Thursday, July 12, 2012

Thursday Thirteen, Edition 29 - About ARCs


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

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

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

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Wicked Road to Hell, by Juliana Stone - Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You want me to touch you."

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

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

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

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

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

Around the Blogosphere
Fictional Candy
Book Savvy Babe
A Bookworm's Haven
Red Hot Books
Unwrapping Romance

Monday, July 9, 2012

Vegas Top Guns, by Katie Porter - Trilogy Review

The Stats:

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

Reviewing: electronic ARCs directly from author

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Around the Blogosphere
Sensual Reads

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

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

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

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Thursday Thirteen, Edition 28 - Things About the ChicagoLand Vampires

OK, as promised a couple of weeks ago, I opened up the first book of Chloe Neill's Chicagoland Vampire series and then... I did not come up for air for a week until I had blazed through all five of the currently-released books.

I would love to do a series review for you but unfortunately, the two-by-four-to-the-head endings of the last two books make it pretty much impossible to do that without spoilering.  God only knows what's in store for the remaining books!  So instead of a review, here are Thirteen Random Thoughts about Chloe Neill's Chicagoland Vampires Series:

1. Right from page one, Merit's narration pulled me straight in.  In the first 20 pages, we get an amazing amount of information about the world-building, the people closest to her, and the immediate events and it never feels dry or info-dumpy; every piece enticed me to learn more.

2. Helen, the... concierge? Den mother? character cracks me up.  I don't know whether to love her or hate her.  She definitely inspires both.

3. Merit, the unwillingly-turned, bookworm grad student cum vampire warrior, is pretty angsty for a chick.  Usually it's the boys that are filled with teh angst.  Also, she doesn't have red hair.  Does the Urban Fantasy Kick-Ass Heroine Committee know about this?

4. Every single male character in this series is ...well... you know, I try to keep this blog at a PG-13 level, but the only word that is really RIGHT for this sentence is: fuckable.  Even the bad guys.  I wanted them all.  Bring ice.

5. I did a stint as a University of Chicago grad student myself, back in the day.  MERIT COULD HAVE BEEN ME.

6. I really miss Chicago-style pizza.  It is not the same in Seattle.  At all.  Yes, this actually is relevant to the books because the way Neill talks about food is almost as drool-inducing as the way she talks about men.  Mmmm.

7. It took me a little while to let go of the idea that an older vampire implies a more powerful vampire, despite the world-building mentions of ratings in Phys, Psy, and Strat strengths for the newbies vamps.  Such is the power of the prevailing mythology, which means my suspension of disbelief falters a little bit with the whole "English Lit Grad Student becomes the Most Powerful Warrior of Them All" transformation.

8. The villain in book 5 hurt my heart a little bit.  I hope book 6 fixes it.

9. Not sure I buy the whole big shocker thing in book 5.  You know what I mean (no spoilers in comments, please!)  It was a little cheaty-feeling, but on the other hand, very happy-making.  So, I'm kind of on the fence about that, to be honest.

10. I enjoy the hints of political machinations, but despite a lot of set up in the first books, it did not seem like the Houses really had much pull.  I would like to see what happens when they pull in favors.  Why don't they have insiders with the press and the politicians?

11. The ending to book #4, Hard Bitten, hit me like a two-by-four to the head.  I immediately downloaded #5, Drink Deep.

12. Then Neill DID IT AGAIN with book #5.  So unfair!

13. I know exactly what I'm going to be reading on August 7.  And if you like vampires at all, you should be doing the exact same thing.  If you start now, you have plenty of time to get caught up with the series.

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

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Siren, by Tiffany Reisz - Review


I'm sorry, there's just no way to discuss this book without talking about how it ends. If you don't want to be spoilered, and you haven't read the book, I STRONGLY RECOMMEND IT. It does contain some elements that may be disturbing, including extreme BDSM, underage/teen participants, and a sexually active Catholic priest.

Published by Harlequin MIRA
Publication Date: Kindle - available now; Paperback on July 24
Edition Reviewed: electronic ARC from NetGalley

The first time I ran into the concept of meta-fiction, I was absolutely fascinated.  I was taking a creative writing class, and the prof had us read a different short story each week which illustrated a different element of fiction.

For the notion of point of view, with an unreliable-narrator bonus, we read Robert Coover's "The Babysitter".  It blew my mind like Pulp Fiction blew everyone's mind when it came out.

So I kind of love a good metafiction experience, which is how I would describe The Siren.  There are multiple layers of story here, both literally and literarily*, with multiple frames that echo and reflect in a completely elegant way.  The Siren is, at the most literal level, about an editor and an author working together to revise a novel for publication.  So the layers of story include the one by Reisz, which I downloaded, the one that Nora (the main character) is writing with Zach as the editor, and Nora's own backstory, which her work-in-progress references.

It's a little bit like that cereal box from the '70s that showed a kid holding a cereal box, with himself on the smaller one (and so on), only if the repeated image is a video that's continuously changing--it's a little dizzying but worth the ride.  As you read Reisz's story, Nora's work-in-progress changes, as does the affair that it's based on.  It's sort of a literary kaleidoscope.

If that sounds confusing, it's because I'm not nearly as good at explaining it as Reisz is at writing it.  It's not confusing to read - the structure of this story has an elegance of architecture that you can't help but admire.

Its first line draws Zach in, just as it did me.

"I don't want to write this story any more than you want to read it."
Zach didn't want to read the novel because he thought it was a romance.  I didn't know if I'd like because I knew it wasn't a romance.  It's really almost a puzzle - it's romantic, but not a romance.  There are some erotic and intensely sexual scenes, but I didn't find it to be a particularly erotic book (at least, not as a whole.  There were definitely a couple of ice-bucket-worthy scenes).  The protagonists find their Happily Ever Afters, or the potential for such, but not with each other.  See?  All the elements, yet it breaks all the rules.

I'm toying with the idea that Zach's experience with Nora is a metaphor for the experience that readers** of romance have with the genre itself:  He is embarrassed by her, considers himself "better" than her, but is compelled by her ability to touch his emotions and his sensuality.  He's surprised by her brains.  He doesn't expect to be attracted but he is, intensely.  He visits an exotic fantasy world, discovers new things about himself and releases a few things that were locked away down deep.  Then, in the end, he goes back to his real-life relationship, feeling more ready to connect emotionally, more forgiving of his past sins, and with a few new ideas to explore with his wife.

I really felt completely satisfied with Zach's character arc.  His interlude with Nora, his story, was a gift to him.  He started out pretty unlikeable and unhappy and Nora helped him find his way back to what he needed.  Some may interpret his journey as being about control, but I think the layer under that is forgiveness - Nora helps him forgive himself.

Nora's story is more complicated and less tidy.  She is the catalyst in the middle of three men, three affairs that are all wildly inappropriate for various reasons.  She is telling all their stories and directing the action.  The way things end with Wesley is heartbreaking and inevitable and excruciating and beautifully written.

As for her relationship with Soren... I don't know if I can fit that into my metaphor.  It doesn't feel like an HEA.  Perhaps I'm more naive about BDSM than I would've thought--and more judgmental than I had thought--but a session shouldn't land anyone in the ER.  I can't like that.  I think that Reisz could have made me like Soren more, made me understand why Nora loves him, but she didn't.

There's a thread running through the book about hurting each other.  There's a lot of "hurts-so-good" consensual pain in this story, but also, people hurt each other all the time: lovers hurt each other when it's the last thing they want.  There's the idea that people need to be hurt, need to inflict hurt, in order to forgive themselves or others.  A very Catholic notion; perhaps that explains Reisz's decision to make the chief sadist of the story a priest.  Early in the book Nora surprises Zach:
"Excuse me," Zach began, trying to regain control of this conversation, "but didn't I repeatedly insult you this morning?"

"Your kvetching was very fetching. I like men who are mean to me. I trust them more."
She says things like this all the time, flippantly, but when we get to the end and see what her choices are, it seems that every flip comment was deadly true.  I honestly don't know what to make of this but it seems particularly dark to me, beyond the parameters of even her own community. The way she hurts Wesley feels like it had to happen, that there is some healing in there; my sense is that Wesley will be better off in the long run because she breaks it off with him.  Going back to Soren, though, I don't know.  It's consistent with her character, but I wish she hadn't.  I wish her character arc ended by breaking with him.  I feel like Reisz is maybe hurting me, with this ending, in one final meta-literary act. And....


and like Nora... I like it. Hit me again, Ms. Reisz.

*spell-check informs me that "literarily" is not word.  But it should be.  And this is the internet, so, it's a word now.  Because I say so.

**not ALL readers, of course; there is no one experience.  But I think it's valid for a general case.

Around the Blogosphere
Mandi at Smexy Books, made me want to read it.
A Buckeye Girl Reads
Tez Miller
Good Choice Reading

There are quite a few reviews out there, so have a look for yourself if you've got favorite reviewers.  As always, if you have reviewed this book please feel free to leave your link in comments.


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