Stray by Mark Matthews

StrayA Gritty, Realistic, Touching and Emotional Journey (Recommended for more adult readers (17yrs+) due to the subject matter.)

Book Blurb: Therapist Tomas Cleaves is many years sober from his addiction but is now losing his mind. There are voices in his head and the occasional seizure, and then his wife has a miscarriage on the same day his client dies of a heroin overdose. Tom becomes certain that the addicts he treats must have infected the womb of his wife.

Lost and bitter after the miscarriage, Tom is in desperate need of a client who can give him some hope.

James White is one such client — a newly orphaned alcoholic dead bent on drinking again until he gets discharged and finds himself rescuing lost strays at the next door animal shelter. Can James find a reason to live by rescuing the throw-away pets of the city? 

A gritty novel with an edge yet surprisingly gentle and sweet, Stray will take you through the dog fighting dens and crack houses of Detroit where Stray souls can find connections in the most unusual of places.


In between the fantasy, paranormal and romance reads I always enjoy a book that brings me back down to earth. Even though still a fictional story, Stray is a little more realistic, focusing on the unfortunates that are too easily pulled down into drug and alcohol addiction. However, amid the darkness and despair of some, Stray also offers hope and a brighter side with some very sweet, emotional and touching moments.

The story opens up following the Tom’s life, along with some of his clients. Tom constantly beats himself up. He’s trying his best to counsel his clients and guide them to a life of sobriety, yet he can’t control them. At times it seems that there is no hope for some of them. During the tragic times Tom tends to blame himself and links these moments with his wife’s miscarriage, thinking maybe if he hadn’t let his clients down the miscarriage wouldn’t have happened. The affect that this has on Tom’s state of mind is quite concerning. The voices in his head become more frequent and there are times when the reader may question whether Tom himself will remain sober or not.

Clearly there is a significant psychological element to this drama with Tom’s voices and seizures, the effect that the death of his clients have on him and his wife’s miscarriage. As well as the way in which love affects him – love for his wife, unborn child, clients and even those poor strays from the animal shelter opposite the treatment centre. It is these thoughts and feelings that help the reader to relate to the characters.

I was a little confused to begin with as it appeared that some areas of the story were a part of Tom’s memory as he reminisced, and then the reader would be brought back to the present. As the story continues it all becomes clearer and we follow each character’s life which later leads to a dramatic turn of events.

Although quite a serious read there are some heart-warming moments that provide the reader and some of the characters hope for a better future and faith that they can rise up from the rut they are stuck in by staying sober and rebuilding their life with work and relationships. James is a great example of this and my favourite character.

James leaves therapy and could go down either of two paths. He could return home and return to his addiction or he could explore a new life. After hearing the dogs in the animal shelter near to the Treatment Centre, he decides to take a look. In doing so he meets Rachel (Ra) and learns of a job vacancy that surely he’d be suitable for. During James’ time working for the animal shelter the reader has an incite into similarities between the strays and that of an addict. The stray dogs are occasionally re-homed, but many are given an injected drug to end their struggle.

Ra is another of my favourite characters. She is a saviour without realising. She helps rescue the strays of the city, including James. Is there hope for a little romance here? And in many ways, Tom’s character is similar to Ra, in that they both try to save lost souls by re-homing or therapy but sadly very few seem to move on to a better life. Stray is a perfect example of how a life can save another, whether it be through friends, family, children and/or indeed pets and animals.

One of my favourite aspects of Stray is the way in which each character’s story is connected to another. Some connections are more subtle than others but many are connected to Tom, Treatment Centre and/or the animal shelter and pet dogs that some of the characters have or have had.

Stray opens the mind to the ideas that some addicts may have – if things go wrong it must be their fault. It can appear to some that they have high ego’s in thinking that the world evolves around them by always thinking they are at the fore of all problems, and yet in contrast, they don’t deem themselves worthy. It’s a vicious circle, a dark rut that many find impossible to break free from. Stray shows the ups and downs -addiction at it’s worst and those that have beaten it.

Mark Matthews, a therapist himself, has written with delicacy and care. The dark moments are written in such a way that the reader is completely aware of the scene, however Matthews has written so carefully as to not horrify or appal the reader. I congratulate the author on writing in a very sensitive manner. For what is such a serious subject matter, Stray is quite refreshing at times albeit gritty and realistic.

A copy of Stray was provided by the author in return for an honest and fair review.

Stray is available at Amazon US and Amazon UK.

Reviewed by Caroline Barker

Addicted, by JoAnn DeLazzari

17617578[1]-001Steamy Romantic Suspense

We were both lucky enough to be sent copies of this release by Blue Star Books, to provide an honest and fair review. Rather than post the reviews separately, we have decided to post them together and share our opinions through the comments box. Feel free to join in the discussion or share your thoughts. 🙂

Tina’s Review (scroll down for Caroline’s review which follows on from this).

Addicted, by JoAnn DeLazzari is a steamy romantic suspense that delves into the dark and dangerous world of drug trafficking and corruption at the highest level. At its heart is a passionate love affair between two people who are unexpectedly thrown together in their quest for justice. I found this to be a much hotter read than many others in this genre, which for me was a definite plus!

In Addicted, Nikki Bradley, a well known journalist, enters the jungles of Columbia, to avenge the death of her brother who died of a drug overdose. She intends to find evidence against the man responsible, expose his drug ring and ruin him. In doing so she is taken prisoner by a drug trafficker, Kingsley Shaw. King, second in command to the local drug lord Pascal, has his own agenda and claims Nikki as his woman. This not only keeps her safe from rape and certain death at the hands of the other traffickers, but also prevents her from jeopardising his mission to find out who is behind the drug operation.

Nikki believes that King is a dangerous criminal as he keeps her his prisoner. He is also not averse to using some violence against her to prevent her escape. Their forced intimacy reveals a strong mutual attraction, which they both find it hard to deny, causing a lot of sexual tension and frustration. King will not force Nikki to capitulate to him sexually and Nikki fights her attraction, being repulsed that King is a drug smuggler. Before Nikki knows the truth about his true motives they reach an uneasy truce so that they can each satisfy their goals and they become lovers.

The complex plot includes violence and action, subterfuge, kidnap and many nail biting scenes, which take place in Columbia, Puerto Rico and back in the USA. The man behind the drug cartel is not going down without a fight, and he fights dirty, using his considerable resources to destroy Nikki, King and King’s associate Rob. The reader is kept guessing as to whether the couple will achieve their goals and also if they will have a future together, as the plot goes through many unexpected twists and turns before the tale reaches its climax.

King is an alpha male with a strong heart, adept at defending himself and Nikki and dishing out violence when necessary. He admires Nikki’s guts and determination and the fact that she makes him laugh. King realises early on that he has fallen in love with her and needs to protect her at all costs, professing his love to her, which I liked. He is a caring and masterful lover whom Nikki soon becomes addicted to.

Nikki is both stubborn and feisty, determined to expose the man responsible for her brother’s death, even risking her own safety as she very much wants to be an equal partner with King. Her relative inexperience with men and her reluctance to commit heightens the sexual tension between the couple. Nikki’s initial ignorance of King’s true motivations lead her to feel very angry, betrayed and used by him at one point, though she finds it impossible to resist him. Whilst I generally liked the heroine, I felt that some of her actions exposed her and others to unnecessary danger. However, perfect people do not always make for the most entertaining narrative and this tale was certainly a great read. Overall I felt that the hero and the heroine were well matched and I enjoyed the passion, humour and self-sacrifice in their volatile relationship, and their passionate and steamy love making scenes.

There are many other key players, including Rob, King’s associate, Senator Eversham and Pascal, the drug lord, to name a few. I enjoyed the humorous banter between Rob and King and also Rob and Nikki and found their adversaries to be worthy opponents. All the characters were believable and well rounded, all playing their part in a plot which involves high level politicians, drug producers, traffickers and those who wish to bring them to justice. I enjoyed the inventiveness of the plot and the way the author balanced the romance with the suspense element of the plot and I would definitely read her past or future work.

I recommend this book to readers who like to read an action packed and sensual romantic suspense, with an alpha hero and a feisty heroine.

A copy of this book was given to me by the publisher for the purpose of an honest and fair review.

Reviewed by Tina Williams

Published by Blue Star Books 

Please find below Caroline’s review on ‘Addicted’:-

‘Addicted’ is addictive! An amazing passionate romance, suspense and thriller that definitely keeps the reader on their toes throughout. JoAnn DeLazzari has completely filled this novel with excitement, adventure, fear, fun and action with the odd amusing comments made by some of the main characters, Nikki, King and Rob. Within the first few chapters of reading this novel I could not help but remember movies such as ‘Romancing the Stone’ and ‘Crocodile Dundee’!! Although a completely different storyline (with plenty of hot, saucy moments!), we have the setting of the jungle, the attraction of the woman to the man and the disgust and fear of the man to the woman – as well as the comedic one liners and sarcasm. However, as ‘Addicted’ unfolds there is more intensity regarding the physical relationship of the two main characters as well as a serious underlying plot.

A high profile reporter, Nikki Bradley, in the Colombian jungle is trying to find sufficient evidence to bring down a high and mighty drug trafficking operation after her brother died of a possible cocaine overdose. However, when she is found and captured she finds her captor wants to have her for himself! King, her captor, happens to be a ruggedly handsome man that makes Nikki fear for him but also strangely desire him. Nikki finds herself torn between surrendering and losing hope on her mission or taking a risk and fighting for her brother! The heartbeat definitely increases pace during this great sexy, intense thriller/adventure!

Nikki’s character is possibly what one would believe a reporter to be like. She is very independent, intelligent, outspoken, strong-willed, aware of others and her surroundings and over time has developed survival skills having reported on many major new stories from across the globe. However, it is great to see a different side to Nikki after being captured as she does reveal a vulnerable side, making it easier for the reader to connect with her.

I do like Nikki’s character, however King steals the show for me! Here we have a dangerous, menacing drug trafficking captor who would stand up to any man who questioned him. However, when Nikki is captured he steps forward and ensures that his men are aware that she is his! I absolutely love this storyline. Here is this fearsome individual, taking hostage a young woman, and yet he is handsomely rugged and mysterious and preventing the rest of his men to harm her. The intensity and fear he allows Nikki to feel truly does make the heartbeat faster. Why does he want her for his own? What will become of her? With only the two of them to share his cabin, Nikki is left alone with King who has a strange way of teasing and threatening her with desire.

The reporter in Nikki wants to fight for survival. Does she run? Can she bring these criminals down? Or, does the woman in her try to find a way to give in to King’s desires? The scenes between Nikki and King are very intense, with King teasing her until she finds herself thinking more and more about him. When they are together it is very intimate and reveals a side to both characters that they obviously haven’t shown in a very long time. However, as they both have other reasons for being where they are they have to make decisions on their own missions.

Once the reader is quite familiar with both characters emotionally and physically the story carries on unfolding, providing more trouble for both Nikki and King. The novel takes the reader on an action/adventure, thriller suspense as we follow the characters through Puerto Rico and Los Angeles. Although both characters have their own ultimate goals, throughout the travelling, dangerous surroundings and threatening characters around they have to use their survival skills/instincts which mostly brings them together even more.

One of my favourite characters, aside from King and Nikki, is Rob. Rob is a man of King’s and also a friend of his. At times when King has other tasks to carry out Rob is asked to keep an eye on Nikki. Therefore, over time Rob begins to know Nikki quite well and, as man in the middle, he sees both of their perspectives and can be the logic that they both need when their own minds are clouded with thoughts of each other!

JoAnn DeLazzari has written this novel beautifully. From the beginning the reader engages with the two main characters, their motives and passions, and is also aware of the underlying plot. We are then taken on this wild ride of being scared but curious about King and so wanting Nikki to give in to her desires. I was gripped throughout and did not want to put the book down. My only disappointment was when it ended, making me want to read it all over again. I would love to hear more about these characters!

I would recommend this novel for readers above 16yrs, due to the passionate and steamy sex scenes.

‘Addicted’ by JoAnnn DeLazzari was received gratefully from the publishers in return for an honest and fair review.

Reviewed by Caroline Barker