Friday, April 30, 2010

King in Check by Treva Harte

TITLE: King in Check
AUTHOR: Treva Harte
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 22k)
GENRE: Futuristic western (cowpunk)
COST: $4.99

As the boss’ kid, Mosquito is doing everything possible to earn the staff’s respect. But the memory of the foreman lingers strong with them, and now that Rey is returning home, Mosquito is even more fearful of losing control. Until Rey shows up, and his appeal becomes more than obvious…

When I read this blurb, I was half in love already. I loved the cover, I loved the idea, and the 1st person excerpt hooked me in. I think my high hopes contributes a great deal to just how disappointed I am in the final result.

My mini-blurb above only gives the beginning, because a lot of stuff happens after Rey comes home. Rey is suffering from fighter flu, the effects of a drug he took as a fighter that enhanced his natural abilities. It is killing him, and his life expectancy when he returns to the compound is extremely short. After falling for Rey, Mosquito is determined to do what it takes to help him, which means trying to find the old healer who left the compound years ago in hopes she’ll have some sort of folk medicine that will help. It goes on from there, with Federistas hunting for them, intrigue, jealousy, and more. And it never really works for me.

The biggest problem rests in the world building. It’s clear this is some kind of futuristic western milieu (cowpunk, the publisher’s site calls it), but little to no explanation is provided to explain the setting, either physical or political. There are hints of some great imaginative details, but nothing is ever fully explored, leaving me with a ton of questions almost from the very beginning. The only rationalization I can come up for it is that the author intends to provide explanations in later stories, but honestly, by the time I reached the end, I was so frustrated, I’m just not willing to take that risk.

This lack of detailing is also the primary issue with Rey, Mosquito, and well, all the rest of the characters. Motivations are only hinted at. Actions come out of nowhere. Intent is nonexistent, because without providing context (more than “I’m the boss’ kid” or “I’m the ex-foreman”), it falls flat on its face. I liked Rey and Mosquito, but frankly, never felt like I knew them. Their feelings sprung out of nowhere. One minute Mosquito hated him, next she understands why everybody worships him. Rey and Calle – his lifelong friend and lover before leaving to fight – have a better developed relationship, but even that wasn’t very deeply explored. Calle seemed more of a plot device than a character.

For readers who care about body parts, this is a het romance with an m/m erotic scene in it as well. I did like the fluidity of sexuality in this universe, but it will likely bother those readers who don’t want their romance tainted (het readers who don’t want m/m contact, m/m readers who don’t want het contact).


8/10 – Alternating 1st person POVs gives perspective but lacks true depth for me


6/10 – I liked him, I just felt like I didn’t know much about him


5/10 – A casualty of the holes-filled world-building, interesting but uneven

Entertainment value

4/10 – In the end, as much as I liked the ideas behind this, the serial feel to the ending as well as the huge holes in the world building frustrated me too much to enjoy the story

World building

5/10 – Points for originality, minus points for lack of followthrough on the execution



Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Fire Eyes by Cheryl Pierson

TITLE: Fire Eyes
AUTHOR: Cheryl Pierson
PUBLISHER: Wild Rose Press
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 74k)
GENRE: Historical romance
COST: $6.00

In an attempt to save two kidnapped Indian girls, US Marshal Kaed Turner finds himself beaten and tortured by one of the most notorious gangs in the territory, Fallon’s Brigade. The Choctaw save him, and take him to a local woman so she can nurse him back to health. The last time they brought someone to Jessica Monroe to save, it was her husband, and her attempts to rescue him failed, even if her marriage had long since stopped being satisfying. She is determined to save Kaed, but neither anticipate the connection that springs between them. Do they stand a chance, though? Because Kaed is still a Marshal, and Andrew Fallon is still out there, ready to take Kaed down in the most painful way possible. Someone has to stop him…

There are some books I finish and think, “I really wish it had stopped while it was ahead.” Often, this is what marks the difference between a very good book, and an outstanding one. That’s definitely the deal with this one. In essence, it felt like two very different stories, and the segue between the two not nearly smooth enough to make the transition seamless.

The two characters are complete types in this genre, the honorable authority figure (in this case, a US Marshall) and the innocent though not stupid frontier woman who is making her own way in spite of incredible odds. It’s impossible not to like and respect Jess and Kaed almost from the second they’re introduced. Kaed is attempting to save not only a colleague but also a pair of young Choctaw virgins who have been kidnapped to sell. Jess is widowed from a loveless marriage, raising another woman’s baby as her own because her friend died, and doing everything she can to simply survive, all at a very young age. When they come together, it is highly romantic, and sweet, and tender, and hot, all at the same time. These two people need happiness so badly, you don’t care that they don’t really know each other, or that it happens so fast. I fell head over heels for their love story, pounding heart and all.

But then it started to change. Declarations happen a third of the way through the book. A third. Leaving a lot of room for a lot of story to happen. The other marshals who work with Kaed begin to play a larger and larger role as Kaed’s health improves, so by the time declarations come, you know they’re going to be pivotal to the rest of the story. And in fact, after they find Kaed, the story veers off into a whole new tonal direction. Andrew Fallon is still out there, and Kaed wants to catch him. The second half is all about tracking him down, and the band of marshals plays a much more pivotal role than the romance. It’s a little disconcerting, actually. It takes a while to really keep all the players straight, and the romantic mood of what I fell in love with is completely gone. There’s definitely nothing wrong with it, but the disconnect between the two halves was so jarring, I was disappointed. There’s an attempt at a secondary romance between one of the other marshals and a girl they rescue, but it’s played in the same manner as Jess and Kaed’s, meaning it’s love at first sight. In their case, it doesn’t work. It’s too abrupt, and as a reader, my connection to either character wasn’t nearly strong enough for me to blindly accept the speed of their connection.

Which is disappointing, in the end. Because I was swept away by the romantic aspects of Kaed and Jessica’s coming together. That’s what I thought was getting, so to have it switch so abruptly halfway through just didn’t work. What could have been a truly outstanding, romantic historical is, instead, just very good. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. But I had such high hopes it’s hard not to see them satisfied.


8/10 – Sheer romanticism of the first half gets overwhelmed by too many characters and different focus of the latter


8/10 – Honorable and amazing


7/10 – Young but not stupid

Entertainment value

8/10 – This might have been truly outstanding if there had been a better flow between the two halves

World building

8/10 – Rustic and rich



Monday, April 26, 2010

An Academic Dilemma by Alix Bekins

TITLE: An Academic Dilemma
AUTHOR: Alix Bekins
PUBLISHER: Dreamspinner
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 21k)
GENRE: Contemporary gay menage erotic romance
COST: $3.99

Grad student Rodrigo is hitting midterms with sex on the brain – due to Ian, the incredibly gorgeous librarian he tripped over, and Dr. Daniel Sullivan, the even better looking professor he’s been assigned as research assistant to. His flirting with the charming Ian goes a step further, but there’s a catch. Ian is in a longterm relationship with another guy, one who doesn’t mind that Ian scratches this particular itch. Rodrigo is grateful for whatever he can get, but as the semester stretches on, his attraction to Dr. Sullivan only worsens, his feelings for Ian only deepen, and he sees no easy way of resolving any of it…

This gay ménage, while one of few that appear on the current e-market, suffers from what the vast majority of ménages do, not just gay ones. It fails to find a real emotional connection between all three players, yet still insists on being called an erotic romance, as if there’s something wrong with being labeled pure erotica.

The story is told completely from Rodrigo’s POV, and much of it is spent detailing his budding relationship with Ian. It focuses on his unrequited lust for both Ian and Dr. Sullivan at the start, then, once Ian and Rodrigo consummate, his growing feelings for the man. Ian is honest with Rodrigo from the start about his partner, though he never reveals his identity, and Rodrigo is willing to accept that at first. In fact, the sexual tension and later erotic scenes function quite effectively. I’m actually quite enamored by the potential they offer, because they’re fun, sexy, and genuine.

My problems begin to arise once the identity of Ian’s partner is revealed. It’s really not a secret (the publisher’s blurb pretty much gives it away, as do many of the story’s twists), and presents the question, “Why didn’t Rodrigo figure it out?” I suppose the fact that he’s so busy at the end of the semester might be used as a justification, but honestly, it’s a very weak one. But then the author attempts to integrate Rodrigo into the established couple, and emotionally, it falls flat on his face. Ian’s partner satisfies a sexual need for Rodrigo, but then the story just ends (even the epilogue is just another sexual interlude that doesn’t really work to the emotional completion, or frankly, its start).

The thing of it is, the story’s hot. Very hot. Much of it reads like really well written erotica you might find free in any number of places online. I could even have believed in the story if it had been longer, so the third had a chance to have an emotional connection with Rodrigo, or if the third had been revealed sooner to take advantage of the story’s length limitation, or even if it had turned into a traditional romance with just Ian and Rodrigo. Any one of those would have been a much more satisfying read. As it stands, though, it just doesn’t succeed as a ménage, or at least, not a romantic one.


7/10 – Slightly superficial in its characterization, and reads more like erotica than anything else, but swift and clean regardless


6/10 – The ménage angle doesn’t come through until the end, and it’s hard to buy into the emotional aspect of it


6/10 – If this were pure erotica, I’d rate this higher because of what the expectations are. But it’s not, so I’ve got to rate lower because I didn’t buy into the feelings very much at all

Entertainment value

6/10 – Hot and diverting, but little else

World building

6/10 – So much attention is focused on the sex and the wanting of sex that much of the rest falls by the wayside



Friday, April 23, 2010

The Cadaver Client by Frank Tuttle

TITLE: The Cadaver Client
AUTHOR: Frank Tuttle
PUBLISHER: Samhain Publishing
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 25k)
GENRE: Fantasy mystery
COST: $3.50

Markhat is back. Mama Hog introduces him to spook doctor Granny Knot, who wants to hire him to find a dead man’s wife and child. He’s never found anything for a cadaver before, but there’s a first time for everything…

It’s no secret I love Frank Tuttle and his Markhat books. His sense of humor and vivid detailing, both in setting and characters, hooked me from the start, so I had high expectations going into this. It’s a little disappointing that this doesn’t measure up to its predecessors, but a weaker Tuttle story is still miles ahead most of what’s out there.

Markhat is celebrating being a Finder for ten years, when Mama Hog shows up at his door with her friend, Granny Knot, in tow. Granny wants to hire Markhat to find a woman and her daughter, and is willing to pay a lot of money to do so. It’s not her money, but rather the dead man’s, and though Markhat doesn’t necessarily believe any of this, money is money, and he takes the job. This starts him out on what turns out to be the most laidback, unimposing of the adventures we’ve yet to see him on. He spends a lot of time nosing around for information, usually without too much success. When he decides to take more direct measures, the action speeds up, but the climax – while cleverly set up – lacks any real tension.

That anticlimactic feeling is probably what disappointed me the most. I was all prepared for Markhat to face off and defeat the bad guy, but a few lines of dialogue, some creepy cold, and then it was over. That was it. I needed more than what I got.

It’s also mildly disappointing that the emotional journey Markhat took in the previous story is abandoned in this. No mention is made of Darla, the woman who drove him to such lengths in the last book. I didn’t necessarily need her in this, but for a linear reader, it’s disconcerting to find no kind of explanation as to why she’s not there. I didn’t need much, just a sentence or two. But when I’m accustomed to such excellence from Tuttle, any shortcomings stand out. Don’t be mistaken, though. I still really enjoyed this quieter tale. The author is easily one of the most consistent, original writers I’ve found in the e-world. His creation in Markhat deserves every reader he can get.


8/10 – Slower paced than previous stories, and not as funny, but still a standout


9/10 – This is where Tuttle always shines


7/10 – A quieter installment to the series, though the ultimate motivations seemed a little shallower than I’ve come to expect from the author

Entertainment value

8/10 – Questions about his missing girlfriend (he went to a lot of trouble for her) and the slower pace rates this lower than other installments but he’s too good not to enjoy

World building

8/10 – While we got some answers about other aspects of the world, I found myself lacking some in regards to aspects of this story



Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Infinite Instant by Danielle L. Parker

It's going to be very obvious things are a little different today. I wrote a review, all pretty and very positive, then discovered when I was putting it together with links that it is no longer for sale. Not at the publisher, not at Fictionwise, and there's nothing at the author's site to indicate that it would be for sale someplace else. That's the downside to how I handle my reading and reviewing. I bought this book a year ago, though it came out in 2008, and only got around to reading it this past weekend. It was an intense read when I did. I couldn't put the story down. My daughter complained that every time she looked out at me from third base, my head was bent. I'm a little disappointed it's no longer available. I would have wanted others to try it out.

This incident reminded me of a comment I made last week on Kassa's LJ. She was talking about how to pick from the dreaded TBR pile, and as I'm completely anal about organization, I decided to share my method. This is what I posted:

In case it's not obvious from my reviews, I organize things to an inch of their lives. My rubric for scoring is typical of how I approach my TBR pile, too. In that case, I use spreadsheets. Two actually, one to keep track of books I've yet to read and one to keep track of books I've reviewed. I can sort them by date published, author, publisher, genre, and length at that point, all to my heart's content. Because I have certain criteria I've placed on my own blog - m/m or menage on Monday, never review more than one book by an author or publisher per week - that allows me to put filters on the spreadsheet so I can only look at the possibilities that fit for that day.

At that point, I randomly select three titles and pick from there. That allows me to take into consideration how much time I have for the review and what I'm in the mood for. I probably have more freedom than people who review for group blogs because I don't feel constrained by purchase/publishing dates. My philosophy is, I bought it and if I'm not in the mood to read it, I'm not going to force myself. I'm sure the author would prefer me approaching their work with enthusiasm rather than dread.

Whittling is another story. That just doesn't happen effectively. I have just as many print books as I do e, because I have a tendency to buy books as soon as I become aware of them, rather than wait and forget a potentially wonderful book.
Of course, my method bit me in the butt this week. I didn't bother checking to see if the book was still available, because it never even occurred to me it might not be. I won't be changing my methodology any time in the near future. What this taught me was to check a book's availability before I read it for reviewing for now on. C'est la vie.

And the book I liked so much? The Infinite Instant by Danielle L. Parker. It's a futuristic sci-fi, with noir sensibilities and some highly literate writing. Tons of action, lots of twists and turns, and no easy answers. Plus, it had a heroine who, if she was a little bit too physically perfect, was more than a little gray on the morality scale. With the hots for the crime lord's pimp son. It was a great break from the safer stories romance offers, so I would say that if you ever find it available again, jump on it. There's an excerpt at Fictionwise for those who might be curious. I wonder, though, if that means the sequel won't ever be released. That's a shame. I would have loved to read it.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Prayer Waltz by K.Z. Snow

TITLE: The Prayer Waltz
PUBLISHER: Dreamspinner Press
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 27k)
GENRE: Gay contemporary erotic romance
COST: $3.99

Steven has come to Prism Falls in search of answers. Eight months ago, his lover of four years died in what was called a freak accident, but even now, Steven doesn’t know how to deal with it. He hopes that by coming to the town Frank left behind he’ll be able to find the closure he needs. His first stop is St. Jerome’s, the church where Frank served before leaving the priesthood. His second is the bar across the street, where he meets Evan, a local who had his own relationship of sorts with Frank…

I am an immersive reader. When I read, I lose time because I go deep into a character’s POV, which is why headhopping bugs me as much as it does. Getting jerked out of the moment always disorients me, and it’s hard to trust the story or author enough to allow myself to get in that deep again. What this means is that I’m in the minority among romance readers. I absolutely love 1st person POV. I know a lot of romance readers want to know what’s going on in other characters’ heads, but I’m of the opinion that a good writer can tell me that without having to switch to their perspective. I love 1st person because it allows me to sink even deeper into a character than 3rd does.

This aspect of me is why I can’t say that I was blown away by this novella. The author has an absolutely fantastic voice, with a smart ear for dialogue and lyrical descriptions that leap off the page. The first thing I read by her was written under a different pseudonym, a story I was intensely fascinated by, so I’ve kept an eye on her gay stories, waiting for something that would interest me to the same degree. This was the first to do so, but while it started out well, the author made a stylistic choice that jarred me out of the story.

The novella is told in 1st person from Steven’s POV. It works amazingly well to suck you into Steven’s grief, as well as introducing Evan and his own unique position. Then, in the middle of chapter 4, there’s a switch. The story jumps to 3rd person, Evan’s POV, a recounting of a memory for Steven’s benefit. While telling, it completely threw me out of the emotional narrative, because of the way I read. It switches back briefly to 1st, but then, at the top of chapter 5, there’s a letter written by Evan that Steven would have no knowledge of. More of those follow, though the majority of the story is in 1st, but it’s enough to disrupt my flow, putting me at a distance from the story that wasn’t there at the start. I understand why the author chose to do it this way, and for most readers, it’s unlikely to make a difference. I imagine a lot of romance readers would actually embrace getting the other perspective. But when it switched to 3rd, I grumbled a lot and asked myself, “Well, why didn’t she just write the whole thing in 3rd?” There was no going back to my original immersion then. I was too far removed.

Don’t get me wrong. I still liked the story. A lot. I had issues accepting Steven’s method of closure after being so intensely immersed in his questions, but Evan is sympathetic and rich, evoking stronger reactions from me across the board. His struggle with his sexuality, mirrored in his struggle to understand those around him, is poignant and real. By the time I reached the climax of the story, it was his closure I craved. His resolution was the one that made me want to smile, and if I didn’t cry as I think was expected, it’s only because of my earlier struggles. His characterization is the emotional core of this novella for me, a terrific example of the author’s attention to well-rounded, meaningful casts.


7/10 – Loved the author’s voice, disliked the POV choices

Hero #1

7/10 – His grief was palpable, but I had a few problems buying the closure of it

Hero #2

8/10 – More real to me than the narrator, sympathetic and rich characterization

Entertainment value

8/10 – If it wasn’t for getting yanked so hard out of the story, I’m sure this would have been one of those stories I go gaga for

World building

8/10 – Some exquisite detail, realistic and well done



Friday, April 16, 2010

Mr. Charming by Nancy J. Parra

TITLE: Mr. Charming
AUTHOR: Nancy J. Parra
PUBLISHER: Wild Rose Press
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 58k)
GENRE: Romantic suspense
COST: $6.00

When her cop brother shows up on Jennifer Sumner’s doorstep requesting her help, she can’t turn him down...even though it means hiding playboy Kane McCormick in her home. The world thinks Kane is dead, but when it becomes clear the explosion meant to kill him was deliberately set, all he wants is to find the person responsible. The last thing he expects is to fall for the single mother keeping him safe in the interim…

Romantic suspense is a tricky genre. It’s very difficult to build smart suspense without sacrificing the characters, and still finding time to create a romance. This short novel from Wild Rose fails on all three counts.

Divorced Jennifer Sumner is a talk show psychologist, raising her son in suburbia, working out of her basement, all in a semblance of hiding away from the tabloids that tore into her when her marriage fell apart. Kane McCormick is a playboy who should have died in a plane crash, and now, thanks to Jennifer’s brother, is hiding out in her house while the cops try and figure out the truth. Their attraction is immediate. While I had hopes at the start, it fizzled quickly as both characters failed to gain any sort of depth. In Jennifer’s case, her behaviors became so annoying and idiotic, I genuinely loathed her.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a heroine who was just so genuinely Too Stupid to Live. When it becomes clear that the killer has found them, her actions become so ridiculous, I almost wished she’d get found and put out of my misery. She’s a single mother, the sole caretaker of a six-year-old boy. Yet, when their lives are threatened, when they are almost caught in an explosion of their own and in fact have to be checked out by EMTs because they are so close to it, does she proceed to do everything she can to protect him? No. When her brother and Kane insist she needs to go into a safe house, she stamps her foot and refuses, stating she refuses to take her son out of his normal routine. Forget that her son has just witnessed someone get blown up. Forget the fact that she’s supposedly this amazing psychologist and yet doesn’t even consider that her child might be even a little bit afraid because of everything that’s been going on. She has to literally be carried out of her own house, even after her own six-year-old comes to her with a packed bag because he sees the wisdom in hiding more than she can. I suppose someone might argue that after she'd been hounded by the tabloids/press during her divorce, she'd be skittish about any kind of exposure, but come on. Exposure versus a killer who has made it clear your son is in danger? How is that even comparable? It's not, if the woman is any kind of a decent mother. She wants to protect her child, then she damn well better do it.

I won’t even touch on how adamant she is against casual sex and relationships, and yet decides she’s in love with Kane barely two days into his stay, with nothing more happening between them than a little bit of flirting and small touches.

Kane’s not stupid, but he is entirely flat. The secondary characters are richer than he is, including the little boy. The story isn’t helped by the suspense getting telegraphed early on. Why the author feels the need to repeat a great deal of what occurred during the villain’s expositional scenes in the dialogue of the climax is beyond me.

In the end, I just can’t recommend this. Even if Jennifer didn’t come across as a self-centered, frigid idiot, the lack of any depth or complexity in either the plot or the characters keep it from being even marginally satisfying.


7/10 – Simplistic suspense and unexpected instances of headhopping mar clean prose


4/10 – Lacks any kind of depth


2/10 – Almost defines too stupid to live

Entertainment value

3/10 – Hated the heroine, couldn’t understand how they could fall in love, and even more reasons not to like this

World building

6/10 – Only the suburbia part of it felt in any way real



Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What She Deserves by Ellie Marvel

TITLE: What She Deserves
AUTHOR: Ellie Marvel
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 35k)
GENRE: Contemporary romance
COST: $4.50

At her ten-year high school reunion, Winnie Sampson wants to prove to everyone she’s no longer the nerd she was back then, especially her schoolgirl crush Chase McKnight. Her knockout entrance is spoiled by running into her biggest academic rival, but she isn’t the only one who’s changed. Peter Duvall is successful, gorgeous, and now the center of attention. Winnie wants nothing more than to leave him behind, just like her nerdy past, but something about him refuses to be ignored. Lucky for Peter, that’s exactly how he planned for this night to go…

Let’s make it clear up front. There is absolutely nothing new or original about this novella. High school reunion stories, where the girl goes back to knock everybody dead, are a dime a dozen, probably because so many women are likely to entertain that very same fantasy. It’s rare to find anything unique in these, yet there is always hope that just maybe, this one will break the mold. Unfortunately, this one didn’t.

The story is the same. Nerdy girl in high school comes back looking drop dead gorgeous, determined to make everybody notice. Nerdy boy in high school comes back looking drop dead gorgeous, too. UST prevails.

Because when it comes right down to it, that’s what this story offers. The sexual tension between Winnie and Peter builds slowly but surely, until finally their relationship gets consummated in a fantastic massage scene that explodes. I want to stress that “slowly.” At the story’s start, Winnie is so bitchy toward Peter – for what seems like very immature and unprovoked reasons – that I almost gave up on the novella. I didn’t want to sit here and read about a shrew. She gradually relaxes, though it takes a couple chapters, and the tension shifts from frustration to sexual. Peter is appropriately charming, though the passage of time has made him just a little too perfect to be truly believable. He says more than once about how he’s pushed Winnie too far, but I didn’t see it. Many of his comments seem more bantery and flirtatious than anything else, not nearly enough to agitate Winnie to the degree she gets upset (don’t even mention her paranoia about why he hasn’t kissed her yet, that was just silly and extreme, even for her).

The characters are all stock stereotypes – the bubbly cheerleaders, the asshole jock with anger management issues when he drinks, and so on. They circle around the hero and heroine in familiar patterns, and often not very likable ones. Peter gets a lot of positive attention from the others in the story – mostly for his looks and success – but honestly, he seemed like the only one I would give positive attention to. When Winnie finally gets to spend time with Chase (her high school crush), she gets exhilarated by all his catty comments about all the people at the reunion. It fits with Winnie’s personality, but doesn’t endear her to me at all.

But like I mentioned before, the UST in this, once it gets going, is fantastic. The prose is swift, clean, and sexy, and there is real chemistry between the two leads. That’s the one thing that makes this anything remotely memorable. Because the characters and the plot sure aren’t going to do it.


8/10 – Great build-up of UST


6/10 – Has become a little too perfect


6/10 – Relatable but unremarkable

Entertainment value

6/10 – The UST is the only thing that makes this memorable

World building

6/10 – Just enough to keep it real



Monday, April 12, 2010

Orientation by Rick R. Reed

TITLE: Orientation
AUTHOR: Rick R. Reed
PUBLISHER: Amber Quill
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 61k)
COST: $7.00

Christmas 1983, Robert lost his lover to AIDS. On Christmas in 2007, he found him again…in the body of twenty-four year-old lesbian Jess. He doesn’t know it then, of course. He only means to take a walk, to forget about his increasingly unbearable relationship with his current lover, but discovering Jess about to commit suicide gives him renewed purpose, especially when the connection between them is so instantaneous…

Amber Quill sells this particular story in its romance section, but I have to say I don’t necessarily agree with that appellation. This is a love story, which is far more freeing than the genre definition of romance. More importantly, this is a story about self-identity, about trying to figure out who you are beyond the restriction of conventional labels.

In spite of their physical and financial differences, Robert always thought of Keith as his soul mate, his one true love. He was young, relatively innocent, and pretty, while Keith was a leather daddy. One night of passion should not have led to the most fulfilling relationship either of them had ever had, but it did, only to end as Robert nursed Keith through AIDS. After Keith’s death, he goes through a string of boyfriends who grow younger with the passing years. Ethan is the latest, but Ethan’s addiction to drugs is spiraling out of control, creating problems in their arrangement, turning them into roommates rather than lovers. When Ethan lies about where he’s going on Christmas, Robert waits as long as he can, then strikes out to take a walk and clear his head. He finds Jess about to kill herself over the recent break-up with her lover, takes her home, warms her up, and gives her fresh hope.

The story starts out with an emotional bang. The opening chapter is Robert taking care of Keith on his deathbed, and the palpable sorrow in his life. I would defy anyone not to be moved by it, and in fact, was in near tears when it was over. I suspect it would hit people who have experienced loss like this harder than those who haven’t, but as I fall into the former group, that’s just a supposition on my part. All I know is that I haven’t been that wrecked by a chapter in a long time, and it sucks me into wanting more for Robert as the story progresses.

That emotional wallop shifts the further into the novel you get, however. Ethan’s drug addiction is treated baldly, and anyone even remotely sensitive to this kind of subject – as well as the sex addiction he displays when he’s high – is likely to be turned off by its graphic portrayal. I wasn’t. Each detail helps to paint Ethan into a fully realized person, rather than the caricature he could have been in less deft hands. In his desperation, he latches onto the idea of killing Robert for his money, a villainous act that could have lost him all sympathy with the reader. Because he’s more of a character in this play of events than a plot device, that doesn’t happen. The reader understands what has driven him to this desperation, all because of the prevailing theme of the book, the fact that every individual in this world will, in some form or another, defy the label that has been placed upon him/her.

Nobody is safe from this dissection. Not Keith, the leather daddy who made his fortune writing YA novels for young teenaged girls. Not Robert and Jess, who find a whole new kind of love in spite of the fact that neither is attracted physically to the other. Not Ethan, whose degree with honors in English literature should have put him on an entirely different path than the drug/sex addicted one rushing him to an early death. Not even Tony, Ethan’s drug dealer, who questions his morality when Ethan makes an offer to him he knows he should refuse.

While the reincarnation angle is well researched, it never seems to integrate as organically into the story as other, more salient devices. Perhaps, it’s because that, compared to the moral grayness of the rest of the book, there is no wiggle room in it. It is what it is. The recognition is immediate, if unnamed. The dreams are confirmation. Everything falls into synch almost too easily in comparison to everything else that occurs. I know its purpose is to provide a foundation for the author to further his argument that love is more than body parts, that even that, like the rest of his cast of characters, is subject to defying its conventional labels. I understand this intellectually. It’s the emotional resonance that was lacking. That’s not to say it wasn’t there at all, because it was. It just didn’t impact as strongly as I think it could – or should – have, due to the sheer power encompassed by that riveting first chapter.

Still, it’s a harrowing, provocative read. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but in all honesty, neither is real love.


9/10 – Harrowing and relentless


9/10 – Personalities leap from the page, both good and bad


7/10 – Perhaps the weakest aspect of the novel, though only because the rest of it overshadows its potential richness

Entertainment value

9/10 – Gut-wrenching and provocative, both intellectually and emotionally

World building

10/10 – No corner is safe from scrutiny



Friday, April 9, 2010

Tempting Tucker by Barbara J. Hancock

TITLE: Tempting Tucker
AUTHOR: Barbara J. Hancock
PUBLISHER: Wild Rose Press
LENGTH: Short story (roughly 13k)
GENRE: Historical romance
COST: $2.50

Only one man has ever interested Lizzie Maddox, but Tucker Hardy is the son of the most notorious outlaw out there, and nothing he will ever do will be enough to satisfy Lizzie’s father, the Sheriff…

Sometimes, I don’t know if a problem I have with a story is due to the author or a publisher’s error. In this particular case, it's too much italicizing. There are words, phrases, and sometimes entire sentences that are italicized, in places that seem obviously meant for emphasis. A lot of authors use italics to draw attention to words or phrases for this purpose, but most of them use it sparingly. Otherwise, it loses impact. When something that is done for these purposes (punctuation like exclamation points and ellipses are other examples of this) gets overused, it gets in the way of the story. I think this story probably would have rated even higher if I hadn’t had such issues in the first half. Sentences like this (complete with italics), “Lizzie held onto the stall door as she turned, to brace herself or hold herself back, she wasn’t sure which.” are more than typical.

In spite of that, my heart caught on this short story. There is a delicate yearning permeating every page, as these two who want each other and yet have to wait in order to make it work dance around their feelings. On the surface, there’s nothing new or remarkable about the characters or their situation. Good girl, bad boy trying to get over his past and family history, nothing new there. By a third of the way into the story, though, I wanted – needed – these two to get their happy ending. The emotions are heartfelt and genuine. Every single one called out to me.

Technically, this is a western, but the details aren’t excessive and don’t do much more than give the most cursory sense of time and place. The characters may not necessarily sparkle in the same way the feelings do, but they are likeable, honorable people, more than worth spending a few minutes with to share their love story. I have a paranormal novel by this author in my TBR pile. I have high hopes for getting sucked into that one, too.


7/10 – Excessive italic emphasis distracts for the first two-thirds


7/10 – Honorable in spite of his family history


7/10 – Sympathetic and braver than she thinks

Entertainment value

8/10 – The delicate yearning throughout surpasses other story weaknesses

World building

7/10 – Enough to give it a flavor



Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Pas de Deux by Fiona Jayde

TITLE: Pas de Deux
AUTHOR: Fiona Jayde
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 21k)
GENRE: Contemporary erotic romance
COST: $3.50

Ballerina Lynnrina Kovaleva is attempting to return to her career after an injury that could have ended it. The downside is getting partnered with the man who dumped her years before. She indulges in her ritual of an anonymous one-night stand before rehearsals start, a ritual embittered Mateo Rivera is more than happy to indulge. Needless to say, they’re both surprised when he’s hired three months later as her bodyguard, but someone seems to have an unhealthy eye on Lynn and something needs to be done about it. Mateo and Lynn fight their attraction, but the heat of that first night is too combustible to resist…

I almost bought this book on the basis of the cover and the blurb alone; that’s how much both hit my particular kinks. While it wasn’t the showstopper I hoped it to be, it was still enjoyable enough to outshine a lot of what I’ve been reading lately.

Prima ballerina Lynn has a ritual before she starts rehearsals for any new production – she has an anonymous one-night stand. It’s a ritual she’s had for years, ever since getting publicly dumped by a fellow dancer, the man she is now being forced to dance with again if she wants to rebuild her career. She picks out Mateo, a man her choreographer has already identified as a bodyguard (so in her mind, safe), and gets what she wants. Three months later, when ominous letters and a brick through a window scare her choreographer into thinking someone sinister is after her, Lynn finds herself face to face with her one-night stand again, this time as the object of his latest assignment. The story winds on from there, focusing more on the growing heat and romance between the two rather than the suspense (the story’s length really prevents that aspect from being fully utilized/developed).

Mateo is the real jewel in this. Within just a few words, he is given far more depth than most romantic heroes in stories of this length. An ex-cop, he left the force after his partner was shot and paralyzed by a kid Mateo couldn’t stop in time. Guilt ate him up until he finally quit, and he’s obsessed with never making those kinds of mistakes again. He struggles with a whole slew of personal demons – the guilt about his partner, a single, alcoholic mother who continually slides off the wagon, losing his own vices (like smoking). He has a tendency to come across as cold and austere, but that’s just the wall he’s imposed around himself. Underneath, he smolders, and when that breaks through, it's breathtaking.

Lynn is his female counterpart. She was sent over to the US from the Ukraine to study ballet at the age of eleven, and has heard her whole life about how much her parents and family have sacrificed for her. She does everything she can to present to the world the perfect visage, while secretly bingeing on chocolate when stress gets too much for her and indulging in the anonymous sex. There’s a desperation behind her need that comes back again and again, and while it didn’t always make sense to either the scene or the pacing, it did make logical sense when I considered it afterward. However, the slight questioning as to her perceived erratic behavior while I was reading reduced my emotional commitment to her character. Not by much, grant you. But enough for me to clearly favor Mateo.

The story shines in regards to its details in both the ballet world and San Francisco. It’s easy to believe in both, and while the suspense angle didn’t prove the same to me (I guessed who it was right away, but again, the story’s brevity means a lack of any real suspects), there are enough strong elements in this short novella to have made it worth the read. It was hot and romantic, with a hero I could fall for. I would love to see if this author has written longer works. With the advantage of space, I think there could be something really magical.


8/10 – Hot and romantic, with enough gritty realism to keep it interesting


8/10 – No sugarcoating of his heritage or past here, which helps to make him spring from the page


7/10 – Her mercurial nature when not dancing makes logical sense, though it didn’t always make emotional or pacing sense

Entertainment value

8/10 – Enough heat and enough conflicted romance to really engage me

World building

8/10 – Both the city and her rehearsals felt utterly real



Monday, April 5, 2010

Wild Thing by Lena Austin

TITLE: Wild Thing
AUTHOR: Lena Austin
PUBLISHER: Changeling Press
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 17k)
GENRE: Gay paranormal erotic romance
COST: $3.99

Lee Porter is retreating to the house in Yellowstone he inherited from his grandmother in hopes of recovering from the sleep disorder that has completely disrupted his life when he discovers an injured feral man in his barn. He tends to Will’s hurt leg without realizing Will is actually a coyote shifter, but the attraction between them is definitely worth acting upon…

Humor is such a tenuous thing, especially in the written word. I don’t take risks with humor very often, not unless an author has proven him/herself to me, because it often falls so completely flat. I only wish there were more warnings on blurbs and books when it’s not immediately obvious.

In this story, Lee arrives at his house in Yellowstone, wondering if he’s going crazy. He’s been experiencing blackouts, losing time and ending up in weird places. It’s cost him his job, as well as his boyfriend, and he’s at his wit’s end. He finds an injured, naked man in his barn, one the reader already knows is a coyote shifter who has crawled away from his pack to die. He treats Will, classifying him as one of the feral people who are known to populate the area, without knowing about the shifter side. Will’s command of English is weak, but there’s a certain charm to his naivete that actually worked for me. Lee’s predicament is easy to figure out in the grand scheme of things, but the two men have chemistry, and I was excited to get into their relationship.

Then, they had sex. And I got yanked out of it. It wasn’t because of the characters, but rather, the author’s choice of terminology. Sphincter will never be sexy. Honestly. Especially twice in so many paragraphs. But the sentence, They were both riding the joy wagon to glory with every stroke up and down., made it worse. The problem is, it was very likely meant to be tongue in cheek. Because from that point forward, the whole tongue in cheek tone of the story began snowballing, from the prose to the twists in the plot. The reveal of what was going on with Lee was both predictable and corny, though I fully expect some people would consider it clever or funny. For me, however, I was so busy rolling my eyes and getting yanked out of the sensuality, it never worked, and ultimately spoiled the sweet charm of the set-up.

The book is actually the second in a series, and while the characters stand on their own, as well as the well-developed setting, the paranormal aspects aren’t quite as well explained. Readers of the series will probably enjoy it, though, as would readers who enjoy this author’s humor or writing style.


6/10 – While there’s a certain charm, most of the tongue-in-cheek tone didn’t work for me, while some of the terminology really turned me off

Hero #1

6/10 – Never fully fleshed, though definitely a nice guy

Hero #2

7/10 – Sweet in an otherworldly kind of way

Entertainment value

5/10 – Enjoyed first half much more than the second, as soon as more of the humor and sex scenes started, I lost interest

World building

7/10 – The physical space is well realized, but the paranormal aspects tend to rely upon the first story



Friday, April 2, 2010

Switched by Desiree Holt

TITLE: Switched
AUTHOR: Desiree Holt
PUBLISHER: Ellora’s Cave
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 20k)
GENRE: BDSM erotic romance
COST: $4.45

Attending a mandatory educational conference isn’t attorney Emma Holder’s idea of a good time. Until she accidentally switches suitcases with a man who packed a flogger and other BDSM toys in with his clothes. When they exchange their bags, Luke Borelli asks her out for a drink, then for more, more that opens up a whole new world of pleasure to her…

When it comes to erotica, I have a real soft spot for BDSM. I don’t review everything I read, but that’s because – honestly – some of it is dreck. Others are print titles which don’t fit the parameters of the blog. There isn’t a permutation of the acronym I don’t like, but the vast majority of what seems to be available is what I think of as primers for newbies. It’s the strong female who needs that release, and never even considers submission until the hero comes along and decides to educate her. Sometimes, it works. Others, it doesn’t. This story falls somewhere between those.

The premise is simple. Switched bags afford Emma and Luke a glimpse into the other person’s private life. Emma sees Luke's dominant tendencies; Luke spies Emma’s delicate underwear. He invites her for a drink, and she goes because she’s curious. He spends the next three nights of the conference teaching her what she’s been missing. Now, if this had been the end of the story, and it had been marketed as erotica, my scores would have been a lot higher. Because all the education aside, the story is hot. There’s enough emotion and sensation brought into Emma’s POV to make her new experiences truly scintillating. Luke more than fulfills his part by being the perfect Dom. I was even able to – mostly – overlook the various editorial mistakes (things like, “…Once we get pass that certain spot…” proliferate the text) and the author’s love of the word “rectum” (there’s just nothing sexy about that word).

But this is from Ellora’s Cave, and it’s not part of the Exotika line, which means some kind of romance needs to get shoehorned in there someplace. It happens without any real investment on the part of the characters. They don’t interact at all during the days of the conference, meaning when it’s done, all they’ve really shared is sex. Yet, Luke is thinking by the end of the first night of sex that things are different with this particular woman, even though he’s had more than his share of willing partners before. For some inexplicable reason, he doesn’t want this to end, and foresees a real relationship with her, in spite of the fact that all they have in common is sex and a career choice. I can explain away Emma’s attachment if I try really hard. She might be attached to him because he’s made her feel things she never has before. But it’s all superficial at best, and the attempts to make it any deeper are ridiculously convenient and clichéd.

The sex is hot, though. Look at it purely as erotic fantasy, and it’s definitely worth it.


7/10 – Minor mistakes kept pulling me out of the prose, and the use of “rectum” breaks up the sexual flow


6/10 – Pure fantasy, but a nice fantasy nonetheless


7/10 – Viewed within the construct of an erotic fantasy, smart and consistent. Viewed outside of it, she was just asking for trouble.

Entertainment value

7/10 – If there hadn’t been an attempt for the obvious romance, this would have rated higher.

World building

7/10 – Knowledgeable about the world of BDSM, though the lawyer world didn’t feel believable