Archive for the ‘Paranormal’ Category

From Great to Mediocre

January 17, 2009

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

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

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

Sexual Evolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 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

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.

—–
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. 

—–
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.
—–

Fallen

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. 

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. 

Perfect.

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. 
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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

Genre: Defined

February 27, 2008
Those who are familiar with the paranormal sub-genre probably have heard, if not already read, J.R. Ward. Ward has undoubtedly defined the genre and in doing so, has gained a legion of loyal readers. Not only has she, in my opinion, defined the genre but she is the leading voice in this new age of vampire fiction. Move over Rice, Ward has taken over and her brothers are marking their new turf.

The Black Dagger Brotherhood. 

The series is something to be experienced for yourself and I will not go in depth with every book simply because there’s so much to say, so little room, and the brothers’ books should not be spoiled. They should be read by anyone interested in the romance genre. But bigger than that, they’re not simply romance. They’re action with interconnected plots and characters that will feel so real that they eventually become not just characters, but beings in their own right. 

I came across a review once for a Ward book and the critic said that you know you’re in trouble when the book contains its own dictionary. Laughingly, I would have to agree, but probably not in the way the critic intended. The series itself is so complex that even if I were to reread the series multiple times, there would be something new to pick up each and every time. Not only is there a dictionary of defined terminology, but there is a separate culture that becomes deeper with each novel. 

—–
When the sun sets on the streets of Caldwell, New York, there is an endless war that wages between the vampires and those who seek their extinction. Arising from centuries of specific breeding, honing the finer skills of the race, the Brotherhood signifies the qualities that are desirable in warriors. Armed with quick reflexes, superior physical strength, and intelligence 
that foils their enemies, the Black Dagger Brotherhood are the defenders of their race.

While they live amongst humans, they are a separate species all together. As long as humans keep to themselves, the war that the brothers fight do not concern them. But once in a while, a human crosses into the world it’s every man for themselves. The Brotherhood will let nothing and no one get in their way as they defend their community and their loved ones. 

Let’s take a brief look at the general Brotherhood members. (Fans will recognize the fact that there are more to the list, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s keep it to the ‘original’ brothers and the books that are published so far).

—–

Wrath: The Blind King. Wrath is the reluctant king of the race and the last pure blooded vampire alive. He has no intentions of taking the throne but the death of a brother prompts Wrath to carry out a last request. Darius had pleaded Wrath to aid in his half-vampire daughter’s transition before his death. Half blooded vampires are rare and Darius knows that once his daughter hits the age of twenty-five, her chances of surviving the change will greatly increase with Wrath’s pure blood. Though Wrath initially refuses the plea, once Darius is dead, he has no choice but to look after Beth himself. From there readers are introduced into the world and the end of the book sees Wrath ascend to the throne and really bring the brothers together. The Black Dagger Brotherhood will ultimately live together, bonded in a way that they hadn’t before. And so the journey begins…


Rhage: The legend among the race. Known for his voracious appetites for women, his story is passed down from fathers to sons at the right time. The one that’s nicknamed Hollywood, the blindingly handsome brother who knows how to party is saddled with a vicious curse. Whenever his emotions are out of control, his beast emerges. A fearsome thing for anyone or anything to behold, Rhage worries constantly about hurting those around him. When a human enters into his world, it becomes a battleground for survival. Mary soothes him in a way that Rhage craves. And when the mighty fall, they fall hard. Rhage knows without a doubt that Mary’s his destined mate. He bonds hard and quick with her but he knows that her entry into his world brings danger to her front door step. For Mary, there’s nothing Rhage won’t do to ensure her safety. But Mary’s living on a ticking clock. Her days are numbered and while her world is indeed turned upside down by Rhage, she can’t engage her heart. She knows there will be no time for them together. When Rhage is determined to keep her close for as long as they have, Mary must learn to trust him.


Zsadist: The scarred one. The one whose past is so dark he radiates blackness around him. Zsadist has never known softness, has never experienced a bit of relief in his constant personal hell. When Bella enters into his life and is in danger, Z does not know the reason why he can’t seem to withdraw from her. But he won’t because she’s in danger. Though Bella eventually is saved, it’s Z who is in need of rescuing. Bella will show him the joys of life that have been long missing in his life. The scars that he carry will be soothed by Bella. However, it’s not an easy road. When Bella tries, Z will bite. But when Bella gives up, Zsadist finally realizes that Bella is the only one for him, his mate and his life. 


Butch: The human. The only male human to live with the brothers, Butch has abandoned his life willingly to be surrounded by a new world. There is only one vampire for Butch. Marissa. Graceful and beautiful with a caring heart, Marissa represents everything that Butch can never begin to wish for. Marissa is his unattainable goal, his mirage. A great divide separates them. He’s human. She’s not. As the whole BDB plot begins to be more complex, Butch discovers that maybe he does belong into his new world. Maybe there is a place for him besides the brothers and ultimately, besides Marissa. Butch will discover that he’s not just the poor kid who became a cop. His life is intertwined with that of the brotherhood. Finally, he’s found his family. 


Vishous: The one who is destined for a greater purpose within the race has accepted his destiny. He has nothing else besides the brothers and allows his fate to occur. But when he is injured and rescued by a special human, V suddenly wants something he can’t have. He wants Jane. Jane is thrown into the world of the brothers, taken from her life because V senses something. Though V is gifted with the special ability to see into the future, he has lost it and cannot see anything. But when Jane appears, he cannot deny the fact that something must connect him to this human. When V must give up Jane, he cannot believe that his life will end up empty once again. As danger steps in and plays with Jane and her life, V will stop at nothing to see that she’s safe.


Phury: The sacrificial one. The celibate. He is Zsasdist’s twin who searched many long years for his lost brother. And when Z was found, Phury willingly shot off his own leg to rescue his brother. Phury is the one who has stepped into the background for Z. Even after Z found Bella, Phury cannot help but long for his twin’s mate. But because of the happiness that Bella brought into Z’s life, Phury once again sacrificed everything for his beloved brother. When Vishious is trapped with a sacred role for the race, Phury stands in his stead. Now Phury must take responsibility for seeing that their blood continues for generations to come. But when Cormia sees her fate, she wants Phury’s love for himself. 

Tohrment: The level-headed one. Tohr has found happiness, only to have destiny rob him of it. Given the precious gift of a mate whom he would have chosen with his heart even though it was arranged for them, he and Wellise have lived a life together. But one day, in one moment, his heart is taken away from him. Pitted in utter despair and grief, Thor disappears. 

—–
So far, the books have been published up to V’s with Phury’s to be released June. There is so much to be revealed about the brothers with Ward brilliantly peeling layer after layer with each successive novel. While I don’t think every book is a 5 out of 5, they each serve their purpose even if readers are inclined to favor one character over another. For example, while I like Butch, I think his story served a greater plot purpose. Butch and Marissa are not my favorite BDB couple, but Butch’s story is integral in moving along the general Brotherhood story as a whole. Same with V’s. As a general consensus, readers have found that V’s story is left lacking. The relationship of him and Jane is not as developed as it could have been, space sacrificed to another smaller developing plots. However, V’s book as a whole will push the Brotherhood story further, same as Butch. Every book not only tells the tale of a specific pair of hero/heroine, it also very clearly moves the entire overall brotherhood story forward. With each new novel, we find out new information about the brothers and about their world as a whole.

Ward’s heroes are alpha males. All the way. Leather wearing, dagger and gun toting, hardcore rap listening, males. To read the brothers is to be drunk on a testosterone overload. Though each male has their own distinctive qualities, it’s hard to not fall in love with every one of them. Every reader can find a favorite among these males and their females are equally engaging to read. Each heroine has her own strength and weakness that perfectly couples with that of her male. 

Though it’s obviously vampire fiction, these novels could very easily be read as action/romance instead. I can safely recommend that while it’s definite romance, it can also appeal to a male audience. With insanely engaging characters, it’s hard to say no to these brothers. Take my advice, read them and you’ll be singing their praises as well. Don’t believe me? Just pop on by Amazon and take a look at the multitude of high reviews. There’s something to be said when each book has at least 160 reviews (some many more) and still the overall rating is at a high 4.5 out of 5. Haven’t tried out the paranormal sub-genre, or perhaps you have and found it lacking? Go read the Black Dagger Brotherhood before you dismiss the genre. If the top rung of the ladder still doesn’t do it for you, then you have sufficient reason to turn away.

Guaranteed: If you end up liking the brothers, you can’t help but compare every other book in a similar vein to it. Ward has created not only a string of interconnected novels, it’s a new world. Complete with language, customs, and rituals. The brothers are simply more than what can be crammed into a 400 plus paged novel. 

The Black Dagger Brotherhood has set the bar for the genre. And it’s high.