Monday, June 29, 2009

Somebody Killed His Editor by Josh Lanyon

TITLE: Somebody Killed His Editor
AUTHOR: Josh Lanyon
PUBLISHER: Samhain Publishing
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 69k)
GENRE: Gay erotic romantic mystery
COST: $5.50

The last thing Christopher Holmes wants is to spend the weekend at a writer’s conference, but his agent insists it’s the only way to save his flagging career. When the first thing he does there is discover a dead body, his fears about the course of the next couple days become founded, especially when he’s brought face to face with the editor he loathes, an ex-lover determined to accuse him of murder, and a killer on the loose…

NOTE: This is a review originally written for Uniquely Pleasurable.

Josh Lanyon’s new comic mystery series starts not with a whimper, but a bang. There’s a terrible rainstorm, a washed-out bridge, and, oh yes, a dead body. At its core is the mystery writer Christopher Holmes, whose book series about a crime-solving, British senior citizen and her cat has just been dropped. It’s all about chick lit and paranormals, his agent tells him. This is your chance to get relevant.

Except Christopher doesn’t want to get relevant. He doesn’t want to be there at all. He’s surrounded by a gaggle of writers, nearly all female, who spend more time socializing and talking about the process than actually writing themselves. There are exceptions within the crowd, authors who have their own success, and it’s with them that the at first narcissistic Christopher actually gets humanized. His high-handed behavior at the top of the story gets revealed as a front to the reader, covering insecurities stacked a mile deep and fear that, at forty, he really is over. It’s this balance of egotism, intelligence, and insecurity that makes him a wonderfully entertaining and engaging narrator.

This is probably the funniest Lanyon book I’ve read to date, with the vast majority of the humor coming from Christopher’s observations and wry delivery. The skewed inside look at the publishing industry gives him plenty of fodder as well (I have to admit to chortling far too long over Christopher’s line – after his pitch has bombed - “I guess I can still have a full and rewarding career writing Diagnosis Murder spin-off novels.”) It reads swiftly, with short, punchy, action-filled chapters, barely giving a moment to breathe. It’s not a wholly clean editorial read – for instance, I got stopped short when Christopher snaps once, “Ya vol, mon Commandant.” I don’t know if the misspelling of the German jawohl is a deliberate joke to make the delivery of the line funnier or an actual error, but it still yanked me out of the story for a moment. Either way, the line ends up failing for me, but I’m forgiving of instances like these (there are a few) when the rest of it is so sharp and funny.

There’s a plethora of supporting characters within the bunch, and while some succeed – the crackling Rachel Ving is a personal favorite – others do not fare quite as well. Christopher’s romantic foil is his one-time lover, J.X. Moriarity, and while J.X.’s suave perfection provides a nice balance to Christopher’s growing dishevelment – both in appearance and real life circumstances – I never really connected to him on an emotional level. Most of that, I’m sure, is that this is the book that sets up the rest of the series, and since J.X. is the unknown in this, both for the reader and very much to Christopher, this is the relationship that will end up experiencing all the growth. Have to give the author room to navigate, after all. For me, that means that ultimately, J.X. is likeable in this, but far more serviceable in terms of the mystery than the romance. I think I’m going to have to wait for the second book to see how I truly feel about him.

The enjoyment in this comes from the narrator’s voice and the carefully constructed action and environment, more so than either the romance or the mystery. The murderer didn’t come as much of a surprise to me, but I’m an avid thriller and mystery reader. Others might not guess as quickly as I did, or they might guess erroneously, since there is a whole host of suspects to be found in this. Either way, that doesn’t stop me from whole-heartedly recommending this. It’s swift, shrewd, and irresistible, the qualities I’ve come to expect and appreciate from Lanyon.


10/10 – Swift, shrewd, and irresistibly funny

Hero #1

8/10 – An entertaining balance of insecurity, egotism, and intelligence

Hero #2

6/10 – Not as fully developed, though more than likable

Entertainment value

8/10 – I tore through this, chuckling all the way

World building

9/10 – The insider’s look at the business is hilarious and vivid, while the environment leaps off the page



Friday, June 26, 2009

Nothing by Chance by Renee Spencer

TITLE: Nothing by Chance
AUTHOR: Renee Spencer
PUBLISHER: Wild Rose Press
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 67k)
GENRE: Historical romance
COST: $6.00

Five years ago, Madeline and Oscar’s engagement was destroyed by a drunken dalliance. Now, each has attempted to move on, and they suddenly find themselves in each other’s circle with a gaggle of children apiece. Oscar’s six adopted boys are wreaking havoc on his already falling apart home, while Madeline’s school for young ladies is in desperate need of a new facility. The perfect house is only a lease away, but when the property’s owner demands a contest to see who should get it, Oscar and Madeline have no choice but to try and reconcile their current feelings with their past indiscretions…

The hardest reviews to write are the ones that are the middle of the road. It’s easy to criticize bad spelling or idiotic character actions or purple prose, and even easier to praise tense action, hot chemistry, or beautiful turns of phrase. But when you finish a story with a feeling of meh? It’s hard to articulate what exactly to say about it.

The first word to come to mind was nice. Which doesn’t help a whole lot. But, with its precocious kids and too-cute set-up of pitting the kids against each other – and thus, putting Oscar and Madeline in direct contact so the Lady Dudley can play matchmaker – the whole thing reeks of a historical Disney made-for-TV movie. There’s a whole feel-good vibe to all their shenanigans, and I could literally envision the entire thing with Disney channel actors as I read. That’s not to say it’s bad. In fact, those sections are the most entertaining in the entire story. It’s just so incredibly wholesome. It’s not helped by overdone dialogue on the part of the children, i.e., Hurry, Wady Madewine, we only have wone more item to find. But like I said, some of their antics are quite funny, and it helps to keep the story moving along when it stalls out in other sections.

Like the ends of the chapters. Half of those are comprised of letters Lady Dudley writes to her husband, detailing how her matchmaking is going. It’s ponderous, and repetitive, and does nothing to actually advance the story since it’s very obvious from the actual goings-on what she is doing. I also didn’t care for the subplot regarding the indiscretion that broke Oscar and Madeline up in the first place. It makes Madeline look judgmental and Oscar stupid, which doesn’t help at all. I would have much preferred just focusing on the Disney part of the story, and settled in for a sweet romance. It’s not like the kids themselves don’t provide enough conflict.

Maybe the word I’m looking for here is diversionary. I don’t regret the time reading it as time wasted, but I can’t really say that it resonated or will stick with me for any period of time.


7/10 – Unassuming and easy, but the use of letters at the end of the chapters to offer the outsider POV distracted too much


7/10 – Solid and dependable, if a little dim about his first predicament


5/10 – Too quick to judge and a tad too flighty

Entertainment value

5/10 – Mildly diverting

World building

7/10 – The details were there, but I never felt like I was a part of it



Wednesday, June 24, 2009

NEG UB2 by Rick R. Reed

AUTHOR: Rick R. Reed
PUBLISHER: Amber Allure
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 21k)
GENRE: Gay contemporary romance
COST: $5.00

Six months into what he thinks is the relationship he’ll have for the rest of his life, Ethan Schwartz gets bad news. He’s HIV positive. Since he’s been monogamous for the duration of his relationship, and had next to no love life beforehand, there’s only one way he could have been infected. His shock and anger at his diagnosis bleeds into the rest of his daily life, and the only way for him to vent any of it is to start an anonymous blog. The question remains, though, is it enough?

Though it’s labeled romantic comedy on the publisher site, this sequel to VGL Male Seeks Same veers in a markedly more serious direction than its predecessor. The author bites off a heavy, important topic, and drops it smack in the middle of the sweet, romantic relationship he built in the first book. The repercussions reverberate into every aspect of Ethan’s life, changing his entire perspective from the very first sentence. It’s handled intelligently, eloquently, and most importantly, empathetically, as the reader glides through this smooth, swift read, hand in hand with the main character.

While Ethan is a self-professed queen and can sometimes be a tad too melodramatic for my tastes, I found myself hurting for him almost from the start. I’d had difficulty truly immersing myself in his perspective in the first book, and while there were glimmers of that in this – his issues with Brian more than once made me want to snap at him to talk to the man already – they were fewer and far between. Instead, I got wrapped up in his fear and anger, enough so that when he starts getting support from his blog, I teared up as well. There. I admitted it. I don’t tear up easily in books. That usually requires an immersion I find it difficult to achieve without visual stimulus (translation: I can cry at a movie far more easily, and do), but his pain in this is so utterly real, it was impossible to dissociate from it. This is the short novella’s single greatest strength.

The cast is minimal. There’s the new secretary at his work, who provides a nice, colorful, feminine balance to the scenes she’s in. Then, there’s Brian. Before, I had issues with Brian being too good to be true, and while he does still ring of perfection in this, he’s so utterly sweet and good to Ethan, even in the face of Ethan’s bad behavior, I liked him more. I’m still not sold on how fully fleshed he is, but I’m content with what I got from him in this story.

I’m finding it hard to go wrong with this author. Each one just gets better than the last.


8/10 – Some minor editorial issues, but otherwise a smooth, swift read

Hero #1

8/10 – Self-professed queen, but his angst hit me hard

Hero #2

6/10 – I still think he’s a little too perfect, but the fact that he never gave up makes me like him more

Entertainment value

9/10 – It takes a lot to move me to despair/sadness in a story; this did it

World building

8/10 – Authentic and hard-hitting



Monday, June 22, 2009

Acts of the Saints by K.A. Schuster

TITLE: Acts of the Saints
AUTHOR: K.A. Schuster
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 88k)
GENRE: Thriller
COST: $5.50

In a dystopian world where ultra-conservatives have turned the United States into a battleground between zealots and resisters, four lives intertwine. One: Father Theo, an alcohol-dependent priest plagued by visions that incite him to find resolution. Two: Catherine, his divorcee companion struggling with her own inner demons. Three: Martin Sovalle, a beautiful bisexual man who shows Catherine that love has all the power she ever hoped it could. And four: The Summoner, the enigmatic leader behind it all, behind the newfound religious movements, behind the danger, and most frighteningly, behind the lure that draws Catherine and Theo ever closer to his Citadel…

Trying to describe this book is like trying to mold dry sand. No matter how I try, I can never get it to hold its shape, because it’s ever-changing and slips through my fingers. On the surface, it’s about two resisters attempting to get to the central figure of a powerful and dangerous religious group. But it goes deeper than that, with rich theological and philosophical debates, and questions about how far is too far.

Paragenesis is the name of the organization inflicting its strict moral code upon the American populace. At its heart is the Summoner, a charismatic individual that is almost more myth than man, with very definitive views on how he perceives the world and the God he worships. The book starts with Theo and Catherine already on their sojourn, the hunt to find this mysterious leader. They travel along an invisible underground railroad of resisters, gathering information as they go. For the purposes of protecting themselves, they’ve married, though Theo has maintained his celibacy. In a lot of ways, however, they really are as devoted to each other as man and wife could be, supporting their views, helping each other through sticky moral dilemmas, making hard decisions when the time demands they be made. Theo is fascinating. This is a man divided, still very much devout, still very much in love with his Lord, and yet, he’s being forced on a daily basis to see the atrocities that are being committed in the name of his preferred religion. Sometimes he deals with it poorly, retreating into his alcohol. At others, he is as passionate and powerful as he ever was in the pulpit, an instrument to be utilized, a force to be followed. The magnetic pull he feels for the Summoner is both frightening and fated, and as a reader, I was as tossed in confusion regarding the whole situation as he was.

Catherine, unfortunately, isn’t quite as interesting to me. She’s probably more relatable as one of the most normal people in the story, but her entire motivation hinges on her feelings for Marty, something I am never able to believe or invest in. Now, she is just meeting Marty at the top of the story. She’s been in St. Louis for a grand total of six hours. He’s gorgeous, and she’s sexually frustrated, so it’s very natural for her to be attracted to him. No problem yet. In chapter two, they get a chance to sit down and get to know each other, though we only get the beginning of their day-long conversation. At the top of chapter three, they have sex, which is good, and still I don’t have a problem. However, immediately following that, the house they’re in is attacked, and Marty is its victim. She has no more interactions with him in St. Louis except when he gets dumped back at the house the following morning and she helps get him medical treatment. All of this happens in chapter three. From that point on, Catherine uses her feelings for Marty as a guiding tool in almost all of her decisions. She worries about him constantly, which is fine, but very quickly, she’s decided she’s in love with him, and it’s because she loves him so much that she is able to follow through with Theo on their quest. I never got it. I never understood just what the big deal was that she would invest in him, mostly because much of their interaction happened off the page. At least, I’m guessing it’s that day long of conversations that tipped her feelings in that direction. She is understandably hungry for affection, but the way she threw herself so whole-heartedly into him never resonated for me. Because of that, it was very difficult to invest in a lot of her emotions when it came to Marty. For much of the book, he’s this ethereal creature, more symbol than man.

Ironically, the Summoner ends up being more man than symbol. This is the single most intriguing character in the entire story, though that’s partially due to the mystery shrouding him for a good part of it. We get snippets from his POV through the first half, but they are all just one big tease for the last third when more of his history and motivations come out. They are dark, they are twisted, and in the context of his theological make-up, they all have a morbid logic that is as chilling as it is mesmerizing. His relationships are the ones that prove most intriguing, whether it’s with his unctuous assistant Griggs, damaged Theo, or even Catherine.

All of this gets wrapped up in dense, articulate prose, and while there are some exquisite turns of phrase – I especially liked, Remnants of ice broke through the skin of Lake Superior like violently fractured bones. and One bleached streak lay like a moonbeam directly above his left eye – it often feels like the prose is trying just a little too hard. Some of the effect of the evocative language gets lost when it’s loaded with ten-cent words that ended up distracting me at times rather than drawing me in. It slows down the read, though the pacing also gets weighted by the intricate world building. For instance, at the very start, the reader is thrust into the middle of a group conversation – Theo and Catherine amongst a group of resisters. On top of not knowing the primary characters at that point, I also didn’t know any of the other seven men in the scene – yes, seven – nor any of the politics or situations about which they’re discussing. Instead of hooking me in, it ground me to a halt almost right away, as I struggled to keep straight these nine strangers while at the same time, tried to get a grasp on the world they lived in. It took time to adapt, though thankfully, that wasn’t the pattern throughout the book. Once the general political and religious atmosphere is understood, it’s easier to get involved.

But this is the kind of book where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I raced through the last third, tense, worried, and wondering how in hell everything was going to play out. Reservations I might have had early on vanished as I read, and while I can’t say that I was fully satisfied by the ending – the last few pages felt incredibly rushed, and then it just stopped – it remained true to much of what the entire story promised. It provoked me into thought, and into considering my review, and wondering just what in hell was going to happen next, and ultimately, what in hell I was going to do next. Compelling, if flawed. Rather like its charismatic priests.


8/10 – Some absolutely gorgeous turns of phrase, but dense plotting/world building keep it a slow read until the end


7/10 – Some characters shine, while others are overshadowed


9/10 – I loved the idea and machinations

Entertainment value

8/10 – Compelling and thought-provoking

World building

8/10 – Dense and more than a little frightening, I found myself having to re-read passages in order to keep all the details straight



Friday, June 19, 2009

Feral by Joely Skye

TITLE: Feral
AUTHOR: Joely Skye
PUBLISHER: Samhain Publishing
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 64k)
GENRE: Gay shapeshifter erotic romance
COST: $5.50

When cougar Ethan gets captured by a werewolf pack, he expects the same thing to happen that happened eight years earlier – that he’ll be contained and tortured, brought to the brink of death over and over again. He is forced to shift to his human self after eight years as a cat, but the torment he expects never comes. Instead, the young wolf Bram provides comfort, even if he helps to keep Ethan contained. But when Bram learns that his pack leader plans on giving Ethan over to others to study, he knows he can’t just sit idly by. It goes against his standing as the pack omega, but he still knows right from wrong. And he’ll do what he can to help the cougar who needs him…

NOTE: This is a review originally written for Uniquely Pleasurable.

Feral is the latest story from author Joely Skye, set in her unique world of shifters, and while select characters from the previous books make an appearance, reading those isn’t necessary to follow along in this new novel. It stands alone on its own merit, more cohesive and enjoyable than the last book, though it doesn’t quite reach the standards established by the first two (both het romances written under the author’s other pseudonym, Jorrie Spencer).

The story starts with a heart-pounding bang, as the wolves chase Ethan through snow and over mountains. The action is tight, the tension palpable, and by the time Ethan is caught, I was as anxious as he was about the upcoming consequences. It was a fascinating set-up and sucked me in, especially with the introduction of Bram, a werewolf omega. This is a damaged young man, eager to please, desperate for acceptance, hungry for the scraps he gets. At the same time, he harbors a rapidly growing anger at his situation, and especially at the pack leader who treats him so abysmally. It’s my fascination with him that propels me through the story, because even though he borders on being a little too angsty for me, I really wanted to see where he ended up going, how he might grow throughout the course of the action.

Ethan isn’t quite as interesting as Bram, though his predicament and the shades of depths he displays – even as manipulative as they might be, a necessary thing in his attempt to escape – kept me involved throughout the first half, and even into the second half of the story. Once he’s attained some measure of independence, however, I found I wasn’t as intrigued anymore. At that point, the tables are turned, and it’s Bram’s turn to be gentled, so to speak. The feral of the title applies equally to both leads, depending on the place in the story. But it also means that the emotions run a tad high at the most wrought parts, bordering on just too much.

The best part of any of these books has always been the author’s carefully constructed, fascinating world. Her shapeshifters are complex creatures, with rich histories and motivations, and it’s easy to become immersed in the alternate reality she presents. Their sensuality mirrors the growth of their relationships, and those evocative sections help to smooth over some of the otherwise jumpy mood transitions that mar what is still an entertaining read.

As an introduction into the world the author has created, this one is a superior choice to its predecessor, with a fantastic opening and characters with interesting flaws. There is much to enjoy here, as is usually the case with this particular author, and I’m looking forward to seeing where she goes next.


8/10 – There are sections that are borderline headhopping, which jarred me, and some of the mood jumps make it a little jerky, but otherwise a solid read

Hero #1

7/10 – Shades of depths get sacrificed when his vulnerable position is reversed

Hero #2

7/10 – There always felt like there was more potential to his omega position than was fully realized

Entertainment value

7/10 – Better than the book previous, but not as strong as the first two

World building

8/10 – The fascinating world the author creates is always her biggest strength



Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Re-Ignition by A.R. Moler

TITLE: Re-Ignition
AUTHOR: A.R. Moler
LENGTH: Short story (roughly 12k)
GENRE: Gay contemporary erotic romance
COST: $2.49

When Griff Rieckert wakes up in a stranger’s bed, hung over as hell and no memory of the night before, the last thing he expects is the calm aid of the gorgeous blond who slept next to him. But Sean Avery is more than he appears, a calm force in the chaos of Griff’s life. Griff is having a hard time coming to grips with the disability that ended his illustrious FBI career, but with Sean’s help, he might finally see a light at the end of the tunnel…

The opening is a familiar one – a protagonist wakes in an unknown bed with no memory of the night before. It’s been a set-up for thrillers, romances, science fiction stories and more, and most often works as a mechanism of providing backstory for the reader while trying to make it organic to the plot. Sometimes, it works. Sometimes, it doesn’t. In the case of this short story, it’s the former.

Griff’s confusion is clear and realistic, the set-up helping to demonstrate the anguish he is going through as a result of his debilitating accident. It helps considerably that Sean is a warm and wonderful presence. I loved the calming effect he had on Griff’s mindset, and especially liked that nothing happened right away. There was a real chance to see these two interact and get to know each other before it turned sexual. Not too long, considering it’s a short story, but long enough for me to be comfortable with the fact that yes, these two could actually have some sort of real thing starting here. Dialogue was realistic, and Griff’s growth, combined with his reticence due to his disability, helped the fledgling romance just as much.

The tense climax works within the context of the story, but it ends up drawing attention to the story’s biggest flaw. These are complex characters, with complex motivations, and it ultimately feels like there is more story than what is being told here. The ending feels a little too pat and convenient, rushed to fall within a word count, rather than a real emotional destination the beginning promised and the characters deserve. It has a measure of satisfaction, but not the depth that it felt like it should have. So while it’s a pleasant romance, it’s not the truly rewarding read it could have been. It does, however, make me curious if this author has longer work. I think there’s some real potential here, and I’m excited about finding it.


8/10 – Simple, engaging with realistic dialogue

Hero #1

7/10 – Competent and appreciably bitter about his accident

Hero #2

7/10 – Solid and reassuring

Entertainment value

7/10 – I liked the guys enough to want them to have their romance, I just wished it was longer

World building

6/10 – There’s not a lot of room for it in the short story format when the focus is on the characters, though the one tense climactic scene is very well done



Monday, June 15, 2009

Always and Forever by Pamela Labud

TITLE: Always and Forever
AUTHOR: Pamela Labud
PUBLISHER: Resplendence Publishing
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 77k)
GENRE: Historical time travel romance
COST: $6.50

Crippled after a duel to protect his sister’s honor, Robert Houghton finds himself in a sickbed with little hope for the future…until a cursed ghost whisks him away to satisfy the bidding of a Scottish lass in need of help. Jenna MacReynold is in desperate need of aid. She’s just fled the malevolent grasp of her would-be husband, a man who only wants to wed her in order to get to her untainted younger sister. She needs a man she can claim as a temporary husband so she can both get help from a neighboring clan and hold the evil Murton Carrick off. She just doesn’t expect to be so attracted to the man she ends up with…

Throughout this entire novel, I could never shake the prevailing sense of missed opportunity. I loved the blurb I read, and the romantic promise of these two desperate characters filled me with great expectation. However, while I liked both the possibilities behind the plot and the two leads, it never really lived up to the story I wanted it to be.

The problem for me started quite early. Though I generally liked the characters I was introduced to, the incredibly awkward information dumps about their histories and situations made for some very clunky reading. There was a ton of telling, not showing, in order to establish motivations and needs, and I found myself cringing when another passage would come along to convey needed backstory. It did a tremendous disservice to the characters that were being set up. Robert has a determined spirit, one that shines through in spite of his disability in his present time, while Jenna is plucky and strong without losing her femininity. Much of this comes through later on in the story, in the way they act and react to their increasingly awful situation, but I wanted it from the start and didn’t really feel like I got it.

The depiction of Scottish life in the thirteenth century was strong and vivid, with solid details to paint the world in which Robert and Jenna grow close. I sank into that portrayal much more easily than I did in Robert’s nineteenth century England, though that’s primarily due to the fact that Robert is mostly bedbound for all the time he’s there in the beginning. But in the end, a strong sense of place isn’t quite enough to compensate for the awkward information dissemination throughout the story. These enjoyable characters deserved a smoother presentation than what I read.


6/10 – Awkward information dumps hold back the promise of this idea


7/10 – I liked his spirit and determination, though I’ll admit I liked him more in the past than I did in his present


7/10 – Plucky and strong

Entertainment value

6/10 – Though I liked the characters and the idea, the execution failed to live up to its promise

World building

8/10 – Some solid details that brought Scotland to life



Friday, June 12, 2009

An Officer and His Gentleman by Ryan Field

TITLE: An Officer and His Gentleman
AUTHOR: Ryan Field
PUBLISHER: Ravenous Romance
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 52k)
GENRE: Gay contemporary erotic romance
COST: $4.99

Chance Martin’s got it rough. The only way for him to have a roof over his head is to accept the less than noble terms of his aging boss – work in the market by day, be naked in the man’s presence during off-hours. Chance gets through it by focusing on his love for cooking, one day dreaming of making it big on the Food Network, but when a gorgeous naval officer on leave catches his eye, his dreams start to expand…

I have a number of Ravenous Romance books sitting on my TBR pile, books I bought months ago before a lot of the recent brouhaha about the company seemed to appear in the blogverse. I have to admit to being a little reluctant to pull any of them out, but when one of the nicest things I can say about this particular book is that it isn’t nearly as terrible as I feared it would be, I wonder if I should review it at all. Except I’ve read it now, and while it’s not as awful as might be expected, it’s still pretty bad.

The basic premise is that Chance is a pretty young thing who can’t afford to live on his own, kicked out by his parents when they found out he’s gay with little talents except his love for food, and his love for sex. He gets a job and a room to live in at an Italian market, on the condition that after hours, he doesn’t wear any clothing. The lecherous old man who owns it doesn’t do much more than grope him, but it’s still a pretty tacky situation. I had hoped from reading the blurb and excerpt that it would end up being quirky instead, but Dan treats Chance so abysmally, it might as well be abuse. And the problem is, Chance takes it. This was one of my biggest stumbling blocks in the entire set-up. Chance is an incredibly talented cook. He’s young. He’s reasonably bright. He’s a hard worker. How am I expected to believe this is his only alternative? There’s never enough reason or depth provided to make this situation plausible in the slightest. Its only purpose seems to be to put Chance in the most awful circumstances possible and then show him a man who can save him from all that.

Not that Brody Chambers, the Naval officer, is really all that terrific. He’s certainly nice enough at the start, but when his behavior turns belligerent and controlling early in their relationship, I applauded Chance’s decision to leave him in the dust. The reasons given to explain it away are flimsy at best. Plus, Brody is pretty much in the closet and is going to stay that way, he’s only in town because his mother is dying, and all he seems interested in Chance for is sex. None of this inspires me to invest in the romance. Not in the slightest.

Along with the weak characterizations, the prose suffers from frequent editing errors. There are shift tenses and inconsistencies galore. For instance, the first time Chance is going to meet Brody at a nearby amusement park, it’s agreed that they’ll meet at eight. The store closes at seven, Chance finally gets to dash out just past seven-thirty, but when he arrives at his friend Sarah’s house – the girl who is acting as his front for his boss – she complains that it’s nearly seven. Oops. This is just the first of many mistakes, which increasingly annoy me. There is no usual romance dirty talk in this, either. The language in the sex scenes is crude and meant to be so, and lines such as this are not uncommon: “I'm gonna fuck you hard, baby. I'm gonna breed that fucking hot ass until you can't take it." “Breed” is actually a favorite word in this, used repetitively throughout the book. I know it’s meant to be erotic, and perhaps for some people it is, but I didn’t find it particularly so.

There is one aspect that’s done amazingly well. Any time Chance focuses on food or cooking, the details come to life. My mouth watered more than once at the description of one of his specials, and I found myself wishing for more material like that, rather than the endless parade of sex scenes with Brody. There’s not enough of it to carry the weaker sections of the story, however, and ultimately, I was just relieved to be done with it.


5/10 – Frequent editing errors and tedious characters made this a slow read

Hero #1

4/10 – Never really believable for him to be in the situation he is, it’s hard to feel sorry for him when he doesn’t look at options

Hero #2

4/10 – Flat and a control freak

Entertainment value

4/10 – The appeal wears thin quickly when it’s obvious there won’t be any depth to the story

World building

7/10 – The food parts were particularly great, as well as some of the quirkier character bits



Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Terms of Surrender by Becky Barker

TITLE: Terms of Surrender
AUTHOR: Becky Barker
LENGTH: Short story (roughly 13k)
GENRE: Contemporary erotic romance
COST: $2.50

Two years ago, Cassie Pallard left the man who’d loved her most of his life to join the rodeo…with his best friend. Now, Cassie is back, and Brody Chambers doesn’t know what to think. She wants a second chance, but he doesn’t want to be played a fool again. If he can have her back on his terms, maybe he can finally get her out of his system. But her surrender works in ways neither one of them ever anticipated…

NOTE: This is a review originally written for Uniquely Pleasurable.

One of the most important things to remember about short erotic romance stories is that your length restrictions mean you have to be extra careful about why readers like romance in the first place. Hot sex is all well and good, but if one or both of the lead characters is completely unlikable, then it doesn’t really matter how well written a story might be.

That is exactly where this story suffers. Cassie left town two years earlier with Brody’s best friend, a huge betrayal no matter how you look at it. She’s come back because she’s decided she’s both tired of rodeo life and wants Brody back. Is that necessarily a problem? No, but it does mean that the author needs to try harder to make me like Cassie because my initial impression is very negative. She doesn’t. What we learn instead – in the very first chapter – is that Cassie is incredibly manipulative. At the top of the story, she has pulled up behind Brody’s truck, but when she goes to leave, her car won’t start. Which she knew it would do:

A twinge of guilt nagged her as she studied the man she loved beyond measure. She hadn’t planned to trick him, but she’d needed to get past his prickly anger. Her old car never started when it was overheated and she’d been driving in the hot sun for several hours. Her little fit of pique had been a ruse. She’d fully intended to accept his terms of surrender, however harsh they might be, but she hadn’t wanted to cave too easily.

Then, we learn the real reason she left town:

She never would have left if he’d loved her as deeply. She’d thought her threat to join the rodeo would elicit a marriage proposal, but her plan had backfired. He’d let her go without a fight, without a call or letter or speck of protest.

So not only do we have a woman willing to trick this guy after breaking his heart, but she broke his heart in the first place just because she wanted a proposal. This doesn’t make me empathize or like her in the slightest. It makes me loathe her, instead. This sort of emotional manipulation is very hard to accept, even when you know a character well. I don’t know Cassie well at all at this point, since this is the start of the story. So when Brody treats her like an object, my initial reaction is, “Good, she deserves it.”

Not that Brody is much above reproach. His resolve not to let her walk all over him again only lasts until he gets the bright idea to demand her as a sex slave. He is cold and unfeeling in most of the sex, so while it’s competently written, I can’t even respond to the whole vengeance/angry hotness that it’s probably meant to convey. By the end, when they are both being idiots, I can only say that they probably deserve each other. Some really nice, evocative detailing on the setting, and solid sex scenes – though individually brief – can’t rescue the distaste the two leads leave behind.


7/10 – Relatively clean prose can’t help infuriating characters that make me want to toss the story


4/10 – Starts out strong, and then turns into a slimy idiot


1/10 – I honestly can’t remember the last time I loathed a heroine this much

Entertainment value

2/10 – Frankly, these two deserve each other.

World building

8/10 – There’s some really nice details in between all the awful characters



Monday, June 8, 2009

Losing It by Kate Willoughby

TITLE: Losing It
AUTHOR: Kate Willoughby
PUBLISHER: Liquid Silver Books
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 30k)
GENRE: Contemporary erotic romance
COST: $5.25

When her sister asks how much pain is involved in losing one's virginity, Charlotte Gibson is forced to admit that she has no idea, that she’s been lying all these years about having experience just to keep her little sister on the straight and narrow. Too late, she realizes she’s been overheard by hunky Ben Hayden, the contractor who has been working on her house for the past year. The inevitable confrontation reveals their mutual attraction, and Charlotte makes an impromptu decision to agree to let Ben be her first. The question is, though, will he be her last?

I laughed more in the first 700 words of this novella, than I have at most full-length stories in a very long time. And when I say laughed, I mean exactly how the author intended me to. It’s a short scene from Ben’s POV as he accidentally overhears an exchange between Charlotte and her sister Kerrie, where Charlotte finally confesses she lied about losing her virginity. The timing, Ben’s realistic reactions, the dialogue…it all added up to hurl me onto the path of this fast-paced, exceedingly funny erotic romance.

The foundation of this story’s warmth is how realistically all the relationships ring. Kerrie and Charlotte relate to each other like real sisters. The way they go back and forth, walking that edge of honesty with love, reminded me of me and my sisters, which goes a long way to adding credibility to all the characters in the story. The banter between Charlotte and Ben also felt honest. There are jokes aplenty – including some truly awful knock-knock jokes from Ben – but there are also believable mood transitions, realistic reactions, and smart emotion. I can’t emphasize enough how real the interactions in this novella felt. That’s the very root of why I loved the romance in this so very much.

Some of the secondary characters aren’t quite as fully developed as the leads, but since they tend to serve plot purposes rather than much of anything else, that’s perfectly okay for me. So, surprisingly, is the very mild headhopping that occurs in this. Anybody who reads my blog knows I’m not a fan of headhopping, but when an author is good and handles it cleanly, I can look past it. That’s the case here. It doesn’t switch for long sections, which helps a lot, and the characters and humor are both rich enough to overcome the transitions.

One of the nicest things about this story? The fact that it’s an older one for this author, which means I have a whole new backlist to explore. Ms. Willoughby is the most exciting new author I’ve found so far this year. This was an exhilaratingly funny, wonderfully sexy romance. I can’t wait to get my hands on more of her work.


9/10 – Mild headhopping doesn’t stand in the way of delightful leads or humor that had me laughing from the very first page


8/10 – Hunky and adorable, though part of me wants to buy him a book of knock-knock jokes so he can get some better material


8/10 – Love her humor, only wished she had a little more self-confidence

Entertainment value

9/10 – The romance between the two left me with the biggest smile on my face

World building

8/10 – Though the juxtaposition of their two worlds is the primary conflict, it ends up being secondary to their interactions



Friday, June 5, 2009

The Dating Game by Stephanie-Anne Street

TITLE: The Dating Game
AUTHOR: Stephanie-Anne Street
PUBLISHER: Wild Rose Press
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 33k)
GENRE: Contemporary romance
COST: $4.50

Fenella Grant runs a dating service called Discreet Liaisons, but when a woman buys a year-long membership for her serial dating brother, Fen suddenly finds herself interested in one of her own clients. James McAllister is about to turn forty, has no desire for a serious relationship, and is incredibly annoyed that his sister is meddling into his personal life. Until he speaks to Fen the first time on the phone. Suddenly, he’s intrigued by someone entirely different than his normal type, but Fen has her own secrets and valid reasons that keep him at arms’ length…

It was time for a contemporary after my recent spate of historicals (though I have another historical for review next week), so I chose a sweet one from Wild Rose Press. I have a rather hit or miss record with this particular e-pub, though I can almost always count on it for offering something that at least sounds interesting. In this case, it was the promise of a disabled heroine crossing paths with a serial dater.

Fen is an ex-ballerina who was nearly killed in a hit-and-run a year earlier. She has spent the past year rebuilding her life and learning how to walk again, and at the start of the story, is managing with crutches and a lot of pain medication. She’s strong without being overbearing, and seems terribly normal and level-headed in spite of her illustrious career. I never really understood why she was so amused at James’ blustering and belligerent attitude when he tries to get out of the date she sets up, but it’s not something that stopped me from liking her as a character. James, actually, comes across as even more likable, though his introduction to the reader is less than stellar. I really enjoyed his determination to find out what the deal was with Fen, and if I didn’t completely buy his emotional dedication so swiftly, that’s just because the author did too good of a job setting him up as a serial dater first.

While the romance itself was sweet and amusing enough, it never delved deep enough for me to truly believe that these characters had any kind of real future. Fen seemed too much like the one he couldn’t get rather than “the one,” while her increasingly desperate measures to hide her disability from him doesn’t bode well for an honest future. Because this is obviously meant as a Christmas offering, however (the entire book takes place in December and over the Christmas holiday), I’m probably much more forgiving of a certain wholesome quality to their relationship. On that level, it certainly works. I just read this outside of the feel-too-good holiday season, and so, it doesn’t work quite as well as the author probably hoped. Toss in the fact that I was thrown for a loop about the location (London isn’t even mentioned by name until page 53), and the fact that Fen’s dating service has only been open for two months and yet, has this thriving customer base (one woman has been on quite a few dates already), and I’m left wishing the book had been longer to better explore the realms of possibility, rather than rush to a happy ending. Still, it was a pleasant escape for the short time it took. Just not an entirely satisfying one.


8/10 – Simple and unassuming, though the lack of a definite setting for the beginning jarred me when I realized it was London


7/10 – Likable, and while his determination is romantic, it’s never really explained


6/10 – Her amused reaction and then subsequent leaps of logic seem out of the blue, but she’s likable nonetheless

Entertainment value

6/10 – Amusing, but doesn’t develop the romance as much as I would have liked

World building

6/10 – The lack of place detail at the beginning was disorienting, and I found some details (like the fact her agency had only been open for 2 months and yet she had this huge client base) unrealistic



Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Name of a Wolf by Jez Morrow

TITLE: Name of a Wolf
AUTHOR: Jez Morrow
PUBLISHER: Ellora’s Cave
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 30k)
GENRE: Gay historical shapeshifter erotic romance
COST: $5.20

Young aristocrat David Blackleigh falls in with a group of outlaws when his attempt to kill the man who stole his home from him fails. The commanding Connor is the most beautiful thing David has ever seen before, but in spite of his acceptance into the group, Connor seems determined to avoid David. The man harbors secrets, more than David expects, but love and desire have a way of making even the truth come out…

Sometimes, stories bite off more than they can chew, which ends up being the problem with this one. There is a lot crammed into this 30k novella, and the only way it’s able to get it all out there is to be very skimpy on the prose and details. A lot of stuff is simply glossed over, with very simple, direct sentences, and with the exception of the sharp first chapter, the entire thing reads like an outline for a book, rather than the book itself. It lacks any real depth to either the characters or their situations, and without those deeper forays, I can't really connect with what's going on except in the most superficial of ways.

The primary POV in this is David’s, though that line gets blurred more than once. It doesn’t really headhop, but there are definite sentences that slide out of David’s and into someone else’s, though only in the most superficial manner. It’s indicative of the rather loose effect the entire story has, like the lack of sharp focus on much of the detail. We get to see from the start just what David sees in Connor – there is never any angsting in this over his homosexuality at all – but Connor’s motivations suffer. Eventually, we learn more of his backstory, but the reasons why he ends up choosing David are murky at best. The most we really get is David’s the most beautiful man Connor’s ever seen. In addition to this, I end up feeling like Connor is much of an enigma because of the lack of insight into his personality. Except for the fact that he’s very nearly perfect, of course.

Is the prose bad? For the most part, no, though this exchange certainly doesn’t help matters:

Then Davy’s felt the heat of liquid fire release inside him, felt the magnificent animal shudder against him.

Don’t come.


It was all Davy could do to contain his ardor.

Connor’s weight lifted from him. The air felt cool on Davy’s damp back. He was panting hard through clenched teeth, frustrated and longing, still holding back.

Connor turned him over. The light shimmered through Davy’s wet eyelashes. Connor smoothed tears from his face with his thumbs. “You’re crying?”

“No,” Davy bleated. “I think I came through my eyes. Connor, I’m so hot I could die.”

It's probably meant to be amusing, but I laughed at the sheer ridiculousness and inappropriate imagery it evoked, rather than what I think is the real intent of the line. It completely threw me from the rest of the scene, and in fact, from much of the rest of the story.

That’s not to say the story was bad. It wasn’t. I zipped through reading it, but when I was done, I was left feeling incredibly unfulfilled. It’s like eating cotton candy. It’s pretty and looks good, but the second it hits your tongue, it dissolves into nothing, and in the end, you’re left wondering why you even bothered.


6/10 – Overly simplistic, like the outline of a book rather than the whole story

Hero #1

6/10 – A tad too fervent for my tastes


4/10 – Know what I know about him? He’s…good looking.

Entertainment value

5/10 – Bland and ultimately unfulfilling

World building

6/10 – Once the strong beginning was past, details felt sketchy