Romance

“Ruby” by Jeffe Kennedy

My final class of graduate school is a course on genre fiction, and as part of an assignment, I’m writing a paper on erotica.  After working on it for a while this afternoon, I decided that my brain hurt, and that maybe I should read some erotica instead of just researching it.

Conveniently, I had also just won a copy of Jeffe Kennedy’s “Ruby” from a giveaway during Armchair BEA.

Danielle Sosna is a type-A, ambitious young woman who coordinates photo shoots for magazines.  She’s just been offered a coveted job working for Vogue in Paris.  Her last job before she leaves takes her to New Orleans, where she meets Bobby Prejean, a famous Cajun chef.  A battle of wills in his restaurant leads to a whirlwind BDSM affair as Prejean shows Dani all that New Orleans has to offer.

Kennedy does a fantastic job building her setting, incorporating the flavors and aesthetics of New Orleans into her story.  Prejean’s dishes sound heavenly and decadent, and his dates with Dani are filled with masquerades and revelry.

I’m very impressed.  It’s hard to find romance or erotica that work for me, because I need to see characters that aren’t ditzy, possess a modicum of intelligence, and respect each other.  Here, the characters are smart, sexy, and self-possessed.

Prejean and Dani’s entire relationship is based on respect, both for each other and for their own limits.  The main conflict/drama in the story is related to the workplace and not the dynamic between the two lovers.  That’s refreshing, and absolutely necessary in a book that explores a kinkier relationship.  One of the (many) things that I was disappointed with when reading Fifty Shades of Grey was the fact that the characters had an inherently dysfunctional relationship, and Christian Grey didn’t seem like the kind of person one could fully trust.  Prejean is the opposite–he pays careful attention to Dani’s level of comfort and her limitations, and it allows both of them to fully explore their desires in a responsible way.  Oh, and the best part?  The two of them can actually hold a conversation with each other outside the bedroom.  I like the relationships between my fictional characters to be based on more than just mind-blowing sex.  Dani and Prejean’s personalities complemented each other perfectly.

When I started reading “Ruby,” I was looking for a quick and relaxing read that would help relieve some stress.  Jeffe Kennedy delivers, and I can’t wait to read the other books in the series.

Categories: Erotica, Fiction, Romance | Tags: , , , , | 11 Comments

“Shadow of Night” by Deborah Harkness

“Shadow of Night” is the sequel to Deborah Harkness’ A Discovery of Witches and forms the second book of the All Souls Trilogy.  I had mixed feelings on the first book, but I’m pleased to report that this one was much better.

I received a signed copy of “Shadow of Night” while I was at Book Expo America earlier this summer.  It was one of the longest lines that I stood in during the entire conference.

The book begins when Diana and Matthew travel back in time to Elizabethan England in order to find a witch who can help Diana understand her rather unique magical abilities which seem to defy all known rules.  They also seek the Ashmole 782, a manuscript which promises to explain the origins of witches, vampires, and demons.  Of course, living in the 1500s is easier said than done, and Diana must face many challenges in order to adapt.  This encompasses everything from dressing and speaking to dealing with Matthew’s friends from the time, most of whom are famous intellectuals.

It’s the little things that make this book endearing, such as the author’s decision to portray Christopher Marlowe as a total asshole, or the fact that my favorite old manuscript of all time makes an appearance (the Voynich manuscript, which is to this day indecipherable.  I like xkcd’s assessment).  Even though I still  had a lot of problems with the book, it was a fun read.  I love the idea of a book about an old manuscript, and the literary/historical references made me smile.

During the first book, one of the biggest problems that I saw was the repetitive description of every detail of Diana’s life.  While “Shadow of Night” still has a high level of detail, it is relevant and helps to build the atmosphere of Elizabethan England.  What was unnecessary while reading about modern Oxford works well here, and it helps to create a complex picture of the past.  I’ve always enjoyed reading about Elizabethan England, and this book was no exception.  It was neat to see it from Diana’s perspective because she is a historian whose preconceived notions about the time period clashed with the reality.

I wish that Harkness would have given a bit more explanation/thought to the topic of time travel.  You can travel back in time and even change things to a small extent, but nothing major happens as a result.  It is possible to discover the presence of time travelers based on historical anomalies, such as when a locket that Diana possessed in the past turned up in the future, or when Matthew’s father left a note in a book so that his wife would find it after he was already dead in the present.  The time travel paradox aspect of the book could have been explored in a bit more depth, as Diana and Matthew did spend a great deal of time in the past and should probably have made more of an impact than they did.  Then again, we didn’t see much of the present in this book, so maybe they did and it just hasn’t been explained yet.

If you liked the first book, then by all means continue with the second.  I think that it’s the better of the two, and I’m looking forward to reading the third whenever it’s released.  Again, this isn’t high literature, but it’s an enjoyable read if you like the idea of a story that revolves around an old book and don’t mind some cheesy vampire romance.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Romance | Tags: , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

“A Discovery of Witches” by Deborah Harkness

I purchased the book “A Discovery of Witches” by Deborah Harkness after meeting the author at BEA and receiving a signed copy of the next book in the All Souls Trilogy.

Normally I’m wary about vampire books, but I decided to take a chance on this series because I’ve heard so many good things about it.  It helps that the vampires are nerdy scholars with a penchant for old documents, so it makes their faults more forgivable.

Diana Bishop is a witch who’s doing research at Oxford’s Bodelian Library.  Her family is very powerful, but she doesn’t like to use magic because she feels like it nullifies her own professional accomplishments.  One day Diana comes across an enchanted alchemical manuscript that’s been missing for a very long time.  Her discovery draws the attention of a bunch of vampires, demons, and other witches, all of whom have a vested interest in the contents of the book.  One such individual is Matthew Clairmont, a vampire scientist who is fond of fine wine.  Even though relationships between vampires and witches are strictly forbidden, she finds herself falling in love with him.

The relationship dynamic between Diana and Matthew didn’t appeal to me right away.  Matthew is a bit controlling, but not in a good way.  It’s more of an Edward Cullen I-watch-you-in-your-sleep type deal, which is not sexy but definitely prosecutable as breaking and entering, especially when the individuals involved aren’t dating yet.

It gets better (and less creepy) as the book progresses and the two become an established couple.  The two of them weren’t completely hopeless, and there were aspects of their relationship that I did enjoy, such as the fact that Diana and Matthew are intellectually matched and can have intelligent conversations with each other.  My favorite part of the book was Diana’s reaction to being shown Matthew’s collection of books that he had accumulated over the centuries:

“Imagine what you’d have if you’d been buying books for centuries,” Matthew said with a shrug that reminded me of Ysabeau.  “Things pile up.  We’ve gotten rid of a lot over the years.  We had to.  Otherwise this room would be the size of the Bibliotheque Nationale.”

The scene reminded me of the part in “Beauty and the Beast” where the Beast shows Belle his library, and that gesture IS sexy (unlike, as I’ve noted, breaking into a girl’s apartment and watching her sleep).

It’s obvious that Matthew is a stereotypical hot vampire character who is supposed to represent the ideal male.  He doesn’t have any depth of personality, but rather seems to be more of a sexual/romantic fantasy insert.  I’m not terribly distraught about that because it is summer and I enjoy the occasional romance if both characters are endowed with functional brains.

The biggest problem that I had with this book is that it needed a better editor, particularly one who could help to chop it down to about half of its length.  The author has a tendency to ramble and to include every little detail of Diana’s daily routine.  I don’t need to know every time Diana changes clothes, especially considering the fact that all of her clothing is pretty much the same.  I don’t need to know when she eats, drinks, sleeps, does yoga, goes rowing, etc.  There is so much excessive detail about Diana’s life that I half expected to have to read about her changing her tampons and/or pooping.  It’s too much, and it doesn’t further the plot in any meaningful way.

I like the idea of a book that revolves around an old manuscript.  It makes my inner librarian happy.  When I started reading I was expecting something more like Elizabeth Kostova’s “The Historian.”  This wasn’t quite like that, but the setting appealed to me nonetheless, and the book did contain a lot of literary and historical references.

I have mixed feelings on this book.  There were a lot of things that didn’t work for me, but at the same time it was still entertaining enough to finish.  It took about 350 pages for the plot to pick up, but once it did I had a hard time putting the book down.  Despite its faults, it’s a decent summer read, and I’ve already started reading the sequel.  I’ve got high hopes for “Shadow of Night” because many of the problems that I had with “A Discovery of Witches” were confined to the first half of the book, and I’m expecting that the second book will jump right into the story.  I’m also looking forward to seeing Harkness’ level of detail in the second book because it’s set in Elizabethan England, which is one of my favorite time periods to read about.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Romance | Tags: , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

“Warlord” by Elizabeth Vaughan

A few days ago, I was pretty stressed out and got myself hooked on an escapist fantasy romance trilogy called The Chronicles of the Warlands by Elizabeth Vaughan.  The first book, Warprize, told the story of a princess named Xylara who became the Warprize of a barbarian warlord named Keir.  In the second book, Warsworn, Xylara and Keir embark on a journey to the heart of the Firelands to confirm Xylara’s status, only to be confronted with Plague.

In this installment, the two lovebirds continue their journey to the Heart of the Plains, but the outbreak of Plague has caused Keir’s tribe to become suspicious of Xylara and of city life.  They begin to feel that the alliance of two very different cultures might destroy their very civilization, and will stop at nothing to stop what they believe to be the spread of a great evil.  Xylara and Keir must fight for their relationship to be taken seriously and to demonstrate that learning about other ways of life can be a strength to both Xylara’s people and his own.

I think that this book is far better than the last, which suffered a bit from middle book syndrome.  Xylara and Keir’s travels into the Firelands meant that this book had far more action than the first two of the series, which was definitely a good thing.  There were many times that I forgot that this book was supposed to be “romance,” but instead was caught up in it the same way that I would be in any fantasy novel.

The way that Vaughan focused on the idea of uniting two different cultures and used it as one of the central themes of the novel allowed it to be escapist while not entirely mindless.  I was also pleased to see that Fireland society was GLBT-friendly, as that’s not particularly common in fantasy novels (…not to rant about A Song of Ice and Fire, but it’s a bit unfair that Dany can have dragons but poor Renly can’t come out of the closet).

There’s one more book in this series, although I don’t feel the need to read it immediately, as it focuses on a different set of characters.

As a whole, I would recommend The Chronicles of the Warlands for light or escapist reading.  The series has a strong romance element, but the romance is set against the backdrop of a larger fantasy/medieval world and the convergence of two distinct lifestyles.  This isn’t the type of book that I normally read, but I had been having a very stressful week and found the books to be highly enjoyable and a good way to relax.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Romance | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Warsworn” by Elizabeth Vaughan

This week I’ve been in the mood to read something mindlessly entertaining.  After finishing “Warprize” by Elizabeth Vaughan, I decided to pick up the sequel.

The story begins as our scantily clad heroine, Xylara, feels a bit homesick, despite being hopelessly head-over-heels in love with her Warlord.  In order to be officially confirmed as his Warprize, the two must travel to the Heart of the Plains.  However, Xylara’s penchant for providing medical care to everyone in need overshadows her usual common sense, and so the Firelanders must face an unknown enemy–the Plague.  Meanwhile, tensions within the camp and a fear of the unknown threaten to upset the Warlord’s power.

This book isn’t quite as lighthearted as the last one, and some characters do die, but as a whole it still does convey a feel-good message of hope.  I definitely think that of the two books, “Warprize” was better, but I was still caught up in the story, and I like the way that Xylara and her Warlord become closer as a couple throughout the book despite realizing each other’s weaknesses.  It’s nice to take a story beyond the initial happily-ever-after and see how the couple progresses to face new challenges.  I was also glad to be able to see more of the Fireland culture, especially their celebratory traditions.  One of my favorite little details in the story was the way that Xylara taught the Firelanders to play chess, and the way that they changed the rules and adapted it to make it more suitable to their warrior culture.

If this were just a romance novel, I don’t think that I’d find this series as addicting as I have, but I’m a fan of the medieval setting and I love the way that Vaughan is able to build another culture that isn’t just a copy/paste version of an existing one.  There’s enough action and conflict to keep the story interesting, and Xylara and her Warlord make a cute couple.

While the book is far from perfect, the story is entertaining and fun.  I tend to have difficulty finding good escapist novels, but so far this series is working out well for me.  I’ll be back to my usual types of reviews in a few days, but for now light reading is a nice break from the routine.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Romance | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Warprize” by Elizabeth Vaughan

I’ve been having one of those weeks where nothing seems to work out quite the way I want it to.  Between getting sick (I’m finally better now!) and other general life stress, I needed something mindless and fun to read to relax.  After browsing around for a bit on my Kindle, I found “Warprize,” by Elizabeth Vaughan.  It is the first book in the Chronicles of the Warlands series.

Our heroine, Xylara, is both a princess and a healer.  When her kingdom is defeated by the barbarian Firelanders, part of the terms of the surrender are that she be given to the Warlord as his Warprize.  Resigning herself to slavery in order to save her people, Xylara begins to live with the Firelanders, only to discover that there is far more to their culture than meets the eye.  Oh, and of course the Warlord is tall, dark, and handsome…

I liked the way that Vaughan was able to focus on the cultural differences between Xylara’s people and the Firelanders, who have both male and female warriors and drink a coffee-like beverage called “kavage.”  A warrior society of caffeine addicts is pretty fun.  I also thought it was interesting that the author chose to keep Xylara in a very traditional feminine role throughout the story–she doesn’t fight, isn’t scheming for power, etc., but at the same time is able to play a pivotal role in preserving peace and acting as a bridge between two very different societies.

Although the book is a romance, there are no annoying love triangles, and the sex scenes aren’t terribly awkward.  In fact, I don’t think that there are more than one or two sex scenes in the book, which I wouldn’t have guessed from the book’s description.  The story reminded me a bit of the Dany/Khal Drogo dynamic in Game of Thrones, except with less rape and eating-of-horse-hearts.  It’s a very non-stressful story, and it’s about the closest thing to a real romance novel that I can handle.  While the writing isn’t perfect, it’s tolerable.

This isn’t a high work of literature, nor is it meant to be.  It’s a guilty-pleasure fantasy romance novel featuring a scantily clad heroine and ends with a happily-ever-after, which is exactly what I needed.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Romance | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

“The Rowan” by Anne McCaffrey

Although “The Rowan,” by Anne McCaffrey, is a science fiction novel, it reminds me a bit of a fairy tale.  It just has that “once upon a time” magical feel to it.

The story is set in a distant future where telepathy and psychokinesis have been scientifically proven to exist among a small percentage of the population.  These individual Talents are used to transport goods and shuttles from one planet to another.

A freak accident destroys a mining camp on the planet of Altair.  One child survives who happens to have more Talent than anyone else on the planet, and every remotely sensitive person on Altair hears the psychic broadcast of her shrieks of terror and unhappiness until she is found.  Known only as The Rowan, the child grows up and learns to develop her talent, eventually becoming the head of the Callisto space station.  One day, she hears a psychic call for help from a guy named Jeff whose planet happens to be under attack by aliens.  She and Jeff end up becoming involved in a cute interstellar romance while saving the world.

While the book involves a romance, it isn’t an obnoxious one.  I was a bit afraid that it would be when I picked up the book, mostly because of the terrible cover and the Harlequin-esque description on the back of the book.  It wasn’t like that at all.  The romance was secondary and was just a part of telling The Rowan’s story, and it seems to me that the publisher was trying to reach a demographic that would normally be intimidated by science fiction by playing up other elements of the novel.

The more Anne McCaffrey books I read, the more I am impressed with her writing.  She’s the kind of storyteller that makes you forget about your own surroundings and become immersed in other worlds, and at the same time her stories tend to be somewhat heartwarming and not at all depressing.  I’d recommend “The Rowan” to anyone looking for some good escapist sci-fi.

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I read this book as a part of The 2012 Science Fiction Experience hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings and the Speculative Fiction Challenge hosted by Baffled Books.

Categories: Fiction, Romance, Sci Fi | Tags: , , , , , | 15 Comments

“Before the Storm” by Marian Perera

Last night, I was struck by a bout of insomnia and couldn’t fall asleep.  I decided to pick up my Kindle and began reading Marian Perera’s “Before the Storm,” thinking that I’d read for a few minutes and then go to bed.  At six thirty this morning, I finished the book.  Yep, it was one of those nights.

The first thing to note about this book is that the cover image is deceptive.  I’m glad of that, because generally I don’t care for romance novels.  “Before the Storm” really isn’t a romance novel so much as it is a fantasy/steampunk novel with romantic elements, and there’s only one sex scene in the entire book.

This book is the first in a trilogy, but it does have some resolution and can function as a standalone.  For anyone who hasn’t read my previous reviews, this is something that makes me very happy in fantasy novels.  I get frustrated when authors just cut off a story at the end of Book 1, forcing readers to hang on the edge for months or years on end until the next book is released.

“Before the Storm” is set in the kingdom of Dagre.  Alex is a sex slave known as The Black Mare, and is passed around by Lord Stephen to other members of the nobility whom he wishes to ingratiate himself with.  Stephen gives her as a gift to his enemy, Robert, who has acquired the nickname “The Bloody Baron.”  Robert suspects a trap and thinks Alex is an assassin.  Alex just wants to escape and not be a sex slave anymore, and she’s grown to hate Stephen for his cruelty over the years.  Robert slowly begins to trust Alex, and starts including her in his plans for revolution against Stephen.  However, Stephen has an Iternan sorcerer in his employ who is using Alex’s body to spy on Robert, and wants to eventually possess her to kill him.  Meanwhile, Dagre is on the brink of its Industrial Revolution, and steam engines might just even the odds in the coming storm…

I did enjoy the book, as evidenced by the fact that I stayed up all night reading it.  I thought that Alex and Robert were both extremely dense in their relationship toward each other, and they got a bit annoying at times.  Luckily, there were steam engines and explosions to distract me from their quarrels.  This book was my first introduction to steampunk, and it’s something I’ll definitely have to explore further.

I liked the secondary characters far more than the main ones.  My favorite was Mayerd, Robert’s friend who was once an Iternan sorcerer, but can no longer use magic.  Victoria, the long-winded representative of the Quorum, was also pretty cool.  I did laugh at a couple of the Goodreads reviews that criticized the book for sexism, because “Before the Storm” contained a lot of strong female characters who rode into battle, blew shit up, and wore chainmail under their dresses.

As a whole, I’m a fan.  Even though Alex and Robert’s relationship issues got a bit frustrating as the book went on, the steampunk elements balanced it out.  I’d also have to say that this book is one of the best-edited that I’ve read on my Kindle thus far.  I didn’t notice a lot of the formatting issues that seem to have been overlooked in several of the other e-books I’ve read, which is something that I appreciate as a reader.

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This book counts toward the Speculative Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by Baffled Books.

Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Romance, Steampunk | 12 Comments

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