Friday, January 30, 2009

It Takes a Hero by Lynn Lorenz

TITLE: It Takes a Hero
AUTHOR: Lynn Lorenz
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 23k)
GENRE: Gay contemporary erotic romance
COST: $4.99

Lieutenant Anthony Richmond planned for a military career until an explosion in Iraq cost him half his leg. Now, he’s trying to reconstruct some sort of life, but in order to do that, he must first undergo physical therapy. Enter Marcus Jamison. He’s a wet dream come true, and determined to get Tony back in shape. Though Tony balks, Marcus is stubborn, sticking it out until Tony caves. Physical therapy isn’t quite as tough as Tony expects, except for his growing attraction to his therapist…

I wanted to love this book. I don’t often – okay, rarely – pay much attention to most covers unless they’re truly awful or absolutely gorgeous. A cover isn’t going to tell me if the author can write, which ultimately is my purpose for buying a story. But occasionally, a cover sucks me in anyway, for whatever reason. In this novella’s case, I fell for the depiction of Marcus in the background, and frankly, I still look at the cover and think, “Guh.” So starting the story, I was in even more of a place of, “I hope this story rocks my socks,” than I usually am.

The opening scene is tense and tightly written. We’re thrust into the middle of the action with Tony in service and witness firsthand the accident that costs him his leg. It then jumps into short segments of what happens afterward, all very fitting with the disjointed mood of the narrator. By the time we get to the scene where his military lover leaves him, I’m rooting for Tony to try and get back on his proverbial feet.

That’s where the story starts to falter for me. Tony returns home and moves in with his sister Claire. He’s wallowing in self-pity and anger, refusing physical therapy. This is all to be expected, but the writing here wasn’t as powerful as it was in the opening scene. Marcus gets introduced, and the tension between the two men is palpable, but I was never fully able to enjoy it. Why? Because honestly, I started to dislike Tony. I understood he was angry, that he was lashing out, but all I ever saw was that. The story is told in 1st person, and mired in that perspective, all I get is the constant barrage of his frustration with nothing to show me that he’s got something to like underneath it all. With the introduction of Marcus, I hoped to start seeing some nuances, but they just never came.

Part of that stems from Marcus’ flat characterization. The man is too good to be true. Too good-looking. Too patient. Too knows exactly the right thing to do and say just when Tony needs it. If the man had flaws, I didn’t see them. Even Tony wonders about how perfect he is by comparing him to Mary Poppins. He’s a mask I never get to see past, which stems from a combination of being stuck inside Tony’s head and never getting to see Marcus be anything but perfect. Marcus even does the right/ethical thing when things take an unprofessional turn between the two men. I just wanted him to screw up once, show me he’s human, but that never came.

The story is more sweet than erotic, and while the few earlier scenes work for me, the last ones don’t. Part of it is word choice: I cried out as it pressed against my portal, having the prostate referred to as a “button,” and Our cocks rubbed together, long lost loves, reunited. It just doesn’t work for me as a reader. But I also think the last big one doesn’t work as well because the author chooses it as a big cathartic moment for Tony, and honestly, I wasn’t feeling it. Everything at that point seemed far too over the top, and I’m sure that added to my heightened sensitivity to word selections then.

So when I called this one done, I was disappointed. I had two guys – one too much of a jerk to like, the other too perfect – in a situation the author treated sensitively as drama but not so effectively as romance. I just needed more.


8/10 – Until it got to the last real love scene, clean and simple, if not memorable.


5/10 – I saw too much of his angry, “I’m a jerk” side than anything I could sympathize with to make me like him.


4/10 – Too perfect to be believable

Entertainment value

5/10 – I liked that the story tried, but the romance fell far short of working for me

World building

7/10 – The opening was great, as was the reality of his physical therapy. Everything else fell by the wayside.



Wednesday, January 28, 2009

My Guy by Anastasia Rabiyah

AUTHOR: Anastasia Rabiyah
PUBLISHER: loveyoudivine
LENGTH: Short story (roughly 11k)
GENRE: Paranormal erotica
COST: $2.75

Life at the Chattel is easy but boring for Anne, until a man with too many scars and even more names chooses her for a Wednesday assignation. He doesn’t want sex. He just wants to hold her. But the darkness in him feels all too familiar, the fire he creates in her belly an ache she welcomes. Forever doesn’t scare her. Neither does he…

I found myself surprised by this short story. I’ve never read anything from this publisher before, and other offerings I’ve seen by this author at other e-pubs seemed less than promising. The prose isn’t anything exemplary, though it’s clean and unassuming. The heroine, too, isn’t any kind of unique archetype. She’s a whore who’s tired of her job, going through the motions and saving for a rainy day that never seems to come. There’s nothing really original with Anne, but at the same time, I found myself liking her.

Then, the hero gets introduced. He goes by a different name each week, all the names of angels. His body is scarred though powerful, and though he might be gorgeous, what sucked me in was his whole melancholy, tortured vibe. He just wants to hold Anne the first night. It’s romance hero 101, but I fell for it, all the same. There was a certain grace to his scenes with Anne, an easy sensuality that swept me up. I wanted him to return to the story, just as much as she did every Wednesday.

This is not a romance, but there’s a satisfaction to the ending anyway. I like that the author didn’t take the easy road out with this, though one particular development in the end made me roll my eyes. Still, it was a brave move to end it the way she did. It encourages me to try some of her other work at some point. If I can fall for a hero in a short story like this, especially a hero that should by all rights have pushed my “oh, please” button, I have to wonder what I might do with something longer.


8/10 – Simple and unassuming, quite readable


7/10 – I’ll admit it, I fell for the tortured vibe


7/10 – The whore with a heart of gold has been done to death, but she feels surprisingly relatable

Entertainment value

8/10 – I got sucked into the wish fulfillment/fantasy of this

World building

7/10 – The real world is adequate enough, but there are a ton of questions left unsaid about the hero’s existence



Monday, January 26, 2009

Bordello Dolls by Ellen Ashe

TITLE: Bordello Dolls
AUTHOR: Ellen Ashe
PUBLISHER: Total-e-bound
LENGTH: Short story (roughly 11k)
GENRE: Paranormal horror erotic romance
COST: ₤1.69

Scarlet Boujois, visionary, feels smothered by the demands others place on her abilities. She looks for peace whenever she can, and when she takes a stroll before a heavy summer storm, she stumbles across a small antique shop. Its owner, the enigmatic Nicolai Van Adler, proves unreadable, and far too seductive to resist. Scarlet falls under his spell, but even though someone warns her of a ghostly bordello and its evil owner – a man who bears the same name as her new lover – all she wants is to find him again…

Ellen Ashe is one of those authors I want to love, which is why I always look at her new releases with interest. She’s one of the more original authors out there, both in style and ideas, and when so many of the books I read can bleed together or be forgotten completely within a few weeks, originality is good. She has a remarkable talent for creating atmospheric works. This short story is definitely not an exception.

Though I didn’t fall head over heels for this, I can most assuredly say it’s my favorite of the three stories I’ve read of hers so far. Her prose is sumptuous, with a definite Baroque quality to it, especially as she describes the bordello and its denizens. It fits the subject matter perfectly; the entire opening of Scarlet’s thoughts on storms as she heads out for a walk before one is creative, rich, and a joy to read. A lot of this skill is prevalent throughout the story, but while the editing on this is tighter than it has been in earlier works, there are enough sloppy mistakes to weaken her prose. Nicolai’s last name, for instance, takes on two different spellings throughout; sometimes, it’s Van Adler, and others, it’s Van Alder. There are a few tense shifts, spelling mistakes, and assorted other minor problems as well. I know a lot of people won’t even notice them, but frankly, considering how lavish her prose can be, for this reader the mistakes detract from being able to enjoy it. Because that is by far her best talent in writing.

The story is not your typical romance. Ashe likes to take a look at the macabre, and in this case, the hero is creepy and malevolent, a pimp for his prostitutes even as he seeks out his mate. Scarlet is sucked under his spell; the entire story is much like Dracula as Scarlet embodies both Lucy and Mina, and the bordello dolls mirror the female vampires Dracula keeps at his castle. There is definite menace there, but the construct of the romance remains true, as long as you look at it from the hero and heroine’s perspective. They love each other, they want to be together, anybody that opposes that is the villain. Even if the villain is not someone who would normally be considered evil in the everyday world.

Even knowing all that, I can’t say that the romance really works for me as strongly as the rest of the story does. I find the focus on atmosphere and setting ends up shortchanging both leads’ characterization. Scarlet’s motivations are skimmed over – the sex is good, and she can’t stop thinking about Nikolai, therefore she must seek him out. There’s the bonus that she can’t read his soul, but that’s never fully explored. Scarlet ends up coming across like a puppet for the first half of the story as a result. Nikolai fares a little better, but because his history is shadowed so much, I ended up having a lot more questions about him than answers. Both become guides leading me through the story, instead of real people I get sucked into believing.

Because of the author’s voice and originality, though, this is a story that lingers long after it’s over. I don’t love Ellen Ashe yet, but if she keeps improving as she has been, and sticks with these dark tales that she so clearly adores, I have high hopes that I will.


8/10 – Sumptuous prose, though some sloppy editorial mistakes hold it back


6/10 – Some dark promise there, but there are too many questions cheated of answers in this short format to make him truly satisfying


5/10 – Her motivations are kept superficial because of the format

Entertainment value

8/10 – A story that lingers, long after it’s done

World building

9/10 – Original and lavish



Friday, January 23, 2009

Frost Fair by Erastes

TITLE: Frost Fair
AUTHOR: Erastes
PUBLISHER: Linden Bay Romance
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 36k)
GENRE: Gay historical romance
COST: $5.99

When the printing community turned its back on his dying father, Gideon Frost decided never to have to rely upon another again. He does what he must to try and make the printing business he inherited survive, and if that means he must occasionally sell himself in order to pay a bill, so be it. But he does so on his terms. The only man who even tempts him to bend those personal rules is his client, the richer, older, attractive Joshua Redfern. When the Thames freezes over, circumstances bring them even closer together. Gideon has to decide whether the opportunity Redfern offers is charity, or something more…

The heart of this long novella is Gideon Frost, a young man beset by troubles yet determined to prevail without having to accept charity. There is a dignity to his strength, a pride and gentility that creates an aura superior to those of the supposedly upper class. He conducts himself professionally, providing strict boundaries for himself even when he is forced to seek out other means to pay creditors. There is never any doubt he will do what he must, and do so with his respect intact, which makes him a pillar amidst the chaos rampaging around him.

Therein lies my difficulty. In his attempts to protect himself, Gideon has thrown up walls that hold other characters at bay, including Redfern, a man he’s mad for. Those walls do a lot to shield the reader as well. While I certainly felt for Gideon in regards to his personal situation – both financially and professionally – I found it much more difficult to engage with his feelings regarding Redfern, much because as a general protective measure for himself, he tries not to dwell on them too much. He opens up very, very gradually after his circumstances change halfway through the story, but it’s just not quite enough to fully invest me in the romance aspect of the story.

The romance isn’t aided by Redfern’s characterization, either. His initial attraction to Gideon is well done and utterly believable, and I had high hopes once the river started to thaw. That promise isn’t quite followed through, as Redfern proves to suffer from the same sort of rigidity Gideon does. It’s apropos for the period, don’t get me wrong. But Redfern’s swiftness to take things on faith without proof is much harder to empathize with than Gideon’s drive to be self-sufficient. His quick reversal is even more so, and I was left with the feeling that I had missed something somewhere along the line. It just felt a little easy, when throughout the first half, a strong part of the story’s charm was that it wasn’t easy, that sometimes life meant hard choices.

In spite of my distance from the romance, this is solid storytelling. Period detail is vivid and puts the reader completely in the moment. At first glance, the parallelism of the frigid weather with Gideon’s walls isn’t exactly subtle, but it works anyway, primarily because of the author’s clear sympathy for her lead and her love of the environment. It contributes to the melancholy air pervasive of the entire story that serves both Gideon and his professional dilemmas very well. Above all else, this is an engrossing character study, with solid writing and detail that should please any fan of the genre.


9/10 – Mostly uncomplicated and quite readable, a much swifter read than I expected.


7/10 – Multi-layered, but the distance he holds other characters at works against him with the reader


6/10 – A nice enough man, though many of his various transitions of mindset seemed overly simplistic

Entertainment value

7/10 – Though I liked Gideon, I didn’t really trust the romance aspect of the story.

World building

9/10 – Vivid, very much puts the reader in the moment



Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Delighting Miss Daisy by Abbey MacInnis

TITLE: Delighting Miss Daisy
AUTHOR: Abbey MacInnis
PUBLISHER: Wild Rose Press
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 29k)
GENRE: Contemporary romance
COST: $3.00

Daisy Porter doesn’t want to see her town papered with sleazy beer flyers, especially where children can see them, but her crusade to take them down gets derailed by her unexpected attraction to the businessman behind them…

Normally, I don’t buy books in the middle of a series if I haven’t read the first books. I’m far too obsessive to read things out of order. But this particular series looked different. It looked too much like all the books were standalones, and that it was just a bunch of authors writing romances that happened to all be set in this small Texas town. That’s true, to a degree. I think my problem is, I picked the wrong one to get a flavor of it, and now I’m definitely not bothering with the rest of them.

The problems start almost immediately. The heroine’s name is Daisy Porter. When she introduces herself to Sam, the hero, on the fifth page of the story, she calls herself “Delia Porter.” Now, it’s entirely possible that her real name is Delia and Daisy is a nickname, but that’s never stated in this story. In fact, the prose refers to her as Delia several more times in the next few pages, before switching back to Daisy, and Daisy she stays until the end of the story. I realize authors often will change character names, but one of the two leads? Not catching that kind of a mistake is just lazy editing. And if it’s not a mistake, that’s even worse because there is absolutely no explanation anywhere for the Delia name. It completely jolted me out of the story and makes it entirely too clear it’s not meant to be a standalone. Then, when it starts headhopping, I just about give up hope.

I can forgive headhopping when the story or writing is good, but in this case, it’s just not. The author has a tendency to write something in exposition, and then repeat it in dialogue, like this:

Daisy grasped the wooden rail of the porch for support. Her knees felt weak. The honesty in his words hit the bull'seye of her heart, shattering it into shards. How could he know what that hurt feels like?

Daisy turned her face away, not wanting him to see more of her vulnerability. She reached for anger, used it as a shield. "How in the hell do you know of what this feels like? Don't even try to pretend that you have a clue."

And yes, that’s a direct quote, complete with misspelling. But the repetition of her thoughts in dialogue is tedious, and worse, it happens throughout the entire story. A character thinks something, then says it, thinks something, then says it. There is no sense of pacing whatsoever.

It doesn’t help that I don’t like either one of the leads. Daisy is mean and bitchy, lashing out at random intervals. Her behavior gets explained later on – by some of the most melodramatic history I’ve read in a long time – but by then, it’s too late. I already think she’s an awful person, and I really don’t care that she’s been hurt or suffered tragedy. Sam doesn’t fare much better with his complete lack of real motivations for most of his actions, but at least he’s not a jerk.

So I’m going back to my rule, no matter what. No coming into the middle of series. Ever. It never works out.


4/10 – Poor editing, clumsy dialogue, and melodramatic characters make this tedious


4/10 – Personality all over the place, and no good reason to believe he’d ever pursue a relationship with the bitch of a heroine


2/10 – Mean-spirited and bitchy, all the tragedy in the world won’t make me like her

Entertainment value

2/10 – Drudgery to read, I only finished it because it was short.

World building

5/10 – The author attempts to incorporate all these other characters in the small Texas town, but it feels too shoehorned.



Monday, January 19, 2009

Love in Waiting by Jane Beckenham

TITLE: Love in Waiting
AUTHOR: Jane Beckenham
PUBLISHER: Cerridwen Press
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 85k)
GENRE: Time travel romance
COST: $6.99

A trip to England gives Jayne Seatoun more than a vacation. It sends her spiraling into the past, into the life of Lord Callum Broderick. Though he rubs her entirely the wrong way, she can’t get him out of her head, even if she would rather be in his bed…

This almost went into my DNF pile. I had so little time to actually read over the holidays, wasting what little I had on a story I suspected after chapter two wouldn’t work for me seemed silly. But I kept hoping that I would be surprised. Sadly, I wasn’t.

The setting of sixteenth century English life is adequately created. The close historical detail helps to compensate the story’s other weaknesses. As a heroine, Jayne is presented in ways that I’m sure are meant to make her look independent and spunky, but come across as bitchy instead. Callum constantly remarks on her need to be contrary, and frankly, it’s deserved. There’s never a clear enough reason for her to be sharp with him, or for the about-faces she makes throughout the course of the story – often in the middle of a scene. It all feels incredibly manufactured to keep these two apart as long as possible, without ever feeling organic.

That sense of manufacturing is present in the plot as well. Early on, Jayne tells the story of how she’s lost her family, which is meant to make her more sympathetic. It doesn’t really work, but outside of that, there is a woman who works in Callum’s castle who not only has the same name as Jayne’s missing mother, but also is the mother of Callum’s best friend, Thomas Seaton. There is absolutely no mystery as to who Margaret and Thomas really are, and if I’m supposed to say to myself, “Oh, but there’s an extra u in Jayne’s last name, so that makes a difference,” the story missed its mark. But Jayne never puts any of this together until the end of an already too-long and tedious book, even though she is with these people for months and months. It’s blatant and clumsy, and reflects poorly on the heroine when she is already difficult to like. I have no idea why anybody falls for her, let along King Henry on top of it. She’s symptomatic of everything that doesn’t work for me in this story. Perhaps in the end, I should have listened to my instincts after all.


6/10 – Awkward tense shifts, an unlikeable heroine, and clumsy execution makes these a tedious read.


5/10 – Though there are attempts to make him interesting, most of the time he comes off as kind of a flake.


3/10 – Attempts to make her plucky only make her look like a bitch

Entertainment value

2/10 – No surprises, no involvement, little enjoyment

World building

7/10 – Enough detail to make the past feel real



Friday, January 16, 2009

Texting Aphrodite by Amy Lake

TITLE: Texting Aphrodite
AUTHOR: Amy Lake
PUBLISHER: Belgrave House
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 81k)
GENRE: Contemporary romance
COST: $5.00

Eleni Whitby, partially British, mostly Greek, lives in Athens as a translator for the British Embassy, the dream job she has wanted her whole life. At twenty-nine, she has friends she adores, an ex-husband she’s still friends with, and family coming out of her ears. She doesn’t need to add an American archaeologist who looks like Gary Cooper to the mix. She doesn’t care that Dr. Kent McAllister loves Greece as much as she does, or that he fits in with her life like he was born there. Well, not much anyway…

I love stumbling across gems like this one. Every Monday, I check out all of Fictionwise’s new releases in romance and erotica. It lets me check out publishers I don’t normally visit, and sometimes gives me excerpts where even publisher sites don’t. It also shows me stories like this one, that probably get next to no exposure because it’s not one of the e-pubs you hear about on a daily basis. Texting Aphrodite is a wonderful surprise. Part travelogue, part romance, part chick lit, it tells the story of Eleni Whitby, a twenty-nine year-old divorcee working as a translator in Athens. She loves all things Greek, and though her immediate family still lives in London, her extended family remains in Greece, providing a colorful backdrop to play off her everyday life. She hangs out with her best friend, the American Lisa, and her ex-husband Paolo, who turned out to be gay. And if her life seems a little frenzied, that’s just because there’s so much coming at her from all side all at once.

Enter Kent McAllister. He’s blond, beautiful, and should represent everything she’s not looking for. Except he’s also an archaeologist, and as generous as she is, and being with him is as easy as being with Lisa or Paolo. Eleni wants to run, and she tries once or twice, but the pull is too strong, much to my delight.

I loved Kent and Eleni. Eleni was fresh, vibrant, and intelligent, while Kent was solid without being boring, typically male in so many respects, yet accessible without feeling fake. Their romance/relationship is built slowly, piece by piece, complete with backward steps – organic to their personalities – and awkward moments. I loved how real everything felt, like I was going to get caught any second spying on these two people.

Part of that realism is helped by the exquisite painting the author does of Greece. There is never any doubt that I’m reading about a woman steeped in both Greek and British culture. Finishing a chapter made me feel like I could traverse that particular street, or go into that particular shop, and find exactly what I’d read about. It’s rich and fabulous, and makes me crave to be there.

Does the story have flaws? Of course. The plot has a tendency to be tangential, and it can often feel like, “What does this have to do with anything?” Stylistically, it’s perfect for Greek characters, and ultimately, you do find out what all the digressions are for, but sometimes, I got a little whiplash on the back and forth. There’s also one scene that for some inexplicable reason is all told in present tense, instead of the past tense used everywhere else. That jarred me for its duration, but then the voice slipped back into 1st past and everything was good again.

Do I care about the story’s flaws? Nope. Not one iota. My only regret is that it’s not in print. I’d buy this one in a heartbeat. Eleni and Kent feel like old friends now, and I’ll want to revisit them and Greece again. And again.


9/10 – The 1st person POV isn’t as tight as it could be technically, but the frenetic pace exemplifies the narrator and the detail honors Greece.


8/10 – Strong, likeable, and wholly male.


8/10 – Even hung up on the whole “my ex turned out to be gay” thing, she’s fresh and vibrant.

Entertainment value

8/10 – It’s a joy to fall in love with characters like this.

World building

10/10 – The entire story just breathes Greece and tradition. Wonderful.



Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Metamorphis by Gabriella Bradley

TITLE: Metamorphis
AUTHOR: Gabriella Bradley
PUBLISHER: eXtasy Books
LENGTH: Short story (roughly 14k)
GENRE: Paranormal ménage erotic romance
COST: $2.99

A car accident throws two souls in chaos, when St. Peter’s apprentice mistakenly puts them back into the wrong bodies. Wesley finds himself in the body of a beautiful young woman, while Marian now inhabits his. When Wesley shows up on his lover Tyler’s cabin doorstep in a female form, Tyler doesn’t understand why he’s attracted to this strange woman, even after she claims to be Wesley. He’s even more confused when the man he thinks is his lover arrives claiming to be Marian…

The idea of a gender-switch story where a gay man ends up in a woman’s body intrigued me, so I bought this, hoping for something entertaining if not necessarily profound. I should have taken my misgivings about the title more seriously. I thought, “Maybe it’s just a play on words and it’ll get explained in the story.” But…no, it didn’t. The author misused the word, most likely meaning “metamorphosis,” and this lack of basic vocabulary knowledge typifies her weak storytelling.

It starts out okay enough. The prose is simple but straightforward, and the scenes short. But as soon as Wesley in Marian’s body shows up at the cabin, things start getting confusing. It gets even more so when Marian in Wesley’s body shows up. The author can’t decide what pronouns to use when addressing them, and this lack of consistency makes for a very sloppy read. It doesn’t help that POV focus gets weaker as the story progresses.

This problematic presentation isn’t the only issue I had with the story. Wesley in Marian’s body has no problem letting Tyler take the virginity Marian had been saving. All he cares about is having sex. And how am I supposed to believe that gay Wesley – who has never had any interest in women whatsoever – is suddenly eager to include a woman in a relationship with the love of his life? And what was the big deal with Tyler’s ex-boyfriend being in the cabin when Wesley in Marian’s body showed up? Did he serve any purpose at all except to provide a modicum of conflict at first? Every little thing chips away more of my suspension of disbelief, until it’s almost completely gone by the time I finish.

Though the basic idea of the story held fun promise, its execution didn’t follow through on it. Next time, I’ll take my cue from a sloppy title.


4/10 – Without staying consistent in how the body-swapped genders are dealt with, it makes for a problematic read.


3/10 – When one of the gay characters has never had any interest in women whatsoever, it makes it very hard they can work anything out.


4/10 – Shallow and inconsistent

Entertainment value

3/10 – I like the idea, but the execution lacks any sort of finesse

World building

4/10 – Too many questions and not enough answers to have any sort of consistency



Monday, January 12, 2009

A Cradle-Robbing Christmas by Veronica Wilde

TITLE: A Cradle-Robbing Christmas
AUTHOR: Veronica Wilde
PUBLISHER: Liquid Silver Books
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 27k)
GENRE: Contemporary erotic romance
COST: $4.75

Divorcee Gillian McKutcheon just wants to make her son’s Christmas just like every other one before it – even though she’s strapped for cash because of her jerk ex-husband, everyone in town feels sorry for her for getting dumped, and she’s lonely for some genuine affection. Then Santa drops Logan Chase, her son’s slightly older friend with a secret crush that’s not so secret anymore, under her Christmas tree…

I had a pleasant enough experience with this author the first time I read her, so I thought I’d try her again, even though I wondered what new territory she might explore since she’s written the younger/older dynamic so much before. I have to admit, though, I hate the title. It doesn’t have either a sexy or a romantic connotation for me. Since I’d hope for either one or the other in an erotic romance, it didn’t bode well as a start.

The story does manage to rise a little above its unsatisfying title, but not by much. The sweetness and sexiness I found in Wilde’s earlier work was missing, which is more than a little odd considering this is a Christmas story and those practically beg for sweetness. The sex scenes felt very by the number, with some word choices pulling me out of them. I also never really connected to either character very much. Logan is excessively somber and mature for his twenty-one years, while Gillian’s focus on material things – an accusation that gets leveled at her by her ex-husband, too – rubs me the wrong way. I know intellectually she’s merely compensating for a lack of emotional ties within her life, but on a reactive level, it grated. Her need to buy an expensive gift for her son for Christmas is fairly indicative of the way she treats the rest of her life.

There’s also a lot of dancing around more serious issues that never really get followed through on. For instance, Gillian’s ex is a functional alcoholic and there are hints that her son is starting to follow in his father’s footsteps. Logan briefly touches on his abandonment issues, but only as a justification to show her how self-aware he is. These contribute to a sense of drama that always lingers in the wings. You know it’s there, and you keep waiting for it to come onstage, but the curtains open and close and it never steps out. It doesn’t necessarily make this a bad read. It does, however, make it a forgettable one.


7/10 – Mostly smooth, just a few lines pull me out of the fantasy and into the unsexy


5/10 – Sweet enough, but too serious


5/10 – A little too one-note and a shade too materialistic for my liking

Entertainment value

6/10 – Diverting but not memorable

World building

7/10 – Solid enough for what’s there



Friday, January 9, 2009

Reaching Higher by Ann Somerville

TITLE: Reaching Higher
AUTHOR: Ann Somerville
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 41k)
GENRE: Gay sci-fi romance
COST: $4.50

Stranded after their illegal mission went awry, Kine Raelne and his shipmates have been sentenced to death, punishment for attempting to kidnap and murdering some of the wild Angels that inhabit the planet Quarn. He is given the chance for amnesty, in exchange for his scientific expertise. Together with telepath Suaj, Raelne takes on the job of reconstructing Quarn’s lost technology. Though both men are outcasts, Suaj makes it very clear to Raelne that they are only working together because he has been ordered to. Fraternization is out of the question. Even if their similarities far outweigh their differences…

Reaching Higher continues the story started in On Wings, Rising. Raelne is part of the human contingent responsible for the kidnapping of the Angel babies, and we are given the opportunity to see the events from a different perspective. It fleshes out characters that were merely utilized as villainous tools in the first story, and adds a whole new layer of complexity to the world Somerville created. These new details – in fact, the world-building all around – are by far this story’s greatest strength, better even than the clean and nearly flawless prose. There is never any doubt of Quarn’s existence, of the Angels or space travel or the minutiae of these characters’ lives.

This same level of attention is paid to the various characters that populate this short novel. There isn’t a false note anywhere to be found. Both Suaj and Raelne are men in love with science and the quest for knowledge, with a particular fondness for flight in any form. Their discord at the start is honest to their situation, and the relationship the two start to build seems genuine. I have little problem getting swept along with the events of the story as they fight to rebuild not only Quarn’s technological past, but also Raelne’s life.

If there is fault to be found, it’s my inability to connection emotionally with either of the two male leads. The story is told exclusively from Raelne’s POV, which gives me ample opportunity to learn about his feelings of abandonment and loss but little else. He expresses only mild curiosity about Suaj in any sort of romantic light for a good portion of the story. When their relationship eventually shifts, it makes logical sense – because of the facts I know about them – but not emotional. It’s almost like experiencing the story through glass. I can see it all. I can appreciate the vividness. I just can’t feel it.


9/10 – Swift, clean, and well-paced. It’s only imperfect in the lack of emotional engagement.


7/10 – Well-rounded and believable, though hard to connect with on an emotional level


7/10 – Complex and intriguing, but again, I never connected emotionally

Entertainment value

7/10 – While I appreciate this story on a sci-fi level, my failure to connect emotionally to either character keeps the romance from working for me.

World building

10/10 – Rich and detailed, by far the strongest aspect of the book



Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Christmas Gift by Janet Eaves

TITLE: The Christmas Gift
AUTHOR: Janet Eaves
PUBLISHER: Resplendence Publishing
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 27k)
GENRE: Contemporary romance
COST: $4.50

Widow Christina Montgomery gets the jolt of a lifetime when a man who looks almost exactly like her presumed dead husband shows up in her barn. The man has no memory, and no clue who she might be. He just has the letter he was found with when he was recently injured – a letter written by Christina’s daughter. Is this her husband come back to her? Or is it someone else? Either way, Christina realizes she’s falling in love, all over again…

I bought this story hoping for a poignant Christmas reunion story. What I got was nothing of the sort. Christina is one of those heroines I unfortunately can’t stand. She’s protected to the extent of being not just innocent but downright stupid sometimes, she’s so conservative that sex is abhorrent until of course the right man comes along, and on top of all that, it turns out she’s spent two years blocking out every bad memory of her husband, building him into a paragon of virtue. If the writing or characterization had been more deft, maybe it wouldn’t have annoyed me as much as it did. But Christina pushed every “you’ve got to be kidding” button I have.

The writing doesn’t flow well enough for me to get past my dislike for the heroine. The prologue isn’t so bad, but the first chapter is rife with streams of run-on sentences that get tedious to read. It continues throughout the story. It doesn’t help that the author has a tendency to make simple mistakes, like confusing “desert” with “dessert” and vice versa. By the time I reached the completely convenient ending, I’d had enough. The romance wasn’t enough, the sex scenes were perfunctory, and not even the mostly congenial hero could save it.


4/10 – Clumsy writing and common homonym mistakes do not make this fun or simple to read.


6/10 – Far more likeable than the heroine is, that’s for sure


2/10 – Dim and annoying

Entertainment value

3/10 – Though I liked the hero, the dumb heroine and the farfetched details toward the end made it difficult to enjoy this

World building

6/10 – Just enough to hold the story together, but nothing exciting



Monday, January 5, 2009

The Heart Wants by Alexandra Marell

TITLE: The Heart Wants
AUTHOR: Alexandra Marell
PUBLISHER: Alinar Publishing
LENGTH: Short story (roughly 11k)
GENRE: Paranormal romance
COST: $0.99

Every Christmas for the past sixty-years, Catarina Bellamonte has reappeared at her family villa, waiting for the man she loved in life to come. Lovers in WWII, she has never understood why Philipp, the German soldier she loved, didn’t show up on the night they were to run away together. She hopes for answers. This year, she just might get them…

There’s a sweet melancholy to this short story that provides a wistful romantic note to what could have been a maudlin Christmas tale. The highly visual prose sweeps along in vivid pictures, and though it does at times border on being overwritten, it’s effective in sucking the reader in, evoking a period of long ago with its softer rhythms. The tale of their tragic love affair unfolds in bits and pieces as the story switches from present to past and back again.

Philipp gets the better deal when it comes to characterization. Though his past is still sketchy, he comes across as very sweet and passionate, falling for the effervescent Caterina in record time. Caterina, in turn, ends up being more of a vehicle for Philipp’s affections in the flashback scenes than a fully fleshed woman. She’s beautiful, elusive, and a fantasy come true in many regards, which only lends to the dream-like quality of the entire short story. I ended up yearning for the fruition of their relationship anyway, though I’m pretty sure that’s a result of Philipp and the general melancholy permeating the prose.

All in all, it’s a sweet, nostalgic romance to celebrate the holidays with. Heavy on the romance.


8/10 – Very romantic, visual prose that occasionally gets bogged down in overwriting


7/10 – Sweet and engaging


5/10 – Not as fleshed as the hero, she serves more as a focal point for him than as an individual character

Entertainment value

7/10 – A very romantic morsel, with a nibble of nostalgia on the side

World building

8/10 – Some vivid descriptions though it does have a tendency to distract from the primary story at times



Friday, January 2, 2009

Santa Please by Jade Falconer

TITLE: Santa Please
AUTHOR: Jade Falconer
LENGTH: Short story (roughly 9k)
GENRE: Contemporary gay erotic romance
COST: $2.00

Taking a seasonal job as a department store Santa is a little demeaning for college professor Ian, but when he sees the gorgeous young James playing his elf, he decides it might not be as bad as he thought. Especially when James doesn’t hold back on the flirting…

Sometimes I wish I could write a note to authors and say, “You know, there is absolutely nothing wrong with writing an erotic story purely for the erotic factor. Truly. You don’t have to shoehorn in a romance into a short format if it’s going to make it completely unrealistic.” That’s certainly the case with this one. I had hoped that because of its length, this would focus on an erotic encounter, but no, that apparently is not the author’s intent. There’s a great sexual build-up to a rather steamy encounter, but then – in order to satisfy some romantic quota, it would seem – the story jumps forward a month to a sappy, unrealistic, unbelievable HEA. Any attempts to show me the development of the relationship are gone. I don’t even get the characters talking very long about much of anything but their attraction for each other before they’re hopping into bed together. Without those elements, how am I ever supposed to believe that these two love each other at the end? Oh, right, because the author tells me.

Because of the length and the focus on the first two-thirds on the erotic aspect, there isn’t a lot of character development in this. Ian is 50, James 25, but that proves to be only a very minor obstacle to their physical relationship. It doesn’t even really do much to add to the hotness of it, as in bed, it’s not an issue. The guys are likeable enough, but the dialogue never really flows naturally, and I’m left having a vague sense of bodies rather than personality. For an erotic story, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. For a romance, it’s the kiss of death. It’s a shame this tried to be the latter. It could have been so much more satisfying if it was just about the sex.


6/10 – As long as the characters don’t talk or get too romantic, it reads just fine.


4/10 – A body with some age to it…which would be fine if it didn’t have to veer into unbelievable romance


4/10 – Not offensive, but not particularly developed, either.

Entertainment value

5/10 – When half the story is sex, how am I supposed to believe any kind of romance?

World building

4/10 – Undeveloped, but not really necessary in this.