Tag Archives: review

“Sex & Cupcakes” by Rachel Kramer Bussel stops by on its blog tour!

I first saw Rachel Kramer Bussel’s work in anthologies of erotica.

I should clarify; I’m choosey when it comes to my literary smut. I’m not one of those people who loves reading descriptions of two people eating in an erotica anthology. It may be absolutely delicious writing, and I love that, but when I pick up an anthology of sexy writing, I want to read about sex. I want to read about people connecting, physically and emotionally and sensually. If that great meal is prelude to some high class (or low class) fucking, then brilliant. But otherwise–it’s just not my preference.

I’ve loved Rachel Kramer Bussel’s anthologies for fulfilling both of these categories–exquisite writing combined with stories that leave me needing some serious personal time with my toys. So when I had the opportunity to read a pre-release copy of Sex & Cupcakes and participate in the blog tour, I leapt at it.

Like many women, I grew up on Cosmo and Seventeen and Sassy, and it’s only been recently that I’ve started to find people my age who look at sex like I do. Who think it’s messy and wonderful, and sometimes way too much to handle. That it’s hysterically funny when sweaty bellies make that farting sound, and that if your partner can’t laugh at that with you, then they are probably going to end up being a really lousy lay.

Sex & Cupcakes

Sex & Cupcakes, like all good sexy writing, engages and challenges me to rethink what is hot. We find out how Kramer straddles the dichotomy of the real-world her, and the one online, the one who, as she puts it, has three names. She holds nothing back, talking about how she got started in this industry, the comments that people make in regards to her boyfriend, who is overweight, her struggles with orgasms being the be-all-end-all of sex, and why she doesn’t need a spreadsheet in the bedroom. She thinks about sex in a way that feels familiar, friendly, and open to me. If Dr. Ruth was a tiny old lady scolding you about sex, Sex & Cupcakes invites you over for coffee, tosses your coat onto a hook, then invites you to flop on the couch and tell it what you really think about the date you had last night.

While I love Kramer Brussel’s anthologies with a passionate that one could probably write erotica about, I hope that this is only the first of many excellent works on modern sex from this exquisite writer.

Sex & Cupcakes is available on Amazon and iTunes. For more stops on the blog tour, look here.

Advertisements

Reflections on my first convention & blogger blackouts

This past weekend, I took my self-published dark fantasy novel to Vermont ComicCon as a vendor. I’d last been to a con in college, so it was a pretty exciting thing. First signing event, first vendor event, lots and lots of firsts.

I’d love to be one of those people who could construct for you an organized narrative of how things progressed, but unfortunately, that sort of writing only seems to happen in my fiction. So let’s make a list of awesome things that happened at the first VTComicCon:

  • Selling and signing books! After years of going to various events and seeing the authors behind the tables, it was pretty awesome being the one there with my pens at the ready.
  • Seeing all the amazing cosplay. I’m more likely to be found in my geeky T-shirts than rocking a styling X-23, but I have so much admiration for people who have the visual creativity to put together some of the amazing costumes I saw. I tweeted some of my favorites.
  • There was a moment when an author came up to my table-buddy and myself and shook our hands, and said “I’m going to be published in a month, how do I get one of these tables, and what do I need to know?” It blew my mind, being the one who is considered to have the authority to answer those questions. Very very cool.
  • Being in a room with so many people who are passionate about the thing they love. I was very strongly reminded of the great answer Wil Wheaton gave a while back to the question of what’s awesome about being a geek, and that it’s not about what we love, it’s about how we love it. It seems like every time I look at Twitter, there’s authors being jackasses to bloggers, there’s Gamergate, there’s nasty and miserable crap happening everywhere. No good.

About the blogging blackout. I support it, both as an author and as a kind-of-blog-reviewer. Book bloggers do not exist to be the PR machine of authors. Book bloggers are book geeks. They do it because they love it, not just reading, but sharing the books they love (or don’t love) with their fellow book geeks. They deserve respect, especially because their love is so useful and important to us. I don’t feel like I’d be doing anything more than lip service by saying I was participating in the blackout, because nothing I’ve reviewed recently, or plan to review in the near future is a new release. I’d be lying if I said I was doing that deliberately.

I may spend the next week focusing on more writing topics rather than reading topics, or talking more about what the con meant to me. I also have an exciting bit of news that I’ll share tomorrow!

Review: The Year We Fell Down by Sarina Bowen

The sport she loves is out of reach. The boy she loves has someone else. What now?

She expected to start Harkness College as a varsity ice hockey player. But a serious accident means that Corey Callahan will start school in a wheelchair instead.

Across the hall, in the other handicapped-accessible dorm room, lives the too-delicious-to-be real Adam Hartley, another would-be hockey star with his leg broken in two places. He’s way out of Corey’s league.

Also, he’s taken.

Nevertheless, an unlikely alliance blooms between Corey and Hartley in the “gimp ghetto” of McHerrin Hall. Over tequila, perilously balanced dining hall trays, and video games, the two cope with disappointments that nobody else understands.

They’re just friends, of course, until one night when things fall apart. Or fall together. All Corey knows is that she’s falling. Hard.

But will Hartley set aside his trophy girl to love someone as broken as Corey? If he won’t, she will need to find the courage to make a life for herself at Harkness — one which does not revolve around the sport she can no longer play, or the brown-eyed boy who’s afraid to love her back.

Year we fell downLike many of the books I’ve read recently, I came to this book in a roundabout sort of way. I read a few stellar reviews of the third book in the series, and added the first book to my sample list on my Kindle. Then, I read Bowen’s post on NA Alley where she questioned whether or not an author could put an m/m title in what was otherwise an m/f series. In that post, she says that she’s gotten at least a few responses to her newest book, The Understatement of the Year, where some people decided to pass on it because it’s a m/m story.

My feelings about this are deeply conflicted. On one hand, no one is obligated to read anything, and if you don’t want to read a story about two men, then that’s fine. On another hand, the fact that most m/m romance is written by women with a target audience of women also kind of weirds me out. Most stories are awesome and amazing, but there are some that I’ve read that are pretty fetishizing and creepy. Of course, some section of EVERY romance genre is kind of fetishizing and creepy, so why pick on m/m romance? On YET ANOTHER hand, I’d like to think that the average reader might be willing to give a m/m romance a try, if they know and enjoy the author, and possibly have a new genre of romance open up to them. On another hand…

You see how it is. This is an octopus issue for me, and I don’t have an easy answer. But, I did have something I could do. I commented on Bowen’s NA post that I would be buying the book to read myself, and “so there mean reader,” or something like that. (I was very tired at the time. I might have had a beer. My husband regularly disregards my requests that he take away my internet when I’ve been drinking, because I entertain him.)

I read The Year We Fell Down hoping to enjoy myself, but I had no idea that I would be so blown away by this book. Corey Callahan is the main character. She is currently using a wheelchair for mobility, and she needs braces and forearm crutches to walk. She is mad about this, mad about what she’s lost, and she’s not apologizing for that, but she’s also not a bitch to all and sundry just because her life has changed. She is actively trying to figure out how to live when her life has taken a sharp left turn.

She is intrigued by Adam Hartley, her cross-the-way neighbor who has broken his leg very badly, and so is also sitting in the “gimp section” as they put it in their gallows humor. Hartley slowly encourages Corey to reconnect, slowly convinces her that it is possible for a man to see her, and not just the chair or the braces. Corey is rapidly falling for him. Only problem? He’s already got a girlfriend, Stacia, who by all accounts brings out the absolute worst in him.

Things I absolutely loved about this book:

  1. It is made clear that Hartley and Stacia have an “arrangement” while she’s in Europe for her semester abroad. Hartley’s flirting and … more with Corey are therefore easier to stomach without making her “the girl he cheated with,” something I hate.
  2. Corey never defines herself in terms of Hartley. She actually recognizes at one point that her reliance on him is keeping her from making other friends, and she tells him that they can’t be friends right now, because she needs to find her own feet.
  3. When Hartley makes up his mind, and realizes that he’s treating Corey like crap, he acts decisively. He doesn’t hem and haw and tell the reader all about how AWFUL this is, he just does the right thing. Bam.
  4. Did I mention that Corey is freaking amazing, and strong, and powerful? She’s neither the angelic girl in a wheelchair who’s going to make everyone appreciate their functioning legs, nor is she the angry, bitter cripple out to ruin everyone’s life. She’s a girl, a girl who has some “shit to shovel,” and she’s going to move that crap as best as she can.

Excellent book, wonderful, brilliant, I love it. I can’t wait to read the rest of the series, and it’s not even just so I can stick my tongue out at some random email person anymore.

Review: The Courtland Chronicles (EC Author, Non EC Book)

When I was twenty years old, I fell in love with a girl. I was both surprised and not at all surprised by this development. After six months of dancing around the subject, which drove our mutual friends utterly insane, we ended up together. Which was when I found out that she hadn’t come out to her parents yet, despite the fact that she’d identified as either bisexual or as a lesbian since she was in junior high, and had multiple girlfriends in high school and college before me.

Maybe this is why I sympathize with Eric more than Nick in the early novels of The Courtland Chronicles by Cat Grant. According to Cat, Eric fans have been few and far between over the years.

CourtlandIn the early days of the EC fuss that has dominated Romland for the past few weeks, Cat Grant went public, asking readers not to buy the series she’d published with EC. I got in touch with her to express my sympathies, saying that I didn’t want the free copies she was offering of the Icon Men series, but that I’d love a recommendation to another, non-EC series that I could purchase, to support her that way. We discussed some of what she had out, and she suggested this, for the sweet MMF that develops in the later books.

I enjoyed the Courtland books, without doubt. I love Eric, in all his brokenness, which tells me something about Grant’s writing ability; I have joked before that I have a fetish for broken boys, but Eric really should have made me madder. In fact, as things went on, it was Nick that I lost patience with. Always hiding from his parents, always expecting Eric to give him a little longer, and be okay with waiting. Maybe it’s because I’ve been there, or because times are just different from when this book was originally published, but I was very cranky with Nick, no matter how gorgeous his equipment might have been.

The later books see Eric and Nick establishing a relationship with their friend Ally, and creating a stable poly relationship, which is delightful and wonderful. The story of discrimination they face is mentioned, but never dwelled on, and the smutty bits are excellently smutty.

I understand Grant is now working on sequels that will focus on the Courtlands’ kids? I’m excited to read them!

Review: A Case of Possession by K J Charles

Earlier this year, a friend lent me The Magpie Lord, a great historical paranormal by London author K. J. Charles. I loved everything about the book, but for some reason, it took me until now to pick up A Case of Possession. There will be spoilers for the first book below, but they should be minor.

a-case-of-possession

Lord Crane has never had a lover quite as elusive as Stephen Day. True, Stephen’s job as justiciar requires secrecy, but the magician’s disappearing act bothers Crane more than it should. When a blackmailer threatens to expose their illicit relationship, Crane knows a smart man would hop the first ship bound for China. But something unexpectedly stops him. His heart.

Stephen has problems of his own. As he investigates a plague of giant rats sweeping London, his sudden increase in power, boosted by his blood-and-sex bond with Crane, is rousing suspicion that he’s turned warlock. With all eyes watching him, the threat of exposure grows. Stephen could lose his friends, his job and his liberty over his relationship with Crane. He’s not sure if he can take that risk much longer. And Crane isn’t sure if he can ask him to.

The rats are closing in, and something has to give…

There are so many things to love about Charles’ Charm of Magpies series. The effortless capture of the British class society. The way Lucien is given an actual reason to not care about it. The rocking women. Esther Gold, introduced here as Stephen’s justiciar partner, is fantastic. The way Lucien and Stephen’s romance continues to develop, without taking the focus off the actual paranormal storyline. The smutty, delicious sex. Oh, the sex. Ahem.

Writing a story with romantic elements that isn’t actually a romance (I define the difference as which plotline is given the most “screentime” or importance in the story, other definitions might vary) is trickier than your average writing student might think. Too many authors focus too heavily on one or the other, leaving the more minor storyline to feel as tacked on as it usually in. Charles keeps them in perfect balance throughout the book. It matters that Stephen and Lucien are lovers, their dynamic matters, and both drives the action and is driven by it.

I adored this book, and as soon as I’d finished it, I pre-ordered the third book, Flight of Magpies, due out October 28th. I can’t wait.

Review: Damaged Heart by S. C. Wynne (EC Author’s NON EC book)

scwynne_damagedheart_1Just twenty years-old, Cory Johnson fled Bayville after his father’s suicide to escape his abusive mother. He made a life for himself in Los Angeles, as different from Bayville as a place could possibly be. While his successful legal career is rewarding, Cory can’t connect with the people in his life. He’s terribly alone. When his mother dies, he must–reluctantly–return home to handle her estate, which he knows will only make those feelings worse.

Rhys Tucker owns the construction company that will renovate Cory’s childhood home. He’s harbored a crush on Cory since high school, so he seizes the unexpected opportunity to get close to Cory. Or at least try to. Their physical chemistry is immediate and undeniable, but Cory’s so closed-off, Rhys worries he’ll never penetrate that guarded, damaged heart.

Cory wants Rhys. He does. But can someone as scarred and broken as he is ever really come home?

Let me be clear: Damaged Heart by S. C. Wynne won me over as soon as Cory described himself as “twitterpatted” in Rhys’ presence. After that, it really couldn’t go wrong for me.

This gorgeous, lovely, steamy book really lays itself out there in the premise. Cory is broken. He grew up in an incredibly abusive home to parents who seemed to notice him only to verbally and emotionally abuse him. He is drawn to Rhys in ways that shock and frighten him, and he is paralyzed.

Too many books in this genre try to completely “heal” the hero in their few short pages. It doesn’t work that way. People don’t “get over” years of abuse and emotional horror. But they can, slowly but surely, and with the proper encouragement, begin to make a change.

This book is a short, sexy read, and it keeps its focus narrow and tight. I could wish that Wynne had shown more of Cory and Rhys’ interactions; given that I was inside his head, I knew that he was worth waiting for, but I wondered why Rhys was willing to put up with it all. Still, these were some of the more smoldering m/m scenes I’ve read recently, and I will be eagerly seeking out more of Wynne’s work.

Review: Opening Act by Suleikha Snyder

OpeningAct-500pxHow I found my way to Opening Act by Suleikha Snyder is a little convoluted, so bear with me.

During the Twitterverse conversations over the weekend regarding That Publisher, Jaid Black got drawn into the conversation more than once. At one point, the topic of cultural appropriation came up, and someone linked to Snyder’s wonderful post about the Bollywood party that was given at RomantiCon 2013, and discussed the concept of cultural appropriation as it surrounds South Asian women. It put into words a lot of the things that make me uncomfortable with henna tattoos and saris that are sometimes popular in my area of the country, and gave me a lot to think about.

I also bought several of Snyder’s books, because they looked fascinating.

Reporter Saroj Shah has been in love with bass player and bartender Adam Harper since her first day of college—seven years ago. Forever thinking of her as part-friend and part-little sister, he’s just been too blind, and too clueless, to see it. Until one pivotal moment pulls her into the spotlight.

The moment Saroj steps on stage, Adam sees his friend in a new light. He can’t take his mind off of her and realizes they could make beautiful music together. But seven years is a long time and Saroj is ready to move on. Adam will have to hit the right note if he wants to prove to Saroj he was worth the wait.

If there’s any trope I love, it’s best-friends-to-lovers, because I (like half of my female friends) was completely obsessed with my male best friend all through high school. I dreamed about him, fantasized about him, and wished he’d give me the time of day. So reading stories that I can fall into like this? Yummy to the extreme.

Opening Act is a quick read, and the love scenes are hot without being explicit. There was a fair amount of JUST SIT DOWN AND TALK ALREADY, GOD, but it was the kind of stuff that couples really do need to sit down and talk about, and have a hard time sitting down and talking about, so that didn’t bother me.

I especially appreciated the multicultural nature of Opening Act. Sometimes, when you’re a white girl living in New England, you can feel incredibly lost when it comes to topics of race. While I thoroughly respect the idea that it’s not the job of people of color to teach white people about racism, at the same time, it can be hard to figure out where the problems are, and how to be an ally, without someone who is willing to provide that education.

Great books like Opening Act help to start those conversations.

Race is not a focus in Opening Act, it’s a fact. Saroj is brown, she is desi, and as a teenager, she sometimes pretended she couldn’t remember her native language so that her mother would leave her alone. She’s a wonderful character, someone I wanted to be friends with from the moment I met her, and when she got her Happily Ever After, I was beyond delighted.

Next up on my kindle, Snyder’s set of Bollywood romances. I was going to buy just the first to try them out, but on her blog she stated that she was donating royalties received from when she posted in mid-August through October from the third book, Bollywood and the Beast to The Trevor Project. So I have some books to read.

Yummy.

Review: Hold On Tight by Serena Bell

Hold on Tight Serena BellFighting for his country gave Jake Taylor’s life shape and meaning. Now as an injured war hero he struggles to find purpose, until he runs into the gorgeous woman he dated briefly—and disastrously—before being deployed eight years ago. Turns out Jake doesn’t just need to figure out how to be a civilian . . . he also needs to learn how to be a dad.

Eighteen, pregnant, and totally lost, Mira Shipley couldn’t track down the soldier who fathered her child, so she put college on hold and focused on making a good life for her son. Now she’s determined to be something more than Sam’s mom, her parents’ daughter, or Jake’s girl—as hot as she finds her old flame’s take-charge attitude in and out of bed. Soon Mira and Jake realize that their passion didn’t disappear when Sam was conceived—and that instead of running away, sometimes it’s better to hold on tight.


I’ve never been a huge fan of the secret baby/adopted baby tropes, because it’s so rarely done well. As a grown-up adopted kid, I have EPIC FEELS about how parents and kids react to this sort of scenario. Previously, I would have said the only person I’d ever seen do it credit was Tammara Weber in her Between the Lines series, especially the last book. Serena Bell’s Hold On Tight gets my nod for handling this issue perfectly.

Overall, Mira and Jake are on similar journeys. They both need to understand how to be independent people, how to be strong in the face of harsh circumstances. They’re both learning. The problems they face are real and realistic, and they aren’t silly nonsense that could have been solved with one real conversation. Jake has real issues coming back from the war, and those are not brushed aside easily. Mira has struggled as a single mother, and struggled to find her own identity, and understanding if and how Jake can fit into that is an involved process. Sam feels like a real kid, not a plot device.

And, almost a character all its own, there’s Jake’s missing leg. I don’t have personal experience of amputees, but I felt that Bell did a great job showing the reader the challenges that Jake faces as he tries to adjust to his prosthesis in intimate situations. And the intimate situations are holy toledo steamy. I had to excuse myself from the living room twice reading this book, if you know what I mean. There were also two eyes-full-of-tears moments, and one official tear-overflow.

I have no complaints about this book at all. Loved every word, and I’m adding more of Bell’s titles to my reading list.

10/13 Edit: I somehow typed the title TWICE as Hang not Hold. My apologies to Ms. Bell and readers!