A MelanieM Review: Otter Madness by Winnie Jerome

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Rating: 3 stars out of 5:

All I Want For Christmas Otter MaddnessOtter shifter Bryon is not happy.  His terrible boss wants him to work on Christmas and his mage boyfriend has been distant and uncommunicative lately.  What is an wereotter to do?  Get in trouble, that’s what.  When Byron goes snooping around his boyfriend’s workshop, he accidentally unleashes a second Bryon.  Now with two Bryons on the loose, can his boyfriend Lucas handle two mischievous, highly-sexed shifters just in time for Christmas?

Uh…wow.  Otter Madness is a perfect title for this wild concoction of a holiday story.  It contains nothing less than two wereotters ( should I say one were otter and one wereotter doppleganger), a homophobic boss, a mage boyfriend who is also a Dom, and quite a bit of bdsm toys and kinky sex scenes.  Mix that all together in 27 pages and you end up with a wild mess of a Christmas tale with some very funny elements, some sexy kinky bits and some things that are just so discordant that the story goes awry.

For me the best scenes in this story are the ones with Bryon in his otter form.  Jerome manages to convey the playfulness, the joy, and willy-nilly scatteredness of an otter in motion during these scenes.  But for every scene that reveals just how great it must be to be an otter rolling about in the towels, Jerome then gives us something to shudder at. A homophobic boss who is so unpleasant (calling Bryon and his boyfriend the “f” word and more) that you wonder why Bryon still wants to be employed there. . It’s just such an ugly segment, ok that whole restaurant segment is awful, that I can’t begin to understand why it was included.

Then there is the Bryon on Bryon sex, the D/s relationship between Bryon (and eventually Bryon) and Lucas, that  D/s relationship that never quite works because you don’t get enough of the personalities behind it to make it viable.  Otters are smart, playful, inventive, and high energy.  Submissive?  What is it about Bryon that makes that a part of his emotional makeup?  We haven’t a clue, especially when the second Bryon shows up and doesn’t quite seem to have the same personality even though they are supposed to be identical.  The story just continues on its messy way, dilly dallying over the kinky sex through a story that never quite comes to an end.

A wereotter is a terrible shifter to waste.  The mere creation of such a wonderful shifter elevated this story to a 3 star rating.  It’s antics, in his human form, kept it there.  It’s the holidays.  If any of the above appeal to you, then this is the story for you.  Other than that, treat it as the otter madness it is.

Torquere Holiday Sip generic cover is used, the artist is not given credit in this release.

Sales: Torquere Books        All Romance        amazon             buy it here

Book Details:

ebook, 27 pages
Published December 11th 2013 by Torquere Press (first published December 10th 2013)

Review: Home for the Hollandaise by Julia Talbot and BA Tortuga

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Home for the Hollandaise coverJack Shields has returned home for the holidays to the town he hates.  His dad is suffering from Alzheimer’s, his mother needs him and his cooking to make things  bearable, at least for Christmas.  The town Jack grew up in is full of bad memories, especially for a gay boy in Texas, including the cheating boyfriend he loved , left behind after a knockdown fight and has still never forgotten.

Kent Thibault has just returned to the town where he grew up in order to spend the holidays with his mother.  Now a musician, Kent has nothing but bad memories of this small Texas town, including the fact that it was where he lost the boy he grew up with and loved.  One night, one horrible misunderstanding, one fight and now 10 years later, Kent still thinks about Jack, the one that got away.

Now both have returned to town for the holidays and family.  A chance meeting at the local grocery brings up old memories, bad and good and reignites all the old feelings.  When two former lovers still very much in love meet again, is it too much for them to hope that a future together is still possible?

From the title to the characters within, I loved Home for the Hollandaise by Julia Talbot and BA Tortuga.  A Torquere Holiday short story, it brings up all the best and the worst of  Christmas with the family, especially families breaking apart under stress and illness.  For 49 pages, the reader is brought into the lives of Jack, his family and his former boyfriend, Kent.  Jack is home under the worst conditions as his father has Alzheimer’s and is only intermittently aware of who Jack is.  What Jack’s father does remember is Jack’s cooking.  Jack is a mini-celebrity chef in Austin and his food is a path back to his father.

I found this element, the relationship of Jack with his father and the scene as they connect over food, possibly for the last time, incredibly touching and real.  Its that touch of authenticity and warmth that illuminates the depth of family love over familial discord and brings pathos to the holidays as well as joy.

The characters here from Jack’s mother shaking under the stress and pain of the situation, Kent staying in the trailer his Mom has stashed in the backyard as a rental, and the old football bully from high school, all are created with a deft hand and painted with the realism and knowledge of small town Texas life.  I just loved this story and only wish that I could have lingered a tiny bit more with the men back in Austin, trying for that future once again that they thought they had lost.

Cover illustration by A Squires is ok, but with such a great title, wouldn’t you think hollandaise would be on the table as well?

Book Details:

, ebook, 49 pages
Published December 11th 2013 by Torquere Press

Review: Christmas Wish (a Romanorum world story) by Shayne Carmichael & Mychael Black

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Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

All I Want Christmas WishIt has been ten years since Elian was forced to leave his soulmate, mortal Ryan Nixon.  Elian was a angel, a grigori who is a watcher angel who teaches human certain life lessons.  They are not supposed to get involved with humans and Elian broke all their rules when he fell in love with Ryan and became his lover.  Forced to separate from Ryan, Elian has now completed his punishment and returned to Earth to find Ryan.

But the man has greatly changed.  The man Elian left was brash, intelligent and ambitious.  The Ryan Elian found was homeless, gaunt, and on the verge of dying.  Both men have now paid for their mistakes.  Ryan has lost everything his ambition and greed initially won him.  Elian lost ten years in isolation, banished from Earth to pay for breaking the rules.  Now the angel has found his lover once more.  Is it too late for their love to succeed?  Or will their christmas wish make a miracle happen so they can find a way back to each other?

Shayne Carmichael and Mychael Black’s Romanorum stories are among my favorites so I was delighted to see this Torquere Holiday Sip that ventured back into that universe and brought back a major character, Cian, albeit in a minor role.  The authors gifts of characterization and description bring the plight of Ryan Nixon powerfully to life.  This is Elian’s first sighting of Ryan after ten years apart and it is a heartbreaking one:

Elian spotted a lone figure on a wooden bench, partially hidden by a tattered coat. Elian’s heart broke all over again. Ryan had indeed learned about the dangers of greed and avarice, and the lesson had taken everything — everything — away from him, leaving him a broken, destitute man.

Threadbare gloves barely covered the hands that held the coat closed against the bite of the winter wind. Though he was only thirty-two, time had etched lines in the once- youthful face, and a sprinkling of gray dusted the black hair.

Huddled on the bench, he appeared to pay no attention to the few who braved the cold on their own business. A half-eaten sandwich lay forgotten in its plastic wrapping as Ryan stared off in the distance at a grove of trees.

Elian crouched in front of him, meeting Ryan’s empty gaze. He reached out and smoothed a lock of dark hair back from green eyes that once held a spark of life. Now they just seemed… lost.

The man Elian is confronted with is someone who has lost all hope and seems ready to die, one of many found on any winter street in any city or town.  An added layer to Ryan’s despair is the fact that he is to blame for his downfall, that his avarice and overwhelming ambition that made him rich also ruined him and Ryan has had ten years to realize that.

Carmichael and Black make Ryan believable in his self-loathing and despair.  He has gone beyond bitterness into an emotional place of isolation and emptiness that gives this portrait of homelessness a feel of authenticity.  Elian’s character, an angel who defied Heaven’s laws to be with his lover, is harder to grasp, probably because he is more of a two note persona, goodness and light, to feel entirely credible.  And their love story and reconnection, while emotionally engaging, felt too rushed to be believable, especially after all that has occurred during their ten-year separation.

These authors have made their angel characters multidimensional in the past so I think the issue with Elian is that the story length doesn’t give the authors enough space to imbue Elian with the depth of character he needs to feel real.  In fact, I think that shortness hurts this story in almost every way.  For those readers unfamiliar with the Romanorum universe, the lack of backstory will leave many of them confused about the plot.  Especially when Cian appears to offer his apologies to Elian.  Most people will wonder exactly what and who Cian is referring to (or exactly who Cian is and why he is important) when offering his explanation for his actions.  Unless you have read all the previous books or at least The Prince’s Angel, you will be lost during this section of the story.

I did really like this story but I had the background to do so.  I absolutely recommend this series and would want any new reader to start at the beginning with The Prince’s Angel to get a better understanding of the universe and the huge cast of characters to be found there, including angels and vampires.  Used as a part of the whole, then I can absolutely recommend Christmas Wish to all.

Cover artist is not listed as I suspect this is a blanket cover used for many of Torquere Holiday Sip stories.

Books in the Romanorum series:

The Prince’s Angel (Legends of the Romanorum, #1)
And the Two Shall Become One (Legends of the Romanorum, #2)
Forever May Not Be Long Enough (Legends of the Romanorum, #3)
Christmas Wish (Legends of the Romanorum, #4)

Book Details:

ebook, 26 pages
Published December 4th 2013 by Torquere Press

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.