Man with an Accent & Romance Triggers

January 26, 2009
I’ve done a post before about audiobooks and how I mentioned that I prefer male narrators to female because of the way a man can (usually) cant his voice in a way that his female voice doesn’t sound ridiculous. It’s usually done with less emphasis on the narrator’s strong deep voice using a realistic falsetto. On the other hand, a woman narrator lowers her voice to achieve the male voice and it usually sounds too fake to my ears. In other words, a male narrator can swing both ways while a female can’t. Plus, I think a man’s voice is typically more soothing to listen to than a woman’s. 
In addition to what I wrote previously about audiobooks, I was elated to have received a comment from author Lori Foster because I had mentioned that I liked listening to her audiobook, Caught In the Act. She commented that while it was totally not what she had in mind for Mick’s voice, hearing a reader/listener’s POV was interesting.

In any case, I’ve been steadily collecting audiobook files from my local libraries and from online sources such as Audible.com. Which, by the way, is pretty much the go-to site for audiobooks. It’s pretty user friendly and compatible with pretty much all the most popular MP3s including iPod and I’ve happily tried out their free trial to get a sense of the site. If you like or are thinking about audiobooks, I suggest you google “Audible free trial” and see for yourself. 
I’ve listened to Lori Foster’s Caught In the Act, some Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark Hunters, Megan Hart, etc. Recently, I’ve just finished two books that I was very happy with. After I read and loved Christine Feehan’s new GhostWalker book, Murder Game, I was delighted to find out that it was also out in audiobook format.
I like the narrator Tom Stechschulte. He does a nice deep voice with a hint of a Southern accent. His female voice sounds a wee bit too high to be just right but it’s not bad. Prior to Murder Game, I listened to Stechschulte on another Feehan GhostWalker book, Mind Game. Same results. The “narrator voice” is nice and consistent pretty much all of the time. He gives the “hero voice” a nice alpha male deep quality though like I mentioned before, the “heroine voice” seems a little too high for my tastes. 

However, the recent audiobook I really enjoyed was Phil Gigante narrating Karen Marie Moning’s The Dark Highlander. I’m new to the series and The Dark Highlander was the first I read in the series about a month ago. I’m almost all caught up with only Kiss of the Highlander left in my to be read pile. 
I was very excited to see The Dark Highlander out in audiobook, though I was a bit weary. There are a lot of accents needed to pull it off and a good reading of all the faery/fey terms and languages. I read that many people enjoyed Gigante’s reading of the books and I wholeheartedly agree. 
He does a fantastic “alpha male” voice with accents that aren’t too over done but just enough to really put the listener into the mindset. His “heroine voice” was very pleasant to listen to as well. High enough to be decidedly female, but not too much where I think drag queen or a man who’s just been racked and lost all the testerone from his body. In the end, I was able to doubly enjoy the book. I loved it when I read it the first time around, but listening to it bought in another level of enjoyment. I will definitely be checking out the rest of the series. 
Audiobooks are just as personal as picking out a romance book. Not all romance works for everybody. And even those readers with similar tastes will differ in what triggers a good read. And fans (even the diehard ones) will disagree on what makes a particular book in a series good. So, I think that the first step in exploring the genre of Romance is to find out what triggers work for you as a reader.
I’ve had friends and people I’ve met at the local Borders ask for recommendations before. I always start off with, “Well, what do you like to read? A sweet contemporary romance, paranormal, action/adventure, etc?” And even if they answer “Paranormal” I will then go on to ask, “what kind of paranormal? Vampires, were-animals, time travel, fey, or combinations of many paranormal elements.”
Personally, I’ve come to recognize my triggers in what makes a good read and keeper copy versus a so-so romance. And it’s funny now that I’ve found out what works for me because I would never have thought that about myself. It really draws a line between a fantasy world in a book and the real world.
For instance, one of my Good Read triggers is the endearment. I’ve found that most (but not all) romances that I’ve come to really enjoy usually has the pet name element. I prefer the hero giving it to the heroine. Some Highlander/Historical romances include generics such as “sweet” or “love.” I’m also a fan of the “baby” though I think that sometimes an author can overdo that one. A hero really has to be written as a total alpha to pull off “baby” in my opinion. Like Ward’s fourth Black Dagger Brotherhood book and how Butch calls Marissa “baby.” Lora Leigh is also quite fond of that endearment. And given that all her males are alphas to the extreme, I think it works. This is a weird trigger (I readily agree), but for some reason, it works for me.
Another trigger for me is the Ball Buster heroine. It’s a Bad Read trigger for me. I won’t say that 100% of all the super strong heroines that can be categorized as a ball buster automatically became bad reads for me, but I’ve come to find out that authors usually have a hard time showing a vulnerable or softer side to that kind of heroine. Some are successful though, but not all and for that, I’m not a fan of reading a heroine that doesn’t show a softer edge. I can’t really connect with those characters. 
This came as a surprise to me because as a relatively young romance reader, (as opposed to the middle aged/married/moms that people think of as the Romance genre audience) I thought I would appreciate the strong female lead. But I learned quickly that there was a fine line to walk between strong and ball buster. And while I really appreciate a heroine that goes after what she wants, I don’t like one that doesn’t have a softness to them. 
Another Bad Read sign is a lack of conversation during the intimate scenes. Now, I’m not saying that I need the hero and heroine to have a full out conversation during sex. What I find visually boring, and therefore usually has my eyes skipping over parts, is reading a sex scene in which there are paragraph after paragraph (and sometimes page after page) of straight up description of the actions. I like/need words exchanged between the hero and heroine here and there. Little phrases, not conversations. Stuff like a hero asking a heroine if she likes what he’s doing or him verbally encouraging her reactions or praising her during sex. Without some conversation to break up the monotony of plain ol’ description. 
Finally, I wrote earlier in a review that the ultimate Good Read Indicator was the “how will this end happily?” feeling. It’s a tightening in my chest as I’m reading and even though I know that as a Romance book, it logically must end happily, a good author will write twists within the plot that make me wonder how that happy ending will occur. It is happening less often more me now that I’m reading so many romances these days, but I will admit that the feeling happens when I least expect it to. Like my post on Nalini Singh’s Slave to Sensation. I really didn’t expect to get that Feeling when I was reading a first time author’s introductory book into a new series. But I did. And I’m get the Feeling from authors that I least expect it from and sometimes, sadly, less from authors who used to give me the Feeling.
Like I’ve said before many a times, Romance is a vast genre to explore but a very personal one at that. And now, as I’m enjoying Romance on a new platform via audiobooks, I’m finding that listening to Romance is just as personal as reading it.

Secondary Romances

January 19, 2009
Since Lori Foster is publishing her latest SBC Fighters, My Man Michael, I decided to pick up my copy of Causing Havoc to get in the mood for the January 27 release date. When I was reading Causing Havoc, I got to thinking about secondary romances.

In Causing Havoc, the main couple is Dean and Eve but there is a secondary romance that occurs between Dean’s fellow fighter, Gregor, and Dean’s youngest sister, Jacki. Jacki was a character that was rife with body image. Tall and not particularly well endowed up above, she’s a character that doesn’t know her own appeal and doubts Gregor’s attraction to her. So while their courtship is layered in miscommunication with Gregor ultimately letting her know that he loved her and her body for just the way it was, I found their romance to be sweet but ultimately too short to feel satisfied. 
In best case scenarios for secondary romances, that’s how I feel: Like the romance was too short. However, more often than not, that’s not how I feel. I finish the book and feel like the author didn’t have enough plot to write an entire novel about one couple and threw in the second couple to pad the book. Plus, I’ll feel cheated out of the main couple by having to suffer through pages of another couple’s course to a happy ending.
In my readings, I’ve found that Susan Elizabeth Phillips is particularly fond of this secondary romance device. The second couple is usually a family member or close friend of either the hero or heroine and they go through quite an elaborate courtship. In Causing Havoc, Gregor and Jacki’s romance was short, maybe less than twenty pages all together. However, for Phillips, her secondary couple will go through an entire courtship and sometimes I find myself flipping ahead to see when I’ll get back to the main couple again. 
I basically don’t like secondary romances for reasons I’ve stated above. I’ve heard from some readers that they like them because it’s like getting a novella within the larger book. Those who like secondary romances feel like they’re getting a two for one deal. But for me…eh, it’s not my thing. I feel gypped that either 1) the main couple’s courtship is getting pared down because there’s not enough content to write about or 2) the secondary couple is better than the main couple and they’re not getting enough page space.
Personally, when I read a romance, the couple described on the back cover is the only story I want to read about. Do I want a good supporting cast to round out the book? Yes. But do I want to have a part of the book cut out to make room for another couple that could best serve their purpose in their own book or a novella? No. Just give me the story I signed up for when I bought the book, thank you very much.
P.S. I am very much looking forward to My Man Michael. Especially since it appears that she’s added in a paranormal twist with the heroine…

From Great to Mediocre

January 17, 2009

During the holiday season, Lora Leigh was featured in a anthology, The Magical Christmas Cat. (Extremely cheesy title, I know, but go with it…) Now, anything Lora Leigh is basically an instant read for me (except for the August brothers, but that’s another story). So, I was very excited for another Breed novella. But what hooked me in was a new author, Nalini Singh
I’d seen her books on Border shelves before but I wasn’t interested because I felt like the graphics was poorly done and therefore didn’t catch my eye. Yes, covers are that important. I do judge a book by the cover. But when I read the anthology, I didn’t recognize the name and I thoroughly enjoyed the story.
It was a basic were/shape shifting story that featured animals. But the thing that really hooked me in instead of wincing at the attempt to be another Lora Leigh was the description of the animal counterpart. For the Breeds, and for most other “were” stories, the animal is the man. There is no separation between the two. For the Breeds, they are man spliced with animal DNA. Other explanations for it is the typical “infection” or conversion explanation, and other more fantasy inspired explanations such as alien or just a separate being from humans.
What made this unique was the description that man and cat were separate but equal. Make sense? The character would speak of the cat (or whatever animal) as a separate entity within them even though they are part animals from birth. So in the anthology story, Stroke of Enticement, the hero speaks of his leopard like a personality within his personality. Sounds confusing when put like that, but basically the cat will react to things that the man might find unnecessary. Unlike the Breeds who are animal, these weres have a separation between the animal and man. 
For instance, when the hero, Zach meets the heroine for the first time it’s written like this: “Her delectable scent whispered over on disturbed air currents, ruffling the leopard’s fur in the most enticing way. He barely bit back a responsive groan. Sometimes, adults had trouble with the cat too.” (Singh, 10). Zach’s cat is written very clearly as having his own reactions and pleasures. Another example of how these weres are different is how Zach can feel the rough rasp of his leopard’s fur on the inside of his skin. This new way of writing the were story was very interesting to me. 

So, I picked up the series.
I loved the first story, Slave to Sensation. Absolutely loved it. It was the first in a long time since I read a story that gave me the sign of a good story. For me, the sign is a clenching of my stomach and a big question mark about the ending even though in the back of my mind I know that the book must end happily for the couple because it is a romance book. I was really into the story even though I was slightly confused about the state of the world and the differentiation about the Psy and changelings, and humans. But after a while, the story became about the hero and heroine, Lucas and Sascha, and the dangers of their world. 
The connection of the characters was strong with each being confused and cautious about the other. There was a great layer of “hidden facts” to which the reader was privy to but the characters did not know about each other. I liked how this mystery of Sascha’s ability to feel emotions (as a Psy, she responds to logic and necessity not emotions and wants) wasn’t drawn out. Lucas had his suspicions and even though his initial responsibility was to his pack, being Alpha, he later turned his allegiance to include Sascha as his number one. 
Basically, I loved the twists and turns and was thoroughly delighted in finding out that his debut novel had more than one stumble block on the way to a happy ending and that the reader was left wondering how that ending will occur all the way up until the end. It’s hard to keep a jaded romance reader guessing all the way up the end. (One of the reasons I love J.R. Ward. She has an uncanny ability to get the reader wonder “How the hell will this end happily?”)
No surprise that I was made an instant fan once I read Singh’s first full length book. I simply adored Lucas and Sascha. I rushed out to buy the next book. When I finished it I felt…eh. It was okay. Okay, but definitely lacking. Not bad enough that I would drop the series. So, I plowed onto the third book. And then the fourth. By then, I was flipping through the pages of so-so scenes and just getting to the end. 
I loved seeing Lucas and Sascha and other Pack members come into successive books and make a strong appearance as secondary characters, but I felt like Singh was way too caught up in developing this future world. For one thing, discoveries made in the first book were made and/or explained again and again in following books. It got repetitive and redundant (and repetitive and redundant…) and the connection of the characters took a back seat. 
While there are romances that have a plot take precedent and the characters secondary (like in J.D. Robb’s In Death series where the crime is the driving force of the story and Eve and Roarke’s story is secondary), Singh didn’t start off that way and I was expecting character first and plot second in her series. I felt like the level of the connection between the hero and heroine was never matched to that of Lucas and Sascha. I understand that not every couple in a series will measure up, but something in Singh’s writing just tapered off from great to mediocre. 
Where did she loose me as a loyal reader? Besides the redundant facts and discoveries, the complexity of the plot was never achieved to the level of the first book. And I never got that gut clenching feeling while reading her books again. I lost that feeling I mentioned before. And for me, I was disappointed. 
All the elements that made Slave to Sensation great wasn’t apparent in full force with the other books. The first book was a delightful combination of mystery, humor, and feeling thrown in with a protective super Alpha male who loved his heroine with depth, and a heroine who wasn’t afraid to fight for what she believed in (and for her man) but was still able to be seen as vulnerable to the harsh realities of the world. The equation that made the first book wonderful was absent in the books that followed.
Singh has created an interesting world with good characters but the spark that I felt from the first book slowly fizzed out with each successive book. Do I think she’s still worth reading? Yes. I think many fans of paranormal romance will find something unique about Singh and the evolution of her writing is evident. Her more recent books show this explicitly through her sexual descriptions. With Lucas and Sascha it was much more metaphorical and the “heat factor” was a bit toned down when compared the other more established writers. But in the later Changling books, readers can pick up where Singh explored a more direct way of writing sex as her characters got bolder. 
I honestly could not recommend Slave to Sensation more. It definitely sits as a reread copy on my bookshelf. But would I recommend the entire series without tagging on a caveat? No. 
I can understand how Singh has so quickly built up a fan base while I will continue to be devoted to the first book, I won’t be so eager to buy any future publications unless I find them for free on BookMooch or fifty cents (or a dollar) at the library bookstore. I own four plus a novella and while I can appreciate new talent, I feel like the series didn’t live up to the debut.

Twin Version 2.0

January 14, 2009
I had a previous post in which I covered erotica and mentioned Lora Leigh’s Bound Hearts series, Wicked Pleasures. I had also mentioned that I was looking forward to the story of Chase Falladay, the twin brother of Cameron who was the hero in Wicked Pleasures.
But when I finished I was disappointed. However, I wonder if I did Chase’s book an injustice by rereading Cam’s first. I had originally picked up Wicked Pleasures the night before to get in the mood for that story line. But when I started reading Chase’s book, I found myself doing too much comparison of the two stories. Which, by the way, isn’t hard to do since they are twin brothers and pop in and out of each other’s stories. 
I will say that when I originally read Cam’s book, I wasn’t all that fond of it. I liked it, sure, but I wasn’t closing the book on the last page wishing that there was more. I originally felt that Cam’s story was fine. However, a year(ish) later, I came to pick up Cam again and enjoy him much more. So I wonder if this is the same case with Chase’s story. But I still have some critiques about his book, Only Pleasure.

The plot is thin in my opinion. The heroine, Kia, was mentioned in previous Bound Hearts books as being a minor threat in the exposure of The Club’s secrets. Kia’s ex-husband brought in a third into their relationship without telling or asking his wife and subsequently led to the attempted rape of Kia. Okay, I was pretty excited about how this would play out. I thought it would be interested in seeing how Chase would protect Kia from her ex-husband and steal her heart in the process.
I liked Chase from Cam’s book. I thought that the more easy going Falladay brother would be a fun read, his slightly lighter personality making for a different tone and feel than his brother Cam. But I didn’t find that was the case. 
Though it was obvious from the get-go of Cam’s book that the presence of Chase wouldn’t be permanent, I still thought Chase was a good character. He had been puzzled and hurt about the broken bond between him and his brother and he did provide for a few fun moments in which he teased Cam about falling in love. I expected that Chase would be dominant, protective, and possessive, but slightly lighter hearted than the dark Cam. It worked for their twin dynamic. One darker, one lighter.
But when it came for Chase’s book, it was like Cam all over again with one exception: There wasn’t much of a reasoning for Chase’s darkness. With Cam, it was understood that he kept the sharing lifestyle with Jaci because he was afraid of what loving his woman would mean to his heart. Cam kept his past sexual abuse a secret and the presence of his brother as the third in the relationship helped Cam keep his emotional distance from Jaci. 
But what bugged me about Chase’s book was that I felt the explanation for his darkness wasn’t all that plotted through. Even though there was a thin excuse that because he was the one who killed Moriah, the “villain” from the previous book, Chase made it sound that the darkness was always in him. And yes, those who read Cam’s book will see that the Brockheims feature in Chase’s book as well. Though I could see the logical progression plot-wise, as a reader, I thought it was too predictable and not original. I felt like Chase just got the leftovers of Cam’s story and that the plot just continued through one brother to the next. 
All in all, I just didn’t feel that there was sufficient explanation on why Chase had such demons in him. The details of Chase’s past was glossed over on and if his previous occupation was supposed to be a factor in his present personality, that wasn’t ever really fleshed out. I was disappointed because when I read the small glimpse into Chase’s past, I was intrigued but it never got explained.
I also found Kia to be lacking as a well rounded character. Yes, she suffered a traumatic experience with her ex and withdrew into herself to lick her wounds. But other than that, I didn’t see a lot of character development. She was a little flat to me. I didn’t feel too much for her even though I tried. I was able to relate more to Jaci’s longing and hurt in Cam’s rejection than I did for Kia. Kia was also almost like a Jaci version 2 like Chase is for Cam. Kia feels hurt that Chase doesn’t spend the night with her, hold her, etc…blah, blah, just like Jaci worried about Cameron. There was too much mirrored in the previous book in terms of how the characters were written for me to feel like Only Pleasure stood out on its own.
I think a big problem with me really loving this book was the timeline of Chase and Kia’s sexual relationship. In the beginning of the story, they meet (again) and suddenly Kia’s agreeing to a no strings pleasure session with Chase and Khalid. And then the story just took off like that. With both Kia and Chase refusing to accept what they have together and though Kia vows she won’t succumb again, Chase always coaxes her back into bed. It was boring, in all honesty. There wasn’t the spark there for me.
There was one big difference between Chase and Cam though. It was made obvious that for Chase and Kia, the addition of a third in their relationship would continue well after their happy ending, unlike Cam and Jaci’s monogamous relationship. I think that worked for the two characters. It was obvious that Cam needed the sharing for the distance while Chase enjoyed it for the pleasure. So, I did like that distinction between the brothers. 
What did I enjoy? The appearance of Cam and Jaci throughout the story. Chase and Cam still have their shared warehouse converted into a large apartment with Chase’s part sectioned off upstairs. And since Cam and Chase works for Ian Sinclair, there were appearances while they worked as well. It was really a great payoff to see Cam settle down, smile, and really enjoy his time with his now fiancee, Jaci. Those who read the previous book will be happy to see slight mentions of Cam and Jaci’s life that would otherwise be overlooked by the newcomer. For example, there are mentions of Cam having purchased a new bed and sofa and sweet moments such as the two of them decorating their Christmas tree. In addition, those who read Cam’s story will like seeing how Cam treasures Jaci and how he enjoys the little things in life now, such as cuddling with Jaci and sharing his bathroom space with her. 
What also made me really happy to read in Only Pleasure? Khalid. Those who have followed the Trojans since they were with Ellora’s Cave will love to see a strong presence of Khalid. As Chase’s third and a heavy secondary character, we see a new side the to the man who’s normally described as the bastard son of a Middle Eastern prince who is a playboy and lives for a good time. Here, as a set up for his own story, we are given a glimpse at what makes Khalid tick and what might bring in his future. Oh, and the connection of Kia and Khalid isn’t anything out of the blue, anyone reading the story can easily predict what had occurred between the characters in the past. 
For me, unfortunately, I was much more excited about the secondary characters and future stories than I was about Chase and Kia. I felt that their characters were not fleshed out. Basically, I thought the story was a skeleton plot told between pages upon pages of sex with under developed characters. Of course the sex is to be expected, but I just felt like the sex was the driving force of the book, not the characters. For a story like this to work for me, the sex needs to serve a purpose. And for Chase and Kia, I felt like the sex was steering the story and everything else took a backseat. Between Chase and Cam…my choice is still Cam.
I felt that the cover was sexy and I liked the bright orange color that really catches the eye. However, I have seen the identical cover art used in another book and that always makes me disappointed when covers are repeated. 
So, Only Pleasure…it’s an okay read for those who are used to the series and the characters but not for those who are new because there are a lot of connected facts that makes things easier to understand if one has read the previous book.
Last thing…Kia to me is a car, not a woman’s name. I can appreciate authors using different and unique names to make their characters stand out but I just didn’t like her name. And for me, unfortunately, if I don’t like the name of a character, I have a hard time getting past that. A name is really important for me, especially how the name looks on the page of the book. And while I love the name Chase, Kia is for something on four wheels, not a great heroine. 
2.5 out of 5: So-so read but plot was thin and characters under developed. Those who are fans to the series will enjoy the secondary characters and the hints of the next book.

Fact Overload

December 30, 2008
As I have previously posted, I loved Jacquelyn Frank’s Jacob. However, when I delved into Gideon, I found like it was just a retelling of all the facts we discovered in Jacob with a little dose of romance between Gideon and Legna. Though I enjoyed the many appearances of Jacob and Bella as secondary characters, Gideon’s story wasn’t independent enough for me to think of it as a good read. 
Disappointed, I put down the series. But I must note that I do own the rest of the Nightwalkers. I have Elijah, Damien, and Noah sitting on my bookshelf waiting to be read. When I found out that Frank was coming out with a new loosely connected series, The Shadowdwellers, I was looking forward to a fresh start and hoping to relive the excitement that I felt when I first picked up Jacob.
Boy was I disappointed. There are a few reasons for my dislike of this new novel, Ecstasy. They’re listed in the following…
First, the readers are inundated with facts straight off the bat. Initially, when I started the first few chapters, I thought it was an interesting concept. The heroine, Ashla, is involved in a car accident and when she wakes, finds that she is the only occupant of New York. Everything works around her and food is replenished from what seems to be out of thin air, but she is utterly alone, save for occupying herself by shopping to her heart’s content without the need for green or plastic. She has a startling encounter with two men who fight to the death and while she heals the victor, Trace, she runs away when he is shocked that not only can she heal his wounds, but she can see him. 
But after I read their encounter, I found myself being loaded with paragraphs upon paragraphs of facts of the Shadowdweller world. The narrative went on for pages with no point other than the author needing to convey these facts to the readers. I found myself glazing over the facts and being bored with the lack of conversation and this method of delivery. As a reader, I want to find out about facts through character interaction or through the plot. What I don’t want is being told what I need to know all at one time. I want to peel the layers of the plot and this strange new world a few facts at a time, not have it shoved at me.
Second, and this is a biggie: the character connection. To make a successful romance work, the connection of the hero and heroine needs to be established strongly otherwise readers won’t buy them as they progress into their romance. I had high hopes for Trace because he possessed a lot of the same traits that Jacob did. Trace is an advisor to his people, much like how Jacob is the Enforcer for the Demons, acting like the second in command to Noah. Trace is basically like that. But Trace’s connection to Ashla isn’t set up as strongly as Jacob was to Bella. 
Trace and Ashla’s first sexual interlude was too…crude, for a lack of a better word. It was supposed to be that way because of Trace succumbing to euphoria in the Shadowscape. But, as a reader, I didn’t like seeing this first connection written like this. It wasn’t done well, in my opinion. First sexual encounters set up a tone and baseline for what the reader expects. Sometimes it’s fast and hard because the characters can’t get to each other fast enough. Sometimes it’s infinitely tender to savor the moment. 
But I found Trace and Ashla’s encounter to be sorely lacking. It wasn’t animistic like Lora Leigh’s Breeds. Leigh’s “cruder” sex scenes are sometimes hard, yes, (like in the first half of Tanner’s Scheme) but there is some cushion provided for the reader. (As in the alpha male’s need to sate his mate and to take care of her even if his mind doesn’t jive with what his heart is telling him) However, I found that Trace’s rough sex scenes and his concern for only his enjoyment because of euphoria was too tough to swallow. There was little concern for Ashla and though she didn’t feel slighted, I as the reader, didn’t appreciate it. I was hoping that the connection of the characters would be rectified, but it wasn’t.
Third, I felt like the characters were too undeveloped. Ashla carries wounds from her mother telling her that she’s the spawn of the devil. Yes, that’s a bit lame but I’ll overlook it. Ashla isn’t a very strong character. She doesn’t have much of a backbone and Trace calls her a “submissive.” I, personally, do like a heroine that isn’t a ball buster but my lack of feeling toward Ashla wasn’t because she was submissive, but because she was too flat. Her personality was written well for a secondary character, not for the main heroine. All in all, I cared very little and connected even less about the heroine, which doesn’t bode well for a romance book. 
Additionally, I think there were elements of Trace that were hinted at but sadly undeveloped as well. We find out that he was prisoner of war and tortured but that wasn’t discussed much (if at all), and while we’re told that Ashla helps mend those wounds in Trace, the reader doesn’t feel that at all. Basically, it came down to the fact that I cared very little about the couple and thought that their connection was nil.
Fourth, there was too much going on trying to keep the plot afloat. Trace’s life is on the line because there are traitors among their higher ranking counsel members and someone is trying to undermine the authority of the government. There were more than just the point of views from Trace and Ashla. There were at least four other characters having their own bits and pieces told from their POVs. A reason that I felt so under connected with the main couple is because of all that superfluous noise (POVs) from characters that shouldn’t have taken precedence in a book that should be all about Trace and Ashla.
Fifth was the sexual element. As an obvious attempt to ramp up the sexuality in this new series, we’re told through Trace that the Shadowdwellers really value sex ed. Now, this isn’t the run of the mill “insert tab B into slot A” kind of education. Shadowdwellers are given all kinds of sexual education from different forms of foreplay to classes given to youngsters in which they observe a couple engaging in sexual play. 
Now, if this were a book under an erotica label, I’d understand this. But the reader is given no signs of this kind of turn in the plot. It kind of comes out of left field and I don’t think it was handled all that well. Given the (somewhat) disastrous first sexual encounter of Trace and Ashla where it was devoid of the necessary emotional connection, it felt like Frank brought up this whole “sex ed” factor to give a little umph to the book. I did not like it. It wasn’t all that hot and it just didn’t work for me. Where it was intended to be sexy, came off as forced and a thinly veiled contrivance to try to sex up the book. Sex in romance books, even in erotica, should serve a purpose and I felt that in this scenario, it didn’t.
In many instances, I felt like Ecstasy was a reworking of Jacob but with a different coat of paint. There were many similarities and felt like I was being cheated out of what should be an original series. Bella and Ashla share similar characteristics as to why humans would fit into this world of Others. But with Ashla, the answer comes as no surprise to the reader. Once you figure out a few hints, the “surprise” is no surprise at all. Trace is like Jacob, defending his people but caught up in this distracting web with the heroine. But Trace wasn’t written as well as Jacob; his character not as fleshed out as he should have been. Both hero and heroine were too flat, too one dimensional, for the reader to truly care for their outcome. The plot as a whole was too factual and didn’t flow as well as I would have hoped. Events seemed to occur and characters drifted in and out with no real direction other than to reach the end. I finished the book because it was there, not because I couldn’t put it down.
1.5 out of 5: For reasons mentioned in the review, I didn’t enjoy the book though I had high hopes for it to succeed. I have enjoyed Frank’s books before but was disappointed by this new venture. I felt that it had some points for originality with how humans fit into the Shadow world, but the execution of the book was what made it fail in my eyes. 

Sexual Evolution

December 29, 2008
Christine Feehan’s books and I share a weird relationship. With her Carpathian series, I can’t stand them. And I really tried. 5 different (and completely read) Carpathian books. I just think there’s too much going on. There’s the vampire part (which is what drew me to them in the first place), but then there’s also this nature element with their connection and rejuvenation in the Earth, the animal connection, and everything that makes the Carpathians what they are. In the end, I feel like the series is a combination of too much and the darkness of the characters without a hint of any levity is too unbalanced for me. 

However, I do love the Ghostwalkers. When I first picked up Predatory Game, I was very hesitant about it given my past with other Feehan novels. But something about that particular book drew me in. I liked the characters more than the plot or setting and something about the alpha-male hero, Jesse, being in a wheelchair flared an interest in me. I then picked up the rest of the Ghostwalkers and enjoyed them. Some more than others, but overall, I felt like there was a definite shift in the writer’s voice from the Carpathians to the Ghostwalkers. So much so, that at times, I can’t believe that these two series came from the same author. 

The newest to the series, Murder Game, brings forth an author’s evolution within her own series. Not only is the book significantly longer than the others, but the pacing and feel of the book was different as well. Sex was much more prevalent than in the others and the hero, Kadan, felt like a meshing of the previous male Ghostwalkers. There is a lot of Jack Norton’s possessive drive that shows up in Kadan, perhaps more to an extreme this time around. 
However, there is also humor that seems to be lacking from some of the previous books. We see a lot of the other Ghostwalkers: Rye, Nico, Gator, the Norton twins, Tucker, and Ian with a strong emphasis on the first three men and also mentions of their wives with a short glimpse of Mari, Ken’s wife. Though to my great disappointment, there was the notable absence of our previous hero and heroine, Jesse and Saber.

Back to the evolution of the series. I found that sometimes, when authors are feeling out a new series, things not only get more complicated (as they should be), but sometimes the idea of sexual boundaries are pushed further within the series. With Murder Game, I was surprised to see the mention of oral sex written out so blatantly and early in the course of things. There was also a really hot scene where right after they finish, Kadan tells Tansy to “slide down my body and get me hard.” (Feehan, 242) There was just something so hot about Kadan telling Tansy that he wanted her again like that. I’ve not yet come across that request worded quite like that before even though I’ve read about 500 of these romances. Not only was there much more sex within this book, but things seemed more desperate and Kadan is much more possessive than what is to be normally expected of an alpha-male. 

I found that Kadan and Tansy’s courtship was swift in getting serious. Unlike with Nico and Dahlia where Nico was still trying to convince Dahlia to stay with him forever in the last chapter, Kadan really gets to business straight away. Within the first fourth of the book, Kadan and Tansy have already slept together and Kadan makes his lasting intentions known. But what was pleasantly surprising was Tansy’s acceptance of it. In addition, I liked how the heroine was not easily embarrassed. But she wasn’t the maneater, sexually out there, kind either. She realized early on that Kadan needed her physical touch, even in front of his teammates, and Tansy didn’t hesitate to let him pull her close or kiss her in front of others. Feehan walked a fine line there by writing Tansy like that, but it worked and I liked it. 

Murder Game is heavy on the characters; mainly, it’s connection between the hero and heroine instead of plot. I felt that the plot moved rather slowly up until the very end, where I felt like it was rushed, but there was a lot of repetitive scenes. There were many scenes with Tansy feeling the murder scene game pieces and getting sucked into other people’s feelings and darkness and then Kadan pulling her out of it, telling her that it’s too dangerous, and eventually getting rid of her nightmares with sex. The entire bulk of the book was like that. Tansy seeking out further clues about the murders and Kadan hovering near by protectively.

But when we reach the end of the book, where the Ghostwalkers go hunting, the killing of the murderers are done less than a page each. I felt like the conclusion of the book was too rushed. Instead of revealing bits and pieces of the plot’s conclusion, the reader was quickly pushed headlong into the ending. However, if you prefer the character connection more than the plot, then you will enjoy this one as much as I did. I think that the love evolution between Kadan and Tansy was very well written (given the characteristics of the male Ghostwalkers), though I can pinpoint many elements that appeal to my personal tastes and therefore why I’ve enjoyed this one so much.

The plot of the book, like I’ve mentioned, seems thin. There are murders happening both on the East and West coast and it’s apparent that the men who are committing the murders are enhanced and the Ghostwalkers are being blamed. To clear their name, Kadan seeks out Tansy who has used her psychic ability to track killers. But every time she handles the game pieces left at the murder scenes to dig out more clues to help the Ghostwalkers, Tansy gets a huge rush of dark emotions and most of the time, she can’t control the energy flowing into her. 
A continuity thread throughout the book are some personal descriptive words in certain situations. Eyes are repeatedly described with Tansy’s odd violet/blue eyes shifting from opaque to shimmering as a sign of her psychic abilities and Kadan’s dark blue eyes described as a part of the darkness within him. Kadan is the “Ice Man” with ice flowing through his veins, devoid of all warmth due to a traumatic event when he was a child. Tansy is always (and I do mean, always) described as smelling like cinnamon and it serves to be an aphrodisiac for Kadan which leads to a funny scene about the other Ghostwalkers teasing him about it. 
Like I’ve said, the bulk of the book is repetitive and the plot isn’t really all that exciting. I felt like the reason this book is longer is that the editor did minimum cleaning on the manuscript. A lot of so-called “extra” scenes depicting hero and heroine interaction that would’ve been cut from other books were left. Some of the scenes felt like a collection of “additional scenes” that an author would’ve posted up on a website as a bonus for readers. For example, while some books only have one scene showing some early morning/post-coital cuddling, Murder Game has a handful. If you like that kind of thing, you’ll love this book.

However, I don’t think the cover was done well. The main draw of the cover is the man’s face which really pulls your eyes to that graphic. First of all, the face doesn’t have enough angles to be Kadan. The graphic clearly shows a male with brown eyes while Kadan is repeatedly described as having blue eyes so dark that they seemed black. And the little sillhoutte of the climber didn’t fit in either. Yes, we first meet Tansy out in the wilderness but I don’t think the climber fits well into the book. A cougar or even just a depiction of the game pieces would’ve worked better. 

Ultimately, I liked this Ghostwalker the best because of its concentration to the couple pairing more so than the plot. But for those fans who are looking for a wild adrenaline-filled ride with bullets flying and whatnot will be disappointed with Kadan’s book. But if you like a male who recognizes his mate straightaway and his (slightly easy) acceptance of it, you’ll like this book. Murder Game is about connection and the characters falling in love when neither thought they would ever be able to be in a normal relationship with another person. There was something very sweet about Kadan’s mother hen tendencies. Well, if a mother hen looked and acted like a wolf. This book is a great reunion of the other Ghostwalkers and with a hint of humor that lights up this book where the others were a bit lacking. 

Murder Game is a must read for any Ghostwalker fan but those new to the series who expect more action might want to start with the others first. There are a lot of connective facts that were presented from previous novels that might confuse readers if read out of order. Fans of previous Ghostwalker heroes will be delighted to see a large role as secondary characters throughout the entire book.

4.5 out of 5: I give it a higher rating because it appealed to my personal tastes more than an universal romance audience. Heavy on hero and heroine connection while thin on plot movement.

The Big E

October 28, 2008
Erotica.

Ah, the wild child of the Romance Family. The book that’s hidden under your pillow or in the bedside ‘goodie drawer.’ The niche within the genre that even the regular romance readers wouldn’t be dared caught with. So, is it really that big of a deal? Or has the E of the family garnered a much bigger rep than deserved?

Let’s take a look…

Okay, let’s face it, erotica is basically everything that non-romance readers (and therefore, ignorant) ridicule about the entire genre of romance. But is that deserved? I don’t think so.

Once a reader can get over that Jr. High giggly feel of “oh my god are they really doing that?”, erotica isn’t all that abnormal. I think some readers would be surprised to know that sometimes, erotica can cross very much into the regular mainstream romance field. In fact, sometimes I scratch my head when finished reading a book that was published under the heading of erotica and wondered why it wasn’t labeled as run-of-the-mill romance. And the reverse is true as well. I’ve been thoroughly surprised at some of the ‘regular’ romance and wondered why it wasn’t published as erotica.

Here are some of my thoughts and theories…

Erotica, as many can deduce, usually combines much more sex within the plot. And yes, well written erotica actually have plots. The good ones are not just a few hundred pages of straight up sex. Sometimes, yes. The ones that are published with those little e-publishers or specific sections of e-books such as Samhain or Ellora’s Cave where they have little novellas of a hundred pages can be pure sex. Sometimes good, but mostly bad without a plot. 
But even those e-publishers can churn out pretty good stuff and some of it isn’t even steamy. In fact, some very common romance names arise from those smaller e-publishers. Those who are fans of Lora Leigh know that the Breeds started as e-books and was later picked up by Berkley, as well as her Bound Heart series. Many authors that are a commonplace on today’s Borders shelves began as e-books. So don’t knock those e-publishers before you’ve tried.

Back to plot and erotica. Well written erotica have plots. But what makes it different from mainstream romance? The lines aren’t all that well defined, but here are some of my thoughts. Erotica usually explore some kind of female fantasy. BDSM, threesomes, various toys, etc. You get the idea. Why would those appeal to a wider generalized female audience that might not actually be open to doing those things in their real lives, you might ask?

Well, let’s remember that most, if not all, romance writers are women. So, there’s already that female slant apparent there from the get-go. But erotica writers take those things mentioned above and twist those fantasies with a side of female perspective. Let’s take the threesome fantasy. 

Threesomes. Yeah, every college guy’s dream to be sandwiched between two women, right? Well, erotica writers usually have two men instead of two women making up the threesome. Most mainstream erotica writers have two men because the base point of the threesome is giving the woman ultimate pleasure instead of the singular male taking pleasure from two women. And usually, the men don’t interact with each other, solely concentrating on the female. Yes, there are authors who break the rules with bisexual male characters are fool around with each other and the female in question, but as a rule, there is no male to male contact happening. Why is this a female fantasy? The men in these threesomes are always written as channeling all their focus to the female. They are dominant, possessive, and protective of that female. And the usual ending is that the female ends with only one of the guys with the happily ever after. Though threesomes might not generally appeal to everyone, those who like their alpha heroes protective and possessive can understand that one upmanship mentality of this plot line. 

As I have said, there are authors who break the rules. There’s an unspoken romance rule that once the hero meets the heroine, he or she doesn’t have sexual contact with anyone else. It’s hard for the reader to reconcile that image with what they know will eventually become a happy ending for the main couple. Even if the rule is broken, there’s usually a misguided attempt to protective themselves or the partner from what the character views as a necessity. In general, they just don’t fool around with anyone else once they’ve met their mate.

Who breaks the rules? Well, Emma Holly comes to mind. She breaks the sleeping with others rule and the bisexual rule as well. You might have noticed that mainstream romance don’t have bisexual characters. Emma Holly does. I’ve read a nice handful of her books and they’re just not my style. I had a hard time in her books where the hero or heroine not only has sex with others even though the main couple has been established, but that they play for both teams. Just not my style. 

Sometimes, I wonder just how erotica is labeled versus romance because just saying that erotica has more sex doesn’t seem to apply. (More research is needed as theses are just my thoughts and observations versus actual knowledge of publishing). Take Shannon McKenna or Lora Leigh. Have you read a McKenna and sometimes had to put her down because all that child abuse, organ harvesting, sex for forty pages get too much for you? Or have you read a Leigh book as a Breed newbie and been shocked at the roughness of the sex? How do they get shelved as normal romance? Perhaps it’s the amount of plot that balances the sex or maybe there’s just not enough of sexual fantasies that qualify them as erotica.

Think erotica might be for you? How do you find the right one for you? Erotica is definitely not written for the general public. Especially the ones that have sexual fantasies versus copious amounts of (unnecessary) sex. Read for yourself. That’s my advice. The ones that I’ve enjoyed more than once are ones that I would have never thought I would enjoy. And the ones that I thought might be my taste wore off their sheen much faster than anticipated. 

For me, a good plot is necessary for my erotica. And the sexual fantasies have to have a viable reason to exist. I think one of my firsts was Lacey Alexander’s Voyeur. Don’t let the title fool you, it isn’t just all voyeuristic stuff. It’s actually a surprise hodgepodge of fantasies. Everything from threesomes, usage of toys, (semi) public sex, to yes, voyeurism. The plot, however, is very weak. In fact, when I do pick it up from time to time, I skip it. It was a fair introduction to erotica but tended to lean towards unnecessary and somewhat unbelievable sex.

Choosing erotica is very personal. (Obviously). One that I have enjoyed is Shayla Black’s Decadent. Very surprised that I enjoyed it as much as I did, and still continue to enjoy it. I wasn’t all that into the first one in this loosely connected series with characters who know each other. Wicked Ties wasn’t the right fit for me. The dom/sub theme wasn’t quite right. I did, however, enjoy the steady plot that accompanied it. When I tried out Decadent I was shocked to find that the story of the threesome to appeal. It was written with all the right plot points that made it work for me. Two men made up the menage, but it was clear from the beginning that it was only Deke that Kimber had deeper feelings for and not the other male, Luc. But with two alphas that were strong, protective, and covering all a girl’s fantasy needs…well, Shayla Black is a go for my erotica.
For my mainstream need so-called erotica that sometimes crosses the line of romance into the big E is Lora Leigh. Her books definitely have a plot as a main function of the book instead of just seemingly random sex peppered throughout the book. However, a few of her books certainly have a harder edge to it. The new continuation of the Bound Heart series published through St. Martin’s Griffin have a more selective brand of sex. It tells the story of the Trojan men who are a part of a Club that was well established in the e-books. The first oversized paperback was Forbidden Pleasure which was enjoyable but ultimately not my kind of book. The idea of the two men ending up sharing one woman was definitely a fantasy for me but wasn’t my bag. 

However, the second one, Wicked Pleasure, was more to my tastes. The hero, Cam, is definitely in love with the heroine while his twin brother, Chase, just holds affection and lust for her. Cam was always in the light as the hero for the book and Jaci was his ultimate heroine. Cam was scarred from some mysterious childhood nightmare that haunted his present. Leigh just wrote an alpha male that was delicious. All hard angles and arrogance. Possessive and protective to a fault. There’s nothing better. Plus, Jaci took no crap from the men but was soft enough to provide the comfort that Cam needed and craved for his life. 
And come on…is that not a sexy cover for the book or what? I like how the graphic artist paid attention to the book, adding in that pop art yellow belt and the rain detail. Great to see a cover actually have a legitimate tie-in with a scene in the book.
I am looking forward to seeing Chase get his own happy ending in Only Pleasure, a novel that comes out in January of 2009. All in all, Leigh is my more mainstream brand of erotica that blurs the lines between run of the mill romance and the “harder stuff.” 
So, is erotica for you? Maybe not. But you never know until you try…

He Said, She Said

June 8, 2008
Here and there, on and off, I’ve picked up Jennifer Crusie through BookMooch. I started out with one of her novels with great disappointment. Hailed in her reviews as somewhat of the premiere of romantic comedies, I had originally been really excited to read her. I love a fun comedic-romantic romp especially lying under the lazy sun on weekends with nothing to do but breeze through a book with a bottle of sunscreen on the side and something cold to drink close at hand. But my first Crusie was such a disappointment. The chemistry was lacking, the characters were too many, and I found myself utterly confused and I gave up trying to work out who was related to whom, which couple was interested in each other, what their backgrounds were, etc. 

But times went by and as usual, I ran out of things to read so Crusie was once again making my reading list. And it got better. Marginally. I found Anyone But You mildly entertaining even though I’m not always a fan of the older woman-younger man plot simply because I feel that many authors simply concentrate on the age and it feels like they’re beating a dead horse. But the characters were fun and the dog in the story provided some interesting moments and I closed the book with a shrug and a decision to give Crusie another try. Next was Getting Rid of Bradley. It sounded fun and uncomplicated and though I thought a lot of the Bradley mixups were a bit eye-rolling-worthy, I went with it and enjoyed it on the most part.
When I found a copy of Manhunting on BookMooch as well as a downloadable version of it as an audiobook via the online library catalog, I thought Crusie would provide another brief respite between my bouts of reading heavier books. As this was now my fourth Crusie, I was able to pinpoint what I enjoyed and what I found disappointing with her books. 
While her books do provide some fun characters and the tension is adequate, I find that she would serve as a ‘lite’ sort of romance read. The kind where the tension slowly builds, but not a frenzy fever-pitch kind of tension, just a slow pressure cooker that boils up to a quick simmer. The sexual chemistry is enough but doesn’t melt the reader and the sex scenes are more vanilla and tame in terms of not being graphic. There’s usually one single sex scene, the first, and the others are not as explicit and evoke more of a ‘lead the reader up to the moment where they hit the bed and the scene closes.’ While it’s not the lack of sex that doesn’t hit the spot with me as a reader, it’s the simmer-type of tension that leaves me feeling that something is lacking. The tension and connection between the hero and heroine seem to be just enough but not quite enough to make me truly care for them and be totally involved in the story. The tension, or lack thereof, makes me just want to read to the end for the sake of finishing the book because I know they’ll end up together. 

Back to Manhunting. Specifically, what I just mentioned above about the tension applies to Jake and Kate. Yes, the reader can see the underlying attraction between the two even though they each respectively think that the other doesn’t fit the bill for their idea of a perfect mate. Obviously, as the reader, we can see the currents when they’re out together every morning ‘fishing.’ But when they got that jolt touching while playing pool, I wasn’t surprised. And when they had that moment where Kate was giving Jake his beer and he flirted, I was only thinking, “Geez, finally.” The tension between the two of them just simmered.

But the purpose of this post and its connection to Manhunting is the audiobook version. First off, I have to concede to the point that I did enjoy the narrator voicing Jake. There was a slight southern drawl that was just enough and not over the top. Plus, her ‘man voice’ was low enough to convey a male character without seeming outrageous as I’ve complained before. However, I do have some complaints about this one. The narrator does not allow enough time between sentences and characters to give the listener a true distinction between narration, dialogue, and switching of characters. It seems that the sentences flow together too quickly, as if I was just reading the book out loud instead of hearing it acted out on audiobook. And while the first complaint is dependent solely on the narrator, the second one isn’t. I just noticed it more because I was listening to it.

Crusie uses a lot of ‘he said,’ ‘she saids.’ Take a look. At first I really didn’t notice. But then it became really apparent. Especially when the narrator rushed through the ‘Kate said’ and ‘Jake said.’ The lack of adequate pause exasperated the problem because right after the dialogue, I would be hearing, “Kate said.” It got to a point where I could just speak along with the narrator while I’m driving even though I’m just guessing when the next ‘Kate/Jake said’ will appear. Come on, Crusie, vary it please. And perhaps other descriptions would work just as well without having to use the words, ‘he/she said.’

Funny how a book can take on a whole new face when listened to in an audio format. Some authors are just not meant to be converted into audiobooks. My favorite author in audiobook format? Though it’s not in the romance genre, the honor would hands down have to go to Orson Scott Card. Quoted as saying that the ideal way to enjoy his books is through an audio platform, the cast of characters are properly voiced with amazing talents, the characters are acted out for the listener without being overdone, and overall, it adds a new dimension to enjoy Card’s books. That’s the ultimate audiobook achievement: being able to give the reader a new and higher level of appreciation of the book. If the audiobook gives the reader new insight on top of what the print version provided, then the audiobook is a success. 

Understandably, it’s much harder to make an audiobook a success even if the book is a raving hit.

The Urban Paranormal Eve Dallas?

May 22, 2008

I wondered why Amazon kept on throwing Servant: The Awakening at me. Then I realized that L.L. Foster is Lori Foster’s pen name for her new adventure into urban paranormal romance genre. Good move to write under a new(ish) name because it certainly is a departure from the usual Foster fair. The setting, tone, and characters are dark, the wit is bounding off the pages as it usually is, and your heroine is so stubborn that it makes you want to strangle her sometimes.

—–
The plot itself isn’t all that fantastic: Gaby Cody, has a calling from God, sending her into the world with the unique vision of seeing evil for what it truly is. She alone can penetrate the facade of skin and bones and recognize evil at face value. Alone in her vigilante efforts to save the world, she is an extremely odd mix of innocence and world-hardened weariness. At twenty-one, she has the eyes of a warrior and the cynicism that is unparalleled. When a crime attracts the attention of Detective Luther Cross, Gaby’s world is suddenly embroiled in the tangling mess of legalities. 

—–
Okay, first off, as it appears from above, the plot is no master work. It’s straightforward, with little to no twists. To cap it all off, it’s a very obvious effort to launch a new series. Given all that, I must admit that I did not want to read it when I first came across it. And I also didn’t want to read it when I came across it the second, third, and fourth time either. First, it was the cover. Ironically, Foster has a note on her new L.L. Foster site that states she’s quite happy with the cover. On one hand, I can see that Foster was given the star treatment in the sense that the art department did take time to incorporate Gaby’s likeness into the computer generate model, specifically adding the leather choker that comes into play during a scene between Luther and Gaby. Other than the glaringly large misrepresentation of Gaby possessing cantaloupe-sized breasts when they’re described more in the lines of mosquitoes bite-sized. Another PR ploy that one must overlook…

Second reason why I never wanted to pick up the book was the issue of names. I don’t like the name Luther. Don’t have much of a reason other than it doesn’t exactly strike me personally as a hero name that signals strength and all that. But obviously I got over all of that and took a shot in the dark…

Funny how I immediately thought of Eve Dallas when I began reading Gaby’s character. Why? All that surly, snarky, tomboyish behavior. However, there’s a very contradictory innocence that softens Gaby’s character even though she’s got the mouth of a sailor. As a side note, for those who complain about the amount of bad language: I don’t think it’s all that bad as some reviewers on Amazon makes it sound. Perhaps it’s coming from the heroine that makes people cringe. But eh, I can let it go given the urban paranormal genre. Gaby’s innocence provided a few scenes that were a bit lighthearted, given the circumstances. The ones where Gaby is questioning Luther about what she saw brought a smirk to my face. For me, I can’t compare Eve Dallas to Gaby Cody simply because I don’t see enough parallels other than what I mentioned above. Eve is a grown woman and for some reason, the fact that Gaby is so young makes a difference for me. Maybe the largest linking factor to Dallas is that both these series feature the heroine first and the couple second. It threw me off in the reading pattern when I anticipated seeing Luther’s point of view but was not given to me until a good handful of pages later.

The biggest kicker? There is NO sex. Admittedly, I can see several reasons for it. First, it’s an obvious set-up to make sure the reader buys the next book. The lack of sex is enough to prompt me to want to pick up the next one to see how Luther and Gaby settle things. Second, the book is too short. I say that because the book starts off very slowly and the fact that it’s only 292 pages just wasn’t enough with all that internal dialoging going on. With Gaby’s extreme innocence and the slowness of the plot, it wouldn’t have made much sense to put in a sex scene when Luther is just beginning to give Gaby her first kiss. But come on! A romance book with no more sexual action than a brief few paragraph kiss? Feel shortchanged? Perhaps. But I admire the bold move. In fact, for this reader, it did its job of prolonging the anticipation. 

The connection between Luther Cross and Gaby Cody is sufficient but not electric. It amused me when most of their meetings began or ended with her trying to unman, maim, or generally dispose of him. And oddly enough, it didn’t put me off as much as I thought it would. Some readers might question Luther’s attraction to Gaby, buy hey…who can really explain Roarke’s intense attraction for Eve who can be as surly as a baited bear most of the time? Therefore, I don’t question much the idea of ‘why’ Cross is attracted other than his own explanation of “scent, attitude, and expression.”

Is it worth the $7.99? No. Is it worth the dollar I paid at the used bookstore? Yes. It’s interesting enough and for me, the oddly (and perhaps, twisted) mix of Gaby’s vigilante save-the-world hero complex and her naive mentality works. I know that it won’t work for many. But I have no problem with it. It’s no brain teaser. It’s a straightforward, call ‘em like you see it plot with characters that are only showing the potential for growth by the end of the book. A fairly decent beach read, but don’t expect it to give you the thrill of the entire rollar coaster. For me, I would say it’s more like a mediocre little bump, not a jaw dropping feeling. Still, as I turned the last page I couldn’t help but want to know what happens next. So yes, this first in the series did its job of luring me into the next…

—–
2 out of 5: Lower rating because the book does not have a plot and characters that can truly cast a wide net as normal Foster novels do. But, I can admire her new foray into a new genre. It had some unique moments between the characters but it’s doubtful that it will be a reread book.
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Servant: The Awakening

An Angel for a Drinking Buddy

May 11, 2008
Erin McCarthy’s second venture into a darker world has proved to be more intriguing than the first. Originally, when I picked up My Immortal, I didn’t know that it was McCarthy’s ‘dark side.’ But while I found the concept interesting, and definitely a journey away from her lighthearted romantic comedies, it just didn’t do much for me. The story, the characters…it didn’t work as well as I had anticipated. However, I wasn’t about to write off the second installment, Fallen, simply because I found some hiccups with the first book. Good thing, because Fallen was much improved.

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Gabriel was sent to Earth to watch and protect humans. But once he waded into the darkness of humanity, the sins, the crimes, the sorrow, he turned to the bottle to drown out the desperate cries. His fall from grace is due to the sin of gluttony. Specifically that of addiction. Addicted to absinthe, and other various drinks and drugs, Gabriel lives for every night to crawl away from the grime of Earth for the comfort of his mistress’s arms and the green fairy of absinthe. But when his mistress, Anne, is murdered right before him, Gabriel cannot remember a thing because of his drug-induced haze. 

Soon after Anne’s murder, Gabriel discovers his penance for his sin. Every woman he comes into physical contact with, especially after sex, all become obsessed with him. Obsessed with his touch, his presence, his entire being. The women become obsessed to the point where they feel like they cannot live without him. Many took their own lives. The need to be with Gabriel consumes the women. It mirror’s Gabriel’s obsessions of addiction.

A hundred and fifty years later, and sober for seventy-five of it, Gabriel is still seeking to solve the murder of Anne. When a similar murder pops up in the present day, Gabriel contacts the victim’s daughter who is also a forensic scientist to collaborate on the true crime novel he’s writing. Gabriel, however, isn’t as focused on writing the book as he is determined to find out once and for all, with the aid of modern science, whether or not he was the killer.

Sara has an a personal motive to help Gabriel as well. Not only does she see the similarities of both murders: her mother and Anne were murdered with a similar weapon, setting, and both boyfriends were accused of doing the deed, but Sara’s interest is just as personal as Gabriel’s. What Sara is hiding is that not only was her mother murdered, but Anne is her great-great-grandmother. The women of her family, save one, have all been cursed to die from unsolved murders. And as the sole surviving female in the family, Sara’s next.

Working together to slowly piece together the details of Anne’s murder, Gabriel finds that Sara’s quiet presence in his life is making him crave contact again. While the draw together, Gabriel knows that he cannot touch Sara. Though it’s evident that Sara’s will is strong and can therefore kiss Gabriel without falling into addiction, Gabriel cannot risk too much contact for fear that Sara will meet a gruesome end. 

As their relationship moves to its zenith, the search for the answer to the murders come together. The murders of Sara’s mother and of Anne seem to be more than just similar, all signs point to the same killer.

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In some sense, Fallen follows closely to the example set by the first book. They both deal with a heroes that are fallen angels whom are now demons, heroines that have a link to the hero’s past, a climax that involves the heroine finding out that the past and the present concerns the same man, and a desperate search to be together. The heroes have both been burned by love in the past and for that, they are currently paying for their sins. The biggest obstacle in both books is the fact that the heroes are immortal, while the heroine is not. Similarly, the sex in both are very limited with large portions of the book dealing with the eventual slow build up because of the nature of the story: the heroes know that it is ‘forbidden’ to touch in the sense that it can cause the heroine harm. 

However, what makes Fallen a better story for me is the characterization and the surprising twists of the plot itself. Fallen doesn’t deal too much with the ‘forbidden touch’ effect as much as the character’s need to solve the murders. So, from the beginning, while the slow sexual tension builds for Gabriel and Sara, the story is much more about them finding out clues about Anne’s murder than it is Gabriel and Sara each internally dialoguing how they want to be together. That element was much appreciated because the reader wasn’t constantly barraged with fact that Gabriel can’t touch Sara for her own sake. The plot moves quickly because they are coming closer to the mysteries of the murders. 

The characters were also written in a more fluid manner this time around. Each deal with their own problems, though they mirror each other’s. Not only does Gabriel struggle with his past addiction, but so does Sara. And while Gabriel has had a hold on his addictions for the past seventy-five years, he can see Sara’s fresher struggle with sleeping and pain pills. Since Gabriel knows what Sara is going through, it creates a safe haven for Sara to finally begin to cope with her inner demons. But what made this story flow much better is the fact that it does have its moments of light heartedness. Not a lot, but enough to give a ray of light to shine here and there. Specifically, the fact that Gabriel instigates a few of those moments, and doesn’t resist some lines of gentle teasing, lightens a dark paranormal book just enough for the reader to feel like they’re not constantly surrounded by darkness. For me personally, My Immortal was too consistently dark, page after page with no moments of relief. And while Fallen is written in the same dark prose, setting, and feeling, the few moments of lightness are enough to balance the story. For example, the discovery of the kitten, the random quality of Gabriel’s character, and other tiny moments were appreciated to give the story a more well-rounded feeling.

Another thing that makes this story better than its predecessor is the surprisingly quality of Gabriel being the one to express love first. While it was ironic for this kind of plot for the hero to say the three fateful words first, it felt right for the story. Additionally, it wasn’t until the very last pages for it to happen. It was about seventy-five percent of the way through. I thought that it was a good move to place the acceptance of love (somewhat) earlier in the novel so that the real climax centered back on the murders and of Sara deciding if she can have a relationship with Gabriel knowing that they can’t physically touch. I liked how the big explanation of Gabriel being immortal and an ex-angel who’s now a demon wasn’t too drawn out. McCarthy sneakily slipped in Gabriel being able to open a person’s mind and giving them his own memories. It was a nice little device for McCarthy to write in so that there wasn’t going to be a whole denial scene where Sara just rejects the truth. There’s no denying it when Sara is able to feel all of Gabriel’s past and present emotions for herself. It was refreshing to read that Sara just accepted the truth for what it was with little to no rejection of it being impossible. 

While categorized as paranormal, there wasn’t too much paranormal things happening in the story itself. Other than the fact that Gabriel is a fallen angel and an immortal, there isn’t a lot of paranormal elements in the sense that most of the story is very much ‘normal.’ Gabriel still eats and sleeps, functions during the day, and everything else that is normal to a man. Even though it’s labeled as paranormal, this way works much better because the story is all about the solving of the murders and of Gabriel drawing closer to Sara. 

Like I mentioned earlier, because of the basic premise of the story, the sex is limited and most of the novel is spent on a slow sexual build up of tension. Surprisingly enough, I didn’t feel cheated in terms of a lack of sexual chemistry. The tension between Gabriel and Sara was a slow culmination and while the actual deed was done with little bells or whistles, it was sufficient. I didn’t feel like the passion exploded off the page as I would expect for so much build up, but it wasn’t lacking so much that I felt disappointed. Funny enough, I wanted the murders to be solved more than I cared about the sex scenes (which is practically a first), but I felt that the emotional connection was written strongly enough that I wanted to read about it instead of the actual sex. So, while this story contains minimal amounts of the actual sex, the emotional content was done nicely. The characters took their time in getting to know one another instead of just jumping into bed and their feelings took precedence over physical release. 

I can’t say that I appreciate the cover very much. The angel concept I think was a good addition to parallel the actual story, but the figure of the woman didn’t jive. The lower back tattoo was especially out of place. Too much of an obvious attempt to sex up the cover. It didn’t match with the characterization of Sara other than the fact that she’s a blonde. But the cover does reflect the darker turn of writing that McCarthy is trying to advertise. While not the best of covers, it’s certainly not the worst I’ve seen and other than the back-baring dress and the out-of-place tat, it’s a decent job of the art department.

The concept of the seven deadly sins coupled with that of fallen angels that are now demons is an interesting one. From the first book to the second installment, it seems that McCarthy is honing the delicate craft of writing a darker romance. There seems to be an evolution of her writing and I can only hope that the next one continues that learning experience. 

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4 out of 5: Novel is focused more on the actual plot than the sexual tension but it’s written in a way that that reader wants to find out about the mystery more than read a run-of-the-mill sex scene. Connection of hero and heroine is more emotional than physical but it fits with the tempo of the story. Plot provides a twist here and there and is interesting to see the mystery continue on for a bit even when it seems that questions have been answered. A few moments of light heartedness are provided to balance out the darker overall feel of the story. A keeper and a reread copy for when I’m in the mood for a bit of darkness.
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Fallen

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