Title: Fear, Hope and Bread Pudding (Strawberries for Dessert #2 / Coda #7)
Author: Marie Sexton
Length: 40,539 words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Romance
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Series, Established Relationships, Kids, Family, Gay Dads, Gay Marriage, Adoption, On Vacation, Germany, Arizona, Phoenix, Long Awaited!, Favorite Couples!
Rating: Really Liked It
Families should grow, not shrink. It’s been on Jon Kechter’s mind since before he tied the knot with his millionaire lover, Cole Fenton. Now hoping to adopt, Jon and Cole search for a mother-to-be willing to let them love her baby, but the interminable wait is wearing on them both.
Jon is close to his father, George, but until Cole, he didn’t have anyone else. Now George is pushing Cole to reconcile with his estranged mother. When the three of them spend Christmas with her in Munich, the results are disastrous. Jon and Cole resolve to stay positive, but no hope exists without a tinge of fear. Jon and Cole can’t help but wonder if their dream of being parents just wasn’t meant to be.
The most awaited book of the year! Well, maybe… probably! And ever since the listing came up on the DSP site I’ve been mourning the fact that I can’t get it in paperback, to complete my set 😦 I guess that means that Marie is going to have to extend the series somehow, because that would be a crime!
Anyway, I was so happy when I got this in my inbox for review. In fact, I knew I was getting it early so I made sure to go back and read Strawberries for Dessert, which would be somewhat fortuitous. For those of you not living under a rock, Fear, Hope and Bread Pudding continues the story of Cole and Jonathan. Let’s do a little recap. We first met Cole in the first book of the Coda series, Promises, as Jared’s past fuck buddy and good friend. He’s fabulously rich and traveling is his career, with a boy in every port shall we say. Jonathan is introduced as Zack’s ex-boyfriend and we meet him on page for the first time in The Letter Z, where the two couples (Matt and Jared, Zack and Angelo) run into Jonathan in Las Vegas while on vacation.
Then, the best book of the series (and it’s definitely not just me that thinks that!) introduced the two men to each other. Jared, playing matchmaker, gave Cole Jonathan’s number which he got in Vegas and Cole called Jonathan to introduce himself and ask him out the next time he was in Phoenix. Strawberries for Dessert shows their very rocky start to a solid relationship as they both deal with the massive changes in their lives: Jonathan’s father and his dead-end job, and Cole’s relationship with his mother and his neuroses about settling down, being enough for one man and being a gypsy spirit tied to one place. In Paris A to Z, all three couples convene in Paris for the wedding of Jonathan and Cole, and we get caught up on each relationship.
Fear, Hope and Bread Pudding starts not too long after their wedding and takes the couple through the next few tumultuous years of their lives. The sequel that we were all waiting for after Cole ended Strawberries… with the secret “I’ve always wanted to be a father”, starts with the two men planning their family. Creating a family is more to the two than just wanting a child to care for. Cole was completely alone in the world before he married Jonathan, estranged from his socialite mother and ungrounded from any real roots. Jonathan always felt immense guilt for taking away his father’s possibility of grandchildren, but mostly he wants to please Cole, who he knows would be an incredible, doting father to any child. With all of Cole’s money at their disposal, they immediately set the adoption process in motion.
Their lawyer lets them know up front that the process can be full of heartbreak and take years to conclude. But Jonathan and Cole don’t really understand what waiting means when they’re perfect applicants and are already decorating their nursery. After months and months the absence of a child and the presence of an empty room start to loom over Cole. His excitement over becoming a father is wrapped up in his need to create stability for himself and in some way make up for the damage in his relationship with his own mother. Jonathan is firmly on Cole’s side. But Jon’s father understands things from a different perspective, and his meddling creates a whole new dynamic in their growing family… if they can finally find someone willing to give them their child.
Sorry, that was way too long!
This sequel surprised me in a number of ways. First, I was always going to love this, just because it’s a story about Cole and Jonathan and shows us where their lives are going after we saw them last. But how Marie wrote their story surprised me in a few ways, foremost with Jon’s father taking a large part of the POV in the middle section of the book. At first I was quite unsure of what she was doing with that, but I grew to love it and understand the perspective that he could offer, even though it took time away from Cole and Jonathan. It was a real gamble, but I felt like it payed off.
I think that if I had not read Strawberries… right before this book that I may not have liked it as much. Part of the problem is that this story is actually quite short and reading the first book with this couple helped me with feeling like I got to spend enough time with them. Make no mistake, though. I’m not saying that this story needed more. There is quite a large progression of time and a quick pace that made this novella feel really full of plot and time with the characters.
So yes, without a doubt I recommend this one. If you haven’t ever read the Coda series, or Strawberries for Dessert (which you could technically read without the other books), then you should run to pick them up. It’s one of my favorite m/m series out there. And this book is a continuation of a story that I already loved.
Posted by Cole in 16-40k, 5 Really Like It, Authors S-U, Contemporary, Heat 3 - Sexy & Mild, Romance, Sex Freq 2 - Few and Far Between Tags: Adoption, Arizona, Coda / Strawberries for Dessert, Dreamspinner Press, Existing Relationship, Family, Favorite Couples!, Gay Marriage, Germany, Kids, Long Awaited!, Marie Sexton, On Vacation, Phoenix, Series
Title: Three Fates
Author: Andrew Grey, Mary Calmes & Amy Lane
Length: 103,075 words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Paranormal, Fantasy, Romance
Keywords/Tags: Anthology, Author Backlist Project, Mythology
Rating: Pretty Good
For time immemorial, the goddesses of fate have decided which human threads will shine and which will be cut short. But even the fates have off days.
Fate Delivers a Prince by Andrew Grey: Finding love shouldn’t be that difficult for a diplomat’s son, except Cheyenne is part of a grand tradition of werewolves, and a werewolf with a skin condition needs more help than most mortals. When Chay meets the prince of his dreams, it takes Clotho’s intervention to keep him from letting go.
Jump by Mary Calmes: When two lovers die, their threads of life are collected instead of scattered, as one of them was the brother of a god. Can the fates reunite two lovers whose threads should have twined together for eternity? Or will Cassidy allow Raza’s interest to pass his pale, mortal self by?
Believed You Were Lucky by Amy Lane: The gods’ meddling isn’t always welcome. It’s given Leif good luck but poor fortune, and Hacon a family curse he’s lived in fear of all his life. But when Leif’s good luck saves Hake’s life, Hake has to reevaluate everything he’s ever believed about luck, life, and love.
I was interested in this quasi-anthology (?? — collection?) from the get-go and bought it mostly because of two of my favorite authors — Mary Calmes and Amy Lane — were in it. But, now that I’m reading a book by both of these authors a week, or at least trying, for my Author Backlist Project, I knew it was time to get this one out and see what to make of it. While I mostly liked it, the three stories within are all very different, so I’ll refrain from talking too much in this general part of the review and save it all for the individual stories.
However, all three stories do deal with the mythology of the Three Fates/Sisters/Morai. Known in Greek mythology as Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos, there are many things you might associate or remember about them from different sources — the one eye they share, how one allots the yarn or string, one weaves them and the other cuts them. These three different authors dealt with this mythology in different and interesting ways. Andrew Grey didn’t associate them with any of our known mythologies, but made them rather independent and changed their tools from fiber to wheels (though this might be from another cultural myth, I’m not sure). Mary Calmes gives us a the classical Greek definition with a bit of ancient Egyptian flair. Amy Lane, however, took the cake with her representation of the sisters, I think. Much more heavily involved in the lives of the characters of her story than the other author’s stories, her sisters were firmly entrenched in Norse mythology along with some other famous gods you might recognize, Loki and Thor. I found the interludes where they watched and discussed the lives of Leif and Hacon to be some of the best parts of the story and I loved that she inserted a bit of her own fiber knowledge (spit-slicing!) in there for comic relief. Of all the representations of the gods throughout these three stories, I have to say that not only were they the most enjoyable to watch, but they acted the most like the gods from mythology, at turns flighty and careless of their human charges, while at the same time playing favorites and taking a very firm hand in the mortal realm.
Fate Delivers a Prince by Andrew Grey (So So)
Genre: m/m Paranormal Romance
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Short Story, Wolf Shifters, Germany, Royalty, Mate Bonding
Coming in at around 20% of the overall length of the book, Andrew Grey’s story is the paranormal tale of a wolf shifter named Cheyenne, an American in Bavaria with his family. Chay is the youngest of three boys in their diplomat family, his father a powerful Alpha. Cheyenne is a rather weak wolf himself and not at all like his brothers, the oldest just like their father in strength and personality and the middle cruel and callous. What Chay wants more than anything is so find a mate he can love, but he knows that won’t ever happen. He’s afflicted with a mysterious skin condition, but when he’s a wolf and a human that covers his skin in large and red flaky patches that drive him crazy with discomfort and pain. He’s a bit of an embarrassment to his family really — who wants to sit next to the boy constantly starching himself at a state dinner?
So Chay might be the most surprised of all of them when he finally gets a whiff of his mate at a ball. And not only is it a man like he expected (and his father feared), but it’s Arthur, a prince. Chay is doomed. Not only is his mate entirely out of his league, but he’s human. The intervention of a mysterious and divine woman will change all of that.
I suppose that I was just a little bit disappointed by this story. I mean, it isn’t bad, but it really isn’t great either. It’s cute, but we never really get to know Arthur that well. It was frustrating to see the climax of the story hinge on the stupidity of the characters rather than a more original plot twist and the behavior of all of the characters was a little annoying. It doesn’t quite read “Big Mis” standards, because the miscommunication doesn’t last all that long, but I was hoping for a more interesting turn of events. In many respects it’s a werewolf Cinderfella (Cindercubba?) story, with the rich prince falling in love with the skin-afflicted commoner (no matter how rich he is), but I found the tone of the story to be more in line with a typical paranormal story rather than a fairy tale.
In all, this was my least favorite story in the collection. However, it takes a really ingenious, original and interesting shifter story to really get my attention and I know that many readers will like this story. It’s cute, a bit fluffy and an easy read. It just wasn’t what I was looking for.
Jump by Mary Calmes (Pretty Good)
Genre: m/m Contemporary Paranormal/Fantasy Romance
Heat: 4 – Spicy & Smutty
Sex Frequency: 3 – Average Story to Sex
Keywords/Tags: Cops/Agents, Crime, The Mafia, Psychics, Mythology, Reincarnation
Taking up about a third of the overall length of the book, Jump is the story of Cassidy, a short-term psychic matchmaker who is urged by his gift to interrupt the pattern of Raza’s life, in order to safe him from death. Raza is a mysterious figure, surrounded by guards, but Cassidy can immediately see that for as dangerous as he looks he has a big heart and a sweet disposition. Cassidy, who is rather self-effacing and seems desperate to remain lonely and guarded from his lovers, and the two immediately take to one another.
What they don’t know is how their lives are fated to continually cross after their death in a past life in ancient Egypt. It isn’t just Cass’ gift that shows they have an extra-strong connection to one another, but also interference from the gods. Because this divine intervention from the gods is set up in the prologue, I didn’t really mind too much that Raza and Cass fall immediately in love. If they were fated and felt like they knew each other upon meeting because of their past-life history, then I can suspend disbelief for that. I actually found Cass to be an interesting Calmes character, because though he has the token magnetism that she always seems to give her characters, where everyone is drawn to them as if they’re sent down from Heaven, Cass was actually rather nerdy and had quite a strong streak of low self-esteem.
This was definitely an enjoyable read, something that I’m used to getting with Mary Calmes’ stories. I still had a few problems with it, though. I felt it was rather short for the plot. I’m used to quite a fast pace from this author, where the scenes bleed into one another and seem to go directions I hadn’t expected, but I felt like since the mystery behind the men who want to kill Raza isn’t the primary focus of the story then we could maybe have gotten some more time for the romance to develop. I’m not even saying to make it not insta-love, but they only know one another for one day before their jumping into an HEA (and they really jump into it!), but a couple extra days together wouldn’t have hurt anything and I would have liked to have a little more time to settle into the relationship and see the characters getting to know each other better.
Believed You Were Lucky by Amy Lane (Really Liked It)
Genre: m/m Contemporary Fantasy Romance
Heat: 3 – Mild & Sexy
Sex Frequency: 3 – Average Story to Sex
Keywords/Tags: Norse Mythology, Fiber Arts, Family Issues, Mystery
The last story in this collection takes the remaining half of the book, coming in at a much longer story than the others and around 50k. It’s certainly a much larger story, with more characters and more time for the characters to develop a relationship. I already talked about one of my favorite aspects of this story, the heavy intervention on the part of the gods at just about every turn. The thing that made this story so absolutely charming, though, is Leif, who is lucky. Leif’s luck is a tangible thing, a little piece of string he sees in his mind which makes his decisions for him and keeps him out of trouble. It’s hardly scientific and sometimes it leads him into trouble only for him to learn that with that trouble is an even luckier payoff at the end. It also doesn’t mean that Leif has lived a charmed life. The luck/string goes hand in hand with his personality, however. It has shown Leif to look on the bright side of every situation, which leads him to have the sunniest disposition of any person or character I’ve ever seen. Some might even think him naive, but he’s a completely unique and utterly enthralling character, and so absolutely charming that you’ll be cheering for him to have his happily ever after.
There is quite a bit more that I could talk about with this story, there are (funnily enough) multiple strands running throughout that all give greater meaning in reflection of one another. But, I’ll let you find out all about this one on your own. Sure, I liked the other stories — I liked Mary Calmes’ story a lot — but this story is worth buying the whole book for. Even if you don’t read the others, get this book to read this story. Leif charmed me so much that I want to say he’s one of my all time favorite Amy Lane characters, which is saying something considering I finish every book of her’s and think, ‘WOW… those are my new favorite characters!’
Posted by Cole in 101-125k, 3 So So, 4 Pretty Good, 5 Really Like It, Authors A-C, Authors G-I, Authors J-L, Contemporary, Fantasy, Heat 3 - Sexy & Mild, Heat 4 - Spicy & Smutty, Paranormal, Romance, Sex Freq 2 - Few and Far Between, Sex Freq 3 - Average Story to Sex Tags: Amy Lane, Andrew Grey, Anthology, Author Backlist Project - Amy Lane, Author Backlist Project - Mary Calmes, Cops/Crime, Dreamspinner Press, Family Issues, Fiber Arts, Germany, Greek, Mafia, Mary Calmes, Mate Bonding, Mystery, Mythology, Norse, Psychic, Reincarnation, Royalty, Short Story, Wolf Shifters
Author: Aleksandr Voinov
Length: 13k words
Genre: m/m Historical Romance
Heat: 2 – Romantic & Tame
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Short Story, WWII, 1940s, Pilots, Mechanics, Germany
Rating: Me Like
Germany, 1945. The Third Reich is on its knees as Allied forces bomb Berlin to break the last resistance. Yet on an airfield near Berlin, the battle is far from over for a young mechanic, Felix, who’s attached to a squadron of fighter pilots. He’s especially attached to fighter ace Baldur Vogt, a man he admires and secretly loves. But there’s no room for love at the end of the world, never mind in Nazi Germany.
When Baldur narrowly cheats death, Felix pulls him from his plane, and the pilot makes his riskiest move yet. He takes a few days’ leave to recover, and he takes Felix with him. Away from the pressures of the airfield, their bond deepens, and Baldur shows Felix the kind of brotherhood he’d only ever dreamed of before.
But there’s no escaping the war, and when they return, Baldur joins the fray again in the skies over Berlin. As the Allies close in on the airfield where Felix waits for his lover, Baldur must face the truth that he is no longer the only one in mortal danger.
Taking place on an airfield outside of Berlin near the end of the war in 1945, Felix the airplane mechanic lives from liftoff to landing, moving forward in a steady crescendo, fixing the planes on the ground and waiting for them to return for more needed work. The war, now turning into a German defensive, is Felix’s only real experience with adult life, no matter the cruel parody of life that it is. He’s quite an innocent, his dream to fly with the men of the squadron, but relegated to the ground crew after failing the test. He watches the pilots with something akin to hero worship, but none more than Baldur, one of the best of the pilots. The two grow closer after Felix pulls a bullet out of Baldor’s plane — a near-miss that seems to upset Felix more than it does Baldor. They soon become friends and when they have time to take what seems like it might be their last weekend off, they grow closer, resolutely living in the moment and without contemplation of any possible future together when all their countrymen and women and children around them are paying for the actions of the Führer.
As tedious as it must be to write a story marketed towards English speaking readers from the mindset of a German during WWII, it is similar for this reviewer. I realized that when less than two pages in I found myself subconsciously giving each sentence ten times the weight and examination as I would a normal story. Some of that is ingrained habit, of course, on a subject that can easily incite heated feelings, but some of it is also because I was interested in seeing how the author would write the story. With this premise, suddenly it seems like the tone, the characters, and the many little details within carry so much more weight than with another story with a different setting. I know that the author knows this, especially with the note on the story about the exhaustive research he did. And I know it will be the same for most readers. I found myself a little torn about this fundamental question. I tend to be a peacemaker — someone who doesn’t like to ruffle feathers and hates conflict. I know that about myself by now, so my natural inclination towards this review is to completely disregard the politics and focus on the story. In a way, that is a discredit to the story, but I also feel like the story was handled well, in the sense that it was character driven and gives just enough character opinion (POV of Felix) to give weight to German sentiment of the time near the end of the war without it swallowing up the whole story. I can’t speak to the accuracy of statements like: “Just a few weeks ago, we were “winning the war.” Now, though, propaganda has become resigned, accusatory, as if all the losses and destruction are our fault.”, but I will interest me enough to read lots of other reviews of the story to see what other reviewers might think. I don’t really know enough about how different groups of Germans at the time thought, so I can’t quite say if I believe Felix’s statements seem to represent his character. I’m keeping an open mind.
As for the story itself, it is one the best short stories I’ve read by Voinov. There’s an incredibly pervasive dour tone throughout the whole story that sets the mood for the hopelessness Felix feels and witnesses in Baldur. It makes the case of continual hopelessness and the stark reality of their future as well when, at the climax of the story, the tone doesn’t change.
I always notice the sensory detail in Voinov’s work, and this story didn’t let me down. The flashes of color among the grey provide a stark dissonance. All the sense are used effectively, taste, scent, touch, and sound come forward to have more meaning against desolate towns that are described in drab sights. When looking at a basket full of food under a red-checked cloth, Felix narrates: “He pauses for a moment, gazes down at the towel, and we might be thinking the same — that it looks, from the corner of the eye, like blood-spattered cloth. The pattern is too regular, however, and the whole ordered madness of war is in dissolution everywhere else, so it can’t live in that basket.”
I don’t have criticism for the story, and if this is just a taste of a longer novel soon to come (whether about these characters or not), then I’m very excited to see what Voinov will release in the near future.
Posted by Cole in 5 Really Like It, Authors V-Z, Heat 2 - Romantic & Tame, Historical, Romance, Sex Freq 2 - Few and Far Between, up to 15k Tags: 1940s, Aleksandr Voinov, Germany, Mechanics, Pilots, Riptide Publishing, Short Story, WWII