I’m going to prattle on for some time here so you may wish to freshen up your coffee...
Tempting The Beast by Lora Leigh
Well-written. Strong characterization. Provocative. Lora Leigh is an author I trust, unequivocally, to deliver powerful, compelling stories. This one was no exception. However, I have resigned myself to an insurmountable, not to be overcome aversion to even the hint of sex with animals. My mind cannot view any character as part human, part animal without unconsciously—and unavoidably—attaching the greatest emphasis on the animal. That, in turn, colors every exchange between that character and others. I don’t know what the problem is, but if Lora Leigh cannot move me beyond it, I’m not sure any author can (save one perhaps; we’ll see when the time comes). Unfortunately, this means that I will not be reading the remainder of Leigh’s Breed series.
Heather’s Gift by Lora Leigh
Again, Leigh delivers a well-written book featuring strong characterization and a provocative storyline. The third, I believe, in her August men series, its controversial and disturbing premise is at once beyond comprehension and thoroughly captivating. You cannot look away. How can Leigh elicit my understanding, make me believe and even empathize with brothers driven to share their wives? No idea. But she does. And interestingly, the dark sexual needs exhibited by the men in this series remind me a little of Shannon McKenna’s alphas. But McKenna’s books—with their monogamous, ‘acceptable’ relationships—fail me. Completely. And Leigh’s books—this series with its jaw-dropping premise—works for me. Testament, I think, to Leigh’s ability to change the reader’s reality (the whole animal thing aside).
Finders Keepers by Sharon Sala
This is a contemporary love story. No mystery or romantic suspense. It is the stuff of what I call “do-over or second chance daydreams”—the ‘if my circumstances changed and I had to start over, what could happen’ story. I enjoyed it immensely. Being the mother of a toddler boy myself, it is this aspect of the story (our hero is a single father to a 3 year old boy) that I liked most. Sala paints a realistic (read humorous) picture of what it means to parent a fast-growing, ever-learning individual. Her H and H are also quite realistic—both distracted by professional and life responsibilities. The villain—an ‘ex’ so to speak—is a bit over the top and Sala’s stilted or altogether omitted transitions from scene to scene, chapter to chapter bounced me from the story a few times. But overall, it was a warm, engaging read. One I would recommend when you are in need of something soft and easy.
Scarlet Stockings by Mary Wine
I liked everything about this short, holiday novella. Wine focuses the reader’s attention on a single aspect of this married couple’s relationship, allowing us to watch and listen to the characters through a narrow gap in the curtains. That focus translates into successful characterization that is not burdened by any need for detailed background or lengthy descriptions of past experiences. It allows the reader to enjoy the exchanges between these two today. And they are enjoyable. Scarlet Stockings is well written, charming, humorous and truthful—to marriage and married sex in its time period (Frontier West). I will certainly try more titles from Mary Wine.
Not So Notable Reads
Dream On by Jaci Burton
I found this short story very sweet and romantic. Unfortunately, I did not find it well written or executed. I loved the premise and enjoyed what I felt was the “start” of getting to know these characters. Before I could be pulled into the story however, it dropped out from underneath me. Honestly, I felt like I was reading the story’s outline with just a hint of flesh on it—like Burton temporarily inserted sweeping generalizations here and impotent clichés there with some intention of coming back later to develop the thought. It felt underdeveloped from beginning to end.
Christmas To Remember by Annie Windsor
I also found this book sweet and romantic with an entertaining dose of humorous antics. And I appreciated the Christmas fantasy—a very sexy, adult take on the magic of St. Nick. But I could not get beyond the skimpy characterization. I didn’t relate, recognize or even develop a decent impression of any one of this book’s characters. Consequently, their actions lacked believability or truthfulness and I fell out of the story completely.
Special Agent Santa by Denise Agnew
This holiday short featured a seriously over-used premise in erotic romance—one I happen to like when done well. It features an alpha in law enforcement and a woman he is acquainted with through work. There is the requisite attraction—the one that has been growing between these two since before the book’s introduction—and the very brief turmoil each suffers before finally revealing their passion for the other. It also includes the “I’ve been watching you and I can “see” –through some preternatural sense—your desire for sexual domination” phenomenon. That sarcasm, I’m sure, betrays my feelings about this particular approach to tie-me-up sex in a romance book. I don’t believe it and don’t care for it. And, having read some truly remarkable stories—both long and short—in this genre, I don’t believe for a minute that this is the only workable premise for hot, 18 and over sex.
A side note about this particular title: I read a professional review of Special Agent Santa wherein the reviewer stated her appreciation for the story’s twist. I actually re-read this story to find the twist or unexpected turn of events. Didn’t find it. I then polled another reader. She didn’t recall a twist either. I emailed the reviewer about it directly. She never responded. Left to draw my own conclusions, I can only assume she did not read it. Or, if she did, she did so quickly and in the company of a dozen other holiday shorts—ultimately confusing elements from another with this one. In either case, it appears a gross disservice to the author and publisher. And is worthy of a disdainful rant in another blog.
Holiday Bound by Jaci Burton
This holiday short from Jaci Burton also travels the one-step path to tie-me-up sex between the lawman and his colleague. However, Burton employs a much more believable venue by which the characters learn of each other’s sexual fantasies. It was good in that sense. But again, where I found stronger characterization in this Burton short, I was still plagued by a lack of development. Burton maneuvers around a very thought-provoking, socially relevant issue without doing it any disservice. But I just wanted more in the way story depth.
I think it a remarkable challenge to create a fully developed romance in a novella or quickie (unsure of the proper terminology here). Thus far, the only authors to deliver notable reads in this category have been those that invite readers into an existing romance. Unburdened by the task of establishing a relationship, these authors simply and honestly confirmed the characters’ connections and then deftly involved me as the reader in the emotional conflict at hand. Sarah McCarty did this beautifully in A Bit of Sass. Mary Wine accomplished a similar feat in Scarlet Stocking. And, although not a holiday short, Claire Thompson did the same—through one of the cleverest turn of events I’ve seen—in Closely Held Secrets.
Having read all of McCarty’s work and a good number of Thompson’s titles, I’ll also surmise that very, very strong writing skills are another requisite to pulling this off. Both are extremely powerful writers. And though I’ve not yet read the holiday short from Shelby Reed—another astonishingly talented writer—I’m confident it will deliver as well.
In all, I would like to think that those shorts that failed would not have done so if delivered in full length. I’ll likely try some longer tales from those authors just to see.
Super Relevant Footnote
I am not an author of fiction. I will allow myself the title of discerning reader however. Whatever. Just digest my commentary with that in mind.