Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The End

Antholopalooza by the Numbers:

69 Novellas and Short Stories (Hah, I swear I didn’t plan that!)
60 Different Authors
44 New-to-Me Authors
19 Anthology-related posts
11 Anthologies read
8 Mr. Linky sign-ups (seriously, that’s kind of pathetic, but thanks for trying, Jackie!)
4 Thursday-13s (last one is tomorrow)
2 Guest Posts
2 Anthologies left unread on the shelf
2 Cheated on Antholopalooza with 2 full-length novels (coincidence?)

I can't believe I did this, but I went and bought ANOTHER anthology today. Despite the fact that I'm a) burned out on them and b) still kind of lukewarm on them as a category, I can't let there be something by Meljean out there languishing unread. So First Blood is waiting for me. I'm a fast reader, but even I can't finish it tonight to change my numbers.... but it's not IMpossible that I might finish Thicker Than Blood in 2008.

For those of you who missed out this month or couldn't squeeze it in with the holiday hubbub, Jackie is hosting the Bookworm Carnival in January with, you guessed it, an anthology theme. So you'll get another shot, and maybe I'll squeeze my last 2 3 anthologies in over there.

Happy New Years' everyone. Be safe ringing in 2009, and may next year be the best one yet for you and yours.

Monday, December 29, 2008

CJ's Conflicted Relationship with Anthologies

Please welcome Carolyn Jean of The Thrillionth Page, guest posting today on anthologies--

I was really excited when Nicola was having the anthology month and invited others to join the fun. And I have been enjoying learning about all these anthologies…plus, reading anthologies is something I want to do more of…but never seem to do more of. This month was no different. Why?

An excellent first experience
I have read exactly one genre anthology in my life: Lust Bites, an erotic vampire anthology put out by Black Lace featuring stories by Kristina Lloyd, Portia Da Costa and Mathilde Madden. I won it from Tumperkin over at Isn’t it Romance, and reading it was a really excellent experience.

The three novellas in this anthology:

In Portia Da Costa’s Buddies Don’t Bite, a heroine has a sexy vampire roommate, only she doesn’t know he’s a vampire, and he doesn’t want her to know. But they’re wildly attracted to each other. There are so many fabulously sexy scenes, like where he blindfolds her so they can go to bed together and she won’t see his crimson eyes of arousal.

Then there is Mathilda Madden’s Under her Skin, where Merle, the daughter of famous vampire hunters, has to spend 25 days living with one of her parents’ most hated vampire enemies, Darius, in order to get the antidote to save her dying father. It’s a dark, sexy study in anticipation and mind control.

Finally, there’s Kristina Lloyd’s Vampire’s Heart, a startlingly strange tale about really badly behaved vampires living in the arctic tundra. This wanton group comes into contact with explorers—one of them is leader Billy’s reincarnated lover.

I really loved this book, and what’s more, it introduced me to three really fine erotica authors, which is, I believe, one of the things an anthology should do. In fact, I recently bought and read Gemini Heat by Portia Da Costa on the strength of her Lust Bites novella, and I will probably read Lloyd and Madden in the future, too.

Why I don’t seem to read anthologies
Even though most of my favorite authors have contributed to them, somehow I’d rather read a novel. I’m a slow reader with very little time, and so I want to invest it in a long-term relationship. Anthologies feel like lots of dates.

Plus, a novel provides continuity. Once you’re into it, you know the characters and story world are all waiting for you. Anthologies make a reader jump around! I sort of hate being between books; anthologies increase that ‘between book’ feeling.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s a personality thing. Somebody should do some sort of study to see if anthology readers are more adventurous, explorer sorts, as opposed to routine and sameness-loving creatures like me. (Nicola? Because you know you are the anthology queen now.)

Why I wish I read anthologies
On a conceptual level, I think anthologies are cool, and furthermore, I think they show how vibrant, inventive and fluid the romance/paranormal/fantasy/erotica/SF genres are. I mean, these genres we move in encompass a huge diversity of forms, from shorts and excerpts to 900 page books and endless series. The story is king—at whatever length suits. Anthologies are a prime example of this.

The acceptance of e-books, esp. in the romance and erotica markets is, to me, another example of this sense of fluidity and diversity of forms.

By contrast, it seems like short stories and novellas (as well as grand-scale works) are seen as oddball forms in many other areas of the reading world—especially in literary fiction, where people like to say that short fiction is dead (aside from a dwindling roster of magazines) and authors can only get a collection published if they’re famous. Though it could be the Internet is changing that.

At any rate, I think anthologies are cool, and I love that multi-author anthologies are thriving these days. They’re a way people deepen their relationships with favorite authors while discovering new ones. What’s more, anthologies give readers credit for having the ability to discern quality, and a sense of adventure. I also think it speaks to the inclusive spirit of authors, they way they are up for giving each other rides on their coattails. So why don’t I read them? Why why why?

Oh, gosh, I feel a new year’s resolution in the making!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Review: Under The Boardwalk - anthology

So far, I’ve featured Regency anthologies, holiday anthologies, a chick-lit anthology, and lots and lots of contemporary paranormal anthologies. It turns out that there’s kind of a dearth of just straight-up contemporary romantic anthologies, although it’s possible I just wasn’t looking hard enough. Under the Boardwalk, headlined by Linda Howard, is a themed anthology revolving around beach stories. Five stories, four eras, three coasts, two terrible storms, but only one actual boardwalk; this anthology packs a lot of variety.

Personally, it makes more sense to me somehow to keep everything in the same era. I found it kind of jarring to move from a southern American contemp, to 1880s Texas, to Victorian Cornwall, to colonial Massachusetts, and then back to contemporary American Jersey shore. Not to take anything away from any of the individual stories, I just wasn’t a fan of the time-jumps, and I was sort of expecting all contemporaries – although the word “Victorian” did appear on the back cover, so, my fault for skimming, I guess.

So earlier this year, Shannon talked me into reading Mr. Perfect, which I liked rather a lot, other than the psycho-killer aspect. No surprise then, that I found Blue Moon to be perfectly delicious – all the things to love about LH and no psycho-killer. Yay! I rather wished for, if not a full book, then a longer novella, because I had quite a few unanswered questions about how the h/h were going to merge their lifestyles – she lives in a swamp off the grid, he’s the county sheriff, and this causes her a fair bit of angst early in the story. In the end, this was all handwaved away, which is always annoying but particularly because Lilah is such a fascinating character and I thought more details about her day-to-day life would be really interesting. I’ll forgive it though, because, well, Jackson Brody is just perfectly yum in the way that Sam is perfectly yum.

I had a mixed reaction to Castaway by Geralyn Dawson. I value well-done humor a lot in an author, and some of Dawson’s worked well. Some though, just made the hero seem kind of mean and a bit crude, but then he has a pretty decent motivation for wanting to make the heroine squirm a little. The set-up was a little artificial, too – she is “stranded” with the hero by her own choice – she tells the captain that brought her to the island to leave her there for 3 days. And of course the hero can return to the mainland whenever he wants. I don’t know. I didn’t love it, but enough of it worked to make me curious about a full-length novel from Dawson. Maybe the problems I had with it were exacerbated by the format.

I really liked Ruined by Jillian Hunter. In a fun departure from the usual Regency setup, the setting is slightly later, mid-19th century, and the cast of characters consists mainly of a handful of shallow society friends, of which our heroine seems to be one, and a Heathcliff-like author living reclusively on a Cornwall cliff. Hunter is a master of the comic-relief character – the shallow betraying “friends” of the heroine were a stitch to read. A little touch of a ghost story adds some oomph to the plot, but IMO isn’t especially necessary. Not that it was bad, it just seemed a little extraneous.

Of the five stories, I liked the colonial contribution from Miranda Jarrett the least. For no particular reason, the era and setting don’t appeal to me much – now, that isn’t a terribly hard thing to overcome if the story is great, but it’s a disadvantage. The characters were just really flat to me. Miriam’s childhood love left her four years ago, after taking her virginity and love to sail the seas for adventure and piracy. She has decided to marry a complete idiot a stable, unexciting fellow because he’s the complete opposite of Jack and therefore unlikely to cause her hurt. Pirate returns and seduces her into changing her mind. Blah blah blah. No surprises on the way to the happily ever after either. The writing and language are competent enough, but the characters are blah and the plot is totally linear. Meh.

Bringing it back around to modern day is Swept Away from Mariah Stewart. I liked this one quite a bit. It starts with a prologue of sorts, showing Jeremy in action as a private investigator, and giving us a very good insight to his character in less than six pages. In some ways, this story is as linear as the last, with no real obstacles between Jeremy and Jody, but the pacing is totally different. The characters get to know each other in this story; scene by scene they learn more and more about each other while going about adorably corny summer-beach-resort activities, like roller coasters, seafood restaurants, and hot-air balloon rides. Jeremy has a little soul-searching to do about his past, but other than that, it’s a lovely, lightweight summer romance; perfect beach reading or in my case, excellent escapism for the latter half of my snow-bound captivity.

Five stories: three very good, one ok, one meh. Not too bad as anthologies go.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Hot Blooded – Anthology Review

Contains novellas by Christine Feehan, Maggie Shayne, Emma Holly, and Angela Knight.

So, a year or three ago, I picked up an anthology called Fantasy, headlined by Feehan. I must confess I was still feeling a bit snobbish about vampire fiction and found it all kind of silly. I don’t think I finished most of the stories.

Times change, my friends, and so does reading taste. I had some leftover reluctance for Hot Blooded, due to the similarity of cover art and two of the same authors as Fantasy… plus, I have to admit, as the month draws to a close, I’m getting kind of burned out on anthologies.

But I was pleasantly surprised. Given that I have surrendered my disbelief on the vampire subject in general, I was in a much more receptive frame of mind for these stories and really enjoyed them. As a whole, each author did a good job of limiting the world-building complexities to just what was needed for the novella. Since I’m not a follower of any of these series, that was definitely a concern.

I mean, I could tell there was a lot going on in the Carpathian universe that I don’t (yet?) know about. Frankly, I think most modern authors who have ditched the whole “going to ground” element of vampire mythology have done the right thing, because I found that fairly offputting, and there were more loose ends hanging than I would accept from a full-length book, but that is sort of the nature of writing a series, I guess. All in all though, it was an engaging story that I was able to read and enjoy with zero external grounding (heh, sorry, groan) in Carpathian lore. For whatever reason, I continue to resist Feehan as an author, but I’m strongly tempted to cherry-pick through her backlist to see if I can find out what goes on with the secondary female characters in this story.

Maggie Shayne had an entry in Wild Thing, which I liked but didn’t love—it was clearly a part of an ongoing series and I had some other issues with it (review pending). What she did right with the Hot Blooded novella, Awaiting Moonrise, was to make it a completely stand-alone story. If it’s part of some other series, I can’t tell. The hero is a loner, the victim of a generations-old voodoo curse, and not part of a pack, pride, clan, patria, gaggle or seraglio of other Others, so there is less of a societal fabric that the reader needs to be oriented on. One nitpick would be the behavior of the hero when she first meets him—he’s a doctor, and behaves improperly. I don’t care if it did make her hot, it pissed me off. (Maybe it works for people with medical fetishes, I don’t know, those gross me out.) Other than that though, Shayne does the insta-heat thing pretty well, a visceral connection between the hero and heroine; there’s a little bit of a bad guy, a little bit of voodoo, and ultimately a happy ending.

Emma Holly… oh my. It’s shaping up to be a love-hate thing with me and her. After loving her historical, and hating the weird alien thing in Hot Spell, I was pleasantly surprised by The Night Owl (nothing to do with actual owls, by the way.) This was everything a romantic novella should be. It is the story of two people falling in lusty, sexy love, and very little more. It is part of Holly’s upyr series, which I snubbed those years ago, and it helps that the vampire lore is fairly standard: they drink blood, they “turn” humans (though their society has restrictions on this to prevent detection), they can’t bear sunlight and hang out in basements during daylight hours. There was some minor villainy, dealt with in a satisfactory way, but overall it’s the story of how Bastien has to take some risks to win Mariann over to the dark side, so to speak. If I have a complaint, I would say that there wasn’t much development of the relationship, per se. We get a good feel for both Mariann and Bastien (a bit later), but not so much why he falls in love with her. That’s just sort of as writ. Though I have to admit, if I (let’s assume, an unmarried version of me) were to experience that kind of mind-blowing sex, I’d probably convert to whatever, too. Just sayin’.

Angela Knight. Hmmm. What can you say about a universe that incorporates human legends through time by making them *actual* Mages, furthermore, a premise that requires the female counterparts to such legends to be fucked into their full potential by said Mages. Yes readers, Mage semen is magically delicious. If some guy chats you up in a bar and promises you immortality in exchange for a weekend in Cabo, he might be an Angela Knight fan. Despite the absolutely preposterous premise, I liked the characters quite a bit; the sex scenes were creative, athletic, funny, and still very very hott, although I did sort of feel like I should have a bowm-chicka-bowm-bowm soundtrack playing in the background.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Meljean Brook – Two Novellas – Review

Wild Thing and Hot Spell both contain novellas in Brook’s Guardian universe. I had to double-check the page count on both of them, because in each case there was absolutely a whole story packed into barely 100 pages. Vivid characters, compelling plot, and just enough of her amazing world to tide over the fans between releases.

Compared to a full length book, novellas usually lack something; I mean, there’s a reason for those other two or three hundred pages – character development, intricate plotting— something has to give. Not these. Sure, the plots don’t have quite as many twists and turns, but they’ll still engage you and they don’t have that wrapped-up-pat, oh-crap-I’m-out-of-page-count feel of a lot of novellas. The other signature move of Brook’s that is left out of the novellas is the way each full-length book adds new branches of the mythology in her world-building—which is perfectly appropriate for a short.

I honestly can’t speak to whether these shorts stand alone if you aren’t already reading the series. But does that matter? Are there really paranormal romance fans out there who haven’t fallen in love with the Guardians? If there are, I can only imagine that either of these two novellas would prompt such an under-rock dweller to run out and acquire by hook, crook, or library card the rest of the series. I will say, though, that being late to the party with Falling For Anthony did leave me slightly lost in parts of Colin’s story, Demon Moon; and Demon Bound contains references to events in Paradise. So fans should consider the novellas required reading, not extra credit.

Although Falling For Anthony (Hot Spell) contains references to how Colin was changed, it is the story of his sister and the Guardian she falls for, and explains Colin's connection to the Ramsdell family. I was actually kind of perplexed by the weird sex scene in the beginning of the story. I didn’t understand Emily’s motivations and I’m not sure I ever really did get a grip on them. The first couple chapters read a little bit like a full length novel that had been stripped down hard. I confess I didn’t start to love the story until after Anthony’s transformation.

Now, Paradise… Brook totally has her novella groove on here. Lucas, a self-sacrificing carpenter who bleeds to save humanity – no wait, that’s not quite right… but yes, Lucas is a bit of a Christ figure in this story. Fortunately, he gets a much happier ending with an angel for a consort-- which seems appropriate somehow; that is, if it’s not too weird and blasphemous to find a Christ figure extremely sexy and heroic. I really enjoyed the build-up of tension between these two characters: Lucas’ reluctance to take help from anyone; Selah’s internal struggle with her resentment of the Guardians who ascended, leaving Earth vulnerable and the remaining Guardians with a monumental task – there’s a lot going on here but it never feels rushed or confused. Once again, Brook plays with the notion of free will on multiple levels, adding hope to her dark world of demons and nosferatu, and substance to a genre that is too often dismissed as fluff.

One last note – Brook has a third novella in the collection “First Blood,” released this past August, which I somehow missed. Following my own advice, I’m going to need to pick this up one way or another.

Coming up next: Brook has a short in the upcoming Mammoth Book of Paranormal Romance, due out in April of 2009, and the next Guardian book is tentatively titled Demon Forged, featuring Elena, the foul-tempered Guardian with a talent for metal-working. Hopefully we’ll see than in 2009 as well, but I’m not seeing a scheduled release date as yet. Also, if you’re like me and reluctant to shell out $14 for your reading fix, there is more good news: Wild Thing is being re-released in mass-market format next month. Between the double-whammy of Paradise and Marjorie Liu's Hunter Kiss, this was perhaps my favorite anthology of the whole bunch.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Snowed In

I’m snowed in.

You wouldn’t think in 2008 a little snow would have this much power over an entire region. But I live in the Pacific Northwest, and the infrastructure around here is just not equipped to handle a foot of snow.

I did manage to get out a couple of times. I have a two-mile twisting 9% grade road to get anywhere, which was harrowing but do-able. The city had it sanded, and people were driving remarkably sensibly, ie, slowly.

But I’ve missed 3 days of work and tomorrow is looking no better. Fortunately our Christmas prep is in OK shape except for the glaring absence of a tree. My kids were not happy about the tree situation-- although my 8 year old has made Christmas lemonade and constructed a tree for us from a mike stand and green construction paper cones.

All in all, it seems like the right moment for a review of Snowy Night With a Stranger, though I confess I’m not feeling very rose-colored-glasses about being snowed in. In fact, I’m in a pretty grouchy mood, but I’ll try to rise above that for the sake of a fair review. {g}

So I’ll call Snowy Night a confection of a collection: it melts quickly like a snowflake on your tongue (aww, poetry).

Jane Feather’s A Holiday Gamble features a youngish aristocrat, on his way to a remote family estate after unexpectedly inheriting the title. The requisite snowstorm strands him in a house of suspicious goings-on. The set-up is a little reminiscent of Madeline Hunter’s recent Secrets of Surrender, in that the heroine starts out in a position of ruin—or nearly so. Typically novella-ish, the situation is not nearly so dire, the obstacles not so insurmountable, but it had that same seedy undertone of Unspeakably Nasty Things Might Be Happening Here. As a hero, Ned’s primary advantage is that he’s observant and smart—less of a storming, confrontational alpha hero and arguably more of a beta with a good instinct for a strategic retreat. Here’s a nice little snip of the h/h interacting:
She turned aside to the fire, where a small pan was heating on a hob. “I was warming some milk for myself. Would you like some?”

“No!” he exclaimed. It was so domestic and soothing, and he didn’t feel either of those things. “What else have you?”

Georgiana, bending over her saucepan, straightened, laughing. “Cognac on the dresser. I like to put a little in the milk.”

“It sounds revolting,” he declared, finding the decanter and filling a glass. “What did you do to Belton?”

“A jab in the kidneys,” she said easily. “Undetectable but most effective.”

I love how unrepentantly rude he is, and how blithely she talks about streetfighter tricks. She’s in a nearly untenable situation, but she is not without resources. The fact that Ned happens along when he does is a major advantage for her, but you get the sense that she just might have worked her way out of her problem on her own.

When Sparks Fly from Sabrina Jeffries is, at bone, a very simple story of two lonely people finding each other, and finding their way past the defenses that lonely people have a way of constructing. The hero Martin is touchingly human, and Ellie is so perfectly direct, so perfectly right, especially in this scene, where he has told her that she couldn’t possibly want a life with him away from London society:
”I choose to do what I think is right for you. You deserve better.”

“Absolutely,” she said hotly. “I deserve a man who wants me.”

“I do want you!”

A blush darkened her fine skin. “If you wanted me, you’d find a way to have me, instead of making a lot of excuses.”

I mean, HEAR HEAR! How many times have you read a romance where you wanted to yell exactly that at one or the other of the main characters? And I love her line, “I deserve a man who wants me.” Words to live by, baby. (And some people think romance is anti-feminist. Ha.)

Snowy Night with a Highlander was definitely my least favorite of the three. I really like Julia London’s contemporaries, especially the Extreme Bachelors, but this was a bit of a dud. It reads like a far-too-long prologue to the story of the heroine’s brother, who’s gotten crosswise with the Prince Regent. Fiona is rushing to warn him that he needs to go into hiding, which provides the excuse for her to be on the road in a season when few people of that time and place traveled. I’m not fond of the device where the hero pretends to be a servant, either. Fiona’s character does sparkle, she has plenty of personality, but there just wasn’t enough of a story for me. Which is tough anyway in a novella… and this one merely proves that point.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Thursday Thirteen, Edition 4

Since beginning this little anthology adventure, I’ve polished off 8.5 collections, totaling more than 50 short stories and novellas, in contemporary, historical, and paranormal genres (though admittedly heavy on the paranormal). I have a few more on my shelf which I may or may not get to before the end of the month – we’ll have to see what the holidays do to my reading schedule. At this point, I’ve got enough of a selection under my belt to offer up 13 of the best so far. In no particular order, because that’s way too hard:

Top Thirteen Short Pieces (so far):

1. "Story of Son," JR Ward, from Dead After Dark
2. "Party Planner," Meg Cabot, my only pick from the 21 stories in Girls Night In.
3. "Hunter Kiss," Marjorie M. Liu, Wild Thing
4. "A Dozen Kisses," Mia Ryan and
5. "Thirty Six Valentines," Julia Quinn, from The Further Observations of Lady Whistledown.
6. "Music Hath Charms," Tanya Huff and
7. "To Die For," Keri Arthur and
8. "Dirty Magic," Kim Harrison, from Hotter than Hell
9. "Falling for Anthony," Meljean Brook, from Hot Spell
10. "Paradise," Meljean Brook, Wild Thing
11. "Mad Dog Love," Angela Knight, from Shifter
12. "Sea Crossing," Virgina Kantra, from Shifter
13. "A Holiday Gamble," Jane Feather, from Snowy Night with a Stranger

With honorable mentions to Shiloh Walker’s "Blood Kiss" (Hot Spell) and an entertainingly silly short called "(Like a Virgin) of the Spring" by Susan Sizemore and Denise Little (Hotter than Hell), because they made me smile with references to Romeo and Juliet, and Camelot, respectively.
Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others' comments. It’s easy, and fun! Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Hot Spell – Anthology Review

Hot Spell contains stories from Emma Holly, Lora Leigh, Shiloh Walker, and Meljean Brook. Ever since I realized that I was missing some very critical information about Brook’s vampire Colin, I’ve been watching for this one. It’s a couple of years old now, though, so I had to order it from Amazon.

The first entry is from Emma Holly. Remember when I told you that I thought the historical world needed her more than the paranormal world does? Hmmm, I think I was right. This particular story just isn’t up my alley, although the right basics are there. You have a repressed noblewoman, a sexually super-charged “peasant” guy; subtle power exchanges in both directions, lush sensual writing, a decent mini-plot wrapping up with a love-will-conquer-all interracial romance… I dunno. I think the hero just didn’t do it for me. The paranormal, other-world element gives Holly some room to play, and I can see that the layer of creativity kind of juices up the story… but for me, it just didn’t work. I think this is a case where it’s just preference on my part.

Secondly, is my second Breed short story from Lora Leigh. Question for the hard-core fans: do the men all have “eatable lips”? Or is there some kind of streak of cannibalism in the mates they choose? I ask because so far the Leigh heroes are 4 for 4 with eatable lips. Personally I think that’s kind of weird. The first time, I thought, ooo, I kinda like that...By the fourth book I was waiting for it. Which, you know, isn’t right.

Other than that though, I actually liked this little story quite a bit more than the other one, and so far it might be my favorite Lora Leigh. (I’ve read two of the SEALs books and two Breed short stories). The Tarek character was definitely more likeable than Saban but I’m still having a little trouble with the mates-for-life premise.

Blood Kiss from Shiloh Walker cracked me up with the Romeo and Juliet references. Not a subtle lady, Ms Walker, with her Roman Montgomery and Julianna Capiet. The duo bob and weave through the politics of the two powerful but feuding families, and since it's a vampire spin, there's that sort of dying-but-not-really-dying bit, too. This is a romance, so there is a happy ending, and I was a little disappointed that no one had occasion to swear a pox on both their houses, but I suppose it would be boring to follow the formula too closely. Final note: very intrigued by the character of Mikhail. Adding Shiloh Walker to my 2009 authors if for no other reason than I need to read that story.

Review for “Falling for Anthony” coming up separately….

This little collection definitely rates high on the creativity scale, so if you’re looking for something a little different, this could fit the bill. Which for me, also makes it a little hit-or-miss by individual stories. I suspect this is a big YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary).

Have you reviewed Hot Spell on your blog? Feel free to post a link in comments or hit up Mr. Linky in the Antholopalooza intro post.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Thursday Thirteen, Edition 3

Thirteen Anthologies Sitting on My Shelf:

1. Dead After Dark (paranormal) – Sherrilyn Kenyon, JR Ward, Dianna Love, Susan Squires

2. Shifter (paranormal) - Angela Knight, Lora Leigh, Alyssa Day, Virginia Kantra

3. The Further Observations of Lady Whistledown (historical) – Julia Quinn, Suzanne Enoch, Karen Hawkins, Mia Ryan

4. Girls’ Night In – Many

5. Hotter than Hell (paranormal) – Kim Harrison, many others

6. Hot Spell (paranormal) – Emma Holly, Lora Leigh, Shiloh Walker, Meljean Brook

7. Snowy Night with a Stranger (historical, holiday) – Jane Feather, Sabrina Jeffries, Julia London

8. Hot Blooded (paranormal) - Christine Feehan, Maggie Shayne, Emma Holly, Angela Knight

9. Men At Work (contemporary) – Janelle Denison, Nina Bangs, MaryJanice Davidson

10. Under the Boardwalk (contemporary) – Linda Howard, Mariah Stewart, Jillian Hunter, Geralyn Dawson, Miranda Jarrett

11. The School for Heiresses (historical) – Sabrina Jeffries, Liz Carlyle, Julia London, Renee Bernard

12. A Stockingful of Joy (historical, holiday) – Mary Jo Putney, Jill Barnett, Justine Dare, Susan King

13. Wild Thing (Paranormal) – Maggie Shayne, Marjorie M. Liu, Meljean Brook, Alyssa Day.

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others' comments. It’s easy, and fun! Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

Hotter Than Hell – Anthology – Review

I picked this anthology up because I’ve recently been hooked by Kim Harrison’s Hollows series, and Marjorie Liu’s name on the cover sealed the deal. Interestingly, many of these authors, including editor Kim Harrison, are usually shelved in Horror or Sci-Fi/Fantasy, but you’ll probably find this anthology in the Romance section. Like their authors, the stories range from erotic horror to erotic paranormal romance to mostly just erotic. Notice the common denominator? I’m thinking that’s how the title happened.

Of the thirteen authors featured, I’d only read a few before. I looked at this smorgasbord as a way to find some new authors. Now, I can’t do a full-on review of all 13 stories or we’ll be here all day, but here are some highlights:

1. Tanya Huff – a fun, clever story about modern day Sirens and outwitting the bad guys. I love that.

2. Marjorie Liu – actually didn’t love this Minotaur story as much as I do some of her books. Like my thoughts on The Last Twilight, I had similar issues with this story – it just seemed a little too fuzzy around the edges for me. Neat premise though.

3. L.A. Banks – honestly? This one just seemed a little silly to me: Artemis wakes up and sees the current ecological devastation, and starts picking off CEOs, first turning them into stags and then hunting them.

4. Keri Arthur – I loved the writing and characterization in this little werewolf story. While I think the short story might not be Arthur’s best format, as the story seemed kind of unfinished, the stuff that was good makes me want to try a full length book.

5. Lilith Saintcrow - <shiver> - wins the prize for the creepiest story in the book. Love the writing. I suspect it might be a little too dark and cold for my taste, leaning farther into horror than I generally like to go. But I might have to read a full book first, just to make sure.

6. Harrison’s contribution had an O. Henry-like twist at the end that I had to go back and re-read before I “got” it. I’ll just say: whoa.

There are 7 other stories here to sample, but these are the ones that stood out the most for me, good and bad. Overall, if you like hot paranormal romance, this is a nice compendium for your nightstand. Harrison has a number of other anthologies out with the “Hell” theme, too, if this one hits all of your RAVE buttons.

Also reviewed by:

Literary Escapism
The Good, The Bad, The Unread
Urban Fantasy

Monday, December 8, 2008

Girls’ Night In – Anthology – Review

From all appearances, this should’ve been a great book. The contributors are a who’s who of 21st century chick-lit stars, featuring Jennifer Weiner, Sophie Kinsella, Meg Cabot, and Marion Keyes, all of whom I’ve read with enjoyment, plus seventeen other names of varying renown. Interestingly, it’s a charity collection, with proceeds going to the very worthy WarChild. And it’s published by Red Dress Ink, which is the hip imprint for strong, quirky women’s voices, for slightly subversive stories which refuse to follow formula (hold that thought, more later).*

The book starts out on a high note, with a hilarious contribution from Meg Cabot, told entirely through a series of emails regarding a corporate holiday party. I can hear you groaning. I have had similar reactions to the concept. I’m sure there are tons of really awful examples to be found. This one really worked though – as someone who communicates a lot electronically, both professionally and casually, I could very much appreciate the picture that unfolded for me in the dialog between the party planner and her best company pal, with color commentary provided by co-workers with questions, the manager of the event site, and the new hot CEO. I think this post-party note from Danny, the IT guy with the big crush on Charity, will give you a taste of what I loved in a nutshell:

To: Charity Webber
Fr: Daniel Carmichael
Re: Last Night
Listen, I know after the fight and the arrest and that fat lady going into shock and all, you had a few drinks, and maybe weren’t quite feeling like your normal self last night. So I just thought I’d ask one more time:

Are you SURE you don’t want to marry me? Because the offer still stands. My mom even promised to move her circular saw collection out of the basement if we do decide to tie the old knot.


Unfortunately, it was pretty much downhill from there.

It’s not that I’m the wrong demographic. Or at least, I can very clearly remember being in the Red Dress Ink target demographic: “sexy, funny stories that follow the struggles of dating, careers, and romance in the big city!”

Yeah, so it’s been a few years, but I spent quite a long time dating, careering, and romancing in Chicago, which is by all objective standards, a big city.

And yet much of the bitterness and angst and, well, just plain nastiness that seems to permeate the lives of these characters remains thankfully foreign to me, then and now. “Dating the Enemy” is a fourteen-page horror story. Really. I get that “chick lit” isn’t romance but geez:

Our pockets are full of matchboxes from bars we can’t even remember, hangouts we have been swept along to at three in the morning by groups of people we don’t know that well. It’s no so much that we think if we stay out till dawn we might finally stumble across The One, bleary-eyed and blinking, like us, in the daylight; no, we want to postpone the moment of going home alone to our single bedroom apartments until we’re too drunk or tired, or both, to be anything but grateful that there are no witnesses waiting up to see the state in which we stagger through the front door, throwing our keys clumsily at the hall table and missing.
Auuggh. One story is about a woman who was trying to get even with her ex by burning down a hedge in his yard (don’t roll your eyes like that, you’ll hurt yourself) and ends up causing an accident that basically burns someone’s face off.

I read the first two or three novels that Jennifer Weiner put out. They were OK, but by the third one, they just started feeling whiny and one-note. Would you want to finish a story that starts out:

It was three o’clock in the morning when Bruce Guberman and another half dozen liquored-up bachelors piled into the all-night World of Bagels and hatched the plan to kidnap the rat terrier known as Nifkin.
Me neither. This is what I do for you, readers; this is the sacrifice I make.

I will say if you can persist through the puerile drunk-frat-boy hijinks over the next dozen pages, I did rather like the end. So there’s that.

I expected something decent from Marian Keyes. What I got was a thoroughly insulting story “cleverly” titled “The Truth is Out There” involving a yellow squishy invisible alien with six legs, who stalks Our Heroine Ros (get it? Ros? Aliens?? haw haw haw!) and telepathically helps her realize she’s dating a douchebag:

”I can’t do it,” he finally said. “I can’t be with a woman who earns more than me.” {snip}

”Why can’t you be proud of me?” she squeezed the words out.

“Because it’s not right. And you want to come to your senses, you‘re no good on your own, you need me. Think about it!”
As if any self-respecting romance heroine would need a telepathic alien to tell her to dump that loser. Frankly, I’d rather just watch Dumbo. Same story only more interesting and hey, music:

I’ve heard really good things about Anna Maxted. This post is getting pretty long, so I’m just going to say that after reading her short story, you couldn’t prove it by me.

This was a 2004 publication, and there was at least one sequel. My advice? Send ten bucks to WarChild and borrow something by Julia Quinn or Jennifer Crusie to read.

*So on the topic of RDI, where the hell did I get that idea? Somebody has a really good brainwashingmarketing campaign going, because Red Dress Ink is actually a Harlequin line. I don’t have anything against Harlequin, I quite like lots of their Mira authors and their NeXt line (which, it figures, appears to be defunct now) but let’s face it, Harlequin has got to be the very opposite of subversive anti-formulaic fiction. Ah well. Learn something new every day.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Further Observations of Lady Whistledown – Anthology – Review

If you’re a fan of Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series, then you’re well-acquainted with Lady Whistledown, the anonymous society lady who writes the wildly popular gossip sheet about London’s ton.

The fun part about this anthology, unlike many others, is the fact that the four stories bump into each other around the edges, much like you might expect four actual affairs going on within, loosely, the same large social set. They don’t have too much impact on each other, but there are a couple of events that we get to see from several different vantage points, which I think is always fun. And then there’s the narration of Lady Whistledown. Her gently snarky commentary is funny, never truly kicks anyone who’s down, and serves as a wry window into the foibles of the nobility from someone who lives in the midst of it.

Briefly then –

*Suzanne Enoch leads us off with a nineteen-year-old virgin theme. Not my fave, but probably the most historically accurate for a Regency, so, you know, I’m used to it and I deal. It has a classic arranged-marriage conflict – not much in the way of word-count is needed to get us up to speed on that. We do get to see these characters come around from playing the role that’s expected of them, to really seeing each other as individuals and figuring out how to compromise. Nicely done if not especially memorable.

*Mia Ryan’s Lord Darington, has to be the most… endearing hero I’ve some across in a long time. I can’t find the right word. “Endearing” makes him sound like a puppy or a child, and that’s not what I mean. He has a serious vulnerability, and when he exposes it to the heroine, it’s really a wonderful scene, especially for a short. “A Dozen Kisses” is a nicely wrapped testament to the adage that Appearances can be Deceptive. It wins my vote for “Best Love Letter Ever,” too.

*I loved Karen Hawkins heroine, loud wardrobe and all (I did sort of wonder a bit if the character was color-blind, but that didn’t go anywhere). This is a Best Friend theme that hits all the right notes; it’s not a sudden transformation of a friendship—the whole story is really a progression where the characters realize that their friendship has been masking deeper feelings all along. My only complaint is that the hero seemed genuinely puzzled as to why the heroine would want to get married—hello, duh, sex? Anyway.

*Quinn’s “Thirty Six Valentines” is a sweet-cotton-candy melt-in-your-mouth fluff of a story. It’s almost more of a character sketch than a story, but I’m OK with that because the characters are eminently loveable, their vulnerabilities human and universal, and the sketches rendered flawlessly.

In direct contrast to Betsy’s complaint about the Foster and Phillips stories, these four all show us couples falling in love. As Betsy so eloquently put it, the relationship is the action. Plot and conflict are scaled down to novella-length, but I really felt like the characters and the chemistry still got the full, royal treatment in all four stories.

p.s.: Visit Devon's blog for her latest anthology review.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Old Skool Christmas Anthologies: Santa Baby

---Here's Betsy, with Antholopalooza's first guest post---

Not only will I read anything that Jennifer Crusie writes, but I would, if it were possible, smear her writing on crackers and serve it to all of my friends with a nice wine.

Over 21 years of romance novel addiction, I've decided that anthologies are, as Nic points out, an excellent value for the money. They're also one of the ways that I find new writers ... although I think this would be more consistent if the authors were to choose their anthologizing partners, rather than having an editor decide "readers who like Jenny Crusie will like Lori Foster."

Fact: I don't. Other fact: Most of the writers whom Jennifer Crusie has warmly name-checked on her blog have ended up on my bookshelves, too. Writers know who can write. Editors? Meh, mixed bag.

Which brings us to Santa Baby, an extremely uneven three-novella anthology that nonetheless isn't leaving my shelves anytime soon.

And here's why: "Hot Toy," which is Jenny Crusie's contribution, is a 104-page writing workshop in how to quickly develop primary and secondary characters, believable relationships and a fun plot. The jacket copy: "Mayhem ensues under the mistletoe as a determined shopper grabs the very last hot toy action figure off the shelf, only to find herself plunged into the middle of a real-life spy game -- in the arms of a sexy secret agent."

Frankly, the acknowledgements page hooked me harder: "Thank you to Jennifer Enderlin, who asked me to write a Christmas romance novella and then didn't blink when the guns and the gin showed up; Meg Ruley, who turned the birthday paper into Christmas paper; ... and Bob Mayer, who said, "You know, toys are made in China ..." Guns, gin, crafts and Chinese toys? Kapow.

We start with the heroine, who is urgently toy shopping for a gift that her deadbeat ex-brother-in-law promised to get for her sweet nephew. Like most of Crusie's hilarious heroines, she's slightly snarly and is close to the end of her extremely long rope. And then she meets our hero, and it's not cute, but it is funny, and of course you know he's the hero, but you believe the work he's going to have to do to get what he wants (which, in this case, is the toy that our heroine's holding). (For the record, one of the most gratifying parts of this story is that the outcome of that battle is not a foregone conclusion.)

There are also guns, gin, a really lame manicure set, poorly excecuted gingerbread house decorations and a hot kiss or two. Well worth the buy.

And that was a good thing, because Lori Foster and Carly Phillips? Mmm, not so much. I know they have huge followings (and I have at least one Carly Phillips book on the shelf), but they should have taken Ms. Crusie's course in the short-form love story. Instead, they commit a number of sins that make their stories clunk:

1. What do you mean, I don't get to read the first chapter?

In both Foster's "Christmas Bonus" and Phillips' "Naughty Under the Mistletoe," we're dumped into the middle of the action. In romance novels, of course, the relationship is the action; I think readers are shortchanged when many of the fun bits -- the attraction, the WHY of the attraction -- is chopped out. But here we are, in two stories where we are assured that at least half of each couple is already on a slow simmer, warm for the forms of the other half. And, we're told, the other half is absolutely deserving of this regard. (Ahem. I like to be persuaded.)

2. There is no tension.

It's hard to create, develop and resolve a romantic conflict in a short-form story. In this case, it translates into "Oh, goodness, I WONDER if Eric and Maggie will be able to overcome the fact that she's his boss?!?" and "Uh-oh, if Antonia and Maxwell finally get it on after years of raging sexual tension, will he turn out to be her boss at the new branch of the office where she'll be transferred after Christmas?" If you have trouble answering either of those questions, you should definitely pick up the anthology.

If, however, you know where either of those is headed, why don't you join me for a moment in the sad contemplation of the idea that office crush is apparently the last frontier of sexual tension and romance plots?

3. In order to move the plot along, the characters make weird and incredible choices.

F'rex, here's a bit of thought process from "Naughty or Nice":

"The ailing Mr. Corbin had been thrilled when he'd named her the senior associate to work with the as-of-yet unnamed partner who'd run the new office. ... Being naughty had no place on the ladder to success. Neither had coming on to a man she worked alongside.

But having earned her position, she felt free to act on other, impulsive desires. ... If the (Cosmo) article were to be trusted, the cliched adage was true and nice girls finished last. So Toni would just have to be bad."

Does this sound like lawyer logic to anyone? And, OK, lord knows that most romance novels (except, of course, Jenny Crusie's) put a conveniently high gloss on most professions, but this reads like a teenage girl's plot, not an adult woman's.

And that, of course, takes us back to my initial point. It seems strange to pair up Jenny Crusie's screwball, 1940s-snappy-dialogue-and-disaster comedies with two sweet but patently insincere workplace romances.

Kid, I dunno. It's a head scratcher.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Thursday Thirteen, Edition 2

Thirteen reasons to read an anthology this month:

1. Novella is the perfect length to read after the turkey is put away and before you pass out from the tryptophane.

2. Lots of cute holiday-themed books to get you in the spirit.

3. Too busy shopping, decorating, cooking and wrapping to read a full-length book

4. Need to sample some new authors to prep for Jackie’s 50 New Authors challenge in 2009.

5. Can’t miss any of the events in Nalini’s and Meljean’s worlds.

6. Keep one stashed in the car for when you’re waiting to pick the kids or in line at Starbucks for a gingerbread latte.

7. This is a test to see if anyone noticed that I could only think of twelve.

8. Where else can you get demons and werewolves, vampires and time-travelers, minotaurs and sirens, all in one book? (Umm, a Kresley Cole novel? Hmmm, you might be – no, wait, she doesn’t do time travelers. So far.)

9. Obsessed with JR Ward.

10. You *need* more Lady Whistledown.

11. Too tired from NaNoWriMo to read a full-length book.

12. Even if you don’t like some of the stories in the anthology, you still might like others. Therefore, an anthology represents a diversification of risk on your investment of $7.99*. In today’s economy, every bit helps. (“Look Ma, no hands-- I’m usin’ my MBA!”)

13. Be one of the kewl kids playing along for Antholopalooza!

*… or in the case of The Magical Christmas Cat, $14.99. I’m still bitter about that.

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others' comments. It’s easy, and fun! Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

    Wednesday, December 3, 2008

    Shifter – Anthology Review

    Maybe it’s just been on my mind lately, the question of consent, seduction, romance. Of being carried away, even if it’s irrational, even if it’s a bit – or more than a bit – dangerous, even if it’s inconvenient. But there was a common thread in this collection revolving around choice and will that seemed to really jump out at me.

    *In Angela Knight’s Mad Dog Love, a space opera about a politically oppressed princess and an enslaved werewolf, technology has given each person a nanosystem of molecule-sized robots flowing in their bloodstreams, that help fight disease, bolster strength, and house libraries of information. But when hacked or controlled externally, they can turn a person’s body into a puppet at the mercy of the programmer. In this particular story, it was more of an external plot device than something used in the romance, but you can see how easily it could take that turn.

    *In Lora Leigh’s “A Jaguar’s Kiss,” the biologically engineered Breed subrace is characterized by, among other things, a heightened mating imperative. When a Breed recognizes his mate, his body begins producing high levels of a particular hormone which can be transmitted via fluids, ie, a kiss. The hormone, to put it bluntly, makes both parties unbearably horny for each other and unable to tolerate the touch of another. In this novella, the heroine, Natalie, receives this hormone completely unknowing of its implications.

    *Virginia Kantra’s “Sea Crossing” tells of a young 19th-century schoolteacher, fallen from grace, who is leaving England for indentured servitude in Canada. A community of selkies, elemental sea creatures, arrange matters to bring Emma to their island to teach their adolescent population, teenagers on the brink of their first Change:
    ”You were needed.” His eyes pleaded with her for understanding. “And you’ve been happy here. Emma—“

    “But I didn’t have a choice! Those poor people who lost everything on the ship didn’t have a choice! I may be human and mortal and insignificant, but I know we deserve a choice.” He was looking at her as if she were the monster, as if she were a strange, rare beast who might suddenly sprout fur and flippers and swim away.

    “A choice,” he repeated.

    Her chest felt tight. She stuck out her chin. “Yes.”

    He nodded slowly. “Very well. I will speak to my lord. Tomorrow, after you have said good-bye to the children, I will take you wherever you want to go.”

    Emma’s mouth dropped open. Her chest caved in.


    What I liked about these stories though, is that regardless of the circumstances that brought the h/h together and their feelings around whatever deliberate manipulation or deception happened, in each of the four stories, the resolution required each character to choose to stay, to make the commitment, to explicitly decide that they wanted the other.

    Some did it better than others. This anthology popped my Lora Leigh Breed cherry, so to speak, though I’ve heard an awful lot about them. Frankly, I wasn’t that impressed.
    (Saban says…) “I’ve burned for you through the days and the nights. I’ve ached for your touch, and even that you would not give me. I flirted, I teased. I did everything those fucking books said a man should do, and nothing worked.”

    Natalie stared back at him, confused, uncertain. “And you thought throwing me into this would?” she finally asked bitterly. “That forcing my compliance was the only step left? You forced this on me, Saban. How is it any different than rape?”

    How was it different? His lips opened, fury pounded in his head that she would think such a thing, that she could ever believe that he would force such a choice from—

    Saban felt it then, the knowledge, the certainty, from her point of view, that it was exactly what he had done. He had given in to his own frustration, his anger at her defiance, his hunger, and he had unleashed it on her in a way that she could never fight, one that she could never escape.”

    Nice, huh? I mean, I guess it’s OK if he was REALLY REALLY hot for her, then it’s different, right? Even this revelation is qualified: “from her point of view.” Now, I realize this hormone thing is fictional, but given that premise, it was rape from ANY point of view. Maybe worse than rape, because there is no out, no escape, no support group, no 12-step program. The fact that Saban gets it holds out some promise, but then it all gets wiped away because Natalie realizes that actually? She was asking for it, so it was her fault:
    (Natalie says…) “It’s not the same as rape.”

    Saban clenched his teeth and fought the need to fist his hands.

    “You decided this for what reason?” He lowered the grill lid and watched it, as though in watching it he could make it heat and burn away the shame inside him.

    “Because I already suspected the truth of it,” she finally said. “I knew it existed and I pushed anyway because you were frustrating the hell out of me.”

    Oh, OK. Since she was attracted to him, it isn’t really rape. Got it. Yuck.

    I picked up this particular anthology for the Alyssa Day story, and liked it well enough. Not as complex or dark as the full length novels, but good characters, and I’m just OCD enough to need to read it because it’s part of the overall series arc.

    I also liked the selkie story quite a lot; I don’t think I’m going to be able to resist picking up Sea Witch after the little teaser at the end.

    The big surprise for me was the Angela Knight story. Futuristic, techy sci-fi space opera is probably my least favorite sub-genre, with or without romance; however, I’m a total sucker for compelling characters and Knight drew me in instantly. Within 20 pages, she establishes two unique main characters with compelling motivations; the ruthless depths of the primary villain, and an irresistible storyline where we’re already wondering who can be trusted and who has betrayed whom. Fabulous! And hey, how often do we get a good zero-gravity sex scene? I had my doubts about some of the technical details, but what the hell, it was good clean dirty fun anyway.

    Tuesday, December 2, 2008

    Story of Son - Review

    If you've been watching my sidebar then you know: today is a JR Ward release day! Not a full novel, sadly, but-- and here's the real reason that December is Anthology month for me -- a novella in the anthology Dead After Dark "headlined" by Sherrilyn Kenyon. Also contributing are Susan Squires and Dianna Love. I don't know who they are. I haven't read their bits yet. I headed straight for The Story of Son, because hello? obsessed.

    I have trouble getting into a lot of short stories, but this one pulled me right in. It definitely reads like a longer book. The hero in this story is everything a BDB fan could want -- tortured, honorable, and with the equipment and stamina of a horse. What's not to like? Claire's character was awfully close to Jane, the heroine from Lover Unbound, which I've noticed about a lot of the Jessica Bird books as well.

    The story is set up such that none of the characters know anything about the world of the vampires as we know it, which puts us fans in the interesting position of perhaps knowing more about what's going on than the characters do. It also has the advantage of not spoilering *anything* about the BDB series. I think it's a more fun, better read if you have read the other books, but because of this plot device, it's not really necessary. In fact, I'd be really interested to hear from readers of this story who haven't read the books. If there are any left.

    Like a lot of short stories & novellas, this one is pretty thin on plot -- I think it's more of a love story, a vignette of two characters, who they are apart and together, and the chemistry they generate. Ward has a handful of "Slice of Life" scenes on her website -- this piece is a bit reminiscent of those.

    I really adore the character of Michael and could easily see him playing a part in future BDB books. Ward certainly doesn't lack for characters to turn to and he probably doesn't need his own full-length book, but dang, I'd love to see him in the Brotherhood. He would fit right in.

    ps, do I need to tell you that the hero is a vampire? He is. She isn't. Go read it.

    Monday, December 1, 2008

    Welcome to Antholopalooza!

    This time of year, the bookstores start to set up displays of holiday anthologies. Usually historical or contemps, they’ll contain the words “Snowy” or “Holiday” or otherwise imply that the time of year plays a role in each of the stories.

    Now, I realize that not everyone celebrates Christmas. But no matter what you DO celebrate, it seems like December is a fraught time of year. There are increased social activities, gift-giving to be done, magic to be made. If you are out in the workforce, chances are there is Major Stuff going on – either a huge retail and inventory push, or an end-of-year book-closing rush.

    On the up side, at their best, the holidays do bring out the best in humanity: a focus on giving, on togetherness, on peace, on faith in the return of light in the darkest time of year.

    So it makes sense to me that the holiday atmosphere can play a big part in stories with an emotional core, ie, romance. I think this time of year can really exaggerate the ups and downs of the human experience.

    So all of this deep philosophizing brings me to my point: Read an Anthology this month! Why? Because they’re there. They’re all over the place, in fact. For some reason, urban fantasy and paranormal authors (or publishers?) LOOOOVE the anthology format, so there are tons of them around, with or without the holiday theme.

    To be honest, the novella and short story are not my favorite formats. I like longer books; I like the character complexity that it enables. BUT, some of my favorite authors INSIST on writing these little tidbits, and for many of them, I can’t NOT read everything they write. So rather than whining about it, I’m EMBRACING the anthology format. I’m dedicating a WHOLE MONTH on Alpha Heroes in celebration of the anthology. I’m inviting the blogosphere to join me, either by guesting here or linking to this post (Mr. Linky below). It’s also apparently going to be the month of CAPITALIZING random WORDS. Do join me, it’s gonna be BIG fun.

    Any post relating to any anthology is fair game. Reviews, rants, raves, navel-gazery – it’s all good. Historical, contemporary, paranormal, urban fantasy, erotica; holiday themed or not: whatever floats your anthological* boat.

    If you’d like to guest post, drop me an email at nicola327 AT hotmail DOT com and I’ll enable access for you. If you’d prefer to link, please be sure to use the url for the specific post.

    Edit: no more guest posts are being accepted now, but Mr. Linky is still live if you'd like to add your post!

    *I made that word up.

    Saturday, November 29, 2008

    The Romance Apologia Scale

    This is making the rounds, but it's too good to miss. If you haven't seen it in its entirety, now is the time:

    Dear Author's Romance Apologia Scale.

    You can probably guess where I fall.


    ps, sorry if you clicked and went somewhere unexpected. Link is corrected now.

    Contest: What a Scoundrel Wants

    It's true, I'll do almost anything for a free book. Given the raves I'm seeing, I'm adding Carrie Lofty to my 2009 new authors list, too.

    Thursday, November 27, 2008

    Thursday Thirteen, Edition 1

    Yep, that’s edition ONE. I figured if I was going to jump on this bandwagon, I might as well pick a good day for it.

    So yes, I’m thankful for my family and my health and a roof over my head and a good job, and all those things, and believe me, I don’t take them for granted, BUT Alpha Heroes is about reading romance, so here goes the Alpha Heroes Thanksgiving Thirteen:


    1. Never need to worry about artwork for the walls: floor to ceiling bookshelves!

    2. It’s educational: I bet I know WAYYY more about the proper forms of address for dukes, earls, marquesses, and plain old Misters than the average 21st century American, not to mention bits and pieces about running a medieval castle, the Napoleonic wars and the Khyber Pass.

    3. Escapism: diving into another time and place, or hobnobbing with jet-set celebrities in the almost-here and now is a great way to de-stress.

    4. Simple and easy way to avoid eye contact with weird people on public transportation.

    5. I never feel awkward about eating a meal alone. In fact, sometimes I get annoyed when someone from work joins me for lunch – that cuts into my reading time, dammit!

    6. I’m never bored in line at the DMV.

    7. High standards: some people like to postulate that reading romance gives women unrealistic ideas about relationships. I like to postulate that in terms of desireability as a mate? those people are at best, the Alpha Hero’s wacky neighbor. Think George Kostanza.

    8. Challenging stereotypes: I actually get quite a kick out of it when people ask in disbelief, “You read romance??” in tones reserved for things like oozing sores and dogshit. I like to try to make them come right out and say that romance is for airheads. Try it, it’s fun—I suggest leading with “Really? And what do YOU read?” They tend to stammer a lot.

    9. This essay. I have linked to it before, about a year ago, but it’s worth a re-read every now and then, for both die-hard romance readers and folks who are honestly wondering why people read romance. This essay articulated for me a lot of feelings I had about romance books but hadn’t quite figured out how to express, so I am grateful for it.

    10.The way that writing about romance and fictional relationships has made me really think about the nature of romance and relationships and marriage.

    11. Cover art like this:

    12. The sex. It’s true, I admit it. If it were the Thursday Twelve though, I might not

    13. Last but not least, happy endings: if I want to feel saddened or angry or depressed or terrified, all I have to do is pick up a newspaper or tune in to Fox News. For entertainment, I want a feel-good story.

    The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others' comments. It’s easy, and fun! Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

    Tuesday, November 25, 2008


    Here’s something weird I’m finding about book blogging – I’m reading books for a whole lot more reasons than I used to. Life was simple then:

    .....GOTO READ

    Now I’ve got a whole bunch more uncertainty about what to do when BOOK_X != GOOD.

    Sometimes I just wonder what I’m missing. To be honest, I’m not the world’s pickiest reader. My bar just isn’t that high. So if I’m not liking something that the rest of the Romancelandia is raving over then… huh? I wonder, am I missing something? Is it me? What time of the month is it? (yes, that matters. Some months.) Did I manage to pick up the one mediocre book and now I’m missing out on the fabulous ones? Wha..??

    Which leads to some strange behavior, like

    .....GOTO READ
    ..........GOTO READ
    ..........READ AUTHOR_BOOK_X
    ...............GOTO ANALYZE
    ...............SET WTF=TRUE

    Yes, I know. I don't care, it's my blog and I'll geek out if I want to.

    Bottom line is, I'm reading a lot more books that I don't like in attempts to figure out exactly a) what it is I don't like; b) what it is everyone else likes, and/or c)wtf is wrong with you people me??

    Lora Leigh review to follow. First I might need to read one more book though.

    Saturday, November 22, 2008

    Advance Planning

    I didn’t really do any challenges in 2008. I didn’t know that much about them, and I've always pretty much hated anything that smacked of “required reading." But one thing I’ve really liked about keeping this blog and becoming involved with other book bloggers is the way I hear about great books. So this year I’m going to commit to a couple of challenges that are near and dear to my heart. It’s kind of a funny process for choosing what challenges to join – I don’t want to join too many, because I already have a job, and it doesn’t make sense to me to join challenges about books I would probably read anyway—for example, Naida is hosting a challenge to read 5 romance books in 2009. Um. I will most likely hit that mark within two weeks. Maybe less, given that there’s a holiday in there, so I’m not signing up for that one—not much point for me (though, since Alpha Heroes is totally about romance novels, I'd like to think I could serve as a resource for that particular challenge).

    As a fast reader, I’m all about quantity; I go through lots and lots of books, and while I’m loyal to authors I like, it takes a LOT of them to keep up with me, and then sometimes I just want something new. Like grocery shopping when I’m hungry, being in a bookstore all unprepared when this feeling hits me can be a very dangerous thing. I think it will be a great exercise in discipline and planning to try to stay ahead of that cycle with a list I can keep in my back pocket. (Or sidebar. Whatever.)

    So the 50 New Authors Challenge, hosted by Jackie over at Literary Escapism, really appeals to me. I touched on it a little bit this year (before I changed the blog format) by just keeping a list of new authors I wanted to try. My personal rule for this challenge is going to be that if I’ve read a short story or novella by the author, it still counts as a new-to-me author. Just because; I’m being arbitrary about it and last I heard, there are no Book Challenge Police.

    Mechanics: I’m going to keep a sidebar item through 2009 with links to the challenge updates. I’ll to try to post monthly on how each of my challenges is going.

    To start off, here is an incomplete list of authors I want to sample in 2009. I’ll give an update near the end of January of 2009 on how it’s going. Here’s my list so far, in no particular order—recommendations welcome! Actively solicited, even; that’s mostly how I got this list:

    1 Ilona Andrews
    2 Linnea Sinclair
    3 JL Langley
    4 Samantha Kane
    5 Kelley Armstrong
    6 Josh Lanyon
    7 Rachel Vincent
    8 Karen Chance
    9 Justin Gustainis
    10 Jeri Smith-Ready
    11 Shannon McKenna
    12 Katie MacAlister
    13 Alexis Morgan
    14 Anya Bast

    Wednesday, November 19, 2008

    Beyond Seduction, by Emma Holly – Review

    So I’m going to expose myself as a pseudo-intellectual here (or perhaps merely a former intellectual) and cite Molière’s Les Précieuses Ridicules as the prototypical plot for this book: two members of the nobility, fed up with the strictures and pretenses of their class, both independently choose to pose as a servant. Each in their guise, they fall in love but struggle with class bias. Each knows they must eventually return to their true position in society, and cannot figure out how to fit their commoner lover into that life.

    Of course, the ironic reveal involves much drama and a happily ever after.

    I’m 100% sure that I read some play with this plotline in my 17th Century French Lit class in 1985. I am something less than 100% sure that I have the right title. I still have the book; sadly, I do not have enough patience, given the tattered remnants of my French language ability, to confirm. Anyway.

    That’s pretty much the plotline of Beyond Seduction in a nutshell. There is also an unremarkable and wholly transparent subplot involving a servant boy that constitutes the weakest part of the book, IMO, and one of your more despicable manipulative-parent stories I’ve come across.

    What makes it really shine though, is the character of Merry. Her trials at the hands of her mother aren’t so very horrible, as fictional trials go, but her rebellion is quite wonderfully executed. Holly really shows us an entirely unique, intelligent, vulnerable, sensual heroine throughout the story, and as readers, we watch her grow up, step by step. I absolutely love the way Merry not just defies convention, but stands ready to live with the consequences of her actions; no qualms, no ducking or excuses, just standing tall and serene, with narrowed eyes and a bring it ON attitude.

    Naturally, our hero Nic has no intention of settling down or falling in love, and for once, the heroine handles this just exactly right. Plenty of stories follow this general formula, both characters refusing to admit that they are in love because they know the other will freak out (for want of a more historically appropriate phrase), but few manage to do it without drawing it out too long or making me dislike at least one character as TSTL. I can’t quite describe what is so right about Beyond Seduction, but I just loved it. Despite Nic being jaded and dissolute, despite Merry being protected and innocent (before Nic, anyway), she instinctively knows exactly how to manage their relationship with dignity and intelligence and with a profound ring of believability.

    Holly’s backlist includes paranormal and contemporary erotica, none of which I’ve managed to sample yet. I’m almost hesitant to pick up the paranormals – I liked this book so much I’m somehow afraid I’ll be disappointed with the paranormals. I know that doesn’t make any sense. I do sort of feel like the historical subgenre needs her right now more than the paranormal one does.

    Yeah, so it’s kind of late and I’m not sure I’m making sense any more, so I’m gonna call this post done, LOL.

    Thursday, November 13, 2008


    From the latest Stephanie Laurens, p. 76:

    She was far to fly to the nuances of place to let him use the lingering echoes of last night to distract her.

    Assuming that should be “too fly to the nuances,” again I ask, SRSLY?

    So it seems. A little etymological googling first turned up this, but no date:

    fly (flī)
    adjective flier fli′er, fliest fli′•est
    1. CHIEFLY BRIT., SLANG alert and knowing; sharp; quick
    2. SLANG fashionable, stylish, attractive, etc.
    Etymology: orig., thieves' slang < ? fly Source

    “Thieves’ slang?” Hmm. Adding that to the google mix, I found this:

    fly (n.)
    O.E. fleoge, from P.Gmc. *fleugjon (cf. O.S. fleiga, O.N. fluga, M.Du. vlieghe, Ger. Fliege "fly); lit. "the flying (insect)" (cf. O.E. fleogende "flying"), from same source as fly (v.1). Originally "any winged insect" (hence butterfly, etc.); long used by farmers and gardeners for any insect parasite. Slang adj. meaning "clever, alert, wide awake" first recorded 18c., perhaps from the notion of the insect being hard to catch (other theories, however, trace it to fledge or flash); 1990s use may be a revival or a reinvention. Fly on the wall "unseen observer" first recorded 1949. An O.E. word for "curtain" was fleonet "fly-net." Fly-swatter first attested 1917. Flypaper attested from 1851, though the item itself is said to have become commonly available in London in 1848.


    I wish it gave usage though. I’m just having SUCH a hard time with a regency noblewoman being fly to nuances.

    Anyone have more or better sources?

    Oh, and here's a bonus:

    Flying fuck originally meant "have sex on horseback" and is first attested c.1800 in broadside ballad "New Feats of Horsemanship."

    Tuesday, November 11, 2008

    One Bite With a Stranger, by Christine Warren-- Review

    I’ve been a Christine Warren fan for quite some time now. I browsed past She’s No Faery Princess dozens of times, intrigued despite my non-urban-fantasy-reading-self (at the time). I think it was the title that finally did me in, along with my growing love affair with vampire novels (see also: JR Ward).

    One Bite with a Stranger is a recent mass market release. According to Warren’s website: This book is an expanded version of the title originally released by Ellora’s Cave as Fantasy Fix. It contains new content and can be considered the First Novel of the Others.

    I haven’t read the original e-book version, so I can’t comment on how much different it is or how much it may have changed. I can assure you that Warren’s roots in erotica show more in this book than her previous print releases, and those were not exactly lukewarm, IYWIMAITYD. Take note: the erotic scenes feature some loving BDSM kink – if that’s a big turnoff for you, you might want to take a pass on this one. If it is your thing, though… or if it’s not NOT your thing... um. It’s pretty good.* It’s also constitutes a fair bit of the page count, so, fair warning.

    Dmitri is a really lovely alpha hero in this story. He has this nifty little gift of mind-reading, and when he happens to tap into Reggie’s fantasy life, he finds that it lines up with his own, and things just smoke along from there. The notion of a lover being able to read your mind certainly has some disadvantages, not the least of which would likely be a sense of violation. It also becomes an interesting way to treat the notion of consent. What if you actually do know for a fact she means YES when she's saying NO? Warren handles this nicely, IMO. Dmitri doesn't ever ignore what Reggie says when it's in conflict with what he knows about her inner desires; rather, he calls her on it and insists on her cooperation in something of an ultimate submission. The rest of the plot is adequate but unremarkable.

    My only nitpick with the story is the motivating premise that kicks off the whole thing. Reggie has this group of girlfriends who came up with “the Fantasy Fix” (title of the e-book version). Each of them apparently shared a sexual fantasy or two and amazingly, no matter how outlandish (not so very), someone in the circle had a single hunky friend who was able to deliver said fantasy. Reggie, the most prudish of the group, was exempt from the fix-up because she was the only one in a long term relationship. At the beginning of the book, she has dumped the loser LTR and thus amid much protest becomes the subject of the next Fix.

    Here’s where my eyes start rolling. I just don’t see blind dates and fix-ups working out that well when they specifically involve fantasy sex. I mean, I’ve BEEN on fix-ups. Add in that the fixer-upper has shared one of YOUR fantasies with the guy and ugh. AWKWARD. Or maybe "awkward" isn't the word-- maybe the more accurate term would be "LESS FUN THAN REPEATEDLY STABBING YOURSELF IN THE EYE WITH A SHRIMP FORK".

    Then there’s Reggie’s reluctance. Her girlfriends all but force her into this. She wants no part of it, not even deep down secretly yadda yadda. Yet she still lets them dress her up in slutwear, take her to a bar, and goes along with the plan to go home with a guy of their choice and have kinky sex with him. I don’t buy it.

    Really? This is where your suspension of disbelief fails?

    Um, yeah. Who're you?

    You can call me the voice of doubt. Or reason. Whichever. This is one of the vampire books, right?

    Yeah, vampires and some were-guys. So?

    Where the girl falls in love with the vampire? The centuries-old, mind-reading, blood-sucking dude with the pointy teeth?

    Yes already. Your point?

    So you believe in the mind-reading sexually dominant immortal vampire and his were-wolf buddies, but you don’t believe the main character would go for a kinky fix-up?

    Right—that and the single available straight men in Manhattan. And one of them was a were-cat, not wolf. YOU CAN SHUT UP NOW.

    Okay, okay, untwist already. I'm just saying.

    *glare* Consider it said.

    On a serious note, the scenes between the hero and heroine were far and away the star of the show. The chemistry in and out of bed between Dmitri and Reggie really sparkles, and carries the book. If you're not into the erotic side of it, it's probably not going to rate tops for you (errr, no pun intended) but I give it good marks just for the main characters. I thought the scenes among the girlfriends were more than a little flat by comparison and probably didn't help with the believability of their roles. I actually didn't like Ava much at all-- we'll just have to wait and see what kind of true colors she reveals in her own book, coming next April.

    The reading order for Warren's Novels of the Others can be found here.
    *By which I mean smoking hot.

    Sunday, November 9, 2008

    Mistress of Pleasure, by Delilah Marvelle – Review

    One of the recent highlights of my avocation as a romance reader was the Emerald City RWA conference in Bellevue, WA. This just happens to be about 8 miles from my house. I am steadfastly NOT writing a romance. No. Not doing it. As tempting as it sounds to attend a seminar by Julia Quinn on writing dialog, or Cherry Adair as the motivational “just do it” speaker (no really, it IS tempting, that isn’t sarcasm), I would rather spend the $300-odd on books by other people. Seriously, it’s way more fun to read them than it is to write them. At least for me.


    So, the thing is, as an artist, I’m a damn good engineer.

    I do not mean to say that I’m utterly hopeless at creative stuff. For any art, there is craft that can be learned and practiced, skills that enable the artistic vision to shine through. My husband, who’s a 3-D electronic artist, has said that when his company looks for artists, they’d far rather have someone with a great artistic eye and teach them the software, than someone who’s a whiz with the package of the moment but merely OK at the art. Me? I’m pretty good at the craft stuff. If I can read up on it, and practice it, and have sufficient motivation, I can perform competently. It’s that vision, that creative spark, that I think I lack, or perhaps it’s just the faith in my spark that's missing. Either way, I’ve yet to catch fire.

    So back to the review, and how it came to be: I was standing in line loaded down with a huge tote full of juicy new books, and started chatting up the person next to me (it wasn’t Ciara, though I did accost her in her FABulous boa and got a bit of a scoop on how things were going) and probably talked her ear off – I tend to do that when I get going on the topic of romance books (I’m sure you’re shocked). Julia Hunter held up to the barrage pretty well, and told me that I HAD to check out Marvelle. You can probably imagine how much arm-twisting was involved. Julia graciously held my place in line (there were like 50 people ahead of us and 4 behind) while I ran back and nabbed one last book.

    Delilah Marvelle was the nicest person you could imagine to talk to and her books have a pretty cool premise. She writes in the regency era, but less about the ton and more about the demi-monde, or that class of folks, especially women, who might be welcomed into the rarified air of the ton, if only they would behave themselves.


    So was I. Honestly, I really, really wanted to be able to write a rave review for this book, but I found it only so-so. It seems to me that Marvelle has the spark, the idea, the passion, but it’s executed a little clumsily. Anachronistic patterns of speech, dialog that clunks along sometimes, especially the grandmother’s French inflections. Plot devices that don’t quite ring true – in particular, the hero is a duke who, despite being handsome, fit, of a prime age, and – did I say—a bloody duke?-- is considered unmarriageable because of recent family scandals. His mother, overbearing but loving, is so desperate for him to marry that she pressures him to marry a woman who has no reputation, no money, and no family lineage – she’s not quite a courtesan, but the next thing. The heroine meanwhile, is a prim virgin saddled with a grandmother who has educated her in the theory of sexual arts to a degree that rather squicked me out. Now, I realize that there’s a deliberate attempt here to turn gender roles on their head, but I just didn’t really buy it, on either side.

    In spite of all the problems though, I still really like the basic premise (a very secret "School for Scandal" where men of the ton can learn the arts of seduction) and I loved the glimpses of the gentlemen who will become the subsequent heroes. Marvelle tells us that she’s planning to write 5 or 6 books with a concurrent time frame, and I’m looking forward to that. I’ve always loved reading the same scene from more than one point of view (see also: Julia Quinn, “The Lost Duke of Windham” & “Mr. Cavendish, I Presume”).

    If I haven’t made my point yet on craft vs. art, I feel like Marvelle has the art but needs a little work on the craft. Which is why I’ll be happy to pick up at least the next book and see what happens with it--I'd rather read a book with this kind of flaw than a perfectly-written one with no heart.


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