Cheri Reviews The Wolf’s Hour by Robert McCammon

My buddy, Andy, has been telling me how much she loves the work of Robert McCammon for a few years now. I never really cared to give him a try. Shapeshifter spys, post-apocalyptic tales, and ghost stories haven’t really been my preference over the past few years so I’ve not paid much attention to poor Andy’s suggestions of Mr. McCammon’s work. Well, that changed a week ago when we were looking for something to discuss on the next Cocktail Hour podcast. I told Andy she could pick the book we would read and discuss. I have to be honest and tell you that I subtly tried to talk her into picking something else but she stuck to her guns and I resigned myself to slogging through a long-ass boring book. I was just thankful that I had Audible credits available. How wrong I was. How very, very wrong. Before I go further, here’s the blurb:

On the eve of D-Day, a British secret agent with unique powers goes behind Nazi lines Michael Gallatin is a British spy with a peculiar talent: the ability to transform himself into a wolf. Although his work in North Africa helped the Allies win the continent in the early days of World War II, he quit the service when a German spy shot his lover in her bed. Now, three years later, the army asks him to end his retirement and parachute into occupied Paris. A mysterious German plan called the Iron Fist threatens the D-Day invasion, and the Nazi in charge is the spy who betrayed Michael’s lover. The werewolf goes to France for king and country, hoping for a chance at bloody vengeance.

It just didn’t sound like something I’d want to read. But regardless of my apprehension, it grabbed me and didn’t let me go. I hated to hit the pause button to go to work, pick up my child, or go to sleep. I dreamed about wolves and nazis and thought about what was going to happen next and kept modifying my predictions about what Iron Fist was. I dropped a tear at one point when one character discovered that he lost his family to Allied bombing. My stomach roiled during the descriptions of some of the “entertainment” on display for some upper echelon Nazis and friends. But mostly I cheered when the bad guys got what they had coming to them. There were lots of bad guys so there were lots of ass kickings to go around.

Probably the weakest part of the book, for me, was the wolf-shifter part. It was very interesting and I enjoyed it, to be sure, but there was just so much going on during the WWII portion of the book that I hated to have to wait to find what happened next! I guess calling Michael’s younger years weak is unfair, maybe it’s the slow part. The book wasn’t perfect; there were some words and phrases that were over-used and Michael was mostly the perfect man – I mean he even performed oral sex without being asked! I was ready for the book to end when it did but not because I just couldn’t take any more – the story was over and everything was wrapped up and I was ready to wish them all well and move on.

I’ve already purchased Swan Song. A massive “thank you” to Andy for picking such a good book for us to read. I’ll probably not doubt you again. Maybe. Probably not. You can download a sample or purchase a copy of The Wolf’s Hour by clicking here.

Maggie Reviews Frog Music by Emma Donoghue

Please welcome Maggie to the C-Spot Reviews Crew!

The latest work from Emma Donoghue is one that will stick with you for a while. Frog Music is a gem. Set in the scalding summer of 1876 in the midst of a smallpox epidemic, Donoghue’s story surrounding the little-known unsolved murder of Jenny Bonnet unfolds. From the very beginning, she pulls the reader into the heat and the period with imagery that isn’t verbose but also doesn’t leave you wanting. The artful insertion of French and American song excerpts throughout only adds to the ambience that the author has created, and she addresses the song choices in her notes at the end for those who are extra curious about such things. The author’s note was a pleasure to read, and I usually skip over those. She also includes a bevy of French words and phrases to make the characters more authentic, all of which are interpreted in the glossary, for which I thank her.

Donoghue brought real people back to life in this vivid historical fiction piece, inventing only five named characters and doing so smartly. Jenny Bonnet is a young woman who breaks the law every day as she walks around San Francisco in trousers instead of the time’s proper female attire. This cross-dressing frog catcher is an inquisitive person, to say the least, and even as the author fills in gaps about this woman’s background, there is still room for the reader to speculate as to the motives for her actions, which maintains Jenny’s mystery and intrigue.

Then there is Blanche, a young French burlesque dancer and prostitute who is literally bowled over by Jenny’s entrance into her life, and it is this woman whose point of view we follow as she is transformed by her short but turbulent relationship with Jenny. The action moves back and forth in time between the day Jenny and Blanche meet and three days after the murder, which creates a natural suspense amid the already titillating plot points. The characters are interesting and memorable and all important to the story in their own way. This novel is poignant, funny, and lyrical. It was crafted to envelop us in the world of Jenny and Blanche and give us a very intimate glimpse into their lives. Emma Donoghue does not disappoint.

You can download a sample or purchase Frog Music by clicking here.

Morningstar by Darcy Town

Let me start by saying that I have read the whole series, and yes, I really, really liked it. Loved it.

The Morningstar trilogy is about fallen angels, mythical creatures, religions re-interpreted and completely upended. There is a lot of sex (all kinds of it), drugs, violent behavior and events, lack of morals..

What’s great about the story:
The characters are well written and their journey and history make them well-rounded and multidimensional. You do come to care about them. Actually, I dare say you sometimes care more about the secondary characters than the main ones, but you will love all of them, and I wouldn’t discard any of them too early. They all grow throughout the trilogy. There’s a definite good plot there that you just have to follow and see how it unfolds. And you won’t be disappointed.

The spin that the author puts on religions was a big attraction to me but I have to say that this is not for everyone and some may feel lost early on because of it. This group of creatures is just as interesting (and sometimes more) as any bunch of werewolves or vampires. Also, the “victor writing history” approach when talking about Lucifer may be offensive for some. The sex, violence, and mixture of all religions may also be a turn off for others. If you’re still reading at this point, you may be like me and should just read all three books.

What could be improved on:
It could be better edited. I completely disregarded a bunch of things because I loved the plot and characters, but I am aware that others would be unable to get past it.

There are definitely some scenes that I would do without. They unnecessarily lengthen the story.

And voila! I’ve made my case and I really hope you take a chance on this. But remember: it has to be all three books! Just the first one is really not enough.

Reviewed by Incognito

Check out Darcy Town’s Amazon Page

Deeper than the Dead by Tami Hoag

I’ve seen Tami Hoag’s name on books for years. I never thought much of it; I never wondered what sort of books she wrote or why she was so popular. Then I saw Deeper than the Dead on sale for $5 and decided I’d give it a shot. This is another audio book offering, by the way.

It took me a few chapters to really get engrossed in the story but that wasn’t very long since the chapters are very short. What I discovered is that Ms. Hoag writes some grizzly stuff! I cringed a few times at the descriptions of torture and murder she created. Oh, I suppose I should give a little synopsis of the story…

Some 5th graders stumble over a woman’s body buried in a shallow grave. This is a small, California town with low crime rates so this is a big deal. As the investigation continues, it’s discovered that they may have a serial killer on their hands. The local police, with the unofficial help of an FBI profiler, set out to find who is abducting and killing these young women. Thrown into the mix are the kids who found the body, their teacher, and their parents. The only character I think I could have done without was the over the top, stereotypical gay man who is the best friend of the teacher. Every scene with him made me cringe at the way he was written, and read.

The story takes place in 1985 so much of the modern technology used to solve crimes now wasn’t available at the time. I felt like the author focused on this fact a few times too many by making statements along the lines of “it sure would be nice if we had computers” or “someday soon there’ll be a national DNA database that will hold the DNA of all convicted criminals.” Those statements just made me roll my eyes.

Here’s the bottom line: the mystery kept me guessing (although I did pick the right perp fairly early, she had me second-guessing) and there were several times I was on edge, captured by the action of the book. I have no idea about any of her other books, but if you like a graphic murder mystery, I recommend this one.

Deeper Than the Dead (Oak Knoll) by Tami Hoag

Cast the Card Anthology from Storm Moon Press

A month or so ago, I had reviewed Burn the Brightest which was a standalone story from Storm Moon Press’ Cast the Cards Anthology. Reading a story outside of a themed anthology can be a bit odd as the author is normally inspired or writing towards a particular theme – in this case the Tarot. I’ve since received the entire anthology from the publisher and have had the opportunity to read all the stories in context of the over-arching theme.

Cast The Cards is an eclectic six story collection which includes general fiction, fantasy, and urban fantasy and all would fall into the erotic-romance with a variety of pairings from F/F, M/F/M, and M/M. Some stories are more graphic than others, but the sex isn’t the focus of the stories – rather the characters and relationships.

It’s interesting to see how each of the authors incorporates the themes of their chosen cards – some are pretty easy to find the inspiration and symbolism whereas others are a bit more subtle. This makes a rather fascinating theme for an anthology as the reader can enjoy the stories as they are or try to look deeper into how the cards shaped the stories and characters. The Tarot is meant as divination but also of introspection – there are so many interpretations to the cards and their relationship to one another and to events in the reader’s life can alter them dramatically.

As in most anthologies, some stories were stronger than others. There was one that I had some difficulty getting through, but it was more likely because of the subject matter not really being of much interest for me. I think the stories with a more fantasy theme were stronger but, once again, that’s more likely my own reading preference showing through. If you don’t mind mixing up your pairings, there are some good stories in this one. Overall I liked it, and one was a stand-out for me with two more coming in as a very close to stand-outs.

Burn the Brightest by Emily Moreton (The Fool) – reviewed here:

The Direction of the Greatest Courage by Erik Moore (The Hermit) The Hermit is a card of knowledge, usually self-knowledge and the acceptance of what one knows and doesn’t. This is a pretty straightforward story (forgive the pun) of a young man entering into a poly relationship. The first few paragraphs resonated with me and made me give this story and the character a bit more attention that I normally would have. One line “Being a bisexual woman is hard enough, but to be a bisexual man is to be erased.” made me stop and think a bit. In this story, Jason knows what he is and struggles with how to balance his attraction to both men and women against the rejection he’s received from partners, and society, in his past.

The Grief of the Bond-Maid by Janine Ashbless (The Hanged Man) The Hanged Man symbolizes self-sacrifice for a higher goal and the chance for renewal. This story captures this theme in the quest that Sjofn, a Skien Witch whose evil wizard master has pulled an Odin, hanging himself from an Ash tree in order to become all-powerful, and she is desperate to find a person who can help her thwart his plans in time. The spirit of the person who she is led to is a Griffin, half lion-half eagle, and it turns out is actually two warriors – Thorkell and Bjarni. Together, they set out and travel through the nine Norse realms that the wizard has replicated in order to stop him. I liked this quite a bit – how can you not love anything that incorporates Norse Mythology? Unfortunately, as this is a short story, what happens in each realm is glossed over and I would have loved more details to have been provided.

Surrender by K Piet (The Tower) The Tower is a card of change – conflict and disruption, often a bit of chaos as the walls come crumbling down – but also of personal transformation. This is an apt card for the story which is a BDSM story in which Aaron, a Dom, finds the tables turned on him at a club and he becomes the Sub. Aaron’s experience causes him to question a lot of his assumptions about BDSM and the roles within it. This is the most graphic of the stories and if you are not a fan of BDSM it may not be for you.

Blazing Star by Marie Carlson (The Star) The Star is the card of Sanctuary and hope, bringing renewed understanding, confidence and peace of mind. This was my favourite. Some short stories are self-contained with a beginning, middle and end. Blazing Star seemed to drop you in the middle, give you glimpses of a much larger story and then leave you with a yearning to know what led up to the events in the story and, more importantly, what happens next. I wasn’t dissatisfied with the story in the least – the author did a great job of whetting my appetite, but I think this one would make a very cool novel. If the author never writes a novel based on this, then this still makes a very cool short story. I’d classify this as Urban Fantasy and I think this story incorporates the Tarot them quite well. Breaking from her family’s tradition of being Hunters, Bea is a mind-reader and spell-caster who has stepped back from the active battles and provides a sanctuary to those who do Hunt. Hope, her lover, returns to her, devastated at not being able to save the family she had been sent to protect and troubled by some unnamed trouble that seems to be brewing. Blazing Star seems to be an oasis in-between the larger story that happens outside the pages of this story, but is wonderfully self-contained with enough glimpses and hints to do a fascinating bit of world-building without even leaving Bea’s home.

Oneiros by S L Armstrong (The Moon) The Moon symbolizes dreams, imagination and the unconscious mind and can be the fear of things past come back to infect the present or future. At the same time, the Moon can illuminate secrets and hidden truths. Caleb is a young man, recently diagnosed as HIV positive, who finds a haven in his world of dreams, where is seduced by Morpheus. Unable or unwilling to deal with what is happening in his life, he is drawn deeper and deeper into Morpheus’ desire. As is always the case, seduction by a God rarely turns out well for the human and Caleb continues to withdraw from the waking world despite the efforts of Scott, a man he meets in the doctor’s office, who offers him an anchor of friendship and love. I loved the premise of this one and enjoyed the story but I must admit I felt bad for Caleb’s cat.

Blind by Jayliwood

This was the first human Twilight fan fic that I read and I have to say it is still one of my favorites. The author, Jayliwood, has won several awards for this fic and others and I really enjoy her story lines and writing. She has the perfect balance of believable sex and romance scenes along with just enough angst to keep you on the edge of your seat.

The premise of the story is that Bella and Edward are both college students in Louisiana but Edward is blind. Bella is the first girl that treats him as a normal person and they soon fall for each other. Bella is roommates with Alice and Edward with Jasper, which is nice way to keep the couples in cannon. Rosalie and Emmett are also a couple and it’s refreshing to have a story where Rosalie isn’t a raging bitch. Renee is a bitch, which is all I can say without giving too much of the storyline away. While I think the author did a great job with Bella’s character she really captured Edward’s character the best. Some fan fics come off with Edward being too whiney. There is a big difference between whiney and angst-filled and some fan fics are way off base with Edwards personality. The sex scenes are amazing and give you flutters without being hardcore porn-like some fan fics I’ve read.

The only downside to the fic, if I had to pick one, would be the grammar. When she has a beta look over her chapters they are fine but when she doesn’t the grammar and spelling is pretty bad. However, aren’t we all like that? I know I am when I write.