Sunday, April 28, 2013

Review of Family Man by Heidi Cullinan and Marie Sexton

Family ManI've been sort of subconsciously intending to  read more M/M this year, so here we go--a nice contemporary that actually sort of surprised me with some of the directions it took.

Vinnie, a forty-something accountant turned plumber from a big Italian family, has a sudden epiphany that he might be gay. In an effort to figure this out, he goes to a gay club way outside of his usual haunts--and of course, runs into a guy from his family's neighborhood. Trey is twenty-six, but old for his age, and the attraction between them is intense.

I want to say right off that the age difference is a total non-issue. Trey is, as I said, very old for his age, having endured a pretty rough home life with an alcoholic mother. Vinnie is not remotely experienced in the art of dating men, so Trey's relative sexual innocence actually suites him well. Their attraction is deep, but they put off having sex, so it's a slow burn sort of thing. I actually really enjoyed the fact that they took their time jumping into bed together, because they both wanted it to mean something. I also liked that once they do end up together, it's not quite what you would expect.

The highlight of this book for me was the way that Vinnie treats Trey. He's extremely considerate and affectionate. He takes Trey out on really excellent dates and makes sure he's comfortable with everything. When Trey's situation with his mother comes to a crisis point, Vinnie drops every selfish hang-up that he has in order to make sure that Trey has the support he needs. This book is so much sweeter than I expected.

The major hang-up I had with this book was the fact that Vinnie's transformation from "No, not gay, no way." to "I would like to marry a man." is really, really quick. His family's acceptance of him is equally very abrupt. It's as though both Vinnie and a majority of his family exist in a rainbows-and-puppies ideal universe where any reservations about sexuality are worked out in the blink of an eye. From the set-up, I expected it to be more of a journey.

I also thought the ending was a bit saccharine. It through the tone off for me a bit, because for awhile it goes to a really dark place with Trey and his mother and all of that. I thought it might just end on a hopeful note. I didn't feel like the grand public gestures were necessary in this case.

So to sum up: this book is sweet and hot (like pie), and it's totally worth reading if you like contemporary M/M. I dare say it might even make a good introduction for readers who haven't tried contemporary M/M before. 3.5 stars.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Friday, April 26, 2013

Review of On Dublin Street by Samantha Young

On Dublin Street (On Dublin Street, #1)This is another one that was recommended so frequently and from so many different sources that I felt obligated to just try it, already. It's funny, though, that after all of the reviews and summaries I read, I still had an entirely incorrect idea of what this book is about. I thought it was erotica. Like, really kinky, hard core erotica. Or maybe like, 50 shades style wannabe porn. I don't know why. But it's not that. It's just romance with somewhat explicit sex scenes and that's about it.

Jocelyn moves to a new, fancy apartment with a new roommate, Ellie. Ellie's older brother Braden is very sexy, and kind of wants to be sex buddies with Jocelyn. Joss lost her family in a car accident when she was a kid, and her best friend died not long thereafter, leaving her psychologically damaged. Jocelyn is very, very bad at letting people in, and she has panic attacks. The book is mostly about Joss working through her issues and learning to accept the friends and love that she's found.

To this book's credit, it does try very hard to draw you in to Joss's screwed up little head, and make you understand and sympathize with her emotional issues and intimacy issues and so forth, and at times it's quite successful. If you've ever had a panic attack, you know how helpless and terrible the experience is. I could totally buy those episodes and the fact that they're triggered by being around Ellie's family. I could even buy her not wanting to let Braden in, beyond their sexual relationship.

I guess my issue with Jocelyn is that her internal demons are laid out in such an overt manner. No subtly. No surprises. Just "I have abandonment issues and panic attacks because my family died all at once and it was horrible." Real people tend to be more complicated. Real emotional baggage takes more time to unravel than that, because deep emotional scars cannot usually be traced back to one or two concrete events. The big events are part of it, yes, but there are hundreds of tiny little things that also build into the screwed up mind. Joss is written as a text book psychology patient instead of as a real person. She never surprised me. She never made me think about her, or the story, from any angle that wasn't entirely predictable. Every time I started to relate to her, she'd disappoint me with her predictable meltdowns and her inability to connect with people.

As far as the romance goes, I admit that it's well written. For the most part. Joss and Braden have great chemistry, both emotionally and sexually. Like Joss, Braden has emotional scars that he might as well where on a t-shirt.

Actually, let's all do that. Joss could have one that says "My best friend died, and I never want to make real friends again." Braden's will say, "My wife cheated on me, and now I only sleep with floozies." Maybe yours will say, "My Daddy left me and now I seek out unhealthy relationships with men." or "I was bullied as a kid, and now I'm mean to people." or "I was attacked by clowns and now I fear clowns and those bendy balloons that look like condoms and make that awful squeaky noise when the clowns make funny shapes with them."

Sorry, I kind of got off track there.

Anyway, yes, the sex is hot and there's sexy dialogue, and the hero is this super alpha/protective/scary/rich/sex god. Braden's extreme sexiness is, if I'm being honest, the best part of the book. A lot of reviews focus on his extreme sexiness, and I think that's why I had it in my head that this was going to be erotica. But it's not. But it is sexy. Braden is appealing, not only for the obvious reasons stated above, but also due to the fact that he's such a loving brother and considerate boyfriend. The fact that he stays with Joss despite all of her bullshit is ill-advised, but nice. I liked Braden quite a bit.

So, I guess to wrap this review up...It's a very readable book, although aspects of it are certainly frustrating and boring. It's a sexy contemporary romance that will appeal to readers who like New Adult (though it's not NA, strictly speaking), and erotica (though it's not that either). Worth trying, but not my favorite. 3.5 stars.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Watch This! Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Pt. 3)

When Angel left the show and went off to his own spin off, there was a kind of boyfriend vacuum around Buffy that just had to be filled. Enter Riley Finn, the very bland anti-angel college boyfriend.

I liked a lot of things about seasons four and five. I liked seeing Buffy go on to college and mature as an adult. I liked that the show allowed her to develop and gave her new, more adult challenges to cope with. I liked that the plot itself took some risks and went in very different directions, instead of sticking with the constant monster-of-the-week format. What I did not like, one little bit, was the romantic subplot of Riley Finn.

As previously stated, Riley is written to be as anti-Angel as possible--he's human, entirely good, a faithful boyfriend that offers Buffy a kind of stability that she's never had a chance at before. As the show progresses, Riley is given a bit more depth, getting in over his head in the supernatural world and ending up fairly damaged. But however tortured the writers tried to make him, he always failed to do the one very important thing (at least in my mind), which is challenge Buffy in any way.

The normal, familiar boyfriend vs. the challenging, complicated boyfriend has been done often enough that we can safely call it a cliché. If you go through the list of well known love triangles, you'll find that this conflict is often the basis of the triangle. The most familiar of all--Edward vs. Jacob, does it with the least subtly of all. Jacob is not only the best friend/old friend of the family boy, but he out right says on multiple occasions that he's Bella's only choice at a normal life--she wouldn't need to change to be with him. The easy, comparatively normal choice is almost never the one that wins out. In fact, I'm having trouble thinking of a single occasion in which a heroine chose the normal, nice guy over Captain Tortured Pants. Why not? In short, because that would be boring.

Being with Riley is too easy for Buffy. He's entirely human and, until later in the story, pretty much without emotional baggage. He already knows about the supernatural world, so she doesn't have to explain her lifestyle to him, per se. She can sleep with him as much as she likes. Their relationship is completely dull. There are several episodes where you can feel the writers struggling to come up with a conflict for the two of them, and when they do it's always disappointing. Maybe Riley is insecure because Buffy is so much stronger than him? Okay, that just makes him seem like a whiney baby.

One of the things I did sort of appreciate about the Riley story arc is the fact that even the writers seemed to understand that he was only ever going to be a rebound boyfriend. They made sure that Buffy got emotionally involved, but always held something back, so you kind of knew that the relationship had an expiration date--and it could not come soon enough for me. I felt like the time spent with Riley might have been better spent with Buffy learning to be okay alone, and I could have done without the whole thing.

Lest you think that I'm hating on the "everyman" characters, I want to say that I'm all too eager for someone to subvert the cliché. I would love to see more everyday heroes presented as a viable choice for the heroine, instead of as the third wheel or the conflict that must be overcome in order to reach the real happy ending. It's worth stating, also, that I really like Xander--and he's as ordinary as they come. His lack of special powers is what lends him his charm, and I would love to see something similar in more of our male love interests.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Review of Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson

Amy & Roger's Epic DetourWhat attracted me to Amy and Roger's Epic Detour was the fact that it's a road trip book--I can't remember ever reading a road trip book before, and there's magic in the property of novelty. I'm not sure how I would feel about this book if I were more experienced with road trip stories, and I can't judge it on those terms. What I can say, is that it was an okay YA story and a compulsively readable story.

Amy's father died in a car crash. She was the one driving, and she blames herself for his death and all of the subsequent fallout. Her mother decides that the whole family needs a fresh start, so she moves to Connecticut. Amy now has the task of getting herself, and her mom's car, from California to Connecticut. Amy isn't driving since the accident, so Roger (an distant friend of the family), agrees to drive her. At first Amy is eager to get the trip over with in as few days as possible, but as she and Roger start to talk, she thinks perhaps a small detour is in order.

When I say this was a page-turner, I don't so much mean that it was suspenseful or even particularly eventful, because it really wasn't. The pace is rather easy going, nothing much happening, just like a real road trip. But just like a real road trip, you find it necessary and pleasant to just keep going, see where the book takes you, what might happen next. The tone is completely perfect in that respect. One of the things that helped, I think, was the inclusion of pictures, receipts, and playlists throughout--it made me feel like I was part of the trip.

Amy's emotional journey is surprisingly touching and believable. Her father's death is still raw in her mind, and she's got a lot to work through. Not only can she no longer drive, but she can't bring herself to speak of her father in any capacity. Watching her work through some of her issues and start to heal was rewarding, and it kind of helped elevate the book from bland to engaging.

There were a few times when I became a bit frustrated with Amy's youth, in terms of the decisions she makes and how she handles her relationship with her mother, her brother, and getting what she wants. For example, she's too immature and inexperienced to figure out a way to communicate her needs and feelings to her mother, so instead she just dodges her calls. Yes, that's probably exactly how a seventeen year old would try to get away with taking an extended road trip, but the mere fact that she had to get away with it in the first place was a bit distracting.

The romance aspect of the book was fairly lacking. In the first place, Roger spends a good chunk of the book hung up on his very-recently-ex girlfriend. Once he does start to move past it, well, to be honest I just didn't feel a whole lot of chemistry between Amy and Roger, romantically speaking. They have friendship chemistry, which in reality can be a very good place from which to start a relationship. The problem is, they are about to be geographically separated, so for me the odds of that romantic chemistry developing, for real, seem slim. Without giving away too much about the ending, I'll just say that I found it somewhat less optimistic and satisfying than I think the author intended.

This is a great book to pass the time with. It would make an excellent beach book or long plane ride book or waiting at the DMV book. It's not a book where a lot happens or a book with any big messages, but it's very readable and mostly very happy, and so I recommend it on that score. 3.5 stars.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Misc Monday: Updates, Schedules, and Squishy Things

Amy & Roger's Epic DetourMy month of random unorganized reading marches on, and I've got a lot of reviews that I need to complete and publish. Lo and behold, a posting schedule.

4/23--Review of Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson

4/24--Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Pt. 3

4/26--Review of On Dublin Street by Samantha Young

4/27--Review of Beyond Shame by Kit Rocha

On Dublin Street (On Dublin Street, #1)4/28--Review of Family Man by Heidi Cullinan and Marie Sexton

4/29--Misc. Monday (Topic TBA)

4/30--Review of The Darkest Seduction by Gena Showalter

5/1--Watch This Wednesday (Topic TBA)

5/3--Review of Tidal by Emily Snow

Rogue Rider (Lords of Deliverance, #4 Demonica, #9)Those of you who are friends with me on Goodreads know that I'm currently reading Rogue Rider by Larissa Ione, and that it's taking me a million years to finish. I actually hit the 50% mark last night, though, so I can confirm that I will be reviewing it at some point coming up, even if it turns into a DNF review (I hope not). I'm also reading Something About You by Julie James, and it's not half bad so far. I'm going to try to get through that one fairly quickly, so that I can start The Elite by Kiera Cass, which comes out tomorrow. You'll more than likely see a review of those three books up in early May as well.

A couple of other notes: I'm doing some housekeeping on this blog. You'll already have noticed the change in theme, which of course I like to change periodically to keep things fresh. I'll also be updating my gadgets, lists, and review policy--everything. Invariably, when I do this, something always ends up a little screwy and I don't always catch glitches and mistakes right away, so if you notice something is off, please let me know,  preferably via email ( readingpenguinATgmailDOTcom ).

One of the things I decided to change was the commenting system-- I went ahead and disabled anonymous commenting. This means that you will now have to be signed in, in one form or another, in order to comment. The reason for this change is the rampant appearance of spam comments I've been getting, sometimes 4 or 5 over the course of a couple hours on a single post, and having to go through and remove all of them is driving me just a little bonkers. Hopefully commenting continues to work for all honest users.

That's really all for now--I'm sorry not to have a more amusing Misc. Monday post for you, but I felt it was important to spend some time on organizing and actually writing all of these reviews instead. Have a great Monday, and as always, Happy Reading!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Review of The Sandman, Vol. 3: Dream Country

The Sandman, Vol. 3: Dream Country (The Sandman, #3)As I snail crawl through this series, we reach this kind of in between volume, which is really just a series of unrelated stories that mostly include Morpheus as a minor character instead of the focus. I found this refreshing, although the stories are not evenly enjoyable. I'm just going to give a quick opinion on each.

"Calliope" is the first, and also my favorite of the set. It tells the tale of an author, who makes a trade with another author for an entrapped muse named Calliope. The author, Richard Madoc, is experiencing extreme writers block after writing one successful novel, and he hopes the muse will pull him out of it. Calliope's misery is extreme, and I really felt for her. She's also interesting as a concept in general, and I'd love to learn more about muse's in the Sandman universe.

"A Dream of a Thousand Cats" is a bizarre and deeply uncomfortable tale about cats, who want to take back the power they supposedly once had and become the dominant species of the world. It's both amusing and unsettling to see humans from an outside perspective, the arrogant and callous beings that we are. I also really liked how it implied that dreams have world altering powers.

"A Midsummer Night's Dream" has Shakespeare's acting troupe performing the title play to an audience of fae. This is such a clever idea, that I almost wish an entire story arch had been built around it. I want to know more about these characters and how they might fit into the universe and what their relationship with Morpheus might be. As it stands, though, it's a bit too vague to get really excited about.

"Façade" is easily the weakest of the stories. It's about Elemental Girl, who was transformed by an Egyptian curse, and can now turn her body into various materials. She basically looks like a huge mess, can't go out in public, and has completely lost her will to live. She's visited by Death, who tells her that all things will end in time. While I find Death really interesting as a character, this story was disinteresting overall. It was depressing and hard to get into.

When I sum up the parts, it was an enjoyable book. It's hard to grade, but I'm going to go with an even 4 stars.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Watch This! Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Pt. 2)

If you missed Part 1 (here, have a link), I focused on how Buffy has effected the way that I view fictional heroines, and in particular those of urban fantasy. Today I'm going to talk about Angel. Now, I might at some later date dedicate a post or two to the Angel spin-off series, but today I'm going to focus on Angel's character as he's introduced in Buffy's story, and prior to his show.

I think we all tend to forget, in this Twilight soaked modern day, that Stephenie Meyer did not invent to sympathetic and more accessible vampire (that crown likely goes to Anne Rice, although I'm far from an expert). Angel and Buffy did the centuries old vampire/teenage girl love story years before, and with more intelligence.

Angel is a vampire cursed with a soul. In the Buffy universe, vampires are essentially demons who feed on humans and lack a conscience. The fact that Angel has a soul means that he does have a conscience, and he feels really bad about all of the people he killed before he had a soul. Dark, broody, self punishing--all of the ingredients necessary for romantic drama with a vampire slayer.

The romance between Angel and Buffy is just as starcrossed and just as silly as any YA novel, but Joss Whedon does more with it than you'd expect. One of the shows early weaknesses, in my opinion, was the fact that it failed to explain why they like each other in the first place. You barely see them talk or share anything. They have little in common besides a mutual desire to kill evil vampires. We're just supposed to buy the idea that they feel this attraction, and it won't go away, and so they must be together. The setup is shallow, but the conflicts and the payoff are a lot more interesting, and that is the point, after all.

The conflict between Angel and Buffy stems not only from their antithetical roles as slayer and vampire, but also from their age difference and finally (the biggest catch of all), from the curse that makes Angel sympathetic in the first place. The fact that they're aware of the age difference and actually play on the creepiness a couple of times in and of itself gives us permission to not take it to seriously (although, of course, we do). I particularly like the Halloween episode when Buffy dresses like the girls Angel would have known when she was his age (and turns into an airhead as a result of the shenanigans), because it underscores how ridiculous their relationship is in the first place.

The culmination of their relationship is fairly well known, even among non-fans of the show. Angel's soul-having curse comes with the catch that if he experiences true happiness, he loses that soul. And turns all evil and stuff. And kills people. So Angel and Buffy do it, it makes him happy, and he turns evil. I've never gotten over how contrived that plot point is, but it's also an interesting metaphor. It puts Buffy this position of feeling guilt and loss and sadness, emotions that aren't altogether uncommon for women after an ill advised sexual encounter. Everything about Buffy and Angel's relationship speaks to how actual teenagers fall in and out of love, right down to having to say goodbye and move on.

In the interest of total honesty, I actually liked Angel a lot more after he left the show and got his own. The brooding romance did start to wear out after a time, and it was for the best that they put a stake in it.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

On Harpies: A Review of The Darkest Surrender by Gena Showalter

The Darkest Surrender (Lords of the Underworld #8)Okay, so, remember in the faraway past of 2011, when I said screw this goddamned series, I'm done with it? Yeah, I should learn not to say things like that. When I looked at all of the authors I've rated highly in the past, I realized that I really liked a lot of what Gena Showalter had to offer, and I really liked this series, in spite of the fact that it certainly irritated me at time. At that point, I felt that it merited revisiting. So let's revisit.

This book tells us of the Harpy Games, where harpies compete in teams in bloody battles and games of skill, for a grand prize and bragging rights. When Kaia was very young, she was set to compete, but made a mistake that resulted in a lot of death and Kaia's shunning. Now she's been invited back, and she and her sisters will be competing for an ancient artifact that the Lords of the Underworld need to complete their quest to find Pandora's box. Kaia has been attracted to Strider for some time, and actually believes that he's her consort (fated mate), so she wants him to come along. He agrees, despite an insistence that he wants nothing to do with Kaia. He has his own agenda to steal the prize before anyone can win it, but he soon gets caught up in Kaia and her quest for respect among the harpies.

One of the things like I appreciate about Showalter is her mostly equal treatment of male and female characters. Some of our heroines are weaklings, yes, but that's mostly because they're human, and they're always given some power or ability to compensate. I freaking love the harpies. They are badass chicks who break all of the rules. And yet Kaia has insecurities, makes mistakes, and has major regrets. She's an accessible, fun, and fascinating heroine. I like how she openly pursues Strider as her consort.

Going into this book, I had no feelings about Strider one way or another. He's not the sexiest of the Lords, but he isn't the most annoying either. Getting inside his head for the duration of this book actually made me like him more. His relationship with his demon is interesting. Winning gives him physical pleasure and inflates his ego, but he's pretty self-aware about all of it. Once he decides to be with Kaia they're great together, which is obviously a plus. The downside of his character is the rather unfortunate way that he views sex as a result of his demon. Once he discovers that Kaia has slept with Paris, he doesn't want her, because he doesn't think he can outdo Paris sexually. Yeah, I was not a fan of that plot point. It seemed trite and immature somehow.  Thankfully there are many good scenes later to make up for it.

I'm happy to be back with this series for however long it can hold my interest. I found it pretty easy to slip back into, even after years away from it--not sure whether that's a positive or negative. In any case, I can recommend this book to casual fans of the series, and I look forward to more. 3.5 stars.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Misc. Monday: Scheduled Reading vs. Impulsive Reading

The Darkest Surrender (Lords of the Underworld #8)Good news everyone! I've been reading lately. I've been reading extensively. I've been finishing books in two days or less which, at the snail-like pace I go means a lot. I haven't been doing as well with the actual reviewing of these book, but hopefully this week I'll change that around.

Beyond Shame (Beyond, #1)Reading heavily in public and semi-private (e.g, breakroom at work), is and has always been an interesting experience for me. Someone always always wants to know what I'm reading. I've never gotten good at answering those questions with a non-offensive, non-awkward non-lie. You never know how judgmental the person making the inquiry is, and it's not like you can ask. "Before I answer, are you super religious? Prudish? Homophobic? Elitist, snobby? Are you going to use my answer to label me and shove me into a category according to carefully constructed schema?" That does happen. "Oh, she reads romance novels! She must be one of those lonely cat ladies!" You can always try to confuse and redirect by describing the least touchy aspects of the plot. "Oh, it's a story set in a dystopian future, in which this girl is kicked out of her community and has to survive in the much rougher outside world." There, I just described Beyond Shame without referencing anything that anyone would find offensive. The problem with over-describing is that many people will eventually ask you for a title, and they will eventually figure out that what you were reading is nothing like The Hunger Games, not at all.

The Sandman, Vol. 3: Dream CountryBut I digress.

You all know that I was going through a reading slump last month, and I really struggled with what felt like my brain rebelling against every book I opened. I don't know how it happened, but I kind of came out of it thinking, "Fuck it, I'm just gonna read whatever the hell I feel like reading now." And thus began the impulsive bout of book gorging such as I have not indulged in since before I started this blog. I've long been an eclectic reader and always been kind of a mood reader, but since starting my blog I've tried to keep the moodiness under control in the name of maintaining a varied and coherent review schedule. The thing is though, I don't think schedules are good for me right now. I've been finishing books faster and with more enjoyment because I start them with the childish glee of just pulling the shiniest book off the shelf (or out of the Kindle wishlist, as the case may be).

So, yeah, I think we're going to stay off the map for a little while. It should be fun, though I do apologize to any of my readers who have OCD or are inordinately fond of schedules. I will try to post a review schedule sometime soon, once they are written and I'm sure that they will be up on time. See you soon, and as always, Happy Reading!

Friday, April 12, 2013

On Adam: A Review of Frost Burned by Patricia Briggs

Frost Burned (Mercy Thompson, #7)This poor book--it arrived right in the middle of my reading slump, so it took me way too long to finish it. The good news is, after all of that, I did not hate it. Mercy is like an old friend to me, and I'm always happy for a new book about her, and even more happy to see her with Adam. Which is why I was so bummed that he was kidnapped.

The book opens up with Mercy and Jesse getting into a car accident, and then finding out that the entire pack has been taken. Mercy uses her mate bond with Adam to contact him, finding him pissed off and in pain, in the hands of men who want him to kill a US senator and thus start a war. Mercy wants to rescue Adam, but her first priority is to protect his daughter, Kyle (Warren's mate).

I like that Mercy is still discovering the extent of what she is and what her powers are. She's always been appealing because she appears to be one of the weakest supernatural beings in her world, and yet she has hidden depths. This book specifically comments on her will and her stubbornness, and how she uses that to overcome impossible odds. It also shows us that she has some pretty serious and mysterious magic--she can do things that no one has ever heard of, and that makes her a wild card.

I've always found Adam likeable, in that usual alpha-shapeshifter kind of way. He's brave, loyal, self-sacrificing, and he actually likes Mercy for all of her flaws. I enjoyed the fact that we got to see a lot of him in this book, and that he was able to be at his most commanding despite getting his ass kicked and suffering major losses. I liked that some of the passages were more from his point of view, which helped to put a different spin on the state of things.

I liked that this book employed so many familiar and well liked characters from previous books--Stefan, Zee, Tad, and so forth. Mercy's world has really grown over the course of seven books, and it's interesting to see what the author can do in that well established world--both in terms of explicit plot points and hints of things to come.

Now, the core plot was serviceable, but to my mind not so memorable as some of the past books. That may have a lot to do with the fact that I spent so much time kicking and screaming my way through reading anything, and perhaps even a brilliant plot would have eluded me. But, in any case, while I can appreciate the dire concerns for supernaturals in law and politics, it seems to me that we're never given quite enough scope and context to become truly concerned, because we rarely step out of Mercy's head. I don't know that I got the high resolution big picture that I was meant to get. But that's okay, it was still enjoyable.

So to conclude--Mercy Thomspon should be at the top of your Urban Fantasy TBR if you haven't tried her yet. And this was a nice edition to the series, even if it took me way to long to get through. 4 stars.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Watch This! Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Pt. 1)

This month, I thought I'd dedicate a few posts to one of my all time favorite shows--Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The show first started in 1997 (I would have been 7 at the time), but I didn't get into it until around 2000. At that time, I had just discovered Harry Potter and with it, a love of fantasy and all things supernatural. Buffy has a very different tone, but it's similar in that it's grounded in the real world, where most people are not aware that supernatural forces exist, and that the heroes are normal teenagers with normal problems that are only exacerbated by the presence of magic and so forth. Also similar is the "chosen one" premise, the idea that fate picks one seemingly ordinary individual to be the savior. The difference in premise is that while Harry has one singular task to perform (kill Voldemort), which once completed will ultimately leave him free to live out a happy ending, Buffy is stuck killing vampires until she dies. Harsh, yes?

Buffy is the Mother of the Kick Ass Female Protagonists of Urban Fantasy

Oh, there were kick-ass females before her and there have been even  kick-assier females since. Hell, Anita Blake predates Buffy by about four years, and she's certainly earned her alpha stripes (despite enumerable flaws). But what Buffy did, in my humble opinion, is bring the kick ass female into mainstream light. The show is popular, a pop culture phenomenon, and for my generation she was the final word on unlikely female heroines.

Joss Whedon has become somewhat famous for his ability to make petite female protagonists into convincing fighters. Buffy is consciously written to subvert the cliché of the ditsy blond teenager who is the first to die in every horror movie. Her influence has made small-but-lethal ladies into a popular trope in and of itself in urban fantasy. Buffy makes up for her weak appearance with implied superpowers--supernatural strength and speed. Many UF authors do something similar, granting their heroines magical powers or gifts that bely their harmless visages. Others use brains or extreme weapons training, or some combination of all of the above. You can see why this is such a popular premise to launch a series on--it makes for such interesting and varied protagonists, with varying levels of angst and drama.

Buffy suffers from the classic fantasy heroine conflict--she wants a normal life, but she can never have one. Something always gets in the way. But she is, essentially, just like every teenage girl--and thus she goes through all of the same milestones--but on steroids. The loss of her virginity is a huge disappointment, to the tune of her boyfriend turning psycho-killer. She runs away from home and is met with a wake up call, in the form of a bizarre demonic slavery system. She finds that she wants to be popular, and become Homecoming Queen, but ends up fighting homicidal monsters all the way to the dance, only to find that she's not even runner-up. And so on. Buffy is relatable because, like most teenage girls, she feels like nothing ever goes her way and the world is against her. In Buffy's case, her life really is often miserable and the world really is out to get her. The relatability draws you in, her losses and disappointments make you emotionally invested, and her constant triumph over the monsters brings you comfort.

The fact that Buffy was so widely popular and is still remembered fondly (and continues on via comic books and so forth), means that she's often the basis of comparison for any UF heroine. Rightly so. When I read young adult urban fantasy in particular, I'm always looking to see in they included the traditional Buffy character--naïve but not stupid, seemingly and yet actually quite strong, snarky and unexpectedly smart. Maybe she has a group of friends like Buffy, or impossible romantic relationships like Buffy. Whatever variation the author goes with, there's almost always a tiny tribute in there somewhere.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Most Anticipated

It's time once again to comment a bit on the books we're most looking forward to in the next year. Here we go...

Dare You To (Pushing the Limits, #2)May

A Prior Engagement by Karina Bliss: Yeah, the more I think about the premise of this book, the more excited I get to read it. It's a back-from-the-dead fake engagement fake amnesia type of thing, and if anyone can make that work it's Karina Bliss.

Dare You To by Katie McGarry: Pushing the Limits was a well loved book, and not just by me but in general. It was on the Dabwaha bracket (though it dropped off in round one), and I believe it's also a RITA nominee. So I can't be the only one looking forward to the second book like it's my birthday and Christmas and National Free Chocolate Day.


The Chocolate TouchMagic Rises by Ilona Andrews: This book needs to be in my hands like now. This is probably my favorite ongoing UF series and I am too impatient to wait.

Saga, Vol.2, by Brian K. Vaughan: Saga is weird and wonderful, bizarre sci-fi goodness. I know it's not for everyone, and certainly not for my usual fan base, but I can't wait for it.

Midnight Frost by Jennifer Estep: What I'm most hoping for with this one is a more epic scale and more progression in the overall plot. Of course, I'm also just looking forward to more Gwen and hopefully more Logan.

Macrieve by Kresley Cole: This one seems promising to me, not only because Kresley Cole has amused me more often than she's disappointed me (though she did disappoint me in style), but also because I find that I generally like her Lykaes. Historically, those have been the heroes that I found the sexiest and most appealing, so I really don't see how this one could go badly.

The Chocolate Touch by Laura Florand: I liked the second book--and I'll admit, that kind of surprised me. It'll be nice to revisit Paris and gourmet chocolate.

Destiny's SurrenderSeptember

Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins: You know, I don't really know whether I liked or disliked Josh when he was introduced in Anna...I know I like his name! But yeah, let's hope he makes a good hero.

Destiny's Surrender by Beverly Jenkins: So we continue the theme set by the first one with a fairly old-school looking romance cover. I kind of like that, I'm not going to lie. Although, I'm collecting these in ebook format, so in the grand scheme I guess it doesn't matter anyway.


Archangel's Legion (Guild Hunter, #6)Archangel's Legion by Nalini Singh: The first thing I though when I saw this cover art was BOOBS. She has boobs. But, yeah, I guess she does look tough as well as sexy, so that's a plus. I like that she's so close to how I picture Elena when I'm reading (though I envision less cleavage). I also don't mind the monochromatic city scene behind her, and the overall tone leans to UF over PNR.

Eyrie by Emma Michaels: Well, as time goes on my enthusiasm for this book's release steadily wanes as I forget more details, particularly positive details. But, I don't know, I'll still probably read it. After all, it might improve on the first one.


Flame by Amy Kathleen Ryan: So, we don't know anything about this book yet, except that it's taking an excessively long time to come out, and I'm concerned all my interest will have drains out by January. I'll try to keep the excitement alive.


Drachomachia by Rachel Hartman: Now this one, I do think is worth waiting for. I loved Seraphina, and it's the sort of book I may buy and revisit before the sequel comes out.

Cress by Melissa Meyer: Oh my goodness, will I survive until February? I freaking love this series. Cinder was my #1 in 2012, I loved Scarlet, and Cress is just to far away.


The King by J.R. Ward: Ward is returning to Wrath and Beth, the couple that started it all. Beth made a big freaking deal about wanting to have a baby in Lover At Last, so that will obviously be among the conflicts. I confess, I am intrigued.

Friday, April 5, 2013

On Baby Mama Drama: A Review of Lover At Last by J.R. Ward

Lover At Last (Black Dagger Brotherhood, #11)Okay kids, strap on your shitkickers and bring out your bullshit shields, because today we're going to talk about the latest BDB volume--Lover At Last. I'm not going to lie about the fact that my relationship with this series has been rocky at best over the past couple of years. I jumped onto this series back when book three had just come out. I have years of my life invested in these goddamned vampires and their stupid names and their weird little frat house that they live in. And their gang wars and their social drama and all of the leather that they wear. Make fun of me if you want, go right ahead, but books two and three remain two of my favorite books of all time. All. Time. See Ward, I can do one word sentences with unnecessary emphasis too. But yes, I love this series and these characters, and it's because I love them and because the bar is set so high that I take any flaws or dud books so hard. For example, Lover Unleashed (Manny and Payne's book, in theory), was hugely disappointing for me, and had me considering a permanent boycott of the books. I didn't follow through on that because, as I said, I'm invested. This newest installment rewarded me in some ways and...screwed me sideways in others.

Team Quay

If you have read any of this series at all, you know that the Blay/Qhuinn relationship has been brewing for awhile. They were first introduced as young boys in book three, as part of John Matthew's training class. By that point, they are already best friends. Following their transitions to full of vampires, the sexual tension between the two begins to develop. Once Blay realizes that he's gay, he's pretty quick to come out to his friends about it, and even tries to explain how he feels to Qhuinn. Qhuinn, however, has major commitment issues and just issues in general, so he turns Blay down flat, and so on and on we go for like five more books. After all of that, a full novel to deal with their relationshit is not only justified, it was necessary. I was totally in line with other fans who just really wanted to see them work it out and get mated, in whatever form that might take, and I applauded Ward for going the full novel route with it.

The fact that we are seeing a full length, hard cover romance novel in a mainstream series dedicated to a gay couple likely has more social implications than I'm qualified to talk about. Ward is not the first mainstream romance author to write about openly gay characters, or even to award them a happily-ever-after, but she is one of the more popular and successful authors to do so (in 500+ pages, with sex scenes). As a comparison, Suzanne Brockmann had Robin and Jules in her Troubleshooters series, and they got a novella in which all nookie faded to black at the bedroom door, if memory serves. I want to take this as a sign that readers are becoming more open to reading about sex and sexuality in it's more diverse forms--but again, I'm probably not qualified to discuss this.

Sex, Sexual Orientation, and How Things Work in The BDB Universe

Now that I've brought up the fact that this book has sex, I of course have to go into my issues with how mating bonds, sex, and sexual orientation work in this universe. I'm going to start with the sex, because that's the easiest to complain about. I'm going to ignore the fact that vampires apparently don't need lube of any kind, because...I just don't need to go into that. No. My issue is the timing of the sex in this book. Blay and Qhuinn are hot together, but they have some seriously messed up timing. They don't talk things out, they don't deal with their issues, they just keep having sex. Revenge sex, angry sex, sad sex. Lots of sex. The one that stood out as the most inappropriate for me was when Layla is having issues with her pregnancy--Qhuinn is pretty sure he's going to lose the daughter he so desperately wants. And Blay and Qhuinn have sex. I can't actually think of a less sexy situation to be in, and I can't imagine getting turned on under those circumstances.

Ward's approach to how sexuality is handled in the BDB universe is at once interesting and terribly frustrating. Blay has the best case scenario when it comes to coming out of the closet--accepting friends and family, no hang ups, almost no self doubt. Qhuinn, on the other hand, is resistant to being labeled as gay or bisexual or anything else, never really "comes out", per se, and more or less implies that he only swings that way for Blay. He's had sex with other men, but only as a dominant party and usually in situations involving women as well. Blay is the only person that with whom he's acted as a receiver, and he thinks of it as losing his virginity, and insists that nothing he's done prior to that act marks him as gay. It's interesting to me that, at least in the mind of this one character, the only truly gay act is the most submissive one.

Now, Ward's couples have always been fated mates. The formula is that they bond at first sight, there is a psychological and biological need to get together, and when they're separated they both end up depressed--especially the male. With Blay and Qhuinn, the emotional and biological imperative seems much less pronounced. They certainly want one another, and they ultimately bond, but it's no where near the level of intensity we've seen with some of the male/female pairings. I'm not sure what this is supposed to imply, and I'm not complaining exactly, but it seems to me that Ward has mate Blay and Qhuinn's mating less fated and more voluntary. Make of that what you will.

Ward goes out of her way to let us know that all of the "good" characters are cool with the gay couple getting mated, and the only homophobes in this universe are the glymera--a group of people we already dislike. This black and white portrayal of the issue smacks of a certain naiveté. In the real world, reactions to sexuality still vary across a spectrum. Some people will be understanding and unbothered, some will be uncomfortable but choose not to show it, and some are going to be assholes. The fact that everyone from the old school males of the brotherhood to sheltered young Layla are totally happy for them with no persuading is pure sugarcoating, and it belies the struggle that real world gay  couples cope with.

Baby Mama Drama

I'm not a fan of Layla, and I never have been. There's something far too passive and dull about her. The fact that she's having Qhuinn's baby is annoying, because it meant that I had to care what happened to her in this book, instead of quietly praying for her to be hit by a bus. Anyway, she's pregnant and she really wants to stay that way, and it's a BIG FREAKING DEAL. To be clear, I want Qhuinn to have his child and be happy. I'm just bummed that it had to be with this vapid little bitch. What's worse is that, at a couple points, I actually felt sorry for her. Yeah. I know. The fact is, though, her pregnancy drama was not something I wanted to read about--not something I found entertaining or enjoyable.

One thing that really irritated me was how everyone behaves about the pregnancy. Beth hangs around Layla because she's hoping for a little contact fertility, despite the fact that her husband does not seem to want children. Havers, the only competent vampire doctor, tells her she's just an incubator, and he will only address her mate (which of course she doesn't have). Phury, who is primale and therefor morally responsible for Layla, treats her like a child who has been wronged and doesn't understand her situation. He automatically assumes that Qhuinn must be solely responsible for her condition, and that she was pressured into pregnancy, when in fact it's quite the opposite. Nobody makes an effort to just be her friend and treat her as an equal, because the only friend she's really made (Quinn) is tangled in the middle of the drama.

New Characters and Subplots

This universe is getting a bit full for my taste. I've never been in love with Ward's habit of switching POVs all of the time, but it's especially annoying when it's new and seemingly unnecessary characters. While I'll admit that Assail seemed somewhat interesting in some ways, he felt out of place in this book, and so did his little romance. Ward's narrative has never been cohesive, but it gets more sporadic with each passing book. That's not to say that any given part bored me or angered me, but just that it didn't all need to be there. Given a choice, I would have preferred more development for Blay and Qhuinn--particularly Blay.

In Conclusion

To sum up, this book was very flawed and yet entirely addictive. I think you have to be a fan in order to get immersed despite all of the many, many problems, but if you are that sort of fan you'll find it to be a page turner. So yeah, I guess I am still deeply invested in this series, and will continue to look forward to the books in the years to come. 4 stars.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

On Window Displays: A Review of The Chocolate Kiss by Laura Florand

The Chocolate Kiss (Chocolate, #2)I have to admit, when I read The Chocolate Thief my primary reaction was "meh". I didn't see the charm or the romance, and I honestly found both protagonists somewhat unappealing. This book, however, was a lot closer to what I had hoped the series would be.

Magalie is happy to have a place in her aunts' tea shop, serving up hot chocolate and sincere wishes to the patrons of the witch themed establishment. So when famous pastry chef Phillipe Lyonnais opens a new shop just down the street, it's only natural that she feel threatened. What's more disturbing, however, is the interest that Phillipe has taken in Magalie--sending her hand crafted pastries to express his growing affections.

The setting  is so very, very charming. The tea shop is a quirky haven for those in need of one, and it's exactly the sort of place I could see myself visiting time and time again. The elaborate edible window displays drew me in by themselves, but what really got me was the magic. Both Magalie and her aunts pour wishes, curses, and magic into their work. It's done in such a way that it's left up to the reader to decide whether the magic is real or only pretend. Magalie constantly tells herself that she's just pretending, but at the same time she takes her wishes seriously. That's what got me to like her as a character--the fact that she genuinely wants the best for people, and that she's found this sense of self worth in the simple act of wishing happiness.

Magalie is, in general, both well written and likeable. He unstable childhood has left her desperate to carve out a home for herself. She's been so busy digging in roots in the tea shop that she's forgotten to branch out and let new things into her life, and that is where Phillipe comes in. Even beside the romantic development, however, Magalie, undergoes a great deal of personal growth--learning to make the city her own and feel comfortable outside her little corner of the world.

Phillipe undergoes a lot less development, and he is not as well written, but he is still likeable in many ways. I liked that he kept trying to communicate with Magalie via his pastries. His primary character flaws are arrogance and overbearingness, which I could totally buy. He's very much the type A personality you'd expect a top ranking Parisian chef to be. The biggest flaw in the book was his initial inability to understand or communicate with Magalie at the most basic level. So many negative feelings could have easily been resolved through two minutes of conversation and Phillipe taking half a minute to think before he acts.

Overall this is a very sexy, very appetizing read. It will make you want hot chocolate and pastries, and it will make you long to visit Paris. While book 1 didn't have much to recommend it, this is one that I hope more readers will discover and enjoy. 4 stars.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Happy April!

Hi! Yeah, I'm still alive. It's been shockingly difficult to  get my brain in gear to blog lately, but I'm nevertheless here, on a new shiny non-sucky laptop no less. This one has, like, working keys and a screen and everything--all the amenities. Hopefully April will see more posts as a result.

First things first, let's crown the best book of March!

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