Thursday, April 30, 2009

Lover Avenged by JR Ward - Teaser Review

Verdict: Better than Enshrined, not as good as Revealed; gotta love the Rehv but I still don't really know what the hell a symphath is.

More later. Now: sleep would be good.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Back to the Classroom

For the second of this two-part foray into Literary Critique: Vampire-Style, I'd like to welcome Jessica Price, Graduate Assistant at the University of Cincinnati. Jessica also presented at the recent pop culture convention.

Nicola: Jessica, welcome! Sooooo-- any chance I could get my hands on that paper, virtually or otherwise?

Jessica: I'd be happy to offer up pieces of my paper, but not the entire thing because I am hoping to get it published - and it still requires a considerable amount of editing. *laughs*

Nicola: OK, fair enough. Let's start with the same questions I asked Maria: Why JR Ward? Are you a fan? What makes her work a candidate for academic and/or social critique?

Jessica: I began reading paranormal romances the summer of ‘08 after, I’m pained to admit, reading the Twilight series. I’ve been a fan of vampires for years - I’m a HUGE Joss Whedon fan and Buffy is a source of much of my academic/social critique. Ward was one of those authors everyone talked about, so after I began reading vampire romances, I picked up Dark Lover in August of 2008 and never looked back. Something people don’t seem to realize is that you can be a fan (a HUGE fan even) of someone’s work and critique it. The fact that there is so much to critique is a credit to the writer because they create a complex enough universe and character list to warrant academic critique and challenge. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read the BDB series - and how eagerly I’m awaiting Tuesday’s release of Rehv’s book. Even if I find parts of the series to be sexist or heterosexist or racist or whatever, I still consider myself a fan and love to dissect the series with other fans who are willing to move beyond the “zomg” stage of fandom *laughs*

I see Ward’s work as critique-able based on the many layers and characters present. Anytime an author expects characters to fit within some sort of categorization there is room for critique. My academic focus is on sexuality (specifically representations of non-normative sexualities in popular culture) so my radar immediately starts going off when a series controls character sexualities in anyway (V “giving up” his life as a dom after he meets Jane, V’s erotic feelings towards Butch “disappearing” when Jane arrives, Xhex presented as stereotypically lesbian but then “pimped” out by Rehv for Butch, etc)

Nicola: OK, but hold on -- isn't expecting Xhex to be a lesbian based on her body type and "presentation" just as... uh, some kind of bad "-ist" goes here... as reeling V and Butch back away from a homosexual relationship based on their position as heroes in a genre romance? note: Jessica hasn't seen this question from me, I snuck it in. Hoping she replies in comments...

Nicola: Did you get a chance to look at what the Other Jessica posted about your paper? Do you think it fairly represents what you had to say?

Jessica: I wish it had been pointed out that I discussed my paper more than "read" my paper - I think that changes the presentation of the framework and such. My paper is much too long for a 15 minute presentation and I didn't want to keep repeating things the previous BDB writer (Nicola's note: that would be Maria) had spoken on as much as I could help it. Other than that, it's pretty good. I wouldn't mind expanding on the "specific ways of having sex" comment since she seemed to not understand my pointing that out.

Nicola: taking notes furiously Yum. Let’s totally expand on that. First though, maybe a little bit of background would be good?

Jessica: My actual title is "'She was not woman. She was female. She was vampire.': Challenging Sexuality and Gender in The Black Dagger Brotherhood Series" The beginning of that is a quote from Lover Revealed and it really illustrates the sex/gender difference Ward deals with in her series - the vampires are very clearly female or male and they are not gender specific. This is obviously rooted in the fact that vampires must feed from vampires of the opposite sex. Gender performance does not matter because if a male-bodied woman is walking around, a male would not receive subsistence from her blood, so there is a clear acknowledgment of a vampire’s sex, rooting their very existence in their most primal nature - feeding, which is connected to sex.

My three main focuses are Alternative Sexual Expressions (BDSM, challenging the sex/gender binary), homosexuality (specifically V/Butch) and identity, and female sexuality (specifically Xhex).

Nicola: OK, I don’t think I get what you mean. Are you saying that male vs. female is not gender-specific?

Jessica: A good way to talk about the sex/gender binary is by saying gender is between the ears and sex is between the legs. Gender is socially constructed. It is the way society expects us to act based on our gender identity (which is expected to match with our biological sex). Sex is the biological makeup of ones body. This has nothing to do with gender, although our society demands they match. “Man” and “Woman” are terms related to gender as are “Masculine“ and “Feminine“. “Male” and “Female” are terms related to sex. This is, of course, working within a binary system - if you ask people who work in the field of study relating to gender and/or sexuality, many of them will talk about the spectrum of sex and gender because there are more than two sexes and more than two genders - but that is beyond the scope of this interview. *grins*

Nicola: Hmmm. I agree with some of that, but not sure I agree with *all* of it. You're probably right about scope limitation, though. (Rats. Maybe next time.)

Jessica: In response to what [the other] Jessica said on her blog, I want to clear up what I was talking about with V. [The other] Jessica pointed out that we all have very specific ways of having sex, which is absolutely true and true within the Brotherhood. But the way the Brothers (minus V) have sex, is still considered normative in their society. They are expected to have non-kinky sex with their mates and stay monogamous (because even though males can take multiple shellans, none of the Brothers do, setting up a norm for us to expect). V, on the other hand, rejects this notion of “normative” sex. It goes beyond having sex with sex workers (which a few other Brothers are shown doing), but having a harem (if you’ll allow the word) of women at his beck and call. He participates in BDSM sex and he is framed as having non-heterosexual fantasies - all things that are set up as non-normative by the books that proceed it. That’s all I meant by saying he has very specific ways of having sex. Compared to the other Brothers (if we are analyzing the series, we cannot look beyond the scope Ward gives us), V has a very specific way of having sex.

O’Donovan: For the record, I love, love, loved the Vishous/Jane romance, but I felt (to a degree) that it was a cop-out, that V's long history of highly flexible sexuality was, in a way, reduced by the requirements of the genre. You can be kinky, sure, but only so far; just as the women are conventionally virginal/virtuous/sex-averse outside of a single relationship, so must the men hew to a conventional one-man/one-woman preference when the author's eye focuses on him. So, in the broader sense, I'm curious (a) whether you share that perspective and (b) at what point the conventions of romance break, so that a novel about love/sex/relationships is no longer a romance as the market defines it (becoming literary fiction or GLBT fiction, or whatever).

Nicola: I blathered on at great length about what I think about Butch and V in a previous post. My biggest beef with Ward’s treatment of V’s BDSM inclinations is that she made it pathological. Sex with Jane was completely different – either vanilla or with him as the bottom, and his sexual history up to that point was pretty much equated to that of a rapist: although his partners were willing, the act was always posed as one of control, not of affection or intimacy. In a sense, V was as much a virgin as Marissa or Phury.

Jessica: V/Butch’s relationship may be my very favorite, although I love Z/Bella. I fear that the fact that V and Butch don’t end up together is this fear of the gay hero - no matter the feelings between these two men, they must return to the safety of heterosexuality. I feel V’s BDSM sexual expression was the same way. While my study of gender is excited over the very clear flip of gender norms between V and Jane, the sexuality portion of my study is heartbroken over the fact that V continues to be restricted, in a way, based on his partner. With the women before Jane, he had to be dominant to them and in control. With Jane, it’s the exact opposite and while he may physically dominate her, she is the dominant one in the relationship and he has given up control. It seems that there is no balance for V - it’s one extreme or the other. I hate that he had to be “cured” of his homoerotic emotions towards Butch - that was probably one of my least favorite moments in the entire series.

Nicola: I can definitely see how you'd read it that way, but I guess I interpreted it differently. I felt like (and I'm repeating myself from the discussion with Maria) the point was that V had been so deprived of affection that it was difficult for him to tell the difference between a fraternal love and a romantic love.

Jessica: I feel as though the definition of the romance novel is something that demands restructuring. Paranormal romance authors (including Ward) are going in the direction of the Paranormal Fantasy and I can’t help but feeling as though that is tied, not only to the content, but to the way the romance genre tends to force/control the sexuality and gender of its characters. The dominant audience for the romance genre is heterosexual women and as much as they seem to enjoy the idea of two men being sexually involved, I feel that it is limited to the imagining of themselves as part of that sexual relationship. The heterosexual relationships are spotlighted because the (presumably) heterosexual women reading about them can place themselves easily into the shoes of the female character.

Nicola: I've been reading romance since the early 80s, and one of the things that makes me really happy is seeing the diversification of the genre - 25 years ago, you pretty much had your choice of medival historicals, regency historicals, American Western historicals, or American civil war historicals coffGWTWwannabeescoffcoff. I love that there's everything from futuristic sci-fi romance to werewolf romance to suspense romance -- but it's true that outside of the erotica section, genre romance is still pretty well-defined as having a relationship between a man and a woman that ends happily. You and Maria are probably right that current genre norms are restrictive, but I do see them becoming more open. There is a whole lot more variety now than there used to be-- twenty years ago, I'm QUITE sure that scene at Butch's induction would have been very different, for example.

Jessica: I talk in my paper about the virgin/whore binary and how all the females in Ward’s series fit within the two of these categories (the “virgin” title because women who are virgins or women who don’t enjoy sex before meeting their males) except Xhex. I’m excited about Rehv’s book because I can’t help but expect to see more Xhex and I believe she will continue to challenge the expectations of females in the series. As for V being a virgin, don’t forget that he referred to himself as a “vascular virgin” and feeding is very much tied to sexuality/erotica. Of course, he did give his blood to Butch (although not mouth-to-vein), so we could debate whether or not he “gave” his “virginity” to Jane or if he gave it to Butch.

I just want to say thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts about this series. I have had so much fun writing about the BDB and I look forward to seeing what challenges my paper throughout the rest of the series. It’s been fantastic having the opportunity to discuss these topics - and I am happy to continue to do so. Please do not take anything I say as disrespect toward Ward or the series. I am a huge fan of both and of vampire literature in general (although I am new to the genre) so I do all of this with the utmost respect.

Nicola: You're so very welcome! I hope you can stop back and check in with comments, and maybe we can compare notes on Rehv later this week. ;)

Friday, April 24, 2009

“Pay Attention, Class!”

Presenting: Alpha Heroes’ best event yet. Seriously, I’m so thrilled about this post and the next one coming up that I can hardly stand it. Wait’ll you see!!

Recently, Jessica of Racy Romance Reviews attended a conference on pop culture, sponsored by the National Popular Culture Association and American Culture Association, where a number of academic papers were presented on topics ranging from comic books and graphic novels, to romance novels, to movies, dime novels, hip-hop, aging and senior culture, motorcycling culture and myth – the list of areas available for submission is dizzying.

It should come as no surprise that my interest level skyrocketed around romance novels in general, and in particular, the two presenters who spoke about JR Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood in an academic sense.

I should confess right now that I have exactly zero academic credentials for literary critique, and I have no idea where this little blog event might take us (ooo. Exciting!). However, I am one thousand percent in favor of work that adds legitimacy to the romance genre, and the work that these students and others are doing goes directly to that goal. To that end, I’ve been corresponding with both of the women who spoke on JR Ward at the afore-mentioned conference, and they’ve agreed to discuss their papers a little bit with me here at Alpha Heroes.

First up is Maria Lindgren Leavenworth, PhD, Department of Language Studies/English Section, Umea Univerity, Sweden. Her paper was titled Lover Revamped: Sexualities and Romance in the Black Dagger Brotherhood and Fan Fiction. Maria, welcome, and thank you so much!

Maria: Hi Nicola! I am glad that my paper sounded interesting to you. What do you want to talk about?

Nicola: Well, first off, why JR Ward? Are you a fan? what is it about the BDB that makes it a good candidate for literary or social critique?

Maria: I started out with a general interest in vampires, reading a lot in my spare time, watching vampire movies etc. It wasn’t really an academic interest to me until I started researching fan fiction. I am particularly interested in how fanfic authors represent gender, sexualities and queerness and was thinking about what literary tropes lend themselves well to alternative constructions – enter the vampire! The proliferation of vampire fictions today also seemed to suggest that there are interesting things going on and that the vampire is a trope which is intimately connected to the culture which produces it.

As for Ward, I cannot say that I am really a fan of her writing if we by fan infer someone who really, really likes the novels (there are several definitions, obviously). I find that I struggle with several ideas and themes in her novels (and that many of these aspects are connected to the romance genre and not necessarily to Ward’s writing as such). My paper at the conference dealt with the heteronormative framework found in her novels which is really limiting, and unnecessarily so, I would argue, since her characters are vampires.

Nicola: Do you think Ward set out to write a Romance? Or a Vampire novel? Books that might’ve once been marketed as Horror are showing up in Romance these days, probably because the Romance readership is so much larger than other genres. I’m pretty sure that if we were to ask JR Ward, she’d say that the characters were in charge – but her previous books were standard (and fairly mediocre) contemporary romances.

Maria: I do not know what Ward originally intended, but I know that she has written romance novels under her real name previous to starting on the Black Dagger Brotherhood series. Perhaps we see lingering effects of that production? I agree with you though – Romance has a large readership and marketing is certainly important.

[Getting back to the vampires...] They could exist outside heteronormative norms and illustrate alternative approaches to gender and sexuality, but they end up being attractive and powerful in ways that are fairly similar to how the male hero is most often represented in romance.

Nicola: True. I think this is why they’re popular, though. The paranormal framework allows the heroes to go into hyperdrive, and fullfill fantasy elements, like the inability to be unfaithful. Heh.

Maria: My point is that Ward does not really do very much with the fact that her characters are vampires other than giving them superhuman strength, long life and fangs. Now, Ward has her artistic freedom – do not get me wrong – but these aspects were what made me want to analyse how slash authors (who ARE fans) approach her texts but realize the homoerotic subtext found in the novels.

Nicola: That is a great point. I haven’t read a lot of the classic vampires, but Anne Rice certainly put the homoerotic aspect of vampirism in front of the mainstream. My thought is that the exchange of blood in vampire novels often proxies for a sexual relationship, and since blood is gender-neutral, vampire characters are frequently not so much explicitly hetero or queer as they are “omni” – in otherwords, gender just doesn’t matter.

Maria: I agree – and in light of this I find it even more interesting that Ward makes blood exchanges into such a heterosexual practice in the novels. Even feeding relationships which are not linked to romance or sex take place between members of the opposite sex (although no explanation as to why this has to be the case is given). This becomes really clear when Butch drinks Vishous’s blood and Vishous emphasizes that there is nothing intimate about the exchange (“I gave him some in a glass”).

Nicola: I found out about your paper through Jessica at Racy Romance Reviews, where she blogged about the conference: Do you think she characterized your points accurately? Anyplace where you'd like to set the record straight?

Maria: It is a good summary of the paper (and I am glad the caffeine kicked in)! I was not sure how the blog-entries would turn out (that is, what the bloggers would focus on) but I see now that this is a really good resource for people who could not be at the conference (or who were there but had to choose between sessions). Sarah’s final note: “Would be interesting to do a study on how the genre affects how vampires are constructed” in some ways corresponds to the project I am currently involved in – tentatively called FAN(G)S – Queer Sexualities in Vampire Fan Fiction. The idea of using different genres as basis for analyses of sexualities and queerness was our starting point. We’ll see how that goes…

Nicola: I like to consider myself fairly enlightened for a straight white girl from the US Midwest (a conservative, often insular area), but I hadn't heard the term "heteronormativity" before Jessica posted about your paper. Would you like to talk about what that means to you, in general or terms of mass market fiction?

Maria: I find heteronormativity useful as a concept because it highlights the implicit or explicit processes that normalize heterosexual behaviours and marginalize other expressions. Often, the heteronormativity is ‘invisible’ and it is by actively trying to identify patterns that we can get to why cultural texts (in the widest sense) are structured the way they are. Awareness and analyses of heteronormativity can make us more active as consumers, readers, and human beings, I think. In relation to mass market fiction, then, I return again to fan fiction because I often see, especially in slash, a resistance to prescriptive roles (keeping male characters in certain roles, female characters in others). That is, fan fiction is one outlet through which otherwise marginalized expressions can become normalized. There seems to be a clash here between the representations we come across every day in commercials, TV-shows, films and literature and the experiences of the readers.

Nicola: Let's talk about Butch and V for a minute. Reading it through my own lens -- het, with hundreds or possibly thousands of genre romances in my reading history -- it never once crossed my mind that they would end up together permanently. But I found their bond -- the sexual aspect, the paranormal/healing aspect, and the extraordinary fraternal aspect -- to be wonderfully complex to read. Through a different lens, perhaps, does it feel that the characters were fighting against the genre norms, wanting the relation to be fully sexual, but not allowed to be?

Maria: I am too wondering about the formulaic structure of the novels and the genre norms here. Each book (up until this point) follows the same pattern – a Warrior meeting the woman he is destined to be with, overcoming obstacles and finding happiness ever after. There is definitely a homoerotic subtext in the novels but the realization of that kind of desire does not seem to have a place within the romance. So why include it?

Nicola: Why not, though? I think it adds a lot of interest to the story and layers of complexity to V’s character. What it said to me, again through my own lens, is that V has been so isolated from “human” contact all his life that he cannot really distinguish between fraternal love and romantic love. He’s literally been unable to fully, physically touch anyone else until Butch and then Jane come along.

Maria: You are right. I too see the relationship between the characters as very interesting (more interesting than many of the other relationships in the novels) because of the intimacy and tension between them. I guess the question is rhetorical rather than ‘complaining’ – I do see reasons for the inclusion and in some ways it paves way for the characters who come out later in the series. Reader comments posted in connection with the fanfic I analyse indicate that some readers see this as a teasing move on Ward’s part and in the slash the authors take the next step by realizing the desire. I am arguing, though, that even in the slash the homoerotic relationship is depicted in ways that signal that it is temporary.

Nicola: Do you think it might also be true that books with this kind of ambiguous storyline might pave the way for more diversity in mainstream fiction? Or is it a cop-out, or a tease? Overall, does it seem like a WIN or a FAIL for the goal of inclusivity?

Maria: Oh, huge question! It seems anything mainstream is more resistant to change than more specific (or marginalized) expressions. In Ward’s case it will (again) be interesting to see what happens with Qhinn and Blay. If that storyline is not developed I’m afraid my answer would have to be that Ward (or perhaps rather mainstream fiction) fails, in a way. That is, if the same level of detail she uses in descriptions of heterosexual encounters is not there when it comes to homosexual relationships then I would have to start thinking (again) about the restrictions of the romance format. I have hopes (perhaps foolishly optimistic), though, that our society in general is becoming less heteronormative. Such a development should become evident in cultural expressions of all kinds.

Nicola: Maria, thank you so much for taking the time to have this discussion! I hope you'll be able to check in a few times over the next couple of days to see what happens in comments.

Readers can stop back later in the evening when I'll post links to the fan-fic that Maria used in her analysis (it's not exactly safe for work and I couldn't WAIT to get this posted). Then, as soon as Jessica P and I get the details polished up, I'll have a second interview post featuring her thoughts on the BDB universe.


Bonus material:
Look how long this post is and we barely touched on the actual topic of Maria's paper. I'm going to paraphrase a bit -- and I hope she will correct me if I get it wrong -- her paper argues that while fanfic including slash (erotica) gives fans an opportunity to re-cast traditional roles, the framework of genre romance is so rigid that even in this subversive literary arena, writers are influenced to conform and the realization of the homoerotic subtext (or, not-so-sub text!) is set up in ways that are temporary, unreal, or dreamlike, so that the characters can remain or return safely into their nice normal hetero relationships.

The three stories that Maria cites are “One Treasured Memory”, “Skin to Skin” and the ironically-titled “Forever Lovers”.

Over to you, readers. Comments, questions for Maria?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Thursday Thirteen, Edition 11

Despite a really huge TBR pile, I find myself re-reading the boys of Caldwell, NY one more time, in anticipation of next Tuesday's release of Lover Avenged. Since this is my 3rd or 4th time through, I’m really taking the time to appreciate the humorous bits, favorite snips that make me smile just thinking about. So this week, I’m sharing 13 favorite funny bits from JR Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series:


1. (Dark Lover - Beth, looking in the mirror right after her transition)

Whoa. Fangs. She had fangs.

She leaned in, prodded them a little. Eating with those puppies was going to take some getting used to, she thought.

On impulse, she brought up her hands, turned her fingers into claws. Hissed.


2. (Dark Lover, Butch’s point of view)

“Might I ask a favor?” the butler said.

Mr. Normal nodded with vigor. “Bring out another tray of these and we’ll kill anything you want for you.”

Yeah, guess the guy wasn’t really normal. Just relatively so.

The butler smiled as if touched. “If you’re going to bloody the human, would you be good enough to do it in the backyard?”

“No problem. “ Mr. Normal popped another crepe in his mouth. “Damn Rhage, you’re right. These are awesome.”


3. (Lover Eternal, after Mary gets a glimpse of Rhage’s curse. Not laugh-out-loud hilarious, but the kind of smile that warms you up and makes you really really love the characters)

“Mary, I don’t want you to fear me.”

For a moment, she watched his mouth and jaw work the stem.

“I’m not afraid. V and Phury might have been in a little trouble, but you wouldn’t have hurt me. No way. I’m not sure how I know that. I just do.”

He took a deep breath. “God, I love you. I really, really love you.”

And then he smiled.

She laughed in a loud crack that brought every head in the room around.

The cherry stem was tied neatly around one of his fangs.


4. (Lover Eternal, on restraining Rhage’s beast)

V shook his head. “Remember what you saw in that clearing, cop? How’d you like that anywhere near a female you loved?”

Butch put down the Bud without drinking from it. His eyes traveled over Rhage’s body.

“We’re going to need a shitload of steel,” the human muttered.


5. (Lover Awakened, Phury to Bella)

“…I really am okay. Just some aesthetic damage.”

“Then why are you wearing that bandage like a sash?”

“It makes my ass look smaller.”


6. (Lover Awakened, in the Pit, on the art of potato launching)

“But it’s really just like golf,” V said, dropping the towel across a chair. He pulled a glove over his right hand, covering the sacred tattoos that marked the thing from palm to fingertip and all across the back. “I mean, you gotta think of your arc in the air—“

Butch nodded up a storm. “Yeah, it’s just like golf. Wind plays a big role—“


Phury smoked along as they finished each other’s sentences for another couple of minutes. After a while, he felt compelled to mention, “The two of you are spending way too much time together, you feel me?”


7. (Lover Revealed. V to Butch, who, weak from injuries, is lying fallen in the bathroom)

“So, I guess you’re back, true?”

“And ready to rock and roll.”


“For sure. I’m thinking about a future in contracting. Wanted to see how this bathroom was put together. Excellent tile work. You should check it.”

“How about I carry you back to bed?”

“I want to look at the sink pipes next.”


8. (Lover Revealed, The Reverend to Butch and V)

“So I want to share a little news.”

“You getting married?” Butch tossed back half the new Lag. “Where you registered? Crate and Bury ‘Em?”

“Try Heckler and Koch.” The Reverend opened his jacket and flashed the butt of a forty.

“Nice little poodle shooter you got there, vampire.”

“Put a hell of a –“

V cut in. “You two are like watching tennis, and racquet sports bore me. What’s the news?”

Rehv looked at Butch. “He has such phenomenal people skills, doesn’t he?”

“Try living with him.”


9. (Lover Unbound, Jane to V)

“Tell you what, you let me go, and I’ll ask you plenty of questions about your race. Until then, I’m slightly distracted with how this little vacation on the good ship Holy Shit is going to pan out for me.”


10. (Lover Unbound, Jane to herself)

Terrific. A bisexual dominant vampire with kidnapping expertise.


11. (Lover Enshrined, Jane to Wrath)

“Don’t give me that look. I’m already dead. It’s not like the lessers can kill me again.”

“That is so not funny.”

“Gallows humor is part of having a doctor in the house. Deal with it.”

Wrath barked a laugh. “You are such a hard-ass. No wonder V fell for you.”


12. (Lover Enshrined, Wrath to the rest of the Brothers)

“This is Lassiter, the fallen angel. One of the last times he was on earth, there was a plague in central Europe—“

“OK, that was so not my fault—“

“—that wiped out two thirds of the human population.“

“I’d like to remind you that you don’t like humans.”

“They smell bad when they’re dead.”

“All you mortal types do.”


13. I’m going to include just one from the forum, which was reprinted in the Insider’s Guide. The background is an ongoing series of practical jokes. V returns to the Pit to find everything in his room colored peach – walls, bedding, lampshades – everything. It’s written with asterisks framing the “stage directions” and no quotes around the “spoken” words, on-line forum style:


*walks over to closet*
*whips open doors*

Oh sweet Mary mother of GOD….

*peach shirts hang on hangers*
*peach jacket on peg*
*peach fakakta shitkickers on floor*
*expression of horror settles on his face as he reaches for gun closet*
*opens up gun closet*



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!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Gettin' Around

Jessica is such a doll. She's writing about me over at Read React Review.

If you haven't been reading her blog, you really ought to.

And don't worry, she usually picks more interesting stuff to write about.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Seduction of an Unknown Lady, by Samantha James - Review

I've been kind of cranky lately. I've been reading a lot of things that just feel all meh. I think it's probably mostly me, but I'm going to take a little of it out on Samantha James anyway.

The basic premise: Fionna Hawkes is living alone above the London bookshop that she runs, and writing gothic horror stories in serial format, a la Dickens or Arthur Conan Doyle, to support herself and her beloved mother, who has cracked up a bit from the death of her husband and currently living in a Very Special Hospital. The year is 1852. Hero Aiden is just returned from the Punjab and a disastrous military event for which he feels responsible.

Fionna writes about creatures of the night, twisted and evil monsters and monstrous humans, and finds inspirations in walking around London alone at midnight. This strikes the hero -- and me-- as particularly foolish, which serves as the first conflict.

The very first thing that bugged me about SoaUL is the breathy overwrought-ingenue style of Fionna's internal dialog, frequently self-interrupted with why! s, and ah, but s, and no-- s, and liberally sprinkled with exclamation points and long strings of single-sentence paragraphs.

Which can of course be effective.
I've been known to use it myself.
It's a good way to build tension, control pace--
...and add emphasis.

But it gets tedious when it's used consistently in every chapter.

Here's a typical little snip, near the beginning where we're getting info on Fionna's background:
An empty ache spread in Fionna's breast. Her throat caught. Her mother... ah, but it hurt so to think of her! And her father... He had been her staunchest champion.

Rising, she went to the bookshelf next to her desk and pulled out a copy of
Satan's Path. How proud he'd been when she'd torn open the wrappings around that very novel. That moment was etched in her mind forever. Papa had been beaming, so very, very proud! And she'd been so happy, happier than she'd ever been in her life.

The second thing that bugged me was Aidan's pursuit of Fionna, and to an extent, her response. Maybe I'm just programmed to expect a certain morality from historical heroes. The notion of marriage doesn't seem to enter either of their minds until really late in the game. Aidan becomes disturbingly set on "having" Fionna, irritated when she doesn't fall at his feet-- and neither one of them ever show any sign of considering what consequences Fionna might face as a single woman alone. I'm OK with this general pattern in a contemporary, where a woman might be on birth control and isn't ostracized for having a sexual affair outside of marriage, but it doesn't work for me in historicals. The hero's intentions need to be clear: is he after a mistress or a wife? It matters far more in the historical genre.

I mean, he falls hard for her, as romance heroes must do:
She enticed him. She intrigued him. By heaven, she entranced him. {snip}....

... there was no denying the desire that scalded his veins like fire. He wanted her, the lovely Miss Fionna Hawkes. Around him. Beneath him. Atop him... he didn't care how.

But at this point, they've crossed paths three times and spent a total of less than an hour in each others' company. It's too much, too soon. Overall, Aidan is just a little flat. He's a decent character, but he doesn't grow much in this story: he sees her, he wants her, he gets her.

The villain is 98% predictable. I did pause for a moment over the red herring, wondering which was which, but not for long.

This is small and perhaps overly snarky, but I can't let it go without, well, snarking: The heroine is Fionna Hawkes. Her penname is Sparrow. Her character's name is Raven. Which is all very well and clearly intentional... but the fact that during the love scenes, the author keeps referring to Fionna's nest and Aidan's nest (of pubic hair) makes it a little weird. Just sayin.

Which brings me to the love scenes in general. They're OK. But James cranks up the chili-pepper ranking pretty high, and the language is pretty earthy, which doesn't seem to fit quite right with the afore-mentioned breathy ingenue. It's possible that the scenes would've worked better with a different, less innocent heroine; or it's possible that by the time we got to them I was already not that thrilled with Fionna and Aidan. If the things that bugged me up to this point don't bug you, the love scenes will probably be fine. Does that make sense?

In some ways, you might say this is almost a pure romance, in that there are very few secondary characters and little in the way of side plot or action. It is the story of two people falling in love, with one stumbling block to overcome and a very small dash of dangerous-villain to keep it from being too bland. The romance IS the story. Fionna's sensual awakening and acceptance pretty much IS the story arc.

Overall, I'd call this novel below-average but not a wall-banger. I won't go out of my way for more Samantha James, though I would go so far as to say "never again."

Around the blogosphere, I'm proving to be in the minority, although most of the reviews I found are not much more than a synopysis + "loved it" (see, still with the snark...)

Genre Go Round Reviews
Kimberly Luke
eHarlequin forum (it looks like this was offered as a free ebook at one time.)

Romance Vagabond Cliche Score: 4
Title: 1 (Seduction)
Cover: 1 (Ladyback)
Plot: 2 (Military man, Bookish heroine)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Reduce, Re-use, Recycle

But Mostly Re-Use

You may have noticed that I'm in a bit of a blogging slump lately. I worked this up for a Facebook meme last night, and since it's all booky, I thought I'd add it here, and try to ease back into the posting swing. (Edit: this kind of makes it sound like I created this questionnaire -- no, no, no. By "worked this up," I meant that I worked up my answers. I don't know where it started, but I stole it from O'Donovan on Facebook.)

The following is a questionnaire whose results are mainly:
a) embarrassing, if you don't read Lit-Tra-Toor
b) ego-building, if you do
c) an excellent opportunity for posting big fat lies, in either case.

Me, I fall into category 1, although I've been working on Not Being Embarrassed about what I read, and that's going pretty good. So here's what I posted.


Yeah, so I'm a lifelong hopeless bookworm, but that still doesn't mean I'm well-read. What can I say, I stick with what I like.

1. What author do you own the most books by?
Welp. I think that would be Carolyn Keene, the pseudonym that the Nancy Drew mysteries are written under. I've been collecting the series for my daughters, neither of whom evince the slightest interest. Doesn't mean I'm getting rid of them, though.*

2. What book do you own the most copies of?
The New Rules of the Job Hunt Game. The Shrub's economy wasn't good to me. I kept loaning it out to people and then buying new copies and then having them return them to me.

3. What fictional character are you secretly in love with?
Usually, the hero of whatever romance I'm in the middle of. At the moment, that would be Hardy Cates.

4. What book have you read more than any other?

I rarely re-read books, but I've been through Gone With The Wind many, many times.

5. What was your favorite book when you were ten years old?
Fifth grade, huh. Mrs. Wineland's class... let's see. Honestly? I have no idea. I think I was still hoovering through the various mystery series at the library, though I might've been just about ready to move on to the Little Women/young adult type section. (edit: actually, I think that was smack in the middle of my Gene Stratton-Porter phase)

6. What is the worst book you've read in the past year?
I feel bad saying. It was a review copy that the author sent me, and it was the worst writing I ever laid eyes on (email me). It was published, though. Life is strange.

7. What is the best book you've read in the past year?
Hmmm. I'd have to say it's a toss-up between Meljean Brook's Demon Angel or Joann Bourne's Spymaster's Lady.

8. If you could tell everyone you tagged to read one book, what would it be?
I think... Captive Passions, by Fern Michaels. Yeah, even the guys. Don't roll your eyes. Your face might stick like that.

9. What is the most difficult book you've ever read?
Buh. Probably anything that was ever Assigned Reading. I have a Thing about that. What's that one about rich people in the 1920's? I keep trying to read that one and not getting it. Eyes rolling up in my head. Then there's anything non-fiction. How about my Circuits Analysis textbook back in 1987? Difficult is ONE word for it.

10. Do you prefer the French or the Russians?
Dressing? I like Italian.

11. Shakespeare, Milton or Chaucer?
Shakespeare, I guess. Haven't read the other two. What? I was an engineering major.

12. Austen or Eliot?
Whatever. See #11.

13. What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading?
I think maybe this question is redundant at this point. It's possible that the most embarrassing thing is my lack of embarrassment.

14. What is your favorite novel?
Oh, that's too hard. GWTW has stood the test of time, but I also love love love Kushiel's Dart, Outlander, and Mists of Avalon. Also, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

15. Play?
Um, The Crucible I guess. Out of a very narrow playing field.

16. Poem?
Something about Nantucket. I forget.

17. Essay?
Do Dave Barry columns count as essays?

18. Short Story?
"Good Country People" by Flannery O'Connor. None better. <----This is Betsy's answer. I could go with that. Also "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson freaked my $h*t out back in sophomore English and I still remember it, so that's something.

19. Non Fiction
IP/VPN for Dummies has been useful.

20. Graphic Novel?
What, you mean like comic books? Never read one.

21. Science Fiction?
Maybe I'll just go with Douglas Adams here. I haven't read any straight-up SciFi in yonks and nothing's coming to mind except Dune, and, well-- no.

22. Who is your favorite writer?
Right now, JR Ward.

23. Who is the most over rated writer alive today?
Nicholas Sparks.

24. What are you reading right now?
Just finished Blue-Eyed Devil by Lisa Kleypas. Not sure what I'm going to pick up next, but it might be something by Samantha James.

25. Best Memoir?
Never read one.

26. Best History?
Never read one. Although I did *buy* the Guns of August. And I've thought several times about buying Guns, Germs, and Steel. Does that count for anything?

27. Best mystery or Noir?
Hmmm. The Secret of the Old Attic, by Carolyn Keene. Mystery, adventure, romance, piano playing, poisonous spiders. And bondage, too.
*To clarify, I don't plan on getting rid of the books OR the daughters. In case anyone was confused.


So there you have it. Those of you who'd like to play, re-post on facebook or your blog with your own answers.

What "holes" are there in your reading? Do you wish/plan to correct them, or are you content with being a cretin like me?


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