Archive for May, 2008

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.

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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. 

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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…

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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
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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

Props to the Art Department

May 3, 2008
Who hasn’t read Lori Foster? Truly? If you like romances, or more specifically, contemporary romances, it’s a pretty safe guess to say that you’ve come across at least one of Foster’s books. She’s quite the heavy hitter. Penning mostly light hearted contemporaries (not counting her new foray into darker urban fantasies), Foster has consistently turned out books that I have thoroughly enjoyed. 

However, I must note as an aside that I never become too emotionally embroiled in a Foster book. While I wouldn’t go as far as saying they’re just a dime a dozen, she gives me just enough to whet my appetite, satisfy it for the moment, but never really pull at my heartstrings. When I say that, I mean that I’m not teetering on the emotional ledge like I would for some other books. But, I will say that they are very enjoyable and it’s a rare instance for me to come across a Foster that I really didn’t like. If I happen to favor one book over another, it’s just because of character traits of the hero/heroine and nothing to do with Foster’s writing. 

Foster’s heroes have a bit of an old world feel to me. That is, the men are men. Big, protective, possessive, and I can’t help but notice that all her men are usually described as hairy. That always makes me laugh. Apparently, in Foster world, hair on a man makes him manly. But the descriptions are always followed by something along the lines of: But not too hairy to turn her off. No, it was just enough to make her feel that pang of delicious heat deep inside… I’m guessing that for Foster, manscaping is nothing a real man would do. Heh, heh…

In continuing with Foster’s men, they don’t waver much from her (so called) formula. If you like reading male characters that are manly, capable, and generally good-looking, Foster will please. She does for me. Personally, when I’m in the mood for reading Foster, it means that I’m in the mood for a male who feels that his one reason for living is to protect the innocent and that, without a doubt, includes the heroine. No matter if she wants him to or whether she’s attractive or not, she’s going to get that protection.

So, why was I so hesitant to read Unexpected? The gender roles seem to be reversed. Since Ray was the merc who is hired to help retrieve Eli Connors’s missing brother, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read a Foster in which the heroine gave off more traditional masculine vibes than the hero did. Glad I was wrong!

Yes, Ray Vereker is quite the tomboy. She can break up a bar fight or participate in it herself with a smile on her face. Able to handle whatever her job throws at her, she is not the girly girl. However, it was with a very deft pen in which Foster was still able to endear such a character to me. I liked how Foster did not beat me over the head with the fact that Ray wasn’t all that feminine. It helped that Eli noted all the innate feminine qualities in Ray that was obvious Ray didn’t see herself. Foster also didn’t constantly have Eli confused about Ray in terms of her not being ‘typical.’ If he constantly thought of her as too manish, it would have turned me off immediately. 

Of course Eli would need to be a strong character himself to match up with Ray. That was a given. But his masculinity wasn’t in question and it was nice to see that there was no competition in terms of “who’s going to wear the pants in the relationship.” I think sometimes, when authors reverse gender roles, the heroine is too concerned about the hero usurping her role such as driving the car, opening doors, paying the check, etc. There wasn’t much of that in Unexpected.

However, it was the plot itself that made this book much more enjoyable. The plot about rescuing Eli’s brother just too the reader up to half way of the book. The rest, was really the unexpected news of Ray ending up pregnant. I liked it. It certainly did its job of softening Ray’s character and gave her more of a traditional feminine edge that was needed for a reader to see that she does indeed, need Eli in her life. I have to admit, that the plot wasn’t all that exciting nor was it the best I’ve ever read. It did its job in balancing everything in terms of the characters. Totally character driven as a whole, it makes it a more traditional Foster in my point of view. Her books are more about the character connection and that’s what makes me love them.

But what tied the whole package together for me was the very nice cover decisions made by the art department. Choosing the bright, almost neon pink, was a very nice touch. Ironic, yes. The pop art feel of the cut out picture of the woman and the stork pulls at the eye while serving its purpose of showcasing the author’s name first, and then the yellow color of the title. Font choice was also very appropriate in accordance to the clip-art feel of the pictures. 

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3 out of 5: Overall, Unexpected delivered on its name. I was pleasantly surprised at how I was softened in reading a plot I would normally not choose. Personally, the characters did not connect all that much with me emotionally and I read with a dispassion that showed I wasn’t all that involved into the ending. The chemistry between the characters was all right, but it didn’t sizzle for me and definitely didn’t singe the pages during the sex scenes. I appreciated the uniqueness of the story and while it will not be a re-read for me, it’s something I would recommend for a fun day at the beach.
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Unexpected

It’s a Conversation, Not an Alien Invasion

May 3, 2008

I’ve recently discovered the enjoyment of, and dispelled some of my doubts for, audiobooks. 

I always held the belief that I would loose some fundamental enjoyment out of physically holding the book, feeling the crinkle of pages beneath my fingertips, and toting around the comforting weight of the written word in my bag. However, when I was finding myself sneaking in paragraphs here and there between red lights, I realized that audiobooks could rescue some of the reading time that I wasted while toiling in traffic.


I’ve realized that audiobooks work best when I’ve already read the book. Why? Well, because then I’m not waiting on baited breath for the next paragraph to be read. It also helped that I could pay more attention to the cars in front of me instead of the voice filling the interior of my vehicle. I’ve also found out the joy of rediscovering some things I might have missed when I’m reading myself. When I’m listening to the audiobook, unless I fast forward, I can’t skip words as sometimes my eyes are prone to do while reading a particularly uninteresting part. 

Biggest complaint? The narrator!

Case in point: I’ve recently ventured into the In Death series and since Eve Dallas has solved so many crimes, I thought that listening to some of her adventures would cut down on my reading time. I found a copy of Glory In Death in which I loved the narrator. Since Eve is not a typically feminine character, the narrator did a beautiful job of softening Eve with her voice. So while the book told me that Eve wasn’t one to give into her appearance, weddings, and general “female stuff,” the narrator’s soft voice for Eve buffed out the sharp edges. I also liked how Roarke’s Irish accent was just the barest hint and not an overwhelming feel like I was watching the Travel Channel. 

Delighted with my first In Death audiobook, I was equally excited to find out that I could get them online through my local library for free. However, I was outraged to find out that the narrator changed and what I listened to was the older cassette tape version that someone changed into a MP3 file in which I downloaded. Saddened, I still gave this new narrator a try. Big mistake. First off, Eve was all rough and tumble in her voice. It was like listening to a pre-teen boy before his voice deepened. I mean, J.D. Robb’s words were already telling me that Eve wasn’t a girly girl, but now the narrator’s voice was reaffirming that point as well. It was like beating me over the head again and again. Another thing I found annoying? Roarke was now really Irish. I got lost in the accent instead of the book. And that voice for Peabody! Geez Louise! Peabody now sounded like a bad cartoon character. 

I’ve come to find out that male narrators are by far, superior to that of females. Why? Because when males do female voices, they just soften their voices. They don’t make their voices higher. But for female narrators, their male voices lowered. I recently listened to a recording of Jayne Castle’s Silver Master in which the hero’s voice was done in such a cheesy woman-trying-to-imitate-man-voice that I stopped listening and ran out to buy the book instead. 

But the problem with this genre is that men just don’t narrate books plunked into the romance shelf. I did, however, find one I really liked. Ironically, I think if I read the book instead, I wouldn’t have appreciated it. Lori Foster’s Caught in the Act was recorded into an audiobook and the male narrator was a wonderful choice. (Though he’s the only one I’ve listened to in the romance genre in which the narrator was a man). Good choice to pick a male narrator because the books is mostly told from Mick’s point of view. But like I mentioned, the male narrator didn’t raise his voice for when he narrated the female part. He simply softened his voice. That made all the difference.

For this point of audiobooks, I must concede to the point that perhaps, men are more enjoyable to the ears instead of women. In my (fairly limited) experience thus far, the women narrators who do male voices make the men sound like some sort of alien creature with that extremely fake deep voice. But for male narrators doing female voices, it’s much better because they soften their voice and it just sounds more natural to this reader.

So while I’m not entirely convinced that audiobooks can give me the same experience as reading the actual book can, I’m liking the diversion for when I would normally yell at the gridlock traffic. Instead, I’m reading with my ears.