Monday, March 31, 2008

Aquamarine by Sara Bell

TITLE: Aquamarine
AUTHOR: Sara Bell
PUBLISHER: Torquere Press
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 18k)
GENRE: Gay contemporary erotic romance
COST: $2.49

College football player Derek Hoffman is torn between his relationship with his boyfriend Paul, and those with his family and friends. Nobody likes Paul, especially Derek’s very straight best friend Ford. When a serious injury forever alters his course, Derek has to choose once and for all where his future lies.

In order for me to invest in a romance, I need to like or at least sympathize with one of the pair. It doesn’t make a difference if it’s het or gay, but that’s one of the criteria that’s almost a given when I read romance. There are exceptions to the rule, but those are few and far between. When an entire story is told from a single POV – whether it’s first or third – I absolutely have to be able to connect in some level with that person.

In this particular story, everything is told from Derek’s POV. The problem is, Derek’s an idiot, and that’s obvious almost from the get-go. His boyfriend Paul is a showboating actor who clearly is using the notoriety Derek has for being both openly gay and a Heisman nominee to advance his own career. Nobody but Derek likes him. His father won’t even call Paul by his first name, and Derek’s best friend Ford – and other half, really – loathes the man. Yet, Derek dismisses everybody’s opinion to stick by Paul. Now, if Paul showed any redeeming characteristics at all, this might not necessarily be a bad thing, but he doesn’t. He’s an asshole, and frankly, Derek is a moron to let it go as far as he has. It’s entirely unbelievable that someone as family-oriented as he is, as trusting of his best friend as he is, would ignore all of their warnings that Paul isn’t good enough for him. It’s because of this blindness that I can’t sympathize with Derek at all. I don’t care that he ultimately gets hurt by some of Paul’s actions, or even that he got hurt playing football. And if I can’t care about that, well, there’s nothing actually left to the story, is there?

In addition to my dislike and disdain for the primary hero, the story is riddled with editorial mistakes that unfortunately typify too many Torquere offerings. Names get confused, and it happens once early enough on – where the author calls the father by the son’s name and vice versa – that I struggled throughout to keep all the characters straight. That makes it all that much harder to engage in an author’s voice that didn’t really end up appealing to me. I found the cliffhangers at the end of the chapter more annoying than anything else – probably because they seemed very much out of place in what seemed like a straightforward melodrama – and the characterizations shallow. Ford’s switch to gay two-thirds of the way through the story seems to come out of the blue, and the explanation that is offered for it the same.

A pedantic read in the end.


6/10 – Editorial mistakes such as name switches and incorrect punctuation don’t help prose that already borders on pedantic.

Hero #1

4/10 – An idiot. His blindness to his boyfriend is never understandable, which means I never had any sympathy for him.

Hero #2

4/10 – Shallow characterization. The segue from thinking he’s straight is handled clumsily.

Entertainment value

3/10 – Without being able to like the hero, it’s hard to invest in the romance or drama.

World building

6/10 – The collegiate world is fleshed out, just not that believable.



Friday, March 28, 2008

The Dark Horse by Josh Lanyon

TITLE: The Dark Horse
AUTHOR: Josh Lanyon
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 36k)
GENRE: Gay suspense erotic romance
COST: $4.99

Actor Sean Fairchild has lived the last year in fear of the stalker casting long shadows in his day-to-day life. Though evidence now points to the stalker being dead, postcards in the dead man’s handwriting still show up at Sean’s door. Does that mean he’s alive? Sean doesn’t know. His lover, Lieutenant Dan Moran, doesn’t think so. Dan’s job for the last month has been to protect Sean, and just because they’re lovers now, he doesn’t intend to stop. His protectiveness annoys Sean’s manager and ex-lover Steve, but Sean isn’t sure what to think. He just wants to get back to his real life. Somebody clearly doesn’t want that to happen…

I was the kid who still had Easter candy when school started. I didn’t want to eat that last bit of my chocolate rabbit because I knew when I did, that was it. No more. I had to wait until the next year to get another one. That’s kind of what happened with this particular story. I’ve had it for a little while, but I set it aside, saving it as long as I could. It’s the last of Josh Lanyon’s backlist that I hadn’t read. Now, I’m all caught up, and I’m all anxious about having to wait for the next one.

Lanyon utilizes a suspense device with finely honed expertise in this – the unreliable narrator. Like his other work, the story is told in 1st person, this time from Sean’s POV. As a narrator, Sean has a lot of things working to destroy his credibility. First of all, he’s an actor. Their primary purpose is to pretend. Secondly, he’s got an emotionally unstable history. He’s been in residential psychiatric care twice – once for nine months – and he’s had serious suicide attempts. Third, he’s spent the last year of his life living in growing fear of this stalker who’s after him. So trusting him to be the voice of reason in this? Extremely, extremely difficult. You're never completely sure if what he's experiencing is genuine, or a product of too much stress, or something else entirely. I felt every nuance of fear, of paranoia, of doubt that Sean did. With the creation of such a character to tumble through the story with, I would be hard-pressed to consider any as effective as Sean.

What this did for the story as a whole was make it utterly effective as suspense. Its length prevents it from introducing too many extraneous characters and still keep the characterizations realistic and cohesive, so the cast from which to pull your suspects for who is actually after Sean – if somebody actually is – is limited. Some readers will likely figure it out before the end. Personally, while I had my suspicions, I was dragged into Sean’s paranoia deeply enough to give the ending a real impact.

As always, Lanyon’s spare and compelling prose makes reading his stories effortless. There’s an added layer in this particular story as he mirrors themes from The Charioteer, the book which Sean adores and covets a lead role for in the movie adaptation, with those of Sean and his circle of friends and acquaintances. It’s done seamlessly, so much so that you don’t even know it until Sean points it out in the end. What he’s also done is make his erotic scenes actually mean something within the context of the story. Every scene is another step in the romance – which actually takes a definite back seat to the suspense aspects – so rather than titillate, they transcend the norm for most in this genre.

Is the story perfect? No, but that stems from Lanyon being a little too good at what he’s done. Sean’s constant paranoia grates slightly by two-thirds of the way through the story, and Dan’s stoicism gets a little frustrating (because Sean is frustrated with it, do you see the vicious cycle here?). That doesn’t stop me from whole-heartedly recommending it, though. You don’t have to be a Lanyon fan to fall for this. You simply have to enjoy quality writing and tight suspense.


9/10 – Deceptively simple, sucking you in without you even realizing it

Hero #1

8/10 – Battered and fragile, with a claustrophobic voice that mirrors his unbalanced state of mind

Hero #2

8/10 – Solid and dependable without seeming boring

Entertainment value

8/10 – A long, downward slope of tension that hooks you along for the breathtaking ride

World building

9/10 – Lanyon is a pro at immersing his readers into realistic, contemporary worlds.



Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Parallel Attraction by Michelle Houston

TITLE: Parallel Attraction
AUTHOR: Michelle Houston
LENGTH: Short story (roughly 12k)
GENRE: Paranormal erotic romance
COST: $3.00

Hostage Anna-Marie Dallas is about to die. The gunmen holding her and a whole host of others have guns and other weapons, and when the police storm them, they don’t hesitate to detonate the bomb they have waiting. Except Anna-Marie doesn’t die. When she wakes up, she discovers she’s been taken from her world and brought into an alternate reality, one where the world’s population has been decimated by a devastating third world war. These people have expanded mental capabilities, and she will be facing the growth of her own psychic powers, as well as struggling with the man whose face she woke up seeing – Dr. Alex Brent…

The premise on this sounded fascinating. I love alternate reality stories, though I most often read them as sci-fi rather than romance. The idea that she’d been thrown into one by the detonation of a bomb was interesting enough for me to dismiss the slightly clunky excerpt I read. The writing in it wasn’t awful; in fact, there were glimmers that it could be evocative. I didn’t even get that annoyed when I hit the first chapter (the excerpt and bomb scene is the prologue) and realized it had been a deliberate action instead of accidental, that the occupants of the alternate reality had specifically pulled her into their world instead of her accidentally tumbling into it.

But it went downhill from there.

The world the author has created is a complex one. Alternate realities usually are, which is part of the fascination. But rather than let the reader and Anna-Marie explore it and learn it on her own, we are subjected to paragraph after paragraph of history lessons, explanations, and string theory. In a story that’s only 12k long, it bogs it down unnecessarily. Nothing remotely active occurs until halfway through the story, by which point, I’ve lost most of my interest.

The characters suffer from this information overload. Alex is relegated to storyteller, and Anna-Marie just kind of takes it. There’s no opportunity to see any real personality until near the end of the story, and again, it’s too little too late. The most attention they get outside of the information dumps is their one sex scene, which happens near the end of the story. The same glimmers of an interesting voice poke through in this particular scene, but then it’s over, and I’m left with the feeling of Is that it?

Apparently, it was.


5/10 – Clunky information dumps and stilted dialogue make me want to skim.


3/10 – Pretty personality-less, mostly because of the aforementioned issues


4/10 – She suffers from a lot of the same issues, and I never get a feel that she’s actually having a rebirth of sorts

Entertainment value

4/10 – Bored mostly, which is a shame because there’s some fascinating ideas buried within the prose

World building

6/10 – Points for having thought through this world extremely well, though points taken away at how clumsily they’re given



Monday, March 24, 2008

All the Trees in Pearl by Emily Ryan-Davis

TITLE: All the Trees in Pearl
AUTHOR: Emily Ryan-Davis
PUBLISHER: Ellora’s Cave
LENGTH: Short story (roughly 14k)
GENRE: Historical erotic romance
COST: $2.99

Widow Margaret Redde has used a mail order bride service in order to find a new husband. In Colorado. But when she arrives in the dusty town of Pearl, she discovers that the man she thought she was supposed to marry never sent her a single letter. Ethan Carver isn’t sure what to do with this beautiful woman from Connecticut, but when it becomes clear that his baby brother has set him up, he decides it’s the perfect way to get the lovely Margaret in his bed…

I first read this author in a Freya’s Bower anthology and thought her story one of the best of the bunch. This looked mildly interesting, so I thought I’d test the waters again. It would be great to actually discover a really good author from an anthology for a change. This wasn’t the story to do it with.

Though the first few paragraphs were quite lovely and descriptive, the smooth prose degenerated quickly to lots of long, awkward sentences, and illogical phrasing that pulled me out of the story. The first sex scene between Margaret and Ethan – where I’m sure the author meant for me to be impressed with Ethan’s attention and thoughtfulness – had me giggling throughout, and it took quite a bit for me to lose that mood. Sentences like, His brain melted and shot out his cock over and over again ’til he was sure she’d sucked him to a dried husk of a man, might have worked if she hadn’t made it so literal, but when this is the pinnacle of the scene, and comes after others quite similar, I couldn’t just skim over it and take it seriously.

What’s so odd is that the last third of the story slips into the realm where I think she meant the story to be from the beginning. There’s a melancholy to the scene between Margaret and Ethan at his brother’s mine that is brimming with genuine emotion and not just painted on lust. It’s here we get our first – and really, only – sincere glimpse into the kind of man Ethan is, and it’s heart-breaking. It’s just a little too late to actually mean anything in the grand scheme of the story.

I’m really on the fence about this author. I think there’s promise there, but it might just be a matter of finding the right publisher or story to make the perfect fit.


7/10 – Once I got past some really clunky writing, the second half read much smoother.


5/10 – Not objectionable, but rather flat.


5/10 – I never really understand her motivation for going or personality changes after arriving.

Entertainment value

5/10 – The illogical and awkward beginning drags down what could have been a delightful romantic story.

World building

6/10 – There’s never much of a sense of place in this.



Friday, March 21, 2008

That Dangerous Age by Veronica Wilde

TITLE: That Dangerous Age
AUTHOR: Veronica Wilde
PUBLISHER: Liquid Silver Books
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 42k)
GENRE: Contemporary erotic romance
COST: $5.75

When her married sister needs her emotional support, Whitney VanHaren spends six weeks with her and her family at Cape Cod, determined to make the last few months before her thirtieth birthday memorable. She doesn’t expect the startling attraction she has for one of the counselors at her niece and nephew’s summer camp, however. But in spite of the fact that he’s younger than she is, she agrees to meet with him, then to go out. The only problem is…he’s even younger than she thinks. Convinced Whitney will never agree to go out with him, Liam Dashwood tells her he’s twenty-five when in actuality, he’s only nineteen. In social circles where her sister’s status is everything, Whitney has no choice but to stop seeing him. There’s no future there, she tells herself. Except what if there is…?

I waffled on buying this particular book. While I like older woman/younger man stories, nineteen seemed just a little bit too young for me to really enjoy. In the end, however, I decided to give it a shot. The excerpt on the website was smooth and engaging (I love that Liquid Silver does whole first chapters; it’s easily the best site out there for giving a reader a real sample of the story), so I thought, What the hell.

I’ve heard good things about this particular author before, though I’ve never actually been enticed enough to try her. That’s likely to change in the future. She has a very easy voice to get sucked into. Her prose is neither complicated nor overtly simple, and I found myself halfway through the story with barely batting an eyelash. She doesn’t cheat on detail; there’s enough there to paint a picture for the reader without getting lost in too much. However, she’s not big on a lot of metaphors or difficult constructions, so in many ways, I became very detached that I was reading at all. Some authors have such distinctive voices that it’s impossible not to see the artistry, but here, it was so easy and yet evocative that I felt more like I was experiencing the story rather than reading it.

Part of that is helped in that the perspective stays completely in Whitney’s head. It’s much easier to immerse yourself in the story when that happens. Everything experienced here is through her POV, which ultimately, might lend more reason to some of my problems with it.

My biggest one is – unsurprisingly – Liam. In order for Whitney to get over the age differential, the author has painted Liam in a very perfect palette. He’s the perfect lover, the perfect friend. He backs off as soon as Whitney says to, doesn’t press too hard, does exactly what she asks of him, even when he wants to go public with their affair. Whitney herself admits they have very little – if anything – in common, other than this amazing physical attraction for each other. Because of all this, and because we got a good chunk of the story with Whitney driving all this home, I never really believed that this had any hope for lasting for long.

That’s not to say it isn’t sweet and charming while it lasts, however. Because of the author’s voice, I was sucked into the emotion and passion of this pair. Whitney constantly refers to Liam as sweet, but ultimately, that’s the word that best describes both of them. Sometimes, that’s a very good thing.


9/10 – Smooth, very engaging prose. An easy read without being simple.


6/10 – Lovely, but the too-good-to-be-true factor never goes away.


7/10 – Intelligent but bordering on wishy-washy

Entertainment value

7/10 – Sweet and charming, though that’s more a reflection on the author’s voice than any true belief that the romance will last

World building

7/10 – A nice set-up of a posh world



Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Irish Charm by Donna Dalton

TITLE: Irish Charm
AUTHOR: Donna Dalton
PUBLISHER: The Wild Rose Press
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 73k)
GENRE: Historical romance
COST: $6.00

Kathryn Mitchell is trying to follow in her father’s footsteps and become an investigator. The only problem is, it’s 1886, and women just don’t have the opportunities she wants them to. Well, that’s not her only problem. There’s also the matter of Jamie Donovan, Pinkerton detective, getting in the way of her solving any of her cases in her trial employment with The Burr Agency. Charming and all too good at his job, Jamie pops up as she’s trying to recover stolen bank money, then again when she’s made to deliver it. A routine investigation turns into something more as they find themselves unwilling partners, hunting for a man for very different reasons…

I’ll admit I took a gamble on this one. The excerpt is embarrassingly short, less than 200 words, and meant to portray the banter and opening relationship between the hero and heroine but accomplishes very little else. But it didn’t make me cringe, and charming rogues are always fun, so I took a risk and bought this book anyway.

The opening is an action sequence where Kathryn is tracking the man who robbed the bank, but as far as action sequences go, I found it dry and uninspiring. I suppose the detail was there, but the characters didn’t pop and there wasn’t anything exciting enough about the prose to reel me in. That tone prevailed for much of the story’s length, and I suspect that it’s simply because this author’s voice doesn’t work for me. Technically, there aren’t enough errors to make it seem less than professional, and she certainly does her best to inject action into the romance, but in the end, I’m left with a general sense of blah about the whole thing.

Part of the problem stems from her heroine. Kathryn is probably the most inept investigator I’ve read in a while. It’s no wonder she can’t find employment. There’s one scene where she’s trailing the man they’re looking for, and she keeps on tripping or turning her ankle or falling flat on her face until she’s lost him. She ends up spraining her ankle, which apparently then gives her even more permission to be clumsy and for Jamie to wait on her, or catch her before she falls. It felt very much like a device rather than any organic part of her character. It especially worked against her in trying to make me believe she’s in any way competent enough to tackle the job.

The mystery itself is a bit of a mess. The author switches POV, usually between the hero and heroine, but occasionally to secondary characters, too. Early in the story, she jumps to the bad guy, but instead of naming him – because then there wouldn’t be the so-called fun of finding out who he is – she labels him The Man. Exactly like that, with the capitalization and italics. It’s very cutesy and completely pulled me out of the story. Add that to the uneven flow and awkward introduction of clues and suspects, and I never settled into this enough in order to believe it or the romance.

In the end, this one is a miss for me.


7/10 – Uninspiring prose, though at least it’s mostly well edited


6/10 – Predictable. Felt very paint by the numbers.


5/10 – Too dumb and accident-prone to be believable as a detective

Entertainment value

5/10 –A jumble of a mystery plot that doesn’t invest the reader in what’s going on, added to a boring romance

World building

6/10 – Mild attempts to create a historical atmosphere, but personalities and dialogue are disconcertingly modern in a lot of places



Monday, March 17, 2008

Lights Out! by Amber Green

TITLE: Lights Out!
AUTHOR: Amber Green
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 50k)
GENRE: Paranormal historical erotic romance
COST: $6.99

In war-torn New York City, the darkness does more than protect the city from Nazi attacks. It provides cover for monsters who feed on fear. When Lorie runs from those she tried to expose, she runs straight into the arms of Huntsman, Jack French. Jack and his twin brother Tommy are doing what they can to find and destroy the same monsters who nearly got Lorie. But what they don’t dare tell her is just how close they are to becoming monsters themselves…

The opening paragraph of this short novel hooked me in. The author’s crisp, vivid prose kept me there. I held my breath as I devoured the story, and when it was over, I was reluctant to exhale. It’s rare for me to get so thoroughly thrust into a story, even if the historical setting demands it. This period is easier for me to get lost in than others, but that isn’t why it happens here. The author chooses appropriate detail to suck a reader in, with clever turns of phrase to depict a singular voice. I could probably find a quote on every page that I adore.

The story starts in what feels like the middle of a scene. As a reader, you have no idea what’s going on, who the characters are, what shadows lurk around the corner. By midway through, you only have glimpses to some of those, but that didn’t stop me from racing into the latter half of the novel. Most of the sex is in that first half, hot and needy, and in many ways, I was a lot like Lorie – hooked into seeing it through to the end though I felt completely out of control. The pacing maintains a frenetic tempo, and the dark flashes we get into Jack and Tommy only heighten the sense of danger. Until three-fourths of the way through the story, I still wasn’t sure if there might not end up being a twist to surprise me. Frankly, I would have embraced it. The story certainly supported such a development.

The story’s primary weakness lies in its greatest strength – world-building. The author creates a war-stricken world with just a few words, and yet, when it comes to the paranormal elements of the story, the details are stingy. I waited and waited for answers to come, but when they did, they were scanty and unsatisfying. That doesn’t impair my enjoyment of the story too much, but it does lend the question of how truly amazing this would have been if the details had been there. Jack would have been more tragic, Lorie would have been earthier, the danger would have been higher. But you know what? I’ll still enjoy this the next time I read it. I’ll probably enjoy it even more, because I’ll be able to take some of the things I know about the world and slap those into the place.

Because I will be reading this again. Multiple times.


9/10 – Vivid, authentic prose. Only the lack of detail in worldbuilding holds it back.


8/10 – Edgy and dangerous


7/10 – More realistic than the hero, but not as well-fleshed

Entertainment value

9/10 – Read this with my breath held throughout the whole thing. I almost didn’t want to exhale when it was done.

World building

8/10 – The period detail surpasses anything I’ve read in a long time; only the paranormal elements suffer here.



Friday, March 14, 2008

Savannah's Hero by Diana Bold

TITLE: Savannah’s Hero
AUTHOR: Diana Bold
PUBLISHER: Cobblestone Press
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 48k)
GENRE: Historical romance
COST: $5.99

Tortured by memories of killing his own brother during the Civil War, Tristan Kane becomes a gun for hire, desperate to escape the memories. When he decides to look for an old friend, he doesn’t expect to get shot in the back, or for that old friend to come to his rescue. He takes Tristan home, where Tristan learns that Savannah, the love of his life and the sister of his ex-best friend, now has a son. Not only that, she’s the widow of his dead twin brother, which makes her son his nephew. Or is he?

I have a quibble with the blurb that’s available at the publisher’s website. In the blurb, Savannah is called Savannah McKenzie. That’s her maiden name. She is never called that in the book. In fact, her name is Savannah Kane, because she’s the widow of Tristan’s dead twin brother. Now, if I had known this one detail, I probably wouldn’t have bought the book. It would have felt too Days of Our Lives, and I’m a little annoyed that the blurb is so misleading. Because as it turns out, I would have been right.

The melodrama in this is piled six feet deep. Tristan, who lived in Maryland, chose to go fight for the South in the war – though there is never any kind of reasonable excuse given for such a ridiculous decision except to allow the author to pit brother against brother and to break up the young romance. He shoots his twin brother, who then dies, and then Tristan gets taken prisoner and whipped repeatedly until he’s scarred both mentally and emotionally. Then we have Savannah, who seduced Tristan before he went off to war, then found out she was pregnant with his son and married his twin brother so the baby wouldn’t be a bastard. But she never tells anybody any of this, of course, so she’s the grieving widow throughout. Then there’s Joel, Savannah’s brother and the friend Tristan came to Colorado to find. It turns out that Joel is a recovering alcoholic, who was drunk as a skunk when he had to operate on the injured twin brother and now blames himself for his death. Toss in Billy, the ten-year-old boy who doesn’t know his real father is the gunslinger now recovering in the guest room, and it really is a soap opera, isn’t it?

I’m not spoiling anything. All of that information is out by the end of the second chapter. We then get seventeen chapters of self-loathing and miscommunications and guilty kisses and blame, and it’s just so, so, so heavy. It gets extremely tedious to read. These characters don’t really do all that much except sit around and blame themselves for everything went wrong in their lives, and then they blame each other for the rest. Nothing really happens.

Hoping for something hugely erotic doesn't work either. Though it's billed as an erotic romance, there was nothing that graphic about the couple of love scenes towards the end of the book. They're written nicely enough, but I would never call them sexually charged or more graphic than I find in a lot of so-called nicer romances. So I'm leaving the erotic off my description of it.

Technically, there isn’t anything wrong with the story. The editing is solid, the prose flows reasonably well. There are some anachronistic details in the world-building that will probably bug historical romance lovers, but if melodrama is your thing, especially in the Old West, this might work for you. Just don’t believe the blurb.


7/10 – Technically solid, but so heavy on the melodrama that it gets tedious.


4/10 – Angsty and annoying, with an unrealistic turnaround at the end after some bad behavior


5/10 – Not quite as bad as the hero, but too bland to really make memorable

Entertainment value

2/10 – Far, far too much melodrama to engage me

World building

6/10 – There’s attempts to give it period flavor, but dialogue feels hugely modern throughout the story and there are certain anachronisms that jar



Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Golden Eyes by Maya Banks

TITLE: Golden Eyes
AUTHOR: Maya Banks
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 38k)
GENRE: Shapeshifter erotic romance
COST: $5.99

Sheriff Duncan Kennedy is investigating claims of a lion in his Colorado mountains, when he encounters poachers tracking an injured cheetah. When she gives every sign that she’s not going to hurt him, he decides to take her back to town to keep her safe. Without someplace to keep her, he locks her in the mudroom of his house, only to come back later to discover an injured naked woman in the cheetah’s place. Aliyah Carver is a shapeshifter who was captured on a run in Africa, then transported to the US. Her captors bring the wild to hunters willing to pay the price, but they’re still alive, and probably looking for her, when she accepts Duncan’s hospitality. The two connect as she heals up, but Duncan is determined to catch the poachers in his mountains. Before they find Aliyah and finish the job…

Maya Banks is one of those authors I keep thinking I want to love, but I have yet to find a story that engages me with the passion other readers seem to have for her work. Sometimes, I wonder if it’s because my expectations are too high. Kind of like when people go on and on about a movie they absolutely love, and you walk in, watch it, then walk back out thinking, “Eh, I suppose it was all right.” I don’t know. But for whatever reason, I’m still waiting for this author to click for me.

There was a definite moment when I thought this might be that story. The opening is tight, visual, and emotionally appealing, as Aliyah flees the poachers, gets hurt, and then gets discovered by Duncan. By the end of the second chapter, I was racing along, eager to devour the rest of the book. Chapter Three was more of the same, because now there was Duncan’s discovery. He was such a sympathetic, engaging character from the start that I completely believed his shock and awe. Where the story started falling apart for me was at the end of chapter four. From there on, everything I’d loved about the beginning dissolved away.

In spite of accelerated healing, Aliyah is seriously hurt. She took an arrow – a nasty one – deep into her thigh. Duncan has to rip it out of her body. It does just as much damage coming out as it did going in. Yet, chapter five has the sex starting, the very same night he brings her home. Oh, sure, Duncan’s careful about her injury. He has her get on his hands and knees so that she doesn’t have to spread her legs too wide and potentially aggravate her injury. I might not have minded so much that this just seemed hugely illogical to happen so early if it didn’t get followed by more of the same. A lot more of the same. There’s brief scenes where Duncan goes off in search of the poachers and Aliyah thinks about home, but those mostly just pass the time until they can get together and have sex again. It got old very, very fast.

It might have been more tolerable if Aliyah actually had some sort of personality in this. Duncan is the one who gets all the characterization, though that gets stunted once the two start having sex. Aliyah is boring to the nth degree, an object of his fascination more than anything else. Perhaps because she’s likes sex, likes adventure, that’s supposed to make her edgy and raw. Except when she’s not having sex, she’s all weepy about missing her family, the poaching, etc. There’s little to balance between the two. Because of my inability to connect with her, I disengaged from most of the sex after the first scene. Since that comprised most of the actual story, I didn’t have much to hold me in then.

The beginning proves to me I could really like this author. Now, if I could just find the story that carried that tight, evocative writing all the way through, I’d be a very happy reader.


8/10 – Smooth prose can’t save repetitive scenes


7/10 – There are the starts of a real humdinger of a sympathetic alpha hero, but then he gets lost in all the sex.


4/10 – If there was a personality there, I never found it.

Entertainment value

5/10 – A truly fantastic beginning degenerates into a string of sex scenes that do nothing to engage me with the characters.

World building

7/10 – The world of Colorado was built much more gracefully than the shifter lore, which came out in inelegant information dumps that disrupted the flow of the story.



Monday, March 10, 2008

Desert of Desire by Dara Edmondson

TITLE: Desert of Desire
AUTHOR: Dara Edmondson
PUBLISHER: The Wild Rose Press
LENGTH: Short story (roughly 8k)
GENRE: Contemporary romance
COST: $1.50

Buzz Magazine reporter, Eve Mason, is assigned to interview reclusive author Red Calloway, but that means traveling across the country to Arizona and leaving New York City behind. She is taken aback by the beauty of the west, and even more by the gorgeous gardener…

There’s not a whole lot I can say about this. While there is nothing technically wrong, there’s not anything exciting about the story either. Reading it felt distinctly like picking up one of my mother-in-law’s women’s magazines and reading the romances they publish. Safe. Sweeping in a short space. Walking the middle of the road so evenly it doesn’t garner anything of interest whatsoever.

It’s clear from the prose that the author is trying to use the beauty of the desert and the Grand Canyon to suck a reader into the romance, but her description isn’t nearly evocative enough to compensate for an overnight romance that has no basis in anything except the fact the author says they’re interested in each other. There is more time spent describing the plants and the scenery than there is developing any kind of real relationship. I can’t even believe that the few conversations we do get to witness can really build anything. Eve is bitchy to Red almost from the start. I have no clue why he falls for her.

It can’t be because she’s smart. For one thing, Eve assumes from the start that Red is gay. I have no idea why. Because he’s a gardener? If there was supposed to be some hint in the bio she read on him prior to jumping to that conclusion, the author failed to tell us about it. So Eve flies out to Arizona and automatically assumes that the man who answers the phone and ushers her in is his lover. It’s probably meant to introduce some kind of conflict within the story – that she’s falling for a gay man – but that is banished fairly quickly. Within 24 hours, these two have had sex – oops, sorry, made love – and he wants her to drop everything in NYC to come out to Arizona to be with him. Everything is glossed over and rushed.

In the end, this is a Reader’s Digest version of what someone thinks a full-length romance should be. Flat prose, flat characters, flat storytelling. Pass.


7/10 – Technically solid, but nothing exciting


5/10 – Bland and forgettable


4/10 – Bitchy and illogical

Entertainment value

4/10 – Boring, simplistic, and unbelievable

World building

6/10 – Some attempts are made to bring the desert to life, but there’s no fire in the descriptions.



Friday, March 7, 2008

Misery Loves Company by Ellen Ashe

TITLE: Misery Loves Company
AUTHOR: Ellen Ashe
PUBLISHER: Total-e-bound
LENGTH: Short story (roughly 11k)
GENRE: Horror erotic romance
COST: ₤1.69

Recovering alcoholic, recently divorced Lola is trying to rebuild her life. In a desperate last bid, she rents an isolated cabin for two weeks, cutting herself off from all modern conveniences. She hopes to reconnect with her art, maybe find a fresh start. But when the creepy caretaker warns her she’ll never last the whole two weeks, she realizes that all might not be well. Especially when she starts hearing things…seeing things…feeling things…

It was very apparent reading the blurb and excerpt on the publisher’s website that this was going to be a dark story. I was intrigued by the excerpt, especially. It was moody and melancholy, promises the short story kept. If there is one thing this author does extremely well, it’s create atmosphere. The entire story has a hallucinogenic feel to it. The narrator is unreliable, and the reader is swept along with her fear and confusion.

The ghost, whose name she learns is Daniel, is such an integral part of all this confusion that he creeps me out. A lot. A lot lot lot. Lola is aroused by him, probably because she’s lonely and desperate, but frankly, almost from the moment he gets introduced, I didn’t like him. The title is pretty much this ghost’s motto, and misery doesn’t even begin to cover it. Lola is so messed up, she starts losing a grip on what is real and what isn’t very quickly. Everything just spirals down from there.

There are minor technical flaws in the story, including awkward phrasing and editing issues that should have been cleaned up – like “griped” for “gripped,” and extra words in sentences that were clearly missed on a rewrite. The author’s prose gets held back by these mistakes. Her voice is very original, her descriptions haunting and evocative. It’s a shame to see it tarnished by simple mistakes.

If I were to label this an erotic horror story, I’d like it more. But I get the sneaky suspicion, because of the ending, this is meant to be a very dark romance. Unfortunately, the romance didn’t work for me. At all. In large part, because of the ending. I don’t want to say why that was, though; my other reservations aside, this story worked extremely well if read as horror and I’m not going to spoil it for those are intrigued. I’m kind of glad I took another chance with this author. I liked this one more the first story I read by her. What I’d really like to see is this author with a very solid editor, one who would erase all her technical errors and smooth out her pacing issues. She’s got tremendous potential, with a distinct style and a solid sense of the macabre. It would be fun to read something that takes full advantage of her strengths.


7/10 – Some unfortunate editing hinders what otherwise is some very atmospheric writing.


3/10 – I’m sure his melancholy was meant to make him sympathetic, but I thought he was just creepy.


6/10 – Messed up to the nth degree

Entertainment value

6/10 – As horror, this works very well for me. As a romance…not so much.

World building

7/10 – Extremely atmospheric, evoking the mood very well, but at the end, I’m still left with questions of, “What the hell exactly happened?”



Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Going Down by Ann Somerville

TITLE: Going Down
AUTHOR: Ann Somerville
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 30k)
GENRE: Gay fantasy
COST: $1.99

Empath Einan suffers from trauma incurred during his time as a medic. Drowning in emotions he can’t contain, he struggles to find a way to cope. His insomnia sends him out on nightly walks, and it’s there that he first runs into Thalem. Thalem is laden with his own guilt, emotions so strong that they nearly incapacitate Einan the first time he really encounters them. Together, though, they might be able to help each other…

Though this story is just shy of 30k, it took several sittings for me to finish. It is not an easy read, either in voice or in subject matter. The author’s prose is dense, her characters broken, and its tone somber and unforgiving. There is no hiding away from the misery, or the stark lives her characters have. You don’t read this story expecting a whimsical escape. If you do, you’ll be sorely upset.

As this is the first of this author’s stories that I’ve read, I don’t know if this is her normal voice or one she used for the purposes of this story. I suspect the former. The story takes place in a universe common to much of her work, a world where ordinary people have extraordinary mental capabilities. There are empaths, telepaths, those who can control fire, those with telekinesis. Though the story is meant to stand alone, I suspect some readers will have the same difficulty I did – fully understanding the world she has created. It has its own vocabulary, its own geography, its own socio-political structure. Yet, none of this gets explained very well at all. The beginning starts with Einan in the throes of a bad reaction to someone else’s emotions, and the author plunges the reader headfirst into Einan’s inner world. I spent the first third of the story just getting a grip on the society and world the author created. While I struggled to feel comfortable with it, I found it very hard to develop any feelings, good or bad, for any of the characters in that time period. I was only able to do so once I’d stopped questioning every other word. In the end, I think that hindered my overall enjoyment of the story.

Though it's not high fantasy, in many ways it feels like it, which is probably another reason I didn’t engage with it as much as other readers might. High fantasy just isn't one of the genres I typically enjoy. But the tone of the story, the gravity, the invented language…all of it gave the story that sort of feel. I did eventually get involved in Einan and Thalem’s struggles to rebuild their lives, but not until well over halfway through the story. I also never bought their relationship as anything more than friendship. There are hints that it changes and deepens for them emotionally in the last quarter of the story, but this is incredibly subtle and very much not the point of the book.

Let’s be clear. This is not a romance. This is the drama of two men, fighting against their own oppressive guilt and emotions. I can’t say that it worked to the best degree for me, but I’m certain there are others out there for whom it will succeed.

All proceeds of the sale of this book go to Medecins sans Frontieres.


7/10 – Dense, dense prose and an alternate world that gets very little explanation makes it difficult to engage in the first third of the story. Stick it out and it gets a lot better.

Hero #1

8/10 – Einan is damaged and lovely, though it takes a good portion of the story to really get a feel for him.

Hero #2

7/10 – In spite of Einan’s abilities, I never thought he was as realistic as the lead.

Entertainment value

6/10 – My struggle to understand the world in the story made it difficult to connect with the characters until much later in the story.

World building

5/10 – The author introduces a lot of terminology without explanation very early in the story, and it takes a long time for someone unfamiliar with the world or fantasy to come to grips with it.



Monday, March 3, 2008

Satyr's Myst by Marie Harte

TITLE: Satyr’s Myst
AUTHOR: Marie Harte
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 33k)
GENRE: Contemporary ménage erotic romance
COST: $4.99

When the owner of the private resort Satyr’s Myst is threatened, security experts are assigned to keep him safe while the search goes on for his enemies. Trevor Reaper and Lilah Tanner don’t want Rick Hastings to know they’ve been brought in by his ex-lover, but once they come into the man’s orbit, it’s impossible to think of anything but their physical desires…

Somewhere in all the myriad sex scenes in this book, there’s a plot. Unfortunately, I never got to really experience it. See, that whole reason for Rick needing to be protected? The reader learns about all of it secondhand. In conversations, in a little bit of backstory. That’s it. It’s really just an excuse to put two gorgeous men and one plain jane with a Barbie doll body together so that they can have sex. It even gets resolved halfway through the story, and Rick opts not to tell his two bodyguards in favor of getting more time with them.

Maybe if there was some genuine characterization going on in the story, I wouldn’t have minded so much. Trevor fares the best in this, with his tough-as-nails exterior, but his continued protestations about not wanting to have sex with men feels like lipservice all the way from the beginning. When he had sex with Lilah, it felt way too much like he needed to prove his heterosexuality to himself and to Rick, which weakened both his character and any sense of romance the story might have instilled. Lilah’s characterization suffers from indecision. She’s introduced as a free spirit of sorts, and while she is quick to respond to sexual advances, she’s just as quick to run off and insist that she’s not there except to keep Rick company. Again, lipservice. Because Lilah keeps insisting all the way throughout that she’s never done much, it’s hard to resolve that against the wild child introduction she got.

Then there’s Rick. Rick is the one character that comes from the second book, so if you’ve read the others in this series, you’ve been introduced to him already. This story is said to be a standalone, but honestly, I think a new reader coming into this series would be hard-pressed to find any real depth to Rick. He’s portrayed as a sex god/fiend in this, with no long-lasting relationships except for the woman who got away because she couldn’t accept his alternative lifestyle. Even having read the previous book, I absolutely did not believe for a second that he was going to settle down with Lilah and Trevor. There was never any real reason for these three to fall in love at all. Rick pretty much decides that first night Lilah shows up that there’s something different there – without even really having a conversation with her yet – and all they do for the rest of the book is have sex. But because they kept saying they were in love – without having the reasons I could buy into – I ended up disconnected from all the sex scenes. Without having emotion I believed in to enrich those scenes, then, it just felt like one big long sex romp. And I got bored.

While I’m incredibly disappointed by this, I think I’ve figured out why it didn’t work for me like the previous two books. All three of these people are strangers at the top of the story, with no opportunity to do much of anything but have sex. Ethan and Jewel in the previous book had a lot more story to build their romance and make it believable, and the sex in the first story was enhanced by the animosity between the two principles. The trio in this never got any of that, which is a real shame. Maybe if the plot hadn’t happened offscreen, they would have had reason to have their romance be based on something more real than physical attraction. As it stands, it’s just sex in an erotic romance wrapper.


7/10 – The prose is fluid enough, but without characters to care about or scenes to suck me in, I ended up skimming.


3/10 – Boring and unbelievable


4/10 – Sex is a shorthand for character development in this.

Entertainment value

3/10 – Surprisingly bored by the entire thing.

World building

5/10 – The author relies too heavily on readers knowing the previous books to build on the world of the resort and island.