Sunday, December 30, 2012

Being Internly: Avoiding the WTF Face

While going through my boss's slush pile, I learned something new about myself. I have a WTF face. It looks something like this:
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The head turn is usually me checking to see if any of my co-workers noticed how I just contorted my face.

So what merits the WTF face? Usually it's one of two things: grandiose language or a bizarre plot. By bizarre plot, I mean the kind of thing that might be read by brainwashed cult members or deranged people who idolize serial killers. Grandiose language is the kind where there are five adjectives in one sentence and everything is oddly formal, but there's something weird going on. Here's a made-up example, "The most high and respected chieftain, who ruled over the part of the plains where the snow falls in thick white clumps, raised his shiny staff of thick wood and declared to the sickly weak maiden to fear not, for his mighty essence would bring her back to life again."

I have the utmost respect for authors. They are my rock stars, but behind every rock star is an entourage and a writer should be no different. Go to a critique group. Visit Absolute Writer and get a beta reader. Attend workshops. Join a professional organization. Find a neutral party who has no emotional or financial stake in your well-being and ask them to read your manuscript. Get their unvarnished opinion. Then find another one. Do not let anyone rewrite anything for you. Just gather up all their notes and their reactions (Word's Track Changes is your best friend right now). You may find commonalities, a few places where everyone got tripped up. Fix those.  There may be copious notes all over the entire manuscript which usually means you chalk this up as a learning experience and start on a new one or you rewrite the whole thing.

Only query when you are sure that eight out of ten people will not make a WTF face when reading your manuscript. If you send my boss a query and I read it, I'm making the assumption that you are sending the very best possible version of your work. A WTF face means this is not market-ready at all and you are probably not a good investment.

Save all of us some time and avoid the WTF face.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Being Internly: An Introduction

You may have noticed the cobwebs. It's been a while.

The reason behind my hiatus and my return is the same. Back in June 2012, I became a freelance, unpaid, intern for a literary agent. In a nutshell, it's a lot like my beta-reading work, where I read manuscripts and  give my opinion. On occasion, for the agency's clients, I might do more in-depth editing.

It's been an interesting experience for me because it's a bit of a paradigm shift from being a bookseller. When you work in a bookstore, the books themselves are a commodity. It doesn't matter to us if the book is an one-hit wonder and the author fades into obscurity shortly after. It matters to an agent, though, because they are investing in the author. They're not so much looking for a great book as they are looking for an author who writes great books. Writing may be an art, but publishing is a business.

Over the last six months, it's become clear to me that my eventual career path is skewing more editorial than agent-y. When I graduated from queries to partials & fulls, I kept trying to fix them. I'd be like "Well, this one isn't market-ready, but the author could strengthen that part and cut this and maybe add more of this." My boss ended up calling me into her virtual office and said, "We are not here to fix. We're here to sell." It's kinda like going to an estate auction. There are a lot of other people around, all bidding on the same lots. Sometimes you're lucky enough to be the top bidder on a Tiffany lamp. Sometimes you win an auction only to discover your prize isn't as great as you thought, like a pristine lunch box with a moldy milk thermos inside. Sometimes you are the only one to notice that rare Barbie doll in a jumbled pile. Sometimes you find a dusty, scuffed, antique that just needs a good polishing to double its value. But you don't go to an estate auction with the intention of buying something that's broken.

Once I had that straight in my head, it was a lot easier for me. Things certainly moved faster because I can generally tell within the first six chapters if something is worth pursuing or not. I feel bad at times, though, because there will be concepts that are really original and definitely marketable, but the writing is just not there or the writing will be strong, but the story will be unmarketable. My first thought is always 'How can I help them fix this?' So, as such, my goal is to obtain an editorial freelance position.

However, in the meantime, I wanted to share some of what I've learned so that maybe you can be a Tiffany lamp and not a moldy lunch box.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Review: Rogue Rider by Larissa Ione

Rogue Rider
Rogue Rider by Larissa Ione

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It seemed apropos that, since I read Immortal Rider and Lethal Rider while on vacation at Disneyland during RWA, I read the NetGalley e-arc of Rogue Rider while on vacation at Walt Disney World. Only I would bring dark romances to the happiest places on Earth.

I think this book is going to be very polarizing.

Immortal and Lethal were very dark with lots and lots of torture & death. Rogue Rider is the story of what happens after a war, a time of healing and rebirth. Pestilence is defeated, long live Reseph. The twist here, however, is that Pestilence and Reseph are the same person, just different personalities. Readers spent a long time abhorring Pestilence as he committed atrocious acts against the people we were rooting for. He slaughtered the innocent, took part in countless depravities, and came really close to ending civilization as we know it. Now Pestilence exists in a metaphorical cage within the body and the Reseph personality is in control. The question becomes how do you atone for something you did when you weren't yourself. Should you even have to? Reseph's entire family wants him dead, just to prevent the mere possibility of Pestilence rising again, and it's hard to fault them for that.

Ione does a good job of differentiating between Reseph and Pestilence. Actions aside, Pestilence's POVs from previous books differ in rhythm from Reseph's POVs in Rogue. I could totally pretend they were two separate people, allowing me to separate my loathing for Pestilence from my role as a cheerleader for Reseph. What tripped me up was the fact that Reseph is deeply damaged. Once he gets his memories back, he's a psychological mess. Ione did her damnedest, but I couldn't shake off my psych training and I felt he was ill-equipped to be in a relationship at all. He should have made peace with himself before he committed to someone else. As a result, Reseph becomes rather co-dependent on Jillian.

I was pretty focused on Reseph and Jillian, but Ione does tie up some loose ends, including finally revealing the identity of the Horsemen's father, and sets up Reaver for book five. If you are a big Reaver fan, you should read Rogue Rider, just so you're ready for his book. Actually, knowing Ione, if you plan on reading anything else set in this world, you should probably read this book.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Review: Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen
Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Snagged from NetGalley.

Like many people, I was first introduced to Lucy Knisley through French Milk and I've been following her LiveJournal ever since. I enjoyed French Milk so much, when I started working at the library here, I recommended they add it to our popular reading collection.

Relish is not a complete story like French Milk, but instead is a series of loosely linked vignettes. At the end of each chapter, Knisley provides a recipe that fits the theme of the chapter. Comfort food, this is not. While the recipes are fairly simple in design, they are not for picky eaters and could definitely be termed as gourmet. This is also not particularly vegetarian friendly. Knisley makes no apologies for loving foie gras, citing an incident from her childhood where she was attacked by a flock of geese. There was also a mildly disturbing brief glimpse of a turkey hanging from a meat hook. It's all relevant and not at all gratuitous, but let the non-meat eaters be warned.

You get what you see with Relish. Knisley keeps the focus very narrowly on memories of food. She touches on her parents' divorce, but never discloses why it happened or why her mother got (apparently) sole custody. I know from her LiveJournal that she's already done pieces on her ex-boyfriend and her time in Chicago, but she glosses over most of it, focusing on how she followed in her mother's footsteps as a cheese-monger. Knisley keeps things light, never revealing too much, and it feels like Lucy the Narrator is almost a fictional character, separate from Lucy the Creator.

I kinda wish that Relish had come before French Milk because Relish is very much an appetizer while French Milk is the entree. I'd love to see a volume about Knisley's professional growth as a cartoonist for dessert.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Review: Taking Shots by Toni Aleo

Taking Shots
Taking Shots by Toni Aleo

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I pretty much knew by page 15 that this was going to be a rough one for me and I basically forced myself to finish it. Lo and behold, my very first one star review.

When you write a book where one of the main themes is about the weight of the heroine, you have to be careful because a woman's weight is a sensitive thing. I'll be honest, part of the appeal of this book for me was that I thought the heroine was plus-sized (an erroneous assumption I made based on the Amazon synopsis). The heroine, Ellie, was a size two, but due to hypothyroidism, she ballooned up to 180 pounds and currently, she's down to a size ten, which she still considers fat. Towards the end of the book, when she drops down to a 'single digit' size, it's the one bright spot in her depression at the time.

I struggled with this. A lot. I told myself that any unwanted alteration to a woman's body, whether it be weight gain, scars, what have you, is going to be traumatic for that person. I wouldn't have a problem, after all, if she was calling herself ugly after gaining facial scars from a car crash, but I couldn't help it, I did have a problem with how Ellie's weight was portrayed. The median size for an American woman is 14. Set aside the weight issue, in 1941, the average height for a woman was 5'2". Today, it's 5'4". That means, based on your frame and bone structure, a woman's weight could range from 114lbs to 151lbs and still be considered healthy. Ellie's obsession with her weight, therefore, is practically an eating disorder.

One could argue that Ellie has a warped self-view, due to her mother's and sister's treatment of her, and therefore, doesn't recognize that she's on the low end of the scale. I'm not denying the likelihood of this, but Ellie has made every effort to cut her mother & sister out of her life. She clearly recognizes they're not a healthy influence nor do they have her best interests at heart. So I don't understand why she would continue to take their criticism about her weight to heart or why she'd believe her sister when her sister claims that Shea kissed her, leading Ellie to spectacularly dump him without listening to a word of explanation.

Furthermore, Ellie claims to be devoted to her nieces & nephews, taking them once a month for Aunt Ellie time, but then she abandons them at Christmas without a second look because she likes Shea's family better. Ellie talks about how pissed her siblings & parents were, but didn't mention a single word about the kids. There wasn't even a throwaway mention of 'Oh, I have to mail their presents,' or, 'Let me call the kids before we do anything.' Nothing.

It also turns out that her uncle is the owner of the team and therefore the man who signs Shea's paychecks. However, Ellie doesn't seem to think that Shea needs to be aware of this fact, despite the implications it could have for his career. She continually hides things from him, even when she knows she should tell him. This is nowhere more apparent than when Shea meets her family for the first time and she lets him be blindsided by her parents.

To me, throughout the entire book, Ellie is shallow and selfish. At one point, even her best friend calls her on her behavior, telling her if she doesn't get her head out of her ass, their friendship is over. In comparison, Shea comes off like a freaking saint for putting up with her (although some of the scenes with his twin sister skirted just along the edge of creepy and co-dependent) rather than an actual human being.

What made it even worse for me was that the hockey stuff was pretty good. Aleo achieved just the right balance of giving the reader enough sports stuff to make it seem legit, but not enough to overwhelm the book or intimidate readers looking for a contemporary. I also liked most of the supporting characters. If Aleo had avoided committing Ellie to specific clothing sizes and made her a dutiful daughter instead of a rebellious one (thereby eliminating some of the character inconsistencies), this probably would have been at least a three star book for me.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Review: Ball Of Furry by Celia Kyle

Ball Of Furry
Ball Of Furry by Celia Kyle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I went back and forth about buying this. It's five chapters plus an epilogue, which, for me, makes the $3.99 price a bit of a stretch. However, the heroine is a bunny shifter and the hero is a lion shifter. The excerpt was intriguing and BUNNY/LION. I've read other books by the author and while they weren't the Best Thing Ever, I liked Kyle's writing style. So I went for it.

I don't regret spending the money, mostly because the heroine, Carly, is a spitfire. She holds the hero, Neal, at arm's length until she's sure he's going to be what she needs. Despite that show of independence, however, this is very much a Fated Mate Syndrome book. There's no emotional development and Neal doesn't really 'grow' as a character. The addition of another chapter or two (especially at the end) would have benefited the book greatly.

I haven't read the previous books in the series, but I'd read the synopses and that was pretty much all I needed to know. Ball of Furry ends on a bit of a cliff-hanger which, presumably, will lead into the next book. Due to this, I did feel like things weren't quite resolved or settled, even though, technically speaking, there weren't any loose threads left hanging.

My advice is to approach the book as a novella of sorts. I enjoyed the book because I had low expectations and I basically wanted to be amused for a bit. I did enjoy the fact that Kyle touched upon the weight displacement issue of switching between a human and a bunny. In addition, while Carly says she weighs 160lbs, her weight is not continually harped on or an 'issue.'

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Review: Easy by Tammara Weber

Easy by Tammara Webber

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I know I haven't been around much lately, mostly because I've been shot-gunning fanfic like you wouldn't believe. I was, and still am, craving a mature male POV, which is damn near impossible to find, in my preferred genres, outside of fanfic. So I haven't been reading a lot of 'original' stories.

Anyways, this book kept popping up every time I turned around so I figured I'd read it in hopes of easing out of the fanfic world. It's told entirely from Jacqueline's perspective so it didn't satisfy my craving, but my first thought after finishing is that it's much better than Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire. The story flows and the characterization is excellent. Jacqueline comes off young without seeming immature. She's exactly the age she's supposed to be. The chemistry between Lucas and her is scorching. I also liked how Webber handled the rape plot-line. It added conflict to the story, was handled somewhat realistically, but didn't overwhelm the main plot, Lucas's and Jacqueline's relationship.

This is not a five-star book for me because it was fairly predictable. The ending was also a little too neat for me. Still, I enjoyed myself and I would read Webber's other books if the opportunity presented itself. I'm torn, though, on if I want a sequel to Easy or not. The story doesn't need one, but I think I want more of Jacqueline and Lucas being happy together. I guess, if it were up to me, I'd want Webber to release a 0.99 cent novella of Jacqueline's graduation or when they move in together. Just something wonderful. And easy.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

RWA Librarian's Day, Panel: Focus on Historical Romance

Focus on Historical Romance

Left to Right: RWA's Stefani Fry, Suzanne Enoch, Julia London, Sabrina Jefferies, and Karen Hawkins.

This was the second panel of the day. Four well-known historical authors came to talk about the genre. Again, I did my best to transcribe, but these ladies were having a great time so there was a lot of laughter and Julia London's voice didn't project as well as the others. Please comment with questions.

Stefani from RWA was the moderator and to kick things off, she asked the speakers about their upcoming works.

Suzanne Enoch: Next book in Scandalous Brides series (women who've opened gentleman's club in London). Talking about cover art.

Julia London: Last Debutante comes out in Feb.

Sabrina Jeffries: Next book out in October.

Karen Hawkins: September. More of a romantic comedy.

Why historical in particular, why romance?

Suzanne: Big reader, read Anne McCaffrey as a youngin'. She started writing regency romance. "Even though it's only a ten year period, there's nothing like it." There are a lot of more dukes in romances than in reall life. As long as no one does census, we'll be alright

Julia: Also big reader. Didn't really think about genre right away. Judith McNaught.

Sabrina: When in college, she hated history. Nothing about how people lived. Really interested in social history, rather than dry dates & times. Interested in how women lived. Started out with Barbara Cartland. For her, it was always about the romance.

Karen: Used to visit Grandma every Sunday, in order to pass time, she'd beg her family to let her go to library. Georgette Heyer. Read Anne McCaffrey, always like bks with romantic element the best. Loved the historical trappings (dress, etc).

Sabrina: Compares the regency era to the sixties. Much looser, morally speaking, than the following Victorian era.

What do readers say they love about your books and what do they hate about them?

Karen: People didn't like the humor.

Sabrina: Addresses misconception that all historical readers are alike. You can't hand a historical to any historical reader & expect them to like it. Very compartmentalized. Readers take it personally when authors jump time periods. People who are looking for Georgette Heyer and find the bedroom door is wide open. [She's] writing about the exception, not the rule.

Suzanne: She hears about historical inaccuracies. "After a while, I think readers get their knowledge from the romances they read and take it as fact." Frustrating because they are fiction writers.

Sabrina: Rules for formal writing has always been different from conversational  speech. No way to know exactly how people spoke back them, short of time travel.

How strictly do they adhere to historical accuracy?

Sabrina: Use it as a baseline.  Depends on audience. Some people can't read historical inaccuracies because it throws them out of the story. Thinks her readers want the drama over the factual setting.

Julia: Use it for color.

Karen: Glossy version of heroines to make it an entertaining story. Doesn't put in certain facts to keep it enjoyable (sabrina: like the fact no one shaved their legs)

The last question was "who are your must-read authors?" but I was unable to catch anything except for Loretta Chase's Lord of Scoundrels. Georgette Heyer was referenced frequently throughout the panel, though.

RWA Librarian's Day, Panel: Creative Marketing: Connecting Romance Readers and Authors at the Library

Creative Marketing: Connecting Romance Readers and Authors at the Library

Amy Alessio, Susan Gibberman, Simone Elkeles

This was the first panel of the 2012 RWA Librarian's Day on July 25th. I had my iPad and transcribed the panel as best I could. These notes are pretty much 'as is' and I may have missed some things. If anyone has any questions, please comment and I'll do my best to answer.

The panel opened with introductions and then segued into each panelist talking about what types of programs they've done in libraries.

Simone does writing programs for kids, not necessarily romance. Emphasized good story is important, not so much genre. Does a lot of programs for school & public libraries. People like to hear stories about being an author. Panels with multiple authors work really well for her. Recently judged a writing contest, short story for YA by public library. Authors and editors appreciate librarians. Authors thinking editors are the gods, but editors thinking librarians are the gods. Promises to try not to swear. Everyone who entered contest got to enter Skype session with her. If you ask, authors will do writing workshop. She never goes to events expecting to sell books, about connecting with authors. Juvie boys love Perfect Chemistry series. Detention centers love her books. Kids on probation will use public libraries. Likes networking with school.

Amy has a lot of teens on advisory board. Unvalentine parties. Mad libs: used pags from romance novels, took key words out. Advisory board has a lot of input into programs. Chocolate tasting programs. Teen chocolate tasting. Good program to kill time and it turned into actual club for various foodstuffs. online teen romance group because teens won.t come in and say they want to read romance. Run by minimally paid volunteer, trivia, quizzes, etc. Hires a YA author to teach teen writing workshops once a month. Favorite writing icebreaker is story round robin.

Susan:  All for Love. Charity event at the library, 100% proceeds went to the American Heart Association. Like a fair. Lasted for 10 years, raised over $25000 dollars. Some people are not great speakers and you don't know this until they show up and start doing. Reiterates, don't intend on selling books, goal is to connect with authors. Library offers free writing seminars. Racy-ish title piques interest, which is necessary when competing with other programs. Cross-promotioon, all five libraries advertise for each other.  Decorating flowerpots/rain barrels, public vote on the best decorated & prize won. Themed contest with books.

Simone handed out free books at a skate park. Enjoys receiving emails from readers who have a personal connection with her books.

The question was asked "What other ways do you market reader's advisory?"

Simone was given books in school she had to read and she hated them, turned her off of reading. So she writes things she wanted to read as a teen. She tells kids who say they hate to read that they'll like her book beccause it's for people who hate to read. Book Tour wanted her to read to Honors English class & she wanted to read for the remedial kids because that's who she connects with. Decided to do a rap video trailer for her book, Perfect Chemistry. Wrote rap, hired producer from Chicago, auditioned actors, & everyone liked it because it didn't take the book seriously. Internet kids, this is how she connects with them. Thinks her heroes are better than Edward. Very picky for role of Alex. Wanted dude from Katy Perry's Hot n Cold video. Found him on Linked In. Put up money to hire him. Dude agreed to do it, "sounds like it'll be  funny." She told producer to take his shirt off despite lack of shirtless scene in book. Found third brother through Facebook, actor in Freedom Writers. Encourage teens to make book trailers. Encourages librarians to reach out to authors.  Also tells librarians to reach out to authors to do guest posts on library blogs.

When Simone spoke about meeting supermodel Alex Rodriguez, Amy held up this huge poster with scenes from trailer.  All of the speakers were excellent, but Simone was particularly funny.

Susan says poll revealed most of her patrons get program information from the main library program guide, which means they have to compete with other programs. Uses HootSuite to manage library twitter accounts because she can schedule tweets. Does a special program guide just for her departments so she can put as much information as she wants.  Get every staff member involved so that if a patron inquires for writing reference materials at ref desk, reference librarian can say , hey, we have these writing workshops.

Review: Thoughtless by S. C. Stephens

Thoughtless by S.C. Stephens

There is cheating in Thoughtless. A lot of it. The first time Kiera and Kellan hook up is when Kiera and Denny are on a 'break,' so I was like, 'Okay, I can kinda accept this.' However, Denny shows up the very next morning, having given up everything so he can be with Kiera. How does Kiera respond to this incredibly selfless gesture? She goes out of her way to convince Kellan that they can 'just be friends' and then, in a way, juggles both boys. Kellan and Denny are mostly decent men, although it's clear Kellan has issues. Kellan allows her to play him, hoping that she'll eventually break-up with Denny, and Denny is living a life he doesn't particularly want, just so he can unknowingly stay with a girl who's emotionally and physically cheating on him.

When Denny does find out, he blames Kellan. Not Kiera, not both of them, Kellan. Because he told Kellan to stay away from Kiera and Denny knew Kiara wouldn't be able to resist Kellan if Kellan hung around her. Here, read for yourself:

He cut me off. “I was so angry at him for that.” He looked up at me and then back down at his hands, still holding one of mine. “Like I knew you wouldn’t be able to resist his charm, so it was up to him…and he failed.” I started to look down, right as his eyes looked up, and we met in the middle. “I think that’s why I asked him to stay away from you at the airport. I didn’t think you’d stray, not really…I trusted you, but only if he kept his distance.” He shrugged. “He gets every girl he goes after, and I knew he’d get you, if he really tried, and I just couldn’t compete with that.”

I find that so incredibly offensive on so many levels. Denny didn't really trust Kiera in the face of temptation, he didn't trust Kellan not to poach his girlfriend, and these were the people he was closest to. And when Kiera does exactly what he thought she'd do, he doesn't even give her the courtesy of being pissed off, he just pats her on the head and says, 'well, you couldn't help yourself.' Don't get me wrong, I think Kiera is the true bad guy here, but she certainly knew what she was doing was wrong (as she says, or thinks, a hundred times). Denny's remarks are just a rationalization to protect his own ego.

I'm not rating this book because cheating is a big thing for me and I did know there was going to be some unfaithfulness when I started the story, but I wasn't expecting the angsty, incredibly psychologically screwed up, love triangle that I got. In any case, I'm unable to hold back my personal feelings long enough to objectively judge the text. I will say that if you liked the whole Bella/Jacob/Edward thing, in New Moon especially, and wished for more angst on top of that, you will probably enjoy this book.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Review: The Heart of Winter by Maggie Shayne, Linda Winstead Jones, and Day LeClaire

The Heart of Winter: The Toughest Girl in Town\Resolution\Mystery Lover
The Heart of Winter: The Toughest Girl in Town\Resolution\Mystery Lover by Maggie Shayne, Linda Winstead Jones, and Day LeClaire

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"The Toughest Girl in Town" by Maggie Shayne

I did not particularly enjoy this story. I thought the premise was absurd and we did not see the relationship between Melinda & Matthew really develop at all. 2 stars.

"Resolution" by Linda Winstead Jones

This is the RITA nominee. It was definitely better than "The Toughest Girl in Town," but I still wasn't overly impressed. I thought Jones did a good job of developing the romantic relationship within the confines of the novella format, but, overall, character development got shortchanged to set up the mystery. Three stars.

"Mystery Lover" by Day Leclaire

This was, in my opinion, the strongest story in the anthology. However, since it involves the hero kinda tricking the heroine into sleeping with him, "Mystery Lover" does have some creepy undertones. The mystery here was the hero's identity, but the reader learns it almost immediately. Also, the winter theme is very loosely tied in. Three and a half stars.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Review: Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

Fifty Shades of Grey
Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Okay, so when the buzz about Fifty Shades of Grey started, I attempted to read the first book. I got up to Chapter 4 and became disgusted with the heroine. I thought she was very passive and a classic doormat. So I stopped reading and was rather dismissive of the whole trilogy.

However, the Romantic Writers of America conference is in less than two weeks and I knew the Fifty Shades trilogy was going to be a topic of discussion. So I decided to give the first book another shot, but I skipped ahead a couple of chapters.

I'm glad I gave it another shot because I completely had the wrong idea. From the beginning and other bits & pieces I heard, I thought this was going to be a full-fledged d/s relationship, like Maya Banks's Sweet Addiction, and I'm not entirely comfortable reading about that. Fifty Shades of Grey mostly rejects the d/s lifestyle. At its core, it's mainly a romance novel with some kinky trappings. It's certainly not as controversial, sexually speaking, as it seems to be portrayed in the media.

I still think Bared to You is a better read, but Fifty Shades actually wasn't that bad. It did need some better editing and the flow was very uneven, but I can see why James was a well known fanfic author. I'd be interested to see if James will write another romance novel or go the Stephenie Meyer route and stick with what she's got.

Also, I have no idea how they are going to make this into a movie that's not going to be soft-core porn.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Review: Heart Secret by Robin D. Owens

Heart Secret
Heart Secret by Robin D. Owens

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I finished this book around 8pm last night and I'm still wrestling with how to write this review. I was all, Well, this is the part that I keep thinking about, but it's kind of a spoiler so I can't mention that,' and 'Well, the hero said this, but, no, that's a spoiler too.' I will tell you that a new Fam species get introduced and (this will date me), I immediately thought of the Care Bear Cousins.

I also keep going back and forth on whether this could be a stand-alone. On the one hand, it's pretty self-contained. This is the first book that doesn't really involve the FirstFamilies. Artemisia is technically a noble, but she's been disgraced. Therefore, you really only need passing familiarity with Celta's culture and social structure to understand the book. On the other, Owens has woven the book into Celta's history and it refers to events from Heart Mate, Heart Quest, Heart Dance, Heart Fate, Heart Journey, the "Noble Heart" novella from Hearts and Swords, and, most importantly, Heart Search. Which, now that I look at the list, is about half of the books in the series.

This is one of the things I love about the Celta series, how everything's connected to each other. There's continuity and a event that takes place in book five can cause ripples that will affect book eleven. I love being able to see couples from previous books, of seeing their children grow up. Owens jumped into the future with Heart Search and continues advancing the series in Heart Secret. The denizens of Celta are so conscious of how precarious their hold onto this planet is and they are fixated on the idea of leaving a piece of themselves behind for future generations.

That need for remembrance factors heavily in Heart Secret. Garrett is very conflicted between his desire to avoid human ties and his need to have something of himself left behind. He was the sole survivor of a virulent epidemic, forced to watch his community die around him. That's a devastating thing for a man with a protective nature to experience.

The other main theme is the idea of letting go of the past. The scandal that affected her family has harmed Artemisia professionally. She is continually fighting against public opinion in order to achieve her goals. Being HeartMate to a man like Garrett isn't easy, given how tied he is to the past, and she is forced to perpetually straddle looking back & moving forward.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. There were some weak points and a few things that I felt were lost in the shuffle. For me, this was a bridge book, gently easing us from the time jump in Heart Search into the future. The second generation has hit adulthood and they're going to start making their mark on Celta.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Robin D. Owens just blew my mind.

I was logged in here because I was going to write something. It might have been about my internship with the literary agent. It could have been about the RITAs. But I had an email in my beta-reading account. So I checked it. And it was Robin D. Owens.

I've actually spoken to Owens in real life, at last year's RWA literacy signing, but my part in the conversation largely consisted of grabbing Heart Journey(which I already owned) from her piles and shoving it in her direction, mumbling 'Sign please. I love your books.' I am hoping to somewhat redeem myself this year. However, I'm irrationally excited about the possibility of an avian Fam, a native species no less, and going by how I already babbled about this to her editor, it doesn't bode well. I foresee myself grabbing Heart Search from her piles (which I already own), shoving it in her direction, and, in a crackly voice, saying 'I can't wait for Heart Secret and a bird Fam, that's so cool, native species too, that's awesome, can't wait to read it. I love your books.'

So when Robin D. Owens sent me an email, let me tell you, my brain just exploded. Especially since it went to my beta-reading account and I didn't realize at first how she got it and my instinctive reaction at seeing her email address was 'I AM NOT BETA-READING FOR ROBIN D OWENS, IT WILL RUIN THE MAGIC AND I'D RATHER CONTINUE TO PESTER BERKLEY FOR ARCS OR SUFFER THE AGONY OF WAITING THAN LOSE THE MAGIC.' Then when I realized she read the review I wrote for Enchanted Again, I freaked again, because I knew I'd been disappointed in the book and WHAT DID I WRITE?!?

Luckily, while I was clear in my disappointment, my die-hard fangirlness tempered my usual bluntness. The review turned out to be more 'The first book was great, I don't know what happened with this one, but it's Robin D. Owens so we'll just not talk about it, m'kay?' than what I probably would have done if it'd been almost any author, i.e. 'Why are her books by Publisher A so much better than her books by Publisher B?' Which, I guess, I just did it, but it's Robin D. Owens, so let's not think about it too hard, m'kay?

Anyway, the email was short and Owens was nice and said she was sorry I didn't like it and directed me to excerpts for the next book. I'm not gonna be reading those excerpts for three reasons.

  1. Sometimes I'll read an excerpt, like if it's for book 2 at the end of book 1, but then I'll start reading book 2 when it comes out and I get confused because it'll be familiar. I read at least, at least, 300 books a year. I don't always remember what I've read so if something seems familiar, I have to double-check my GoodReads account to make sure I didn't read it as an ARC or something. Therefore, as a general rule, I don't seek out excerpts.

  2. When I do read excerpts from a book, it generally shapes my opinion of the book. So if I wrinkle my nose at the excerpt, I'm likely to pass on the book. Since I've already been disappointed, I don't want to take the chance that something in the excerpt will send up red flags. As long as I don't look, I can continue to live in hope. 

  3. A book by Robin D. Owens is on my auto-read list. Smart Bitches, Dear Author, Romantic Times, GoodReads, whoever, could all say Book X by Owens is made from remnants from the Staten Island landfill and sprinkled with bat guano and my reaction will be 'Really? That's kinda extreme. I better read it to find out if it's true.' I might not buy it, but I'd definitely read it. Hell, I'm still up to date on Lora Leigh and Laurell K Hamilton, and I think we can agree some of their books were heavily flavored with bat guano.

Re-reading this post. Was there a point to this? What's a good ending? I don't know. I'm slowly coming down from the high of ROBIN D. OWENS EMAILED ME. *sigh* I'm totally gonna make an ass of myself in July...

Monday, June 25, 2012

Incoming!: RWA 2012

So, my plane for RWA and Anaheim leaves 29 days from today. I am beginning to freak out. You wouldn't think it would be that big of a deal because it's not like I have anything riding on this. I'm not trying to make a sale. My career doesn't rest on making a connection with an agent or an editor. Indeed, aside from attending Librarians' Day on Wednesday, most of my time will be spent at Disneyland.

I think what I'm really worried about is missing something. I haven't been to Disneyland since I was ten and a lot of new things have opened. We are big Disney people so I'm also excited about having the chance to pick up some Disneyland-exclusive merchandise. The summer is the busy season for Disney, of course, so there's a lot of strategy involved to make sure I hit all the important stuff: Cars Land, the Little Mermaid ride, World of Color, the Storybook Canal, etc. My best friend who moved back to CA last October is driving over to join us on Saturday and she's asked me to pick up some things she can't get there (i.e. Dunkin' Doughnuts coffee).

I've been invited to a publisher party and I'm a little apprehensive. What do I say? What do I do? What should I wear? My tentative plan at the moment is to try to hook up with an author I know who's with that house and try to hang out with her. While I don't have a book to sell, I would like to try to network a bit. My future career plans are kinda nebulous, but I definitely want to stay in the book field. Whether that means staying in libraries, jumping to publishing (most likely an editor-type position), or, maybe, thanks to a shiny new internship, trying out agent-hood, I don't know. Therefore, it's important for me to go against type and try to talk to as many people I can. There are going to be a LOT of people in the romance business in a mile and this is a great opportunity. No pressure, right?

Money is also a factor. I'm definitely doing the literacy signing, but the question is how much I can afford to spend. My usual strategy is to go through the author list and figure out which signed book I want the most. I'm also thinking about doing an autograph book. Some bloggers will bring canvas tote bags and have authors sign the bag, then do a giveaway on their blogs. Authors are usually just thrilled that someone knows who they are. It's definitely true that the romance genre is one of the best communities to be a part of.  I can count on one hand the number of people who treated me poorly in one capacity or another. So you wouldn't think I'd be too nervous.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Review: Archangel's Storm by Nalini Singh

Archangel's Storm
Archangel's Storm by Nalini Singh

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Three things you probably know about me by now: 1) I am incapable of keeping things to myself when I'm excited. 2) I am an avid Nalini Singh fangirl. 3) I have PTSD.

Something you may not know, I prefer Nalini's Psy/Changeling series. It's Rafael, man. All the Archangels. They are scary-ass beings and I don't want to be in their vicinity, let alone in their heads. The idea of living in a world where the planet's well-being is in the hands of these Archangels is terrifying. If these books weren't written by Nalini, there is no way I'd still be reading the Guild Hunter books.

Up until this point, my favorite story in this series was Jessamy's and Galen's. Probably because Galen wasn't about to go out and slaughter anyone by tearing their wings off, and Jessamy was a born nurturer. However, Jason just shot to the top of my favorite Nalini Singh characters list.

The best analogy I can come up for PTSD is that it's like your soul is a bone and the traumatic event shatters that bone. Sometimes it shatters into so many pieces, it never heals right. Sometimes your soul just fractures and given enough time, it mends. However, like a healed broken tibia in a skeleton, years later, the bone continues to show evidence of the break. That's what PTSD does to your soul. You can learn how to manage the fear, to break free from the darkness, quiet the screams, get yourself to a place where you can live again, but your soul still bears the scars.

"Yet she also knew that the man in front of her was not that boy, had not been that boy for hundreds of years. She couldn't wipe away his pain and tell him that everything would be all right.

"Jason had learned too well that sometimes, nothing could fix what was broken."

I had to stop reading for a bit after that last sentence. I stared up at the ceiling for a while before I began again.

Jason isn't 'fixed' in this book. There's no miraculous cure, no 'love conquers all.' However, just because a person is traumatized doesn't mean all emotions are shut off. Being broken does not necessarily equate being unable to love, it just means it takes an extraordinary person willing to accept the kind of love you have to give.

Mahiya, his heroine, knows what it's like to be caged, to be a prisoner. She understands that while he may be flying free through the skies, the fractures in his soul means the cage flies with him. She has faith, though, in Jason and she understands him so well, she hears what he cannot say.

Nalini has written other wounded heroes before (Judd and Dorian spring to mind), but her skill is such that she makes them damaged in different ways and therefore, their healing processes happens differently as well. Judd finds his center, Dorian finds acceptance, and Jason, well, you'll find out.

This world is still scary as hell, with violence and gore, and there's a truly creepy moment involving Lijuan. Nalini ratchets up the tension and increases the likelihood of incredibly bad things happening. Truth be told, I'm not really looking forward to reading the next book in the series, but I'm going to read it anyway. Like Emily Dickson wrote,

"Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all,"

That's what Jason now represents to me and even if he ends up relegated to glimpses in the background, I'll wade through the blood to see him.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Review: More Than Words, Volume 7 by Carly Phillips, Donna Hill, Jill Shalvis

More Than Words, Volume 7
More Than Words, Volume 7 by Carly Phillips

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Compassion Can't Wait" by Carly Phillips: This is the RITA nominated story from this anthology. Phillips gets around the novella format by having her couple be high school sweethearts. So the emotional foundation was already there, they just had to get over the misunderstanding that separated them. I think it was a good novella. I wasn't left wanting more and I didn't feel like it was bursting at the seams. In addition, the organization, Andre Sobel River of Life Foundation, was skillfully woven in. It was name-dropped a bunch of times, but it felt organic and not preachy. I was left with a lot of admiration for how the organization helps single parents care for their critically-ill children. I'd give "Compassion Can't Wait" four stars.

"Someplace like Home" by Donna Hill: I definitely wanted more from this one. I felt like it ended too quickly. I liked the premise of it and the slow way the hero (baseball player) & heroine drew together. It was also kinda nice to have a hero who was the nurturing type. However, in addition to the abrupt ending, there were also a few loose threads here and there. "Someplace like Home" gets three stars from me.

"What the Heart Wants" by Jill Shalvis: Shalvis is gradually becoming one of my must reads for contemporary authors. I'm kinda bummed this was so short because I loved Jack and I wanted to see more of him. There was only one short scene from his POV. Also, there were repeated allusions to something that happened to the heroine in her youth, but we never get the particulars. I suppose it's not really that big deal, but when the heroine finally mentions the 'horrific experience,' my curiosity went into overdrive. Stupid page limits and word counts. Still, four stars here as well.

Out of the three stories, I liked Shalvis's hero & heroine the best, but overall, I thought Phillips's story was the strongest.

Review: The Mystic Wolves by Belinda Boring

The Mystic Wolves
The Mystic Wolves by Belinda Boring

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

You know I try to remain objective about critiquing someone's life work, but this book gave me a headache and if I'd had it in hardcopy, it would've been flung across the room a number of times. Only sheer willpower led me to finish it.

First off, this is the first book in a series, but when you start reading, all this stuff has already happened. Darcy and Mason are together, war has been averted, and football has commenced. Boring later inserts a flashback showing us how they got together, but, at that point, it's anti-climatic. Why not make it a prologue at least?

Secondly, a supporting character is killed and someone who is very important to both Mason & Darcy. However, rather than mourning or dealing with the fallout, they go romping in the woods. Mason, who should be more devastated than anyone, seems particularly unmoved by the murder of a loved one. He eventually breaks down a little, but it didn't ring true to me.

Thirdly, it was hard to get a grasp on the culture of this particular breed of werewolves. During the first violent scene, Darcy makes reference to the idea that they are taught not to change, as if the wolf will take over, but no reason or explanation is given as to why. In addition, Boring allows her characters to utilize some wolf behaviors while still in human form, implying the human and wolf are meshed together. So why aren't they allowed to change? There also seemed to be some kind of psychic component to this werewolf breed as Darcy tries repeatedly to connect properly with Mason. Darcy and Mason also reference dreams that foreshadow finding their mates. However, the reader is never told how these werewolves came into being, how they evolved into what they are.

Fourthly, it was in first person and Darcy is, um, how to put this, not exactly what I'd call alpha material. She's an unreliable narrator because she's so focused on Mason and she, presumably, knows all the things that the reader doesn't, so she doesn't feel the need to think about them, leaving us in the dark. For example, we know that the humans are unaware of the existence of supernatural species. Darcy violently kills an attacker and then gets swept away by Mason. No mention of hiding the evidence, of DNA, nothing. The attacker has links to vampires, but Mason & Darcy just go la la la-ing into the woods. Yet, SOMEHOW, the vampires find out and show up. The plot holes, they are huge.

In conclusion, I did not enjoy this book. However, after writing this, I have come to the conclusion that I think it would have been salvageable. The biggest problems were the flow and the complete lack of world-building. There were no spelling or grammar errors. The funeral scene was lovely. Shifting some scenes around, adding some detail here, trimming some interactions between Mason & Darcy there, and you'd have a solid read.

If you'd like to form your own opinion, as of 6/15/12, The Mystic Wolves is currently free from Amazon and Smashwords.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Review: A Mother's Homecoming by Tanya Michaels

A Mother's Homecoming
A Mother's Homecoming by Tanya Michaels

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think it's clear by now that series titles aren't my thing. The rigid and short page counts often leads to a compressed story that fails to satisfy me. A Mother's Homecoming is not necessarily exempt from this as this would have been a five star book if there had more meat to the ending.

This is a unique book because, from the get-go, the reader is not predisposed to like the heroine. A recovering alcoholic, Pamela Jo abandoned her husband and daughter. She's returned to her hometown to make amends, but she thinks Nate and Faith now live elsewhere. She's wrong.

What I loved about this book is that Pamela isn't necessarily apologetic about her actions in abandoning her family. She felt she had her reasons and that she made the best possible decision. When I started the book, I was not inclined to be sympathetic towards Pamela Jo at all. However, as the book progressed and I got to know the character, I warmed up to her. Going in, I had a negative outlook about a mother abandoning her child. By the end, I could understand why Pamela Jo felt she had to leave.

I also liked that the relationships between Pamela Jo and Nick, and Pamela & Faith, were developed as naturally as the constrained book format allowed. Nick was understandably hostile and protective of his daughter. Even by the end, he was still referring to Faith as 'his' daughter. Faith is naturally curious about her mother and acts out, but she's smart enough to go the 'model child' route after a brief detour in 'troublemaker' zone.

Even the ending was more of a 'happily right now' than 'ever after.' It was a more abrupt ending than I would have liked, but I think Michaels did the best she could with what she had. Overall, this book was excellent. So far, I think this is my favorite series title out of all the nominees I've read so far. I leave you with a bit that tickled me.

"[Leigh] glanced past Dawn, and the smile wobbled slightly when she spotted her former sister-in-law. '[The cookies]'re sort of a housewarming gift, I guess. I understand you had furniture moved out to Mae's old place this week.'

"'Thank you.' Pam was touched. And deeply suspicious. Maybe she should have a lab in one of the bigger cities test the cookies before she ate any" (pg173).

Monday, June 11, 2012

Review: Deadly Sins by Lora Leigh

Deadly Sins (The Callahan's, #2)Deadly Sins by Lora Leigh
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Two things first: 1) The identity of the Big Bad is not revealed in this book and there seems to be quite a lot of people gunning for these guys & their paramours. 2) In the book itself, this series is identified as the Sins series and I checked this specifically because on GoodReads & Leigh's website, it's listed as 'The Callahan's.' First off, there is more than one Callahan so it should be Callahans. Secondly, you would only need the apostrophe if you were adding a noun after Callahans, like Callahans' Women. The fact that Leigh has this on her own website drives me up the freakin' wall and, to me, is an example of the problems that have been evident in Leigh's books of late.

Leigh's romantic suspense seemed to hold up better than her Breeds books, but Deadly Sins made me roll my eyes. I have a thing about repetitive language and that's a problem here, big time. I wish I'd written down the page numbers or made a note of the sentences, but a character would have a thought and then a few pages later, they'd have the exact same thought. I didn't read the first book in the series, Midnight Sins, but even I was like, 'Okay, I get it already! All the parents suck! Bad things happen!' In addition, I caught at least one incident where Leigh swapped Crowe's and Logan's names. Also, some of the sex scenes reminded me strongly of some from the Breed books, especially when Logan thinks about 'marking' Skye.

Authors live and die by their contracts, and I know it's really hard to make a living as a writer. However, if Leigh has any leeway, I'd really recommend that she take a break from cranking out books. Recharge the batteries, clear her head, write some contemporary e-novellas to cleanse the palette, something, before she does permanent damage to a career that began so promisingly nine years ago.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Review: The Last Boyfriend by Nora Roberts

The Last Boyfriend
The Last Boyfriend by Nora Roberts

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wasn't really a fan of the first book in this trilogy, The Next Always, as I saw it as a very long ad for the real-life Inn Boonsboro. Thankfully, the marketing pitch has been toned way down in The Last Boyfriend.

Focusing on Owen and Avery, The Last Boyfriend, to me, is a more natural love story. It's about two people who have grown up together and, as they work together on a project, their feelings start to change. The emotional progression felt very real to me. The book also takes place from December to March, with Owen's and Avery's relationship deepening over those four months. Roberts marks the progression of time by events: the build-up to Christmas, a New Year's Eve party, the Inn's soft opening, Clare's & Beckett's wedding, etc. As a reader, I felt like I was watching a lazy river of time floating the characters forward. It's an odd metaphor, I know, but it put me in mind of sunny summer days and cuddle-up Sundays.

The only odd note for me was the presence of Lizzy the ghost. Now we all know I am a paranormal romance junkie, but I don't understand why we needed yet another ghost, a la the In the Garden series. The Bride Quartet did just fine without any paranormal elements and the Boonsboro series would have been just fine without Lizzy. The appeal of The Last Boyfriend and, to a more limited extent, The Next Always is the characters, the 'live' ones.

There's an excerpt for the next book, The Perfect Hope, in the back of The Last Boyfriend. I'm really looking forward to it now and not just because Clare's giving birth on my birthday. Ryder has been an appealing, rough around the edges and a bit of a manwhore, character. He and Hope have been throwing sparks from the beginning and I can't wait to see them fall in love.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Review: The Man from Gossamer Ridge by Paula Graves

The Man from Gossamer Ridge
The Man from Gossamer Ridge by Paula Graves

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm not sure exactly what to say about this. It's a category, so the relationship is necessarily abbreviated. It's part of the Cooper Justice: Cold Case Investigation series. I hadn't read the previous book (Hitched and Hunted), and I could follow along just fine, but I was certainly spoiled big time for the ending of Hitched. To me, The Man from Gossamer Ridge came off similar to a procedural television show episode. I enjoy the heck out of procedural shows, but I'd rather watch an episode than read it.

Still, the killer was kept pretty much under wraps until the end of the book, thanks to some authorial sleight of hand. I thought the characters were well-sketched, considering the constrained format. The heroine was probably my favorite character as I appreciated how Graves handled her and kept her from straying into 'too stupid to live' territory.

I pretty much only read categories if they get awesome reviews or have been nominated for something, but I'd be more likely to read them if Harlequin released, like, an e-anthology compiling all the books from a series into one volume. Categories have a short lifespan at my library and I really dislike not starting a series with book one.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Review: Liquid Lies by Hanna Martine

Liquid Lies
Liquid Lies by Hanna Martine

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don't know how Berkley executive editor Cindy Hwang does it. Does she have a crack team of interns/junior editors who lurk on the internet or rifle through unguarded piles of queries? Does Cindy sit at the head of a long table, hands folded, as nervous agents pitch her their clients' books in wavering voices? Does she have a hidden room containing a sentient supercomputer? Did she get a letter from an owl when she was ten? Did she fall into nuclear waste while clutching an e-reader loaded with romances? Whatever the origin of her superhuman ability, Cindy's name in the acknowledgements of a book is practically a guarantee that I'm gonna like it, and Liquid Lies is no exception.

The book isn't scheduled for release until July 3rd, just in time for that long holiday weekend. This is a debut, though, so I don't think Berkley will be too mad if I tell you a little about it. Basically, in a nutshell, this is the story about a heroine who's trying to make her daddy happy, unwittingly aiding in bad things happening, and the hero who forcibly kidnaps her, delivering her to the people who want to stop those bad things.

Liquid Lies does suffer a bit from first book-its where a lot of time is devoted to educating the reader about the world we have found ourselves in. For this reason, the book really picks up at Chapter 22. By the end, I was salivating for the sequel.

I'm going to refrain from telling you anything about the paranormal aspect because the book's blurb only tells you half the story. I was all, 'la la la, I know what she is-wait, what? Ooooooo.' I will say that while I can think of other books that would fit into this subgenre, it's not one of the more common ones. Also, while I'm not a tattoo person, per say, I kinda want the hero's tattoo for myself. I think it's such a great idea.

Oh! There's one more unique thing about Liquid Lies. As it says right on the cover, it's the "first in a new series," BUT it could have easily ended here. There's no cliffhanger, no real loose ends, nothing. There's an excerpt for the second book (which is why I needs it) and it looks like rather than confining her characters to a few square miles, Martine is going big. It wouldn't surprise me if we don't see the hero & heroine of Liquid Lies in the next book at all. I'm a fan of how Thea Harrison sets up her Elder Races series and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Martine has a similar format in mind.

Also, that is a perfect cover.

Review: True Colors by Joyce Lamb

True Colors
True Colors by Joyce Lamb

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was not particularly fond of True Vision when I read it last year. As a result, I sorta rolled my eyes when I saw books 2 and 3 on the RITA nominee list. However, what kind of ex-Romance Expert would I be if I read whatever I could from the nominee list? So while my expectations and enthusiasm were low, I actually thought this was a decent romantic suspense.

Firstly, True Colors is very dependent on True Vision. There is very little relationship development between Alex and John because most of the 'beginning' stuff happens in True Visions. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it underscores the importance of starting a series at the beginning.

Secondly, like True Visions, the book moves very quickly. I read the entire book in a little over an hour. The plot was tied and the action flowed swiftly. There was a secondary arc with a runaway teen that was interesting, but it had little to do with the overall plot.

Thirdly, I liked how Lamb handled the Big Bad. Via Alex's empathic gift, she humanizes the Big Bad and gives him a horrible back-story. The reader is forced to wonder if the Big Bad's childhood had been different, maybe they wouldn't have grown up to be a serial killer.

Fourthly, most of the stuff I didn't like about True Vision wasn't present in this book. However, my suspicion about Alex being wishy-washy proved valid and I didn't particularly like the way the book ended. While I liked John in True Vision, I felt like he wasn't a strong presence in True Colors. His existence in the book revolved completely around Alex and I wanted him to feel more like his own man.

Lastly, I think I gave this three stars because it didn't wow me and I'm not a huge fan of romantic suspense to begin with. A bigger fan would probably think this is four stars.

Warning! There is graphically discussed child sexual abuse and scenes of child physical abuse. In addition, there is implied animal abuse/torture. Since the reader spends some time in the Big Bad's head, there are also some creepy scenes about sexual sadism and violence towards women.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Review: Donovan's Child (Bravo Family Ties) by Christine Rimmer

Donovan's Child (Bravo Family Ties)
Donovan's Child (Bravo Family Ties) by Christine Rimmer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked this one up because it's a RITA nominee I was able to find in the bottomless abyss that is my public library's uncatalogued book racks.

Ready for this? I was actually really enjoying this book up until the part where the hero and heroine got together. Trippy, right? Talk about a mindfuck. It was like the heroine lost all her spunk and became a limpet. Here's an example. Dude's in a wheelchair, right? So he rents a handicapable van that's going to meet him at the airport. His plan is to get into the van and drive to meet the heroine at the house he's going to be staying at. So she wants to meet him at the airport and he says, "No. I'll have the van waiting. There's no point." Totally logical and full of common sense, right? And then she thinks to herself, "[O]f course there was a point. To see him. To be with him as soon as she possibly could." She talks herself out of saying anything "[j]ust because she loved him didn't mean she had to turn into some wimpy clingy vine" (pg 176). It says all the right things, but I felt the implication was, oh, she's being noble and he's being a jackass.

In the beginning of the book, when the hero was being a jackass, she was a charming smart-ass who didn't let him get away with shit. Now she's in love with him and the smart-assery went 'poof!' It's just not healthy. If the heroine was my friend, I'd be getting ready for a 'Have you thought this through?' talk. It all works out, of course, because they break up for like three weeks, the hero goes away, apparently has some kind of off-screen epiphany, and then comes back to grovel. The groveling was well done and, to her credit, she didn't take him back as soon as he showed up. Still, I would have like to seen the hero's revelation because it felt like it was very convenient and out of nowhere.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

More tidbits about Nalini Singh's 'Tangle of Need'

My answers to questions asked on the comment thread of my review over at GoodReads:

On Adria being Indigo's Aunt

"As far as Adria and Riaz go, Nalini does address the aunt thing almost right away and reminds the reader that Indigo & Adria are more like sisters than aunt & niece. A bigger roadblock is the situation that Riaz tells Indigo about in Play of Passion."

"I get where you're coming from on the potential ick factor. I had that in my head when I started reading, but Nalini does a great job of kinda laying it out and you're, like, okay, that makes sense. It's not exactly spelled out in Play of Passion, but Indigo and Riaz seem to have had more of a friends with benefits situation going on rather than a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship and, again, it's not clear, but I think anything between them ended before he left which was a 'couple of years ago.'

"Nalini continually underscores how important touch is to the changelings and casual short-term relationships seem to be an offshoot of that. In addition, Indigo is clearly happy with Drew so it's not like there's any residual feelings on either of their parts. The thing to keep in mind is that they're not human and, in the changeling culture, these situations appear to crop up all the time."

Sienna and Hawke

"Sienna and Hawke are very present in the book. They make excellent use of the gift the Pack gave them in Kiss of Snow. I also fell a little in love with Hawke after his reaction to a present Sienna gives him."

Lulu: I'm so excited there is lots of Hawke and Sienna! Do we learn more about their relationship and how they are managing with Hawke being alpha and Sienna just a soldier? - Yes.

The book's last line

"It's not exactly a quote, but the very last line of the book is going to send most people into a frenzy. I tried desperately to find out who the next couple is going to be and I got totally shut down. Resist the urge to skip ahead, though! It'll have more impact if you read Tangle of Need properly (and this is another reason why you should try to read it on the 29th)."

Vi: Please tell me if the last line will leave us hanging. Or is it more like the last line in Kiss of Snow?- I finally got a chance to dig out my copy of Kiss of Snow. I'd categorize the last line of Kiss like a pleasant surprise, like finding forgotten money. The last line of Tangle of Need is more of a anticipatory, perhaps shocking, surprise, like the week before Christmas when you know you got presents, but you don't know what they are yet. Except Christmas in our case would be about a year away. 

About Riaz's mating situation

Lulu: Can you tell us anything about the woman Riaz thought was his mate? Was she? Is there more than 1 possible mate out there for a changeling? - 1) Yes, but I won't, due to the aforementioned specter of death, 2) What Riaz told us in Play of Passion about her is completely true, and 3) That's a question for Dalton.

The Lauren Family

"Of the members of the Lauren family (excluding any SnowDancers), one is never mentioned, one is mentioned and also seen, one is mentioned but never speaks, two spend time in a kitchen, one gives forehead kisses, and one gives chocolate."

Walker and Lara

"They're in Tangle, but more as background characters. There's a little positive news about their relationship, but they don't have any real scenes. I wouldn't be surprised if Nalini eventually releases a deleted scene with them."

Review: Stranded with Her Ex by Jill Sorenson

Stranded with Her Ex
Stranded with Her Ex by Jill Sorenson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I don't know what to rate this. I'll be honest, I decided to read this book for two reasons: 1) It was nominated for a RITA and 2) My March count is really low and I knew I could knock out series titles right quick.

I think the main problem I'm having is that I feel like the suspense part was kinda shoe-horned in. In fact, I thought one of the characters was making a logical progression towards being the Big Bad, but then, all of a sudden, somebody else had, like, a psychotic break and started going 'All work and no play' on the other characters. So suspense-wise, I'd give this two stars.

However, I was impressed by how Sorenson handled the emotional problems between the hero and heroine. There was a natural progression between, albeit slightly compressed, and there was no magical solution. They were both mature adults and acted like it. I also liked the unusual setting and the animal aspect of the story. Based on these factors, I can see why it was nominated and I'd give it four stars.

Averaging it out, I guess I'll just go with three.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Review: Bear Meets Girl by Shelly Laurenston

Bear Meets Girl
Bear Meets Girl by Shelly Laurenston

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Okay, so my best friend (a former Borders merchandising/inventory supervisor) is now a receiver at Barnes & Noble. And you know what Barnes & Noble does different from Borders? Fewer strict on sale dates. And that is why I got this book in my hot little paws eight days before I thought it was coming out.

I'm still riding on the book high (will probably re-read it before bed), but I really, really enjoyed Bear Meets Girl. Even though I am a staunch Laurenston fangirl, I admit to being less than thrilled with Big Bad Beast. Dee-Ann isn't exactly my favorite heroine. But, God, I was kinda sad when this book ended. I'm a Long Island girl so it was a hoot to read about familiar places. Hell, I drive past Hofstra everyday on my way to work. The idea that there are shifters running amok on the Island is simultaneously cool and unnerving.

This is Laurenston's tenth shifter book and when you get to Book 10, there's that danger of getting stale. With Big Bad, I was a little afraid we were reaching that point, but I feel like Laurenston just put her foot on the accelerator and revved up her pen. It felt fresh to me. I mean, this is not a book for someone who's not familiar with the world Laurenston has created (I stand by my position that you need to start with Pack Challenge), but Bear Meets Girl is like downloading a new expansion pack.

The world feels bigger now. There's the entire Malone clan and the Callahan family and a closer look into KGV. Things change for the Carnivores, a Big Bad lurks on the horizon, and the second generation gets a bigger push towards the spotlight. Novikov makes a friend! I have to say, I think that's what tickled me the most, that Crush is such a full-on hockey geek. All of the previous heroes have been these big burly alpha types and here's Crush, this big guy, who just turns into a little girl around his sport idols. It was adorable.

As I said on Twitter, if I am ever forced to choose between Laurenston and Nalini Singh, my soul will die. Yup, I'm going to have to read Bear Meets Girl again tonight. And maybe sleep with it under my pillow. So good.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Review: Tangle of Need by Nalini Singh

Tangle of Need
Tangle of Need by Nalini Singh

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If I say too much, an angry mob will cross the bridges and stone me to death. Since there are entirely too many books left in my TBR to risk that, I only have the following cryptic comments for you.

1. If Kiss of Snow was the explosion that changed everything, Tangle of Need is the aftermath. Adria and Riaz are the main couple, yes, but their relationship is only part of the book's focus.

2. Re-read every book that centers on the SnowDancers as Tangle of Need is a reunion of epic proportions. DarkRiver characters make appearances, but only in very minor capacities.

3. If you have not read any of the Psy/Changeling books, do not start with this one because a) you will ruin the pleasure of watching the series develop for yourself and b) you will not enjoy Tangle of Need the way you should and I shall be forced to angrily exclaim 'I told you so.' You have 10 weeks. Read a book a week to catch up.

4. My personal theory as to the Ghost's identity remains in play and I think Nalini eliminates two more possible candidates.

5. I read a theory online about who Kaleb is searching for and now I'm pretty sure that theory was on the money, which makes my personal theory incorrect.

6. If Berkley does not make 'I heart Judd' pins to give away at the various cons & trade shows, I will be very sad.

7. I know I'm usually pretty stingy about price, now that I am discount-less, but I'm telling you, guys, I'd recommend picking this book up on May 29th when it's released. There is so much crammed into Tangle of Need and if you get spoiled, I honestly think it'll affect your enjoyment level of the book. Think of it this way, if you can save $3 a week between now & the time the book is released, you'll be able to afford it.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Monthly Tally: February 2012

I'm actually typing this up before March is over. I know, I'm as shocked as you are.

I continued my JD Robb re-read, stopping when I finally got Celebrity in Death (#2 on my Ten 2012 Books Worth Exercising For list). I'd made it up to Origin in Death, which was nice because then all the details were fresh in my mind. I really enjoyed Celebrity, especially the Peabody/McNabb scenes. I must have re-read the kitchen scene at least five times. More thoughts at GoodReads.

I also crossed #7 & #9 off my Ten 2012 Books I Would Stay Up & Go to a Midnight Opening For List, Flashfire by Deborah Cooke and Nightfire by Lisa Marie Rice, respectively. Flashfire was a bit of a let-down for me. I didn't particularly care for the hero and his emotional tomfoolery. At some point, you have to tug up your scales and be a grown-up dragon. He had trouble with that concept. Nightfire was much more enjoyable, my review here. Aside from some stand-alone Ellora's Cave titles, I'm all caught up with Rice's backlist and while there were some bumpy moments, I definitely enjoyed the ride.

This month, there are once again two top books (I can never pick just one). The first one actually came out in early 2011, Angel's Rest by Emily March. Quite frankly, I'm not even sure how good the book really is, but it was exactly what I needed when I needed it.  The other was a e-book, Defying the Odds by Kele Moon. It was a slightly different sports book and I really liked the hero in this one. I could totally believe that he's walking around the country somewhere. It might go without saying, but the worst book of the month, for me, was R.L. Mathewson's A Humble Heart. I kinda want to read the sequel, A Reclusive Heart, but I'm still feeling a little gun-shy.

Category Totals

Romance: 36
Manga: 1
Nonfiction: 4
Mystery: 5
Young Adult: 2

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Review: Thank You Mrs. M by Kate Rothwell

Thank You Mrs. M
Thank You Mrs. M by Kate Rothwell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had this title in my TBR for ages, dating back to when it was published by Cerridwen Press. I was scrolling through my TBR shelf for things to buy during Fictionwise's 60% coupon sale when I clicked on this title. Lo and behold, it's currently free from Smashwords. And quite frankly, you can't go wrong with free.

Thank You Mrs. M is a retelling of Daddy Long Legs, but this time the narrator is an teenaged Latino male, Ben. I have to say, despite some rough patches, I really enjoyed this. Since the entire story is told by Ben to a tape recorder, it's difficult to get to know the other characters, but I liked the fact that when we meet Ben, he's already determined to change his life. He knows he's at a disadvantage, given where he starts demographically & economically, but he doesn't sit around lamenting the situation.

Given my own demographic & economic level, I can't speak as to how authentic Ben actually is as a character, but, for me, the book had a similar feel to Simone Elkeles's Perfect Chemistry series. As in the original source material, a romantic relationship does develop, and Rothwell gives it an unique twist that led me to wanting to see more. We don't really get to know the heroine that well because we only see her through the lens of Ben's words. I would love to see Rothwell do another take on this story, but from the heroine's POV.

I have this categorized as young adult, but the main characters are in their early twenties. I think I felt it was more young adult because it's very much a coming of age story as Ben fights to get his family and himself to a better position in life. So I would recommend this for high school and above.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Compilation of R. L. Mathewson reviews

Well, apparently none of my reviews from GoodReads have been transferring over properly. Therefore, I'm pasting all my reviews of R.L. Mathewson in one entry. I feel they document my journey into R. L. Mathewson's backlist rather nicely.

Drinking the Kool-Aid: Playing for Keeps

This was a rec from ♡KarLynP♡ (her review is quite awesome) and since I managed to find it free from  Kobo, I snapped it up.

This is one of those books that do not really make a lick of sense and is wildly unrealistic, but is still damn good. I am a sucker for deft humor in my books (see my repeated fangirlness over Shelley Laurenston & Thea Harrison) and Playing for Keeps has that in spades. Sure, there were some pacing issues, especially in the beginning, some grammar & misused word typos, and odd characterizations, but it was so damn funny.

I absolutely adored the hero, Josh. His relationship with his friends, the way he treats Haley, and his obsession with food makes for an engaging character. While Josh is not a guy I'd want to date, I can see perfectly why Haley falls for him. Haley is not quite as well-drawn as Josh is, but she's still a well-rounded woman who is a very good match for Josh.

I enjoyed Playing for Keeps so much, I'm diving into Mathewson's backlist. It looks like Tall, Dark, and Lonely is currently free so I'll be picking that up first. I'm really interested in seeing how the books compare to each other. In my experience, I don't think Mathewson is quite ready for the big leagues yet, but if all her stories are of the same caliber as Playing for Keeps, she just needs an experienced beta reader & editor team to give her work a polish. In any case, I definitely recommend this book, whether you get it for free or 0.99. It's worth it.

Where are we going and why am I in this basket?: Tall, Dark, and Lonely

Oi. This is currently a free read from Smashwords. Edited to say that it's not free from Smashwords at the moment, but at the time I'm writing this, it's still free at Barnes & Noble.  This read at times as a fanfic turned original that's a cross between Twilight and the Black Dagger Brotherhood. In addition, the more the story progressed, the more frequent the typos became. The one redeeming point for me was Chris. Playing for Keeps was strong enough that I'm going to continue delving into her backlist, with an eye towards the straight up contemporaries, but if Chris is the hero of the next Pyte/Sentinel book, I will probably buy that one as well.

Danger, Will Robinson!: A Humble Heart

I didn't actually write up a review for this one. I was drawn to it because it features one of my favorite tropes: famous people. However, this was so stunningly bad, I was forced to do status updates because I couldn't contain myself.

"I just hit Chapter 2. The waves of wish fulfillment & Mary Sue-ness are radiating off the page. If this doesn't improve quickly, I'll eat the 0.99 and move on."

"Middle of Chapt 6. It's like a train wreck. I'm all for fantasy, but give me a fricking break."

"Middle of Chapt 13. I can't read anymore tonight, it's hurting my head. Both Dana and Edward are too stupid to live. Every now and then, I catch glimpses of the talent that produced Playing for Keeps and then it gets buried under typos & soap opera crap."

Needless to say, I would advise skipping this one. I still feel like I overrated it by giving it two stars.

I think I can, I think I can: Without Regret

As you'll see shortly, I was starting to lose steam. Things have been a tad bit sucky lately, personally speaking, and I really wanted another lift like I got from Playing for Keeps. Without Regret wasn't going to give it to me.

Better than Tall, Dark, and Lonely, a million times better than A Humble Heart, but nowhere close to Playing for Keeps. Mathewson desperately needs an editor or a meticulous beta reader as there were some ridiculously misused words. Lounged instead of lunged. Contraption instead of contraction. The smartass attitude that Chris had in Tall disappeared until the very, very end of Without. In addition, he was a colossal dick for the majority of the book. Mathewson did provide some emotional context for Chris's dickhood, but I had a hard time reconciling the awesome character from Tall with the hero I saw in Without. We also never learn Izzy wasn't like the other Sentinels. I kept thinking Izzy was supposed to die instead of her brother, but something went amiss somewhere.

And call me anal, as this is a particular sore spot for me, but I would have liked to seen some justification for the pregnancy rash Izzy got, along with her supposedly blocked tubes. I thought perhaps it was because Chris got the male Sentinel sex talk, not realizing that the females aren't able to reproduce without their mates. However, no explanation was given in the text and I'm not sure where the accelerated pregnancy comes into play. Give me a reason to suspend my disbelief. Don't just chuck things at my head and hope I'm too busy ducking to realize the crazy.

This is the fourth Mathewson book I've read, two of which I've paid for, and so far, only one didn't make me groan. So why, I must ask myself, am I still shelling out 0.99 a pop to give myself angina? I enjoyed Playing for Keeps so much, I'm searching for the writer that produced that story. I think I'm going to try Perfection and then call it quits.

De Plane! De Plane!: Perfection

I actually wanted to write something corny in my GoodReads review, like 'Ah, now this is perfect,' but I couldn't bring myself to stoop that low. This is the sequel to Playing for Keeps. Why I didn't read this first, I have no idea. I think I didn't realize that it was a sequel.

Now THIS is more like it! In a way, it's fitting that I bookended my dip into Mathewson's titles with the best of the lot. There were still some 'eeee' moments. In all of her books, Mathewson uses 'convenient store' when she probably means 'convenience store.' Also, she reuses some of the same character names in Perfection that she already used in Tall, Dark, and Lonely and Without Regret.

However, those things aside, this was a great read. The humor was fantastic. I liked how Mathewson handled Zoe's weight issues, a marked contrast to how she portrayed Dana's in A Humble Heart. Trevor was a great character. He was a likable idiot who matured into a real man. Also, the preview for the third book looks interesting. I hope Mathewson continues to do whatever she's now doing.

Home again, home again, jiggity jig

In conclusion, I think Mathewson is the perfect example of an evolving writer. She made a lot of rookie mistakes with her earlier books, learned from them, and became stronger as a result. I could make a bunch of guesses as to Mathewson's personal life as I feel she is very 'present' in her early books, but her 'Neighbors from Hell' series finally lets the characters operate on their own. I think Mathewson must have gotten a decent beta reader or editor so hopefully we will continue to see such wonderful improvement. For my part, I'm definitely going to keep an eye out for the third book in the series, but I will probably skip the remaining titles in her backlist. I keep looking at A Reclusive Heart, but I am afraid of being disappointed like I was with A Humble Heart. In any case, if you like humorous contemporaries, definitely check out Playing for Keeps and Perfection.