Review: Devil’s Own (The Wheel Mysteries #2) by Susan Laine

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Devil's Own coverIt’s been almost 2 months since PI Niall Valentine and his occult shopkeeper boyfriend, Gus Goodwin, began their relationship over several mysteries and murders they solved together.  Now all they wish to do is find time to spend together and get used to being a couple.  Instead they find themselves once more pulled into magic, mystery, and murder.

Niall’s latest client, Angelina Talbot, is convinced that her new husband attempted to kill her. Florian Talbot appeared in their bedroom  half-naked and covered in blood. Scared out of her mind, Angelina hit him with a lamp and ran away, convinced she had killed him.  But his body never appeared and his family assumes he’s alive and well.  Is Florian dead?  And did she kill him?  Angelina Talbot wants to know and she wants Niall to uncover the truth about her husband.

The Talbot family is full of eccentrics, devil worshippers, and downright criminals. It’s the Satanists that draw Gus into the investigation.  No one and nothing is as it seems.  As more people disappear and the body count rises, Niall and Gus are sure only of one thing….their love for each other.  But will that be enough with a psychotic killer on the loose and kidnapping on the mind?

I fell in love with Gus Goodwin and Niall Valentine in the first The Wheel Mysteries story, Sparks & Drops (The Wheel Mysteries, #1).  It felt fresh and captivating.  And the element that really set it apart from other mysteries was the use of the Wiccan religion as a basis for the investigations  and the character of Gus Goodwin.  Susan Laine delves deep into the rituals, beliefs, and common misconceptions held about the Wiccan religion and uses that knowledge as story lines and the foundation for her series.

With her characters, Susan Laine offers the reader both sides of a familiar argument.  Is magic and witchcraft real?  Who are those people who not only believe in it but practice the Wiccan religion as others worship more recognized, commonly held religious beliefs such as Christianity and such? Coming down on the side of Wicca is Gus Goodwin, a practicing Wiccan.  He runs The Four Corners, a shop devoted to Wiccan accouterments, books and such.  How he gets to own that store happens in the first book.  Gus is a devout practitioner and the rituals he observes are relayed in one absorbing scene after another.

On the other side of the argument is PI Niall Valentine.  Thoughtful, open minded. Niall retains that acerbic, questioning attitude necessary for his profession and part of his persona.  Niall may research the topic of Wicca, and become knowledgeable but that certainly doesn’t make him a believer.  Together, they form a unified investigative front for the paranormal and supernatural mysteries that come their way.  They make a terrific duo, on equal level with each other and they know it.  How refreshing and adult.

Another thing I love about their relationship and storyline?  No instant love.  This is the second book and they are only a month and a half into figuring out their romance.  They live apart, see each other when they can, and haven’t said the L word because it is much too soon.  They are working on their emotions, and relationship dynamics.  They also haven’t had anal sex because they can’t seem to find the time to make the preparations necessary for that type of sex. That realism works to connect us to Niall and Gus on a basic level and their hurried, full lives make them relatable as well.

The mysteries here are good ones. Yes, more than one.  Once again, Gus and Niall bring in members from the local Wiccan society to help with their investigation which turns very dark early on.  There are murders and one particular practitioner of the occult seem to have a role to play in the books to come.  Sinister thy name is……nope, can’t give that one away.  And yes, their relationship takes several more serious steps forward.

Susan Laine gives the reader so many wonderful elements to enjoy in this story.  A romance just getting under way, several mysteries, a couple of murders, and a deeper insight into the Wiccan religion and its worshippers as a whole.  I can’t recommend this story and series enough.  It’s entertaining, sexy, and yes, fascinating too.   If you’ve read the first story, you will want to pick this up immediately.  But if this is a new series to you, start at Sparks & Drops to see how Niall and Gus meet and the romance starts.  The Wheel continues to turn and more  stories will come.  I can’t wait to see what happens next!

Cover Artist: Brooke Albrech.  I thought this was a great cover. Visually interesting and perfect for the story.

Buy Links:   Dreamspinner Press eBook   All Romance eBook (ARe)          Amazon    Devil’s Own

Book Details:

ebook, 192 pages
Published July 2nd 2014 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 1627988033 (ISBN13: 9781627988032)
edition languageEnglish
seriesThe Wheel Mysteries #2

Books in The Wheel Mysteries in the order they were written and should be read:

Sparks & Drops (The Wheel Mysteries #1)
Devil’s Own (The Wheel Mysteries #2)

 

Review: Lofty Dreams of Earthbound Men (Isleshire Chronicles #1) by Susan Laine

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Rating: 3 stars (rounded up) out of 5

Lofty Dreams of Earthbound Men coverObadai Bashim is walking through one of the city’s parks on his way to the solstice celebration when he hears someone calling him. That voice belongs to a young boy, clothes in tatters, who begs for his help.   Jules Sterling, a young engineering sage, has been on the run from The Theocracy’s assassin since his master was killed by the ripper who is now after him.

The political instability between the Five Kingdoms and the Divine Theocracy has always stayed far from County Isleshire where tolerance and freedom from religious persecution has been the norm.  But now the Theocracy has gotten bold under the complacency of the Five Kingdoms rulers and they threaten to overturn the years of acceptance and freedom to destroy all science in the name of their religious doctrine.

Jule’s Engineering Guild is the target of the Theocracy and the death of his master is just the beginning.  For Jules is hiding a larger secret, one that he must protect as well as finish the job that he and his master had been contracted for….repairing a broken  airship inn.  If Jules can’t make the repairs the entire airship will crash at the solstice celebrations, killing many.

Obadai has his own secrets, ones that could make him the object of one of the Theocracy’s hunts.  So will helping Jules finish his mission.  But Obadai’s sense of duty and the attraction he feels towards Jules makes Obadai agree to help.   With the ripper on their trail and an airship beginning to founder, Jules and Obadai face a multitude of obstacles before them.  But its the Solstice and magic is in the air and anything is possible under the stars.

After reading Susan Laine’s Acknowledgement page for this novel and learning that this has been a beloved project of hers for over 20 years, I really wanted to like this story, if for no other reason that to reward her diligence and creativity.  But unfortunately I have had to work hard to get past the narrative which is so dense, so jam packed as to be impenetrable.  You know the author is in trouble when this is the start of the story.  Look how quickly the action turns into a morass of descriptions:

 A small shape climbed out of the bushes, nothing more than a silhouette. “Please, don’t hurt me.” The tiny voice cracked. It was a masculine voice, but shaky, scared, and on the verge of tears.

“Who are you? Why were you following me?” Obadai asked just as the midnight bells rang in the Abbey’s clock tower, their deep, gloomy sound echoing throughout the fortress town of Dunbruth. Everyone knew that the chartered town’s name was old Scottish Gaelic. The founder of Larkhall—the old bailey and keep—Sir Ector Macaledon, had been of Scottish descent, a rogue who had been granted this faraway county to rule as an Earl. The initial town name had been longer, Dùnan Bruthach Súmaid, which meant “Small Fortress on a Steep Slope of Waves.” The current form had been abbreviated and twisted by time, wrongly, as it happened. It was supposed to mean “A Fort on Surf Mountain” since the hilltop castle stood on the summit of Surf Mountain—but because the word bruthach didn’t abbreviate correctly, the literal translation was “A Fortress on Pressure.” Considering the crazy times, it had begun to make insane sense. Of course, all that business with Sir Ector had happened seven hundred years ago and had no bearing on the events of tonight. The Dunbruth Clocktower chimed for midnight mere moments after the Abbey bells, more melodic and higher in pitch, like a cheerful echo to the prior darker rings.

.And that is only the beginning.  Each time a small step forward is made toward momentum in the plot, the author inability to restrain herself from giving the readers what is clearly 20 years of thoughts about her universe building steps in.  From that moment the plot is gone, smothered under endless details and nonsensical names.  It becomes almost impossible to concentrate on the characters because we see so little of them from page to page.  The action gets underway, the characters start making their way towards the airship.  All good, with some really terrific scenarios and ideas sketched out before us.   Then this happens.  Again, And again.  Here is  Obadia trying to explain to Jules how the Snow Maiden Bridge (a bridge they have to cross) got its name. Keep in mind that the killer is on their tracks, the airship is about to fall and they have just met.  See if you can follow it:

“No, I guess not,” Jules agreed slowly, wistfully. Then he studied Obadai with a curious frown. “I thought it was called Stone Maiden Bridge. Yet you call it Snow Maiden Bridge. Every time.”

Obadai chuckled. “Both are correct. It’s a matter of personal preference what to call that huge block of stone on the side of Surf Mountain, from where the lake waters spring and which vaguely resembles a gray-cloaked nun bent over in prayer. Sir Ector brought the myth of the Cailleach here with him from his native Scotland. It has become rooted here, part of the local folklore.” Jules’s eyes widened with bemusement. “What is a…Kai-luck…?” His voice rose at the end in a question, indicating his doubts about proper enunciation. “In Scottish mythology, Cailleach is the Crone Goddess and the Queen of Winter.” “Ah. The Snow Maiden.” Jules looked pleased at having figured it out. “Exactly.” Obadai was becoming quite fond of the sight of a smiling Jules. “Also known as the Storm Hag, Cailleach is a terrifying natural force. Wise but frightening, a blue-skinned figure wielding a freezing staff and clad in a gray shawl and cloak.” “Gray… Hmm. Stone Maiden?” Jules seemed pensive and intrigued. “Kind of. Cailleach reigns during the winter months. Then, during the vernal equinox, she is defeated by the radiance and warmth of St. Aestasia.”

Jules’s eyes shone with glee upon hearing a familiar name. “I know her! She’s the patron saint of the Virtue of Benevolence with Fervor.” “Yes. A pioneer in charitable works, she had a passion for kindness and doing good. Here, in County Isleshire, as the Sun Maiden, she embodies the victory of summer over winter, a lady of fire, light, and heat. At the equinox, St. Aestasia turns the Cailleach into stone, to be awakened again during the autumnal equinox.” Jules nodded, smiling. “Ah. Stone Maiden.” He got a faraway look in his dreamy eyes. “So many stories here, so much history and legend. Almost makes me forget the troubles we’re in. At least makes me hopeful of things to come.”

Do they now get underway?  No, they do not as pages of more description is to follow which does nothing to build any anticipation over the impending crash or suspense over the killer after them.  Long run on sentences in which Laine attempts to further describe universe she is building quickly impede her story. Instead of letting the information come out more naturally throughout the narrative, in small bits and segments, the rush to get everything she has created comes out as a gusher, washing characterization and plot out of its path.   Never has 76 pages felt so long. Plus, this the first book of a series, surely some of the information dump could have been left to succeeding stories.

There are some truly delightful elements here, ones that I expected from the author of Sparks & Drops.  Obadia is a type of plant mage (although he has another title which I won’t give away).  In his garden can be found Snapdragons. No, not our snapdragons but plants capable of snapping in two the hand that feeds them the fertilizer, a very funny and engaging idea (at least to this gardener’s mind).  And then there is a wow of a fight scene on the floating inn that is marvelous in combining action with other unexpected elements.  As I was reading it, I kept wondering why the rest of the book was so enervating. Here was the vivid descriptions, concise and exciting I had been waiting for.  Here the characters exploded into life along with the plot.  Too late, however, to save the story.

There is also a case of instant love and hot sex (yes, all in 3 hours of meeting each other,  with fights and killers).  In fact the whole time frame of the story is three hours. In another story that might have been a larger issue.  Not here where  so many others took precedent.

Why did the fight scene not save the book?  Because the author couldn’t let go, even then.  This is almost the end and Obadia introduces Jules to a man who will help them.

Quickly, Obadai expressed his opinion of the nobleman they had just met. “Yes, he can be trusted. Mr. Graham is a scientist himself. A dendrologist only, but still apparently on the Theocracy’s watch list. Residing in a manor house by the village of Sun Rock these days, the House Dikunu has a history of shielding sages and inventors from the clutches of those who oppose factual knowledge, scientific progress, or just freedom of choice. They’ve even waged a war or two for those ideals in the course of the past couple of centuries, and they have loyal soldiers at their beck and call. So yes, I do trust him.” Jules nodded, lifting his chin firmly.  “Then I shall trust him as well.”

Laine should have stopped at “yes, he can be trusted” but of course, she didn’t.  I should have stopped when I saw each chapter was  labeled thusly and didn’t.

“11:59 p.m., Newsday, 24th of Golden Peak, Year 2659 of Epoch of Pious Virtues”

You the reader now have the choice.  If everything you have read above is just the thing that tickles your fancy, then grab it up and settle down for several hours, no days, of reading.  If you are like me and found all that verbiage overwhelming, then I would skip it and read Susan Laine’s Sparks & Drops (The Wheel Mysteries, #1).  There be the magic not here in the Lofty Dreams of Earthbound Men where it should be.

Cover artist is Paul Richmond who did his typcially wonderful job in conveying elements of the story on the cover.

Book Details:

ebook, 76 pages
Published January 29th 2014 by Dreamspinner Press (first published January 28th 2014)
ISBN13 9781627983716
edition language English
series Isleshire Chronicles

Snow Again and The Week Ahead in Reviews

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Snow again.  ‘Nuf said.

The Pulp Friction 2014 contest continues  until 3/21 for the $25 ARe gift card.  Visit wp.me/p220KL-28d with all the Pulp Friction authors to learn about this year’s characters and series. Then leave a  comment and email address to be entered into the draw. I am reviewing TA Webb’s story, Higher Ground, this week, the first in his series.  The 2nd story in Laura Harner’s series, Controlled Burn (Fighting Fire) has just released and promises to be a good one. Look for a review of that story in the coming weeks ahead.

This week SE Jakes and Kerry Adrienne are visiting on tour, bringing insights into their latest releases with them as well as contests to enter.  And books in all different stages in many series are reviewed this week. There is fantasy and contemporary romance with Oracle’s Flame by Mell Eight and The Artist’s Touch, both of which are the first books in new series by their authors.  Free Falling is from SE Jakes wonderful  Extreme Escapes Ltd series.  Higher Ground is TA Webb’s 1st story in his Pulp Friction 2014 series. And finally, To the Very Last Inch by Heidi Belleau and Amelia C. Gormley finishes The Professor’s Rule series with a flourish.  Truly something for every one.

And later today I will be announcing the winner of the ebook Song from Spring Moon Waning from E.E. Ottoman’s contest.  All while resolutely ignoring any white stuff that may be falling outside the window.  Again ‘nuf said.

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Here is the week ahead:

  • Monday, March 17:     Lofty Dreams of Earthbound Men by Susan Laine
    To the Very Last Inch by Heidi Belleau and Amelia C. Gormley
  • Tuesday, March 18:    Author Spotlight: Kerry Adrienne ,Book Tour & Contest                                                                                                            ………………………………The Artist’s Touch by Kerry Adrienne
  • Wed., March 19:          Higher Ground (PF2104) by TA Webb
  • Thur., March 20:         Oracle’s Flame by Mell Eight
  • Friday, March 21:        Free Falling with SE Jakes Book Tour and Contest
  • Sat., March 22:             Free Falling by SE Jakes

January 2014 Summary of Books Reviewed

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Winter trees longs

The new years has started with an explosion of wonderful books and new authors for me.  SE Jakes and two of her marvelous series dropped into my hands and heart so I will be passing those recommendations on to you.  SA McAuley released a new contemporary fiction novel, Treadmarks and Trademarks, the start of a new series.  Ditto Susan Laine with her Sparks & Drops.  LA Witt inspired with her gender shifter novel Static, a must read for all.  Shira Anthony’s Symphony In Blue brought her Blue Notes characters together for a series holiday story, perfect reading for all lovers of romance and music.  Horror, fantasy and comedy are all represented here as well as a great non fiction tale by Joel Derfner, Lawfully Wedded Husband:How My Gay Marriage Will Save The American Family, a must read.

So many great books, see what stories you have missed, and make a list.  And don’t forget to check out the best book covers of the month at the end.
*Key:Winter_2
S series
C contemporary
F-fantasy
SF-science fiction
PN-paranormal
SP-supernatural
H-historical
HR-horror
N-Nonfiction
YA-young adult

Rating Scale: 1 to 5, 5 stars is outstanding
5 Star Rating:

Catch A Ghost by SE Jakes C, S
Long Time Gone by SE Jakes C, S
Static by LA Witt, SF
Symphony In Blue by Shira Anthony, C, S
The Engineered Throne by Megan Derr, F
The Fall by Kate Sherwood C. S

4 to 4.75 Star Rating:

A Small Miracle Happened by Mari Donne, (4.5 stars) C, holiday
Dirty Deeds by SE Jakes (4.75 stars) C, S
Home for the Hollandaise by BA Tortuga,Julia Talbot *4.5 stars) C
Horsing Around by Torquere Authors, (4.5 stars) A, C
In Discretion by Reesa Herberth (4.5 stars), SF
Lawfully Wedded Husband by Joel Derfner (4.75 stars) N
Refined Instincts by SJ Frost, (4 stars) SP, S
Serenading Stanley by John Inman (4.5 stars), C
Sparks & Drops by Susan Laine (4.5 stars), P, S
Texas Christmas by R.J. Scott (4.75 stars), C, S
The Dreamer by M. King (4 stars), HR
The Lightning Moon by Sylvia A. Winters (4.75 stars) SP
Tread Marks & Trademarks by S.A. McAuley (4.5 stars) C, S

3 to 3.75 Star Rating:

Ashland by Lynn Lorenz (3.5 stars) SP, S
The Actor and the Thief by Edward Kendrick (3.75 stars) C, S
Tor by Lynn Lorenz (3.5 stars), SP, S

2 to 2.75 Star Rating:

Dime Novel by Dale Chase (2.75 stars) H

1 to 1.75 Star Rating:  None

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Best Book Covers of January 2014

This month includes just an overall gold star to LC Chase whose great covers include the Hell or High Water series and Dirty Deeds.

InDiscretion_500x750Mindscape_500x750Sparks & Drops cover

Tread Marks and Trademarks cover

Static coverCatch a Ghost cover

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In Discretion by Reesa Herberth, Artist Simone’
Mindscape by Tal Valante, Artist LC Chase, who is having an incredible year
Sparks & Drops by Susan Laine, Artist Brooke Albrecht
Static by LA Witt, Artist LC Chase.  A Stunner with it’s Shifting Gender Person
Tread Marks & Trademarks by S.A. McAuley, Wilde City Press, no artist credited

Review: Sparks & Drops (The Wheel Mysteries #1) by Susan Laine

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Sparks & Drops coverGus Goodwin, a pagan shopkeeper and owner of the Four Corners’ occult shop, has no idea his life is about to change forever when a man called Valentine walks into his shop.  Sparks start to fly as the mysterious man starts asking questions about the Wicca religion and Gus’ shop.  Then it turns out that Valentine is actually  Niall Valentine, a PI investigating the disappearance of a local witch named Joy and things start to get complicated for both of them.

With Gus involving himself in Niall’s investigation, the two of them encounter one dead witch, and then another.  As the bodies pile up, and fingers begin to point to other witches in the area, Gus and Niall’s relationship takes a serious turn.  With a killer on the loose and the Wiccan community in an uproar, will Gus and Niall find the missing girl alive?  And what will happen to their romance once the case is solved?

Susan Laine, a Fin, wrote this book in part because of a Finish Supreme Court ruling in 2001 that did not recognize Wicca as an “registered religious community” or established religion.  This “hurtful act” inspired this book.  As she wrote in her Acknowledgements “Sparks and Drops was written, in part, to show the life-affirming quality of Wicca and its rituals.”  To that I say, she has succeeded in her goal and given us a  terrific new series in the process.

Sparks & Drops contains so many different elements and combines them admirably.  There is the mystery element as the men investigate first the missing Joy, a woman we get to know in her absence as the investigation deepens.  Then as the murderer strikes, the investigation turns deadly and the suspense ratchets up as the men themselves fall into danger.  Laine superimposes Gus and Niall’s growing romance over her murder mystery, balancing love and the investigation aspect equally.  And importantly for this author, the teachings and rituals of the Wiccan religion flow like the threads of a tapestry throughout the story, pulling it together and highlighting its basic tenants while pointing out many misconceptions.  It all works here and works exceedingly well.

I loved her characters, Gus is intelligent, burning with a zeal to inform about his religion, and still able to remain practical and humorously aware that others might not see it as he does.  When the character gets on his “soapbox”, Gus (and the author) are quick to acknowledge that they are doing so.   That’s a lovely element and one that continues throughout the story.  Niall Valentine is a private detective with an open mind, a vet whose past experiences combine with a need to help others.  His is a character that reveals more and more layers as the  investigation starts to go awry and more people are killed.

We also meet other members of the Wiccan community, ones like Juliette, head witch of her own coven. Susan Laine creates lovely realistic people for her story. I suspect that these people will pop up again as The Wheel Mysteries continues and I can’t wait for those new stories to arrive.

If I had a quibble, it would be with just one aspect of the mystery.  The part where the reader will want to shout out “no…..don’t go there……”.  I still can’t make up my mind if it is in keeping with  the character’s impulses or just a too formulaic part of the mystery. Did it keep me from going a little crazy over what happens next?  No, it did not.  There are still plenty of gut wrenching roller coaster moments to come!

So bring on the next mystery.  I can’t wait to see what happens next to Gus and Niall.  I absolutely recommend this to romance and mystery lovers alike.

Cover art by Brooke Albrecht is terrific and works perfectly for the story.

Book Details:

ebook, 170 pages
Published November 20th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press (first published November 19th 2013)
ISBN 1623800730 (ISBN13: 9781623800734)
edition language English

The Eternal Optimism of Dogs and the Week in Reviews

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Winter trees longs

It snowed on Friday.  Only 3 inches or so but the first accumulated snow we have had here in over 2 years.  And Winston is not happy about it. Not happy at all.  Now Kirby is in snow heaven.  Like the good Irish dog he is, the cold and snow just rolls off him.  Even now he is bounding around the back yard communing with nature, racing the squirrels along the fence and in general, just having a blast.  Willow is asleep.  And Winston?  Well, he is gazing longingly out the front window in hopes that the weather there is dramatically better than the one outside the back door.

He reminds me of that quote from Robert A. Heinlein’s wife, Virginia, that inspired his novel The Door into Summer. Virginia remarked when their cat refused to leave the house: “he’s looking for a door into summer.”  That’s Winston.  Going from one door to the next, eternally optimistic that he will find that the door opens into summer, or spring, or fall, anything but a season thatWinter_2 contains snow or ice.  We head out the backdoor into the snow, Willow and Kirby marching resolutely ahead.  Only Winston stops at the door, peering out, dubious at the thought of putting paw to the cold snowy ground.  Eventually he goes out, does his business and quickly returns to the warmth of home after venturing out perhaps 5 ft in all.  Willow returns next, and then we all gather at the door to watch as Kirby runs and gambols around, only returning with a sigh when I call him in.

Then and only then does Winston begin to bounce.  He twirls, he whirls, he grabs his leash and heads to the front door where surely it is sunny, warm and green.   Several times I have accommodated him.  I hook up his leash, grab my hat, gloves, scarf and coat (and his sweater) and we head out the door.  And every time Winston freezes as he looks out upon the snow and ice.  We get no further than the driveway. The disbelief and disgust is written on his upturned face as he looks back at me.  The little balloon above his head so clearly stating “really? here too?” And without me saying a word he pulls me back to the front door and the warmth he knows is inside.

So here we sit, all four.  For myself, I think the snow is beautiful and fleeting, it is Maryland these days after all.  Kirby is waiting for his next adventure in the backyard where the foxes and squirrels await.  Willow is asleep behind me, content in her red sweater. And Winston?  Well, he is watchful and waiting too.  For the grass to be green, the bunnies appear along with the bees and the warmth of his favorite seasons.  I love that optimism.  For Winston a change in the weather is only a door away.  No matter how many times it proves otherwise, the promise of Summer remains just on the other side of the door.

Always hopeful.  Not a bad way to live at all.

Here is this week’s reviews.  There are holiday stories, a wicca story, a humorous tale of romance and a fantasy book from Megan Derr you won’t want to miss.  Truly something for everyone.

Monday, Jan. 6:              Home for the Hollandaise by BA Tortuga,Julia Talbot

Tuesday, Jan. 7               Texas Christmas by RJ Scott

Wed., Jan. 8:                   A Small Miracle Happened by Mari Donne

Thursday, Jan. 9:          Sparks & Drops by Susan Laine

Friday, Jan. 10:              Serenading Stanley by John Inman

Saturday, Jan. 11:          The Engineered Throne by Megan Derr

Review of Two Tickets to Paradise Anthology

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Rating: 4 stars

Two Tickets to Paradise is a collection of 15 stories of men, alone or with a partner, traveling by car, train, plane, and the occasional time travel in search of new experiences and romance in destinations both home and abroad.  What they find runs the gamut from first time love to love rediscovered after considerable time apart. Can you buy a ticket to paradise? Within these stories, the men find the answer to that question and so much more.

After reading this anthology, I found it difficult to come to a rating, as some of the stories floundered, stuck in the mundane and predictable while others soared into great heights of emotion and romance.  The stories that have remained with me are:

J.L. Merrow’s All At Sea, a tale of youth and young love on the Isle of Wight. The characters here have hidden depths, delightful dialog, exquisite scenary and an ending I am still smiling over.

Chelle Dugan’s Off The Tracks, a middle aged man who believes that love has passed him by takes a train trip into the past and gets the chance at love he’s always dreamed of. Realistic characters, vivid descriptions of the Grand Canyon, combined with flashbacks to the 80’s.

Sean Michael’s Something Different, a story of two ex-lovers reunited in Las Vegas after a separation of 10 years.  What can I say?  It’s a Sean Michael’s story, so the sex is hot, the characters memorable and hope for a HEA is on the horizon.

Mal Peters’ Perpendicularity.  The high altitude setting of the French Alps is the perfect location for Kyle, an Olympic snowboarder, to spend Valentine’s Day with his girlfriend.  But an unplanned breakup, sees Kyle alone in the resort chalet until the smell of baking bread and a succulent pork tenderloin lead him to a young personal chef and a change of heart.  Just the descriptions of baking bread and smells emanating from the kitchen won me over, add in the characters of Kyle and Dylan, and you have a story that is a delight to read.

B.G. Thomas’ New Lease is the penultimate story and reason alone to buy this collection. Wade Porter is alone is an oceanside cottage mourning the loss of his long-time lover, a married man who only saw him for two weeks out of the year at their bungalow near Key West.  With the loss and his age wearing him down,  Wade sees no reason to continue living until he meets Kent, a man who has just moved in next door. Kent too has lost a partner and gradually shows Wade the path out of depression and into the true meaning of love.  I was still crying over this story hours later so be warned!  Get those tissues handy.

Zee Kensington’s Krung Thep, City of Angels is the final story of the anthology and my final recommendation.  Marco has dreamed of traveling and for his first trip abroad or any where actually, chooses to go to Thailand.  Marco is the typical innocent abroad who lands in the steamy, packed streets of Krung Thep also known as Bangkok.  Clearly out of his depth, his journey is almost derailed by his inexperience until he meets seasoned journalist, Chris, who writes for travel magazines.  Chris takes him under his wing, and introduces Marco to the sights, tastes and people of Krung Thep.  The author did such a great job with the vivid descriptions of the food markets, pungent odors of the food stalls, and feel of swampy heat rising from the streets that I felt like I had been there. From the bouncy innocence of Marco to the weary self isolation of Chris, the characters felt alive right down to the sweat rolling down their backs.  I wanted to continue on their journey with them, seeking the paths to paradise.

Cover:  Cover Artist Steve Walker.The cover says it all, because how can you show the range of the stories contained within this anthology?

Reviewed for and copy of anthology obtained from Joyfully Jay

Anthology available from Dreamspinner Press, Amazon and ARe..