Monday, April 25, 2011

Review: Touch of a Thief, by Mia Marlowe

Release date: Tuesday April 26

First Sentence Hook:
"On any given day, someone writhed in exquisite pleasure at the home of the most sought after courtesan in Amjerat.  Unfortunately for Captain Greydon Quinn, on this day it wasn't him."

Wow, you have to admire that-- heat, humor, and an exotic setting all in two knockout sentences.  I mean, "writhed"-- that's a word with punch, you know?

Even better, this opening is a lovely kernel of Quinn's character and how he relates to the heroine, as you learn while it unfolds.

While Marlowe's story doesn't exceed typical genre boundaries for sex and violence, she makes a bold move by putting them both in the first five pages, and she doesn't mess around with tentative versions of either one.

Characters
One of the interesting aspects of this story is that Quinn retains a certain youthful idealism, though he is by no means innocent, while Viola is definitely more the pragmatist of the two.  I liked that neither of them were to one extreme or the other, but the tendencies were gender-reversed.  I had a sense that Quinn was supposed to be a tough guy, but he has an unexpected sweetness and generosity.

Now, Viola is a jewel thief.  There's just something about that trope (is it a trope?) that I enjoy.  I can think of a number of authors who've done this - Jane Feather, Alyssa Day, Shana Abe', Nora Roberts, and Meagan McKinney come to mind (and readers?  I just spent about an hour trying to dig McKinney's name out of 15 years' worth of my brain's archives.  I do this for you, mwah.)  There's a Robin-Hood flavor, as the victims are by definition wealthy, and I don't know, I just like reading about jewels, so sue me.  I found Viola to be daring, smart, and likable - great combination.

The Plot and the Paranormal
Although there's nothing lacking to the characters, I felt that this is more of a plot-driven story.  Marlowe has crafted a taut and twisty page-turner with surprises around every turn.  It's my favorite kind of thriller, with real suspense but not a lot of graphic torture or violence (although the villains meet bad ends, as is right and proper).

One common/recurring paranormal theme or "power" is psychometry, or the ability to "see" or understand things about an object by touching it. For whatever reason, it's a premise that particularly appeals to me, more than certain other recurring "gifts"-- somehow it just seems not only sort of plausible, but awfully useful, and interesting, and potentially dangerous.  Great story fodder with lots of potential directions.  In Touch of a Thief, Viola experiences the history of a jewel when it touches her skin-- she can "see" what has happened to other people who were touching the stone, and the stones also "speak" to her with unique resonances.  This is a great advantage to a jewel thief, as she can instantly tell the real thing from even the best fakes.  The other paranormal aspect of the story is the cursed jewel that they seek - a red diamond.  I like that there's a strong connection across the paranormal pieces.

I've noticed a number of books lately where the paranormal powers allow the characters to bypass certain genre routines - getting to know one another, misunderstandings, even the epiphany moment or question of "do I love him" or "does he love me" etc is sometimes just handed to the character rather than something that has to be learned, earned, or unfolded.  This can be OK if it leaves room for other interesting twists, and I think Marlowe accomplished that.  In this case, even though Viola got a shortcut to Quinn's secret from one of Quinn's personal gems, she still misinterpreted events, which led to conflict.  (I hope that makes sense...)

While the cursed-gem aspect of this story didn't appeal to me hugely, it was consistent and tight throughout the book and worked.  I just found it a bit over-the-top for a story where the paranormal wasn't exactly "out of the closet," and some of the physical evidence of it seemed like it might have raised more questions.


The Heat
Like Viola herself, the love scenes in this book are uninhibited, lush, and gorgeous.  I have a small quibble with Quinn using the Hindi anatomical words in his internal narrative-- this can be explained by the opening scene where we learn that he is a student with an exotic Indian teacher, but I can't help but think that an Englishman is going to think of his dick in English, foreign lessons notwithstanding.  Minor, though; and let's face it, no matter what word an author chooses to represent "vulva" or "vagina" or "penis" or "scrotum," it's not going to appeal to everyone.

Bottom Line
Touch of a Thief is great read - pick it up if you like historical in general, and especially if you're a bit tired of the standard Regency offering.  Marlowe delivers Victorian adventure, spice and romance in a tight paranormal package.

As Always--
If you have reviewed Touch of a Thief, feel free to leave a link and I'll edit it in.

_________
Disclosure: a review copy was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

ABCs of Authors - Weekly Geeks 2011-14

Two memes in a row, is this a problem?  The Geeks are suggesting we post an alphabetical list of authors - favorites, or categorized any way you like, this week.  With a bit of cheating, I managed to find almost 26-- these are all authors I've read and enjoyed.  Not necessarily my all time faves -- I have way too many B's, C's, and S's on that list, but it's a fun little exercise:


A Keri Arthur
B Meljean Brook
C Jacquelyn Carey
D Alyssa Day
E Eloisa James (cheat)
F Jane Feather
G Diana Gabaldon
H Kim Harrison
I Ilona Andrews (cheat)
J Sabrina Jeffries
K Jayne Ann Krentz
L Stephanie Laurens
M Devon Monk
N Nora Roberts (cheat)
O Maggie Osborne
P Mary Jo Putney
Q Julia Quinn
R Luann Rice
S S.M. Stirling
T Sherry Thomas
U Umberto Eco*
V Lynn Viehl
W J.R. Ward
X X-Men Comic author Marjorie Liu
Y Yeah, I got nothing.
Z Roger Zelazney

*Ahahahahahaha. Not really.


If you're new to the Weekly Geeks, I really suggest you check them out.  It's book-blog oriented, and they're more writing or post- prompts than a meme, really, because it's different every week.  I don't participate in all of them but the nice thing is that sooner or later they have topic that will appeal.  Show some Geek Love and visit a few at the Mr. Linky.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Thursday Thirteen, Edition 24: Pending Review

When stumped for a topic for a list, I can always come up with a list of things that I should be doing but am not. I have such a backlog of books that I genuinely want to review, or just talk about... Their covers peer at me hopefully, pensively, wistfully, accusingly. I'm trying to get back in the swing, I really am (have you noticed that Alpha Heroes has a Facebook page now? It's like I'm all caught up with 2009...)



  1. Anne Stewart's House of Rohan trilogy (juicy)
  2. Laura Wright's Eternal Hunger - the next vampire series you have to read
  3. Kathleen Woodiwiss' Shanna, for the Rewind feature
  4. Kristine Grayson, "Wickedly Charming" (May release)
  5. Kim Lenox, Night Falls Darkly - really original Victorian paranormal
  6. JR Ward, Lover Unleashed
  7. Nora Roberts' Bride quartet
  8. Leica Cornwell's Secrets of a Proper Countess - wonderful regency debut
  9. Christina Dodd's Taken by the Prince - serious fun, great heroine, just enough of a dark edge
  10. Playing for Keeps, by LuAnn McLane - a cozy small town contemp
  11. Janet Chapman's Dragon Warrior
  12. The Legend of Michael, by Lisa Renee Jones (May release)
  13. Touch of a Thief, by Mia Marlowe, release date April 26 
I really need to get cracking on those May releases.  Yikes.


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Monday, April 18, 2011

Series Review - Jayne Ann Krentz's Dreamlight Trilogy

This seems like an opportune moment to publish this review, since I'm hoping to swing by a signing tomorrow at the Seattle Mystery Bookstore. This is extra fun because the contemporary part of the trilogy takes place in the same historic Pioneer Square neighborhood.




I'm not sure why the stars aligned just right for me with this trilogy, but the first one caught my eye shortly before the third one came out, so I got to read them all pretty close together, which I think is really fun.

Krentz has always been one of the really innovative authors in romance, in my opinion, and manages her career with the steely resolve of one of her contemporary Titans of Industry that were the popular Alpha Heroes of the late 90s (and still are, sometimes). She writes and writes and writes and rarely disappoints. She writes historicals, contemporaries, and is one of the few and one of the first romance authors to venture into futuristic sci-fi romance. She started writing paranormal before "everyone" was doing it, with heroines who had mild paranormal powers (well, mild compared to say, turning into a werewolf or sprouting the wings of a guardian angel, or what have you). Her Arcane series is the first of its kind, as far as I know, that weaves back and forth among her three pen-names and corresponding three subgenres: Amanda Quick in historical, Jayne Ann Krentz in contemporary, and Jayne Castle in futuristic. I think of her as Jayne Ann Krentz, and I believe that's her most successful persona, but her real name is Jayne Castle. I just can't think of her that way, heh.

She's also something of a hero of mine for being among the first to point out the hypocrisy of critics who "worry" that romance readers are giving themselves false expectations of their own lovelives, while apparently having no concerns that readers of Steven King or Robert Ludlum will suddenly start attempting to solve outlandish murders outside the law or setting fires with their minds. If you haven't read Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women, you really should. Then, more recently, I heard her give this gem of a speech about the genre.

OK, but none of that tells you about the trilogy, right? Well, to cut to the chase, I liked it a lot. Moreover, Krentz succeeds brilliantly at tying the stories together without making them dependent on each other, so if you only like one of the subgenres, you can still enjoy the series. However, it can get a bit confusing if you actually want to follow the books in the order published. I recommend you check the website and maybe keep a spreadsheet. (That's a joke. Sort of.)

So the Dreamlight Trilogy is a subset of the Arcane series, following the past, present, and future of an artifact of paranormal power. The futuristic one, Midnight Crystal, is the first Arcane book to also be a Harmony (set in the future on the planet Harmony) book, but it fits pretty seamlessly into the Harmony worldbuilding.

How do I know that? Well, actually I've only read a novella from the Harmony books, other than this one, so maybe there are contradictions all over the place, but knowing Krentz, I doubt it. The paranormal elements of the two different worlds are nicely complimentary and work together just fine. I can't say that Harmony is my favorite paranormal world -- it's a lot like 21st century earth, for reasons that are explained, down to email, cell phones, and motorcycles, powered by an eerie green grid. Sort of like Tron, I guess.

It was interesting to read the trilogy all together. I'm not sure I've ever seen one done quite this way -- the plot for all three was pretty much exactly the same, but with very different settings and different villains, getting in the way for their own reasons. I enjoyed each book, but I'm not really sure how I feel about how very very similar the plots were, if that makes sense. I felt like the women characters were more differentiated than the heroes, but there were still a lot of similarities, especially between Chloe and Marlowe.  I have to admit being completely charmed by Adelaide's sketchy backstory as a fortune teller in a Wild West show.  I kind of wanted to read that book. 

One of the things I like about the Arcane world is how the paranormal powers are just known and accepted by the characters. While it's sort of the parallel, hidden world that's common in urban fantasy, there is less of the "no one must ever know!" undercurrent that you get with vampires and shifters; and even less of the fear that others will think they're crazy if they acknowledge or use their powers. That isn't bad in and of itself, but it can get tedious, so the matter-of-fact approach is really refreshing to me. I like that the h/h can just talk to each other about their talents without dancing around it for an extended near-big-mis.

The Dreamlight Trilogy delivers Krentz's trademark fast pace and engaging characters.  Read just the ones you want or all three, it will still work for you -- although I think the Midnight Crystal probably references the prior stories the most.  I think the similarity of the stories is overall slightly disappointing, although in a way, it's an interesting experiment in exploring how setting matters.  This might be a case where the sum isn't greater than the whole and the books might be more enjoyable on their own.

ps, I have a post percolating on the plotting pitfalls of the paranormal proficiencies... but it would make this post too long.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Connecting with Book Lovers

I mean, isn't that really why we're here? I hope you don't think it's creepy that I think of some of you as actual friends, whether I've met you face to face or not (and that would be mostly not...)

So I tried something new on Sunday -- even though I'm not much of a phone person (I lurrrrrrve texting way more than a forty-something should, but I promise never to abbreviate "you're" as "ur"-- I just can't do it, and that's how you'll always know I was born before 1980*).. where was I? oh yeah, not much a phone person, BUT how could I pass up the chance to talk Black Dagger Brotherhood with my best pal Jackie?

First I just dialed in for the audio but while we were talking I figured out how to log in to the chatroom (easy) and got to follow both angles of the conversation.  I do recommend you do both or you'll miss something.  Hosted by Jackie and Larissa, you really haven't lived until you've heard Jackie refer to a certain Black Dagger Brother as a "whiny little bitch" or Larissa get her smackdown going about Layla.

Anyway, it was SO much fun and they gave me like, "panelists" status mostly for just showing up so I wanted to give them a shout out and recommend that you check out the upcoming schedule and if you obsess over any of these series like I do (or have done) about the BDB, you should check it out.

Main page is here, and the upcoming schedule:

Time: Duration: Title:
04/22/2011 09:00 PM EDT
120 min
Katherine Kitty Katt with Gini Koch
05/06/2011 09:00 PM EDT
120 min
Morganville Vampires Discussion
05/20/2011 09:00 PM EDT
120 min
Kate Daniels Discussion
06/10/2011 09:00 PM EDT
120 min
Sookie Stackhouse vs True Blood Discussion
06/17/2011 09:00 PM EDT
120 min
Sabina Kane Discussion
07/09/2011 03:00 PM EDT
120 min
H&W Investigations with Jess Haines
07/22/2011 09:00 PM EDT
120 min
Hoodoo Discussion with Adrian Phoenix


__________
*Uh. Quite a while before 1980. Just sayin'.

Monday, April 11, 2011

New Authors and Book Acquisition Success

So last week I was in Barnes & Noble at lunch (again, do you see a pattern here?), with a $20 certificate that was about to expire.  It was a rare week when I was caught up with my favorite new releases, and I just wasn't sure what I needed to acquire.

I decided to try something different.  I had told Ms. Krentz & Ms. Cameron that I don't really buy covers, I buy authors; AND that maybe covers shouldn't be too, too different from the other books in their sub-genre.  So I thought I'd test a theory.  I decided to buy 3 books by authors I'd never heard of.  I thought hey, let's do a contemp, a paranormal, and Regency.  I wanted authors that I hadn't browsed before, hadn't seen any buzz about, hadn't formed any impression of at all.  (not as easy as you might think!)  As I browsed, I added one more rule -- I didn't want to grab anything out of the middle of an ongoing series.  I succeeded!  Here's what I found:

In the historical category, a debut author (bonus points!) with a typical historical cover, maybe even a little racier than usual: Secrets of a Proper Countess, by Lecia Cornwall.

Partial blurb:
If Lady Isobel Maitland is caught even speaking to an incorrigible* rogue like the Marquess of Blackwood, she stands to lose everything she holds dear. Strict rules in her husband's will ensure that if she remarries or even forms friendships her mother-in-law does not approve of, then she will never see her young son again. But one night, in a dark garden at a masquerade ball, Isobel gives in to temptation, and lets an innocent flirtation turn into seduction.
*I bought it in spite of the use of "incorrigible" in the blurb, which is a word that really ought to be limited to badly written Victorian spanking porn by Anonymous. NOT, erm, that I would know anything about that stuff. No, not me.

Next up, Afterlight by Elle Jasper.  I like the title and the author's name-- mind you, I wouldn't reject a book for a klunky pen name, but it's nice when they sound intriguing-- and the cover art reminds me of Marjorie Liu's Hunter Kiss series (which reminds me, I should check on when her next release is due, seems like it should be soon?)

Partial blurb:
There is a reason we fear the night....

As Savannah's most unconvential tattoo artist, Riley Poe* is quite familiar with the local underground scene. She lives and works on the edge of it every day. Now she's about to step over the edge.

When her younger brother is taken by a sinister cult led by centuries-old vampires, Riley discovers a world of shadows and blood-- and those who exist there.
*Heh.  Are those ravens in the cover art?  Betcha they are...


And here's a cozy small-town contemp; I'm thinking Robyn Carr, Sheryl Woods, Debbie Macomber:  Playing for Keeps, by LuAnn McLane. Not a debut author but first in a new series.  Once I looked inside I could see that McLane actually has quite a few titles under her belt.

The blurb:

Olivia Lawson is peeved when Noah Falcon roars back into Cricket Creek* after all these years, thiking he can take the lead opposite her in the community theater's summer play.  When she was his English tutor in high school, she crushed on the hotshot ballplayer, while he barely noticed her.

*anybody else got an earworm now?

Wish me luck in my foray into unknown territory!

Other book acquisition goodness:  I went to Half Price Books the next day or so and totally scored-- Nora Roberts Vision in White, which I have been stubbornly refusing to pay trade paperback price for -- not merely half off but a Supersaver at $4.00. Not only that, but it was the last one I've been missing from the Brides Quartet AND the first one of the series.  So it was a little like getting 4 books to read for $4.00.

Also found the second in Carolyn Jewel's current paranormal series.  I must say I think I like her straight historicals better, but I'm giving these a chance and the first one was good enough to make me impatient for the rest of 'em.

Last but not least, I decided to give Stella Cameron another try and scored the first book in her Court of Angels series.  I dropped her a few years back when she started writing mostly romantic suspense but since we're like BFFs* now AND I've got that whole paranormal addiction going, I figure why not.

____
*Slightly exaggerated.  A real BFF would probably pay full price.  I mean, it's not like she bought me lunch or anything.**


.

**Kidding, people, I'm KIDDING.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

What Happened to March?

Photocredit: dichohecho 

I really have been neglecting this poor little blog, although I think about it and you, my lovely readers, frequently.  I have any number of blog posts started in my head, including an April Fool's post that didn't quite make it.  Been reading lots and lots.


So what did happen to March?  Oh, right, it was Girl Scout Cookie season.  And I was Troop Cookie Mom.  Hoo boy, that's a job. Wanna know what 157 cases of girl scout cookies in your living room looks like? It looks like this:

Also, I broke my car.  I did not know it was so easy to do this.  I got stuck, and in my attempts to get un-stuck, I, um, blew the engine.  Not as sexy as it sounds.  The original plan was to fix it; the dealer found an engine with 50,000 miles on it -- mine had 85,000-- but when it arrived, it looked more like 100,000 [hard] miles based on wear and tear.  So then we had some financial arrangements to make and a couple of weeks of challenging one-car logistics (we live in the suburbs, yo) and finally brought home a new-to-us Honda Accord last week.


Work got crazy hectic for me there for awhile, and I went to Dublin (where the company headquarter are) for a week in the middle of the automotive hijinks. Unfortunately I didn't see much of the city, although I did ride around on a bus tour and eat some good meals.  I don't particularly think of Dublin as a foodie city but I had some very tasty dinners.  I may or may not* have sampled a Guinness or two, and I managed to sneak out of work long enough to tour the Jameson distillery.


So that pretty much took care of March for me. 

I haven't stopped reading though.  I started Jayne Ann Krentz's new (?) Burning Lamp trilogy.  I guess it's new.  Anyway, I picked up books two and three this week -- the first one was really good and I just started the second one.  Both her Krentz  and Quick books are pretty much sure-things for me, but this will be my first foray into her futuristic books under the Castle pen name, so, fingers crossed there.  I have to say I find it harder to keep up when the series cuts back and forth across the different pen names.

Tried a new author that I found in a Dublin bookstore: Kim Lenox, the "Shadow Guard" series-- it's a Victorian paranormal, and I was dubious at first, but the writing is super-tight.  I'll be looking for the rest of this series.

I did manage a re-read of Shanna by Kathleen Woodiwiss for my "Rewind" feature, which I was hoping to run on the 2nd of every month.  Sigh.  If it's one thing that three years of blogging has taught me, it's that schedules and due dates don't work for me.  I do want to put up a review though, it just won't be on Mar. 2.  Or April 2, apparently.

And Tuesday was the latest J. R. Ward release.  I plan on doing a full review, but the highlights are: a) not too bad; b) a little unfocused; c) I think her flashbacks to the Ye Aulde Countreye are getting worse.  Gack. d) I don't really care about Qhinn and Blay any more.  When you stretch tension out too long, eventually the rubber band snaps, you know?  Ward has been using her Facebook page more and more lately, so if you're put off by the fanatical territory of the message boards and the lack of updates on the main webpage, check it out.  Today she finally spilled the beans on the next book:  Tohrment (Tohr not Thor) is up.  I believe it's confirmed that his romantic interest is She of The Random Apostrophe, a/k/a No'One, which I can't say I'm thrilled about.  Oh well.  What's an addict to do?

How about you?  Was March a blur or is it just me?
____
*I did.

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