Sunday, October 28, 2012

Wilder, by Christina Dodd - Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Angel, by Tiffany Reisz - Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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