Monday, December 31, 2007

Why I Buy What I Buy

I've had a couple people write and ask me how I choose what stories to review. What makes me buy the books I buy? I wish it was an easy answer. I'm not a one-genre kind of gal. I love gay romance as much as I love het as much as I love menage. I love paranormal, contemporaries, mysteries, and more. All right, I don't really love historicals, but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate and love a good historical when I find one. So I guess the easier way to answer that is to explain how I go about my buying habits online.

1. I have 23 e-publishers I have bookmarked that I check at least once a week. Some of them, I know when they release, so I only check on that particular day to look at their new releases. Some of them, I've never been able to figure out a release schedule for so I'll check those once a day until I find something new. There are a couple I don't have bookmarked. For instance, I took Phaze off my list of publishers to check because they stopped doing excerpts. I won't buy a book unless I can read an excerpt. So if you're an author at an e-pub that doesn't do excerpts, the only way I'm even going to consider reviewing your book is if you direct me to where I can read an excerpt. Another I don't look at is Changeling Press. I'm sorry, I just can't look at all the awful covers. 99% of the time, I absolutely loathe the computer generated covers and since that's 99% of what they have...well, there are enough other e-pubs out there I'd rather do business with.

2. Then I read the blurb. If there's typos in the blurb, I don't look any further. If there are names in the blurb that make me laugh out loud, I don't look any further. If the blurb looks like it could have been written by my second-grader, I don't look any further. Sometimes, I hit one of these blocks, and I don't even finish reading the blurb. Cutesiness turns me off, as do plots where it looks like the thrust is soulmate business. Certain elements almost always mean I'm not going to bother with an excerpt, such as elves, fairies, and plots that revolve around sex toys. 75% of the new releases I look at every week never make it past me reading the blurb.

3. If the blurb intrigues me, I read the excerpt. My criteria here is fairly simple. No headhopping, no editorial mistakes, no dumb characters. I read a lot of different styles, so voice isn't important to me. What works for the story is all I care about.

4. I don't base my purchases on sales, cover art (except for Changeling), or reviews I see elsewhere. There are some people's whose opinions I respect but even with them, there are books we don't agree on. People are individual. We each bring our own perspectives and experiences to the book. As for seeing a book on the bestseller list, I've seen too many authors I think are awful top those so I don't trust them.

So see? Four easy steps. After all that, I still get caught out more often than not. I also believe that I've probably missed some good stories because something about the blurb or excerpt hit me the wrong way. I'm nowhere near comprehensive. I get tired of reading the same old thing, so my reviews hop from long stuff to short stuff to het to gay. I'm just a single reader, with her own opinions, and ultimately, these reviews are just meant to be another resource for other readers who consider this kind of thing before they buy.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Favorite Authors of 2007

I’m a loyal reader. When I put an author on an autobuy list, it’s next to impossible to move it off. That’s most likely because authors have to really sell me in order to get onto the list in the first place. In regards to my choices for my top 4 authors I reviewed in 2007, two of them are now on that list (one through more reading, reviews of which will be coming in the New Year), and the other two are really close to being autobuys. That’s always a great feeling. I love having authors I can rely on.

3rd Runner Up
Josh Lanyon

I actually compiled my lists right after I posted my last 2007 review. If I was compiling it now, Josh Lanyon would probably be higher. I’ve just finished reading and reviewing two of his three Adrien English mysteries (to be posted the week of 1/7/08), and with the completion of those, he’s now officially an autobuy. I love his spare, fluid prose. I love the noirish feel to his worlds, both in his real noir and his contemporary settings. I love his flawed characters. He makes me smile, he makes me think, he makes me feel. As a reader, I can’t ask for anything more.

2nd Runner Up
Michelle L. Levigne

Probably not a surprise to see this author here since her book was my favorite non-erotic book of the year. I have the entire Bainevah series, and when I see her name, I know it’s going to be quality writing. She writes lush prose with fantastic otherworlds, painted in vibrant colors that make them leap from the page. I’m not sure why she hasn’t been enticed away by print publishers yet. She’s certainly better at fantasy than a lot of the other stuff I’ve read.

1st Runner Up
Rowan McBride

This one probably shouldn’t be a surprise, either. I’ve only read one of this author’s books, but I have a recently re-released book on my TBR pile, and I’ll be tackling that in January, most likely. This book was the most pleasant surprise of the year for me, and I sincerely hope that the promise it showed pays off in subsequent books. Flawed characters, tight action, all good.

And my favorite author of the books I reviewed this year is:
Annie Dean

Ms. Dean’s books are on my autobuy list. I read three of her stories this year, and while I enjoyed all of them – one quite a bit more than the other two – they’re not the reason I adore her. Her voice is the single most distinctive, most entertaining, most literate voice I read online all year. Hands down. Even when I don’t necessarily care for a character, she keeps me hooked in the story by her clever phrasing, her colorful dialogue, and more. She’s moving into print now, and I have her book, Grimspace, pre-ordered. I didn’t even read the blurb. I just know I want it.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Favorite Erotic Romances for 2007

Oddly enough, I think my list of favorite erotic stories that I reviewed this year has little to do with how erotic they are. At least two of them are for reasons completely unrelated to the sexual content, while the other two…well, you’ll see.

3rd Runner Up
Reaper’s Reward by Marie Harte

This is the one story I selected purely based on how well it succeeded as an erotic romance for me. The hero pushed a lot of my buttons, the heroine sparkled without being perfect, and the sex was hot. There was just enough kink in it not to be overwhelming, and the overlaying plot – while not perfect – was enough to sustain its novel-length without having to rely too heavily upon just the smut. This story cemented my appreciation of this author’s contemporary work. I always read her blurbs and excerpts far more closely, in search of another of her stories I’ll like just as much as this one.

2nd Runner Up
Sex Between Strangers by Gabrina Garza

I was a little surprised to end up with a short story on my favorites list, but this story deserves a spot for a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s absolutely lovely. It’s simply told, sweet and romantic, with a melancholy air that helps promote the poignancy of the plot. Secondly, it introduced me to this particular author; I think I reviewed more of her titles than anybody else last year. Ultimately, though, this remains my favorite of everything I’ve read by her. So far.

1st Runner Up
Hold by Zannie Adams

Out of all the erotic romances I reviewed this year, I’ll confess this is my guiltiest pleasure. When I say this hits a kink, I mean this wallops that kink until it’s black and blue and wet all over. The story’s not perfect. I hate that last chapter with a passion and refuse to read it on re-reads. But the rest of the story vibrates with emotion and atmosphere, passionate and needy all at the same time. It’s got a hero as alpha and closed-off as they come, and if I could have a Cain all for myself, I’d sit on Santa’s lap every damn day of the year to get one. Just don’t tell my husband. ;)

And my favorite erotic romance I reviewed this year is:

Paul’s Dream
by Rowan McBride

This one was actually quite an easy one to call. Just like Paul lingered for me long after I’d set the book aside, the entire story stood up and demanded to be counted when I compiled this list. This succeeds on many of the levels I demand to put a book on keeper status. It has a hero I adore; the damaged Paul almost made me cry in this. It’s got a visually vibrant last act, tightly written and an absolute joy to read. It’s an intelligent, haunting story, and I eagerly await future installments in this particular series.

Though this is probably one of the most subjective categories around, I’m interested in hearing about your favorites of the year. There’s always stuff out there that doesn’t catch my eye for one reason or another, and probably should. What erotic romance would you want everybody to read?

Monday, December 24, 2007

Favorite Non-Erotic Stories of 2007

So why is it that I read fewer non-erotic stories online than I do erotic, yet the ones I rated highest during the year were non-erotic? Is it because I read so much erotic romance that I increase the odds of finding stuff I won’t like? I would have thought it was the other way around, actually. But whichever it is, the fact of the matter is, my list of favorite non-erotic stories of the year was much harder to rank than the 4 I picked for erotic romance (getting posted on Wednesday). I love all these stories, though for very different reasons.

3rd Runner Up
Snowdance by Sarita Leone

Snowdance is not a story for a quick read. It’s not a story for a reader who only wants a romance. It’s a story you read when you tuck yourself into the corner of an overstuffed couch in front of a fire in the middle of winter to savor over a long, lazy afternoon. It’s quiet, evocative prose at its best. It’s the portrait of a woman you’ll remember for more than the man she falls in love. I really can’t say that about 95% of the stories I read online.

2nd Runner Up
The Strength of the Pack by Jorrie Spencer

In spite of the fact that I can’t look at the cover when I read this book, it remains one of those books I bought this year that I can’t stop reading once I start. Though he didn’t make my top 4, Seth is still one of my favorite heroes of the year. I fell utterly in love with him and all his heartbreaking angst. This book put Jorrie Spencer on my list of authors to watch. Even if the cover does bug me.

1st Runner Up
Twist of Honor by Karen Welss

Considering both Kit and Antonia made my favorite hero and heroine lists, it probably isn’t a surprise this is on my favorite non-erotic book list, too. As a rule, historicals have to work harder for me to appreciate. I get bored too easily with them most of the time, so for one to be my second favorite non-erotic story of the year, you know it has to be special. The author writes compassionate, realistic characters in quiet, compelling prose. I can think of a lot of writers who could learn a lesson or two, simply from reading this book.

And my favorite non-erotic book I reviewed this year is:

Threads
by Michelle L. Levigne

This book is where the I hope the rest of the e-industry will eventually end up being. It approaches a fantasy world without skimping on detail, and treats the reader as intelligent without pandering to a lowest common denominator. It’s presented professionally without the common editing errors that plague many e-publishers, and on top of all of it, it’s just lush, gorgeous storytelling. I have this one in print now. It has a position of pride both on my bookshelves and my computer.

Any non-erotic stories you want to recommend? Because my TBR list can never be too big.

Oh, and to everybody who reads, Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Favorite Heroes for 2007

My list of heroes I really liked this year was the biggest list I had to narrow down to four. Seriously, I wondered how I was going to do it, and if I wasn’t doing four for everything else, I would have easily doubled this list. In the end, though, these were the guys who linger with me, for one reason or another.

3rd Runner Up
Nathan Doyle in Snowball in Hell by Josh Lanyon

Nathan has a slight advantage since I just recently read him, but the dichotomy of his scarred persona with his current desire for Mathew still makes me ache for him. I felt his pain, believed his confusion, rejoiced in Mathew’s attention. Plus, it gave me a huge surge of faith in this particular author.

2nd Runner Up
Kit Fitzgeorge in Twist of Honor by Karen Welss

This is one of those men I would have read about, even if there hadn’t been a romance. I can see him as the protagonist in a historical literary novel, or something action-driven, or even a tragedy. It’s a testimony to the author’s talent that he transcends romantic hero status for me. Kit is a prime example of just solid characterization.

1st Runner Up
Marius Asher in The Average Girl’s Guide to Getting Laid
by Annie Dean

If you read my blog, you know I give out very few 10’s. To me, a 10 is perfect, can’t be improved upon, can’t make me feel any better about it. Ash got one of the few I doled out this year. While I was reading, I was all about Ash. He was hot, and he was dominating, and oddly vulnerable in spite of it all. He’s not perfect, but that just makes it better in my eyes. I don’t care if can come across as a player sometimes. He still makes me squirm.

And my favorite hero of the books I reviewed this year is:

Paul Graham in
Paul’s Dream by Rowan McBride

Unlike Ash, Paul didn’t get a perfect 10, but when I was thinking about this list – before I compiled my possibilities – he was the first name to spring to mind. I said in my initial review that this book would linger with me, and Paul is the biggest reason for that. The journey he took in the story was my single favorite character arc of the past year. The flashes of vulnerability masked within the icy exterior made me yearn for him even more. Even now, he resonates with me. I sincerely believe he’ll resonate with me a year from now, too.

Do you have as hard a time as I did in picking your favorite heroes of the year? Or am I just crazy?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Favorite Heroines for 2007

Of the six categories I decided to highlight this year end, this one caught me most by surprise. Not because of what I eventually chose, but because of the dearth of choices compared to the other categories. It made me stop and wonder about why that might be. Am I extra critical of heroines in stories because I’m a woman? Do I read more for the escapism of the hero? Does the fact that most of them came from non-erotic stories mean anything? I actually think all three questions are valid, with the first two being true, as embarrassed as I am to admit it. There were few heroines that I reviewed this year that engaged me as much as the men did – which, by the way, was the single hardest category for me to narrow down to 4. But in the end, I picked the women I remember even months after reading the story.

3rd Runner Up
Addie Alger in Your Alibi by Annie Dean

When it comes to contemporary heroines, I prefer them spunky. That’s how I think of Addie. In spite of rather bizarre situations in her life, she reads eerily normal, talks like any number of women I know, and is refreshing in a world of angst-ridden heroines.

2nd Runner Up
Antonia in Twist of Honor by Karen Welss

This is my sole choice this year where I’m picking a heroine I actually liked less than the hero, though I still found her characterization rich and believable. There was a lot about Antonia that could have rubbed me the wrong way, but in the end, the author made her down-to-earth, devout without ramming it down my throat, intelligent and empathetic.

1st Runner Up
Friday Maxwell in Shadow Vision by Samantha Storm


Spunky heroine #2. Six months after reading this, I still remember how funny she was, how sharp her commentary. This was a heroine who knew how to kick ass and take no prisoners, without losing her personality or femininity. I still regret that the rest of the story didn’t match the potential Friday had. I keep hoping that another story will come out that gives it to her.

And my favorite heroine of the books I reviewed this year is:

Elinor Montoya in
Snowdance by Sarita Leone

Elinor has a slight advantage over other heroines I read this year. I was treated to reading about her entire life, and thus, got to know her far better than I did any other female character I read. I’m okay with the fact that maybe the dialogue wasn’t the most natural-sounding. I was in her head enough, and I got to see so many pivotal moments of her life, that she’s an old friend regardless. Thinking of her simply makes me smile.

Now it’s your turn to tell me your favorite heroines of the year! Who made you laugh? Cry? Hold your breath? I’m looking for recs, so lay ‘em on me!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Best Covers for 2007

Because it’s the end of the year, and I’m in the throes of a busy holiday season, I’m not going to do any more reviews for 2007. Instead, I’m doing my favorites of all the stories I reviewed this year, in six different categories.

Today’s category is Best Cover.


3rd Runner Up
My Fair Captain by J.L. Langley, cover art by Anne Cain

Sometimes, naked chests work. They work well. Especially beautiful, slightly hairy chests like this one. Simple composition is often the best choice, and this one offers just enough other elements to stay honest to the story.

2nd Runner Up
The Seagrass Whore by Ellen Ashe, cover art by ML Benton


This cover made me stop and stare. I find it sensual and evocative. The red against the black and white grabbed me, hinting at the spookiness the story promised to provide. It even overcame my hesitation at a romance with the word “whore” in the title. That says a lot.


1st Runner Up
Beyond the Night by Sharon Long, cover art by Anne Cain


What do I love about this one? I love the composition, with so many intriguing elements. The contrast of the dark blue, light blue, and earthy tones blend into a very elegant composition. I also love the female model. She’s pretty and looks intelligent without being intimidating. A definite plus for me.


And my pick for the favorite cover I reviewed this year is…

Boundless by Annie Dean, Bonnie Dee, & Dionne Galace,
cover art by April Martinez


I think April Martinez is one of the best artists out there right now. Her covers are often achingly beautiful, simple images highlighted and colored in such ways to create something new and original. This cover in particular gives the impression of intricate layers, melded together into a seamless composition. She doesn’t detract with awkward coloring and there are enough elements to intrigue a reader to pick it up and look further.

So now I want to know what your favorite cover was on e-books that you bought this year. I'm not interested in self-pimping; I want to know what covers you loved as a reader. Did you love the book as much as the cover? Did it have to work harder to meet your expectations? Would you recommend it?

I want to know!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Snowball in Hell by Josh Lanyon

TITLE: Snowball in Hell
AUTHOR: Josh Lanyon
PUBLISHER: Aspen Mountain Press
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 37k)
GENRE: Historical gay romance
COST: $5.99

In 1943 Los Angeles, Lieutenant Mathew Spain has to find a murderer – the killer of rich boy Phil Arlen. Suspects and motives abound, but straightshooter Spain is only interested in the truth. When his path crosses with reporter Nathan Doyle, he is intrigued by the battle-scarred veteran, but it doesn’t take much digging to learn that the man who intrigues him so is at the top of his suspect list.

Though historicals aren’t my typical bag, I’m the first person to admit I love stories set from the 1920’s through the 1940’s. There’s just something about the desperation of the war to create a really stirring romance, or the grittiness of the noir detail, or the glamour of figures like Fred and Ginger, that really gets my blood pumping. This one had me hooked at the cover, and the blurb and excerpt only cemented it.

Thank goodness it didn’t suck. I always hate it when a book I’m really excited about doesn’t even come close to measuring up to my expectations.

This is not your typical romance. It’s not even sold as a romance on the website. They have it categorized as a mystery, which is probably more than fair. The vast bulk of the story is given to solving the mystery of Phil Arlen’s murder, but because there is a romance with consummation, I’m being difficult and classifying it as such. But the build-up is slow, wonderfully slow, with the first half of the book dedicated to getting to know the two leads and discovering facts about the murder more than anything else. It makes it very easy to connect with them as characters before they move on to the romantic aspects of the story.

While both characters are strong, I think Nathan, the reporter, is the stronger of the two. Mathew’s sexuality isn’t as fully explored prior to the romance, which makes it more difficult to believe that a widower would fall for a man. Nathan, on the other hand, is built with multiple layers – the scarred veteran returned from the war, the scarred young man half-convinced his homosexuality makes him a freak, the bored reporter who isn’t entirely sure how to keep himself occupied after the trauma of the war. It’s very easy to sympathize with him, especially with all the suspicion cast upon him in regards to the murder investigation. Characterization is done with a delicate touch, nothing that feels rushed or forced. It’s a sign of an author who knows what he’s doing.

The one thing I wish is that it was longer. Not through any fault of its own, it’s more than successful at its length. But the author is good enough and the characters interesting enough to carry a full-length novel. I have another Josh Lanyon book in my TBR pile that’s longer. I think, based on my opinion of this one, it’s getting bumped up. A new author for me to keep my eye out for.

Readability

8/10 – Some crisp writing and smart storytelling going on here.

Hero

8/10 – Solid and hugely believable, though I wasn’t completely sold on the bisexuality.

Hero #2

8/10 – Sympathetic and compelling.

Entertainment value

8/10 – I was probably expecting more romance in this, and I wished it was longer, but this works very, very well for what it is.

World building

9/10 – Great period detail helps to make this jump from the page.

TOTAL:

41/50

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Solarion Heat by Kathleen Scott

TITLE: Solarion Heat
AUTHOR: Kathleen Scott
PUBLISHER: Samhain Publishing
LENGTH: Short story (roughly 15k)
GENRE: Futuristic erotic romance
COST: $2.50

Psychic Visionary Kara Zaire has been assigned to accompany Runner Jonah Cash to scope out the planet Solarion to see if it’s hospitable for relocation. With the ability to hear the energy of lifeforms as music, she is confused when it seems like the planet is entirely dead, but more than that, she is startled by her strong response to the skeptic Cash. Figuring out the mystery of the planet is simple. Figuring out the mystery of their relationship is not.

The more I read by this author, the more I think that maybe romance isn’t her genre. This is the second of her works that I’ve read, and I have a lot of the same problems with this one as I did with the first story, Dragon Tamer. But on the other hand, the things I liked about Dragon Tamer are exactly what I liked about this one. It’s just a shame it’s not the romance.

Where this story excels – just as in her previous offering – is the author’s attention to building a believable, creative world to immerse her characters into. Clearly, she has an affinity for otherworlds, something many of the authors who choose to write there don’t. In this one, the political atmosphere of the society as well as the physical descriptions of Solarion provide a rich tapestry upon which she places her characters. It’s interesting to read then, because I find myself believing in it enough to suspend more of my disbelief.

Where this story doesn’t excel for me is in her romance. At the story’s start, Cash and Kara (and ohmigod, I just flashed on them being called Cash and Carry and am now giggling hysterically) harbor intense animosity toward each other. He resents her presence on his crew; she resents being treated like a fake. In romanceland, however, this means that they are secretly harboring deep, intense romantic feelings for each other, and lo and behold, after an interesting start with them sniping at each other, their relationship devolves into lust and caring that I never really bought. It feels forced, and I really wish the author had chosen to make this a straight futuristic suspense book instead of the romance. Or at the very least, turned this from a short story into a full-length novel in order to make the romance believable. At this length, it’s not. She’s created characters that start out more interesting and multi-faceted than the romantic leads they turn into. Frankly, I think she – and the characters – deserve better than that.

I'm not giving up on this author, however. She is one of the few authors I've discovered this year that has the ability to immerse me into fantastical worlds I utterly believe in. I'm convinced that one of these days, she's either going to figure out how to make the romance aspects work better, or write a non-romance title that takes advantage of her strengths. One of those two will happen. I'm sure of it.

Readability

8/10 – Strong, competent prose

Hero

6/10 – Likable toward the end, but I didn’t get the flipflopping in the beginning.

Heroine

6/10 – More flipflopping when the storyline needed it.

Entertainment value

6/10 – Enjoyable, if not hugely memorable

World building

8/10 – This author always excels in creating new, interesting worlds.

TOTAL:

34/50

Monday, December 10, 2007

Dream by the Fire: Winter Magic by assorted authors

TITLE: Dream By the Fire: Winter Magic
AUTHOR: Esmerelda Bishop, Lanie Fuller, Jamie Hill, Ava Rose Johnson, Kelly Madden, Lyra Marlowe, Kim Rees, Emily Ryan-Davis, Fiona Shinn
PUBLISHER: Freya’s Bower
LENGTH: Anthology (roughly 48k)
GENRE: Holiday romance
COST: $5.75

A collection of nine short stories, all written by different authors, for feel-good moments about the holiday season.

A Love Rewritten by Esmerelda Bishop – A woman falls into her favorite romance novel and gets to replace the heroine she doesn’t really like. Pure wish fulfillment fantasy. The heroine is Mary Sue’d, the hero is interchangeable with almost any Highlander hero, and the prose is simplistic at best. Pass.

Mistletoe Magic by Lanie Fuller – A woman has a dream about her husband getting killed, only to have a chance to save him. There was so little detail on this one that I had an almost impossible time understanding the world development. Both characterizations suffer as a result, too. Pass.

High Maintenance by Jamie Hill – A woman breaks her leg on a skiing trip with her family, and gets charmed by the lodge’s maintenance man. There’s an attempt at making this heroine more 3-dimensional, but that falls short when this woman who seemed very intelligent to this point wonders if there’s such a thing as lust at first sight (when she seems to have no problem believing in love at first sight). The hero suffers the same fate. Still, more enjoyable than its predecessors.

Letting Go by Ava Rose Johnson – A woman believes her marriage is on the rocks after pushing away her husband after a miscarriage, but he uses the Christmas season to try and get her back. Maudlin melodrama. Pretty boring.

Upon a Midnight Clear by Kelly Madden – A woman gets a Yule tree for her village, only to encounter a fairy protecting the one that captivates her. One of the stories I liked more in this collection. Prose is more sophisticated than most, the idea sweet and self-contained. The hero has next to no characterization, but I still liked this one.

Solstice Night by Lyra Marlowe – A woman runs away from the lord who is determined to use her healer abilities against his enemies, and a bounty hunter seeks her out in a storm in order to take her back for the money he so desperately needs. My favorite story of the bunch, and the only author I sought out other work from. The story is sweet, the characters flawed and realistic, and the prose doesn’t suffer from the problems that plague others. A keeper for me.

A Winter’s Gift by Kim Rees – A woman returns home after yet another break-up to realize that she’s been in love with a lifelong friend the entire time. Unlikable characters and no sense of setting when the story requires it means this one was one of my least favorite. Pass.

Einmal nach a Modresnach by Emily Ryan-Davis – A woman is on holiday in Germany with female relatives and develops a crush on her grandmother’s male nurse. One of the strongest stories in the bunch, with very nice prose and real characters. It only gets muddled a bit in trying to do too much in too short a space.

Sugar Baby by Fiona Shinn – A woman wonders if she’s consigned to a loveless life in her bakery when she meets the new man in town. Likable characters, but prose with tense switches and other errors makes it hard to take this one seriously.

On the whole, a very average collection. There are varying heat levels, but nothing I found truly hot, and while there’s very little offensive about the anthology, there’s very little to remember, too.

Readability

5/10 – Nothing truly outstanding, though a couple of the stories help counter some of the tense shifting and simplistic prose of the weaker contributions.

Heroes

5/10 – For the large part, forgettable.

Heroines

5/10 – It almost feels like most of the authors are striving for that normal woman feeling and missing the point by a mile.

Entertainment value

5/10 – Some of them were a struggle to get through; only one author was worth the effort to look up other works.

World building

4/10 – The format of the short stories works against most of these, especially since they vary so greatly in genre.

TOTAL:

24/50

Friday, December 7, 2007

To the Victor Go the Spoils by Sherrill Quinn

TITLE: To the Victor Go the Spoils
AUTHOR: Sherrill Quinn
PUBLISHER: Ellora’s Cave
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 20k)
GENRE: Futuristic erotic romance
COST: $4.45

Resistance fighter Devon Maertissa is wanted for a murder she didn’t commit. Bounty hunter Bane Carrodoc is determined to take her in, no matter what the cost. Neither expects the sparks to fly when he finally gets his hands on her, but with other hunters determined to get Devon’s bounty for themselves, they have to do everything they can in order to clear her name…

There are certain words that just don’t work for me in erotic scenes, and unfortunately, one of them is used and abused in this particular story. It’s used early enough, in fact, that any investment I had in the story completely fled, never to return. I spent the remaining 17k snickering every time it came up, or rolling my eyes. What that ultimately means, then, is that this author’s erotic voice is just not for me.

What’s the offending word? Cream. As in, … a hot slick of cream slid from her core, and Her core turned liquid, hot cream sliding out to lie thickly along her sex, and As cream slid from her core to coat her labia The word just makes me ewww, and combine it with the image of it sliding thickly, something that happens in the first major sex scene, and all I can think is that someone needs to talk to this girl about yeast infections. There is no going back into feeling sexy after you start thinking about yeast infections, let me tell you.

I have a few other problems with what the author presents as sexy. Bane and Devon go at it for four days after their first time, but what Bane really wants is to fuck Devon in the ass. Devon is reluctant – most likely due to Bane’s size, and seriously, she actually considers whether or not he’s had a penile implant at one point – but decides after these four days to give it to him. There’s a battle in the spaceship, then once they get away, they decide to pass the time with – surprise surprise – more sex. Bane orders her to get on the bed, and this is the next paragraph:

Without a word, but with plenty of banked humor and flaring passion in her eyes, she turned and did as he said. But instead of lying on her back as she usually did, she got on her knees, both hands gripping her buttocks to spread her cheeks and show him the puckered rosette of her anus.

Do I need to say more than that really doesn’t work for me? Because it doesn't. The position seems far too porny, and "anus" is another of those words that yank me out of anything sexy. Is there anyone who thinks that word is a turn-on?

Because of my strong non-arousing reaction to the erotic portions of this story, it’s next to impossible to have much to say about the rest of it. You get into a certain mindset, and you can’t get out of it, no matter how much you might want to. As such, take this as you will. Some readers, I’m sure, will have absolutely zero problems with what spoiled the story for me. Just as I now know this author’s style isn't my cup of tea.

Readability

6/10 – The author’s voice in her erotic scenes really didn’t work for me. I'm not even going to mention the headhopping.

Hero

5/10 – It’s hard to respect someone who’s supposedly so big and bad when he’s banging his prey within hours of meeting her.

Heroine

4/10 – She fought well enough when she had to, but I spent most of the story thinking she probably deserved to get caught.

Entertainment value

2/10 – Between the erotic wording that really didn’t work for me, and a plot that just made me shake my head most of the time, I only enjoyed this for how much worse it could get for me.

World building

5/10 – I don’t know that much about the worlds or the Resistance, but hey, at least the heroine is savvy enough to mock bounty hunters named Bane and Slaughter.

TOTAL:

22/50

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Marked by Joely Skye

TITLE: Marked
AUTHOR: Joely Skye
PUBLISHER: Samhain Publishing
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 50k)
GENRE: Werewolf gay erotic romance
COST: $4.50

Alec isn’t looking for a relationship. He’s looking to hide, which means taking a minimum wage job at a library, never going out at night, and avoiding most social contacts. When a socially awkward child coming to the library latches on to him, he gives his friendship, but meeting Ira’s older brother turns his world into chaos. Liam is beautiful and enigmatic, but the attraction is undeniable. What Alec doesn’t know, however, is that Liam is a werewolf, a fact he is desperate to hide once he discovers Alec has been marked as prey by a pack of rogue wolves. The truth always has a way of coming out, though…

Though the name is different, this is the same author who wrote The Strength of the Wolf and The Strength of the Pack, two werewolf books I really enjoyed. When I saw that this one was set in the same world as those, I was very eager to read it. As Jorrie Spencer, I really liked this author’s voice, devouring both of the previous books in mere hours. Unfortunately, the voice in this particular installment is quite different from the first two, and as a result, my enjoyment is less, much to my chagrin.

Though technically solid, the prose maintained a rhythm mirroring that of its main characters’ moods. Where they are tense and agitated through the vast majority of the book, the story is as well, jerking along in spurts so that reading it is much like being in a car that is constantly stopping and starting. The story itself doesn’t stop, however. It hurtles along at a breakneck speed, leaving me absolutely no room to stop and catch my breath. In fact, halfway through the story, I wondered what I had missed. Much of the backstory in this read like it had occurred in a story that happened between the first two books I read and this one. Many times when details were provided, it felt like I was only getting half the story. But when I went back to check the author’s sites, I couldn’t find indication that there was another book set in this world. Maybe I’m missing something, but as it stands, if this was the book I had chosen to introduce myself to this writer, I might not have come back for more.

Where the author excels is world-building. I really like the world she’s created with these werewolves, and not just because I loved Seth and then Veronica. There’s a lot of potential in the way she presents her characters, their interactions, their histories. There’s even potential with Liam and Alex, but I just couldn’t ever get a grasp on the rapid mood swings these guys had, or understand Alec’s continuing need to be so physical. Well, that’s not entirely true. Once I learned about Alec’s history, it made more sense, but it always seemed to come completely out of the blue, and it was very difficult to follow along when it occurred. I think I would have ended up liking this story much more if they’d never had sex, actually. That was when the worst of the fighting and mood swings happened. Take out those scenes, and the story works quite well. The problem is, they’re in there. More than once. And I walked away from the story feeling as agitated as either one of the guys.

As far as HEAs go, that’s not really my favorite way to end a book.

Readability

6/10 – Disjointed and not nearly as fluid as the previous stories

Hero

5/10 – I never really grasp the violent swings in temperament, which combined with the rough prose makes it difficult to get a full handle on Alec.

Hero #2

6/10 – Liam’s edginess is mirrored in the prose, though I found it difficult to connect with him.

Entertainment value

6/10 – I finished the story feeling punchy and anxious, much like the characters. I’m not sure I particularly like feeling like that.

World building

8/10 – A fascinating world she’s created, though the history that is introduced makes it feel like there should have been a book between this one and the last two.

TOTAL:

31/50

Monday, December 3, 2007

Bone Deep by Summer Alan

TITLE: Bone Deep
AUTHOR: Summer Alan
PUBLISHER: Cobblestone Press
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 27k)
GENRE: Contemporary erotic romance
COST: $4.99

Flight attendant Hailey Rockwell has just been told by her pilot boyfriend that he needs time to think about their relationship. Rushing off into the rain, she gets intercepted by his best friend and fellow pilot, Kevin, and a kiss shared in the rain has her wondering just what she needs to forget about being dumped. Kevin has been attracted to Hailey since meeting her, and when his buddy asks for help in dealing with her, he is more than happy to oblige. Neither expects a night to simply forget to develop into something more, though…

I’m so annoyed right now, I’m not even sure where to start. I bought this book because the excerpt was a kiss in the rain, and the blurb suggested slightly illicit sex. This promised to hit a lot of my kinks and then some. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Before I’d finished the first chapter, I was back re-reading the blurb to see if there was something I had missed. Because see, I wasn’t expecting Kevin to be doing this with an ulterior motive in mind. What the blurb didn’t say is that Hailey has been duped by her so-called boyfriend. He never told her he was married, while he told his buddy Kevin that Hailey was okay with the arrangement. All the way until he wanted time off to go boink another conquest, and he concocted a story for Kevin that Hailey was threatening to tell his wife about the affair. So really, I got duped, too. This wasn’t the story I’d wanted to read. That’s not always a problem, if the story can rise above it, but in this case, it really, really doesn’t.

Hailey and Kevin are idiots. For her part, Hailey knows something is wrong with her year-long relationship with her pilot boyfriend and gets excited about a week-long trip to Paris in order to fix what was wrong and feel like a “princess” for him. When she thinks he’s dumping her, however, she all of a sudden decides she’s in love with him and is devastated by this turn of events. She starts crying on the way out to her car – this prince of a pilot did it on the return of their work-flight from Paris – so when Kevin intercepts her – after she’s broken the strap on her purse and dropped it in a puddle – she’s a wreck. When she kisses him for the first time, she starts crying again. And stops kissing him even though the author has made sure to tell us, she noticed how the sadness permeating her soul seemed to shrink, to dissipate in the strength of his arms and the cool, falling rain. It’s shortcut writing, and it did nothing to endear me to either of her characters at all.

Then there’s Kevin. I have no idea how anybody could think this was a good plan: All he had to do was get her to forget about David and consider him. If he could open that door, David would take care of the rest on his end. Seriously. Let’s not forget to mention he thinks Hailey is a slut. According to everything he knows about her – everything his friend has told him – Hailey has no qualms sleeping with married men. So when Hailey instigates a kiss in the parking lot, he automatically goes to, “Oh, she’s a slut.” But then, when he’s got her pinned to the hood of her car, wanting to fuck her, all she has to do is say, “I’m on birth control,” and they got at it bareback. If he thinks she’s a slut, why in hell would he have unprotected sex? Even if he doesn’t think she’s a slut, he knows his friend sleeps around. If he had half a brain, he’d want protection.

All of this occurred in the first chapter. I never got over how stupid these two were to really get into the rest of the story. It doesn’t help that the characterization is all over the place, or that there seems to be every sex variation in the book in it. At one point, sweet and nice Kevin goes all Dom on Hailey and spanks her with a wooden spoon. Later on, they have sex on rose petals on her bed. By that point, I was rolling my eyes and asking myself, “What’s next? David comes in for a threesome?”

Frankly, it wouldn’t have surprised me.

Readability

6/10 – Minor editing errors and clich├ęs left and right make this the longest 27k I’ve read in a while.

Hero

4/10 – An idiot. Any man who thinks a woman is a manipulative slut, and yet, has bareback sex on the hood of her car in the rain based purely on her avowal she’s on birth control, is an idiot.

Heroine

2/10 – Whiny, clingy, and dumb only begin to cover this woman’s faults.

Entertainment value

3/10 – This should have hit all my kinks. Instead, I spent more time rolling my eyes and screaming at my monitor.

World building

5/10 – Middling.

TOTAL:

20/50