Saturday, December 31, 2011

"Twelve Days"

Review - "Twelve Days" by Isabelle Rowan

Great follow up, and fine Christmas story

Very Highly Recommended

Featuring characters and situations from "A Note in the Margin", so there may be slight spoilers.  Be forewarned...

As Christmas approaches, John and David prepare for their first holiday together.  John still owns Margins, the bookstore in which he first met David, and as the two, along with Jamie, his employee and the son of the previous owner, prepare for Christmas, they all have wishes for Christmas.  Challenges.  Wants and needs.

John wants David to be happy and content.  Ever since the two have been together, and David moved in off the streets, it has been a challenge.  Because David still has his good days and his bad days.  Being homeless will do that to a man, and John is patient and loving with this delicate, fragile but tough man.

David is wary.  He remembers how the holidays used to be.  Back when he had a family, and he spent it with his son Adam.  Took him to see the lights, the storefronts, and bought and made him presents.  This year will be...different.  Even though they are slowly building the bridge back to each other, there is a lot of history to overcome.

And Jamie wants a man of his own.  Seeing the love between John and David makes his heart hungry.  And there is a cute young man at the shelter.  Could this be the one for him?

As Christmas Day approaches, David starts an advent calendar for the kids.  For Jamie.  For John.  And for himself.  But will the memories overwhelm him?  Will John and his relationship be enough to9 guide him through this minefield?  And will Jamie get his Christmas wish?

The beautifully crafted work of love reminds me why I love these characters so much.  And how truly gifted a writer is Isabelle Rowan.  Her gentle, understated treatment of these men is so sure, so pure.  And the way she understands David - explains him to us, shows us the broken parts and the healing and the parts that still press inside him with jagged edges and sharp points.   Just perfect.

I can't wait to see where she takes us next.  The relationship between John and David is so beautiful, Jamie so fun and lonely, and Adam...I want to see Adam and David reunited and whole.

If you haven't read "A Note in the Margin", go get it today.  Treat yourself.



"Zero at the Bone"

Review - "Zero at the Bone" by Jane Seville

Fantastic thriller and love story

Very Highly Recommended

Dr. Jack Francisco witnessed something he wishes he had not.  An assassination by members of a drug cartel.  But he is a brave man, and decides to testify.  Do the right thing.  So he goes into the witness protection program and is in hiding in Las Vegas.  Until he walks into his home one day and there sits his worst nightmare.

D is a hit man.  He only takes those jobs where the target is a bad man - child molesters, murderers, gangsters.  But someone has information on him.  Pictures of him making hits.  So they are forcing him to take out Jack. 

But that goes against everything D still believes in.  That which still keeps him...a man.  A person.  And even though he has been alone for ten years - TRULY alone, no touching, no contact - he just can't kill Jack for no good reason.  So he makes the decision to grab Jack and run.  Find out who is after him, and keep Jack safe.

And he finds out Jack is a good man.  Too good for the likes of him.  And the carefully constructed vault he has built to hold his secrets, his pains and his past is threatening to burst open.  And the things in there, they are not good.  Things about his family.  His kills.  His wants...

Can D keep Jack safe, and keep himself safe at the same time?  Will the feelings blossoming between D and Jack turn into love, or will the danger tear them apart?  And can they ever be together, for real?

This book is flat out amazing.  A thriller, a romance, a love story.  A character study of two men, one coming slowly back to life, and the other allowing himself to feel and explore.  Both feeling their way out of the dark into something new and fragile and so very very tender.

Jane Seville has created such a gentle love story here.  The slow exploration of the building relationship is so beautifully done.  The shyness of the physical explorations, the fumbling touches, the long waited first kiss.  The opening up of D as we learn more about his life before.  When he was Anson.  Before he became the killer D.  And then, then he opens up and SEES Jack.

"Jack stared at his lowered profile. 'Thanks for my life.'  D lifted his head and met Jack's eyes, and for the first time, Jack could see Anson looking back at him, the facade that he called D worn thin and threadbare.  'Thanks for mine.'"

Ah, so sweet.  Damn.

And then, when they are to be separated, and might never see each other again...

"'What would it have been like?' Jack whispered."


But what I loved best - this book did not stop when it could have.  No - Ms. Seville took us past the obvious.  Into the what's next.  And made the story so much more, so rich, so textured, so good.  This is an emotionally rich roller coaster of a ride.  And there aren't many out there better than this.

If you haven't already read it, get it today.


"Finding Zach"

Review - "Finding Zach" by Rowan Speedwell

Great story of redemption and rebirth

Highly Recommended

"Hate can make you strong; I know it did me."

Zach Tyler has been missing for five long years.  Kidnapped at 15, taken from his family and loved ones, he has endured...lived through pain, abuse, neglect, rape, hate.  Then a rescue attempt by US forces in Venezuela for kidnapped scientists turns up a young man, starved and beaten and abused, collared and on a leash.  The pet of a cruel and dangerous petty tyrant.  Zach.

"Evil people want to damage beauty - they don't understand it."

David has known Zach his entire life.  Four years older than Zach, he watched him grow from a little boy into a young man.  And when Zach kisses him, it triggers feelings and panic and fears in David.  So he and Zach's parents think it best if Zach has some time away.  And that is when he is kidnapped.  And David is frantic.  Blaming himself.  Guilty.  Grief ridden.  As he lives his life, unable to move past his feelings for Zach, he cannot find a man who moves him like Zach. 

And when Zach is found, David is ecstatic.  Until Zach refuses to see him.  For two long years, Zach tries to heal.  Physically, mentally, emotionally scarred, Zach is not the same and never will be.

"It's like he's being born, only it's taking months instead of hours."

When David moves back home, he knows he may run into Zach.  After all, his mother is the housekeeper for Zach's family, and the two families are tight, old friends.  But when he finally sees Zach, it is in a bar.  And Zach has changed.  He is a hard, angry man.  Can the two reconnect?  Be friends?  Lovers?  Or will what Zach suffered and the secrets he holds from his capture come between the men and keep them apart?

This is a rare and wonderful book.  Rowan Speedwell has taken a young man and subjected him to horrors which would break most men, then brought him back.  Shows him to us with all his pains and fears and anger and doubts.  And then shows us another young man who has felt the pain of guilt, separation and fear.  Then she reunited the two and makes us watch all the love and pain and hate and grief play out. 

This is an amazing study of how love can survive against all odds.  How the human spirit is so much stronger than hate.  How hope can bloom in desert soil.  And how life and love and living go on and thrive in the face of secrets and fear.

Such a fantastic book.  Savor it.



Review - "Protection" by S.A. Reid

A heartbreaking revelation 

Very Highly Recommended

Gabriel MacKenna is a hard man.  Sentenced to life in prison for a double murder, he is determined to be nobody's boy.  He will do whatever is necessary to protect himself; no man will force him into a homosexual act, and he will yield to no one.  In 1931 England, prison is a hard reality.  And Gabriel will be the hardest man there.

Dr. Joseph Cooper enters Wentworth Prison sentenced for a mistake.  A God awful mistake.  Killing a woman and her unborn baby.  He walks into prison with his head held high, innocent, not knowing the danger all around him.  Young, handsome, and very vulnerable.

When Gabriel sees Joey, he decides he needs punishing, and as head man at Wentworth, he is just the man to do it.  So when Joey enters the showers, Gabriel follows and takes what he wants, leaving Joey a broken, bloody, raped mess.  And then adds insult to injury and becomes his cellmate.

Joey would rather die than face rape again.  And tells Gabriel so.  And then tells him his story.  What got him in prison, what destroyed his life.  All  men in prison are innocent - it is the oldest story in the book.  But something...touches Gabriel and changes his mind.  He desires Joey, like he has never desired anything in his life.  But he will not take it.  He will protect him, but not force.  Not again.

As time passes, the two forge a truce of sorts.  But will Joey ever forgive Gabriel?  hat drove Gabriel to commit the murders that have him in prison?  And what kind of future is there for these two men in the life in which they are trapped? 

This book, this stunning, harsh, broken heart of a book, took me to places I did not want to go, showed me things I did not want to see, but then.  Then it taunted me with hope and love and redemption and pain and heartbreak.  And damn it, I wanted it.  I wanted these two men to have a future, against the odds and the circumstances and the realities.  I wanted like they wanted.

"But because in this place where he'd lost so much, when nearly every comfort had been taken away, he alone had the power to forgive Gabriel.  And with the realization of his power came the sweet temptation to use it."

Power where least expected.  Love and romance where most dangerous.  Where can it all lead?  Somewhere bittersweet, somewhere fine, somewhere terrible.

Read this with your heart.  S.A. Reid has made me open mine, grabbing me and never letting go.


"Pit Road (Running Under Caution #1)"

Review - "Pit Road (Running Under Caution #1)" by Anah Crow and Dianne Fox

Unexpectedly deep and sensitive story of love and healing

Highly Recommended

Denny is a sprint car driver.  Quick to race, quick to temper.  He has risen above his trailer trash roots, and is gaining a foothold in the racing world.  He is a private man, quietly afraid to let anyone know the real him.

Sully is a great mechanic - can fix anything, make anything better.  Tall and masculine, a real man's man, he's part of Denny's pit crew.  Takes care of Denny's car, his engine.  And his heart.

When a wreck causes more damage than anyone knows, Denny is faced with a harsh new reality.  Will the damage done to Denny leave him able to race again?  Or will the damage to his relationship with Sully be damaged the worst?

This book was SUCH a great surprise.  I expected a book about two racing guys who hook up, have hot sex and move on with each other after a racing accident.  But this sensitive, insightful and very real book sat me back on my heels with its depth. 

Anah Crow and Dianne Fox have created two beautiful, flawed, simple and just...wonderful characters with Denny and Sully.  Denny is all thorns and tight sharp corners and shutters, so scared.  Scared of not being able to drive again.  Of losing his home.  Of losing Sully.

And Sully.  Such a strong and understanding man.  Sure of himself.  But at the core, so very vulnerable and loving.  The perfect partner for a man like Denny.  Someone who can take the fear and darkness and pain, respect and acknowledge it and help Denny carry the load. 

And together, they can face anything. 

"The shadow that was always over everything was old and threadbare, letting in some light."

This book is like that - a ray of sunshine, spreading light and warmth when least expected.  Ms. Crow and Ms. Fox have done good (as we Southerners say).


Saturday, December 24, 2011

"Mute" and "Road Work Ahead"

Review - "Mute" and "Road Work Ahead" by Raymond Luczak

Stunningly intimate poetry

Very Highly Recommended

I was approached last month by Raymond Luczak, a published author, poet and playwright, out of the blue.  Mr. Luczak had read some of my reviews, and wondered if I would be open to reading and perhaps reviewing two of his books of poetry.  After taking some time to go to his website (, look at some of his works and learning about this remarkable man, I made the decision to take a risk and accept his offer.

You see, Mr. Luczak is a deaf gay man.  I am sure he would tell you this makes no difference at all as to how he works and writes and communicates.  I agree, to a point.  But I grew up with a father who was, at best, hard of hearing and now at 88 is 90% deaf.  I know the struggles he has, the frustrations on both his and my parts to get the simplest of points across sometimes, and how much of communication is nuance of speech.  And yet his command of reading body language and lips makes it possible, and this old coot of a dad of mine understands so much more than I ever thought and gave him credit for.

So, yes, I was interested in seeing this man's work.  And a little scared, to be fully honest.  Because my younger brother is the poet in the family, and I find it fascinating, beautiful and intriguing - somewhat like I view the Italian language - lovely on the ear and something that makes me weak in the knees but which I only catch about every 50th word and understand.  So bear with this Bear as I venture onto new ground.


"Mute" is a series of poems on Mr. Luczak's experiences being deaf, being gay, being a man, and being a gay deaf man.  And it is powerful, eloquent and ever so touching.  The command of language here is stunning.  I read these poems to myself both silently and aloud, and was amazed that the two experiences matched up so snugly and completely.

Because here is a man who bares his weaknesses, his heart, and his hopes and fears.  Each poem stands alone, each in a different style, and each complete and haunting.  Because the frustration, the pain, the joy and the sorrows of connections made and lost, of promises kept and broken and dreams imagined and trampled roll off of the page and into my heart and soul.  I was so genuinely moved.

And the imagery - so simple and yet so profound. 

From "You Died Today" -

"Words fail when hands alone bleed".

From "International Deaf Leather 2002" -

"My eyes gulped down that whiskey
of signs I never had growing up.
I drank in your supple hands,
but your flask was much too slender.
I kept clicking my parched tongue for more."

From "Instructions to Hearing Persons Desiring A Deaf Man" -

"Let your hands be your new passport,
for he will stamp it with approval.

A deaf man is always a foreign country.
He remains forever a language to learn."

And from "How to Fall For A Deaf Man" -

"Do not be startled by how
much eye contact he requires.
Do not be afraid of his face."
"As you drive home alone, notice how rhythmic
telephone poles and corner signs are.
Wonder why no one ever thinks of making music
for eyes alone."

Sublime.  Incredible. 

"Road Work Ahead"

This is a newer work, and a totally different focus and journey for Mr. Luczak.  For this brilliant, balls-out and heart-wide-open series of poems are about relationships.  Friends and lovers, beginning and ending, joys and sorrows.  Mr. Luczak pulls no punches here, confronting both himself and others with incisive, brutal honesty.

From "Farewell to A.R. 1990"

"When I saw you, my entire body wanted to leap and go
  wherever you'd go. But did I want a lover?
I didn't know, but how your curious eyes could easily unpack
  the bundles of my soul...Never in my twenty-three
years had I felt so scared by anyone walking close to my heart."
"  Now someone else wants to unpack me as his lover;
no longer twenty-three, I've become cautious with my heart.
  You remain a closed suitcase.  It's time I go."

And my favorite - "There We Are" -

"There we are: you have your routines
and I have mine. We are well-oiled machines.

You think of the palate, the tongue,
as you read cookbooks, both old and  young.

I nurture lines dirtying the screen.
I polish my craft until its sheen is clean.

Comfortable in our own way, we sit
on either side of the wall. Nothing to it.

How time flies in the face of familiarity,
and how we learn to turn blind to whom we see."

That speaks so loudly and personally to me - how the slow coming together of two men in love can drift, the comfort and sameness strangling and dooming the relationship.  How simply put, how accurate, how deadly. 

Mr. Luczak absolutely nails all the banality, the joys, the fears, the comfort and the strangeness of two people interacting.

I recommend this tough and tender ode to love and loss to anyone.

Give this talented and wonderful poet a read.  I did, and want more.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

"Woke Up In A Strange Place"

Review - "Woke Up In A Strange Place" by Eric Arvin

Stunning and a revelation

VERY Highly Recommended

Joe wakes up in a field of barley.  Naked, alone and with no memory of anything except his name.  He knows he is dead, but of his life prior to this - nothing.  He's not scared, just curious.

As he begins looking around, he sees a dog in the distance, and is greeted by a man he doesn't know, whom he dubs The Stranger.  Strangely familiar, he senses a connection, but The Stranger tells him he will remember in time, everything in time.  And he will be waiting.  When The Stranger leaves, Joe senses a restlessness and begins to walk.  Starting his journey. And has his first memory - he is a little boy, walking with his mother and spies another little boy with his mother.  Louis.

He soon comes upon a huge, wonderful tree, with a house built among the branches.  The sound of music draws him in, and there he meets Bailey, who will be his Guide through this journey.  He is expected. 

And so begins Joe's journey to reclaim the memories of his life, and to discover truths, some familiar, some long buried and forgotten.  Some painful, some joyful.  Some a revelation, some obvious.

"It's interesting," Joe said, "how a heart can break just as easily in heaven as it can on earth."

The best writers keep their ideas simple, their narrative clean and uncomplicated, their characters honest and within themselves, and treat the reader with respect and integrity.  And Eric Arvin delivers. 

Take a man.  Have him relive the memories of the people and events most important in his life.  Have him come to peace with them.  So utterly simplistic, so cunningly devastating.  And so heartbreaking.  And, but oh Christ did this book break my heart.  This simple, joyous, stunning jewel of a book, just took it and splintered it and put it back together and make me whole. 

This book was quite simply a revelation.

The characters were amazing - from Joe to Bailey to 3P to Grandpa Joe to his Grandmother, Violet, Declan, Guy.  Again, simple.  The people that color and give texture to his life (our lives), laid bare in burst after burst of love and family and friendship and pain and joy and life.  All the "ah hah" minutes.  The misunderstandings, the losses, the hurts.  And he has a chance to forgive, heal, celebrate.

And the prose.  Mr. Arvin takes the words and makes hymns, love songs to my heart and soul.  Quiet, gentle truths.
"No, if there were a true hell, it lay at the bottom of the sea, and was populated by every regret one ever had."

"He felt a connection forming between them, like a bridge being built with invisible but sturdy stones."

"And they realized forgiveness was the greatest gift they could give themselves or anyone around them."

And then, and then we find out all that we want to know at the end.  How Joe died.  What happened to Lou.  Who Bailey is.  Who The Stranger is.  Answer after answer, brick after brick, tear after tear.  Till this beautiful, loving man - not special, just one of us - is whole again, complete with his soul mate and his family.

"All of it but a simple, longed-for embrace neither time nor death could contain."

Please, let us all have this.  Because if Mr. Arvin can dream it, can't it be? 

If you haven't read this book, do yourself a favor.  Buy it.  Read it.  Share it.


"Foundation of Love (Love #4)"

Review - "Foundation of Love (Love #4)" - by Scotty Cade and Z.B. Marshall

Fine story of a man discovering his attraction to a man

Highly Recommended

"Make a choice to live an authentic life."

Wes Stanhope left Charleston, his family and friends years before to escape his father's control.  The Colonel insisted Wes attend The Citadel and join the family business.  Instead, Wes went to medical school, became a pediatric oncologist and settled down in the Pacific Northwest to practice.  His practice and the demanding life of a doctor makes relationships difficult, and he never really connects with the women he dates.  No big loss, right?  Then his mother dies, and he is forced to return to Charleston for the funeral.  And to a new opportunity. 

It seems his father wants to leave a legacy for his mother's memory - a children's hospital to be funded with family money.  To be designed, built and overseen by Wes.  While the idea excites him, he is unsure he wants to be back home again, and under the eye of The Colonel.  But the more he considers it, the better it sounds, and as he explores it, he discovers he wants to honor his mother.  So he accepts the job and calls in his old friend and colleague Brad, who now lives in Alaska with his partner Mac, to ask advise and to consult.  Brad introduces him to Tyler Williams, up and coming architect, who agrees to consult on the project also.  So the four head to Charleston to check out the site.

"I deserve the same opportunity for happiness as anyone else."

During the week the four stay in Charleston, Wes reconnects with friends and family, particularly old friend Alicia and her father, The Colonel's best friend.  Alicia has always had a crush on Wes, and welcomes the opportunity to see if it is reciprocated.  But Wes finds himself oddly attracted to the openly gay Ty.  So attracted that he imagines the two of them together.  And when he discovers the attraction is mutual, he decides to see if Ty will date him.  But Ty won't be an experiment, or go back in the closet. For anyone.  As they explore their feelings, will Wes be able to find the strength to come out?  Or will he let this opportunity for happiness pass him by?

"How could I have spent half my life without this, without you?  How could I have not known?"

This is a gently written, solid and meaningful exploration of how one man can discover an attraction to another man later in life.  Wes was so clearly drawn - all of his strengths and flaws so slowly and lovingly uncovered, his awakening attraction so very sweet and realistic.  And Ty struck just the right notes.  Solid, strong yet sure of himself without arrogance.  The two of them make a very good pair, and I appreciated the bond that was allowed to grow between the two of them before they became physical.  A very nice foundation of support, attraction and friendship.

The supporting characters in this fourth chapter of Scotty Cade's "Love" were well written - seeing Mac and Brad from "Wings of Love" is always nice, and Mac's support as a man who was married before his relationship with Brad happened was a great touch.  Alicia was a difficult character to portray sympathetically, I am sure.  She could have easily been a shrill caricature, but her forgiveness and care came through.  The Charleston characters were so very true to the city.  A native Southerner and frequent traveler to the city, I can personally attest to the "Old South" feel and ways.

This is a fine, fine addition to Mr. Cade's collection, and I can see the touches Z.B. Marshall brought with her.  Good collaboration and good job.



Review - "Ink" by Isabelle Rowan

Fantastic take on the vampire legend

Very Highly Recommended

Dominic is old.  Tired.  Alone.  His existence tires him, makes him withdraw from the human contact he craves, but fears.  It has been so long since he has felt a lover's touch, care, love.  He sits across the street from Ink and watches the humans go in and out, smelling the blood and sweat.  And sees a good looking young man who stirs things in him that he hides from.

Michael is a tattoo artist at Ink, funny, smart, young, handsome.  When the attractive man comes in to the shop as it is ready to close and asks for a tattoo, he notices, is attracted, but has fear mingled with attraction.  Once the tattoo is finished, Dominic makes him forget.

But Michael doesn't.  Not completely.  He is drawn to the smooth skin, the sadness, the emptiness.  Even when he shouldn't be.  So he tracks Dominic, watches for him, and is drawn to him in spite of himself.  And when Dominic pushes him away, he cannot help but trace him again and again.

When Dominic decides to end his existence rather than harm Michael, Michael calls upon all of his caring and tracks him, finds him and restores him.  And makes Dominic admit he wants.  Needs.  But to take Michael to his bed, that is impossible.  He would kill the man. 

Will Michael push Dominic to open himself to feelings he has denied himself?  How can they be together?  And when Dominic's maker returns for his "son", will he be able to keep Michael safe, or will the new found love be crushed out?

This wonderful, dark and yet hopeful take on the vampire legend is just terrific.  Isabelle Rowan has crafted a memorable and inventive love story between two men drifting, not allowing themselves to connect with another fully, and yet who forge an instant and powerful connection.  The build is slow, the pacing masterful, and the characters fully developed, believable and whole.  Dominic is tragic, a man with a long history of denying himself love and comfort.  The slow awakening of his heart is so true and honest to his character.  And Michael is just wonderful - stubborn, young yet mature, the polar opposite and yet the perfect compliment to Dominic.

The supporting characters in this book are so good also.  Ben and Abby work with Michael at Ink, and are his best friends.  They figure hugely in the last half of the book and are so well imagined.  And Galen, Dominic's maker.  I think he was the most interesting character in the book.  So evil, it seems.  And yet, so fragile and human, broken and flawed, just fascinating. 

This is a strong strong book.  It grabbed me by the throat and, strangely, by the heart.  Funny, and I didn't mind either.

Grab it for a different experience.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas with Lisa Worrall

Review - Two Christmas Stories by Lisa Worrall

Hot and sexy Christmas Fun

Highly Recommended

"Too Much Christmas Spirit"

Adam has been away from the ranch visiting his family for his annual holiday visit to New York.  Every year, he leaves Vance, his partner and a country boy at heart, behind and they miss each other like crazy and spend the next week making it up to each other.

This year, when Adam comes home an hour early, he is treated to a Christmas surprise - Vance preparing a surprise homecoming surprise for him.  What ever will explain the mess in the kitchen?

Damn, Ms. Worrall packs a LOT of hot sexy cowboy action in a very short tale.  I got the relationship instantly, the attraction, the fun and the love the guys share.  And I will NEVER look at egg nog in quite the same way again.

Write a full length story for these two hot guys.  Maybe the story about how they met (hint hint).

"Mr. Popsalos"

Luke is young, has a promising career in advertising, a great family.  He is also a gay single dad.  And hasn't been on a date in...well, he has almost forgot how to spell the word.

Two weeks before Christmas, he meets Jamie while out for a drink with his co-workers.  Christmas is great, but also a hard time for him.  He misses his best friend, the mother of his son Reggie.  After one magical night together, he is sure Jamie will give him the same blow off every other man does when they find out he has a son.  So he  takes it upon himself not to give Jamie a chance to make an excuse.

Has he made a huge mistake?  Will he have a second chance with Jamie?  And will he ever meet the mysterious Mr. Popsalos, the new giant of a teacher's aide in Reggie's class?

What a nice, sexy and heartwarming short Christmas story this is!  Ms. Worrall has again created two very nice characters who I would like to see more of, in a full length story.  Luke is a warm, intelligent, giving man who deserves a man of his own to complete his family.  Jamie has lots of potential - a gay man who works with and likes children.  This is a great story to spend a good half hour or so with while drinking a nice cup of hot chocolate -  makes you warm and cozy in more than one way!

Great reads for your holiday season.  Get em both!


Monday, December 19, 2011


Review - "Worth" by Adrienne Wilder

Painful, horrific, achingly true and hopeful story

Highly Recommended

 When Liam was twelve, his mother died right in front of him.  He knew it was happening when she had the aneurysm, and knew life was about to change for him and his two younger brothers.  Because he knew Richard, his estranged stepfather, the biological father of his two brothers, would come back into their lives.  Abusive, drunken Richard always hated him, hated his repaired cleft palate.

And he was right.

Abused physically, sexually, mentally and emotionally, he made a deal with the devil at age 15.  Do what you want with me, sell me, use me, but keep your hands off my little brothers.  Richard agreed, and Liam could at least know he was doing what was right, even though he knew his mother would be so unhappy with him.  But he can stand anything as long as Chris and Kevin are alright.  Because Richard has already laid his hands on Kevin once, and the boy retreated into his own world, never really recovering from the vicious backhand, and although the doctors diagnose it as autism, Liam knows better.  And fears what could happen.  So he will stand between them and Richard until...well, just until.

And then Liam meets Jericho, one of the Lesser Bred, a cross breed between one of the Kin, the Dragons of the city of Atlanta, and a human.  See, they live in the Gray Zone, a buffer between the Den of the Queen of Atlanta and the city proper, a place populated by humans, Kin and the Lesser Bred.  Anything goes, but the Zone has its own peculiar moral code, and the boys are safe, for the most part.  But Jericho calls to something in Liam, awakening a sexual want that he thought long extinguished.  So he begins to see Jericho.

But when Richard reneges on the deal he has with Liam and Chris and Kevin are threatened, he knows he has to take action.  But how will he manage to keep his brothers safe, deal with the strange urges and changes he seems to be having and stay alive all at the same time?  And will Jericho help him, be the one for him to lean on, be more than sex?

This is a stunning, gritty and powerful tale of survival, pain and, oddly enough, hope.  Adrienne Wilder has created a worthy sequel to "To Adam With Love", the first book of her Gray Zone Chronicles, with this book.

Having worked with abused and neglected adolescents for the past ten years, the descriptions and events came as no great surprise to me.  I have sat with children abused, raped, beaten, sold into prostitution, and heard them describe their ordeals, and this rang so achingly true.  What stunned me and had me putting the book down to breathe was its emotional honesty and integrity - how the victim can set aside the abuse and try to protect others, how the devastation becomes the norm, the profane the commonplace.  In a world of inhumanity, the small things, like simple hugs, can bring you to tears.

There are terrifyingly disturbing things that happen in this world that Ms. Wilder has built, but what is amazing is, the Dragons make a beautiful kind of sense.  They are alien, morally different, complex and outside our world.  To be watched warily and kept at arms length.  But the truly evil things are at the hands of our fellow humans.  THAT is the horror story here.  And what a way to drive it home.

Painful.  Hard to read.  Be strong, this ride is worth the price of admission.


"To Adam With Love"

Review - "To Adam With Love" by Adrienne Wilder

Fantastic world of wonder, strange touching tale

Highly Recommended

When Adam was a child, his father attacked and almost killed him.  His mother moved him to the Gray Zone in Atlanta to keep him safe from any further attacks.  See, the Gray Zone is the area right outside the Den, the home of the Dragon Queen of the city, and is a buffer between the Kin and humankind.  Dragons, or wyrms, are a different species of being, but genetically close enough to humans to allow interbreeding.  And Adam is a Lesser Bred, one of the line of offspring between a human and a Kin, one of the pure blooded Dragons.  To Adam's racial purist father, that is enough reason to kill him.

Ean has been raised by one of the Kin, Batu, a Dominant Male, to belong, as a part of his household.  When he and Adam meet in the Gray Zone, they become friends.  Ean wants to take care of Adam, for him to belong.  He will always take care of Adam and keep him safe.  But Ean, for all of his wanting, is human.

But Adam's father catches up to his wife and son, and Adam disappears, leaving the city and Ean.  He returns to his home in the Gray Zone five years later, having testified and put his father behind bars, to begin his transformation from human to Lesser Bred.  And to find Ean again.  Because he loves him and wants so badly to belong to him.  But will Adam be truly safe, and can he reconnect with Ean, or has Ean moved on?  And will Ean become capable of loving Adam?

This story - this wildly imaginative, creative, intense and strangely touching tale - blew me away.  The quality and depth of the characters, the detailed world building, the raw emotions and the sure handed story telling were just...amazing. 

Adam and Ean are two wonderfully rich and textured characters, polar opposites and yet both drawn to each other improbably.  Adam, raised to be human, even with his certain Lesser Bred future, and Ean, fully human but brought up with the strange, unhuman moral code of the Kin.  And yet these two come together and teach the other - Adam to accept and embrace his future, and Ean to love and know his human roots.  And they form something between them so different and sweet and powerful.

Adrienne Wilder has brought the oh-so-familiar city (I am a native of Atlanta) to life, but layered it with this weird and wonderful, totally alien side that is so plausible, and so strange and alien, I am just in awe.  There is a danger to this world, and yet people find a way to make their lives, going about their tasks and living and loving and it just all works.  Ms. Wilder includes a glossary of terms in the beginning to assist new readers to this world with common threads from her stories (this is one of a series of tales about this world), which is helpful.  But I found myself so engrossed in the story, I didn't need it to take in the wonder and terror and wildness that is the Gray Zone.

And I have to comment on the ending - just killed me.  "Batu put one of his massive hands against his perfect chest: "Because it hurt in here when you went away"."  Holy Hell, Ms. Wilder, just perfection.

Read this and be prepared to be amazed.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

"Happiness for Beginners"

Review - "Happiness for Beginners" by Zahra Owens

Touching, tender story of love and longing

Highly Recommended

Jesse runs a travel agency in New York, newly separated from his business partner and lover.  In a past life, he was one half of a very popular nighttime tv show about gay partners, but that was ten years before, and he hasn't seen Kaye, his co-star and best friend since then.  Of course, Jesse quit the business after the show was cancelled after eight years on the air, not wanting to deal with his unrequited crush on his straight best friend.

And then right before Christmas, Kaye shows up at his door with a suitcase.  Seems his third wife and he are divorcing, his show is off the air, and he has nowhere to go and nobody to see.  And they are, or were, best friends. 

So Jesse lets him stay.  Visit with his sister and her kids.  Share Christmas with him and catch up.  And perhaps, share with him his secret - that he has been in love with him for years.  But how will Kaye react?  Will this destroy their friendship for good, or bring them closer together?

This sweet, touching, emotionally honest and oh so very effective story of unrequited love and secrets is just terrific.  From the very first page, Zahra Owens had me fully engaged and curious.  Was this going to be a gay for you story, or a I was secretly in love with you too, or a bittersweet no thanks tale?  And, to my surprise and relief, it was none of them and all of them and something so unexpected.

Because there was so much to Kaye that was hidden, unknown, shunned.  His past such a secret from Jesse, and his life, as it were, a facade.  And Jesse - so sweetly understanding and patient.  Love does that to a man.  But every man has his limitations, and his reactions strike every emotional note just so correctly.

Kaye's story is so unexpected, so raw and painful and brave, and I read on and hurt for him and celebrated and ached.  Ms. Owens is such a talented writer, and she brought out the big guns for this one.

Get this beautiful short work as a present for yourself this Christmas.  You won't regret it.


"After the Sunset"

Review - "After the Sunset" by Mary Calmes

Touching and worthy sequel to "Timing"

Highly Recommended

"Everybody wants to touch you all the time.  I'm the only one who can't when I want to be the only one that can." 

After confessing his attraction to Stefan Joss and winning the man's love, Rand Holloway has talked him into moving to his ranch and starting a new life.  But Stef has been playing it safe, holding back.  Because Stef is a hard man to pin down, and even harder to make stay.  But that is what he wants to do for Rand.  Make a home, be a family.

So when he takes a job at the local community college two years after saying he will stay, Rand is finally, finally setting down some roots.  Because, just maybe, this is the real thing, and Rand will want him as much as he wants Rand.

"I won't ever tell you to pack your things and go, Stef".

So he stays.  And meets more of Rand's crazy family.  When Rand's cousin shows up at his door, and another calls for his assistance on his dude ranch, it will be the first introduction to Rand's father's side of the family.  And the animosity that exists with his uncle.  When Rand leaves to help, Stef gets a call for Rand that changes everything - gives him a chance to help Rand and the ranch, stand up as his equal partner to Rand's men, and strut his stuff at a rodeo.

But there is more involved than just showing up, and Stef finds himself in over his head, in more ways than one.  Can he help Rand out, or make a mess of things worse than are?  Or maybe, can he bring peace to warring family members?

Mary Calmes brings back two of my favorite characters of the past few years, Stef and Rand, in this touching, funny, wonderfully tender and worthy sequel to "Timing".  Stef is the perfect man, loyal friend, sexy lover, intelligent businessman, but his feet of clay make him so much more human.  And Rand, all sexy and gruff and alpha male, but weak in the knees when Stef looks at him.  The two of them together - so sweet and hot and right.

The true test here is how the relationship between these two very different men holds up under the secrets that come to light.  And Stef's determination to bring the family together for Rand, no matter the cost to himself.  It is a joy to watch, under Ms. Calmes' firm hand, gentle touch and expert pacing, as Stef drives the action, first at the ranch, then the rodeo.  His commitment to be true to his relationship with Rand is so refreshing, so clear and just so...Stef.

The astonishing thing here is how very real these two have become.  They have grown since "Timing", and become settled in their skins.  It would be so easy for Stef to stay the cute and cold user, and Rand the silent and stuffy jerk, but theie time together has softened the edges and allowed them to blur a little into one another. 

And really, isn't that what we all want?  A partner to rest and lean on when we are weak, and to be there for them when they need to be the weak one?  And that is what makes Ms.Calmes' works so great - she gets that men need each other.  And we need to be reminded of it.

One of my favorite works of this year.  Hell, of any year!


"What Can Be"

Review - "What Can Be" by Mary Calmes

Beautiful story of homecoming

Highly Recommended

Eli left California thirteen years ago with his mother for a summer vacation before school started back.  His mother needed a break from the pressures of being a successful man's wife and mother, and Eli needed to be away from a crush gone wrong, and to watch out for his mother.  They never came back.

Until now. 

Present day, Eli, driving through his home town after hightailing it away from his lover, Craig Zhou, is spotted by his younger brother as he stops for gas.  "Funny the people you forgot till you remembered".  And remembered he is - he is the image of their mother.  He is there, after all, to tell the truth, so he follows his brother home to be reunited with his father and other brother.  Who are equally as stunned, as joyful and as blown away to see him again after all this time. 

All sorts of memories, good and bad, surge to the surface for Eli.  Or, as he is known now, Jake.  And when he finally, finally explains the story of what happened all those years ago to his family, will Eli be able to find peace of his own?  And will he be able to forgive himself and stop running?

This story is just flat out amazing.  Mary Calmes created, in such limited time and space, a beautifully realized, scared, troubled, hopeful and tragic young man.  His past constantly at his heels, he has been on the run, from himself, from others, from his family and from tragedy for years, and thankfully, it is time for it to end. 

This story is about how family can both hurt and redeem you, how love can damage and heal you, and how running from the past can bring you directly to your future.  And Ms. Calmes gets this just right - the characters, the pacing, the quiet pain and desperation and loyalty that is Eli and the calm steady love that is Craig.

"When love trumped passion, you knew you were with the right guy".

And when talent rules, you know you have the right author.

Stunning.  Really.


"The Saint of San Francisco"

Review - "The Saint of San Francisco" by Jerry Sacher

Flawed characters, good style

Recommended, With Qualifications

Jeremy Haniver has a love affair with San Francisco.  Since he was a child, he longed to be there, especially with the man of his dreams.  Unfortunately, his life so far hasn't turned out quite that way.  Living in Chicago, unhappy, he makes the decision to move to the Bay and start his life fresh.  Of course, the reality isn't quite what he thought there either, and late one foggy night, his unhappiness has him on the Golden Gate Bridge, ready to jump.  And he tries, only to fall down at the feet of a good looking man.

Mark Caparelli, former marine and now member of the SFPD, is taking a drive late that night himself, thinking about his life, his hopes and dreams, and his relationship with Chris, the new man in his life.  Or rather, how to end the new relationship - it just isn't working. 

And then Jeremy falls right at his feet.  And promptly vomits all over him and passes out.  Rather than take him to the hospital, where a lot of uncomfortable questions will be asked, Mark decides to take Jeremy home with him, much to Chris' ire and disdain.  As the two men become friends, then begin to date, Jeremy falls back into his brooding ways.

On Pier 39, he meets Tom, a young sailor in town in a weekend pass.  Shy, a virgin with men, Tom makes an awkward pass at Jeremy, who passes, but does tell Tom to meet him the following day and have coffee.  When Jeremy sees Tom next, he is dead, murdered in a cheap motel room, his death a case for Mark.  And when Tom's family demands the case be dropped, since their son could not possibly be one of THOSE people, Jeremy decides to investigate on his own.  After a couple of close calls, is the killer after Jeremy?  And will he live to solve the crime?

This book shows a lot of promise - the premise is good, the locale familiar, and the characters, for the most part, interesting.  Jerry Sacher has shown a nice hand for narrative, pacing and creating sharply drawn characters.  Unfortunately, Jeremy is a very unsympathetic young man, and I almost have to ask myself if the "saint" part was sarcastic.

Jeremy seems very unhappy and, self-admittedly, bored with men.  It is very difficult to create a sympathetic and engaging hero when he is hamstrung from the start.  A suicidal, shallow main character can work, but he has to grow into something more, and it doesn't seem Jeremy accomplishes that feat completely. His loyalty in trying to solve Tom's murder is by far his most endearing characteristic.  But for Jeremy to feel sorry for Chris and forgive him so quickly erodes his credibility as a character.

Mark, Chris and Tom are very interesting characters.  I would have liked to have seen Tom's story fleshed out a little more. 

This is a good, solid first effort by a writer who certainly has a unique style and tons of potential.  I hope he hones his characters more finely for his next work.  I recommend this book, and hope readers can look past Jeremy's flaws to see the talent and potential there.


"The Thirteenth Pillar"

Review - "The Thirteenth Pillar" by J.L. O'Faolain

Fantastic sequel to "The Thirteenth Child"

Highly Recommended

Tuulois MacColewyn, or Mack as he is knows to most humans, is a sidhe warrior.  Almost 400 years old.  Exiled to the mundane world by King Oberon, formerly one of Queen Titania's guard wolves, he has lived in New York since the 1920s, working first for a mob boss, then more recently as a consultant to the NYPD. 

Cole's work never seems to be done these days.  After the events of "The Thirteenth Child", he has a new place to live, a new job - as a member of Section Thirteen, a secret unit investigating crimes involving fey and other supernatural beings. and a new relationship.  With his boss, Inspector Joss Vallimun.  Over worked, underpaid, stressed out and loaded down with crimes that never seem to stop, Cole is tasked with working with his former friend, and lover, James Corhagen.

A series of child murders has everyone's nerves on edge, and the Section Thirteen team tirelessly working to stop whoever is responsible.  Then, a teacher for a local private school is murdered, and Cole is summoned to the scene of the crime at the behest of higher ups.  What at first looks like just another murder leads Cole to discover that his fellow fey are in great danger.  When Joss is injured in the line of duty, will Cole lose yet another human close to him? 

This is a terrific, action packed and worthy follow up to "The Thirteenth Child".  Cole is a fascinating, complex character, and pairing him with Joss is a great idea.  The chemistry between the two, and the developing relationship, adds a new dimension only hinted at in the last book.  For Cole is a touchingly tender man for all of his warrior ways, and to see him fall in love is...just so nice. 

As in the previous book, the fusion of action, suspense, fantasy and romance works so well.  The mythology just gets better and better, and the texture of the stories is amazingly vibrant.  I am so impressed with the humor and pathos that J.L. O'Faolain weaves so deftly into this story.  The horror of the child murders is juxtaposed against the over the top reality of who is committing the killings, and why.  So very John Woo - the sacred and the profane, the ugly and the beauty.

This is a fantastic series, and I am looking forward eagerly to the next installment.  Read "The Thirteenth Child" first, the savor this as a brilliant second course.  There are so many possibilities moving forward, and damn it, what IS the deal with James' wife???


"The Thirteenth Child"

Review - "The Thirteenth Child" by J.L. O'Faolain

Hugely entertaining fantasy

Very highly recommended

Tuulois MacColewyn, Cole for short, is one of the fey.  An sidhe, fairy warrior, one of the wolves of Queen Titania.  Banished from home by King Oberon, he now lives in New York, and survives by taking odd jobs from various fey in the city.  He is also an on-again off-again consultant with the NYPD on cases involving things that make regular detectives uncomfortable.  But that relationship has been difficult of late.  Strained.  Especially since he fell out with James Corhagen, his old contact, sometime friend and...whatever the hell else they were to each other.  Now James is married, a father, and the two haven't talked in over a year.

But that changes when Cole is Summoned, drawn out of the shower into a summoning circle by James.  It seems there have been a series of murders with very unusual circumstances, that require special handling and understanding and experience.  Men and women killed in a most grotesque manner, their hearts literally exploding out of their bodies and yes, exploding.  And worse yet, their infants missing.

Pulled right into the middle of a crime scene, Cole senses the magic involved.  After a promise of double the pay, Cole reluctantly agrees to investigate the crimes.  Working with James is strained, as the man is reluctant to acknowledge that Cole and he have a past.  But at least they have a third to cut some of the tension - Inspector Joss Vallimun.

As the investigation deepens, it appears the murders can be traced back to one of the sidhe.  Can Cole, James and Joss stop the murders, or will it be the end of an immortal?

This is a fantastic, brilliant, imaginative vision of the legend of the fey in present day New York.  J.L. O'Faolain has drawn together supernatural creatures, suspense, murder, humor and yes, unlikely romance, into an exciting, unexpectedly sensitive, sometimes wistful and heady romp of a tale.  I found myself swept up into this world, with its colorful undertones and dark dangerous characters.  This is not just a murder mystery, fantasy novel, romance, or urban thriller, but a fiery and fun mix of all these genres.

And it rocks.

Cole is a hugely complex character, not human, but after having intermingled with them for almost a century, he is not purely fey either.  His interactions and relationships are not traditional, and no single person has been able to fill the gap left in him by being exiled from home. 

"It doesn't do any good to try to hold onto something as it slid impossibly through your fingers".  Such is Cole's life - him never changing, those he loves growing old, away, dying.

I loved this book.  It is not your mama's romance, your boyfriend's thriller, or your little brother's/sister's fantasy.  It is SO much more.

Fun.  Touching in an odd way.  And oh, so good.


"Mercury in Retrograde"

Review - "Mercury in Retrograde"  by CJane Elliott

Soul mates in the making

Highly Recommended

 Alex is an actor, heading surely and inevitably towards 30, wanting nothing more than to have his soul mate by his side.  He has a successful career, money out the yang, houses, travel when he wants, and the promise by his astrologer that he will meet his soul mate within the next few months.  When old lover Jeff shows back up in his life, he is sure Jeff is The One.

So Alex, in between movies and in need of a vacation, rents a lodge in Oregon for a week for just him and a few of his closest friends.  A week in the woods, no fans, romance in the air, and nothing to do but bond with Jeff is the plan. 

Ben is on staff at the lodge.  He's the rafting guide, a free spirit who follows his inner voice to Oregon after finishing his degree.  He trusts the little voice, whatever it is, to show him what he needs.  He is 25, single and loves the outdoors.  This life is good for him.  For now.

The two men meet, and there is attraction and chemistry, but Alex is convinced Jeff is is soul mate, and Ben is too good a man to poach.  Even when Alex gets a rude awakening.  The friendship grows between the two, and when the week is over, Alex hopes they can still stay in touch when he returns to LA.

Life has a way of waylaying the best laid plans and intentions.  Will a chance encounter in LA reunite these two, or drive them even further apart?

This is a sweet and touching tale of a man who knows what he wants, but is sometimes his own worst enemy in getting it.  Alex is every one of us - wanting love, determined to have it but oh-so-blind about the truth in others' hearts.  The heart wants what the heart wants, and poor Alex thinks he wants Jeff.  Even though it has blown up in his face before, he just wants love to happen so badly he is willing to settle.  And when something really good shows up in his face, he is just so blind to it.

CJAne Elliott has shown how even the smartest of us can be dense.  How love can make a man blind and yes, dumb.  And how good intentions can be so misguided as to almost ruin a very good thing.  I alternated between wanting to knock Alex's head off and going, "Awwww".  His heart was in the right place, but man, could his head use some work!

And Ben - how could a man not fall in love with him.  Romantic, sexy, interesting.  Everything Alex wants.  Isn't it funny how misunderstandings, pride and sheer stubbornness can keep us from the very things we want?

And when Alex finally surrendered - so nice.  So sweet.  "He felt held - not literally with the way Ben's strong arms gripped him - but held, caressed, like his soul was being gently rocked, and it was amazing, too much almost, but perfect and terrifying and exhilarating and...right".  Sigh.

Very nice story.  Read it with your heart, and forgive foolish pride.


"Johnny V and the Razor"

Review - "Johnny V and the Razor" by Ryssa Edwards

Gangsters with romance

Highly Recommended

Johnny V is screwed.  The driver for a bootlegger, he knows his number might be up when the big, muscular guy slips in the backseat of the car instead of Donnelly.  And when he is ordered to drive, he starts planning how he might survive the night.

Sloan is an enforcer, the brawn to his brother Nick's brains.  He is good at eliminating threats, taking care of business and making all loose ends disappear.  Until he looks at Johnny V, and sees something in the handsome younger man that makes him want to take a chance.  Protect him.  Make him his.  "His mouth was wide, with smooth lips that could make a man think about things he shouldn't".  So he does.

Sloan takes Johnny V home with him.  And plans to keep him, till Nick catches wind of it.  Orders him to take care of it, or he will.  So Sloan has a choice to make.  Will this be the end of Johnny V?

This cool and slick slice of life short tale is well crafted, with characters smoothly drawn and brought boldly to the page with mad skill by Ryssa Edwards.  She brings a dark, dangerous era to life and populates it with men that are layered, damaged, tough and yet oddly hopeful and capable of love.  What starts as a gangster story becomes a life long romance.

Ms. Edwards shows a sure hand here, making Sloan into a multi faceted, interesting character - a brute with a heart, smart and sure of himself.  And Johnny V, a young survivor with a past that could have crushed him but which made him resilient and capable.  They make a wonderful pair.

This is one of Dreamspinners' Nap Sized Dreams, and is oh so enjoyable.


"Between Love and Honor"

Review - "Between Love and Honor" by E E Montgomery

Haunting, stunning, lyrical

Highly Recommended

David is a postal clerk in 1914 Australia.  He loves at home, goes to church, and is the obedient and proper young man of his times.  One day, he looks up and notices Carl.  Smaller, more bookish, a smile and manner to die for, the two share a quick smile and a light laugh as David posts his letters. 

As the days go by, the two strike up a quick friendship, and are soon sharing lunches on the riverbank.  Then they are sharing more, quick kisses, assignations in the woods, then nights together, stolen in silence as David moves into the same boarding house as Carl.

War breaks out, and threatens to come between the two men.  Politically.  Personally.  Perhaps permanently.  Will their love survive the war, the times, the pitfalls of being gay in an intolerant era?

I started this very short, haunting and lyrical stunner early in the evening, and I have to admit, it ruined me for the rest of the night.  The quiet gentle love these two young men shared, shy and tentative and sweet, but forbidden - "I looked at our shoes, surfaces barely kissing" - tore at me.  The passions of David and Carl, so sweetly hidden, in words barely acknowledged but the feelings and love so plain.  And the things hidden between them - so heartbreaking. 

And then the ending - "I had to hide behind anonymous initials".  Absolutely killed me.  Bittersweet and brutal.

E E Montgomery has written a short masterwork here.  It makes me thankful, but so beautifully sad.  Just wonderful.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

"Visible Friend"

Review - "Visible Friend" by KZ Snow


Very Highly Recommended

"The map of his life was inscribed on his skin."

Chris is a smart, sensitive and caring young man.  He is also a heroin addict.  After making the choice to break the partnership he has with drugs, he goes into rehab and comes out seven months later clean and ready to face life again.  He ha an apartment rented, a job with a landscaping, and support groups and counseling lined up.  It has been so long since he has been with a man, but he hopes that will happen soon too.

"Everything has to begin somewhere."

Denny is Chris' friend.  Companion.  Imaginary playmate.  But he has form and substance now.  He has been silently, and sometimes not so silently, watching out for Chris since he was a little boy.  But both are grown now, and Denny is a man.  Solid.  And remarkably, Denny has grown to love Chris.

"I'll never let you fall, Chris."

When Denny makes himself known to Chris, will he be able to believe what he can touch, feel, see?  And as Denny becomes independent, will Chris want him still? 

This book is a miracle.  An answered prayer.  KZ Snow has crafted something so lovely and fragile and perfect, I really am not sure I can do it any justice.  Every word of this book, every line, every page - just sings to me.  Chris is such a damaged soul, so beaten down, both by himself and his parents.  But he has such a strength about him.  And Denny - what a remarkable character.  From a child's imaginary playmate to fully realized character with depth and emotions and love.  Ms. Snow words just sing a love song off the page straight into my heart.

And then, and then the epilogue.  And I thrown, stunned, broken apart, shattered and made whole. 

"Please, he thought, give me another chance. Please."

I really can't say why this book echoes through me so strongly.  But it does.  And when a work has that power, it should be shared.  Read and wonder - "...a hope so poignant."


Saturday, December 10, 2011


Review - "Twisted" by Jake Mactire

Worthy and exciting sequel to "Two Sides of the Same Coin"

Highly Recommended

Jeff Donnelly inherited the Lucky Jeff Ranch from his dad when he died in a car accident.  Mike Guidry worked on the Lucky Jeff, and the two had an instant chemistry.  After a series of adventures, detailed in "Two Sides of the Same Coin", Jeff and Mike became partners in all senses of the word and look to expand the ranch's business by adding a dude ranch.

As the boys look to start up the Dude Ranch expansion, their ranch hand Smitty asks if his younger brother Jason can come work with them.  Gay and troubled, the young man wants to make a new start, and Smitty thinks Jeff and Mike may be good role models for him.  And it gets him out of town and safe; there is a serial killer, the West Coast Cutter, who is preying on young guys like Jason.  And when a young man he knows falls victim, there is even more reason for him to be on the ranch.

Then Mike's father Al shows up at their door.  Apparently a changed man, he wants to make amends for throwing Mike out when he was 16.  Jeff won't allow Mike to be hurt again, but maybe, just maybe, he is sincere.  And Mike can reconnect with his mother, brother and sister too. 

When Jeff and Mike find a body while out skiing, the West Coast Cutter is closer to home that anyone thinks.  Things quiet down, and with the dude ranch is a huge success, and the boys try out the gay rodeo, maybe things will be okay.

But when Mike is attacked while skiing with Jeff, will the boys be in more danger than they can handle this time?  Could the unthinkable be true - could Mike's dad be the killer and out to finish his son off this time?

This is a well written, exciting and satisfying sequel.  Jake Mactire has brought back all of our favorite characters from "Two Sides of the Same Coin", and added some new ones to carry the story even further.  We get to see Mike's family, and gain insight into his troubled background.  And he gets to have some closure on his painful past.  And we get to see the honest and real love these two cowboys have grow and become more real for Mike, especially.

Especially touching, for me, was the last part of the book, when Jeff recovers from his ordeal.  It is Mike's turn to be the strong partner and take care of his lover.  The light touch, real emotion and loving care that Mr. Mactire has for these two characters is so spot on, so real.  And this is what separates these books from so many others in the genre.  When, at the end of the book, you find you still actually care for the characters and want more, that is a job well done for any writer.

Once again Mr. Mactire has filled this book with detail, adding life and texture to everyday situations and making them important.  Giving them weight.  And love.

I liked this book a lot.  I hope you will too.


"Two Sides of the Same Coin"

Review - "Two Sides of the Same Coin" by Jake Mactire

Warm, detailed and sprawling story

Highly Recommended

Jeff Connelly has run into a  bit of a bad streak.  His father died in a car accident - hit by a drunk driver.  He has to leave his life in San Francisco to come back to the family ranch in Washington state to handle the funeral arrangements.  See how things stand on the ranch.  And Robert, his boyfriend, has no interest in helping.  In fact, he is trying to change Jeff, wanting him to leave his cowboying and rodeo ways behind and use his accounting degree.  Become "civilized".

Mike Guidry is a cast off, thrown out by an uncaring family when he was 16.  Dropped off at the bus station in Nebraska by his fundamentalist preacher dad with a ticket to San Francisco and $200, told to go live with other perverts and abominations.  He learned early not to trust anyone - keep other people at arm's length and they can't hurt you first.  He has worked his way up in the world, finding his way through working on ranches, and has been working on the Lucky Jeff Ranch.  For Jeff's dad.

When Jeff starts working the ranch and meets Mike, he is attracted.  But he is with Robert, and doesn't know if Mike is gay.  After deciding to stay on the ranch, breaking up with Robert, and getting closer to Mike, both of their walls start to come down.  And they wonder if maybe Jeff's dad set them up a little.

Then some cattle go missing from the ranch.  And then one of the ranch hands is murdered, shot in the back.  Jeff and Mike do some digging, and discover that the rustling is widespread, covering quite a few ranches spread out over several counties in the area. 

Between investigating the rustlings, running the ranch, starting a relationship with Mike and working on his art, Jeff is one busy man.  And when his and Mike's lives are put in danger, and he is in the line of fire, will they stay safe, or will his new found happiness be taken away?

Jake Mactire has written a sprawling, involved, detailed and very entertaining book here.  His characters are earthy, real, fun, and ultimately oh so human and fallible.  Jeff is a cocky guy, but truly a good man at heart - supported by his dad early on, he grew up strong and sure of himself.  Mike, on the other hand, grew up beaten down mentally and physically, and is so unsure of himself, but is, like Jeff, such a good man at his core.  Jeff is Mike, without the abuse, Mike, Jeff with the advantages.  As the title says, two sides of the same coin.

There is a huge level of detail in this book - I have read some reviews critical of this.  I find it true to the characters and story.  This book is about salt of the earth people, and the everyday is what is important.  From meals to work to loving and sex, these are the things that make their hearts sing and their days full.  To cowboys, ranchers, farmers, food and fun and a good man or woman fill the days and the nights with love.  Mr. Mactire honors them and us by showing us what matters to them.

These are the men and women I grew up with.  Honest, warm, loving, real.  Nothing special, but oh-so-solid and good.  People that hold you up when you need it and surprise you when you least expect it.  Kind of like this book.

I enjoyed sitting and visiting with these folks in this book, and having a cup of coffee while I shared their days and nights with them.  Jeff and Mike touched me, and I hope they will you too.

Give this book a chance - it may surprise you.


Friday, December 9, 2011

"The Winter Courtship Rituals of Fur-Bearing Critters"

Review - "The Winter Courtship Rituals of Fur-Bearing Critters" by Amy Lane

Simple, tender, complicated, funny

Highly Recommended

“Simple is good,” he said.  “I’ve lived through complicated.  Complicated hurts.  Simple sustains you.  Complicated makes you hungry for simple.”

Rance Crawford is a simple man that has a simple life.  His alpaca ranch and yarn spinning business is successful.  He has a couple of good friends.  Good employees.  And a buddy he visits every few months to take the edge off when he needs it.  He is also a crusty, blunt and hard-to-get-along-with man.

Ben McCutcheon moves into his dead great-aunt’s one acre farm next door to Rance.  A self proclaimed “Bug Man”, he cleans up computer code for game companies.  His life has been more complicated.  His heart broken.  So a move to the small town of Granby, Colorado may  just be the best thing for him.  One look at the wide open sky, open and honest all around him, and Ben is hooked. 

And then he meets Rance, with his sharp edges and blunt ways and his alpacas and his knitting and his magical, beautiful yarn factory.  And Rance looks at Ben and sees a younger guy who stirs things up in him about making a life together, things he hasn’t thought about before, things that make him want, and make him open and get him to thinking. 

With a simple knitted hat, Rance begins his courtship dance.  Stitch by stitch, slowly, surely, weaving Ben into his fabric and making Ben’s beautiful green eyes part of the color palate of his life and heart and wants and needs.  “Do you have any idea how high your heart can soar in a place like this?”  And with a man like this?

Amy Lane has taken the fabrics of these two men, the rough wooly whites and blacks and reds of Rance, and the softer beautiful golds and greens and  browns of Ben and spins them into a lovingly crafted, exquisitely made mating dance between two very different men with gentle souls.  I was right there with them – circling each other, shy signals given and received, and small tokens of affection and, dare it be, love offered. 

And the prose.  The beauty is in how very very simple and elegant Ms. Lane's thoughts and descriptions are.  She offers such truths in such a loving way.  Because,  like Rance, she doesn’t knit for just anyone.  "'Only folks I love,” (s)he said, trading naked heart for naked heart."  And she loves us.

I always walk away from a book by Amy Lane feeling cared for, loved, and treasured.  This gem of a story could not have come at a better time – treat yourself to a small gift this holiday season.  Or anytime.  A story from Amy Lane is a balm for the soul.

Tom  (reviewed for the PRG - Paranormal Romance Guild)

"Being Screwed"

Review - "Being Screwed" by GA Hauser

Fun addition to the Action! series


Mark Antonious Richfield is a hot model, actor, advertising executive and all around hot guy.  He is also turning...40.  And having a major freakout.  After all, Dangereux might be dropping him, he has a uberhot son in the wings, one gray hair (and you KNOW how those multiply) and a few wrinkles around those beautiful eyes.

And no amount of reassurance from Steven Jay Miller, his wonderful ex-LAPD lover, can make him feel any better about it.  Neither can his other two husbands, Mark and Adam.   Or Alexander, his son.  But maybe Mickey and Jeff (the two hot cops from "Top Men") might be able to take his mind off of things for a minute.

And being asked to make another appearance on Forever Young, the hot and steamy cable show, might pump up that confidence some.

But when Alexander is offered his own show, Getting Screwed, will that send Mark into a funk?  Will botox be the answer?  Will life as he knows it end at 40?  And will Alexander listen to his dad and those around him and plan for a long career, or will he follow his heart and come out?

And will ANY of these older guys take him up on his offer to get screwed?

GA Hauser has crafted a fun, sexy and relevant entry in the Action! series.  These are great characters she has created, and she weaves them in and out of her books, keeping things fresh and exciting while moving the guys forward.  Mark is a piece of work, in the best sense of the phrase.  He has issues that real gay men face - afraid of turning 40 and getting older, fear of losing his appeal, needing attention and love.  Looking at younger guys and seeing competition.  Although, damn, with Steven keeping him occupied, he really should loosen up!

This series is great.  I know when I pick up a book featuring these guys, I am going to get a great read with lots of hot sex, creative situations, and fun fun fun men. This one is a very satisfying meal of Mark sandwich with Steven dressing, with a side of Alexander slaw.

Buy it.  Enjoy it.  Have fun.  And laugh with Mark as he turns 40!


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Two Views of Love in the 60s

Well, I am a child of the 1960s, born in 1961, and I remember how very different the country was at that time.  The start of the Sexual Revolution, and I can still see all the vans and hitchhikers heading north to Woodstock as my family was on the way to Tampa to visit my Aunt on the bay.   All the times we made reel to reel tapes for my brother, who was in the Marines and stationed in Viet Nam.  And the slow move, here in the South, to Civil Rights (yes, even then).

So when I found two very different books about love in the 60s, I was intrigued.  And wonderfully surprised.

"My Big Brother" by Ike Rose

Ed is turning 18, just registered for the draft, and having his first legal beer with his dad and another potential new stepmother.  It's 1968, he's legal, a bodybuilder, and gay.  And looking forward more than anything to seeing his older stepbrother Johnny (well, they aren't really anymore, since Ed's father divorced Johnny's mother several years before).  Johnny protected him from bullies after their parents married, and he always had a little case of hero worship for him.  He was devastated when their parents divorced, and Johnny's mom relocated them to California.

Johnny is a hero - wounded in Viet Nam saving four congressmen and several of his buddies, he is leaving the service and making good on his promise to be there for Ed's 18th birthday.  He  hasn't seen the younger man in four years, and doesn't know he has been bodybuilding.

That's not the only thing they don't know about each other.

When the two men see each other after all these years, that little crush explodes in a big way.

Can these two guys have more in common than they think?  And can it be something real?

This fun, sexy and erotic story revisits a time when things were changing, and gay rights was just around the corner.  Ike Rose takes a somewhat taboo subject and makes it adult without being smutty, sexy without being dirty.  And most of all, very very sweet and loving.  Some crushes can develop into something more, and some loves can grow. 

"One More Soldier" by Marie Sexton

Will is a 28 year old mechanic, living in an apartment complex, and enjoying the occasional rushed coupling.  It's 1963 and gay isn't acceptable.  It's a hot summer, and he takes time to cool off at the complex pool.

Bran and his mother move into the complex, making a new start.  Bran meets Will at the pool, and makes an immediate new friend.  Even though he is just 11, Will is willing to take some time and make this young boy feel special.  Wanted.

As the years pass, the two become better friends.  Will helps Bran learn to swim, do his homework, makes him feel better about himself.

Then Bran drops out of school and moves away.  Only to come back as a confident and sexy 18 year old.

Can Will see Bran as anything other than the young kid he was when they first met?  And will something special and lasting happen, with the specter of Bran being drafted looming?

This story is so very special.  So lovingly told.  So hopeful.  So heartbreaking.

I cannot recommend this moving and inspiring story more highly.  And to tell any more about it would be to ruin it.

Buy it.  NOW.

In fact, give both of these stories a read.  They are vastly different treatments of the times, love and relationships, but both are worth taking a chance on.


"Maroon: Donal agus Jimmy"

Review - "Maroon: Donal agus Jimmy" by PD Singer

Finely crafted historical romance

Very Highly Recommended

Donal is a carpenter, working the shipyards in 1911 Belfast, creating wonderful fixtures for two gigantic liners being built by Harland and Wolff, shipbuilders.  Living near the yards, he rents a room with part of his wages, but takes the rest home for his family.  The times are hard, and he has siblings to think about, especially his sister who is looking to marry her beau.  Won't be an issue for him - he finds himself looking at the lads.

Jimmy is a boilermaker, working on the big steam engines and fittings.  Cheery and young, he is from a local family, living with an uncle who is preparing to marry, so he has to move out soon. 

Donal and Jimmy, along with 12,000 other workers on the docks, line up every week for their pay, and strike up a friendly chat while waiting on queue.  Donal is quietly drawn to this handsome man, but doesn't dare do anything except smile and have a  nice chat. 

Donal's sister has lost her job, so he needs to send the family a little more money every week.  Maybe they can meet up for a pint, be friends, maybe roommates.  That will solve the money problem, right?  And nothing else has to happen.  Jimmy isn't like that anyway, he guesses.  So they move in together.

When their friendship deepens, and becomes something more, will these two young men be safe?  The times are tough, they dare not be public, and the political climate in Ireland is turbulent - Home Rule is blowing in the wind, and Jimmy may be forced to act.  As they formulate a plan to immigrate and Jimmy scopes out the landscape, will his voyage aboard the maiden journey for one of the behemoth liners - the Titanic - tear them apart forever?

Donal and Jimmy are such creatures of their times.  Their wary and tentative romance so haltingly entered into, and the two of them so nervous about what to do with each other.  Their love is slow to start but so very very believable. 

This is a MUST READ.  I am normally not a fan of historical fiction of any genre, but this...this was a revelation!  This wonderfully rich and gentle novella was so sweetly innocent, these two young men so beautifully drawn, the relationship so nicely realized, and the detail just amazing.  The time Ms. Singer took to build this story and fill it in with so much love just astounds me. 

Buy this fantastic book.  Today.

So very highly recommended.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

"Quinn's Need"

Review - "Quinn's Need" by SJD Peterson

Worthy and terrific follow up

Highly Recommended

"How does someone get an elephant out of a room without shit breaking?" 

It has been a year since Lorcan made his choice to stay in Indiana with Jess and make a life.  Even though he and Quinn love each other, there has been too much hurt, and he just...can't...leave Jess.  So Quinn stays at the Whispering Pines Ranch and burns with anger and hurt.  And drinks.  And treats everyone else badly.

When Quinn finds The Push, a local D/s bar, he finally finds an outlet for his anger, using every sub who will bend for him.  And meets Ty, a young man who craves the punishment Quinn is only too happy to give him.  And give it to him Quinn does, taking what he needs without qualm.

When Lorcan and Jess decide to move back home to Pegasus and work Jess' family ranch, that means facing Quinn again.

"The only thing he knew for certain was that something would get broken."

The anger that each feels for the other, and the hurt, is still there.  After seeing each other, they know the love and passion is still there too.  But Lorcan is committed to Jess.  And after one kiss, Quinn knows his heart still belongs to Lorcan, and Lorcan's to him.  And, if he can use Ty's body, maybe he can make it all work.

"Only the extent of the damage was unknown."

When an accident happens, the delicate balance between all these men crumbles, and the tensions break.  Will things ever be the same for these four men, and will love have a chance?  Will all of the unspoken things will be faced, and all the elephants in the room be named?  And how much damage, and to whom, will they leave in their exit?

SJD Peterson had crafted a fine, emotional and devastating, yet oddly hopeful, followup to "Lorcan's Desire" with "Quinn's Need".  The three men - Quinn, Lorcan, and Jess - are all lovingly drawn, with faults and cracks and desires and virtues.  Each has wants and needs, and each are aware that what exists between Quinn and Lorcan is still unfinished business.  There is a crackling tension that carries over into this book, even a year later.  Their incompleteness is so true to their characters - Jess quietly complacent in his acceptance, Lorcan internalizing and doing his version of the right thing, and Quinn scowling and physically acting out his pain.

The new factor is Ty.  He is all need and want and submission.  At least on the surface.  And here, Ms. Peterson does what she does so well.  She thrown a lump of clay on the wheel, and then gently shapes and works the material under hands until she forms something complex and layered and distinct and perfect.  With Ty, we first see him as a receptacle for Quinn's pain and anger.  Then he slowly takes shape, and we see a hurt and needing young man, used and abandoned, slow to trust and falling in love.  Only to be crushed down one more time.

We see Quinn and Lorcan and Jess grow in their own ways, sometimes hurtfully and sometimes with joy, and we see how abandonment affects each of them, in their own ways.  And we get angry with each, and then forgive them.  Because, really, how can a man act against his own nature.

And what I really like here is Ms. Peterson has made these men real.  Not one of them is a hero.  They are just men, going through life looking for love, and hurting others in their search, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not.  But there are no punches pulled here.  Not quarter asked for, and none given.

And when the elephants in the room are named, they face them.  Name them.  And do their best to deal with them.

But not all of them.  And thank God, there will be a third book in this amazing series.

I can't wait.