Book Review – Vampire Claus by Robert Winter

A vampire without a territory, Taviano arrives in Boston on Christmas Eve. When he was turned, in 19th century Italy, he was studying for the priesthood, and he still finds himself drawn to the familiar ritual of Midnight Mass. While lurking near the church, he manages to prevent a young short order cook, Paul, from being robbed of the presents he’s taking to a shelter for homeless LGBTQ children. Taviano is drawn to Paul, but even though it’s obvious Paul wants him, too, anything that happens between them can only be a one-night thing. Unless, of course, they can experience a Christmas miracle…

Taviano is the kind of vampire romance readers will adore. While the other vampires that feature in this novella are undead monsters, not afraid to use extreme violence to get what they want, Taviano still retains a soul and a moral code. He satiates his need to feed (here personified as a ‘bloodbeast’, a literal demon living inside him) by drinking the blood of muggers, rapists and other lowlife, and he still has strong memories of his life before he was turned. Paul, meanwhile, is poor but good of heart, willing to put others before himself and with a recklessness to his personality that makes him embrace the desires of a vampire rather than run away from them. Both are loners, so naturally they’ll be drawn to each other, and when they have sex it’s hot and sensual and deliciously described.

Robert Winter tends to overdo Paul’s use of slang to emphasise the difference in age and attitude between him and Taviano (does anyone really say “amazeballs”, and if so, please can they stop?), and there’s a rather too contrived revelation about Paul’s family background late in the story, but these are minor quibbles. If you’re looking for a heart-warming slice of paranormal romance to stuff your Christmas stocking, Vampire Claus is the one for you.

Vampire Claus is available from Amazon US and Amazon UK. You can find out more about Robert Winter at his author site.

I received a copy of Vampire Claus from Indigo Marketing in return for an honest review.

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Book Review: Unearthly Delights – An ERWA Anthology

For more than twenty years, the Erotic Readers and Writers Association has offered budding writers of erotic fiction a place to discuss and hone their craft. It’s expanded from its original concept of a place where women could find the intelligent erotica that was largely absent from the Internet at that time, and now offers regular book and video reviews, new fiction produced by its members, and is one of the best sites for finding details of publishers’ submission calls and other useful author resources.

Given all that, it’s a surprise that it’s taken quite so long for the ERWA to put together a book showcasing its members’ talents. Unearthly Delights, a collection of paranormal stories edited by ERWA owner and prolific author Selena Kitt, is the first in a planned series of anthologies, and it features a variety of writing styles, from romance to full-on erotica.

The writing is of a uniformly high standard, but it’s best to be warned up front that this is not a collection for the faint of heart. If descriptions of blood-letting make you queasy, then you might be advised to avoid Lisabet Sarai’s elegant but disturbing Underground, the tale of a woman whose need for extreme blood play, and a man who is in tune with her taboo desires, leads her to a club frequented by vampires. Also on the horror end of the spectrum is The Velvet Choker, Selena Kitt’s compelling and very adult take on the classic scary campfire story, The Red Ribbon.

By far the most fun story of the bunch is Daddy X’s The Rasputin Collection. The collection of the title is a set of bronze lamps with highly erotic reliefs in their bases. Reputed to have been owned by the legendary “mad monk”, Rasputin, the lamps exert a strange power when lit, compelling whoever they shine on to perform the acts they portray – much to the surprise, and delight, of their new owner.

Elsewhere, Delores Swallows’ Night Visitors features the classic trope of the couple who buy a run-down home for a bargain price, only to discover that it might not be as uninhabited as they think, Jean Roberta’s A Ripple In The Air pits vampires against those who are fated to protect the world from them, and Belinda La Page’s Imagine is a series of darkly funny flash stories about the misadventures of an alien charged with hunting human men for breeding stock.

Like all anthologies, some stories work better – or appeal more to a reader’s personal tastes – than others. The two contributions that failed to grab me here were Ian D. Smith’s The Lesson of History, which tries to pack too much into the story of a woman who’s testing a device designed to measure the body’s responses to stimulation and has a series of ghostly encounters at a country wedding, and Mary Ramsey’s Mystic Force, about a group of deeply unpleasant and unlikable people who have superpowers. Overall, though, this is a great showcase for the talented writers at the ERWA, and I’m looking forward to seeing more.

Unearthly Delights is available from Amazon US and Amazon UK. You can find out more about the ERWA here.

I was supplied with a copy of Unearthly Delights by Indigo Marketing in return for an honest review.

Book Review: Hiding In Plain Sight By Lucy Felthouse

Mallory Scott works for a covert intelligence agency, infiltrating her way into criminal gangs or getting close to those who want to sell government secrets. She’s good at her job, mostly because she’s prepared to do whatever it takes to bring the bad guys to justice. If that means setting up a honey trap and sleeping with them, well, that’s all in a day’s work. However, the one thing she’s never counted on is falling for the enemy, but when an operation to prevent a huge diamond heist in Amsterdam brings her into contact with handsome and charismatic thief Baxter Collinson does just that, everything changes for Mallory. She needs to keep things on a professional basis, but will her growing attraction to Baxter make that impossible?

Hiding In Plain Sight begins as a straightforward cat-and-mouse chase as Mallory works to foil the diamond thieves, but spins off in an interesting direction from the original premise. To reveal any more would be to spoil the surprise, but let’s just say that rounding up the gang doesn’t necessarily signal the end of Mallory and Baxter’s story.

The couple have plenty of chemistry from their initial meeting, and the sex they enjoy is just you’d expect from a Lucy Felthouse novel – sizzling hot but cute and playful. And when a box of luxury chocolates is incorporated into Mallory and Baxter’s sex play, things take a lusciously sensual turn.

Of course, the test of any erotic thriller is whether it would work without the sex scenes, and in the case of Hiding In Plain sight, the answer is yes. There’s enough technical jargon to make the work of the agency seem believable, without weighing down the plot, and an edge of tension to remind you how much is at stake for Mallory and her team. She is always conscious of the choices she has to make to protect her own security and that of her colleagues, which becomes doubly difficult when she’s in danger of blurring the lines between work and pleasure. Only a scene at the start of the story, where Mallory has a one-night stand with a hotel waiter, feels a little like a gratuitous effort to up the sex content of the book. Overall, though, Hiding In Plain Sight is a fun read that leaves you hoping for more adventures featuring this sexy spycatcher.

Hiding In Plain Sight is available from Amazon and Smashwords. Find out more about the book on Goodreads.

I received a copy of the book from Lucy in return for an honest review.

Book Review: A New Way To Dance By Sean Michael

Seth is a successful dancer in Toronto, until a serious car crash destroys his career. At his lowest ebb, he runs into Brook, who’s the brother of his best friend, Lizzie, and who he met briefly on the night of his accident. There’s an obvious attraction between the two of them, but Seth has too many scars, both physical and mental, to consider getting involved with anyone. Brook, however, is determined to help Seth overcome his demons and realize that his identity is bound up in more than being a dancer.

Set against the backdrop of a snowy Ottawa winter and written in Sean Michael’s usual straightforward, unfussy style, A New Way To Dance is a contemporary romance that deals with some complex emotional issues. Though he doesn’t acknowledge it at first, Seth has a serious eating disorder that’s only made worse by his refusal to give up on everything associated with being a dancer. In his mind, he can’t let go of his old way of life, and it’s up to Brook to make him see that things need to change if they’re going to have any chance of happiness. Brook turns out to be selfless and devoted to making Seth well, while Seth struggles with getting close to someone again after his previous sub ended their relationship in the nastiest way possible.

As you’d expect, there is plenty of hot and very loving sex, as Seth and Brook learn everything about each other’s needs and desires. However, the story takes an abrupt tonal shift towards the end, as the last couple of chapters turn into a long and involved piercing scenario. It’s almost as if, having wrapped things up to a satisfying conclusion, the author then thought readers wouldn’t be happy unless the book contained some heavy BDSM action. Fans of hurt/comfort fiction, though, will enjoy seeing how Brook helps Seth heal, and the many descriptions of Seth being fed will appeal whether or not that’s your particular fetish. (Though seriously, ‘ants on a log’? Celery, peanut butter and raisins combined as a snack? That’s wrong on too many levels to count…)

A New Way To Dance is available from Amazon and Evil Plot Bunny. I was given a copy of the book by Indigo Marketing and Design in return for an honest review.

Book Review: Blank Space by Jennifer Young

blank-spaceBronte O’Hara lives an unremarkable life in Edinburgh, working for the Caledonian Bank. Her world is thrown into confusion when she returns home to finds an injured and bleeding man in her kitchen. Marcus is suffering from memory loss, so she has no way of knowing whether he means her harm, or who attacked him. However, their paths are destined to cross again, and when they do, Bronte begins to realise that everything is tied into her relationship with her ex-boyfriend, Eden, an anarchist who’s part of the anti-capitalism movement. With the G8 summit due to take place in Edinburgh, the city’s about to become a hotbed of not-so-peaceful protest, and as Bronte’s feelings for Marcus deepen, she’s left wondering who, if anyone, she can really trust.

Blank Space is one of those novels where it’s best to know as little about it as you can before you read it, so you can best enjoy the twists and turns as they arrive, though it’s not spoiling things too much to reveal that almost everyone in this book is hiding major secrets. Jennifer Young uses contemporary political and economic events as the backdrop for a fade-to-black romantic suspense storyline that explores questions of identity, trust, and moral principles. Bronte’s dilemma is simple and believable– given how badly her relationship with Eden ended, how can she love Marcus when she’s not entirely sure who he really is or what his true motives are? The “ooh, banks are evil” sentiment is occasionally ladled on a little too thickly, but it’s contrasted with some wry comments about those with anti-corporate sentiments who need people to work for banks and the like to give them something to protest against. Bronte is an appealingly feisty heroine, her budding attraction to Marcus is low-key but realistically handled, and there are moments of genuinely scary tension in a story will keep you gripped to the end. The book is billed as the first in a series, so it will be interesting to see whether Book Two develops Bronte and Marcus’ romance, or, as the previous Lake Garda series by Jennifer Young has done, introduces new characters to the set-up. Either way, it’s bound to be interesting.

Blank Space is available from Amazon UK and US. I was given a copy of the book in return for an honest review.

Book Review: Arctic Fire by Kiera Andrews

arctic-fireCaptain Jack Turner is trying to make sense of his life and his Army career after being seriously injured in an incident in Afghanistan. When he’s sent up to a remote town in the Arctic Circle to reconnoitre the site of a potential new Army base, he doesn’t expect it to be anything other than a routine mission. Everything changes when he meets Kin, the part-time soldier charged with showing him around the area. Circumstances contrive to throw Jack and Kin closer together than they could have expected, and force them to make a series of life-changing decisions – not least what to do about the intense attraction they feel for each other…

There’s nothing like a good story about men in uniform, but with military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan scaled down and all but over for US and UK forces, writers need to find different backgrounds to keep their Army tales relevant and contemporary. Kiera Andrews does that admirably in Arctic Fire, and has clearly put in plenty of research to make the Army jargon, authentic and the small-town life in Kin’s home town on Nunavet feel real and yet somehow detached from the rest of Canada (which, I suppose, is pretty much how most of us picture the Arctic). Kin’s an outsider, from a community that isn’t accepting of gay men, and there’s also a culture clash between himself and jaded Jack, who’s used to more tolerant attitudes and a faster pace of life. Jack, meanwhile, is both literally and metaphorically scarred by the improvised explosive device that wounded him and killed one of his men, and haunted by his failure to prevent it. When Jack and Kin are trapped by a blizzard and forced to huddle together for warmth (yes, it’s a cliché, but it’s used well here), their initial prickly relationship turns into something more intimate. It’s the old story of opposites attracting, but they’re both believable, rounded characters and their growing lust is nicely handled. Mutual suspicion turns to passion, the protective barriers both men have built around their hearts start to come down, and the resulting sex is hot enough that it ought to melt the ice around them!

This is a quick, engrossing read, and fans of hurt/comfort fiction and those who want a fresh take on Army life are bound to enjoy Artic Fire.

Artic Fire is available from Kindle Unlimited in the US and globally. You can find out more about Keira Andrews on her website. I was given a copy of the book by Indigo Marketing and Design in return for an honest review.

Book Review: Fight The Tide By Kiera Andrews

fight the tideThe world is in the grip of a viral plague, supposedly released by a weird religious cult, that has turned most of the population into flesh-hungry ‘creepers’. Having escaped the carnage on mainland America, human Parker and werewolf Adam are on board the Bella Luna, trying to find a safe haven. They begin receiving messages from an island community promising them a place to stay, but as anyone who’s well versed in zombie horror clichés will know, any offer like that is almost certainly too good to be true. Throw in a pirate attack on the boat, and a family group that Parker and Adam team up with and need to protect, adding a whole new level of peril to the situation, and things between the two men become ever more tense. Is their love strong enough to survive everything that is thrown at them?

Fight The Tide is the sequel to A Kick At The Darkness, in which the creeper apocalypse occurs and Adam and Parker team up and fall in love. It helps to have read that book first, as you’re plunged straight into Parker and Adam’s world with very little in the way of establishing backstory. Their dilemma about whether or not they should seek refuge on Salvation Island, and their attempts to bond with Craig and Abby and their children, Lily and Jacob, are believable and gripping. The storyline offers Andrews the opportunity to explore what it might be like to grow up gay in a world where old rules and opinions no longer apply, as well as providing some well-crafted and horrific fights with the creepers. Indeed, the whole story is so entertaining that the sex scenes, hot as they are, and Parker’s attempts to prove that events haven’t broken him emotionally, start to become superfluous to the plot.

And speaking of sex, there’s one scene that unexpectedly tried my patience with the book. Skip this paragraph if freaky anatomy isn’t your thing, but apparently a werewolf’s rear passage is so flexible that it takes a hell of a lot of filling. Not only does Parker manage to fit his whole fist into Adam’s hole, he can also get his cock in there at the same time, effectively masturbating himself inside his lover. Maybe it’s the fact that I spent so many years removing all the physical impossibilities from the letters readers sent in to Forum, but this description came off as silly, not sexy. I’d be genuinely interested to know whether anyone finds this a turn-on.

Plenty of questions remain to be answered at the end of Fight The Tide; many of them relating to Adam’s upbringing as a lone wolf following the death of his family. A third book is promised, to the delight of Kiera Andrews’ many fans, which may answer some of them – although with rumours of a fourth book, probably not all of them…

Fight The Tide is available from various retailers including Amazon and AllRomance, and you can find out more about Keira Andrews on her website. I was given a copy of the book by Indigo Marketing and Design in return for an honest review.