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.)

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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.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Change of Heart

You May Have Noticed...
My posting frequency is down. It's true, I've been struggling with this blog a little bit lately. Maybe it's the lingering gloomy weather. Maybe it's my impending forty-(cough cough) birthday, or my baby's kindergarten registration. I don't know.

I feel like I'm coming to one of life's crossroads. One of those times when you question whether you're doing it right, you know? Wasn't I supposed to be a CEO by now? Or at least a VP of something? Shouldn't I have an expense account? Maybe a jetpack?

And my kids. Am I doing a good job parenting them? I mean, I think I'm doing a pretty good job. But am I doing the best I can? Shouldn't I be doing more flash-card oriented games, and planning more culturally-enriched outings? Why is Spongebob such an integral part of our family?

I struggle. Most of the time, I think I'm doing OK, but you know what? I could probably do more. Do better.

Be better.

And when I think about all the things in my life that I could change, it occurs to me that one avenue of personal enrichment would be to reach for better in my personal reading. Perhaps all that potential that my teachers talked about when I was my kids' age has been siphoned off into frivolty. Into literature that doesn't matter. Literature that's fun. How can that be good for me?

There's no gain without pain, right? If I want to stretch my brainpower, I should be reading Proust and Tolstoi, right?

Perhaps the romance critics are right, though it pains me to say it. I can blame everything that's wrong with my life on the unreasonable expectations I've had -- Jayne Ann Krentz, where's my mogul? Christina Skye, I'm waiting for that Special Ops guy to fall through my roof, put me in grave danger, and then rescue me from it! (or, wait, do I really want that?) Nora Roberts, where's my quiet but damaged rock of a man, whose only redemption lies in my love? Dammit, JR Ward, WHERE'S MY HOTT ANGSTY VAMPIRE??

Clearly, the only solution is to give up romance and fantasy novels and read classic, somber literary works. Books that take weeks to finish. Books that end in death and despair. Books that cast a jaded and ironic eye on the notion of "happiness." Books that really hurt if you drop them on your foot. And smell musty.

These are the kind of books that will lower my expectations from life. After a steady diet of Thomas Hardy, Dostoyevsky and Gabriel García Márquez, spending a cold rainy weekend camping out with 120 Girl Scouts will look pretty good. Milton and Bronte will make my cubicle feel like paradise in comparison. A little Nietzche and Sartre will... well, they'd probably make me want to slit my wrists, so maybe I'll hold off on those.

It's time to put away childish things; time to be not a child in understanding. It's time to end my shallow, superficial relationship with genre fiction and reach to be a better, smarter, more serious and more fully realized human being, through better, smarter, and more serious reading.

I'm going to need a new blog name. Classic Heroes? Alpha Classics? I could use some ideas.


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