Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Books to look forward to in 2009

My last list of 2008 isn't a list of favorites from what I read/reviewed. I've gone out and checked coming soon pages at all the e-publishers I haunt, to find the stories I'm looking forward to getting in 2009. These aren't all of them, not by a long shot. I chose my five based on what the pubs had on their coming soon page or what the author had on their website. So in no particular order, five e-books I'm highly anticipating in the New Year...

Dangling by Yeva Wiest, published by Lyrical Press

While the first book I read by this author was riddled with some serious editorial problems, I'm hoping that the positive response from the publisher means this latest offering - another dark comedy about the archangel Michael and his transgender lover - will be cleaner. The author has already proven she can be original. Now I'm hoping she got some strong editing to allow her voice to shine.

Immersed by Liz Craven, published by Samhain

This is the next in the series after the author's excellent Prophesied. Few series inspire me to follow after the first book, even though I adore series. But this sucked me in.

Called By Blood by Evie Byrne, published by Samhain

I loved this author's voice in her novella Dante's Inferno. This one looks to be dark and hot, always a good thing.

Object of His Desire by Ava March, published by Samhain

Yes, it's a historical, but it's also a gay historical, and the first story I read by this author was hot enough to encourage me to read more of her work.

The White Knight by Josh Lanyon, published by Loose Id

This is the prequel/sequel to Lanyon's The Dark Horse. That's all I know. That's enough.

And one book that's not coming out in e-form, but I have to include, because, well, I love this author...

Kelland by Paul G. Bens, Jr., published by Casperian Books

Though I only review e-books on my blog, I still read plenty of print books in between. If Mr. Bens had more e-books coming out, I'd be buying those, too. In the interim, I'm satisfied knowing I've got this to look forward to.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Favorite Authors of 2008

My last list of favorites for 2008 - favorite authors. I do have one more list after this, but...well, I'll save that for Wednesday.

4th Runner Up
Jo Barrett

I've read a lot of Jo Barrett's work over the past year. Her two time travel books rank among some of my favorites, but her later work has left me a little cold. I think she's got some serious talent, so I'm keeping an eye on her. Just because I haven't preferred her more recent stories doesn't mean I've given up hope.

3rd Runner Up
Amy Corwin

I have a couple more stories by Amy Corwin on my TBR pile, but the charm of the historical I already read still burns brightly, months later. There's a whimsy to her romance, and in a world starving for such light, she shines.

2nd Runner Up
Paul G. Bens, Jr.

Considering how much I loved his short story, Mr. Bens absolutely had to be on my favorite author of the year list. He wrote some of the most beautiful prose I read all year. A true talent.

1st Runner Up
Josh Lanyon

My one holdover from last year's list. He's an autobuy, and while I will admit I don't necessarily love everything he's done, he hits more than he misses. By a wide margin.

And my favorite author of 2008 is...
Frank Tuttle

Tuttle is one of my gold mine finds for this year. Both of his works with Samhain rank as some of my favorites, and his Markhat series is one I hope to read about for a long time to come. He's funny, insightful, and a vivid storyteller. You can't get much better than that.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Favorite Erotic Stories of 2008

Originally, I was going to do my five favorite erotic stories and my five favorite non-erotic stories. But then it turned out that 4 of my favorites of everything non-erotic matched my favorite novel-length stories so I decided it would be a waste of time. Which means, just my favorite erotic stories, some of which you've already seen mentioned this year...

4th Runner Up
Like a Thief in the Night by Bettie Sharpe

I've said so much already about this novella that I'm not sure what's left. Edgy, original, visceral to the core. Read it.

3rd Runner Up
Lights Out! by Amber Green

One of the more complex stories I read this past year, the first book in this series is imaginative and mesmerizing, with some spectacular turns of phrase that makes the author's voice stand out from the crowd. In compiling this list, I've only just realized that I've had the sequels to this on my TBR pile for too long. I really need to root those out and immerse myself back into this fascinating world.

2nd Runner Up
Slave to Love by Nikita Black

I consider this a complete guilty pleasure. The hero is a real bastard a good part of the time, and the set-up straight out of the cheesiest romance. But it works. Well. Very well. Mick is sinister and seductive, and the reading experience one of the most intense I had all year.

1st Runner Up
Jackson's Jewel by N.J. Walters

Another guilty pleasure. N.J. Walters is one of the most readable authors out there for me, and if I don't always believe in her plots, I do believe in her heroes a good part of the time. And her sex scenes are always right on the money for me. I've liked Jackson since he was first introduced in this series, so finally being able to read his story was a true treat.

And my favorite erotic story of 2008 was...
Mahape a ale Wal'au by Paul G. Bens

This story is the biggest reason this best of list isn't called my favorite erotic romances of the year. While it's certainly romantic at its core, it's not a traditional romance with a standard HEA. That doesn't stop it from being one of the most moving stories I've read in a very long time, though. The author shapes this short story with delicate precision, painting pictures and emotions with such vivid prose that it transcends any genre. It's as much a love affair with the scenery as it is with the Everyman Toshi. Neither suffers for the attention. The end result is an absolute gem.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Favorite Heroes for 2008

Just like last year, picking my five favorite heroes out of everything I reviewed is the hardest category for me, bar none. Eventually, though, I got the list whittled. Eventually.

4th Runner Up
Colin MacLean in Highlander's Challenge by Jo Barrett

Colin is the alpha Highlander to the core. Temperamental, used to getting his own way, protective to the point of ignoring his own needs...and look at that gorgeous body on the cover.

3rd Runner Up
Mikhail Kozlof in Tango's Edge by Carole Bellacera


Mikhail is charming, gorgeous, talented, and best of all, human. He is the main reason it is so easy to fall in love with the romance in this book, as he entices the reader as much as he does the heroine.

2nd Runner Up
Ren Stanfield in My Valentine by Annie Dean


Ren Stanfield was one of the most broken, fascinating characters I read all year. He has dark, masochistic tendencies, and there's a definite tragedy about his entire existence that dares the reader not to care about him. Haunted. That's the best word to use, both for him and how he left me.

1st Runner Up
Adrien English in The Adrien English Mysteries by Josh Lanyon

The heart and soul of this series is its protagonist, Adrien. He's come so far from the first book, and had to endure so much. I'm the first to admit that when I fall for a series, I fall hard. Nine times out of ten, it's because of the main character. This is definitely one of those times.

And my favorite hero of 2008 is...
Markhat in Dead Man's Rain/The Mister Trophy by Frank Tuttle

See my note above about falling for protagonists in series? Markhat is another example of that. I love Tuttle's work for more than his main character, but Markhat plays a huge part of my adoration for these stories. He's the fatalistic, funny detective, the one with the unique perspective on the world. He makes me laugh, he makes me think, and best of all, he makes me care.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Favorite Heroines for 2008

I'm starting out my week of bests with probably my leanest category - favorite heroines. My shortlist in this category was less than half any of the others. That's likely because it's a lot harder to please me when it comes to heroines. It's easier to fall for men, but that's because I'm not one. I find myself less forgiving when it comes to female characters, one of my reading foibles I've just had to come to accept over the years. That being said, here they are...

4th Runner Up
Daisy Leaf in Perfect Timing by Barbara Elsborg

The joy of Daisy in this erotic romance is her sharp sense of comedic timing and the awareness on the part of the reader that this is a woman not to be trifled with. She more than holds her own against a romantic hero, and in fact, provides the strength necessary to pull him along when her characterization is clearer.

3rd Runner Up
Jillian Descharme in Heart of the Winter Wolf by Dani Harper

Though I enjoyed this novel as a whole, by far my favorite aspect of it was Jillian. She is a woman who took tragedy and made herself stronger without turning into a cold bitch or withdrawing from the world. Independent, strong-willed, and still manages to be feminine.

2nd Runner Up
Amelia Tucker in Highlander's Challenge by Jo Barrett

The fact that this woman goes by the name Tuck says something about her. She's self-sufficient and spunky, and though she hardly considers herself feminine, she is the perfect woman for Colin.

1st Runner Up
Gianna Randazzo in A Little Slice of Heaven by Gina Ardito

Gianna is one of those characters that I can see in my everyday life. A woman I'd value as a friend. A woman like so many women I already know. She reacts like the women I know, takes care of herself like the women I know. I like her in ways that I don't necessarily like other heroines. She's the girlfriend I'd call with good news or bad, and in the end, she's the heart of this warm book.

And my favorite heroine of 2008 is...
Arden Black in Like a Thief in the Night by Bettie Sharpe

Arden is the black soul of this dark novella. She ripples with violent tendencies and questionable morality, existing within the sharp prose as effortlessly as a single breath. Her momentum drives this story as much as Sharpe's gorgeous prose, and is one of the clearest, most sympathetic anti-heroines I've read in either print or e-books in a long time.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Favorite Novels of 2008

To round out my lists of favorites this week, I present my favorite novel length reads of the year.

4th Runner Up
A Greater Art by Ainsley Davidson

Certain genres have to try harder for me to engage with it. Science fiction is one of them. So when I find a truly fabulous story, I get excited. A Greater Art has dense world-building, sympathetic leads, and a complex plot. I read this in a single sitting, much to my family's chagrin, but I absolutely couldn't put it down.

3rd Runner Up
I Bid One American by Amy Corwin

Guess what another genre is that has to try harder with me? Yep, historicals. And yet, this charmer made me laugh and smile more than any other book in my top 5 this year. The vast majority of the cast is quirky and fun, and the story rolls along at such a brisk pace that you don't even realize it's over until you've turned the last virtual page.

2nd Runner Up
Death of a Pirate King by Josh Lanyon

It's no secret I'm a fan of the Adrien English Mysteries. I reviewed all four books this year, but this is the one I think is the best of the bunch. Not only is this the one with the most complex emotional map, but it's also the one that took my sheer dislike for Jake and turned it on its ear. I have serious problems with abusive characters, and Jake's actions in the previous book had - I thought - cemented my feelings for him. Lanyon's talent is such that I was wrong. And I'll gladly be wrong again.

1st Runner Up
Highlander's Challenge by Jo Barrett

This sat on my TBR pile for far too long. When Teddypig recommended it, I should have bumped it up my list. This one thrives because of its powerful leads. Colin is one of the best alpha heroes I read all year, and Tuck epitomizes the best of what makes a good heroine. Their chemistry is through the roof, so much so that I absolutely had to order a print copy of this as soon as I finished it.

And my favorite novel of 2008 is...
Border Roads by Sarah Black

I give out few 10s when it comes to the entertainment value of my scoring system. To me, those are the best of the best, the keepers that have pushed me to react in ways other stories haven't quite done. Border Roads not only has exquisite details as it builds its world, but it also has a wealth of memorable characters, men and women who leap off the page and tug at every single heartstring I have. There is power in this story, in the raw depths of the angst, in the rich descriptions of their interactions, in the sheer number of chances that the author takes that could have backfired. I love this story to pieces. I only wish Loose Id would release it in print so that I could have a physical copy for my keeper shelf.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Favorite Novellas of 2008

Next on the list for my favorites are novellas. Something odd happened when I went through all my favorite novellas this year. 4 of my top 5 picks all come from the same e-publisher. I certainly didn't plan it that way, but that's the way they fell out. There's something to be said about consistent quality, that's for sure.

4th Runner Up
Dante's Inferno by Evie Byrne

When it came to erotic romance this year, this one stands out from the crowd. Both leads are engaging, the period detail divine, and their erotic encounters sizzling. This one was fun from start to finish, and it still gives me a smile when I think of it.

3rd Runner Up
The Dark Horse by Josh Lanyon

Though Lanyon is best known for his Adrien English stories, he also has numerous novellas that are worth attention. The Dark Horse is my favorite of the bunch. It succeeds both as suspense and romance, and it does so with Lanyon's usual flair. Sean Fairchild as a protagonist and hero provides the perfect mechanism to wind this tale tighter and tighter, making it wholly satisfying.

2nd Runner Up
Interstitial by Ann Somerville


A lot of authors try to write cinematically, but not many succeed. Somerville's Interstitial is one of the best examples of tight, visual storytelling I reviewed this year. Every detail counts. Her characters are smart and real, and never get in the way of the unrelenting action. It's just too bad I can't tune in weekly for more.

1st Runner Up
Like a Thief in the Night by Bettie Sharpe

One of the freshest voices of the year is Bettie Sharpe's. She followed her brilliant debut at Bam's blog with this novella at Samhain, and it proved that her talent wasn't a fluke. There is a dark edge to her writing, sharpened to razor precision, that sucks you in and refuses to let go. Her heroine in this is as vivid as they come, and the chemistry with the hero is over the top.

And my favorite novella of 2008 is...
Dead Man's Rain by Frank Tuttle


There are not enough good things I can say about Frank Tuttle and his Markhat books. They're not long, but they are rich in detail and humor, immersing the reader into his fantasy world so effortlessly, you don't even realize what he's done. I love 1st person stories when they're this well done. You get to fall in love with the main character, not because of his strengths, but in spite of his weaknesses. Encompassed in such dynamic prose, Markhat stands out even more. There's a reason this and its sequel have the highest overall scores I've given so far. They're that good.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Favorite Short Stories of 2008

This year, I'm breaking down the books I read and reviewed by length, mostly to give shorter works in anthologies recognition when they deserve it. The first of these are going to be short stories, which I consider anything less than 15k.

4th Runner Up
Chasing Phoenix by Christine D'Abo

When it came to the hotness factor, this story delivered in spades. It has its problems as a romance, but when it came to the erotic portions of the story, it followed through on the promise made in the excerpt...and then some.

3rd Runner Up
Flyover by Jefferson Dane


"Flyover" was hands down the best story in this particular anthology. It's not a romance but a paranormal drama with some absolutely chilling tones. It accomplishes some wonderful characterization, terrific tension, and best of all, reminds me that good authors will always stand out. Don't run out and get this anthology, though. Aspen Mountain Press released it as a standalone title earlier this year. Buy that instead.

2nd Runner Up
Spanish Lullaby by Emma Wildes


While this particular anthology leaves a lot to be desired, the final story in it, Emma Wildes' "Spanish Lullaby," proves that historical romance doesn't have to be cheated because of a short format. Her characters are warm and endearing, and the romance extremely gratifying. It's good to see she has a contract for a historical in mass market paperback to be released in the spring. I think she's more than strong enough to really make it.

1st Runner Up
The Mister Trophy by Frank Tuttle


One of my best discoveries of 2008 was Frank Tuttle and his Markhat books. "The Mister Trophy" is the second that came out with Samhain, and it is smart, funny, and rich in atmosphere. I don't know if there are more stories in the pipeline, but I sincerely hope there are. I've been greedy for this author ever since reading the first of the Markhat books. This is worth every penny and then some.

And my favorite short story of 2008 is...

Mahape a ale Wal'au by Paul G. Bens


This story is not just my favorite short story of the year. It's one of my favorite stories period. Of this year, last year, and a few more years before that. The prose is incomparable, carefully crafted to flow with the same melancholy grace as its hero. It creates both an intimate experience and a universal one, and it does so with more style than hundreds upon hundreds of other stories that came out this year. I find it incredibly ironic that this gem is currently sold by one of the publishers I always have to think twice about buying from. I've been burned more than once by sloppy editing there, and yet, this proves that talent will always rise, no matter who publishes it.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Favorite Covers of 2008

My first category of favorites for books I reviewed in 2008 are covers. Generally speaking, I'm not a reader too influenced by covers in my book buying habits. Pretty covers are nice, but I'm not buying a book to stare at the artwork. I need a story. But there is still some wonderful work out there, and though I might not get swayed by it too often, I can certainly appreciate it.

That being said, my top 5 favorite covers of the books I reviewed this year...

4th Runner Up
Charlie's Bargain by Evangeline Anderson, Cover Art by Les Byerley

There might be a theme with some of my favorite covers this year, and this fits it. Though the man on the cover is not a very good representation of how Lynx is described, it's close enough - and the eyes are hypnotic enough - that I don't care. The woman's back is elegant, the simple chains at her wrists evocative. I still stop and stare at this when I see it randomly online.

3rd Runner Up
Hawk's Woman by Madeline Baker, Cover Art by Syneca

In the upper corner, you'll see the eyes that seems to trigger my "Oh, I love this cover" reflex. But in this case, I have to admit I didn't even notice them until after I'd read the book. This one is all about the beautiful man on the cover. The muscles, the hair, the lines of his face...yeah, I can be superficial, too.

2nd Runner Up
Dead Man's Rain by Frank Tuttle, Cover Art by Anne Cain

The incredibly talented Anne Cain outdid herself on this one. The colors are haunting, the composition amazing. There's a definite noir feel to this, even though it's fantasy.

1st Runner Up
The Nameless God by Emily Veinglory, Cover Art by Croco Designs

Gee, look, more of the eyes. But seriously, this cover hits me hard. I'm not entirely sure why. I'm not hugely fond of the color, but in this instance, it works. I adore the arc of the bent body, and the old world feel to the title font. The entire effect makes my throat tight, and I can't tear my eyes away from it when it pops up.

And my pick for the favorite cover I reviewed this year is…
Like a Thief in the Night by Bettie Sharpe, Cover Art by Scott Carpenter

This cover is proof that simplicity often provides the best result. There was a theme to all the Strangers in the Night stories - the black background, the female, and the random red highlights amongst the monochrome. The entire effect was striking. Mesmerizing, even. It's especially appropriate for this particular story, since Arden is such a memorable character. This highlights both the danger she presents and the danger she is in, and it does so with elegance and beauty. Just gorgeous.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Year End

With the holidays fast approaching (and everybody descending on my house), my free time gets insane. So I'm going to give myself a treat and relax my schedule by doing what I did last year - posting about my favorites of e-books I read over the past year. Categories include favorite cover, hero, heroine, and others. I originally had 9 different categories, but when I compiled my list the other day, I discovered that 2 categories were nearly identical (4 of the 5 stories were the same, lol), so I've swapped that out and will post about which e-publisher gets my gold star this year instead on that day.

Come back on Friday for the 2008 Countdown to begin!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Scarlet's Web by Rachel Carrington

TITLE: Scarlet’s Web
AUTHOR: Rachel Carrington
PUBLISHER: Whispers Publishing
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 28k)
GENRE: Contemporary suspense erotic romance
COST: $3.95

Cops Jaden and Kennedy had a torrid affair – until she got promoted and became his boss. Three months later, they’re fighting their attraction, trying to find some way to work together…and failing miserably. When a new serial killer puts Jaden on the defensive, they have no choice but to work together to try and stop the woman determined to get rid of all the cheating men in town…

I have to say this for this story. It was over so fast, I barely noticed. The action and romance move at a swift pace, with some competent prose marking the way. The sex is rough and hot, and the two leads clearly into each other. So why don’t I love it?

Part of it stems from the sloppy mistakes that riddle the text. Prepositions are missing, words are misused, names occasionally have different spellings. Errors like this hold me back from getting immersed in the suspense. Then there’s the actual suspense itself. When the story is in the thick of the action, it clips along at an involving pace. But in order to keep the story short – and sometimes to get to the romance part of it – crucial details happen offscreen. It’s disappointing. There was great potential for this to be a dark, engrossing read. The characters have real conflict and show reasonable depth. The villain has the potential of being three-dimensional. There’s an opportunity for some real angst when the case gets personal for Jaden. But all of it is cheated by cursory examination. Too much attention is placed on the couple, and not enough on the circumstances surrounding them, when both their problems are rooted in their jobs and the serial killer. It’s one big tease for what could have been, and not enough as it is.

Readability

7/10 – Quick moving prose that gets held back by editorial sloppiness

Hero

6/10 – Charming and hot, though there’s not enough of him to be more than that

Heroine

5/10 – A bit of a muddle of motivations

Entertainment value

6/10 – Feels like a nibble, this could have been so much more

World building

6/10 – The real world felt only sketched in; far more attention was paid to the romance

TOTAL:

30/50

Friday, December 5, 2008

Uncovering Egypt by Ann Cory

TITLE: Uncovering Egypt
AUTHOR: Ann Cory
PUBLISHER: Samhain
LENGTH: Short story (roughly 13k)
GENRE: Time travel erotic romance
COST: $2.50

Egyptologist Jasmine Devi is on the dig of a lifetime, unearthing historical treasures in the great pyramid of Giza. When she stumbles upon a beautiful bracelet, she is startled to discover it has called forth King Okpara from the past, intent on protecting his dead queen’s sacred jewel. One look at Jasmine and he is convinced she is destined to be his new queen. All he has to do is convince her of that…

The beautiful cover of this short story convinced me to look at the excerpt, and then to buy it, so it’s really too bad that it’s about the only good thing this particular e-book has going for it. The story is labeled as a red hot, which in Samhain speak is hot erotic romance, but there really isn’t that much that’s sexy about this. When the bracelet affixes itself to Jasmine’s wrist, she is immediately confronted by four men who claim to be the king’s guards. They demand she come with them, and she follows them to a room in the pyramid that has what’s called a body chamber in it. Basically, it’s a mesh cage in the form of a body, with openings for the occupant’s face, chest, and groin. The guards force her to strip and get into it, at which point Okpara shows up. He is convinced she is his new queen, and sets out to seduce her. Except…guess who does the foreplay? Two of the guards start out while the king stands back. He eventually kneels for oral sex, but when it comes time for the actual act, he has them remove her from the cage and form a human cradle for her, and that’s how they have sex. He is incredibly dissociated from the act. It’s not even his touch that finally sets her off. I’m supposed to find this sexy? I don’t think so.

It doesn’t help that Jasmine is an idiot. There’s a fellow Egyptologist named Mason who is introduced in the beginning as having a thing for her. So desperate to get away from him, she sneaks off to the room which has the bracelet, which is outside of the grid they’re expected to be in. She tells nobody where she is going, and yet, when Mason shows up looking for her, she goes off on him for being stalker-y. Because he was worried and couldn’t find her? She’s supposed to be a professional, but I just can’t believe that any professional would be so irresponsible, even if she was trying to avoid someone she didn’t like.

I have problems even believing this as a romance. Okpara never feels authentic, saying things like, “Everything about you turns me on.” The explanation for why he so blithely accepts coming to the future? Oh, yeah, he’d been summoned to the future before. I guess that’s where he learned English, too. He also decides within minutes of seeing Jasmine that he loves her, and then, when some artificial danger is introduced to separate the two, instead of finally getting some real story, there’s a jump cut to, “Oh, look, they live happily ever after.” It’s a completely copout and cheats the reader, but then again, the whole story did that so I guess it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise.

Readability

5/10 – Clean, but poorly constructed story structure

Hero

3/10 – Everything about him was told not shown

Heroine

3/10 – Annoying and dumb

Entertainment value

2/10 – This doesn’t work on any level

World building

4/10 – It starts out well, but any semblance of place/time in dialogue or setting after she finds the bracelet is gone

TOTAL:

17/50

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Bonded by Ann Wesley Hardin

TITLE: Bonded
AUTHOR: Ann Wesley Hardin
PUBLISHER: Red Sage Publishing
LENGTH: Short story (roughly 14k)
GENRE: Contemporary erotic romance
COST: $2.99

A fantasy weekend at a luxury hotel doesn’t go quite as planned for ad executive Sela Wilson. First, her “hero” turns out to be a dud, then he shows up in her room, ready to make it up to her. Sela’s willing to give him a second chance, but only because she doesn’t realize he’s Daniel Bond, owner of the hotel…

I knew from the blurb and the brief excerpt that this was going to be light and sexy. What I didn’t expect was for it to be so laugh out loud funny. For the first two-thirds of this short story, I was amused, charmed, and thoroughly engaged with these smart, witty people. Sela is jaded enough to take a wry look at her almost absurd surroundings, and because she sets up that mood from the start, it’s easy to accept the outlandish scenarios that follow. I loved her smart mouth. I loved the chemistry she set up with Daniel. Their banter is hands down the best part of the entire story. The sex was more playful than hot as a result, but I was fine with that. For me, it was enough to be fun. If it exceeded that, all the better.

I only wish the story had ended better than it did. As soon as Sela leaves the hotel, still not knowing for sure who it is she slept with all weekend, the story’s charm vanishes, like the fantasy of the weekend is now gone. Sela in the workplace wasn’t nearly as interesting as Sela on a weekend getaway, and the late attempt to try and reach an HEA crumbles under its own weight. As a romance, I would rate this much lower, but thankfully, the vast bulk of the story is spend on those inventive two days, with Sela and Daniel forgetting about real world contrivances and simply letting loose. It’s a lesson for all of us, which seems a little odd to find in a short erotic romp. But it’s there. And even in spite of the ending, I don’t regret a second of it.

Readability

9/10 – Brisk and funny

Hero

7/10 – Charming and funny, much more believable during the weekend than the aftermath

Heroine

8/10 – Smart, quick and caustic

Entertainment value

8/10 – Within the context of the weekend, wonderful fun.

World building

7/10 – I’m not so sure about the business world the characters reside in, in real life, but then that’s not the focus of the story

TOTAL:

39/50

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Gospel of Love: According to Luke by Jackie Barbosa

TITLE: The Gospel of Love: According to Luke
AUTHOR: Jackie Barbosa
PUBLISHER: Cobblestone Press
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 22k)
GENRE: Contemporary erotic romance
COST: $4.99

When Luke’s latest girlfriend calls it quits, he’s left stewing with his brothers and favorite gal pal on their weekly get-together at the pub. While the men are left debating what a woman wants, Lisa makes it plain and clear that Luke’s problem is he’s only looking for women he won’t marry. Her suggestion? For Luke to try her out for a change. Not for anything serious, but she’s wanted him for too long not to take advantage of his freedom now. And Luke is just happy enough to take her up on the offer of a no-strings relationship. At least, he is for now…

Told in 1st person from Luke’s perspective, the first of what will likely be a series about all the Finley men is an odd mix of casual eroticism with wannabe romance. It opens with a realistic bonding session between Luke and his brothers, with Lisa’s female wisdom offered as counterpoint. Luke feels very three-dimensional in this opening, and if he’s a little shallow regarding his relationships, at least he recognizes it. In fact, he seems – on the surface – like a lot of men, so believing him is relatively easy. When Lisa throws herself at him, he reacts like a guy, and I was actually quite taken with the casualness and fun these two have this single night they hook up.

Then comes the morning after. And my problems with the story begin.

Before agreeing to no-strings sex, Luke and Lisa make it very clear that neither is looking for anything more. Luke has vowed never to get married, and Lisa seems content with a one-night stand. Nothing wrong there. Two adults, mutual desire, matching needs. Except the next morning, Lisa does the expected and walks away clean, telling Luke it’ll never happen again because she doesn’t want to be his rebound affair. If it does happen, it won’t be until months later if, and only if, he decides he wants more than a fling. I can’t say I’m terribly thrilled with what she says – after being introduced and thinking of her as a very honest person, this seems more than a little sneaky to me – but I understand it. What I don’t understand is why Luke seems to do a 180. He’s not content to let things lie. He starts pursuing Lisa like there’s no tomorrow. Yes, the sex was hot, but he seems to have changed his mind about her completely, even if he’s not willing to contemplate marrying her. It’s this chasm that I can’t completely leap. I really like Luke and Lisa when they’re casual, but one night of great sex doesn’t seem like nearly enough to change his perspective on her so quickly. It’s sentiments like this – I came in dizzying waves, pummeling the entrance to her womb, desperate to leave a piece of myself within her forever. – a thought which comes at the end of their first real date, that disconnect me from the reality even more.

I also have a personal peccadillo with some of the erotic scenes. While they are for the most part hot and fun, the author has a tendency to toss in a clinical term among her slang that pulls me out of the rhythm. “Sphincter” will never be sexy to me, as in I withdrew my fingers in a rush and lubed up my dick, which was by now in agony from anticipation. I lined up with the rapidly shrinking hole and pushed. The sphincter resisted for just a second, then relaxed, and just like that, I was in up to the ring of the glans. I find the juxtaposition of terminology jarring. I can read and enjoy scenes written either way (unless the word sphincter is used), but not combined unfortunately. (The exception to that is “clit,” because, well, alternatives like “nub” just make me laugh.) But like I said, this is a personal thing. I know a lot of readers don’t have issue with the combining. It was just one more thing to lessen my overall satisfaction with the story.

When all is said and done, I’m not sure how to characterize this story. As a fun, bantery, casual affair, it’s airy and enjoyable. As a romance, it stretches the realm of credibility that the real world feel of the banter demands. Neither is enough to carry the story through to a satisfactory conclusion, and I end up wishing they hadn’t tried to make things so serious so soon. More banter and less forced romance, please. That’s where these two excel.

Readability

7/10 – Quick and easy, though the mix of clinical with slang words in erotic scenes always throws me off

Hero

5/10 – Believable in the general sense, not so believable in the sudden change of attitude toward Lisa

Heroine

6/10 – Likable and strong-willed

Entertainment value

5/10 – Without believing in the romantic leap, I end up wishing this was more an erotic romp than a romance

World building

6/10 – Sketchy at best, more time is spent on banter than setting much of a scene

TOTAL:

29/50

Friday, November 28, 2008

Lavender Skies by Stephen Kelley Roos

TITLE: Lavender Skies
AUTHOR: Stephen Kelley Roos
PUBLISHER: Literary Road
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 65k)
GENRE: Gay contemporary humor
COST: $5.50

Trey Olson arrives on his Uncle Mars’ doorstep expecting to be able to sponge off his relative’s supposed wealth from his acting career, to discover the man’s so-called gated community, Lavender Skies, is actually a trailer park where for the most part the elderly eccentric come to live out their last years. Each trailer is named after a Hollywood classic, but the residents prove to be even more colorful than their homes. There’s orgies, love affairs, secret love children, real estate scams, and, oh yeah, an ex-Mafia guy with a thirty-five year standing appointment with his boyfriend. Trey’s not sure what exactly he’s walked into…

Tell me how I’m supposed to resist looking at a blurb that describes the story as a fun read in the tradition of E.F. Benson and Armistead Maupin (…or if you’re not the literary type, it’s like “The Golden Girls” and “The Nanny” were gay guys). The excerpt, which is the opening scene of the book, has an 87 year-old ex-showgirl with orange hair, cowboy boots, and a physical description that paints her this side of grotesque, walking through Palm Springs in August with a shopping cart and her 65 year-old Eurasian son, Vivian. It’s vulgar, and over the top, and completely not PC, and I just had to see more. So I bought it. Does it live up to its initial promise? Yes and no.

I haven’t seen this many colorful characters all grouped together – and mostly completely distinct – in an e-book in a long time. There’s Frannie and Vivian from the opening, who share a trailer called Beach Blanket Bingo with Saul, a retired professor from Boston who’s obsessed with the retired Marine next door who insists on walking around nearly naked and goes by The Commander, and Wayne Fontaine from Boar’s Head, Wisconsin, who leads HIV support groups and works part-time as a realtor. Then there’s Connie and Butch, the resident lesbian couple, LaSalle LeSueur, the resident orgy organizer and so-called distant cousin to Joan Crawford, and Federico, the ex-opera singer who’s been having an affair with Ginger Biscotti the Mafia hitman for thirty-five years. Do you see what I mean about colorful? What’s even nicer is that most of these characters stand out. It takes a little while to get the more normal names straight – these are just the extra memorable ones – but once I did, I believed each and every one.

Don’t expect anything remotely PC about this. Part of this story’s appeal is its sheer vulgarity. It has no qualms about going over the top and then trying to find someplace else to climb even higher. The plots are all straight out of soap operas, which means things happen out of the blue, coincidences occur just to keep things going, and being a secret love child means misunderstandings galore.

It’s not always an easy read. Editorially, it’s a bit of a mess, with tense changes the biggest offender of the bunch. There’s a lot of jump cutting between scenes, which is inevitable when there is this much stuff going on. If you don’t pay attention, you’ll get lost. The author seems a little too obsessed with describing – in painstaking detail – décor and locations, which drags down the otherwise manic prose. If you’re not familiar with movie history, a lot of the references might be lost on you. That’s half of what these characters live for. It’s fun to read if you’re into that thing – which I am – but a warning for those who aren’t.

Is it high art? Absolutely not. Does it entertain? Well, I most definitely was. I’m not sure it’s as slap your knee funny as the blurb maintains, but I’ve spent a lot of money on stories I didn’t enjoy nearly as much as this one.

Readability

6/10 – Editorial issues, a fascination with décor, and a cast of dozens hold back the manic prose

Characterization

8/10 – Over the top personalities might border on stereotypical, but they almost all stand out, even when they’re lost in a crowd.

Plot

5/10 – The actual plot meanders all over the place, jump-cutting from characters to characters, which makes it difficult in the beginning to keep everything straight.

Entertainment value

7/10 – In spite of its excessiveness and vulgarity – or maybe because of it – I laughed out loud quite a bit.

World building

8/10 – It’s garish and too much, but you know, I saw it playing out anyway.

TOTAL:

34/50

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Reason to Believe by Leslie Ann Dennis

TITLE: Reason to Believe
AUTHOR: Leslie Ann Dennis
PUBLISHER: Wild Rose Press
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 53k)
GENRE: Contemporary romance
COST: $6.00

If there’s one word Lane Douglas hates, it’s “tradition.” But even though she thinks it’s crazy, when her ailing grandfather begs her to go to Scotland to save the tree he is convinced is tied to his life, she complies. The man responsible for the tree’s care, however, is nothing like she expected. He might be young and gorgeous, but Conlan MacGregor is as steeped in tradition as her grandfather. They shouldn’t have anything in common…except for the physical attraction neither one of them can deny.

I have to admit, this review is hard for me. It’s not because I’m afraid of what I’m about to say. It’s because I’m not exactly sure how to articulate why it is this book didn’t work for me.

The elements were there. Scottish hero. A smart heroine. A slightly quirky premise. But by the end of the second chapter, I was already trudging along, struggling to stay engaged with the story. There weren’t glaring editorial problems, or at least, nothing I can remember. There wasn’t dialogue that grated, except for maybe the fact that Conlan turned everything into a “Well, do you know what that means?” kind of discussion. Lane didn’t annoy me, because her reactions in the beginning seem reasonable, if more than a little predictable.

So how do I pinpoint where the story went wrong for me? I think part of it lands with my inability to accept Conlan as the hero. I never believed him. It started when he was practically introduced. He asked Lane for a wrench because he was working on a leaky pipe. Brits don’t use the word “wrench” in that context. They call them spanners. At that point, I went and checked the author’s bio, because if the author was British, then I was going to have to admit that maybe somewhere in rural Scotland, they used American terminology. But no, she’s not, so my suspension of disbelief lost its footing. Conlan’s constant commenting on not understanding Lane’s American slang seemed overdone and farfetched as well. He even professed not to understand a reference to Twenty Questions, which actually started out as a British game (albeit in Dickens’ time, it was called something else).

I always got the impression that Conlan was an amalgam of every hero stereotype under the sun. Scottish? Check. Laird of a castle? Check. Drives a Jaguar and is rich enough to own a helicopter? Check and check. Considerate enough not to want to have meaningless sex? The list goes on.

The biggest sign the story didn’t work for me was realizing two hours after finishing it that I couldn’t even remember the heroine’s name. Not a good sign. Sadly, it pretty much describes my whole experience with this particular book. Forgettable.

Readability

7/10 – The constant throwing out of folklore, combined with instances that didn’t feel authentic, made it a less than ideal read.

Hero

4/10 – Felt like every stereotype lumped together into one.

Heroine

5/10 – I never got much of a sense of what attracted Conlan to her except the physical.

Entertainment value

3/10 – Bored mostly. A couple hours after I was done, I remembered very little about the whole thing except…feeling bored.

World building

6/10 – Several of the details of the Scottish world felt off which detracted from the atmosphere

TOTAL:

25/50

Monday, November 24, 2008

Prophesied by Liz Craven

TITLE: Prophesied
AUTHOR: Liz Craven
PUBLISHER: Samhain
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 70k)
GENRE: Sci-fi romance
COST: $5.50

Lia isn’t running from her past; she’s running from her future. After hiding for a decade on a remote mining planet, her true identity has been discovered, and the man she was married to at birth has come to take her home again. Talon Dhakir doesn’t know quite what to make of the fiery woman he finds after so many years of searching, but he does know she has a duty to perform and he is going to do his damnedest to make sure she fulfills her prophesied role. Assuming their roles as husband and wife might prove to be even harder…

I’m not normally a fan of plots that use prophecies or fate as primary devices. 99% of the time, if I see either word in a blurb or excerpt, I immediately click away. My experience has mostly been that these tend to be author shortcuts for actual plot or character development. So when I saw this particular title, I almost immediately closed the window. The captivating cover art got me to read the blurb, which led me to the excerpt, and I decided to take a chance. I’m incredibly glad I did.

A tense and intriguing beginning segues into even tighter sexual tension as Talon and Lia rediscover each other. Talon only ever saw Lia as a child and an obligation, while Lia had a childhood crush on the older man who was the one bright spot of her year. Talon is a gorgeous blend of alpha posturing, with an underlying driving need to make sure the women in his life are happy, but he’s far from perfect. It’s difficult for him to see Lia’s perspective on why she might not be eager to return to the prophecy, and the pair constantly butt heads on the issue. For her part, Lia makes several choices which make sense after the fact, but up to and during had me wondering if she really was an idiot. As the pair gets closer to their home planet, it gets harder to read their obtuseness to each other’s situation, enough to the point where I worried Talon was going to turn into a jerk about the whole matter. Luckily, both he and Lia redeem themselves, and the result is a wonderfully satisfying romance wrapped in political intrigue.

While the author is masterful at creating the rich worlds her characters populate, I have to admit to being mildly let down in one specific regard. Samhain typically has some of the best edited books out there, and while this manuscript is clean of most editorial mistakes, one place where it lapses is homonym misusage. It’s not an occasional thing, which can be overlooked. It’s every instance of certain words. “Principal” always gets mistaken for “principle,” and “gage” gets mistaken for “gauge,” for instance. The first time made me blink and go, “Huh.” The second, third, and fourth times made me realize it was a distinct trend. It’s a little disappointing, actually, because for whatever reason, I expect more from Samhain books. This failed to meet the high standard their editorial staff usually meets.

To be honest, though, a lot of readers might not even notice the mistakes. These are things that I know bug me, but might not be as important to others. When a story is as gripping and romantic as this one is, too, it’s easier to get swept along with it and overlook technical errors. If it weren’t for those damn homonyms, this would be even higher on my keeper list.

Readability

8/10 – Consistent homonym misuse yanks me out of the flow of a story I couldn’t stop reading otherwise

Hero

8/10 – A wonderful mix of alpha posturing with beta tendencies

Heroine

8/10 – Strong, though several actions veer her toward TSTL until we learn the whys of what she’s doing

Entertainment value

9/10 – I got swept up by both the intrigue and the romance in this, making it near un-put-down-able

World building

9/10 – I would have liked just a little bit more explanation on the Damaia, but otherwise the worlds were fresh and crisp

TOTAL:

42/50