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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

'On the Steamy Side' by Recipe for Love #2 Louisa EDWARDS

From the BLURB:

When Lilah Jane Tunkle fled her dull life in Virginia for the bright lights of New York City, she didn't expect to wind up a nanny to a gorgeous celebrity chef's ten-year-old son. Working for the delectable Devon Sparks is a sure-fire recipe for disaster, especially after Lilah gets a tantalizing taste of his perfectly seasoned kisses .

Devon's not sure he can handle one more surprise ingredient in his life - he quit his popular TV show, his culinary reputation is on the line, and now the son he barely knows is back for seconds. Lilah's Southern sass is supposed to keep the boy in line, but soon enough she's teaching Devon a thing or two about homespun food and turning up the heat.

This is the second book in Louisa Edward’s ‘A Recipe for Love’ series. The first book was 'Can't Stand the Heat'.

I loved this book. Straight-up, pure and simple – I loved it!

The characters are so much fun in this second installment. Devon Sparks is a celebrity chef –a Gordon Ramsay type reality-TV chef snob – except that Devon Sparks isn’t British, he’s got Adonis-like good looks and he’s secretly lacking in self-confidence. My one complaint about Devon is that while other characters built him up to be an egocentric, womanizing blow-hard the moment he meets Lilah he’s sort of on his best behavior (showing glimpse of the famous ego) and I never really bought his ‘jerk’ reputation. When Devon’s ten-year-old son, Tucker, is unexpectedly left in his care, Devon’s world slowly unwinds and he is forced to examine his life. I genuinely enjoyed reading Devon’s struggles and his transformation – especially because it wasn’t easy, and the biggest obstacle to Devon’s changes was Devon himself. It always makes for fascinating development and reading when readers can see the flaws in a character that they cannot recognize in themselves.

I love, love, loved Lilah ‘Lolly’ Tunkle. She’s from the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, and talks like it. At first I rolled my eyes at all her colloquialisms – i.e. “Oh my Stars and Stripes!” but then they started to help form this lovely, energetic, nurturing character and I found her speech-patterns to be one of my favorite things in the book. It helps that Charlaine Harris and Anna Paquin (on ‘True Blood’) gave me some sort of reference and idea about how such phrases would actually sound.

Lilah is an absolute hoot. She may act like a Southern-belle, but when push comes to shove she doesn’t mind going toe-to-toe with Devon or her little charge, Tucker. Some of my favorite scenes involved Lilah shedding her ‘Southern hospitality’ and showing her true feisty self. One such scene that had me laughing out loud was between Lilah and Devon’s son, Tucker when they first meet;

“Look, kiddo. Everything I know about nannying comes from movies like ‘Mary Poppins’ and ‘The Sound of Music’ – I realize it’s your job to start out surly and untrusting and I’m supposed to win you over with my charm and warm heart and incomparable singing voice, but unfortunately for both of us, Tuck, I am so not Julie Andrews. So what do you say we skip that part and head straight for being buds?”
Tucker looked at her blankly. Dear sweet Lord in Heaven, was it possible the child didn’t know what she was talking about?
While she was struggling with the horror of a kid who didn’t know who Mary Poppins was, Tucker opened his mouth and dispelled any worries she’d had about his ability to speak.
“You talk weird, Lolly.”
His ability to speak politely, however, was still in question.
“I’m from the South,” Lilah said. “As I think I already mentioned.” She struggled for a moment against the hated nickname, then reluctantly added, “And that’s ‘Miss Lolly’ to you.”
Tucker stared at her challengingly. “Does everyone down there take so long to say stuff? You sound like the big chicken in the cartoons.”
Oh, he did not just compare her to Foghorn Leghorn.

The above except is also an example of Ms. Edward’s infectiously funny writing. I love the fact that at times she is quite aware of the fact that she is writing a ‘romance’, and she’ll become cleverly self-deprecating of the genre. It makes for an entertaining romance read when the author is clearly aware of her audience, and can sort of have an ‘in’ joke with them about the schmaltziness of the genre.

One thing I really loved about first book was the M/M subplot between sous chef, Frankie, and NYU student (and part-time waiter), Jess. Jess had just recently come out of the closet, and in ‘Can’t Stand the Heat’ he was experiencing his first love with Frankie. Jess is young and bright-eyed, about to start his arts degree in the fall. Frankie is British, in a punk band, smokes like a chimney and is a few years older than Jess. Frankie also has a less-than-savory romantic history, and Jess is his first *real* relationship.
They were so sweet in ‘Can’t Stand the Heat’, and I remember wishing that Jess and Frankie had had a bigger role in that first book. Well, Ms. Edwards clearly anticipated fans reaction to Frankie/Jess – because it becomes clear in ‘On the Steamy Side’ that their relationship and progress will be a constant in future ‘Recipe’ books. Whereas book #1’s protagonist, Adam, makes a small cameo in ‘Steamy’, his ladylove Miranda is only referred to. So I am really glad that Frankie/Jess didn’t get the same treatment – because in ‘Steamy’ Edwards delves deeper into their relationship and creates some future conflict for them. Sucks that there are speed-humps ahead, but *yay!* for Ms. Edwards intending them to be regular’s of the series!

One of the best things about the whole premise of the ‘Recipe for Love’ series is the setting – a trendy, busy up-scale New York restaurant. There’s so much room for drama, hook-up’s, break-up’s, gossip and bitchiness. Louisa Edwards beautifully captures all the mayhem and intrigue of the kitchens – but she also shows the camaraderie, the ‘family’ feel working in such a competitive and close environment creates.

I love this series, two-books in and I know that Ms. Edwards has me for the long haul. Book #3 is called ‘Just One Taste’ and comes out August 31st this year. I can’t wait!


Coming 31 August 2010

'Just the Sexiest Man Alive' by Julie JAMES

From the BLURB:

Nothing fazes Taylor Donovan. In the courtroom she never lets the opposition see her sweat. In her personal life, she never lets any man rattle her–not even her cheating ex-fiancé. So when she’s assigned to coach People’s “Sexiest Man Alive” for his role in his next big legal thriller, she refuses to fall for the Hollywood heartthrob’s charms. Even if he is the Jason Andrews.

Jason Andrews is used to having women fall at his feet. When Taylor Donovan gives him the cold shoulder, he’s thrown for a loop. She’s unlike any other woman he’s ever met: uninterested in the limelight, seemingly immune to his advances, and shockingly capable of saying no to him. She’s the perfect challenge. And the more she rejects him, the more he begins to realize that she may just be his perfect match. . .

Ummmm… don’t hate me – but I didn’t like this book at all.
I know there are lots of Julie James lovers out there who will be absolutely bamboozled by this statement, but I cannot join the Julie James fan club.

My first problem was the fact that the main characters are all ‘beautiful people’. Movie mega-star, Jason Andrews, has been voted the ‘sexiest man alive’ three times. Fair enough, I can understand why the male film star protagonist is a modern-day Adonis. But Taylor Donovan, a Chicago sexual harassment lawyer, is also drop-dead gorgeous. So gorgeous, in fact, that Jason Andrews (who has dated supermodels and actresses in the past) describes her as being a ‘Goddess’.
Then there’s Scott Casey, Jason Andrew’s up-start acting rival who takes an interest in Taylor purely to get on Jason’s nerves…. Scott Casey (a runner-up ‘sexiest man alive’) also thinks Taylor is hot and ‘fuckable’.

Forgive me, but I think that’s just a little too much beauty in one book. Sure, Taylor does feel inadequate compared to those supermodels and actresses Jason’s dated in the past – but not nearly enough. And it’s hardly believable for her to feel lacking when she ends up with TWO sexy film stars chasing after her.

I don’t know why I had such a problem with all these gorgeous characters. Maybe because the last few contemporary romances I’ve read (and enjoyed) have had storylines that concentrate on the inner/outer beauty debate… and I’ve found myself enjoying the more complex characterizations that stem from such stories....

‘Tigers and Devils’ by Sean Kennedy – average Joe hooks up with a hot football player, and spends a good deal of the book feeling insecure and wondering what said football player sees in him.

‘He Loves Lucy’ by Susan Donovan – Woman enters into a weight-loss campaign and falls for her good-looking trainer – the book is all about her regaining her self-confidence and realizing she is lovable at any size.

‘Start Me Up’ by Victoria Dahl – female mechanic falls for a high profile architect, and wrestles with her feelings of inadequacy and lacking femininity when compared to his past conquests.

My second complaint is to do with Taylor’s character development. In the beginning of the book we learn that part of the reason she’s moved from Chicago to L.A. is because she caught her fiancée (dated for 5 years) cheating on her. At the start her ex-fiancée, Daniel, has a minor role in that he sends her flowers and calls her constantly. I would have liked this storyline to wrap up a bit more – maybe with an appearance?

So in the beginning we can assume Taylor is still feeling a little raw (though she doesn’t show it – in fact, she could care less about her 5 year relationship going down the toilet and the man she loved cheating on her). And it’s because of this betrayal that when she develops feelings for Jason, she is more than a little hesitant. She (and the rest of the world) knows that Jason is a ladies man and has a new pinup girl on his arm every night. Jason is actually a bit sexist about his female appetites – at one point comparing women to film scripts, ‘if they don’t hold my interest after an hour, I throw them out’. I think she overcame her reluctance a little too easily, and I don’t think Jason did enough to ease her concerns… I wouldn’t be surprised if her worst fears came true and she one day caught him banging a supermodel in their living room.

And finally on to my biggest complaint – no sex. Seriously? But the cover is so romance-y and it’s all about the ‘sexiest man alive’ and yet there’s no actual sex scene. Seriously? To put it into perspective; it’s like going to see a Hugh Jackman movie entitled “Let’s all get naked” only to walk out of the cinemas 2 hours later having not seen one butt cheek!

This book only has one redeeming feature – and that is Jason’s best friend (and personal Jiminy Cricket) Jeremy. Sure, Jeremy and Jason have a relationship that strays perilously close to the Eric Murphy/Vince Chase friendship on the HBO show ‘Entourage’… but I liked any scene with Jeremy.

Jeremy barely stifled his smile. Ahhh… if only the paparazzi could capture moments like this.
“So, I guess this means you and Taylor are friends now,” he said.
Jason scoffed emphatically while rubbing his nose. “Please – I’m never just ‘the friend.’”
“Scott Casey might beg to differ with you on that.”
Jason pointed at him. “You say his name again, and I swear I’ll get you fired off that vampire flick of yours.”
Jeremy was highly offended by this.
“Hey – let’s get something straight. It’s a vampire/alien/zombie/warlock/ hybrid flick.”

Sorry guys, but I hated this book. I have heard good things about Ms. James’s new release ‘Something About You’ – but I’m not going to rush to buy it.


Sunday, March 28, 2010

'The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie' Highland Pleasures #1 by Jennifer Ashley

From the BLURB:

The year is 1881. Meet the Mackenzie family--rich, powerful, dangerous, eccentric. A lady couldn't be seen with them without ruin. Rumors surround them--of tragic violence, of their mistresses, of their dark appetites, of scandals that set England and Scotland abuzz. 

The youngest brother, Ian, known as the Mad Mackenzie, spent most of his young life in an asylum, and everyone agrees he is decidedly odd. He's also hard and handsome and has a penchant for Ming pottery and beautiful women. 

Beth Ackerley, widow, has recently come into a fortune. She has decided that she wants no more drama in her life. She was raised in drama--an alcoholic father who drove them into the workhouse, a frail mother she had to nurse until her death, a fussy old lady she became constant companion to. No, she wants to take her money and find peace, to travel, to learn art, to sit back and fondly remember her brief but happy marriage to her late husband. 

And then Ian Mackenzie decides he wants her.

I absolutely, thoroughly, unashamedly LOVED this book. I finished it and straight away I wanted to go back to the beginning and dive in all over again.

This is an historical romance. Beth Ackerley is a widower with a small fortune, who is engaged to a notorious rake when she first meets Ian Mackenzie. Ian cannot stand the thought of lovely, innocent, blue-eyed Beth marrying such scum and promptly tells her as much. He also offers to marry her himself.

If this sounds like it could be any number of historical/regency romances, then you’d be right to wonder what was so special about this plot.
Well, Jennifer Ashley has ingeniously set herself apart from all other romance writers in the genre by writing a leading man who is mad. Quite mad; with documentation to prove it. Ian Mackenzie was thrown into an insane asylum when he was nine-years-old, and wasn’t released until he was twenty-years-old.

Lord Ian Mackenzie cannot look people in the eye. He hates crowds. He does not understand humor, sarcasm or subtly and needs direct instruction. He does not know why people clap at the end of plays, but he does it because he has been told he must. He can learn a foreign language in a few days and is a mathematical genius. He is obsessed with bowls from the Ming dynasty and is prone to bouts of rage.

Today, Ian Mackenzie would be diagnosed as having Asperger syndrome – a form of high-functioning autism. But in 1881 Ian was subjected to electro-shock therapy and strapped to his bed at night.

Ashley doesn’t shy away from Ian’s syndrome, or ‘madness’. It is present in every scene, every one of his actions and is always lurking just below the surface. It’s really quite clever, how Ashley works his symptoms into his narrative and the story – during points of climax, for example, when other characters are discussing recent events, Ian is preoccupied with the smell of Beth’s hair.
His syndrome makes for a thoroughly fascinating and intense character. It makes him into a very sweet romantic lead – he is convinced that he cannot love Beth, because he is not ‘built that way’, but readers (and Beth) begin to observe the way his neurosis focuses on her.
His symptoms also make for some very funny and surprisingly erotic scenes. Ian must speak bluntly and honestly, as he does not understand social nuances and subterfuge – which leads to a few scenes like this one;

Beth warmed. “My lord, I do believe you are the most flattering man of my acquaintance.”
Ian paused, his expression unreadable. “I state truths. You are perfect as you are. I want to see you bare, and I wish to kiss your cunny.”
The heat there flared. “And as always, I don’t know whether to run away from you or stay and bask in you attention.”
“I know how to answer that.” He snaked his strong fingers around her wrist. “Stay.” His hand was heavy and warm, and he traced a circle on the inside of her arm.

Beth is a perfectly complimentary leading lady for Ian. She grew up in the slums, became a companion to a wealthy woman who left her a fortune and married a vicar who she loved dearly, but who died within a year of their marriage. Beth is not a blushing virgin, but a widower who is aware of the pleasures of the flesh and misses intimacy with a man. And in Ian she is reminded of those pleasures (after nine years of going without) and she finds him irresistible when he makes his amorous intentions known.
Beth is patient, caring and understanding of Ian’s ‘madness’ – and she does not see his neuroses as being negative in any way. She is utterly charmed by him, and sees his brilliance beneath the madness.

‘The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie’ is also a murder-mystery. A bow-street runner by the name of Fellows is convinced that Ian is responsible for the murder of two ‘game girls’. Detective Fellows sets out to prove Ian’s guilt, while Beth is determined to prove his innocence.
The murder subplot is wonderfully robust and intriguing. It creates great narrative tension and adds new layers to Ian’s madness. It’s a real whodunit, a page-turned till the end.

‘The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie’ is the first book in Ashley’s ‘Mackenzie’s’ series. She beautifully sets up characters for future books, which will have Ian’s brothers in the main role. Each brother has a secret which will make for compelling reading. I cannot wait for the other books in the series, the next of which is ‘Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage’ released July 6th this year.

It was Ms. Smexy who first recommended this book, and I cannot thank her enough. It took me long enough to pull it from my TBR pile, but I’m sure glad I did!

Book Two coming 6 July 2010
Book 1: The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie (Ian) May 2009
Book 3: The Many Sins of Lord Cameron (Cam) August 2011
Book 4: The Duke Takes a Wife (Hart) May 2012

Friday, March 26, 2010

'The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker' by Leanna Renee HIEBER

From the BLURB:

What fortune awaited sweet, timid Percy Parker at Athens Academy? Considering how few of Queen Victoria’s Londoners knew of it, the great Romanesque fortress was dreadfully imposing, and little could Percy guess what lay inside. She had never met the powerful and mysterious Professor Alexi Rychman, knew nothing of the growing shadow, the Ripper and other supernatural terrors against which his coterie stood guard. She knew simply that she was different, haunted, with her snow-white hair, pearlescent skin and uncanny gifts. But this arched stone doorway offered a portal to a new life, an education far from the convent—and an invitation to an intimate yet dangerous dance at the threshold of life and death…

This is the first book in Leanna Renee Hieber’s ‘Strangely Beautiful’ series.

I read so many amazing reviews of this book., but I’m sorry to say I didn’t love it like I thought I would…

I’m not at all surprised to learn that Ms. Hieber has a background in theatre writing. She definitely has a flare for the dramatic and a talent for writing action. So many scenes in ‘Strangely Beautiful’ are set on a grand scale, with intricate detail and they read magnificently because of Hieber’s penchant for writing vividly and grandiose. Her theatre background also makes for wonderful dialogue – when combined with Hieber’s degree in ‘Victorian era’ studies it means her characters are each imbued with charismatic speeches that strictly adhere to Victorian speech patterns.

“Something terrible from another time,” Percy breathed, unable to focus. “Something’s after me, and none of it’s what we think…”
“What isn’t? Percy, stay – look at me.”
“Hell is not down. It’s sideways,” Percy murmured, and her eyelids closed.
“Percy?” There was no answer. Marianne felt for her friend’s pulse, terrified, and found it racing. “Dear God, Persephone Parker, what is happening to you?”

Hieber has also quite masterfully woven Greek Mythology throughout this 18th century story. It makes her book very unique, and the plot a twisty-turny, fanciful ride.

I was sort of torn about the character of Percy Parker. On the one hand I loved the fact that she is an utterly unique leading lady. Percy is an albino, and in 18th century England that causes quite a stir. What I didn’t like about Percy was how timid and self-effacing she was. She grew up in a convent, and her strange paleness has made her quite an outcast – I understand that she wouldn’t be ‘little miss outgoing’. But she is so anxious and shy and has such low self-esteem that at times I found her quite annoying – and I think Hieber was overdoing Percy’s innocence to the point of making her cloying. At one point Percy says her favorite fairytale is ‘Beauty & the Beast’, because she identifies with the Beast – I probably should have felt my heart bleed, instead I rolled my eyes.
I did appreciate that her leading man, Alexi Rychman, calls Percy out on her timidity – I applauded him every time he told her to stop apologizing/thanking him profusely.

I was also torn about Alexi Rychman. I didn’t think he was a very fleshed out character – I found him to be quite one-dimensional. True, this is the first book in a series and there has to be room for growth in subsequent books. But Alexi came across as such a typical, broody, gothic romance hero. What I did like about him though, was that his friends (‘The Guard’) have him completely pinned. His friends, Michael and Elijah, compare Alexi to the Bard’s infamously gloomy hero – Hamlet. There’s one scene in which Elijah swears he can hear Beethoven’s fifth symphony every time Alexi enters a room – and I cackled along with their bantering because it was so, so *true*.

I loved the secondary characters in this book. There’s a love triangle within The Guard, and the group also has a typical prankster (Elijah). I thought the secondary characters were individually strong with very distinct voices and their group banter was absolutely wonderful.

I didn’t like the ending. A whole lot happened in a short span of time and then it was all conveniently verbally summarized by one of the characters. It seemed a bit sloppy and slap-dash, to me. The last few pages also turned quite schmaltzy and overly romantic. Admittedly one of the features of traditional gothic literature is a certain level of romanticism – so perhaps Hieber just wanted to remain true to her overarching themes? But for me, it was quite a big love-fest dump right at the end, which I appreciated even less because there wasn’t enough of that romance peppered throughout the book. The only reason I even knew that Percy and Alexi had feelings for one another was because Percy kept *telling* me. I didn’t read it in their interactions, it was only because Percy kept prattling on about Alexi’s beautiful voice and imposing appearance – otherwise I don’t think I would have guessed that his stoic exterior was hiding burning passions and vice versa.

This is a very hard book to place, genre-wise. On the spine ‘Leisure Books’ labels the book as being ‘Historical Fantasy’ – but that discounts the heavy gothic themes and the fact that the storyline revolves a great deal around Greek mythology. I think that’s part of the reason why I struggled to get into this book – it took me so long to figure out exactly what it was I was reading. For a while I thought it might be a ‘steampunk’ – partly because it reminded me of Gail Carriger. Then I thought it might be strictly fantasy. Mention of Jack the Ripper early on had me guessing whether it was a murder mystery. Even when I finished the book I wasn’t sure exactly how I’d sum it up, except to say there’s a whole lot going on.

I stopped-and-started reading this book about 5 times before finally reading it all the way through. I just couldn’t get into it. Beautiful as the writing is (Hieber clearly knows her craft) and as grandiose as the plot was - I just struggled to get into this one and enjoy it like others have. It’s not necessarily a reflection of the writing; it might just be that I wasn’t in the mood for this mish-mash genre book.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

'Outlander' series by Diana GABALDON

From the ‘Outlander’ blurb:

The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon--when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach--an "outlander"--in a Scotland torn by war and raiding Highland clans in the year of Our Lord...1743.

Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into intrigues and dangers that may threaten her life...and shatter her heart. For here she meets James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, and becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire...and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.

I’ve re-read the first book three times now (no mean feat when it’s 656 pages) and each time I fall a little bit more in love. This is my favorite series, and ‘Outlander’ is my favorite book.
I am so obsessed with this series that I have marked all my favorite passages, sentences, scenes and chapters and frequently flip through them when I feel in the mood.
I feel so close to this series, and so protective of it that I wasn’t even overly thrilled when it was announced in 2008 that the movie rights were sold and the books being adapted. I would be so upset if the movie didn’t live up to expectations, if my favorite book wasn’t don’t *just* right, that I rather it not be adapted at all… How to explain my obsession and over-protectiveness? Well, let me attempt….

Jamie and Claire are the most magnificent love story I have ever read. It is epic - grand-scale, tragic, passionate, enduring and life altering.
It’s not just that it’s time travel that bought the two of them together – it’s the fact that they fit, complete and compliment one another so perfectly. Jamie himself describes his love for Claire as thus;
“For so many years,” he said, “for so long, I have been so many things, so many different men.” I felt him swallow, and he shifted slightly, the linen of his nightshirt rustling with starch.
“I was Uncle to Jenny’s children, and Brother to her and Ian. ‘Milord’ to Fergus, and ‘Sir’ to my tenants. ‘Mac Dubh’ to the men of Ardsmuir and ‘Mackenzie’ to the other servants at Helwater. ‘Malcolm the printer,’ then, and ‘Jamie Roy’ at the docks.” The hand stroked my hair, slowly, with a whispering sound like the wind outside. “But here,” he said, so softly I could barely hear him, “here in the dark, with you… I have no name.”
I lifted my face toward his, and took the warm breath of him between my own lips.
“I love you,” I said, and did not need to tell him how I meant it.
Jamie Fraser is one of the sweetest male protagonists, at once a fearless warrior and gentle lover. Jamie is a mass of contradictions – he trained to be a soldier in France and when Claire meets him he is a strong clansman. Jamie sleeps with his dirk (knife) by his head at night and is a savage killer on the battlefield. But he is also the Laird of the Lallybroch estate, a protective brother and a leader of men who would follow him to the ends of the earth. Jamie is loyal and compassionate, brutally honest with an unbending set of morals. He also has a tragic past that haunts him, but never overpowers him, throughout the series. It is impossible to read these books and not fall in love with Jamie… especially because, above all else, I think he considers his role as Claire’s husband to be his most important.
"I will find you," he whispered in my ear. "I promise. If I must endure two hundred years of purgatory, two hundred years without you---then that is my punishment, which I have earned for my crimes. For I have lied, and killed, and stolen; betrayed and broken trust. But there is one thing that shall lie in the balance. When I shall stand before God, I shall have one thing to say, to weigh against the rest." His voice dropped, nearly to a whisper, and his arms tightened around me. "Lord, ye gave me a rare woman, and God! I loved her well."
Claire is quite opposite to Jamie. She was a nurse during WWII, so she is very pragmatic and ‘take charge’. Claire is bull-headed and wickedly smart, with a cunningness and honesty that is rivaled only by Jamie. It’s great fun to read 19th century Claire being thrown into 17th century Scotland, both because she is such a contrast to the times but also because she is a wily character and a survivor, above all else – and she adapts beautifully.

Jamie and Claire are also a favorite because Gabaldon writes such good sex scenes. Yes, it’s all well and good to wax poetic about grand love stories – but it all means nothing if there’s no *heat*. Well Jamie and Claire are smoldering – and Ms. Gabaldon quite likes her smutty scenes, to the point that I have found myself blushing quite a few times throughout.

Gabaldon’s series spans centuries, countries and historic events. Gabaldon throws Jamie and Claire into the middle of the ‘Jacobite rising’ of 1745, and the last few books have been preparing Jamie and Claire for the American war of Independence (1775 – 1783).
Gabaldon has created characters out of real historical figures, including ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ (Charles Stuart), King James and King George II.
If this all sounds like one boring history lesson, you could not be more wrong. Gabaldon clearly has a love of history and detail – but she only uses these events as catalysts and backdrops for her characters. Jamie and Claire are never lost amidst the grand battles and revolutions, the story is always about them and Gabaldon never loses sight of that.

These grand historic backgrounds make for fascinating reading – Jamie and Claire have gone to war, met Indians, sailed to the New World and attended the French court in Versailles. The historic events act as plot triggers and ensure that Jamie and Claire are always on an adventure. But there is a drawback to such a grandiose timeline. Ms. Gabaldon does all of her research simultaneously with her manuscript writing – and because of this (and the fact that her books are, on average, 800+ pages) it is a LONG wait between books. Fans had a four-year wait between novels #6 and #7, and it looks as though we will have to wait another four years for #8.

It’s not helped by the fact that Gabaldon loves a good cliff hanger. And trust me when I say those cliffs seem to grow and steepen over the years – the latest installment ‘An Echo in the Bone’ came out September 2009 and left fans reeling for its open-endedness.

It is a testament to Gabaldon’s work that fans do keep coming back, despite the agonizing wait between books. ‘Outlander’ came out in 1991, and the series now stands at seven books with at least 2 more in Gabaldon’s contract. And every 4 to 5 years her fans make an expedition and pick up Jamie and Claire’s story where the last left off – and every year, without fail, Gabaldon claims a whole new troop of fans.

It’s hard to describe these books, and so often they are misplaced in bookshops. They are not ‘time travel’ sci-fi; they fit more comfortably into ‘historical romance’. But at the same time ‘historical romance’ conjures images of bodice-ripping and swashbuckling corniness. The ‘Outlander’ books are so much more than that. They are truly epic – publication spans decades, the plot defies genre and the romance is unrivaled.

If you haven’t already, I cannot communicate enough just how much you should read these books. I know it’s daunting – 656 pages for book #1. And I have to warn you, the plot of book #1 starts out slow – you’ve really got to stick to it through a good 100 pages of set-up before you get to the really good stuff. But it’s so, so worth it (for Jamie Fraser alone).


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

'Nicholas' Lords of Satyr #1 by Elizabeth AMBER

From the BLURB:

In the heart of Tuscany's centuries-old wine country, three half-Satyr brothers receive a letter that sends them in search of three endangered half-Faerie brides. The daughters of a dying king, they present a unique opportunity for the wealthy, charismatic Lords of Satyr to beget heirs to inherit their Italian vineyard and ancient secrets..........
For not just any woman will do as a Satyr wife. Each month at Moonful, the brothers change physically, becoming more powerfully potent. They're driven by the darker side of their natures to indulge in a nightlong ritual in a sacred gathering place ringed with statues of Bacchus, nymphs, dryads, and fauns...........
Eldest brother Nick considers it his duty to sire heirs. But he prefers to keep his conjugal visits to Jane, his new FaerieBlend wife, proper while engaging in more carnal activities with experienced courtesans...........
Unaware that she's half-Faerie, Jane is desperate to rid herself of the terrible abilities she acquired when she turned thirteen. Only then will she bear Nick's children and find a true home with him. Until then, she must deceive him...........
As the grapevines begin to bloom, an ancient cult hatches plans that could destroy Nick and Jane's blossoming happiness.

This is one of the worst romances I have ever read.

The main problem with Elizabeth Amber’s ‘Nicholas’ is that the characters are cold.

A month into his marriage to Jane, Nicholas is back in the arms of his regular courtesans and mistresses. He has fleeting feelings of guilt, but is otherwise arrogant in his assumptions that ‘whores’ and ‘wives’ are separate in a man’s life.

You could argue that this is just Amber being true to the times – indeed men in the 18th century, no matter how enamored of their wives, would think it was their male right (and pride) to keep a little ‘somethin, somethin’ on the side. But that’s not why I read romance. Infidelity and promiscuity may be the reality – but it doesn’t have any place in the romances I read. It could work if a more accomplished author made a husbands infidelity the central focus of the plot, but Nicholas’s promiscuity is quite vulgar and a cheap chance for Amber to write smut.

Even though Nicholas and his Satyr brothers are sometimes equipped with two penises, the sex scenes aren’t even hot or flattering. Nicholas uses Jane like a scratching post – and their first few couplings as man and wife involve Jane lying rigid while Nicholas ruts away. So poor is Nicholas’s technique in the marriage bed that Jane’s first introductions to pleasure are at her own hand, when her husband has retired to his own room. Hot.

Nicholas thinks that pleasurable sex is only to be had with mistresses, while marital unions are for the begetting of children… and furthermore, wives aren’t built the same as courtesans in that they don’t enjoy carnal pleasures. Ummm… WHAT? Admittedly, Nicholas gained these insights from his (clueless) father, and clearly the lessons stuck. But you would think that at some point, after having so much sex, Nicholas would have had a light bulb moment and realized – ‘hey! They’re *all* women! All built the same, with the same appendages – what are the chances they *all* enjoy sex?!’. But, sadly for Jane, no.

“Why did you choose me?” she whispered bitterly. “Of all the women you might have chosen.”
He stretched his legs across the carriage floor, irritated. “It was time I took a wife and begat heirs. I believed bedding you would please me.”
She tamped down the pain his careless words caused. “And does it?”
“Angling for compliments, Jane?” he reproved.
“I’m attempting to determine how you envision our future together.”
“Much as it is now.”

To be honest while I gawked and guffawed at Nicholas’s high-minded ‘whores are for fucking, wives are for children’ teachings – I didn’t really care about the impact on Jane. Sure, I sympathized with her for having such a dumb-ass husband, but I really didn’t care about what happened to her – even with the threat of unknown ‘danger’ and her hurt at Nicholas’s promiscuity. I could care less, because Jane was so boring (hey – way to live up to being ‘plain Jane’).

It’s a shame, because Jane started out very interesting. Nicholas finds Jane impersonating a gypsy fortune-teller; complete with fake hunchback and cackling voice. But after that initial character quirk, Jane fades into the wallpaper. She really does degenerate into this placid wife, who doesn’t get particularly angry when she learns of her husband’s infidelity, but rather asks him to use her body as he would a whores. Way to go, feminism!

Elizabeth Amber isn’t a particularly good writer either. She summarizes so many scenes – pages and pages of paragraphs detailing Nicholas’s whoring, Jane’s botany expeditions, Maenad orgies… so many summaries and not enough scenes. Amber’s editor needs to have a sit down and explain the importance of “show, don’t tell”.

I also had a problem with character interiority. Jane is a virgin when she comes to Nicholas’s bed. And in their first few sexual encounters, she doesn’t reach fulfillment but rather clumsily navigates her own body after Nicholas has rutted and left. Yet in her internal monologue she talks about her ‘clitoris’, ‘climaxing’ and ‘coming’. These are terms she wouldn’t know for bodily functions she wouldn’t be able to articulate – and I found such narrative to be jarring and clumsy.

Finally, the whole Satyr plot degenerates into ridiculousness. I was willing to give the idea of Satyr protagonists a go – I thought it could evoke a ‘Midsummer Nights Dream’ type atmosphere. Sadly Amber doesn’t seem to know enough about the Satyr race and towards the end the entire plot degenerates as Nicholas insists that Jane have sex with his brothers because “that’s the Satyr way”. Uh-huh.

This is a really, really awful book. ‘Nicholas’ reads like a ‘what not to do’ guide for romance authors. Primarily - romance readers don’t want a male hero who cheats on his wife. They also don’t want a protagonist whose only concern is his own climax, not his wife’s.

I think I only got through this book because I was amused to see just how much worse it could get… suffice to say; pretty damn bad.
I wouldn’t touch the other 4 books in this series with a 10-foot pole… even if the covers are really, really tempting.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

'Compromised' by Kate NOBLE

From the BLURB:

Miss Gail Alton is not having a good day. Or a good year. First, her new stepmother strong-arms her into attending the Season as a foil to her beautiful sister Evangeline. Then, while riding her mare in the park, she gets toppled by a stuffy, self-important, too-handsome-by-half "gentleman" who has the audacity to blame her for their fall into the chilly lake! Little does she know that the very same man will soon be found in a compromising position with Gail's sister.

Forced into asking for Evangeline's hand in marriage, Maximillian, Viscount Fontaine, can't take his mind off the irksome girl who threw him from his horse and who can match wits with him at every turn. He's determined to follow through with his best intentions, yet he can't deny that every encounter with Gail makes him want to cast propriety aside-and whisk away the sister of his soon-to-be bride.

It’s not very often that I find myself on the edge of my seat while reading a regency romance. More often than not the storyline is predictable and a happy ending is never far away. That’s quite all right – in fact it’s the whole reason I read regency romances. But I was pleasantly surprised by Kate Noble’s debut novel and how she managed to make ‘regency romance’ synonymous with ‘nail biter’.

Noble gets her hero and heroine so utterly twisted up in a thoroughly compromising position that even though I knew (deep, deep down) that things would work out romantically in the end, it was still a roller coaster of a journey to see how the characters got there.

Max and Gail meet when the two are unceremoniously dumped into a lake by their respective horses. Heated words ensue and the next time they meet, Gail is drunk as a skunk at a Ton party and vomiting on Max’s shoes. At the same Ton party Max bumps into Gail’s elder sister, the lovely Evangeline, and is instantly infatuated and even a little relieved when they are discovered in a compromising (though innocent) position that forces him to propose to her. Max can only see one drawback to marrying the ethereal Evangeline, and that is having Gail ‘the brat’ as his sister-in-law.

What follows is a slowly romantic and totally unintentional courtship between Max and Gail as Max learns the fleeting affections of lust are no match for the timelessness of true love. It’s incredibly sweet to watch Gail and Max go from being at logger-heads to reluctant affection to utter devotion. And all while navigating Ton gossip and the promises each of them have made.

Gail is a wonderful regency heroine. As is the case with most beloved leading ladies of the 1800’s – Gail is no dimwitted debutante. She is a wallflower who shies away from social events and conversations with men – but only because she fears her wicked wit and quick tongue will get her in trouble. She has high-minded opinions about England’s need to colonize other countries and the Crown’s rape of other cultures. She is utterly charming and a little bit clumsy. My kind of girl!

Max is a wonderful leading man for the headstrong Gail. He doesn’t back down from her arguments and actively encourages her debates and disagreements with him. He is enamored of her fiery personality and encourages her to let it out more often.

Gail hemmed. “I just worry too much about making a mess of things.”
Max squeezed her hand. “I am suddenly overwhelmed by this feeling that you will be just fine.”
“Why is that?” she questioned.
He laced his fingers through hers. “Because when no one’s watching,” he whispered, “you’re fearless”.

Max and Gail are smokin’ hot too. Their romance is aided by pent-up frustrations caused by propriety and an inconvenient engagement to the wrong sister – so when they do finally act on their feelings, it’s sexy as all get out!

The best thing about ‘Compromised’ is Noble’s ability to keep the reader guessing. Even though you know a happy resolution is in store, Noble has created such a twisty-turny plot and gotten her characters into such hot water it’s entertaining to see how they get themselves out of their predicaments.

I will definitely be reading more of Ms. Noble’s work – I even think she will join the ranks of Lisa Kleyas, Julia Quinn and Tessa Dare as being one my favorite historical romance authors.


Friday, March 19, 2010

SJ Day update on the 'Marked' series

In my 'Where are they now? - Author updates' post, I said I couldn't find any information on the status of SJ Day's 'Marked' series:

Well I now have an update, and it's bad news. It's all explained in this post by Ms. Day. But basically: SJ Day has successfully pitched a new paranormal romance series to Penguin's 'NAL'. This means Ms. Day won't be working with her previous publisher 'TOR' ... which means no more 'Marked' series in the immediate future. She could renew her contract and write more 'Eve' books (she says she still has ideas for the series) but I got the impression that fans would have to wait a long time.

Our only consolation is that SJ Day's short story in 'The Mammoth book of Paranormal Romance' anthology (released October 5th, 2010) is set in the 'Marked' universe and will wrap up the series (editing permitting).

In the mean time, keep your eyes pealed for new work by 'Sylvia Day'. Not much is known about the new series - except that it is a 'paranormal romance' and it is indeed a 'series', not stand-alone.

I am actually quite saddened by this news. I thought the 'Marked' series hit its stride with book #3 ' Eve of Chaos' - which beautifully set up a complicated and intriguing plot line for future books. I was looking forward to reading about how this universe would grow.

Oh well. All I can hope for now is some sort of resolution with regards to who Eve chose - Cain or Abel?

'One Week as Lovers' by Victoria DAHL

From the BLURB:

Some Pleasures, Once Tasted...

Even after finding his betrothed in the arms of another man, Nicholas, the Viscount Lancaster, knows he must wed. Propriety and the dire state of his finances decrees it. At least a visit to his country estate provides relief from playing the role of loving fiance, as well as a surprising encounter with Cynthia Merrithorpe. Once his childhood companion, Cynthia has grown into a lovely, alluring woman one who's undertaken a daring ruse to avoid being sold into a miserable marriage.

Are Too Delicious To Forget...

When Nicholas left for London to assume his new title, Cynthia was forced to put aside her girlish infatuation. Now he's returned, more wickedly attractive than ever. And this time, Cynthia is determined to experience the pleasure she's dreamed of for so long. But with a man like Nicholas, seduction is only the beginning of a sensual journey that will tempt them both to defy convention, and uncover the very heart of desire...

This was my first Victoria Dahl book.

I wasn’t overly impressed – I’ve read better historical romances, and authors like Lisa Kleypas and Julia Quinn remain among my favorite authors of the genre. ‘One Week as Lovers’ was just a little too hum-drum for me. The storyline is mediocre; so much is made of the fact that Nick and Cynthia grew up together, were childhood friends who drifted apart when Nick gained the title of ‘Viscount’. But I didn’t really feel the ‘connection’ between them – Dahl relied too heavily on Cynthia’s girlhood crush being the basis for her adult feelings.

The storyline is a bit all over the place as well. There were so many plot lines criss-crossing and starting/stopping; it was a little hard to get invested in any one. For one thing, Cynthia fakes her own death in the beginning to get out of a marriage contract. Nick discovers the ton woman he is engaged to has been cheating on him. Cynthia suspects that she has the map to buried pirate treasure – and when Nick comes to mourn Cynthia’s passing and he discovers she is in fact alive, they set out to locate the treasure trove.

And amidst all these storylines (enough for three separate books, at least) is something shady concerning Nick’s past, and a rumor that he tried to hang himself. This is actually the most intriguing storyline, and one that saves the book. When the truth about Nick is revealed it is an intense climax, heart-breaking and gut-wrenching.

I will say something for Dahl – she knows her way around a sex scene. Seriously good, smutty stuff.

He looked up for a moment as if startled, but she put her mouth on his and brought him back to her.
In the dark she could feel everything. In the dark it was just Nick and his taste and smell and touch. In the dark there was no fiancée and no scar around his neck and no ship to America.

I’ve read so many Victoria Dahl endorsements – first from Patti at ‘Book Addict’, and more recently from Mandi at ‘Smexy’. Having now had the pleasure of reading her ‘Tumble Creek’ series, I think Dahl’s strength lies in contemporary romance rather than historical.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

'Bite Marks' Jaz Parks #6 by Jennifer RARDIN

From the BLURB:

Jaz is possessed. After biting the neck of a domyter during a forced visit to his territory, she now has unwelcome voices in her head. While fighting for supremacy in her own mind, she finds herself confronted with a near-impossible task: perform perfectly on her next mission or face the unemployment line.

This is Jennifer Rardin’s sixth ‘Jaz Parks’ book.

Jaz is back, along with Cole, Bergman, Cassandra, malamute Jack and official boyfriend, Vayl. Rardin has set this 6th novel in Australia’s capital, Canberra. As an Aussie I should be patriotic and proud – but Canberra, really? The most boring Australian city? Rardin does not exaggerate when she comments on its ugliness and the complete lack of nightlife.

One set-back to Rardin’s series is her reliance on reader’s memories. She picks the story up right where Jaz left off in ‘One More Bite’, including references to Cassandra’s complicated demon-warding rituals and the state of Jaz’s soul. There were a few times reading ‘Bite Marks’ when the references to past books were over my head – and I just had to smile, nod and keep reading in the hopes that it would all eventually make sense. Which it usually did, kind of.

But I also kind of love how fervently Rardin jumps into the story – from page one everything is helter skelter, full-throttle peddle-to-the-meddle and I love it! Jaz and Vayl are at their best when their fighting back-to-back because Rardin clearly relishes writing action scenes.

I kind of wish Rardin had as much fun writing Jaz/Vayl sex scenes. After finally making their flirtation official in ‘One More Bite’, I was looking forward to reading about Jaz and Vayl in couple’s bliss in ‘Bite Marks’. And while it is quite clear these two are loved up and blissed out – Rardin doesn’t go into the nitty gritty (unfortunately), she just offers readers tantalizing glimpses of Vayl and his sexy tush and hints at Jaz and Vayl’s passion:

Rising so deliberately that I could see the muscles bunch and relax in his shoulders and chest, he took my hand and lifted it to his lips. Every finger got a light caress. Then he kissed Cirilai solemnly before looking up into my eyes, his own telling me things only my heart could understand. “We are sverhamin and avhar now. That means we walk in our own Trust. Together.”

This was my biggest disappointment. I thought that after such a build-up to their relationship, Rardin would gift readers with some seriously sexy smut. Not the case, and I feel a little cheated.

I really liked this sixth installment. A ‘Jaz Parks’ book is always a fun read, and Rardin delivers ten-fold in ‘Bite Marks’. Plenty of action, lots of Jaz/Vayl developments (which are good, even without detailed sex – damn!) and plenty of funny Cole comments.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

'Black Magic Sanction' Hollows #8 by Kim HARRISON

From the BLURB:

Rachel Morgan has fought and hunted vampires, werewolves, banshees, demons, and other supernatural dangers as both witch and bounty hunter--and lived to tell the tale. But she's never faced off against her own kind . . . until now. Denounced and shunned for dealing with demons and black magic, her best hope is life imprisonment--at worst, a forced lobotomy and genetic slavery. Only her enemies are strong enough to help her win her freedom, but trust comes hard when it hinges on the unscrupulous tycoon Trent Kalamack, the demon Algaliarept, and an ex-boyfriend turned thief.

This is the 8th book in Kim Harrison’s popular ‘Rachel Morgan; The Hollows’ series.

I waited for this book for a year. After ‘White Witch, Black Curse’ I was absolutely desperate for the next instalment, because it finished on such a cliff hanger. In book #7, Rachel found herself shunned by the Witch community and ex-communicated because of her demon dabbling. Rachel was at an all-time low, and I was eager to find out how she would deal with this new catastrophe. But I’m sad to say that having now read book #8, I’m a tad disappointed.

I got to the end of ‘Black Magic Sanction’ and I honestly couldn’t tell you what has changed for Rachel. Whereas in past books the final page has left Rachel with demon marks, student to a demon teacher, killer of a vampire master, and reunited with her biological father… ‘Black Magic Sanction’ finished on a whimper, rather than a bang.

My first big complaint has to do with the introduction of yet another male love interest for Rachel, in the form of ghost Pierce.

Pierce first appeared in a ‘Hollows’ short story in the 2007 anthology ‘Holidays are Hell’. The short story was a ‘Hollows’ prequel called “Two Ghosts for Sister Rachel”, and featured an 18-year-old Rachel Morgan, her brother Robbie and a deceased Coven witch turned ghost, Pierce. I really liked that short story, and admittedly Pierce and Rachel had quite a bit of sparkage in just that little anthology.
But I feel bad for all those ‘Hollows’ fans who have not read that short story, and for whom Pierce’s sudden appearance at the end of ‘White Witch, Black Curse’ was a total WTF? moment. It doesn’t help all those in-the-dark fans that in ‘Black Magic Sanction’ Rachel constantly refers to Pierce as her ‘girlhood crush’. I can only imagine there are quite a few confused readers out there wondering if they’ve skipped a book in the series.

“It’s not what you are, but who you are,” Pierce said, and when he stood as well, I started edging into the hall. “I saw you when you had just tipped the scales to womanhood, and I can tell you that you’re much the same in your mind now as you were then.”
“And what is that?” I asked from within the dark hallway.
Pierce was silent until he stopped right before me, his face showing an unreadable emotion. “You’re firm in will, pure in intent, strong in magic. But now it’s tempered with wisdom, and you’re more beautiful and brilliant yet.” I went to turn away, and he pulled me back. “You are shades of gray swirling, balancing needs and desires,” he added, watching me. “You are good, Rachel. No matter what your choices lead you to, you will remain such.”

I don’t mind Pierce on the whole. I like that he is Victorian-minded and a very otherworldly gentleman – his speeches are great to read (“I swan”) and he proves very useful over the course of ‘Black Magic Sanction’. But I refuse to get invested in his character. Kisten was the only male love interest of Rachel’s that I liked, and I think he will be her last *serious* boyfriend.

I couldn’t help but resent Pierce because eight books in I desperately want Rachel and Ivy’s relationship to evolve beyond the ‘platonic’.
That brings me to my second annoyance…

Kim Harrison’s ‘The Hollows’ series is in a class all its own in the world of Urban Fantasy. Her series has amazing scope; they are truly epic and grand-scale. Harrison is one of the ‘big poombah’ writers of the UF genre and I absolutely adore her writing.
One of the reasons Harrison stands out in this ever-popular genre is because she isn’t afraid to take chances in her series. She kills off characters, she turns bad guys good and vice versa - and maybe best of all, she has her fans eager for an unconventional F/F pairing between Rachel and Ivy.

‘Hollows’ fans have patiently waited for things to progress between the vampire and the witch – they’ve read through Ivy admitting her love for Rachel, Rachel adamantly maintaining her heterosexuality and carrying on meaningless relationships with throw-away men (Marshal!) and we’ve been titillated by girl on girl scenes as they ‘explore their boundaries’. But eight books in and ‘Black Magic Sanction’ feels like one giant step back in any possible HEA for Ivy and Rachel.

‘Black Magic Sanction’ has Ivy in a new relationship with FIB officer, Glenn. And a possible ménage relationship with a new character called Darryl (who neither Rachel nor readers have been introduced to). Meanwhile Rachel is denying her growing feelings for Pierce…
It certainly feels like Harrison is going over old territory and not giving readers anything new. Harrison is contracted for 12 books (possibly 13 if her contract gets extended) in the series – and fair enough if she doesn’t want to write a HEA between Ivy and Rachel with 4 books still to go. But when she writes such distance between Ivy and Rachel, and doesn’t include any scenes of them being alone together – it just feels like she’s leaving those two characters and their relationship to stagnate and frustrate readers.

And that brings me to my third complaint.
Ivy and Jenks didn’t play a big enough role in this book. Rachel, Ivy and Jenks and their unconventional but steadfast friendship is the main reason I keep coming back to this series. I love their little Triumvirate and any scenes of the three of them. But those ‘threesome’ scenes are far and few between in ‘Black Magic Sanction’. Pierce hogs the spotlight with Rachel, and it feels like there is a growing chasm between Rachel and Ivy/Jenks.

Basically my biggest complaints are to do with the emotional character ARC’s in Harrison’s series. But I can’t fault the nuts and bolts of Harrison’s writing. She navigates her way around action scenes as though she’s writing for the big screen – and reading them gets your adrenaline pumping.
While I wasn’t thrilled with the progress of the emotional relationships, Harrison has very cleverly added a new layer of mystery to Rachel’s relationship with demon, Al and elf, Trent. Harrison has definitely increased the intrigue of those two men, and is setting up for some very interesting future plot lines….


‘Black Magic Sanction’ also includes a very sad character death. No doubt many fans will have predicted this passing, but it still won’t prepare you for the impact of the scene. I bawled my eyes out.


All in all, I wasn’t impressed by ‘Black Magic Sanction’, and this was probably my least favourite book in the series (and I’m including the one in which Kisten dies! So that is saying something). Not enough happened, Ivy and Rachel’s ‘will they or won’t they’ began to grate and I didn’t get a big enough Jenks fix.


Monday, March 15, 2010

'Tuscan Rose' by Belinda ALEXANDRA

Received from the publisher

From the BLURB:

The internationally bestselling author of WHITE GARDENIA returns with her greatest heroine yet. A mysterious stranger known as ′The Wolf′ leaves an infant with the sisters of Santo Spirito. A tiny silver key hidden in her wrappings is the one clue to the child′s identity ...
Rosa′s only family is the nuns who have raised her. When she turns fifteen, she must leave them and become governess to the daughter of an aristocrat and his strange, frightening wife. Their house is elegant but cursed, and Rosa - blessed with gifts beyond her considerable musical talents - is torn between her desire to know the truth and her fear of its repercussions.
And all the while, the hand of Fascism curls around beautiful Italy, and none of her citizens is safe. Rosa faces unimaginable hardship: her only weapons her intelligence, intuition and determination ...and her extraordinary capacity for love.

The book opens in 1914, Florence and a man abandoning a newborn babe to a convent. He leaves the child with only a key tied to her foot, and a warning to the nuns that if the child remains anonymous, she will be safe. The novel then skips ahead to 1929, when 15-year-old Rosa Belocchi is about to leave the church and the only home she has ever known to become governess in the Scarfiotti villa.

‘Tuscan Rose’ is a sprawling saga of epic-proportions. Belinda Alexandra shows readers the height of Mussolini fever as the narrative spans decades and depicts Italy’s Police State under ‘Il Duce’ and consequent involvement in WWII.

Rosa Belocchi narrates throughout – first her tenure as governess to the Scarfiotti family, then her imprisonment as ‘enemy of the state’ that portrays the world of female political prisoners at the height of fascism. Rosa narrates through her marriage to a good, Jewish man during the ‘Pact of Steel’ between Germany and Italy and the vicious anti-Semitism that followed into invasion and war.

Antonio reached out and touched her wrist. The guard didn’t stop him. “You know, once war breaks out there are no decent men and no morals any more,” he said. “If people start thinking that way they will be defeated. What all the decent people need to do before war even breaks out is say ‘No!’ That is the time to be decent. That’s the only time it will do any good. But that’s not what we Italians did. We either cheered Mussolini on for our material gain or tried to ignore him. Now we pay the price.”

Rosa is a fierce narrator and a mass of contradictions. At times she comes across as frustratingly naïve, but with a backbone of steel - she loses her innocence but retains her moral compass. Ultimately though, Rosa is a heroine to inspire. She is imprisoned, beaten, humiliated and degraded – but never defeated.

Belinda Alexandra masterfully recreates Italy’s turbulent times through the eyes of a narrator who is ultimately one of histories victims. Rosa Belocchi is most certainly a victim of circumstance, as her fascinating tale unfolds and Alexandra depicts the consequences of history on those who were too small to impact it.

‘Tuscan Rose’ is a rambling historical chronicle, but there is also a touch of fable and fantasy to Alexandra’s story. Rosa’s abandonment when she was a baby is shrouded in mystery and adds to the mythological life of Ms. Belocchi. A man the nuns dubbed ‘The Wolf’ left Rosa in their tender care. And during her time at the Scarfiotti villa, Rosa hears rumors of witchcraft and believes her mistress to be a practitioner of the black arts…
Rosa is also a ‘handler’ – she can touch an object and see its origin;

The salami slices swelled and took on the form of a sow lying on her side with piglets sucking at her teats and wiggling their curly tails. Something began to tickle and scratch Rosa’s throat. She gagged and turned away, spitting the mouthful of food she had been chewing into her table napkin. She gasped when she looked at it and saw a fluffy yellow chick cheeping at her before gradually fading away.

This touch of fantasy permeates the story and ignites Alexandra’s writing to add a touch of whimsy to bleak history.

I did enjoy this book. It’s a big read, 563 pages – but the history is rich and devastating, the romance is tragic but poignant and the entire book feels sweeping and grand-scale. I had a few small complaints, like wishing Rosa had stayed longer on the Scarfiotti villa, if only to learn more about her mysterious employers… but ultimately I was happy to be swept away on Rosa’s journey.


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Urban Fantasy MOVIE adaptations

With the release of the new Twilight trailer for 'Eclipse' I got to thinking about how much the Urban Fantasy genre has blown up. There are so many great movie/TV/graphic novel adaptations going on - the genre is really branching out into different forms of New Media. So I thought I'd do a little post updating you on what's coming, what's cancelled and possible future endeavors.... Enjoy!

Melissa Marr:
It was announced last year that the first book in Melissa Marr’s ‘Wicked Lovely’ series would be coming to the big screen.

Many in Hollywood believe Marr’s project was chosen to compete against the adaptation of Aprilynne Pike’s book ‘Wings’, which has confirmed Miley Cyrus for the lead. Both books are aimed at the YA audience. Both are about fairies, which is tipped to be the ‘next big thing’ after vampires for 2011.
‘Wings’ will be made by Disney, and is being produced by the same team who made ‘Twilight’ (Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey). ‘Wicked Lovely’ has no cast as yet, but is being adapted by Universal Pictures. Both have a tentative 2011 release date – and I wouldn’t be surprised if they went head-to-head to battle it out at the box office.

Patricia Briggs:
In 2008 the ‘Mercy Thompson’ books were optioned to 50 Canon Entertainment. 50 Canon created TV show ‘Huff’, but they’ve also done movies such as ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’. It’s unclear whether the ‘Mercy’ series was optioned with the intent of turning them into movies or a TV show.

Since 2008 nothing has come of the contract. It might just have been a case of 50 Canon hedging their bets. At the time ‘True Blood’ (adaptation of Charlaine Harris’s ‘Sookie Stackhouse’ series) hadn’t hit our TV screens, so maybe they bought the ‘Mercy’ rights and then waited to see how ‘True Blood’ fared.
Since the HBO success, 50 Canon may have decided not to compete against such a high-rating show, or they could be waiting to see how audiences respond to the werewolf storyline of season 3….

Also at the time of the contract, Briggs’s comic book adaptation of her series hadn’t hit shelves. ‘Homecoming’, the first ‘Mercy’ comic by Dabel Brothers, came out last year to an underwhelming fan response. This could have impacted 50 Canon’s decision to adapt, but it’s highly doubtful.

The contract between Briggs and 50 Canon was rumoured to be in the six figures (if, or when, they decide to adapt). So regardless of whether or not the adaptation gets a green light this was a huge coup for Briggs professionally.

I, personally, think that the ‘Mercy Thompson’ books would make a great TV show… but at the same time I feel very precious about the series and would want it to be done *just* right.

Laurell K. Hamilton:
Last year Hamilton announced on her blog (with much ego-stroking) that her ‘Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter’ series was being bought to the small screen by IFC (independent film channel).

I was actually really excited for ‘Guilty Pleasures’ (the first book in the Anita Blake series) to be adapted. Hamilton’s first books in the series were great (it all went downhill around about ‘Narcissus in Chains’) and I think they would have made for a really entertaining mini-movie.

Unfortunately the deal with IFC fell through, rather disastrously.

Ms. Hamilton told fans about the no-go ‘Anita’ movie back in November 2009. She posted this rather quizzical statement on her blog: “It has been frustrating watching other shows in the genre I pioneered go on the air while we didn’t, but in the end I believe most things happen for a reason. I would rather have no television show than a bad one.”

Fans have been left to speculate about this cryptic blog post. It’s pretty obvious that there was some sort of creative difference going on between Hamilton and IFC.
And her reference to ‘other shows’ being made from adaptations – she can only mean Charlaine Harris’s ‘True Blood’. Maybe it stuck in Ms. Hamilton’s craw that Ms. Harris got HBO while she was stuck with IFC? Who knows? All we know for sure is that an adaptation of vintage Anita Blake is probably never going to happen now. If Hamilton was ‘difficult’ to work with, chances are other movie production companies will follow in IFC’s footsteps and not touch her.
Hollywood’s a big damn pond, and authors are small fish – especially when the Urban Fantasy genre has blown-up and there are plenty of possibilities for adaptation.

Charlaine Harris:
Ms. Harris has said in numerous interviews that she was quite surprised that, of all her books, it was ‘Sookie Stackhouse’ that was made into a TV show. She always thought that ‘Harper Connelly’ was more screen-friendly, and a more likely choice for adaptation.

Well since 2008 ‘True Blood’ has been going from strength to strength, and has regained HBO’s status as the premier network (not since ‘The Sopranos’ have ratings been so high). So it’s no wonder that people are sniffing around Harris’s other work.

It was recently announced that Harris’s ‘Harper Connelly’ series was being adapted into a graphic novel. ‘Dynamite Entertainment’ bought the rights to the 4-book series – which is about a young woman who can ‘sense’ the dead and see the last moments of a deceased’s life.

There’s no release date as yet, but it’s likely the graphic novel will come out late 2010, or early 2011.

This might just be the first step before turning the ‘Harper Connelly’ books into a movie or TV show. No doubt the media will be abuzz over this adaptation, purely because of Charlaine Harris’s recent fame with ‘True Blood’ and the ‘Sookie’ books being a staple of the New York Times Bestseller’s list. If the comic book gets enough hype, I wouldn’t be surprised if a production network snaps up the movie/TV rights.

I, for one, would love to see a big/small screen adaptation of this series. All of Charlaine Harris’s series’ are great, and deserve as much attention as ‘Sookie Stackhouse’ – but I have a particularly soft spot for the brilliant ‘Harper Connelly’.

Kelley Armstrong:
Back in 2004 Armstrong’s ‘Bitten’ was sold to Warner. Bros and several screenplay drafts were written. Angelina Jolie was even rumoured to star.

Since then the contract has run out and Warner. Bros decided not to renew. That means another production company could try and buy the movie rights, but Ms. Armstrong has advised fans not to hold their breath.


Maggie Stiefvater:
September last year Ms. Stiefvater broke the happy news on her livejournal.

Her ‘Wolves of Mercy Falls’ trilogy has been picked up for movie adaptation. It’s being made by ‘Unique Features’.

No news yet about casting or release dates – but I think the movie will be a sure thing. Werewolves are so hot right now; the YA/tween audience cannot get enough of Taylor Lautner.
‘Shiver’ will be like a “what if Jacob got Bella in the end?” to satisfy all those who weren’t in the ‘Team Edward’ camp.

Shiver’ is a gorgeous book and absolutely deserving of this happy news!

Kim Harrison:
In July 2009 Kim Harrison announced that her series 'The Hollows' was going to be adapted into a Graphic Novel by Del Ray. Ms. Harrison is actually writing the script herself, so expect plenty of that snappy dialogue and dry wit that we've come to love.

The novel will be told from Ivy's POV (*squee!*) and is set around the time of her 'Hollows' novella in 'Dates From Hell'. And Kisten is still alive (*SQUEE!*).

The 8th 'Rachel Morgan' book was released this month (to much success, of course) and the Graphic Novel is tentatively scheduled for a fall 2010 release (could possibly turn into a 2011 release though). The artist is Pedro Maia and Ms. Harrison has posted some (very rough) sketches on her blog.

The graphic novel looks and sounds great so far. I especially like the idea of it being told from Ivy's POV - hopefully we'll learn a lot more about the 'behind the scenes' of the vampires and their politics. And I think it will be great to get into Ivy's psyche and maybe discover when her feelings for Rachel changed.

I think the 'Rachel Morgan' series is one of the best Urban Fantasies out there. Hands down. Brilliant. But I think a movie/TV adaptation would be very hard, if not impossible to accomplish. The world is so intricate and there's so much back story... I don't know that such a screen adaptation would be possible. But a graphic novel is just the right kind of new media for Ms. Harrison. It allows her to work closely on script and visualize her 'Hollows' world without constraint. Fantastic!

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