Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Breaking Chance by Kim Knox

TITLE: Breaking Chance
AUTHOR: Kim Knox
PUBLISHER: Samhain
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 33k)
GENRE: Futuristic erotic romance
COST: $3.50

Thief Chance has been caught one too many times. No longer will she be sent to an ice prison for rehabilitation. Now, she’s been condemned to death, along with mass murderer John Ramius, known across the galaxy as The Butcher. They need each other to escape, but their goals beyond don’t necessarily mesh. It’ll take both of them to succeed, and both of them to break free of the bonds of their past…

I really like how this author writes action scenes. She’s got a natural sense of pace, and knows how to choreograph fights. But there’s a downside to having so much going on. It forces the romance to get shoehorned in, in any way possible.

The story starts with Chance facing judgment for her latest arrest. She’s been in and out of the system for years, a natural thief since her implant – something everybody under Jovian law has – is not under governmental control. In fact, she can use it to manipulate other tech, a skill that has proven valuable in her crimes. She’s sentenced after a mass murderer who has been given death, a man known as the Butcher, and finds out that they’re all being made an example of. She’s condemned to death, too. When they’re sequestered to await execution, she frees her hands, at which point John (the Butcher) realizes she has the tech savvy to get them free. They agree to team up to escape, since he has the physical augmentation to get past the guards. Once free, though, he has only one goal – to kill the outer governor.

The pace is relentless, much of what I’ve come to expect with this author. Both Chance and John are driven and highly motivated to save their own skin, and their initial attraction is both believable and understated. Even though it’s an entirely foreign world – Earth seems like some utopia to Chance, a far off place of freedom from the corruption and influence of the outer governor – I was able to follow along well enough to stick with the action. People are implanted with chips that allows the outer governor to completely control them, and only a few manage to escape that. Chance is one of them, and like most, has turned to a life of crime. She has the ability to use her implant to control tech around her, while John is physically augmented (with his own psychic powers) from Earth where it’s not outlawed. They make a formidable action team, complementing each other perfectly. While the story is allowed to focus on the action, it’s a very good one.

It flounders when it comes to the romance. Chance has nymphomaniac tendencies. She sees a pretty guy, she wants him regardless. John is no exception. It always felt like a shallow excuse to push them together, honestly, especially when John counters with his own compulsion – to satisfy whatever his partner needs. And as far as he can tell, Chance doesn’t need it hard and fast. She needs to be savored and controlled, so that’s what he provides. Though the sex was hot, I stopped believing it when Chance revealed she’d never had oral sex before. Her excuse, of course, is that it’s too intimate, but honestly, I just can’t believe that someone who’s had as much sex as she’s had, and has been distracted over and over again by a pretty face and a hard body, hasn’t had it at least once. Their relationship falters even more after that, as I’m expected to believe that within a matter of hours these hardened criminals fall head over heels for each other. I didn’t. There’s just too much other stuff going on for it to have room to develop.

I was really surprised when I realized how long this was. I’d initially thought it was much shorter, because it both read so swiftly and because I was so convinced it wasn’t long enough for the romance. I still don’t think it was, but this could have easily been twice as long without sacrificing the pace at all. Then, there might have been space for these two intriguing characters to have space to grow, and for their feelings to blossom. Sadly, that just wasn’t the case for me in the story I actually got.

Readability

8/10 – Reads incredibly fast, with a ton of action

Hero

6/10 – Though I love the idea of the psychopath and his compulsive needs, I wasn’t convinced by his growth or the ending

Heroine

6/10 – Her sex compulsion is a shallow attempt to refocus her pain, but otherwise I liked her smarts and surprising empathy

Entertainment value

5/10 – I was really into the action a lot, but the attempt to shoehorn the romance in let the entire thing down

World building

8/10 – It could have used more clarification on how things worked, but there’s enough intriguing detail to fascinate me

TOTAL:

33/50

Monday, June 28, 2010

Impedimenta by Ann Somerville

TITLE: Impedimenta
AUTHOR: Ann Somerville
PUBLISHER: Smashwords
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 47k)
GENRE: Gay futuristic sci-fi
COST: $3.99

Two years after their narrow escape from the Karhal, Jati, Seb, and North are reunited again, this time on a transport mission that will leave them confined with each other and their crew of sixteen for months. Seb is convinced North needs a younger man, and thus keeps pushing him – none too discreetly – into their paths, while Jati isn’t in a relationship at all. A ship malfunction forces them to make an emergency landing, but the planet that welcomes them in seems too perfect to be true…

Sequels are such funny beasts. On one hand, they’re fantastic to get to follow up with characters you already know and love. I have a real weak spot for series once I get hooked. On the other, what you loved in the first (or previous) stories might not even be present in the latest installment, so there’s always the possibility of disappointment. Not to mention the lapse of time that might fall between stories. I rarely have the patience to go back and re-read previous books just to gear up for reading a sequel.

Impedimenta showed the potential into falling into the latter trap, though I was glad to see that it eventually played into what I thought was the first story’s greatest strength. Seb, North, and Jati are reunited for the first time since their scant survival of the Karhal attacks, on a quiet transport mission that should be more elemental than terrifying. Seb and North have hit a rough patch in their relationship, as Seb has finally decided that he’s holding North back from true happiness – by being older when North deserves a partner his own age, by holding North back on a promotion track on his career just so they can be together. North is frustrated by Seb’s lack of faith in what they have, and the fact that Seb keeps throwing him in the path of other eligible singles – including this particular mission – is driving him insane. Jati, on the other hand, isn’t in a relationship, and finds herself becoming friends with one of the new crewmates, a widower named Jorge. When their ship malfunctions, they are forced to make an emergency landing on a planet called Kefarno. There, they are kept together in their individual holiday groups, secluded from anybody else on the planet, constantly monitored even though it is driving them crazy.

I’ll say it flat out. Seb annoyed the crap out of me. North had to tell him how many times he wasn’t interested in anybody else? Yet, Seb presumed to know what was best for North, even knowing North didn’t like it. It’s funny, because in the first book, North was probably my least favorite of the three, and yet, here, Seb easily holds that position. Yes, North is still a tad on the earnest and immature side, but he’s come a long way, and honestly, in this instance, it’s better than being so frustratingly presumptive. It’s a very good thing their scenes are balanced out with Jati’s budding relationship with Jorge, because my opinion of the story would have taken a severe downward turn if I’d had to deal with their pigheadedness the entire book.

As it stands, I only have to really deal with it for half. Once the situation on Kefarno escalates, the focus becomes less on North and Seb’s tumultuous relationship and more on the circumstances surrounding them and their crewmates. The action reverts to the same tight, tense design that typified the first book, albeit in (what feel like) longer scenes. It also provides the means for Seb and North to finally learn the lessons they need to, a vastly important step in the progress of their relationship, so ultimately, I’m more forgiving of my earlier annoyance than I might otherwise have been.

A lot of that is credit to Jati. I love her. I loved her in the first book, and I loved her even more in this one. She’s no-nonsense, smart, resourceful, and exactly the kind of person I want in my corner. The fact that she gets to discover Jorge – who I also loved, more than North and Seb, even – was an absolute treat.

I’m reluctant to label this a romance, since it’s more of an ensemble action story with abundant relationship issues to explore. This is as much about North learning to be a part of a crew as it is about Jati getting a grasp on her future. I’m also hesitant to label it a gay story, too. Heterosexual relationships are just as important in this, and some readers who aren’t interested in those dynamics might be turned off by it. I hate having to put that warning in. I would love for readers to pick up a story and judge it on its individual merits, rather than say they won’t read something because it has het interactions (or vice versa for those readers who refuse to read gay interactions). Because stories like this deserve to be read by as many as possible, for the people involved, not for their genders. Because in the end, even with my early issues with Seb, this was worth both my time and my investment. The author’s skill lies as much with making these people come to life as it does making the action pop. I would never have been so wrapped up in Seb's attitude if I didn't completely accept him as a fully rounded character. If you read the first – and I think even if you didn’t – you’ll want to read this one.

Readability

9/10 – Tightly written, especially once the action kicks in

Characterization

8/10 – The secondary characters aren’t as fully fleshed as the primaries, but that’s a minor quibble

Plot

8/10 – Seb’s personal quest annoyed me, but it all picked up once they had to land

Entertainment value

8/10 – My annoyance with Seb aside, the levels of growth in all the relationships combined with the action makes this a worthy, enjoyable read

World building

8/10 – I’m left with a lot of questions about Kefarno, but otherwise, spectacular and believable

TOTAL:

41/50

Friday, June 25, 2010

I've Got You by Linda Engman

TITLE: I’ve Got You
AUTHOR: Linda Engman
PUBLISHER: Wild Rose Press
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 61k)
GENRE: Contemporary romance
COST: $5.50

Defense attorney Amber Bradley has a list of everything she is looking for in a man…and not a single prospect of ever finding him. Mechanic Josh Craig is the opposite of what she normally finds attractive, and in the year she’s known him, she’s been able to keep him at arm’s length. But in the small Michigan town in which they both live, keeping their distance isn’t as easy as it sounds…

The trick with opposite attracts stories is to make it plausible that two disparate people would really come together. Sometimes, they work, but more often, they don’t. This one leaned more toward the latter, though it’s as much a flaw of the actual writing as it is the story itself.

Amber Bradley is thirty-one and starting to feel her biological clock ticking away. All the men she dates seem to superficially meet her criteria for a husband – successful, stable, polished – but none is worthy of a second date. She has known mechanic Josh Craig for a year, after having met him at her best friend’s wedding. He’s scruffy, unfocused, and completely ambitionless, and she can’t get over how caveman he always seems to her. In their small Michigan town, however, she sees him quite a lot, especially since he’s best friends with her best friend’s husband. During a particularly bad date, Amber runs into him again, when he has cleaned himself up for a date of his own. She’s taken aback by the change in him, and all of a sudden, can’t get him out of her mind. For his part, Josh has been attracted to Amber from the moment they met, unable to find satisfaction with any of the other women he dates. He can never seem to get her attention, though, no matter what he does.

I got all the way through this, and you know, I’m still not sure why exactly these two think they stand a chance in hell at surviving. From the very beginning all the way through to the end, neither can read the other at all. Both are always misinterpreting what the other person is saying, or what their mood is, or what they’re doing, so much so that I kept wondering throughout the whole story why either of them would ever bother with the other since they both believed the worst of the other person. It’s probably meant to heighten the whole opposites attract appeal, but what it actually did was make me question the validity of their attraction in the first place. Because outside of the superficial and a few specific details about what each wants in their future, these two don’t seem to have any reason to come together. Amber is a successful attorney, meticulous down to the last detail, but she’s ready to chuck it all and settle down, complete with the huge house she’s already built for herself and dreams of six kids. That white picket fantasy is the only thing that seems to bond these two together, because Josh – while polite and gentlemanly old-fashioned – has routine hangovers from getting drunk, and no sense of personal grooming or pride. There are tidbits thrown in to try and round him out – like his military past – but elements of that rarely manifest in his current personality, so much so that the other factors seem like superficial window dressing to try and convince the reader he’s better than he comes across. It’s a shame, because there’s definite heart in some of their scenes, and often at the root of their more thoughtful moments.

None of this is helped by the writing. The author has a propensity for epithets, and can’t seem to decide whether to call her hero Josh or J.T. Both get used interchangeably, with little consistency. The prose is repetitive, sometimes annoyingly so like when a character has a thought and then proceeds to immediately repeat it in dialogue, and the editing is lazy. There are repeated mistakes that should have been caught; I laughed particularly hard at the misspelling, “mock-five.” The use of the small town milieu is inconsistent as well. I’m expected to believe that the three middle-aged cashiers at the grocery store know all about Amber’s love life – or lack thereof – and yet, she has no clue Josh comes from a HUGE family? Especially considering the fact that he’s her best friend’s husband’s best friend? How is that kept a secret? There is more, but that would mean spoilers, and honestly, by that point, when I should have been questioning how someone close to Josh didn’t know the truth about what was going on with him to clear up misinterpretations on Amber’s part, it was too late to save the story for me.

Good intentions aren’t enough to sell the story, no matter how attractive the set-up. Either the writing or the characterization has to be there to back it up. In this case, neither was.

Readability

6/10 – Repetition and lazy editing sometimes made it difficult to keep on going

Hero

6/10 – Though gruffly likable, very inconsistent

Heroine

6/10 – Suffers from same inconsistent issues that hero does

Entertainment value

5/10 – Though there’s evident heart in this, inconsistent characterizations and sloppy writing makes it too hard to get involved

World building

6/10 – The small town mentality isn’t consistent, either.

TOTAL:

29/50

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

House of Stone by Vaughn R. Demont

TITLE: House of Stone
AUTHOR: Vaughn R. Demont
PUBLISHER: Samhain
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 83k)
GENRE: Gay fantasy romance
COST: $5.50

For Richard Stone – minor Fae noble, gay porn star – getting married is just another day in the life. That is, until he discovers that the Azure Blade, his family’s magic sword, refuses to show its fire when he unsheathes it. Without the fire, his family is shamed, because it means he’s no longer worthy to bear it. He has eight days to figure out what he’s done and reverse it, but even with the help of his new wife and his faithful manservant, he’s not sure how to make it happen…

NOTE: In the matter of full disclosure, I was offered a copy of this book for the purpose of a review.

The first story I read by this author showed definite promise, enough that when I was offered his latest Samhain title for review, I gladly accepted. I’m glad I did. While this wasn’t a perfect read, much of what I enjoyed initially was still present and improved upon, showing this is an author to keep an eye out for.

The novel is not an easy one to summarize. It’s the story of Richard, a minor noble Fae, the current head of the House of Stone, and liege to a county that has seen far brighter days. In order to make ends meet, he’s an active participant – read: actor/star – in his county’s strongest industry. Porn. He’s on the fringe at best, but he still has noble blood, and thus, is bound by the protocols adhering to all the noble Fae. The book starts with him being invited to his aunt’s for the ceremony of his arranged marriage to a woman he’s never met. He’s not thrilled about it, but it’s part and parcel of his responsibility so he goes along. Simaron, his manservant, prepares him for the night, but when Richard is on his way to the ceremony, the wedding carriage is ambushed, at which time he discovers that his family’s magic sword, the Azure Blade, refuses to show its fire for him. That’s a sure sign that it no longer recognizes him as worthy to wield it, which will bring shame to the entire house and pretty much ruin his life if it ever comes to light. His aunt grants him a reprieve to try and reverse it, giving him until the Solstice Tournament eight days hence. Thus starts his mission, during which he’ll learn as much about himself as he does the people in his county and world.

The book is intricately plotted, with enough machinations to twist the story in a new direction with each chapter. It never lets up, refusing the reader the room to take a deep breath or slow down. While it’s fascinating to get sucked into the politics of this Fae world, it’s a double-edged sword. Demont has created an intensely dense world, with a wide cast of characters. It’s sometimes difficult to keep it all straight and requires going back and re-reading to put the details in the right order. That slowed me down. More than once. It’s helped by the engaging narrative voice, but I have a feeling that if it had been in 3rd person, I would have slowed down even more.

Like his previous work, this is told in 1st person, a good choice since Richard has a definite self-deprecating humor. It's funny, more than a little glib, and highly literate. Fantasy readers will likely catch allusions/references to favored authors. I smiled/laughed at a number of them, especially the Pratchett. But the author also uses parentheticals extensively, sometimes too much. Other readers might not have the same reaction I did, but after the second or third chapter, I was finding the constant asides a little tedious. It was a little too much of a fun device. What was charming at first ended up less so, the overall effect diminished by the overproliferation. It was a relief when they became fewer and fewer as the book progressed. I had the same reaction to the constant reminders that Richard was Fae. I got it the first few dozen times, making the repetition of who/what he was, what he was responsible for, and so on, not only unnecessary but annoying. I would have much preferred getting clarification on other world-building issues.

What the 1st person does, however, is end up endearing the narrator to me. Privy to all of his thought processes, I can appreciate his growth throughout the story, and end up really liking him as a result. He doesn’t really want me to at first. He’s not really proud of who or what he is, and he doesn’t seem to like the Fae in general most of the time. In fact, the only person he seems to truly respect is Simaron. But that doesn’t stop me from slowly warming to him, feeling for his confusion and frustration with events that are out of his control, respecting the choices he ends up making to try and rectify everything. He and the nonstop action are the two best reasons to read this, because both supply a steady source of surprises.

Because I like Richard so much, I really wish I believed the romance more. The problem is, Richard and Simaron have known each other their entire lives. They’ve been sexually involved for a long time. A lot of what their relationship is based on is already established at the start of the book. That’s not always a problem, but in this case, when there is so much happening that doesn’t seem to have much at all to do with their romance, that lack of involvement proved detrimental for me. I never felt like I ever really got to know Simaron. His position and attitude are very distanced, and though I recognize that he’s a good guy, I don’t feel it. And it’s that lack of emotional connection that messed with the romance for me.

That being said, it didn’t keep me from enjoying the book. Between Richard’s accomplished characterization and the intriguing twists of the plot, this was an absorbing, entertaining read.

Readability

8/10 – The parentheticals grow tedious, and the constant reminders that he’s Fae overkill, but the perpetual action and narrator’s humor help to maintain interest

Hero #1

8/10 – My annoyances with some of the voice issues aside, his personal growth and sense of humor end up endearing him to me

Hero #2

5/10 – I find myself wanting to like him, but I never feel like I really know him

Entertainment value

7/10 – The intricacies of the plotting and liking the narrator carry this far

World building

8/10 – There’s no denying the intricacy of the world the author has created, though it’s not always executed very gracefully

TOTAL:

36/50

Friday, June 18, 2010

Criminal Instinct by Kelly Lynn Parra

TITLE: Criminal Instinct
AUTHOR: Kelly Lynn Parra
PUBLISHER: Carina Press
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 89k)
GENRE: Romantic suspense
COST: $5.99

When she gets busted, Ana Moreno has a choice – go to prison or join a covert government group that busts drug dealers. She takes the job. Six months in, her life is still not on her own, but she’s making the most of it. Their latest assignment is to discover who is behind a huge shipment about to arrive in the Bay Area, and when it arrives so they can stop it. Ana is tasked with getting information on one of their suspects, the dangerous right hand man Jonas Saven, but their meeting sparks a series of events that will change Ana’s life forever…

Know what’s heartening? Buying your first book from a new publisher and getting a winner. Granted, this one has the Harlequin machine behind it, and I’m not na├»ve enough to believe it won't have its share of losers, but it’s still a good feeling to know it was okay to trust Carina this first time.

The story is a dense one, and little I can say will help clear it up without spoiling the reader too much. Ana is twenty-one and been an outsider all of her life. Half Mexican, half Caucasian, she’s never been able to fit in with any of the families she was placed in while in foster care. She’s never been comfortable in her own skin at all. Becoming a thief gave her control she didn’t otherwise have, and it’s really no surprise that she eventually got caught. She takes the offer to join SIDE, a covert government operation that uses cons to rat out and dig up intel on drug dealers for the purpose of busting them, and becomes one of this ragtag group of young offenders. Their newest assignment promises to be a big bust if they can pull it off. She gets tasked to find out about one of the smaller dealers, only to stumble right into the path of one of their prime suspects, Jonas Saven. Jonas has the air of legitimacy around him with all his various businesses, but everybody keeps telling Ana he’s the one behind the upcoming shipment. However, she’s attracted to him like she’s never been attracted to anybody else, and it’s tough to keep distance.

I loved Ana. She is the heart and soul of this story, even when it switches POV to Jonas, the bad guy, or any of the other SIDE members. She is tough and almost brittle, but there’s an unexpected vulnerability that pops through time and time again. She will always fight, even when she knows she’s outgunned, and she’s smart enough to win a good part of the time. She harbors an incredible amount of anger, though, which proves to be her downfall more than once. But in spite of it all, she is the reason I invested in this story as much as I did, unable to put it down, unwilling to stop until I saw it through to the end.

The writing helps that. The action is nonstop, the violence nearly constant, the emotions always just below the surface. Much like Ana. It was almost exhausting to read, but that might be because I read it in a single sitting. I couldn’t stop. The threat was always right there, and it felt too tenuous to put the book aside, even though I knew I could always come back to it. The level of detail creates a world that’s gritty and completely in your face, defying you to pretend it’s not real.

The other characters in this are expertly drawn, though I’ll admit I didn’t completely buy into the HEA. Jonas is quite the playboy before he meets Ana, and – surprise, surprise – she’s not his typical female type at all. I’m never quite given enough reason to believe he’s going to completely change his ways for her, though I certainly believed her response to him. The scene where each comes clean about their past, however, was tender, heartwrenching, and evocative. I just wish the stuff that came immediately afterward hadn’t spoiled the effect for me a little.

Still, this book qualifies as a keeper. If Carina ever expands into offering their books in print as well, I’ll order a copy of this for my shelves. And I’ll be on the lookout for other work by this author. I can see from her website she does YA, which unfortunately doesn’t interest me at all. But if she’s going to continue with adult titles as well, I’ll be right in line to buy.

Readability

9/10 – Dense with action, terse and vivid, almost exhausting in pace

Hero

7/10 – Sexy, enigmatic, and loyal

Heroine

9/10 – Tough and heartbreakingly vulnerable, all at the same time

Entertainment value

8/10 – I didn’t completely buy into the HEA, but the nonstop action and my love for the heroine makes this a keeper

World building

9/10 – Gritty and in your face

TOTAL:

42/50

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Mirage by Monica Burns

TITLE: Mirage
AUTHOR: Monica Burns
PUBLISHER: Samhain
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 110k)
GENRE: Historical erotic romance
COST: $6.50

American Alexandra Talbot has one mission in life, the mission started by her father and uncle – to find Per-Ramesses and with it, Nourbese’s tomb. She arrives in London to enlist the aid of the British Museum, and ends up under the guidance of Lord Blakeney, an employee with the museum. Unbeknownst to her, Blakeney is half English, half Egyptian, the Mazir her father had been corresponding with. He refrains from telling her the truth immediately, however, a choice that haunts him long after they have finally arrived in Egypt. He’s too busy keeping her safe, since it seems somebody does not want Alex’s mission to succeed…

This is one of those odd books where elements assessed individually rate high, yet the entire effect of the book ends up lower than all those. In this particular case, there was a definite line that got crossed for me where it was just too much of the same, over and over again, until I just grew tired of it all in the end.

The story begins with Alex showing up in London to gain access to the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum, so she can confirm the translations she and her father made about the location of Per-Ramesses. She is immediately up against a wall, because the Egyptology Director never expected a woman, and doesn’t believe a woman could – or should – be a part of the archaeological community. He capitulates only because Altair Blakeney intercedes on her behalf. Altair is of mixed heritage, and spends six months of every year in each country. His Bedouin blood has been a problem for him in the past, and he is reluctant to ever get involved with another woman since he’s convinced she’ll never get past it. His attraction to Alex is immediate, however, and not only intense but reciprocated. But his fear of revealing his true identity starts a series of not-quite-truths he withholds from her, even though it’s clear by the time they arrive in Egypt that someone is determined to kill Alex before allowing her to succeed.

I really liked both leads at the start. Altair is dark, seductive, and just damaged enough to make him interesting, while Alex is fiercely independent and uninterested in feminine trappings, a refreshing mindset for the period in which the story is set. While my appreciation for Alex grew throughout the course of the story, my feelings on Altair did not. In fact, the further into the story I got, the more I disliked the way he dealt with issues and Alex, mainly by perpetuating untruths and misunderstandings when it would only take a few simple words to clear away the trouble. This typifies much of Alex and Altair’s relationship, actually. While they have an intense, passionate attraction – and highly sensual encounters to further their desires – the vast majority of the setbacks in the romance are due to Altair’s deliberate choice to withhold information from her. They act on their attraction, they argue, then they maintain their distance…until the next chapter where it somehow gets swept under the rug and the cycle starts all over again. I didn’t mind it at first, but this is a long novel for romance. It got old. When Altair would make yet another specific choice that he knew would upset Alex, I just wanted to scream at him to get over himself for two seconds and think about what he was really doing. Because eventually he does in the next chapter, which undermines whatever stock I was supposed to put into his initial decision. It’s all one big feeling of Arg! by the time I got to the end.

The story is helped considerably by the extensive detail that is placed in both the time and the place. The author has done a lot of work to recreate Egypt, its arid yet rich culture, the simple complexities of the mythology. It’s a rich tapestry she’s woven, and it helps to create a lavish landscape for her characters to act within. It does occasionally get a little overkill, but in light of the fact that many western readers are more likely to be well-versed in English history and manners of the time rather than Egyptian, it’s likely needed.

I just wish the romance had been played as smartly as the rest of the book. Because its execution, and the hero’s constant lying, ultimately let me down.

Readability

8/10 – Highly romantic and densely detailed

Hero

6/10 – Though I really liked him at the start, the more he lied, the more issues I took with him.

Heroine

8/10 – Strong, fiercely independent

Entertainment value

6/10 – This is one of those stories where the cumulative effect ends up lessening my enjoyment, because it’s just too much

World building

9/10 – No denying the author has done her research, Egypt and its mythology comes alive

TOTAL:

37/50

Monday, June 14, 2010

Old Poison by Josh Lanyon

TITLE: Old Poison
AUTHOR: Josh Lanyon
PUBLISHER: Loose Id
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 33k)
GENRE: Gay erotic romantic suspense
COST: $4.99

Will and Taylor are learning how to be partners, both at work and in private. Taylor is about to return to active duty, but his assignment to someone else creates friction in their still fledgling relationship, friction neither man needs as Will struggles to get a grip on his feelings and Taylor finds himself the target of a stalker…

I rarely re-read stories in preparation for reading sequels, though this time, I wonder if I should have made an exception. I’ve read the first story about Will and Taylor exactly once, and it was a little while ago, so the dynamics of their relationship were impressions rather than specifics. I seriously wonder if I would have liked the story more than I did had I done that.

Will and Taylor have been lovers for a little more than a month, and each is still feeling their way. Taylor wants Will to move in, a move Will resists, and still occasionally wonders if Will is with him out of guilt rather than real emotion. For his part, Will wonders if the relationship he gave up when Taylor was shot, a relationship with a man he has a lot more in common with, is the one he should have pursued, even if his feelings for Taylor are far more urgent. Taylor is going back on active duty, but assigned to a new partner, while Will is assigned to the man he broke up with to be with Taylor on an entirely different case. Their lives are moving apart, directions that leave both men questioning. And all the while, someone appears to be stalking Taylor.

Will and Taylor’s relationship has never been simple, and this continuation of their romance is no exception. This aspect is probably the strongest single part of the story. Sometimes, their doubts are played a little heavy-handedly, but they’re organic to the characters and thus, satisfying. They take up most of the first half of the story, while the latter is more tightly focused on the suspense. It’s this schism that provides the primary drawback I have with it, keeping it from something outstanding to a merely solid offering from Lanyon.

As a whole, the story never completely flowed for me. Elements of the suspense get introduced sporadically in the first half, enough to make its fruition logical. When the action takes off, it erupts like a rocket, moving at a breakneck speed through the last third. It’s so tight that the contrast with the rest of the book is jarring. In some ways, it feels like two different stories. Truth be told, I much preferred this last section of the story to the rest of it. If the entire thing had been written and paced like that, this would have rated much higher. Still, the ending works on a lot of levels, primarily due to the events at the end of the novella. Lanyon gets full props for pulling it all together, and seeing the happy ending these two men get was vastly rewarding.

Readability

8/10 – Oddly paced for the first half, though the second makes up for it

Hero #1

7/10 – I missed Taylor’s humor from the first book, though circumstances dictated it

Hero #2

7/10 – His emotional growth is smoother than Taylor’s

Entertainment value

7/10 – I didn’t enjoy this as much as the first book, but it’s definitely a solid offering from Lanyon

World building

8/10 – Each agent’s case and world get brought to life, as well as the suspense angle

TOTAL:

37/50

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Cowboy and the Cougar by Helen Hardt

TITLE: The Cowboy and the Cougar
AUTHOR: Helen Hardt
PUBLISHER: Aspen Mountain Press
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 30k)
GENRE: Contemporary erotic romance
COST: $4.00

A bad day has forty-year-old Holly eager for distraction, so when a handsome younger cowboy offers to buy her a drink, she accepts his attention and has a fabulous one-night stand, never learning his real name or giving hers away. Six months later, in the middle of a drawing class, her cowboy shows up again. This time, he’s not going to let her disappear without at least finding out who she is…

I know there’s an abundance of cougar stories out there these days, but for some reason, I have a soft spot for them, even when I know that so many of them really aren’t that good. This one had hopes of meeting my expectations this time, but unfortunately, I figured out fairly quickly that I’ll have to avoid erotic works by this author in the future.

It’s not that it’s bad. It's just that it's really, really average. It opens with Holly, the forty-year-old single lawyer, having a real bad day (the details of which are not provided until the end), and picking up a young gorgeous cowboy for a one-night stand to help lift her mood. They have a great time, and then, she sneaks out the next morning. Cut to six months later. For a reason the reader has yet to learn, she’s left the law firm she worked for to be her own boss, but she’s only doing what she must to fund her rediscovered love for art, and the classes she is taking at the community college. She runs into the cowboy again when he poses nude for one of her classes, and he tracks her down afterward, sticking with her persistently until she agrees to go out with him. He had a fabulous time, too, on that one night, and wants more of it. Their romance progresses from there.

Holly and Jack (the cowboy) are both nice enough, though both are flawed as enjoyable characters for me. My problems with Holly stem from the fact that she is adamant about things not working out with Jack, first because of the age difference (he’s eleven years younger than her) and then for another reason the author plays coy in revealing until two-thirds of the way through the story. I never understood why she wasn’t upfront with him from the start. It made no sense for her not to be, especially since she seemed so determined to push him out of her life. My issue with Jack came from the opposite reaction. He seemed like the romance staple, the too good to be true hero. He’s gorgeous, comfortable modeling nude, has an adorable son, is an excellent father, the cowboy thing…the list goes on. I can’t think of a flaw that would have made him feel as real as Holly did, and having such an idealized hero in the face of her real world drama kept me from believing too much in either of them.

But my biggest problem comes from the author’s sex scenes. She uses terminology that doesn’t work for me and yanked me completely out of scenes. Things like, “Her sex wept.” and referring to the “soiled condom” when he pulled it off after sex. Choices like these, while probably fine for some readers, invariably ruin my enjoyment, and when it’s an erotic romance like this…well, that’s a good part of the story. If I do try another story by this author, it would likely have to be something that wasn’t erotic. I don’t think her idea of sexy and my idea of sexy necessarily match up.

Readability

6/10 – The sex scenes hung me up, big time

Hero

6/10 – Sweet if a tad too idealized

Heroine

6/10 – Her lack of coming clean at the start bugged me

Entertainment value

5/10 – The characters are fine, but I have a feeling I’ll have to avoid erotic works by this author in the future

World building

6/10 – Some is provided at the ranch, but otherwise, it felt very anywhere and lifeless

TOTAL:

29/50

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Agent Provocateur by Nathalie Gray

TITLE: Agent Provocateur
AUTHOR: Nathalie Gray
PUBLISHER: Red Sage
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 25k)
GENRE: Futuristic erotic romance
COST: $3.50

Stuck in a long-term prison sentence, Misborn Troy doesn’t expect to get out, until someone gives him an offer he can’t refuse. Mercury is tasked as his partner in an escapade that promises him parole, but their adventures – and attraction – are only starting to explode…

I’m not even going to try and summarize this story. Go read the blurb on the website for a better idea. Because honestly, things start happening so quickly and go off in such unexpected – and fun – directions, that almost anything I say would be a spoiler.

What I can tell you is this was a fantastic read on a whole lot of levels. Both leads are unapologetically arrogant and bitchy, toward each other, toward everybody else, but that’s because they both see themselves as separate from everybody else. They also have the skills to back up their arrogance, and the fact that neither makes horribly stupid mistakes gives them a lot of leeway for their attitudes in my book. In Mercury’s case, she so unequivocally claims her identity and needs that she becomes one of the best heroines I’ve read in a while. She’s smart, ruthless, and sasses with the best of them. I loved her to pieces.

Her chemistry with Troy is off the charts. Their sex scenes are explosive and feral, and it never feels gratuitous or cringeworthy. This same pacing is matched in the action scenes, and creates a frenzied, charged atmosphere that’s impossible to look away from. The leads careen from scene to scene, twisting the plot in a new direction each time. There’s no chance to take a breath, or relax from the incessant action.

The story’s biggest flaw is just how dense the world is. Though some detail is provided, the meaty explanations don’t come until late in the story, leaving questions in their wake. The exposition, too, isn’t always handled in the most deft ways. More than once, I felt mired in an information dump, as the author got out a few necessary details before sucking me into another action scene. Those slowed down my reading, and left a vague sense of unease undercoating my entire experience. As much as I really, really enjoyed this, it could have been more, and it’s the loss of that more that lowers my overall score.

Still, don’t let that stand in your way. If you like action-packed, gritty erotic stories, this one will be a standout.

Readability

9/10 – Dense and action-packed, it left me breathless

Hero

8/10 – An arrogant self-described asshole…and a breath of fresh air for being unapologetic about it.

Heroine

9/10 – Ruthless and unabashedly on her own side, I loved that she remained strong when she could have been wimped out

Entertainment value

8/10 – Wonderful to read something packed with so much goodness

World building

8/10 – The dystopian society that gets presented has some great potential, but it doesn’t get explained in enough detail nor does it offer what it does very elegantly.

TOTAL:

42/50

Monday, June 7, 2010

Change-My-Luck Blues by Sophia Deri-Bowen

TITLE: Change-My-Luck Blues
AUTHOR: Sophia Deri-Bowen
PUBLISHER: Dreamspinner
LENGTH: Short story (roughly 9k)
GENRE: Gay contemporary erotic romance
COST: $2.99

Ex-con Danny Johnson is trying to rebuild his life, starting with buying a bar in Dorset County, Mississippi. It’s about time for his luck to start changing…

Maybe I should have guessed between the blurb and the excerpt where this story was going to go. I feel like I’m the only person to blame for buying this, when it became obvious very early on I wasn’t going to enjoy it. It’s not because the blurb and excerpt were misleading. I think it’s because it’s not like a lot of short story romances that are out there, so I just wasn’t expecting it.

So what’s the way it’s not like other short stories? Its voice. The story feels like it wants to be third person omniscient, but because so much of it is in Danny’s POV – with only the occasional outside POV thrown in – I’m not sure if the author might not intend it to be third limited but lapsed a few times on perspective. I lean toward the former, to be honest, because of the narrative style. The entire thing has a distant storyteller quality to it, much like some literary fiction or older works. These days, it’s just not common to find in genre fiction (outside of fantasy), and it’s not a style I like at all. I can’t engage with it, which is why I don’t enjoy a lot of what is considered classical literature. Because this reminded me so much of that, it distanced me even further.

But barring that, it’s difficult for me to buy into the characterizations of both Danny and Ratio, the third man he meets. They never feel like men to me, primarily because of the dialogue. Exchanges like this…

“And hey. This is your celebration. What d’you want, sweetheart?”


“You!” Ratio grinned and pushed their hips together, grinding his far too sweet and slow. “I want you to take your pleasure, Danny-my-Danny. I want you to be happy with me. I want you to celebrate too.”


“Oh, honey, I am. I’m so happy.” He hugged Ratio tightly. “Remember? You make me feel real again.”

…occur too often, and feel unrealistic, even within the boundaries of thinking of this as more literary romance. This story is short, and their portion of it not that long, but it took no time at all for me to start rolling my eyes in their scene. This guy is supposed to be an ex-con? Not to me.

In the end, I’m left underwhelmed. Readers who might not have the same problems with the voice style might not be.

Readability

6/10 – The author’s voice just doesn’t work for me, it’s almost 3rd person omniscient but not quite so ends up feeling like headhopping

Hero #1

4/10 – The distance with the voice keeps him rather flat, then when he gets a chance to do something, he doesn’t feel male at all

Hero #2

4/10 – Same problems I had with the primary hero

Entertainment value

4/10 – I can rarely engage with this type of storytelling, so though I kept hoping for more, it just didn’t happen.

World building

7/10 – The strongest aspect of the book, because the setting is likely meant to be another character

TOTAL:

25/50

Friday, June 4, 2010

Wasteland: The Wanderer by Crystal Jordan

TITLE: Wasteland: The Wanderer
AUTHOR: Crystal Jordan
PUBLISHER: Samhain
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 28k)
GENRE: Futuristic erotic romance
COST: $3.50

Kadira wasn’t born a Wanderer, but she has done everything she can since being adopted by the Badawi clan to be considered one. Including keeping others out of her life. When Ezra, the Haroun Chieftain, decides he wants to finally taste her, he makes an offer to her clan she cannot refuse, in exchange for three weeks with her. Exclusively…

Though I’m not usually drawn to cover art first, I was to this one, and after reading the blurb and excerpt, decided to give it a shot. I don’t think I’m interested enough to read the other books that are set in the same world as this one. I fear the futuristic setting they’ve tried to create will suffer in those what it did in this one – window dressing for a lot of sex scenes.

I’m not even sure I can accurately describe the world except to say it’s a post-apocalyptic future where survivors have broken up into clans. Religion is different, rituals are different, naming conventions are different…you get the idea. None of that would be a problem if there was enough solid world building to give the reader a good grasp of it all, but while there are some explanations, there just aren’t enough to fully paint it. Instead, the focus is on the two leads and all the sex they have, all the sex they watch, and the myriad ways they dance around their backgrounds until finally coming clean.

Kadira is a shaman/warrior, while Ezra is the chieftain of a different clan. Both have had broken pasts, and problems with their parents (though the problems are drastically different from each other). In this world, sexuality is fluid, which means there are no hang-ups about same sex couplings, multiples, or sharing. People can bond, or not bond, and they seem to trade beds quite a bit. Both leads have same sex contact within the story, so if that’s a problem for the reader, consider that a warning. Personally, I found the sex scenes the best written aspect of this, but then again, they’re the primary aspect. It’s trying to see them within the larger picture that I start to have problems.

The romance does feel real, and the ending is very satisfying, but honestly, without understanding more of the clan dynamics or world structure, some of the scenes feel very gratuitous. For readers looking for something highly erotic, however, this is likely to be a winner.

Readability

7/10 – The prose is clean, the sex is hot, but with such a vastly different world, I got hung up in not knowing enough to really see what was going on

Hero

7/10 – Alpha but vulnerable, my one drawback to really falling for him is failing to understand why his genius is so unique

Heroine

7/10 – A worthy match for the hero, though her anger at the start at not being considered for a bond put me off her for a while

Entertainment value

7/10 – In spite of the patchiness of the world building and my problems at the start, this evened out to a hot read

World building

7/10 – A lot of good ideas, and some explanations are given, but honestly, I just could not get a good grasp on it

TOTAL:

35/50

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Magic Man by Marie Treanor

TITLE: Magic Man
AUTHOR: Marie Treanor
PUBLISHER: Wild Rose Press
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 68k)
GENRE: Futuristic erotic romance
COST: $6.00

In a world where a virus has forced the population into segregation, Catriona craves a little excitement in her boring, low-risk life. With the help of a friend, she escapes into Old Town to sing at a pub, where the people are colorful and the enigmatic man known only as the Magician captivates her. Though Magic is attracted to her, he knows there’s something wrong about her, something that might bode ill for the people he’s trying to protect. Little does he realize her family owns the company responsible for disseminating the vaccine to the high riskers, but Cat is only just starting to realize the extent of her family’s corruption…

My blurb doesn’t do this book justice. Neither does the one on the publisher’s site. It was interesting enough to catch my attention, and the excerpt good enough, but this has been sitting on my TBR pile since last September, and I’m kicking myself for waiting this long to read it.

The story takes place in Edinburgh in the future, when a virus thirty years earlier has completely changed social structure. People are split into three groups – low, middle, and high risk. Low risk people have all the money and power, middle risk tend to be in service positions, and high riskers live in what’s called Old Town, quarantined there without hope or futures for the sake of everybody else’s safety. Cat is divorced and bored out of her mind, so she takes a risk to go into Old Town for fun – mainly, to sing in public. By day, she’s a lawyer for the company that creates and sells the vaccine for the virus, but it’s not a life she loves, not at all. In Old Town, the people are colorful, most of them going by titles than names – Magician, Angel, Hacker, Biker, etc. To her, they seem to be really living, because they live under the specter of death every day. She is particularly fascinated by Magician, a gorgeous, enigmatic charmer. He seems equally taken with her, but he’s more wary than she is, knowing there’s more to what she appears than meets the eye. When Cat’s ex-husband goes missing, she’s told Magician can help her. She goes to him, and so their romance begins, because ultimately, they just can’t keep their hands off each other.

I have not loved a hero this much in ages. Magic is confident and yet endearingly insecure at times (like when he tells his best friend Hacker that girls like Cat could never be interested in a guy like him), gorgeous and brave, a rebel intent on finding out the truth. He’s the bad boy who’s had no chances and is making the best of a bad lot, and he is utterly, completely irresistible. Cat is, thankfully, a worthy match for him. She’s strong and honorable, especially when she finds out things are not exactly as they seem with the life she’s always known. Her loneliness gets banished by the people of Old Town, and as the reader, I was glad for her.

My adoration for this started from the beginning. The author paints the world she’s created in lush, broken down vibrancy. It felt like stepping into the middle of gypsies and harlequins, with a show to be had on every street corner. The desire and attraction between Cat and Magic sparks from the very first. When he asks her to dance, I knew in that one little scene it was going to be a fantastic ride. I wasn’t disappointed. They come together in an explosion, and for the most part, the book carries it through to the end.

If I have any complaints at all about the book – and they’re minor – it’s that I found the sections from the other characters POV not very meaningful in the grand scheme of things. There’s a few from Hacker’s, and Cat’s ex-husband, as well as both of her parents, and while it does fill in a bit of the background, it also felt like it was giving away some of the more suspenseful elements of the plot. In Hacker’s case, well, all I’ll say is that I feared the worst, and leave it at that.

But when I can finish a book and the last line makes my heart leap as much as the rest of the story, it’s a keeper. I’m going to be purchasing this one in print to put on my keeper shelf. And I’m definitely looking out for more work by this author.

Readability

9/10 – Lush, with a kaleidoscopic feel, absolutely compulsive

Hero

10/10 – I fell in love with him, almost from the first, broken yet strong, charming yet enigmatic

Heroine

8/10 – Strong and honorable

Entertainment value

9/10 – One of the better erotic romances I’ve read in a long time

World building

9/10 – The world of Old Town leapt off the page, the outside world not nearly as vivid

TOTAL:

45/50