Saturday, April 7, 2018

Sunday's Short Stack(Saturday Edition): When We Picked Apples Last Autumn by Hank Fielder


Summary:
At twenty-eight, Josh Adams has more than a few secrets and personal demons. He’s an international traveler and doesn’t think he’ll ever be ready for the serious attention handsome and heroic airline pilot Benny Mills is ready to pay him. Their shared near-death experience seems to clarify everything for Benny, who wants nothing more than to share his stunning home in an idyllic Wisconsin apple orchard with Josh.

Benny offers commitment and a contented life of peaceful, loving comradeship far from the high-flying hazards of foreign travel. But for sexy love-’em-and-leave-’em-hot Josh, only another life-and-death adventure can convince him that the smoking heat of their mutual attraction is destined to be more than a hit-and-run entertainment.

With time running out, finding refuge from his increasingly dangerous world just might be what Josh needs after all. Especially when his and Benny’s very lives depend on it.


Once again, I found myself reading a new author with all the usual anticipation and questions that come with it and once again I was not disappointed.  Hank Fielder puts a lot of detail, drama, and fun into a short little package.  When We Picked Apples Last Autumn may be short on pages but definitely manages to throw a curveball or two within its covers.

Josh and Benny are both lovable characters that touched my heart.  You want them to find that HEA but you also know that they have to find it on their own terms, even if you want to knock some sense into them, well mostly just Josh, they have to do the work because we're just along for the ride.  What a lovely ride it is too.  Like I said it may be short on pages but it is not lacking in entertainment and the "didn't see that coming" moment is like getting two scoops of ice cream with your pie when you only paid for one, a delicious treat.

RATING: 


WHEN did you first know you loved him?

I ask myself that sometimes. Was it the night we first met, when we were both in danger of losing more than just our hearts?

That was last October. And that was some night. Lightning flashed outside my window and the 747 banked steeply in the wind. As the cabin lights flickered and thunder crashed all around us, an Asian woman across the aisle from me screamed. An overhead compartment popped open and a heavy, hard-case carry-on began a slow slide down toward a sleeping toddler. In an instant I was up out of my seat and diving over two terrified passengers. I caught the heavy case in midfall, inches from the child’s head.

“Sir, please return to your seat!”

I turned to see the angry frown of the blonde flight attendant. She stalked down the long aisle toward me in the flashing light of the storm, her face drained of blood. The aircraft lurched again and passengers gasped as cabin lights flickered. The mother of the toddler I’d just saved—a pretty young Asian woman—grabbed my arm. I turned to her and said slowly and smoothly, in the calmest voice I could muster, “Everything is going to be fine. The pilot knows what he’s doing.”

I was far from certain about that, but she seemed to understand me, or at least she understood the deep, calming comfort I tried to convey. I was speaking in the same highly trained and relaxed tones our pilot had been using over the aircraft PA ever since we flew into this sudden storm. I’d never seen his face, but I sure knew that cool speaking style. Tough-guy pilots all over the world used it to instill confidence. I knew I had something of the same convincing way about me. I was over six feet tall, with the kind of athletic air and looks I liked to think people tended to trust. I’d been making the most of them for the best of my twenty-eight years.

If what I used to consider self-confidence comes off to you as simple arrogance, I won’t disagree with that assessment. I was a selfish, privileged, secretive, and sometimes not-very-nice guy who was due for a comeuppance.

My life was about to change. I just didn’t know it yet.

The flight attendant touched my arm, then squeezed my muscle as if seeking her own comfort. She was shaking. “That was an impressive catch,” she said nervously, the hardness in her eyes softening. “You probably saved the child’s life. But please go back to your seat, and when we land at HCMC Airport, I’ll put your name in for a passenger commendation.”

“Josh Adams is the name. Shall I spell it?” I didn’t play on her team and she didn’t play on mine, but flirting came naturally to me, regardless of the circumstances.

Her smile vanished as the plane rocked hard to the left and the jet engine whined like a very large, hurt animal.

I’d been on some terrifying, roller-coaster flights before, a long, long way from home. But nothing topped this wicked storm over Southeast Asia. Twenty-eight is too young to die on a mundane business trip to Vietnam, I told myself, longing for my little apartment in Chicago’s Boystown. But a job was a job, and I knew I was fortunate to be employed in tough times.

An hour earlier I’d been putting myself to sleep tracking Polaris on my game-loaded tablet. Then, when I’d tired of that, I read a long and dubious article about the government’s latest strategies in counter-terrorism—not exactly peachy in-flight entertainment. Not that I needed any reminders about the hazards of foreign travel. When the weather grew rough, I turned to a well-thumbed Louis L’Amour western and thought about a guy I’d fooled around with in Rome the previous week. Like so many of my conquests, his name was already forgotten. Note to self: If you live through this flight and actually make it to Ho Chi Minh City, stop being so shallow.

After the copilot made some announcements in Vietnamese, the American captain’s voice came over the PA again. Soft, assured, deep, and manly. “Please remain in your seats with your seatbelts fastened. We’re in our final approach to SGN Ho Chi Minh City, and I’m sure you’ve gathered there’s a heck of a thunderstorm out there. For those of you familiar with the winter monsoon storm systems in this region, diversions to other airfields are common enough this time of year. Unfortunately we have a completely full flight and insufficient fuel to divert. We are cleared for landing as scheduled. Expect a few bumps before we get you safely on the ground.”

In short, we were going in. No other choice.

I heard a few more gasps. I wanted to believe in this pilot. I so wanted to believe in him, but my heart was pounding hard. I was scared.

“Be prepared to follow instructions during and after landing,” he said coolly. “Flight attendants, cross-check and prepare for landing.”

As the crash position we were instructed to assume was explained in several languages, a blinding streak of pink lighting crashed on the left side of the aircraft. Blinking, I saw flames shoot from the engine. Thunder rumbled through the cabin, rattling everything—especially the passengers. Rain lashed the windows.

Seated next to me, a slim woman with a taut young face and old knobby hands closed her eyes and grasped her rosary beads.

We dropped with a stomach-turning lurch. The engines whined again, including the smoking one, as we picked up speed. The craft yawed from side to side. I took a slow breath through my nostrils. I couldn’t help looking up and out the window. Lightning flashed, and below us, I saw car headlights and red taillights, a stretch of highway, then the misty lights of a landing strip. In another flash I saw the red spinning lights of emergency vehicles lining the rain-slick, skid-marked runway. They were shooting foam over the tarmac. We were close to the ground, wind buffeted, a wing dipping precariously toward the concrete.

We crossed over an ugly chain-link fence, clearing it by inches. This was it. I could almost feel the weight of every pound of steel around us as the wheels struck the earth, sending a jarring shockwave up through the fuselage. My butt and back pressed deeper into the cushioned seat as we hurtled forward, arcs of rain splashing in our wake. I heard the reverse-thrust of the engines, an angry roar. It seemed we would never slow down, that we were tearing at the fabric of a gravitational force.

But against all odds, we slowed, and sweat broke out over my brow. I took a deep, grateful breath.

We made it. We were safe. There was a smattering of applause. Timid smiles. Life would go on. We were earthbound once more.

“Please remain in your seats until the captain has turned off the seatbelt sign,” said a female flight attendant, first in Vietnamese, then in English, then in Mandarin.

Author Bio:
Hank Fielder is from Wisconsin and has lived in London and California, in big cities, and in the rural countryside. A passionate devotee of soulful romantic music, art, baseball, and good stories, he has worked a variety of jobs. He counts his blessings every night before bed.


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Blog Tour: Eyes Wide Open by VM Sanford

Title: Eyes Wide Open
Author: VM Sanford
Series: Graves Brothers #1
Genre: M/M Romance
Release Date: February 2, 2018
Cover Design: AngstyG
Summary:
Jason has been in love with Spencer for most of his life, yet there he is, organizing Spencer’s bachelor party because Spencer’s getting married—and not to him.

Spencer wishes he could marry Jason instead of Lydia. He’s loved his best friend for years, but he needs to do the best for his family and their vineyard. Knowing he’s doing the right thing doesn’t make it easy, though.
Jason’s family pushes him to confess his feelings to Spencer, and he wants nothing more, but he’s afraid Spencer will run the other way and that their friendship won’t resist the revelation. But when Spencer gets drunk during his bachelor weekend in New York and tells Jason he loves him, everything changes—or that’s what Jason thinks.

Jason doesn’t want to be the other man, and Spencer doesn’t want him to be. That means Spencer has a choice to make. Will he marry Lydia and help his family, or will he finally give in and choose Jason?


When the time came for Jason to organize his best friend's bachelor party, he did so with a heavy but determined heart despite how his own was breaking.  Spencer was determined to go through with the wedding to please his mother despite his heart belonging to another.  When the bachelor weekend is over, truths will be revealed but will hearts be broken or fulfilled?  Can Jason's family help the men see sense before its too late?

Not everyone enjoys alternating POV stories but I personally love them, getting to see the inner monologue and turmoil of both characters helps me to connect with them which only enhances the journey.  The settings in Eyes Wide Open are beautifully written and the characters, both main and secondary, are interesting and well written.  Did Jason and Spencer sometimes read younger than their 30s? Yes.  But lets be honest, when our lives are in quandary, when the choice we have to make can be life altering not only for ourselves but those closest to us we all can act out of whack.  So the fact that Jason and Spencer seem to behave more in their mid-20s instead of early 30s is not so unexpected and it certainly was not a downer for me.

As for Jason's brothers, I loved them.  I am an only child as is my dad and Mom only had one brother who wasn't around much so I can't say how accurate their relationship is but I can definitely imagine its pretty spot on in the meshing of teasing and protective behavior.  Don't even get me started on Spencer's mother, all I'll say is she gets no sympathy or empathy from me.

I should add that if you really need on-page sex than this probably isn't a tale for you.  I'm not saying I don't like the on-page stuff because I do but fade-to-black scenes don't bother me either and certainly are not a turn-off when the story is as well written as Eyes is, but I thought I should mention it for those who find it a deal breaker.

VM Sanford is a new author to me and as always in that case I went in with a heart full of anticipation and an open but question-filled mind.  Will this be great?  Will this be good?  Will this be okay?  Will this suck?  Well, Eyes Wide Open definitely did not suck, it was awesome and I look forward to the next entry in the Graves Brothers series.

RATING: 


Spencer checked the office door. If he was fast enough, he’d manage to get out within the next ten minutes, and that would mean escaping his mother’s plans for the evening. If he wasn’t able to leave, though… Well, he’d have to go through the rant he knew she’d spout because he wouldn’t be having dinner with her and his father that evening. He might love both of them, but that didn’t mean he wanted to spend most of his nights with them, not after having to spend his days in their company, too.

He supposed that was one of the downsides of having to work with family. His best friend Jason didn’t seem to want to avoid his brothers, though, and they were co-owners of the company their father and uncle had built in their days.

“Spencer?” someone called from the entrance of the building, and Spencer sighed. His mother was there, and she was going to find him within the next few minutes.

He didn’t answer. He knew she’d come to his office to look for him anyway. She always said she was the owner of the vineyard and that as such, she could enter every office as she pleased. He supposed she was right—the vineyard was indeed hers, even though she shared its ownership with Spencer’s father.

“Spencer, why didn’t you answer when I called out?” she asked as she walked in without knocking, her heels clicking on the floor.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you.”

She arched a fine eyebrow. “Your door was open.”

“I must have been particularly focused on what I was doing.”

“Dinner will be on the table in fifteen minutes.”

And there it was. Spencer’s parents lived on the vineyard. Spencer could walk from his office to his parents’ house in about five minutes, which was one of the reasons he’d refused his mother’s offer when she’d wanted to build him a house there. Just the thought of living so close to her made him want to run away.

Not that he’d ever tell her that, of course.

“I’m sorry, Mother, but I already have plans.”

“You do? You didn’t tell me about it. Are you going out with Lydia?”

That was the only acceptable reason Spencer would have not to stay, at least in his mother’s opinion. “No. I’m going to the Graves’ tonight.”

She wrinkled her nose. “The Graves? Why?”

“Because Mrs. Graves invited me.” And because the more evenings he managed to spend away from his mother, the better he felt.

“Of course she did. You’ve been going there for decades. It’s a surprise she isn’t annoyed by you yet.”


Spencer had to remind himself that he loved his mother no matter what she said, and that he probably wouldn’t survive jail, not in one piece anyway. “I’ll stop going when she stops inviting me.”

“I’m sure she’s too polite to tell you she doesn’t want you there.”

Because no one could want Spencer around. Sometimes he wondered why he bothered coming to work and seeing his mother every day. Of course, if he pointed this out, she’d just say that of course she wanted to see him, that she was his mother and that she loved him. That Mrs. Graves wasn’t his family and that he should spend more time with his own parents rather than with Jason’s, as if he didn’t spend almost every hour of every day with them.

He grabbed his messenger bag and his coat. He could put it on in the car, even though he’d be cold on the way there. He wasn’t parked that far away, and he wasn’t sure he could stand one more minute in his mother’s company.

Unfortunately for him, she followed him to the building door, so he paused there to slide his coat on, trying to ignore the puppy eyes she was giving him. “I already cooked for three. And of course, I have enough for Lydia if you want to invite her.”

Spencer didn’t point out Lydia liked her about as much as he did. His mother liked his fiancΓ©e well enough, he supposed, or well enough to push him to propose anyway. He didn’t kid himself that she’d done it because she wanted him to be happy, but she was doing her best to incorporate Lydia in their life. She wasn’t as warm and welcoming as Mrs. Graves had been to Spencer since day one, but Spencer knew she didn’t have it in her. Sometimes, he wondered why she’d had children—or a child since he didn’t have siblings. She’d never been motherly, and Spencer couldn’t remember a time when they’d cuddled, kissed, or said I love you. Not that he’d done any of that with his father, either, but still. Mothers should be loving and warm. Or maybe Spencer’s idea of mothers was based on Mrs. Graves, and most mothers weren’t that way.

He didn’t know, and he didn't care. He loved his mother, but most of the times, he wished she were more like Jason’s, and it always made him feel guilty as hell. The puppy eyes didn’t help, but he was used to his mother using guilt to make him do things.

He leaned in and kissed her cheek. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Are you sure you can’t stay? I’ve already cooked.”

“I’m sure. It wouldn’t be fair to Mrs. Graves.”

“And how is leaving me with leftovers fair to me?”

Spencer sighed. He didn’t want to fight, knowing his mother would pout and ignore him until he apologized even though he hadn’t done anything wrong. “You should have asked me before cooking for three. Even if I wasn’t going to Jason’s parents’, I could have had plans with Lydia.”

And really, what man still had dinner with his parents every night at thirty-three years old? Spencer might not have a problem with it if he did so because he actually wanted to be there, but he didn’t.

“But you don’t have plans with Lydia.”

“She could have come with me to the Graves’.”

“But she’s not. She doesn’t like them very much, does she?” She sounded as if the fact that Spencer’s fiancΓ©e didn’t like the Graves meant she was right about them.

“She likes them.” Not that Lydia saw them often. She and Spencer might be engaged to be married soon, but they’d never really meshed their lives together. They each did their own thing, had their own apartments, their own lives. She’d met the Graves family, of course, just like Spencer had met her friends and her father, but that didn’t mean they saw each other on a regular basis.

“Why isn’t she going with you, then?”

Spencer hooked his bag over his shoulder and took his car keys out of his pocket. “Because she had plans with her father. I’ll see you tomorrow, Mother.”

He left without adding anything. If he continued standing there, he’d never get to the Graves’ in time. His mother was the queen of arguments and guilt, and while he might have given in any other day, he tried to never miss dinner at the Graves. He didn’t want to disappoint them.

He didn’t want to disappoint Jason.

He felt better when he got to his car, even though he could feel his mother still staring at him. He slid into the car and started the engine, doing his best to appear as if he wasn’t in any haste, waving at his mother as he passed by her.

He relaxed as soon as he passed under the sign that told customers they were at Maureen’s Vineyard—his mother’s name, of course. How else could they have called the family business?

He didn’t want to think about his mother anymore, though. He was free for the night, and he was going to enjoy it.

Author Bio:
V.M Sanford has been writing about the paranormal since he was a child but decided to give publishing a try only in his thirties.

He found out he likes writing about more than wolf shifters and already has several plot bunnies lined up, waiting for him to write their books.

He’s lived all over Europe and enjoys cats, ice hockey and reading biographies of kings and queens. He’s still confused about what and who he is even though he’s in his mid-thirties, but he finally decided to come out as a transgender man, at least to his readers.


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