Sunday, December 23, 2012

Tribute to Nalini Singh's "Branded by Fire"

Mercy Smith, from Nalini Singh's "Branded by Fire" (Psy-Changeling 06)
Painted while listening to bits of "Mage Emperor" and "Realm of the Gods" by Tamora Pierce, as well as "The Convenient Marriage" by Georgette heyer. But I had recently finished listening to the entire Lioness Quartet, so I was likely inspired by that red-headed heroine -  Alanna of Pirate's Swoop and Olau (formerly of Trebond). But I wanted to have fun with painting long hair, so I ended up drawing a different red-headed cat ; )  I was five-years old when "The Little Mermaid" came out, and the first set of novels I ever read were the "Anne of Green Gables" novels, which I blame for the fact that I unconsciously feel like heroines ought to have red hair.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Tribute to Ilona Andrews' "Magic Bites

Kate and original her original "faithful canine companion" Derek Gaunt, circa "Magic Bites" from Ilona Andrews' "Kate Daniels" series. Painted while listening to (i) "Squire" by Tamora Pierce and(ii)  parts of "The Last Kingdom" by Bernard Cornwell. Derek was painted over my initial attempt (i.e., miserable failure) at painting Curran. Also, I copped out on background painting, imposing a picture of Raglan Castle from here ([link], Photograph Copyright © 2006 by Jeffrey L. Thomas) over my initial painted background. Not sure you can see it much - depends on how black the blacks on your screen are, I think.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Tribute to Nalini Singh's "HtP" (Psy-Changeling 05)

Ashaya and Dorian from the fifth, and my favourite, Psy-Changeling book, HtP. Painted while listening to the audiobook versions of (i) Garth Nix's "Abhorsen" and (ii) Carol Berg's "The Soul Mirror."

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Tribute to Nalini Singh's "Archangel's Storm"

Mahiya and Jason from Nalini Singh's "Archangel's Storm"

Apparently, the key to me not taking forever to paint is to listen to audiobooks while I paint. Since I couldn't very well listen to "Archangel's Storm" again, the majority of this was painted while listening to "Lirael" by Garth Nix (narrated by Tim Curry!). 

I had fun painting Mahiya's wings, but I'm really unhappy with the rest of her - she, or her pose, looks super frozen/stiff, like an Egyptian painting or something. And her neck/head-agle, argh. #learningexperience

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Tribute to Nalini Singh's Guild Hunter Series: Elena and Raphael

Started drawing/painting this last week, finished just now - they're supposed to be Elena and Raphael from Nalini Singh's Guild Hunter series. I listened to both Archangel's Blade and Archangel's Storm (from that series) while painting this.

Owly Images
Elena and Raphael from Nalini Singh's Guild Hunter Series
I'm not happy with the hands, or the clothes, but think it's better than the Ivy Blacksmith one that took me much longer.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Tribute to "Here there be monsters"

One excellent thing about audiobooks is that unlike reading the actual book, your eyes are free to do things. Like paint. The first audiobook I got from Audible was Meljean Brook's "Here there be monsters," a novella set in her "Iron Seas" universe. I started painting this picture of the heroine, Ivy Blacksmith, while listening to it. Got no clue how I should have done the water...

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

THOUGHTS on "Lord's Fall" by Thea Harrison

Lord's Fall (Elder Races, #5)Lord's Fall by Thea Harrison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lord's Fall by Thea Harrison

Thea Harrison's "Elder Races" series is set in an alternative earth, where the Elves, Fae, Witches, Wyr (which are like shapeshifters), Vampires, and Demons (including things like Djinn) make up what are referred to as the "Elder Races." The Elder Races are divided into demesnes, categorized roughly as above, whose central governing powers are based in (alternative versions) of urban centres such as New York (for the Wyr), Charleston (for the Elves), Houston (for the Demons) and San Francisco (for Vampires). The series kicks off with "Dragon Bound," in which Pia, our heroine, who just wants to keep her her head down and out of trouble, is blackmailed by her ex into stealing something from the Great Beast, Dragos Cuelebre, leader of all Wyr Kind. By the end of the book, Pia is thrust into an extremely high-profile position, being mated to the high-profile Dragos, with the worry that too many people will figure out her dangerous secrets. The ensuing books in the series focus on other high-level players in the world of the Elder Races.

"Lord's Fall" is the fifth book in Thea Harrison's "Elder Races" series, and it is a return to Pia and Dragos. I loved this book. It's tightly-written, the stakes are high, there are scenes of glory and tragedy, and there's lots of humour sprinkled throughout the book[1]. The external conflict is believably driven by the world-building and events from previous books, and the progress of internal conflict in the book is believable as well. The character's actions are understandable given their personalities and circumstances.

I'll talk about the external conflict first. The premise for the plot of "Lord's Fall" is two-fold: (i) Pia is headed to Charleston as a diplomatic envoy to the Elves, and (ii) Dragos is forced to stay in New York for the 'Sentinel Games', an event he is holding in order to find replacements for members of his sentinels. The wonderful thing about these premises is that they aren't random or stipulatory plot devices introduced solely to separate Pia and Dragos; they are the natural consequences of events introduced in previous books. In the first book, "Dragon Bound," Dragos breaks a treaty with the Elves when he crosses over Demesne borders in order to track down Pia; this is why Pia is on an diplomatic envoy. Book 2 "Storm's Heart" and Book 3 "Serpent's Kiss" each have as their hero, one of Dragos' sentinals. Both books result in the hero becoming mated to an individual with political affiliations that exclude the possibility of the hero remaining a sentinal, hence the necessity of the Sentinal Games. And finally, these plot premises compel the action towards a climax that ties in neatly with events from "Oracle's Moon" (Book 4).

As for the internal conflict and character development, I really loved how this was done. In PNR it's very often the case that the obstacles standing between the hero and heroine are due to stupid misunderstandings and murkily motivated actions on the character's parts. This is not at all the case in "Lord's Fall." The complexities in Pia and Dragos' relationships are completely understandable. Pia is 25 year-old half-Wyr who has just come into her power, Dragos is millenia of years old, has wielded influence over whatever he's wanted to for centuries, and has only had to pretend to be civilized when he wanted to. There's a huge power differential between them, and their mating has forced them into a position where they should be partners on an equal footing. Figuring out how they are going to interact as mates is not a trivial issue. One of the things I loved about this book is how Dragos and Pia are reasonable adults in how they approach these complexities. Although neither of them are pushovers regarding what they need from their relationship, they are honest with each other (and themselves) about why they take the actions they do.

This book made me like Dragos more than I did in book 1. In Book 1, Dragos was sometimes described as being clever, but I wasn't quite sure I believed it - he seemed like a rather standard PNR alpha male, whose brain reverts to a caveman mentality when it comes to interacting with their mate. But the way he was portrayed in "Lord's Fall" made me believe that he was clever. Now that he's mated to Pia and can't avoid the complexities associated with their emotional relationship, he shows that he's perceptive and clear-thinking when it comes to assessing their problems; he reflects on his actions when Pia disagrees with him, and independently comes to the conclusion that indulgence and tolerance are forms of autocracy, and that if he really wants their relationship to work, he needs to find a way to truly compromise. This book also made me like Pia more than I did in book 1. I like how she's tough, unwilling to back down when Dragos is domineering, and I also like how she's not stupidly stubborn about pushing at his domineering ways on principle; she can assess when pushing her case would worsen the situation and acts accordingly. I've also come around to appreciating how Pia is unashamed of (i) being somewhat girly (painting her toenails, and putting on makeup) and (i) being a non-predatory wyr surrounded by extremely powerful predatory wyr.

Final verdict? As you can probably tell, I loved it. My criteria for what I satisfies me in a book is that it should be funny, sad, gritty and grand (taking a quote form Vivian Vande Velde). This book definitely hits three of these criteria - it's funny, gritty and grand. There were also parts where the events that occur are objectively sad, but I didn't even mind that these didn't tug on my heartstrings. This is because I'm fairly certain they weren't supposed to, seeing as they were told from Dragos' rather callous/calculating point of view. "Lord's Fall" book wasn't completely perfect for my reading tastes though - for instance, didn't find Eva, introduced as a major secondary character, to be a very interesting character. Yet. And although the writing style is tight (in that there were no parts where I wondered "What is the point of this passage?"), I could only make this judgement after I re-accustomed myself to the liberal pop culture references[2].

-----Foot Notes------

[1] Although nothing as good as the "Snakes on a Plane" reference in "Serpent's Kiss." That was amazing.

[2] The reference to pop-culture bothered me when I first started reading the series. I still don't quite see the point of mentioning that their smartphones are iphones, or letting me know exactly which Tupac song is playing in the car. (Unless this is a hilarious reference to a terrible Samuel L. Jackson movie.) But everything else in the book is so good that I can ignore the pop-culture references after a while. Unlike the pop-culture references in J. R. Ward's BDB series, which annoy me to distraction.

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THOUGHTS on "Archangel's Storm" by Nalini Singh

Archangel's Storm (Guild Hunter, #5)Archangel's Storm by Nalini Singh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although I enjoyed "Archangel's Storm" very much, I didn't feel entirely satisfied afterwards. Gorgeous prose, solid world-development, and a tightly woven plot, but I was left wanting more, in terms of the relationship between Jason and Mahiya, and in terms of the development of the series' overarching plot. Although I know that the relationship between Jason and Mahiya wasn't supposed to be the tumultuous love-across-centuries angst-fest that was Dimitri and Honor in the previous book in the series, and I can appreciate slow and quiet romances, I wanted the emotion to be a bit deeper than it was, and for the overall stakes to have gotten higher than they got. There were hints of change afoot, in terms of a change in the structure of the Cadre of Ten, but at the end, the questions I wanted answered were left unanswered.

In terms of the romance, the relationship between the hero and heroine depends largely, for me, on getting to know the characters, and through this, understanding why they are falling in love with each other. I think that because both Jason and Mahiya are such quiet, understated characters, it was little hard for me to see how they were falling in love.

For instance, although I liked Mahiya as a character, I didn't see any aspect to her character that was outstanding in a way that would make her different from other women, i.e., that would make her the woman that could break through Jason's emotional barricades. Mahiya is not emotionally weak - she has survived for decades in terrible circumstances, trapped by people much more powerful than her. But she didn't seem extraordinarily strong to me either. For instance, we can compare her with Ashaya Alleine, the heroine from Singh's fifth installment in her Psy-Changeling Series . Ashaya was similarly trapped in a bad position by people with much more power than she had. But I clearly remember getting to the part of HtP where Ashaya gives her first broadcast, exposing the Council's evil plans, and coolly lying about the Omega project so that the Council's plans will sink. I remember thinking that this heroine, who has no changeling claws, weak Psy physiology, and a completely unaggressive Psy specialty, nonetheless had holy-shit-balls-of-steel. I didn't find that moment like that with Mahiya. Although a moment like that isn't really necessary - after all, it's not as if women who don't have holy-shit-balls-of-steel don't deserve love - I just felt myself wanted more from her, some sort of uniqueness/extraordinariness, to understand why she was the one that Jason fell in love with.

As for Jason, although we learn a lot about his past, and can infer that he has vulnerabilities, Jason is so strong and quiet that we only ever see his tiny glimpses of his vulnerabilities. Even at the end of the book, his behaviour continued to mask outward expression of these vulnerabilities. This is why I also have a problem when I try to understand why Jason is the one that Mahiya falls in love with. When Mahiya notes that she has had experience with other men, but that Jason was the only one that had ever engendered such feelings in her - but I couldn't quite understand how she could fall in love with such a closed book. Objectively, I can understand that this portrayal of Jason is likely intentional - part of his core character is his strength and quiet, so that even close observers will only ever see a peek of vulnerability. But subjectively, I wanted to get to know Jason better, to better understand how his words and actions were a product of his extraordinary history and circumstances.

The third aspect of a romance, besides the hero and heroine, is, of course, the relationship between them, and how it grows. Although I liked what developed, and how it developed, but I wanted just a little bit more. Jason and Mahiya's relationship at the end of the book is a little unsure, not set in stone; there are a lot of issues about how their relationship will work that are left unresolved.

The same is true for the plot development. I wanted just a little bit more. The unexpected parallels in power between Neha and Nivitri are a fascinating plot twist, and the war between the two factions is high-stakes, but I missed the sense of a gradual build-up towards the plot climax. The result is that the plot climax seems somewhat backgrounded, and less urgent than other (more satisfying) plot climaxes. The consequences of Neha and Nivitri's power parallels is also left unanswered, which left me feeling somewhat unsatisfied. One thing to note, however, is that this is not a stand-alone book. It's book 5 of a Nalini Singh series, and a Nalini Singh series is not a set of loosely connected books, but a set of books that are tightly interwoven in an overarching storyline. This means that I'm storing this vague sense of disatisfaction in a temporary holding space in my mind, because I have faith that Ms. Singh will address all of these things in later books - not just the unresolved consequences with respect to the plot, but also the further development of Jason and Mahiya's relationship.

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Monday, November 5, 2012

THOUGHTS on "The Masque of the Black Tulip" by Lauren Willig

The Masque of the Black Tulip (Pink Carnation, #2)The Masque of the Black Tulip by Lauren Willig
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I don't mind historical wallpapers, where the historical circumstances don't have much impact on the character's choices and actions. But if the social circumstances of the historical period are just wallpaper for a romance novel, then I expect either the plot, or complex aspects of the hero/heroine's character (or some combination of those) to drive/constrain the hero and heroine in a similar way. I didn't feel like "The Masque of the Black Tulip" succeeded at this.

Plot-wise, I felt like it takes too long for the stakes to raise. For the majority of the book, the external "conflict" is a vague threat of the french spy, the Black Tulip, being in London. It isn't until the last ten percent of the book that the threat becomes better-defined. There is also a lack of internal conflict driving their choices/actions. Henrietta's background is pretty nondramatic. Miles' background is slightly more interesting in that he was for the most part, abandoned by his family. But even given this, there aren't situations where it seems like Miles' background is clearly driving his decisions.

So, because the external conflict is so vaguely-defined for so long, and there isn't really any motivating internal conflict, I often had trouble understanding why Miles and Henrietta behave in the ways that they do. Consequently, many of Miles and Henrietta's interactions seemed contrived and random to me, and I didn't really feel compelled to keep reading (until I hit that last 10%). I do always like the "friends-fall-in-love" trope, though, and I do think that Willig does do a good job showing how close Miles and Henrietta are. I just would have liked the book better if there was something compelling the progression of the book's build-up to its climax.

If you liked this book, I'd read: I prefer Joanna Bourne's "Spymaster" Series - more complexity, more gravity, and more heartstring-tugging. Or, if you liked how light this was, and you liked Miles and Henrietta's random conversations, I'd try Julia Quinn's "Just Like Heaven." (...although there are no spies)

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

THOUGHTS on "The Ugly Duchess" by Eloisa James

The Ugly Duchess (Fairy Tales, #4)The Ugly Duchess by Eloisa James
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is divided into two portions, the "before" and the "after." I really enjoyed the "before", and I also enjoyed the "after", and was along for the emotional ride for both parts, but I had a lot of trouble connecting the two halves of the book into a coherent emotional arc.

It almost felt like two half-novels, with completely different concepts and characters, hastily glued together to form a full-sized novel. While there were sections between the "before" and "after" that were meant to show Theo and James' changing personalities, I found myself skimming over these parts in disbelief because the actions that precipitated these changes seemed random and unmotivated to me.

For instance, James deciding to become a pirate seemed completely out of the blue. Prior to this decision, I didn't see any indication of criminal tendencies from him. In fact, his outrage at his father's immoral (and illegal) behaviour, and guilt over how he had allowed himself to be bullied into taking advantage of Theodora led me to believe that he wanted to hold himself to some moral code of decency. I would have expected someone like that to only be pushed into piracy by circumstances he could not control, or something like a complete loss of faith in human decency. But I didn't see anything like that. The closest thing I could come to for motivation would be his desire to make his fortune, since his father's loss of their fortune is what forced him into betraying Theodora. But if this was his motivation, it didn't seem to drive him in a logical way. He didn't make any mention of intending to use whatever fortune he gained to make up for Theodora's embezzled fortune, or to manage his family's entailed land.

Theodora's change from a warm, funny (if a little cuttingly acerbic) girl, to a work-obsessed woman afraid of sexual intimacy was even more baffling to me. I didn't fully understand how her feelings of betrayal and unworthiness from the first half of the novel could trigger changes to this degree, and unlike with James, we see no scenes of Theodora's transition. This made it seem like Theodora didn't grow from being a warm funny girl to being an emotionally withdrawn obsessive-compulsive - rather it seemed like we were presented with two completely different characters, and asked, as readers, to either (i) fill in the blanks or (ii) just take it on faith that there was motivation underlying these changes. While I sympathized with both Theo-before and Theo-after, Theo-before and Theo-after seemed too disjointed for me to even see them as the same person, with a single emotional arc. I think that Theo overhearing James' father comparing her sexual behaviour to what he expected of a "proper" lady was supposed to motivate her distate for sexual intimacy, but I feel like we didn't get enough glimpses into Theo's thoughts or emotions about this to confirm this hypothesis. (For some writing styles where we don'tsee into the character's thoughts, and only see character's actions, this wouldn't be an issue, because but this book is one where we DO often hear what the characters are thinking, the lack was conspicuous and made Theo's character seem disjointed to me.)

Even with these issues, though, I really enjoyed the book. I always enjoy Eloisa James' writing style, and although I personally prefer historical romance novels where the social structures of the day put more restrictions on the characters (eg., I might have liked James' piracy and tattoo to have had graver consequences than it did, given that we were told that no tattooed man was supposed to be able to return to English society), I was distracted enough by how the novel tugged on my emotional heartstrings not to care.

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Thursday, June 14, 2012

THOUGHTS-IN-PROGRESS on "Heart of Brass" by Kate Cross

The premise of the steampunk romance "Heart of Brass" is that Arden Grey, The Countess of Huntley, has been working as an undercover for the Wardens of the Realm. Her husband, Luke, who has been missing for seven years, shows up in London. Only, he's been brainwashed by the Warden's rival agency - the Company. Now known only as 'Five,' Lucas has been sent to assassinate Arden.

I like the premise, but the story and characters were falling flat for me. I stopped reading approximately 45% of the way through. Not because it made me angry, or that I found anything distasteful[1], it's just that nothing was working for me. (I might point out, though, that I was in a bit of a reading funk when I started reading this - I found myself reading the beginning of a lot of books, and then putting them down, feeling disinterested.) For some reason, the pacing in this book seemed all off -  both in terms of the plot, and in terms of character development.[2]

First, the characters. The concept of Arden was very cool - the chain (one link for every year her husband was missing) connecting her nose-piercing to her ear-piercing, along with the fact that she is a secret agent who invents things and works with Scotland Yard to solve murder cases - all of this painted a very cool picture of someone who could be a really cool character. Unfortunately, while this concept was so original, her actual appearances on page didn't feel at all out-of-the-ordinary. Her reactions, words and thoughts seemed so mundane for someone whose concept is so out of the ordinary. The characterization didn't work at all for me - although other characters (like Luke and Alistair) 'reacted' as if she were an original (one way to do indirect characterization, I suppose), I never really bought their reactions, since they didn't seem to me, to be prompted by her actions or words. As for Luke, the hero, there was some characterization (like some of his responses to Alistair, his former best friend), but these bits felt disjointed to me. When reading, I did stop and think 'oh here's a bit of characterization,' but none of those bits really cohered into an idea of what Luke was like, or helped me understand what his motivations were. I actually started thinking that he was a bit dim, spending all of those years following orders for the Company, staying loyal to them because they told him he was, especially when his own inclinations and traits (eg. to give orders instead of following them, his posh accent) were so contrary to what they somehow convinced him to believe.[3]

Second, I can never believe the emotional arc of a romance when I don't get the characters. I have this imagery in my head of the hero and the heroine being puzzle pieces, where their characterization is what forms the keyhole and key edges of the puzzle pieces. These edges are what get the two characters inextricably interlocked - i.e., in love. But the characters of the hero and heroine seemed to me as smooth as paper, so I couldn't see how their characters emotionally interlocked. I suppose that a reader could also consider the growth of the physical aspects of their relationship, and find that to be enough. But my personal reading style is that in the absence of an emotional connection, I could care less about a physical connection. (At least in something that's novel-length. If I feel like reading smut, a short story or novella is good enough. In fact, even when I have totally bought that the hero and heroine have fallen in love, I don't need to read pages of random sex. If the sex isn't 'behind the scenes', I want it to mark some change in their characters, or relationship, or the plot.)

As for the plotline, it didn't keep me reading. Things happened, but they seemed a bit random. When a plot grabs me, it's usually because the author somehow makes me believe that if I just knew a bit more, I would be able to figure things out and things would make sense. So I keep reading to try and figure it out. But when I was reading this, I couldn't see the hint of a coherent framework that would have made me keep on reading. Maybe if I had read previous things by the author, I would have had enough faith to keep reading, but this was not the case.

The world-building in "Heart of Brass" was ok. It's a bit difficult to gauge because I like the idea of a steampunk in general. These are my thoughts on my first pass. Since I suspect that I was in a reading funk though, I might try it again later, as it got a lot of really good reviews.

-------------------FOOT NOTES-------------------------

[1] Unlike Sherrilyn Kenyon's  'Dark Hunter' series - I was starting to really enjoy those books until what seemed like a possibly homophobic thread in Tabitha/Valerius's book [READ: Tabitha's comment that imagining Valerius and Acheron together was 'sick'. In order to continue reading the book, I chose to interpret 'sick' as 'super-awesome,' but felt uneasy], became quite overt homophobia in Alexion's book (where no amount of reader-interpretation could let me deny the fact that Alexion felt that gay men were of lesser value than straight men). Now, (i) I have no reason to believe that Sherrilyn Kenyon is homophobic, and (ii) I understand that there are people that think same-sex partnerships are unnatural in the world, and that this fact shouldn't be ignored in fiction, but I cannot enjoy a book where the hero or heroine (who, in a romance, we should be falling in love with) is a bigot. Can. Not. Not unless there's some serious redemption going on so that by the end of the book, the character has their views shaken up.

[2]The one that broke the streak was Elizabeth Hunter's 'A Hidden Fire,' where there was that 'click' that pulled me into the book. Unfortunately, while that book started really strong, I felt it petered out in the end.

[3] Although I should probably acknowledge that some people think that listening to higher authorities is the way to go, and that an individual doesn't have the right to decide what's right or wrong, or where their loyalties ought to lie. This always seemed problematic to me, but if it doesn't seem problematic to you, then maybe you'll think Luke did exactly what he ought to have.

THOUGHTS on "Master of Crows" by Grace Draven

Master of CrowsMaster of Crows by Grace Draven
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Silhara, the "Master of Crows" is a reviled mage who finds himself in the unenviable position of being courted by an evil god. This evil god is rather determined to get Silhara as his enslaved avatar, so Silhara sends to the hated Conclave for an apprentice to help him find a way out. Martise, a slave owned by the High Bishop of the Conclave, is sent to his home in this capacity, having been told that if she finds evidence of Silhara's heresy, she will be freed from slavery.

I loved this book. I totally fell in love with Silhara, his bad-temperedness, his rumpled/scowling morning manner, and his directness with Martise. When he decided he wanted her, and that no substitute would do, he accepted it with no prolonged, tormented anguish about how she was a spy. He made the realization, made his decision, and then made his move. It was a nice change from over-angsting woe-is-me heroes, who anguish and act like jackasses towards the heroine because of their inability to make a resolution between facts of the world and their emotional needs. (end rant)

I also liked Martise. Her life has trained her to hold her tongue and be submissive, and her position as a servant/spy in Silhara's household reinforces this. Yet of course she finds herself being goaded into rebelliousness by Silhara's manner. And I liked how she could see through Silhara's claims of being immoral, and find humour.

Speaking of humour, I also really enjoyed how their relationship played out with rather humorous interactions that were intertwined with the plot. For example, Martise is trying to communicate with the High Bishop of the Conclave, who has told her that she must sing to his trained crow in order to send messages. Only, Martise has a very poor singing voice and Silhara's horrified reaction to it had me laughing. I also loved Silhara's attempt to assuage Martise's worry about her nudity when he is applying a salve to her sore muscles: he tells her that he had grown up in a brothel, and that unless she had something really unique, like three breasts, he wouldn't be curious enough to ogle her. I particularly loved how this came to be a joke between them when their interactions turned romantic. Like the previously mentioned interaction, this scene is fluidly interwoven with the plot - Silhara only notices Martise's soreness when he tries to avoid giving her magic lessons, and this avoidance was a consequence of his struggle with the god that is trying to make him his avatar.

As for the storyline, I loved how Martise's hidden magical "gift" (while it did come to save the day in the end), is, in the scale of things, a terrible thing that is of no use to her. It's so often the case that the hero/heroine in PNR realizes their hidden talents, and these talents are deus ex machina, For Martise, her hidden gift is primarily a way to bind and enslave her, and not a way for her to get power. So often these hidden gifts are escape hatches, and instead, Martise's gift is a terrible weakness. As a reader, I had expected it to be something wonderful, and when it turned out not to be, I sympathized with her as she grieved, and felt that her grief make her a stronger character mentally. This twist in the plot also introduced an (additional) complication into Martise and Silhara's relationship, as Silhara's magical disposition is such that he could take advantage of her weakness. Seeing them acknowledge this and deal with this (especially Silhara's piss-poor attempts at comfort) made their relationship feel much more real. I also love how Silhara, at this point, doesn't pull a standard alpha-male reaction and tell Martise that he'll protect her. Rather, he asks her to let him give her the means to protect herself.

The writing style was smooth and gorgeous. I'm really looking forward to anything else Grace Draven comes out with.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

THOUGHTS on "The Seduction of Phaeton Black" by Jillian Stone

The Seduction of Phaeton Black (Paranormal Investigator, #1)The Seduction of Phaeton Black by Jillian Stone
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have mixed feelings about this one; there were a lot of points at the beginning of the book where I was tempted to stop reading. For example, I didn't realize that this was an erotic paranormal romance novel (as opposed to just being a paranormal romance novel). Thus a lot of the (what seemed to me like extraneous) sexual references bothered me - until I realized that it was just a different genre. I also found the heroine's behaviour in the beginning of the book to be extremely questionable - a lot of the decisions America makes, while not ending badly for her, would be considered by most people to be extremely poor judgement calls. Third, I found the hero, Phaeton Black, to be pushing the boundaries of what I would accept in a hero - he seemed vaguely disrespectful to women to me at first.

Despite this, I gave this book a high rating because once I got past (or ignored) those things, I found myself being drawn in by the plot, and I really enjoyed the second half of the book! While at first I found the heroine to be ridiculously naive, I found that once I was halfway through, having been pulled along by the plot, I actually liked her. And while at first I found the hero to be crude and disrespectful to women, the author did a good job of justifying his behaviour by showing the reader why he is the way he is, and not in a heavy-handed way. Phaeton also, I think, grows/changes throughout the course of the book, because of his relationship with the heroine. So by the end, I really liked him! And I thought the ending was ridiculously cute. I also liked the writing style and the balance between humour and drama. I still do think that the heroine's poor judgement calls (while maybe necessary for developing their romantic relationship), given the fact that her poor judgement was never seriously addressed, are problematic. But the fact that the author managed to "come from behind" despite this, and deliver an otherwise satisfying and entertaining book impressed me, and is likely what underlies my high rating.

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THOUGHTS on "A Hidden Fire" by Elizabeth Hunter

A Hidden Fire (Elemental Mysteries Book #1)A Hidden Fire by Elizabeth Hunter
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed the first half of this book (it pulled me out of a reading slump), but the second half didn't live up to my expectations. I kept expecting the stakes to rise, or for the plot to kick it into high gear, but the climax of the book seemed rather simple and low-key to me. It mostly went off without a hitch. The post-climax (in Chile) was also a bit disappointing in that it didn't seem well-integrated into the overall structure of the book. I think it was supposed to (it also succeeded in) developing the relationship between the two main characters, but I felt like it was contrived solely for that purpose. I would have enjoyed it more if their developing relationship was more interwoven with the circumstances of the plot.

I also had a few issues with the characterization. In particular, other characters kept informing me that the heroine, B, was clever/smart, but I had trouble believing it since the evidence for their assertions seemed, to me, rather slim. There were instances where she was very composed under circumstance where we might expect a freak-out, but I don't equate composure with cleverness. We know she works in a library and are told she loves books, but again, being rather bookish myself, I'm fairly sure bookishness doesn't entail being smart. We are also shown circumstances where she shows a high degree of skill, but this wasn't presented in a way that made me think "oh wow, she IS smart." Bea seemed to present a normal degree of intelligence to me, which normally wouldn't bother me...except for the fact that other characters in the book kept telling me she was smart!

Another little thing that bothered me in the characterization is that Bea and Giovanni were very often smirking in circumstances where I didn't think smirks were warranted - smiles yes, but smirks no. Although maybe this is just a lexical quirk of mine, where 'smirk' indicates a derisive smile, and pretty much acts as an indication of someone finding humour in someone's (usually someone else's) unenviable circumstances. Since this is what 'smirk' evokes for me, it made the characters seem oddly derisive of each other, until started pretending that 'smirk' just meant 'smile.'

Overall, a good book, but I don't know if I'll read the next one. I actually had a hard time forcing myself through the "teaser" for the next book, I cared so little what was happening.

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THOUGHTS on "A Night Like This" by Julia Quinn (or why her newer books don't seem to work for me(\)

A Night Like This (Smythe-Smith Quartet #2)A Night Like This by Julia Quinn
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

One thing I enjoyed about Quinn's previous books are that they are highly character-driven; there is often little plot, and little world-building (these being wallpaper historicals), but the books are still engaging purely because of the character development, and the development of the relationship between hero and heroine. My reading preferences are such that I take this development of the characters and their relationship to be THE key element in a romance.

The reason why I think Quinn's newer work, like "A Night Like This" (and "Just Like Heaven" to an even higher degree) doesn't work as well for me as her earlier work (eg, "The Viscount who Loved Me" and "The Duke and I"), is that the obstacles that the characters face in these books are external, as opposed to internal. So, whereas Anthony and Kate's obstacles in "The Viscount who Loved Me" were personal demons (fear of storms, of dying young), the obstacles facing Anne and Daniel in "A Night Like This" are external (the possibility of Sir George Chervil's threat to Anne, Lord Ramsgate's fury at Daniel, society frowning upon a match between an Earl and a governess). While there is nothing inherently wrong with having external obstacles as opposed to internal ones, they are problematic in a wallpaper historical, where the circumstances of external world are not as mitigating as they would be in a more traditional historical. More specifically, I feel like the external obstacles in "A Night like This" were too easily resolved, and led to little or no growth on the part of the characters. For books that are mostly character-driven, this is a huge loss.

Take the frowned-upon match between an Earl and a governess as an example. Many of Anne's decisions were affected by the reasonable assumption that Daniel could never marry her, due to the strictures of the society they live in. This view of the world was reiterated by side-characters (eg. Lady Pleinsworth), and seemed to pose a serious problem. But the resolution of this problem was hardly a resolution at all - the hero just ignores the strictures of society, decides to marry her, and the consequences of this decision are not addressed at all. This obstacle fails to develop Daniel and Anne's characters in any interesting way, and also makes the world they live in feel inconsistent. It's as if Anne is living in a traditional historical, but Daniel is living in a wallpaper historical (sometimes).

Another thing that I often enjoyed about Quinn's previous novels is the quirkiness of the side characters, which often shows up in the cute dialogue sequences. At some points in this book (and the previous in the Smythe-Smith quartet), however, some of the dialogue seemed too random and irrelevant, to the point where it was slightly irritating.

Having said that, however, I did enjoy reading the book, even though it didn't engage me as much as I would have preferred. Daniel and Anne are likeable characters, and the side-characters are too.

If you liked this book, I'd read: Her earlier work! I particularly enjoyed "The Viscount who Loved Me" and "The Duke and I."

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