Archive for March, 2008

Formulas, Both Good and Bad

March 13, 2008
After reading several hundred of these books that are labeled romance in just under six months or so, I’ve come to realize (as every avid reader will inevitably see as well) the formula of authors. And yes, of course I realize that every author has their own formula that applies to the way they write their characters, the writing style, and the timing of their plot. It’s unavoidable. Not everyone can be totally original in every book, especially in a genre like this. On the other hand, that so called formula is what makes that author recognizable. 

But what I’ve come to realize is that the authors who have their formula but are able to disguise it to appear new in each successive book are the ones that are the ones who earn a higher place in my proverbial, and literal, bookshelf.

It’s such a delicate balance to play. When the formula is way too apparent, as a reader, it totally turns me off. I’ve actually turned down a lot of authors that I’ve come across simply because I knew how the book would turn out even when I hadn’t read it yet. At the same time, when the author tries something new and totally turns a 180 with a new formula, it’s hard to get into a new groove and can sometimes feel like you’re reading a foreign author instead of one that you’ve known for years. Like I mentioned, the authors who are able to disguise their formula are the ones to keep an eye out for.

Let’s examine some of the formulas…
First up: Sabrina Jeffries. Jeffries was really my first romance. Not the literal first, but One Night with a Prince was my first self-chosen one. The literal first romance was one that was borrowed and read as a joke. But Jeffries’ last Royal Brotherhood book was the one that I choose for myself. With Jeffries, it’s a standard formula. Her hero and heroine meet and usually there’s a bit of deception going on on behalf of the hero. The deception seems to be standard Jeffries and it’s not a totally original formula. She pretty much sticks to a classic form: Meet, Attraction, Deception, Sex, Climax/Downfall, Resolve. From what I’ve read of Jeffries, and I’ve read them all, it feels that she doesn’t stray from her formula. Now, what makes some of her books better than others simply lie in character developments, plot strength, and time constraints as a writer. With Jeffries, after you’re familiar with the formula, you can actually just eyeball the pages that have past and gauge how close you are to the big blowup of the plot and the climax of the story.

Another author who sticks with a formula religiously is Jill Shalvis. She is strictly a whodunit author. There is no deviation from the formula. At first, I enjoyed Get a Clue and then Strong and Sexy, but by the time I got to the end of my third Shalvis novel, I knew that I would never get anything but a story straight out of the game Clue sprinkled with some mediocre sex that was fitted between the pages of the bad guy chasing the hero/heroine with a gun, a knife, or dead bodies popping up unexpectedly. Though the settings change, the overall trend of the plot does not. Somehow, I always end up feeling that the characters are sacrificed in order to develop the mystery and for me, the characters of a romance must be the most important. Even a lousy plot is easily rescued by strong characters, but a plot with no character development 
will never make the reader care about the outcome and therefore the plot becomes a moot point. Shalvis is a ‘stop reading’ author for me now. The formula is just too predictable. 

One author who comes to mind when I think of formula is Deirdre Martin. I had high hopes for her books initially. I was looking for something fun and nothing too adrenaline rush in terms of action, nor was I in the mood for real emotional pull, so I thought Martin would be a fast and satisfactory read. My first Martin was fine. I thought the plot was mediocre and the idea was okay but the characters had their funny moments and so I decided to give her another shot. It only got worse. I really did want to like the books, and some had their potential but it got too redundant. Her characters meet, attract, date, encounter a problem, break up, mope, and get back together. 

An author who changed their formula recently is that of Lisa Kleypas with her venture into contemporary fiction with Sugar Daddy. I couldn’t finish the book. And that’s really saying something. Of all the hundreds I’ve read, there’s only been maybe three at the most where I just stopped reading all together. While I can admire (but not appreciate) Kleypas’ trying a new formula, I cannot say that it worked. She introduced her heroine and one hero that we read for a large chunk of the novel. However, it’s at least half-way if not more into the novel when we finally meet the second hero who ultimately gets the girl. Switching from one hero to the other is too hard when the readers are way too engaged with the first hero that we’ve read. It’s especially hard to switch to the ‘other guy’ when readers see the characters as children or young adults who have experienced a large part of their growth together. I really was appalled at the outcome of the pairing. 

Off the top of my head, two authors who stick to a certain formula but are able to disguise it are J.R. Ward and Sherrilyn Kenyon. With Ward, her plots are continual and I think that makes all the difference. The stories are so intertwined that some secondary characters will appear in books and not be resolved until future books. Case in point: the character of John Matthew. We see the introduction of John Matthew in the second book, Rhage and Mary’s story in Lover Eternal. To this day, John Matthew’s story is still going on and Ward will be releasing the sixth book come June. Even with that, it’s not even John Matthew’s novel yet. His story is really a constant thread in the Brotherhood fabric. In Ward’s writing, though there is a formula, it’s harder to really guess as a reader when events will come. For example, with some authors, readers can gauge when bad news is about to occur. Not so with Ward. It can happen for the main hero/heroine at anytime and for secondary characters, it’s true as well. As readers of Ward can attest, those secondary characters can hit just as hard as the main couple of the book. For instance, in Z and Bella’s Lover Awakened, the shock of Wellsie and Tohr really caught me off guard. With Ward, it’s not easy to point out a formula, which makes for a good book and a happy reader. 

In the case of Kenyon, she has an ongoing plot but I wouldn’t categorize it as extensively as Ward’s. With Kenyon, it’s more of the feeling of an ongoing mystery. The mystery of Acheron and other various characters. But still, while I wasn’t an immediate Kenyon fan, I have grown to be a loyal one and I’m glad that I stuck with the books. Kenyon is now one of my favorites, right after Ward. Kenyon has a formula, though it’s not as easily categorized as other authors I’ve mentioned. For me personally, I feel that with each kind of Dark Hunter, whether it’s the originals, the Weres, or the Dreams, they each have their own timeline formula within Kenyon’s subcategories of DH’s. In some sense, it was smart of Kenyon to sprinkle a Were-Hunter in the midst of reading normal Dark Hunters. Right when I got into the groove of reading Dark Hunters, she throws in that first Were-Hunter and it shakes up the formula. Quite inventive to shroud her formula so that readers don’t get bored. 

Overall, while I’ve come to see many (if not all) of the formulas from authors I’ve read, I think that characters really make or break the book, formula be damned. Though Jeffries follows a formula I’ve come to expect, she has characters who can bring out the best in her stories. But someone like Shalvis where I feel that the characters are chopped down in favor of the formulaic plot…well, that’s no good for this reader. But the authors who keep me guessing…those are easily everyone’s favorites. It’s no wonder why legions of loyal readers flock to Kenyon or Ward. 

By the way, I saw my first Kenyon Dark Hunter license plate the other day on the 5 freeway. A plate that read DRKHNTR on a truck. I’m pretty sure that was what it read. Either way, no matter the spelling, I knew with almost complete certainty that it was a Dark Hunter salute. 

Colored Duct Tape to the Rescue!

March 8, 2008
By far, the one book (or set of them) that has successfully kept me away as a reader solely because of the cover are the Kresley Cole ones. Personally, while I enjoy the occasional vampire romp while I’m bored of reading the action, mysteries, or just plain ol’ contemporary romance, I do not however enjoy the ones where the covers are like the Kresley Cole ones. 

Or specifically, the cover of A Hunger Like No Other. Way too vampirey with the claw-like nails (on both the male and female), the obvious tilting of the head to symbolize the drawing of blood (more on why that is truly an inappropriate cover for the story), the pale pale white of the female, the dark dark looks of the male, and the blood red half corset-like thing that the female wears. I shudder to think of it even in my mind. There are a few covers in which I not want to be caught dead reading, and sorry to say, this is one of them. 

Being such a loyal J.R. Ward Brotherhood reader, sufficient to say that Amazon kept on throwing the Cole novels at me. And I resisted all this time based purely on the fact that the cover freaked me out. Enough to give me bad mental images of the characters to the point where I feared that even if I could get over the picture, my personal image of the hero/heroine would be ruined forever. But Amazon was relentless. In a matter of speaking, of course. I, on the other hand, was desperate to read some new paranormal as I am now seemingly in the mood for some good vampire novels. And when Borders came out with their expected 25% off coupon, I decided it was time to see what all the rage was about. 

But before I made the trip to the local Borders, I needed a detour at Michael’s first: The all things craft store. Needless to say that with the weekly 40% off coupon, I choose Michael’s instead of the nearby Wal-Mart or the hardware store. I went straight to hunt for some colored duct tape. It was paramount that if I were going to read that novel with the cringe-worthy cover that was bound to provide bad mental imagery, I needed to cover it up fast. And I did. White was the choice for me. 


Now that I was safely covered, though the smaller depiction still showed on the spine, I felt that I had sufficiently covered enough to give me a literal blank slate. I cracked the spine in hopes that I hadn’t just wasted the cost of the tape, the gas it took running around, plus the price of the book. Fresh from rereading my favorite Ward, Lover Eternal, I cannot deny that I do hold Ward as the yardstick in which I measure all vampire fiction that is not sitting in the sub-genre of comedy. From the get go it was obvious that Cole’s books held a darker edge with mystery and action that was reminiscent of Ward. So, I forged on…

Captured by vampires, Lachlain MacRieve, leader of the Lykae, is continuously tortured. In the midst of his prisoned hell, he scents his mate on the surface and willingly injures himself and risks his life to make it to her. Emmaline Troy is unusual. Part vampire, part Valkyrie she doesn’t fit into one neat category but was still raised by her Valkyrie aunts. Now alone in the streets of Paris doing some soul-searching, young Emma is frightened to find that she’s suddenly being chased by an incredibly handsome man who obviously thinks she’s entirely vampire. More disturbing is his insistence that he stick by her side. 

Lachlain cannot let Emma leave. It’s taken him centuries to finally find his mate and now he finds that not only is she a vampire but she’s also very young for being a creature of the night. Around only seventy, no wonder he could never find his mate. She hadn’t even been born yet all the time he’s been searching. No matter, he needs to take her to his native Scotland to his home. He needs to make sure that they’re home in time for the full moon where it’s imperative that he asserts the fact that she’s his mate. But Emma’s already scared enough and Lachlain placates her by striking a deal with her. She’s to accompany him home and once they’re there, she’s free. But what Lachlain doesn’t add is that he won’t be letting her go. 

I must admit that I was a bit shocked to see Cole go this route for an introductory novel. Granted, she was a part of an anthology that truly introduced the series, but A Hunger Like No Other is really the first full book. What routing am I talking about? The ‘mates’ story. In part, I am both surprised and not at the same time. Surprised because the mates story angle is the entire driving force for the story. It’s what gets the hero/heroine together and keeps them together. It is what excuses Lachlain’s brash behavior in the beginning and all the misunderstandings that perpetuate between the two leads. On the other hand, I’m not surprised because it’s such a popular trend these days in paranormal. It’s vogue. And I can see how it works in this genre. I can very much see how it’s appealing to this reading demographic.

Good thing I like it. I wasn’t sold at first because it is quite abrupt in the ways which Lachlain seizes control of the situation. Though when you suspend disbelief and put yourself into his character, it’s not that much of a stretch to see things his way. He’s been captured, tortured, and everything in between by a vicious vampire. So when he finds out that his mate is one of them, it’s not a pretty picture. Combine it with the misunderstanding that Lachlain believes that Emma is full vampire, the story rolls on from there. Where Lachlain dreamed for centuries of a pretty buxom mate with red hair and everything that he prized as a Scottish lad, he instead gets a fey blonde who’s devastingly attractive with odd little pointy ears and a perchance for sleeping under the bed or on the floor instead of on the actual bed. 

Readers who prefer a strong female might be turned off by the character of Emma. But I was not because it’s obvious that would be her growth in the length of the novel. Emma’s labeled as “Emma the Timid.” I found it endearing that she would find her backbone in the novel. It’s also fitting because she is so young and the misfit in her family. Those who like strong, strong females will prefer Cole’s No Rest for the Wicked while my personal tastes gravitated my appreciation more towards Emma than Kaderin. Emma’s a sweet character. Frightened and confused, it’s easy to feel for her especially in the beginning when Lachlain hasn’t quite figured out the truth about her lineage yet. However, Emma does show her hand throughout the book. She’s not always the timid mouse and she can pack a punch, both the literal and emotional type to Lachlain. 

Though readers (and me included) will no doubt be sometimes annoyed and impatient for the misunderstandings to resolve, it doesn’t take long and I appreciated how the truth was not revealed in one fell swop. Lachlain finds out different facts about Emma at different times, slowly, piece by piece. And the reverse is true too. The evolution of Lachlain and Emma’s relationship is nicely done. The plot is much revolved around the relationship than the action plot, but it’s enjoyable and understandable way to open the series. 

Cole has spun some new ‘facts’ into the paranormal genre and I’ve enjoyed her approach to creating her own niche. In my opinion, her series isn’t as intricate or rich as Ward’s Brotherhood, but Cole doesn’t fall off the scales either. Her twist on the Valkyrie and their huntress attitudes are interesting. The women are strong, fearless, and attracted to all things sparkly. Cole also twisted the age old werewolf into where the characters project a separate ‘beast’ persona instead of turning all furry. I must commend Cole for giving it a new spin. 

Going back to the point where I mentioned that the cover is not only overly paranormal and vampire-esque, but inappropriate according to plot: The cover shows the male obviously ready to bite. BUT Lachlain is not a vampire. Indeed, in the beginning he is quite thoroughly repulsed at Emma’s need for nourishment in the form of blood. Even if I didn’t personally dislike the cover, the fact that it the cover is not in sync with the plot would make me adverse to it anyways. 

Note: Want a good cover to a vampire book: Check out Ward’s
Lover Awakened. Though my Brotherhood heart lies with Rhage, Z’s cover with the silver color scheme and the model(s) chosen makes it the best cover thus far (and probably ever). Unbelievably sexy but still very much paranormal, that is indeed a cover that matches both in tone and feel. 

Overall, I enjoyed Cole’s first book. I’ve continued with the series reading No Rest for the Wicked but still enjoyed Lachlain and Emma’s story better. I felt the balance between Lachlain and Emma was nicely done. Though I was weary of the strong ‘mates’ point and Lachlain’s behavior, I soon forgave that and just enjoyed the story for itself. There are some very sweet parts to the story which I enjoyed. One of my favorite one liners is when Emma finally finds out that she is indeed Lachlain’s mate and she says, (in a voice that I would imagine to be small and filled with a little disbelief) “Not Australian for buddy?” A cute echo to a previous line in the book, A Hunger Like No Other is a worthwhile read. 

In the mood for some alpha maleness and a Scottish burr? Go check it out. 
4.5 out of 5: Entertaining read. Relationship had the entire length of novel to develop and mature with the appropriate pitfalls in between. The climax and the action part of the plot was a bit too predictable and I felt that it could have been handled better. But still a good read. Keeper copy. Reread. But, cover with duct tape first if you’re in any way turned off by the cover. Not to mention the fact that it doesn’t even fit the characters. 

A Hunger Like No Other

Campy Vamp

March 4, 2008
A contemporary about a vampire who develops amnesia that has a vengeful brother out for blood surely can’t be a good read, right?

Wrong. Well, at least for me.

Fangs for the Memories is the beginning novel that introduces Love’s Young Brothers’ series, we meet Rhys Young, the oldest and therefore the one who bears the weight of guilt upon his shoulders. Rhys was turned into a vampire under duress by Lilah, a vampire who had her eyes on Rhys. She coerces him into crossing over or else she would kill his baby sister, the beloved of the family. After he agreed Rhys is brokenhearted to find that Lilah killed her anyways. In the only way he knew possible, he went to Lilah, draining her again and again in hopes of inflicting some of the tremendous pain she had done on his family. Only problem was that one of the Young brothers, Christian, was under Lilah’s spell and believed to be in love with her, and vice versa. 

Now centuries later Lilah is dead and Christian is convinced that Rhys drove her to her suicide. Out for revenge, Christian wants to exact the same pain on Rhys. He sets out to kill his older brother. 

Jane Harrison is new to New York City. Selling everything, she picked up and left her hometown of Maine in hopes of starting new in the exciting city. Only she finds out that the city might not be so exciting after all. More like dangerous. Almost attacked on her first night alone in the city, thank god for the dark handsome stranger who came to her aid.

Rhys can’t fathom why he would actually go and save this mortal. He only knew that he could sense real kindness and a purity that was forgotten to him. Driven by emotion, Rhys broke his own rule and got involved with a human. There’s something about Jane that intrigues him. But there’s no time to really explore that because she’s human and he’s not. End of story.

In that same night, Jane ends up saving Rhys as Christian attacks. Surprised by the female, Christian allows his other brother, Sebastian, to take Rhys and Jane home. Christian plans to retaliate in the way that would hurt Rhys the most: By hurting Jane.

When Rhys wakes up the next morning, he can’t remember a thing. Was he drunk? He certainly felt like it. Must have been a wild night with his brothers. And who was this woman next to him? Well, whoever she is, he likes what he sees and hopes that he can keep her, never mind the fact that he’s betrothed to some American that his parents arranged. 

Jane can’t remember a thing. But she does remember Rhys saving her life the night before. And when did he suddenly develop a British accent? And why in the world does he think he’s a viscount?

Rhys wakes up with amnesia and thinks he’s back in time before his crossing over. And he also believes that Jane is the American that’s supposed to be his betrothed. Jane, under Sebastian’s plea, plays along so that she doesn’t disturb Rhys while waiting for their family doctor to arrive. 

Sebastian plays the matchmaker. For the first time since they became vampires, his big brother isn’t moping around. He’s even wearing jeans and a color other than black. And the smile! When had Rhys ever smiled? All Sebastian knows is that Rhys’ mind has somehow transported itself back in time so that Rhys can feel that he can have Jane as a human and not a vampire.

I really enjoyed this book. Time after time, I still like reading it. The language is snappy with the conversation moving along. Rhys, in his viscount mind, is very sweet to Jane, wanting to prove that he wants to make her happy for the rest of their lives. Jane, in turn, is very likable as well. She’s the ‘plain Jane’ character but Rhys loves her. Though Jane is guilty about the fact that everything is fake, she can’t help but want to believe Rhys’ convictions. 

The characters are fun and Rhys and Jane are well matched in personality. Not a serious vampire story, it’s very much a campy novel. But still, I think it’s a sweet and sometimes hilarious read when in the mood for light paranormal. 

At first I thought it would be hard to get over the historical in contemporary paranormal time setting, but it wasn’t hard to get into the story. The back and forth of Jane and Rhys’ emotions were well written as long as readers are in the mood to read a fun book and are not looking for action, like J.R. Ward’s books. 

All in all, I think Fangs for the Memories is the best of the Young brothers, but they all still have their special elements. Still, Rhys and Jane are my ‘it’ Young couple.

4.5 out of 5: Fun read. Campy vampire story. Good pacing and characters. Just an overall sweet read.

Fangs for the Memories

The Stork has a Sense of Humor

March 2, 2008
Personally, and this is really just a personal taste, I generally don’t gravitate towards pregnancy stories. Though the stories always end up with the hero and heroine totally in love and into the idea of their family, I’m sometimes hesitant to read the story in which the baby is used as a plot device to move the two characters together. And I’ve given them a chance. I really have. I’ve read different scenarios too. I’ve read about the accidental pregnancy, the one where the heroine strictly wants the baby and doesn’t let the hero know, and the ‘other man’s baby’ angle. But for some reason, I’ve never really warmed up to any of them, despite reading familiar authors. I always get the feeling that the baby was used too much as the pushing factor for the couple to get together. And I never really like it.

With that said, let’s talk about Erin McCarthy’s The Pregnancy Test.

Having discovered McCarthy early on when I forged into this genre, I had read everything of hers except for The Pregnancy Test for reasons I’ve explained above. I was content to never pick it up. The story didn’t even seem all that interesting. But I was once again in that predicament in which I had nothing to read and nothing on the shelves of Borders seemed interesting. So, I decided to go with a fallback author (McCarthy) and bought the one that I hadn’t read yet. Wary, I didn’t expect much. Well, I certainly didn’t expect to laugh out loud.

Mandy Keeling is not having the best time. She’s recently unemployed, lost the guy she was with, and found out that she’s pregnant. She needs a job. Fast. With the baby on the way, she needs the health insurance. On the way to the interview, she gets morning sickness in the elevator and almost throws up on the shoes of a guy. And as fate would have it, the guy ends up to be her new boss. Damien Sharpton isn’t nicknamed ‘Demon’ for no reason. Prickly and demanding, the guy has no life but his business. He likes it that way. He’s faced his own horrors in the past and now has no drive to focus on anything but his work. Having Mandy has his assistant is an interesting set up. He never sees her, but she’s so good at the job, she’s able to anticipate his every need. If only she wasn’t avoiding him like the plague. When Damien tells Mandy that she’s required to accompany him on a trip, sparks fly…

The plot is mediocre. Really nothing special. The ‘demons’ of Damien’s past is a bit soap opera-y for me, but I can suspend my disbelief and understand the character’s pain and lingering anger. Mandy’s story is all about the pregnancy. Nothing else.

But what really made this book stand out for me was the humor. Damien, who’s the surly, no joking type of hero ended up to have hilarious moments. When he reads Mandy’s Everything Guide to Pregnancy and discovers the chapter on sexual intercourse made me laugh out loud. His horror at learning that oral sex could lead to an embolism for the baby, the fact that people have the fear of the baby ‘watching’, his competitive bingo skills, and everything in between really was laugh out loud. I was surprised how McCarthy was able to write the super serious guy into one that was so caring you just want to hug him. I liked how he was really into the baby: learning the developing stages, showing up for the sonogram, and reading every baby book he can get his hands on. The fact that Damien was so involved with the baby was a nice read. Not once was he feeling, “This isn’t my baby and therefore not my problem.” In fact, he got depressed when thinking that the baby wasn’t his and him wanting to be able to refer to Mandy’s baby as their baby. 

All in all, the book is peppered with funny conversations. The characters and plot might not be the strongest out there, but this is the fun kind of book to bring to the beach or to lay out under the warm sun for a tan where you just want some light reading and a couple of chuckles, nothing too serious or action gripping. 

3.5 out of 5: Funny moments. Plot and characters not really strong but I like the way the hero was written. Straight forward story, not too many dimensions to the characters, but a fun read if you’re looking for some light laughs. 

The Pregnancy Test