Back to Cambridge with Charlie Cochrane and Lessons for Survivors! (contest)

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Jonty and Orlando are Back In Lessons for Survivors!

Charlie Cochrane’s Cambridge Fellows Mysteries are a favorite of mine!  Each book is a treasure, waiting for the reader to  discover what mysteries are in store for two utterly captivating characters, Jonty and Orlando.

About Lessons for Survivors

A more than professional interest . . . a more than personal intrigue.

Orlando Coppersmith should be happy. WWI is almost a year in the past, he’s back at St. Bride’s College in Cambridge, his lover and best friend Jonty Stewart is at his side again, and—to top it all—he’s about to be made Forster Professor of Applied Mathematics. And although he and Jonty have precious little time for an investigative commission, they can’t resist a suspected murder case that must be solved in a month so a clergyman can claim his rightful inheritance.

But the courses of scholarship, true love, and amateur detecting never did run smooth. Orlando’s inaugural lecture proves almost impossible to write. A plagiarism case he’s adjudicating on turns nasty with a threat of blackmail against him and Jonty. And the murder investigation turns up too many leads and too little hard evidence.

Orlando and Jonty may be facing their first failure as amateur detectives, and the ruin of their professional and private reputations. Brains, brawn, the pleasures of the double bed—they’ll need them all to lay their problems to rest.

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About Charlie Cochrane

As Charlie Cochrane couldn’t be trusted to do any of her jobs of choice—like managing a rugby team—she writes, with titles published by Carina, Samhain, Bold Strokes, MLR and Cheyenne.

Charlie’s Cambridge Fellows Series of Edwardian romantic mysteries was instrumental in her being named Author of the Year 2009 by the review site Speak Its Name. She’s a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, Mystery People, International Thriller Writers Inc and is on the organising team for UK Meet for readers/writers of GLBT fiction. She regularly appears with The Deadly Dames.

Connect with Charlie:
Website:charliecochrane.co.uk/
Blog: charliecochrane.livejournal.com/
Twitter: @charliecochrane
Facebook profile page: facebook.com/charlie.cochrane.18
Goodreads: goodreads.com/goodreadscomcharlie_cochrane

Giveaway

Every comment on this blog tour enters you in a drawing for an e-book from Charlie Cochrane’s backlist (excepting Lessons For Survivors). Entries close at midnight, Eastern time, on January 31. Contest is NOT restricted to U.S. entries.

Lessons for Survivors is Book 9 in the Cambridge Fellows Mystery.  Reviews for all the stories can be found at Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words.

 

The Adventures of Johnny Stewart Part 1

Johnny Stewart is the great nephew of Jonty Stewart. His four part story will be related by Mrs Cochrane, official biographer to the Stewart family, over the course of this year’s Cambridge Fellows series blog tour.

Roger Bradley looked out at the Thames, from his mother’s hotel suite. This was going to be a wearing evening and they hadn’t even got round to the dinner guests arriving, let alone sitting down. His godmother had burst her appendix, so a last minute replacement had to be found—probably in the form of cousin Mary—but worse still, Sophia was going to be here.

He’d be the one who’d have to take Sophia in on his arm, have to put up with her flirting all evening and, worse still, also have to contend with his mother’s insinuations about what a nice couple they’d make. She’d got brother Henry engaged to be married within a few months and therefore the possibility of grandchildren pretty well sewn up, so why make such a palaver with him?

And Johnny Stewart would be there. The evening had the potential to be disastrous.

“Are you even listening, Roger?” His mother’s voice cut into his thoughts.

“Of course,” he lied.

“And do you agree?” She fixed him with a gimlet gaze. What would he be letting himself in for if he just said “Yes”? It wasn’t worth the risk.

“Sorry, mother, you were right. I wasn’t paying attention.” He needed to defuse the potential explosion. “There was a rather pretty girl out on the embankment and I got a bit distracted.”

“Ah.” His mother’s tone softened. “All I said was that I suspect that in regard to your reference to your godmother’s medical condition, the word is appendices and not appendixes but we’ll let that go. Was she as pretty as Sophia?”

Roger narrowly avoided asking, “who?”, but he’d always been good at thinking on his feet and managed, “How can I answer that without getting myself into trouble with one or other of you? Would ‘equally pretty’ do?”

“A diplomatic answer, dear.” She sighed. “If only your cousin Mary were as pretty.”

I span round to answer her, then decided I preferred the view of the Thames to the view of a condescending maternal face.

“I hope Mary meets a duke one day, one who falls head over heels in love so she then makes a more brilliant marriage for herself than any other female in the family.”

“Since when have you appointed yourself as Mary’s knight in armour?” Roger’s mother’s voice was cool and languid, the one she adopted when she wanted to let his temper blow itself out.

“Since I was old enough to realise how rotten the family is to her. God preserve all spinsters and save them from the machinations of their married relatives.” Roger span on his heels. “This tie needs straightening.”

He ran into his maternal aunt on the way to finding a mirror, which was blessing in that she sorted it for him and kept him out of his mother’s way until he could calm down.

“I hear Johnny Stewart will be here tonight. I’ll enjoy sitting next to him. There.” Aunt Jacinta added the finishing touch to the bow.

“Better you than me. Johnny’s the most insufferable person it’s ever been my misfortune to come across.” Roger ran his hands through his hair.

“You must dislike him intensely,” his aunt said, drily, “to employ that particular gesture. You always used to do it as a lad when you came to stay and we presented you with something you didn’t want to eat. Or asked you a question you didn’t want to answer.”

He felt a bloody embarrassing flush rising up his neck; why did Aunt Jacinta always see straight through him? Did she know exactly what was going on inside his mind to make him so defensive?

Johnny bloody Stewart. Why had he got to keep coming back and making life so difficult?

Roger tried to rally. “Anyone would run their hands through their hair—or tear great clumps of it out—if they had to deal with him for any length of time. He was bad enough at school and hasn’t improved with maturity.”

“That sounds like you then, dear. Peas in a pod.” Aunt Jacinta fixed him with a smile like an auger. She might look one hundred and forty in her bombazine and lace, but that look, and the machinations of the mind behind it, could strike fear in any man.

“Just don’t vex him, would you, dear? If he’s hardly your favourite person, at least be polite.”

“I will do my utmost.” He swallowed hard. Normally, medical students would be beneath his mother’s notice, but this one being the great-grandson of a lord made a difference and she’d been delighted to invite him in the absences of Roger’s godfather, who was at his now hopefully appendix-less wife’s bedside.

How could Roger ever explain about Johnny? There were two insurmountable obstacles—finding the right words to make anyone else understand the feelings he’d had for Johnny since he first caught sight of him as a spotty youth of sixteen and having to deal with her inevitably negative reaction if he did get his point across. He supposed he was too old—and the matter too serious—to just get away with being taken over her knee, whacked, sent to his room and then allowed to come down half an hour later if he showed the right amount of contrition.

Not even Aunt Jacinta could be as understanding about things as to allow that.

Disgrace, disorder, his mother’s tears, his father’s horsewhip? Not that his father would actually resort to the whip, no matter how often he talked about using it on miscreants, although the outcome would be just about the same. Cut off without a penny and none of the Bradleys ever talking to him again. And while that idea might be an attractive one in the case of Uncle Frederick, the general aspect didn’t appeal.

Try as he might, Roger couldn’t think of any way to sweeten the pill, whatever words he could use to describe how he felt.
There was this chap at school, Stewart, J.O. Year below me; came to the school when I was seventeen. I liked the look of him from the start; he had an air about him, power restrained and all that. He matured and filled out a bit faster than more of the spotty oiks of his age. Lost most of the spots, too. Cocky little sod, though. Opinionated.

“Roger!”

“Yes, aunt?” His mind came back from school days to the present, and two females, his mother having appeared, trying to usher him out of the suite.

“Daydreaming again. His worst fault,” she said, bundling him through the door.

Roger reminded himself that if that remained her opinion of what was his worst fault, then all in the garden was still rosy.
***
Johnny was already in the foyer, chatting to Sophia. His dark blond hair was under control, for once, while his blue eyes seemed to dance with pleasure at the arrival of his hostess. Roger thought his heart was going to lunge straight through his rib cage.

“Mrs. Bradley!” He bowed over her hand. “Thank you so much for inviting me as locum tenens.”

“Thank you for stepping in.” Mrs. Bradley was clearly delighted. “Cousin Mary will be delighted to meet you.”

Johnny looked at Roger, one eyebrow raised. “I didn’t know you had a cousin, Roger. Where have you been hiding her?”

“Away from rogues like you. Sophia,” Roger said, heading off any comment Johnny was going to make, “you look lovely.”

“Thank you. It’s just an old thing.” She smoothed her dress, one which was clearly anything but old.

“Johnny,” Mrs. Bradley waved her hands airily, “would you be a sweetheart and take in Aunt Jacinta when we progress to dinner?”

“It would be my pleasure.” It sounded like it would be the highlight of Johnny’s evening. Roger wasn’t sure if his discomfort was irritation at his oiliness or simple jealousy. Why couldn’t he be on Johnny’s arm?

“I was sorry to hear about Mr. Bradley’s accident,” he continued. “He’s quite right to rest that leg up for a while. Sorry he’s missing all the fun, though. Was the matinee good?”

“Excellent thank you,” Mrs. Bradley purred, blossoming under the attention. Roger noted that every woman in the party had slowly drifted into Johnny’s vicinity, like bees after honey. Or wasps after jam. “Malcolm won’t be sorry he missed that part. He’s never one for the theatre, or for coming up to town in general.”

“Do you think he hurt his leg deliberately to get out of it? Shall I horsewhip him for you?” Maybe only Johnny could have said that and got away with it. Roger had met his great uncle, Jonty—when he was up at Cambridge—and the man was the same. Able to charm the birds from the trees.

“Only if he doesn’t enjoy the birthday dinner I have planned when we get home. And this is for me, of course. My friends. Old and new.” Mother looked graciously around her guests then took Detective Superintendent Matthew Firestone—her godfather’s—arm.

“I’m so pleased you could all come. Shall we go through? They’ve laid on some cocktails for us.”

“Oh, lovely,” Sophia said, slipping her arm through Roger’s. Johnny smirked at him, the swine, and they processed towards the private dining room.

The table looked lovely, but the cocktails looked even lovelier, if they’d help Roger cope with the twin trials of Sophia’s doe eyes and Johnny’s…everything. Roger had given up any hope of the bloke fancying him, but the chap could at least be civil.

Mary had arrived and Mrs. Bradley was asking how her journey from Loughton had been, with none of the gratitude on display she’d shown to Johnny.

“My mother pushes that poor girl from pillar to post.” Roger hissed at Matthew, wondering how many cocktails he could consume and still manage to get all his sibilants out. He managed to detach himself temporarily from Sophia on the pretext of circulating and was half way through his perambulations when the manager slipped into the room, making a beeline for Matthew. He appeared to be delivering some sort of intriguing message, given the expression on Matthew’s but before Roger could manoeuvre himself into hearing range, his mother nabbed him.

“Roger. Why did I never meet this delightful young man when you were at school together?”

“I didn’t realise it was de rigeur for me to bring everyone back for tea” Roger didn’t want to talk about Johnny Stewart, not when the half heard words being spoken over his shoulder were so much more interesting.

“I wish he had invited me. Did you have apple cake?” Johnny directed the questions at Roger’s mother, which at least saved him trying not to say, “I couldn’t trust myself enough to invite you.”

“I wish Roger had. It would have made a change from some of the spotty specimens he dragged along.”

Roger bridled. How ridiculous, his own mother flirting with a man young enough to be her son! He rolled his eyes, but the protest he wanted to make got cut off, as Matthew cuffed him on the shoulder.

“Sorry to interrupt. Got a question for you. Did Ivor Gregg seem quite himself at the matinee?”

Roger frowned. “Quite himself? I think so. In good voice, as ever.”

“He was marvellous,” Mrs. Bradley said, girlishly.

“Why do you ask?” And why had Matthew adopted his professional, rather than avuncular, tones?

“Because he’s disappeared. Not turned up for the evening performance, and can’t be found in any of his usual haunts. Totally out of character.”

“Perhaps he’s had an accident?” Mrs. Bradley flapped her hands.

“Perhaps, although the management say they’ve rung round all the likely hospitals where he’d be if he had.” Matthew shrugged.

Aunt Jacinta had joined the group. “That doesn’t strike me as being the sort of case you’d be called in on, Matthew.”

“It wouldn’t be, normally. But he’s had threats made to him.” Matthew bowed over his goddaughter’s hand. “I’m afraid I have to take my leave, my dear.”

“Phew.” Johnny whistled. “The thick plottens.”

A MelanieM Review: Cutting Out by Meredith Shayne

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Rating:  4.5 stars out of 5

Cutting Out coverTransplanted Aussie Shane Cooper loves his job as a shearer and the home he’s made for himself in New Zealand.  For over 20 years Shane has climbed to the top to be recognized as one of New Zealand’s premier shearers in the Senior Division where the most experienced of them all compete.  Now 39, Shane has a house, good friends, and a life he loves.  He’s only missing out on having someone to share his passion for shearing and his life.

Lachlan “Lachie” Moore is an up and coming shearer.  Not yet good enough to compete in the Senior Division, he still loves to watch them shear, hoping to pick up on pointers to help him do a better job.  At 24, young, reckless and gay, Lachie spots the hot, older shearer immediately, and its not just for his skills at shearing sheep that catches Lachie’s gaze.  But Shane appears more than content to just look then act on the attraction each feels for the other.

Then the horrific Christchurch earthquake hits, and tragedy strikes Lachie’s family. Lachie deals with his traumatized family and takes up new responsibilities, ones that makes it impossible for Lachie to continue on with his dream of shearing as a profession.  A year later, a new opportunity arises for Lachie to pick up shearing once more if only he can find the confidence in himself that now he has lost.

The new job reunites Shane with Lachie, only now he finds the lad changed and uncertain.  Shane decides to help the struggling Lachie regain his skills and direction and the time together reignites old feelings between them.  But Lachie has secrets he is afraid to share with Shane and Shane’s seems to want more than Lachie can give.  What will it take to break up this barrier Lachie has created so both men can have what they so desperately desire?

I throughly enjoyed Cutting Out by Meredith Shayne.  I seem to be reading quite a few books lately from New Zealand and Australian authors and all of them make me want to get on a plane and go “walk about” down under.  Meredith Shayne’s story deals with professional shearers in New Zealand, a job that requires remarkable precision and care as well as speed if you are to make it to the top.  Handling large squirming animals and a pair of shears at the same time takes a passion and coordination that not every person has and Meredith Shayne takes us into the heart of these men and women and the almost vagabond life they lead going from farm to farm to shear large numbers of sheep at a time.

I particularly enjoyed the insight Shayne gives us into the different levels of shearers, from the junior divisions of shearers just learning their  profession (junior and senior refer not to the shearer’s age but experience) to the top Senior level and the sought after shearers that are asked to shear the top quality and much larger breed Merino sheep.  The author easily slides her information about the profession, from the “shearing teams” that tend to work together over and over again as well as the loosely aggregated bunch assembled at the last minute, into her story making it all feel as natural as their surroundings.  The camaraderie and the close community is strengthened by the bond of the Maori society that hovers like a benign parent over its members and families.

As the characters move from farm to farm and home locations, the reader is brought keenly home into the various cities and places of New Zealand, from Christchurch to Gisbourne, from the Queenstown Hill Time Walk to the Basket of Dreams statue.  I felt she made me really  see these place while also sending me to look up areas and places of interest in each town and park.  And again all this is neatly folded into the narrative in such a way that it enhances rather than impedes the flow of the plot and the character growth.

But those characters!  That’s the heart and joy of this story.  I loved the reticent, introspective Shane, older, more experienced at life and love at 39 he knows what he wants but isn’t sure about where he stands with others.  Shane has many facets to his personality and not all are compatible with the much younger Lachie’s 24 year old outlook that begins at cocky, free wheeling and exuberant.  Something that the devastating impact of the earthquake in Christchurch changes forever.  The author takes her time and theirs for the relationship to begin as a friendship and slowly turn into something deeper.  For some readers, this timeline will feel far too slow and unhurried, but I found it to be in keeping with the characters personalities and background the author has created for them.  And its makes the ending all that  much sweeter.

What did I wish had been enlarged?  Perhaps the Epilogue or the chapter preceding it.  I would have loved a little more of their life at the end and how it all came about.  But perhaps we can have that in another story, one that includes these characters and enlarges on others we meet inside this story.  I loved it enough that I hated to have it all end.  I think you will feel the same.  Looking for a new romance to read?  One with a spectacular setting and hot men to boot? Pick up Cutting Off and enter Meredith Shayne’s world of sheep shearers and their HEAs!  I absolutely recommend this to one and all!

Cover artist is from Mumson Designs.  They did a great job.  I love that cover and it works perfectly for one of the characters.

Note:  Use of Aussie/NZ English used.  There is also a wonderful vocabulary to refer to at the beginning!

Sales Links:  All Romance eBooks (ARe)  amazon    Cutting Out

Book Details:

ebook, 200 pages
Published October 11th 2014 by Bottom Drawer Publications
http://www.bottomdrawerpublications.net

ISBN139780994157232
edition languageEnglish

A Sammy Review: Down and Dirty (Cole McGinnis #5) by Rhys Ford

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

“You are my brother’s best friend. And from what Cole’s told me about you, not someone I’d wake up to the next morning,” Ichiro murmured, scrubbing at his tired face. Peering out between his fingers, he barked a short laugh. “Fucking you would be a huge mistake, Bobby.”

Bobby’s laughter was nearly as bitter as the coffee he’d brought over for Ichiro to drink. “Well, if there’s one thing I’m good at, Sunshine, it’s making huge fucking mistakes.”

Down and Dirty coverBobby Dawson is an ex-cop with a bitter past and a slew of one-night-stands. Sure, he’s handsome, fit, and pretty damn hilarious, but if there’s one thing he’s not, it’s boyfriend material.

Jae, Cole, and most everyone who knows him all agree on that. But there’s something about Ichi, and Ichi with Bobby that make all the past screw ups seem surmountable.

It’s true. They’re the kind of couple that shouldn’t be together. Bobby has a son Ichi’s age, he sleeps around, Ichi’s too innocent… the excuses go on, but even excuses run out when love is involved

Bobby didn’t want this. He’d never wanted to feel that connection to another man. Men were… disposable. Holes and mouths who laughed and maybe kept him company but eventually wandered off like strays finding a new home.

He wasn’t supposed to want to keep them. To soothe them or wipe their tears when their worlds were shattered by violence. The world was a tough place. He’d seen enough blood and death to stare it down until it whimpered away, but he’d never wanted to keep someone else safe from its looming, dark presence.

Until now.

And it scared the shit out of him.

Down and Dirty runs concurrently with a lot of the events in Dirty Deeds, which I really appreciated, as it allows us to really see the growth of Bobby and Ichi’s relationship from the very start.

Like all other Rhys Ford books I’ve read, she has a definitive voice that is immediately recognizable and completely enjoyable. There’s a balance of humor along with a seriousness that one would think may be hard to maintain, but she does it with near flawless precision. The way she gives her characters life allows the reader to feel close to them, like they know them on a personal level, and this book was no different.

For readers of the series, we’ve gotten to know Bobby a bit along the way, and Ichi more recently. We had bits and pieces of their lives, but what I loved about this book is that it revealed a whole other layer to both characters, but particularly Bobby. I knew on a basic level that he was more than an aging man whore with a need to box and sharp wit, but that was more just my personal thought process. Rhys really gave us the window into his past in Down and Dirty, and it wasn’t at all what I expected.

On top of that, we also get to see pretty much all of our favorites, with a few exceptions. But if you’re worried that Jae and Cole are going to be forgotten in this, don’t be. They are in here plenty without taking over the story and making it their own. We even get a brief but kick-ass appearance from Claudia, some sweet words from Scarlet, and a dash of Mike that will make you want to hit your head on the desk. The story did a great job of making it Bobby and Ichi’s, but still giving us everyone we’ve come to know and love in the previous four books.

I do have a few small bones to pick. For one, that ending. WHAT WAS HIS ANSWER?! I mean, I’m hoping I know what it is. But… I need to know!. Secondly, I really wish we got to see more of Bobby with his family. We see him debating about telling his Uncle, but never really find out if he does. And I’d love to have seen more of him and his son. But can you blame me for being greedy? Of course I want more.

All around a great addition to a wonderful series.

The cover art by Reece Notley does a very nice job of connecting to the other books and making them all appear cohesive. I can definitely picture Bobby as the cover model, but I’m not so sure about Ichi. The model who is meant to depict him just seems a bit too buttoned up for me. Still, it’s a nice cover that connects to the story through small details.

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

Book Details:

ebook, 200 pages
Expected publication: January 2nd 2015 by Dreamspinner Press LLC
original titleDown and Dirty
ISBN139781632166159
edition languageEnglish
seriesCole McGinnis #5

  • Cole McGinnis Series includes:
  • Dirty Kiss (Cole McGinnis, #1)
  • Dirty Secret (Cole McGinnis, #2)
  • Dirty Laundry (Cole McGinnis, #3)
  • Dirty Sweets (Cole McGinnis, #3.5)
  • Dirty Day (Cole McGinnis, #3.6)
  • Dirty Deeds (Cole McGinnis, #4)

A MelanieM Review: Red Dirt Heart Series by N. R. Walker

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5 for the Series 

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Welcome to Sutton Station: One of the world’s largest working farms in the middle of Australia – where if the animals and heat don’t kill you first, your heart just might.

And with those words, N. R. Walker introduces us to one of the most heartwarming, delightful, and throughly addicting series that is Red Dirt Heart!  Red Dirt Heart revolves around the complex and totally embraceable characters of Charlie Sutton of Sutton Station and Texan Travis Craig.   Per N. R. Walker:

Charlie Sutton runs Sutton Station the only way he knows how; the way his father did before him. Determined to keep his head down and his heart in check, Charlie swears the red dirt that surrounds him – isolates him – runs through his veins.

American agronomy student Travis Craig arrives at Sutton Station to see how farmers make a living from one of the harshest environments on earth. But it’s not the barren, brutal and totally beautiful landscapes that capture him so completely, it’s the man with the red dirt heart.

But that brief synopsis doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of these stories. Through 4 books we trace Charlie and Travis’ journey towards love, relationship and a permanent home with each other.  Along the way we fall in love with not only Charlie and Travis but the red dirt desert of the Northern Territory that Charlie loves so much.  It doesn’t happen immediately but gradually in scene after scene as the stark, red hot environment claims the heart of Travis just as surely as Charley does.  And this is not a romanticized version of the red dirt country.  No, its comes complete with venomous snakes and spiders,  extreme temperatures that are lethal if caught unprepared or lost, and an almost alienness, a sense of solitude that can comfort or kill depending upon the circumstances.   And we learn to respect and love it for exactly what it is.

The same truth can be said about Charley…complex, abandoned, self-doubting Charley.  So easy to connect with and understand, Charley is a character as layered as the desert, full of extreme swings in his decision making, as durable and elemental as the red dirt he loves so deeply.  The Sutton Station is a part of Charlie, although he has yet to learn exactly how much and what large boundaries that station family includes.  For the Sutton Station comes with Ma and George, farm employees who are more mom and dad to Charley than his own. There’s Billy (an Aboriginal), and  several other workers that over the course of the stories form a close knit family to Charley and Travis.  But it’s not Charley that is the impetus for this shaping of people and events, no, its the arrival of Travis Craig that throws Charley and the status quo into shambles.  Delightfully so.

When Travis arrives, he meets a closeted, closed off Charley just waiting for a love he’s sure he doesn’t deserve.  And one of the things that makes this beginning of their journey so compelling is that the readers live inside Charley’s  head, an element that brings us so close to this bruised man that we love him immediately.  Books 1 through 3 are all told from Charley’s point of view.  In a neat feat of writing, N. R. Walker gives us the ability to see through the haze of Charley’s confusion, self doubt, and desire to realize that Travis is falling deeply in love with Charley even if Charley can’t see it.  Even as Charley is internally arguing with himself, busy throwing obstacles in their path to happiness because of his fear and uncertainty, we see Travis always in Charlie’s orbit, watching and urging Charlie forward.  What an addicting, captivating and yes, throughly charming pair and instantly we are invested in their happiness and future together.

What a troublesome road it is for Charley and Travis.  Outside of Charlie’s two step relationship dance, there’s immigration laws and visas, and the reality that Travis is an American citizen whose family (who loves him dearly) lives in Texas.  There complications that abound with Ma and George, orphaned animals that quickly grab onto your heart as much as the rest of the Sutton Station crazy, warmhearted group of individuals.  We get lessons in the mineral layers of dirt, learn what a bore is (no it has nothing to do with a person), and in general, see what it takes to run a station as large as Charley’s.  Those of us readers not from Down Under learn bits of Australian english and phrases, enough to instill the urge to travel and see it for ourselves.    As I say in my review for Red Dirt Heart 4, this series is as much a love letter from N. R. Walker to her country as it is about a deeply abiding love between Charley and Travis.

Along with way, there are some heartstopping moments so painful that tissues will be needed, white knuckle events that will make you feel suspended, frozen, until you (and the characters) are able to move forward and past them once more.  Those will be balanced with scenes of joy, laughter, and romance, such as Charlie understands it!  I laughed, cried, and laughed again through all the highs and lows, and even quiet moments of reflection and contentment that flow from these stories and the series as a whole.

Just a memory of a dialog or scene can send me running back to grab up that book, and before I realize it I’m lost once more in Red Dirt Heart romance and setting of Sutton Station and Charley Sutton.

Now the series is ending with Red Dirt Heart 4.  I’ve read the story, wept a little (ok ,more than a little. a lot) and said my happy goodbyes.  Told this time from Travis’ point of view, it’s a wholly satisfying, totally engaging series finale and gives us and Travis and Charley a glorious happily ever after.  It ends just where it should, no more, no less.   The Red Dirt Heart saga quickly became and still is one of my all time favorite series. It will be among the top on my rec lists as well as Best of.  N. R. Walker’s writing was vivid, at times lyrical in her love for her country and the Northern Territory, and full of the human spirit and endurance it takes to not only live life on the desert but to embrace it with all that you are.

But don’t take my word for it,  pick it up and start your journey into red dirt territory and the hearts and minds of Charley Sutton and Travis Craig.  It’s easy to read them in order as they are titled Red Dirt Heart 1 thru 4!  Elegant and simple.  Just don’t expect the same simplicity inside.  Be prepared to fall madly and completely in love with Charlie, Travis, Sutton Station and yes, the red dirt of  Australia’s Northern Territory.  What an amazing trip it is!  A real journey of their lifetimes! Begin it today.

All covers are the creation of Sara York.  I loved them.  They brand the series as a whole while each cover has elements important to that story.  Great job.

Sales links can be found on each individual review page listed below:

Red dirt Heart CoverRed Dirt Heart 2Red Dirt Heart3Red Dirt Heart 4 cover

A MelanieM Review: The Shearing Gun by Renae Kaye

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Rating 5 stars out of 5

The Shearing Gun coverHenry “Hank” Woods has always known he was gay but coming out as a teenager saw Hank thrown off his family’s farm and estranged from his father.  But Hank persevered, and now at the age of twenty-five, Hank owns his own farm in Australia’s rural southwest. Raising his own flock of sheep and growing crops often isn’t enough so Hank supplements his income from the property with seasonal shearing.  Over the years Hank’s talent has earned him the title of “shearing gun”—an ace shearer able to shear large numbers of sheep in a single day, a title that brings a higher fee and an increased number of jobs.  And Hank won’t risk any of his hard earned gains or trust that the large sheep bosses will hire a “gay” shearer, so Hank remains firmly in the closet.

Enter Dr. Elliot Stockton-Montgomery, a city-born and educated transplant to the country. Elliot’s reasons for choosing to practice in the small close-knit community of Dumbleyung in Western Australia are many. Primarily, Elliot is paying off this college debt by agreeing to work in a rural area needing doctors until his loans are paid off.  But he soon figures out that being an out gay in this somewhat conservative area is not a wise decision, although he isn’t sure how successful he is at hiding his sexuality.  Especially when he comes in contact with Hank Woods.

When a football injury brings Hank to Elliot’s attention, an inappropriate sexual glance, a stuttered apology, and a rejected doctor’s prescription of rest afterward kickstarts their friendship.  A friendship that slowly turns into something more.  But Elliot is truly a brilliant surgeon and the offers pour in daily from the large cities and hospitals looking to lure him away.  And Hank?  He’s still in the closet. And in Elliot’s mind and heart, a closeted existence and hidden relationship is not a place he wants to be.

So many hard decisions to make and obstacles to overcome to HEA.  Will the chance for love and a lasting relationship be enough to bring Hank out of the closet and keep Elliot happy in a small rural town?  Both are about to find out the answer in The Shearing Gun.

The Shearing Gun by Renae Kaye is one of those heartwarming, enduring stories I will go back to read over and over again.   For many reasons this story captured my heart and imagination and has refused to let them go long after I finished this story. It is both a comfort read suitable for cold nights and comfy airchairs as well as a heartwarming romance that never gets old. I think when I look back on 2014, Renae Kaye will be in the top five of those authors whose stories I loved and list of new authors discovered.

Australia is a country I have always wanted to visit and the profession of sheep shearer, a prime element here, has always fascinated me.   I have watched sheep shearing contests here at Maryland’s Sheep & Wool Festival where shearing guns  from around the world compete for prizes.  But The Shearing Gun made these men and women and their profession come alive in a way that merely watching them on a stage never did.  Kaye’s descriptions of a day’s shearing, the “zone” the shearers get into where the cuts are precision made, the fleece slides cleanly off, and animals switched swiftly in and out, all to raucus tunes and the smell of lanolin and sweat.  Well, the visceral impact of those descriptions and scenes upon the reader is enormous.  I swear I could feel the swelter of the tents and buildings filled full of animals and people, a cacophony of sounds, and smells, and the heat that goes on and on. And the people involved, each with their own role to play in getting huge flocks of sheep sheared in a short amount of time, what variety in sex, age, and training.  It’s amazing. The exhilaration and pride of the quick clean shear, the rush and enthusiasm of the moment, it just flies off the page to our delight and wonder.

Everything here is on a large scale, from the enormous herds brought in to shear, the high volume of food consumed (and described in rich detail), right down to the quality of fleeces and sheep per hour a shearing gun can cut.  All these elements fill this story full of rich layers giving it a depth and dimension that makes every part of The Shearing Gun sing with life and love.  This story is a vivid journey, both for the reader and for two men on the path to happiness and a forever relationship.

How I fell in love with the characters I met in The Shearing Gun.  And not just the main characters of Hank Woods and Dr. Elliot Stockton-Montgomery, no, its also Middy, Big D, Little D, Old Doc Larsen and Gloria, and all the rest of the inhabitants of Dumbleyung.   And yes, there is a Dumbleyung, which I discovered to my joy.  Dumbleyung,( population 605 as of 2011) and the Shire of Dumbleyung, well, just the names alone have a magnetism all their own, just as Elliot discovers early on.  Dumbleyung is as much a main character of this story as all the others.  Do I want to go there?  Yes, most emphatically so.

But before I fell in love with the townsfolk and Dumbleyung, first I met and loved Hank and Elliot.  The story is told from Hank’s pov and Renae Kaye imbues this character with a unique voice and regional perspective.  We never forget that the land and his farm are a deep part of who Hank is.  His love and knowledge of both are almost on a cellular level and the author is able to relay this to the reader by bringing us into Hank’s mind and heart.  We are there when he arrives in the clinic expecting to see Old Doc Larson and meets city doc and transplant Elliot instead.  What follows is amusing, telling, and so authentically perfect that I have to include a small excerpt below:

“My apologies,” he said with a smile. “I didn’t realize I hadn’t introduced myself. I’m Doctor Elliot Stockton-Montgomery. How do you do?”

In my mind I winced at his pretentious name and pretentious words and wondered if it hurt having that plank permanently stuck up his arse. “Shit, Doc. I’m here at the clinic on a bloody Sunday; how the hell do you think I’m doing?”

That earned me another twitch of his mouth. “Yes… well.” He cleared his throat. “So tell me what you’ve done to yourself and we’ll see about fixing you up.”

“Meself?” I snorted. “You think I’d do this to me-self? Nah, it was them bloody mongrels from Corrigin. They can’t kick a footy straight, so they hit you hard to try ’n’ knock you out so’s you don’t know which is the arse end of your dog. Them wallies jumped on me in the second quarter. Three of them. It was fucking Big D MacDonald who took me for a flyer, and then his brother and cousin used me like a trampoline. Hard. The wankers. I showed them, though. Got me a fifty-meter and thumped that red turkey through. Then three more times that quarter and once in the third before Coach yanked me because I dropped a sitter when I didn’t use me sore arm.”

The Doc blinked a couple of times through my explanation, but to his credit he didn’t drop his eyes. “Let me get this straight,” he asked. “You were playing football against a team from Corrigin, whose skills were poor, so they tried to make up for it by rough play. One player threw you to the ground and two others sat on you. You received a penalty and a shot at scoring. You scored a goal, then four more before, until about forty minutes after your initial injury, the coach of your team made you stop playing because you didn’t catch the ball cleanly?”

I frowned at him. “Yeah. Isn’t that what I just said?”

 

Yes, there are AUS terms and profanities galore, luckily, there is also an Australian glossary provided by the author.  I ended up using it to my endless amusement.  The humor as well as Elliot’s “fish out of water” situation is highlighted by the dialog the streams out of Hank’s mouth even as he’s bleeding all over the floor.  But Elliot’s education is just beginning.  After rejecting (obviously) Elliot’s prescribed 8 weeks of rest, Elliot ends up at Hank’s farm and ends of spending the day working alongside him.  Last excerpt (I could quote this story all day):

He climbed into the middle of the bench seat without prompting and regarded me with a puzzled look. “Then why the fencing lesson today unless you wanted to prove that I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was?”

I turned the key and pressed in the clutch, waiting for him to put me in first gear before answering. “It wasn’t about proving you were smart or not. It was more about teaching you what we do as farmers. So when you get a guy in who requires stitching up because he tried to do a two-man job by himself, you won’t make him feel like a child for his stupidity. Because he knows it was wrong, but if he didn’t do that job right then, it could’ve meant losing a year’s worth of crop because the cattle got in the paddock. Farming’s a harsh business. We don’t have the luxury of waiting around until someone pops by to help us. We work our guts out. And that bull that just broke the leg of the guy in your clinic? He may be angry with the animal, but that bull is worth the money, because selling him next year will pay the mortgage for two months. And the guy who caught pneumonia because he worked twenty hours a day in the rain to get his crop in? Well, it was either that or walk away from the land his family has farmed for over a century.”

I stopped at the gate and jumped out to open it. He was waiting for me when I climbed back in. “Do you think I made you feel stupid?”

I was through the gate and back out to close it again before I answered him. “You didn’t make me feel stupid, but you didn’t listen to what I said. There’s no way that any man in this district could simply rest for eight weeks. So you need to be aware of that and change your medical advice. So why don’t you tell me not to lift with my arm, watch not to bang it, and that I’m going to need help over the next eight weeks? Give me painkillers because you know I’m going to need them, and tell me that I’ll be right to go back to full duties by the end of August. Can you see the difference, Doc?”

He looked thoughtful and nodded.

 

A friendship has begun and we are only on page 26.   But the heart and soul of Hank is right there, for Elliot and the reader to see and fall in love with.  The more we get to know Elliot, his character and heart opens up before us much the same way.  Trust me when I say these two men are characters you will find almost impossible to let go of at the end of the story.  I still haven’t and I expect that I won’t anytime soon.

The author also addresses the very real challenges a gay or bisexual man will face in such a small homogeneous community, and the various responses one would expect…the bad, the good and the indifferent.  This aspect of the story feels as real and complex as all the other elements that make The Shearing Gun one of the best of the year.

Run, don’t walk to the computer and pick this story up.  It’s not only one of Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words highly recommended reads but will be at the top of my favorite books of the year.  Happy Reading!

 

Cover artist Paul Richmond.  It works perfectly for the cast and plot of this story.  Alive, a little rough and always colorful.

Sales Links: Dreamspinner Press eBook & Paperback    All Romance (ARe)  amazon     The Shearing Gun

Book Details:

ebook, 214 pages
Published September 19th 2014 by Dreamspinner Press (first published September 18th 2014)
ISBN139781632160461
edition languageEnglish

Barb, A Zany Old Lady Review: Candy Man by Amy Lane

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

The Candy Man coverAdam Macias is virtually homeless when he arrives at his cousin Rico’s apartment to housesit/petsit while Rico is away for six months. Out of a job, money and a place to live, even his car broke down on the way to Sacramento to do this favor for Rico, a favor which Adam sees as his last chance to redeem himself after a string of life disasters, including outing himself just before he left the military.

All he wants to do is survive, but suddenly he finds himself on the receiving end of good things—including a job, a boss and co-workers who like him, people who like his art work, and best of all—a boyfriend.

When Finn Stewart comes bouncing into his life as a happy-go-lucky young man who just exudes positive energy, Adam is at first confused and taken aback, but eventually he fully embraces the fact that he likes Finn, in fact, he needs Finn in a way he’s never needed anyone before. All his life he’s been the boy who was not wanted by either his mother or his grandmother. He’s been stereotyped as a troublemaker, not worth anyone’s time or attention. Joining the Army was his attempt to show his value, but when he returned home and shared with his family that he was gay, his grandmother literally slammed the door in his face and reiterated how just how worthless and useless he was.

Because of his history of low self-esteem from listening to those negative messages, it’s hard for Adam to accept the positive things now happening in his life, but Finn—bright, cheerful Finn, brings Adam hope. One of my favorite early scenes occurs when he’s kissing Finn and Finn tells him that they’ll kiss more, but not tonight. And Adam realizes that he’ll do whatever Finn wants. Paraphrasing Adam’s thoughts–he had no moral code about sex but he does have a moral code about Finn, and whatever Finn says is the code.

Slowly but surely, tough-guy Adam who hasn’t had any value to anyone suddenly has value to others, and he realizes as he’s smiling for the second time one day that the smiling and camaraderie he’s experiencing at work and with Finn is “softening the parts of his soul made brittle by pain”. I love Amy Lane’s descriptions of the emotional complexities of everyday living.

This book is not long, but it’s packed with a powerful message of hope and love as we witness Adam healing from the hurt and pain he’s lived with for years as he receives the positive layers of energy and love being shared with him on all fronts. There’s fun and whimsy in the form of his boss Darrin who knew that Adam would come into their lives when he read the Pixy Stix, his form of reading tea leaves. And there’s both comedy and tragedy as Adam copes with caring for Rico’s pets—from the big, overeager boxer named Clopper to the crazy old cat named Gonzo who dies on Adam’s watch. Then there’s Finn’s family—healthy, robust, cheerful, loveable, and everything you’d hope for in the ideal family to help Adam heal. And Finn? He’s adorable, strong, loving, and as supportive as a rock for Adam as he finds his way to happiness.

I highly recommend this one to all lovers of M/M romance, especially if you love a damaged hero who’s able to heal with the help of an upbeat, positive character. There’s no denying that there’s angst in this tale, but there’s love galore and so many positives that I feel energized from reading it. I sure would love to see a sequel from this one!

Very highly recommended.

Cover Art by Paul Richmond— Primarily depicts the small shopping area where the candy store is located, lots of candy, and Clopper, the dog— all great representations of the story. In addition, the bright colorful cover conveys the “feel good” energy that’s found within the story itself.

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press                 All Romance (ARe)        Amazon            buy it here

Book Details:

ebook, 136 pages
Published December 3rd 2014 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN139781632166791
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.greenshill.com/

A MelanieM Review: Fair Play (All’s Fair #2) by Josh Lanyon

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Fair Play coverRoland Mills, father of ex-FBI agent Elliot Mills, has always been an activist, extremely liberal in his views and actions. Fifty years ago, Roland belonged to a violent protest group and now, when Roland is about to publish his memoirs, someone is willing to kill to prevent him from doing so.

It took the death of his mother, and Elliot Mills’s own injury to bring father and son back together.   Now the threats against his father’s life has Elliot reaching out to those in his father’s past, an action that  brings him up against the FBI and his lover, FBI Agent Tucker Lance.

Now living together, Tucker and Elliot are still trying to find their way to a solid relationship and these threats against Roland threaten that solidity once again. Tucker has never agreed with radical Roland on much, but when it comes to wanting Elliot to stay out of the mess Roland has gotten into, he and Roland agree for once that Elliot needs to let it alone.  As the danger closes in, it threatens not just Roland’s life, but that of Elliot’s and their relationship as well.

The first book in this series, Fair Game, remains a favorite read of mine.  I loved the complicated characters, the angst filled  past, and the tumultuous circumstances that brought such strong, intelligent men together.  Adding to that, Josh Lanyon completed his cast of characters by giving Elliot a compelling family history with a 60’s activist father, and beloved deceased mother and a host of wild and chaotic personalities that swirled around his father and the university they both teach at.  And then Lanyon piled on some horrific murders to boot!

At the conclusion of Fair Game, Tucker and Elliot agreed to give their relationship another try and this story, Fair Play, picks up with Tucker already living in Elliot’s house on the island.  Their relationship is passionate and committed, yet both men are still obviously adjusting to all new aspects of their cohabitation.  I have always loved this author’s ability to create such layered, fascinating characters and then bring them to life through sharp, thoughtful dialog and emotional interplay.  We feel Elliot’s and Tucker’s hesitations, those halting advances towards openness and vulnerability that is so hard for them both, in scene after scene.  It makes their journey back to each other feel real and sometimes painfully slow.  That makes it extremely gratifiying when they can move past these realistic moments in their relationship to something deeper.   And all the while,  they are trying to deal with Roland’s intractability, fear, and an unknown killer on the loose.

The father/son dynamics between Roland and Elliot that Lanyon has brought into this series is as compelling as the one between Tucker and Elliot, and its not always a given that the relationship will survive the actions of each other, as diametrically opposed as they often are.  I loved the mystery that goes along with the attempts on Roland’s life, it leads into the past and the idea that all actions have reverberations that will continue into the present and beyond.    We also see the potential for the villain in the first story to make a reappearance soon.  That alone gave me the shivers.

In Fair Play, we are there as Tucker and Elliot solve complicated mysteries and move deeper into their relationship. The suspense is gripping, and the emotional involvement never lets up.  We are engrossed in the hunt for the would-be assassin while also heavily invested in Tucker and Elliot’s sometimes shaky partnership and well being. Fair Play is immensely satisfying,  totally entertaining, and a wonderful read.   I highly recommend not only this book but the first in the series as well.   Start with Fair Game to see what brings Elliot and Tucker back together and then continue on to Fair Play.  What a ride awaits you in the All’s Fair series from Josh Lanyon.

 

Cover Artist is a great job in overall tone and concept.

Sales Links:  Carina Press      All Romance (ARe)        Amazon   Buy it Here

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 250 pages
Published November 10th 2014 by Carina Press
ASINB00KV5Z7M0
series All’s Fair #2

All’s Fair Series:

Fair Game
Fair Play (All’s Fair #2)

A MelanieM Review: One Holiday Ever After Anthology by Tere Michaels , Elle Brownlee , Elizah J. Davis

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

One Holiday Ever AFter coverThe holidays are times of reflection, celebration, and coming home to those you love and who love you back.  It’s a time to reconnect with who you are and who you hope to be.  And sometimes, if you are lucky, this is also a season of miracles, of love found and a home discovered.  From New York City, to the winter isolation of the Maine woods, to the quaint, small town charm of Idaho, the men in these stories have different holiday desires. They’re looking for familiarity or fresh starts, but they have one thing in common—their happily ever afters might be waiting in the last places they think to look.

This season I have three top anthologies, all holiday collections.  One Holiday Ever After is among them, primarily because of the excellence in stories and heart from Tere Michaels, Elle Brownlee and Elizah J. Davis.  Before One Holiday Ever After, I was really familiar with only Tere Michaels, but after the wonderful stories from Elle Brownlee and Elizah J. Davis, I have searching out to find more stories by these authors.  Did I have favorites among the three stories?  Certainly but only by the smallest of margins.  Here is the story synopsis and my shortened reviews:

Holiday Roommates by Tere Michaels

As an out of work actor Nate Brandywine needs an emergency roommate for the month of December. During a humiliating gig as a Christmas elf at a NYC department store, he meets Sean Callahan, his producer and a man struggling under the weight of a past-due loan. Sean’s desperate for a place to stay in the city for a few weeks. A month of sharing a workplace and an apartment with someone you can’t stop flirting with? Maybe the holidays won’t be so terrible after all.

I love Tere Michaels and this short story just highlights why.  The characters of Nate and Sean are so believable and vulnerable that the reader will take them into their heart.  The secondary characters are as wonderful as the primary ones and the story’s plot is a realistic one that will pull you in immediately.  A great way to start a must have anthology.

Holiday Sanctuary by Elle Brownlee

Chris Declan is trekking through the wintry wonderland of rural Maine, searching for inspiration and himself, when he’s lost in a hug snow storm. The surprise blizzard that finds him seeking refuge in Paul Bak’s secluded cabin. Paul Bak’s secluded cabin is a prime spot to research and watch birds, a perfect place for an isolated Ornithology researcher. As the snow cuts them off from all around them, making the best of being snowed in together soon becomes a comfortable friendship with fireside chats, a quaint holiday celebration, and more. But despite their growing closeness, there’s one thing they avoid—what will happen when the snow clears and the holidays end.

Elle Brownlee had me at the name of Paul’s cat, Myn.  It’s short for…well, I will let Paul explain it:

“It’s for Moamyn.” Paul steered the conversation away from, well, wherever else it might have gone. But he couldn’t stop wondering after that last comment. “A long time ago in a land far away, the aforenamed and possibly apocryphal Arabian who wrote a definitive treatise on falconry.”

Be still my heart.  An ornithologist’s love story, complete with references to the subtle glory of the grasshopper sparrow.  I adored everything about this story, from the slow exploration of Paul’s comfy cabin, full of hidden objects full of clues to Paul’s character and passion for his profession to the wry humor and intellect that is Chris.  It’s slow, wonderful, and makes an impact on the reader that they won’t be fully aware of until the end.

Holiday Homecoming by Elizah J. Davis

Gavin Anderson never thought making it as a writer in LA would be easy, but when his latest project falls through, he gives up on Hollywood and heads to Bonabri, Idaho in hopes that the peace and quiet of his childhood home will help him figure out his next move. Instead he finds Eric Nichols, his parents’ cute and charming housesitter who is there to experience the small town Christmas festivities. Gavin’s plans for quiet reflection are no match for Eric’s holiday cheer, and he soon finds himself swept up in the spirit of the season. Gavin thought his life had hit a dead end, but in coming home he finds what might be a new beginning.

Here is a story full of the 3 H’s – hope, holiday, and heartwarming.  I finished this story and just kept on smiling as I remembered scenes and dialog from Elizah J. Davis’ Holiday Homecoming.  Adorableness, thy name is Eric Nichols, a man in search of love and home who finds it unexpectedly when he housesits for his best friend’s neighbors in the quaint small town of Bonabri, Idaho.  The town of Bonabri may not actually exist outside these pages but how I wish it did!  It comes to life in all its Chrismassy, nosy glory and I loved it.  I feel the same way about the disillusioned Gavin returning home after failing in Los Angeles and his slow “return” to the human being he always was underneath.  Much like the other two stories, I wish the author had made this a full length book.  Not because this feels incomplete in any way, it doesn’t.  But because I hated to say goodbye to the characters and town once they had hold of me.    It’s a fantastic story and a great way to finish out this must have holiday anthology.

I would read this One Holiday Ever After at any time of the year.  Still in the holiday season and spirit?  Perfection.  Missing the holidays because it is (fill in the blank season)?  This anthology will pull you in and make you remember why you love the holidays so.  It’s one of the top story collections of the year and one you won’t want to miss.  I am so glad I didn’t and you will be too.  A Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words Best of 2014 books!Best Books of 2014

 

 

Cover Artist: Angsty G.  Love the cover, it works perfectly for the collection and spirit of the stories found within.

Sales Links:        Dreamspinner Press ebook & Paperback      All Romance (ARe)   Amazon    Buy it Here

Book Details:

book, 280 pages
Published December 19th 2014 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 1632165783 (ISBN13: 9781632165787)
edition languageEnglish
urlhttps://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=5849

A MelanieM Review: Comfort and Joy Anthology by Joanna Chambers , Josh Lanyon , Harper Fox, and L.B. Gregg

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Comfort and Joy coverThe holidays are upon and so are the holiday story collections.  Comfort and Joy Anthology is brimming over with tales from Josh Lanyon, Joanna Chambers, L.B. Gregg, and Harper Fox.  Within the covers these authors bring tidings of joy, sorrow, humor, hope, and of course, comfort in extraordinary measure.

Readers must have been very good this year because never have our stockings been so full of marvelous collections of stories about Christmas and the holidays.  In my top 3 anthologies, resting easily is Comfort and Joy from four outstanding authors, each story with its own twist and tone to make it both heart wrenching as well as memorable.

What makes this anthology (as with all top three) so wonderful and heartwarming?  Depth for one thing, depth in emotion, characterization and tone.  Complexity in the plots and layering. Also poignancy, a little reflection and sadness that comes to all at this time of the year as well as the wish to be a better person, for yourself and for others.  These stories remind me more of Judy Garland singing Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and less Deck The Halls. Yes, the latter is lovely, lighthearted and whimsical but the truth in the meaning behind these holidays, our expectations and our memories go far deeper and that’s the feeling and dimension these stories bring.  They remind us that comfort is needed along with the joy, and that hope can follow on the heels of sadness and despair.

Rest and Be Thankful by Joanna Chambers:
Two stormy hearts find peace when feuding neighbors in the Scottish Highlands are trapped by a blizzard.

Things aren’t going well for Cam McMorrow since he moved to Inverbechie. His business is failing, his cottage is falling apart and following his very public argument with café owner Rob Armstrong, he’s become a social outcast.

Cam needs to get away from his troubles and when his sister buys him a ticket to the biggest Hogmanay party in Glasgow, he can’t leave Inverbechie quick enough. But when events conspire to strand him in the middle of nowhere in a snowstorm, not only is he liable to miss the party, he’ll also have to ask his nemesis, Rob, for help.

The synopsis doesn’t do this beautiful short story justice. At its heart is Cam McMorrow, a man who is his own worst enemy.  It’s his wonderful childhood memories and his inherited cottage from his grandparents that moved Cam to return to Inverbechie to start up his tourist based Adventure business. But nothing has gone as expected.  The seasonal fluctuations and the accompanying loss of income has put everything he has worked so hard for at risk and the depression and anger he feels has resulted in some poor choices made with the local folk.  But even though we (and Cam) recognize his part in the bad situation he finds himself in, we can’t help but sympathize and love him.  And it’s not all his fault, there have been some exceedingly poor judgement calls on parts of the local townspeople as well.  Cam is in the depths of despair when we meet him.  It his journey out to something better, more hopeful that is the wealth of this story.  I hope Joanna Chambers will revisit this Cam, Rob, and Inverbechie.  All three deserve a bigger story and a true HEA.

Out by Harper Fox
Can a stranger unlock the courage and passion in a young man’s captive heart?

It’s Christmas at Edinburgh’s magnificent Barlinney Hotel, and chief housekeeper Cosmo Grant is in charge of the festivities. He’s already got his hands full when handsome Ren Vaudrey checks in.

It soon turns out that Ren is an undercover cop. Cosmo wants to help him, but unless he can do it within the Barlinney’s walls, Cosmo is stuck. A victim of crippling agoraphobia, he’s been a prisoner in this gilded cage for over a year. Cosmo gathers all his courage to do the right thing by Ren and Sam—and as a glittering Christmas Eve descends on the city, finds himself confronting his very darkest fears.

If anyone had told me that an outstanding Christmas story centered around a traumatized, agoraphobic young man living in an expensive, first class hotel, I might have scoffed…aloud.  Except that it’s Harper Fox telling the tale, bringing to life Cosmo Grant, a vulnerable, warm hearted and superbly efficient chief housekeeper at Edinburgh’s Barlinney Hotel.  It was Cosmo’s bad luck to be held hostage during a robbery gone bad and the trauma has left Cosmo extremely agoraphobic, unable to leave the Barlinney at any cost.  Within its gorgeous confines, Cosmo works, eats, lives…marginally, his fear keeping him inside where he is terrorized by the hotel’s toady of a manager.  Then in sweeps police inspector Ren Vaudrey undercover and Cosmo’s life starts to enlarge once more.  There is a mystery, crooks galore, and romance.

I love Harper Fox and everything her pen touches turns to gold and in this case, to red and green with a tang of pine and something floral that Cosmo has fixed for the lobby.  Could I tell Harper Fox wrote this story?  Why, yes I could.

Waiting for Winter by LB Gregg:

Some mistakes are worth repeating.

Luke always thought he and Winter were the perfect couple—until the day Winter announced he was taking a new job and they were uprooting and headed for Germany. No discussion. No debate. For the first time in his life, Winter miscalculated. Badly. Now Luke is trying his best to move on with his life, but Winter is back in town and he’s set on digging their relationship out of the deep freeze.

A wealth of assumptions and misunderstandings can derail even the most loving relationships as Luke and Winter find out.  Now its the holidays and a time for reconciliation and second chances.  I love how L.B. Gregg writes relationships!   They feel so real, that when something goes wrong between the people involved, the reader feels just as unsettled and sad as the couple. In Waiting for Winter, Gregg portrays the relationship that was like an artist uses negative space in a painting, its defined by what Luke and Winter no longer have, whether its the joys of their intertwined families, houses and experiences.  That Winter and their “coupleness” is missed is accentuated by the places and people Luke visits, all of whom knew them as a couple.  We pine for the loss of Winter and hope that this reunion will take.  I loved the ending, that was perfect.

Baby, It’s Cold by Josh Lanyon:
Or maybe it’s the flu. Breaking up is hard to do — especially around the holidays.

Talk about Kitchen Nightmares! TV Chef Rocky and Foodie blogger Jesse have been pals forever, so it should have been the most natural thing in the world to move their relationship to the next level. Instead, it turned out to be a disaster. But Christmas is the season of love, and someone’s cooking up a sweet surprise…

From sadness and comfort to happiness and celebration, it’s fitting that this anthology  end with heartfelt humor and joy which it does with Baby, It’s Cold by Josh Lanyon.  Two old friends, chef Rocky and food blogger Jesse have tried in the past to have a relationship but it didn’t work out.  Now Jesse figures a blizzard and a surprise dinner is just the way to find out if he and Rocky can salvage not only their friendship but perhaps try again for something more.    What could go wrong?

Considering it’s Josh Lanyon at the helm, just about everything, from misunderstandings, kitchen disasters, and a unexpected visitor, Rocky and Jesse have many obstacles in their path before they can move forward to a future together they both want.  I love the dialog and the past histories Lanyon has detailed for both main characters are as fascinating as they are.  There is always a certain tartness about a Josh Lanyon story, a little wryness to go with the sweet,   a little savory for balance and that keeps the characters and their situations feeling believable and human without being saccharine.  Yes, our history often dictates our present behavior, whether we want it to or not.  Lanyon gets that and folds it into his people and their relationships.  So that when the pop of the champagne cork sounds the arrival of a happy ending, we and Rocky and Jesse have earned it.    Just a wonderful tale,  I loved it.

Love holiday stories?  Are these authors on your automatic buy list?  No matter the reason, pick up this anthology and have yourself a merry little Christmas, or Chanukah, or whatever holiday you may celebrate.  These are stories to read no matter the season.  Comfort and Joy is on Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words Best of 2014 List!  And now I will leave you with the incomparable Judy Garland singing Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas!

Cover Art by Johanna Ollila. Cover is nice if a little bland, a little too generic for my tastes.

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

Book Details:

ebook
Published December 6th 2014 by JustJoshin Publishing, Inc.
(first published December 5th 2014)
ISBN139781937909758
edition languageEnglish

A MelanieM Review: Blood and Rain (Blood #1) by Shira Anthony

Standard

Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Blood and Rain 400x600Born in the 1800s into a clan of fabled vampire hunters, Adrien Gilbert wanted nothing more than to tend his family’s vineyard in southern France. Adrien loved his family and their life but all that changed when his older brother, François, is murdered, or so he thinks.  Bound by his hunter’s oath and lost in grief, Adrien sets out to find and destroy his brother’s killer, the vampire Charles Duvalier.  But nothing is as it seems and the course of Adrien’s life is forever changed by his hunt for the killer and truth.

Desperate to find Charles after months of fruitless searching, Adrien reluctantly makes a bargain with Nicolas Lambert, an ancient vampire.  In exchange for Adrien escorting Nicolas to Paris for his arranged marriage to a rival clanswoman, Nicolas will help Adrien find Charles. A simple agreement that would have profound effects on them all.  Because despite the fact that Nicholas is a vampire and Charles a vampire hunter, they are drawn together by a bond neither understands.

In searching for Charles, Adrien’s established view of the world is fundamentally shaken, first by what he finds out about the history between hunters and vampires and secondly by his feelings and actions towards Nicholas.  As his world falls apart around him, Adrien must still deliver Nicholas to the wedding ceremony that is to make peace between the two warring families.  This peace is necessary for the safety of all Adrien loves but will he be able to let the one man he loves above all else go to make that happen?

In Blood and Rain, first installment in the 3-book “Blood” series from author Shira Anthony, Anthony must lay down a complicated foundation for the three couples and stories involved.  The author starts in Europe, France specifically, with a history of the hunter and vampire dynasties that exist, the troubled and convoluted political jockeying for power, and a mythology so strange that some of the hunters and vampires have buried it under layers of disbelief and legend, until most of those involved arent’ sure what is fact or fiction.   Added over top of that like an intricately patterned lace cloth lies the Gilbert, Lambert and Rousseaus families, (hunters and powerful vampire clans) as well as the Council of Hunters, a governing body in deadly disarray.  Anthony has so much basic series universe building to do that it can feel a little heavy and complicated trying to remember it all.

And woven into the middle of this 18th century political drama is several love stories, the first two are as intwined as the brothers involved.  Two human brothers, Adrien and Francois, and the vampires they love or loved.  The destinies of this quartet are tied together by love, blood, and power.  Adrien and Nicholas, the vampire scion whose helps Adrien enlists to find ancient vampire Charles Duvalier, are the primary couple here, but only just.  Adrien is something of a naif at the beginning, full of absolutes and a certain provincial lack of sophistication.   That you believe in him as a character while not exactly liking him is to the credit and talent of Anthony’s ability to build realistic characters who act, think, and feel as humanly possible.

Nicholas, and the other vampires closely associated with Adrien, Francois, Nicholas, and others are constructed along the same believable lines, although I found these characters to be far more appealing and affable than Adrien at first.  Luckily for all, the reader included, Adrien runs headlong into some life altering events, ones that will change his perception of everything he knows, family, history, even the laws of nature.  But until he does, don’t be surprised if you want to smack him up head the head a time or two.

This story is full of mythical elements, from hunts for  revenge, secret passages and hair raising escapes from malignant villains and vile dangers. That means over the top fights with magical swords, life altering wounds, and bloods, tons and tons of blood.  I loved the action sequences and the mystical elements that Anthony has created are marvels themselves.  Plus there is angst, almost as much angst as there is blood that flows.  The suspense will keep you riveted as the narrative speeds along.

And yes, there is a cliff hanger too.

All of this adds up to a supremely entertaining and engrossing read.  It’s a vampire swashbuckler, full of romance and evil deeds, that includes thwarted, star crossed lovers and the stuff heroes are made of.  Errol Flynn (a swashbuckler above all swashbuckers…google him) would have felt right at home. I kept flipping the pages until it was over and then was ready for the next story to see what happens next.

The only thing that kept this from being perfect was that it got a bit dense in trying to establish all the histories, mythologies, political intrigues and alignments, (and yes, genealogies too) for all the character involved.  At times that tended to weigh down the action and derail the romance, but once established, the story swung perilously along to our horror and delight.

A new series from Shira Anthony is always cause to celebrate.  By adding vampires to her mermen and musicians, she has given us a triumph of genres and couples to root for and love.   Add this to your Holiday wish list or just go ahead and get it right now, you know you deserve it!

Happy Reading.

 

Cover art by Reese Dante.  Great cover, very brooding.

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

Book Details:  

ebook, 268 pages
Published December 15th 2014 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN139781632166074
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=5805