Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sunday Soup - January 26

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...
The most interesting articles I saw this week were again on the topic of niceness in reviews.  I think about this a lot. In What Do We Even Want From Book Reviews Anymore?  Jason Diamond makes a compelling argument against "niceness:"
Amid all the discussion about what critics should or shouldn’t do, it’s rare to hear any substantive debate over what criticism actually is — and, specifically, what function it currently serves for readers. There are plenty of talented book critics whose work we should be talking about, many of whose jobs are in constant peril, yet we seem more interested in arguing about what tone or approach the profession as a whole should take than these writers’ specific reviews and the books considered within them. This is what’s so troubling about the level of abstractness with which we approach book criticism these days. Not only is it weakening the already shaky position of the book review, but it’s making us forget why the form is so important in the first place.
And I think he has some good points. I would far rather hear about a specific post that made well- or poorly- supported comments about a book, than generalized complaining about "online tone."  He references this Slate article, which strikes me as a bit more whiny about the good old days, but makes the point:
Reviewers shouldn't be recommendation machines, yet we have settled for that role, in part because the solicitous communalism of Twitter encourages it. Our virtue over the algorithms of Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and the amateurism (some of it quite good and useful) of sites like GoodReads, is that we are professionals with shaded, informed opinions. We are paid to be skeptical, even pugilistic, so that our enthusiasms count for more when they’re well earned.
Which I agree with, but I am mostly happy to cede that responsibility to professional critics and stay mainly in the role of recommending stuff I love. Tackling hard questions and fixing problems is something I do in my professional life, but I am not obligated to take that on for a hobby I love.  I will say that I would be sorry to see the role of a professional critic go the way of the buggy whip. It's a brave new world in publishing and it's disrupting so many elements-- I hope the professional critic makes it through to the other side.

This review of Why I Read, by Wendy Lesser, is reviewing a book which is about how to read books, so it's a bit recursive in nature. I found the quotes from the book intriguing and enticing and they made me want to read it.  The swooning editorialization about the book was everything that Jason Diamond and Jacob Silverman bemoan, including the supercilious quote:
Lesser has nothing to say about social media, because for the true bibliophile there’s nothing to say about social media.
Pretty much all the quotes made me want to read the book, and all the original material in the article made me want to slap the writer of the article.

Loved this post from Kaetrin on the default characters in our heads, and what it takes for an author to put their own character there.

I saw a tweet linking to this article, filled with righteous outrage, and followed it to the source.  To be honest I don't really understand all the outrage. C S Lakin (a pseudonym) discusses how she analyzed the construction and marketing of a niche genre e-book.  And seems to have met with pretty good success.  I didn't see condescension or lack of respect-- but maybe it's distressing to hear about an author who can succeed at writing a genre that she herself doesn't love?  Interestingly (to me, anyway), Lakin doesn't seem to understand that the key to her success is more about how she managed the keywords and the Amazon positioning than how she wrote the book.  I read a page or two from the preview and wasn't particularly impressed (it sounded a lot like my own attempt to write an historical romance, and you'll just have to take my word for it that that is NOT a compliment). Seems to me that there is good stuff to learn there, and if you don't like the "attitude" of the writer, then you don't have to take on the attitude to see what she's done to succeed in marketing.  I think it might be interesting to read the book, and then read the Catherine Anderson title that she says she used to analyze the structure... but I'm not sure I can be bothered; it's two genres I don't love (sweet and western) in one package. 

What I'm reading

Blazed through Kresley Cole's MacRieve this week. I thought the plot twists were a little bit pat, but the characters made up for it, for me. I wouldn't say it's my favorite title in the series, but a solid addition.

See, writing stuff down sometimes helps. I was browsing my stash for something to read, and after my Thursday Thirteen on historicals, I grabbed up a Jennifer Haymore title, Twice Tempted, to nibble on.  First in a series! Identical twin, lost at sea! But, no body found, so we know what that means, right soap opera fans? Am I right? Pretty sure I'm right.

And then sometimes I'm just in the mood for something a little grittier, so I'm also reading Beyond Pain, by Kit Rocha. Hot damn, I love this series.

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

Nice article with the latest gossip and the second version of the official series trailer, with a bit more of Jamie and Claire together.

Jamie pic of the week:

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sunday Soup - January 19

Sunday Soup is... a little of this, a little of that, not too much work, and hopefully a tasty result.
I know many of you have been dealing with extreme weather, so I almost feel bad mentioning this, but last Saturday, we lost power for pretty much the entire day.  I must be getting old, because dealing with that pretty much exhausted me for getting anything normal done on Sunday.  So once again, we're looking at a two-week soup.

In other personal news, I've been cramming for a professional certification exam, so some of my usual Twitter, blog-browsing, and reading time has been occupied with flash cards and practice quizzes.  What have I missed?

Soup Dish:  book people are talking about...
My favorite thing from recent happenings:  Smart Bitch Sarah acquires Romance Novel Barbie and Ken. An epic photojournal you just cannot miss.

#Hashtags in your #blogpost titles? Never even occurred to me.  Some pros and cons by super-star blogger Parajunkee

I thought this was an interesting article about how significant your marketing/packaging choices can affect your sales.  Yay math!

Over at Wonkomance, Ruthie Knox talks about what is "okay" in romance and what isn't:
It is the readers, we are told, who don’t want small penises or capacious vaginas or expired condoms or crying heroes or functional humans who have been sexually assaulted and are not healed by magical sex. But I am a reader, too, and I want all of these things. I want everything. I want, as a baseline, fiction that is about humans.
I'm a little bit divided in my thoughts about this. Yes, I think there is room for less soft-focus in romance. But I do think there is a fantasy element, and I'm not sure I want the pore-magnifying realism of an HDTV close-up, either.

I find the discussion around copyright rules and how they benefit authors and the public, and how they are evolving to be fascinating. This latest development though, seems pretty clearly a play by Disney. I'm not sure how I feel about copyrights expiring when they are clearly still in heavy use... then again, this mainly benefits corporations, which I don't think does very much to inspire creativity.

Phyl is one of my original and most loyal readers -- so I'm super happy to see her popping up in my feed again lately, talking about reading challenges.

What I'm reading
I've been awfully "meh" about my recent reading... which means it really might be me. So, grain of salt, and all that. 
I recently finished up Sandra Antonelli's A Basic Renovation, a full length contemporary featuring a forty-something professional house-flipping heroine.  To be honest, I wanted to like this more. I liked the heroine, but the hero's character was kind of muddled and there were times when I really just didn't want them to be together.  I should do a review.  I have Some Things to Say.

I still haven't finished Sarah MacLean's One Good Earl Deserves a Lover. I'm just finding the heroine too, well, ridiculous, and it doesn't seem to be getting better.

I also read The Dom Project, after seeing some interesting buzz on Twitter and my RSS feed. And it was OK, but fell a little short of expectations. The thing I think is most interesting is that despite a focus on BDSM in the premise, it felt more like a romance and less like an erotic romance to me. The heat level was high, but not too high for a contemporary romance, IMO. Although the premise was locked into exploring BDSM, the real conflict to the relationship was pure-vanilla emotional stuff. There is a lot to like about this book, but the characters just fell a little flat, especially the heroine.

On the upside, I just started MacRieve by Kresley Cole and I'm gobbling that one up.  Fabulous stuff.

Outlander Watch... Och.
I am surely not the most dedicated Outlander fan out there; I only read any of the books once and I cannot recite quotes or even sigh much over specific favorite scenes.  The original book though was an extraordinary reading experience as a whole, and I am really enjoying the buzz around the Starz production, due to begin airing this summer.  So I thought I'd use this space to throw a few tidbits in, since the beer-tasting has gotten a bit-- well, I don't want to say stale, because that's sort of a bad pun, but it's more or less accurate.

An Interview with Diana Gabaldon: "They Want to Lick Him."

And if you didn't want to lick him before, you might, after watching this-- bearing in mind that "Sassenach" is Jamie's pet name for Claire...

Mmmm, those eyes.  Time for a re-read, I think.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Thursday Thirteen - Edition 31: Catching up on History

Been awhile since I've done a T-13! So let's kick of 2014 with a good one.

Sometimes, the allure of the new and shiny distracts me from the tried and true.  For this and other reasons, I've gotten a bit disconnected from some of my old favorite authors. So here are 13 historical romance authors whose backlists I keep meaning to check out.  In no particular order:

1. Mary Balogh
2. Mary Jo Putney
3. Madeline Hunter
4. Anne Gracie
5. Sherry Thomas
6. Courtney Milan
7. Katherine Ashe
8. Cathy Maxwell
9. Sabrina Jeffries
10. Sophia Nash
11. Julie Ann Long
12. Jennifer Haymore
13. Lecia Cornwell

This post is as much for me as for my readers! Hopefully I can check in later in the year and see how I've done...


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

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Obligatory 2013 Round Up Post

Photo Credit: Colm Britton via Flickr Creative Commons

Happy New Year!
I hope everyone had a happy and safe celebration last night, and that if you are having a quiet day today, you have a great book to curl up with.

My post today offers some highlights of my 2013 reading. I never claim to offer "best of" advice, because there are so many wonderful books that I haven't gotten to yet.  But I can offer some personal highlights and suggestions.

Favorite Series Continue...
Kim Harrison's Ever After came out in late January and appears to have been my first new-book kindle purchase of 2013. After a couple of books that seemed a little slow in the series, I think it has taken a turn for the AMAZING. I really liked Ever After and need to go pre-order Undead Pool, out late next month.

I totally dig Coreene Callahan's Fury series about dragon shifters. Fury of Seduction was a late 2012 release that I read in 2013, and Fury of Desire came out in October of 2013.  Good stuff.

Chloe Neill's House Rules and Biting Bad.  Unff. Love this series. Wild Things is due out in a few short weeks, and there is a novella coming out on January 7 if you need an appetizer.

JR Ward's highly anticipated Lover at Last. I did enjoy this installment, as much for the setup of the Band of Brothers arcs as the possibly somewhat overhyped, possibly somewhat anti-climatic  m/m romance. Although, I might need to go re-read Qhuinn's induction scene.

Meljean Brook's Guardian Demon. I am a little embarrassed to admit that I haven't read this yet. In a backward sort of way, this is a compliment - it's one of those books that I want to really savor, so I've been waiting for a perfect moment, a quiet weekend. Perhaps it says something about my 2013 that I'm still waiting for that. I do love this series and looking forward so much to this book that I haven't wanted it to end... I know, I'm weird.

Magic Rises by Ilona Andrews - the latest in the Kate Daniels saga. Very nice addition. I liked the change of venue and the introduction of a charming, attractive, charismatic, profoundly evil villain.

Nalini Singh's Heart of Obsidian. I loved this story. Loved it. Definitely one of my top reads of 2013. Possibly THE top read. Fantastic.

Crooked Hearts, by Patricia Gaffney. This was a digital re-release of an older title. I found it really adorable - set in the west, about two con artists.  I have a weakness for con artists (and jewel thieves), it seems.  Go figure.

The Kadin, by Bertrice Small. I still want to do a harem/sheik feature. I'm having trouble with the Nike part of blogging: Just Do It. I'm so glad I re-read this book, though. I read it when it first came out and loved it then, and I think it truly holds up. It's more of a biography or a "saga" than a romance by stricter standards though; there is no single focal relationship and it's not exactly an HEA.  It's really, really good though.

I feel like I've been reading a lot of Regency historicals but they aren't really standing out to me, with the exception of Anna Cowan's Untamed. Another top read of the year, for sure.

This isn't a category I read heavily in this year, but I did keep up with a few favorites -- Victoria Dahl, Kristan Higgins, Jill Shalvis, Nora Roberts (Boonsboro Inn series), and Lisa Kleypas. Not a letdown in the bunch.

New Stars
Alexa Egan - I received both of the books in her Imnada series of cursed Regency werewolves with Napoleonic PTSD from a publicist (and managed to read the second one first).  I think it's a series to watch, with great characters and tremendous worldbuilding; Egan combines familiar tropes with dark and surprising twists. I really enjoyed them.

Laura Kaye - Kaye seems to have burst onto the scene in late 2011. She now has no less than 12 titles published in less than three years, with at least three different publishers, including Avon and Entangled. I read the first in her Avon series, Hard As It Gets, and while it was not without flaws, I think Kaye's writing and the series premise fits nicely into the hot special-ops romantic suspense subgenre and will do very well.

Anna Cowan - I'm not sure I need to say more about this new star. Much has been said at Dear Author, Radish Reviews, and many others (but those were my favorites). I liked this book a lot and my advice is: read it, don't overthink it. But that's kind of my philosophy at all times, heh.

Alexis Hall - Hall's m/m romance, Glitterland, was definitely a bit of a venture beyond my personal comfort zone.  To some extent, that fact in itself made the experience a bit of fresh air for me. I don't read a lot of m/m, but what stood out about this book was not the fact that it was a gay romance, but that it was the story of a hero struggling with a mental illness, who achieves, if not exactly a happily-ever-after, a distinct ray of hope. Which can be everything. I loved how this arc was written, though it was brutal reading at times.

Mary Ann Rivers - I've been enjoying her essays at Wonkomance like crazy. Had some mixed feelings about her big debut with novella The Story Guy, but overall looking forward to some full-length work from her.

Late to the Party
I finally glommed onto Darynda Jones' Charley Davidson series and pretty much didn't come up for air the entire time. It's the best part about being late to a party. Love it!

This year, I read Jeaniene Frost's two books in her spinoff Night Prince series, about Vlad and Leila. As I have suspected, I'm going to need to dive into that whole Cat and Bones thing, aren't I? (That was rhetorical. Yeah. I am.)

I was SO THRILLED to find a new series debut from Devon Monk. I absolutely LOVED Hell Bent. Loved it. LOVED. IT.

Similarly, Jocelyn Drake of Dark Days fame has started a new series that I'm pretty into, The Asylum Tales. It's a taut, grown-up Harry Potter-esque world of warlocks, witches, a few dozen paranormal races, and a serious imbalance of power. Loving it. I've been a little worried about the momentum for this series because Drake's home page has said this for a long time:
After placing six different stories in the hands of readers in 2012, I am looking to lay low in 2013.  But that doesn’t mean I won’t be busy this year.  Dead Man’s Deal (Asylum Tales #2) will hit the shelves on May 7, continuing Gage’s fight against the Ivory Towers.  Leading up to the release, I will also be running contests on Goodreads.  Keep an eye on my blog for regular updates on all the fun coming this spring.
After a bit of digging, I found this from mid-December:
I'm currently hard at work on the third book and my fingers are crossed that I'll be able to get it released in 2014. 
So, my fingers are crossed for that too.  And  Angel's Ink is going for $1.99 for Kindle, Kobo, and Nooks, so if you're an e-reader, there's no reason not to give this series a try!

The End
My standout reads for 2013 then are:
  • Heart of Obsidian - Nalini Singh
  • Unbroken - Anna Cowan
  • Ever After - Kim Harrison
  • Shadow's Curse - Alexa Egan
  • The Kadin - Bertrice Small (not a 2013 release, sorry)
  • Hell Bent - Devon Monk
With apologies to Meljean Brook for not getting to Guardian Demon yet *shameface* .

Here's to good reading in 2014!


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