Thoughts on Kristen Ashley’s The Gamble

I finally made it through a Kristen Ashley book! The online romance community has really embraced Ashley, a self-published and very prolific romance writer. I wanted to see what the fuss was all about.

Here’s the Blurb:

Nina Sheridan desperately needs a timeout vacation. With a fiancé who can’t even remember how she takes her coffee, Nina wants some distance to rethink her engagement. Flying halfway around the world from England to a mountain town in Colorado should do the trick. But when she finds a gorgeous man at her rental cabin, Nina’s cold, lonely adventure suddenly heats up.

The owner of the house, Holden “Max” Maxwell is surprised by the beautiful woman who turns up at his door. But when Nina becomes ill, Max spends days nursing her back to health. A private man with a broken heart, Max finds himself drawn to the strong-willed woman. Soon it becomes impossible for Nina and Max to deny their growing attraction to one another. Yet even as these two wounded lovebirds think about taking a chance on a relationship, a dangerous secret from Max’s past emerges-and threatens to end their love for good.

The Gamble, like most of Ashley’s books, is long. Very long. 670 pages long. I’ve been reading romance very regularly for about seven years now, and I’ve come to expect a certain length from single title contemporaries, which is about 300 pages, give or take. I was really curious why The Gamble, which has a very familiar plot, should be so long.

After reading it, I think the length is down to four things:

Small-Gamble

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Review: Flying, by Megan Hart

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Flying is the story of a divorced Pennsylvania woman, Stella, who lives with her teenage son Tristan. Her ex-husband, remarried and still an active co-parent, is the CEO of a small airline. Stella negotiated free flights in the settlement, and uses them on her “off duty” weekends to play dress up (wigs, garters), pick up men in airport bars, have steamy consensual sex with them, and return home before Tristan does. Once a flight attendant, she now works as a photo finisher, has a couple of friends at her “far from terrific” job, and, except for a serious pre-divorce flirtation with a local guy named Craig, has been single since her marriage ended.

Stella’s compulsion to “fly” as she calls it, is not just natural excess sexual energy, or a lark, but a flight from unfinished emotional business after a personal tragedy:

Something’s cold in her. And broken. But it’s her own fault, she supposes, for picking men she knows are already damaged because it feels easier to justify breaking them.

The sexual interludes are described in detail (this is erotic fiction), but mostly to establish Stella’s emotional state. In this way, Flying reminds me a bit of Broken, an earlier novel by Hart, in which the male protagonist, Joe, has a series of random sexual encounters, the point of which is ultimately to develop his character. In erotic fiction, you can’t remove the sex without removing important chunks of the story, and while I think that’s true in Flying, I have to admit that Stella’s particular way of dealing with her demons felt more like an interesting hook than something organically arising out of her personality or life experiences.

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Review: Cream (Stud Life) by Christiana Harrell

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Cream, a self-published novel by Christiana Harrell, is the story of a young Kansas orphan who ends up in the foster home, with seven other girls, of a certain shady Mrs. Weston. The day she turns eighteen, the heroine is brought to Mrs. Weston’s son’s strip club and told to work if she wants a roof over her head. This sets the heroine, who calls herself Siren for the first half of the book, on a journey of self-discovery from Dallas to New Orleans, to Atlanta, to Baltimore, and Miami. She’s very tough, resilient, and hyper-vigilant about her vulnerable heart. A brief tragic love affair with a fellow stripper leaves Siren even more protected, until she eventually –after many sexual encounters —  finds her soul mate.

Her journey is not just one of discovering her sexuality, but also her gender expression. Siren strips for heterosexual men for much of the book, adopting a traditionally feminine persona, with clear stiletto heels, lots of makeup and sexy costumes. But a friend tells her she’d make a great stud:

“Girl, you have stud written all over you. I don’t care how tight your jeans are or what poles you’ve slid down, you have a boyish swag.”

“You are not allowed to say swag.”

“Leave me alone, but seriously, you do. You would be a sexy ass stud. Don’t get me wrong, you rock the hell out of the femme look, but I can just see you in some boxers and a sports bra, sagging jeans, a cute haircut. You’d soak some panties.”

Being unversed in the ways of lesbian strip clubs, I Googled “stud stripper” and found a YouTube video that enlightened me (Siren becomes a YouTube sensation in the book). I’m sure stud strippers have launched a thousand queer theory dissertations, but I was mainly interested in what it meant to the character:

I had to admit that I did feel good in the boy clothes. As soon as I put on the baggy attire, my stance shifted; I felt relaxed and swag was added to my walk. Payton licked and bit her lips at me. I looked good. I was a stud, almost.

Siren became Cream, for obvious reasons, and got versed by her friend in the ways of stud life:

Payton and I spent the rest of the day talking about the gay community. She told me the good, the bad, and the ugly. We discussed labels and how gender roles were becoming a big thing in the lesbian community, because studs were beginning to be treated like men. She told me I’d get criticized because I didn’t mind girl clothes and makeup; some people wouldn’t view me as a “real stud”. Payton had it down to a science.

Interestingly, there’s not much about race, even though, based on the totally ethnographically legit method of perusing You Tube videos, and based on the race of the main characters in Cream, stud stripping seems to be a black community thing (please let me know if that’s wrong, and how wrong).

I usually read het romance, so Cream was pretty neat in terms of playing havoc with my expectations. For example, at one point Siren gets saved and wooed by a rich guy, and shacks up in his apartment. She’s not physically interested in him, but when he goes on a business trip, she and his daughter get it on.  Instead of asking Rich Guy for help with the rival stripper who attacked her, Siren gets her own violent revenge.

I was pretty intrigued by this book. It was just so different from anything I’ve ever read. That said, there were a lot of editing problems that keep me from being able to recommend it. Things like this:

She wasn’t out of site for two seconds

“You’re lying. I thought Kitty was a dike.”

Thanks to Kitty, who was a pole dancing extraordinaire,

I usually would wear wigs when I preformed,

I didn’t mind her talking my ear of.

until the music stooped.

Nobody was wathcing you.

I didn’t get a second to breath.

“No, my girl…” I hesiated, “… friend is outside in the car.”

You get the idea. The Amazon buy page has editors named in addition to the author. I sincerely hope they worked for free:

“My daughter is the same age as you and she’s has more male friends than I care to mention.”

“Oh, you have a daughter?”

“Yes. She’s the same age as you.”

And some abrupt transitions, like this:

Ms. Weston played me. I stood there in silence, uncomfortable, and with my back against a wall. I didn’t have a penny to my name and no place to sleep. All the love I thought I was receiving from Ms. Weston was just preparation for me to be pimped out at her benefit. It made me happy that she thought she was dealing with a young dummy.

Also some “That word. I do not think it means what you think it means” moments, like these:

“I’ve read some. I’m an avid reader.”

I bucked my eyes when I looked in the mirror.

I pondered this one for a really long time:

The only man that ever touched her was her daddy— her real one— but he paid for that with a knife in his back when her older brother, Corey, caught him trying to stick his bird in a nest it didn’t build.

But this line was my favorite:

There was literally an explosion between my legs

As dire as that sounds, our heroine does get her HEA. My favorite thing about this book was probably the cover. Despite a unique and interesting plot, it mostly went downhill for me after that.

I’m over at Book Riot talking about polyamorous erotic romance

A post about books by Megan Mulry, Kit Rocha, Kelly Jamieson, and Solace Ames.

(Meant to put this up yesterday. Oops)

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PS. It’s likely I’ll be doing a bit more writing at Book Riot, especially about romance, which is an under represented area on their site compared to its readership. It’s a very different kind of writing than I do here. It’s going to be a challenge, but a fun one I think.

 

Diversifying my Romance Shelves, or how I spent my bday cash

 

Perhaps you’ve seen the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, a response to the lack of diversity in panels at BookCon that has grown into a campaign to raise awareness of diversity in fiction in general. The dedicated Tumblr site is pretty powerful. Today is:

Day Three, May 3rd, will begin the ongoing Diversify Your Shelves call to action. There’ll be another online chat, once again using the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag, to share out recommendations, raves, and reviews of our favorite diverse books. And then? Why, of course, we should go out there and get them, documenting and sharing out our newly diversified shelves in photographs. 

 

Although I never actually need an excuse to buy books, this turns out to be perfect timing for me because I finished teaching for the semester yesterday. Also it’s my birthday weekend and I have a little money to burn. Right now I am looking at a sweet sweet stretch of about 30 hours where I don’t have to answer to anyone, and I’m planning to read all weekend.

No, a hashtag won’t change the world, but it definitely changed my plans for this weekend.

I spent $49.99 and here’s what I got:

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Violence in Outlander

Outlander 2014

I love audio books, and my favorite genre is romance. As we all know, romance has gotten racier over the years, and people sometimes ask me if it’s difficult to listen to sex scenes on audio. It’s not. What’s difficult for me is violent scenes on audio. Listening to books, even on 1.5 speed, is much slower than reading. A violent scene takes longer to get through. And a good narrator can bring it to the next level.

Whether or not Gabaldon’s Outlander is a romance novel (and debate is heated on this point), it has strong romantic elements that attract many romance readers. When I first read it about seven years ago, like many romance readers, I focused primarily on the relationship between Clare and Jamie. There’s an infamous episode of violence between them which has launched a thousand  forum and blog posts. In Chapter 22. “Reckonings” Jamie takes a leather belt strap to Clare for deserting him and the company, getting captured by the English, imprisoned by Captain Black Jack Randall, and putting all of them in danger. That was the violent scene I recalled, was prepared for, had thought about.

But what I had forgotten was all of the other beatings in the book, and all of the scenes of torture. Now, having re-read it on audio, I think ritualized violence is very important to this novel.

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