Friday, March 27, 2015

ARC Review: Food for Thought (Tales of the Curious Cookbook) by Amy Lane


Blurb:
Emmett Gant was planning to tell his father something really important one Sunday morning—but his father passed away first. Now, nearly three years later, Emmett can't seem to clear up who he should be with—the girl with the apple cheeks and the awesome family, or his snarky neighbor, Keegan, who never sees his family but who makes Emmett really happy just by coming over to chat.

Emmett needs clarity.

Fortunately for Emmett, his best friend’s mom has a cookbook that promises to give Emmett insight and good food, and Emmett is intrigued. After the cookbook follows him home, Emmett and Keegan decide to make the recipe “For Clarity,” and what ensues is both very clear—and a little surprising, especially to Emmett's girlfriend. Emmett is going to have to think hard about his past and the really important thing he forgot to tell his father if he wants to get the recipe for love just right.


Dani's rating:





All Emmett has ever wanted is a family, a big, close-knit, rowdy group that hugs and talks and cooks together. Raised by a taciturn, withdrawn father, Emmett has had enough silence for a lifetime.

After his heart is broken by the mysterious Jordyn and his father dies, Emmett vows to belong.

You didn't come home in 107 degree heat of a blistering July and heat your kitchen because you were looking to eat right. You did it to be kind to someone. You did it for love.

What Emmett doesn't realize is that he already has a family. His childhood friend Vinnie and Vinnie's parents and siblings have long ago embraced Emmett as one of their own.

Emmett means well, but watching him interact with his girlfriend Christine was a form of slow torture. Even Emmett's cat, the feisty, punitive George (that's Madame George, if you please), knows better.

And then there's Keegan.

Keegan, Emmett's neighbor and best friend, deserves his own T-shirt! He is adorably snarky and insanely patient. In his tiny briefs and colorful tank tops, Keegan is hard to resist.

How has Emmett managed for so long?

Book Review: After School Activities by Dirk Hunter

After School ActivitiesBlurb:

Two guys insist on complicating Dylan O’Connor’s life: one, his bully, and the other, his best friend.

It started out simple enough. Step one, outsmart Adam with wit and flair, goad him into doing something stupid, and land him in detention. Step two, play video games with Kai all night and laugh about it. Go to bed. Repeat tomorrow. Only, Adam and Kai are about to change the rules on him.

First, Adam's bullying turns suddenly violent, leaving Dylan to wonder if his bully really needs a friend. Then, Kai makes an unexpected move Dylan has only imagined in his most secret fantasies. Only he'd never dreamed it might come at a price.

While Adam opens up, coming closer to revealing a secret he’s kept his entire life, Kai pulls away even as they get closer than ever.

With everything he thought he understood turned upside down, Dylan must decide what he really wants from the men in his life—before inaction loses him the very relationships he's always relied on.

No pressure, Dylan. You got this. It's just love. How hard could it be?



 Todd’s rating:




 This sexy, fun, enemies to lovers YA novel was a complete joy to read. If you like YA, then this book personifies everything that YA readers are normally looking for. In freaking spades.

Dylan and Adam are both 17 y.o. high school juniors and have hated one another for years. These two give new meaning to the word "nemesis."  

        Detention, anyone? Yes, please.

Dylan is openly gay and Adam doesn't let a single day pass without verbally squaring off against Dylan's "fuck you, if you don't like it" gayness.

Adam is the stereotypical "hot jock", complete with a pack of asshole, homophobic football buddies, but he has a secret. You know back in grade school when a little boy pulls a little girl's pigtails and what that really means, right? Yep, same thing here.

It was a complete blast to watch these two go at it. And then later on in the book, *actually* go at it in private.

Dylan's best friends, Kai and Mel are a complete trip, too.

Sexy, flirty Kai, who Dylan has done his best to not fall in love with, gets bored and horny ("borny"?) and initiates some consensual, no-strings-attached man-lovin' with Dylan. Not exactly sure why, but it was fun to read and turned out to be all kinds of dramatic.

And when Dylan and Adam finally get "together" together, then fear causes Adam to (stupidly) begin seeing Tiffany behind Dylan's back, "You should only use your powers for good" Mel initiates the ingenious (and hilarious) Operation "It's Raining Bitches". Turning a pack of vapid, vicious cheerleaders loose upon themselves??? Freaking *classic* and ingenious. I loved it.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Author Of The Month - Ariel Tachna - Grand Finale




Thank you for joining us as we celebrate 
the Grand Finale for our author of the month






In our final post for this month, we'll reveal Ariel's favorite things, plus info about her historical series co-written with Nicki Bennett, and the upcoming Dance-Off, written with Nessa Warin. And, of course, one more chance to win an e-copy from Ariel's backlist!


First in the series, Checkmate



Blurb:

When sword for hire Teodoro Ciéza de Vivar accepts a commission to “rescue” Lord Christian Blackwood from unsuitable influences, he has no idea he’s landed himself in the middle of a plot to assassinate King Philip IV of Spain and blame the English ambassador for the deed. Nor does he expect the spoiled child he’s sent to retrieve to be a handsome, engaging young man.

As Teodoro and Christian face down enemies at every turn, they fall more and more in love, an emotion they can’t safely indulge with the threat of the Inquisition looming over them. It will take all their combined guile and influence to outmaneuver the powerful men who would see them separated... or even killed.


Excerpt:


Téodoro sat at a table in a shadowy corner of la taberna Galesa, nursing a tankard of ale and watching the tavern slowly fill with patrons as the evening wore on. He had arrived in Málaga around mid-day, and after a quick ride about the town to orient himself, he had spotted several señoritas of less than sterling virtue taking their ease under the shade of a portico on one of the less fashionable streets. A few minutes of conversation and light flirtation had rewarded him with the location of the inn he sought, the girls assuring him they had seen only one golden head in town in recent days. St. Denys’s gold had made it easy to procure an adequate room, and now he sat, eyes narrowed as he scrutinized each newcomer who entered the common room for one that matched his quarry’s description.


The patience learned on many a weary campaign during the wars was rewarded when, shortly before ten, two men who could only be those he sought entered the tavern. The larger of the two was tall, heavily muscled, with the unconsciously arrogant air of one who had every confidence in his own strength. But it was the younger of the two who caught Téodoro’s attention. St. Denys had described his quarry as a boy, but it was no stripling who accompanied the bravo into the common room. Though slender, the young man moved with a dancer’s easy grace, and the face surrounded by a halo of dark blond curls could have served Velázquez as the model of an angel. Téodoro sank deeper in the shadows as the pair found empty seats at a table a short distance away.


Christian Blackwood flagged down a passing barmaid and ordered ale for himself and his bodyguard. The tavern itself was no less stuffy than their room upstairs, but at least it was less confined, and the ale would provide some refreshment. He suspected Gerrard would not do more than sip at his, but Christian could finish it if Hawkins did not. “Relax,” he urged his friend. “There is nothing here to worry about, just the same familiar crowd. No one followed us and no one but my father knows we are here.”


"That is not a reason to be less careful," Hawkins growled. "Your father is paying me well to keep you safe, and I intend to reward his faith by doing just that."


Though the noise of the tavern made it impossible for Téodoro to overhear the pair’s conversation, enough carried to his ears to recognize that the two were not speaking the king’s Spanish. If he had needed any further confirmation that these were the men he sought, that affirmed it. Taking a sip from his tankard, he settled back to watch and wait. It would be much easier to separate the youth from his hulking companion after they had both had a few ales under their belts.


As Christian had predicted, Gerrard drank little, but that did not bother the younger man. He was relaxed and comfortable and drank enough for both of them. There was nothing else to do to pass the time, at least nothing that Gerrard would let him do. The bodyguard had proven remarkably resistant to Christian’s charms. “How much longer will we stay in Málaga?” he asked again, though the answer had been the same since they arrived.


“Until the end of the month, as you well know,” Gerrard replied. “Then we will find somewhere else to stay for another month. And we will keep doing this until the negotiations with Spain are finished and the threat to you is lifted.”


Christian sighed. He knew Gerrard was right, knew this was for his own protection, but he was ready to return home, to return to his familiar haunts where he could be himself, rather than this overwhelmingly conservative country that looked askance at everything and everyone.


It did not escape Téodoro’s notice that the larger man – Hawkins, St. Denys had called him – barely touched his drink, while Blackwood was imbibing enough for both of them. Though their heads were bent close to each other over the small table as they conversed, he saw nothing that hinted at the relationship his employer had indicated between the two. Perhaps they were simply being circumspect in public, though that pointed to more control than the younger of the two was currently demonstrating. As the night wore on along with the number of tankards he consumed, the young man’s expression became more animated, his gestures more sweeping, as if he were trying to convince his partner of something the older man was reluctant to undertake.


Giving up on convincing Gerrard to do anything more exciting than stare at the walls of the tavern, Christian rose from his seat. “I need some fresh air,” he told the other man. “I promise I won’t go any further than the alley outside the door, but the smoke in here is getting to me.”


Privately, Gerrard suspected the ale, not the smoke, was the culprit, but he dutifully rose as well. “I will walk outside with you,” he offered, not wanting to neglect his charge.


A tight smile curled the corners of the swordsman’s lips as the two finally rose from their table, Blackwood energetically, Hawkins with seeming reluctance. He waited until they had exited the common room before rising to follow them, tossing a coin on the table as he left. If all went well, he would not need to return.


Gerrard stood in the shadows of the alley, his hand grasping the hilt of his sword. He had not seen anything to make him suspicious, but his instincts were shouting at him that his charge was in danger. Christian had come to mean much to the big man. He thought of the boy as a younger brother and had every intention of seeing him safely back to his father.


The alley in back of the tavern stank of stale beer, rotting trash, and urine – pretty much like any other alley in back of every other tavern Téodoro had ever seen. He paused in the shadow of the doorframe, quick to notice the big man’s hand resting on his sword hilt. The mercenary revised his estimation of the guard dog – for so he had come to think of the larger of the two – upward. He would not be able to depend upon surprise. No matter, he had another trick or two that would work as well.


“Christian, we should go back inside,” Gerrard insisted, nerves jangling for no reason he could name. Maybe it was the heat combined with the putrid smells. Maybe it was the boredom mixed with constant vigilance. Either way or something else entirely, Gerrard wanted his charge safe behind locked doors again.


“Just a few more minutes,” Christian wheedled, dreading being locked in yet again. He understood why it was necessary, but that did not mean he had to like it.


Tossing the light cloak he had donned to conceal his weapons behind him, Téodoro exited loudly and clumsily from the back door of the tavern, staggering over the filthy cobblestones and managing a convincing belch as he neared his quarry. “Hoy, amigos!” he slurred, managing another few calculated, weaving steps before stumbling. His hand flashed out to grab the big man’s sword arm, as if for balance, while his other hand drew the dagger he had tucked in the back of his belt.


Gerrard’s annoyance flared when the drunkard grabbed his sword arm. That turned into anger when he saw the knife in the man’s other hand. Shaking off the confining touch, he drew his own sword with a hiss of steel. “Turn and walk the other way,” he warned in a soft but authoritative voice, the Spanish words heavily accented but perfectly comprehensible. “I do not want to hurt you.”


Behind him, he could hear Christian sinking into the shadows as Gerrard had ordered should a situation like this ever arise. Content that his friend was following orders, he focused entirely on the Spaniard facing him.


Téodoro knew he ought to have struck as soon as he drew his knife. That would have been the prudent move, but it was not an honourable one, and he found himself strangely unwilling to descend to that level before these two. The feint had not been wasted, in any case – he had a good idea now of the big man’s reaction time, as well as his strength. Drawing his own sword with a quiet flourish, he inclined his head toward his adversary. “And I do not want to hurt you, but it seems unlikely both of us will get our wish.”


When the other man drew his sword, Gerrard tensed even more. Clearly, this was not merely some drunkard, but rather a man with a purpose. “What do you want?” he asked, hoping it was something simple like gold rather than a far more complicated answer involving the young man behind him.


“I want many things,” Téodoro responded, “but I imagine the only one you are concerned about is the young man hiding in the shadows over there.” He gestured with his sword, watching for the opportune moment. “I don’t suppose you will be reasonable about this and let him go, will you?”


“Not in this lifetime,” Gerrard replied hotly, following the other man’s movements with the tip of his sword. “I don’t know who sent you, but you can tell him to go to hell.”


Pleased at his opponent’s impassioned response – for a hot-headed swordsman was often a careless one – Téodoro decided to fan the flames. “Is it not enough that you have seduced this young man away from his studies, but you must insult those who are justly concerned for his welfare?” he taunted.


So that was the lie the old man was selling, Gerrard realized. It was a dangerous game, one that could have Christian dead if he whispered it in the wrong ear. “You insult me by suggesting such a thing,” he replied, consciously tamping down his temper. “En garde!”


Téodoro spared a quick glance at the young man who stood motionless in the shadows before making a quick lunge at his opponent. The larger man would have the advantage of strength over him – he would have to counter with speed, and cleverness. His blade slid along his opponent’s steel, opening a slice across the back of the big man’s hand from knuckles to wrist.


Cursing as pain danced up his arm, Gerrard drew back and parried the Spaniard’s thrust, using brute strength to push the other man away, giving himself a chance to regroup before attacking again. Their blades crossed, and Gerrard met implacable dark eyes through the gap. “I will not let you take him.”


“Selfish, are you?” Téodoro sneered, freeing his blade and countering with a dancing thrust of his own. “Looking at him, I cannot say I blame you.”


There it was again, the implication that made Gerrard see red. He knew Christian’s preferences and did not hold them against the younger man, but they were preferences he did not share. “’Tis self-interest, not selfishness,” he retorted, his blade catching the Spaniard on the arm, enough to nick the cloth and, Gerrard hoped, the skin beneath.


“Self-interest?” Téodoro hissed, though the other man’s blade had barely scratched his skin. He riposted fiercely, following through with a series of quick strokes that drove Hawkins backward over the slimy cobbles. “I have no doubt it is only yourself and your own – needs – that interest you.”


Gerrard met the Spaniard’s steel each time, but he could feel his breath quickening. His opponent was no simple blade. If he could not turn the tide quickly, he would lose this battle. “Christian,” he called over his shoulder, using his strength to press his attack, hoping to give Blackwood a clear path to the tavern door. “Get inside.”


The watchdog’s words, even more than his sudden attack, drove the swordsman to return thrust for thrust with equal ferocity. He could not afford to let the youth out of his sight and risk losing him.


Christian watched, body tensed and ready to run if the opportunity presented itself, but Gerrard did not succeed in pushing their attacker toward the head of the alley. The Spaniard fought like a demon, and if Christian had not been so afraid of what would happen if Gerrard lost, he would have admired the lean lines of the older man’s form.


It was apparent his adversary was tiring, but Téodoro could feel his own muscles beginning to weary as well, and knew he had to make an end of this. Feinting to the left, his arm darted back quickly, avoiding the other’s blade and sinking the tip of his sword into the big man’s shoulder. At the same time, he stabbed with his other hand, the dagger he had concealed sliding between two lower ribs.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

ARC Review: Carry the Ocean by Heidi Cullinan


Blurb:

High school graduate Jeremey Samson is looking forward to burying his head under the covers and sleeping until it’s time to leave for college. Then a tornado named Emmet Washington enters his life. The double major in math and computer science is handsome, forward, wicked smart, interested in dating Jeremey—and he’s autistic.

But Jeremey doesn’t judge him for that. He’s too busy judging himself, as are his parents, who don’t believe in things like clinical depression. When his untreated illness reaches a critical breaking point, Emmet is the white knight who rescues him and brings him along as a roommate to The Roosevelt, a quirky new assisted living facility nearby.

As Jeremey finds his feet at The Roosevelt, Emmet slowly begins to believe he can be loved for the man he is behind the autism. But before he can trust enough to fall head over heels, he must trust his own conviction that friendship is a healing force, and love can overcome any obstacle.

Warning: Contains characters obsessed with trains and counting, positive representations of autism and mental illness, a very dark moment, and Elwood Blues.


Dani's rating:





Billions & billions of stars

Prepare:

- Watch Carly's Cafe.

- Stream The Blues Brothers (1980) movie with Dan Akroyd and John Belushi (available on Amazon and Comcast On Demand, but not on Netflix). This is Emmet's favorite movie, and we have to support Emmet.

- Stock up on tissues (the soft kind). And wine.

- Set aside several hours to read. Do NOT pass Go; do not collect $200. Give your partner/dog/kid/mother the Big Mean Stink Eye if they interrupt. This is a HOLY experience and should be treated as thus.

~ “No one is normal. Normal is a lie.” ~

Told in Emmet and Jeremey's alternating, distinct, first-person POVs, Carry the Ocean is Heidi Cullinan’s most poignant book. It is evocative and REAL and brilliant.

EMMET:

I am normal. I belong. I have a friend who can kick ass from a wheelchair. I live independently and get good grades. I'm an excellent lover. Like I said. I'm awesome. I'm Emmet David Washington. Train Man. The best autistic Blues Brother on the block.

JEREMEY:

This year I learned I'm good at feelings. Emmet calls these our superpowers--his are listening and seeing and math and remembering. Mine is feelings. I can tell what everyone is feeling all the time, and I almost feel it with them. So I have to be careful, because if there are too many feelings around me at once, I get overwhelmed . . . There is nothing wrong with me and who I am, but I do have depression and anxiety, and they're both pretty severe . . . They're real things. They're invisible to everyone but me . . . I have to fight every day, and some days I can't win.

Jeremey’s parents want to shove him into a box. They force him into loud places and yell at him in the aisle of  Target until he panics and melts. They won’t let him get help and pretend everything is fine. Until it isn’t. Until Jeremey can’t do it anymore.

Emmet has an incredibly supportive family. They let him be who he is, his own man, not a sheep.

“I’m too different, Mom. I don’t want to be so different.”

“Everyone’s different. Some people are more able to shove their differences into the dark, to blend in and be sheep, but that isn’t always a good thing.”

“I’d rather be a sheep than be alone.”

“But that’s the big secret. The sheep are more alone than everyone.”
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