Archive for December, 2008

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. 
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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.