Sunday, August 28, 2011

REVIEW: The Heart of Texas by R.J. Scott

The Heart of Texas (Texas, #1) The Heart of Texas by R.J. Scott
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Spoilers

The Heart of Texas read like a soap opera, which I don't mind, but had a tad too much unbelievable plot twists for me. Or maybe that's how a soap opera should be, then it was too much soap opera-ish for my taste.

What to expect: all the bad guys losing, all the good guys winning, alot of plot twists. The first half was read like a romance, the last half was read like a family saga (yes it's a genre). The book was written in 3rd POV, alternating between Riley and Jack perspective but interspersed with the supporting characters' perspective.

Jeff Hayes

I thought forcing Jeff to be the ultimate villain, no exaggeration, was overkill. The author couldn't decide whether to make Jeff an adulterer, a rapist, a woman beater, a pedophile, or a child-abuser, and so he's all of them. We learn about his extramarital affairs in the middle of the story, worse we learn he likes rough sex, really rough sex. Suddenly in that same scene, we find out he sometime likes his "women" young, which kinda hinted at pedophilia. I'm not 100% sure about the pedophilia because the author never outright say it.
Some of these women were just a little older than her daughter, than Jeff's daughter, and in each one, there were marks and bruises.
I have no idea how old Jeff's daughter is.

His mother is scared and told his wife to leave Jeff before anything serious could happen to her and their children. Especially their children, because he might end up beating them and/or raping them. And then when Jeff finds out that his wife left him and his mother made it happen, he beats her.

Near the end of the story, we find out he's the one who raped Beth. That was stretching the story too far because how could Jeff and Beth be at the same party? They don't run in same social circle, Jeff's rich and Beth's poor. I thought it was too much of a coincidence for them to be at the same place same time. What happened to the Hayes and Campbell avoiding each other?

The author didn't make Jeff a believable person, he was just evil in human flesh. Out of all the characters, Jeff was the worst not because he was the villain but because he was poorly developed. In short, Jeff was a one-dimensional character who just did bad things because he was evil like that.

Gerald Hayes

I didn't get Gerald. He was the bad guy at the start but he helped our heroes at the end. Um...okay. I was confused because the author set up Gerald as the final villain, like the final boss of a video game, our heroes must defeat before they get their HEA. Gerald was a bigot who wanted his son Riley to get married and be normal.
"Aaah, the American dream." Riley tried to keep the cynicism out of his voice "Two point four kids, the picket fence, the station wagon and the dog."
Then we find out Riley isn't even his son, but a bastard born out of an affair between his wife and his lawyer. With that, I better understood why Gerald wanted Jeff to be the boss of Hayes Oil instead of Riley. And why Gerald couldn't care less if Riley died after the fire accident at Campbell ranch.

So for the first half of the story, Gerald was the villain. And then it switched to Jeff. Wait, what? After Jeff's mother confronted his wife to leave Jeff, Jeff became the main antagonist and Gerald wasn't seen again till the end.

When we do see Gerald again, he saves Jack Campbell by falsely confessing to be Jeff's murderer. Whaaaat? What happened to the Gerald who didn't care if Riley died, who hated all Campbell, who was homophobic, who preferred his own flesh and blood son Jeff over the bastard son Riley, who blah blah blah. Why the hell did Gerald do a good thing for our heroes? I would have expected Gerald to wreck bloody vengeance upon our heroes.

No, he saves them and to a point, even accepted their gayness and all that liberal crap and was happy that Riley became the boss of Hayes Oil instead Jeff. Really? O>o

Riley Hayes

I thought the whole fire "accident" could have been easily avoided if Riley had hired some people to watch over the Campbell. For someone who knows full well how underhanded and devious the Hayes men could be, Riley should have expected his father and brother to sabotage the Campbell. Hell, he should have accepted the small possibility that his father and brother might have even wanted him and Jack dead period. It's not like there would have been any lost love.

What's up with Riley thinking he isn't gay. He isn't, he's bi as he admits so himself. Why did he resist his attraction for Jack? It wasn't because of the Hayes-Campell antagonism since Riley felt no repulsion in marrying Jack. I had a hard time watching Riley internally debating whether he was straight or gay. He's bi! Everyone knows, this wasn't a coming out of the closet. He even had a bisexual friend in Steve. The Heart of Texas wasn't a Gay-For-You story, but I got the impression that author was forcing it to be.

In Short, Inconsistent Characters

Jeff was almost everything a villain in a contemporary story could be. Gerald who was the villain became the heroes' savior at the end. Riley was either Bi or Gay or just GFY. And those were just the main characters.

Eden, the youngest child of the dysfunctional Hayes family, was described by Riley as a shopaholic.
I mean, she's a complete airhead, thinks shopping defines her life, but she has a big heart.
She didn't shop for a single damn moment. In actuality, I thought she was one of the few sensible characters in the story. She was calm enough to call her parents to give Riley the blood transfusion he needed to survive. She was smart enough to prefer Jim as her father, observant enough to know Hayes Oil hardened Riley. And no airhead could quickly cover up Jeff's murder and keep her mouth shut in front of the police. I have no idea why Riley thought his sister was ditzy.

Steve, Riley's bisexual friend, was a head turner of a character. He went from being described as a party animal to Beth's husband. Talk about instant character development, he went from having indiscriminate sex to someone settling down with a wife and kid. Somehow his love for Beth went from one of friendship to one of marriage. Right. *rolls eyes* The author was really forcing the story hard to make everyone have a happy ending, even if meant turning a character's personality upside down.

Plot Twists After Twists

I love plot twists like any reader, but I like them in reasonable amount or else they lose their thrill. I was surprised to learn Jim Bailey, the Hayes' lawyer, was Riley's biological father. But after that secret was revealed, we didn't heard much from Jim anymore. I was hoping for some sort of scene where Jim and Riley sit down and bond, to connect as father and son instead of lawyer and client. I never got that.

Once it seem the plot twist of Jim being Riley's birth father was revealed, the author sent Jim away, and then revealed another plot twist. BAM! Once that was over, another occurred making previous ones irrelevant. It was strange because I read stories whose entire premise was just the plot twist of finding out your parent wasn't your biological parent. In The Heart of Texas, it was just used a plot device, made quickly irrelevant by the next dramatic moment.

The only plot twist the author really spend time developing throughout the story was Beth's pregnancy. Anyway, too many plot twists took the focus away from Riley and Jack's romance in the last half of the book. That's why I thought The Heart of Texas wasn't a true romance but instead a family saga.

The Ending Was Too Perfect

I don't mind perfect ending, but I had in my mind The Heart of Texas as a serious story. Not to say I didn't want a HEA, I did. But I was thinking the HEA would only be for the couple and that the other characters, the good ones, wouldn't get their HEA. I even expected one or two of the good guys would died or something. I so did not expect a HEA for everyone. I mean everyone.

Jeff died. His wife and kids are safe from him. Gerald saved Jack and died. His wife Sandra is free from domestic abuse. Steve married Beth, Beth survived the pregnancy, they end up as a happy nuclear family. Riley becomes the boss of Hayes Oil, Riley and Jack have an actual wedding ceremony. All the Campbell and Hayes and their friends become nicey-nice with each other like there was never any feud. So basically all the villains were dead and all the good guys got their HEA. Uh, yeah. Would never happen in real life, though. =/

Things I Like

All the flaws I described above is what made me not give the story 5 or 4 stars. What stop me from making the story 2 or 1 star was the decent writing, not making Sandra the cliché helpless drunken housewife, capable Eden, and keeping Jack's character consistent. The author did indulge the readers with a few sex scenes, so that was good. I rate The Heart of Texas 3 stars for I-like-it.

Amazon GoodReads

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

REVIEW: Dark Edge of Honor by Aleksandr Voinov & Rhianon Etzweiler

Dark Edge of Honor Dark Edge of Honor by Aleksandr Voinov & Rhianon Etzweiler
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Long Review, Spoilers

Dark Edge of Honor is about a soldier and a spy on opposite side who, somehow against years of training and some brainwashing, quickly fall in love and give up everything to grab their HEA. There's war, rape, blackmail, torture, betrayal, vindication, and ultimately redemption—all excellent ingredients for a thriller of a story. Alas, I was confused, bored, frustrated, and bored by the story.

Bored. =/

The first chapter was written horribly. I had no idea what was happening except that there were two characters named Mike and Pat. It was not until the end of chapter four when Mike was speaking with his handler that I finally understood chapter 1 was about Mike and Pat doing a reconnaissance mission. I got that the authors were trying to avoid the "show not tell" pithole, but they did it to such an extreme that it left me wondering what was going on most of the time. And when I get confused, boredom quickly follows.

Sentences of Little Sense

Dark Edge of Honor (DEoH) suffered lumps of short sentences that caused the story to be choppy. The following piece of paragraph was starving for transitional words:
He knew better than to mention it. The brother general wasn’t stupid. He would have voiced objections to the methods, but the decisions were made by the Committee back home on Liberty. The general merely made it happen. His career depended on it. Sergei’s too.
I had no idea what "it" was. I know the first "it" was about not mentioning Cirokko being the worst planet to war against because of the preceding paragraph in the chapter. The last two "it"-s, however, I don't know what they are. That quoted piece needed clarification of its pronouns.

Beside short sentences, DEoH also suffered incomplete sentences. I do not mind incomplete sentences because their use can quickly push the plot. However when they are overused, the opposite happens—the plot drags like a limp foot. Here's an example:
But it was impossible to think “Cirokko” without remembering other powers that had tried to take a bite out of it. The Alliance, about a hundred years ago, before it joined the Intergalactic Peace League and became non-expansionist. The League of Seven just twenty years ago. Unable to cut its losses, the League had bled itself dry in a way that it couldn’t have won anyway. But the Seven had then been swept up in the Doctrine, desperate to rebuild its morale and sense of purpose.
The two quoted pieces above formed a single paragraph, the third paragraph of chapter 3 to be specific. This paragraph was overall a mishmash of incomplete thoughts, and to a larger extend represented how the story was written.

Somewhere To Somewhere Else

Due to the writing, I had a hard time transitioning from one scene to another. The authors were not specific nor straightforward about the where and when. For in example, in chapter 4, I had no idea where Mike was. Was he was on a spaceship or a building or something? And the people he was spying on, were they Sergei and his General? If so, was this taking place while Sergei was about be raped?

Another example is chapter 5 where Sergei was taking off his uniform while reflecting back his recent past. There, in a bunch of paragraphs, we learn that his General has been raping him and that it has been going on for a while. But readers are never told how long of a while. For all we know, it could have been for a couple of days, weeks, or even months. Suddenly we found ourselves seeing Sergei having a massage. What?

While re-reading to write this review, I suddenly realized the first two sentences of Sergei taking off his uniform were supposed to let the reader know that Sergei was preparing for his massage. These sentences failed to do so because I got distracted by the bunch of paragraphs telling me Sergei has been raped for an unknown period of time in the recent past. For chapter 5, I never learn where the couple was, just that the place has massage and sauna facilities. I do not know if they were at a high-classed gym, a hot spa, or a spaceship.

The first couple of chapters were prety much like this. The characters would be doing something somewhere but we forget what they were doing because the authors went off a tangent. It's not that those tangent of paragraphs were irrevelant, but they were so horribly placed in the story that they interrupted the flow of the story. And the authors not being specific about the character's location, coupled with horrible sentence structures, made me confused and impatient.

Barely Any World-Building and Backstory

Since the authors rarely and vaguely tell the me the where and when, I had a hard time imagining DEoH's world. For the first couple of chapters, I did not know where Sergei and Mike were. I know they were on a primitive planet called Cirokko, but I do not know whether they were in a city, a docked spaceship, a spaceport, a shanty-town, or the jungle. What happened to imagery?

The story was so poorly set up that for a while, I thought that the CovOps and the Doctrine were different forces of the Alliance, parts of the greater whole like the U.N. I didn't realize till late in the story that CovOps were part of the Alliance but the Doctrine wasn't, that the Alliance and Doctrine were two different galactic powers.

I still don't know what the frell is Doctrine. Are they a galactic government, a military group of a galactic government, or some sort of philosophy/religion/training? The way the author used the term, I think it was a combination of them all.

Why was the Alliance's CovOps spying on the Doctrine? Were the two galactic powers at war against each other? Or was it like the Cold War between the democratic West and communist East from real-life history?

I really wished the authors straight-out told me the races that inhabit Cirokko. I'm still unsure if humans were the native inhabitants or if it was different species altogether, like the flying lizards. Were the flying lizards really just smart animals or were they a sentient race of people?

Characters I Cared Little For

Sergei as a character was wholesomely unrealistic. I find it mind-boggling that a rape victim, with barely any issues, could be so easily seduced to bed by a stranger on a hostile world. In chapter 5, readers learn how Sergei's superior has been using him as a sextoy against his will. Suddenly in chapter 6, Sergei was doing it with Mike. WTF? And it was not like Sergei's superior was gone and Sergei was not being raped anymore. No, just the opposite; Sergei's superior was still there, still raping Sergei.

Thus, I had a hard time believing that Sergei could develop love for Mike while he was still being raped. Where's the trust issue? Intimacy issue? Hello! You're being raped, where's the mental trauma?

I felt strange reading Mike and Sergei shagging in one chapter, Sergei being raped in the next chapter, and back to the couple shagging each other again in the chapter after the next. Wow. O.o

Mike sucks as a CovOps agent.
He never publicized his sexual preferences. That aspect had never influenced the execution of his duties, his professional ethics or his employment. He refused to give that part of himself enough power to influence anything. It had no bearing on any of it, and anyone who thought otherwise would be proven wrong.
Right. *rolls eyes* Let's see, he created a plan to seduce a rape victim for intel. He ended up falling with the rape-victim/enemy Sergei. He risked his cover to protect Sergei. Upon rescuing Sergei, he got captured by the enemy. Afterwards, he was tortured and imprisoned until Sergei rescued him. Yeah, right, Mike was soooo believable as a competent spy. /sarcasm

Pat, the spy partnered to Mike, was also unbelievable as a character. How could Pat plead with Sergei to find Mike when Pat recently tortured Sergei? Someone who has the capability to freely torture another person would not plead their victim to find their missing friend. I expected some manipulation, bargaining, threats, or some combination thereof from Pat. It was hard watching Sergei and Pat suddenly got all buddy-like as if one had never tortured the other and weren't on the opposite side of a war.

Wasn't All Bad

All the beginning chapters until chapter 16 were slow. Sure, there some spying, raping, and fighting but the writing made the story dreary to read. Come chapter 16 when Sergei was being tortured by Pat, the writing got slightly better and was more cohesive. After Sergei got rescued, I was back to being bored until chapter 23 when Sergei sat with Nikishin and everything was revealed. Sergei confronting his rapist was a WOOT moment. A point for the authors writing an excellent confrontation scene.

After Sergei rescued Mike, I got bored again. Then I got frustrated at Sergei for making some stupid decisions and then had to be rescued by Mike...again. Finally, at the end they quit their jobs and got their HEA.

I rate DEoH 1-star for didn't-like-it.

Similar Stories Suggestion

by Andra Sashner.
Soft sci-fi set on Earth, like maybe 100-200 years in the future. Easy to read, easy to engage. I rate that story 2-stars because the author gave a HFN when I really wanted a HEA.

Evenfall (In the Company of Shadows, #1)
by Sonny and Ais
Soft sci-fi set on post-apocalyptic Earth. It's free, it's super-long, and it's the first of a series. I gave it 4-stars.

Amazon GoodReads

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

REVIEW: Adel's Purr by Sui Lynn

Adel's Purr (Elements of Love, #1) Adel's Purr by Sui Lynn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Minor Spoilers, Long Review

Adel's Purr is set in a post-apocalyptic world where the Vatican Church is the only government around. Earth has regressed back to the Dark Age where all arts and technology and inventions of any kind must be sanctioned by the Vatican Church. Fans of Final Fantasy X will easily recognize the similarities between Spira and the world in Adel's Purr.

Friend or Foe?

I initially thought the Vatican Church was this evil organization our heroes must destroy eventually in the series.
"They [the Church] hunt gargoyles and destroy them, regardless of your centuries of service. They've named your kind as depictions of evil in sculpture, and therefore demonic. They've become so obsessed with their laws they're now fanatic and controlling. All we can do is try to save as much of human history and living stone as possible and hope our work carries through to the next generation, so they can learn from our mistakes."
Dystopian anyone?

One of the Church's members, Father Michael, was the the main antagonist for the story. Father Michael was a Sinister Minister. The Church was bad. The Father was bad. I thought it was a safe assumption that anyone involved with the Church was bad.

I assumed wrong. Excluding Father Michael, the Church was never the enemy (for book 1 anyway) because at the end the Church needed Evan to defeat evil with his uber rare Earth magic.

Otaku won't be bothered by the big role the Church plays because the Church Militant trope is prevalent in manga, e.g. Chrono Crusade, Trinity Blood, 07-Ghost, as it is here in this series.

The World-Building

Upon finishing the story, I was left with the impression that the Church was like a corporation that suffered a personnel problem... a personnel problem of unknowingly employing demon-corrupted priests. The world was post-apocalyptic so the Church was probably desperate for help, making background check not a top priority. But still...

Anyway, I was confused why everyone turned to the Church for help after the apocalypse because somehow I doubt the people who survived were all Catholic. I doubt even more than anyone who wasn't Catholic suddenly converted to Catholicism. It was a big plot hole, IMO.

I liked how the story set up the mythology of gargoyle to include more than those bat-like statues on European towers and castles. In Adel's Purr, gargoyles can be Chinese lion-dogs that guard the door of Asian homes and the crypt statues that decorate Western cemeteries. Any statue built with the purpose to protect something or guard against evil were considered gargoyles in Adel's Purr's world.

The Characters

Beside the awful dreadlocks hairstyle the stonemason wore, Evan Hallvard was smart and self-sufficient. Evan made his home far enough from other people to appear wanting solitude but not evoking suspicion. He grew his own foods so he doesn't have to depend on anyone. He had his own Batcave with a security system of CCTV and gargoyles. He acted well as the sexually naive innocent against Father Michael who gropes Evan alot. Not to say Evans was perfect, like having an impractical hairstyle, but in no way was he a dumb bottom.

Adel the crypt gargoyle was your typical alpha. Adel knew alot about the magic that Evan carried. All Evan knew was that he could vitalize gargoyle. The plot mostly focused on Evans discovering his magical heritage, destiny, blah blah all the while having a hard-on for Adel. It didn't help that Evan haven't had sex in a long time.

Fret not! Sensible Evan soon came to realize Adel was essentially another person. It was no surprise to see Adel reciprocating the feeling because Adel's Purr was a soulmate romance. Sexual frustration easily solved in 1-2-3-YAY!

Speculation of the Series

The next book is about Jude the Inquisitor. Yes, of that Inquisition from history. No, there wasn't any anti-gay sentiment the Church might have brought into the story because the Church in Adel's Purr was a modified version (at least not in book 1). An omission I was thankful for.

There's a very good chance that the priests in Adel's Purr's world do not take vow of chastity. Maybe. If so, I would not be surprised if one of the future books will be about a naïve priest stumbling upon his mentally tormented, supernatural soulmate.


I rate 3 stars Adel's Purr for I liked it.

I would not recommend the story for readers who best enjoy realistic mm-romance. This is the second book I have read by this author and I can plainly see the strong influence of yaoi. Thus, I would recommend it for readers who enjoy yaoi novels. I would also recommend for readers who enjoy all sort of mm-paranormal.

If you want more gargoyle mm-romance, I suggest the following:


Amazon GoodReads


Saturday, August 20, 2011

REVIEW: Bar Back by J.J. Massa

Bar BackBar Back by J.J. Massa
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Spoilers

Bar Back is a short story of a bartender (possibly the bar's owner) wooing his fellow worker. The story is told from the bartender's perspective in 1st POV.

The story was weird in not naming the characters. Obviously, the story propose itself as erotica...but even erotica should have their characters named. So in my mind I set the bartender as Person A and his co-worker as Person B.

The reason I did not like Bar Back was because Person B was committing infidelity with Person A. I didn't hold bad feeling against Person A because he just wanted sex. I do hold it against Person B for not breaking up with his boyfriend because both preferred to be the bottom. Instead, Person B decide to satisfy his sexual predilection through infidelity. And infidelity to me is not sexy. Thus the sex scene of Person A topping Person B failed to excite me.

Moreover, I didn't get why Person B looked afraid of Person B after the sex. Whatever Person A got, i.e. understood, I did not.

Bar Back held no appeals to me. Despite the no naming thing, the writing seem solid.


REVIEW: Firebug by Kate Roman

FirebugFirebug by Kate Roman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Long Review, Spoilers

In Firebug, Gareth investigates a string of arson fires that bedevils the city of New Eddington. As he dig deeper, he soon uncover a conspiracy that not only will destroy the entire city but start another colonial war. Sounds exciting but reading it wasn't.

We know straight-off that Firebug is a not mystery story because the first chapter shows Judge Barrington blackmailing scientist Theodore Molen to do something evil for him. In mystery novels, the villain is always revealed at the end, not at the beginning. From the second chapter to the end, the story is told in 3rd POV from Gareth's perspective as Gareth attempts to find who the villains are that the reader already knows. Not a huge problem if Gareth wasn't such an inept investigator which causes the first half of the story to be a dreary read.

The pacing of the story was slow because, except for the fire that introduces Cole to Gareth, the first half had nothing exciting happened. Instead of focusing on the crimes and saving more people from dying, the first half of the story had Gareth wooing Cole. Talk about the lack of priorities. I guess this was the author's way of setting up the romance before testing the couple's love with trials by fire, literally.

Even so, I thought the romance was weak. Homosexuality is a crime in the story so Gareth couldn't meet-greet potential lovers out in the open. Gareth met Cole only by chance in a gambling den (pun intended). With one look at Cole's eyes and a really good gaydar, he knew Cole would swing his way. I did not consider a closet gay happy finding another closet gay much of a romance. This makes me think Gareth and Cole only like each other because beside each other they don't know anyone else who is gay.

Fortunately, things to start heat up in the last half of the story but this only made the story slightly less irritating. Gareth's secret informant became his assailant when the guy realizes Gareth wasn't helpful in destroying the arsonists. *snort* Gareth only revealed the conspiracy behind the fires to Cole when Cole rescued him from a burning building. This made me smack my forehead that Gareth didn't recruit Cole, a FIREFIGHTER, earlier.

Now, Gareth not telling the police made sense because the author established the city-government to be similar to communist Soviet Union. The government preaches the common people being important while oppresses anyone who dare to speak out against them. Gareth, being a newspaper editor, knows this all too well. Nonetheless, I still thought Gareth was too stupid to not ask for help when Gareth obviously felt so incapable to do anything.

Beside Cole, Gareth had many people he could've ask for help. Had he ask his good friend Theodore, Theodore could've told Gareth the Judge Barrington was evil mastermind and was forcing Theodore to develop a bad-ass weapon. Had he ask the Countess (not a friend, but definitely not loyal to the bad "Reform" government, and being the owner of gambling den gives her connection the underworld), the Countess could've told Gareth the two guys who were setting the fires and that Judge Barrington was the evil mastermind. Kint was police but by the passion he pursue the criminals it was clear that Kint wasn't part of Judge Barrington's evil plan, so Gareth could have even ask Kint for help.

Hell, the only person who had real grasp of the entire situation was the Countess and she was only a supporting character. Only by her help did Gareth and Cole managed to escape. She's one of the few things I like about Firebug. Why did she dressed in men's clothes? Why is she spying for the King? What happened to her soldier-son that made her turned against the revolutionaries?

Beside Gareth being incompetent, Cole made no sense to me. I did not understand why he walked off from Gareth's house when he should've been recovering. Was he suffering PTSD from his time as a soldier? And as a firefighter, shouldn't he report back or something? All I got was that Cole was somewhat suicidal.

What made the story steampunk was the firebug— a big, spider-like, steam-powered machine in which the firefighters sit inside to fight fires. I got confused when Cole and Kint accused Gareth of being a firebug. It took me a while to realize that firebug also meant an arsonist. For such an important word, being the title of the story and all, I wish the author made "firebug" mean one thing only and not give it dual definitions.

The ending left me quite dissatisfied. New Eddington got burned. The villains got away with their newly-invented bad-ass weapon. And another colonial war might get started. The author ended Firebug on an optimistic note with Gareth and Cole alive, still in love, on a ship to alert the Crimean King of the bad-ass weapon. But eh. There were too many missed opportunities that the heroes could've stopped the villains. I would've like the story had the characters were more sensible and smarter. I rate Firebug 2 stars for it-was-okay.

Amazon GoodReads

REVIEW: The Ascension by Max Griffin

The Ascension The Ascension by Max Griffin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Spoilers

If you're looking for a mm-romance, this story isn't it. It may have a gay couple shagging each other, but it could as well have been a het-couple. No, this story is like one of those scary stories told around the campfire or a Halloween fright-party. Fans of the TV show "The Twilight Zone" or "Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction" or possibly even "The X-Files" may find The Ascension to be right up their alley.

Gabe and Luke are not likeable characters. I didn't like Luke because he was such a douchebag, always insulting people, especially Gabe when Gabe make mistakes or does something clumsy. Already from the start of the story, I'm questioning why Gabe is with sex seem to be the only reason. I didn't like Gabe for drug use, unbeknownst to Luke, because I just generally dislike people with drug addiction whether it's in fantasy or reality.

The story is simple: two couple plans to vacation in the mountain until shit happens and out of nowhere a stranger helps them. The stranger—Aristotle Mann provides them shelter that ever so conveniently contain medical facilities. Already it's suspicious that such a place exist on the mountain that no one knows about, it's even more suspicious for the place to have a "robust medical facilities". Already ideas like a secret military base or terrorist camp or a mad-scientist hideout run through my mind. Whatever is going on, it can't be good.

Weird things happen as Gabe attempts to uncover Aristotle's real purpose. The Ascension mirrors a similar suspense from The Island of Dr. Moreau. Despite the drug addiction, Gabe grew on me as he show enough smart to GTFO—Get The Fuck Out.

Near the end, we find out aliens are capturing humans to make drugs. Think Colombian cartels but from outer space. The captured humans serve a more nefarious purpose than just slave labor, they use humans as a container to mix the chemicals to make the crank. Thus the modified human blood becomes the drug that they sell to alien junkies. I felt a sense of irony that it was junkie Gabe who insisted to GFTO. I guess even the sixth sense of a junkie was good enough to alert Gabe the presence of drug-runners however alien.

With some help from a "sympathetic" human psychopath employed by the bad aliens, Gabe and Luke successfully made their dangerous escape. They ended up in a real hospital where it was discovered that Gabe was junkie...except Luke is denying that the alien drug-running ever happened and that it was just Gabe hallucinating. Was it all just a crank-fueled dream?

No...too bad Gabe failed to realizes that the aliens have turned Luke into one of their human psychopaths. They were doomed from the moment they came upon Aristotle...*cue evil theme music*

Memo to self: when your relative/lover/friend is forcibly isolated off in a mysterious medical facility on some hidden military-looking place, accept them as dead and GFTO quickly. I rate The Ascension 3 for I-like-it.

Amazon GoodReads

Friday, August 19, 2011

REVIEW: Again by Mary Calmes

Again Again by Mary Calmes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Spoilers

A Harlequin-like story. Instead of a baby-mommmy story, it's a baby-daddy story. The alpha-guy isn't a millionaire, billionaire, sheik, king, prince, CEO, etc... he's CIA...

Dislike 1: The plot device of having the current boyfriend to be a total douchebag so that the protagonist can move on to love their supposed-soulmate guilt-free. Often used in Harlequin and Harlequin-esque romances.

But was Keith really a douchebag? I mean, both Keith and Noah knew the relationship was not exclusive. I would goes as far to say Keith wasn't even a boyfriend but a sex buddies to Noah. (They may not had anal sex, but oral sex is still sex.) The only "wrong" I can see was Keith using their hotel room when Grace (Noah's kid) is present to shag someone else.

And why did Noah bother to apologize to Keith once Keith realizes Noah basically did the same thing — "cheating" on Keith with Dante? Seriously. I think author was forcing the story to make Keith the bad guy. I rather had the author give Noah and Keith an amicable breakup...Hell, it wasn't even a breakup since there wasn't a commitment from the start. I don't understand why it was so hard for Noah to admit that they were doing the friends-with-benefit deal.

Like 1: Dante.

Some people thought he was too pushy, but I like his alpha-tude. And it made sense to me because after five years discovering that it was all just a Big Misunderstanding (another overused plot device), he did not want to lose the opportunity to reunite with Noah, especially when it also meant losing Grace, his own daughter. He wanted no chance for failure.

Dislike 2: The Big Misunderstanding plot device. When breaking up with someone, do it face to face, literally listing the reasons for the breakup. Otherwise, this would lead to the Big Misunderstanding where each assume something wrong about the other.

In this story, it was Noah assuming Dante loves Cassandra because he did not know their kiss was an act as part of their CIA job. And Dante assuming Noah didn't love him anymore because of some false letters. Had they brokeup face to face, they would have realize Beck, Dante's boss, was screwing them both.

Like 2: Family.

I like how family was the backdrop for the entire story with Noah's sister getting married and Dante's family vacationing for their reunion.

Overall, this was a sweet and short story. 4 stars for a I-really-like-it.

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Sunday, August 14, 2011

REVIEW: Empath by Axel J. Moeller

EmpathEmpath by Axel J. Moeller
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Long Review, Spoilers

Empath is a simple story of two mages falling in love and fighting bigotry.

Orphaned and deeply religious, Zonal is a Wanderer (the story's term for mage) with a strong empath talent who get craps thrown at him most of the entire plot. The story even starts off with Zonal trudging through rain, wearing a useless magical cloak, being burdened with a lame horse. Fast forward, Zonal gets tortured, magically mutilated, kidnapped, brainwashed, and magical mutilated again. Fortunately, the scenes were not graphically depicted. The author written it so the readers would feel tear-jerkingly bad for Zonal but not to the point of macabre.

Todd is a levelheaded Wanderer with a talent for teleportation. He irritates Zonal the first time they met, but they quickly fall in love. Their first time together in bed created a soulbond, which surprisingly made the story a soulmates-themed romance. I was dumbfounded that almost everyone except the couple knew they have a soulbond. It wasn't until late in the story that a high-lord Wanderer told Zonal of the divine connection.

Zonal and Todd are apart in much of the plot, with Zonal facing his inner demons and Todd on an assassination mission. Two wars are going on, a sword-and-shield one against a rogue Baron (who we later found out is a self-hating gay) and a political one against a group of religious fanatics. In a kingdom that relies heavily on magical might, the anti-magic relic the rogue Baron possessed makes the perfect defense. The Church (nonmagical believers) and the Legion (magical believers, the order of the Wanderers) have always been at odd. So when a Wanderer—Zonal is seen praying at a Church, some religious fanatics saw an opportunity to convert the Wanderer to their whatever means.

If you're looking for a cute and sweet romance, look elsewhere. The story focused on homophobia and religious intolerance. The story was black and white because it was apparent who the enemies and friends were—the bad guys were totally bad, and the good guys really good. Though the story was political in nature, it didn't felt forced because there weren't any sermon or lecture. The politic were in the actions with friends accepting the couple and the enemies killing them.

You think a war story with homophobia and religious intolerance would be violent and vicious, but the fantasy was very tamed. Even as our heroes were facing dangers, both physical and psychologically, I never felt any dread. Somehow, someway, I always felt that Zonal and Todd were going to make it.

A small gripe I have was the magical system the author set up. The author was not clear on the classification of paranormal abilities. Apparently telekinesis and empathy are mental powers, but pyrokinesis and teleportation are magic. What was the difference between magic and mental?

And there is the soul-bond which is neither magical nor mental because it is divine, a gift from the Goddess that everyone believes in. Since it's divine, this makes soul-bond potentially the greatest weapon anyone can have. The soul-bond is the crux of the story because it is what allows the good guys to win against the anti-magic relic, the brainwashing, and ultimately the wars.

Empath contains a simple message: bigotry is bad, love conquers all. I give this story 3 stars for an I-like-it.

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

REVIEW: A Weapon of Opportunity by Kiernan Kelly

A Weapon Of OpportunityA Weapon of Opportunity by Kiernan Kelly
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Spoilers

I like this but I didn't really like the ending even though it was HEA. Sure, David came back and reunited with Hunter...but he's still a ghost! What happened to the issue of David being dead and Hunter aging as time goes by while dead David still look the same? Is it possible to have a future with a ghost as a lover? At the same time, I'm conflicted because I despise bittersweet stories and I didn't want David to be gone. I do want David back with Hunter, but I wanted David back as a living, breathing person. I wanted David to find some comatose person whose soul is gone and take over the body and then have that be the new David.

The story mainly focused on David as he help Hunter find the murderer. This was not a detective story but rather a paranormal suspense novel because we find out who the murderer is halfway through the story. True detective novels reveal the perp at the climax near the end of the story, like the second to last chapter, as the perp attempts to escape or commit whatever foul deed. Moreover, it's usually the detective who does the most detecting, not the their ghost sidekick. In this story, it was the reverse and Hunter was David's human sidekick. As someone who reads alot of paranormal mystery, it was refreshing to read from the ghost's perspective.

Despite the dissatisfaction I have with the ending, having Hunter adopting Cooper and creating a family with David was a sweet touch.

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REVIEW: Signed and Sealed by B.A. Stretke

Signed and Sealed Signed and Sealed by B.A. Stretke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Slight Spoilers

Holy Hell! A mm-romance that's your standard Harlequin romance! Aaaaaaa!

If you don't like Harlequin or you don't like western romance, move on. If you like at least either one of them, this book may be your cup of tea. I don't care for western romance but I do occasionally read Harlequin and the sort. What can I say? I'm a sucker for those baby mama stories. =P

Instead of a chick, it's two guys with dicks, one being all alpha-you-better-listen-to-me and the other I'm-a-good-guy-with-a-lonely-heart. This is a romance and not erotica, because there are only three mundane sex scenes to tug the heart.

Disregarding my the 5-stars rating I gave the book, Signed and Sealed does have its flaws. IMO, flaws are inherent in Harlequin or Harlequin-esque stories.


I have a few gripes with the plot. I wished Will would have phoned his lawyer the moment Katrina pulled him into another of her gold-digging scheme. That should have been his first warning if not the phone-call from Eli at the start of the story. I wished he would have done so especially when Eli demanded Will to stay in exchange for Katrina's freedom. Two words: illegal imprisonment. Well, almost. Will only agreed to stay because Eli threatened to sue and take away Will's home. Wake up! Your sister accused you of being an accomplice to her gold-digging scheme, there's a guy threatening to sue you because of her, and you're not calling your lawyer?!? I get Will was hesistant to call his lawyer because then Will will have to deal with the loss of his parents again, but come on! I thought the imminent threat of homelessness would have beatdown the grief of family death of two years ago.

Another impossible thing was how Eli was able to get his hand on Will's safety deposit box that his parents left for him in their will. A safety deposite box filled jewel heirlooms and the deed to ancestral land. Apparently, Will's lawyer trusted Eli enough to for Eli to give it to Will...uh, what? Seriously? Maybe the reason why Will didn't call his lawyer is because his lawyer is a crappy one. WTF happened to lawyer-client privilege?

Moreover, I thought the three tests Eli gave to Will for proof of duplicity were too apparent. A credit card with a thousands of dollar limit, a dubious marriage proposal, and access to Eli's bank account. A big reason why gold-diggers are so dangerous is because they're sneaky. It's not until AFTER the marriage AND several stack of bills later that you'll find out she/he is a gold-digger. The other kind of gold-diggers, the ones who are so obvious you have to be blind and deaf and retarded, are not dangerous because their rich lovers know what they're getting into. Hugh Hefner, the face of Playboy, is one such example. Yeah, those young, hot girls really love Hugh for his look and personality. /sarcasm. So I thought those tests Eli gave didn't really prove or disprove anything other than Will's intelligence.

Nonetheless, these plotholes didn't break the story for me. It was pretty much the standard it-is-this-way-for-convenience-to-make-good-drama Harlequin always throw around. Like I said, if you don't like Harlequin and similar romances, then you will not like this story at all. A possible gripe people might have is how the setting of the story—rural Montana was so liberal, i.e. pretty much everyone were all into gay-acceptance. Realism, thy name is not Signed and Sealed, especially not in Harlequin. I tend to avoid the contemporary subgenere of mm-romance because of this, so I was all for having a setting where romance is main issue, not sexuality or social acceptance or civil rights blah blah blah. Not My Thing, I like reading Harlequin remember? Of course, there's only so much suspension of belief a reader can handle, but this story didn't irritate me with its plotholes of convenience.


I love Will and his vulnerability. I usually loathe goody-two-shoes characters, but Will's personality of being levelheaded (the lawyers thing aside) was refreshing. Eli was always testing Will and provoking him that I was delightfully suprised Will didn't throw a temper tantrum the entire time—I sure as hell would have. I'm suprised Will even managed to stay the entire time that Eli forced upon him. I also like how there were no slut-shaming that is often prevalent in Harlequin romance. But that's most likely because Will was male not female. No double-standard here.

I like Eli, he's your typical aplha male. Beneath that rough-and-tough exterior lies a heart of gold that cares deeply for family and friends. Hot sexy cowboy. The man all the ladies and gay laddies want. Eli may have been stereotypical but he wasn't dull. It was compelling to see him so conflicted between testing Will because he's the brother of a gold-digger and wanting Will because he's may be The One.


If I can change one thing about the story, I wish the ending would have extend after the wedding and in the honeymoon. Signed and Sealed gets a five from me (because it's the first Harlequin-esque mm-romance book I ever read, so there =P).

Amazon GoodReads

Sunday, August 7, 2011

REVIEW: Myths and Magic: Legends of Love edited by Anne Regan

Myths and Magic: Legends of Love Myths and Magic: Legends of Love edited by Anne Regan
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Spoilers

The 1002nd Arabian Nights Tale
2/5. Fantasy. So Princess Sceherazade was a guy...and Sultan Shariyar realized his homosexuality after executing wife after wife until he married a wife—the "Princess"— who was a really a guy after "she" told a homoerotic story. What? O.o

A Fairy in His Bed
2/5. Urban Fantasy. I didn't get it, what's with Daniel thinking Quinn's a slave? Did it ever occur Daniel to just ask Quinn point-blank if Quinn wanted to stay with Daniel out Quinn's own free-will?

Kissing the Dragon
1/5. Urban Fantasy. Didn't care for Bao at all. You would think I would relate to him considering somewhat similar childhood experience, but unlike him I don't hate my own heritage...I'm just indifferent to it. =P It's a big difference. LOL. Beside that, I detest protag who have low self-esteem. Only thing I like about this story was Abner.

Something Pipeth Like a Bird
2/5. Fantasy. Humorous story. Would have liked it if there was a graphic sex scene... because I'm a perv? =d

Greenleaf's Blessing
1/5. Fantasy. Though this story ended up on a HFN note, somehow it felt more like a set up to a really tragic story, i.e. like this was the prologue of a really long and convulated story.

On Wild Wings
2/5. Fantasy. A simple Disney-esue story.

The Sower and the Reaper
1/5. Sci-Fi. Kinky. Not a romance. Did the scientists who made Ozzie a god knew Ozzie would need to shag one of his worshippers so that Ozzie can use his godly power to its full extent? Anyway, this was a bittersweet story.

The One
2/5. A nice story but the ending was somewhat unsatisfying because it left a small possibility that the couple might not escape the hunters. I would have like it to end when Rylan and Thorin found their sanctuary, build a home, and cuddled in bed together.

Of Genies and Monsters
3/5. A very funny story. I can actually imagine a novel of a sequel to this story.

The Wild Hunt
2/5. A sweet story but it ended on a bittersweet note even though it was HEA. I dislike the riding into the sunset ending, and in this story it was riding into the midnight ending.

The Light of Foreign Places
1/5. Fantasy. Where did the couple ended up? I didn't get this story, and didn't like either character really.. =/

Night and Day
2/5. Urban Fantasy. I would have like this story except it was written in the 2nd POV which was irritating. I like the world-building in the story, reminded me of mainstream UF novels. I like how the author set up the Greek pantheon to be forgotten gods and now rendered as only supernatural beings, though still powerful, living among humankind.

The Flower Boy
3/5. Urban Fantasy. Not a romance. So frigging rare to see Urban Fantasy utilizing eastern mythology. Ugg. Point to this story for having something fresh. Kissing the Dragon doesn't count 'cause I didn't like it. I rarely like bittersweet stories but this one is done right. The sex scene was written so beautifully that it took me a while to realize that Lan didn't have to shag Philip for Philip to reunite with his father. Maybe it was payment for granting Philip's wish? Eh, whatever, it's a nice story. Gentle sex with a hot-looking god is not such a bad way to pay.

2/5 for the anthology. Read it once, and don't care to read it again.

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Saturday, August 6, 2011

REVIEW: Shadowflame by Dianne Sylvan

Shadowflame (Shadow World #2) Shadowflame by Dianne Sylvan
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Spoilers

I have mixed feelings for this book. I liked that the book wasn't predictable, that a mainstream UF have LGBT characters that actually play a big role instead of being a gal-pal's BFF, that the author had no qualm killing off characters. Yet I was totally pissed off about David's infidelity.

You think Miranda would dump his ass but it's too bad she can't—she would die. Seriously. Because of the stupid soulmate bond, if she even spend three days without close physical contact with David, both of them will suffer anguish. And three days is stretching it. I guess the moral of the story is: just because you're soulmates doesn't mean he can't still cheat on you. Poor Miranda.

However unlike other reviewers, I do not believe the author plotted this hugely distasteful subplot to piss off the readers. In short life is unfair, even if you're undead. The author beat down the message that the vampire world is a harsh world. Being a vamp may makes you immortal, but it doesn't stop your ass from being staked...or poverty in one paragraph where it was stressed any sensible vampire should learn the stock-trade. And when you got an eternity to live, it's not within the realm of impossibility to find other people you might love, regardless of the "soulmate" bond. Vampires are not humans, not anymore. This isn't happy-vampy Twilight.

The only redeeming thing about David's infidelity is that it was very realistic for him to still have feelings for Devin. It always seem so hugely convenient in some soulmates-themed romance for the lovers to forget about their past partners as if they never happened. No way am I excusing him for his infidelity, let's call it for what he is: he's an asswipe. Nonetheless, I'm still pissed off. Even as I understand what the author is plotting and why she's plotting it, it doesn't necessarily mean I have to like it—I don't. =( It's always a huge gamble for an author to deal with a touchy subject such as infidelity.

Even with all the crap Miranda has been dealt with, it's amazing she's still not a Debbie-downer. I'm loving how Miranda has little problem using her power to deal what needs to be done, unlike LKH's Anita Blake who bitches and moans every time she uses her succubus power (even in self-defense!).

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