Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Incarnate by A.C. Ruttan

TITLE: Incarnate
AUTHOR: A.C. Ruttan
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 84k)
GENRE: Urban fantasy
COST: $5.50

As an Incarnate, Cia’s main job is to protect the portal she guards. But when her Warden gives her the job to find another Incarnate suspected of numerous murders, she takes it. Because the other Incarnate is Arthur, the husband she hasn’t seen in ten years. Finding him isn’t difficult, but finding out what is really going on, why a symbol only he would use is showing up on dead bodies, is another matter entirely…

My summary is woefully inadequate, as is, honestly, much of anything I could write. This was a densely constructed urban fantasy, playing with religious themes like angels, Heaven and Hell, and demons, that try to blend/merge with a plethora of historical references. The end result was a confusing mishmash that could’ve been so much more.

So I’m not going to even try summarizing this. There are twists and turns galore, so what I would say would get trumped within a few chapters anyway because I’m reluctant to give spoilers. But therein lies its greatest flaws. In its attempt to convey this complex world, it gets mired in too many flashbacks and too many information dumps to get the point across. The best parts were the action sequences because the story actually moves along at those points. Luckily, there were enough of those to keep me reading rather than giving up after the first third. (The fact that there are editorial inconsistencies don’t help, i.e. Arthur’s eyes changing color while he’s human when he doesn’t have souls anymore.)

Characterizations get lost in the world-building, too. Cia fares the best, but even hers is lacking. Incarnates have two souls, and frankly, her older soul is far more developed than she ever was. I couldn’t tell you much about who Cia really was, but I could write reams on Boudicca. Arthur is more interesting in demon form, mostly because when he’s human, he comes across as a block of wood. These two are supposed to be in love, but I didn’t feel it until close to the end. A whole host of supporting characters flit through the pages, but because their various roles are so muddy for most of the story, it’s hard to really care about any of them, either. The one thing that got me through to the end was simply the need to discover how it all turned out, but even then, I’m pretty sure I don’t have it straight.

I do know, however, I won’t be bothering with the second book. None of the characters were interesting enough to follow, the author’s reliance on flashbacks as a narrative device was tedious, and the lack of clarity as the story attempts to construct its world was too frustrating to overcome.


6/10 – Editorial inconsistencies and too many flashbacks made this more of a chore than it had to be


4/10 – More interesting as a demon, but still lacked much of anything to really capture me


6/10 – Her older soul’s personality was stronger than hers

Entertainment value

4/10 – I finished because I was curious about how it played out, not because I cared

World building

7/10 – While it’s obvious a lot of care/attention has gone into it, it’s not conveyed efficiently



Monday, October 24, 2011

Someplace in This World by various authors

TITLE: Someplace in This World
AUTHORS: Lee Benoit, Kiernan Kelly, Syd McGinley, J.L. Merrow, G.R. Richards, J. Rocci, P.D. Singer, G.S. Wiley, Eden Winters
LENGTH: Anthology (roughly 65k)
GENRE: Gay erotic romance
COST: $6.99

A collection of gay erotic romance stories, all centered around the theme of home…

The theme of this anthology of gay romances centers around the idea of home, defining it in ways unique to each story. Some of them work much better than others, but then again, isn’t that usually the way with anthologies?

The collection begins with “Absence of Color” by Kiernan Kelly. Michael has been grieving the loss of his partner for three years. His brother isn’t happy with how he hasn’t moved and demands that he come out and live with him and his family for a while. There, he meets a nice guy in a mall, that actually leads to a date. But Michael hasn’t dealt with the loss of his partner well at all, and the date changes in ways he’s not sure he likes. I was wary after finishing this first story. The material is very dark, and the mood depressing. It deals with abusive relationships and grief and guilt in a very heavy-handed way, and I wasn’t sure if this meant the entire anthology was going to be like this. As a starter, it almost stopped me in my tracks, because I would expect anthologies to be edited to have a definite building flow, rather than starting on such in your face drama. Perhaps it would have been better if I’d liked the story more than I did, but it was too doom and gloom for most of it. Then, during the date, both guys end up spilling lots of deep, heavy secrets to each other. On a first date. Compared to how realistically it seemed the rest of the story was being told, this seemed really far-fetched. Too far-fetched for me, actually.

Next comes “The Prodigal” by Eden Winters, the story of prostitute Mark and his journey home again. As you can tell from the subject matter, this was another grim tale, but contrary to the first, this one felt a lot more genuine, with very realistic reactions and nothing sexually inappropriate for the situation just because of who the publisher is. One of my top three in the anthology.

I had higher hopes going onto “The Magic of Moving Houses” by G.R. Richards. It’s the story of two neighboring families whose houses start disappearing in the middle of the night, leaving them to figure out what happened to them. Though I liked the general idea behind this, the execution fell flat. POV is looser in this than in any of the other stories, and the sex scene at the end is over the top. I just couldn’t buy it in the end.

Some of that was redeemed in “Comeback,” by G.S. Wiley, the story of an A-list Hollywood actor trying to get back in the game after rehab. I loved the set-up and the characters in this, as well as the vivid descriptions, but all that potential was sold short by and ending that was too rushed and simplified for the complexity of the voice and characterizations I’d already been sold. It didn’t improve with much with “Return to the Mountain” by P.D. Singer, either. I realized right away this was part of a series I hadn’t read, and spent most of the first half just trying to keep straight all the characters. Definitely a miss if one hasn’t already read the others. It’s one redeeming grace was the character of Seth, a young man I would’ve loved to have known better.

My absolute favorite story of the anthology was J. Rocci’s “Oilsmouth.” This is a steampunk offering about a mercenary named Edge, who will do anything to protect his boyfriend Kit. That’s all I’m telling about the plot, because more will spoil it. The action is swift and crisp, the characterizations gritty and compelling, and the realistic ending wonderful.

It would have been hard to top anything after this, to be honest, and none of the last three stories did. “Light the Fire” by J.L. Merrow is a surprisingly fluffy contemporary about two guys who meet at a gym. One’s in mourning and keeps refusing the other, who frankly, got very annoying very early on. Then came Lee Benoit’s “Pack Horse.” I normally love Benoit, but I found this very difficult to slog through. The setting felt muddy for too long, and I struggled to place it until some very specific references showed up. The two leads were all right, their banter almost fun in parts, but the declarations at the end came out of left field. I did enjoy the final story, Syd McGinley’s “Home Is the Hunter,” the tale of two high school sweethearts who are reunited when one comes home from Afghanistan, but its charm was very ephemeral and fleeting. When I’d finished, I had difficulty even remembering the names of the two male leads.

Overall, it’s certainly not a bad anthology, though only two were truly excellent for me. Be prepared for a lot of downer topics, though. If you’re not in the mood for them, they probably won’t work for you.


7/10 – Varies from story to story, though mostly easy


6/10 – Like most anthologies, hit or miss


6/10 – Some were great, others not so much

Entertainment value

6/10 – Slightly better than average, but there were enough clunkers to pull this down

World building

6/10 – A couple really excellent ones pull this up better than average



Friday, October 21, 2011

Breaking Free by Anya Richards

TITLE: Breaking Free
AUTHOR: Anya Richards
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 90k)
GENRE: Historical erotic romance
COST: $5.50

Widow Claire Montjoye has resigned herself to a life of solitude, since her reputation is mostly in tatters from the events of her marriage and her sexually depraved husband. Then she meets widower Xavier Westbourne and experiences desire for the first time in years. Each is drawn to the other, until Claire decides to be bold and offers to show Xavier how best to pleasure a woman. All he wants is Claire, so he’s thrilled to accept her proposal, but it quickly becomes clear their carnal arrangement won’t be enough for either of them for very long…

Sometimes, loving a hero will carry me much farther into a story than might otherwise happen. That certainly occurred with this particular novel.

Claire Montjoye married young, but her innocence didn’t last very long. Her husband had huge sexual appetites, and the more he got, the wilder he needed it the next time. Claire was but a pawn in many of his sexual games, ranging from orgies to BDSM, so when he dies, her reputation is left in tatters. Two years on, she still doesn’t like venturing out into society, even though she craves having her respectability back. On a night she arrives for the opera, she is saved from being run over by a carriage by Xavier Westbourne. Her attraction to him is immediate, but she knows nothing could ever come of it. She’ll not taint anybody else’s reputation by sullying them with her association. Xavier, on the other hand, is entranced by her. Normally very shy, he finds it easy to talk to her when they meet again, which culminates in a request to join him at the opera. There, Claire learns about how his marriage had been so unsatisfactory, how his wife didn’t enjoy physical relations, and she decides to be bold and satisfy both of their needs. He accepts, but in the background lurks a man who’s been obsessed with Claire since long before her husband’s death.

The set-up isn’t that original, though it’s a welcome twist to see the woman as the more experienced, teaching her contemporary more about the art of lovemaking. I can’t say that I actually really liked Claire that much, though. I found her behavior inconsistent, and her constant self-deprecation and loathing regarding how depraved she was and how harmful her presence was to anyone decent was really annoying. Every time it seemed like she was ready to grow beyond it, she slid two steps back to create conflict within the story.

What saved all of it was Xavier. I fell in love with him almost as soon as he was introduced. It was a combination of his chivalrous nature and his shyness that really got to me. That shyness is the bedrock of his characterization, and the way it was portrayed was masterful. His reactions were believable, consistent, and absolutely endearing, even when he lost his temper. When the prose sometimes turned a little purple for my tastes, it was Xavier that kept me going. As the story progressed, I found it increasingly difficult not to skim through scenes that were just Claire, but he rooted me back in the story every time he showed up on the page.

Another reason it got harder not to skim as the story progressed was because not enough was happening that wasn’t all about the sex. Claire was too one-note to make them very interesting by that point, and the fact that the cartoon villain had more page time (a necessary development to keep the plot going, even if his characterization was so very stereotypical and predictable) meant I had even less reason to be engaged. I wasn’t surprised to see the word count when I was done. In all honesty, it felt longer than that, which in this case, is not a compliment.

Still, I adored Xavier, and when Claire wasn’t pulling her self-loathing act, fell into their romance. That was enough to make this a slightly better than average read, because I’m sure Xavier will be one of the more romantic heroes I remember for a while.


8/10 – A little too purple in some spots for me, and the sex scenes get tedious by the end


8/10 – Shy, strong, and wonderful


5/10 – Inconsistent and annoyingly fixated on her self-hatred

Entertainment value

7/10 – Mostly because of my love for Xavier, the cartoonish villain and a heroine I never really warmed to held this back

World building

7/10 – While the historical aspects were good, so much of what went on with this so-called terrible lifestyle she had with her



Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Brass and Bone by Cynthia Gael

TITLE: Brass and Bone
AUTHOR: Cynthia Gael
PUBLISHER: Carina Press
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 36k)
GENRE: Steampunk paranormal
COST: $3.59

Lady Abigail and her partner Simon are called upon an old friend of hers for a very delicate job. He needs her to take cargo across the globe on her airship, with the witch he’s captured as part of the magical lock that will seal it forever. There’s a lot of money involved, too much to resist, but Simon thinks the witch’s keeper – her ex-lover – is too cavalier and dangerous about this entire mission…

The more published steampunk I read, the more I wonder what the big deal is. Because if these are the best the genre has to offer – and it seems everybody across the internet proclaims steampunk as the next big thing by begging for more – then I really have to ask just how awful the stories are that don’t manage to get published. Because this novella I recently finished just doesn’t cut it.

It starts out well enough. Simon and his partner Abigail rob a man of a device, having been hired to steal and deliver it for a hefty sum. Things go mildly awry when Simon is poisoned by the thing, but he is treated in time to suffer no long-term damage. He finds out the next morning that they are traveling to see an old friend of hers, a man he can’t stand, because he was both the one that hired them for this particular job and is in need for more work, something he says only Abigail can do. Once they get there, they discover they are to transport something to Australia, where it will be locked away forever using the combined blood of a witch and a human. He has a witch on hand, a French woman named Cynara, but she is treated as more of a thing and prisoner than a person. He’s sending along a keeper, the man who was Cynara’s lover before he turned her over to this group of Witchfinders, and so the four set out on this around the world journey.

If this sounds interesting, don’t be fooled. It’s a muddle and turns even more tedious after they actually leave. The story is riddled with so many weaknesses, it’s difficult to pinpoint just which holds it back the most. First of all, the author chooses to write it in alternating 1st person POVs – Simon’s (the male half of the airship pair) and Cynara’s (the female witch half of the paranormal pair). I normally love 1st person, but I find it much more difficult to switch between two within the same story, especially from chapter to chapter. It erases the deep perspective 1st person creates, and forces the reader to start over again with a character from scratch. Don’t get me wrong. It can be done, but it requires top notch writing and voices to truly pull it off. That doesn’t happen here. Instead, we only get one decent voice – Simon’s. When it switches to Cynara, the entire story gets thrown into confusion, largely because much of what happens in her POV is told instead of shown, and the world-building explaining the magical/paranormal aspects of the story is some of the sketchiest I’ve read in a while.

The telling vs. showing is a problem that runs throughout the entire story, though. For too much of it, it reads like a summary of a much longer work, skipping over what felt like should have been crucial events, skimping on the details on too many things. Characterizations suffer as a result. The only one who felt fully well-rounded and real to me was Simon. Cynara falls short on believable motivations or interest, her keeper Henri is too secretive to be anything but frustrating, and Abigail is put on a pedestal by Simon. The only aspects of the story that seem to get a good balance of loving detail are the steampunk gadgets. Abigail’s airship alone merits nearly 500 words of description, just so “you may visualize it when I discuss such aeronautical locations as the bridge, engine room, galley, hold and so forth.”

Here stems the roots from which my problems with most of the steampunk stories I read grow. I buy a genre book to read a story and be entertained in some fashion, not to be regaled with the author’s imagined gadgetry that seems to fit into this new world. Ultimately, I still need to experience an actual story, and I mean experience it, not told it. Too often, that feels like it gets forgotten, in favor of lavishing all this attention on the elements of a steampunk world. World-building is fantastic, but not the sole purpose.

Though it doesn’t say so on the site, this novella has to be the first in a series, because the conclusion is very open-ended, with nothing actually resolved. It’s just as dissatisfying as the rest of the story, but I won’t be bothering with any more that might come along. I’ve read enough of this author’s voice to know this style is just not for me.


6/10 – Alternating 1st person POVs with lots of telling makes this very tedious to get through


5/10 – Simon fares the best, but the rest of them come off as vague or caricatures


5/10 – Incomplete since it’s clearly meant to be part of a series, with little sense of flow

Entertainment value

3/10 – Started off well, but the disjointedness of the plot as well as too much tell rather than show turns this into a slog

World building

6/10 – The steampunk aspects are all right, but everything on the paranormal side leaves a lot to be desired



Monday, October 17, 2011

Ready and Willing by Cara McKenna

TITLE: Ready and Willing
AUTHOR: Cara McKenna
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 25k)
GENRE: Contemporary erotic romance
COST: $4.99

Abby wants a baby, but rather than go with an anonymous donor, she places an ad and picks out two men. Rob is the most gorgeous guy she’s ever seen, while Noah feels like somebody she’s known forever. There’s no strings, and having sex with both men means nobody will know who the actual father is. Except almost from the start, Abby feels a pull she wants to ignore, one that proves more and more irresistible as time goes by…

While I’m still excited about this author, I’m pretty sure my lower enjoyment of this particular novella is at least partially my own fault. See, the publisher lists a ménage as part of the warnings, and I didn’t read the blurb very carefully when I was so greedily buying up this author’s backlist. I was expecting a ménage romance, and though there’s a ménage (mfm) scene, this most definitely is not.

At thirty-two, Abby is feeling her biological clock ticking. She wants a baby. She doesn’t want an anonymous donor, however. She wants to meet the man who might be the father. After taking out an ad, she picks two men, who agree to her payments and no-strings offer. Rob is gorgeous, and the thought that she gets to have sex with him turns her on. Noah is good-looking, too, but his appeal comes from something else, from the feeling that they’ve known each other forever. The differences between the two men is stark, right from the beginning, and it doesn’t take long for Abby to realize that keeping things casual is a lot easier said than done.

So let’s get this clear. This is not a ménage romance. It’s not even really a “who will she pick” romance. It’s obvious from the beginning that the way Abby and Noah hit it off is important. Their chemistry is sweet and tangible, leaping off the page. I adored the first scene in the story where they meet up. It’s funny and charming, much like a lot of this author’s work. But unlike more traditional romances, Abby isn’t sexually exclusive to Noah. She can’t be. Her intention is to have sex with both men so nobody will know who the real father is, which means, sex with both men. It didn’t bother me since it seemed obvious that it was going to happen that way, but for some readers, it might prove a stumbling block.

The disparity between the two is so blatant, however, that there’s not really a lot of tension. Abby doesn’t even come when she has sex with Rob. She has to get herself off afterward. Noah, on the other hand, is as into her needs as he is his own. Plus, he’s uncomfortable with the payment part of it. It all adds up to an easy choice. There’s a solid HFN as pay-off.

The one weakness in this, and it was a doozy for me, is that their sex talk is supposed to be hot and dirty. It just wasn’t for me. It felt forced and fake, like bad porn. That makes it really hard to get into the sex scenes. The erotica worked best for me when they weren’t trying to have sexy talk, when it was more organic and real. Unfortunately, that just didn’t happen often enough.

The story is told in 1st person, present tense, a choice that might put some readers off, but honestly, I thought worked great for this style of story. It lends Abby an air of relatability, especially since the author’s voice is so distinct. My only wish is that the rest of it had been as strong.


7/10 – The dirty talk came across as more awkward than hot, but I flew through and loved all the rest of it


7/10 – Adorable and wonderful, I just needed more


7/10 – I needed her motivations sooner than I got them, but her independent streak was fantastic

Entertainment value

6/10 – Not buying the dirty talk really held me back in enjoying this

World building

6/10 – The contemporary setting precludes much of anything here, though there was a nice setting when it hit Christmas



Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Heart of Gold by Laurel Natale

TITLE: Heart of Gold
AUTHOR: Laurel Natale
PUBLISHER: Wild Rose Press
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 88k)
GENRE: Historical romance
COST: $7.00

Matt Sutherland has one goal – to earn enough money mining gold to return East and marry the woman he loves. When he arrives in Arizona, he happens across an auction for a claim, or rather half a claim. The other half belongs to the seller’s sister, who refuses to sell. Matt decides to take a chance and ends up purchasing the claim, partnering up with Deidre Connelly. She teaches him what she knows, and they develop an easy alliance. Over time, they even develop more…

While I love finding memorable characters I actually like, if I can’t get past technical issues like headhopping, it doesn’t make a difference what kind of story they might have.

Set in old west Arizona, this is the story of two opposites who come together. Matt Sutherland is from Pennsylvania, with dreams of marrying the rich young lady he’s in love with. Deidre Connelly is an illiterate young woman with dreams of making enough money panning gold to be independent someday. Matt purchases her drunken brother’s claim, and the two become uneasy allies. Dee teaches Matt what he needs to know, and he teaches her how to read and write. He treats her with respect, something she’s not used to, and while she’s attracted to him from the start, he takes longer to accept his attraction. She’s not a lady, after all, and he’s in love with someone else. But their proximity and circumstance conspire against them.

The two leads are actually quite enjoyable. Dee is spunky and determined to fight for herself, mostly because she’s had to do it for so long, while Matt has an honorable streak a mile wide. Combined with his strong work ethic, he makes an appealing hero for a while in the beginning, at least until he starts treating Dee as less than she is just because she doesn’t match his definition of refinement. It doesn’t last, thank goodness, but it was there long enough to annoy me. I imagine I probably would be more forgiving toward him if I didn’t like Dee as much as I did.

However, liking the characters is different than liking the story, and the fact of the matter is, this is riddled with headhopping. Sometimes it’ll last in a single POV for a few pages, but there are too many sections where it will jump back and forth after only a few paragraphs. It destroys any sense of anticipation of what the other character might be feeling in tenser situations and gave me such a feeling of whiplash that I put this down constantly because I just couldn’t take it. By all rights, I probably should have stopped reading because it bothered me so much, but I liked these two. I wanted to see their happy ending. It took me way too long to get to that point, however, and wanting to see it and actually feeling it in my gut like I would a really great romance aren’t the same thing. Because I didn’t feel the HEA at all. All I got from it was a sense of closure and a certainty that this author’s style is just not for me.


5/10 – The headhopping gave me whiplash and made it all too easy to put down


6/10 – I liked his hardworking ideal, but his attitude toward Dee for the first third really annoyed me


7/10 – I really liked her spunky, determined attitude

Entertainment value

4/10 – Not even characters I could warm up to could save my irritation with the headhopping

World building

8/10 – I don’t know if it’s all historically accurate, but it did feel authentic



Monday, October 10, 2011

Bring the Heat by M.L. Rhodes

TITLE: Bring the Heat
AUTHOR: M.L. Rhodes
PUBLISHER: Amber Allure
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 31k)
GENRE: Gay contemporary erotic romance
COST: $6.00

For weeks, Detective Riley Ellison has been crushing on a gorgeous guy from afar, going into a different coffee shop than his normal just for the chance to see him. When the guy surprises him by buying him a coffee and giving him his number, Riley is taken aback, but doesn’t follow through, convinced a beautiful man like that would never be interested in a reformed geek. Color them both surprised, however, when the crush turns out to be a person of interest in Riley’s most recent homicide investigation…

This is one of those authors that I see touted around the blogosphere as well loved, but after reading this second offering from here, I think I’ve come to the conclusion that she’s just not to my taste.

The story starts out promising. Riley is a geeky cop, struggling with self-image, who’s been going into a different coffee shop for the past three weeks because he’s crushing on a guy who is totally not his usual type. Meaning, completely gorgeous and out of his league. Unsafe. On the day he vows it’s the last time, the guy surprises him by paying for his coffee and giving Riley his phone number, only to disappear when Riley looks for him afterward. Riley doesn’t follow through on calling, mostly out of fear that it’s all one big game and he’ll be made a bigger fool by trusting it. When he’s out questioning people in relation to a new murder case he has, a stripper at a gay club, he’s shocked to learn his mystery man is Dane Scott, a co-worker and next on his list.

That’s when it begins going downhill for me. I’m not a fan of insta-love, and that’s pretty much what this is. Riley and Dane can’t keep their hands off each other, which is all well and good for having hot sex, but as soon as they start talking commitment and something longer the very same night, my brakes come screaming on. I just don’t believe it, especially with a guy like Riley. It’s romantic fantasy fluff, and not what I read for most of the time. It doesn’t help that Dane is completely idealized. He’s gorgeous, he’s well-off, he cooks, he says all the right things, he’s great in the sack…the list goes on. He’s too good to be true, which makes it all that much more unbelievable that Riley, a cautious guy by nature, would fall for him so hard, so fast.

Any hope that the cop/murder angle will provide some added interest gets tossed aside too soon. Most of the case is handled and resolved off the page, leaving only the explanations for what happened to read after the fact. The characters involved in it never appear on the page themselves, and there’s never any real threat to either Dane or Riley, so calling this a mystery or suspense would be a complete misnomer. The murder is simply a device to shove Riley into Dane’s life, since it’s obvious Riley won’t take that step himself. It’s not even handled gracefully afterward to lift it above its contrivance.

I can’t even say the prose elevates this. There was an editorial mistake in the second paragraph on the very first page that almost had me stopping then and there before I decided to continue on, and unfortunately, more abounded as I made my way through the story. I know for a fact this author is appreciated by a lot of readers, probably for the very same reasons I find myself turned off to her work. But at least I now know that her style of romance is just not for me.


7/10 – Some editorial mistakes kept jumping out at me, and the off-page explanations were dry and boring

Hero #1

7/10 – Nice to see a cop that’s not Mr. Macho

Hero #2

4/10 – Far too perfect to be believable

Entertainment value

6/10 – Fluffy and romantic if that’s what you’re looking for, but insta-love doesn’t really work for me most of the time

World building

5/10 – Very extraneous to the story, the cop angle was more of a device to get these two connected than anything of real interest or complications



Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Lady's Minstrel by N.J. Walters

TITLE: Lady’s Minstrel
AUTHOR: N.J. Walters
PUBLISHER: Ellora’s Cave
LENGTH: Short story (roughly 10k)
GENRE: Historical erotic romance
COST: $2.49

For six years, Alicia has waited for her husband to return from the Crusades. In his absence, she’s done everything she can to preserve his keep, to help it flourish, so it’s strong when he comes home. Nobody she’s asked has been able to help her, so when a minstrel arrives asking questions about her and the keep, she fears the worst—that the king is about to marry her off to somebody else…

I knew going into this that based on its length and where it was published, the focus wouldn’t necessarily be on plot or world building. But in the end, I enjoyed this for reasons entirely separate from those.

Alicia has been waiting for her husband’s return from the Crusades for six years, running the keep in his absence. She’s done a good job of it, and over time, has become loved and treasured by the people she takes care of. When a minstrel arrives, asking questions about her and the keep, she fears that the king has decided it’s time to marry her off, regardless of the fact that no word has ever come about her husband, or maybe, because of it. Unwilling to show weakness, she summons the minstrel to get the answers she wants from him. If she doesn’t like them, she’ll send him along.

The blurb at EC’s website gives away more, so I guess I can’t be accused of spoiling if I say the minstrel is actually Alicia’s husband Reys. Therein lies the emotional tug of this story. Alicia has missed and mourned him all this time, faithful to his memory, foregoing her own needs in order to save as much money as possible in case she ever had to ransom for his release. Her grief is palpable, her devotion endearing, and through it all, she remains strong and graceful, likeable in a sweet sort of way. Her reunion with Reys is predictable, but the raw emotion from both of them—Reys has been tortured and missed her just as much—compensates greatly for that expectedness. I’ll admit I teared up a little as they each stripped down and bared themselves to the other for the first time in so many years. I believed in their love, even as short as this story is, and fell for the story in spite of its other shortcomings.

Because it’s not perfect. Reys is too romanticized to be much of anything but a stereotype, even though the tragic hints of what he went through would have been wonderful if the length had allowed them to be explored. Historical detail is glossed over, with just enough there to let the reader know it’s a historical, and doesn’t shine in anyway. The prose itself is simplistic, too, and while the first sex scene is hot, the latter is lost in the anguish that preceded it.

Is it for everybody? Probably not. Sticklers for historical detail will be disappointed, and the sex doesn’t stray too far from vanilla. But I felt for these two people deeply, and rejoiced in their reunion. When it comes to short story romances, sometimes that’s all you need.


8/10 – Simple and emotional, but exactly what I needed


6/10 – The bones of an amazing hero are there, but for a story of this length, he’s too romanticized to be much more of a type


7/10 – Shows startling grace and strength that I eagerly responded to

Entertainment value

8/10 – The emotional tug of this is what got me

World building

5/10 – Only sketchy details to paint some background, that’s not the focus on this at all



Monday, October 3, 2011

The One That Counts by Chrissy Munder

TITLE: The One That Counts
AUTHOR: Chrissy Munder
PUBLISHER: Dreamspinner
LENGTH: Short story (roughly 8.7k)
GENRE: Gay contemporary erotic romance
COST: $2.99

After his father’s death, Rob returns to the town where he grew up with his partner to see the family business one last time. While there, he reminisces about his first time, an experience he’s never shared before…

I’ve heard good things about Chrissy Munder, but nothing has ever really jumped out at me to try except this short. I’ve had it for a while, but after reading a different Dreamspinner book that just left me too frustrated to properly review, I needed something short if I wanted to get anything at all posted today. So I finally got around to reading this, and while I’m not convinced she’s worth autobuying, it was definitely a pleasant read.

Rob’s father has recently died, leaving behind the family business, a Laundromat, to him and his sister. He goes to see it one last time, and when his partner David surprises him with a key to get in, they enter. He’s immediately assaulted with memories, so as the conversation shifts along, he decides to share the story of his first time. It took place the summer after his first year in college, after his mother had a heart attack but before she passed along. He was working at the Laundromat part-time and already feeling the pressure about being different than he was in high school. The current object of his fascination is a stranger who keeps coming in. Eventually, Rob gets his chance to learn more about him.

While uncomplicated, there’s a certain quaint charm about this short story that turns it from something sweet but forgettable into something a little bit more. The prose is a small step above the norm, albeit a bit romanticized, with descriptions that help bring the Laundromat to life. The men are painted well, too, and I especially appreciated that they seemed more like real physical types rather than romantic heroes. Since the story is told primarily from Rob’s POV, he benefits the most in terms of characterization. His nineteen-year-old self is refreshingly awkward and earnest without being grating, and honestly, more interesting than his current incarnation. David doesn’t stand out as much, but the last chapter told from his perspective helps to round him out a little bit, again with making character choices that veer more toward realistic than romanticized.

I’m not exactly chomping at the bit to go and read this author’s backlist, but having a pleasant experience this first time out of the gate certainly helps when I consider future releases.


8/10 – Rather charming in its descriptions, with easy, natural dialogue

Hero #1

7/10 – I loved his flashback self, so real and awkward

Hero #2

6/10 – Doesn’t jump out as much as Rob, but the last portion from his POV helps tremendously

Entertainment value

7/10 – A charming, easy story with a ring of authenticity

World building

7/10 – The Laundromat jumped out, but I wasn’t aware that it took place in Michigan until the end when the reference to the UP took me by surprise