Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Dark Side of Dreaming by Ann Bruce

TITLE: Dark Side of Dreaming
AUTHOR: Ann Bruce
PUBLISHER: Ellora’s Cave
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 31k)
GENRE: Erotic romantic suspense
COST: $5.20

Ex-thief Cleo Moran has come out of retirement to steal a statue that once belonged to her family. The only problem is, the man she intends to rob is just as smart and savvy as she is. Foiling her burglary is simple. Letting her just walk away is not…

Don’t ask for a better blurb than that. I read this novella through twice and still don’t know what happened in big chunks of it.

It doesn’t start out badly. There’s a one-page prologue of a harrowing dream that hints at a suspenseful ride ahead. But then it turns left into Cleo’s foiled heist, and the story stumbles into forced chemistry and confusion as we meet the owner of her would-be prize, Sasha Michaels. Sasha sends her along her way, but when Cleo gets home, she’s attacked by someone who expects her to have successfully taken the statue. She fights him off, but Sasha shows up and won’t leave her alone, convinced her attacker is the same one who attacked his sister.

The story only gets more convoluted from there. The problem is, none of it really gets explained. The whole first half of the story is primarily Cleo and Sasha fighting – and losing the battle with – their attraction. We have no history on either of them, and no sense of personality, so essentially they’re just bodies going through the motions. I felt nothing for either of them, and the sex wasn’t unique or hot enough to compensate for that lack of connection. They each have reasons to want the statue, but their POVs dance around what those issues are. It’s probably meant to be suspenseful and surprising as a result. It’s not. It’s annoying and distances me even further from cardboard characters who could’ve used a dose of something interesting to keep me engaged.

The plot starts picking up about two-thirds of the way through the story, but while the pace quickens, the jumps get bigger. The author has a bad habit of mentioning characters by name in ways that assume prior knowledge, but in effect only leave me scratching my head. For instance, the attacker gets named on page 79 (out of 109), identified by name in casual conversation between Sasha and Cleo, but not once mentioned by name prior to that for the reader to go, “Aha! That’s who the bad guy is!” All it accomplished was to make me think I’d missed something, and then go back, re-read, and then do a search on the name to see if I was being foolish and/or blind. There’s even more instances of it after this, but that ends up spoiling what are meant to be surprises (but actually come across as sloppy plotting). The ending is as unsatisfying as the whole first half.

For a novella, it felt interminably long. For suspense, that’s the kiss of death for me.


4/10 – Lack of explanation, huge leaps in the plot that came out of nowhere, and flat characterizations made this a real chore


3/10 – Definitely alpha, but lacks any kind of depth to make him interesting


4/10 – Without knowing more about who she was or why anything was important to her, she’s just a figure on a chase

Entertainment value

3/10 – Sloppy plotting and poor characterizations make this memorable for all the wrong reasons

World building

4/10 – In spite of an intriguing beginning, any sense of time and place is sacrificed for the sex



Monday, March 28, 2011

Dulce et Decorum Est by J.L. Merrow

TITLE: Dulce et Decorum Est
AUTHOR: J.L. Merrow
PUBLISHER: Dreamspinner Press
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 18k)
GENRE: Gay historical romance
COST: $3.99

George Johnson is in need of a room, and the one offered at Number 21 Allen Street seems ideal, mostly because of the charming Matthew Connaught. Matthew is an optimistic sort of fellow, even in spite of losing half of his right arm in the war, and offers a friendship George desperately needs. George would love for it to be something more, but even if Matthew would accept his advances, George knows he would never accept George’s past…

I seem to be on a historical kick lately. I might have to do something about that for Wednesday. This one, however, fares better than the others I recently finished.

It’s not a long or complex story. Post WWI, George has recently moved to London to take a position in a solicitor’s office and is in search of a room rather than living in a hotel. He meets Matthew, who encourages him to accept the room at Mrs. MacDonald’s, and largely because of Matthew’s appeal, George does. There, he finds friendship and a life, as well as budding feelings for Matthew.

The vast bulk of the story details the growing friendship between the two, but with it being told from George’s 3rd person perspective, it’s one-sided for much of the tale. It feels more like a buddy story than a romance, actually, primarily due to the tight reins George puts on his feelings and the period setting where homophobia is rampant. That doesn’t lessen the effectiveness of their relationship. It’s warm and comforting, growing in such a realistic manner it was easy to become engaged with both men. Matthew’s chatterbox tendency is a wonderful foil for George’s reticence, and though the romance angle is underplayed for the first two-thirds of the story, that doesn’t lessen the impact of their characterizations. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting these two and could easily see them inhabiting a much larger story.

But this is a novella, specifically a Christmas novella, which automatically demands different expectations. The ending is set at Matthew’s family’s house at Christmas, an event George has been invited to since by his own admission he has no one. It’s very rosy, populated with gregarious, nice people, much like Matthew. That many concentrated in a single spot tends to make them seem too good to be true, which drags down some of the verisimilitude that prevailed throughout the first half of the tale. The length also forces the romantic resolution to come too easily and too abruptly for my tastes. These men, outside of this holiday setting, had earned my respect and appreciation for being more complex than what the resolution gave them, and ultimately, I was a little disappointed that it wound up so tidily. It’s a minor quibble in the grand scheme of things, and I like to believe that given more words, the author would have found a way of bringing them together that didn’t feel quite so pat.


8/10 – A tad verbose, but fitting for the period and characters

Hero #1

7/10 – His awkward reluctance is endearing

Hero #2

7/10 – Charming and effusive, a good counterpart

Entertainment value

7/10 – The ending was too abrupt and not entirely satisfying, but I enjoyed the camaraderie and mood up to that point

World building

8/10 – Both tone and detail felt authentic, a varied and vivid portrayal



Friday, March 25, 2011

Promise Me by Deborah Schneider

TITLE: Promise Me
AUTHOR: Deborah Schneider
PUBLISHER: Wild Rose Press
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 79k)
GENRE: Historical romance
COST: $6.50

Amanda Wainwright promised her husband on his deathbed that she would use his fortune to help out the miners who helped create it for him. The only problem with that is, some of the residents of Willow Creek aren’t too happy about her presence, mainly the other mine owners. They convince Sam Calhoun, the lumberyard owner, to seduce her and then ruin her reputation in hopes of driving her out of town. Sam agrees, but only because he’s working undercover for the Secret Service and he desperately needs to gain the men’s trust in order to find out what he needs to know. Then Amanda actually shows up in town, and all his good intentions go flying out the window…

This book came recommended to me by a romance-reading friend who really enjoyed it, but only showed me we have very different ideas about a strong heroine.

On the surface, the story should be a great fit. It’s a Western historical, which is my preferred type of historical, and tells the story of a strong widow doing good, with a strong man conflicted between his developing feelings for her and the job he must do. Amanda arrives in town, your atypical widow as she was basically given in marriage to a much older man as part of a business arrangement. She’s never known love and considers herself unlovable in a lot of ways since her dead husband didn’t seem all that interested in her sexually. Sam has agreed to seduce her since he’s trying to get in good with the local men in hopes of discovering whether or not they are part of a mining plot, but once he meets her, he’s torn between his attraction to her and what his job demands. They strike a lot of sparks, and in fact, for the first half of the book, I was actually excited about the chemistry between the two.

Then they hit their first big relationship problem. And Amanda went from being this strong, independent woman, to a vengeful child throwing the worst tantrum ever. She even characterizes her actions like that. And my respect for her flew out the window.

It’s an issue of trust at that point, to be honest. Sam had been lying to her from the start, she found out about some of it, and everything hit the fan. But what my friend saw as strong and independent, I saw as bitchy and unnecessary, because she ultimately refused to act like a grown-up about any of it – so contrary to all of her actions previously – and instead pouted and sulked and did the silent treatment for days afterward. When they start to regain ground, it began a cycle of I want you/I can’t trust you/I want you/I can’t trust you, with the back and forth, and leaving and going, and I just wanted to scream by the time I got to the end of it.

There wasn’t even the promise of Sam’s assignment to really provide more meat to the story. Except for what he needed at the beginning, and then providing fodder for the climax, it’s never really explored much, leaving the bulk of the story to fall on their love story. Since I couldn’t buy into that after Amanda’s change in personality, I was left with more frustration than any sense of satisfaction. My friend thinks I’m crazy. She thought Amanda’s reaction was perfectly justified. But there’s a difference between justified and out of character. This was a woman who set up her miners’ organization in a brothel. I’m expected to believe she doesn’t have the strength or nerve to face the man she was so mad at for days upon days after their fight? That she feels the need to punish him with her silence? I don’t think so.


8/10 – Moderately paced, clean prose


7/10 – Charming, but I didn’t wholly believe in all his angst or back and forth


6/10 – I liked her a lot more until her huge temper tantrum in the middle of the book where she acted like a spoiled brat out of the blue

Entertainment value

6/10 – This lost a lot of momentum when Amanda hit her tantrum and thus started the back and forth of yes/no/yes/no that drove me crazy

World building

7/10 – Some nice details, but this felt like it could’ve taken anyplace in the west, not necessarily specifically in Montana



Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sea of Suspicion by Toni Anderson

TITLE: Sea of Suspicion
AUTHOR: Toni Anderson
PUBLISHER: Carina Press
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 84k)
GENRE: Romantic suspense
COST: $5.39

Twelve years ago, Nick Archer buried the wife he’d kicked out after she cheated on him, convinced it was murder not an accident. In the time since, he’s done everything he can to bring her killer to justice, to no avail. The death of another graduate student prompts a new murder investigation, but Nick has a new distraction – marine biologist Susie Cooper. She’s taken a job at the Gatty Marine Lab, eager to prove herself as more than the daughter of a rising American politician, and while she might not necessarily think the best of her boss, she’s not as convinced as DI Archer that he’s a murderer. She’s especially not convinced acting on her attraction to Nick will do either one of them any good…

I might not fall head over heels with every Carina title I read, but the vast majority of them have been solidly written and worth what I paid. This one just further cements my growing regard for this publisher.

Marine biologist Susie Cooper has started a new job at the Gatty Marine Lab, eager to make her mark. Her mother is about to seek the presidential nomination back in the US, but Susie has no desire to ride on her famous coattails. Intelligent and resourceful in her own right, she takes a firm hand with her graduate students, one of which turns out to be the sister-in-law of Detective Inspector Nick Archer. Nick keeps a close eye on the Gatty, ever since his dead wife cheated on him with her advisor, the same man who has now hired Susie. Nick has always believed Jake killed her, an obsession that drove him into police work as well as cost him any kind of permanent relationships. Susie lives next to Nick’s in-laws, as well as advises his sister-in-law, but their paths cross even more when another female student at the Gatty ends up dead. Susie and Nick fight their attraction, both dealing with their angst-ridden pasts, while Nick does everything he can to prove Jake is responsible for both deaths. Neither initiative proves easy.

The prologue shows the funeral of Nick’s dead wife, providing hints of the angst and conflict to come. The story then jumps twelve years into the future, introducing the reader to Susie and her environment at the Gatty. To the world, Susie comes off as a bit of an ice princess, an image she’s actually okay with as she struggles against the baggage of her mother’s job as an American politician about to make a bid for the presidential nomination. She’s smart enough to hope to gain recognition in her own right, and there are hints of what she went through when she was younger to explain why she’s so reluctant to get involved. Meeting Nick throws her senses into a tailspin, but she’s determined to resist him. Nick, on the other hand, is willing to use that attraction to get what he needs from her at the start in order to try and get evidence against Jake. It’s a complicated relationship, made even more so by their tumultuous pasts and the fact that neither is willing to forgive themselves for the wrongs of their histories. In the grand scheme of things, while the characters themselves are three-dimensional and fascinating, their budding romance is likely the weakest aspect of this novel. They spend ample time together, and there’s a lot of reflection on how and why they do and don’t work together, but the revelations that spark their ultimate commitment seemed to come out of the blue. I finished the story more convinced they’d have a really good sexual relationship for a little while, but not that it would last.

The romance, however, is probably the only aspect that doesn’t shine. The world in which the characters inhabit is brought strikingly to life. The author has firsthand knowledge of the setting as well as marine biology, and that ends up translating into a sharp realism that heightens the growing sense of danger, primarily because it’s so easy to believe in it. Coupled with that is a massive cast of characters that sport a wide variety of personalities, each one rich and developed. I was particularly impressed with Nick’s partner, a detective struggling to balance his job and caring for his ailing wife (who in turn gets her own incredibly moving scene). They provide a wonderful counterbalance to Nick’s more cynical nature, and serves to heighten the themes of family and devotion that permeate the entire book.

The mystery/suspense clips along at a solid pace. Just when I thought I had it figured out, it would twist in another direction, though the final reveal both surprised me and made complete sense. The climax isn’t quite as intense as I think it was meant to be, but that’s primarily because of a bit of telegraphing that occurred in its onset that ended up making portions feel redundant and repetitive. The last chapter drags more than any other in the novel, but that is because it’s all about Susie and Nick, and I just didn’t buy it completely. I enjoyed everything that came before it enough to compensate, though. If you enjoy tightly written suspense with a diverse cast of characters, this one just might be for you.


9/10 – Utterly engrossing and intelligently written


8/10 – Fighting against his angst-filled past, strong and intelligent


8/10 – Some of her insecurities felt a little too much but just as strong and resourceful as the hero

Entertainment value

8/10 – Tightly written suspense that wasn’t always as predictable as it could’ve been with a secondary cast that leapt from the page

World building

9/10 – Scotland and the Gatty come to life; the author’s expertise is evident in every word



Monday, March 21, 2011

Ravenous by Abigail Barnette

TITLE: Ravenous
AUTHOR: Abigail Barnette
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 42k)
GENRE: Historical paranormal menage erotic romance
COST: $4.50

On the way to meet her betrothed in Jamaica, Annabelle is kidnapped by pirates. She wakes up to discover the captain is a vampire, and she is now the second human on board he will feed upon…

Part of me is convinced I should’ve just stopped reading after the third chapter, but I wasn’t completely buying the fact that it was actually going to end as a ménage and wanted to read it through it to the end to confirm whether or not I would need to warn other readers. (It is, by the way, though that’s hardly a reason to recommend it.)

The short novel begins with Annabelle on her way to Jamaica to marry the man her father has pretty much sold her off to. She’s not really attracted to the fair good looks of her betrothed, but she’s determined to do what she must to make the best of a bad situation. When the ship she’s on is set upon by pirates, she is knocked out, only to wake up in the captain’s chambers on the pirate ship. Galerius is dark and handsome, and oh yeah, fanged. She discovers he intends to feed from her, but too quickly, dawn arrives and she is left to her own devices. She discovers the crew is glamoured not to see her. They can’t see Galerius’s other human guest, either, the Irishman Drummond. Drummond explains they will be sharing feeding responsibilities from now on, and hints that he looks forward to the reprieve. What Annabelle learns from Galerius exceeds her wildest imagination, though.

It’s obvious in the first chapter that I needed to suspend major disbelief in order to buy into the story. It’s about a vampire pirate on the high seas, after all. But the more I read, the more the prose became mired in melodrama, too much for me to tolerate. Paragraphs like this:

She ran to the railing, gripped the wood so tightly she was sure she would leave marks from her fingernails. There was a monster on board the ship. A demon who would drink her blood, or throw her into the sea. A warlock who had put a spell on the entire crew and rendered her invisible. She could not give him the satisfaction. She would throw herself overboard. She took a breath, willed her foot to raise, to boost herself up against the wood and tumble over. But her body would not listen, and she slumped to the deck, legs shaking.

…proliferate the text. The dialogue isn’t much better, but I might have been able to overlook some of it if I cared for the leads.

I didn’t. Annabelle is a gullible twit who turns into a wanton with absolutely no provocation. There are repeated instances of this:

Galerius released her arm and stepped back, finger to his lips as though having an epiphany. “Perhaps I am driving too hard a bargain. How about this, then? The next time we are to sail across the sea, I will make it my personal mission to find your betrothed and deliver you safely to him. Do you find that fair?”

It was too easy, and very suspicious. “Do you often travel across the sea?”

“Of course. We are pirates, after all.”

“Fine, then.” Her answer was too easy, and very suspicious as well, but she refused to dwell on it. Still, he had not made a move toward her. “I agree. Proceed.”

He chuckled, and a hot blush crept up her face. “It would be easier if you took off your gown.”

“Oh.” She felt foolish and suddenly not as eager to continue with what they had begun. She had supposed she would be naked, but she had imagined it would happen in the heat of passion, as if by magic, so she would not have time to think about it. To remove her clothing now, while he watched her, would be embarrassing and…

…and this:

This sort of thing never went over well with women. And, true to her sex, Annabelle sat up, clutching the sheet to her bosom and opening her mouth to shriek.

He silenced her with a hand over her mouth. “Hush! I’m supposed to be here. Do you think the captain would just leave you unguarded? Besides, who else can see you?”

She squirmed away from him, practically spitting venom. “I do not think this was the kind of guarding he had in mind!”

“My dear lady, what are you accusing me of?” he asked, blinking in mock surprise.

“Accusing you?” Once again, confusion created the dearest little lines between her eyebrows. Drummond almost wanted to kiss them away, but he was terribly fond of living, so heeded Galerius’s orders. Annabelle shook her head and pressed one palm to her forehead. “You are a madman. You know very well that you were…touching me.”

“Touching?” he sputtered and stood, making a great display of being outraged. “I was doing nothing of the sort!”

She frowned. “I was so sure…”

Astonishing! She actually believed him! “Sweet lady, I assure you, I was merely trying to wake you. I touched your shoulder, and for that I do apologize, but you were sleeping quite soundly, and I worried for your modesty.”

Her face flamed red.

…and I could add more, but really, what’s the point? She has no depth, and I’m expected to believe that she turns from a virgin who’s only sneaked looks at dirty books she wasn’t supposed to see into a voracious wanton with an appetite for threeways with little more than sex scene after sex scene after sex scene to show for it.

None of it’s helped that Galerius suffers from the same problem. I know next to nothing about his extensive history, and see no valid reason for him to fall in love with such an idiot like Annabelle except that she’s female and he hasn’t had a female lover in a very long time. And yet, she seems to have the magical ability to convince him that not only can he love her, but he can also love Drummond (who at least seems a little more interesting than the other two combined, it’s a shame he’s saddled with them for eternity now).

Needless to say, I didn’t buy a second of it, and I definitely won’t be bothering with other titles by this particular author if this is what I can expect.


5/10 – Melodrama, melodrama, melodrama…and not the good kind; the kindest thing I have to say about the prose is that at least it’s technically clean


3/10 – There’s no real depth or reason for the feelings for the heroine, and without the third point of the triangle, the whole thing feels useless


3/10 – Annabelle is a gullible twit, Galerius is every vampire cliché rolled into one, and Drummond is better off without either one of them

Entertainment value

2/10 – It would’ve been a waste of my time except by reading through to the end, I discovered the author is the erotic romance pseudonym of another name I recognize from my print TBR and now I can save time by not reading those

World building

4/10 – Except for the fact that it’s on a pirate ship, I had little sense of place and no sense of history



Friday, March 18, 2011

Wrapped Around Your Finger by Fallon Blake

TITLE: Wrapped Around Your Finger
AUTHOR: Fallon Blake
PUBLISHER: Ellora’s Cave
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 29k)
GENRE: Contemporary BDSM erotic romance
COST: $4.45

Plus-sized fetish model Indie Hartley doesn’t look like the rest of the girls for her latest assignment as a living platter for a sushi dinner, but that doesn’t seem to bother Chef Banner Faust. In fact, he seems to really love her curves and distinctive look, enough to surprise her with an offer of three days as his submissive. With no strings attached, it seems like the perfect way for Indie to finally satisfy her curiosity…

This is actually one of the few times I bought a book for its cover. The woman as Indie (which, by the way, is a pretty good representation of what she’s supposed to look like) reminds me of a couple friends, and I was eager to see how a plus-sized heroine with tats, attitude, and unusual looks would fare in an erotic romance. The answer is not too bad.

Indie (short for Indigo) gets a last minute gig as a living platter for a special sushi dinner being thrown by top chef Banner Faust. With her tattoos and blue-streaked hair, not to mention that she’s not the size two all the other girls are, she doesn’t fit the usual profile, but as she’s being hustled off to make-up to airbrush away her tats, she runs into the chef himself, who insists she be left as she is. Not only that, he wants her as his centerpiece, and so she is put on display right where he is working. The two have a brief exchange which ends with Banner making an offer for Indie to think about over the night – the next three days with him as his submissive. He’s been without for a long time, and Indie pushes all of his buttons. She, in turn, has always been curious about the lifestyle but never acted on it. Getting to learn something with a guy she admires – she’s going to culinary school, too – as well as wants seems like a win/win situation. So she arrives right on time the next morning to begin three days of bliss.

Though I can’t say that everything about this novella worked for me, it does have some shining features. Without a shadow of a doubt, the single best part of it is the careful and loving detail given to all the culinary aspects. Since it starts out immediately in a food setting, it provides a strong anchor for the rest of it to build on, with specific details to convince me of the world these characters live in (not to mention really sparking some serious sushi cravings). Some of this attention to detail extends to the BDSM scenes as well, specifically the figging scene the two undergo the first day they’re together. While I have a hard time accepting two veritable strangers undergoing such an act so quickly, it was written with a keen eye for realism (like the freezing of the ginger prior to using it).

Indie is another joy in this. It’s exciting to read about heroines who don’t fit the usual stereotype, and Indie breaks a lot of those molds. She’s got a Dita Von Teese flair to her style, though not nearly as sultry kitten in temperament. Indie uses her clothes, make-up, and tattoos to hide behind, a fact Banner picks up on almost right away. I liked her a lot, though I found her a little too quick to trust Banner and not always as non-bratty as she claimed to be. Still, she was strong-willed and resourceful, while still being submissive for him, and lends the story more verisimilitude as a result.

Where the story doesn’t work as well for me rests in two distinct areas. First, I didn’t fall for Banner. He was charming enough on the outside, but the man I met at the beginning of the story often disappeared throughout. He’s not into dominating through rules but rather through emotional control, and ends up coming across more than once as domineering rather than dominant. It’s a fine line, especially when a character is professed to be so otherwise tender and caring. His quickness to fall for Indie, too, suggests a more obsessive personality than I think the author intends. He makes the three-day offer specifically because he’s afraid of scaring her off by asking for more. For a man who has been out of the scene as long as he is, consumed by his work (even when it’s not as satisfying as he wanted it to be), it never felt realistic or organic that he would be so willing to fall head over heels for her so fast. And figging less than twenty-four hours after meeting a girl who has never been in the scene before? I don’t think so. He has no idea what kind of boundaries or barriers she might have. He’s still learning about her. In my opinion, it’s too soon, especially since they hadn’t really talked about what was going to happen in their time together by that point.

My other disappointment was in the BDSM aspect itself. Considering the daring personalities of both protagonists, I expected something explosive in their coming together. There’s hints of it early on, but too quickly, it boils down into what I consider more BDSM-lite. It’s all so very tasteful. Mannered, even. I never felt it combust, which is what really well written BDSM does. I do wonder if this stems from my failure to appreciate Banner as the romantic hero. Without falling for him, it’s too easy to become more aware and critical of other aspects. In the end, though, the result is the same. I didn’t react to the erotic portions of the story nearly as strongly as I’m sure the author intended.

At this point, I wouldn’t actively seek out more work by this author, but on the other hand, because of her clear research and love of unconventional heroines, I won’t dismiss it, either. Perhaps I won’t have the same difficulties with her next romantic hero.


7/10 – A quick read, its biggest strength is its love of the food


5/10 – I didn’t buy the quick development of his feelings, and he often crosses the line between dominant and too bossy


7/10 – Very real, a welcome break from the stereotypical heroine

Entertainment value

6/10 – I kept expecting more from the BDSM scenes, and my mistrust of Banner didn’t help

World building

8/10 – The food scenes sparkled with authenticity, and I was pleased to see the same care taken with the figging scene



Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Night Haven by Fiona Jayde

TITLE: Night Haven
AUTHOR: Fiona Jayde
LENGTH: Short story (roughly 12k)
GENRE: Paranormal erotic romance
COST: $2.50

Bloodwolf Dina can’t get the vampire she should’ve killed out of her mind. But three months after she kissed him, her blood still goes hot at the sight of him…

The allure of this short story is not the plot. It rests in the author’s voice, one I am increasingly coming to love. Bloodwolf Dina has one purpose – to kill vampires. But when she comes face to face with the one she made out with three months earlier, she finds herself unable to do it, and worse, unable to shift into her wolf form, either. Vampire Luke lacks the courage to kill himself, but he can’t stand what he’s become, either, devoting his existence to his art and to saving humans when they ask for help. Neither can get the other out of his/her head. Neither really wants the other there, either.

To say anything more would end up telling the whole story, and when it’s this short, it’s just not worth it. Dina makes a fine heroine, strong and determined not to let her brokenness get in her way, though Luke is the stereotypical vampire who hates his existence and feels the need to atone. The world building leaves a lot to be desired, because outside of a brief explanation of why the two species were created, there isn’t much sense of what else is going on, or how it all works. The pack scene, especially, feels hastily sketched in, lacking the crispness to make it all understandable.

But I don’t love this short for its characters or world building. I love it for the author’s voice and the sense of melancholy desperation that permeates every page. Both Dina and Luke are in this gray limbo until the other comes along, and they’re fighting it, Luke with his inertia, Dina with her blinders. I fell for the mood the author evoked long before I realized the types she was using to placehold her leads, which makes it much easier to tolerate the lack of originality. The uniqueness comes in the way she strings words together, to create pacing, to paint a mood. It was mesmerizing, and I have no qualms admitting that was what sucked me in.


8/10 – The pack scene had too many people and not enough distinction to make it interesting, but I love this author’s voice


6/10 – It’s the tortured vampire stereotype to the millionth degree


7/10 – The broken glue that holds the story together

Entertainment value

9/10 – Somehow, in the midst of things I recognize drive me crazy, I tumbled for the mood of this

World building

6/10 – It leaves a lot of questions unanswered, and doesn’t adequately explain what it should, most likely due to its brevity



Monday, March 14, 2011

A Vintage Affair by Josh Lanyon

TITLE: A Vintage Affair
AUTHOR: Josh Lanyon
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 42k)
GENRE: Gay contemporary erotic romance
COST: $5.99

Master of wine Austin Gillespie is on assignment when he arrives at the fading Georgia house. He’s there to catalog and count their cellar, but what he finds is a house full of some of the most interesting Southern characters he’s ever seen outside of literature and a dead body left amongst the wine racks…

I’m slow to get around to reading this particular Lanyon story, mostly because I was finding a sameness to his work that precludes consuming it rapidly. If I did, I most assuredly would find myself bored before too long, and I respect his writing too much for that to happen. That being said, this isn’t as strong as other Lanyon works I’ve read.

Austin Gillespie is a master of wine in a slightly precarious professional position. There’s every possibility in the world he’s not going to get the promotion he deserves, in favor of it going to one of the bosses’ fiancée, so he throws himself into his latest assignment in hopes of it saving his job. According to the inventory his company has been provided, the Cashel wine cellar has many excellent and exclusive vintages, but none more exciting than the famous Lee bottles. If he can find those, Austin has his future set. What he doesn’t anticipate is finding the dead body of a local sommelier in the cellar, too. Through the initial stages of the investigation, he’s forced to interact with the decidedly unusual family, including the daughter’s friend, Jeff. Jeff seems interested in Austin, but this is the south, and he’s not entirely sure he’s reading the man correctly.

What starts out as a more traditional mystery set-up devolves into what is probably one of the more typical romance stories I’ve read by Lanyon. Focus shifts a third of the way into the short novel from the question of who the killer is to the attraction between Austin and Jeff, and then slides even further away once their relationship is consummated. Jeff is very much in the closet in what felt like a very realistic portrayal of a Southern man from an old family, and Austin is very comfortable about his sexuality, uncomfortable with the way Jeff denies himself. The plot breaks down into this dynamic for the last half, including an attempt on Jeff’s part to “prove” his bisexuality by involving Austin in a threeway with a woman. It’s very different tonally to what is set up at the beginning with the mystery, though in all fairness, fits perfectly with the questions Austin’s life and choices raise. It’s a story about self-discovery and sticking with what makes you happy, even when it doesn’t thrill other people. I only wished it flowed better than it did since it was set up as one thing and ultimately became something else.

Austin and Jeff are familiar archetypes in Lanyon’s catalog – the wealthy artist-type sure of his sexuality, the strong but most definitely unsure of his sexuality crime professional. I really liked Austin at the beginning, however, as his viewpoint as seen through wines was crisp and unusual. Why that disappeared after the one-night stand, I have no idea. On the other hand, Jeff was charming enough for me not to care too much that he wasn’t wholly original, but considering how much he built up his denial, I just couldn’t buy into his swift turnaround at the end. Timewise in the plot it wasn’t that short – a month – but none of it happens on the page, and so as a reader, I had little time to work it through and accept it emotionally. I only got told about it after the fact, and Lanyon did far too good of a job portraying him as a man in denial for me to believe it so readily.

Not my favorite of Lanyon’s works, but I did enjoy the wine aspects a great deal. That very much rang true.


7/10 – Lacks the narrative flow I expect from Lanyon, though the slightly pretentious verbiage is a perfect fit for the subject matter

Hero #1

6/10 – His turnaround never felt organic to the character I’d been introduced to

Hero #2

6/10 – I liked his confusion regarding his orientation, but didn’t believe much of his behavior of the ending

Entertainment value

6/10 – Flawed but still fascinating

World building

8/10 – The greatest care is given to the wine world, and it’s terrifically genuine



Friday, March 11, 2011

Wilder's Mate by Moira Rogers

TITLE: Wilder’s Mate
AUTHOR: Moira Rogers
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 66k)
GENRE: Steampunk paranormal erotic romance
COST: $4.50

Satira’s mentor has been kidnapped by vampires, and now the Guild has sent one of their best bloodhounds out to rescue him. Satira’s not letting Wilder Harding go without her, though. Nathaniel is the only family she has left, and if it means having to put up with a hound who’s more beast than man, so be it…

I’ve been watching this author team for a while, waiting for a new series to try after losing interest in their Southern Arcana books. With their new Bloodhounds books, I think I’ve found it.

The premise is fantastic. In this steampunk setting, Satira is an inventor’s apprentice, whose mentor has just recently been kidnapped by vampires. She is the daughter of a whore and raised in the household of the senior bloodhound in the area. With both her mother and the hound dead, she’s desperate to get Nathaniel back, so when the Guild sends another hound to rescue him, there is no way she isn’t going with him to help. Wilder Harding is the most dangerous-looking man she’s ever seen, except he’s not a man. He’s a hound, and when the full moon comes, he’ll change into the beast he is. He agrees to let her come, not only because she’s the one best capable of handling the weapons her mentor created but because she’s the one person in the world who would die to get him back.

I devoured this book. I loved how strong and resourceful Satira was, and how completely unaware of her own appeal she was. She and Wilder spark from the beginning, each underestimating the other until they both come the realization at almost the same time. It allows them to start over on equal footing, but their relationship is just as crisp as before, if not more. Wilder is as smart as he is dangerous, with a feral attraction that beats most heroes I’ve read. I raced through the first third, anticipating these two coming together in an explosion. Unfortunately, it didn’t detonate like I thought it would.

It’s one of two complaints I have about this novella. The transition from argumentative, reluctant partners to bedmates was abrupt and for me, disappointing. Oh, sure, they have a lot of sex at that point – that’s what the new moon is for – but it wasn’t nearly as animalistic as I thought it would be. In fact, the section with them in bed for those days was probably the slowest of the entire story. As soon as they got back on the road again, the invigorating pace returned, and I was swept back along, all the way to the end.

My other complaint is a minor one. While the set-up is fantastic, I kept waiting for more explanations about what exactly the bloodhounds are. It’s doled out in trickles, with the best details saved for the climax. I understand the reasoning for it – it allows the climax to be even more of a surprise – but the constant “oh he’s dangerous” comments weren’t enough to satisfy my curiosity. They frustrated me to the point where I started to feel cheated, especially after the new moon sequence. I wanted him to be dangerous. I needed that. And for most of the book, I didn’t think I would ever get it.

Neither of these two problems are enough to deter me from reading more when they’re available. I love the potential of the world that’s been created, and the writing is strong enough to encourage my trust. I’ll be there for book two, whenever it comes out.


8/10 – Swift and sparkling


8/10 – I didn’t buy the swift turnaround into bed completely, nor did I really think the new moon stuff was anything to get excited about, but I certainly understood the appeal


8/10 – Smart, resourceful, and wonderfully unaware of her own appeal

Entertainment value

8/10 – This might have been higher if I could have bought more of the falling into bed

World building

7/10 – Absolutely fantastic ideas, but too many questions were left unanswered for too long, and some never got answered at all



Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Wish Craft by Lauri Robinson

TITLE: Wish Craft
AUTHOR: Lauri Robinson
PUBLISHER: Wild Rose Press
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 16k)
GENRE: Time travel romance
COST: $3.00

Jayden White can only think of one way to solve her sister’s money problems – travel back in time to invest money that will yield millions. There’s an added bonus to going back, however. Part of her is convinced that the diary she and her sister found upon their mother’s death is actually hers, detailing a life in the past with a man she’s never met…

This short novella starts right in the thick of things, with Jayden about to travel back in time to invest money and help her sister’s financial problems. A diary they found upon their mother’s death details the life of her sister’s great-grandmother, a woman with the same name as Jayden, who looks remarkably like her. Jayden is partially convinced it actually is her, and that she is destined to fall in love and marry her half-sister’s great-grandfather, Levi Grimshaw. When she goes back, however, she discovers that Levi is already engaged to another woman.

Though I’ve read a novel by this author that I really enjoyed – the primary reason I bought this – it’s impossible for me to rate this any higher than I have. The single biggest problem I have is an issue that riddles a number of small presses, and that’s the copy editing. Numerous easy mistakes are the marks of amateurs, regardless of the story’s potential. It’s easier to look past other editorial problems, since content editing is such a subjective thing. I accept that. What works for one might not work for another. Copy editing, however, is not subjective. That’s what dictionaries are for. That’s what style guides like Strunk and White are for. These are the basic building blocks for writers, and when publishers can’t even get that right, my faith in them erodes.

Wild Rose Press is really hit or miss in this regard, either because they have editors of varying skills (I can’t compare the books I’ve read since they don’t put the editor information on the copyright page) or because the authors themselves are that much stronger/weaker amongst themselves. This falls squarely into the miss column. Simple errors such as spelling mistakes (i.e, a flat-healed boot), incorrect word usage (i.e. allowed dusk to take it’s time), and easy typos (i.e. he forgot to breath) litter the text. It’s frustrating and annoying. I get pulled out of the story every time I find one, and when they occur as frequently as they do in this, it’s simply inexcusable.

If the story was believable in any way, it might be easier to overlook the mistakes. I adore time travel stories, and I fully recognize that some suspension of disbelief is required to make them work. I require very little to buy into time travel being possible, but it does require some kind of tangible explanation. Magic, science, talismans…it could be anything. In the blurb, it’s described as quantum jumping, but you know what it actually is? Meditate and wish real hard, and you can make it so. That’s it. It just feels ridiculous even by time travel standards, and honestly, the prose is nowhere near sophisticated enough to sell me on the explanation. Toss in the fact that there’s no natural flow or reasons for Jayden and Levi to fall in love – in a single day, with Levi forsaking everything he was going to do for this woman just because he knows in his heart that she’s the one for him – and it’s doomed. The characters come across as silly and flat, and the entire tale disappointing.

Why is it so much to expect authors and editors to know the basic tools of their trade? A couple mistakes are understandable, but the level of errors in such a short work is unacceptable.


5/10 – Riddled with simple errors and lack of a sophisticated voice made it impossible to buy into the outlandish premise


3/10 – Flat and uninteresting


4/10 – Showed promise, but there’s just no realistic flow or depth to her to make her believable

Entertainment value

3/10 – Disappointing

World building

6/10 – The historical setting is the best part but there’s no hope of making the time travel believable



Monday, March 7, 2011

Master Bear by Angelia Sparrow & Naomi Brooks

TITLE: Master Bear
AUTHOR: Angelia Sparrow & Naomi Brooks
PUBLISHER: Amber Allure
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 20k)
GENRE: Gay contemporary BDSM erotic romance
COST: $5.00

When his Master decides not to undergo a fourth round of chemotherapy, Chris finds himself forced to take part in finding his next dom, someone to take care of him when William is gone, someone he can serve with the same dedication and love. Through his Master’s decline, he tries to be strong, but it’s only with the new friendship of William’s hospice nurse that he’s able to start having hope for his future…

High angst is a hard sell for me in romance, though I do occasionally get sucked into buying one. This particular story worked for me in some regards, but not so much in others.

For the past five years, Chris has been William’s sub, his slave in many senses of the word. Things were good for the first three years, but then William was diagnosed with cancer. The first three rounds of chemotherapy failed, but William doesn’t have the strength to endure a fourth. He’s decided to have a quiet, dignified death. His only regret is that he has to leave Chris behind. Because he doesn’t want to leave Chris alone, he decides to find his boy a new Master, a prospect that fills Chris with trepidation. He loves William with everything he has and cannot imagine life without him. His only source of solace is Mike, the hospice nurse who comes two days a week to check on William. He becomes a quick friend, and helps Chris stay strong while William conducts his search.

There’s a fervent desperation in Chris right from the start. His anguish over William’s impending death is palpable, heartbreaking in its intensity. Though there’s little hope for William, I found myself yearning for a miracle, just to save Chris the pain of what was to come. Watching William interview prospective masters for Chris was uncomfortable, but some of that was mitigated by the arrival of Mike, William’s hospice nurse. He helped balance out Chris’s angst, giving him a healthy outlet for some of his confusing and pent-up feelings.

So far, so good. The arrival of the second interview, however, sparked the beginning of my trouble with this short novella. Until this point, the story was deeply entrenched in a contemporary setting, within the context of this 24/7 Master/slave relationship. The second Dom mentions something similar to the first, a warning of sorts about another one called Master Bear. It’s repeated in the third encounter, which is all well and good, but when the time comes that Chris actually meets Master Bear…I hate the idea of spoiling readers, I really do, but this is the crux of why this book ultimately fell apart for me. Because every ounce of respect I might have had for Chris fell apart in that moment. I knew exactly what was going on, mostly because it’s insanely obvious and partially telegraphed beforehand, but Chris was completely and utterly blind to it. The fact that he’s grieving isn’t an excuse. What he’s blind to is so basic and so simple that when he finally sees it, I rolled my eyes, mildly disgusted it took him so long. It didn’t work, because it yanked me entirely out of the reading experience. I lost my empathy for his grief, I lost caring about Mike, I lost it all in the face of my mounting frustration.

The BDSM in this is tastefully done, though mostly within the context of trying Chris out with new Masters. The variety of partners didn't bother me, though it might others who are more sensitive to sharing partners. In this world, however, it made sense, and I accepted it enough to enjoy it when it was appropriate.

There’s a lot of potential in this short novella, enough to keep me interested in the authors’ work. But Chris missing something so obvious, I lost respect for him as a character. And when his emotional journey is the primary thrust of the story…there’s not much else to grab onto.


7/10 – Delicate and simple, but much gets telegraphed early on

Hero #1

6/10 – I liked him a lot more before he seemed overly blind and stupid to what was really going on

Hero #2

6/10 – Sweet and heartwarming though too good to be true

Entertainment value

6/10 – Though I felt for the grief/loss aspect of the story, I couldn’t get into the potential romance because it just felt too obvious

World building

6/10 – Most care is given to the BDSM aspects, not so much to anything else



Friday, March 4, 2011

New Canterbury Affair by Frances Pauli

TITLE: New Canterbury Affair
AUTHOR: Frances Pauli
PUBLISHER: Devine Destinies
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 30k)
GENRE: Futuristic romance
COST: $4.99

Lierra is returning to her home planet with her fiancé in tow, a union that will help bring prosperity to her uncle, the Governor. She’s hoping for an escape. What she finds is a world she no longer recognizes, and a man she’s admired for years. Forrest Ecks was one of the premier artists of his time until his ruined left hand stopped his career. He finds in Lierra a refreshing honesty and intelligence. Offering to give her lessons is just a means to ensure she refines her skills. Or is it merely the means to get to spend more time with her…?

I was fascinated by the potential set-up of this futuristic world, where the heroine travels to her home planet where time has been halted and modern conveniences are nowhere to be found. But like Lierra, I didn’t get exactly what I was expecting.

The story is simple. Lierra is engaged to Trent, a man she isn’t really attracted to but who is a good prospect. She’s getting past marriageable age, and doesn’t have a lot of options, and Trent seems like a good match, especially financially. The one thing she has is her art, and though she recognizes that she’s not very good, she knows what she likes in others. And she loves the work of Forrest Ecks. When she discovers that Mr. Ecks is now living on her home planet, and is actually a very good friend of her uncle’s, she’s both excited and terrified about the possibility of meeting him. But Forrest isn’t what she anticipated, younger and more attractive than she’d ever imagined him. Forrest has given up his art after an injury destroyed his left hand, but he recognizes a kindred spirit in Lierra and offers to give her lessons. It’s an offer she can’t refuse.

The futuristic world sets itself apart by having this haven against modern conveniences, completely with old-fashioned values and expectations. Lierra is upset when she finds that the planet is breaking away from those, and without even that anchor to hold onto, she escapes even more into her art. Generally speaking, she’s a strong woman, but it often feels like the emotions got glossed over. The events of the story unfold rather rapidly, and sometimes there are jumps in time so that what should have been meaningful interactions are told rather than shown. I kept waiting for deeper insight into her, but it just never came.

Lierra fares better than Forrest, though. I’m a sucker for a damaged artist archetype, but that’s really all he is in this. Ultimately, he lacks personality, and I failed to see the progression of his feelings for Lierra, primarily because of the aforementioned glossing of events. There was promise in the first third of the book, but really, once he started their lessons, things jumped quickly, with little depth to the time they spent together. This was where it should have gotten meaty and really made me fall in love with them, but instead, I got vignettes and time jumps and an awful lot of time spent with Trent, the fiancé. Too much time. The ending gets telegraphed from the second chapter, too, leaving no surprise about how it will all work out, and my final thought was, “Such a wasted opportunity.”


7/10 – Clean and unremarkable


5/10 – So much potential feels ultimately skimmed over


6/10 – Stronger than the hero, but I lacked an emotional connection to her or her journey

Entertainment value

5/10 – I loved the idea, but in many ways this felt like an outline of a story rather than a full one

World building

6/10 – Some intriguing ideas that never really get explained or explored