Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Wednesday Briefs: In Pieces #29 (8.2)

Good morning and Happy Hump Day! If it's Wednesday, then it must be time for more flash fiction from the Wednesday Briefers! We're a group of authors who bring you our finest flash fiction every week, 500 to 1000 words, inspired by one of our prompts.

Ryan is going with Salvation on their first gig since he joined them. That must be exciting, right? See what's going on in this week's chapter of In Pieces. Don't forget to visit the other Briefers and see what they're up to! Their links follow my tale! Enjoy!

In Pieces #29 (8.2)

The reason for Ben’s words became apparent as they approached the overly large bridge that bisected Lake Pontchartrain. Ryan groaned.  Oh no, not again. Why hadn’t he bothered to find out where Thibodaux was? At least he would have been better prepared for this.

He swallowed hard, determined not to be the baby he’d been the last time. Bad enough Ben had witnessed his panic. He didn’t want to add insult to injury by embarrassing Ben in front of Aiden and Abby, although he wasn’t sure he could pull that off since he felt close to freaking out again at the sight of the bridge.

But his worries turned out to be groundless. Ben was amazing. He forestalled any attack of nerves on Ryan’s part by distracting Ryan with gentle kisses and soft words. Ben kept Ryan’s attention so focused on him that he had no time to worry about the bridge or the lake or anything but the man who touched him so tenderly. Before he knew it, they were on the other side of the lake, crisis averted, and hopefully Aiden and Abby none the wiser.

If either Abby or Aiden had noticed anything of what was going on in the back seat, they kept it to themselves. One of them had turned up the radio—a soft jazz station—in lieu of conversation, for which Ryan was grateful.

Ryan laid his head against Ben’s chest, inhaling his scent and his warmth, burrowing into him. Ben’s arm encompassed him,  comfortable and familiar, and oh so good. It wasn’t until they’d passed through Metairie, and were driving out into more rural areas that Ryan realized, with a guilty start, what he was doing to Ben’s costume.

He attempted to sit up, but Ben held him firmly. “What’s the matter?” Ben asked.

“Your clothes. I’m messing them all up, and you need to perform tonight,” Ryan said softly. How could he be so selfish? Ben was going to work, and for that matter, so was he. They weren’t teenagers anymore, and they weren’t on a date. He needed to learn better self-control where Ben was concerned.

“So I’m a little rumpled.” Ben laughed. “It’s going to be fine. These kids won’t even notice. Trust me. C’mon, baby, just relax.” Ben coaxed Ryan into his former comfortable position. He could feel Ben’s heartbeat, strong beneath him. He closed his eyes and let himself accept the security Ben’s embrace afforded. How times had changed. Once he’d been the one who offered Ben his strength and held him in the darkness of the night. Now Ben was his haven. His home. His heart.

If only he could stay there forever, safe with Ben, and forget about the rest of the world. How amazing would that be?

All too soon it seemed they arrived at their destination. From what Ryan could see of it in the fading light, the house where the party was to be held was a stereotypical Southern mansion-style, with large columns in the front and a wide veranda. The kind where genteelly dressed ladies and gentlemen sipped at mint juleps and fanned themselves in the moist Southern heat. The drive wound around the house,  toward the back, probably used as an entrance for trades people and other non-guests. Sure enough, the equipment van was already there, the back doors open, but no sign of Deacon or Keanu. Aiden parked Cameron’s car behind the van, and they all got out.

“I bet this place has a ballroom and everything,” Ryan speculated. Hell, even the back of the house looked elegant. He thought Cameron’s house was nice, but it was nothing like this. Then again, didn’t Ben say it was his second home, not first?

“They do, but we won’t be going inside,” Aiden said.

Ryan must have looked startled at that. “It’s an outdoor concert,” Ben explained.

“Friends and relatives of the birthday boy?” Ryan asked.

“About fifty kids his age, I think,” Ben said. “I’m not sure. Marge handles the details, then she tells us where to go. Ours not to reason why.” He winked at Ryan.

to be continued

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Sunday, November 25, 2018

Book Review: Blue Exorcist, Vol 8 by Kazue Kato

Blue Exorcist, Book 8   

Author: Kazue Kato
Publisher: Viz Media
American release date: November 6, 2012
Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/manga/paranormal/200 pages
Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

As the ex-wires are breaking Rin out of his solitary confinement, Yukio comes face to face with the architect of their troubles – Saburota Todo. Todo taunts Yukio about Rin in order to distract him. Meanwhile, having freed Rin, the ex-wires come across the injured Ossama. Not only that but they find that the Impure King is not only huge but beginning to resemble large buildings. Kamiki and Shiemi offer to take Suguro’s father to where he can received medical assistance, while the others take on the Impure King. From his lofty perch high above them, Mephisto observes but does nothing.

Todo tries to get Yukio to admit he hates Rin, in an effort to divide them. Will Yukio fall prey to a case of sibling rivalry? Kuro takes on his huge demonic form, and allows Rin and Suguro to ride him toward the Impure King. Suguro is to put up the barrier – if he can. After that, they aren’t sure what to do, since Rin isn’t able to draw his sword. Rin teases Suguro, calling him Princess, while Yukio thinks back on life with brother Rin. However, Yukio is not without tricks of his own.

Everyone has their job to do. Shima and Koneko fight their way through the forest, trying to get through before the sac bursts. But doubts assail one of them. They tried their best, and it seems futile to go on. No one will blame them for saving their own lives by running from danger. Isn’t that the sensible thing to do?

There is a lot going on in this volume of Blue Exorcist, and people are looking inside themselves for answers and solutions. Defeating Todo and his Impure King will be no easy task. Everyone must work together or they’ll all fall. Something I was wondering about in the last volume ends up being addressed in this – namely, does Yukio have any demon in him? While we are not given an answer, that is something to ponder.

The fight against the Impure King has become a very interesting arc, and I’m enjoying the character development. I’ve forgotten to mention that some of the volumes have bonus stories. I have to say some are better than others. I am really enjoying this series and look forward to seeing what comes next.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Book Review: Blue Exorcist, Vol 7 by Kazue Kato

Blue Exorcist, Book 7    

Author: Kazue Kato
Publisher: Viz Media
American release date: April 3, 2012
Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/manga/paranormal/200 pages
Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Saburota Todo and Mamushi Hojo have stolen the Left and Right Eyes of the Impure King and disappeared, while Rin finds himself incarcerated, in solitary confinement! Rin has received a letter from Tatsuma Suguro explaining how he met Father Fujimoto and how Fujimoto ended up with the Koma sword. The sword contains a fire demon, Karura, summoned by a monk named Fukaku who defeated the Impure King with it. Suguro takes the sword and gives it to Fujimoto, despite the priest telling him he is going to kill a child with it. But Suguro knows better.

Todo reveals to Mamushi the terrible secret of Myodha, that beneath Goma Hall lies the body of the Impure King. If they return his eyes to him, he shall live once more, a most terrible thought indeed! Ossama catches up with Todo and Mamushi, and tries to prevent them from reviving the Impure King, but he is too late, only to learn that Todo has a different agenda!

Meanwhile, back at the jail, Yukio doesn’t want to give Rin the sword to use, not knowing if his flame will even work against the Impure King, much less defeat him. Yukio is concerned that if he uses his flame, Rin will be put to death, but Shura reminds him they have much bigger problems – such as the Impure King. Yukio reluctantly agrees but there is an unexpected wrinkle in the plan.

When Ossama returns, with Mamushi, and tells the story of what has happened, the ex-wires are torn about what to do. They decide to break Rin out of his confinement so he can fight the Impure King, but thanks to the machinations of Mephisto, that is easier said than done.

Another fast-paced volume of Blue Exorcist. It’s getting easier to tell the villains from the heroes, although sometimes the heroes aren’t entirely sure themselves and are torn in their loyalties. Mephisto is something of an enigma. Although I am unsure what his agenda is, and while his methods tend to be unorthodox, deep inside, I believe everything he does is for a good reason. Amaimon, not so much. I like seeing Yukio’s affection toward his brother, which he sometimes hides. It’s still hard to believe they’re twins, but they are. I have to wonder if Yukio has powers that are unsuspected, maybe lying deep inside, that just haven’t evidenced yet. I feel sorry for Mamushi. She really thought she was doing the right thing, and was brutally used for her naïveté and for having faith in the wrong person.

I predict that Rin will make a great exorcist, although I’m not sure if he will get to face down his father in the way he hopes. I also predict that he and Shiemi will find out they are attracted to each other. Not sure where that will go.

The series is going strong, keep the volumes coming!

Friday, November 23, 2018

Book Review: Blue Exorcist, Vol 6 by Kazue Kato

Blue Exorcist, Book 6    

Author: Kazue Kato
Publisher: Viz Media
American release date: February 7, 2012
Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/manga/paranormal/200 pages
Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

The ex-wires are in Kyoto to help guard the Right Eye of the Impure King. Everyone is surprised to discover they are staying at the inn belonging to Suguro’s family. The next morning, some of the guys don’t remember the night before very well, and they blame it on whatever Shura gave them to drink. Konekomaru is confused as to why Renzo is acting so friendly toward Rin. Doesn’t he remember who and what he is? A meeting of the Myodha is being held, but Ossama is nowhere to be found. He sends word that he is busy and unable to attend. Renzo’s father, Yaozo, rises from his sick bed to inform the meeting that there is a traitor in their midst! It’s revealed that the right eye has been stolen, and six people are the major suspects, including Ossama, Juzo Shima and Mamushi Hojo.

Rin’s training isn’t going well. His first task, and he keeps blowing it! Literally. Shura set up three candles with instructions to light them, but he can’t control his power and keeps melting them. Suguro confronts his father, but to no avail. He disowns him just before his father disappears, only to be yelled at by Rin. They get into an altercation, to Shura’s great annoyance. Rin goes a little too far and finds himself revealed and incarcerated.

Yukio arrives on the scene only to learn the Right Eye has been stolen as well, and the chief suspect is High Priest Tatsumo Suguro! Yukio reveals that when the eyes come together, a poisonous gas is released! They must be found. A letter arrives for Rin from Suguro’s father, but neither Rin nor Shura can read it. Luckily Yukio can, and what a tale is revealed!

The action is getting hotter and hotter as the ex-wires are thrust into the fray. This is no exercise, this is reality! If those eyes aren’t found before they are connected, everyone will be in danger! We learn a lot in this volume, and glimpse more of Suguro and his father. Also, we watch Rin working hard to control his flame as he learns to work for the common good, a sure sign he is maturing. We see more of the softer side of Shiemi, as well, who is always ready to volunteer her help to others.

I find that the story of the Left and Right Eyes is making more sense to me now, and it’s an interesting story. I like the way the story is developing, and I find it interesting that more than a few people are suspicious of Mephisto Pheles. I’m sure he has quite a story himself.

 Another great volume, looking forward to more of the same. I’m also watching the anime, although I’m only a few episodes into it, but I really like it.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Book Review: Alpha Unit One, New York by Chris T. Kat

Alpha Unit One, New York   

Author: Chris T. Kat
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
American release date: July 27, 2018
Format/Genre/Length: eBook/m/m/paranormal/181 pages
Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

In a world in which humans and shifters have learned to live together in comparative harmony, there are still some shifters who find themselves subjected to an assortment of restrictions. Namely,  small shifters and baby shifters. Small shifters are looked down upon as unequal to their larger counterparts.  Baby shifters are those who, unlike the majority of shifters, become the immature version of their animals, even though as humans they are adults. Baby shifters are forced to endure having their spouses as their legal guardians, and they are forbidden from doing anything too difficult or too dangerous. Such —as police work.

Nicholas Reed has just joined a combo human/shifter unit in New York City known as Alpha Unit One, which specializes in drug crimes. However Nick has a secret – he isn’t the human he pretends to be, he’s a shifter. Not just any shifter, but a baby shifter, becoming a snow leopard cub in his animal form. To keep his secret, he douses himself with cologne to cover the faint trace of shifter he bears. He doesn’t feel as though he is any less than any of his team members. As far as he is concerned, he’s doing what he has to do.

Sam Black is the head of Alpha Unit One, and a lion shifter. Burned by a previous relationship by a guy who pretended to love him but only wanted to use him, he is leery of new entanglements, and of humans posing as shifters. Complications arise when he finds himself attracted to the new hire, Nick. The attraction is mutual and strong. Nicky is fearful of his secret coming out, but he can’t withstand the pull of his mate. Can he trust Sam with his secret, and trust that Sam will allow him to continue to do the job that he loves? Or is he putting his future as a cop in jeopardy?

Alpha Unit One is hopefully the first in a new series by Chris T. Kat. I am a huge fan of Ms. Kat’s books, and love to read them. She especially excels in m/m romances, and one of her specialties is dealing with shifter stories. This book is no exception to that rule. It’s obvious to me that she understand humans and animals, and I love the way she draws her characters, especially the wise-cracking seme (bottom or catcher) who engages in witty repartee with the more mature, solid seme (top or pitcher).  With this book, she is delving into territory I’ve not seen before. Namely having shifters who become the baby form of their animals. It’s an original idea and very imaginative.
Besides Sam and Nick, the unit is populated with some very memorable characters. One of my favorites is Roland, a wolf shifter who is still suffering from the death of his wife, and Annie, the feisty tough shifter who is married to a human, Jake, whom she madly loves.

Ms. Kat does characters very well, and brings them to life as being imperfect and human. The story is about a group of cops, and it does delve into their work, but mostly it is about the cops themselves. The police procedural part of the story is interesting, and will keep you on the edge of your seat wondering how they are going to make it out alive sometimes.

As far as the heat goes, there is a lot of it, and a lot of love and romance. If graphic romance is not your thing, I would suggest a pass on this book. But if you like hot guys who love each other and appreciate each other’s bodies, if you like to read about shifters and especially shifters who are different, and if you enjoy a feel-good romance, then this might just be the book for you. I know there is a second book in this series, and I eagerly await its publication.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Wednesday Briefs: In Pieces #27 (8.1)

Good morning and Happy Hump Day! If it's Wednesday, then it must be time for more flash fiction from the Wednesday Briefers! We're a group of authors who bring you our finest flash fiction every week, 500 to 1000 words, inspired by one of our prompts.

Ryan and Ben were able to spend some quality time alone by Lake Pontchartrain. And yet there still seems to be unspoken questions between them. Will they ever be able to discuss them? The day arrives for the first gig that Ryan gets to witness. See what's going on in this week's episode of In Pieces.Don't forget to visit the other Briefers and see what's up with them! Their links follow my tale! Enjoy!

In Pieces #27 (8.1)

Thursday night came all too soon.  The night of the birthday party in Thibodaux. Ryan's first chance to watch Salvation in action.  He was excited and nervous both. Ben had asked him to take photos of the event to use as promo, besides for use in their book, and Ryan hoped he’d do a good job. Not like he was a professional photographer or anything. But his dad had been supportive of his efforts, told him he was good. He’d also bought Ryan a good camera, which should help Ryan’s efforts look better too.

Thinking of his father made him wonder what Dad would think of him and Ryan if he knew. Would he understand? Would he possibly approve? Ryan pushed the thought aside. He’d never know. No use in torturing himself about it.

When the time came to get ready to go, Ben laughingly shooed Ryan out of the bedroom so he could dress in private. He said he wanted Ryan to see him when he was done, not little by little. Ryan pretended to pout, but his protests were all in fun and not in the least serious. Truth be told, he was really dying to see what Ben looked like in his priest’s outfit.  So he cooled his heels in the hallway and tried to put together what he’d seen in the pictures with what he now realized was Ben. And when Ben finally opened the door to the room, the evening light serving to silhouette him rather effectively, Ryan decided it had been worth the wait. Ben wore a full length black robe with long sleeves, the darkness broken only by the white on his stiff clerical collar. Around his neck he wore an elaborate gold cross, and a matching cross dangled from one ear. His colorful hair hung loosely about his shoulders in stark contrast to his somber garb. Ben’s beautiful crystal blue eyes were concealed behind maroon contact lenses and framed with kohl guyliner.

He was so stunning he took Ryan’s breath away.

Ben grinned cheekily. “Like what you see?” he asked playfully.

“You know it,” Ryan replied. “You look fabulous.” He was gratified to see Ben’s cheeks pink with pleasure at the compliment.

“You look pretty awesome yourself,” Ben said, eyeing Ryan appreciatively. Ryan had been unsure what he should wear. On the one hand, it was a young man’s birthday party and probably casual. On the other hand, his parents were probably not hurting for money if they could afford to book a live band for the event. More importantly, it was Ryan’s first time with Salvation, and he didn’t want his appearance to reflect badly on them, even if he wasn’t a part of the talent. Nobody would probably even notice him, he reasoned. Even so, he chose to wear the suit Ben had gotten for him. It was a cool gray threaded with a little pale lavender, and came with a matching vest. Ben had chosen a forest green tie to go with it that he said made Ryan’s green eyes pop. How could Ryan say no to that?

When it came time to go, Ryan was surprised to learn that Salvation owned an equipment van. He didn’t remember seeing it before, but maybe that was just him being unobservant.

“How do you think we lug our stuff around?” Abby teased. “You think I strap my drums on my back?” Ryan couldn’t help but blush at her comment. Everyone was standing outside the building where the band practiced while Deacon and Keanu loaded the van with everything they’d need. Cameron was nowhere in sight. Ryan couldn’t help but hope he wasn’t included on tonight’s guest list, then chided himself for being silly. This was a private party and Cameron wasn’t likely to be a friend of the birthday boy.

“Are we all going to fit in that?” Ryan was skeptical of that happening.

“No, we’ll go with Aiden and Abby.”

Ryan thought the band looked great. Their costumes really suited them, and they were unique. At least he thought they were. He’d never seen a band wear outfits such as those. Abby looked pretty, despite being dressed as a nun. Her deep blue eyes sparkled and she seemed happier than she had lately. Maybe it was the excitement of playing in front of an audience again. Ryan thought that must be rather intoxicating.

The van was finally loaded and Aiden slid the side door shut with a clang. “All done, we ready to rock and roll?”

“You know it!” Deacon responded. Glancing over at Keanu, he said, “C’mon, my little bishop. Let’s get going so we can get set up on time.”

“Just because you’re a cardinal doesn’t mean you’re over me,” Keanu said with a laugh.

“That’s not what you say when we’re in bed.” Deacon smirked, drawing laughter from the others. Keanu didn’t seem the least bit embarrassed at his lover’s candor. He was probably used to it. He waltzed up to Deacon and planted a big kiss on him, which evoked more titters. After some moments, Deacon broke the kiss, swatted Keanu on his ass and pointed to the van. “Inside, lover boy.”

Once the van had rolled out, the others walked around to the front of the house where Cameron’s car sat. There was no sign of his pickup anywhere, which only confirmed the man had plans which didn’t include them. Good.

Ryan was walking toward the front seat when Ben unexpectedly stopped him, tossing the keys to Aiden. “We’re in back,” he explained.

Ryan didn’t argue, sliding in behind Ben as Aiden and Abby took the front seat. Ben took Ryan’s hand in his and held it gently. He leaned in to Ryan, his soft words all for him. “Just remember I’m here for you. Always. I’ll make sure nothing happens to you, I promise.”

to be continued

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Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Wednesday Briefs: In Pieces #27 (7.7)

Good morning and Happy Hump Day! If it's Wednesday, then it must be time for more flash fiction from the Wednesday Briefers! We're a group of authors who bring you our finest flash fiction every week, 500 to 1000 words, inspired by one of our prompts.

A jealous Ben removes Ryan from Cameron's attentions and takes him out to breakfast. Alone at last! What will they do with this opportunity? Find out in this week's chapter of In Pieces. Don't forget to visit the other Briefers and see what's up with them!  Their links follow my tale!  Enjoy!

In Pieces #27 (7.7)

Breakfast was every bit as delicious as Ben had promised it would be. The Cajun Hollandaise sauce was creamy and spicy, and  had just the right amount of heat without being overbearing. Ryan thought he could get used to eating like this all the time. He loved Missouri, but there was something relaxing about Louisiana, and at the same time invigorating. Some people might consider Missouri to be a Southern state, but this was the true Deep South.

Of course, a lot of his feeling of contentment had to do with Ben’s presence. There was no denying that. Just being back with Ben after all those years felt like coming home, as though a great weight had been lifted from his mind… and heart.

After they ate, Ben tried to take Ryan to a high end men’s clothing store, but Ryan balked at that idea. He put his foot down adamantly, despite Ben’s protestations that he could afford it. They ended up compromising by going to a boutique on Girod Street, which resembled a home more than a business. The staff was wonderfully friendly, and Ryan allowed Ben to buy him a suit and some casual clothes, but he insisted Ben get something for himself, which he did. Ryan hadn’t realized before how much fun shopping could be.

As they threw their bags into the back of Cameron’s car, Ben announced, “There’s this beautiful spot I want to show you.  It’s on the lake, but it’s on this side, so no worries about the bridge. You’ll just love it, I know.”

“If you love it, I know I will too,” Ryan said, feeling unexpectedly giddy. How could he even begin to doubt that Ben cared about him? “Let’s go.”

 They headed toward the lake, stopping just long enough to stop by the Café du Monde to get two cups of chicory coffee and fresh beignets.  Fontainebleau State Park was close to the long bridge across the lake, but not too close for comfort. Ben paid the small admission fee at the gate as they drove in. They parked near the Visitor Center, but didn’t go inside.

“When we come back to the car,” Ben promised. “They have some cool exhibits. Let’s drink our coffee while it’s hot.”

They followed a long tree-lined sidewalk until they arrived at the beach. Ryan noticed it wasn’t too crowded, especially for August. A few families cavorted on the white sand, the children running in and out of the water, screaming joyfully. A few couples were stretched out on large colorful beach towels, hip to hip, soaking up rays. Too bad they hadn’t brought anything like that. But then they were here on an impulse, nothing planned.

Ben must have been a mind reader. “We’ll have to make a day of it sometime,” he said. “What do you think? Bring towels, an umbrella, sun tan lotion. Something to eat, something drink… the whole nine yards.”

“I think that sounds wonderful, Ben. This place is beautiful, absolutely beautiful.”  
“Glad you like it.” Ben smiled almost shyly.

Holding hands was out of the question, not with what they carried, so Ryan had to content himself with following Ben a little ways down the beach, to a more isolated spot.  They made themselves comfortable on the warm sand and gazed out at the lake.

Nearby a long pier jutted out across the water. “Do people fish from there?” Ryan asked.

Ben shaded his eyes and squinted toward the pier. “Not there, I don’t think,” he said. “I think they have areas set aside just for fishing. Crabbing too.”

“Crabs. I forgot Louisiana has crabs.” He polished off the delicious beignet and licked power sugar from his fingers. “The closest I usually get to crab in St. Louis is when I order Crab Rangoon from a Chinese restaurant. Or when Cassie took me to the casino once. They had all-you-can-eat crab legs on the buffet.” He took another, longer sip of the chicory. He thought it would be more bitter, but it wasn’t. He liked it. Glancing toward Ben, he noticed a frown marring his forehead.

“Who’s Cassie?”

“My stepmother.  Dad’s third wife.”

“Oh.” Ben visibly relaxed with a visible sigh. “Did she make him happy?”

“Yeah, she did. They were really good together. She’s a good person. I think you’d like her.” He deliberately didn’t mention her age. Ben seemed upset enough about her without adding fuel to the fire.

“I’m glad. D-dad was a good man,” Ben said softly. “He deserved to find some happiness after…” He left the sentence dangling, but Ryan knew what he meant. He also heard the slight hesitation over the word dad, as if he was unsure whether he was allowed to call him that after all that time. And considering the divorce.

“Yeah, I know what you mean. That reminds me, I owe her a postcard. I promised I’d keep in touch.  She’ll be thrilled when I tell her about you.” Damn, he hadn’t meant to blurt that out, but somehow he had anyway. He found it hard to dissemble around Ben.

But when Ben smiled at him like that, a warmth formed in the pit of his stomach, and suddenly his faux pas didn’t seem quite so bad any more.

“She knows about me?” He didn’t say about us, but he might just as well have.

“Yeah. She’s been listening to me whine about you for years.” Ryan laughed, a little awkwardly. He hadn’t even had to explain to her how he felt about Ben. Cassie was intuitive, and very caring. “She helped me through some… rough patches. I didn’t think I could talk to Dad. Well, because… I mean, you know.” Damn, had he put his foot in his mouth? Should he at least ask about Eliza, or would that be hypocritical on his part?

He opened his mouth to ask, but Ben was too fast for him.

“Don’t ask… please…” and stilled any possible questions with a kiss.

to be continued

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Saturday, November 10, 2018

Book Review: Missouri's Forgotten Heroes by Ross Malone

Missouri’s Forgotten Heroes    

Author: Ross Malone
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing
American release date: June 28, 2016
Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/non-fiction/236 pages
Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

There are many books about the famous people in history, the heroes whose lives we study in school, the people we grow up knowing about, famed in song and story. But there are many more unsung heroes we never get a chance to appreciate. This book is about some of those people. And they are all from Missouri, which is a definite plus to me, as I am a native of the state myself.

Missouri’s Forgotten Heroes has many interesting stories to tell. Some of the names may be familiar to residents of Missouri as place names, but the people behind the names are greatly unknown. For example, Albert Lambert (Lambert Airport), John O’Fallon (O’Fallon, Missouri & Illinois), John Mullanphy (various places in Florissant, MO) and Paul Henning (of Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction fame).

There are stories about athletes and stories about pioneers, people who endured great hardships and persevered despite the odds against them. These people are not perfect, many of them have flaws, and they are all human. But that doesn’t matter. In some way, they were all heroes.

This was an interesting book from start to finish. I enjoyed reading about unsung heroes from my own state. I love history, and love to read about it, and this book is a great addition to my library. As a bonus, I received an autographed copy, how great is that? This is my first time reading Ross Malone, but it won’t be my last time. He has a wonderful way of telling a story that makes you feel as if you are there, listening to him. I would love to attend a class taught by him, or a lecture.

The only criticism I can make is that the book would have benefited with a little more editing, but that is not an authorial flaw, and I won’t ding him on that. I’ve seen so-called professional books with similar problems.

If you like history, if you are from Missouri, or if you just like to root for the underdog, this book is for you.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Book Review: Blue Exorcist, Vol 5 by Kazue Kato

Blue Exorcist, Book 5     

Author: Kazue Kato
Publisher: Viz Media
American release date: December 6, 2011
Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/manga/paranormal/202 pages
Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★

Well, the cat’s out of the bag, and all the ex-wires know Rin’s secret—namely that he is the son of Satan. They have mixed feelings about this revelation, understandably. But no time to dwell on that, Yukio and Rin are off to deal with an emergency situation. The trouble began when someone stole the Left Eye of the Impure King from the Deep Keep. A senior exorcist named Todo, along with an elite force, pursued a masked man but he’s taken a child and is using him as a shield. To make matters worse, a terrible gas has been released, and the hostage child has received severe exposure. The child’s mother begs for help, and when Yukio tries to explain that they might not succeed, Rin rashly promises to rescue her son. The brothers and Todo and his elite force are off to the rescue! But not everything is as it seems.

Meanwhile, back at True Cross, Suguro, Shima, and Miwa are concerned that they are unable to contact friends and family back home. Mephisto unexpectedly turns up in the ex-wire classroom and announces they have earned the right to go on a real mission—to Kyoto! To say that Suguro is less than thrilled would be an understatement.

Rin thinks he’s being sneaky but Shura catches him practicing in secret and tells him to pack, he’s going to Kyoto. Apparently the Right Eye of the Impure King is also in peril. On the train to Kyoto, Rin discovers the other ex-wires are going as well, but nobody seems particularly happy to see him, much less sit with him.  Shura tells them all to behave so she can get some sleep, but how likely is that?

On arrival in Kyoto, the ex-wires go to the inn where they are to stay, only to be met with some surprising information that a certain someone would wish to remain unknown. As they settle in, they get to know the okami (female innkeeper) and her family. Suguro realizes there is a problem there. He has to take charge  or two quarreling families will tear everything apart!

The ex-wires are unsure how to handle their new knowledge about Rin, and it shows. Rin is becoming frustrated because he thinks nothing has really changed, he’s the same guy he was before, but how can he convince them of that? In this new volume, Rin is as headstrong and determined as ever. He’s a good boy at heart, who’s found himself in a difficult situation, and still has some maturing to do. And he’s still determined to defeat Satan one day. Also in this volume, we get some background information on Bon Suguro, which helps to flesh out his character and make him more likeable.

I’m really interested in finding out more about these stolen Eyes. What’s so important about them that someone wants to steal them? Will Rin’s fellow students ever get over his satanic birthright and accept him for who he is? Will Rin ever find the courage to admit he likes Shiemi? Enquiring minds want to know! Good volume, looking forward to the next one.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Book Review: Blue Exorcist, Vol 4 by Kazue Kato

Blue Exorcist, Book 4    

Author: Kazue Kato
Publisher: Viz Media
American release date: October 4, 2011
Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/manga/paranormal/200 pages
Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★

Summer camp isn’t exactly idyllic for the ex-wires, who’ve been sent on a strange mission involving a lantern. Through trial and error, they discover that the only way to accomplish their mission is to actually work together, despite their first impressions that they needed to work alone. Shura is convinced that Rin will expose himself to the others (no, not like that lol) and when she sees the blue flame, she is convinced she was right. But appearances can be deceiving, especially at night. Matters are complicated by the unexpected arrival of Mephisto Pheles and Amaimon, unbeknownst to the others.

The lantern in question turns out to be more than the ex-wires anticipated, and getting it back to camp will be no easy task. They’ll have to utilize everyone’s unique skills to get the job done. In other words, it takes team work to make the dream work!  At least until Amaimon throws a wrench into the works!

Back at the academy, they are met by someone new – Arthur Auguste Angel, a senior exorcist first class from Vatican Headquarters. He has nothing but criticism for both Mephisto and Shura for having failed to carry out their mission properly, as evidenced by Rin’s presence among them. Will Rin suffer the ultimate punishment for being his father’s son?

And then an emergency summons takes the gang… to Kyoto?

I’m enjoying this series more and more. We are learning more about the characters as they interact with one another, and some backstories are starting to be told. There’s never a dull moment, especially when Mephisto is around. Although he is mostly cool and contained, the same cannot be said for his brother Amaimon, who is a hot mess, and that is being kind. I love the artwork. My only real complain is the need to constantly expose more of Shura’s chest than I’d care to see, but I guess we can chalk that up to fanservice, and the fact that this series is probably aimed at young teenage boys.

The action is moving right along, and I can’t help but wonder where it’s going. I’m glad I’m along for the ride. Another great volume, looking forward to more of the same.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Wednesday Briefs: In Pieces #26 (7.6)

Good morning and Happy Hump Day! If it's Wednesday, then it must be time for more flash fiction from the Wednesday Briefers! We're a group of authors who bring you our finest flash fiction every week, 500 to 1000 words, inspired by one of our prompts.

So, back to our regular story! When we last saw them, Ryan and Ben were going to have breakfast, but Cameron showed up and Ben lost his appetite! What's up with that? Ben took Ryan out of the house, let's see what's going on in this week's chapter of In Pieces. Don't forget to visit the other Briefers and see what's up with them! Their links follow my tale! Enjoy!

In Pieces #26 (7.6)

Walking in the door, they were greeted with a warm smile by a tall uniformed redhead. She reminded Ryan of a waitress from a sitcom his father had liked to watch years ago. “Welcome to Liz’s, y’all! Grab a seat wherever you like and I’ll be right with you.”

Ben took Ryan’s hand and led him to a booth in the far corner, the only one that didn’t look out over the parking lot.  He motioned for Ryan to slide in first then followed him so they sat on the same side, hip to hip. The diner wasn’t large—it was comfortably small, and had a distinctive retro look. A turquoise counter was lined with matching bar stools, and the fixtures and furniture carried the same color scheme. Large and small peace symbols had been randomly slapped on the walls. The whole effect was to remind Ryan of an old fifties-style diner.

The redhead sashayed up to their booth and set a glass of water on the table in front of each of them, along with a plastic-coated menu. “My name’s Becky, and I’ll be taking care of you today. Would you like a few minutes?”

“We won’t need those today, thank you,” Ben said. “Can you bring us two Big Easy Benedicts, please, and coffee?”

“Sure thing, sweetheart.” She tucked the menus under one arm. “I’ll be right back with your coffee.”

A bell over the door tinkled before she’d even reached the counter. Another couple walked in, and they heard her give them the same welcoming spiel.

Ben shot Ryan a questioning look. “I hope you don’t mind that I ordered for both of us. These are really good, trust me.”

“I do trust you,” Ryan assured him. “What’s in them?”

“Fried green tomatoes, crab cakes, poached eggs, all topped with a Cajun Hollandaise sauce.”

“Sounds delicious.” Ryan unwrapped his straw and poked it into his glass. He sipped at the cold water as he glanced around them. The diner was maybe a quarter to a third full, but no one sat near them, affording a feeling of privacy.  It dawned on him that this was the first time they’d truly been alone since he’d arrived. Cameron’s house didn’t count, always someone else around. And he’d been too nervous on the cab ride across the huge lake to be very companionable.

“Sorry about that little… encounter with Cameron,” Ben apologized. “Sometimes he… he… Well, sometimes he’s a little hard to take, to be honest. I try not to let him get to me, but I don’t always succeed. It’s like he knows what buttons to push, you know?”

“That’s okay, don’t worry about it. I’m sure he didn’t mean anything by it. Flirting seems to come naturally to him.”

Ben smiled wryly. “Maybe. Or maybe he’s just not blind and he can see how sexy you are.”

Ryan’s cheeks grew warm at the unexpected compliment.

“I hope you don’t mind that I set him straight about us. That I… said what I did.” Ben turned his head toward the wall, away from Ryan, a shy gesture that went straight to Ryan’s heart.

Ryan didn’t have to think hard to realize what Ben meant. Ben had claimed him, said he was his, in no uncertain terms. Of course he didn’t mind.  He reached for Ben’s hand and squeezed it. “I’ve been yours for a long time,” he said softly.

Ben exhaled, as if he’d been holding his breath.  He turned his head to face Ryan once more. His blue eyes shone brightly. “We’ll make up for lost time, you’ll see. And once the tour’s over, and Salvation’s on its way to stardom, we can take some time out to travel, just the two of us.”

“I like the sound of that,” Ryan said. “Where would you like to go?”

“Anywhere,” Ben said frankly. “As long as it’s with you.” He pulled Ryan’s head down until their lips met, and they breathed each other in until the clatter of dishes drew them apart.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to interrupt.” The waitress was smiling at them. Ryan had been afraid she’d meant that sarcastically. He was relieved to find no judgment in her eyes.

She refilled their coffee cups, as well as their water. “Let me know if you need anything else, guys. Enjoy!” She headed back toward the counter, filling cups of coffee as she went.

“You know I love you, Ryan, don’t you?” Ben sounded suddenly anxious, for no reason Ryan could think of. Ryan hadn’t heard those words from anyone since Ben had told him that ten years ago. He hadn’t sounded half as anxious then as he did now. What had happened to him in the last decade? And would he be willing to talk about it if Ryan asked?

“I know, and you know I love you too. Nothing’s changed.” Nothing except the tenuous legal thread which once bound them was long gone now, and there was no reason they couldn’t be together at last.
Was there?

Before he could frame any of the multitude of questions he needed answers to, Ben had picked up his fork. “Eat up,” he encouraged him. “I want to know what you think. After we eat, you and I can go shopping. I’d intended to take you before Cameron ever said anything.  I want to show you off at the party. I don’t have a choice of what to wear, my wardrobe’s fixed, but you… we can make you shine.”

Ben looked so excited, so hopeful, and so happy that Ryan didn’t dare say anything that might change that. They could talk about things later.

They kissed once more then began to eat.

to be continued

Now go see what the other Briefers are up to!

Thursday, November 1, 2018

A GZ and Jeff Halloween: Part 2

As promised, here is the end of the story. Enjoy!

Jeff Mauro laughed. “Well, he does live in the Hamptons. Not exactly a place for the economically challenged.”

“Maybe, but he never lets that go to his head, you know? He’s really down to earth, and he has a big heart.”

Jeff was touched by Alex’s loyalty to Geoffrey. He knew he was the same way himself. “But you
have to admit, there are things he’s a bit naïve about. Like grocery shopping.”

“True,” Alex admitted. “On the other hand, he’s great with his kids. He spends lot of time with them. Like you do with Lorenzo.”

Seven-year-old Lorenzo was Jeff’s pride and joy. He loved spending time in the kitchen with him, and Lorenzo was a natural when it came to cooking. Jeff liked to brag he would follow in his father’s footsteps someday.

“You two are going out on Halloween, right?” Alex asked.

“Absolutely. Wouldn’t miss it for the world.” He scraped up what was left of the food on his plate with a contented sigh and glanced at GZ. The regal cat was contently licking his paws from the comfort of Alex’s lap. Something nagged at the back of Jeff’s mind, but he couldn’t put his finger on what the problem was. He was supposed to do something at some particular time, but what was it?

Oh damn! He mentally snapped his fingers. How could he have forgotten? He wasn’t supposed to stay all evening.  He had to make an exit early enough to change places with GZ, and then they would both make their reappearances in new costumes. Except Jeff’s wouldn’t be a costume, exactly. He’d be coming as his shifter alter-ego, a champagne-colored labradoodle.

Jeff yawned widely then chuckled.  “Guess all this food is catching up to me,” he said, hoping his laugh didn’t sound at all fake. “I think I’m going to head back to the hotel, maybe call my fam and tell them good night before I get some sleep.” Which was a bit of a white lie, but one that couldn’t be proven without talking to his wife and son, and who would go to the trouble of doing that, and why would they?

“Good idea,” Alex said. “That reminds me. I should call GZ and see how he’s doing. I thought he was going to show up tonight. I hope he’s not sick.”

“I don’t think so,” Jeff said hastily. “In fact, I think he’s just running late. You know how he is.”

Wrong thing to say. Geoffrey Zakarian was never late for anything. He was the king of prompt. Jeff grimaced inwardly. Of all the stupid things to say about GZ, saying that to Alex Guaranaschelli was really stupid. She knew GZ better than just about anyone.

But Alex didn’t have any smarmy comebacks or witty retorts denouncing Jeff’s blatant lie. “I’ll wait a little bit and see if he shows up before I go all concerned friend on him. I’ll catch you later, Jeff. Nice talking to you.”

“You too, Alex. We should hang out more.” He reached for his companion, but GZ was already springing into action. He leapt into Jeff’s arms in one agile motion. Jeff positioned the feline beneath his arm, where he could still scratch the top of his head, and they made their way through the partygoers, bidding farewells as he went to the people he knew. Once outside, he waited patiently as the valet brought his rental car around. Jeff thanked him, settled GZ in the passenger seat, took the wheel and drove off.

But not very far. His destination was less than a mile away. He and GZ had met up in a deserted parking lot of a restaurant that was only open for breakfast and lunch. GZ had left his car there, now it was Jeff’s turn to leave his vehicle and shift. He waited for GZ to shift first. Once the chef was himself once more, he stretched his legs, then reached into the glove compartment and retrieved his glasses.

“Quite the soiree,” he commented. “We fooled them all, I think.”

“I think so too,” Jeff agreed. “Alex seemed quite taken with you, didn’t she? Of course, you made it easy by jumping into her lap like that.”

GZ laughed. “Just playing the part,” he said. “C’mon, it’s your turn. I’ll just grab my costume out of the back of my car. Be right back.”

Jeff watched as GZ exited his rental and approached his own luxurious sedan. He retrieved his costume from the car then disappeared into the shadows. Jeff waited for him to return, so he could get a good look at what his friend was wearing. He knew what GZ had told him, but seeing was even better. GZ had such good taste, he was going to look posh, Jeff just knew it. And sure enough, when GZ returned, he did not disappoint.

Geoffrey looked very elegant indeed. Jeff didn’t know what the names of everything was, but the fawn-colored pants flared at the hips and then narrowed into tall black boots. GZ wore a white ruffled shirt beneath a vest that may have been brocade, Jeff wasn’t sure.  A dark wine jacket that ended just above Geoffrey’s waist completed the ensemble, along with a black top hat and a walking stick.

“Wow, you’re quite the dandy,” Jeff commented in admiration. “Who did you say you were, again?”

“You hit the nail on the head, old chap,” GZ said in a faux British accent then laughed at his own wit.

 “Just call me Beau Brummell, one of the most famous dandies of all time.”

“Beau Brummell,” Jeff repeated the name. “Well, you certainly look spiffy, Mr. Zakarian. You should win a prize for that outfit.”

Geoffrey smiled. “You flatter me, Mr. Mauro. Well, you about ready to go back to the party?” He glanced significantly at Jeff’s unaltered state.

“Oh yeah, right. Let me change real quick. You sure you’re okay with me being in your car?”

“I trust you not to have an accident.” They shared a quick laugh before Jeff shifted into his dog self and GZ opened the car door for him.

The party was still in full swing when they arrived. Geoffrey had brought a leash for his canine companion—with Jeff’s permission. They were greeted by admiring comments and catcalls when they walked through the door.

“I thought you were going to dress up, GZ.” Anne Burrell approached them wearing a smile and carrying a drink. She eyed GZ up and down. “Isn’t that what you wear every day?”

Jeff yipped his laughter as best he could under the circumstances. He knew she was teasing but she was also right that GZ dressed better than the average chef.

“Very funny,” GZ replied. “I’m here as Beau Brummel tonight, what do you think?”

“I think you’re quite the dandy,” Anne said. “Who’s your little friend?” She knelt beside Jeff, cooing at him. “Who’s a good boy? Who’s a good boy?”

Jeff responded by trying to lap from her glass. Anne held the drink away from him. “Doggies shouldn’t drink, it’s bad for them.” She glanced up at GZ. “What have you been teaching him?”

“Don’t blame me, he has a mind of his own.” GZ chuckled. “I call him The Little Prince. Usually just Prince for short.”

Jeff snuffled against Anne’s cheek before laying a wet slobbery kiss on her. To her credit, she didn’t recoil from his touch or immediately attempt to wipe it off.

“Maybe you should feed him before he takes a bite out of someone,” Anne suggested, rising.
“Good idea,” GZ agreed.

Jeff had already eaten quite a bit, and not all that long ago, but hey, he could probably eat some more if the occasion arose. Which it just had. And to be fair, GZ had only eaten what little Jeff had given him. He must be hungry too.

They parted ways with Chef Anne, heading toward the buffet, greeting people they knew along the way. Well, Geoffrey greeted them in English, while Jeff woofed when required.

At the buffet table, their positions were now reversed, with GZ piling up plates for each of them, Jeff watching from the floor. Jeff was gratified to see his friend pile up a lot of meat on his plate. If only he had opposable thumbs, he could have GZ build him a sandwich. But alas, that was not possible in his current state.

“Well, well, Zakarian, about time you showed up. I was about to send out the St. Bernards,” a familiar voice came from behind them. Jeff raised his eyes to find Alex standing beside GZ, wearing an impish grin.

“If I’d known that, I’d have waited somewhere for the booze to arrive.” GZ returned her grin with one of his own. “I’d give you a hug, love, but I’m a little encumbered.”

“No worries, I’ll get one later.” She turned her attention to Jeff. “Oh my, isn’t he a cute one.” She knelt beside him and ruffled the fur on his head. “What’s your name, little man?”

“How’d you know he’s a he?” Geoffrey raised his eyebrows.

Alex cocked her head, looking up at him. “Oh, I can just tell. Is he a labradoodle? I’m surprised you don’t own an Afghan or a Russian Wolfhound or something.”

“He’s not mine,” Geoffrey hastily interjected. “I mean, he’s with me, but I don’t own him. He belongs to… a friend.”

Well, that might not strictly be true, but there was enough truth in that to keep Geoffrey’s veracity intact.

“Hey guys, you know what? It’s a really nice night for October. Let’s go outside, why don’t we? There’s a veranda at the back of the house with our name on it.” Not waiting for an answer, she took Geoffrey’s arm, first relieving him of the leash with a quick “I got this” and steered him in the direction she wanted to go.

Wrought iron tables had been set up on the patio for the use of the guests, with carved jack-o’-lanterns on each providing light. No one else was in sight. Personally, Jeff didn’t think it was cold, but then he came from Chicago. He was used to single digit temps. Plus, to be fair, he was wearing a thick fur coat.

Geoffrey set the plate of meat on the ground, then sat across from Alex, who had a drink but no food. He arched his eyebrows at her. “Not eating?”

“Not hungry,” she countered. “I ate before you got here. In fact, I was sitting with your friend Jeff.”

“Ah, sorry I missed him. Who did he come as?”

“Dr. Evil. And he brought his own cat. A gorgeous white one. Very elegant. A lot like you.”

Geoffrey laughed. “You’re too kind. You look beautiful, by the way. A veritable goddess.”

Jeff hadn’t paid any attention to what Alex wore before, and now he felt guilty he hadn’t complimented her when he could. But who was she supposed to be?

“How appropriate since I am a goddess.” Alex waved one hand to indicate her costume.

“Artemis?” GZ guessed.

Alex rolled her eyes. “Do you see a bow? No, I’m Athena, goddess of wisdom.”

“I don’t see an owl,” Geoffrey teased.

“You never know,” Alex said mysteriously. “By the way, that cat Jeff brought was adorable. He’s yours, isn’t he?”

“He’s part of the family, yes,” GZ replied evasively.

“Mmhmm,” was all Alex said.

Jeff turned his attention to his plate, wolfing down every last bit. Then he licked the plate for good measure before turning back to Alex and GZ. GZ had pushed his plate away, maybe half eaten. Jeff barked. Silly to let good food go to waste.

“You don’t like the food?” Alex asked.

“Oh yes, it’s good. Not very hungry, that’s all.”

“Or maybe it’s because you filled up on caviar and salmon last time you were here?” Alex suggested.

GZ’s mouth dropped open, and Jeff was too stunned to even bark.
** * *
Alex Guarnaschelli had to smile to herself at the two men’s discomfort. She’d figured them out a long time ago, just hadn’t said anything. Let them keep their little secrets. Until now.

“Boys, you can’t kid a kidder,” she said. “I’m on to you, face it.”

“I-I’m not sure what you mean,” the usually suave and collected GZ bluffed… badly.

“Yeah you do,” Alex said. “You know exactly what I mean. GZ, seriously? How long have we known each other? And Jeff, you weren’t hard to figure out either. Your labradoodle is adorable, by the way. Hyper, like you.”  She reached down and patted the dog’s head.

“I have an idea. Let’s go somewhere and celebrate Halloween in our own fashion. Like in those woods.” She pointed to the dark trees that stretched beyond the edge of the property. “Just for a little bit. You know, let it all hang out.”

Geoffrey looked as though he was going to continue to deny what she obviously knew, then gave up the fight. “What do you know about shifters?”

“More than you think.” She glanced around them, but the veranda was still empty, and there was no sign of anyone in that part of the house. “Come on, let’s just do it.”

“Let’s… as in us?” Geoffrey sounded confused.

“Us,” Alex confirmed just before she shifted into a beautiful barn owl. She hooted at them to follow
her and watched as Geoffrey quickly shifted to his cat form. Jeff barked his approval. Then the three friends headed toward the woods and a Halloween they wouldn’t soon forget.