Wednesday, December 12, 2012


I should just change the name of this blog to "better late than never," because that's pretty much how I roll.

The winner, chosen at random is....


Incoming to your gmail account also. 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Contest Update!

The giveaway is official now!

I'll work on coming up with something nice to stuff in that extra little space. :-)

Most of the titles are brand new, but a few are pre-owned.  The Julia Quinn and Anna Campbell are from my personal library and are a little extra-well-loved. 

Remember to enter by commenting on the official blog post below, NOT this post. :-)

Joss Ware, Beyond the Night
Juliana Stone, Wicked Road to Hell
Pamela Palmer, A Blood Seduction
Karina Cooper, Tarnished

Donna Fletcher, A Warrior's Promise
Liz Carlyle, The Bride Wore Pearls
Cathy Maxwell, Lyon's Bride (I just finished this one and the second in the series and really liked!)
Miranda Neville, Confessions from an Arranged Marriage
Julia Quinn, Everything and the Moon
Eloisa James, The Ugly Duchess
Anna Campbell, My Reckless Surrender

Links go to my reviews on Alpha Heroes.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Avon Addict Blog Hop!

Ack!  I'm tardy! I thought my day was tomorrow {facepalm}.

If you followed the hop links here, I'm so glad you stopped by!

If you're a regular Alpha Heroes reader and didn't know about the Hop, please check out the Blog Hop Home Page at Pure Textuality (and BIG BIG thanks to Jena for organizing), and if you haven't been to the prior hoppers, I highly recommend it!

Kristi Bug
SOS Aloha
Save Your Money for Books
Toot's Book Reviews


I have to admit, I have never paid much attention to the publishers of my favorite books, and especially not before I started blogging.  Mostly I only noticed that, when a favorite author switches houses, often a large chunk of her previous titles would disappear from that listing you usually see on the leader pages inside their books.

Because of the Authors
I am reader with a lot of author loyalty.   When I find a writer I like I'll track down her backlist and stalk her new releases.  I'll check out her blog, "like" her Facebook page, and, as of this year, look for her Twitter account.

So when it turned out that some of my all-time favorite historical authors are in the Avon family, I couldn't help but jump on the Addict program: Julia Quinn, Loretta Chase, Lisa Kleypas, Lecia Cornwell, and Anna Campbell.  Not only that, but I am absolutely an old-skool romance lover and titles from Kathleen Woodiwiss, Bertrice Small and Rosemary Rogers -- Fabio covers and all -- hooked me on the genre thoroughly from the very beginning.  It's an absolute thrill to be involved with all these wonderful writers and their legacies.

Avon has a great list of contemporary and paranormal authors, but I have to say that I feel like their strength is in the Regencies.  It's a really crowded market but Avon has some of the best out there -- writers whose characters and historical texturing stand out, in my opinion.  Some of the new loves of my life in historical fiction that Avon introduced me to (in no particular order) are:

Sarah MacLean
Katherine Ashe
Sophia Nash
Cathy Maxwell
Julie Ann Long

I'll post my giveaway package when I get home but I can tell you that it will include copies from at least 4 of the 5 ladies above (I can't remember whether I got a physical book from Julie Ann Long or only ebooks) PLUS a few extra goodies.

If you've been reading here long, you may recall that I treated myself to the RT Convention in Chicago in April of this past year, which was an utterly AMAZING experience.  Exhausting, yes, but wow, so much fun.  Note, this is NOT a perk of the Addict program, but something I was planning to do anyway.

However, the wonderful people at Avon DID include me and the other Addict who attended in a  fabulous dinner event with all of the Avon authors and several of the industry folks who were there.  I didn't take any photos because I didn't want the authors to feel uncomfortable; it was clearly an event meant to give the authors a bit of a respite from the crazy fan hordes at the conference.  I sat at a table with Jeaniene Frost and Pamela Palmer and we mostly talked about monster movies.

At the con itself, there were a number of events but the Avon one blew them all out of the water for being just what I as a reader wanted -- super-well-organized, lots of great books, and access to my favorite authors.

I wouldn't want to end this post without talking about a couple of the paranormal authors that Avon publishes - Joss Ware writes one of the more unusual paranormal romance series that you're ever going to find, and I have to admit that I really love them.

The other paranormal author I wanted to highlight is Karina Cooper. There isn't much I love more than discovering the first book of a new paranormal series, and when we got an advanced ecopy of Tarnished back in March, it was one of the reasons I bought an e-reader.  This is a creepy dark steampunky UF series that you do NOT want to miss.  THEN she turns out to be local to me, so I stalked her at the Seattle area RWA book fair too.

My goodie box will definitely include something from these two favorites.  There may or may not be an author signed copy involved.

I'll upload a photo of the giveaway package probably tomorrow morning.  Comment on THIS POST for a chance to win a whole whack of fabulous Avon titles -- you have until noon on Monday, Pacific Time. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Lifecycle of a Blog

Today is the fifth anniversary of Alpha Heroes' inaugural post.  Five years!  Whoa.  If a year in a dog's life is like seven in human years, what is a blog-year like?

I think it was somewhere on Facebook that I shared the thought that this blog may be entering menopause: my posting is a lot slower than it used to be; it's erratic, subject to brief flashes of genius, random delusions of normality, and long sullen silences. 

But also, I have some benefit of experience.  I know what I'm interested in doing, and what I'm not going to bother with. I have some surprising contacts after doing this for so long and done some cool stuff, like go to RT, participate in Avon Addicts, and host pop-culture academics for Q&A.  Like that one aunt that you only see at Thanksgiving, I talk sometimes even when no one is listening.  And often, I ignore the stuff that everyone else is talking about, either because I'm not interested or I have nothing of particular interest to say. (Or I might be napping.  I'm not drooling, am I?)  I'm not as concerned with appearances-- haven't changed my template in I think, three years now, but that's because it's classy and timeless like Katherine Hepburn *pets template* yes you are

I'm pretty sure I've started to repeat myself, which is one reason I blog less - it's harder to come up with new stuff to say.  In the interest of embracing that though, please have a look at my new "Best Of" tab up top, especially if you're new-ish to Alpha Heroes.  Or if you're a loyal fan and would like to relive the good times, like the montage show at the end of a season.

So if there's an AARP for blogs, I'm pretty sure I'm eligible.  But both my grandmother and her mother lived to the century mark, so if genetics are anything to go by, I'll be doddering around here for quite some time.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Wilder, by Christina Dodd - Review

Title: Wilder
Author: Christina Dodd
Publisher: Penguin
Imprint: Signet
Series Name: The Chosen Ones
Reviewing: Advanced Uncorrected Proof provided by publisher (please note that the quotes I have pulled may differ from those in the final edition)  

Reason for Reading:
Have really enjoyed the series so far.  The characters are really diverse and I think the world-building is quite unique. I can't NOT read the series capper! 

Series Handicap: 4 on a Scale of 1 to 5
While the story makes sense on its own, it IS the series finale, and you will get much more out of it if you read at least a couple of the previous books.

My Thoughts
Dodd is hardly the first romance writer to take on the Beauty and the Beast theme (is it a theme? a trope? a fable? moral? pattern? retelling? Sigh.  I'm overthinking again, aren't I?).  And it doesn't take a genius to make the connection -- it's right there in the blurb.

Image from IMDB
However, it might be a sub-group of readers who are like me, of a certain age, and will be reminded very strongly of the 1987 TV show, Beauty and the Beast. There's a subterranean world under New York City (check); a half-man, half-beast hero (check); a guardian role for the hero (check); and of course,  the beauty who shows up to change his life.  Dodd's beast is lupine, rather than feline, but his default state of living physically somewhere between the man and beast form sets it apart from today's typical shifter/werewolf Urban Fantasy and is also similar to the TV show.

I always found the TV character a little creepy, and I think that was actually intentional on the part of the show's creators.  They wanted to show characters rising above physical looks, and that is a hollow victory if the physical oddity is a thinly-disguised other kind of beauty.

Wilder doesn't carry quite the same lofty message - Charisma, the heroine, finds Aleksandr pretty hot despite- or maybe because of- his beastly aspect.  If shifter sex scenes squick you out a little, you may want to give this one a pass, or at least skim past the scenes in question.  It didn't bug me, but Dodd's considerable skill did not quite manage to convince me of the hero's half-beast hottness.

I think the story does a good job of making the devil extremely, shudderingly slimy and awful, making us feel the magnitude of his evil - the kind where it just oozes from him and contaminates everything around him.  There's a little sidebar scene or two with one of his unwitting employees that creeped me right out (deliciously).  Aleksandr's backstory and nemesis are also deeply horrifying.  I have a particular squeamishness around medical horror and I had to sort of skim it because UGH.

This story carries the reader much further into the paranormal/unreal than we have gone before, with a side trip through the metaphysical.   Dodd makes the unusual choice of perching the devil at the top of the tallest skyscraper in the city, and the secondary critical battle actually happens in mid-air.  Meanwhile, significant transformations for the protagonists take place underground, which I think is a metaphor for the internal battles that the main characters go through.  Although there are a couple of big showy fight scenes, the important theme is finding strength from within.

"The earth cradles us, and to you she has given great gifts." Davidov's voice grew deep and lyrical. "A mere week ago you burrowed into her and she saved your life. What do you think will happen if you ignore the call? She is the goddess earth. She is powerful."

"I know. I know I should obey. I know I'm needed." Charisma whispered. "But I'm afraid."

Her hand on the Guardian's arm trembled. "Afraid of what?" he asked.

Her eyes lost their focus, and she seemed almost to be talking to herself. "It's so deep. The passages are dark and dangerous, and at the end... what is within is beautiful and terrible."

Side note: I think we really, really need a novella about Davidov. Neeeeeeeeed.

Bottom Line
This book is the series finale, and as such needed to resolve a pretty major series arc.  I think it managed that, but as sometimes happens with Dodd and other PNR writers, the romance takes a bit of a backseat to the tying up of the series.  To accomplish that, Dodd takes us pretty far over to the metaphysical, which some may find a little disorienting, or in more technical terms, a little too woo-woo.  I felt that it worked for the series setup, but some may be expecting a more corporeal story.  Even if this isn't the strongest romance in the series, if you're like me you won't be able to resist finding out how The Chosen Ones triumph over tremendous odds stacked against them.

Oh, and don't miss Dodd's current gift to fans of The Chosen Ones, a freebie Wilder epilogue.

Around the Blogosphere  
Smexy Books
The Book Pushers
Fiction Vixen
Bodice Rippers, Femme Fatales, and Fantasy  (oo, a new blog to check out)
The Good, The Bad, and the Unread

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Angel, by Tiffany Reisz - Review

Cover art obtained from publishers' website
Author: Tiffany Reisz
Publisher: Harlequin
Imprint: Mira
Series Name: The Original Sinners
Reviewing: Advanced Uncorrected e-Proof provided by publisher (please note that the quotes I have pulled may differ from those in the final edition)

The Blurb
No safe word can protect the heart...
Infamous erotica author and accomplished dominatrix Nora Sutherlin is doing something utterly out of character: hiding. While her longtime lover, Søren–whose fetishes, if exposed, would be his ruin–is under scrutiny pending a major promotion, Nora’s lying low and away from temptation in the lap of luxury.

Her host, the wealthy and uninhibited Griffin Fiske, is thrilled to have Nora stay at his country estate, especially once he meets her traveling companion. Young, inexperienced and angelically beautiful, Michael has become Nora’s protégé, and this summer with Griffin is going to be his training, where the hazing never ends.

But while her flesh is willing, Nora’s mind is wandering. To thoughts of Søren, her master, under investigation by a journalist with an ax to grind. And to another man from Nora’s past, whose hold on her is less bruising, but whose secrets are no less painful. It’s a summer that will prove the old adage: love hurts.

So, I read The Siren from Reisz earlier this year without much of a preconceived notion - I just knew that it didn't have a Happily Ever After and that one of my favorite bloggers really really liked it.  I would not really have pegged it in the erotica category, even, and said something to that effect in my review.  More that there were some erotic moments, and lots of sexual tension... but I didn't see it in that category.

Since that time, I've fangirled all over Reisz on Twitter and read some of the short stories about various characters in the world of The Siren and The Angel, and maybe I just had my expectations set differently, but yeah, The Angel totally read as erotica to me.

The Short Answer
I liked this book a lot.  It's a fun, sexy read, with a few character twists that surprised me.  I like a good Machiavellian character, who's always one step ahead of the crowd.  I felt like Angel was less of a breakout book than Siren and fit more easily into genre expectations.  Perhaps less challenging to the reader.  For those looking for a sweet, satisfying romance, they'll find that too, but perhaps not where expected.  A favorite quote:

The sound of falling water roused Michael from his sleep.  Rain pelted the roof above him and the window next to him.  Usually he loved the sound of rain, especially a morning rain in the summer.  But now his first thought upon waking was of Griffin on his motorcycle, wet roads and screeching tires.

So this is love, he decided. Love was fucking terrifying.

The Series
Have you ever been part of a crowd, at school or at a job, where everyone was so tight-knit that when you broke up with one partner, you kind of ended up with someone else in the same crowd, who maybe was going with your best friend the month before, and then there was gossiping, and who's with who this week, and it either implodes into a huge mess or you end up with some of the best friends you could ever imagine?  This is the kind of world that Reisz is constructing in her Original Sinners series.  As a series concept, I think it's somewhat unique-- it seems that each player will get a book that's more or less focused on him or her, but it doesn't look like we can necessarily expect a Happily Ever After in each one.  It's a bit more open-ended than the usual romance series, and more of an ensemble cast.  I like it.

Some Stuff
I don't get Wes.  Maybe I will eventually, but I don't right now.  I don't really get Nora's obsession with him, and it does feel like an obsession rather than a love story.  Hrm.

There's one scene that involves blood play.  It raised my eyebrows a little, and was an interesting reveal into the relationship... but some may find it off-putting.

Stuff I Liked
Beyond the sexy sexy-times, I like the way the plot twisted and turned.  I was surprised a number of times, which is always fun.  There are a couple of threads in this book - Michael's coming of age and falling in love; and a reporter's investigation of Søren pending his promotion to Bishop.  In between, we see the friendship between Nora and Griffin, and the role that Søren plays with them all. Of all the threads, I think that only Michael's love story really satisfies the strict definition of story, as I recall from my limited literary training: "in which a character undergoes a significant change." Which makes sense, given the title.

But the other threads are more about enhancing what we know about about the ensemble cast, in particular, Nora and Søren. It's a different kind of world-building.  In  a sense, the backdrop of this story is Søren's biography, pieced together mosaic-style from bits contributed from all the different characters.  His character begins to take shape for the reader through the eyes of Griffin, Michael, and the reporter, while we get a little bit more insight to Nora and his history. At the end of The Siren, I didn't understand why Nora was going back to Søren, but I also thought that was deliberate on the part of the author.  She could have made me see it, but chose not to; it's part of the "series arc," I think.  I feel that Søren as a character is still incomplete for me, still shadowy and mysterious and somewhat one-dimensional, but I'm willing to live with that for now.

Stuff That Made Me Think
"BDSM" is an alphabet soup, really.  Bondage/ Domination/ Submission/ Sadism/ Masochism.  That double-S is a tricky one.

Without delving too uncomfortably into my own predilections, I will share that I've read pretty widely in the BDSM category, lonnnnnnnnnng before the 50 Shades phenomenon.  Like, more than 20 years long.  I certainly don't claim to have read everything out there, especially these days (who could keep up? erotica is positively BOOMING --or should I say banging?-- with the advent of e-reading).  But something that stands out to me - I have rarely seen a story with a sympathetic sadist. Dominants, yes, but there's an important difference.  Doms are usually portrayed as motivated and excited by the power exchange, by the trust handed to them, and by an atavistic possessive desire.  Much of it stops short of the psychology of inflicting pain.

It's hard to feel good about a character who gets off on causing pain to someone else. A masochist craves pain. There are some physiological explanations for this: endorphins, variance in sensitivity thresholds. Much of BDSM erotica has a way of downplaying the fact that it's actually pain, and not just acute pleasure involved.  But it seems to me that the eroticism of sadism is purely psychological, and it's just hard to wrap my head around it without judgment.  I'm trying though.

I think this is what makes Søren controversial.  I'm finding myself rethinking some comfortable ruts, and it's a pretty rare author that can do that.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Riveted, by Meljean Brook - Review

Author: Meljean Brook
Publisher: Penguin
Imprint: Berkley Trade
Series Name: The Iron Seas
Reviewing: Advanced Uncorrected e-Proof provided by publisher (please note that the quotes I have pulled may differ from those in the final edition)

Reason(s) for Reading:
Because I love Meljean Brook.  I requested the eARC from Berkley and was pleased that they provided one for me. (In fact, my reaction may have included high-pitched squealing sounds unbecoming of a dignified person such as myself.  Possibly.)

Series Handicap Factor
While this is the third book of the series, I would say there is  no dependency at all on previous books for anything about the characters.  I think the world-building stands on its own but it's a bit harder to say since I do have the background information from other books already in my head.  Aside from a very brief mention of The Blacksmith and Archimedes Fox, this could easily be the first book of the series or a stand-alone.  Riveted seemed like a faster, somewhat less dense read than The Iron Duke. As a refresher, the series premise is that the Mongol Horde overran Europe and Britain about four centuries ago, and introduced nanoagents in their conquered territories.  The nanoagents provide supplemental strength and the ability to attach mechanized prosthetics to those who are "infected," but when the infected are in range of a radio control tower, the agents can control their behavior to an extent - normally the towers suppress emotions, but can incite Frenzies, where the infected copulate madly in order to ensure new generations of labor for The Horde.  In the areas where the Iron Seas stories have taken place so far, the towers have mostly not been in operation, but the fear of external control remains.

The Premise
Iceland! Ship-swallowing mechanized whale! Volcanoes! A centuries-old secret women-only town! Runes! Victorian sociopath villain with lobotomized genius father!  If you're not intrigued, then you have no sense of adventure and should probably go read a tax manual or something.

"I've never understood it.  That is always the first thing someone asks: Where are you from. Not 'What do you like?' or 'What do you believe?' or even 'What is your mother like?' which all have more bearing on the person I am.  And if I don't tell them where I'm from, they try to guess. Even though there are other people with my color spread all over the New World, they assume that I'm Liberé-- until they hear me speak. They know by my accent that I'm not black Irish, and not from Manhattan city-- though that is partially correct-- and not from Lusitania or Castile or the disputed territories. It drives them mad, as if to know me they need to know where I am from."
This rant from Annika - and it's just the beginning of the rant, mind you - is terribly ironic because the secret Icelandic community that Annika grew up in informs her whole character: what she knows, what she doesn't know, what she thinks she knows.  She is on a quest to find her sister Källa, who was wrongly exiled from their town of Hannasvik.  The crime? Carelessly lighting a beach fire which resulted in the town narrowly missing being discovered by outsiders.

Keeping their origins a secret is the "prime directive" for any citizen (or former citizen) traveling in the outside world.  This puts Annika in direct conflict with David, who has made a deathbed promise to his mother to return to her homeland.  Only problem is, he has no idea what or where that might be, until he overhears Annika and connects her accent with his dead mother's.

In the meantime, David's coincidental occupation as a vulcanologist aligns his path with Annika's: on an airship bound for Iceland.

The Plot
Partway into the story, the airship makes a terrible discovery: an entire town of dead, humans and animals, with no evident signs of violence or illness.  As Annika, David, and the airship crew become tangled up in the happenings on the ground, Annika and David are thrown together more and more despite their uncertainty about each other and their own feelings. I've focused this review on the romance, but the monomaniacal scheme they unravel is more than a little bit epic in scale and larger-than-life characters.

Oh, The Romance!
I like urban fantasy just fine.  And I don't mind if a book can't seem to make up its mind whether or not to be a romance in the genre-defined sense.  I recall that some readers felt that the romance took a backseat to the steampunky gearworks of The Iron Duke.  Now, I didn't have a problem with that.  But readers who want romance in the front seat will find their wish granted in a big way with Riveted. Right from the beginning, this entire book is absolutely permeated with the longing and uncertainty and thrills and insecurity of that first big romance.

Annika's world view is so unique.  Growing up in a town of only women, where children are brought into the fold either by adoption or temporary heterosexual affairs, she is very unknowledgeable about men, anatomically and emotionally.  This is a common historical romance trope ("it was so big! it would never fit!") but turned on its head in classic Meljean style. When women leave her hometown and do not return, it's usually because they prefer men and/or have male children that they don't want to leave behind.  For Annika, this is not something she views with scorn or judgement, but even more natural-seeming to her are the lifelong two-women couples she has grown up with.

David is also unusual.  He's not what you'd call an alpha male. He has several mechanical prosthetics - both legs, one hand, and one eye. While the fellow on the cover up there is pretty cool-looking, he is not how I picture David: the lenses are attached to his skull, not bound on with a leather band. His hand is a steel hand, not a wimpy plate laying over flesh. (Also, hello, it's ICELAND. All that bare skin on the cover made me giggle a little).  None of these attachments have made him particularly successful with the ladies, as they - and the nanoagents required to make them work - are not common where he lives and travels.  His forays into sexual experimentation have been unsuccessful and left him with a few misconceptions.

While we're on the topic of appearances, I have to say this is one place where the narration failed me a bit.  There were several references to both Annika's and David's brown skin, black hair, (Annika's curly, David's straight) and the ethnicity of the name "Kentewess." I felt like I was supposed to be able to peg both of them into an ethnic "look," but I was a little confused on what it would be. Hispanic? Arabic? Not African, because of the straight hair and "aquiline" nose.  "Kente" sounded African to me, or British, but "-wess" ? Maybe a derivation of the German "weiss" ? "-wass" could be Swiss or German or Welsh or Cornish, but I had to google to find that out, and the brown skin didn't fit.  And for Annika, the description came a bit later in the story-- between her name and speaking Norse in the first couple of pages, I imagined her blonde and Nordic at first.  A small distraction.

The really touching thing about David and Annika's romance is how much innocence and naivete they both bring to it.  Annika believes that it will take years to truly fall in love, and that only then will she really desire a full consummation (to put it circumspectly).  Their love story has the nostalgic feel of a First True Love, with tentative gestures and misunderstood reactions. 
Extending a friendship was all well and good, but Annika knew that her attraction to him could easily deepen, she *knew* that a part of her longed for more... and he didn't. Continuing their acquaintance would only serve as fodder for her silly daydreams. For her own sake, she should end this now.

She couldn't find the words to do it. Each one seemed to catch in the ache beneath her breast and refuse to surface. Perhaps they didn't have to. David seemed to take her silence as a response and looked away from her with a weary nod.

Her throat tightened. This wasn't what she wanted, either.
Fortunately, the forced proximity of their journey and adventure prevents them from giving up too easily.

Bottom Line:
Annika and David's romance is full of the tender innocence of first love, and the adventurous backdrop will remind readers of an old-school Jules Verne tale. There's also a message for current social politics here too, giving the story all the more relevance. I loved the first two books in this series, but I think this is the best one yet.

Around the Blogosphere:
Dear Author
Smexy Books
Fiction Vixen
Clear Eyes, Full Shelves (a new favorite!)
Happily Ever After

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Blog Tour Stop: The Ugly Duchess, by Eloisa James - Review

Author: Eloisa James
Publisher: Harper Collins
Imprint: Avon Books
Reviewing: Advanced Uncorrected e-Proof provided by publisher (please note that the quotes I have pulled may differ from those in the final edition)

Reason(s) for Reading:
In this case, there were several.  1) I received the e-ARC from the Avon Addicts program; 2) Trish from TLC Book Tours asked me if I would like to be part of their tour (yes); 3) Eloisa James is on my list of reliable reads; and 4) I have a weakness for fairy tale romances.  So with all that going for it, it jumped up to the top of my Read-and-Review list.

Blurb (from Goodreads):
How can she dare to imagine he loves her…when all London calls her The Ugly Duchess ?

Theodora Saxby is the last woman anyone expects the gorgeous James Ryburn, heir to the Duchy of Ashbrook, to marry. But after a romantic proposal before the prince himself, even practical Theo finds herself convinced of her soon-to-be duke's passion.

Still, the tabloids give the marriage six months.

Theo would have given it a lifetime…until she discovers that James desired not her heart, and certainly not her countenance, but her dowry. Society was shocked by their wedding; it's scandalized by their separation.

Now James faces the battle of his lifetime, convincing Theo that he loved the duckling who blossomed into the swan.

And Theo will quickly find that for a man with the soul of a pirate, All's Fair in Love—or War.
Multiple Personalities
James keeps calling Theo "Daisy." This is discussed in the book, the whys and wherefores; and there is even a comment along the lines of how he doesn't really like calling his wife by a masculine name. I've read other books with similar multiple names and nicknames but for some reason I kept getting jarred and confused by the Theo/Daisy switches.  I don't know why.  Maybe I'm just getting old.  Maybe if the nickname had been something derived from Theodora to make the association easier... anyway. It was something of a problem for me.

Excruciating Moment
One of my favorite analyses of the elements of a romance is from Joanna Chambers and Jessica "Tripler" from 2009: Excruciating Moments in Romance. I have referred to it before, and here I am doing it again.  I personally differentiate it from the romance convention of the "Black Moment," which is more specifically defined as closer to the end of a romance, when it seems that there is no way the hero and heroine can make their way back to each other.  The Excruciating Moment will typically happen early in the book to set up the conflict between the two characters-- and while there are very few romances without some sort of Black Moment, the Excruciating Moment is most typical of character-driven romances featuring internal conflict, and not every romance uses it.

I'm taking a little time to set this up because the Excruciating Moment in The Ugly Duchess is just so, so, very.... excruciating. On the surface, it's not particularly unique to romance - hero finds himself needing to marry heroine for pragmatic reasons - there's a dowry involved, as well as family scandal to avoid - and deceives the heroine into believing it is strictly a love match.  We all know that the truth hangs like the Sword of Damocles over their romance, and when it falls? Yeah, that's the moment.  As I said, this is a pattern that isn't hard to find in romance, but it's James' particular talent with characterization that makes it Excruciating.  With a capital "E."  Honestly, I had to put the book down a couple of times as the scene approached, I was dreading it that much.

And then it was worse.  I can't even excerpt it for you, because it goes on and on, the way the most humiliating thing that ever happened to you went on and on and you thought it would never end.  Like that.  And finally:
In the weeks and years to come, when she looked back she identified that as the precise moment when her heart broke in two.  The moment that separated Daisy from Theo, the time Before, from the time After.

In the time Before, she had faith. She had love.

In the time After... she had the truth.
Oh.  Ouch.

A large part of the book takes place while the two are separated. Theo rescues the estate from near-ruin and to the ton, she flips the bird [see what I did there??] by becoming a trend-setter in the way that only someone who is powerful, wealthy, and more than a little contemptuous of society can do.  I really enjoyed the details of both of Theo's endeavors.

Eloisa James thoroughly exercises the duckling/swan theme throughout the book, with direct and indirect references.  Here, at Theo's culminating social coup:
The woman poised at the top of the stairs, looking down at all of them with a little smile that indicated absolute self-confidence, looked like a goddess who happened to come down to earth by way of Paris.  She radiated that sort of ineffable glamour that simply cannot be learned...

...[SNIP]... there was something magnificent about the countess tonight, almost hypnotic. The pièce de résistance of her costume was a formal cape that gleamed under the light, soft and lustrous, almost as if it were made of fur.

...[SNIP]... It sprang out from Lady Islay's shoulders and then swirled to the ground, managing to look surprisingly light. The inside was lined with a gorgeous rosy silk, and the outside...

"What on earth is that made of?" Claribel couldn't help asking as she reached out to touch it.

"I can guess," Cecil put in, the thread of amusement in his voice even stronger.

"Oh can you?" Theo remarked. "Then tell me this: am I being altogether too obvious?"

Claribel hadn't the faintest idea what she meant. But Cecil, clever Cecil, obviously did, because he bellowed with laughter.

"Swansdown," he said. "Gorgeous swansdown, and every man and woman in this room has taken note of your swanlike triumph."
At the same time, the hero takes a journey of his own.  In the opening days of the book, he is a mere 19 years old, and known as one of the prettiest young men of his day.  He is, in fact, mostly decorative, as his attempts to understand the estate business illustrate.  The author here hints at a Regency version of ADHD:
By the time the meeting was drawing to a close, James felt like jumping out the library window and running into the street, screaming.  He was an idiot who would never be able to manage his own estate because he couldn't bear thinking or talking about numbers.  As Reede prosed on, his entire body tensed with the fervent wish to get the hell out of the library.

...[SNIP] It wasn't that he couldn't do mathematics or accounting; he'd learned both in school.  But his concentration constantly slipped in the face of such calculations, and he found himself thinking about not selling horses for profit but about the ways he planned to repair the stables. 

...[SNIP]... The truth of it was that he was a fool who was really only good for scything, because if he didn't get into the fresh air and exercise hard every day, he couldn't control his bloody, bloody temper.
When James returns to Theo, he is no longer an elegant, lean, handsome dandy.  Seven years at sea have left him scarred, tattooed, and far bulkier than when he left.  This might sound appealing to a modern reader (um, yeah...) but the facial tattoo in particular puts him beyond the pale of Regency society, even as Theo conquers it.  Eloisa James executes these two arcs with perfect symmetry, giving us the fairy tale's moral about "judging by appearances" forward and backward.

Social commentary aside, it's just good fun watching these two reconnect.  As tragic and serious as their separation was, their reunion is painful and yet the author threads the scenes liberally with humor and human-ness.  While James' whole new life is dangerous and reckless, it isn't until he encounters an especially close brush with death that he decides to give up privateering and return to his wife and estate.

Both of them have grown up and overcome certain insecurities, but to some extent, the way they accomplished that was to construct a public facade.  Especially for Theo, allowing the other behind that facade, allowing that vulnerability, was a very difficult process indeed, and makes for a wonderful reading experience.  This is a couple who work long and hard for their happily ever after, both alone and together.  By the end, you'll feel that no fairy-tale couple ever deserved it more.

It's been a pleasure to be a part of TLC's book tour for The Ugly Duchess.  Please check out other stops along the way at TLC's homepage for The Ugly Duchess Blog Tour.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Lord of Fire and Ice - Review

Author: Connie Mason and Mia Marlowe
Pub Date: July 2012 (currently available)
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Imprint: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Reviewing: Advanced Uncorrected Proof provided by publisher

Vikings, Mmmmm
Ever since my adolescence when I snarfed up everything Johanna Lindsey  ever wrote, I confess that I've had a little thang for a good Viking romp.  In the category of "things I've been meaning to do," some kind of Viking-related feature on Alpha Heroes has been on the list for awhile, which is one reason I requested this ARC, provided by Sourcebooks. (It's also the reason for the lateness of the review, because my spark of an idea for a "feature" never seemed to actually catch fire. Oh well...)

The blurb:
His Duty is to Fulfill Her Every Desire...

Brandr the Far–Traveled has seen the world and a good many of the beautiful women in it. His bed skills are the stuff of steamy legend, his sword sings death, and he can call up fire from thin air. No one in a hundred years ever thought he could be enslaved through trickery and forced to wear the iron collar of a thrall—least of all him.

Until All She Desires is Him...

Katla the Black isn't just called so for her dark, silky hair. His new mistress has a temper as fierce as a warrior's and a heart as icy as the frozen North. But inch by delicious inch, Brandr means to make her melt...
A Little Bit Paranormal
I've noticed a trend in some of the books I've read lately to include just a trace of magic or paranormal element, and I think my reaction in general to this is "meh." I'd really rather have a full-out fantasy novel where the magical elements are critical to the plot and character, than have it just added decoratively on top of an otherwise "straight" contemporary or historical romance. This is strictly a matter of taste; I'm sure there are lots of readers who see a dash of paranormal as just extra fun. For me, I find it a little distracting and in some cases, I think it just provides kind of an "easy out" of plotting pickle or a shortcut to character building.

There are a couple of paranormal elements in Lord of Fire and Ice.  Brandr is a "fire mage," able to call up fire with his fingertips and flare or light fires in his immediate vicinity.  I am kind of puzzled about the reason for this, because as far as I can tell, it played no significant part in the book - maybe two scenes that could easily have been written a different way.  Second, Katla and other characters mention the inn matki munr, which translates as "mighty passion." In LFI, this implies a telepathic bond between the characters, especially in times of duress. I'm a little bit of a mythology nerd so I went poking around to try to find out if this is an invention of the Mason-Marlowe team, or had any other roots.  I did find a page (see verse 94) with sagas and their translations that included the phrase and the "mighty passion" translation, but no mention of any magical connotations. Lastly, the bad guys call up some extra power via the worship of some of the "old gods."

There's nothing wrong with the inclusion of any of those elements, but to me they did not really seem critical to the plot or character, and were not developed enough to make it seem like I was in a truly magical world.

Paranormal elements aside, I did think that the behavior of the characters was consistent with what I know about the period. One of the values that sets northern European medieval characters apart from their British or Roman counterparts, is that outsmarting your opponent through cunning or trickery is not considered cowardly or dishonorable. Mind you, the Norsemen love a good thumping as much as anyone, but they also have heroes that are sneaky and tricky, and being the victim of such a plan is pretty much on par with a defeat in a battle of arms.

So I thought it was interesting that as the book opens, we see the hero Brandr as having been tricked into slavery, more or less, and even though he could have easily escaped, he felt honor-bound to earn his way out of it, rather than overpowering his new owners or running away.

The language of the book is very simplistic to my ear, short sentences and paragraphs, and vocabulary that seems to register a little below a typical regency romance by comparison.  I assume this is deliberate, to put the reader in mind of a less sophisticated society and perhaps avoid more obvious anachronisms.  There were a couple of times where the characters use the phrase "a finger-width" where a modern story would say "inch" that seemed kind of awkward or labored to me, as if there was a search-and-replace done where other words like "bit" or "scrap" might have done as well.

I doubt this book was ever conceived to be strictly historically accurate, so it all boils down to how well the authors enable your suspension of disbelief.  Overall I think the story works on that level, and if you're expecting a quick, fun, fluffy read, LFI delivers just fine. 

The Plotline
In a nod to traditional fairy tales, the external bits of the plot involve Katla's brothers convincing her that she needs to find a husband.  For their part, they will present three acceptable candidates (all of whom have something to offer the brothers as well).  I quite enjoyed this little homage, and the scenes with the competing suitors were more complex than one might expect.

One of the suitors has an ulterior motive, and is linked to a larger story arc involving a nasty villain and some vengeful gods.  While this storyline worked OK for me, it was just OK. I think a more character-driven plot with the competitive suitors, Katla's brothers, and Brandr's hometown could have carried it just fine and might have engaged me more.

The Love Story
This is the important part, right?  Right. One thing to understand about this book, I think, is that it rides the border between romance and erotica, just going by the smexy scene count.  I have no complaints with these scenes (she said, demurely).  The tension between these two is very nice, and I rather liked that it was Katla holding out for true love.  Here's a little window into Katla's character:
Brandr's hands had driven her to such madness, she was helpless before him.  He'd seen her as no one in her whole life had.

Needy. Weak. Vulnerable.

Osvald [her deceased husband] hadn't wakened that deep hunger in her, never made her lose her calm reserve.

She dared not allow it to happen again.
Contradictorily, she still longs for the mythical inn matki munr, the great passion, so intimate that the bonded pair can speak to each other telepathically.  The story of the romance here is really the story of Katla allowing herself to become vulnerable and to accept Brandr, love, and help into her life.  She's spent a lifetime compensating for inadequate men in her life - taking care of her steading and its dependents, while her erstwhile husband and brothers serve more to drag her down than to help her.

So really, she has these two contradictory dreams - to be fully independent and invulnerable, and to find the inn makti munr.  It doesn't seem apparent to her that they are incompatible states, at least not in the beginning.

I enjoyed Brandr tremendously.  If he has a flaw, it might be that he's something of a male Mary Sue - he makes few mistakes, behaves honorably and cleverly, and somehow manages to serve as thrall without giving up an aura of personal power.  This scene, very early in the book, sets the stage nicely for how he deals with his new mistress:
She had to show this man his place and quickly.  "I saved you from the gelding knife this night.  You will show your appreciation by kissing my foot."

She lifted her nightshift to ankle height and presented one to him, toes pointed.

*That should wipe the smug expression from his face.*

He shrugged, bent over, and grabbed her ankle. Then he yanked her upside down. Her bottom took a glancing blow on the floor before she found herself hanging precariously, her foot level with is mouth when he stood back upright.

...[SNIP]... He glared down at her and bared his teeth in a wolf's smile. "Want me to kiss anything else, princess?"
Obedient, but clever and not subservient in the least (although I can't help but think he might have bashed her head in with this move - this is a problem I have when I start getting analytical....) Anyway, Brandr is a pretty simple guy - he thinks he and Katla will knock along fine in life, and sets about to thoroughly seduce and keep her in a fairly linear-- and successful-- way.  I wouldn't say there is tremendous character growth for him, but since he's such a fun character to begin with, I'll forgive it.

That scene pretty much hooked me, and if it hooks you too, I can recommend the story for a fun, hot romp, Viking-style.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Avon Addicts: Is It YOUR TURN?

Coming soon, I will post a navel-gazing post reflecting on what being an Avon Addict has meant to me, as a reader and a blogger.  I'm still noodling a little bit on that.

In the meantime though, my tenure and that of my 24 partners in the first generation of Avon Addicts, is drawing to an end.  It's been a really wonderful program to participate in.  And in the spirit of sharing the love, which is what the program is all about, I wanted to let my readers know that while MY time is ending, Avon is accepting applications for a new wave of Addicts.  So if you are interested, I encourage you to apply!

Here is the link you will need: Avon Addicts Application

And best of luck to you!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Blog Tour Stop: The Bride Wore Pearls, by Liz Carlyle

Author: Liz Carlyle
Publisher: Harper Collins
Imprint: Avon Books
Reviewing: Advanced Uncorrected Proof provided by publisher and TLC Book Tours

Liz Carlyle is one of those ready, steady authors that I can always count on for solid read. In recent years, I've neglected a few of these authors, seduced away by vampires and shifters and shiny new faces in the Regency scene.  (I should say that technically, this is not a Regency as it takes place in the early Victorian period.  But in most ways, it fits into a Regency-style historical).

So I was more than willing to pick up her latest and see how she's holding up against all the other temptations on the scene, and it's safe to say, "very well indeed."


Beneath the elegant façade of Victorian high society, the mysterious men of the St. James Society play only by rules of danger and desire.

Rance Welham, the Earl of Lazonby, has survived scandal and disgrace, even evading the Queen’s justice at the end of a hangman’s rope. Now he’s about to gamble everything on something far more dangerous—desire.

An exotic and elegant beauty, Lady Anisha Stafford fled her native India to seek refuge within London’s secretive St. James Society. But accepting protection from someone called a cold-hearted killer is a double-edged sword . . . especially when he’s the most intriguing man Anisha has ever laid eyes upon.

In a world where treachery abounds, no one can be trusted—and no true passion can be denied. Together, these two tempestuous souls will risk their lives for a love that could redeem them . . . or destroy everything they hold dear.
The Characters
Now, I've seen some tortured Earls in my time, but Lazonby has really been through it.  Years in Newgate, years in the French Foreign Legion, and two dates with the hangman-- this is not your garden variety "Boo hoo, daddy issues," or "boo hoo, some girl was mean to me once" sort of baggage.  On top of his own trials, the whole affair ruined the health of both his parents - so he has this functional-family background and a layer of guilt because of that, too. I really liked the way Carlyle made him so irresistibly, superficially charming, with the contrast of his underlying broken and jagged edges.

Anisha is also pretty atypical.  Her father is Scots, her mother Indian, and she was raised largely by her mother's family.  When her husband passes away, she packs up her sons and teenage brother in order to be under the wing of her eldest brother (who is curiously absent in this book, but it's a reasonable motivation for the move).  She understands the value to her sons of co-existing in British society, but she is also independent-minded and conforms only to the point that it makes sense to her:
Anisha turned, her spine elegantly aligned, her breasts still beautifully high amidst the untidy tendrils of tumbled-down hair.  "I do not own a corset," she said simply.


She smiled faintly. "I find them unhealthful," she added. "They restrict one's vital life forces - one's *prana* - and that hampers *citta*--"

"Ah," he said. "Which is...?"

Anisha paused to think. "Well, awareness of life," she said. "Consciousness."
I liked Anisha a lot, most of the time.  She's forthright, pragmatic, sensual, and has priorities I can understand.  She's got a strong touch of the exotic to her character which overall I liked, but there were times when I felt like the Indian cultural pieces were laid on a bit heavily.  It was consistent with her character and did serve to underline her torn-between-two-cultures conflicts; I just felt that it was a tad awkward or lecture-feeling at times.

Falling in Love
One of my favorite things about reading romance are the moments when the characters connect. When they feel that thing that makes it love, makes it a romance.  When I'm flagging a book for my favorite bits, the front third is usually crowded with these little marks, little moments, while the rest of the book is far more bare.  Don't get me wrong, I want to live through the conflicts and the resolutions, too, but oh, those little moments... they're why I read romance.  Here's my favorite from this one:

In Africa he had lived a life sunk so deep in licentiousness that he was ashamed to remember much of it; lain so long and so often in a drug-hazed stupor with God only knew who, he had become more animal than man.  But in that moment of perfect innocence beneath the arbor, he felt Anisha's need wash through him like a pure, clean thing.  He believed for a moment that he was that different man; forgot for a few fleeting moments the accusations that had ruined him.
Yeah.  I love that.

The Plot
There's a mystery here, surrounding Lazonby's past and how the son of an Earl came to be tossed into Newgate. I really liked the way the clues unfolded and the way Anisha's interactions with the various informants entwined with the emotional development between her and Lazonby.  There were times when the romance sagged or stagnated a little bit, but the mystery plot kept me turning pages until the hero and heroine connected again.  I think the start-and-stop aspect of their relationship was intentional and felt natural, like the way a real-life relationship might go, but the "stop" bits can drag a little.  Thanks to a tight, exciting plot, this didn't turn into a major problem.

Other Stuff
There's a bit of a paranormal thread running through this book, and whole chunk to do with a secret society, that didn't honestly seem to add very much to this particular story.  I got the sense that it was more important for other related stories.  I wouldn't go so far as to say it was intrusive or distracting, but it felt a little bit unnecessary. There was also a fairly large cast of secondary characters that I mostly enjoyed but there did come a point where I felt a little bit like "OK, that's enough other people! who are those twins and why are they here and do I really care about the fiancee's elderly Italian aunt?"

Bottom Line
Other than a few nitpicks, this is a solid, lovely historical romance, with unusual characters, a tight twisty plot, and an emotional connection that resonates.

Please check out the Blog Tour Homepage for more reviews and information.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Blade Song, by J. C. Daniels - Review

Author:J.C. Daniels
Publisher Name:Shiloh Walker, Inc
Imprint:INscribe Digital
Reviewing:eARC from NetGalley

There's a New Series In Town
I have to admit, I'm kind of a series junky.  I blame Nancy Drew and the Stratemeyer Syndicate.  There's a certain comfort, or security, in knowing that I can visit my favorite characters again in another book, even if this one is done.  I'm not much of a re-reader, usually, so I think series loyalty is sort of my version of re-reading.

Even so, I confess that sometimes I feel a little fatigued by  the number of "my" series that are up into the 6th, 12th, or 20th book.  With series-arcs in play, that's a lot of details to keep track of.

So of course, the cure is... to start a new series!  OK, well, yeah, on the one hand, that doesn't really solve the detail-tracking problem.  But on the other, it's really fun to dive into a fresh new series AND have it turn out to be as good as this one.

Alter Egos
It's no secret that J. C. Daniels is a pseudonym for Shiloh Walker, author of quite a number of different series.  Writing everything from fairy-tale-based paranormal fantasy to erotica to "straight" (ie, no magic) romantic suspense, Ms. Walker is one of the hardest-working authors around.  I was lucky enough to spend some time with her at RT in April and enjoyed her so much -- sharp, intelligent, funny, and pulls no punches with her opinions and commentary.

What I knew about her writing before I requested this ARC: 1) it's entirely brilliant, and 2) some of her stories appeal to me a lot, and some of them do not.  The ones that do not are simply a matter of what kind of stories I like and not about her ability to execute.  Her romantic suspense stories sometimes edge into violence of the sort and extent that I don't enjoy reading about.

My brain is a quirky place though.  When you move all that violence into a paranormal universe, it bothers me a lot less.  Or in a different way.  It's like I'm suspending my disbelief from a different hook or something.  So I was very interested to learn that Ms. Walker was working on an urban fantasy heroine, because here is a world where I can throw away my baggage and enjoy the ride.

Brave New World
And what a ride this was.  This new universe that Daniels brings us is the "kitchen sink" sort of world, where vampires, witches, werecreatures, and anything your imagination could conjure up, have been outed in the world.  A little reminiscent of Nancy Holzner's world, one of the key factors is the uncertain state of citizenship for paranormal.... people. Creatures? You see the dilemma.  In this book, it was something of a teaser, playing a part in the plot and adding to the tension, but I could see how that thread might become a major driver in the series arc or arcs.

I have to say, I love, love, love the mythology of the aneira:
My sword arm is mighty.
I will not falter.
I will not fail.
My aim is true.
My heart is strong.
Descended from the legendary Amazons (the ones from the Hercules myth, not the ones from South America), Kit is only a half-breed, and her gifts are subtle, seemingly weak. From a childhood of brutal training and emotional abuse, Kit has made the most of her human strengths too-- muscular toughness, persistence, self-reliance, unshakeable loyalty to those who are lucky enough to win it, and a sort of preternatural cleverness for riddles (I think it must be very hard to write this as a character's true skill and not authorial intrusion- we have to believe she really figures this stuff out). She also has a very handy trick with weapons. I think that a fun part of the series will be to watch Kit come into her own, and really understand what she is capable of. An interesting twist is that the aneira themselves are not widely known about, and Kit can "pass" for Muggle... er, non-paranormal. And yes, I think the echoes of racism and segregation and civil rights are interesting and intentional.

Blade Song is urban fantasy, and there was a very clear triangle set up in the beginning with two powerful men. I'd like to say something about patterns and UF versus PNR but I think it's a little spoilery, so I'll just say, Daniels surprised and thrilled me with the bold strokes she takes with her characters and the world's power structure.  It's action packed, so the UF purists should enjoy it, but there's a lot of romance and a lot of heat in this book too.

One problem that Kit has is that she doesn't trust easily, and rarely accepts or asks for help.  So this little snip is particularly significant, and moving too:
He pulled me against him and I went, sinking against his chest. I could lean on him, I realized. I really could. And it wasn't so bad to do it.
This is an amazing moment for an independently-inclined woman who's falling in love, and you don't have to have magical powers to recognize it, to feel it resonate.

I haven't said much about what this book is about - you can find the blurb here.  I think Kit is not far off of a modern-day, grown up Nancy Drew though - she's a gun for hire, solving mysteries and finding lost things - served up with grown-up emotional entanglements, against a gritty paranormal backdrop in place of the idyllic River Heights.

To sum up, I loved this series starter - it's got fresh mythology, strong women, powerful men, and a complex JengaTM -style socio-political structure that's bound to have plenty of plot twists just waiting to be discovered. I think fans of Kim Harrison, Ilona Andrews, and Keri Arthur will love this new series as much as I did.

Around the Blogosphere
Paperback Dolls
That Bookish Girl
Happily Ever After
That's What I'm Talking About
The Book Tart (side note, I sort of met/noticed this blogger at RT and she just impressed the heck out of me with her brilliant presence, and sharp commentary. I'm a fan, and now I've finally found her blog, YAY!)

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Big Release Day!

Gah, I am so far behind in my reviewing.  I'm working on it!  Promise!

But I didn't want to let today go by without a shout out to a whole bunch of awesome paranormal romance releases:

WILDER by Christina Dodd

I requested and received an ARC of this book, based on how much I have loved its series predecessors.  I don't have my thoughts collected on it yet, but the short answer is - loved it!  It's a bit different in tone from the other books, but a fitting double-series capper.


Kira is one of my favorite bloggers.  I learned a lot about book blogging from her when I first started and she introduced me to the Thursday Thirteen meme which I still like to dabble with.

Although we talked about an early review, the logistics ended up being sort of difficult so I decided to come to her book release celebration this Friday and purchase a copy.  Eagerly anticipated!

BITING COLD by Chloe Neill 
Perhaps you can guess by my recent posts how eagerly I'm anticipating this one.  Once I actually finish a review post, I'm going to allow myself to download this, and since I want to buy it on release day,  that should work as incentive to get my "work" done, right? RIGHT!  Also, I just finished my last book not 60 minutes ago on the bus, so I'm ready to BITE into this tonight.

ETERNAL BEAST by Laura Wright
I keep meaning to write a post about this series, because I really, really love it.  It's pretty much the first thing I've come across that could really rival the Black Dagger Brotherhood for alpha-vampire kick-assery.  I'll be downloading this one tonight too.  You might also check out the twitter hashtag #eternalbeast for some delicious snips and quotes from the author.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Thursday Thirteen, Edition 29 - About ARCs


So apparently, some people are talking about bloggers and whether or not they are entitled to advanced review copies (ARCs)-- or at least they were last week. One nice thing about NOT being on Twitter is that I used to stay pretty oblivious to these things. It still seems a lot like a tempest in a teapot to me, but here's my thirteen cents on this one.  

However, I think I'm just going to stay away from who said what and who was right or wrong and go in more of a navel-gazing direction.  Because it's all about ME!
  1. When I started blogging, I hoped for some ARCs but never expected any. (I also didn't know they were called ARCs, but I'm a quick study).
  2. The first one I got was through a contest at the author's blog and I was SO EXCITED.  I was also naively surprised to realize how much traffic an advance review for a popular author might drive to my site.
  3. I thought that "success" would mean a close personal relationship with publishers who would ask me for reviews and cover quotes for my favorite auto-buy authors, and that my recommendations would influence thousands of adoring romance fans, who would have no idea what to read without me.
  4. And maybe a few hundred bucks a month from the Amazon affiliate program (hahahahhaha!).
  5. Reality: I do have at least a semi-personal with a half-dozen or so publicists, whose email mass-mailers insert my name in the emails to me.  (In all fairness, there are definitely a few who address me directly and know my blog).
  6. Reality: Most (not all!) of the ARCs I have access to are for authors that... how can I put this delicately... have a greater need for more extensive publicity campaigns.
  7. Reality:  I actually have been quoted in at least two print books that I know of.  In one case the author told me about it.  In the other, I looked it up on a hunch. But as far as I know, bloggers are not formally notified when a quote is pulled.  (It's still INCREDIBLY COOL though, and there are few things that I'm prouder of.)
  8. Reality:  I'm pretty sure that my 30 or so regular readers all have their own blogs.  
  9. When I first read that Jessica at Read, React, Review  would not accept review copies, I thought she was taking the high road to kind of a ridiculous extreme.  However, I have to admit, I do feel a certain pressure/responsibility to be upbeat about books I receive, more so than books I buy.  I would like to say that isn't true, and I do work hard for impartiality.  Receiving unsolicited ARCs actually makes me a little anxious - I don't like to let people down, but I also don't want my reading to be an obligatory thing.  As the internet draws authors and bloggers together even more, via Facebook and Twitter and blogs (and conferences!) it gets even harder for me to write a blasty ranty post.  I'm lucky enough that I can afford to buy the books I want (although I may choose to wait for mass-market pricing vs. first release), but in the end, not getting an ARC will never stand between me and a book I really want to read. I am giving some thought about adopting Jessica's policy.
  10. The publishing industry is changing, and the metamorphosis is painful.  Book bloggers are part of the new world order, but how? Don't answer that, because even if you're a little right, you're also going to be a lot wrong, because there is no one role for bloggers to play.  I don't post throw-away memes, naked male model pics or content-free posts just to drive stats.  My blog has a tiny hit rate, but I like to think that they are fairly high-quality hits.  The search terms that bring people here are more likely to be specific authors or characters, and a large percentage of my hits are from feed readers.  What does that mean to a publicist? I don't know, and to be honest, I don't care. Being a part of the publicity machine is incidental to why, how and what I blog about.  
  11. If I can help out an author whose work I enjoy, that's really cool and I'm happy to do so, but it's also not the main reason I'm here.
  12. I'm also not here to "build a platform."  I'm not an author.  My career goals have nothing to do with publishing.  (Apparently it's easier to figure out the things that are NOT why I blog).
  13. In the wake of my experience at RT2012, I've been thinking a lot about what "success" means for me and Alpha Heroes.  It certainly isn't about getting ARCs.  I think... OK, sorry, this is going to be sappy, but I mean it -- success really is about the community I've found.  It means knowing where I can go to talk (and hear) about the latest book I loved, and connecting with people who understand what it means to be carried away to a different world between the covers of a book.  It's having a forum to express my opinion. It's knowing who I can ping about books that include cross-dressing, secret babies, the best historical m/m, or sheiks. It might mean I go to a book-signing or conference because I can meet so many of those people; or shuffling my posting schedule a bit to give precedence to an author I love, or helping spread the word about a blog event.  Ultimately, I think success is developing friendships with other romance-lovers, whether they are readers, writers, librarians, bloggers, agents, editors, publicists -- or many of the above.

Find more Thirteeners at Thursday-13.  Participants are welcome and encouraged to leave links in comments.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Wicked Road to Hell, by Juliana Stone - Review

Title: Wicked Road to Hell
Author: Juliana Stone
Publisher: Avon
Publication Date: April 24, 2012 (better late than never)
Genre: Contemporary Paranormal Romance
Series: League of Guardians, Book 1
The Buzz: this one came in one of the Avon Addict packages (those abs on the cover didn't hurt its chances for being pulled out of the TBR pile, either.)

Overall, I think this is a promising series beginning.  I believe the characters are introduced in Stone's Jaguar Warrior series, and some earlier actions are referenced in the book but it stands alone just fine.

So, the basic premise that there are a number of Otherworldly types in this world.  There are several familiar paranormal categories - shifters, vampires, and sorcerers, like our hero. Seraphim police the world for the forces of good, and demons are evil, obviously.

First rule of paranormal series?  Never assume the obvious.  I don't think I'm spoiling to reveal that in this book we learn about a coalition of all the Otherworldly representatives - an IAD of sorts - that reveal allies in unexpected places.  In fact, it does read a bit like a gritty cop story, with a paranormal overlay.

Go to Hell!
Stone evokes a pretty amazing version of Hell, consistent with religious and mythological imaginings, but manages to embed just enough concreteness to make it plausible as a real place the characters can travel to - and escape from.  If you like Meljean Brook's and Ann Bishop's visions of the underworld, I'd say this one in in the same neighborhood.

Usually when authors make their characters go through Hell, it's not quite this literal. Declan O'Hara is in for a wild ride indeed in his story. First, he finds his dream woman from his past, presumed dead from his own mistakes - not at all dead, powerful beyond his dreams, and politically wayyy out of his reach.  But before he can even start to solve those problems, he's got to save the world by walking through Hell... for a second time.

OK, so I love the world-building here.  There is a delicate balance of power and kryptonite that is tough to pull off when you start dabbling with Ultimate Evil.  The magic in this world is believable, powerful, and balanced, and I love the beginnings of the series arc.  Lots of good stuff to look forward to without too much sequel-baiting.  Stone's scenes are visually evocative, cinematic even, and the action/fight scenes flow well.

The Characters
There is a troublesome power imbalance between the hero and the heroine, though.  As a sorcerer, Declan is much more powerful than a typical human, but no match for Ana's vampiric capabilities.  One of my favorite quotes:
"Don't touch me." She barely managed to get the words out.

"You want me to touch you."

His hands were on her, his touch burning. Ana's eyes flew open and she whirled around, knocking his hand from her body as she did so.

"No." Her chest was heaving, her hands clenched into fists. "I don't want your touch, Declan, let's be honest here. I want to *eat* you." Ana said every word carefully as she glared at him. "There's a huge difference between the two."
These two quite literally go through Hell to be together (how often do I get to say that? Abuse of the word "literally" is one of my hot-buttons) and when they get their resolution, I think you'll be as pleased as I was.  I'm not sure I can use the term "Happily Ever After," because the series arc calls into question the longevity of the World As We Know It (heh), plus the meaning of words like "ever" and "dead" and so forth becomes a bit hazy when you're dealing with immortals.

A Few Bumps
I felt like the characters were strong and interesting and connected, and the main conflict was resolved well, but there were a few loose ends around the vampire culture that ended in a bit of a deus ex machina - guess that's hard to avoid when you're dealing with angels and devils.

The other bit that threw me out of the story were the huge round balls.  First, there were Declan's: "His eyes dilated until they were huge, round balls of ebony." Which makes kind of a weird picture in my head, I don't know about yours.  And then there were someone else's:  "Her eyes were huge, round balls of chocolate and they looked at the Seraph with a hunger that was quickly hidden."  Even weirder.  I dunno, a small thing but kinda made me go "Whaaa..??"

Bottom Line
If you're a fan of angels and demons in your paranormal romance, and you're looking for something new, I think this is a promising new series.  The world-building is strong, the characters sexy, the villains are scary, and the action moves along nicely.

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Monday, July 9, 2012

Vegas Top Guns, by Katie Porter - Trilogy Review

The Stats:

Publisher: Samhain
Release Dates: 
   Double Down: 7/31
   Inside Bet: 8/28
   Hold 'Em: 9/25

Reviewing: electronic ARCs directly from author

A Few Ground Rules
I normally don't review erotica here at Alpha Heroes.  It's not that I might not read it occasionally; I just find that it's too hard for me to talk about what I like about the story without getting way over my comfort zone in the territory of "what I'm comfortable telling the internet about myself."

I'm making an exception here, in one way, but I'm not breaking my rule about my comfort zone, and here's why:  Double Down is still a romance, and that's the context of my review.

What's the Difference? might ask.  Unsurprisingly, I have an opinion on that.

Some erotica is just a string of sex scenes with the absolute minimum of character or story--not that there's anything wrong with that. Some, especially those that have a bit of kink, often feature a character arc that have to do with one character or the other learning about their sexuality, where the partner is really just placeholder for that discovery. And that's ok too, but it's not necessarily a romance in my book.

Why Not Both?
Occasionally, you find a book that has it all -- a tender romance, a couple that falls in love, and a strong dose of hot, playful sex. This trilogy checked all the boxes for me, but the proportion of erotic scenes to character or plot will land it on the erotica side of the spectrum.  The three books are centered around three comrades at an Air Force training base.  Their bonds of friendship are strong, forged in combat and tempered through some years as trainers, flying training missions against rival squadrons.  

Here's the blurb from the first book:
As part of the 64th Aggressor Squadron, Major Ryan “Fang” Haverty flies like the enemy to teach Allied pilots how not to die. The glittering excess of the Strip can’t compare to the glowing jet engines of his F-16. But a sexy, redheaded waitress in seamed stockings? Now she gets his blood pumping.

Cassandra Whitman’s good-girl ways haven’t earned any slack from her manager ex-boyfriend, or prevented a bad case of frazzle from holding down two and a half jobs. She sure wouldn’t mind letting the handsome Southern charmer shake up her routine.

Their wild weekend lives up to Sin City’s reputation. Especially when they discover a matched passion for roleplaying. For Cass, it’s an exciting departure from her normal, shy persona. But for Ryan, it triggers memories of a time when his fetish drove away the woman he loved—leaving him reluctant to risk a repeat performance.

Except Cass refuses to settle for ordinary ever again. She’s about to show the man with hair-trigger hands that she’s got a few surprise moves of her own.

This book and its partners in the trilogy easily qualify as romance as well as erotica.  With a typical romance, we have sexual chemistry early on, and usually the author lets the tension sizzle and build while they fall in love.  In the Vegas Top Gun books, each couple indulges in some extremely hot sex right at the beginning, and the tension comes from their emotional journeys, not from sexual anticipation.  Each of the three books ventures a little bit afield of vanilla sex, but not terribly "out there."  (Unfashionably, there is no menage, go figure.)

A Lid for Every Pot
What the stories have in common though, touches on one of my favorite themes in romance - the idea of finding another person who is just right for you - for your hopes, dreams, lifestyle, and yes, desires.  It almost doesn't matter what flavor of adventure the author scoops up - what matters is that these lovers take chances with each other, and that they discover their partners not only aren't repelled, but embrace, enjoy, and embellish on those secret desires.

I like the everyday quality of the first two heroines; I enjoyed reading about Cass's family and career challenges, Ryan's support of them, and I think, how her experiences with Ryan gave her the confidence she needed to make some good changes.  I liked how well Heather's professional competence suited her personality and her fit with Jon. 

Leah and Michael are perhaps the couple that I have the least in common with, and to be honest I've never enjoyed femdom erotica, but I liked this story anyway!  When I want erotica I usually look for stories that embody my own fantasies, which this doesn't, BUT as a romance it works very well because it's a kink that sizzles between Michael and Leah.  I've read romances that worked for me before where one or the other of couple isn't my cup of tea, but the author convinces me that the two are right for each other--which is far more important.  That's what happens in this story.  And Katie Porter writes a male sub story that doesn't feminize or emasculate the man, which is pretty rare, and I suspect, difficult to pull off, so I think they* get some pretty good kudos for that.

Hold the Angst
These are not tortured-hero (or heroine) stories.  Although the fighter pilot thread adds some glam and adrenaline, these are for the most part, everyday folks with everyday problems.  The various conflicts that the couples face are not going to tear your heart out, which makes for a fairly quick, light read.  Just the thing for a warm summer evening, if you ask me.

Years ago when I went to my first "industry event" - a regional RWA meeting-- I first heard the terms "spicy" and "sweet" to differentiate between romances that had explicit sex and those that didn't (it was a talk by Virginia Henley, and yes, references to sausages occurred!).  These days, we don't have to choose.  This trilogy is spicy and sweet, making me think of something like this:

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Looks like it's still a bit early for the blog reviews to get rolling but check out the GoodReads page; reviews are starting to accumulate there first.

As always, if you have reviewed this book, please feel free to leave a link in comments!

*Katie Porter is the writing team of Carrie Lofty and Lorelie Brown.  The Vegas trilogy is their first collaboration.


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