*e-ARC graciously provided to me by the folks over at NetGalley*
I cannot believe how much I adore Kristen Callihan's Darkest London series and its lat*e-ARC graciously provided to me by the folks over at NetGalley*
I cannot believe how much I adore Kristen Callihan's Darkest London series and its latest entry, Moonglow. No, really, I can't. Because, you see, I don't particularly care for the PNR sub-genre, not because of the paranormal elements--actually those are what draw me. It's because, for the most part, I loathe, detest, and despise romance novels. Those romances which I do happen to read, written by authors I know and trust not to become too ridiculous, are picked out because the other story elements are stronger, as in a thriller which has some romance (such as those by Iris Johansen or Tess Gerritsen); otherwise, I avoid the genre like the plague. The only time I've ever really read "straight" romance was when I was younger, when I was a bit more idealistic and ready to believe in "twue wuv": In my mid-teens, I read a couple of titles by Jude Devereaux (A Knight in Shining Armor is the one I really remember), as well as Jewels by Danielle Steel, the one and only Steele title I've read. Currently the only romance novels I actively seek out and enjoy are contained in the Eve Dallas series written by Nora Roberts (as J.D. Robb). And even with those novels, as much as I like them, it's the futuristic setting and mystery/thriller nature of the stories which drives me to read them, not the romance between Eve and Roarke. Nowadays, when I do read a romance novel, whatever the title or author, when things get hot, I skip over the panting, writhing, and moaning so I can get back to the story all the panting, writhing, and moaning has interrupted.
See, the problem I have with the Romance genre is the unreasonable expectations the novels engender. The women in these novels, all of them wish fulfillment avatars for the author, are always perfect: Short or tall, willowy or curvaceous, every single romantic female lead has a perfect face, perfect breasts, a perfectly formed body, giving the impression that only the beautiful find true love, deserve true love, are worthy of true love. The plain, the fat, the imperfectly endowed, they don't exist, so therefore they aren't aren't worthy of being loved. And it's just as bad for the men. All the men are walking Adonises: Perfectly sculpted abs, wide shoulders and narrow hips, with Goldilocks muscles (not too big, not too small, but just right), these guys are always endowed with the ideal combination of savagery and sensitivity, not to mention enormous cocks. They may have their faults, but nothing so disagreeable or disturbing as to derail the romantic buildup; just something small enough for the woman to “fix” with the power of her love (which is just another myth perpetuated by the genre: Women, you cannot “fix” men, no matter how hard you try or how much you love them or how loudly you nag. That's the man you fell in love with, warts and all; if you can't accept that, walk away). It's enough to give a man, should he dare to be seen reading a romance novel, a complex. Frankly, the whole genre feeds into the obsession for beauty and perfection, just as guilty for female self-image dysfunction as beauty magazines and ad campaigns. Not to mention the perpetuation of the whole “Happily Ever After” myth, the idea that love is perfect and once you fall in love, all your troubles are over and marriage will only enhance this rosy state of being. There's never any mention of petty disagreements, marital spats, the sensation of coming to hate all those little quirks and habits which once you found cute but now gnaw at you until you snap at your partner for every little thing he or she does. Yup, you guessed it, I'm a cynic. So the idea of perfection--perfect people, perfect love, perfect sex--presented in the Romance genre makes me ill. That's why I skip over the sex scenes, not because I'm a prude, but because if I want to experience so much unrealistic sex, I might as well go watch some porn.
Not so with Kristen Callihan's sex scenes. True, they still feature perfect people in perfect bodies, yet the scenes are hotter because there's a sense of connection, of the occasional awkwardness, of two people exploring each other, with words, with touch, with every sense in their bodies. Not to mention a real sense of affection, even of humor and, in the case of carriage scene with Daisy and Ian in Moonglow, palpable frustration. It's a depth of reality which seems to be missing from other romance novels and which makes for some pulse-poundingly, seat-squirmingly hot scenes. Then again, maybe it's just that the sex, as it's written, is so bloody hot, it was easy for me to overlook such things as “...her pillowed bottom lip and the taste of her, like sweet strawberries and dark chocolate” and “...she traced a path of kisses along his jaw... He was better than caramels, richer and saltier.” Do people really taste like candy?
Okay, so now that the important stuff is out of the way, let's get down to the story. This is the second book in Callihan's series and features Daisy, sister to Miranda, the heroine of book number one, Firelight. Daisy, widowed just over a year ago, is just coming out of her mourning period, though there was no love lost between her and her loathsome husband, Sir Craigmore, and his death came as an immense relief. Daisy is, well, let's just say she's a lusty lass and knows the pleasures which can be found in a little flesh-on-flesh romping. But just as she's spreading the wings of her new-found freedom, in the form of a social outing and a bit of 'hide the sausage' in the back garden, Daisy finds herself face to face with a hideous beast who attacks her. She gets tossed aside in the mayhem and the creature begins to munch on the bodies of her erstwhile lover and the hostess of the soiree Daisy ducked out on, Alexis, another recently widowed young lady and Daisy's friend. Oddly, at the time of her death, Alexis is wearing the exact same perfume as Daisy; in fact, it's Daisy's signature scent, meant to be worn by no one else. As she follows this clue, helped, hindered, and distracted by the infuriating Lord Ian Ranulf, Marquis of Northrup, she discovers not only is her life in danger, so is her heart as she defends it from the persistent attentions of Ian.
Now, we all remember Ian from Firelight, right? He was the shit who kept coming between Miranda and Archer, so much so that many readers assumed he was the villain of the story. Here, though, we see that he's much more complicated than what we saw of him in the first book, and as his story unspools and the reasons for his previous behavior come to light in Moonglow, we discover the vulnerability beneath his swaggering facade. The heat and the chemistry between Daisy and Ian, as the two discover each other in both physical and psychological ways, is immediate, especially of the physical kind. (Hoo boy, is it hot!) However, as the story progresses, the two find each other connecting on a deeper level as their long-held secrets come out to one another. The requisite third act forced-separation* comes a bit later than normal in romance novels, setting the reader up to believe that it might not occur, that for once the two romantic leads will solve the greater exterior problem affecting them without an interior problem causing a rift between them. Yet when the two do separate, once I understood the solution Callihan was setting up which would bring them back together, I was actually happy as the whole thing solved a larger issue plaguing Daisy and Ian's relationship, paving the way for their 'riding off into the sunset as they lived happily ever after' moment.
The book develops the mythology introduced in Firelight, not only by adding to the roster of supernatural creatures (the 'Ghost in the Machine' creature is brilliant--creative and ooky. Yes, that's a legitimate descriptor), but by making us aware of a sort-of supernatural police force: the Society for the Suppression of Supernaturals. The S.O.S., as it's known, is responsible for keeping the general public unaware of the activities and the presence of creatures which have crept, climbed, and clawed their way out of myth and folklore. As to the story, it's a worthy successor to Firelight and certainly doesn't suffer from the "second book slump": it's thrilling, mysterious, comedic, heartfelt, passionate, and very, very entertaining. The prose moves along at a steady clip, never dragging or becoming dull. From the very first book, Callihan has managed to avoid the dreaded info dump syndrome, giving her readers all the information necessary to keep them interested and engaged in the story without dumping great gouts of exposition on them. Her dialogue is lively and sparkling, her descriptions vivid, and while I'm sure there are a few minor faults in the novel, they're undetectable in the greater excellence of her work. (At least to me they were.)
As an added bonus, the novel lays the groundwork for the third (and, I would presume, last, even though the thought saddens me) book of the series, starring the eldest sister, Poppy. Now, after I finished reading Firelight and heard about Moonglow, I figured there would be a third book; makes sense after all--three sisters, three books. But what stumped me was how that could be. After all, romance novels are all about two unattached persons finding and wooing each other. Yet Poppy's been happily married to the man of her dreams since the very beginning of the series--how could she star in her own romance novel? Well, Callihan settles the issue with events which occur in the last half of Moonglow and I can't wait to see how she pulls things together for Poppy and her Detective Inspector Winston Lane.
All in all, I thoroughly recommend this series and personally I can't wait for Winterblaze.
*As outlined in the following script: Boy meets girl, boy saves girl from some difficult yet minor trouble, boy and girl fall in love and vow to be with each other forever, girl suddenly finds some reason not to be with boy through some fault or doubt of the boy's character, girl leaves boy in heartbreaking manner, boy mourns then gets angry over girl's leaving, girl finds herself in trouble, boy stiffens backbone and discards pride to rescue girl, girl realizes depth of her feelings for boy and boy's depth of feelings for girl, boy and girl head off into the sunset to live happily ever after.
I know, this is a paranormal romance and I liked it. What is the world coming to? Well, first off, this is a retelling (albeit a loose one) o4.5 stars
I know, this is a paranormal romance and I liked it. What is the world coming to? Well, first off, this is a retelling (albeit a loose one) of the classic Beauty and the Beast fairytale and I love a good retelling when I get my hands on one. Secondly, I'm a sucker for any kind of alternate Victorian novel. I can't tell you why, just that I am.
One thing to know, the blurb on the back of the book is slightly misleading. Miranda, the beautiful (natch) leading lady, is forced to wed the mysterious and infamous Lord Archer in order to redeem her family's name and fortune. Well, Miranda, her temperament matching her fiery red hair, is feisty and fully capable of defending herself and certainly not one to be "forced" to do anything she doesn't want. For once, I didn't find myself screeching in annoyance over a empty-headed ninny of a female protagonist. Miranda's got spirit and intelligence; she's a protagonist whom I can actually admire. Now we come to Archer. Tall, dark, and brooding, in the best possible way. And masked. And sensual as hell. Yummy!
Of course, there's some intrigue and both Miranda and Archer have deep, dark secrets, which neither of them is willing to divulge to the other, creating the sexual-tension-fueled misunderstanding between them which drives most of the action for the first half or so of the novel. And while that kind of cliched misunderstanding gets rather irritating (you just want to knock their heads together and makethemtalk), once it gets cleared up and they start working together, they work so well as a pair, it's worth any amount of annoyance. Their sparring, and the sparks that often (literally) fly, reminds me of another fun literary couple, Amelia Peabody and her husband Emerson. There's something about a large, bellowing man, who is really a soft, squishy marshmallow inside, which is just unbelievably sexy. Add in a woman who's not afraid to stand up to his thunderings, who'll stand nose to nose (even if she has to pull over a step-stool to do so) and poke the bear, as it were, and you've got one immensely readable, entertaining, compelling story.
There was only one big quibble I had with the story and that was the fact that Miranda's "talent," her ability to create fire, is never fully explained, as far as where the ability came from. Was she cursed as a child? Were her parents cursed? Was there some sort of magical object causing the ability? I would've liked to have had a deeper backstory on Miranda.
That said, I could barely put this book down, reading it in only two days which, considering how my powers of concentration have been lately, is an amazing feat. I'm eagerly looking forward to the sequel and because I got this book from the library, I'm seriously contemplating buying it and adding it to my permanent "keeper" shelf....more
What is it with heroines in today's fiction? Actually, that's the wrong word; no wonder we refer to them as Main Characters rather than heroi2.5 stars
What is it with heroines in today's fiction? Actually, that's the wrong word; no wonder we refer to them as Main Characters rather than heroines--there's no heroism anymore, especially in YA fiction, it seems. Instead--and my rant here refers to female YA MCs--we're continually presented with leads who declare, repeatedly and petulantly, they want to be independent; that they're strong women who have no use for the conventions of the times in which they live and instead want to live lives of their own design, under their own control. Yet always, always, instead of behaving in such a strong, confident manner--putting their money where their mouths are, so to speak--they're whiny, whimpy little girls who rarely, if ever, actually stand up for themselves, who meekly go along with whatever they're told and only finally become brave when they have the support of "the man they love/the man who loves them." Thank goodness I don't have a daughter as this is nowhere near the message I would want her to take to heart.
In The Gathering Storm, the latest example of this trend, we have Katerina "Katiya" Alexandrovna, Duchess of Oldenburg and one of the many nobles in the confusing thicket which is Russian aristocracy in the last decade of the 19th century. She's a necromancer, but, of course, she's ashamed of it, calling her talent a 'curse', and wants nothing to do with it. (Just once I'd like a magically-enabled female protagonist to be enthused about her powers/talent; I know it's supposed to show some sort of goodness of spirit and purity of soul that Katerina has this awesome and rather taboo ability yet refuses to succumb to its allure, but it just makes her look like a wuss.) Dangers start brewing and when she has questions about her ability and how it might fit into these troubles or be used to stop them, she ignores all offers of help and information given to her. I mean, why not? It makes much more sense to just muddle through in ignorance and create even more problems for yourself and others than to, say, use the helpful reference book given to you to understand how to control your talent and empower yourself. Give. Me. A. Break. And that's just one annoying aspect of Katerina's personality. She also wants to be a doctor and chafes against the restrictive, narrow-minded attitudes which keep women out of the medical profession. Good deal and very "rah, rah, grrrl power!" But then, and this is where it gets stupid again, she faints in a situation where things got a bit hectic and bloody. Really? You want to be a doctor, but in a stressful situation, you faint? Yeah, that's a doctor I want by my side. So she basically affirms everything everyone's been saying about her--that she's a weak woman with no business being in medicine. Also, in a plot device which basically fueled the novel, this "strong" woman has no problem being manipulated and used against her will by various supernatural factions in St. Petersburg. Instead of growing a pair and finding a way to stand up for herself and her family, she blindly believes every threat used against her to keep her collared and leashed like a good little bitch. Every time you think she's going to be bold and do something, she backs down or is rescued by a handsome man. Gak!
What really pissed me off, though, is the plot device used to provide dramatic tension: Instead of opening her damned mouth when things got tough (basically at the beginning of the book) and telling someone she trusted about her power, about the threats against her, about anything, Katerina keeps it all to herself, because "she's all alone." Yet, as any perceptive reader will be able to guess, oh, right around page 50, Katerina finds out at the end of the book that the people around her either knew some of her story or, upon discovering her secret, accepted her quite readily her for it. Wow! You mean she created most of the problems simply because she kept her mouth shut and tried to fix the situation herself, even though she's ignorant to the point of stupidity, and had she just shared even the tiniest bit of the burden with her friends or family, things would've been a lot easier and some of the dramas which had cropped up wouldn't have even occurred? No way! Who could've guessed that? That is just the weakest, laziest way to create dramatic tension and any good author should know that. Sure, you can have a situation where your character doesn't talk to anyone because they don't know who to trust and create dramatic tension that way. However, your character has to absolutely be alone and surrounded by enemies. Though Katerina claims that is her position and though, yes, she does have enemies conspiring against her, she also had a coterie of close friends and family she knows absolutely she could confide in, if she just got her head out of her bustle-covered rear. And that's why this type of plot device, in this particular storyline, is inexcusable.
Which is a shame. The supernatural storyline is both creative and unique, with its mixture of faerie rivalries, vampires, necromancy and sorcery, and the Baroque atmosphere of the 19th century Russian court just enhances the sense of danger and intrigue this storyline created. However, while Bridges can occasionally create scenes of intense drama and atmosphere, there seemed to be a disconnect between the supernatural scenes and the rest of the novel. At times you wondered if, when faeries and vampires were brought up, the person was delusional or joking. The fact of their existence didn't seem to be general knowledge, but how would that work? Could you really keep the existence of werewolves, faeries, vampire and zombies a secret? There should've been a better mesh between the two worlds; as it is, we read about balls and soires and yikes! zombie attack! Then we have another ball and a fancy dinner... It's all a bit disconnected, with things picking up only in the second half of the novel (less balls, more action). Though she can write compelling action scenes and atmospheric descriptions with her narration (dialogue is her weakest point, with occasional awkward character interactions and turns of phrases), her character development, beyond what I've already pointed out, is a bit flat and two-dimensional; a lot of the bad guys stray close to caricatures. If Bridges had put a bit more effort into the plot, especially as it pertains to tension, and stayed away from cliched character traits, The Gathering Storm could've been an epic masterpiece. As it is, it's just a middling start to yet another series (seriously, why are all new books "the beginning of an exciting new series!"? Why are there no more stand-alone novels?) which has nothing really to recommend it and nothing to make it stand out from the crowd of similarly-themed series....more
I have to say, when I picked this up, I expected another literary mash-up, combining one or many of Shakespeare's works with an abudance of supernaturI have to say, when I picked this up, I expected another literary mash-up, combining one or many of Shakespeare's works with an abudance of supernatural creatures: Romeo and Juliet and Banshees or Henry V and His Army of Sea Creatures. I was pleasantly surprised to see this isn't a mash-up (the way I define them; others may have their own opinion). Instead, the author takes the legends and controversies which have built up around the bard over the years--How did a man from such a low and uneducated background write such marvelous and profuse works of literature? Did Christopher Marlowe write some or all of Shakespeare's works? Who was the Dark Lady of the Sonnets who inspired such passionate words? Why did his wife and children live separate from him, they in Stratford, he in London?--and combines them into a new twist on his personal history. Told in both first person, from his Dark Lady's perspective, and third person, from Will's perspective, the story shuttles back and forth between the two in a lucid and readable manner, presenting a realistic--in the sense that all stories have at least two sides to them--telling of the tale. Throw in a few pop culture references (sounds weird, but trust me, it works), some zombies, ghosts and necromancers, wrap it up in an illicit romance, and you have a lively romp through the back alleys and manor houses of 16th century London. Speaking of those pop culture references, it begs the question (actually questions): How does inspiration work? Can it come too early to be used and therefore must wait around until the time is right and strike again? What if Shakespeare had written Star Wars light years (ha!) ahead of its time? What about The Wizard of Oz or The Sixth Sense? Who knows. But I digress. (I'm also referencing a concept thought up by Terry Pratchett, who probably well knows the joys and frustrations which accompany random meteor strikes of creative inspiration.) And again, I digress. However, I think I have made my point, if I ever had one...wow, this is one ditzy review I'm writing. Lori Handeland has managed to create a new and unique entry into the overloaded para-/super-/preternatural field of fiction. If she has the time or gets hit with another bombardment of inspiration, I think Shakespeare Undead could easily become the first of a series....more
I think it falls under some sort of horribly ironic, Murphy's Law category, that Terry Pratchett, a man who lives off the ideas and creativity percolaI think it falls under some sort of horribly ironic, Murphy's Law category, that Terry Pratchett, a man who lives off the ideas and creativity percolating in his brain, was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's. I just hope that whatever treatment he is undergoing to combat the disease allows him to share his talent for many more years to come, because no man who can populate books with characters such as Death (who, despite his job, is really quite likeable), Nanny Ogg (we've all known a Nanny Ogg at one point in our lives, for better or worse), animals such as tree-climbing octopods and beer-loving Grandfather birds, and, well... things, for lack of a better word, such as the Luggage, deserves to have his mind taken away in such a horrible fashion.
Having read all of his Discworld novels, I was a bit hesitant to read Nation; after all, if it's not Discworld, is it worth it? The answer is a big, resounding "Yes!" I don't know how he manages to intertwine current events, deep philosophical musings, and penetrating social commentary into a story full of humor, excitement, sadness, adventure... in other words, humanity, in all its glory and failings. Manage it, he does, however with wit and an unwavering sense that everything will turn out alright in the end, not necessarily to our liking, but potentially to the way it needs to be. So, instead of attempting to condense Pratchett's story into a few sentences in order to convince others to pick up the book and read it (and horribly bungling it in the process), I'll simply state: Try it. You'll like it. ...more