Sunday, May 6, 2012

Hunter's Prey by Moira Rogers

AUTHOR: Moira Rogers
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 45k)
GENRE: Steampunk paranormal erotic romance
COST: $4.50

Two people attempting to change their lives. Ophelia, an ex-prostitute, has taken over the job of housekeeper for the bloodhounds in Iron Creek, while Hunter, a bloodhound, is trying to learn how to exist outside a cage. Neither wants to admit their attraction to the other. But when desire and emotions take charge, neither one really has a choice…

The world-building in the first book of this series intrigued me enough to invest in getting the second. However, I’m not completely sure it’s enough to keep me going after this one.

In this installment, our romance occurs between Ophelia, an ex-prostitute who has been given the job as housekeeper at the manor where the bloodhounds of Iron Creek live, and Hunter, a recently rescued new bloodhound who is still learning what it means to be one. Ophelia is done with being a pawn for men, as well as only being valued for her sex appeal, but being a housekeeper isn’t exactly what she wants either. She’s too independent and intelligent for such menial work, and decides she’s going to quit once the new moon is past. The one thing that gives her pause is the latest bloodhound at the manor. Hunter had been caged by vampires ever since being created, used as a feeding source for Nate (who has become a sort of vampire/bloodhound hybrid), and is just starting to learn what it means to be what he is. He’s afraid of what he can do, of how out of control he gets, and he’s especially afraid he’ll hurt Ophelia, since she seems to be the one woman who can really get to him. He turns down her offer to help him through the new moon (a period during which they need to feed off their partner’s lusts and desires, which is basically an excuse for lots and lots of sex over a three day period), but when she makes the arrangements for him to be seen by someone else, he refuses, demanding only her.

The story goes on from there, though honestly, there’s not much that isn’t horribly predictable. The bulk of it is spent on Hunter’s internal angst about who he really is and Ophelia’s flip-flopping back and forth on her feelings for Hunter, with a subplot about a threat running through Iron Creek supposedly bringing things together. While the world is just as fascinating as it was the first time, it’s less developed, relying too heavily on previous knowledge to work well as a standalone. I hadn’t read the previous book again before tackling this one, and found gaps in my knowledge that this one failed to fill in. For a new reader to the series, I don’t think it serves it well at all.

It’s not helped by the fact that the characterizations for both leads aren’t strong. Hunter’s primary conflict is his internal battle trying to figure out who he really is – the man he was before he became a bloodhound or the monster he is now. But because Hunter doesn’t know, we as readers don’t ever really get to find out either. It leaves him as a shell for me to project upon, an archetype to imagine going through the motions of what are meant to steamy love scenes. It’s boring, frankly. Ophelia fares slightly better, as she has a stronger sense of who she is, but just because she’s strong-willed and independent, that doesn’t necessarily mean she’s interesting. She’s not. And the sex isn’t written well enough to make up for the deficiency in either of the characters.

The broader cast of characters is interesting, with both new and old faces, but the story is too short to give any of them a decent treatment. There’s barely enough time to get the main conflict resolved, let alone touch on the multitude of subplots that get thrown into the mix (most likely fodder for future stories). I would have much preferred getting some meaty time with just one or two, rather than the plethora that took over the pages.

Will I read the third book when it comes out? I honestly don’t know. This one had such potential, with a hero type that usually falls right in the middle of a bulletproof kink (the broken alpha struggling for identity), and yet, didn’t follow through on its promise. I guess it’ll be a matter of evaluating it on its own merit rather than as an autobuy as part of a series.

8/10 – Clean and does the job
5/10 – The problem is, since he doesn’t know who he is, the reader doesn’t either
6/10 – Being strong-willed and independent doesn’t necessarily make her well-rounded
Entertainment value
5/10 – As much as I love the potential in this, I never believed the romance enough to invest in it
World building
8/10 – As fascinating as this world is, it doesn’t work as a standalone as well as it should

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Bust #5

While I was away, I didn't have much opportunity to read. Unfortunately, that seems to be the case when trouble in real life rears its head. What I did read...most of it was pretty bad. I was looking for shorter works, things I thought I could read quickly and escape with, but very, very few were actually finishable.

Two that especially disappointed were His Darling by Ashley Elizabeth Ludwig, and Demon's Fall by Karalynn Lee. The first was a contemporary romance from Wild Rose Press about a filmmaker and a musician, and hinted that it would bring in some classic Hollywood elements with her grandmother, but it was a chore from the onset. The hero was kind of a mama's boy, and the dialogue and situations just sincerely unfunny when they were meant to be charmingly awkward. The second was written by an author I've read before, one whose voice really got to me. I had high hopes for this novella from Carina, but honestly, it was a letdown in every way. Characterizations were shallow, there was zero build-up of tension (the hero went from wanting her soul--just because--to wanting her love--again just because), and the gorgeous prose I fell in love with in the first story I ready by this author was nowhere to be found. So a bust from me tonight.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Convenient Strangers by Cara McKenna

AUTHOR: Cara McKenna
PUBLISHER: Ellora’s Cave
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 20k)
GENRE: Gay contemporary erotica
COST: $4.45

Stephen left England behind to follow his lover back to the States, but when it finally becomes clear his lover is not coming out of the closet for him, Stephen calls it quits. He goes out to drown his sorrows and runs into the handsome Adam, himself the product of a recent break-up. The two men hit it off, ending with an offer to crash the night on Adam’s couch. In spite of their intent to keep it simple, the chemistry between them is too hot to ignore…

I’ve been on a kick recently with this author, and this is hardly the last book I have of hers on my TBR pile. It succeeds where the previous erotica book I read by here didn’t quite, though, which just makes me more excited about getting to the rest of her backlist.

English Stephen followed his lover back to the States in hopes that this relationship was going to be the one. However, the in the closet tendencies his lover displayed never go away, frustrating Stephen more and more as time passes. Finally, he can’t take anymore and walks out. Heading out to the bar, he gets hit on by Adam, a physical therapist who is coming off his own recent break-up. After a rough start, they hit it off, and decide to take it elsewhere, especially since Stephen doesn’t want to go back home. They agree no anal on the first date, but as the tension between them rises, they both realize they need to renegotiate those boundaries.

This is not a romance. There’s no HEA, and it’s branded as part of the Exotika line at EC. I say this only because of reader expectations. My previous experiences with McKenna’s erotica have blurred the lines between erotica and romance, making it difficult to accept it as either. Thankfully, this one doesn’t fall into that trap.

That’s not to say it doesn’t have an emotional payout. It does, to a degree. Both Stephen and Adam are sharply drawn, and the sexual tension between the two ratcheted up so well, the sex is a relief when it finally occurs. Because they both feel very real, and their emotions are just as vital as their physical attraction, I became attached to both men, eager to see how their one-night stand was going to play out. While there isn’t an HEA, there’s a hint of an HFN, which in the case of erotica, is really all that’s needed (and anybody expecting otherwise isn’t paying attention to how this is being sold). It works. Surprisingly well. Because the sex is hot and satisfying, the characters solid and sympathetic, and the writing clean and concise.

9/10 – Hot and well-paced
8/10 – The chemistry between these two is delicious, which helps with the eventual sex
8/10 – I liked both these guys for their very different personalities
Entertainment value
8/10 – There’s nothing wholly original about the story, but it delivers what it promises
World building
5/10 – Takes a back seat to the characters and sex

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Back to reviewing

Real life has been taking precedence the last month or so, so I put reviewing on a back burner. Now that everything is calming down, I'll be back to posting tomorrow.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Willing Victim by Cara McKenna

TITLE: Willing Victim
AUTHOR: Cara McKenna
PUBLISHER: Ellora’s Cave
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 41k)
GENRE: Contemporary erotica
COST: $5.20

An attraction to blue-collar Flynn seems simple until Laurel sees his rough-and-tumble attitude inside the ring of an underground fighting club. According to his friend with benefits, Flynn likes his sex rough. Very rough. An intrigued Laurel agrees to watch to see if it’s something that might interest her, but her reaction is far stronger than she anticipated…

I had some issues with the first erotica title I read by this author, and though this doesn't knock it out of the ballpark, it still manages to be hot escapism.

Laurel is twenty-nine and waitressing at a tourist trap, disenchanted with the opportunities her engineering degree has scrounged up. In an attempt to have a peaceful afternoon, she ends up witness to an argument between lovers, but they ignore her attempts to keep it civil. A stranger appears out of nowhere, manhandles the boyfriend into moving it elsewhere, and then walks away. Laurel is intrigued and chases him down. He takes up her offer to buy him lunch, but when she gathers the nerve to ask this man out, he turns her down, saying he’s not most women’s type. She presses, and he finally tells her to show up at a bar on Saturday night, tell them Flynn sent her, and then see if she’s still interested in a date. On Saturday night, she witnesses an underground boxing club, with the man – Flynn, she learns his name is – one of the most brutal in the ring. She also sees him kissing a woman, and discouraged that he’s got a girlfriend, confesses to her that Flynn invited her to watch. The woman laughs it off, saying they’re just friends with benefits, that Flynn likes his sex rough and is willing to take her to dark places most men won’t. She invites Laurel to come watch them after the fight, an offer Laurel eventually accepts. What she sees about Flynn intrigues her even more, and she and Flynn then arrange to hook up on their own.

There’s a warning on the publisher’s site, stating that though everything is purely consensual, the role-playing and rape fantasies that get acted out might prove too much of a trigger for some readers. While this warning is valid and probably necessary – it’s better to err on the side of caution when it comes to these sort of triggers – the story isn’t nearly as rough as I expected it to be. Sure, Flynn uses rough language, spanks and slaps, bosses women around as he wants, but in all honesty, it never feels overboard. That’s largely due to remaining in Laurel’s perspective throughout the entire book. Because she always feels safe, the reader does, too. Flynn is never as menacing as he could be.

That being said, most of the sex is hot. Very hot. Very, very hot. The base nature of their first encounters do smooth out as the story progresses, and honestly, I didn’t care for the final sex scenes nearly as much as the initial ones (nor the implication that developing feelings means kink preferences aren’t important anymore), but that’s likely due to a pacing and structural issue rather than the scenes themselves.

See, this is erotica. It’s sold as erotica. For three-fourths of the story, it is erotica. But suddenly, in the last quarter, a bunch of emotions are introduced that are likely meant to show the viable shift from hooking up to dating. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s all so rushed and out of the blue that it never feels genuine. Flynn doesn’t suffer from it; his casual comment that Laurel was supposed to ask him out for a date but instead they’ve only hooked up is proof he’s been thinking about her and dating prospects. Laurel is the one who suddenly spills secrets, and it just never makes sense.

Up until this point, though, I liked Flynn and Laurel for what they were. Flynn is blue-collar Boston, surprisingly articulate even with his often brusque manner, while Laurel is relatable in her insecurities and desires. The ending is meant to introduce a potential HFN (unnecessary in erotica, in my opinion), and I think I could be convinced these two have a future based on the characterizations I saw up until that jarring last chapter or two. But that’s not the point of erotica. This should have been all about the heat. In that respect, it worked, providing an intense exploration into less romantic fantasies. I’m in for more. Definitely.


8/10 – Until the last fourth that didn’t seem to fit, hot and heavy


8/10 – Though it devolves into more vanilla as the story progresses, it’s still pretty darn hot


7/10 – I liked them more for the first ¾’s but found the emotional dumps in the last bit unbelievable and out of place

Entertainment value

7/10 – If this had stayed firmly within the realm of erotica, this would’ve been higher. As a hybrid, it doesn’t work as well

World building

8/10 – I don’t know if the boxing is necessarily realistic, but damn if I couldn’t see and smell everything



Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Family Business by Emma McKee

TITLE: Family Business
AUTHOR: Emma McKee
PUBLISHER: Wild Rose Press
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 62k)
GENRE: Contemporary romantic suspense
COST: $3.99

Loan officer Nora Bainbridge’s great-aunt is as eccentric as they come, but then again, as an aging actress from Hollywood’s golden era, she’s expected to be. When she breaks her leg, she asks for Nora to move in and take care of her cat, a financial arrangement Nora can’t refuse right now. Little does she know that the TV producer poking his nose around, looking for information on her Aunt Elnora’s ancient connections with the mob, is really an FBI agent, or that he just might be the answer to her recent dry spell…

When an author’s humor works for me, I’m much more inclined to finish a book, even when I can see its flaws. This was one of those cases.

It opens with FBI agent Luke McKinnon staking out aging Hollywood actress, Elnora Bainbridge, in hopes he can determine whether or not his teenaged crush is involved in a stolen art scam. He witnesses her take a fall while chasing her cat and calls 911 anonymously. That same fall puts Elnora in the hospital, and prompts her to pay her great-niece, named after her, to housesit and take care of the over-indulged cat. Nora agrees only because she needs the money. She’s barely making ends meet as she struggles to regain her financial footing after her ex cleaned her out. Luke shows up and introduces himself as a television producer, interested in doing a show on Elnora. He’s struck by the physical similarities between the two women, and it becomes harder for him to separate his growing feelings for Nora with the pressing evidence that Elnora really is involved in something illegal. He should know, after all. His grandfather was one of the mobsters who fought over Elnora before she gave up her acting career for good.

I fell for this story very early on, mostly because I was laughing out loud in the first few pages at Luke’s spying antics. The humor in this worked for me, mostly because I got sucked in by Luke’s appalled thoughts that he would now be scarred with memories of his favorite teenaged crush running around naked in her eighties. It’s a little silly, but that farcical nature worked within the context of the story, keeping it light for most of its length. Not all of it was a success. I’m not a fan of puns at all, and having the nosy neighbor named Ima Payne was mostly just eyeroll-worthy. Still, I liked Nora and Luke’s self-deprecating humor enough to like them in conjunction, thus making it easier to invest in their potential romance.

The supporting cast is colorful as well, from her spirited Aunt Elnora with her illicit online businesses, to Elnora’s attorney Albert, all the way to the overweight, over-indulged cat, Mr. Witherby. Nora bounces around from person to animal with a refreshing aplomb, and if she sometimes seems a bit scattered as a result, it’s nice to be remembered that events are happening very quickly within the story (so quickly that at least once, the author messes up the timeline). More get introduced as the story progresses, and it’s the firm addition of the Mob (as opposed to the hints that they might be involved at the top of the story) that actually starts weakening the tale.

So much is made about what might have happened, the truth is very anticlimactic when it comes out. Then, it plays out so quickly, in a scene that’s far too talky even for a farce, that I was left with a vague sense of, “That’s it?” Add to that a time jump at the end that, while justified, watered down the response rather than heightened it, and I was a little disappointed by the time I got my HEA. If only the last third had lived up to the hype of the first two. This could’ve been truly remarkable then.


8/10 – Humor goes a long way in smoothing over rough transitions and an anticlimactic ending


7/10 – His perspective was what enticed me to make this a definite finish, funny and just deprecating enough to be charming


7/10 – Self-aware with just enough of an edge

Entertainment value

7/10 – I responded to humor in this, as well as the obvious love for old movies, though the ending didn’t live up to the promise of the first two-thirds

World building

7/10 – Enough hints to make it interesting, not enough to make it rich



Monday, April 2, 2012

One Good Year by Rowan McBride

TITLE: One Good Year
AUTHOR: Rowan McBride
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 824k)
GENRE: Gay paranormal romance
COST: $4.99

A year after Spade was on in a card game, he’s still devoted to his master Ace but wondering why he doesn’t feel more secure in the relationship. Ace does everything he can to convince him, but it takes another of Spade’s kind threatening to tear them apart forever for the lovers to face what it means to belong to each other…

Revisiting loved characters in subsequent books is often dangerous, especially when a lot of time has elapsed. Unfortunately, this short sequel to One Good Hand fails to deliver much of anything except a brief walk down memory lane.

Told in 1st person from Spade’s POV, this is a short revisit in Spade and Ace’s lives together, almost a year after Ace won Spade in a poker game. Spade is an alien species, designed to be the perfect match for whoever owns him, and in the first book, proved he was the right partner for Ace when their bond was solidified. Spade meets another of his kind who has been looking for them ever since they crashed fifteen years ago, but his intentions soon become evident. He thinks Ace will hurt Spade, so he’s determined to separate the two permanently by erasing their memories.

While I really enjoyed the first book, and often find this author very enjoyable, this story ultimately didn’t work for me. First of all, it relies too heavily on knowing its predecessor, with characterizations that tell more than show and too little attention breathing fresh life into them. Even recognizing it won’t work as a standalone, however, it becomes mired in its own over-romanticism and sentimentality. These guys are mushy from the very start, and it borders on nauseating because there’s just no ebb and flow to make their relationship feel real.

On top of that, we’re introduced to Ancel, another of Spade’s kind, who was defective and thus has other abilities that Spade doesn’t. He becomes this omnipotent force that threatens to come between Ace and Spade, but his conflict is introduced too late in the story for it to have much impact, not to mention I had very little opportunity to really get to know him as a character before the threats began. Maybe if he’d seemed more genuine or if I’d known him better, I wouldn’t have been as annoyed by what felt like manufactured conflict.

In all fairness, I think this short novella would do best with readers who were highly invested in the couple as based on their first story and really want to see something – anything – with them again. Otherwise, I’d pass.


7/10 – Overly romantic and too repetitive to be a quick read

Hero #1

5/10 – Even though we’re in his POV, I felt I knew him better in the first book than this one

Hero #2

6/10 – His constant indecision and fear were grating

Entertainment value

4/10 – Doesn’t work as a standalone at all

World building

5/10 – Too much is left unexplained, new readers won’t get it easily



Friday, March 30, 2012

Bust #4

Being on vacation for two weeks meant I should've had a lot reviews lined up, but unfortunately, I ran into quite a few duds in my reading choices.

One was a truly awful novella by Jo Barrett called "Doorway to His Heart." I thought it would be a sweet time travel-type story, but it was riddled with so many editorial mistakes, it was a joke. Even laugh out loud funny. For instance, in the first chapter, the heroine has woken up in the body of a different woman in a different time. There's this line: “Okay,” she whispered. “There’s a perfectly good explanation. I’m either dead or—I’m in a comma! Of course! ” I laughed for five minutes solid.

The second novella wasn't awful, just utterly forgettable, a ghost story called "Ride the Lightning" by Rebecca Goings. The story was short, but it took me forever to finish it, mostly because it felt so by the numbers. I was bored out of my head with it.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Waltz at Midnight by Crista McHugh

TITLE: A Waltz at Midnight
AUTHOR: Crista McHugh
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 19k)
GENRE: Historical romance
COST: $2.69

Southerner Susanna Parkwell has been forced into a life of servitude after the Civil War, and when she is offered payment to write some letters for one of the college girls in the house where she works, she takes it, desperate to help her injured brother achieve his dream. Deceiving the girl’s suitor should’ve been easy. After all, all she has to do is convince him he doesn’t want anything to do with courting. But when she begins to have feelings for this man she has never met, she can’t quite bring herself to end the masquerade…

I love epistolic stories, and the romantic premise of this appealed to me. However, the end result proved too simple for my tastes, ultimately becoming something I had troubles remembering just a day later.

As a tale, it’s a simple one. Susanna works as a maid in her aunt’s boardinghouse for young women attending college. A transplanted Southerner, she is now reliant on her aunt’s good graces to support her and her brother who was injured during the war. One of the girls in the boardinghouse receives a letter from a would-be suitor, but because she’s in love with someone else, she asks the more eloquent Susanna to write a letter back posing as her to discourage him. Susanna agrees to do it only after she is offered payment, but after she exchanges a couple letters with the man, she begins to realize it’s not quite the onerous task she originally thought it would be.

Knowing the length ahead of time, I didn’t expect much. There wouldn’t be time for real depth, just some letters back and forth, hopefully romantic, and a sweet HEA. That’s what there is, but the problem lies with the fact that the conflict that gets introduced – a surprising depth to Theodore’s issues as well as his feelings regarding the duplicity when he finds out – get completely dismissed in the transition between his discovery and the ending. All of a sudden, there’s the HEA, with no real explanation as to how Theodore suddenly is okay with the fact that he’s been deceived for so long when more is really needed. He comes across as incredibly wishy-washy as a result, which does nothing to bolster him as an appealing hero.

Susanna fares slightly better, as she at least has a spine and stands up to some of the more awful girls in the boardinghouse as well as Theodore’s rather obnoxious responses. But my respect for her wears thin as her letters progress, mostly because I can’t fathom how the early ones are ever meant to truly discourage him from courting her. The intelligence I’m told she has doesn’t seem to manifest, and I’m left only half-invested in whether or not everything will work out.

When all is said and done, it’s a forgettable story with unmemorable characters that never seem to have to live up to the promise that’s hinted at several times within the text. Even for a short novella, it failed to do much more than kill the time it took to read.


7/10 – Simple and direct, easy to read but rather superficial


5/10 – Rather generic, and the switch at the end came too abruptly


6/10 – Has a spine but seeing those letters as off-putting made me question her so-called intelligence

Entertainment value

4/10 – I love the potential of this, and there were hints of what I love about epistolic stories, but it felt too glossed over in the sections where the conflict should have been prevalent

World building

7/10 – There’s no doubt about the time period, though it took a lot to get me past the initial set-up since it felt so abrupt



Monday, March 26, 2012

The Rebuilding Year by Kaje Harper

TITLE: The Rebuilding Year
AUTHOR: Kaje Harper
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 80k)
GENRE: Gay contemporary erotic romance
COST: $5.50

After a horrific accident on the job, Ryan Ward has switched from firefighting to medicine, returning to college at thirty. When his bad leg goes out on him on campus, he’s helped by the groundskeeper, thirty-seven year-old divorced John Barrett, and the two strike up a friendship. That friendship provides the basis of John offering to rent a room to Ryan in his house, a move both of them need. But as their friendship deepens over the months, the last thing either of them expects is for attraction to grow from it, too…

One thing I’m coming to appreciate about this author is how very readable she is. Even though I had certain issues with this book, and ultimately didn’t quite enjoy it as much as the other stories I read recently by her, I still read through it in only two sittings, engaged with her voice and the believability of her men enough to get immersed. I even trusted her enough to read a gay for you trope, which tends to be on my list of “oh please no” tropes when I’m looking for something to buy.

This is the story of two thirtysomething men, returning med student Ryan and groundskeeper John. John is divorced and taking a step back from his corporate career with his new job, while Ryan has recently survived a horrific accident as a firefighter and is changing tracks because of that. The title is completely apt for their state. Both are in this state of flux, not just about each other, but about finding their feet in a life they can accept. Ryan has a living situation with a roommate he can’t stand, so when John offers to rent him a room in his house, Ryan jumps at it. Their friendship builds slowly, until gradually John realizes he’s interested in more from Ryan than what they currently have.

This careful build and methodical creation of these two men and their relationship is what anchors this book. I liked both men, though I had a preference for John and his more solid, protective ways. Their friendship felt genuine from their first meeting, and I enjoyed seeing these two discover how to live together as adults. The relationship faltered for me when it began to shift to something romantic. I bought them liking each other, but I never saw the physical attraction until suddenly, it was there in my face and they were struggling with this newfound thing between them. I imagine this is probably as much my issue as it is anything else. While I believe strongly that we love who we love, I don’t buy most gay for you stories because it feels like too much of a copout most of the time (like mating). I need to see and believe in the desire before the author tells me it’s there, or I’m yanked out of believing anything romantic or sexual can happen. Too often, these tropes are used as shortcuts for actual storytelling. In this instance, I think it’s a combination of failing to see the possibility of sexual attraction before it was on the page and my natural reluctance to give in to the fantasy element of this particular trope.

It does smooth out as the story progresses. The sex is reasonably hot, and the emotions at the end are deep and believable. It’s just that hump to get over as the transition happens that lowered my enjoyment of the overall story.

The other element that doesn’t really serve the story well is the side mystery that winds through the plot. There’s a girl John finds wandering on campus, clearly high, that later become instrumental in both of their lives, but the way it kept popping into the story never sat well with me. It felt very shoehorned, like there needed to be specific scenes scattered in the first three-fourths of the story (and very few of them at that), in order to justify the big climax. I didn’t buy it, and actually got annoyed when it would take a sudden left turn into this police investigation.

Overall, this would likely work best for people who enjoy this trope or are already fans of the author. It’s refreshing to see time being taken in creating and building realistic men in an m/m romance, however, and that alone makes it worthwhile to continue following this author’s books.


8/10 – Slow-paced and methodical, my only complaint rests in the mystery that attempts to get woven through the plotline, it felt very shoehorned

Hero #1

7/10 – Believable and steady

Hero #2

8/10 – While I thought the switch to bi was too abrupt, I liked him more as a person than I did Ryan

Entertainment value

7/10 – Though I appreciated the slow build and the friendship, I didn’t completely buy the turnaround or the mystery aspects

World building

9/10 – Easily the best parts about it, felt very authentic



Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Concubine's Tale by Jennifer Colgan

TITLE: The Concubine’s Tale
AUTHOR: Jennifer Colgan
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 23k)
GENRE: Paranormal romance
COST: $3.50

Curator Cait Lang is under orders to show their latest acquisition to collector Grant Pierson, a prospect she doesn’t really look forward to since she finds the man’s smug, know-it-all personality annoying. Grant is glad to finally have the chance to spend some alone time with ice-queen Cait, hungry to find out if she ever comes unruffled, but the story behind the papyrus on the auction block proves to be more enticing than either of them anticipate…

While this story had an interesting set-up, the actual follow-through didn’t quite live up to its initial promise. Essentially, it’s divided into two separate stories, the contemporary one between Cait and Grant, and the Egyptian one between Nayari and Khanu. Cait and Grant are professional acquaintances, with neither really knowing much about the other. Cait finds his superior attitude annoying, while he has never really looked past her ice-queen persona. He decides to see if he can get past it by inviting her out for a private dinner while she’s telling him about the papyrus, and though dating clients is forbidden, she agrees, largely because she’s curious, too. She begins relating the translation, making it clear it’s been embellished, and the story alternates between the rising tension between them and the growing attraction between the concubine and the warrior set to protect her.

The story Cait tells is a romantic one, about a concubine being used as a pawn in her master’s bid to become Pharoah, the world painted there rich and fascinating. Nayari is lovely to watch, from her initial pride to her horror at what’s intended for her to her growing feelings for Khanu. This story provides the strongest momentum for this short novella and offers glimmers of just what it could have been. Unfortunately, none of the other characters possess the same intrigue or depths. Nayari’s story is essentially a tool to get Cait and Grant over their initial misgivings and make them hot and bothered enough to ignore the order not to get involved. Not enough time is spent on developing them as real people for the attraction between them to feel organic, and the back and forth starts to feel very by-the-numbers.

The publisher calls this a paranormal story, but that’s stretching the definition. The problem is, this doesn’t fit neatly into any one category. The historical tale is clearly the most developed and compelling, but it’s tucked inside a contemporary package. The paranormal label likely springs from the mystical ending that Grant eventually discovers to the Egyptian lovers, but it lacks the credibility the rest of the tale offers. Though the publisher doesn't indicate it as such, this is likely meant to be a companion piece to another of the author's works called "The Soul Jar." There's an excerpt for that at the end of this, but in all fairness, I didn't realize this might be linked to something else (and thus give the ending more veracity) until after I started writing this review and went to the author's bio to get her web address. I never read the excerpts Samhain pads the end of their books with (a truly annoying practice, as those words get added into the total word count and can make unsuspecting buyers think they're purchasing a longer work). Frankly, I shouldn't have to happen to stumble across that excerpt/blurb to discover the ending I didn't buy for a second is rooted in another work.

Readers wanting paranormal attributes will be disappointed. If anything, I’d suggest this to lovers of Egyptian stories. That’s what it really has going for it.


7/10 – The Egyptian portions read much more vivid and interesting than the contemporary portions


6/10 – One didn’t have enough depth, the other was too idealized


6/10 – Nayari is fascinating, but Cait suffers the same problem Grant does

Entertainment value

6/10 – So much potential in this, but it just never gels together

World building

7/10 – The Egyptian world sizzles, which makes the weak contrast to the contemporary even more disappointing



Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Gambling on Love by Jane Davitt

TITLE: Gambling on Love
AUTHOR: Jane Davitt
PUBLISHER: Ellora’s Cave
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 87k)
GENRE: Gay contemporary erotic romance
COST: $6.99

Eleven years ago, Gary ran away from the small town he grew up in on the night he accidentally outed himself and his best friend Abe to Abe’s coach. Now, a winter storm he underestimated and a toss of his lucky quarter have him stranded on the side of the road just miles from where he grew up. As fate would have it, the driver of the truck he hit belongs to none other than Abe, but they have to get out of the storm before they can even begin to deal with the shock of seeing each other again…

Jane Davitt is one of the those authors I can trust to write intelligent prose, which is why I don’t usually have to think to hard about buying one of her books. Unfortunately, it takes more than a strong grasp of language to make a great story.

The book opens in 1998 with best friends Abe and Gary as teenagers. We learn of their close friendship that suffers slightly when Abe realizes Gary is attracted to him, but that soon shifts when Abe finally confesses he’s gay, too, and in love with Gary. A puppy love, in the closet, relationship develops, but one day, the two boys are caught in the locker room kissing by Abe’s coach. Terrified about what’s going to happen to them as gay in their small town, Gary runs away, leaving behind a confused Abe when Abe refuses to come with him. Cut forward eleven years, and Gary is just a few miles away from his home town, on his way to do one last thing for his lover/employer who just died. He underestimates the storm he’s driving through, and ends up getting into an accident with a truck. The truck driver is Abe, who was on his way home, and after the initial shock of seeing each other and a couple arguments, they work together to get to the safety of Abe’s house. The pair end up snowed in together for a few days, during which time they have to come to grips with the resentment and residual feelings between them.

The prologue is appropriately gripping and entertaining, with likeable, believable teenagers discovering that first thrill of love. It backslides a little with the jump forward in time, because the twenty-nine year-old Gary is clearly not the same as the teenaged Gary, and the effect is jarring. It seemed to even out, however, and I was excited when Abe came onto the scene. I was looking forward to seeing these two iron out their differences.

However, that doesn’t happen for a long time. More than half the book is given over to this prologue and the first twenty-four hours they spend together. A lot has to happen in that time, I know, but it created a telescope effect, with far too much intense time spent on dragging out their initial conflict, then not nearly enough time spent on the days that came afterward. Once they get clear of the snow, the most conflict we get is from one or the both of them saying the wrong thing to the other, issues that get resolved too quickly in relation to the pace set in the first half of the story. That schism interrupts the flow, and makes it feel like you’re reading two different books, where the characters only vaguely resemble each other. Ultimately, it’s very frustrating, because Gary ends up proving uneven as a result. His prickly behavior lacks enough context most of the time to make the reader empathize with him. Instead, all feeling ends up getting aimed at Abe, who already has the bonus of being the wronged party in this by being the one left behind.

That imbalance typifies the story’s biggest weakness. While the sex scenes are usually hot, with some mild D/s thrown in as Gary finally gets to be dominant and Abe learns to better accept his submissive sexual side, everything around it lacks the cohesion to glue it all together. It’s not helped that the ending is telegraphed early on, easy to predict for anybody paying attention. The solid prose just isn’t enough in this case.


8/10 – Intelligent prose and believable dialogue, but pacing was all over the place and slowed it down considerably

Hero #1

6/10 – His skittishness is all over the map, making it hard to get a consistent bead on him

Hero #2

7/10 – Though I thought his turnaround in forgiving Gary was too swift, I definitely empathized with him more

Entertainment value

6/10 – It took forever to get past the first twenty-four hours, and then the rest of it snowballed too quickly to really feel much of anything

World building

7/10 – The prologue and storm aspects felt chillingly real



Friday, March 2, 2012

Bust #3

I wonder how many of these busts I'll have by year's end? It may get to the point where it's useless me even mentioning it, but I try so hard to stick to my schedule (even when sometimes I end up missing it or running late because of real life issues) that it almost feels like cheating if I don't at least mention when I hit my snags.

Two het novellas failed to be interesting enough for me to bother with reviewing tonight. One, With This Kiss, a 40k novella from Wild Rose Press, bugged me with its pedantic prose and kind of skeevy hero, while the other, Tempest Moon, a historical paranormal from Cobblestone, had the awkward tendency to skip over the meaty conflicting scenes to go straight for the resolution, ultimately dissolving any sense of tension the story should've had. Neither one was worth the time I would have put into a review. Neither author is one I'll bother reading again, either.

My hopes of having only one bust a month are still workable, though the fact that I've got my March bust on the 2nd doesn't bode well. Fingers crossed my picking improves. At least until April.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Synthetic Dreams by Kim Knox

TITLE: Synthetic Dreams
AUTHOR: Kim Knox
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 34k)
GENRE: Cyberpunk romance
COST: $3.59

In the world of creating illegal glamour, Vyn is one of the best. She has to be. Scarred as a child, she was forced to wear glamours in order to fit in with her upper crust surroundings. All of that changed when she was caught selling her illegal wares and shipped off to a district known for its hackers and threats. But now, she’s created the most valuable piece of tech there is. Everybody will want a piece of her if they ever find out, including the high-level security guy who almost catches her when she’s testing it…

If there’s one thing this author loves to do, it’s create dense new worlds for a reader to explore. The problem is, her stories aren’t always long enough to really take full advantage of them.

This one is no exception. The reader is thrown headlong into a world where the virtual is as real as reality. Vyn is testing her newest tech, something called a simulacrum, to see whether it can pass inspection. She runs into a security guy who introduces himself as Paul, but when it becomes obvious he’s starting to see through her mask, she decides to leave. She needs a diversion, and thinking quickly, kisses the guy. She never expects him to kiss her back, but she manages to get out with her mask intact. Back in the real world, she ventures out at dusk for some coffee, but after surviving the dangerous trip back to her apartment, she finds Paul in her apartment, announcing he knows full well who and what she is. Seconds later, he tells her the only way she’s going to survive the night is by trusting him. She has no choice but to do so when security storms her apartment and destroys everything non-organic.

Thus begins a night of harrowing action, as Paul sucks Vyn into a world more complex than she’d ever imagined. I can’t explain it. By the time I was comfortable enough with the societal constructs and technology the author had created, the story was two-thirds done, and I’m pretty sure that if I tried to explain it now, I’d just make a mess of it. It’s cyberpunk, though, which should give the reader a starting point. From the start, Paul is practically perfect in a lethal kind of way, which turns out to be his major failing as an interesting character. By the time he starts showing chinks in his armor, most of the story is gone. He’s enigmatic to a flaw, and because of that, I never really bought into his feelings in the last couple chapters.

Vyn is a little bit better, but her characterization suffers in a different way. She’s thrust into the action so early, and the pace is so unrelenting, there’s no real chance to discover what she might be like on a normal basis. I certainly didn’t get a lot of what Paul claimed to know. I had to take his word for it rather than see or experience it for myself. This, too, worked to distance me from the romance.

But there’s enough fascinating action going on that I was okay with not being that invested in the romance. I needed to see it play out, especially once I was really clued into how it all worked. The story hurtles along at a breathtaking speed, leaving little room for anything but strapping in. As a reader, I just had to find a way to survive (much like Vyn with Paul’s driving). And even with my reservations about the romantic angle, I’m likely to be there the next time this author has a new title. She’s one of the few I’ve read who consistently come up with complex, interesting worlds. That’s worth it.


8/10 – Dense world building really holds this back because there’s just so much going on that it forces the reader to slow down and sometimes even backtrack to catch it all


6/10 – Too enigmatic to be truly sympathetic


7/10 – So much action goes on, there’s little opportunity to learn of these qualities Paul is intrigued by

Entertainment value

7/10 – Getting a firm handle of the world beneath my belt slowed down getting into the tight action of this

World building

8/10 – It needed better descriptions earlier in the story to make it easier to get sucked into, but still love the nihilism of it all



Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Locker Room by Amy Lane

TITLE: The Locker Room
AUTHOR: Amy Lane
PUBLISHER: Dreamspinner
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 85k)
GENRE: Gay contemporary erotic romance
COST: $6.99

Xander Karcek loves two things in this world – basketball and Chris Edwards. Both saved him from a neglectful home and a potential life on the skids. But being gay and being a prominent athlete don’t seem to go hand in hand. Chris and Xander are forced to keep their relationship under wraps, even though it’s slowly killing both of them…

This was one of those books that hooked me from the start, but increasing problems as it progressed ended up making me wish I hadn’t spent the time on it.

With a druggie, neglectful mother, Xander is literally starving to death when he meets Chris Edwards on a local basketball court. When Chris’s mother allows the new friend to come home for dinner, the start of a deep, lasting relationship takes root. Chris and Xander are inseparable, and as their athletic careers progress, so do their feelings for each other. They realize they’re in love before they graduate from high school, but their positions as popular sports figures, especially in light of their desires to go pro, keep them private, through college and then on to the pros when they beat the odds and get signed by the same team.

I loved Xander at the start of the story. He’s fighting horrific odds and somehow has the humility and strength to not realize just how hard he’s fighting. Chris literally saves his life by reaching out to him on that basketball court, a connection both Xander and I as a reader recognize. Since the story is told in Xander’s perspective, it’s very easy to get sucked into his pain.

However, those feelings started to ebb about a third into the story, for two very different reasons. First of all, the author is far too much in love with parentheticals for me. One or two are interesting, but more than that and I find the whole stylistic device too contrived and cutesy to stay immersed within the text. They do dwindle down as the story progresses, but there were whole sections where there were multiple parentheticals within single paragraphs. It’s disruptive to my reading experience because contrary to how I’m sure the author intends, it feels like the author has pulled me aside to whisper this little aside in my ear rather than the character doing it. That constant reminder, that sense of over-friendly “let me tell you this little bit,” was enough to destroy how deeply rooted I was within the story.

The second issue stems from the story itself. While I was initially enraptured by how much in love these two guys were, the heavy, heavy melodrama surrounding them grew too unreal to believe. All the conflict is external to these two, which is more than fine as long as that conflict is organic. But there is no middle ground with these two. They’re either flying higher than a kite, or they’re vomiting over the choices they have to make. It’s too extreme for me, and by halfway through, I felt like I had an ulcer, too. Toss in the fact that all the women surrounding them lack nuances, all worshiping at the altar of Xander, and I realized I just couldn’t relate to any of these people as believable enough to get past the other shortcomings.

I’ve heard so many readers exclaim how much they love this author, so I wanted to give her a try, but I can see now that her style is not going to be one I’ll be able to enjoy. The angst levels are too extreme, and the heroes too idealized. But at least now I know.


7/10 – The overuse of parentheticals and italics exacerbate the story’s over-the-topness

Hero #1

7/10 – His anguished, insecure strength was appealing, but it becomes increasingly unrealistic as the story progresses

Hero #2

5/10 – Too idealized to ever really believe

Entertainment value

6/10 – I was actually really enjoying this, but the constant over-the-top melodrama proved too much

World building

8/10 – The sports element is well incorporated and feels mostly authentic, while the rest of it suffers from extremes