Title: Witness Protection
Author: Derek Adams
Publisher: Amber Allure
Length: 15k words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Roamnce
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 4 – Very Often
Keywords/Tags: Short Story, GFY/OFY, Mafia, Cops, Crime, WITSEC, Insta-Love, Archetypes, Ex-Cons, In the Woods
Rating: Not Feelin’ It
Ex-con Tony Bradshaw drops into a convenience store on his way home after work, looking for a loaf of bread. What he finds instead is trouble. Overnight, he becomes the star witness in the murder trial of a major mob enforcer. Death threats quickly follow, and Tony’s life is completely disrupted.
Tony is hustled off to a secluded cabin in the woods with bodyguard Alec Dubinski, a handsome young detective who at first appears to be a complete homophobe. Relations between them start off poorly and soon hit rock bottom during a drunken stupor. But after Alec apologizes for his unacceptable behavior, the sexual chemistry between the men can no longer be ignored. A night of unbridled passion leads to a declaration of their growing affection for one another.
Their idyll in the woods is brought to a halt, however, when their hideout is brutally attacked by mafia henchmen. What sacrifice is Tony willing to make as he attempts to save the man he has come to love?
It wasn’t until I finished this story that I checked and realized I haven’t actually ever read anything by Derek Adams before. I have plenty of his stories, but I’ve never gotten around to reading one of them. Now, I can’t say that my feelings about this story have any bearing on the quality of writing in those other stories, but I suspect that had I read anything by this author before last week, when I decided to get this from Amber Allure for review, I might have taken a pass. And honestly, I wish I had.
Tony Bradshaw has had a rough life. Problems at home manifested in his juvenile delinquency at an early age. And once he’s in the system, it’s almost impossible for Tony to get out of it. Criminal habits and a harsh reality of his place in society result in a vicious circle, of a world that continually admonishes Tony for his lack of worth while at the same time actively helping him to fail. Bad behavior and stupid choices as a teenager lead to his need to rob, steal and sell his body to survive as an adult. Tony is the first to admit that while he may have had few choices at that time, it doesn’t negate the fact that with the choices he did have he always chose the worst ones. And Tony knows even more how your image can control who you are and the choices you have.
Tony is on a first name basis with many of Seattle’s cops, and the older cops that know him by name and reputation seem to delight in reminding him that while he has his life together now they’re just waiting for him to slip up so they can remind him of who they know him to be. Having such a bad reputation with law enforcement makes it even harder for Tony to bear what is happening to him now. What Tony thought was a small altercation on a dark street corner turns out to be the smoking gun that cops need to bring down one of the key components of an organized crime ring. He’s in real danger and an obvious target before he can testify in the trial. Now that Tony is an honest citizen, he does his duty and tells the cops what he saw. The cops, on the other hand, only grudgingly give him protection. They send him and a cop by the name of Alec to a cabin in the woods until the trial can be brought together. Tony’s reward for his candor is a one way ticket into WITSEC.
What was a somewhat unoriginal plot (which is pretty obvious from the blurb) was made even worse by choppy writing, superficial characters and a plot that never really went anywhere. By that, I mean that several factors came together in an unfortunate way. The writing itself relies heavily on summary instead of active scene, which we’re given in several info dumps. There are also large gaps in time that end up being gaps in plot because of the lack of transition between parts of the story and in character growth. Most frustrating for me, aside from the lack of growth in the characters, was the stilted dialogue that seemed like something the characters would never say. Also, without showing any of the internal process, one of the characters makes a drastic 180 that really kind of baffled me. And last, I was curious to see how the author would write the end scene. It’s pretty obvious from the blurb what is going to happen. Ultimately, I found the ending completely anticlimactic and the characters actions so apart from their real person that I just really couldn’t understand them at all.
To be quite honest, I really wouldn’t recommend this story — not even if you’re a fan of Derek Adams. I’m sure some people will like this story, but with so many obvious flaws, I think that’s a small percentage of readers.
Posted by Cole in 2 Not Feelin' It, Authors A-C, Contemporary, Heat 3 - Sexy & Mild, Romance, Sex Freq 4 - Very Often, up to 15k Tags: Amber Allure, Archetypes, Cops/Crime, Derek Adams, Dub/Non-Con, Ex-Cons, GFY/OFY, In the Woods, Insta-Love, Mafia, Short Story, WITSEC
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
Title: A Knitter in His Natural Habitat (Knitting #3)
Author: Amy Lane
Length: 51,455 words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Romance
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Series, Knitting/Fiber Arts, Mafia/Mob, Secrets & Lies, Man Sluts!, Funny Guys
Rating: Really Liked It
Stanley’s life took a left turn at a knitting shop and hit a dead end. The closest thing he’s had to a relationship breaks things off to date a “nice boy,” and none of the pretty young things in Boulder’s limited gay scene do it for Stanley. He needs to reevaluate whether working as a floor designer for a series of craft stores is really where he wants to be. Then Stanley does a peculiar thing: he starts to live the life he fell into. Stitch by stitch, he knits his life into something meaningful. Just when he does, Johnny, the store’s new delivery boy, walks in. Johnny is like no one Stanley has ever met: he doesn’t believe in quickies in the bathroom and has a soft spot for theater and opera. There has to be a catch. When Johnny’s dark past comes back to haunt them, Stanley realizes how much he loves his cushy life in the yarn store—but he’ll give it all up to keep the man who makes his ordinary life extraordinary.
I admit, I was a bit worried to read this book. I loved Stanley in the past books (or at least, I knew I would once we got to know him better), but I loved How to Raise an Honest Rabbit so, so, so much, along with Jeremy, that I wasn’t sure if this book could live up to my feelings about that one. In a way it did, but in some ways it didn’t.
Stanley is an old party boy — or at least, that’s how he feels. Never has he had a real relationship, just quick fucks in clubs and one night stands. His “relationship” with Craw is a perfect example of this. Just sex, no strings. But when Stanley is shoved aside when Craw meets the love of his life, Ben, something changes in Stanley. He’s sad, and suddenly his life doesn’t seem so fabulous anymore. Could it be that he really wants something more?
In a style reminiscent of a How To Guide, Stanley decides to make over his life. First, he has to get rid of the men and focus on himself. And what better way to do that than by learning to knit? He knows, technically, how to knit, but not do anything more than garter stitch. And he’s worked for years at a knitting store! Plus, knitting is permanent, and as the rhythm and care that goes into his projects starts to translate into his own life, he realizes just what hand-knitted items mean. They’re personal, and so by knitting, Stanley finds that he’s not quite as settled in his life as he thought. Knitting brings about new friends, a new life, and a new man — who seems to go against all the rules of his old life.
This story sees the return of Stanley, Craw’s past monthly arrangement in town whom we first met in the first Knitting book, The Winter Mating Rituals of Fur-Bearing Critters. He’s flamboyant and seems carefree, he’s outrageously funny and a self-proclaimed slut who will bend over for just about anyone. He likes sex, it’s just that until now, in his mid-thirties, he hasn’t even considered what life might be like trying to get to know someone before he lets them screw him. It’s a novel idea, and one that takes hold in his brief bout of manless depression just when he meets Johnny, the new deliveryman. It is important to read these stories in order, because of the way the characters are intertwined and how events happen in time. Because of that, we (the reader) know Johnny from the past book as Gianni, the man who saved Jeremy’s life and allowed him to escape the mob. We also know his backstory, and the events that led to him turning state’s evidence and now living in the area under the protection of WITSEC. Stanley, however, is not only blind to “Johnny’s” past, but the whole relationship thing is new to him anyway.
I like Stanley in this book, he has real gumption and we get to see him really surprise himself. The change in his life and then his subsequent new relationship with Johnny teaches him a lot about himself, his past, and what is important to him. Watching him stumble through a series of revelations most go through in their twenties (he’s a late bloomer!), paired with his humor and lack of filter, makes for an almost slapstick like prose. Stanley is almost always inserting his foot into his mouth, either by words or actions. He’s flailing, trying to find solid ground since he jumped in feet first. Not only is that fun to watch, but it is also good because he learns how strong he is, and that was satisfying to read.
The problems I had stemmed mostly from the fact that this book had to be absolutely spectacular to live up to my feelings of the previous book. But, I did find the mob/mafia sub-plot to be somewhat strange. While it all made sense, and didn’t bother me by itself, I found it left a lot less room for Stanley and Johnny to really get to know each other on page, and I missed that.
One thing that I love about this series, and this book carried on with this from the previous ones, was all the detail of knitting, yarn and production. I love reading about that, as a knitter, and reading these stories, this one especially, made me itch to pick up the needles. It is all about the joy of knitting, and what knitting really means. And I’m not sure that a non-knitter really understands, or might even find that sentiment hokey in these books. Watching Stanley in particular learn to knit was fun and carefree and I was always looking forward to what he was knitting next 🙂
Fans of this author and this series will definitely want to read this book, and I found it a really worthy addition to the others in the series. It might just make you want to learn to knit! Plus, if you haven’t read any of Amy Lane’s knitting novellas, you should check them out and remember that I said you should read them in the correct order.
Now, I’m off to knit!
Posted by Cole in 41-75k, 5 Really Like It, Authors J-L, Contemporary, Heat 3 - Sexy & Mild, Romance, Sex Freq 2 - Few and Far Between Tags: Amy Lane, Author Backlist Project - Amy Lane, Dreamspinner Press, Funny Guys, Knitting, Knitting series, Mafia, Man Slut!, Secrets & Lies, Series
Title: How to Raise an Honest Rabbit (a Knitting novella)
Author: Amy Lane
Length: 45,277 words
Genre: m/m Contemporary Romance
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: Knitting, Con Men, Mafia, First Times
Rating: Loved It!
Everything about Jeremy has always been a lie—including his last name. When one grift too many ends in tragedy, Jeremy goes straight. But life’s hard for an ex-con, and Jeremy is down to panhandling and hope when Rance Crawford offers him work at a tiny alpaca farm and fiber mill. Jeremy takes him up on the job, thinking this could be his last chance to be a good man, and meets Aiden, who is growing into a better one. As Aiden comes of age, Jeremy finds himself desperate to grow up, too, because Aiden starts looking to him for things Jeremy doesn’t know how to give. Being honest is terrifying for a man who’s learned to rabbit at the first sign of conflict—more so when Aiden gives Jeremy a reason to stay that can’t be packed up and carried in a knapsack. When Jeremy’s past comes knocking at their door, can Jeremy trust enough in Aiden and his new home to answer bravely back?
If I had my way, Amy would keep writing this series FOREVER. I’m not kidding, sexy men who knit + Amy Lane’s writing sans angst = the best thing ever and totally meant just for me. That’s how I feel. I love this series because if you ask me, not nearly enough people knit, especially men. Reading about them, therefore, is like a fantasy come true. And I love these men. The first story, The Winter Courtship Rituals of Fur-Bearing Critters has always been one of my favorites of Amy’s shorts, but this sequel, where we get to know a lot more about Jeremy and Aiden though we met them in that first story, far surpasses it, In my opinion. I think because there’s a real history at play here and Jeremy is such a compelling character. I love him and seeing him really work for the life he wants to live and the relationship that he finally decides he deserves and can handle is really rewarding. Of course, Aiden is special in his own way as well.
All we knew about Jeremy from the first story was that Crawford had found him on the streets and offered him a job, and that he used to be a con man. There are two things in particular that make this story special, and they go hand in hand. First, Jeremy’s voice is (as I talked to Laura the other day) very Steinbeck-ian in diction and phrasing. He has a unique voice that shows his rather colorful past, yet neglected childhood and it really just made me want to cuddle him. Second, he spends the first third of the story, roughly, taking us back in time and giving his life story. It gives us quite a bit of time to see the backstory, not only of Jeremy’s childhood, but also of the history of the wool mill and the other characters. In a way it feels like a prequel, and that allows us to see much of what we witnessed in the first story (the relationship between Craw and Ben) through other, fresh eyes.
The heart of the story is really about Jeremy and his evolution into a productive member of society. Raised as a chameleon by his father with the only reputable goal money and winning, he has an ingrained and slightly skewed perception of the world around him. Getting put in jail after a rather close and terrible incident when he was younger sorted him out some, but the real work comes once he has a chance to prove himself. He has to hold a job, make money, and learn to be responsible to others. But, shedding his past is very difficult, no matter how much support he has in terms of his new family and Aidan, who represents everything good and pure in the world that Jer is afraid to touch in case he sullies it. Yet, like the yarn they cultivate, spin, dye and knit, each member of the motley family offers security and a slow-paced reassurance to Jeremy that allows him to take baby steps. This character progression is really what makes this book so wonderful. The story is full of little details that represent the big issues, showing Jeremy in a very clear light that in itself is poignant.
Everyone (it seems) knows about my aversion to angst, no matter how much I try to get through some books. And I admit freely that many of Amy’s books scare the fuckin daylights out of me, just because I hate putting myself through some of the shit she inflicts on her characters. But when he writes a sweet story, I am so there. The addition of knitting and yarn production (which I actually know a lot about, strangely) only made this book in particular totally wonderful to me. I absolutely cannot wait for the next story, Knitter in His Natural Habitat.
Posted by Cole in 41-75k, 6 LOVE IT!, Authors J-L, Contemporary, Heat 3 - Sexy & Mild, Romance, Sex Freq 2 - Few and Far Between Tags: Amy Lane, Author Backlist Project - Amy Lane, Con Men, Dreamspinner Press, First Times, Knitting, Knitting series, Mafia, men knitting