Sunday, February 28, 2010

Review- Svetkavista by Kayleigh Jamison

by Kayleigh Jamison
Historical/ (m/f), (f/f), (f/f/m)
50K- $4.99
Ebook-Tease Publishing LLC

Buy it ARe, Amazon (paper), B&N (paper), Fictionwise

Trapped within a life where she has always been an outsider, Karina dutifully follows the wishes of her father by day, and secretly pursues her dreams by night. Raised within the strict, patriarchal society of the Rom at a time when discrimination and fear are at their peak, she is forced to hide both her love of music and her passion for those who encourage her dreams.
She seeks comfort in the arms of her dearest friend and mentor, who shows her that love and lust rarely confine themselves to the ill-conceived notions of normalcy.

When a lie, spoken in a moment of desperation, threatens to shatter everything Karina holds dear, she must choose between those she loves and her own reputation. Will the truth set her free or destroy her? Does she have the courage to follow her own heart?

Damn, I really enjoyed this book. This is the first book I’ve read in a while that has interesting and complex characters with an engrossing, and actual, plot. Set in the colorful world of gypsies, the characters are forced into crisis and action by their passions, cultural restrictions, and past wounds, which I have to say, totally turned me on.

Long review ahead, sorry. This was a hard review to write for me though since there was so much that grabbed me about this story.

It’s the 1700’s in Hungary and Romanian gypsy tribes have banded together and are on the run, hiding from the Empress Maria Theresa’s people who are clamping down on gypsies and their lifestyle. In the midst of all of this, Karina, the daughter of the leader of the Argintari tribe, gets caught in a web of current and past passions and deceits. She is different from the rest of her clan, having blond hair and being a 23 year old who isn’t married, which means she’s an outcast.

Fitting into the strict lifestyle Karina’s father has created for her is not her cuppa and she sneaks off to the Lautari camp every night for fun. Unlike the Argintari, the Lautari are more easy going and love to party, drinking, dancing and playing music well into the night. Karina hangs out with her best friend since childhood, Papusza, and has caught the eye of Brishen, also a Lautari and a well liked man who is a virtuoso with the violin.

Although Karina and Papusza have a sexual relationship, Karina is both attracted and fearful of Brishen, who shows unabashed desire for her. Unfortunately, even though Karina and Brishen fall in love and become betrothed to each other, several factors come into play that could destroy their love:

• Karina still loves Papusza; still wants to be physical with her and this causes rage and jealousy in Brishen. And Papusza is jealous of Brishen.

• Although Karina’s father has agreed to this marriage, he hates the Lautari and the bad blood between he and Vesh, the Lautari leader and Papusza’s uncle threatens their love.

• One night just before marriage, something happens between Karina, Papusza and Brishen that causes Brishen to be banished from the tribe.

Does this sound a bit like a soap opera? Well, it did feel a bit like that. However, Kayleigh Jamison did a fantastic job of creating a passionate, realistic, juicy story that didn’t go overboard. This is, however, mainly a love story between Brishen and Karina.

First I’d like to say that Ms. Jamison did an incredible job of describing the gypsy world, social conditioning's and lifestyle during those times. I know nothing about gypsies, but the way it’s written, it’s all very clear and without a lot of info dumping. In the beginning there is a small amount of explanation but quickly gets on track with the characters taking center stage within this world.

I loved that the impetus for character interaction was caused just as much from social mores as from normal, and sometimes stupid, human reactions.

Papusza seduces Karina first. What they are doing is severely frowned upon by their society, but they don’t seem to care or be too worried about it. I didn’t understand this really since these communities seemed very tight knit. Karina just seemed to go along with being seduced by Papusza without thinking about it too much. I didn’t feel that what they had was really a love story, but it is clear that Papusza is more in love with Karina. Their sexual relationship came across as more of a convenience and an extension of their friendship, both needing some comfort from their miserable lives.

Since Karina and Papusza’s relationship was not as well developed as Karina and Brishen’s, it was clear that they are weren’t going to be a focus of this story even though their interactions are cause of what happens. This did disappoint me a bit. I would have liked if their relationship wouldn’t have been treated as second class. But that’s how it’s written and in the end it is what it is.

Fairly quickly, Karina falls really hard for Brishen. On the eve of their wedding announcement, Karina does something really stupid, which catapults these three people into a huge tangled mess that will be hard to get out of. I did wonder what Karina was thinking. It seemed a rather stupid and callous thing to do, but there was a running theme of characters acting out of their own jealousies and passions with ill regard for others’ feelings initially.

Ms. Jamison did a great job of showing that Karina and Brishen really love each other, even though there was no tension or build up to their relationship other than eyeing each other here and there. Their first sexual encounter is beautifully written, including a realistic portrayal of Karina’s loss of virginity. There’s no orgasm upon first entry or lack of pain, which is so common in romance. Nope, it’s painful, but Brishen is very loving with Karina and doesn’t rough shod over her in his own need. Another common trope. This created a very deep intimacy between them, I thought.

I also enjoyed the very realistic attitude of Brishen in his jealousy. He flies into a rage over Karina and Papusza being together. He feels threatened by Papusza and trash talks her to Karina before he and Karina even get together. After Brishen is accused of a heinous crime though, things change drastically in all their relationship dynamics.

This situation causes a deep rift between Karina and Papusza, which pains Papusza, but not Karina so much. Because of what’s happened, Karina is forced to take sides until she owns up to her part in what’s happened and gets the other two to own up to their part as well.

All three do work things out and finally come to an agreement. At this point, Brishen becomes that typical male agreeing to Karina and Papusza being together if he can watch. Yeah, that didn’t sit well with me. It felt a bit skeevy since Papusza had no interest in Brishen, nor Brishen in Papusza. I felt it was a bit weird that she agreed to have sex with Karina in front of Brishen.

Although, I will say that the sexual encounter with all three didn’t come across as written just for titillation, but was very loving. And outside of that reaction, I really liked Brishen as a character. He’s an all around good, honorable guy who really only has eyes and love for his woman.

Outside of these three main characters, there are some interesting characters who’s actions and reactions enter in prominently. Nicolae, Karina’s father and leader of the Argantari and Vesh, have some old, unsettled business with each other, which has a huge impact on all three main characters. When the truth finally does come out, it’s both painful and relieving for both Brishen and Karina.

I will say that some things got a bit glossed over or forgiven a little too easily to finish this story in an upbeat way. What Nicolae did was truly awful and he got an unrealistic pass from Karina who forgave him a little too easily for my taste. He and some other characters, like Vesh’s wife, act against their characterization at the end as well, which, felt a bit too to pat for me.

I have no idea of the reality of gypsy life, but everyone was sneaking into each other’s tents all the time without other members of the tribe knowing. This bothered me throughout the whole book because I would think that a community as close knit as a gypsy tribe would be aware of who was coming and going in other’s tents, especially since things could be heard and these characters were people who were outcasts and probably would have had extra attention on themselves.

I also had mixed feelings about Papusza’s ending in this. I won’t say much since it will give info away, but how things panned out with all three made me wonder why Papusza was even a made a factor in this story.

At any rate, this is a well written, engaging story. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone because it’s a passionate love story even if the story between Karina and Papusza was lacking.

Sex rating: Orgasmic- graphically written and frequent sexual scenarios. f/f, m/f, f/f/m, minor anal.

Grade: B+

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hot or Not?

I just saw this on the Huffington Post-

Lady Gaga, whom I totally have the hots for, put on a strap-on for a Q magazine cover photo.

What can I say, I love me some really out there people. Love that she did that. But I'm curious what the lesbian community will say. If they will embrace it or criticize it.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Review- Duchess: A Novel of Sarah Churchill by Susan Holloway Scott

Duchess: A Novel of Sarah Churchill
by Susan Holloway Scott
Aug 1, 2006
Historical Fiction/Romance (M/F, F/F)
Novel- 384 pgs. (over 60K words)

by Guest Reviewer M. A.

Buy it Amazon, B&N, Penguin

London:1673. With her family ruined by war, penniless thirteen-year-old Sarah Jennings is overjoyed to be chosen as a maid of honor at the bawdy Restoration court of Charles II. She soon wins the trust of Lady Anne of York, a lonely princess who becomes one of her staunchest allies. And though Sarah’s beauty stirs the desires of jaded aristocrats, she wants a grander future for herself than that of a pampered mistress. Only one man possesses ambition and passions that match her own: John Churchill, a dashing young military hero. He would ask for her hand—and win her heart for a lifetime….

But Whitehall Palace is ripe with ever-shifting alliances and sexual scandal, and Sarah will need all her cleverness to succeed. Titles, power, and wealth are the prizes, while an idle whisper in the wrong ear can bring a cry of treason, and the executioner’s ax. Will Sarah’s loyalties––and her dreams––falter when a king is toppled from his throne and a new queen crowned? And will she dare risk everything when her one true love is tested by a passionate, dangerous obsession?

Brimming with the intrigue and sensuality of one of history’s most decadent courts, Duchess brings to vivid life the story of an unforgettable woman who determines her own destiny––outspoken, outrageous, but most of all true to herself.

Wow. What a great read.

The Stuart Dynasty represents an intriguing study to anyone pondering the possibilities of sexual orientation being more a result of genetics/heredity than environment. Numerous Stuart royals were known to support same gender favorites, and it’s debatable they “learned” these preferences from their parents since their parents did not raise them. Housefuls of servants raised them instead. The tendency was noted and re-noted throughout generations of the family.

Sarah Churchill, a gentry commoner who survived the court intrigues of the Glorious Revolution and retired Duchess of Marlborough, enjoys a notorious reputation as a woman ahead of her time. Ambitious, politically astute, a great beauty according to the times, she was also the intimate friend – some say the mistress – of Anne Stuart, the last Stuart monarch to rule Great Britain.

This book has so much going for it. Excellent editorial quality and first-rate writing. Despite the novel’s length, Sarah’s story flies off the pages. Scott’s style combines detail, fascinating subject matter, and sufficient variety of structure to keep readers entranced. Even if you’re already familiar with Sarah’s story this novel’s worth reading.

I felt like Scott presented Sarah’s characterization honestly. Sarah is a flawed character and very much a product of her day even as she struggles to “break the mold” concerning her own expectations and reach beyond possibility. That said, I’m unsurprised that I disliked Sarah at times. Sarah was known to be manipulative, avaricious, an opportunist and a bully. Since she lived in an era where nice girls often finished last, I understand her bitchiness and self-centeredness. Sarah’s “voice” in this story is very genuine, revealing an ambitious woman who knows all the cards are stacked against her and behaves accordingly. When she recognizes potential benefit to herself in doing her duty or going beyond her duty, she acts without hesitation, even at exceptional personal risk. Unfortunately, because she is equally capable of deceit and betrayal to promote her interests, her heroism is less admirable. It’s understandable -- her principles and her actions demonstrate hypocrisy and self-interest typical of the times – but not likeable.

Sarah’s “fatal flaw” is her inability to admit her own shortcomings. She is capable of justifying or denying pretty much anything to rationalize her behavior. Again, this isn’t a likable trait, but it’s consistent with what’s known of Sarah. I found my feelings about Sarah comparable to the typical “self-starter power coworker/boss.” The kind of person who understands “office politics” and manipulates that knowledge for personal advantage. Before you know it, this kind of person’s playing golf with the CEOs even if their work ethics and productivity don’t measure up while other employees take up the slack.

The novel revolves around the two serious relationships of Sarah’s life, her friendship with Anne and her marriage to the dashing war hero, John Churchill.

Anne and Sarah meet as young girls in the York household. Sarah, a few years older, enchants Anne (a lonely, unhealthy child) with her brutal honesty. Anne recognizes Sarah doesn’t resort to white lies and sycophantic flattery typical of courtiers wishing to suck up to the Royals. Since Anne trusts Sarah, the normally stand-offish princess welcomes Sarah into her intimate circle.

Sarah, recognizing potential value in intimacy with Anne (third in line for the crown) does not hesitate to cultivate the friendship. Before long, the two are spying on courtiers’ indiscretions and enjoying regular card games. In between, Sarah fends off sexual harassment from various big players in the palace, including the Duke of York (the future James II) and the Duke of Monmouth (King Charles’ ill-fated illegitimate son, doomed to suffer brutal execution after Culloden.)

It was difficult for me to evaluate whether or not Sarah sincerely loved Anne in any capacity. The entire story is told in Sarah’s POV and so much of Sarah’s time is spent criticizing and faulting Anne. Again, this is very in character with the real Sarah Churchill (by the end of her life her critical disposition had alienated her from her adult children.) I suspect, however, that Sarah’s contempt for Anne as a defense mechanism to soothe her own inferiority complex related to her lack of rank.

At times, though, I had a good sense of internal conflict in Sarah. Too often, she is quick to minimize her own feelings for her girlfriend and emphasize Anne’s love for her. Sarah really is the girlfriend from hell, ruthlessly competitive, eager to compare herself to Anne and find Anne lacking. When Anne exhibits undesirable characteristics, Sarah is quick to label her in the wrong, conveniently overlooking her own comparable failings. Sarah tries too hard to convince the reader – and herself? – that Anne really needs her and loves her more than Sarah returns those feelings. Never mind the incredible benefits Sarah and her whole family enjoy as a direct benefit of Anne’s generosity. Sarah begins her illustrious Court career as a maid of honor with neither rank nor dowry. By the time Anne dismisses the Churchills from service, Sarah and John have been ennobled (the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough), awarded numerous court positions, pensions, and salaries, and Sarah is widely known as a key player and “power behind the throne.”

I suspect Sarah needed Anne to love her a good deal more than she needed to love Anne.

Throughout the decades of their closeness, Anne is pitifully frank, heart on her lace-edged sleeves. A steely inner core strengthens Anne. Sarah recognizes it, to some degree admires it, but assumes to the bitter end she is somehow exempt from Anne’s “dark side.” Anne lives the life of a Stuart princess, not half so glamorous and romantic as a storybook alternative. By order of the British government, Anne is raised in the Anglican faith. Due to the significance society placed upon religion at the time, she is estranged from her father and her stepmother (both Roman Catholic.) Her main value to her family is her value in a political marriage, and her elder sister, Mary (later Queen Mary II) is more attractive and promising. Conservative, quiet, distrustful, and lacking conventional attractiveness, Anne is an overlooked, undervalued appendage in the “Merrie Monarch’s” licentious court despite her popularity with the English public.

Sarah perceives Anne as dull and stupid, but later discovers she’s quite intelligent and politically adept despite her awkward shyness and plain looks.

Enter John Churchill during a theatrical presentation the two young women perform to entertain the Court. Sarah’s thoughts linger on the differences in her feelings for her bosom friend and a handsome young man:

(SPOILER) (To read spoiler highlight text) Just as I was Mercury, Lady Anne played the nymph whom Mercury desired, and while this might seem a pretty conceit between friends, it also taxed me mightily. Anne had accused me of preferring John Churchill to her, and as I declared Mercury's undying passion, I did indeed think of him, even as I smiled into her adoring face. As I took her plump little hand to lead her through our dance, I couldn't swear which partner's hand I imagined in my own: Mercury's nymph, or Lady Anne, or the handsome young colonel... (END SPOILER)

Chemistry between Sarah and John ignites at once. They’re two of a kind, poor and proud, of common birth and possessing sufficient brains and ambition to lead an insurrection against a country. Except they’d rather not, because both covet rank and recognition for themselves too much to eliminate them. Both are anti-Catholic and permit it to affect their politics (although their bigotry doesn’t extend to them refusing to serve their Catholic employers until the rest of the country rebels against them.) While Sarah is cultivating intimate friendship and favor from Anne, John has been the tirelessly devoted on-again off-again paramour to the Duchess of Cleveland who has compensated him most generously for his devotion.

After a whirlwind courtship, they marry secretly, with York’s approval, so that Sarah may continue to attend the Duchess and Anne at court (an unmarried woman’s “job.”) Their marriage is presented as idyllic throughout the book, rife with passion and mutual affection whenever the two are able to meet. I think the simplicity of the marriage description extends from the historical reality that, while married a long time, the couple rarely spent time together. Sarah was often attending the Royals and John’s military obligations meant he frequently left the country for several months or years at a time.

Sarah and Anne’s relationship is more complex due to its growth and evolution. Their childhood friendship evolves into their adulthood where they share each other’s triumphs and sorrows. They become lovers shortly after Anne’s wedding and the transition, is tender, slightly awkward, and true to both characters. Each woman enjoys a happy married life. Each revels in the joy of motherhood and bears the pain of loss common to a period of high infant mortality (tragically, Anne would endure eighteen pregnancies and not see a single child survive childhood.)

The two women watch each other’s backs, too. When King James attempts to arrest Anne and hold her hostage to prevent an Anglican uprising, Sarah and Anne flee together. When Queen Mary orders Anne to dismiss Sarah due to Sarah’s “scandalous undue influence,” Anne steadfastly refuses. The queen orders Anne out of the palace and deprives her of her palace guard. Anne shrugs off the incident, borrows a London town house from a loyal courtier…and welcomes Frances Aspley into her service. When King William attempts to restrict Anne’s allowance to force her to heel, Anne addresses the matter with Parliament who promptly rules in her favor. Anne collects her income…and raises Sarah’s salary.

(To non-history buffs: Frances Aspley was Princess Mary’s long-term attendant and, if not her lover, a deeply romantic confidante. Mary wasn’t permitted to bring Frances with her to the Netherlands when she married. The unhappy queen wrote lengthy love letters to Frances addressing Frances as “my husband” and even went so far as to refer to her unborn child as a “bastard.”)
Through it all, Anne is deadly calm and dry. Sarah criticizes her as a “true Stuart” for coldly turning her back on her closest kin, but again, has no problem benefitting from Anne’s stubbornness. When Anne ascends to the throne, the Churchills are close at hand to bathe in reflected glory.

Ironically, bisexuality isn’t presented as a major obstacle in the narrative as far as the public eye is concerned. The novel implies bisexuality within discreet limits was tolerated, if not lauded, among women. Major objections to Anne’s attachment to Sarah appeared to be Sarah’s “commoner” background , her Whig politics, and simple jealousy of the various honors and benefits Anne heaped upon her favorite. I found it refreshing.

This is not an erotic novel, but one love scene captures beautiful imagery of the two women making love:

(SPOILER) (Anne) liked to be teased, perhaps because as a princess she'd always been granted every wish...I'd learned many, many things about her.
Frantically she pulled at my own clothes, our hair coming unpinned around our shoulders and the pearls swinging from our ears. Her flesh was pale and soft as doeskin, revealed to me as our skirts tangled around our limbs. Our actions made the warm afternoon even warmer, until at last I gave her what she sought,..We lay together afterwards, pressed thigh to thigh in drowsy contentment as she combed fingers through my tangled hair.

"Oh love," she murmured happily... (END SPOILER)

I should warn you that Anne and Sarah do not enjoy a HEA. Sarah’s fall from Anne’s good graces is abrupt, brutal, but wholly deserved. If you’re unfamiliar with history, suffice it to say Sarah did not learn from the past, and she forgot why Anne loved her in the first place.

“Duchess” is an excellent story of a volatile time, lovingly written. It would satisfy the “sweet tooth” of any reader interested in or curious about the Restoration.

I can only think of two peeves I had with the book. The book is written from Sarah’s POV in first person. First person POV is always more restrictive than third person and it seriously handicaps this tale because Sarah must tell us about many of the more noteworthy historical events instead of Scott being able to show them to us. Or someone else tells Sarah about them. Sarah is a female courtier. Many of the relevant events discussed in the story are not directly witnessed by her. This caused the book to “drag” a bit in places.

My other peeve was I got very tired of reading and re-reading Sarah’s rationalization of her love affair with Anne. She claims to enjoy it, but keeps reminding us she’s not participating for enjoyment, that she is not in love with Anne and could never love her as much as John, and that her main motive is personal advancement and reward. In the course of the novel, Sarah does many things suggesting to me she does care about Anne, and it starts to feel confusing. I was left with the impression that Sarah did love Anne, but did not want to admit it, and so trotted out a litany of excuses to “explain” her affair.

Beyond that, “Duchess” is a solid read.

Heat Level: Damp panties. This probably qualifies as a sensuous. Sex/lovemaking, both M/F and F/F, is described in non-explicit terms with some detail.

Grade: B

Friday, February 19, 2010

Movies with Lesbian Scenes-Themes

There was a link on Twitter to one of my favorite go-to blogs for anything in the media featuring girl on girl, After Ellen, and they did a post on films that have featured lesbian scenes or were outright about lesbians. The link here.

I haven't seen most of them so I couldn't comment on how good any of them are as far as lesbian content. I did see The Hunger, which I found highly erotic as far as a girl on girl sex scene. I even bought the DVD and have watched that film many times.

What I loved about it was how predatory, yet feminine, Catherine Denueuve's character is in her seduction.

Catherine Deneuve also played a lesbian in a French film, which wasn't mentioned in the article, Les Valeurs (The Thieves). There is a bathtub scene between with the two women, but that's all that is shown. Not very erotic, but still a film about lesbian love and one character's heartbreak over another.

Also not mentioned in the article was another French movie from 1957, The Twilight Girls. This is one of those school girl lesbian type films, which for its time, was very racy. I rented it only because it said that Catherine Deneuve was in it but didn't know it's about school girl lesbians. It still was an interesting film although very hard to rent.

I am kind of jonsen to see Tipping the Velvet, but would have to buy it since it's not easy to find in a regular store.

Has anyone seen it? And, does anyone any favorite girl on girl movies or scenes that you love?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Review- Haley's Cabin by Anne Rainey

Haley’s Cabin
by Anne Rainey
Feb 27, 2007
Contemporary/ m/f/ -f/f/m
37K- $4.50
Ebook- Samhain

Buy it Samhain, ARe

Guest Reviewer- Jill Sorenson

Every good girl longs for a chance to be a little naughty.

Raw from an ugly divorce and wrung out from her demanding job, Haley Thorne needs a break. When Haley’s doctor urges her to take a vacation, she heads to her secret cabin in the woods.

The very first night, Haley dreams of an erotic threesome that leaves her panting and aroused. When sexy police detective Jeremy Pickett shows up at her door, she’s shocked: He looks like the man in her midnight fantasy! Levelheaded Haley unleashes her inner seductress and has a little fun—handcuffs and all!

Warning: this title contains hot, explicit sex, graphic language.

I bought this on sale at AllRomanceEbooks. I’ve seen Rainey’s covers here at LVLM, but never read a review, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. If I remember correctly, I was looking for a different title and couldn’t find it. I picked this one blindly, hoping for a steamy f/f/m ménage.
I was disappointed.

Haley is a beautiful “computer geek” with a gorgeous body that she likes to show off. She’s getting over an abusive relationship with her ex-husband. What better way to do that than jump in bed with a dominating stranger who arrives at her secluded cabin unexpectedly?

The only ménage here happens in the opening scene—a dream sequence. A handsome man and sexy woman knock on Haley’s door in the middle of the night, asking to use her phone. After she lets them in, he initiates a sexual encounter. Haley feels like she’s dreaming (and she is) so she doesn’t resist. Haley is also “not into women,” but she’s very turned on by the female guest. Haley gets down and dirty with the other woman, sometimes forgetting the man’s presence entirely.

Okay, so this part was hot! Normally I prefer heroines to own their desires, not just go with the flow, but Haley’s lack of control worked for me here. At one point, the man gently pushes her head down between the other woman’s legs. *fans self*

But don’t get too excited, friends, this is all just a tease. In the morning, the man from Haley’s dreams arrives, alone. He’s staying in the cabin next door. She tells him about her dream, and he’s excited by the fantasy, but they never discuss the details. Instead, they have sex in the hot tub, and play domination games, and videotape their marathon bedroom activities.

If you aren’t expecting more f/f, the romance is fine. The scenes are highly sensual and the characters are likeable. My main problem, other than the false impression I was given by the initial setup, was bad writing. I’m so sorry to have to say that! The dialogue is stiff, there’s a lot of repetition, and the conflict needed work. Although this is my first selection from Samhain, I’ve heard good things about them and expected better.

That said, I think Rainey shows a lot of promise. I kept reading, partly because I was looking for more ménage, but also because the story was compelling despite its technical flaws. This is a guilty pleasure type of read. I’m definitely open to suggestions for a more polished, f/f or f/f/m-focused Rainey novel.

Sex rating: I don’t feel comfortable assigning a heat level based on the state of my underwear. Haley’s Cabin has graphic language and explicit sex scenes, but the romance also has a sweet side.

Grade: C-

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Valentine's Day- meh

So... is there anyone else out there who could give a crap about V-Day?

I know there are people who dislike it because they aren't with someone at the moment and at this time of year, we are constantly being reminded of that, making those people feel like crap.

And I know there are many who love it and feel all romantic around it.

Lesbian couple celebrates V-day in Beijing. Apparently, and I only found this out looking for pics for this blog post, many lesbians in China use Valentines day to come out and show themselves to promote gay/lesbian issues. It's a big deal over there on this issue.

In Japan, they've got it all very well organized. On Valentines Day, woman give men chocolate. And it's kind of obligatory to give to all your male co-workers, bosses, guy friends and so on. What sets that special guy off is the expensive choco or some other personal gift.

But here's the catch, all those guys who got a Valentine's from a girl must give her back something on a Japanese only created holiday to make money, White Day. It's all so romantic. heh.

Personally, I just can't get worked up about it. I'm married, but don't care if my husband gets me something or not. I hate that it's obligatory on some level to get your significant other something.

For me, nothing tells me more that my husband loves me than that all year long, he tells me not to worry about not having a job or other things. He takes care of me in so many ways and I thank him, appreciate him on a regular basis, buying him treats and things like this.

I like candy, but he shares his stash with me all the time and doesn't get pissed at me when I raid his goody box all the time. That, is more meaningful to me than a box of candy and a card one day a year.

What say you? Is V-day a big deal for you or not?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Review- The Duchess, Her Maid, the Groom and Their Lover by Victoria Janssen

The Duchess, Her Maid, the Groom & Their Lover
by Victoria Janssen
Dec. 2008
Historical fantasy
F/F, (F)/F/M
Novel (over 60 k words)
eHarlequin pub-$13.95

By Guest reviewer M. A.

Buy it Amazon, B&N, eHarlequin

Wretched be the woman of wealth and fortune who fails to produce a suitable heir….

And wretched is what Duchess Camille feels living with the cruel and debauched duke. But that soon turns to desperation when she learns her lecherous husband is plotting to have her killed to make way for a more nubile and fertile companion. Knowing she cannot sit idly by and wait for death, she flees into the night, taking with her her own young lover—the stable hand Henri—and her most loyal servants.

With a mind to finding refuge with Maxime, her first love who years ago ignited her sexuality, Camille and her servants take cover in brothels along the way and succumb to the physical delights on offer, sating their longings and fueling jealousies with one another. But the duke's men are not far behind, and Camille knows they must press on, hoping against hope that the man who has every reason to turn her away will remember the fervent passion that once coursed between them.…

If you like underwhelming action, overwhelming angst, and indifferent erotica, you will love this book.

“The Duchess…” had me mentally tearing my hair out because, numerous times, I’d stumble across some good writing and hints that good stuff was coming if I just kept reading. Payoff never occurred.

About 80% of the book is tell-y backstory and angst combined with incidental erotic scenes that did nothing to extend the plot, develop characterization, or contribute to the novel in any other meaningful way.

The remaining 20% showcases a watered-down, lukewarm plot and Janssen’s exceptional gift for beautiful description and world-building. Janssen establishes scenes and settings to involve all the senses. Lush, aromatic gardens, tasty foods, dense forests, crisp, salty seas, grand palaces, humble taverns, and exotic bagnios are all made real.

The protagonist, Camille, is what I sometimes call an “anti-Mary Sue.” She’s unlikeable and unexceptional and yet, for reasons unknown, every relevant character in the novel admires her and/or is in love with her (or, at least, wants to have sex with her.) The common people revere her. Songs and poems are published in her honor. Prostitutes imitate her looks and style to procure patrons who like the fantasy of enjoying sex with her.

The reader is repeatedly told rather than shown that Camille was a good politician who strove to govern her duchy fairly and justly but she was undermined first by her neglectful father (since he considered females unfit to rule) and later by Michel, her abusive husband, desperate to supplant her hereditary right to her duchy.

Camille does many despicable things in the name of furthering her own interests, including ordering Henri, a young stable hand, to service her sexually in hopes of conceiving a child to placate her cruel husband. In typical Mary Sue fashion, Camille does not want to do this and she knows this is wrong. She knows Henri could face exile or execution for defiling her. But all her concerned servants and concerned loyal subjects urge her on out of fear for her safety and Camille allows herself to be persuaded by their demands.

Immediately after her liaison with Henri, however, Camille decides Michel is intent upon murdering her and that she must flee the realm and seek aid with Maxime, ruler of a protectorate territory subject to her duchy. Without any practical considerations or much planning, She takes her maid/bodyguard, Sylvie, two eunuch guards, and Henri.
From here, the novel descends into a dozen chapters of meaningless sexual interludes focused more upon duty than pleasure.

(SPOILER) Examples:

1. Camille initiates a sexual relationship with Sylvie not because she desires Sylvie personally, but because Sylvie’s always been in love with her and Camille feels her loyalty deserves a reward.

2. Camille has sex with her eunuch guards. This is her “duty” as well. Part of the eunuchs’ duty in palace tradition is to provide her with sexual relief and since Camille has never had sex with them (Camille’s 40 years old, and the guards have been in her household for years) her eunuchs feel neglected and worry she finds them inadequate or that she doubts their loyalty. To prove her trust in them, Camille dutifully allows the two eunuchs to gratify her sexually.

3. One of the eunuchs dominates and disciplines a brothelkeeper boarding them. Not because he wants to, but to buy silence in case Michel’s search parties seek them out.

4. After the brothelkeeper submits voluntarily to the eunuch’s dominance and discipline, Sylvie rewards the brothelkeeper with her favors.

5. A nobleman confronts Henri and Camille, claiming to identify Camille. Camille and Henri claim Camille is actually a prostitute made up to look like Camille (ick factor – it’s fashionable in the duchy for whores to copy Camille’s style to indulge patrons desiring Camille.) The nobleman demands sex with Camille. (This scene is edited very strangely. It’s unclear to me if they actually had sex or not. If they did, the erotica was taken out of the book.)

6. When a woman working in an inn identifies Camille, Henri offers her sex for silence. (I found this scene very “icky” because Henri insisted that Camille was actually a prostitute made up to look like Camille and that they were actually fleeing a cruel master who abused them both. The “respectable” innkeeper than has sex with Henri out of sympathy for all the alleged sexual abuse he’s endured in the past. Wow. Just wow. I never imagined accepting sexual bribery from a desperate victim of sex abuse could be seen as “therapeutic” for the abuse victim, but there it is.)

And so on. You get the idea. (END SPOILER)

Most of the erotica is non-titillating in my opinion. This is partly due to the chronic sense of duty and/or obligation attached to most of the sexploits. It’s not about love or even recreational pleasure. The scenes involving Henri and/or Sylvie were the best because these two characters had some enthusiasm for sexual pleasure, at least. I didn’t get to know the characters better, or come to care about them. In fact, I liked Camille less and less the more her servants acted on her behalf for her security.

Normally when I read erotica I experience some degree of sensual titillation or sexual awareness. That never happened here in 200+ pages of near cover-to-cover erotica. I might as well have been reading an accounting textbook. No stimulation emotionally or sexually at all.
In between all the stale sex, Camille angsts about her duchy in Michel’s hands, Michel’s abuse and all her troubles related to it, and seeing Maxime again. She hasn’t seen or communicated with Maxime in two decades.

When Camille is not angsting about all her problems, Henri angsts about his relationship with Camille. He is absolutely fascinated with her and romantically attached to her. Again, she gives him no reason to be so. I did infer that she cared about Henri and felt responsible for him, but it was hard for me to like her for this since – really – she was 100% responsible for endangering him in her “pregnancy scheme” in the first place. Sorry, I don’t give snaps to people for doing what they should.

The “dealbreaker” for me occurred in Chapter 13. Here the author regaled us with yet another lengthy flashback of Camille’s lonely childhood and her first sexual attraction to Maxime. The story implies no romantic interest – not even friendship – these two are strictly interested in sex.

(SPOILER) The two schedule a tryst the evening of Camille’s seventeenth birthday ball. Concealed in the library’s window-seat, Camille witnesses Maxime confronted by an older noblewoman who accuses him of dishonoring Camille, threatens to reveal him to Camille’s evil father who’ll castrate him, and demands sex for her silence.

The situation in itself was absurd since the noblewoman had no proof of Maxime’s intentions, nor did she even know Camille was in the room. Nevertheless, Maxime proceeds to service the threatening noblewoman, clearly under duress and not enjoying himself, while the noblewoman calls him degrading names, orders him not to come, and flounces off after coming.

Sickeningly, although Camille feels outraged on Maxime's behalf that he is forced to perform against his will... she is still aroused and enjoys watching him fulfill the other woman's demands.
This disgusted me beyond measure and I lost what tenuous empathy I had for Camille up to that point.

Imagine a male protagonist getting off on watching his female interest -- even a casual sexual interest -- forced to service another man in order to avoid some unpleasant consequence. Imagine rationalizing it like so:

Camille couldn't help but be aroused now. She couldn't stop imagining herself in the other woman (rapist)'s place. Except she would be nicer to Maxime.

Once the rapist leaves, Camille ventures out of hiding to console Maxime with a blow job. (END SPOILER)

The novel goes on to reveal what is patently obvious to anyone paying attention, that Camille is a damaged woman who takes advantage of others for her own benefit (although her actions are chronically justified because she’s an aristocrat, a neglected daughter, and a battered wife.)
I found it impossible to identify with or sympathize with this character.

I continued reading because I’d been advised the story gets better. To some extent it does, but it’s too little too late. I did recognize SOME changes to Camille, but they were too minor for me to care.

I think the author wanted readers to applaud Camille for having an “epiphany” of sorts and taking responsibility for herself and for her problems. But she never comes through.

(SPOILER) In the end, after her arduous escape from her husband’s cruelty, Camille rides right back into her territory and takes over. Yes, that’s right. She never lifted a finger. The common people all loved her so much and hated Michel so much, they overthrew him and placed him under house arrest. Everyone volunteers to murder him, but Camille-Sue will have none of that. She simply exiles her ex-tormentor. Sylvie, her trusty friend/maid/bodyguard/sidekick, is turned out to indulge a female ménage a trois with some village women. The eunuchs leave to enjoy their not-so-secret homosexual relationship. Henri remains as Camille’s lover and mainstay although he understands he must share her with Maxime whom Camille still does not love. (END SPOILER)

*shudders* I’ve read worse, but not much.

Technical/mechanical: editorial was mostly clean. As mentioned earlier, there were some odd transitions and disjointedness with scenes. The narrative read to me like at least one scene was removed but the follow up writing wasn’t “smoothed over” to reflect that.

Cover Art: The cover’s gorgeous but does not relate to the novel in any way. I admit I was expecting something more “lighthearted” and “romping” because of the cover and the title.

Sex Rating: Orgasmic - for graphic sexual scenes only. I opt not to [personally] rate this book because I don’t find it sexy. The book is chock full of sexual situations, but none of them “touched” me.

Grade: D (This is a substandard work no matter how I look at it. The erotica is unexciting and the romance doesn’t get enough “spotlight” to compensate. From a literary viewpoint, Camille’s self-discovery is uninteresting.

NOTE: I’d like to add the novel has received mainly good to average reviews. Taste is subjective. I probably would have given the book a C-minus were it not for the Chapter 13 revelation. That was just too big an ick factor for me to remain neutral about.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

And the book industry goes kablooie...or not

So Macmillan is moving from a "retail model"* (with a 50/50 revenue split) to an agency model (with a publisher-70/bookseller-30 split) in its relations with booksellers (and other publishers are quickly following suit), and the entire book-blogging community is flipping out. "This will mean higher ebook prices across the board," bemoans Jane of Dear Author. "But authors will earn less if their books are listed at $14 than if they're listed at $25.99 and discounted to a sawbuck by Amazon!" wail others. And dozens upon dozens of readers insist that "Macmillan just lost themselves a customer!"

*For those of you wondering, I employed quotation marks because since the 1930s, bookselling has been a gruesome marriage of retail and consignment. In a true retail model, retailers own the merchandise they buy from manufacturers and set the sale price at whatever they think the market will bear. If the merchandise doesn't sell, the retailer is stuck with it, and either shifts it to a liquidator or puts it on clearance--often for less than wholesale--because recovering some of their investment is better than nothing. In a consignment model, the providor of goods sets the consumer sale price, and if the item doesn't sell it either sits there unsold forever, or the consignment broker simply returns it to the owner, no harm no foul.

In bookselling, retailers are not stuck with unsold books. Those books are either returned to the publisher for full credit (in which case the publisher can remainder them to recover some of their losses), or stripped and pulped and the covers returned to the publisher for full credit (in which case, the publisher swallows a total loss on them). So for the retailer, bookselling embodies all the benefits of retail and none of the risks, and for the publisher, all the risks of consignment--and more, in the case of mass market paperbacks--and none of the benefits. Sweet deal for bookstores, no?

Like income tax--which was brought in to help compensate for economic stressors that were temporary--this hybrid consignment/retail model was created as an interim measure to help bookstores stay afloat in the Great Depression. And like income tax, we're still stuck with it, long after the initial conditions demanding its creation have passed. Frankly, this is not a situation that could have continued indefinitely. If publishers were to survive in an increasingly tight market, something had to give.

Like most industries undergoing a paradigm shift, there are some who will claim the sky is falling. And maybe it is.

But me? I'm not that worried. Certainly this news would dismay me more if I were a Macmillan author, but as an ebook reader and an ebook author, I'm pretty sanguine about the whole debacle. Here's why.

None of this is going to affect the way I purchase books, or negatively impact the publishers to whom I'm willing to submit my work.

With one glaring exception, I've never paid more than $8 for an ebook, and have never, ever bought an ebook that was priced higher than it's lowest-priced print version, so this move isn't going to affect my options as a reader one bit. To my knowledge, I have never bought a Macmillan ebook--if I have, it was priced under $7. The $9.99 ebook has never been an option for me, nor will it ever be one. So I couldn't care less if Macmillan books sell for $9.99 or $109.99, they weren't getting my money before, and they ain't getting it now unless the price comes down.

The publishers who got my money before will still get my money (a bigger share of it, in fact, if they also embrace the agency model with a 70/30 split), and the publishers who didn't won't unless they lower prices. And despite my strict personal policies on ebook purchases, there are plenty of ebooks available to me (and about 35 of them are sitting on my Sony right now, waiting for me to get to them). This is because no matter how bugfuck, baffled and blind most traditional publishers are about ebooks, there are a few out there (like Baen and HQN) who mostly know what they're doing and are cashing in on that knowledge.

As an ebook author published with a house that understands the market and the consumers who drive it, this shift in the marketplace is a net gain for me. The traditional publishers (like Baen and HQN) who understand their readers, will thrive. Those who don't and continue to refuse to learn, will falter. If, as Jane insists, ebooks from trad-pubs will only go up in price, well, the more $15 ebooks there are out there, the more attractive my own publisher's books will be to readers. I certainly can't see publishers like Samhain suddenly raising cover prices to $15. Just because Macmillan jumps off a bridge doesn't mean publishers with brains will join them.

Amazon's insane discounting of insanely priced ebooks from insanely clueless publishers has only subsidized their insanity and cluelessness and allowed it to perpetuate. It helped publishers like Macmillan with their ludicrous $25.99 ebooks to compete effectively in a market filled to brimming with smaller, smarter publishers who actually know what the fuck they're doing. Those smaller, smarter publishers have suffered because Amazon's deep discounting was making the biggies' products more attractive to consumers than they should have been. By discounting those Macmillan ebooks, Amazon was both subsidizing their stupidity, and making it harder for the good guys to get the attention they deserve.

Without Amazon absorbing losses that should have been borne by publishers and their dumb-assed pricing strategies, the products of publishers like Baen, HQN, Loose Id, Samhain, and others will have a better chance to shine, and idiots like Macmillan will either wise up or their ebooks will fail.

This system will benefit the publishers who get it right, and penalize those who willfully continue to get it all wrong.

And me, I'm just sitting back and smiling at the thought of walnut-brained, traditional publishing dinosaurs either evolving or going extinct, while the small, agile mammals of the epublishing age flourish. And I'm thanking my lucky stars I'm with a publisher who has eyes to see and a brain to think with when it comes to the digital market.

I don't have to boycott Macmillan. No one does. Just keep on keeping on, insisting on value before you hand over your money, and it will all come out in the wash.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Review- The Loveliest Butterfly by A. Mistory

The Loveliest Butterfly
by A. Mistory
Contemporary/ Lesbian/ f/f/f
58K words- $5.99
Ebook- Excessica Publishing

Buy it ARe, Fictionwise ($3.29), Excessica

It was love at first sight, at least for Tess. The moment she laid eyes on Maeve, she knew she would move heaven and earth to make friends-and more-with the reluctant redheaded beauty. But in spite of Tess’ success in winning the new girl over-at least as good friends if not fulfilling Tess’ hidden wish for more-she is unable to fully protect her new friend from the continued high school teasing and humiliation which has made her so reluctant to make connections in the first place.

Even though Maeve has transferred schools to escape the truth of her secret, rumors continue to follow her, and it’s only through her newfound friendship with Tess that she finds true happiness. But in spite of her probing, Tess learns no more about the mystery surrounding her new friend, although she continues to valiantly protect Maeve against the gossiping onslaught.

After graduation, the two young women move in together as roommates, and Maeve is exposed much more fully to Tess’ lifestyle choice. Tess begins to go out alone to lesbian bars to meet women, and Maeve feels both curious and left out. When Tess meets Marsha, a saucy, sexy, spunky siren, a torrid affair ensues that threatens Marsha’s sanity and Tess’ protective friendship with Maeve.

Will Maeve’s continuing journey of self-discovery allow her to fully blossom, even in the midst of the tangled jealousy, passion, and hidden desires of the three young women? Will her secret, finally revealed, bring them together or tear them apart?

When I read a book and I’ve bookmarked and highlighted every three to four pages on my eBookwise, it’s not a good sign. My immediate take on this story was that probably 20K could have been cut from this book and still there would have been issues.

The blurb pretty much sums up the basic story, so I’ll go from there.

I guess I’ll get to what didn’t work for me first.

1.) Tell, tell, tell. Unfortunately this book was mostly a narrative of the characters’ lives. The first part of the story is told from Tess’s POV. She basically starts from when she first saw Maeve in high school up until they move in together, telling us her/their story~~ and then this happened, and then that happened and I felt this and I felt that. There’s hardly any dialogue and other than constant hints that Maeve has some big secret and that she’s very private, we don’t know anything about Maeve.

2.) POV switching. This story is told in first person. However, half way through, the first person POV switches to Maeve telling the story from her POV, but not any of her back story. She starts talking from the point after she and Tess finally get together. So I still got no insight as to where she was coming from during her years just being friends with Tess.

At first I really liked it as it picked up what was a dragging story for me because I was curious about the very private Maeve. And that would have been fine if the author would have stuck with two people on that. But then there’s a third character, Marsha, who plays a big role in this story and who also tells some of the story from her first person POV. By the end, I was so confused as to who’s talking and I found it irritating.

3.) There were way too many repetitive sentences and expressions. It was overkill. For example:

"I still want to hate you and make love to you. Why are you here? What do you want?...

A few sentences later:

"God, I'd love to fuck you, to see your eyes watching me watch you as you orgasm and maybe scream and tell me to fuck you some more," Marsha softly but passionately told me.

A few paragraphs later:

All I know is I love Tess like I can't believe, and...and I love you too. Damn it, I want to hate you so bad, but I love you, girl. Come home with me, and let me show you what's in you, what you you love Tess too."

A few paragraphs later:

“…but you're so sweet, and God, I do love you. I hate that you came here, but like with Tess, I'm glad, and I do love you. It's crazy, isn't it?"

Another section of the book:

"I—I love you too, Tess," Maeve whispered, but positively. "I do love you. I love you so much, my wonderful, sweet Tess. Please forgive me. Please, Tess," she said with an urgency in her voice.

A few sentences later:

"I do love you, Tess. I think I've always loved you. I'm sorry I didn't let you know it, but I don't think I dared to even tell it to myself. I'm so sorry I didn't. Please forgive me, Tess."

A few paragraphs later:

"You're beautiful, Maeve. God, you're so lovely. You've got the most beautiful butterfly.

A few sentences later:

I laughed quietly, softly. "Never, Maeve. You can't make me quit looking at you, at your lovely butterfly, it's so marvelous, so beautiful. Don't you know how beautiful it is, how beautiful you are?

You get the picture.

4.) This story was way too long for the lack of tension or conflict. I’m not sure if it’s a romance per se, but for more than half the book, Tess is pining over Maeve. While there was some tension in the fact that it’s unresolved and there’s some big mystery that Maeve is hiding, once they get together, there’s nothing to keep any tension up to carry the story. Even then, I felt no sexual/romantic tension between Tess and Maeve. They were just two good friends, one wanting the other and the other being clueless.

After they do get together, it became like one long run-on sex scene with repetitive expressions of “I love you” and “you’re so beautiful.” When Marsha is brought back into the story, I felt it was like an addition to a story that had ended already. It seemed to have no bearing on the story but to make it a threesome. I really had to force myself to read the last quarter of the book.

5.) Some things were off for me on the characterizations. Tess is a lesbian. She’s always been a lesbian. She has an instant attraction to Maeve and befriends her. From that moment on, she decides that she wants whatever relationship she can have with Maeve.

Maeve is very shy and doesn’t seem too forthcoming with Tess keeping things private. Tess often wonders out loud what Maeve is thinking or feeling, which made me wonder how close they really were. When Tess finally shares that she is a lesbian, Maeve insists she’s not, but doesn’t mind about Tess. They go on being very close friends for years until they sort of move in together still as friends only, with Maeve not really showing any curiosity about Tess’ love/sex life all that time.

When Tess finally decides that she needs sex, she goes to a club for lesbians and hooks up with Marsha, who falls madly in love with Tess. This somehow makes Maeve finally curious.

OK, even though it’s explained at the end, I still never got why Maeve decided to have sex with Tess. She didn’t come across as the jealous type that all the sudden she would lose Tess’s friendship if she didn’t have sex with her. It just felt off to me since until that point, she showed not one ounce of romantic/sexual attraction to Tess. Not even any slight hints to it.

Then there’s Tess’s relationship with Marsha. Marsha was a fun character even if totally neurotic. She’s right on the surface with everything and expresses exactly what she’s feeling. Tess only wants Maeve, but keeps having sex with Marsha even knowing that Marsha was falling hard for her and also knowing she was never going to stay with Marsha. She then seems so surprised that Marsha would crash and burn after meeting Maeve and knowing that she would never have a chance with Tess. Huh? I hate clueless, selfish characters.

Marsha, she's madly in love with Tess, but the very minute she meets Maeve, she's madly in love with Maeve too. Really, I don't get these people.

Tess, not loving Marsha but loving the hot sex they have, feels no jealousy of Maeve reaching out to Marsha and wanting to bring her into their relationship. She just kind of goes, OK and she all of the sudden really loves Marsha too. What? This whole thing was so off to me and rather unbelievable.

Now that I’ve pretty much bashed this book, there are one or two good things. I’ve never read in any book such an ode to doing oral sex on a woman. And I don’t say that facetiously. Really, the descriptions of oral sex were in intricate, loving detail and written as if female genitalia were the goddess herself to be knelt at, bowed down to and worshipped. These characters can’t get enough of giving oral sex, relishing everything little thing about it. I admit, I rather enjoyed that.


And this story does go into, without giving away the big secret, issues that some women have physically with their genitalia. I’ve never heard of it and after researching it online, found that it’s a turn on for many partners and shouldn’t be an embarrassing issue, but is, and is cause for major angst in women who have this issue. So I thought it nice to have a character with a supposed flaw that was treated in a good way.

I also liked that the “lesbian club” the girls went to was written in a positive light. All the women who frequented it were actually really nice and caring with each other. No backstabbing or snipping bitches and so on even though many were sleeping with each other on a friends with benefits bases.

I’d say that unless you’re into lots of sex and emo drama, this book might put you to sleep.

Sex rating: Orgasmic- very graphic sex. Strap-on, f/f/f/-ménage, frequent sexual situations

Grade: C-

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Review- Glory and the Clever Cat by Carol Storm

Glory and the Clever Cat
by Carol Storm
Historical/ f/f
Less than 8K words- $1.50
Ebook- Noble Romance

By Guest Reviewer- M.A.

Buy Noble Romance Publishing

Queen Catharine of Echosea will do anything to save her country. Queen Gloriana of Albion leads her people with the strength of a man. Two warrior queens, imperious and beautiful. Destiny made them rivals . . . passion made them lovers!

Glory and the Clever Cat is a good short story. If you’re looking for the elements of a novel condensed into a paltry word count, don’t bother. If you appreciate well-crafted short stories, this is a good one. Storm’s compelling prose unfolds into a precious adult bedtime fantasy, short and sweet, comforting as French hot chocolate.

For better understanding of my criteria in evaluating short stories, please read Elements of Short Stories

Noble Romance classifies “Glory and the Clever Cat” in the historical genre. A more accurate designation would be Alternate Historical. The main characters stand out to any history fan as creative reinventions of prominent figures in Tudor England, and the events portrayed in the book have no basis in historical fact.

Nicely done romance and romantica focuses upon potent sexual attraction between two queens, Gloriana of Albion and Catherine of Echosea, whose neighboring nations are at war. When Catherine’s defeated forces are reduced to hiding in freezing winter bogs and facing starvation, Catherine approaches Gloriana to talk truce.

Catherine claims to be a noblewoman and offers her services as a guide through the bogs to negotiate Cat’s surrender with the intent of leading Gloriana’s forces into an ambush. Since neither Gloriana nor any of her glittering court has ever seen Cat, her true identity remains a secret.

The two women are taken with each other instantly. Flame-haired Gloriana is vividly, deliciously androgynous. Feminine in looks and dress, masculine in manner and taste, the voluptuous queen declares her interest in Cat’s blonde ladylike delicacy. Cat is no less fascinated, but political anxieties prevent the younger queen from examining her attraction to Gloriana too closely.

The affair continues another two days on a journey through Albion. Gloriana introduces Cat to various experiences, transforms the beautiful young woman to an enchanting gamine, and puts her to work as a pageboy. As their travel and love-play progresses, Gloriana opens her heart further to Catherine, inciting Cat’s respect, admiration and empathy. The romance transitions well, albeit hastily.

“Glory and the Clever Cat” has several strong points. It contains all the proper elements characteristic of a short story. So many short epublished works read more like a novel or a novella “cut down” into a shorter work, resulting in awkward execution and inconsistency. Not the case here. The story has a beginning, a middle, and an ending, and it revolves around a specific theme. Setting and exposition are well-established without info-dumping.

The protagonist is well-drawn with believable motivations and goals. With one exception I’ll mention later, Cat’s changes in the story harmonize with the plot and Cat’s own characterization.

Gloriana, Cat’s love interest, is depicted with virtues and flaws, indomitable fearlessness and tender vulnerability. Ironically, I did not “see” Gloriana as particularly attractive, but her sex appeal and confidence radiated through the prose and I found myself interested in her even when I did not like her arrogance and egoism.

Conflict and tension cook the love story through and through, ever interesting, never predictable.

In addition to well-crafted structure the ebook boasts good, even pacing and smooth flow. This book was a true pleasure to read.

After three reads and skimming once, I didn’t find any glaring typos or editorial errors. This was my first Noble Romance purchase and has instilled confidence in me that I might expect professional quality editorial in future purchases. (Disclaimer: I make no claim the book is error-free, but if errors are present they didn’t distract from my reading enjoyment.)

With so much good about Glory and the Clever Cat, I hate addressing the bad. Most of my “issues” with the book are related to personal taste and not toward technical or structural problems that can frustrate a reader expecting a professionally written book. I want to reiterate that this is a well-written short story that should satisfy lovers of short romantic fiction.

Dialogue struck me as unnatural at times. Dialogue is a useful tool in establishing plot and moving the story forward, but if used ineffectively it can sound contrived and unconvincing.
Here’s an example:

"Thank you, great queen." The girl dropped a curtsy. "If you will but hear me, I have news that may please you. Your hated enemy, Queen Catherine, is not far away."

The clause your hated enemy is intended more to establish plot to the reader than it is for Catherine to communicate information to Gloriana. Gloriana already knows Catherine is her enemy, and Catherine knows (or should know) Gloriana knows. Their respective countries are at war. Good dialogue should not only convey information, it should make sense and sound like natural conversation.

Consider this alternative:

"Thank you, great queen." The girl dropped a curtsy. "If you will but hear me, I have news that may please you. Queen Catherine and her troops are in retreat, not far away."

I found this story a little “naked” in places. Ms. Storm doesn’t overwrite a thing. Usually “less is more,” but I felt Glory and the Clever Cat could have benefitted from a little extra fleshing out without impacting the story’s integrity or significantly expanding word count.

Some of the things I wanted to know:

1. Why were Albion and Echosea at war? Trade agreements? Boundary disputes? Succession disputes? Religious conflicts? Obligations to other allies? Broken betrothal? (Reminiscent of England’s “rough wooing” of Scotland? Imagine how intriguing if Gloriana, considered a “man at heart,” had demanded Catherine as a bride in order to assert control over Echosea and been refused?) It’s a small thing, would not have taken much time to discuss, and might have had some bearing on negotiations for peace. It is strange to me, as a lover of historical fiction, that the two queens spent several days together and barely discussed their respective politics.

2. How was it possible for Gloriana to have no idea what Catherine looked like? Although they’d never met, they were neighboring sovereigns. If the story represents Renaissance history, it was quite common for rulers to exchange portraits as a goodwill gesture. Even without a portrait, ambassadors might have relayed each queen’s looks to the other. I get that Gloriana’s ignorance of Catherine’s looks was vital to Catherine’s anonymity when they met which brings me to my next question:

3. What was the point in Catherine’s anonymous “surrender” to Gloriana? It made sense at first as part of the “ambush plot.” But afterwards it would have benefitted Catherine to identify herself and demand the treatment and respect due a royal hostage. Why would Gloriana agree to spare a nation based on her fancy for a pretty face? Successful monarchs don’t wage expensive wars on enemies and then agree to spare them because of infatuation with a politically worthless lover. On the other hand, had Queen Catherine agreed to attend Gloriana and negotiate with her, that would have made much more sense because it was productive. Gloriana would have her royal hostage as well as a lover.

Small details like that would have given the story greater depth in my opinion.

The love scenes are nicely written, but I found them a tad short and underdeveloped. Narrative conveyed powerful sexual desire and romantic interest between the two women, I would have liked to see a little more of their lovemaking. That said, I appreciate Storm’s even-paced storytelling and that the love scenes did not overwhelm the book.

SPOILER ALERT: I was “thrown out of the story” by this comment from Gloriana in one of the love scenes: “Or imagine having another chance to feel my beautiful body, rubbing me all over, holding my great big boobies in your slim white hands.” This dialogue struck me as unnatural and the language not particularly sexy. Even taking into account that “boobies” (“bubbies”) was in common usage in Renaissance English, the comment made me perceive Gloriana almost as a comic cartoon caricature of the historical figure she represents. I laughed and not in a good way.

The story’s theme is trust. Plotting remains true to the theme as various revelations indicate the value of trustworthy people, the danger of untrustworthy people, and how both can surprise you when you least expect it.

The author “flubs” at the climax, however, when Catherine lectures Gloriana about the importance of trust. Catherine herself obviously distrusted Gloriana and abused Gloriana’s trust throughout the story. This disharmony in theme and plot could have been avoided had Catherine revealed her identity to Glory (or had been identified by Glory or Glory’s troops) earlier in the tale. I liked and empathized with Cat as Glory’s hostage and willing sexual plaything up to that point. Her lecture, so out of sync with her actions and coupled with a demand for restitution to boot, made me like her less and perceive her as a hypocrite.

The book’s blurb refers to Catherine and Gloriana as “fierce warrior queens.” When trapped and in danger of their lives, however, neither queen struck me as fierce, warlike, or even willing to fight for their own lives. A lucky break saves them, not their own prowess or ingenuity as warriors. This is not particularly inappropriate for a Renaissance female monarch, but it is very inappropriate for characters dubbed “fierce warrior queens.”

The cover art is beautiful and eye-catching. It does not entirely “work” for me as a cover for a historical romance, it looks more like a paranormal or fantasy book to me. However, I think this may work in the story’s favor since it is not a period accurate historical romance. The cover caught my eye first and after skimming the blurb and excerpt, I bought the ebook expecting a fantasy story. If I’d expected a more authentic historical I would have been put off by the discrepancy.

Again, many of these caveats are based upon my personal tastes. I admit I’m a tough customer when it comes to critiquing books. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Glory and the Clever Cat. I will enjoy reading it again and should Miss Storm pen a sequel I will buy it without hesitation. I recommend the book to anyone who enjoys good, romantic short stories.

Sex rating: Damp panties. There are several love scenes in the book featuring mild explicit description; allusion to sex toys. Reads more like a “spicy” traditional romance.

Grade: B-