Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Romance Apologia Scale

This is making the rounds, but it's too good to miss. If you haven't seen it in its entirety, now is the time:

Dear Author's Romance Apologia Scale.

You can probably guess where I fall.

.

ps, sorry if you clicked and went somewhere unexpected. Link is corrected now.

Contest: What a Scoundrel Wants

It's true, I'll do almost anything for a free book. Given the raves I'm seeing, I'm adding Carrie Lofty to my 2009 new authors list, too.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thursday Thirteen, Edition 1

Yep, that’s edition ONE. I figured if I was going to jump on this bandwagon, I might as well pick a good day for it.

So yes, I’m thankful for my family and my health and a roof over my head and a good job, and all those things, and believe me, I don’t take them for granted, BUT Alpha Heroes is about reading romance, so here goes the Alpha Heroes Thanksgiving Thirteen:




THIRTEEN REASONS TO BE GRATEFUL FOR ROMANCE BOOKS


1. Never need to worry about artwork for the walls: floor to ceiling bookshelves!

2. It’s educational: I bet I know WAYYY more about the proper forms of address for dukes, earls, marquesses, and plain old Misters than the average 21st century American, not to mention bits and pieces about running a medieval castle, the Napoleonic wars and the Khyber Pass.

3. Escapism: diving into another time and place, or hobnobbing with jet-set celebrities in the almost-here and now is a great way to de-stress.

4. Simple and easy way to avoid eye contact with weird people on public transportation.

5. I never feel awkward about eating a meal alone. In fact, sometimes I get annoyed when someone from work joins me for lunch – that cuts into my reading time, dammit!

6. I’m never bored in line at the DMV.

7. High standards: some people like to postulate that reading romance gives women unrealistic ideas about relationships. I like to postulate that in terms of desireability as a mate? those people are at best, the Alpha Hero’s wacky neighbor. Think George Kostanza.

8. Challenging stereotypes: I actually get quite a kick out of it when people ask in disbelief, “You read romance??” in tones reserved for things like oozing sores and dogshit. I like to try to make them come right out and say that romance is for airheads. Try it, it’s fun—I suggest leading with “Really? And what do YOU read?” They tend to stammer a lot.

9. This essay. I have linked to it before, about a year ago, but it’s worth a re-read every now and then, for both die-hard romance readers and folks who are honestly wondering why people read romance. This essay articulated for me a lot of feelings I had about romance books but hadn’t quite figured out how to express, so I am grateful for it.

10.The way that writing about romance and fictional relationships has made me really think about the nature of romance and relationships and marriage.

11. Cover art like this:


12. The sex. It’s true, I admit it. If it were the Thursday Twelve though, I might not

13. Last but not least, happy endings: if I want to feel saddened or angry or depressed or terrified, all I have to do is pick up a newspaper or tune in to Fox News. For entertainment, I want a feel-good story.





The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others' comments. It’s easy, and fun! Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!



Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Paradox

Here’s something weird I’m finding about book blogging – I’m reading books for a whole lot more reasons than I used to. Life was simple then:

READ WHILE AUTHOR_BOOK_X=GOOD THEN
.....X=X+1
.....GOTO READ
ELSE STOP

Now I’ve got a whole bunch more uncertainty about what to do when BOOK_X != GOOD.

Sometimes I just wonder what I’m missing. To be honest, I’m not the world’s pickiest reader. My bar just isn’t that high. So if I’m not liking something that the rest of the Romancelandia is raving over then… huh? I wonder, am I missing something? Is it me? What time of the month is it? (yes, that matters. Some months.) Did I manage to pick up the one mediocre book and now I’m missing out on the fabulous ones? Wha..??

Which leads to some strange behavior, like

READ WHILE AUTHOR_BOOK_X=GOOD THEN
.....X=X+1
.....GOTO READ
ELSE IF AUTHOR_BOOK_X=BAD THEN
.....ANALYZE AUTHOR_BOOK_X
.....IF AUTHOR_BOOK_X=CHANGED_MIND THEN
..........X=X+1
..........GOTO READ
.....IF AUTHOR_BOOK_X=STILLBAD THEN
..........X=X+1
..........READ AUTHOR_BOOK_X
..........INCREMENT TOLERANCE_FOR_CRAP
..........INCREMENT MINDFUCKAGE
..........IF TOLERANCE_FOR_CRAP<MAX AND MINDFUCKAGE<MAX
...............GOTO ANALYZE
..........ELSE
...............SET WTF=TRUE
...............STOP


Yes, I know. I don't care, it's my blog and I'll geek out if I want to.

Bottom line is, I'm reading a lot more books that I don't like in attempts to figure out exactly a) what it is I don't like; b) what it is everyone else likes, and/or c)wtf is wrong with you people me??

Lora Leigh review to follow. First I might need to read one more book though.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Advance Planning

I didn’t really do any challenges in 2008. I didn’t know that much about them, and I've always pretty much hated anything that smacked of “required reading." But one thing I’ve really liked about keeping this blog and becoming involved with other book bloggers is the way I hear about great books. So this year I’m going to commit to a couple of challenges that are near and dear to my heart. It’s kind of a funny process for choosing what challenges to join – I don’t want to join too many, because I already have a job, and it doesn’t make sense to me to join challenges about books I would probably read anyway—for example, Naida is hosting a challenge to read 5 romance books in 2009. Um. I will most likely hit that mark within two weeks. Maybe less, given that there’s a holiday in there, so I’m not signing up for that one—not much point for me (though, since Alpha Heroes is totally about romance novels, I'd like to think I could serve as a resource for that particular challenge).

As a fast reader, I’m all about quantity; I go through lots and lots of books, and while I’m loyal to authors I like, it takes a LOT of them to keep up with me, and then sometimes I just want something new. Like grocery shopping when I’m hungry, being in a bookstore all unprepared when this feeling hits me can be a very dangerous thing. I think it will be a great exercise in discipline and planning to try to stay ahead of that cycle with a list I can keep in my back pocket. (Or sidebar. Whatever.)

So the 50 New Authors Challenge, hosted by Jackie over at Literary Escapism, really appeals to me. I touched on it a little bit this year (before I changed the blog format) by just keeping a list of new authors I wanted to try. My personal rule for this challenge is going to be that if I’ve read a short story or novella by the author, it still counts as a new-to-me author. Just because; I’m being arbitrary about it and last I heard, there are no Book Challenge Police.

Mechanics: I’m going to keep a sidebar item through 2009 with links to the challenge updates. I’ll to try to post monthly on how each of my challenges is going.

To start off, here is an incomplete list of authors I want to sample in 2009. I’ll give an update near the end of January of 2009 on how it’s going. Here’s my list so far, in no particular order—recommendations welcome! Actively solicited, even; that’s mostly how I got this list:

1 Ilona Andrews
2 Linnea Sinclair
3 JL Langley
4 Samantha Kane
5 Kelley Armstrong
6 Josh Lanyon
7 Rachel Vincent
8 Karen Chance
9 Justin Gustainis
10 Jeri Smith-Ready
11 Shannon McKenna
12 Katie MacAlister
13 Alexis Morgan
14 Anya Bast

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Beyond Seduction, by Emma Holly – Review

So I’m going to expose myself as a pseudo-intellectual here (or perhaps merely a former intellectual) and cite Molière’s Les Précieuses Ridicules as the prototypical plot for this book: two members of the nobility, fed up with the strictures and pretenses of their class, both independently choose to pose as a servant. Each in their guise, they fall in love but struggle with class bias. Each knows they must eventually return to their true position in society, and cannot figure out how to fit their commoner lover into that life.

Of course, the ironic reveal involves much drama and a happily ever after.

I’m 100% sure that I read some play with this plotline in my 17th Century French Lit class in 1985. I am something less than 100% sure that I have the right title. I still have the book; sadly, I do not have enough patience, given the tattered remnants of my French language ability, to confirm. Anyway.

That’s pretty much the plotline of Beyond Seduction in a nutshell. There is also an unremarkable and wholly transparent subplot involving a servant boy that constitutes the weakest part of the book, IMO, and one of your more despicable manipulative-parent stories I’ve come across.

What makes it really shine though, is the character of Merry. Her trials at the hands of her mother aren’t so very horrible, as fictional trials go, but her rebellion is quite wonderfully executed. Holly really shows us an entirely unique, intelligent, vulnerable, sensual heroine throughout the story, and as readers, we watch her grow up, step by step. I absolutely love the way Merry not just defies convention, but stands ready to live with the consequences of her actions; no qualms, no ducking or excuses, just standing tall and serene, with narrowed eyes and a bring it ON attitude.

Naturally, our hero Nic has no intention of settling down or falling in love, and for once, the heroine handles this just exactly right. Plenty of stories follow this general formula, both characters refusing to admit that they are in love because they know the other will freak out (for want of a more historically appropriate phrase), but few manage to do it without drawing it out too long or making me dislike at least one character as TSTL. I can’t quite describe what is so right about Beyond Seduction, but I just loved it. Despite Nic being jaded and dissolute, despite Merry being protected and innocent (before Nic, anyway), she instinctively knows exactly how to manage their relationship with dignity and intelligence and with a profound ring of believability.

Holly’s backlist includes paranormal and contemporary erotica, none of which I’ve managed to sample yet. I’m almost hesitant to pick up the paranormals – I liked this book so much I’m somehow afraid I’ll be disappointed with the paranormals. I know that doesn’t make any sense. I do sort of feel like the historical subgenre needs her right now more than the paranormal one does.

Yeah, so it’s kind of late and I’m not sure I’m making sense any more, so I’m gonna call this post done, LOL.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

SRSLY?

From the latest Stephanie Laurens, p. 76:







She was far to fly to the nuances of place to let him use the lingering echoes of last night to distract her.


Assuming that should be “too fly to the nuances,” again I ask, SRSLY?

So it seems. A little etymological googling first turned up this, but no date:

fly (flī)
adjective flier fli′er, fliest fli′•est
1. CHIEFLY BRIT., SLANG alert and knowing; sharp; quick
2. SLANG fashionable, stylish, attractive, etc.
Etymology: orig., thieves' slang < ? fly Source


“Thieves’ slang?” Hmm. Adding that to the google mix, I found this:

fly (n.)
O.E. fleoge, from P.Gmc. *fleugjon (cf. O.S. fleiga, O.N. fluga, M.Du. vlieghe, Ger. Fliege "fly); lit. "the flying (insect)" (cf. O.E. fleogende "flying"), from same source as fly (v.1). Originally "any winged insect" (hence butterfly, etc.); long used by farmers and gardeners for any insect parasite. Slang adj. meaning "clever, alert, wide awake" first recorded 18c., perhaps from the notion of the insect being hard to catch (other theories, however, trace it to fledge or flash); 1990s use may be a revival or a reinvention. Fly on the wall "unseen observer" first recorded 1949. An O.E. word for "curtain" was fleonet "fly-net." Fly-swatter first attested 1917. Flypaper attested from 1851, though the item itself is said to have become commonly available in London in 1848.

Source


I wish it gave usage though. I’m just having SUCH a hard time with a regency noblewoman being fly to nuances.

Anyone have more or better sources?

Oh, and here's a bonus:

Flying fuck originally meant "have sex on horseback" and is first attested c.1800 in broadside ballad "New Feats of Horsemanship."

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

One Bite With a Stranger, by Christine Warren-- Review

I’ve been a Christine Warren fan for quite some time now. I browsed past She’s No Faery Princess dozens of times, intrigued despite my non-urban-fantasy-reading-self (at the time). I think it was the title that finally did me in, along with my growing love affair with vampire novels (see also: JR Ward).

One Bite with a Stranger is a recent mass market release. According to Warren’s website: This book is an expanded version of the title originally released by Ellora’s Cave as Fantasy Fix. It contains new content and can be considered the First Novel of the Others.

I haven’t read the original e-book version, so I can’t comment on how much different it is or how much it may have changed. I can assure you that Warren’s roots in erotica show more in this book than her previous print releases, and those were not exactly lukewarm, IYWIMAITYD. Take note: the erotic scenes feature some loving BDSM kink – if that’s a big turnoff for you, you might want to take a pass on this one. If it is your thing, though… or if it’s not NOT your thing... um. It’s pretty good.* It’s also constitutes a fair bit of the page count, so, fair warning.

Dmitri is a really lovely alpha hero in this story. He has this nifty little gift of mind-reading, and when he happens to tap into Reggie’s fantasy life, he finds that it lines up with his own, and things just smoke along from there. The notion of a lover being able to read your mind certainly has some disadvantages, not the least of which would likely be a sense of violation. It also becomes an interesting way to treat the notion of consent. What if you actually do know for a fact she means YES when she's saying NO? Warren handles this nicely, IMO. Dmitri doesn't ever ignore what Reggie says when it's in conflict with what he knows about her inner desires; rather, he calls her on it and insists on her cooperation in something of an ultimate submission. The rest of the plot is adequate but unremarkable.

My only nitpick with the story is the motivating premise that kicks off the whole thing. Reggie has this group of girlfriends who came up with “the Fantasy Fix” (title of the e-book version). Each of them apparently shared a sexual fantasy or two and amazingly, no matter how outlandish (not so very), someone in the circle had a single hunky friend who was able to deliver said fantasy. Reggie, the most prudish of the group, was exempt from the fix-up because she was the only one in a long term relationship. At the beginning of the book, she has dumped the loser LTR and thus amid much protest becomes the subject of the next Fix.

Here’s where my eyes start rolling. I just don’t see blind dates and fix-ups working out that well when they specifically involve fantasy sex. I mean, I’ve BEEN on fix-ups. Add in that the fixer-upper has shared one of YOUR fantasies with the guy and ugh. AWKWARD. Or maybe "awkward" isn't the word-- maybe the more accurate term would be "LESS FUN THAN REPEATEDLY STABBING YOURSELF IN THE EYE WITH A SHRIMP FORK".

Then there’s Reggie’s reluctance. Her girlfriends all but force her into this. She wants no part of it, not even deep down secretly yadda yadda. Yet she still lets them dress her up in slutwear, take her to a bar, and goes along with the plan to go home with a guy of their choice and have kinky sex with him. I don’t buy it.



Really? This is where your suspension of disbelief fails?

Um, yeah. Who're you?

You can call me the voice of doubt. Or reason. Whichever. This is one of the vampire books, right?

Yeah, vampires and some were-guys. So?

Where the girl falls in love with the vampire? The centuries-old, mind-reading, blood-sucking dude with the pointy teeth?

Yes already. Your point?

So you believe in the mind-reading sexually dominant immortal vampire and his were-wolf buddies, but you don’t believe the main character would go for a kinky fix-up?

Right—that and the single available straight men in Manhattan. And one of them was a were-cat, not wolf. YOU CAN SHUT UP NOW.

Okay, okay, untwist already. I'm just saying.

*glare* Consider it said.


On a serious note, the scenes between the hero and heroine were far and away the star of the show. The chemistry in and out of bed between Dmitri and Reggie really sparkles, and carries the book. If you're not into the erotic side of it, it's probably not going to rate tops for you (errr, no pun intended) but I give it good marks just for the main characters. I thought the scenes among the girlfriends were more than a little flat by comparison and probably didn't help with the believability of their roles. I actually didn't like Ava much at all-- we'll just have to wait and see what kind of true colors she reveals in her own book, coming next April.


The reading order for Warren's Novels of the Others can be found here.
__________________
*By which I mean smoking hot.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Mistress of Pleasure, by Delilah Marvelle – Review

One of the recent highlights of my avocation as a romance reader was the Emerald City RWA conference in Bellevue, WA. This just happens to be about 8 miles from my house. I am steadfastly NOT writing a romance. No. Not doing it. As tempting as it sounds to attend a seminar by Julia Quinn on writing dialog, or Cherry Adair as the motivational “just do it” speaker (no really, it IS tempting, that isn’t sarcasm), I would rather spend the $300-odd on books by other people. Seriously, it’s way more fun to read them than it is to write them. At least for me.

**WARNING: NAVEL-GAZING AHEAD**

So, the thing is, as an artist, I’m a damn good engineer.

I do not mean to say that I’m utterly hopeless at creative stuff. For any art, there is craft that can be learned and practiced, skills that enable the artistic vision to shine through. My husband, who’s a 3-D electronic artist, has said that when his company looks for artists, they’d far rather have someone with a great artistic eye and teach them the software, than someone who’s a whiz with the package of the moment but merely OK at the art. Me? I’m pretty good at the craft stuff. If I can read up on it, and practice it, and have sufficient motivation, I can perform competently. It’s that vision, that creative spark, that I think I lack, or perhaps it’s just the faith in my spark that's missing. Either way, I’ve yet to catch fire.

So back to the review, and how it came to be: I was standing in line loaded down with a huge tote full of juicy new books, and started chatting up the person next to me (it wasn’t Ciara, though I did accost her in her FABulous boa and got a bit of a scoop on how things were going) and probably talked her ear off – I tend to do that when I get going on the topic of romance books (I’m sure you’re shocked). Julia Hunter held up to the barrage pretty well, and told me that I HAD to check out Marvelle. You can probably imagine how much arm-twisting was involved. Julia graciously held my place in line (there were like 50 people ahead of us and 4 behind) while I ran back and nabbed one last book.

Delilah Marvelle was the nicest person you could imagine to talk to and her books have a pretty cool premise. She writes in the regency era, but less about the ton and more about the demi-monde, or that class of folks, especially women, who might be welcomed into the rarified air of the ton, if only they would behave themselves.

Intrigued?

So was I. Honestly, I really, really wanted to be able to write a rave review for this book, but I found it only so-so. It seems to me that Marvelle has the spark, the idea, the passion, but it’s executed a little clumsily. Anachronistic patterns of speech, dialog that clunks along sometimes, especially the grandmother’s French inflections. Plot devices that don’t quite ring true – in particular, the hero is a duke who, despite being handsome, fit, of a prime age, and – did I say—a bloody duke?-- is considered unmarriageable because of recent family scandals. His mother, overbearing but loving, is so desperate for him to marry that she pressures him to marry a woman who has no reputation, no money, and no family lineage – she’s not quite a courtesan, but the next thing. The heroine meanwhile, is a prim virgin saddled with a grandmother who has educated her in the theory of sexual arts to a degree that rather squicked me out. Now, I realize that there’s a deliberate attempt here to turn gender roles on their head, but I just didn’t really buy it, on either side.

In spite of all the problems though, I still really like the basic premise (a very secret "School for Scandal" where men of the ton can learn the arts of seduction) and I loved the glimpses of the gentlemen who will become the subsequent heroes. Marvelle tells us that she’s planning to write 5 or 6 books with a concurrent time frame, and I’m looking forward to that. I’ve always loved reading the same scene from more than one point of view (see also: Julia Quinn, “The Lost Duke of Windham” & “Mr. Cavendish, I Presume”).

If I haven’t made my point yet on craft vs. art, I feel like Marvelle has the art but needs a little work on the craft. Which is why I’ll be happy to pick up at least the next book and see what happens with it--I'd rather read a book with this kind of flaw than a perfectly-written one with no heart.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Warriors of Atlantis, by Alyssa Day, Series Review

I’m really enjoying this series. It’s a work in progress, so it’s yet another one of those series where I need to write down the date of the next publication and dial back my impatience. Not until June. Arggh. Happily though, books 6 and 7 are out within a couple of months of that, so this time next year I should be gorged and sated on Day’s gorgeous defenders of civilization as we know it.

I hinted earlier that there was a comparison to be made with the Black Dagger Brotherhood. Another cadre of warriors, yadda yadda. When I say that they compare favorably, one of the things I mean is that this is not a copycat series. At stake is THE FUTURE OF MANKIND. Compared to the BDB, where it’s the fate of this small, mostly unknown population of vampires, and you’d think that the Poseidon adventures would feel darker and heavier, but no. I’m not sure why, but for me at least, the BDB books are still more immersive and resonant.

I’d say Day’s style is closer to Kresley Cole’s with the plethora of different magics and the mythological mash-up. Roman gods, vampires, were-creatures, witches, empaths, and who knows what else on the horizon, share Day’s universe. I never really lose sight of the notion that this is a work of fiction, so the scary stuff doesn’t haunt me the way it does with the BDB.

Now, this is not to say that Day’s books are inferior to Ward’s – they’re just different. They’re quicker, less dense reads. The warriors are less entangled in each others’ lives. The books so far have little or no set up for the follow-ons, so in that respect they are more stand-alone – we just get little hints as to some of the warriors’ individual burdens without going into too much foreshadowing. I’m also really adoring Day’s heroine’s; they are enormously powerful in their own right and thus worthy partners to the hunky heroes.

I also love authors that can lace their characters with a right touch of humor. In Day’s case, the humor isn’t as constant of a factor, like you might find with Jennifer Crusie or Loretta Chase, or even Kresley Cole, but little touches are deftly applied at perfect moments:

From Shifter’s Lady, a male human/jaguar, internal narrative:


Control.

Pleasant dinner.

No pouncing on the Atlantean.


Marie glanced back over her shoulder and smiled at him, and he stumbled, his inherent feline grace deserting him. Screw that. There was definitely going to be pouncing.

And from Atlantis Awakening-- paraphrased, because my books are temporarily misplaced (children!—grrrr!)-- there is a scene where Erin (the heroine) meets Quinn and Jack. When Ven (the hero) and Jack start a macho conversation about Erin’s mated status, she knocks them both on their asses with a little burst of power. Their response (and Quinn’s: “I think I’m going to like you!”) are really entertaining.

OK then, without further ado, allow me to present the next installment in my spreadsheet series:














Item Warriors of Poseidon Black Dagger Brotherhood
Premise Elite band of warriors tasked with protecting humans from vampires and shapeshifters Elite band of warriors tasked with protecting their own race from specific enemies of the race.
Sponsoring Deity Poseidon, duh The Scribe Virgin
The Big Bad Anubisa, daughter of Chaos, goddess of death, immortal, evil, vampirish. Has a particular vendetta against the royal family of Atlantis. Super creepy. The Omega, apparently a sibling of some sort to the Scribe Virgin. Unredeemedly evil, he uses humans in his war against vampires by excising the individual's heart, soul, and blood, and replacing it with some essence of himself. This seems to be a singularly unpleasant process, details of which are thankfully left largely to the reader's imagination
Mating Stuff Beginning with Conlan, the warriors begin finding their soul-mates, the only person in the world with whom a soul-meld is possible. The soul-meld enables one partner to read every significant event in the other's life. The soul meld has been the stuff of legends until now. Bonded mates very nearly cannot survive the death of the mate, and males are fiercely territorial. No indication that the individuals are pre-ordained, or that only one mating is possible, but the males typically recognize their mate on some level instantly. Can be married without being bonded.
What do they eat? Normal stuff. Require the blood of an opposite-sex vampire (not human) for sustenance and strength. Will die without it, but may survive on human or animal blood for a time. Also regular food, and for the warriors, enormous quantities of it.
Special Powers Can manipulate water, ice, etc. Can travel at high speed in mist form (with limited ability to carry stuff). Some can manipulate other elements, such as wind. Atlanteans are forbidden to call Fire. Some individuals have additional magic, mostly exhibited as sort of lightning bolts lobbed at the enemy. Can dematerialize from one place to another. In short hops, this kind of looks like flying. Super-rapid healing. Can manipulate human minds, wipe memories, etc. Strongest vampires can also probe other vampires' minds. Vishous has additional powers as a result of his maternal line.
Kryptonite Not really, but if sufficiently shielded from water sources, cannot use their power. Sunlight & salt water. Cannot dematerialize through steel.
What about the women? Riley, Quinn and Erin, in different ways, have extremely rare and impressive powers that have not been seen by Atlanteans in 2000 years. Their appearance now seems to signal a prophecy involving rising again, IKYWIM.* Meh.**
Does anyone go off to die alone in a cave? So far, so good, but it ain't over yet Yes.



*No, Betsy, the answer is NOT "The South."


**OK, the "meh" isn't really fair, but really, the heroines are nothing special in the BDB. I like that Day's are more equal in powers and partnership.


That's it. Go read 'em. Good, clean fun.

Series Reading Order:
1. Atlantis Rising
2. Wild Thing (anthology/short: Wild Hearts in Atlantis -- re-issue in mass market (ie, cheaper) format in Jan 2009)
3. Atlantis Awakening
4. Shifter (anthology/short: Shifter's Lady)
5. Atlantis Unleashed (due June 2009)
6. Atlantis Unmasked (due July 2009)
7. Atlantis Redeemed (due fall 2009)

_____________

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

King of Sword and Sky, by CL Wilson: Review

Just because a paranormal author calls her fictional race fairies (or Fae, or Faeries, or Fey, etc) does not mean that the book in your hands is a fairy tale. She’s No Faerie Princess, by Christine Warren, for example, is a perfectly good paranormal romance-- one I *loved*-- featuring a character with magical powers, but it’s not what I would call a fairy tale. Of course, it could be argued that most all romances are fairy tales in some sense, but for this particular discussion, I’m interested in more literal interpretations of the fairy tale genre.


Enter CL Wilson’s Tairen Soul series: fairy tale romance on a breathtaking scale. We have a beautiful Cinderella princess (betrothed to the butcher’s son), a valorous yet tortured king, evil sorcerers, an underdog army, a fleet of magically empathic healing women, and a realm of mythological beauty and magic, fading from the plane of human reality.

“Sweeping epic” is one of those back-cover blurbs that I approach with suspicion. It smacks of marketing hyperbole, of promises that cannot be kept. And even when it’s accurate to what the author is attempting, I’ve frequently been burned with “epic” fantasy that builds up a looming doomsday scenario and then fails to deliver.

But, like the little girl with the little curl, when it’s good? It’s fucking fantastic. And this series, my reader friends, is that one in a million sweeping epic.

Now, it’s possible that I will be disappointed in the Final Conflict. The series is planned as a quartet of books, the third of which was released Sept. 30, and the final book isn’t out until June 2, 2009 (write down that date). But judging from the first three, I have utter confidence in Wilson’s ability to resolve what she has set up.

The reason that I have such faith is because the structure of the first three books is executed so well. Each book represents a very distinct phase in the courtship and relationship between Rain and Ellysetta. Externally, there are progressively more difficult quests, just like in my favorite fairy tales, and new information about the world and the races in it. By making Elly a Fey who was raised as human, the author is able to reveal bits of information as Elly learns about, so it feels natural to the reader. Each book builds the stakes for the Final Conflict, yet each book has its own satisfying resolution. Yes, I can’t wait to read the next book, but it’s not that irritating manipulative "stay tuned!" cliff-hangerish anxiety of unfinished business; it’s more like when you get back from a fabulous vacation and you are on the phone making reservations for your return trip before the dirty laundry you just unpacked hits the spin cycle. It’s that good.

One thing that Wilson does exceptionally well is creating secondary characters that are vital, interesting, three-dimensional, yet still secondary. I do not expect to see a spin off of this series involving any of these characters (though a pre-quel might work....) By relieving the characters of this responsibility-- setting them up to be able to carry a book on their own-- the subplots thrive and draw you in as inescapably and intangibly as any Fey spell.

And the world-building is fascinating. It borrows heavily from Western European fairy tales, but it is set somewhere Not-Earth, which allows Wilson to mix in some wholly new elements, notably the Tairen race. The Tairen are a race unlike anything I’ve come across in fairly extensive fantasy and paranormal reading – the closest I can think of would be Falcor from the NeverEnding Story, but the adult version: fiercer, less cuddly, and sexy. Wilson’s imagination is a dazzling place of high drama, articulately rendered with heartbreaking emotion, evocative description, darkest evil, brightest hope.

Quite a few years ago, I was raving about my favorite series of that moment, and the thought that rang like a bell with me was I love this world, I want to go LIVE there. As for Wilson’s Fading Lands? I love these characters and the place they live, but I don’t want to live there – the Eld are way too scary.

Maybe after the world is made safe in book four.

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Saturday, November 1, 2008

Never Say Never

Shortly after a discussion on a romance book blog* regarding oxymoronic Heroes Who Rape, wherein I declared that a rape by a hero is never justifiable, and would always result in a book that I couldn’t like, I came across Anna Campbell’s Claiming the Courtesan.

I’m sure you can see where this is going.

By way of introduction: this is a stunning, gorgeous book.

I’m going to say that again. Stunning. Gorgeous.

The characters are complex and layered and despite being a Regency Maverick Duke with Issues and a Good-Girl Commoner turned World Class Courtesan Who Might End Up as a Duchess, they feel like real people (go figure). Their individual inner struggles are truly heart-wrenching, and their journey to be together as whole people is--sorry, I’m going to use the P-word-- poignant and through much of the story, appears impossible.

The duke is thoroughly dislikeable through the first third or so of the book. On his side, it’s more stalker than lover, more obsession than affection. The story opens when the heroine, after fulfilling her year-long contract with him, disappears from his life without a trace (she’s not all that likeable either).

Then there’s the rape.
His brows contracted, and fool that she was, she read sorrow rather than fury in his face. “Well, if I must take you as a thief, then I shall be a thief.”

He pushed her legs apart, moved between them, and thrust inside her.

There had been no preliminaries. Verity tensed, but her betraying body had already prepared for his possession.

He rammed into her hard and gave a groan that echoed the defeat in her heart. For a long, dark moment, she lay pinioned under him. The world had shrunk to the man above her. It smelled of him. His weight held her motionless.

He withdrew and plunged back into her once, twice. Then he jerked convulsively as his control broke and his essence spurted into her. He seemed to shudder over her forever before he groaned once more, then rolled away.

It was over. He’d taken her quickly, carelessly, irrevocably. She was once again the Duke of Kylemore’s lover and she wished she were dead.


The heroine may be conflicted but there is no way to deny that what happens in this scene is rape. At this point, I was truly skeptical that these characters could have a Happily Ever After together. One that I could believe in, or want for them. Cynically, I waited for the Out of Character 180° Turnaround, by one or both of them.

It didn’t happen, though. There’s an underlying theme here, a pop-psyche sound-byte that nevertheless has its roots in truth: First, love thyself. Both characters walk a long personal road that parallels and intertwines with the love story and makes their happy ending possible. The heroine continues her efforts to break free far beyond what you’d see in a more stereotypical, less remarkable version of this story--and let’s face it, the “hero kidnaps heroine and even though she’s mad about it she gets over it cuz he’s hott and they fall in love and live HEA” is not an uncommon plot device.

A good deal of Verity’s struggle is around resolving her feelings about her own sensual nature and the degradation she experiences in being driven into prostitution. I found Campbell’s treatment of the madonna/whore dilemma to be stunningly honest and uncompromising, as well as believable for the historical period (what’s the opposite of anachronistic? Chronistic? No? Hmmm. Well, you get what I mean.)

The duke has his own baggage to deal with, and then a heaping load of guilt for the events in this book--richly deserved, I might add-- and while overall I found Verity’s story a bit more compelling, Justin’s path to Verity’s arms was believable and moving.

I’m tempted to go on, but if I do, I'll end up overusing the word “stunning” and I’ve already exceeded my quota. There’s more to love about this book, but I’ll leave it to you to discover the rest for yourself. Before I wrap up, I want to point out that if you love Patricia Gaffney’s To Have and To Hold, I think you’ll love this one as well. Campbell is an amazing new voice in historical romance and I can’t wait to get my hands on Untouched. Then, coming to the US in February is Tempt the Devil. Check them out!
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*If you are the blogger that hosted this discussion, or one like it, I would LOVE it if you would post a link in comments. Thanks!
.

Tease

I just finished Atlantis Rising by Alyssa Day and OMG, I loooooooved it. I can compare the hero cadre to the Black Dagger Brotherhood... favorably. In fact, I think... I might.... yes, yes-- I feel a spreadsheet coming on.

BUT WAIT. The benevolent Amazon fairies left Book #2, Atlantis Awakening, on my doorstep yesterday. Now I have to read that one first.

See, I've been reading a lot but have fallen behind on my reviews. Hopefully you should see at least two of these per week. To wit: also coming up on Alpha Heroes, in no particular order:


*King of Sky and Sword, CL Wilson - DONE
*Mistress of Pleasure, Delilah Marvelle - DONE
*One Bite With A Stranger, Christine Warren - DONE
*The Trouble with Paradise, Jill Shalvis
*His Captive Lady, Anne Gracie
*The Claiming of the Courtesan, Anna Campbell - DONE
*Beyond Seduction, Emma Holly - DONE
*The "Sweet" trilogy, Susan Mallery
*The Leopard Prince, Elizabeth Hoyt
*Signed Julia Quinn giveaway

Annnnnnnnd, she said mysteriously, a month-long event in December for which I'm going to request a little help from my friends. Stay tuned.

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