Friday, August 29, 2014

Status Update: Lemon Drop And The Case Of Too Many Books

So I haven't blogged in over a week and I'm several months behind now in my "monthly recap" posts.

Oh look!  Here's a recent photo of Lemon Drop!

Suitably distracted by the cuteness?  OK, good.  Mission accomplished.

This photo was taken post-RWA when I made a quick weekend jaunt to Casa de Lemon Drop (oh, and Lil' Sis) to help them out with some projects.  Lemon Drop decided she wanted to see how the world looked through Auntie Wendy's glasses.

The answer is: blurry.  Very, very blurry.  Auntie Wendy is darn near blind without prescription help.

So what's been going on to keep me away from blogging?  Mostly Real Life stuff.  Nothing "bad" - just been really busy.  And on top of the Real Life busy-ness, I'm in the throes of Contest Reading.

Yep, I'm doing contest judging again.  Which means getting nine books read before the end of September.  The good news is that I'm making progress.  I started book #6 today.  The bad news?  Well, anyone who has judged writing contests will surely know.  So far the books have ranged from Unreadable (In My Opinion) to This Is OK to OMGWTFBBQ Plot Is This?! But Hey, The Author Can Write So This Is Readable Even If It Is OMGWTFBBQ Plot.

It's reminding me a lot of how I judged this same contest last year.  There were several books that made me Wendy Mad Wendy Smash angry - but down the stretch I found some Very Good Reads.  And the books I still have to go through do look very promising.  So there is hope.

I'm also painfully, dreadfully behind on review books.  And I'm checking out books via work that I've stumbled across that sound really good.  Because, you know, I need more to read.  Blessedly it's a holiday weekend here in the States and my Tigers are slowly falling off the cliff.  So maybe I won't spend the whole weekend watching baseball after all and actually get some reading done.

There's hope anyway.

So, what's everybody up to this weekend?  And are you reading anything good?  Because, you know, I need more to read.....

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

TBR Challenge 2014: Digital Review: Soloplay

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B004X2ADGC/themisaofsupe-20
The Book: Soloplay by Miranda Baker

The Particulars: Erotic romance, digital-only, book two in series, 2011, Samhain

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?:  When some authors "recommend" books I treat it like "white noise."  But then there are some authors who genuinely recommend books and I actually believe them.  Which is how this book landed in my digital TBR - it was recommended by Jill Sorenson.

The Review: Remember when erotic romance was fun?  Yeah, me too.  The last couple of steamy offerings I've read have featured protective, dominant possessive Alpha-hole "heroes."  Reading one story featuring such a character device is more than enough for me - try reading two in a row.  Yeah, I missed "fun" sex.  Seriously authors, sex is supposed to be fun.  And if it's not fun?  Your characters are doing it wrong.

Ahem.

Which brings me to this book.  Stay with me here folks, I'm well aware this plot description sounds like a hot mess rolled into a migraine from Hell, but trust me.

Alisa Mane is a frustrated librarian who has never had an orgasm.  Her latest disastrous attempt has the guy accusing her of being frigid and leaving in a huff.  Alisa is hurt, embarrassed and then gets really angry.  Why can't she "get there?"  So she decides to do what any good librarian would do - research.  There's an upscale, and discreet, sex toy shop not far from where she works.  She'll just go there, peruse the offerings, and see if she can solve her dilemma the old fashioned way - with something battery operated.

A gal who works at the shop, Crystal, helps Alisa start to find her groove thang.  Mores the pity that Crystal is a lesbian and Alisa likes men.  But never fear!  Crystal has an idea.  SoloPlay is looking to expand their line of quality toys and needs beta testers.  Alisa signs on and boy howdy!  She hasn't had this much fun in....well, ever.

Mark Winters owns SoloPlay and this new line of original products is his baby.  And SoloGirl (code name for Alisa) is the best product tester ever.  She picks nothing but winners.  Her critiques of the products are spot on.  Which means now that Mark wants to test his DoublePlay products?  He wants her to sign on.  But for that - he needs to find her and her partner.  The fly in the ointment being she's not all that happy to be found and she has no partner.  Well, until she propositions him....

What I enjoyed so much about this story is that Alisa doesn't behave like countless erotic romance heroines who have come (ha!) before her.  When her ex accuses her of being frigid, she doesn't take his word as gospel.  Oh sure, she knows something isn't right - but she doesn't automatically jump to the conclusion that she's "broken."  She goes about fixing herself and she has wonderful orgasms prior to meeting Mark in the flesh.

Can I get an amen!

The crux of the conflict is part ethics, part product testing.  Mark finding his best beta tester and then agreeing to test products with her should be all sorts of squirky, but somehow manages not to be.  Then there's the issue that as Mark and Alisa are falling for each other, they both think the other one is only there for SoloPlay, the money, the free sex toys, etc.  Once the testing is done they both have to take the risk, take a leap of faith, and really talk to each other.  To share parts of themselves that go beyond getting naked and kinky with all sorts of party favors.

This is a perfect example of when a story finds you at just the right time.  Yes, the plot sounds silly.  Yes, the sexually frustrated librarian heroine who has never had The Big O should get on my last hot nerve.  Yes, the ethical and business issues should have pushed me right over the edge.  And yet?  No, no, and no they didn't.  This was a quick, fun read that reminded me that not all erotic romance is over the top angst featuring idiot a-hole heroes who fancy themselves as Doms while looking to pull the wool over some silly 20-something-girl's eyes by selling her a You're-A-Sub bill of goods.

Download SoloPlay now and tag it "break glass in case of emergency."

Final Grade = B

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Read-A-Romance Month

I'm over at Read-A-Romance Month today for Blogger Day talking all about why I think we should celebrate romance.  In a nutshell?  Romances are books where women have value, and how awesome is that?  Way awesome!

Also, as part of my blog post, I'm giving away a box of goodies (sorry folks, US only) of books and swag from the recent RWA conference in San Antonio, Texas. Seriously, you totally want to win this box of goodies.  Just sayin'.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Reminder: TBR Challenge for August

For those of you participating in the 2014 TBR Challenge, this is a reminder that your commentary is "due" on Wednesday, August 20.  This month's theme is Luscious Love Scenes.  A book with sensual love scenes, erotic romance or erotica.  Basically we want to leave those PG-rated books on the shelf this month.  However, remember - the themes are totally optional and are not required.  Maybe you're burnt out on Sexy Time Shenanigans right now (mores the pity).  It's not important what you read, just that you pull something (anything!) out of the TBR pile.

To learn more about the challenge and see a list of participants, please see the information page.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Digital Review: 1001 Erotic Nights Part I: Slave Girl

It has been several years since Lisa Cach last released a book with a traditional publisher, and Slave Girl marks the first novella in an erotic trilogy set at the end of the Roman Empire.  I'll admit that this was an instance where the author's name is what persuaded me to give this one a go as the plot description didn't exactly light my world on fire.  In the end, I'm glad I read this - if only because it is filled with great promise of things to come.

Nimia is a slave of King Sygarius.  She was taken as a child when he raided her tribal village and so taken with her lush beauty, he has schooled her in the sensual arts.  Basically what that entails is Sygarius doing years of endless teasing, working Nimia up into a frenzy until finally, ripe and ready as an adult, he will deflower her.  Needless to say, Nimia is just about ready to have a go at it, and the endless teasing, the endless schooling in carnal delights, most of which are done through voyeurism, means Nimia is one frustrated girl.  Then one of Sygarius' allies rides into town.  A group of barbarians.  That king's son, Clovis, has completely twisted Nimia inside out - to the point where she foolishly gives away the one thing meant for Sygarius.  The one thing that will surely get her killed.  Her virginity.

I've been reading erotic romance for a long time, even before it really existed and I sated my own desire by reading "romantic" erotica.  So I feel fairly confident in saying that Slave Girl read Old School for me.  The style, the voice, the choice of language and words that Cach used to tell her story.  It's not the purplest of purple prose I've ever read (hardly), but I wouldn't say it's as frank as some of the language employed by newcomers to the sub genre.  I also think that the time period, setting, and plot of the story has a lot to do with this Old School vibe.  It's not a harem story, per se, but it's pretty close to it.

As a romance, this story alone isn't going to cut it.  The author is setting her stage, plus the added duplicitous nature of all the characters (yes, we have politics!) certainly doesn't instill a lot of trust in the reader for any of them.  It's a soap opera, with more sex and a few light paranormal elements thrown in for added flavor.  Which makes this a hard story to judge on it's own.  Really it's sole purpose is to whet the reader's appetite to keep going, to continue on with the serial.  And this story did leave me with that, mostly because of the promise that Nimia gives to the reader.

This is a heroine who is a slave.  Who has no control of her own person.  She's not allowed to have free will.  But over the course of this story you see her yearning for it, plotting for it, thinking that maybe Clovis is her ticket to finding her people.  Maybe she can escape.  Maybe her life can be more than being some king's sexual plaything.  Where I hope this trilogy will eventually lead is to a heroine who takes control over her own life.  A heroine who takes control over her own sexual desires.  A heroine who, after years of not being her own person, becomes one.

But this is only Part I and it's too soon to tell.  It's the promise of those things though that will keep me going.  As a stand-alone romance, this story doesn't entirely work.  As the set-up to a bigger picture?  The jury is still out.

Final Grade = C+

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Retro Review: Dream Of Me

This review of Dream of Me by Lisa Cach was first published at The Romance Reader in 2004.  I rated it 4-Hearts (B rating) with an MPAA content rating of "R."

+++++

Cach has never been an author to be tied down by conventions. Her stories have crossed time periods and sub genres, making her one of the rare romance authors who never writes the same thing twice. She continues that trend with Dream Of Me, the companion book to Come To Me. The setting, time period, and story elements are essentially same with this second book, but Cach throws the reader a slight curve ball. Dream Of Me is notably darker than her other works, and lacks the humor that has largely been her trademark. In a nutshell, Dream Of Me is pretty darn intriguing.

Readers met the incubus Theron in Come To Me and learned he’s a character with questionable morals and strong ambitions. He strikes a deal with Vlad Draco of Wallachia – Theron will get Prince Dragosh of neighboring Maramures to break the engagement of his younger sister, Lucia, and Prince Nicolae of Moldavia. Vlad will then concur Moldavia, marry Lucia – which aligns him with Maramures – and he will be ruler of three territories. In exchange, Theron will be allowed to inhabit Vlad’s body for three days – three days where the dream demon will learn what it’s like to be a mortal King.

There’s just one catch though – it’s been six years since Theron’s succubus counterpart delivered a disturbing dream to Dragosh and set a war in motion. Vlad is on the eve of victory and yet he still has not held up his end of the bargain! When it finally dawns on Theron that Vlad has no intention of delivering on their deal – Theron makes good on a threat. He vows to Vlad that he will visit his virginally, naively pure Lucia and corrupt her to the point that she’s as knowledgeable as a tavern whore.

Lucia has spent six long years in total isolation. Her only companions are a senile nun and a lady’s maid who thinks of her with contempt. Lucia is pampered, sheltered and intensely curious about married life. It’s 1423; she’s 20 and an old maid. She’s ready for a husband and children – even if she has absolutely no clue when it comes to love and sex. For you see, Vlad wants his betrothed to be perversely sheltered and ignorant for his own twisted appetites.

Incubi are dream demons who bring erotic dreams to frustrated mortal women. When Theron begins visiting Lucia, he has nothing more in mind than revenge on Vlad. However Lucia is a special girl, and it appears she has inherited her grandmother’s gift of “sight.” Lucia can see Theron. She talks to Theron. And worse yet, she still exhibits some measure of control over herself in her dream world.
Dream Of Me reads very much like a companion to Come To Me, with both stories essentially taking place over the same period of time. In fact, some scenes repeat themselves in both books, albeit they are told from different perspectives. While Dream Of Me does stand alone, and can be read separately, there are certain elements of back story in Come To Me that make this book that much more compelling.

Theron is a morally ambiguous hero if ever there was one. His motives are highly questionable, and he’s equally as power-hungry as Vlad. In the beginning, Lucia is merely a means to an end – and she stays that way for over half of the book. It’s as Theron spends more time in her dreams that he begins to change. He learns what his selfishness has wrought.

Lucia is one of these hyper-virginal heroines. Normally this type of character goes down about as smooth as razor blades for this reviewer, but Cach does an excellent job of creating her. She has literally been locked away like a fairy princess, surrounded by people who are terrified of what Vlad will do to them should she become even the slightest bit corrupted. It’s a joy to watch Lucia grow over the course of the story – from literally a na├»ve child to a woman who must learn to make her own choices.

There are a few light-hearted moments towards the end of the story, mostly revolving around the demise of one of the villains. However Cach never really abandons the dark atmosphere she creates. Even the ending has a slightly creepy edge to it, throwing the reader a surprise that still has me pondering the possibilities. It’s a classic dark fairy tale.

Lisa Cach has already amply proven herself to be one of the freshest voices in the romance genre. Dream Of Me merely reinforces it. With intense, dream-like love scenes, dark atmosphere, and complex characters, this two-book series is easily one of the highlights for romance in 2004. Don’t let these unique books pass you by, take a walk on the wild side and lose yourself in Cach’s world.

+++++

Wendy Looks Back: I remember being completely captivated by Theron in Come to Me, so reading his book was really a no-brainer.  Upon investigation, it appears that this book has not been re-released digitally ::sad face::.  Here's hoping that is eventually rectified.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Retro Review: Come To Me

This review of Come to Me by Lisa Cach was first published at The Romance Reader in 2004.  I rated it 4-Hearts (B rating) with an MPAA content rating of "R."

+++++

In the five years I’ve been reviewing, I’ve had the pleasure of being assigned three novels by Lisa Cach. Upon diving into Come To Me, one question kept tickling at the back of my brain – why oh why isn’t this woman a huge star? Whether she’s writing about a woman posing as a mermaid (The Mermaid of Penperro), a pro wrestler who travels back in time to slay a dragon (George and the Virgin) or a succubus who becomes a mortal woman to help a scarred man (Come To Me) – readers can always count on Cach to deliver creative plots and interesting characters.

Samira is a succubus, a low ranking creature of the Night World. It is Samira’s job to bring erotic dreams to sleeping men. She’s seen a lot in her several hundred years of existence, and figures she has mortal men figured out. So when she is asked to do a favor for Theron, her incubus counterpart who delivers erotic dreams to women, she handily agrees. She delivers a disturbing dream to Prince Dragosh, the ruling prince of Maramures. Little does she know that the dream she delivers sets off a bloody chain of events.

Dragosh’s dream causes him to break the engagement between his younger sister and Prince Nicolae. A war ensues, and Nicolae ends up a scarred, bitter man hiding out in a crumbling monastery. He’s taken to reading books on black magic, hoping to use the dark arts as a way to regain his father’s respect, and get revenge against Dragosh. It’s while dabbling in this magic that he discovers Samira, and decides to use her to achieve his goals.

Unfortunately, Nicolae’s dabbling resorts in Samira becoming a mortal woman. Banished from the Night World by the Queen of the Night, Nyx, Samira’s task is to help Nicolae and undo the damage her dream to Dragosh caused. There’s just a small catch however – she has 30 days in which to accomplish this mission, at which time Nyx will show up with none other than Death himself.
Come To Me is something of a dark fairy tale. The author sets her tale in 15th century Transylvania, and the story has gritty medieval overtones. The dream that Samira delivers to Dragosh is disturbing in nature, and given that she is a purveyor of erotic dreams, the story is full of steamy dream-like moments.

Adding to the dark atmosphere is Nicolae, who is severely scarred and bent on revenge against Dragosh. Here’s a guy seeking to use black magic in order to achieve that revenge. He’s not a nice guy in the beginning. However, Cach writes him with an underlying vulnerability that is sexy and appealing. As he spends time with Samira, he begins to question his motives, and his early distrust of her.
And really that’s where this story works – Nicolae has trust issues. Given he has a 15th century attitude, he isn’t going to readily embrace a succubus – a demon – when she offers her help. He’s also not happy that she offers this help in her human state – what use is a demon if she’s no longer one?

The story loses some grit and momentum immediately following Samira’s transformation, but the author recovers quickly. As a bit of comic relief, some time is spent on Samira getting acquainted with the human body and all of its functions – most notably eating and using the latrine. While the author tries to write Samira as an innocent during these scenes, she comes off with shades of too-stupid-to-live. Luckily, these moments are brief, with later scenes focusing on Samira’s physical innocence versus her mental experience in regards to the desires of men.

I see a lot of grumblings online that Romance Novel Land has turned into humongous Regency Historical Land. There may be some truth to that, but the fact remains that interesting, creative stories do continue to seek their way to bookstore shelves for readers who take the time, and the risk, to seek them out. Lisa Cach is one such author who continues to bend boundaries and write stories that are not “safe bets.” Come To Me is innovative, dark without being depressing, and the most original story this reviewer has come across in ages. Don’t miss it.

+++++

Wendy Looks Back: I obviously read this one before my well-documented Paranormal Burn-Out set in and inhaled it.  What I especially loved was that it was "different" at the time.  Cach gave us a succubus heroine instead of another retread of a vampire or werewolf story.