Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Missing in Action by Amanda Young

TITLE: Missing in Action
AUTHOR: Amanda Young
PUBLISHER: Samhain Publishing
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 61k)
GENRE: Paranormal erotic romance
COST: $5.50

It’s been six years since the love of Sara McCoy’s life was declared missing in action. Ready to move on, she’s finally accepted the marriage proposal of Tristan’s best friend. She needs to forget the past. She needs a father figure for Tristan’s son. She needs…to stop seeing Tristan everywhere she turns.

Tristan McKade “died” while on duty. He was given a second chance at life with the help of science, and ends up on a special ops team that works to battle supernatural crime. There’s only one catch. Nobody can know he’s alive. That’s not a problem until a serial killer they suspect is a vampire shows up in his hometown. All of a sudden, he’s face to face with Sara again, and like it always does, the truth comes out…

The first of a new series for Amanda Young, Missing in Action has a lot of different elements that usually intrigue me – a touch of paranormal, heavy action, a hero willing to have sex with both men and women. I had high hopes throughout the first chapter. Unfortunately, those didn’t last very long.

Early in the story, we’re introduced to Mark, Sara’s fiancĂ©. Mark is gorgeous, stable, adores Sara, and most importantly, wants to be a father to Sam, hers and Tristan’s son. We already know from Sara’s perspective that she’s settling for Mark, that she loves him but she’s not in love with him, that even sexually she’s not completely satisfied. During one of their first scenes together, Mark brings up how Sam asked if he was going to be his dad after he and Sara got married, and Sara goes ballistic. We already know she’s mourning Tristan, but sweet Jesus, it’s been six years. Next to calm and reasonable Mark who is most definitely not the wrong one here, she looks crazy for going off on him. Sadly, that single scene started a downward spiral for any sympathy I had for her.

I lost any sense at all by the time Sara has finally forgiven Tristan. She spent a good portion of the middle angry with him, hurt when she found out he was having sex with his male partner, Shame. She was friendly with Shame prior to that, yes, but there was a definite animosity about that entire aspect of Shame’s relationship with Tristan. Yet, as soon as Sara and Tristan were okay again, all of a sudden she wants to have a threesome. She wants to watch Tristan and Shame have sex because it’s the most exciting thing she can imagine at the moment. Um…no. I don’t buy it. Maybe if she’d said, “I need to watch you two together to guarantee that it was just to relieve an itch for you like you said it was and not anything else,” I would have bought it. But she didn’t. In fact, to add to that, Tristan and Shame are way more lovey-dovey toward each other in the act than either man has displayed or admitted to previously. It makes that entire section of sex – multiple chapters – tedious instead of hot, because I absolutely can’t buy the character motivations.

Tristan’s character arc makes far more sense than Sara’s, but with Sara putting him up on a pedestal for so long, I found it very difficult to really empathize with him. My dislike for her colored my impression of her opinions, which in turn tainted how well I could fall for Tristan. Without really caring about either of the two leads, it then gets very difficult to care too much about the rest of the story.

For the most part, the prose is very readable, and the flow of action smooth. When it deviates from the plot, however, I had a few problems. There is an odd mix of clinical terminology with harsher slang in the sex scenes. For example, in one scene, “rectum” gets used in the same sentence as “cunt.” For myself, I find it very difficult to get into the flow of a scene when this happens. Clinical terminology sets one kind of mood, while slang elicits a completely different reaction. To combine them mixes signals for me, so by halfway through, I was tempted to just skip over the sex scenes altogether.

In the end, I walk away more annoyed than anything else. Without someone to care about, there was no reason for me to care about the outcome. Honestly, the person I liked the most through the whole story was poor Mark, and he got written out halfway through. I kept waiting for him to come back. Maybe I would have had somebody to root for in the end then.


7/10 – While relatively clean prose, the odd juxtaposition of clinical terminology with slang in the numerous sex scenes was jarring for me.


6/10 – More interesting than his female counterpart with a smoother character arc, but I still found it difficult to care too much about him when I’ve got the specter of hero worship coming from a heroine I can’t stand.


3/10 – Inconsistent and seemingly unnecessarily bitchy, I really didn’t like her.

Entertainment value

5/10 – The prose outside of sex scenes and a plot that mostly kept moving forward was enough to keep me reading, though there were sections that I had to grit my teeth to get through.

World building

7/10 – There are some interesting elements here, but the awkward presentation makes some of them seem convenient rather than realistic.



Monday, January 28, 2008

Gracie and the Bad Hat by Vicki Gaia

TITLE: Gracie and the Bad Hat
AUTHOR: Vicki Gaia
PUBLISHER: Awe-Struck Books
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 67k)
GENRE: Contemporary romance
COST: $4.99

You’re going to notice something different about this review. There’s no breakdown of scores and there’s no summary of the book. I can’t give them. Why? Because I didn’t finish the book.

I tried. I really did. But when the end of the third day came and I had only just finished reading chapter 1, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to be able to finish the book at all. This doesn’t happen to me very often. I have serious problems leaving things incomplete. I’ve never walked out of a movie I hated, and I’ll sit through the most awful tripe on television just because I have to see it through to the end. And books? I’ve been a voracious reader since the age of four. My elementary school librarians doubled my book allowance because two books wouldn’t get me through the second day, let alone a week.

But I couldn’t finish it. The author’s style never engaged me, and I found a lot of her phrasing very awkward. The story starts out with the heroine Gracie waking up naked in the bed of a man she doesn’t remember, but rather than intrigue me, I get lost in trying to figure out period and place. By the time I finally think I’m starting to figure it out, the two leads are gone, and two new people are in their place, with absolutely no hints of what might be tying them to the first couple. The only thing I think they have in common is the second woman waking up in a strange man’s bed. If there was more, I missed it. It’s entirely possible in my attempts to just slog through the prose, I overlooked that particular detail. I wasn’t even interested enough in the characters to find out what the connection was, or where the humor other reviewers found in the story was. Just not for me.

So…if I had a DNF (did not finish) grade, this one would get it. It kills me to buy it and not get all the way through, but three days for 25 pages? There are too many other books out there begging to be read. Life’s too short for me to ignore them.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Boys in the Band: Opening Act by B.A. Tortuga

TITLE: Boys in the Band: Opening Act
AUTHOR: B.A. Tortuga
PUBLISHER: Torquere Press
LENGTH: Short story (roughly 10k)
GENRE: Gay erotic romance
COST: $2.49

As the new lead singer of the band, Caidon only has eyes for the too-energetic Spud, the guitar player who sees to everybody’s needs. All of them. Including hand jobs to relieve the stress. Spud welcomes the attention, but Caidon isn’t so sure about sharing anymore…

There was an urgency in the excerpt I read on this short story that made me stop and think, “Huh. That might be fun.” It was actually Caidon’s perspective, and turns out it was the opening of the story. Not very much, especially considering this is only 10k. That energy multiplied by ten as soon as it switched to Spud’s POV. It’s very easy to get swept along with Spud’s adrenaline, and for once, I’m glad the story is this short. Something tells me I’d be exhausted if I had to read a longer work from this character’s perspective. At the very least, I’d probably have a headache.

Spud is charming enough in his own Eager Beaver way. But the more I read about him, the more I wondered about underlying issues. The band treats him like a pet, using him as their gopher, their sex toy, their comic relief whenever the fancy takes them. They even use his bunk as storage, forcing the guy to crash on whoever will let him. Not healthy, no doubt about it, but Spud never questions it. In fact, he seems grateful for the attention, enough so that I start getting uncomfortable by the end of the story. Caidon mitigates that to a small degree, but not nearly enough. And not nearly enough to give me a sigh of relief when the story is over.

It’s very obvious by the end that this is merely a first chapter in an ongoing saga. At least, it seems obvious to me. I sincerely hope that there’s better resolution to Spud and Caidon’s relationship with additional stories, and that the author isn’t using this as a springboard for exploring the other characters instead. Spud deserves better.


7/10 – The frenetic pacing of Spud’s voice is very addictive, though not so much with Caidon.

Hero #1

5/10 – I don’t know much about him, except he’s a big guy with big appetites.

Hero #2

7/10 – Entertaining, though so needy that I wonder about underlying issues.

Entertainment value

6/10 – Mildly diverting, but not anything I think I’ll follow through with reading subsequent books.

World building

4/10 – Other than knowing these guys are musicians playing in the Midwest, I know nothing, I see nothing…



Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Morning Star by Micqui Miller

TITLE: Morning Star
AUTHOR: Micqui Miller
PUBLISHER: Cerridwen Press
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 126k)
GENRE: Contemporary romantic suspense
COST: $7.99

The last thing widow Liz O’Hara expects to see is the history she’d thought she left behind splashed across the evening news. Newsanchor Josh Wilder knew Liz when she was a frightened, pregnant teenager in the Haight-Ashbury District, and now, the daughter she thought had died at birth needs her. Liz is her only hope for survival, but the national broadcast did more than tell Liz her daughter is still alive. It told the father, too, a violent sociopath who’s been hiding his true identity for thirty years. Now, Liz has a choice to make. Turn her back on the past she’s been trying to avoid, or embrace the future and risk everything.

Though I actually bought this book when it came out in early December, I kept putting it off and putting it off. Then, when I finally started to read it, I nearly gave up after the first few chapters. Not a very auspicious start.

It’s not that it’s a bad book. There were points where I was really sucked into it. What it suffers from is what I think of as the “too much” syndrome. It tries to do a little of everything and in the end, fails to make an impact in any of them. Kind of like the old clichĂ©, “Jack of all trades, master of none.” There are times where it feels like a medical drama, and the reader gets sucked into the story of trying to save Shay’s life. There are other times it feels like a socio-political story, where it delves into the hippy culture of the early seventies, the radicals who protested the war, and what happened to them. There are times it’s a suspense thriller – when Freedom, the father, stalks the family – and a romance – when Josh reconnects with Liz. Each time, there’s a massive information dump, details that detract from the overall effect instead of enhance.

Another victim of the “too much” is Liz, the heroine. At times, she is revered or reviled, but in the end, she is martyred so strongly that I truly didn’t like her. Half her scenes had emotional arcs that were all over the place, too. I think she was meant to be seen as under so much stress that she was swiveling from one feeling to the next in the blink of an eye, but that wasn’t conveyed well enough for me to shake the sense of “Huh?” that accompanied most of her scenes.

Most of the characters suffer from that kind of scattershot characterization. The only one who didn’t, for me, was Josh. I thought the depth of his emotional problems and general flow of his actions/emotions was real enough for me to empathize with. I do have to admit to rolling my eyes when he confessed one of his big secrets to Liz. It was another of those moments where I thought, “Is there an issue the author doesn’t want to drag into this?”

I suppose I could talk about some of the truly stupid things the characters do throughout the course of the book, but in light of how much the whole thing suffers from the “too much” syndrome, I’ll pass on that this time. Suffice it to say, if these people acted with half a brain, the book would have been half as long. I’m not so sure that wouldn’t have been a good thing.


6/10 – Riddled with lazy editing, headhopping, and too much story for its own good, the glimmers of promise it shows manages to drag the reader along to the end.


7/10 – Likable and probably the most realistic character of the bunch


4/10 – The rest of the story might think she walks on water, but I sure as hell didn’t.

Entertainment value

5/10 – Some good ideas and a couple interesting characters don’t manage to salvage this.

World building

7/10 – With as much detail as the author provides, some of it was bound to stick.



Monday, January 21, 2008

One Good Hand by Rowan McBride

TITLE: One Good Hand
AUTHOR: Rowan McBride
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 23k)
GENRE: Paranormal gay erotic romance
COST: $4.99

Poker player Ace Donovan is at the top of the heap when he wins a beautiful, mysterious man in a game. At the man’s request, Ace names him, and from that moment on, Spade becomes everything Ace has ever wanted. He anticipates Ace’s needs, literally changing before his eyes. But when an old rival shows up in town, Ace has to decide which is more important – finally getting that one good hand, or letting go of the past.

There’s always an ounce of trepidation when I read a second book by an author I really like, the question of, “Was it a fluke? Was I right to love that other book so much?” Rowan McBride made a lot of my favorite lists for 2007, including having my favorite hero and erotic romance, so I’ll admit, I was a little nervous about picking up this re-release. It wasn’t part of the other series, and even more frightening, it was a novella. Novellas require different skill sets than novels. How did I know this author had them?

My fears were in vain. One Good Hand is tightly written, with compelling sympathetic characters you root for, and a satisfying – and most importantly, believable – emotional arc.

Presented in 1st person, we experience the story completely from Ace’s perspective. We get his confusion when he first wins Spade, his pain when he visits his uncle suffering from Alzheimer’s, his exaltation when Spade gives him everything he needs. The emotions are blended seamlessly, progressing both logically and smoothly so that you’re always in the moment, just as much as Ace is. The scenes with his uncle, especially, are poignant, revealing just why Ace has grown into the man he is without being heavy-handed about it.

There’s always a risk when half of your romantic couple is supposedly perfect. Spade’s characterization walked a very fine line throughout most of the story, but where I found Kian in Paul’s Dream to be grating, Spade never goes that far. He exhibits flashes of humanism that turn him from the perfect partner for Ace into the right partner. By the time the story draws to a close, I was on both of their sides. I wanted both of them to be happy, and not just because I wanted one who happened to want the other.

There are hints that this might be the first of a series, but as this is a re-release, I don’t know if that was something that never came to fruition or something that got added in the new edits. I’m not sure which I’m leaning toward. How many times can you write about the perfect partner without it turning into the same story over and over again? On the other hand, this is Rowan McBride. An author I trust. I daresay that if this is the start of a new series, I’ll be along for the ride anyway.


9/10 – Clean, light prose that made it easy to completely forget time while I was reading.

Hero #1

8/10 – Well-rounded and flawed without dwelling on the angst

Hero #2

7/10 – Surprisingly believable considering he’s a mirror to another person’s wants/desires

Entertainment value

8/10 – I got hooked into both the romance and the overlying character development, never feeling short-changed because of the length.

World building

8/10 – Solid, but I expect that from this author now.



Friday, January 18, 2008

The Catah Circle by Gabrina Garza

TITLE: The Catah Circle
AUTHOR: Gabrina Garza
PUBLISHER: Amber Quill Press (Amber Heat)
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 36k)
GENRE: Fantasy erotic romance
COST: $6.00

When Brooke slips out of a family wedding with her sister, Lindsay, a walk through the garden turns into a flight that lands her straight into a fantasy world. There, she wakes up next to a man named Canen who claims she is his beloved brought back to him, and now, they can finally be together and rule over Catah as they were meant to. It’s never that simple, though, especially when his uncle, an evil dark elf, wants the power for himself…

I really like this author, but if I was going to introduce somebody to her work, this would not be the story I gave them. This is the fifth of her stories I’ve read, and it is by far the weakest. For me, at least. I had so many problems with it that it was hard to even write the brief blurb I did.

The primary reason the blurb isn’t more detailed is because there is a lot of different relationships and conflicts going on within this story. It jumps between at least three different storylines, all interwoven yet moving forward independently of each other, so that there are at least six principles for the reader to keep track of. Toss into that mix minor characters and a fantasy world with its own unique culture of faeries, elves, dragons, and who knows what else, and the complexity grows even more so. I have nothing against complex, but it has to be done carefully with a very conscious handling of detail. Throughout the entire book, it always felt like I was only given half the story. I never really got a good picture of the way the society worked, how the faeries worked in, if everybody was elves or if there were other creatures as well, and without that, the rest of the story suffers.

The second biggest issue I had with the story is the heroine. Brooke is not the only female character. There’s her sister Lindsay, Canen’s sister Curi, and Canen’s cousin Siqua. Of those four, Brooke is by far the most passive and inconsistent. She doesn’t really do that much. The entire story gets set up because she freaks out about faeries attacking her (she thinks they’re bats even though they talk to her) and she runs until she falls over the edge of a cliff. She wakes up with Canen at her side, and after a really bitchy exchange that makes me understand perfectly well why she’s still single, Canen mostly leads the way from that point on. Normally, it wouldn’t bother me so much, but running alongside Canen and Brooke’s story are two other threads, with women who are far more likable than Brooke ever is. It got to the point where I winced every time it switched back to her. Each and every other woman in the story eclipses Brooke, whether they’re in a scene with her or not. She’s just never as interesting as the dynamic Lindsay, or the frail seer Siqua, or the forceful and beautiful Curi.

I’d like to think that if the author had made this into a novel, it would have worked better. She certainly has the skills, and there’s more than enough bare bones here to support the detail and added length. It would have given her time to develop Brooke more and hopefully given her more of a consistent personality to merit being the star of the story. As it stands, however, it’s just not enough to sustain interest throughout the entire book.


6/10 – Not quite as polished as the author’s other work, it always feels like it’s supposed to be part of a larger story and that much of the explanation is missing.


5/10 – There are some nice moments late in the story, but up until then, his naivete grates.


2/10 – Far, far too passive, and gets outshone by every other female character in the story.

Entertainment value

4/10 – Between the feeling that it was only half the story and my dislike for the heroine, I just wanted to get it over.

World building

5/10 – There are details there, but with so many different things going on, it’s impossible to get a full picture or understand how it all gels together.



Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Hell You Say by Josh Lanyon

TITLE: The Hell You Say
AUTHOR: Josh Lanyon
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 79k)
GENRE: Gay mystery
COST: $7.99

Adrien English is back, and he’s having problems with yet another shop employee. When his bookstore assistant believes his life is in danger from the coven he’s joined, Adrien gives him a little bit of money to disappear – much to the chagrin of his sometime boyfriend, Detective Jake Riordan. Jake wants to question Angus about other ritual murders that are popping up around town, but when Adrien starts digging deeper, he learns that there might be even more to the big picture. A missing popular author, demon sigils painted on his doorstep, his mother’s upcoming wedding…life is always interesting for Adrien, if not exactly fun.

Before I say anything else, I need to make one thing clear. This is not a romance. Don’t be fooled by the fact that it’s sold in e-format by Loose Id. Like the previous books, Adrien’s relationship with Jake is in the background, and there are a couple scenes of intimacy, but this is not the driving thrust of the story. On top of this, it deviates from standard romance conventions, so don’t go into the story expecting them. That doesn’t detract from the story itself, as long as the reader is aware that he might not be satisfied if all he wants is romance.

There. The warning is out of the way.

Have I made it clear yet how much I adore Josh Lanyon? I haven’t, you say? Then let me rectify that here and now. Aside from sharp prose – often funny, always hitting close to the emotional bone – he’s created a character I adore and want desperately to follow into the next book, and the next, and the next one after that. Adrien is smart, but not too smart, with a penchant to get himself into trouble – like any amateur sleuth – but I never feel like it’s over the top or unreal. I love how nothing comes overly easy to him. Not the mystery – because he has plenty of false leads in this one – and not his romantic life. More than once in this, I gasped out loud, smarting with Adrien as something else shocked his poor, unsuspecting heart.

One of those shocks is Jake. While my feelings about Jake have been ambivalent in the past, they’re not anymore. I don’t really like him all that much, and frankly, Adrien can do so much better. Jake’s behavior can be so damn condescending – like the ruffling of Adrien’s hair like Adrien is some kind of pet – that by chapter five, I wanted to slam Jake’s closet door and lock him inside. He’s clearly happier there. He hates the fact that he has soft feelings for Adrien. Nobody should have to put up with that in their lives, and Adrien has a higher self-worth – I hope – to know he deserves better than that.

The characters that populate a Lanyon book are always colorful, and this one is no exception. I particularly loved the Dauten family. Lisa, Adrien’s mother, is finally remarrying, and the colorful family she’s marrying into had me grinning throughout most of their scenes as Adrien struggled not to get swamped by all their perkiness. The fact that poor Adrien connected most to the twelve-year-old Emma was simply perfect.

If I have any criticisms about the story is that the author takes a great deal of time and care building his mystery, and then it’s over. The last chapter or two seem a bit anticlimactic as everything gets wrapped up just a little too quickly without enough explanations as to motive and means. There’s some there, but it’s not nearly as rich as the rest of the novel, which was a tad disappointing. But ultimately, this is a very minor complaint. I’m impatiently waiting now for the next Lanyon book to come out, whether it’s the 4th Adrien English book I tortured myself over in reading the excerpt on his website, or something brand new. I’ll be there, with money in hand.

He had me at “Chapter One.”


9/10 – The same sharp writing I’ve come to expect from this author.


9/10 – I ache for Adrien, especially when he gets put the wringer like he does in this particular story.


8/10 – The resolution seemed a bit rushed to me, and I was hoping for some better explanations of the machinations of the evildoer, but otherwise it was well-thought out and expertly executed.

Entertainment value

9/10 – I mentioned the aching already, didn’t I?

World building

9/10 – Creepy and oppressive, just like I’m sure he meant it to be.



Monday, January 14, 2008

Christmas for Gary by Vic Winter

TITLE: Christmas for Gary
AUTHOR: Vic Winter
PUBLISHER: Torquere Press
LENGTH: Short story (roughly 10k)
GENRE: Contemporary gay erotic romance
COST: $2.49

Gary is stuck staying with his grandmother over Christmas, but she and her friends are far more outspoken than he ever expected. When they capture the attention of a hot guy he spies on one of their coffee breaks, he is mortified when they announce Gary thinks he’s attractive. He’s even more shocked when this gorgeous specimen actually returns the compliment. An invitation for a free training session turns into lunch, then turns into something more. Did Gary just get the Christmas gift of a lifetime?

Another of the more palatable Christmas stories I bought this year. Another short story. I wonder if authors think that the Christmas season can’t really handle a long story.

Either way around it, this was a very simple story. Geeky Boy gets stuck with Outrageous Grandma. Outrageous Grandma hooks up with Geeky Boy with Hot Boy. Two Boys go out, have sex, fall in love. End of story. Any conflict there is in the story is swept under the feelgood rug early on, so all the reader has to do is sit back and enjoy the gentle ride of these two hooking up. It’s like comfort food when you’re sick. There’s nothing challenging or different about it, but it feels good for those weak moments.

I did get a kick out of Gary’s grandmother and all her friends. They were far more memorable than either of the two men. Troy, the perfect boyfriend – and the fact that I can never keep his name straight should be telling; I keep wanting to call him Todd and then have to go back and check the story to find out I’m wrong – is just a little too good to be true, and Gary’s only interesting when he’s with the old ladies.

Still, it was sweet for what it was. And now my Christmas story reviews for this year are over.


8/10 – Simple and unassuming.

Hero #1

6/10 – Likable and unassuming, kind of like the rest of the story.

Hero #2

5/10 – Likable, but borders on too good to be true.

Entertainment value

6/10 – A sweet nibble, but not something I’m going to remember for long.

World building

7/10 – Not bad for a short story, though I got more of a feel for the older women’s world than the two heroes



Friday, January 11, 2008

The Watchers: Dark Awakening by Charlotte Featherstone

TITLE: The Watchers: Dark Awakening
AUTHOR: Charlotte Featherstone
PUBLISHER: Total-e-bound
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 16k)
GENRE: Paranormal erotic romance
COST: ₤2.49

Nadira has believed in angels her entire life. But when one shows its face to her the night she is supposed to meet with a dying friend, she doesn’t know what to believe anymore. His prophecy that she will give herself to another angel seems farfetched, until another literally stumbles across her path a few minutes later. She doesn’t realize he’s Gadriel, one of the Fallen and hater of humankind. But can he continue to hate them with Nadira now in his proximity?

Have you seen the cover for this book? It’s actually not the only story that has this cover, as Total-e-bound released three Fallen Angel books in December, but it’s beautiful, nonetheless. I wish I could say the same for the story.

I had the feeling something would be wrong about halfway through the story. In the first half, we’re introduced to Gadriel who has followed one of his enemies to the home of a woman who is dying. He’s going to kill her, since she’s obviously important to the other side (though he doesn’t know why). We meet Sammael and Sariel, two other angels, though their roles in the grand picture aren’t quite as clear. And we meet Nadira, the nurse friend of the woman who is dying. There is a lot of conflict set up in the first half of this story. Gadriel hates humans. Hates them. He was cast out of Heaven for not bowing to them when He made them equals to angels. Gadriel is bound and determined to do whatever it takes to enact vengeance on his fellow angels who stayed behind, even if it means killing off innocent humans. He doesn’t even meet Nadira until halfway through the story. Are you beginning to see the problem here?

Sammael tries to convince Gadriel that he could love humans if he gave them a chance, but Gadriel laughs him off. At that point, I utterly believe in his bitterness. The author has started to create a really interesting world, and convinced me in Gadriel’s characterization. But guess what? Then he meets Nadira, and – surprise, surprise – he’s instantly enamored. There’s some kind of prophecy involved that’s never really explained that justifies it, but nine times out of ten, “prophecy” serves the same function as “mate” in werewolf stories. It’s shorthand for realistic romantic development. I’m supposed to suspend everything I’ve believed up to that point because a prophecy tells me to. Um, no.

The entire second half of the story is devoted to how much Gadriel wants and desires Nadira then. It’s schizophrenic, at best. There is no logical bridge between the tense, angry first half and the sappy, erotic latter half. Worse, the prose drops to cringeworthy levels. The author headhops throughout the entire smut scene – when she didn’t before – and starts taking action and characterization to extremes. Gadriel is by far the worst hit with this, turning into some over the top ideal of what might be considered the perfect lover. Though he apparently had never even been aware of his cock before, he grows to “massive proportions,” then goes down on Nadira and gives her an orgasm before he even considers penetration. And he’s good at it. And he reads her thoughts so he knows exactly what to do to please her best. And did I mention he purrs? Then, we get this: A fresh flood of arousal seeped from her body, and he watched it trickle out, then swiped at it with his tongue. “Mine,” he murmured over and over again until it became a chant. By this point, I can’t stop rolling my eyes. When he comes on her stomach – because apparently she has a secret thought that she wants to be marked as his, “like an animal.” – he’s still hard enough to get to the actual penetration.

God, he was beautiful. The way he was so big, he loomed behind her. And his cock. It was huge. Beautiful. He held his cock, straight up in his hand, showing her what was going to be inside her. She studied it, the size of it, and felt her pussy weep.

At this point, all I can think, “Is it crying because it’s afraid?” I was. All those massive proportions. It was only made worse when he asks her permission later to fill her even deeper. I guess he wasn’t giving it all to her before, which is more than a little scary.

What bugs me about this story is that it could have been so much more. The first half had a huge amount of promise. There was tension, there was conflict, there were interesting characters. All of that was sacrificed for length and to get to the smut. If the author had chosen to make this a full-length novel, the extremes of the sex scene might have been more palatable. As it stands, it just isn’t.


6/10 – The first half redeems the second half.


4/10 – Even for the guy being an angel, once the story hits the romance part, I have a hard time seeing him as anything but silly.


5/10 – Mildly better than the hero, but when so much of the second half of the story is over the top, it’s hard to invest in her.

Entertainment value

4/10 – What started out promising degenerated into so much stuff that drives me insane that I really can’t recommend it.

World building

6/10 – Just like everything else, it starts out promising. Too bad the author never takes advantage of it.



Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Snow Angel by Diana Bold

TITLE: Snow Angel
AUTHOR: Diana Bold
PUBLISHER: Cobblestone Press
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 18k)
GENRE: Historical erotic romance
COST: $3.99

Widow Bethany Sinclair is on her way to her sister’s home in Texas for Christmas when a blizzard forces her stagecoach off the road. Only she and Zach Price, an escaped convict being returned to jail, survive. Zach doesn’t have it in him to allow the lovely Bethany to freeze to death in the storm, and together, they find shelter in a nearby cave. Circumstances force them to rely upon each other, but loneliness pushes them into each other’s arms. With the law after Zach, do they have any kind of future once the storm allows them to return to the real world?

Buying Christmas stories are a double-edged sword. They’re invariably saccharine sweet and hopeful, in keeping with the season. It’s very easy for writers to go too far, so unless you have a thing for cavity-inducing stories, you get burned more often than not. You also can’t buy too many or risk overdosing. There’s nothing like reading too many Christmas stories to make a girl yearn for a good old-fashioned slasher story where the hero is a drunk and the heroine a whore. I don’t suppose anybody wrote one of those this year, did they?

One of the few that I read that were more than palatable was Snow Angel by Diana Bold. It’s a simple story – always best when it comes to Christmas fare – about a lonely widow and a lonely, misunderstood convict and the snowstorm that strands them together. Zach is a widower, as well, and the reason he’s been jailed for murder the last five years was because he dared to exact vengeance on the men who killed and raped his wife, and slaughtered his son. He doesn’t regret it, and he’d do it all over again, two facts he’s convinced should show Bethany she is better off without him.

Bethany has had her own share of tragedy. Married for seven years to a man who was ill for six of them and making her miserable as she nursed him, she’s a sweet, lonely woman who is just seeking a bit of company when she turns to Zach. There’s not a lot of depth to her, though she shows spurts of intelligence and a smart plan to help Zach escape the law’s clutches for good. Because of the latter, it’s easy to like her, just like it’s easy to like Zach, because really, how can you dislike a man who will go to such lengths to avenge his wife’s murder?

In the end, there’s nothing too inoffensive about this story to complain about. It’s sweet and simple, and though I don’t think I’ll remember much about it in a few months’ time – let alone next Christmas – it made for a short, pleasant read.


8/10 – Easy, simple, and flows well.


7/10 – Borders on stereotypical, but pleasant nonetheless


7/10 – Sweet and a little earnest, but believable

Entertainment value

7/10 – One of the nicer Christmas nibbles I’ve had.

World building

7/10 – Enough detail to make it easy to buy into the history without being overwhelming



Monday, January 7, 2008

Adrien English Mysteries by Josh Lanyon

TITLE: Adrien English Mysteries
AUTHOR: Josh Lanyon
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 109k)
GENRE: Gay mystery
COST: $6.99

A compilation of two shorter works, “Fatal Shadows,” and “A Dangerous Thing.” In “Fatal Shadows,” bookseller Adrien English finds himself embroiled in a murder investigation when his longtime friend and part-time employee is brutally stabbed. The police suspect him – a crime of passion, they say, since both men were gay. But then other bodies start showing up, someone is stalking Adrien, and Detective Riordan keeps popping up unexpectedly. Adrien’s got his hands full. Let’s hope his heart holds up.

“A Dangerous Thing” picks up two months later. Adrien and in-the-closet Jake have a relationship. Kind of. He’s also got writer’s block. Wanting to escape from situations he doesn’t understand, Adrien goes up to the ranch he inherited from his grandmother and finds it with a dope-dealing caretaker, an unauthorized archaeological dig, and Native American mythology about werewolves haunting the caves. He’s shocked when Jake comes up as well, but maybe some time together is what they need to figure out this thing between them. If somebody doesn’t kill one or the both of them first.

I actually had the third book of this series marked down to read after I read the author’s noir story, Snowball in Hell. Then, Jorrie Spencer/Joely Skye suggested I read them in order, so off I went to buy this compilation. And boy, am I glad I did.

All that promise I saw in the noir story paid off. The sharp, spare writing is still there, but now it’s modernized, with cutting humor, careful characterizations, and close plotting there for the picking. Next to romance, mystery is my second favorite genre. I do love the thrill of the hunt, the search for clues, the action when the hero or heroine starts to put it all together. Lanyon pays it off here in spades, and he does it in a fresh enough voice for me to feel like I’m reading something completely new.

His hero, Adrien English, is a bookseller on hard times. He owns a specialty mystery shop in LA, one he purchased using the bulk of his inheritance. He also has the misfortune of having a bum heart. A lengthy illness in high school weakened it and leaves him prone to attacks when life is anything less than calm. Even worse for Adrien, it looks like that’s going to be the norm from now on. Trouble follows him like horny toms after a cat in heat. Too bad the poor guy isn’t getting any ever since his last boyfriend left him, unable to commit.

Detective Jake Riordan is introduced in the first story as one of the cops investigating his friend’s murder, but the reader learns halfway through that this is a man who is shut up airtight inside the closet. He likes women; he just likes men more. He hates to admit it, though, and he hates even more that he’s got a soft spot for Adrien. This thread plays through into the second book, when poor Adrien doesn’t have a clue what kind of relationship they even have, when after two months, they’ve only had one really awkward kiss and lots of private, one-sided conversations. With the books in 1st person, Adrien’s POV, it’s hard to get a bead on Jake. Even at the end, I’m unsure how I feel about him. His uncertainty about his sexuality screams off the page, which makes me as uncomfortable as it makes Adrien.

However, these aren’t romances. These are mysteries. I can forgive my somewhat ambivalent feelings about Jake. In the end, this is about Adrien, how I feel about him, and how well the plot works.

And it does. Both of them do. They move along at a clipped pace, with just enough clues and red herrings thrown in along the way to make the endings both work and make sense. I guessed the killer early on in the first book, but I enjoyed it more than the second. That was based purely on my preference for the characters in the first story.

But Adrien is the glue that holds the stories together. How can I not love a guy who makes me smile with such observations as, “Hey, if God had intended me to cook he wouldn’t have created Trader Joe’s.”?


9/10 – Sharp, simple writing that reads like a smooth, aged whiskey.


8/10 – Flawed but fabulous. My only complaint is that the 1st person POV sometimes means the angst gets a little heavy for the stories.


8/10 – Clever and interesting, though I did manage to figure out the first one far in advance.

Entertainment value

9/10 – Sucks you in and never lets a go. I have a new author on my autobuy list.

World building

9/10 – English’s LA has a noir feeling that just adds to the whole sleuth atmosphere.



Friday, January 4, 2008

Chasing Phoenix by Christine d'Abo

TITLE: Chasing Phoenix
AUTHOR: Christine d’Abo
PUBLISHER: Ellora’s Cave
LENGTH: Short story (roughly 14k)
GENRE: Contemporary erotic romance
COST: $2.99

Michael Quinn attends a sensual storyteller’s show, determined to find out if the mysterious Lady Phoenix is one of his co-workers. He doesn’t expect to respond so strongly to it, and returns to the office on Monday, dead-set on discovering her identity. Abbey has been in love and lust with Michael for most of their friendship, but when he unexpectedly turns up at her show, she decides to act out a little on her desire. Can it move beyond the make-believe into something real?

I don’t have a lot of faith that short stories professing to be erotic romance will do more than deliver on the hotness, so when I bought this particular story, I knew I was doing it purely for the smut. It has one of those blurbs that’s more a premise for eroticism than a real plot or romantic growth, and normally, I would have probably passed. But then I read the excerpt. It’s the opening of the story, and Michael is being blindfolded in a dark space in order to experience the sensual storytelling of Lady Phoenix. It doesn’t go far – only as far as her first line of dialogue – but what was there was a hot build-up with tight potential for the rest of the story.

That smut scene – and a later one where Michael jerked off in a unisex bathroom stall with Lady Phoenix masturbating on the other side of the door – followed through on that potential.

They were hot, kinkily so. Anyone with a voice fetish, or a blindfold kink, or the mysterious stranger adoration, would love them, I think. I actually fall into all three categories, which might be why these scenes worked so extremely well for me. The author kept the focus on the visceral, without extraneous clunky verbiage to distract from the intent of the scenes.

That doesn’t mean it’s a perfect story. It has the usual EC baggage when it comes to editing – wrong words, the occasional slip in tense – though this one isn’t nearly as bad as I’ve seen in other stories. It also never really gelled for me as a romance. Abbey has been in love with Michael for years, but we never really get a sense of personality for him to understand why. Then, out of the blue, Michael decides he’s attracted to Abbey, after he’s been searching for Lady Phoenix’s identity. I suppose the author might have meant it to mean that he was recognizing her within his friend, but I didn’t buy it. It just felt like a convenient device – and an unbelievable one, at that – to make sure she got her HEA.

Still, if this kind of kink hits your buttons, you could do a lot worse than buying this story. In spite of my reservations about the rest of it, I’ll probably re-read it again. It’s one of the few stories I’ve read that really hit the hot factor in regards to that particular kink.


7/10 – Editing issues as characterizes most EC books, but the first two smut scenes totally did it for me not to care too much about the errors.


6/10 – I didn’t believe his turnaround, or really get that much of a sense of personality in the real world, but there wasn’t anything too annoying about him, either.


6/10 – Not enough space in the story to understand the different sides of her personality and make them cohesive.

Entertainment value

7/10 – The first two smut scenes work so well for me that this is higher than the editing and sense of the story probably deserve.

World building

7/10 – I never get a real sense of the contrast of her two worlds, exacerbated by the brevity of the story.



Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Heart of the Winter Wolf by Dani Harper

TITLE: Heart of the Winter Wolf
AUTHOR: Dani Harper
PUBLISHER: New Concepts Publishing
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 111k)
GENRE: Werewolf romance
COST: $6.49

Veterinarian Jillian Descharme has dreamed of a white wolf nearly all her adult life. When the opportunity to take a job that seems too good to be true arises, she takes it and moves across Canada, hoping that she’ll eventually get the opportunity to study wolves in the wild. She is surprised to soon discover that the wolf of her dreams has followed her – literally. An encounter on a hike has her grateful for his continued presence, but along with it comes an encounter with the reserved James Macleod, the long-lost brother of her boss. What she doesn’t realize is that the wolf and James are one and the same, or that her life is about to change forever.

I think the key word for this review is “otherwise.” In thinking over the various elements, I find myself facing flaws in most of them, flaws that I’d consider serious in other stories, but then almost immediately qualify it with an, “…otherwise…”

The prose, for instance. Harper’s writing is dense with detail, and her pacing is slow and even. It draws you in for a languorous comfort read, but then, out of the blue about halfway through the book, there’s a section of headhopping and just such poorly edited prose that it jars you out of the story. But it doesn’t last long, thankfully, and then you’re drawn back into the story, falling in love with the characters when…it happens again. There are a few instances of this scattered throughout the latter half of the book, and the quality of those chapters is so distinctly lower than the rest of the story that you can’t help but notice. Otherwise, it’s rich and vivid, a serious, thorough approach to a tale that demands such attention.

Then there’s the hero. James has suffered tragedy. His wife and unborn child were murdered for being married to him, and he was too late to save them. Injured himself, he retreated into his wolf persona for decades, only coming out when Jillian enters the picture. Now, the author takes her time drawing all this out, giving his tragedy the time it needs in order to heal. James is understandably withdrawn and reluctant to enter another relationship, but I’ll be honest. The constant flipflopping – I can’t be with her followed by a wonderful moment of some sort followed again by James withdrawing – gets tedious after awhile. I’m not saying it’s not warranted. But when the middle section is all about character/relationship building and not action, it gets to be too much for me. Otherwise, James is solid and attractive, worthy of any romantic hero mantle.

Now Jillian is my favorite part of the story. This is a woman who’s had her own share of tragedy, but rather than wallow and retreat as James did, she took the comfort she received from her white wolf and used it to forge a better future for herself. She doesn’t falter in the face of difficulty. If anything, it makes her stronger. She’s independent, almost too independent sometimes, but not without her feminine side. There’s a lot to really like about Jillian, and like her I did.

In spite of the obvious flaws, I was fully prepared to absolutely love the story until the ending let me down. Oh, don’t get me wrong. It’s romantic, and an HEA, and anybody wanting closure is absolutely going to get it. What didn’t work for me was just how perfect it was. Because ultimately, what I was getting throughout the story was that the world wasn’t perfect. That bad things happen. That it’s okay for things not to be perfect as long as you stick together and work through it and hang in there for the other side. I loved that realism – even if it was an unreal world of werewolves. I guess I’m disappointed slightly because the ending – to me – didn’t stay true to the tone of the rest of the book. It was too much goodness, if that makes sense.

Otherwise, it was a very satisfying read. Thank you, Teddypig, for the recommendation!


7/10 – A few sections in serious need of editing and a midsection that drags hinder otherwise very readable prose


8/10 – Maybe he angsts just a little bit too much, but in light of what he endures, it’s understandable. Otherwise, he’s solid and attractive


9/10 – Strong and intelligent, without forgetting she has flaws.

Entertainment value

8/10 – An ending a little too sweet for the tone of the rest of the story mars what was otherwise a really enjoyable read.

World building

10/10 – The detail in this is thorough and nicely painted, without leaving questions unanswered in the end.