Monthly Archives: June 2017

Great Western Road Trip: Day 1

Today’s Song: Get Out The Map, by The Indigo Girls

Current Location: St. Paul, Minnesota

As planned, I was able to finish off packing the car and get on the road by 7 AM.

This was my first time really putting the Mustang through its paces, and oh my did it deliver! The first time I hit a freeway I punched it to see what would happen. Suddenly, I was doing 90 miles per hour. I admit I had to take a few moments to giggle madly. Clearly this isn’t something to do around other cars or populated places, but I see some fun times once I get out to Nevada and Utah…

The first leg of my trip brought me all the way to…Lake Geneva, Wisconsin I stopped for a good breakfast at one of my favorite places, Simple Cafe.

After lingering a bit longer than expected there I started wandering north and west through Wisconsin. My first stop was Water House Foods in Lake Mills. This was a cute little bistro across from the town square.

After a tasty cappuccino, I was back on the road. I changed course a couple of different times as a drove, taking suggestions from folks on Twitter. Eventually I wound up heading north of Madison to Sauk City, where I stopped at Wollersheim Winery and Distillery. I didn’t make it to the winery, but I was able to try a sample of six of their spirits.

Considering I drive into Canada where they may or may not assess a duty on any booze I have in excess of the allotted (small) amount, I limited my purchase to a bottle of the pear eau de vie, which was quite delicious!

The afternoon was getting on so from there I jumped to Interstate 90 and drove directly to St. Paul, getting in at about 5:30 PM. This gave me enough time to grab a quick shower and get settled before heading back out against to The Happy Gnome, where I met Mwako, Charles, Cyn, Lego, and Kellic for dinner. A fantastic meal and drinks ensued, with enjoyable conversation all around. My dinner included a rather enormous chicken sandwich:

I love these folks; I need to get up here more often to see them!

And now I’m back in my room at the Hyatt Place St. Paul, winding down for the night. This has been a great start to the trip – a little bit of meandering, a little lounging around various interesting places, and a little straightforward highway driving to get where I need to go. Tomorrow will sadly be more of the latter, since the drive from here to Winnipeg, Manitoba is not a short one. I’ll be up and on the road bright and early, though!

Miles Driven Today: 366.2

Time Driving Today: 7:01

Total Miles Driven: 366.2

Total Time Driving: 7:01

Great Western Road Trip, Day 0

(Hereafter Great Western Road Trip is abbreviated GWRT)

Today’s Song: Ready To Go, by Republica

Current Location: Volo, Illinois

Everything is packed up, the dogs are with Grandma, the rental car has been procured, and now the reality is setting in: This is really going to happen. I mean, I planned for it but I always suspected some circumstance would force me to put things off.

I have a long trip ahead of me: approximately 8,000 miles in 24 days. My route will take me from Chicago in the upper Midwest to the Canadian Prairie Provinces, over the Rocky Mountains, down the Pacific coast, and then back to Chicago. Along the way I’ll be seeing dozens of friends Dan and I have made through the years, and hopefully making new friends as well.

Why am I doing this? Dan and I had planned to take a two-week Caribbean cruise in April 2017. When he passed away suddenly all of that got cancelled. Now that I had the vacation time and the funds we’d set aside for that available, I kicked around the question of what to do with those for a few weeks. I have always loved road trips, but in the last decade or so they have simply not been possible due to some of Dan’s health issues. So first off this was a way to cross a long road trip like this off my bucket list.

Although we had a wonderful and well-attended memorial for Dan a few weeks ago, many of our dearest friends were unable to join us. I hope to bring the memory of Dan to them, to celebrate his life and to share a toast to an extraordinary man.

What am I hoping to get out of this trip? I know that hopes and what actually happens are two different things but I hope that this trip serves as a reset button, a demarcation point of My Life Before and My Life After. It’s hard to admit it, but it may also mark where “Tom and Dan” ended and where “Just Tom” started (again). In the 100+ hours of driving planned, there’s going to be a lot of time to think and to work things out in my head. Whether this produces anything constructive is anyone’s guess, though.

Throughout the trip I will be posting my experiences to Twitter. I also hope to post a summary of each day here as well, perhaps providing more context for the tweets and additional photos and memories. Way back in the dawn of time (2002, to be exact), I started blogging on LiveJournal. All of those entries are archived here on this site fortunately, since LiveJournal is now a terrible place. I found that I enjoy going back over old posts that talk about what I did where and with whom. This will be a place to keep the memories of this trip in one place. I also hope to have a theme song for each day, as posted above. This will reflect my mood for the day, my location, or a general feeling I get as I drive across the countryside.

Just to recap, here is my full planned itinerary. Things can always change at a moment’s notice though!

Date

Location

6/30/2017 St. Paul, MN
7/1/2017 Winnipeg, MB
7/2/2017 Winnipeg, MB
7/3/2017 Regina, SK
7/4/2017 Regina, SK
7/5/2017 Calgary, AB
7/6/2017 Calgary, AB
7/7/2017 Calgary, AB
7/8/2017 Kalispell, MT
7/9/2017 Richland, WA
7/10/2017 Vancouver, WA
7/11/2017 Vancouver, WA
7/12/2017 Crescent City, CA
7/13/2017 Sunnyvale, CA
7/14/2017 Sunnyvale, CA
7/15/2017 Sunnyvale, CA
7/16/2017 Manteca, CA
7/17/2017 Reno, NV
7/18/2017 Salt Lake City, UT
7/19/2017 Denver, CO
7/20/2017 Denver, CO
7/21/2017 Lenexa, KS
7/22/2017 Florissant, MO
7/23/2017 Volo, IL

See you all tomorrow, when I hit the road for St. Paul, Minnesota!

Short Story Reviews: Corruption and Marine Biology

I don’t generally review short stories/novellas because (guilty admission here) I don’t generally read short stories/novellas. That said the blurbs on these were interesting enough that they caught my attention. Both are prequels to upcoming series, and I’m pleased to say that I eagerly await both series.


Corruption: A Bureau Story, by Kim Fielding

Once a proud demon of the night sky who carried nightmares to humans, Tenrael has spent decades in captivity as the star attraction of a traveling carnival. He exists in miserable servitude to men who plunk down ten dollars to fulfill their dark desires.

Charles Grimes is half human, half… something else. For fifteen years he’s worked for the Bureau of Trans-Species Affairs, ridding the country of dangerous monsters. When his boss sends him to Kansas to chase a rumor about a captive demon, Charles figures it’s just another assignment. Until he meets Tenrael.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Set in a rural, Dust Bowl Kansas of the 1930’s, this story creates quite an atmosphere in its 46 pages. The existence of paranormal beings is known, though how common they might be is unsuspected by most people. This is a world that makes me think of washed-out colors, and where there is not much in the way of black and white but many shades of gray.

Fielding gives readers enticing bits of background and character that leaves them wanting more. For me, I wanted to know more about Charles, more about demons, more about other paranormal beings in this world. Interesting side characters appear briefly, hinting at other story threads to be pursued. I am looking forward to reading more of this world and it’s coming at some point since the story ends with “Coming Soon: Clay White – A Bureau Story”.


Marine Biology, by Gail Carriger (San Andreas Shifters 0.5)

Alec is a werewolf with problems – he’s unexpectedly alive, he’s quite definitely gay, and he’s been ordered into a partnership with one very flirty merman.

Rating: 5 out of 5

From the somber setting of Corruption, we move to this much more lighthearted story. Again, in its short 42 pages Carriger sets up an interesting world. This one is like our own, but where shifters of all kinds exist in secret alongside humans.

Alec is a lovable goof who inadvertently transcends stereotypes of all kinds – he’s just contrary that way. He is pulled into an investigation that throws him together with Marvin, a cute and sexy merman. Hijinks ensue, with entertaining wordplay, innuendos, and sexual tension. The story wraps up quickly but I enjoyed it enough that I have already pre-ordered the first book in the San Andreas Shifters, The Sumage Solution, which comes out in mid-July.

Book Review: Road to the Sun, by Keira Andrews

Jason Kellerman’s life revolves around his eight-year-old daughter. Teenage curiosity with his best friend led to Maggie’s birth, her mother tragically dying soon after. Insistent on raising his daughter himself, he was disowned by his wealthy family and has worked tirelessly to support Maggie-even bringing her west on a dream vacation. Only twenty-five, Jason hasn’t had time to even think about romance. So the last thing he expects is to question his sexuality after meeting an undeniably attractive park ranger.

Ben Hettler’s stuck. He loves working in the wild under Montana’s big sky, but at forty-one, his love life is non-existent, his ex-boyfriend just married and adopted, and Ben’s own dream of fatherhood feels impossibly out of reach. He’s attracted to Jason, but what’s the point? Besides the age difference and skittish Jason’s lack of experience, they live thousands of miles apart. Ben wants more than a meaningless fling.

Then a hunted criminal takes Maggie hostage, throwing Jason and Ben together in a desperate and dangerous search through endless miles of mountain forest. If they rescue Maggie against all odds, can they build a new family together and find a place to call home?

Road to the Sun, by Keira Andrews

I picked up this book because my travels this summer will take me to Glacier National Park, so it seemed particularly relevant. I’m glad I did – the setting for the story is lovely, and Andrews gives a nice sense of place. (The fact that Andrews renamed Going to the Sun Road to Road to the Sun for the book title makes me twitch a bit, but I’ll get over it.)

This was a nice story, and plot-wise it flowed reasonably well, though it tended to slow down a bit toward the end. The biggest issue I had with it was the pacing of the relationship. Yes, Ben and Jason went through a lot together in a very short time, but 7 days from just meeting to True Love Forever is still rather a stretch. Likewise, Jason jumps from “I admire men in the locker room only for their physique” to “Hey, I may not be so straight after all, let’s have anal sex our first time together!”

The characters are well-defined and relatable. Ben is the strong, stoic type, still recovering from a bad breakup. Jason is a hardworking single father. Maggie is a precocious eight-year-old, though not obnoxiously so. About the only problem I had was that I wanted to smack Jason upside the head for his indecisiveness and worrying, but even that was understandable given his past.

This was a fun, if not particularly deep, read. I’d give it a rating of 4 out of 5. I would be happy to read more of Andrews’ work in the future.

Counting Down

In a little over two and a half weeks I will be packing up the (rental) car and hitting the road for a three-week solo road trip across the western US and Canada. Major stops will include Minneapolis, Winnipeg, Regina, Calgary, Glacier National Park, Portland, San Francisco, Denver, Kansas City, and St. Louis (the full route is here). Oh, and the rental car will be a Mustang convertible, because hey – go big or go home!

I can’t begin to say how much I’m looking forward to this. I have always loved long road trips and wanted to make an extended trip like this. Due to various health issues Dan simply wasn’t able to do it, so the dream waited. Now, in part tribute, in part reset button, in part just getting out and living a little, I’m making it happen. We were supposed to do a two-week cruise earlier this spring which we had to cancel with Dan’s initial spinal surgery. This gives me both the funds and the vacation time to take this trip. Plus, Dan’s mom is sweet enough to watch the dogs for those three weeks for me. The fact that she adores them doesn’t hurt!

There’s a lot to do between now and then, though. This weekend we’re taking over a hotel near O’Hare Airport and throwing a memorial/celebration of life/wake to remember Dan and all of the good that he brought into the world. Then there’s a party some friends are throwing next week, as well as the Chicago Pride Parade. Side note about that – For the past several years, Dan organized the Siemens Corp. group’s appearance in the Chicago Pride Parade. This year, one of his co-workers contacted me and asked if I would march with them again, in Dan’s memory. Damn, that’s so sweet.

On June 29 I pick up the rental car, and early on June 30 I hit the road! I will be taking lots of pictures and probably posting like mad to Twitter (@duncandahusky), and posting day-by-day wrap-ups to my blog as well. I have archives of my years and years on LiveJournal (all archived as part of my person blog); I’ve realized that I really like being able to go back and read about past vacations and experiences.

This is gonna be great!

Book Review: Werewolves of Chernobyl, by K. A. Merikan and L. A. Witt

Book Review: Werewolves of Chernobyl, by K. A. Merikan and L. A. Witt

— Being kidnapped by two werewolves is an adventure after all, right? Right?! —

Quinn

If Quinn wants to get the best photos for his travel blog, no gate is too tall, and no ‘do not enter’ sign actually means he won’t go in. What he finds in a hidden exclusion zone by Chernobyl blows his mind. Mutants? Monsters? He doesn’t know, but he is bound to find out when not one but two of them break into his hotel.

Too bad the rules and attitudes they have toward sex don’t match Quinn’s at all.

Dima

Born with a disabled hand, smaller than the other werewolves, Dima is the lowest of the low in his pack, but when he meets the loveliest human he’s ever seen, he knows his luck has changed.
The last thing he expects though is his beloved friend Nazar turning on him once Dima’s affection for Quinn deepens, and he refuses to be mounted by Nazar anymore.

Nazar

Nazar is a high ranking soldier in his pack, but in his powerful body hides a gentle soul, and all he wants is to escape the pack with Dima. But once Dima claims Quinn as his, secrets Nazar has so far kept hidden rear their ugly head.

The werewolf language doesn’t have words to describe what they crave, so Quinn might be the only one to help them solve the puzzle of the desires that go against the rules of their pack.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Prior to reading this I was unfamiliar with the Russian concept of bodarks, and how they differ from the standard Western version of “werewolf”. It’s not a big difference but it helps to understand the goings-on a bit more. That said, I really enjoyed this book. The shifting points of view were fascinating, from the American Quinn’s familiar outlook on events to Dima and Nazar’s foreign view, both Russian and strictly pack-hierarchical. The difference between the two provided a great contrast too: Dima, the submissive bottom who longed to be dominant, and Nazar, the strong dominant who wants to let someone else take control but is forbidden by the pack structure

The overall story is pretty basic, though there are some interesting twists and turns along the way. There was a bit of insta-love and development of relationships and trust a little too quickly. I was able to overlook that because holy cats, this book is SMOKING HOT! The scenes of Dima and Nazar, Dima and Quinn, and Dima, Quinn, and Nazar were amazing and well-written. I was also pleased that there were definitely places that the book did not take itself too seriously, with some observations by Quinn that completely cracked me up.

The net result:
3.75 for the story
+0.25 because werewolves (hey, I know what I like)
+0.25 for laugh-out-loud moments
+0.25 for being incredibly sexy
Total: 4.50 stars

I loved it!

Book Review: The Biker’s Omega, by Lisa Oliver

The Biker’s Omega (Alpha and Omega #1) by Lisa Oliver

Marly Miles has been happy in his life as a lone Omega wolf, living and working among the humans of Orlando, Florida. When an attack on him and his friend brings Marly to the notice of the Sergeant of Arms of the Epitaph’s Motorcycle Club, he realizes immediately that the man carries the same scent as his attackers. Not a very good start when the same man is also his mate.

Alpha wolf, Trent Beaumont has spent a lot of years living as a human when he walked away from his home pack. Forced to live as a straight man, because of the Epitaph’s club culture, he walks away from Marly after checking the man is safe. But no wolf, not even an Alpha, can refuse the mating call from the Fates. But with his club President looking over his shoulder, and a woman panting after him to share his bed, Trent isn’t sure it will ever be the right time to claim his own Omega.

Fights, misunderstandings and a lack of communication aren’t the only problems Trent and Marly face. Trent has a history that has clouded his judgment and when Marly gets attacked again, Trent realizes he could lose his mate permanently, if he doesn’t get his head out of the sand.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

I’ll start off by saying I had no idea that the biker club was a Thing in the m/m romance genre until a few months ago, but I guess I’m not surprised. The romantic notion of the big, tough biker with the heart of gold is fertile ground for fiction, regardless of how close it may be to reality. I think I can safely say it’s not something that’s a big attraction for me, though. This book also falls into the easy Alpha/Beta/Omega trope, replete with fated mates and insta-love. This isn’t always a deal-killer for me (see the scorching-hot Protection of the Pack series) but it’s also not something that usually wows me.

You see then that for me this had a couple of strikes going in, and there just wasn’t enough to redeem it from there. It doesn’t help that we really don’t know that much about Trent until very late in the book except that he’s an uncommunicative asshole, and even his backstory doesn’t justify his actions and attitudes that much. The one thing that saved the book for me was Marly. At least the submissive Omega trope was set aside enough for him to be a snarky, sassy man with his own life and agenda, who isn’t willing to just do what he’s told without complaining. The fact that he can stand up for himself and kick the ass of anyone who tries to push him around makes him that much more fun.

Overall though this story has a huge problem for me, that of a non-American author (Oliver is from New Zealand) attempting to set a story in the US without knowing the culture well. We get the trappings of placenames and geographic references, but the dialogue, slang, and idioms are very definitely not American. This was very much a fingernails-on-the-chalkboard thing for me.

One last thing: That cover. I…it…you know what? The less said about the cover the better. I simply cannot summon the words to do it justice.

Although this series is now up to six books, I think I’ll stop here. There are better books out there to read.

 

Book Review: Just Like Cats and Dogs, by B.A. Tortuga

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Just Like Cats and Dogs, by B.A. Tortuga (Sanctuary #1)

If there’s one thing Sam knows for sure it’s that you can never go home again. As a feline shifter who grew up in a family of wolves, he’s used to being a freak. He stays in the city and tries to get his family to visit him, but when a loved one passes away, Sam has to go back to  the New Mexico desert for a last goodbye.

Gus only comes back to the pack at gathering time, once in a blue moon. He’s usually a  wanderer, but he’s with the pack when Sam comes home. Gus and Sam have never gotten  along, but this time around Gus is surprised by the attraction he feels for this new, slinky version of his high school nemesis.

Sam and Gus may not be able to resist each other, but finding time to be together and  overcome their differences might be too much for them, especially when danger lurks just around the corner, and all around the world. Can cats and dogs live to learn together, or are Gus and Sam destined to fail?

Rating: 4 out of 5

This was a fun, goofy story that didn’t take itself too seriously. I can definitely appreciate that  and it made it a very entertaining read! This falls into the enemies-to-lovers trope and while that can be get really clunky Tortuga pulls it off well here. Gus is a bit of a lunkhead who’s not very good at expressing his feelings. Sam is a bit of a prissy queen but he has had to deal with enough adversity that he has extraordinary strength of character, and is more than a match for Gus. The author relies heavily on animal stereotypes (dogs are loyal, cats are standoffish) but you’re reading a story about people who turn into animals so I think at some point you need to set aside certain complaints.

The plot turns can get a bit silly as the action bounces from New Mexico to New York to Afghanistan (!) and back again, but the slowly-developing relationship is fun to see, and I’m a complete sucker for two guys who care for each other and especially for those around them as well. It also doesn’t hurt that the sex scenes are pretty smokin’! This is the first book in the Sanctuary series, and I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, What the Cat Dragged In, which comes out in a few weeks.

Note that this book is actually a 160-page novel and a 40-page short story combined. I had no issue with this, though I was surprised when the story suddenly ended 80% through the book! The short story is fun though, and sets up the next book nicely. Overall, this is a light, fun read that I would recommend.

Book Review: Dinner at the Blue Moon Cafe by Rick R. Reed

 

Dinner at the Blue Moon Cafe, by Rick R. Reed

A monster moves through the night, hidden by the darkness, taking men, one by one, from Seattle’s gay gathering areas.

Amid an atmosphere of crippling fear, Thad Matthews finds his first true love working in an Italian restaurant called the Blue Moon Café. Sam Lupino is everything Thad has ever hoped for in a man: virile, sexy as hell, kind, and… he can cook!

As their romance heats up, the questions pile up. Who is the killer preying on Seattle’s gay men? What secrets is Sam’s Sicilian family hiding? And more importantly, why do Sam’s unexplained disappearances always coincide with the full moon?

The strength of Thad and Sam’s love will face the ultimate test when horrific revelations come to light beneath the full moon. 

Rating: 3.25 out of 5

I really wanted to like this one, but there were just too many things working against it. The majority of the book is told from Thad’s point of view, so Sam is something of a cipher. At best he comes off as a caring but conflicted boyfriend, at worst he’s a stock Italian male stereotype. Also, because we spend so much time in Thad’s head we are privy to his back and forth thoughts on their relationship. And back and forth. And back and forth. Arrgh, make a damn decision!

Plot-wise, the mystery was not particularly mysterious. The motives were rather stereotypical, and the repercussions seemed very glossed-over. There were also a couple of annoying plot holes and threads left hanging. As for the werewolf aspects, with a few minor fixes you could change “is a werewolf” to “is a member of the Mafia” or something similar and not change the story that much.

I also found the ending rather frustrating as well, a shoehorned-in happily-ever-after that simply did not match the rest of the book. Sudden decisions are made and out-of-character opinions stated, and it really undermines the book as a whole. Reed’s writing style isn’t bad and I’d be willing to read other books by him, but this one just didn’t do it for me.