Review: Home Sweet Home (Home #5) by T. A. Chase

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Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Home Sweet Home coverYancey MacCafferty and Juan Romanos have been in love since the first time they met.  In a gay bar in Texas, an underage Juan just wanted to dance.  But danger was all around him.  Yancey, a young rent boy, sees Juan’s innocence and naivete and falls in love, all while saving Juan from a predator on the dance floor.  Eventually both ended up with their brothers on the ranch owned by Les Hardin and Randy Hersch, where they finished growing up and found their dreams.  For Juan, it was all about the horses and being a world class equestrian, eventually ending up at a show bar on the East coast. Yancey chose another path, that of college and an education needed to become a veterinarian.  And all during those years, Yancey and Juan never stopped loving each other, even though each was at opposite ends of the country.

Now Yancey has graduated from college and is ready to reunite with the man he loves and start his career. But to do that, he will have to leave the people he has grown to love including his brother for a new veterinarian practice in Virginia, just miles away from the show barn where Juan rides and lives.  He and Juan have been parted long enough.  He is sure that Juan feels the same way.  Or does he?  Yancey isn’t sure, exactly but its time to find out.  Can Yancey and Juan’s puppy love mature into the forever love they have always wanted or will the reality of being and living together bring their dreams crashing down?

I have been waiting like so many others for Juan and Yancey’s story since the first time we met them in Home of His Own (Home #2 – their brothers, Brody MacCafferty and Tony Romanos story).  These two young men were instantly endearing and their love story so heartwarming that it almost eclipsed that of their brothers.  Happily, I can announce that it was worth the wait.  Home Sweet Home is a wonderful story, reminescent of the first book in the series, No Going Home which remains my favorite.

In every book of the series, we kept getting glimpses of Juan and Yancey as they grew up.  The author always managed to throw in little details of their lives, whether it was Yancey returning for the holidays from college or Juan’s equestrian training at Edward’s barns in Virginia.  These small mentions managed to keep our interest in these young men alive and pique our curiosity over their future.  In fact, one of the many aspects I love about this series is that Chase continues to bring together all the characters from other books into the latest stories.  These people form a family, one cobbled together by need and choice so to have that family remain topical in every book is important to the cohesion and strength of the series.

The characters of Yancey and Juan have also grown as their characters have aged.  From teenage gay boys to confident, mature young men, Chase has developed their characters realistically relative to their age.  It’s wonderful getting reacquainted with these older versions of the boys we first met.  Along with their characters, their love for each other needs to grow as well. Luckily, Chase has taken care of that too.  The author has her characters adjust their views of each other and their careers in a very human and authentic manner.  I just loved how tentative and yet determined each man is to make their relationship and Yancey’s move work.  It is emotionally satisfying and oh so enjoyable to read about.

If I have a quibble, it would be with the ending.  In the epilogue we fly forward from 1 year to 5 years into the future, missing out on so much of their lives together that it felt like a missed chance to round out their story in favor of a quick finish (note see my mini rant on storying endings).   I don’t know if this rushed ending is due to Chase finishing up the series or just their story.  Either way, it didn’t measure up to the first part of the story and that was a shame.  But even with that quibble, I still love this series and recommend it. The Home series is heartwarming, sexy, and full of wonderful characters you will never get tired of.   Home Sweet Home is another great installment and one you won’t want to miss.

Cover art by Posh Gosh.  The young model in front is perfect for Juan and the cover gorgeous in design and detail.

Here are the Home series book in the order they were written and should be read to understand the characters and the events:

No Going Home (Home #1) – my favorite
Home of His Own (Home #2) Tony and Brody’s story (second favorite)
Wishing for a Home (Home #3) Derek and Max’s story
Leaving Home (Home #4) Peter and Chaz’s story
Home Sweet Home (Home #5) Juan and Yancey’s story (a tie with their brothers)

Book Details:

ebook, 137 pages
Published May 27th 2013 by Total-E-Bound
ISBN 1781843228 (ISBN13: 9781781843222)
edition language English
series Home #5

Review: Nischal (Leopard’s Spots #9) by Bailey Bradford

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Rating:          3.75 stars out of 5

Nischal Leopards Spots 9Preston Hardy’s brother, Paul,  went missing over a year ago and is presumed dead.  But Preston hasn’t given up hope of finding his twin.  Preston knew his brother’s fascination with snow leopards and has found his way to Texas , the last place Paul was seen, and a side show with two snow leopards on display.  The people  exhibiting them seem suspicious and the snow leopards themselves are in bad shape.  As Preston investigates further into the show’s owners and his brother’s disappearance, he falls into a perilous trap and a situation that will change his life  and his perception of the world forever.

Nischal and his brother Sabin are snow leopard shifters.  Trapped and taken away from their mother in their leopard form, the two young men have been drugged and starved while in captivity, their poor mental and physical condition keeping them from shifting back to their human form.  Years of being caged have deprived them of hope but the appearance of Preston outside their cage changes everything.  From the moment Nischal sees Preston, he knows his mate has arrived.  But their captors will do everything in their power to keep the snow leopards as theirs and prevent Preston from the truth about his brother.

Nischal is the ninth book in the Leopard’s Spots series and a return finally to the story basics that made this such a fascinating series.  Nischal starts at a seemingly random point with two captive Snow Leopards caged in a side show in Texas.  A reader familiar with this series will search their memories for some prior mention of these brothers to no avail.  This is the first we have heard of them.  They are unaware of other Snow Leopards, including our foundation family, the Traveses, in Colorado, existing in a bubble created out of their mother’s isolation of them as cubs and their continued existence in captivity.  Preston Hardy too has not the slightest connection to the previous books.  He, like the shifter brothers, arrives outside of the previous narratives.  It is not until mid-story that a character from the other books arrives and heralds the beginning of a connection to the series plotlines and universe.  From there on out, this story’s twists and turns will surprise the most jaded of Bradford’s readers, especially a bombshell close to the end.  I never saw it coming, and loved that surprising turn of events.

Really, Nischal exemplifies what is most frustrating and wondrous about this series.  Bradford’s ideas are startlingly original, pinging off here and there but always eventually finding their way back to the pattern she is weaving in this series.  Just as the reader is getting frustrated that she has left her original premise with the leopard shifters far behind with her wolf shifters and cougar shifters and shaman, she manages to bring all these disparate elements together in a wide ranging plot that continues to exasperate and involve us deeply in the futures of the leopard shifters and their mates.  I loved all the different aspects of Nischal’s story.  There is several mysteries, including that of Paul’s disappearance and the origin of the shifter brothers.  A wolf faction from a previous book makes a reappearance here.  And always there is the mate sex.  Tons and tons of mate sex.

That is always my biggest issue with Bradford’s stories, that she sacrifices almost half her books story to over the top sex scenes involving various mated pairs.  It usually starts right before or after the men realize they are mates.  They leap into  bed and spend the next five or ten pages staying there.   Now I love a good sex scene and this book has many.  But there are so many that the plot suffers under the weight of all that sex.  When they finally stop you have to try and remember where you are in the storyline because its been that long since she has made reference to it.  And that is a shame because she is giving you glimpses of a much larger picture here, one that will encompass all the story lines of the previous books.  The possibilities I see within this story are intriguing and addicting.  It is the reason I have stayed with this series even when certain books in it have almost caused me to abandon the series.

I came very close to giving this story a four, but the numerous sex scenes once more worked to the detriment of the story and pulled it down.  I know that I must sound like a broken record with the same issues at book nine, but I keep hoping the author will surprise me with a change in writing style in much the same manner she surprised me with the plot twist at the end.  Like Nischal and Sabin, there is always hope.  And in this case, there is hope and a darn fine story to go along with it.

Cover art by Posh Gosh is gorgeous as always.  Models are on target and perfectly represent the characters involved.  Just beautiful.

Here are the books in the Leopard’s Spots series in the order they were written and should be read (mostly)

Levi (Leopard’s Spots, #1)
Oscar (Leopard’s Spots, #2)
Timothy (Leopard’s Spots, #3)
Isaiah (Leopard’s Spots #4)
Gilbert (Leopard’s Spots #5)
Esau (Leopard’s Spots #6)
Sullivan (Leopard’s Spots, #7)
Wesley (Leopard’s Spots, #8)
Nischal (Leopard’s Spots, #9)

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Book Details:

ebook
Expected publication: August 9th 2013 by Total-E-Bound Publishing

A Time for Remembering, Memorial Weekend and the Week Ahead in Reviews

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The month of May has always been a month of celebrations, from Mother’s Day to birthdays to important anniversaries. For me and mine, May is a time for family, either by choice or blood, and of any configuration.  For me, it is a time to celebrate those that I love, whether it is their birth, or mine and my sister’s (for my Mother), and anniversaries which helped bring all of us together.  And if the weather cooperates, than even my gardens appear to be celebrating as the azaleas, dogwoods, and all the flowers burst into pastel hues in anticipation of the intense colors of summer.

With all of these emotions and thoughts directed towards celebrating those we love for most of the month, it  seems more than fitting to end May with Memorial Day, a day dedicated to remembrance of those who lost their lives keeping us safe and making it possible to celebrate all those birthdays, and anniversaries of people and  families we hold so dear.  My grandfather is buried at Arlington National Cemetery and this year, we buried my uncle close to him in a ceremony so moving that people were stopped all over the vast landscape as the sounds of the gun salute rang out over the hills and the trumpet played Taps.

Rolling Thunder passes by my parents farm every year on their way into the District and my father, a veteran of the Korean war, goes outside and salutes them as they pass by.  Our media here in the metropolitan area is full of pictures and videos marking the solemn day of remembrance as flagsVietnam Vet Memorial 2 are put at every grave at Arlington and the crowds swell at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial as well as that of the World War II one nearby.  If you have never visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, then you have not experienced the power and overwhelming sense of loss that pervades that site. The  Wall itself a marker of the high cost of valor and service to our country in the names of the men and women lost reflected back to us.  In that black stone reflection, we see the list of names in chronological order and our own reflections, the recipients of their sacrifice.  For me, never has a memorial to our dead felt so alive, awash in grief, and sorrow and gratitude.Vietnam Vet Memorial

For most people, this weekend brings barbecues and picnics, gatherings of families and friends.  Take a moment and some quiet if you can, and remember.  Remember and pause to thank those who lie buried here and abroad, claimed and unnamed, for their sacrifice.  Because ,whether we acknowledge it or not, it is being reflected back to us across the picnic blankets and tables just as much as it is from the black wall itself.

Now for the week ahead in reviews:

Monday, 5/27:                     Memorial Day

Tuesday, 5/28                      Damned If You Do Collection by JL Merrow

Wednesday, 5/29:               Moments by R.J. Scott

Thursday, 5/30:                  Adapting Instincts by SJ Frost

Friday, 5/31:                        May Summary of Book Reviews

Saturday, 6/1:                       A Silence Kept by Theo Fenraven

There you have it.  Enjoy your Memorial weekend for those of you who live in the US or Americans abroad.  Spare some thoughts and prayers for those now gone and for those they left behind.

Soldier, rest! Thy warfare o’er,
Sleep the sleep that knows not breaking,
Dream of battled fields no more.
Days of danger, nights of waking.

-Sir Walter Scott

Arlington Cemetary overview

The Week Ahead in Reviews and Scattered Thoughts About Writing

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Sooo, here we are again at the beginning of the week and for me not much has changed.  I did manage to get several flats of flowers planted last week,  did clean out some clothes from decades past to give away,  and had my Dad over last Saturday afternoon.  Read some wonderful books, got a few new authors to add to my automatic must read list, and realized that spring equals moles holes and dirty dogs, so scheduled the terrors three for grooming.  Ah, plans…….

A visit to Good Earth Nursery yesterday saw me come home laden with more flowers to plant, where I have no idea but I had to have them.  For some people its shoes or purses, for me its plants and books.   Went to Johnsons and saw two Koi whose scales glittered like a disco ball while resembling a Dalmatian, so got them too while looking for Mother’s Day presents.  Haven’t named them yet, might not as that Great Blue Heron is still around to say nothing of raccoons and other fish loving wildlife that visit my yard.  I will give them a year and then see if I think its safe to bestow names on each of them.

Family will be arriving in a couple of hours, just to sit around on the patio, get caught up on the weeks events and happenings and munch out on appetizers.  So I need to get moving, those dips won’t make themselves and neither will the Sangria.

But lately several books have got me thinking about world building in stories, the importance of getting it just right, and the balance between too much and not enough.  Some writers seem to do it effortlessly, and for others it is a goal not achieved no matter how hard they have obviously tried.  So look for my post on world building in fiction later on in the week.   Now before I head to the kitchen and gardens, here is the week ahead in reviews:

Monday, April 29:               Josh of the Damned, Triple Feature #2, The Final Checkout by Andrea Speed

Tuesday, April 30:               April’s Book Reviews

Wed., May 1:                         Fragile Bond by Rhi Etzweiler

Thursday, May 2:                 Chateau d’Eternite by Ariel Tachna

Friday, May 3:                       Scattered Thoughts on the Importance of World Building in Fiction

Saturday, May 4:                   It Takes Practice by Willa Okati

 

The last two days might switch around depending on how the week is going and how scattered my thoughts are by then.  I hope you all have a wonderful Sunday and great week ahead.  Stay dry, stay warm, and if the days are as lovely as this one, stay outside as much as possible.

 

The Fireman and The Cop (Ellery Mountain #1) by R.J. Scott

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Rating: 4 stars

The Fireman and The CopWhen fireman Max Harrison moves to Ellery  to work as the assistant to the Mayor, he still volunteers as a fireman for the town.  So when the local police department’s building catches on fire, all his instincts kick in and he races into the building to  rescue the last man inside.  Max finds Finn Ryan, one of the three police officers to serve the small town of Ellery.  Even injured, Finn finds the fireman attractive.  An attraction that is returned by Max who is eager to pursue a relationship with the young cop.

But the fire turns out to be arson, and its target is Finn.  With Finn at the center of the arson investigation, Max races to find the person responsible before Finn  falls victim again and all hope for love perish in the flames.

Double the fun, double the hotness as R.J. Scott begins a new series with a fireman and a cop at the center of the story.  Max Harrison is the older and more experienced of the two men in every aspect.  He has sought out the quiet town of Ellery to escape the worst city life can offer.  And almost immediately he finds Finn Ryan, local cop who grew up in Ellery and has deep roots on the mountain.

This book establishes many of the characters that I suspect will meet over the series of books to come and the author does a wonderful job of sorting out all the people and their relationship to each other.  Scott never lets me down in her character development as Max and Finn are believable as well as endearing, especially Max.  I look forward to more of this couple in the stories to come.

At 78 pages, however, I found this story to be a little to short to throughly explore all the elements of this story.  I would love more background on Max, and the identity of the arsonist just kind of popped up out of nowhere.  But the vivid descriptions of the crackling fire and the out of control blazes just intensify the drama and the anxiety the reader feels every time our main characters are in danger.  The romance is sweet, and the potential for more to come makes us eagerly anticipate the next book in the series.

The Fireman and The Cop is being published by Total-E-Bound Publishing .

Cover Art by Posh Gosh.  I love the landscape at the bottom, the fonts are terrific and easy to read.  I only wished the models had stuck a tad closer to the characters within.  One is far too young to be Max, although those suspenders are very hot.

Pete’s Persuasion (Shifters’ Haven #7) by Lavinia Lewis

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Rating: 4.75 stars

Pete's Persuasion coverTony has been examining his life in New York and doesn’t like what he sees, a shallow man pursuing his career, without friends or a man to love. Tony is missing his best friend, Jake who is now living with his cowboy in Texas and happier than Tony has ever seen him.  So when Tony decides he is due for a change, its to Texas and Jake that he decides to vacation.  A vacation that will land him in the middle of a killer’s quest for revenge and into a world of wolf shifters.

Pete Johnson, beta of alpha Kelan’s Wolf Creek pack, is tired of seeing all the shifters around him find their mates while he remains alone.  After the madness with the council member gone mad, all he wants to do is buy the bar he manages and settle down.  But once more, a killer rises up from the ash of the plot by a Supernatural  Council rogue member to threaten all the members of the Wolf Creek pack.  The night Tony arrives, someone burns both the bar and Kelan’s Crazy Horse Ranch to the ground, killing humans and shifters alike.  During the investigation, Pete meets Tony for the first time and realizes Tony is his mate.  When Jake gets critically injured during the blast that brings down the bar, Tony sees something so unreal, so unbelievable, that he thinks he is hallucinating.  Both Kelan and Pete’s features start to change and Tony discovers the reality of shifters.

As the killer escalates their plan to make the people involved in the rogue Councilman’s death pay, Pete must make Tony understand they are mates, sooth his concerns over shifters being real, and try to keep him safe until the killer is caught.  Not a easy take when Tony is divided between wanting to help and wanting to flee back to New York.  Can Pete persuade his mate to stay with him in Texas or will the killer take revenge on all the shifters in Wolf Creek, and their mates as well.

Shifters’ Haven is a series that continues to grow in depth and complexity and Pete’s Persuasion is the best book yet in this terrific series.  In fact, I still find it hard to believe that it is only 92 pages long as it has the feel and emotional heft of a much larger book.  Pete’s Persuasion continues with the aftermath of the death of the rogue Council member who was killing the mates of shifters who wished to remain hidden from the human world.  Now someone is seeking revenge for his death and everyone is a target.  I loved the continuity that flows smoothly from one book to the next, with nary a dropped plot point.  Lewis never gives us extraneous storyline side trips but instead juggles all the characters and locations masterfully as she maneuvers her characters and the reader towards a goal yet unseen.  If a certain element appears, whether human, shifter or Council law, then you can be sure it will figure seamlessly into the plot at some point, even if it takes a book or two to accomplish it.

Another facet of Lewis’ stories that I admire is that there are no throwaway characters.  If she mentions someone, then you can be sure they will make another  appearance down the line.  Tony, Jake’s best friend of 10 years, is first mentioned in Kelan’s Pursuit (Shifters’ Haven #3), but it took four more books until he reappeared as a main character.  And there is no such thing as a cookie cutter character in her stories either.  These men or shifters laugh, love, and hurt in such a believable fashion that there is never a strain to remember the cast of characters and their relationships to each other, something that can happen with long running series.

A nice element that Lewis works into her shifter universe, is that there is no instant love between mates.  There is desire certainly (hot sex too), there is a feeling of completeness and a recognition that each melds with the other but it takes time for the love to form.  Her shifters also physically shift instead of  a blink of an eye transformation, but there is no physical pain, just a momentary disconnect between the wolf and the man.

And finally, Lewis gives us scenes of such intensity, such fear, that she can make your heart pound and your pulse rate speed up with her action sequences, fight scenes and blazing conflagrations as the  burning buildings start coming down around our characters.  Really, she does an amazing job with her harrowing descriptions and vivid scenes that you feel like you are there.

So I cannot wait for the next in the series and one of the main reasons is that at the end of this book, the killer is once again on the loose.  The plot continues, the anxiety and dread rises with the stakes higher than ever.  Shifters’ Haven has me well and truly hooked.  You will be too but don’t start here. Go back to the beginning and read the series in the order they were written, which is the only way it will make sense.  You are going to love this.

Luke’s Surprise (Shifters’ Haven, #1)

Cody’s Revelation (Shifters’ Haven, #2)

Kelan’s Pursuit (Shifters’ Haven, #3)

Aaron’s Awakening (Shifters’ Haven #4)

Nate’s Deputy (Shifters’ Haven #5) – my review here.

Gregory’s Rebellion (Shifters’ Haven, #6)  – read my review here.

Pete’s Persuasion (Shifters’ Haven, #7)

Cover art by Posh Gosh.  The covers for this series is lovely but not up to the heights of the Leopard’s Spots series.  Still, it pulls in many of the elements of the story and still manages to brand the series from other shifter books.

Review of Sullivan (Leopard’s Spots #7) by Bailey Bradford

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Rating: 2.5 stars

Sullivan Leopards Spots 7Sullivan “Sully” Ward is heading off to college, full of excitement and ready to try new things, a true small town boy come to the big city.  Sully lands in Texas, San Antonia to be exact, ready for life as a student at UTSA and to see what life in San Antonio will hold for a young inexperienced leopard  shifter.  And it isn’t long before he runs into trouble in the wrong side of town and ends up saving a young hustler named Mando.  Mando is under age , just another teenager thrown away because his parents didn’t want a gay son.  Sully takes him into the awful apartment he rented online, feeds him as Mando reminds him of his younger brother and decides now Mando has a home with him.

When he talks to his parents back home, his story stirs up concerns that Sully is in over his head so they contact Bobby Baker, the wolf shifter brother to Josiah, pack alpha and mate to Sully’s cousin.  Bobby and his pack live in San Antonio. All Bobby has to do is check to make sure  Sully is fine and that Mando isn’t a trouble maker.  But from the first meeting, it is clear the trouble is not from Mando but from the fact that Sully and Bobby are mates.  Sully is ignorant of the effect it has on the partners who have found their mates but Bobby isn’t.  He knows Sully is his mate and it scares him enough to send him running after a bout of intense sex, especially for a virgin like Sully.

To make matters worse, there is a psycho stalking Bobby’s pack and an arsonist loose setting fires in Bobby’s clubs. And they both appear to be targeting Bobby and anyone Bobby loves.  Bobby must come to grips with his destiny and accept Sully as his mate and soon.  Sully and Bobby have an arsonist to track and in a horrifying turn of events, an attack to revenge.

Out of the seven books of the Leopard’s Spots series, this is the worst by far.  Bradford is getting farther away from the unique elements of this series, that of the Leopard Shifter history, their interaction with the Amur Leopards, and the mystery of a group of people intent on drugging and experimenting on them.  All of that is not even mentioned here as we track back to the wolf shifters of Texas that are attached to the story via Josiah and Oscar (Leopard’s Spots #2).  But that is the least of the problems here.

Bobby Baker was introduced in the last book and he was an exciting, exasperating character.  I would have hoped that if Bradford was going to abandon the Amur Leopards, at least we would have a good book out of it.  But instead we get a book that is 5 percent promise, mostly because of the character of Mando, the vulnerable, underage hustler Sully has taken under his wing and his “brother like” relationship with Sully.  Those scenes were charming, endearing, funny and held out the promise that the rest of the book would be of a similar vein.  Not so as the remaining 95 percent focuses in on the mate relationship between Bobby and Sully.This turns out to be much less affecting as they  have little chemistry as a couple, and Bobby spends most of the book fighting his role as Sully’s mate.  His club is literally burning down around him,a person close to Sully is heinously attacked by the nutjob stalking Bobby, and the two of them are having ridiculous amounts of sex and paying no attention to anything else.  These two act in such an irrational manner that the reader’s frustrations almost exceed the amount of sex they are having.

Finally, most of the goodwill this book generates is destroyed in a grievous attack on a character we have come to adore.  Mostly because it seems superfluous to the rest of the action going on and the depth of emotional and physical destruction visited upon this person is really unnecessary. It really seems such a waste of characters that had such marvelous potential and a mess of a storyline that was resolved far too quickly for the buildup and really made little sense.

I will probably stick with this series because I can’t believe it can get much worse than this.  But like a TV columnist says in his intro, “I watch these shows so you don’t have to”.  I will just say I am reading these books so you don’t have to.  And trust my word,  you really don’t want to read Sullivan (Leopard’s Spots #7).

Levi (Leopards Spots #1)

Oscar (Leopards Spots #2) read my review here.

Timothy (Leopards Spots #3) read my review here

Isaiah (Leopards Spots #4) read my review here

Gilbert (Leopards Spots #5) read my review here

Esau (Leopards Spots #6)

Sullivan (Leopards Spots #7)

Review of Gilbert (Leopard’s Spots #5) by Bailey Bradford

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Rating: 4 stars

Amur Leopard shifter Jihu Warren was imprisoned by the leader of his lepe, forced into Chung Hee’s rigidly controlled breeding program by the use of drugs and beatings. But even in his cell, Jihu heard of his half brother’s Bai’s freedom and escape from the lepe life that is all Jihu has known.  And that fact gave Jihu hope.  When Chul, father of Bai and Jihu, comes to the compound and confronts Chung Hee, a fight breaks out that allows Jihu to escape with the help of another half brother.   With only an address and dilapidated vehicle, Jihu takes off, intent on finding Bai and a safe place to hide.

Gilbert Trujillo is puppy sitting for his brother, Isaac and his mate, Bai while they are conducting animal rescue from the Colorado wildfires.  Home from a run to the  store, he finds a strange truck in the garage and a very frightened Jihu hiding in the house.  Gilbert realizes immediately that Jihu is his mate but Jihu’s senses are impaired, a result of the injections he received at the compound.  Not only can Jihu not smell that Gilbert is his mate, but he unable to shift, causing physical pain and leaving him unable to tell who to trust as his senses are impaired. Gilbert must win Jihu’s confidence and trust, and quickly.  Because Jihu has brought with him something that will change everyones life around them and Chung Kee is intent on capturing Jihu and returning him  and his package to the compound.  Together the men and the family will have to band together to fight against an insane man bent on continuing his rule.

Gilbert is the fifth in the Leopard’s Spots series by Bailey Bradford and it deepens the mystery concerning shifters being drugged, encarcerated, and experimented on that started with Timothy (Leopard’s Spots #3).  We met lepe lord Chung Hee in Isaac’s book, but the true measure of his rigid rule is made apparent here, very similar to North Korea’s Kim Jong il. Under the guise of furthering Amur Leopards population growth, Chung Hee has kept his people confined to a rigid lifestyle in which men and women are used as breeders only with no affection shown to each other.  Or to the babies who are quickly removed from mothers who never wanted them to begin with.  Kept in fear and ignorance, those who rebel are imprisoned and experimented on with drugs, to what end is never made clear.  But Bradford is clearly setting the stages for momentus events coming in future books.  I anticipate the answer will find us returning to the Himalayas and the Russian Far East, the Amur Leopards original territory.  I love where this series is going and continue to be frustrated by the book length, here only 138 pages.  This has all the aspects of a rich plot and I would love to see it given the space and attention it deserves.

Once again this brings me back to the amount of pages spent on sexual activity.  In Isaac’s book, it balanced out with the plot.  Here not so much. We tip the scales back to so many sexual descriptions of Jihu and Gilbert’s mating that the increasingly complicated plot and wonderful characters are almost lost among it.  Why the author continues to do this when she has so much to offer in characters and storyline baffles me.  I can only hope that as the series moves forward, she finds a balance between the two that both promotes the bonding she obviously feels is necessary to the story and the story itself.

The reason for the higher rating is that the characters are wonderful to go with a rich plot.  Jihu captures our sympathy from the start. Jihu is a young man desperate to escape from the compound he has lived in his entire life, the lepe run much like the cults that end up in the news today, its members so brainwashed that to live otherwise is almost unthinkable. The reason he is so determined to escape is one of the book’s great joys, a spoiler I won’t giveaway here.  Gilbert Trujillo is another remarkable member of his family, fully realized as a kind and gentle  person, awkward outside his family, he finds his strength in coming to Jihu’s rescue and the events that  follow.  I loved Gilbert almost as much as Isaac who is back along with Bai Allen Warren, his mate and other Trujillo family members from previous books.

Gilbert ends with much up in the air, family members are harmed and we are not assured of their status, the villains points the way to a deeper conspiracy, and Esau, the subject of the next book, is missing.  With a lesser author, I might have abandoned this series long ago, but there are so many strengths here, from plot to characterizations, that I gobble up each story as soon as they come out.  Do I get frustrated by the same quibbles over and over, yes.  But the pull to find out what happens next overpowers whatever faults I find in the writing.  So it’s on to Esau (Leopard’s Spots #6) coming out in October.  I will be first in line to get it.

Cover by Posh Gosh is gorgeous,  the models are  perfect for Jihu and Gilbert, the leopards stunning. what more could you want.

Here are the Leopard’s Spots series in the order they should be read to fully understand the plots and the characters within:

Levi (Leopard’s Spots #1)- read my review here.

Oscar (Leopard’s Spots #2) – read my review here.

Timothy (Leopard’s Spots #3) – read my review here.

Isaiah (Leopard’s Spots #4) – read my review here

Gilbert (Leopard’s Spots #5)

Esau (Leopard’s Spots #6) coming in October 2012

Review of Nate’s Deputy (Shifters’ Haven #5) by Lavinia Lewis

Standard

Rating: 4.25 stars

Nate Stanford is back home in Wolf Creek, Texas following the death of his brother, Rick.  Guilt stricken over his falling out with his brother, of not being there when Rick needed him the most, Nate is determined to buy back his family’s ranch as a way to make amends to his dead brother.  Rick’s Alpha, Nate Morgan, has given Nate a place to stay and a job to tide him over. But there is someone else interested in bidding on the family farm to his consternation.

Jared Ambrose came to town to take the job of Deputy in Wolf Creek, bringing with him his younger brother Tristan.  Since their father died, Tristan has been getting in trouble, drink binging and hanging out with the wrong crowd.  Jared hopes that a change from Lubbock to Wolf Creek will make all the difference to Tristan and their relationship which has become increasingly distant.  Now that their family has been narrowed down to two, Jared hopes to make Sheriff and settle down permanently in a town where the wolf shifters outnumber humans 3 to 1, even if the humans aren’t aware of the fact.

When a fight in a bar brings Nate and Jared together, both men realize they are mates.  But Jared is afraid the town won’t vote for a gay Sheriff and Rick’s death has left Nate feeling unworthy of Jared, so  neither man acknowledges their bond.  But someone is causing trouble for the pack in Wolf Creek and the Supernatural Council is sending operatives to evaluate the situation and the current pack leadership.  As everything becomes increasingly unsettled, Nate and Jared will have to come together to fight for their pack’s and Tristan’s safety or have their decision to remain apart threaten the stability of those they love.

The Shifters’ Haven series is built around Wolf Creek, Texas and its pack of wolf shifters.  Wolf Creek is two thirds shifters in population, a situation that the human population is ignorant of as all shifters have worked hard to keep themselves hidden. Each book brings together a different mated pair with a continuous plot line of dissension among the Supernatural Council which is composed of shifters of all types, from hawk to cougar. From the first installment, you are made aware of the Council who governs all shifters with their rules and regulations and the possibility of corruption within that impacts Wolf Creek and beyond.  From book to book, each time a member of the Council intervenes or arrives on the scene, you become less assured as to who the “good guys” are.  Also each book widens the Wolf Creek pack with new family members and sometime new species of shifters are given haven.

Nate’s Deputy is the 5th in the Shifters’ Haven series and is being touted as a standalone too. But I would discount that as each book brings more of the backstory of Wolf Creek and its denizens as well as contributes to the mystery concerning the supernatural Council.  Lavinia Lewis does a wonderful job with her characterizations of the town’s members as well as her vivid descriptions of Texas, dusty and hot in the summer season.  You can almost feel the dirt and sweat accumulate on your skin or fur under the Texas sun. Wolf Creek is populated with all types of personalities, some craven, some hiding secret ambitions and agendas under bland exteriors as well as the stalwart and the noble ,the insecure and the downtrodden.  I think Lewis has crafted some wonderful individuals to populate her novels and Nate and Jared are no exceptions.  Nate, with his survivor grief to go along with brotherly guilt over his relationship with Rick, is someone we all can relate to.  He is so unsettled, so distraught with himself that the idea of someone else finding him worthy is hard for Nate to accept.  Jared too is realistic. He earned my sympathy and affection as he tries to assume responsibility for his younger brother, manage his own grief on losing his father and settle into a new town and job  while feeling utterly overwhelmed by the challenges in front of him.  Jared’s stress is palpable.

Another nice touch in this shifter series is that neither Nate or Jared want to accept or acknowledge their status as mates.  Usually in this and other series, the moment a mate is found, it is all about instant bonding with a straight shot to love happily ever after.  Not so much here.  Jared has his brother to think of and the ambition to become Sheriff in a town not always tolerant of gays.  Nate is uncertain about his future in Wolf Creek, still trying to come to terms with his brother’s death and his own lack of a role within the pack.  No rush to love here, just two men who happen to be shifters dealing with life’s roadblocks and detours.  I really liked their fumble towards a relationship.

My quibble here regards the continuing issues within the Supernatural Council and the problems they caused here.  The end seemed abrupt and a little too streamlined considering all the events leading up to the denouement, especially considering the main issue for the shifters of whether to remain hidden or come out to the human population is never really addressed.  Perhaps that is coming down the line in future books.  I can only hope so.  My other quibble is the length of the books.  All are novellas and could be helped by the addition of more length, more exposition.  Still  I found this to be a wonderful new installment to a terrific series.

Once again Posh Gosh is giving us lush, gorgeous covers for the entire series.  Beautiful branding and great design for each and every book.

Here are the Shifter Haven series in the order they were written and should be read in order to fully appreciate the characters, relationships and plots.

Luke’s Surprise (Shifters’ Haven #1) . Luke Morgan and Mark Malone’s story

Cody’s Revelation (Shifters’ Haven #2) – Cody Morgan and Stefan Drake’s story

Kelan’s Pursuit (Shifters’ Haven #3) – Kelan Morgan and Jake Bradfield’s story

Aaron’s Awakening (Shifters’ Haven #4) – Aaron Drake and Cary Lewis

Nate’s Deputy (Shifters’ Haven #5)

Gregory’s Rebellion (Shifters’ Haven #6)

Pete’s Persuasion (Shifters’ Haven #7) coming in October 2012

Review of Isaiah (Leopards Spots #4) by Bailey Bradford

Standard

Rating: 4.25 stars

Snow Leopard shifter Isaiah Trujillo has always felt like the dumb brother of his family.  He isn’t smart like his brother Timothy, the PhD investigating shifter history and genetics.  Isaiah never wanted more than to be a good mechanic, own his own business and be happy.  And maybe, just maybe find a mate of his own, like his brother and cousins have. When a customer mentions he volunteers at a GLBT youth center that could use Isaiah’s help, Isaiah volunteers and changes his life forever.  At the volunteer dinner, he meets Dr. Bae Allen Warren, a mobile veterinarian and fellow cat shifter.  Bae is an Amur Leopard shifter and Isaiah’s mate. But Bae runs from Isaiah at first sight.  Confused and hurt Isaiah chases after his mate only to learn that Bae carries with him a truckload of trouble.

Dr. Bae Allen Warren comes from a lepe or clan almost cultlike in its actions and outlook.  Amur Leopards are becoming extinct, both as animals and shifters.  Bae’s lepe has kept its shifters isolated to keep their bloodline pure, demanding that each contributes by mating with as many other clan members as possible to produce offspring. These children are promptly sent off to other lepes to live in hopes they enlarge the gene pool. No one has ever questioned their leader or the manner in which the lepe live their lives until Bae brings home his mate, Isaiah.  Bae is gay and has refused to mate with the females of his or any other clan. That is the only reason his father has allowed him the freedom of an outside education and life. Isaiah changes Bae’s perspective on his clans lifestyle to his father’s disapproval and threats by his grandfather, the lepe’s leader. Even as Bae finds Isaiah, his mate, the lepe closes in around them, threatening their bond and their future together.

Isaiah (Leopard’s Spots #4) is the best of the series so far.  Bradford introduced the idea of a spiritual connection between animal and human in the last book, Timothy, that I felt was jarring at the time.  But clearly this idea or story thread is becoming a major theme for the series.  Isaiah is a spiritual man, good and decent.  Only he feels insecure when he puts himself next to his brother’s achievements, never seeing himself as others do.  Bae is a shifter forced to fight for his right to live his own life, while feeling the guilt and pressure brought on by his father and clan.  Both shifters bring to each other a shift in perspective that each desperately needs, along with the message of accepting who you are.

Bradford also brings back the focus on endangered cat species by including Amur Leopards also known as Korean Leopards.  Look them up, they are stunning in their beauty. Snow Leopards remain a center species and the author brings in a hybrid species known as pumapards, which actually existed earlier in the century.  Bradford has clearly done her homework on big cat species and wildlife conservation. Timothy and Otto from the 3rd book are back to help Isaiah and his mate, Bae,  with several of the mysteries running throughout the series.  One is the low shifter population within species as birthrates are at an all time low.  Is it due to inbreeding, like Bae’s lepe?  The fact that none of the isolated clans are finding their mates?  Or something more ominous, that their animal/spiritual side must be nurtured, treasured or they will lose their animal part of themselves, remaining forever damaged.  Bradford obviously has a plan with her series that is just now becoming clearer with each new book.

I loved the characters here.  I find Isaiah and Bae to be the most captivating of the group so far.  And Isaiah with his spirituality and humble outlook charmed me immediately.  I really like where Bradford is taking this series which leads me to my main quibble all around.  These stories are way too short for the goals Bradford is trying to accomplish with each book.  That was my problem with Timothy, which I will now have to reconsider given this story.  She set out so many new plot lines in Timothy (Leopard’s Spots #3) that the main story suffered under the lack of space for its development.  Here she comes close to doing it again but still pulls off her agenda.  If these books would be enlarged even a little, I think the series would benefit as new ideas could be more richly explored.

Another thing about the series is the huge amounts of sex contained within.  I find that realistic as the sexual activity helps in the bonding and if you have ever heard the neighborhood cats yowling during their nocturnal activities, well, let’s just say Bradford has that right too.  There is one section concerning the pumapards that is left completely unsettled here but I suspect that a future book will find that resolved.  At any rate, I am onto the next in the series, Gilbert (Leopard’s Spots #5) with renewed enthusiasm about the series and the vision behind it.  I promise I will let you know how it goes.

Cover by Posh Gosh.  The glorious covers just keep getting better with each book.  Nominated for the best series covers.

Here are the books in the series in the order they were written and should be read to understand the characters and storylines:

Levi (Leopard’s Spots #1) read my review here

Oscar (Leopard’s Spots #2) read my review here.

Timothy (Leopard’s Spots #3) read my review here.

Isaiah (Leopard’s Spots #4)

Gilbert (Leopard’s  Spots #5)