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!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Storm of Visions/Storm of Shadows by Christina Dodd - Review

Back To It
Is there anything more boring than yet another blog post apologizing for lack of blogging?

Yeah, I didn't think so. So please take it as read that I haven't quit blogging; I haven't thrown over JR Ward, Nora Roberts or Stephanie Laurens for Joyce or Proust; I haven't given up reading, and I have no plans to discontinue Alpha Heroes. Just, you know: blahblahblah excuses Ginger blahblahblah. So... let's just get on with it, shall we?

This is the Bus Book I was talking about.
Dodd's new series is loosely related to to her first paranormal series, Darkness Chosen, which wrapped up just about a year ago, and in the same way, it pulled me in hard and fast. It's a fast-paced, immersive read, and I couldn't put it down.

Like Darkness Chosen, The Chosen Ones feature the devil himself as the ultimate foe, and share a character or two for continuity. The mythology is different but not in conflict with the Varinskis' history, as Dodd's vision of the devil is consistent, and The Chosen are fighting a similar battle on a different stage with extra props.

The Chosen Ones series is a bit more stylized, and it seems to me that the world-building is a bit more thought-out from the beginning -- which doesn't make it better or worse, just less of a "strange things happen in this crazy old world we think we know" and more of a "here's a whole different world I'm going to imagine for you," sort of effect, if that makes sense. It puts me in mind a bit of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, or perhaps the 3rd or 4th generation after the original League. Somehow I could easily picture the story in Victorian times or done in steampunk.

To tell the truth, I find the basic premise of the world-building to be a little bit silly: it centers on babies who are abandoned at birth, and posits that they are given divine gifts to compensate for the lack of a family's love. These gifts can be nurtured for the good fight, or twisted and tempted into working for evil. The two factions then have a dual mission: to find and keep the newly-abandoned, and to use their gifts in a battle < dramatic baritone voiceover> FOR ALL HUMANITY. </voiceover>. Once you get beyond that seed though, the structure of the series works fine for me.

And, as always, I'm in it for the characters and the love story. In Storm of Visions, we get a couple, who, contrary to paranormal tradition, know exactly what is going on and what needs to be done about it, which is a bit refreshing. Caleb, the hero, makes this story for me. He's wayyy alpha, probably to an extent that would get him arrested IRL, but paired with Jacqueline, who has gifts and a history with him, his high-handedness is -- just barely-- forgivable (and frankly: hott). His physicality makes him a match for her paranormal powers and keeps her grounded. I love the twist at the end of chapter 3 -- can't tell you what it is and don't you dare skip ahead -- but it was most excellent.

It is a romantic suspense though, and plot fuels the pacing, pulling you through the ups and downs, the series set-up, the crisis and first hurdle of big team, and Jacqueline's choice to face up to her destiny. There's virtually no pause in the action, no time to catch your breath, and before you know it, the bus driver will be calling your stop and you'll be scrambling to get off without having half your crap falling out of your bag or (worse) losing your place in the book.

Storm of Shadows
If I had to find fault with the series thus far, it might be that the characters are a bit exaggerated; some might find them caricatures or cartoonish. It rather fits with the comic-book style of the seven Chosen Ones, and for now I'll go along with it. But if ever there was a mousy-librarian-makeover character, Rosamund out-tropes them all.

Given a makeover by a Parisian stylist, the result goes like this:

She wore a suit of gray wool, with a long-sleeved, formfitting jacket that buttoned up the front, tucked in at the waist and showed just a hint of creamy cleavage. The knee-length hem of the pencil-thin skirt was right-wing conservative as were the gray patent pumps with the two-inch heels.

Her curly, carroty hair had been cut to shoulder length and tamed into a smooth wave that flowed around her face and over one eye. Her makeup was so discreet as to be almost invisible, doing nothing more than accenting the lines and curves of her face.

Most important, her tortoise-shell glasses had been replaced with a square, black, severe style that made her violet eyes the focus of the whole package. Her eyes... and her lips, which were a glorious, bright red.

Wordless, Aaron gestured for her to turn.

The back of the gray wool suit cupped her rear like a glove, and a gathered kick pleat pointed like an arrow at the crack of her ass.

Phillipe was right-- she was the librarian everyone wanted to fuck...
I guess if you're going to use a cliche, you might as well REALLY embrace it.

I have to admit I didn't love Aaron and Rosamund as much as I could. They weren't awful or TSTL or anything like that, but in some ways they fell a little short of fabulous, for me. Aaron had moments of guys-locker-room crudity that made me cringe a little, and Rosamund was a little too buried in library dust to seem real.

But Dodd writes such a tightly plotted suspense story that the pages flew by me anyway. (I almost missed my bus stop). The two books each have very satisfying (ie, resolved) character, romantic, and adventure arcs, with layers of interest around the larger cast and the larger group goals that intrigue me without making me feel too manipulated by the series tease. I like the ensemble interaction of a good series--there's enough to make me curious about the other characters without any of them upstaging the main couple.

Here's a problem though: no word that I can find on when Book 3 will be out or whose book it will be. Next up, a re-release of Move Heaven and Earth (excerpt), while the end of Shadows includes an excerpt from a new historical, In Bed with the Duke, scheduled for March of 2010. You can pre-order it, but I can't find any other information about it. The excerpt sounds good though!

Around the web for Visions:
Angel On A Move
Danielle's Book Thoughts
Karina Cooper
Heidenkind (wow, harsh)
Errant Dreams
Borders True Romance, asking the question readers have dared not ask: what's up with all the hairless chests??

Around the web for Shadows:
Daily Me
Buried By Books
Errant Dreams

Monday, September 14, 2009

Nothing To Do With Anything

But really, really funny: reviews the Twilight series.

If I could write snark, I would aspire to lines like this:
Three hundred pages after "Oh, you like me too? No way, I thought you hated me!", the plot arrives late to the party, drunk, in a beat-up '53 Chevy pick-up truck. It drives away about fifty pages later and crashes into a tree, gets sent to the hospital, and is rarely heard from again throughout the course of the series.

Thanks to Jackie for passing it along! does have its moments of genius. As an ACTUAL MEMBER of the Class of 1984, this line elicited a howl of pelvis-deep laughter, flavored with a hint uncomfortable recognition:

On any given night in 1984, one could find a few women on a girl's night out, blockaded behind a wall of hair and empty bottles of Bartles & Jaymes, drunkenly belting out "We are strong!" while adjusting their fluorescent ankle-warmers
in its description of Pat Benatar's Love is a Battlefield, from the article The 10 Most Terrifyingly Inspirational '80s Songs.

In conclusion, if you're looking for a way to kill some internet time, ain't a bad way to do it.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Book Blogger Appreciation Week Meme

It's possible that I'm the last book blogger on the planet to put up a post about the upcoming festivities. It's not that I didn't know about it or anything, I just hadn't gotten around to it. Because one of my exceptional talents is procrastination. I'm really very good at it.

Which has the advantage of my being able to skip a lot of the "what it's about" type stuff* and go to the interesting stuff.

Next week here at Alpha Heroes, you can expect to see participation in some (but not all) of the daily BBAW memes. I'll be honest, I haven't really been planning out anything terribly elaborate, so whatever else I decide to do will be a little bit seat-of-the-pants. I'd like to feature my bloghop challenge again (see sidebar) and perhaps do a giveaway. We'll see. Stay tuned.

Now for the meme. The brilliant minds behind BBAW have asked that participants talk a little bit about the event structured as a questionnaire. So without further ado, here is the official, Alpha Heroes edition of the BBAW 09 Meme:

1) What was the highlight of BBAW for you last year? Hmm. Not sure I could point to a single event. I think it was an overall dawning awareness of all kinds of cool things that book bloggers do; it sort of opened up a world of possibilities for me. I also discovered the power of more frequent posting and (not unrelatedly) experienced a very gratifying bump in traffic.

2) What is one new blog you discovered during BBAW last year? To be honest, I have no idea. My brain doesn't retain information about *how* I found a cool blog very well. Most of my favorites are in my sidebar (though I'm past due to update with some new ones!)

3) What tips would you share to help others get the most out of their BBAW experience?
  • Have fun
  • Go look at lots of new-to-you blogs
  • Have fun
  • Take an extra moment to leave some extra comments
  • Have fun
  • Make some notes about elements of other blogs that you like and think about which ones you might want to incorporate on your own-- whether they're memes, graphical elements, challenges, a type of review, the inclusion of certain information (like cross-links, or publication information -- stuff like that).
  • Also--did I mention? --don't forget to have fun.

*If you're even deeper under the rock than I am, and you need info on what this mysterious BBAW thing is all about, please head over to The Book Blogger Appreciation Week main site, where all shall be revealed.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Bus Test

When I'm virtuous, I ride the bus to work. It's free (my company provides the pass), good for the environment and when I manage to make the express, takes almost no longer than the drive. Best of all, it's almost two hours a day of reading time!

Lucky for me, reading on the bus doesn't usually cause me any upset. I have to admit though, not every book is a "bus book." If the book is physically too big, or if the writing is too dense, requires careful detail reading (I skim more than I'd like to admit), or worst of all, doesn't have the maximum attention-holding story, it will have a hard time competing against the distractions of a bus environment. Often I'll read for 10 or 15 minutes, zone out for awhile, fidget uncomfortably, glare at the loud cell-phone-talkers, speculate on why people wear so damn much perfume or cologne, check to see if Mt. Rainier is visible, and then when I'm bored again, open up the book again.

Some books though, suck me in so thoroughly that I don't look up from the pages unless my seatmate gives me the hard nudge, or best of all, when I notice the change in the road when we leave the interstate and hit the surface roads.

These are my favorite ones. They pass the bus test.

How about you? Do you read on public transportation? What are your favorite bus books?


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