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.