Archive for April, 2014

This review was originally posted at West of Mars. It is being posted here, at its new permanent home.

t was a pleasant surprise to see Lex Valentine drop into my inbox. Lex and I had fallen out of touch, but she’s a special lady in my world. Her presence in my inbox is always welcome.

Best of all, this time, she came with presents! Well, okay, only one. But one is better than none, especially when that one is Lex’s first Ellora’s Cave Release, Rock My World.

Yep, Lex was kind enough to send me a copy. So I thought I’d return the favor by posting some reviews of the book. After all, the only thing an author likes better than having someone love their work is when that reader loves their work publically, so others can see and agree. (Or not. Such is the nature of opinion.)

First off, let me say that Lex is known for explicit, hot sex. If that’s not your thing, walk away now. Even if you, like me, love books about rockers, if you’re not into watching Gia and Sin have all sorts of sex in all sorts of positions, places, and involving toys and various body parts, this isn’t the book for you. Lex almost rivals my friend Colette Gale, who promises at least one orgasm every chapter.

So, yeah. Let me say up front that Lex can write a sex scene. I’ve known that about her from before her days as a published writer, so it’s nice to see others getting to experience her skills.

I hate to say it, but in her quest to bring us such great sex, she sacrifices some character development. And that’s my biggest (and only) quibble with Rock My World.

The story is about rocker Gia Santora. She’s at the top of her game, surrounded by body guards, and badly scarred by an event with a stalker. She’s also tired of the rock star one-night stand life. And did I mention she’s in lust with the frontman of her opening act, Sinclair Carstens? Sin’s young enough to have grown up with posters of Gia on his walls and more fantasies than a guy can remember. But the ones he does remember…

He gets to act them out, and then some, when Gia and he crash into each other in the wings. Their first meeting, as they’d been studiously avoiding each other, is properly rushed, but not so fast that the sparks can’t begin flying. These two have chemistry, all right. They’re also in a position where they’re willing and able to commit to each other.

I love this part of the story. These two are at opposite ends of the spectrum — Gia’s on top and has been there awhile. She gets this world she lives in. It’s jaded her a bit, but not so bad that she has to give it up. Nope. She’s a rocker, all right. It’s in her blood.

Sin, on the other hand, is a youngster — not just in age, but experience. Opening for Gia is his band’s big break. When Gia allows him into her rarefied air, he learns much.

Or, he should. This is where the shallow character development comes in. I’d have liked to see more of the impact on Sin. Through his relationship with Gia, he’s experiencing the difference between being an opening act and a headliner. He takes it in stride — but then, he seems to take everything but Gia in stride. She runs off, trying to protect him from her stalker? Okay, fine. He’ll roll with that, too.

It’s kind of frustrating. I want to see his passion for more than her. For his music. For the commitment he’s making to her. I want to see him struggle with how different their worlds are, how difficult the age barrier can be. He mentions Gia’s got a more mature body than she did when she was younger, but we don’t get to see him really process that too much. This was a missed opportunity for some real older-woman appreciation here. Let him lick a hipbone that’s not bony like a twenty-some chick’s hipbone would be. Let him realize how much better that is.

Gia, too, could have used more depth, especially where her stalker’s scars are so evident. This guy terrorized her; I’d have loved to see her be truly vulnerable. To struggle with her memories and her fears. We see a bit of her with her fear of flying, but I want more. I want to connect with her, understand her, empathize with her. I want to feel as though I can change places with her and be her for the length of this book.

Ahh, and there’s the problem. It’s not that Lex can’t develop a good, deep character who transcends the page and comes alive. I’ve read some of her unpublished stuff. I know darn well she can do this.

Rather, the issue is that an Ellora’s Cave book can only be so long. And when you’re busy packing all that delicious sex into it, something’s got to be sacrificed. It can’t be plot; if it is, we wind up in the areas where people talk in terms of soft-core and hard-core. So… it’s a bit of characterization that suffers.

Too bad, because this book could have been one of my top reads of the year. I wish it was, and not just because Lex is a friend. I like the concept.

Good news for me — and for you guys, too. Lex is working on a follow-up, featuring one of the characters from Rock My World, James the guitarist. I’ll be on the lookout for it. Once you read this one, I suspect you will be, too.


This review was originally posted at West of Mars. It is being posted here, at its new permanent home.

When DJ Butler sent me the description of Hellhound on my Trail, the first in a pulpy Rock Fiction series, I sent him back an e-mail with three words: SEND REVIEW COPY.

Start to finish, this was a great read. Suicidal Mike stands in with a band he’s never heard of before. They need a bass player. He’s putting off the inevitable. It’s a good fit.

Except… in the middle of the set, a Hellhound rushes in, setting off a chase that lasts the length of the book. Mike’s suddenly fighting for his life even as he’s haunted by his dead brother. At times, he wonders if he would have been better off if he’d kept to his plan and offed himself, but this ragtag band he’s fallen in with most certainly needs him in order to stay alive, themselves.

What else is there to say? The story’s tight, the writing’s snappy, the creepy stuff is delicious, and there’s a ton of cleverness going on in here, as well. There are dead rabbis, tasers, archangels, weird metal-like fly-things, and a piece of Satan’s hoof. This short book, just over 100 pages, is closer to a novella – and it’s the perfect length. Any longer and it would run the risk of getting tedious. Any shorter, and it wouldn’t be nearly so complete.

No matter what comes next, it’s got quite a predecessor to live up to.

Note from Susan: as you see, DJ was kind enough to send me a review copy. It didn’t affect my thoughts of it. It’s THAT good.

I’m writing this so far in advance and already, I’ve forgotten how and why Amber Johnson’s Beatless crossed my radar. It’s her third novel, it looks like, so it’s time for readers to sit up and take notice. Assuming the early reviews are correct that it’s a fabulous book. (It is, of course, distressing to read the comments from the editing team Ms. Johnson assembled, and I hope the book meets my high editorial standards.)

The deal is that Mallory’s been left behind. Her parents have divorced and she’s been sick, so now she can’t go to Vanderbilt. It’s off to community college — but along the way, she reconnects with an old love (hello? She’s 18. How old can that love be? — says the woman whose first boyfriend happened in first grade). He’s in a band and … Rock Fiction commences.

Like I said, the reviews are glowing, if a lot of them as I write are definitely written by friends and others close to the writing process. I’m curious, really curious… But when aren’t I?

This review was originally posted at West of Mars. It is being posted here, at its new permanent home.


But where’s the rock and roll? The title of David Kimmel’s book—heck, the first word—is Rockin’. It promises rock and roll. There’s a guitar on the front cover. The description hints at an electric guitar.
So where is it?

According to the expert’s definition of Rock Fiction, a book has to pulse with music to be Rock Fiction. The characters have to live and breathe it, we have to feel it. It doesn’t have to be a stage show or a performance. It doesn’t have to have a rock and roll attitude. Music just has to permeate the pages.

While Gsfex does set across the universe to find planet Irt and discover what he can about the music he’s come to love, he doesn’t do it until there’s been a darn good reason. And he does it more because he knows this is his only chance. He doesn’t carpe anything here. He’s too matter-of-fact.

And Henry. He’s an artist, for crying out loud. And while others have stuck artists and rockers together and pulled off Rock Fiction, there’s not enough passion in Henry’s life. Not for this to be Rock Fiction, anyway. Oh, I get it: the guy’s depressed. He’s got a damn good reason to be, but c’mon, dude. Pick yourself up by your bootstraps and crank whatever you need to until you feel better. Vivaldi. Metallica. Ice Cube. (Just, God no, not Vanilla Ice)

Stepping away from the whole idea of Rock Fiction, this is a fun novella. Henry’s parts get a bit boring ’cause there’s mostly no one there for him to talk to, but we know his life. It’s Gsfex’s we’re more interested in.

There’d better be another book after this short little novella—I even had to check to make sure it hadn’t ended at the wrong spot—that not only fills us in on what happens next, but rocks and rolls, too.

So Nancy Loyan saw my post coveting her book, Special Angel. (It’s still one of the top-read posts here at The Rock of Pages, which isn’t bad for a new site! Thanks to all of you who have transferred here from West of Mars — and to you who’ve newly found us here.)

And she dropped me a note, asking if I’d like a review copy.

Of course I would! So does Jett, who was over the moon over the idea of something good to review.

Stay tuned for another new review among the reposting of the old stuff.

And a huge thanks to Nancy for being such a cool author!

This review was originally posted at West of Mars. It is being posted here, at its new permanent home.

I’d been hearing about this Michael Scott Miller dude and his book, Ladies and Gentlemen… The Redeemers for awhile now. My friend, author Darcia Helle, told me she thought I needed to read it.

How could I say no?

And then Michael himself dropped into my inbox.

And so, here I am. A two-fer, so to speak.

Ladies and Gentlemen… The Redeemers is a heck of a tale. It’s the story of down-on-his-luck Bert, who decides to take a bunch of misfits and miscreants and turn them into the band that’ll end his down-on-his-luck days. And theirs.

Most bands form because they are drawn together by something intangible. They have chemistry, a shared hunger for success… something. Not the Redeemers. They are drawn together because of Bert and the strength of his ambition to reclaim a part of himself.

Whether or not they’ll first find all the people they need to fill out the band properly, if they’ll gel as a group, if they’ll overcome their natural distrust and, sometimes, dislike of each other… this is what the story is about.

It’s a great story. It’s one anyone who loves to dream needs to spend time with.

But, of course, this is Susan West of Mars doing a review here, and that automatically means there are faults to be found with this book.

Not many, I’m pleased to say. And in this case, I suspect the fault I found with the Redeemers is one of style.

You see, for me, there is a narrative distance. This means I don’t get into the characters’ heads, they don’t come fully alive. In this book, it drove me nuts. I wanted to really get inside these guys. I wanted to share their thoughts and dreams and desires. I wanted to look to my left and be surprised they weren’t real people, right there beside me.

To be honest, I have no idea how Miller could have pulled this off. He’s got a huge cast of characters; this point of view was the most logical choice he could have made for telling this particular story. Anything else would have run the risk of turning the book into an absolute mess.

Still, I wanted more of the guys. They are compelling. They have great backstories. They have a great storyline. They probably have a great future, but let’s not get ahead of the book here, folks. Although… with a story like this, it is tempting to do.

When I review a piece of rock and roll fiction, I always consider if the page breathes with music. In The Redeemers, it doesn’t. It also doesn’t need to. This is a book about the personalities behind the music. It’s about this band named the Redeemers who are off looking for their own redemption, either personally or musically. These aren’t necessarily people who live and breathe music. On the other hand, they are people for whom music is an expression and, in some cases, a way of life. In other cases, it’s a dream, something to stretch for and be terrified of.

That is every bit as valid as having the music throb off the page.

Overall, I liked this book. A lot. I’ll tell people to read it. I may even hold it up there with some of my top reads although, truthfully, I don’t think the (good) execution held up to the (fantastic) concept. It was a hard goal to achieve. Miller did his best, and his best is quite good. I wanted fantastic. I think Miller can and will bring us there in future books.

I can’t wait to follow him.

Yep, another work of Rock Fiction has crossed my radar. This one comes to us via small publisher 5 Prince Publishing, a house that’s new to me.

Most readers don’t care much about publishers, they care if a book is good or not, and so we’ll talk about Blissful Tragedy, Amy M. Gale’s entry into the genre. At first, I thought I’d already written this book because its main character, Lexie, works for an advertising agency. That doesn’t seem to be vital to the romance, though. Not the way it was in Michelle Valentine’s Rock the Heart.

Instead, this is the story of a woman crushed by a breakup who happens to hook up with the lead singer.

One warning: this is one of those stories where the singer does whatever he has to do to get his hands on Lexie’s phone number (“secretly obtains her cell number” is how the book description words it). Is anyone else squicked out by that? Just… dude. ASK. You have a mouth. Presumably, it’s good for more than singing and kissing the chicks. And if you ask and Lexie said no? Respect that.


Of course, it’s hard to comment on what “secretly obtains her cell number” really means until I read the book — so there’s another reason I need to read this one.

Reviews that I’ve seen are mixed, so … another reason to read and pass along to Jett for a formal review. Fingers crossed I’ll get to see what this one’s like. One review mentioned that the sex scenes are super hot. Can they be hotter than Olivia Cunning’s?

This review was originally posted at West of Mars. It is being posted here, at its new permanent home.

Every now and then, you hear about a book that excites you beyond belief. A book you absolutely MUST read, so much so that you go track down the author so you can get a copy for yourself. Yeah, I know. It happens to me fairly often. What can I say? I’m a book freak. Bibliophile, I believe the word is.

Now, I’m not the world’s biggest fan of horror. Oh, I like the genre, don’t get me wrong. My problem with horror is that I like really well-done, squirm-in-your-seat, psychological horror. The blood and gore? Yawn. But if you promise to mess with my brain and make me afraid of what might be creeping around in the dark, I’m there.

I suppose it makes sense that this horror novel that caught my fancy was written by the one and only Jeremy Wagner, guitarist for metal bands Lupara and Broken Hope. The man rocks harder than I do, and now he’s treading on MY turf: rock and roll fiction.

The Armageddon Chord, his debut novel, is the story of Kirk Vaisto, God of Guitar. Poor Kirk’s a good guy, living a quiet life in a mansion, with a backyard music studio. The set-up reminds me of Jason Newsted and his Chophouse, but not quite as communal. Kirk’s a loner, all right. I’m not sure the poor dude has friends.

Anyway, Kirk gets suckered by his amazingly opportunistic agent into signing a contract with Festus Baustone, a bully who keeps company with some really sick people. Baustone and his buddy want Kirk to play a song for them. It seems simple at first — until Kirk finishes the transcription and plays it for the first time. Then, he’s smart enough to turn tail and run. Or… try to. Remember when I said Baustone was a bully? Yeah. That.

It’s Satan who’s coming to visit via the mystery song. And it’s up to Kirk to not only summon him, but vanquish him as well. Is our man up to the task?

This storyline is so awesome, I’m not sure why it wasn’t an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Really. Joss Whedon is wherever he is in all his brilliance, wondering why he didn’t think of this plotline. It’s that good.

And while I know there are an awful lot of people who dismiss the power of music, Wagner spends some time letting his characters wax more poetic than I ever could on the subject.

One area where I could use a little less waxing is near the end, when religion figures very strongly into the situation. Oh, I get that it’s necessary and I love what the guitar does to the heavy. Plot-wise, it works. It’s just that the characters get a bit too preachy about the glory of Christianity for this good little Jewish girl from the ‘burbs.

I hope Wagner’s got more up his sleeve, with or without Kirk and his love interest, Mona (that’s a provocative name…). He shows some serious author chops in this too-short novel (am I the only one bemoaning the lack of subplots?), although there are some clunkers that show Wagner as a writer who’s still got some growing and polishing to do on the mechanical level. Yet he’s close: on page two, he hits us with a band so evil, they “made Slayer look like Justin Bieber.”

Dude. I hope you know the Slayer guys if you’re going to go around dissing them like that. I’ve met them. They scare me. (Actually, that’s not true. I have met them, but they didn’t scare me. Still, it sounds good, so we’ll go with it.)

Keep writing, Jeremy. You’ve earned this West of Mars Recommended stamp.

This review was originally posted at West of Mars. It is being reposted here, at its permanent home.

One thing that often creeps into Rock Fiction is a bit of cynicism. Anyone who watches the TV show Nashville can tell you what a tough world it can be to navigate and survive. For all the glitter and glamour, there’s every bit as much, if not more, sleaze.

That’s why Tommie Vaughn’s This Rock in my Heart is such a breath of fresh air. Her lead character, Frankie Spencer, is naïve and one of the most optimistic characters you’ll find in the genre. Nothing gets this woman down for long, not the divorce that brings her to a job in a recording studio, and not anything that happens afterward: the groupie who tries to intrude on Frankie’s maybe love affair with a visiting guitarist, money issues, the lack of a band to make music with… it all works out with a happily ever after that satisfies and yet leaves room for the upcoming second in the series.

The downside to all this breezy optimism is that there’s not much at stake. The best fiction hinges on conflict and this novel works awfully hard to keep conflict at a minimum, at best – as if Frankie, as she heals from her divorce, can’t take any more and simply needs it all to be sunshine and roses.

This both works and doesn’t. It is that breath of fresh air, but at the same time, things are a bit too easy. Bad things don’t happen in Vaughn’s world, even when, perhaps, they should.

This novel’s most serious flaw is in its editing, and I don’t say that as the editor that I am. I say that as a reader and music fan who simply can’t excuse Ozzy’s name being misspelled – Ozbourne, instead of Osbourne – and the travesty done to Concrete Blonde’s name, as well. These are easily confirmed facts and spellings. There simply is no excuse at the editorial level for this because it undermines Vaughn’s authority and oh, so apparent knowledge of the music world. Even her cameos, from such notables as the legendary Henry Rollins and Concrete Blonde’s Johnette Napolitano, are fun and while they might be a bit too much in the unicorn-and-rainbow theme, there’s still an authenticity that can sometimes be lacking in less capable hands. As there should be: Vaughn knows of where she writes. She’s an industry vet, herself, which makes the happy tone to this novel all the more appreciated. She could have turned so easily and been cynical or jaded… but didn’t.

Author Vaughn was kind enough to send me an e-book copy of This Rock, and she’s also been gracious enough to send me a copy of the next in the series, This Roll in My Soul. While I’d prefer a grittier book, I’m eager to see what comes next in the world of Vaughn and lead character Frankie Spencer.

We’ve got another “reporter assigned to uncover the star’s mystery” trope books!

It’s a perfect trope for Rock Fiction, if you think about it. Rockers are often creations; they’re not the sort to wear their hearts on their sleeves. If you look at my own fiction, Mitchell and the band are very open about the persona’s Mitchell created in order to build space around himself. In a world lived under a microscope, you can’t blame a single public figure for trying to remain a mystery to the press.

Author Nancy Loyan seems to be putting her own stamp on this style of Rock Fiction, and man, it’s a cool twist she’s cooked up. Singer Angelique doesn’t even know her past; it’s been kept secret from her by the nuns who found her and by the scheming couple who adopted her. From the three reviews I read, it sounds as if this couple puts Les Mis’ Thernardiers to shame.

The question at the heart of this book then becomes if Angelique can trust Richard, the reporter. Not just to handle her story the right way but, so the reviews say, to keep her alive.

Oh, I hope that last part is as cleverly handled as the rest of the plot. A reporter with good connections could be so much more than an ordinary guy pressed into action hero status.

I’m SO pulling for this one to live up to its potential ’cause its potential is pretty darn huge.