Review: Table for Three by Zoey Thames

Reviewed by Shelly

Josie Smith waits tables at a diner where Lucas Pearce and Dan Jackson (both billionaires) started frequenting every Friday night for the last six months. I’m not sure when Lucas and Dan realized that their interest in Josie went beyond than friendship. When the story starts, the time span has already happened so there’s a tremendous amount of story that’s told not shown.

The only thing about this story that I thought was interesting was that it was told from Josie and Lucas’s perspective. But even including Josie’s side of things she was more into the visual stimuli of Dan and Lucas together. So this read more as an m/m with a bit of ‘f’ thrown in for whatever reason. [Read more…]

Review: Dancing in the Rain by Kelly Jamieson

Reviewed by Shelly

This isn’t my first novel by this author and while I’ve enjoyed most of what I’ve read by Kelly Jamieson, this wasn’t one. I read a story some months back whose premise was the heroine was the sister of someone who the hero had previously slept with. I felt icky about that – there’s just something that isn’t okay and feels like a tawdry Lifetime movie. Tell me if I’m wrong here but isn’t there’s a bigger pool of people out there to find in a main character other than the same family pool? I read this one hoping that Jamieson would be able to take the ick factor away and everything would be la la wonderful for this couple. [Read more…]

Review: Go Big by Joanna Blake

Reviewed by Shelly

I recently read another of Joanna Blake’s stories Torpedo, and I didn’t realize (but I should have) that the heroes in her stories might be on the douchey side. Unfortunately for me, I feel dumber after having read Go Big. I really don’t know what I was thinking.

Cadewell Dupree is a man on a mission. He’s new to major league baseball. He’s one of these hitters who can hit any pitch thrown at him and he’s been recently signed off of a rig. The back story is silly and so rare as to be unbelievable. [Read more…]

Review: Hard Case by Hope Conrad

hard-caseReviewed by Shelly

This was like watching a train wreck. It was fascinating to watch it collide and crumble. This is my first Hope Conrad story and from what I know this is part of series, but I could have sworn that it could be read as a stand alone. But I felt like there was a part 1 to someone’s story – not sure if it would be hero or heroine – that I was missing.

I thought this would be a different kind of story. I’m not sure why, but I really didn’t expect either the abrasiveness of the sexual contact nor the way that the two got together. I’m not spoiling anything here because it happens early in the book but the sex is quick (think same night after meeting) and dirty with these two. She’s fresh out of jail, and I do mean fresh, for killing her husband and he’s her ‘pro bono’ lawyer. [Read more…]

Review: Craving Flight by Tamsen Parker

craving flightReviewed by Shelly

I chose to read this specifically because I’ve read and enjoyed Tamsen Parker’s ‘Compass’ series. Although I’ve read my share of erotica/BDSM, I can’t claim to enjoy the level of kink the Compass series is about; but dear readers, Parker writing is so good that I couldn’t not read that series. All that to say, it bummed me out that by the time I was 20% into this story, my opinion was already formed. I really wanted to like this story and I should have stopped reading because I wanted to put this book down (more than once). My feelings ran the gamut on this novella but not in a way that I found fulfilling. I just want a story that leaves me with a sense of ‘hey, that was a good story – I want MOAR like that’. [Read more…]

Red Hot… WHAT??

Just a couple of weeks ago, I watched two of my fellow bloggers deal with the same problem.  Other people were using their names.  Everyone is familiar with Rachel at Parajunkee.  Well, someone thought it would be a good idea to launch their own site, dubbed “parajunkie.”  The ladies at Under the Covers had a copycat too.  I remember thinking to myself how much that had to suck and how glad I was that it didn’t happen to me.  I even ran a few searches on “red hot books” and found nothing but a glut of my own posts, on the blog… on Amazon…. Facebook, Goodreads, and Twitter. I thought I was in the clear.  I was wrong.
Last night, while going through my Google reader, imagine my surprise to see a graphic for Red Hot Book Tours.  I clicked on the link and sure enough, there is a new promotions company using the same name as mine.  From what I can tell, they launched last month.  They have three tours set up, featuring stops at many blogs in my circle of friends.  I wonder how many of them thought it had something to do with me.  And for those who knew otherwise, I wonder why nobody told me.
I’m sure these are lovely ladies, providing a great service.  But they are making money off the Red Hot Book name.  A name I’ve worked hard to get out there.  And I don’t think it’s much of a leap for people to think I have something to do with their venture.  
I am very distraught over this.  I welcome your comments.   

P.S. They like me on Facebook.

Give the Readers Some Credit & Stop Working the System

What good is a great book if nobody reads it?  Authors are more aware of this question than anyone.  It’s why authors and publicists give out ARCs.  It’s why many authors delve into social media. And why as bloggers, our inboxes are filled with more review requests than we could ever possibly read. 

I’ve seen authors say on Twitter that one of the best ways you can show your support for a book, is to write a review.  Some specifically ask for reviews on Amazon.  I’ve even had publicists ask me to post there.  And that’s no chore for me.  I post all of my reviews on Amazon anyway. I know there are a lot of people who aren’t part of the blogosphere or social media or Goodreads. For those people, Amazon reviews are the only ones they read.  Which brings me to my point.

I noticed early on in reviewing, the way people work the system on Amazon. Basically, there are three featured reviews on every book/ product.  Each review offers the question, “Was this review helpful to you?”  And other customers can vote yes or no.  The three featured reviews are the ones with the best helpful-to-unhelpful ratio.  This sounds good in theory, but what if there are 100 reviews?  No one will read them all.  And with just a few well placed unhelpful clicks, anyone (or a small group of people) can push a review onto or off of the main product page.

For a long time, I believed it was only fellow reviewers behind the manipulations. That is, people who wanted their own reviews featured would bump off a more popular one by voting it down and getting their review bumped up.  But now, we know there are some authors in on it too.  Some are having friends bump down negative reviews –or even hiring people to do so.  And they are putting up fake, glowing reviews too.  There are people out there who sell their services to write positive reviews.  Not to mention the dummy accounts set up by family, friends, or even the authors themselves… devised solely as a vehicle to add positive reviews.  It’s depressing.

I understand the impulse.  Who is going to buy a book with no reviews?  Or who is going to buy one where the reviews are negative?  These are the obvious questions.  But authors, you are hurting yourselves and other authors much more than you are helping.  It’s easy to spot the fake reviews.  They are often about four lines long. They say your book is great with very little explanation as to why.  If anyone is savvy enough to click on the reviewer’s name, they’ll see that this is one of maybe two posts the reviewer has ever written, assuming it’s not the only one they’ve ever written.   It’s insulting.  Not to mention, “It’s great. One of the best books I have ever read,” isn’t a review that will make anyone buy a book. It’s meaningless. 

As for the practice of bumping down less flattering reviews, let me tell you a true story.  I read “story X” by a debut author and liked it. It was a four star read.  I reviewed it on the blog, Goodreads, and Amazon. I put it on Facebook. I tweeted about it.  Then my review was bumped down, so that only five star reviews now sit on her product page on Amazon.  And they are those four line fake-reviews.  Anyone with a discerning eye will see those lame ass things and just click away.  Hear me when I say this, I would be 100x more likely to buy a book with a thoughtful, detailed 4-star review, than a meaningless fake 5 star review.  You need to give readers more credit.  We are not stupid.  Even a negative review isn’t the kiss of death some people think it is.  I wrote a review a couple of weeks ago for a book that wasn’t great for me.  I explained why it wasn’t a good fit and rated it accordingly.  Then someone used the Amazon link and bought it straight from my blog.  The things I didn’t like in the book, were clearly a selling point to someone else.  Believe in your work. Let the chips fall where they may.

You aren’t just hurting yourself, you know.  You’re also hurting other authors.  I got a review request a couple of weeks ago to read Fire Baptized by Kenya Wright.  As I do with all review requests, I checked it out on Amazon and Goodreads and found **surprise** a bunch of 4.5 and 5 star reviews.  I almost didn’t read it.  Do you hear what I’m saying? I almost didn’t read the book because it had too many positive reviews.  But then I looked closer and I saw that the reviews were more detailed than the faker ones I usually see. I liked the blurb, so I said, “what the hell…” and I read it.  And it was awesome. It earned its 5 star reviews AND I ALMOST DIDN’T READ IT.  And that pisses me off.  It also pisses me off that someone else might not read it for the same reason.  Or the same thing could happen with another gem of an indie book, because some other author out there fucked with the system.

I can only imagine how hard it is for new authors. I’m sure you think you’re doing what you need to do.  But please think about what I’m saying.  You’re aren’t fooling us.

A Little Lube Never Hurt Anybody

I’m not going to point any fingers. I’m not going to name any names. But I’ve got to tell you, nothing pulls me out of a love scene like a lack of realism. Don’t get me wrong, the vast majority of the books I read take place outside of the realm of reality. I read about vampires and werewolves, ghosts, demons, witches and dragons. I enjoy a little fantasy, but not when it comes to the mechanics of the act. Case in point: lube. I enjoy some m/m sexing… and every once in a while I may read a menage… both of which invariably lead to back-door loving. But when the author skips the lube, the love scene is ruined for me. Why? Because I’m no longer thinking about anything except, That’s really got to hurt. Especially for the virgins.

Of course, a lack of lube isn’t the only culprit… though it probably bothers me the most. It also bothers me when the character’s sexual prowess is so vast, my brain gets mired in the complexity of the act, thus removing any sensuality from it. I remember reading an older Anita Blake book where the woman had one guy in each hand, one in her mouth, and (I think) one guy in the lady-bits… and I just sat there, wondering Could any woman be so coordinated? I couldn’t. I can barely stir two pots at once.

Other winners include the classic “man comes, triggering the woman’s orgasm.” If that actually worked, why would we need men to make any extra effort at all? Also, sex under water… doable, but rarely as advertised on-page. I could go on, but you get the idea.

I’m not saying I don’t appreciate a little embellishment. Even great sex has awkward moments from time to time that we’d all prefer to gloss over, but come on. At least make me feel like what you’re describing could happen. Even if it’s with an immortal, time traveling, Highland warrior, vampire-shifter hybrid who is overcoming his tortured past to find the one true love that can save his soul… dammit.

Thoughts? Please share.

Rant: True Blood

You would think I would have learned my lesson. Over and over, people keep telling me that I need to think of True Blood as something totally separate from the Sookie Stackhouse books. And that sounds easy enough, but I just can’t do it. I mean, these are the supposed to be the characters I’ve cared about for all this time.

The basic premise of the series was the same… at least in season one. Sookie Stackhouse, telepathic waitress, gets her first real chance at a relationship with the first vampire she ever meets. Her shapeshifter boss is there, along with her slightly selfish, man-whore brother… The main story arc holds up, as someone kills people with ties to vampires. And not withstanding the horrific accents, it worked. Of course, the amazing casting of Alexander Skarsgard didn’t hurt. His presence is what made me tolerate that whole ridiculous v-addiction storyline.

Then season two came and the bastardization began. Layfayette is alive (the one and only change I was ever on board with)… Jessica is born. The unnamed maenad gets a name and an extended storyline that nearly overshadows the trip to Dallas. There’s the epic fail of the Fellowship of the Sun side-plot and changes involved with making Godric into Eric’s maker. Season 3 gives us the gift of Joe Mangianello and I can forgive the show creators almost anything after that. Except maybe the train wreck that they turned Russell into. Or the terrible miscasting of Claudine and Hadley.

But here we are at season four. And I’ve been waiting, poised between excitement and fear for the adaptation of my favorite book in the series. Only to get the horrific, steaming pile of shit that I witnessed last night. In two episodes, there was nary a shred of storyline that can be reconciled with Dead to the World. In fact, it felt like Alan Ball was giving a huge middle finger to Charlaine Harris fans, making it essentially impossible for the story to mirror future books.

Here are my top 10 complaints:

1. Faerie. This was wrong in so many ways, I don’t even know where to start. Lumieres. Ugly fae. Grandpa EARL? This knocks out the whole Niall storyline and indicates (by Barry’s presence) that Sookie’s telepathy is linked to her being fae.

2. A year has passed.

3. Jason sold Sookie’s house.

4. Tara is suddenly a lesbian.

5. Sam is in a shifter support group that has a soft spot for horses. (Who the hell are these people?)

6. Sam’s stupid brother is still around.

7. Arlene thinks she has a devil baby.

8. Here’s a big one. Bill kills Sophie-Ann. Knocking out huge storyline potential from future books. So much of the upcoming story should have been tied up in Sophie Ann, from Sookie’s trip to New Orleans, to the vampire conference, to Mr. Cataliades, Andre, Sigebert & Wybert… All just wiped out with this one plot device.

9. Bill is King. (Seriously… I knew they weren’t going to send him to Peru, but this utterly changes the dynamic between him and Eric forever.)

10. The witches don’t want to have sex with Eric. Instead of some all powerful, evil witches, we’ve got an old lady who misses her dead bird and a bunch of dabblers. It’s all wrong.

I could go on. Bitch about Crystal being part of the plan to turn Jason into a shifter… Or Andy’s drug dependence on vampire blood. Or Lafayette’s stupid new hair. But I’m starting to feel petty. They couldn’t even throw me a bone and toss a naked shot of Joe Manganiello in there.
((**sigh**)) Alan Ball, you did a bad, bad thing.

"Was This Review Helpful?" An Amazon Rant

I don’t profess to be the world’s greatest reviewer. I do it because I love to read and I love to have a dialogue about books. Ask anyone what makes a good review and you’ll get answers that span the spectrum of possibilities. Some people want you to write reviews that are spoiler-free, so they can decide whether to buy a book they haven’t read yet. Others read reviews after they’re finished with a book. They want you to talk about the plot; they want to compare their reading experience to yours. Some people want to know about the writing style, the grammar, or the story structure; while others want to know about the emotion the story sparked in you. I understand that you can’t please everyone with every review and in the end, you have to talk about what speaks to you.

But that doesn’t make me feel any better about a stupid little feature at Amazon.com. Below every review, it asks, “Was this review helpful to you?” I know I shouldn’t care. Hell, I stopped caring what people thought about me somewhere around the third grade. But for some reason, this irritating question sticks in my craw all the same.

I understand the principle of the thing. I’ve read reviews on Amazon that gave a book a poor rating because it took too long to ship. Others complained that it was too expensive and they refused to buy it, then went on to give the book one star based on the price. Those aren’t reviews and shouldn’t be counted as such. A book’s rating shouldn’t be dragged down based on things like that. And there should be a way to flag things like that. But if you’ve ever spent any amount of time and effort putting reviews on Amazon, you’ll find out quickly that people abuse the feature.

What could anyone possibly get out of that? you might ask. Hmpf. Every book or product on Amazon has three featured reviews. They are the ones people have found most helpful. Theoretically, those would be the most worthwhile to casual web-surfers who just want the flavor of the book. But this doesn’t mean that the person with the highest votes is featured first. Oh no, you’re penalized for each unhelpful vote. Which means if someone wants their review featured, the quickest way to do it is find the other reviews unhelpful.

In moments of reflection and introspection, I’ve asked myself, “Jen, are you sure you’re not being paranoid? Maybe 14% of the people who have read your reviews really didn’t find them helpful.” But then I think about the release days on any highly anticipated book… how if I go to Amazon, I’ll see “0 of 3 people find this review helpful” on all 5 or 6 reviews already posted. And we’re talking perfectly good reviews. And it pisses me off. For the most part, these are fellow booklovers like me, who are excited to share their thoughts on the book they’ve just finished reading. But they’re getting voted down so others can make sure their review will be placed higher when it’s published. I end up asking myself, “Is it too early to post? Will the trolls be done yet?” Then I shake myself and just post the damn thing, because for crying out loud, it’s a book review not international politics.

So what does it all really mean in the end? Not a whole lot. It just bugs me. Those of us who write reviews do it to share them with others. I get to do that on my blog and on Goodreads, without the drama. I think Amazon’s important too, though, because many casual readers never make it to the bloggosphere or even Goodreads. **sigh** I feel like a tool for letting it bother me. But I might as well own it.