on m/m romance, baking, knitting, and occasional smut

Tag Archives: Grief

The Ranch ForemanTitle: The Ranch Foreman
Author: Rob Colton
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Length: 28k words, 120 pages
Genre: m/m Contemporary Erotica
Heat: 4 – Spicy & Smutty
Sex Frequency: 4 – Very Often
Keywords/Tags: Closeted, Cowboys, OFY, Grief, Grovel you Bastard!, Healing, Hostile Work Environment, Hurt/Comfort, May/December, Sexual Abuse/Assault
Rating: So So

Reviewed by Nikyta

BLURB

When Madison “Matty” Ward finds himself out of work and without a place to live, his cousin comes through with a job on the Gates cattle ranch. Despite not knowing anything about herding cattle or taking care of horses, Matty does his best to impress the older hunky foreman, Baxter Hollingsworth. Baxter is drawn to the new young hand, but he’s deeply closeted, and after an openly gay veterinarian shows he’s interested in Matty, Baxter’s repressed feelings lead to an explosive encounter. Baxter then withdraws—leaving Matty feeling angry and used—until an accident forces him to confront his fears.

REVIEW

This is a difficult review to write. I won’t deny that the writing drew me in even though this is essentially just an erotica novella, I still had that desire to continue reading even when I was being overwhelmed by sex.

When Matty puts his aunt in a nursing home, it leaves him homeless until his cousin gets him a job at a ranch. Once there, he’s immediately attracted to Baxter, the older ranch foreman who’s very deep in the closet. Everyone on the ranch pretty much knows that Matty is gay but over the course of the book, Matty and Baxter strike up a purely sexual relationship that has a tinge of bitterness and resentment to it. Matty wants a relationship but Baxter is stuck in his old ways. Now Matty has to decide whether he wants to keep his self-respect or take what little scraps Baxter is willing to give him.

Matty, at first, comes off as a slightly battered character. He’s feeling guilty about his aunt but grateful he’s no longer homeless and without a job. He’s a sweet guy that has a thing for older gentleman like Baxter. Baxter, in my opinion, was a complete douche bag. I sincerely disliked him for most of the book because he would either snap or growl at Matty, completely ignore Matty or push Matty to his knees for some head. He didn’t have a personality beyond that of a bastard and even with all these people saying he’s a good man, I never saw any of that. All I ever saw was Baxter silently demanding Matty to suck him when he was drunk, getting mad at Matty for no reason, ignoring Matty for days after they get together and then getting jealous when Matty decides he wants to move on to other guys. By the end of the book, however, he does lighten up a bit and I did like the way he helped Matty and Brian when things take a turn for the aunt but it was in no way enough to redeem himself for how he acted the whole time.

Aside from my hatred of Baxter, this was a promising read and definitely had a lot of potential but I found I had a lot of issues with the story. Mainly, I severely disliked the way the author handled not only Baxter but his encounters with Matty. I didn’t feel any connection between Matty and Baxter because all their time together consisted mainly of Matty giving Baxter blowjobs and then Baxter ignoring Matty until the next blowjob. I could have gotten past that but then it seemed the only way Baxter would do anything with Matty was when he was drunk. It was frustrating and disappointing to say the least because Baxter had no problems molesting Matty when he was wasted but wouldn’t even LOOK at Matty when he was sober let alone have a friendly conversation. Beyond that, this story had a lot of sex to it and what parts didn’t have sex had Matty pining over Baxter. It was hard for me to understand Matty’s obsession when we never saw any of the qualities in Baxter that Matty was pining over. Then again, he was very obsessed with Baxter’s package so granted that was shown quite often. To be honest, I don’t think Matty and Baxter had a meaningful conversation until the last few pages of the book and even then it wasn’t more than a few paragraphs, if that. One last issue I had was Clyde. I felt like the whole issue with him was pointless and the resolution to it didn’t bring Baxter or Matty closer, if anything it pushed them farther apart. I will say one thing, I’m very grateful that what Clyde does was not shown.

In the end, while this book had a lot of potential, it was overcrowded by sex and Baxter’s bad personality mixed with Matty’s willingness to be walked over by him. If this story had more dialogue between Matty and Baxter that didn’t occur while they were having sex, it would have been better. If the sex had been cut down, that would have been even better, IMO, but as it is, this felt more like an erotica story than a romance considering that there was no lead up to the love these boys apparently have together.

Those looking for something smutty and easy to read will like this story IF you like May/December, as well.


bloodbathory185Title: Blood Bathory: Like the Night
Author: Ari McKay
Publisher: Torquere
Length: 123,500 words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Paranormal Romance
Heat: 4 – Spicy & Smutty
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Series, Co-Authored, Vampires, Shifters, On the Lam, Past Trauma/Abuse, Cops (FBI), Friends to Lovers, Best Friends, NYC, Paris, Artists (Photographer), Grief, Second Chances, Sexy to the 999s, Machiavellian Bad Guy, Villain, Mythology
Rating: Really Liked It

BLURB

Evan St. John, a young fashion photographer running from the pain caused by the death of his younger sister, is thrilled when he is offered a job with House of Nadasdy, a leading fashion house in Paris. What he doesn’t know is that Elizabeth Nadasdy, the elegant and powerful owner, is a centuries-old vampire with a penchant for collecting beautiful people. To Evan’s horror, he is turned into one of her “children”.

Unable to bear what he has become, Evan flees to New York and to his best friend, police officer Will Trask. For years, Evan has nursed an unrequited love for Will, but he also knows Will is the one person who might be able to help him. As Evan and Will try to deal with Evan’s condition, they are drawn into the world of the theriomorphs: shape-shifters who are guardians of life and the sworn enemies of vampires. Caught in an ancient war between two powerful supernatural forces, Evan and Will find they must choose sides — because if they are to have any chance of a future together, they must destroy Elizabeth Nadasdy before she destroys them.

REVIEW

These two authors have been one of my favorite writing teams for a while now, and I knew that I wanted to review this book before I’d even heard of it or read the blurb. So when I finally did read the blurb I was even more exited, especially for such a long book. And finishing it took me a couple of days, mostly just because I wanted to enjoy it, so I spent my time reading it totally for pleasure and enjoying every twist and turn.

Evan St. John and Will Trask have a tumultuous past. Roommates their Freshman year of college at Columbia, they soon grow to be friends. Evan is openly gay and an art photography student, always carrying around his camera, while Will is a manly jock through and through. For reasons that Evan never understands, Will sticks by him and the bullying he was experiencing dwindles when people start to realize that Will will aways have his back. As they grow closer Evan starts to understand Will better, including Will’s White Knight Complex, his need to protect and care for those he loves, to an almost fanatical, save-the-day to-the-rescue level.

Their dynamic changes when Evan’s sister is dying of cancer and their relationship grows during the emotional period — Evan is distraught and barely keeping himself afloat while trying to understand and come to terms with her turn for the worse. And Will picks up the slack, in more ways than expected. But the grief sends Evan running to Paris and three years go by, where Evan becomes a famous fashion photographer taken on by The House of Nadasdy, run by famous and infamous Elizabeth Nadasdy, and Will becomes an agent with the FBI.

We’re first introduced to Evan in Like the Night as he escapes Paris during the day to fly to New York City and seek help from Will. He’s a newly made vampire under the gruesome and tyrannical rule of Elizabeth Nadasdy, a modern day remnant of her famous human days as Elizabeth of Bathory. Above all (except herself), she loves beauty and hoards a collection of “children” all turned by her for their extraordinary beauty, which she believes deserves to be preserved for eternity. Evan was a prize for her, and his rejection of her extraordinary “gift” is tantamount to the ultimate betrayal, something she relishes punishing him for. But Elizabeth doesn’t expect the trouble it will take to find and deal with Evan. With him, someone whose beauty hides his intelligence and cunning, are a group of allies who seek one common goal: the eradication of Elizabeth Nadasdy. And of course Evan has Will, his White Knight, ready to stand in front of any threat to his best friend.

I really just loved this book. I took a while to read it because it is long, but it is also totally packed with plot and, just about everything under the sun, making the book seem even longer than it is. There’s an economy to the writing which gives you SO much story for just the first book of a series that it gave me the time and the opportunity to really sink into the story. What came through in this story most strongly for me was the pervasive mood of fear and impending doom. This is all because of the fact that Elizabeth is built up to such supervillain status that she’s made to be almost omniscient, with unlimited power. Add to this a connection between vampires and their sire, or maker, and the fact that Elizabeth could peek in on Evan at any moment and even make him do things or spy on his relationship with Will, or their planned resistance of her make the story suffused with tension.

I found the villainous characters in this novel to be quite interesting. We have Elizabeth who is the typical diabolical character. She relishes in the pain of others and not only causes death and despair because it gets her something (money, fame, power, etc.) but also because she enjoys the suffering of others. She firmly believes that she’s more worthy than anyone else to have the status that she does because of her beauty and the vision she has for the future. But, sometimes diabolical is boring. No matter how outrageously cruel Elizabeth can be, she’s still a character that doesn’t take too much effort to understand. My favorite villainous character is her daughter Anna, who I suspect will become a crucial and central character to the future books. Anna is raised in the shadow of her diabolical mother. She’s always second best, but raised to revel in the same cruelties as her mother. She’s made a vampire both because of her beauty which is similar to her mother’s, but also as a gift from her. But hundreds of years of oppression make Anna rather different from her mother. Though I suspect that they both have similar depth of cruel possibility inherently in them, Anna’s choices are governed by her hate of her mother and her acceptance that her only meaning to her mother is what she can do for her. That makes her cruel, but much more interesting than her mother. And of course, it’s going to be great when the two really turn on one another 😉

Anyway, I’m super excited for the second book. I hope it isn’t too far away. But honestly, I can’t really be sad because this is the first book in a while (that is the first book of a series) that actually gives us enough story to satisfy us for the first installment. 123k words is pretty long, yes, but it allows the book to give full and adequate world-building while also giving us a real story that will be carried on in the second part. We have a full and self-standing plot with only a few loose ends to pick up in the next book. If this is the case for the next books as well, then I can only imagine where this story will go before it ends!

Definitely Recommended!

GIVEAWAY RULES

Please leave a comment below to win an ebook copy of Blood Bathory: Like the Night by Ari McKay. The giveaway will last until Midnight CDT on Tuesday, July 16. I will choose the winner using Random.org and email the winner who will then have 48 hours from the time of the drawing to reply to my email. I will then forward the winner’s information to the author so the winner can receive their book.

Please enter the email you’d wish me to contact you at in the comment form, or if you prefer, leave it in the message.

Thank you and good luck!

GIVEAWAY CLOSED


ShadowsIntheNightLGTitle: Shadows in the Night (Leap of Faith #1)
Author: MA Church
Publisher: Dreamspinner
Length: 63,085 words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Paranormal Romance
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 3 – Average Sex to Story
Keywords/Tags: Series, Cat Shifters, Big Cats (Cougars), Native American, Mississippi, Grief/Death, Stalker, Secrets & Lies, Mate Bonding, Diverse Pairing, Light & Sweet
Rating: Pretty Good

BLURB

When Chip Riley’s beloved granny passes away, she leaves him all her money, her land, and a house that needs some tender love and care. She never mentioned the legacy comes with a Native American shifter who intends to claim Chip as his mate.

Jason Sky has lived since buffalo roamed the land. When his totem spirit, a black cougar, saves a little girl, he doesn’t realize that generations later, her grandson will become his mate, leaving him to take on a modern man with modern ideas. But that’s the least of his problems.

Garon, another shifter with a long-held hatred for Jason, plots to kidnap Chip and lure Jason to his death. Soon Chip finds himself in an untenable position between a rock and a hard place. A leap of faith may be the only way to save himself and the man he’s learned to love.

REVIEW

Shadows in the Night is the first book I’ve read by MA Church. I was really in the mood for a shifter story when this book came up in the review rotation just prior to release, so I decided to take a chance. After all, I’ve been interested in several other books by this author, but I’ve never tried any of them. I got what I wanted, this is a shifter story. And while it would maybe be insulting to call it a simple shifter story, by which I mean maybe a classic shifter romance with mating bonds and all, that’s really what this is. And because of that, it was a satisfying read.

Chip grew up in a loveless home. His spoiled and cold mother and a workaholic absentee father made his relationship with his Granny grow and grow with age. Granny lived in a small town in Mississippi and every summer Chip escaped there to run in the grass, swim in the ponds and fish and play with his “horsie”, a very large black animal that he used to ride like a horse. He remembers those days with fondness when he loses his job and his Granny dies. It’s a low period for him, but it’s important to return to her home and the small town to pay respect to her and to remember such a wonderful, independent and loving woman, the only real mother Chip ever had.

His grandmother’s last words to him — “Trust him. He’s the one.” — baffle him, but Chip puts them out of his mind as he goes through her arrangements and her will. She left everything to him, which was surprisingly a large amount of money and her home and land. He no longer has to worry about finding a new job, which is freeing. Chip can spend the time he needs to go through her things and then live as he’s always wanted to, there in her house in the country. He soon meets the colorful characters of the town, her wizened lawyer, the creepy realtor, and his neighbor Jason, with beautiful Native features and long black hair. Jason seemed to know his Granny rather well and rather quickly Chip grows to know him well also. The two form a quick bond that seems perfectly right. It’s only when he’s nearly attacked by a tawny brown cougar and rescued by a black cougar — one that by all means shouldn’t exist — that things change drastically.

As I said before, in many ways this is a typical shifter story. We have a shifter and his secrets from the man he’s recognized as his mate, and the man himself who knows nothing of the paranormal world. There’s a mating bond and a threat coming from one of the men’s past that acts as a catalyst to move the plot and relationship forward. It makes an enjoyable read, but not a wholly original one. But, that’s okay. It’s all about what you like to read that will make this book good for you or not. I know that shifter stories such as this one do really well, because there are so many fans of shifters out there. There are also some of you that don’t like to read these stories that much. I fall somewhere in between. Every now and then I will always want a shifter story to fall back on and read. It’s comforting and why I’m a big proponent of not hating on the “fluff”. Sometimes that’s what you want to read, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, most people (or those that don’t read romance) would call all romance fluff as a blanket term (so let’s not nitpick people).

Anyway, sorry for going tangential on you. While I maybe wouldn’t define this completely as reading candy (in the fluff sense), it is mostly a lighthearted read. I found the shifter culture in this book to be rather interesting, in that there didn’t seem to be highly defined pack structure. The community of shifters are all related by Native American culture and Jason, when he finally must tell Chip everything, talks a bit about the creation of the shapeshifter. I liked this part of the book the best, and I found the author’s genesis of the shifter and their human’s relation to the animal totem to be pretty interesting. There is mention of a little detail about a representation of their totem that I really wanted to know more about that isn’t much explained, but hopefully that will come up in the next book. This story focuses mainly on Chip and Jason and their world in this book is incredibly insular. There are a few moments where other characters are present, but this book is highly focused on their relationship and their internal conflict, with the external conflict I mentioned before acting as a catalyst to their relationship’s progression. I’ll be really interested in reading the next book because I’d like to see if there is more of their native cultural history.

This is a fairly quick read and definitely a book that you should know if you’d like from reading the blurb and from reading this review. If you’re a fan of shifter stories then this is definitely something you’ll want to pick up. It’s not trying to push any boundaries or re-define the shifter romance novel, but that probably opens it up to a wider audience as well. Sometimes what you want to read is something that you know will give you pleasure and which you won’t have to stress over while reading. It makes for a pleasant experience and this was a book that I enjoyed. Plus, you’ll love Jason in bed. HOT!


TatsofHonorLGTitle: Tats of Honor
Author: Vona Logan
Publisher: Dreamspinner
Length: 26,966 words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Romance
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Grieving Partner, Grief, Best Friends, Suicide, On Vacation, GFY/OFY, Bisexual, New Zealand, Tattoos, Insta-Love
Rating: Not Feelin’ It

*Some Spoilers!*

BLURB

Kegan Andrews wears his heart on his sleeve, or rather his skin—his tattoo is a testimony to those he’s loved and lost. The losses are piling up—like his young cousin’s suicide and his fiancée’s betrayal. He needs perspective, and the New Zealand trip he planned months ago seems to promise him that. Then Kegan meets Dominic, a man wrapped in so much grief and guilt it’s as if his own heart died two years ago with his long-time partner.

Dominic can’t move on—can’t even imagine it until Kegan jumpstarts his frozen heart. Dominic knows Kegan isn’t gay, so he fights his growing feelings, but Kegan embraces his new self-knowledge about whom he might love. Will Dominic stay mired in the safety of past heartbreak and become a distant memory etched into Kegan’s skin, or will he risk himself for the promise of a new beginning?

REVIEW

Kegan lands in New Zealand alone and lost. He’d been looking forward to getting away with his fiancee after his cousin and best friend committed suicide. His grief is wrapped up in his love for his fiancee, especially when she ditches him at the gate for the restroom only to leave the airport, and Kegan to realize that he’s been left while flying over the Pacific. The loss is compounded by the fact that Kegan knows that his fiancee was the main reason he removed himself from his cousin’s life. He doesn’t understand how he could let himself choose a cheating and selfish woman over his best friend, and the thought that his actions might have contributed to his cousin’s loneliness at the time he needed him most… it’s almost more than he can bear. Kegan decides to take his vacation traveling around New Zealand alone and figure out his life and what he really wants.

Dominic is a Kiwi. We meet him first as he moves into a new house, finally leaving the home of he and his late partner. It’s been two years, but Dominic is a shadow of the man he used to be. He has no problem admitting that he wish he’d died as well. Moving on without him is too hard. His best friend Lisa surprises him by coming to stay with him for a week, and it is during that week — while Lisa drags him out of the house day after day — that the two stop at a restaurant and end up sharing a table with a lonely American traveler, named Kegan.

The two guys have an immediate chemistry, but it takes both of them willing to move on and embrace a new time in their lives to have any chance at a relationship.

Of course, my biggest problem here was the insta-love. I mean, I would say that this ends in an HFN, but some might say an HEA. I just had a problem believing that after spending so little time together they could fall in love enough to propagate an around the world move to be together and also in that time have been able to move on with their pasts. I get that Kegan could maybe do it. I liked that the author made his move to New Zealand not only to be with Dominic, but also as a fresh start in his life and career. I could see him making the decision that he needed a fresh injection into his life and he might make that leap because he needed a chance anyway. But I didn’t understand Dominic at the end of the story. There’s a part right at the end, where Dominic… I guess he sees the ghost of his dead partner. It was a strange paranormal twist that I only partly grasped. But, I understood the message which was that he wanted Dominic to move on. It seemed like an easy way to make it okay for Dominic to let go and be okay for him to fall in love, when in reality it just seemed to rushed for me to accept and without a lot of the work he’d need to undertake. He was just so messed up in the beginning.

I’m sorry to say that I can’t really recommend this. I’ve read one other story by this author which I enjoyed — Return to Destiny — but this story felt a bit unfinished to me. I think that I actually would have enjoyed learning more about Dominic’s partner. In books like this that explore a new relationship after one person’s (or two) previous partner died, I usually feel like it’s important for the new love interest to learn about the previous one. And certainly, I think it might have helped this relationship between Dominic and Kegan to develop at a faster pace (since the time line was so short) because Dominic could let go of some fears and memories and share them with Kegan. I don’t know, just a thought. But I definitely would have liked to know more about him. It would have shown us even more about Dominic.


RunningAwayFromSunshineLGTitle: Running Away From Sunshine
Author: Gwynn Marssen
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Length: 14k words, 55 pages
Genre: m/m Contemporary
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 3 – Average Story to Sex
Keywords/Tags: 2013 Daily Dose – Make a Play, (A Bit) Angsty, Closeted, Doctors, Friends to Lovers, Grieving, Healing, HFN, Light & Sweet, Short Story, Sports (Hockey Players), Yearning
Rating: So So

Reviewed by Nikyta

BLURB

Nobody knows why ER resident Jake Nichols left California to move to cold and dark Calgary, Canada. Nobody knows Jake hasn’t always been a silent loner. Nobody in his new home knows he is gay, and nobody needs to know, since he doesn’t plan to let anyone in… until he meets Gabriel Montgomery, the carefree hockey player with the big blue eyes who just won’t take no for an answer when it comes to opening up and accepting the possibility of love.

REVIEW

This is a quick story about Jake and Gabriel and the friendship they develop. Jake is an ER doctor who seems to constantly have to treat Gabriel, an injury prone college hockey player. The crush Jake has for Gabriel is something he can live with until Gabriel learns Jake isn’t a hockey fan and brings it upon himself to show Jake just what he’s missing. As friends, they have a lot in common but Jake soon realizes that his feelings for Gabriel keep growing and it isn’t until his brother gets into a car accident that Gabriel becomes aware of Jake’s crush and things start to stir up between them.

This is one of those books that had a lot of potential but is hindered by the length of the story. I was really enjoying the beginning of it. I adored the friendship that Jake and Gabriel developed and the fun they had together. They are completely different people. Gabriel is a young college student and Jake is the older (although I’m not sure by how much) man who has a handle on life. Or so he thinks. While they’re different people they’re both adrenaline junkies and their bond becomes stronger because of that. I loved that Gabriel was so carefree because he didn’t let many things get to him, which meant he was always ready with a broad smile and a funny joke. Jake is a loner but needs the motivation to heal his broken heart and Gabriel can give him that.

I believe the moral of the story is about healing. Coming to terms with things that have happened, accepting them and moving on; stop running away and start living again. It’s a sweet, inspiring message that comes across greatly in Jake. If the story had been based solely on that, I would have enjoyed this a lot more. Unfortunately, other conflicts that were put into the story were out of place and weren’t given the proper due they deserved. For example, Gabriel being a college hockey player is in the closet. However, we don’t know this until almost the end of the story because he doesn’t act like it. Unfortunately, that kind of conflict needs to be fleshed out and I felt like this was something that was mentioned and then accepted after a brief fight. In the end, it’s still not address with much substance leaving the issue in the same position it was before the argument, which made the story feel incomplete and gave it the HFN ending. As I said, I was liking the story in the beginning but as it progressed, the author tried to push in multiple conflicts that just couldn’t fit into such a short story without being properly fleshed out.

Overall, this was a nice read. The characters are adorable and I loved how casual they were with each other but as a couple, I felt like they fell short on what they could have been. Their conflicts were just too big for the length of the read. I sincerely hope the author is thinking of making this into a series because their relationship feels incomplete to me. However, for those readers looking for something short and sweet with a tiny bit of angst, you’ll enjoy this one I bet!


walkinthedarkmcmurrayleadusnotindecemberhalloweenhowl

*Click the covers to be taken to the story/purchase info. Further info at the bottom of the post.
**”On the Stoop”, the DSP Halloween Howl story, is currently unavailable.

When I decided to review Kate McMurray’s backlist, I wanted to make sure that I didn’t forget any shorts. And while there aren’t many, when I did start making my list of the books I needed to read and to re-read, I decided that I’d go ahead and just do all of them. There are a very short list of short stories, most of them free. So, at the very least this is a good place for someone unfamiliar with this author to decide if they like her style and writing.

Also, I find it interesting to read short stories written by this author, who is definitely more well known for her novels. Both Kindling Fire for Snow and her newest, Save the Date, are shorter than most (the first at around 20k and the latter at around 33k words), but they aren’t really short stories either, which is a completely different style of writing in some ways. Some authors are terrible at writing shorts but write completely incredible novels, and vice versa. Of course, that’s mostly in the literary genre because short stories are much more valued there, but I always find it interesting to see how an m/m author I like transitions to writing shorts. And even though I’d read quite a few of Kate’s books, I had surprisingly read none of her short stories.

I started with the two that I already had: A Walk in the Dark (part of the 2011 Dreamspinner Advent Calendar) and Lead Us Not (one of the M/M Romance Group’s 2012 Love is Always Write stories). And… I can’t believe it but I loved them both. In fact, I think that this might be where Kate’s background in literature and literary fiction (mostly as a reader, as she said in her interview with me two days ago).

A Walk in the Dark tells the story of Jared’s unrequited love for his best friend and roommate’s boyfriend Brandon. Rex, Jared’s roommate, is a bit of a player, but in the way only best friends can still loves him and sees his good qualities no matter how much he hates seeing the guy he loves being dicked around and very possibly cheated on. I thought that the story did what it really needed to without giving us too much more, which is one of my biggest problems with short stories — when they try to be novels in disguise. The characters came through for me in a real way because of the awkward position they’re in and the story is good for the season, a sweet HEA for Christmas. I give it a Pretty Good.

Lead Us Not was really the surprise for me. I remember seeing the prompt that Kate chose and looking forward to reading the story, but somewhere in there I missed it and haven’t thought much about it since then. The prompt asks for a story about two actors and boyfriends who’ve moved to NYC to pursue their dreams and the temptations they face in order to get to their HEA. The story Kate gave us was simply beautiful, in emotion and in craft. Written in alternating first person between Sam and Jess, they each tell us about their own lives in NYC and how they’ve grown and moved from the naive boyfriends who moved there several years ago, two of them against the world. They recount how their lives have started to diverge and how no matter how much each still loves the other, how much doubt can harm a relationship. The temptations offered are in the form of two other guys, catalysts who seem to be a sounding board for all of their doubts about themselves, each other and their careers, which for both are going in directions they never really expected. The beauty of the story is how Kate shows us such a sweet love story without pulling punches. It’s a much more true to real life story than many sugarcoated fantasies in the romance genre and that gave it a real ring of authenticity that makes their hard-won HEA really worth it. I’ve only given Kate one 5-star review in the past, for Out in the Field, but this is my second. I Loved It. And it’s free!

The remaining two stories are both free stories. “In December My Heart’s Full of Spring” is currently available for download and read here, on Kate’s website. “On the Stoop”, the story that was released in October as part of the Dreamspinner Halloween Howls, is currently unavailable from their website, but is also up for download at Kate’s website.

Both stories are much shorter than the previous two. “On the Stoop” is the story of a recent transplant to NYC from St. Louis, a man who seeing the differences between Halloween celebrations in New York are different from his childhood in the suburbs in the midwest feels that they only reflect how out of place he feels. When he meets a cute guy sitting on his stoop in his neighborhood handing out candy to passing kids, he sits and talks and finally feels like he’s made a friend, or something more that could give him hope that he could call the city home. This was a cute, no-sex story. It’s quite short and doesn’t have a whole lot going on, but I still felt like Adrian was developed well for a story of this length. Because there isn’t a whole lot going on, I couldn’t really love it, though it was a nice read. So this one gets a cute So So 😉

And lastly, “In December My Heart’s Full of Spring” is the story of two men who meet at the top of the Empire State building on a lonely Christmas Eve. Both are at low points in their lives and seeing an old friend who they hadn’t seen in years gives them the energy to get through the night together when they thought they’d have to spend it alone and depressed. That night leads to a bonding between the two of them and eventually, more… I felt similarly about this story as I felt about “On the Stoop”, though where that story had less actual plot, I felt like this story actually had quite a bit going on. If Goodreads is right and this was made available (in whatever form) in 2009, that makes this one of Kate’s first public stories. I could see some of that in the writing. Perhaps the meeting atop the Empire State Building is a bit cliché, but the story quickly moves on and developed two really good characters, which showed me that Kate has a natural talent for writing realistic characters, even if her writing might have improved some over the intervening years. This one gets a So So as well.

For anyone interested, Dreamspinner recently published a free sequel short about Four Corner characters Jake and Adam’s anniversary on the DSP Blog, called “Shortstop.” I talked a bit about it (it’s cute!) in my review of Four Corners the other day. Here’s the link for anyone interested in read it.

Well, sadly that ends Kate McMurray Week 😦 I hope all of you enjoyed taking a tour through her books with me and also enjoyed our interview on Thursday. Remember, comment on the interview before Midnight, Tuesday June 11th for a chance to win a copy of her book, Save the Date!

Next Up: I do the same with Lou Harper the last week of June. I’ll be reviewing her entire backlist and interviewing her as well as talking about her upcoming book, Dead Man and the Restless Spirits, about Denton from Spirit Sanguine, available on June 25th. I hope you’ll join me for that!