Monday, July 26, 2010

A week off

I am on family vacation this week, so no reviews will get posted until Monday, August 2. I'm reading tons, though...or as much as the kids will allow when they're not begging for entertainment.

Have a great week!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Waltz Me Through Time by Eileen Ann Brennan

TITLE: Waltz Me through Time
AUTHOR: Eileen Ann Brennan
PUBLISHER: Ellora’s Cave
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 30k)
GENRE: Time travel erotic romance
COST: $4.45

When vintage store owner Juliana Douglas buys a locked steamer trunk, she is thrilled by its contents once she finally gets it open. Containing memorabilia from over a century earlier, the trunk also holds a newspaper clipping with a dancing couple on it, a man and a woman very much in love. Juliana is shocked when she fantasizes about that same man that night, but even more so when she wakes up the next morning and he’s still in her bed…

Maybe I was just in the right mood for this, but for whatever reason, this highly romantic time travel story hit a spot in me few stories have recently.

Juliana owns a vintage shop called Second Hand Rose. She dates a pilot named Alex, who she only gets to see when he’s in town, and on this particular weekend, he’s gone, leaving her with work and a new acquisition. The steamer trunk is locked, but she finds a key that’ll fit it in her spares. Inside, it shows treasure after treasure of a time a century earlier, seemingly featuring a happily married couple. After a long day, she treats herself to wine and dressing up, but sounds from in the store draw her down to discover a man in a tuxedo dancing around. He claims to be Stanley Caldwell III, the husband from the dancing couple, and the chemistry between them sweeps her off her feet. Half-convinced she’s dreaming, she indulges, only to wake up in the morning to find him still in her bed, claiming she’s his wife, and that time travel is all too possible.

Though the time travel methodology in this is schmaltzy at best (he travels by dancing), I was able to put aside my reservations about it and fall into the romanticism of the story with little effort. Juliana is appropriately smart and independent, and her love for the store genuine. Starting out in her POV – and spending the entire story there, actually – was an incredibly savvy choice by the author, since it roots us in her sensibilities first, an eclectic mix of practicality and whimsy. Both are vital. The practical side keeps her reactions to the time travel claims realistic, just as anyone in the modern day world would feel, yet having that sense of whimsy, a hidden hope for something more, something magical, opens the door for both Juliana and the reader to accept the fantastic, and even better, to yearn for it.

It’s helped incredibly by the fact Juliana and Stanley have electric chemistry, almost from the moment they first lay eyes on each other. Their relationship leaps off the page, so tumbling into bed – or onto the trunk – with them is a breathless delight. I quite adored Stanley, though I’ll admit that perhaps he wasn’t the most well-rounded hero. He’s fairly idealized, much like a lot of the story, but because I was swept up in the depth of his emotions for her, and his need to get her back, I didn’t care. I’ll admit, too, part of my liking for him stems from a single action of his, something he did in the restaurant when he and Juliana went out for dinner. I cheered. It showed humanity as well as gallantry, and considering this kind of novella embraces the escapist romanticism of the genre, was a perfect gesture.

Is it perfect? No. I had some small issues with the length of time Julianna protested to Stanley, especially considering her history (which I won’t spoil since it doesn’t get revealed until well over halfway through the story), and the time travel explanations are either schmaltzy or incomplete. There are also considerable details that feel dropped in that never get fully explained. But in light of the sizzling chemistry between the two, and the romantic escapism it offers, these are minor complaints. It’s mostly uncomplicated, heavy on the sex (since this is Ellora’s Cave we’re talking about here), and ultimately, emotionally satisfying. That’s all I can ask for.


8/10 – Very romanticized and sweet


8/10 – Intense and romantic, I’m giving an extra point for doing something that made me cheer


7/10 – Appropriately wary, though considering her history, I thought her protests went on too long

Entertainment value

7/10 – A romantic escape, with a couple that has sizzling chemistry

World building

7/10 – The time travel explanations are schmaltzy and sometimes incomplete, but the rest of it makes up for that



Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Charade by Sabrina Luna

TITLE: Charade
AUTHOR: Sabrina Luna
PUBLISHER: Sugar and Spice Press
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 20k)
GENRE: Contemporary BDSM erotica
COST: $3.99

It’s an arrangement between a Dom and a sub, a chance for Dixie to learn what submission is all about. But when her Dom’s brother arrives for a short visit, she learns even more about what it means to submit…

For erotica to work, it needs to do one of three things (though preferably all of them) – engage the mind because the prose is beautiful, engage the senses with the erotic imagery, or engage the heart with the emotions. Most erotic fiction fails for me because it doesn’t meet any of these criteria. This short novella was no different.

There’s not much to this. Told in 1st person from the female sub’s POV, it’s basically escapade after escapade of Dixie submitting in some fashion to her Dom, Mitchell. His brother arrives for a short visit, and gets to take part. Supposedly, he also offers insight into their relationship she wouldn’t otherwise have, then he takes off. Simple. Direct. To the point.

And it doesn’t work. The prose itself is unassuming, bordering on the amateurish side (Why on earth is there the need to refer to the hero by his full name after he’s been introduced and you’ve spent the last thirty pages only calling him by his first name? Answer: There isn’t.), and while I’ve definitely read worse in this genre, it failed to engage me either viscerally or intellectually. The characters aren’t people. They’re shells performing these parts. I know nothing about the kind of people Dixie and Mitchell are except in the very shallowest sense. Alex (the brother) isn’t much better, though the fact he actually gets to have a conversation and reactions that don’t involve either Dixie or Mitchell affords him a tad more depth. But only a tad.

These issues might not necessary be problems if it was hot, but it’s just not. Dixie acts like the things they’re doing, the lessons she’s learning from Mitchell are so very forbidden, but anybody who’s read even a couple D/s stories will find little fresh or dangerous in these scenes. She’s late for dinner once, he spanks her. He has her masturbate in public. They have anal sex. Perhaps if the characters were more fully fleshed, or if the prose itself was more sophisticated, this wouldn’t seem so humdrum, but that’s not the case. It’s boring.

And if even the sex is boring in a piece of erotica…I just can’t recommend this with any sense of good conscience. I would have got more pleasure from the nice coffee I could have bought for the cost of this.


6/10 – Unassuming and forgettable, though at least it’s relatively clean


3/10 – An enigma, but then that’s because he’s an enigma to the 1st person heroine


4/10 – Personality-less, a vehicle for the sexual escapades

Entertainment value

3/10 – Boring and forgettable

World building

4/10 – Little attempt to give depth to anything but the sex



Monday, July 19, 2010

With a Touch by Rhiannon Leith

TITLE: With a Touch
AUTHOR: Rhiannon Leith
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 40k)
GENRE: Futuristic paranormal menage erotic romance
COST: $4.50

As a psychic, Eva is a powerful tool for the Guild in maintaining order, but when she gets a new assignment to get information from a known terrorist, all hell breaks loose. Rafael Dante is as powerful a psychic as she is, and with the inside help of Aidan Valetti, a Security officer, manages to break free of his captivity and kidnap her away from the Guild’s protection. The story he weaves is incredible. Eva wouldn’t believe it if she couldn’t see it in his mind. What he and Aidan offer overwhelms her, but both men are determined to free her of the Guild’s control…

The single word that comes to mind in regards to this long novella is tasteful. It has a lot going for it, and while it’s definitely better than some of the stories I’ve read recently, it still has at least one major flaw to keep it from being anything memorable.

In a futuristic society, Eva is a psychic with the Guild, the organization responsible for bringing order to a world on the brink of disaster. The Guild “hires” psychic children from families, to utilize their skills in every possible way, most often in extracting necessary information from others who are reluctant to give it. Powerful in her own right, Eva is surprised when she gets a change in assignment, to a Security detail in one of the sublevels. She accepts, and is shocked when one of the officers there is the same one she’d collided with when she first arrived for work. Then, she’d felt his desire for her, a fantasy she’d plucked from his mind at the physical contact, and it rattles her a little as she approaches her duty. What rattles her further is the man they want her to question is the most notorious Hedonist, a group of terrorists intent on destroying the Guild. His name is Rafael Dante, and he has powers as strong as – if not greater – than hers. She can’t get through his defenses without touching him, but as soon as she does, she discovers he’s been tortured and maligned, and while he hates the Guild, he’s not the violent man she was led to believe. She confronts the commander in charge of the investigation, but immediately, hell breaks loose. The guard she’d bumped into – Aidan – takes down the others in the room, and together with Rafael, try to get Eva out of there. They manage to escape to their stronghold, and have to work to convince her they never meant to kidnap her. They wanted her to come of her own free will, because getting her free of the Guild’s control was her dying father’s last wish.

The prose in this is by far its greatest strength. There’s sensuality in every word, even in the midst of action scenes. It’s not, however, over the top. In fact, it’s got an understated elegance that reminds me of a really good white wine. It warms without overwhelming, with a slight tart edge to keep me on my toes. When it was meant to race forward, it did so, just as it became sensual for the erotic scenes. The entire story has a tasteful feel to it, with everybody and everything treated with respect.

Characterization is solid, if not unique, but I do believe the men fare a lot better than Eva does. Once she’s kidnapped, she becomes much more of a shell – because really, that’s what Guild psychics are – and she seems to take on the personality of whoever she is with. This chameleon-like quality mirrors her search for her own identity, but I can’t say that it actually worked for me. I was left wondering who this woman really was, even when it got to the rather predictable ending. Her spotty characterization seeps into my commitment to the ménage, as well. This is an m/m/f ménage, which means the men are as involved with each other as they are with the woman, but I never understood why they wanted her. She is brought to the compound to fulfill the promise Rafael made to her father. Rafael has had premonitions that she is meant for Aidan, too. Aidan has accepted this as his due, but in all honesty, it felt like he was in love with her the moment he met her. If it was meant to be fated, it felt sloppy, and if it wasn’t, there was never any understanding why Aidan or Rafael would/should/could love her. It made it impossible to believe in their romantic feelings for her (though the erotic ones are more understandable), and since she’s an integral point in this triangle, it weakens the entire structure.

This is sold as the first book in the Guild Chronicles. I’m curious enough about the world the author has created, and impressed enough by the prose, to try the second book when it comes out. This one might not have worked as a ménage for me, but it had enough strong qualities to encourage me to try another.


8/10 – Sensual and tasteful


6/10 – I believed they wanted each other – the men especially – but I never understood why they were so enamored with Eva from the start


7/10 – The men fare better than the woman in this, with the villain rather cardboard

Entertainment value

7/10 – For the action and sensuality, not because I believed the ménage

World building

7/10 – Some interesting ideas, though not always fully realized



Friday, July 16, 2010

Moving Target by Rosalie Stanton

TITLE: Moving Target
AUTHOR: Rosalie Stanton
PUBLISHER: Lyrical Press
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 18k)
GENRE: Erotic romantic suspense
COST: $2.50

Wolf Thornton has a job – to kill Anna Winter. Someone powerful wants her dead, but the more he learns about her, the more convinced he is she’s not the threat she was made out to be. When other assassins show up to do the job he’s stalling in, he decides the game has changed. But protecting her just might cost both of them their lives…

My bad luck streak continues, though today’s review isn’t flawed for the same reasons as the last few books. It started out well enough, but halfway through, everything fell apart.

Anna Winter is recently unemployed, having lost her job in Washington, DC. She’s been forced to move back home to Springfield, Missouri, but what she doesn’t know is that someone has been hired to kill her. Assassin Wolf Thornton watches Anna for weeks before making his move, but it’s not the move to kill her. No, he doesn’t think she deserves to die, not after everything he’s witnessed. His move is more personal, because Anna intrigues him as no other woman has in a very long time. It’s cut short, however, when another assassin shows up to finish the job he hasn’t done, only now, Wolf isn’t going to let that happen.

This short novella starts out well enough. Wolf is sympathetic, and his confusion about Anna and his assignment realistic, based on what we see of her. There’s even a certain amount of sympathy to be had for Anna when we get into her POV, though I found her whiny almost from the start. She’s very “woe is me” about everything that is wrong with her life, and she seems reluctant to do anything that will make it better. Wolf sweeps her off her feet in a club, and they have a lot of chemistry on the dance floor, enough to give me hope this will work out, even if it isn’t very long. That hope prevails during the following action sequence, too, when they flee Springfield to try and keep Anna safe.

Then, things start to unravel. It starts with Anna. I already didn’t care for her a lot because of her negative attitude about everything, but my opinion deteriorated during the course of her various conversations with Wolf. In one word? Inconsistent. She worked doing glorified admin work for the Secretary of Agriculture, and displays intricate knowledge of how the political system works, and yet she think Quebec is a country. I think her dimness is meant to be endearing, but when it’s juxtaposed against obvious intelligence, it makes her look either flaky or inconsistent. I’m going with the latter. Because there’s repeated incidents of this throughout the story, enough for me really not like her by the story’s end.

Wolf’s not much better. There’s a lot of banter between the two that I’m sure is meant to make him look charming, but honestly, he comes across like an ass more than half the time. His propensity for pet names, as well as singing his own praises, is eyeroll-worthy rather than seductive, and the good will he’d garnered from me in the beginning dissipated.

If the assassin plot was any good, I might be willing to overlook these shortcomings, but ultimately, the conspiracy around why Anna is being hunted is unnecessarily convoluted for a short novella as well as downright silly in a few parts. Worse, it doesn’t even get resolved onscreen. Anna does something she could (should) have done weeks earlier, makes a phone call, and poof! Problem solved. It’s lazy storytelling and emotionally unsatisfying, and none of it encourages me to try this author again.


7/10 – The dialogue didn’t flow well, and the sex felt manipulative, but the opening and action scene held promise


5/10 – Inconsistent and often the opposite of charming


3/10 – Even more inconsistent than the hero

Entertainment value

4/10 – Though the opening held promise, the story’s too short for the plot it tries to convey

World building

6/10 – Moments are well realized, but the greater picture is grainy and unclear



Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Last Chance by Sarita Leone

TITLE: Last Chance
AUTHOR: Sarita Leone
PUBLISHER: Whiskey Creek Press
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 56k)
GENRE: Historical romance
COST: $6.99

Widow Laura Perkins opted to stay in Nebraska after her husband died, but she has given no thought about ever remarrying. Her dead husband still lives in her heart, and she is content with her life, especially since her sister has joined her for company. At least, until Chance DeWitt arrives in Granite Creek, ready to work the ranch his family has owned for three generations…

I am having the worst luck lately in running into stories that lapse into tell not show. I had hoped choosing an author I enjoyed before would counter all that, but unfortunately, that just wasn’t the case.

Though Laura Perkins has been widowed, she stays in Granite Creek, Nebraska, since it was part of her dead husband’s dream. To make her life more bearable, her younger sister Callie Jo comes to stay with her, but it’s another arrival who has caught her eye, the rancher Chance DeWitt. Chance has come out to Nebraska to run the family ranch, and make a success of it one way or another, without revealing the secrets the ranch holds. Their chemistry is strong, and for the first time since her husband’s death, Laura feels something for another man.

The author has a quiet, understated style, both in voice and storytelling, and while it worked well for the first book I read by her, it renders this one difficult to finish. The beginning meanders along, taking its time introducing the two main characters, but almost immediately, Laura suffers. Her sister Callie Jo is far more vibrant and interesting than Laura ever is. The only time Laura seems to have a spark is when Chance shows up. The problem with that is…it takes a while for that to happen. And even then, it’s more the chemistry between the two I’m responding to rather than any depth to their characters.

I would have been okay with this is if the story itself was well written. It’s just not. There are time jumps past pivotal events, with the details coming out afterward in conversation rather than getting shown to the reader. It happens over, and over, and over again, so much so that it got incredibly frustrating. It’s not like a lot even happened. There’s a murder that happens on Chance’s ranch – that we don’t see, but hear about – and one of Chance’s men gets questioned about the murder – that we don’t see, but hear about – and Callie Jo gets kidnapped – that we don’t see, but hear about – and…are you seeing a pattern here? It weakened an already slow story, and the entire thing borders on lugubrious.

In spite of really enjoying the first story I read by this author, this one fails to come close to that standard. Hopefully, it’s anomalous with the rest of the author's work.


6/10 – Though there are nice moments, too much gets told not shown and slows it down dramatically


6/10 – Sweet and strong, though I never felt like I really knew him


4/10 – Not sure what the appeal was, her sister was far more interesting than she was

Entertainment value

4/10 – The slow beginning and then the patchwork tell not show nature of the second half really made this a lugubrious read

World building

6/10 – The environment was well-realized, but I didn’t believe the time period for the most part



Monday, July 12, 2010

Guardian by Kalita Kasar

TITLE: Guardian
AUTHOR: Kalita Kasar
LENGTH: Short story (roughly 10k)
GENRE: Gay paranormal erotic romance
COST: $2.99

Lionel Beaumont has had two lives – the first ten years he can’t remember, and the twelve years since, the decade-plus since he awoke from a coma with no memory of who he was. He feels somehow separate from everyone else, though he goes from day to day, counseling people at the hospital, searching for…something. The nightmares that have plagued him since his awakening from the coma have no answers, at least, not until he meets a man who shares the name of the object of his terrors…

You won’t find the paranormal label on this story on the publisher site. It might even be considered a slight spoiler for me to have it here, but honestly, presenting this as a contemporary story is a misnomer. Someone looking for a contemporary is likely to be disappointed, even if the first half of the story suggests you’re about to get the tale of a haunted young an.

Lionel Beaumont is twenty-two and works as a counselor at Pickworth General. At the age of ten, he was hit by a car and put into a coma. He woke up weeks later, screaming a man’s name. He had no memory of his life, and the nightmare that brought him back plagued him all the way to current day. They always occurred at the same time – 5:05 – and always held the same details. He floats from day to day, never content with what he finds, until he makes an impromptu visit at a pub and meets a man who seems all too familiar. With a name he’s spoken for the past twelve years.

I loved how this short story started out. There is some lovely imagery, like the way the beach and bay came to life when Lionel went on a lonely walk. The moods his thoughts evoke, too, are just as hauntingly lovely, and I was holding my breath in anticipation of where it would go. When he met Ben, I thought, “This is it.” So I waited. I got a taste of what their chemistry was, but then, there came even more sex, and then the explanation, and…it felt like an entirely different story. All of a sudden, the Lionel I knew disappeared, and I can’t say that I liked the person who replaced him. It all felt incredibly pat and easy, with Ben’s story, and the subsequent events trying to wrap the story up into a tidy little bow that didn’t do justice to the tone set in the beginning. I felt cheated. There could have been some real depths to the emotions, but I didn’t get any of them. Instead, I got insta-love. What a disappointment.


8/10 – Some lovely turns of phrases, though the sudden concentration of sex and abrupt ending spoil the overall effect

Hero #1

7/10 – I empathized with him incredibly until his personality seemed to do a one-eighty at the climax

Hero #2

5/10 – Too little is developed about him until it becomes convenient, then it feels…convenient

Entertainment value

6/10 – All the promise of the first half gets cheated by the lack of depth and turnarounds of the second

World building

7/10 – I had difficulty seeing the setting, and the abrupt introduction of the explanation left a lot of questions unanswered



Friday, July 9, 2010

A Private Matter by Kathleen O'Connor

TITLE: A Private Matter
AUTHOR: Kathleen O’Connor
PUBLISHER: Whiskey Creek Press
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 68k)
GENRE: Mystery romance
COST: $6.99

A murder at Rayex Chemical Company creates an opening for struggling Tess McConnell, but she knows from the start she’s not a great fit for the company. She needs the job to pay off the massive credit card debt she accrued putting her abusive ex-boyfriend through school, but she distracts herself from her overwhelming sense of being over her head by trying to find the killer who made her job possible. Another distraction comes in the form of Detective Mitch Gallagher, a man she just can’t figure out. Together, they just might find the answers they’re both looking for, though the most important ones have nothing to do with murder…

I have not read a book with such a misleading blurb in a very long time. Not the one I’ve written above, but the one on the publisher’s website. It reads like a romantic suspense, concentrating on Mitch’s obsession in solving the murder, which is why I was interested. But that’s not what this book is. Oh, sure, the murder is there, but it is background through much of the story. This is far more a character study about two very damaged people, a slow, meandering read that is nothing like the blurb suggested. Someone needs to chuck that blurb and write a new one, especially since it doesn’t even get the name of Mitch’s partner right (his name is Sal, not Sandy).

A very brief prologue puts the reader in the victim’s head as he is leaving work. He recognizes the company's loaner car, and possibly the driver, and then, in a blink, is shot through the head. It’s short, graphic, and to the point, and honestly, leads into the type of story the blurb hinted at. It even plays out in that way for a short period. We meet Mitch as they start out the investigation, and learn he’s a grieving widower, a newish detective, has obsessive food issues, and a dysfunctional family. He and Sal conduct interviews trying to find anything that might pan out, but nothing is coming up. In the process, he meets Tess, who lives with her mother and grandmother in the same building as the victim. He is struck from first sight at how beautiful she is, constantly comparing her to an Irish Celtic queen, yet is so inadequate in small talk, can’t seem to come across as anything but belligerent. Tess is a size sixteen, a year out from a ten-year abusive relationship that left her thousands of dollars in debt, and completely insecure when it comes to the opposite sex. She doesn’t know what to make of Mitch at all, even though she is always aware of his constant presence at the company as he tries to ferret out what happened.

Neither lead is your typical romance character. Mitch is obsessive about a lot of different things – cleanliness, food, privacy – enough so to annoy a lot of people. He’s also not your usual bulky alpha. He’s actually on the scrawny side – 155 pounds at 6’1” – and lives on caffeine rather than food. His mother is an alcoholic he has no patience for, he loathes his father, and he’s never been able to cry over his wife’s death from leukemia. Tess is size 16, paranoid about her weight, coming out of the abusive relationship with burn scars and more memories of bruises than anybody should ever have. She’s in intense debt because of her ex, and is forced to live with her widowed mother and her grandmother, whose health is failing fast. Her father was an alcoholic as well, who committed suicide when she was 14, leaving her mother in tremendous debt, too. Both of them are very, very damaged people.

Neither characterization is consistent. More than one person comments that Mitch comes across as more than a little scary – intense and cold – including Tess, and yet, he’s given the job of the soft talks, the one who plays good cop because supposedly, he’s better at it than his partner. He likes Tess, but doesn’t know how to talk to her at all, so when he does, he comes across as belligerent and mean, which completely terrifies Tess. It even happens when we’re in his POV, too, so I know what he’s thinking when he says these things, and I just can’t fathom how those words can come out of his mouth. Tess is much the same. She alternately hates and is scared of Mitch, until she realizes out of the blue that she’s fallen for him. Huh? Where did that come from? There was no hint of it anywhere in her actions or thoughts regarding him that her feelings could have done such a completely one-eighty.

For as unappealing as they often come across, however, I found myself unwilling to put the story down. I was intensely curious how the author was going to get these two together and make it work. I can’t say that I believe their feelings, or how much snowballs at the end, but it made an interesting change to read about a guy so obviously different, and a girl so obviously insecure.

The mystery that brings them together is more a device to keep their lives entangled than anything really suspenseful. The POV switches a lot to minor characters – probably in an attempt to build drama – and it slows down the narrative, as so little of it felt relevant. At least until I decided this was a character study instead. Looking at it from that perspective, getting little glimpses into these other characters’ lives made more sense. The pace is also drastically slowed by the author’s propensity to tell about important events rather than show them. For instance, Mitch’s older sister asks him to escort their mother down the aisle at her wedding, which he initially refuses. He only agrees on the promise that his mother stay dry until then. And then…we never see the wedding. Or that moment. We’re told about it after the fact. His relationship with his mother is pivotal to who and what this man is. She’s the biggest reason behind a lot of his control issues, and he knows this. Such an important moment should have been shown to me, for greater impact, rather than related offhandedly later on. And that’s only one example from the book. I could pluck out a dozen more.

I can’t say I’d necessarily recommend this, but I’m not overly sorry I read it, either. It made an interesting change of pace, if not the story I was expecting when I started page one.


7/10 – A slow read, with seemingly unnecessary POVs


7/10 – I’m adding extra points for a different hero than is typically found, though his characterization is uneven and his behavior sometimes baffling


6/10 – Her characterization is even more uneven than the hero’s

Entertainment value

6/10 – I think I liked this more for offering something different rather than its romantic or technical merits

World building

6/10 – Lack of place early on made me struggle, focus is on characters not the world they live in



Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Risking Eternity by Voirey Linger

TITLE: Risking Eternity
AUTHOR: Voirey Linger
PUBLISHER: Ellora’s Cave
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 26k)
GENRE: Paranormal erotic romance
COST: $4.45

Angel Dominicus has been banished to Earth for two centuries, sentenced to deliver departing souls to Hell where Lucifer and his demons devour them. When he comes across a soul that seems too pure to damn that way, he chooses to save her instead, sending another soul in her place. But saving Maggie has repercussions that extend both into Heaven and Hell. Sooner or later, Dominicus is going to have to make a choice…

It’s never a good sign when I like a secondary character more than the leads, but that was the case in this story, and ultimately was what made it fail for me.

For the last two hundred years, Dominicus has been banished to Earth to escort souls to Hell. His crime? To question Most High. His best friend Renatus warns him he is about to be tested, that he’s close to Falling, but when Dominicus recognizes the soul he’s supposed to take as the purest he’s ever seen, he decides at the last minute to save her life and take someone else. He uses what little power he has to do this, then steals some power from his friend to finish the job. He’s drawn to Maggie’s purity, and when it’s obvious Hell still wants her, he vows to do everything in his power to protect her.

I wanted to like Dominicus so much more than I did. It started out all right. He’s an angel, on the verge of Falling, so he’s a lot more interesting than someone who never questions what he thinks is wrong. However, I quickly learned that he’s also very self-centered. He’s been flirting and attracted to Ren for centuries, using their friendship as his sole contact with Heaven. Ren can’t let himself believe that male-male relationships are in any way right, though he harbors feelings and an attraction for Dom that he sublimates constantly. Ren is clearly conflicted about his feelings, and then, when he finally is able/willing to act on them, Dom turns him down in favor of Maggie. There is a scene where they exchange feathers, white for black, acknowledging that they love each other but will likely never see each other again, and it just broke my heart. Not for Dom. For Ren. He deserved a lot better than Dom. Dom used him and led him on. That's not what a good friend does.

Half of the problem lies with Maggie. She damsels throughout the whole thing. Dom is constantly doing everything in his power to “fix” things and save her, and it got old very quickly. She’s portrayed as clumsy, which I think was supposed to be meant as charming, but it only added to the sense of incompetence she conveyed throughout the whole story. Supposedly, she has the purest soul he’s ever seen, but none of that translates to the page. It was her foolish mistake that brought about the entire climax (though honestly, Dom is as much to blame since all it would have taken was one simple warning to her about demons taking other forms to stop it). I don’t understand what the appeal of her was at all.

The only reason I didn’t set this aside as a DNF was because Dom’s longing was palpable. I didn’t believe he loved her for a second, but his need to protect and save her was a different story. I responded to that, because it went straight back to what I liked about Dom in the first place. There was an honor there, warm and sweet, and I wished desperately it had played into the way he treated Ren and the romance. But it didn’t.

As an FYI, for readers who are sensitive to it, there is m/m contact between Ren and Dom. It’s actually hotter (for what little there is) than the het contact, but that’s not the story the author chose to tell.


6/10 – Wandering POV in the beginning and a damsel heroine almost made this a DNF


5/10 – I wanted to like him more than I did, but couldn’t get over how he treated his friend


3/10 – Complete damsel, I never understood what the appeal was

Entertainment value

5/10 – I felt his longing more than anything else which compensated for a lot of other shortcomings

World building

6/10 – Some fascinating possibilities, but nothing explored well



Monday, July 5, 2010

State of Mind by Libby Drew

TITLE: State of Mind
AUTHOR: Libby Drew
PUBLISHER: Dreamspinner Press
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 65k)
GENRE: Gay paranormal erotic romance
COST: $6.99

Dedicated to keeping peace, the Organization is comprised of Gifteds – men and women with some form of special mental ability. Grier Crist has dedicated years of his life to it, and after all this time, is one of the best. So when he discovers the Organization has been hiding treacherous secrets from him, he does the only honorable thing he can. He quits. Quitting, however, is not an option, and the Organization comes after him, labeling him both a murderer and a traitor in order to get its agents to comply. Alec Devlin is utterly devoted to the Organization, but when he finds Grier, everything he has ever believed in is called into question. Now he has to decide whether to believe the lies, or do something about it…

Well-paced action carries me a long way in stories. While I can enjoy slower, more thoughtful character pieces, too, I love the sense of getting swept into the events, being thrust from one sequence to another. It’s a carryover from movies I like to watch and other genres I like to read. Getting a romantic arc in an action-packed book? Icing on the cake.

Action is the top draw in this paranormal. Grier and Alec are Gifted, men with special mental abilities, that work for a conglomerate called the Organization. Grier is older – thirty-eight – and the story starts with him on a bomb site, a conference center where innocent people were killed. He’s convinced the Organization is at fault, and decides on the spot to quit and go into hiding. He knows he’ll have to run from them. Nobody quits and gets away with it. Sure enough, they send a younger agent, Alec Devlin, after him. Alec has the ability to hide himself from other Gifteds, and he gets under Grier’s radar almost right away. When Grier realizes who he is, he manages to overpower him, and create a tenuous truce when he reveals that the Organization lies about some of the most basic things they take for granted. From there, it’s a race to safety, with everybody and his brother out to get them.

The action is fast, clever, and relentless. From the very first paragraph, the reader is thrust into the moment, and it rarely lets up. So focused on the plot, the characters don’t even get to have sex until close to the end, though their attraction simmers from the moment they meet. There just isn’t time for it to happen, and the author respects the action enough not to break at a foolish place just to get them into bed. Scenes are short, and perspective changes often, not just remaining in our two heroes. We get Nora, Alec’s Monitor; Ethan, the Organization head; Nicolas, Grier’s friend; and more. Some perspectives work better than others, and more than once, it’s not clear that the author has switched at all until a page or two into the scene. For the most part, though, they serve to thrust the plot forward, providing ancillary information necessary to make the climax understandable. Nicolas in particular fares as one of the better choices, an intriguing character worthy of his own story.

Alec and Grier are individual enough to stand out from each other in the course of the story, though once the story is done, there’s a vague sense of uncertainty left in both of them. I know that Grier is an honorable man, wanting to do the right thing, but I’m never entirely sure why, or what it was that molded him into the man he is. There are allusions to what it might be, but nothing concrete. Alec is just as likable, though his characterization doesn’t seem nearly as smooth. More than once, Grier refers to him as too trusting – which he is – but once we learn about his past, it’s hard to believe, especially when someone who is aware of that past suggests that he’s learned not to give openings to get hurt. That suggests a lack of a trusting nature to me, and makes it harder for me to get a good grasp on him afterward. It just doesn’t fit, and jars an otherwise enjoyable character.

There’s a sense of sameness when it comes to the setting and plot, and in a less action-packed story, that might have been a problem. It wasn’t for me. The chemistry between Alec and Grier sizzles from the start, and I was glad the author waited for them to come together. With as much action as she threw into it, it wouldn’t have been right for it to happen sooner. I’m labeling this an erotic romance, because when the sex does happen, it’s very explicit, and lasts for longer than a page or two. There might not be a lot of it, but it’s hot and definitely doesn’t fade to black. And for this reader, very much worth the wait.


8/10 – Swiftly plotted and well-paced

Hero #1

7/10 – Surprisingly honorable, though often felt like there was more to him than I actually got

Hero #2

7/10 – A study in contrasts, though his trusting nature never seemed to make sense considering his background

Entertainment value

8/10 – Though the plot and characters are fairly standard, I got swept up in the action and their mutual attraction enough to really enjoy myself

World building

7/10 – There’s a lack of time in this that niggles at the back of the brain, and it’s not hugely original, but enough was there for me to stay interested



Friday, July 2, 2010

Confederate Rose by Susan Macatee

TITLE: Confederate Rose
AUTHOR: Susan Macatee
PUBLISHER: Wild Rose Press
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 61k)
GENRE: Historical romance
COST: $6.00

Katie O’Reilly posed as a boy to join her husband in the Confederate Army, and continued the charade after he was killed. All she wanted was revenge against the Yankees for destroying so much of what she loved. On a mail run, she runs into Alex Hart, a Federal spy, and the two end up stranded in a cabin in the middle of nowhere during a snowstorm. She has no idea he’s not the reporter he claims to be. She only knows she’s attracted to him, like she hasn’t been attracted to any man since her husband died. But the war is still raging around them, and eventually they both have to get back to their opposite sides…

I have not been this bored by a book in a very long time. Not even being an American historical could garner much to keep my attention on it.

It starts out with Katie, stopping to fill her canteen from a stream. Alex Hart, a Federal spy, comes upon her, and when she thinks he’s going to rob her, she tries to pull her gun on him, only to fall into the water. He saves her, but they’re soaking wet in the middle of March, and he takes her to shelter at a nearby cabin. Her identity has already been exposed, so he acts gentlemanly, but a snowstorm strands them together for a couple weeks, during which time he nurses her back from a bad fever, and the two fall for each other. They head back to her camp, he decides to join up to get more secrets, and…it goes on forever. And forever. And the thing of it is, it’s not a long novel at all. Scenes are short, time gets jumped, and nothing gets shown. It’s all told, and it’s boring as hell to read. I’m expected to get involved with these characters, but no time is spent with them actually getting to know each other, let alone me getting much time to really know them.

Everything but the epilogue spans two years, if that gives you any hint on how little is actually explored. Each scene tries to turn the story in a new direction, from Alex’s joining up, to getting caught, to escaping, to…well, you get the idea. It’s like it wants to be this grand epic love story, but it’s only 60k. That’s not nearly enough space to give these characters or their actions any kind of depth, not on the scale the plot wants to be. Many scenes fall below a thousand words, before jumping perspective, time, and/or place. That leaves Katie a stereotype who flits from one emotion to the next with no rhyme or reason for the shifts, Alex a constant liar because his deceptions are what fuel a good part of the book, and me bored out of my mind before I got halfway through.

Frankly, I have to be blunt, and say don’t waste your time unless you’re already a fan of this author.


4/10 – Boring, shallow characterization, all show not tell


3/10 – Little believable about him, especially given how much he lies to her


3/10 – Suffers from same problem of the rest of the book, unbelievable and boring

Entertainment value

2/10 – Tries to be epic, crammed into a short novel, which ultimately meant I was bored to tears

World building

5/10 – Though there’s an attempt to create a sense of time and place, the writing is so superficial it lacks any kind of depth