Thursday, August 16, 2012

Avon Addicts: Is It YOUR TURN?

Coming soon, I will post a navel-gazing post reflecting on what being an Avon Addict has meant to me, as a reader and a blogger.  I'm still noodling a little bit on that.

In the meantime though, my tenure and that of my 24 partners in the first generation of Avon Addicts, is drawing to an end.  It's been a really wonderful program to participate in.  And in the spirit of sharing the love, which is what the program is all about, I wanted to let my readers know that while MY time is ending, Avon is accepting applications for a new wave of Addicts.  So if you are interested, I encourage you to apply!

Here is the link you will need: Avon Addicts Application

And best of luck to you!


Friday, August 10, 2012

Blog Tour Stop: The Bride Wore Pearls, by Liz Carlyle

Information: 
Author: Liz Carlyle
Publisher: Harper Collins
Imprint: Avon Books
Reviewing: Advanced Uncorrected Proof provided by publisher and TLC Book Tours

Liz Carlyle is one of those ready, steady authors that I can always count on for solid read. In recent years, I've neglected a few of these authors, seduced away by vampires and shifters and shiny new faces in the Regency scene.  (I should say that technically, this is not a Regency as it takes place in the early Victorian period.  But in most ways, it fits into a Regency-style historical).

So I was more than willing to pick up her latest and see how she's holding up against all the other temptations on the scene, and it's safe to say, "very well indeed."

Blurb:

Beneath the elegant fa├žade of Victorian high society, the mysterious men of the St. James Society play only by rules of danger and desire.

Rance Welham, the Earl of Lazonby, has survived scandal and disgrace, even evading the Queen’s justice at the end of a hangman’s rope. Now he’s about to gamble everything on something far more dangerous—desire.

An exotic and elegant beauty, Lady Anisha Stafford fled her native India to seek refuge within London’s secretive St. James Society. But accepting protection from someone called a cold-hearted killer is a double-edged sword . . . especially when he’s the most intriguing man Anisha has ever laid eyes upon.

In a world where treachery abounds, no one can be trusted—and no true passion can be denied. Together, these two tempestuous souls will risk their lives for a love that could redeem them . . . or destroy everything they hold dear.
The Characters
Now, I've seen some tortured Earls in my time, but Lazonby has really been through it.  Years in Newgate, years in the French Foreign Legion, and two dates with the hangman-- this is not your garden variety "Boo hoo, daddy issues," or "boo hoo, some girl was mean to me once" sort of baggage.  On top of his own trials, the whole affair ruined the health of both his parents - so he has this functional-family background and a layer of guilt because of that, too. I really liked the way Carlyle made him so irresistibly, superficially charming, with the contrast of his underlying broken and jagged edges.

Anisha is also pretty atypical.  Her father is Scots, her mother Indian, and she was raised largely by her mother's family.  When her husband passes away, she packs up her sons and teenage brother in order to be under the wing of her eldest brother (who is curiously absent in this book, but it's a reasonable motivation for the move).  She understands the value to her sons of co-existing in British society, but she is also independent-minded and conforms only to the point that it makes sense to her:
Anisha turned, her spine elegantly aligned, her breasts still beautifully high amidst the untidy tendrils of tumbled-down hair.  "I do not own a corset," she said simply.

"Oh."

She smiled faintly. "I find them unhealthful," she added. "They restrict one's vital life forces - one's *prana* - and that hampers *citta*--"

"Ah," he said. "Which is...?"

Anisha paused to think. "Well, awareness of life," she said. "Consciousness."
I liked Anisha a lot, most of the time.  She's forthright, pragmatic, sensual, and has priorities I can understand.  She's got a strong touch of the exotic to her character which overall I liked, but there were times when I felt like the Indian cultural pieces were laid on a bit heavily.  It was consistent with her character and did serve to underline her torn-between-two-cultures conflicts; I just felt that it was a tad awkward or lecture-feeling at times.

Falling in Love
One of my favorite things about reading romance are the moments when the characters connect. When they feel that thing that makes it love, makes it a romance.  When I'm flagging a book for my favorite bits, the front third is usually crowded with these little marks, little moments, while the rest of the book is far more bare.  Don't get me wrong, I want to live through the conflicts and the resolutions, too, but oh, those little moments... they're why I read romance.  Here's my favorite from this one:

In Africa he had lived a life sunk so deep in licentiousness that he was ashamed to remember much of it; lain so long and so often in a drug-hazed stupor with God only knew who, he had become more animal than man.  But in that moment of perfect innocence beneath the arbor, he felt Anisha's need wash through him like a pure, clean thing.  He believed for a moment that he was that different man; forgot for a few fleeting moments the accusations that had ruined him.
Yeah.  I love that.

The Plot
There's a mystery here, surrounding Lazonby's past and how the son of an Earl came to be tossed into Newgate. I really liked the way the clues unfolded and the way Anisha's interactions with the various informants entwined with the emotional development between her and Lazonby.  There were times when the romance sagged or stagnated a little bit, but the mystery plot kept me turning pages until the hero and heroine connected again.  I think the start-and-stop aspect of their relationship was intentional and felt natural, like the way a real-life relationship might go, but the "stop" bits can drag a little.  Thanks to a tight, exciting plot, this didn't turn into a major problem.

Other Stuff
There's a bit of a paranormal thread running through this book, and whole chunk to do with a secret society, that didn't honestly seem to add very much to this particular story.  I got the sense that it was more important for other related stories.  I wouldn't go so far as to say it was intrusive or distracting, but it felt a little bit unnecessary. There was also a fairly large cast of secondary characters that I mostly enjoyed but there did come a point where I felt a little bit like "OK, that's enough other people! who are those twins and why are they here and do I really care about the fiancee's elderly Italian aunt?"

Bottom Line
Other than a few nitpicks, this is a solid, lovely historical romance, with unusual characters, a tight twisty plot, and an emotional connection that resonates.


Please check out the Blog Tour Homepage for more reviews and information.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Blade Song, by J. C. Daniels - Review

Information
Author:J.C. Daniels
Publisher Name:Shiloh Walker, Inc
Imprint:INscribe Digital
Reviewing:eARC from NetGalley

There's a New Series In Town
I have to admit, I'm kind of a series junky.  I blame Nancy Drew and the Stratemeyer Syndicate.  There's a certain comfort, or security, in knowing that I can visit my favorite characters again in another book, even if this one is done.  I'm not much of a re-reader, usually, so I think series loyalty is sort of my version of re-reading.

Even so, I confess that sometimes I feel a little fatigued by  the number of "my" series that are up into the 6th, 12th, or 20th book.  With series-arcs in play, that's a lot of details to keep track of.

So of course, the cure is... to start a new series!  OK, well, yeah, on the one hand, that doesn't really solve the detail-tracking problem.  But on the other, it's really fun to dive into a fresh new series AND have it turn out to be as good as this one.

Alter Egos
It's no secret that J. C. Daniels is a pseudonym for Shiloh Walker, author of quite a number of different series.  Writing everything from fairy-tale-based paranormal fantasy to erotica to "straight" (ie, no magic) romantic suspense, Ms. Walker is one of the hardest-working authors around.  I was lucky enough to spend some time with her at RT in April and enjoyed her so much -- sharp, intelligent, funny, and pulls no punches with her opinions and commentary.

What I knew about her writing before I requested this ARC: 1) it's entirely brilliant, and 2) some of her stories appeal to me a lot, and some of them do not.  The ones that do not are simply a matter of what kind of stories I like and not about her ability to execute.  Her romantic suspense stories sometimes edge into violence of the sort and extent that I don't enjoy reading about.

My brain is a quirky place though.  When you move all that violence into a paranormal universe, it bothers me a lot less.  Or in a different way.  It's like I'm suspending my disbelief from a different hook or something.  So I was very interested to learn that Ms. Walker was working on an urban fantasy heroine, because here is a world where I can throw away my baggage and enjoy the ride.

Brave New World
And what a ride this was.  This new universe that Daniels brings us is the "kitchen sink" sort of world, where vampires, witches, werecreatures, and anything your imagination could conjure up, have been outed in the world.  A little reminiscent of Nancy Holzner's world, one of the key factors is the uncertain state of citizenship for paranormal.... people. Creatures? You see the dilemma.  In this book, it was something of a teaser, playing a part in the plot and adding to the tension, but I could see how that thread might become a major driver in the series arc or arcs.

I have to say, I love, love, love the mythology of the aneira:
My sword arm is mighty.
I will not falter.
I will not fail.
My aim is true.
My heart is strong.
Descended from the legendary Amazons (the ones from the Hercules myth, not the ones from South America), Kit is only a half-breed, and her gifts are subtle, seemingly weak. From a childhood of brutal training and emotional abuse, Kit has made the most of her human strengths too-- muscular toughness, persistence, self-reliance, unshakeable loyalty to those who are lucky enough to win it, and a sort of preternatural cleverness for riddles (I think it must be very hard to write this as a character's true skill and not authorial intrusion- we have to believe she really figures this stuff out). She also has a very handy trick with weapons. I think that a fun part of the series will be to watch Kit come into her own, and really understand what she is capable of. An interesting twist is that the aneira themselves are not widely known about, and Kit can "pass" for Muggle... er, non-paranormal. And yes, I think the echoes of racism and segregation and civil rights are interesting and intentional.

Blade Song is urban fantasy, and there was a very clear triangle set up in the beginning with two powerful men. I'd like to say something about patterns and UF versus PNR but I think it's a little spoilery, so I'll just say, Daniels surprised and thrilled me with the bold strokes she takes with her characters and the world's power structure.  It's action packed, so the UF purists should enjoy it, but there's a lot of romance and a lot of heat in this book too.

One problem that Kit has is that she doesn't trust easily, and rarely accepts or asks for help.  So this little snip is particularly significant, and moving too:
He pulled me against him and I went, sinking against his chest. I could lean on him, I realized. I really could. And it wasn't so bad to do it.
This is an amazing moment for an independently-inclined woman who's falling in love, and you don't have to have magical powers to recognize it, to feel it resonate.

I haven't said much about what this book is about - you can find the blurb here.  I think Kit is not far off of a modern-day, grown up Nancy Drew though - she's a gun for hire, solving mysteries and finding lost things - served up with grown-up emotional entanglements, against a gritty paranormal backdrop in place of the idyllic River Heights.

To sum up, I loved this series starter - it's got fresh mythology, strong women, powerful men, and a complex JengaTM -style socio-political structure that's bound to have plenty of plot twists just waiting to be discovered. I think fans of Kim Harrison, Ilona Andrews, and Keri Arthur will love this new series as much as I did.

Around the Blogosphere
Paperback Dolls
That Bookish Girl
Happily Ever After
That's What I'm Talking About
The Book Tart (side note, I sort of met/noticed this blogger at RT and she just impressed the heck out of me with her brilliant presence, and sharp commentary. I'm a fan, and now I've finally found her blog, YAY!)

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Big Release Day!

Gah, I am so far behind in my reviewing.  I'm working on it!  Promise!

But I didn't want to let today go by without a shout out to a whole bunch of awesome paranormal romance releases:

WILDER by Christina Dodd

I requested and received an ARC of this book, based on how much I have loved its series predecessors.  I don't have my thoughts collected on it yet, but the short answer is - loved it!  It's a bit different in tone from the other books, but a fitting double-series capper.

HEARTS OF DARKNESS by Kira Brady

Kira is one of my favorite bloggers.  I learned a lot about book blogging from her when I first started and she introduced me to the Thursday Thirteen meme which I still like to dabble with.

Although we talked about an early review, the logistics ended up being sort of difficult so I decided to come to her book release celebration this Friday and purchase a copy.  Eagerly anticipated!





BITING COLD by Chloe Neill 
Perhaps you can guess by my recent posts how eagerly I'm anticipating this one.  Once I actually finish a review post, I'm going to allow myself to download this, and since I want to buy it on release day,  that should work as incentive to get my "work" done, right? RIGHT!  Also, I just finished my last book not 60 minutes ago on the bus, so I'm ready to BITE into this tonight.

ETERNAL BEAST by Laura Wright
I keep meaning to write a post about this series, because I really, really love it.  It's pretty much the first thing I've come across that could really rival the Black Dagger Brotherhood for alpha-vampire kick-assery.  I'll be downloading this one tonight too.  You might also check out the twitter hashtag #eternalbeast for some delicious snips and quotes from the author.

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