Grade: D

All posts in the Grade: D category

Review: One Week Girlfriend by Monica Murphy¬

Published February 25, 2014 by Shannon

One Week Girlfriend (One Week Girlfriend Quartet, #1)

I wasn’t planning to write a review for One Week Girlfriend by Monica Murphy. I was planning to write it up as one of a handful of books I’d read recently about which I didn’t have much to say. Then it turned out I actually had quite a lot to say.

First, though, the blurb:

Temporary. That’s the word I’d use to describe my life right now. I’m temporarily working double shifts—at least until I can break free. I’m temporarily raising my little brother—since apparently our actual mother doesn’t give a crap about either of us. And I always end up as nothing but the temporary girlfriend—the flavor of the week for every guy who’s heard the rumor that I give it up so easily.

At least Drew Callahan, college football legend and local golden boy, is upfront about it. He needs someone to play the part of his girlfriend for one week. In exchange for cash. As if that’s not weird enough, ever since he brought me into his world, nothing really makes sense. Everyone hates me. Everyone wants something from him. And yet the only thing Drew seems to want is . . . me.

I don’t know what to believe anymore. Drew is sweet, sexy, and hiding way more secrets than I am. All I know is, I want to be there for him—permanently.

I have enjoyed Ms. Murphy’s books in the past, when she wrote fluffy Regency erotic romance as Karen Ericson. She’s definitely got writing chops, and I got hit hard by the “OMG this book is such delicious crack” train fairly early on. The plot is patently ridiculous, and the title alone pretty much spells it out for the reader, and the audio was only six hours long, so it was not a huge investment of my time. By themselves, Drew and Fable were likable enough characters, and I was pretty much with them, barring a few problematic elements about which more below, until the end when the crack train turned into the “WTF did I just read” wagon and plunged straight into the dark woods of Do Not Want.

My first problem with the book was the fact that Murphy applies the foreshadowing with all the delicacy and subtle flare of a hammer to the back of the skull. I knew almost immediately what Drew’s angst was, and spent the book in a state of mild impatience, waiting for Fable to catch up.

So let’s just talk about that angst. It comes in the form of Adele, Drew’s stepmother. I have met cardboard cutouts with more depth. Adele couldn’t have been more of a shrieking harpy villain if she’d paraded around with her henchmen trying to figure out how to go about actually skinning puppies. I couldn’t take her seriously because I wondered how anyone who encountered her could fail to see that she wasn’t even trying to hide her sociopathic tendencies.

I absolutely get why Drew suffers so much. I don’t want to minimize his suffering, but I didn’t feel there was any nod toward character growth from him. He focuses a lot on Fable, on how much he wants her, but he can’t have her because his man pain is too intense. Then at the end of the book, he runs off, thus allowing us to break the story into multiple books and milk it for all it’s worth. And Fable, rather than conclude that Drew needs a good dose of therapy, instead comes to the conclusion that he secretly wants her to save him.

Excuse me while I call bullshit.

I get the power of the “Only I understand his pain and only I can fix him” fantasy that’s common in romance novels. I also tend to overlook the fantasy when it’s a white knight rescuing a Cinderella from her circumstances. I think that’s because in the second case, real life has taught me that even if I did have a Prince Charming, if I’m not ultimately happy with how my life is playing out, there isn’t a thing my white knight is going to do to make things better, whereas the “I can change him” narrative is one reason why women stay with abusive men.

I never thought that Drew was abusive to Fable in the same way that, say, the love interest in that awful book about the myriad hues of a certain color was. However, he clearly needed to work on his own shit, and the last thing he needed was for someone to fix him. Especially someone who was the good girl to his stepmother’s evil sociopathic slut.

The audiobook narration wasn’t particularly awesome. Kate Rudd does a fine job reading the part of Fable, but Luke Daniels over emoted when he read Drew. Because of that, Drew came off like a bit of a dork who needed his lunch money taken. I never found him particularly sexy.

I guess I’d recommend this book if you’re totally on board the whole New Adult craze and don’t mind reading about protagonists who have no friends but each other and seem determined to stick it out with each other in an unhealthy, destructive cycle. I don’t buy that as a romance concept, and so I’ll pass on the rest of this series.

Final Grade: D

Review: Shell Shocked by Angelia Sparrow

Published February 24, 2014 by Shannon

Shell Shocked

It makes me incredibly sad to write this review. I’ve seen Angelia Sparrow online in various blogs and forums, usually contributing thoughtful comments with which I tended to agree. Recently, I ran across Shell Shocked at All Romance Ebooks and remembered I’d always wanted to try some of her work. Now I have, and I’m not sure I ever will again.

The blurb is as follows:

Sean Dempsey came home from Iraq with artificial knees, scorched retinas and a lot of baggage. He supplements his disability checks with money made writing romance novels under a female pseudonym, ironic as he has grown very nervous around women since a certain suicide bomber. When he meets Gabriel Herne, legless phone psychic, the sparks startle him. It’s everything he’s written about and never believed.
Swept into a whirlwind romance, Sean has to learn about his newfound bisexuality and his lover’s pagan faith at the same time. And when he has a religious experience of his own, he discovers everything changes in its time, just like the Wheel of the Year.
NOTE: This novel contains erotic scenes of hot men celebrating pagan holidays in an accurate depiction of the Wheel of the Year.

I wanted to love this book so hard. I can’t tell how many times in romance novel circles people have lamented the lack of diversity in class or ability as well as race. “Where are the romances with non-billionaires?” rings out throughout comments sections the Internet over. I love that these books, while thin on the ground, are out there, and I hope that anyone wanting to write a romance who is reading this blog won’t walk away from this review thinking they have no excuse not to write such stories, because they are absolutely necessary.

I liked that our protagonists, Sean and Gabriel, were poor. Both draw disability, and so eating out is a luxury they can’t often afford. They have to deal with bureaucracies all the time, since they count on the services of a neighborhood clinic. I know what it’s like to have to scrimp and save because you have such a tiny amount of cash to live on. I love that they kept on keeping on despite their lack of money, like anyone does when they’re put in that position.

And here endeth the positive things I have to say about this book, because the rest of it is a steaming hot mess.

Let me start with the writing. Many people think writing romance is easy. Stage a fun meet-cute, get the characters into bed together, slap on a few punishing kisses and “mockable prose” (TM that NPR podcast) andvoila, you have a romance. I have also heard people say that they find romances unrealistic because the conflicts are often overblown.

Here’s the thing, though. All stories require conflict. It doesn’t have to be overblown–oh noes! I am strangely attracted to a wealthy but psychotic billionaire who’s into BDSM and wants me to sign a contract and who never actually lets me consent to anything and I must fix him with my hoo-ha of chastely chasteness–but it’s got to be present. As I’m reading, I need to find the obstacles preventing the romance believable, and I need those obstacles to reveal something about the characters. This does not happen in Shell Shocked. Sean has PTSD, sure, and that’s not a walk in the park for him, but Gabriel figures out how to calm him down early on. Gabriel does keep a few secrets from Sean, namely the reasons for why he’s a double amputee, but this is only brought out when something needs to happen. A few other situations crop up that could have been fleshed out into meaningful external conflicts, but the characters solve them in short order and move on to more cuddling on the couch. Yes, this is how real life works, but good fiction can’t work that way.

There are vast swaths of the book where the men go about their days in lavish, excruciating detail. I half expected a scintillating scene of them doing their taxes, or possibly scrubbing the bathroom. The ebook is only 130 pages long, and even at such a short page count, there was too much dead wood. It reads like fanfiction. I don’t mean to denigrate fanfic, because I’ve read a lot of it that was very good, but when you’re playing around in someone else’s sandbox, I think that gives you the opportunity to spend more time writing about characters hanging out. I know, for example, that in the Harry Potter books, Harry’s going to fight Voldemort. I read fanfiction because it allows for him to do normal teenager stuff, and if I like the way a particular author writes Harry and company, I’ll put up with “in this chapter, Harry, Ron and Hermione have a snowball fight and literally nothing else happens but we’ll write about it for 5000 words.”

In professional fiction, though, you’re dealing with creating a world and original characters in that world. You don’t have time for a chapter where the characters sit around and talk about how much they love Dr Who and then clean out the refrigerator, unless that scene reveals something significant about the character or the world. (And no, a fictional character’s love of another fictional character is not a significant detail no matter how you slice it.)I had a pretty good handle on Sean and Gabe, so after awhile, I was just left bored by all the cozy domesticity.

I probably could have forgiven a lot of the unnecessary padding if I thought the characters were anything to write home about. Unfortunately, they’re both problematic. I’ll start with Sean. I don’t know enough about PTSD to know if that aspect of his character was written well, but PTSD doesn’t excuse the fact that he spends quite a lot of the book being an ass. I had a huge problem with the fact that Sean’s a romance writer, doing it for the easy money. I hate it when romance writers create romance writer protagonists. Sean wasn’t as awful an example of the type as he could have been, but there were still a few cracks about how romance novels are easy work. It’s hard to separate author from character when stuff like that comes up, and all I end up thinking is, ‘I really need for you to not think of me as a mindless and stupid lemming, Ms. Author, because I did spend $3 on this book and with an attitude like that, clearly buying a latte would have been a better choice.’
As for Gabriel, we don’t get any of his POV. He comes across as a perfect boyfriend, and while he has some definite character flaws–he’s not so good at disclosing things that are important, and he has a tendency to be bad with money–the aforementioned lack of conflict means none of those flaws are illustrated except when it’s convenient. More than that, though, my problem with Gabriel was that Sean is always literally carrying him around. In fact, Sean does things to facilitate carrying Gabe around much easier. Maybe this is a thing that really happens in relationships between wheelchair users and people who can walk, but I don’t buy it, because I’m disabled myself, and what I want from a partner is not someone who will do things for me, but someone who will help me do things for myself. I don’t want to be my partner’s security blanket, and that’s how Gabe read to me.

While I’m on the subject of passing judgments on fictional characters, I was bothered by the fact that this story was set in New York. That’s got to be one of the most expensive cities to live in, even if you aren’t on disability. I never understood why Sean and Gabriel stayed there. They don’t seem to have close friends outside of each other, and neither has family in the city, so they don’t have roots. Every time a money issue cropped up for them, I kept thinking, “This would be so much easier in Jersey. Or Pennsylvania. Or really anywhere that isn’t New York.”

TLDR: When I wasn’t bored, I was either frustrated or puzzled or annoyed. I wanted this book to be awesome and it left me with a profound sense of being glad I was done with it. I want someone to write me poor and disabled characters that have a romance that is compelling. Too bad this wasn’t it.

Grade: D

Books read: January 2013

Published July 26, 2013 by Shannon

In an attempt to start this whole blogging regularly thing again, I thought I’d do a few posts recapping my monthly reads and see what I can remember about any of them. Hopefully with a few of those in the pipeline, I can start writing other things as well. So… here’s the list for January.
 
1. The Gamble by Kristen Ashley: Good if you like this sort of thing. Fairly typical Ashley. I picked this one up because it had been bought by a publisher and I was hoping they might have done more than just cleaned up some typos. But basically, this is a typical Ashley plot, minus the over-the-top suspense subplot and doesn’t detract from her formula in noticeable ways. The hero is the gruff mountain man brand of alpha hole. The heroine is typical KA heroine shrill. She quickly assembles a girl posse, but that wasn’t quite as strong, because the heroine was new to the area. I don’t know why I keep reading these, but even while I was glad to be done with the book, I entertained the idea of grabbing the second in this series before my brain cells protested. So there’s that, I guess. C.
 
2. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline: Oh, man, I still have feels about this book. Unpleasantly angry feels, magnified by the fact that I feel like the lone voice crying in the wind, and since this is about geek culture, I also feel like the horrible person that wants to steal all the lunch money from the geeks. I realized recently, after reading this completely unrelated post that my problem with Ready Player One was what Hapax describes. I felt pandered to. Or, well, I might have if I’d been a geeky boy. Because the geeky girls in this story are either someone to aspire to possessing, or a sidekick created because hey, diversity! They’re not all that interesting. It felt like a geek man’s “someday I’ll show them!” fantasy, and there was too much author philibustering. Everyone else I know loves it, but for me it’s an F. (It was a D on Goodreads, but I’m not inclined to be all that charitable.
 
3. The Changeover by Margaret Mahy: A reread that didn’t last very long. I liked the heroine. I adored the subplot with her mother’s new potential boyfriend. It’s a little young compared to most of the YA I’ve read lately, which was also refreshing. I wouldn’t precisely call it middle grade, because despite the deceptively simple prose, there’s a lot Mahy is saying about life changes and growing up and family. And the hero is definitely a nice bit of swoon worthy jailbait, the sort of bad boy that many authors attempt to write and so few manage. All in all, I appreciated this one more as an adult than I did when I read it as a teenager, and it was a lot of fun to hang out with Laura in the messiness of her life for a few hours. B.
 
4. One Night For Love by Mary Balough: My first Balough. I loved both the characters, though the heroine was a little too manic pixie dream girl to be quite true. They were basically nice people caught in a difficult situation. It didn’t feel like the sort of thing I’ve read millions of times, and I’m grateful for that. Plus, I thought Lauren, the ubiquitous other woman, was fascinating. So much so that I read her book shortly thereafter. B.
 
5. The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker: Interesting enough while I was reading. It was recommended to me by one of my social work professors, and I think I’d have taken the lessons to heart if I weren’t, you know, a wannabe librarian instead of a social worker. Or at least I’d remember them. All that sticks in my head at this point is that the author was incredibly full of himself. I wanted him to stop with all his self-congratulating and get on with the imparting of wisdom. C.
 
6. A Summer to Remember by Mary Balough: I liked this one. Lauren was presented as such a complex character in ONFL, and she really came to her own in this book. I love heroes who actually display the charming roguishness authors tell us about. More basically nice people in a quiet story that I enjoyed immersing myself in. I’m glad Balough has such a huge backlist. I definitely want to read more. B.
 
7. The Warlord Wants Forever by Kresley Cole: I liked this one despite myself. I don’t know why Cole’s alphaholes work for me but Kristen Ashley’s, for example, don’t, except that Cole’s heroines still always manage some agency. The thing that binds these two–she’s got a chain that, when possessed by another person, makes her have to instantly obey them. I know that’s super skeevy, and I can’t explain exactly why I didn’t have a problem with it, other than that the hero was basically not a sleaze, and their intimate scenes didn’t feel like they were forced. Also, I liked the world-building, even if it’s basically everything getting thrown in as well as the kitchen sink. I need to get beyond the first full-length novel. B.
 
8. How to Misbehave by Ruthie Knox: Oh, I loved this one. I particularly liked how the heroine’s lack of sexual experience had negative connotations and it wasn’t like she was a paragon of purity. I identified strongly with her, and that hasn’t happened in a romance in a long time. The hero was also deliciously angsty as well. A.
 
9. A Hunger Like No Other by Kresley Cole: A reread. Another book I probably shouldn’t have liked as much as I did. But Scottish werewolves get me every time. The heroine wasn’t as awesome as I’d have liked, but some of the other heroines in the series seem to make up for it. B.

Review: The Archer by Abigail Roux

Published September 8, 2012 by Shannon

The Archer

Title: The Archer
Author: Abigail Roux
Genre: spy thriller/screwball comedy/soap opera
Source: Ebook
Read on: September 7, 2012

Synopsis via goodreads:

Rocked to the core by traitors and spies, the Organization made an unprecedented move in bringing together six highly trained men to track down one rogue wolf: The Archer. There are three field agents: one at the top of his game, one hoping to retire, and another walking the line; a cold-blooded assassin who can use any weapon known to man; a demolitions expert who can’t resist the allure of fire; and a computer hacker with more tricks in his mouse than Houdini. This team is made up of the best of the best, and if it can’t succeed in this impossible mission, no one can. But no plan survives first contact with the enemy – especially when you can’t even find out who he is! Despite what a cluster the assignment is from the start, the six men try to get their act together to track down the rogue operative, and in the process they discover there’s more to life than the next assignment. Now it’s up to them to survive by working together and determining who the real traitor is: an unknown friend, a close-by enemy, or the Organization itself.

When I close a book I want to feel satisfaction at the knowledge that I’ve learned something, had my heart broken and then mended, experienced a rip-roaring adventure, or laughed myself silly. When I close a book, my first thought should not be, “Oh my God, that was such a mess. I can’t wait to rant about it on my blog.” But that was pretty much how I felt about this book when I was done. It was a complete mess from start to finish, it went on for way too long, and ended on a cheap cliffhanger for a sequel that hasn’t been written, which I will skip if it ever sees the light of day. I read a comment somewhere online that The Archer started out as fan fiction. I can’t find verification of this, because my google foo is not particularly strong, but if it’s true, it’s not a huge shocker.

I’m not much of a mystery reader, and I’m not typically interested in spy novels. Honestly, I bought this one because the plot seemed like it would be epic and a little cracky, and I was hoping for some fun romance amidst blazing guns. That said, a spy novel should be well-plotted, so that the reader can follow the clues and try to figure things out before the characters do. This novel was not well-plotted. In fact, I’m not convinced the author had any idea where she was going to end up once she started writing. The characters spend much of the novel crossing and double-crossing each other, running around like chickens with their heads cut off, and shagging like bunnies. None of them had the first clue what was going on, and so neither did I. Characterization was inconsistent at best, and of the six major protagonists, I only really liked one of them. I felt, as I was reading, that this was the literary equivalent of a Loony Tunes cartoon, with the titular Archer being the Road Runner and all the characters being Wile E. Coyote, destroying themselves with their own incompetence. Only in this book, there was more buttsex.

Honestly, the lack of romance didn’t especially bother me. I thought at first that it was refreshing to see all the bed-hopping going on between the characters. Then it got to be a bit much, and taken to comic levels. Leave any configuration of two of these men in a room together for thirty seconds, and you’d come back to find them screwing like bunnies. That made it difficult for me to buy the supposedly epic love story between Sean and Remy, two of the agents. They’ve been working together for five years, but a bunch of betrayal and miscommunication create a chasm they keep trying to cross. After all, if their love was so epic, why did Remy literally sleep with every other member of the team at one point? And Sean wasn’t exactly celibate, either. Then, at the end of the story, that epic romance arc, which the author wanted me to care about so desperately, was simply left up in the air. There was no happy for now ending, even. Had i actually not despised both Remy and Sean, I’d have been pissed.

The one character I actually connected with was the crazy demolitions expert, Brant. I loved that he walked the knife’s edge of sanity, and that he went from crazy dude with the grenades to mother hen in three seconds flat. I also thought his hooking up with Carl, the trained killer, was much more realistic, and much less stupidly angsty, and had a moment’s annoyance when it looked like Brant would end up with someone else, a plot decision I thought owed more to amping up drama than any kind of consistent characterization.

Speaking of characterization, I had another issue. I tend to prefer my M/M books to be written by people who are OK being identified as women. It means I can put the men in the category of fantasy men and not worry too much about whether real guys would act like the ones in books, because, dude, I read romance. Romance men don’t act like their real life counterparts in het fiction, either. That said, this was a book about alpha male spies. There is no crying in baseball, and I would think that, conversely, there is no crying in spying.(See what I did there?) And yet, tears flowed like veritable rivers from these men, particularly from Sean and Remy, when one or the other would act like a total asshat to the other one.

The other problem with the story was that it takes a lot of skill to juggle six protagonists. Most authors do not have that skill. Abigail Roux is not on my list of authors who do. Even before the halfway mark, I thought there were too many characters, and then a bunch more get inserted into the cast, including a woman, whose sole purpose appears to be, I don’t know, flailing helplessly because she was accidentally stuck on a train with our merry band of Acme ® spies. The woman bothered me quite a lot, because there was no plot purpose for her being there, and no need to give her a POV chapter, both of which she got. Was she meant to be paired off with one of the other men in the sequel that is apparently in the works? I have no idea, but she was so much dead weight.

The author also tells rather than shows in several places. One of the six gets a romance, seemingly at random, and we get to find out that his love is just as epic as the Sean/Remy romance. Not because it’s proven, but because the author points it out. Another of the six is described as the gentle nurturing one, not because he is especially gentle or nurturing, but, again, because she says so.

I never believed any of these characters were good spies. Even the characters laugh at their incompetence, so reading the blurb above about how they’re all men at the top of their game makes me roll my eyes. In the end, I never saw any of them do anything awesome, and I was left feeling little was resolved, and that I’d wasted my time.
If you’re looking for action-packed spy thrills, this isn’t the book I’d recommend. If you want M/M fiction with a good mystery, look elsewhere. Only read this if you’ve got a lot of time on your hands. There was only one character I liked, and it’s Brant that’s saving this from a full-fledged F grade. There are much better M/M books out there. Skip this and read anything else.

Final Grade: D

P.S. Another book I’m reading right now is George R. R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons. (Speaking of people who have too many characters in their books!) One of the characters in that book keeps wondering, sometimes out loud, “Where do whores go?” So I figured I’d make that a question I would ask in my reviews.

So… would whores go to the world of this book? they’d probably get blown up or dragged along for no good reason. But the team of super-competent Acme ® spies have no use for whores, since they’re busy with each other.

Three quickie erotic romance reviews

Published August 28, 2012 by Shannon

Last night, I realized I didn’t have enough to say about today’s book. Luckily for you, I have been on a minor erotic romance novella binge, so I present some mini reviews for short works.

Alien Revealed (The Confederacy Treaty, #1)

Warning: Spoilers below.

Title: Alien Revealed
Author: Lilly Cain
Genre: Science fiction romance
Series: The Confederacy Treaty 1
Source: ebook
Read on: August 17, 2012

Synopsis via goodreads:

Inarrii agent Alinna Gaerrii was tasked with observing the Starforce base on Earth. Crash landing her observation pod onto the base was not part of her mission briefing. Neither was making “m’ittar”–mind contact–with Major David Brown, the human who discovered her amongst the wreckage.David thinks she’s a psychologist sent to evaluate his Special Forces team, and Alinna goes along with his misconception, seizing the opportunity to observe humans up close. But their daily contact has unexpected side effects, and Alinna soon invades David’s dreams. Through their intimate mental connection she allows him to express his forbidden physical desires.Alinna delights in the sensory exploration and grows excited by the prospect of a treaty with the humans and a potential life mate in David. But an attack from an unknown ship sends the base into chaos, and Alinna may be forced to reveal her lie, erasing all hope of a successful treaty, and driving David away forever…

This synopsis sounded awesome. I love sci-fi romance, and I was intrigued by the life mate thing being initiated by the heroine. For the first quarter of the book, when Alinna and David are separated, I even enjoyed myself. I loved how unassumingly egalitarian Cain’s future is, with women being just as powerful as men. Then Alinna and David met, and my love evaporated.

My latest blogger crush, Kelly has used the term “I hate you except when we kiss.” It’s a common trope in romancelandia, and I think it can be done well. In a scant 100 pages, many of which have to be spent on elaborate dream sex scenes, it is impossible to make this work. At least, it didn’t work for me in this case. David mistrusts Alinna from the get-go, possibly because she is the worst spy ever, and is a terrible liar. This, of course, means Alinna swoons for him.

When things finally reach their climax, David does something unforgivable that I didn’t even know still happened in romances. He gives Alinna booze. She’s an alien. The booze affects her strongly, and only then does David seduce her. She was clearly OK with it, but ugh. I thought that made him a total douchenozzle.

Alinna was problematic for different reasons. I had problems with the whole premise of her character, because I would have thought that someone meant to observe without getting caught would have a better ability to lie under pressure, even if it’s not innately something her people do. I also wondered why she didn’t just give herself up after the first dream sex scene. Her character is basically cast as completely helpless, and I found that annoying.

I loved the idea of this book. First contact is my favorite sci-fi trope, and I love cheesy vaguely humanoid aliens. But this book’s execution was terrible.

Grade: D

Angel Bound (His Guardian Angels, #1)

Title: Angel Bound
Author: Jana Downs
Genre: paranormal romance
Series: His Guardian Angels
Source: Kindle
Read on: August 23, 2012

Synopsis from goodreads:

Madigan has a successful career as co-owner of a bakery and has never really been passionate about much else. His mother has always claimed that he was the son of the Archangel Raphael, but he’d never had reason to believe her. That is, until Madigan finds himself hunted by angelic fanatics who see him as an abomination. His father has assigned him guardian angels to act as his protection from the hunters. The five men desperately search for a solution for Madigan’s protection and find only one viable option. Madigan must become Angel Bound, married in angelic terms, to all of his guardian angels. Now Madigan has gone from having no relationships to having five simultaneously. All of the men will have to learn to balance desire and duty in order to ensure Madigan’s safety and happiness above all things. [Siren LoveXtreme Forever ManLove: Erotic Alternative Paranormal Ménage Romance, M/M/M/M/M/M, angels, HEA]

I forget why this came up, but someone I adore on Twitter, who knows who she is and therefore I won’t name and shame her, sent me a link to Siren Publishing’s Lovextreme imprint. After goggling about how inaccessible the website was, I eventually settled in to see how many lovers one person could have. In my meanderings, I found this book. Y’all know my tendency to read cracky erotic romance, so onto my Kindle it went.

This book was exactly as terrible as I knew it would be. Madigan is such a girl. Normally, I’m OK with that in M/M romances, because I read them for the fantasy, and because some authors can write sweet, somewhat effeminate men that I like. Not so in this case. Firstly, our hero goes by Madi, which I imagine to be completely emasculating. He also does a lot of quivering in terror, and his angels have various, vaguely girlie nicknames for him. The laid-back surfer angel calls him Cutie. The antagonistic bad boy angel calls him Bright Eyes. If anyone called me either of those things, I might want to punch them.

As for the angels, they’re sketches. But then, I didn’t think it was possible to draw five fully realized characters in less than 100 pages. We have the leader who is driven by obligation. We have the laid-back surfer dude angel. There’s the gruff, shy dude (who I secretly adored because the “no one can ever love me” trope is my cryptonite in a hero), There’s the bad boy. And then there’s the other guy, who shows up halfway through and tells them they all have to have an orgy to protect Madi from the bad angels. (Come on, you guys, that is not a spoiler, given the synopsis.) Also, all the angels have silly names. Michel and Uri work for the archangels Michael and Uriel respectively, and then we have Cross, which just packs a whole wallop of anvilicious symbolism, Bren, and, lastly, my boy Dex. I am trying to picture in my mind how a passage from this version of the Bible would read. “And thus an angel came down and said unto them, ‘Behold, for I am Dex.'”. And I laugh. A lot.

So yeah. Aside from the novelty, there’s not much to this story, and while its silliness amused, I’m not sure it did so in a way the author intended.

Grade: D

And, to end things on a positive note:

Veiled Desire (Veiled, #1)

Title: Veiled Desire
Author: Alisha Rai
Genre: contemporary erotic romance
Series: Veiled 1
Source: Kindle
Read on: August 24, 2012

Synopsis via goodreads:

Look, but don’t touch… Leyla Karimi can’t keep her eyes off the hunky guy living in the house behind her. How could any woman resist ogling Dr. Mason Barrett, especially when he makes it so easy by parading around in his skin and skivvies? If it was only their age difference, she would have made a move a long time ago. Except Mason is more than a neighbor. He’s her baby brother’s oldest friend. It’s not like they can have a casual fling and walk away in the morning. Mason’s been doing a little lusting-okay a lot-for quite some time. When he catches Leyla peeking, it’s a sure sign she could finally be ready to heat up his nights with loving. One taste of her lips, though, and he doesn’t want a “little” of anything. He wants it all. Unwilling to jeopardize a lifetime of friendship for a one-night stand, Leyla is reluctant to throw caution to the wind. When he’s kissing her senseless, though, it’s hard to remember all the reasons why she should hold back… Warning: Contains a hot hero who doesn’t mind baring it all in the name of love, a heroine who doesn’t settle for less, a sweet romance, steamy sex in a car and more good lovin’ in bed.

I liked this one. The story is quite simple. Woman lusts after hot guy who is her brother’s BFF all grown up. He lusts after her, too. She ogles him. He knows. They hook up. Rai lets us get to know these two, though. By the end of the book, they seemed like people I might run into anywhere. Their dialogue felt real and natural, and I loved their interactions. The conflicts are relatively un-earth-shattering, but they were real issues anyone would have. The sex scenes were fun and steamy.

That said, I’m not sure it’s the kind of story I’ll remember. It was a pleasant way to spend an hour or two, but it’s easily forgettable. I’d try Alisha Rai again, particularly if she wrote something longer, and I might pick up the second book in the series.

Grade: C

Up next: A book everyone in the blogosphere seemed to have loved but me. How sad.

Guest Review: Midnight Reborn by D MacEntire

Published August 8, 2012 by Shannon

Midnight Reborn (The Watchers, #1)The Watchers, Book 1

Title: Midnight Reborn
Author: D. MacEntire
Genre: Paranormal romance
Series: The Watchers, book 1
Reviewer: Meka
Source: ebook

Synopsis from goodreads:

After suffering years of abuse as the virtual prisoner of a drug lord, Robyn Andrews has had enough. A carefully planned escape is her only hope for survival. Her past nipping at her heels, she boards the first bus out of town and heads for Louisville, Kentucky.

Trigg is a Watcher with two missions in life. One, to hunt and eliminate Rogue vampires. Two, to be left alone. Yet he can’t bring himself to harden his heart against the petite woman who looks so lost standing in the rain. And when Robyn joins him in a battle against Rogues, the little spitfire shows the bravery of ten Watchers. She’s someone special, someone he needs in his dark life.

Someone he can never have. He’s vampire; she’s human. A future for them is impossible.

But the past has a way of catching up-and changing destinies with deadly speed.

Oh this book. I just don’t know.  I feel like I just keep reading books that simply miss the mark for me, and yet I have a sinking feeling this is going to be my it’s so bad, it’s kind of good’ story.

The book has all of the tropes that I really like.  I love trauma tropes and watching characters overcome the terrible things that have happened to them. I also love vampires.  But this story had way too many moments where I sighed and said woefully ‘oh, this book.’

Robyn Andrews is a prisoner of a druglord that her mother hooked up with, and now she’s alone after her mother’s death.  The abuse was terrible, and I felt like the author did a good job of portraying Robyn’s experiences.  I felt empathy for her and wanted better.  The first few chapters were harrowing and I just wanted Jake to get what he had coming to him.

I won’t rehash too much of the plot since it’s in the summary of the book, but I started rolling my eyes shortly after Robyn escaped Jake.  I had a few problems with the believability of Jake as a villain.  He came off as cartoonish.  It was hard for me to believe that he’d wait until Robyn was eighteen before taking liberties with her, but I also understand comfort levels of writers and readers.  Still, that part just seemed so bizarre considering that her mother was dead for a year or two and he’s supposed to be this totally unscrupulous bastard.

There were other eye rolling parts of this book, particularly the names of the heroes.  Whatever happened to our standard romance favorites, like Lucian, damion?  We had Tank, Vane, Rayne, and our intrepid hero, Trigg.  They all lived together in a cell, a small group. Although the
author makes sure to crack the cellmates joke and then explain it to us just in case we didn’t get it.  I couldn’t get over the name Trigg.  I kept getting visions of someone who couldn’t control himself during intimate moments.  I’m a horrible, horrible person.

There were gaping plot holes like just how Jake found out that Robyn was in Louisville.  That part seemed so contrived and like it came out of left field.

I also had trouble sympathizing with Robyn sometimes but I chocked it up to the fact that she was eighteen, and had been a prisoner for most of her teen-aged life, and she was falling in love for the first time.  I think the love story portion of this book would have worked better for me if Robyn
wasn’t barely legal.

The other problem that I had  with this book was that the writing style was full of extraneous wording.  I didn’t need to know all of the details about how Robyn went down to the washer, grabbed the detergent, unscrewed the lid, poured it in, put it back in its place, turned the knob, and then went
upstairs.  There were several passages like this that didn’t really pertain to the overall plot of the book and felt like they were tossed in to make the story longer.  It was frustrating, and I found myself sighing in annoyance.

There were other parts of this book that really took away from my overall enjoyment of it, such as a trope that takes place in their second intimacy scene that drives me nuts, the fact that I felt as though a few of the characters had stereotypes that they obviously had lived up to due to their
ethnic backgrounds, and that I didn’t find the love story to be entirely believable even if I did kind of like both characters.

So what did I like?  When the story wasn’t bogged down with so many words, it clipped along.  I found myself hoping for a happily ever after for Robyn and Trigg.  Also, the author writes some fabulous fight scenes that didn’t hold back on the gore.  Also, there are some common vampire tropes that are turned on their heads.

Despite my misgivings about the first story, I find that I want to read the next one if for no other reason than to figure out how things turn out for the rest of the Cellmates (har har).

Maybe I’ve read too much paranormal romance and am getting jaded.  I hope that the next installment in the series is more enjoyable for me than the
first.  I feel like this story had a lot of potential but fell flat.  But I
guess if I want to read book 2 then it wasn’t completely horrible.

Final Grade: D+

Review: Motorcycle Man by Kristen Ashley

Published July 27, 2012 by Shannon

Motorcycle Man (Dream Man, #4)

Title: Motorcycle Man
Author: Kristen Ashley
Genre: contemporary romance

Series: Dream Man 4

Source: ebook

Read on: July 10-14, 2012

Synopsis from goodreads:

Stuck in a colorless world, Tyra Masters decides to chuck her old life and starts searching for something. She doesn’t know what it is until she meets her dream man. The goateed, tattooed, muscled, gravelly voiced motorcycle man who plies her with tequila and gives her the best sex of her life. But she knows it isn’t the tequila and sex talking. He’s it. He’s who she’s been daydreaming about since she could remember. Until he makes it clear she isn’t who he’s looking for. Tyra slinks away from his bed, humiliated. The problem is, he’s her new boss. She just may or may not have forgotten to tell him that part. Kane “Tack” Allen has a rule. He doesn’t employ someone he’s slept with. And he lets Tyra know that in his motorcycle man way. Tyra fights for her job and wins it using sass and a technicality. Tack challenges her that if she hits his bed one more time, she loses her job. Tyra is determined to keep her job and keep away from Tack. But she makes a big mistake. During their head-to-heads, she lets it all hang out and shows Tack she is who he’s looking for. And Tack has had a good woman slip through his fingers, he’s not about to let that happen again. Although Tack colors Tyra’s world with a vibrancy that’s blinding, being with him means she has to live in his Motorcycle Club world. Full on, no holds barred. And since Tack’s world, not to mention Tack, is a little scary, Tyra isn’t so sure. It’s Tack’s job to convince her.

I follow a lot of book blogs and after some discussion about Kristen Ashley’s books, and how they were horrible, but cracktastic, I thought I had to try them. I knew going into it that I’d be encountering a hot mess full of things I knew I’d hate, but I did it anyway. Maybe some of my readers have managed to go your entire lives without deliberately reading a bad book, in which case, I commend you. I, on the other hand, think bad books have their appeal. They’re more fun to live tweet, anyway, and more fun to read out loud to friends over drinks. If that makes me a bully, as defined by the Internet police, then I own it, because you can’t make me stop reading the book crack.

First, let’s start with the writing. It’s bad. I don’t often notice prose unless it’s wonderful or terrible, but I noticed it here. It’s repetitive and juvenile, and often doesn’t make sense. Here is an example of the repetitiveness.

The steel arm tightened around my waist and my neck twisted, my head tipping back as Tack growled, “Only I call you Red, Red.”

“Why do you only call me Red?” I asked.

“Because only I do,” Tack answered.

Yep, that certainly makes everything clear. The book is full of gems like that. After Tack, our supposed hero, treats Tyra like dirt after their tequila-filled night together, she’s understandably pissed, but she has to work with him. Tack reluctantly gives her a job, and then the two continue to strike sparks off of each other in a manner described by that passage. It’s the kind of romantic banter where the heroine is never allowed to be right, because that would, I don’t know, lessen Tack’s bad-assitude?

I could get past the characters. Alpha-hole heroes and stupid heroines are a stable of romance fiction, after all, and clearly this is Ashley’s brand. It’s not my cuppa, but I knew it wasn’t going to be when I started. What was harder to overlook was the pacing. The beginning moves along at a nice clip, but the early banter goes on a shade too long, and for the most part, the romantic tension is resolved a little over three quarters of the way through the book. With a lot more pages to go. There were some suspense subplots added to the mix whose purpose I didn’t quite understand, but I have to admit, I liked the final confrontation with the bad guys. I’d have liked it more if there hadn’t been a random chapter of POV switches to every secondary character ever, but she had me during that part completely invested in the outcome. After that, there was a long, drawn-out denouement, which was beginning to wear on my patience before the book finally, mercifully, ended. I wish Kristen Ashley had the services of a good editor, someone who could have told her to cut a lot of her extraneous verbiage and improve the pacing. Sadly, this is not the case.

What saves this book from being a complete failure were the unintentionally hilarious bits. I giggled at the name Tack. Tack also has buddies named Dog, Brick, Hopper, Tug and Rosco. (You do not know the depths of my disappointment to find out that there was no Boss Hogg. Or, for that matter, Hammer, Nail, Screwdriver, Socket Wrench and Pliers.) I also giggled that bad-ass was a shortcut for everything, and I’m sure it was used at least two dozen times throughout the text. I had to admit that I liked Tack’s gritty, no-nonsense approach. He was a jerk, but he didn’t get neutered throughout the story and was a jerk right up to the end. He didn’t get redeemed by love, or by the heroine’s magic vagina. Admittedly, now the heroine is living with a bunch of thugs, which isn’t my particular romantic dream, but I suppose it works for her.

I enjoyed this train wreck of a book despite myself. I bought a couple of other Kristen Ashley books, and may get to them eventually, but I’m not sure that I’m in that much of a hurry. I recognize that I had a lot of problems with the author’s particular brand, but the stories are oddly compelling. Not enough for me to give this a higher grade, but compelling nonetheless.

Final Grade: D+

Up next: Two books about adorable beta werebears and the insane women who love them.

Review: Ral’s Woman by Lauren Dohner

Published July 12, 2012 by Shannon

Ral's Woman (Zorn Warriors, #1)

Title: Ral’s Woman: Zorn Warriors, book 1
Author: Lauren Dohner
Genre: sci-fi romance
Source: It was a Kindle freebee when I bought it.
Read on June 26, 2012

Synopsis from goodreads:

Ariel never knew aliens existed until she finds herself kidnapped and taken from Earth. When the Anzon declare humans useless, she learns her fate-prize for the winner of a brutal fight between large, muscled alien men. Ral is a Zorn warrior. He has also been kidnapped by the Anzon, along with his crew. Forced into slavery, he’s got one thing on his mind-freeing his people. That is, until he sees the small human woman he’s willing to fight to win. He doesn’t just want her body, he wants her heart forever. In the hands of a hot alien, Ariel is about to discover how pleasurable captivity can be.

I ran across a blog entry from the author where she gushed about getting such positive feedback on her book after it was released. I fervently hope she doesn’t read this, because… yeah, positive feedback, not so much.

The thing is that I knew exactly what I was getting when I chose this book to read. Futuristic romances are my crack, and all the blurb needed to say was “hot alien” and I was there. Not unlike white on rice. The synopsis lets it be known pretty quickly that this isn’t going to be the kind of intellectually stimulating novella that will be a classic of our times, so I expected it to be pretty awful, and wasn’t disappointed.

This book was a hot mess. The writing was clunky and awful, with a lot of authorial hand-waving in place of character development. I was glad it was a short read, because I don’t think I could have handled it otherwise. Amnd by authorial handwaving, I mean I wasn’t given a chance to transition from Ariel being scared to being attracted to being in love, and Ral had no real characterization at all.

Ariel was captured on Earth and kept as a slave. Since she can’t breed with the aliens that captured her, they make the Zorn they also keep as slaves fight for her. Ral, a leader among his people, wins the fight and decides to keep Ariel for himself. Why? Because he is hot for her body. He carries her off, caveman style, to his quarters to do some ravishing. And this is the part where the author loses me, because Ral basically says, “OK, we’re going to have sex now. Either tell me how to make it good for you or we’ll do it my way.” Um… that is pretty much rape in my book. So of course Ariel lets him boink her, because what’s she going to do? But then she decides that it was all OK because she got off, so that makes the rape all right.

After that, the hits just keep on coming. Ral informs Ariel that they’re bound together now. Because he said so. And then he takes her back to the Zorn home world after he and his buddies escape. Before this point, I sympathized with Ariel. I told myself that she enjoyed her time with Ral, or said she did, out of a sense of self-preservation. But once they reach the Zorn home world, all glimpses of the character I could have liked went away. Ariel goes from a sympathetic character to a nagging shrew who makes stupid assumptions and acts without talking to Ral. I think I’m supposed to be finding her feisty, but I mostly found her tiresome. And then, due to a plot contrivance that is equal parts exploitative and lame, it’s decided that, hey, humans obviously are superior to Zorn women so they should be kidnapped and bonded to more warriors. After all, we have sequels to write. And this last aspect of the book makes me slightly ranty, so forgive the digression.

The concept of the females of an alien species being too difficult to woo altogether is not new in futuristic romance. It’s a tiny subplot in some of Cheryl Brooks’s Cat Star Chronicles books. It bothers me in exactly the same way slut-shaming does, though the effect is rather the opposite. It suggests that girls who don’t or can’t give it up for any man are unworthy. I find myself wondering what the women on Zorn are supposed to think when all the hottest men decide they aren’t good enough and they’d rather have human lovers.
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It should also be mentioned that there’s plenty of slut shaming to be found in this book, just in case you found yourself missing it. In this case, the slut is the woman Ral’s father promises him. She shows up at Chez Ral, and presents herself, ready and willing to be mated right there, ignoring Ariel because she’s a dirty slut and the only women allowed to make friendly overtures toward our heroine are those who are either old or already married. Ariel freaks, kicks her out, and informs Ral that on Earth they’re monogamous, which just goes to show she hasn’t met Lazarus Long. Meanwhile, the poor girl was only acting according to her customs, and I imagine being shrieked at by some harpy did not improve her day.

I can’t recommend this one at all. The characterization was inconsistent, the plot was stupid and offensive, and I’m glad I didn’t pay for it. That said, it was a quick read, and I finished it. It doesn’t fail utterly, and I suspect that a reader looking for a quick free bit of porn would like this more than I did. The next book, Kidnapping Casey, is one I will happily skip, though. I hate to say it, but Johanna Lindsey, back in the 80’s, did this whole concept so much better in her futuristic romances. Go read Keeper of the Heart instead. (It should be noted that I didn’t like that book either, but it was still better than this one.)

Final Grade: D

Up next: A palate-cleansing look at a science fiction romance I loved.

Review twofer: Time Enough for Love and To Sail Beyond the Sunset by Robert A. Heinlein

Published July 11, 2012 by Shannon

Today, we explore two of the later works of science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein. These books are connected in a way that’s fairly obvious once you read the synopses, so I chose to review them together. And was nearly broken by the process.
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Time Enough for Love

Title: Time Enough For Love
Author: Robert Heinlein
Genre: science fiction

Source: The the Braille and Recorded Digital download program from the Library of Congress
Read from June 10-15, 2012

Synopsis via goodreads:

The capstone and crowning achievement of Heinlein’s famous Future History, Time Enough for Love follows Lazarus Long through a vast and magnificent timescape of centuries and worlds. Heinlein’s longest and most ambitious work, it is the story of a man so in love with Life that he refused to stop living it; and so in love with Time that he became his own ancestor. Lazarus Long 1916-4272.

It’s my experience that modern readers of Heinlein tend to be of two types: the ones who think he’s a master of science fiction and a man ahead of is time, and the ones who think he was a pervy old man with an Oedipus complex. He’s one of those writers that doesn’t inhabit any sort of middle ground. Heinlein got me interested in the science fiction genre in the first place, so I tend to fall more in line with the first camp of readers than the second, though I acknowledge that his work is problematic. .

The major takeaway I get from Time Enough for Love is that his main character, Lazarus Long, is smarter than you will ever be and he gets lots more chicks. He’s also a rascal, and a charming rogue, and I think that’s why I tolerated his foibles. Readers who don’t find Lazarus charming will probably be put off by how he is awesome at everything and knows the answers to every question ever, not to mention the fact that nobody with working ovaries who gets within 20 feet of him can resist the lure of his… what? Longevity? Old man nipples? I don’t even know. Nonetheless, the chicks dig him, is what I’m saying..

There’s not a whole lot to this book. Lazarus is the longest-lived man in the universe, having been around for the past several thousand years, and he’s bored. Then he makes new friends and is persuaded to tell his memoirs, and also persuaded to go on one last grand adventure. Mostly, though, he spends the book talking, often at great length, about the things that fascinate him, and, presumably, by extension, Heinlein. This can make for some long, all too rambling bits. I don’t always agree with Heinlein’s staunchly libertarian views, but he certainly gives me food for thought, and I did appreciate that, for all I sometimes wanted the digressions to stop.

This book also has a lot of later Heinlein’s tendency to have his characters have a lot of sex. Some of the subjects he explores are taboo, so I’m only grateful he doesn’t go into excruciating detail about the encounters. This was somewhat off-putting, since all his women are pretty, intelligent sluts, and they apparently think it’s hot as hell to be patronized by Lazarus Long. (Told you he gets more chicks than you ever will.)

There is something appealing about Heinlein’s utopian vision of a free love sort of society. I just don’t believe in it, and I found myself, in the scenes we get with Lazarus and his bazillion-person marriage, thinking that just because guys like Lazarus can have sex with whomever and the chicks are happy to oblige them, that doesn’t necessarily make for a harmonious household. I kept wondering if the intelligent sluts ever fought over the privilege of getting to boink the old man.

Toward the end, the random sex got too squicky even for me. Lazarus falls in love with one woman he really should have kept his hands off of, and I really, really wish Heinlein hadn’t gone there. Though not enough to keep from reading To Sail Beyond the Sunset, which is a companion book to this one..

Despite my complaints, though, I did enjoy myself. I like most of Heinlein’s characters, and even though I don’t necessarily believe in his world views, I like making the journeys with him.
Grade: C.

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Note: There are spoilers for Time Enough for Love below. You have been warned.

To Sail Beyond the Sunset
Title: to Sail Beyond the Sunset
Author: Robert Heinlein
Genre: science fiction
Source: Braille and Recorded Download
Read from June 15-18, 2012

Synopsis via goodreads:

Heinlein fans rejoice, for the science fiction master’s most beloved characters here gather once more. Maureen Johnson, the somewhat irregular mother of Lazarus Long, wakes up in bed with a man and a cat. The cat is Pixel, well-known to fans of the New York Times bestseller “The Cat Who Walks through Walls.” The man is a stranger to her, and besides that, he is dead . . .

Holy frack, what the hell did I just read? I don’t know whether to be appalled or impressed… so maybe I’ll be impalled?

Anyway. So yeah. This is all about the life of Maureen Johnson, the mother of Lazarus Long. There’s a flimsy frame story that might have been interesting except it largely gets lost in Maureen’s memoirs. In fact, it would have been nice if the frame story had been a little more substantial, because I would have loved to have read more of it. Sadly, it meanders along and largely consists of something happening, and then Maureen thinking, ‘That was like the time that X happened.’. Sometimes there wouldn’t be any kind of transition at all. Add to that, random characters from Heinlein’s other works show up, and it’s not nearly as thrilling as Heinlein, or even his more rabid fans, thinks it is.

I don’t buy Maureen as a woman, but I found her oddly engaging. She’s a Heinlein woman, meaning she’s an intelligent slut, and she very badly wants to have sex with her father. Failing that, she settles for anybody else, both in and out of the confines of marriage. I don’t have a problem with her sluttiness, because, hey, non-slut-shaming is to be commended, but the Electra complex I very much could have lived without. I love my dad, but I have never had a sexual thought about him in my life. Ugh. That all said, even when I wanted to throw my book against the wall–not advisable considering I was reading it on an expensive electronic device–I truly wanted to keep reading. Maureen was fascinating, and I was drawn to her story, and there was a bit less of Heinlein expostulating for pages on pages about his views on society. It wasn’t gone, but I noticed it less.

Though there was a lot to like, there was a lot of WTF to wade through between good parts. My major issue with Time Enough for Love was that Lazarus Long had a crush on his mother when he went back in time to meet her. Now we see that the incest theme continues. In addition to Maureen’s unrequited crush on her dad, two of her kids insist on shacking up, and everybody ends up in a weird sort of group marriage at the end of the book, with both fathers and daughters participating at will. But while Heinlein is totally blasé about incest, he’s just short of homophobic and there’s a point at which he says something like, , “People who use whips and chains should be locked up and kept away from the rest of us.” Dude, you can’t have it both ways. Either don’t judge your fellow freaks or keep your mouth shut.

I don’t really know how to rate this book. When Heinlein wasn’t talking about Maureen wanting to boink both her dad and her son, it was a delightful read. But the WTF squick factor brings it down a lot. And, having waited nearly a month to post my thoughts on this book, the squick factor is what I remember.

Final grade: D+.

Up next: She’s captured from Earth and sold as an alien sex slave. He’s a grunting cave-man alpha hero. It was a free read on my Kindle. What could possibly go wrong?