Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Ring Around the Moon by Anita Birt

TITLE: Ring Around the Moon
AUTHOR: Anita Birt
PUBLISHER: Cerridwen Press
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 92k)
GENRE: Contemporary time travel romance
COST: $6.49

Beth Ormond was just looking for peace and quiet to gather her thoughts and plan for the future. A month in Cornwall seemed like the perfect opportunity. Until a man staggers out of the forest the night she arrives, calling her another woman’s name and claiming she’s his wife. Now Beth has to figure out who exactly Alan Tremaine is, and what that means for her and her unborn child…

The premise of this sounded incredibly promising. Most time travel stories I read have the heroine moving back in time. I think it appeals to the urge to live in a different era without losing the effects of modern sensibilities. This story suggested it was about a man being pulled to the present, and while it has been done before, it’s not nearly as common. I was excited about this story when I started. That excitement, unfortunately, didn’t last.

The headhopping started almost right away. It didn’t happen in big long sections. It occurred in very short ones, sometimes paragraph to paragraph. I would do anything for e-pubs to either have longer excerpts so I don’t get surprised by this, or some sort of label on their stories to show when it happens. Because honestly, there are some of us who absolutely hate it. Very, very few people can pull it off. I’ll tolerate it if a story is good enough, but really, I wish I didn’t have to.

But I couldn’t even tolerate it in this one. Before I get much of a chance to know either one of the main characters, Beth is acting like an idiot, overreacting at the drop of a hat, then flipflopping from tears to I must have you in the next breath, then going back to tears. She does that throughout the book. I can't remember the last time I read a heroine who seesawed so dramatically. Her logic completely escapes me, and I don’t think I can even blame it on the hormones of her pregnancy. Her mood swings make no sense except to add artificial drama. Alan doesn’t fare much better. His personality seems a little more stable, but he’s so boring that I just can’t be bothered to care.

With such huge obstacles for me to overcome, the story never really has a chance, but it’s certainly not helped by the fact that any conflict that gets introduced for these two gets resolved or dismissed within just a couple pages. The only one that sticks around for longer than that doesn’t even get resolved. The story ends with just the thought that, “Well, they’re together and they want it to work so let’s just keep our fingers crossed, okay?” And it’s not even a little conflict. It’s big. Enormous. And it’s still looming there when it says, “The End.” Maybe if I was a little more invested in the characters or romance, it might not bother me so much. But I wasn’t, so it did.


4/10 – Constant headhopping, melodramatic dialogue, histrionic behavior…it drives a reader to skim.


3/10 – Boring and flat.


3/10 – Histrionic and completely unbelievable.

Entertainment value

2/10 – Between being bored by the characters, annoyed at all the constant flipflopping, and disbelieving of how everything just fell into place for these two, it’s lucky I finished it at all.

World building

5/10 – It’s all tell not show with this. I never felt a sense of history or place.



Monday, April 28, 2008

Dangerous Ground by Josh Lanyon

TITLE: Dangerous Ground
AUTHOR: Josh Lanyon
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 30k)
GENRE: Gay suspense erotic romance
COST: $4.99

As agents for the Department of Diplomatic Security, Taylor MacAllister and Will Brandt were partners for three years before a shooting nearly killed Taylor. Its timing couldn’t have been worse. Just hours previous, Taylor had admitted his feelings for Will, only to be firmly rebuffed. Now, less than two months later, their relationship is on the line, both professional and personal. Will invites Taylor out on a camping trip in a desperate bid to reconnect, and though Taylor hates to camp, he agrees, just as desperate to salvage what they can. Except it doesn’t work. And when they find a crashed plane and the missing money from a never-solved bank robbery, their situation goes from bad to truly dangerous…

Josh Lanyon is one of my auto-buy authors. I don’t even read his blurbs or excerpts anymore, because I trust him so implicitly. Color me a little surprised then to discover that Dangerous Ground is written in third person. It made for some interesting changes while I sat down and read this story.

In one wonderful way, it’s to the story’s advantage. Lanyon is already a master at setting up scene, but here, the mountain wilds is as much of a character as the two men. Nature is both their friend and enemy throughout the course of action, and the author highlights this with his wonderfully tight details. When Taylor and Will are forced to take shelter in a broken-down mining shack, you feel every scrape over bruised skin, the claustrophobia of their situation. When they indulge in a found hot spring, you experience the soft rush of relaxation as they sink into the steaming water. It’s one of the most effective uses of setting I’ve read in recent months.

There are points, however, where the perspective isn’t as tight as what I would expect from Lanyon. The story starts out with a bang, after much of the conflict between the two has already been established and on the brink of everything collapsing for them. With no backstory yet in place, a reader is left finding hooks into the story through the characters. The very first character mentioned is Will, wiping sweat from his face, and it’s followed immediately by, Ten thousand feet up in the High Sierras, the sun was still plenty warm despite the chill spring air. He gets the first line of dialogue, too. What this introduction did was put me in Will’s place at the story’s start. I thought it was his reflection that the sun was so hot, especially since he was the one acting at the time. But not too long after this, however, it becomes clear we’re in Taylor’s perspective, and it really threw me. So much so that I went back to re-read, thinking I’d missed something. Throughout the first chapter, there were occasional lines that popped up, that without yet having a firm grasp on each man’s personality, left me questioning whose head I was really in. Because of this, and the fact that so much is left unknown at the beginning, it took me longer to sink into the story than normal. Eventually, however, even those borderline sentences disappeared.

Part of my difficulty discerning the two personalities at the start ends up being one of the most fascinating aspects of the story. Both Taylor and Will are alphas, though throughout the course of the story, those alpha tendencies get displayed in very different ways. It creates a double-edged sword. On one hand, in order to survive the action and tension of the external conflict regarding the robbery, they must be capable of acting effectively, both independently and as a team. On the other, having two alphas in a romantic relationship can often be a recipe for disaster as they compete for the same responsibilities within the pairing. Lanyon ends up creating distinct personalities that not only portray exactly why these two are such an effective team, but gives a reader hope that they can actually make it work past the ending of the book. If I didn’t quite believe Will’s sudden switch in the middle of the story to alter the direction of their relationship, that’s minor in the overall effect Lanyon achieved.

Tight pacing and real danger glue all of this together into a package that’s uniquely Lanyon. When it comes to creating men who seem like they could walk and talk in the real world as well as the page, he stands tall in a very elite group.


8/10 – In spite of sections where POV isn’t as tight as I’d expect and a rocky start, this is typical Lanyon prose – intelligent, lean, and meaningful.

Hero #1

8/10 – Not your typical alpha, though his impetuosity, humor and obvious anguish make him easier to sympathize with.

Hero #2

7/10 – His shift in desire halfway through the story seemed to come out of nowhere, but otherwise, he’s a wonderfully assured, strong silent alpha.

Entertainment value

8/10 – A tight, suspenseful read with believable characters and real emotions.

World building

10/10 – Location is its own character, and Lanyon’s details make it shine.



Friday, April 25, 2008

Let Me Love You by Mary Wine

TITLE: Let Me Love You
AUTHOR: Mary Wine
PUBLISHER: Samhain Publishing
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 51k)
GENRE: Historical erotic romance
COST: $4.50

Brianna Spencer is a young woman alone in the mining town of Silver Peak. With her father missing, it’s up to her keep the bank from taking their mill away, but it also makes her prime prey for every man in town, looking to get himself a wife and a potential fortune. Every man, that is, except railroad deputy Sloan McAlister. After he rescues her from a would-be suitor, he finds it impossible to get her out of his mind. But the last thing he wants is to ruin a good woman like Brianna…at least, until she asks him to…

For me, there’s a fine line historicals have to walk. Not enough detail, and I’m left wondering where and when the story is taking place. Too much, and I’m mired in a history lesson instead of a story. History doesn’t interest me. People and relationships do. That’s really the only reason I bothered finishing this book.

I suspect the author’s voice just isn’t for me. Her attention to detail is to be commended, but it weighs down huge portions of the story especially in the beginning when I’m trying to get myself hooked into the characters. The opening scene is actually quite good, with the bad guy attempting to coerce Brianna into marrying him and Sloan stepping in to save the day. But as soon as Brianna flees, it goes downhill. It drags with details about her sewing and her cooking and her virginity. I actually walked away from the story at that point. I didn’t know enough about Brianna at that point to care about her chores.

The other aspect that worked against the story is how cliché-ridden it was. If you’ve read it in a western romance before, you’ll read it again here. There was the attempted rape, the misunderstood half-breed Kiowa, threats of white slavery, a father who’s conveniently out of the picture and then brought back in with barely a blink. Everything that came out of the bad guy’s mouth made me giggle, especially his talk of planting babies in her. What he lacked in subtlety, he made up for in cliché. Poor Sloan doesn’t fare much better – “The only thing that is going to be seen is my fist coming towards your face. That’s my woman out there in the night and no one steals from me.” And for some inexplicable reason, much of Sloan’s description gets specified as “male” – he has male reactions, male scents, male nipples, male disgruntlement, male groans, crisp male body hair…you get the idea. It was just too, too much.

The reason I stuck with it as much as I did is because I liked the characters. Brianna is strong without being a bitch about it, and Sloan has his own dark alpha appeal. Once they get past his pull/push attitude of the first half, they settle into a nice, albeit familiar, relationship. My only wish is that they had a better story to serve them. The prose kept me from enjoying their tender moments, and the dialogue kept me from fearing for the heroine’s safety. That leaves very little else for me to work with in this story.


6/10 – Slow pacing, long sections of over-description, and clichéd dialogue makes it harder to get through


7/10 – An alpha with principles, he’s best when he’s charging in the latter half of the story


7/10 – Strong without being over the top

Entertainment value

4/10 – Too many clichés and long sections where all I get is description bore me too much to get any more than superficially invested in the story

World building

9/10 – The author goes to town on providing details about her historical world, so much so the rest of the story suffered.



Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Spotlight by Carole Bellacera

TITLE: Spotlight
AUTHOR: Carole Bellacera
PUBLISHER: Belgrave House
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 100k)
GENRE: Contemporary romance
COST: $5.00

Irish rocker Devin O’Keefe doesn’t believe violence is the answer to his mother country’s political problems. American photojournalist Fonda Blayne thinks he’s one of the most amazing talents she’s ever seen. When she’s brought in to shoot and record a tour for an upcoming book, she comes face to face with the man behind the music – and all the troubles he never quite left behind in Ireland

Some stories try too hard. They see an important topic, or the opportunity of a large milieu, or lack of length restrictions, and consider it carte blanche to stuff as much into their tale as they can. Sometimes it works, and when that happens, it’s magical. Sometimes it doesn’t, and a reader is left trying to make sense of the mishmash just read.

Spotlight falls into the latter category. It’s marketed as contemporary women’s fiction, but I wonder if that’s because it doesn’t fall comfortably into any one genre. The prose reads as contemporary romance, yet the structure of the story – with events early on in the story told from the antagonists’ POVs and frequent scene changes throughout in an attempt to build tension – is that of a suspense/thriller. There are also the political messages and the melodrama stuck in there as well. The end result is a story that doesn’t really work as any of them. Before I can get sucked into the romance, I’m set up for a suspense. Just when I’m ready to read as that, it slips into over-the-top romance. I’m never allowed an opportunity to get comfortable in any one niche, and I'm really left floundering.

Devin is actually a really nice hero most of the time. He’s a tad too good to be true, but overall, he’s the most consistently written character in the entire story. If Fonda had stayed the same way (and seriously, the heroine’s full name is Fonda Jane Blayne), I could probably have overlooked the suspense issues I had and committed to the romance. But halfway through the story, everything changed. Within the course of a single chapter, Devin and Fonda go from refusing to act on their desires for each other, to having sex and declarations of love, to talking about marriage at the end. After 200 pages of next to nothing. From that point on, Fonda is a different person. She’s clingy and overwrought. She reverses her religious stance from She'd turned away from religion when Michael died to whining they wouldn't be married in the eyes of God. She makes dumb choices in favor of creating conflict within the book, and any sympathy I had for her is mostly gone.

There are subplots about Fonda’s little sister losing her virginity and almost getting raped, her broken relationship with her father, and Devin’s crew, but none of them gel or provide dramatic tension. If anything, they distract from the overall flow of the story. What it ends up being is a soap opera about an Irish rocker. And not a very good one at that.


5/10 – Irregular headhopping, clunky dialogue, and too many subplots made this a chore to read.


6/10 – Has moments of wonderfulness, but overall too good to be true


6/10 – Inconsistent. Likable for the first half, but as soon as the declarations come, her personality is all over the place, including complete reversals on positions stated in the beginning of the story.

Entertainment value

4/10 – Too much melodrama and eye-rolling moments

World building

7/10 – A lot of detail goes into the rock elements, though some of the magazine stuff makes me wonder.



Monday, April 21, 2008

Master of None by Lee Benoit

TITLE: Master of None
AUTHOR: Lee Benoit
PUBLISHER: Torquere Press
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 22k)
GENRE: Gay fantasy romance
COST: $2.49

The death of a lover drives Adiun to take a risk – to leave behind the home he’s known his whole life to go off in search of Devi, the lover who was taken from him the previous autumn. With only the basic skills he’s gathered as a member of his village, he travels to the nearest city where he hooks up with a troupe of acrobats. They take Adiun in, helping him as he searches brothels and those in the slave trade for signs of his love. Along the way, he finally grows up…

Master of None is a story of quiet desolation. Not a romance in the conventional sense, this is more a tale of growth and self-exploration, wrapped up in a let’s-find-my-longlost-boyfriend package. Nearly ¾’s of the story is spent following Adiun on his quest to find Devi, during which time he learns about the outside world, makes new friends, and breaks another heart. This is Adiun’s story. Devi is more of an afterthought.

Adiun starts out the story desperate to find Devi. He’s of little importance to the survival of his village, with no children and no formal role to play, so his venture into the outside world borders on an innocent risk. He’s got nothing to lose, but no idea of what really to do. It isn’t until he hooks up with the group of performers that he starts to find a path, and his growth from that point on explodes. There’s a sweet charm to him as he struggles to fit in, but where the story shines is his growing friendship with Jurn, the juggler. There are others in the troupe who prove more beneficial in aiding Adiun’s quest, but Jurn is the one that riveted me. I spent a good portion of the story hoping the author would surprise me and that Adiun would end up with Jurn, that it would ultimately be about growing up and moving on. I loved the idea that their relationship could deepen into something more, but alas, it wasn’t to be. Adiun loves Devi. End of story.

Perhaps I would have been less disappointed with how it developed if I knew more about Devi. Because he isn’t introduced until nearly the end of the story, I only get Adiun’s adoration for the young man, not any kind of realistic portrait. I’m much more emotionally invested in Jurn at that point, which is perhaps the reason why I wanted him to get Adiun instead. In fact, I spent the last quarter of the story missing Jurn, as Adiun tries to come to grips with the fact that Devi is a different person than the one he knew. Another of the troupe ends up taking over the friendship role in that section, and only the fact that Adiun completes his arc and takes on the mantle of leader keeps me invested in the rest of the story.

Don’t get me wrong. I really liked this story. Adiun was a wonderful protagonist, suitably flawed without feeling phony. I had little problem sinking into the fantasy world the author created, and even less difficulty following the myriad characters around. But what makes the story so good is Adiun and his sense of loss coloring his every move. I ached with him, in spite of never really knowing Devi. I might not have believed the romance of the ending, but I sure as hell believed in him.


9/10 – Smooth, intelligent prose that manages to convey a great deal in such a short piece

Hero #1

9/10 – The path from innocent to leader is rich and sympathetic.

Hero #2

3/10 – His absence throughout most of the story makes it too hard to get a realistic feel for him.

Entertainment value

8/10 – I’ll admit I would have enjoyed this a lot more if the author had taken a different route with the last fourth of the story, but my appreciation for Adiun makes up for that.

World building

9/10 – In spite of the story’s brevity, the author paints a fantasy world in careful enough detail to make it clear and believable.



Friday, April 18, 2008

Rogue's Challenge by Jo Barrett

TITLE: Rogue’s Challenge
AUTHOR: Jo Barrett
PUBLISHER: Wild Rose Press
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 58k)
GENRE: Time travel romance
COST: $6.00

In this sequel to Highlander’s Challenge, Ian Southernland has been sent to the future in order to retrieve Jenny Maxwell, Tuck’s friend, so that she can be there to help deliver Tuck and Colin’s baby. His mission goes slightly awry, however, when he lands in the future on the day Tuck came back the second time, finding Jenny pursued by the castle guards. He manages to rescue her and take her back to the portal, but she ends up leaving her glasses behind, making her nearly blind as a bat 400+ years in the past. Unable to function without proper spectacles, she demands to go with Ian when he intends to go to Edinburgh and get her another pair…regardless of the arguing they can’t seem to get past and the memory of a single kiss that took them both by surprise…

With Highlander’s Challenge one of my favorite reads so far this year, I jumped to buy this when I saw it come available. Barrett writes characters that sparkle, and this book is no exception. Ian is thoroughly charming, both in his roguish ways and when he’s being more sincere, while Jenny’s intelligence and stubborn nature make a fine counterpoint to that. Starting off on the wrong foot, combined with Jenny’s frustration at not being able to see anything, sparks wonderful exchanges between the two. I can’t help but smile and look forward to their next bout.

While other characters are around, including Tuck and Colin, the fact that over half the book consists of going to Edinburgh to get Jenny new glasses means they take up the vast majority of the story. Michael, their traveling companion, provides the necessary outsider’s POV to the pair, reminding Ian of all the reasons he shouldn’t pursue Jenny. Others provide some local color, but really, the book shines brightest when the author lets Jenny and Ian just go at it.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t shine in any other areas. The headhopping that bugged me a little in the first book is still there, only more pronounced, happening more frequently with shorter sections dedicated to a single POV. There also seem to be more technical issues, things that jumped out at me much more glaringly this time around. Words are misused – they’re for their a couple times – while spelling mistakes slow down what should have been a very fast read – sparing for sparring, for instance.

The mechanics of the time portal that were set up in the first book are muddled at the very beginning of this one, and no explanation or theory is ever posited to explain all the differences. Ian makes a vague attempt, explaining that he finished the journey that Tuck had started with her second trip into the past, but Jenny clearly isn't satisfied by that, and with hers as the scientific mind, I kept waiting for her to come up with some answers. She didn't. Invariably, she and Ian would start arguing again and the entire discussion would get derailed. In the end, it felt too much like a convenient device to get Ian into the future without having to spend too much time there to find Jenny.

There’s a subplot about someone who slips through the portal after Ian and Jenny that feels very tacked on, too. It’s meant to add tension to Jenny’s presence. Somebody is after her, after all, and he doesn’t have her best intentions in mind. However, the details over his involvement in issues back in the present day are sketchy, and without being able to understand the depth of his anger, I never felt threatened by the man. The greatest danger comes just as they’re returning from Edinburgh, but then he disappears again for a huge long stretch which makes any sense of alarm fade away. The entire ending is very anticlimactic as a result.

All in all, it’s a charming read. Just not quite as charming as the first book.


7/10 – Only the crisp dialogue and likable characters save the headhopping and technical mistakes riddled throughout


8/10 – He plays the reputation of rogue with ease, but slides believably into a deeper role when masks are stripped away.


8/10 – A tad strident at times, but a wonderful counterpoint to Ian.

Entertainment value

8/10 – Weaker conflict and more technical issues kept me from enjoying this as much as I did the first book.

World building

7/10 – With Jenny half-blind through the first half of the book, atmosphere and details are only scattershot.



Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Past Lies by Shayla Kersten

TITLE: Past Lies
AUTHOR: Shayla Kersten
PUBLISHER: Ellora’s Cave
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 51k)
GENRE: Gay contemporary erotic romance
COST: $5.95

Randy Martin is back for his twenty-year high school reunion. An outcast in high school, he’s returned wealthy and buff, ready to face down the ghosts of the past, including his high school crush, Paul Loughton. The high school prodigal and current small town mayor, Paul feels stifled by his ex-fiancee’s constant presence, his father’s refusal to let his golden boy out from under his thumb, and the fears always lurking in the back of his mind that he might be gay. Too many drinks and a latent attraction to Randy change things forever, but what kind of life can either man have, with both of them unwilling to out themselves to their parents?

When it comes to sex scenes, Shayla Kersten is a pro. She is almost always hot and heavy, whether it’s het or gay, and this release is no different. It takes Kersten’s trademark steam and offers it to readers in a clean, competent package. There’s variety, and emotion, and just enough angst to make each scene unique.

There’s also a lot of them, but then this is from Ellora’s Cave and so that shouldn’t be a surprise at all. It is, however, the meat in an otherwise lean story.

If I had to pick one word to describe the story, it’s safe. The basic idea for the story is nothing new - high school geek returns gorgeous and rich, and falls in with high school crush. Paul and Randy are both likable guys – rich, good-looking, considerate, eager for lots of sex. Paul’s fears about his newfound sexuality are played for drama, but it never has the weight I would have expected. It’s drama-lite. Paul angsts about his father’s reaction to the truth, but not a whole lot comes from that. And Randy's fears never do anything but spark one brief fight between the two that I didn't believe anyway. While the guys are likable, there’s never any danger or doubt about what’s going to happen.

It’s also safe in regards to resolution. All the conflict for these two ultimately gets resolved by a third party, through no actions by either man. That’s nice and all, and I’m glad for them, glad that things work out, but ultimately, it’s not very interesting to read. It makes me wonder just how long they would have gone on the way they were, hiding from the world, without someone else to set everything to rights for them.

But considering the hot factor in this, those are minor complaints. Kersten has created a pair of nice guys, having lots of hot sex, and if I probably won’t remember too much about this a week from now, I don’t think that’s the story's purpose in the long run. It’s rose-colored, escapist erotic romance. Sometimes, that’s exactly what you want.


8/10 – Easy, competent prose makes it simple to read along, but nothing outstanding to keep me from walking away for periods

Hero #1

7/10 – A nice guy, though it would have been nice to see some flaws.

Hero #2

7/10 – More rounded than Randy, though Randy wasn’t the only one to get frustrated with his paranoia.

Entertainment value

7/10 – A nice read, if not memorable

World building

7/10 – More attention is focused on the guys and sex, though the set-up in the beginning of the small town is strong.



Monday, April 14, 2008

Windwalker's Mate by Margaret L. Carter

TITLE: Windwalker’s Mate
AUTHOR: Margaret L. Carter
PUBLISHER: Amber Quill
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 62k)
GENRE: Horror romance
COST: $7.00

Shannon Bryce is terrified. Her four-year-old son is exhibiting psychic powers she desperately wants to suppress, but all her attempts to squelch them are backfiring. He was conceived during a cult ritual where the cult leader wished to create the child of the Windwalker, a god of dark powers from another dimension. Shannon escaped the cult in time to save herself, but the past is catching up to her. The leader is back, as is his son…who also happens to be her son’s biological father...the question remains, can she now save her son?

I was trying to describe the plot of this story to some friends after reading it. After three different attempts and a lot of blank looks, I gave up. I couldn’t do it. I sat on this, hoping it would become clearer, but when that didn’t happen, I decided to just write the review. I’m not sure I can summarize it without it sounding silly, when, in execution, it’s really not. Because there’s a cult, and a demonic god from another dimension, and a four-year-old little boy whose psychic powers seem pretty limitless, and this whole opening of the gate between dimensions to destroy the world…and you can see why I might look a little odd trying to explain it.

Ultimately, though the story is billed as paranormal romance, it works most effectively as horror. Shannon is suitably fearful of her son’s powers. The nervousness she has is believable and well-built, so much so that when Nathan isn’t quite as scared as she is, he lost sympathy points for me. Nathan is Daniel’s biological father, and while he expresses concern, searching her out when he fears for her safety, his curiosity and fascination with all the evil stuff they were involved in made it hard for me to like him. I think it’s because I’m a mother, with a boy close to Daniel’s age. I identified a lot with Shannon. I never understood why she would be so willing to accept some of his advances when it was obvious how much more important her son was to her than he was to Nathan.

When it comes to the prose, it’s mostly evocative and tightly written. Don’t let the extremely purple prose at the very beginning of the book fool you. It opens with: A vast, jagged landscape stretched before her. A shimmering, pale violet effulgence pervaded it like a luminous fog. I almost stopped there. It’s describing a dream, and while I’m sure it’s meant to be atmospheric, it’s so over the top that it’s too much. Thankfully, the rest of the book is not like that. The over-description vanishes for the most part once Shannon wakes up from this nightmare, and the phrasing simplifies into something still original without all the word baggage.

Tension is tight and nicely paced, and if the book travels familiar ground sometimes – “You're suggesting we should have sex to get our telepathy back?” for instance – it doesn’t detract too badly from the experience. Vaguely haunting with a side of creepy. Just don’t go along strictly for the romance.


8/10 – In spite of a very purple initial scene, most of the story is evocative enough to be original without getting heavy-handed.


5/10 – His reasons for his fascination with the Windwalker are never explained enough, which makes it difficult to make him sympathetic and not creepy.


7/10 – Her maternal angst and realistic reactions give her depth that makes her later actions more credible.

Entertainment value

7/10 – It works far better as a horror story than a romance, because it’s too easy to side with Shannon’s fear in the first 2/3’s of the book.

World building

8/10 – The depth of the cult is nicely explored, as is the heroine’s rising fears.



Friday, April 11, 2008

A Torrid Celebration by various authors

TITLE: A Torrid Celebration!
AUTHOR: Honey Jans, Monica M. Martin, Christy Poff, Melissa Schroeder, Cheri Valmont, Emma Wildes
PUBLISHER: Whiskey Creek Press Torrid
LENGTH: Anthology (roughly 59k)
GENRE: Erotic romance
COST: $5.49

A collection of six erotic romances, each incorporating a party of some sort into the story.

The anthology starts out strong and smooth with Melissa Schroeder’s “Going for Eight.” Gerry Dillon has been off the bull riding circuit for six months, after a terrible accident nearly killed him. Now he’s back where he grew up, and the woman he always loved but never pursued because she was a hometown girl has grown up in all the best ways. The story is straightforward, with likable main characters and an easy reading style. Though the entire anthology is labeled erotic romance, this one is the hottest of the bunch, with fully realized scenes instead of just the scattershot effects some of the later stories provide. There’s nothing challenging or thought-provoking about this, but it makes for an enjoyable, simple read, and provides a solid opening for the collection.

“The Twelfth Knight” by Cheri Valmont takes a different route. Minna is a lady on the run, joined up with a band of entertainers as she poses as a boy to escape the fate she is sure awaits her at home. A year earlier, the band rescued a man who had been left for dead, one who took her breath away. He has no memory of who he was, at least until he confronts her about her gender subterfuge. But the attraction between them is too much to resist, even when they end up performing at a betrothal celebration for his brother and the woman his brother tried to kill him for. While the writing is technically as solid as the first, the characters aren’t as fully realized. I didn’t believe the depth of the feelings between the two, mostly because I got told why they should be in love instead of getting to see it myself. Still, it’s stronger than all but one of the stories to come.

“Nocturnal Offerings” by Monica M. Martin is a vampire romance, with an immortal losing his love to old age in 1201. She vows to find some way to return to him. In 2005, Nadia is a writer who is dreaming about a man she’s never met. She’s shocked to see him take form in the guise of the enigmatic recluse, Charles Poitier, who plans on finally making his love immortal like him. What this story suffers from is a sense of melodrama that leadens the story unnecessarily. Details like the tears of blood are more worthy of eye rolling than genuine emotion, and sentences like, “…his mesmeric tone mesmerized her,” make the story seem amateurish.

Things don’t improve very much with Christy Poff’s “Masked Desires.” Set in New Orleans, this is the story of Ava Clinton and her boss. Ava is Matthew Lord’s personal assistant, and has had the hots for him for quite a while. Unbeknownst to her, he feels the same way, and sets out to seduce her at his family’s annual Mardi Gras bash. Nothing new here, though the heroine is even more stupid than they usually come in stories like this. The ball is a masked affair, and yet, when Matt asks her to dance and talks to her afterward, she doesn’t recognize his voice, even though she has been his personal assistant for months, and even traveled with him on business. Unbelievable. Oh, and let’s not forget the heroine’s ability to accurately predict when she gets pregnant as they’re having sex. Because it feels different, she says. She does this not once, but twice, but by the time the second time rolled around, I didn’t care anymore.

The weakest of the anthology is “Knock Three Times” by Honey Jans. Chemise finds a lamp in her aunt’s safe and rubs it to have a man pop out. Not a genie, he is clear to tell her, though he can still do nifty tricks like make all her clothes disappear with a wave of his hand. There’s something about him being a servant to Isis, and somebody else named Zander who’s after him, but honestly, the plot in this is such a garbled mess that that’s all I can tell you.

The final story is “Spanish Lullaby” by Emma Wildes. In 1815, Carlos Verde has returned to his English home after being away at war for four years. The woman he left behind has grown up and is now engaged to someone else, but his feelings haven’t changed. He seduces her, but that’s not quite enough when she flees from him afterward. But this is a battle he refuses to lose. After the very disappointing previous stories, I didn’t have high hopes for this one. I was pleasantly surprised then to get sucked into Wildes’ finely detailed world-building and her war-separated lovers. Carlos is endearing, while Juliet is strong without being overbearing. The emotional arcs for both characters are rich and believable. It’s easy to root for both of them as they struggle to get past their previous roots. Their romance was, by far, the most powerful and engaging of the lot. It was an excellent way to conclude the anthology.


7/10 – Mostly solid editing, the stories that end up detracting here do so because of voice rather than technical issues


6/10 – Only two of the six stories followed through on the promise of believable romance.


6/10 – The weakest aspect of the entire anthology. Most fall short in creating credible characters.

Entertainment value

6/10 – I would only seek out two of these authors again.

World building

7/10 – Many risks the authors take actually pay off.



Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Survival by Jade Falconer

TITLE: Survival
AUTHOR: Jade Falconer
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 60k)
GENRE: Gay contemporary erotic romance
COST: $6.00

Successful lawyer Gabriel White has it all – an engagement to the mayor’s daughter, a rising career, money to spare. So why is he looking for a male prostitute to fill all his fantasies? Nicky is a nineteen-year-old whore who’ll do almost anything for a trick. He plays up to every kink Gabriel has and even those he didn’t realize he wanted. But when Gabriel can’t get Nicky out of his head, his entire world is threatened, especially since he can’t stay away…

Every once in a while, I indulge in buying a story purely on kink factor. I’ve never been interested in any other titles by this particular author, and the fact that it was a Phaze release made me leery, but the excerpt teetered on that dirty/wrong line with a glammed up whore and a trick that goes dom and uses dirty talk. I got sucked in and decided what the hell, let’s read this one for the kink.

And that’s all the first third of this story is. It’s scene after scene of Gabriel enacting fantasies, and getting addicted to Nicky and the release of his own suppressed desires. Gabriel is forceful, the dialogue is porny, and it gives in to a lot of different kind of kinks, including dressing Nicky in a schoolgirl outfit. It’s everything most erotic romance isn’t – scorching and very much a guilty pleasure.

But then the story tries to grow out of that kink. When it does, it falls flat on its face. Nicky finds out who Gabriel is and starts to blackmail him, which Gabriel feels he has no choice but to pay. Nicky goes as far as following Gabriel’s fiancée around, posing as a wedding planner in order to learn more about him. It feels like the story is going to devolve into a Fatal Attraction kind of tale, which, honestly, would likely have worked. But that’s not what happens. After making Nicky appear all creepy and unsympathetic, the story twists again to Gabriel realizing he’s in love with him, and everything turns into sappy, heavy-handed melodrama after that. Nicky’s damaged past comes out then, with every stereotypical problem prostitutes have, in order to make him sympathetic to the reader, but it’s too little too late. He’s sobbing every other page and it’s just too, too much. Toss in the fact that Gabriel seems to lose his brain at the same time he falls in love, and the last half of the story is a sheer mess. For instance, Gabriel ends up getting Nicky’s pimp as a client, when the pimp is accused of murder. Nicky is the pimp’s alibi, but Gabriel doesn’t even know that fact until the second Nicky goes up on the stand. Seriously. What lawyer doesn’t depose the primary alibi of a murder suspect? It’s supposed to be all suspenseful and dramatic, but only succeeds in making everybody look like an idiot.

The prose is unsophisticated, with too much passive sentence structuring and mild headhopping. I was willing to overlook it when I played into the kink, but with that attraction gone, the flaws become all too apparent. The end result is a schizophrenic story – fast-paced, dirty, and gritty for the first third, then maudlin melodrama for the rest.


7/10 – Playing to kink only partially aids prose laden with passive tense and headhopping

Hero #1

4/10 – Mired in his own idiocy after the kink goes away

Hero #2

4/10 – Never breaks through all the sobbing and stalkery behavior to become the tragic hero the story intends

Entertainment value

5/10 – The compulsive kink of the first third sucked me in, but the rest of it falls apart.

World building

5/10 – I never believed Gabriel was a professional, though Nicky’s world was a little more realized.



Monday, April 7, 2008

Los Cielos by Michelle L. Levigne

TITLE: Los Cielos
AUTHOR: Michelle L. Levigne
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 90k)
GENRE: Fantasy historical romance
COST: $4.99

Miss Elizabeth Seal-Croft has a secret identity – the Princess Elizabelita Innocente Concepcion Margarita de Los Cielos. Centuries ago, the tiny kingdom of Los Cielos was divided and devastated by warring sisters. Now, prophecies are coming to pass to unite the two houses and bring prosperity back to its once fruitful valley. She thinks that destiny lies with Prince Esteban, the brother of the prince she had been promised to as a young child. But when another brother comes into her life, she finds herself torn. Eduardo looks strikingly like his dead brother Emmanuel, and the stories he has to tell about Esteban’s evil character makes her blood run cold. Taking her life into her own hands – as any proud Suffragist would do – Lita travels with Eduardo to Los Cielos, determined to do what she must to bring life back to the valley. But their troubles seem only to begin all over again once they reach the remote land…

I’m very much a fan of this author’s Bainevah Series at Amber Quill Press, so much so that I own all four books in print as well as e-book. When I saw she had a new fantasy romance title with a different publisher, I jumped at buying it, even if it came wrapped up in a historical setting in a time period that doesn’t automatically engage me. The magic I found in the other series, however, never materialized, and I’m left feeling vaguely disappointed.

The story itself is straight out of a fairy tale. Princess in hiding must return to claim her throne, finds true love, saves her people. The slight twist here is the setting. It takes place in the early 20th century, with women’s rights just starting to become political issues. Lita is raised to be free-thinking, well-versed in a wide variety of disciplines. The last thing she wants is a man to consider her as less than his equal. For creating a potentially powerful queen, it’s exactly the road I imagine most people would take. The drawback, however, is that Lita comes off as too perfect. She’s educated in everything under the sun, speaks a multitude of languages, even knows self-defense from the lessons she’s given from the Black Monks (a group from Los Cielos that have been protecting and watching over her since her birth). There’s never a sense that Lita is going to fail, because, well, she just doesn’t. What that ends up doing is negating any sense of urgency to the story, any sense of real risk. Without that, I just couldn’t get as involved with the ongoing twists and turns as I would have liked.

My immersion into this world was also stunted by awkward moments scattered throughout, most often in dialogue. Both the hero and the heroine are prone to talking out loud to themselves, which I find unbelievable, 9 times out of 10. I especially find it very difficult to believe in a scene where the author takes great pains to have the hero be utterly silent when he rises from bed. Eduardo and Lita are sharing a room, and he ended up getting the bed instead of the pallet on the floor when they drew straws. His gentlemanly sensibilities refuse to let him sleep with Lita on the floor, so he gets up, gets her, and puts her in the bed in his place. Now, he knows if she wakes up, she’ll fight with him. So he takes painstaking care to be as silent as possible, moving at the speed of molasses. Yet, once they have switched places, there’s this:

“I will have to find some way to make sure you stay free of Esteban,” he murmured as he sank down on the pallet Lita had occupied just moments ago. It smelled of her, and that was sure to keep him awake for at least an hour. “If we cannot bring our valley back to life, if I cannot ensure you can vanish into the world to evade his claim on you ... well, I have committed enough sins, what does it matter if I kill my brother for your sake?” A bark of laughter, muffled into a sigh, didn't disturb Lita's sleep. “Perhaps that will be counted in my favor, as a good deed. You think?”

Why oh why would he do this? Lita is sound asleep. He's afraid of waking her up. It makes no sense for him to drop the care he had only seconds earlier to utter this particular speech out loud. Maybe if it was the first time he’d spoken aloud, I might not have noticed it so much, but this happened nearly halfway through the story, after numerous other times both characters have talked out loud to themselves with someone else right there. But the logic of why he would do this after being so careful not wake just makes no sense to me. At all. And is rather indicative of other illogical occurrences scattered throughout the latter half of the book.

In the end, the fantasy setting never came through with its promise for me. Without being able to fear for the heroine, it just became a matter of seeing it through to the end.


7/10 – Mostly solid prose, though a little plodding, with dialogue that vacillates between stiff and too modern


6/10 – Written way too perfectly from the beginning with his major flaw feeling manipulative and unbelievable. It smooths out as the story progresses, though.


6/10 – Another example of too perfect to be believable.

Entertainment value

5/10 – I kept waiting to get swept up in the magic, but the different styles never completely gelled for me.

World building

8/10 – The details are there, but the juxtaposition of fantastic details against the all-too-real world ones was never completely smooth.



Friday, April 4, 2008

Spiritual Noelle by Jet Mykles

TITLE: Spiritual Noelle
AUTHOR: Jet Mykles
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 34k)
GENRE: Paranormal ménage erotic romance
COST: $4.99

Witch Noelle has made a decision. She wants to be in a relationship with Daniel, the witch she’s been helping teach how to control his powers, and his leashed shapeshifter Jake. Abandoning her family’s holiday plans, she returns to their reclusive home to put her plan into motion, helped by a storm that traps them in the cabin for days on end. The only problem is, Daniel keeps insisting he’s not gay, but Noelle suspects his feelings for his best friend run far deeper than he’ll admit…

Coming into an established series in the middle is always a dangerous practice. If too much backstory is left out, a reader is left wondering what’s going on. If too much is put in, it often gets dry and dull while the reader waits for the story to pick up. I knew I was taking a risk by finally getting around to reading this story.

As far as I can tell (and I could be wrong because I haven’t read anything else in this series), this is Noelle’s first story. She might have been introduced in an earlier book, along with her conflict regarding Daniel and Jake. I don’t know. I do know that it feels very much like walking into the middle of the movie. The author attempts to fill in the details of the extensive paranormal world she’s created somewhat early in the story, and for the most part, I think she succeeds. But where it’s less successful is providing necessary background to the main characters themselves, specifically Daniel and Jake. It would have been easier to accept the holes I had regarding their motivations and the like if I was more invested in them – and Noelle – as characters. But unfortunately, that’s not what happened.

It started with my distrust and dislike for Noelle. The story is told in 1st person from her POV. On the very first page, there’s this:

I was intrigued by her sex life. My little sister had leashed two shapeshifters, a rare feat in and of itself. But even more amazing was that, by all accounts, these men were not only gorgeous, but they had been lovers before she leashed them. I’d spoken to Meg myself on the phone on Thanksgiving before the family sat down to dinner. Although my sister was notoriously close-mouthed about her personal life -- when she had one -- I’d gotten enough to know that yes, the men were not only involved but that now all three of them were in a sexual relationship. Two men. My little sister had two men.

If she could, could I?

This is pretty much the introduction to Noelle. There’s no mention of the men, or her feelings, until after this. In fact, the paragraph prior to this is all about Noelle and her family as well. This makes the entire scene that follows, where she calls the men, drops in uninvited, and gets herself stuck with them, feel very calculated and manipulative. Without knowing anything else about Noelle, I get a sense that this is all about one-upmanship for her. That, in and of itself, isn’t a bad thing. There’s certainly enough romances out there that start out in that vein, only to grow into something more. But it didn’t work here for me, mostly because I don't think that was the intent. I disconnected emotionally from Noelle, especially since it just seemed that all she really liked about Daniel was that he was the most gorgeous man she’d ever seen.

Daniel also presents a problem. From the beginning, he is sullen and resentful. I can’t for the life of me figure out what there is to like about him. He clearly doesn’t want Noelle around when she arrives, and the sense that she’s intruding on the two men’s lives together – they live together as platonic best friends – hangs heavily through all their early scenes. Even when Noelle starts to put her plan into motion and seduces Daniel, he takes forever to rise above his bad temperament to reach a place where I could even start to like him. It’s not that I think Daniel was ever a bad guy or anything, but his feelings for Jake are clear from the get-go, and Noelle always feels like a third wheel, even after everything has supposedly been sorted out between them.

The story’s strengths never seem to overcome my inability to engage with two of the three main characters. Though there are some minor editing issues with missing words and the author has a propensity for exclamation points that annoys me, the prose is relatively smooth and easy to read. The sex scenes are reasonably hot, as well. It’s just never quite enough to compensate for how manipulated Noelle made me feel.


8/10 – Minor editing issues and an overuse of exclamation points pull me out of what could have been very smooth prose


3/10 – The sex is hot, but I didn’t believe the romance or invest in the trio in the slightest


7/10 – Developed all right for the length of the story, but two of the three are incredibly unlikable for more than half the story

Entertainment value

4/10 – I spent most of the story disliking two of the three characters and feeling incredibly manipulated.

World building

7/10 – The author does what she can to explain the heavyduty paranormal aspects of her world, but for new readers to the series, it’s clunky and leaves a lot of questions unanswered