Archive for the ‘Ward’ 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.

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. 

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.