This book is one of the main reasons I decided that I wanted to do an Author Backlist Project. Mary Calmes was myReview posted at The Armchair Reader.
This book is one of the main reasons I decided that I wanted to do an Author Backlist Project. Mary Calmes was my first choice from when I first thought of the idea directly to it's debut last Fall, and this was one of the handful of books that I've had forever and intended to read for years now. Somehow, it never seemed to happen, and even in the case of a book like this, which I always had such high hopes for but ultimately didn't live up to my (possibly) too-high expectations, it is still really nice to read more of Mary's backlist and assuage my curiosity about this book.
Jude Shea is job-less and boyfriend-less, which all stems from one terrible betrayal. Now, all alone in his new (and sad) studio apartment, Jude is woken in the middle of the night with an inexplicable desire to take a walk in the park. While there, he comes across a pack of dogs killing another dog. The dog is absolutely huge and almost dead, but Jude has a sudden bout of confidence and runs off the pack of dogs. He soon starts to call the dog "Joe" after their trip to fix him up at the animal clinic, where the vet, vet techs and workers of the clinic are at once awed and afraid of Joe. To everyone else, he's a wicked beast, but when he's around Jude he turns into a big teddy bear. In a small amount of time they become best friends -- Jude has never had a dog before and finds the companionship strangely comfortable, and Joe The Dog seems very attached and protective of Jude for such a short relationship. Jude is inconsolable when faced with the thought that Joe's real owner might come looking for him.
When a man shows up at Jude's apartment claiming the dog has his own and calling him Eoin, Jude is wary. The man seems strange, not only in his speech and mannerisms, but in his completely lack of emotion when talking about Joe/Eoin. Soon, both man and dog find themselves being chased through Chicago at night, only to disappear into a very strange fog bank.
Eoin isn't just a dog, he's a guardian for a baroness in the land across the veil. Guardian's are the fiercest of protectors, with no love for anything but the safety of their charge. Across the veil, in his homeland, Eoin is a man like any other, but in Jude's homeland he reverts to his shifted form, a dog. In rare instances, a guardian might find his cairn, his heart, in a mating bond that immediately severs ties to their old allegiances, purely because their mate will now forever be foremost in their mind. Now, with the gryphons once again on his tail, he knows that he must get Jude across the veil and back to his home in order to protect him from their pursuers and give their bond a chance to solidify, something that Eoin will not allow to go undone. He has found his mate, and he won't give him up.
But life across the veil is very difficult for Jude, not only because he doesn't understand anything about the lives they lead, but because of the political turmoil that followed them across the veil in the first place. Navigating their allies and enemies will test their relationship and Jude's own self-worth, as he puts his life back together and looks forward to a possibly incredible future with Eoin back in his own world.
I didn't really know what this book was about, honestly. I really liked the story -- it's almost a time travel story, but without explicit description about the veil and the technical aspects of the fantasy world and how it is connected to our world. I liked the characters also. Jude is a pretty typical Calmes' character, almost perfect in every way, while it is impossible to hate a character like Eoin with a heart of gold, completely noble and loyal and moral and self-sacrificing, who speaks in a thick brogue and is the epitome of rough highlander warrior. The book is heavy on the sex (which I didn't mind because it was so hot), but in the end, I had a lot of problems with it.
Perhaps my feelings are indicative of the upward trajectory of Mary Calmes' writing. Reading this, one of her earlier novels, I could definitely see where her recent work has been of higher quality. The change in POV over the story bothered me somewhat. At times it is very frequent between especially Jude and Eoin. I actually liked getting the POV of secondary characters in this instance, though the transitions between all of them are what bothered me, usually because it got confusing. I also felt rather jarred when Jude and Eoin when through the veil into Eoin's homeland. The first part of the story, in our world, was really enjoyable and easy to read, but once in the other land things sometimes became dreamlike and at other times simply confusing. With only small pieces of information about the political issues, I felt a bit like I had one foot in the world and one foot out. I wanted to know what was going on, but nothing was ever really described past a superficial level, which made my investment in the story less than usual.
So even while I enjoyed parts and liked the characters, it wasn't even near my favorite Calmes' books. I am certainly glad I have read it though, and if you haven't either it is something to consider. It might be more your cup of tea than mine, or you might at least not feel the same way as I did about these specific issues. Now, I'm forward into the backlist and looking forward to next week's book by Mary Calmes!...more
Mace is a firefighter, who after a double shift is on his way home when he almost runs over an old man wanderingReview posted at The Armchair Reader.
Mace is a firefighter, who after a double shift is on his way home when he almost runs over an old man wandering in the middle of the Kentucky mountain road. After stopping and getting the man into his truck to get to help, he can't help but notice that something about the old man isn't quite right, and against his better judgement allows the old man to insist he be taken home instead of the hospital. When he finds the place the old man says he lives, it seems to be some sort of hippie compound, with lots of people running around naked around a bonfire. Though tired as he is, he seems to be taking it all in stride, though the non-answers they keep giving him are a bit frustrating. When he decides to stay because he's too sleepy to drive home, he meets Luc, a massive beast of a beautiful man who takes his breath away and has a raw confidence and sexuality that stuns him. He's smitten, and much more very quickly, even when it all starts to hit the fan.
I had a few problems with this story. It's not what I think a lot of people complain about Mary's stories (the perfect men, etc.) because I'm quite used to that and find it charming most times now, but more that there's actually very little of the world ever given until a somewhat info dump near the end. Also, while I noticed there was care not to be insta-love, in the sense that Mace finds it very important not to give his heart away so quickly and insist on a slower romance, he does seem to fall quite quickly and his actions seemed contrary to his words, so I'm not quite sure I wouldn't label it insta-love. That however, is a matter of opinion from reader to reader.
What I did like about this story was the unusual world and creatures -- gargoyles -- which was quite interesting though I would have liked to learn a lot more, especially with so many questions unanswered. Most of all, the chemistry between Mace and Luc, which is completely sexual and didn't seem very romantic to me, personally, was HOT HOT HOT. Completely scalding, which was very nice to read and I enjoyed that immensely. I ended up feeling that this was mostly an erotic read with a nice world around it. I needed more story for it to feel really romantic to me, or for there to be an organic relationship grow between the two. But I was okay with that, such as it was. It didn't make the story wonderful to me, but it was definitely interesting and pleasing to read.
I'm a fan of Mary Calmes, a pretty big fan, so I really liked this story where some readers might find more fault with it. Or, at least, they might find that those faults weigh more. I suppose what I'd really like would be to read a sequel, where we learn more about the world and perhaps get to know some more of the characters....more
This started off strong and finished with a bit of a weak ending. I didn't expect the direction this story was going to take, which was a lit3.5 stars
This started off strong and finished with a bit of a weak ending. I didn't expect the direction this story was going to take, which was a little bit fantastical for me. With the psychological dialogue in the first half, the ending threw me a little bit. Plus, the ending felt like it was resolved a little bit too easily.
Still, in the end not a bad read. I probably would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't switched gears there in the middle from what was a psychological thriller to what was an out right paranormal story. Still, DJ Manly can really write well in such a haunting mood. That part of this story, as well as the faceted dialogue in the first half, reminded me quite a bit of Blood Pond....more
There really isn't much to say other than the giant smile this book put on my face. It may not be for everyone, butWhat an absolute delight of a book!
There really isn't much to say other than the giant smile this book put on my face. It may not be for everyone, but it has naughty toys and starry-eyed love stories, romantic adventures and unapologetic eccentricities!
Sarah Black's books always make me so happy and her writing is some of the most disarmingly romantic prose out there. Her books read like they took no effort to write and are so organic.. That makes no sense but it is as if they have a personality all on their own, that care fuck-all about what anybody thinks. They're just who they are....more
This is such a great book to kick off Kate McMurray Week! To be honest, I wasn't quite sure what to expect of this story. I mostly read it on faith because I like the author. All I really knew was that it was about NYC and ghosts. So, I was pleasantly surprised when I did read it to find that it was something that I could really sink into. Part of my enjoyment of the story really comes from a love of history. Not that I'm particularly knowledgable, especially about NYC history, but there's so much detail in this story that must have taken quite a bit of research and I found it all refreshing and compelling.
Finn and Troy have a turbulent history. Both pursuing advanced history degrees at NYU at the same time, they quickly found themselves to be rivals, with a love/hate relationship -- mostly hate. But, every few years they succumb to temptation and fall into bed with one another, promptly returning to hate each other the next day. Finn isn't where he expected to be when he envisioned his life all those years ago at NYU. He blames Troy for his failure to get his PhD that fuels his continued hatred. Troy was always the golden boy, one step ahead of him and outshining all of his successes. Now, years of regrets have become an ugly and miserable piece of Finn that he carries around with himself. And Troy is easy to hate… except when they're in bed together.
Now working as a research assistant for a famous biographer (who is a bit of a bosshole), Finn is sent to research a small museum in Brooklyn, only to find that the curator is none other than Troy. He looks good and is, as usual, a consummate flirt. And again like all the other times their NYC circles merge, Finn is at the same time frustrated and spiteful and yet reluctant to admit how well they work together and understand one another. They have incredibly similar interests in the history of the city and between them, share a wealth of knowledge. Finn isn't really passionate about the research for his boss, but Troy convinces Finn to help him research a mystery of his own. He's currently going through the journals of the man who once lived in the building and the mysterious circumstances around his death. Troy, though thorough as any historian, is more apt to believe in the strange occurrences in the building -- the cold spots, the dreams and as he delves deeper into the man's story, the physical manifestations he sees with his own eyes. As the two start to uncover the secrets of the dead and piece together a picture of life in Brooklyn in the 1870's, they start to fall in love. The problem, for Finn, is his reluctance to believe in what could ultimately be the manipulation of a couple of ghosts whose main interests aren't finally getting the two of them together, but to solve their murder.
I mentioned at the start of the review that the reason I really liked this book was the research and the history presented of Brooklyn, New York in a different era. I think, though, that this might be a sticking point for some readers. Make no mistake, this book takes history and makes it real and solid, but it's told from the view of two men who sift through obscure details every day and take them as deep as they go. So, much of this novel is really the journey into history, piece by piece as the two put it together. And there is a wealth of detail that Kate McMurray offers. I could see where some readers, who might not find those details as interesting as I, might find this book a tedious read.
What I really enjoyed was the journey to finding those answers, because the story and the picture of Brooklyn at that time takes shape slowly, and some of the best scenes in the novel were Finn and Troy connecting on the level of historians. It's their common language, when they have a hard time getting close in other areas (except sex, that one is easy for them!). Those scenes are the best because both will go from sniping at one another and confusion about their feelings to connecting through the project and offering details back and forth, sussing out answers between them. Their relationship really takes the enemies to lovers trope to a realistic level. Most of the raw and angry feelings come from Finn. But he's the character that we really get to know first and the one who we see this world through. When he actually lets down his guard enough to try to let some of that stagnate anger go, I think he finds that Troy really isn't the man that he thought he was and that he doesn't think of Finn in the way Finn thought he did. The dynamic between the two of them was done really well, and another reason that this story really worked for me, because the story starts with a shared history and routine between the two men and in their interactions. The research project is the catalyst to change that behavior. And discovering what life is like for a gay man in 1870's America not only gives Finn perspective but gives him more ways to connect and understand Troy.
Though I'm partial to this author's Out in the Field (which I'm going to be re-reading and reviewing later this week), this just might be my second favorite of hers. It's definitely a book I recommend to you, if you think you'll like it, of course ;)...more
I’ve been excited to review this story ever since I finished reading the first story in Lars and Rael’s seriReview posted at Brief Encounters Reviews.
I’ve been excited to review this story ever since I finished reading the first story in Lars and Rael’s series, A Calling for Pleasure (reviewed here). And just like that first story, this sequel had me thoroughly entertained. Funny and quirky, this series just seems to be getting better.
Lars and Rael are dating now, though Rael hates that all of Lars’ time is spent working on investigating paranormal cases with his snarky partner Chelle Rochelle. Meanwhile, Lars can’t help but worry that he’s not enough to satisfy the hunger his male succubus lover requires, a feeling only further encouraged by Chelle, who seems to have a touchy history where demons are concerned. Furthermore, someone is starting fires all over town and Rael’s demon ex, Lev, is back in town and it seems he wants Rael back!
Oh, the drama!
These stories are so much fun because I love Rael so much. He constantly makes me laugh. He’s probably the most moral demon there is, yet somehow his thoughts always run to how much he’d like to do just about everyone. He’s like a, well a succubus in a man store to tell you the truth and the running commentary in his head is quite hilarious at times.
It seems to be quite the competition, however, who can make me laugh more: Rael or Chelle. Chelle and Lars are perfect partners. Lars’ optimistic view clashes constantly against Chelle’s snarky pessimism. Right from the very first page:
Lars: “Can I help it if my mom’s an immortal?” Chelle: “No, but you could work on getting a few more wrinkles to make the rest of us feel better. Take up smoking, become an alcoholic, hell, whatever works for you. Don’t just sit there looking like a poster boy for Oil of fucking Olay.”
There is less sex in this story, something I was a little sad about because of Rael’s feisty little tail. Still, this was all I expected and more after the first story and I’m very much looking forward to reading the third. B+...more
Lars and his partner Rochelle are investigators for the Paranormal Enforcement Agency and are frustrated theReview posted at Brief Encounters Reviews.
Lars and his partner Rochelle are investigators for the Paranormal Enforcement Agency and are frustrated they keep finding dead corpses and still haven’t found the succubus responsible for killing them. That all changes, however, when a young man is almost killed and tells them a tale of a male succubus whose description has Lars panting just from visualization. With a new lead to follow, Lars and Rochelle assume that he’s just a lucky, if somewhat stupid, young man. If Rael has anything to say about it (and Rael always has something to say), then not only will he point them towards the real culprit of the killings, but maybe snare a blond, hunky half-Valkyrie officer in the process — one that just might be more than the one night stands he’s used to.
This was such a cute story. Right off the bat I was laughing as Rael used his charm and sexuality in confronting the young, straight man who summoned him while hoping for a female demon. The story has a nice flow and easiness to it, which is partly due to Rael’s confident, sexy, and funny voice. I really liked Lars as well, who has the heart and soul of an honest geek wrapped in the godly package he inherited from his gorgeous Valkyrie mother. They made a nice couple and I could instantly see that they would work well together.
There’s quite a bit to like about the story, and I’m very much looking forward to reading the rest of the series. I absolutely loved Rochelle, Lars’ tough-as-nails partner, and if I read het romance I’d beg J.L. Merrow for her story in a heartbeat. I understood that Rael being a male succubus (and not an incubus) is the impetus in putting him in Lars’ path, but I would have loved to know what made him a succubus and not an incubus. Also, the sex was smokin’! I love me a demon with an agile tail :)
This is just the kind of short story that I love to read and the quick pace and the ease in the prose suited to fill out the story in a short amount of time, leaving me satisfied at the end though no less excited to pick up the next installment in Lars and Rael’s relationship. B...more
Way too short for the story set up. Pretty much no romance, just immediate mating. Lots of backstory presented but not really followed throug2.5 stars
Way too short for the story set up. Pretty much no romance, just immediate mating. Lots of backstory presented but not really followed through. This could all be coming in future installments, of course.
All in all, I had too many problems with this story for it to be a very satisfying read....more
I'll definitely be interested to read the next installment in this series, if only because this first story doesn't really offer much but a b2.5 stars
I'll definitely be interested to read the next installment in this series, if only because this first story doesn't really offer much but a brief setup. There's very little here -- not much story at all....more
The Dance with the Devil series has several books that are only loosely related to one another by worldbuildReview posted at Brief Encounters Reviews.
The Dance with the Devil series has several books that are only loosely related to one another by worldbuilding, so Ruffskin follows immediately after Dance in the Dark and deals with the same characters. It is important to read that novel first, because this short story does not stand on it's own. All of the character building and relationships are forged in the novel, and I would have been lost if I had not read it first. I was still a bit lost, actually, when I started this. I love this series, but Dance in the Dark was one of my very favorites, and even then I had a hard time remembering which storyline and characters went with which when you compile all of the different plots and characters over the series. But once I was reacquainted, I was so happy to revisit Johnnie and Grim.
Though the blurb makes it seem as if Peyton is the MC in this story, that really isn't the case. As readers of the series will know, in Dance in the Dark each chapter is set up as a new case for Johnnie, orphaned and raised in an extremely powerful vampire family. In the novel, he was wooed by a secret lover in the dark (Grim) while striking away from his family to do what he really loved and what gave him purpose, solving mysteries in the paranormal world.
Ruffskin could easily have fit into the novel as one of those chapters, which are often separate and slowly tying into the overall plot. In the story, we once again see Johnnie and Grim bickering in the bar Johnnie owns, when a delivery man comes with a package for Peyton, the bartender. In the package is a Rolex with the inscription "To Peyt, Love Ruff," sending Petyon into a worried frenzy over an old love and revealing the secrets behind his flee from Pack Blue and his current reason for being a lone wolf given sanctuary on vampire territory. Once again, Johnnie sets off to solve the case, with his "babysitter" Grim tagging along.
This is definitely a story for fans of this series, as you really can't just read this story and understand the characters without the backstory. But it works really well as it is. Johnnie is such a wonderful character. When he could come across as extremely prickly and haughty, having been raised a prince of an empire of vampires who definitely loves his status and all it brings him, he's also at heart empathetic and passionate about those he cares for. Grimm is a character that no one could hate. He's laid back even though one of the most powerful and rare creatures in the world. He's lovable and loyal uses every opportunity to ruffle Johnnie's feathers. They're a great couple and revisiting them here was a treat.
For such a short story, I felt the mystery worked well here. It's not a terribly difficult case for Johnnie to solve, and rightly so at only 9k words. So I wasn't expecting a huge new adventure, and the mystery worked well for me by serving as the reason for all of the old gang in the novel to come back together.
This is definitely a treat for fans of the series, and if you haven't read the series yet, I'd encourage you to. These books are some of my favorites by Megan Derr, though they're all rather different. Reading order will vary by who you talk to, but as long as you read Dance with the Devil and Dance in the Dark in that order, the rest doesn't matter as much. B+...more
Note: This was my second read of the series, the first of the 2nd edition.
Finally, number five, Rebirth, my favorite story of all the first half of the series :) On to more of why that is in a bit, but first, let me set up where we are in the story.
Starting smack in the middle of the most uncomfortable of situations, Michael at his home for the first time in a couple years with Bill. Not only is there the awkward fact that Michael feels guilty for skipping out on his family and leaving them with no knowledge of where he was or if we was even alive, there is the immediate fact, felt in the constant tension hanging in the air, that Michael doesn’t belong in this family. It’s an incredibly real situation, not romanticized or sugar-coated in any way, but gritty and unbearably awkward. Still, the quick and impulsive decision to stop home has Michael wishing to tie him and Bill to some sort of community or family, and they find that when Michael is finally accepted into a discreet online forum, and they find a commune of sorts that just might work.
The encounter with Michael’s family sets up the rest of this story, which I always like to think of as “which one of these things is not like the other?” It’s honest and real that Michael doesn’t fit in with his own family. Later, when the two of them approach the vampire commune there’s something so right about it that it seems wrong. It’s almost too perfect, or maybe just a dirty veneer of the perfection that Michael is hoping for. Every time, even knowing the ending already (which I will not get into, because that is something that should definitely be a surprise), I feel like something is just a little bit off-kilter with the story, the people, the whole situation which almost seems scripted. Yet, I get lulled into the story just like they are and I start to care about the people. If you’ve read this story then you know what I mean — how much of an affect that has in retrospect. That is the very reason why this is my favorite story of the bunch. Not only is it the most explosive story that constantly leaves me reeling, but Michael and Bill are so settled into the routine of their relationship by this point, even though they’re making it up as they go along, still drifting, but they’re a real team, and I love that.
There really isn’t a whole lot more to add, other than that this story has stuck with me for a long time, a lot more than the others did and it remains true today. Just like with the other stories, there is a lot of skill and craft in the writing in Rebirth — the interpersonal relationships, how we feel about characters, what is shown and what is concealed and how the difference is sometimes very carefully written. It is a mark of an author who has hit her stride in the series and also of a story that has been finely honed.
This is probably the most informal review I’ve ever written, so I’ll just keep running with it. I suppose that’s because this story always leaves a lasting impression and ends up tying in so nicely with the ones that came before it. I wish that more stories were this carefully crafted. I wish that I could wipe my brain and read it again for the first time :) If there were ever a story in this series that I was going to give the highest rating (not like I already did or anything!) it would be this one. So, before I blather on even more, I’ll end by saying that I think I’ll go read this again. A+...more
Note: This was my second read of the series, the first of the 2nd edition.
4.75 stars (rounded up!)
I guess it’s a bit like cabin fever… but imagine that happening to a vampire with access to a population and an obsession with dolls. That’s Marushka. Incredibly, unbearably creepy.
There are two things that make this story such a winner: Marushka, who chills me every time with her sweet little smile and childlike voice while wielding a razor, and the fact that Marushka becomes the catalyst in the relationship between Bill and Michael, who up until this point have been one-upping one another, someone always ending the story in a drugged stupor. Yet this time, with the nearness of Michael becoming a living puppet and the fact that Wild Bill has taken a hit in his pride by following Michael to Sioux Falls, they both find themselves in a situation where they’re together against the world and they have to figure out the rules. What follows is a almost a battle of will and wit. Can Michael make Bill admit that there is actually something between them, now that he’s starting to understand him and see through his sarcastic personality? And can Bill weigh Michael’s “serial killer” tendencies against the fact that he’s pretty much addicted to him and come out on top? They have to find out their roles, how they fit with each other and what it really means.
Looking back on this story to the first time I read it, most of what I remembered was about Marushka, and how creeped out she made me (“I noticed that her eyebrows weren’t actually eyebrows at all, just a pair of thin, curved lines she’d drawn on perpetually surprised”). I could never forget her. Yet, I didn’t remember as much about the interplay in the relationship. I can see now, after I’ve read it again and it’s fresh in my mind, how smart it is, but this story purely because of it’s place in the series, suffers a bit from that middle of the series (well, the first part) lag. I hate to even use that word, because it sounds so negative. And really, now that I’m not so shocked by the creepy dolls as I was the first time, the growing relationship between Michael and Wild Bill really sticks with me. This is where the relationship really starts to grow, and Jordan succeeds is using the emotion to drive the plot forward without losing any of Michael’s quasi-innocence or Bill’s fuck-the-world attitude.
There’s a lot to admire about this story in particular. Jordan shows that she can write horror and really shine here (or that’s what I call it, since it creeps me out like clowns do!). The opening scene is fantastically set up. The grunginess of the life Michael has been living for the past two years is highlighted by the obsessive cleanliness in the opening scenes. More than that, though, is the fact that this story is really the beginning of the larger story of the two of them together, setting up the scenarios that they’ll face together in the coming stories.
While this might not have been my favorite of the stories in the past, I appreciate it more now, and that says something about the series and how layered the characters are. I’m glad that I’ve taken away something different this time and I respect Jordan even more as an author. A...more