Review: Bloody Love Spats (Among Wolves #2) by Valentina Heart

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Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

Bloody Love spats coverDespite having a coven queen for a sister, Tomislav “Tomi” Vugrin feels anything but powerful himself.  Considered young by vampire  standards, Tomi has  unusual powers, like telekinesis, that he can’t control and run in his family, making Tomi a freak of nature in the other vampires in his coven.  Disliked and taunted, Tomi spends his days reading, watching tv or getting into trouble.  But nothing prepares him for  what happens when he  finds a lost cellphone during a walk in the woods.

Stone Marik, the new Alpha werewolf of the East Pack, is out looking for his brother’s cellphone in his Pack’s territory.  The cellphone happens to have an incriminating picture of Stone taken when they were much younger and Stone wants the picture  erased.  But first he must  find the phone.  Then he smells something wonderful and traces the aroma to a young vampire in possession of the lost phone.  The instant lust tells Stone that the vampire is his mate, something unheard of between two species separated by culture and law.

What follows the mating of Tomi and Stone is nothing  anyone could have expected.  Will the mate bond and love be enough to hold Stone and Tomi together or will the centuries of prejudice and  laws bring destruction down upon them and the East Pack.

Bloody Love Spats is the sequel to Sebastian’s Wolves and it picks up the story in the aftermath of the battle for the East Pack and the death of its corrupted Alpha.  Now Stone Marik is Alpha of the East Pack and has been busy trying to rebuild the pack and its wolves.  But the years of pain and torture have left a pack cowed and broken and Stone is unsure of his ability to rebuild not only the structures that house them but make the pack into a cohesive strong unit they have the promise to be.

Heart delivers a different book and characters than the one we read in Sebastian’s Wolves.  Instead of dwelling solely on the wolf shifters and the pack structures, she adds the politics and relationships of a vampire coven to the wolf shifter universe she has been building to turn it into a combustive mixture of primal animal needs versus an ancient vampire culture so rigidly structured that all they have left to amuse themselves are with internal gamesmanship and alliances borne of self interest.  It is those political and social “headgames”, ones that potentially could end up in lashes and confinement for decades for breaking the vampire laws and social strictures that garner most of our attention, mostly because Tomi so often breaks them.

With her characterizations, Heart also deviates from the types of characters we originally met in Sebastian’s Wolves.  Unlike the older, experienced Sebastian who is just part of the pack, here the reader is given two completely different yet younger characters to connect with.  Alpha Stone, with his Beta brother Tait, are younger wolves than Sebastian.  Stone is less experienced but also an Alpha who feels responsible for his new pack and the amount of rebuilding needed for the Pack’s infrastructure and emotional needs as well.  By his very nature as an Alpha, Stone’s universe is much larger than Sebastian’s.  We meet individual pack  members as well as the adorable young pup, Naji, who he has adopted as his son.  And almost in tandem, we have Tait, Stone’s brother who is both incorrigible but also loyal.  I loved Stone and thought he and the East Pack could have used their own book, so huge are the issues they are dealing with at the moment, nothing less than an entire restructuring of the pack, from the buildings they live in to the manner in which the pack will live and deal with each other.

Then we have Tomi.  He is a young vampire, by vampire years and by personality.  Tomi has been cosseted by his sister, the Vampire Queen.  She has kept him insulated inside the castle, insulated by proximity but not isolated enough that  he is not aware that the rest of the coven not only actively dislikes him but considers him a freak of nature because of the other powers he possesses but cannot control.    Tomi is childlike, he presses against the vampire society’s boundaries, he tests his sister’s patience and the Ancients laws which she can’t always protect him against.  He is adorable, quixotic, and a character anyone can relate to, especially if you are familiar with teenagers at their most exasperating.  He wears a hoodie, watches The Big Bang Theory and  drives a Smart car.  How could you not love him?

It’s their mating that starts an explosion of cultures and ancient laws with a bloody back history Valentina Heart only hints at.  I expect the following books to fill in the missing parts of the werewolf/vampire shared history and the reasoning behind the mutually agreed upon need to keep separate.  A separation that Stone and Tomi has just destroyed by their mating and continued existence.

I think those who loved Sebastian’s Wolves and thought they were getting an continuation of that character and story might be disappointed when they get something different in scope and tone in Bloody Love Spats.  Even the title gives the reader a hint that something quite different is to follow.  The format also might take some getting used to.  It alternates pov between Stone and Tomi so we understand each person’s internal insecurities and feelings towards each other.  It will also bring one of the character’s pain home in bloody detail.

I really enjoyed this story and the characters of Stone and Tomi.  Certain characters from the original book make an appearance or two and new characters are created as a bridge to the next story and the battle of the species.  I  can’t wait to see where Valentina Heart will take this series next.  I am sure it will be just as unexpected as the two books she has given us already.

Cover art by Maria Fanning is gorgeous.  I love that model and its perfect for the story.

Among Wolves series consists of:

Sebastian’s Wolves
Bloody Love Spats

Book Details:

ebook, 200 pages, sequel to Sebastian’s Wolves
Published October 2013 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN13 9781627981385
edition language English

Brrrrr…..its cold Outside and the Week Ahead in Reviews

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DSCN4168Our region has seen single digit temperatures, ice, snow and flash freezing.  OK, it is January, a winter month, but still this is far too cold for this area and I think we are in shock.  I have kept the bird feeders full, as they are emptying them almost within an hour of being filled.  Same goes for the suet cakes hanging in the trees.

My yard is full of evidence of nightly visitors, deer tracks, fox tracks, raccoon and opossum. That is the opossum track to the left, notice the tail drag in the middle.  Their ears and tails are naked, getting frostbitten on nights like these. They crisscross and circle in search of food and shelter from the bruising cold winds and frigid Arctic air.   I always loved tracking in the woods after it has snowed.  So many stories are written on the glistening surface just waiting for someone to read them.

It snowed considerably the first year I worked as a Park Naturalist in Rock Creek.  And my first journey into the woods was amazing.  I remember walking  deep into the hickory oak forest and finding a small pile of Red Shouldered Hawk feathers on the ground, the snow spotted with blood.  As I looked around I noticed another grouping of feathers about 12 feet away, and then another.  And here and there the wing prints of a large bird, one who had landed with its prey, plucked for a while before taking off again with its heavy load.  Further and further I tracked until I finally found my culprit.  A great horned owl’s nest, high in a dead white oak tree, the base of which was strewn with owl pellets and fresh feathers.  I stood in awe of such a majestic and efficient predator.  A silent killer whose wings were capable of carrying a meal almost its own size, a shark of the skies where everything was considered fair game, including other owls.  I stood there for a while until throughly chilled, picked up a feather and owl pellet and headed back to the nature center, memorizing my path as I went.  I knew I would return there to check for owlets in another month or so and to see what other prey the Great Horned Owl had found.  This adventure cemented  my love for raptors and owls in particular.

This week a Snowy Owl appeared in downtown Washington, DC.  It appeared unconcerned that it stopped all traffic, vehicle and foot, as people gazed on in amazement.  How marvelous….

Snowy Owl in DC

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snowy owl in dc 2http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/capital-weather-gang/wp/2014/01/24/snowy-owl-joins-capital-weather-gang-at-the-washington-post/

The cold is lingering into this coming week, a perfect time for reading a book or two or three.   Here are the books I reviewed this week.

Monday, Jan. 27:                  The Dreamer by M. King

Tuesday, Jan. 28:                  The Fall by Kate Sherwood

Wed., Jan. 29:                        Long Time Gone (Hell or High Water #2) by SE Jakes

Thurs., Jan. 30:                     Refined Instincts by SJ Frost

Friday, Jan. 31:                      January 2014 Best Covers and Book Review Summary

Sat., Feb. 1:                             Bloody Love Spats by Valentina Heart

Review of the Mending the Rift Series by Valentina Heart (King’s Conquest and Owner of My Heart)

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Rating: 4 stars for each book

The Kingdoms of Kari and Jede have been at war for ages. When the death of Kari’s King brings about an opportunity to mend the rift between the nations, both countries jump at the chance to end the war and bring their Kingdoms casualties to a halt.  Prince Rinnen is the only son of Kari’s late King and a male capable of bearing children.  King Merinej of Jede needs an heir to carry on his lineage.  An heir with the combined bloodlines of both countries would heal the wounds left behind by the war and bring both peoples together or so the thinking goes.  But Prince Rin won’t settle for being just another “uralain” or concubine of the King’s.  Rin wants a contract stating they will be married and the King will pledge his fidelity to Rin alone or Rin will call the whole thing off no matter the price his people will pay.  Rin wants to be safe and have his place assured by the  side of Jede’s King. When King Merinej agrees to  Prince Rin’s terms, the marriage is on.

Surprises lie in wait for both men after the ceremony is finished.  Rin is far from the calculating prince Merin expects. Rin is an innocent, kept locked away in his father’s castle, ignorant of politics,  customs and sexual practices of any kind, a blushing virgin that captivates Merin with his beauty and innocence immediately.  Rin is also surprised to find that instead of a hardened warrior who treats him harshly, Merin is tender, considerate of the unschooled, virginal Prince and gently passionate in their lovemaking.  But the harsh necessities of their marriage means that Rin has to become pregnant as soon as possible and a child could mean Rin’s death in childbirth.  And not everyone is happy that their King has married one of their enemy.  An assassin lurks in the hallways of the palace, waiting for their chance to kill the Prince, even if it means the Kingdoms will be at war once more.

Valentina Heart has all the beginnings of a very interesting series here, complete with vivid characters, magic, male pregnancy and constant territorial conflict as well as assassins that constitutes a constant threat to our main characters and their children.  Each nation has a certain physical type to them.  Kari’s people of pure lines have black hair, silver eyes that proclaim their nobility, and small, lean physiques.  Jede’s warrior race is comprised of beings of large statue, huge frames of muscle, with blue hair tightly knotted and braided according to custom, brown eyes and facial markings whose patterns differ with each person.  Both nations have intermarried and half breeds are common. Each race uses magic to communicate and heal.  With relatively few facts, Heart gives us some wonderful world building.  Also interesting is the male pregnancy aspect of the stories.  In this universe, children are becoming rare as the ruling class refuses to risk itself in childbirth.  Even in the lower classes, the birth rates are falling.  Some males of Kari are able to give birth to one or more children but only at great personal risk.  Magic must be used to assist in the birth and magic must also be used to keep the “birther” or the being carrying the children from bleeding out.  This becomes problematic when only the father and birther are allowed to touch the children and each other, their magic spread so thinly between all the parties that either the children or the birther is lost.  Heart  has really worked out some unique twists to the male pregnancy subject here that really kept me engaged in that part of the storyline.  Males do not carry children like a female would.  Instead they have 3 scars on their side that accept sperm much like an incubating pouch, a neat idea that has its basis in nature here.

Another great idea is that each book is told from the POV of one of the main characters.  This brings us in close to each person and we able to feel each characters emotions and thoughts as they occur.  However, both books suffer from a “evil voice” that threatens to kill Rin and then Merin in each book.  It pops up between chapters to let us know that an assassin is on the loose who threatens the safety of our beloved Rin.  To me, this narrative took away from the main story and quite frankly seemed a little hokey.  I could have done without this device as there are other ways to let the viewer know that someone is trying to kill one or both of the main characters.

King’s Conquest (Mending the Rift #1) is told from Rin’s POV, starting with his father’s death and the Council’s proposal that he wed King Merinej.  He grabs our sympathy immediately.  We learn first hand of  his innocence that is combined with a practical, pragmatic nature which makes sense when we learn of his isolated childhood.  It is almost a necessity that we see King Merin from Rin’s viewpoint.  With his eyes, we see what the various Jede look like, including their facial patterns.  We learn about Jede customs and practices as Rin does, sometimes to his horror as the Jede don’t have problems with nudity and sexuality that the Kari have.  The relationship between Rin and Merin is handled beautifully as two strangers try to find a common ground on which to build a marriage.  All told, Heart did a great job with a story that is only 96 pages in length.

Owner of My Heart (Mending the Rift #2) is told from Merin’s POV and picks up almost immediately after the first book has ended, with Rin pregnant with their children.  This is a far more difficult book emotionally as it starts off immediately with an attack on Rin and the death of the children he was carrying.  This is not a spoiler as it is mentioned in the blurb for the book.  Even while I was expecting it, the descriptions are still heartrending as both Rin and Merin feel their children die under their hands and they are unable to save them.  Indeed, Rin almost dies himself in the process.  In the aftermath of their loss, Rin withdraws from Merin in his pain even as they must press forward to have heirs, something Merin is loathe to do as he has come to love Rin.  Heart handles this with delicacy even as our hearts break along with the couples.  Well done in every way although some will find this almost too vivid in the descriptions of what the couple and the children go through before all is lost.

In this book, there is some stilted dialog as Merin talks about “the males, the females” in a manner that did not occur in the first book and that threw me off somewhat. But outside of that example, each character has a clear and distinct voice that I appreciated.  The use of magic within the Kingdoms brings me to another quibble.  Both races use magic to communicate with, it is employed during battle and to heal.  So why not use it to determine who is trying to kill the Prince? That did not make any sense to me.  I would think that magic users would have across the board applications for it, but here its use is hit or miss, with little consistency.  A more even handed treatment as far as the use of magic would have satisfied my need for a logical implementation of magic throughout their society. Perhaps an explanation is coming in future books.  Owner of My Heart sees a growth in the relationship between Rin and Merin you would expect after some time and shared traumatic experiences would bring. And we are left at the end of 133 pages with a HFN instead of the typical HEA, a far more realistic way to leave this couple.

I am looking forward to the next in the series and hope that Heart continues with the alternating points of view.  Read these books in the order they were written.  I started with the second book to my utmost confusion and the series only made sense once I started over with King’s Conquest where most of the backstory resides.  There are many elements here that will scare people off.  Male pregnancy for one, the  death of unborn babies for another.  Both are handled here with care and a certain inventiveness.  Don’t let either put you off this series.  I can’t wait to see where the next one takes us.

Cover art by Reese Dante.  I think both covers are missed opportunities.  The vivid descriptions of the facial markings combined with blue hair and intricate braiding patterns would have been far more interesting than the torsos featured, however lovely they are (and yes, I did notice that one has the three scars for Ren).

Olympic Games, the Week Ahead in Reviews and The Michelada Cocktail

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So many things going on to talk about today.  First let’s get right to the Olympics.  Closing ceremony is tonight, bringing to an end one of the best Olympics I can remember.  I have been glued to the television watching this incredible spectacle unfold from the beginning, from the high drama of the swimming pools and gymnastic mats to the cross country course of the Equestrian events to the river and glistening rowers then to track and field, and all the sports in between.  So many athletes, so many stories, so many tears of sorrow to match the tears of joy.  How not to feel a part of something bigger, to feel connected to other nations and nationalities when you see people cheering the athletes on regardless of the colors they wear or the countries they represent.  Oscar Pistorius? Who wasn’t cheering that man on?  Some of my favorites? Katie Ledecky, Misty  and Terri, Usain Bolt, Jessica Ennis, Michael Phelps, Gabby and the rest of the US gymnastic womens team,  Misty Franklin….so, so many.

And what will the closing ceremony look like?  Who knows?  After the dancing nurses and their twirling hospital beds, massive shrubbery moving, the Tor, and best torch ever, I am waiting in anticipation to be confounded, baffled, and touched beyond measure.  I know we will all be watching it together.

I am also going into this week with a working generator (dances for joy) so once more I am able to enjoy the rumble of thunder, the darkening skies, the sound of pounding rain for their beauty and music, secure in the knowledge that a storm no longer equals loss of power, food and appliances!  Take that, Pepco.  Now only if I could send you the bill.

Finally, Monday brings my review of Stars & Stripes, the latest in the Cut & Run series from Abigail Roux featuring Ty and Zane.  So many people were trying to download their pre-ordered copies at midnight on the 11th that they crashed the servers over at Riptide Publishing.  Wow.  So was the wait worth it?  Read my review on Monday.  So here is what the week is looking like in books:

Monday:                                Stars & Stripes (Cut & Run #6) by Abigail Roux

Tuesday:                                Synchronous Seductions Trilogy by Haven Fellows

Wednesday:                         Inertia (Impulse #1) by Amelia C. Gormley

Thursday:                             Brook Street: Thief by Ava March (rescheduled from last week)

Friday:                                   Mending the Rift Series by Valentina Heart

Saturday:                               Word Play Anthology by the Story Orgy authors

And finally our summer cocktail of the week. The Michelada, perfect for grilled foods and watching Olympic closing ceremonies!

The Michelada

Ingredients:

1/4 teaspoon piquin pepper
1/4 teaspoon salsa picante
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 (12-ounce) can Mexican lager, chilled

Garnish: lime wedge

Directions:

In tall beer glass, stir together pepper sauce, salsa, lime juice, salt, and lager. Garnish with lime and serve immediately.

Happy viewing and have a great week!

Review of Sebastian’s Wolves by Valentina Heart

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Rating: 4.25 stars

Sebastian Vory and his mate, Tim, left their pack in the East for a new start together as a mated pair on their own.  And for years they were happy until a car accident took Tim away from Sebastian and left him half mad with grief.  Sebastian spends a year  wandering in wolf form uncaring what happens to him and unaware of how far he has travelled until he runs smack into the pack whose territory he’s in.  The Alpha gives Sebastian a choice, leave or join them.  Too weary to go on, Sebastian chooses to stay.  Within the new pack, Sebastian finds the family he has always wanted and begins the healing process.

As Sebastian adjusts to his new pack, a strange wolf appears at the pack lodge. Eshan Low has come to the West Pack to beg its Alpha for help with the deadly Alpha of his pack in the east.  Sebastian takes one look at Eshan Low and knows he has found a new mate.  Eshan’s wolf feels the same and soon a mating has taken place.  But duty and his pack’s safety are calling Eshan back east and Sebastian finds himself once more in danger of losing another mate.  Sebastian and his pack must undertake a risky mission to dethrone a Alpha or lose another mate and possibly his sanity.

This is the second book I have read of Valentina Heart and my admiration of her skill as a writer continues to grow.  I really enjoyed her take on wolf shifters.  Heart demonstrates a knowledge of wolf natural history as her wolves primal nature exists just under their human skin. These are not shifters living a normal human existence but rather wolf shifters adjusting their human forms to exist within a pack structure.  The pack all live together under one roof, often sleeping in communal beds as would a wolf pack,  Communication between members include both wolf and human vocalizations no matter what form they may be in at the time, a lovely touch.  Here the nature of the beast not the rationale of man rule.

This same “wolf first” take on shifters extends to love and mating.  When a wolf looks to take another as mate, the potential mate is judged on strength, compatibility, as well as attraction.  Pheromones come into play as they would in nature.  Mating is straightforward and primal, often involving a chase, a fight and bloodletting.  Not for the fainthearted nor any indicator of  “instant love”.  When Sebastian first sees Eshan, it’s their wolves that call to each other, a need for a mate strong within them.  The scene between them as their wolves decide to act on the call to mate as their pack watches is as sexy and hot as any I can remember.  Heart’s writing is so vivid that we are standing along side the pack, watching it happen as the tension and heat rises amidst growls and changing forms.

Sebastian is a wonderful character.  When we first meet him, he has given up much to be with  his mate, Tim.  Neither is a pureblood, having been changed into a shifter not born one.  Sebastian misses being part of a pack, his wolf nature so close to the surface all the time. Tim became a shifter later in life so he remains far more human than his mate.  Sebastian is a more simplistic (yet never simple) character, more basic in his wants and desires who is living a complicated life because of his mate.  When Tim dies, his pain and loss are overwhelming for the character and the reader, so realistically is it described.  Sebastian’s Wolves also strays from the “norm” in making Sebastian just another wolf in the pack.  Strong yes, but not the Alpha or even the Beta.  It gives Sebastian a unusual vulnerability to see him called into a submissive state by his Alpha when he’s panicking or unable to cope.

Eshan Low with his dyed Mohawk and history of abuse is given less backstory but still becomes a strong character among many strong characters in this story.  Valentina Heart makes it easy to see how he compliments and belongs with Sebastian.  And we become just as worried about his safety when responsibility makes him return to his pack and its unstable leader.  The author literally packs her story with one memorable wolf after another, and then gives them a good plot worthy of such characters.  Does the plot have some holes in it?  Yes, which is why the rating is not higher but the nature of her shifters override the deficiencies in the plot.

I have read that there will be no sequel to Sebastian’s Wolves.  And while I feel that is a shame, I am still so very happy to have made their acquaintance.  Wonderful shifters, wonderful story.  Thank you, Valentina Heart.

Cover: Cover Art by Justin James, Cover Design by Mara McKennen.  Unusual cover design with its bold use of just the face of a model.  Memorable in that I could pick out this cover from others with just a glance but really, what does the design have to do with the story? Not sure how I feel about this as a cover.

Available at Dreamspinner Press, Amazon, and ARe.

The Week Ahead and a Tourtiere with a Twist!

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The last week was wonderful and with today’s most excellent weather, this week is starting out the same.  Yesterday some of my GR m/m fiction group came over for drinks, book recs and conversation.  We had a great time and the weather was perfect.  Of course, one topic of conversation was the “best book” for each of us lately.  My book of choice was Scrap Metal by Harper Fox and my review will be posted here this week.  Also  right there with it was Burning Bright by Megan Derr.  I am so in love with this series and can’t wait for the next one. You all are going to love this book!

First, the reviews for this week:

Monday:                           Burning Bright (Lost Gods#2) by Megan Derr,  the 2nd book in a  stunning  fantasy series!

Tuesday:                           Sebastian’s Wolves by Valentina Heart

Wednesday:                     Hope by William Neale (his last book, published after his death)

Thursday:                         Time Gone By by Jan Suzukawa

Friday:                               I’m Not Sexy And I Know It by Vic Winter

Saturday:                          Scrap Metal by Harper Fox

My favorite dish of the last week was a first time recipe for me.  And it wowed me.  I will use this one often.  A tourtiere is basically a meat pastry or pie that originated in Quebec and is traditionally eaten around Christmas time.  But the one I am using is light enough and baked in a loaf form that can be eaten any time of the year.  The meat filling is usually pork with other meat added to it.  Here I am using ground round but in Canada, wild game such as rabbit or venison would have been used as well.  Absolutely not greasy in any way, the savory flavors and buttery taste of the pastry come together to melt in your mouth and make you smile with delight!

Ingredients for Tourtiere with a Twist:

PASTRY DOUGH:
3 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups cold butter, grated or chopped into small bits
2 eggs, lightly beaten
MEAT FILLING:
1 pound ground pork
1/2 pound ground beef
1 large onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons summer savory, more to taste (Summer Savory spice is easily found in any grocery store)
Pinch ground cloves, optional (really add it, if you just have whole cloves, take 2 and smash them, works great)
4 to 6 tablespoons breadcrumbs (start with 4 and add until it is to your liking – I added all 6)
3 tablespoons milk, for brushing

Directions:

For the pastry dough: Put the flour and salt in a large bowl. Add the grated butter. Pinch quickly to combine with the fingers to create a coarse, crumbly mixture. Make a well in the center. Add the eggs and 1 tablespoon ice-cold water. Quickly mix into the flour, just until the mixture holds together. Do not over mix. Divide into 2 balls and flatten into disks. Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest in the refrigerator 30 minutes before using.

For the meat filling: Put 1/2 cup water in a saute pan and quickly bring to a boil. Combine the ground pork, ground veal, onion, garlic, some salt and pepper and summer savory together in a bowl. Stir into the water. Cover, and cook until the meat is done, about 20 minutes. Remove the lid, stir in the breadcrumbs and continue cooking uncovered until the liquid has evaporated. Check the seasonings, and cool.

Heat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Roll a disk of pastry dough into a rectangle. Spoon a generous stripe of meat filling down the middle of it. Fold the short ends, up over the meat making sure to trim any excess pastry dough, otherwise it will be too thick. Then fold over the long ends so that they overlap to seal. Again, trim any excess pastry dough so it will bake evenly. Turn the log onto a baking sheet, seam-side down. Make a few slits in the top to let steam escape. Brush the top with milk for a golden crust. Bake until crisp and nicely colored, about 25 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

If you have some left over, it tastes just as great the next day, perhaps even better!  You can’t go wrong here.  You will make this again and  again.

Review of Battle of Hearts by Valentina Heart

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Rating: 4.5 stars

For years, vampires and shifters had remained hidden from human societies, an uneasy truce keeping the peace between them.  Then a blood crazed vampire kills two shifter cubs and the war is on.  Years later, the war has reduced the numbers of all involved, and the few humans left have been forced to take sides in order to survive.  Valerian, a wolf shifter, is one of three Alphas in a combined pack of shifters of all species.  He is their top hunter and he is relentless in his duties. The constant fighting and killing have taken an emotional toll and Valerian keeps himself isolated in all ways from those around him, his world narrowed down to fucking and fighting.

Teddy, a cougar shifter, has been wandering alone since he was kicked out of his pride by his father, a follower of the old ways of pride leadership.  Weary from constant fighting and hungry, Teddy lets his guard down to sleep and is captured by vampires looking for new sources of blood.  When he awakens, he is hanging upside being drained of his blood. The vampires have a new system, keeping shifters and humans in cages and just alive  enough to drain them daily until they die.  Weakened, Teddy prepares to die until a shifter pack led by Valerian enters the lair and rescues them all.

Valerian is unpleasantly surprised to find his mate among those shifters he has rescued, and a cougar no less.  While Valerian’s wolf howls for his mate, Valerian the man has no time for Teddy and tells him  in no uncertain and gruff terms.  Teddy too is less than pleased with Valerian as a mate and the battle of wills is on.  Can two strong willed and angry shifters let their guards down and accept each other as mate?  Or will the Battle of Hearts be lost?

I loved Valentina Heart’s take on shifters and vampires.  From the very first page, Heart paints a picture of a world so deteriorated that the buildings have turned to rubble, humans are in hiding, shifters of all types control the forests and  both vampires and shifters live in caves underground. All are constantly at war for supremacy and survival, the prevailing sense of desperation so real the reader can almost taste it. The characters here have been stripped down to basics and Valerian is a prime example of that.  He is all snarls and aggression, attributes needed in a professional killer and alpha.  Heart makes it clear that all the deaths and loss have inured him to affection and the possibility of love.  Even his cubs by various nameless females are relegated to the very outskirts of his memory, necessary to Valerian only as replacements for those lost in battle.

Teddy is a shifter you will take immediately into your heart.  He so desperately wants to find a home and a pack/pride that will accept him that when his original joy at finding a mate turns into dismay and anger over finding that Valerian is, in his words, a “dumbass”, you are right there with him in total agreement. Time and again, Teddy has to do battle with the cougar inside him who wants his mate no matter how many times he is rejected.  The name Teddy is a perfect choice for this character as it tells you so much about him.  He’s vulnerable, great of heart, brave and bristly. My heart was in my throat as Teddy goes from hurt inflicted by vampires to hurts meted out by his mate and back again. But as Teddy uncovers the redeeming features of Valerian’s personality, so does the reader and you start to pull for both of them to find the path to each other.

Lets not forget the secondary characters here as Valentina Heart certainly does not.  They are as beautifully drawn as the main ones of Teddy and Valerian.  In fact this entire book is populated by shifters that I would love to visit again and again so easy it is to wrap your arms around them.  How can you not love the idea of two domino playing alphas who never seem to shift away from their game yet still take care of pack business? The story is so well done right down to the smallest detail.  My only quibble here is that the fight at the end between our heros and main vampire  was over far too quickly considering the buildup.  I would have thought it would have been drawn out a little longer with more complications than it occurred in the book.  Still, a very satisfying ending. Valentina Heart was a new author for me and I look forward to reading her other books.  I hope that I will find that they are as well done as this one.  Great job all around.

Cover:  Cover artist is Reese Dante. What a sexy, gorgeous cover.  OK, yes, that is Valerian absolutely!  Love the graphics, love the fonts, and the addition of the sword is the topping!

Available from Silver Publishing, Amazon and ARe.

Mustard Pork Roast and the Week Ahead

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Warm and misty and frustrated here in Maryland this morning.  All week I had  been hearing about the moon.   That it was going to be spectacular!  The closest to Earth it has been for a while and that it would appear freakin’ HUGE in the night sky.  I made my preparations.  Camera ready? Check.  Chair at hand? Check!   Finally dark?  Check!   Moon?  Uh, hello? Moon? That would be no!   As in not even a hint of light in the night sky! Nada, zip, nothing!  Clouds?  Yep, plenty of them.  But no moon.  It didn’t help to turn on the evening news and have the chirpy meteorologist post pictures of a fantastic Moon while dishing out his sympathy to those poor smucks (me) who didn’t get to see it due to  CLOUDS not forecast the evening before!  It will be 29 years before the Moon will be that close again and I will be ancient.  But you can rest assured I will be out in front looking for that damn Moon!

I am not the only one here in a frustrated state.  Out back in our small fish pond sings a lonely Leopard Frog.  He made it through the winter and the perilous visits of our Great Blue Heron only to croak out his status as the lone stud of the tiny pond.  Lately he had been croaking less. I guess he didn’t see much cause to continue.   Than I got out the small blue fountain from the shed, assembled it, and filled it with water, confident that our last  frost is gone for the year.  I didn’t notice it had attracted a visitor until later that afternoon.  Sure enough our lonely frog had taken a journey over to the new addition in the garden and found true love.  Here is the photograph to prove it:

Who knows if this love affair will continue?  It  might be very final if he doesn’t get his ass off that elevated fountain and back to the safety of the pond where he might be lonely but will also stay alive! I will let you know what happens.

 

So tonight is a wonderful pork recipe.  The house smells delicious when it is cooking and this dish is always so easy and great tasting.  It calls for pork tenderloins but works just as well with a pork roast.  The sauce isn’t heavy so it works well in spring and summer too.  Thanks to Laura Calder again!

Mustard Pork:

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 pork tenderloins (about 8 ounces) or pork roast about 1 or 2 lbs
Salt and freshly ground pepper
About 3/4 cup Dijon mustard (plain or grainy) I use a combination of both
1 shallot, minced
1 cup dry white wine (use a good wine, I like a Sauvignon Blanc)
1 cup  creme fraiche or sour cream
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F

Rub the oil in a roasting pan. Sprinkle the pork with salt and pepper and rub the pork all over with the mustard. Set it in the pan and pour in 1/2 cup water. Roast until the pork is tender, about 1 hour 30 minutes. (If the water evaporates in the pan, add a little more.)

Remove the pork to a serving dish and keep warm. Fry the shallot in the roasting pan on the stovetop. Deglaze with wine and boil to reduce by half. Stir in the sour cream or creme fraiche and rosemary, and reduce to sauce consistency. Check the seasonings. Slice the pork, pour the sauce on top and serve.  This dish has become a go to recipe here.  You just can’t go wrong with Mustard Pork.

Finally, let’s get to the week ahead shall we?

Monday:                                     Review of Battle of Hearts by Valentina Heart

Tuesday:                                     Review of Fairy Gift by J. K. Pendragon

Wednesday:                               Review of Marathon Cowboys by Sarah Black, our Spotlight author

Thursday:                                   Review of Nature of the Beasty by Amylea Lyn

Friday:                                         Review of The Beast’s Promise by Amylea Lyn

Saturday:                                     Bloggers Surprise as I have decided which book to go with yet.

 

So have a great week.  Check out the latest Vocabulary Gone Bad if you haven’t already! FF and I will see you soon. That’s frustrated frog to all of you.