Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Sticks and Stones may break my bones...

But whips and chains excite me!

Okay, so I've always been a bit of a prude. I was a bit of a late/bloomer with the whole boy/dating thing, and I used to be a bit uptight when it came to sexual matters. Six years of marriage and two kids later, I am much less prudish, but I was still quite attracted/repelled by the whole Ellora's Cave/romantica phenomenon. The first time I got up the nerve to order something, I felt like the fat man behind the "Adults Only" curtain at the local used bookstore (What's back there? Used porno mags? GROSS!!). I even used a VISA gift card I had so that it wouldn't show up on a credit card statement. But since I was being naughty, I figured that I may as well be really naughty, so I got one of those menage opuses by Lora Leigh, one where brothers share their women. Oy. Anyhow, now I'll freely admit that I quite like romantica, especially of the pervy BDSM variety. And apparently, I'm not the only one, as it is the top-selling genre at Ellora's Cave.

So why would any liberal, feminist, hater of "forced seductions," captive stories and sheikhs enjoy reading about women (primarily) getting tied up and having all kinds of kinky things done to them? Yeah, it's weird to me too. In a way, these BDSM scenarios are merely a more extreme version of the alpha males, and aforementioned forced seductions etc. that still exist in today's romances. Heck you even find the word "dominance" and the idea of being dominated in more mainstream romances (although it's usually without a flogger). This being fiction for women, usually the author goes to great lengths to emphasize that it is the woman's choice, and furthermore that she feels free or actually empowered by participating in such scenarios. Whether or not this is convincing depends on the skill of the author.

I have little knowledge of the reality of BDSM. All my knowledge comes from reading romantica, which I see as a form of literature for women's fantasies. So I don't know whether the authors I've read are getting it right, or cleaning it up so that women like me actually find it romantic and sexy. But different authors present the lifestyle differently, and sometimes it's hot and sometimes it super-squicky. The best author I've read is Joey W. Hill, of all the romantica I've read. I just read Ice Queen, which was a sequel to the also excellent Natural Law (one of only two I've read with a Male sub!). Hill's books are peopled with adults with jobs, interests and lives, who just happen to be involved in this particular lifestyle. Since they are already practiced in the lifestyle, it lacks the ick factor of some of the books I've read where the guy seduces the girl, then proceeds to sort of coerce her into things. Hill also focuses on the psychological and emotional aspects for both the dominant and the submissive, the give and take for both. The sex scenes may be extreme, but it is always clear what both parties are getting out of it,and how it is bringing them closer. So often, we see a lot of what the sub feels and the dominant comes off as a creep who gets off on humiliating the heroine and pushing her into embarrassing situations. Then we are told that he cares about her and he does it b/c that's what she wants. Don't buy it, squicked out. Hill avoids that whole humiliation bit, i.e. calling the person "slut" or "whore", and as I pointed out the sex scenes take place privately or in a club that the characters belong to and are familiar with.

I don't know, I intended this to be a review of Ice Queen, and has turned more into a treatise on my view of BDSM romantica. I really enjoyed Tyler and Marguerite's story, although the ending was a bit disturbing, then abrupt. But there's going to be a sequel, soon I hope! Marguerite is a truly troubled person and we need a sequel where she works out some some of her issues, so I can be convinced that she won't stab Tyler in his sleep one night. If you are thinking of trying out BDSM romantica, give Joey W. Hill a try. Bound to Trust by Jaci Burton is another good one. Now different strokes for different folks, and perhaps it's more realistic, but if you are uncomfortable with a heroine being humiliated in various ways, including public situations with strangers, avoid Claire Thompson. I have a high squick level, and I was bugged out. I'm very careful with buying this stuff these days. I don't want to spend six bucks to horrify myself.

Also: Not one of the local Barnes & Noble's have Taming of the Duke yet. WTF? I bought Lord Perfect and Sword of Darkness intsead, to make up for the disappointment.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

This n' That

Blogging 101

Added some new links to the sidebar thingy. Laziness has kept me from doing it before this. Even added some more of those group author blogs. Although there can be something kind of...corporate...about them, i.e. the constant shilling of books from their publisher, they have a lot of neat stuff too. Little by little I'll get this looking the way I want it to.

Chicken Little

Is it weird that I take such a perverse kind of glee that Kevin Covais, formerly of American Idol, is from my neighborhood? As a devout non-watcher of AI, I usually take little notice of what's going on with it, but all these signs started popping up all over--the high school, the parks, the local stores, messages painted on the back windshields of cars, "Vote for my friend Kevin!" There have even been notices tucked into my front door, a la a chinese food menu, urging me to vote for a local boy makes good. Once I saw a picture of him ("He makes Clay Aiken look manly!," thought I) I had to watch. Except I kept forgetting to. So instead I went to Television Without Pity. For some reason it is so exciting to me that the dorky guy who so many people regard with awe, shock and horror is from my neighborhood. That's so much cooler than, say, a really talented person. Oh well, he's been sent back to Island Trees HS now. And I never got to see him shake his thing to "Part-time Lover." Seriously though, going on AI takes balls, and he slogged on through even though he had to know that he was out of his depth. I hope that his classmates don't give him shit, and I'll squeeeee if I see him at the pizza parlor (which as of Friday had a pizza named after him).

RITAtm Nominations

The Rita Finalists are up at the Romance Writers of America site. Hmmmm....Not familiar with a lot of these, which isn't really a surprise, I'm no expert, and I spent a lot of last year glomming, rather than checking out new stuff. Totally unfamiliar with several of the paranormal noms. Who is Pamela Labud? She also got a first timer nod. Let's go see...Spirited Away... got eh reviews, which means nothing. I'm not really into ghost lovers, though.

Next time: Devon makes yet another foray into pervy romantica.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Bad title, Good Book

Recently, I read The Charmer and The Romantic by Madeline Hunter. There were some things I liked about both books, and other things that left me cold. But when I saw that Lady of Sin would be about Nathaniel Knightridge and Charlotte, the youngest sister of the Duclairc family, I was psyched because I enjoyed their appearances in The Romantic quite a bit. And I enjoyed Lady of Sin quite a lot, though I don't like the title. It's too...hooker-esque, and kinda dumb, though I know it's because this book follows Lord of Sin, which I skipped because I was sick of rakes.

I think that Hunter's strength is in creating characters with a strong self of self, who, while they might go against the grain, still fit into the time and place. In particular, her heroines contain a maturity and self-awareness that distinguish them from a lot of Regency/Early Victorian fare. Like Sophia and Pen in the other titles, Charlotte (Baroness Mardenford/Lady M.) engages in an affair, knowing that there may be disastrous consequences, simply because the desire to is strong enough. There's little fluttering or blaming the hero, and if self-recrimination takes place afterward, it's for good reason. But unlike Sophia and Pen, Charlotte is not annoying. She is unapologetically clever and opinionated, without being grating, and she doesn't go haring off, making stupid decisions, just because she can. I think it's because she is portrayed as a very empathetic person. She is a good match and foil for lawyer Nathaniel, the fifth son of an Earl, who is himself a very strong, opinionated, arrogant, yet empathetic guy. And I like stories where sparring partners realize that their dislike is masking other emotions entirely. One imagines that such relationships probably don't end so well in real life, but it makes for good reading.

As LOS opens, Charlotte goes to see Nathaniel on the day a man he unsuccessfully defended is to be executed. They've alway disliked each other, but they end up smooching, and Charlotte is painfully aware that this is not their first intimacy. At an orgy (Naughty!) held by the notorious Earl of Lyndale (hero of Lord of Sin), the masked Charlotte and Nathaniel hit it off and got it on. Nathaniel doesn't recognize her and Charlotte would like to keep it that way. However, as a series of events keeps throwing them into proximity, they realize that that not only is desire between them still there, but also is quite strong, and seems to involve the mind and heart as well as the body. I liked that they resolved the issue of their one night stand quickly, and it didn't turn into some stupid big misunderstanding. They are brought together by a mystery surrounding Charlotte's late husband and her brother in law, and while I didn't find the plot particularly suspenseful or compelling, I didn't care. A good romance is a character driven story of two individuals coming together, and if I'm drawn to the hero/heroine's love story, the plot is incidental to that. I liked Nathaniel and Charlotte and I really enjoyed seeing their vigorous dislike turn to love. The love scenes were good and there were lots of them (although perhaps the word "vulva" was overused). If you like strong, mature characters with lots of passion, this is a good bet. I'll be reading Hunter's future books, and I want to try her Medievals. They are very well-reviewed and I've got to get over my Medieval dislike (but that's another post).

That is all. Everyone's asleep and I'm off to drink my McSorley's. Erin Go Bragh!

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

What an exciting week! My husband's on furlough (that's temporary unemployment to those not in the know), I'm about to kill him, I have to get my wisdom teeth out, I bought Lady of Sin by Madeline Hunter, and Her Master and Commander by Karen Hawkins. From the library, I got Shadow Touch by Marjorie M. Liu and The Ultimatum by Susan Kearney (not my usual bag, but I'm attempting to push my boundaries). Plus, first new Veronica Mars in six weeks! That's enough to make up for the loss of Project Runway. (BTW, Chloe? Really? I liked the girl and all but...really? Huh. At least it was a surprise).

First off, Veronica Mars. Love the continuity as usual, but please with the chick from Laguna Beach. She needs a punch in the teeth so she doesn't grin through every freaking line!!! Hate Hannah, the new mini-Veronica, but loved the homage to My So-Called Life's hallway hand-holding scene. (Which still makes me sigh 12 years later. And yes, my college roommate bought the Buffalo Tom CD afterwards. And we made mixes). I will watch the rest of the season if only to see if Logan and Hannah have the following exchange:
Hannah: Why are you like this?
Logan: Like What?
Hannah: Like how you are.
Remember it? Remember? Does "the N" still have MSCL re-runs on? But anyway, where's the Goot? The Goot's behind the bus crash, for sure. As much as I love to see a boy from Massapequa do good, the Goot's a bit evil. And he needs to lay off the plastic surgery. Or the makeup. Or is it a combo that's got him looking so freaky?

Before I get my surgery (which for some reason I'm more nervous about than giving birth, it's the whole sharp implements in my mouth, near my eyes and my brain, thing), I still got me some books to get. Although I imagine the recovery won't be that long, I'm still going to have assistance with the kids for a day or two. Whee! Reading time! Im' looking forward to buying Taming of the Duke,Sword of DarknessLord Perfect and Three Little Secrets. Sword of Darkness got a bad review here, which was disheartening. Over at Smart Bitches, they're bitching about the fact that the cover blurb is by Sherrilyn Kenyon (Kinley MacGregor), which was mentioned by the AAR reviewer as well. From reading SK's novels, interviews with her and having seen her in person, I do think it's a joke. I also think it's a dorky one. Then again, I often find the humor in SK's novels to be a bit dorky. Oh well, I've been increasingly disappointed with her work, but I'll get this for sure, because I do love the premise.

Gee, I'm feeling kinda loopy today, and I've haven't even had my celebratory St. Patty's McSorley's. I'll have 'em while I do my review of Lady of Sin later.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

It's the girl in the red truck, Charlie Brown

My son is very into the Peanuts. Both our local library and the library that I work at have an extensive collection of old Snoopy cartoons so we regularly check them out. The other day, the H-Bomb chose this one:

I had a bad feeling about it (look at that cover), but he insisted, so a mom, one is often forced to watch shows that one might not otherwise, but this was one of the strangest. My son keeps watching it over and over again, and I have no idea what would make this appealing to small children. There is no Snoopy or Charlie Brown, instead it focuses on Snoopy's seedy-looking brother,Spike, who lives out in the California desert. It is mostly live action, and revolves around his friendship with the very perky Jenny, who is torn between her love for her home, and her boyfriend. Her boyfriend is one of those white bread, blonde and handsome, yet somehow creepy types the 80's did so well. He wants to go to LA to be a musician or something. This is pretty much it--Jenny's relationship issues and a long roller skating sequence. Seriously, Jenny and the boyfriend spend a lot of time talking about their relationship and whether to go to the "city" or not. And she yammers with her bitter waitress friend. Boyfriend is also disturbingly jealous of the friggin' cartoon dog. It's so weird. I don't even think an older kid would enjoy it. So I looked it up on IMDB (shut up, I don't need to get a life), and I found out two fascinating facts: Jenny is played by Jill Schulz, daughter of Charles Schulz, and the roller skating rink in the movie belonged to Charles Schulz. I did further investigation into the career of Jill Schulz (shut up, I don't need to get a life), and she had few credits that all revolved around roller skating. So she must be some kind of...roller skating person. I could tell you she ain't no actress. I wonder if the other two actors were Schulz family members, or employees of the roller rink or something. The whole movie was to showcase the woman's roller skating talent. I can't decide if I like the randomness of it or it was just super-bad. Anyway, we just took it out yesterday, but I think we'll have to return it sooner than later, b/c I can't take too much more.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Lover Eternal by J.R. Ward (Spoilers Ahead)

J.R. Ward's Website

Lover Eternal@Amazon

The pleasure of reading a good paranormal romance is in being transported into a fascinating, different world. It may be a little dark and scary, it should be damn sexy, but it is always fun. I think paranormals are appealing to people because they are a true escape from the everyday, mundane world. Also appealing to readers and writers alike, I think that within the framework of the paranormal, writers are able to push the envelope a little bit, explore issues of love and sexuality in a manner that still feels "safe" to many. However, paranormals are often marred by stock characters, stale plots, and worlds without internal logic and inconsistencies. As a devoted reader of paranormals, I have an almost boundless ability to suspend disbelief and ignore the things that I don't like and focus on the things that I do. But more and more, I am unable to do so because I am hung up on the stuff I don't like.

Lover Eternal is not one of those books. It is an example of a great paranormal romance. I am declaring myself J.R. Ward's bitch right here, right now. She rocks. I loved this book. I loved Dark Lover, but I loved this one even more. I put some links at the beginning of this post which lead to summaries, excerpts and other reviews, because I want to get right to what makes the book awesome (in my not-so-humble opinion).

*Increasing Depth into the World--In this book, we learn more about the vampire race and their world, while remaining consistent with DL. No annoying rule changing. While not necessarily groundbreaking (but nice and simple), I find her vampires very interesting, particularly their strict social hierarchy and their almost animalistic nature. I look forward to learning more about the aristocracy and the whole concept of blood slavery in the next book, Lover Awakened.

*Character Development--A romance should be a character-driven story. It is the story of two people falling in love. Honestly, to me the plot is almost incidental. If I can't buy the characters, I can't buy the romance and I don't like the book. In DL, I was impressed by how Ward created a number of distinct characters. In LE, we gain greater insight into the characters, through a number of different p.o.v.'s, and they are even more intriguing than before. In addition, Rhage and Mary were great characters. Rhage, while a larger than life character, did not overshadow Mary, who was no Mary Sue. In fact, she was kind of a pain in the ass at times (but I could understand why). While there was the standard insta-lust, their emotional and physical connection deepened over time in a very satisfying way. This was a very emotional story (gotta love how Rhage fell like a ton of bricks and didn't seem to mind at all. Refreshing.)

*Multiple points of view--This is connected to character development and world building. I felt that the different points of view really added a lot, providing a lot of insight. I think that it makes the readers more invested in the characters also, so that you're looking forward to all of the books. This is definitely a series book, and a lot of time was spent setting up the next book. I wonder if that would bother some readers, but I was psyched b/c of lots o'Zsadist. Which leads me to...

*No fear--These characters have problems, and big ones, and Ward doesn't shy away from their portrayal. More importantly, she doesn't take the easy way out. With the exception of, perhaps, Mary's miracle cure and immortality. That didn't bother me actually, b/c she left Mary infertile. It may seem stupid, but it was better that everything wasn't perfect at the end. And miracle babies are annoying. Similarly, I liked that Rhage was left with the beast at the end. Things weren't perfect, but they loved and accepted each other enough to see it through. Some things happened that would definitely be unacceptable in most romances (i.e. Rhage having sex with another woman, THEN HAVING SEX WITH MARY!!! SAME NIGHT!!). Within the context of the novel, it didn't bother me in the least, and I actually thought that it was one of the most emotional scenes in the book. More of Z's background was given and it is indeed horrific. I'm very curious for the third book, b/c what we're being shown of his character...things could be very interesting indeed. Awesome and disturbing to some, I'm sure. I hope that Ward doesn't wuss out and give us the tortured hero has sex with beautiful nurturing woman and becomes shiny, happy, well-adjusted (maybe just a bit cranky) guy. I have high hopes though, b/c this book was quite different than DL, so I think she'll continue to take risks.

*Writing style--Ward writes in a very crisp, intelligent style that contrasts with a the extravagant, cliche ridden style of a lot of paranormals. Her prose is pretty much simple and straightforward.

Fangirl much? There were some things that bothered me. The slang and pop culture references came thisclose to being too much. I thought that they suited the characters (it's not like they were listening to Mariah Carey or something), but I got a little distracted by it at times. It was very close to crossing the border into annoying. Also, the conflict with the lessers is a bit weak. I can't help but feel that that vampires could kick their asses and call it a day quite easily. The lessers seem like a bunch of tools. Eh, with so much good stuff, I was able to ignore this easily and I admit, I kinda skimmed a lot of the lesser parts, until the end of course, when it got more interesting.

Oy vey, I'm exhausted. I'm going to go start re-reading now.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Ahh...need a cigarette

Devil in Winter was so good. So good!! I didn't want to put it down, which hasn't happened in a long time. I'm sure after the afterglow wears off, I might find some criticism, but for now, no. It was a delicious and satisfying read, and I just felt so happy afterwards. Yes, I'm crazy.

I just loved Sebastian and Evie so much. Sebastian was awesome, a real rake, not a cheesy, half-assed one. He was really funny, too. Kleypas has had some amusing moments in her books, but I've never laughed so many times during one. My personal favorite comment was when he said that he was going to embark on a spree of orgiastic debauchery that would only end when someone got arrested (paraphrase). I was browsing around Mrs. Giggles last week, and I loved this rant. I think that it suits Sebastian quite well, and in general should be used by authors as a reference when creating "good" bad boys, instead of obnoxious assholes. Liked Evie a lot too. Sure, she was another shy, sweet innocent virgin, but she had a will of steel. I just really bought that these were two damaged souls who saw something in each other and could love and accept each other for who they are. Well done, Lisa Kleypas. I just hope the other authors I'm looking forward to bring their a-game as well.

When is Scandal in Spring out? After reading the excerpt at the end of DiW, and the excerpt on the author's site. I'm psyched for this one. It seems like she might be going a in an unusual direction with the hero. I've always liked Daisy, too. Well, off to re-read. Yeah, I am.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

I got it, I got it

Okay, I've got a bunch o'crap to do, but all I want to do is read. By the way, the lovely cover is marred by a ridiculous stepback--frizzy red hair on the heroine, the hero shirtless, yet wearing a cape. Wha? Oh well at least the front's nice.

To be investigated some other time: Are any of these any good?

More on Through a Crimson Veil: it was all right, just a bit meh. Neither the h/h nor the love story was particularly memorable. I did enjoy the demon race though, after after looking at the Crimson City Blog, I am sufficiently intrigued to read the next one.