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

Review: Adding to the Collection (A Roughstock story) by B.A. Tortuga

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Rating: 4.25 stars

Adding To The Collection coverCloseted rancher Derrick Stahlman has always had a thing for professional bull riders.  Once a year he treats himself to a small vacation to watch the PBR Finals in Reno and get himself laid in the process.  This year Derrick has a chance to watch a young bull rider he has been following on the circuit, Stone Haverty.  Everything about that small firecracker of a man turns Derrick on like nothing in recent memory.  And a specific kind of memory to take back to the ranch and keep him warm is just what Derrick is pursuing.

Stone has been doing well this year and his rides have put him in the money and top 20 rankings.  Stone also happens to be gay, although quiet about it because of the PBR sponsors.  When he spots that handsome rancher cheering him on from the fan seats in the stadium, he recognizes a kindred spirit, and a big sexy one at that.  The men come together for a couple of days of white hot sex and major snuggling before parting ways with a quiet “come see me if you are in the area” from Derrick.  And then at Christmas time, Stone appears at Derrick’s ranch and Derrick has some big decisions to make and maybe make his dream come true in the process.

First a little bull rider history.  If you aren’t familiar with PBR (here that doesn’t stand for Pabst Blue Ribbon but Professional Bull Riders, Inc.) then you are missing out on a wonderful group of athletes often overlooked outside certain sections of this country.  A professional bull rider is someone who has to remain on the back of a bucking bull for 8 seconds.  Within that 8 seconds, the rider will be judged on control and rhythm in matching the movements of the bull,  and at the same time, the bull is equally being judged for their performance. their athletic ability to buck off the rider with high jumps and unexpected  twists.  It is athlete versus athlete, rider versus bull but here the riders average around 5’6″ and a hundred and more pounds versus these amazing bulls weighing in at  close to a ton or over.  Needless to say, it is the bull rider who often comes off the worst in this contest of skill, will, and might, hopefully walking away with no more than a bruised ego and behind to show for a ride lasting less than 8 seconds, sometimes much worse happens.  Not surprisingly, this is a young man’s sport with the average age being in their twenties.  Countries like Canada, Brazil, Australia, and Mexico each have their own PBR tours and bull riders from all over the world come to participate in the World PBR Tour.

B.A. Tortuga knows her bull riding.  B.A. Tortuga also writes some of the best regional voices in the business.  Her characters conversations are flavored with  colloquialisms that never fall over the edge into parody.   It certainly helps that she knows her roughstock and bull riders like the back of her hand too.   Here is her description of Stone Haverty:

“Short, lean, but not bird-like, Stone was a little nut-brown dynamo with a pair of blue eyes that looked like lasers, glinting from under the brim of that straw hat. That callused, scarred hand worked resin into glove and rope, up and down, mimicking an action that made Derrick’s mouth dry.”

Two sentences that so fully describe this man you could pick him out of a crowd.  Here is Stone’s first impression of Derrick:

“Solid and broad, with hands that would be rough and hard on a man’s skin…This one looked like he didn’t get to town much. Oh, the boots were clean, and the hat was obviously expensive, but the guy scanned the crowd like he was starving, like he had a powerful itch.”

Derrick is a lonely, closeted rancher from California who collects bull riding memorabilia on his annual trip to the PBR Finals in Reno.  He accepts that his lot will be that of a man lacking a real romantic relationship in order to live the life he has on his ranch, although he dreams of much more.  I loved solid, grounded Derrick and wanted much more of his backstory.  Stone too only gives us hints as to what drives him.  He comes from a huge family and is the baby of a family of eight brothers but you get the feeling that there is much more to his story than is revealed here.  We get realistic glimpses of the hardships that come with competing on the circuit too, the lack of insurance and rootless existence can mean in the long run.

The sex scenes are hot, desperate in their need,  funny and totally realistic.  I mean you are laughing along with the men as pants get stuck on boots and clothes refuse to fly off the way they do in the movies. And you will hurt with them too as the injuries arrive.  These men breath and bleed, laugh and hump so authentically that you expect them to climb out of the pages.

My only quibble with this story is the length.  It just cries out for a much longer version so all the requisite back history of these men and their journey to this point in their lives is layered into this story to finish it out.   At 60 pages, it is just enough to “wet our whistle” as it were but not enough to fully satisfy.  I hope B.A. Tortuga revisits this couple and lets us in on how they are faring.  I loved my short visit with them and am ready for the rest to follow.

Cover: Cover illustration by BS Clay is lovely and pertinent to the story

BA Tortuga. Adding to the Collection (Kindle Locations 83-87). Torquere Press.