond is really very funny, his m/m version of American Gothic.  I loved it.

Book Details:

ebook, 98 pages
Published November 13th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press (first published November 12th 2013)
ISBN 1627982183 (ISBN13: 9781627982184)
edition language English

Review: The Caveman and the Devil by Chris T. Kat

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Rating: 2.75 stars

The Caveman and the DevilZoologists Paul and Noah were brought together by their love of animals and their jobs at the Philadelphia Zoo.  But Paul is becoming fed up with Noah’s impulsive nature as well as what Paul sees as unprofessional and dangerous behavior from Noah around the animals he is taking care of – big cats.  Noah was a subject of an attack by a zoo jaguar in the past and hurt badly.  So Paul is fearful and shocked when Noah charges into a cage where a lioness is threatening her cubs.  Noah’s actions endanger not only his coworkers but the general public as well, something Noah will not acknowledge.

Paul is furious, their bosses horrified and Noah in danger of losing his job.  Frustrated and angry, Paul and Noah have to find a way back to each other while keeping their jobs intact as well as their relationship.  Can Noah understand the danger he put everyone in and can Paul find a way to understand the basis of Noah’s actions?  Only time will tell.

The Caveman and the Devil is a quick read at 80 pages and  quite honestly I am not sure if that hurts or helps the story.  What doesn’t help is that the media has reported the deaths of two zookeepers recently, one a volunteer, for the same issue that almost gets Noah injured and fired.  Almost from the beginning I found myself solidly on Paul’s side, thinking the story should have been called The Caveman and the Twit, not a reaction the author was going for, I am sure.  Here is an example of not only how they communicate (or don’t as it were) but also how clueless Noah is:

 “You are mad.” He wrinkled his nose as his searching gaze flitted over my face. He was clearly puzzled by my behavior. “Why?”

“Why? Why? Seriously? You’re seriously asking why I’m mad at you?”

“Yes, dear almighty Caveman, I’m seriously asking why you’re mad at me! I didn’t do anything wrong!”

Utterly baffled, I forgot all about what I was doing or what I had intended to do. I stared down at Noah, my lover, the man I’ve loved for almost a year now. Incredulous, I croaked, “You didn’t do anything wrong today? Is that right?”

The light bulb slowly went on for Noah. Of course, he immediately lunged into defense mode. “I just wanted to get the cubs out of there!”

“You went into Kiara’s compartment without waiting for the inner door to be locked! She had just killed two of her cubs and was in the process of killing the other two!”

“She had walked into the other compartment!” Noah protested.

“But the separating door wasn’t closed yet!” I shouted, eventually losing the fight with my emotions.

“Trent locked the door right after I was inside.”

“Yes, and she came back and jumped against it, roaring. What if Trent hadn’t managed to lure her away?” “

But he did. Don’t be such a nitpicker all the time.”

I could hardly breathe.

Paul later goes on to think that he would have fired Noah based on this incidence and he would have been correct.  Anyone who has worked with animals would be aghast at such carelessness and disregard for regulations.  So I am amazed that Kat would have written this character with these personality traits and expect the reader to identify with him.  Noah “wrinkles his nose” in puzzlement.  Is that supposed to be adorable while his boyfriend is confronting him about his behavior?  Not so much.  Nor is his bemusement over Paul’s anger and reaction to his actions.  The characters then go on to have massive amounts of sex, makeup and otherwise but settle nothing between them.  Lots of shouting, lots of sex, and not much else, including story.

Another puzzling element is that Paul and Noah are two characters first introduced in a story called Cuddling Up in the Animal Magnetism anthology.  I mentioned there that the author seemed to know her zoo protocol, and the same applied here.  So why is Noah constantly flouting the rules and regulations of the zoo they both work for.  In Cuddling Up,  Noah exclaimed that the cat he was in the inclosure with “would never hurt him”,  an inherently false idea that I left fly at the time because it was a short story.  But here the incidence is much worse, Noah’s reactions more painfully obtuse and only Paul realizes the ramifications.  The question remains as to why an author would have a character negate the research that makes the story realistic and then want us to accept that character as an authentic zookeeper?  What was barely acceptable in an anthology shouldn’t work in a longer story.  And it doesn’t.

What makes this tale enjoyable are the main characters inactions with two lion cubs.  Those sections prove to be the story’s saving grace because who doesn’t love lion cubs?  Those also reveal the strongest parts of Paul and Noah’s relationship.  But when the story takes to the bed or back to the zookeepers office, then it falls apart.  Paul hedges and muddies the account of the actual events of Noah charging into the cage, there is a batty and bigoted media director, and it all just falls to pieces.  Paul is an authoritative and dominating character, hence the Caveman appellation.  In fact that is Noah’s term of endearment for him.  So obviously, the Devil is Noah.  Tasmanian Devil  that is, spinning constantly around, upsetting everything in its path, dangerous and impulsive. Just the person you want as a coworker and partner, right?

I just remain puzzled over Paul and Noah’s relationship as written by Kat.  To me it seems dysfunctional, lacking in communication.  I realize that this is supposed to be a fluffy story but I guess too many issues that circle around Noah kept it from being enjoyable outside of lion babies.

I silenced Noah’s cry of protest by laying a finger on his lips. “That is, if I can convince the zoo management not to fire you.” Loosening my embrace, I turned Noah around. He stared up at me from large, frightened gray-green eyes. Water trickled down his pale face in small rivulets as the impact of my words hit home.

“They won’t do that, right? Fire me, I mean? I rescued those two cubs!” His voice rose.

“Noah, any of us could have saved these two cubs after the compartment door was closed,” I said. I was doing my best to be gentle and understanding, but at some point, he would have to accept the truth. His behavior hadn’t only been unprofessional but also irresponsible and extremely dangerous. I wondered if the management would give Noah another chance. If I was honest with myself, I wouldn’t.

By this time, I find myself nodding in total agreement, thinking fire Noah, and move on.  Oh well, I liked the lion cubs and Paul. But for the rest of the story, I give it a pass.  I haven’t read any of this author’s longer stories, and I consider this one is only for those of you who are die hard Chris T. Kat fans.

Cover art by Paul Richmond is the best thing about this book.

Book details:

ebook, 80 pages
Published May 1st 2013 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 1623803314 (ISBN13: 9781623803315)
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.dreamspinnerpress.com

Review: Noah by Ben Ryder

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Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Noah coverCallum Walker, rising software designer, is called upon by his boss to supervise the installation of the communication software program he designed for the new Toronto Maple Arena, a new contract won by his firm in London.  It meant that Callum was spending the next 16 weeks in Toronto, supervising the work and trouble shooting the installation.  It also put him directly into the path of Noah Lukas, the highly popular star player of the Toronto Bobcats professional hockey team.  For Callum, his attraction for Noah is instantaneous from the moment they meet in the Arena gym but he is sure the hockey player is straight and settles for Noah’s friendship no matter what Callum’s heart is saying.

Noah Lukas is at a crossroads in his career.  Noah’s contract is up shortly, and he is not sure if it will be renewed, if he will be traded or even if he will retire.  Noah is gay but deep in the closet as he is sure that would wreck his career on the ice, a profession he loves.  But since meeting Callum, he is finding it hard to remain in the closet, especially as his feelings of friendship start to turn into love.  When it comes down to a choice between love and career, which will come out the winner?

Again, Ben Ryder is a new author for me and  I throughly enjoyed my first story from him.   I have to admit I am a sucker for a gay hockey player so this got to me right from the start.  Noah Lukas is a star player on the cusp of momentous change, both personal and professional.   Noah is playing at the top of his profession but as a star player, his contract is also up for renewal.  The chances that he will be traded are as great as his chances to renew his contract or even retire if no one elects him to play for their team.  He is also lonely and tired of hiding his true nature.  Ryder makes us feel the stress of the situation and the emotions pressing down on Noah time and again.  It is a wonderful, compassionate characterization and it certainly helps to connect the reader with Noah.

Callum Walker is Noah’s opposite.  He is out and comfortable in his skin.  And while he doesn’t quite feel he is in Noah’s league, he feels secure in who he  is.  I liked the slow build in their relationship, including the fact that they became friends first.  It is a realistic touch and nicely done. The only other character that really figures into the story is a grating female one, Amy.  She is believable in her ambition and the tactics she uses to get ahead, not merely a witch for witches sake.

Ryder uses a very effective format in which to tell his story.  It opens in present time in London with Callum checking his smartphone, clearly waiting for a call.  And with each succeeding chapter, the time progresses through the day with Callum getting increasingly nervous as he waits. That is followed by a scene in Toronto and another flashback to their relationship.  The author smoothly flows from one time period to the other, progressing both stories neatly while pulling the reader into Callum’s ever deepening anxiety over the phone call that hasn’t come in.  So well done, this narrative hooked me in immediately.

My one quibble is a large one however, and that would be the ending.  In my opinion, it felt as though we never got one.  It just ends and the emotional satisfaction we were expecting from a well deserved resolution never comes, and we are left hanging.  I kept thinking that we were missing at least one chapter or just possibly an epilogue.  Nope, not there.  I don’t know if we can expect a sequel to tidy up all the loose ends that frayed the ending, but I certainly hope so.  Both the readers and the characters deserve it.  Still, I enjoyed the story enough to recommend Noah and look out for more from this author.

Run over now to Dreamspinner Press where it is being offered up free for the taking.  You won’t be sorry.

Cover Photograph by Scott Henrichsen Cover Design by Paul Richmond.  Hard to argue with a cover this sexy so I won’t.

ebook, 122 pages

Published April 10th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN139781623806675
urlhttp://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=3749

Buy Link at Dreamspinner Press.  Noah is a free book at this moment. Go here to pick it up at Dreamspinner Press.