• WINE DRUNK BOOK REVIEWS

IN STRANGE WOODS by CLARIE CRAY

Today, I am hosting my first Blog Tour with the wonderful and talented Claire Cray, author of INTO STRANGE WOODS.

In the stormy coastal woods of the Pacific Northwest, roots run deep and passions run wild.


Reeling with grief and hounded by the press after the mysterious massacre of his wealthy family, moody New York photographer James Worthington Crane decides to take his downward spiral somewhere far away: to the rural Oregon Coast, where he’s just inherited a random piece of property hidden somewhere in the woods upriver.


But when James pulls into the decaying seaside town of Brooks, everyone thinks he’s someone else—an elusive local rebel named Beau. Now James must fight through his own grief to unravel a tangled web of family secrets, mysterious doppelgängers, and forgotten history...with help from a soft-spoken local hunk named Hunter Quaid.


Hunter’s been on his own since he left his fundamentalist family at the age of fifteen. It’s taken years of hard work and healing to build the steady, stable life he has now, fixing up seaside houses while living alone in a trailer by the river. Then James blows in like a winter storm, disturbing the peace and stirring up a hunger like nothing he's ever felt.


As Hunter helps James search for the truth, their lives intertwine in unexpected ways—and they begin to discover what it means to find out where you really belong.


Book Title: In Strange Woods

Author: Claire Cray

Publisher: Self-Published

Release Date: August 28, 2020

Cover Artist: Sneaky T 

Genre/s: Contemporary M/M Romantic Mystery, M/M Gothic Romance

Trope/s: Instant attraction, Hurt comfort, Tortured protagonist, Family secret, 

Long lost relative, Country boy/City boy, Rural romance, Fish out of water 

Themes: Healing, Found family, Redemption, Heritage, Belonging, Homecoming

Heat Rating:  3 - 4 flames 

Length: 71 370 words /204 pages

It is a standalone book.

Goodreads

Buy Links - Available on Kindle Unlimited

Amazon US  |   Amazon UK 

EXCERPT


Hunter pulled his truck into one of the slanted parking spaces along the Brooks sea wall and turned off the ignition, cutting off Bobbie Gentry in the middle of ‘Ode to Billie Joe’ to let the roar of the waves take over. It was windy out, and he took a second to rake his dark-blond hair into a stubby ponytail at the nape of his neck before getting out of the truck. 

His work boots hit the asphalt with a heavy thud, and he strolled over to the rustic stone barricade to look out at the dark ocean. A wave immediately exploded up in front of him, white foam fanning out and dissolving like a burst of fireworks, and he filled his lungs with the sharp, salty air. It never got old, no matter how many times he came here. None of it did, though. Not the trees, the rivers, the sunsets, the storms. This rugged little chunk of the coast had been his most consistent, and sometimes his only, source of joy since the first summer his parents dropped him off at his grandma’s place upriver, where he now lived alone.   


Today had been long as hell, but satisfying. He was in the middle of renovating a beautiful midcentury house on Cedar Crest, a wooded cliffside high up on the north edge of town. It was the biggest project he’d ever landed since striking out on his own as a contractor, and it was turning out to be a dream come true. The owner was some Portland banker who didn’t give a shit what he did as long as he stayed within budget, and Hunter relished the freedom to make actual design choices.   


Matter of fact, life was pretty good these days, wasn’t it? Business was good, anyway, and that was a lot. Yeah. Steady work with nobody telling him what to do, a place to sleep by the river, all the ocean air he wanted every day…what more could he ask for? There was a time when he wouldn’t have dared to dream so—


A car alarm went off suddenly, jarring him from his thoughts, and he turned his head. Several seagulls were scattering noisily from the sea wall near a black hatchback several spaces away, its horn blasting and lights flashing. He couldn’t see what had set it off. A nosy gull, maybe, or the splash of a wave. At any rate, that wrapped up his relaxing after-work sit by the ocean. 


But just as he was about to turn back to his truck, the driver’s side door of the hatchback clunked open and slowly creaked ajar. 


Hunter watched, intrigued, as a hand slipped out through the crack, followed by an arm, and then a mop of wavy dark hair. Then, to his amazement, an entire tall, slim man slid out onto the pavement, pooling there in a tangle of long limbs and dark clothing. 


The alarm was still making a ruckus. The man groaned low and rolled to his side, wrestling with himself for a moment before yanking a key fob out of his back pocket. He jabbed it toward the car several times until the alarm stopped, then fell on his back with an unintelligible mutter. Just then, a big wave spouted over the wall and showered him with seawater.


Hunter winced sympathetically. Hell of a place to be drunk off your ass. Dude definitely wasn’t from around here. He looked about Hunter’s age, stylish in a cool, classic kind of way. Black jeans, black boots, battered brown leather jacket. Nothing flashy, but obviously outside the local dress code of Carhartts, hooded sweatshirts, and rain gear. Hunter couldn’t help admiring the long lines of the stranger’s body, his carelessly tousled hair. 


With a shake of his head and a soft sigh, he turned his gaze back toward the ocean again. Life was good, and all. He loved it here. So what if it wasn’t overflowing with romantic options for a quiet gay man with a taste for tall, slim guys dressed like drifters from the 1960s? No one got to have it all.


Life is good, he told himself stubbornly. Life is fine. Life’s going just great.


The sound of an approaching engine made him glance back over his shoulder, and suddenly he sprang into motion before he could think. 


The drunk man was staggering onto the highway, his dark silhouette backlit by the high beams of a log truck that was roaring around the bend. 


Another half-second would have been too late. The driver didn’t even seem to see them. The air from the passing truck threw him off balance as he yanked the drunken dumbass out of the road, and they both fell back on the pavement. 


“You okay?” Hunter asked breathlessly.

AUTHOR INTERVIEW


Do you use your own experiences in your books? Absolutely. I have a massive stash of strange scenes and moments I’ve experienced or witnessed that I want to explore. Some of them I go back to and re-interpret again and again. 


Do you ever get writer’s block?

It turns out that I do, though it seems closely tied to my mental health. Soon after I released my first book, I entered a serious period of depression that’s taken me a long time to recover from. I’ve since gotten treatment, moved cities, and learned to take better care of myself, so I’m finally back in the saddle. But not being able to write for years was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever been through. Writer’s block is no joke. 


What do you think makes a good story? For me it’s a vivid setting you want to spend time in, intriguing characters you want to get closer to, and circumstances that bring out interesting emotions and psychological dynamics. 


Does writing energize or exhaust you? It energizes me in an odd way. When I walk away from a good writing sprint, I have this dazed and giddy feeling, like I’ve just eaten a banana split on another planet.  


What has been one of your most rewarding experiences as an author? Every time a reader reaches out to talk about one of my books, it’s the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had as an author. My strangest and most personally beloved title, Hidden Talents, has drawn a surprising number of long, heartfelt emails from readers. I’m not talking dozens, I’m talking a handful, but that’s a lot! It’s such a bizarre, sprawling, idiosyncratic story, but it’s very close to my soul, and it blows my mind when people connect to it the same way I do. (Hidden Talents is currently unavailable as it’s being re-edited with the rest of my back list.)  


What do your friends and family think about you being a writer? I’ve always been a writer, so they are proud and not surprised. They think it’s delightful that I’ve started writing romance. 


What do you do when you’re not writing? I spend as much time in the woods, at the beach, or by the river as possible. I also read, bake, watch tons of movies and TV, do arts and crafts, and try to keep up on my witchcraft. 


Do you like music or silence when your write? Music on noise-canceling headphones! It’s sometimes very hard to find the exact vibe I need, though. In Strange Woods got me on a Roy Orbison kick, which is still working very well for me.


Do you outline or do you just write? I outline all the time but never follow it. I’m a pantser to the core, for better or worse. For In Strange Woods I tried a new method where I pantsed the first draft in a month, then played with it for a few months, then planned major structural revisions and went through it with a focus on timing and pinch points and all that stuff. It was an unfamiliar and highly challenging experience, but I’m happy with the results, so I’m going to see if that keeps working for me on the next one.


Do you prefer pen and paper or computer? Mostly computer for speed, but I’ve always had a habit of switching to longhand when I’m stuck. And I’ve been trying to be less digital in general for the past couple of years, so I’m doing a lot more longhand drafting and exploration for the simple joy of it these days. Although the other day I lost a nearly-ful notebook for the first time in my entire life and am absolutely gutted, so I don’t know about the whole thing now. 


Do you write as routine or do you write when you feel like it?

I try to write a little bit each day, even if it’s just a couple of sentences, but I also write for my day job, so I don’t force myself if I’m feeling burned out. I tend to write in inspired bouts of 2,000-6,000 words with days off in between. 


What do you love best about your current book?

What I love most about In Strange Woods is that the love story is bigger than the main characters Hunter and James. It’s about the love we can feel for a special place, and how love can build communities, and how opening ourselves to love can bring us home. There’s still plenty of pain and darkness, don’t get me wrong. But there’s an extremely tender core to the story. Pacific Northwesters are famous for being obnoxiously passionate about our weird little corner of the world, and it is, indeed, the great love of my life. I feel like that love must have suffused this book, and that’s why it ended up being so much sweeter and more poignant than anything else I’ve written. 


What is your next project?

My main focus now is Theo, a paranormal romance about everyone’s favorite character from my first book Merrick. It’s a historical vampire story that kicks off in early 1800s New York before heading out to sea. Forced proximity, enemies to lovers, a wicked MC who finally meets his match…I’m enjoying myself so far. Light a candle for me!

WINE DRUNK BOOK REVIEW

Damn. James was in a bad way from the first sentence of In Strange Woods by Claire Cray.


James rolls into a new town after the brutal murder of your family, just looking for some peace and quiet, only to be mistaken for a local bad boy by everyone. Then, after getting stupid drunk and rescued by a sweetheart from an almost life ending accident, life gets weird.


Suddenly James is in the center of a full blown mystery and finding answers when everyone who might know what the hell is going on is dead, on the run, or just unwilling to talk, is damn near impossible. James is nothing if not determined. With the help of Hunter, a beautiful specimens of a man if there ever was one, he sets out to find out his family's secrets.


What a tangled web of secrets they were too.


I was dragged into the forest by this story and lost among the trees until the very last word.


James found his answers, as much as he could anyway with people who knew the real truth dead and cold in the ground. Was he satisifed by what he learned. Not really. It wasn't enough for him and me either but that was the beauty of In The Woods. Sometimes, there are questions we just never get answers too and we have to learn to live with that.


Him and Hunter got their HEA but I never doubted for a second they would because even from their first encounter there was just a spark between the pair of them. They just settled so well into an easy friendship that was comfortable even in the silence.


In The Woods was a mystery and a thriller and a romance all weaved together in a stunningly well written story.


I'm certainly counting this as one of my favorite books of 2020.

CLAIRE CRAY

Claire Cray writes gay romance featuring hot, complicated men in weird situations. Offbeat and character-driven with a gothic bent, her work has been described as deeply atmospheric and a little bit strange.


Born and raised in the rural Pacific Northwest, Claire takes inspiration from its rich, moody vibes: the ancient forests, rugged coastlines, eccentric characters, and whispers of dark mystery in even the tiniest little towns. Combine all that with steamy sensuality and psychological drama, and you've got a story by Claire Cray.


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