Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

About Sarah Frantz

Sarah F. is a literary critic, a college professor, and an avid reader of romance -- and is thrilled that these are no longer mutually exclusive. Her academic specialization is Romantic-era British women novelists, especially Jane Austen, but she is contributing to the exciting re-visioning of academic criticism of popular romance fiction. Sarah is a contributor to the academic blog about romance, Teach Me Tonight, the winner of the 2008-2009 RWA Academic Research Grant, and the founder and President of the International Association of the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR). Sarah mainly reviews BDSM romance and gay male romance and hopes to be able to beat her TBR pile into submission when she has time to think. Sarah teaches at Fayetteville State University, NC.

Posts by Sarah Frantz:

REVIEW: Something Different by S.A. Reid

REVIEW: Something Different by S.A. Reid

Dear Ms. Reid (actually I’m just assuming your gender here — sorry if I got it wrong).

This is a self-pubbed book that you sent to Dear Author for possible review. I enjoyed the excerpt and it hit one of my buttons pretty hard (*love* stories about prostitutes or strippers — no idea why), so I figured I’d go for it. And I’m so glad I did. I loved this story. I never know why people choose to self-pub, but some aspects of the story might raise some eyebrows (they certainly raised mine), but overall, it was a fantastic story.

Something Different S.A. ReidMichael is 34, has been married for 15 years, and has two kids. He and his wife very rarely have sex:

Michael couldn’t remember the last time he’d had sex with Frannie, and there were so many rules he was no longer tempted to try. Weeknights were out, she was too tired from housework and spin class and book club and keeping up with her favorite programs on telly. Sundays were a no-go; she tended to go out with girlfriends after church and preferred a nice long evening with the telly when she returned. That left Saturday, and then Michael had to be freshly showered, the kids had to be either asleep or out of the house, and Frannie had to be in the mood. The likelihood of all these factors coming together was about as favorable as a total eclipse. Once Michael had thought that as he grew older he’d get “past it,” as men used to say, and find himself as disinterested as Frannie. But now he was thirty-four and more frustrated than ever.

A colleague goads Michael into the rebellion of going to the local park, looking for a female prostitute. There James finds him and, after a bit of conversation, Michael takes James to a hotel where James sucks him off and fucks him. Michael and James establish a regular routine until James is attacked by another client. At that point, Michael houses James and pays for his medical bills and rehabilitation, all while dealing with specters from his past and eventually being honest with his wife and starting amicable divorce proceedings.

Most but not all of the story is told from Michael’s perspective. Honestly, it reads almost like a fable. There’s some telling rather than showing, especially of the backstory for both men, but it works with your voice and just pulled me through the story (of course, looking for some to excerpt, I couldn’t find any, so maybe there’s less telling than I thought). Michael believes in truth:

“If it’s not about sex . . . what, then?”

Michael modulated his breathing. This would be taking a chance. But he could withstand the truth, he knew he could. He could ask James to be honest and not fear it would break him.

“It’s about friendship. I think of you as a friend. What we did before – I’d like to go back to it, whenever you’re ready. But until then, I want you to stay here, James. Get better. Spend time with me. Unless … unless it’s too much. Unless you don’t think of me the same way.”

“I thought of you as a client,” James said softly. “Till you rang me up. Till I said I was out of commission and you asked if we were finished. I felt – I don’t know. I thought maybe it would hurt you, wondering why I disappeared. So I met you in the restaurant. Not because I expected you to help me. I just didn’t want to leave you in pain.” James took a deep breath. “I don’t deserve you as a friend.”

“I don’t deserve you, either,” Michael said. It was the most he could manage. There was more inside him, he knew there was, but it was like staring at the white digital page when he tried to write a piece of fiction. A disconnect that made communication impossible.

So part of the “fable” feel of the story comes from Michael’s own disconnect from his emotions, but that’s very well explained by his back-story and he comes out of it now and then and increasingly toward the end of the story. The “fable” feel also comes from the ease with which Michael and James fall into their life together and with which Michael and his wife break up. But it all fits with their established characters, so again, I went with the flow of it. And Michael’s insistence on truth and honesty means that there’s never any recriminations about James’ former profession. Both of them just take it at face value, but that’s in-character for both of them, rather than forced.

From the self-publishing perspective, I saw 4 glaring typos and missing punctuation (on two complete read-throughs) which is not bad. The formatting for ePub was a little off because the WHOLE book was one chapter, so it took a while to load on Stanza (“a while” being around 10 seconds, rather than instantly). And the cover is boring. But altogether, at a $0.99 price point, it’s utterly and completely worth it.

From the self-pubbed perspective, you also deal with topics that are potentially triggering and/or might not be acceptable at mainstream e-publishers. Those topics are potential spoilers, so click to see them:
[spoiler]Both James and Michael are the victims of sexual assault: James when he was 12 by his uncle, lasting a few years and Michael when he was 14 by his step-mother, lasting three years.[/spoiler] Also, James has herpes and he and Michael have unprotected anal sex after they find this out. The unprotected sex made me REALLY uncomfortable, but I saw it as in-character for Michael at that stage in his personal development, so it sort of worked, even if it was a little strange to read. Once they have sex without both a condom AND lube, which just…no, thank you. I mean, I’m sure it’s *possible* but it’s gotta fucking HURT.

I don’t think I’m doing a good job of saying how much I liked this book. I really really did. It was both a romance and a coming-into-his-own for Michael and even a bit for James. And everyone gets their believable HEA at the end, so it left me with the warm fuzzies. You have a gift for characterization, the dialogue sparkled, I could see how Michael was changing and growing, and I was rooting for them both right from the start.

And a completely gratuitous excerpt because I just loved the description of Michael’s love for James:

“I love you, James,” Michael gasped, dealing a final battering thrust. James screamed, his cum hotter than piss against Michaels’s belly. Then it was Michael’s turn, pressing in deep as he could, pumping his cum into James. Time shifted, blurring things between them, putting Michael into another place where there was no need for ego, reassurance, or even reciprocity. He felt what he felt for James and took the deepest possible pleasure in it; the emotion was its own reward. Finally when he was completely soft, Michael withdrew, rolling onto his back beside James. He was almost surprised when the other man curled into his arms. But he let himself enjoy it, let himself go half-weak with pleasure. This was sublime, loving, truly loving, and expecting nothing but the freedom to express it.

Isn’t that an amazing way to think about love?

Grade: B+

Best regards,

Goodreads | Amazon | nook | Smashwords

What Sarah was Reading in September

What Sarah was Reading in September

Like Jane, I’ve been reading a lot of ARCs for November and December, and wow, you’re all in for some real treats.

Riptide Publishing opens its door on October 30. It’s already open for pre-orders and sending out review copies. Almost all of the initial offerings so far listed are under 30K words. And honestly, $2.99 for 10K words seems utterly ridiculous to me. $4.99 for under 30K words$10 for 100K words? I mean, 100K words is a great story, but $10? Really?! While the stories are great and the idea behind the new press is admirable, with price points like that, I can’t see it getting very far.

Rachel Haimowitz’s Master Class is a fabulous (short) look at the beginning of a very intense BDSM relationship. It does an amazing job at getting at the psychology of both of the dominant/sadist and the masochist/submissive. I loved it. It was super-hot. It was super-intense and really heavy BDSM, but very well done. Review on release. Apparently I talked about this one last month. I’ve skimmed it since then too which is why it’s on this month’s list too. That’s how good it is.


Peter Hansen’s First Watch: Tentacles. This book comes highly recommended, but it’s got tentacles and I haven’t actually managed to get past the first scene with tentacles. I’ll let you know if I ever do. Just…tentacles!

Aleksandr Voinov Dark Soul Vol.1 is about the mob. And I love Voinov’s writing, but I really really REALLY have a problem with heroes who are part of a crime organization and have no intention of getting out of it. So…I’m having a hard time with this one too. No tentacles, just criminals.

Of the three Riptide books I’ve flipped through or read so far, the writing is exceptional, but the subject matter is very dark, very different. That could be a good thing and could gain the press a reputation very quickly. But I still think readers are going to balk at those price points.

I also received the Carina Press m/m holiday shorts. And OMG guys, these stories are amazing. Perfect novellas that tell wonderful heartwarming stories. More extended reviews on release for all of them.

K.A. Mitchell’s Christmas Proposition: Small town guy trying to keep his family Christmas tree farm afloat gets back together with former lover who owns a natural gas company. Told from only small-town guy’s perspective, but you see the vulnerability of both characters. And groveling on BOTH sides. :) Wonderful, as always.

Harper Fox’s Winter Knights is a ghost story about Gavin, a man whose Catholic lover Piers breaks up with him because Pier refuses to come out to his family and Gavin had issued an ultimatum. Gavin then meets some ghosts who save his life and help him find his way back into a better relationship with Piers. What I LOVED about this story was how Gavin and Piers’ relationship was actually bad for both of them and they both learn how to improve it in order to find their way back to each other. For how short the book is, it’s brilliantly constructed and I loved the characters.

Josh Lanyon’s Lone Star was like a What If? story: What if a ballet dancer and a Texas Ranger fall in love? Except they fell in love before they were a ballet dancer and a Texas Ranger and get back together right when both their careers are taking off and that’s the barrier between them. It’s a cute story but I didn’t 100% believe that their careers wouldn’t pull them apart again.

Ava March’s My True Love Gave To Me is the historical of the bunch. It starts the story when the two men are 19, very much in love, but one of them’s too scared to pursue the relationship and runs away to America, away from his own feelings and his lover. Four years later, he’s back, determined to win his lover back. Much MUCH groveling ensues and there’s an utterly black moment when all hope is lost. I love stories in which one character has to admit how much wrong he’d done and the other character seriously has to just…forgive him.

These four stories from Carina were unbelievably good. They’ve done a brilliant job gathering these amazing writers together for these novellas.

L.A. Witt’s The Distance Between Us and The Closer You Get are two books that follow a couple through a threesome in the first book and then the third of the threesome in the second. TDBU is about a couple who have broken up but are stuck living with each other because they can’t offload the house they bought together. They bring in a roommate and both end up sleeping with the roommate, then sleeping all three together. This allows the couple to work through their issues so that they can get back together. TCYG (releasing in November) tells the story of the roommate, a self-described slut, who goes out with the friend of one of his lover’s daughters. His blind date is a virgin and they slowly figure out how to fit together, with the help of the characters from the first book. I adore Witt’s writing — love love love it. And these books are just about characters falling in love, getting past their own emotional barriers, and finding their way to each other better than ever before. Wonderful. I’ll review both when TCYG releases.

Distance Between Us: Goodreads | Amazon  | nook

The Closer You Get: Goodreads | Amazonnook

Kari Gregg’s I, Omega was so full of WTF that I honestly don’t know if I can bring myself to read it again to review it. Three months ago, Gabriel had been bitten by a werewolf who fucked him and he’s been on the run ever since. Even though he wants desperately to be with this werewolf, he’s terrified of him too. The werewolf finds him, fucks him, and kidnaps him, taking him back to the pack’s house. He forces Gabriel into a heavily D/s relationship, collaring him and tattooing him without Gabriel’s permission, waiting for Gabriel to give his final surrender, but he never TELLS Gabriel anything. And he won’t let anyone else tell Gabriel anything. So a lot of the conflict in the book comes from Gabriel’s fear and mistakes because of his utter ignorance. It made me NUTS! It’s the total and direct opposite of Safe, Sane,and Consensual. And the sex wasn’t even that hot.

Goodreads | Amazonnook

I read S.A. Reid’s Something Different twice through, the second time right after the first time. It was a self-pubbed book sent to DA for review. I *loved* it. Review here.

Goodreads | Amazon | nook

I’m flipping through a few other books, not actually settling down to read anything because (1). I have a book I really need to review, and (2). I’ve got craploads of grading to do. I’m skimming through an ARC of Sarah Wendell’s EIKAL until I can get my hands on a paper copy. I’m having a lot of fun with it (and feel extremely honored to be quoted twice, so can’t really comment on it further with too much impartiality — see how easily I can be bought?). J.L. Merrow’s Wight Mischief – I adore Merrow’s voice. I’m about 10 pages in and love it so far, of course. Cara McKenna’s Curio – another story about a prostitute. This is the only m/f romance on this whole post. Looking forward to it. Lynn Lorenz’s Bayou’s End – I enjoyed the first story in this series, but I’ve read the introduction to this one and was seriously unimpressed with the writing, so I’ll probably skip through the rest of it and see if there’s anything worth reading.

So, anyone else reading any good m/m that I’ve missed? Any prostitute/sex worker stories that I’ve missed?