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The Blurb:

When Paul Forte is indicted by a federal grand jury, everyone suspects prosecutor Bernard (don’t call him “Bernie”) Kilroy has more on his mind than justice. Then the FBI agent in charge of Paul’s case gives him a clue to the mystery: Kilroy is bent on settling an old family score, and he’s not above breaking the law to do it.
Paul is already dealing with the death of his parents and divorce from a woman he still loves. Now, with the support of an alluring grand juror, Paul must expose the vindictive prosecutor’s own corruption before the jury renders a verdict on his Osso Buco.

****

The Review:

Meticulously crafted, authentic down to every last detail, Diary of a Small Fish is a master class in the criminal suspense/legal thriller genre. The author, a trial attorney himself, asks some very thorny questions, not so much about our legal systems at the state and federal levels, but rather at the social backbone that greases the wheels of politicos, both elected and not, charged with seeing to the public interest.

The protagonist, Paul Forté, is a past elected representative of the Massachuesetts House, an attorney and the current chief counsel to the MBTA, the transportation authority of the city of Boston. He is well-schooled in ‘how things are done’. He is also a blue-blood, not first shelf Kennedy style, but high enough that his family, education and career mirror a socio-politico class with rules of behavior and lifestyle that clearly set him apart.

Paul is also an addict of sorts, addicted to the game and traditions of golf, so much so that his obsession may have cost him a marriage … and provided an entrée into a world of questionable ethics when viewed through the lens of middle class propriety. Paul is a man convinced of his own moral authority, wedded to a strict tradition of reciprocity and smart enough to recognize potential wrong-doing in his position at the MBTA.

What he isn’t canny enough to see is how a pattern of behavior could be twisted and misconstrued, how easy it is to fall into a scapegoat status where all he knows and understands about the system is turned on its ear, leading him to question his own judgment and complicity.

Paul has huge shoes to fill: his father was universally admired and loved and he must struggle to live up to that reputation—not easily accomplished when fingers point to his possible misconduct with lobbyists. And what could have been an easily dismissed state case suddenly becomes an indictment for mail fraud, tax evasion and other misdemeanors at the Federal level. In short Paul becomes embroiled in a witch hunt.

The beauty of how he deals with all the conflicting crises, the sense of powerlessness, the sheer terror of a man believing himself free of all implied collusion, yet the evidence says otherwise, is what makes this crime suspense tale stand out. Told entirely from Paul’s point of view, we know intimately what he feels during every step of the process—the fear, the doubt, the self-recrimination, the anger, the disbelief. And, although he is an attorney, he is not a specialist so he must seek out assistance, utilizing resources he’s built up over the years via exactly the same kind of relationships for which he is now under indictment.

Paul is also a man alone, despite a wide network of friendships, professional and otherwise. He is still struggling with a failed marriage, unconvinced he is ready to move on. A chance encounter with an artist, the gun-shy Shannon, a woman with secrets and baggage, eventually leads to a slowly developing romance that eventually explodes with a passion neither of them expected.

The trial itself is riveting and I shall say no more because that would be *spoiler alert* and I’ve no wish to ruin the suspense. What I will say is … this would make a nice screenplay and let it go at that.

The author also gives us a very strong sense of place with an immediacy and authenticity that rivals that of Greg Rucka. There may be no shoot-outs or car chases but the amassing of evidence, the analysis and thought processes are demanding and engrossing to the point where I simply could not put the book down.

The characters are engaging, sympathetic and multifaceted. The antagonist is a true piece of work. And there are moments that will rip your heart out. The dialog is spot-on. This is a legal suspense with absolutely nothing pedantic to mar the narrative, yet it engages the reader in asking questions about the nature of political cronyism and how an individual’s moral authority fits into a system built on roots as old as time itself.

I thank you, Pete Morin, for keeping me up all night. And I hope to see more from this author very soon. And oh yes, don’t forget about that screenplay… Five Stars with the utmost pleasure.

****

About the Author:

Pete Morin has been a trial attorney, a politician, a bureaucrat, a lobbyist, and a witness (voluntary and subpoenaed) to countless outrages. He combines them all in his debut novel, Diary of a Small Fish. Pete’s short fiction has appeared in NEEDLE, A Magazine of Noir, Words With Jam, 100 Stories for Haiti, and Words to Music. He published many of them in a collection titled Uneasy Living, available on Amazon and Smashwords. When he is not writing crime fiction or legal mumbo jumbo, Pete plays blues guitar in Boston bars, enjoys the beach, food and wine with his wife, Elizabeth, and their two adult children, and on rare occasion, punches a fade wedge to a tight pin surrounded by sand or water. He lives in a money pit on the seacoast south of Boston, in an area once known as the Irish Riviera. Pete is represented by Christine Witthohn of Book Cents Literary Agency.

Find Diary of a Small Fish: KINDLE  and in PRINT

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THE BIKER

by

JD MADER

THE BLURB:

San Francisco is a small city with big problems. When Matt Stark witnesses his father’s murder, he decides to rid the city of one of its problems – the man with the scars. Matt is dangerous with his fists. He is good on a motorcycle. Vengeance is new to him, but he is a quick study. With the help of his childhood friend, Striker, and the beautiful and mysterious Maria, Matt decides to find his father’s killer and even the score. “The City” has many secrets, however, as Matt discovers as he embarks on a quest for justice that will make him question everything he thought he knew.

THE REVIEW:

Do you like pulp fiction, revenge sagas? Does your heart beat faster when knuckles crunch flesh and blood slicks fingers roughened with age and experience and brio? Do you love loners, men grounded in nothing but a toughened inner landscape, where freedom means proving it over and over and over in an endless stream of violence?

If you’re nodding your head, mentally saying ‘bring it on’, then The Biker is right up your gritty, raw, surrealistic alley.

Matt Stark’s life is rooted in solid urban working class values, neighbors helping neighbors, keeping secrets when necessary … and for Matt those secrets come back to haunt him after he witnesses the brutal death of the man he loved above all others. The boy learns how to be a man at his father’s knee, the man has yet to understand the costs that come with those lessons.

Stark will be tasked, his solitary existence challenged and self-reliance put to the test when Luis, the sociopath who snuffed his father’s life, offers up the ultimate lure … justice served up with a side of revenge.

Visions of the Lone Gunman, Pale Rider and the very best of the best Louis Lamour anti-heroes neatly describe this flawed character, a man society might brush off as a loser, a no account with a metal steed and skills none but the foolhardy would discount.

Stark is a black hole, absorbing the violence, embracing it and holding it tight, meeting pain and brutality with such resolve and inner silence, it manages to undo those who take him to the edge of death yet step away at the last instant because in this skewed world respect can be earned when what’s inside refuses to break.

Stark isn’t good at channeling, controlling his anger. He isn’t good at accepting help. He definitely isn’t good with emotion. But to do what needs to be done, finding and removing the scumbag who murdered his father, Stark will learn to do all that and more.

Stark will have sidekicks, some are cannon fodder, one is his rock, another is an unlikely chance encounter, the last is Maria. She could be the set-up, she could be the one who opens him to possibilities he never considered. They all play a role in this set piece.

I liked Striker, perhaps the best of all the secondary characters: a drug-addled philosopher, gun runner, pseudo-hippy male BFF who somehow perceives consequences yet understands when a man’s choices and his destiny needs be at odds.

Maria, not so much…

Here’s why. She’s an immigrant, Mexican, raised on the mean streets, in poverty. She ends up surviving, like so many others, selling her body and her soul to the man with scars until a singular brutal event is the wake-up call she needs to walk away. So far, so good. My problem is in the dialog, in her speech patterns: it’s too academic, too psychobabble, way too educated for this woman’s circumstances, and (I’ll probably get 40 lashes with a wet Kleenex for this) way too ‘white bread’ for her ethnic background.

Authors make conscious or unconscious choices, reviewers glom onto stuff: this is my quibble. If that doesn’t bother you, no harm, no foul.

Now, speaking of dialog: at the beginning it’s hard, fast, Elmore Leonard quality (and I swooned, literally swooned with delight). Later on there’s a wee tendency toward preachiness, extended exposition and a hair of emotional overload. That might not float my boat, but it doesn’t sink it either.

The ending, woman, what about the ending?

This story has elements of a caper, it’s got a man’s journey through a moral quagmire, it touches on justice, on coming-of-age, on friendship and loyalty and love, and on consequences. It’s pretty much the complete package.

You might like the ending, you might not. The character made choices, whether or not you agree with them (because you know in your heart what would happen next). And I’ll be darned if I hit you with a spoiler. You’ll just have to read it and find out for yourself.

JD Mader has skills. He describes fight scenes about as well as Greg Rucka (and believe me, that’s high praise indeed), he sets us solidly in San Francisco without letting geography overload the scene setting, he puts us inside the head of a character most of us will never, ever meet in real life and makes him tangible and compelling with a can’t turn away mindset, and he gives us a story that’s gritty realism personified. It’s a story that will likely keep you up into the wee hours.

I’m giving this one 4 ½ stars. Well done, Mr Mader.

LINKS:

KINDLE US

PRINT

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Arelstin’s Lair by Poppet, a short story based on the novella Ryan

The Blurb:

Arelstin’s Lair is a short story which gives insight into what happens within the covers of Ryan (Book 2 of the neuri series). Do not read this unless you have read Ryan first.
Phoebe is abducted by Arelstin. Captured inside his cage of light, she does not understand his motivation or the clues he surrounds her with. He strips her of every worldly thing to awaken her mind, but still she remains blind. She is blinded with fear, ripped apart by it, until he forces her to accept mercy.

Choosing to give her the libation of forgetfulness, Phoebe is finally a willing student, with an open heart and an open mind. It is only in this true state of existence that love has the power to change the world.

This is a short story which is a spinoff of Ryan: it is insight into Phoebe’s time with Arelstin, and it shows you how far isolation and loneliness can push a man. It shows you what we all want, and need, and yet seldom receive.

Fear blinds us to the truth. The clues were there all along, in every book in this expansive series, but only now will you get the final piece of the puzzle which will change how you read the rest of the books in this series. If you don’t read this, you will only understand when the Slakax Series begins.

The Review:

Like threads in a tapestry, pull one and the unicorn puddles in eggshell splendor, pull another and muddy taupe plants roots amidst gaudy, dizzying kaleidoscopes of landscapes refashioned in perception…

Perception, perspective. But whose? That is the true question.

Phoebe bludgeons us with an internal dialog rooted in indulgent fear—she feeds on it, it gives her psyche substance, it defines her reality. Is it because she is half-human? Is it because Seithe tapped into something so elemental in her makeup that it surfaced, ever to remain ‘the real woman’ construct?

The thread unravels from ‘Ryan’, from the escape attempt, the sheer physicality of it portrayed in Wes Craven, mind-numbing, fear-inducing splendor, like an extended take in cinema verite style. Yet the overwhelming reality is one we do not see … the internal, mental landscape, the hidden threads where through fear and pain you, as Shan Yu might say, ‘meet the man’. We are placed in a war zone where perception and emotion slug it out in an arena of experience for which we have yet to establish boundaries.

We are told, repeatedly, about the slakax inner light, yet Phoebe never evinces or manifests a shred of that potential (and indeed I/we do not really grasp what that might be except for perhaps a ‘love conquers all’ theme interjected when other motifs might actually work better).

When Phoebe is caught and silenced at the well of forgetfulness, it is a relief, because that kind of caterwauling grates on the nerves. Still, I remain unconvinced that it is truly a clean slate, that virtual lobotomy of memory … there’s simply too much of Phoebe left—the impertinence, the volatile suggestibility, the fundamental dichotomy of pleasure-pain, the self-indulgence, all the core values that made her a less-than-ingratiating personality remain, ready for deep coring by whomever it pleases…

…and it pleases Arelstin, immensely. Vampyre, angel, archangel, madman, rogue, god, a nameless entity hungering to fulfill his mandate, a mandate based on belief, on faith. He and his kind are anachronisms, relics of a time beyond history, beings of power, beings with needs—lonely, frustrated and delusional. He sees evil, he knows evil, he is not evil … or so he claims. Fear is an aphrodisiac and a justification … Phoebe is the perfect foil around which to rebuild a shattered super-ego and dispel the cognitive dissonance that so plagues those for whom the world no longer hinges on their good graces.

Arelstin in one fell swoop removes free will and calls it mercy. A life lesson. Means to an end. He plots to plant the seed that will turn back time, dispersing evil, reinstating relevance … yet nowhere does morality, justice, decency, honor or virtue—true aspects of ‘light’—enter into an equation where power hangs in the balance.

Arelstin reveals himself, through the power of the name, yet Phoebe sees only the god, not the lesson, and marvels/revels in the self, unwilling, incapable of stepping off the path and shining a beacon into the dark recesses of even her own soul. There is something hard-core, intransient about this character that leaves a bad taste. She is but a trifle, a Valley Girl’s worth of insignificance, a shell of humanity that’s hardened to granite … yet beings of supernatural bent are drawn like moths to a flame.

Why?

Free will is the driving theme. Guardianship implies protection, protection smacks of determinism. And at the core lies the notion that the abstract and concrete are Janus-like, both the beginning and the transition. Seen in this light, perhaps Phoebe is the quintessential metaphor for modernity and Arelstin simply the agent of change, though that is undoubtedly far too simplistic. He, and his kind’s role in this matter are to-be-determined.

Hmm, now the tough part … grading this effort. The escape: we’ve already had a generous dose of this in Ryan so in this case, less is more; the BDSM/torture scene, while eliciting squirms, were well-done and quite illuminating (and a good flashback to Seithe); Arelstin-on-the-mountain, regurgitating the party line amidst the pitter-patter of remorse and pathos, definitely filled in blanks and gave a good looksee into the vampyre construct (and dandy new additions to the mythology); the retrieval, this needed work—the story is told in parts, the refresher, the mind-scrub, the re-instatement, the lesson, the revelation, the retrieval. Wherein all the other parts were rich in emotive description, the retrieval was cold, hard, condensed (and that’s perhaps by design)—I’d prefer a different treatment and acknowledge that’s a matter of personal preference.

Overall, 4 stars. It’s not perfect but what do you do when an author manages to rip open a vein and forces you to revisit all that philosophy you read at university (no joke, I even wandered back to St. Augustine to look at the roots of some of the concepts introduced here).

This series isn’t just a romance and it’s not for the faint of heart.

Find your Kindle copy of ARELSTIN’S LAIR HERE

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MOURNING SUN: The First Highland Home Novel

by

Shari Richardson

The Blurb:

I should have known when he walked into my life that things would never be the same. Hadn’t I dreamed of him and the things he’d done before I was born? If only he weren’t so fascinating, so beautiful, so much more than any other guy. Maybe then I could walk away.

Mairin Cote is a magnet for weird. Her dreams come true, she can see auras and her mother is in love with an angel. Now the monsters are finding her too. Vampires, demigods and werepanthers have flocked to this small town girl who must find a way to keep her family safe, love the man of her dreams, and navigate the shark-infested waters of Highland Home High School.

The Review:

Mairin is an atypical teenager who has visions through dreams that are premonitons, though what she sees now qualifies as visions of a current reality that may or may not be ‘real’. This sixteen year old also lives in a non-standard family with a history that sets her, and them, apart from the bluebloods inhabiting the town of Highland Home. Her mother’s companion is a woman with secrets, her younger sister is about to embark on her journey through a high school that Mairin calls ‘a cesspool of class warfare and guerilla tactics’, and that momentous first day back to school brings her up close and very personal with the boy she’s been dreaming about. Dark, disturbing, confusing dreams, inexplicable and so real she has no reason to doubt … or does she?

Mathias is that tall, dark and mysterious ‘boy’ who latches onto Mairin despite her less than elevated social status. Choosing her over the vaulted social circle of The Golden Ones does little to alleviate her position as the victim of prejudice and mean-spiritedness, something she handles with a certain degree of maturity that is admirable, if misdirected.

Now, granted, I am not the demographic for which this novella was written so I will address it from the perspective of a ‘teen reader’. The story touched on bullying, prejudice, the meaning of friendship, the bonds of sisterhood and family, and the yearnings of a young woman in the throes of first love. It avoids the unrelenting angst of craving, pining, hungering and woe-is-me, yet allows for enough emotion to satisfy a younger reader’s need for empathy. In other words, Mairin is, mercifully, not Bella. That alone helps move the story along.

Much of Mourning Sun is devoted to set-up for the rest of the series, not quite stand-alone but near enough to be satisfying. It introduces the various supernatural elements, hints at more to come and never loses sight of the underlying romantic plot.

There’s sacrifice, poor choices, danger, threats, redemption and love unrequited … and unfortunately a bit of Twilight’s Edward’s hesitancy to indulge in ‘physical contact’ beyond a certain point because of the ‘consequences’. Mathias also echoes Edward’s inability to deny himself being around Mairin, despite knowing how dangerous it can be for her. That these are becoming tropes might be unavoidable, as is the tweak on the mythology that allows Mathias to walk in the sun (Damon and Stefan have rings, so there you go).

My primary complaint was with the formatting, editing (punctuation, misspelled words, grammar) and an over-reliance on descriptive terms that bordered on annoying. Mathias is referred to as ‘beautiful’ 28 times – in a novella, that’s 26 times too many. Mathias also speaks with a Jane Austen formality that sounds gallant but is seriously out of place when he is trying to pass himself off as a high school teen who, by the way, is seventeen, filthy rich, owns a major corporation, lives in a mansion by himself on the beach… It’s called suspension of disbelief and isn’t likely to ring any alarms with young readers.

In spite of all that, I rather enjoyed the story, took it at face value and found myself curious about where the crew from Highland Home were going. It’s a very quick read, and if you aren’t a gammar/editing nazi, you probably won’t mind the flaws. It has promise as a series so let’s give it 4 stars.

Buy Link:  Kindle US

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SHADOW WOLF by Sessha Batto

The Blurb

Will love be sacrificed when duty and honor rule all?

 The life of a shinobi is, at its best, a selfless devotion to duty. In modern day Japan, the ninja legends live on in a grim saga of political maneuverings, betrayal, sexual abuse, torture and homoeroticism.

The Shinobi clans lurk in the shadows, performing services that not even the hardened Yakuza will touch. Takahashi Yoshi fulfills his duty with soul-stripping resolve, each assignment driving a nail into a coffin of lost faith. After years of sexual abuse and torture in the name of clan honor, Yoshi must learn to trust, but the man who offers him hope is himself flawed. Sasaki Makoto has spent a career in torture and interrogation, exploring not only the dark secrets of his clan’s enemies, but also the darkness within his own heart.

How far must Yoshi run to escape his shame and torment? And what price freedom when fear and self-loathing threaten to upend the hard fought struggle to find meaning and safety in a world fraught with danger.

Yoshi seeks time and space, only to find himself once more at the mercy of power mongers and despots. When Makoto finds him, Yoshi is broken in more than body. Near death, his spirit recedes to find safety within, locking out all who care.

They say time will heal but the path to acceptance is never easy, the roadblocks many, and none will emerge unscathed as Yoshi embarks on a struggle for balance.

The Review:

Honor and duty rule a contemporary shadow world where legend clashes with the stark realities of bodies and souls bartered in the name of clan hegemony. In modern day Japan only the ninjas move within the secret circles of power and influence, fulfilling roles not even the Yakusa will touch.

Against this backdrop of manipulation, betrayal and conspiracy, Takahashi Yoshi willingly fulfills a horrendous mandate to submit to a perverted despot in service to a clan debt. Groomed to accept abuse as his duty and obligation, the infamous shadow wolf slowly succumbs to the brutality that marks his existence, stripping his soul of faith and trust.

Sasaki Makoto is the clan’s torture master, wickedly self-contained and viciously successful at his job. He is a man least likely to extend a hand of friendship, let alone open his heart to the battered psyche of the broken man they call the Shadow Wolf. The question becomes: can a man of darkness penetrate the barrier of a lost soul and lead them both down the path of redemption and acceptance of who and what they are.

Shadow Wolf is a saga of faith betrayed, of love denied, all replaced with such shame and torment that self-loathing becomes the raison d’être of a man’s existence. It is raw. It is cruel. It speaks of unspeakable acts, never holding back, never allowing the reader to ever once turn away because the only way to truly ‘know’ the man is to meet him at his breaking point.

It is heart-wrenching and outside of everything we know to be right and true. Yoshi stands for us at that point where the basest nature of man is legitimized and sanctified through the clan’s indoctrination and culture of absolute loyalty and submission to authority.

Make no mistake, this epic tale of homoeroticism, politics and selfless duty will not be for everyone. It is sensual, it is brutal, it is honest. There’s nothing prurient here. This is the good, the bad and the ugly set against a backdrop few of us have ever seen, in a legendary culture most of us can scarcely imagine.

Sessha Batto blends legend and mythology, sensuality and eroticism, in a startling and mesmerizing way. We sympathize, or hate, or grieve with the many characters who tread through the ‘gates’ along Yoshi’s journey, hopeful for resolution but knowing that nothing is writ in stone and a man’s freedom oft times comes at too high a price.

Abuse is ugly, what it does to the body and the mind is nothing compared to what it does to the soul. The author explores this with gut-wrenching honesty, pushing our comfort zones and redefining what it means to love and be loved when the line between pleasure and pain ceases to exist.

As I said, this is male-male erotica, it is intense, it is sensual. And it is brilliant.

Five stars.

Buy Links:

Kindle US

Kindle UK

OmniLit

Smashwords

Amazon (print)

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AISYX

by

POPPET

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THE BLURB:

Belgrade is under siege by Arelstin and his ‘army’. Aisyx falls hopelessly in love with his vesna goddess only to have betrayal ruin her innocence and drive a wedge of hurt between them which love can’t dissolve.

Ryan retrieves Phoebe with little help as Zauran and Sveta have been captured by the military. Jowendrhan meets Life, a slakax rescues their men, and Phoebe is carrying a dark secret.

When the Casting fathers get the call to return, Dravid meets someone he’s drawn to – a lost soul he’s come to save, Seth disciplines Venix, and Selene finally exposes the truth. In this comprehensive and explosive culmination of the paranormal series, the face of the world changes, the demons undo creation, unity is wrought, and Seithe comes back to save his brother’s soul.

Love sets light free, only one being can stop Arthur, but will he do it before it’s too late?

THE REVIEW:

This might be the most singularly difficult work of fiction I’ve ever tackled for the purposes of doing a review. Why? Because it is so much more than a simple story told in parts, on timelines that run concurrently but are riddled with historical precedents and prognostications.

A summary, ala the book report variety, would do little to impart the impact of this body of work.

Therein lies the key: it is at once a work of fiction, a theological treatise, a philosophical banquet and an intellectual challenge. In short: it is a bouquet of stunning rational and irrational delights, with scents and sounds and imaginings that defy description yet beg for your undivided attention in an attempt to rule on its merits. Merits that perforce will reside in your own world view, your own belief systems, and your willingness to suspend disbelief.

This, and all of the companion pieces, build on a subtle foundation of events and characters for whom lies, misdirections, petty egotistical power mongering and all-too-human justifications for wrongdoing pervade a supernatural sphere unlike any we’ve seen before, and likely will not again.

This is the denizens of Mount Olympus on crack cocaine, Christianity turned on its head, post-modernism, the sacred feminine, naturalism, oh heck—name an ‘ism’ and Poppet’s all over it, incorporating all of our perceptions of our place in this universe, corporeal and not.

But unlike Kant or Hegel, Poppet does not require the reader to wade into the deep end of arcane philosophical musings (except at the end in the tie-it-up nice and tidy section). There are characters to love and to hate, actions to forgive, motivations to understand—all explored with a veneer of such intense sensuality that breathing becomes difficult, so lost does one become in the pure mysticism at that intersect of pleasure-pain.

Aisyx might just be a misleading title, for his role, his character, is not the defining measure of how this epic plays out. He is key, but so are too many others. The bandwidth on this final piece is huge, with each and every voice receiving near equal treatment.

Therein lies one problem with works presented in such a unique format: first person present tense. Even that doesn’t do justice to describing the mechanics of how each character hits his or her mark on a cosmic stage anchored in the mundane, real world of a planet gone to pot in a wave of violence and despair. If I were to take an acting class, one where I needed to ‘be the table’, to inhabit the grain of the wood, to assume the essence of the veneer, the finish—that is how you inhabit these characters, for good or ill. It, quite simply, requires a leap of faith and once you cross that boundary there’s no going back. On the small stage, with limited principals, it works magnificently.

But in Aisyx, with so many players on the stage, the voices become a Greek chorus, with the individual lost in a melee of conflicting emotions and competing egos.

Poppet in one sense celebrates the sacred feminine, but in the end, hers is a very masculine ‘Verse, one rooted in power and entitlement. As each of the five beings withdraws his unique bequests, thus forcing unity on disparate energies, one still wonders at a concept of balance imposed on the fractured structure, rather than rising organically as a natural process.

It left, for me, a feeling of servitude, of someone—something—assuming responsibility for my ‘best interests’. Does being confined to a cell become less onerous when the jailers shower the captive with a largesse of platitudes: love, ecstasy, pleasure, and perhaps the most damning of all—freedom?

The appearance of Dravid and Medeb initial the denouement, the resolution, the new beginnings, the advance of an endgame and a process. A destination devoid of extremes and opposites, a plane from which one has ‘no escape’. A prison?

I have my own interpretation, and I could argue endlessly that this would never be a world of my choosing … but that’s what makes this epic so compelling: you are offered a vision of what might be based on a foundation claimed corrupt and all-too-human, yet still alive and viscerally engaging.

For me, the most interesting and captivating character is Jowendrhan: he is the bad boy, an impudent rascal, immature and needy, at once a victim and a perpetrator all wrapped up in a powerful package of sensuous need for dominance and control. If he were to grow into ‘unity’ and lose those defining character flaws, this reader would weep buckets.

The scene where he takes Keyla to his white cave and exacts his quotient of pleasure and pain in a glorious rush of eroticism and sensuous delights, is one that will leave the reader reeling at the implications of how a grand design can take shape and form in highly unanticipated ways. Actually, that bit was like reading a mini-epic, so fraught with intensity, hidden meanings and clashing subtexts that I read it twice, just for the sheer pleasure of that sensual journey. There have been many high points in this series, but this … this was far and away my favorite.

Not that I’m keeping score…

Poppet includes a list of all her works in this series, including suggestions for what to read, when. I managed to read out of sequence most of the time but had little trouble keeping up and tuning in to the overarching flow.

How you come to this epic will likely bear little relationship to how you leave it at the end; even the most casual reader will not emerge unaffected. If nothing else, how you experience that inner landscape of desire, lust and sensuality will be forever altered.

I’m tempted to give this 6 stars but because of that Greek chorus thing, a mere 5 stars will have to do.

Buy Link: KINDLE US

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SEITHE

(Book One: The Pravus Series)

BY

POPPET

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THE BLURB:

In a rage Phoebe stalks out on her past. Fate twists her into new arms when she enters the club Pravus, where the fallen congregate. She steps out of her life induced coma and indulges in SEITHE.

He’s intoxicating, enthralling, and dangerous. Is he a Vampyre, Demon, or Fallen angel? She’s about to find out, if he doesn’t kill her first.

This is a scorching journey to reawaken your senses. Phoebe’s light can only be found in the darkness of Seithe’s home, in his bedroom, in his arms. 

THE REVIEW:

I read Seithe when it was still in its infancy, a mere promise, a hint of what was to come. That hint became a flood of mind-bending stories of such emotional, sensual imagery that one needs to take a step back in order to comprehend the complex subtext in what can rightly be called ‘a body of work’.

Not many authors achieve that vaulted status… But I digress. About Seithe.

Yeah, about him. For no particular reason I decided to reread Seithe because I picked up the Pravus ‘boxed set’ and it seemed natural to begin at the beginning. I thought: a quick skim, some re-orientation, then off to delve more deeply into the follow-up stories.

Wow, was I ever wrong. From the get-go, Phoebe’s ‘voice’ ensnared me: old enough to know better, with an implied history of being the doormat, and with just enough chutzpah to take a path less traveled, one that leads down steps to a forbidden, inexplicable world. One where Seithe lurks, ready to sponsor this inquisitive soul and stand between her and the danger she draws because of what she is.

Phoebe is human, accidentally thrust into a supernatural world which unfolds excruciatingly slowly, her senses in violent overload as Seithe manipulates, controls and destroys layer-after-layer of good sense, reserve and sanity. All in the name of release, all in the name of freedom, all in the name of pleasure. All in the name of … love.

Throughout history there are acts of violence so heinous we rock back on our collective heels and scream for vengeance. And then there are the acts of violence that pummel with exotic sensation and exquisite pleasure, the addicting kind, the kind that rob the soul of free will because that pinpoint of ultimate grace is all you see, feel, hear, taste. The kind that is that monumental step past justification and validation.

The Vampyr Seithe, his twin Jowendrhan, the sister Ellindt: all lust and vie for Phoebe’s attention, making offers she can’t refuse, nor does she wish to, not after the indoctrination, the ungodly rush of promise fulfilled that makes Seithe simply the most dangerous, most egregious, most infuriating character in this lexicon of larger-than-life beings who hunger for something they may not deserve. And for a good long while, throughout this journey through mind and soul, the author plays with redemption and its consequences.

There are points where Phoebe must choose, and at times she chooses wisely—or so we are led to believe. There are truths and lies, revelations and secrets, all dangled at the apex of free will, the holy grail of excuses and justifications and perhaps the most easily manipulated tenet of all. Free will is the penultimate argument for moral authority, and the least justifiable when held up in the clear light of logic.

Phoebe is reminded at every turn of the power of words, of the power within her, of the grace she possesses and can use or abuse if only she comes into contact with, and acknowledges, her inner spirit.

And the power of words is what makes this author so extraordinary. As I read, immersed in the totality of that sensory overload, a piece of me said ‘yes’ at every point: yes he is an SOB but go with it, free yourself, take a chance, take that step, follow your heart. But turn away, even briefly, and that inner voice will shriek NO! don’t listen to him, he is the destroyer of souls, he will suck you dry and keep you as his plaything, he is using you, Phoebe… wake up, wake up.

In the end, victimization is rewarded, even in the face of all the facts, even when Phoebe can put words to what she experiences, the indoctrination is so complete, so savage, so vital to her new existence that you can only wish her well and breathe a sigh of relief: thank the gods, it’s not me.

I hate Seithe, I hate his misogynistic control-freak manipulation, his self-serving justifications, his passive-aggressive exploitations.

I loved Seithe, for the subtext and the extraordinary impact of words used like weapons: sharp-bladed, honed to such infinite clarity that they bludgeon and sooth and rip out raw chunks of the psyche.

But be warned: with Seithe, Poppet is just beginning. This is addicting stuff. And worth more than 5 stars.

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BASE SPIRITS

by

Ruth Barrett

The Blurb:

In 1605, Sir Walter Calverley’s murderous rampage leaves a family shattered. The killer suffers a torturous execution… but is it truly the end? A noble Yorkshire house stands forever tarnished by blood and possessed by anguished spirits.

Some crimes are so horrific, they reverberate through the centuries.

As an unhappy modern couple vacation in the guesthouse at Calverley Old Hall, playwright Clara, and her scholar husband, Scott, unwittingly awaken a dark history. Clara is trapped and forced back in time to bear witness to a family’s bloody saga. Overtaken by the malevolent echoes, Scott is pushed over the edge from possessive husband to wholly possessed…

‘Murder has took this chamber with full hands
And will ne’er out as long as the house stands.’
~A Yorkshire Tragedy, Act I, Sc. v

Inspired by a true-life drama in Shakespeare’s day, this is itself a play within a play: a supernatural thriller with a historical core.

Only one player can survive.

The Review:

Let me say from the outset: I adore ‘period pieces’, aka historicals—romance, semi-bios, fictionalized history… whatever. If it’s history, I’m on board.

Base Spirits is in that category of fictionalized history—a story based on true events—but it’s something more, much more. It’s a play in four acts. Act one sets the stage in York, England, in 1604 and a dramatic tease to the finale of a horrific event. Act two brings us to modern times: Clara and Scott have rented a guest house, a wing of a larger estate, while Scott attends a literary conference and Clara plans to write and contemplate the state of her psyche … and her marriage. Their friends, Emma and Martin, are dimly aware of the undercurrents—Emma in particular.  This first act established the dysfunctional relationship between Clara and Scott. Scott is controlling, obsessive and passive-aggressive abusive. Clara has self-esteem issues and a tendency toward substance abuse in response to her husband’s increasing demands to submit to his needs.

When finally alone to tackle her play, Clara must deal with nightmares that morph into apparitions and finally into a reality she cannot blame on her inebriated state … and thus Act three begins. Clara experiences the terrors of being trapped, inexplicable sensory overload, and the re-enactment of a bloodbath that she views voyeuristically at first … until Phillipa, her Dream Woman, absorbs her being … possession in reverse.

The re-enactment, the ‘witnessing’, of a man’s descent into madness and Phillipa’s attempts to shield her children from the cruel reality of her family’s dissolution into penury are exquisitely presented. The characters of ‘the Wife’, Phillipa, and her husband, Sir Walter Calverley, are skillfully drawn. The time, Elizabethan England, is splendidly portrayed with careful historical accuracy: the language, mode of dress, the social structure, the powerlessness of women, the hegemony of a legal system that spoke more to controlling assets than to justice.

We view through Phillipa’s eyes and heart the horrific path to destruction, the murders, and the absolution. It is relentless, the urge to turn away strong but the story is too compelling to allow us, at a convenient remove, to set aside the inexorable march toward an outcome we already know but simply cannot avoid. And at the end of this act, you might have an obsessive need to wash away the blood that surely coats your hands.

A long-winded way of saying … this is a page-turner.

Act four has Clara awakening in her own body, yet still trapped in a house that refuses to free her, either mentally or physically. We then join Scott, soon to enjoy his anticipated (and ‘well-deserved’) triumph at the conference, only to follow him into a brutal mindset where he blames Clara for his failure when the talk does not go as planned. He returns to the estate, and we, the readers, prepare to witness another round of co-dependence … but in true horror genre fashion, not this.

If you want to find out what happens, you simply have to read it yourself: no spoilers.

Here’s what you get with Base Spirits: authentic historical detail, a re-enactment of a true event, characters and situations you can sink your teeth into, bone-chilling horror and a finale that will have you gripping the arms of your chair (unless you have a Kindle in which case your thumbs will have trouble keeping up).

The historical notes and background information are also a must read.

Is Base Spirits horror, is it history? Is it a supernatural thriller? Is it all of the above?

For me it was just fabulous. Five stars.

Buy Here:

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BLACK TIGER

by

Greta van der Rol

The Blurb:

He haunts the jungle – and her dreams

When Dr. Sally Carter travels to India to regroup from a broken heart the last thing she wants is to fall in love. But Raja Asoka (Ash) Bhosle is entirely too attractive to ignore, even though she knows it can only end in tears. Hers.

Ash guards his forest and the precious creatures within it, protecting the rare tigers from mindless slaughter, and a secret that lives in legend. From the moment he sets eyes on the Australian doctor, he wants her, even over the objections of his mother and the unsuitability of her cultural heritage.

While Ash fights tiger poachers, Sally struggles against cultural prejudice. Can the Legend of the Black Tiger be the bond that brings them closer together, or will it be an impossible belief that rips them apart. The closer Sally comes to understanding what the legend means, the more frequent the nightmares become. Is she losing her sanity, or is there more to Sally than she herself knows? The answers lie buried in her past.

When the Black Tiger breaks free to stalk the night, only one thing will control the beast.

This book is dedicated to wild tigers and to the people fighting to prevent their extinction.

All profits from its sale will be donated to the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation

The Review:

Greta van der Rol is known for her action-packed SciFi adventures with a dollop of romance … and to-die-for male alpha lead characters. Well, this time she’s done a romance with a paranormal twist that snares your heart and your imagination right from the get-go.

Dr. Sally Carter has taken a position in India, working near a tiger preserve and providing medical care for the villagers in the area. And running full tilt from a broken heart. Raja Asoka (Ash) Bhosle is the man who hires her. Ash has devoted his life to fighting poaching and safeguarding secrets that have become the stuff of legends.

Tiger poaching is a nasty business and those who fight it risk much. Ash places his family’s resources and even his life on the line to stop the wanton slaughter of tigers. Sally, too, struggles to overcome prejudice and cultural differences … and her overwhelming attraction to a dangerous man.

Legend and reality collide, placing Sally’s sanity at risk when nightmares blend into her waking consciousness. What she discovers–about the legend, about her past, and about the man she loves–will change everything.

I’ll admit it, I fell head-over-heels. This is a page-turner, heart-stopper, whopper of a read. I give it 5 Stars. Enjoy.

Buy Links:

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Historical Two-fer You Don’t Want to Miss!

Warrior: Ride Hard

Warrior: Stand Tall

by

Erin O’Quinn

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THE BLURBS:

WARRIOR: RIDE HARD

Gristle—“tough and hard to swallow”—has rarely allowed anyone in his life to become close to him. One outstanding exception is Tristus, a man he saved ten years before from the urges of lonely soldiers. Tristus became his own lover for eleven months, and then he disappeared. Ten years later, the young pony trainer Wynn is smitten by Gristle’s looks and manner and follows him to his new home in Hibernia, where he becomes his lover. The stories of the three men interweave until at last they all three meet briefly in sacred Tara, home of the High King. Wynn is abducted by druids with sinister and lustful designs, and Tristus wants to follow the ministry of St. Patrick. Thus no sooner has Gristle found an old lover and a new one than they are all pulled apart by the one whom Gristle calls “the bitch goddess Fortuna.”

WARRIOR: STAND TALL

Sensuous Gristle, badass former Roman soldier, has finally found love in the person of young Wynn, a pony trainer nearly half his age. Each man has a secret. For Wynn, it is the chilling sexual assault that he has suffered by two evil druids. For Gristle, it is the dread that any love he admits to will be wrested away by cold Fortuna, goddess of fate. While the two men are trying to solve their inner turmoil, Gristle finds that his old friends in Wales are being threatened by invasion from ruthless Saxons. Even after they manage to handle the Saxon threat, new trouble waits on the sacred Hill of Tara, where the chief druids to the high king wait to strike again at the heart of Wynn. Into this maelstrom of danger walks Dub, a striking warrior-scholar whom Gristle recognizes as a potent rival for the attentions of his handsome lover.

THE REVIEW:

The early 5th century, in particular the ancient land of Eire and the life and times of St. Patrick, are unusual backdrops for an epic tale of wars, the dissolution of cultures, invasions by pick your favorite ‘barbarians’, the awakening of religious fervor and the first tentative steps of Christianity. Now add to this heady mix a carefully interwoven tale of love and lust, of loss and (emotional) rebirth, of decisions and choices and matters of the heart.

This series recalls the kind of epic treatment, of painstakingly researched, richly textured details that bring a period of history to life, much the way Colleen McCullough does with her Masters of Rome series.

The politics of the time are intricate and subtle, a balancing act where the concerns of men are oft overridden by the land itself and the mythos that governs how the sparse populace adapts and prospers under trying conditions.

Britannia falls to outlaws as the Romans withdraw, leaving pockets of Roman resistance, the last bastion against incursions by Saxon hordes. One of these soldiers (who today might go by the term ‘sensei’, a trainer in the martial arts) is ‘Gristle’, a man too tough to chew and spit out. He is the central figure about whom all circle, yet he is a solitary creature, superstitious and wary of the vagaries of fate and what he calls ‘the bitch goddess Fortuna’.

He is the classic ‘strong, silent’ type, keeping his feelings well-hidden so as to not tempt fate. Yet he is a man capable of great passion, something he discovers when he rescues the young Tristus from overly amorous soldiers. Their unique bond of sexually charged friendship last less than a year and then Gristle’s lover simply disappears, leaving the Roman soldier to rail against fate. It also sets him on a course that leads him to Caylith to whom he swears his troth (allegiance), following her and her band of immigrants to Hibernia and the promise of a new land, of hope and redemption under the aegis of the man known as Patrick.

Sorely wounded by Tristus’ disappearance, Gristle finds solace with a young trainer of wild ponies, Wynn, a Welsh lad who carries an awkward history with the mercurial, headstrong Caylith.  The past and present of each character is woven into a tapestry that enriches the narrative with a strong emotional content and invests the reader in the characters.

Book One: Warrior, Ride Hard is dominated by Caylith’s and Patrick’s vision for a new world order, translating that into reality by petitioning the High King of Tara for lands on which to establish a settlement. During their time at Tara, Gristle reunites with Tristus, his first true love. Before Wynn can resolve having witnessed this reunion he is whisked off by enemies and subjected to abuse that will have lasting impacts.

Book Two: Warrior, Stand Tall is solidly about the developing emotional attachment, then commitment, between two men who are damaged at very subtle levels. Their sexual encounters waver between tender and desperately demanding, with Wynn desiring increasing dominance over his lover and instructor, Gristle. It makes for a fascinating dynamic because both are ‘men’ through and through, not feminized in their feelings and their perspectives on the nature of love.

In both books, there are perils galore, action, adventure, and throughout a solid sense of historical accuracy, the stage set with exquisite detail that never overpowers the narrative or the characters.

I liked Warrior: Stand Tall better because (and I will whisper this so as not to annoy fans) in Book One, Caylith’s presence, her vision, her ‘leadership’ if you will, dominated and tended to overwhelm the core love story of Gristle, Tristus and Wynn.

If you like historical romance, M/M and action-adventure, you need look no further. For both, FIVE STARS and a tip of a short sword to Erin O’Quinn for making post-Roman Britannia and Eire the next hot new historical period.

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Warrior: Stand Tall

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3 HEADS & A TAIL

by

VICKIE JOHNSTONE

THE BLURB:

When nature lover Josie moves into a house share with two pals, dreamer Ben and model man David, she sees it as a short stop and doesn’t bank on an attraction developing with one of them. Meanwhile, Ben’s dog, Glen, has the hots for Miss Posh, the beautiful golden Lab in the park. When dog meets dog it’s puppy love, but a complication leads to Glen taking matters into his own paws. In this comedy of errors, romance and walkies, it’s anyone’s guess who is going to get the girl/dog and live happily ever after.

THE REVIEW:

I’m a sucker for cute dog stories, starring one of my favorite breeds—a Labrador Retriever. Throw in a love angle featuring two star-crossed canines, one being pimped out by his owner’s nefarious roomie, and the other a coddled lass with eyes only for a certain handsome dude.

Glen, a six year old yellow Lab, is clearly the hero of the piece, and the author has captured the stream of consciousness that surely would describe a canine’s view on life and doggy priorities (if only we were privy to that most delightful of circumstances), including rapid changes of opinion when certain opportunities present themselves. And also some pithy thoughts on how and why his owner is failing in the relationship sweepstakes.

Glen’s owner is Ben, a bit of a daydreamer, somewhat shy and slow on the uptake. Their new roomie, Josie, is just his type. Unfortunately for Ben, their other roommate is a stunning bit of manflesh: David, the musician and ladykiller extraordinaire. And lest we forget, there’s the really, really annoying BFF, Kay (mercy, she made my teeth hurt), who brings dating potential and a skewed perspective to just about everything in life.

Kay is deliciously raunchy and manages to pull Josie out of her comfort zone and into trouble. And in the best comedy of errors fashion, Josie gets carried away, ‘in the moment’, with David which convinces Ben she’s not interested, but of course he’s wrong and since he’s turned to stone when it comes to Josie, she decides being plain old roomies will have to do. David has one idea, Ben has another, Josie has her career, Kay wants to mix it up with some locals at a pub, and Glen gets his ‘walkies’. (Whew, hope you got all that.)

Things heat up when Glen gets pimped out to the love of his life, Mimi, but he’s not a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am kinda guy.

There’s the great escape, a potential complication with sweet Ayla capturing Ben’s attention, and a chase scene with the humans and the media on a nationwide hunt to recover the lovesick runaways.

But all’s well that ends well.

There are some very sweet moments, some laugh-out-loud situations and the redoubtable Glen to offer a unique perspective on the proceedings. It’s cute chicklit/romcom entwined with a doggy tail, um tale, that makes this irresistible.

3 Heads & a Tail is a fast read, it’s fun and it left me with a BIG smile. 5 stars for sheer entertainment value.

LINKS:

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AMAZON (PRINT)

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Strength of Will

by

Sessha Batto

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THE BLURB:

An enslaved scribe whose worst nightmare is becoming a pleasure slave, a warlord who can command men, but not his own desires. When they come together both of their expectations are overturned. Will their budding relationship threaten everything they have managed to accomplish?

Oshiro Ryuu has not had an easy life. Orphaned at a young age and sold into slavery by uncaring relatives, happiness was never an outcome he expected. Still, his life as a scribe and teacher was bearable.

Fujiwara Aoshi’s life was different from Ryuu’s in every conceivable way. Son of a soldier, he fought and killed while other boys were still learning to read and write. Now his goal is nearly in reach, uniting the warring kingdoms of Japan under one benevolent rule.

When the warlord purchases a scribe to help with his paperwork he never anticipates it will change his world forever. Thrown together by fate, attraction turns to love, uncovering a web of deception, intrigue and passion that threaten to tear Aoshi’s rule apart.

THE REVIEW:

Once again Sessha Batto manages to rip your heart out and hand it to you on a platter still beating, this time with a Shakesperean panache: tales within tales, and an ending wrought from the very depths of despair.

It begins at the beginning, a chance encounter in current times, curiosity about a monument and the question: would you like to hear more? And so begins the story…

Set in a time of war, in a culture different from our own, yet with characters we can relate to and situations as complex as the heart itself, the author takes us on an emotional whirlwind where two men as different as night and day embark on a journey of self-discovery and a joining of spirits.

Ryuu wasn’t born into slavery but that’s where he ended up and the small choices and fickle hand of fate placed him in a favored position as teacher and scribe. Purchased by Aoshi, a warlord with radical ideas and a plan to unite the warring kingdoms, Oshiro must reconcile his attraction to the man who offers friendship in place of servitude with the expectations of the commander’s troops who see him as nothing more than a pleasure slave.

The tension that builds around the two men’s growing emotional investment in each other is palpable and cut through with the jealousies, expectations and cultural imperatives of a warrior culture that values strength above weakness.

When Aoshi elevates Ryuu to a status that many in the warlord’s orbit find disquieting, if not outright unacceptable, their relationship becomes fuel for the forces acting behind the scenes to remove Aoshi from power and to derail the reforms he has worked so hard to instill.

Politics, social pressure, self-doubts, self-sacrifice, redemption and an all-consuming passion ignite the pages of Strength of Will. It is populated with colorful and unique characters who add scope and depth to the fabric of the story without overwhelming the central tragic tale unfolding on every page.

This is homoerotic literature with the elements of a tragedy and the heart-stopping vibe of a forbidden romance. It is explicit and compelling and sometimes violent. It may not be everyone’s cup-of-tea, but if it’s yours, then you will appreciate this reviewer giving it 5 stars.

BUY LINKS:

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All Hell Breaks Loose, The Hellcat Series – Book 2

by

Sharon Hannaford

The Blurb:

In the City, the Werewolves are restless.

Gabi is striving to get back to life as usual. Dealing with the aftermath of being kidnapped and tortured by Dantè, wrapping her head around being a Dhampir, and trying to figure out Julius’s unexpected attitude as he withdraws from her and becomes cool and distant. As if that isn’t enough to cope with, she receives the disturbing news that someone she cares about has been dragged unwillingly into her world after a brutal and calculated Werewolf attack.

As rogue Werewolves run rampant through the City, it becomes clear there will be no gentle reintroduction to Gabi’s duties as Hunter for the Societas Malus Venatori. Once again the Vampires join forces with the SMV to contain the threat, but the odds seem stacked against them and the casualties keep mounting. Tensions run high as the perpetrators manage to stay one step ahead of the Hunters and the senseless violence continues. No one suspects betrayal from within, until Gabi’s pets unmask a traitor. But the traitor isn’t the real threat and the war has only just begun.

This time their nemesis isn’t playing by any rules and no one is safe in this deadly, new game. Not even the Master Vampire of the City. As the undeniable chemistry between Gabi and Julius reignites, they realise the danger isn’t only to the human population of the City, but threatens to overwhelm them all. What they finally uncover brings Gabi into very real conflict with the SMV Council and leaves her questioning her life-long allegiances.

Not all monsters come in obvious monster packages and sometimes what you’re fighting to protect is what you should be fighting against.

Not everyone will walk away from this fight intact.

Strap in, hang on and grab a breath while you can. All hell is about to break loose!

The Review:

She’s baaack! Gabi Bradford, aka Angeli Morte, the scourge of miscreant supers, Hunter par excellence, is on the road to recovery after a way too up close and personal battle royal with Dante, a demon controlling vampire. That brouhaha left her grievously injured physically, with the road to recovery termed miraculous. But there’s healing and there’s healing. What Gabi faces is a crisis of confidence, and placing patches on those holes where Dante had succeeded in nearly breaking her becomes job one.

That job means going after newly turned lycanthropes terrorizing the city streets, assisted by her best friend, Kyle (also a Were). Given the danger of dealing with rogue Weres, Gabi counts herself lucky (maybe) that she’s a Dhampir, immune to the virus and sporting handy new abilities—and a few that had revealed her Vampiric origins.

Gabi has a day job that draws on her unusual ability to communicate with animals. A call from a Shapeshifter friend alerts her to a potential problem with Derek, a mutual acquaintance who happens to have a crush on Gabi. Rumor had it … he’d been infected. She investigates, and it’s far worse than she thought—Derek had inadvertently attacked his sister, Trish.

And from there the author takes us on a thrill ride of epic proportions. We get an in-depth look at the Were mythology, how packs operate, how the newly changed adapt to their terrifying circumstances and what happens when dominants face off. The city’s packs keep members on a tight leash, with retribution handed out for deliberately turning hapless citizens.

But someone, or something, isn’t playing by the rules and he has a rogue militia-style pack doing his bidding, including coming to conscript newly changed Derek. Fortunately Gabi was there, and she didn’t approve. Fast forward to Julius’ estate where Trish and Derek are ensconced to see to Trish’s difficult transformation, females not faring quite as well with the lycanthrope virus.

Julius, the hunkalicious Master Vampire, had withdrawn to grieve over his brother’s death and the betrayals to his clan, including a massive dose of guilt over what Dante had done to the woman he cherished (fortunately that doesn’t last long because my hormones needed a good workout). Julius, however, isn’t the only vampire worth salivating over. The author introduces us to quite a cast of characters in whom we immediately bond, each of them unique and compelling. That goes for the Were side of the equation … the secondary characters give depth, interest and a wonderful change of pace to the story arc. If I had to pick favorites? Hmm, might have to get back to you on that but Kyle is still top of my leader board.

The stakes are high, the action rousing, the bad guys worthy opponents, and there are enough twists and turns in this tightly woven plot to satisfy the most persnickety paranormal action junkie. Not everyone walks away from the battles and there are some injuries that have consequences we rarely think about when it comes to paranormal beings.

The denouement has Gabi coming to a potentially life-altering decision, and Julius hears a voice from the past that makes his blood run cold.

Oh yeah. Book 3 cannot get here soon enough.

As I mentioned in my review of A Cat’s Chance in Hell, book one was not written in standalone style. If the reader opts to dive into book 2 first, then the author has a nicely written prologue to get you oriented to the who, what and whys of this very unique ‘Verse.

Sometimes the sophomore set in a series fails to live up to the promise. Not so here. The author takes that ‘Verse and builds on it, keeping the mythology logically consistent and mercifully free of gimmicks, at the same time satisfying every bullet point for dark urban fantasy/paranormal genre expectations.

If you like action-adventure with a side of smoking hot romance, run, don’t walk … because when All Hell Breaks Loose you don’t want to miss the ride of your life.

Another well done and five stars.

Find it here: KINDLE US and KINDLE UK

Read the review of A Cat’s Chance in Hell 

A Cat’s Chance in Hell, The Hellcat Series – Book 1

by

Sharon Hannaford

I have to admit … it’s been a bit of a dry run lately, too many vamp books/series disappointing with vapid characters, poorly developed plots and enough clichés to make my teeth hurt.

And then YOWZER, hello Sharon Hannaford and my new favoritest heroine, the redoubtable Gabi Bradford, aka Angeli Morte. Gabi’s everything I look for in a dark urban fantasy heroine: tough, resilient, resplendant with unusual skills (even by the standards of her milieu), and a rousing homage to female Hunter badassery. Gabi’s good with a sword called Nex—well maybe ‘good’ doesn’t quite touch it—she’s got an appetite that’ll put a lumberjack to shame, a Were best bud, Kyle, who’s all about serve and protect, a grandfatherly mentor who’s head honcho on the Societas Malus Venatori, a nemesis on the SMV Council and a cast of supporting characters that gives her and her ‘Verse a fulsomeness that is immensely satisfying. And let’s not forget Razor … he’d be really hard to forget should you come face to face with a gargantuan kitty decked out with major ‘tude.

What I loved, loved, loved was that we got to know Gabi, and her working/living environment, the kind of dangers she faced as a Hunter, how she managed (or mismanaged) her downtime, how she fights … we get to live in her and Kyle’s heads, getting a delicious feel for the dark urban part of the story, fleshing it out, making it come alive with exquisite details. The initial fight scene, the precursor to what is brewing, is carefully choreographed, laying out Demon and Hunter strengths and weaknesses, giving us a taste, a foreshadowing of the action to come.

Ah, but where’s His Hotness, you ask. Patience, all in due time. Gabi gets one of those offers you can’t refuse that goes horribly awry, leaving her injured and the Master Vamp not at all pleased that his invite went sideways, putting him and his request at a disadvantage. His name is Julius and within a couple of paragraphs you’ll be bending your neck invitingly as you imagine his deep, sexy voice… Hmm, yes, well.

Julius needs to secure the Society’s assistance because the Big Bads in this set piece are Dante, a rogue (insane) Vamp and his evil Maleficus, Mariska, along with fast track access to the Demon Underworld as well as some surprising renegades. Julius is treading a thin line—history affords him some standing in cases where his hegemony over a city is at stake (no pun intended) but there’s enough leeway and quid pro quos that not everyone in the Vamp community is on board with keeping this particular threat at bay. As Julius says … some of the vamps choose to be Switzerland.

It takes a major Demon breakout to convince all parties that a unified front is the only solution. Once that ‘understanding’ occurs, the action takes off at a breakneck pace. I have to say, being an aficionado of ‘guy’ books rife with action-action-action, this author can hold her head high. She ranks right up there with the best of the best. And she doesn’t hold back. Bad things happen, very bad things, and not everyone walks away in one piece. A minor quibble/warning: this did not end as a standalone or with a denouement some readers like, but not having ‘closure’ doesn’t necessarily bother me. It didn’t in this case.

But no spoilers from me.

What did I like, other than most everything? Great characters, great action scenes (I mean *really* good stuff), a plot that made sense all the way through, a sensual romance that should leave you panting or running for ice cubes (but it’s really not all about that), and pretty good editing (couple of glitches here and there, nothing that interfered with the reading experience). And Razor and Slinky… And the promise of another book in what is simply a fab start to a dynamite new series.

A Cat’s Chance in Hell will give you everything you want from the dark urban fantasy, paranormal, romance reading experience. It pays attention to the Vamp and Were mythologies, keeping them logically consistent and believable throughout (no mean feat, that), it gives you real characters and situations you can sink your teeth into and a plot that rockets along, leaving you gasping and clicking/flipping the page as fast as you can. This one is ‘can’t-put-downable’. And that sound you hear is my toe tapping as I await the next in the series.

Well done, Sharon Hannaford. An unreserved Five Stars.

Author Bio:

I have been calling myself a writer since I was 8 yrs old. Born and raised in South Africa I have been living in New Zealand since 2008 with my husband and son. I have had many jobs over the years, but have finally been able to fulfill my life-long ambition of being an almost full-time writer of Urban Fantasy (housewife and mother are my other two job titles). I am an avid reader as well as compulsive writer, and gobble up around 100 titles a year, all in the fantasy, paranormal romance, urban fantasy genres. I am a passionate animal person, and my life is always filled with animals of all shapes and sizes. I have owned cats, dogs, mice, rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, horses, miniature horses, pigs, cows and sheep. I have worked on farms and petting zoos and have handled everything from porcupines and warthogs, to ferrets and hedgehogs. I have hand-raised kittens, lambs and an eagle owl. If I ever give up writing I think I’ll study animal behaviour or open my own menagerie.

Find A Cat’s Chance in Hell:    HERE

********************

THE PRESERVATION OF THE OLIVE BRANCH

by

Brendan Gisby

THE BLURB

Once upon a time Duncan Sinclair aspired to being an author and wrote a draft of a book called ‘The Olive Branch’ that he had shown to his friend Bill – whose advice and criticisms he had mostly ignored – and sent out to various publishers and publications who were in some cases encouraging but in all cases rejecting.

To be honest, Duncan cannot remember that much of the book except he knows it was written around a belief he held at the time, towards the end of the Cold War, that Britain could be invaded by a combined Russian-Chinese force.

Of course, that never actually happened, but he also remembers it as having had some spectacular scenes of destruction, some stirring love scenes reflecting the vigorous and somewhat over-heated imagination of his youth, some exciting battle scenes as the resistance to the invasion kicked in, and some brutally realistic scenes of interrogation and torture. Yes, there might still be something worth preserving in that book, he thinks to himself.

But can ‘The Olive Branch’ be saved?

THE REVIEW

Have you ever been gobsmacked by a book?

Admittedly, as an author, I was intrigued by the premise: Duncan Sinclair wrote a book—the novel everyone has in them—that was criticized (by a friend, we call them beta readers nowadays), rejected and set aside for more than thirty years. Life interfered. Now Duncan is retired, with time on his hands and what better way to fill those hours than to tidy-up what had obviously been a failure into something worth salvaging. Duncan will take those old typewritten and hand-written pages, get the words onto his laptop, edit a bit (he calls it ‘soft edit’) and hopefully at the end it will be a legacy of adequacy.

A legacy of adequacy…

The book is called ‘The Olive Branch’. The author-as-young-man is your traditional young turk, ideologically naïve, easily impressed and sufficiently committed to his beliefs to make a statement. And what better way than to write the novel that would, as he put it, ‘shatter the apathy’. To young Duncan, the Sino-Soviet threat was real, as real as the headlines.

It begins with a newspaper story, then translates to an ‘intelligence report’. It sets the premise, allocates credibility. Duncan has a plot, or nearly so.

The words on the page are like a screen-capture of Duncan as the young man. Sinclair-the-elder (and yes this will seem like whiplash, or at the very least like watching a tennis match … bear with me) filters those words, that memory, and presents it, softly edited, to a far more critical eye … his own.

The phrasing, juxtaposition of words, the ‘excesses’ of his prose annoy and embarrass Duncan-the-critic. The beginning of the novel fails the precepts of the craft as he now understands it. Duncan-the-younger was naïve, untutored, given to melodrama. His main character appears poorly drawn, inappropriate. But it didn’t seem a total loss and perhaps he was too hard on himself.

After all, he was young back then, so very young. And opinionated.

It’s a bit like your high school English lit class. Getting into the mind of the author, asking the questions your teacher deems important, then as time goes on you become fascinated with the answers, the insights. Insights that sometimes say more about you than about the author. Now do that one step removed, eavesdropping on a private conversation, sans grading and a report at the end. Become a voyeur in the mind of a man rediscovering not just who he was then but who his characters are, why they are important, why he should care … now.

This is frustrating. I want to lay it all out so that you can see the exquisite interweaving of layers of stories. On the surface it appears as two concurrent narratives: the younger Sinclair’s tale of invasion, heroism and sacrifice; the older Sinclair’s ‘director’s cut’, a voiceover that critiques, explains and anticipates.

But there is more, so very much more. This novel reminded me of the movie, The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman used nonlinear narration to look at the nature of memory. Author Brendan Gisby does something similar here. He gives us magic spectacles with which to view the unfolding of a life, a 3D image if you will, but close one eye and you have the narration-as-life-remembered, close the other and you have multiple paths of discovery.

Perception, awareness, anticipation, empathy … you feel all these when viewed through the eyes of the elder Sinclair. The author(s)—Gisby, Sinclair— set you up to travel that road. Comfortably and securely. But what you never see coming, not really, is the story itself and the impact it will have on you, on its own merits.

Make no mistake, the author pulls no punches. There are elements to ‘The Olive Branch’ that are beautiful, lyrical, sensual, brutal, gut-wrenching, terrifying and profoundly observant of the human condition. And as if that weren’t enough, author Brendan Gisby, with a masterful hand, ramps up the emotional impact with subtle cues you will barely notice, if at all.

All novels are covenants between the reader and the author. This one was an offer I couldn’t refuse. Because Gisby put me inside that novel, made me a part of the process, gave me an acute awareness of the multiple journeys: his own, the younger and older Sinclair, the protagonist, young Jeff Wheeler, and very worthy secondary characters and antagonists.

This is truly a work of literary fiction. It is a book you will come back to time and again, to savor the language, to seek out and find those passages that reveal the hooks, to look at the story with fresh perception, and to discover how a legacy of adequacy elevated a work to the level of extraordinary.

This novel made me think. It made me ask, “How did he do that?” And then it made me say, “Wow.”

For your Kindle, for your bookshelf: The Preservation of The Olive Branch deserves a permanent place in your library.

Five stars. And a bow of respect to Brendan Gisby.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brendan Gisby was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, halfway through the 20th century, and was brought up just along the road in South Queensferry (the Ferry) in the shadow of the Forth Bridge. Retiring from a business career in 2007, he has devoted himself to writing. Brendan has already published two novels, The Bookies Runner’ and ‘The Island of Whispers’, and has written many short stories, including ‘Ferry Tales’, a collection of stories about growing up in the Ferry during the 1950s and 1960s.

Find The Preservation of The Olive Branch here:

KINDLE US

AMAZON (print)

Mr. Gisby is also author of The Bookie’s Runner

**********

Mt. Can’t by Anne Arlington

Intelligent, perceptive … a compelling morality tale.

The heart has reasons that reason can’t forgive.

The Blurb:

Winter, 1995:
A volcano is growing.

Not on an island.
Not in the sea.
Not anywhere a volcano can grow.

The volcano is growing
in unrequited hope,
in the allure of failure,
and in dreams strung together
from the shards of loss.

The Review:

The author calls it a ‘serious trifle’ and so this is. Everything about this time and place exudes ‘quirky’: people caught up in the minutiae of imagined lives, populating mini-universes that could fit on the head of a pin, self-serving and selfish, your neighbor, my neighbor in Small Town, America.

The characters are those you know: the familiarity of the petty tyrant, the gentle soul hiding a façade of confusing emotions, the woman stunted into prophetic self-loathing, the mother turned automaton, the man grappling with responsibility without knowing its consequences. The setting is weakness set into rigidity, adherence to forms as substitutes and bolt holes from modernity, an intersect point where the play’s the thing but only when tended under the watchful eye of bureaucrats who hold the purse strings. And a love story that’s less about love than its willful denial because refusing to see is affirmation enough.

The tyrant, Bruton, orchestrates this strange tale. He is an internist and a re-enacter and a man convinced. About what is not important, it is that state of being that counts. The forester, Tom Von Aldo, channels the quid pro quos, the addenda of a politic more concerned with liability than liveability. ‘Effen’—short for Francis Noel Hume—is the reluctant hero, a man of simple decency, doing the necessaries when living and dying intersect. He engages with Gustie, about whom we first know little, except she is a mother with two teenage girls. Farrell Schmidt is the returnee, the escapee, whose eyes record events through a lens of regret mixed with contempt, convinced of the dutifulness of failure, the righteousness of defeat. There are others but these are the core, the enactors if you will, of a morality play in three parts.

Part I: the first thing we hear, sense, feel are the cracks that will rip asunder the tenuous ties the characters have with their realities, with each other. They are nominally physical, that explanation easily grasped, not so easily proven when logic and the senses unite to set the stage for what is to come. In 1776, when the ground shakes, the devil would surely be the culprit, a sophistication denied modern man who must come to terms with rationality and proofs and consequences with an end game far less elegant than that accorded simpler times. The explanation: there is a volcano, soon dubbed Mt. Can’t for its imponderable nature, the impossibility dictated by modern science overcome by irrefutable evidence. It has the feel of satire, this bit focusing on quirky, outrageous, sometimes annoying behaviors, that sense of ‘yeah, right’ spiked with admiring nods when recognition intersperses with discomfort.

Part II: that indefinable ‘middle’ where plans proceed apace, characters acting in apparent self-interest or reacting in bewilderment, as outside forces—scientists, the military—appear to dismantle not just the physical elements of their world but also the constructs of perception. For Effen and Farrell it is the bubble of attraction-repulsion, tenuous first steps only. We discover Tom and Gustie have an arrangement, Bruton’s rants reveal strange truths and then Tom’s gone missing with a wicked snowstorm approaching. Secrecy and lies, truths and half-truths, unite to confirm their, and our, worst suspicions: something is seriously amiss in the town of Fair Mantle and amidst the mob mentality shards of insight reveal potential political machinations and threats to a bottom line. Suddenly satire becomes serious, the characters less cartoonish, the threats and consequences as real as today’s headlines. There is a glimmer of hope, with Effen and Farrell our guideposts.

Part III: denouement comes with a price … a huge price. Death—ugly, random, fate and nature convening to snuff lives. They say how people deal with death defines what it means to be human. It also tests limits and then it removes those limits. Effen’s choices are impossible by anyone’s standard. The inevitable mixes with the random, characters change and grow, or prove us right—and that’s not always a good thing when synergy and destiny take charge. With uncommon dread and horror we soon understand what the author means by a ‘serious trifle’. It will, it should, shock and dismay.

This is jaw-droppingly good prose, with insightful characterizations and an uncommon grasp of the absurdity of lives lived in comfort zones that are little more than shells or cells of our own making.

Mt. Can’t is allegorical, metaphorical, philosophical and stunningly brilliant.

Unreservedly: 5 Stars.

Available on KINDLE

********************************

THE STORM GLASS

by

FRED LIMBERG

51R14uoDmBL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-65,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_

THE BLURB:

Like a thunderhead heedlessly bearing down—The Storm Glass builds in fearsome intensity, drawing the good, the truly evil, and the innocent together when a despicable crime rocks the small city of Hannibal. Wilson is powerless to stop the heart rending violence and brutality. Getting revenge is an entirely different matter.

Jim Wilson, a fiftyish ‘regular’ guy, is anything but. For a decade he has used an extraordinary antique ring, a trinket found in an antique store, to feed the kitty, as he likes to put it. Using the invisibility and ability to levitate that the ring magically allows…Wilson is, arguably, the world’s greatest sneak thief; a phantom with a sense of humor and a taste for dopers’ dollars.

On a well-deserved vacation, a cruise the length of the Mississippi on his boat, the Thief of Hearts, Jim and Iris encounter a sprightly retired admiral, Hans, and his charming wife, Millie, who are heading downstream to their home in Hannibal, Missouri.

None of them are aware of the convoluted plot to utterly destroy a local bank, a crime involving millions of dollars and cold blooded murder. None of them suspect the portly local banker of the depravity and homicide he’s capable of, aided by a hardened thief and killer just out of prison and lusting for the biggest score of his life.
No, Jim’s biggest worries are that Iris wants him to retire from the business and he fears that Hans, who is actually ex-CIA, may know more about the ring than Jim likes.

But after heart-rending tragedy befalls during the robbery, Jim and Hans mount their own investigation heedless of the threats by the inept local Sheriff and the confused FBI agent in charge of the case.

They don’t have to follow the rules and they aren’t trying to put the bad guys in jail…they’re after payback…call it justice or retribution—or the cold-blooded quest for revenge that it actually is.

They’re bringing the bad guys down and they’re not afraid to use Jim’s ring to make that happen.

THE REVIEW:

After an exceptionally promising start, and with a willingness to suspend disbelief over a ‘what if’ premise, I settled in, expecting another well-crafted tale of suspense similar to Ferris’ Bluff. Close, but not quite.

The absolute best part of the story took on travelogue qualities: the descriptions of negotiating the locks, the dangers of pleasure craft travel on a river dominated by behemoths with right-of-way, snippets and glances at the passing landscape, homages to small town life still clinging to Mark Twain sensibilities. The authenticity, the sheer power of the river, was first and foremost the most compelling aspect of the story. I really, really wished it had remained the primary focus. Alas, it was not to be. Unfortunately, The Storm Glass hit that unenviable fizzled middle where not much happened, the characters and situations seemed contrived, and the dialog/patois assumed irritating proportions.

One could nit-pick that a magic ring with the ability to suspend gravity and render the wearer invisible might be stretching things—and leaving oodles of nerdy questions about how that works but the ring’s not really a central focus. It’s an enabler: it provides conflict between the MC, Jim Wilson, and his SO, Iris; it gives Wilson the edge he needs to take on drug dealers with a Robin Hoodish fervor; it provides the MC and the reader with a bird’s eye view to the heinous crime taking place; and it has an interesting, if not entirely believable, provenance.

Be that as it may, my primary hesitation in embracing this tale rested in an unwillingness to accept Hans as a viable, shared MC. Supposedly retired from active duty, and still called ‘Admiral’, Hans is extraordinarily spry for being 80 years old, has a weapons locker anyone with a hard-on for ordnance would love, and a direct line to … the Prez? Hmm, yes well. Add to that a less than realistic portrayal of grief and questionable motivations (and physical characteristics)…

The other issue I had was with the Jim Wilson character. From the outset he’s shown as a take charge, action-figure who brooks no trespass on his boat yet devolves into a man more interested in placating Iris and tippy-toeing around the bad guys when the crime actually goes down. He assumes a place-holder, narrator role while the plot moves on.

There are several contrivances: Jim’s two sons and the Admiral’s ability to do what five years of PIs could not, an annoying sidekick mercifully in the background for much of the story (here’s where the patois really grated), archetypical bad guys (and far too many to realistically keep track of them all), an enigmatic smile made much of but with no follow through.

The Storm Glass is a tale told in two (alternating) parts: the story of a man coming to terms with the future while still clinging, by necessity and by choice, to his past … and a bank heist (with the run-up ala Ocean’s 11 but without the humor) engineered by a pervert and a gaggle of miscreants running the gamut of really clever to too-dumb-to-live.

Now, it might seem, given all the criticism, that I didn’t enjoy the story. The truth is, I rather liked it despite all its flaws, especially the first part, the bit on the Big Muddy. If you ignore the contrivances and plot holes, it’s still an engrossing story with a heinous villain and enough suspense and twisty turns to keep you clicking through the pages.

The author has an engaging writing style, there were few if any typos (hooray!) and just because he didn’t hit on all cylinders for *this* novel, doesn’t mean I won’t go prowling for more of his work. Let’s give it 3.5 stars (bumped to 4 because it’s an average+ read).

BUY LINK:

KINDLE US

 

********************

 

NEVADA HIGHLANDER

by

ERIN O’QUINN

Nevada-Highlander-2500

THE BLURB:

For some men, love comes hard. But deceit comes even harder.

A Scottish castle laird decides to attend a big game hunt in the mountains of Eastern Nevada. His covert, and reluctant, babysitter is a governor-appointed state trooper.

The exuberant Rory Drummond needs no protector. He is a trained hunter, in addition to having several other entertaining skills. The state trooper Alex Dominguez is reserved, shrouding his past—even from himself—out of a need to seal off old memories.

Inevitably, the men find each other irresistible, and soon certain sparks begin to affect both of them. As the attraction between them grows, so does their sense of commitment to each other. Only one thing stands in the way of a mature relationship … Alex’s fear of telling Rory his secret assignment. The tension between his sense of duty and his newfound passion is a factor which threatens to tear them apart once the truth is known.

And the facts must eventually come out.

What will happen when the hunter finds he’s being spied on, thousands of miles from home? And what will the trooper do when his cover is, ah, blown?

THE REVIEW:

Larger than life characters, a harsh and unforgiving landscape, volatile emotions and an attraction that can’t be denied? Welcome to Eastern Nevada and the invasion by one lusty Scotsman intent on an adventure: Rory Drummond of Clan Drummond, the laird of the castle by heritage. It’s a responsibility the big man has not exactly embraced. Rory signs up for a big game hunt with Long Trails, what he’s hunting for might not be readily apparent, even to Laird Drummond.
Assigned to watch over this relative of a prominent Parliamentarian is Alex Dominguès, a Nevada state trooper, native to the area where Long Trails operates … it’s one of several reasons for him being selected off a list of candidates. Alex has concerns about those reasons, but he’s a cop with an assignment, one he takes very seriously.
When Alex picks up Rory at the airport, the attraction is … explosive. And it doesn’t take long for the very lusty (okay, used that word already but boy howdy it fits Rory to a tee) Scot to convince the shy, reclusive cop that being ‘hunt buddies’ can come with far more interesting benefits than simply watching each other’s backs.
Nevada Highlander is a character study, an awakening for one man who has yet to come to grips with his memories and his own sensuality, and a maturation for another whose life has been episodic and reactive in the pursuit of pleasure and unrepentant self-gratification. In short, each man is poised to learn a life lesson and each man will need to come to terms with how they want and need to live their lives. That means decisions, not easy ones, and at each step we feel their pain and the inner conflicts that have led them to that place and time.
There’s adventure: the hunt, a bit of peril, the endless dance around avoiding true emotions, and tip-toeing at the edges of respectability and expectations. The sense of place is strong, described with love and respect. The characters are as different as their cultures, but their needs, their emotions run a parallel course.
Laugh, cry, sigh with pleasure. Nevada Highlander delivers a one-two punch to the heart. Read it, then turn around and read it again … I did.
Oh, and those interested in joining Team Rory? The line forms behind … me.
Five stars.

BUY LINKS:

KINDLE
OMNILIT:  (temp. half price)
SMASHWORDS

***************************************************

 

COLD

by

BRANDON SHIRE

41ZRrvHHzhL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-61,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_GENRE: homoerotic literature, contemporary gay fiction

BLURB:

Book 1: Prison is a brutal, heartless, and demeaning environment. No one knows this better than a man sentenced to life in prison for murder. Lem Porter is a high-profile prisoner who had a solid career ahead of him in a field he loved until he killed his brother. He has spent almost eighteen years behind bars and doesn’t have much hope left.

Anderson Passero had it all. He built a career, a name, and a relationship with a man he thought he loved. Only after he very publicly landed in prison did he realize how ignorant he’d been. He has eight months left on his sentence and he is eager to go home and put prison life behind him. He doesn’t know it yet, but he will always carry these eight months with him, and they may just help him to understand what love really means.

REVIEW:

It’s not often I get to use words like “extraordinary” when reviewing a book. In fact, it’s become the exception rather than the rule. Cold by Brandon Shire is one of those gems of storytelling that challenges us to set aside our perceptions and explore a landscape so far removed from our own experiences that it realigns what we think we know about an environment marked as hostile, brutal and dehumanizing.

The characters, Lem Porter and Anderson Passero, are polar opposites: in physical attributes, in how they view their world, in how they face their futures.

Anderson gets by on the expectation that he has eight months left on his term. All he needs to do is stay low, survive, and when he gets out he can resume where he left off. With luck he could be back on top. Maybe. He regrets dealing drugs, losing a lover, his club and his association with celebrities. He was high profile in his old life; in his mind, he still is. It takes a horrific experience to force him to come to terms with the man he was and the man he could be.

Lem was up for parole, but he made sure he blew that chance at the hearing. And that wasn’t the first time. He was in for murdering his brother. We never find out why, but we do know that sorry and regret don’t hold the same meaning for this man. The inmates fear him: his size, his demeanor, his very presence, yet he has influence in unusual places and manages to make things happen. He knows the system; he’s in it for life. He says he has nothing and no one on the outside. We suspect there’s more to it than that.

The prison environment is the other major character. Drawn with stark and brutal honesty, it becomes part of the heart and soul of who and what these men are. We learn the subtleties of a system where privacy is the ultimate privilege and a currency, bought and paid for through exchanges of information, power or services, a veritable marketplace trading in fear and helplessness.

The story arc is eight months of survival, of manipulation, concessions, gamesmanship and ultimately of trust. It traces the lives of two men drawn to each other because of and despite heinous circumstances. What they share changes Anderson at a fundamental level, slicing away the layers of self-indulgence and self-delusion until he finally stands on the threshold of understanding not just his emotional connection with Lem, but also how his own choices damned him to the path he had been on.

Lem … well, it’s not quite as easy to describe his journey. He keeps all but his feeling for Anderson close, as if it’s penance and justification and motivation all rolled into one. With Lem, it’s what is left unsaid that is the most profound and poignant part of him.

It would be easy to label this a simple tale of redemption, and it most certainly was, but there’s more at work here and I believe the resolution to unanswered questions will be forthcoming in Book 2.

Cold is, in its essence, a powerful character study. It’s not so much about having and holding onto hope, but about simply getting through the day. It’s about courage without the grandstand. It’s about growth in stagnation. It’s both complex and simple, beautiful and emotionally draining.

Cold is what homoerotic literature should be. An unreserved FIVE STARS.

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