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
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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.


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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.


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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.)

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