Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Appeal of the Antihero

I love antiheroes. They just intrigue me and captivate me. Why I wonder? I am a pretty morally-focused person. That doesn't mean I'm perfect. Far from it, but I do believe in doing what is right. Well, antiheroes, by nature, usually aren't the types of characters known for their moral compasses. Yet, they are the characters that usually appeal to me. Now I love the really good characters, but I probably love antiheroes just as much.

Before I sit down and ponder why I tend to choose books with antiheroes, I have to define what I consider an antihero to be. Antiheroes have these traits (in my opinion):

Immoral or Amoral or having a flawed moral compass
Extremely pragmatic or selfish in their decision-making
Hard to categorize
Unpredictable behavior
Dark personality, often dangerous

Well looking at that list, I can put together a pretty good argument for why antiheroes appeal to me.

First of all, I love the theme of redemption, regardless of the genre of literature. I remember reading Crime and Punishment by Dosteyevsky in school. At first I was less than thrilled at the story, and then a switch turned on. I saw this really awful man go through a change (moral, emotional, and spiritual). It was very influential on me as a reader. I don't know. Maybe this was when I fell for the antihero. Or maybe sooner, with Anne Stuart. Ms. Stuart, the Queen of Dark Romance, writes wonderful stories with dangerous, hellbound men who are saved by the love of a good woman. Those stories never, ever get old for me. I know fundamentally it's because I believe that as a Christian, God's love can save even the worst sinner. In literature, this message can be very well transmitted, and it doesn't even have to be on a religious level.

Seeing this character who would make decisions that are motivated by selfish or logical reasons (that don't consider doing what is right as the primary motivation) sets the reader up to find out how the situation will unfold. Will the protagonist develop a change of heart, will he/she reap what has been sowed in the decisions made, or will the protagonist learn a lesson and go on to make better decisions in the future. This hooks the reader in so that they have to keep reading, so closure can be gained. This definitely can make a book a high priority for me. I have to know what's going to happen. Now there is a danger in this, if the writer spends too much time heaping coals of damnation over the protagonist's head. You eventually get to the realization that you hate that person and don't care what happens to them. It's a delicate balance. There needs to be some intriguingly good or some core of unselfishness in that person, at least enough, to make the protagonist an unknown quality. So you can ask yourself, "What's going on with him?" and want to finish the book to find out exactly what the deal is with this intriguing character.

Another aspect of antihero appeal for me is the fact that they are usually conflicted, flawed people. In real life we are all flawed. There is no getting around it. You may meet people that you know are very good, kind people, but even they have flaws. Fiction has to mirror reality in that sense. You cannot have a character who is absolutely perfect. Yes, there can be good characters who are just wonderful. But even they must have flaws. Be it insecurity, a stutter, crossed eyes, whatever. They need a flaw, or the reader will not believe they are real. Even though the fiction writer is creating something that is not real, it must appeal or seem real to the reader in that sense (even if the book is set on Venus). The flawed character sucks me in. I don't know how else to say it. I want to go on the journey with this person. I want to see the character prevail and gain happiness in the end, and learn a lesson along the way (and hopefully I will learn one too). I get so bored with the perfect heroine with the perfect looks who is so sweet and she meets the perfect hero and everything is just perfect. Nope, bored now. I like the not so perfect heroine who falls in love with the guy who everything thinks is evil. Or vice versa (yes I love an antiheroine just as much)I like to see these outcasts get their happy ending. I will always root for the underdog. It's an integral part of my personality.

Do you ever read a book, and you're not sure what to think of a character? Well I love that. If the sentence in your review starts like this: "Well I liked him , but....", then chances are I will put this book on my to be read list. I want to find out what makes this character tick. I want to know if I will have the same dilemma of not having this person figured out. The puzzle needs solving, and I'm on the case. This adds an extra spice to the story for me.

The antihero is unpredictable to a 'T.' If he was straight up evil, he'd probably blow up the bus with the school children on it. But an antihero might assassinate the diplomat but save a child about to drown in a river. He's bad, but he's capable of good. And you never know which way he will go. Okay in the real world, that's scary. In books, it's fascinating and interesting. At least to me.
Another area where the writer must be careful. There are some places an antihero cannot go. There are some lines that cannot be crossed. If you cross that line, at least far into the story where the reader has some hope, then the reader is lost, and mostly likely the book becomes a wallbanger. The readers will not believe that this person is worthy of their interest or regard. The antihero becomes the villain that must pay the price for his or her actions in order for most readers to be satisfied with the ending of the book. (I am adamantly insistent that evil be vanquished in the end). Personally there are some things I don't want to see an antihero do. But I am more willing to keep reading if I see them do bad things early on in the book, and show a change (in a well-paced way) over the course of the book. I need to know that something has shifted in that person that makes them want to be a better person. Not perfect, not a boy scount. Just more moral. I won't tell the the writer how to accomplish this. It's up to him or her. Eecause, at the end of the day, it's all in the execution.

Dark and dangerous is a great combination for me. Antiheroes should have these qualities if it's a genre fiction story. If it's a family drama, probably not. In the romance genre, nothing gets me perked up as much as a dark or dangerous (both even better) hero. Oh, yes, Danielle is engaged. Show how murky the character is. Let me see him being a badass, and then give him a woman he can love. I am so there. Even better when he uses his dark and dangerous powers for good (or to protect the heroine. He would break most of the rules for her, yes). Happiness!

If you put these combinations together (all or most, or some of them) in a well-written and characterized story, you have have an antihero. That antihero will take the reader on a journey of discovery, that is unpredictable, resistant to pigeon-holing, full of insight and wisdom, and will hopefully to love and redemption. It's one of the best literary experiences that this reader can have.

Tune in for Part 2 (where I list my favorite antiheroes)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Shadow Touch by Marjorie Liu

Shadow Touch (Dirk & Steele,  #2) Shadow Touch by Marjorie M. Liu

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I can't say enough good things about this book. It was so unique and very intense. The characters are so real that they jump off the page at you, and their suffering palpable. The first book in the series, Tiger Eye was good enough that I knew I wanted to continue reading, but this book lit me on fire for this series.

Shadow Touch starts with a shot to the heart. You see poor Artur at a crime scene, reliving the suffering of the horribly-murdered woman by using his ability to touch things and see what happened in the past in that place, by having contact with the same object that person touched in the past. The dark visions take their toll on Artur because he experiences everything that the other person feels. From the beginning, I know I would love Artur. To subject yourself to that kind of torture to make sure that justice is done.

I was predisposed to love Artur as I love Russian heroes, and he's one of the best I've ever read. He's very attractive and appealing as a hero, but he is flawed and vulnerable too.

Elena is a wonderful woman. She goes into hospitals as a volunteer and uses her ability to heal the sick. She doesn't do it to get glory, and stays under the radar, but because she feels her ability must be used to help others.

Marjorie Liu did such a good job of creating a compatible couple in this book. There is no doubt that Elena and Artur should be together. There is a bit of a delay before they actually meet, but honestly it was very important for the story to be set up. But when they meet, there is an instant connection. Arthur's telemetric abilities have seriously weakened his brain, and he is on the verge of death when Elena saves his life. When she does so, their souls merge. She goes into her body and leaves part of her soul there, the good part, which gives Artur the strength to fight the evil web of a horrible woman, who is one of the scariest villains I think I've ever read about.

I lived for the interactions between Elena and Artur, because their relationship is serendipity in action. This is one of those books where you really want the couple to stay together and fall deeply in love. They just complete each other in every way. Their pure, accepting love for each other is the balm to the wound caused by the evil cruelty perpetuated by the bad guys in this book.

And on top of that, there is a great suspense/intrigue plot in this story. Liu does a good job of balancing the emotional aspect with the adventure, giving you characters that you get deeply invested in, and putting them in dangerous situations that make you hold your breath. The way she writes this book, you do believe that magic is possible, and that people can have extraordinary abilities. I really love the concept behind Dirk and Steele as well (I'm an occult detective novel fan). She also has some snarky humor (and comraderie between the quintet of people who meet in a research facility run by the bad guys, including Elena and Artur) that I found very enjoyable.

Fans of Russian heroes and those with an interest in Russia will enjoy this book. I am just very interested in Russia so it was great to see how much detail Liu put into describing the country and the people. This book made me want to book a trip to see this very intriguing, and old part of the world.

And like the cherry on the top of the sundae, Artur is ex-Russian Mafia (sigh). I have a bizarre interest in them as well. Artur had a very bad life and did bad things, but he didn't get a lot choices, abandoned by his mother in an orphanage where he was abused and starved, and ending up on the streets. My heart went out to Artur. He was really a decent man despite what he had to do to live. There was no question that he was a moral person, and he suffered for his past sins.

Elena has to deal with some moral issues as well, as she realizes that the power to heal can also be used to kill. She has to face a serial killer who is being used by the villain to do her dirty work. This serial killer develops an unhealthy fixation for Elena. Serial killers have a real ick factor for me, but I must say it was handled well. This dynamic and many of the scenes showed what a strong, although deeply caring person Elena was. She was quite the smart aleck and had no problem telling other people what she thought. I liked her a lot.

The Dirk and Steele series really is one of the underrated paranormal series, but I recommend it highly. There is some of everything going on in this series. If you like psychic characters, healers, shapeshifters, antiheroes who have incredible supernatural powers that you cannot even guess about, not to mention, intriguing sexy men, and a great romance, you should read this series.

View all my reviews >>

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Private Demon by Lynn Viehl

Private Demon (Darkyn, #2) Private Demon by Lynn Viehl

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Wow. I am completely drawn into this series. I read the first book and thought it was excellent, and made a note to read the rest. But now I have to read them.

Very dark, gritty, modern, but with elements of the past deftly woven into the framework, this story stakes its claim on the vampire paranormal romance, giving us a different kind of vampire lore. Although some of the touches are familiar, there are elements in this series that are beautifully unique. The Darkyn are vampires, many of whom were Templars turned during the Crusades in the Holy Lands. I love how each Darkyn puts out his own floral scent. (It's the flower/plant-lover in me).

The men outnumber the women about 50 to 1, and lately, it has been nearly impossible to turn anyone into a vampire. Alexandra Keller, who we met in the first book is the rare exception, but maybe not the only one after all.

That is really just the background of this story. The best part of it was Thierry Durand and Jema Shaw. I loved their relationship. Both lost and lonely, and needing someone special. It's one of my favorite kinds of relationships in romance novels when two tortured characters find each other.

Thierry was betrayed in the worst way possible, by his wife. She had him and their son, and many of his people tortured, and turned them over to the Darkyn's enemies, The Brethren.

At the beginning of this book, Thierry is a fugitive from the Darkyn, who believe he is a loose cannon that probably needs to be eliminated. Thierry knows his time is limited before they find him and probably kill him. Having entrusted the well-being of his son to Michael Cyprien, a high-ranking leader in the Darkyn, he decides he's going to track down the men who tortured and burned a woman to get information about the Darkyn, and make them pay. One source of information is Jema Shaw, who turns out to be the young woman that he takes blood from one night. A connection forms between them then, sensual and emotional, but Thierry doubts he'll ever see the woman he calls 'little cat' again, feeling a deep sense of regret about that. Besides, his mind is on his mission, which is the one thread of purpose he has in his less than sane mind.

Thierry has the ability to enter a person's dreams and interact with that person via dreams.He decides he will do this to get the information he needed. He's surprised to find this woman is the same one he took blood from, but at the same time, pleased to see her again, although nothing can come of it. But in the process of coming to her nightly and entering her dreams, the more transfixed and connected to Jema he becomes. It's only a matter of time before he's in love with her.

Jema Shaw has lead a life that is a ticking timebomb. She was born with severe diabetes and has been told she probably won't live past thirty. Each day is a struggle to keep going and to serve a purpose, to eke out a meaningful life. Not to mention being under the stranglehold of a bitter, critical, wheelchair-bound mother.

She connects with her demon lover in her dreams, and it becomes the highlight of her existence. She lives each day to go to sleep and spend time with him until she starts hoping that her dream love is real.

I lived for the moments when Jema and Thierry connected in Jema's dreams. His devotion to her turned my knees into jelly. I wanted so much for poor Jema to have a true love, because she had such a lousy life, so badly restricted by her physical ailment. When their connection culminates in passionate, sensual encounters, your patience is well-rewarded by the slow buildup in heat between them.

This incredibly romantic story is the mortar in this book. However there are a lot of dark and gritty moments in this storyline. There is a subplot involving neo-Nazi skinheads and their hate crimes, that ties in very neatly with the Darkyn storyline. It was very well-done, and has a message about racial intolerance that hits home without being preachy.

John Keller, the disgraced priest and brother of Alexandra Keller, has a very substantial role in this book, and I felt my connection to him that formed in first book, grow even deeper. I am hoping and praying that this wonderful, but flawed man does get his happy ending.

This complex story also shows the continuing relationship between Alexandra and Michael Cyprien, who faces warring loyalties, struggling to follow his heart in his relationship with Alex, yet be loyal to the Darkyn. And then, there's Valentin Jaus, who is the local Darkyn overlord over Chicago. He's been in love with Jema for her whole life, and unable to say what he feels. His love for Jema is poignant, because I wanted Jema to be with Thierry, but I also wanted Valentin to get his happpy ending. I really liked the connection between Jema and Valentin which turns out to be very crucial for this story.

I loved this book from start to finish for its intensity. It was very well done in every way. There are welcome elements of humor that had me laughing out loud, a needed contrast to the darker elements in this story, as it delves into the lowest aspects of humanity, and also the tortured pasts of Thierry and some of the other Darkyn. As a reader who loves medieval historical romance (with an interest in medieval history), I was happy to see that these elements are strong in this story, because the Darkyn are really very much medieval warriors living in a modern world.

The climax of the book is violent but well-done. Lots of swords clashing and blood flying. Nothing gratuitious, but very fitting for this story.

Highly recommended, Private Demon has made me a steadfast reader of the Darkyn series.

View all my reviews >>

Monday, July 20, 2009

Carmilla by Jospeph Sheridan Le Fanu

Carmilla Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I read this story out of the A Taste for Blood Anthology. I was excited to finally read the story that is really the grandmother of the vampire tale. It preceded Dracula by Bram Stoker by more than twenty years.

Well I have to say that I have mixed feelings about Carmilla. In some moments, it was very eerie, if not downright frightening, but those moments didn't quite occur often enough for me. There were passages of description that became rather mind-numbingly boring. I have read enough classic horror by now to be used to the flowery prose of Victorian writing, so I don't think that was the problem. I just think Le Fanu spent too much time on minutiae.

I have this book three stars because of the elements that I felt were strong and enjoyable about this story:

The lesbian subtext was pretty strong, in my opinion. The relationship between Carmilla and the narrator could have be characterized as a girl's friendship, but there were aspects that were more along the lines of a sensual relationship. I haven't studied Victorian female interactions very well, but I felt that Carmilla and the narrator were intensely touchy-feeling, caressing and kissing each other in a passionate fashion, although not on the mouth, and it was clear that her interactions with and Carmilla herself had an erotic effect on the narrator that simultaneously thrilled and repulsed her. I really do have to admire Le Fanu for incorporating this element. I would imagine that it was pretty outre' for this prudish era. I don't know that he did it to give his opinion of the sinful nature of same-sex relationships, or just in a matter of fact way. It felt more matter of fact than an overt denouncement (at any rate no moreso than the interpretation that vampire fiction be taken as a denouncement of sensuality and sexuality.)

The other aspect I enjoyed were the scenes that sent a shiver down my spine. The scene where they find Carmilla in a coffin, floating in inches of blood was really scary. Carmilla might appear to be a youthful, beautiful girl, but she an ageless, evil creature of terrifying menace, who had taken many innocent young girl's lives, preying on the bonds of friendship and the susceptiblity of a young girl to seduction. There are some scenes that had imagery that affected my subconscious. As a matter of fact, I woke up in the middle of the night and turned my TV on, so I think it did give me a scare or two.

The traditional elements of the vampire tale I truly enjoy: The fact that the creature is afraid of anything representing God. The creature will avoid light and roam in the dark. The method of killing the creature, and its supernatural powers (such as going through locked doors and taking the shape of animal). These are all staples of the vampire tale that has more or less stood the test of time. This is proven in the fact that many modern vampire tales still employ these elements. And those that don't, acknowledge them by saying, the traditional vampire folklore (see above) doesn't apply.

I end this review by stating that were it not for the overabundance of seemingly endless, dry monologues, I would have thoroughly enjoyed this at times harrowing tale (and would have rated it higher). Despite its shortcomings, I still recommend this tale to a true vampire fiction fan. Read this story, because this story should be honored as a building block of the vampire genre.

View all my reviews >>

Extreme Exposure by Pamela Clare

Extreme Exposure (I-Team Series, #1) Extreme Exposure by Pamela Clare

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Kudos to Ms. Clare for taking two of the most hated professions, and giving us three-dimensional, lovable characters in these professions, that question this reader's perceptions of people in these fields. Kara is a reporter, but she is one of the reporters that show the ethics and the dedication that the people in this field should represent, in a perfect world. She's a really sweet person, but is also strong and driven to do a good job. Kara faces the struggle that many American women face, raising a child and pursuing a career at the same time. Kara deals with the prejudice that working moms face: that they must not love their child enough or they would stay home with her or him. And on the other side, they aren't committed enough to their job because their child is more important. There is not a question in reading this story that her child Connor is her life. But at the same time, she takes her career as a journalist very seriously. And a woman can do both. Many women do it every day. But in the end, Kara has put her other needs as a woman on the shelf, also because of being betrayed by the man she loved, Connor's father. She has denied her sensual self for five long years, and avoided relationships and/or sex for five long years. I personally could see where she was coming from, because I too believe that having a revolving door of men through a single woman's life is not good in the long run for her children. It's the dilemma that a single mother faces everyday.

Enter the other part of the equation, Reece Sheridan. I'll be the first to admit it. I was underwhelmed at the thought of the hero of this book being a senator. Let's just say, I don't feel that a lot of politicians are overendowed with sincerity. Well, Reece is as real as they get. In fact, at several times in this book, I was blown away at his earthy, raw nature. My mouth was open, because I didn't see politicians like that. Okay, I'm naive. Well, he's a serious alpha man, and he is definitely a sexual person, and he wants to explore that part of himself with Kara.

Had that been all his relationship with Kara was about, I would have thrown the book against the wall. Books where the relationship is just about sex are not my cup of tea. It was a big part of their connection, true. But Reece truly cared about Kara. He wanted to make sure that all her needs were met. He really was a sweet guy. He was pretty sexually agressive, but that seemed to be what Kara needed. I loved the fact that he got invested with Connor, and wanted to spend as much time with him as he did with his mother. He really was the perfect mate for Kara.

And Reece cared about society and became a state senator to prove a message he tought as a teacher, if someone wants to make change in the world, he has to act. He worked very hard to stay out of the political machine and to get things accomplished as a senator. He didn't always make the right choices, but his integrity could never be called into question.

It was interesting how Kara and Reece interacted as man and woman (lovers), but also as professionals whose career lives intersected, since Kara's story involved corruption at the government level, because the company doing illegal dumping and violating environmental regulations was getting some aid on the inside of the legislative system.

This book has a really good suspense storyline. It was frighteningly real. And it showed how ruthless people can be when it comes to making a profit. The environmental message was timely and intense, and seamlessly tied in with the fact that the culprits had no problem killing and hurting people who got in their way, really showed how inethical and harmful this behavior is. I really admired Kara for pushing through to get her story written. Her life was threatened and she was badly injured more than one time in the course of this book. But she would not give up. It wasn't about glory for her. It was about using her abilities to see justice done and people helped. There was a message in this story about responsible journalism that resonated with me. I do believe that the news media has fallen prey to bias and has forgetten about the important service they have and the crucial nature of ethics in the profession. Okay, I'm getting off my soapbox because that's not what this review is about. I do have to say that Ms. Clare did a much better job of getting this point across in an enjoyable way.

The sex is blistering hot in this book. You need to wear handmits when reading this book. However, the best thing is the powerful emotional relationship between Kara and Reece, that encompasses Kara's sweet little boy, who needs a father, just as much as Kara needs a lover and a mate.

Be warned about the violence level. It's intense, but it drives home the message about greed and how some people show no morals when it comes to keeping the money rolling it. Anyone that cannot be bought could end up dead or injured if they stand in the way.

This was a very good book, and I have to say that Clare is just as skilled at writing contemporaries as she is historicals. I look forward to reading the other books in the I-Team series.

View all my reviews >>

Desire Unchained by Larissa Ione

Desire Unchained (Demonica, #2) Desire Unchained by Larissa Ione

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
One thing I really love is when a book exceeds my expectations. I didn't really expect to like this story nearly as much as I did. For one, reunited lovers is one of my least favorite themes. I hate the baggage of a broken relationship going into a romantic novel. Also, I wasn't too keen on Shade for his womanizing ways, and how females/women didn't seem to be that important to him. Just objects to be used and abused. This is a major pet peeve of mine.

I am happy to say that I was proven wrong about Shade. He was a very complex character that I grew to love fairly early into the book. He had depth that really appealed to me. At heart, he loved women, as it was part of his nature, from his mother's side and rearing. As a seminus or incubus demon, through his father's side, he was compelled by his nature to take any woman who wanted him, to satisfy her sexual needs, and his in the process. Although it probably sounds like a dream come true at face value, in my mind I can't help but think, what a horrible deal that must be. In some ways like a sex addiction. Probably worse because Shade will die without having sex. As his s'genesis, the last stage of sexual maturity comes, it will only get worse. And if he is not mated, he will become a demon who is crazed by his desire to mate any female he comes in contact with, willing or not. He will wreak havoc on females all around him.

In essence, Shade cannot say no to his nature or what women want from him. And some of those women/females wanted some very dark, awful things. Shade had a gift given to him by his Umber demon mother, the gift to see darkness in a person and to draw it out and heal that person. As a seminus demon, he utilizes this gift during sex. The nasty, ugly kind of torture sex that I certainly want no part of. The females come out of it healed by having their worst emotions and regrets taken way, giving them the ultimate orgasm that last forever, a pure conscience. Thankfully, Ms. Ione does not go into detail, but this fact about Shade's past does play into his future.

Shade does wrong Runa. But he cannot help doing it. It is his nature, but also his fears about the maluncoeur, or curse put on him as a younger demon. If he falls in love, he will suffer a shadow existence of thirst, loneliness, and unslaked sexual desire. As such, falling in love is not on his plate. So when he finds himself falling too deeply for Runa, he pushes her away. When she finds him with two females doing the deed, she breaks it off with him. Only to be attacked by a werewolf minutes later, and left for dead.

They meet again at the beginning of this book. And Runa is very different. Hard where she was once soft. Full of confidence where she was shy and retiring before. Although Wraith was attracted to her softness (as reminders of his mother and sisters who are of a race of demons who are gentle homemakers), he is even more attracted to her now. And it turns out that Runa has become a werewolf.

Their reunion is not under good circumstances, as they have been imprisoned by Ghouls, demons who harvest organs from other demons and sell them on the black market. Things only get worse, as Shade finds out that he has a very personal relationship with the leader, and the leader hates him and wants to kill him and his other two brothers.

Runa and Shade reconnect and have to deal with the ugliness of their pasts, and due the magical machinations of their enemy, they end up mated. For Shade, the timebomb starts ticking down, because he is unable to keep an emotional distance from the female he is mated to.

As the story continues, we see this couple, forced to spend time together due to their mating bond, realize they are soulmates. Both have hidden wounds that have affected their lives and how they relate to others. Runa has a guilt that she cannot rid herself of, and presses Wraith to use his talent to get rid of it. But Wraith hates that ability and would never do that to a woman who is so precious to him. I was really glad that this book doesn't have a lot of bondage/torture stuff going on. I am not a fan of BDSM, so I really don't want to see a lot of that, especially in a mainstream romance. I think Ione handled it very well, because I was afraid that it would go there. Fortunately, the way that the scenes with Shade dealing with his gift and Runa's need to have her darkness extracted were written showed a deft handling that didn't turn my stomach and ruin this book for me. It showed how much Shade loved her, and his determination to sacrifice himself for her out of love.

This is a complex, intense story. Ione's worldbuilding is incredible. I haven't read a book that creates such a multilayered world of demonarchy. These demons aren't the silly demons you can dismiss like some of the ones on Buffy. There is a whole spectrum, some that are good, some that are not so bad, and some that are really, really bad. And there's not only demons in this world, but faery, and other creatures. There's even fallen angels (I love stuff with angels). I appreciated the idea of the Underworld General Hospital that treats demonkind. It's the medical show-lover in me. This book is like Trauma Life in the ER meets Angel. And what a great combination.

I liked the information about the bond between a werewolf and her sire. It's a profound bond that has some pretty serious consequences. And Runa has to deal with some aspects of being a werewolf that make her very dangerous to others, and restrict and affect how she can live her life. Her werewolf nature can overcome her thoughts and conscious desires, and this comes into play as well.

We get to visit with Shade's brother Eidolon, who's now happily mated to Tayla, his other brother Wraith, who is clearly on the path to self-destruction and hanging by a thread, and see the developing relationship between Gemella (Tayla's half-sister and a doctor), and the human ex-Aegis leader, Kynan, who is still heartbroken from his wife's betrayal. I just loved seeing more about Kynan. In the last book, I didn't think I'd be that interested in him and Gemella, but this book has gotten me very interested indeed. Kynan is such a good guy (and you get some inkling as to why he is such a good person that I am sure will unfold further in the forthcoming books). Gemella is externally hardcore goth, but she has a soft heart and is deeply in love with Kynan, although she knows she doesn't have a chance at him, being a demon. Their relationship has some poignant parts that got to this softie.

This book was so enjoyable and involved me emotionally. It was clear from the beginning that Ms. Ione put a lot of thought and effort in this series, and this book really shows it and her talent as an author. That's what I look for in a read, so I was very happy to give it five stars.

View all my reviews >>

Monday, July 13, 2009

Sweet Vixen by Susan Napier

Sweet Vixen Sweet Vixen by Susan Napier

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I totally see this movie as one of those elegant, posh romantic movies that came out in the early 60s. I can hear the lush full orchestra and see the beautiful panoramic shots, the sharply-dressed men and the beautifully-dressed woman. Mod furniture and 60s elegant cars everywhere.

This book is set in the 80s, but in my mind, I felt like it was the 60s, except for some of the descriptions of the more over the top 80s disco fashions (yeesh)! I picture Clive Owen as Max and Kate Walsh as Sarah. That's how vivid this book was.

I do admit that Max was a tad too cruel for my tastes. He's one of those people who know just what words to employ to rip you to shreds. I don't like to be around people like that in real life and I find myself flinching when characters in books are like this. Even near the end, he said a few ugly things that I think he deserved a slap for. I don't think falling in love and not wanting to be in love is really an excuse for bad behavior, but there you have it.

Sarah was repressed by her overbearing, possessive artist husband's obsessive jealousy. Now that he's gone, she's retired into a widow's half-life, dressing poorly and not dating. She's good at her job as a personal assistant, and most of her energies are focused there.

When Max, the son of the great fashion designer Sir Richard Wilde, and the lead executive of their family firm, comes down to New Zealand to work for a month and to facilitate the takeover of the magazine, Rags to Riches, it's like a spark on dry kindling.

Max is an alpha hero who happens to be a suave businessman. He's a predator in the boardroom and the bedroom. He's described as drop dead gorgeous, muscular, with an angular face, and intense hazel eyes. He wears his clothes well and is definitely a ladies man. But beneath the fashionable facade, he's sharp as a tack. He hides an inner turmoil after his brush with death in a plane crash. His father sends him to New Zealand to recover emotionally before he gains the chairman of the board position Max covets. I pictured Sean Connery or Rod Taylor as they were in the 60s movies, although Clive Owen is perfect physically and in his demeanor (and also because Max is British).

Max does a lot of needling of Sarah that I felt was downright mean. It seems to bring her out of her shell, there's no question, but it still bothered me. They seem to mix like oil and water. He's used to polished, well-dressed beauties that are sophisticated and conversational. Sarah's very intelligent and perceptive, but is quiet and withdrawn and isn't anything like his usual arm-candy. It makes it all the surprising that they would fall in love with each other (or maybe not). I think from the beginning Max was drawn to her and didn't like it. She wasn't his type, and he didn't want to fall in love or feel intense emotions for a woman who wasn't disposable to him. It's not hard to believe that Sarah would fall for him. He's a ladykiller, and she's a vulnerable widow who's hidden herself away from love and sex for far too long. Sarah falls prey but he gets caught in the trap he sets for her.

Slowly you see the tension building, and this book is really quite sensual in its descriptions of their attraction that heats up to combustible levels, and also in the discussions of art, clothing and food. It's writing that is a feast for the senses. You are totally drawn into this world of high fashion, wining and dining, and beautiful people and clothing. Better yet, you want Sarah to take the plunge back into love and passion with Max, although at the same time, you want Max to get handed his trump card, and to fall deeply in love with Sarah, despite a lack of intentions on his part to do more than to bring the inner passion out and entice her into his bed for his brief stay in New Zealand. Love happens, and it's a painful process for both of them. Yet it's a beautifully-written journey.

This is the way books used to be. Full of passion and descriptions that holds your interest. I was an armchair traveler growing up, reading my Harlequin Romances and Presents, going around the world and seeing the sights, seeing people fall in love. This book brings home all the nostalgia of the old days of romance.

This book illustrates the magic of Susan Napier's writing. I have a feeling that she probably watched all the 60s romance movies and soaked up the delicious atmosphere to fill this book with. In some ways, it sort of reminds me of Marnie with Sean Connery and Tipi Hedren. The adversarial relationship that is ripe with chemistry. Some don't view this movie as romantic, but I find it romantic in an unconventional, albeit dark way. This book is not dark, but it does have an edge in that Max is definitely a cruel hero. His words cut and he does handle Sarah roughly. The ending was very well-down, driving home the 60s romance impression in my brain. It was so vividly written when the couple reunite due to matchmaking by Max's dad. Right out of one of Hitchcock's more romantic movies. Or perhaps a Doris Day movie in one of the more serious moments. It was just gorgeous.

You are probably wondering why I gave it five stars with Max being so mean most of the time. It was so well-written that you wanted them to be together, and when you see this hard as steel, angry man fall at Sarah's feet, and you are not at all surprised.

If you find yourself reading the newer series contemporary romances and feeling that the inner fire of books published by Harlequin long ago is gone, I think you'd like this book.

Cue up the strings and jazz piano.

View all my reviews >>

The Santangeli Marriage by Sara Craven

The Santangeli Marriage by Sara Craven

My review

3.5 out of 5 stars

This was a fairly angsty book. The hero did something that angered me, but I was able to keep reading it. The heroine didn't always act very mature herself. But there are extenuating circumstances that made me want to keep reading and see them for flawed human beings.

It started when Marisa and Lorenzo's mothers were friends in boarding school. They promised that their children would marry each other. Years later, both Marisa and Lorenzo have this promise hanging over each other's heads. Not to mention that Marisa feels indebted to Lorenzo's family for taking care of her when she is orphaned. She doesn't find this out until her nasty cousin and guardian tells her after she has gone on a date with another man.

I could understand Marisa's resentment towards Lorenzo. Who wants to marry a guy who clearly doesn't want her but is doing so because of a promise made between their mothers? Lorenzo tries to woo her in a distant fashion, but he doesn't really show the warmth and reassurance a young, awkward girl would need. Things just get worse when they get married. Pretty soon, they are living apart.

That's when Lorenzo does the stupid thing that made me want to slap him. He sleeps with a married lady out of hurt pride because Marisa won't take his calls or answer his letters. I tried to be fair and put myself in his place, but I felt it was wrong to cheat on his wife. He should have just went to England to find her and work things out. Finally he does this when his father has a health scare and he gets a report that Marisa might be seeing her boss.

So he convinces Marisa to come back home as his wife. Things really don't get better from here. They are both stubborn and emotional, and don't know how to communicate. It was quite frustrating to read. Then we find out that Marisa might not be able to fulfill her obligations in the first place. That was really painful.

I felt this was a good book, and it really did get me involved. The ending is bittersweet but hopeful as they make a commitment to love each other for the rest of their lives.

View all my reviews.

The Family He Wanted by Karen Sandler

The Family He Wanted (Silhouette Special Edition) The Family He Wanted by Karen Sandler

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
I have to say that this book really put my emotions through the ringer. Sam is a very tortured soul. You wouldn't have believed it by reading the blurb. You would think that Jana was the lost soul that needed saving. Jana got pregnant by her loser boyfriend, who promptly ran out on her. She goes to Sam for a place to stay briefly until she can find away to keep herself off the streets until the baby comes and she can give it up for adoption. So going into this book, you think that Sam will be her knight in shining armor. Yes he is, in ae way. But Jana has a lot more dragon-slaying to do in this book, because her issues don't even compare to Sam's at all.

In some ways it was painful to read this story as you experience the anguish that Sam undergoes. He knows he has commitment issues. He knows that he is afraid to love. He dearly wants to be different, but he doesn't know how to be. I believe that Sam had been in love with Jana for many years, probably since he first met her. But he felt that he was poison and was afraid to let her be more than a friend to him. He had an established pattern of obtaining girlfriends and having fun with them, eventually falling in love but pushing them away, buying them a piece of jewelry as a sendoff. At first, I was offended. What modern woman would accept jewelry from a man she broke up with? It seems way too much like buying off a mistress to me. But then the book allowed me to look deeper and to delve into the reasons behind Sam's actions. In his mind, the best he could do was to give money to people he cared about. He didn't want to get too close and give of his heart and open his heart.

It was hard to read about how Sam and Jana really cared for each other but were doing this dance of trying not to get too close and cross the friendship barrier. However, they had a passion for each other (stemming from the deep love they both felt) that they could not deny.

I felt my heart breaking as I learned about Sam's childhood and why he is so afraid to love. He was betrayed by his mother, his father, and his aunt. Each of those people put him in situations that a young boy should not have to experience. I couldn't believe how cold-hearted and mean his aunt was. I really wanted to slap the woman.

I really loved Jana. She was a very good person, and she didn't give up on Sam, although a less strong woman would have. She decided that she would love him the way he would allow her to, and slowly wore away at ice around his heart. My heart bled for her having to face the tough decision of giving her baby away so that she or he could have a good life. What a terrible situation to be in.

I went into this story not expecting too much, just a pleasant read, and I received the blessing of a story that really touched me deeply, often in painful ways. It showed that the danger of loving is always there, but if we can take a leap of faith, we will receive so much when we do give our hearts to the right person.

View all my reviews.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

A Weaver Wedding by Allison Leigh

A Weaver Wedding (Silhouette Special Edition) A Weaver Wedding by Allison Leigh

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
At first I was just reading this because I got it for Tell Harlequin. I was somewhat interested because of the dynamic between Axel and Tara. Then it became very interesting to me. I tend to enjoy book set in small towns, and books that show the interactions of people in those towns. I also liked the way Axel's very large, extended family spend time together, watching out for one another, teasing and loving each other. I really like books with big families interacting. Maybe because my family bickers so much I don't want to be around them. The tension between Axel and Tara builds slowly. This is no Harlequin Blaze, but I did feel there was good romantic tension and pretty good sensual interactions for a Silhouette Special Edition, not one of the hotter series in HQN/Silhouette.

Axel really grew on me. He was a good guy, and had conflicting loyalties, all intersecting at the same time. Should he have called? Yes. Did he have a good reason for not calling? Yes. He was pretty yummy I thought.

I liked Tara a lot. She had good reason to be wary and hold herself back. She had been subjected to endless moves throughout her young life, and then her life imploaded when her brother went undercover in a gang and became a wanted man through testifying against them. She finally established herself in a new place, although she was still trying to keep her distance out of fear of losing those connections again. Then she has the weekend with Axel and he doesn't contact her again for four months, that's after her brother stood her up when they were supposed to meet on her birthday. I could definitely understand her cold feet. Was she wrong about keeping her and Axel's baby secret? Yes. Did she have a good reason in her mind? Maybe. But I was glad she finally told him before the baby got here. I can deal with a secret pregnancy and a secret infant. Secret child and teenager really annoy me. That's just plain wrong unless the baby's father is the antichrist. Maybe then, I might take that into consideration.

Although this book about small town life and a wary heart learning to trust probably wouldn't be for everyone, I have to say I really enjoyed it, although it got off to a bit of a slow start. But then, I like the small town slice of life and family books a lot.

View all my reviews.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Branded by Fire by Nalini Singh

Branded by Fire (Psy-Changelings, #6) Branded by Fire by Nalini Singh

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
Before I wrote a review on this book, I had to sleep on it. I was trying to figure out a way to express my feelings about Mercy. She annoyed the crap out of me for the majority of this book. I felt so bad about it. I love strong women. I am definitely a reader who wants a strong, independent heroine in a story, yet I like the sweet heroines as well. I just like well-written heroines. Mercy was certainly well-written. I can't say I fault Nalini Singh for writing a book about an interesting character like Mercy. Having said that, she really worked my nerves.

It suddenly came to me as an epiphany about Mercy. She's a female cat. As a lifelong cat lover, I have made an observation that other cat lovers will probably agree with me on. Female cats can be a pain in the butt. They are much more grumpy and unreasonable more often than male cats. They are mercurial as all get out, one minute wanting to be loved on, the next trying to scratch your eyes out. That's Mercy in a nutshell.

Frankly I was doubting for some period of time while I was reading that she deserved Riley. I felt like I was being a sexiest thinking this. I asked myself why do I love heroes that are flawed, but Mercy was bugging me. Well, I came to realize that her imperfection wasn't the problem. It was the fact that she gave Riley hell most of the time for what seemed like no good reason. Sometimes she was a purring kitten, but most of the time, not so much. It was made clear fairly often that this was the way of a dominant female changeling, and that was when the lightbulb about female cats came to me. Once I accepted this realization, I could deal with Mercy a lot better. And since Riley loved her for who she was, I guess I can't afford to lose sleep about it.

I do have to say that she did admit when she was wrong, most of the time. But she really put Riley through her paces, and he was clearly the one who gave of himself much more. When it came down to it, she made a very difficult choice out of love for him, and I had to give her props for that.

Now I have to say that I loved Riley to bits. Nothing wrong with him. The part where he so-called betrayed Mercy, I can acknowledge that it was the wrong decision, but he made it for what he truly believed was the right reason. Just like Mercy couldn't change her spots, if you will forgive the pun. It's wrong to ask a wolf to shed his skin. He had the right to be the dominant male, just like she had the right to be a dominant female. I don't like double standards, so I don't think that Mercy should have been able to get away with her bad behavior (because of her nature) and then give Riley a hard time for him following his nature. I thought that the romance between Riley and Mercy was good reading, although I didn't love it as much as Sascha/Lucas, Vaughn/Faith, Judd/Brenna, and my favorite Dorian/Ashaya. I think it's because I love the Changeling/Psy relationship dynamic so much. Having said that, it was nice to see the hero be a wolf. Love me some wolf heroes. :)

Gender politics dealt with, I really enjoyed the suspense and conspiracy elements. Singh writes a great romance, but she also weaves an interesting read that I believe would appeal to a straight science fiction fan if that person didn't mind a lot of kissy-poo along with it. The stakes have been raised, and the world of the Psy/Changeling has expanded to focus more on the human quotient. It will be interesting to see how that aspect plays out in the future. Can I say I am a serious fangirl of the Psy. They are kickbutt. Still want to read more about the Tk-Psy and the Arrows. (Hint, hint, Ms. Singh).

As for Hawke and Sienna, I am a little worried how things ended with them. Call me sexist, but I hope that she doesn't get deeply involved with Kit. I want her to wait for Hawke. Don't give up hope, Sienna. Hawke has deep feelings for you, girl.

I loved the glimpses of my favorite male character (although I dearly love Dorian and Judd) in this, Hawke. He's just droolicious. More Hawke please.

So, I must say that I was not disappointed, although Mercy gave me some heartburn.

View all my reviews.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Dark Guardian by Christine Feehan

Dark Guardian (Carpathians, #9) Dark Guardian by Christine Feehan

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
One thing I love about these Carpathian books is they prove the adage: There is someone for everyone. Feehan sets the stage by showing Lucian as a young fledgling, seeing the devastation that his people face, and realizing his duty to his people. Then she shows Jaxon growing up and the beginning of a horrible obsession that her father's friend develops for her. Those parts were really shocking and I was surprised that Feehan didn't hesitate to show how truly crazy Drake was. My heart bled for poor Jaxon. At the same time, I deeply admired the woman she grew into. It was great that she had her own guardian to watch out for her. Although being a strong woman, she fully intended to do the same for him.

Jaxon was a pretty level-headed heroine, and she had the knack for saying things that had me laughing. She totally kept Lucian on his toes. He didn't quite know what to do with her, but was deeply in love with her from the beginning.

In Jaxon, I can see the seeds for the heroines in the Ghostwalker books. She reminded me favorably of Mari from Deadly Game, who is one of my favorite heroines. Just like Mari was a perfect match for Ken, so is Jaxon for Lucian. She is gutsy and self-sacrificing, and a true survivor despite the horror she has endured. I enjoyed the part when she gets dressed and puts on her whole arsenal of weapons. I couldn't help but love her.

Lucian is just as irresistible as all the Carpathians are. He's very much larger than life, with this irresistibly seductive voice that he can use as a deadly weapon. Jaxon doesn't quite know what to make of him, but she isn't about to throw him back, although she doesn't quite believe in all the vampire stuff initally. Lucian is a very good person although he thinks he's bad because of all of the vampires he had to kill over the years. He always puts others before himself, and was even willing to sacrifice his soul to keep his brother from turning into a vampire. He is very caring and considerate of Jaxon, really working hard to help her to adjust to her new life as his lifemate. I appreciate the fact that although he didn't like her putting her life in danger as a police officer, he doesn't try to force her to quit. Pretty forward thinking for a man who is about 2000 years old. So I have to say it was nice that Jaxon was trying to watch out for him, and helped him kill vampires.

Although the Carpathian books definitely have a certain formula, there are gems of uniqueness in each book that make them irresistible to this romance fan. Although I said I would take a break before reading the next Carpathian book, I'm wishing I brought another one on the road with me.

View all my reviews.

Mountain Wild by Stacey Kayne

Mountain Wild (Harlequin Historical Series) Mountain Wild by Stacey Kayne

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
I thoroughly enjoyed this latest addition to the Wild series by an author who has definitely impressed me in the historical western romance genre. I can heartily say that Garret grew up to be a wonderful man. Not only is he devastatingly gorgeous, he is strong, intelligent, and independent, but despite having a divorce under his belt, when it comes down to it, he's not afraid to give his heart.

It's clear that growing up with an unusual and strong sister like Skylar really had an effect on him, for he can easily admire the strength and the unique appeal of a woman like Maggie. Even when he sees her at her worst, smelling from her bear coat, with tangled hair, about to kill a man, he still steps in to protect her. His generosity is rewarded, because his life is later saved by her, and he finds the love of his life.

This book was rather like Beauty and the Beast with the genders reversed. In this case, Mad Mag, as she is called, is the Beast. In reality, she is a beautiful woman who has been forced by circumstances to live her life in the mountains, away from most humans, due to a nefarious brother who tries to kill her at the age of thirteen. When mountain man Ira Dawkins steps in to buy her for six beaver pelts, she gets the opportunity to survive that she takes full advantage of.

Maggie is just as admirable as Garret. She has her reasons for hating most people. After all, her brother tried to kill her for her inheritance, and any time she ventures out of her mountains, she is ridiculed and poorly treated by the townsfolk. Despite that, she still takes in Garret when he is left for dead during a blizzard.

That is where the Beauty and the Beast allegory comes in. Garret spends days snowbound with Mad Mag, only she is incredibly beautiful and sweet-smelling. At first, he doesn't even know it's her. Poor Garret falls head over heels, despite his spoiled wife having cut out on him after eight months of marriage and still having a wary heart from that.

I really appreciated how willing Garret was to love Maggie, despite the obstacles in their way. He looks past what her reputation is to the sweet, kind woman she is. Maggie is survivor and is used to having no one stand up for her, so possessing Garret's devotion is a wondrous thing. She doesn't know quite what to make of it.

In addition to having Maggie be the mountain woman, instead of the hero being the mountain man, Ms. Kayne also did things a little differently in that Maggie is the skittish one in this story. She has no faith in human nature, probably for good reason. The only person who was ever nice to her was Ira, and at the same time, he kept her at arm's length as well. She's lived in the mountains so long, she just wants to escape back, although Garret is an almost irresistible allure. She is attracted to him physically and emotionally, and really surprised that he could want her as well. Garret tries very hard not to pressure his "Magpie" so she won't run away back to the mountains. When he is brutally assaulted again, he gets the opportunity to woo her as she nurses him back to health.

I really do appreciate Ms. Kayne's writing. Each book in this series has been different. It's hard to say which is my favorite, because they are all so good. But it's easy to say that Garret is my favorite hero in this series. He's neither alpha nor beta, but a divine mix of the two. He's fearless in giving his heart despite having had it broken. He's also fearless in protecting the woman he's come to love, but at the same time very gentle, kind and understanding with her.

Again, Ms. Kayne really hits pay dirt with the excellent mix of romance and western action. Pick this one up if you want to read a really good western.

View all my reviews.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Moon Called by Patricia Briggs

Moon Called (Mercedes Thompson, #1) Moon Called by Patricia Briggs

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
What a great addition to the urban fantasy genre. Mercy is a likeable and engaging protagonist. She doesn't come off as invincible and inhuman in her buttkicking abilities, yet at the same time, she is comfortable in her own skin and can hold her own.

The universe is interesting, much like the world we live in, save the addition of preternatural creatues such as werewolves, vampires, fae, and coyote shifters like Mercy, which seem quite rare.

I enjoyed the description of the pack dynamics and Mercy doesn't quite fit into the werewolf packs, yet at the same time is an integral part of them. She has an interesting relationship with the Marrok Bran, who is the acknowleged leader of all the werewolves in North American, and somewhat like a father figure to Mercy, Samuel, the firstborn of Bran, who Mercy almost married/mated to, and Adam, the alpha of the pack of werewolves where Mercy lives, in the Tri-Cities area. Out of the three, Adam is my favorite. He was very attractive to me in his personality and how he interacted with Mercy. I can't get enough of him. Samuel also had some seductive traits to me. He is strong but gentle at the same time. He clearly has feelings for Mercy that are unresolved. There are other secondary characters that truly caught my interest and that I want to read more about. Mercy has an interesting relationship with both Adam and Sam, and that is sure to play a major role in later installments. I much say Mercy is surrounded by beautiful, powerful, intriguing men (of various origins).

I like the way Briggs' made Mercy stand out. She saved Adam's life more than once, but she is also very aware of her limitations. Mercy's an auto mechanic and runs her own shop, which is how she gets entangled in the situation that arises in this book. It's great to see a heroine who has such dimensions to her.

The magic elements were arresting, particularly as this book showed the magic of the werewolf and the pack, how their strength draws from the alpha and gives back to him.It was really enjoyable to read about. As a werewolf lover, this did my heart good. There are also some vampire elements in this book for those who are of the fang persuasion. And yes, for the faery lovers, there's even a little of that sprinkled in this book. Although this was not a long book, it was a veritable hearty meal for urban fantasy lovers.

All in all, a great start to a series that I definitely want to continue reading.

View all my reviews.