Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Of Libraries and Loretta

Today I’d like to give a little shout out to Andrew Carnegie, and the King County Library System in particular. For someone like me, whose geekitude encompasses both a voracious reading habit and a mild internet addiction, the on-line reservation system rocks my world.

Last week I squeezed in a trip to the library on the way to picking up my kids at their aikido class. When I got to the library, I had 11 books waiting for me on the reservation shelf. I swished them through the barcode at the self-checkout station and was back on my way to aikido. Total elapsed time: 9 minutes. I think parking took the longest.

So I got two nice piles, one from Loretta Chase and one from Judith McNaught; the latest release from Deborah Smith (just started that one today), and a fantasy trilogy from Roberta Gellis. Oh, and I owe them 10¢. Which I could pay online if I want.

I’ve been reading Loretta Chase now since Not Quite a Lady came out last year. The Carsington brothers are fun (Miss Wonderful, Lord Perfect, Mr. Impossible) but I really really loved The Last Hellion and Captives of the Night. CotN is a direct sequel of The Lion’s Daughter, while The Last Hellion has only a small intersection with a couple of characters.

There are certain constants in Regency romance. You can pretty much expect mention of Almack’s, balls, routs, eccentric dowagers, and descriptions of ballgowns. At some point, the heroine is going to need to navigate the ton.

Loretta Chase is different. High society still factors, but the heroines operate mostly outside of society. They are career women ahead of their time; some by necessity, others by passion. They are less protected & more mature than your typical regency deb, and therefore, to my mind, far more interesting. The heroes’ reactions to them range from hilarious to truly moving. Chase’s heroines just seem more... participatory in their stories. They are right alongside the heroes, scrapping through adventures with bad guys, foraging for clues in locations both exotic and low-brow, and contributing plenty of brainpower to the plot.

As they say, death is easy; comedy is hard. Something about the diction and voicing of historicals makes it even harder to achieve, as far as I’m concerned, so the fact that Chase can make me laugh out loud in an empty room is doubly impressive. Here’s a snip from The Last Hellion that completely cracked me up:

setting: a dicey neighborhood in London, 1828. "He" is our hero, a well-dressed duke.

He fell to his knees. "Sweet Aurora, behold me prostrate before you-"

"That isn't prostrate," she said reproachfully. "Truly prostrate is out flat, face down--"

"Bung upwards, she means, Your Grace," a tart called out.

"I should do anything for my goddess," he said above the male segment of the audience's raucous suggestions of various acts he might perform in his present position. He would kill them all later, he decided.

Overall, my favorite so far has to be Captives of the Night (though the title is a bit more gag-worthy than usual). The heroine is smart and ballsy and takes no crap from anyone, and the redemption of the hero is a story that gracefully twines together with the mystery plot in a flawless pied à deux of pacing. Andrea’s fave is Mr. Impossible, which asks the question, what if the alpha hero is cute and strong and everything, but just not that...well... smart? The answer may surprise you.

I like the recent offerings too – Chase continues to write heroines that really go for what they want, whether society approves or not, and I love that.

Monday, April 28, 2008

36 Days Until the Next JR Ward is Out

You might notice the date on this post is originally from April of 2008. If you landed here looking for the current release information, I've added it to my sidebar so you can always find it here at Alpha Heroes (you can also steal it for your own blog if you are so inclined!). Ward's main site is here if you'd like to go straight to the source.

In the meantime, here is a tantalizing, non-spoilered review.

Here's another one with a bit more meat. It seems spoiler-safe to me, but there is more information there.

What I want to know is, what does one have to do to get a JR Ward ARC??? Cuz chances are? I'd totally do it.

I'm serious. Rehv's book won't be out until May of '09. That's a YEAR AWAY, PEOPLE!! I need to start strategizing now.

ETA (4/30): The reviews are coming in hot and heavy and reviewers are LOVING this book. I am so THRILLED that these keep getting better and better; which we all know is not something we can usually count on in extended series. 34 days left.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Author Profile: Deborah Smith

The first line of a book is a powerful thing. It might not be the make or break point for whether a reader keeps going... but then again, it might. There are a number of reasons that I love Deborah Smith, and one of them is that she consistently writes some of the best opening lines…ever. To wit:

--I’m the fifth Hush McGillen named for the Sweet Hush apple, but I’m the only one who has thrown a rotten apple at the First Lady of these United States of America. – Sweet Hush.

--On a dark autumn night 25 years after I helped bury my great aunt Clara Hardigan, I found myself digging her up. – The Stone Flower Garden.

--Before the accident, I never had to seduce a man in the dark. --The Crossroads Café.

--When the Oklahoma City federal building blew up, Ella and I had just signed a six-month contract to perform in the piano lounge of a hotel in New York. --When Venus Fell, my personal favorite.

--Whe I was a child it seemed to me that our secluded farm lay at the end of a path to a magic land where only Powells and legends could survive. – On Bear Mountain.

Honestly. How do you NOT keep reading after one of those hooks?

If you like a little contrapuntal Flannery O’Connor bassoon line to the flutes and trumpets on romantic melody, dive into the world of Deborah Smith. Her books are a little reminiscent of the Sidney Sheldon and the Barbara Taylor Bradford* family epics of the 80s, in that they span generations and involve powerful and eccentric families. Her characters are consistently forced to choose between family loyalty and romantic love. You’ll find yourself caught up in secret tragedies, family skeletons, and more than a dash of Southern gothic horror. Her relationships take you places you don’t often see in the romance genre, and will make you question whether love really can conquer all. They tend to develop over more time than the typical romance which lends them an atypical strength.

I’m having more trouble than usual explaining why I like these books, so let me just wrap it up and say: Good Books. Excellent Writing. Leisurely, dare I say Southern, pacing. Good Characters & Relationships. Thumbs Up!

*except, well, good.


Friday, April 11, 2008

A Story For You (Nalini Singh)

This is a love story.

This is a story of how a reader finds a writer to love. There are obstacles. There are questions and uncertainties. But as in all good romances, love triumphs, and the ending is a happily-ever-after. So, reader, settle in with a soft light, a scented candle, and whatever else gets you in the mood.

Once upon a time, there was a romance reader named… oh, let’s call her Nicola (nobody ever said I was subtle). Now, as the heroine of this love story, Nicola doesn’t quite fit the current mores and publisher’s preferences of innocence and youth. No, Nicola has been around. The dew is off the bloom, and she has multitudes of reading partners, not just a few. Frankly, Nicola is a bit of a jaded slut, reading multiple authors and books within days of each other—sometimes even the same day! Thank goodness there are no nasty LTDs (Literarily Transmitted Diseases).

A few months ago, Nicola started blogging about her conquests, dishing with other reading sluts about who gives good dialog and character, and who suffers the occasional (or chronic) plot flaccidity. Now, some people might find this unseemly, but Nicola and her readers consider it a public service.

One day, while walking through the Internet on the way to Grandma’s house…. OK, no wait, that’s too much of a stretch….

One day, while checking blogger referral stats, Nicola discovered that a google search on “alpha heroes” had led some hapless reader to her own blog, but more interestingly, there were tons of great-looking other links listed, one of which was this one.

While there was an initial spark of attraction, it couldn’t really be called love at first sight. Nicola was cautious. Those paranormal types… you just never know what kind of stuff they’ll be into. Nicola filed “Nalini Singh” under “Hmmmm. Maybe.” and continued her hedonist readership.

Then one day, a similar meander through the blogosphere led her to Jackie’s blog, Literary Escapism. Jackie focuses more on paranormal romance and fantasy, and she likes Singh, as well as enough of Nicola’s favorites to make her opinion valuable. Nicola liked Jackie’s blog enough to stay subscribed, and eventually sees several more approving mentions of Singh.

Nicola added Singh to her mental UBS checklist. This is sort of the equivalent of a one night stand, a reading experience with no strings, no commitment. Remember, Nicola is a bookslut. But apparently, Nalini Singh is just not that kind of girl, and her books are not to be found in Nicola’s favorite cheap pickup joints.

Finally, Nicola took that chance, that step across the rubicon, and asked Andrea. “Have you read any Nalini Singh?” she asked. When Andrea gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up, there was no going back. But of course, it wasn’t to be that simple… “You must read them in order!” called Andrea like the fairy godmother tolling the midnight warning, as Nicola retreated to the S’s. And did Borders’ have the first book? That would be NO.

However, Nicola is not easily dissed once she gets a taste for a new author. Before she leaves the store that day, the second book is secured and the first one is on order – to be delivered to her door. Mmmmm, service.

Finally, the day came when Slave to Sensation arrived in the mail. Nicola isn’t one to dally with the good stuff. Diving in, she read it cover to cover in one or two evenings. (Sadly, her day job sometimes interferes with the more entertaining-but-doesn’t-pay-the-mortgage pastime of reading). Verdict: Pretty good. She starts forming a mental list of nitpicks but forgets to finish it because she’s too busy rummaging in the TBR pile for Visions of Heat, which she starts immediately and likewise finishes quite quickly.

Now this time, the questions and nitpicks are a bit more formed. Aren’t these two stories awfully similar? Both have the high-level Psy woman dropping out because she needs emotion and touch, while the changeling hero is the one craving commitment and emotional attachment. Cute gender reversal. Wonder how she’d do a male Psy and a female changeling, huh? Bet that wouldn’t be so easy. Bet that would be… well that would be book 3, Caressed by Ice. Since that required a new trip to Borders, Nicola couldn’t continue wallow in the new affair for the moment, and went for a sure thing in the form of a couple of Judith McNaughts, and a new nibble from Jenna Black.

Before long though, Caressed By Ice has succumbed to Nicola’s voracious appetite, satifying the curiousity about a male Psy/female changeling combo. But now there are new questions. Considering the abandon with which Singh throws around words like humane, humanity, human, etc, isn’t it awfully curious that there are no human characters? How do humans fit into this universe, anyway? What’s their special specialness? Are they just going to be ignored, a second-class species?

Cue Mine to Possess. Singh has an uncanny talent for answering just the questions that Nicola most wants to know about… in the next book. Not only does the reader’s interest stay piqued, the author sells more books—a perfect symbiosis.

By the end of Mine to Possess, Nicola’s fate is sealed. She will ever after be a loyal reader of Ms. Singh. The Psy/Changeling universe has succeeded in capturing Nicola’s imagination. The very satisfying resolution to MTP nevertheless opens up infinite new plotting possibilities without running into the irritating tendency of some sci-fi fantasy to keep asking more intriguing questions without ever answering any, or to work up to an impossible good-vs.-evil clash.

P.S. On a note that is only tangentially related to Nalini Singh, but fits nicely into the double-entendre metaphor we have going here, it must be admitted that Nicola tends to be a bit of a size queen (can I say that if I’m not a gay man?). Assuming a certain minimum of talent, nothing makes Nicola salivate more than a nice, long thick one. Generally, Nicola is not attracted to the likes of Singh and Viehl, but makes concessions for series because over time, the effect is similar in that the universe and at least some of the characters get the opportunity for ongoing development.

Friday, April 4, 2008

I Y Andrea…

Do you have an Andrea? You should! Every book lover should.

Andrea works at my local Borders. On the days when she happens to be working and I happen to be browsing, it is a scary and wonderful thing – wonderful for my reading experience, scary for my budget.

Andrea loves romance, historical romance, romantic fantasy, romantic suspense, and most of the cross-over genres. Happily, her tastes align really well with mine and she reads everything. If I ask her who’s new and good, she’ll rattle off 3 or 4 names that I haven’t heard of. If I tell her I’m tired of historicals and I want something more contemporary, or paranormal, or fantasy, she’ll have something for me. About a year ago, I confessed that Nora Roberts’ Circle Trilogy had finally dragged me kicking and screaming into the realm of vampire romances, she talked me into reading JR Ward—I did not go willingly!-- and you all know how that turned out.

Over the years, she has introduced me to--among many others-- Loretta Chase, Stephanie Laurens, Christine Warren, Susan Anderson, Lois McMaster Bujold, CL Wilson, and of course, JR Ward. She has never, ever steered me wrong. So if she tells me I should read something, I read it.

Most recently, she suggested Grimspace by Ann Aguirre and Clockwork Heart, by Dru Pagliassotti. The first is more space-opera-ish than I usually read, but fun nevertheless. It reminded me a lot of Briggs’ Mercy Thompson books in terms of the pacing and the way the romance develops a bit over several books—well, I hope; the 2nd book is due out soon, with available excerpts and word is she has a contract for books 3 and 4.

Clockwork Heart is a bit more steam-punky, though it isn’t a typical speculative/ alternative earth history. It takes place on its own world, where the technology takes a couple of different twists from ours, primarily around a lack of semi-conductor technology and the use of a lighter-than-air metal called ondinium. Combined with a strict caste-based society, there’s an intriguing whodunit mystery along with a lovely romance. Both characters turn the assumptions of their castes upside down, and have a bit of a struggle to be able to truly *see* each other. The book has some interesting things to say about power structures and bigotry and the masks we wear with each other.

Andrea also recommended Joanna Bourne but they were stocked out. It’s next on my list though, because if Andrea says I should read it, (say it with me) I’m gonna read it!


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