Sunday, August 20, 2017

Book Review: Axios: A Spartan Tale by Jaclyn Osborn

Axios: A Spartan Tale
I am Axios of Sparta, and I was born to kill. At age seven, I left home to train with other boys where we were taught obedience, solidarity, military strategy, and how to withstand pain. My harsh upbringing stripped me of my weaknesses and forced me to become strong. Ruthless. 
But, I craved something greater—a life I could never have. 
Against all odds, and the toughest training a warrior could endure, I found an unexpected love in the arms of a fellow Spartan. He was the very air I breathed and the water that sustained me. Fighting side by side with him, we were invincible. Where he went, I followed. 
However, there was no place for love in Sparta. Feelings were for the weak. The only life for a Spartan was one of battle and brutality with no guarantee of tomorrow. In times of war, all men were put to the test, but the greatest challenge for us was not one of swords and spears, but of the heart.

Jewel's rating:

"This is my life." [...] "A life of gore and violence."

Brutal. Raw. Brilliant. And it wrecked me. Utterly and completely. And I regret not a moment.

Axios: A Spartan Tale is a love story. I've seen the word EPIC used to describe the romance of Axios and Eryx and I cannot help but agree. It's a rare book that gets my emotional investment to the degree that Axios has and I'm having a hard time even describing its effect on me. But I did go though nearly all my tissues and I think this will be the book hangover for the ages.

Axios seemed to be greatly researched and I found myself looking up battles and kings to read more about them. It's such a brutal part of human history. This story is brilliantly executed. It's bloody and unforgiving, but the romance was strong, even amid the violence and brutality of the story. Axios and Eryx were soldiers with a duty to defend Sparta, but they were also men and who loved liked they fought -- with everything they had.

"You and I will never part, my warrior. In this life and the next, we will be just as we have forever been: side by side. There is not a thing that can take me from you, neither the slashing of a sword nor the impalement from a spear, for I will always find you.”

Eryx is a born leader. The son of a coward who was determined to restore his family's honor. Eryx sees the honor and glory of being Spartan. He is determined to do his duty, even if it means his death and he looks forward to proving himself in battle. And among the boys in his herd, he is the most likely to succeed. Eryx had a charisma about him and he never spoke in haste. Many saw him as being a bit cold. Except Axios. For Axios, Eryx lets down his guard and tells him stories and encourages him to become a better warrior.

Axios, however, is out of his element. He has the heart of a dreamer and a poet. He wishes to see the ocean and have a life that isn't fighting. Being a warrior isn't something that suited him at all, but he had no choice in the matter. All Spartan males must train for war. Fight or die. So from the time Axios was seven years old, as with other boys, that was his life. And when he was 10 years old, Axios had to make a terrible choice, but it was really no choice at all. And it was Eryx who held him together then and always. Axios did adapt to his life as a warrior and he performed his duty well, but the boy he once was was still there in moments of calm.

“I crave a life where we can live in peace.” My voice was thick with emotion, and I forced myself to speak through the tightness in my throat. “Where love is seen as a strength and where our days are spent lounging by our stream, lost in conversation for hours on end. There’d be no sorrow, pain, and no darkness. Nothing but happiness and light. Love. However, I’ve come to the realization that dream will never be.”

"Duty" is a theme that plays heavily in the story. It is beaten into the boys from the time they are boys what their duty to Sparta is and to turn away from it is to be a coward and it will bring shame to their families and their brothers. And they train in harsh conditions for more than 10 years to be the Spartans that all of Greece fears. And duty may have been what started them on their paths, but ultimately, it was not duty that kept them on it, but a desire to protect each other and their brother-in-arms.

“Sparta is not my home. You are.”

I loved so many of the secondary characters, too. Leanna, Axios' sister was fierce and determined to live life on her terms. She was certainly no shrieking violet. And Haden, who became like a brother to Axios and Eryx. And Quill and Theon who always managed to laugh. Through their eyes, as they grew from boys to men and into battle, I came to know and love them all. But Axios and Eryx have my heart.

"Eryx was the anchor that kept me from drifting out to sea. My safe haven from the storm."


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Saturday, August 19, 2017

ARC Review: Tops Down Bottoms Up by Jay Northcote

Tops Down Bottoms Up
Will Rowan’s festival fling with sexy dancer Seth lead to something more permanent?

Rowan is stuck at a folk festival helping out a mate, and it really isn’t his scene. The yoga and singing workshops are bad enough, but morris dancing is the final straw. Bearded men with beer guts prancing around wearing bells—who wants to watch that?

All Rowan’s preconceptions are shattered when he meets Seth—a morris dancer, and the stuff Rowan’s fantasies are made of. Seth persuades Rowan to come to a dancing workshop, and Rowan’s willing to do whatever it takes to get to know Seth better. The attraction is mutual, and a lesson filled with innuendo and flirting leads to an incredible night together.

When Rowan arrives home, he’s gutted to find that Seth has given him the wrong phone number. Assuming Seth did it on purpose, Rowan resolves to forget about him. But fate—and friends—conspire to get them back together. Will they manage to stay in step this time around?

length: 23,000 words approx A much shorter version of this story was originally published in the Not Quite Shakespeare Anthology by Dreamspinner Press. This version has been revised and extended. Almost half of it is new content.

Jewel's rating:

​Sexy. Flirty. Low angst. Sweet. I had no idea that morris dancers could be so sexy! Neither did Rowan.

​I think I am alone, among my friends, in that I knew what Morris Dancing was. I'm not that familiar, though, I've only seen it once or twice. And I've got to agree with Rowan in that it isn't known for the sexy! So Jay Northcote took something a bit outside the norm (for my American self, anyway) and turned it into something sweet and sexy and fun.​

Tops Down Bottoms Up refers to two of the figures in Morris Dancing. ​Seth explains it all to Rowan in the story, so I won't go into it here, but it did bring out my inner 14 year old *snicker*

ARC Review: The Long and Winding Road by TJ Klune

From The Blurb:
Family is not always defined by blood. It’s defined by those who make us whole—those who make us who we are. 
And here, at the end, Bear and Otter will be tested like they’ve never been before. 
There’s a knock at the door from a little girl who has nowhere else to go. 
There’s a phone ringing, bringing news they do not expect. 
There’s a brother returning home after learning how to stand on his own. 
As these moments converge, all of their lives will change forever. 
Beginning in Bear, Otter, and the Kid, and continuing in Who We Are and The Art of Breathing, TJ Klune has told a saga of family and brotherhood, of love and sacrifice. In this final chapter, the events of the past pave the long and winding road toward a future no one could have imagined.

Karen's rating:

How a series ends is...every bit as important as how it started but then so is everything in the middle...

I have such mixed feelings about this one. I loved the chance to spend more time in this world with Otter, Bear, the Kid and all the wonderful people in their lives. But that this was the end of their story...well, how could that not make me a little sad.

While I was a little late to the party with this series. It was August of 2011 when 'Bear, Otter and the Kid' was first published and somehow I managed to wait until 2015 to read the first 3 books...and yes, I did binge read them and what I do know for sure is that whatever instinct told me that I finally needed to read these books was a good one and I need to listen to it more often.

Life's tapestry is made of so many different threads...hellos, good-byes, births, deaths, meeting new friends, losing old ones, leaving home, going home and so many other moments that shape us taking us on a journey that helps us to define who we are. This is the journey that we've traveled with Bear, Otter and the Kid.

It's an incredibly emotional journey. One covering everything from happiness and love to anger and grief with so much more in between and it's here in 'The Long and Winding Road' that we get to revisit the past with Bear as he faces some of the biggest changes yet to happen in his life and Bear's not the only one affected by these changes. While some of these changes affect Bear directly some do so indirectly because they're changes that are coming for the people that Bear loves...for the kid, for Otter, for Creed, for Izzie the sister that Bear's never met and at the heart of it all, Bear knows as long as they're together...Bear, Otter, the Kid and the amazing family they've gathered they will weather the changes and come out of things whole and stronger.

Audio book Review: Northern Star by Ethan Day

From The Blurb:
Deacon Miller never had it all—he never really believed he could. Growing up in a broken home with an alcoholic mother and a revolving door of truly pathetic father figures taught him to keep his expectations low. Now at twenty-seven, on the night before Christmas Eve, his life is turned upside down yet again; his boyfriend has dumped him, he just fled the holiday family reunion from hell, and now to top it all off, a blizzard has left him stranded in an airport hotel. 
Steve Steele has spent the better part of his forty-four years living a lie, ignoring his attraction to other men in an attempt to fit into the mold of the man he thought he should be, instead of living life as the man he knew himself to be. Recently divorced after coming home from work one day and coming out to his wife, Steve has floundered over the past year, desperately attempting to wade through the guilt and find the courage to start again. 
That’s when a chance meeting in a hotel bar brings two lonely men together… and what should’ve been a one night stand turns into something much more than either one ever expected. 
Listening Time: 8 hrs, 44 min.

Karen's rating:

I admit it...this was not the Ethan Day that I was expecting... 

Before I start this review I would like to offer sincere apologies to the author for having taken so long to get this review done. Unfortunately sometimes real life refuses to co-operate. I started listening to this story back around mid-July and then there was a when I was finally able to resume the story in fairness to the author, the book, and the narrator, I felt I needed to start all over again so I did, and I'm glad I made that choice because it allowed me to take the time to enjoy this one from start to finish, allowing me to make a much fairer assessment of both the story and the narrator.

'Northern Star' is not my first book by this author. I've read his 'Summit City' series and some of his standalones, and 'To Catch a Fox', the first book in the 'Fox Mysteries' that he co-wrote with Geoffrey Knight, is definitely one that I'm be happy to read more of. But I will be the first to admit none of them prepared me for this one.

I guess I've come to expect a solid dose of humor in Ethan Day's stories and while there were some humorous moments in this story...honestly that bar-b-que conversation between Steve and his friends got more than one laugh out of me. So yes, there was a touch of humor in this story but 'Northern Story' was definitely darker and more introspective than what I've normally come to anticipate from Ethan Day.

In the life lottery, Deacon Miller did not get the winning ticket...hell, he didn't even win a consolation prize. Thankfully what he did get even though he doesn't realize it is a backbone of steel. Born to a homophobic, alcoholic mother whose luck with men rivals that of a passenger on the Titanic, Deacon has survived a life that would have very possibly crushed others...not unscathed, but he has continued to dust himself off and get back up each time life has tried to knock him down.

Making a hasty retreat from the the family holiday from hell only to get dumped by his boyfriend and dragged back home by his little sister when their mother ends up in the hospital and then jail after causing an accident and being charged with a DUI infraction for the third time, but not before sharing an incredible interlude with the much older and incredibly sexy Steven Steele.

Neither man can forget their time together nor does either man make the first move to contact the other. It's up to fate to bring these two men together and she does. Both men are trying to leave behind a past filled with mistakes and heartache and the comfort and passion that they shared in that one interlude stays with each of them despite the passage of time.
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