Tuesday, June 30, 2009
What I really liked about these two characters is the way they take care of each other. There is an art to that, to doing small things for each other without thinking, with pleasure even, because you know the other will appreciate it. Julianna is a nurturing person, with everyone around her, and that's just what Michael needs. For his part, Michael offers Julianna a helping hand when she needs it, and some space to be an adult, even when he would prefer to get closer.
Something that's a little different about this romance is that the characters expend a fair amount of page count disentangling themselves from previous relationships. I think this worked OK here, and is probably a better reflection of 21st century dating than the mafia-trial side plot which, while well-executed, was a little bit canned. Viewers of any given daytime soap in the last 30 years will no doubt recognize it and perhaps find themselves skimming a bit.
On the downside, there were a few places where word choice struck a tinny note. Attention authors: your hero should never whine. No matter what. In one word, Michael's attractiveness dropped a measurable notch for me. Overall, while Michael is everything a modern girl might want-- successful, charming, & handsome-- he's a little bit passive for my tastes (maybe I'm just be too used to vampires these days, I dunno). Then Julianna makes a decision that's just so screamingly wrong, the book *almost* hit the wall.
Of course, all is redeemed in the end. Love at First Flight is sweet, tender, modern romance, with likeable, real characters that might have you looking at your next airline ticket with a new sparkle in your eye.
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Heroes 101 by Gwylyn MacKenzie
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
The FIVE winners of Naamah's Kiss are:
I Heart Book Gossip
You all need to send me your snail-mail addresses (no PO boxes) ASAP. The sooner I get them, the sooner the books will start winging their way to your mailbox!
photo by poppalina
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
But there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Occasionally I get a little burned out on romance, even given the wide variety between vampires, werewolves, rakes, pirates and moguls.
When that happens, I turn to my back-up plan, which almost always turns out to be something from the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section.
They're not so different. I don't claim to be a literary expert, but it seems pretty obvious that they come from the same root, the chivalric tales that were popularized in Eleanor of Aquitaine's court. Not surprisingly, I love medieval romances and I love the swords-and-sorcery flavor of high fantasy. You nearly always find similar themes of good vs. evil, honor vs. villainy, and sometimes you even get a love story.
The main difference is generally that the relationship and love story, if there is one, is not the main focus of the book -- instead there are battles and politics and double-crosses; romances might be more of a plot element than the main point. And you aren't by any means guaranteed a happily ever after.
What I love about good fantasy is the way it exercises my imagination. Alternate histories like Jacqueline Carey's* or Guy Gavriel Kay's; worlds that are basically familiar but with brilliant twists, like Melanie Rawn's Sunrunners, or CL Wilson's Fading Lands -- they get me daydreaming about... I don't know, possibilities. Or impossibilities, perhaps, but nevertheless, they take me out of the everyday in a way that romance usually does not. (Note: links go the first book of a series, or in Kay's case, just one of my favorites).
Good sci-fi/fantasy is more than escapism. If I had to reduce it to a soundbyte, I'd say that really good sci-fi/fantasy poses questions about human nature: what if our environment was wildly different from what we know? What are the constants of society, of the individual, of morality? and what would flow and change? How would YOU be different? What if we had powers that we only dream of? What role does technology play?
Some of my favorite fantasy authors are listed above. Additionally, I have enjoyed Robert Silverberg, Sara Douglass (wow, isn't that some gorgeous artwork on her landing page??), Katheryn Kurtz's Deryni books, Roger Zelazny, and Juliet Marillier. Lately I've been reading a lot of SM Stirling-- watch for a review before too long on his Emberverse I trilogy.
Who are your favorite science fiction and fantasy authors?
*And speaking of Carey, don't forget, today is your last day to sign up for the giveaway!
Monday, June 22, 2009
Title: Sunnyside Blues
Author: Mary Carter
Pub Date: June 30, 2009
Twenty-five-year-old Andes Lane has spent nine years moving restlessly from place to place as she searches for somewhere that feels right. In the little blue houseboat bobbing on a Seattle lake, she thinks she’s found it. But Andes has barely had a chance to settle in before her new life is upended by her landlord, Jay, and his ten-year-old son, Chase.
Smart, secretive, and precocious, Chase touches a chord with Andes even as he plays on her last nerve. When Jay needs someone to take care of Chase temporarily, Andes agrees to accompany the boy to Sunnyside, Queens, on a quest she’s sure will prove fruitless. But in this new, strange, unexpectedly welcoming city, Andes will confront the secrets she tried to leave behind and the lies that have kept her running. And against all odds, she’ll discover a place, a man, and a newfound peace of mind that feel very much like home…
(I tend to think that the blurb emphasizes all the wrong things, but I can't argue that they were all in there). I had some trouble with this book at first. The main character... well, let me put it this way: You know our blogger friend Jen The Ginger Kid? In her "about me" blurb, she says, "I'm addicted to the internet, I'm great at wasting time, and I have the attention span of a toy poodle on speed." In Jen's case, I'm pretty sure it's an exaggeration, but I wasn't so sure about Andes. The "toy poodle on speed" phrase kept haunting me as I tried to connect with this character. In the first couple of chapters, I found her to be shallow, spazzy, kind of slutty, and well, not the sharpest knife in the drawer. I was ready to write back to the author suggesting that maybe we pass on the review. Then I got to this:
Emily Tomlin wasn't afraid when he first lowered her into the well. Her behind fit snugly into the horse harness as if it were a sling, and because her mother had threatened bodily violence if she got her new pink dress dirty, he lowered her until she dangled just a foot from the muddy bottom.*
Whoa. What is going on here? From there on, I was hooked, dangling from the line just like Emily.
The following story has an element of morbid fascination, tracing the journey of that little girl growing up in a fundamentalist, snake-handling Appalachian religious sect. Her sometimes-unreliable narration of events gives an overall compelling character study. A childhood history of traumatic events, a nomadic young-adulthood, and a self-told backstory of dubious truth chipped away at my initial impression of this character. Though "shallow, spazzy, kind of slutty, and not the sharpest knife in the drawer" turns out to be not precisely untrue, the story reveals the complexities and, I might say, neuroses that combine to give that impression.
The unsubtly-named Chase and his search for his father force Andes into a psychological confrontation with her own daddy issues. To be honest, I wasn't that interested in Chase as a character, but he provides a decent foil for Andes to play out her drama against and a plot engine that keeps the pages turning. Without him and the two mystery subplots (his parentage, and who is setting the fires that follow him around) the novel would be in danger of devolving into uninterrupted navel-gazery.
There's a third character here, one who inadvertently plays a part in Emily's estrangement from her roots, and the way that affects him in the years after--and the way that effect sort of accelerates and culminates in the now of the book was really well done. The storyline ups the tension and helps draw Emily/Andes into the final confrontation, but the author uses a deft restraint to keep his [potentially fascinating] situation from overwhelming the rest of the story. Just the right amount of salt.
There's a fair bit of melodrama, hyperbolic narrative and improbable coincidence at work in the story, and perhaps the least palatable bits were the occasions when Andes broke down into... well, fits? psychotic breaks? She would have these uncontrollable crying jags that she didn't seem to realize were happening until she "came to," though she didn't actually seem to lose consciousness. Since the scenes were written from her point of view, it was fairly jarring to piece together what was happening. Perhaps a good old-fashioned swoon would've worked better.
Despite all that though, I have to say I enjoyed the ride. Perhaps it's the same ignoble instinct that makes me want to gawk at traffic accidents, but I found the descriptions of the revival meetings truly fascinating and horrifying at the same time. Offbeat, engaging, a little bit horrific, touching.
*quote is from uncorrected proof copy, so it may not appear exactly as shown in the published version.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
June 23rd is apparently the day that Cyrano de Bergerac made the first successful (fictional) flight to the moon.
There's a facebook page, and a bit of a buzz, if you look for it. I think I can manage a post on something from the sci-fi/fantasy genre -- how about you?
June 23rd is also the last day to enter the Naamah's Kiss giveaway... which is a fantasy novel, after all. Funny how things work out sometimes.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Well, here's how it all turned out:
- Hours spent: ~8
- Book reviews completed and scheduled: 2
- Favicon created and installed [mini-challenge]
- Blog directories: joined several tho I'm not sure they all went through [mini-challenge].
- Google alerts set for blog key words [mini-challenge].
- Thursday Thirteens: I looked over the ones I had started but still couldn't get them into publishable shape. I need to brainstorm some new ideas, I think.
Officially, that's it. I am going to keep working today though and hope to get as far as:
- Third review completed and scheduled
- Sidebar cleaned up
- F3 button made
Thanks, Natasha, for the inspiration -- and it was a ton of fun.
Friday, June 19, 2009
REMINDER: the giveaway for Naamah's Kiss ends at midnight Pacific time June 23. See comments on that post for details about international shipping. You must specify up front if you have a non-north-american shipping address.
OK, so the first problem for me is that the event runs from an hour ago (give or take) through Sunday morning. I'm working today; this evening I have a Brownie Girl Scout vest to assemble, and tomorrow I have 1) prep for a Girl Scout event; 2) said Girl Scout event; and 3) an author event at our local library to attend. So of the time that Natasha has allotted, I have... hey, all night tonight and Saturday from about 5 or 6 pm all night til Sunday. Now, I am a night owl to a great extent, but the days of pulling all-nighters are way behind me. So I'm guessing, if all goes well and I don't sleep much, I might be able to put in 12-16 hours. Second, related, problem is, a typical review post might take me 3-4 hours to compose and format.
So I'm going to keep my goal list fairly small:
- Catch up on reviews: I have 3 that I need to do. If I can do 4, I'll be ahead! (uh, see 16 hours divided by 3-4 hours per post....)
- Create a custom favicon. That's that little orange square with the white B for Blogger that shows up in your tab when you visit Alpha Heroes. I'm ready for something prettier.
- Clean up my sidebar. I'm going to get rid of the reading list, since I haven't been keeping it up to date and expand my blogroll. I'd like to find a way to get my blogroll a bit more compact, like Jackie's. She packs an amazing amount of information into her sidebars without sacrificing legibility.
- I'm also going to kick off a new feature here at Alpha Heroes, probably next week, that I'm calling Friday Fantasy Feature. I've been reading a lot of sci-fi fantasy lately, and while I want to keep the romance focus at Alpha Heroes, some of these books are taking up a lot of space in my brain and I need to talk about them. What's the task for Bloggiesta? Construct a button/logo for the feature-- find open source artwork, add text, a reference page, etc.
- Things I'd like to do, but probably won't get to? Write a few extra "rainy day posts," as Natasha calls them. Write 2-3 Thursday Thirteen posts. Oh, and there are a ton of very interesting mini-challenges outlined in today's kick-off post that will probably have to go on my "someday" list.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
First off, a reminder to comment and link for entries into my Naamah's Kiss giveaway. I have 5 books and 7 commenters at the moment, so your odds are darned good. Deadline is midnight Pacific time June 23rd. The SciFiGuy also reviewed NK and will be interviewing Carey tomorrow. He's giving away books too.
I didn't find very many blog reviews up on NK right now - I suspect the length is daunting for a lot of readers. Here are a couple:
A Reading Odyssey
Blog, Jvstin Style
Do You Like Carnivals?
You may have notice that I am inconsistent at best when it comes to meme participation. I manage the Thursday Thirteen every now and then, and the occasionally Weekly Geek challenge, but to be honest, this blog is something I do for fun, and I refuse to feel obligated to post something on a weekly basis, whether I have something to say or not. Partly because that's totally not fun, and partly in defense of you, gentle reader. Why would you have fun reading something that I didn't have fun writing? So I meme when the spirit moves me and when the topic is relevant to Alpha Heroes' focus. However, what's really nice for me is that other people do a lot of work to keep the carnival going so that it IS there when I decide to jump in with my two cents.
So I'd sure appreciate it if you'd check out the Bookworm Carnival, which runs twice a month and features themed book reviews. The current episode features paranomal fiction of all kinds, which is a good fit for Alpha Heroes, but there are themes around all kinds of topics, from parenting books, to historical novels, to banned books to rebellious women. Check it out, and if you can't find something you love, sign up to host one yourself! You can always check the main page or upcoming attractions to find out what's going on, or try the latest thing and sign up for the Bookworm Carnival Facebook Fan Page.
More on Lucy Burns
If my review of The Sinful Life of LB last week piqued your interest, be sure to stop by Literary Escapism on July 7, where Jackie will have an interview with the author, Elizabeth Leiknes. Around the blogosphere, more reviews are turning up:
Wendy's Minding Spot
The Good, The Bad, and The Unread
Chick Lit Reviews and News
And finally, wow, I'd sure like to be Janet when I grow up: Dear Author
Late-breaking review today at Book Smugglers
Sunday, June 14, 2009
And yet a good author knows when to leave them wanting more, because really, there are only so many times that any given character can Save The World.
Jacqueline Carey is one of those authors for me – I want her Terre d’Ange world to keep going, and going and going because it is such an incredible place. (Actually, if I could figure out a way to go live there--err, without involving psychiatric institutionalization-- I would.) The two Kushiel trilogies are as absorbing and immersive as anything I’ve ever read and while I was a little disappointed to learn last year that enough time elapses between the end of Kushiel’s Mercy and this book that none of the characters from the first two books would be appearing, I’ve still been waiting with great anticipation for Naamah’s Kiss. (Carey actually read the first chapter last year at a signing for Kushiel's Mercy– how’s THAT for a tease??)
I’m very pleased to report that Naamah's Kiss delivers everything a Terre d’Ange fan could want. Carey returns to a feminine viewpoint, telling the story of Moirin, a descendant of the “bear witches,” the clan who betrayed Imriel in the second trilogy. Several generations have passed, and the larger magic abilities of Moirin’s people have faded, similar to legends you might read about the Fae.
One of the aspects I like the most about all of Carey’s books, including Santa Olivia, is the way the point of view character always sees themselves as more or less ordinary, and tells us their extraordinary story with such a sense of humbleness that you don’t always realize immediately that you as a reader are getting a front-row look at this world’s history unfolding from inside the eyes of someone who is going to turn out to be a pivotal figure within the world. At one time, Moirin’s internal narrative tells us that “whatever else happened, we had just ridden into legend.”* And damn if that doesn’t feel like the dead truth when you’re reading it.
Carey absolutely does it again with this new incarnation of her world. A few familiar threads will ground the Kushiel fans quickly, but if you’re interested in trying out a new author and don’t want to read the whole backlist, this would be a fine place to start. It couldn’t have been easy for Carey to find new ground to break after the wide-ranging journeys of Phedre and Imriel, but she manages it. Moirin travels to Carey’s analog of China, exploring half-familiar legends involving curses, princesses, and dragons who inhabit the exotic mountain ranges of the East, and learning that earth-magic has many faces, but springs from the same source. (Well, maybe that's obvious, but at any rate, I liked how Carey manages to make it feel exotic and different but with a familiar heart everywhere her characters go.)
Something I always appreciate about the Terre d’Ange books is the way sexuality is treated: from sacred to ordinary, it’s a part of life--and a part of the story-- that is just as accepted any other part of life. And just to prove that I do retain [some] of the stuff I’ve learned along the way since starting this blog, let me comment that if you find a heteronormative framework restrictive and unsatisfying, you won’t have a problem with Terre d’Ange. As with the previous trilogies, the “love as thou wilt” theology of Terre d’Ange is an underlying force in Moirin’s destiny; her partners and lovers all have a role in leading her along her journey and the book falls into natural phases along with her different affairs.
All up, I give Naamah’s Kiss a whole-hearted recommendation for any fan of good fiction. If high fantasy hasn’t been your cup of tea thus far, Carey just might be your gateway book. If you love historical fiction, heroic legend, or just plain good storytelling, Carey does not disappoint. Romance purists will not find a story centered around a couple's relationship, but there are lots of romantic elements. If you’re already a fan of Ms. Carey, rest assured that Naamah's Kiss delivers. For now, I think I like it even a little better than the Imriel trilogy – perhaps it’s something about the female protagonist that works a little better for me.
And….. it’s a Hachette book. And you know what that means.
I have 5 copies to give away. June 24th is the release date, so I will announce all 5 winners on that day (though if you want it sooner, it looks like Amazon is already shipping them). Check back between now and then and you may get more chances to enter.
For now, comment below to start your chances, and post a link on your blog, Facebook, etc. for a second entry. Please specify if you live outside of North America – if I get international submissions I will set aside those participants for one of the 5 drawings.
*Note: the quote is from an uncorrected review copy; it may not appear in the published edition as I've shown it here.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
A couple of weeks ago, the Weekly Geek challenge included trying a review in someone else’s style. At the time, I skipped it, but what with the hoopla of the Santa Olivia giveaway and busy-ness at work and summer ramping up, I’ve been giving some thought to Chris’s mini-reviews at Stumbling Over Chaos (sample). I really enjoy them and since I’ve managed to accumulate quite a backlog, I thought I’d give the mini-review format a shot. Try to forgive me if this post becomes unreasonably long – brevity isn’t exactly my strong suit.
13 Books I Meant to Review But Didn’t
1. Fools Rush In, by Kristan Higgins. Better than I thought it would be. The premise is super-silly: nerdy girl returns to the hometown with the medical degree and sets out to win the heart of the boy she’s had a crush on for 15 years. Hijinks ensue of the triangular kind. Higgins is a genuinely funny writer, but the interactions between the characters had unexpected depth. I’ll definitely be looking for more of her backlist.
2. The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever. Starts similarly, then takes a completely different direction. The best thing about this story is after the happily ever after—the couple’s adjustment to marriage is not a given, and the Black Moment is unusual and fresh. Of course, you wouldn’t expect less from Julia Quinn.
3. Call of the Highland Moon, by Kendra Leigh Castle. A paranormal of the shifter variety – I had read the second book first, and I still liked this one very much despite the plot being thus spoilered. I love the characters, especially Carly’s hidden strength and Gabriel’s hidden vulnerabilities.
4. You're So Vein, by Christine Warren. We met Ava in a previous book. I didn’t like her then and I don’t really like her now. She started with a disadvantage with me though; maybe others wouldn’t feel the same.
5. Under Fire, by Jo Davis. I don’t really get the bad rap this book is getting around the blogosphere. Sure, there’s some implausibility in the plot, but I read a lot of werewolves and vampires, remember? I’m OK with implausible. I thought Zack was just adorably romantic, and loved that he was willing to wear his heart on his sleeve. Admittedly, I'm hoping that not ALL of the Firefighters of Station Five are going to have their very own personal psycho stalker.
6. Angels' Blood, by Nalini Singh. Overrated. The balance of power between Elena and her Archangel didn’t work for me, nor did the tease on the backstory. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still getting line for Branded by Fire, but I’m not loving the Angels.
7. Blue-Eyed Devil, by Lisa Kleypas. I’m a Kleypas fan. And a contemp fan. And I liked this book a lot. I kind of don’t get the collective swooning going on about it, but it’s absolutely a top-notch romance. Maybe it’s because I don’t get the Texas love. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Just not particularly my thing, y'all.
8. The Iron Hunt, by Marjorie Liu. Mixed bag. At times overwritten and overwrought, but eventually settled down into a good pace and a good story and now I can’t wait for Darkness Calls, due out in July.
9. Scandal , by Carolyn Jewel. Quiet, dark. A bit slow in places, but intense. Rare. Liked it very much.
10. Tempt the Devil, by Anna Campbell. Campbell’s signature dark story, with characters who push the envelope of likeability. I liked it, though perhaps not quite as much as Claiming the Courtesan.
11. Confessions of a Little Black Gown, by Elizabeth Boyle. I wanted to like this one more than I did. One of the nice things about historical romance is the sense that some things are constant, no matter the era, and what woman can’t relate to the perfect little black dress, and the possibilities it might enable? And I liked the idea that Tally could sense the true nature of the hero, even hidden in his bumbling disguise. It reminded me a little of the cross-dressing trope when the hero is discomfited to find himself attracted to what is apparently a young man. All in all though, CoaLBG didn’t quite live up to its potential for me; it seemed like the characters spent too much time chasing their tails. Also: there’s a scene where they’re making love in the grass… the hero removes her hairpins and “the soft plunk as they landed in the grass sounded like the tumblers of a lock clicking open, freeing her.” All I could think was, “Really? What the HELL kind of grass is THAT?"
12. To the Brink, by Cindy Gerard. Third in a series, but stands alone just fine (and I know, because I haven’t read the others yet.) Fast-paced, straightforward, great characters. The flashbacks worked—and I’m picky about those. Gerard does a nice job of portraying how a modern soldier and master at dealing with human devils, might manage the trickier emotional ones.
13. Just the Sexiest Man Alive, by Julie James. This one was a close call for me. I ended up liking it OK, but the arrogant-movie-star-hero skirted really, really close to the “just too much of an asshole” line. The fabulous dialogue makes up for a lot of character sin, though.
Total Romance Vagabond Cliche Score: approximately 800. Seriously, the ladyback and cut off heads are out of control.
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
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
The Sinful Life of Lucy Burns is a quick, funny read with more going on than you might think. I recommend.
Friday, June 5, 2009
WINNER #5 in the Santa Olivia Giveaway is..........
Venus, please send me your snail mail addy at nicola327 at hotmail dot com, and congratulations!!
Thanks for playing everyone, and a VERY BIG thank you to Hachette books for providing the books AND the shipping!
Thursday, June 4, 2009
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
It's Not Too Late
I have one more copy to give away tomorrow - you can still enter by commenting or following the little mini-challenges over the past week:
The Basic Scoop
Feed Me Feedback
Do a BlogHop
Rate A Cliche
Hope you're having fun, I know I have been!
Contest will close at midnight tonight, Pacific time, and I'll post the winner around noon.
And if you didn't win a copy, Santa Olivia is on the stands by now, and if you like near-future speculative fiction, I absolutely recommend you pick up a copy.
Winner Round Up:
Congrats to all!
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Yay, Leslie! Shoot me your mailing address at nicola327 at hotmail dot com!
(and Mishel? still haven't heard from you....)
So, last night I was hanging with Erin, who's a friend, a fellow blogger, and one of my first "followers," who told me that one of her favorite features here is the Romance Vagabond Cliche Score . I haven't done one in a while, but you can find a couple at these reviews:
Sealed with a Promise
Seduction of an Unknown Lady
Which leads me to.... the next way to get extra chances in the drawing for the last two copies of Santa Olivia:
- Follow the link above to the Romance Vagabonds Challenge.
- Choose a favorite book from your recently-read pile.
- Score it according to the RVC scorecard.
- For one extra entry, either write a post on your own blog or add a comment here with your book's score. Be sure to let us know what book it is!
- GET A SECOND extra entry if you find a book that scores more than 6!
Monday, June 1, 2009
Caffey, please email me your mailing address at nicola327 at hotmail dot com.
MORE CHANCES TO WIN
Let's try this again....
Last September I hosted a blog hopping challenge. Give it a go, write your post with a link to Alpha Heroes, and link here in comments. Note: the post suggests using the BBAW directory as a starting place - for this challenge, why not start with the blog of an Alpha Heroes Follower or recent commenter? Any starting place will do, as long as you find new-to-you blogs and leave comments! 10 hop-stops can be a bit much so -- 5 stops for one extra entry, 10 stops gets you two. Have fun hopping!
Come back tomorrow for the next winner to be announced!