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REVIEW:  Entwined and Entangled by Colette Gale

REVIEW: Entwined and Entangled by Colette Gale

Dear Ms. Gale,

This premise had ‘January’ written all over it. The erotic adventures of Jane (from the Tarzan books)? It sounded like a fun read to me. Unfortunately, it wasn’t what I had in mind. I had imagined this to be an erotic retelling of Jane and Tarzan. Instead, this is a series that will go down for me in the category of “Good concept, hated execution”. For those that wish to play at home, this is a self-published series. Meant to be serialized like the old novels of yesteryear, this story will be released in short chunks over time.

Entwined, Entangled by Colette GaleEntwined is the first of the series. It starts with Jane Clemons, her father the professor, and Effie, Jane’s servant/companion. Jane’s fiance disappeared years ago into the jungle, and they have returned to Madagascar to look for him or his remains. Also accompanying them is Kellen Darkdale, who was last with Jane’s fiance. These characters are straight out of a bad Disney cliche pile. Darkdale, who is clearly a villain based on the name alone, is the lecherous hunter who tries to rape Jane whenever she has a moment to herself. Jane’s father is absent minded and barely there, mentally. Effie? She is described as blond but talks like Mammy. I don’t know what to think.

They arrive in Madagascar, Darkdale tries to rape Jane in her room, and she is saved by Tarzan. Then, despite the rape attempt, she tells no one, just chalks it up to poor judgment on Darkdale’s behalf. Meanwhile, she lusts over Tarzan and lets him fondle her breasts. Later on, she’s swimming on a pool and gets tangled on some vines and Tarzan is there to retrieve her again, after some heavy petting.

Tarzan (though he is never refferred to as that in the books) is charmingly adorable. He’s shy. He stops touching Jane when he misinterprets what she wants. He finds her beautiful but doesn’t know how to be around a woman. I loved seeing him on the page and thought you did a great job with him. By the time this short novella left off on a cliffhanger, I bought the next one. So far, so good. Despite the goofy caricatures and the fact that Jane pays not a bit of attention to Darkdale’s rape attempts, I enjoyed it. B for Entwined.

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Entwined, Entangled by Colette GaleEntangled is where you jump the shark, and then you take it out back and shoot it, and then you back up the car and run over it one more time. How did things go so wrong from one story to the next? These are short tales, so I tried not to give too many spoilers to the first one, but I feel obligated to lay it all out on the table for #2. Here we go. If you don’t like spoilers, stop reading right here.

[spoiler effect="blind"]Entangled picks up where Jane’s fiance, Jonathan, returns. Jonathan has been living with natives for the last few years. Immediately after reuniting with happy Jane, he takes her in the back so they can get reacquainted. As in, he pulls out his penis and shoves it into her mouth so she can blow him. I’m already tired of Jonathan at this point. Jane seems to be too, as she’s bored while blowing him and entertains herself by imagining Tarzan.The next evening, Jane’s father is occupied with his research so Jane wanders off into the jungle with her fiance. He lights up the equivalent of a jungle-joint over a lamp and makes Jane breathe in the smoke. When she’s high, they make love in a hot spring in the middle of the jungle. Jane’s tripping on pheromones and smoke, so she almost doesn’t notice the surprise of Kellen Darkdale taking her up the ass. I am so uncomfortable at this point. Jane doesn’t want Darkdale, but she’s drugged and her fiance is telling her that she’ll like it, so she lets Darkdale have her ‘other’ virginity. She wakes up later and is upset at Jonathan over what happened, but it seems that he promised Darkdale that he could do a three way with Jane if Darkdale brought her to Madagascar, and too bad for Jane. Jane is a little miffed but she enjoyed that ‘dark pleasure’ so she keeps her unhappiness to herself.

I am outraged, as the reader. You just raped and drugged the heroine and let the raping villain from the first story have her in the back door? I am appalled. I realize these are erotic adventures, so if Jane wants to spread her wild oats across Madagascar, so be it. If she wants to sleep with twenty men, so be it. But I did not sign up for rape and surprise-anal. To make matters worse, Jane is only mildly bothered by any of this. There go my hopes of her taking a machete to their penises in the next installment.

Some plot things happen, and Jane is spirited away by Tarzan to his jungle hideout, which seems to have been inspired by the Disney movie. She sleeps, exhausted.

Next, we are treated to a rather unsexy scene between Effie-Mammy and the Professor Dad, who possesses an enormous purple-headed rod. You’re welcome for that mental image.

Then, she wakes up and there’s another sweet scene with Tarzan that moves to sexy. I am increasingly disappointed that this story is not just about the two of them. They have sex, and Jane passes out again. When she wakes up, she is back in her own bed. Her fiance is relieved she is back, and they go walking in the jungle again. She is soaking in a hot spring when the fiance disappears, and she gets out of the water only to find that they have been discovered by spear wielding savages. The savages poke and prod naked Jane, and take both Jane and Jonathan back to their village. Jane is imprisoned in a hut, but not Jonathan. He decides that night that he will come by and comfort Jane, which involves fondling her and having sex with her while she’s tied up and captive. What a sweet prince of a man.

This story ends on a cliffhanger when Jane is brought before the tribe and it is announced that those spear-wielding villagers find her to be a fertility goddess and she must do whatever they say. I have visions of Jane sleeping with the entire village, at once, so I’m rather relieved the story is over. I’m uncomfortable to a great degree with the ‘tribal orgy’ setup because it feels very culturally insensitive. I’m uncomfortable even more with how Jane is handled. She’s not the one making the erotic choices. So far it seems that someone simply decides they want to have sex with her, they have sex with her, and then the story just moves on to the next sexual encounter with no emotional ties whatsoever. I’m really uncomfortable with the drugging and rape and Jane’s lack of reaction. I don’t recall if Jane said ‘no’ in the actual scene but her choices were taken from her by the drug and couple that with how much she did not want Darkdale in the first book? I view it as rape.

[/spoiler]

You also have an uncanny knack for describing things in an incredibly unsexy way. I find this baffling as you are an erotica writer.

Her quim burgeoned, swelling and filling, throbbing like a huge organ between her legs.

and

His tongue thrust boldly into her mouth, startling Jane with its abrupt invasion. But his kiss was sensual and thorough, and before long, her insides became soft and wavery. Their mouths smashed and slipped together, tongues tangling and teeth nibbling in desperation to make up for their lost time.
That sounds more like a feeding frenzy.

Overall, I’m not convinced. You can write in an entertaining way, but I want Jane to be an active participant, not just a receptacle. Tarzan is likeable enough, but he’s not on the page very often. Everyone else in the story repulses me and when they’re not actively repelling me, I find this entire set-up uncomfortably like fanfiction of the Disney movie. As self-published books go, the covers are appealing and the content is very clean and readable.

In addition, $2.99 for 80 pages would not bother me too much if it was a complete story. But $6 for two chunks of a larger story? And I’m left at the end with no resolution and a rapidly devolving plot? All I can say is thank goodness that Amazon lets you return books.

B for the first one. D for the last. A very grudging D.

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REVIEW: The Scholomance by R. Lee Smith

REVIEW: The Scholomance by R. Lee Smith

Dear Ms. Smith,

After reading the very compelling Heat, I had to pick up another one of your books. While I mentioned that Olivia was not for me, you commented that I might enjoy The Scholomance. I purchased it and it was highly enjoyable, but not in a fuzzy, feel-good sort of way. I think this was more an admirable, fascinating book more than anything else. I’m not sure I loved it, but I enjoyed the read immensely. The Scholomance is, like your other books, a very multi-layered story. On one level, it’s about friendship in the face of adversity. On another level, it’s a discovery story, and all of this is set amongst a dark, grim, incredibly detailed world. Much like Heat, the blurb and cover of this book simply do not do it justice.

The Scholomance R Lee SmithThe book starts out with Mara. Mara is the caretaker to her mother, who is suffering from bouts of insanity. Her father, a womanizer, is long gone. Mara herself is different from most. She is very pale physically, almost colorless, and possesses extremely strong psychic powers. She can hear the thoughts of others from a very early age, and this has made her very jaded about human nature. She knows that people lie, cheat, and deceive because she can hear their every thought. It has also made Mara a rather proud woman, because she has these gifts and it sets her above others. It also makes her very, very lonely.

Despite being very strong and cold, Mara has one single friend, Connie. Connie is not spectacular in any way, but she adores Mara and wants to be just like her. Connie grows obsessed with the legends of the Scholomance – a school where demons teach others how to use magic. The cost of such a school is that one of every ten students does not make it out alive. Connie doesn’t care, and she goes to the school anyhow. Two long years pass, and then she sends Mara a note – to please come and get her. Mara goes to retrieve her friend, but entering the Scholomance means entering the school, and from there, Mara’s world is turned upside down. The Scholomance is full of a variety of demons who teach different arts. The school is also full of students who have become craven and aggressive in their pursuit of either escape or mastery of the dark arts. Mara must deal with both if she has any hopes of finding Connie. That is just the tip of the iceberg of the story. I feel as if any sort of summary will not do the book justice.

Mara is a hard heroine to relate to, in the beginning. She’s cold and unfeeling. She’s single-minded in her pursuit of Connie, while resenting Connie for sending her on this task. She’s haughty and thinks that others are beneath her. Above all, Mara is careless with others and deliberately ignores their desires if they conflict with her own. I likened Mara to a sociopath heroine, and I think it’s a good descriptor. Mara sees the emotions of others but doesn’t understand them. She uses them against people to get what she needs out of them. She’s not above using her body (and she does repeatedly) in a very clinical, unattached way, simply to get what she wants. It is a means to an end to her, and if that means seducing a man and then betraying him, she has no qualms about it. Sometimes hard, aggressive, self-reliant heroines are hard to find, but Mara is a superb example of a heroine who is not likable or admirable in the slightest, but utterly compelling. I really appreciated the nuances of Mara’s hard, brittle character even if I didn’t like her.

The supporting cast of characters and the school themselves are just as compelling. The world that you built inside the mountain is dark and grim and magical, and the scope is impressive. Every teacher at the school is a unique demon that is completely different from the rest, and the way they deal with the students unique to their different talents. I thought you did a really great job with the demons in that they were never once anything but utterly demonic. They looked unnatural and inhuman. They acted inhuman. The students were there at their whim, and they used them as I imagined demonic tutors might.

The students were equally foul. They dubbed themselves as either ‘lions’ or ‘gazelles’ in how aggressive they were. The feeding tables were described in great, revolting detail, and yet ended up being so very telling of the plot. Mara’s disdain of her fellow students echoes the reader’s distaste for them, and it is not hard to see why each of these people has shown up in a school for black arts. They are not nice people, and they’re not just token awful. There are some truly terrible people in the Scholomance. But this is Mara’s story, and it’s very interesting to watch Mara learn to deal with the other students and interact with them.

Overall, a really fascinating book. It’s very dark and grim, though, so I feel the need to warn people yet again. There is sex in this book (though not as much as Heat) but nearly all of it is not in a loving capacity. As I mentioned earlier, Mara is not above using herself and others to get what she wants. Most of the sex is of questionable consent, and most of the people Mara has sex with are not all that human. There is also a lot of torture and murder in this book. On the other hand, it’s intricately detailed, filled with very different characters, and I found the entire thing hard to put down. You do feel for the characters. You want Mara to succeed in finding her friend, and finding herself in the process.

In short, it’s what I’ve come to expect from a R. Lee Smith book. There’s even a romance, though it’s not the driving focus of the plot. And the ending…I have to say that I teared up. You do endings really well.

Lest this be all glowing praise, this was not a perfect read. It’s very dark. It’s a very dark book about very dark people who do grim and nasty things to each other to further their own wishes. There was not one person in the story I could say I ‘liked’, though I appreciated all the characters and found them compulsively readable. The romance could have had a larger starring role, but because of Mara’s character, I thought it played out the way it had to. The book was also a little long. All your books are. This one is nearly 9000 locations on the kindle. And while I enjoyed the first 50% quite a bit, I felt a little impatience in the second half that things were not progressing faster. That’s not the way you write though. I think your books are more like the slow unfurling of a ribbon, and every page and plot nuance will be necessary down the road. I think it’s more reading fatigue more on my part than a flaw in the story. I’ve read 2.5 of your books in the past few weeks and it’ll probably be a month or two before I try the next, though I’m certainly game for it.

You make me think of Christopher Pike in a sense that I pick up the book expecting one thing and by the end of the journey, it’s a completely different, totally bizarre sort of book. I never know what to expect and I find that I enjoy that quite a bit. Not as romantically compelling as Heat, but just as crazily fascinating for many different reasons. I’m going to recommend this one for those that are looking for a different sort of read and aren’t afraid of darker stories. I have to say that I’m really enjoying your books. An easy B from me.

All Best,

January

PS – I still don’t like your covers but I don’t know that something lurid would fit it better. So perhaps a vague cover is best.

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