Sunday, March 30, 2008

Dragon Prince, by Melanie Rawn [1]

*/***** (1/5)

Dragon Prince series (Rohan)
1. Dragon Prince (1/5)
2. The Star Scroll
3. Sunrunner's Fire

Dragon Star series (Rohan's son Pol)
1. Stronghold
2. The Dragon Token
3. Skybowl

Don't let the title of this book fool you, this book belongs to its Sunrunner heroine Sioned as she facilitates every major aspiration and/or accomplishment for our golden boy Rohan. In a fantasy book with substantial romantic inclinations, I wouldn't mind the emphasis on the heroine if I didn't find our hero Rohan's character so dithering, so wishy-washy, and, for lack of a better word, so "wussified." Our milksop hero Rohan whines about everything, he often gives moral soliloquies and the story arc primarily describes Rohan's evolution from an erudite 21 year-old idealist intent on peace like a 1960s hippie to a 27 year-old realist who whines about doing some rather "barbarian" things to protect the future of his family and people. In Part 3 entitled "Vengeance," Rohan's "brother-by-marriage" Chaynal assuages this evolution in Rohan's character, noting Rohan embodies hope to everyone because he (Rohan) examines and re-examines his actions and motivations. Evidently, this examination makes Rohan the good guy and his actions justified. I say it makes Rohan an annoying milksop. Like an imbecile, more than once Rohan resolves to never do what he's doing now ("Never again."). After he kills a dragon, he resolves, "Never again!" After waging a war in Part 3 when he's supposed to be more mature and worldly, there's also a naive "Never again!" Please, times change and who knows what actions the future may compel. Choose a course of action and get on with it, live with the consequences and learn from them. Guy Gavriel Kay's TIGANA (*) demonstrated I usually don't go for thematic fantasy stories where emotional angst, lessons and morals lurk behind every plot device. Please don't try to teach me and advise me on the nature of life and society. Lamentably, such is the case here in Melanie Rawn's romantic DRAGON PRINCE.

In my endless quest for an entertaining fusion between many different genres, this book reminded me of a another (better) romantic fantasy, that is, Joanne Bertin's THE LAST DRAGONLORD (****). I thought the prose, romance and political intrigue in Bertin's THE LAST DRAGONLORD surpassed Rawn's book here. I also thought the worldbuilding and magic system in Bertin's book were better. Both books however featured fairly weak heroes, and Bertin's awful sequel DRAGON AND PHOENIX (*) exacerbated the male characterizations. Male fantasy authors rarely write engaging female characters and fun romance while female fantasy authors write heroes who often irritate me. Unlike the romance genre, I actually liked that our hero Rohan here in DRAGON PRINCE isn't an older, experienced libertine, I liked that he isn't a redoubtable warrior, but his incessant dithering introspection really sucked the life out of any enjoyment Parts 1 & 2 may have engendered. We're told our hero Rohan is clever, a political mastermind of sorts, but I'm not sure what he accomplishes from Part 2 in the Rialla really amounts to all that much when it all goes to hell in Part 3 anyway. The book glosses over the details of his political maneuvering in the Rialla from Part 2 anyway and we're basically told he deftly effected many favorable agreements for his princedom. If you want a substantively unconventional male hero, check out Tyrion's political maneuvering from George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series (especially in A CLASH OF KINGS), or Locke Lamora in Scott Lynch's Gentlemen Bastards series. Tyrion and Locke are both incredibly hilarious and politically brilliant. Regrettably, Rohan fails to even approach the Tyrion and Locke's realm of brilliance and humor.

Rawn's DRAGON PRINCE also reminded me of Terry Goodkind's fairly repetitive and sermonizing Sword of Truth series (which I've never reviewed and probably never will). I can't express enough how addicted I was to Goodkind's fantasy/romance/adventure Sword of Truth series. I will always maintain that his opening installment WIZARD'S FIRST RULE (1994) was quite good and I really liked the fourth installment TEMPLE OF THE WINDS (1997) as well. His never-ending, repetitive saga crumbles starting from his fifth installment SOUL OF FIRE however. Anyhow, Goodkind is always looking to impart real-life lessons behind his fantasy plots. Similar to Goodkind's series, Rawn's morals and lessons here in the introspection and narrative drain the energy and plotting.

The Story.

In Rawn's fantasy world, I found the magic system both ambiguous and common compared to other fantasy books. Essentially a society of 'Sunrunners' or foradh'im travel along light to communicate across vast distances, conjure images, and the most powerful among the Sunrunners may call fire to destroy and devastate (though they're forbidden to kill and conveniently all the Sunrunners obey the rule). Distinctive colors identify each person in Rawn's world and Sunrunners see the unique colors of the person they're communicating with over vast distances. The sunrunner talent is mostly hereditary although it surfaces randomly in genealogies bereft of the talent. In the beginning of the story, our heroine Sioned is a powerful Sunrunner having earned 5 rings (each ring representing another notch in talent or power). Only the Lady of Goddess Keep, the Lady Andrade and Rohan's aunt, possesses 10 rings. Sunrunners train at the Goddess Keep, earning rings, experience and furthering their talents. Hackneyed for the fantasy genre, everything is made up of Fire, Air, Earth, and Water. Since Sunrunners utilize light and manipulate fire, they can't withstand traveling on a boat in water, an indication of Sunrunner talent. The people in Rawn's world, regardless of whether they possess the Sunrunner talent or not, primarily worship the Goddess. There are no kings here, and instead there exists various princedoms ruled by Princes. Our main antagonist is the High Prince Roelstra who resides over all the other princes and princedoms including his own, the Princemarch.

As the story begins, we're introduced to one of the most powerful princedoms, Prince Zehava's the Desert. Old, grizzled, and a beast among men, Zehava enjoys hunting dragons throughout his princedom and he embarks on killing his tenth dragon. When the ensuing battle between dragon and Prince Zehava lands Zehava in his deathbed, his heir 21 year-old Rohan come into power. Described as learned, clever and political mastermind, Rohan isn't the warrior like his brother-by-marriage Chay nor the dragon hunter like his famed father. In fact, Rohan loves dragons. Outside and above the princes' hierarchy, Rohan's aunt the Lady Andrade of Goddess Keep wishes to arrange a marriage between her pupil Sioned and the new Prince Rohan. Sioned has foreseen Rohan in the flames as a prophecy and finds herself half in love with him without having even met him. When Andrade presents Sioned to Rohan in the flames as well, our golden handsome loverboy is also in love. Part One, Faces in Fire, concludes with the onset of the Rialla a congregation of princes and lords who ratify various trade treaties and compromise on borders. The event culminates with (appropriately enough) Lastday Ceremonies consisting of weddings. Occurring every three years, the High Prince Roelstra oversees all dealings amongst princes at the Rialla. Maligned by seventeen daughters but not one male heir, the High Prince Roelstra, his mistress Palila and his legitimate daughters lanthe and Pandsala scheme to ensnare the new Prince Rohan in a marriage alliance during Rialla.

Part two, the Rialla, concludes with the end of the Rialla as Sioned and Rohan publicly acknowledge one another as husband and wife despite Roelstra's various plots. If Parts One and Two were mildly entertaining viewed as a romance with a fantasy context, Part Three "Vengeance" decidedly switches gears. I don't mind that bad stuff happens in this last part, but I found Rohan's introspective dithering, wishy-washy introspection and emotional angst unbearable as each irritating facet of his characterization multiplies hundred fold. Sioned is clearly the man in the relationship when she goes to whatever extreme necessary -- killing, for example -- to save and succor her husband Rohan. First, I find it implausible that prior to Sioned, no Sunrunner used his or her powers to harm or kill or possibly tilt the balance in a war. Talk about an idealistic utopia. Second, the emotional wedge between Sioned and Rohan as a result of lanthe's scheming seemed to magically disappear at the very end. We're told after the fact that they harmed each other but they eventually found their way back to each other. I also found events describing the war and its strategy very amateurish. Clearly this isn't Rawn's strong suit. There's too many domestic issues miring the plot having to do with Rohan's sister Tobin and her husband (Chay) and children. At times, Part 3 read as a chick fest, the men not really having much to do. Consider: lanthe's plot to trap Rohan, Sioned's revenge against lanthe, Tobin's domestic issues with her husband and children, Chianna, Pandsala and Lady Andrade, and even Feylin of Skybowl antagonizing Walvis and finally Rohan's Commander of his guards Maeta at Stronghold (a woman, of course). Even the final duel between Rohan and Roelstra was one of the poorest sword fights I've ever read, Sioned was intimately involved in it of course from miles away. Victorious, Sioned and Rohan promote new princes and lords. I thought the rosy ending was very unsatisfying and out of place following the emotional angst driving Sioned and Rohan apart earlier.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Two more e reviews

Latin Moon, by Jeigh Lynn (***)

All in all, I enjoyed this werewolf romantica starring Latino-American heroes, and Jeigh Lynn slowly builds the foundation (rules) for her werewolf culture here in LATIN MOON (unlike Liz Andrews & Lena Matthews' SHADOW OF MOONLIGHT). Instead of making up fancy names to build the culture, Jeigh Lynn slowly reveals the crux of the werewolf culture via suspense and mystery. Family is clearly important to Jeigh Lynn and it shows in her story here with a Latino family (the Hernandez's) and their extended relations. The men are dark and handsome, the women petite and pretty and the sensuality oozes from the pages. There were some weird, jarring parts however (Alex's cousin Adrian giving Alex a massage? And Michael and Rand kneeling before Alex like some Godfather scene?) while the finale seemed to flounder around with so many characters involved. I don't mind a large cast, but when the story seems to throw names around just to account for them from a bookkeeping standpoint, I have to wonder whether the author is more interested in setting up sequels or telling this story. Still, it's one of the better werewolf erotica/romantic (whatever you want to call it) that I've come across.

After Dr. Alex Hernandez glimpses Jessica "Jess" Ingram at his little sister's dance recital, all that matters is meeting her, talking to her, claiming her. The 'pack alpha' (leader, dominant) for his group of werewolves consisting of various family, Alex formally meets Jess at the hospital later and the two immediately explore their attraction for one another. Uncommon nowadays, Jess is a virgin and since mating partly transforms Alex which could frighten Jess (nothing major, just an amber eye color to accompany a feral carnality), Alex convinces Jess to abstain until after marriage. Alex wants to slowly ease Jess with his true werewolf nature and so keeps that aspect secret from her. Meanwhile, anonymous phone calls warn Jess to stay away from Alex while attempted assaults and abductions on her person heightens the drama behind a threat to Alex's pack. When a pack member -- Rome -- goes missing, Jess and Alex must work with Alex's family to string together the pieces of the puzzle. Attempts on Jess's life and Rome's disappearance seem connected. The sensuous romance parallel this mystery plot as Jess shockingly comes to grips with Alex's true nature. Enjoyable, relatively substantive plotting and pacing, steamy, and romantic.

Wynd Temptress, by Kathryn Anne Dubois (**)

This is a futuristic paranormal and I thought the writing and settings in this were better than most from this genre. There's even some attempt at political maneuvering in the beginning with Alaska's resources. Still, I didn't find this story all that sensual, surprising since the beginning is written from the hero's perspective. Although Dubois injects love and romance, I found the ending flat and dry. It's the year 2150 where some people potentially have psychic power. When the League of of World Government Sectors subdues Jezermiah Cameron's evil great-grandfather years ago, the government establishes the Psychic Sensory Investigations Agency to ferret out psychics utilizing their talents to gain an unfair advantage. Jezermiah Cameron AKA Jesse Calhoun's evil great-grandfather was a level five psychic, and along with being a level five psychic herself, Jez controls the wind as well. The Psychic Investigations Agency brings Adam Wydner out of retirement to examine the new self-elected mayor of Chinook, Alaska, Jezermiah Cameron AKA Jesse Calhoun. A level five psychic himself, the agency wants Adam to determine if Jezermiah has inherited her evil great-grandfather's powerful psychic abilities and whether she isn't unfairly influencing people with her psychic abilities for (or against) an important new proposed pipeline through her city.

The premise has Adam abduct Jez, whisking her away to resort-like grounds where she has the freedom to go anywhere but endless surrounding fields offer no substantial escape. At the resort, Adam intends to conduct his investigation of her psychic talents and their influence in her mayoral position. But Jez quickly turns the table on Adam and ties him up instead! I always enjoy a fun turning-of-the-tables, and thankfully, Dubois obliges. Unfortunately, the sensuality failed to resonate although Adam and Jez's banter was fun at times. The ending was worse, with an overabundance of choking love sickness on Adam's part. Jez has two other sisters, Jez the wind to her sisters' fire and water. Their stories are explored elsewhere.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Erotica reviews of the month

Is it a bad generalization to state that married women write erotica much more conducive to a guy than single women? I admit I'm generalizing (which is never good), but when I read the Author's Note at the end of an erotica I thought was good, the author is happily married, with kids, etc. When I read the Author's Note of erotica I thought was too girly-centric or containing menage and BDSM, the authors are usually single. Oversimplification? Maybe, but one that generally holds true (in my case).

Silver Fire
, by Jeanne Barrack (***)

Intense passion for her soulmate transports our heroine Mirelle to the fantasy world Hearthome teeming with magical wizards, princes, and flying unicorns. In Hearthome, magic comes from the dust lanbeth produced from a "joining" between true mates who climax together. True mates preordained by the Fates in Hearthome are rare, and their climaxing at the same time even rarer. Hence, many in this fantasy world covet the magic dust lanbeth due to its extremely sparse and dwindling supply. Our hero is the wizard prince Jareth set Morath, son of Morath, tall and very handsome of course. Jareth calls to Mirelle on Earth and migrates her back to his own fantasy world. Once in Hearthome, Jareth and Mirelle immediately pledge their devotion to each other and they engage in some steamy sex. Mirelle is in a trance and after, she tries to help Jorath and his mentor Narik piece through the conspiracy rocking Mirelle's own family. She discovers she's actually a princess from Hearthome, ordained as Jareth's soulmate, and her royal family devastated by insidious plots and treachery. Narik suggests Mirelle's uncle who seemingly eliminated any competition for dominion over Hearthome. Jareth and Mirelle work together to disentangle the pieces clouding Hearthome.

Admittedly, the tale exhibits its fair share of silliness and senselessness but I found the chemistry between Jareth and Mirelle very passionate and it doesn't shy away from allowing Mirelle to show how much she wants Jareth. There's plenty of sex scenes and most of them are extremely heated because of their mutual desire for each other. In trying to make the people of Hearthome authentic, Jareth sometimes comes across very flaky both in his speech and mannerisms. The plotting and settings obviously leave something to be desired, but you can't argue Jareth & Mirelle's passion and love for each other one bit.

Jeanne Barrack writes a series on Hearthome, and I started reading the second installment in this dealing with Jareth's brother entitled AMBER INFERNO but I couldn't finish that one. The plotting in AMBER INFERNO reached levels of inanity and senselessness I couldn't quite stomach.

Price of Fame, by Ashley Ladd ()

This receives a zero not because it describes elements of a menage a trois or BDSM (I find little value in either) but because it's so ridiculously *girly* and stereotypically skewed from a female's point-of-view, I wanted to literally retch my insides out. Our twenty-eight year-old heroine Wenefred "Wendy" Applegate AKA Skye Blue harbors a mountain of insecurities and prejudices from page 1 to the very end. All beautiful women in this story are either air-headed bimbos (Thunder's drop-dead gorgeous wife Carly, or Wendy's band members Rain and Hail evidenced by Wendy's derogatory thoughts when Rain suggests an idea for their band, or all the ditzy bimbos in Wendy's sister's beauty pageants) or the beautiful women are extremely annoying (Wendy's beauty queen little sister Angelina). There exists beautiful, confident and successful women, but you'd never know it from this story. Apparently only plain women like our heroine Wendy has any brains as she spends the whole story ridiculing beautiful women and yet fawns over handsome, ripped men. She summarily condemns all beautiful women as dumb, she entertains menage fantasies with two hot men and yet she's insecure in a threesome with another, potentially prettier woman (c'mon, we can't really measure beauty and yet there's little doubt we can gauge the size of two dicks in a menage and she as a woman is insecure?!). All the hot men in this story are of course considerate and smart along with possessing handsome faces, huge biceps, pecs, abs, hard thighs and mammoth erections described in excruciating detail ad nauseam. I wouldn't mind so much if I didn't have to read Wendy whining about her plain looks, her family ignoring her as a child and focusing on her little beautiful sister Angel, etc., etc., etc. You name it, our Wendy has a whine ready for it on autopilot. When a hotel concierge doesn't treat her with the utmost respect and care due to a diva because she didn't have her face paint on, she whines. Nevermind two hot guys pursue Wendy the entire story (her band member Thunder and the hot Dr. Trace Cooper), she continues to whine about her plain, insignificant looks. Nevermind that she's more successful than her little sister, she constantly whines about her pretty little sister garnering all the attention. Despicably, it's our hero the tall, hot and ripped Dr. Trace Cooper who makes all the sacrifices in the end (consistently shown working out and also a high school football star who enjoyed all the cheerleaders back in the day). Though he considers the peculiar resemblances behind Skye Blue and Wendy a couple times, Trace never explores his hunch behind Skye Blue's true identity. He dismisses the notion that Skye Blue could be his Wendy and everyone melodramatically learns of Skye Blue's true identity from the media. Instead of crafting a circumstance where Trace explores his hunch and possibly turns the tables on Wendy, Trace remains a dolt throughout. Of course he's built like a body builder, he's a doctor, played high school football and dated all the cheerleaders, what more could a plain, insecure girl like Wendy want? And from my vantage point, Wendy remains ugly both from the inside and outside. Her petty grudges and mountain of insecurities never diminish. Her bitchy attitude towards Trace never ceases until the last page. Trace must chase her across the country after she lies to him about her identity and Trace must declare words of love and devotion to assuage her concerns despite media attention of her new beau, a TV star. Trace must abandon his practice in Florida and relocate to California to accommodate Wendy's illustrious career. I literally wanted to barf.

The essential premise revolves around Wendy struggling to hide her public persona from her family and friends back in Florida. She resents her family (her mother and little sister) for always making her feel secondary, and she hates her childhood crush Trace for saying he would prefer her sister Angel's beauty when they were all very little. Wendy has grown up to be the distinguished lead singer Skye Blue in the famous band called Storm and with all the face paint she's successful keeping her real identity secret from the media and her public persona hidden from her family. When health conditions handicap her aging mother, Wendy returns to her home in Florida and the girly, juvenile feeling of the story steadily rises while everything else promptly disintegrates. Her childhood crush Trace is her mother's doctor and she's Bitch Numero Uno around him. Shockingly, our doctor is a fan of Wendy's band Storm and he attends her Florida concerts dressed in tight leather and of course the Wendy's girly notions escalate. Wendy wants men to look beyond superficial beauty in women and yet fawns over beautiful men (Thunder and Trace) at every turn. She's not only petty, jealous, insecure and plain looking, but she's also hypocritical. Trace enjoys Skye Blue's attentions after a concert, completely ignorant of Skye Blue's true identity. Trace never discovers anything for himself and the story continues on its girly, stereotypical and hypocritical course.

Before the Fire, by Jaid Black (****)

I've skimmed through a few of Jaid Black's work and I can confidently say that compared to all the other erotica (i.e. Lora Leigh), Jaid Black writes one of the few erotica that guys can read as well as women. Her stories contain hot guys, but they also contain hot, smart women and the passion isn't heavily one-sided (all the pleasuring from the guy to the girl) nor the plotting too feminine (notions of tingly reactions for example). BEFORE THE FIRE comprises of futuristic, scifi elements merged with time traveling to the common setting of most historical romances, Georgian England. Although I tried not to, BEFORE THE FIRE made me laugh so many times that I have to recognize its light, passionate and humorous touches in an otherwise silly and foolish tale. If a nonsensical story makes me laugh, I have to give it props, and if the story is meant to be an erotica strictly for women, I have to laud its efforts. It's like laughing at one of Mel Brooks' silly yet funny movies (like SPACEBALLS). Some of the "magical" elements here weren't nearly as inane here as in Barrack's SILVER FIRE.

In the year 2429 AD, a new mutation of a virus threatens all of mankind distributed across various planets and solar systems. I had to laugh at the name: BV-5, or Brain Virus Five. Scientist and "planabotonologist" (a botanist for all the planets, I'm assuming) Kane Edmonds represents Commander Linder's last hope for his stricken son Egis. Linder asks Kane to travel back in time during Georgian England when there exists evidence of a "kabitross" plant which possesses herbs to combat the deadly BV-5. Kane agrees, traveling to the estates of Blackmore, where rumors abound of the Earl of Blackmore having murdered his wife. George Wyndom, the ninth Earl of Blackmore and heir apparent to the Duke of Browning, espies a thoroughly nude Kane on his land and understandably falls prey to lust instantaneously. Kane is taken aback by George's massive size and handsome countenance and asks some amusing and yet pointed questions of George. George finds a woman like Kane who doesn't abide traditional protocol and custom very refreshing. Kane tells George she's American and she seeks a plant vital to her research. George wants to court Kane formally but Kane refuses to march to the time period's pace and proceeds to shock George all the while capturing his heart thoroughly. More characters from the 1776 appear and the mystery behind George's first wife is unraveled. Kane slowly acquired new friends and family in 1776 all the while searching frantically for the plant. Again, the passion resonated and chemistry sizzled in this one minus the cloying muliebrity so characteristic of this genre.

Rainlashed, by Leda Swann (****)

This one is too fun for guys, what guy wouldn't want a hot mermaid-like creature wanting nothing more than to please him 24/7? This one is definitely skewed a little bit for guys but not nearly as bad as Agnew's DANGEROUS INTENTIONS (below) or Ladd's PRICE OF FAME (above) are skewed for women. RAINLASHED contains paranormal elements in the Regency England setting. Our heroine Maya is a "selkie," or a creature capable of shape-shifting between seal and human form though her first love lies with the water and oceans. Selkies also possess magical powers affecting the ocean. Our hero Ian Argyle, Earl of Stoneleigh, was born to the land but also shares a love of sea and ocean like Maya. Iain comes to terms with his love for Maya in the end and sacrifices a part of himself to be with Maya long-term. Maya is sexy, innocent, unabashed, and provocative -- pretty much every guy's dream and Leda Swann captures a guy's dream perfectly just this once.

The premise: Iain dreams of capturing one of the slippery selkies on the shore of his estates ever since they taunted, teased and finally escaped his clutches as a child. When Iain stumbles on some beautiful female selkies bathing on the rocks in the sun, he resolves to capture their seal skins which would effectively enslave them. A selkie would do anything to reacquire her seal skin. In fact, a selkie without her seal skin is powerless to transform to seal form and enjoy the waters. When Iain captures Maya's younger sister's seal skin, Maya barters her own seal skin in exchange for her sister's. Iain would have returned the younger sister's seal skin, it's Maya he's wanted from the moment he laid eyes on her, and he cruelly uses Maya's desperation to enslave her to him. Iain tells Maya that if she pleases him enough, he'll return her seal skin back to her. Unfortunately whatever Maya does for him sexually only makes Iain latch onto her harder and harder. The story's end satisfies as Iain forsakes part of his life on land to be with Maya, and Iain doesn't ask Maya to abandon her love for the sea and ocean permanently. Leda Swann's love for the water and ocean is evident and I enjoyed the story thoroughly.

Naughty Mistress Nita, by Jodi Lynn Copeland (**)

Conservative and a general good girl, NAUGHTY MISTRESS NITA describes Anita Roemer shedding her shell of inhibitions and discovering her sexual side in the arms of tall, gruff and handsome Zane Matthews. In spite of any expectations stemming from the title, our dominant hero Zane Matthews quickly turns the tables on Anita and she's the recipient of some of Zane's naughty ministrations, not the other way around.

Jordan asks her best friend Anita to drive to a lodge in the boondocks in order to cancel an appointment with one Zane Matthews. Jordan works as a professional dominatrix, and she's tried calling him, but there's no answer. Jordan doesn't want to leave the guy hanging since he's prepaid and so Anita drives all the way to Zane's cabin to cancel the appointment with the professional dominatrix Jordan. The entire premise is way too bizarre and Jordan goads her friend Anita that she could sit in for her, but then laughs it off recognizing Anita for the sexual prude she is. Anita walks in on Zane's empty but messy cabin and proceeds clean up the place and sleep in the bed after a storm strands her there. Fairly outrageous circumstances to be sure. Zane walks in on the professional dominatrix his buddies have arranged for him after his recent separation with his cheating ex-wife. Her conservative attire sure doesn't scream dominatrix, Zane thinks. The story has Anita shifting between her conservative self and the role as a confident dominatrix. Zane believes Anita is new at this but then quickly deduces she couldn't be a lifetime dominatrix. Like Copeland's INTO THE ARCTIC piece in the Anthology: A Faerie Tale, I smiled and chuckled at some of the amusing and humorous writing. Still, there was something missing in the sensuality (compared to Copeland's INTO THE ARCTIC in Anthology: A Faerie Tale), and the plotting and ending seemed empty.

Erotic Stranger, by Cheyenne McCray (*)

This is a full-fledged BDSM fantasy though it restrains from any menage. Corporate lawyer Teri Carter wants to drop her inhibitions for a night, have pure, unadulterated sex with a stranger who will nail her hard, long and leave her satisfied. Used to ordering and bossing others around, Teri is a closet subservient in the Dom/Sub BDSM relationship. Successful entrepreneur and Dom Josh Williams recognizes Teri in the hotel bar as a hot potential Sub. Both are attracted to one another and Josh takes Teri back to his room, ties her up and their games in bondage and pain escalate as Josh unveils his arsenal of BDSM toys and gadgets. Some of the pain Josh inflicts on Teri borders on torture and I guess I'll never understand a woman actually liking this much pain. I'm all for some butt slapping, but some of Josh's professional BDSM toys mean business. Somehow, love ensues from all this. This is, by far, the shortest of the stories amongst these reviews and offers little substance and less plotting.

Dangerous Intentions, by Denise A. Agnew (*)

This begins with some substantive prose and promise with respect to the plotting but quickly takes a nosedive for the worse. Although not as girly and woman-centric as Ladd's PRICE OF FAME (above), it comes darn close! Thankfully it forgoes PRICE OF FAME's nauseating insecurities and the heroine here in DANGEROUS INTENTIONS is really hot. But this story is interested in one thing and one thing alone: magnify the appearance of the hot, ripped guy, and detail his pleasuring of our heroine Kiley. Every time Kiley wishes to offer something for our hero Scott Danger, he brushes her off. It gets old after the third and fourth times which are so female-centric and imply any ripped, handsome guy could elicit such uninhibited reactions from our pretty heiress Kiley. Not to mention any man would love to have her doing a small fraction of the pleasuring Scott bestows Kiley; and no, after the third, fourth, fifth times her favorable reactions alone are not enough and *every* man would move on after the the woman's selfish second time. If she really "loved" him, she wouldn't let Scott brush her off so easily when she starts to return a fraction of his servicing attentions. The whole time, Kiley shoulders bruises from a prior relationship (Barclay), someone macho and handsome who looks and acts like Scott. Hence, she's reluctant to submit to him completely and commit to him. Scott has no problem loving her, giving her pleasure, and putting himself out there for her without the least bit of any expectation on her part to reciprocate (in anything).

Kiley's billionaire uncle Reginald Casey Chapman of Chapman Enterprises has some enemies and expects some trouble from his old business partner Gregory Thorson who was recently released from prison. Kiley's uncle hires Scott's agency and specifically Scott to protect Kiley. Scott is the best: he's "lean and mean," possesses the obligatory wide shoulders, ripped muscles, handsome countenance and hails from a celebrated past in secret ops and protection which would hone and tone his muscles. The story shifts to mostly Kiley's very girly and cloying perspective as Scott responds to Kiley's ad looking for a hero and having qualities of a hero. Kiley would be around the successful candidate 24/7 to observe the qualities of a hero, and that would suit Scott's purposes just fine -- to protect her of course. Kiley's uncle advises that he must protect her without revealing that he was hired to protect her since Kiley would have none of that. The story contains absolutely zero surprises, everything is predictable and the villains do some things that make Scott desperate to protect Kiley and want her more (also predictably).

His Female (Gryffin Strain 01), by Madison Hayes (**)

Another paranormal story, this one deals with a human -- our heroine Chiarra -- caught in the midst of Gryffin politics. Gryffin are fantastical creatures but essentially humanoid in form and genitalia. Both females and males have these fantastic multi-colored fans spanning their body, females are straight-waisted and flat-chested, while males' phallus stem directly from underneath and between their legs. Their arousal leans horizontal while a human male's arousal leans vertical more often than not. Also, females are common amongst the species while males rare. A male's "fold" will contain the male with as many as 8 wives. In fact, our hero Jarrk's fold consists of 7-8 women. Male gryffin can perform some neat tricks while embedded in the female and consequently the females climax almost immediately while it takes many females for the male to climax. Male gryffins covet human females because they're able to last longer. It's all very amusing and silly at the same time.

After Chiarra ventures to gryffin territory and is captured, she watches a fight between the evil Gryffin male Grat and our hero Jarrk. Our human heroine Chiarra was brought up to believe gryffin are less than human, that they're mostly animal. Grat abused and killed the last human female that they captured and Jarrk wishes to protect Chiarra from Grat's malevolence. After Jarrk defeats Grat, Chiarra joins Jarrk's fold (consisting of him and his 7-8 wives). Jarrk has no desire to force her to stay though but the maelstrom and dragons across the land prevent Chiarra from returning right away. An acrimonious disposition mars Chiarra and Jarrk's exchanges but their attraction to one another steadily builds. When Chiarra leaves to brave the maelstroms, Jarrk gives chase to help and protect her from Grat. Events progress and Jarrk and Chiarra find bliss in each other's arms. It's an interesting story if nothing else, definitely different from what I've been reading. It was also amusing at times and didn't piss me off as much as some others here.

Shadow of Moonlight, by Liz Andrews & Lena Matthews (*)

This is a werewolf story which attempts to imbue some societal culture and hierarchy to the wolf packs. Tanned, muscled and surfer-boy-like Jace McClellan is the anomaly within his own Pack, a seer of his pack, a Rakshasa as they're called. For most of his adult life, Jace has wanted Elizabeth Remington, or "Remy." Remy is a warrior, a Venator, second-in-command to their Pack leader, and she's earned her title, scars and bruises by fighting. This story attempts novelty by substituting fancy names for the various titles in the wolf packs for a meaningful setting. One of Jace's visions about a pregnant human woman could threaten the tenuous stability between wolf packs and heralds danger for the werewolves. Remy dumped her last hot, muscled lover Kellan (all the guys in the pack are obviously tall, steroid-pumped and handsome) and her attraction to Jace evolves as the pack's leader Nico orders to investigate the identity of this woman. In any werewolf or fantasy-based romantic erotica, there exists some notion of mates and here is no different. Fear of injuring Jace (because mating involves partially shifting to wolf form) prohibit Remy from mating with Jace since Jace isn't a true wolf (he has were DNA which allows him to see visions, but he can't shift into a wolf). The sex scenes were fairly one-sided focusing on Jace pleasuring Remy which I wouldn't have a huge problem with if the words and emotions from Jace for Remy weren't so much more profound than the other way around. Jace says he's intoxicated by the smell and taste of her arousal, that it's imprinting itself in his brain, that it smells and feels like home, blah, blah, blah. He tells her he loves her early and often and of course he's understanding enough to allow Remy to work out her own issues and fear of committing to Jace. The story meticulously describes Jace loving to pleasure Remy with his mouth and hands but of course anytime an opportunity for the reverse presents itself, Remy performs out of rote or they're interrupted by the pack leader Nico. The servicing from the hero to the heroine isn't nearly as bad here as in Agnew's DANGEROUS INTENTIONS, but it's still fairly lopsided, in thoughts, words, and deeds.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Beyond A Shadow (SG-5 08), by Alison Kent [4]

****/***** (4/5)

Thirty-five year-old school teacher Alexa Counsel knows trouble when she sees it. As the dark and mysterious Ezra Moore walks up to her with little Emmy Rose Maples, Alexa purposefully inserts herself as a barrier between the little girl Emmy Rose and the local inn's new handyman, the dark, dangerous and perceptive Ezra Moore. Divorced two years ago, Alexa discerns danger in Ezra Moore and her intuition screams at her to run and protect herself and friends from Ezra Moore. This constitutes my first book by Alison Kent, and I found BEYOND A SHADOW very refreshing in the romance/erotica genre. I thought the writing was above average, the settings in small-town Comfort Bay, Oregon, strong, the plotting and pacing grips while the romance steadily evolved and could appeal to both guys and gals, something very rare in the romance/erotica genre. The characterizations of our lead pair Alexa Counsel and Ezra Moore reminded me of Madeline Hunter's characters: mature, compelling, and the two together exhibit an electrically-charged chemistry. Alexa and Ezra's exchanges aren't childishly antagonistic, but rather exude wit and inflammatory passion. I understand Alison Kent writes a series of books on SG-5 (Smithson Group), or Hank Smithson's team of rogue undercover operatives. Ezra Moore has appeared in prior SG-5 novels and the group's involvement and role sometimes obfuscate the plotting for completely new readers to the series. I found the finale very anticlimactic and for an accomplished operative, Ezra seems to blunder and fails to anticipate problematic scenarios which arise at the end. Ezra's overwhelming feelings for Alexa could excuse his oversights though.

This book's romantic crux describes a spiritual cleansing of the battered and damaged goods that are Ezra Moore. Certainly not the first romance novel to depict a bad boy finding redemption in a strong woman's arms, I found BEYOND A SHADOW nonetheless gritty, engaging and substantive. Approaching Anne Stuart's bad boys, Ezra Moore surpassed the well-muscled, well-endowed and rakish heroes common to most romance and erotica. In fact this book simply doesn't dwell on appearances as so many other romance books and we don't find detailed accounts of a hero's "aquiline" nose, handsome face, chiseled frame nor the heroine's ample beauty. The passion wasn't nearly as one-sided (all the pleasure and giving from the hero to the heroine), and I can't tell you how much I appreciate heroines actually enjoying giving their heroes pleasure. It's so rare because most of erotica/romance is all about the rake igniting the heroine's passions (the hero's touch, lick, suckle, blow, steady and slow deliberations) that the reverse rarely happens or when it does, she does it out of rote, not necessarily out of her desire for him. Whereas the hero yearns to taste her and savor her everywhere, the woman simply receives it. Whereas the hero really treasures her response to his ministrations, the heroine oftentimes becomes greedy time after time. A woman's uninhibited reactions to a man's ministrations definitely signify to the man, but to me, any attractive and learned man can engender such a response. It's when a woman enthusiastically does something just for her man that really captures that man's heart. Alexa Counsel is so uninhibited in her response, so giving in kind, so genuine, I found Ezra's overwhelming love for her justified. Enthusiasm and genuine desire trumps skill in every guy's book. In fact he's very lucky to have found someone so understanding and giving like Alexa.

The Story, possible SPOILERS.

Ezra Moore accepts a handyman job for the Maples Inn in small town Comfort Boy, Oregon, as a cover in order to eliminate the virulent organization SpectraIT headed by Warren Aceveda and Cameron Gates. He's expected to rendezvous with a couple of SpectraIT representatives who will arrive at the Maples Inn in a week's time. Ezra arrives early to reconnoiter the small town and embed himself within the community to avoid any suspicion later when SpectraIT's representatives arrive. Respected schoolteacher Alexa Counsel provides the perfect excuse to insert himself within the community... or so he tells himself. The two explore their mutual attraction the very first night. While Ezra intends to use Alexa as his connection to the local community, Alexa has a police officer friend investigate Ezra's background because she still doesn't completely trust him. Some of the chapters from little Emmy Rose Maples' perspective (Alexa's close friend's daughter) are some of the most funny and interesting.

Ezra's plans goes terribly awry when someone from his ignominious past shows up for the arranged meeting with SpectraIT instead, all the while holding Alexa hostage in the process. One of the most touching scenes in the book was Alexa "cleaning" Ezra of his dirt after the dangerous fray, symbolically cleansing him of his crimes. The finale, though anticlimactic, still concluded the novel satisfactorily.

Overall I found BEYOND A SHADOW a very satisfying read and a slight detour from juvenile romance stories so common to this genre.