Wednesday, October 21, 2009

So Noted

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Getting my ass kicked by life.
Be back soon.


Friday, August 21, 2009

Storm Watch by Jill Shalvis

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Title: Storm Watch
Author: Jill Shalvis
Publisher: Harlequin
Release Date: August 2009
Length: Novella
Buy Link: Here
Rating: 2 stars

The Blurb: Subject: Jason Mauer, National Guard.

Current status: Homeward bound.

Mission: Getting some R & R!

Obstacle: Lizzy Mann. Sexy blast from the past.

After battling a hurricane of catastrophic proportions, Jason needs some downtime—badly! But there's no rest for the heroic. During another deluge, Jason's savior skills are suddenly in demand…by his hot friend Lizzy.

She's fiercely independent. But that doesn't keep them from having incredible sex as they, ah, ride out the storm!

Jason knows relationships and duty don't mix. Still, he feels as if he's being swept away by a flash flood of desire for Lizzy.

The permanent kind…

The Truth: Well, they can't all be winners. And Storm Watch was well...not. The story starts out with potential. Jason Mauer is a National Guard who's a bit battered by life at the moment. He's spent pretty much all his life after high school in the military, in the middle of a lot of with nature's homemade disasters, hurricanes and floods in particular. On top of the sheer physical exhaustion that such a life would force on a body, Jason is also in a state of shell-shocked grief. Six weeks ago, his best friend went down for the count during a flood. And then on top of that, there's the wonder of what he's going to do with his life now.

Back to the government and good ol' Uncle Sam? Or civilian life, which he isn't sure he can even fit into anymore? His family would like answer b and Jason would just like an answer. But pushing that all to the back as the author does, we focus on the here and now. Jason's come home right in the middle of a surprise storm. And where he'd like to just sleep, eat and screw himself into a better state of mind, he can't because the storm brings along Lizzy Mann, a literal blast from the past.

Lizzy, like all blasts from the pasts, is all grown up and a bit of a hard ass. She was the classic shy flower to Jason's hot-yet-jerky Prince Charming when they were younger. There's less about Lizzy than one would expect. She's like a build up of descriptions rather than life. She's a nurse, she's super responsible, and a pseudo-mother to her sister, Cece. Cece is actually the reason Lizzy is there. Originally searching for Jason's brother, Dustin, Lizzy is in a tizzy to get to her very pregnant sister who's on the side of town that's beginning to resemble a mighty big lake.

Cece herself was in danger of being the classic bad girl sister. When their, Lizzy's and Cece's, parents died in a tragic accident when they were younger, Cece flew right into Wild Child Syndrome. She picked up bad guy after bad guy and after the last one gets her pregnant, she's trying to turn over a new leaf. Unfortunately, Cece has a bad habit of reverting back to that foolish young girl when she's frightened which is what has Lizzy in a surefire panic to get to her baby sister.

So when she finds Jason, not Dustin, at the house, she's mightily disappointed but her body is hot to trot. And this is where things start to derail. The story is a bare expanse of 24 hours, Lizzy is freaked the hell out enough to try and cross what sounds like a really bad storm (fifteen foot swells, two feet of rain) and she's stuck on hot Jason is. And don't think this is solely on her because Jason is just as stuck on little Lizzy all grown up. And let's add that Lizzy is one of those too-stubborn-to-live heroines and that's possibly worse than the too-stupid-to-live ones.

Despite acknowledging that Jason is a military man, that he's trained for this kind of stuff, she fights him through the entire story. I know this is a romance and I know we don't want a fretful, pea-hen heroine but this is just ridiculous. She tries to convince him she's fine on her own, he pretty much shoots that down. And her reasoning behind each of these things?

He was a major prick when he was a kid.

Hello! Guys in high school are not known for their sensitivity, get over it. And they're supposed to be twenty-nine-years old. Try twenty-two if that. And while I could choke this reasoning down, I could not, absolutely could not, understand what possessed Jason and Lizzy to pretty much make out the entire book. Seriously. Every break they have, despite the fact that there is a crazy storm that knocks down trees and makes boats a requirement to cross the street, they're on each other, flirting, teasing, and reminiscing.

Now, I understand in an abstract way what Ms. Shalvis was trying to do. 24 hours is not enough to get to know characters. So she ties in memories from the past that bring Jason and Lizzy's personalities to the surface and sheds more light on the tug of war that is their relationship. And I did enjoy those flashbacks. They showed the kind of writing that made me think fondly of Room Service. But under these circumstances? Leisurely walks through the past and long, drawn out make out scenes were completely and totally unneeded.

Squeezed between Lizzy and Jason's sorely lacking rescue attempt, Cece shines. Her youth shows in her panic and wish for her big sister, particularly when her baby decides that he or she wants to come out now. But Cece's house is pretty much flooded and there's no way – it seems – for her to get to the hospital without popping her kid out midway. Then Hunter Bryant, the neighbor that is never home but shows up when Cece screams in pain, shows up and Ms. Shalvis' writing shines again with him and Cece. Sad, to my mind, that the secondary characters completely usurped the main ones but usurp they did. Cece and Hunter don't exactly bicker but Hunter looks just like the kind of guy Cece wants nothing to do with but unlike her big sister, Cece knows Hunter's the best chance she and her unborn baby have to survive this storm in one piece.

Their adventure, honestly, saved this story. The pacing was still off, with enough time in between for Jason and Lizzy to do the bedroom boogie a couple times and for the ensuing emotional up and down fest afterward between them but once Hunter came into the picture, I was all about him and Cece.

And so, I present Storm Watch with a disappointed two stars and a fervent hope that whatever Ms. Shalvis does next goes back to the wonderfully entertaining writing of Room Service.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Inland Empire by James Buchanan

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Title: Inland Empire
Author: James Buchanan
Publisher: Torquere Press/MLR Press
Release Date: July 2009
Length: Novel
Buy Link: Here and Here
Rating: 5 stars

The Blurb: Agent Nick O'Malley and Det. Brandon Carr are back. Nick heads to Riverside, California, center of the Inland Empire and Brandon's home turf. But every minute Nick's in Riverside threatens to out Brandon. When events embroil Nick in one of Brandon's investigations -- gang hits, prostitution, illegal gambling and human trafficking - can they survive both?

Disclaimer: James is a friend. I was as objective as I could be.

The Truth: It's definitely recommended that you read the first book in the Taking the Odds series, Cheating Chance, before reading this one, if only to get a much more solid feel for the characters. This review contains mild spoilery for that story.

Please note that this is a Brandon heavy review as this is predominantly his side. Nicky fans, bear with me. I'll be sure to do a review of Cheating Chance soon (which is a little backward but oh well). Also while this is labeled as BDSM, there are only elements. This is not a full out BDSM story.

Brandon Carr is living a dream. When an Asian gang hit ends up with a kid full of bullets, he and his partner, Jeff Weaver are assigned to a task force to pop the bangers responsible. Cue happy dance for our tatted and pierced Vice cop, he's playing with the big kids now. On top of that, he's also got Nicky, Nick O'Malley, Gaming Agent to everyone else, flying from Vegas to pick up Querida, his hearse. The car ended up impounded in the first story when Nicky got himself tangled up in slot machine fraud and very nearly ended up dead.

What happens in Vegas...

It should all be gravy but here's where things get sticky: Brandon is buried so deeply in the closet, it's entirely possible that he can no longer see the door. And Nicky...well, Nicky isn't all rainbows and swish-hip but he's out, he's proud and he's a if you don't like it, suck it type of guy. In the first story, their relationship accelerated with Nicky's near death experience with Nicky admitting to deeper feelings (almost dying makes a guy think, I guess). Brandon didn't exactly run but he wasn't saying the words back, that's for sure. This might make him sound like a jerk and in a way, he is being one. But fear does amazing things to one's ability to act rational and Brandon is not only uncomfortable with the aspect of caring for someone who's not flesh and blood but he's in one of the oldest boys' clubs in town.

Being openly gay is tough; being an openly gay cop has got to be the stuff of nightmares.

Still, it is a little hard to like Brandon at times, particularly when Nicky steps up to the POV plate. What I love most about Buchanan's writing is that there's a distinct difference with each character. Brandon's POV tends to be rapid, almost staccato pacing. He's got a rigid, tense view of the world. Nicky is a little more fluid, which may or may not have come from living in a city that's the epitome of a chameleon.

He can pretend to be the buddy, the friend but when it's over and it's just them, walking through West Hollywood or meeting Brandon's ex, Ray (oh and didn't that just make me want to cringe), Nicky wants his boyfriend. He wants to be in a couple and, while he gets Brandon's worries, it definitely pulls him to a stop when Brandon can't release his fear of being outed long enough to be that boyfriend for him.

It worsens when Nicky finds himself being absorbed into Brandon's investigation and around a horde of cops frequently. The tension hikes up so hard that it's amazing that Brandon doesn't explode with the will they know, do they see it? The investigation itself is like a living entity around them, pulsing with the quiet fervor of cops hard at work. I'm not the kind of person to really enjoy the gung-ho cops that go out to handle business Dirty Harry-style. So it was refreshing to see the task force actually go through the methodical steps of a team piecing together a puzzle or in this instance, a case. My favorite part out of the whole thing was the interrogation scene.

There's a type of beauty to those words, an information two-step that we just don't see presented in cop books. It could have been who Brandon was interrogating that made the dance a little softer around the edges but it was still such a perfectly real scene, showcasing an in-depth picture of a cop's mind. There was a building tension that actually had me coming back to re-read it several times over.

There is a similar tension that rises the deeper Nicky falls into the investigation. This is where it gets hard to like Brandon. What he sees, how he acts, borders on obsessively paranoid. Even in Nicky's POV, Brandon's smothering worry stretches out and tries to pull Nicky under. But even while Brandon is a paranoid have to love him, feel for him, just a little bit. How hard would it be to live his life and see the homophobia that even his own co-workers demonstrate?

And yet, I was also with Nicky, who bends under Brandon's fear over and over. The only time Nicky seems to have the upper hand is when there's bare male flesh and ropework. Sometimes quietly dominant, sometimes pointedly, in bed, Nicky drives home the fact that he knows and is what Brandon needs. And Brandon, tied up, gagged, bound by Nicky's will and his own deeply buried submission needs, acknowledges that...until they're back out in the real world again.

When Nicky snaps, I didn't know who I hurt for more.

So with tight writing, exquisitely detailed ropeplay, emotional sex, and methodical, believable police work, Buchanan delivers a hard-hitting sequel to a series that seems capable of only getting better.

Room Service by Jill Shalvis

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Title: Room Service
Author: Jill Shalvis
Publisher: Harlequin
Release Date: February 2006
Length: Novel
Buy Link: Here
Rating: 5 stars

The Blurb: Farm – girl – turned – TV – producer Em Harris is in way over her head. Trying to bag chef Jacob Hill for her new culinary show is one thing. Staying at the sex-themed hotel Hush, where his restaurant is located, is quite another. Her goal there is to convince Jacob, known for looking and cooking like a dream, to sign a contract. But after a days of being enveloped in Hush's sensual atmosphere, the only thing on Em's mind is discovering if Jacob tastes as delicious as he appears...

The Truth: Bear with me, I know the farm girl part in the blurb is a groan. But really, Ms. Shalvis does a brilliant job with Em. She's a plucky lady, landing her dream job of TV producer by sheer grit alone. Unfortunately, grit doesn't get ratings and Em's last three shows have bombed spectacularly.

None of them were Em's fault. Each show had someone else screwing up and Em not saying a word because for all her desire to be the best ever, she's a soft touch who won't step on someone to get where she needs to go. Even her boss finds this preposterous but Em steadily holds onto this bit of her character through the whole story. As we hit the supremely stylish hotel Hush in high-maintenance, buzzing New York City, we meet the rest of the characters. I'll present them in the order they came.

Eric, Em's location director and Liza, her assistant are with her. They also happen to be not only Em's closest friends but ex-husband and wife who still strike sparks off each other. Their story runs at a distance to the main one but its still good fun reading them bicker and light each other up.

Then there is of course, Jacob Hill himself and his accompanying buddies, Pru and Caya. I'll get to them in a sec.

I won't lie – I have a strong, probably obsessive lust for Jacob Hill. Because its a Harlequin, he's big, bold and has a lot of attitude. But because Ms. Shalvis knows what she's doing, Jacob comes across as this quietly confident man who is unafraid to go after what he wants. He's vulnerable but you have to look for it. He's handsome, a little cocky, and intense. He's also sharp around the edges, a man who clings to his shields and has the proverbial foot out the door.

Instantly, you expect him to overwhelm Em, our sweet, young lady. And it does seem like it when he introduces himself in a rather, ah, unique way. But as the story goes on and Em and Jacob are pulled deeper into each other, you realize that Em is no fragile flower. She's not all that experienced but she's not stupid either. Jacob isn't your typical swaggering alpha male who must assert his dominance at every moment and as they embark on their whirlwind affair, I was impressed by him. Usually in straight romances, the guy is either freakishly tuned into the heroine's personal frequency or he's the epitome of I Just Don't Get Women.

So seeing Jacob actually pay attention to Em, first as a man and then as person and seeing her get the better of him more than once, oh, it gave me happy smiles. It's a pleasure in its purest form to watch them almost literally light the pages on fire with their chemistry. It may be noted that I do pay a lot of attention to Em in this review and my reasoning for that is that Jacob's POV is so straightforward. He doesn't go deep into things, which makes sense if you think about his character. But it means getting into his head is nigh impossible. It's through Em that we see Jacob open up and from the word go, we know all about her. An intriguing experience, one that gave this book more layers than an onion.

I will say that I did have a bit of a worry when Em fails to tell Jacob about why she's at Hush. Keeping secrets until someone else blurts it out or worse is about the worst plot device ever, in gay or straight books. Trumped only by the Secret Baby plot and perhaps the Gay For You (Straight Just For Her) plot. Anyway, that gets handled rather efficiently, which is just another area Ms. Shalvis' talent shines out. I was braced for an annoying amount of groveling as Em tries to get back in Jacob's good graces.

Instead, Em and Jacob stay true to their characters and what could have easily taken over half the book, is handled in a handful of pages, leaving room for the raunchy sex and the mating dance. Not that Ms. Shalvis just leaves Em's and Jacob's jobs to nothing. When it becomes clear that she has to change gears, Em flows with it and actually sounds like a pretty savvy lady as she handles her newest problem and Jacob has some scenes in his kitchen that require him to cook and actually do his Chef thing. More love on Ms. Shalvis for not doing the well-worn road of skimming past that pesky work thing.

Now, about the secondary plots. Eric and Liza are almost self-explanatory: a couple with commitment issues, they got hitched and everything really went to hell. But they're both still strongly attracted, something that neither of them will admit to. It's frustrating, hilarious and naughty, reading their bits.

Then there's Pru and Caya. I present to you the first truly decent gay sub plot in a Harlequin that is second only to Megan Hart's Tempted. Pru is a lesbian and one of those ladies who's been dreaming about her one and only since forever. Caya is a bisexual party girl who is much like the feminine version of Jacob – unwilling to commit and jumping from partner to partner. Pru and Caya are platonic roommates – at least that's what Jacob knows until he catches Pru shooting longing glances at Caya.

I give Ms. Shalvis double kudos for giving them a happy ending. They didn't get sex like Eric and Liza did but they do get a make out which was actually not faded to black. Right on, Ms. Shalvis and I tip my hat to you, Harlequin. These were solid subplots that I truly and completely enjoyed, enough to make me wish the book had been longer just to see what Ms. Shalvis could really do.

But all good things must come to an end and this book, sadly and not, was a very good thing. It was my first foray back into Harlequin and I'm glad I did it. Five stars for Room Service and a thanks for the smile....and Jacob Hill.