Dreamspinner Press, Lou Sylvre

Yes (A Vasquez & James Novella) by Lou Sylvre

“Where there is great love, there are also miracles.” – Willa Sibert Cather

Loving Luki Vasquez has always been pretty easy for me. For that matter, loving Sonny Bly James has been a non-effort too, because of their strength, because of the way they’ve fought courageously to get where they are, because now, six years later, they need that strength and courage more than ever before when the threat to Luki’s life comes from something other than a bomb or the barrel of a gun.

This time it’s cancer that’s out to get him, and it’s coming at Luki with a vengeance, showing no mercy, giving no quarter, and taking its toll on everything and everyone Luki cherishes.

Yes is a heart-wrenching and sometimes very difficult story to read, especially if cancer has threatened or stolen someone you love. Lou Sylvre has woven a beautiful and effective story that illustrates perfectly how overwhelming and unrelenting this disease is not only in the way it attacks its victims but also in the way it does its best to destroy the lives and relationships of everyone involved.

This is a story of loving and fearing and dying and living. It’s a story of hope in the face of hopelessness, faith tested by helplessness, endurance diminished by the cruel nature of illness, courage that doesn’t mean being unafraid but means looking at the nightmare head on and living in spite of that fear. This is a story in which love is tested by the desire to let go and to give in to a disease that kills indiscriminately but, in the end, drawing upon the strength of that love and knowing the fight to live is worth the cost of waging that war.

Buy Yes HERE.

Dreamspinner Press, Jamie Samms

Stained Glass by Jamie Samms

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills.” – Ernest Hemingway

Jamie Samms’ Stained Glass is an emotionally turbulent story of survival, the story of Lawrence McKenna, a man who in the hands of the wrong Dom discovers that he is a sexual submissive, and must afterward cope with what that means to him and how his baser needs change the definition of who he is. Laurie is a man who uses alcohol as an emotional and physical Novocain, using it to deaden the pain in the aftermath of Nash Winter’s psychological flailing and subsequent suicide, numbing himself to the words and memories that continue to claw their way into his subconscious, words that hold the power to break an already fragmented soul.

This is a story of healing, but in doing so, Laurie must first confront those memories, the good, the bad, and the ugly of his relationship with Nash, and find the strength buried within the broken places before he will be able to admit that his submission is not a weakness, nor is the pleasure he finds in the sort of control he desires a defect, even if it means finding his truths with a substitute for the man he wants but cannot have.

Stained Glass is a story of friendships and family, not the kind where those closest to you prop you up and tell you what you want to hear, but the kind where those who love you the most sit you down and tell you the truth, even if that truth is painful to hear and accept.

This is the story of one friendship in particular, one that could be so much more if the timing and circumstances weren’t determined to undermine the men involved. Jeff and Laurie mean the world to each other, but that world seems resolved to bend them to the point of breaking, to the point where their love and their need for each other becomes like a weakness that neither are strong enough to bear until they can repair what’s most damaged in them both.

Jamie Samms has written a powerful and provocative story of two imperfect men, men who are shattered, whose lives are stained by misery, who are struggling to put the pieces of their lives back together so that with and for each other they can be whole and can each be whom the other needs in order to find peace.

Stained Glass is an angst heavy book that does nothing to sugarcoat the reality of the lives of its characters. It’s a raw and candid story of emotional abuse, alcoholism, suicide, and salvation, definitely not for the faint-hearted but most definitely a story I loved.

Buy Stained Glass HERE.

Dreamspinner Press, Sean Kennedy

Wings of Equity by Sean Kennedy

“The people choose to call me a hero. I don’t think what I do is heroic. It’s just doing what’s right for those who are worse off than you.” – Icarus

Sean Kennedy’s Wings of Equity is a cleverly steampunked tale filled with airships and flying trains, amazing machines and advanced technology, in a world where a dirigible captain turned bounty hunter, Ezra Kneebone, seeks to collect the price on the head of a Robin Hood-like vigilante dubbed Icarus, who soars through the skies on mechanical wings as he conspires to rob from the rich and give to the poor, rebelling against everything his wealthy and estranged father represents.

Ezra and his partner Jazille fly upon the Lilliput, dreaming of a day when they might craft a whole new fleet of airships, for which they need a lot of quick capital. Capturing the elusive Icarus and collecting the bounty seems to be the ideal way to make that happen, giving Ezra what he needs without becoming financially indebted to Jazz’s lover, the wealthy Lady Bart. It seems like the ideal plan, but as is usually the case with ideal plans, there’s one major complication—Ezra isn’t the only man looking to capture that prey and collect the reward, and the danger to himself, Jazz, and the Lilliput, not to mention to Ezra’s own conscience and personal integrity, quickly becomes a price that’s too high to pay. Especially after Ezra meets and loses his heart to the man he’s supposed to turn over to the government.

If you’re a fan of steampunk and all the imagination that goes into creating a world where technology conflicts with the times, Wings of Equity is a great read, filled with fun and humor and fast paced adventure, loads of danger and chaos, air battles and falling flying machines that only borrow their place in the sky before they surrender to earth’s gravity, in a sometimes spectacular fashion.

There were times I thought the romance between Ezra and Icarus, who will eventually come to trust Ezra with the power of his true identity, was overshadowed a bit by the world building, and even, to a certain extent, by the relationship between Jazz and her lady, Bart, but the thrills and danger came fast and frequently enough that, in the end, I didn’t miss the message of Ezra and Icarus’ relationship, which, for me, was that there are times when the heart and the conscience must overrule ambition and force you to see what’s truly imperative, not giving up on your ideals and dreams but adapting them to include the ideals and dreams of someone you love.

Buy Wings of Equity HERE.

Andrew Q. Gordon, Anyta Sunday, Dreamspinner Press

(Un)masked by Anyta Sunday and Andrew Q. Gordon

“Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.” – James Arthur Baldwin

Oscar Wilde once said, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” Well, Jayden Walker and Graham “Gristle” Thistle may not live in the literal gutter, but they’re barely one small step up from there, living in a place they’ve dubbed “the hovel”, dreaming of the day they’ll book the Tory Street Theater where they’ll direct and perform one of Jay’s plays. It’s a reach-for-the-stars dream that seems as if it might never be fulfilled, but that doesn’t keep Jay from trying, nor does it keep him from hiding his continued failures from Gristle to save his brother from the disappointment of knowing that dream might never become a reality.

(Un)masked is a story of mixed mythologies and a play-within-a-play that follows the same thematic elements as Anyta Sunday’s wonderful (In)visible, in which a centuries old curse obscures its bearer from being seen as he truly is. It’s a story that might just make you believe we each have a soul mate whom no one else can see for who he truly is because no one else can see that person with his whole heart.

This is the sentimental and dramatic story of Lethe Cross, the young man who is carrying the curse that masks his true identity and causes others to see him, for better or for worse, as the person they most want to see. It’s an affliction that’s been passed down from his many times great grandmother and a misery he’s determined will die with him. This is a story of love and loss and sacrifice, the story of a determination that propels a man to do what he must, in order to remain set on his convictions and to stay the course regardless of the costly forfeit he must make.

It was fortune that brought Jay and Lethe together; it was magic that made Jay see Lethe for who he really is. It was love that helped them endure and persevere to their happy ending, and it was faith that made their dreams come true.

(Un)masked is a heart-tugger of a romantic story that maybe didn’t resonate quite as deeply with me as (In)visible, in a book-to-book comparison, but (In)visible did set the bar fairly high, so even not quite meeting that standard still left room for a pretty enjoyable read in (Un)masked.

Buy (Un)masked HERE.

Aleksandr Voinov, Riptide Publishing, Small Gems

Small Gems – Skybound by Aleksandr Voinov

“You’re alive. If you want I can fly.” – William Goldman

In the midst of conflict and the horrors of war, there is quiet. There is a certain hush, a sense of peace and silence that can be found not in the arms of battle but in the arms of someone who holds the answers to the questions written in the longing for connection.

This is what Aleksandr Voinov has done in Skybound. He has created an image with words that is bleak but at the same time filled with hope among the fear of death. It is a picture painted of victory in the certainty of defeat, where a kiss can give you the wings to fly and surrendering doesn’t mean losing but gaining the promise of a future that might otherwise have been lost.

The year is 1945 and the Second World War is gasping its final breaths. It is a place and time when Felix and Baldur discover there is something more worth fighting and living for than their country’s directives. Skybound was an entirely new experience for me. I’ve read stories from the American side of the war, from the British, but this is the first time I’ve read a story set on the German side, which illustrated to me how easy it is to forget that in battle, regardless of what side a man is on, the casualties are still altogether human ones.

Skybound is an example of the perfect short story: spare because that was the mood and tone of the time in which it takes place, sedate yet filled with a sense of urgency that translates into a raw and undeniable longing to be somewhere, anywhere, as long as it’s on the winning side of life.

I’ve read a lot of Aleksandr Voinov’s work and I have to say that this story is at the top of my very tall heap of favorites.

Buy Skybound HERE.

Anthony Paull, Feelmagik Productions

Outtakes of a Walking Mistake by Anthony Paull

“So much of adolescence is an ill-defined dying, an intolerable waiting, a longing for another place and time, another condition.” – Theodore Roethke

Tyler Morris just wants to find someone who’s brave enough to hold his hand, someone who isn’t ashamed to be his boyfriend. He’s guarding his virtue, saving himself for just the right boy, but while he’s busy waiting, the sex deprived part of Tyler’s sixteen-year-old libido is working to convince the apparently straight Billy Greske that he needs a boyfriend, while at the same time lusting a little bit for Eric Bryant, the bad boy who refuses to be labeled.

Tyler’s mother ran away with the circus, his dad’s in complete denial of Tye’s sexuality, his best friend Jenny is bipolar and more than a little fragile, and he’s just landed a small but fortunate part in a school film that may be a bit too controversial for the governing powers. It’s a part, though, that could just convince Billy that kissing a boy will straight up rock his world.

Outtakes of a Walking Mistake is a book that reminded me what a miracle it is that any of us managed to survive high school, being brave enough to admit you’re the square peg when everyone wants you to fit into the round hole, and growing up, experiencing the pangs of first lust, realizing that what you want and what’s right for you can be two very different things, that you’re worth waiting for, worth fighting for, that your self-respect is worth far more than settling as anyone’s dirty little secret.

Sometimes life can feel as though it’s little more than a series of mistakes to learn from. Sometimes it takes a series of lies and exposed secrets to lead you to the truth that life is full of small cuts and gaping wounds that shape who we are, that some of those hurts will eventually heal better than others, and that sometimes what you’ve been led to believe is as flexible as what you’ve been told is the truth.

Tyler is a sweet and funny narrator of his play, but for as much humor as there is in his story, there’s also a lot of heart there to remind you that being in that in between stage, when you’re no longer a kid but aren’t quite an adult, can be a really difficult transition to navigate.

Anthony Paull skillfully directs the reader through each scene, stepping back and wisely leaving his characters large and in charge, emoting and finding their marks and motivations within the simple act of living.

Buy Outtakes of a Walking Mistake from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

L.B. Gregg, Musa Publishing

Simple Gifts (Cornwall Novellas, #2) by L.B. Gregg

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” – Seneca

When you have a history of screwing things up, beginnings and endings are pretty well par for the course. When you have a history of preferring to be alone, it makes the screwing up part a lot easier. At least, that’s the case for Jason Ferris and Robb Sharpe, who began in high school and ended when Robb joined the army and Jason never heard from him again.

Ten years, a Christmas party, a lawn ornament with homicidal tendencies, and one blizzard later, and Jason and Robb are back together again. Not together-together. More like stuck between a black out and a hard place at Jace’s apartment, because neither of them wants to be snowed in at chez Sharpe for the holidays, which you might not think would be so bad considering there’s still a lot going on between the two of them. But war is hell and sometimes life is too, and sometimes the fight to survive is the hardest fought battle of all, and just hoping to get by and to bring some order to the chaos of your existence is the best you can ask for until you finally find you can allow yourself to hope for more.

And sometimes it’s the simplest gifts that are the most priceless and hold the most promise for a new beginning. A thousand times over.

Simple Gifts is a spare little story but not so simple, really. Jason and Robb both carry their pasts like scars that are proof of the damage left behind but are also proof that they’ve survived. Once again, L.B. Gregg created two characters that I was completely involved with, but not only that, she also gave me a story that tugged at my heartstrings just a little bit, which just adds another layer to the many reasons I love her storytelling ways.

Buy Simple Gifts HERE.

L.B. Gregg, Musa Publishing

Dudleytown (Cornwall Novellas #1) by L.B. Gregg

“The only exercise some people get is jumping to conclusions.” – Unknown

Alex Strauss thinks he knows his college roommate, Shannon Murray, pretty well. For instance, he knows for a fact that Shannon’s straight. Poor Alex got some rather unfortunate visual evidence of that. Alex also knows that it’s not totally unheard of for straight guys to want to experiment a little. In fact, Alex has been on the receiving end of a few of those straight boy experiments himself and has always regretted it afterwards. He’s done playing guinea pig for the bi-flexible and the het-curious, is done being used and then treated like dirt, so even if Shannon was all about it, it wouldn’t happen. Probably. Maybe. All that conviction hasn’t stopped Alex from falling a little bit in love with Shannon, though. Poor guy.

In a dark and dangerous forest that feels a little bit like a trippy fall down the rabbit hole to Chunderland, where things don’t necessarily go bump in the night as much as they go splat on the windshield, Alex, Shannon, and Riley O’Leary take a shortcut to Dudleytown that ends up a bit of a bloody, vomitous mess and makes them a target for an escaped convict. Riley’s gone missing and it’s up to Alex and Shannon to find and rescue him. If, that is, Alex can quit jumping to conclusions long enough to read the signals Shannon’s sending him and just go along with the fact that everyone’s got his own way of being who he is.

This was a fast paced and fun story about two guys playing for the same team who had to learn to trust they were following the same playbook. I knew L.B. Gregg could make me laugh. Apparently, I now also know she can make me laugh and give me the heebie jeebies at the same time. Dudleytown reads like the best icky parts of a horror movie without all the “what an idiot, don’t go in there!” stuff that normally goes along with them. Maybe there’s a little bit of sex at the oddest moment, but at least no one gets murdered with his pants down around his ankles.

Buy Dudleytown HERE.

Benjamin Alire Saenz, Simon and Schuster

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

“I bet you could sometimes find all the mysteries of the universe in someone’s hand.” – Benjamin Alire Sáenz

I learned so much as I watched Ari and Dante discover the secrets of their small corner of the vast universe.

• I learned that feeling small and insignificant and inadequate doesn’t make it true.
• I learned it’s possible to run away from something and not even realize you’re running or understand exactly what it is you’re running from.
• I learned that feeling sorry for yourself is the quickest path to loneliness.
• I learned silence can be just as powerful and destructive as anger.
• I learned it’s possible to wear the scars of battle without ever going to war.
• I learned that the most crippling scars of war are the ones that live inside of you.
• I learned there’s a difference between feeling real and feeling valid.
• I learned that a face can be the light in an otherwise dark world.
• I learned that it’s possible to love someone more than you think you’re capable of ever bearing.
• I learned that we all are in a constant state of discovering who we are, no matter our age.
• I learned it’s possible to look for something but not know exactly what it is you’re looking for.
• I learned that love is an instinct and is sometimes directed not by what we say but what we do.
• I learned that hiding from yourself is easier than hiding from the people who see you for who you truly are.
• I learned it’s possible to be so near to someone that it’s impossible to see all they mean to you.
• I learned it’s possible to be ashamed and have no idea why.
• I learned that all the mysteries of the universe can be found in a kiss and can be solved just by holding someone’s hand.

Reading Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe taught me that there’s such a thing as too much, and that it’s possible for a book to be written sparely and still be full and abundantly powerful.

Ari Mendoza narrates this story, the story of a fifteen year old loner who meets Dante Quintana in the summer of 1987 and is suddenly not so lonely anymore, though he still feels very much alone with his anger and frustration. This is the story of a boy on the verge of evolution and the slow and sometimes painful discovery that being ashamed of how he feels doesn’t make those feelings inevitably shameful.

I’m going to confess I selected this book for it’s title and cover. I loved this book for all its many truths and loved that Benjamin Alire Sáenz wrote it in such a way that it felt as though it might have been autobiographical in its realism yet felt universal to each and every person who’s ever struggled while navigating their way through those teenage years, when knowing yourself really was as impossible as knowing all the secrets of the universe.

Buy Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe HERE.

Abigail Roux, Riptide Publishing

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

“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” – Dr. Seuss

Well, Ty and Zane did an awful lot of saying what they felt in this installment of the Cut & Run series. I just did an awful lot of feeling what they said, which I really didn’t mind at all—not that I matter, but it was still pretty shivery and goose bumpy inducing all the same for me. Ty Grady, Zane Garrett, jeans and boots and cowboy hats… The mental picture doesn’t get much better than that.

They’ve come out to their families now. Actually, Grandpa Chester, he of the wicked shovel and questionable soundness of mind, outed them to Ty’s family, which just goes to show what happens when you underestimate the mental faculties of the mostly befuddled. It ended up going fairly well in the end, though it was touch and go with Ty and his dad for about a West Virginia minute. Ty and Earl did their talking with their fists and Ty ended up with his hand in a cast for all it was worth. But that’s just how they roll, and it all came out okay once the manly testosterone anointing stopped.

It couldn’t have gone any smoother with Zane and his dad. His mom, though? Uh huh. Let’s just say I’m not her biggest fan and leave it at that, which is fine since her own family barely tolerates her. She is definitely not a mom of the warm and fluffy variety. She’s more a mom of the eats her own young variety, especially if it’s to preserve the reputation of the Carter-Garrett clan, and the idea of the Garrett line dying with Zane because he’s in love with another man is more than her shriveled little heart can tolerate.

Given the choice, going back home to Texas was never going to be at the top of Zane’s To-Do list, but as they say, blood is thicker than water and when there’s been bloodshed, how could he possibly stay away, even if it takes him away from the man he’s only just reconciled his love for? Leave it to Ty to go all rogue agent, though, so he could get to the Lone Star state to be with Zane again and help him figure out what’s going on. Something bad’s going down on the family ranch and we’re not just talking cattle rustling here. God no, that’d be much too pedestrian for these men. ::yawn:: No, we’re talking exotic animals going missing and a tiger that develops an unnatural attachment to Ty-the-Cat-Whispering Fed. Really, is there anything that man can’t do?

A precocious and formidable toddler; horses that want to eat Ty; a tiger that may love him, and may or may not find him tasty; lassos and guns and tranquilizer darts and pinheaded bigots; danger and suspicion and illegal activity are all par for the course in Stars & Stripes.

This wasn’t a federal mission for Grady and Garrett. No, this was entirely personal, which gave the storyline a slightly different feel, and for me, didn’t quite equal the depth or complexity of the previous books, but that’s not to say it was bad at all, far from it. Please. This is Ty and Zane, and their banter and aggressive sensuality alone make these don’t-bother-me-I’m-reading books. I’m hoping the next book will throw these guys back into the chaotic mix of cat and mouse, government mandated undercover work I’ve always loved.

Buy Stars & Stripes HERE.

Ansh Das, Self-Published

Always Forever by Ansh Das

“Death is like a minor speed bump in the journey of our souls.” – Ansh Das

Always and Forever is an intimate and personal journey, one of self-discovery and spirituality, of grief and grace for the author, who met the love of his life but was sadly deprived of a lifetime with his love. It is a memoir, a diary’s eye view that tells the story of a chance encounter far from home, which then became the catalyst for a revelation of feelings and thoughts about Mikee, whose life was cut tragically short. It is the story of a family’s strength in grief and the belief that the spirit of those who are beloved to us never truly leave us behind but are merely awaiting our arrival in the where that lies beyond.

Ansh Das has shared his memories and emotions and his faith with his readers, through narrative and poetry as well as through the personal reminiscence of those who loved Mikee and knew him best. It is both touching and uplifting, a story of loving and letting go while still holding on to the belief that death does not mean the end of that love but is merely the beginning of loving that person with new eyes.

I don’t think anyone could possibly love Mikee as well as AD or those who knew him best, but in the sharing, the reader is able to see how fondly he was held and remembered by those whose lives he touched.

Buy Always and Forever HERE.

Kaje Harper, Self-Published, Smashwords

Into Deep Waters by Kaje Harper

“Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy…” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

More than twenty-three-hundred people lost their lives, but there were figurative casualties as well, because even those who survived the attack were stripped of all the absolutes they’d known up to that now infamous day. It was the death of peace, as well as loud and living proof that the “War to End All Wars” was nothing more than a precursor to the horror that was to follow.

Daniel Acardi was at Pearl Harbor, serving onboard the USS California. He was among the survivors. Jacob Segal’s brother Brian wasn’t so fortunate. But everyone, regardless of which side of life or death he fell on, paid a steep price in the aftermath of that attack.

Daniel and Jacob were young men, both just babies, really, all things considered—men who were forced to grow up all too quickly, men who grew old before their time because neither knew then if he would have the opportunity to grow old naturally—serving onboard the USS Gageway, in the South Pacific, a place where the blue sky and the deep ocean were never safe, and the water sometimes flowed red with valor and sacrifice.

Into Deep Waters is the story of two teenagers who met in the midst of horror yet managed to fall deeply in love in spite of all the dangers they faced, not only from the enemy but from the men with whom they served, if their secret were ever to be revealed. Their story is one of immeasurable courage and of honor, and of farewell and of reunion. It is a story that spans sixty-nine years and is a revelation of a deep and abiding love that persevered and thrived through denial, through War and its many scars—both physical and psychological—and through a social revolution that brought the two men, now aged and well and truly loved, out of the shadows and into the light and eventually to a place where they could celebrate their union with family and friends at their sides.

It was sixty-nine years that passed in a mere one-hundred-seventy-two pages in which Kaje Harper painted a picture both beautiful and terrifying to imagine. Daniel and Jacob endured through hardship and conflict but survived and reached toward their vintage years, to a place where they could then reflect upon an entire lifetime of commitment and communion, could still feel the strength of their bond, and could still see the boys they once were even in the twilight of their lives.

Into Deep Waters is at times a gentle romance, at others a brutal and honest portrayal of war and of the men who were dubbed “The Greatest Generation” for very good reason.

It has also generously been offered for FREE and can be downloaded HERE.

L.B. Gregg, Samhain Publishing

Trust Me If You Dare (Romano & Albright, Book #2) by L.B. Gregg

“It takes two to get one in trouble.” – Mae West

I’m going to come right out and say it: the beginning of this book made me laugh so hard that my little people looked at me as if their sinister plot to loosen the barely-there-fingertip-grasp I have on my wee shred of sanity had finally succeeded. Wahoo, Mom’s finally cracked! Cookies and Gummy Bears for breakfast! ::sigh::

I’ve never really given much thought to the importance of the opening sequence of a book and how well—or sometimes negatively—that can influence my opinion of the rest of the story. I try not to judge a book by its beginning any more than I judge it by its cover because really you just never know what surprises might be lurking on the next page. I never thought about it much, that is, until L.B. Gregg made me do it, with her mad-evil-genius-storytelling ways—now it’s sort of all I think about when I think of Trust Me If You Dare.

Dan Green Albright and Caesar Romano are six weeks into their relationship. Of that time together, five weeks, six days, twenty-three hours and fifty-nine minutes have seen Ce’s life to go from zero to trouble—the first minute they met didn’t really account for much because Ce didn’t realize he was in trouble yet. Caesar was the self-professed most boring gay man in all of Manhattan up to that point, after all, but then a certain private investigator came steamrolling into his life and turned Ce into a dirty-talk-loving, public-sex-having trouble magnet. Now his life is anything but mundane.

Ce’s working in the catering biz with his preggers BFF Poppy, and their next gig is one Caesar’d just as soon avoid because it once again puts him in too close proximity to his ex-closeted, ex-lover Shep McNamara, and by virtue of association, with soap opera star Gunter Heidelbach, who’s keeping more secrets and telling more lies, the variety of which Ce really, really hates but can’t seem to avoid these days. Turns out the catering job Ce’s arranging puts Dan on security detail, as well, and in rather close proximity to Gunter, who may or may not be the biggest player ever, and who may or may not have a threatening stalker-psycho ex-assistant who’d like to out Gunter, but not in the way you might expect.

Homicidal high performance vehicles, the bottom feeding media, a gimpy fingered stranger, and a red haired pixie woman with a grudge and a gift for flying under everyone’s radar but Cearsar’s are just a few of the things that put the capital T in Trouble for him in this installment of the Romano & Albright series. Of course, the usual cast of characters is also along on this stellar ride and shines every bit as brightly as they did the first time around, with their witty banter and shady ways.

I am so loving this relationship that’s just beginning to get its sea legs, am loving the building trust and the growing realization by both men that this is a long haul proposition. I’m also loving this May/December romance that’s not a significant part of their story. I love that L.B. Gregg has made the twelve year age difference between Dan and Caesar a complete non-issue even though I know it’s there. I love that the forty-year-old Dan is so confident in who he is that he doesn’t give a second thought as to whether he’s everything Ce could possibly need.

This series has become an instant favorite for me and if I could, I’d beg L.B. Gregg to write faster. I’m so looking forward to seeing what hijinks and mayhem and mystery she has in store for me next.

Buy Trust Me If You Dare HERE.

Elyan Smith, Riptide Publishing, Small Gems

Small Gems – Portside by Elyan Smith

“Hope is a waking dream.” – Aristotle

I knew as soon as I read Elyan Smith’s short story Zones in the UK MAT anthology Lashings of Sauce that he was an author whose work I wanted to know much better. Zones is the touching story of a transgender woman who is trying desperately to find her place in the world, to find her place within herself, and to find her place within her partner’s family. This story was so moving and memorable to me not only because of the subject but also because of the author’s writing; it is dense with emotion and atmosphere and sometimes felt cloying, like a heart-wrenching yet hopeful dream.

I can now honestly say that this wasn’t a fluke, because Portside, Elyan Smith’s debut short story, is equally and beautifully oppressive, which is a huge oxymoron but true nonetheless. This is a story set in a bleak town where Iwan lives a bleak life in a bleak house where anything resembling hope is quashed by the harsh economic times and lack of opportunities for him, for his best friend Lyn, for his family. His life is a place where cigarettes and alcohol are comfort in their constancy, where picture postcards of faraway places are the one dimensional dreams of everything his life isn’t, where the depthless face of the television screen pays mocking tribute to the austerity of his life.

Portside is in no way a romance. It is pure literary fiction and it explores the life of a young man who wants for everything but doesn’t dare want for much. He is a young man trying to fit in his own skin, even though that skin doesn’t quite fit who he is. He is a young man who has dared to hope, and in that hope he might find a way to connect with the one person about whom he dreams of something more—a portside boy, Jonah—who is the golden prize at the end of the monochromatic rainbow.

This was a difficult story for me to relate to on some levels, mostly because I couldn’t be looking at it from further outside Iwan’s perspective, but that’s really what made me try all the harder to empathize with him and his longing for something more than what he had, and in the end, it worked with a certain sort of somber beauty.

Buy Portside HERE.

L.B. Gregg, Samhain Publishing

Catch Me If You Can (Romano and Albright, Book #1) by L.B. Gregg

“A lie never lives to be old.” – Sophocles

Caesar Romano seems to have a knack for attracting people who not only outright lie but also like to keep a variety of secrets, as well. He has an ex-boyfriend who’s keeping a big one, a boss who’s keeping a somewhat bizarre one, a private investigator following him who’s keeping a rather significant one, and that’s just to name a few. In the meantime, he’s also got a job so financially inadequate that he’s forced to live with his Nana, a large Italian family—some of whom are a bit on the shady side—and he’s also dealing with the theft of a bust of Justin Timberlake sculpted entirely of watches. Oh, and don’t forget the whole blackmail thing, too.

No one ever said Ce’s life was a walk in the park. Sometimes it’s more like a whizz in a back alley, but it’s most definitely never boring.

Caesar is a person of interest in Detective Dan Green’s investigation of a stolen painting that reveals a plot to extort rather unorthodox sums of money from various sources. Ce’s also a person of interest on an entirely personal level for Detective Dan, but Caesar’s not particularly interested in anything Dan has to offer. Dan’s not exactly the kind of guy to just give up and go away, though—what kind of a detective would he be, after all, if he did? And let’s face it; Dan most definitely has a way with words. Certain words, at certain times that make it very difficult for Ce to keep his wits about him. It’s really a gift is what it is. A sexy, sexy gift.

They say laughter is the language of the soul. Well, I’m not sure whether that’s true or not, but if it is, then I want to be fluent in the language L.B. Gregg speaks. Full immersion baptism in the sarcastic and sometimes crazy, that’s what this is. This is only the second book I’ve read from this author, and in both of them, this as well as Men of Smithfield: Mark and Tony, the opening scenes of each book set the comedic tone, the manic mood, and the frenetic pace for the entire novel.

This was a caper of the farcical kind and I loved every word of it, from Caesar to Dan, to their extended group of friends, family, and the assortedly quirk-tastic role players who helped to improve the scenery with their spray on tans, scary cosmetic procedures, and kinky proclivities. I can’t wait to get to the next book in the series because I have a feeling that I’ll find a whole lot of exactly what I’m looking for and maybe a bit more than I could’ve ever expected.

Buy Catch Me If You Can HERE.

Carina Press, Heidi Belleau, Violetta Vane

The Druid Stone by Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane

“Sometimes up out of this land a legend begins to move.” – William Stafford

Sean O’Hara is a Cuban/Irish American with a steady job and dreams to pursue, even if the rest of his life isn’t quite so steady. His only family tie is to a cousin, but otherwise, Sean has no other connections to either side of his ancestry. The world of his subconscious, however, is a very different story; it is a place he’s become tethered to by a generations old family curse that causes him to relive the same nightmare over and over again, in an Ireland that hasn’t existed since 1920. In order to regain control of both his life, and quite possibly his sanity, he must pursue even the most unlikely of answers to the questions that were lost nearly a hundred years in the past.

Cormac is descended from a long line of Druids, and he knows as well as anyone that when it comes to the sidhe, anything’s possible, especially when the walls between the here and the there are at their thinnest. Sean is very much in need of Cormac’s talents, but Cormac, in spite of all he knows that exists in the slantways realms of reality, is skeptical of Sean’s story, not to mention is suspicious of his motives, though that quickly changes when a trip to a fairy mound turns dangerous and a stone that Sean has in his possession opens a floodgate of questions and painful memories for Cormac.

Everyone knows you never bargain with the sidhe, everyone knows there’s a price to pay if you try and aren’t very careful with every nuance of the transaction, and everyone should also know you never, ever question fairy tales because as soon as you do, those fantasies of the world that’s just on the other side of the space between could very well become a reality. And when it does, the reality could very much become the nightmare.

Some books you just can’t help but think of as epic, and for me, The Druid Stone is definitely one of them. It is steeped in Gaelic legend, in a land where the Fir Bolg and the Tuatha Dé Danann once reigned—and still do if you believe. It’s the coming together of mythology and the journey of two men who must heal their pasts before they can reconcile their futures.

The Druid Stone is a romance, as well as the romancing of a country that is itself a perfect fairy tale. This is a book filled with wonder and lore and magic and danger and sacrifice and the bridging of that tenuous gap between a common goal and an uncommon bond, and I adored every word of it. It’s a plot heavy book, definitely not one you can read with your brain in neutral, that sweeps you along through a myriad of twists and turns, through time travel and through the lives of the two men who move the action along, sometimes with a methodical precision, sometimes at a break-neck pace, always with an eye toward keeping the reader engrossed in every moment of the journey.

The Druid Stone is available for purchase on August 6, 2012, HERE.

Kaje Harper, Self-Published

Small Gems – Show Me Yours – A Free Story by Kaje Harper

“One kiss breaches the distance between friendship and love.” – Unknown

Trey Holgersen and Josh Campbell were inseparable for a while, but slowly drifted apart when Josh’s family moved to the East Coast after a horrific event that left its share of scars all over Josh, his family, and Trey as well. It was a tragedy that caused immeasurable damage, especially when emotions turned into words that caused Trey to deny who he was because Josh hated that part of Trey, even though he didn’t know that part existed.

Loving someone and knowing that someone will never love you in return is a painful means to the end of a friendship.

Eight years and thousands of miles of distance—not to mention Trey’s deepest, darkest secret—was enough to put paid to their relationship, if for no other reason than it was too difficult for Trey to keep denying his feelings for Josh. It was easier for him to ignore them, safer, for sure, but Trey soon discovers that for a plan to work, the other party involved needs to be willing to cooperate. When Josh unexpectedly shows up on Trey’s doorstep, needing his help, both men come to learn that keeping secrets and clinging so tightly to the flavor of harsh words spoken in the past leaves the mouth too full to say the words that need to be said in the present that will affect the course of the future.

Kaje Harper has offered this bittersweet and moving story of friends-turned-lovers as part of the Goodreads M/M Romance Group’s summer writing project “Love Is Always Write”, so it’s free to anyone interested in giving it a try. You don’t have to be a member of the Group to download the file, but you do have to be a member of Goodreads. If you’re not a member of Goodreads and don’t want to join, feel free to email me (my “Contact Me” form is on the “About Me” page) and I’ll be happy to email the file to you in whatever format you need. **ETA: Kaje Harper PMd me to give me permission to do this. :-D**

My only disclaimer to my recommendation is that there is an off-screen instance of pedophilia, so take that into account when considering whether or not to give this one a try. Otherwise, I can say, without reservation, that I really enjoyed this story. It’s much more than just a simple romance. It’s a story of acceptance and rejection and of a love born in friendship that grows into a love rooted in trust and in discovering all the many ways to fulfill each other while fulfilling oneself at the same time.

Download Show Me Yours HERE.


The Great Chik-Fil-A Debate

I’ll be the first to admit I’m not an activist, I’m a pacifist, and I believe firmly in the concept of “live and let live”. I’ll be me, you be you, and hopefully—not as Republicans or Democrats, not as Protestants, Catholics, Buddhists, Muslims, Wiccans, Agnostics, or Atheists, not as men or women—but as human beings, we’ll find a common ground on which to meet and to celebrate our individuality. It’s not that I don’t have strong opinions about certain subjects, but more a case of believing that my opinions are my own and really shouldn’t matter to anyone else because what you think counts just as much, if not more so, than what I think. But it’s this sense of self-importance and self-righteousness and the grandiose belief that what some people believe is more legitimate than what others do that seems to be getting in the way of us behaving compassionately toward one another, and honestly, it makes me worry about the state of the human condition.

Let me be the first to acknowledge that I, in no way, claim to be without more than a few character blemishes. I sometimes forget the “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” rule, but I also grew up believing in the idea of treating others the way that I want to be treated, judging not lest I be judged, casting the first stone only if I myself be without sin, and that since we ALL are supposedly made in His image but fall short in His sight that none of us is without sin. That makes perfect sense to me because none of us is perfect, so when Dan Cathy says, “I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage,” it makes me wonder if he is as sinless as he’d like us to believe, and if so, then why should he be so fearful of that judgment? Aren’t Christians supposed to welcome judgment day as their recognition and reward for living a spotless life? I would think it would behoove him to be more fearful of his bigotry than of a man and woman’s right to marry whom they love, because God’s judgment is a blanket judgment, and I don’t know if He would appreciate Dan Cathy taking a single edict from a book written by mortal men to discriminate while at the same time completely disregarding the biblical principle of loving thy neighbor as thyself. Perhaps Mr. Cathy should reread the Old Testament definition of marriage and see how “non-traditionally” God viewed marriage in the beginning. Hm…maybe that’s called evolution, and if that’s so, isn’t it possible the definition of marriage is yet again evolving?

Perhaps Mr. Cathy should also familiarize himself with the Bible’s thoughts on divorce, then examine why nearly half of all first marriages, nearly two-thirds of second marriages, and nearly three-fourths of third marriages end. Then maybe he should research how many petitions for divorce cite “irreconcilable differences” as the reason for the dissolution of the marriage. Nowhere in the Bible does it say “we grew apart” is a valid excuse for divorce. Hm…maybe divorce has evolved too. It certainly seems to have departed from “God’s plan” for marriage between a man and a woman. Maybe we need to give someone else the opportunity to get it right.

I don’t deny Mr. Cathy’s right to speak his mind. If the First Amendment didn’t exist, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to post this rebuttal. But what I do deny is his right to hide behind that amendment and to be outraged that he’s receiving backlash for his inflammatory and prejudicial remarks. What he said is no more politically or socially correct than if he’d come out and said he was against interracial marriage. Discrimination is discrimination, regardless of where that belief stems from and regardless of how much he couches it in his righteousness. His remarks may be based in the belief in his God, but it also stands firmly in the disregard of the fact that his remarks have marginalized an entire segment of His children who reportedly were made in His image.

If Mr. Cathy is truly living a moral and upstanding life based on God’s word, then he cannot be a hypocrite and use parts and parcels of that word to support his homophobia while ignoring the rest of it because it contradicts and invalidates that intolerance. It doesn’t work that way. Or at least it’s not supposed to.

This has become quite a divisive subject within a very devout segment of my own family, and to them I say this: I’ve been married for twenty-one years, have three children, and fail miserably to see how who someone else loves and wants to spend the rest of their lives with will undermine my own marriage or my family’s values. The only person with the power to destroy what I’ve spent almost half my life building is me, and the day that anyone tries to tell me that I will be condemned to hell because I show others compassion is the day that I say you keep to your God and I’ll keep to mine, and I’ll just continue to love you in spite of how ashamed you are of me and my beliefs.

All Romance Ebooks, Missy Welsh, Small Gems

Small Gems – Oscar’s Soul by Missy Welsh

“I love him to hell and back and heaven and back…” – Sylvia Plath

Oscar’s father sold his first born’s soul to Hell in exchange for unlimited worldly success, which shows a spectacularly selfish and covetous bent on his father’s part; either that or a singularly limited sense of foresight and consequences. Probably all of the above.

As is always the case when humans make bargains with immortals, it’s the mortals who come out on the short end of the deal, and the time comes that the toll must be collected, the forfeit made, whether the human is ready or not to pay. The Devil reliably comes to collect his due—his due being Oscar himself—and he is carried to the Underworld, though Oscar’s hellish fate has not yet been sealed in fire and brimstone. Lucifer Morningstar has far different plans for the young man, surprising plans, and those plans just go to show that sometimes even when you lose, you win.

I love the stories of the fallen angels, although in Oscar’s Soul, Missy Welsh gives a hugely original twist to the parable of Satan, who is not his own agent, but His own agent, maintaining the balance between Heaven and Hell, even as he shows himself as decidedly human in all his immortal glory. But the biggest twist of all? The biggest?? Well, you’ll have to read for yourself to discover that one. All I’m going to say is that it’s utterly divine, divine in such an utterly surprising way that it alone was worthy of a five star rating.

This is a sweet and sexy story of the revolution and evolution of a love to end all loves, a literal to hell and back, to heaven and back kind of romance, one without end.

Buy Oscar’s Soul HERE.

Amy Lane, Andrew Grey, Dreamspinner Press, Mary Calmes

Three Fates by Andrew Grey, Mary Calmes, and Amy Lane

“The Fates lead him who will. Him who won’t they drag.” – Seneca

The Fates, the Moirai, the Three Witches, the Weird Sisters—Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos. Sometimes they are portrayed as the girl, the woman, and the crone, three separate and distinct entities of female evolution; though at times they’re also portrayed as a single being that shifts fluidly through her pattern of roles as the spinner of the Thread of Life, the measurer of the Thread, and lastly and perhaps the most powerful of all—she who determines the manner and time of death. Once chosen, her “abhorred shears” cut the Thread of Life and fate is sealed. Whatever the Fates are called, whatever form and face they assume, they are feared and revered by the gods and mortals alike for their unlimited power and the wisdom they possess as they guide and manipulate the threads that form the tapestries of life they control.

There is an indelible line we toe that links us birth to death, the future an inevitable course, but it’s how one lives every moment of the present that dictates how well and how effortlessly this journey will be made. One would think the Fates are the enemy of free will, but there is always choice, and fortune favors those who choose wisely. Even those who elect not to choose have still made a choice, though they are the ones whom the Fates will drag along on the predetermined course to the destined outcome.

Andrew Grey, Mary Calmes, and Amy Lane have teamed up to deliver their own interpretations of Fate, Fortune, Luck, Chance—whatever name you choose to give the whims of existence that fit into your personal mythology—in Three Fates, three unique stories that spin a common yarn: men who find love thanks in whole to the benevolence of those unfathomable agents of the adventure we call life.

From the thoroughly charming paranormal fairy tale Fate Delivers a Prince, to the contemporary setting of the über-romantic Jump, to the irrepressibly enchanting tale of perspective and opportunity in Believed You Were Lucky, these three authors wove me into their stories and made me so glad to be there. Cheyenne and Prince Arthur; Cass and Raz; Hake and Leif—each of these men learned to trust in the formidable and sometimes tenuous balance between fate and free will, and in the process also learned to receive the blessings gifted to them by those possessed of the wisdom to successfully manipulate the weave of the very fabric of life.

Friedrich Nietzsche said, “Amor Fati – Love Your Fate, which is in fact your life.” Accepting and embracing the inevitable is what these stories are truly about, though they say it all in far more eloquent ways.

Buy Three Fates HERE.