Archive for the ‘Kenyon’ Category

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 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.

Time For Last Call?

April 25, 2008
Anyone a fan of the genre will eventually come across, read, and/or love Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark Hunter series. And to be honest, even if you don’t like the Dark Hunters, you can’t deny the fact that Kenyon has created an empire and her hunters have reached cult status. Just take a peek at the section of her website where it showcases fans displaying their double bow and arrow tattoos and you’ll see what I mean by cult status. 

With that said, I’ll admit that I didn’t start the series with the best outlook. I always heard of the Dark Hunters through Amazon recommendations, but never picked it up because at that time, I was weary of paranormals. But then Ward converted me with those spectacular brothers and when I traveled for Thanksgiving, I was armed with the first four Brotherhood books and Fantasy Lover

I knew from reading Kenyon’s commentary on her website that when she wrote Fantasy Lover all those years ago, she went the “safe” route because at that time (and I’m paraphrasing here), vampires was pretty much an expletive or at least, a no-go area for romance. 
So, I knew the premise of Julian being a god stuck in a book with his only purpose of being a sex slave. I wasn’t expecting much. My return on investment wasn’t much either. The plot was unique but very much romance-y in the sense that it reminded me of some of Harlequin’s prince/mistress/virgin stories. The characters were sweet enough and there were enough cute scenes between them that made it endear to me. The quick quips, the novelty of Eros being a biker and all of Julian’s relatives were interesting enough. The scene where Julian teaches Grace to eat spaghetti all proper and stuff and the fact that he can’t drive without running into something was fun. But the whole premise of them not being able to have sex because of the curse was a transparent way to keep the sexual tension going. Still, it was a fun, quick read. 
It was by accident that I picked up the Dark Hunter gift set that contained books 2-4. After I read Night Pleasures, I began to have my doubts about the story. Though Kyrian and Julian were friends in their “previous” life, the two stories were too close for me to consider it separate. Okay, I get it… they suffered a lot in their lives, death, betrayal, etc. All right, drive home the point that they’re weary of love and all that…It was too obvious that Kenyon was just doing all that torture stuff to wring out emotions for her characters. And so, I put the books down.

But I had that set. I still had Night Embrace, Dance with the Devil, and various out of sequence Dark Hunters that I had already received free from BookMooch. I couldn’t just waste those books. When I had nothing else to read, I picked up Night Embrace with a weary hand. Okay, I enjoyed Sunshine and Talon (though the thought of her name first made me cringe). Her quirky disposition and the whole deal with Talon’s affection for Pez was too cute to pass up. I was back on board with the Dark Hunters again. Though I was apprehensive about who many different solutions Kenyon could come up with to somehow unite and give longevity to her heroes and heroines. 

Then came Zarek. No longer was the heroine a human who was unaware of the Dark Hunter world, but Astrid, who knew all about Zarek and was sent in to judge him. I also got my first taste of a were, Sasha. Even though the story of Zarek was very much like the previous hunters, with all that betrayal, hurt, and anger, there’s something really hard to resist a story like Zarek’s. The poor young boy who was beaten and now appears to be a monster but actually does good for his neighbors in secret? Who can refuse? 
And on and on the Dark Hunters came and went.

I won’t say that I enjoyed them all. In fact, I really didn’t like the first four all that much. They had their high points in terms of some quirky dialogue and situations, but the books as a whole didn’t do much to truly capture me as a reader. 

There were some that got my attention. The story of Wulf and Cassandra did its job at pulling my heart. I mean, the story of the Dark Hunter pairing with the enemy? Not only that but she was destined to die soon. Man, that killed me. The scene with them making memories for their unborn child and Cassandra constantly writing letters to the baby really did a number on me. Who can help but shed a few tears for that?
I got to Night Play with Vane and Bride and now…I felt it was romance first, action plot second. (I’ll come back to that point later). It was the “chubby/not so chubby girl who gets the handsome guy” story told in a paranormal setting. I for one, cannot resist such an underdog story. Pardon the pun. The sweetness of Vane learning to date a human, his instinctual need to be near Bride, and all the sweet things he does for her melted my heart. Throw in animals, which always makes me like the story, and the funny situation of Bride’s father being the neuter king…well, I loved that.

Same with Wren and Maggie in Unleash the Night. The loner story with the younger crowd, that was original. Seeing Wren as practically a baby, since he hasn’t been around for centuries and Maggie being a co-ed, was a fresh view. Plus, who can forget the big surprise when Wren walks into the room, sees a tiger, rushes it yelling, “Dad, how could you eat my girlfriend? She’s all I’ve ever had!” and see Maggie’s eyes staring back at him instead? I didn’t see that happening. And the fact that the mating mark never appeared until the end with a little help was a new take on things. I loved reading Wren as the outcast and the story of him falling in love with Maggie.

But then, few books go by…things kinda went south. 

Kenyon has without a doubt hit cult status. The books now have become more about plot than about her main pair and the romance between them. Now, I understand that once in a while, in a series this large, it’s necessary. But recently, as I’ve been catching up on the Hunters, it’s become way too much. With Dark Side of the Moon, the Dream Hunters parallel series, etc…it’s obvious everything is becoming a setup for Acheron’s book. Not that I’m not totally looking forward to it myself. But come on. 
After all these books, we sometimes see Ash in action, helping the hunters in need, his obvious devotion to them, and his equally obvious hatred for Artemis. But how many times do I have to read interludes that have Ash stuck with Artemis needing her blood and only having sex? Frankly, I’m quite over it. I’m getting sick of reading the love/hate thing they have going on, and only the recent disclosure of Kat’s parentage did it finally revive some Acheron interest for me. But geez, how much setup does Kenyon need? It’s too much of a marketing scheme to make Ash’s book a big hit. And coming in at around 1200 pages, (rumored online), no doubt it will hit the best sellers list. Just like the recent Dream Hunters, though they have proven to be flops. 

Some readers out there, having been wondering if it’s time to throw in the towel. I say, Yes! Hit us with Ash’s book, close the series. Go out with a bang (hopefully). But we all know that won’t be true. We’ll see the Nick/Acheron thing come to a head, and some have suspected that Nick will be the next Ash. 
In truth, the only thing I’m looking forward to in Ash’s book is to see who the heroine is. And how that relationship will work out. Really, the Acheron/Artemis thing is too entwined that if Kenyon doesn’t do a good job with Ash’s heroine, I can predict, everything will fail. The female in question will need to be strong with a certain vulnerability to appeal. 
In addition, she has to be a hell of a heroine to match up with Ash. And in doing so, will bring on the wrath of Artemis. Really, who doesn’t hate Artemis? Even with Kenyon trying to give her a softer side once in a while, with her secretly wishing for Ash to love her like he once did, the commentary offered by Kat on her mother, etc…it doesn’t even make Artemis one of those “love to hate” characters. I simply just hate her. And Kenyon, trying to make Ash’s relationship with Artemis so twisted has made everything quite the greek tragedy. Pun intended. 

I have to say, reading Kenyon is tiring at times. A critic praises her writing as “ironic” but it’s not. It’s sarcastic. I like sarcasm. But not in every single character. I think that pretty much all of Kenyon’s characters, especially the recent ones are so freakin’ sarcastic. An ironic tone of writing would be much better. But no, it’s the characters who are insanely droll and dry. I thought it was refreshing in the first few books, but then the majority of characters possessed such a wit. I’m fine with seeing Ash’s droll humor from book to book, but come on…who can forget the back and forth of Ravyn and Susan and the constant parry of Sin and Kat. Give me a break. Give me some actual humor without that razor edge. Show me, Kenyon, that you’re able to write differently. 

The problem, even though I myself love a good sarcastic comeback? It feels like her heroes and heroines have now become interchangeable. There’s no distinguishing marks on the stories since they have now moved from romance first, action second, to action and doing its job of setting up Acheron’s book first, and romance if there’s room. 

Which books possessed less sarcasm? Well, they turned out to be my favorites. The ones that have secondary characters with the sarcastic remarks and only a few peppered in for the main characters seem to be the ones I favor. Zarek and Astrid, were a good read with only Sasha’s witty comments to provide the punch. With Bride and Vane, it was Fury who did the remarking. Like all the neutering comments and his funny antics of going to “rack” Vane in “typical dog fashion.” But Kenyon has now seemed to move into an overload of sarcasm. Her main characters, the secondaries, and the villians. Everyone has some sort of comeback armed and constantly ready. Give me a rest here and there, please. Really, Kenyon, it’s supposed to be romance first. It’s like Kenyon has forgotten her roots in favor of setups and subsequently, book sales. 

The Dark Hunters have gifted me a fabulous share of fun reads, a few tears, and some laugh out loud moments, but they’ve waned. And appears to be on a downward spiral. Now, all I want is to see how Acheron finds his heroine. That’s it. Seriously, it’s time to call a quits. Just like how I think it’s past time for Eve Dallas to hand over her badge, but that’s another post for another time… 

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.