Cover Reveal for Piper Vaughn’s Hook, Line & Sinker! (contest)

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Check out the cover for Piper Vaughn’s  latest book, Hook, Line, & Sinker below.  Read the except and don’t  forget to enter the contest to win your own eBook copy!

Book Name: Hook, Line, & Sinker
Goodreads  Book Link
Author Name: Piper Vaughn

Author Bio:

Piper Vaughn wrote her first love story at eleven and never looked back. Since then, she’s known that writing in some form was exactly what she wanted to do. A reader at the core, Piper loves nothing more than getting lost in a great book—fantasy, young adult, romance, she loves them all (and has a two thousand book library to prove it!). She grew up in Chicago, in an ethnically diverse neighborhood, and loves to put faces and characters of every ethnicity in her stories, so her fictional worlds are as colorful as the real one. Above all, she believes that everyone needs a little true love in their life…even if it’s only in a book.

Author Contact:HookLine&SinkerFS

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Cover Artist: Paul Richmond
Sales Links:   Dreamspinner Press

 Hook, Line, & Sinker Blurb:

When they were teens, Castor McCormick was the bane of Blake Kowalski’s existence. Their mutual animosity led to summers filled with rivalry. Now, nearly two decades later, Cas is moving back into the neighborhood to live in his grandmother’s old house. Blake tells himself he isn’t interested in seeing how snarky little Cas grew up, but when his mother dupes him into visiting his former nemesis, he finds out “pretty” can evolve into “sexy as hell” on the right man.

Cas didn’t think he wanted to see Blake again. No one has ever pushed his buttons like the arrogant boy he remembers from their youth. Turns out, the adult version of Blake still gets him hot under the collar—and everywhere else. With Blake on leave from work to nurse an injured leg and Cas taking time to move and unpack, they form a tentative friendship that turns into a sexual affair neither man can deny. But when Cas’s job sends him out of state to deal with a difficult client, their new relationship will be tested, and if they fail, Blake’s broken leg might not be the only thing to end up scarred.

Categories: Contemporary, M/M Romance, Romance

Hook, Line, & Sinker Excerpt:

Blake’s mother didn’t live on a busy street, but being summer, the kids were out in full force. The occasional shout or burst of laughter broke the monotonous silence. And then there were the comings and goings of a certain new neighbor whom Blake had absolutely no interest in watching, even if he found his gaze frequently straying in that direction. He’d caught glimpses of the moving truck over the weekend, along with a dark blue Prius, which made him snort. No doubt the driver of a hybrid would hate his gas-guzzling Ford F-150. For some reason, it seemed fitting. He could picture the old Cas growing up into the tree-hugging, granola type.

Idly, he let himself wonder what the adult Cas might be like. When they’d first met as teenagers, the kid had reminded Blake of a scrappy little Irish chimney sweep, minus the accent. The pale skin, the freckles, that mop of messy dark hair. Put him in a newsboy cap and some wool trousers, and he could’ve been an extra in Oliver Twist. Blake had constantly ragged on him about it too. That is, until the following year, when postpuberty Cas showed up. Gone was the scrawny, gangly limbed half-pint from the previous summer. In his place stood a boy with the lithe, wiry body of a distance runner and a face like something out of a goddamn Botticelli painting. Only his smartass mouth had stopped Blake from falling to his knees in worship—though it certainly hadn’t prevented a wet dream or three.

Blake couldn’t lie. His mother’s mentions of Castor had made him curious despite himself. But he didn’t intend on giving in to her badgering about going over there. What the hell would he even say? Welcome to the neighborhood? Here’s a fruit basket. Let’s be friends? He could only imagine Cas slamming the door in his face in response. Blake chuckled and shook his head. Not going to happen. Not in a million years. No matter how much his mother pestered him.

HLSBadgeRedTour Dates: October 22nd, 2014

Tour Stops: Parker Williams, Hearts on Fire, Rainbow Gold Reviews, Multitasking Mommas, Scattered Thoughts & Rogue Words, Love Bytes, Andrew Q. Gordon, LeAnn’s Book Reviews, Prism Book Alliance, Inked Rainbow Reads, The Hat Party, It’s Raining Men, Michael Mandrake, Cate Ashwood, Sinfully Sexy, Amanda C. Stone, Fallen Angel Reviews, Rebecca Cohen Writes, MM Good Book Reviews, Boy Meets Boy Reviews, Smoocher’s Voice, Wake Up Your Wild Side, Carly’s Book Reviews, BFD Book Blog, Queer Town Abbey, Book Reviews, Rants, and Raves, Wicked Faeries Reviews

Contest: Enter to win the Rafflecopter Prize: E-copy of Hook, Line, and Sinker upon release and a $10 gift card to Amazon or ARe (winner’s choice). Must be 18 years of age or older to enter. Use the Rafflecopter link provided for the entry form and for all additional contest details.

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Review of Mine by Mary Calmes

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Rating: 4.75 stars

Trevan Bean and Landry Carter have a relationship that not many understand but that words for them completely.  From the first time Trev saw Landry two years ago at a party, they have been inseparable.  Before Trev Bean came into his life, Landry Carter was a troubled young man.  He was repudiated by his family for being gay and tumbled into a mess of low self esteem, depression and endless anonymous sexual acts.  Then one night, everything changed, Trevan Bean saw him, picked him off his knees, took him to Trev’s home and told Landry he belonged to Trev alone and no one else. From that moment on, Landry began his recovery from pathetic mess to functioning happy  human being, at least most of the time.  As long as he followed his routine, and knows that Trev is always there, he can run his jewelry store and create the gorgeous things he is becoming known for and be content knowing he is loved.

Trevan Bean, half Cuban half African American, is a complicated man.  He comes from a loving family who have depended on him since his father died.  To help out his family, he became a money runner for a gambling mob, a job he has to this day. And while Trev has never carried a gun or had to hurt someone,  Trev knows it is an illegal job, full of dangerous people and accepts the risks he has to take to make money.  Trev plans on buying a restaurant someday and he and Landry have been saving to buy their own house in the not so near future.

So far, he and Landry have been balancing all the complications in their lives and it has been working fine.  Until Landry’s youngest brother shows up out of nowhere and wants Landry to come home to see his ailing mother.  And Landry starts to unravel. Then one of Trev’s runner associates ends up in a hospital, beaten by a rival mobster and Trev’s  job is thrown into chaos by a gang war.  Not only is his safety threatened, but so is the wellbeing of everyone he loves, including Landry.  Their carefully maintained balancing act is demolished, their lives in jeopardy and it will take everything they have and more to make sure they come out of this mess with their relationship intact and their love stronger than ever.

I just loved this book and think it is one of Mary Calmes strongest stories yet.  The characters she has created are two of the most complicated and damaged people she has ever produced.  One, Trev Bean, is an interracial mobster with his own slippery morality, a strong code of loyalty and an unwavering love for Landry Carter.  He is aware that Landry has some serious emotional problems that can cause Landry anxiety, manic behavior, and even result in self destructive acts.  But Trev also knows he is the key to Landry’s stability, and whether he is an enabler or not, Trev will do what he thinks is right to keep Landry safe and happy. Trev is under no illusions about his own morality or mental issues as well.  He accepts it all as it comes with a forthright manner and calm demeanor.  Just an amazing protagonist, compelling in every way.

Landry is also as damaged and riveting a persona as Trev, the yin to Trev’s yang.  He is the flickering flame to the earthen rock that is Trev. His instability, his is a luminescence which will burn too brightly unless contained by Trev and a strict routine,  His emotional problems are never given a diagnosis but OCD is mentioned briefly.  He is just as likely to flair with anger as he is with passion and you can see as a reader how badly Landry has needed someone like Trev in his life to bring him  the balance and limitations he has always needed so badly.  For some, these two men represent an unhealthy relationship, something even Trev recognizes.  But what they have together also works for them, and they will fight to keep each other and their relationship intact.  Convoluted, messy, passionate, occasionally crazied and absolutely committed, what an amazing relationship to bring to life in this story.  And Mary Calmes does bring it vividly to life in every possible way.  These characters cry, threaten, have hot, passionate sex, and tender moments and we are there with them through every event, every step forward, and all threats to their happiness.  I loved both men from the start, and by the end of the book, hated to let either of them go.

And there are other fascinating characters within Mine that I wanted much more of, the most visible and intriguing of them is Conrad, a hit man’s hit man, an enforcer so dangerous that just his name means protection.  Conrad doesn’t have many he counts as friends but Trev is one of them. The man remains an enigma even as his very presence adds weight to the events that occur within the story.  From what I understand, this is a stand alone story so we cannot expect to see these characters again.  And that is a shame for these are such interesting, gripping people  and we have become so invested in their lives and happiness that wanting to know more about them and their future is a given by the end of the book.

I only wish we had a little more exposition at the end, a little more resolution to the dramatic events they had just gone through.  But perhaps that’s just being greedy and not wanting the story to end.  If you like unusual main characters, if you like your protagonists with a twist as well as love, pick this book up and be prepared to not put it down until you are finished.  It is that good!

Cover:  Reese Dante’s beautiful torso with the all important L tat is gorgeous.  My only complaint and to be honest I am not sure  how it could have been done, is to have made that skin color more in line with the racial makeup of Trev’s caramel or dark bronze coloring as he calls it. At any rate it is gorgeous and sexy and so very hot.

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.

Review of Stolen Dreams by Sue Brown

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Rating: 3.5 stars

It has taken Morgan 5 years to get his life back on track after he derailed it by cheating on his best friend and lover. After finally climbing out of his drunken depression with help from his friends, he now owns a successful coffee house, has a great career as an assistant direction in the film industry and is happily engaged to Jason, a gorgeous up and coming movie star.  He has it all and then Shae Delamere comes back into his life.

Shae Delamere was Morgan’s best friend and lover all their lives, up until Morgan destroyed their relationship by cheating on Shae in a moment of weakness. For two years, Morgan held out hope that his phone calls and letters would be answered and then he gave up and moved on.  Now with Shae’s reappearance, Morgan realizes that he never stopped loving Shae, even with all that had happened to them both, even his fiance can see it. When it turns out that their friends manipulations that helped keep them separated, the pain of the betrayal combined with the love they still hold pulls them together once more.  But there are still so many lies still hidden and a geographical distance to overcome.  Will both men be able to overcome the pain and past hurt to have a future with each other?

Stolen Dreams is a very well written story of young love derailed by lies, lack of communication and the maneuverings of those closest to them.  Brown’s characters are all too human in their faults and abilities to self destruct.  Morgan is easily my favorite character and the one I empathized with the most.  Morgan made a mistake at 19 that destroyed not only his only love and their relationship but tore apart two families that had been close since the boys were very young.  At 19, the mistake he and Shae made (as Brown makes clear, there were relationship errors on both sides) was huge but it was a mistake grounded in poor communication, worse judgement, and a relationship  already on shaky ground, a fact neither man acknowledges until five years later. Brown’s story is strengthened by her wonderful ear for dialog and the depiction of the areas out there waiting to trip up any relationship that doesn’t have a firm foundation.  This holds true for the young that don’t have the maturity and skills necessary to maneuver the rocky shoals life hands one and make it safely to harbor.

Shae Delamere was a character that felt less authentic and therefore, much harder to like and empathize  with.  This is a problem as he is set up at the start as the main victim here and to my way of thinking ends up more the victimizer instead.  Shae is far too passive, he too easily accepts what others tell him even though he knows they have every reason to lie, he doesn’t follow through on his actions, he lies, he is constantly sorry etc.  Shae just doesn’t have the depth that Morgan’s character has. He seems more a reactive element here and that takes the entire story down a notch.

Another quibble I have with this story is that it is an examination of relationship dynamics but neither Morgan or Shae seem to learn from their mistakes in the past.  When lies continue to surface with the expected reverberations, do they communicate with each other?  No, instead they bury their problems under sex.  A realistic problem in some relationships true but even as Morgan raises the question of why that is their answer to problems, Sue Brown never gives the reader or her characters a satisfactory answer.  They continue to use that as a bandage right up to a devastating revelation that I did not see coming, a final lie that threatens everything that has come before.  This denouement also pancaked the ending of the story for me.

The ending is the final quibble.  Yes, it is a  HEA.  But for me it seems to be a bit self delusional for Morgan.  I could see the ending as a pragmatic and realistic way for Morgan to obtain what he wants but the author coats it all with a saccharine layer of immediate forgiveness for an almost unforgivable event and again a round of sex to blanket the real issues of trust, continuing lies and hidden agendas that plague Morgan and Shae’s relationship from beginning to end.  Morgan is understandably furious and hurt, then it is all glossed over in the name of love and HEA. It did not make sense given the amount of time Brown took to get her characters to a semblance of realistic actions and emotions.  So what started off to be a great book I was really enjoying metamorphosed into a story that ended up with me feeling as though I had stayed too long at a party held by bickering neighbors I never liked all that much.  What a shame.

Cover: Another beautiful sensual cover by Reese Dante.

Review of Ensnared by Dawn H. Hawkes

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Rating: 3.5

Evan’s life during the day is mundane, being a lowly waiter carries little excitement. There is that customer who comes every week but Evan has never worked up the courage to speak to him. Oh, but his dream life.  There the man of his dreams, that sexy nameless customer, makes hot, sexy wild love to him all night long, bringing out his inner hedonist until the early morning hours when Evan awakes exhausted and alone. Between his dreams and seeing weird creatures in his nightmares, Evan is afraid he is losing his mind.

Gar is an alien warrior brought to Earth to hunt down and kill a predator species who escaped from their world.  As a warrior he is expected to fulfill his mission and return to his planet and mate with a warrior his equal to further their species.  So why are all his thoughts consumed by the small Human who waits tables at the restaurant he visits?  So while Gar stays back from the man physically, during the night he visits the Human in his dreams, taking him sexually and making the Human his own.  Each time Gar vows it will be the last time and every night he goes to Evan unable to stay away.

When the creatures attack Evan, Gar saves him. Faced with the one man who fills his dreams and thoughts, Evan is not about to let him go. But after sharing a kiss, Gar decides that the only way to save Evan and remove himself from temptation is to leave the planet.  This is not something that Evan can bear to think about, let alone happen.  What’s a young Human to do?

Ensnared is the first book I have read by Dawn H. Hawkes and I came away with some very mixed feelings.  On the one hand, her characters were wonderful.  I loved the downtrodden Evan, who still managed to show some sparks of fire despite his shyness and sad neglectful upbringing.  Gar  was lovely as the tough warrior who was still able to see beyond Evan’s meek exterior to the real person inside.  I like them as a couple as well as individuals.  And that saved the book.  Otherwise there are so many holes in the plot, that its resemblance to swiss cheese is easily noted.

My first quibble starts with Evan’s background which is presented with its own mystery.  His parents just walked away and left him in foster care but left him their home? Also, Evan has been seeing strange creatures all his life which in turn had him seeing therapists because some people thought he was crazy. I expected Hawkes to work that into the plot, perhaps Evan is not what  he seems sort of thing.  Nope, nada.  Little things here and there kept popping up that I thought Hawkes would pull them all together and make Evan’s past a neat twist to the story.  But it never happened, they all add up to one red herring.

The next stumbling stone in this story is literally a stone, the Ra stone.  A rare gift, Gar uses it to visit Evan in his dreams.  One of its properties is that it can act as a two way method of communication, the person it is used upon can then take the stone and enter the dreams of stone’s owner.  Neat idea that never came to fruition.

Next quibble concerns the attacks on Evan by the K’reet who have a nasty habit of eating people.  Apparently Evan is especially tasty but there is no explanation for the frequent attacks until the end.  And that revelation doesn’t make much sense nor it is fully explained. Then there is Shia, the head warrior.  She is hell on wheels, all the warriors fear  her and apparently she won’t  accept that Gar wants Evan as his mate.   All this buildup only to see it fizzle out at the end.  And that is the primary problem here.  We get set up after set up and our expectations are engaged and then nothing really happens.  It is like expecting to see a humongus tiger to leap out at you and getting a tiny kitten instead. So the frustrations keep building as the story runs its course like a limping greyhound we keep routing for but know won’t win the race.

And finally, my most important quibble.  Gar’s home planet.  I really am at a loss to explain what happened here.  Lack of imagination? Ran out of steam? I don’t think it is laziness because the author clearly has talent and some great ideas sprinkled throughout the story.  But basically Gar’s home plant is almost exactly like Earth, right down to the restaurants.   Yes,  they seemed to have an Oracle of sorts, the warriors dressed like leather daddies at ComicCon, complete with swords but it seems they all live in Mayberry.  And the K’reet came from there?  Nothing made any sense. Much less the ending.  I did check out the author’s bio and book facts to see if this was just the first in a series but it seems to be a standalone novel.  So while I liked Evan and Gar I don’t think I will be visiting with them again.  What a shame.

Cover:  Reese Dante.  The Ra stone is front and center here, along with a very nice design with great fonts.  Great job.

Review of One Small Thing by Piper Vaughn and MJ O’Shea

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Rating: 4.25 stars

One drunken night changes Rue Murray’s life forever.  Curiosity and alcohol made the decision to have sex with a woman seem like a good one at the time.  Nine months later the result of that drunken fiasco was born.  Faced with the decision to either take the  baby or watch her be put up for adoption, Rue decides on fatherhood and soon baby Alice is the center of his life. Rue finds that fatherhood comes with many challenges, not the least of which is daycare while he is bartending to make a living and going to cosmetology school. In desperation, Rue reaches out to his weird new neighbor across the hall and begs him to help watch Alice for the hours he is in school.  After all the building manager screened him, right?

Erik Van Nuys is a Science Fiction author forced to move from a beloved rental house when the owner sells his properties.  Intensely shy, isolated from people by choice and with OCD tendencies, Erik has watched the sales of his books fall and his income dwindle so when his wildly dressed, purple haired neighbor asks him to watch his baby for a nice monthly sum, Erik says yes although with much trepidation.  It isn’t long before he finds himself falling in love with Alice, much to his surprise.

Slowly Rue and Erik adjust to each others quirks as they spend more and more of their time together with Alice as the glue that starts forming them into a family.  Both men find themselves happier than they have ever been when Rue gets a job offer from the West Coast.  What will Rue do when he must choose between a family he has come to love and the dream job he has always wanted.

One Small Thing is a wonderful story of family, love, and the truth that can hide under unlikely exteriors, all lodged in the state of Delaware. Here they have done Delaware proud as the characters of Rue, Erik, baby Alice and Rue’s best friend Dusty come together to form an endearing and quirky family.  The characters the authors have created here are so captivating in their own ways that the reader comes to love them soon after their introduction.  First is Rue Murray, who flipflopped his way into my heart.  Slender with artfully cut black hair, green eyes, piercings and a love of the color pink, he would have startled many a neighbor on that alone.  Add in capri pants, tight t-shirt, pink belt and matching flip flops, and the outer picture was complete.  But as with every character here, it’s the inside, their true  persona that you come to love.  Outgoing, responsible, ambitious for more in life for himself and Alice, he is an easy character for the reader to admire.

While there are layers to Rue, it is with Erik that the depth of characterization is really achieved.  Erik is one of the legion of young men hooked to the world outside by cable instead of direction contact.  Socially awkward, and burdened by OCD and stuttering, Erik has retreated behind his doors, content to write science fiction books free of romantic love, watch the Star Wars saga when anxiety hits, and gobble junk food  and Gatorade for sustenance. It is only when he is forced out of his fortress and into Rue’s building that his life get his first earthquake and he starts to take chances.  Erik’s somewhat bland beige exterior hides a gentle heart and nonjudgemental outlook, surprising in one who has lived so narrowly.  First Alice and then Rue and Dusty make inroads into Erik’s life and heart.  And with his newfound love for them, Erik grows into the person he was always meant to be.  Dusty is a lovely creation as well.  He is not just a secondary character, he is a needed part of Rue and Erik’s family.

I like the alternating POV here as it gives the reader needed information and insight into each character.  It becomes an especially important part of pulling the reader into the story by letting us see the characters interact with those around them outside of each other.  It doesn’t always work with every book that has used such a technique but it works here.  And as it has bothered some readers that Rue was too eager to turn Alice over to a stranger in a building on such flimsy recommendations, I too remembered being so tired and stretched thin with a baby that exhaustion can make a weak idea seem like a good one.  And remember he is young as well.  That made his decisions more realistic and acceptable to me.

The three men are gentle souls, kind to others and expecting the same in return.  All moments spent in their company is time well spent.  I hope that Dusty is going to find his HEA in a sequel as he so deserves it.  So why not a higher rating? Well, I guess I just wanted a little more.  Maybe a little more resolution, a little more time for Erik to adjust at the end.  So it’s a “I loved this story” over a “I really loved this story.”  Either way, I loved this story with only a quibble and think you will too.

Cover:  Cover art by LC Chase. I liked the cover.  OK who doesn’t love those little baby feet and pink shoes?  Adorable.

Find out more about the authors at their websites:    Piper Vaughn can be found here.   Both authors have a joint website here.

Review of Acrobat by Mary Calmes

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Rating: 4.5 stars

Nathan Qells has a pretty great life.  He loves being an English professor.  He has a son who has grown into a wonderful young man.  An ex-wife he adores along with her husband.  He loves his condo and takes care of Michael, the young boy who lives across the hallway with his uncle, the mysterious Andreo Fiore.  The only thing lacking in his life?  A man to really love and have him love back.  At least that’s what his ex wife tells him.  She also tells him he has never truly loved another man deeply.  Nate doesn’t agree with her. At least he thinks he doesn’t. Doubt starts him looking for Mr. Right which leads  him into the path of a dangerous man and the mob..

Andreo Fiore started working for the mob as a way to support his nephew after his sister died.  Long and unusual work hours meant that Michael would be alone in the apartment. Then Nate Qells, the neighbor across the hallway, came to their rescue and  took Michael under his wing. Years later, Michael spends most of his time across the hallway and Dreo has fallen in love with Nate.  Dreo sees in Nate a good, wonderful man who also happens to be very handsome.  And blind in the face of Dreo’s love. Between Michael and Nate,  Dreo wants to lead an honorable life,  one where Michael can look up to him and Nate would be proud to be his partner.  But first he has to get out of the organization and it has troubles of its own.  As Dreo tries to extricate himself from the mob and make Nate realize that love is right in front of him, his criminal past makes them both a target.

As a man in his forties and nicely settled into his life, Nate Qells is a realistic representation of a man who thinks that he is happy with his status quo and stops reaching out for more.  In Nate’s case, he has stopped believing in romantic love for himself and has settled just for caring.  I find that totally believable.  So many people dismiss the idea of love after a certain age, not just the idea but the chance of them falling into love later in life is miniscule to nonexistent.  So when Nate refuses to listen to his ex wife when she tells him he has never loved, I totally get it.  Nate is capable of caring for others but self satisfied enough not to extend himself further.  I know him because I have met him in real life.  Nate certainly has his flaws, he is impatient with others, abrupt to those professors within his department he doesn’t respect, and a little arrogant.  All of which makes him very human.

Andreo Fiore is much older than his years.  I had to keep reminding myself of his age.  He accepted responsibility of his nephew in his early twenties, and his time as a bodyguard/muscle in the mob has aged him further.  He recognizes that he could coast along the path he has made for himself  (very much like Nate in this respect) or reach for what he really wants, a family with Nate and Michael.  Deeply steeped in his Italian family and culture, he speaks as much Italian as English.  And I loved it.  Besides French, there is no more romantic language than that of Italy.   Both are the languages of love and it is used very effectively here.  I loved Dreo, a honorable conflicted man trying to get out of a bad situation.  What a great character.

And then Mary Calmes adds in more characters to give the story substance and layers.  There’s Michael, Dreo’s nephew and almost son to Nate.  He’s young, cocky but still so much in need of direction and parental influence.  Mel, ex wife, and Ben, her husband, both contribute additional needed  perspectives on Nate and his life. Duncan, the in-the-closet ex boyfriend and Aubrey, Nate’s sarcastic grad student with just the right amount of snark.  All necessary and unique.

The story itself has many wonderful moments.  I especially liked the storyline with Nate and his missed dates with Sean Cooper, an attending doctor.  With them, as in real life, sometimes it is all about the timing.  People can seem to be right for each other, and yet the timing is off for them to be a couple.  Nobody’s fault.  Stuff happens. I haven’t seen this pop up in a storyline and loved it’s authentic treatment here.  I don’t know enough about organized crime to comment on it here (outside of what I have seen in The Godfather movies) but the idea that you can have people at different levels of competency in mob organizations struck me as realistic too.  Old fashioned businessman versus young takeover turk. Crime is still a business albeit a criminal one. Is there angst?  Of course, there is.  It wouldn’t be a Mary Calmes book without it. Never fear, our protagonists future is assured. I liked how all the different elements pulled together in the end to give me a very satisfying story and a new couple to love.

Cover:  The cover art by Anne Cain is such a sensual piece of art that I would love to have a copy.  In the introduction Mary Calmes and Anne Cain talk about the inspiration for the cover, deceased artist Steve Walker’s painting Parallel Dreams.  I looked up that painting and thought it beautiful. I learned much about Steve Walker and his art which I really appreciated.  But this cover stands on it own, glorious in its depiction of love between two men.  It has already become a favorite of mine.

Review of Scrap Metal by Harper Fox

Standard

Rating: 5 stars

When a bus crash kills his mother and brother, Nichol Seacliff’s dreams of completing his linguistic degree and becoming a translator ends.  Needed on the family hold on Arran Isle, Nichol returns to stone rooms full of memories and his stern grandfather, Harry.  Now he spends his days with sheep, mired in mud and watching his family’s farm fall deeper into financial ruin and neglect. Patriarch Harry Seacliff, always a man of few words, speaks harshly to his less favored grandson when he speaks to him at all. This leaves Nichol grieving and alone, far from the university, his friends, and  any gay relationships.

One night he hears the window break in an outbuilding and finds a young man hiding behind the hay, wet and blue from the cold.   The trespasser introduces himself as Cameron, Cam for short and tells Nichol he is on the run from a gang in Glasgow.  Nichol’s sympathetic nature triumphs over caution, and he finds himself bringing Cam inside the house to get warm, have something to eat and put on dry clothes.  One nights stay lengthens into more as Cam endears himself first to Nichol and then, in a remarkable turn of events, to Harry as well,   As winter turns into spring on Seacliff Farm,  Nichol watches amazed as Cam forms a bridge between Harry and himself.  He finds he is falling in love with Cam more each day and the idea of remaining on the farm becomes less painful with someone to share it with.

And then Cam’s past comes back to threaten their love and the safety of all who live on Seacliff Farm.  When Cameron’s secret is known,who will pay the price of actions long past?

What an incredible story.  From the opening sentence, the reader finds themselves immersed deep in Scottish culture, roaming over the hills of Arran, listening to the murmurs of the Gaelic language and watching for splashes of mermaids just off shore.  Harper Fox has done such a excellent job of describing the island of Arran that I felt I had traveled there by the Calmac Ferry. Her love for the people, their culture and the land that gave birth to both flows like a wild river through the story. Indeed,  her vivid portraits of the populace,and their abodes will make you feel as though you know them. The passages on life in the old farmhouse have a way of plonking me down next to the Aga in the kitchen, listening to Nichol’s grumblings on the miserly candle left burning to light the cold room, so real does Harper Fox make it.  The rhythm of the Gaelic tongue is the rhythm of life itself on those rocky shores and cliffs.  A ancient language whose written form bears little resemblance to the spoken word, Gaelic weaves itself through the heart of the story, overflowing the pages until one yearns to speak those words, to understand their meaning.  I cannot begin to do justice here to its importance and beauty.  Here is a small sampling:

After Harry had told Nichol that he lost the language. “But I haven’t. That was what I wanted to say to Harry. I remember every word you taught me, in here with the book and out on the moors and the shore where you pointed to dobhar, the otter, iasg-dearg, the salmon, the eagle iolair whose name you pronounced like the upward yearning of wings—oh-lia, oh-lia.”

And another:

“Beauty. Music. I still couldn’t look at Harry, but from the corner of my eye I saw that his grip on the chair had relaxed. I couldn’t forget the poems, not when I was taught them so young. Did you hear me, old man? It’s the nearest I can come to saying sorry. I turned the page. The summer poem was long, a great cadenced paean to life such as only a man who’d lived through West Isles winters could sing. Softly I began the next verse. Harry stood listening for a few moments longer then quietly walked out of the kitchen, pulling the door shut behind him.”

(Harper Fox. Scrap Metal,  Samhain Publishing, Ltd.)

Time and again, Harper Fox brings us to tears and laughter through her use of the Gaelic tongue.  Wait til you get to the paragraph where Harry asks Nichol if their new farmhand is gay, in Gaelic of course.  Sheer perfection in every way.

Her characters are just as genuine and elemental as the land they are so much a part of.  Nichol is such a complicated soul, gay but not out to his Granda, kind and stubborn, wanting so much more than his brother and recognizing the irony of being back on the farm he thought he had escaped for good.  His anguish in the night over not being good enough to save the farm, not being good enough yet again for his Granda who he loved spoke so eloquently to his loss, and strength of character that it brought me to tears.  And if Nichol is a wondrous creation, than Harry Seacliff is even more remarkable.  As primal as the rocks of the cairn, and as deep as the lochs, Harry seems both as ancient as the land he loves and yet touched here and there with life in the present as with his use of the quads. Harry has a true Gaelic soul that sings beneath an exterior hardened by life on the island and life’s losses.  I can still see Harry and his sheep dogs leaning against the dry stacked stonewall, contemplating the land of his ancestors.  I felt like I knew him while I did not dare approach him. And Cameron, the city boy interloper, who unexpectedly finds home and a family, is so heartbreaking at points in this story that you just want to hold him as close as Nichol does.  Character after character, living, breathing people come to the fore, giving this story unbelievable depth and grace.

I have read and loved other books by Harper Fox and I was still unprepared for Scrap Metal.  Her gifts and skill as an author amazes me with it’s ability to transport the reader into another world, enchant them with the people and their stories, and leave us a little heartbroken by our exit.  I love Scrap Metal.  The story and people will stay with them for a long time to come.

Chan eil aon chànan gu leòr. Tapadh leibh, Harper Fox.  Tha mo bhàta-foluaimein loma-làn easgannan.  The translation? Clearly one language is never enough. Thank you, Harper Fox.  My hovercraft is full of eels.  OK, I just couldn’t resist the last one.  I could see the islanders having their bit of fun with a tourist and had to throw that in.  No quibbles here, just a bounty of love for the story and author.  Please pick this book up, you won’t be sorry.

Cover: Art by Angela Waters.  I liked this cover, with the dark background on top and landscape on the bottom.  Did I wish for a little more of the craggy landscape? Yes, but it still has a great feel to it.

Available through Samhain Publishing, Ltd., Amazon, and ARe.

Find out more about the author and her books at www.harperfox.net.

My other  recommendations include Driftwood and The Salisbury Key.

Review of Sebastian’s Wolves by Valentina Heart

Standard

Rating: 4.25 stars

Sebastian Vory and his mate, Tim, left their pack in the East for a new start together as a mated pair on their own.  And for years they were happy until a car accident took Tim away from Sebastian and left him half mad with grief.  Sebastian spends a year  wandering in wolf form uncaring what happens to him and unaware of how far he has travelled until he runs smack into the pack whose territory he’s in.  The Alpha gives Sebastian a choice, leave or join them.  Too weary to go on, Sebastian chooses to stay.  Within the new pack, Sebastian finds the family he has always wanted and begins the healing process.

As Sebastian adjusts to his new pack, a strange wolf appears at the pack lodge. Eshan Low has come to the West Pack to beg its Alpha for help with the deadly Alpha of his pack in the east.  Sebastian takes one look at Eshan Low and knows he has found a new mate.  Eshan’s wolf feels the same and soon a mating has taken place.  But duty and his pack’s safety are calling Eshan back east and Sebastian finds himself once more in danger of losing another mate.  Sebastian and his pack must undertake a risky mission to dethrone a Alpha or lose another mate and possibly his sanity.

This is the second book I have read of Valentina Heart and my admiration of her skill as a writer continues to grow.  I really enjoyed her take on wolf shifters.  Heart demonstrates a knowledge of wolf natural history as her wolves primal nature exists just under their human skin. These are not shifters living a normal human existence but rather wolf shifters adjusting their human forms to exist within a pack structure.  The pack all live together under one roof, often sleeping in communal beds as would a wolf pack,  Communication between members include both wolf and human vocalizations no matter what form they may be in at the time, a lovely touch.  Here the nature of the beast not the rationale of man rule.

This same “wolf first” take on shifters extends to love and mating.  When a wolf looks to take another as mate, the potential mate is judged on strength, compatibility, as well as attraction.  Pheromones come into play as they would in nature.  Mating is straightforward and primal, often involving a chase, a fight and bloodletting.  Not for the fainthearted nor any indicator of  “instant love”.  When Sebastian first sees Eshan, it’s their wolves that call to each other, a need for a mate strong within them.  The scene between them as their wolves decide to act on the call to mate as their pack watches is as sexy and hot as any I can remember.  Heart’s writing is so vivid that we are standing along side the pack, watching it happen as the tension and heat rises amidst growls and changing forms.

Sebastian is a wonderful character.  When we first meet him, he has given up much to be with  his mate, Tim.  Neither is a pureblood, having been changed into a shifter not born one.  Sebastian misses being part of a pack, his wolf nature so close to the surface all the time. Tim became a shifter later in life so he remains far more human than his mate.  Sebastian is a more simplistic (yet never simple) character, more basic in his wants and desires who is living a complicated life because of his mate.  When Tim dies, his pain and loss are overwhelming for the character and the reader, so realistically is it described.  Sebastian’s Wolves also strays from the “norm” in making Sebastian just another wolf in the pack.  Strong yes, but not the Alpha or even the Beta.  It gives Sebastian a unusual vulnerability to see him called into a submissive state by his Alpha when he’s panicking or unable to cope.

Eshan Low with his dyed Mohawk and history of abuse is given less backstory but still becomes a strong character among many strong characters in this story.  Valentina Heart makes it easy to see how he compliments and belongs with Sebastian.  And we become just as worried about his safety when responsibility makes him return to his pack and its unstable leader.  The author literally packs her story with one memorable wolf after another, and then gives them a good plot worthy of such characters.  Does the plot have some holes in it?  Yes, which is why the rating is not higher but the nature of her shifters override the deficiencies in the plot.

I have read that there will be no sequel to Sebastian’s Wolves.  And while I feel that is a shame, I am still so very happy to have made their acquaintance.  Wonderful shifters, wonderful story.  Thank you, Valentina Heart.

Cover: Cover Art by Justin James, Cover Design by Mara McKennen.  Unusual cover design with its bold use of just the face of a model.  Memorable in that I could pick out this cover from others with just a glance but really, what does the design have to do with the story? Not sure how I feel about this as a cover.

Available at Dreamspinner Press, Amazon, and ARe.