Monday, November 30, 2009

Henry and Jim by JM Snyder

TITLE: Henry and Jim
PUBLISHER: eXcessica
LENGTH: Short story (roughly 4.5k)
GENRE: Gay romance
COST: $2.99

Henry and Jim have been together for fifty years. As age sets in, though, Henry does everything he can to ensure their remaining years are just as rich…

Considering the age of the characters, it’s obvious from the start of the story that this is going to be a very bittersweet read. We wake up in Henry and Jim’s bed, learning right away that Jim is suffering from some sort of early dementia, where his memory is slow to return and sometimes nonexistent. Henry dreads the day when Jim wakes up and can’t recall Henry’s name, and is determined to enjoy every last moment he can with his partner of the last fifty years. Through his eyes – the story is told in 1st person from Henry’s POV – we learn how they met, with just enough detail to put their long relationship in perspective. It’s done with romantic, slightly idealized detail, but nonetheless, reaches straight to the gut of these two men’s emotions.

To say I loved this story feels like an understatement. It succeeds for so very many reasons, not the least of which is the subject matter. So many shorts forget they still need to encapsulate a tiny fragment of time, to have a beginning and an end without biting off more than they can chew. Henry and Jim at first seems to have a slight meandering feel to it, but it’s too short for that to damage its delicate arc. Instead, the author pulls it all together at the end in what seems like an inevitable conclusion, yet somehow still managed to surprise me by how gut-wrenchingly real it was. I felt more in these four thousand words than I have with most of the much longer works I read this year. It’s haunting and romantic, a love story in all the best senses of the phrase. My one and only regret is that I let it sit on my TBR pile for far too long. I’ve had mixed reactions to Snyder’s work, sometimes really enjoying it, sometimes not, which is why I didn’t jump on this right from the start. After this, I’m likely to trust her far more.


9/10 – Haunting and truly romantic

Hero #1

9/10 – His pain and feelings are devastatingly real

Hero #2

9/10 – Filtered through Henry’s eyes, though still real

Entertainment value

10/10 – This broke my heart with what a terrific love story it was

World building

8/10 – A tad idealized, but vital to the depth of emotion



Friday, November 27, 2009

In Service by Mima

TITLE: In Service
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 72k)
GENRE: Sci-fi menage erotic romance
COST: $7.99

In the current war-torn climate, Malla wants only one thing – to serve the soldiers who are fighting, feeding them her sexual energy as only a few chosen can. Instead of the exploration team she’d imagined, though, she finds herself offered a spot with an Elite team, four men with incredible abilities placed in some of the most dangerous situations. One look at their histories and needs convinces her this is the assignment for her, but it quickly becomes obvious someone doesn’t want her reaching them. Meanwhile, the team needs her. Without her, they could very well die…

Some blurbs really don’t do their stories justice. Other times, they convey too much. In the case of this particular novel, the blurb actually manages both. It’s four dense paragraphs that ends up being repetitive, packed too densely with extraneous information, and ultimately, lost me when this book was first released. I only ended up picking this up because a number of people highly recommended it to me. Still, it’s languished on my TBR pile, because every time I went and looked at that blurb (which you can see on the product page linked above), my eyes glazed over and I passed.

It’s a shame. The book is actually pretty good, though I didn’t think it was as amazing as it was pitched to me. But it reminded me how important the blurb can be, and how so many authors probably aren’t doing themselves any favors with the ones they come up with.

Through sexual energy, Malla is capable of refueling the energies of Luo soldiers, people with extraordinary powers. In the case of her team, there is Shon, a berzerker, Grady, a mindwiper, Vel, a phazer, and Kor, a telepathic networker. Grady and Vel are lifemates, Kor is the energetic newbie, while Shon keeps himself at a distance since he fears that one day, his rage will kill somebody he cares about. Malla doesn’t like the distance he keeps, insisting she deserves to have all of him, but Shon refuses. The team is one of the best in the field, and through Malla’s care, finds themselves united in ways they never had been before.

There’s a lot of intriguing political machinations buried within the dense, intelligent prose, and while there’s tremendous promise of it all from the sharp, take-no-prisoners beginning, it’s never truly followed through on. I don't mean it's all sex. It's not. They do actually take action regarding the conspiracy. The problem is, once Malla meets the team, all of that takes a back seat to the erotica, which is only natural considering her function is to heal/refuel them through sex. I just wish there had been a better balance. The sex itself is fine – though the bedtalk feels stilted and phony, examples like this, Give me that hot tongue, Kor. I want it deep. As soon as you send me over, I’ll gush cum and feed you good, occur far too often – but it overwhelms the political plot in too many spots. There are sections where it drags on, or happens in too long sequence, to keep me focused on what exactly Malla and the guys are doing outside of their decisions how to orgasm. This isn’t always a problem, but the author has created a dense, complicated world, and it required more attention than what I got to truly enthrall me.

It’s interesting, because this is a story that has parts greater than its sum. Taking a look at the individual aspects of a story I examine while reviewing, each is higher than my overall enjoyment. The characters are strong and distinctive, even when they’re all entwined. Shon, especially, appealed to me, which probably explains more of my frustration with the amount of time Malla spent with Vel and Grady. He provided the only real romantic conflict within the story, and like the plot, suffered because of distractions elsewhere. I even bought and cared about the overall ménage, because I believed the emotions of all five parties. That’s a lot more than I can say about most ménages. They were loving and romantic, and honestly, deserved more than what they got.

It’s not helped that the last chapter jumps forward six months and a lot of the developments I would have wanted to witness because they’re emotionally crucial occur off the page. We get told about them after the fact. It added to the frustration I already had in regards to the non-sexual aspects of the plot, because it felt like further proof the author cared more about the various sexual positions than the world she created. It would be interesting to read a non-erotic romance from this author. I’d love to see the intelligent and vivid storytelling she has outside of the sex showcased in its best possible light. Perhaps next time.


8/10 – The dense, intelligent prose is best when not in sex talk


8/10 – I bought the emotions between all five of the principles, even if the sex portion was weighted too heavy for my tastes


8/10 – Vivid and distinctive, even considering all the naked body parts

Entertainment value

7/10 – The balance between sex and plot weighted too heavily on the sex side for this to be a real keeper for me

World building

9/10 – Some great details here, probably the strongest aspect of the book



Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Take Two by Danielle Bronson

TITLE: Take Two
AUTHOR: Danielle Bronson
PUBLISHER: Wild Rose Press
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 89k)
GENRE: Contemporary romance
COST: $6.00

Five years ago, Grace Ann Langley and Ty Hawthorne were the darlings of TV with their hit show, but her illness stopped production, and Grace and Ty went their separate ways. Now, the DVDs are about to hit the stores, and Grace and Ty are back together in a whirlwind press junket to promote it. The rumors about their real-life romance have never completely settled, but neither has forgotten the other. But will Ty’s money-hungry ex-wife and Grace’s overbearing father stand in their way of making it work the second time around?

I love being surprised by characters. The blurb on this seemed more like escapist fun, as show biz stories tend to be. Even the hint of the “potentially devastating secret” didn’t lead me to think it might be anything deep. The characters seemed too untouchable for that. I mean, TV stars (one of which is a Hollywood bad boy) and a Deacon (Grace’s father)? It felt like it should be glitterati fun.

But it turned out to be more than that, thanks in large part to the careful depths both lead characters display. Neither is perfect, and their flaws stem from very real problems, not just superficial Hollywood constructs. Even better, their flaws are never downplayed to pave the way to the happy ending. Grace is a recovering anorexic with severe control issues, borderline obsessive/compulsive with a lot of her behaviors. Ty has his own control problems, and deals with his – inappropriately – in as many self-destructive ways as he can find. Yet, when the two are together, those flaws seem to negate the other’s. They’re better people in each other’s company, bringing out the best in both of them, even though occasionally they also bring out the worst. It’s the basis for all the best real-life relationships I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing, and most likely is what lends such a sense of verisimilitude whenever they are on the page together. I warmed to both of them, and was hungry for them to work through all the problems that had beset them the first time around.

The problems arose with the introduction of the conflicts that are meant to keep them apart. Ty’s ex has hired a man to follow him around and get some dirt on him and Grace, in hopes of being able to extort more money from him. It underscores scenes almost from the beginning, but it’s not until things start to look good for the couple that it escalates to a point of discomfort. Layla, the ex, is painted so over the top in comparison to the rest of the characters to this point, that it’s very difficult to believe she could actually exist. There are no shades of gray to her villainy. She’s a bitch with a capital bitch, and the extent of her plans for Ty becomes so ludicrous that I hated every time she came on the scene. In fact, I can’t say that I enjoyed the last third of the book half as much as I enjoyed the first two, almost entirely because of her. The rest of my problems with the last third? Grace’s father. Throughout the story, he’s been the immovable force, one not to be crossed, putting the fear of God into everybody. The resolution to that conflict felt so easy compared to the strength of his convictions throughout the story, I couldn’t buy it. I kept waiting for him to say, “Gotcha!” and yank the rug out from beneath Grace and Ty.

Because of that problematic last third, this novel ends up scoring lower on my overall enjoyment than the characters deserve. It was a real pleasure to read such realistic people in such an unrealistic setting (because how many of us get called the First Couple of Television?). I guess I should just be happy that this is, after all, a romance.


8/10 – A couple of minor continuity issues snagged me along the way, but otherwise, a clean, surprisingly fast read


8/10 – Not cookie cutter, with real flaws in spite of his superstar status


8/10 – Far more complex than I find most heroines

Entertainment value

7/10 – The almost cartoonish villains in this and a rather glossed over climax bring down my overall enjoyment

World building

8/10 – A lot of different elements felt very real



Monday, November 23, 2009

Kidnapped for Christmas by Evangeline Anderson

TITLE: Kidnapped for Christmas
AUTHOR: Evangeline Anderson
PUBLISHER: Ellora’s Cave
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 41k)
GENRE: BDSM erotic romance
COST: $5.20

Jillian Marks doesn’t believe it when her little sister tells her she’s paid for someone to kidnap her. Why would any woman have that kind of fantasy? But when she is mistakenly grabbed in her sister’s place, she finds herself thrust into a world her body seems to love. She should probably tell the amazingly sexy man who snatched her that he’s got the wrong woman, but when he gives her the most amazing orgasm of her life, she decides to shut up and play along…

Escapism doesn’t get more blatant than a kidnap-for-pay and mistaken identity plot, and yet, Anderson keeps this one fresh by the genuine chemistry between her two leads. Jillian is the responsible older sister, always cleaning up her skinnier younger sister’s messes, while Kyle is a Dom without a sub, wondering why he can’t find a woman who only wants to be sexually dominated rather than something full-time. They come together out of circumstance, when Sabrina flakes out at the last minute and takes off for the holiday without remembering to cancel her kidnap, and Kyle’s brother – the business’ owner – begs him to take this one job. What happens then is combustible.

The BDSM in this is fairly light stuff, mostly domination/submission, with some candle play, mild double penetration, and spanking. It never feels like it’s crossing a line, though the fact that Jillian doesn’t know the safe word is a tad troublesome. However, the fact that she and Kyle are so clearly on the same emotional page helps mitigate some of that concern. It’s hot and sweet all at the same time, thanks due to the tremendous attraction between the two. Not all heroes and heroines sparkle like this. It was a delight to sit back and enjoy.

Kyle, especially, is appealing as a fantasy figure. Both tough and caring in the bedroom, he has no desire to see that same sort of submissiveness outside of it. Toss in the fact that he’s attracted to larger women (Jillian is a size eighteen), and he’s a little too good to be true. While I can see this within the context of the story, though, I never really care that much, since, yes, I rather want to believe in him. If he hadn’t had such chemistry with Jillian, I might have been more skeptical, but the author succeeds in a little Christmas magic by getting me to believe. At least for the duration of this long, sexy, sweet novella.


8/10 – Sexy and sweet


8/10 – I liked him more than I probably should have


7/10 – Some of her problems were her own doing, and it got a little frustrating sometimes

Entertainment value

7/10 – Not wholly original, but I liked the chemistry enough between them not to care

World building

7/10 – Immediate surroundings felt genuine, though the rest of it was skimpy



Friday, November 20, 2009

Dark Host by Kim Knox

TITLE: Dark Host
AUTHOR: Kim Knox
PUBLISHER: Liquid Silver Books
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 27k)
GENRE: Sci-fi erotic romance
COST: $4.25

Charis Sur has one job – to keep Lord Admiral Sir Raoul Quinn alive until the sun nearby goes nova. It seems easy enough, until she senses other agents from the Company around, and a different passenger onboard drops dead in front of her. Getting answers for what’s going on proves even more difficult when she discovers the other Mosaic around is Jason Narak, the one man she can never trust. Except now, it looks like he’s the only one she can…

Though this short sci-fi starts out action packed with tons of potential, my hopes for a thrilling romance fell a little short. There is a lot that goes on in this very different world, but it relies heavily on the element of surprise and mystery, without actually providing truly cohesive, satisfactory answers to either.

Charis Sur is what’s called a Mosaic – human with animal DNA as well. In her case, she’s a feline Mosaic, and can do small shifts to heighten her natural senses. She works for the Company – only because it’s either that or die – and her current assignment seems like it should be easy. All she has to do is make sure someone doesn’t die. With the story told in 1st person from her perspective, we get thrust into the action right away, bouncing from incident to incident with little real explanation as to what is going on. In fact, much of it felt like a teaser, which didn’t actually bother me because the story was moving so fast. I kept expecting more would be explained later, but when the explanations did finally start coming, they felt incomplete, so much so that I was forced to go back and re-read certain sections up to four times, trying to get a full hold on the history and what was going on. Needless to say, that diminishes the reading experience.

The romance gets sidelined for a good part of the story in favor of the action. That’s perfectly acceptable when it feels like it’s inevitable for the two leads to come together, but Jason is an enigma to Charis, which means, because we’re strictly in her POV, he’s an enigma to the reader. He slips through the fingers every time I try to grab a hold and understand his character, and I’m left feeling discontented because I don’t understand what the attraction could possibly be. In fact, more than once, I felt a strange sense of déjà vu. A lot of the elements in this – the mysterious hero, the god-like factors that come through in the final explanations – reminded me of the first book I read by this author, enough to stop me repeatedly and go, “Huh.”

Charis, thankfully, is more fully fleshed. Strong and capable, she’s a solid heroine to steer this novella and keep me reading, even when I wished for more. I liked her so much, in fact, that I can honestly say I did enjoy reading this as an action story. Just not so much as anything else.


7/10 – Swift and action-filled, but the explanations about what was going on felt incomplete and had me re-reading sections


6/10 – Rather enigmatic and not in the good way


7/10 – More fully fleshed, strong and capable

Entertainment value

7/10 – Entertaining as an action story, but needed more depth and answers for me to appreciate as more

World building

7/10 – Holes in the exposition/explanations left some things to be desired



Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Report from Winter by Wayne Courtois

TITLE: A Report from Winter
AUTHOR: Wayne Courtois
PUBLISHER: Lethe Press
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 54k)
GENRE: Gay memoir
COST: $15.00

In January 1998, Wayne Courtois returned to Portland, Maine, the home of his youth, after a ten-year absence to sit at the bedside of his dying mother in the last week of her life. This is the account of that last week…

NOTE: This is a review originally written for The Electric Elephant. Due to the nature of the book, I didn't do my usual scoring rubric, though in comparison to other books I've reviewed, I'd place it firmly in the upper end of the 41-45 range.

Memoirs are sometimes difficult things to read. When done well, they can often cut too close to the bone, creating a schism amongst a reader’s reactions. When done poorly, they are just like any other genre and end up getting dismissed as self-indulgent, or a waste of reading time. A Report from Winter falls into the former category, and while the subject matter of a parent’s death might not necessarily lend itself to casual reading, the writer’s keen, stark prose and decidedly unidealistic approach to the people in his life more than make it worthwhile.

In a lot of ways, Wayne is everyman. He’s not good-looking, he comfort eats, he’s insecure. He avoids problems and confrontations as long as he can, and though his aunt and brother have been saying for a while that he really needs to come see his mother since her health is failing, he keeps finding excuses not to go. Until it’s almost too late. He arrives in Portland in the middle of a storm, and struggles to find the B&B he’s booked for himself. From there, his journey of the next week begins. He has to face his mother who no longer can communicate except in wordless sounds nobody can make out, his aunt who was once his favorite relative and is now a reminder of what he left behind, and his brother who he never really liked but whose approval he always craved. It’s family, like so many families found in real life, not the plasticine presentations often found in fiction. These people can be cold and mean, selfish and bitter, as well as display the occasional flash of sympathy and ungrudging affection. Including Wayne.

That’s not to imply that the book is mean-spirited. It’s evident from the start, even when Wayne is detailing his family’s flaws, that there is an undercurrent of love, a wish for some kind of connection with them that he’s never really been able to make. Part of that stems from being a gay man in a family where it was never brought up, though his uneasy relationship with his brother – who is also gay – has its own causes. Still, even when he presents them in less than flattering light, there is no denying his attempts to try and keep it balanced. He doesn’t play favorites. His presentation of self is just as unfanciful, and it’s this honesty, combined with his careful, insightful descriptions, that draws the reader in.

Courtois succeeds where other authors might falter due to his discerning prose. Details are glorious. He depicts the Portland winter in vivid clarity, making it impossible not to feel the icy chill even when you’re sitting in the middle of a heat wave in California. He paints his time with his mother in sensitive, though painful, colors. It’s evocative passages like this that make it impossible to put down: Later in the afternoon, after Louise had gone home to rest and I was alone with my mother, she started trying to speak again. It was like helplessly watching a drowning person fail to reach the surface. Her discolored eyes were open, staring straight upward; she choked on vowels, her lips stretched as wide as her toothless mouth would allow. I held her hand, barely touching the bruised flesh, and stroked her hair, patted her forehead – none of it having any effect, as if we were in separate scenes superimposed on each other. Later, after he’s finally broken down and called his partner Ralph back in Kansas City to ask him to come, we get to see a different side to it all, a healthier perspective on his life and approach to his family. Much of that credit goes to Ralph, and the balance he brings to Wayne’s life. Their relationship is flawed, much like everybody’s is, but there’s genuine love and respect there that provides hope when it might be lacking elsewhere.

But in the end, this isn’t about Ralph, or his mother, or his aunt or brother. This is about Wayne, and the path he travels that last week before his mother dies. It isn’t all neatly tied up in a bow, but then again, life isn’t. It does, however, offer a humane, poignant presentation of a man simply trying to get through each day as best he can. The obvious metaphor of the bleak winter with his childhood doesn’t hold it back. It makes it richer, by reminding us that part of suffering the winter is the comfort we get by seeking out warmth, especially with others.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Headfuck by Bryn Colvin

TITLE: Headfuck
AUTHOR: Bryn Colvin
PUBLISHER: loveyoudivine
LENGTH: Short story (roughly 14k)
GENRE: Paranormal erotic romance
COST: $2.75

Spiritual healer Bee gets called to help a woman’s husband who has retreated from the world, and touches a mind that is unlike any she’s ever touched before…

This short story starts out incredibly intriguing, as spiritual healer Bee is asked to come and check out a woman’s husband. The wife is at her wit’s end. After they lost everything, the husband fell apart, becoming practically catatonic. Bee is reluctant to take the case, as she doesn’t like to help people who don’t ask for the help themselves, but she goes anyway, her instincts telling her to go. Touching his mind isn’t like touching anybody else’s, and even though the wife doesn’t pursue her services after that first visit, Bee can’t get him out of her mind.

There’s some great atmospheric touches in Bee’s encounters with this troubled man, but while experiences become quite visceral, they end up raising more questions than they ever answer. It’s an intriguing ride, and I got caught up in trying to discern where exactly it was going to take me. For half the story, there’s no hint of romance, though she does have some erotic moments with this man in her head. It seems to be more a tale of self-discovery, a path I was actually more than fine with. When it finally does shift to the romantic aspects – quite late in the story – I was disappointed. It never felt organic to the rest of the story. Bee’s emotional journey promised to be bigger than that.

She really is the true centerpiece of this short. While the hero does get introduced, he left so little impact on me, I remembered very little about him at the end other than his art. The whole spirituality aspect of her self-exploration does get a little tedious, but she remains a warm, driven, aware woman, fascinating me more than enough to keep me involved.

Because of the veer the story takes, I can’t say that it necessarily works for me as a whole as well as it started out, but I like how the author takes risks. I’m rarely bored by Colvin’s work, and look forward to further exploring more of her worlds.


7/10 – There’s an ethereal quality that matches the heroine, but it grows old after a while


4/10 – For a long time, I didn’t even think this would be a romance, that’s how little the hero actually impacted me


7/10 – Driven and warm

Entertainment value

6/10 – The romance felt tacked onto the end and spoiled what could have been a good psychological short

World building

7/10 – Some great atmospheric touches, but it always felt like there was something I was missing



Friday, November 13, 2009

Merlin's Daughter by Patricia Scott

TITLE: Merlin’s Daughter
AUTHOR: Patricia Scott
PUBLISHER: Wild Rose Press
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 35k)
GENRE: Time travel romance
COST: $4.50

In a quest to prove her family is entwined with the Semples, Sara Templeton goes to England and the Semple Manor House in search of answers. There, she meets a man who looks like the one she’s been dreaming of, and when she suddenly finds herself thrust back in time, in the role of one of her ancestors, she realizes the man she knew in the present is also in the past…

Though there might be a good idea somewhere in this novella, it’s lost amidst the technical weaknesses of the prose. It starts almost from the beginning. The prologue can’t decide on a verb tense, and it jerks me out of the story almost before it’s begun. It doesn’t improve very much once it starts, either. There’s continuity problems (the hero calls the heroine by name without being told it, a guide refers to Sara’s family history when Sara never said a word about being her family, and so on), there’s information dumps (how many times did I need to learn about the silver buckle at the auction?), and spelling mistakes (i.e., cliental for clientele). With that much going wrong – not to mention the excessive passive voice – it’s very hard to get into it.

Sara arrives in England and watches a battle re-enactment, and when she notices the Parliamentarian General, is immediately drawn to him: …His eyes met hers only briefly but for a second or so they were fused together, and inexplicably her heart leapt and somersaulted inside her. She swallowed hard and felt dizzy, her hands trembling… This kind of over-the-top reaction is typical of the heroine. She’s drawn to him, and then, out of the blue, decides she doesn’t like him. It continues when she goes back in time, and the muddy characterization turns into a headache. There is no indication of any kind of romance on her part – because she’s so against him – until over halfway through, and then, it all happens on the turn of a dime. None of it’s helped with the lack of clarity on who or why or how Sara is back in time. She understands everything that was going on, like she was in a dream, and yet, she wasn’t the old Sara but the present day Sara. There’s never a proper balance struck, and it triggered another headache to muddle through.

I just can’t think of much in this that might recommend it. A good idea just isn’t enough.


4/10 – Passive voice, lack of clarity, continuity errors, spelling mistakes…there was just so much wrong with this, it took me forever to slog through


4/10 – Seems nice enough, but the characterizations in this are so flat that it’s hard to see any kind of potential


3/10 – Personality is all over the place, with no rational explanations for some her snap judgments

Entertainment value

3/10 – It could have been a nice idea if there’d been any sort of clarity or consistency

World building

5/10 – Bare bones, mostly on the historical stuff



Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Manthology Anthology by various authors

TITLE: The Manthology Anthology
AUTHORS: Adam Carpenter, Derek Clendening, Ginevra Ermine, Ken Ives, John Jockel, Dalyn A. Miller, Ron Radle, Parker Sheridan
PUBLISHER: Ravenous Romance
LENGTH: Anthology (roughly 44k)
GENRE: Gay erotic romance
COST: $4.99

A collection of eight gay erotic romances…

I have to admit, I bought this last February and let it languish on my TBR pile primarily because of who the publisher is. I’ve reviewed three other Ravenous books on my blog, of varying success though each problematic, but I’ve also seen reviews elsewhere, for books I haven’t bought, and my impressions of the publisher diminished. In fact, I haven’t bought a book from them since March, though I still have two more of their books on my TBR. While a few of the stories within this anthology didn’t rise above my expectations, several exceeded them, one so much so that I feel little guilty about judging this anthology based on other preconceptions. I can’t say I’m now excited about Ravenous offerings, but perhaps I won’t drag my feet about trying the other ones I own.

The anthology starts strong with “Adam” by Ron Radle, the story of a bookstore manager crushing on a young man who works in a DVD/record store in the same mall. Though this one does become erotic, the emphasis is on the gradual, almost whimsical development of their friendship/relationship. Both men are vividly drawn, and I ended the story with a smile on my face, eager to move on to the next offering.

That was “Arezzo Development” by Adam Carpenter. This is one of the shortest stories in the collection, the telling of a young American traveling to Arezzo on the train and the hot Italian he hooks up with on it. There’s no romance here. This is purely erotica, and while the setting is evocative and lovely, the characters and the rest of it fall flat. I do have to say, however, I adore the title. I smiled when I saw it, and I smiled again as I wrote this review. I think it’s delightfully clever.

Things didn’t improve with “Emergence” by Parker Sheridan. This starts with the premise that in 2012, instead of the world ending, all the lost civilizations re-emerged, including a desert empire called Al Tahar. British Neil Barton is traveling with his sister, the diplomat, to try and gain an audience with Al Tahar’s Sultan. Instead, they meet one of his generals, Asad, a man Neil suspects is the Sultan himself. While this story was more creative than some, I never engaged with it. First of all, it was way over the top. Asad is some Japanese/Native American mixture – which, granted, sounds sexy as hell – but he’s a caricature, not a fully fleshed man. All Neil does is lust after him, and his eventual seduction, with Neil in a submissive role, does nothing to make him more interesting. One of the big misses for me.

The worst story in the anthology for me, though, was what came next. “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy – and Girl” by Ginevra Ermine is a ménage about a couple who, after an unfortunate incident with another woman in their bed, decide they want a committed threesome and settle on the gorgeous Charles. I think it’s meant to be humorous. I hope it’s meant to be humorous. My first introduction to Charles has the narrator – the husband – asking him what it’s like to be gay. Charles then launches into how he discovered musical theater, and then Barbra Streisand, so of course he turned out gay. It all turns out to be one big joke, but it plays out for pages and pages, and it just wasn’t funny. What bothered me even more than the failing humor, though, was how Charles freely admits he’s gay…except for the wife. It’s a Straight For You story that never succeeded in convincing me he wouldn’t just ditch the girl at every opportunity once he had the chance. It's made even worse by continuity that's shoddy at best – the wife enters the hotel room, takes off her top, then a few pages later the husband slips his hand under her blouse (that she’s supposedly still wearing), and then a few pages after that when they’re laying down in bed, she’s got a tank top on. It’s like watching Sean Connery’s collar open and close in The Untouchables.

I wanted to be done with it by now, but then came “Second Chances” by Derek Clendening. Young man Peter gets an email from college buddy Dale asking to meet up after not seeing each other for years. Peter had a crush on Dale in college and fears attending. There’s nothing hugely original or outstanding about this one, though the characterization of the two guys is top notch, but I think coming after the increasingly disappointing stories previous, it shines.

But not as much as “South” by Dalyn A. Miller. This story – by a mile – was my favorite. It tells of Kenneth and Daniel as they travel south in Daniel’s A/C-less pick-up truck. The difference here is that Kenneth and Daniel have just broken up recently after a long relationship, and now Daniel is driving Kenneth back to his parents in Alabama, to turn around himself and return to Seattle alone. We learn what happened in their relationship – how they met, what came between them – through the course of the story, but this was so heartfelt, gut-wrenchingly real, that I was holding my breath for these two by the last page. I literally shouted at my screen when I read the last sentence. And then promptly went back and read the whole story again. This story all on its own made the cost of the anthology worth it.

Needless to say, it would be hard to follow that. “The Big Bang” by John Jockel is the romance between two astronomers who work together, a nerd and the gorgeous guy who loves nerds. It’s easy-going and mostly nice, and a good way to come down from the emotional high of “South,” but I’m not sure if I’d remember it very well if it came elsewhere in the anthology or stood on its own.

The final story is “Willie the Wad: A Sentimental Reminiscence” by Ken Ives. In this, a man gets his invitation to his 20-year high school reunion, and then reminisces on the jock he crushed on at the time. The emotions feel genuine for the ages of the two men in the flashback, and the sex is surprisingly hot. On an erotic level, this was my favorite one, and so ended the anthology on a very positive note.

But “South” is what made it worth it. By a mile. A long, hot mile with wet sandals. Which makes a lot more sense once you’ve read the story.


8/10 – Surprisingly strong, with only a couple stories really letting this down


6/10 – Most of these only work as one or the other, not as both


7/10 – A couple stories drag this down unfortunately, with over the top, unbelievable characters

Entertainment value

7/10 – I was surprised by how few stories I just didn’t like

World building

7/10 – Again, a couple stories just really dragged this down



Monday, November 9, 2009

Wishful Thinking by Evangeline Anderson

TITLE: Wishful Thinking
AUTHOR: Evangeline Anderson
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 105k)
GENRE: Paranormal romance
COST: $6.50

Philomena Swann is dreading her approaching twenty-fifth birthday. Not out of fear of getting older or that her fiancé will forget it again. Her anxiety stems from the birthday wish she gets granted by her fairy godmother every year, a wish that always gets interpreted in the worst possible way. So when she inadvertently blurts out that she wishes she could just speak her mind, her fairy godmother grants it. Literally. All of a sudden, every thought she’d kept to herself – from her admiration for her best friend Josh to her frustrations with her job – is out there for anyone to hear. Unfortunately, that’s just the start of her wish tribulations…

Evangeline Anderson seems to get more attention for her heavily sexed up work and her m/m than her tamer het romances. Wishful Thinking, while still sexy and appropriately hot for its genre, is an example of her storytelling ability more than anything else. It’s the tale of Phil Swann, a young woman who is 1/8th fairy, as she approaches her birthday. She’s been engaged for five years, and has made a deal with her fiancé that she would put him through law school, then when he was established, he would do the same for her. She works in a law firm for a man whose behavior makes him the poster child for sexual harassment, and her life is plagued by the effects of wishes made over the years, things like not being able to speak up for herself, eyes that always match the color of the sky, and so on. The one bright spot in her life is her best friend Josh, who works in IT at the law firm. Her frustration with everything escalates until she inadvertently makes a wish saying she wants to be able to speak her mind. Then, everything explodes.

Reading this was like watching a train wreck. Knowing everything Phil was thinking was going to come out of her mouth lent an, “Ohmigod, I can’t watch” vibe to the whole thing, especially when the wish gets morphed into something else. That sense of disaster loomed over every chapter, and elements that I’m sure were meant to be funny instead had me cringing as I waited for the worst to happen. Even more, there’s no relief from it. Things get bad, then they get worse, then they get truly awful. The only thing that saved me from banging this against the proverbial wall was how likable both leads were and Anderson’s charming prose. Even though the book is over 100k, it reads fast, much faster than a lot of shorter works. I credit her voice and her leads’ appeal.

Josh is a little too perfect, but his warmth and humor are enough to make me not care. It’s obvious from his very introduction that he has deeper feelings for Phil than just friendship, and sometimes, Phil’s blindness to her friend is frustrating. Then again, Phil can be frustrating, so maybe it’s just symptomatic of that. I could have done without her constant reminders of various expositional facts, but the pace of the story whipped along fast enough for these weaknesses to be ignored.

Phil has two sisters that are clearly meant to have their own stories, though as far as I can tell, this is the only book in the series so far. They provide interesting contrasts to Phil, as do most of the extremely colorful characters in this. It’s hard not to have strong feelings about all of them, whether positive or negative. Though it would be nice not to read another “boyfriend” calling the heroine “babe.” I hear that, and I automatically think, “He’s a schmuck.” Which he invariably turns out to be. Still, a colorful cast, a warm hero, and enough action to keep the reader interested are enough reasons for me to like this story as much as I do.


8/10 – Charming and swift, though not as funny as it thinks it is


8/10 – Warm and funny, though the truth of his feelings are obvious from the start


7/10 – The excuse of her fairy godmother to explain her doormat tendencies wears thin

Entertainment value

8/10 – Charming in a train wreck kind of way

World building

7/10 – Some of it felt very convenient, other aspects I needed more of



Friday, November 6, 2009

The Geography of Murder by P.A. Brown

TITLE: The Geography of Murder
AUTHOR: P.A. Brown
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 79k)
GENRE: Gay BDSM mystery erotic romance
COST: $5.99

Waking up next to a dead man is frightening enough. Getting hauled away in handcuffs for his murder is even worse. Jason Zachary protests his innocence over and over to Detective Alex Spider, and when DNA evidence places someone else at the scene, he’s finally released. But Alex isn’t done with Jason, not by a long shot. Not now that he knows the young man is a very willing sub…

When a book has a plethora of technical errors, it has to excel in other areas in order for me to fall for it. Whether that’s the romance, the setting, or the characters, something has to compensate for the fact that mistakes muddy the reading experience. In this novel’s case, there just isn’t any one aspect that shines brightly enough to distract me from the multitude of grammatical errors that tarnish it.

The story is told in alternating 1st person perspectives, jumping between Jason and Spider from chapter to chapter. On the one hand, it allows the reader to follow the procedural aspect of the plot, with much better ease than the romance angle is served. On the other, it’s not that skillfully done, as many of the technical mistakes in this come from inaccurate verb tenses. It doesn’t happen as much when they’re doing something as it does when they’re thinking something. But it gets worse as the story goes on, pulling me out of it more and more often. There are also consistency errors, like when Alex goes to a taxidermist to try and learn more about a clue, a stuffed raven, and wavers on mentioning exactly what the bird is because that’s one of the pieces of evidence they’re holding back from the media. Yet, when the paper runs a full article about Alex and his less than stellar progress on the case, it starts out with, “What do ravens and bloody trophies and horrific murders done in the name of vigilante justice have in common?” Things like this don’t help the reading experience.

Because I wanted to love this. One of the things that drew me in from the start was the notion that these were not your typical m/m heroes. Jason is a user, with serious esteem issues, while Alex is a control freak who lacks the ability/desire to get attached to anyone. Frankly, neither guy is very appealing on an aesthetic level, yet somehow, there’s an appeal in seeing them get together. I had better luck getting attached to Jason, however, when Alex’s control issues and BDSM tendencies slip into what felt like abuse to me. It felt like abuse to him, too, because it prompts him to do some serious soul searching, as well as abuse to Jason. But abusive men are one of my hot buttons. They automatically raise all my hackles, and I very rarely recover from it. I recognize there is a fine line to be walked with BDSM stories, but when both leads recognize behavior as abusive, it’s clear which side of the line that action falls on. Because of this, any interest I had in seeing Alex happy disappeared, and without wanting to see one of the heroes get a happy ending, it’s next to impossible to care about the romance.

As I said earlier, the mystery aspect of the story fares much better than the romance, and thankfully, takes a lot of page time. It was worth finishing for that, but for any sense of emotional satisfaction for the men, it fell far short.


6/10 – A lot of the technical niggles kept pulling me out of the story, though it certainly worked as a procedural

Hero #1

7/10 – Damaged and believable

Hero #2

6/10 – The borderline abuse merited a better resolution than he got

Entertainment value

6/10 – I liked the mystery part of this so much more than the romance

World building

8/10 – The cop world was crisp and believable



Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Master of the Mountain by Cherise Sinclair

TITLE: Master of the Mountain
AUTHOR: Cherise Sinclair
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 60k)
GENRE: BDSM contemporary erotic romance
COST: $6.99

When Rebecca finds out her boyfriend belongs to a swingers club, she agrees to go with him on a long Memorial Day weekend in hopes that it will spruce up their love life. What she discovers is more than the fact she hates watching him have sex with other people. She learns, from the powerful and overwhelming co-owner of the mountain resort Logan, that she isn’t as frigid as she’d feared she was. She just needed a strong Dom to recognize the submissive hiding inside her…

I have to confess that I started chapter one of this book with a little annoyance. It had nothing to do with the story I’d chosen to read, or anything external. Rather, it had to do with the author’s note, a letter to the readers (200 words long, so not something overly brief), reminding them to be safe, sane, and consensual in regards to real-life BDSM practices, as well as containing this, Know that I'm hoping you find that special, loving person who will understand your needs and hold you close. Let me know how you're doing. I worry, you know., with the author’s email address after her signature. It bugged me because a) I’m not interested in the whole feel-good, huggy nature of an author I don’t know personally “worrying” about me and encouraging contact beyond feedback regarding his/her work, and b) I’m well aware I’m reading a work of fiction and feel rather talked down to when reminded of how to practice certain things in real life. An author is not my parent, nor my partner, nor anyone else in my life I need dictating my actions, and so I started the story a tad resentful and annoyed.

However. The author’s words lingered in the back of my head, not necessarily those but the reminder at the start that this was compressed into a short time period like most romantic fiction. And every time I started thinking about how quickly Rebecca’s relationship with Logan was escalating – too fast for me to be entirely comfortable with, considering its BDSM nature – I heard that reminder, and the niggle of doubt went away. When I was done, I had completely forgotten my original annoyance until I went back to the beginning to start my notes for the purpose of this review, and I realized that it was because of that author’s note that I was able to enjoy the story as much as I did. Because it accomplished what I’m sure the author intended, and focused me on the escapism of the moment rather than the so-called reality of it. For that, I apologize for leaping to judgment too early.

So onto the story.

Rebecca is a professional woman who isn’t a stick figure, and though her boyfriend satisfies nearly all the checkmarks in her perfect partner column, their sex life is pretty sad. She fakes half her orgasms and has never been blown away, so when he tells her that he’s a part of this swingers club, she decides to go with him in hopes that it will spice things up. I’m not entirely sure why she’s so tolerant of only finding out about this now after they’ve moved in together, but I went along with it anyway since generally speaking, I liked her. She came across as genuine and smart, though I really questioned her taste in boyfriends. (This is the second boyfriend I’ve read recently who seems to be in love with calling the heroine “babe.” Ugh.) She’s quickly turned off by the sight of her boyfriend with another woman, and when she goes off in search of someplace else to sleep, she gets discovered by Logan. He takes her to his apartment to warm her up, and the attraction that had been simmering between the two heats up even more.

Logan is the one who introduces Rebecca to the notion that she has submissive tendencies, and he’s amazingly careful at introducing her to BDSM practices. It’s hot, though painstakingly orchestrated, and the two develop a real relationship within the confines of the compressed time period. I was really rooting for them, especially since I never understood her “real” boyfriend’s appeal. I encountered one small problem, though. Logan suffers from nightmares ever since his stint in Iraq. They’re so bad that he almost killed his brother once when his brother tried to wake him up. These nightmares stop Logan from thinking he’ll ever have another relationship. He just can’t trust himself around another person, and refuses to be responsible for hurting them. This needs to be overcome before he can commit to anything with Rebecca. Yet, the way it gets dealt with in the story made me feel cheated. To the author’s credit, she didn’t resolve it in the confines of that long weekend, but the manner in which it was handled felt too easy for the problem’s supposed depths. Her note gave me permission to excuse away the lack of realism in how quickly this BDSM relationship developed, but not in how swiftly his trauma was handled. Perhaps it’s my own experiences with personal traumas that color my reaction to this, but it ended up sucking away some of my pleasure in the last quarter, when I wanted – needed – to be swept up in the romance. It eventually turns this from an amazing read to one I just liked a lot, passionate and engaging for the duration of the weekend, not so much for afterward.


8/10 – Engrossing, though I started to drift a little toward the end


7/10 – I really liked him, but I just couldn’t get over how glossed over dealing with his trauma felt


8/10 – Warm and genuine

Entertainment value

8/10 – Surprisingly satisfying, and probably would’ve rated higher if it weren’t for my quibbles

World building

9/10 – All of the elements felt authentic…except for the trauma



Monday, November 2, 2009

Blood Vice by Keith Melton

TITLE: Blood Vice
AUTHOR: Keith Melton
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 93k)
GENRE: Urban fantasy
COST: $5.50

Boston’s criminal underworld is at war, and vampire Karl Vance has chosen a side. As a hired hit man for the Ricardis, he satisfies his bloodlust by preying only on those who deserve it, but when Maria Ricardi decides to make her own play for power within the family, things take a deadly turn. The rival Lucattis have their own vampire to defend them, Alejandro Delgado, who’s in town primarily to settle the centuries-old vendetta between him and Karl. He recognizes Maria as Karl’s weakness, but his strike against her changes the war irrevocably…for everyone.

NOTE: This is a review originally written for The Electric Elephant.

A vampire as a hit man for the Mafia? How on earth was I supposed to resist a set-up like that? The possibilities of how it could play out were delicious, and with the excerpt detailing him doing a hit, then going off to church to pray for their souls, convinced me to give it a go. I don’t regret the purchase for a second.

Karl Vance is a master vampire, centuries old, living in Boston and subsisting both physically and financially on hits for the Mafia family, the Ricardis. He lives with a woman/creature named Xiesha, who he saved from the Order of the Thorn years earlier (a group of religious warriors who kill evil supernatural creatures, Karl has an amnesty agreement with them). In payment for saving her life, Xiesha serves as Karl’s servant, protecting his home with magical wards, fighting for him, conducting business during the day when he can’t, etc. They have an easy equilibrium with their existence until Karl gets an email (Nosferatu of the digital age) asking for a meeting with Ricardi. It’s not just with the father, but also Maria, his daughter. Maria wants to do more than play accountant for the family. She wants to demonstrate she can do great things for getting the family more power, in hopes that she can show she can take over for her father when the time comes. Her plan is to hit the Lucatti’s cash flow, using Karl to take out targets that earn the rival family a steady income. Karl only agrees after he learns that the Lucattis have Alejandro Delgado for them. Though the Ricardis aren’t aware of it, Delgado is a vampire, who had the same creator/Master Karl did. The two have been enemies ever since Karl killed their Master, and now it looks like they’re going to finish their little war amidst the Boston Mafia families.

This propels the story into its action-packed, labyrinthine plot, gradually picking up speed as new events twist it into a different direction. Karl is an interesting take on the usual vampires in urban fantasies. He recognizes his nature and tries to satisfy it with criminal rather than innocent kills, yet afterward, he prays for their souls, even though religious artifacts of any sort cause him pain and weaken him. Not for his own soul, because by his own admission, there’s no hope for him. As for Maria, she isn’t the usual shrinking violet that generally typifies heroines in urban fantasies where the protagonist is male. She’s very much her daughter’s father, eager to get ahead in the family, uncaring of what it takes. She’s desperate to see and experience what it feels like for someone to die, too, and makes no apology for it when Karl calls her on it. They make great characters to get embroiled with as the story charges into its full momentum.

That changes some when a plot twist nearly halfway through catapults Maria into an entirely new direction (I won’t elaborate, I try to avoid spoilers in reviews if I can help it). The new path her thoughts take, the broody angst about what she’s doing, sits ill for more than a few chapters, while Karl starts to seem more morose as well. Their characters become less the ones I fell for in the beginning and more like angsty archetypes I try to avoid. It takes a while for them to even out, and for my interest and dedication to the characters to reaffirm itself. That, too, is the primary reason this drifts from an outstanding to a very good read in the end.

The prose itself utilizes wonderful incisive imagery, like From this close, Karl could smell the blood in the young woman’s veins. Warm. Rushing through her body as her heart thundered away, life in liquid, a heart-blood sacrament., and Dribbles of red stained the white of his open shirtfront like a scattering of roses on snow. The author combines his precise verbiage with never-ending action, and I finished the story, wishing there was more than this one book. Since this is labeled the first of a series, I can only hope that there will be more to come. While it does have a slight romance within it between Karl and Maria, it’s absolutely not a romance overall. There are miles and miles for this series to go, and I for one would love to see the road Mr. Melton chooses for them.


10/10 – Incisive imagery, relentless action…absolutely fantastic


9/10 – Only a few of the minor characters slip in richness


8/10 – I have to admit, I didn’t care for the twist halfway through, though it did spiral the story into a new direction

Entertainment value

8/10 – Some of the broody angst on the part of the leads starts to wear thin by 2/3’s of the way through, but otherwise, great

World building

9/10 – I absolutely love the premise, the atmosphere was rich, and with the exception of wanting more about Karl’s past, found everything I could want