Monday, August 25, 2008

Back in one week

No, I haven't disappeared. August has been absolutely awful for personal crises, and as my first and biggest responsibility will always be to my family and my real life situations, I took a brief break from the blog and mostly away from online.

However, it finally appears that life and all its tribulations is sorting itself out. School starts this week for the kids, and I'm almost ready to get back on the wagon. So to give myself a running start, I'm coming back full steam ahead one week from today on Labor Day.

Have a good week, everyone!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Toy Box: Collar by Lee Benoit, Zoe Nichols & Allison Payne

TITLE: Toy Box: Collar
AUTHOR: Lee Benoit, Zoe Nichols, & Allison Payne
PUBLISHER: Torquere Press
LENGTH: Anthology (roughly 15k)
GENRE: Gay erotic romance
COST: $2.59

A trio of gay erotic romances featuring D/s relationships and a collar.

This anthology of erotic short stories featuring a collar of some sort starts out with “Beloved” by Zoe Nichols. The shortest story in the collection, it’s an interlude between Hohru and his Master, Lucian, as Lucian bestows a new gift upon his slave. There’s really not that much more to it; in fact, I almost thought this was going to be a straight erotica anthology because of this story. The focus is on Hohru pleasuring his Master, and while there are declarations, it just never rose above the erotica for me. That was hot enough, but really, not altogether memorable once it was over.

The second story is Allison Payne’s “Stay.” Chris is a young man obsessed with the collars and leashes at the local pet store, and when he buys a collar on a whim, his older lover decides to take it one step further. The characters are more unique than those in the first short, with a gritty charm that carries what is otherwise a fairly light story. The two men are already in a relationship, but the emotion between them is palpable. Witnessing Chris’ submission to Sam, and Sam’s recognition of what his sub needs, is satisfying. One note, though. Chris refers to Sam as “Daddy” whenever they’re alone and in his thoughts. Though I think it fits perfectly with the characters, some might take offense. So be warned.

Rounding out the anthology is “Master Preston’s Bright Bottom” by Lee Benoit. Paolo is a slave, with an obsession for the Master he had one amazing encounter with. When he has the opportunity to start showing Preston just how he can serve him, Paolo jumps at it. All it takes is time and dedication. Benoit’s story is as long as both the stories preceding it, which means I had far more time to get to know and fall for her two heroes. This one is the strongest romance. Paolo is sweet and determined, while Preston has an appealing world-weariness about him. The two complement each other as the best D/s participants should. Even better, this story feels like a true seduction, as Paolo proves to Preston just how much they need each other.

As a whole, this is definitely one of the better edited Torquere anthologies that I’ve purchased. Benoit’s is the anchor that holds it all together, but the others offer a little something as well.


8/10 – Surprisingly clean for this publisher, swift and simple


7/10 – Benoit’s is the only one that feels like a true romance


7/10 – Benoit’s story anchors this category.

Entertainment value

7/10 – Each has their own strengths, though Benoit’s is my favorite

World building

7/10 – A variety of settings, though obviously the focus is on the D/s scene than anything else



Friday, August 8, 2008

Circle Star by Tatiana March

TITLE: Circle Star
AUTHOR: Tatiana March
PUBLISHER: Resplendence Publishing
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 75k)
GENRE: Historical western romance
COST: $6.50

When Susanna Talbot discovers her father has died, she returns to the ranch upon which she was raised – to discover the only way she can inherit is if she marries Connor McGregor, the boy who disappeared from their lives thirteen years earlier. The boy who professed to want to marry her until she threatened to have him kicked off the ranch he’d come to love. Nobody has seen him in all that time. Now she has three months to find him, or risk losing everything…

It’s not an original plot. The have to get married to satisfy the condition of a will device has been overused to the extreme. But the blurb didn’t make me cringe, and there was a lovely calm glow about the cover that sucked me in, so I read the excerpt. It’s actually the prologue of the book and captures time when the hero and heroine are teenagers, when he is becoming aware of her as a girl and not just the boss’ daughter. It held a distinct charm and nostalgia that appealed to the warm fuzzies in me, so I bought this in spite of the unoriginality of the idea. In retrospect, I’m glad I took the chance.

It’s not perfect. But for as long as the story remains focused on Susanna and Connor, it’s certainly engaging. Susanna isn’t a wilting flower, in spite of being sent to Philadelphia at thirteen to “become a lady,” and Connor is appropriately damaged and alpha. Both have been pining for the other for most of the time they’ve been apart, though neither is keen to admit it. Susanna is willing to do whatever is necessary to ensure she doesn’t lose her home and livelihood, and I have to admit that her plan to get Connor back to the Circle Star – while extreme and maybe not in Connor’s best interest – made me appreciate both her determination and spirit. The frustrations of keeping these two apart worked double time for me; more than once, I just wanted to grab both of them and shake them out of their obstinacy. Not in a bad way. In a heavily invested in seeing these two happy way. When it finally happened, I had a huge smile on my face.

But then things start shifting. Halfway through the story, Susanna’s best friend from Philadelphia arrives for a visit. Claire is spunky and entertaining in her own right, but as the resolution comes in sight for Susanna and Connor’s misunderstandings, Claire takes more and more of the stage. Her scenes are what drive the last third of the story, and while I liked her – and more importantly, liked the romance she was given – it ultimately meant losing time with the two characters I’d spent the first 2/3’s of the story falling in love with. It was towards the end, too, that the story starts taking more saccharine turns. Even scenes between Susanna and Connor don’t hold the same bittersweet edge they’d carried earlier. I think it’s probably to counter the drama inflicted upon mostly Claire, but it felt out of character for me and wasn’t what had invested me in the story in the first place.

Though there are very minor editing issues throughout the story that niggled slightly, and the author’s propensity for confusing loose with lose is something that should have been caught, it didn’t end up detracting from my enjoyment of the story. I just wish there might have been a different way of sustaining the conflict, rather than introducing a new character halfway through and creating drama for her rather than the ones I started out with.


8/10 – In spite of minor editing errors and a jump of story focus 2/3’s of the way through, I devoured this.


7/10 – As damaged and alpha as they come


7/10 – Smart and spunky

Entertainment value

7/10 – This would have been higher, as many of the scores, if the story hadn’t shifted focus away from the characters I wanted to care about most.

World building

8/10 – Though there’s nothing extraordinary in the prose, upon reflection afterward I realized just how immersed I’d been in its reality



Wednesday, August 6, 2008

For Life by Sam Cheever

TITLE: For Life
AUTHOR: Sam Cheever
PUBLISHER: Red Rose Publishing
LENGTH: Short story (roughly 7.5k)
GENRE: Contemporary romance
COST: $1.99

Zoe is nervous about meeting her fiance’s parents for the first time. In spite of his assurances, she is convinced that the fact she is black and Brian is white will be a problem for them. As it turns out, Zoe’s the one with the problem.

In spite of how short this story is, I almost didn’t finish it. I read the opening exchange between Zoe and Brian – bantering in an elevator – and immediately went back to the website to look at the excerpt to see how on earth I had been suckered into buying this. Because this, Zoe laughed. “What exactly is it that makes you crazy, vanilla man? Is it my cafĂ© au lait skin?” She let her tongue slip out from between her lips and tap against his mouth invitingly. He groaned and opened up to let her in. But Zoe wasn’t done playing. She yanked her tongue back. “Or is it my beautiful, curvaceous booty?” just reads awkwardly, not banter-y. The publisher’s blurb is also kind of vague about what the story exactly is about (I’d taken a gamble after being mildly charmed by the very brief excerpt), so when the story launches into Zoe’s anxiety about meeting his parents because she’s black, I almost stopped again. Because this, The first thing they heard as they entered the impressive penthouse was a high pitched voice screaming, “Black, black, black!” Zoe turned pale., makes Zoe look overreactive as hell.

But I kept on. Until the next point where I almost stopped. When Zoe takes a huge leap and accuses Brian’s father of not wanting them to get married when he came onto the scene teasing Brian’s mother about not scaring Zoe away before they got rid of Brian for good. She’s so wrapped up in her own paranoia and issues, she becomes completely irrational.

But for some reason, I kept going. Zoe has yet another over the top, unnecessary reaction to something after they leave the party, at which point, she proceeds to cut off all communication with Brian for a week. Doesn’t take his calls, doesn’t answer her door, nada. He’s forced to show up at her job to try and find out what the hell is going on, and lo and behold, there is the slightly charming scene I read on the website! Too little, too late.

Oh, and when they make up? We get lines like this: Zoe moaned as her body reached for that elusive peak, strained toward it, while pulling him along with her in her clenching, lust soaked womb. Why do female authors insist on confusing womb for vagina?!? The womb is the uterus, people. It doesn’t get soaked. It can't pull a penis along. Now, if this was the orgasm of the scene, I wouldn’t quibble about it clenching, but they don’t reach orgasm for another two paragraphs, so…I’m quibbling. And if someone wants to say that it's a romance euphemism for vagina, I'd like to point out that there are actually plenty of euphemisms that are actually accurate that could have been used instead, like "channel" or "passage."

Maybe I should’ve stopped at those first few paragraphs after all.

Readability4/10 – A lack of commas, laughable dialogue, winceworthy phrasing…it adds up.
Hero4/10 – Too perfect to be interesting or well-rounded
Heroine2/10 – Overwrought, irrational, and makes me want to slap her.
Entertainment value2/10 – I barely finished this. Only the fact that it was so short kept me going.
World building5/10 – Too much time preaching to do anything else.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Trilogy No. 111: Speak Its Name by Charlie Cochrane, Lee Rowan, & Erastes

TITLE: Trilogy No. 111: Speak Its Name
AUTHOR: Charlie Cochrane, Lee Rowan, and Erastes
PUBLISHER: Linden Bay Romance
LENGTH: Anthology (roughly 72k)
GENRE: Gay historical romance
COST: $6.99

A trio of gay historical romances, each offering love amongst Englishmen.

The anthology starts out with “Aftermath” by Charlie Cochrane. The story of two young men attending Cranmer College in England in 1920, it describes how two men of supposedly opposite demeanors and upbringings can come together and find love, in spite of the societal and cultural pressures. Edward Easterby is a chemistry student, awkward and antisocial, while Hugo Lamont is revered by all on campus as the man to be. Discovering they share a secret is both the best and worst thing to happen to them. As sweet as the potential of this romance is, however, it’s characterized by a device that very rarely works for me. Sections of the story are told in third person omniscient POV, which, while it’s reminiscent of other classic historical works, is always something I’ve struggled enjoying. For me, the intrusive narrator that both describes backstory as well as makes blatant connections for the reader distances me from getting involved. I’ve always found the need to draw lines within the text mildly patronizing, like I can’t do it myself. In this story’s case, since it happens as early as the third page, I’m shoved out of experiencing the story almost right away. I never find that footing with it. Dialogue that makes me cringe, even for the setting (I've fallen in love with you, Edward; I knew it from the moment you laid your precious head on my manly chest, that day by this same river.), doesn’t help that.

I moved on to the second story, Lee Rowan’s “Gentleman’s Gentleman,” with mild trepidation, then. If all three stories employed this device, I very likely would have set the entire thing aside. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. Rowan tells the tale of Lord Robert Scoville and his valet, Jack Darling, as they undergo a diplomatic assignment for the Crown. Darling served under Scoville in the armed forces, and took the post of valet afterward because he’s in love with the man. For his part, Scoville is very aware of his own proclivities, and though he’s always held a desire for Darling, he hasn't, and never would, acted upon it. Because they’re of different stations, the last thing he would ever want is to force a man to accept his advances, so they live comfortably in this stasis for over a decade. There’s an elegant charm to this entire tale, as the plot thread about their assignment wends along, that sucked me in. I delighted in both characters, chuckled along at their camaraderie, and was more than pleased with how they eventually found the truth of their feelings.

The final story is “Hard and Fast” by Erastes. Major Geoffrey Chaloner, the third son in a family of means but not title, has returned from the Napoleonic Wars to find his father determined to marry him off. The most recent candidate is Lady Pelham, but first, Chaloner must get through her cousin, Adam Heyward. Heyward is a very mystery of vexation, driving Chaloner to distraction more than once, and when their odd relationship explodes in an entirely unexpected direction, Chaloner is left adrift at what to do. Where the first story left me cold, this final offering thoroughly and utterly enchanted me. Told in 1st person from Chaloner’s perspective, I found myself tumbling along with his confusion, charmed by his responses, and just as eager to find a resolution to all the madness of his feelings as he was. Adam is suitably enigmatic, and provides an interesting foil for Chaloner. Ultimately, it was the romance I got swept up by the most. This story is different in tone and focus than Rowan’s, reflective of the various environments they chose for their heroes. Where Rowan’s story focused on the escapade as a means of breaking down the walls between them, this one utilized more internal monologue in order to accomplish the same feat. Both succeed, just in different ways.


7/10 – My difficulties with the first story are the only thing holding this back.


8/10 – I invested in varying degrees with the romances, though all have something to offer.


8/10 – The best overall aspect of the anthology.

Entertainment value

7/10 – It’s hard for a multi-author anthology to be perfect, and my difficulty with the first story illustrates that.

World building

8/10 – A reverse here, I actually had the best sense of place and time with the first story.



Friday, August 1, 2008

Renegade by Natalie J. Damschroder

TITLE: Renegade
AUTHOR: Natalie J. Damschroder
PUBLISHER: Amber Quill (Heat)
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 31k)
GENRE: Contemporary suspense erotic romance
COST: $6.00

Giving her best friend refuge is nothing new for Trex. Including the stranger who’s his new partner is. When Jake and Dan show up in the middle of the night seeking sanctuary, Trex doesn’t hesitate to take them in. She’s loved Jake her entire life. There’s nothing she won’t do for him, including offer solace from the nightmares that plague him with his work. What she doesn’t expect is the force of her desire for Dan, and what starts out as a need to help the two men clear their names quickly devolves into an emotional quagmire she’s not sure they’ll survive…

Sometimes, I’m in the mood for simple action-oriented fare. A fast read, something to escape with. Buying Renegade seemed to satisfy that need with a romantic triangle on the side, since it had two men on the run and the women who protects them. Toss in the fact that the men have psychic abilities that help them save abducted children, and I’m a goner. I confess, it’s part of my soft underbelly.

Ultimately, the story ends up satisfying what I needed. The prose is tight and action-oriented, pushing the story along at a comfortable speed. The three leads are likable, and if they fit a little too comfortably into stereotypes, I’m surprisingly okay with it. They don’t do anything despicable or too annoying, and actually, Dan is quite appealing in his broken alpha ways. Jake and his motivations are more of an enigma, but that is likely because the entire story is told from Trex’s POV, and frankly, she wears rose-colored glasses in his case. She has been pining for this man since she was three. She’s not exactly a reliable witness to his character.

The story breaks down a little for me near the climax as Trex pulls a dumb stunt that fully deserves the repercussions that follow, but there is one thing I do have to say for this story. I literally had no idea which one she was going to end up with until the second to last chapter. I kept seeing cases for her to end up with either guy, and I could never make up my mind about which one would get the HEA. It was nice to be left guessing that long, especially since the suspense angle of the story kind of fell apart in the last third, too. I was able to get caught up in the emotions when some easy fixes and telling not showing sullied the action for me a little bit.

All in all, it’s an escapist read with some hot moments, tight action, and an alpha male who got to me. Pretty much what I was looking for.

Readability8/10 – Swift, tight prose that throws you through the story
Hero7/10 – Broken and appealing, without losing his alpha edge
Heroine6/10 – I liked her a lot more until she pulled a stunt at the climax that had me shouting at my computer.
Entertainment value7/10 – Frankly, it kept me guessing about which guy she would end up with, in a generally entertaining way, and any time I can do that is good.
World building6/10 – The psychic aspects aren’t developed very clearly, nor is the heroine’s professional career, except when it proves advantageous for jumpstarting the plot when it stalls out.