Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Flesh Cartel #3 Review

Warning: An R18 read.

Bookshelves as seen on Goodreads: abuse, bondage, fighter, gay, kidnapped, horror, m-m, serial, to-professionally-review, victimisation, netgalley

Read on March 25, 2013

Rating: 4.2 stars.

This is a continuation of the serial "The Flesh Cartel," the story of two brothers who have been kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery. This installment is longer than the first two, and covers from the point where they have now been sold and are being taken to their trainer, Nikolai, a man who needs to get them prepared for his client/clients, and the brothers' new master and/or masters.

The story is broken up into two sections, the part prior to arriving at Nikolai's place, and afterwards, when he starts his individual breaking down and training of the brothers.

And it IS individual training, because the brothers right from when they leave the auction house are treated differently, Dougie left alone and to go slowly crazy in the dark, imagining he's been abandoned and left to die, while Mat is brutualised and continually raped.

Once they are driven to and arrive at Nikolai's place, the brothers, who haven't see each other since the stage, are taken to different parts of the house, not knowing whether the other is really there. Mat is taken downstairs into a dungeon or cellar type place and continued to be tortured, but in a different way, Nikolai wanting to break him to a point, to control him, but not to completely take the fire out of his eyes, while Dougie is doted on, Nikolai making out he is his saviour, helping him, giving him water, treating him in a loving fashion (to a point). He wants to mold him into something quite different from his brother. But, although he never wanted to bring Dougie along, you can see he's falling for his prisoner's wide-eyed innocence, just a little, maybe the start of trouble and a downfall for Nikolai? We all hope.

Anyway, in conclusion, I didn't like the crap heaped on Mat, it makes me uncomfortable to talk about, but Dougie sections weren't as difficult. Again, the writing is good, fast paced, the thoughts of the brothers very well articulated, and there wasn't any boring sections, which meant I read it so fast, I finished it within a few hours of starting it. Installment #4 next.


 Please note: I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review, regardless of the outcome, whether good or bad.

Sunday, March 24, 2013


WARNING: Not for anyone under 18.


SPECIAL NOTE: I received this installment of The Flesh Cartela  serial about sexual slavery, from Netgalley. I always do reviews honestly, not holding back on my likes and dislikes of a book, so you won't get a watered down review - at all, all my thoughts laid out bare. If you would like to discuss my views, whether it is to agree or disagree with me, you can leave comments attached to the review. Thank you, Marita.

So, here's what I think...

The Flesh Cartel #1 Review - 3.9 stars out of 5.
(Please note, as seen further down, I have given the 2nd installment a 4.9 star rating out of 5).

I thought this was a very, very, very... dark story, the topic alone telling me I was in for an eyeful. But, I still wasn't fully prepared, the story pretty much running a fine line between pulling a reader in or switching them off. I must admit at one point I was on the side of switching off, the scene where the woman ordered Mat to clean Dougie really disgusting me. But, I did the "blah, blah, blah" thing in my head, trying blank it out and to get past it, because I did promise to review the book. And thankfully, the "cleaning" scene was stopped by that nasty b of a woman kidnapper, because I really didn't want to read that. Hence, I did continue on, which wasn't JUST because I owed a review, it was also due to the writers knowing how to create main characters who are interesting and likable.

So here are the things I liked AND disliked about The Flesh Cartel #1.

I'll start off with the UPSIDE of the story:

Writing style: Very captivating, yes, that's an intended pun, but it's true. The two writers of this story obviously know how to draw readers in, and to even pull them through the very disturbing scenes, yet retain their interest. Why?

1) The characters of Dougie and Mat, two brothers, one a soft, sweet scholar (Dougie) who is studying for a PHD in psyche, the other (Mat) a rough and tough, gritty cage fighter trying to pay for his younger brother's education. The authors are smart here, definitely knowing their trade in erotic characters, because they have created two archetypes of attractive M/M characters: the weak and beautiful man and the hard and gritty man. But, although Dougie and Mat have stereotypical aspects about them, I don't think they are cardboard cut-outs, because their thoughts are portrayed very well, making you think of them as real people, thus making this story harder to stomach in the way the brothers are treated.

The authors have also made the brothers likable characters, because Mat is a noble man, concerned with looking after his younger brother, and helping him to the point where he is willing to get hurt badly, while Dougie, who is a lot softer, loves his brother considerably as well and does things to also help Mat. Dougie is also the type of person one wants to protect, as Mat tries to do. Hence, the reader will want to stay with them through their capture to make sure they're alright.

2) Another good aspect about the story is that it's fast moving, and doesn't have any slow areas. It's also very detailed, with no mistakes, the sentence structure pretty much near perfect, while the flow and character points of view spot on. We start of with Nikolai's point of view at a slave auction, so we have an idea of why the brothers are taken, then from there we get the brothers' viewpoints with their capture, then the seesaw of their shared experience and emotions, going between how each of them cope while being prepared for the auction.

Now, the DOWNSIDE of the story, which saw it get 3.9 stars.

1) The detail. Yes, the detail is very well portrayed, but sometimes it was "TOO MUCH." I like to go with the saying that "less is better" sometimes, which was definitely noticeable in pockets in this story. What I mean is that the authors could have allowed the readers to imagine what is going to happen at certain points, rather than detailing everything down to the last nose screwing up, eyes watering, mind wincing in disgust, details. The prime example is very much the "cleaning" scene. I really did not want to read that bit, and would much rather have been spared the gross details. In other bits of the story, there was also a bit of an overdose of non-consent, the kidnappers like rapid bulls with absolutely no control, while I'm sure some of the things done to the brothers would've seen them either dead or pretty much inert for a good amount of time, the healing of what happened to them not something that can be fixed up in a week. I know, I know, don't tell me that erotica is like this, that it doesn't have to be total realism, just I thought that a slightly less heavier hand would've been better. BUT, that is my perspective and I do have a preference for realism, because realism doesn't make me think of the technical aspects of a story, but totally pulls me in and allows me to get lost in a story.

BUT, regardless I have to be fair and take into account that this is erotica and not realism. So, because this is erotica, I will relate it to another book on the same topic: Captive in the Dark (although that is a M/F story). There are a lot of people who absolutely loved Captive in the Dark, and unfortunately I wasn't one of them. The reasons: it was a sickly sweet, romanticised depiction of the Slave Trade (not something I liked at all, because I don't think this topic should be romanticised). Captive in the Dark also had constant repetition of thoughts to the point it drove me up the wall. Although The Flesh Cartel was a thousand times more brutal, it was much better written, nothing repeated, the main characters much more interesting and better drawn. Yes, Caleb was interesting in Captive in the Dark, but Livvy was infuriating. She was the same archetype as Dougie, the weaker, beautiful person being taken advantage of. But she was repetitive and whiny, someone who I didn't like and didn't care about, just wanting to be rid of, whereas Dougie from The Flesh Cartel was the opposite, a totally likable character, who was being treated a hell of a lot more harsher and wasn't annoying like Livvy. He also didn't romanticise his kidnappers and didn't fall in lust and love with them. I know there's Stockholm syndrome, but to romanticise what Caleb was doing to Livy, nah ah, no way. Dougie wins hands down, Livy go jump in the lake and drown.

So, let me round up my thoughts. The start to The Flesh Cartel is well-written, but not for everyone, only the people who can handle a pretty brutal story-line, because all you romantic people out there will wet yourselves reading this, so it's not for you. Instead, hardcore readers: it's for you. People who like M/M stories which more grit than usual and people who can handle reading about brutal non-consent.

Flesh Cartel #2 Review - 4.9 stars out of 5.


I liked this installment better than the first, although it was equally harsh, just not as nauseating, again with that cleaning scene from #1! Here we have Dougie and Mat again being put through the ringer, their stay in the slave holding-cells wearing both of them down as they are constantly abused by the guards as well as fretting over what is happening to each other. Then one day they are taken to be prepared for the auction - primped and prettied up for Dougie, while roughed up for Mat, both of them being marketed in a different manner, one the prize of the auction, the other the thug thrown in to be sold with his brother, an after thought that wasn't meant to be brought along. But little does the auctioneer, the nasty Madame, know that Nikolai, one of her high-paying clients, is actually after the less marketable Mat, because he wants someone who isn't easy to break, someone who has fire and is willing to fight to the end.

Like I said in the review of the first installment, these stories are not for everyone, and you shouldn't go into them thinking you'll get a romanticised version of Captive in the Dark. But if you can handle it, and gloss over areas that you may find too difficult to read, it is much better writing, with a fast-paced story-line that is pretty dramatic and all encompassing.

I am now wanting to read the third installment, curious as to what Nikolai will do in his training process, as well as seeing how Mat deals with the situation, because he is such an explosive character.

Online sellers of this serial:

Barnes & Noble

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Ramblings On Formulas

Often writers churn out basically the same story in series, just replacing the names of the main characters and altering situations slightly, but nonetheless you know what's going to happen. I think romance writers are the greatest offenders. I used to love reading Christine Feehan's Carpathian series, giving the first book that I'd read of hers 5 stars, then fervently snapping up more, but eventually her repetitiveness with giving me basically the same story as well as repeating annoying sayings, like "molten lava" made me lose complete interest in her writing. I remember the last book I bought of hers I got barely a chapter in and gave up.

So, what makes writers repeat the same stories varying to a certain degree so their readers think they've bought a new book?

1) The writer has a formula that they know works, and they don't want to risk writing anything different. Yes, they will lose some readers, but by then we've already bought quite a lot of their books and they've made their profit, so some losses aren't too damaging.

2) They are a write by numbers type of author, they're skill not progressing. They don't know how to write different stories. Full stop. There is no originality there.

3) Their publishers know that this particular formula sells and they don't want to veer away from it, because of course it's proven, therefore it's money in the bank. Hence, they ask the author for more of the same.

Personally, I hate it when authors write formulaic books, which is why I don't do this in my own writing, my books in the same series quite different. For example "Behind the Hood" is a totally different kettle of fish to "Behind the Tears" while "Graffiti Heaven" (the first in a prequel series) is different again. Yes, there are similarities in the sense of my books having harsh and dark elements, but that's it, just a stylistic, genre thing. Instead, the story progresses, changes, like life does. "Behind the Hood" was more nuts, a crazy bunch of teenagers raging out of control, starting from one bad decision that snowballs into a fall-out avalanche of disaster. Whereas "Behind the Tears" has more of dark romance elements to it, where the characters are coping with their difficult relationships. It also has a strong family aspect to it, because unlike the first book, this tale is about three brothers instead of a selfish gang-leader who wrecks havoc on other people's lives.

But, to be fair, my books aren't romance books. Although some of them may have dominant romantic strands, it's just a part of life. Instead, I prefer to write realistic fiction, my genre probably being relative to a program like "Sons of Anarchy", where you get romance, but it's only one aspect of life, the other main issues also just as important: business dealings, family issues, etc. And like SOA, you also get the criminal elements in my writing, because it's dealing with a certain section of society. I must say, I'm a huge fan of "Sons of Anarchy". Before last year I hadn't heard about it, and was surprised that it had been going since 2008. So, when I got back to New Zealand this year, and since it's a genre I like, I went and rented it from Blockbuster, and now I'm up to Season 3 and am totally addicted to it, the story-lines so well done. Of course there is a bit of jumping about with the timeline, but the writers have done such a great job with making the transitions as smooth as possible. Plus, the story-lines are not always predictable, which is a good thing and is something hard to find on television, and is why I prefer not to watch TV or films now, because I basically know what's going to happen. But "Sons of Anarchy" doesn't have any problems keeping my interest, and the story can totally surprise me as well as kept me pestering my husband to watch more. Three episodes a night, no problem :) I will try to get a season a week if he let me.

Again, I suppose it's not fair comparing a romance writer to a television program, but there are romance writers out there who know how to be original and progress a story, do world building. J.R. Ward writes the same genre as Christine Feehan, and she progresses her stories. I really like her books and can't wait for the next one (really can't wait!) because she doesn't just regurgitate what I've read before, she gives her readers new elements to her stories, gives us something interesting. Of course, she has couples getting together, which are givens, but she doesn't have stereotypical characters like Feehan does, Qhuinn and Blay's coming story proof.

So, what I'm saying is: I HATE FORMULAS. Be original in your writing, create a world that a reader can believe in, even if it's filled with vampires or bikers, those aspects are irrelevant, just as long as you capture your reader. Also, progress with your writing / the series. Give the reader something new. Don't continue to create write-by-numbers books. Doing this is okay for your first couple of books as you're cutting your teeth as a writer, but definitely don't keep doing it, and most certainly not on your tenth book, etc, like Christine Feehan does.

Good luck!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Disparity of Reviewing Sites

The disparity between reviews on different book reviewing sites is a frustration that many self-published writer faces, even more so than traditionally published writers because self-published writers don't have the big publishing houses to promote their work, and are often working at a loss, which can be considerable if you take into account editor's costs, payments to promotional sites, home office supplies, etc. And I must admit, I'm also feeling this frustration, especially when my books are getting numerous good or incredible reviews on one place, but where it counts the most (on Amazon) those reviews are simply not there. For example: I have 67 ratings with 23 reviews for Behind the Tears on Goodreads at an average of 4.31 stars, but on Amazon I only have 5 reviews at an average of 3.4 stars. But Behind the Hood has a lower rating of 4.09 on Goodreads but a much higher rating on Amazon with 11 reviews and 4.9 stars, yet many people who have read both books on Goodreads say that they loved Behind the Tears more. The sales of Behind the Tears is also a lot more than Behind the Hood, but where are the reviews on Amazon? I must say, when writing my follow up books these aspects do affect my frame of mind, making me think: Is it all really worth it? And if I want to actually make a success of my writing, which means not losing money, what do I write next? I originally wanted to write Graffiti Heaven's sequel next, Crying Out Silent, but because of what I've mentioned above, not enough people reviewing the book on Amazon, I had to put it aside for Behind the Tear's sequel (Behind the Lens). However, if things don't pick up I may have to put them all aside and start writing more conventional books, like the planned Dirty Dancer series. So, what I'm saying is, if you actually like a book and want the writer to continue writing sequels of your favourite series, and this is not just for me, this is for all self-published and published writers, please pop your reviews up on Amazon, otherwise other readers won't learn about these books and will take the very few who have managed to write a review, which may not be an adequate reflection on what the majority think.

Sorry for the gripe of the day, but again, if you really want sequels, encouragement goes a long way for authors who write into the early hours of the morning, then get up to go to their day jobs along with juggling family commitments.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013



Possibly the best writer I have read, words don't convey how good this author is, and how thought provoking and chilling his tale of two boys is. Brian and Neil, total opposites in the spectrum of personalities have a common link: their little league coach, a man who through his actions has affected their lives greatly. You are given an account from when the boys are 8 right through to 19.

At the beginning of the story you get Brian's point of view, a confused eight-year-old who doesn't know what has happened to him after he is found in a cupboard at his home, scared and with a bleeding nose. Again, at ten he has another similar experience, where a chunk of his life is missing from his memory. After his first experience he starts getting nose bleeds, faints a lot and wets his bed, but his mother, although caring doesn't question it (other than pulls him out of baseball), and his father tells him off. Throughout the years, those missing hours and all the things that comes with it (the nosebleeds, dreams, etc.) leaves Brian with a desire to find out what really happened on those nights. In doing this, he gets into his head that aliens abducted him, his confused mind latching onto anything that could explain it. But gradually, when pieces start falling together he starts realising that there is a much more logical explanation, although horrifying and life shattering.

Neil knows what has happened to him, he's forgotten nothing, but sees it as good, the mind of a young boy not understanding that what was done was anything but loving. He comes to realise this at the end of the book, finally understanding how wrong it was through Brian. That last scene was so emotional, so sad, chilling, and scary as hell as a mother knowing that predators like the boys' coach are out there, ingratiating themselves so they can get what they want. The picture below is from the last scene in the film version, which was also powerful and disturbing:


Neil on the left, Brian with the blond hair.

As I've said, Neil reacted differently to his involvement with his coach, and throughout the majority of the book remembers the man with love and affection. But it was clear that the coach's actions and the way he gave Neil money set the boy on the path of prostitution. Neil becomes promiscuous, seeking out older men, preferring them over people his own age when it comes to bed partners. But, it always comes with a price - he hustles, something he enjoys until boredom leads him to New York, where a traumatic experience (and a harrowing scene) takes away an innocence he didn't know he had, making him hate sex for the first time. Neil in this book, in all his beauty and sensuality, was the star here, as he was in the film. He was perfectly played by a young Joseph Gordon-Levitt (seen below).


 Neil is the one leaning out of the car, while the other boy acts as Eric, one of Neil's best friends, and the girl is Wendy, his other best friend, both also getting chapter view points in the book, Eric's being the more interesting of the two, because he shows us more of Brian and Neil's personalities. He's in love with Neil, but as said above, Neil is only interested in older, hairier men. Wendy also starts of having an infatuation with Neil, but realises quickly that Neil is gay, some of his actions shocking her. But this doesn't discourage her from forging on with their friendship, because he is so enigmatic and fascinating.

Enigmatic is definitely the right word for Neil, as it is for Brian also, because of the mystery behind their story. I wasn't sure how the title fitted in for a while, but by the end, or a bit prior to it, I realised what it meant and the picture on the cover of the book is so appropriate, and again the meaning is chilling, the blue light from the porch of the coach's old home shedding light (in more ways than one) on what happened to Brian and Neil.

As a overall assessment of this book, is was perfectly structured, giving the reader a mystery to start off with, leading them into wanting to know what happened to Brian and why he can't remember. We get pieces of the characters lives over an eleven year period. Some aspects were slow, more so in Brian's chapters, but, life isn't full speed all of the time, and these slower periods of the story were all needed, nothing in my opinion needing editing. Instead, the story was so realistic that the slower and faster periods for me played a perfect balance, allowing me to put the book down so I could enjoy it at a better pace, instead of whipping through it too fast ... plus I didn't want it to come to an end, because now it's over I really want to know more about Brian and Neil, to further read about their lives. Although there probably won't be, I hope there is a sequel. 

On a note in regards to the writing style, all I can say is this author is brilliant. His writing is so beautiful, the structure of wording, how he describes scenes - it is all so poetic. I tend to skim or flick through descriptions of settings usually, but I didn't want to here, because it was just so beautifully rendered, a true masterpiece of skilled writing.

I will be thinking about this book for a long time, I don't think any book has affected me this much, both in its originality, the horrifying message to protect your children, the masterful and poetic rendering of text, the totally captivating characters... I will definitely be seeking this author's works out again. In my opinion, he is the best writer I have read, and as an author myself, I don't say that lightly.

Warning: It goes without saying, with the topic, that there is non consent in this book. But, even due to the difficulty of the theme and what Neil experiences at nineteen, the author does handle it with care.