Monday, February 28, 2011

Angel 1089 by C.C. Bridges

TITLE: Angel 1089
AUTHOR: C.C. Bridges
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 62k)
GENRE: Gay futuristic erotic romance
COST: $5.50

Catching two demon burglars is routine for Gabriel 1089, who’s one cog in an army of cybernetically modified humans protecting the sky city of Heaven. Until two turns into a twenty-demon ambush. When he wakes up, he’s missing his network-enabled halo—and one of his metal wings.

The down-level junk dealer tending Gabe’s wounds has hands that spark nerve endings he never knew he possessed. But for an angel cut off from Heaven, an attic in Old Trent feels more like a trap than a sanctuary.

Demons on his doorstep are nothing new for Jeff Werth. Ever since they saved his daughter’s legs, they’ve been calling in their marker. In exchange for his services—nursing Gabe back to health so they can use him as a pawn in their war with Heaven—they’ll consider the debt paid in full. Except having a powerless angel at his mercy feeds a rising desire that has him rethinking the deal.

Then the de-haloed Gabe begins having dreams that become visions…then memories. Until he’s not sure whose side he’s on. Heaven, or the simple family man who healed his broken wings…and made his heart whole.

Note: This review was originally published at Three Dollar Bill Reviews.

The story starts out with a bang, with angel Gabriel 1089 answering a call of a warehouse being attacked by demons. A routine attack turns into an ambush, and he’s captured and taken downside, dropped in the lap of ex-hacker Jeff. Jeff owes a large debt to the demon who watches over the territory he lives in. He has no choice but to do as they say, removing the halo that connects Gabriel to the rest of the angels and keeping him in pseudo-custody until the demons tell him otherwise. Gabriel wakes up with one wing and cut off from everything he knew. He has no choice but to rely on Jeff and his daughter Kayla for survival, and slowly begins to integrate with Old Trent and its inhabitants. Not everything is as it seems, however, and soon enough, Jeff and Gabe learn more than is safe for them.

The author introduces the reader to a fascinating cyberpunk world, with a war happening between demons that roam the planet and the corporations that have taken over the skies. Heaven Corp. is at the top of the echelon with its army of angels to fight the demons, but those who are downside have to rely on what can get smuggled out to them and what they can scavenge in order to survive. Gabriel is a soldier with a single cause – to fight demons. When his halo gets stripped away from him, he’s literally cut off from everything he knows. All angels are plugged into Metatron and each other, and in turn to the God AI. He has to struggle to create a new identity while fighting to understand what exactly happened to him.

Crucial to this fight is ex-hacker Jeff. Jeff owes the demons a lot. When his daughter lost her legs at age five, they were responsible for getting her modded out with artificial limbs. She is the only family he has left, and he’s willing to do anything to protect her, even take in an ex-angel and lie to him about his involvement. He’s a tech genius, and the guilt he feels at hurting the angel manifests in trying to help the guy as much as he possibly can.

Though there’s a lot of potential with all of this, it never really came to life for me. My primary difficulty rested on the dense world-building. This dystopian future is drastically different, and thus, requires clear explanations or descriptions to be clear. It wasn’t. It started almost from the start as I struggled to come to grips with the hierarchy of everything. Using such iconographic terminology like angels and heaven means I’m coming into this with preset notions. If the story’s reality is different, then I need that clearly defined early on. It wasn’t, and because of that, I struggled connecting to any of the characters. I was too busy trying to get the world straight.

Part of that stems from the slow pacing. Though the opening chapter is swift and gripping, it quickly falls into a lull, shifting from the promise of thrills and drama to a slower, character-driven piece. It plods along as Gabriel and Jeff dance around each other, and Gabriel begins to learn what life is like in Old Trent. It would seem like the perfect opportunity for a better picture of the world to be painted, but it comes in drips and drabs, unsatisfying and unclear. The climax of the story picks up the pace again, mirroring the breathlessness of the opening chapter, but it’s too little, too late. It seemed to take forever to get to that point.

Because of my constant struggle to understand the world in which they lived, I never felt like I got a good grasp of the characters, both primary and secondary. Gabe is pretty much an empty shell to be filled, and while Jeff shows potential in his history, it’s glossed over throughout most of the story and only truly comes into play in the last quarter – again, too late to really do much good. The same holds true of the secondary characters. I could never keep Hank and Ian (friends of Jeff) straight, and until the last third (sensing a trend here?), the same held true for Ronnie and Mattie (more friends). Only Kayla, Jeff’s daughter, felt real and unique. With such a slew of personalities dotting the pages, that isn’t a great percentage.

One thing I did enjoy about this was how normal the relationship between Gabe and Jeff felt. Though a big deal is made of the BDSM relationship Hank and Ian have, there never felt like there was any sort of stigma on Gabe and Jeff’s budding romance. Their coming together felt both natural and inevitable, with little fanfare from anybody around them to make it seem so deviant. It was refreshing, even if I didn’t really invest in the romance by the end of the book.

This book marks the first of a series. While I did have some of my answers about the world resolved by the time I reached the end, I doubt I will continue onto the second book. I’m not sure this author is for me as the bulk of my reading time was spent trying to see the world she wanted me to. I lost out on the romance as a result. In such a dense world, that imbalance is enough to deter me from further explorations into an author’s work.


6/10 – Slow pacing and dense, incomplete world building really made this a slog

Hero #1

5/10 – A blank slate at the beginning, but I still didn’t feel like I knew him at the end

Hero #2

6/10 – More interesting than Gabe, but still not as fully fleshed as I thought he could have been

Entertainment value

5/10 – In spite of an intriguing premise and glimmers of story, I was too bogged by questions and slow pacing to enjoy it much

World building

7/10 – Some truly fascinating ideas going on, and while some of it gets adequately answered by story’s end, not enough of it does



Friday, February 25, 2011

Trust in the Lawe by Stacey Joy Netzel

TITLE: Trust in the Lawe
AUTHOR: Stacey Joy Netzel
PUBLISHER: Wild Rose Press
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 98k)
GENRE: Contemporary romance
COST: $7.00

Kendra Zelner is on the run with her eight-year-old brother Noah. She only has to hide until her twenty-fifth birthday, when she gets her trust fund and can get full guardianship of Noah, away from the threatening influence of their half-brother. The one place she thinks they might be safe is at the ranch of the other half-brother she hadn’t even known she had until her mother’s death. On the way, she runs out of money and steals a man’s wallet from his car in a last ditch effort to make it to his front door. The man in question turns out to be her brother’s foreman, and Colton Lawe doesn’t believe a word that comes out of her mouth. Why should he? She stole his wallet and she’s obviously hiding something. When her brother allows her to stay, it’s Colton’s job to keep an eye on her and find out what is really going on…

This is one of those books that the whole is greater than its pieces. Taken apart, I shouldn’t have enjoyed this as much as I did. But it happens, even when I don’t expect it.

Twenty-four year-old Kendra Zelner is on the run with her eight-year-old brother Noah. Both of their parents are dead – their father when Noah was very young, their mother two years before the story’s start. Their older half-brother Robert is after them, and Kendra is determined to keep them safe until her birthday in a month when she gets her trust fund and can get full custody of Noah. She has no money, though. She can’t use her credit cards because Robert is tracing them, which leaves her few options. She decides to ask the half-brother she didn’t realize she had until her mother’s death for his help. She runs out of money in the town near his ranch and tries to steal a car to get there. In the glovebox, she finds a wallet, too, but the man she is robbing sees her from the window and comes out to stop her. She manages to get away with his wallet, only to discover that he works for her brother. Colton Lawe sees Kendra as a thief and doesn’t believe her story, but her brother clearly does, so Colton decides to just keep an eye on her until he can figure out what’s going on. He becomes her direct boss, and worse, ends up moving in the guesthouse with her. There’s definite chemistry between them, which surprises Kendra since she hasn’t been interested in any man since she was raped four years earlier. But she refuses to give in to it, and more, refuses to let Colton see her fail.

There are a lot of reasons why I shouldn’t like this story. Much of the conflict between Colton and Kendra stems from their stubborn insistence not to tell each other what is really going on in their lives. Each is keeping secrets, harboring guilt. Each is impulsive and quick to believe the worst, which ultimately means this book could have been a lot shorter if just one of them had chosen to be honest for a change. This translates into prickly banter between them, alternating with intense kisses and thoughtful moments when one of them lowers the wall for a split second. Yes, they’re all a lot of misunderstandings, but the pace is swift and the chemistry between them electric. I got swept up in spite of their frequent hardheadedness.

I also didn’t like Kendra at the start of the story. She’s a spoiled rich girl from New York and very self-centered (the only person she sees beyond herself for a long time is Noah). Her personal trauma doesn’t really do much to mitigate that, either. But she changes over the course of the story, growing from the sheltered upper class young woman into one that can take care of herself, facing down danger after danger. It got easier and easier to like Kendra, and better, to respect her. My one quibble – about both her and Colton – remained how stubborn both were about not telling the whole truth about what was going on. It would have easily shaved a third off the book.

But you know what? When I started reading the story, I could not put it down. I read past my usual bedtime, and every time I’d reach the end of a chapter, I’d glance at the clock and tell myself, “Just one more.” I didn’t stop until I reached the end. At four a.m. I got swept up in the story in spite of the issues I already mentioned (on top of the minor editorial problems, like confusing loose with lose, etc.). The ending was warm and welcome, and the passion electrifying even without being graphic. This is the second story by this author that I’ve enjoyed. While I haven’t been completely blown away, I’ve definitely been entertained both times. I’ll continue to keep my eye on her. Anyone who can make me not care about my personal peccadilloes and still finish a story satisfied with its romance deserves that.


8/10 – Minor editorial mistakes as well as formatting problems that make it seem like it’s headhopping were the only things to hold me back


7/10 – Impulsive and stubborn, but with a good heart


7/10 – Spoiled at first, but grew on me

Entertainment value

8/10 – Considering I couldn’t stop reading, this one ends up being greater than its pieces

World building

8/10 – The ranch world is warm and real, but I kept expecting more from her other world in order for the contrast to be sharper



Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Sevenfold Spell by Tia Nevitt

TITLE: The Sevenfold Spell
AUTHOR: Tia Nevitt
PUBLISHER: Carina Press
LENGTH: Novella
GENRE: Fantasy erotic romance
COST: $2.69

Talia and her mother earn their living through spinning, but when a curse placed upon the princess drives the banning of all spinning wheels in the kingdom, their lives are irrevocably changed. Talia’s future becomes bleak when the man she’d expected to marry is ordered by his father to join the monastery. She decides to take her future into her own hands, but that means inviting speculation about her morality and breaking royal laws…

When I bought this last fall, it was because it promised to explore a minor (or nonexistent, since she’s not specifically mentioned) character in the popular fairy tale Sleeping Beauty. It’s not categorized as a romance or even erotic, but within a few pages from the start, it’s clear that’s what it is. This revelation didn’t bother me, because the more I read, the deeper I sank into the story.

Talia is a Plain Jane, complete with warts, and would have few prospects at finding a husband if she hadn’t already decided she’d take what she could get and befriended a farmer’s son at the market. Willard is as plain and awkward as she is, and she spends more time listening to him than really getting to know him, but still, they’ve decided they’re going to have each other regardless of their appearances. Then, all the spinning wheels in town are collected and destroyed, leaving Talia and her mother without the means to earn a living. Willard’s father, who was already not happy about Willard’s desire to marry Talia, orders him to join the monastery, and Willard isn’t strong enough to say no. With her only prospect leaving town, Talia makes the choice to get whatever future she can from him – a child. They become lovers for the time before Willard has to leave. Thus marks the beginning of the rest of Talia’s life.

It’s probably inevitable there will be some spoilers as I talk about this story. It’s not long, and it’s a very untraditional romance in a lot of ways. When Willard leaves, Talia throws caution to the wind and opts to find pleasure wherever she can. That means she has sex with a lot of men. Most of it isn’t detailed, but some readers might take issue with the fact that she does it. I didn’t. By that point, I loved Talia so much that I just didn’t care (though I doubted I would care anyway because I don’t hold most fictional characters to such puritanical standards).

This story proves that it’s not just the fairy tale princess that gets the happy ending. Talia’s life isn’t an easy one. She becomes the town pariah with her affairs, and she struggles with self-esteem issues. There are struggles over how she and her mother will survive, and her anxieties about her childlessness. Talia’s attitude toward marriage and children might aggravate readers looking for a contemporary heroine, and though she certainly exhibits modern sensibilities in her owning of her sexuality, this is most definitely set in a fairy tale world. In the context of this story, it made perfect sense, and in fact, endeared her to me even more. She is far from perfect, and she makes a lot of mistakes, but all of it succeeded in making her more realistic, and as a result, I fell head over heels for her. Since the story is told in 1st person from her perspective, its success lies primarily with the reader being able to feel for Talia. I did. A lot.

The fairy tale as most people know it dances in and out of Talia’s tale until finally binding with it for the last third. I loved the ways they intersected, especially in how human so many reactions were to events out of the characters’ control. When I reached the end, I had a happy tear in my eye. That is not metaphorical. It filled me such strong feelings of hope and satisfaction that I promptly went back to page one and read it all over again. Fairy tales have evolved into lessons for children, offering the happy ending as the reward for doing good or resolving the conflict. This is the grown-up’s version. It embraces all sides of what makes us human, warts and all, and provides just as much of an fantastic escape as any of the classics did when I was a child.

This is the first of a series for the author, though it’s the only one currently available. When more show up, I’ll be first in line to get them.


9/10 – Though not what I was expecting, I devoured this


5/10 – He’s absent for a good portion of the book, but what we got of him, I thought was both sweet and promising


9/10 – Loved, loved, loved her. I might not have agreed with some of her decisions (and is probably the only reason this isn’t perfect) but I understood what motivated most of them

Entertainment value

9/10 – Ended this with a happy tear in my eye, like the best kind of fairy tales can do

World building

7/10 – The fantasy milieu of the fairy tale realm was credible, but I often had questions about the set-up for Talia and her town throughout the first 2/3’s of the story



Monday, February 21, 2011

Blood Lust by assorted authors

TITLE: Blood Lust
AUTHORS: J.P Bowie, Amber Green, & L. Picaro
LENGTH: Anthology (roughly 62k)
GENRE: Paranormal gay erotic romance
COST: $6.99

A collection of three erotic paranormal novellas, each about a gay romance with a vampire involved…

I bought this anthology in August 2009, but then buried it in my TBR pile because I’d decided J.P. Bowie’s voice was just not for me after reading other works by him. When scanning through my pile recently, I decided to give it another chance, since I fully understand readers and reading tastes can change over time and because I’ve seen other readers extol Bowie’s work in that time period. After reading this anthology, however, I probably should have shelved it permanently.

The anthology starts out with Amber Green’s “More Than Memories.” This is the story of a ghost named Dick who manages to survive by feeding on other people’s memories. He’s attached to a young nerdy man in a museum named Harry, tormenting him by feeding him memories of lewd acts that drive Harry closer and closer to experimenting with his sexuality. Of the three stories, this was the one I had the highest hopes for, as I’ve had the best luck with this author in the past. While it is definitely the most original – with the most creative interpretation of the anthology’s theme – and Green’s voice my favorite by far, Dick’s 1st person perspective makes it incredibly confusing to follow. It’s difficult to tell what is the present – and when the present actually is – and what is Dick’s past, as well as what memories are Dick’s and which are ones he’s stolen to survive. There are glimmers of a smooth story, when the tale sticks long enough in a single scene to add some well needed coherency to its flow, but not nearly enough to compensate for often perplexing narration.

Next comes “Vampire Dreams” by J.P. Bowie. Edward is an author struggling through his latest assignment, a story about a vampire for a publication named Gayfantasia. Unhappy with what he’s done, he goes for a walk to help clear his head and perhaps find some focus. Instead, he runs into David, a gorgeous Scot who goes home with him. When Edward wakes up the next morning, he’s convinced he had the best erotic dreams ever, but even better, he’s figured out what’s needed to fix his story. But then he meets David again, and realizes none of it was a dream. Though I’ve confirmed his authorial voice doesn’t work for me – I find Bowie a tad too saccharine and idealized for my tastes – his story is by far the most accessible of the three. It’s complete with its romantic flow, and leaves the fewest number of questions unanswered about its particular world. There’s little original about it, however, so it’s a trade-off. When the other two stories in the anthology are this unsatisfying, it was probably a worthwhile one.

Finishing up the anthology is “Blood Lust” by L. Picaro. Set in a futuristic society, Noah is out with his friend Anne when she disappears on him. He’s convinced she’s been attacked or kidnapped by vampires, and becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to her. His search leads him into the path of Russian vampire, Adrian Staritsky, who is in the middle of his own search. They decide to join forces, but other vampires within the city have different ideas for them. This was yet another story where the authorial voice did nothing for me. My primary problems with it rest with word choices, like comparing an anus’s response to a flower opening in the sun. Little thought is given to explaining the world in which this is set, either, though at the story’s end I wondered if its cliffhanger ending meant that it was a prequel to another work. If it is, it completely failed to interest or attract me as a reader, because it left me bewildered and very dissatisfied with its conclusion. Some readers would probably appreciate being warned that this story also has multiple erotic scenes that include both het and lesbian sex. Since some m/m readers would prefer to avoid those, it merits mentioning.

Probably the only thing reading this anthology did for me was confirm I’m not a fan of Bowie’s voice. I’m glad I gave him another chance, though.


7/10 – Mostly clean, but two of the stories suffer from inadequate exposition


6/10 – Only the second comes anywhere close to delivering


6/10 – Problems with each of them leaves a lot of the characters a tad flat, though not always uninteresting

Entertainment value

3/10 – Really not my cup of tea

World building

6/10 – Attempts are made to make two of these unique, but lack of expositional detail and muddied execution means they are only tries, not achievements



Friday, February 18, 2011

Taken to the Limit by Nico Rosso

TITLE: Taken to the Limit
AUTHOR: Nico Rosso
PUBLISHER: Liquid Silver Books
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 35k)
GENRE: Sci-fi romance
COST: $5.50

Dr. Korina Antonakis is on shift in the ER when a fire erupts. While everybody else runs, she rushes forward to fight it, only to be confronted by two men who appear out of nowhere. Sergeant Morrow demands she give the man with him medical attention, but before she can do much, they are attacked. Morrow and Korina barely escape with their lives. He tells her they are Dusk Warriors, bent on taking over the planet and destroying it, just like they’ve destroyed so many others before Earth. Morrow is a Nightfighter, an elite group of soldiers pledged to destroy the Dusk in the Limit War, and Korina is like no other woman he’s met before…

I’m always curious to read romances written by men, to see if they approach it differently or to appreciate a different style. While this one didn’t work for me, I would bet with a better editor and no romance, this author would be more my cup of tea.

The story begins in the ER, with Dr. Korina Antonakis working with an attentive intern. Someone screams, “Fire!” and everybody scatters. Everybody, that is, but Korina, who rushes to put it out. She’s confronted by two men who appear out of nowhere, both huge and covered in body armor. One is clearly wounded, and when his partner demands she treat him, she complies. Her ministrations are short-lived, however, when they are attacked. Morrow, the unhurt soldier, protects Korina while he and his partner work to stave off the aliens. Their ultimate escape means his partner’s sacrifice, and Korina finds herself in the middle of an intergalactic war, with creatures called the Dusk Warriors attempting to take over Earth for their own consumption. Morrow is part of an elite force called the Nightfighters who are attempting to stop them. Now, he’s added Korina to the list of who/what he is fighting for.

The world-building and bare bones of the plot are by far its strongest aspects. The tech is detailed well without ever being heavy-handed, and the construction of the aliens and their motivations – while hardly innovative – interesting enough to give the world depth and the action momentum. If this was just a sci-fi story, it would probably work much better, but unfortunately, it’s held back by an instant love/psychic connection between Korina and Morrow that never feels organic, and is in fact so rushed that I wondered if I’d missed parts of the book.

None of this is helped by the fact that the book needed stronger editing. Problems start early on, with loose POV – it’s not headhopping, but there are numerous times where perspective becomes loose enough that the other character’s motivations/thoughts get detailed within the prose – and verb tense issues. Occasional instances of present tense that don’t flow within the construct of the story feel like an attempt to gain immediacy to the action, and it really doesn’t need it. The author’s terse style – very short sentences stacked on top of each other – does that already. Spelling mistakes abound, too. For instance, I’m sure the author meant Morrow had looked at aerial photographs, not arial photographs. Some readers won’t notice these mistakes, but for me, they’re a problem as they stick out from the text as I’m reading. It breaks my flow and concentration, and makes it harder to get back into it.

In this case, there were just too many for that to happen after the fourth chapter. I finished the last half of the book very detached from what was going on. And when I’m reading a romance, detached is the last thing I want to be.


6/10 – Editorial problems and too much of a terse style pulled this down


6/10 – Strong and devoted


7/10 – Surprisingly strong and independent

Entertainment value

4/10 – While I really liked the potential of the plot, the instant love and editorial issues pulled me out of the story

World building

8/10 – By far the strongest aspect of the book



Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Tempting Alibi by Savannah Stuart

TITLE: Tempting Alibi
AUTHOR: Savannah Stuart
PUBLISHER: Ellora’s Cave
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 19k)
GENRE: Contemporary erotic romance
COST: $4.45

Michaela has had the hots for her new neighbor ever since he moved in seven months ago, but she hasn’t said a word to him since welcoming him to the neighborhood. An ex-Marine, Scott now runs his own auto shop and keeps getting a lot of negative attention from the town’s sheriff. When the sheriff shows up and demands Scott provide an alibi for the night before, Michaela – who happens to be there dropping off her car – gives him one. It breaks the ice for Scott and Michaela, but will their disparate backgrounds keep them casual, or do they stand a chance at making it last?

I don’t have high expectations for short contemporaries from Ellora’s Cave. They have a very singular purpose, so I go into the read keeping that in the forefront of my mind. Sometimes, I get pleasantly surprised, while others don’t manage to attain what it sets out to be.

This story falls into the latter category. It’s the story of Michaela and Scott, their mutual attraction, and the quick development of their romance. Michaela is from a wealthy family in town, well-educated with good connections, while Scott grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, enlisted in the Marines as soon as he graduated, and now owns an auto shop. They’re new neighbors, and each has been harboring a crush on the other the entire time without ever speaking after their initial meeting. When the sheriff shows up at Scott’s shop demanding an alibi, Michaela leaps to his defense, which opens up the door to them interacting on a more personal level. That means sex primarily, since Scott’s not really a talker and Michaela seems mostly interested in getting into his pants.

Heat is what drives most of these short contemporaries, but unfortunately, I didn’t feel it in this. The best word I can think of to describe the author’s voice is inoffensive. There’s nothing really wrong with it, but it’s so simple and unassuming that I got bored. Especially since she’s a mild headhopper, too. It might have been helped if I’d cared for either of the two main characters, and though I tried, I just couldn’t. Scott lacks any kind of personality, though again, there’s nothing really wrong with him, while I thought Michaela came across as a prig. When considering how swiftly things get physical with Scott, she thinks, Normally she dated a man for months before thinking about sleeping with him. And even then, she usually got too bored with them before taking that next step. Someone who doesn't even think about having sex for months when dating someone just comes across as uptight to me, an impression that got reinforced throughout the story. There are mild BDSM elements to their sex – she keeps commenting on how commanding Scott is, while he realizes Michaela likes it a little rough – but because of those early impressions of Michaela, they always felt like window dressing, not organic at all to the kind of woman she is. I suppose the argument could be made that she’s coming out of her shell, that Scott does this for her, but that’s an intellectual rationalization made after I’d already finished the story and sat thinking about why it didn’t work for me. I just couldn’t relate to Michaela at all.

So without being able to connect emotionally to either lead and having an author’s voice that is just a little too bland for me, this one was a miss.


7/10 – Mostly inoffensive w/mild headhopping


5/10 – Lacks personality, though there isn’t anything offensive about him


4/10 – I thought her a big of a prig for much of the story and couldn’t relate to her at all

Entertainment value

4/10 – Without being able to connect emotionally to either lead, I was left relying on the hot factor, and the author’s voice is just too bland for me

World building

4/10 – It’s a short contemporary that starts out good but then disintegrates in favor of the sex



Monday, February 14, 2011

The Lion of Kent by Aleksandr Voinov & Kate Cotoner

TITLE: The Lion of Kent
AUTHOR: Aleksandr Voinov & Kate Cotoner
PUBLISHER: Carina Press
LENGTH: Novella
GENRE: Gay historical erotic romance
COST: $3.59

After five years away from his estate, Sir Robert de Cantilou has returned from the Crusades, ready to return to the life he once knew. None is more happy to see him than Squire William Raven. As the bastard son of the manor’s reeve, William is determined to become a knight and bring honor to his name. He’s inspired by the example Sir Robert sets and dreams of finally getting his spurs, but his focus gets diverted by sudden intrigue within the castle and a mysterious man who visits him at night, making him feel things he’s never felt before…

Earlier this year, I reviewed an anthology over at Three Dollar Bill Reviews that introduced me to the work of Aleksandr Voinov. The story he co-wrote in it was hands down one of my favorites within the collection, and I decided to pursue more of his work, only to realize that I had this novella, co-written with a different author, already sitting in my virtual TBR pile. I pulled it out eagerly, and though it doesn’t reach the heights of the short story I read, it’s certainly a strong piece, meriting even more trust for this author and his work.

The story begins with Robert’s return as William is training. From the start, William is enthralled by the man, by his honor and goodness, by his physical attractiveness and keen intelligence. Robert is hosting a hunt for a group of French emissaries, which for William, seems like the perfect opportunity to finally prove his worth and earn his knighthood. His training seems to be a series of failures, however, his anxiety about looking good for Sir Robert getting the better of him more than once. The evening before their guests are to arrive, William is visited in the night by an unknown man, one who gets William off without ever seeking relief for himself. Life seems good to William, until he overhears a plot to kill Sir Robert. The most important thing now is to protect Robert no matter what.

This historical does what not very many in this genre really do for me – made me forget I was reading a historical. It’s not because of the lack of detail to create the setting. It’s the opposite. The story is just so well-realized that it never feels intrusive, never feels like I’m being reminded page after page that this happened a long time ago. It rings of authenticity, which is a credit both to the rather seamless prose and the meticulous structure of its presentation. There aren’t awkward information dumps, or pages of facts that have nothing to do with moving the story forward. I sank into this story as if I was a squire within Sir Robert’s household already, a natural extension of the world the authors created. In fact, the only thing holding me back from believing in it one hundred percent was the occasional anachronistic term.

William gets compared constantly to a young lion, but honestly, I never understood the appellation (though Robert explains himself toward the end, an explanation that seemed utterly superficial compared to the depths of the rest of the tale). Instead, he seemed very much the eager puppy to me, panting to please his master, tumbling over his own gangly legs in his efforts because he has yet to learn his own balance. This manifests in every aspect of William’s life – his fighting, where his impetuosity often gets the better of him; his actions, where he leaps to be the hero rather than take the safer, surer approach; his sex, where he fumbles to be everything he can for the man he adores. It’s symptomatic of his age as he’s very young and green in this, but it also makes it a little hard to take him completely seriously.

Robert, on the other hand, is suitably enigmatic, with an appealing melancholy edge. His characterization suffers, however, as he’s seen so much through William’s rose-colored glasses. I never quite believe he’s as good as all that, in spite of all the right moves that he makes. He’s just a little too altruistic in their affair, though I wonder if that might have been mitigated if I’d been able to perceive William as he does. When he explains in the story about why William, I found myself wondering, “Huh? That doesn’t sound like the guy I’ve been reading about.” It leaves the romance in this feeling only partially formed. The sex scenes are functional without having the real heat I would have expected considering the passionate prose, and my commitment to the ending isn’t complete.

However, considering what an immersive world the authors created, those are minor quibbles. I was still very much invested in following William’s adventures, regardless of how correct his actions were or who he might take up with, and credit for that is due to the wonderful scene-setting constructed around him.


9/10 – Intelligent and immersive

Hero #1

7/10 – More like an eager puppy than the lion Robert kept proclaiming him to be, but still charming in his own way

Hero #2

6/10 – Enigmatic with an air of melancholy

Entertainment value

7/10 – Transports to the time and place, and if I didn’t completely fall for the romance, the setting made up for it

World building

9/10 – Vibrantly realized, the only reason this isn’t perfect is because of some of the modern terminology that occasionally shattered the illusion



Friday, February 11, 2011

Solstice Heat by Leila Brown

TITLE: Solstice Heat
AUTHOR: Leila Brown
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 30k)
GENRE: Paranormal erotic romance
COST: $4.99

Once the alpha of his pack, Jason now lives on the periphery, trapped in his wheelchair, desperate for a mate. He thinks he’s found her in the woman he’s been talking to online, but appearances are not what they seem. Gio discovered the correspondence her little sister has been having with a stranger online and vowed to face this sexual predator, once and for all. At Jason’s house, however, his wolf sees her verbal attack as a threat and before either one knows it, he’s bitten her…

I often find myself at a loss with some of the crazes that sweep through published fiction, mostly because they don’t hit my kinks. A few I’ll read anyway if a story sounds good enough. Werewolf stories fall into that small category. I can take them or leave them, and honestly, nine times out of ten, I leave them. I don’t swoon at the idea of forever mates, or insta-mates, and most of my experiences with werewolf stories have been with authors who use these genre tropes as shortcuts to real storytelling or genuine character growth. This novella stood out with its promise of a handicapped hero—a kink I do have—and I bought it in hopes of getting a story about a man struggling to come to grips with the conflict between his disability and his alpha nature, with some hot sex along the way.

That’s not what I got.

It starts out that way. Jason wants to find a mate who doesn’t remember him from the way he was before, a woman who will want him for the man he is now, trapped in his chair. He’s been corresponding with a woman online for the past three months, and now, he’s finally had the nerve to ask her to come see him. His goal is to make her fall in love with him so he can take her to the pack’s solstice ceremony and turn her. The pack’s laws dictate that once a human knows about them, they have to be either turned or killed, so he wants to make it so that this woman wants to be turned. There’s a problem, though. The woman who arrives at his front door is not the one he’s been writing to. It’s her sister, who is pissed off and convinced he’s a sexual predator. Her verbal attack sparks him into an unexpected shift, and he bites her and forces her to submit before it’s too late to stop him.

That’s where the story changes. See, once a woman gets bitten, she goes into heat. She needs to have sex to ease it, or go mad as a result. And because Gio has been bitten by an alpha, that means even more sex and an even stronger reaction. So instead of a hot tale of a hurt man learning to love again, it’s basically a fuck-or-die story. Gio needs to have sex with Jason as soon as, and as often as, possible, or risk going out of control. Because she’s such a strong personality, she fights it. All good, right?

Up to this point, it wasn’t that bad. The prose is simplistic, and the characterizations lack any sort of nuance, but I still had hope. Then it got to this point. Now, I’m not a fan of the fuck-or-die scenario (yes, in this case, she doesn’t literally die, but the intent is pretty much the same since the circumstances if she doesn't are still dire with a capital D), but I will, and have, read some done well. It might be because the prose was just too hot to ignore, or I loved the characters, or there was a fascinating psychological approach taken to the scenario. This story had none of those. Then it got worse. I can tell you the exact moment this story lost me. My jaw dropped, and then I laughed out loud at how ridiculous it was. It’s inevitable Gio and Jason have sex, right? At the end, I read this: Then she felt it. His essence flowed into her, making the fire deep inside cool. That essence is his come because they can’t use a condom (Jason says so). And when she tries to get up… “No. If you stand up, my cum will leak out, and the heat will return…” His come literally turns the flame down (not quite douses, Gio realizes, but she feels normal again).

There is zero subtlety there. Zero nuance. This typifies the work in other areas, as well, from the shallowly written bad guys, to the not hot at all for me sex scenes. Gio redeems herself slightly when she faces off with Jason’s ex, but when her abrasive attitude isn’t directly warranted, she came across as unnecessarily angry and shrill. Jason fares slightly better, but even he lacks any kind of depth.

I don’t read enough werewolf stories to know if this is typical. It might be, for all I know. Fans of this type of shifter very well could have different reactions than I did. But from a non-rose-colored glasses perspective on the genre, this story fails to deliver a coherent romance, genuine emotion, or interesting world-building.


6/10 – Simplistic with a lot of redundancies


5/10 – Lacked any sort of nuance to make me fall for him


4/10 – I liked how she kicked ass when it was necessary, but when it wasn’t, she felt angry, abrasive, and obnoxious

Entertainment value

2/10 – It lost all credibility when his come literally puts the fire out inside her

World building

6/10 – Though some attempts are there to create an interesting world, it’s presented haphazardly and leaves a lot of important questions unanswered



Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Ariadne's Thread by Marie Treanor

TITLE: Ariadne’s Thread
AUTHOR: Marie Treanor
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 46k)
GENRE: Paranormal erotic romance
COST: $4.50

Helping to rob a wealthy man on New Year’s Eve seems like the quickest way for down on her luck Addie McSween to get out of the financial hole she’s in. Until she discovers that the man they’re robbing is the renowned concert pianist, John Maxwell. And that his house is haunted by multiple ghosts. And a snowstorm has stranded them, forcing her to come face to face with the first man to ever make her feel alive…

After reading another book by this author last summer, I promptly went out and bought a number of books from her backlist. Just like I kicked myself then about taking so long to read it, I’m kicking myself again about taking so long getting around to reading other titles by her. Because honestly, this is an author who writes heroes and stories I literally sink into.

This is a ghost story/crime caper gone wrong/romance all rolled up into one. Addie is a single mother from Glasgow, who’s hooked up with her brother and his criminal friends to be the driver on their heist. They’re robbing a house out in the middle of nowhere on New Year’s Eve, using the party with its numerous guests who come and go as their cover. Things go wrong almost from the start, however, when Addie, who’s supposed to keep an eye out, gets caught by the owner of the house. He introduces himself as Johnny, and she pretends to be a friend of his sister’s, but the chemistry between them is electric. Things go even more awry when the weather turns, and the sister wanders into the middle of the robbery, and there’s no way to get out of the house until morning at the earliest. Amidst all this, Addie is convinced she’s seeing ghosts, and then discovers that they’re there to steal original music from one of Scotland’s greatest composers – a man who turns out to be Johnny’s great-grandfather.

This is only the tip of the iceberg of what happens in this short novel. The author packs a ton of story in, with remarkable ease. It never feels overdone or incomprehensible, and instead manages a couple surprises along the way. It is, in turn, an incredibly delectable romance, a farcical crime caper, and an eerie ghost story, with each element genuine within the moment. They blend almost seamlessly, in ways I find few authors can pull off, and I’m incapable of picking a favorite since I was drawn into each equally.

Perhaps key to ensuring this balance is kept is the vivid cast of characters. I loved Addie and Johnny almost from the start. They are sharp-witted, hard-edged, and intelligent (though Addie’s impulsive nature backfires on her more than once). Johnny, especially, embodies one of my favorite hero types—the tortured artist who needs to find a way to return to the world. In Johnny’s case, he’s retired from his own career as a professional concert pianist, due to the scandal that erupted when he was charged and tried for his wife’s murder a year earlier. The result was Not Proven, so doubt has lingered in the public’s mind about his innocence. That same doubt is there for the reader for a good part of the story, too, which adds to that air of danger he carries about him.

The secondary cast is vast and colorful, with most of them receiving good treatment when it came to rounding them out. For some unknown reason, I had a soft spot for Malky, the brute force on their heist team, though I suspect it’s because he has a Lennie Small air to him. I’m also dying to know more about Dan, Johnny’s brother-in-law. Something tells me, he has a lot of story to tell himself. The ghosts themselves feature prominently, as easy to recognize as any of the living. I bought into their existence without any problem at all, and applauded Johnny’s great-grandmother more than once.

The story’s not perfect, but my complaints about it are minor. It’s not quite as clean a copy as I expect from Samhain, and the book I purchased had a few odd formatting problems. I wouldn’t be surprised that’s because it’s an older title. It was released in 2008, and Samhain has come a long way since then. I’m also not entirely fond of the author’s frequent choice to switch to minor character POVs every once in a while. It doesn’t really add to the story very much, and I ended up spending/wasting time wondering how that character is going to factor into a larger role in the story since apparently they’re important enough to merit their POV shown. It’s distracting. But again, these are minor complaints, because when it comes down to it, I’m falling head over heels for this author’s work. This is the second hero of hers in a row that has completely pushed my buttons, with heroines I admire to boot. I only wish this one was available in print, so I could get one for my literal shelves as well as the one for my virtual shelf.


8/10 – Not as clean as I would expect from Samhain, but the author’s voice compensated for it


9/10 – Hurt, enigmatic, and compelling


8/10 – The authenticity about her really drew me in

Entertainment value

9/10 – I literally couldn’t stop once I’d started

World building

8/10 – When the ghosts are just as real and believable as the living, something right has been done



Monday, February 7, 2011

Bastards and Pretty Boys by K.Z. Snow

TITLE: Bastards and Pretty Boys
PUBLISHER: Liquid Silver Books
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 35k)
GENRE: Contemporary gay erotic romance
COST: $5.50

Charlie Larkin’s latest purchase—a cottage on a lake—will give him a retreat as well as a hunky neighbor who distracts him every time he sees him. His boyfriend of the past five months isn’t quite as thrilled about the distraction, calling to mind all the doubts Charlie is starting to have about their relationship. Those doubts become even stronger when he actually meets the neighbor. Booker is gorgeous, talented, and fun to be with, but as Charlie learns more about him, he has to decide for himself what it is he really wants…

I have a love/hate relationship with this author’s work. On the one hand, her work tends to have a very lyrical literacy to it, helping it stand out of the crowd, and when her characters work, they really work. On the other, she often makes stylized choices within them that seem more about the craft than the storytelling, as well as having a propensity for liking soapboxes. This is one of those stories that falls on the short end of the scale for me.

Told in 1st person, it’s the tale of Charlie Larkin, a twenty-nine year-old man whose divorce two years earlier was about his finally coming to terms with the fact that he’s gay. A successful business owner, he has bought a cottage on a lake, partially because he wants to face his fear of the water, partially as a retreat. His next door neighbor catches his eye right away, but when Charlie’s boyfriend notices his interest, the boyfriend turns it against him, using it first for some hot sex, then announcing that Charlie isn’t the only guy he sleeps with. Charlie has started wondering if he and Kenneth (the boyfriend) really have much in common, but it’s his budding relationship with the neighbor, the practically perfect Booker, that helps to make up his mind.

I liked Charlie at the start, primarily because of the author’s voice. She really does have some different turns of phrase than what’s normally out there, and I find the lyricism of it compelling more often than not. My problems begin when Booker starts revealing his secrets to Charlie. Booker is an ex-con, on parole from time spent in jail for dealing marijuana. It’s a minor offense—a point repeated more than once—and provides one of those soapboxes the author is fond of. This one is about how drug laws in the US need to be revamped, an opinion that not only Charlie and Booker become vehement about, but so does Charlie’s ex-wife later on in the story. I loathe being preached to in a story. It’s hard to do it well. Most of the time, it’s obvious and heavy-handed, which is exactly how this came across to me. It doesn’t matter if I agree or not (I did in this case, and frankly, usually do). It’s the manner of how I feel being lectured to that bugs me so much.

This personal peccadillo aside, the story derails for other reasons as well. Halfway through, the plot takes a complete left turn, when Charlie and Booker’s lives outside the lake become inextricably linked. I found it completely implausible that such a coincidence could occur, and almost gave up the story on the spot. I hoped that it would rectify itself somehow, but honestly, it only got worse. Plot points were introduced and never followed through on (the help he gets from his ex-wife), and the ending was too pat and too abrupt.

I’d like to say at least I had the romance to fall in love with, but I didn’t. Yes, the two leads have chemistry and they’re actually quite sweet with each other. But Charlie is head over heels in less than a week, in spite of everything he’s learned about Booker, and I didn’t believe for a second they’d survive the long haul. Charlie idealized Booker too much to make him any kind of equal partner. I can sometimes let myself go and give insta-love more quarter, but not in contemporaries like this one. Toss in all my other issues with the story, and this one’s a miss for me.


8/10 – A smart voice gets hindered by completely implausible plot twists and a plot that just wanders off

Hero #1

6/10 – Showed promise at the beginning, but never lived up to it

Hero #2

5/10 – Sweet, but idealized since seen through Charlie’s eyes

Entertainment value

4/10 – I liked the start, but the implausible plot twists as well as a romance I don’t believe for a second will last dragged this down

World building

6/10 – The lake is its own vital character, but the rest of it falls to the wayside in the face of Charlie’s needs and feelings



Friday, February 4, 2011

Wild at Heart by Crystal Kauffman

TITLE: Wild at Heart
AUTHOR: Crystal Kauffman
PUBLISHER: Lyrical Press
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 26k)
GENRE: Historical erotic romance
COST: $3.50

Penny Thompson has been promised in marriage to a friend of her brother’s from college, a man she has never met. But her world gets turned upside down when she meets John Black Feather, another friend of her brother’s, the half-breed son of the Navajo chief . John is enthralled by the tempestuous, independent woman, and while he knows he should stay away from her, the attraction between them is too combustible to ignore…

Sometimes I feel guilty admitting some of my kinks. I’ve made it clear before that I have a real soft spot for Native American heroes, but honestly, I’m not sure why I keep bothering since so few authors ever move beyond the stereotypical noble savage archetype, especially in historicals.

This story is no better. The heroine, Penny, is a tomboy at heart, helping as much with the horses as her big brother does. She can’t cook, she hates dresses, and the last thing she wants is to get married. Except her big brother Will has decided it’s time for that to happen and arranged for her to marry one of his friends from college back east. The story opens with her trying to catch a wild stallion, only to discover that it actually belongs to Will’s Navajo friend, John Black Feather. John is the son of the Navajo chief and a white woman, and acts in many ways as a liaison between the tribe and the local white men. To Penny, he’s the most beautiful man she’s ever seen, and her first attraction to him explodes when he reciprocates.

It’s evident from the start that the prose isn’t anything special. It’s clean enough editorially, but it tends to lack verve or passion, even during the sex scenes. Part of that stems from the sheer predictability of the whole thing. The story feels like it’s been written a thousand times before, twenty years ago. The misunderstood Native American, the misunderstood heroine, the attraction of his savage beauty, and so on and so on. If that’s what a reader wants, then great, but really, I felt guilty as I was reading, partially because I could actually see a superficial appeal in John, partially because it felt like I should be reading something that actually gave the Native Americans some new depths. That’s my issue, though. I fully recognize some readers, especially those that might be drawn to this in the first place, won’t care about either things.

For them, Penny is appropriately strong-willed and relatable, while John is sexy and enigmatic, disappearing like a ghost after nearly every encounter. The plot chugs along with little surprises, and ultimately, it just turns into a waiting game to get to the end. The sex scenes are serviceable, if formulaic, and for the traditionalist, John gets to be the hero in the end (though that should not be a surprise at all).

But none of it is new or fresh, and I'm left still hoping that someone out there is interested in creating a three-dimensional Native American hero that I can fall in love with.


6/10 – Simplistic prose and a sense of the throwback makes it an easy, but unchallenging, read


6/10 – Lots of potential never realized


6/10 – Spunky but ultimately incredibly predictable

Entertainment value

4/10 – Felt like a throwback to older romances that were all about the allure of the noble savage

World building

6/10 – Some of the attempts to recreate the western historical life are there, but it doesn’t leap off the page



Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Fit to be Tied by Kate Willoughby

TITLE: Fit to be Tied
AUTHOR: Kate Willoughby
PUBLISHER: Liquid Silver Books
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 27k)
GENRE: Contemporary BDSM erotic romance
COST: $4.75

In high school, Sadie had one fantastic, incomplete night with the geeky Max, and then turned around on Monday and called him names in front of the whole school. Ten years later, she has the chance to apologize. Time has done wonders for Max, turning him from a nerd into a raging hot intellectual. He’s never been able to forget Sadie, and this seems like the perfect opportunity to finish what they started. But he’s changed in more ways than just filling out his clothes better. The question is, can she handle the masterful man he’s become?

This is one of the authors I can usually count on for frothy, funny contemporary erotic romances, and while this started out like that, it didn’t quite end up that way.

Sadie is a free spirit, rarely staying in the same place for very long, intent on visiting and experiencing all fifty states. Her latest job puts her right in the path of one of her biggest regrets. In high school, she spent one great night making out with Max Brody only to be interrupted before they could go all the way. On Monday, with her snotty friends watching, she disparaged Max in front of the whole school, and the potential of that one night was never realized. Now, she apologizes and discovers that he’s an expert in the very field her next job is about – tarantulas. He agrees to come check out the tarantula she has, and when the friend she’s staying with gets unexpected company, offers to let Sadie stay with him. Their attraction explodes, and one night turns into more. The sex is great, but Max has secrets he’s not sharing, secrets that are starting to drive Sadie crazy.

The story starts like many of the author’s better works. The characters are quirky and fun, delightfully different from the standard erotic romance protagonists. Max is an obsessive intellectual with control issues, while Sadie’s free-spiritedness borders on flakiness. The more I learned about Max, however, the harder it got for me to have fun with his differences. His independent wealth and various achievements start to make him too good to be true, and while I think I understand why his characterization went in that direction, I was a little disappointed he didn’t stay as more of an everyday, quirky Joe.

Sadie’s characterization suffers as well, though primarily because of events that occur in the last couple chapters. Gradually, she learns of Max’s interest in BDSM, specifically rope play, and she seems okay with it at first. Even when a previous traumatic event puts a hamper on their explorations, I was okay with it. What I wasn’t okay with how that traumatic event got resolved. It’s too easy for what was involved, frankly, even if this is meant to be lighter erotic romance fare. The seriousness of those sequences, actually, is very different tonally to the frothiness of the beginning, and it never meshed well for me. The greatest bulk of that rests with how lightly it’s handled. This could just be a sore spot for me, since the rest of the BDSM is handled tastefully and intelligently. But I just find it very hard to believe such a traumatic event – even for a strong, free spirit like Sadie – could be taken care of so easily.

This one’s probably middle of the road for me for this author. It has elements of what I adore in her writing, but I just can’t get over the resolution of Sadie’s problems enough to merit this higher.


8/10 – Mild headhopping and the sense of being two stories merged into one held this back


7/10 – I liked his quirkiness but it bordered on too much for me


6/10 – An interesting blend of flakiness and likeability, but I wasn’t so sure about how quickly things turned around for her in the end

Entertainment value

6/10 – I was enjoying this as some pleasant escapism until the end that didn’t seem believable

World building

8/10 – Highly credible on a lot of levels, at least until the end