Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Destiny Kills, by Keri Arthur - Review

You know you've been reading too much paranormal fiction when you crack open a book that starts with a naked, blood-splattered amnesiac heroine waking up next to a dead body and you think, "oh this old thing again??"

Marjorie Liu's Wild Road comes to mind, but I'm sure there have been others.  Hasn't there?  Help me out here.

Keri Arthur's new-ish series, Myth and Magic, is not too bad but not as good as I might have hoped, given how in love I have been with the Riley Jenson series --in fact, I mistakenly bought this book last summer thinking it was part of the Jenson series.

Sharp characters and imaginative world-building save this story from a mediocre plotline of paranormals on the run from evil scientists performing unspeakable experiments.  The hero is a pretty classic Bad Boy, with a touch of the Charmer (honestly, I think there's a lot of overlap in the eight classic archetypes).  Trae as a hero hits all the right notes for me -- he's strong, smart, ingenious, funny, ruthless with the bad guys and tender with the heroine.  He's not a masculine Mary Sue -- he's got his own agenda and he doesn't always play fair, but Destiny doesn't let him get away with it.  Two thumbs up for Trae.

Destiny is harder to peg.  She's more vulnerable than I generally like in a heroine, but that's consistent with the story set up -- she's spent the last third of her life in captivity, washing up on shore with no clothes, no money, and no ID.  She's a paradoxical mix of innocence and cynicism, also consistent. This book came out near the end of the Jenson series and I felt like Destiny's voice wasn't as separate from Riley's as it could have been, but Destiny is younger and a bit softer.  Her most interesting qualities, I think, are her supernatural abilities.  As a sea dragon, she has certain powers over bodies of water -- now, I've seen this trope before-- for example, with Alyssa Day's Warriors of Atlantis-- but Arthur gives it a unique and intriguing spin.

I particularly liked the sense of antiquity around Arthur's dragon mythology -- there's a bit of mysticism and ritual that gives it a nice distinction from the gritty, no-frills Jenson series.   The next book is due out in April and follows Trae's sister, so it's looking more like a paranormal romance series than the one-heroine UF style Arthur brought us with Riley Jenson and, later next year, Risa Jones whom we met as a child in Riley's series.

As I alluded to, I was a little disappointed with the tired plotline -- it's a rehash for PNR in general, and Arthur herself has already done it-- and the two-dimensional badness of the villains.  Ambiguous evil is so much more interesting.  And this is a nitpick, but I wish the author had come up with some menacing corporate sort of name for the research group -- calling them "the scientists" throughout the book was a bit off-putting and anti-intellectual to me, since I prefer to think of scientists in general as good guys.

Bottom line, it looks like a promising series with a solid, if not outta-the-park debut.  I'll be picking up the book in April for sure.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Dragons and Selkies

I Can't Believe It's Not Blogged...
I first discovered Kantra in an anthology during my Antholopalooza event two years ago, and I really liked the novella that she contributed, so I went out and got the first of her Children of the Sea series and I've really enjoyed them. I had every intention of doing some reviews but for some reason I never managed it (this happens to me a lot).

I kind of lost track of where she was with her series, but then I spotted her name recently and I snatched up Immortal Sea when I saw it on the new release shelf. I guess that officially makes Kantra an auto-buy for me.  Really enjoyed it.

I Can't Believe It Took Me So Long
When this series came out, I was buried deep in vampires and I wasn't so interested in the historical/paranormal combo, so I didn't pay much attention to the hype going around.  But holy moly, this is a good series!  I'm through the first three so I have a couple more to look forward to.

I am hugely impressed by the voicing in this series; by the lushness of the writing; by the way the author makes it feel like a fairy tale and a true story at the same time. I absolutely love the way Abé hints that the Drákon shifters are also the source of human tales of the Fae without ever coming out and saying so; at least, that's what I read between the lines in the description of their human (but more beautiful) forms, and the treatment of the parallel worlds.

Two Great Tastes?
OK that's interesting and all, you might be thinking, but why are they sharing a post?

The thing that really struck me about the Drákon characters is how very alien they are.  With a lot of paranormal fiction, the characters are "superhuman," that is, they are human-plus.  Their perspectives and small everyday habits are relateable. OK, so maybe they also like to drink blood or cast spells or turn into a wolf with the full moon-- but at bottom they're human characters with extra features.

I did not feel this way about Abé's characters.  She would lull me into familiarity, with a sort-of typical Regency ton sort of thing going on, and then the whole scene tilts sideways-- in one of the early scenes in the first book, the two characters spend several days in a completely empty house, subsisting on oatmeal. No servants, almost no furniture.  It's a bit eerie.

There are quite a few more examples where it would just hit me in the middle of a scene how surreal things were and how not-human --yet completely believeable-- the characters' point of view and motivations were (A more perfect blogger than I would have an illustrative excerpt to pull for this paragraph.)

As this occurred to me, I realized it was a familiar-- but not common-- feeling and I was racking my brain to remember what other author had inspired that reaction. Luckily, having picked up Immortal Sea around the same time, Kantra's selkies and fin-folk were fresh in my mind.  Of course!

Kantra and Abé both achieve something rather remarkable: they write characters that are aloof and emotionally chilly, and make them fall in love without changing their essential character.  Furthermore, they make the reader care about them and believe in the love store even with that edge of remoteness.

But What Does It All Mean?
 I'm not a particularly philosophical reader, but I do see some repeated themes in paranormal romance-- animal nature vs. social convention/civilization in shifter/were stories; the meaning of being alive for vampires; explorations of good and evil; intellect and instinct; belongingness and "otherness", mythology and religion and power and humanity.

I think part of what makes both of these authors really stand-out, fresh voices is that they are both allowing their characters to be something truly different, truly alien.  Their characters' struggle to find love gets some imaginative new twists, and brow-raising new challenges.  I wish I could think of 4 or 5 more ways to say "fresh."  These are stories that continue to linger in my mind -- they refuse to blend in with the large population of paranormals in my reading history.

Reading Order - Kantra
1. Sea Witch
2. Sea Fever
3. Sea Lord
4. Immortal Sea
5. Forgotten Sea (June 2011)
anthology adjuncts: Sea Crossing (antho- Shifter) and Shifting Sea (antho-Burning Up)

Reading Order - Abé
1. The Smoke Thief
2. The Dream Thief
3. Queen of Dragons
4. The Treasure Keeper
5. The Time Weaver

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Invisible Box

I take a fair bit of pride in going a little beyond the superficial in my reviews here on Alpha Heroes. Or so I like to think, anyway.

The downside to this is that it often takes me quite some time to put a review together; up to 6 hours sometimes of drafting, editing, formatting, reference checking, etc. And when I get a book in hand or a concept in mind that I really want to do justice to, I sometimes delay, procrastinate, etc. until I feel like I have a nice chunk of time and mental energy to devote to it. Because I don’t want to do a half-assed job.

However, lately this has been getting in my way. So I want to kick off a plan for the next two weeks – kind of like NaNoWriMo, I’m going to post something every day. Might not be as well-thought out or as prettily-formatted as I generally like to do. But there’ll be something. (This one counts).

Here’s a thought for today – not about books or reading or blogging per se, but for those of us with a procrastination problem. Have you heard the term “paralyzed perfectionist”? In a nutshell, you’d rather not start something unless you are sure you can do it perfectly. Which, on the surface, is an admirable thing—if a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing properly, and all that. It’s the difference between “properly” and “perfectly” that can become tricky.

I once heard this described very amusingly along these lines: “My house is messy. I was going to take out the trash, but then I notice that the floor around the can had a spill, so I stopped to wipe that up with a rag. While I was down there, I realized that the linoleum was starting to peel up and that we need to get that taken care of right away or water will get underneath and ruin the substrate. So I started working up the budget for that and decided that I’d rather go with hardwood than replacing the lino so I started researching the different woods and finishes. And then I looked up and it was midnight so I went to bed and the trash is still sitting next to the can waiting for me to take it out.” This isn’t really a story about getting distracted but a story about turning a little task into a monstrously complicated/expensive/difficult one.

A couple of good background articles:

A good general view
Regarding perfectionism in kids...

Does this apply to you? Do you have any strategies for breaking loose? As it relates to blogging, this daily-post commitment is my strategy for now (and it has worked before, though I haven’t explicitly discussed it).

So here I go, hitting the post button without finding the perfect image to go with the article or second-guessing the article title...

OK, that's a lie, I did second-guess it and third-guess it, but I haven't come up with anything better, so here goes.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Iron Duke, by Meljean Brook - Review

I have yet to dislike anything from the genius pen of Meljean Brook, and The Iron Duke is no exception.  But I had some trepidation.

I know a lot of people are excited about the trend, but to be honest, steampunk romance doesn't particularly do anything for me in and of itself.  I enjoy alternate history, fantasy, romance and highly imaginative stories of all stripes, but a cover with brass clockworks on it isn't going to automatically get me going.  As a category, the danger point where steampunk risks losing me is exactly the same as sci-fi or futuristic romance -- a tendency to dwell on the tech at the expense of the character or the storytelling.

Then there's the second-series syndrome.  This is a tough one -- I really would prefer that an author kick off a brand new series rather than beat a successful one to death, even if it makes me sad to see the end of a beloved world (Sigh.  Keri Arthur, I'm lookin' at you).  Even so, sometimes I'm reluctant to start a second series, because how can it measure up to the awesomeness of the first? (cf J.R. Ward).

But Meljean's world-building chops are pretty damn tight from the Guardian's series, and rather than a weak imitation of that world, she turns her considerable talent to an entirely different kind of alternate reality.

I rather think the best thing about this book is that the characters take center stage, but the world-building continuously informs the characters, their voicing, the narration -- without anything like an infodump.  The surreal, literally dark and smoky physical world lends a tremendous amount of texture to the story without ever taking over.

The story opens like so many historical romances, with Our Heroine reluctantly attending a ball, knowing that she isn't a belle, knowing that she's not dressed right, knowing that she isn't going to enjoy it.  But instantly the Other-ness of this world is apparent from the smoky dark atmosphere and the reversal of the social order:

...everyone's togs were at the height of New World fashions. Mina suspected, however, that forty of the guests could not begin to guess how dear those new togs were to the rest of the company.
Further description goes on to reveal a desperately poor gentry that reminded me a bit of the American Reconstruction South, with an intricate undercurrent of moral judgment, fear, and social stratification.  Also, I love the way Brook re-casts ordinary English words-- bounder, bugger (!!), the Horde.  She has an instinctive feel for one of the recently explicated Laws of Fiction:

All of this is interesting enough, but then throw in the unique twist on nano-technology, which tosses elements of the Six Million Dollar Man, McGyver, Night of the Living Dead, steampunk machinery (of course) and a dash of free-floating Jungian free-will angst into a blender, and presses frappée -- not with the gleeful abandon of Blendtec, but with the easy elegance of a tuxedo'd James Bond preparing a pefect martini: shaken, not stirred.

The result is a perfectly crafted, imaginative, surreal world that effortlessly suspends your disbelief from the first page to the last.  I loved this world.

And you know, that's not even the best part.  I love character-driven stories, and while there is always mad plotting to be found in a Brook story, it takes well-built characters to stand up to all that and the world too.  Mina and Rhys deliver; Mina in particular. 

Mina has this armor-- literally, she buckles herself into and out of it throughout the story.  She wears it always, even over a ballgown--uncomfortable and inappropriate though it may be. She wears it by land, sea and air; and in retrospect, the scene where she gives it away is more meaningful than it seems at the time.  I really loved this thread of Mina's character.

As for Rhys, well, I did not know that Wellington (the real one) was called The Iron Duke until I googled the title looking for the cover image.  There are some interesting parallels, I guess, although I don't know as much about the real Wellington as I might.  In any event, it pretty much went over my head until after the fact .  I found Rhys to still retain some mystery even at the end -- I don't know what's coming next in this series but there is still plenty to be discovered about this not-so-modern-day Ironman to support additional books.  Something tells me the Horde isn't done with the Brits just yet.  I also muse that the Blacksmith might make an interesting protagonist, although his mechanized appearance might make it challenging to cast him as a romance hero.

This is a really nice cross-over book that should appeal to readers of steampunk, sci-fi, fantasy, as well as romance -- it has a little bit of everything, and all of it is just wonderfully well-executed.  I hope you read it and I hope you love it.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Crave, by JR Ward -- Deep Thoughts

Not a Review
I'm working back up to doing actual reviews.  For now, I really just have a topic I want to muse on, which is this:

I think JR Ward is a hellluva storyteller in the paranormal space.

However, I do NOT like her writing about the metaphysical.

Too Deep For Me
I'll credit one particular element of Crave for making that distinction gel for me -- and it applies to the Black Dagger Brotherhood books as well as the Fallen Angels.

The wings, like him and Eddie and Adrian, were neither there nor not there, real nor unreal, tangible nor intangible.

They just were.

Honestly? That's just weak. I have the same issues in the BDB books with the Omega's tampering with time and with Darius's reincarnation into a being that had to have been born before Darius died. 

Furthermore, a fair amount of Jim's character development and scene-setting for future series story arcs are predicated on the corporeal nature of these immortals, including the arch-angels:

Nigel, as with the others, neither lived nor breathed; he simply was. And the food was the same, neither necessary nor extant-- as was the landscape and all that the four of them did to pass their eternity. But the trappings of a gracious life were of value. Indeed, the quarters that he shared with Colin were well kitted-out and the sojourns they took therein were not for any sleep necessity but for recharging of a different kind.

War was exhausting, its burdens ne'er-ending, and at times, one needed physical succor.

Now, the WARDen can build her world any way she wants to, but the thing is, I'm just not feelin' it, to use the vernacular. You can't say in one sentence that the  physical doesn't matter and then in the next say, oh well, but it helps.  I don't get it.  Why would one need "physical succor" if one doesn't need oxygen or food or, hey, the laws of physics?

And the coyness of the reference to Colin and Nigel's relationship really turned me off.  If you're gonna go there, let's just spit it out, shall we?

OH! and can I just say: the fake what-what-old-chap dialog/narration around the archangels SUCKETH MIGHTILY, YEA VERILY HUZZAH. (of course I can.  See? I just did.)

OK, I Guess It Actually Is a Review
Ward's writing and pacing and male characters keep me turning pages, they honestly do.  And Jim is promising, aside from the metaphysical problem.  I liked his engagement with Devina's victim and in general I'm liking his character development.

As for the romance, it's vintage Ward, in both good and bad ways.  Grier and Isaac had good chemistry and an interesting non-supernatural storyline.  But I pretty much felt like the characters were a rehash: poor sad little blond princess, who is so so very good and smart and pretty and good all the way to her patrician blue-blooded bones finds such unexpected, unseemly happiness with the earthy passionate badass damaged Taurus desperately seeking redemption.

All up?  Not that great.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Lazy Post

One good (?) thing about giving the blogosphere a rest for a couple of months is that there is so much fun stuff out there to re-acquaint yourself with.  (I say "you", but I mean "me.")

By way of The Cultural Gutter, I found this awesome thing tonight.  Because I'm a geek, I love flowcharts and this one is awesome.  Please go check out "The Female Character Flowchart."  Be a geek like me and zoom in so you can trace each cliched, wittily rendered path.

I have also found myself ridiculously entertained by The Oatmeal and Hypebole and a Half, neither of which are book-oriented but are written by people who a) know how to write and b) have a disturbing insight to stuff inside my brain and my life.

(I'm particularly fond of HaaH's Why I'll Never Be an Adult.  If I ever manage to Clean All The Things you can expect to see CNN covering it).

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Mysterious Disappearance and (hopefully) Triumphant Return


It's been a weird summer.  I can't really claim that I was too busy to blog, because I had some major chunks of idle time, but the thing is, I don't do idle very well. 

The big thing that was going on is that my workplace basically imploded.  There was a merger/takeover, and pretty much everything I liked about working there ceased to exist, so I spent the summer stressing and jobhunting.  I had a vague notion that I would use September BBAW to re-juice the blog, but that turned out to be when I transitioned from the old job to the new one.

As it turns out, jobhunting and stressing apparently consumes the same pieces of my brain that blogging does (I know, who'd have thought, right?) because on any given evening, when I'd normally be blogging or cruising other blogs, I'd be either browsing jobhunting sites, writing LinkedIn recommendations for my also-job-hunting co-workers, or staring into space.

Then at the same time as I'm starting a new job, my nanny quits, which is actually a good thing (long story), but making new arrangements and helping my girls with the transition took a lot of mental energy too.

I was hoping to go to a big signing event in Portland, OR but couldn't take a day off the same week I started a new job (boo) and today I found out that I missed the Emerald City RWA book fair last weekend, which bums me out a lot. 

The good news is, I woke up the other day with a few ideas for posts rattling around where the jobhunting stress used to be, and I really want to get going again. And I never stopped reading, so I have no shortage of subject matter. 

I missed you all, book bloggers, and I'm glad to be back.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Waking the Witch, by Kelley Armstrong – Review

Rolling the Dice
It’s always a gamble to review a book that’s farther along in a series than you’ve read. If you don't like, is it because of the book, or because you don't have enough background?  If you DO like it, maybe you would've LOVED it if you'd read the whole series.

On the other hand, some series are just so far along that I have to give myself permission to skip around a bit in order to enjoy a book while it's current.

Anyway, all that is to preface the fact that I picked up Waking the Witch , book # eleven in the series, when I’d only read previously read Bitten. I liked it so much though, that I was willing to take the gamble.

Note:-- Small spoiler for Stolen
The first thing that struck me about WTW is the YA feel of the book. A lighter, quicker read than I normally see from Armstrong; I feel like WTW is informed by her recent YA series. The sexual tension that was such a strong point in Bitten was largely absent here – there are elements of love interests but they were definitely more of a PG-13 rating. Savannah is young, only 21, has a chip on her shoulder and something to prove to her foster parents.  Her inner dialog and attitude read pretty young to me; for example:
The lights were on and a car was in the drive. I figured it was a bad idea to cut across the lawn, so I took the walkway to the porch, rang the bell, and waited very patiently for at least a minute before knocking. No one answered.

I left a card in the door, asking to meet for coffee--my treat-- at her convenience. You couldn't get any more considerate and respectful than that. At least, I couldn't."
Doesn't that last little zinger sound teenager-y to you?  Spoilerish comment: Faithful, in-order-reading series fans met Savannah way back in “Stolen,” where she’d been kidnapped and her mother killed by that book’s villains. (Her foster mother, Paige, is likewise introduced in that book and both of them feature in Dime Store Magic, novel #3 in the series--it's a spoiler because now you know that both of them get out alive).

Armstrong’s series is not really like most UF or PNR series. Some of the stories are romance-like, and some are not. Rather than feature the same hero or heroine through the entire series arc, OR a different couple for each book that are related in some way, the Women of the Underworld series hops around from one narrator to another, spending two books with Elena, then several with Paige, and so on.  ( I’m not sure if this is a strength or a weakness but it kind of keeps you on your toes as a reader.) There are cameo appearances by a number of series characters, which, while they are undoubtedly more fun for the up-to-date fan, were still enjoyable and colorful if you’re reading out of order or stand-alone.

The story opens with a prologue from the point of view of a minor character. I have to say I was confused, and I don’t think it had anything to do with jumping around in the series. The story is basically a  murder mystery, and it took me two or three chapters to figure out that the prologue was referencing three murders and not two. It’s always possible that I’m just dense though.

Once the story gets rolling, it’s very engaging, with good characters, a twisty plot, and well-done, consistent paranormal element. Armstrong is a total pro at effortless prose.

There are kind of three different things that happen at the end that all push my reaction in different ways. Without spoiling, I’ll say that the whodunit part was near-perfect – it was a super-twist that I didn’t see coming, and yet I had that “OF COURSE!” feeling once I got to the reveal – like if the story had gone on for one more paragraph I would’ve figured it out myself.

The second bit didn’t thrill me, in that she gets into some pretty serious physical trouble from the villain but it gets rather hand-waved away. Perhaps the scene where this was resolved got edited down too much, I don’t know.

Then there’s this little epilogue that is more of a setup for the next story (or the next story for Savannah, anyway) that was a MAJOR cliffhanger; one of those game-changing twists that makes your jaw fall open. In a good way, but an IMPATIENT way, if you know what I mean.

Bottom line:
All up, a quick read, a bit of an almost-YA murder mystery with a side serving of paranormal/UF. Well done, but possibly not exactly what Armstrong fans are expecting from the Underworld series.

Disclaimer:  This book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Thursday Thirteen, Edition 21: New Releases

OK, we're doing a simple one this week.  I just got back from a whirlwind tour of the midwest and I'm fried.

I have shown such amazing restraint of late.  There are tons of books out by my favorite authors and yet my TBR pile is teetering and I'm behind on reviews, so I've very virtuously been delaying some purchases that I'd normally snap up on release day.  Here are thirteen of them (in no particular order):

1. Eloisa James- A Kiss at Midnight
2. Julia Quinn, 10 Things I Love About You
3. Susan Mallery, Almost Perfect (I'm actually behind by several books of hers)
4. Judith James, Libertine's Kiss
5. Elizabeth Hoyt, Wicked Intentions (oddly, I was a bit underwhelmed by her Prince series but her more recent ones are calling to me.)
6. Loretta Chase, Last Night's Scandal (Oh, it physically HURT to leave this one behind. Soon, my pretty.)
7. Robyn Carr, Summer in Sonoma -- also very behind on this author.
8. Christina Dodd, Chains of Ice -- want want WANT. I love Dodd's paranormals.
9. Kristan Higgins, All I Ever Wanted
10. Carly Phillips, Kiss Me If You Can. Yes, she's had a couple of clinkers.  But somehow I'm ready to give her another chance.
11. Lisa Kleypas, Love in the Afternoon
12. Tessa Dare, Three Nights with a Scoundrel Sigh. Behind. So many books, so little time.
13. Anthology, Burning Up. Despite my well-documented lack of affinity for anthologies, I have a really hard time passing up anything with Nalini Singh OR Meljean Brook's name on it. And both? In one book? Yeah, I'm a goner.

You might notice some glaring omissions here, like Demon Blood and Bonds of Justice and The Forbidden Rose.  That's because I had no restraint where they are concerned. Next T-13 I'll shoot for is the last 13 books I've read - maybe by then there will be overlap with this one.


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Monday, July 26, 2010

Once and Future Posts

The past is now....
I actually started the Tsunami Blue post below a week ago, and for some reason, Blogger likes to put the old date on it unless you actively change it. Which I usually do, but sometimes forget. So I posted it yesterday, but it's showing up with last Tuesday's date, which I think means it got lost in a lot of feeds. This post is an attempt to gently bump it to real time. Which might be a teeny bit presumptuous, so I'll also offer a smidgen of new content

...and in the FEW-CHA

Coming up next, Kelley Armstrong, Waking the Witch, with some possible color commentary about Stolen and Dime Store Magic.

I'm headed out of town on Sunday but if I can squeeze in a third post before I go it JUST MIGHT be about Melanie Rawn, who wrote one of my favorite high fantasy series ever, and is back with a contemporary urban fantasy about witches that I really enjoyed. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tsunami Blue, by Gayle Williams - Review

Ripped from the Headlines
I don't know about you, but when I hear the word "tsunami," my head goes to one place immediately-- the devastating southeast Asian tsunami that hit Indonesia the day after Christmas of 2004.

(The second place my head goes is to that surfer-dude episode of Gilligan's Island, which is, I think, where I first encountered the word... what can I say, I'm a child of the 70's).

The plot of Tsunami Blue is reminiscent of Kevin Costner's cinematic flop Waterworld from 1995: the sealevel has risen so that coastal cities are submerged, governments are in chaos, and marauding pirate gangs rule the waters.

Good Stuff
I quite liked Blue's character. Her wistfulness and loneliness come through sharply and the author does a good job of making us understand the level of danger she lives with. It's scary stuff. I also liked the "Tokyo Rose" inspiration, and the idea that Blue is a voice out in the world, bouncing off the moon.

Unlike lots of current popular fiction, the narration in this story is very consistently from Blue's point of view, which leads to uncertainty around the hero's actions and motivations. I think this worked very well for this story-- it really served to keep the reader's emotions and reactions aligned with Blue's. The voicing is strong, steady and appealing-- a big asset for the story.

World-building-- a bit uneven
Generally I like the premise, but the details don't always hold up (as Ciara astutely points out). As a Midwesterner (albeit transplanted) I couldn't help but wonder what was going on further inland. I'm no meteorologist, but as far as I know, tsunamis wouldn't cause a permanent change in the sea level (although of course they can certainly wreck coastal areas), nor would they cause much commotion for say, Iowa or Nevada. Washington DC and NYC might be wiped out but it seems to me that there would be enough government and naval remnants in the world to prevent the wholesale chaos that Williams portrays.

Now, that might be different if, as it says on the blurb (but not, I don't think, in the book) that the world has been transformed to a series of islands. But Williams doesn't give me enough of an event to really believe that. It may be that the details were in there and I skimmed over them, but I spent probably 3/4s of the book assuming that the continental interiors should be mostly intact. I'm still not really sure why they wouldn't be.

The Romance
Here again, I'm going to use the word "uneven." I think all the right ingredients are here, but it didn't quite gel for me. Blue is portrayed as both naive (from her isolation) and street-tough (from her time with her uncle) and somehow they both worked against her feelings for the hero. She distrusts him, but not quite enough... and then when she falls for him, it's also not quite enough-- for me, anyway.

One Other Completely Random Point
Blue is a pretty young character. And the cover model looks very young. My ten-year-old was dying to read it based on the pretty cover and the blurb. In some ways this book seemed like it was struggling to be a YA romance --if it weren't for the graphicness of the violent bits I would've been pretty much OK with handing it over to her.

Reena, linked below, had a similar comment:
Right off the back, I loved the voice—slightly insane, but fully aware. I’m not surprised Dorchester scooped Ms. Williams up. It was also youthful, repetitious at times (you know how young folks are), but done in a way which added flavor to Blue.

Bottom Line
Despite some technical flaws, the storytelling is excellent--I think Gayle Ann Williams is an author to watch. There will be a second book in the "Blue" world, with different characters, due in March of 2011, and I will be checking it out.

Bonus Material
The author has this to say in an article about what inspires her:

On Christmas night, in 2004 I boarded a plane out of Seattle and flew right into the Southeast Asian Tsunami. In the air when the deadly wave hit, I knew that if I had arrived earlier, I might have been a statistic. As I traveled around the region, I listened and observed, hugged and cried, and all along, the writer in me asked, what if?

As I continued to travel in the region over the next few months, I encountered a great deal of sadness. But also, something else. The resilience of the human spirit surfaced and with it, hope. Hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better future. I did not know this at the time, but this experience, this life changing adventure, would become the foundation for TSUNAMI BLUE.
Author website: Gayle Ann Williams

Around the Blogosphere
Check out Caffey's Giveaway
Tez Says
Bitten By Books
Smexy Books
Reena's Blog

There are lots more, because I am super-late in posting this review. Pub date was ages ago-- April, I think. But... better late than never.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Does it ever get to you?

I think I've overdosed on urban fantasy lately. I really, really loved Devon Monk's series, and I've been reading Kelley Armstrong and I like it but... dang, the violence and mayhem is just really getting to me. I think I'm going to take a break with some lighter weight historical and contemporary for a few weeks. I mean, at the end of Stolen, there was just a flat massacre, and Dime Store Magic had plenty of murder.

None of it is so bad on a book-by-book basis, but I've been reading so much of it lately it's really starting to just... I don't know, it's getting to me. It's to the point where even though I've got Industrial Magic sitting in my pile just waiting, I need a break.

Last time this happened, Kristan Higgins was just what the doctor ordered, but I didn't love the last one of hers that I read (it was OK, just not as good as I'd been hoping).

Any recs for sweet and light stories or authors? Of course there has to be conflict, but a minimum of blood, torture, and murder would be preferred....

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Thursday Thirteen, Edition 20

Thirteen Lies About Why I Haven't Been Blogging
(the truth is, there *isn't* any really good reason. I thought that some lies would be more entertaining)

13. TOO BUSY. Good excuse right? Not true though. I was really busy for about two weeks on a home project and have been expending a lot of energy ever since to avoid doing all the clean-up stuff that needs to be done. Since this involves playing a lot of Sudoku on my iPhone, maybe it's not a total lie. Sudoku is definitely taking away from the blogging time.

12. TOOK UP RUNNING; I'm so hooked on this. I mean, it feels SOO good. The endorphins! I do it all the time and.... *oh I can't do this* HAHA HAHOHOHEE HEEHEEHEE!!! *wipes tears* HAHAHO *eats some fudge*

11. KIDS ARE SICK. Ooo, that would be a great one. Selfless, even. *checks foreheads all around* ... sigh. Nope. Not that either.

10. HOOKED ON "GLEE". Plausible. But no.

9. MY COMPUTER BROKE. Or maybe the internet was down? Something like that.

8. A GLITCH in the time-space continuum. I was doing some time-travel research and when I got back, I'd skipped like two months of blogging.

7. MYSTERIOUS POWERS. Recently, I discovered that I am descended from a supernatural race and have, um, some kind of superpowers that were activated when I, uh, hmmm, still working out those details... maybe there was a comet?... Anyway, I've been busy learning katana-fu and getting ready to save the world from Certain Destruction. Also, looking for a shade of red haircolor that really works for me.

6. BITTEN BY A VAMPIRE. One of the good, sexy ones; not a horrible one.

5. KIDNAPPED BY A GREEK BILLIONAIRE. As soon as I find a way to access email on Dmitri's complicated laptopper thingy and get myself rescued, I'll tell you all about it.

4. CONFRONTED BY SECRET BABY. So, I know it sounds a little implausible, but as it turns out, unbeknownst to me, some of my eggs were harvested back in the 80's when I was passed out at a frat party *scratch* in the hospital with mono *scratch* getting my tonsils out; then combined with genetic material from David Hasslehoff, and the result is this very bitter person who was apparently raised by evil scientists. It's been a headache. (What? it could happen. Ask Erika Kane).

3. ARRANGED MARRIAGE. Turns out my marriage of 12 years is a fraud, as my real parents legally married me by proxy to a Duke of the Realm when I was just a baby. Tragically, they were killed in an anachronistic carriage accident some few days later and loyal but misguided servants gave me to some kind, hardworking Midwesterners to raise-- to protect me in obscurity. Paperwork and DNA tests have only recently come to light. The Duke is pretty cute, but has some issues (don't they all??).

2. INHERITED $47.3 BILLION from a Nigerian princess. She was such sweetheart; so sad about the cancer of the amaryllis (apparently it's very painful). Not a great speller though. The paperwork has been a bitch but the funds should come through any day now.

and the number one lie........


Seriously, I've been reading my head off, and it's been some great, great stuff. Devon Monk, Kelley Armstrong, Vicki Pettersson, Melanie Rawn, Susan Mallery, Kristan Higgins, Jo Bourne, a bunch of new authors. Gonna really, really try to get some reviews up for you.

...I won't even wait for the Nigerian funds to clear.


Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others’ comments. It’s easy, and fun!

Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

View More Thursday Thirteen Participants

Monday, July 12, 2010

Naamah's Curse - Jacqueline Carey - Review

The Love Continues
I adore this series. Carey delivers quality epic adventure, book after book. To be honest, I don't have much new to say that I haven't said before about her writing --

-- but I can confirm that there's absolutely no fading to the power and lyricism of Carey's storytelling.

There are still lands untraveled in Carey's universe, and Naamah's Curse takes us with Moirin through the steppes of western China, Russia -- perhaps Mongolia would be a more correct analog (what can I say, I'm geography-challenged)-- and what I guess to be the Khyber Pass and Pakistan.

Once Upon A Time
Most of Carey's stories can be described as a quest, but that applies even more so to Curse than it did to Kiss. Moirin must find Bao, the stubborn boy and lover who bears half of her diadh-anam which is a sort of spirit-energy; a link to mother-bear deity of Moirin's people. Something I particularly loved about this story is how it inverts the classic fairy tale rescue motif: our intrepid princess must pass a number of harsh tests of strength, skill, and faith before she rescues the prince, who is imprisoned in a [surprisingly] passive state by an evil witch. You could easily imagine flying monkeys on the attack.

You know it's just too easy when she finds him within 100 pages. They are separated again through magic and ambition-- isn't it always the way?

A new theme emerges with Naamah's Curse, as she undergoes imprisonment and an Inquisition-esque forcible conversion. Along the way she questions her inquisitor's interpretation of his God's will, and finally has this to say:

"And yes, there are moments of glory and wonder in your tales. Yes, your Yeshua sounds like a decent fellow for a god, filled with love and kindness toward mankind. But there are also great, long boring bits about the genealogy of the Habiru, which holds little interest for me and there are tales that make no sense at all, and other parts that are simply harsh and cruel."

He looked aghast. "Only because you do not understand them yet!"

"Do you think so?" I shook my head. "No, I think I am beginning to understand. These scriptures, they were written by mortal men. And mayhap some of them were moved by divine grace, but others were petty, jealous fellows, moved by the ordinary concerns of everyday life, like being cuckolded by a straying wife."

Though Carey's world is particularly at odds with a Puritanical religion that considers sensuous pleasures a sin, this sort of questioning is repeated in other circumstances, as applied to other gods and scriptures, in attempts to make it an even-handed statement about divine will, and the fallacies of mortal interpretation. I suspect most readers who are already fans will not have major issues here, but it isn't much of a stretch to think that some readers who aren't expecting it might be offended.

Overall I give this story a huge win; I am loving this trilogy.

Reading order:
Naamah's Kiss (out now in paperback)
Naamah's Curse
Naamah's Blessing (due next year)

Bonus: I've been making it a habit to attend Carey's signings when she comes to Seattle, which are just a delight. I really enjoy the way she interacts with her readers, from the casual fan to the most obsessive fanatic dedicated (yes, I spotted more than one thorny rose tattoo in the audience). She usually reads an excerpt from the next, unreleased book and this year's was no exception. I don't think I'm overstepping to share with you that Moirin's next journey will intersect with..... {drumroll please} ....... the Aztec. Chocolate! Parrots! Human sacrifice! Cool, eh?

Someone actually videotaped and posted the Seattle event. My voice is in there somewhere and you totally can't hear what I asked. But maybe you can guess from my choice of excerpt.

Around the Blogosphere:
(I'm running really late to this party; the book has been out for a month now, so there are lots of reviews to choose from)

In Bed With Books
The Book Smugglers
The Discriminating Fangirl
Gripping Books
Inside of a Dog (which incidentally, has to be the VERY BEST name I have come across for a book blog in recent memory!) Awesome.

As always, if you have a review of this book, please feel free to leave a link in comments or email me and I will edit it in.

One Last Thing....
I was supposed to do a giveaway for this book, but I'm so late posting the review I'm not sure the offer from the publisher still stands. I'm checking... so you check too. Back here, that is. I'll put up a fresh post if there's a giveaway.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Real Vampires Don't Sparkle

I haven't talked about JR Ward here lately, have I? Don't worry, Lover Mine is on my list to review.

In the meantime, I give you this little Facebook exchange between a high school friend of mine and me:

Monday, June 28, 2010

Test Pattern

It's not that I'm that busy, really. Weird stuff going on at work, possible job change ahead. End of school year busy-ness for my kids and the Girl Scouts. Just a bunch of stuff that is draining my will to live blogging mojo. It'll come back, I have faith. I'm trying not to stress too much about the hiatus here.

I have a few commitments I need to fill here for reviews - I especially want to get something up for Naamaah's Curse, by Jacquelyn Carey. (Hint: I loved it as much as I have loved all her Terre d'Ange books) and Hachette is sponsoring a giveaway for me. So keep an eye out for that.

In the meantime, I haven't forgotten about Alpha Heroes or you, my friends and readers and fellow bloggers. I'm just temporarily making some mental space for other stuff, but I expect the biggest ones to resolve in the next week or two.

Hope you're enjoying your summer so far!

photo credit (Cool T-Shirt, eh?)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Dear Keri Arthur:

A Fan Letter
I seriously cannot wait for Moon Sworn tomorrow. You are officially my current favorite author-- I've torn through all the Riley Jenson books up until this point, haunting the bookstores for back issues, losing sleep, dreaming of strange beings and super powers, missing bus stops*, and accidentally buying duplicate copies of titles.

You've got me all shook up, Ms. Arthur, and it's rare that an author steps outside the bounds of my reading time to occupy my thoughts during random "real life" moments. Riley has the perfect character balance between "special, outrageous, extraordinary" and the everywoman, relate-able quality. Yes, I know that's contradictory. That's why it's so hard to do, and so rare to find.

I'm also a sucker for well-done folklore and mythology. Of course, by "well-done" I mean, "done in a way that I particularly-- and completely subjectively-- really like." I like the way you combine legends that I know a bit about with the more obscure ones-- you've got everything from ghosts and vampires, to judeo-christian-esque demons and that cat thing, whattaya call it, bakeneko . Not to mention a lovely, series-wide sub-theme about power and how it plays out in different times, different populations, and with different paranormal twists. It's done with both familiarity and respect to tradition as well as ingenious originality. I know, contradictory again.

And the thing is, I'm first and foremost a romance fan. And these aren't really romances. But the series-long romantic arc is so enjoyable. I love the way you separate sex and love for your characters -- they are related of course, but they're NOT the same, and I love that your characters don't fall prey to the Magic Hoo-Hoo/Curse of the Bad Wang** syndrome. I haven't read Moon Sworn yet (not on the lucky review copy list) but I can say that I was STUNNED by the series romance plot turn in Bound by Shadows and cannot wait to see how you resolve Riley's conundrum. Treated as a whole-- assuming that Moon Sworn delivers (and word is, it does) -- the series is a wonderful romance.

Thanks much to Kassa for the idea of the awesome Author Fan Letter Crawl. I chose Keri Arthur for two reasons -- one, Moon Sworn is my MOST ANTICIPATED BOOK in more than a year; and two, I can't really write a review, because I really do try for at least a little objectivity in my reviews... and I can't be objective when I'm MADLY IN LOVE with an author.

So in conclusion,

Keri Arthur, I am MADLY IN LOVE with you and-- thank you so much for providing so many hours of superior entertainment. Your work is fabulous and amazing and sets a bar to which other UF writers should aspire.


Nicola O.

*not literally true -- but close; very close.
**The Smart Bitches develop this concept more in their book, but essentially it's the idea that the heroine is physiologically incapable of having really good sex unless it's with the Hero of the story, ergo, any sex that the heroine may have had prior to meeting said Hero must suffer from Bad Wang.

Please visit Althea tomorrow for the next letter in the crawl. If you missed Stacy's yesterday, head on over to her tribute to Shiloh Walker. And please stop by Kassa's place to get the complete list of participants and to thank her for having such a great idea.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

I Really Hate It When

...bloggers post non-posts about how much they suck and how they are so sorry and life got in the way and blah blah blah.

Is there anything more boring?

I'm sorry. I suck. Life is getting in the way, a little bit.

I will get the carnival up in the next couple of days and hopefully I can get my mind on a couple of the Arthurian posts that I wanted to do shortly thereafter.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Bookworm Carnival Update

I'd like to post the carnival/round-up on Wednesday evening, so you still have time to put up a post if you'd like to participate.

You can send me a link to something you've already written, or if you'd like to post something new for the occasion, that works too. If you'd like an idea-starter, the discussion question that I'm throwing out is this: do you prefer the more fantastical versions of the story, or the more realistic? What role does Merlin play in your favorite version?

New deadline is noon-ish on Wednesday. Looking forward to seeing what you've got! Email me: nicola327 AT hotmail DOT com.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Thursday Thirteen, Edition 19 - Arthurian Style

The Collection
I have a shelf dedicated to Arthurian fiction. I didn't start out intending to collect the books, it just sort of happened that way. I've kept most of the ones that have come into my possession, even some that weren't particularly remarkable.

In addition to novel-style treatments of the legend, I have a few semi-academic references and a book on armor and arms, with illustrations.

Eventually, the collection bled into related legends, like Gawain and the Green Knight, and Tristan and Isolde... then further out into general Celtic mythology; books on Dierdre of the Sorrows and Bran and Brian Boru and some wonderful stuff by Morgan Llewellan.

This is a somewhat random assortment of books that are actually on my shelf at the moment, mostly novels. (Before you read on, I must warn you that looking these up on Amazon can be highly dangerous; I was checking some titles and the "people who looked at these also liked..." links are pure evil. I saw at least 3 titles that made me go OOOOOO at mere glance. Consider yourself warned!)


1. The Once and Future King – TH White
2. The Crystal Cave – Mary Stewart
3. Idylls of the King – Tennyson
4. Firelord - Parke Godwin
5. The Road to Avalon, Joan Wolf
6. Child of the Northern Spring; Queen of the Summer Stars; and Legend in Autumn - Persia Woolley
7. Mists of Avalon – Marion Zimmer Bradley
8. The Winter King; Enemy of God; and Excalibur - Bernard Cornwell
9. The Pendragon – Catherine Christian
10. Merlin - Steven Lawhead (there are at least 5 books in his Pendragon cycle, not sure why I only have the one!)
11. Guenevere: Queen of the Summer Country; Knight of the Sacred Lake; and Child of the Holy Grail - Rosalind Miles
12. The Child Queen; The High Queen; Queen of Camelot - Nancy Mackenzie
13. The Fionavar Tapestry—Guy Gavriel Kay

Keep an eye out early next week for the Bookworm Carnival post that will bring it all together!


Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others’ comments. It’s easy, and fun!

Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

View More Thursday Thirteen Participants

Monday, May 3, 2010

Marked, by Elisabeth Naughton - Review

Series Premier
Marked by Elisabeth Naughton is the beginning of Naughton's new "Eternal Guardian" series and the April installment of Dorchester's Publisher's Pledge book.

OK, there were a couple things that really bugged me about this story, so let me just get them out of the way.

1. Theron (the hero) resembles Wrath from Dark Lover so, so much-- it bugged. There were other similarities as well - like the bar where Casey works and Theron first shows up is called "XScreams," while one of the main hangouts for the BDB is "Screamers." I have this problem where I am frequently comparing all paranormal Dude-Group series to JR Ward's, and sadly the comparees often fall short.

2. The extensive liberties that the author took with traditional Greek mythology bugged me too. There was a time when I was really into Greek and Roman mythology, and while I'm certainly no expert, I wasn't crazy about the artistic license here. (But then, I didn't like that Disney gave Hercules a girlfriend, either).

Now, either of those things might be elements that other readers really liked or maybe didn't even notice, so they definitely fall into the realm of personal peeves versus a failure of skill.

Onward and Upward
On the plus side, Naughton creates an absorbing paranormal world of alternate dimensions, bickering political deities, and a growing evil threat. This first book introduces the various factions involved - the Argonauts, the daemons, and the half-breeds. The heroine is at the center of a prophecy, and its resolution in this book is a distinct stage-setter for the rest of the series.

This story weaves together several plotlines with nary a loose end, and the well-drawn secondary characters add to the enjoyment. Altogether a densely plotted, fast-paced and vividly imagined tale.

The Romance
Theron's conflict is a fairly typical romance trope: duty and honor preclude him from acting on his feelings for Casey. The twist? She's not exactly destined for another -- she is supposed to die*.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. I mean, it's one thing for a loyal soldier to offer up the woman he loves to another man, especially if it's a man the hero is loyal to. But knowing that she's supposed to die, sacrificed to their cause? Worthy though it is (salvation of the human race, etc. etc.) ? I couldn't exactly condemn him for following through on his duty, but it did give me some pause.

Otherwise, there's good chemistry between the two; the love scenes are steamy enough to take off wallpaper, and the HEA ought to elicit a satisfied sigh or two.

All in all, an entirely competent entry in the Paranormal Dude-Group Saves The World romance subgenre, and a risk-free one too, as part of Dorchester's money-back guarantee on their Publisher's Pledge books. Watch for Entwined, coming out July 27 of this year.

*there's a loophole, of course. But then you knew that, because it's a romance!

Friday, April 30, 2010

The Lusty Month of May

I've been waiting all year to post this:

I wish I could find a clip from the actual production. You can see Vanessa Redgrave do a much more seductive version if you like.

The musical Camelot, and more largely, the Arthurian legend, is one of my very favorite romances in the same way that Gone With The Wind is. I do not care that there is no HEA, I do not care about the ways in which either does not follow genre protocol. I just love them.

I'm using May Day as an excuse to kick of a week or so's worth of Arthurian related posts, which I'll cap off with a Bookworm Carnival roundup the week of May 10.

Today though, I just wanted to post about this song. As a kid, I was thrilled-- in a relatively innocent way-- by how it celebrated misbehavior, amorous or not. Of course, the lyrics also foreshadow the tragic ending: It's time to do/A wretched thing or two/And try to make each precious day/One you'll always rue but it sounds so merry and joyful that you just don't think the consequences could be serious... until they are.

Tra la! It's May!
The lusty month of May!
That lovely month when ev'ryone goes
Blissfully astray.
Tra la! It's here!
That shocking time of year
When tons of wicked little thoughts
Merrily appear!
It's May! It's May!
That gorgeous holiday
When ev'ry maiden prays that her lad
Will be a cad!

It's mad! It's gay!
A libelous display!
Those dreary vows that ev'ryone takes,
Ev'ryone breaks.
Ev'ryone makes divine mistakes
The lusty month of May!

Whence this fragrance wafting through the air?
What sweet feelings does its scent transmute?
Whence this perfume floating ev'rywhere?
Don't you know it's that dear forbidden fruit!
Tra la la la la! That dear forbidden fruit!
Tra la la la la!

Tra la! It's May!
The lusty month of May!
That darling month when ev'ryone throws
Self-control away.
It's time to do
A wretched thing or two,
And try to make each precious day
One you'll always rue!
It's May! It's May!
The month of "yes you may,"
The time for ev'ry frivolous whim,
Proper or "im."

It's wild! It's gay!
A blot in ev'ry way.
The birds and bees with all of their vast
Amorous past
Gaze at the human race aghast,
The lusty month of May.


When all the world is brimming with fun,
Wholesome or "un."


(I snipped out some of the more repetitious lines)

So anyway, I encourage you to enjoy the springtime, if you're in the Northern Hemisphere, and to revel in a little romance - a genre that celebrates love and life and lust

Just watch it on the wretched acts, 'kay? Let's try not to bring down western civilization as we know it.


Got some thoughts on Arthurian fiction? Post 'em before 5/6 and email me the link, OR check with me about guest posting. nicola327 AT hotmail DOT com.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Keri Arthur Update

Holy Twisted Endings, Batman!

At the time I wrote the Thursday Thirteen below, I had just started the 8th and most current Riley Jenson book, Bound to Shadows.

So now that I've finished it, I just needed to update with a #14: WOW! I *so* did not see that twist coming. The emotional climax to this story is an amazing set up for the series ending, Moon Sworn, releasing on May 25th.

Moon Sworn just became my most-anticipated book of 2010. I cannot wait. And I must congratulate myself on timing my read of this series so that I don't have to perch on these pins and needles for too too long. A month is juuuuuuust long enough to enjoy some delicious anticipation.

Will I be at Borders' door on May 25th? Oh yes I will. Bet on it.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Thursday Thirteen, Edition 18 - Riley Jenson

I really loved Jackie's February mini-challenge, and I really wanted to do it again this month. So I started with Keri Arthur, because I've been meaning to check her out, ever since I enjoyed her short story in the Hotter Than Hell anthology (wow, I can't believe it's been more than a year. The TBR pile is out of control, people).

The April Challenge involves a smackdown between two group author blogs: Fangs, Fur and Fey versus Deadline Dames. (There are prizes -- you should check it out!).

However, one thing that's getting in the way of me trying several of the authors on Jackie's April list is... Keri Arthur. OMG, I am SOOOO addicted to her Riley Jenson series.

Since it happened to work out this way, I thought I'd try a T-13 on the series so far. Usually I like to review a single book or a whole series, and believe me, I *will* finish this series. But I have a deadline so I figured I should just park the butt in the seat and get it done with what I've got so far. Here we go:

13 Random Thoughts about Riley Jenson
(Riley is the character, Arthur is the author)

  1. Other reviewers have used the word "unabashed" a lot when talking about Riley's werewolf sexuality, and for good reason. This element of Arthur's world is incredibly well-done -- Riley's physiological need for sex and the werewolf cultural acceptance of "casual" sex and multiple partners creates inherent conflict with her significant others, and elevates the erotic scenes from merely titillating to critical plot- and character- drivers.

  2. Riley is half werewolf and half vampire, with most of the best parts of both and few of the weaknesses, which is very cool.

  3. Yet there is still a good balance with her physical limitations -- she's strong, even supernaturally strong, but her foes are supernatural too, and it usually seems like a pretty fair fight.

  4. I love the way Arthur mines world folklore to bring nightmare characters and boogeymen to life. She puts a modern spin on the legends while respecting longstanding traditions, and the result is a suspension system for your disbelief that Mercedes-Benz would envy.

  5. Riley wears fabulous shoes -- now, I am not a designer shoe kind of girl, but it's fun to read about her specially-made stilettos with wooden heels -- the better to impale the bad vampires with.

  6. The tech: Arthur's world is slightly futuristic, maybe 20-50 years down the road. The "tech" is mostly just extensions of current technology, done in a believable way that doesn't get in the way of the story. (I am especially fond of the earlobe comm-link).

  7. Salliane, a/k/a Sal The Cow. She's a secondary character who shows up around book 4 and I love the banter between the two women. It sounds too hateful to excerpt but when you're reading it, you can hear the teasing underneath, and through several books you can see the friendship grow. I also like how impossibly efficient Sal is.

  8. Series OCD rating: 11 on a scale of 1-10. I've been so anxious to acquire the series that I accidentally bought Bound to Shadows twice. I finished #4 sooner than I planned (at, uh, about 1:00 am) so when I found myself at a happy hour right next to Barnes and Noble, I strolled over and bought #5 and 6 both, just to be sure.

  9. I like how -- most of the time-- Arthur's supernatural races are not inherently good or evil, but a little of both, just like the human race. Their individual characteristics may make them more prone to some vices or virtues, but there isn't a base assumption about the whole race.

  10. Arthur's bad guys strike a good balance between scary/bad/evil/powerful, and defeatable. This is a tough thing for paranormal authors to accomplish, and Arthur does it well, book after book.

  11. Inclusivity: Both race and sexual preferences have a role in the series. Most of the characters in the series are "color-blind." Beauty and attraction come in a wide variety of packaging, and Arthur portrays them effortlessly. A major secondary character is gay, and he and his partner are an integral part of Riley's professional team. As the m/m relationship develops over the several books, the difficulties they encounter mirror Riley's insecurities in a subtle but meaningful way.

  12. The men in this series are TO DIE FOR. I mean seriously: a horse shifter. (Think about it. Uh huh.) Alpha wolves. Suave vampires (also scary ones, but the good ones are yumm).

  13. I didn't intend to write a total rave - I had a couple of minor nitpicks - but I don't think I'm going to bother with them. As I compile my thoughts here, I'm coming to a surprising conclusion: I cannot think of a series that I have enjoyed more than this one. It's top 3 for sure, along with Meljean Brook's Guardians and Nalini Singh's Psy-Changelings. (The BDB... well, I have an irrational love for the first 4 books but as a series it's uneven at best.)

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others’ comments. It’s easy, and fun!

Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

View More Thursday Thirteen Participants

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Book Worm's Carnival, Call for Submissions

Knight of the Table Round

One of my own enduring romances is my love affair with King Arthur.

Or Lancelot.

Or Merlin.

Depending on who tells the story, anyway.

I have a whole bookshelf dedicated to Arthurian fiction, but it's been awhile since I read any new ones, so I thought it would be a great topic for a carnival.

In fact, I could go on so much about the topic, I will likely dedicate a week or so worth of posts here at Alpha Heroes leading up to May 7.

One of the guidelines for the Book Worm's Carnival hosts is to provide a discussion question for participants. (You don't have to answer the question to submit a related post). One of the fascinating things about Arthurian stories is that they can take almost any direction-- adventurous, political, romantic, fantastic. So here's my question: do you prefer the more fantastical versions of the story, or the more realistic? What role does Merlin play in your favorite version?

To participate, create your blog post on the topic and send me the link by May 7th. If you don't have a blog, you could post in a public Facebook note, or a Shelfari or GoodReads review.

send links to: nicola327 at hotmail dot com by May 7th.

If you can't think of somewhere to post where a link could be provided, you can always stop back here and post your thoughts in comments, OR, contact me ahead of time for a guest-post slot.

In the meantime, maybe this will inspire you:

For more information on the Book Worm's Carnival, check out the main carnival site -- you may see some upcoming topics you'd like to participate in, or perhaps you'd like to sign up for your own theme. Slots are available coming up in June/July, I believe.

The most recent carnival was held by Jo at Ink and Paper, with the theme High Fantasy.

Watch for the Poetry Carnival coming this week from Nicole at Linus's Blanket.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Do people ever try to get a rise out of you for reading what you read?

scene: my office
cast: me, Literarily-Inclined Co-Worker (LICW)

LICW: *picks up book from my desk* Hey, whatcha reading?

Me: That's the new Jenna Black.

LICW: *teasingly, from the front blurb* "Who says demons don't like to party?" I don't know, who DOES say that? Certainly not me, ha ha!

Me: Mmmm. *typing email*

LICW: *reading from back blurb* mumble mumble "It seems that demons have started showing up at the hot spot in alarming numbers and in the unwilling bodies of rough-trade club-goers...." Rough trade? *spluttering* Rough trade?! I haven't heard that term since... I mean, you usually only hear that in reference to, like...

Me: *sighs, stops typing* LICW, some of the books I read have adult content. You know, for grownups? *shrug* If you can't handle it....

*end scene*


Now, you could read any of that as snarky or mean, but it was mostly friendly teasing; just with that little edge of "Really? isn't this kind of thing just for idiots?" and the "no, actually; would you like to compare IQ scores?" undercurrent.

It reminded me of the Apologia Scale, which I love with so much love. I was pretty happy with the fact that I didn't get flustered or defensive but managed something that really kind of translates to a socially-acceptable, workplace-acceptable "fuck you."

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Mind Games, by Carolyn Crane - Review

Not Your Average Heroine
OMG, how much do I love Justine? She could not be more different from the popular crop of UF heroines. She is not outwardly confident and poised while nursing deeply-hidden insecurities. No, she's outwardly a mess, with a neurosis bordering on mental illness, and the book starts her down the path of discovering her deeply-hidden strengths.

Bottom Line
Despite a couple minor nitpicks, I really enjoyed the book and would recommend that fans of UF and psychological thrillers give it a try.

The Deets
I suppose this is the point where I should give you the summary or a blurb or something, but since I'm the last person in RomLand to review this, I'll just link to it. Mind Games Blurb.

Justine's EveryWoman qualities make it easy to connect with her. I enjoyed her preoccupation with fashion, understood her longing for a "normal" life -- though I have to say that when the significant other is named "Cubby," I know instantly that there isn't a chance in hell he's going to work out long term. One thing that I enjoy about UF versus genre romance is that the relationships are more ambiguous and uncertain, just like real life, even if hardly anything else in the story is like real life.

Justine is not super-woman, she doesn't carry a katana* or a stiletto in a spring-loaded forearm holster; she's not a black belt in anything. She's not going to be literally kicking any asses any time soon. Rather, she plays on the bad guys' emotional and intellectual weaknesses, and when it comes to the battle of wits, she's definitely a superhero.

Here, she's in as much physical danger as it gets -- she's tied to the bed of a serial-killer whose turn-ons include 1950s card games, custom hypodermic cocktails and dress up games (it occurs to me that You Suck at Craigslist might be an excellent source of inspiration for non-sympathetic characters...). There's really no chance that she can manage any kind of getaway in a physical confrontation, but she keeps her cool and talks the guy into a fit of paranoia, playing him like a violin. She needs to touch his body, anywhere, preferably with her hand to hit him with a psychic "zing." Here's how she manages it:
"I would have you lie down and relax your muscles, and I'd need one hand free to poke specific reflex points on the balls of your feet."

"You just want me to untie you."

I look at him like he's crazy-- a look I perfected in high school.

Can't you just see that? I used that look a lot too. I love that she's talking to this psycho killer like he's that annoying pimply kid who hangs around you in that one class, never actually asking you out or anything, just hanging around with that slightly pathetic hopefulness...

"One hand. What do you think I'd do? Honestly, one hand? I can barely focus thanks to your drugs, and you have the knife. But fine. Why should I give a crap? I'm sure you'll get your diagnosis soon enough."

Minutes later he's lying in bed next to me, the opposite way, angled so his head is at the far corner and his feet are near my shoulders. Three of my limbs are still attached to the bed frme, but I have a hand, and that's all I need.

The other big thing to love about Mind Games is that the plotting is twisted and tight; no one is exactly who they seem to be; and there are no loose ends disguised as sequel-baiting -- there is a sequel, but the reason you want to read it is because this book ends with the "end of an era," and poised on the brink of a new one. (Can't wait to see how the new partnership works out!). It's a rare author that can combine kooky and funny with dark psychological thrills, but that's exactly what you get with Mind Games.

I will say that there were a couple things that didn't work perfectly for me. Justine is infatuated with the character of the police chief, and... I wasn't. I don't know if this is just a case of chemistry between me and a character (ie, none) or if the author just didn't adequately convince me of his allure. If this had been a romance, I think it would've been a disaster for my enjoyment, but fortunately I was able to roll with it, the way you do when your best friend or sister falls head over heels with a nitwit.

The other bit I struggled with a little is the world-building. The "high-caps" - folks with over-developed, relatively familiar psychic abilities like telekinesis - was believable enough. However, the really interesting premise of Crane's trilogy is the idea that the disillusionists can "zing" their negative mental energy/anxiety into other people. I struggled with that a little bit more. Although the narrative mentioned months of training, the way Packard taught her how to "zing" seemed a bit too easy to me. And Packard's claim that only he could tell the disillusionists (the hit squad that he has trained) who is safe to "zing," was too readily accepted.

Why, oh why, the present tense? I get it for a time travel book; but I didn't see a reason that this story needed to be in present tense. Normally I find this VERY distracting and aggravating. However, the chatty, intimate voicing made the whole book seem like something your best girlfriend might relate to you over a pitcher of margaritas and it ended up being OK. I tend to think it would've worked just as well in a traditional past tense, but I guess an author has to roll with how it sounds in her head.

I think my favorite bit is near the end, and I can't give you the full context without it being spoilery, but in essence, Justine starts apologizing for [stuff that led to the story's showdown] and [characterx] tells her, "It's so amusing ... [snip] ...How little you see of your own integrity..."

And that's really what makes Justine a heroine rather than a pawn between the other players in this game.

Edited to add: OOPS, I knew that was a good line. I sort of accidentally stole it. Dirty Sexy Books review.


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