blackened voodoo

book reviews

Silver: Darcy Abriel

Darcy Abriel
Novel length

Official summary:

Born to freedom. Molded into submission. Pleasure is her only weapon.

Humanotica, Book 1

No matter what the law decrees, Entreus is no one’s chattel. And he’s determined that no other humanotic—part human, part robot—spends one more second under the stranglehold of the power-mad government machine. That means doing whatever it takes to advance the cause for freedom. Even seduce a government minister’s favorite toy, a newly minted trinex named Silver.

Silver was a free woman until she committed the ultimate sin—pretending to be male to gain entrance to an exclusive science academy. Her punishment: modification. Now she is equal parts female, male and machine. The property of the secretive, charismatic Lel Kesselbaum, whose appetites push her new sexual abilities to heights of pleasure that make her wonder who is master, who is slave.

Until Entreus bargains his body in exchange for a secret meeting that rekindles her longing for freedom. Yet helping the fiery revolutionary execute his plan isn’t so simple, especially when she discovers her master’s secret—a secret that leaves her heart torn between two men. And one step in the wrong direction could mean death for them all.

I would have classified this as science fiction first and erotica second. Unfortunately, because it was bought from Samhain without regard to the tags, it was assumed to be erotic romance. I spent the first half of the book dazed and confused about its romance, until it became clear it wasn’t romance, and then things clicked.

Still. This book needed a little more editing for clarity. At halfway through, I wasn’t sure who was and was not the actual love interest because it didn&rsquot seem like the two men were written to be together; they were more like adversaries with a common goal. It’s not that I would have wanted that ambiguity, but it led to a sharp right turn in tone/purpose in the middle of the book that could have been rectified in the first half. The technology was not explained well enough and there was too much going on.

The sex scenes were inventive and carefully written so as to bring out emotion. It wasn’t mindless. They were also very very hot. The science fiction concepts in regard to the sex was also interesting and gave it even more depth.

The mechanically created hermaphrodite heroine both loathes and enjoys her relatively new masculine traits, but throws a random comment out at the end that had no real foreshadowing. However, since this is a series, I’ll give that a pass as being akin to a cliffhanger.

92 for the emotional and purpose-driven, and also very hot and kinky sex.
76 for the need for clarity.

MPAA rating: NC-17

Grade: 84/100

The Princess and the Penis: RJ Silver

The Princess and the Penis
RJ Silver
Word count: 10,575

Official summary:

A beautiful, chaste, and completely naive princess encounters a strange lump in her mattress. The lump soon morphs into a shape familiar to everyone but her, triggering her curiosity and her father’s greatest fears. He frantically tries to intervene, but having a large phantom phallus in a curious maiden’s bed is never a good combination.

This is a short story that’s just fun and funny. It strives to be totally absurd, and it succeeds. It’s also not terribly erotic (at all) despite how it presents, and is, in fact, very sweet. A nice little parody on The Princess and the Pea.

MPAA rating: PG-13 for frank sexual discussion

Grade: 94/100

The Ice Princess: Elizabeth Hoyt

The Ice Princess
Elizabeth Hoyt

Official summary:

As the madam of Aphrodite’s Grotto, the most infamous brothel in London, Coral Smythe knows everything possible about men’s needs and desires. Yet she’s never experienced the love of a single man-not even that of Captain Isaac Wargate whose hawk-like eyes stare at her with both condemnation…and lust.

Captain Wargate heartily disapproves of the sensuous madam who always wears a golden mask. She lures his officers from both his ship and their duty. But when Coral herself is offered up as the prize in a game of chance, Wargate impulsively enters…and wins.

Now the puritanical navy captain has just seven nights to learn everything he can about the mysterious madam and what she knows of a man’s desires. But when Coral is threatened by the new owner of Aphrodite’s Grotto, will Wargate take a chance on the woman beneath the mask…and on love?

This is a novella. I have read this author before and I enjoy her work.

This is basically a run-of-the-mill historical romance, although set in the Georgian period and not the Regency. You wouldn’t know it, though, because there are no references other than a date to tell you. Being a novella, I can see why she chose not to give period details, but a few wouldn’t have gone amiss.

What is different is that these are working-class people and not aristocracy. The hero is the captain of a ship and the heroine is an honest-to-God whore. That is to say, she is not a faux-whore-who-is-really-a-virgin. The hero actually woos her in a sweet and caring manner, which I bought.

It needed severe editing with regard to pacing and logical fallacies (plot holes) and grammar. I don’t want to read the naked manuscripts of authors that are almost auto-buys for me. Points off for for that, because it got in the way of the story and irritated me. A nationally published author shouldn’t have works out on the market like that.

MPAA rating: PG-13 for whorehouse location and sexual situations

Grade: 83/100

Frisky Business: Inez Kelley

Frisky Business
Inez Kelley
Word count: 4,402 words

Official summary:

Somebody wants to get frisky. Who is it and who ISN’T it?

This is a very short story, so the review will be short to avoid spoilers.

I have read this author before and she always bring tears to my eyes. She did pretty well with getting the characters fleshed out enough to cry about them in such very few words. The dialogue is snappy, although at the black moment, it was a bit too flippant and inconsistent with the swelling emotions in the heroine.

However, it made me laugh and cry at the same time. Kelley is a good storyteller.

MPAA rating: PG for adult emotions

Grade: 89/100

Calling Out: Silver Publishing

Demonic Pandemonium
Kayden McLeod
>400 “pages” (which could mean anything)
(On All Romance eBooks, it lists a word count of >83,000)

Your covers are mostly awesome. Your website’s not too shabby. I haven’t used your shopping cart.

So why, then, is this blurb so fucking ridiculous?

Pandora is a half-demon, alone in the world and good as abandoned, with a mother who barely tolerates her and a father who is unable to be with her nearly often enough for her tastes. She keeps to herself and tries not to associate with others often, lest they discover her secret—until she meets Keviar Cornwall. The two collide in ignorance of one another, but the sexual attraction is indisputable and cannot be ignored, growing more profound with every passing moment. It blinds them to the lurking danger hiding just around the corner, out to end both their lives and everyone either of them have ever known or loved.

The blurb doesn’t give any indication that Keviar is a male, which is kind of important since the cover, while pretty, makes this look like a f/f romance. The website says it’s m/f, but…who would know? Yes, after looking at it for a great long while, I can see that it’s a mirror/reflection. But if you can’t tell that to begin with, the symbolism or whatever is pointless. Who would know anything about this book?

And for $8.00.

Do you really believe that anyone with half a brain is going to read that blurb and want to spend $8.00 to find out if the story is as badly written?

Oh, wait. They don’t have to buy the book. There’s an excerpt on your site, and yes, it is as badly written as the blurb. Interesting, but childish. This is teen work at best and you want to charge $8.00 for it?

Please have some respect for your customer, your audience, and your author (by teaching her how to write like an adult). This is a disgrace.

Things that are wrong:

  1. the cover
  2. the copy
  3. the price
  4. the writing

The Lemonade Stand: J.T. Warren

The Lemonade Stand
J.T. Warren
Word count: 3,467 words

Official summary:

The virus is spreading across the world and mankind’s days are numbered, but for one little girl, this is the perfect time to sell her lemonade. The man she encounters reminds her of her father, but this man may not be all he appears to be.

This is a very short story, so the review will be short to avoid spoilers.

It was an engaging read and made me laugh. It was cute, and the juxtaposition of cute and horror both puzzled me and delighted me. I liked the protagonist and understood why she made the choice she did—and I DO believe she understood the consequences of her action, and that it was deliberate.

It was well crafted and exactly the right length, with the writer giving the reader credit for being able to read between the lines.

MPAA rating: PG for ick and death

Grade: 92/100

The Portrait: Megan Chance

The Portrait
Megan Chance

Official summary:

The reigning master of the New York art world, Jonas Whitaker was brilliant and compelling, a man of dark passions and uncontrollable emotions. Terrified of his own dangerous nature, and scarred by the horror of his past, he hid behind his talent in a world of glittering emptiness—until Imogene Carter pushed her way into his life.

He discounted her on sight, seeing her as a colorless, fragile woman with no spirit and less talent. He could send her running with a word—and he intended to do just that.

But Imogene was not so easily frightened. She came to Jonas to learn from a master, and learn she would-everything he could teach her. She wanted his artist’s secrets and his brilliant passion. She wanted to be swept up in his seductive, forbidden world.

Until she saw the terrible price he paid for his talent.

And realized it was impossible to catch a shooting star without being burned…

This book was first published in 1995 by Dell. I’ll tag this post “backlist” and then the original publisher. I read the Kindle re-release edition. My only quibble with this book was a couple of little formatting glitches.

The story takes place in New York in 1855, which is a setting and time period I’m quickly coming to like.

This was, in my opinion, the perfect book. The hero is, in fact, mad. Bona fide. No Big-Misunderstanding-like behavior that is explained away later as perfectly rational in light of new facts. For any other heroine in any other book, I would have said, “Run! Run as fast as you can!” But for this one…

This is a psychiatrist’s nightmare relationship: one person with severe bipolar disorder and the other with deep-seated self-esteem and probably some PTSD issues. This is a co-dependent relationship from the beginning and…it works. It works because the two of them are both so damaged that they are a) unfit for anyone else and b) their damaged parts don’t intersect at all. Thus, it’s perfect because their strengths and weaknesses fit together like perfectly balanced and oiled cogs.

Every time the heroine made what I knew intellectually to be a stupid decision, I knew in my gut it really wasn’t. The motivations were right and, it was a case of “Yes, it’s okay in this situation.” Every time the hero went off his rocker, I felt his agony.

(Ah, the heroine forgave The Villain too easily, in my opinion, but it wasn’t a case of the heroine being goody-two-shoes; it was her casting off her baggage so she could go live her life. Even though I would’ve liked for her to have stuck a metaphorical knife in him before she did so, I didn’t deduct points.)

The writing was brilliant: not florid, but not spare. Very lyrical, with a good rhythm, ebb and flow. The characterizations were solid and consistent. There was some ambiguity as to the hero’s sexuality (which I liked), but was never addressed (which I also liked because it was…ambiguous). I felt every moment and every detail of the pain both of these characters were in and I bawled all the way through this book.


MPAA rating: PG-13

Grade: 100/100

After Life: Simon Funk

After Life
Simon Funk

Official Summary:

If you could upload your mind, where would you put it?

A postcyberpunk Extropian sci-fi with psychological and philosophical suspense.

First person, past tense.

I got this book after I saw one reader summarize it as (paraphrasing): “Man evolves itself out of existence when it figures out that artificial-intelligence children are more fun to raise than real children.”

So, where to begin? I was confused for most of it, but couldn’t put it down anyway. I knew something momentous was going to happen, or I would have some grand epiphany.

It was a brilliant novel in that way where you, the not-quite-all-there reader, would think a novel is brilliant because you don’t understand it, but you figure the fault is yours and not the book’s. I kind of got the gist of it: A scientist downloads his mind/soul/personality to a computer, which lives on in various bodies, mostly of the mechanical variety, for thousands of years while the human race goes extinct except for a teeny forgotten colony that lives in magical bliss, where he is pretty much re-seeding the human race with his own genes. Basically, he’s a god, any way you cut it.

There’s a lot of philosophy woven in it with no mention of a creator deity other than the protagonist himself. There is also a bunch of scientific and artificial intelligence jargon thrown around which, although I understood the philosophy and biology, I didn’t understand the tech stuff. Not only that, but I didn’t understand it enough to be able to tell if it was real jargon or made-up jargon.

On the other hand, I liked it and I couldn’t wait to get back to it. I don’t know if that was a function of my engrossment or my increasing need for the epiphany.

MPAA rating: PG for sexual references, a curse word or two, and cartoon violence/death

Grade: 85/100

First Grave on the Right: Darynda Jones

First Grave on the Right
Darynda Jones

Official Summary:

Charley sees dead people. That’s right, she sees dead people. And it’s her job to convince them to “go into the light.” But when these very dead people have died under less than ideal circumstances (i.e. murder), sometimes they want Charley to bring the bad guys to justice. Complicating matters are the intensely hot dreams she’s been having about an Entity who has been following her all her life…and it turns out he might not be dead after all. In fact, he might be something else entirely.

First person, past tense.

I read this in, effectively, one sitting. It’s an easy read and keeps you clipping along. In fact, it’s got the page-turning formula down to a science–and I noticed it. That’s not a good thing. I felt completely manipulated. The heroine’s wisecracks are funny and original, but there are too many of them and they start to get wearing. The actual plot of the crime being solved is described chaotically in favor of the heroine’s wisecracking. It’s High Concept Schlock.

That said, I like High Concept Schlock. And it wasn’t so high concept that I couldn’t tell a lot of thought went into the the theology of the piece, even though it was never explored. (If the heroine is the Grim Reaper, and she encourages people to go toward the light, there’s theology involved. There can’t not be. And then there’s that…Other Thing. Yeah. Theology’s involved.) I liked the hint of two possible heroes, although there is actual sex with one; the heroine is still in “I hate you” mode with the other. It is part of a series, though, so I’m sure that will get explored at length and I hope that the theology will get explored, too.

I won’t get into the actual writing. It’s clean and conversational. It’s in first person, for those who care about such things; I don’t. It was a hardback borrowed from the library (I would never have bought this hardback; it’s way too light and fluffy for my personal library). The editing was good, but it was a hardback and clearly an author the publishers wanted to push, so of course they took extra effort with it.

70 just for being High Concept Schlock with a formula that made me feel manipulated and 90 for being High Concept Schlock that kept me reading despite feeling manipulated.

MPAA rating: PG-13 for mildly described sex, a tidge of swearing, and violence.

Grade: 80/100

The Silent Governess: Julie Klassen

The Silent Governess
Julie Klassen

Official summary:

Olivia Keene is fleeding her own secret. She never intended to overhear his. But now that she has, what is Lord Bradley to do with her? He cannot let her go, for were the truth to get out, he would lose everything–his reputation, his inheritance, his very home. He gives Miss Keene little choice but to accept a post at Brightwell Court, where he can make certain she does not spread what she heard. Keeping an eye on the young woman as she cares for his children, he finds himself struggling against a growing attraction…

This is what I would call “gothic lite.” Heroine with a secret, check. Inscrutable hero, also with a secret, with children under his roof, check. Need for a governess/nursemaid/nanny, check.

But the heroine’s secrets get told too soon and are received with equanimity. The hero isn’t inscrutable for long, nor is he a sufficient enough jerk. The most pressing danger passes without fanfare–all by the 2/3 mark of the book. There is no ratcheting up of fear, much less terror. There were still more secrets to unfold, but they didn’t seem urgent. Thus, gothic lite.

There are a lot of characters in this book, and I found myself struggling to make sense of who was who and how they related to each other. Still, whatever has made me persevere with the book at the 2/3 mark made me get to the end. In other words, I did want to find out how the plot works out; I just didn’t need to know now.

That’s the book’s big failing because the last third of the book was one big fake-out after another. Now, somebody who reads mysteries and such a lot probably would’ve figured it all out, but I didn’t, so when an author fools me, I’m a happy reader. The problem was that I didn’t really care about those little ends being tied up until they were tied up.

The publisher, Bethany House, is a Christian publisher and, as one would expect, there are mentions of God. My only concern is that the particular line of theology the village vicar espouses doesn’t seem to be a) consistent with Anglican theology and b) consistent with the thinking of the time (1815). The clear theology that we are saved by grace and nothing more, and the language used to express that feels anachronistic. But note: I don’t know much about the religion of the time period anyway, so my only concern is of its modern Evangelical feel. In fact, that feel is why I looked up the publisher.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, although it was put-down-able. It was paced pretty well, although that pace was a stroll, rather than a brisk walk. The writing was serviceable and I kept reading because I liked the heroine. In general, I like heroines who are over-the-top goody-two-shoes. The hero was stilted but somewhat sympathetic, although I don’t need to sympathize or relate to characters; they just need to be interesting and really, nobody in this book was truly interesting.

MPAA rating: G

Grade: 78/100