Sunday, December 27, 2009

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Short Story Saturday: Faeries Gone Wild

I'm a little behind today, what with the holiday and all. The other thing is, I've been reading through this anthology, trying to find a story I like.

It's not working.

It's possible that I'm just overly stressed out - the holidays do that to me. Or that my sense of humor is underdeveloped - there are a number of very popular authors whose humor does nothing for me except to induce an unattractive lip-curl and eye-roll combo. But whatever the reason, this antho didn't do anything for me. I got through three of the stories, but only one was remotely engaging.

Maryjanice Davidson
I've been looking for a reason to try this author -- so many folks whose opinion I respect enjoy her books. And I try not to rule out authors based on shorts that I don't love, because there are a lot of authors whose longer work I really enjoy, that don't do it for me in short form.

Long story short, I could concede that Davidson has potential for me, but this story wasn't a reason for me to rush out and start working through her backlist. Tall, Dark, and Not So Faery was a cute story with a huge cast, and a decent secondary romance considering it's only about 70 pages. All of the stories in this anthology have cartoony, goofy characters, but Coffee Ray had a heart-tugging appeal under his caricature, and I was rooting for the couple to find each other, so that's a plus.

Michele Hauf & Leandra Logan
I didn't like either of these at all. Terrible dialog and the juxtaposition of child-like cutesy with erotic/sexy really really didn't work for me. Like, at ALL.

So there you have it.
Blame it on post-holiday let down or whatever, but I can't rec anything from this anthology. Better luck next time....

The meme
Got a Short to share? Link it below!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Thursday Thirteen, Edition 17

Good Bye, 2009

A few weeks ago, the Weekly Geeks asked for our 2009 Top Ten. And I meant to participate, I really did. But, you know. Life is busy this time of year. You can still vote for the top books of 2009 at the official voting booth. The sad thing is, some of my favorite books didn't make it, and I have only myself to blame.

For whatever reason, I seem to be more successful at posting to the Thursday Thirteen meme than Weekly Geeks (I think it's because it's easier to make a list than to actually THINK about stuff, like the WG often seem to want -- the NERVE....) so I'm going to post 13 of my favorite 2009 reads. I won't presume to call them 2009's best, and I certainly can't claim to have read all the great 2009 books that came out. So these are just 13 2009 publications that I really, really liked.

  1. Meljean Brook's Demon Forged - I love this series so much, but I think I love Irena most of all. She's such an appealing character, tough and vulnerable and so very unusual. Her Olek is a wonderful foil, able to match her toughness but with a delightfully contrasty civilized polish. Brook's world is so imaginative, and she's not afraid to throw the curve balls that will leave you gasping. (Really. I gasped.)
  2. Nalini Singh's Branded by Fire - Fire is right. You might need to roll around in the snow for awhile after reading this one. Phew. Singh actually had THREE books out in 2009, but this was my favorite by far.
  3. Patricia Briggs' Bone Crossed - why did I wait so long to read this? I bought it when it came out (I even got it signed!) but for whatever reason I let it sit until this week. I devoured it in less than 24 hours - so good. Instead of fizzling out as so many series do after a few books, this one electrified me with the hints about where Mercy's character is going.
  4. Jenna Black's Speak of the Devil - I really like this series. The emotional aspects of Jenna's relationships are so fresh and complicated. The cross-currents are dizzying - you really never know what's going to happen next, or with whom.
  5. Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey - I also enjoyed Namaah's Kiss, but this one kind of blew me away. More UF than romance, but there are romantic elements.
  6. Alyssa Day's Atlantis Unleashed - I've been following this series, and it's been fun and it's been pretty good, but Unleashed was fantastic. Strides above the predecessors.
  7. Ilona Andrews' On The Edge - the strangest mash-up of fairy tale, UF, medieval romance, and redneck sensibility that ever worked like big huge working thing that totally works really well.
  8. Mary Jo Putney's Loving a Lost Lord - MJP returns to non-paranormal historicals with a wonderful twist on the tired amnesia trope. I just flat-out loved this book.
  9. Anna Campbell's Captive of Sin - I'm totally an Anna Campbell fan, although I know her style doesn't appeal to everyone. In order to write her damaged heroes, Campbell dives ever deeper into the human capacity for creative and horrible torture, and this story is no different. Generally this kind of thing makes me squeamish, but she pulls it off. I felt like this story took a step away from her almost-cartoonish over-the-top setups of past books and showed a bit more maturity in the plotting.
  10. Jennifer Haymore's Hint of Wicked - my favorite debut this year. The woman writes sexual tension like nobody's business.
  11. Though Carrie Lofty's What a Scoundrel Wants is certainly a contender for that title, too. Technically, this was a 2008 release, but it was very late in the year and it was a 2009 read for me. Really interesting heroine and spot-on action scenes make this book a standout.
  12. Victoria Dahl makes a double-splash into the contemporary pool with Start Me Up and Talk Me Down. While they had some weaknesses -- I didn't think the suspense element worked that well in either book -- I did love the main characters, especially the women. You haven't seen BFF dialog like this since Jenny Crusie's pre-collaboration days.
  13. Oh, what to choose for the final book! I can't decide between Carolyn Jewel's Scandal, The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie (Jennifer Ashley), and Not Quite a Husband (Sherry Thomas). What these books have in common is that I probably wouldn't have read them if it weren't for Romancelandia, and I'm having some trouble separating my liking them from my suggestibility. I liked them all, a lot, but I didn't review any of them. I had trouble finding anything original to say. I think in the case of both Thomas and Jewel, they're a little slower than my usual favorites, which might have been a disadvantage. However, I read them already thinking about complexities that were discussed by JessicaRRR and others, and I think it made me more appreciative of the texture of the books. Really hard to choose a favorite among those three.
Now, there are a number of 2009 books that might've made this list if I had gotten them read. A few of those are:

Darkness Calls - Marjorie Liu
Queen of Song and Souls - CL Wilson
Lord of Pleasure - Delilah Marvelle
Smooth-talking Stranger - Lisa Kleypas (waiting for paperback!)
Echo in the Bone - Diana Gabaldon

And I'm working on the backlist for a bunch of authors, so maybe next year their 2010 offerings will make an appearance.


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!

View More Thursday Thirteen Participants

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Short Story Saturday: The Holiday Edition

"Gifts of the Magi" by O. Henry

Do you read the classics?

I don't, much. But O. Henry holds a special place in my heart. My dad introduced me to his stories, so for that reason alone, he's a sentimental author for me. But his tradition of surprise or twist endings are especially delightful in the context of the Victorian period language-- I think we get used to "old-fashioned" or "classic" equating to "dry and stuffy." At least, I do.

Anyway, "Gifts of the Magi" is a holiday tale about a young, financially-struggling couple and how they celebrate Christmas one year. It's not what you'd traditionally call a romance, but it is absolutely romantic. It's a beautiful, deceptively simple little story about love, and sacrifice, and the true meaning of giving. It references the Wise Men of the Christian nativity story, but I believe it transcends religion.

Most of us probably know how it goes, but have you actually read the original story? It's really worth it. Read it again or for the first time this year. Read it to your kids one evening instead of watching "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" for the 11th time.

You can find the original text online, courtesy of Project Gutenberg, or you can download it.

[edit] Or alternatively, a nicely illustrated version at Fifty Two Stories. (Shout out to Jackie for the pointer!)

I hope you have a wonderful holiday, whatever you celebrate this time of year. May the gifts of the magi be yours this season.


Do you have a short story to share?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Short Story Saturday: Meow

If I were a character in a novel, I would be the cold-hearted sociopath. You would know this instantly because -- come closer, I'm only going to say this once -- I don't like animals.

I am not enticed by purrs or soft fur or charming wagging tails or mournful eyes. I look at a four-legged creature and think: crap on my carpets... funky smell in the house... ridiculous vet bills... pain in the ass when we travel...

Cutesy stuff also does not really appeal to me. Hummel figurines, Thomas Kincaid Painter Of Light, Precious Moments, wooden ducks wearing dusty blue neckerchiefs... these are not a few of my favorite things. These are things Most Likely to Make Me Hurl.

Given that I don't love anthologies, I don't love cats in general, I don't especially love stories about cats, and hoo boy, how much do I NOT love that cover--all of this considered, I think it's understandable that I didn't run right out and buy The Magical Christmas Cat last year when it came out. Plus: FIFTEEN BUCKS. Too much for a book that I probably will only like half of, at most.

But you know, it's NALINI. I can't just ignore that. And I happened upon a copy this past weekend at my favorite used book store and got it for under $6. That I could justify.

Put a little meow in their stocking this year with these tales of Christmas and felines-from beloved bestselling authors!

New York Times bestselling author Lora Leigh and top-selling authors Nalini Singh, Erin McCarthy, and Linda Winstead Jones have a special gift for readers this year: heartwarming holiday stories featuring passionate romance, paranormal adventure, and a distinctly alluring feline touch. With four new stories-including one featuring Lora Leigh's genetically altered Feline Breeds-this is a collection packed with more surprises than Christmas morning, and more chills than the snowiest winter night...

Stroke of Enticement lived up to its title. Strong, appealing characters and a nice dollop of Singh's signature steam make this a great story to curl up with on a winter evening. However, it's not long on conflict or plot, and readers unfamiliar with the Psy/Changeling series might wonder at the world-building. I don't think it would get in your way of enjoying it, but it's hard to say from my fan-tage point.

Conversely, if you're a fan who decides to skip this one, you're not going to miss anything important. There's not even a hint (that I could tell) of the overarching series plot and if Zach or Annie showed up in the last two full length books, I don't remember and didn't miss anything by not having their backstory.

Best thing about this story was Annie for me. She's such a contradiction: you think she's going to be the mousy-librarian type, but she is so totally not. I loved her. Zach is lovely and sexy and protective and all, but he's a bit of a cookie-cutter Singh hero.

If you're new to Nalini Singh, here's what I think you can extrapolate from this story about whether you'd like to read more: did you like the characters? Did you like the dialog and interplay with the pack and family members? Do you find the shape-shifting man/cat appealing? if so, check out more of her work. If you found it a little dull, I think I can reassure you that that is more of a function of the format than her style.

Do you have a short story you'd like to share? Link up!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Short Story Saturday: The Inauguration

Welcome to the first edition of Short Story Saturday!

I have to admit, I'm sort of a reluctant anthology reader. Mostly I feel compelled to read the short offerings from my favorite authors because 1) there's a reason that they're a favorite and 2) what if something happens in the world (in the case of series) that I don't know about? I just can't let that happen.

Last year, in my typical all-or-nothing style, I leaped into the world of anthologies and dedicated a whole month to reading only that format. If you're interested in backtracking, click on my "Antholopalooza" tag and knock yourself out.

Just when I was thinking about whether I wanted to do it again this year, Jackie started talking about an anthology fest, but like me, was finding it hard to work up enthusiasm. I really prefer longer work most of the time, and reading shorts for a whole month actually reinforced that rather than changing my mind.

However, I can't discount the fact that I really liked some of what I read last December. I got introduced to some new authors worth pursuing, and there are other favorites that I'm just not going to pass by. So between us, Jackie and I cooked up this idea of a weekly meme where we can nibble at the anthologies out there, rather than try to take them all at one gulp.

First Up: Never After


The bonds of love...

The bonds of matrimony...

The bonds between husband and wife...

Let's face it—some bonds are made to be broken.

Here, for the first time ever, are four stories from today's most provocative authors that take the classic idea of the "faerie tale wedding" and give it a swift kick in the bustle.

With offerings from Laurell K. Hamilton, Yasmine Galenorn, Marjorie M. Liu, and Sharon Shinn, I turned to the back and picked Shinn's to read first.

Why is that? Of the four, Liu is really my only go-to author-- I picked this up because of the fairy tale theme. I haven't read anything by Shinn before and I've been meaning to. I can't exactly tell you why or what particular buzz led me there. (I think I may also have a little tickle in the back of my head for The Shins, a band about which I have heard good things and even liked a cut or two, I think, but also have a niggling suspicion that I am not cool enough for them.)

Anyway, it was all vague but positive associations, so I was looking forward to a sampling of her work, and I was not disappointed.

I've always loved fairy tales, and another device that I enjoy is when an author takes a familiar story and puts a spin on it by moving it to a new point of view. Traditionally, fairy tales are told from a very omniscient and distant POV, telling you what happens and how it all ends. The Wrong Bridegroom is told from the point of view of that familiar character, the haughty princess who has turned down all the worthy candidates in the land. In desperation, her father has arranged a contest of three trials, the winner of which wins the princess's hand.

Shinn turns this upside down by putting you inside the head of the princess, who has indeed turned down all candidates, but it turns out her reasons are more complex that the good Brothers Grimm let on. There are characters you'll recognize: the stepmother, the exasperated father, a mysterious magician... and yet by the end, few of them are what they initially seemed.

Of the four stories, this one was definitely my favorite. It was light-hearted, cleverly written with characters who actually had development within the scant 150 pages or so, and didn't take itself too seriously. With its very satisfying ending, The Wrong Bridegroom corrects the fundamental anti-feminist tendency of fairy tales described eloquently by Jennifer Crusie:

I had Sleeping Beauty, who got everything she’d ever wanted because she looked really good unconscious. Or there was Snow White, who got everything she’d ever wanted because she looked really good unconscious. Or there was Cinderella, who should be given some credit for staying awake through her whole story, but who got everything she’d ever wanted because she had really small feet. The fairy tales I read as a child told me that boys’ stories were about doing and winning but that girls’ stories were about waiting and being won. Far from setting out on their own quests, women were the prizes in their own stories, and the less active they were–do NOT be a pushy, knife-wielding stepsister–the better their chances were of getting the castle and the crown.

All the stories in this little collection correct THAT literary error in a big way. You might even look at it as The Paper Bag Princess for grown-ups. If you're a romance reader, you'll probably guess the HEA pretty early on, but there are enough other great twists to keep you engaged.

Shinn's other work looks to be closer to straight-up fantasy, which might be why I'm not running across it all that often in my tours around romance blogs. But I might have to step out of my rut a little bit, because I think I would really enjoy her longer work.

And even though I'm not reviewing the other 3 pieces, I did enjoy them all. Liu's was very dark; Hamilton's was sweetly simple, and the Galenorn one was an interesting intro to her work (I've heard this author speak but this is the first of her stuff I've read). All in all I can recommend this anthology although [extended rant deleted] I'm not a fan of this new excuse to charge more $$ format that's in between mass market and trade -- it's like mass market only like, what, a half inch taller and costs three more bucks a pop. (Perhaps that's a post for another day.)

Got a short to share? Sign up!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Divorced, Desperate, and Deceived, by Christie Craig - Review

Death is easy, comedy is hard
So they say. I think "rom-com" -- romantic comedy-- can be especially hard to pull off; humor is really subjective and what you might find hilarious, I might... well... not. For instance, I totally can't stand Rachel Gibson, but I know she's a huge favorite. What can I say, her humor doesn't make me laugh.

This book had a couple of strikes against it for me. It's third in a series and I haven't read the first two. Overall, this didn't matter too much except for one fairly WTF moment regarding one of the former couples (she's pregnant):
... he tapped her cheek with a fingertip. "Don't start worrying, Lacy. You've got my kid to think about. I'll do all the worrying, okay?*"
I mean, really?? "Don't worry your pretty little head about it!??" Although I threw up a little in my mouth right there, I managed to get past it because they weren't the main couple here and I could ignore them pretty easily.

The other thing, honestly? is the title. I don't mind divorced or deceived, but come on, there's nothing sexy about desperation. Really.

Fortunately, the two main characters really sparkled and they had great chemistry. I believed the romance, and that's the most important thing.

The story had great pacing and Craig powers you through a classic car-chase/road-romance set up. Now, the seriousness of the crime plot seemed really at odds with the "romp" style and it pretty much kept me from buying into the darker aspect of the plot at all. And I had some issues with the way a particular secondary character was written (ie, the fact that his internal dialog made him sound mentally challenged) but I ended up liking the role he played in the plot quite a lot.

Overall, I think this author has a certain style that appeals to a lot of people but just isn't for me. I'm confident that there's an audience for her work though, because I think she really nailed the main characters, and the spark between them.

*Note: the quote is pulled from an uncorrected proof - there may be slight differences to the final published copy.

Disclaimer: A review copy was provided to me by Dorchester Publishing.

In stores now (pub date 11/24/09.)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Short Story Saturday: The Meme

What Is It?

Short Story Saturday is a chance to review novellas or short stories and share them with other folks who like short fiction. We're kicking off December 5, 2009.

Do I have to review a whole anthology?

No. The whole idea came from a discussion about how hard it is to review big anthologies with lots of entries. You CAN review a whole anthology and you can still link to the meme, but you don't have to.

What if I want to just talk about anthologies or the short story format and not do an actual review?

That's cool too. We're easy.

How do I join?

Sign up on the Mr. Linky and add "Short Story Saturday" to your tags (this gets you into the Technorati search). It would also be nice if you include a link back to the hosting post in your post.

Alpha Heroes is a romance blog, but I'm too cool for romance. Does that mean I can't participate?

First of all, I think you mean: you're not cool enough for romance, but that's just me. Short Story Saturday is genre-agnostic. Any work of short fiction is good. For now we're excluding poetry and non-fiction.

What's the deal with you and Literary Escapism?

We're swapping months. We figure it's a good idea to have backup. I've got even months, and she's got odds *resists obvious joke*.

Where did those awesome badges come from and where can I get one?

Jackie did them and they are indeed awesome. Feel free to lift them from right here, and use in your sidebar and/or your SSS posts.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Little Behind

Used to be, I'd almost always be waiting around for the best new releases from my tried and true authors. I had my autobuys: La Nora, Kleypas, Krentz, Balogh, Christina Dodd, Stephanie Laurens. Another half a dozen "B" stringers that I'd *usually* buy but didn't track as close.

Since starting this blog and falling in with this disreputable crew of book pimps, it's like I turned on a firehose. I can't keep up. My list of favorite authors is at least fifty long and just when I think I'm caught up, I realize I've forgotten about 3 or 4 of my regulars. I mean, it was close to two weeks after Covet's release that I posted the review. A good three weeks for Demon Forged (I'm so ashamed...). And I let almost a week go by before I even acquired Blaze of Memory. WHAT'S HAPPENING TO ME???

I have stuck my toe into a whole bunch of series and completely lost track of what I have and what I don't have. I've acquired bits and pieces of series by Alexis Morgan, Ilona Andrews, Kelley Armstrong, Vicky Petterson, Karen Marie Moning and others.... and all of them are in Nicola-Reading-Limbo because I am missing parts of the series.

This is really more for me than for you, dear reader, so that I can fire up the iPhone and have a place to go while I'm staring at the shelves at the bookstore, wondering which ones I need and which ones I have. And it doesn't even touch any of my favorite historical and contemp authors! That will have to be a post for another day.

OK, so here's my got-it/need-it list:

**Update 11/29/09: Wow, this really worked. I hit my favorite used bookstores yesterday and plugged up a lot of these gaps, without any accidental duplications. What are the odds that the 3 Alexis Morgan books I saw were the exact 3 that I already own?**

Karen Marie Moning, Highlander series:
1. Beyond the Highland Mist (got it)
2. To Tame a Highlander (got it)
3. Highlander's Touch (got it)
4. Kiss of a Highlander (got it)
5. The Dark Highlander (got it)
6. The Immortal Highlander (got it)
7. Spell of the Highlander (got it)
8. Into the Dreaming (novella in Tapestry) (need it)

Kelley Armstrong, Otherworld (novels only)
Bitten (got it - reviewed it)
Stolen (got it!)
Dime Store Magic (got it)
;">Industrial Magic (got it)
Haunted(need it)
Broken (need it)
No Humans Involved (need it)
Personal Demon (got it)
Living with the Dead (need it)
Frostbitten (need it)

Angela Knight Mageverse (novels only)
1. Master of the Night(got it)
2. Master of the Moon (Got it! it's a little tattered, but who cares?)
3. Master of Wolves (got it)
4. Master of Swords (got it)
5. Master of Dragons(got it)
6. Master of Fire (coming in 2010)(need it)

Alexis Morgan- Paladins
1. Dark Protector (need it)
2. Dark Defender (need it)
3. In Darkness Reborn (need it)
4. Redeemed in Darkness (got it)
5. Darkness Unknown (got it)
6. Defeat the Darkness (March 2010)(need it)

Alexis Morgan - Talions
1. Dark Warrior Unleashed (got it)
2. Dark Warrior Unbroken
3. Dark Warrior Untamed (August 2010) (need it)

Anya Bast - Elemental Witches
1. Witch Fire (got it)
2. Witch Blood (need it)
3. Witch Heart (need it)
4. Witch Fury (need it)

Keri Arthur - Riley Jenson
1. Full Moon Rising (got it)
2. Kissing Sin (got it!)
3. Tempting Evil (got it)
4. Dangerous Games (got it)
5. Embraced Darkness(got it)
6. The Darkest Kiss (need it)
7. Deadly Desire (need it)
8. Bound to Shadows (got it)
9. Moon Sworn (need it)

Ilona Andrews - Kate Daniels
1. Magic Bites (got it)
2. Magic Burns (need it)
3. Magic Strikes (need it)
4. Magic Mourns (novella in Must Love Hellhounds Anthology)
5. Magic Bleeds. (June 2010) (need it)

Vicki Pettersson - Signs of the Zodiac
1. The Scent of Shadows (got it)
2. The Taste of Night (got it!)
3. The Touch of Twilight (need it)
4. The City of Souls (need it)
5. Cheat the Grave (summer 2010) (need it)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Thursday Thirteen, Edition 16 AND a New Meme

It's getting to be that time of year again where the line-up of anthologies starts looking irresistible. What could be more festive than little tidbits from favorite authors, cozy warm/fuzzy holiday themes, and covers like this one:

Hmmm, that'll melt your icicles, eh?

Those of you who've been reading along here for awhile might remember my month-long event last year called Antholopalooza -- wherein I read and reviewed a whole bunch of anthologies and shorts; hosted a couple of guest posts; did a few thinky pieces about anthologies and included a number of T-13s along the way.

Ultimately, I couldn't bring myself to love the format enough to repeat the experience, but I do still pick one up here and there. Frankly, I think the anthology is a dish best nibbled upon, rather than binged. Then, a recent conversation (see comments) with Jackie over at Literary Escapism got some creative ideas flowing. So here's the deal: Starting in December, Jackie and I will be co-hosting a Mr. Linky meme for short-story-related posts, which we are dubbing Short Story Saturdays.

You can review a single short piece, a whole anthology, or post about your love or hate for the format. You'll find mostly romance from me, mostly UF from Jackie, but YOU can choose a short from whatever genre you please. Whatever tickles your fancy-- if you're the type who picks up an anthology and cherry-picks only your favorite authors to read, this is perfect for you. Just review the one story you liked the best (or worst!) and don't feel obligated to finish the whole thing-- I mean, how exactly would you go about reviewing one of those Mammoth books anyway? Makes my eye start twitching a little just thinking about writing -- or reading! a review that long.

Because I am lazy and can't be trusted to maintain any given event EVERY! SINGLE! WEEK! and also because I am totally noble and wish to share the work glory with Jackie and ALSO because it was an idea jointly inspired, Jackie and I will be sharing this dealio. We're officially kicking off December 5th, here at Alpha Heroes. In January, Literary Escapism will take over, and we'll be alternating months from there out. Watch for the cute badge that Jackie whipped up, in your choice of purple or green, and feel free to lift it for your post.

Jackie gives you her introduction to the whole thing here: Short Story Saturdays at Literary Escapism.

Now, it *IS* Thursday (in most places, anyway) and this seems like a pretty good spot to put up a list of this year's most tempting anthologies, just in case you need some enabling inspiration. Note that these lean heavily to romance, but there's a nice sprinkling of UF in there too if that's more your ticket.

Thirteen Tempting 2009 Anthologies

1. That Holiday Feeling – (contemporary) Debbie Macomber, Sherryl Woods, Robyn Carr
2. The Heart of Christmas – (historical) Mary Balogh, Nicola Cornick, Courtney Milan
3. Holiday with a Vampire III – (paranormal) Linda Winstead Jones, Lisa Childes, Bonnie Vanak
4. An Enchanted Season – (paranormal) Nalini Singh, Maggie Shayne, Erin McCarthy, Jean Johnson
5. Kissing Santa Claus – (contemporary) Donna Kaufman, Jill Shalvis, HelenKay Dimon
6. Hot for the Holidays -- (paranormal) Lora Leigh, Angela Knight, Anya Bast, Allyson James
7. Never After – (paranormal) Laurell K. Hamilton, Yasmine Galenorn, Marjorie M. Liu, Sharon Shinn
8. Must Love Hellhounds – (paranormal) Ilona Andrews, Charlaine Harris, Nalini Singh, Meljean Brook
9. Huntress – (paranormal) Christine Warren, Marjorie M. Liu, Caitlin Kittredge, Jenna Maclaine
10. Unbound – (paranormal) Kim Harrison, Melissa Marr, Jeaniene Frost, Vicki Pettersson
11. Strange Brew – (paranormal) Patricia Briggs, Jim Butcher, Rachel Caine, Karen Chance, PN Elrod, Charlaine Harris, Faith Hunter, Caitlin Kittredge, Jenna Maclaine
12. Deep Kiss of Winter – (paranormal) Kresley Cole, Gena Showalter
13. Four Dukes and a Devil – (historical, paranormal) Cathy Maxwell, Elaine Fox, Jeaniene Frost, Sophia Nash, Tracy Anne Warren (Jackie’s review and the start of it all!)

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!

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Wildest Heart, by Rosemary Rogers - Review

It's Official, I'm In Love
You may recall a bit of a rave I posted last fall for Rosemary Rogers' Sapphire. As far as I can tell, Sapphire is a new release with a 2005 (well, relatively new) copyright, whereas The Wildest Heart is a re-release, originally published in 1974. So I wasn't sure if that would make a difference.

All I can say is, Rogers has still *got it*, baby. This is a fabulous book and deserves your attention if you're a romance lover. If this is Old Skool, then I think the entire cadre of current historical romance authors should take a refresher course. Not that there isn't wonderful stuff coming out every month, but there is really a huge difference in scope and scale, and I want more of this kind of EPIC DRAMA. (I feel a glom coming on...)

Hey, Gabaldon Lovers
At well over 700 pages, if you are an aficionado of the Very Long Book, and the intricate plotting that goes along with it, I think there's a very good chance you'll like this one too. Jamie and Lucas would get along really well, I suspect; if nothing else they could have a good commiseration over wimmin-folk who don't stay in their places.

It's true that I'll forgive a bland or linear plot if the characters are great, if the chemistry is there, and if the romance satisfies. But if I can get it ALL between the same set of covers? HELLZYES, that's even better. The plot of The Wildest Heart is what the modern Big Mis wants to be when it grows up. The conflict between the characters is tied to a campaign of misinformation, disinformation, and scandalous secrets that begins before Rowena gets within a thousand miles of Lucas. If she'd ignored the evidence against him, we'd all scoff and call her TSTL.

The book is structured in a "coming of age" format, and starts out with a few scenes from Rowena's late adolescence in India, where she lived with her grandfather, and then moves into a relatively short section in Europe with her mother and stepfather. At one point, I thought maybe that bit should have been dropped... but I'm glad it wasn't. Events in this extended prologue inform Rowena's adult character and give you such an insight to her feelings on certain exchanges that the author doesn't even have to write it in -- you will cringe on Rowena's behalf, just knowing. It's genius, really, and it's something that might not be possible in a book of 350 pages vs. 700.

The plot twists and turns throughout the story as bits of conflicting information emerge, and right along with Rowena, you wonder whose information you can trust. The final twists were jaw-dropping surprises, at least to me, but written with such skill that there's no hint of contrivance or manipulation. The brilliance of this book is that the plot is so complex and yet it's entirely character-driven. The passions and hatreds of two or three generations provide the gearworks that power you through the story.

The Characters
The story is written from Rowena's first person narrative-- which frankly I wasn't thrilled with at first, but soon forgot my objections. Despite her desire to take charge of her life, circumstances and other people continue to buffet her in crazily extreme directions, but she never seems passive. With all this going on, I think the first person is a good way to keep the reader in a place to understand why she does the things she does. Rowena has no allies through a large part of the story, so much of her processing of events is internal.

One downside to this though is that Lucas remains an enigma to the reader as much as Rowena throughout most of the story. He's a bit of a background on which events are acted out, and he's off-stage for a fairly big chunk of the pagecount. Lucas might be the first of the angsty damaged heroes. He's a classic Western hero; taking the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune without flinching or explaining. And yet somehow as readers we see a little of his vulnerability, of his pain and that brings him closer to us.

Things You Don't See Every Day
Like Scarlett O'Hara, Rowena marries the wrong guy in the course of this story. She's not a virgin when she finally comes to the hero. There is rape, but it's not perpetrated by the hero. And Lucas is no white knight. He's engaged in a scandalous affair throughout the book and makes no promises to throw over this influential woman to be exclusive with Ro.

The love-making that seemed so daring in 1974 is far more soft-lensed and less graphic than any given best-seller today, but it's still hot and passionate and evocative:
Naked again, I went to him, and equally naked, he received me. We made love slowly and unhurriedly and inevitably. With Lucas, there was no holding back, no sense of violation. I wanted him, and he wanted me, and for the first time in my life, I learned how it felt to be taken out of myself with longing, and to have the longing fulfilled.
Bottom Line
The Wildest Heart is a long, slow, complex read. It's perfect for sinking into on a cold snowy night or taking with you on vacation. I strongly recommend and hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Around the Blogosphere
Romance Rookie
The Burton Review
Books Like Breathing
Revenge of the Book Nerds (heh. love the blog name)

Disclosure: Review copy provided by Sourcebooks.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Giveaway Cutoff Approaching

Just a reminder - if you'd like to be entered for care packages of historical, paranormal, or contemporary romance, hop down a couple of posts and leave a comment on my Bloggiversary post before midnight tonight!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Scattered Thoughts

I mentioned earlier that I've had the cold from hell. Seriously, I feel like I've been sick for months, and not just a little sniffly. It's been distracting and tiring and unfortunately the blog is behind kids and job in priorities, and there hasn't been much left over. Fortunately, I'm finally starting to cautiously think that maybe I'm almost better. Almost. I mean, I am much better, but not quite all the way better. You know?

As I look over my last few posts, I keep thinking of things I meant to talk about but forgot while I was actually writing. Rather than go back and do a lot of editing, I thought I'd do a little round up.

Giveaway Deadline
First order of business is my giveaway. I uh, forgot to put a deadline on it. How about, midnight Friday (the Thirteenth!) and I'll announce winners over the weekend. Sound good? OK.

I really wanted to get some posts up but I was lazy about linking in the last several posts (as they say in the scrapbooking world, "Done is better than perfect" -- and I got them done!). I've got nothing to Amazon, nothing to the author sites, nuthin' to nowhere. I'll go ahead and add in links to reviews around the blogworld, and as always, if you have also reviewed the book, please feel free to leave your perma-link in comments.

More Thoughts on Demon Forged

Next up, I wanted to go back to the Demon Forged review for a minute. I meant to point out a couple things about Irena's names. So first of all: Irena... Iron... get it? I got it. <grin> . And while I was reading about her talent for metalworking, my mind did wander over for a moment to the Dirk & Steele story about another heroine with a psychic metalworking ability -- Dela Reese, from Tiger Eye. Short snip, pulled from Marjorie Liu's webpage :
Those weapons offered her nothing. She knew quality when she saw it, age and history when she felt it. A simple thing, when one worked with steel as much as she did. When it sang its secrets inside her head.

I had the pleasure of hanging out with Ms. Brook one evening recently, and one of the things we talked about was Liu's writing and worldbuilding, so I know she's a fan. And you know how sometimes rockstars give each other little nods in their songwriting? Like how the line in Hotel California that goes "they stab it with their steely knives, but they just can't kill the beast" is supposed to be a tribute to Steely Dan? Anyhow, it made me wonder if Irena's fake FBI identity -- Irena Steele -- was a little shout-out to Marjorie Liu. It made me smile, anyway, to think it might be.

More Thoughts on Just One of the Guys
You may have noticed that that particular review is a bit of a stylistic departure for me. I asked a couple of friends to look it over for me and tell me if my faux grouchiness was obviously faux or if it just seemed kind of asshole-ish, cuz I can be a little insecure about my attempts at humor (it cracked ME up, but, you know. I can hear my tone in my head, and it's not always a sure thing that you all can, too). Anyhow, I was reassured on that front, but one of them mentioned, um, Nicola? What the hell is the story about?

As a rule I don't spend a lot of space on synopses, but hell, I didn't even put any links in that one. So here ya go. Jeez--I didn't even get the title quite right. In case you were undecided by my review and would like to know more about the book in my own personal words, this is what I told her:
The protagonist is a woman with 3 older brothers, plus a foster brother. Her dad and all the boys are firefighters. She also rows, faints at the sight of blood, has a huge lazy part bloodhound mutt (I don't know whytf there's a beagle on the cover) and works at their local hometown newspaper.

She's had a longtime crush on the foster brother but neither of them think they should act on it.

The secondary romance is about her mom finding someone other than her dad, who is a workaholic and refuses to retire.
I also meant to say but forgot, that the third wheel in the secondary romance? Bowed out with such grace and fineness of character... well. Again with the tissues.

Bringing It Around
Sunday I was at our local grocery store and wanted a magazine to flip through while sipping at my pre-shopping, fortifying latte. And they were having a 3-for-2 sale on paperbacks. AND they had Tessa Dare, whose first book I finally picked up (and loved) so OF COURSE I need the other two. I noticed that a couple of the Guardian books were on the shelf and I was glad to see they were getting shelf space even though I was already caught up. And then I saw Blaze of Memory by Nalini Singh and thought the same thing. It took me two more circuits of the paperback section before it dawned on me that THIS IS THE NEW ONE AND I DON'T HAVE IT YET!! D'oh! Scattered thoughts, people, I'm telling you. Anyway, I started it today and hey! I haven't quite figured out what's going on yet, but there's another psychic metalworking thing going on:
Gritting his teeth, he sought out all the metal in the house. The cool kiss of iron and steel brushed his mind, invaded his limbs. It wouldn't last long, not with Katya's slight form resting trustingly against him--but he'd use the calm while he had it...

I don't know what this means! But I'm intrigued. I'm amusing myself with imagining a reality show where these three characters would get together and have some kind of sculpt-off, or forge-off, or something-- like, one big lump of metal and they have a psychic battle to shape it their way. (Welcome to my brain: it's mostly harmless but mind the gaps). And I'm also wondering if any psychic metalworker could ever possibly top Meljean's scene with Irena's statue. O__O

That's It For Now
There's a strong likelihood that shortly after I post this, I'll think of two or three other Very Important Things I meant to share with the internet. For that moment though, I think that's everything. Thanks for bearing with me!

photo credit goes to Mary Elizabeth Williams. Isn't she awesome?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Happy Bloggiversary To Me....

Alpha Heroes is Two!
Whoa. That was fast.

236 posts, 63 individual book reviews, 9 series reviews, 9 author profiles, 15 "Thursday Thirteens," three templates, several hundred books, and lots of new virtual friends later, I'm still here.

I've always loved reading, but writing this blog has pushed that love up the scale closer to the "obsession" level. Since starting Alpha Heroes, I've attended a dozen local book signings, two RWA book fairs, and a handful of related author events. I'm thinking seriously about attending one of the conferences, although 2011 is more likely than 2010 financially.

Technically speaking...
When I look back at my first couple of posts, I see: one solid block of text. I knew how to link, so I thought it was pretty clever, that business of linking to images with text. Heh. I'm still not the most talented at finding perfect graphics for my posts, but I try pretty hard to have at least one in every post, and because I'm kind of a hopeless rule follower, I also try to get permission if it seems like an image that isn't obviously public.

I'm nobody's expert at css, but boy have I learned a lot in the last two years. I tend to be a little bit of a perfectionist when it comes to formatting, so this last round of template changing and tweaking got really in depth.

Didn't take long before I figured out about linking to other blogs and commenting on them. I don't know about other bloggers, but I crave the comments. I love knowing that people are reading, that they like what I wrote or are engaged enough to debate something they disagree with. You all are awesome and the main reason I'm still here.

I Write a Little Differently
Self-editing is a tough one. There are some topics that I could go on and on and on about (maybe you've noticed the twenty-some -odd JR Ward posts....) but I do make a conscious effort to keep my blog posts kind of middlin'. I'm pretty much incapable of writing a 200-word post. If you see something from me that doesn't require you to scroll, it's probably one of my Lazy Posts, wherein I'm redirecting you to something fun.

There are more than a few posts that are very very long, and some of those I had to kind of stop myself and say, "enough already!" -- I could've gone on for pages and pages with our two Black Dagger Brotherhood scholars earlier this year.

Generally, my posts probably run a bit longer than a typical blog post, but it's how I roll. I'm getting a little better at being concise, but I'm not too worried about it-- I just try to pay attention and not go off the deep end.

I Read a Little Differently, Too
But not too much, I think. I might be a bit more likely to notice writing "tics", as O'Donovan calls them. I don't know. But when I know I'll be writing a review, I do try to pay attention and flag excerpts that I want to talk about -- things I particularly love, or are especially evocative of the character or the author's style.

A Few of My Favorite Things

I'm still partial to my vampire credibility index post-- what can I say, sometimes I just crack myself up. Antholopalooza last December was an interesting experiment, both in reading and blogging. I started something about a year ago that I like to call the Lazy Post, which is mostly just a link to someone else's fabulous content (if I were less lazy, I might try to turn it into a meme, but, well. Lazy. It's a problem.) This year, the two-post series with Maria Lindgren Leavenworth and Jessica Price was a huge highlight. And of course, who could forget the Penis Post?

What's Next?
Mostly more of the same, I guess. I'm still having fun reviewing and blogging, and I don't think I'll ever quit reading romance. A few new ideas include a short-story meme that Jackie over at Literary Escapism and I are cooking up, and I've been mulling over adding some author feature pages around my favorites. I've been getting quite a few pings at GoodReads lately, so I've been thinking about doing brief reviews there and linking to the blog. Maybe at Amazon, too. Do you guys do stuff like that?

Wouldn't be a birthday without them, now would it? You of course, are welcome to send me heaps of presents if you're so inclined, but of course I would NEVER presume to ask.

Coincidentally enough, I've been going over my non-keeper shelf today and I have a whole LOT of books that are ready to go to their next reader. So I'm going to bundle some up and give them away. I figure I'll do three packages: historical, contemporary, and paranormal/UF.

I do not guarantee condition, as quite a few of them were acquired used anyway. I'm gonna keep it simple -- leave a comment if you want to be entered and which of the 3 you're interested in. You don't have to comment 3 times to be in for all 3 packages, but you won't win more than one.

And one more time, if you're reading here? you're part of why I keep doing this. So thanks!

Friday, October 30, 2009

One of the Guys, by Kristan Higgins - Review

Ms. Higgins, I have a BONE to pick with you.

You are supposed to be light. You are supposed to be a romp. That's what everyone says: a romp. You are supposed to be sweet and happy and bubbly and frothy.

You know what I got from this book, Ms. Higgins? Soggy kleenex is what.

You made me cry like a little bitch, Ms. Higgins. I'm talking weepy, sniffly, unattractively moist sobs and hiccups. That bittersweet secondary romance? The way you spun out the tension on our poor Heroine, tighter and tighter and tighter until the HEA was in real, true, serious jeopardy? ROMPFAIL.

Hmpph. I do not read romance because I like sobbing into tissues.

And really, it's the rare author who can accomplish that. So, okay, you're an AWESOME author who writes a FANTASTICALLY emotional romance.

Fine. Be that way.

Disclaimer: Purchased at retail.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Demon Forged, by Meljean Brook - Review

Risk Profile
Do you have a go-to author, one whom you KNOW, for every book, you're going to love certain things? That the heroine will be feisty, or sweet, or the hero will be wounded but honorable, etc. etc.? I don't want to say "predictable," but maybe... "reliable" ?

I think a lot of authors come to be repeat best-sellers by reliably providing what their readers like. Nora Roberts and Jayne Ann Krentz come to mind, to name just two.

The Guardian series isn't like that.

I can see why Brook might be a hit-or-miss author for some readers. Her characters are so different, so extreme, that readers who like a certain kind of hero or heroine are almost guaranteed to a) find that in at least one of her books and b) not find it in others. She goes out on a limb with every book, breaking fondly-held genre rules here, while taking others to new extremes there.

Because Brook is so skilled at bringing her diverse characters to life, I personally find something to love in every book. In Demon Forged, we have Irena, one of the oldest Guardians after Michael, and Alejandro, a dashing Spanish nobleman. ( He's a millenium or so younger than Irena, but that doesn't seem to bother anyone.)

These two have A History. With Baggage. And when your bad guys are actual demons, and you've spent centuries trying to deal without the benefit of a good therapist... well. You wind up with Issues.

One of the themes that intrigues me with every Guardian book is the idea of "humanity." What does this mean when most of the characters are not human? What does it do to a person (or Guardian) to exist for sixteen centuries?

While Brook doesn't explicitly dwell on this a lot, I did find Irena's character to glimmer with small, telling details consistent with an ancient character. Irena is barely literate. Her idea of relaxation is hiking or hunting or sculpting in her forge: elemental. She's blunt, straightforward, lacks subtlety. I loved this exchange:
"No." He straightened. His eyes shuttered. "I will not fight. I do not like the man I become with you."

The words stabbed her chest. Reflexively, her hands fisted. Irena held them at her sides, struggling against the fury and hurt that urged her to batter them into his face. He stared down at her and she thought, prayed, that he might take the words back.

Olek shook his head and turned. "Your vampire friend has gone into the city."

He walked away. Irena watched, her heart hammering.

*I do not like the man I become with you.*

He should have hit her. She'd have known how to respond to that. But this pain, she did not. [chapter end].

Irena and Alejandro/Olek have spent the last 400 years in a state of tension, avoiding each other or relieving the tension in violent training sessions. It's certainly valid to wonder, "why now?" Why is now the moment when this tension comes to a head? Brilliantly, it's because of

The Series Arc
Somewhere around the 5th or 6th book of a series, I tend to start getting series fatigue. Either the stories become repetitious, or the series arc starts to feel artificially drawn out... or maybe I just get bored.

Not so with the Guardians. Every book has revealed Big News about some aspect of the world, and this one is no different, except perhaps that it's more so. The shocking events of Demon Forged shakes the delicate balance of power to its core, and all without the least hint of contrivance. It's not easy to provide an individual book resolution while still building tension for the series, but Demon Forged does it in spades.

Meanwhile, the series as a whole posits our world on the brink of massive change: apocalyptic disaster, Biblical armageddon. The unseen (by humans) tension between Guardians and demons that keeps the realms in balance is threatened by the recent mass Ascension, by power struggles among the demons, and by the release of new powers into the playing field: nephilim and more. Select humans are drawn into the struggle and the Guardians are taxed to keep them safe.

This then, not only drives the series forward, but provides the change catalyst for Alejandro and Irena's relationship, as they can no longer afford to avoid each other. I just love how the individual story and character arcs weave in and out of the series arc, always complementing, never competing.

I feel like I should say more about Alejandro, about his and Irena's character arcs, and their romance... but I'm going to cop out and plead illness-- I've had a monster of a cold for over two weeks now and keeping my thoughts collected has been a ridiculous effort. I think it's safe to say that fans of the series won't be disappointed (of course, most of them have already read it by now!) and once again recommend that if you haven't read them? Do.

Series Reading Order:

1. Hot Spell*
2. Demon Angel
3. Wild Thing*
4. Demon Moon
5. Demon Night
6. First Blood*
7. Demon Bound
8. Demon Forged
9. Must Love Hellhounds*

*Anthologies containing a Guardian-universe novella

Disclaimer: Purchased at retail.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Good News, Bad News

So I was home from work all last week, and spent a fair amount of time online (you'd think I would've managed a couple of posts, but... [insert excuse here] ). I found this neat little utility/service thing called CoComment. Maybe you already know about it, but it's new to me.

I do have a tendency to forget where I've left comments, especially if I've been browsing around further than my usual neighborhood. I know you can click on the rss feeds for various blog posts, but for whatever reason that never worked very well for me. CoComment puts all of the conversations I'm following in one place and makes it pretty easy to see when there's something new. It's also easy to jump directly to the site if you want to add something or see the actual page.

I imagine there are other ways to do this and I don't know if it's the best one out there-- two things I don't like is that there are lots of blinky ads and it installed an icon thingy in my toolbar - I don't remember authorizing that, which always kind of disconcerts me. It also adds a couple of clicks whenever I leave a comment somewhere to add the conversation to my list, which some might find annoying.

That's the good news. The weird thing is, it tracks comments on my own blog too, which I didn't think I needed because I have my settings configured so that I get an email whenever someone leaves a comment.... except apparently, Blogger has missed some of my comments. RRRJessica left a comment the other day on my most recent post that doesn't show up on the blog, and didn't show up in email. BUT, it showed up on CoComment. Very Weird.

I'm not moderating comments-- I don't know why this didn't go through.

Readers, have you left comments here before that didn't show up? Bloggers, any suggestions on what's going on here?

I'm clueless, and more than a bit peeved at the notion that I'm missing comments! If nothing else, I'll keep CoComment around for awhile to see if this happens a lot...

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Windsor List: Top 16 All-Time Favorite Romances

I'm jumping on Jessica's bandwagon here, to honor Kathleen Windsor, author of Forever Amber. See link for more details.

This is hard. And they're not in order. I tend to remember authors better than individual titles, so in some cases I've picked the author and then guessed on which book it was that I liked the most. And yeah, I cheated-- they're not all exactly romances, but they all have strong romantic elements. (links go to related Alpha Heroes posts)

1. Gone With The Wind, Margaret Mitchell (duh)
2. Outlander, Diana Gabaldon
3. Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
4. Kushiel's Dart, Jacqueline Carey
5. Captive Passions, Fern Michaels.
6. Earth Song, Catherine Coulter
7. Through a Dark Mist, Marsha Canham
8. Spymaster's Lady, Joanna Bourne
9. LaVyrle Spencer, either Sweet Memories or Morning Glory
10. Captives of the Night, Loretta Chase
11. Shattered Rainbows, Mary Jo Putney
12. Lover Revealed, JR Ward
13. The Lady Chosen, Stephanie Laurens
14. Timeless Passion, Constance O'Day-Flannery
15. Bet Me, Jennifer Crusie
16. Fancy Pants, Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Hmmm. Maybe in 2010 I'll see if I can actually review all of these. That would be a fun goal.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Thursday Thirteen, Edition 15

Wow, really? I haven't done a T-13 since JULY?? Jeez, what a slacker.

Anyway, I have up for your T-13 pleasure today my favorite kind of T-13: a list of blogs you should check out. These are all book blogs; most of them have a romance aspect though not all are strictly focused on romance books.

1. Book Junkie
2. Penelope’s Romance Reviews
3. Bodice Ripper Reviews
4. Romance Reviews By Alice -Insightful, honest, articulate – a new fave blogger.
5. Galaxy Express - The scoop on the hot Science Fiction Romance subgenre
6. Renee’s Book Addiction
7. Rosario reads a wider variety of fiction and non-fiction than I do, but it’s still pretty heavy on romance and she agrees with me a lot of the time so she must be smart. ;-)
8. Bibliophile Musings - A mix of all kinds of fiction, but plenty of romance included.
9. Love Romance Passion - lots going on here, with tons of guest bloggers.
10. Marg is a regular here (hi Marg!) and has a fun blog with a variety of fiction – plenty of romance with a lot of straight historical fiction mixed in.
11. Night Time Romance Reviews - Erotica and PNR. I confess I find this one a little bit hard to read with the scrolling background, but it’s good content.
12. Fantasy Girl Reviews - All kinds of romance reviews, heavy on the UF/PNR.
13. Caffey’s Reads

Visit the Thursday Thirteen site 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!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Covet, by JR Ward - Review

I know, I know. Inertia has its claws in me. I'm reading a ton, honest, but finding it real work to sit down and do the reviews. So Covet has been out for almost two weeks; I finished it over a week ago. Yeah, finally.

Divided Loyalty
First off, if you don't like the direction Ward has been going with the BDB series, I'd recommend you skip it.

However, if you're good with a somewhat divided focus for the sake of the ongoing series arc, I think it's good news. The new premise feels fresh--don't know about you but I was getting kind of tired of the lessers. Ward's whys and wherefores of demon possession have an original spin while borrowing perhaps more heavily from traditional medieval Catholic lore than some of the current trendy demon-based UF.

I'm trying to think of another series that has a strong romantic focus on individual couples (as romance does) while also keeping a constant, catalyst character in the forefront (as UF does), and not coming up with anything comparable. The closest I can think of is Meljean Brook's Michael, but he's not directly involved in the protagonists' relationships the way Ward's character is. I'm guessing that Kenyon's Acheron might be similar, but I'm only going on buzz -- haven't read them myself.

Anyway, I'm finding it promising how deliberately the structure has been created-- I think it's a bit harder to take when that third-party role evolves through the series and risks feeling like shark-jumping. And it's a risk, because it breaks form-- some readers have complained that the focus is too divided, which I can understand. I'm reserving judgment about that because I did find both stories interesting with satisfying arcs, and the teaser for Jim's continuing story is compelling. Though some of the information about Jim's former life skirts the line between teasing and frustrating.

The new series is also set in Caldwell, NY, which I enjoy. I like having "insider" info, and find the cameos from Trez, Detective de la Cruz and Phury entertaining BUT if you haven't read the BDB first and don't want to, you won't lose any comprehension.

It's the End of the World As We Know It
I think Ward is taking herself-- or this series-- a little less seriously than the BDB, and it's good. She's always been able to write humor and absurdity into her books, especially in dialog, but I think a lot of what happens to Jim is pretty tongue-in-cheek. It might even tempt you into eye-roll territory (cricket-playing angels? a fortress castle = heaven? divine assistance via television messaging?) but it worked OK for me and was effective, if slightly silly, imagery.

Wardisms, and The Very Long Book
You'll find the voicing familiar, as both Jim and Vin sound very much like any given Black Dagger Brother, perhaps V, if I had to pick one. (Vin also gets premonitions about people's deaths, and he is NEVER WRONG-- coincidence?) The weird tendency to add an "ie" to the end of words like "freshie" for a "fresh drink" is still in here but toned down a bit (thankfullie) and O'Donovan? just for you? not a "shitkicker" boot in sight. (I was watching.)

It's no secret that I'm a fan of The Very Long Book. This is probably a requirement for a reader to enjoy this book-- if you merely tolerate long books only when the complex plot and characterization absolutely require it, you might pass this by. If this were Ward's first book, I would dare to say an editor might have been a bit more, um, editorial on this page count. As Mandi* astutely points out in her review, there are a couple of subplots that are not especially pertinent or, um, logical. At least one of them might become clearer as we get to know Jim's sidekicks in future books though, so I'm looking forward to that.

Bottom Line
I think just overall I have lowered expectations from JR Ward these days. I'm happy to see the last two Ward books rise above the barrel-bottom-scraping of Lover Enshrined, but I've stopped expecting to get that heart-stopping OH MY GOD reaction I got with the first few BDB books. Maybe it was the novelty of the formula, and it just only works so many times. If it happens again, that'll just be a fabulous bonus.

In the meantime, I'm still a loyal reader. If I gave ratings, it would probably be something like a B+ for Covet-- good solid read, but not knock-your-socks-off, and I'll be reading the next one. Rumored title is Crave.

Honestly though? I don't think Ward is going to remain a Hardback Author for me. I might be hitting the library or waiting for Lover Mine to come out in paperback.

Around the Web:
*Smexy Books
Smokin' Hot Books
Darque Reviews
Dear Author (Brrr. Cold.)
I Heart Book Gossip
... and as always, if you've reviewed Covet and I've missed it, please feel free to leave your link in comments!

Disclosure: Purchased.

Next Up From JR Ward:

Lover Mine, John Matthew's story

Monday, October 5, 2009


I heard a rumor that this might happen, but I guess I didn't believe it until I actually saw it. I didn't even remember it was supposed to happen until I'd had the book a couple of days.

Turns out, the rumor was true:

And-- OMG -- did you notice? I'm above ROMANTIC TIMES!!

Does that mean anything? I don't know if it means anything.

But what if it does?

Can't. Stop. Grinning.

So there you have it. Me. In a book. Holy Moly!

I suppose I'd better get busy reading this one, eh? I'm on page 90, love it so far! (the review was for Demon Bound).

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Not What You're Expecting

So, I've had JR Ward's latest in my hot little hands for 24 hours now, so naturally you're expecting a review of... Ilona Andrews?

Yeah, I wasn't expecting that either. I needed something to read yesterday morning and lunch, before my scheduled stop at Borders, so I picked up On the Edge, fully expecting to have to take a hiatus while I gobbled down Covet.

But when it came right down to the moment, sitting on the sofa with a nice hot adult beverage, rain pattering on the roof, the children in bed and offering only token resistance... I had to choose. And I just couldn't put it down.

Not even knowing that I'd be back to it in a day or two. Not even for JR Ward, an author who has ratcheted up my obsession-o-meter to higher levels than I thought possible.

I had to know what happened to Rose and Declan. The angel (?) would have to wait.

The Short Answer:
Totally loved it, go buy and read it. Caution: you might want to choose a day when getting up the next morning is optional, cuz there's a good chance you're going to want to read it straight through.

The Hook
Andrews -- actually, the author is a team, but for simplicity's sake I'm going to refer to them by their pen name-- does a fan-freakin'-tastic job of setting up the world. Within 3 pages, we have a zombie, a child shape-shifter, and an exasperated heroine who keeps the zombie in line with a crossbow and chains. There's a comical adventure feel to the opening scene, culminating in a wisecrack about guns, trucks, and Walmart -- but it's grounded by the very unfunny poverty the family lives in.


And it doesn't let up from there. The parallel worlds premise is completely engaging and gives the authors enough latitude for lots of fantasy elements-- this story is very much a fairy tale, with a knight, a Cinderella heroine, a juuuuuuuuuust barely defeatable villain of unquestionable evil; assistance from unexpected corners, and a vibrant cast of secondary characters. Plus guns, trucks, and Walmart. And one of those comic book guys.

The light-hearted style, entertaining wisecracking and sparkling romantic tension are consistently balanced by the nastiness of the foe and the gritty circumstances of Rose's backstory, which I think is what made it so readable for me.

Here's an example of what I mean. As the set up, you just need to know that Declan is literally from a whole different world, where he is a very wealthy nobleman in a society that seems roughly medieval (though with better hygiene through the miracle of modern magic). And Rose has good reason to be suspicious of him and his social class. Oh, and "The Broken" is the characters' term for regular old earth, where we Muggles live.

Rose tried the pancakes. They were predictably cold, but still delicious, and she was ravenous. "God, these are good."


Rose raised her gaze from her plate.

He sat very straight at the table, cutting the pancake with surgical precision.

"Eat slowly," the blueblood said. "Don't cut your food with the fork. Cut it with the knife, and make the pieces small enough so you can answer a question without having to swallow first."

*Why me?* "Right. Any other tips?"

The sarcasm whistled right over his head. "Yes. Look at me and not at your plate. If you have to look at your plate, glance at it occasionally."

Rose put down her fork. "Lord Submarine..."



"You can call me Declan." He said as if granting her knighthood. The nerve.

"Declan, then. How did you spend your day?"

He frowned.

"It's a simple question: How did you spend your day? What did you do prior to the fight and pancake making?"

"I rested from my journey," he said with a sudden regal air.

"You took a nap."


"I spent my day scrubbing, vacuuming, and dusting in the Broken. I got there at seven-thirty in the morning and left at six. My back hurts, I can still smell bleach on my fingers, and my feet feel as flat as these pancakes. Tomorrow, I have to go back to work, and I want to eat my food in peace and quiet. I have good table manners. They may not be good enough for you, but they are definitely good enough for the Edge, and they are the height of social graces for this house. So please keep your critique to yourself."

Can I get a YOU GO!! ? The punch line there is awesomeness itself, but that scene tells you almost everything you need to know about the conflict between the two of them. It also covers the stylistic balance of funny with a little gut-wrenching darkness thrown in.

Yum, Alpha
Andrews writes an alpha hero like nobody's business. Awhile back I did a little nosing around on the topic of alpha behavior. One of them, can't remember which, made a point that alphas "take up space." They expect other people to accommodate *them,* and Andrews makes this particular point in a number of ways-- here's one example:
He held himself like a man who never rode in a crowded bus. His shoulders were too wide, his posture too forceful, and if he were to step into one of the busy malls of the Broken, people would probably trip over themselves to give him his space.

Yeah. Very alpha.

The Romance
On The Edge is definitely more of a romance than the Kate Daniels books, and I expect additional books in the series to be about different characters, not ongoing adventures for Rose and Declan. There's an obvious candidate for the next hero coughcoughWilliamcough but after that who knows. (I'm totally assuming here, as I don't particularly follow Ilona Andrews news). I liked the characters very much and thought the romance resolved well. If I had to nitpick, I'd say the "OMG, I'm in love!" realization seemed a little out of the blue to me on both sides. But not a major problem.

In no way does this story resemble an Old Skool romance, with its ultra-hip mashup of style and genres and the heroine who nearly electrocutes her would-be rapist/seducer... and yet if one of the main qualifiers of Old Skoolery is a coming-of-age transformation of the heroine, we do see that here. Rose's powers make her a victim and a target; her status in the Edge--literally, between worlds-- is dictated by the uncanny strength of her magic. Not coincidentally, the pivotal magical incident takes place at a graduation ceremony-- from child to adult-- and places her in a specific danger that is tightly knotted with her sexuality.

The role that her power plays in the romantic relationship is not what it first appears. I love that her hero teaches her more about how to use it, and facilitates her transformation into a person who can fully realize that power. And because it's a romance and not some other kind of story, the reflected message in the romance is that Rose realizes her full feminine power too.

Around the Web:
Book Love Affair
Lurve a la Mode
Smexy Books
Literary Escapism
Nancy Holzner
Stacy's Place
As always, if you have reviewed this book on your blog, feel free to leave a link in comments!


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