Review: Demon Bound, Meljean Brook

Cover comments: What do you think of the trend towards hero only covers? Those are some long arms, and his obvious youth makes me feel like a perp, but we can’t have the perfection of Ethan every time. Sigh.

Series? Yes, this is the 7th installment of the Guardian series, which includes shorter pieces.  Ms. Brook promises 8 full length novels, and since Demon Bound is (I think) the 4th, we’ll get a few more. Click on the cover above for more info.

Setting: The one really misleading thing about the cover, actually, is that it suggests an urban setting, like Demon Moon or Demon Night. In fact, most of the action takes place in Caelum (the heavenly realm where the Guardians hang out), in Hell, or excavating temples strewn around the world.

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Published in: on November 2, 2008 at 9:11 pm  Comments (10)  
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When Play Becomes Work

Ok, know I said this was just a hobby, and this was technically true for about 3 months. Longer, if you date my interest in romance back to March 2007, which is when I read my first one.

But I have always been interested in vampires, and when I started reading the Sookie Stackhouse books, it was all over.

I submitted two conference abstracts today. I have no idea whether they will be accepted, of course. And if they are not, I will simply delete this blog entry and pretend none of this ever happened. And the usual caveat is that they could have been much better if I had more time. But as a mentor once told me, “Your best work is the best you produce in the time you have.”

The first one is for the Popular Culture Association annual conference in April in New Orleans. That’s one venue where many of the romance academics from Teach Me Tonight share their work.  I was limited to 250 words, a real killer. Here it is:

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Published in: on November 1, 2008 at 3:48 am  Comments (4)  
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Creepy Covers, Pt. 3

Once again, I stuck gold at my local supermarket’s bargain book table. I stood transfixed at this one:

Maybe it was the long day at work, but it raised a host of questions for me.

1. What do you suppose is the “miracle” of the title? Is it that she is able to climb trees barefoot and coatless in mid winter?

2. How does someone wearing what appears to be a straight jacket climb a tree, anyway? And why? Does it have something to do with the fact that her name is “Ariel” and the cover copy describes her as “magic and moonbeams”?

3. How do you think the hero intends to talk Ariel down from her perch? I’m guessing something like “Honey, I found your matching tie dyed shirt. Now you can attend the Woodstock reunion in style.” will do the trick.

4. What is the best way to explain how the hero can easily reach her?

(a) stilts

(b) levitation (he’s all mavericky, I mean magicky, too)

(c) That yellow background does look kind of end-of-days-ish. Maybe he’s sitting on one of the four horses of the apocalypse?

Luckily the author more than survived this brush with cover suicide. You can find her book list (with each of her 5 pseudonyms, whew!) at Romantic Times. Ella March Chase is the name she uses now: she has a new historical fiction book coming out this winter).

Published in: on October 31, 2008 at 8:47 am  Comments (5)  
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Top 10 Romance Blog Mysteries

Can you help a newbie with some of these blogger mysteries?

10. Whatever happened to Paperbackreader.net? One day it was there and the next day it was g

9. Who is the person who started Snark Underground (Too chicken to link to it. It scareth me greatly.) and why?

8. Who is Dionne Galace and how is she related to a person named “BAM”?

7. I recently figured out that the women who run the busiest romance blogs also have day jobs. So what explains their ability to do it all?

a. Adderall

b. A secret army of Oompah Loompahs hired away (by the promise of higher wages and their eventual return to their native land) from Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory

c. They don’t. “They” are actually teams of Brooks Brothers suited men named Mr. Smith who were trained by the patriarchy to taunt all of us average women with their seemingly effortless output. (And if we say anything about it, they shall taunt us a second time).

6. Why are there so many locked or empty fora at All About Romance? Did I miss something really nasty and awful? And why do I actually kinda regret that??

5. Why doesn’t Azteclady have her own blog so I don’t have to chase her reviews all over the place?

4. Which group of romance bloggers would prevail in a wrestling match over their favorite book (if you have a dual membership, you have to choose one)?

a. The librarians

b. The medievalists

c. The lawyers

d. The aspiring authors

3. The Romance Reader says that it is “the only Internet site offering over 7,000 candid reviews of current romantic fiction”, but All About Romance says that it offers  “the smartest reviews (more than 7,000 of them!) you’ll find anywhere. Both claims cannot be true. So which one is?

2. Which next book would romance review bloggers be most willing to trade their first born child to get (this one is really four riddles wrapped in a mystery):

a. The next Laura Kinsale

b. The next Lisa Valdez

c. The next paranormal romance (as opposed to urban fantasy) from JR Ward

d. The next Judith Ivory

1. Who is Mrs. Giggles?

Published in: on October 29, 2008 at 6:14 pm  Comments (18)  

Poll time! How Do You Read Reviews?

Please help me play with my new Word Press toy, Poll Daddy.

Published in: on October 28, 2008 at 6:13 am  Comments (12)  
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Review: Romeo, Romeo, Robin Kaye

Cover comment: Well… it’s better than this one. Nothing says sexy like green latex gloves!

My take in brief: Despite the fact that this book forced me to ingest way more than my daily allowance of pernicious stereotypes, I did enjoy this light sweet contemporary overall.

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Published in: on October 27, 2008 at 6:52 am  Comments (5)  
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Review: Games of Command, Linnea Sinclair

My Take in Brief: A lovesick cyborg hero, an intelligent and fun heroine with a secret past, and great worldbuilding and plotting made this a real pleasure. While the secondary romance and some big unexplored questions detracted from the overall experience, I would recommend this one to anybody who enjoys an action packed space romance, and will certainly be reading more from Ms. Sinclair.

Series? : No.

Setting: Future space. There’s a lot of time on board ships of various sizes, with some scenes “dirtside” and some in a mysterious void.

Hero and Heroine: Triad Admiral Branden Kel-Paten, artificially enhanced for extra intelligence, speed, endurance, strength, firepower, and the ability to plug in to other computers through a port in his wrist, is a company man all the way, loyal to his superiors and devoted to the cause. Despite being programmed to have no emotions except anger, he has been in love with Captain Tasha Sebastian for years. Tasha is uninhibited, funloving, shortcut taking and rule breaking. She is also, unbeknownst to Kel-Paten, a former smuggler called Lady Sass.

Plot: There’s a lot going on, but mainly, this is the story of Branden coming to grips with his feelings for Tasha, and Tasha coming to love Branden, against the backdrop of two threats: political, in the form of a faction within the Triad which hopes to undermine the fragile Alliance, and metaphysical, in the form of an unknown evil presence, on board their ships and in their minds. There’s a secondary romance involving Tasha’s best friend, empathic Chief Medical Officer Eden Fynn, and telepathic rakish prisoner Jace Serafino.

Distinctive Features: Coming from a romance point of view, the fact that the hero is head over heels for the heroine, while she’s a footloose relationship-phobe, is pretty unique.

Fun Factoids: GOC was a RITA award finalist for 2008 Paranormal category (the winner was Lover Revealed by JR Ward) and a 2007 P.E.A.R.L. award winner for Best Sci Fi Fantasy. Also, Games of Command is a reworking/extension of two books (novellas?) – the previously published Command Performance (Jace and Eden’s story), and the unpublished Command Decision (Kel-Paten and Sass’s story).

Word on the Web

Dear Author, Janine, B+

The Romance Reader, Wendy, 4 hearts

Rosario, A-

Ciara Stewart, 5 hearts

AAR, Jeanne W, A-

Amazon.com, 4.5 stars after 21 reviews

The Racy Romance Review:

I knew this book was good when I wasn’t turned completely off by the realization that a portion of it was going to be told from the point of view of the heroines’ cute furry pets, the furzels. Normally, I would hate that sort of thing, but Sinclair managed to make Reilly and Tank cute without being cloying, and actually made them believably important to the action.

You can link to any of the other reviews above to get more on plot. The TRR review is particularly concise and lucid on that score. I did feel like I entered a series in the middle, never sure whether a proper noun referred to a political body, a species, or a planet.  But in this review I’m going to focus on what jumped out at me:

Like everyone who has read this book, I loved the hero, who is truly heroic: self-sacrificing, altruistic, noble. In his teens, he became a Biocybe, cybernetically enhanced, and while a few of you with dirty minds might be thinking about the sexual possibilities, in fact his cyborg nature detracts considerably from his attractiveness, not just because he’s not supposed to feel emotions, but because of widespread prejudice against humans of his altered state.

Branden can actually feel emotions when he lowers his psychic shields, and he’s hopelessly in love with the Captain he met years ago and has now arranged to have on his ship. The scenes when he tries to have a friendly conversation with his subordinate (flirting is way beyond his abilities) are heartbreaking. The dynamic is a little bit like the nice but oblivious popular girl and the nerd (think Mary Jane Watson and Peter Parker).  Branden is the type of hero that makes the reader want to reach into the book and give him a hug. You want desperately for him to be loved as he deserves, and the emotional payoff when it happens is hugely satisfying, easily the best part of the book for this reader.

We discover that Branden became a Biocybe in his late teens, but never why or how. This was a backstory I would have loved to read. I had other questions about how he functioned as a cyborg that interfered with my immersion in the story. We are told he is programmed to feel only one emotion, anger, but he feels many more, including shame, love, lust and others. The explanation is that Branden has managed to keep a part of his mind separate from Psy-Serv programming. That worked for me, but why and how did he do it? Why not go Psy Serv all the way? What, besides love of Tasha, motivates him?

An intriguing issue for me was the question of trust. Tasha is not sure she can trust Branden because he is a loyal Triad admiral. But she is also mistrustful of him for a super interesting reason: because Psy-Serv can control his mind when he jacks in to the ship computers. She wonders whether he is feeling things because he has been “programmed” to.  What’s “him” and what’s “machine”? She comes to trust his feelings, of course, but more based on intuition than in coming to understand his mental processes.

Despite their limited screen time, as a reader I was very invested in Branden and Tasha. In fact, there’s a moment in this book when Tasha says something to Branden that is so hurtful, that it has inspired me to make a list of the most heartbreaking moments in romance (stay tuned).

Tasha is just as likable and admirable as Branden. She’s more impulsive, intuitive, emotional, and social, but also goodhearted and heroic. It’s not clear why she went from outlaw to dutiful soldier. I felt almost as if I had missed the first book in the series. Tasha’s past, as far as her character went, was very much “ancient history”, its only significance being the worry that the Branden would discover it.

Tasha’s friend Eden, the intelligent doctor, is also a very good person, her empathic abilities enhancing her ability to tend the sick. She is more reserved and plays more by the rules. The appearance of prisoner Jace throws her off when she discovers she can meet him in a secret mental place. A Psy-Serv implant, designed to harness Jace’s telepathic abilities, has divided him into a flirty devil-may-care rake in person, but a sensitive loving soul in the mental realm where he meets Eden. The intriguing possibilities of dealing with the two Serafinos were not explored at any length, unfortunately, and they fell in love at first mental touch.

The book is like a romance in that it’s pretty focused on the four main characters. We don’t have a parade of shipmates or many other identifiable secondary characters. However, there is so much action and mystery that the two couples don’t spend a lot of time falling in love. Many of their conversations involve trying to get out of jams and figuring out who the bad guys are. There’s nothing at all wrong with this, but it made me think of this as more of an SFF book than a straight romance. It’s funny: I recently read Grimspace by Ann Aguirre, which is labeled SF. Games of Command is labeled “romance”. I would have reversed those labels, I think, if I were the God of Publishing.  When I think about why, it has to do with the fact that none of the 4 characters in GOC changes much: they start out being really good people you root for, and that’s how they end. I guess when I think of romance, I think of the h/h altering each other, filling in each other’s missing pieces, and making each other better people. I didn’t see that happening in GOC.

While I wish the gaps had been filled in, I did enjoy this one very much. I think it’s worth reading just for the hero, but there is a lot more on offer, including great world building, intense mystery, and a stable of characters to root for. It will definitely not be my last read by this author.

Published in: on October 25, 2008 at 10:24 pm  Comments (7)  
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10 Things I Never Ever Do Online (But Maybe Should)

Here it is. The list of things I never do, probably because I am about as hip, wild and fun as Mr. Kant:

1. Click on videos

2. Post or consume “man titty”

3. Twit

4. Chat

5. Memes

6. Engage in Book Challenges

7. Read author blogs

8. Click on ads or shop at stores sponsored by blogs I read

9. Let my inner bitch out

10. Squee

Published in: on October 23, 2008 at 7:14 pm  Comments (17)  
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Why Exactly Are Vampires Alluring?

Having just finished the first Sookie Stackhouse book, Dead Until Dark, and being partway through the second, it strikes me that there’s something very unusual, in my romance reading at least, about Sookie’s attitude towards her vampire boyfriend: she’s pretty realistic about the limitations of the relationship.

Sookie often reminds us that Bill is cold to the touch, he’s ghostly pale, and he has an out of date hairstyle that he can never alter. She can’t rest her head against him and hear his heart beating or feel the reassuring expansion of his chest as he breathes. He cannot have children. He doesn’t eat, and he doesn’t care for the smell of food. Sookie has to watch what she eats, because Bill can’t stand the smell of certain things, like garlic, on her person. Not surprisingly, she also finds his diet unappetizing. She’s tired all the time from the late nights with Bill. They’ll never walk hand in hand in the sunlight, take a beach vacation, attend a friend’s wedding, a loved one’s funeral, or indeed do anything together during the day. His nocturnal lifestyle has so far prevented him from having a career or productive work. And, while Sookie has yet to ponder this sobering reality (so far in my reading), he’ll watch her age and die as he remains the young man he was when she met him.

Not all vampire mythologies are as thoroughgoing as Ms. Harris’s. Indeed, some seem to cherry pick the most romantic or appealing aspects of vampire lore, leaving the rest out. The vamps of JR Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood eat food, have healthy skin, and can procreate, and she always manages (in ways that range from the convincing to the “you’ve got to be kidding me!”) to give her human partners eternal life. But even when the human partner becomes vamp, there are a host of unappealing trade-offs.

Viewing Bill through Sookie’s eyes made me wonder why vampires have become so popular in romance. I mean, it could have been anything: pirates, ducks, mollusks, clones, genetically modified humans, great apes, or canteloupe.

But no, it’s vampires.

Why? Probably there are lots of forces (the turn of the millennium, terrorism, Paris Hilton, who knows) that have led to a renewed interest in vampires in the broader culture, and the folks who put on the Melbourne conference in the above poster would be able to say more. But when it comes specifically to romance, I have some ideas:

1. Power. Vamps tend to be powerful, and are very much like the typical human alpha hero. In this sense, they are just like lairds in kilts, dukes with aquiline noses, or the muscle bound SEALS/cops/billionaires etc. that populate contemporaries. They’re the new alpha. (And this explanation works whether we are saying female readers imagine being loved by a powerful being, or image themselves as the powerful being.)

1b. Un-PC. In fact, you can argue that making a hero a vamp gives authors and readers “permission” to enjoy the un-PC fantasy of being dominated by a crude and boorish hero. (Not all vamps are like this, but you know what I mean). Readers often remark that they let a vampire get away with behavior they wouldn’t excuse in a human man. Think of Rhage cornering Mary against a wall in Lover Eternal, or Mikhail forcefully, um, detaining Raven in Christine Feehan’s Dark Prince, or the many examples, as in Lara Adrian’s Kiss of Midnight, of that trademark vampire technique of sleep-rape.

2. Sex. In real life, anemia can cause a loss of sex drive, and if that doesn’t do it, death certainly will.  But vampires are sex machines. Authors exploit the metaphor of blood as the elixir of life, drawing parallels between blood lust and lust. In most of the vampire romances I’ve read, exchanging blood is (or can be) incredibly emotionally significant, and an ultra powerful aphrodisiac, incomparable to regular old human sex, regardless of how adventurous. Maybe 21st century readers are so inundated with sexual imagery in every day life that the rise of vamp romance represents a ratcheting up of sex necessary to achieve the same narrative power a kiss in the old regencies would have.

3. Darkness. Superman is powerful. And all kinds of good guys can be sexy. But vampires are powerful, sexy bad boys. We tend to think of dark characters as more interesting, more complex. We want to unravel them. Maybe the vampire bad boy is the new rake in an era when sexual promiscuity is not all that remarkable and can no longer serve as a marker of a tortured soul. They transgress many of the most central human taboos. One way to look at social mores or moral rules is as strictures, keeping us enslaved in a way. But vampires have a freedom that can be very appealing.

3b. Eternal life. This represents the ultimate transgression. It’s hard to define what make a human being a person, and one of the things I have always found fascinating about vampire lore is the way it poses this question to us. None of the vampire romances I have read have dealt with what seems to me to be a monumental transition between having a finite amount of time on earth and being immortal. This may be because we are limited to conceptualizing immortality as “a regular human life plus more years”. But that doesn’t begin to cut it. Think about the way your mortality provides a horizon for making meaning in your life. I tend to think eternal life would make a person’s life unrecognizable in ways I cannot even articulate.

But … we have a real fear of death and a very hard time at the end of life, especially here in the US. So I think the appeal of eternal life as a fantasy — the h/h will truly NEVER be apart — is a very real part of the draw.

Can you think of the others I’m missing??

Published in: on October 22, 2008 at 2:44 am  Comments (11)  
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Review: Dead Until Dark, Charlaine Harris

←Cover comment: I love these covers. Whimsical, gothic, and reminiscent of the old PBS Mystery series. The cover reflects that this is an unusual book. Unlike the cover below, blech.

Series: Yes, Dead Until Dark, published in 2001, is the first of 8 Southern Vampire Mysteries in print (and Ms. Harris was an established mystery writer prior to that). Here’s the full list at Amazon. There are also several short stories which are listed on Ms. Harris’s website.

Setting: Rural present day Louisiana

Heroine and Hero: This is not really a romance, but a paranormal mystery with very strong romantic elements. Sookie Stackhouse, raised in working class Bon Temps, is a pretty blond twentysomething waitress at a local bar with the ability to read minds. She is sincere, naive and goodhearted. Bill Compton is a darkly attractive, polite vampire, old enough to be a Civil War veteran. He has returned to his family home in Bon Temps to attempt to “mainstream”, i.e. live among the human population.

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Published in: on October 19, 2008 at 7:08 pm  Comments (10)  
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