Friday, April 29, 2011

Reviews at Three Dollar Bill Reviews

I've been reviewing fairly regularly the past several months over at Three Dollar Bill Reviews, but I've been lax about crossposting them here lately. Some of that was deliberate. I read at least one real clunker and I didn't see the worth in repeating what I thought about it. But then I thought that maybe not everybody who reads this also reads Three Dollar Bill, so in lieu of posting a new review tonight, I'm linking to my last five reviews over there.

Fool's Errand by Chris Quinton - A well-written, action-packed, futuristic vampire erotic romance. 4 stars.

According to Hoyle by Abigail Roux - A historical romance, which, while interesting, had an authorial voice that didn't work for me. 3.5 stars

Homosapien by Julie Bozza - A wrestling romance, believe it or not. My favorite of everything I've reviewed over there. 4.5 stars

Riding Double edited by Anne Regan - A cowboy erotic romance anthology. Not my favorite collection, though it had a couple real stunners in it. 2.5 stars

Floggers' Holiday Sale by Stormy Glenn and H.C. Brown - A BDSM erotic romance anthology. Poor editing and terrible doms. 1 star

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Briar Rose by Lila Dubois

TITLE: Briar Rose
AUTHOR: Lila Dubois
PUBLISHER: Liquid Silver Books
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 33k)
GENRE: Fantasy erotic romance
COST: $5.50

Princess Aurora is blessed with beauty, grace, and obedience at birth, but when the fourth fairy recognizes the curse obedience really is, she offers a gift that will break it. Until she turns eleven, Aurora is the perfect princess, and perfectly dull, too. Once she has free will, however, she seeks out her own happiness, even when it means falling in love with a woodsman instead of the prince she’s been betrothed to since birth…

One of these days, I’ll learn that breaking my own rules is never a good idea. See, I love the cover on this book. I’d heard good things about the author. I trust Liquid Silver. So I bought it without actually reading the excerpt. If I had, I would never, ever have handed over money for it.

If it sounds like a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, it is. It very closely resembles the Disney cartoon, except with a lot more sex. Prince Phillip even talks to his horse like he did in the movie. It’s kind of pointless for me to summarize. It doesn’t veer off the story everybody knows very much. There’s a princess, yadda yadda, she’s off in the woods and meets a boy and falls instantly in love, yadda yadda, neither know the other is royalty, and so on. Some of the variations come in her relationship with Maleficent, who is pretty much her only friend (and occasional lover if the open-mouthed kisses and groping is anything to go by), and the details of the sleeping curse, but that’s pretty much it. Otherwise, it’s Sleeping Beauty with a lot of pointless sex.

So what’s my problem with this novella? It starts on the first page with silly editorial errors. If I’d read the excerpt (which for LSB is always chapter one), I would’ve seen them and passed on buying. I only continued reading because I kept hoping it would get better. It didn’t. And they really are silly errors. We must got tell Millie, and It took then a week, and The gelding let out a surprised whiny, and…well, I have a very long list that I bothered to take a note of. You don’t need to see them all. One of the fairies gets described as “titan-haired” but I’m pretty sure it’s meant to be “titian-haired.” What color is titan-haired supposed to be? At one point, Phillip calls her Aurora when he doesn’t know her true identity and only knows her as Rose. Even Maleficent’s name changes spelling at the end of the story.

If I sound frustrated, I am. I don’t expect this level of mistakes from this publisher. And I’m annoyed with myself for not reading the excerpt and saving myself both the time and money I spent on this. If the story itself had been original enough to distract me from the errors, it might not have been so bad, but it just isn’t. It’s told in fairy tale style, with an omniscient POV (which wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been, thankfully), and I kept picturing the movie every time they were in the forest. If one of them had burst into song, I wouldn’t have been surprised. The story does try to add a darker element at the end as Aurora’s frustrated father tries to control her, but honestly, the violence of those scenes and the suggestion that she’s going to be raped as well as whipped never gels with the rest of the novella.

I’m going to stick more closely to my rules from now on. And wish fervently that this is a blip in LSB’s usual reliability.


5/10 – So many silly mistakes in this, it was hard to believe it was an LSB book


6/10 – Charming enough, but this is still a fairy tale


6/10 – I was just getting invested in her when she started making foolish choices that didn’t seem to fit the strong woman I thought she was

Entertainment value

4/10 – Sloppy editing and story threads that are never explored make this a half-baked effort from the start

World building

5/10 – A fairy tale, yes, but generic and flat



Monday, April 25, 2011

Lynx by Joely Skye

AUTHOR: Joely Skye
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 60k)
GENRE: Gay paranormal erotic romance
COST: $5.50

While on vacation, FBI agent Trey Walters follows rumors of a giant lynx…then the lynx himself. He finds a young shifter hiding from the world, and eager to learn as much about him as he can, befriends Jonah. Their friendship turns into more, but Trey has a job and responsibilities that require him to leave. Even if he wishes he didn’t have to…

It’s been a while since I read the previous books in this series. I wondered if that would affect my enjoyment of this installment. Ultimately, though, I think it gave me a better perspective on whether it works on its own or not.

Trey’s main goal in life is to protect shifters and those he loves, all without letting anybody get close. It’s safer that way. For him. For them. While on vacation, he follows rumors of a giant lynx and tracks the shifter to what looks to be a cave. It’s more than that. It’s a home, hidden away from the world, and there he meets Jonah. All of his life, Jonah has been taught to fear discovery. His family dead, he lives alone but finds himself craving company. That’s why he takes to Trey’s wolf, while Trey remains in animal form in an attempt not to scare him. When Trey makes his identity known, Jonah is nervous and wary, but his curiosity and Trey’s patience finally win. Gradually, the two men get to know each other, their attraction growing the entire time. The biggest problem, however, is that Trey needs to return to the world, to his job, to the family and shifters he protects. In order to best protect Jonah, he needs to leave him behind.

It’s ironic that Jonah nicknames Trey Enigma when he’s in wolf form at the beginning, because through the previous books in this series that I read, Trey has always been this rather enigmatic figure in the protagonists’ lives. He comes and goes, helps when he can, but little is known about him. This novel is the chance to see his other side, and in that regard, it succeeds. We finally get to know the man behind the wolf, and the wait was worth it. He’s smart, loyal, patient, and ultimately kind. Yes, he’s emotionally closed off, but he does that out of fear of more people dying. Jonah coaxes him to open up, and it’s a slow, careful process that mirrors the growth of their relationship. I didn’t completely buy the turnaround for Trey’s interest in Jonah from platonic to sexual, but once it was there, I believed it.

Then Trey leaves. And this is where the book starts to fall apart. The author’s note explains a lot. Trey moves in and out of people’s lives in the previous books, and the cases he’s involved with occur in the times when he is away from Jonah in this one. While it works to describe the path of their relationship, from a storytelling perspective it ends up being very disjointed. The story jerks along, stopping and starting, due to the limitations imposed by this set-up. It takes a solid half of the story for Trey to leave the first time, and then, we become privy to patches of plot and time jumps to encapsulate the events of the rest of their relationship’s growth. This doesn’t make for smooth reading at all. It’s not helped that much of Trey’s life is still left a mystery for Jonah for a great deal of the book, the events of the other books only briefly mentioned. I’d read the other books and still had to struggle fitting pieces and characters in where Trey might mention them. This doesn’t really work as a standalone very well at all.

That being said, I still enjoyed it, but that’s primarily because I was invested in Trey. I wanted to see his story, and I was willing to sit through whatever it took to get it. That helped to compensate for a lot of the other shortcomings that might have otherwise stopped me before I got to the ending. Jonah is a sweet kid, but his innocence grated on me after a while, and I don’t think I would have liked him as much if Trey hadn’t been there to balance it out. I also felt mildly shortchanged by the climax. After so much time worrying about him, it felt like it was handled too cleanly and swiftly. I thought, “That’s it? That’s all it took?” I expected much more, and I was disappointed with what I got.

But Trey got his happy ending. For that, I’m glad. And for that, it was worth it.


7/10 – Pacing for the second half is awful, but clean prose and a character I cared about helped make up for it

Hero #1

8/10 – My adoration for Trey grew with this exploration into his private life

Hero #2

7/10 – His innocence, though believable, was a little much at times; I liked him much more in the latter half

Entertainment value

7/10 – Purely for the fact that I finally got to learn more about Trey

World building

6/10 – Kudos to the exploration of Jonah’s world, but the holes left by Trey’s leave too much to be desired



Friday, April 22, 2011

The Knight by Anna Leigh Keaton

TITLE: The Knight
AUTHOR: Anna Leigh Keaton
PUBLISHER: Cobblestone Press
LENGTH: Short story (roughly 7.5k)
GENRE: Contemporary menage erotica
COST: $2.99

The Pleasure Club satisfies sexual fantasies. Gwen’s is to live the fantasy of her name’s heritage – by having Arthur and Lancelot fighting for her favor…

After my harrowing last read, I wanted pure fluff and escapism. A short about a King Arthur fantasy seemed like the perfect choice.

The plot is simple. Gwen was named after her mother’s obsession, but at a young age, gave up relationships for academic and then professional advancement. Now, at thirty-one, she wonders if she let too much slip her by. She learns about the Pleasure Club by accident, and on a whim, checks them out. She ends up signing up for the only fantasy she can think of - two knights battling for her favor in Camelot. When she arrives at the arranged site, she finds a kingly Arthur and a bad boy Lancelot waiting for her.

I wanted fluff, I got it. This is pure erotica, its goal solely to give Gwen a sexual adventure of her dreams. There’s no HEA, no attempt at an HEA, and it finishes with her happy walk into the sunset (or middle of the night, as the case may be). She gets hunky and devoted husband Arthur ravishing her with his mouth, only to be interrupted by the dark and dangerous Lancelot. Attracted to the bad boy, she goads him into winning his fight, and he sets out to handle her far more roughly than the more genteel Arthur. At least until Arthur steps in and two become three. It’s easy and uncomplicated, a balm to my frazzled nerves from the horror I’d just read. I didn’t have to think, which is a good thing because there’s no attempt at depth here. Gwen is relatable, and if the two men are fantasy figures, well, that’s what they’re supposed to be.

This might not be anything deep or soul-searching, or even something I’ll remember much about a few months from now, but it was exactly what I needed to get over the hump created by my last read. I would like to know, though, does anybody actually find the word “anus” sexy? I fail to understand why authors use it in sex scenes. I know it’s anatomically correct, but it evokes decidedly unsexy images. At least for me.


7/10 – Occasional word choices are not sexy to me, but the read is smooth and harmless


6/10 – I’ve read hotter, but it works well in portions


6/10 – The men are fantasy figures, but Gwen has a relatable quality that rises above them

Entertainment value

7/10 – I needed the almost innocent fantasy of this after the horror novel I finished

World building

7/10 – For a fantasy, I would have believed it, too



Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Whispering Bones by Rita Vetere

TITLE: Whispering Bones
AUTHOR: Rita Vetere
PUBLISHER: Lyrical Press
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 61k)
GENRE: Horror
COST: $5.50

A child’s horrific death during the Black Plague unleashes a curse that terrorizes generation after generation of the man she blames. It spans time, grows stronger with each kill. When Anna LaServa takes a job to design a hotel on the grounds the child haunts, she has no idea what she’s got herself into…

Though the majority of the books I review here are romance, in my reading world they only constitute a fraction of what I consume. I’ve been reading horror and suspense alongside romance since I picked up my first Stephen King when I was ten, but there aren’t as many small presses doing non-romance genre fiction as there are romance pubs (at least to the quality I’d hope for). I’d definitely review more if I could get my hands on them.

For a good part of this story, the plot jumps between three different storylines. There’s nine-year-old Isabella in Venice of 1576, when the plague is devastating the country. There’s Dr. Rossi in Venice of 1927, recently hired to be the chief doctor at a nearby asylum. And there’s Anna LaServa in modern day Toronto, about to travel to Venice to begin a two-week project designing a new hotel. Anna visits her grandmother – the only family she has left – before leaving, but when her grandmother hears where she is going, she begs Anna not to go. Anna tries to convince the old woman that it’s good for her career and goes anyway. There, she meets Alejandro, the man in charge of the hotel’s construction, and together they go out to the island that will be the site. Anna is spooked almost from the first, but things only get progressively worse the longer she stays and discovers an asylum was once on the grounds.

I usually try to avoid revealing too many spoilers in reviews as I’m particularly spoiler-phobic, but I’m going to give a couple away in this because I think they’re important to get out there. I almost stopped reading this book about a third of the way in. Now, I knew when I started that there would be a child’s death – that’s in the blurb – but by the time I reached page 78, I had to read in some detail about two separate events that are very triggery for me. The first involved Anna. Anna is in her mid-forties and never married, mostly because she never got over being raped when she was fifteen. I was fine with the reference to it, but then there’s a passage where she remembers it, in some detail. Less than twenty pages later, a woman in the 1927 storyline gives birth to a stillborn baby, again in some detail. Frankly, if I’d known the book had contained either one of those I would never have bought it in the first place. They tend to be dealbreakers for me, but after stopping on this for a day or two, I convinced myself to go back and finish it, with the promise that I’d stop for real if something else triggered me.

There wasn’t any one particular event, thank goodness. But after that point, the three storylines begin to converge, and the entire second half of the novel is unrelenting grotesquerie and horror.

It pulls no punches. The events are graphic, the violence frequent and bloody. Evil is a palpable, toxic entity that permeates the Italian setting, and the rising terror all too real. Anna maintains her cool a surprisingly long time, but once she loses it, the knots the story is already tying constrict even more. For me, it was too much. I only kept reading because I figured I’d made it through the worst of what could trigger me, and I needed to see how it ended. But when I read horror, I need the occasional relief from the darkness – a funny line, a sweeter scene, anything different in tone to allow me as a reader to take a breath before sinking back into the terror. I didn’t really get it in this. I didn’t get the ending I needed, either. I finished this frustrated with how everything worked out, even though I know it’s quite a common trope in the horror genre. For me, though, it didn’t work, probably because I was already burned out with the evil overload by that point.

To be fair, I can’t recommend this one way or another. It didn’t work for me, but my reasons are very personal and specific. Other readers of this genre might not have the same problems I did.


7/10 – Unrelentingly horrific with unseen potential triggers, I almost gave up on this a third of the way in


6/10 – While the female protagonist comes to life, most of the secondary characters do not


7/10 – Maybe not the most original, but the original setting and time elements add to it

Entertainment value

5/10 – Even as much as I got triggered in this, I might have scored it higher if it wasn’t for the truly disappointing ending

World building

9/10 – Atmosphere and setting are so strong, I wanted to go to Venice even in spite of all the terrible elements



Monday, April 18, 2011

Red Light by Thom Lane

TITLE: Red Light
AUTHOR: Thom Lane
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 32k)
GENRE: Gay contemporary erotic romance
COST: $4.99

Jeff is on vacation in Provence, the vacation he was supposed to take with his ex. A chance lunch with a young man named Benet leads to an evening, and then a night, and then another day. Jeff keeps reminding himself this is just a vacation fling, though that gets harder and harder as Benet takes him to the vineyard where he works and Jeff is sucked into the family he meets there…

This book’s predecessor holds a special place on my virtual keeper shelf, and though this displays many of the qualities I loved about that one, it doesn’t quite rate as highly.

Jeff is an English doctor on vacation in Provence. The trip was originally meant to be a vacation for him and his boyfriend, but when they broke up a few months prior to the story’s start, Jeff decided not to let the tickets go to waste. At the top of the story, he’s sitting at a restaurant, wishing the waiter wouldn’t refuse to serve him the bouillabaisse when he overhears a nearby customer trying to order the same thing. Jeff offers to share the dish with him so that they might both get what they want, and thus starts a delicate song and dance as he meets Benet, another Englishman currently working for a vineyard in an attempt to learn French methodology. Their lunch eases into the afternoon, then the evening, as their attraction grows. Jeff is all too aware this is only a vacation fling, but the more time he spends with Benet, the more he likes the young man. That inner struggle is only exacerbated when he drives Benet back to work at the vineyard, where Jeff is immediately sucked in by the family.

The true star of the first book was its delicate, sensual prose that brought to life the French setting. That voice is back in this offering, and while it served to entrance me for the first two-thirds of the story, it ultimately wasn’t enough when I started getting frustrated by the narrator. The novella is told in 1st person from Jeff’s perspective, and while he’s likeable, he is blind to his own emotions and too stubborn to consider alternatives to what he’s already decided. While I can certainly appreciate that he’s only recently broken up with the man he’s spent most of his adult life with, he seemed far too intelligent to be quite as rigid as he was. I was frankly surprised to discover he was only five years older than Benet’s twenty-four. He acts much older and treats Benet like he’s much younger. I’m sure that colored my initial perceptions of him, because I fully expected him to be more attuned than he actually was. Inevitably, I spent the last third of the story annoyed at him more than anything else, and not even the prose could overcome it.

Because of Jeff’s blindness and the POV, it’s much harder to get a real grip on Benet as a fully fleshed out character. He’s presented as the pretty but whimsical casual fling, a role he fulfills magnificently. He’s charming and funny and very much fits into the French holiday vibe the prose works so hard for. I know his job and his age, and I get a feel for some of his personal peccadilloes, but Jeff is so good at keeping him ensconced under the label of not long term, that was all it felt like I ever discovered.

Where the book excels is exactly where the first story did – the loving, sun-drenched detail of the vineyard and the slow, serene pace of French life. There’s a sweet sensuality to the way it’s portrayed, a trait that comes through in more intimate scenes as well, so enjoying the author’s voice will go far in appreciating the story for what it does. It might not be for anyone. The languid pace at which the story travels will likely be considered too slow for some, and the ending, while an HFN, was mildly unsatisfying in that it didn’t seem to actually resolve the issues that really do plague these two. Characters from the first book make a reappearance here, but that doesn’t get in the way of enjoying this as a standalone. They are merely the backdrop for Jeff, Benet, and the setting – because France is most definitely a third character in this, that much is made clear with the care given to its presentation.


8/10 – Sweetly sensual though it drifts the longer the story goes on

Hero #1

6/10 – His stubbornness about his celibacy and lack of love seemed extreme for a man of his intelligence and age

Hero #2

6/10 – Charming but with everything from Jeff’s POV, I never felt like I got to know him

Entertainment value

7/10 – Sweet and sensual, though I didn’t enjoy this as much as its predecessor

World building

9/10 – The prose is in love with its setting, and it comes to life in loving, sun-drenched detail



Friday, April 15, 2011

Schooling by Sommer Marsden

TITLE: Schooling
AUTHOR: Sommer Marsden
PUBLISHER: Ellora’s Cave
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 18k)
GENRE: Contemporary erotic romance
COST: $4.45

As Ellie and David drop their daughter off at college, they come face to face with the fact that they’re about to be alone again for the first time in eighteen years. The past year has not been kind to their marriage, and the distance between them seems to yawn wider every day. At least until David proposes they have their own freshman fifteen – fifteen intimate moments – in an attempt to find the spark that made them fall in love in the first place…

Sometimes a premise of a story is enough to suck me into buying it. This one paid off in that regard, but let me down in others.

Ellie and David Gray drop their daughter off at college to start her life as an adult. Over the years, they’ve grown apart, but the past year has been especially stressful, leading to a lot of bickering and only a handful of quiet sex sessions. Ellie still loves David, but fears they’ve changed too much to make their marriage work. However, David has other plans. He suggests a freshman fifteen, but instead of it being weight, they have fifteen intimate moments in the few days they have until they have to return to their stressful lives. Ellie agrees, and it isn’t long before they both feel like newlyweds again.

In my opinion, there aren’t enough romances about married couples out there, but then I suppose that goes against the nature of the genre in many ways. Readers want the journey to falling in love, and not the work that comes afterward, so when I find a story like this, I have a tendency to be more easily swayed into buying it. I don’t regret buying this one since in the end it was an all right read, but I can’t help but feel it could have been so much more than it was.

Part of that is the fixation on the sex. I knew that when I bought it, it would be focused on that. I mean, it’s Ellora’s Cave after all. I didn’t mind, but really, the sex was the weakest aspect of this. The author’s voice veers toward the pedantic for me, and the eroticism never hit my hot buttons. It also felt like she was trying to cram in as much varied sex as she possibly could in such a short space, and that sensation is never good when it feels as forced as this.

But that gets saved by the author’s commitment to the emotions involved. Ellie and David’s hurt was very real, from the very first page, as was their love for each other. It lent a poignancy to each of their encounters that it really needed, bolstering the flagging eroticism to passable standards for me. I liked both of them as people, even when Ellie was being so shrewish in the beginning, but honestly, I never really felt like I knew very much about either of them. The short space doesn’t allow for very much exploration into their pasts or personalities, just the most cursory explanations for their current situation. Toss in the fact that Ellie seems to turn on a dime from this shrew at the top of the story to the sex kitten David married, and my trust in their characterizations wavers even more.

Fans of the author would likely enjoy this, however, as it does provide a sweet, emotional, easy read. It was worth giving a go, for the reminders we all need every once in a while to tell our loved ones how important they are to us.


7/10 – In spite of the poignancy of the emotion, the eroticism ends up being rather pedantic for me


6/10 – I believed in his love for his wife, but never felt like I really knew him


6/10 – The switch between her harried appearance at the beginning to sex kitten was too abrupt to be believable

Entertainment value

6/10 – The poignancy of the emotions between the two elevates eroticism that never really felt hot to me

World building

5/10 – The focus is on their sex lives; I never got a sense of the world they lived in



Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Metal Reign by Nathalie Gray

TITLE: Metal Reign
AUTHOR: Nathalie Gray
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 23k)
GENRE: Sci-fi romance
COST: $3.50

Earth has been lost to humanity for centuries, invaded and taken over by an alien race of living metal. Men and women have scattered to the stars, but their resources are slowly dying out, their future as a race dim. Commander Frankie Beaumont has a plan to take back the planet, but it’s a suicide mission, one that she’s keeping secret from even her best friend. As the ship’s cook, John O’Shaughnessy has stood by Frankie for years, and loved her just as long, but the last thing he would ever do is jeopardize their friendship by making a move. That is, until she tries to leave him behind…

After reading the first story by this author, I went out and bought a lot of her backlist, both in e and in print. More and more, I’m finding myself drawn to her work, because I’ve yet to be disappointed.

The story starts with John and Frankie in one of their poker games, private times they spend together. John isn’t pleased with Frankie’s plan to bomb the pipeline the Imbers – the invading force that’s taken over Earth – have to the planet, but he’s doing what he can to be supportive because he knows she’s going to do it anyway. Frankie hasn’t told him that the aircraft can’t be flown remotely, which means she’s going to have to fly it herself, and probably die in the process. When her initial craft is destroyed, John provides her with an alternative, then realizes at the last moment about the lack of remote flying. He goes to confront her, and ends up joining her onboard, ready to stand at her side to help her mission succeed.

There’s so much to love about this short, action-packed novella, it’s tough to know where to start. The pace is relentless, hurtling from one plot point to the next at a breathless speed. The writing is very visual as well, making it easy to imagine what is going on without getting caught up in the prose. This type of cinematic writing seems to typify this author’s style, and though some romance readers might not be as interested in such a driven, event-oriented story, I love it. The vast majority of the conflict in this is external, providing a vivid backdrop for the characters to come to their senses about each other.

Which brings me to John and Frankie. Frankie is the commander of the fleet, widely respected and fiercely independent. She wears a firm mask for everyone but John, who provides the anchor she needs to let loose every once in a while, and though she’s a strong woman, she doesn’t come across as bitchy or over the top. I completely believed this was a woman who had trained for the career she wanted, and succeeded based on her own abilities rather than attitude or stepping on others. She had just enough flaws to highlight her strengths and make her human without weakening her character or making her unlikeable.

In many ways, John is the beta to Frankie’s alpha. Instead of being military, he’s a civilian who’s opted to take this post on Frankie’s ship, simply so he can be closer to her. He recognizes her strength and power and loves her all the more for it, but while he might acquiesce to many of her superior traits, he makes her fight for that lead. His dedication to both her command and her private side doesn’t make him a lesser man. In fact, it endears him to me all the more, because he is neither weak nor simpering. The simple truth of his admiration for Frankie when he himself is such a strong character only makes him all that much stronger.

If I have any complaints about this novella, it’s that I would’ve loved to see more of it. The characters leap off the page, even secondary characters like Womack, the world-building is fascinating, and the action is crisp and continuous. I can easily get lost in books like this and relish the chance to do so with other of this author’s works. Because even when they’re short, they’re still worth all the time and money I invest in them.


9/10 – Swift, clean, and action-packed


8/10 – Adored his dedication, smarts, and admiration for a strong woman


8/10 – I can almost always count on this author to provide me with a heroine I feels earns and deserves her power

Entertainment value

9/10 – A breathless, action-packed read, I only wish it was longer

World building

8/10 – Believable and vivid



Monday, April 11, 2011

The Only Gold by Tamara Allen

When Tamara Allen, the incredibly talented author of Whistling in the Dark, had this new release at Dreamspinner a couple weeks ago, I jumped on it with only a bare glance at the blurb and nothing at the excerpt. I had every intention of writing a review for it today. But I knew when I finished it that I couldn't do so in good conscience. If I hadn't already told Ms. Allen that the review would be coming, I would have just shuttled the experience off to the side and moved onto the next book. But that's not the case.

See, I did something with this book I don't often do. I overidentified with the narrator to the point where my personal experiences irrationally evoked responses to characters within the story. Before the end of the first chapter, I hated the other protagonist so vehemently, I would have stopped reading entirely if it hadn't been for my comments to Ms. Allen. I can't remember the last time I had such a violent loathing for a character, and when that character is half of the romantic couple...well, you can probably guess what that did for me in trying to enjoy the romance.

That's not to say it's a bad story. It's not. The editing is impeccable, the detail rich and vivid. But I can't offer an objective opinion - or even a fair one - on the pacing, the romance, or many of the secondary characters. My negative feelings for Reid overshadowed everything that much. I have to stress, though, this is my issue. I don't think my reaction would be a normal one. I fully recognize that my personal history and triggers created the strong emotions. I sincerely wish they hadn't.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Reluctant Nude by Meg Maguire

TITLE: The Reluctant Nude
AUTHOR: Meg Maguire
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 57k)
GENRE: Contemporary romance
COST: $4.50

In order to save a property that means the world to her, Fallon Frost is forced to make a deal with its current owner – pose for a nude statue by the infamous sculptor M.L. Emery. Fallon isn’t sure what to expect when she arrives at his remote Canadian home, but Frenchman Max certainly isn’t it. He’s too young, too hot, too rude, and too weird. He also doesn’t believe her cover story for a single moment, but she is determined not to let him put her off having the statue done. Their forced contact separates her from her normal life, but slowly opens her up to a new one, one she isn’t sure she understands or even wants…

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

The art of the sensual is such a subjective matter. What is crass to one is magic to another. That sort of subjectivity prevails in any artistic medium, but sometimes, the labels placed upon these works can’t encompass the individual’s reaction to it. This is certainly true for both myself and the characters of this story. This is sold as a contemporary romance from Samhain, and though there’s lovemaking later on, it’s not as blunt or drawn out as you’d typically find in most erotic romances. Hence, the label, I’m sure. However, I still managed to find this one of the most sensual stories I read this year, even without the more obvious sex.

It opens with Fallon Frost arriving at the remote home of sculptor M.L. Emery. She’s expecting an older, artistic type. She hardly anticipates meeting someone she’d mistaken as a model. Max is tall, dark, lean, and dangerous-looking, with his intense eyes and lack of personal boundaries. He’s rude and abrupt with Fallon, asking questions that make her uncomfortable and making statements that would normally send her running. However, she is determined to see this commission through, since the man who is paying for it is willing to trade her the statue for a property she is desperate to save. Max thinks he will end up scaring Fallon away, since she is clearly uncomfortable in her own skin as well as uncomfortable with any sort of physical connections. He tells her she will have to sit for him for three months, which means Fallon taking an unpaid leave of absence from work and pretty much losing contact with her friends. For Fallon, however, the end result is worth it.

There’s a fascinating dichotomy going on almost from the very start of the book. Fallon is prickly and private, and Max, though in some ways just as private, is all about exposing what’s beneath the skin. He pushes all of her buttons, and her reactions are probably typical of most people’s. She thinks he’s weird, especially when she learns he gave up being a public darling for hiding away in Nova Scotia and sculpting only people with physical deformities. In some ways, she finds his actions cruel, forcing people to face what are often terrible things about their lives, while he fails to understand why she can’t see the beauty in accepting every aspect of who an individual is. They butt heads on this and other topics again and again in their interactions, and for a good part of the first third of the book, really lack any kind of romantic spark.

But then something happens. These two strangers begin to know each other. They begin to trust. And once Fallon’s walls start to come down (though I must admit, I found the correlations with her last name a tad heavy-handed and unnecessary considering the delicacy with which the sensuality is handled), the sparks begin to fly. Instead of being the weird artist, Max becomes this lonely man, desperate to find a sense of true self and normalcy amongst the chaos of his life. His story unfolds almost achingly, and for every layer that’s revealed, I understood him that much more. I also fell in love with him that much more. There’s a certain raw appeal about his refusal to be anything but what he is. Fallon credits it to his French honesty, and while that probably plays a certain role in his characterization, I think it’s just as much about the man himself and the life he’s lived.

Compared to Max, however, Fallon doesn’t feel quite as fully fleshed. Her awkwardness and almost antisocial demeanor in the beginning of the book are sometimes difficult to read. We’re told she has to save this house, but we aren’t told why until later on in the story. There are glimpses of what that story might be, but the real facts don’t come out when I needed them most. I failed to grasp the magnitude of what she was doing at the start of the story, to better accept an attitude I found I didn’t like, because I lacked the whole why to give it any context or depth. By the time I got enough of what was going on, my opinions on her were already well solidified, and they’re weren’t quite as forgiving as they were of Max. It’s not helped that I kept expecting her boundary issues, her anxiety over her body, about being touched, about exposing any part of her, to stem from something truly traumatic. While her history suggests those kinds of reactions could occur, there wasn’t enough time spent on it to convince me that was the case.

The only other aspect of the book that really triggered a less than positive response from me was the ending. I’m not saying it isn’t an HEA, because it most certainly is, with an epilogue that expands a bit more on them. But the ending itself is actually quite abrupt. It went from a problem dividing the two lovers to a resolution in about six hundred words, and then proceeded to leap into an epilogue. After spending so much time with these two, and being privy to the growth of their relationship through these long conversations and sessions together, I needed to see them more after they reconciled and before the events of the epilogue to let that satisfaction sink in. It’s like the ending is a gasp when the entire story has been a long, drawn-out sigh. It didn’t fit, and ultimately cheated me out of what I’m positive could have been a stupendous ending.

I still truly enjoyed this love story, though. Max got under my skin, a feat I’m sure he would have been well proud of, and the joy in seeing them come together was a real treat. It’s sensual and lovely, like a rose unfolding. The thorns might have pricked at first, but the beauty of blossom to bloom was well worth it.


8/10 – Alternating dialogue driven sections with the art/discovery sections made this surprisingly swift to read


9/10 – His antagonistic attitude took some getting used to, but once I knew him better, I fell head over heels


6/10 – While sympathetic, some of her reactions felt over the top considering her history and in general did not feel nearly as fully fleshed as Max

Entertainment value

8/10 – I couldn’t put it down once I started, though the ending felt a tad too abrupt given the care given the rest of the story

World building

7/10 – Max’s world was fantastic, but the lack of the same attention going to Fallon’s was to her detriment



Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A day late

Family emergencies have consumed me the past twenty-four hours, so today's review will be going up tomorrow because I'm too exhausted tonight to think about it. Thanks. :)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Chasing Butterflies by Cat Kane

TITLE: Chasing Butterflies
AUTHOR: Cat Kane
PUBLISHER: Liquid Silver Books
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 36k)
GENRE: Gay contemporary erotic romance
COST: $5.50

When his car breaks down on his way to Savannah, Nolan finds himself stuck in a small town with little else to do but spend time with a friendly local. Gray has been kicked out of his house, and in desperate need of a room, convinces Nolan to share. When Gray makes his attraction clear, Nolan tries to resist, but some things are just out of his control…

I love the title of this novella. It was one of the reasons why I decided to give it a whirl when the blurb didn’t necessarily scream buy me. But unfortunately, my reservations from the blurb ended up prevailing.

Nolan is on his way to Savannah, to help out an ex with his bar. He’s trying to re-imagine his life and identity after his most recent boyfriend kicked him out because he thought Nolan needed to learn some responsibility. Nolan’s good intentions get ground to a halt when his car rental breaks down outside a tiny Tennessee town. He’s forced to find a room, but lucky for him, he’s arrived just before most people are expected to come for the town’s annual butterfly festival. He meets Gray, a local who seems as much as a free spirit as he’s always been. Gray’s personal life seems to be in turmoil, but when he makes it known he’s attracted to Nolan, Nolan eventually gives in.

Nolan is presented as charming but irresponsible. This promise to help his ex is his first planned step in refocusing his life. Something has to be better than renting out the living room walls to art students and getting dumped. It’s entertaining at first, but Nolan’s reactions to Gray begin to grate fairly early. Gray has been kicked out of his house by a woman named Maddy, but rather than get the whole story from Gray or anybody else in town, Nolan creates his own version of events.

Therein lies my problem.

Absolutely all of the conflict stems from this Big Misunderstanding. Gray does it, too, which only compounds my frustration. All of the angst, all of the emotional drama, comes from assumptions made by both men, assumptions that could have been cleared up if they ever bothered to actually finish a conversation. It’s so blatant from such an early point in the story that I spent more time wanting to shake some sense into them than getting invested in their romance.

The writing itself is not to blame. It’s clean and unassuming, rarely getting in its own way. That lapses toward the end of the story when the butterfly metaphor gets heavy-handed. Any delicacy it might have had throughout the duration of the story – and it was there, I noted more than one the similarities between Nolan and the butterflies – was turned into a sledgehammer.

None of this has soured me on this author, though. There’s a terrific sense of place and small town charm surrounding the leads, and Nolan, outside of his rather annoying assumptions, was really quite adorable. I just had no tolerance for the misunderstanding that fueled this contemporary, proving that this particular romance wasn’t for me.


8/10 – Clean and unassuming, though the butterfly metaphor gets way too heavy-handed as the story progresses

Hero #1

6/10 – His refusal to actually get clarification on everything really annoyed me

Hero #2

5/10 – Seems too mercurial throughout most of the story, though that’s largely because it remains rooted firmly in Nolan’s POV

Entertainment value

5/10 – I got too annoyed with the Big Misunderstanding to really enjoy the romance

World building

8/10 – The small town charm was probably the best part of this



Friday, April 1, 2011

Killing Joe by Marie Treanor

TITLE: Killing Joe
AUTHOR: Marie Treanor
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 27k)
GENRE: Paranormal romance
COST: $3.50

Crash test researcher Dr. Anna Baird is on the verge of exposing one of the most dangerous cars in Scotland, unless the assassin sent to kill her gets to her first. The only problem is…he doesn’t. He’s a victim of irony that puts him in a coma, a deep sleep that somehow connects him to Anna’s world…

I picked up this novella from my TBR after finishing the last story because I’d hoped reading an author I’d liked in the past would help me bounce back. The bounce wasn’t that far, unfortunately, as I picked an older story that lacks some of her later finesse.

Dr. Anna Baird is a crash test dummy expert, working at the Institute of Crash Research in Edinburgh. At the story’s start, she is being stalked by an assassin who calls himself Joe, who plans to kill her in a car accident using her own research. Cosmic irony, he figures. Except the irony is, he gets in his own accident before he can do it, sending him into a coma with dangerous injuries. At the time of his accident, Anna sees his face on her special crash test dummy, then later on, when she’s alone, she sees him when he takes the dummy’s place in storage.

It’s a fascinating idea, but it never really rises above that. Much of Joe’s presence in Anna’s world is left to the mystical, and the lack of explanation is frustrating when the rest of the story feels so realistic. This lack ends up working against Anna’s characterization as it makes her come across as highly emotional and a little unbalanced, instead of proving reasons for her to respond the way she does. When she falls for Joe so quickly, the creepiness of his stalking her at the top of the story is supplanted by her obsession with him. It never felt like a romance at that point, and when it’s attempted to get an HEA later on, it feels like an entirely different story.

It’s not helped that the editing isn’t as tight as I would expect from Samhain. There is an early mistake of using “grizzly” in place of “grisly” (more than once) that was so glaring it only spotlighted later errors even brighter (like the cop’s name changes spelling). Unfortunately, these kind of red flags disrupt my reading flow quite a bit, and with all my questions regarding the nature of the world and Joe’s situation, it was already disrupted enough. This ends up being very middle of the road for me, with points for originality but not so many for execution.


7/10 – Minor technical things pulled me out of the story a little


6/10 – Some intriguing characteristics going on here, but not enough to make him clear or let me connect to him emotionally


6/10 – Smart but seems emotionally unbalanced, making the insta-love feel even more creepy

Entertainment value

6/10 – An average read, only slightly better because of its unusual story

World building

6/10 – There needed to be more about Joe, his past, how it all worked…just more