Book Review: Men Under the Mistletoe

I meant to write this around Christmas, but that didn’t happen for various reasons. So here it is in the New Year.

Men Under the Mistletoe is a collection of four stories: My True Love Gave to Me by Ava March, Winter Knights by Harper Fox, Lone Star by Josh Lanyon, and The Christmas Proposition by K.A. Mitchell. None of these writers are new to me. ;)

I don’t normally like regency romances, but My True Love Gave to Me is pretty good. A lot better than I expected. The characters drive the story. Thomas left Sasha when they were both 17 because his desires scared him. The second part of the story is pretty damn emotional. I liked it a lot. The characters are special. They can’t exactly be open about their relationship, but they get a HEA anyway. And the way they do the HEA  isn’t too unrealistic!

Winter Knights is probably the best story in the whole anthology. It’s my favorite anyway. ;) It has a twist on the Arthur and Lancelot legend. The main character gets lost in the snow and they appear. Well, a version of them. ;) I can’t tell if it really happened or if he was just dazed and hallucinated the whole thing. I am inclined to think it really happened. But I like the idea of Christmas ghosts. Anyway, the whole thing is pretty romantic. I loved it.

Josh Lanyon wrote the Adrian English books, a really good romantic suspense series. Lone Star doesn’t disappointment. Even if there is no suspense. There is a ballet dancer and a Texas Ranger and a high school romance. Mitchell goes home after catching his lover with someone else; he hadn’t been back since before his father’s death and decides to settle the estate while he’s there. They do get a HEA or at least it is implied. But in this short story they haven’t decided how to make their romance work when one lives in NY and the other lives in Texas. I think that part deserves a story all its own.

I loved the ending of The Christmas Proposition. It was funny and sexy and not that full of angst. Mel discovers he’s going to host a wedding a week before the event and his life gets a little crazy. There is some family drama – K.A. Mitchell does a good job of explaining family history, past problems and so on. And the ending made me laugh. :D

Book Review: Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade by Diana Gabaldon

Blurb from Amazon:

In 1758, in the heart of the Seven Years’ War, Britain fights by the side of Prussia in the Rhineland. For Lord John and his titled brother Hal, the battlefield will be a welcome respite from the torturous mystery that burns poisonously in their family’s history. Seventeen years earlier, Lord John’s late father, the Duke of Pardloe, was found dead, a pistol in his hand and accusations of his role as a Jacobite agent staining forever a family’s honor.

Now unlaid ghosts from the past are stirring. Lord John’s brother has mysteriously received a page of their late father’s missing diary. Someone is taunting the Grey family with secrets from the grave, but Hal, with secrets of his own, refuses to pursue the matter and orders his brother to do likewise. Frustrated, John turns to a man who has been both his prisoner and his confessor: the Scottish Jacobite James Fraser.

Fraser can tell many secrets—and withhold many others. But war, a forbidden affair, and Fraser’s own secrets will complicate Lord John’s quest. Until James Fraser yields the missing piece of an astounding puzzle—and Lord John, caught between his courage and his conscience, must decide whether his family’s honor is worth his life.

Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade is not my typical reading material. I usually read fantasy and this is historical fiction. I picked this up on a whim and finished it in short order. Than I went out and got the others in the series (there are 2 more, a novel that was published before and a book of novellas) and finished the last novella yesterday. So it went very fast.

There are a few elements to Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blood – a new romance, a mystery, old lusts and a war in the background. Though at points the war reaches out and grabs you by the throat. Lord John is a Major in his brother’s regiment and a lord in his own right, being the younger son of a Duke. He is also gay, a major no-no in England(or anywhere else for that matter) at that time.

John’s new lover, Percy, is his stepfather’s stepson. The slightly incestuous nature of this relationship bothers John a little, but he tells himself Percy is not really his brother, not by blood.

I would think it they are not family at all – can you really consider the stepson of your mother’s new husband to be blood?

In any case, they begin a hot, discreet affair. During the course of their love affair, John finds out many things, not the least of which is that Percy used to be a whore. Percy tells John himself, after he was caught in the act with another man.

I was shocked, because I wouldn’t have guessed that. Later, Percy also gives John clues to give find out what had happened to his father.

John frees Percy at the end. That wasn’t described as well as I’d hoped, but it was still very good. The part I remember the most is when Percy confesses to what he was, to what he knows. That was memorable.

Grade: B+

Teaser Tuesday: The Tempering of Men, part 2

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

* Grab your current read
* Open to a random page
* Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
* BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
* Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Still reading The Tempering of Men! I am pretty slow this week.


My Teasers:

Drapes of white and colored stone swathed the walls, ruched and gathered like the fabric of a queen’s gown. Pillows and clouds and billows of white and gold and orange stone heaped like batts of wool everywhere Brokkolfr’s eyes traveled, and from the ceiling overhead depended a forest of white stone reeds as a young woman’s white hands.

- The Tempering of Men by Sarah Monette & Elizabeth Bear

Teaser Tuesday: The Tempering of Men

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

* Grab your current read
* Open to a random page
* Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
* BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
* Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!


My Teasers:

Cubs? Amma asked hopefully and Brokkolfr smiled. Amma loved cubs of all species: trellwolf, human, the cats who hunted mice in Franangford’s new storerooms, the geese on the nearby lake. It left Brokkolfr wondering what she would do if she were a wild wolf and there was nothing to eat but baby geese.

- The Tempering of Men by Sarah Monette & Elizabeth Bear

Teaser Tuesday: Witch Eyes

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

* Grab your current read
* Open to a random page
* Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
* BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
* Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!


My Teasers:

This is some sort of joke. A test. My father was in the room with me. “What are you doing here?” I whispered, as if someone was listening.

- Witch Eyes by Scott Tracey

First Campaigner Challenge: The door swung open

The First Campaign Challenge is:

Write a short story/flash fiction story in 200 words or less, excluding the title. It can be in any format, including a poem. Begin the story with the words, “The door swung open” These four words will be included in the word count.

If you want to give yourself an added challenge (optional), use the same beginning words and end with the words: “the door swung shut.” (also included in the word count)

For those who want an even greater challenge, make your story 200 words EXACTLY!

My attempt at this is exactly 200 words, sans title.

Title: Black Rainbows

The door swung open and he stormed into our bedroom. A black t-shirt dangled from his hand. His bare body glistened from his shower.

“I don’t do black,” he announced.

I lifted my gaze from his junk. “Your mother had it especially made.”

The words “Edward and Sam: 1st Anniversary” were printed on it in large rainbow-colored letters. My name marched up one side; Edward’s marched down the other. I liked it.

“She knows I detest black! She was counting on you to make me wear it.” He glowered at me, as if I’d betrayed him.

She knew; she gave me a white shirt just in case. “There is nothing wrong with black.”

“It’s hideous.”

His dislike of black clothes made no sense. “She’s making a statement. The rest of the family will be dressed in rainbow colors. Let her make it.”

“I don’t want to make any statement!”

“It’ll make your mother happy,” I reminded him.

He grumbled under his breath.

I put my hands on my thighs; his eyes followed my fingers down and lingered a moment too long.

“I’ll make it worth your while to wear the shirt.”

His eyes took on that gleam I loved.

If you want to like me on Rachael Harrie’s linkedly list, I am number 55.

Review: Bad Company by KA Mitchell

Book Summery from Amazon:

Some things are sweeter than revenge.

“I need a boyfriend.”

Hearing those words from the mouth of his very straight ex-friend is enough to make columnist and editor Nate Gray choke on his Corona. It’s been thirteen years since Kellan Brooks’s father crushed Nate’s family on his climb to wealth and power. Even longer since he entrusted Kellan with the confession that he might be gay—only to have his best friend out and humiliate him to their entire high school. The last thing Nate expects is Kellan begging for his help.

Breaking off his engagement to a senator’s daughter was the last straw for Kellan’s CEO father. Frustrated at being cut off, his father’s stinging words—that he wishes Kellan had never been born—still ringing in his ears, Kellan turns to Nate. In a move worthy of a corporate raider, Kellan plans the ultimate revenge. Come out as the boyfriend of the man his homophobic father betrayed.

Convincing Nate to play along isn’t easy. It’s even harder to figure out why the lie feels so close to the truth.

Warning: Contains old friends, old enemies, a dramatic cat rescue, soft drink references and a lot of teasing before the steamy sex. Readers are cautioned against drinking any beverage while reading to avoid accidental snorting or spraying of said beverages.

Bad Company was fast, fun read. Not up to her usual standards, but still good.

The plot is a little odd, to say the least. There are bits I still don’t get, especially at the end.

If Kellen was a little less easy-going or if Nate was less hung up on Kellen, it wouldn’t work at all. That is the beauty of the characters. In the beginning, I don’t think Kellen fully thought out what he was going to do. Revenge on his father, yeah, and make him offer money to stop being a public embarrassment. Beyond that? I don’t know. Nate was enticed by the promise of revenge for what the man did to his father.

Somewhere in the middle of all that, they fell in love. And you know what? Despite the sheer oddness of the plot, it’s convincing. I am convinced. (Maybe I am just not critical enough, huh?) Their shared history is a big part of that. I wish KA Mitchell had delved more deeply into their childhood.

I liked the humor best. Bad Company was plain funny and sweet in a lot ways. I mean, the part where Kellen decided to adjust the cake recipe? Funny! I also liked their conversations when they talked like he was sending a letter to Nate’s column.

Still, Bad Company is not up to KA Mitchell’s usual standards. I think that’s because of the slightly out-there plot. I won’t be rereading this. At least not all of it. Maybe bits and pieces.

Grade: B-

Friday Flash: Beach Getaway

I was going for a sweet little romance today. It is a little bit longer than I planned on, but hopefully, it is still sweet.

I didn’t use any particular prompt for this. I googled romance, lots of beach photos came up and I thought: why not?

The soft bed felt incredible after a day spent banging my head on a surfboard. Right this moment, I couldn’t imagine why a beach vacation sounded like a good idea.

Josh straddled me, hands rubbing and massaging my back. “Better, love?”

I nodded and looked at him over my shoulder. Cheerful blue eyes and a crooked smile gazed down at me. His bare skin gleamed in the lamplight and I wished I had the energy to do something for him. But I was flat-out exhausted.

Not for the first time, I reflected on how lucky I was to have him.

“Tomorrow,” I said, “I am going to lounge poolside all day long.”

Josh laughed. “The ocean too much for you, huh?”

I scowled. “The ocean is unnatural. All that water. It ought to be divided up into lots of lakes. Pool-sized lakes, with waves the size of my finger.” I held up a finger to demonstrate.

Josh laughed again, used to my grousing and leaned down to kiss me. He tasted of mint and our taco lunch.

In spite of my exhaustion, my cock thickened under me. “Josh -”

“Shh. Let me.” He turned me on my back and nuzzled my throat.

When my stomach growled, we broke apart. Josh grinned. “Dinner. C’mon. My treat.”

I reached for a dry shirt. Josh didn’t; he had no problem going out bare-chested.  Not that I minded. Tall and solid muscle, without being bulky, my mouth watered the first time I laid eyes on him.

The diner overlooked the beach and had a line a mile wide. Sweat trickled down my back. This heat and wet couldn’t be more different from real life. From the icy rooms and tempers crazed enough to kill. From warm, spraying blood – I shook my head. Couldn’t go there.

Josh gripped my hand, eyes understanding and chattered on about tomorrow’s activities. The sound wound around me, like a massage given voice. I blocked out the past month and just focused on Josh.

By the time we reached the hostess, I was calm again. We were seated by a window overlooking the ocean.

“Are you sorry we came?” asked Josh.

I looked up, startled, from the menu. His eyes were uncharacteristically serious. “No. Though I can’t say I am serious about surfing again tomorrow.”

He smiled again. “It will be perfect. You’ll see.”

Silly California boy. Just because he loved the sport and hadn’t been in years, that didn’t mean I should love it, too.

We ordered funny movies from the hotel’s cable and I tried not to think why we didn’t go clubbing. Last time, when we came back, it happened. I couldn’t go anymore.

“Uncle Mason!” Five-year old Ann leaped into my arms. I laughed and swung her around, but she clung to my neck. “Can we go, Uncle Mason? Please?”

“Ann -” The words died in my throat when I looked up. Adam stood in the doorway. Ann’s father. He pointed a gun at me. My sister, Judy, limped behind him.

“Mason, take her. Baby, please. We can-”

A shot roared in my ears and my hands ran with blood. Not my blood. Ann’s.

“Mason!”

I blinked and opened my eyes. Josh leaned over me, face worried. He gripped my shoulders and I realized he was shaking me.

“Same dream?”

I nodded and sat up.

Ann was fine. Judy was in a wheelchair, but Ann was fine and living with my parents. I worked on Ann until the ambulance came. Couldn’t operate on her myself, but I made sure she got the best doctor. All was good now. Why did I have the same dream every damn night?

He hugged me close. “They’re fine, love. Just fine.”

I knew that, but it didn’t really help. I closed my eyes, resting against him. He felt so good, so warm and solid and comforting.

“Make me forget,” I whispered. “Make love to me, Josh.”

Josh studied me and I wondered what he saw. The moonlight wasn’t strong enough to let him see much. He nodded and drew me down beside him.

When my body ached pleasantly, I snuggled against Josh. He’d cleaned us both up and draped an arm over my waist.

The next day dawned bright and hot. The news showed a picture of Adam. He was sentenced to five years in prison. Josh turned off the TV and steered me outside.

Josh owned a board, but mine was rented. The waves today were just like yesterdays. I paddled in, with Josh yelling instructions and encouragement.

I pushed up on the board, dragged my foot under me – and promptly wiped out. I surfaced to see Josh on his feet, riding a wave. He grinned at me and paddled back to me. “Again!”

I’d fallen off a dozen times already, but I nodded and lay down my board. I paddled out like Josh said, popped up. This time, this time, I felt the magic. For the first time, I managed to ride the wave to the end.

“I did it!” I pumped my fist and grinned at Josh. “Josh, I did it!”

“I know, love, I know!” He reached across both our boards and dove into my mouth like he was starving and I had all the meat in the world. “Again!”

The rush was fantastic and I did it over and over. By noon, I was tired. We staggered off the beach, legs trembling like rope in the wind. Like the jump rope Ann loved.

I stopped still, remembering. For the first time in months, fear didn’t suffuse me. She still jumped rope. She was safe. She really was. Adam was in prison and couldn’t hurt them anymore. Why hadn’t I realized it before?

“Mason? Love?” Josh stopped when he realized I wasn’t following. He walked back to me. Again, worry clouded his eyes.

“I am fine. Listen, let’s go clubbing tonight. Would be shame to come all this way and not go at least once.”

Josh stared at me, relief and surprise in his face. “You sure, love?”

“I am sure. You’re right. Everything is fine.”

A slow grin spread across his face. “Of course I’m right. I’m always right. C’mon, love. We got to get you ready.”

 

Hang-Ups On Writing Sex

I want to submit something to this anthology on gay modern-day fairy tales. Only when I read the submission rules, I saw whatever I submit must have sex.

I know, I know, the novel in progress is urban fantasy, but I managed to avoid plot points that leave me no choice but to write a sex scene. Mostly because the MC is in love with someone who is too pissed with him to have sex. Also because the story doesn’t actually have anything to do with sex.

Point is, I have never written a sex scene before and I haven’t a clue where to begin. Especially gay sex. I mean, I am a girl and I am straight. My entire knowledge of gay sex comes from gay romances. They may not be the best source of info.

Thing is, I really like the idea of retelling a fairy tell in modern terms.

I figure I’ll keep a nice level of sexual tension going throughout the whole story and actually let them have sex once or twice. It’s going to be around 5000 words – there isn’t much room for lots of sex scenes anyway. And foreplay is the best part of sex, right? Well, they are guys, so maybe not . . . But foreplay will keep the story pretty sexual even they are not having sex. Kissing, touching, flirting.

It’s just – how do you write a sex scene?

Anybody got any advice?

Made of Awesome Contest

Shelley Watters is hosting a Made of Awesome Contest where people post title, genre, word count and the first 250 words or complete first page on their blog for a review and maybe, just maybe, get read by an agent.

So here it goes.

Title: My Ancestors, My Blood. (Sadly, this is only a working title)

Genre: Urban Fantasy. ghosts, witches, wizards, mages.

Word Count: 70,500 (Yes, I have not updated my novel in progress counter in the sidebar. I very bad.)

My first page (yes, the whole first page, not just the first 250 words. But they are bolded.) Got two versions of this now. Silly me.


The wind was icy and a gust blew the exhaust of a passing bus into my mouth. I coughed into my hand. We probably wouldn’t net many people in the raid; eleven pm on a bitterly cold Monday night wasn’t the time to catch many people. But I’d gotten enough evidence to raid Carmine Stars only yesterday. It had taken all day to put together and organize the team.

The Lieutenant herself insisted on taking control. She couldn’t leave me behind because she wasn’t a Shadow Scout, and everything inter-race required the presence of a Shadow Scout. The new rules required more for leecher raids. A Shadow Scout needed to get solid evidence leecher activity was going on at least an hour before the raid took place.

It was stupid. If I had my way, I would shove all the leechers down a deep hole where -

I cut off that line of thought. This was my first real job in months. If I was going to finish it right, my head needed to be in the right place. I fingered the little mirror shard in my pocket before stepping forward.

The club’s outside was plain plaster and dark windows. Carmine Stars was outlined in orange neon above the front door. A pair of stylized dancers and the words “A Magical Night” decorated the windows. The music pouring from the open doors pulsed through my bones, and if I was here for any other reason, I would have been tempted to dance.

I paid the cover charge and went in. The doorman was a witch; I could tell from his green aura. It hovered above his dark hair like a green halo. Not a particularly strong one, either, because the green wasn’t dark enough for strength. Most male witches weren’t strong. But I allowed him to tie a thin green ribbon around my wrist as proof of payment. “Keep it on,” he told me. “You will regret it if you don’t.”

No doubt. The ribbon was warm against my skin and soft as a flower petal. The charm had probably started out as a plant. It glowed against my skin, a green ribbon of light, obvious to anyone with a smidgen of magic. A symbol that I was a normal human being, just in case anyone failed to recognize that I didn’t leak magic. Just as well. Considering the effort I had put into my shields and glamour, it would be humiliating if anyone saw through them.

Or this other version. Sadly, I realized this was mostly telling about ten minutes after I posted. Decided to go with it, but is this a better first 250 (265 really!) words?

I paid the cover charge. The doorman’s aura hovered above his dark hair like a green halo. The green wasn’t dark enough for strength, but male witches weren’t strong. I allowed him to tie a thin green ribbon around my wrist as proof of payment. “Keep it on,” he told me. “You will regret it if you don’t.”

The ribbon was warm and soft as a flower petal. The charm had probably started out as a plant. It glowed against my skin, obvious to anyone with a smidgen of magic. A symbol that I was a normal human being, just in case anyone failed to recognize I didn’t leak magic. Just as well. Considering the effort I had put into my glamour, it would be humiliating if anyone saw through it.

It was dim inside. I spotted Mags at the bar, giving his lady a drink.

No female witches to supervise. Not for the first time, I wondered where Mags found so many males witches willing to work outside the coven. Odd.

“What’ll you have?” the bartender asked. His aura was strong for a male witch, a speckled forest-green. It waved back and forth over his head like a demented bird. Typical leecher aura, but not proof anyone would accept.

“Surprise me.”

He drew me a cold mug of beer. Green pinpricks of a leeching spell lay across the top like sprinkles on ice cream. Not enough to affect me, but enough to affect someone with very weak magic.

All the proof I needed to call in a raid.

Go crazy people! Tell me what you think. Don’t worry, I got a thick skin.