Review: The Rusted Sword by R.D. Hero

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Rating: 4 stars out of 5

The Rusted Sword coverAfter ten years of marriage, Lord Raleigh’s union to the vicious fighter Prince Moshe has become mired in endless arguments, uncertainty, and finally separate chambers.  A love once hot as the fire is now becoming cold and Raleigh is afraid for their future.  A proud man, Raleigh is now beset by pain from old injuries, unable to wield his swords as he once did, the same swordwork that captured the heart and passions of his husband Moshe.

After yet another argument ruins the moment between them, Raleigh learns that Moshe has accepted an invitation to participate in a winter sword fighting tournament.  It will take place in the castle on order from the king, a ruler overly fond of Moshe from Raleigh’s perspective.  Fearing that Moshe will away rather than return to the small holdings deep in the mountains, Raleigh chooses to accept as well.  Raleigh believes might be his last chance to win back Moshe’s love.  But can a man bound by pride and age find it in himself to win one more battle?  That of the only thing he wants….Moshe’s love.

The Rusted Sword by R.D. Hero is a well written short story that encapsulates the problems of one couple’s marriage.  That the couple is located in a fantasy world of snowbound keeps and a kingdom where swordplay and tournaments go hand in hand doesn’t alter the fact that most couples issues stem from the same problems.  A lack of attention to each other, a shutting down of communication and a walling away of self from your partner.  Those relationship truths exist no matter the genre or couple or even universe.

Raleigh (cousin to the King) was once a heralded swordsman.  He was famous for winning battles and tournements and by his talents, he won the heart of Moshe, a prince sent to the King from another country as hostage/good faith.  A playmate and friend of both the King and Raleigh as children, Raleigh loved him from the start and pursued him relentlessly once they were grown.  It’s been 10 years since Raleigh won Moshe’s heart and they were married and their marriage is now cold , filled with self imposed loneliness and pain.  The author makes us feel every bit of Raleigh’s years.  His aching knee, his age, and his fears that being less than what he once was has cost him Moshe’s love.  That it’s Raleigh’s pride that is also pushing Moshe away is apparent to the reader although not Raleigh himself.  Hero makes us hurt for both men even as we are exasperated by Raleigh’s actions.  It is a poignant picture Hero paints of a union in trouble, realistic in the pained dialog and long awkward silences.

An invitation acts as the impetus for a change in the relationship.  A trip, a tournament and an old friend’s actions brings about a sea change.  How that happens and the world building by Hero are some of the real joys of this short story. I thought everything here was so well done from the characterizations to the plot to the visualizations of the halls and trappings themselves.   While I wish I had a little more of the history between Raleigh and his cousin, it still came across as a  complete story instead of an interlude pulled from a much larger tale.

The Rusted Sword was a first story for me by R. D. Hero but it won’t be the last.  It’s tiny gems like this one that surprise me and makes me seek out more from an author.  That will happen here.  Love fantasy and short stories too?  Grab this one up, its just the thing for you.

Nice cover art, not sure who the artist is.

Buy Links:  Less Than Three Press               All Romance (ARe)    to come                Amazon  to come

Book Details:

ebook, 14,000 words, approx. 31 pages
Expected publication: August 27th 2014 by Less Than Three Press LLC
original titleThe Rusted Sword
ISBN139781620044049
edition languageEnglish

Review: Promises Made Under Fire by Charlie Cochrane

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Rating: 4.5 stars

Promises Made Under FireIt’s France, 1915, and Europe has been fighting WWI for a year.  Lieutenant Tom Donald and his fellow officer Frank Foden help alleviate both the tedium and the terror by sharing confidences about their family and friends back home.  Frank Foden, a confident popular officer with a positive outlook on life, happily shares his letters from home with Tom, including those from his physician wife, a rarity at that time.  Letter after letter, arriving sometimes twice a week, enliven their day. Frank and Tom laugh about her “doctor’s scribble” of handwriting and her accounts from home, and soon Tom begins to feel that he knows her as well as Frank.  The one thing he doesn’t share with Frank is the knowledge that Tom prefers men to women,  a fact that would see him booted from the army and most likely imprisoned.

Then Frank is killed on the front and Tom injured.  Tom is sent home to recover and act on a last request from Frank.  Frank left several letters for Tom to deliver in person.  One to Frank’s mother, and one to a man named Palmer who Tom has never heard Frank mention.  Tom’s journey to fulfill his mission will uncover some starting facts about Frank, and his life back home, starting with the fact that everything he knew about the man was a lie.

Promises Made Under Fire is just another fine example of historic fiction from author Charlie Cochrane.  Cochrane returns us to the front.  It is WWI and England has been fighting for a year. We are given Englishmen under incredible stress and facing imminent death every moment they are in the trenches and yet touches of civilized society still order the soldier’s day, including their officer’s servant who serves them tea and acts as “nursemaid and housekeeper” to both Tom and Frank, a decidedly English detail.  And because this is Charlie Cochrane, you can count on the historic details she presents during the story as being accurate as well as interesting.  I have always admired the manner in which Cochrane folds her  historical facets into her story while bringing it all effortlessly to life in front of us.  I could hear the sounds of guns nearby and smell the powder on the air but the main focus is always on her characters.

What amazing characters are laid out before us.  Cochrane has a remarkable ear for dialog and her character’s “language” is true for each person and their social status.  Here is Bentham, their officers servant, talking about the Jerry’s(Germans):

“He’s probably plotting even when he’s kicking up Bob’s a dying.” (Bentham)

“Bob’s a dying?” (Tom)

“Dancing and frolicking, sir.”

In just those few sentences, you understand immediately that Bentham is lower class, given his colloquialisms, and that Tom is decidedly upper class, given his  lack of understanding about the same.  Loads of backstory in a few simple phrases, just perfection.

In fact, without realizing it, the reader is absorbing tons of information about the men in the story without having it spelled out for us just through the dialog alone.  The front and it’s horrors are quite real as is its impact upon our main characters.  In fact there is not one element here that isn’t brought fully to life.  This story and its characters, live, react, and painfully try to recover from the devastation the war has wrought  upon them and their world.

I love how this story slowly unfolds, giving us time to know and care about Tom and Frank, and Tom’s journey home is a revelation in more than one way.  The use of letters is a  form of narrative that always charms me and it is used to perfection here to move the story forward. But you never forget that this is a love story, and that love between men is something to be carefully hidden and protected.  Discretion is the rule these men live by and the lengths they must go to in order to protect the ones they loved.

This is an absolutely marvelous love story but the end is in keeping with the times and perfectly realistic for the men involved.  The more I thought about it the more I appreciated the manner in which Cochrane remained true to her characters, and her period.  And leaves us with the possibility of more should she ever wish to return to Tom and see how he is getting on.  Put a pot of tea on, place some biscuits on a plate and settle down with Promises Made Under Fire to return to war torn England and a love that dares not speak its name.

17,000 words

cover artist is unknown which is a shame considering how perfect this cover is for the story.  Lovely in its detail and design.

Review of Back To Hell (Hellbourne #4) by Amber Kell

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Rating: 3 stars

Luc Hellbourne, son of Lucifer, is trying to settle down with his wolf shifter mate Bran after the problems with his dad and Bran’s old pack.  But a calm life is something Luc has never had experience with and it looks like it’s not going to happen now either.  Luc’s crazy brother Galthine has imprisoned their father Lucifer in one of Hell’s lower levels and is taking over Hell. Their uncle, the Archangel Michael wants Luc to go rescue his father.  And Luc’s vampire soul mate is starving to death. And why is everyone blaming Luc for all the problems and upsetting the balance of goodness and evil? Well perhaps Luc did upset the hellish apple cart but Luc continues to refuse to get involved until his brother goes too far and kidnaps his lover Bran.  Then all bets are off as Luc Hellbourne lives up to his name.

This is the fourth book in the Hellbourne series and if the reader is unfamiliar with the previous stories, this one will  not make any sense.  Amber Kell always manages to pack a lot of characters and plot lines in a small amount of space.Iin this case  Back to Hell is only 80 pages long so once you start reading the action starts to fly and events happen rapidly.  There are so many characters  to keep track of (Stiln a one-eyed demon? Sal a werewolf, Blinok a demonic messenger, a werewolf slut named Betsy and many more) and sometimes it is not always clear what are the relationships between the characters or even who they are.  The dialog tends towards the campy and humorous with the voices all sounding much the same. Typical of  this story is the scene where one of Luc’s demon and his vampires are chasing each other around the kitchen tossing soap bubbles, they stop, Luc asks if they are having fun.  They nod. He goes off to look at his computer and they go back to playing.

That’s pretty much how the story goes.  It’s light, fluffy and pretty simple minded.  If you are looking for complex characters and an intricate plot to book, then this is not the book for you.  If you love Amber Kell, then you are familiar with her style of writing and the lack of depth in every element, then you will like this one too.  At 80 pages, it is a quick read and the m/m/m ending should satisfy the readers of the first three stories. As for me I found this to be more of a story outline than a story itself and think I will leave it at that.

Beautiful cover by Posh Gosh.

Review of Summer Sizzle by Berengaria Brown

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Rating: 3 stars

Craig, a history teacher is on break at Two Waters Beach, enjoying his month rental cabin when he spies Seth on a beach towel nearby.  Seth is exactly Craig’s type and immediately Craig tries to figure out the best way to approach him.  Seth has the exact same reaction to Craig, and runs up to introduce himself.  After an afternoon of hot sex, Craig and Seth find out they have much in common. Both teach at the high school level and never has the sex been as right as it is with each other.

Just as they are getting to know each other better, Seth gets a call from home from a fellow teacher to return home for a school meeting.  At the meeting, the school administrators inform the teachers that the private school is closing and they are all fired. Shattered by the loss of his job, Seth wonders what the future will hold for him and Craig.

Summer Sizzle is a very quick read at 69 pages but to be honest, it often felt much longer.  Brown’s descriptions of Two Waters beach contain more feeling and heart than her descriptions of Craig and Seth who come across a cardboard cutouts of each other.  Both teachers at the high school level, one teaches History, the other English.  Brown does a nice job of bringing in bits of information about Beowulf and ninth grade reading lists to make their discussion of crossover subjects in teaching both realistic and knowledgeable.  This and the section with Seth’s job interviews struck me as authentic and made me wish she had used the same amount of skill throughout the story.  Unfortunately that was not the case.

As I said the men never came across as fleshed out human beings, and the same goes for their sexual encounters.  Given the large amount of time Craig and Seth spend having sex, I would have hoped for some real sizzle with descriptions that raised their scenes together above the “insert tab A into Slot B” activity.  But Brown’s descriptions and word choices for her “dirty talk” never engaged me as a reader.  Some authors can turn up the heat with a simple “pull on the hair”.  To make the scenes heat up the pages, I need to feel the men are emotionally invested in each other’s pleasure…I need to “feel’ the sizzle between them.  Instead it felt like reading a “How To” manual on sexual positions.

And finally we come to relationship timing.  Like that overused lesbian joke (What does a lesbian bring to a second date? A U Haul), this is Craig and Seth’s relationship two week plus time line.

They met, had lots of sex (including blowjobs without condoms but have sex with condoms?), they talk, Seth loses job, Craig helps Seth get job, they declare their love for each other and move in together.

If you are going to go that route, at least make me believe in that instant love.  That these two men were so passionately drawn together that being separated was unbearable.  Did anything here make me believe that about Craig and Seth? No.  I came very close to giving this 2.75 stars but Brown’s feelings about Two Waters beach where she spent time growing up and that lovely bit about teaching history and english pushed it up to 3.  I haven’t read anything else by Brown so I am left wondering if this is typical of her stories or just an off day at the keyboard.  Let us know what you think if you have read other books by this author.

Summer Sizzle previously published by Elloras Cave in 2010, now available at Torquere Press.

Cover:  I think I actually prefer the first edition cover to the latest version. Both sizzle.  What do you think?

Review of One Day at a Time by Dawn Douglas

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Rating: 4 stars

Homeland Agent Pete Olivera is only on loan to the Evansville Police Department.  Temporary assignments mean going in doing the job and getting out, no emotional entanglements needed or wanted.  Then Officer Joseph West shoots a young boy in self defense and Olivera’s self isolation is compromised by his need to help Pete through the trauma he knows the young officer is going through. Olivera understands the crushing guilt and pain West is feeling because he has been there himself.

Olivera shows up on West’s doorstep and hauls Joe away to Olivera’s rustic cabin in an effect to help Joe comes to terms with the shooting.  Peter’s empathy for Joe starts to turn into a deeper emotion that Joe returns,  A single redemptive weekend has given the men a chance at a relationship and peace if only they will allow themselves to grab at it.

At 65 pages, Dawn Douglas gives us an intense glimpse into the traumatic beginnings of a relationship between two men working in law enforcement.  One, Pete Olivera, is a hardened experienced agent.  Olivera rose out of the Hispanic ghettos of Los Angeles, served in Afghanistan before returning to the States and working in Homeland Security.  A solitary man by choice, he is still able to recognize the depths of Joe’s pain and want to help.  Joseph West is younger with less experience and time on the force.  He has coached baseball teams made up of troubled kids and dreamed of working in the Gang unit of the Evansville PD.  When the youth he shoots in self defense turns out to be someone he once coached, the pain and guilt is trebled and he crumbles.  Dawn Douglas makes it all feel so real.  The portraits she paints of these two men are undeniably some of the most realistic short story characterizations I have read.  Joseph West’s pain is palpable and you can feel the weary wisdom that experience has given Pete Olivera. The cabin is the perfect location for West’s intervention and the descriptions of the rustic setting add the right amount of isolation and peace necessary for it to work.  The author gives us real men, the situation is one we read about daily in the papers, and makes their shared pain that brings them together understandable and easy to empathize with.

Douglas gets all the details right, including Pete’s remote cabin where he goes for peace and quiet whenever possible.  With every moment the men and Joe’s dog, Jack, share out in the woods they allow themselves to open up to each other and the possibility of a continuing relationship. Every hesitant step forward is so beautifully portrayed and always in keeping with the established personas.  No instant love, no overly romantic prose between the men, just authentic dialog and small moments that keep adding up page after page until we reach a totally satisfactory and believable end.  I kept flipping back and going over certain sections, admiring how the author brought character and scene together in a great cohesive portrait of pain and quilt absolved, if only temporarily.

This was the first story  I have read by Douglas. I am going to immediately seek out more.  I admire and recommend One Day At A Time  and can’t wait to see what she will do next.

Cover:  LC Chase is the artist for this remarkable cover.  The naked torsos are offset by the lovely painting of the cabin at the bottom of the cover.  Everything is just right.  Great job.

Review of Shelton’s Homecoming (Shelton #4) by Dianne Hartsock

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Rating: 4 stars

Shelton has just flown home after receiving a phone call telling him his lover, Nevil, was injured and in the hospital.  Nevil is going to be fine but the accident has made it clear that something needs to change in his life, and change now. When Shelton took the promotion and transferred to another city, he never realized the full impact of a long distance relationship would be to him and Nevil.  After 6 months, he has had enough and the accident just clarified that.  In fact, Shelton realizes he wants even more from Nevil.  He wants permanence in the form of marriage, something Nevil has been very clear about not wanting.  When an ex boyfriend of Nevil’s invites them to his marriage, all the old jumbled up feelings come out and Shelton wonders if Nevil will ever come around to a future as husband and husband.

Shelton’s Homecoming is the fourth in the Shelton series but the first I have read by Dianne Hartsock.  The books plot the romance of Shelton and Nevil whose last names are never given in this book.  By Shelton’s Homecoming, their romance is an established one that has undergone an upheaval in Shelton’s Choice (Shelton #3).  The upheaval is obviously Shelton’s promotion in his bank job which necessitated a move to another city.  Now Shelton is only home on the weekends and the constant travel and loneliness is taking its tole on both men. Dianne Hartsock does a wonderful job of giving us two men deeply in love but still making adjustments to their relationship.  Shelton is someone you can easily identify with.  He took a promotion that he knew he deserved and wanted but the reality of that choice on their relationship is something far different then he had imagined.  Shelton is tired and stressed.  And then gets the phone call to say Nevil has been injured while he is out of town and guilt is added to the pain of their separation.  There are many couples today who have a similar arrangement whether by choice or economics so all the emotions on display here ring true.  Nevil is a little more conservative in his approach to their relationship but clearly he relishes the fact that  Shelton has come home and he has missed him dearly. I don’t have enough of their history on hand but it seems that he might be older than Shelton, at least he comes across that way.  At any rate, Nevil is another complete character with complex feelings about gay marriage equating with permanence as he feels they already have that.

Much time is spent having sex, lots of hot sex, but as the men have been separated  essentially for 6 months and love each other deeply, I can buy the “jump his bones at every possible moment” action as the author keeps remembering to bring the plot in as well.  There is really one issue for the couple to deal with as Shelton decides in the beginning to return home and that is one of marriage.  They live in a state where they can register as domestic partners but marriage is not legal.  So Nevil doesn’t think having a piece of paper, one not even backed by their state’s laws, is necessary to their relationship.  He feels they are committed to one another so nothing more is needed.  Shelton, on the other hand, looks at that piece of paper as evidence of a long term commitment visible by wedding rings to all around them and he wants it badly.  Hartsock makes us understand both Shelton and Nevil’s position on the matter which makes the resolution even more satisfying.

This is a heartwarming story and a quick read. I loved watching Nevil’s change of heart and watching Shelton and Nevil take their relationship to a deeper level of commitment.  Very well done.  I might go back to the beginning to see how it all started but really don’t feel that I have to in order to understand both men and their love for each other.  I anticipate that Dianne Hartsock will continue the series and that a wedding is on the horizon.  Count me in as I plan to be there when it happens.

Cover: Cover art by Mina Carter.  I love the colors and the simplicity of the clasped hands is lovely.

Shelton stories in the order they are written:

Shelton In Love (Shelton #1)

Shelton’s Promise (Shelton #2)

Shelton’s Decision (Shelton #3)

Shelton’s Homecoming (Shelton #4)

Review of Priceless by M. A. Church

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Rating: 2.75 stars

Billionaire Garrett Shiffler glances up from the craps table to see good looking young man watching him as he played.  The young stranger brings Garrett luck at the tables as well as turns him on. Garrett is determined to take him to bed, and what Garrett wants, Garrett gets.

Randal Jones of Memphis, Tennessee is in Las Vegas for the weekend when he spies a gorgeous and obviously wealthy man at the craps table.  Their eyes meet and Randy is unable to move from his spot, frozen by  instant desire.  When hunger causes his stomach to rumble, the man laughs, introduces himself as Garrett and hauls him off for food and sex. After a weekend of intense sex, both men start to wonder at the deeper feelings they have for one another.  Randy can’t believe someone like Garrett could fall for an average guy like him and runs home to Memphis without so much as a note or goodbye. Garrett believes Randy is the one for him but where does Randy live and what is his full name?  Is it true love that binds them both?  Between Cupid and romance lies the answer for Randy and Garrett.

Priceless is the first book for author M. A. Church and has some lovely qualities that make it a nice read at 99 pages.  However, that said, Priceless contains quite a few problems that I would contribute to an author just beginning their craft.  The plot is one that anyone familiar with generic love stories will recognize.  The very rich man, scornful of those who would love him for his money and status, meets someone who argues with him. The younger person/man/girl of lower status doesn’t care about money, and runs from him.  Then the rich man has to chase the person down, woo them and live happily ever after.  It takes an author of skill to elevate this common plot line, but Church needs more experience to deliver it here.

The characters of Garrett and Randy are pretty generic and the author has not given them her own twist to make them more interesting. Randy seems to spend an inordinate amount of time weeping over a lost weekend after he has left Las Vegas.  Garrett is too much the stock arrogant persona. We never get a real basis for their actions in the story because we lack a foundation upon which we can build a belief in these characters.  We are told they fall in love but only get an abundance of sex scenes, not ordinarily a bad thing but when used in place of plot and depth, then it is no substitute. Garrett tells us everyone wants him for his money and yes, he can act like an arrogant ass (that we do  believe) but why does Randy see anything different in him?

Instantaneous love rears its head here, although Church uses poor Cupid as the supposed basis for Garrett and Randy’s “instalove”. The author has Cupid appearing throughout the story and then promptly dispels his participation as the cause of the love at first sight.  Cupid and his arrow is one of those “deus ex machina” that tells me the story is in trouble from the beginning.  It’s too “cute” and not needed if you have a good plot to begin with.

The dialog between the men becomes an issue too.  One character tells Garrett to “cool your jets”, an older phrase that seemed out of place. Then Randy tells Garrett to “I can’t wait to have your dick stretching my channel”, more than once.  Such odd terminology in the heat of passion was just perplexing. Try shouting it out like you mean it and you will understand my reaction. The author seemed to be trying too hard in searching for terms and descriptions.  This sentence is the perfect example. “Their shirts hit the floor like discarded scratch tickets.”  Scratch tickets?  In another scene perhaps, but not when conveying clothes flying off due to crazed lust.

The first book can be a hard book for an author in many ways.  Inexperience, lack of critique partners, structure and editing issues are often apparent. When they  do pop up, I always hope that the author’s love of writing shines through as well. It does here. M. A. Church has talent so I will be looking forward to her next book.  And as for Priceless?  Not a bad way to spend some time if you happen upon it as a free read but I wouldn’t recommend it otherwise.

Cover: Catt Ford has done a great job with the hot Las Vegas cover.

Review of Reaping Shadows by Jamieson Wolf

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Rating: 3.5 stars

Darion Muerte is a Reaper, one of many, and has been one for centuries.  He gathers the souls of the dying so they can move on, hunting for them each night with his Shadow, a creature made from his essence. One night as he follows his Shadow tracking the next person he is to visit, he is astonished to see that their target can see not only his Shadow but Darion himself. The people whose souls he gathers never see the Reapers who come for them but this one can.

His target’s name is Kale.  Not only can Kale see him but Kale isn’t sick, isn’t dying, and above all isn’t afraid of him.  So why did his Shadow lead him straight to Kale?  In a flash of need, Kale and Darion have a sexual encounter that leaves them both gasping and wanting more.  Kale feels that he has been waiting for Darion his entire life.  Darion is experiencing the same unfathomable feelings for Kale.  But at the end of the night, his mission cannot change. It must end with Darion taking Kale’s soul.

I liked the premise of this short story.  That Death has many Reapers who gather the souls of the dying to help them pass on, accompanied by a Shadow.  The Shadows are an almost dog like creature created from the Reapers shadows and they help their Masters locate the next soul to take. Wolf extends his take on this by introducing Kale, a man who can see his Reaper and Shadow when no other person can.  Kale is  also healthy so why is a Reaper coming for him?  We get a hint that this might be something Kale has been fated for all his life but that is never fully explained, so a hint of mystery hangs about the character.  After a night of passionate sex (and some very hot vivid scenes), Darion is supposed to take his soul.  The plot continues to gain interest amid some neat twists but then with the introduction of the Brothers Grimm and the arrival of Death itself, the story takes a turn that it never quite recovers from.

The Brothers Grimm are hunting our two protagonists until Death appears to strike a bargain.  The final plot point hinges on the sacrifice Darion must make in the name of love. But the author has not finished setting up a realistic or viable reason for us to buy into this sacrifice.  And the ending just doesn’t seem plausible (yes, I know this is a supernatural tale after all, but the author must make us believe the actions described and I never did). So at the end the  whole story just unravels and so does the rating.  Again, I suspect the author set about trying to accomplish a much larger story that just doesn’t work in a shorter length.  Still there is much to like about Reaping Shadows and I look forward to the next story from Jamieson Wolf.

Cover:  Staci Perkins is the cover artist for this moody spot on cover.  Great job.

Reviews of Notice (Notice #1) and The Dragon and the Mistletoe (Notice #2) by M. Raiya

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Rating: 4.25 stars

Adrian Varian Kendall has always prided himself on his ability to keep his three lives separate from each other no matter how intense  his life got.  High school teacher, dragonshifter, and gay male, elements of himself kept partitioned due to necessity and security of those around him. Then he receives notice while teaching class, a clear message from a Knight to meet in battle but Varian doesn’t know which student left him the message.  Suddenly the walls between his separate lives collapse, as the Notice poses a threat not only to the dragon families Varian protects but to his human lover, Josh, as well.

Thousands of years ago as the Knights threatened all Dragonkind with extinction, Dragons hid by taking human form and vanishing into the human populations around them.  Now this one Notice threatens to bring all dragons out of hiding, expose them to the human world, leaving them vulnerable to attacks from groups of Knights determined to kill them once and forever. Varian’s lover, Josh, has no idea that he is living with a dragon and the stress of hiding his true nature from Josh is straining that relationship to the point of breaking.  Every part of his life is now under attack and Varian will do anything necessary to bring about a peace, even if he make sacrifice himself.

I have always loved dragons so a story about dragonshifters hits quite a few of my buttons. M. Raiya does a wonderful job of meshing dragon lore with contemporary reality to give us a really neat twist on the old Dragon and Knights  story.  Here the conflict between Knights and Dragons has carried through the ages even as both groups have undergone changes to adapt to the modern world.  In the past the Knights greatly outnumbered  the dragons and almost brought about their extinction, killing vast numbers.  To save their species, some dragons disappared,  and some took humans as thralls to help them exist only to disappear themselves too.  The rest took human form and quietly melded into human communities, dragon traditions and teachings fading as the centuries passed. Raiya gives us a wonderful backstory without taking away from the action adventure story being told.

I loved the characterizations as well especially Varian and Josh.  Varian is a complex character in love with a human whose background and personality exceeds his own in intensity and dimension.  Varian loves teaching and has a protective nurturing nature which is at odds at the fighter/killer the Knights force him to be.  He has kept his true form and identity from Josh and that has stifled his relationship.  He is still young and makes mistakes that comes from lack of experience in relationships and maturity. Josh is flamboyantly gay, from his makeup and glittery clothes to the sexual art forms he creates.  Josh is almost defiantly feminine which stems from an abusive background and parents determined to beat him straight.  I loved Josh who asks to be accepted for who he is even if he is not sure what exactly that is himself, just a great character  who provides both heart-wrenching angst and surprising abilities. Huntington is another person full of endearing qualities that just enlists the readers sympathy even when you aren’t sure he is deserving of it.  Only one character disappointed me  and that was due to not fully basing him in the plot as strongly as he should have been considering the impact his betrayal has on everyone later on.  His motive was never clear nor his backstory told so that his actions never made that much sense to me. I don’t want to be more specific so as to not give away spoilers for the plot.  But that was a hole I felt remained for the rest of the story.

I also had a few quibbles with some editing errors in the story, including a homonym that stopped me cold. Here Josh says “plaintively. “Can I be a terrible boar” instead of “bore”, something an editor should have caught. But overall, M. Raiya gives a fantasy story of dragons, Knights, and the enduring power of family and love.

The Dragon and the Mistletoe (Notice #2) by M. Raiya

Rating: 4.25 stars

This is a Holiday Sip from Torquere Press featuring Varian and Josh from Notice.  It is their first Christmas together and Varian realizes the importance of choosing just the right gift for Josh, one that will show Josh how much Varian loves and treasures their relationship.  Varian has grown tremendously since Notice and M. Raiya let’s us in on Varian’s thoughts on their time together and the current status they have worked so hard to achieve since the events in Notice.  It is a heartwarming tale, perfect for anytime of the year and an enjoyable visit with a couple I came to love in the first book.

The first cover is by Alessio Brio.  I had a problem seeing the black dragons flying on the cover due to all the darkness (or maybe just my poor eyesight).  I just wish there had been a little more contrast so the dragons would be easier to pick out.

Review of Pricks and Pragmatism by JL Merrow

Standard

Rating: 4.25 stars

Luke Corbin is home studying when his lover and owner of the apartment comes home to tell Luke to pack and leave as he’s found someone new. And once more Luke finds himself homeless again, a circumstance that happens often as Luke trades his sexual favors for a place to live and food to eat while he is going to college.  His lifestyle was necessitated by his father throwing him out of the house when faced with a gay son, and Luke’s drive to finish college no matter what it takes to accomplish his goal.  It’s not like Luke has cared about any of the men who took him in, they were just a means to an end.

Then a former lover introduces Luke to his friend,Russell, a chemical  engineer who just might be able to help Luke out.  Russell is definitely not the type of man Luke would hook up with. For starters, he has a pudgy round face surrounded by a scraggy beard and too long mousy brown hair. Russell is wearing clothes that would have been castoffs in the 80’s and is about as socially inept as they come.  But when Russell offers Luke a place to live, Luke is prepared to handle it in his normal way.  But Russell refuses Luke’s seductive attempts. For Russell, sex is about more than casual hookups and all he wants to do is help Luke out.

As Luke slowly adjusts to just being a roommate instead of bed partner, he starts noticing all the things about Russell that make him special and unique in Luke’s experience.  Russell is kind, smart, and funny. And all of a sudden Luke is looking at Russell very differently than any else before.  What will happen when Luke throws out his pragmatic ways in hopes of catching the one man who doesn’t appear to want him?

I am a fan of JL Merrow’s books and this little story just adds to my admiration.  Merrow packs a lot of emotion and plot into 60 pages. In Luke, you have a totally understandable young man.  While you may not like his actions, when you learn the foundation for his behavior, his attitude towards his lovers as well as his outlook on the methods he chooses to get by become acceptable as well as understandable.  To Luke, he is not whoring himself out but merely exchanging services to get what he wants.  Luke is all too human, he has been hurt by his family and by his first lover and it shows.

Russell is a great unexpected character.  This is not your typical cute nerd with glasses who becomes a gorgeous god when he takes them off, Clark Kent style.  No Russell remains Russell, an out of shape, shy, nice guy who everyone overlooks or thinks of as totally forgettable.  I don’t think there is a person out there who can’t come up with someone like a Russell in their own life or memories. Perhaps, like Luke at his first encounter with Russell, we wrote them off or ignored them. But Merrow shows us what happens when circumstances forces both parties to become acquainted with each other to the point of friendship first.  Then the exterior  qualities can somewhat fade in order for the person’s inner character to shine through.

In 60 pages, Merrow gives us a lovely little journey through low expectations into found friendship and the potential that lies ahead if only it can be seen and acknowledged.  It really is a lovely romantic tale full of unexpected realism and some straight truths about people and our perceptions.  Great job.

Cover by Angela Waters