Friday, May 29, 2009

Polyphony: The Two of Cups by Lee Benoit

TITLE: Polyphony: The Two of Cups
AUTHOR: Lee Benoit
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 22k)
GENRE: Gay ménage fantasy erotic romance
COST: $2.49

With his love finally rescued, Adiun must now fashion a new life for not only himself and Devi, but also their growing band of friends, and friends of friends. They have to learn how to be together again, but Devi is not so sure their two is the right number any more…

Taken literally, the definition of polyphony is the composition or collection of many sounds, as in music with multiple, harmonious voices. That is the effect the author is attempting to attain in this sequel to Master of None, that effect of bringing a lot of different - yet similar - people together, and while the hints of it are there, they aren’t nearly as strongly portrayed as the first story.

This begins not too long after the conclusion of the first story, and Adiun and Matti have to find a new way of living. They have the rescued Devi and Sauda, and there isn’t a damaged one amongst the quartet. There are some interesting dynamics going on here, but the vast majority of it is never explored. Too much is reliant on knowledge of the first story, a weakness that prevails nearly throughout the novella. Devi is very broken from his time in the brothel, but his emotional depths feel only skimmed over. Really, he’s the one the reader should most sympathize with in this, too. For most of the first book, he’s an elusive figure, that shadow in the background that Adiun is always striving toward. He’s the one I was most eager to learn more about, but what I got lacked the depth I’d experienced the first time I was introduced to this world.

Much of the story, in fact, seems sparse in comparison to the richness of the world presented in the first story. While the prose was certainly competent enough, it felt like the author relied too heavily on previous knowledge and instead focused on the immediate here and now of their situation. That’s all well and good, but I’ve read a lot of stories since the first one. It took me quite a long time to recall the details I needed to round out the details provided in this one. To consider this in any way a story that can stand on its own merit, I needed a little bit more than what I got. It feels like there’s a fine balance to be made between providing background exposition and getting on with the present day conflict. I’m afraid, for this reader, that balance was never found. It wasn’t until the epilogue, in fact, that I felt I found the voice that had entranced me with the first story. If only that voice could have been carried throughout the entire novella.


8/10 – Simple and clean, but not as engaging as I expect from this author


6/10 – The story suffers from an inability to stand alone, much of the necessary characterization happened in the first book


6/10 – It lacks the depths of the previous story until the very end

Entertainment value

6/10 – Disappointing in light of how much I truly enjoyed the first one

World building

6/10 – Too much depends on knowledge from the first book



Thursday, May 28, 2009

Love on a Wire by Jo Barrett

TITLE: Love on a Wire
AUTHOR: Jo Barrett
PUBLISHER: Wild Rose Press
LENGTH: Short story (roughly 10k)
GENRE: Contemporary romance
COST: $2.00

Casey is divorced and lonely, stuck in a job she hates, wishing for a life she doesn’t have. When her aunt “introduces” her to Daniel, a man working with her in Japan, Casey decides impulsively to correspond with him. His shyness and her loneliness melt away in their emails, but how far can they really take this without meeting?

I fear it might be time to stop auto-buying this author’s stories. While I loved her two time travel stories enough to both buy them in print and put her on my auto-buy list, everything I’ve read of hers since has left me cold. I have one more I’ve already purchased, but I can’t say I’m excited about reading it.

In this short story, Casey and Daniel are two lonely people, trying to find a connection in a lonelier world. The characters themselves are all right for a short, romantic piece, though I find most characterizations in short romances a little flat anyway. But the two major problems I had with this come from a more technical level. The author has always been a headhopper – I’ve known this since the first book – so I buy the book knowing I’ll have to grit my teeth and hope it doesn’t bug me as much as normal. This time, it bugged me even more. Not in the first half, but beginning in the section where Casey and Daniel start chatting. It goes back and forth from line to line, and when each line is literally a message and maybe a thought, the ping-pong effect just gets far too tedious.

The other part that pulled me out of it actually happened at the same time. Casey is in some unknown American city, while Daniel is working on a project in Japan. It’s said more than once they’re on opposite sides of the planet. So how can Casey come home from a fundraiser, email him after midnight, and it be four a.m. in Japan? It can’t. That would place Casey either in the middle of the Pacific or somewhere in the middle of Asia. And knowing this discrepancy erased what little world-building the author had actually achieved in this. The story is too short for such a glaring error not to affect it, and as a result, lowers any enjoyment I might have had in it. Another miss, and I’m afraid, probably the last one for a while.


5/10 – The headhopping was just too bad, going from line to line during their chat, for me to get into


5/10 – A little flat, though it’s a nice try


5/10 – Though considering she’s a little flat, too, maybe they’re a good match after all

Entertainment value

5/10 – Diverting but hardly memorable

World building

4/10 – There’s little sense of time or place and the time zone issue really doesn’t help it



Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Rough Stock by Cat Johnson

TITLE: Rough Stock
AUTHOR: Cat Johnson
PUBLISHER: Linden Bay Romance
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 48k)
GENRE: Contemporary menage erotic romance
COST: $6.99

Best friends Clay and Mason have noticed a change in the girl they’ve grown up with. At eighteen, April has turned into a woman, a beautiful sexy one at that. Both want her. Both love her. When her prom night turns violent, the boys come to her rescue, binding all three of them in new, exciting ways. They don’t know what to make of the changes, especially when April seems unwilling to talk about it. But when she tells them both she loves them, they decide to keep at it, even if at the end of the summer, all three will be parting ways…

One of the things I’ve learned over the past few years of buying e-books is that I’m incredibly picky about ménage romances. I have no specific needs when it comes to sexual interactions. I don’t care if the men get it on together or not, and I don’t hold the woman in disdain for being a female getting in the way. All I care about is the emotion involved. Convince me that this group loves each other, or, at the very least, need each other, and I’m a happy camper. Unfortunately, I’ve discovered that the vast majority of ménages that I read are content to rest on their sexual laurels. Like they think...the sex is hot, everybody gets off, therefore it works. They rarely sell me on the emotional connections.

Ultimately, that’s where this book ends up falling. The story starts out with the trio finishing out their senior year in high school. Clay and Mason work at April’s father’s ranch, and the three have been inseparable for years. The entire first half of the book is told in alternative POVs between Clay and Mason, and through their perspectives, we see two young men, coming to terms with their burgeoning sexuality, trying to resolve their sudden attraction to the girl who shouldn’t be a woman. We get to experience their confusion and love for April, quite effectively, actually, so it really comes as no surprise when they succumb to lust. They’re teenaged boys. They care about her a lot. They’re willing to put aside their jealousy – because really, both of them express more than once that they’d rather be the only one in her life – in order to be with her. I’m actually okay with the ménage through most of this section, because it’s more than a little sweet seeing these young men fall over themselves. Their voices ring true for me.

April, however, doesn’t. None of the first part is told through her perspective. When the boys try to get her to say who she wants, she simply says, “I don’t want to have to choose between you.” And the boys let her get away with it. April comes across as immature and selfish in this. Her attitude is essentially, “I love you. I want both of you. Take it or leave it.” I can’t fault the boys for going along with it for the summer. She’s hot, she wants sex, they love her. Even Mason only sees it as a temporary thing, since he admits that after they’re all apart, they’ll just “see what happens.” Why should I ever think this is anything lasting? The boys fall over themselves in the first part to make April happy. She, in turn, seems to almost expect it and does little in return.

The story isn’t helped at all that part two jumps an indeterminate number of years into the future. All three are grown up, somewhere in their twenties, with three different lives. Clay and Mason are still harboring feelings for April, who hasn’t bothered to get into contact with either of them except for an occasional Christmas card, since she moved away after that first summer. Oh, gee, look, more selfish behavior on her part. Her reasons are exposed later on, but it’s too little, too late. By that point, I’ve washed my hands of them. Even Clay and Mason, who I had been incredibly sympathetic with in the first part, aren’t enough to make me care. Frankly, if that’s who they wanted, and they’re willing to put up with her, all the power to them, but nothing is going to convince me that they had some sweeping romance that couldn’t be held back by time. They deserved far better than April. It’s too bad they didn’t know it.


8/10 – Unchallenging and easy flowing, with minimal errors


4/10 – Though I liked and understood the two men, the fact that we never get the female’s perspective on why we should understand her made me dislike her


6/10 – I liked and believed both men. It was the girl I had a problem with.

Entertainment value

5/10 – There’s a sweet kind of charm to the first half, but without being able to invest in the ménage, or understand why I should be willing to put up with these sort of jealous feelings, I can’t care about the ending romance

World building

7/10 – The set-up is great, very evocative, but an indeterminate number of years pass between the first and second parts, and the second half seems cobbled together just to make the romance happen.



Saturday, May 23, 2009

Bound to Fall by Ann Somerville

TITLE: Bound to Fall
AUTHOR: Ann Somerville
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 55k)
GENRE: Gay sci-fi
COST: $3.99

In this third book of the Encounters series, Suaj and Rael find themselves thrust back into the limelight when another ship arrives from Rael’s home planet in search of good relations with Quarn…and more interacting with the Angels. That requires Dinun’s intervention, but after being recently diagnosed with an incurable disease and still angry about the first attack on the Angels, he’s not inclined to help. The possibility of a cure as well as natural curiosity eventually convince everyone to cooperate, but nothing is ever simple when it comes to Tuzax…

It’s always interesting to follow romantic characters after they’ve reached their HEA. In this third installment to the Encounters series, both couples from the first two books come back and finally get a real chance to interact. Dinun and Moon are still together, though Dinun’s recent diagnosis threatens their future, while Rael and Suaj are still going strong. The circumstances that bring them together is the arrival of another ship from Tuzax, one that claims peace but also ignorance of much of what happened with the first ship. Rael and Suaj are seduced by the opportunity to learn more, in addition to Rael’s desire to see his home planet again and assure his parents he is not dead. Moon’s curiosity about what Tuzax is like, as well as the cure they say they can give the man he loves, are enough to get him to agree to this trip. The entire set-up is fascinating and easily accessible, sucking me in to follow greedily along.

Part of this immersion is due to the greater ease I connected to all four of the characters. Where previous books distanced me emotionally from the principles, in this story, I empathized tremendously with all four, especially Suaj and Dinun. Dinun’s difficulties are heart-breaking and real, while Suaj offers emotional complexities I didn’t feel when first introduced to him in the second book. It’s a vast improvement over the previous novels, which I find ironic considering this is the one of the three I wouldn’t necessarily label a romance. Regardless of that, though, there isn’t a principle in this that isn’t emotionally available. Dinun’s angst, Moon’s dedication, Rael’s guilt, Suaj’s conflict…all are palpable and permeate every page of the book.

All of this is held together by the question of why Tuzax came back to Quarn in the first place. Everybody is suspicious right from the start, but not one of the landing party reveals any hint of duplicity in all the telepathic probes. It’s enough to convince the four, along with Cloud and Flower, two other Angels, and a contingent of Quarn military, to return with them for a brief visit. The story devolves into rawer emotions and darker motivations, which provide the force that propels it all forward. One of my few complaints with this story is that some of the external political plotting stuff isn’t quite as well explained as it could be, and when it is, it tends to be in a told not shown pattern. It’s not a major flaw at all, but it does leave me scratching my head a couple times as I try to sort it all out. At times like that, I was glad I had the more emotional aspects of the story to cling to. Political machinations are more cerebral than action-oriented anyway, and the author does show some of the effects of them, but the actual explanations weren’t concentrated or clear enough to fully satisfy me.

Maybe due to the slight problems I had keeping all the Machiavellian antics straight, the climax wasn’t as taut as I’ve come to expect from this author. There are two action sequences that take place back to back, but in both cases, the actual action felt sacrificed to go straight for the emotional jugular, details glossed over to expedite the actual physical conflict. My speed at reading slowed down for the last quarter instead of speeding up as is normal for me in this portion of the story, and thus watered down the overall effect. In the grand scheme of things, however, this is a minor complaint. The emotions are too rich not to make this a quality read. Anybody invested even a little bit in either couple will want to pick this up.


9/10 – The climax felt distant and more telling than showing, but other than that, keenly accessible and well-paced


8/10 – The four leads in this are far more emotionally available than previous books, but the secondary characters tend to blur


8/10 – The political machinations are vastly intriguing, while Dinun’s medical woes in the beginning poignant

Entertainment value

8/10 – My favorite of the three Encounters stories

World building

9/10 – The detail was all there, but some of the political stuff on Tuzax was difficult to keep straight



Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Death and the Demon by Hortense Powdermaker

TITLE: Death and the Demon
AUTHOR: Hortense Powdermaker
PUBLISHER: Liquid Silver Books
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 29k)
GENRE: Paranormal erotic romance
COST: $4.75

For Phineas Suckher, being a demon isn’t nearly as fun as it used to be. For years, he’s been unable to take pleasure in corrupting humans, but when he spies a sexy American in Paris, he thinks his luck is about to change. This one feels different. This one might be an emotional connection. But this one…thinks he’s a jerk. It takes some interesting shenanigans with his gay brother, Philippe, one of his identical triplet brothers, to finally get Savannah’s attention, but by then, it might be too late, for all of them…

The author’s pseudonym should be a dead giveaway on how seriously you should take this story. Thankfully, the excerpt lived up to the humorous possibility, and so I settled in, ready for a paranormal comedy of the sexy kind. As the usual problem with comedy, however, it’s very subjective, and often incredibly difficult to convey in the written word. In the case of this particular story, it didn’t completely work for me, though there were some genuine moments where I laughed out loud.

I had problems almost from the beginning with the play on names. At the heart of the story are three identical triplet brothers – Phineas, the heterosexual player; Philippe, the gay brother; and Phoenix, who doesn’t make an appearance until the end of the book. From the beginning, I just could not keep Phineas and Philippe straight in my head. I kept having to go back and re-read to remember who was straight and who was gay, and by the third time I had to go back, I was annoyed. It doesn’t help when a little bit later in the story, they decide to switch places, because Savannah thinks Phineas is a jerk and the only way he can get close to her without her being snide is pretending to be his gay brother Philippe. And I’m not even going to get started on yet another identity switch later on that had my head whirling. Confused yet? Join the club.

It made reading much slower than I think comedy should be read at. I was having to re-read sections just to keep the antics straight, and like hearing a joke more than once, it loses its effect when repeated. When some of the jokes weren’t that funny the first time around, you can understand how tedious it could get. It was easier to find a flow and get into the story when scenes ran long, but that wasn’t often enough.

This isn’t a strictly het erotic romance, either. There are actually two romances going on at the same time – Phineas and Savannah, and Philippe and Hugo, Savannah’s friend. The smut is explicit with both couples, and while I don’t have issues with both gay and het in the same story, I know some readers do. So there’s your warning, since there isn’t one on publisher’s page.

The romances are fairly mediocre, though I definitely enjoyed the gay storyline better than the straight one. Actually, Hugo was my favorite character in the whole thing, with his surfer dude persona, but considering he’s a secondary character, that’s not necessarily good. But when the story was all over, the aspect that stuck out strongest was still the difficulty I had keeping the two brothers straight for the first half. Ultimately, just a little too bland and forgettable for me.


7/10 – I kept tripping up on 2 of the triplets’ names, confusing them, which kept slowing me down.


6/10 – Not nearly as charming as they thought they were, and my inability to keep them straight for the first half of the story didn’t help


5/10 – Bland and kind of forgettable

Entertainment value

5/10 – Some amusing moments, but the thing I remember most after finishing was how much trouble I had with the guys

World building

6/10 – I wanted way more explanation about what exactly was going on with demons and angels, it felt cobbled together there at the end



Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Commander's Desire by Jennette Green

TITLE: The Commander’s Desire
AUTHOR: Jennette Green
PUBLISHER: Wild Rose Press
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 83k)
GENRE: Historical romance
COST: $6.00

Their kingdoms have been warring for years. So when Elwytha’s brother the King suggests a fake peace to get revenge for their murdered brother, she agrees whole-heartedly. She wants this to end, and even more, she wants to destroy the man responsible for stabbing her favorite brother in the back. But the Prince of the warring kingdom refuses her proposal, suggesting instead she marry his intimidating Commander. He’s the most menacing man on any battlefield, and also the man responsible for her brother’s murder. Though it makes her sick to agree, Elwytha does so, if only for the chance to get revenge. Except the Commander is nothing she expects, and the truth she knew disintegrates…

I seem to have better luck with historicals set in Medieval ages than later years. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe because there are fewer of them, so they seem more unique. Maybe because I like the era. I just don’t know.

But The Commander’s Desire was a win for me on a multitude of levels. I started this book on a lazy Saturday morning, then had to load it onto my iPhone when an impromptu road trip was scheduled, then ignored everybody during the trip to choose to read instead. Then, when we got home that night and I still had fifty pages left, I shut myself up in my bedroom so I could finish it uninterrupted. I think my family was a little annoyed at me, or at least, annoyed at the author who captured my fancy.

The single biggest draw for me – and I will freely admit this type is one of my weaknesses in romances – was the Commander. As the Prince’s second in command, he is fierce and deadly. When Elwytha meets him, she is shocked by his appearance. He shaves his head, has a nose that was broken and mutilated because it was never set properly, and has nasty scars across his forehead. Half of his face is a grotesque mask. It’s classic Beauty and the Beast, and it only gets better as she discovers the Commander is a man of real honor and incredible gentleness. The juxtaposition of such disparate qualities creates a fascinating character, and I fell for him almost immediately. Hard. So hard that I was utterly invested in seeing him clear his name and claim the happy ending he so desired.

Elwytha isn’t quite as sympathetic for me, even though she’s coming into the story from a position of vulnerability. She spends a lot of time crying when she first arrives, because she doesn’t have any control at all over her situation. As soon as she gets past that and becomes the equal the Commander wants and needs, it’s a lot easier to care about her as much as the Commander does, but that’s a much slower path for me than my reaction to him.

Winding their romance together is the intrigue surrounding her brother’s murder. The Commander claims innocence, but the proof is stacked against him. They work together to discover the truth, and along the way, get to know each other. These are the elements of the story that work the best. The quiet moments when the Commander breaks through her defenses had me breathless, each incident adding to the ones previous to make their journey believable and heartbreaking.

I did have some issues with the author’s overuse of “verily” in dialogue and thoughts. At times, it was every other sentence, and got annoying. Too much of a good thing, if you ask me. But many of the other details felt authentic, though I’m the first to admit that I’m nowhere near an expert on this. Still, I sank into the story, and have already ordered this in print. I do love the Commander. He absolutely stole my heart.


8/10 – Aspects of the dialogue start to grate a little by midway through, but I couldn’t put this down


9/10 – I’ll admit it. I fell for the Commander, hook, line, and sinker. Alpha and broken, but strong anyway.


7/10 – For someone who professed to be a warrior, she sure spent a lot of time crying. Still, I wanted her to get a happy ending as much as I wanted the Commander to have one.

Entertainment value

9/10 – The romance of this completely swept me away.

World building

8/10 – The Medieval setting makes a nice change of pace, though some of the terminology seemed overdone.



Monday, May 18, 2009

Bent by Sean Michael

AUTHOR: Sean Michael
PUBLISHER: Torquere Press
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 123k)
GENRE: Gay BDSM erotic romance
COST: $6.95

Top Marcus meets would-be bottom Jim under awkward circumstances – when Jim is ranting at a hapless employee in a bookstore. Marcus won’t stand for such uncalled for behavior, but something in the other man calls out to him, a submissive side just waiting to be tapped into. Marcus pursues the other man relentlessly, determined to help rebuild this man’s broken life. What they find transcends everything either one of them ever imagined…

I have a couple books in my TBR pile that are there primarily because the author has been recommended to me so often that I finally caved and picked something out that might be interesting to try. This isn’t a technique that works for me very often, unfortunately. I’ve discovered there are several popular authors out there that fail to work for me for some reason or another. Sean Michael is one of those authors that gets recommended a lot, but after reading this long novel, I can honestly say I’m not sure what category to place him in.

The story starts out well enough. Though Jim seemed to capitulate to Marcus’ near bullying a little quickly, I didn’t mind too much as they seemed to have a genuine rapport, I liked both men, and those first few sex scenes were really hot. I flew through the first 30k and was eager to get back to it every time I had to put it down. But then something happened. I missed Jim’s spirit from the opening of the book, though I recognized that it wouldn’t work within the context of the relationship Marcus was trying to build. Instead, I got more of Jim’s rebellion and whining, which ended up creating the following pattern: Jim messes up, Jim gets spanked, they have sex. Jim throws a hissy fit, Jim gets spanked, they have sex.

Over and over and over again.

Got very boring.

I appreciate the fact that Michael wrote a story detailing how a sub gets trained when they had no idea they were even submissive, but the effect of the scenes gets diluted when they’re all the same. I needed more variety, something else in the context of the plot, anything really that would surprise and break me away from the monotony. And I liked Marcus. I wanted more from it. I can even see why some people like Michael, because a lot of the sex is pretty hot. Until I got tired of reading it, that is.

So, in the end, I still don’t know about this author. I can’t write him completely off, because I was right there for the first third of the book. He hooked me in, the way good authors do. He just didn’t keep me hooked.


6/10 – Overly simple and repetitive, little challenging or original about it

Hero #1

7/10 – I believed him as an individual, even when I got frustrated with the story

Hero #2

6/10 – The whining got a little old, but I’ve read worse

Entertainment value

4/10 – Hot sex and characters I don’t hate aren’t enough when the same patterns get repeated ad infinitum

World building

7/10 – The BDSM world feels complete, though the rest of it gets neglected.



Friday, May 15, 2009

Taste Test: Artistically Yours by assorted authors

TITLE: Taste Test: Artistically Yours
AUTHOR: Andy Slayde & Ali Wilde, C.T. Piatt, & Z.A. Maxfield
PUBLISHER: Torquere Press
LENGTH: Anthology (roughly 18k)
GENRE: Gay erotic romance
COST: $2.49

A trio of gay erotic romances featuring artists and their models.

This anthology of erotic short stories all feature artists and their male models. The first of these is “Drawing Conclusions” by Andy Slayde & Ali Wilde. College students Zed and Alex have been lifelong friends, but when Zed discovers Alex has been sketching him while he sleeps, his anger gets turned against his best friend, with interesting consequences. The dialogue in this is sure and natural, but the gay for you storyline felt like a convenient excuse to write best friends having sex for the first time. There is also no clear resolution to the short, hinting at future installments, and because of that, I wouldn’t even label it as a romance in its current incarnation.

Next comes “Solitude of the Photo” by C.T. Piatt. Photographer Jonah has a crush on a race car driver who all of a sudden hires him because he's in need of pictures for a portfolio. While Michael, the driver, is little more of a figure in this, the quiet longing of the 1st POV protagonist more than makes up for it. There is a gentleness to this story that took my breath away, twisting me up with every new moment. By far, my favorite of the group, and an author I want to watch.

Completing the anthology is Z.A. Maxfield’s “The Artist’s Model.” This is the story of Emile, a struggling artist forced to resort to modeling, who has been in love with one man his entire life. When he finds Fournier, he finds a man trapped in denial about his own desires. Unlike its predecessors, it’s a historical, though that’s not evident from the blurb nor from the beginning of the story. In fact, my inability to immediately place it on a timeline held me back from getting immersed into the story, regardless of the fact that Maxfield has the most sophisticated prose – by far – of the group. I really liked some of her imagery, but I had an incredibly hard time getting past what felt like overly melodramatic dialogue (even if it might have been appropriate for the period). Lines like, I could die from wanting you, make me roll my eyes when they’re not in paranormal stories (I guess I almost expect that kind of over the top sentiment from creatures insisting on soulmates), and as such, distanced me from experiencing the characters’ emotions.


9/10 – Maxfield’s more sophisticated prose pushes this higher


5/10 – I don’t see one of the stories as a romance at all.


6/10 – Some of the character strokes in these seem too broad to resonate

Entertainment value

7/10 – The Piatt story was by far my favorite of the bunch.

World building

7/10 – Solid enough, though I was frustrated by the third story because it felt like it should be a historical but it took too long into the story to actually discern that one way or another



Thursday, May 14, 2009

Dangling by Yeva Wiest

TITLE: Dangling
AUTHOR: Yeva Wiest
PUBLISHER: Lyrical Press
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 27k)
GENRE: Gay black comedy
COST: $3.50

Archangels Michael and Gabriel are about to witness another city get destroyed because of its own arrogance. This time, it’s Washington DC

There were a number of books I was looking forward to reading this year, based on previous experiences with the authors. This was one of them. Because of my backlogged TBR pile, it’s taken me longer to get around to it, but here it finally is. I only wish I’d enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed the first book I tried by this author.

That’s not to say it’s bad. It’s not. There seems to be a definite improvement in the story’s editing, with fewer errors, but the author continues to choose an omniscient POV and hops from head to head all the way throughout, sometimes even in the context of the same paragraph. It’s not as jarring as it was the first time, maybe because I expected it, so that helped make the reading smoother. The author’s fearlessness shines through, as well. Characters will flame, and characters will be over the top, and it all serves to further the story along.

That being said, it just didn’t ring as original or funny to me as her first story. In this, we have two angels who, through the ages, are responsible for helping God with finding and/or destroying evil cities. Sodom. Gomorrah. Now Washington DC. Gabriel is a transgender, unable to decide whether to be a man or a woman, and swaps between the two identities with ease. The men they are after are convinced America needs to be saved from the homosexual and Muslim agendas, and they’re prepared to do whatever it takes to get America on board with their plan. The entire treatment is very heavy-handed, and while the humor is there – albeit not as fresh – it’s not enough to counteract the very preachy nature of the ideas, even as topical and important as they are. Then, just when it seems like everything is going to get interesting, it kind of stops. A one-page epilogue is there to tie up the loose ends, but it feels far too convenient and like shorthand for actual development of the climax and denouement.

Still, I have to love authors who dare to take these kinds of risks. Sometimes, stuff like this needs to be said. I sincerely hope Ms. Wiest never stops holding back. There’s a unique voice in all of this, even if this particular story didn’t work as well for me.


7/10 – The satire and boldness carries this through, not the prose


7/10 – Some border on caricature, others were richer


7/10 – The ending is far too rushed and convenient to hold the plot’s earlier weight

Entertainment value

6/10 – Not as funny as the first of her works that I’ve read

World building

6/10 – It felt like too much got bitten off for the length of the story.



Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Midnight Fantasies by assorted authors

TITLE: Midnight Fantasies
AUTHOR: Mikala Ash, Amanda Carrell, Yolanda Sfetsos, & Maggie Wylder
PUBLISHER: Whispers Publishing
LENGTH: Anthology (roughly 40k)
GENRE: Paranormal erotic romance
COST: $4.95

An anthology of four paranormal erotic romances, each one about a world unknown to this one.

The first anthology I’ve read in months, and unfortunately, the kindest thing I can say about it is that it’s unmemorable. Its stories are simplistic and rushed, and it really doesn’t make me want to read another one any time soon.

The first story in the anthology is Mikala Ash’s “Deep Encounter.” It’s the story of ex-lovers, reunited on a deep sea expedition to examine a new life form. While the romance is unbelievable (because I'm expected to believe all those problems that plague a break-up the first time many years earlier can be resolved with just a few hours of intimacy), this provides the most interesting set-up and milieu. I believed both characters as scientific professionals as well as the ocean backdrop. Even with a romance that made me roll my eyes, it managed to be my favorite one of the bunch.

The second, “The Way to Olympia” by Amanda Carrell, had strikes against it almost from the start. Two archaeologists are on the verge of a great discovery, each in love with the other, but the reason nothing has happened? The heroine’s brother, on his deathbed, made the hero promise never to make a physical advance toward his sister, because he wasn’t good enough. How am I supposed to believe in the hero being worthy if all I’m told from the start is that he isn’t? The story is too short to overcome that, and the whole thing falls flat.

Third in the anthology is “Selkie Skin” by Yolanda Sfetsos. The title gives it away. An Australian woman finds a naked man on the beach, takes him home to tend his wounds, has sex with him, and discovers he’s more than what he seems. The characters are flat, and the set-up lipservice with more telling than showing. My least favorite of the bunch.

Rounding it out is “Transcended” by Maggie Wylder. A woman has been dreaming of the same man for years, making love to him in her dreams, only to have him come to life on her archaeological dig. This might not have been so bad if the hero wasn’t a jerk, and the man who considers him his rival a caricature of evil. This one had the best written sex scenes of the bunch, but loathing two of the three principles doesn’t make it palatable.


6/10 – Simplistic and uninspiring


5/10 – Rushed and mostly unrealistic


4/10 – It’s hard to care about caricatures and flat characters

Entertainment value

4/10 – Unmemorable is probably the kindest thing I could say

World building

6/10 – Some stories do better than others



Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Hold the Dark by Frank Tuttle

TITLE: Hold the Dark
AUTHOR: Frank Tuttle
PUBLISHER: Samhain Publishing
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 53k)
GENRE: Fantasy mystery
COST: $4.50

Markhat is back, with a new case and a new relationship. Hired by the Hoobin Brothers to find their missing sister, he discovers a halfdead cult and a string of victims that spell doom for Martha Hoobin if he doesn’t find her soon. He enlists aid wherever he can – the beautiful Darla, Martha’s employer; a halfdead lawyer; and the name of the deadly and feared Corpsemaster…

It’s no secret that Frank Tuttle is one of my favorite finds since discovering e-books. I’ve found his brand of humor, combined with tight action and horror elements, refreshing, delightful, and absolutely top-notch. His latest offering is the longest of the three Markhat stories currently available, and while I can’t say that it’s my favorite on a pure entertainment value, I have no hesitations in saying it’s by far the most well-rounded, mature story of the bunch. It’s also so far above a lot of what is available in e-publishing, it sometimes makes it hard to go back to some of the other offerings afterward, because nine times out of ten, they never measure up.

The newest Markhat story departs from its predecessors in numerous ways. First of all, it’s longer. We finally get a short novel size portion of Rannit and all its colorful characters, of Markhat and his world-weary determination, of a mystery that gets the time to twist and turn to its dark heart’s content. While previous stories hinted at what a rich world this was, Tuttle’s skills get to truly shine here as Rannit comes to life in ways we didn’t get before. It beckons the reader to step into its pages with style and aplomb, immersing you in such vivid, beautifully written details, it’s impossible to escape until the end.

Another difference lies in Markhat’s romantic interest. Guess what? He finally gets one! One of the first new characters we meet in this is Darla, Martha’s employer, and she is a wry, intelligent woman worthy of Markhat’s attention. While Samhain labels this book a romance, I have to admit I refrain from doing so comfortably. For me, it’s more of a fantasy with romantic elements. Darla plays a definitive role in this, and Markhat’s feelings toward her are quite pivotal to the plot, but it still feels secondary to the overlying story. In a lot of ways, it’s about the depths Markhat will sink to, and how strong he actually is, rather than his feelings for Darla. He reminds me a lot of Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden, actually, though only in all the best ways.

There is one area where it didn’t quite measure up to previous stories for me. The use of humor in the two earlier stories helped balance the horror and fantasy elements, but here, the humor isn’t quite as prevalent. It’s still there, but this is much more fantasy horror, with splashes of funny tossed in to break up the tension. I didn’t find myself laughing as much as I did with the first ones. For instance, the naming of one of the halfdead, Evis Prestley, made me roll my eyes rather than smile. But this is a minor nitpick, and frankly, probably a product of just how much the first ones made me laugh than any lack on the part of the author.

You really don’t have to read the first two books to enjoy this one. It’s a swiftly paced, darkly realized, fantastic world he’s created, with one of my favorite protagonists ever. You can’t miss with Markhat.


9/10 – Darker than previous installments, and the humor was more of a hit or miss than before, but still gloriously readable


9/10 – Sparkling and full-fledged


8/10 – I loved it until the end, the various denouement explanations bordered on convenient and cumbersome

Entertainment value

9/10 – Other than my mild disappointments in the ending, a solid hit

World building

10/10 – Tuttle finally has the length to explore Rannit the way it should be



Monday, May 11, 2009

Deja Vu Lover by Phoebe Matthews

TITLE: Déjà Vu Lover
AUTHOR: Phoebe Matthews
PUBLISHER: Wild Rose Press
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 71k)
GENRE: Reincarnation romance
COST: $6.00

April isn’t exactly driven in her life. When her three best friends finished college, she dropped out in order to stay with them. With a small inheritance, she’s able to pay enough bills to keep a roof over her head without worrying too much about finding a full-time job. And men don’t seem to stick. So when she blacks out on a Seattle street corner and imagines herself back in the life of a young struggling actress, complete with horrific death, she has no idea what to do with it. The notion of a past life is totally foreign to her. Except it happens again, and again, introducing her to this woman’s love life as well. Then, she meets a man in the present day who smiles exactly like the man in the past. Her heart trips. And she can’t help but bring herself to find out if the doomed love affair she keeps reliving can be rekindled…

For anyone who actually pays attention to my scoring rubric, you’ll notice that there’s a slight deviation from the norm. I’ve specified heroes, in the plural. Don’t worry, that doesn’t make this a ménage. But with the exploration of the heroine’s past life, there ends up being multiple heroes in this unusual romance instead of the usual one.

I call this unusual, mostly because all the way until the very last chapter, I wasn’t actually sure it was a romance. This is the story of April, told in 1st person from her perspective, as she experiences her first past life flashback and then what she conceives as her first love. In spite of the rather grim memory that sets all this into motion, there is a whimsy to the entire story that perfectly reflects its narrator. April is a little bit ditzy, a little bit irresponsible, a whole lot ethereal. She lacks direction and thus just kind of floats along in her life, anchored only by her more responsible friends, or two of them, at least. She’s the kind of character that could get annoying very fast if her characterization wasn’t so delicately handled, but instead, she comes across as sweet and charming in that forgetful kind of way that reminds me of an early Goldie Hawn. It wasn’t long at all until I was just as devoted to her as her friends, so it was very easy to get swept along into her story.

As April discovers more of this previous life, her friends become increasingly involved. They try a regression group first, then start helping with more practical matters such as the logistics of this young actress April supposedly was. Throughout all this, April falls head over heels for Graham Berkold, a professor who she is convinced is Laurence, the actress’ lover. Graham is older, more worldly, and oops, married, but they start an affair that leaves April gasping for breath. Her friends worry about her, for good reason, because soon, April is making the same mistakes her previous self did, and the tale begins to take on a car crash mood. You know what I mean. The kind of mood where you can see the accident on the horizon, and know it’s inevitable, and scream at the driver to avert it, but he’s either deaf or you’re mute because you’re stuck in this track, no matter what. It’s a sense of inevitability that swirls and grows and leaves a big knot in the pit of your stomach. That was how I was left feeling as I watched April travel this path. Because I could see every mistake she was making, but was powerless to stop it.

I said at the top of this review that I wasn’t sure while I was reading that this was a romance, but it is, complete with an HEA that made me delightfully happy. It was the ending I was rooting for throughout the story, though didn’t honestly think I could get. I do think more could have been done to give it more of an emotional impact, because so much is spent on winding April up, some things fall to the wayside. But that’s a minor flaw for me in an otherwise incredibly enjoyable read. I plan on buying this one in print, that’s how much I enjoyed it.


9/10 – Occasionally, the transitions to her previous life memories weren’t terribly smooth, but I got so sucked into this, I couldn’t stop.


7/10 – Impossible to delineate any one personality for this score, the lower number is due to likeability rather than flatness


9/10 – Ditzy and free-spirited and a disaster waiting to happen

Entertainment value

9/10 – Delightful even as gradually gets darker and darker

World building

9/10 – The only place that didn’t feel as real to me was the present day Seattle, surprisingly enough



Wednesday, May 6, 2009


Due to issues beyond my control, I'll be offline until Sunday, and as such won't have reviews up for the rest of the week. However, to make up for the two I missed this week, I'm going to post five reviews next week. I'll have lots of time to read. I'm just not going to be able to get on a computer.

Have a great week, and enjoy your weekend!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Vertical Climax by Tessa Rae

TITLE: Vertical Climax
AUTHOR: Tessa Rae
PUBLISHER: Wild Rose Press
LENGTH: Short story (roughly 13k)
GENRE: Contemporary erotica
COST: $3.50

Out of work Broadway dancer Eve Brennan is feeling the crunch of rejection. Tendonitis has taken her off the stage, and her fiancé has just left her for a younger woman. So when a sexy young cowboy moves in down the hall, she decides to take matters into her own hands and get at least a little satisfaction in her life…

I’m frustrated. I’ll admit it. I’m tired of buying short erotic pieces that I end up laughing throughout because authors choose language that I find unsexy. I wonder sometimes if I’m the only one out there who would prefer blunt terminology, rather than a bunch of synonyms that evoke entirely wrong images. I can’t be. I just can’t.

This review won’t be long. I’m not entirely sure why I bothered finishing the story after the first chapter. The only excuses I have are that it was short, and I wondered if it could get any worse. But for edification about my personal preferences regarding smut scenes, I offer these points:

  • “Cavern” is never an acceptable synonym for pussy. Especially used three different times.
  • It is also not entirely flattering when used as a synonym for throat.
  • Comparing a penis to a “big, euphoric popsicle” is never sexy.
  • Neither is the word “slurp.”
  • “Climatic” is not synonymous with “climactic.”
  • I will never understand the appeal of “nether lips.”

There’s an anal sex scene in this. I made a promise to myself that if the author used the word “cavern” as a synonym for the woman’s ass (since she’d already used it as a synonym in two other places), I would quit reading. She didn’t, though Eve broke down into tears afterward because she was unable to explain her gratitude toward this man for helping her discover a whole new world of pleasure.

If a man made me cry after taking my anal virginity, I think it’s pretty much a guarantee I wouldn’t be asking him to live with me for the next week.


4/10 – Her synonyms in the smut scenes are painful to read.


4/10 – Inconsistent, and bordering on jerkhood


4/10 – A distinct sense of trashy and desperate makes the seduction awful

Entertainment value

2/10 – Unless laughing at the inappropriate synonyms counts

World building

4/10 – There really isn’t much of anything done here except the badly written sex