Review: Burden by Annmarie McKenna

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Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Burden coverIt’s Detective Keegan Monroe’s first day off after a long undercover assignment and all he wants to do is relax and enjoy his coffee.  But his day is shattered when a  man dives in front of him throwing them both to the ground.  Then a gunshot goes past them as a murder attempt fails.  The man laying on top of him is stuttering that he couldn’t let him kill Keegan.  Suspicious of his savior, Keegan takes the man into custody for questioning.  But at the precinct some astonishing facts are revealed. The suspect is a former I.A . police detective.

Detective Brennan McGuire has been struggling to adjust to the brain damage he incurred when his car went over a cliff during an investigation.  Along with stuttering and the massive physical scarring caused by the accident, Brennan also has long and short term memory problems which make it almost impossible to cope with the requirements of every day life.  Brennan can’t remember the accident or much else about his life as a police officer.  But something sparked in the depths of his traumatized memory when he saw someone aiming a gun at the man at the table and he reacted.

During the investigation into the shooting, Keegan and Brennan find themselves falling first into bed and then into a relationship.  But their romance triggers Brennan’s repressed memories of his accident with startling results.  Now Keegan and Brennan find themselves with not one mystery but two to solve and some very determined people who want to make sure that Brennan never remember.  Can Keegan and Brennan find love while keeping each other alive?

I think Annmarie McKenna has the makings of a terrific story here but several issues, including the ending, leave it at that – just the ingredients and nothing more.  I loved the idea of a brain injured detective whose traumatized brain holds the key to his injury and much more.  It’s a great plot tactic because it pulls in those readers who love the hurt/comfort element while upping the tension and anticipation in the story for the moment when the character remembers the past and pulls it all together in a satisfying denouement.   And it works for most of the story. Right up until the author throws it all away.

Detective Brennan McGuire’s life’s a mess.  He can barely remember the social niceties that get people through the day, let alone  pay for a cup of coffee. As created by McKenna, he is an object of sympathy and engages our affections immediately.  I liked her treatment of his brain trauma.  He is still touchy and snarky even if he can’t remember the simplest thing like a pepperoni pizza or to shake the hand offered to him.   His is a beautifully layered portrait of a man coping with brain trauma and not always succeeding.

Keegan Monroe is a somewhat less effective character.  As a detective who immediately gets sexually involved with a suspect, and a brain damaged suspect at that, Keegan appears to have a less than solid grasp on police ethics, not to mention the appearances of taking advantage of someone in recovery.  I got that the sparks flew between them.  McKenna does a more than credible job making us believe the men can’t keep their hands off each other.  But the facts about their relationship and Brennan’s physical and mental state kept me from throughly investing myself in their affair.

The author does a good job in plotting out the mystery for the readers.  She slowly gears up the anxiety over the safety of the men as more and more facts about  Brennan are revealed. But all the suspense and anticipation is demolished in an ending that is rushed and incomplete in terms of motives and facts.  I was, in fact, astonished when I came to the end.  All that build up and the reader gets nothing for their time and effort spent on this story.  It pretty much just stops with no real explanation, no satisfactory reveal of  all the criminals, and certainly no resolution to the relationship of a detective and a still brain damaged individual.

And that is a shame because this book could have been so much more.  With a longer, more fully developed ending and perhaps even an epilogue, this could have been one of my “must read” recommendations.  But as it is, I will say that if you are a fan of Annmarie McKenna, then pick this up.  But if you are looking for romance, a terrific mystery and an ending that will leave you satisfied, then head elsewhere.

Cover by Angela Waters.  This is just a generic cover that has nothing really to do with the story.  Grade C for effort.

Book Details:

ebook, 117 pages
Published July 30th 2013 by Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
ISBN 1619218291 (ISBN13: 9781619218291)
edition language English

Endangered LGBTQ Youth, Books Proceeds, and the Week Ahead in Reviews

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Tis the season for winding down of the school year and various holidays,  Mothers Day and Fathers Day among them.  And while there are many families out there celebrating their love for one another, there are also many children, including 40 percent of LGBT youth*, who will be spending these holidays out on the streets, abandoned by the very families who should be their mental, emotional, and physical support.

The current fiscal situation at the Federal and local government levels has been devastating to the few shelters currently operating and a hindrance in opening new badly needed shelters and group homes.  In our area, a bright light has been the opening of a new LGBT shelter, Promise Place, on the Washington, DC/Prince Georges County, MD line.  But on the flip side, the Wanda Alston House is in dire need of donations and assistance in order to continue.  And the same can be said for the Ali Forney Center in NYC, whose outreach building was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy last year.

Every day we hear more about bullied or harassed gay youth in the  media, the politicians make speeches and little seems to be done at the practical level.  We  need more legislation, more enforcement of said legislation, and just an increase in overall awareness of the fragility of LGBTQ youth in our society today.

Luckily, there are a number of M/M authors who are helping the cause with donations of royalties from their books.  I will be listing some of them here.  If you know of others, please let me know and I will add them to my list.  This week, editor Kris Jacen introduced the anthology Lost and Found by Featherlight Press.  Her announcement and the book details are listed below.  I have not read it as yet but its on my list to do so.  If you have read it, and want to post a review, contact me.  Also listed is Sue Brown’s book, The Sky Is Dead, recently reviewed here and a must read recommendation for me.  Sue Brown is also donating proceeds of that book, here is her comment:

Thank you so much for the review. Your review highlights many of the issues LGBTQ kids face. The royalties from this book are going to The Albert Kennedy Trust, a UK charity supporting homeless LGBT kids.

And Kris Jacen on the Lost and Found Anthology:

From Kris Jacen, editor to various M/M author websites:
Hi all,
Some might know, others might not, but I’ve been working with ten very talented authors on an anthology entitled, Lost and Found. The book released last night from Featherweight Press. All of the stories deal have the theme of hope for those teens that are kicked out/told they don’t matter by their families for being who they are or loving who they love. Each author (and me) is donating their royalties to charity. Below is my editor’s note from the front of the anthology. I hope you pick up a copy or help spread the word so that we can make the most of the donation to help these homeless LGBT teens.

Lost and Found http://www.featherweightpublishing.com/ShowBook.php?YA=ANTH_LOSTNFND
In the Fall of 2012, DH Starr approached me about Featherweight publishing an anthology that he was a part of. It was a special project being organized by Michele Montgomery. All the authors wanted to donate their royalties from the anthology to charity. They wanted the monies to go to a specific cause—they wanted the money to go to a charity that worked with LGBT homeless teens.
The inspiration for the anthology was a picture that they had seen with the text over the image that said “40% of homeless youth are LGBT. The #1 reason they’re on the streets in family rejection.”
Once we got to final editing stages we realized, we didn’t know WHICH charity to donate the monies to. There are so many great charities out there working with LGBT youth that we weren’t sure which to choose. We wanted to make sure that no matter how much, it would make a difference. So the search was on.
I was pleasantly surprised to come across one that had the name of the anthology almost exactly—Lost-n-Found Youth, Inc. It seemed like fate talking to me and after speaking with one of the board members, I was convinced of it. You see the board member told me that the day before we spoke, they received a call from a teen that had been on vacation with his parents and when they found a gay romance on his eReader, they left him on the side of the road. Yes, you read that correctly, abandoned him for reading a gay romance.
Our hope is that with these stories, these teens realize that there are many out there that care about them. That no matter what anyone says—THEY MATTER.

~~~
Kris Jacen
Executive Editor
ManLoveRomance Press http://www.mlrpress.com
Passion in Print Press http://www.passioninprint.com
Featherweight Press http://www.featherweightpublishing.com

So I am making a list of books whose proceeds or part of their proceeds will be donated to LGBTQ youth shelters and organizations.  I know I am missing quite a few so help me fill in the list and send me the names and publishers.  Here are the first two  three books to start the list:

Finding a Dream coverFinding a Dream by  SJ Frost

Bullied and harassed at school for his sexuality, Dillon Davis can’t see his life getting any better, but he can see it getting worse. Depressed, wounded in spirit and body, he’s nearing a point of hopelessness, until he sees a picture of his favorite stage actor, Brandon Alexander, with his partner, Shunichi Miyamoto. At learning Shunichi runs a karate dojo, a spark of hope comes to Dillon of learning to defend himself, and most of all, meeting Brandon.

Brandon Alexander is filled with compassion for Dillon the moment he meets him. He knows all too well what it’s like to be scorned for being gay. He and Shunichi want nothing more than to help him, but when Dillon never returns to the dojo, they fear what’s happened to him

Per SJ Frost: “Kris Jacen and I are donating our royalties from this story to The Trevor Project.It’s with the support of all who buy this book that we’re able to do this, and from both of us to you, thank you, so very much, for joining with us in giving to those in need.”

ebook, 79 pages

Published December 28th 2010 by MLR Press
ISBN139781608202829
edition languageEnglish
original titleFinding a Dream
settingChicago, I

 

 

Lost and Found coverLost and Found Anthology:

Lost and Found (from the Goodreads website):
by Kris Jacen (Editor), MF Kays, T.A. Webb (Goodreads Author), Tabatha Hart, Dakota Chase, Caitlin Ricci (Goodreads Author), Jeff Erno (Goodreads Author), D.C. Juris
*Some statistics say that 40% of all homeless teens are GLBT. They’re on the streets after their families have thrown them away, told them that they don’t matter, that they’re not normal. Well, guess what? Those families are wrong. This collection of stories by ten talented authors spans the spectrum (historical, paranormal, transgender, cutter, gay) to show that – it’s okay, there are people out there that care, and these teens are perfect just the way they are.

All royalties from this anthology are being donated to Lost-n-Found Youth in Atlanta, Georgia. A wonderful charity working with these teens, helping them find their new place and get on their feet.
Paperback, 421 pages
Expected publication: May 31st 2013 by Featherweight Press
ISBN139781608208661
urlhttp://www.featherweightpublishing.com/ShowBook.php?YA=ANTH_LOSTNFND

The Sky Is Dead coverThe Sky is Dead by Sue Brown:

Danny is young, gay, and homeless. He lives in the park, preferring to avoid attention, but when thugs confront a stranger, Danny rushes to his rescue. He and the would-be victim, Harry, form a cautious friendship that deepens months later, when Harry persuades Danny to visit his home. Daring to believe he has found happiness, Danny finds his world turned upside down yet a…more
ebook, 232 pages
Published April 17th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN139781623806088
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.dreamspinnerpress.com

And now the week ahead in book reviews:

Monday, May 20:               Breaking The Devil by Bailey Bradford

Tuesday, May 21:                Noah by Ben Ryder

Wed., May 22:                     Still by Mary Calmes

Thursday, May 23:             Closet Capers Anthology

Friday< May 24:                  Isle of Where? by Sue Brown

Saturday, May 25:               Unforgiving Minute by Sarah Grainger

Review: Bad Attitude (Bad in Baltimore #3) by K.A. Mitchell

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Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

Bad AttitudeWhen Baltimore police rescue diver Jamie Donnigan gets a call about a jumper off the Key Bridge he doesn’t realize that his carefully controlled life is about to change dramatically.  What he thinks will be a routine call turns into something much more important as the man they are supposed to rescue is none other than Gavin Montgomery, the openly gay middle son of the most powerful family around Baltimore.

Gavin Montgomery and his friend Beach were on their way home from a party when Beach decides he is going to swim to Fort Carroll and the best way to start his swim is to jump off the Frances Scott Key Bridge.  When Gavin tries and fails to keep his friend from jumping, he falls in after him.

While in the water, a SOS alerts Jamie to the location of the man he is searching for, and to his amazement he finds Gavin hanging onto an unconscious Beach, both in need of medical assistance.  As the whole rescue operation turns into a media frenzy, Jamie finds himself at the center of attention and a guest of honor at a dinner given by Gavin’s father.   There the attraction between Jamie and Gavin boils over and a sex only relationship is formed.

But keeping things casual starts to become a problem the more they get to know each other.  Gavin and Jamie are more alike than they would like to admit, but when failure to communicate and poor assumptions are in play, will both men let down their guard enough to let love have a chance to flourish?

Bad Attitude is the third book in the Bad in Baltimore series and the first one I have read in the group.  I don’t know how I missed the first two books as I usually gobble up everything that K.A. Mitchell writes, but after reading Bad Attitude I am certainly going to get the first two and start the series from the beginning. I enjoyed this book so much that I must see how and with whom Bad in Baltimore started.

One of the things I can always count on in a K.A. Mitchell story are characters that, while pretty, are full of attitude, extremely confidant, and a tad walled off emotionally from those around them.  I love these type of characters and Mitchell’s are some of my favorites.  They are snarky, competent, and oh so interesting in every aspect.  Any way you look at it, these men are challenging, and so is their path to love.

Snarky and challenging are certainly words that can be used to describe Jamie Donnigan, the police rescue diver who is one of the two main characters here.  I loved Jamie.  He covers his vulnerabilities with tats and a smug attitude that shields him from the injustices and routine daily disappointments that life as a police officer dishes up.  The words that flow out of his mouth match the attitude that his demeanor projects.  This is how Jamie tells Gavin, he will be attending the party Gavin’s father invited him to as a guest of honor:

“Yes, but she— I’ll return the favor and be direct. I was sent to assure you of the family’s sincere wish that you feel comfortable bringing a guest if you desire and to help you with any concerns you might have.”

Jamie met that unnervingly steady stare without blinking. “In other, direct words, you all think that because I’m just a county cop from Dundalk with a high school education, I don’t know how to act at one of your fancy parties? The kind you and your buddy need Liquid X to get through?”

Montgomery took his hands out of his pockets and spread them, palms up. “We all have our crosses to bear.”

Jamie popped the door with his key fob. “I may not come with kennel club papers from the breeder, but I think I can manage to keep from pissing on the rug. I’ve been to a party before.”

“Whatever you say, Officer.” Montgomery turned, and Jamie saw the gleaming Bentley blocking in the bomb squad truck.

You can feel the arrogance and snark oozing out of Jamie in that scene. But Gavin Montgomery is more than a match for Jamie. Just from the interaction above, you can feel the charged atmosphere as the two personalities clash and their sexual heat flares up.  Gavin’s attitude is smoother and certainly comes with a glossy finish but in every way it is as bold, cold and sure as Jamie’s.  Mitchell supplies us with Gavin’s back story in little supplements along the way, from Gavin’s interpersonal relationships with siblings, father and stepmother to his commitments to a few friends and surprising interests.  Both men are masters of the lowered expectation while still carrying within them the ability to be disappointed and hurt in the unsurprising actions of others.

The push/pull of their attraction to each other, their denial of their  feelings and, a remarkable disconnect when it comes to communication makes this book feel realistic and at times, a little frustrating.  Realistic because for these men to suddenly capitulate to each other in any manner other than sexual would be out of character but that certainly doesn’t keep it from being frustrating for the reader (and the couple) at certain points in the story. Bad Attitude is sometimes like watching two pieces of granite mate, lots of grinding, loud noises as the boulders smack together, looking for the perfect position and control.

Baltimore, Maryland and its surrounding locales act as a main character in the book and I assume the series as well.  “Balmer” is rich in its ethnically diverse blue collar neighborhoods, old rowhouse neighborhoods, historic buildings and parks. Throughout the story, Jamie and Gavin wander through the scenic upper echelon areas of Fells Point and Federal Hill to the beautifully restored Inner Harbor and beyond, giving the reader an intimate look at one of the Mid Atlantic’s liveliest and interesting cities.   I don’t know if the author has ever lived there but it certainly has the feel of someone not only familiar with the area but who holds it in wry affection, foibles and all.  How else would Mitchell know to have Jamie give directions to his friends house like this:

Jamie listened to Quinn give directions to the lost teacher with the weird name.

“Then don’t get back on 83.” Quinn’s voice held an above-average amount of irritation.

“Where is he?” Jamie asked.

Quinn moved the phone away from his mouth but didn’t cover it. “Towson. He got confused in the construction and ended up going the wrong way on the Beltway.”

“Put him on North Charles—” Jamie held out a hand. “Here, give me it.”

“Be my control freak of a guest.”Quinn handed off the phone, ignoring Jamie flipping him off.

Once Jamie figured out where the guy was, he got him onto 139, only one other turn to get him to Quinn’s. He handed back the phone. “It’ll take him longer, but at least he’ll get here. Hey, kid, we gonna eat or what?”

The other authentic element here is the water search and rescue units that abound in this area.  From Baltimore to Washington, DC, all the local police squads have their own form of water search and rescue divisions.  Whether you are talking about the Patapsco  or the Potomac rivers,or  the Chesapeake Bay, Mitchell plunges you into their cold and treacherous waters along with Jamie with her vivid descriptions:

Geist followed him toward the nearest bridge pylon, moving his hand light across the water. The shoring around the base was made up of head-sized rocks. Not easy to crawl up on, but if Jamie’s life was on the line, he’d have managed to haul ass up onto them.

There was nothing on the east side, south or west. Their hand lights fell short of the next pylon and shoring. Holding his light just below the surface, Geist stared at Jamie in question. Between the thrum of the boats and the chopper sending waves smacking against the shoring, they couldn’t have made themselves heard even without their regulators in the way. Jamie lifted his hands in a shrug and put his head back in the water, intending to sweep around the north side before following Geist back to their search pattern.

The waters around Baltimore were always full of sound. Stone and metal shifting and grinding, bass-deep or treble-whining motors, those were all familiar background to the bubbles moving past his ears. But there was something… rhythmic that didn’t sound like it came from a motor, a tapping that took on a pattern recognizable anywhere in the world. A pattern only a person could make. Three quick, three slow, three quick. SOS. Jamie let a little air out of his vest, sinking under the surface to get a better listen. Water carried sound, but it made direction hard to pick up. Geist swung his light over Jamie as he surfaced.

Jamie flashed his own light, then tapped his ears and indicated the pylons on either side of them. Geist pointed and they separated to search. Jamie put his head down and swam at speed, panning his light over the north side before making for the next pillar of cement supporting the bridge.

The rocks of the shoring were a dark, uneven lump against the black of sky and the shining black of the water. But as Jamie drew within twenty yards, he was sure that among the rocks, something was moving. Something not a cormorant or a heron, unless they had decided to wear a watch because one was reflecting his light from a hand and wrist that clung to a rock.

He’d found him.

The absolutely captures the caution, the excitement and, of course, the dangers of the divers search.  Remarkable details conveying knowledge and a concise narrative that allows the story to move along smoothly yet still gain momentum.  Just lovely.

My only issue here is that I felt the ending was a little to abrupt when you consider all the reader, as well as the couple, went through to get to it.  I would have loved a little more resolution or perhaps an epilogue (not something you normally find in a Mitchell story).  For those of you familiar with the other books, those couples can be found here in Bad Attitude as well.  While Bad Attitude was clearly written as part of a series, it also works as a stand alone story.  I highly recommend it for all the reasons mentioned above and for the combustible, sweat inducing sex scenes as well.  Trust me, those are smoking hot.

Here are the books in the order they were written:

Bad Company (Bad in Baltimore #1)

Bad Boyfriend (Bad in Baltimore #2)

Bad Attitude  (Bad in Baltimore #3)

Cover art by Angela Waters.  I like the cover but where is my ginger haired cop?

Book Details:

ebook
Published April 23rd 2013 by Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
edition language
English
original title
Bad Attitude

Review: All Lessons Learned (Cambridge Fellows Mysteries #8) by Charlie Cochrane

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Rating: 5 stars

“He’s at the end of his rope…until fate casts a lifeline.”

All Lessons LearnedWWI has ended and Dr. Orlando Coppersmith is back at St. Bride’s College, after being freed from a German prisoner of war camp.  The cost of the war is all around him but the deepest, most traumatic blow is the loss of his lover and companion of more than a decade, Dr. Jonty Stewart, killed in action in the Somme.  Orlando is consumed by his loss and going through the motions of his previous life when unexpectedly a case arises to take his mind off his desolation.  A mother is sure her son did not die in battle and wants Orlando to find him or the truth whatever it may be so her mind can be at ease. The pursuit of that truth will take Orlando back to places he wished he could forget and times of untold horror and pain.

But on the French seafront at Cabourg, Lavinia Stewart Broad and her family are taking a walk on the sands when she comes across the last person she ever expected to see, giving her hope and joy for the first time in ages.  The impact of the war that has been left behind on those who fought cannot be lessoned in a day or even month.  And not all the pain and scarring left is visible on the outside.  Nothing in Orlando’s intellectual framework has prepared him for what comes next and it will take everything he has to grasp on to this new hope and hold on through to a future he thought was gone.

From the opening sentence we are audience to a sorrow so profound that you will be weeping within minutes.  I don’t think there is a more powerful symbol of love that can grip you except its absence after having found it and that is Orlando Coppersmith at the beginning of All Lessons Learned.

This is how we find him:

“The twelfth day of the eleventh month, 1918.  Orlando Coppersmith stood outside the prisoner of war camp and listened, almost unbelieving. No distant guns. No shouts or cries. No whinnying of frightened horses. Somewhere a bird was singing—two birds—and a distant dog barked. It felt unreal, as if this were a dream and the memory of the last few years the reality to which they would wake.”

The first world war has ended and its impact is hitting home as the men who survived WWI return back to their lives. Those that don’t return lie dead on foreign soil or have fled, marked as cowards, some because of what we know is PTSD, a concept so foreign that is was mocked as an excuse of cowards instead as the very real condition we know today.  Charlie Cochrane brings the reader the horrors that WWI visited on all involved by making it personal with its impact on characters we have met and come to love in the Cambridge Fellows Mysteries. In the opening pages, we find out that Dr. Peters, the Master of St. Bride’s College has died.  Also gone are Mr. and Mrs. Stewart, Jonty’s parents who also became the same to Orlando over the course of their relationship.  Jonty has been killed during fighting on the Somme and with them everything central to Orlando’s happiness and contentment , the core that made his life worth living is shattered, leaving Orlando adrift, tethered to life by a promise, Mrs. Sheridan nee Peters, and Lavinia Stewart Broad and her family.

I can think of no better way to visit the horrors that war can impart than through the eyes of a beloved character and Cochrane pulls us into Orlando’s memories with a gritty harshness not found elsewhere in the series.  This is a much changed Orlando since last we saw him.  No longer does this vaunted mathematician see the world in black and white.  Time, loss and his experiences on the front and in a prisoner of war camp have changed him forever with one exception.  His love for Jonty is as strong and final as it ever was, and now he is trying to continue living as he promised and falling short.  That changed man, more than anything else Cochrane could have done, tells us how much the world has altered in order for that to happen.  Have the tissues at hand, because this is going to hurt and hurt deeply.

Another fine element of this novel is the subject of what today we know as PTSD and veterans.  Then it had different names, shell shock for one, neurasthenia for another, the last being an ill-defined mental illness that encapsulated everything from fatigue to irritability and mental instability.  That is when it was believed in, for some doctors and the public, it was just an excuse for cowardice under fire. Here is another passage when Orlando is interviewing someone about MacNeil the man he is trying to locate:

“Orlando wouldn’t use the word “desert”. He’d heard too much rubbish spouted about men who’d lost their nerve, especially from people who’d been no nearer the front than the promenade at Dover.”

Those words might just have easily come out of the 60’s, or 80’s or even now.  While the weapons and locations may change, the impact of war upon people’s minds and bodies does not and here we see the results in Orlando and many others he comes across during his investigation.  Through recounted memories or more accurately nightmares, we hear the constant pounding of exploding munitions and the whistling of the shells overhead, the empty sleeves and missing legs of the remnants of the men who made it back, and the holes in the lives left behind of those that didn’t.  This is a grim and necessary element of All Lessons Learned and its impact upon the reader tells you exactly how well Charlie Cochrane did her job in making it real to us too.

There are also some wondrous moments in this story that will make all the pain and tears worthwhile.  They will come not with great shouts of joy and fireworks but quietly, with subtly and that’s as it should be given the nature of the couple at the heart of this series. One of the elements that made Orlando’s grief worse was that he could not mourn the loss of his lover the same as any other “widower” for that was indeed what he was.  Orlando’s grief had to remain hidden from all but a few who knew the couple and their true relationship.  And that isolation of his grief made a deeper cut than if he might have been able to mourn with the countless others at the time.  Orlando Coppersmith is a complex man and brings those same complexities of nature to everything that happens to him, good, bad or miraculous.  So the events that occur later on the story won’t surprise anyone who has become familiar with his character.  Somethings are truly fundamental and that is reassuring too.

This is not the end of the series, although I suspect at the time Charlie Cochrane intended it to be from the epilogue here.  One more book was written.  And that prompted a number of questions I had for the author.  I hope to have my review and the answers to those questions  posted for you sometime soon.  But in a way this does provide a sort of ending because the world and these men were never the same after WWI.  Changes start to happen rapidly throughout the world and the gentler time of the first seven books is forever vanished.   This series has become dear to my heart and we have one more visit to go.  I hope you will stay with me to the end.  For those of you for whom this review is your first introduction, please start from the beginning.  Take your time getting to know these remarkable men, delve into life and times of England in the 1900’s.  It starts out with all the joys of a slow promenade and then picks up the pace with each succeeding book.

It is an extraordinary journey. Dont miss a page of it.  Here are the order the stories were written and should be read to fully understand the relationships and events that occur:
Lessons in Love (Cambridge Fellows, #1)

Lessons in Desire (Cambridge Fellows, #2)

Lessons in Discovery (Cambridge Fellows, #3)

Lessons in Power (Cambridge Fellows, #4)

My True Love Sent To Me

Lessons in Temptation (Cambridge Fellows, #5)

Lessons in Seduction (Cambridge Fellows, #6)

Lessons in Trust (Cambridge Fellows, #7)

Once We Won Matches (Cambridge Fellows, #7.5)

All Lessons Learned (Cambridge Fellows, #8)

Lessons for Survivors (Cambridge Fellows, #9) – released by Cheyenne Publishing.

For free stories in the Cambridge Fellows Mysteries universe and more about the author, visit the author’s website.

 

Review: Life, Over Easy: Fragments Book 1 by K.A. Mitchell

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Rating:  4.25 stars

Life Over Easy coverJohn Andrews life was all planned out, had been since he was young and entered the pool for the first time.  His life revolved around his diving.  He was tutored at home and on the road,  his social circle extended out only as far as his  teammates and diving competitors, even the most normal rites of growing up passed him by, no dances, no television watching or movie going, nothing but diving and diving competition.  Even after winning two Gold Olympic medals, that didn’t change.  John was on target to repeat or perhaps exceed  his goals at the next Olympics until a accident during training changed his life forever.  Now he copes with brain damage, blurry sight, vertigo, and life with a cane as a college freshman, on his own for the first time in his life.  But the place inside of him that used to be filled by diving is empty and John doesn’t know how to fill

One accident six months ago changed Mason’s life forever.  One deer in the middle of the road, one car crash later and everything he loved and thought he would have forever was gone.  Now its Jim Beam and sex that Mason uses to fill the emptiness inside of him, crawling into bed drunk with any number of nameless guys to the consternation and disgust of his roommates and friends.  He needs to concentrate on his school work and project but it seems impossible.

Two men, damaged by life’s accidents.  When John turns up at the wrong house for a party, they meet and while their first encounter isn’t promising, John and Mason are drawn together even as they hide secrets from each other.  John can see auras around peoples heads and he sees two over Mason’s.  And Mason?  He is seeing and hearing his dead lover.   Can both men over come multiple obstacles, including one not of this earth, to find the love both need and deserve?  Life is never easy, but this is ridiculous.

I love K. A. Mitchell.  She is a “go to” author for me and this book demonstrates why I grab up every book she writes.  The characters are unusual to say the least.  John Andrews stands out because he is different on so many levels.  First of all, he is that driven individual who has been pursuing a specific goal since childhood and succeeding at it.  Young athletes are in a category all their own.  They deprive themselves of a normal childhood, delaying or denying all together many hallmarks of growing up in order to pursue their dream, whether it be  that of an Olympic high diver or other sport.  They create a tunnel of efforts, so focused and driven that they seem almost innocent and guileless outside of their sport.  Take that goal, that lifestyle away and you have a person adrift in their own life, no  longer tethered by long term goals.  We see that happen to so many athletes once the Games are over.

K.A. Mitchell takes it one further.  John has had an accident that makes him unable to compete.  From a finely toned athlete, he now copes with a brain damaged during a 2 story fall.  He has vertigo, blurred vision, and  has a condition called Synesthesia, a neurological condition where “one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.”  Colors can be associated with sounds or words, or music is combined with sounds or specific sights, etc.   Mitchell’s vivid descriptions gives us a intimate look at how it must feel when even a short walk turns into an overwhelming cavalcade of colors and sights.  John has to deal with the loss of his life’s goal, his new disability, life as a college student, and all the while he feels empty inside because that one feeling of being “airborne”, floating in space as he dives is forever gone.  Mitchell makes us feel that loss as acutely as John does.  And then she brings it crashing up against an equally deep cavern of loss and pain that is Mason’s.

Most of us have not lived John’s life but I would bet that we all know someone like Mason or lived through a similar trauma.  Mason is easily the most identifiable and recognizable of the two men.  We can connect with Mason who is drowning in the loss of the man he thought he would marry and spend the rest of his life with.  Booze and sex are the fillers of choice for Mason, and we get that.  His friends (wonderful characters in their own right) feel helpless to stop the downward spiral, some have given up all together as Mason lashes out at them in his pain.  This is all very authentic in the emotions radiating off the characters and the pages of this story.

But then Mitchell takes it an additional step further, journeying into the paranormal.  John’s condition lets him see people auras, he knows what they are feeling by looking at the pulsating colors above their heads.  And Mason’s dead lover hovers over all the proceedings, alternately angry and amused by being “stuck” to Mason.  I have to admit I wish that this element has been left out of the story.  It was terrific with just the obstacles they were already facing but then you add ghosts and “auras” and we start tipping over the edge.  It is too much for this story to handle, there is just too much to do justice to all the elements involved.  Then at the very end, one final piece is added.  Mitchell throws in BDSM at the last minute into a relationship that had not previously explored this type of sexuality.  It just seems very awkward and out of place.  I could see where she was going with it, and that made sense but it really needed to be introduced much earlier in the book and in their relationship. But as it was I just thought it was a tad strange for them to take it to that level at that time.

So those were my quibbles with this story.  Too many ingredients to give this a 5 star rating.  It was almost there too.  Do I recommend this book? Absolutely, these are wonderful characters and their stories are compelling.  I wish Mitchell would bring out another book in this series because I like where it is going.  Life is never easy, this book reminds of us of that fact.  But there are solutions and answers for everyone, and Life, Over Easy reminds us of that too.  Pick it up and let me know what you think.

Cover by Natalie Winters, interesting but not as interesting as the story within.

Mitchell, K.A.. Life, Over Easy: Fragments, Book 1 . Samhain Publishing, Ltd..