Sunday, May 26, 2013

Sunday Soup - May 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:
Kindle Worlds Announcement.  Amazon is throwing out an interesting model to cash in on the enthusiastic world of fan-fic.  The originators of the world, the fan fic writers, and of course Amazon, all get a slice of the pie, always assuming that there are buyers for this work.  I have no particular dog in the fan-fic race (and there are some positively rabid ones), but the intellectual property ramifications are pretty interesting. As you might expect, Amazon is undoubtedly going to be the big winner in this particular deal, as all of the creators are essentially agreeing to hand over all rights, licensing, etc. to Amazon in exchange for a percentage of the e-story take.

Nalini Singh's latest hero (anti-hero, perhaps) granted an audience to Twitter users this week.  The Book Thingo blog posted a very nice summary of the session [edit: I forgot the link!], and while it says "spoilers" pretty prominently, I don't think there's much there to worry about.  The book releases June 4, so anticipation is building nicely.  It's one I'm particularly looking forward to.  Berkley also posted a Storify rendering of the Tweetfest, but unfortunately I don't think it was all that well done.  Skip it. (I must admit I'm intrigued by the Storify tool though.  I am looking forward to checking it out).

If you're not following Foz Meadows, you should be. That's all.

Smart Bitches takes on the sequel to my all time favorite romance. She gives it an F+. Of course, the sequels are never as good as the original, but if you like old skool, and you like over the top, you might check out this series -- there are 4 or 5 titles, and astonishingly, they are still in print.
What I'm reading
My favorite read last week was a Harlequin Presents by Maisey Yates, called The Couple Who Fooled The World.  It was just so sweet and funny, and she gives good tech speak.  It'll be out in a couple of weeks, and I'll post a review at that time.

The Cursed, by Alyssa Day.  I loved this author's Atlantis series, and I love this one too.  Like her Warriors of Atlantis series, there are all kinds of paranormal races and powers in this series.  The dark stuff is sufficiently scary, but in general this is a lighter-hearted series than many of your gritty UF offerings.  It reminds me a little of Christine Warren's Others series.

Some Words of Wisdom
My office building runs this TV thing in the elevator, called Captivate Networks.  (That video was taken in "my" building.)  Anyway, I stare at the little screen while I riding up to the 18th floor, either slurping a latte or waiting to be caffeinated from the free office coffee.  It runs headlines, weather, some ads, and the occasional random factoid.  Recently, it ran this memorable suggestion:
"Management Tip: Don't leave problems hanging. Try to solve them."
I was like OMG! Why have I never thought of that before?  And how much did they pay the person who wrote that?  Now you too may understand the secrets of a successful manager.  Who needs an MBA?

A more better pearl of readerly wisdom was passed my way via Jeffe Kennedy, by one McNally Jackson.  It's destined to become a classic, if you ask me.
I sometimes pretend to myself that I have insomnia, when what I really have is a good book and inadequate respect for tomorrow.
Can't you just picture that on a mug?

I learned a word today: tsundoku.  I bet you can relate.

On Tap... what soup isn't a little better with a slosh or two?

I am something of a serial monogamist with beers. When I find one I like, I default to it until I find a good reason to change my mind. I drank Alaskan Amber for several years, and last year a friend got me started on Blue Moon Belgian White.  I'm only starting to learn about anything more subtle than "too hoppy, too malty" in terms of figuring out what I like.

For example, after trying a couple of different lagers that both had a weird floral note, I decided that must be what lagers were like, and I didn't like them. Then one of my beer friends said, "Oh, no, that's just the type of hops they used."  The TYPE of hops? Now I have to pay attention to what KIND of hops are in it?  Sheesh.  Complicated.

Anyway, after trying and liking a few pilsners recently, I'm sensing an impending pilsner fling for the summer.  I just have to find the ones that are not too hoppy, and not too flowery, inspired by several pitchers of this delicious, delicious beverage: Roger's Pilsner.

That's it! Have a great week!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Sunday Soup - May 19

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

Soup Dish...
Brenda Novak's annual fundraising auction for diabetes is currently underway, and you have some time to find something good.  You're not likely to get a bargain here-- nor should you expect one, since the object is to raise money for a worthy cause-- but there are some unique and bookish items available.

This week, I discovered something called The Bechdel Test. It's a pretty simple concept - does the movie or book have:
  1. at least two women in it,
  2. who talk to each other,
  3. about something besides a man
If yes, it passes the test.  The origination of the test was a pithy graphic comic which I won't post here due to copyright concerns, but an image search will turn it up for you quick enough.  It's one of those Occam Razor sort of points-- extremely simple in concept, but so revealing when you think about it for more than five seconds.  I'll be looking for that dialog in my next reads.

Wikipedia, "Qworty" and caveat emptor - once again, we are reminded that while the internet is a magical place of near-infinite knowledge, data, and information... it cannot always be trusted.

Nalini Singh will be posting the first two chapters of Heart of Obsidian (PSY/CHANGELING) up on her blog on Monday.  I just pre-ordered the book, due out June 4.  (You KNOW I love this series when I'm paying hardcover prices for a release-day copy.)

 What I'm Reading
I finished up the Katie MacAlister release that I mentioned last week.  I think the world building premise is neat; I'm not sure how much it relates to her previous books since I've only read one or two and that was quite some time ago.  The characters consistently deliver the sort of goofy slapstick humor MacAlister is famous for.  I really enjoyed the first, oh, 40-50% I guess, but eventually I wanted a little more substance to my characters.  I had the nagging suspicion that this heroine just wasn't all that bright, which is not the way to my reading heart.

I read through a soon-to-be re-released Loretta Chase novella for which I owe a full review, so I will only say here that I loved it as I do almost everything this woman writes.

My favorite read for the week though was Cathy Maxwell's trilogy finale, The Devil's Heart . Unlike most Regency trilogies, this bunch actually did have a strong series arc, so you are well advised to read all three.  Highly enjoyable!  I'd call this a ghost story or a supernatural more than a paranormal -- perhaps I'm splitting hairs, but the characters themselves did not have any paranormal powers so it seems to not quite fit what I think of as PNR standards.

Bittersweet by Noelle Adams - I caught this one as a freebie, so why not.  Price is at $2.99 as of this writing.

SINFULLY SWEET (Boxed Set of 6 FULL LENGTH Novels), by a variety of authors, which you can't beat for $0.99. That price is still good at the moment. Apparently I'm all price-conscious this week, because that was it.

Oh, hey, there's a similar deal going on, also $0.99: Dark Nights Dangerous Men, for 6 indie romances.  I already own several of these, so I'm pondering whether I want the rest.  Still a great deal.  According to Katie Reus, you should have the rest of this week to pounce.

On Tap
What soup isn't a little better when you split a serving of wine or beer with the pot?

I have been MISERABLE with a rare allergy attack this week, so between the stuffy head and the antihistamines, I've mostly been On A Break from the brew this week.  However, I did try a Burnside Sweet Heat at a work event and it was very interesting! I suspect that if my faculties had been entirely intact it would've been too spicy for me, but the heat was a bit welcome for my stuffy head.

And that's it for this week's Soup!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Thirteen Things about RT13 - Edition 30

I went to the RT convention last year and, honestly, had some mixed feelings about it.  There were a number of reasons why I chose not to go this year.  But I have to say, knowing what I was missing made me feel kind of left out, like there was this big party that I could've gone to but decided not to, and then kind of regretted opting out.  Well, really, exactly like that.  So here's a roundup of a few places on the web where you can kind of live - or re-live, if you were there - RT13 in a vicarious sort of way.

13. Kiersten Hallie Krum's roundup on #Bittercon

12. Danielle with highlights from the Casablanca team

11. John Scalzi talks a little about attending a con as a gender minority.

10. Ilona Andrews sells out in 30 minutes

9. Jeaniene Frost's rundown.

8. USA Today's "Happily Ever After" column is rapidly becoming one of my favorite places to find good stuff about the genre, books, authors, and events.

7. Andrew Shaffer is a prolific Tweeter, so you may need to page back a bit, but his RT live-tweets were pretty awesome.

6. Red Hot Books blogger Jen records her favorite moments

5. Nicole Peeler has lots of neat photos with entertaining captions

4. Kristina Wright's (one my favorite erotica writers) recap

3. From the horse's mouth: RT Magazine's roundup

2. EL James makes a surprise and dramatic appearance, as reported by Smart Bitch Sarah.

1.  Romance authors and cover models doing the Harlem Shake.  No words.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sunday Soup - The Inauguration

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

I thought it would be fun to write up some loosely organized notes about what caught my eye in the previous week.  It's fitting to kick it off on Mother's Day, since my trusty soup pot is called into service regularly to feed the family.  My husband has his favorite kitchen utensils, but the pretty, cobalt blue enameled iron stewpot is my favorite, due in no small part because the effort-to-deliciousness ratio is highly favorable.  So, HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY!

You have a couple of days left to apply to be in the next generation of Avon Addicts. If you've been reading here for the last year or so, you'll have some idea of what a great reader program this is. Current and alumni addicts have formed a wonderful community, mostly on Facebook and Twitter. It looks like you are going to need to go the Avon Facebook page to apply, so you're going to want to get on that.

Recent releases from some of my favorite authors.
This is NOT meant to be comprehensive -- that would be work.  (You can have a look at Literary Escapism or The Book Tart for REALLY LONG lists.) These are releases I've been watching for and now they're out! Yay!

* Alyssa Day's The Cursed (May 7)
* Cathy Maxwell's The Devil's Heart (April 30)
* Jocelynn Drake's Dead Man's Deal (May 7) - Review
* Laura Wright's Eternal Demon (May 7)
* Kira Brady's Hearts of Shadow (May 7)

What I've Been Reading
I don't review everything I read, by a long shot.  So what are the books that aren't making it to the blog?

Against the Dark
Carolyn Crane's latest release is a straight-up romantic suspense, with much less of the quirky, slightly-off-kilter humor of her paranormal stories.  A bit over the top in places; pacing is breakneck -- I literally had to put it down for a few minutes at the peak of the action because my heart was pounding so hard.

The Bridgertons: Happily Ever After
Sometimes a little small snip is all you need.  Julia Quinn's collection of second epilogues is a plate of little fluffy sweet meringues, or maybe sorbets, if you'd like a palate cleanser between your readings.

Vampire Sheikh
This is a Harlequin Nocturne by Nina Bruhns that I literally read on a Twitter dare from Maisey Yates.  I'm noodling on a Sheik Week feature here at Alpha Heroes - what do you think?  I need to find a copy of Bertrice Small's The Kadin for it to be a perfect representation though. (Oopsie.  I may have just bought it.  Damn you Amazon one-click...)

Time Thief
Although I've tried Katie MacAlister before and didn't feel like her humor clicked with me, I've been enjoying this first book of a new series.  I'm about half-way through.

Around the Blogosphere -
some articles that caught my eye this week.

Jessica guests at Radish Reviews
Celia Grant talks about romance and bad sex at diary of an accidental housewife
Kaetrin shares her favorite sex scene of all time
New blog.  I love everything here.
Love this kind of thinky piece from Natalie at Radish Reviews

On Tap This Week
I find that the flavor of any soup is generally improved by a slosh of an adult beverage, so I'm including my weekly beer pick here at the Soup.

Amusingly enough, my taste in beer is similar to my taste in romance: while it's not particularly eclectic or out of the ordinary, it's not usually what the guys are drinking, and it just so happens that it's a little bit girly.  I like my beer a little sweet, rounded. Sometimes light, and sometimes dark, but not hoppy, edgy, or bitter.  You can go to lit fic for that.

So this week I've been drinking Sam Adams' Cream Stout, which is chocolatey and delicious, and their Cherry Wheat, which has been a favorite of mine for years but it's hard to find on the West coast.  A new boozy megalith opened in our area this year, and hurray! 

That's it for this week!  Happy reading!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Tempestuous Eden, by Heather Graham - Retro Review

Title: Tempestuous Eden
Author: Heather Graham
Publisher:  Open Road Media
Reviewing: 2013 e-only re-issue; advance copy from NetGalley 
Why I read it: I have loved romance novels since 1979, so the Retro Reads program sounded like a lot of fun to me.

The Short Answer 
I thought this was a fun story, but probably not for everyone.  I had a little trouble losing myself in the story because I was so "on the alert" for elements of "then versus now"-- bit of a hazard for me when I know I am reading for the purpose of writing a review.  Qualifies as an "old-skool" romance on a number of measures, but doesn't step over that alpha-hole line of true cruelty or rape.

Then and Now
I think I really need to start with this bit before I can talk about the story and what's to like.

Step into the wayback machine with me, children.  1983 was the year: hair was big, eyeshadow was blue and sparkly, and your jeans were tight enough that you might use a pair of pliers to pull the zipper up.  St. Elsewhere's was a popular hospital show, and Hill Street Blues was killing it in the drama ratings. (We also wouldn't have said "killing it."  We might've said it was "bitchin'" or "rad.")

I mention these two shows, because in my opinion, they started to raise the bar for TV realism.  Cop shows got grittier and more graphic, and hospital shows started hiring medical consultants and making the hospital more than just a setting for the drama.  This progressed on into NYPD Blue, Law and Order, and the CSI franchise for cop shows, while the hospital genre got ER, Chicago Hope, and Gray's Anatomy.

Why do I bring this up?  I was watching an episode of All My Children in the mid-90s, and Doctor Jake Martin was flashing his shiny smile in the ER when a BIG TRAUMA CASE came in.  He leapt into action!  He took vitals!  He made with the stethoscope.  He barked with great authority: "Nurse! hand me that... uh... plastic thing! Stat!"  and I couldn't help it, I rolled on the floor.  It would've been FINE in 1978.  But not in 1994.

My point is, our exposure to more realism since 1983 has raised our expectations.  We have more instant access to accurate information about, well, EVERYTHING, than anyone in 1983 dreamed of.  So for these re-issued, non-updated books, you may need to set your expectations accordingly.

OK, On to the Actual Book
Blair is an American "princess," accustomed to moving in elite social circles, who has experienced a trauma and is serving with a humanitarian outreach organization similar to the Peace Corps, in a politically unstable region of South America.

Her father, highly placed in Washington DC, gets wind of a situation that could put Blair, specifically, in danger.  We don't find out many details of this situation until the end.  He pulls some strings to make sure Craig is assigned to get Blair out, as he is "the best."  However, he is not allowed to tell her anything,  including that he works for/with her father, as those details are all classified.

So we have the setup here for a classic Big Mis, but not the kind that can/should be resolved by one character simply pulling their head out.  The Big Mis is intentionally perpetrated, and Craig knows very well it's going to blow up in his face.  

Soft Focus
In so many ways, I noticed that this story is far less specific than a more modern book.  The plot, setting, travel-- all of the action scenes, and including the love scenes, were just much... fuzzier.   The love scenes don't talk about body parts, they talk about "her body," "her limbs," and "his heat." Everything is less graphic.  Pretty much everything takes a backseat to the emotional journeys, which are conveyed in quite a few scenes of introspective, internal narration.  I thought the pivotal moments when they, separately, realized they were in love with each other seemed a little fast, and that, more than any stylistic or contextual problems, knocks it down from All Time Great to Really Good, for me.

As a military special op romance, Eden is fairly tame.  There is no graphic violence (which I rather appreciate).  Great danger is implied, and narrowly escaped, but not depicted.  Superhuman antics by Our Hero turn out to be not really all that needed.

On the other hand, the action and situation was mild and generic enough that you won't be pulled out by any obvious errors. 

The one characterization that I had trouble with is the superior attitude that the hero takes.  In a few cases, he really is laughing at her, and not especially kindly.  The superiority thing is pretty common to romance of all eras, and usually isn't a deal-breaker for me, but those couple of scenes got under my skin a little, as I feel like humiliation is harder to come back from than perhaps any other kind of give-and-take.  There is a point where she - OK, I don't think this is too spoilery - basically steals his car, and he talks about how much razzing this cost him with the guys.  Maybe if I had gotten to see this, where he'd really been humbled by her, the other bit wouldn't have rankled quite so much.  

Blair needs to overcome her fear of commitment, after losing her first husband violently.  I think her conflict and her journey is depicted clearly and believably, if a little bit thinky.  Not uncommonly, Craig is not particularly conflicted once he falls in love.  He struggles with the circumstances of his mission and knows he's going to have some 'splaining to do, but I don't think he has the internal "work" to do that Blair does.  This is pretty typical of older romances, and serves to keep the heroine as the real focus of the story.  As Jenny Crusie says in her brilliant 1998 essay, they are
stories that promised that if a woman fought for what she believed in and searched for the truth, she could strip away the old lies about her life and emerge re-born, transformed with that new sense of self that’s the prize at the end of any quest. And when the heroine emerges transformed from the romance story, so do I.
And Blair does emerge transformed.  Don't get me wrong, I love an angsty-hero focused romance as much as the next girl, and plenty of great romances are balanced between both, but the heroine-centered romances are the core of the genre, I believe.

Things I Noticed
One of the things that struck me was the word "terrorist."  It has really come to mean something fairly specific, in the US anyway, these days.  Based on my imperfect recollection of current events of the day, it would have been more common to hear the term guerrillas or insurgents.  In Tempestuous Eden, it's used pretty generically to mean "REALLY bad guys." Come to think of it, I'm not sure it really *IS* all that different today.  But it seemed a bit of a casual usage.

The most obvious anachronism to me is that the characters smoked cigarettes all the time!  That would so not fly in a modern contemp.  Smaller things: the hero is a Vietnam vet;  Walter Cronkite and Tom Selleck got a mention.  Also I smiled a little at the character names: Blair and Craig.  Remember Blair?

Bonus: What old-skool romance would be complete without heaving bosoms?
He wanted a life with his princess, the woman who stared at him now, outraged by his behavior.  She truly was a princess tonight, an American princess, breathtakingly regal in the empire velvet, her breasts heaving slightly, intoxicatingly, with her agitation.

Are Retro Reads for You?
The slogan for this imprint is "Passion may fade; great romance lasts forever."  So does that claim hold up?

I think: absolutely.  Tempestuous Eden has all the elements of a great romance: the hero is strong, loyal, protective, and has integrity; the heroine is principled, resourceful and an emotional match for him. The markers of the 80s made me smile more than anything, and I rather appreciate that it isn't trying to masquerade anything it isn't.  Readers who need more explicit action and less introspection may not like this particular title.

As I said above, I would call this specific title Timelessly Really Good more than Timelessly Great, due to my feeling that the chemistry was just not quite nailed.

Around the Blogosphere
From the TBR Pile
Waheedaharris (can't quite tell what the name of the blog is here, but a good article)

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Dead Man's Deal, by Jocelynn Drake - Review

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Title: Dead Man's Deal
Author: Jocelynn Drake
Publisher:  Harper Voyager
Series Name: Asylum Tales (Book 2, but there are also some novellas)
Reviewing:  Advanced Reader's e-Proof
Release Date: May 7, 2013 

Reason for reading: I like Jocelynn Drake's vampire series, and was offered the eARC via the Avon Addicts program.

The Short Answer 
While I had a few doubts about Angel's Ink, I really felt like Drake hits her stride with Dead Man's Deal - the voicing is stronger and I love the multitude of characters.

The Premise
Reprising from my review of Angel's Ink:
In the tradition of Kim Harrison's Hollows, and Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, we have a world where the paranormals are "out" and live alongside the mortals.  It's a bit unclear how long the world has been this way; perhaps forever.

There is a distinct hierarchy among the paranormal races, and the Wizards and Witches are at the tippy top.  Unfortunately they apparently never had the wise guidance of Spiderman's Uncle Ben*, and their great powers are used in a world-wide tyrannical rule.  Everyone is afraid of them, and within their own ranks, no one seems to like anyone else very much either. Confession: I just finished reading the entire Harry Potter series quite recently, and I have to say, this might be how the world would look had Harry not defeated Voldemort.  Seriously.

Gage has opted to leave the Towers, which are both a literal place - or collection of places - and Drake's term for the general society of witches and wizards.  It's their Council, or UN, or gang headquarters; depending on how you look at it. He's a rogue, and living on borrowed time as far as the Towers are concerned.

Character and Point of View
There's a thing that some of my favorite authors do with a first person point of view that I really enjoy: as a reader, you get an implicit understanding of how the point of view character feels and thinks about themselves, but a really great author can also reveal how the world views that character, and that difference can be really, really interesting.

Gage sees himself as this average guy, just trying to get along, who had the misfortune of being pulled into the Towers.  It so happens that he's a pretty powerful Wizard, but he'd really just as soon forget all that.  He wouldn't even have to use his powers if the Towers would just leave him alone.  But they won't, and when they come after the people he cares about, well, you can't fight a flamethrower with a blow-dryer.

In the first book, I think the reader is expected to generally agree with Gage's hapless, reactive assessment of himself, but here we start to understand that he isn't just any average Wizard.  That if he had remained with the Towers, he would have been a force to be reckoned with. And that--maybe-- he still is.  Only now he has his own rulebook.

The Plot Thickens
Here in the second book, Drake picks up a few threads from the first book, revisits a number of prominent characters, and introduces more of them.  Gage's innate integrity wins him uneasy allies in some camps, enemies in others, and it's all juicy anticipation to see the layers and possible directions this series can go.  The character-driven nature of how this all unfolds puts it in my DO WANT column.

There's no lack of action though.  In fact, Gage spends a real lot of time here getting physically -- and magically -- beat up.  Good thing he knows healing charms, is all I can say.

Thanks to the popularity of the Special Ops subgenre of romance, I am qualified to recognize and define Gage's specialty in Dead Man's Deal: extraction. First, he must extract his girlfriend from a tricky arranged marriage (sort of), 300 years in the making.  Second, he extracts his brother from the crossfire between a bad-ass elf mafia and the Towers.  There are a couple more, too, but they are more about series-arc setup and I will leave them for you to discover.  And this is where we see that while Gage can roll with the punches - literally- he's also a thinking woman's hero. One of my favorite things about the plotting of both books is the twisty, puzzley aspects of how he outsmarts his opponents.  Hmmm.  Perhaps the title hints at this.

Speaking of the title, I thought it was slightly misleading.  Gage enters a bargain in Angel's Ink that's going to cost him a year spent in the Underworld, á là Persephone, and I was rather expecting that particular story.  Which this totally wasn't.  So while tensions build and the skies darken on the horizon for Gage's world, he also has this sword hanging over his head, to drop at any moment.

Bits and Pieces
One of my favorite passages in the book is when Gage meets Gaia.  The whole chapter is deliberately paced differently, colored differently, textured differently.  Gage does not behave out of character, but it's like you've opened a whole different book within a book, which is exactly appropriate for what is going on there.  It's gorgeous.

Stupendous giggles for Drake's romance-industry not-so-insider tribute in the naming of a defunct factory.  Oh lady.  So many levels there.  Love it.

That cover.  Damn.  That's one thing I really miss about p-book* reading-- the shiny, shiny covers.  That one is almost worth just buying and framing the cover.  Yum.

Bottom Line
I really like this one, and I'm looking forward to the continuing series.  In the meantime, I'm going to check out the two short stories: one about Bronx, and one about Trixie

Around the Blogosphere:
Literary Escapism
Heroes and Heartbreakers
Literal Addiction 
A Book Obsession 
Mad Hatter Reads

As always, if you have reviewed this book, please feel free to leave your link in comments or let me know and I'll edit it in.


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