Monday, January 31, 2011

Moonspun by Lee Benoit

TITLE: Moonspun
AUTHOR: Lee Benoit
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 43k)
GENRE: Gay paranormal erotic romance
COST: $5.99

Playwright Jamie Cowan isn’t having the easiest time of it. His writing isn’t flowing, his roommates are making him uncomfortable, and he’s being turned into an errand boy for the theater producing his play. When he picks up an order from the tailor, he meets Spider, the enigmatic, beautiful owner of the shop, and wonders for the first time if he’s met someone he can be with. But Spider has a secret, one he’s never shared with anyone else, and he has no idea how Jamie will react if ever finds out the truth…

I have tremendous respect for this author. While I may not purchase all of her titles, or love everything I read, she’s one of the more literate, intelligent m/m authors I’ve come across in the genre. That makes it harder to admit how much this book just didn’t work for me.

Jamie Cowan is a young budding playwright, recently transplanted from his sheltered upbringing in Maine to Sister City and the first professional production of his work. Life is not what he expected it to be. Though he isn’t out of the closet, he does recognize his desire for a relationship, but finds himself uncomfortable with the blatant displays of his roommates. His writing isn’t flowing, either, so his available time is getting him relegated to errand boy. It’s on one of these errands he meets Spider. Spider owns a tailor shop and is the most beautiful man Jamie has ever seen even if he’s shy and overly polite. Spider’s neighbor, however, overwhelms Jamie. She talks of Santeria and puts a bead bracelet on his wrist, making it very obvious she’s matchmaking between the two young men. Spider is attracted to Jamie, but he has a secret he doesn’t believe anybody will ever understand. When the moon rises, he’s forced to sit at his loom and weave until it sets again. The tapestries he creates seem to foretell a future, but they’re melancholy and dark, at least until Jamie arrives in his life.

It’s obvious almost from the start that the author is attempting to integrate magical realism with genre fiction, in this case, m/m erotic romance. It’s a valiant effort, but I honestly don’t think it ever worked. The dreamy quality that often accompanies magical realism in literary fiction isn’t a natural fit with most faster-paced genre stories, so it has to compensate in other ways in order to draw a reader in. For instance, the characters could sparkle, demanding attention when the action doesn’t supply it, or the prose can be so beautiful, it’s impossible not to savor it. I found neither in this short novel.

Jamie and Spider are both terribly innocent, neither truly comfortable with his sexuality, both relatively ignorant of their chosen professions. Jamie is the country mouse living in the city, and Spider, while knowledgeable in the tools of his trade, has never truly delved into the reasons behind his moon weaving. The latter is actually very typical of magical realism – that which is unexplained is merely accepted as the way it is – and Spider’s attitude toward it, as well as his inability to explain it to anybody’s satisfaction, wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t also weighed down by Jamie’s naivete. It lends a sweetness to their romance, but at the same time, their almost constant passivity regarding each other and the events of their lives is very frustrating. The juxtaposition of Jamie’s more contemporary nature with Spider’s more ethereal one never gels, either, since Jamie’s constant questioning about what is going on jars me from buying into the magic whole-heartedly.

These might not be issues for me if I could bury myself in the prose, but unfortunately, that’s not the case. While there are some beautiful turns of phrase scattered throughout the story (comparing the taste of Spider’s erection as “silvery, like blood and moonlight” still lingers with me), there aren’t nearly enough to lift it above its sluggish pacing or frustrating characterizations. It alternates between reading too contemporary or too ethereal, and doesn’t ever manage to blend the two without leaving the seams exposed.

If I can’t enjoy it for its literary qualities, and I can’t enjoy it for the romance, I’m left not really enjoying it at all. I wanted to. I really did. The beginning showed promise, even if it was slow, because I was so intrigued by the magical journey it hinted at. But I didn’t. I struggled with the last third of the story and finished it very underwhelmed. The author tried, but she’s done better in my opinion. Much better.


6/10 – The prose isn’t graceful enough to counter the dreamy pacing, turning it into a sluggish read

Hero #1

6/10 – His naivete might add to the story’s texture, but it also slows it down and leaves me frustrated

Hero #2

5/10 – Intriguing but ultimately too passive

Entertainment value

4/10 – Ultimately it failed to engage me as either magical realism or romance

World building

6/10 – Though I can appreciate what I think the author was striving for, the final result is very underwhelming



Friday, January 28, 2011

Cross My Heart by Paris Brandon

TITLE: Cross My Heart
AUTHOR: Paris Brandon
PUBLISHER: Ellora’s Cave
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 25k)
GENRE: Contemporary suspense erotic romance
COST: $4.45

Six months ago, cop Jack Sutton asked Valentine Cross to marry him. She turned him down, and he walked away. Now, the case of a missing woman forces him to seek Val out again, as she is their best chance at finding the safe house the woman is likely at. He just has to hope she doesn’t throw him out when she sees him…

Though there was a lot of potential in this short novella, none of it is actually realized, much to my disappointment. The characters start off perfectly fine. In fact, the prologue where Jack meets Val, a liberal late-night radio talk show host, is crisp and hot. The first chapter then opens two years later, at which time Val and Jack have been broken up for six months. He asked her to marry him, and she flat-out refused. He stormed off, and the two haven’t seen each other since. Jack’s boss has a missing woman case that he’s being told to back off from, but something about it bothers him, and he wants Jack to follow up. Val has a direct line to the biggest safe house for battered women in the city, and Jack’s boss wants him to use his connection to her to find out if the missing woman is there. So Jack goes to see Val, wondering how long it’ll take for her to kick him to the curb this time.

Sounds fine, doesn’t it? And it is, for the most part. I liked the intensity these two displayed, both individually and then initially together. It hinted at some real heat as the story progressed. But Jack never brings up the issue about the missing woman, distracted by the fact that when he arrives, Val has had a break-in. He’s worried for her safety, and that worry somehow results in these two having a temporary truce/getting back together. His anxious feelings for her felt genuine, but honestly, I spent that whole time mistrusting his desire to get back with her. It felt like manipulation to get the information he wanted, rather than genuine need, in spite of his continuous assertions to the contrary. That ended up holding me back for the entire story.

None of it is helped by the fact that shortly into the story, it starts headhopping. Badly. Sometimes paragraph to paragraph. My tolerance for headhopping is low as it is, and this time, I just couldn’t handle it. It’s further hindered by the author’s propensity to tell rather than show, and the explanations that sometimes occur end up being more confusing than if she’d just shown us what happened rather than tell us after the fact. It weakens the suspense angle considerably (not to mention the fact that much of it feels forced and/or convenient). All the good ideas in the world aren’t enough to fix the poor story construction, even when the characters have some serious chemistry. I didn’t believe the resolution of any of the suspense storylines, and ultimately failed to engage with the author’s voice.


4/10 – The headhopping and telling not showing really wore me down


6/10 – I had real issues believing in his reunion when I knew the only reason he’d gone back to her


6/10 – Strong, but too unwilling to bend for me to like very much

Entertainment value

4/10 – While there were some good ideas and lots of potential, it never lived up to any of them.

World building

6/10 – Though there were sporadic bits of painting their world, they never felt cohesive enough to give a good picture



Thursday, January 27, 2011


Oops. I really need to think about postdating reviews for publication so that when I can't get online for some reason, my schedule doesn't get screwed up. Probably nobody notices but me if I don't have my M/W/F reviews up, but my obsessive side hates the break in my pattern.

But we have a new router now, and my Internet is back, so my schedule resumes as normal tomorrow.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Bound Together by Jane Davitt

TITLE: Bound Together
AUTHOR: Jane Davitt
PUBLISHER: Total-e-bound
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 18k)
GENRE: Gay contemporary erotic romance
COST: $4.36

Book lover Simon Weatherly is always on the lookout for special editions, but the book Chris Ross shows up trying to sell him is all too familiar. Recognizing it as belonging to his ex, Simon purchases the book from the enigmatic man and later learns Chris has spent his own time in the ex's bed. A transaction like that has consequences, however, results that extend beyond the cash trading hands, and the unexpected attraction between Simon and Chris gets put to the test…

Though you won’t find a Jane Davitt title reviewed on this blog, I’ve read her before and enjoyed her intelligent eroticism to the point where I always check out her new titles when they come out. I don’t buy them all. I still need to read the blurb and excerpt and determine if it’s a book that interests me. But I know that I generally really like her voice, and this was no exception.

The story starts with Simon receiving a visitor. Chris Ross doesn’t seem like your usual book person. His hair is dyed, his ear has multiple piercings, and his leather jacket doesn’t exactly scream bookworm. The book Chris offers to sell him, however, is not Simon’s usual fare. He recognizes it as once belonging to his ex-boyfriend, so after much negotiation—and intriguing attitude—a deal is struck. Simon calls his ex to sell it back, and discovers that Chris is more than what he seems. He’d been sleeping with the ex as well, while doing some carpentry work for him, and when the job was done, the ex kicked him to the curb without payment. This complicated scenario starts a swell of events that drive Simon to striking yet another deal with Chris, one that benefits the both of them in other ways.

The thing I like best about this author’s work is her voice. There’s a subtle intelligence to her work that consistently shines through. It comes through in details, like discussing the foxing on a book, or in carefully orchestrated erotic scenes. What I enjoy so much is that it never feels obvious. Not only is her prose some of the cleanest I come across, but it often seems effortless, too. It’s helped that her particular brand of eroticism manages to hit a lot of my buttons. Even with a simple kiss, I find myself engaged on multiple levels. That’s not true of a lot of authors.

These aspects are where this short novella shines for me. The chemistry, once Chris and Simon kiss, is electric, and the promise of it is delivered as the story progresses. I leapt through the latter portion of the book, as breathless and anxious as Simon. I came to a grinding halt, however, when a misunderstanding arose that came out of nowhere and stalled the story dead. Simon’s motivations prior to that were a little muddled, partially because he’s still in the process of figuring them out himself, and frankly, when he jumped to this particular misunderstanding, I had no idea how he got there or what he was saying. I was as confused as Chris was. Even after it’s cleared up, I didn’t get it, and it diminished my overall enjoyment of the story.

While this story isn’t quite a keeper, there’s enough chemistry and hot eroticism between the characters to make it worth the investment. One of these days, she’s going to absolutely blow my mind. I know it.


8/10 – I love that there’s an intelligence behind the prose without being obvious about it

Hero #1

7/10 – I quite liked him until he went off with the misunderstanding two-thirds of the way through the story, that felt like it came out of the blue

Hero #2

6/10 – Slightly enigmatic, I never felt like I could get a bead on him

Entertainment value

7/10 – For my reaction to her eroticism, not for believing in the flow of the romance

World building

7/10 – Details about the book world were fantastic, and while I believed it was the UK, the rest kind of blended into the background



Friday, January 21, 2011

Choice of Masters by Joey W. Hill

TITLE: Choice of Masters
AUTHOR: Joey W. Hill
PUBLISHER: Ellora’s Cave
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 33k)
GENRE: BDSM fantasy historical erotic romance
COST: $5.20

Thomas has lived his life by the code King Arthur set, and now has one final quest to complete – rescue the Lady Lilith from her captivity. He dreams of her constantly, and in those dreams, he knows her, loves her, recognizes her as his soulmate. After learning what he must to set Lilith free, he ventures to the wizard’s realms, where the world is not what he expected. Lilith is, though, and now he must show her that she has the power to make the choice to leave…

I adore Joey Hill. I may not love everything she writes, but for me, the sensual eroticism of her prose stands alone. I just have to remember as I read more and more of her backlist – because even though this was just recently released by Ellora’s Cave, it was originally published seven years ago in an anthology – that not only will she hit on some of my buttons, she will also show varying levels of skill in her storytelling abilities.

This one is a little hard to describe. Thomas is a knight who has been dreaming of Lilith, a woman notorious for being held prisoner by a wizard for years with an entire stream of other knights who have failed to rescue her. Thomas is convinced she’s his soulmate and is ready to do whatever it takes to make her accept him as her Master. He spends a month with a group of priestesses renowned for their sensual delights to learn how he can break Lilith free. When he feels he’s ready, he sets off and finds Lilith as the Great Whore in Zorac’s household. He is granted the right to attempt to rescue her, but Zorac is certain he’ll fail and leave in the morning without Lilith. Thus begins Thomas’s quest, a night of unbridled sensuality.

Some people think Hill’s prose is too purple, and I can see how it can sometimes verge in that direction. Much of the time, I adore it. It’s lustrous and rich, like sinking in thick, soft velvet. She has a way of wending and winding with her words that sucks me in, even when the events that unfold might bother other sensibilities. Then, it’s not until I’ve finished the story that I see some of the flaws it might contain.

This particular story has quite a few potential hotspots, but one in particular will likely bother a number of readers. Lilith is being held prisoner and forced to act as the whore to anybody Zorac wants. Worse, she is bound by a spell that keeps her forearms and hands immobile, invisible shackles if you like. On top of that, the magic also keeps her on the brink of orgasm without ever giving her a release. So Lilith is the victim of continual nonconsensual acts, with the demonstration of one at the dinner Thomas shares with Zorac after his arrival. I have to admit, this didn’t bother me so much in this, because it was so clearly fantasy from the very first page, however others are likely to disagree.

While Hill’s eroticism shines, especially in how surprisingly sensual the rituals Thomas performs are, the story suffers in other areas. Lilith lacks much of any kind of personality for much of the story, since she’s already wound tight from her lack of release. She’s much more of a damsel for Thomas to save than I normally like to read. Any strong sense of setting disappears as well. The entire tale has a dream-like quality, making it very hard to pinpoint. Definitive explanations on who Thomas really is or what he really can do are lacking, too.

But you know what? These were problems I identified once I’d already devoured the story. I was so lost in the sensuality of it, much of the other issues didn’t raise their heads until afterward. Thus, my rather skewed scores.


8/10 – Minor editorial problems broke up the flow, but Hill writes lush, sensual BDSM like nobody else


7/10 – Proud and honorable


4/10 – She feels more like a vessel than anything else

Entertainment value

7/10 – Logic and depth of any kind of explanation gets thrown out the window for the gorgeous eroticism

World building

6/10 – With so much focus on the eroticism, the world and its nature felt very superficial



Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Her Heart's Divide by Kathleen Dienne

TITLE: Her Heart’s Divide
AUTHOR: Kathleen Dienne
PUBLISHER: Carina Press
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 19k)
GENRE: Contemporary paranormal erotic romance
COST: $2.69

Lila and Ryan have been together for seven years, first dating, then as husband and wife. Jack is their boss and best friend, but when he comes home one Saturday after work and calls Lila his wife, none of them know what to think. He seems just like the Jack they know, but his insistence that he’s the one married to Lila and not Ryan borders on crazy. What’s not so crazy is the way he looks at her…

Know what’s frustrating? The lack of clarity on how publishers classify ménage romance. This short novella is categorized as a ménage at Carina, but with the exception of one 3k scene, this is very much an m/f erotic romance. There is no threesome happy ending, and the emotions that play themselves out are very much monogamous. For a reader specifically looking for a ménage story, I’d imagine it would be very disappointing to buy this and find out you were sold a wrong bill of goods.

That’s not to say the story is bad. It’s a solid enough, hot enough erotic romance. There’s not much I can say about it since the story is so short. Lila and Ryan are married. Both of them work for Jack, who has been Ryan’s best friend since college. Jack shows up at Lila’s house after work one day and promptly pulls her into a kiss, calling her the best wife ever. Lila’s confused, because outside of a very embarrassing drunken flirtation one Christmas, they’ve never expressed interest in each other, other than as friends. But Jack knows things about Lila he shouldn’t, like fantasies she has and tattoos in private places. Since his wife is currently out of town, Lila and Ryan let Jack stay with them, especially since he views their house as his own.

The story is told in 1st person, through Lila’s eyes. She is very much in love with Ryan, and more than a little freaked out by the real feelings she sees in Jack’s eyes. Though some of what he says sparks fantasies for her, as well as fuels some of her and Ryan’s sex life, her heart and desire are firmly rooted with Ryan. Not once did I ever think she’d entertain a relationship with Jack included. Since I had purchased this as a ménage romance – rather than as an erotic romance with a ménage scene included – I kept waiting for some kind of shift in the emotional landscape to make an HEA possible. It never comes. Lila is as devoted – if not more so – to Ryan by the story’s end, while Jack…well, that would be spoiling the ending more than I already have. I won’t do that, but this much I think is necessary, simply because readers have a right to know that they might not necessarily be getting what they think they are getting.

If I had read this as a strictly m/f story with a ménage scene thrown in for flavor, I’d probably love it. The emotions these three experience are palpable and easily the best part about the novella. I felt for Jack’s frustration as much as I did Lila’s unease, while Ryan mostly just gets caught in the middle of it. The writing itself is suitably hot, and if I wondered a bit about how Lila might so easily accept these fantasies as something she’s always wanted when she hasn’t really thought about it before, I was willing to let that slide for how much I got into their turmoil.

But that wasn’t how I approached it, and ultimately, that misrepresentation hindered my enjoyment. Know what you’re getting when you go in, and you’ll be fine.


8/10 – Emotional and erotic


6/10 – Seems perfect enough, but he’s ultimately a pawn in the heroine’s dilemma


7/10 – Appropriately distraught over the turn of events, though her blindness to some of her fantasies seems unrealistic

Entertainment value

7/10 – The emotions in this were the crispest part; I would’ve much preferred seeing this played straight rather than attempting to fulfill a ménage fantasy

World building

6/10 – The explanations at the end for everything were very muddled; the focus is on the people not the setting



Monday, January 17, 2011

The Outlaw by Rebecca Leigh

TITLE: The Outlaw
AUTHOR: Rebecca Leigh
PUBLISHER: Dreamspinner Press
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 16k)
GENRE: Gay steampunk erotic romance
COST: $3.99

Damian Junter is a Bringer, the arm and executioner for justice, on his way west in search of Kell Laughlin, a man accused of killing a statesman’s wife and children. The man he finds isn’t what he expects, and when that’s combined with his uncertainty about the man’s guilt, he has no moral choice but to get to know the man first, to determine whether or not he actually did the crime he’s been sanctioned to die for…

Steampunk is beginning to proliferate the market, but not always – and quite often the opposite, actually – with any positive impact. This is another story where the milieu overshadows any type of consistent storytelling, though it suffers from other problems as well.

It starts out with Damian Junter boarding a “beast” to travel west in search of his latest prey. A Bringer by trade, he’s responsible for finding criminals and meting out punishment, death more often than not. His latest quest is for a man named Kell Laughlin, who is accused of murdering a statesman’s wife and children. In Damian’s book, there is no worse crime, but not everything he’s been told about the crime adds up. When he finds Kell in Terra Noir, he’s already decided he needs to get to know the man first and size him up before passing judgment. Of course, Kell is attractive in every way, and blatant in his physical admiration of Damian. It doesn’t take long before they are physically involved and Damian decides Kell is innocent after all.

While the setting at the beginning is established well enough and with appropriate detail, Damian comes across almost from the start as an egotistical, vain, arrogant jerk. He likes scaring people. He considers himself the best, and frankly, puts almost everybody else beneath him. He’s practically antisocial, giving one-syllable responses to strangers, or in the case of the woman sitting next to him on the beast, blunt declarations meant to scare them off. I’ll say it straight off, I didn’t like him. He rubbed me the wrong way from the very start. I’m sure he’s meant to be some sort of proud anti-hero who sees the light of his ways through the course of true love, but honestly, at the start, he’s just an asshole I wanted to knock into next Tuesday.

His characterization isn’t helped at all by his relationship with Kell. His sudden and unexpected attraction to the other man seems to give the character a personality transplant. All of a sudden, he’s talking about wanting to chat and share feelings, contrary to all of his antisocial behavior at the start. It’s a true love fixes all trope, as well as an instant true love, which in the case of these two characters especially, never, ever worked.

The story is hindered by common mistakes throughout the text, too, like when Damian is getting Kell ready for anal sex and asks the man if he wants to be thumb-fucked, then proceeds “to pull his thumps out.” Mix these types of prevalent mistakes with the lack of logical flow that plagues the plot (like a minor character being gone only for several days, yet not only does that afford Damian enough time to move in with Kell and be accepted by the entire town as his equal/lover, it seems to disappear when he goes off in search of him and discovers him almost immediately when he’d been gone long enough to merit having multiple camps for Damian to find), as well as an ending that doesn't actually resolve the conflicts the plot creates, and it’s a recipe for a poor read.

It has a gorgeous cover, though. I’m not surprised it’s by the talented Anne Cain.


6/10 – Overlooked mistakes in the prose as well as the lack of any kind of logical flow made this a lot harder than it had to be

Hero #1

4/10 – Inconsistent, and as much as I like an asshole hero every once in a while, he was just too vain and smug to be likeable for me

Hero #2

4/10 – Flat and idealized

Entertainment value

3/10 – The steampunk setting is the only thing that saves this

World building

5/10 – Though there’s a good start to some of the steampunk elements, the lack of follow-through derails it



Friday, January 14, 2011

Flawless by Jana Richards

TITLE: Flawless
AUTHOR: Jana Richards
PUBLISHER: Wild Rose Press
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 39k)
GENRE: Historical romance
COST: $4.25

The French Resistance is desperate to get their hands on an infamous diamond, the Heartstone, Le Coeur Bleu, to stop the Nazis from trading it for war needs. Their best chance comes with American jewel thief Hunter Smith. They get him into France, where he teams up with Madeleine Bertrand. He’s shocked by Madeleine’s hatred of him, until he discovers she’s the widow of his best friend, the man whose death both of them blame Hunter for. They have no choice but to work together. Defeating the Nazis depends on it…

When it comes to personal favorite tropes, readers can be very forgiving in their eagerness to get more material to devour. One of mine is 40s-era stories, whether it’s WWII or noir or something else entirely. I liked the sound of this, and the excerpt – though short – didn’t turn me off. So I took a chance, and ended up with a lackluster, bland experience.

Hunter Smith is an American jailed in London in 1942 for jewel theft. He gets approached by a member of the SOE and is offered a release in exchange for helping them steal a diamond from the Nazis. It’s known as the Blue Heart, and its sale will help fund the Nazi war machine if the Allies don’t stop it. Hunter already feels guilty about this particular jewel because the person the Germans stole it from was his best friend, who got the money to buy the diamond in the first place because Hunter gave it to him. Hunter accepts and goes to France where he’s supposed to work with Madeleine, a French woman who’s a maid in the Nazi general’s headquarters/chateau. She hates him on sight, and we soon learn that she’s actually the widow of Hunter’s best friend. Somehow, however, they have to put aside their animosity to get the diamond, a task that’s even harder when Hunter witnesses Madeleine about to be raped by the General and jumps in to pose as her husband to save her.

It all sounds like there would be a lot of wonderful emotional drama in this, doesn’t it? And I suppose if you were to make a list of the various twists and turns of the plot – even as melodramatic and farfetched as some of them are – there’d be proof of that drama. But it’s not there in the actual execution. The prose lacks any kind of depth or charm, and feels more than once like a wasted opportunity for something truly rich and wonderful. It failed to engage me on any level with the action of the plot, and I spent most of the story bored out of my mind. Considering what happens within the story, that doesn’t seem like it should be possible, but it was.

The simple voice gets in the way of the characters ever seeming like anything but two-dimensional cut-outs getting physically moved around the plot’s stage. There’s nothing objectionable about Hunter – though I do wonder how someone who performs one act of master thievery at a young age and then mostly gives it up for years could ever be considered the best choice for such a delicate operation – but I never felt like I knew him at all. Madeleine suffers more. At the start, she’s anger personified, lashing out at Hunter time and time again. Her attraction comes out of nowhere, and the switch in her feelings for him even more sudden. There is absolutely no chemistry between the two for me, either. They kissed, and all I kept thinking was, “Get on with it already.”

I feel like much of my problem with this long novella stems from my dislike of the authorial voice. POV never felt very deep to me, and many times, it felt like I was just skimming along the surface of what was going on. Others might not have the same issues I did, especially since there was enough going on in the plot action-wise. But I fear this author’s style just isn’t for me.


7/10 – Though technically clean, it failed to engage me


6/10 – Nothing objectionable about him, but little that’s memorable, either


5/10 – Emotions felt too faked for me to believe in her

Entertainment value

4/10 – Though I wanted to love this, the bland prose and characters bored me

World building

6/10 – Some of the backdrop details are nice, but they don’t really add enough texture to the novel to make it memorable



Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Miss Foster's Folly by Alice Gaines

TITLE: Miss Foster’s Folly
AUTHOR: Alice Gaines
PUBLISHER: Carina Press
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 88k)
GENRE: Historical erotic romance
COST: $5.39

Spinster Juliet Foster inherits the vast majority of her father’s fortune, leaving her one of the richest women in America. Determined to be independent and live life the way she wants to, she decides to take a tour of Europe and have a string of affairs. The only problem is, she needs to lose her virginity first or nobody will believe her as a woman of the world. She meets Englishman David Winslow and decides he is the one. The only problem is, he doesn’t want her as only a lover. He wants her as his wife. With each as stubborn as the other, only time will tell who will come out the victor…

I’ve purchased a number of Carina titles since it opened last June, and so far, they’ve been pretty evenly split between good and bad. The ones I’ve liked, I’ve really liked, though, so it’s definitely encouraging to stick with them.

This book falls into a really like category. It features the indomitable Miss Juliet Foster, who finds out that her jerk of a father has left the vast majority of his very large fortune to her, because She has a headstrong and unfeminine temperament and will never land a husband. But she clings to money with the tenacity of a barnacle. This way, I know she’ll never starve. Rather than sit around and fend off suitors, though, she wants to experience life to the fullest, and decides on a jaunt through Europe, taking on a string of lovers. The only drawback is, she’s still a virgin, and since she needs to pose as a widow to keep her identity safe, she needs to find a way to lose it. Her initial plan is to lose it on the ship, but then she meets David Winslow, the Marquis of Derrington, and the sparks that jump between them – as well as his reputation as a cad – makes him the ideal candidate. Even better, he’s English, and the way she sees it, the English aren’t nearly as provocative or well-trained in the sexual arts as the French or Italians. David will be a great training ground.

The only problem is, David isn’t currently looking for a lover. Convinced his beloved grandmother is about to die, he’s determined to marry and honor his grandmother’s wish. His grandmother has a very definite idea of the woman that should be, and after meeting Juliet, David is certain he’s found her. His marriage proposal is turned down, however, but both of them are all too aware of the attraction between them. Even when it looks like they’re leaving each other’s lives for good, fate rears its head, putting them into a stubborn circle as Juliet sets out to make David her first lover and David is vehement that she marry him, too.

I like so much about this story, it’s hard to know where to start. The characters would probably be a good place. Both David and Juliet are sharp-witted, smart, and sensual, traits that carry them far when other elements might falter. I loved the sparks they had from their very first meeting, and their constant one-upmanship had me grinning throughout the book. When they do ultimately consummate their attraction, it’s an explosion that doesn’t let up until nearly the end. They’re hot and passionate, convincing me over and over again just how right they are for each other.

It’s not just the two leads who come through as three-dimensional. More than a few secondary characters stand out in their own right, like Millie, Juliet’s best friend, and Blandings, a married friend of David’s. The secondary characters play significant roles, and rarely get lost in the protagonists’ shadows.

I also love the turnabout on the more traditional expectations. Juliet bucks what every other woman of her era wants (or is supposed to want), while David proves the more romantic of the pairing. This switch-up of roles gives the tale a fresh sparkle, engaging me so completely that it felt like a much shorter book than it is.

My complaints are few, and in at least one case, probably specific to me. I generally prefer blunt language when it comes to sex and anatomy, and though I know it’s more historically accurate to refer to things by different terms, it still catches me up. Words like “frig” and “pearl” disrupt my immersion because they sound so politely euphemistic, but I imagine regular readers of historicals might not necessarily have the same hang-ups.

My other hang-up is in regards to Juliet herself. While I adored her independence, at one point it really felt she was being dumb about what was going on around her and with David just for the sake of adding conflict. She ran away a third time, and it annoyed me to no end because I couldn’t help but think, “She’s smarter than that.” On the surface, the explanations kind of made sense, but I can’t say that I actually believed them emotionally.

This book was more than enough to get me excited about possibly finding a new author to devour. While her website hasn’t been updated in recent months, there’s enough backlist there for me to go wandering around in search of a story as fun and passionate as this was. Fingers crossed I find one.


8/10 – Lush and erotic, though I’ll admit I got caught occasionally on some of the historical terminology of things


8/10 – I thought he came a little too easy to his decision about marrying Juliet, but otherwise he was charming and wonderful


8/10 – I adored her headstrong, independent ways, until the end when I thought she ran away one too many times

Entertainment value

8/10 – In spite of hang-ups, fell head over heels for the chemistry between the two

World building

9/10 – Crisp and utterly believable, no matter what continent she was on



Monday, January 10, 2011

Reverie by Dawn Kimberly Johnson

TITLE: Reverie
AUTHOR: Dawn Kimberly Johnson
PUBLISHER: Dreamspinner Press
LENGTH: Short story (roughly 11k)
GENRE: Gay paranormal erotic romance
COST: $2.99

When Jake begins dreaming about a hot young man, the last thing he expects is that the dreams might in some form be real…

Dreamspinner has a plethora of short works in its library, the result of its various theme sets that it publishes several times a year. Reverie was released as part of Dreamspinner’s Midsummer’s Nightmare set in 2010, stories featuring supernatural romance. Though thirty stories were released, I chose to pick up only three of them. This is the first of those three that I’ve read.

It’s a promising start. The story opens with Jake detailing a dream to his friend, about how he watched this couple make-out in a club, then watched them have sex. When the top pulled a blade to slit the bottom’s throat, Jake shouted to stop it and then woke up. The scene immediately jumps to a young man named Daniel, who is at the hospital because the man he’d picked up at the club tried to kill him. It quickly becomes obvious that Jake is somehow visiting Daniel while he’s asleep, and each man is intrigued by the possibility of the other’s existence.

The opening scene is the reason I bought this short. It’s what is provided as the excerpt on the publisher’s site, and frankly, Jake’s telling of the sexual aspect of the dream was hot as hell. Some of that hotness prevails during subsequent erotic portions of the story, but it never again reaches that same level for me. It’s a mild disappointment, but then again, it’s not what the story is really about. The supernatural element in this is quite casual and light, the focus on these two lonely, likable men hooking up with a country separating them. As characters, Jake and Daniel succeed in being appealing enough to help push me through rougher sections of the storytelling, and it’s because of the way I liked them that I ended the story bearing a smile.

There’s nothing earth-shattering about this short story at all. In fact, it’s probably one of those nibbles I’m likely to forget about in a week’s time. The author’s voice is unobtrusive and unassuming, and the characters too similar to other types to truly stand out. It suffers from rough transitions, too, jumping back and forth between them almost awkwardly, with few explanations and vague focus on anything that isn’t the two heroes’ characterizations. But in spite of all that, I enjoyed it. It works for what it is because it’s very hard not to care about these two men in this short space of time. Their happy ending matters, and I for one was glad to see it.


8/10 – Quick, easy, and unassuming

Hero #1

7/10 – Jake was a decent, everyday kind of guy, likable without being terribly memorable

Hero #2

7/10 – Oddly sweet

Entertainment value

7/10 – While it’s not a story that will linger too long, I enjoyed it enough to end with a smile on my face

World building

6/10 – The weakest aspect of the story, with some of the transitions and explanations on the vague side



Friday, January 7, 2011

Wild Cards and Iron Horses by Sheryl Nantus

TITLE: Wild Cards and Iron Horses
AUTHOR: Sheryl Nantus
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 78k)
GENRE: Steampunk romance
COST: $5.50

Englishman Jonathan Handleston has come to Prosperity Ridge for a poker tournament he hopes will settle a debt for him. Along the way, however, a delicate spring in his prosthetic brace that allows him the use of his crushed hand breaks, and he’s forced to seek out a skilled – and still private – engineer to fix it. Who he finds is Samantha Weatherly, who’s been fighting every stereotype about what a woman in the West can and cannot do her entire life. When a rival gambler arrives for the tournament, convinced Jon cheats using his prosthetic, the balance Jon strives to keep is threatened. It doesn’t help that Sam threatens his balance, too, albeit in very different ways…

I’m torn on the current steampunk trends in romance. On one hand, I absolutely love steampunk when it’s done well (like The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson or more currently, Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker). I love the aesthetic, I love the sense of adventure it always has, I love the way it can often make the most trite clichés sound fresh. On the other hand, I have yet to find a steampunk romance that works on those same levels for me, either in print or in e-books. I keep trying, though, because I want to find one to love so badly. Unfortunately, that search is still going on.

Set in a post-Civil War West, this novel begins with Jonathan’s arrival in Prosperity Ridge, a railroad town designed like a wheel with the train station at its center and the rest radiating from there. Like much of the western world, it suffers from terrible air pollution, a result of the dirty technology that has taken over. Jonathan has come for a poker tournament, the one he hopes will help him finally make enough money to settle a long-standing debt, but the spring that operates the little finger of his prosthetic has broken en route and he needs to get it fixed or risk having to forfeit his place in the game. Without it, he can’t hold his cards properly, and as a man who succeeds based on tells, that’s a must. He ends up directed to Sam Weatherly, the daughter of the best local engineer who has taken over the bulk of her father’s work since he was forced to have his arm amputated after an accident. She’s fascinated by the delicate device and agrees to see what she can do. Thus starts the beginning of their romance.

The world the author creates is fascinating. It’s impossible not to feel the grit Jonathan has to walk through just going down the street, and when he talks about his disability and the device that makes him mobile, you feel the apparatus as if it’s strapped to your own hand. But this is where the story itself falters. The vast majority of the first third (and more than enough later on) is devoted to detailing this world. There are constant explanations on how things work, or background details, or stories about the character’s histories. It drags down the pace considerably, because so little of substance action-wise occurs in between. By the second chapter I was already bored by the minutiae, and it never improved, even when the story itself began to find its legs halfway through. It’s the dilemma I encounter in a lot of the steampunks on the market these days, where the focus is on the setting not the story. That’s not why I read romance, or really, any genre fiction. For me, setting should be dressing, not the substance. The balance between the two in this particular novel is never even close.

The characters are mostly fine. I found Jonathan a tad dry and insipid for my tastes, but Sam is a strong heroine, fighting for her place in a world that wants to shuttle women into more traditional roles. Gil, the young boy who acts as Jonathan’s guide when he arrives, is suitably appealing as well. When he’s on the page, the scene lights up. The romance between Jonathan and Sam crawls along at the same pace as the plot, though, so anyone looking for a strong one will likely be disappointed, and Jon’s motivations for needing to win the tournament were honorable but ultimately underwhelming.

My search for a solid steampunk romance continues. There has to be one out there that has a better balance, but readers who want steampunk primarily for the setting aspects might not have the same difficulties I had.


7/10 – As long as you really want to know a lot about the world and don’t care about pacing, you should have no problems with this.


6/10 – A tad dry for my tastes


7/10 – Strong and competent

Entertainment value

4/10 – While it does pick up towards the end, so much time is spent on the world-building that I got bored.

World building

9/10 – Where most of the story’s focus lies. Lots of detail here, much of it interesting, but not necessarily presented in the most entertaining manner



Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Ink Spots by Lissa Matthews

TITLE: Ink Spots
AUTHOR: Lissa Matthews
PUBLISHER: Ellora’s Cave
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 27k)
GENRE: Contemporary erotic romance
COST: $4.45

Mandi has one wish for her fortieth birthday – to have the hulking, tattooed Jaz as her very own for twenty-four hours. Through the surprise machinations of her best friend – and Jaz’s foster sister – her wish comes true…

Ellora’s Cave Exotika line is deceptive. Supposedly, it’s their erotic fiction line, meaning don’t expect anything but the sex. It helps when starting a story, because it sets the expectations appropriately. Except for the fact that it’s not consistent. Because there is no way this isn’t an erotic romance. Its ending might not be a cut-and-dry HEA, but it’s most definitely an HFN, with more than a few hints that it will eventually turn into the happy ending romance readers crave. This shift in mindset is almost always detrimental to the story. Readers go in expecting—maybe even wanting—one thing, and then get something else mid-stream. It can be frustrating and infuriating as often as it can be a delight. In this case, it’s more of the former than the latter.

Mandi is a curvy forty-year-old who supplements her independent jewelry making business with a waitressing job at her best friend’s club. It’s there she first spots Jaz, a 6’4”, tattooed, bald ex-con who happens to be Jackie’s (the best friend) foster brother. It’s lust at first sight for her, but she goes tongue-tied around him, barely managing to string two words together let alone give a hint about what he does to her. Jackie learns of the attraction, and asks Jaz to fulfill Mandi’s birthday wish, a request he is more than happy to grant since he’s felt the same way about his favorite waitress. He corners her at the back of the club at midnight on the day of her birthday, and from there, it’s one sexual escapade after another as they celebrate together.

I picked up this novella because of the hero’s description. The tattooed, reformed bad boy has long been one of my kinks, and this seemed to fit the bill for something hot to push my buttons. In spite of a promising first two pages, however, I didn’t get it for a long time. The story starts out in Jaz’s POV, and his discovery of Mandi’s wig and contacts (because Jackie needed a blue-eyed, black-haired waitress, not a green-eyed, blonde one) seems to cement the feeling that Mandi is really just a body in this first encounter. When it comes to erotica, the way to easily get me into it is to thrust me into the perspective of the character I want to be. Since Jaz is the one who pushes my buttons, I would have warmed to both of them more likely if this had been in Mandi’s POV instead. What I got helped me learn that Jaz is a lot more than meets the eye, but it did nothing to heighten the sense of tension or attraction between them.

This dissociation isn’t helped by the clunky dialogue, especially Jaz’s:

“…Inside Katz, you tempt and tease with that sultry voice, those expressive eyes and your curvy body that just won’t stop and give a man a break. And underneath it all, with your blonde curls, your sweet, soft face… You’re still anything but innocent. I’m looking forward to stripping you down until there’s nothing but your hot-and-bothered soul begging me to sate your hunger.”

Who talks like that? Especially since most of what he’s articulating is all stuff he’s either thought or we’ve learned, so it feels redundant. This type of speechifying doesn’t fit either the genre or this character, let alone sound in any way natural. It continues for a good portion of the story, too, lessening my enjoyment. It didn’t seem to find a better rhythm until halfway through, which is about the point the sex started feeling more than perfunctory, too.

What adds to this sense of disconnect is the very real, possessive emotions these two have for each other. It felt like a romance almost right away. Both Mandi and Jaz are thinking about what comes after this day. Both want more. That’s not a bad thing, because honestly, I thought they should have each other, but it took a while for the knowledge that this was erotic romance—and therefore evaluated on different criteria than erotica—to gel and actually help the story instead of hold it back. The story wasn’t long enough to make this a comfortable schism.

It does eventually iron itself all out, but not until halfway through, and by that point, there isn’t much left in the story. While there was a lot of hot potential in this, it often felt wasted, leaving me reluctant to try the other two stories about Jaz’s tattooed buddies, regardless of my kink for their heroes.


7/10 – Clunky dialogue holds it back for more than half of the story


6/10 – Physically hits my buttons, but felt flat and unbelievable for a good chunk of the story


6/10 – Without the juxtaposition of her so-called shy side, I didn’t believe this was as wild as it should have been

Entertainment value

6/10 – It took half the story for the sex to feel organic and therefore, hot

World building

7/10 – I had little problems seeing the people and at least some of the world they inhabited, but other senses were left bereft



Monday, January 3, 2011

Coming back

Well, the last few months have been a little hectic. My hiatus due to real life issues was probably the best thing I could have done for myself. It let me focus on what was important, but now that those issues seem to be improving, I've been feeling the urge to get back to reviewing.

I started slowly, by reviewing over at Three Dollar Bill Reviews. Bit by bit, I've been getting back to my old schedule, and now I think I'm ready to try posting regularly here again.

So starting on Wednesdays, my reviews will return. Three reviews a week - Monday, Wednesday, and Friday - in both het and gay romance, with the occasional genre work thrown in to keep things interesting.

Here's hoping 2011 is better than 2010. For all of us.