Thursday, September 27, 2012

REVIEW: Heads or Tails by Jenna Byrnes

Heads or Tails Heads or Tails by Jenna Byrnes
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Spoilers

I tolerated the closet case protagonist, the protagonist’s bitchy fiancé, and the M/F graphic sex scenes between the two, but when the book piled cheating on top? Hell no. I hate cheating in my Romance.

But! It wasn’t completely horrible as I expected.

The Sexual Content

The M/M sex scenes were hot; they, thankfully, overwhelmed the two M/F small sex scenes. The D/s aspect of Jeff and Kurt’s sexual relationship surprised and thrilled me.

The Characters

Kurt was kind and dominant; he was a complete hunk. Initially, I didn’t like how Kurt seduced Jeff into cheating and yielded to be Jeff’s other man. But when Kurt made a Big Romantic Gesture at the ending by crashing Jeff’s wedding and taking Jeff away on his motorcycle, I realized how much he loved Jeff. Kurt not only won Jeff’s heart, but he also won mine.

I think it was a good choice for the story to be told from Jeff’s side in 3rd PoV, because I was able to feel sorry for him. Next to cheating, protagonists with low self-esteem is another pet peeve of mine. I was very glad when Jeff ultimately chose Love.

Though Jeff’s co-workers had a very small role in the story, Cindy and Sarah made a huge impact on Jeff. Their supportive attitude balanced Lana’s bitchiness and made the story less offensive, changing the trope from All-Females-are-Bitches to All-Exes-are-Evil.

For a short story, the character development was substantial.

In Conclusion

I rate the Heads or Tails 2-stars for it was okay. Please take heed that 2-stars for a story that has cheating is a big compliment from me.

Recommended for readers wanting a challenged (due to the cheating) but short and HEA-inclusive read.

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Monday, September 24, 2012

REVIEW: Hell's Pawn by Jay Bell

Hell's Pawn Hell's Pawn by Jay Bell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Small Spoilers

This Is Not MM-Romance

First things first, this book isn't a paranormal romance; it's urban fantasy. There's a love interest and a few sex scenes but ultimately the dude is in unavailable because Rimmon is still in love with his ex-boyfriend. Or current boyfriend depending on your interpretation; since that interpretation would mean the love interest is cheating and John, the protagonist, is the "other man," I don't apply to this interpretation.

I thought the love interest deluded himself that he was still in a relationship with his ex-boyfriend. He deluded himself on other issues too, one of which was the fact that he's an incubus and because of that he claim he is compelled to have sex with strangers. Not to mention it's his job as one of Hell's minions. Uh huh, right. Rimmon had this self-tormented persona going on, and it annoyed me.

I felt bad for John. I thought the "romance" subplot with the love interest could have been done away. I didn't think it add anything to the story except dashing readers of Romance's expectation.

The Shining Part of the Book

The world building was great! I love how the book used mythology from many parts of the world, especially when it included Eastern Asia. I could easily tell the research was done by the accurate way the gods and the afterlife worlds were depicted. The book didn't "reinvent" a facet of the mythology; it didn't have to. The book deftly tied multiple mythologies into one cohesive world.

The other fantasy part of the book, the non-mythology based part, was also well done. Keen readers might foresee the twist about the bad guys — the strange mechanical beings birthed from humankind collective desire for order, think Matrix and Terminator — but the twist didn’t strongly impress me as a cliché.

Now For the Bad News

Why didn't I rate the book higher? The characters weren't flat, the pacing didn't drag, the plot had no holes (that I was aware of). The book was told in 1st PoV exclusively from the protagonist's side, a POV I most prefer. Except for the "romance," the book was a solid read. So why didn't I rate the book higher?

The reason was John. I cheered for him but I wasn't fully enamored with the protagonist as I could have been. He didn't annoyed me; he just didn't stand out to me. He was the kind of guy you see on the streets in a busy city, walk by him, and forget about him a second later.

There wasn't much character development for the protagonist. Once John became Hell's Pawn, he did whatever was demanded of him with little thought. Not to say he was mindless or stupid — far from it, John lacked a sense of resolve. This bogged down the book for me.

To be fair, John gained his sense of resolve and some needed character development in a scene near the end as part of the rising action. Unfortunately, it occurred too late and too little. I realized that missing piece of John's characterization was a deliberate part of the story, but that was no consolation.

In Conclusion

I rate the book 2-stars for it was okay. The book was plot-driven. While engaging and lacking any glaring flaw, the book simply didn't leave a lasting impression. I was happy to read the book, but it was kind of the book I read once and then not read it again.

Readers looking for a LGBT standalone urban fantasy with a tightly wrapped HEA will enjoy Hell’s Pawn. Readers looking for a paranormal romance should look elsewhere.

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

REVIEW: Geisha for Hire by Shawn Bailey

Geisha for Hire Geisha for Hire by Shawn Bailey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Long Review

Reasons To Hate This Book

1. The female characters, Jayce’s best friend and mother, were pushy and hugely insensitive to his feelings. They forced Jayce to crossdress and pimped him out as the party entertainment for drunk dudes.

2. Jayce, the main character, was basically a dumb bottom. It took him late in the story and a couple sex scenes to realize he — the adult virgin who never once found a girl sexually attractive — liked dudes, that he especially liked his boss. He is completely unaware of how attractive he is to other men and cannot recognize flirting or sexual harassment until it gets physical. And even then...

3. Reuben and Jayce weren’t an official couple until late in the story but that didn't stop Reuben from claiming Jayce in the beginning of the story. Reuben acted possessive of and aggressive towards Jayce. The alpha dude detested the sexual attention Jayce unwittingly attracted and thus Reuben was prone to stabs of jealousy.

4. Genji liked the Jayce too so, yes, there was a love triangle. The issue wasn’t completely resolved as much as, near the end, sidestepped and overlooked in favor of Jayce’s Coming-Out-To-Family issue. There was never a rejection scene between Jayce and Genji.

5. There was an extreme lack of regard for rules at the Jayce’s workplace. Given the multiple romantic entanglements between bosses and their subordinates, professionals and their clients, and the noticeable absence of female workers, the workplace truthfully served as a convenient place for hot gay guys to gather and mingle. Not that there weren't business activities going on — there were, but it was apparent that realism was not a goal of the story.

6. Speaking of realism, the Japanese characters and actions were depicted in a rather exaggerated manner.

7. A few scenes could have stand to be rewritten because they were a tad confusing. I had to reread one non-smutty scene to comprehend.

But This Is A Positive Review

In spite of all these reasons, any one of them enough on their own for me to dislike the book, I enjoyed it. No, seriously, I really did.

Reasons Why I Liked This Book

1. The female characters didn't annoyed me. I actually enjoyed the shenanigans they forced upon Jayce. In spite of their teasing, I saw that they truly loved him. I liked how they gradually made him aware that he wasn’t straight and that the guy he loved was the guy he loved.

2. Jayce was endearing and wasn't totally dumb and passive as I thought. I liked how he stood up and came out to his father near the end. I wholly expected the plot to sidestep the Coming-Out-To-Family issue and, honestly, I would have preferred it, because I wanted the story to stay silly and smutty. However, I’m glad Jayce didn’t have to hide who he was and who his lover was. It was nice bow to the HEA present.

3. Reuben didn't push or near the line that separates Alphas and Abusive Assholes. I enjoyed his reactions towards Jayce. It made for some hot smut; those pages definitely encouraged some leering and rereading from me.

4. The story was written in alternating 3rd PoV between Jayce and Reuben, with Jayce’s PoV as the dominant PoV. With a few other reasons, the story made it really obvious who Jayce was going to end up with so I wasn’t bothered much by the Love Triangle issue fizzling out at the end.

5. Once the book mentioned yaoi early in the story, I knew immediately what the book's intention was: to indulge the readers with a smutty, silly story. I adjusted my expectation and so the lack of realism barely bothered me. This book was actually a lot more realistic, beyond my low expectation, than many of the yaoi-wannabe stories I have read.

6. I thought the American characters and actions were also depicted in a rather exaggerated manner. For the most part, I thought the story did a pretty accurate and considerate job portraying culture differences. Best of all, I liked the depiction that drunk gropey men will be drunk gropey men regardless of their nationality.

7. The book compensated in other ways: the writing was decent, the pacing was fast, and the smut was ample.

In Conclusion

I rate the wannabe-yaoi book 4-stars for I really liked it, because I really did like it. So much in fact that I reread it multiple times after I finished the book.

Honestly, the high rating might have been due to my good mood at the time and the fact that it has been a long while since I read a decent smut. Nonetheless, the story left a very good impression on, and it would be definitely be one of those stories I would reread whenever I need a pick-me-up.

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

REVIEW: The Wrong Goodbye by Chris F. Holm

The Wrong Goodbye (The Collector, #2) The Wrong Goodbye by Chris F. Holm
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

CAUTION: long review, slight spoilers

Book 2 began ten months after the events of book 1. The effect of those events resonated throughout book 2 where the series' arc continued to hint at a nearing apocalypse.

Book 2 did a pretty good job rehashing the events of book 1 because I felt like I just read book 1. However that might annoy readers who literally did just read book 1.

The Characters

+ Sam
He continued to work that lone wolf, anti-hero persona. Intermittently throughout the story, Sam bugged me because he wasn't using his Collector power to its fullest extent and kept underestimating himself. Sam didn't show me he learned his lessons in book 1. I began to feel indifferent towards Sam by the end of book 2.

+ Lilith
She is Sam's handler. I really wished he took the help she offered, because it would have made things much easier. If he wouldn't fight using his full Collector power, then he should have deferred to Lilith.

Lilith was a compelling character; I wanted more scenes with her. Seeing her throw bodies would have been a true delight.

+ Giordano
I expected that Gio, the temporarily revived mob enforcer, was going to cause unnecessary and exasperating problems for Sam. I thought Gio was going to run away at the first opportunity and resist helping Sam throughout the story. Color me surprised and happy when the musclehead turned out to be actually helpful, truly loyal, and not totally dopey. For a mob enforcer, he was nice.

+ Theresa
The best of thing about Gio was his girlfriend, Theresa. "Lady Theresa" was a sassy, blind, seven feet tall, transsexual, bogus psychic living in Las Vegas. The romance between the couple was sweet... and tragic when I thought about it longer. I had mixed feelings about how very late Theresa was introduced in the story.

On one hand, it was a shame because she was an awesome character and she spiced up the story. If Theresa was there earlier, I believe the story would have been way less dull. Not to mention she would have more time with Gio before he returned to being dead-dead.

On the other hand, I was glad because the series doesn't hesitate maiming or killing off characters based on the casualties in book 1. I didn't want Theresa to get hurt at all.

+ Roscoe
The Texan oil-businessman was minor character but he stood out for me because the story was rather clumsy for making him a comic relief and really clumsy for using him to forward the plot. The guy didn't believe in the supernatural but then he suddenly did during his final appearance — just in time to help Sam find Gio. That scene disconnected me from the story for a few minutes.

+ the antagonists
Charon was convincingly scary. The revelation about him was epic, and the accompanying revelation about the Collectors was an eye-opener

The bad Collectors in book 2 had great characterization. They weren't as scary as Charon or that insane Collector in book 1 but they were powerful and definitely difficult to defeat. Like that insane Collector in book 1, the bad Collectors in book 2 showed the great power Collectors can wield. Collectors may be grunts in Hell's hierarchy, but that doesn’t mean they can’t do serious damage.

When I compare these Collectors to Sam, Sam seems like an idiot for refusing to use his full power and gather some weapons. How can you fight bad guys if you don’t use everything at your disposal? Sam relied too heavily on his sidekicks and spontaneous sparks of wit.

The Plot

+ the beginning
It started off slow. The long flashback, while engaging, didn't help. Took a couple of chapters for things to set up and the core conflict to get going.

+ the middle
It had some slow moments. I thought things could stand to happen quicker.

The book doesn't do suspenseful scenes well. One such scene was when Sam sneaked into the abandoned hospital. Not to mention that the scene displayed his ineptitude in volumes for not bringing backup, i.e. Lilith.

To be fair, the book did partly compensate by how skillfully the horror element was crafted. The description of "Abby" seriously freaked me out.

+ the ending
Things ramped up once the story introduced Theresa. However, the car chase scene that followed was seriously contrived and served as another example of how poorly the book crafted suspense.

The worst part of the book was the last chapter. I didn't like how the bittersweet ending was done. Sam summarized his goodbye with Gio and Theresa. My HEA-loving side want to believe the couple will have their HEA but my cynical side say I'm just kidding myself. I didn't like the couple's uncertain ending which greatly promised tragedy. I thought the plot took a lazy way out by making the last chapter take place a few weeks after the previous chapter when the group had already parted ways. The last chapter left me raw with emotions and without a decent closure which I loathe.

Then I loathed some more when the ending unnecessary extended itself a few pages for a small cliffhanger.

In Conclusion

I rate book 2 of the series 2-stars for it was okay. I would have rounded it up to 3 stars from the preliminary 2.5 stars were it not for the ending and lack of character growth in the protagonist.

Goodreads | Amazon

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

REVIEW: Guttersnipe by Isa K.

Guttersnipe Guttersnipe by Isa K.
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Long Review

Guttersnipe is a speculative master-slave M/M fiction about a rebel turned sex slave named Derek who learns that he has been a pawn between feuding masters.To make matters worse, he learns that the feud has risen to a conspiracy which threatens the foundation of a society where sex is heavily regulated. With twists and turns and mind games, I expected the book to be full of excitement.

That expectation was not met.

The Characters

+++ Derek

He was the protagonist. Barring 1 or 2 instances, the story was told from his side in 1st PoV.

I didn't like Derek from the start. His cockiness annoyed me, and his sexcapades disturbed me. Only after Derek got captured and raped that he then endeared himself to me.

Unwilling to accept his enslavement, Derek remained calm, kept his wits, and — this is the most important part — attempted escapes. Not one escape, but multiple escapes. Derek was defiant, confident, and resilient. His perseverance impressed me.

Unfortunately, Derek was the about the only character I liked.

+++ Marco

He was the guy who captured and raped Derek and became Derek's master. I didn't care much for him. I found his backstory contemptible and the reason for his fear of love absurd. I had a hard time believing he was a great schemer because he acted so glum and seemed like he moped all day long.

+++ Zach

Marco's servant was annoying. His cliché sob story of a past as an abused ex-sex slave got eyerolls from me. When Derek tricked and punched Zach to escape from Marco again, I had a hard time feeling pity for Zach.

+++ Evelyn

Marco's evil rival was exasperating. His characterization as this maniacal sexual sadist was shallow and devoid of imagination.

+++ Nick

I found Evelyn's sex slave almost as exasperating as Evelyn. I really wished Nick remained a forgettable side character instead of having an important role as Derek's love interest.

+++ Helios

He was the Derek's shadow sponsor, the master/society-elite who wanted to throw the city into turmoil. He had great potential to be an awesome villain but the plot botched it. The revelation of Helios's identity was anticlimactic, disappointing, and too predictable to be believed.

The Plot

+++ the plot forgot

The confrontation at the sex club between Marco and Evelyn baffled me. I didn't understand why Derek was forced into non-con sex with Nick. I thought trip to the sex club was to discover the identity of Helios, not to get sidetracked with Evelyn.

The couple chapters spanning that clumsy confrontation scene were dreadful. The plot forgot about Helios, a character who played such a huge role in the story that it was just mind-boggling how he could be forgotten. The plot also forgot that Derek was supposed to continue planning his escape, which put a dent in Derek's characterization.

+++ twists and turns

The story didn't consistently deliver twists and turns. Most of them were crammed near the end, and they were hardly good. The worst twist was the quasi-Romeo and Juliet one; I felt the urge to gag.

+++ the mind games

There were very few of them. The mind games between Derek and Marco were amusing, but sputtered after the middle of the story.

The mind games against Helios never happened, but instead was a simple contention. The story drove the expectation of cloak and dagger off the cliff. Worse, the core conflict (the Helios issue) wasn't steadily maintained but was pushed in uneven bursts. It made me questioned whether some scenes were necessary to the story.

The Romance

Derek fell in love with Nick after meeting him two times, qualifying the romance as insta-love. The romance with Nick was utterly passionless and senseless, most noticeable in their sex scenes. Marco raping Derek was somehow more love-filled than Derek making love to Nick.

I get that Derek was developing into the sex slave with a heart of gold but the story pushed that act too far. Honestly, every time Derek had a scene with Nick I skimmed.

In Conclusion

The world building was believable. The writing was good. The non-con sex scenes between Derek and Marco were hot. But these few good things about the story were barely half way enough to save the story from mediocrity.

I rate the book 1 star for I didn't like it. The half-hearted happy ending ultimately kicked the preliminary rating of 1.5 star down to a 1-star level. There were still a few issues left unresolved. The story tried to be something different but failed on many levels, at least for me.

I do not recommend this book for readers looking for a master-slave romance because Derek does not end up with Marco, for readers looking for erotica because the story does not have many sex scenes and some are dreadful, or for readers looking for a dystopian fiction because the story does not deeply dissect the social issues and the society does not change.

I probably recommend this book for readers who are tired of the same old BDSM story and want something new and challenging, even if it is simply to get out the rut.

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