Anne Reviews: The Jackal’s House by Anna Butler

TITLE:  Lancaster’s Luck, Book 2: The Jackal’s House

Author: Anna Butler

Publisher:  Dreamspinner Press

Pages: 310

Characters: Rafe Lancaster/Ned Winter

POV: 1st

Sub-Genre: Series, Steampunk

Kisses: 5

Blurb:

Something is stalking the Aegyptian night and endangering the archaeologists excavating the mysterious temple ruins in Abydos. But is it a vengeful ancient spirit or a very modern conspiracy….

Rafe Lancaster’s relationship with Gallowglass First Heir, Ned Winter, flourishes over the summer of 1900, and when Rafe’s House encourages him to join Ned’s next archaeological expedition, he sees a chance for it to deepen further. Since all the Houses of the Britannic Imperium, Rafe’s included, view assassination as a convenient solution to most problems, he packs his aether pistol—just in case.

Trouble finds them in Abydos. Rafe and Ned begin to wonder if they’re facing opposition to the Temple of Seti being disturbed. What begins as tricks and pranks escalates to attacks and death, while the figure of the Dog—the jackal-headed god, Anubis, ruler of death—casts a long shadow over the desert sands. Destruction follows in his wake as he returns to reclaim his place in Abydos. Can Rafe and Ned stand against both the god and House plots when the life of Ned’s son is on the line?

Review:

I was already a huge fan of Anna Butler’s SF Taking Shield series before I started reading this one.  Although it has a different feel to it—and is a different genre—I’m in love with this series too.

The Jackal’s House—like book 1 in the series—is narrated in first person by Rafe Lancaster.  I love his tongue-in-cheek banter, and internal narrative.  One of the strengths of this author’s writing is her characterisations.  Rafe is just the right mix of smart arse, and a man who feels very deeply.  Although we see Ned through Rafe’s perspective, it’s a very intuitive perspective, and Ned is very much a man who is tied by his position as first heir of Gallowglass.  I love Rafe and Ned together, and the line when they are making love under the stars was very romantic, and made me sigh happily. It’s sad that although they love each other, they can’t admit it publically or officially marry, but that’s a sign of the times, and again realistic.

The supporting cast is wonderful, with their character quirks and personalities coming across very clearly. I thought the author did a great job in writing Harry, Ned’s son, and he’s easy to visualise as the small boy he is.  Molly, Harry’s dog, is a character in her own right.

The world building in this series is fabulous. The author’s love for all things Egyptian is obvious and I enjoyed the details of the archaeological dig. I could feel Ned’s passion for his chosen field, and Rafe’s reluctant realisation that he’s getting sucked into it all as well. Ned’s good humour is also very contagious and I found myself smiling as I read.  I also appreciated the fact that Rafe needed to practice flying the airship, rather than just pilot immediately, as it felt more realistic.  The descriptions are detailed, and make everything very easy to visualise.

The political agendas seen in The Gilded Scarab rack up another notch, as dangerous games are played against the backdrop of Abydos.  It’s obvious that the author has put a lot of thought into the house system and politics of this world, and I found it all fascinating.  The title of the book works well on several levels, and there are more jackals around than the animal variety, although the true double meaning is quite subtle.

I also love the way she connects this alternate steampunk world with our own, with references and people I recognised. I must admit I squeed a little when Howard Carter turned up.  Although this is set in an alternate 1900 I loved the mention of analytical machines—computers—and other steampunk versions of current technology such as ebooks etc.  The security fence was especially cool.

The action scenes are well written, and had me on the edge of my seat. I spent several evenings sitting up far too late as I needed to find out what happened next.  There’s a nice twist at the end of the book.  I hope the author plans to write more of this series as I’m now totally hooked, plus I want to see how Rafe takes Ned’s advice, and the changes they hopefully can both make.

I’d highly recommend The Jackal’s House to readers who enjoy steampunk with a good dollop of mystery and adventure, and interesting, likeable characters.  More please.

Reviewed By: Anne

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Anne Reviews: Heart Scarab by Anna Butler

Title: Taking Shield, Book 2: Heart Scarab

Author: Anna Butler

Publisher:  Glass Hat Press

Pages:  286

Characters: Bennet/Flynn, Bennet/Joss

POV: 3rd

Sub-Genre: Series, Science Fiction

Kisses: 5

Blurb:

Shield Captain Bennet is on Telnos, a unpleasant little planet inhabited by religious fanatics and unregistered miners running illegal solactinium mines. It’s about to be about to be overrun by the Maess. Bennet’s job is to get out as many civilians as he can, but the enemy arrives before the evacuation is complete. Caught in a vicious fire fight, Bennet is left behind, presumed dead.

His family is grieving. Joss, his long-term partner, grieves with them; lost, unhappy, remorseful. First Lieutenant Flynn has no official ‘rights’ here. He isn’t family. He isn’t partner or lover.

All he is, is broken.

Review:

Book 2 in the Taking Shield series picks up eighteen months after the events of Gryfalcon.

I love the world building in this series. It’s very well thought out and researched, and makes me feel as though I’m reading about a world with a long and rich history.  I loved the links back to their original home world—Earth—and the way Joss, Bennet’s ex-partner thinks about how their ancient rituals replace other even older ones.  Joss takes some of the POV in this book, looking back on his and Bennet’s relationship, and giving the reader a different perspective.  His grief—and that of other friends and family—felt very real.

I really felt for Flynn, who is not family and therefore has no official rights, but still grieving for someone he truly loves.  I don’t think it’s a spoiler, given there are more books in the series, to say I was very relieved to discover that Bennet survives.

As with the first book, the author doesn’t pull any punches about the brutality of war.  The world on which Bennet is left is very harsh, and there are consequences for what had happened to him. He is badly injured, and doesn’t just miraculously recover either physically, or psychologically.  It takes time and hard work. And that’s the way it should be.

I like that these guys are flawed, and I love Bennet and Flynn together. I think they complement each other well, and their frustration when they take a step forward together and then something else comes up to prevent them being together feels very real. But in saying that, although their romance is a decent sized part of the story, it isn’t what drives it, and I think that is what makes this series so strong.

The war with the Maess is never far away, nor the underlying feeling that things are going to get a lot worse before they get better.  These aliens are very other, and dangerous, and I like the way we—and Bennet—learn a tiny bit more about them with each new book, but not enough to understand them.  That information doesn’t comfort, it terrifies, and I think the author did a fabulous job in keeping me on the edge of my seat, and trying to work out what exactly the Maess’ plan is.

I’ve been a huge SF fan for years, and this series reminds me why.  I’d recommend Heart Scarab to readers who enjoy military SF with in-depth world building, complex characters, and a story that keeps you on the edge of your seat and wanting more.

Reviewed By: Anne

Click HERE to purchase Heart Scarab by Anna Butler

Anne Reviews: Gyrfalcon by Anna Butler


TITLE: Taking Shield, Book 1: Gyrfalcon
Author: Anna Butler
Publisher: Glass Hat Press
Pages: 281
Characters: Bennet/Flynn, Bennet/Joss
POV: 3rd
Sub-Genre: Series, Science Fiction
Kisses: 5

Blurb:

Earth’s last known colony, Albion, is fighting an alien enemy. In the first of the Taking Shield serial, Shield Captain Bennet is dropped behind the lines to steal priceless intelligence. A dangerous job, and Bennet doesn’t need the distractions of changing relationships with his long-term partner, Joss, or with his father—and with Flynn, the new lover who will turn his world upside-down.
He expects to risk his life. He expects the data will alter the course of the war.

What he doesn’t expect is that it will change his life or that Flynn will be impossible to forget.

Review:

I’d heard good things about Taking Shield by Anna Butler and as a long time SF reader, wondered if the hype was well founded. It is! A couple of pages into this story, and I was hooked. The world building is wonderful, and I felt like I was walking into a world with a rich history, and yet I had no problems in jumping in at the point this story takes place within it. The story starts with a fast pace action scene which grabbed my attention immediately. The technical aspect of the series is obviously well researched, but didn’t bog down the story either. I loved the way the author approached the aliens in this story—the reader learns about them alongside the characters, and I reacted in the same way Bennet did when he discovers—sorry, spoiler—which reflects how engrossed I was in the story.

Bennet and Flynn are very different characters, but they complement each other so well. There is a lot standing between them and their HEA, which makes a lot of sense considering everything else going on. I would have been disappointed if their relationship had gone smoothly, even though their romance is not the focus of the story. Although this story includes a romance, it is so much more than that, and I felt the romance was secondary to the plot. This is a SF story in which the characters are gay, rather than vice versa, and it works perfectly.

The supporting cast are well fleshed out too, and have their own motivations. I did find though, that as soon as I’d read the final words in this story, I had to keep going and read the next one…and the next one… so expect a few reviews while I play catch up.

Gyrfalcon reminds me of why I love SF, and I’d highly recommend the book—and the series—to readers who enjoy military SF with fabulous world building, complex characters, and a story that leaves you wanting more. Gyrfalcon is up there with one of the best books I’ve read this year. I don’t buy many hardcopy books because of the cost of postage etc to NZ, but there are a few I have on my wish list. This series definitely is.

Reviewed By: Anne

Click HERE to purchase Gyrfalcon by Anna Butler

Cuddling: a Multi-Authored Anthology

Title: Cuddling Anthology
Author: Multi-Authored Anthology
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Pages: 312
Characters: Multi-Characters
POV: 3rd
Sub-Genre: Contemporary, Erotic Romance
Kisses: 5


Blurb:

What happens after “happily ever after”? No matter how long they’ve been together, the couples in this anthology find that keeping a relationship alive takes work. Whether it’s job conflicts or family issues, the seven-year-itch or just plain stuck-in-a-rut routine, these men face the challenges of keeping the spark alive with humor, creativity, and romance.

Stories included are:

Cupcakes for Two by K. Lynn
At First Sound by G.S. Wiley
Dream Lover by Nico Jaye
Happy Holidays by Anna Butler
The Responsible One by Eva Clancy
Home on the Range by Anna Martin
The Cat’s Out of the Bag by Rowan McAllister
Like an Old Sweater by Elizabella Gold
Change of Heart by Rhidian Brenig Jones
The Thing I Love Best About Mitch by Dawn Douglas
Looking Back by Rob Rosen
Quarter Moon Over a Ten Cent Town by Stephen Osborne
Reboot by S. H. Allan
The Making of a Family by Caitlin Ricci
Remember When by River Clair
How to Date Your Husband by AC Valentine

Review:

Some of the stories feel a bit similar, but the positive feel, sweet romances, and hearty humor go a long way in making this a comfy anthology to snuggle up with.

Cupcakes for Two by K. Lynn

Jacob and Matt have been together forever, first as best friends growing up and now as boyfriends. As the end of college draws near, their lives are once again changing, but they know they will face the future together. Their anniversary seems like a perfect time for Matt to remind his boyfriend that all they have, all they are, started with “Cupcakes for Two.”

This was a wonderful, sweet start to the anthology. From Jacob’s point of view we get insight into a loving romance, a relationship that has endured since childhood. This story is given through poignant yet mundane dialogue I loved reading. Both men are realistic, well-drawn out characters that it was an absolute pleasure to read about them. And when the first story in an anthology brings tears to your eyes, you know you’ve got a great book in your hands.

At First Sound by G.S. Wiley

In 1932, Bobby Carling is an up-and-coming young Hollywood actor. His fans love to read stories about his wild partying, but they don’t know Bobby’s secret: he’s in a loving relationship with an older man. Soren Sjovold was once famous as silent-movie star Silvestro Sardini, but with the advent of “talking pictures”, his heavy accent doomed his career. As they approach their two year anniversary, Bobby still wonders how Soren can accept the injustices of his career and of their relationship, but Soren has a surprise to remind his lover what’s really important.

This was a cute story about Bobby, a one-cowboy-role actor, who is very successful. In secret he has lived for years with Soren, a retired actor who never fit any role when the talkies came. Their anniversary celebration was held in a theater setting, and the Swedish comments were amusing. Yet the story was so short it felt a bit lacking, without a point, but nonetheless a cute little tale.

Dream Lover by Nico Jaye

Although Brady’s job as a corporate attorney is demanding, Chris has learned over the years to cope with the strains of his lover’s schedule. Even when Brady misses his own birthday surprise, Chris is more resigned than angry—it’s not the first time he’s come in second to Brady’s job. However, Brady comes home with a surprise of his own that just may introduce something into their relationship Chris never dreamed was in the cards.

Work does get in the way of most relationships once the newness and first crush has worn off. Chris wishes his big-time lawyer-lover Brady were around more, especially when he even misses his own birthday due to business. But… Brady has a few surprises for Chris, and that made this story rise from the sad mood to happy and bubbly. And the hot sex was good too!

Happy Holidays by Anna Butler

John Hogarth and Kit Lewis have been domestic partners as long as they’ve been working partners, running a small but growing design agency in New York. After fifteen years together, Kit wonders if they’re getting stale and takes a typically creative approach to inject a little romance and excitement back into their love life.

I swear, if I hear “Do you know what day this is?” one more time… Kit and John have been together for fifteen years, and then Kit comes up with something to keep things lively in the bedroom. Creative. While Kit is bursting with good ideas, John is at first confused, then happy to be lead around by his dick to wherever Kit wishes. This story had lots of humor and a wonderful established relationship, excellent writing and a good pace.

The Responsible One by Eva Clancy

After five happy years together, things between Tom and Owen have grown strained thanks to Tom’s job. When Tom leaves Owen at home to spend yet another Saturday working, Owen stumbles on a stash of porn Tom’s hidden away. Does Tom have secret desires he’s never admitted to Owen? And if so, what does it say about their relationship that he’s never spoken up about them?

This one reads a lot like a larger novel. We get both points of view, Tom and Owen, who learn something new about each other after five years of being together. This is an emotional, romantic and sexy tale, with some realistic dialogue, both rows and making up, and hot sex.

Home on the Range by Anna Martin

Colton Maverick has been away from his ranch for over four months, looking for an investor to save his floundering business and leaving his artist husband, Alistair Graystone, in charge. Gray hasn’t let Colt know how badly he’s struggled in his absence or that he’s hired a ranch manager to help out. When Colt returns home without warning, Gray doesn’t have time to tell him before Jared shows up, and Colt angrily accuses Gray of sleeping with the younger man. Will saving the ranch lead to the end of their marriage?

Husbands of many years, Gray and Colt have to face the facts their relationship and their lives aren’t going as well as they’d thought. This reads like a realistic depiction of a long-time marriage where the couple thinks they know things so well they don’t need to talk about what’s troubling them. Finally, as always, the bough breaks, and it’s time to face the music. A good cowboy story.

The Cat’s Out of the Bag by Rowan McAllister

When Michael learns that his boyfriend of six years lied about being on a work trip, he assumes his lover is cheating on him and stages a breakup scene that would make any diva proud. Unfortunately for Michael, everything doesn’t quite go as planned, and he learns a secret about Joel that he never expected… a furry little secret he’s not sure how to deal with.

Michael is quite the drama queen, acting out like a teen on a temper tantrum, but it’s so over the top it’s pretty funny. And Joel’s secret isn’t as dastardly or devastating as all that. To each his own. Thankfully Michael’s mom is a voice of reason. Not all secrets deal with cheating, and when Michael manages to get his head out of his ass, he handles things pretty well. A good furry story.

Like an Old Sweater by Elizabella Gold

Jeff is about to turn thirty, and he’s not happy. His job as a librarian feels stifling, while Ethan, his boyfriend of seven years, leads a seemingly glamorous life as a popular author and blogger. Ethan keeps coming home late from book signings and conferences, which worries and frustrates Jeff. When a cute college student begins flirting with Jeff, can he resist the attraction of another man’s attentions?

An established couple, settled from comfort to boredom? The simplest things start to annoy, every comment merits an argument, every perceived slight becomes a matter of life and death, or proof of cheating. Jeff has an admirer at the library and Ethan is always away on business as a successful writer. But there’s nothing a good roll in the sheets won’t cure, especially for two men who get worked up over nothing and who still love each other. A nice little story, even though I was a bit confused at times about whose point of view I was getting.

Change of Heart by Rhidian Brenig Jones

It’s the last thing Charlie Langridge wants to accept but he has to face it: after five happy years together, his beloved Finn has fallen for another man. Another man who’s younger, better looking, and far, far sexier than humdrum, run-of-the-mill Charlie. Better, perhaps, to surrender with grace and let Finn go. But deep in the heart of the mildest of men, there is a core of steel—if only Charlie can find the strength to fight for the man he loves.

Charlie is sure his boyfriend Finn is cheating on him. Where’s the line drawn? Actual sex or merely wanting, being flattered and tempted? There is a difference, though, between thinking about something and acting on one’s impulses. The two men need to talk things through, about what all this means for their relationship, what the future holds. Being ordinary doesn’t mean there can’t be surprises and excitement, as this good little story shows when Charlie and Finn take a step in a new sexual direction, one they were always headed for in the end.

The Thing I Love Best About Mitch by Dawn Douglas

Tyler Freeman is two days away from receiving his PhD when Mitchell Masters, his live-in lover of two years, asks what he’d like for a graduation present. There’s something Tyler wants more than anything, but it isn’t a gift money can buy. And it isn’t going to be an easy request for Mitch to grant.

When your first meeting with a prospective partner’s family goes all wrong, when the whole gay thing isn’t even addressed, it’s natural to feel apprehensive about trying again. But Tyler knows the best thing about Mitch, and they have a rapport to make things happen. A cute little story.

Looking Back by Rob Rosen

For their ten-year anniversary, Glenn buys Mack a session at Memory Merge, where computers allow couples to view their collective pasts in the hope of rekindling their cooling love affairs. As Glenn and Mack witness their first times together, they discover that seeing their history through each other’s eyes can shed new light on old, nearly-forgotten memories.

This was a fun little walk down memory lane, literally, with the aid of technology. Glenn and Mark feel like they’ve lost the spark, so they look back to find what was missing. New details about the past come to life before their very eyes. It is important to remember that as time passes it can feel like love has waned, when it fact it has grown deeper. I liked this inventive little story, very upbeat and romantic.

Quarter Moon Over a Ten-Cent Town by Stephen Osborne

Dylan Reed, head librarian of sleepy Flemyng, Illinois (population 1100) and his lover, ex-marine John Mackelby, have been together long enough that the townsfolk almost accept them as “regular people.” But behind the peaceful façade, there’s trouble brewing. John is spending more and more time at work, often coming home after Dylan’s gone to bed. And Dylan’s suddenly started meeting mysteriously with John’s best friend, Cody. Can the suspicions both of them harbor possibly be true, or can they find their way back to the days when they each thought the other hung the moon?

Sometimes witnessing something can make you believe there’s something going on, when there isn’t. Misassumptions and lack of communication lead to a few bruises and bruised egos here, but the instinct to protect the one you love is always there. This was a wonderful tale, written with humor and spice. I liked this one a lot. The story itself is not that unique, but the way it was told made me smile throughout. The ending had me laughing out loud.

Reboot by S. H. Allan

Josh works in a high tech job that takes up most of his time and attention. Flynn, his boyfriend of five years, is a rock singer, often on the road for weeks at a time. When the stresses of their jobs interfere with their life together, Flynn vows to “fix it,” but Josh is afraid Flynn’s idea of fixing it may be to end their relationship. Will Josh be able to show Flynn how much he means to him before it’s too late?

Being so engrossed in work that you don’t pay attention to what’s happening around you can go horribly wrong, especially when loved ones are concerned. One wrong comment, and the shit really hits the fan. This tiny tale read like a longer piece, which I liked. In fact, I liked the whole story. When Flynn does his thing on stage I was practically jumping up and down on my seat, rooting for him. A great, realistic and human tale of misspoken words and beautiful singing and loving through the thick and thin. And what an awesome name for a band!

The Making of a Family by Caitlin Ricci

Exhausted after a grueling business trip, Arden can barely wait to return home to his boyfriend Serio’s tender loving care. The last thing he expects is to find Serio with his own bags packed and ready to leave. Arden knows things haven’t been great between them lately, and Serio’s hurt that Arden doesn’t even know what’s wrong. Arden’s convinced, though, that what the two of them share is too strong to let go, and he’ll do whatever it takes to make things right.

Losing a child is the worst possible thing that could happen. And it happens to a lot of people at once, but the parents especially. Serio can’t get past it while Arden is trying to. Arden uses work to hide from the loss, but Serio can’t do that anymore. A confrontation is inevitable, or they go their separate ways. This one is a total tearjerker, so have napkins at the ready. The emotional toll of losing something so precious is beyond imagining, but the author delivers in spades. I felt the loss so deeply that I was gushing like a waterfall. A beautiful story.

Remember When by River Clair

Ben and Aaron have been together five years, but the demands of Aaron’s grad school studies keep them from celebrating the milestone events that mean so much to Ben. Determined to arrange an anniversary to remember, he plans for them to revisit the places they’ve shared special moments—their first meeting, their first kiss, the first time they told each other “I love you.” By the end of the day, though, Ben wonders if he and Aaron are even on the same page if his boyfriend can’t remember the important moments in their past.

What are relationship milestones? This little story shows us that what is significant to one, can be less that for another. Doesn’t mean there isn’t caring and that the spark of love has died. Ben and Aaron are a realistic couple who sometimes argue over nothing, like people do, but who love each other and long for the days when things were fresh, exciting and new. A great story of real life and true love.

How to Date Your Husband by AC Valentine

Ryan and Mike are stuck in a rut but still in love after more than ten years together. When Mike finds an article offering love-life tips in an old magazine, he suggests trying them as a way to add some spice back to their lives. Ryan thinks Mike is crazy, but he’s willing to do anything to make Mike happy, even if it means dating his own husband.

Spicing up one’s relationship by going back to dating. Be it experimental theater, or transparent underwear, or discussing sexual fantasies, trying new things goes a long way in showing the two men what they already knew but tended to overlook at times: That the two husbands who never really dated love each other and belong together. A wonderful upbeat and funny ending to the anthology.

Reviewed By: Susan

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