Friday, May 29, 2009

Grrr - Posting Weirdness

Skip down a couple of posts to find today's winner - it posted out of order for some stupid reason.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Ohhh, Stacy, You SHOULDN'T Have.... Really.

You know, I was just sitting here, browsing my favorite blogs and forums, avoiding my children, and dreaming up inventive new ways to give away books, and I got the weirdest, stabbing pain in my right forearm. OW. Seriously, I thought I was going to have to get offline for the evening, and we can't have that, now can we?

Fortunately, my next click (painful though it was) led me to Stacy's latest update, where certain things became clear to me. I was moved to tears by her consideration. *sniff*

OW! god, LCJ, give it a rest, will you? I'm ON it already... sheesh.

Truly, love makes the blogosphere go round, does it not? Well, either that or fear of creepy painting-inhabiting alter-egos. In the spirit in which it was created and passed on to me, HERE!! YOU TAKE IT!! TAKE IT NOW!! I Heart Book Gossip! you need an award, don't you? sure you do. Here you go. And Barbara. You too. Get on it, OK? And don't dawdle, that's my advice.

*rummages for icepack*

*sheeze. I even SAID she wasn't creepy. You'd think that would count for something. Though clearly I was WRONG. OWWW!! Quit it already!!*

_____________
PS, I wish to be perfectly clear that in the event that you do not pass on this award AND you experience sudden onset, crippling stabbing pain, it has nothing to do with ME. I do not now nor have I ever been party to any individual or organization which advocates the use of voodoo dolls and/or pins stuck therein for motivational purposes.

SHE started it.

Shameless Self-Promotion

For two more entries in the Santa Olivia giveaway, spend a few minutes poking around in my archive here and tell me if you have a favorite post, or if there is one that stands out for you, and why.

PS, the word is in: one of the 5 books will go to an international entrant... assuming I have any, that is.

PPS, the first winner will be announced around noon PST tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

First Winner!



The WINNER of Santa Olivia copy Number One is:



MISHEL!!!!

email me your mailing address at nicola327 AT hotmail DOT com!


**********BUT WAIT THERE'S MORE**********


Last September I hosted a blog hopping challenge. Give it a go, write your post with a link to Alpha Heroes, and link here in comments.

Note: the post suggests using the BBAW directory as a starting place - for this challenge, why not start with the blog of an Alpha Heroes Follower or recent commenter? Any starting place will do, as long as you find new-to-you blogs and leave comments!

10 hop-stops can be a bit much so -- 5 stops for one extra entry, 10 stops gets you two. Have fun hopping!




**********BUT WAIT THERE'S MORE**********

Next giveaway will be on Monday - have a great weekend!


*****NOW HOW MUCH WOULD YOU PAY??!?*****

Wait, would you actually pay *anything*??

OK, I didn't think so. LOL. Never mind.

Atlantis Unleashed by Alyssa Day - Review

The Facts
Title: Atlantis Unleashed
Publication Date: June 2, 2009
Author: Alyssa Day

The Gush

I really liked the first two books of this series.

But I loved this one. Luh-huh-huuhved it. Day totally hits her stride in this third full-length book of the series-- Unleashed is tight from beginning to end, from character to conflict, from the series arc to the scene-by-scene pacing.

Prior books spent a little more time on developing secondary characters and side arcs, and that didn't bother me, but there was less of it in this book, and I think it helped a lot with the focus.

Although the Warriors definitely take center stage in these books, I'm a big fan of Day's heroines. They have their own fabulous, valuable talents that make them not only a match for their Atlanteans (because what ordinary Earth girl wouldn't be a little bit intimidated by thousand-year-old warriors of Poseidon from a mythical kingdom?) but also makes them critical partners in the Quest to Save The World As We Know It. (Don't you love those plots??)

The Characters
Honestly, I like Riley, I really do. Erin too. But Keely struck a deeper chord. She seemed more real. Perhaps it's because her talent, "object reading" in Day's vernacular (or more commonly called psychometry), is a bit more familiar of a concept than say, gem singing. Or because her permanent outsider status rings bells for everyone who was ever picked last in gym class (maybe that's just me... it's not just me, is it??). But Keely is steady and lonely in a way that is very appealing.

Justice too --whoo boy. He's got a secret, one he's kept all his life upon pain of a terrible curse if he ever reveals it. Day plots this in circles -- it's totally airtight and very clever how she creates curses and ingenious loopholes that are reminiscent of my favorite mythological stories-- the Minotaur comes to mind. Man. Poor Justice. This guy has really been through the wringer. He makes an incredible cliff-hangerish sacrifice at the end of the previous book, and Day fully delivers on how awful it was (makes VC war crimes seem like a playdate) and the ripple effects on Justice's fellow warriors. Finding Keely gives him the strength to free himself, but also breaks down some protective walls he's built over the centuries - I found his dual nature absolutely fascinating, not only for this book but for the potential directions it adds to the world-- see, it's another layer. And I liked what the title implies about his other side. His character arc is just--augh, words fail. It's fab. Only better than fab.

The World
One subtlety of fantasy series - whatever subgenre they might be in - that I'm coming to appreciate is the layering of the complexity in the world building. You can firehose it all into the first book and then stay consistent, or you can gradually build up nuances with each book. Meljean Brook is a particular master at this, IMO, and Day is doing a great job too. The world of the Atlanteans is a natural fit for this method, since the talents are not particularly well-known or predictable -- they just show up, and the Atlanteans and their allies make the best use of them they can.

But Day doesn't take the easy way out with this kind of thing. It would be easy to set up obvious yin/yang match-ups where, I dunno, one person sets fires uncontrollably and the other controls water or something, making for perfect and facile pairings. Rather, Day has two unique people with unique gifts and unique wounds that are able to help each other. It's not that the gifts are a perfect puzzle-fit for the other's damage, it's that they find common ground in having been wounded, and are able to accept each other flaws and all. Not just despite the flaws, but at least in part, because of them. Because of the person that has resulted. Does that make sense?

I have one small worry that the Big Bad here is shaping up to be invincible - and I'm sorry, but I'm gonna need her to be vinced. Or minced. Vanquished. Defeated. Finished. Right? Right. I'm trusting you, Ms. Day. Don't let me down here.

I think this book perhaps more so than the last could stand on its own, but you'd have to let the bits about Riley, Erin, and Quinn sail over your head. You're really better off reading them as a whole. Don't forget the less-necessary but still fun shorts in the anthologies, either. You can find Day's reading order in my previous post.

This and That
Although the secondary characters are less involved in this book, they are not completely ignored. I quite like the new girl, Tiernan, who can detect truth from lies. Nice, eh? Although I can see how that might be hard on a relationship.... We get a just a peek at Quinn - don't want to forget what's up with her and the larger war outside of the caverns of Atlantis, and Day is clearly not going to be satisfied until we're all panting for her and Alaric's star-crossed story. The interplay between Grace and Michelle was a very nice touch -- we might see more of them, but if not, the scene was complete of itself. And I also liked the wholly unnecessary but sweet addition of Eleni.

A small item of note - Keely's talisman. I really loved the role it played here. The fish is an obvious connection to the Atlanteans, but I wondered if it might also be a reference to Justice's duality. Yes, I *am* a Pisces, why do you ask?

Oooooo, Sparkly!
Who doesn't love a story about fabulous jewels? I am totally girly enough to appreciate a fantasy world where at least part of the magic hinges on fabled stones, and I have loved the questing story since my first book of fairy tales. A few series featuring magical sparklies that come to mind are Melanie Rawn's Sunrunners series, Anne Bishop's Black Jewels series (of course) and even Gabaldon's Outlander series is shaping up to take certain powers from precious stones (note, links will take you to the first book in the respective series.) I know there are others -- help me out in comments!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Scoop on the Santa Olivia Giveaway

I was wanting to confirm a few details with my contact before posting this, but oh well. Forgiveness and permission and all that.

The giveaway is open only to US and Canada.*
Books cannot be shipped to PO Boxes, an actual address is required.

To enter, comment here or on the review post.

For additional entries:

  • post a link to Alpha Heroes on your blog, Facebook, a relevant forum thread (where it would not be against forum community standards), etc. Leave me a link in comments so I can keep track. One extra entry per link!
  • Become a Follower of Alpha Heroes for an additional entry. If you already are, I'll count it automatically as long as you are using the same name. (You need to *still* be a follower on the day of the giveaway)
  • Stop back over the course of the week and you may find some additional ways.
I have 5 copies and will give away one per weekday starting Friday 5/29 (Publication date for Santa Olivia).

Many thanks to The Hachette Book Group for providing the books!

______________
*I'm going to see if I can swing a deal where one of the giveaways will be international, but no guarantees. If you are a non-North American entry, please specify!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Santa Olivia, by Jacqueline Carey - Review

Just about a year ago, I went to a book signing for Kushiel's Mercy and listened to Ms. Carey speak about the two Kushiel trilogies, the upcoming Naamah's Kiss, and a mysterious side project that, with a self-deprecating hand-wave and maybe a little embarrassment, she referred to as "this, kind of... urban fantasy... post-apocalyptic... border-town... story. With, like.... werewolves. Sort of."

This is about as different from her alternate-history epic fantasy trilogies as you can get. So different, in fact, the book initially was to be published under a different pen name. I'm not sure whether that was Carey's idea or her publisher's, or what changed, but Santa Olivia is the result.

Frankly, I didn't know what to expect. I love, love, love the Kushiel books, especially the earlier ones, but I didn't like her Banewreaker/ Godslayer duology at all. So I was primed to like Santa Olivia, but I didn't figure it was a sure thing by any means.

When I get a new Kushiel book, I tend to hold on to it for a little while before I dive in. They're big books; high fantasy with a lot of dense world building and intricate characterization, and I like to be able to dive in and immerse myself in the world, rather than stealing bits of time out of my daily bus ride and lunch hour.

Not so with Santa Olivia. It's less hefty, more accessible, and instantly drew me in -- even on a bumpy bus ride. In Carey's own words, the prose is "far more spare than my usual ornate style, [written] with a more muscular lyricism."

The Premise
I don't read very much in the way of dystopian speculative fiction, but I believe that is the correct literary pigeon-hole for Santa Olivia. In the wake of a devastating pandemic, the US borders close and Santa Olivia is declared a DMZ, or De-Militarized Zone. Residents who stayed when the soldiers came lost their US citizenship and became sort of post-modern camp followers. Technology has decayed, at least in Santa Olivia - electricity is hoarded for refrigeration; there is nothing in the way of broadcast information - no TV, no radio, no internet. The town is completely isolated - there is no Fed Ex, no USPS, no Greyhound routes.

As a result of military genetic experimentation, Loup is born with wolf DNA, which gives her several super-human capabilities like speed and strength, and some emotional anomalies. Carey eschews the shapeshifting and biting/turning bits of werewolf lore, relying instead on reasonably plausible scientific possibilities with a large dose of non-specificity. The world-building here concentrates on the political and social aspects rather than the paranormal.

Be warned, this is in no way a romance. There is a non-traditional romantic element to it that was nice sidenote, but it was very minor in the overall story arc. Folks who are put off by books that blur the line between urban fantasy and romance will find little ambiguity here. I wouldn't be surprised to find, in 20 years, this title to be named in the same breath as 1984 or The Handmaid's Tale.

Good Stuff

I'm pretty sure Carey could write a tax-preparation manual and it would still be beautifully written. That is, her language is lyrical and an almost physical pleasure to read, even if the story itself isn't to your taste. In the deathbed scene of Carmen, Loup's mother, the ten-year-old Loup is described:
Tears gathered in Loup's eyes and shone there without falling. Even when she'd cried as a baby, there were never tears. There was something strange and pure about the quality of her unleavened sorrow; strange and pure and oddly comforting, as though a child-saint or a fearless, untamed creature had come to keep a vigil over Carmen's death. Carmen lifted one hand and traced the curve of her daugher's cheek.
One thing I like about the way this book is written is that, even though the paranormal aspects are understated, they are not tentative in any way. You can see it in the passage above -- whatever it is that is different about Loup, Carey's vision of all aspects of that differentness is rock solid.

The story builds inexorably toward a major conflict which worked well for me - hard to say more without spoilering, but I'd say the final leg of the build-up and the conflict itself were among the Good Stuff for the book.

Things That Make Me Say Hmmmmm
In one of the cover blurbs, Eric Van Lustbader calls Santa Olivia "... a love song to the beauty and power of being different." I'm not so sure I agree. I felt like Loup's "differentness" was only a vehicle to examine the notion of hope for the town of Santa Olivia. What happens without it. What happens when it appears, when it fades. The rise and fall of hope in the town of Santa Olivia is the story of Santa Olivia. Why this section, rather than the "good stuff"? I'm ambivalent about whether the resolution was completely satisfying, and I can't seem to separate that from the theme.

The story takes place over a number of years, starting with the day the soldiers came, when Loup's mother Carmen was a young woman, and lingering a bit over the brief time that she has with Loup's father. There's an extended bit while Loup's older brother Tommy trains as a boxer, and then the meat of the story is Loup's coming of age in the orphanage. It sometimes feels a little spotty, as though there is too much being skimmed over, and a number of interesting threads seemed to just drop. I suppose these "drops" were the believable outcomes within the rules of the world, but it was still a bit disappointing.

Similarly, the bit that follows the climax, leading out to the end, wasn't that great for me; it just seemed to fall a little flat. I couldn't tell if it was too rushed or too drawn-out. It felt like it should've sped up a lot, OR maybe that there could have been more of a subplot arc in between. I dunno.

The Very Best Part
Even more so than the Kushiel books, this is a very character-driven story. The relationships among the Santa Olivians are drawn like brilliant charcoal sketches - some just in broad strokes, some with intricate detail - and it is with these interactions that Carey paints in the subtle colors of mood and atmosphere. Most particularly, I love the dialog between Loup and Miguel, her sparring partner and unlikely friend:
"Is that why you started boxing?" Loup asked him. "To get out?"

"Yeah, that and I hit hard." Miguel regarded his cigar. "Might of been better off if I wasn't a Garza. Maybe I would of wanted it more, worked harder."

"Like Tommy," Loup said softly.

"Like Tommy," he agreed. "But then..."

"Yeah."

They sat in companionable silence for awhile. A memory struck Loup.

"You said you saw my father once," she said. "Punched him."

"You remember that, huh? Yeah.

Her voice turned wistful. "What was he like?"

Miguel didn't answer right away. He sat and smoked. "Steady," he said at length. "Same way you are. He didn't even flinch when I hit him, like it wasn't worth his while to notice. I know I was just a kid, but I hit hard. Same eyes as you, same weird way of looking at people without blinking."
Miguel's character development throughout the book in fact is a bit of a microcosm of the town. He transforms, but only a little. Potential is recognized, crushed. Will it re-emerge? Flourish? Not without something changing. Which leads me to wonder--

What's Next?
Opinion around the 'net is divided as to whether there is good sequel fodder here. I think it's fair to say that the end of Santa Olivia leaves us with more questions than answers, and the larger conspiracy theory arc leaves plenty of room for more... but a return to this particular scene might be anticlimactic. There is by no means an unqualified happy ending, but consistent with the rest of the book, there is a thread of optimism running through the bleakness. The romance lover in me wants *everyone* to live happily ever after and to see that optimism realized. I'm not sure that would be such an interesting story, though, so I could definitely see the rationale in leaving it as a stand-alone.

Synchronicity
It wouldn't make sense to review this book, right now, without some mention of the swine flu situation. The trigger event for Santa Olivia is a catastrophic outbreak of influenza, inroading to the US from Mexico. "It's a bit disconcerting," says Carey on her webpage. "This is not an instance where one hopes life imitates art." I don't know about you out there in Bloglandia, but it freaks me out a little bit.

Around the Blogosphere (Beware, most have spoilers to some degree)
Drey's Library
Sci Fi Guy (hah, we chose the same clip)
Pop Culture Zoo
Blog, Jvstin Style
A Reading Odyssey

Kind of a neat side effect of breaking out of the romance genre every now and then -- a whole 'nother world of blogs out there to discover!

*******GIVEAWAY**********

Check back tomorrow for all the details. I'll have 5 copies to give away, courtesy of the Hachette Book Group.

.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Coming Attractions




I don't know about you, but I'm still enough of a geek that getting a sneak peek at a book before it's published is a bit of a thrill, and I've got not one but TWO for you this week: Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey - releasing on 5/29, and Atlantis Unleashed by Alyssa Day, releasing 6/2.

(Hint: they're both REALLY GOOD!)

If that weren't enough, Hachette is sponsoring an Alpha Heroes giveaway for 5 copies of Santa Olivia. Details to follow shortly!

Friday, May 22, 2009

A Small Peeve

Look, I know the names of JR Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood are stupid. I know they're annoying and spelled wrong and have random H's stuck in all over the place. And normally I'm not one to be picky about typos or mis-spellings, because I'm sure as heck not perfect myself.

But. People. Tohrment, the guy who tragically loses his mate, is called for short, TOHR. Not THOR. Thor is somebody else. This is Thor:



God of Thunder, big hammer, valkyries, all that? Right? Right.

This is Tohr*:



I'm sure his hammer is more than adequate, but we won't really know until his book comes out.

So please, if you're going to mis-spell it, make it Torh or Tor or Toar or Tahre or Trowhel... just anything but Thor.

Thanks much.

_________________________
*not actually a photo of Tohrment. Tohr is a fictional character, thus, no pics. But with a crew cut and some fangs, Brando is pretty close, no?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Hint of Wicked, by Jennifer Haymore - Review

It was really kind of a casual thing when I signed up for the blog tour that Hachette is organizing for Ms. Haymore's debut with their Forever Romance line, but I am SO glad I did.

One of the most unconventional Regencies I've ever read, this tautly-plotted thriller kept me turning pages past 2 am. Every time I thought I knew how things were going to turn out, I was wrong. And people, when it comes to romance novels? Honestly, I'm not wrong all that often. </modest>

Nutshell Summary
The bones of the story are not unfamiliar. Sophie's husband Garrett was known to have been wounded at Waterloo, but his body was never found (soap opera fans: red alert!). After more than six years, the courts declare him legally dead, and Sophie weds the third member of their childhood trio, Garrett's cousin and heir, Tristan.

Garrett, of course, is not dead. He finally returns, just beginning to recover from amnesia (soap fans: see? you were right).

A Hint of Wicked is a classic love triangle, stark and uncompromising: Both men love Sophie, and she loves both of them. She is in fact, married to both men.

I'll say this, Haymore knows how to write a Grand Entrance.

Without giving too much away, the scene where Garrett arrives is one long Excruciating Moment - it hits us at the very beginning and never lets up. And through it all, Sophie herself is simply incredible. She handles the impossible situation with dignity and a gorgeous depth of emotion. Within this scene is the DNA for the book: the style and pacing, the tension, the sensuality, and characterization -- they're all pitch-perfect.

The Characters
I have to say, I absolutely LOVE Sophie. If I had to find fault, I could perhaps see some readers feeling that she's too good to be true; that she is too calm, cool and collected for the whole excruciating premise (to borrow and slightly twist a phrase), but I felt that the author did a good job showing us the inner turmoil, and the strain that tests her strength. Sophie is a heroine in the truest sense of the word: she's compassionate, steadfast, honorable, loving, and brave. She doesn't need to do any crazy anachronistic stunts to prove her heroism.

Tristan was an interesting mix here. Within their relationship, he is clearly an Alpha Hero, but the circumstances force him to step back into a more beta role. It chafes him though. It's an understated story arc, but how he handles the situation is quietly fascinating; he is possessive, protective, willing to fight for Sophie -- but unwilling to compromise his honor. At one point he considers kidnapping Sophie, knowing she would not willingly abandon the wounded Garrett, but immediately discards the idea: he knows that this would compromise him in Sophie's eyes and thus defeat his purpose.

Garrett's character probably left the most to be desired. We didn't get much of his point of view, and his state of mind over his long illness and recovery is critical to the story line. I really wanted to know more about what was going on in his head. That said, his personality is an excellent foil for the other two, without being cartoonishly opposite. The glimpses of the childhood relationships between the two men was also lovely -- moments of deep connection as well as rivalry, that leave you guessing through the book as to motives and possibilities.

More Good Stuff
I think even more than the characters though, what sets A Hint of Wicked apart from the crowd is Haymore's knack for pacing and building tension. Initially, when Garrett returns, Sophie refuses to sleep with either of them until there is a resolution for all. She loves and wants both of them, while recognizing the differences, not only in the men but in the changes she has undergone over the years.

There's not actually that much sex in this book, but what there is will not only curl your toes in the nicest of ways, but also reveals important detail on the characters. The delayed-- er, gratification-- winds the tension tighter and tighter without ever feeling artificial.

And that works, because while we get some partial resolution to the sexual tension, the external plot drivers pick up seamlessly and keep the pages turning. I can't say much about the plot without spoilering, but overall the resolution was very satisfactory and the teaser for the next book surprised me quite a bit with the protagonist. (What do they mean, not until 2010?? That's just cruel.)

The book is such an interesting mix of styles -- Haymore modernizes the historical romance with contemporary-feeling pacing and daring erotic content, but at the same time stays true to the best traditions of the Regency subgenre.

My verdict? Best Regency debut since Joanna Bourne (and totally different, I might add, but that's a whole 'nother post).

The Business Part
The blog tour continues through June 6 with tons of give-aways, reviews, and author interviews. For more good stuff on A Hint of Wicked, check out these fab bloggers:

foreign circus library- May 19 review
bookin with bingo - May 19 intro; May 21 review; May 23 Q&A; June 6 announce winners of giveaway
a journey of books - May 21 Q&A
chic book reviews - May 22 review and giveaway
find the time to read - May 26 review and giveaway
Reading With Monie - May 26 giveaway
zensanity - May 26 Q&A
book soulmates - May 27 giveaway
Yankee Romance Reviewers - May 28 giveaway
Darby's Closet - May 28 review
http://confessionsofaromancebookaddict.wordpress.com/ - June 1 to 4 Q&A, review, and giveaway
http://dreyslibrary.blogspot.com - June 1 giveaway
www.morbid-romantic.net - June 2 review, giveaway, Q&A
http://mindingspot.blogspot.com/ - June 3 review and giveaway
http://kayespenguinposts.blogspot.com/ - June 3 giveaway
http://thereviewfromhere.wordpress.com/ - June 4 review
www.thebookgirl.net - June 5 review and giveaway
http://yougottareadreviews.blogspot.com/ - June 6 review and giveaway
http://www.bookwormygirl.blogspot.com/ - giveaway

Monday, May 18, 2009

Lazy Post

While I'm gratified (and surprised!) at the number of people who are commenting on my bookmark post, I'm aware that it's getting a little stale. Work is frankly kicking my butt lately and draining my blogging mojo, but I'm working on it. I have some really good stuff coming up in the next two weeks, I promise.


In the meantime, go check out the latest post at The Cultural Gutter. I can't figure out how to link to a specific post, but the article I'm talking about is titled "Love, Pain, and the Whole Damn Thing" by Chris Szego and is a review of A Piece of Heaven by Barbara Samuel.

Which I am adding to my TBR list, stat, due to this article.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Weekly Geeks 2009-17 - Bookmarks

This week, the Geeks want to know about bookmarks: Do you use bookmarks or just grab whatever is handy to mark your page? Do you collect lots of different bookmarks or do you have a favorite one that you use exclusively? If you're not someone who uses bookmarks on a regular basis, have you ever used anything odd to mark your place?

Fun question! I am definitely a grab-what's-handy kind of gal. Most often, you'll find a receipt from Borders, the grocery store, Target, or wherever I had lunch being used as a bookmark; occasionally I will grab a business card off of a stack only for the purpose of marking my book. Not only that, I rarely bother to retrieve the bookmark when I finish the book.

I *like* to use regular bookmarks but if I don't have one within eyeshot at the moment I need to put down a book, it's just not happening. One problem I have with stiffer bookmarks is that when I cram a book into my commuter bag, the bookmark will sometimes get knocked out. I prefer the bookmark to be shorter than the book overall so I can just have a little bit showing above the top.

Since I've started going to book signings more frequently, I find myself with promotional bookmarks pretty regularly. I have a small confession. I keep this one below tucked into my planner at work. No, it's not marking any pages. But damn, it's pretty. And people, I go to a LOT of boring meetings. A. LOT.
You know what I'm saying??

Another bookmark I have that's too pretty to use is a beaded book thong made by Katie MacAllister. The beads are just gorgeous; I managed to get a halfway decent shot of the heart-shaped one:

The oddest thing I've ever used as a bookmark? Well, um, probably a pantiliner. What can I say, it was handy.

Speaking of bookmarks, I did finally get around to printing some of the ones I talked about in a previous post. I just printed them on regular photo paper and manually cut them apart. The cutting worked out fine, but I'm not happy with the weight on them -- too flimsy. I haven't decided if I want to go so far as to laminate them or have them printed on card stock or something-- I don't actually have the faintest idea of how to go about that, and I'm pretty sure I don't want to spend that kind of money. But I might go low-tech and just adhesive-mount them on a cardstock backing and add a pretty ribbon.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Ciara Scoops Me

I went to the same RWA event that Ciara debriefs in her post yesterday. I've said before that she and I share much the same taste, and apparently that extends to the kind of things that get us excited about the genre. She zeroed in on almost exactly the same comments from Jayne Ann Krentz a/k/a Jayne Castle a/k/a Amanda Quick that I did. Still, I can't resist editorializing a little bit, so I'm going to cover the same ground here anyway.

Slightly paraphrased, Ms. Castle (her birthname, but probably her least known penname) made a statement that just stunned me: Popular fiction, especially romance, is rooted in the ancient heroic epics -- why did I never see that before? Of course it is. It's all about the hero, baby.

More so, it's about values. Popular fiction, Castle maintains, values ancient heroic virtues of courage, honor, integrity, and love. These kind of tales have been popular throughout history because, among other things, they have enormous survival value -- I have to admit, I never thought of it in these terms before, but yes! Although often dismissed as "escapism," which implies cowardice or an unwillingness to face reality, happily-ever-after books promote optimism.

She boils down contemporary literary fiction as deriving from modern psychology, existential philosophy, political theory [and some other stuff!], in a "masculine style that abhors sentimentality and strong emotion."

Castle says further, we need both kinds of literature in our lives, but which we prefer has more to do with our values and beliefs than our intelligence or education.

*wild applause*

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Weekly Geeks 2009-16

This week's weekly geeks challenge is around review formats, inspired by a detailed questionnaire that Dewey liked to use. I've blogged before about my thought process (are you sure you want to venture inside my head?) so I think I'll keep this brief and give you some links, if you're really interested.

1. Explain your review format - if you have one. Or maybe your rating system? My format is very free-form. I try to include a graphic of the book cover, and if the review is posted before the book's release date, I try to remember to include the release date. I have kind of a mental checklist of items that are important to me in a book and I tend to write about whichever of them stand out as especially good or noticeably not so good. More details here.

At a really picky level of format, I try to use plenty of white space, and to break up the text with graphics when I can think of (and find) something good to include. My blockquote format kind of bugs me; it's on my list for the next template revision. I've been trying out using different fonts to set apart the quotes to make more of a visual distinction. I do put some effort into making the posts visually easy to read.

I don't do ratings. Too much pressure.

2. Highlight another book-blogger's review format by linking to a favorite example - don't forget to tell us why they are a fave! I'm not sure this is a format so much as a philosophy, but Tumperkin's post on Emotional Criticism really resonated with me. Objective, questionnaire or checklist -based assessments only go so far.

I also really enjoy Chris' one-to-two line reviews at Stumbling Over Chaos. Way to cover a lot of reading ground quickly!

3. Do a review in another book-blogger's format of your latest read. Hmmm. Not sure I'm really up for this; it sounds too much like homework. I shall take it under consideration for a future review. ;)

4. Highlight a past review that you are particularly proud of and why the format or structure may have had something to do with it. I had a lot of fun doing a slightly snarky spreadsheet-based comparison of Ward's vampires vs. Lara Adrian's vampires. This format doesn't work all the time, but I'm an excel geek from way back, so I find them geekaliciously entertaining.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Lover Avenged by JR Ward - Full Review

Those of you who've followed this blog for a little while will not be surprised to know that I bought Lover Avenged early last Tuesday morning and spent every spare minute reading it. The only real surprise is that I was able to put it down Tuesday night and finish it up on Wednesday. I'll say straight up: I liked it. Flawed, but still a great story.

There's a lot going on in this book, like all of the BDB novels. A number of side plots and series arcs add to the complexity-- and the page count. A typical book so far would have the main romance plot, a couple of ongoing series arcs, a secondary romance plot building up, and a tertiary romance plot just hinted at.

The main difference with LAv is that rather than giving us ideas of what might happen in the book after next, Ward returns to the beginning and continues Wrath's character development. Which I loved.

Is It Really a Romance?
A question that has been bobbling around Ward's readership since, oh, I suppose since Lover Unbound came out: are these books really romance? Or are they urban fantasy?

Since this is my blog, you get to have my opinion (did you think you wouldn't?) : The answer is YES. Unequivicably, every book that Ward has given us has included a hero, a heroine, conflicts to their relationship, and a resolution to those conflicts leading to a Happily Ever After. Ergo, ROMANCE = .TRUE.

In pure urban fantasy, there may be romantic elements but you don't get that romantic HEA in each book. Great examples are Patricia Briggs' Mercy, who spends a couple of books deciding who she wants, Kim Harrison's Rachel, who may not ever decide at this rate, and Jenna Black's Morgan, who--well, let's just say her romantic life is interesting.

The BDB is an ensemble cast -- the best books include a hearty helping of life as a part of this close-knit family, and where that's missing, the book fails. (cf: Phury. "Fail" is a strong word, I know. Still-- my blog. Deal.)

So for my money, as long as the core romance is there, I don't mind having it share the spotlight with lots of other stuff going on, as long as it's well organized and well orchestrated. For the most part, I think LAv succeeds in this.

The Romance
In an earlier post, I Heart Book Gossip commented that there was too much other stuff in the book and not enough romance. I actually enjoyed the other stuff going on but I agree that the romance was a bit weak, and here's why: both Rehv and Ehlena are underdeveloped as characters, and I didn't really feel the chemistry between them.

As far as Ehlena goes, that's really nothing new for Ward; I feel that way about almost all of her heroines. We get that she's tough and kind and brave... and that's pretty much it. What's her favorite color? Does she read or have a hobby? Enjoy classical music or hip-hop? Does she like being a nurse or was it her only choice? Dunno. Her whole existence is defined by her father's illness and then, her feelings for Rehv. Even Cormia was better developed (though I have to say I always found the peas-and-toothpicks thing more than a little WTF).

Now Rehv... see, as a survivor of a number of years in writers' workshops, I can't shake the feeling that he is suffering from a told-us-didn't-show-us problem. We get told a lot what a bad-ass he is. We see him rough up (but not kill or permanently injure) a couple of minions. There's the issue of the DOAs that overdose on his "product."

Even with all that though, Rehv himself always seems, well, not evil. Not bad-ass. A teddy bear at heart who's forced by circumstance into heartbreaking choices. Our primary insights from his point of view are the love he has for the women in his life and the loathing that comes from his situation with the Princess. In this book, I don't ever see any glee, any high, any pleasure he might take from inflicting pain, which I gather is what makes the symphaths such a problem. There were some tantalizing hints in previous books -- his freaky scene with the Princess in Enshrined; the fight scene in the alley in... uh, Revealed I think -- but no closure in this book.

So while, yes, I think the book qualifies as a romance, it's not a *great* romance.

What Exactly Is a Symphath?
My biggest complaint is that, as mentioned before, I still don't really understand what a symphath is. What makes them so evil. So they can read emotions, so what? Vampires can read thoughts. Symphaths can manipulate emotions, so what? Vampires can wipe out memories. Seems like a very similar skillset. Why "sin-eater?" Call me a literalist, but I don't know what they mean by this... and I want to.

IIRC, it was alluded to before that symphaths feed off of strong emotions, maybe especially negative emotions. OK, but then what? does it make them stronger, or just get them off? And why would either necessarily be a bad thing? No clearer now than it was before.

When the half-breeds "go symphath," or whatever, what exactly does that mean? Their eyes go red, and...? they can't control themselves? They can't tap into their moral compass? I think we needed to see the consequences of Rehv losing control, even if it happened in the past. Why does the dopamine help? It's been losing effectiveness, what will he do now?

How about feeding? And sex? Xhex and Rhev discussed at great length what a mistake it would be to be with a "normal" when Rhev was feeding Marissa. Is it just that the barb is freaky? We know it can be painful for Rhev's female, but we don't know if it has to be. All these issues, raised as insurmountable in previous books, are hand-waved away.

All unanswered questions. At this point, I don't really expect to get answers. Which ticks me off a little, but I'm letting it go. (for now). Deep, cleansing breath.

Other Stuff
All in all, it's the Other Stuff that keeps me reading. I'm very invested in the characters and the world now, so even if the romance isn't thrilling me, and even if the world-building has plot holes the size of a Brother's.... uh, shoulders, I... wait, what was I saying? oh yeah, I'm going to keep reading. I appreciated that there was more group action in this book.

At first, the subplot around Wrath adjusting to the kingship seemed slightly random. Not that I didn't like seeing him and Beth and their romantic epilogue. But it turned out to be a great choice: it's a logical way to give readers more information about the political state of the vampire society, and I really like how it tied into Rehv's resolution. And may I say, it's about time he ditched all that pansy-ass twiggy furniture.

John Matthew and Xhex's setup continues apace. I have to admit, I'm not a huge JM fan. For 6 books now he's been this pitiable victim, sexless and pre-adolescent. I'm having trouble shifting gears into seeing him as remotely adult, much less an Alpha Hero, no matter how many times I hear about how exceptionally large he is. Lots of fans are disappointed to see his behavior in this book, but I think it's about time he stopped feeling sorry for himself and allowed himself to feel some anger and to take some initiative in directing his own life. I've always had doubts about him and Xhex too, but learning more about Xhex is helping. I'm not totally convinced though.

Yay, Tohr woke up. Finally. I do like how this was handled.

Lassiter amuses me. So far that's about it. I wonder if he'll transition into the Fallen Angels series? I've heard that the worlds overlap, so it would make sense.

Oh yeah, and Lash. Eeek. I'm afraid that Ward might be painting herself into a paranormal corner here, making him indestructible, and then somehow needing to... well, destruct him. If Butch can't vaporize the fore-lesser, I wouldn't think his trick would work on Lash either. Hope she manages to get us out of this satisfactorily.

I think that's about all I can squeeze into one post, though I could go on. And I might, LOL. But that would be a post for later.

PS
Please note -- I updated the countdown widget in the sidebar for Covet, due out 9/29. Feel free to steal the HTML if you want!

What Others Are Saying:
I Heart Book Gossip (spoilers)
Smexy Books (spoilers)
Ms. Moonlight (spoilers)
Good Books, Bad Books... (spoilers)
Happily Forever After (spoiler-free!)
Adventures in Kati-dom (mild spoilers)

(do I get a prize for NOT having spoilers?? heh)

Saturday, May 2, 2009

More Angels? A Tidbit

At a local author event today, Stella Cameron spoke briefly about her next series called "Court of Angels," inspired by a real place in New Orleans, where the series is set.

Apparently, the series involves a paranormal race who live underground, and while they can be found anywhere, New Orleans is their idea of paradise. Anyway, she didn't say whether or not actual angels are involved, but a girl can hope.


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