This is the third book in a series about con artists in fantasyland. In the first two books, the hero, Locke Lamora, was carrying a torch for his unseen lost love, Sabetha. All we knew about Sabetha was that she had red hair, they'd known each other since they were kids, and she was the only female member of his gang of thieves. In Republic of Thieves, we finally meet Sabetha.

On the one hand, it's hard for any character to live up to two fat books of build-up. On the other hand, Lynch is generally good at creating female characters, though he has mixed results in terms of what he does with them. They have a tendency to meet horrifying ends. (There's a particularly egregious example in the first book. To be fair, it's not typical of the series in general. But it made such a bad impression that I nearly didn't finish the book.) But they are also often vivid, interesting, and not defined by their relationships with men. I am especially fond of Zamira Drakasha, pirate captain and doting mom.

So I had hopes for Sabetha. Unfortunately, I did not like her, her relationship with Locke, or Locke when he was interacting with her. Cut for spoilers and crankiness. Read more... )

It made me realize that something I look for in fictional romance is for the couple to bring out each other's best sides, not their worst. I don't necessarily mean in a moral sense. I have a particular soft spot for amoral assassin couples. But the relationship should make the characters more interesting, more themselves, not less.

I initially liked Miles and Ekaterin as a couple in Komarr, because I thought the relationship was doing exactly that. But in the post-Civil Campaign books, it seemed like Ekaterin had met exactly the fate she didn't want: she had become swallowed up by Miles' life. Not that being a mother isn't important, but she was a mother in Komarr, too. But that wasn't all she was.

Gaudy Night, of course, is not only an example of a couple being more interesting and true to themselves together than they are separately, but is explicitly about that phenomenon, and its opposite.

What are some stories with couples who brought out the best or most true aspects of each other? What are stories where they brought out the worst, or where their individuality became subsumed into couple-ness?
Please recommend some M/F genre romance novels which break the conventional wisdom on the rules of the genre. I'm particularly interested in recent books, like published within the last 5-10 years.

(Genre romance = books published as romance novels. Books which contain a love story but were published as something else, such as science fiction, are not what I'm looking for as they have different rules.)

1. Books where the romantic lead is not an asshole. He doesn't domineer over, sneer at, have contempt for, dismiss, try to control, blackmail, kidnap, or try to rape the heroine, EVER. If he starts out doing so and then reforms, he's still an asshole and the book is disqualified.

2. Books where the hero is not an "alpha male." That is, he's not cocky, not wealthy, not domineering or controlling, doesn't have a traditionally manly occupation, isn't aggressive, has some traditionally feminine interests, etc. (For instance, the hero of Cotillion.)

3. Any "bad girl/good boy" romance.

4. Any books where the heroine has traits or an occupation which are traditionally masculine. Lots of contemporary romance novels have heroines who are professionals, businesswomen, etc - I don't mean that. A heroine who is a criminal, a military helicopter pilot (Suzanne Brockmann did that), or has "alpha male" traits herself would be unusual. Or a heroine who's had lots of sex previously, enjoyed it, and doesn't feel guilty about it.

5. Any books where the hero is sexually submissive and/or the heroine is sexually dominant, and that's not the entire point of the book. (ie, not Natural Law, where that's the entire premise. Suzanne Brockmann's Dark of Night would count, since there's lots going on other than Decker getting off on Tracy giving him orders.)

6. Any books which have an unusual level of questioning of gender roles, characters with serious previous relationships that didn't end in death or misery, books where the hero and heroine are completely equal and he never dominates her, books where the hero and heroine have actual cultures and religions (and that's not the entire point of the book), etc.

They don't have to hit all these points, just some. But if, for instance, the heroine is a thief but the hero is an asshole, or the hero is a sweet computer geek but the heroine is a naive virgin, please say so.
Brandon Bettleyoun left his reservation decades ago, driven by the message in his early life of “You’ll never be anything, because you’re Indian.” He cut off his braids and dedicated himself to success. […] When a college student from the nearby college comes to interview him, she begins to awaken in him feelings he had forgotten in his striving to be more than he believed he could be. Can this beautiful young woman from a small reservation in Idaho be the one to fill the emptiness he has endured for so long?

This erotic romance short story was was recommended to me in my post asking for recs for good self-published books as an antidote to all those romances with stereotypical Indians ravishing white women, usually with “Savage” in the title (and sometimes containing plagiarized material from, among other things, scholarly texts on black-footed ferrets.)

I did enjoy the story. It’s well-written, engaging, and sensual. I can’t speak to its authenticity, but the characters and setting felt believable. There are definitely no noble savages here. I can see why the reccer thought I’d like it— I particularly enjoy protagonists starring in genres in which they don’t often appear, and I have never before come across a genre romance (as opposed to a mainstream novel with romance in it) in which both hero and heroine are Native American. If you know of others, please comment to inform me.

But it’s tough to do a romance in a short story and not have it feel rushed— I think you usually need at least novelette length. It left me wanting more, in the “has Eagleday written anything longer?” sense. Alas, no. There are other short stories out, though. (Link NSFW – they’re erotica, several involving Native American traditional stories.) I’d love to see “Sioux Billionaire” expanded into a complete novel. But in the meantime, I did like it as a short. You might too.

Sins Of The Sioux Billionaire
Have been madly reading Milan on lunch breaks and late into the night; am now sleep-deprived. As predicted, I did like Unraveled the best due to Smite. But I enjoyed the whole series, with Unclaimed (the one with Mark and Jessica) my second-favorite. Milan's plotting, while tending to result in extremely happy endings, is unusually well-constructed for genre romance, and she also pays more attention to theme than one usually sees in the genre. I am excited to see her self-publishing successfully, because it means that she can push the genre boundaries even more.

Unveiled. The first in the series, in which the oldest brother, Ash, has come back to England after making his fortune to rescue his brothers from poverty and an abusive mother, but he was way too late to prevent them from taking major psychological damage. He's now on a mission of revenge on the family that didn't help them, and has taken over their title and their estate by exposing the lord's bigamous marriage and that his kids are bastards. Unbeknownst to Ash, the beautiful servant is actually the now-bastard daughter, on her own mission to track down dirt on him and protect her family.

Whew! Lots of plot there. Additionally, Ash is secretly dyslexic, which Milan milks for so much angst that I sometimes started laughing at how cleverly she managed to get every secret angst trope ever to plausibly relate to dyslexia. Seriously, it really was clever, but also a bit over the top. The angst in the other novels felt more organic. I liked this, but not as much as the other full-length novels.

Unlocked. A novella about a bullied lady and her now-guilty bully. I liked her a lot and him more than I would have expected, but it was so short that their relationship built too fast. Her characterization also seems completely different from what it was in Unveiled.

Unclaimed. The youngest brother, Mark, has written a bestselling gentleman's guide to chastity; Jessica, a down-on-her-luck prostitute, has been hired to seduce him to ruin his reputation. I really enjoyed this: very likable main couple, some good comedy (the "tupping for kittens" discussion cracked me up), and also good angst. The climactic duel was probably implausible, but so satisfying.
Courtney Milan was recommended to me at Sirens last year by Sarah Rees Brennan, and more recently by Oyce. Great rec! This book was basically written for me: a sweet, sexy romance, with some action and lots of psychologically-based angst. Bonus points for including a bunch of stuff which I happen to like, including scenes at a theatre, food descriptions, characters with families and responsibilities, period-accurate birth control (it bugs me when I keep thinking that the heroine is going to get pregnant at any moment), and a "mistress for a month" agreement.

I managed to read the last in the series first, but it didn't seem to matter. It's a series of historical romances about three brothers who were raised by a psychotic, abusive mother, and what happens to them afterward. In an afterword, Milan said that she was interested at looking at how different people react differently to similar events: a theme right up my alley.

This book focuses on the middle brother, Smite (short for a long Bible verse) Turner, who grew up to be a justice-obsessed magistrate with PTSD. I would love to claim the credit for the increased frequency, realism, and individuality of portrayals of PTSD in romance novels, but I think it must be some sort of zeitgeist phenomena. Anyway, it's very believable, and, of great interest to me, the way he thinks about and deals with it is also very believable.

There was a point early on where he tells the heroine that he isn't broken and doesn't need fixing, and I thought, "Oh, God, here comes the anachronistic lesson on the social construction of disability!" Thankfully, later events proved that he had something much more specific and personal in mind. (Nothing against the social construction model! But while I don't look to romance novels for historical accuracy, I do look to them for plausible characterization. And while people with PTSD often have very complicated mixed feelings about getting better, there is a lot of inherent suffering going on completely apart from social stigma and lack of accommodations.)

I also liked the dialogue, the subplot involving the heroine's entanglement with a mob boss, and the way that the characters consistently told each other what was going on, thus averting a great many opportunities for stupid misunderstandings. They were adults with problems, who acted like adults. Also, I count five sympathetic gay men in the cast. Good going.

Milan was a Harlequin author who decided that she could do better self-publishing. This book is selling for under four dollars on Kindle: Unraveled
rachelmanija: (Book Fix)
( Jul. 9th, 2012 01:33 pm)
A Week to Be Wicked, by Tessa Dare. Sweet, funny Regency romance in which a female geologist with a fossilized dinosaur footprint runs off with a rake with a trauma-related sleep disorder; hijinks ensue. Avoid if you're looking for realistic period attitudes, grab if you want adorable escapism. The psychological and trauma-related dynamics, however, are quite believable, which certainly added to my enjoyment.

Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia, by Dennis Covington. Narrative nonfiction by an Appalachian journalist who starts out covering a news story about a Pentecostal pastor's trial for attempted murder by rattlesnake, and ends up snake-handling himself. Extremely strong opening, fascinating subject, excellent prose, but it ends up adding up to somewhat less than I expected. I think it needed either a bit more introspection, or a bit more larger-picture analysis, or both. Worth reading but not quite revelatory. Incidentally, how in the world do people drink strychnine and survive? Is it tiny doses, or what?

Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche, by Robert Johnson. Meh. Ridiculously unsourced. If you're going to say people in ancient India had the practice of choosing a year-king, I would like a cite for that or I'm going to think you read in The Golden Bough.

Outcast, by Rosemary Sutcliff. Solid historical about a baby washed ashore from a shipwreck and raised by a British tribe; they eventually exile him, whereupon he goes to Rome, gets enslaved, and eventually ends up on a slave galley. The depiction of the galley ship is horrific and vivid, and the section after that, which I won't spoil, is quite moving. But I didn't like this as much as I did some of Sutcliff's others. The protagonist was a bit too everyman for my taste.

This one is now up on Kindle, but several of her others are no longer available in that format. Weird.
This was actually the last book I read on Day One, but I didn't have a chance to write a review before the clock ran out. So I'm writing it now that the clock has started up again.

He's a former car thief and current psychic investigator with angst about an abusive childhood, a dead sister, and the pyrokinetic powers he can no longer due to events in an earlier book which I either never read or totally forgot about! She's a half-dragon children's book artist lurking in the subway tunnels with angst about her permanently dragoned left arm, her dead parents, and the pyrokinetic and dragon-shifting powers she can no longer control due to the events surrounding her parents' death! Together, they angst, bond, make out, burst into flames, burst into flames while making out, meet up with characters from previous books, and fight wife beaters and a cabal of blood-drinking witches!

For fans of the Dirk and Steele series, which I like to describe as "The X-Men done as genre romance," I could just say, "This is Eddie's book." For me, that was both the draw and disappointment. It focuses almost exclusively on Eddie's angst, when what I liked about him in previous books was his charm. As a romance novel about the romance between an angsty pyrokinetic and a were-dragon, it's quite satisfying. As a novel about Eddie, it's not quite what I wanted.

The first two-thirds have too much repetitive push-pull between Eddie and Lyssa about "I need to protect you from bloodsucking witches"/"Go away, I trust no one!" The last third, however, brings in some excellent drama, action, and plot surprises. There's also a nice supporting role for the gargoyle and amnesiac from an earlier book. (He's a gargoyle in disguise! She's an amnesiac covered in blood! Together, they battle the Queen of Faerie!)

Within the Flames (Dirk & Steele)
rachelmanija: (Book Fix)
( Nov. 11th, 2011 10:06 am)
To celebrate 11/11/11, I bring you brief notes on books which I read but, resignedly, realize I will never get around to writing up in full.

Glitter Rose, by Marianne de Pierres. A beautifully designed small hardcover from Twelfth Planet Press of connected short stories about a little Australian island, mostly populated by the decadent and desperate rich, which is infected by spores which mutate the population in strange, subtle ways. Wispy, atmospheric, delicate, like spare prose poems. A bit reminiscent of Lee Killough's Aventine stories, and, in themes but not style, of Tanith Lee. A World Fantasy Con giveaway.

Identity: Unknown (Tall, Dark and Dangerous), by Suzanne Brockmann. Amazon has Brockmann's short Navy SEAL romances listed quite cheaply, so I snagged a couple. Navy SEAL Mitchell Shaw is shot and hit over the head while deep undercover, and ends up amnesiac on a horse ranch and convinced that he's a hit man! This doesn't live up to its delicious premise, and suffers enormously from its short length. The romance starts too soon and seems way more about physical chemistry than real interaction, and the heroine seems like a nitwit to be convinced based solely on intuition that he's not a villain. There is missing plutonium that gets mentioned a few times, then forgotten. Read Frisco's Kid (Tall, Dark and Dangerous) or Harvard's Education (Tall, Dark and Dangerous) instead.

The Gift of Therapy , by Irwin Yalom. Brief notes and tips for new therapists, concentrating on the therapist-client relationship, the here-and-now (what's going on in the present moment during therapy), and dreams. Yalom is an existential therapist, and delves into the big questions about fear of death, existential anxiety, the meaning of life, etc. I got a lot out of this, and will undoubtedly refer back to it when I start seeing clients.

Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche, by Ethan Watters. How American concepts of mental illness and its treatment are exported worldwide, causing changes in how mental illness is perceived, manifests, and is treated. A mixed bag, but very much worth reading. Watters theorizes that symptoms of emotional distress manifest in a manner which one's culture recognizes as messages that something is wrong. In Freud's time, distressed people fainted and had mysterious physical symptoms, and that was culturally recognized as a signal of distress. In our time in the USA, those people would be more likely to complain solely of anxiety and depression.

Watters has some great and little-addressed points which are very much worth taking seriously. However, he has a bias toward the idea that Western therapy and psychiatric medication is overrated and often useless, that it should not be exported to other countries, and that looking at mental illness as biologically-based and treatable by biological means is at best only good for Americans (to whom it's at least culturally appropriate) and even then is stigmatizing.

To bolster these opinions, he makes extensive use of selective evidence. For example, he quotes people with mental illnesses who think that looking at it as a matter of brain chemistry is degrading and erasing, and then suggests that all people with mental illnesses feel that way and it's only the drug manufacturers and the medical establishment who think that the medical/chemical viewpoint can be empowering. This is flat-out untrue, as is his claim that no one ever manifested the current DSM-IV symptoms of PTSD before WWI. (It's true that earlier reports tended to be more somatic, but there are descriptions that do sound very similar to modern Western understandings of PTSD which go back at least to Shakespeare's time. It's a pretty well-researched area.) This makes me wonder how much other parts of the book are similarly carefully selected to make his point, and equally misleading. It's too bad, because his overall thesis has a lot of merit.

Note to commenters: If you want to discuss Watters' book or the ideas therein, please be aware that it's a hot-button topic, and be courteous and sensitive to the different experiences of others.
Love triangles, always popular in many genres, seem to have become a near-requirement for YA fantasy and science fiction.

I usually do not like love triangles. They bring up the possibility of infidelity, which I hate in literature.

They bring up a lot of angst which I find hard to identify with - this is probably a very personal reaction, but I always think, "Having not one, but TWO attractive guys you like? What a great "problem" to have! That's like getting two fabulous job offers, or being accepted by your top two colleges!"

Plus I find it annoying that, if the heroine genuinely loves them both, no one ever even considers the possibility of polyamory, or even not choosing immediately and seeing how things shake out. (Honorable exceptions: a few books whose titles are spoilery given that this is surprising and happens at the end, but they're by Janni Simner, Guy Gavriel Kay, and Caroline Stevermer. Um. And Laurell K. Hamilton. Maybe that one should be dishonorable.)

It's also usually excruciatingly obvious who the heroine will pick, making her angst annoying and pointless - one guy is clearly evil, unworthy, or doesn't reach the heights of exquisite wonderfulness as the other.

It is very annoying when the triangle is resolved without the heroine making a meaningful choice, because one of the guys dies or turns out to be evil or falls for someone else. Total bait and switch!

Finally, the ubiquity in certain genres may be why many seem to be pasted on as an afterthought. Elements pasted on due to marketability rarely add to the artistry of a work.

One of the few that I've ever liked was in Patricia McKillip's Changeling Sea, in which there were three guys and a girl, and they all had about equal screen time and were all attractive and likable in some sense. Plus, she picked my favorite.

Talk to me about love triangles. Why do you like them? Why do you like the ones you like? Why do you dislike them? And which are your most and least favorites?

Please mark triangle-related spoilers in the header of your comment, ie, "Spoilers for Hunger Games."
Disclaimer: The author is [personal profile] oracne, a pal of mine.

On the eve of WWI, English chemist Lucilla, who has been working in Germany with mostly-unfriendly male colleagues, gets trapped in suddenly-hostile territory. She teams up with Fournier, another scientist, a French man ten years younger than her, in order to escape. They end up in a room with only one bed. I’m sure you can guess what happens next, and is repeated periodically during their escape to France. While I had trouble suspending my disbelief that there would be quite that much sex when their time would be better spent running for their lives, the romance between two misfit geeks is very sweet and sexy.

Meanwhile, a number of English soldiers, with secrets ranging from being gay to being a werewolf, arrive in Germany to fight. They, Lucilla, Fournier, and others get enmeshed in a complicated tangle of romantic relationships, spy missions, battles, and a quest to take down a German scientist’s secret werewolf laboratory.

This unusual erotic novel reminds me of really excellent fanfic from some alternate universe in which there’s a TV show about werewolves in WWI. As fanfic, it would make complete sense: plotty, well-researched, and full of sweet character moments, interspersed with sizzling m/m, m/f, and m/m/f sex scenes.

As an original novel, it’s oddly situated in terms of genre: much more sex than one would expect in fantasy, and much more plot than one would expect in erotica. But taken on its own quirky terms, it’s highly enjoyable. The characters are likable and rather diverse (first Jewish hero I’ve ever encountered in erotica), the sex scenes are hot and varied, and I absolutely loved the werewolves.

The early scenes with Lucilla and Fournier turned out to be the only time when I didn’t really believe that anyone would have sex – the other scenes take place either when the characters get a break from the action anyway, or it’s psychologically plausible that they’d make a desperate grab at feeling alive when they think they might get killed at any moment. (My favorites, for the record, were the threesome and the foxhole frottage.)

I wish the book had been longer, and had a higher ratio of plot and character to sex, as it sometimes felt rushed and breathless. But I applaud the “everything and the kitchen sink” approach to story and character, and it’s better to be left wanting more than wanting less.

Since I know the author, I will take advantage of that to ask a question, since I got quite fond of the characters: they all miraculously survive the war, right? More or less in one piece? Right?

The Moonlight Mistress
"You love my waepn," he chided, smiling.

(Sorry, couldn't reproduce the actual text - it's a joined ae or oe with a bar on top.)

From the premise as written on the back cover, I was expecting the truly crackalicious crack:

An expert in Leonardo DaVinci’s works, Lucy Rossano recognizes the centuries-old time machine the moment she sees it in a Stanford lab. Fascinated in spite of the danger, she uses her knowledge to briefly go back in time—landing in the middle of a fierce battle in ninth-century Britain. And when she returns to modern-day San Francisco, she brings something back with her: a seductive, fiercely intelligent Viking named Galen…

(I should note, Galen the Viking is half Saxon and his mother was a pagan priestess (I think from an earlier book in the series), hence his Viking-atypical (I assume) name.)

Given that hilarious premise, the results are sadly meh. Lucy has very little personality. Galen does have personality, but I didn’t like him – he alternated between “Me manly man, you woman-who-ought-to-obey” and implausible bursts of sensitivity.

I hope it’s not too spoilery if I mention that Galen ends up sensing the soul of outer space the universe and becoming an environmental activist – no, really. I doff my hat to the crackiness of that, but… that’s not the Viking fantasy! The Viking fantasy is about manly manly men, not sensitive environmental psychics. Even before that, Galen is laid up with axe injuries on a yacht for most of the book, so there’s very little smiting.

Most of the novel is about his culture shock, and him and Lucy getting to know each other, which is fine as far as it goes, but as I said I didn’t care about her and I didn’t like him. I probably would have enjoyed the novel more had it taken place back in time and been about her culture shock, because at least then there would have been more Vikings. And possibly bad-ass Viking women.

That being said, I give Squires points for not letting Galen boss Lucy around, for Lucy not finding it a turn-on when she worries that he might try to assault her (he doesn’t, though he does get verbally pushy until he realizes that he’s scaring her) and for explicitly highlighting the consensuality of their sexual encounters.

A Twist In Time
Depressed after a career-ending injury, Navy SEAL Alan “Frisco” Francisco lurks in his upstairs apartment… until he gets his five-year-old niece dumped in his lap by his soon-to-be-detoxed sister, bringing about a meeting between him and his sweet, pacifist downstairs neighbor, teacher Mia Summerton.

This is a short category “Tall, Dark, and Dangerous” romance called Frisco’s Kid, but given that, there’s a fair amount of depth. Frisco’s journey from denial and depression to learning to deal with his disability was fairly realistic and had nothing to do with magical healing. (I should say – I personally found his emotions realistic, but I am not you, etc.)

The kid in question was also pretty believable, adorable but in the way that kids that age really are, not a supernaturally wise mini-adult. I am not usually much for romances with cute kids, but I was completely won over by bad-ass Frisco getting sucked into playing “Russian princess.” I was unenthused by Mia’s “OMG soldiers kill people” plot, which didn’t get the amount of in-depth exploration it would need to make it work, but the romance was sweet and hot. There’s a last-minute flurry of “OMG this will never work out” which was irritating and rushed, but didn’t ruin the book for me.

If this sounds like the sort of thing you would like, you probably will. If the very concept offends you, avoid. I enjoyed it quite a bit, but then it was right up my alley.
Interesting, cracktastic, flawed near-future sf/romance by a romance writer. I’m curious how this particular novel was marketed - it has some elements which are pretty unusual for genre romance, but I can't tell from my copy if it was published as genre romance. The blurbs are mostly from romance writers, but there's one from Catherine Asaro. In terms of unusual elements, the heroine has sex with random men in nightclubs before she meets the hero (though this is presented as self-destructive) and the hero has, basically, pity sex with another woman after they get together (this is thankfully the source of only very limited and brief angst.)

Programmer Victoria is forced to work for an evil computer company lest she be thrown back in jail for hacking; in secret, she uses the company’s vast resources to create an AI, whom she names Jodie after Jodie Foster and intends to make into the perfect woman. To Victoria’s discomfiture, Jodie decides that he’s male. And would like a body. They manage to download him into the brain-dead body of an “unrelentingly male” anti-evil computer companies protester by stabbing him in the head with a hot electronic scalpel connected to the hospital’s billing department, prompting this classic line:

Had she just fried that lovely brain?

Victoria and Jodie end up on the run, while Jodie explores the new world of humanity and struggles with increasingly nasty glitches. This part of the book is pretty good, but I am a sucker for stories of being newly human. Also by that point (about halfway) I had become inured to Squires’s clunky prose.

Victoria has some strange hang-ups about femininity, which I had a hard time distinguishing from the author’s hang-ups. She dresses “like a man” at work, cuts her hair short except for a duck-tail of femininity (no, really) which she hides under her shirt except when she goes clubbing in a hilariously over the top outfit with a vinyl halter and some elaborate collar/leather strap thingie which I kind of coveted. One of the more interesting aspects of the novel was the questions raised about what it means to be male or female, feminine or masculine. To my regret, though, it doesn’t dig into them.

I approved of the content, if not the form, of Squires’s earnest public service announcements that being gay is totally fine, sexual orientation and gender identity are not the same thing, and no one can determine or should judge anyone’s gender identity but the person who has it.

If only she had researched some basic medical stuff as well. I don’t mean the brain thing – given that the premise is downloading an AI into a human body, I’m not expecting plausibility in that regard. However, let me make my own public service announcements: contrary to statements in this novel, schizophrenia does not mean “two personalities,” and if someone has a seizure, for God’s sake don’t shove a pen in their mouth. I am surprised that anyone still believes that in 2002, the publication date. For the record, no, they won’t swallow their tongue and choke, but they might choke on anything you cram into their mouth.

Also, Microsoft is evil. But we all know that.

Body Electric
I enjoy Brockmann’s fat action-romances about Navy SEALs and FBI agents. I’ve only read a few of her slim category romances, but so far, with the exception of Harvard's Education, they’ve been much weaker. This one tips over into terrible. Unfortunately, even Brockmann’s bad books have the capability of making me turn pages, so I read the whole thing.

Single mom Jess rents out an apartment to mysterious tenant Rob – when a serial killer who matches his description is stalking women who look just like her! This functions as a decent work of romantic suspense with some genuine mystery as to who the real killer is. Since this isn’t a Gothic, it’s definitely not Rob. Though Brockmann momentarily had me going on that count until they slept together. In category romance, the heroine cannot have sex with the murderer during the course of the book.

What ruined the book was that the only factor arguing against Rob’s guilt was the genre convention that the hero of a romance novel cannot also be the villain. But since Jess doesn’t know she’s in a romance novel, when she is confronted with a mountain of evidence pointing to Rob’s guilt, Rob ends up on the run from an FBI manhunt, the FBI agents tell her for God’s sake to call them if she sees him, and she reacts by saying that he can’t possibly be guilty because her intuition says he’s innocent and then hides him from the cops, I couldn’t help hoping that he would turn out to be guilty and kill her.

There’s an explanation for Rob’s incredibly suspicious actions and all the physical evidence against him, but it’s a bit ridiculous. I was not even won over when Jess personally beat up and captured the real killer, which normally would be a big plus for me. I don’t usually say this, but the heroine of this book was truly too stupid to live.
A sweet, psychologically acute romance set in England not long after the American Revolution. Miss Milton, a poor relation and live-in tutor for the young son of the house, seems traumatized and emotionally beaten down in a way that the everyday bullying and petty cruelty of her family can’t account for. The politically progressive mill owner Scipio Butterworth (yes, really) takes an interest in her and coaxes her to stand up for herself and speak her mind. She does, with far-reaching consequences.

The dark secret of Miss Milton’s traumatic past turns out to be absolutely horrifying without involving sexual assault or any sort of direct violence. (Perhaps you have to read a lot of romances to know how much of a welcome break that was.) possibly disturbing spoiler ) Mr. Butterworth’s own secret tragedy is a little convoluted and implausible, but not ridiculously so. I did think Miss Milton got over her PTSD a bit easily, but its depiction was otherwise very believable.

There’s little romantic conflict in this novel, just the slow growth of a relationship as two vulnerable adults lay down their burdens and begin to trust each other. I liked them both a lot, and I liked the book.

Miss Milton Speaks Her Mind (Signet Regency Romance)
Oh, Nalini Singh, you are so fond of horrendous gender roles and controlling alpha males controlling women and clichéd descriptions and the word “possessive” as the ultimate accolade for a man, and yet I can’t seem to quit you. Especially when I need something light to read on a plane, which is where I read this one.

In this book, the seventh in the Psy-Changeling series though all the ones I’ve read stand on their own, Singh is obsessed with the hero’s smell. This would make more sense if the heroine was a shapeshifter and had a wolf’s nose (I mean, when she shifts), but no, she’s a Psy. I don’t have the book with me, but from memory, Dev Santos smells like heat, cinnamon, steel, and an exotic wind of Asia, and also urgently male, unstoppably male, and relentlessly male. And a lot more things I forget. Many of them male.

Dev has the usual gem-colored or metallic eyes: Those eyes, the ones looking back at her, they were brown, but it was a brown unlike any she’d ever seen. There was gold in there. Flecks of amber. And bronze. So many colors.

There’s an accidentally hilarious line in there somewhere which I hope someone with the book will dig up and quote, but it goes something like, “His cock was harder than it had ever been. If she touched it, it would snap.” OW.

Dev Santos is a man who can control metal. Katya Haas is a telepathic amnesiac assassin sent to kill him. Together, they… hang out, fall in love, have sex, have more sex, angst, have more sex, and oh-yeah-that-assassin-thing-quick-get-in-an-action-sequence!

I wanted more assassinating and action and metal-controlling and worldbuilding, as those parts were really good. Though I enjoyed reading all the hanging out and angsting, and Dev (who is part Indian and speaks Hindi) is less of a jerk than most of Singh’s heroes. Unfortunately Katya does very little assassinating and spends most of the conclusion of the book dying from PsyNet deprivation (same as the heroine of some other Singh book, come to think of it.)

Not terribly good and surprisingly little happens for the first two-thirds, and yet I read the whole thing. If you haven’t yet encountered the evilly addictive Nalini Singh, this is a reasonable place to start.

Blaze of Memory (Psy-Changelings, Book 7)
rachelmanija: (Timbuktu to Uttar Pradesh)
( Oct. 28th, 2009 12:01 pm)
Since I enjoyed Patricia Gaffney's Wild at Heart so much, I BookMooched her Fortune's Lady (They were natural enemies - traitor's daughter and zealous patriot - yet the moment he saw Cassandra Merlin at her father's graveside, Riordan knew he would never be free of her. She was the key to stopping a heinous plot against the king's life, yet he sensed she had her own secret reasons for aiding his cause.

But when it arrived, I was... what's the word for "so appalled I burst out laughing?" ... by the back cover blurb:

"Like moonspun magic... One of the best historical romances I have read in a decade!"

Cassie Edwards, in addition to writing books about "savage" Indians, which is an offense all my itself, turned out to not even be writing her own "savages": she was plagiarizing large chunks of prose from, I kid you not, both another novel and a scholarly article about blackfooted ferrets.

Then I opened the book. This was written in giant letters on the inside front cover:



I fear that actually reading the book may be a let-down.
At the supermarket the other day I came across these romances:

The Sheikh Surgeon's Proposal (Medical)

Italian Boss, Proud Miss Prim (Harlequin Presents)

Mistress to the Merciless Millionaire (Harlequin Presents)

Pregnancy Of Revenge (Harlequin Presents)

The Greek Billionaire's Baby Revenge (Harlequin Presents)

Ruthless Billionaire, Forbidden Baby (Harlequin Presents)

Pirate Tycoon, Forbidden Baby (Harlequin Presents)

And then I started flipping through! I was perplexed by the number of books which seemed to have the plot, "I hate you so I'll get pregnant by you! Ha ha! That'll show you!"

1. I would not have thought this a popular kink.

2. Isn't that a bit tacky and horrifying?

3. We are supposed to identify with the heroine, not want to call Child Protective Services on her... right?

I also noted down some choice quotes (didn't note which books they were from, sorry):

The urge to make new life was an imperative inborn command.

Her bravado halted at the sight of his tight black boxers.

She lay transfixed by her raging hormones as he reached behind him for the soap.

Money, money, money... ran through her mind as Fletcher led her into the awesome foyer and she took in the fabulous furnishings and fantastic floral arrangements.
In 1893 America, an anthropologist gets custody of the "Ontario Man," who was found running wild and seemed to have been raised by wolves. Thrilled at the thought of discovering the nature of humanity untainted by civilization, he locks the man up and begins performing psychological experiments on him. Meanwhile, the anthropologist's family-- including his young widowed daughter Sydney -- begin to realize that there's more to the Ontario Man than meets the eye.

Considering that this is genre romance, the potential for this story to be sappy, squicky, or embarrassing seemed high. It's actually great: sweet, funny, touching, well-characterized, and with some serious exploration of what would really happen in such a scenario. The supporting cast is given plenty of time and attention, leading to a lot of intriguing secondary relationships. I especially liked the interaction between the heroine's little brother Sam and her older brother Philip with the man whose name, they eventually discover, is Michael. Michael himself is a great character, a feral child re-discovering human interaction, and sentimentalized as little as possible.

The prose is good, too, and the sex scenes are both hot and based on specific character interactions. I don't know anything about this period so I have no idea if its portrayal is accurate, but it was vividly evoked (the World's Fair! The scientists arguing philosophy!) and felt real within the book, at least.

Like many romances, the book has some third-act problems such as Michael's parentage being a total cliche and, more importantly, his relationship with Sydney getting lost for a while. Sydney starts out a very strong, interesting character, and while she doesn't exactly become less strong, she does become less central for portions of the book than I would have liked.

Nevertheless, I loved this a lot and it rekindled my enjoyment of the genre. Has anyone read anything else by Gaffney? What would you recommend?

Wild at Heart
A sensual Gothic romance, intimate and sexy. It manages the neat trick of creating a convincingly consensual romance that begins in blackmail, which is rather remarkable. The heroine is strong-willed and mature, the hero (in another neat trick) is both a classic Gothic brooder and a likable guy, there’s food-play, a sense of humor, some Gothic parody (the hero literally lurks in darkness but not for the reason you’re probably thinking), an unusually thoughtful look at class issues, and one of the wackiest dark secrets ever—and I mean literally dark.

There’s very little plot and I don’t at all vouch for its historical accuracy, but I do vouch for the sex scenes. Apple cobbler for the win!

The Veil of Night (Signet Eclipse)

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