Independent book review: Smoke Road

Scorch Series Romance Thriller Book 3

By Toby Neal and Emily Kimelman

Luca Luciano is a jerk.

The books of the Scorch Road series are gripping, fast-paced page turners that will thrill, scare, arouse and thoroughly entertain you.

Smoke Road is the third volume in the new Scorch Road, six-book series being launched at a rate of a book a month by co-authors Toby Neal and Emily Kimelman. Both best-selling authors in their own right, teamed to write a six-volume series, releasing them at about three-week intervals.

The books I have read so far in the series follow a pattern. Each one has two main characters: one of the six Luciano brothers from South Philly, and a strong woman he meets. Together, they have to fight their way through the chaos unleashed by the Scorch Flu, a pandemic that kills 90 percent of those infected. Along the way, they gather clues about the source of the virus and a deep conspiracy that caused it.

Smoke Road’s male protagonist is Luca, the eldest Luciano brother. He’s the “alpha male,” a former Special Forces member built like a superhero.
The female lead is Dr. Haunani Kegawa, a medical researcher and advisor to the U.S. national security establishment who has found intelligence about the source of the Scorch Flu: a neo-Nazi skinhead group in Texas who has stolen a virus developed by the government and dispersed it across the country.

The plot of the whole series follows the well-established apocalypse scenario. As most of the country falls sick and dies, society and government fall apart. Gangs loot towns. Communities are reduced to scavengers, pirates, raiders or slaves. Think The Walking Dead, without zombies.

Dr. Kagawa is charged with finding the skinhead neo-Nazis responsible for the calamity, and given a unit of National Guardsmen to help her—the only military force close to the enemy that has not succumbed to the flu—which includes Luca Luciano.

As soon as he meets Dr. Kagawa, they’re irresistibly attracted to each other. This is where Luca becomes a jerk

Luca has deep-seated issues. He doesn’t trust any women. He uses them for his own pleasure—and to be fair, many use him for theirs. He’s a hunk’s hunk. But he believes all women are devious.

Dr. Kagawa is anything but. She’s clearly drawn on Toby Neal’s main character, Lei Texeira: she’s part Hawaiian, part Japanese; she has baggage stemming from a bad, nearly abusive past relationship; and she carries a piece of beach glass in her pocket at all times, which she holds and rubs to allay anxiety. This is a direct carry-over from Lei Texeira.

The story is basically a love story, with the pandemic apocalypse a setting. Luca and Nani are drawn together by circumstance and biology, and their personalities are just similar enough that they clash repeatedly. They drive each other crazy in many ways.

Like reality, it’s the man who’s wrong.

Toby Neal

Toby Neal


Emily Kimelman

It’s frightening to me just how well women can read men’s minds.

This book is compelling and exciting, full of action, suspense and hot sex scenes. It’s a true mark of a writer’s skill to be able to write hot sex scenes without coming off as either pornographic or silly.

Well done, Toby and Emily. You’ve done what every writer strives to do: make a nightmare fantasy completely believable.


A sexy excerpt from ONE SHADE OF RED

My second novel, One Shade of Red, launches April 2. What’s it about?

With this novel, I turned Fifty Shades of Grey   currently the fastest-selling book ever   on its head. And then, I added more sex.

To give you a little taste, here’s an encounter between the two main characters: Damian, the naive twenty-year-old virgin, and the only client of his pool-cleaning business, the slightly older Alexis Rosse. This starts in a slightly run-down tavern on the Danforth in Toronto. 

Chapter 3: Emergency pick-up

Tyler stabbed a button and held the phone to his ear. I realized he had pressed “Call.”

“Who are you calling?” I asked, alarmed.

“Your girlfrien’,” he answered, grinning. Try as I might, I couldn’t get the phone out of his grasp. Kristen answered on what I figured must have been the third ring. “Hey, baby, it’s me, Damian,” Tyler said, trying to impersonate me. It didn’t convince me, but it seemed to convince Kristen. “Listen, you and me been wasting enough time, already. It’s time to get naked and get it together! I’m comin’ over for some booty, right now.”

“Are you crazy?” I yelled, hoping my voice could overcome the noise in the bar and make it through the cell phone, somehow, to tell Kristen it wasn’t me. She was going to be so mad.

I grabbed at my phone again, but Tyler twisted away. Patrick came around the table and grabbed my hands as Tyler said “I’m at the bar with my best buds, Tyler and Patrick. Don’t pretend you don’t know who we — they are.

“At the bar,” he continued. “The Red Fox. Yah, that’s the one.” Another pause. “No, no, I’ll … awright, awright, come on over! Yah, it’s on the Danforth. You been there! Okay, see ya.” He handed me the phone. “Good news, buddy: she’s comin’ to get you.”

“What?” Patrick and I said simultaneously. “Kristen is coming to pick you up for a booty call? Oh man, I never even had that much luck!” Patrick added.

Luck had nothing to do with it, I thought. At least not good luck. “Shit, shit, shit,” I said. “Kristen hates it when I’m drinking.”

“How many beers you had?” Patrick asked.

I had to think about it. “Three. Maybe four,” I answered. “Shit.”

“Like I said, more of a wife than a girlfriend,” Tyler said and drank more beer.

I stood to brush peanut crumbs off my clothes and headed for the door. It would be better, a little, to meet Kristen outside than in the bar.

It wasn’t such a bad place. The Red Fox was also a restaurant that catered to families at suppertime. But Kristen felt — I knew this because she told me several times — that sitting in a bar drinking beer with my “dumb buddies” was a waste of time and money, something done by low-lives only. Not by respectable university students who hoped one day to be respectable professional members of the community.

I could hear her voice telling me this as I stood on the curb, looking eastward for her car. Or actually, her father’s car. One part of my brain could not believe she would actually agree to come and get me at — I felt shocked when I looked at my watch — quarter past midnight. Her father let her come out this late?

Another part of my brain kept predicting what she would say. I could hear her clipped voice in my head: the way she bit off her words when she was pissed, the way she would emphasize every sentence with a “Hmmm?” that was more of an accusation than a question.

And there was yet another part of my brain that kept asking pesky questions. “Why does she need her father’s permission to go out late at night when she’s over 18?” “Why does she get to dictate when and how often I go out with my friends?”

“Just why does she get to decide what ‘respectable’ professionals do in their own time? Or what constitutes ‘respectability’?”

And “Why is it taking her so long to get down to the Danforth from her house? She should have been here a long time ago.”

“Dude, you owe me thirty bucks,” said someone beside me. I jumped, literally jumped, before I saw it was just Patrick. Tyler was behind him. “You left without paying for your beer. The waitress was pissed — she thought you had burned her. So I hadda pay her.”

“Can I get you tomorrow?” I asked. I really didn’t want Kristen to see me giving Patrick money. She’d have something else to lecture me about: “Given how little money you make, should you be paying your dumb buddy for beer from a bar? And what if someone had seen you handing over money on the street like that? They’d think you were buying drugs! Yes, Patrick does look like a drug dealer.”

I looked down the street, expecting to see Kristen’s father’s car any minute, but even though traffic was light, I couldn’t see the familiar shape of the minivan anywhere. When headlights lit up the asphalt at my feet from behind me, I was confused.

A grey Jaguar pulled up the curb, pointing the wrong way. The driver’s window slid down silently and a musical voice said “Well, do you want booty, or not?”

I bent down to see the long wavy hair and deep brown eyes of my employer. My only customer. I looked at my friends, and they were staring at me and the car with their jaws hanging loose. “Mrs. Rosse? What are you doing here?”

“You called me, remember? You wanted to get naked. What’s a girl supposed to do when she gets a call like that? Now get in.”

I flashed my friends a grin as I walked around the car to get into the passenger seat. They still had their mouths open. Mrs. Rosse gunned the engine, cutting off a hatchback coming the other way — the right way down the Danforth. Before I could say anything, she said “Boy, you have dumb friends.”

“I was just going to say, that wasn’t me. That was Tyler,” I stammered. “He thinks he’s funny.”

“I know what your voice sounds like, Damian. We have spoken on the phone.”

“Sorry if he offended you.”

Mrs. Rosse laughed. “Offended me? Maybe disappointed me!”


“That it wasn’t actually you making that phone call.” She looked at me and I swear I saw her eye sparkle.

“Where are we going?”

“My place. You said you wanted to get naked with me. Or your friend said it, but anyway, I’m turned on now.”

I decided not to bother trying to explain that both Tyler and I thought he had dialled Kristen’s number. I was so glad he had made a mistake.

My mouth suddenly was very dry. Did she really say she was turned on? “So, uh, sorry to drag you out this late.”

She laughed again. I was really starting to love that laugh. I squirmed in my seat, hoping to hide my sudden erection. “I wasn’t doing anything, just reading a really bad book and feeling horny. Your friend’s call was the excuse I needed to get out and scare up some action.”

I was sure she could hear my heart pounding, because that’s all I could hear at that point. I hadn’t noticed what she was wearing when I got in the car. As we passed under streetlamps, I could see that she was wearing a pink jogging jacket, but her legs were bare.

She noticed me looking at her. “That’s right, Damian. This jacket is all I have on.”

With that, she swung the car into her driveway. I sat there, staring as she walked, bare-assed, to her front door, the flip-flops of her sandals echoing down the street. She turned to me from the step, smiled and pulled off the jacket. She posed for a second, nude, and tossed the jacket into the house, then stepped inside.

Like that? You can find out what happened to Damian on April 2, when One Shade of Red goes on sale on Amazon, Smashwords, iTunes iBookstore and other quality e-book retailers!

Come back to this blog for links. And leave a comment — tell me whether you loved this, hated it, or said “meh.”

6 Sentence Sunday: a sample from One Shade of Red

Image: Wikipedia Commons

Today’s Six Sunday Sample is another from my National Novel Writing Month work-in-progress, One Shade of Red, a parody of (you guessed it!) Fifty Shades of Grey.

This excerpt comes from what’s shaping up to be Chapter 7: The Dinner Date. It takes place in a high-end restaurant in downtown Toronto. The protagonist, Damian, is a student and has barely enough cash for the restaurant bill, but nothing left over for a tip.

The solution: hero and heroine do a dine-n-dash. Don’t worry: Damian pays for the food, but leaves no tip.  

Peter Milosevic, Creative Commons

I slammed the door shut and started the car, revving the engine. It jolted as I shifted into forward and cranked the wheel hard to the left to pull out of the parking spot. The tires squealed as we lurched onto Elm Street.

“Careful!” Alexis squealed at the same pitch as the tires. “You don’t want to attract the police’s attention.” But her hand was on my thigh already.

Like it? Hate it? Leave a comment. Then go to Six Sentence Sunday to see more great samples from some great writers.