Friday, December 26, 2014

Catching Up - No Excuses

Greetings, book people!

I seem to have taken an unplanned hiatus from blogging and nearly all social media.  Life happens, and sometimes the fun stuff takes a back seat for awhile.  I have followed a few of the industry dust-ups from a distance but have avoided getting too emotionally invested, just for the sake of my blood pressure.

So what have I been doing in the meantime?

A few years ago when I decided to change jobs, I posted that job hunting and then the learning curve at the new place seemed to occupy the same brain space as blogging -- or at least, it crowded out what capacity I had for blogging.  I have confirmed that this is a repeatable phenomenon.  I changed jobs again this past September, and part of me thinks I was crazy to do it.  My old job was kind of cushy, with lots of people I really enjoy.  The new job is far more challenging, and the environment is super corporate and formal by comparison.  I'm not totally comfortable.  But at the old job, I was a big (ish) fish in a small pond, and there was nowhere really to go.  I get nervous if I plateau for more than a couple of years; IME that is not good for a career in tech.  So, onward I go!

Another thing that happened this fall was that I signed my daughter up for a First Lego League team.  This has been an incredible experience for her, but wow, is it a lot of work and a lot of time.  We lucked into a really great coach but this activity has literally soaked up 80% of my weekend days for the last three months.  I'm not very productive in the evenings after a workday, so it's been hard to get my normal stuff done.

On top of that, I had a couple of quilting projects that I had been putting off that needed to be done in time for Christmas.  I've pieced several quilt tops and I really enjoy that, but I've never actually quilted the layers together before (I hired that part to be done on the previous projects) and was more than a bit intimidated by the process.  The good news is, both quilts were completed and made the recipients very happy.  I'm divided on whether I would do it again or not.  It's definitely not my favorite part of the process, but I'm the kind of person who dislikes things that I'm not good at.  I was enjoying it more toward the end when I was getting better, but the time crunch made it really stressful.  Ahh well.  Live and learn.

Oh, and we have a new bathroom!  We have been without a tub for longer than I like to admit, with all of us using a small shower stall in the basement 3/4 bathroom.  I was brushing my teeth one day and the heavy soapdish tile just fell right off into the tub.  The tile had allowed moisture behind it, causing the backerboard to become wet and moldy.  So anyway, the tl;dr version is that we finally pulled together the resources to remodel the bathroom and I'm so very pleased with the result.  It took longer than it should have -- as these things always seem to do-- but we have a pretty shiny new tub & shower with beautiful tile work.  And it's not like I did any particular work on it, but it was somehow exhausting anyway.

No excuses, no apologies, just a chat to catch you up on the doings around here.  My reading has been somewhat curtailed too, but since it's been so long, I still have a long list that I could review or at least gab about a bit.

Hope you've all been well and enjoying your various winter (or summer, for those Down Under) end of year holidays!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Sunday Soup -September 7

Sunday Soup is... beatniks, home improvements, and a winner from Jeaniene Frost

Soup Dish:  on my mind this week
I'm still trying to put my house back together. My daughter is reluctantly sorting through large piles of toys and possessions, and I am reluctantly tackling a Defcon 4 Laundry Situation. On the upside, I have implemented a New Penalty for a certain house rule that has been pretty much ignored, which is "if I catch you, you owe me an hour of chores of my choice." So that bought me a nice cleaned up basement room yesterday.  In addition, I managed to partially disassemble a closet system in my master bedroom so that I could fit a shoe organizer onto an upper shelf.  Like that damn mouse with its damn cookie, I need to go back to Home Despot for a shelf bracket to shore up the structure that I demo'd.  Wheeee. On the upside, all my shoes have happy little paired up homes now.  w00t!

I had a fun conversation on Twitter this week that I thought about Storifying, but the disclaimer about using it with Twitter says that you are allowing it to post to your Twitter account. I don't like that, so phooey on Storify. The convo was about beatniks, the high point of which was me posting this youtube clip from Laverne and Shirley, and having it reposted by the Simon and Garfunkle fan account, which totally made my day.

Loved this post from Wendy The Superlibrarian about romance, love, sex, and inspiration.

What I'm reading

I got a copy of The Beautiful Ashes by Jeaniene Frost via RT, and while I sort of missed the boat for an advance review, I hope to put one up soonish. The short story is, I really really liked it. Angel/Demon stories are kind of hit or miss for me (Meljean Brook: Hit; Larissa Ione: Miss) but this one totally worked. I hesitated to read it because I'm not really a fan of the NA genre (does anyone else automatically read "Not Applicable" for NA ?) but I was pleased to find out that the only thing NA about this book was the heroine's age, which is twenty. To me it read as straight-up urban fantasy with a very strong romantic/sexual tension element.  It does have a cliff-hanger, sequel-bait ending, but in a most delicious way.  The story resolves, but the resolution turns out to open up a whole new can of worms.

Katie Porter's Own, the debut in a new Special Ops erotica series. I hit a snag early on with this one, but because the author has a good track record for me, I gave it a second chance and did enjoy how the relationship developed.  Thumbs up.

I'm still slogging through a mediocre contemporary which I am stubbornly refusing to DNF because I have A Plan in mind for a future post. I killed a quick 80 page novella for the same Plan which was OK. End tease.

Outlander Watch... Och. Jamie and Claire onscreen, fnuh.

Still delighted. Last night's cliff hanger kind of outraged me, and I know what happens next.  Sheesh.  I do see why some people are complaining about it being slow. The tensions within the clan are fairly subtle. I think the best part of this series is watching the unspoken interactions -- the heated looks & body language.

Note: this post contains affiliate links.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Rock Addiction, by Nalini Singh - Review

Title: Rock Addiction 
Series: Rock Kiss, Book 1
Author: Nalini Singh
Publisher:  TKA Distribution/Amazon Digital
Release Date: September 9, 2014
Reviewing: eARC from Netgalley
Reason for reading: Nalini Singh is a huge favorite of mine

The Short Answer 
To be honest, I was a little disappointed.

The Blurb (from Singh's website)
A bad boy wrapped in a sexy, muscled, grown-up package might be worth a little risk…
Molly Webster has always followed the rules. After an ugly scandal tore apart her childhood and made her the focus of the media's harsh spotlight, she vowed to live an ordinary life. No fame. No impropriety. No pain. Then she meets Zachary Fox, a tattooed bad boy rocker with a voice like whiskey and sin, and a touch that could become an addiction.

A one-night stand with the hottest rock star on the planet, that's all it was meant to be…
Fox promises scorching heat and dangerous pleasure, coaxing Molly to extend their one-night stand into a one-month fling. After that, he'll be gone forever, his life never again intersecting with her own. Sex and sin and sensual indulgence, all with an expiration date. No ties, no regrets. Too late, Molly realizes it isn't only her body that's become addicted to Fox, but her heart…
The Whole Scoop 
Just this morning, my Twitter feed included a quote attributed to Henry James: "The only classification of the novel that I can understand is into that which has life and that which has it not."

I checked the quote attribution, because that's how I roll, and it turns out that the actual quote is "the only classification of the novel that I can understand is into the interesting and the uninteresting." (based on two different archives of the full text of "The Art of Fiction").  There are numerous documents that attribute it the other way, but they are not the primary text. Just so you know.

However, the apparently incorrect version of the quote intrigues me more as a reviewer and a reader. And I think it sums up a bit of the difficulty I had with this book. It just didn't have the life, the crackle, that I associate with Singh's paranormal romances.

The characters were on the cardboard side to me; the heroine a meek everyday librarian with a tendency to run when scared, and the hero a blustery, occasionally over-stepping alpha male.  While the characters are technically beyond New Adult age, it had that feel to me because the heroine was quite young and inexperienced, and there was also a surprising amount of sex -- bordering on erotica-level heat and frequency.

The book falls naturally into two sections, the division of which is a bit spoilery, but I I liked the second half better.  The pacing picks up, the action picks up, and I liked the scenes with the other band members.  On the downside, there isn't a compelling plotline here to keep things moving -- it's a very internal, overcoming-our-issues story, which works great when you love the characters, but doesn't help if the characterization isn't working 100%.

The Bottom Line
Lots of people are loving this title so maybe I just had an off day, and I suspect there is no way the average Singh fan is going to bypass it no matter what I say. And honestly, I will most likely pick up the next book in this series, but I have to hope that it works a little better for me.

Around the Blogosphere
Romance Reader At Heart
Book Swoon
Feeding My Addiction

Monday, September 1, 2014

Summer Soup - September 1

Sunday Summer Soup is... summer's end, the ethics of heroism, The Muppets, some indifferent reading. Another Sunday thrown off by holidays...

Soup Dish:  on my mind this week, and a few favorite links

Well, we're winding up summer around here. School shopping is done, orientations have been had, and the first day of school is Tuesday. Yesterday I took my older daughter to Bumbershoot to see Panic! At The Disco, which was a surprisingly (to me) great show. Earlier in the week I took my younger daughter to see The Princess Bride, the last of the Movies In The Park for this summer.  AND, still working on replacing outlets and things like that. Woohoo, DIY!

I am ridiculously fond of the Muppets.  I'm exactly in the demographic for the original Sesame Street, and I still think The Muppet Show from the second half of the 70s is one of the best family shows ever, bar none.  Also the Siberian prisoners singing "Workin' in a Coal Mine" is pretty much the funniest thing I've seen all year.  So when Bookriot featured the Muppets' best literary references, you know it was one of my favorite things.  While we're on the topic, The Monster At The End Of This Book is still one of the best, most-fun-to-read-aloud kids' books ever.  I hope it never goes out of print.

On a more serious note, there are a couple of articles colliding for me: The Overdetermined Hero by Liz McCausland, wherein I feel uneasy about the heroes I love to read about, and in fact, have named this blog for:
If we want to claim that reading romance empowers women–and many people do–we have to acknowledge that it can disempower us too. No one has to think about the appeal of the stalker-alpha, of course. But I do wonder what we’re afraid to look at when we evade the questions he raises.
In another article, Jessica Wise posits that literature in fact, changes reality, which has some interesting commentary but isn't very well supported as far as I can tell.  For instance, she says:
Whether you’re reading Harry Potter or Great Expectations, you’re reading the kind of plot that inspired Darwin. Yet recent studies show that his theory might not be the whole story. Our sense of being one man or one woman (or even one species) taking on the challenges of the world might be wrong. Instead of being hard-wired for competition, for being the solitary heroes in our own story, we might be instead members of a shared quest: more Hobbit, than Harry.
but I couldn't find any supporting links or references either in the transcripted article or at the original Ted Talk video (possibly because I'm a Ted Talk n00b, having only watched a few vids and not tried to engage at all).

Both of these articles made me think of Jayne Ann Krentz's Bowling Green speech, to which I've referred before, about how the traits ascribed to popular heroic tradition (whatever that may mean in context) tend to have survival value.  Sadly, it seems that the publicly available transcript of the speech has been taken down, but the gist of it is, today's genre fiction (and historically speaking, most fiction that speaks to the common public) promotes optimism - courage, valor, honor, integrity, love.

I kind of want to get the three of them on a panel to talk about romance heroes.  With water balloons, or something.

What I'm reading
The list is a little thin this week; lots of non-reading things going on!
Finished an ARC of Nalini Singh's new contemporary, Rock Addiction.  Watch for a full review on Thursday.

Also blew through another ARC that was super-amazing but won't release until late October, so I'll be coy about the title.  You're gonna want it.

I'm in the middle of Tall Dark and Cajun, by Sandra Hill. I'm thinking of doing a mini-feature on Cajun heroes-- does anyone have a favorite? 

I started a couple of titles that ended up stalling out a little for me; I'm not calling them DNFs just yet but I dunno. They're both BDSM romances but both of them hit "oh please, really?!" bumps for me.

Outlander Watch... Och. Jamie and Claire onscreen!

Yup, still loving this show.  My only critique is that I found the 1940s music playing during the Castle Leoch scenes to just... not work for me.  But eh.  You gotta love Dougal, right? Such a shady, nuanced character.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Thursday Thirteen, Edition 34

So many series, so little time.  I have such a giant backlog of physical and e-books piled up, I am trying very hard to be virtuous/thrifty about buying new books.  But in the meantime, my favorite authors KEEP PUBLISHING NEW BOOKS.  Augh.  I will never catch up.  Here's a snapshot of where I am with some awesome series (in no particular order):

Thirteen Next (for me) Books In Series:

1. Blood Games, The Chicagoland Vampire series, by Chloe Neill
2. River Marked, the Mercy Thomson series, by Patricia Briggs
3. The Undead Pool, The Hollows series, by Kim Harrison
4. Naamah's Blessing, the Kushiel's Legacy series, by Jacqueline Carey
5. Tricked, the Iron Druid series, by Kevin Hearne
6. Magic Breaks, the Kate Daniels series, by Ilona Andrews
7. The Kraken King, (all parts*), the Iron Seas series, by Meljean Brook
8. Out of the Darkness, the Offspring series, by Jaime Rush
9. Crossroads, Southern Arcana series, by Moira Rogers
10. The Mage in Black, the Sabine Kane series, by Jaye Wells
11. Darkness Rising, the Dark Angels series, by Keri Arthur
12. Dark Skye, the Immortals After Dark series, by Kresley Cole (I'll be honest, I'm waiting for this one to come down to mass market pricing)
13. Sixth Grave on the Edge, the Charley Davidson series, by Darynda Jones

And a bonus,  Night's Honor, the Elder Races series, by Thea Harrison which I'm technically, not behind on as it's not out quite yet...

*this was published in 7 or 8 parts as a serial, and is showing available on November 4 as a compiled novel.  w00t!

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

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sunday Soup - August 16

Sunday Soup is... Summer activities, a contemporary hit-list, and a dash of Outlander debrief.

Soup Dish:  on my mind this week...
Last Sunday's Soup was pre-empted by a very hot, very dusty day at the local Renaissance festival.  Although we don't go all out with costume and accessories and fake accents, as a family we make it a point to go every year, have a bottle of sarsaparilla soda, buy a trinket or two, and watch the spectacles.

I've also been doing a bit of handyman stuff around our house this summer-- painting rooms and installing dimmer switches and new outlets.  Stuff like that.  I'm feeling very pleased with myself, but the blog has been part of the time tradeoff there.

I've also been in the midst of changing some things up personally, nothing bad, but it's had me unsettled and distracted.  All of which is not to be defensive about not posting more, but just chatting about what I've been doing instead.

What I'm reading
There is a lot to catch up on, given my negligent posting, but I think the theme for this week's reading is FABULOUS CONTEMPS! Some really good stuff here:
Currently in the middle of Skinny Dipping, from Connie Brockway's backlist.  So funny. I wish she had done (or would do) more contemporaries.

If I Stay, by Tamara Morgan. I got this one from Carina Press at RT.  I think I saw a mention of the author on Twitter, and that was enough to tip me into trying out the title, and I'm really glad I did.  I'm always interested in finding new contemporary authors, and I really loved this one.  The style reminds me a little bit of Kristan Higgins, without the dogs.  I'll absolutely be reading more from Morgan.

When I heard Victoria Dahl's latest Jackson Hole title, Looking for Trouble, was out, I hit it like it owed me money (or something like that.)  Dahl's contemporaries are getting hotter and hotter and this one scorches.  I love how she takes a near-fantasy encounter for both of them and pushes it into a Happily Ever After.

I picked up Beauty from Pain by Georgia Cates, based entirely on the title (make of that what you will).  Well, that and the freebie pricing, I suppose.  It turned out to be not quite what I expected.  Overall I didn't love it, but it had some good moments.  It had a cliff-hanger ending which annoyed me, a la 50SoG, and I probably won't pick up the follow-up.

In non-contemp reading...

The Sekhmet Bed, by L.M. Ironside. I picked this up because a friend of mine knows the author, and told me, "she writes your kind of books."  I was sort of expecting a romance, which this wasn't, exactly, but I did like it quite a lot.  There are three more books in the series, but this one chronicles the marriage and rise to power of a particular Pharoah's wife.  I am not at all an expert on Egyptology, but the author writes convincingly of everyday life in 1500 BC Egypt. 

Beyond Addiction. Kit Rocha delivers again.  I can't say enough good things about this series.  If I gave ratings, I'd give the whole series six out of five stars.

Outlander Watch... Och. Jamie and Claire onscreen-- it's here, it's here!!
Would you laugh at me if I told you that part of my home-improvement spate this summer is about getting the TV room into a condition that I can stand, so that I could watch this show?  Well, go ahead and laugh. ;-)

I've fixed up the lighting, cleaned up a mess of accumulated junk, done a long-overdue update/swap of our cable boxes, added a console table behind the sofa (because the configuration of the room doesn't really allow for a coffee table, and bought a rug. We have a wire storage shelf in the room with a collection of things with no better home, and I very cleverly attached a pretty shower curtain all around the edges with S-hooks.  It sort of looks like we have a shower stall in the corner of the room now, but at least the junk is hidden.  Also I stole the matching ottoman back out of my husband's office. Next up, is a good scrub of the floor, adding in the rug pad (it arrived 4 days after the rug), and putting up some art on the wall.

I'm finding that I don't really need to dissect and analyze and share about watching this show.  I'm enjoying it tremendously.  I'm glad I re-read the book last month and I think the casting and the chemistry is amazing.  I don't want to dissect it and nitpick it. I don't want to argue with people who aren't enjoying it; I'm sure there are faults to be found, but DON'T CARE. I'm not interested in rational, measured discussion and really, I'm not particularly interested in OMG SQUEEEE DON'T YOU LOVE IT TOO!?

So if you've been wondering what I think of the show, now you know.  And you know where I'll be at 9:00 pm on Saturdays for the next few weeks.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sunday Soup - July 27

Sunday Soup is... a little of this, a little of that, not too much work, and hopefully a tasty result.

Soup Dish:  on my mind this week...
I've been on vacation in small-town mid-America, and it's been a low-tech kind of week.  I know that a huge chunk of my book community is at RWA but I have not been following  much of the goings-on, except:

Carolyn Crane won a RITA!  I'm so happy for her.  She was one of the first book bloggers to befriend me and Alpha Heroes when I got started, and I will never stop laughing at The Unfeasibly Tall Greek Billionaire's Blackmailed Martyr-Complex Secretary Mistress Bride. Her fiction is still characterized by that same quirky humor and fresh imagination.

If you are a lover of 80s pop culture, you might enjoy Tiffany Reisz's latest freebie: Erotic Charles In Charge fan-fic. When you stop giggling, you should read it and bring ice.

What I'm reading

My big project this week was a re-read of Outlander.  Although I consider myself a fan, and regularly list this title as one of my all-time favorite books, I've never been much of a re-reader and this was only my second time through it. I have to say it holds up as well as anything I've ever read.  I remember when it came out, it wasn't always easy to find it in the bookstore -- I have seen it shelved in romance, sci-fi-fantasy, and general fiction.  And I feel that's really true: it defies genre conventions.  What struck me the most about it was the precarious position they found themselves in at the end of the book -- truly a "happily for now".   After turning the last page and taking a few deep breaths, I remembered that there are another nearly 7000 pages published of Jamie and Claire's story (setting aside the Lord John books and other shorter works), and felt reassured, but in the midst of this story, even knowing that things eventually turn out more or less ok, I was completely immersed in the ups and downs of this roller-coaster book. I loved it all over again.

A Good Debutante's Guide to Ruin, by Sophie Jordan (ARC). Releases this Tuesday; a solid Regency for which I owe a real review. A nicely constructed situation, likeable characters, and good chemistry. I loved the erotic tension and the villainy was kicked up a notch in a good way. My one nitpick is that the language sometimes sounded too contemporary to my ear, especially one of the key secondary characters.

Going Under by Jeffe Kennedy. Absolutely loved the premise here and the heroine. This is an erotic romance and they do get up to some fetishy hijinks; you may want to kick the air conditioning up before you dig into this one.  I sort of felt that the ending was a bit rushed and that she forgave him a bit too easily, but I really loved the tech element here. (Kennedy's inspiration was a true story that made a huge impression on me as well when it broke). You'll have to decide if a ginger-flavored Tom Hiddleston-esque hero is a plus for you.

Wild Card, by Moira Rogers - this was a quick paranormal read, fairly hot, though I personally wouldn't peg it as erotica. In a post-apocalyptic future that resembles the nineteenth century west with wolf shifters, a lone female rancher finally meets her match.  I liked it and will probably read on in the series.

Razing Kayne, by Julianne Reeves. I went to this contemp cop-romance as a "something completely different" follow-up to Outlander. So it had a tough act to follow.  I'm not really sure what made me pick this one up-- random Twitter mention? Kindle freebie? Something like that. I have mixed reactions - I thought the suspense plot was really good - tight, unusual, a couple of crazy twists; and I liked the love scenes too.  Characterization wasn't quite up to par, IMO; there was just a real lot internal angsty descriptive narrative to tell me what was going on with the main characters.  Still, this is the sort of thing that can get better as a writer gains experience, so I might pick up another title.  The small (ish) town had an interesting population of secondary characters, too.  Has promise.

That's all for this week's soup.  Hope you're having a delightful summer.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sunday Soup - July 13

Sunday Soup is... a little of this, a little of that, not too much work, and hopefully a tasty result.

Soup Dish:  on my mind this week...
A lot of interesting links about the ongoing Hachette vs. Amazon battle and where the author and reader interests lie. There is a ton of rhetoric out there about who is the bigger monster, and I cannot claim to understand all the nuances.  But the most compelling article I've read lately on the topic is this one from Joe Konrath. In particular, the information he exposes around one reason that Hachette *may* be digging in on terms is the issue of retail discounting:
If you want to understand what a party is doing in a negotiation, a good place to start is with their public statements. In this case, we know exactly what Hachette was planning to do in this negotiation because they published their strategy. In a letter to the federal court in the ebook antitrust case, believe it or not. When the proposed final judgment for Apple was announced, it included a provision that prohibited Apple from entering into agreements that would limit its ability to offer retail discounts.
The Big 5 are saying that as soon as the two year "cooling off" period is over, they want to get rid of retail discounting. Literally their only objection to the Apple settlement is that it will leave one ebook retailer who must maintain the ability to discount. The Big 5 have been waiting for two years for a chance to get rid of retail discounting. And take special note of that word "unilaterally". That means that the Big 5 each have to negotiate independently with their retailers.
I don't know about you guys, but I really like being able to bargain shop occasionally for e-books.  I do pay full price on release day for some authors that I love, but I also am more likely to try an unknown author for 99 cents than I am for $7.99.

I am not lovin' Bloglovin. I've followed links to several blog posts lately that were somehow(?) syndicated with this app, and it pops up a large header that consumes about 20% of my available vertical reading space.  Presumably this would go away if only I would sign in to a service I know nothing about and cannot find out about unless I log in. I'm feeling cranky about the sheer number of services/apps I need to log into lately and I am not automatically creating accounts for everything.  So if you are using this service, be aware that it is an obstacle for cranky people like myself.

And while I'm at it, those of you who use jumps in your articles are putting up another barrier for me.  I read most of my blogs in a feedreader (Feedly), and I only click through maybe 5% of the articles that I get a teaser for.  I know you have your reasons for doing that -- ad revenue and clicks are one -- but that is a big reason I love the feedreader. I get all those annoying flashy-blinky-scrolling ads filtered. Just so you know.

What I'm reading

I have been loving the Kit Rocha series so much, I don't know why it didn't occur to me until recently to check out the books by the same team under their other nom de plume, Moira Rogers. I picked up Crux early last week and positively devoured it. I'm pacing myself on new purchases, considering the staggering size of my TBR pile, but that series just jumped high up on the list. Absolutely loved it.  

This review at Herding Cats and Burning Soup (great name!) caught my eye, and I've added The Bottom Line to my "to be acquired" list. I'm always on the lookout for a good contemp author to try. (disclosure: link goes to the original blogger's affiliate link, seems only fair.)

I bent my "no review copies" policy for Memory Zero by Keri Arthur. This is book one of a new series and I totally loved it. It does bear a strong resemblance to the Riley Jenson series in pacing and pattern, which in my mind is all to the good. The heroine is a tough police detective with latent paranormal abilities, and after attending a couple of sessions at RT14 with Diana Rowland, whose bio includes similar police work and also writes UF, and I couldn't help kind of picturing her as the heroine, Sam Ryan. It is available for pre-order, and if you liked Riley, you'll be a fan of this series as well.

I was on such a good roll with paranormals that I decided to pick up a physical book that had been gathering dust on my shelf: The Last Mermaid from Shana Abe. I love Abe's writing soooo much. It's been a bit slower read, partly I think I just read physical books more slowly than e-books, and partly because the language is worth lingering over.

Outlander Watch... Och. I canna wait for Jamie and Claire onscreen.

With the premiere of the TV show less than a month away, the buzz is really heating up. First up, the scoop about when and where from Entertainment Weekly. Next, a very nice photo gallery from Yahoo TV (although I was a little disappointed in the lack of really new images). Finally, an interview with Starz' CEO, who is hardly impartial, but it's nice to see that kind of excitement.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Sunday Soup - July 6

Sunday Soup is... a little of this, a little of that, not too much work, and hopefully a tasty result.

Soup Dish:  this week I'm dishing about Seattle bookstores...

So my big book news of the week was the Diana Gabaldon signing that happened in Seattle.  Over 600 people attended. She was an absolutely delightful speaker, and the Forest Park Third Place Books did a wonderful job accommodating a HUGE number of fans on an unseasonably hot day. If you have a chance to hear her speak I highly recommend it-- but only if you like hearing slightly off-color stories about Scotsmen in (and out) of kilts. I am so looking forward to the Starz production of Outlander this August, and getting a chance at a fan-girl moment was a great way to increase the anticipation:

On a side note, Third Place Books has an extensive Romance collection, easily rivaling the local Barnes & Noble stores and my late lamented Redmond Borders {moment of silence, please}.  If you've been reading along at Alpha Heroes since the very beginning, you may remember this very early rant about indie bookstores and romance, specifically Elliott Bay Books, the best-known Seattle indie.

I had this brief interaction on Twitter recently, and decided to give EBB another chance:

Promising, right?

So yesterday, the kids and I made an outing of it, and hit Elliott Bay Books along with other nearby destinations: Molly Moon ice cream, Everyday Music, and the Ghost Gallery.  My kids found plenty of books to tempt them in the huge children and young adult sections, but the romance section was a bit less prominent.  Here's what the Fiction section looks like:

Nice space, isn't it? It's beautiful, really, a lovely place for a bibliophile to hang out in.  I compressed the photo (and it was already a little hazy, the lighting was tricky), but if you have a very sharp eye you might see placards directing you to Fiction, Science Fiction, and Mystery, but where's the romance?

Oh. Here it is.

Oh, not that WHOLE case, silly.  Just the bottom three shelves. The two shelves above it are erotic romance.  There are two more shelves above THAT for, I believe, fiction overrun/overstocks. No placard.  At a generous guess, I'd say half the titles were classic romances from the 90s. Crusie, Garfield, Devereaux, McNaught.  Good picks, but not exactly current. The other half were recent releases, across a fair spectrum of historical and contemporary. So, um, "growing." OK. It's bigger than it was in 2008, when it was ZERO. So... sure.  That's growth.  However, I'd say there's a long way to go before Elliott Bay Books convinces me that it wants my business.  In the meantime, I'll be at Barnes & Noble.  Or Amazon. Or Third Place Books.

What I'm reading

Downloaded and devoured The Saint, by Tiffany Reisz. I really enjoyed the story, as I do most all of Reisz' work, but I will say -- a lot of the material has already been told from other points of view, I think mostly from The Mistress (don't quote me though, they're starting to blur.)  The flashbacks to Nora and Soren's early days are interspersed with a present-day lover that has a bit of a squick factor.  It mostly didn't bother me, because fiction, but I could've done without it. It feels like Nora cannot relate to anyone unless she's banging them, and that's starting to feel kind of icky. Not to be overly critical though -- there was plenty to like. I particularly liked Nora and Soren's discussions of sex and theology. I think Reisz managed to show the electric connection between the 15-year-old Eleanor and the 29-year-old priest without making it ugly, and that is not easy. Reisz does witty, innuendo-laden banter very well, and I loved how that worked with the cold, serious, uber-self-controlled Soren.

I finished The Windflower, and I'm hoping to post some thoughts on it later this week.

The Bastard, by Inez Kelley. I picked this up after a random tweet from Mandi, and liked it quite a bit. It's the first in a paranormal series about angels and their fight with Satan himself for supremacy.  The world-building is quite complex, and involves super-good-guys from the historical rolls, but also -- unexpectedly -- some super-bad guys too, who are fighting for personal redemption as well as all of humankind. The theory is that when you've got to fight some ultimate evil, it couldn't hurt to have some warriors who aren't above getting down and dirty.  I will say that my eyebrows went up a little bit on learning who these "heroes" were, and I felt like their human sins were sort of waved away with a bit of "hey, that was then, and I'm really sorry," and also, "oh, you know how history exaggerates," but I'm willing to wait and see how their individual stories go.

Heavy Metal Heart, by Nico Rosso. This was another author I wanted to stalk, er, I mean, familiarize myself with before RT.  While I won't say this novella blew me away completely, I did like the world setup and the author's description of the actual magic that is created by the characters' music was incredible. Book 2 came out in March, and I might just pick it up. Maybe I'm just a sucker for a satyr rock star.

Outlander Watch... Och. I canna wait for Jamie and Claire onscreen.

Watch the latest trailer (for Australian TV) here: Den of Geek

And a bit of a behind the scenes video at Cinema Blend

That's it for this week -- hope you had a spectacular 4th, if you go in for that sort of thing, and that one way or another, your July is off to a good start.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Hate to Love You, by Elise Alden - Review

Title: Hate to Love You
Author: Elise Alden
Publisher:  Carina Press
Release Date: June 2, 2014
Reviewing: ebook, complimentary at RT14.
Reason for reading: a fair amount of buzz.

The Short Answer 
At the risk of being overly cutesy: I hated to love it.  And I mean that.

The Blurb (from Amazon)
Despite my slutty reputation, I was technically a virgin at eighteen. But it turns out all those sex-ed teachers aren't just trying to scare you. The faint positive on a budget pregnancy test sent me spinning, moments before meeting my sister's snooty new fiancé.

Shaking hands with upper-crusty James was like downing a triple shot of vodka. Dizzy with desire, confused by my body's reaction, and shocked by the possessiveness flashing in his eyes, I deceived him that night and told the world at their wedding reception.

The truth?

I slept with my sister's fiancé. Hot and sweaty, all night long in a room so dark he couldn't tell I wasn't her.

The lie?

Said fiancé is the father of my child. The one I signed over my rights to just before he was born.

That was seven years ago.

It's time to come clean.

The Whole Scoop
This book started out pretty much totally unlikeable for me. I thought the premise was gimmicky and the heroine is a train wreck, with a crude vocabulary and a cruder life.  I almost gave up on it in the first chapter when Paisley found it necessary to explain to me about her extraordinary nipples:
I've got to tell you about those little suckers.  I am cursed with the longest nipples in the world.  Even Marcia says so, and she's seen them in all shapes and sizes at the hospital. Mine are ginormously freakish. They sit on a large circle of dark pink and just wait for me to brush against something or get cold or...

I looked at James.

I don't know if this was supposed to be funny or what, but I found it off-putting. In fact, I found Paisley's whole character off-putting.

But then it turned out, that was kind of the point.  I got just enough of a glimpse of Paisley's vulnerability to keep me engaged through the serious train wreck of Part 1. Similarly, James was snide and condescending and generally awful, but then he would do or say something with a genuine kindness that made me willing to stay on for just a few more pages.

OK, so then part 2 seems promising -- Paisley has managed to get her act together; gotten away from her toxic family and carved out a profession for herself. She's back in London, and wants to be a part of her son's life.

And then I have another headbanging moment, where she applies for a job at James' place of work, under a different name, and, just, SERIOUSLY WHO DOES THAT? AUUGGHH.  I didn't like this plan at all.

But somewhere in here, the story and characters started to turn around for me. It is partly because the author feeds us Paisley's backstory in just the right way that it doesn't feel like excuse-making, but it feels like a maturation, for us as readers, in the same way that Paisley matures and begins to cope with it. But even more so, I think it was the kindness in James than anything else, and I know I've said that before. But when Paisley came back and had her act mostly cleaned up, it was easier for him to be kind to her.  And for all the crudeness and wrongness of their first hook-up, their chemistry is ELECTRIC, to mix a metaphor, and the author pulls off the lightning-strike magnitude of their attraction. 

The best thing about this romance is that we have some of the most imperfect non-vampire characters EVAR, with shipping-container-sized baggage, and they work through it. And win.

And that is a well-earned Happily Ever After.

Around the Blogosphere
Dear Author (oo, Jane does not agree with me at all)
Maryse's Book Blog
Harlequin Junkie
Britt's Book & Life Blog

PS: Okay, I just cannot NOT say this, even though it doesn't fit anywhere in the flow of the review.  PAISLEY IS A MIND READER.  That's right. If she can look you in the eyes, she can READ YOUR MIND. Except when she can't, which happened at times with James, for no apparent reason. (Also, HE CAN READ HER MIND TOO. It was not clear whether he could read everyone's mind, or just hers.)  This element of the book was, in my humble opinion, COMPLETELY STUPID AND THE WORST THING. If I gave starred ratings, I would knock off an entire star because this is so stupid. It made it much much harder to take the story seriously. Please don't let this ever happen again. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sunday Soup - June 29

Sunday Soup is... a little of this, a little of that, not too much work, and hopefully a tasty result.

Soup Dish:  book people are talking about..
Changing the focus of this a little - other book people out there do a much better job than I do of reporting the kerfuffles, so this will just be my little editorial corner. Links that caught my eye, and what I think about them, stuff like that... 

The Convoluted Calculus of Rating Books My initial reaction to this article was to go all kitty-butt-faced on this and think HOW VERY WRONG it would be to rate books in such ways. It then occurred to me that perhaps this was a tongue-in-cheek article and meant to be funny.  Or possibly both -- ie, the author perhaps does give a book 5 stars if:

“My friend loves this book and if she happens to see my rating, I want her to think I loved it, too, even though maybe under normal circumstances I would’ve given it three stars. Because she cares what I think, obviously, and it super matters that we have exactly the same feelings about everything all the time.”

... and thinks it's a really funny truth about book blogging.  I see comments that are laughing and agreeing. I don't know, maybe I'm having an Asperger moment, but I don't see the humor in it at all.  Of course, it's one of the reasons I don't rate books; I find myself unable to be that objective or consistent.  But I've been thinking about a system that would be something like this:

5- Strong recommend to any fan of the genre, auto-buy author
4- Loved it, will seek out this author again
3- OK, might read this author again but would not go out of my way.
2- Would actively avoid this author.
1- DNF, would recommend everyone avoid this author. (it would be pretty rare for me to say this about a book, but it seems like maybe a useful boundary.)

I feel like this is a scale I could use pretty consistently. I dunno.  I'm in the "musing" phase.

I absolutely loved this article about the social and evolutionary value of storytelling.  The neuroscience in there is fascinating, too:  "a story is the only way to activate parts in the brain so that a listener turns the story into their own idea and experience."

This came out a couple of weeks ago, but I'm behind, and it's the first time in a long time that an article about romance novels has given me an itch to read up on ancient Greek philosophy: Argue for Your Wonk -- so it needs to be included here.  Will I read Aristotle this summer? I just might!

A new to me blog with a nice rundown of some favorite UF series -- everything that's on here that I've tried, I've really liked, so I'm going to have to check out the rest of them, obviously.

What I'm reading
The Windflower, by Laura London. You may recall that I went to a certain effort to snag this paperback at RT. I'm three-quarters or more through it as of now, and enjoying it very much. There's nothing at all subtle about this writing; it's just drenched in sexual imagery and tension from page one.  There is a level of descriptive detail in this book that I haven't seen in ages, and I am really loving it. It does make for a slower read, but it adds to my ability to imagine myself inside the story.  Another thing that I love about "old skool" romance-- and this book in particular does it really well-- is the development of complex secondary characters.

Having Her, by Jackie Ashenden. I really enjoyed this quirky couple, particularly the heroine. While I'm not a fan of the "desperate to lose my V-card" trope, that was probably the only negative for me. There's a BDSM element in the story, and refreshingly, it doesn't overwhelm the characters or the relationship they build -- it's well-done but it's not the focus.  Kara is a comic book artist, with candy-colored hair, facial piercings, and combat boots, while Vin is overbearing and overburdened. In a tiny way that I didn't care to think about too hard, Kara reminded me a little of my teenaged daughter and her interests and choices of self-expression, and I thought it was nice to see that population represented in romance.

Elemental Pleasure, by Lila Dubois. I think this one came on the thumb drive from RT14. It is very hard to keep all of those straight! An interesting fusion of menage and Illuminati-style conspiracy theory, the premise is that a very powerful secret society dictates three-way marriages among its members, using its influence and power to convince really smart and high-potential young individuals to join up.  It's not totally convincing, but I liked the characters and I'd give another book in the series a whirl for the fun of it.

Own the Wind, by Kristen Ashley. With Jessica's recent review in the back of my mind, as well as some recs from my book-club ladies, I grabbed this up from my RT14 stack (mass market format). In spite of their current popularity, I think this is the first "MC" (motorcycle club) romance I've read, too.  I liked it OK, and I didn't mind the level of detail that Jessica mentions. The oddest thing that struck me was the structure of the story - brief vignettes from the hero's point of view over the course of several years, until their adult interactions really start, and then most of it from the heroine's point of view, still with jumps in time of weeks and months. Overall, I don't mind Ashley's style, but I don't think I'm up for any more of her MC books. I don't really like the way women are portrayed in this "lifestyle."

That seems to be about it for this week... (let's just assume there are a tidy conclusionary couple of sentences here.  I don't seem to be able to come up with anything right at the moment.)

Monday, June 23, 2014

Vixen in Velvet, by Loretta Chase - Review

Title: Vixen in Velvet
Author: Loretta Chase
Publisher:  Avon
Series: The Dressmakers
Release Date: June 24, 2014
Reviewing: Advance e-copy
Reason for reading: Received a copy from the publisher in exchange for a fair review. Also, I adore Loretta Chase.

The Short Answer 
Strongly recommend!  The characters are sharply drawn, with individual quirks, and the unfolding story is very much about the two of them finding their way to each other.  I especially love the way Lisburne's growing feelings are shown through his observations about Leonie. For example:
Dressmakers always had sharp things about them -- scissors, needles, pins. He had an odd sensation of having wandered inadvertently into danger.
And another one, just for fun:
He was, however, distracted by the stormy picture Leonie Noirot made, in a maniacally feminine concoction of white muslin: the swoosh of the billowing sleeves and the way the overdress-- robe -- whatever it was -- lifted and fell against the dress underneath and the agitated flutter of lace.  Her bosom rose and fell, the embroidery and lace like white-capped waves on a tumultuous sea. 

It was only a woman in a pet, by no means an unfamiliar sight.  all the same, he had to take a moment to slow his breathing to normal and drag his wits out from the dark seas into which they were sinking.

The Whole Scoop
Although this is the third in a trilogy, it stands alone, with no series plot arcs at all. Former characters get an occasional mention, but nothing that went before has a bearing on this story.

It is sometimes hard for me to find new things to say about a favorite author. Sometimes I prefer to just purchase my own copy of the book and read it purely for pleasure, without worrying about how I might review it.  In this case though, I was overcome by temptation and accepted the review copy.

As I expect from Chase, the characters are the main delight; the dialog sparkles; the trademark humor, offset by human frailties is there. So what can I say about this book, in particular, that I haven’t said about Chase’s work before?  A perfectly objective reader might find the plotting a bit weak. There are a few somewhat muddled threads about a society makeover, a poet, a charity, a scandal, and a bet. But the interactions between Leonie and Lisburne upstage these at every turn. The way they notice each other. The way they learn each other. It’s lovely and entirely romantic, and it totally works for me.

What underpins all these moving pieces, I think, is a story about beauty: what it means, how it is perceived, and how it is valued.  When the couple meets, it is at a viewing of a beautiful painting by Botticelli, and the hero and heroine are described as similar to the subjects of the painting.  The makeover thread is about changing society’s perception of a young woman from lackluster and clumsy to regal and desirable.  The poet in the story has been eviscerated by critics, yet his work is tremendously popular with the young women of the season – perception and value. And of course, Leonie's livelihood depends on making women feel, and be perceived as, beautiful.  I have many bits and pieces highlighted in the story supporting this idea, but one of my favorites is when Lisburne, in his pursuit to understand Leonie, discovers the Noirot sisters' charitable efforts to train young women (with otherwise dismal chances) at the sewing professions. Leonie shows him the wares that the girls have sewn and are offered up for sale:
[Lisburne speaking]  "Look at them. Little hearts and flowers and curlicues and lilies of the valley and lace.  Made by girls who've known mainly deprivation and squalor and violence." 

She considered the pincushions and watch guards and mittens and handkerchiefs. "They don't have Botticelli paintings to look at," she said. "If they want beauty in their lives, they have to make it."

"Madame," he said, "is it necessary to break my heart completely?"
In discussing the trilogy with friend, she was troubled by the nobleman-shopkeeper pairing.  Historically speaking, a shopkeeper is an entirely different matter than a governess, or a gently-reared girl fallen on hard times, or most of the variations on Cinderella tropes found in Regency romance.  I will say that this is pretty easy for me to suspend, but possibly not for everyone. What I see in this trilogy is the effort that Chase goes to to elevate the Noirot sisters from shopkeepers to artists.  From seamstress to couturier. To make the readers feel that these dresses, and the entire wardrobes, are indeed, works of beautiful art.

In the way of our beloved romance genre, these threads about beauty come to happy endings: the scandal mitigated, the ugly duckling has her transformation, and even the poet gets his girl.

The Bottom Line
If you need a plot-driven, fast-paced, action-oriented story, this might not be for you. But if you are interested in an exploration of character,  in watching attraction bloom gradually, with a bit of social commentary as a backdrop, there is no better author to bring that to you than Loretta Chase.

Around the Blogosphere
Long and Short Reviews
Addicted to Romance
Feminist Fairy Tale Reviews
Love Saves the World (she picked my favorite quote too!)

Friday, June 13, 2014

Summer Soup

Does your scheduling go all to hell in the summer? Mine sure does...

Soup Dish:  book people are talking about...
Amazon vs. Hachette. You don't need me to tell you about this; everyone is talking about it. I see this as another spasm in the death-throes of the 20th-century publishing model. Everyone involved in this industry is going to see their role adapt or die... or get lucky.  I think for a time, readers may be winners, but if Amazon is allowed to become a monopoly, that won't serve anyone well.  Yet no one is stepping up as a serious competitor in the ebook arena.  Why is that? I love my Kindle, and I love how easy it is to access thousands or even millions of books through Amazon...

BUT, on the other hand, I have music that I have purchased in 4 different formats (wax, cassette, CD, mp3...) and I refuse to do that with books. If a second format is required, it will be paper, and I won't require a device to read it.  More likely, since we're talking about text, people will find a way to strip off the DRM and import it onto any basic text reader.  I have zero ethical qualms about that, regardless of what it says in the fine print about my rights to read it on other devices or media, particularly if Amazon or anyone else feels that device lock-in is a good way to get me to pay for the same work multiple times.  No. I'm not talking about making dozens of copies or sharing more than I would a physical book, but I feel that if I've bought the book, I should be able to read it on whatever media I want to.

What I'm reading
Yeesh, it's been a long time since I've recapped my reading.  Two months! That's a lot of books. I think I'll stick to the highlights.

Most recently, I just finished First to Burn, by Anna Richland and liked it very much. I met Ms. Richland at RT and ended up sitting next to her on the flight home from DFW to Seattle. I'm afraid I may have distracted her a bit from the editing she was supposed to be doing on the second book in the series. The series features a cadre of warriors who were accidentally immortalized while fighting the Grendel alongside Beowulf.  Although I found the paranormal aspect of the worldbuilding to start a little bit slowly, the really unique bit of this book is that the hero is a military Special Forces officer, and a large part of the story takes place while the main characters are deployed in Afghanistan.  Ms. Richland writes about military life with authenticity and a great ear for the dialog.

Another RT introduction landed me with the book Stone Guardian, by Danielle Monsch. The premise is that an apocalyptic event crashes multiple dimensions together, allowing supernatural and magical creatures access to our world, with a lot of scary violence ensuing. I enjoyed the world-building quite a lot but I had a little trouble connecting with the characters, particularly the heroine. She vacillated between super-sweet and sarcastic wise-cracking, which felt inconsistent to me and undermined the romantic chemistry. I may at least sample the next one though because I do find the world intriguing.

A lot of people have been talking about Laura Florand, so I decided to give her a try. I thought the books were overpriced, so I managed to get a copy of The Chocolate Thief through the library. I suspect the main attraction of Florand's work must be the sensual way she writes about chocolate, because that really is wonderful, and her writing overall is perfectly fine. However, I didn't like her characters at all.  The author shows us the hero's vulnerabilities, but instead of endearing him to me he just seemed both pompous and insecure. But the heroine was much worse. A poor little rich girl, her life's dream is to expand the family's mass-produced chocolate dynasty (think the Hershey family) with a line of exclusive high end gourmet chocolate. Although the author attempts to convince us that she's a business genius, her meeting and approach with the hero-- the best chocolatier in Paris, and therefore the world- are completely ridiculous. We are then apparently supposed to feel sorry for the spoiled wealthy heiress who didn't get what she wanted. I DNF'd it.  Also, not for nothing, but it was almost impossible for me to figure out the reading order for this series.  Aggravating.

I'd been meaning to try Jade Lee ever since RT12, because she was such a great personality.  It took me awhile to get around to it, but I finally downloaded and read The Devil's Bargain.  I did finish this one, but I struggled tremendously with the premise. I pretty much hated it.  The hero is a viscount who has fallen on hard times, and hits upon the thoroughly disgusting scheme of pimping destitute women into the marriage market. More specifically, the market as a second (or third, or whatever) bride to an elderly, wealthy man who would like to have a well-trained hooker/wife available, now that his duty to God and country is done.  In some ways, it's rationalizable: these are women who would be left in desperate circumstances.  The viscount arranges for a marriage settlement and provides a "guaranteed product" to the grooms.  He knows the vices of the grooms in question and will not "do business" with the more depraved. However, the training of the young women, while falling short of actually divesting them of their virginity, was humiliating and degrading and I just could not get over my ICK factor.  Surprisingly, I did like the way the twist resolved the seemingly irreconcilable black moment. I would try a different book by this author but it would depend on the premise.

So after a couple of these disappointing reads, I thought Sarah Mayberry might be the antidote I was looking for. I started The Other Side of Us on the plane to RT14, and happily, I was right. I really liked that both characters were at a point in their lives where a romantic entanglement was just a really, really terrible idea-- him VERY fresh from divorce, and she recovering physically from a bad car accident. If you were best friends with either of these people, you'd be telling them, "sure, have some fun, but this is not the moment to get serious!"  Great chemistry; resonant, three-dimensional characters; and grown-up (but not perfect) emotional give and take. Strong recommend.

That's about a third of the books I've read since the last update, but it seems like a good stopping place.  Hopefully I can get back on track with more regular Sunday Soups.  RT14 really did inspire me to keep on blogging, and I'm going to try to get back to reviewing too.  I have some thoughts about the upcoming Loretta Chase book and I'm working through the biggest #wtf book I've read in a while; also known as Hate to Love You by Elise Alden. Angela James of Carina Press called it a "divisive" book at RT and I can see why. It just kind of begs to be talked about.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Love You To Death, by Jackie Uhrmacher - Review

Title: Love You To Death
Author: Jackie Uhrmacher
Publisher:  CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Release Date: September 22, 2013
Reviewing: Paperback
Reason for reading: Received a copy directly from the author at RT14. Alcohol was involved.

The Short Answer 
Flawed, but fun.

The Whole Scoop
Whatever you do, don't read the blurb.  It's a total spoiler for what I thought was the best twist in the story. Because the book was handed to me, and I read it amidst much chaos, somehow I got to the end without reading the blurb on the back and I think my reading experience was much better for it!

Here is as much of the blurb as you should read:
Killing husbands is a hobby for best friends Jill O'Connor and Elle Cooper. Everything changes when Jill marries Marcus Reed, husband number four. Eight years after they first met and three months into the marriage, Jill begins to wonder if maybe he’s the one man worth sparing.
Despite the heroine and her sidekick being serial killers, I still found them endearing, with a curious sweetness under the wise-cracking black humor; I mean, take a look at that cover art. It's a perfect encapsulation of the book: a little gory, a little silly, and doesn't she look like she's having fun?  The sympathetic serial-killer hook works because you just can't take this story seriously enough to call it "problematic."

I loved how the tension built between Marcus and Jill, on several levels. He plays a mental game with her, AND rocks her sexual world, but I loved how that wasn't enough for Jill to just fall for him. He really works for it, and so does she. Love You To Death is a RomCon Reader crown finalist, so I'm not the only one who enjoyed it.

Where it fell down a little bit for me was that as killers, the girls didn't seem very... competent. They talked a lot, in public places, about their plans. They kept some kind of scrapbook or binder with notes and plans and "how to" type articles, I guess, which totally alarmed me on their behalf.  Also, the facts of the story arc didn't hang together quite right for me.  The book opens with Jill feeling torn about offing her newest husband. It isn't until pretty deep in the book that it comes out that she has known him for a long time, since before her killing career began, and that felt confusing to me.  There was also some nonsense in there about a birthday party and about a dozen completely extraneous secondary characters. I do not know what Ms. Uhrmacher did about editing, but I think a good beta reader or a content editor could have made this book stronger.

Do note that this is a 100-page short piece; more of a novella than a traditional single-title work.  It moves along quickly and you're likely to finish it in one or two sittings.  I think the shortness works in its favor - I'm not sure the tension could have been sustained over a longer page count and I felt like it ended in a very satisfying way.  There is definitely some sequel-baiting going on and I'm looking forward to Elle's story next.

Bottom Line
If quirky black humor is your thing, I would strongly recommend this. Humor is VERY subjective, but the first two or three pages are available as an excerpt online, and I think they are a good representation of the novel. If you like them, then pop for the 99 cents and give it a read! I look forward to seeing more from Uhrmacher.

Around the blogosphere:
Fiction Vixen dueling review (remember, don't read the blurb!)
Bitten by Books, with a much better synopsis and no spoiler


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Thoughts on the #RT14 Conference

When I decided to go to RT14 in New Orleans, I was REALLY glad that I had my old post, Thoughts on the RT12 Con, to refer back to, so I'm doing it again in the event that I go to another one in the future.

I actually did spend a fair amount of time and thought deciding how I would manage my time, this time around, and I feel MUCH less ambivalent about RT14 than RT12.  Part of it was just knowing what to expect. Part was having a strategy. A big part was having more pre-existing relationships and virtual friendships I could lean on. And Twitter turned out to play a surprisingly major role for me.

RT itself did a few things differently that I really appreciated.  In 2012, and I gather, most if not all previous years, published authors were given colorful silk flowers to wear prominently on their badges.  This year, there were no silk flowers, but each attendee had a ribbon with a color code for published authors, aspiring authors, bloggers, reviewers, readers, librarians, booksellers, and "industry," which I assume was for agents, publishers, and the like. I feel like this was really helpful for me personally, in finding other blogger/reviewers and in a few cases, it afforded me some flattering attention from authors and publishers looking for review outlets.

The Goal and the Strategy
After thinking hard about what I liked and what disappointed me at the last con, I narrowed in on a few goals:
  1. Meet up and talk to specific people that I either had an on-line acquaintance with, or whose work I admired.
  2. Let serendipity happen.
  3. Don't do things that aren't enjoyable.
To that end, I prearranged meetings with several people I particularly wanted to connect with. No interviews, no notes, no "goal" -- just getting better acquainted with women who seemed super-compatible online.

For authors that I wanted to meet, I made an effort to see them speak at panels or other venues leading up to the book fair. In general, I don't care very much about having books signed because I cycle through them fast; I'm not much of a re-reader; and I've largely converted to ebooks. The one exception though, was an anthology that Alyssa Day sent to me years ago.  It's been signed by herself, plus Meljean Brook, and at the conference, I was able to get a signature from Marjorie Liu, whose work I adore.

I didn't bring home as many free physical books as many conventioneers, because of item #3 above.  Standing in line for many hours is not enjoyable -- especially when the tradeoff is New Orleans.  So I skipped many of the long lines for publisher parties with the best swag in favor of BarCon and serendipity, or a walk to Jackson Square for beignets and a little shopping.

The Big Giant Bookfair
Let's get this out of the way. For me as a reader, there was minimal confusion over how to find an author, regardless of which room they were in. It was a non-issue. I read a few of the rant posts shortly after the fair and from what I read, the people who were the most OUTRAGED by the two rooms were not even there.

However, I knew going into it that the Bookfair was not how I wanted to spend my whole day. I speculated that I could go in later, after the initial push, see the half-dozen authors who were still on my list, and get out quickly.  My companions for a lot of the con had planned to get in line at 8 am for the 11:00 opening and I was not interested in that.  I went out and had what might have been the best meal I've ever had in my entire life, which put me in such a good mood that I hardly minded getting in line at 9:30 or so and waiting for not quite two hours. It's a good thing it turned out that way though, because I think my plan of going later when lines were shorter would not have worked that way at all-- the checkout line wait would have made up and then some for any time saved in the initial line.

I was probably in the first third or so of the line, which surprised me a little. I went to see about 6 authors, and bought two books, which is two more than I had planned. I scooted into the checkout line which was very poorly organized and difficult to see where it started and ended, as it flowed across the first table of authors and into one of the feature author lines. I was one of the first people to buy a book at the consignment register, and there was no waiting there, but the main checkout was already up to 20-30 minutes when I got there.

So anyway, next conference: if I go to the book fair at all, I will skip the on-site purchase in favor of an ebook when I get home.

About Blogging and Reviewing
I went to the Book Blogger Con on Tuesday - I arrived straight from the airport! and it was packed. I was surprised at how crowded it was. Like my experience with panels in 2012, I thought the topics all sounded interesting but didn't go very deep. I would've liked more discussion and less lecture-style--it just felt like too much crammed into the time available.

I also attended panels on the blogger/author relationship, and the blogger/publisher relationship. I can't say I learned anything mind-blowing, or that I will do anything radically different as a result, but it was fun to get some different perspectives.  However, a few things that I will be implementing or at least thinking about:

1. Keeping the publicists more in the loop. I have always thought that these people probably interacted with so many blogger/reviewers that a real individual conversation would be more of a burden than an advantage, but I'm told otherwise. I don't know if all of them feel the same, but at least one publicist that I've worked with via email for a long time, keeps an elaborate spreadsheet that tracks preferences and reviews and all kinds of things, so I will be doing a bit more outreach there.

2. Blog backups. Many people have preached about this but I still never got around to doing it.  I started this past weekend.

3. Automation. Jane Litte talked about several available plug-ins for Wordpress. She uses them to automate post formats (handy when you have multiple contributors), review requests, and other things. She uses a spreadsheet formula to auto-populate buy links for various affiliate programs. One of the things that makes me a sporadic blogger is the amount of time I take on each post, so I am interested in things I can do to streamline that.

4. Updated look and feel. It's been about three years since I changed up my template, and I feel like it kind of shows.  One suggestion from Rachel at Parajunkee was to browse web design blogs and look at newer trends.  Unfortunately, I think I've forgotten everything I ever figured out about CSS, so that feels like a big task right now. At the same time, I'm considering a move to wordpress and/or getting my own domain. I need to do a little maintenance too -- I've noticed that my search box doesn't work very well any more. Grr.

What I learned from RT2012
Focus on the connections, not the panel subjects. This was totally true. I was still seduced by awesome-sounding panels that were mostly superficial. Some were gems, though. You just never know.

Allow for serendipity. I spent more time in the hotel bar, and honestly, that was always a good time. For the first time since possibly the 80s, I shut down a bar, with valiant companions Sara Fawkes, who made a great show of not minding when I spilled beer on her, Jonny from I Love Vampire Novels, Mel from SM Book Obsessions, who, incidentally, brought the con's most sought-after button swag (right), Jackie Uhrmacher, author of a black-widow comedic novella (yep, that's what I said) and porn-promoter Fab_Fangurl (link goes to her mostly-SFW twitter profile, where there are links to all of her content).  That, my friends, is quite a crew, and we had quite a time.

Another evening, I ran into these glamorous ladies, and we had a really interesting conversation about story arcs within series arcs, and the best way to manage them.  After my eyes adjusted to the glare of their FABULOUSNESS, that is.

Read up on favorite authors beforehand. This was a great investment of time! I did find that one way the overstimulation of the conference affected me personally was that I sometimes had trouble stringing coherent sentences together-- there were so many synapses firing about books and characters and authors and series and story elements that I seriously felt like I had con-induced aphasia or something. Every author that I talked to was extremely gracious about mistakes I made about their books or characters.  It's embarrassing to mess up the details, but hopefully my sincere admiration came through.

Twitter. Not only was Twitter instrumental in many if not most of the pre-con connections I had made, but it made logistics during a con a total breeze.  Saving a place in line for your roommate? DM her your location. Want to find an author? Check her feed. Or @ her a message.  One of my must-do activities was a visit to St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, and a hashtagged tweet two days in advance netted me a half-dozen companions to make the walk with.  In many ways, Twitter has replaced comments on blog posts as an interaction channel, and in some cases, it replaces the blog post altogether. I have mixed feelings about that, but that's a whole nother post.  At any rate, joining Twitter directly after RT12 made my RT14 experience vastly deeper.

What would I do differently?
On the whole, I think I was right about everything I decided last time. I would do pretty much the same thing again, with a couple of additions:

It became clear to me this year that there are lots of private parties going on in the background of RT. Obvious, right? Also, even though I had a fair amount of one-on-one discussion with a lot of interesting people, most of the talks were pretty superficial. I mean, not surprising, in some ways, but I would really relish the opportunity to dig in deeper on things I really love about books and stories and characters.  Both years, I've felt dissatisfaction over the panels -- because the topics were so promising, but the time allotted was small and the crowd wanting a piece of it was big.  So I would consider the idea of pre-arranging some small-ish get-togethers, perhaps with moderated topics -- or perhaps not.  Maybe 8-12 people, with a balance of authors and readers.

Skip the BookFair altogether. As discussed above.  However, the Fan-Tastic Day party seemed like it might've been worth the line.  After a tweet from Katibabs about the availability of TheWindflower, I checked my watch and hotfooted it back from dinner in the French Quarter (which was marvelous) for the last 15 minutes of the party and scored a couple of books. It's possible I went too far in my line avoidance.

Jackie from Literary Escapism noted in comments on my 2012 post that she thought that it would be better to only register for a couple of days of the conference and enhance that experience with interviews and BarCon, and I believe that's what she did this time.  I think that's well worth considering. On the other hand, I have weakness for the panels that I may not overcome. Heh. And again, I think the location plays a big factor there, and whether the con hotel is in a walkable area - that would be NOPE for Chicago (because it was really out in Rosemont, far from downtown Chicago), and NOPE for Kansas City, and NOPE for Dallas.  So we'll see what happens in 2016. Or I might try a different con, like RomantiCon, or maybe Coastal Magic, or Casey's new brainstorm, Reading Until Dawn Con.

All in all, I do feel re-energized about the blog, although actual results are going to be a bit delayed due to a couple of real-life things that are consuming my spare time for the next couple of weeks.  Still, I'm going to try to knock out some posts a bit more regularly, and figure out if there's a way I can put out content I'm proud of, with a bit less procrastination and dragging-out of things.


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