by Carol Lynne, contemporary (2007)
Ellora's Cave, $5.95, ISBN 978-1-4199-0921-4
Have sunk what little credibility I have by daring to admit that I adore the campy trainwreck that is Ben's Wildflower, I may as well lose what little that is left over by admitting that I can't purchase this book fast enough.
Branded By Gold comes out before Ben's Wildflower but let's not kid ourselves by pretending that reading the books in the author's Men In Love series in order is compulsory. After reading this book, however, I'd say that if I were a shrink and Ms Lynne is my patient, I'd tell her to come out of the closet. Oh, not literally - I don't know the author in real life and she can be trisexual for all I care. However, Ms Lynne obviously has her heart more invested in male-male stories so she should embrace her inner slash fan and just go straight for broke. Or, in this case, straight for Brokeback Mountain. Oh, I'm so witty today.
Branded By Gold is a ménage à trois romance although in this case the heroine comes off like an underpaid beard who should know better.
Jacob Baker, ex-Navy SEAL fellow, and Cree Sommers, a stereotypical Native American "Fabio Lives!" sheriff of Junctionville, New Mexico, are about to play "Where's my Waldo?" with each other when they are interrupted by a phone call. Apparently the hospital found a woman in a coma. She has with her a photo of the two guys with their names written behind the photo. Clearly the woman with the photo must be worried that she may get the names mixed up and call out the wrong name during a heated interlude. Won't it be embarrassing if she calls out Cree during an exciting moment and it turns out that Cree has just left the room to get them some drinks? This woman is Jenny Barnes. She's Jake's stepsister and she has been abused by her stepfather. Now that she's on the run, Jake and Cree are going to protect her while offering her some TLC and sexual healing.
Rampant stupidity is everywhere in this story. Shall I start with the fact that Jake, Cree, and Jenny jump straight into a sexual affair, sorry, I mean "true love" during their teens with none of them even blinking over the fact that three people are involved? I tell you, those folks in New Mexico must do things differently from the rest of us. Or that the two men can mistake Buck's creepy overtures towards Jenny as paternal affection? Then again, with Jake's brand of brotherly love towards Jenny, maybe that last one shouldn't be too surprising.
I love the scene where Jenny's eyes immediately start fluttering when Jake and Cree rush into the hospital room and start calling out to her, "Jenny, did you hear that? Cree and I need your love. Please come back to us, baby. Please make our house a home." Or that they pray to God to make Jenny get better quickly. I wonder if these people are some kind of Mormons that allow their women to have two husbands instead of the other way around. Who knows what kind of churches these people have in New Mexico, eh? I mean, at the end of the story, Jenny marries two men in a wedding ceremony and nobody blinks an eye. And I think nearly all the men in attendance are sleeping with each other. Junctionville - and no, I don't know if there is a dirty connotation to the name of the place - is one of those places where straight women are awkwardly out of place. Really, Ms Lynne should switch on her PC right about now and turn all those heroines in future books into gay male transvestites at the very least. Her men are hot for each other, Ms Lynne puts more effort in detailing her male characters' penises than she does into the entire personality of the heroine, so why force these men to share the bed so awkwardly with a woman? They are no longer in the army so there is no need to pretend anymore, no?
And then there are the love scenes. Half the time it's Jake and Cree playing hide the salami with a few obligatory "We love Jenny, we love Jenny, we love... oh, baby, do that again!" yammering. Jenny loves to cook, which makes it convenient since she'll be cooking and cleaning and washing after two men now instead of just one man. Really, Carol Lynne is clearly an author who's more into hot male-male sex and Jenny ends up like a bottle of Vagemite stuck between two furiously necking hot hunks in bed. I don't know why Ms Lynne is doing this since it's not like gay romantic erotica is unheard of nowadays. Maybe she's trying to snare readers who don't normally read gay romances into being hooked on some? Ooh, Ms Lynne can be sneaky.
Branded By Gold, by definition, is a pretty bad story and a poorly-written one at that. However, I have some good laugh at the absence of logic in this story. I'm especially tickled by how this book embodies a really bad ménage à trois story. The two men are pretty much carbon copies of each other and the ménage à trois in this book feels like a mere bandwagon-hopping thing by the author. "I hear this mangy-doo-tah thing sells so I'm just going to add another hero in my current work-in-progress and voila! Mangy-doo-tah!"
Having said that, I'm disappointed because this book is nowhere as bad as Ben's Wildflower. It's a bad book, but most of its awfulness is dull. There are no shriek-out-loud funny scenes that defy logic here. The characters, by themselves, are pretty sweet if simple-minded creatures although in this case Cree and Jake are seriously in need of some kind of personality to make them come off less like a pair of Siamese twins sharing the same thought bubble and creepily completing each other's sentences. But come on, this is supposed to be a Carol Lynne book. She's going to be the heir apparent to Connie Mason's throne, no?
On the bright side, this book comes out before Ben's Wildflower so who knows, maybe there is a pattern at work here. Is the next book going to surpass Ben's Wildflower in terms of campy badness? If so, I can't wait. I'm going to have to give this author one more try before we go ahead with her coronation.
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