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REVIEW:  Let Me In by Callie Croix

REVIEW: Let Me In by Callie Croix

Dear Ms. Croix,

I enjoyed your book but am baffled it’s listed as a BDSM novel. Carina Press is touting it as such and it’s not. Yes, hottie Liam Brodie likes to call the shots between the sheets and he’s had a (straight) sexually adventurous past. But, even though he has some smoking sex with Talia Barnett, there’s nothing BDSM between the two. I don’t particularly care about the mislabeling, but having Let Me In so miscategorized may alienate readers looking for BDSM books and scare those off who aren’t.

Let Me Ink Callie CroixI’ve read a series of contemporaries lately with military heroines–it’s great to see romance at the forefront of giving those who serve in Iraq and Afghanistan their due. In Let Me In, Talia is a Marine coming home to Denver for her Thanksgiving break. It looks to be a depressing trip for her–she’s there to check on the only family she has, her mentally ill mother Kiyomi. Talia plans to spend the week alone in a hotel and is startled, when she arrives at the airport, to find her best friend Angie Brodie there to pick her up. Accompanying Angie is her older brother Liam whom Talia’s had the hots for years. He’s an ex-Marine now working as a military contractor and the two have always clicked.

“Welcome home, sweetheart.”

The endearment triggered a smile and set off a bittersweet ache beneath her ribs. He’d always called her that, though he never meant it the way she wanted him to. A result of her own doing, but she’d made the right choice when she’d drawn the line between them at friends from the start, more than two years ago. Crossing that barrier would mean she risked losing him and his family forever if things didn’t work out between them. She’d never risk that. “Thanks. I can’t believe you guys did this for me.”

Liam finds Talia’s insistence that he stay out of her bed frustrating because he doesn’t understand it.

It drove him crazy that she always kept herself at arm’s length from him, but he loved knowing she was aware of him as a man. God knew he was more than willing to satisfy whatever needs she kept buried beneath that cool exterior, sexual and otherwise. For whatever reason, she wouldn’t acknowledge her interest.

He figures it has something to do with her family—he knows her mom has some problems and she and Talia don’t get along easily. His family, the Brodies, are the ideal family—almost too much so for me. For Talia, they are the best thing in her personal life—they really are the only positive thing in her personal life. She sees them as the holy grail of home life.

Ten minutes later Liam pulled into the driveway of his parents’ white Colonial-style house with dark green trim, and a pang of emotion hit her square in the chest. This place, this family, meant more to her than they’d ever know. The house suited them perfectly. It looked like a Leave It to Beaver kind of place, something out of a Disney movie. Full of love and laughter and…family. She treasured each moment she’d spent here, ever since Angie had first dragged her home for dinner over two years ago.

Talia’s own home life is a tragedy. She’s an only child and her mom, who has always struggled with sanity, has become a compulsive hoarder. Talia, after sharing a picture perfect dinner with the Brodies, lets Liam give her a ride to her hotel. On the way, she has him drive by her mom’s last known address where she doesn’t find her mom—Kiyomi is out at Bingo night—but does find an eviction notice and a worried neighbor who tells her the landlord is coming by tomorrow to clean out the house and throw her mom out. Talia isn’t surprised—she’s used to dealing with the chaos and disappointment of her mom’s illness, but she’s still upset and embarrassed. When Liam takes her to her hotel, she tries to dismiss him, but he insists on staying and finding out what’s going on. She says she’s not interested in talking and he says, OK, fine, grabs her, and starts kissing the hell out her. But even though it’s the most amazing kiss she’s ever had, she still pushes him away.

He held her in place easily with his body, taking complete control.

That show of male dominance, his ultra-sexy confidence that told her he knew exactly how to please a woman, triggered something dark and needy to unfurl inside her. She’d heard things about him, from some of Angie’s friends and a few of his Marine friends she’d met overseas, about him liking control over his partners in bed, and now she knew it was true. Dark fantasies of being tied up and at his mercy swam through her mind, turned her body liquid. If they had sex he would take over entirely, render her helpless and make her beg for more, scream his name as he fucked her. And she’d love every second of it.

It scared the hell out of her.

Clinging to what remained of her sanity, she dragged her mouth away. “I can’t,” she panted in a ragged voice. “I can’t do this.”

Liam, though, is a determined guy and he’s not letting Talia evade him. He leaves that night, but come back the next day and goes with her to deal with the disaster that is her mom. For me, the most interesting part of the story is the accurate and sympathetic portrayal of Kiyomi and her accumulated stuff.

The entire house was choked with endless piles of junk, from the floor to halfway to the ceiling in places. She couldn’t even see the furniture anymore. Every surface was swallowed by mounds of clothes, papers, books, the never-ending garage sale items her mother obsessively brought home. The clutter was so bad it blocked out the light from the windows, piles of it extending into what used to be the family room and into the kitchen beyond.

Some people buried their pain and disappointment in life with alcohol, food or drugs. Her mother had chosen instead to bury hers in mountains of useless junk.

A strange roaring sound filled her ears. Her brain refused to process what she was witnessing. It was worse than she’d ever seen it. She couldn’t even pick out the chairs or tables she knew were hiding beneath it all. Furniture Talia had bought and paid for the last time she’d been home, when she’d moved her mother in here after completing the intensive therapy she’d finally agreed to. The betrayal bubbling up inside her hurt almost as much as the disappointment. Her mother had sworn she’d changed. Had vowed she’d dutifully followed the instructions her therapist had given her over the course of her treatment.

It’s easy, once you see how messed up Talia’s mom is to understand where Talia’s fear of losing the Brodies comes from. It’s not so easy–in fact it’s frustrating–to understand why she keeps pushing Liam—a strong, caring, confident man who cares for her—away. I found Talia’s insistence—especially after she starts having off the charts sex with Liam—that the two can’t have a romantic relationship annoying and cowardly. This conflict—I love you but I can’t have you—is unnecessary and feels forced.

Far more believable is Talia’s sad relationship with her mom. This novel does a nice job of showing how devastating mental illness is to both patients and their families. It was heartbreaking to watch Talia try to solve her mother’s problems—Kiyomi needs professional help and the willingness to take it. I liked watching Talia free herself from her own unreasonable expectations and from her fear others will reject her because of her mom’s insanity.

This is a well-written novel, and parts of it—the way the military is portrayed, the depiction of Kiyomi and her illness—are strong and compelling. I just ran out of patience with Talia’s unwillingness to take the care Liam was so consistently offering.  The sex scenes are lengthy and very sexy. Again, there’s no actual BDSM—there’s nary a spank or a blindfold. It’s a standard Carina erotic romance. I give it a C+.



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REVIEW: Once a Marine by Cat Grant

REVIEW: Once a Marine by Cat Grant

Dear Ms. Grant.

This book is one of Riptide Publishing’s initial releases as it opens its doors for business. I had high hopes for it: contemporary m/m about a member of our Armed Forces kicked out under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and his hero, a writer of m/m romance. Unfortunately, this is one of the most boring books I’ve ever read. Not actively infuriating — I never yelled at the book, I never rolled my eyes — but just unutterably boring, with cardboard characters, speedbump conflicts, ordinary sex, and no tension whatsoever.

Once_A_MarineCole is a former Marine major kicked out under DADT. He has (relatively mild?) PTSD and the first semester of law school is very very hard (cue tiny violins.) Marc is a waiter at a local diner who writes m/m romance on the side. He’s hoping eventually to be able to earn enough from his writing to make it a full-time job, so he’s very committed to it. Cole has breakfast at the diner, Marc’s hot for Cole because he has a fetish for military men,  Cole leaves his cheap pay-as-you-go cell phone in the diner, Marc takes it back to him, Cole invites him in, Marc gives Cole a blowjob, Cole throws Marc out.

And really, the emotional depth of the actions are just about reflected in that summary.

Okay, so Cole gets mad at himself for being an asshole, goes back to the diner to apologize, Marc agrees to go out with him again, and they both agree to take things slowly. But then Cole gets spooked when they touch in public, so Marc gets mad at the closet case. But then Cole realizes he’s being an asshole and it’s all solved! And then they quickly get together to the point that they’re almost living together. Then they ARE living together. Then Cole’s asshole father calls to say his mother fell down, can he come visit, so Cole goes home to North Carolina, and is shocked at what he finds, because his mother has early-onset Alzheimers that no one told him about. So he stays and casually asks Marc to join him. Marc refuses, Cole breaks up with him. Marc changes his mind, goes out to NC to be with Cole, who tells him maybe not. Cole still wants them to be together, but he can’t ask Marc to give up his life. He sends Marc home, eventually goes back himself, and…oh who cares?

Honestly, every barrier is treated like a speedbump. Cole has PTSD! Marc whines him into going to see a psychologist, so that’s all taken care of. ::dusts hands:: Cole’s parents are falling apart and Cole has to be with them, even though his father hates that he’s gay and refuses to get help for his wife. Cole asks Marc to move to NC because he has no idea how long he’ll be there, Marc says no, Cole breaks up with him, Marc changes his mind, Cole changes his mind. Each one of these steps is maybe a conversation. That’s it. Seriously! For example: Marc chucks it all, goes to NC, meets Cole’s father, who throws him out, which Marc just accepts. Marc tells Cole his dad will just have to get used to him:

“Marc, you don’t get it,” Cole said slowly. “He’s an old-school Marine with a very set way of looking at the world. Everything’s either black or white to him. Right or wrong. If he won’t even accept his own son, what makes you think he’ll accept you?” [Oh, okay, so rolling over and letting him live with his own hate is the way to go? Check!]

Marc stared at him, swallowing another sip of wine. He couldn’t have looked more stunned if Cole had hauled off and slapped him. [Yeah, no shit.]

“Look, as much as I appreciate your offer, I think moving here would be a big mistake.” Scratch that — now Marc couldn’t have looked more stunned. [Uh, yeah, me too. What the hell happened to getting so mad he wouldn't come out that you broke up with him. Over the phone?!] Cole scooped up his hand, cradling it between both of his. “Sooner or later you’ll start resenting me for making you leave your friends and your job and your mom behind. [You couldn't have thought of this BEFORE asking him to move? And then breaking up with him because he said no for all of these perfectly valid reasons you're now quoting back to him as if you thought of them first?] I love you, Marc, and I want you to be happy. But believe me, you’ll be miserable here. I don’t even want to be here. I’d give my left nut to get on a plane back to California with you tomorrow.” [So...why'd you ask in the first place? Why no apology for asking?]

“Why don’t we leave your left nut where it is, okay?” [Oh, har har. Humor!] There was that crooked smile he loved so much, and Marc’s comforting arms wrapped around him, pulling him back down beside him. “I like knowing where I can find it. And all your other parts, too.”

He carded his fingers through Marc’s dark curls [wow, I got REALLY tired of this image -- find another way to say "ran his fingers through his hair" please], inhaling the faint piney scent of his shampoo. “Go home and take care of Thomas. I’ll be back to see you when I can.”

“Still think it’ll be a few months?”

“Honestly, I have no idea. But I’ve got a feeling we should get ready for the long haul.”

“All right.” Marc sighed.

They lay there in silence for a while.

And that’s it! That’s the sum total of their conversation. REALLY? Marc came all the way across the country because Cole asked on a whim and then broke up with him when Marc said no, and then Cole completely changes his mind, and Marc says “all right” and that’s it! Can we have a little more emotional affect between these two men?

No, apparently not.

This book could have been amazing. Cole could have been deep and fascinating. He’s never had a boyfriend before, doesn’t know how to treat one, doesn’t know how to believe that he himself deserves a relationship. He misses the Marines, hates law school. Except…nothing’s dealt with beyond mentioning it, let alone examining it. Marc actually writes a story that matches their story, as they’re living it, but again, it’s just mentioned. There’s no THERE there, nothing insightful, nothing interesting, nothing beyond, “ooh, a writer and a Marine! Nifty!” Nothing about a writer having insights about what’s happening to him, or meta-commentary about his own story, or…anything.

(And that’s leaving aside the ridiculousness about how Cole’s parents could not have been living in the same house in Raleigh NC his whole life if his father had actually spent 30 years in the Marines, because there are no Marine bases in Raleigh and they would have moved around more than that anyway. But whatever…)

Anyway, it didn’t take long to read this story because plot points was all it was. But I can’t imagine myself ever reading anything else you write if this is the level of your story-telling ability.

Grade: D

Best regards,


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