Sunday After The Storm, September Thoughts and The Week Ahead in Reviews

Standard

Well, that wasn’t a fun night for anyone around here in Maryland, or even straight up the coast and into NYC.  High winds, tornados, hail, and rain,  lots and lots of rain.  Our neighborhood was without power for about 8 hours, but at least we did not have tornados to  deal with, as others in Maryland, Virginia and NYC did.  Other than some branches falling, we came out of it rather well.  I wish I could say the same for others.  Nature is all stirred up and doing something about it.  Perhaps we should listen a little harder to what she is trying to tell us.  Just a thought.  Now on to more pleasant things….

September always seems to me to be the reset  month.  Summer has ended but Autumn has yet to make it’s appearance.  September is the breather between the two.  September gives us time to gather our thoughts, to recollect on Summer doings and to think ahead and plan for Fall.  For a gardener, it can be such a busy time.  Hydrangeas need fertilizing and mulching in, so do the roses, some of which are still blooming.  Trees get to be trimmed, old vegetables dug up and composted while still remembering to refill the hummingbird feeders for the last of the migrants on their way south. Some flowers will be left standing, their seed-heads offering food to Goldfinches and the like.  The windows will open and Kirby will be the first there to rest his head on the windowsill, contemplating the birds, and squirrels, and the hawks circling in the sky above.  The geese honk overhead, hurrying their way to the Marshlands as a few leaves turn yellow and drop.  I love this time of year.  I have time to smell the last  rose, put mums in the planters, and admire the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds skimming through the gardens, visiting the feeders before their long journey ahead. Less humidity means more time spent outside, reading, observing, and enjoying the cooler breezes.  I hope you all are doing the same.

Here is the week ahead in Reviews:

Monday:                      Play It Again, Charlie by R. Cooper

Tuesday:                       Alone in the Crowd (Cattle Valley #27) by Carol Lynne

Wednesday:                Love in La Terreza by Ethan Day

Thursday:                    Unconventional At Best Anthology

Friday:                          Love, Hypothetically by Anne Tenino

Saturday:                      Life As A Fairy Thrall (Fairy Compacts #2) by Katey Hawthorne

Review of Timothy (Leopards Spots #3) by Bailey Bradford

Standard

Rating: 3.5 stars

Dr. Timothy Trujillo, a snow leopard shifter, has arrived in Mongolia to work on the Snow Leopard Conservation project working to save the species from extinction. But Timothy also has another agenda.  He is searching for answers about his families history.  All Timothy and his family back in Colorado know is that his grandmother came from Mongolia and that her clan was killed when she was a child, leaving her the sole survivor.

On their first day in town Timothy and his best friend, Dr. Dane Calderon spot a gorgeous  man watching them intently.  it becomes even more worrisome when that man follows them through the streets of Dalanzadgad to their hotel. Tall, dark and handsome turns out to be Otto Marquat, son of the head of the Snow Leopard Conservation Programme and a Snow Leopard shifter too.  Timothy is stunned by that fact and he is overwhelmingly attracted to Otto in every way.  Timothy is lost without any of the shifter history or culture to aid him now that his cat’s instincts are taking over.

Otto Marquat has a job to do for the project and for his family.  Otto tracks down poachers and turns them over to the authorities.  Right now he is on the trail of a particularly nasty poacher, one who threatens the lives of all Snow Leopards in Mongolia, animal and shifter alike.  He is unprepared for Dr. Timothy Trujillo as he recognizes immediately that Tim is his mate, something Otto thought he would never find.  Not only is the timing bad but Timothy is acting like he is unaware of their status as mates.  Now Otto has two mysteries on hand, that of the identity of the poacher and the reason behind the curious naivete of Timothy. Together, Timothy and Otto must find and stop the poacher before they can go forward with their lives, and the poacher will stop at nothing, including torture and kidnapping, to reach his goal – the death of the snow leopards.

Of the three books in the series so far, Timothy is my  least favorite, or more accurately less satisfying.  I loved Bailey Bradford’s characters and  think she did a good job with Timothy and Otto.  Timothy was an unknown going into this book and I feel like I really got to know him by the end of the story.  Timothy is insecure about his looks as he and Oscar (Leopards Spots #2) are the only members of his family that share the same physical characteristics of blond hair, blue eyes and a smaller statue.  He feels bland, made more so by his best friend Dane, a character I adored. It takes Otto, a strong character to show Timothy how beautiful he actually is.  In fact the relationship between Timothy and Otto is based on mate attraction and sexuality in a strictly animal sense at the beginning, so much so that it almost obliterates the plot line.  I like that it is their animal natures that draw them together and not a case of instant love.  And yes, two cats in heat would forget about nothing else for a while but I felt that while it was very hot, I wanted more exposition to go along with it.   Other characters such as Steve and Lona, Otto’s parents and Ganzukh, Otto’s friend and Mongolian wrestler, are equally well done.  But Dr. Dane Calderon, Timothy’s best friend, almost steals the book away so vividly is he portrayed.  In fact he is easily my favorite character, not a good thing in a book called Timothy.

The plot line also gave me more quibbles to contend with.  Timothy’s main reason for his trip to Mongolia is to trace his family’s history.  As far as Timothy and the rest of his family are concerned, they are the only snow leopard shifters alive as his grandmother’s family were slaughtered in their native land, leaving his family ignorant of all shifters and shifter cultures. And yet is he stunned to learn that Otto is a Snow Leopard shifter too? Not really, Timothy seems to take it in stride whereas most of us would have been flattened by such a stunning revelation that here is his journey’s goal in human form. To know who you are is a powerful impetus and I had been looking forward to learning the family’s history.  And yet in the book, it is given short shrift which completely baffles me.  All that is mentioned is “oh yeah, I heard about a clan getting killed, too bad it was Timothy’s”.  We learn nothing!  How do you set up such a great plot line and totally abandon it? And even Otto’s  shape shifter family background is given shallow treatment too.  We get a mystical element towards the end which doesn’t really make much sense and then an abrupt ending.  Timothy asks Otto to marry him and that’s all she wrote, folks, leaving huge holes open in the plot that are never resolved (what happened to that poor boy, why was he tortured, what happened to Dane and Ganzukh, will Otto’s sister ever get laid, on and on it goes). What makes all of this really a shame is that the elements were all there for a great story and the author either ignored them or blew them up in her own fashion.

I want to see who is the focus for the book in the series is about. We now have two continents of snow leopards as locations. We still have that situation with the cougars in the States, and Oscar’s wolf pack but quite frankly, I want to know what happens with Dane and the Mongolian wrestler too.  I am just sorry that  after the joys of Levi and Oscar, their cousin, Timothy, didn’t bring as much to the table.  Lets hope for better luck next time. And please, give us Dane and Ganzukh story too, they deserve it.

Books in the series in the order they should be read:

Levi (Leopards Spots #1)

Oscar (Leopards Spots #2)

Timothy (Leopards Spots #3)

Cover:  Another glorious cover by Posh Gosh.  I wish the book lived up to it.

Review of Oscar Leopard’s Spots #2 by Bailey Bradford

Standard

Rating: 3.75

Oscar Travis has always been the odd cat out in his Snow Leopard shifter family. He is physically smaller and his coloring is different. And he is the youngest of four brothers in a family that had been isolated by their shifter nature and geography from those around them. But if those differences weren’t enough, the childhood shock and disfigurement caused by getting caught in a steel trap ensured him of a sheltered position within his close knit family, while leaving him vulnerable to schoolyard bullies.

When Levi, his brother, takes a cougar as mate, everything changed. They now know there are other shifters out in the world. Lyndon, his new brother in law, is being threatened by his cougar shifter father and hunted by his siblings. During one such attack, Oscar had to kill one of Lyndon’s brothers in order to protect his family and that has left him traumatized to the extent that he is not eating or sleeping. When his father takes him to San Antonio to track down Lyndon’s father, Oscar decides a trip to a gay bar will alleviate the stress he has been under. Instead he ends up being targeted once again because of his size and looks by a group of men intent on the pretty boy in front of them. Only the intervention of Josiah Baker, alpha wolf and future mate, keeps the event from ending in disaster. But Oscar can’t handle either the situation or Josiah, and flees, leaving his mate to track him down.

As the situation with Lyndon’s family worsens and there are more attempts on Lyndon’s life, Oscar and Josiah must come to some reconciliation of their status as mates if they are to help save the family and find the happiness they seek.

Oscar is the second in the Leopard’s Spots series and should be read in sequence to get the full backstory of the Snow Leopard, Cougar, and Wolf families involved (see review for Levi here). The character, Oscar, is introduced in the first book, and to me he was immediately the most interesting character. While Oscar may be small in stature, he is large in attitude and deeply troubled by events that happened in his childhood. Because Oscar is small, pretty, and has a disfigured hand, he was an easy target for bullies in school, something he never told his parents. Then he figured out that he liked boys instead of girls, and the school bullies daily harassment threatened to turn lethal. Oscar dealt with these threats by not telling anyone, a common problem. Instead, as he aged he became aggressive at almost every instance. And this is the state Josiah, a large and imposing figure, finds him in. He realizes that Oscar is hurting emotionally and tries to find out the source of his pain. Then just as the relationship dynamics are getting interesting, the familiar story of large mate/small mate starts to play out as the duo accept their mated status, help protect the family from the cougar shifters, and my interest is lost.

Being bullied at school and its effect on Oscar was a key component of his character’s development. An added facet of this story is that as a shifter, Oscar had the physical tools to take down the kids threatening him, but couldn’t use them without outing his family’s secret. This added more stress to an already stressed out child who was already used to internalizing his problems and made Oscar a very relevant character in these times. All this combined to make Oscar a character multidimensional and worth remembering had the story gone in a different direction. What a story it would have made to see a shifter deal effectively with this situation that now grabs headlines daily.

I think that this book represents a missed chance on the author’s part to speak about the problem of bullying and its long term effects on its victims. Bradford clearly started to address this as it is brought up again and again throughout the story that Oscar has been damaged emotionally by his past. But then Lyndon’s family drama takes center stage with an abduction, Oscar and Josiah resolves their differences and mate, then its back to solving the problem of the cougar shifters. Been there, done that.

Without giving anything away, I will say the ending seemed too quick and unsatisfactory given the buildup it received. And this is a shame because Bradford can write convincing, realistic characters and put them into situations that we can recognize and empathize with even as their shifter nature removes them from our reality. This is the way Oscar started out. I just wish this is how Oscar had ended.

I will continue with the series as Oscar’s cousin heads to the Himalayas’ and the secret of the Snow Leopards. The promise of a better story and Oscar’s family history pulls me forward.

Cover:  Cover art by Posh Gosh. Once again, a beautiful cover that speaks for the story.  Great graphics and font style.  Just lovely.

First posted on Joyfully Jay where I am a guest  reviewer.

Review of Levi (Leopard’s Spots #1) by Bailey Bradford

Standard

Rating. 4.25 stars

Levi Travis is feeling overwhelmed during his family’s annual get together with the constant reminders of happy couples and families.  A little time alone in the woods in his shifter form, a snow leopard, will shake off the last of the family reunion hell or so he thinks.

Lyndon Hines is running from his past and a mysterious stalker that has tracked him through many states.  The trucker who gave him a ride has left him by the highway tired and hungry. The woods bordering the road look too inviting to pass up.  Lyndon, in his cougar form, is exploring the woods on the Travis family ranch when a musky aroma catches his attention. It’s Levi dozing in a glade.  Levi is startled as he has never met another shifter outside the family before. But Lyndon is everything Levi wants in a man, strong, dominant, and a shifter. Instant attraction flashes into a frenzied mating.  But afterward Lyndon flees and Levi is left hurt and confused.

The stalker finds Lyndon again and both men must put aside their fears and confusion to come together to save each other before its too late.

This is the first book in the Leopard’s Spots series by Bailey Bradford and she sets everything in place here for the books to come.  The reader is immediately introduced to Levi’s family and their shifter history.  Levi’s family is a large one full of likable and  endearing characters.   Characterization is one of Bailey Bradford’s strong suits and that is evident in this story. I loved them all, especially his youngest brother, Oscar.  Oscar has the second book in the series.

I like Levi too.  His physical body shouts dom while his actual nature is more submissive, something he has never been able to convey to the few sexual partners he has had. Lyndon on the other hand is as territorial and aggressive as his cougar’s nature. Lyndon’s character comes from a background of parental neglect and abuse. The author has added enough layers to each man that they are easy to sympathize with and understand. Both have been raised isolated from other shifters but in very different circumstances.  I can see the difference in histories playing out nicely over several books, including the theme of nature versus nurture in different shifter societies.

My one quibble here is that in setting the stage for Oscar and the second novel in the series, Bailey Bradford has made Oscar such a strong character that he almost takes the stage away from Levi and Lyndon.  I say almost because the blazing hot sex scenes between the two shifters are enough to bring out the fans.  Oscar will have to wait for his book.

Lastly, when I have read about or watched movie/shows about shifters, there seems to be two varieties.  Those that shift seamlessly from person to animal.  You know, one minute a person then instantly a wolf mid-leap (think Twilight commercials). And then there are those Werewolf in London transitions that are so popular as well.  You know, the torturous breaking of bones, stretching of skins, fangs emerging from bloodied mouths sort of thing that takes time and getting naked before hand. ( Reviewer’s note: when it comes to Joe Manganiello’s Alcide from True Blood, the more naked the better is my opinion).  The two types of shifters here each transition in a different way.  Cougars shift instantly into form while the snow leopards are more of the second variety.  I can’t help but wonder if this isn’t going to be a factor in the books coming up as I have not seen both types in one story before.  Either way it is an interesting take.

I am looking forward to Oscar’s story and exploring more of Bailey Bradford’s view of shifters.

Cover:  Art by Posh Gosh. Well, isn’t this just a gorgeous cover.  Gorgeous cats, gorgeous men, great fonts.  What’s not to love?  Again, my only quibble is with the model types here.  Both men in the book are large, masculine and hairy.  Not exactly the body type of the young man in front. He is more in keeping with Oscar.  Where is a truly hairy chest when you need one?