Review: A Hint of Frost by Hailey Edwards

Published April 24, 2014 by Shannon

A Hint of Frost (Araneae Nation, #1)

Fantasy romance is really, really hard to do well. Skimp on the world-building and it’s hard to buy the fantasy. Skimp on the love story and you piss off the romance readers, who, if they wanted to read some straight up fantasy, would have bought the Wheel of Time series. I think this is true for other sub genres of romance as well, but fantasy romance is one of my favorites, so it’s near and dear to my heart, and I am more critical.

When I began reading A Hint of Frost by Hailey Edwards, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew that Bree was a friend of hers, and Bree likes her some fantasy romance, too. I’m even sure she was the one who recced the book to me in the first place. I started reading with no knowledge of what I was getting, and found myself utterly delighted.
From Amazon:

When her mother is murdered in her nest, Lourdes has one choice: she must marry before her own nest is seized. All she needs is a warrior fierce enough to protect her city and safeguard her clansmen. Such a male is Rhys the Cold.

Rhys’s clan is starving, but their taste for the Araneaean flesh makes them unwelcome dinner guests. Yet Lourdes threatens to melt the cold encasing his heart. When her sister is captured, they pursue their enemies, where she will discover if she’s worth her silk or if she’s spun the thread by which her clan will hang.

If I’d gone into this book knowing the protagonists were spider people, I would not have taken it seriously. Because, yeah. The characters are human, but they have spider-like abilities. Each of the clans has various traits of different spiders. In a lesser author’s hands, the result would have been laughable. However, Ms. Edwards is matter-of-fact about it. When I realized I was literally reading about a character who could spin silk so strong it could withstand metal and could do so naturally, I was enchanted.

Lourdes is an awesome heroine. She’s strong-minded, not afraid to get her hands dirty, and trying to do the best she could under difficult circumstances. I liked her a lot, and I loved the pairing with Rhys. I got the sense that even from the beginning, Lourdes found him swoon-worthy, and, well, I did, too.

Rhys is one of my favorite hero archetypes. I don’t like protective alphas when they are more alpha than protective, and Rhys landed on the protective side of that line. (In fact, sometimes I wondered if Lourdes was going to forget how to walk what with all the times Rhys scoops her up.) He generally let Lourdes have her own agency, though, and respected her own strengths and abilities. When he didn’t, he learned that was a bad idea. He was also a real sweetheart, earnest and totally devoted to Lourdes.

The plot starts out simply. We have a marriage of convenience between the peaceful but wealthy clan of Lourdes and Rhys’s impoverished clan who are also cannibals. (No, literally. It was disgusting, but since Rhys never eats anybody, I thought the notion was awesome.) Immediately after the marriage, though, the book becomes a road romance, which allows Ms. Edwards to introduce her world building in a way that felt organic to the plot. The result is that by the end of the book, Rhys and Lourdes’s romance is resolved, but Ms. Edwards has laid the foundation for other stories and a continuing arc.

I have to mention one other thing about the romance. There really isn’t a lot of sex. The sexual tension is off the charts, but there were no moments of taking a break so the characters could make out. I loved this, because the one love scene we are given is made all the sweeter for my having to wait.

There were a few things that didn’t quite work for me. I was never quite sure about the passage of time. There were smaller moments I would have liked to have had expanded. (At one point Lourdes tells us she made clothes for Rhys, and I was thrown out of the story wondering when she would have had time to do all that, and then I was disappointed I didn’t get to witness Rhys’s delight at the gifts firsthand.)

All that aside, I did buy the second novel in this series, A Feast of Souls, and am looking forward to returning to this world.

Final Grade: B

State of the Shannon: Readathon, Hugo Awards, and a recent DNF

Published April 21, 2014 by Shannon

Sorry for the double post. I suppose I should let this go up tomorrow, but lazy blogger is lazy.

First of all, I signed up for the Dewey’s Readathon. It takes place this weekend, and I will probably make a few posts to let y’all know about my progress. I can’t do all 24 hours, because I do not love Internet fun events enough to get up at 5 A.M. on a day when I don’t have to. Also I have to get a hair cut, which I’ve been putting off. So I may do some reading on the road, or over lunch.

My plan is to put a couple of short books on the slate so that I feel like I’ve accomplished something. I know for sure that i want to reread Sarah, Plain and Tall because on audio it is barely an hour long and also there is a mail order bride. I’m also thinking about Double Indemnity because it clocks in at about three hours. And I’m sure I can find some smutty novellas to round out the slate. I’m definitely excited, and will need to make sure I have plenty of snacks for the weekend.

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So there were the Hugo Award nominations this weekend. I am actually considering buying a supporting membership to World Con so I can see how accessible the Hugos are to vote if you’re, you know, me. But then, I also considered actually tackling the Wheel of Time books, even though my wise and beloved Meka thinks this is a phenomenally bad idea that will result in me making rage faces at the Internet. She is probably right. That said, maybe this is the impetus I need to read Ancillary Justice and something by Mira Grant. Both of these things seem like they are bound to hit my sweet spots.
Also, the next World Science Fiction Convention is in Spokane. I want to go, seeing as it’s so close. I have to figure out how to make this work, though. Largely, this will involve finding con buddies, because there is no way I would make it through a whole entire convention center packed with people all by myself. I barely survive our convention of the Washington Council of the Blind without needing to curl up in bed and cry for my mommy by the end of the day because my introvert soul is screaming for SPACE! I need it! And that convention is a tenth the size of WorldCon.

The Hugo Awards weren’t without their controversy. I’m afraid I can’t separate artist from work when it comes to people who have been proven to spew racist vitriol over the Internet where anyone can read it. Some author behaving badly drama I can ignore, and generally an author’s place on my shit list or my “will never read this ever” list is malleable, depending largely on my mood. But I can remember why I’m not interested in reading Vox Day or Larry Koreia
rather vividly, and seeing comments left by their fans over the past few days have reinforced that this is a life choice I can live with. Besides, I like the kind of SF they don’t, so I’m sure they are not weeping overmuch into their beer at not getting to bask in my potential fandom, even though I am pretty awesome.
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I had to DNF a book today. I haven’t been noting DNF’s on the blog unless they were terrible, (see: this post.) But the other day I read Memory’s excellent review of Stolen Songbird by Danielle L. Jensen. I had that book on my TBR, and I tend to agree with Memory’s tastes.

I made it to 20 percent or so, before reaching a scene that I couldn’t get past. It’s not that anything was horrible. The writing is fine. Not particularly awesome, but it gets the job done. The premise was fascinating–girl gets kidnapped and has to marry the troll prince to fulfill a prophecy, except it doesn’t work–and the hero brought the swoon. I just didn’t like the heroine. I’m not sure I could tell you why, either. She is everything I supposedly want in my fantasy heroines–strong-willed, determined and fierce. Yet I didn’t warm up to her, and after the point where she starts throwing a temper tantrum, I was done. I wanted more of her backstory. I wanted her to stop and think and be devious and clever. She wasn’t. She was shrill and reactive. I totally understood her motivations for her behavior, but I still didn’t care to read it.

I have no idea what I’m reading next. I have been trying to delve into my TBR pile more and dig out older books, but nothing is really demanding that I read it. Except maybe the first volume of the Wheel of Time, just to see if it’s really that bad, though I suspect that it might well be.

Feel free to rec me awesome books in the comments. Or tell me what you’ve been reading lately.

Review: Nowhere Ranch by Heidi Cullinan

Published April 21, 2014 by Shannon

Nowhere Ranch

I know. It’s been a couple of weeks since we last explored the controversial topic of Heidi Cullinan, whose books long-time readers will know that I adore beyond all reason. However, I thought it was time I wrote another flailing review.
Nowhere Ranch features things I love: tough but taciturn cowboys, a story of people finding their way toward having a home and acceptance, and a sweet romance. It also features heavily a couple of tropes I wasn’t sure about–a first person narrator and some more kinks I would back away slowly from in the hands of another author. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Here’s the Goodreads synopsis:

Roe Davis is a man who works hard, keeps to himself, and never mixes business with pleasure — until he takes a weekend away from his new job at Nowhere Ranch and runs into the owner at the only gay bar for two hundred miles. Getting involved with the boss is a bad idea, but Travis Loving is hard to say no to, especially when it turns out their kinks line up like a pair of custom-cut rails. As Loving points out, so long as this is sex on the side, no interfering with the job, they could make it work.

The truth is, there’s good reason Roe never settles down and always spends his birthdays and holidays celebrating alone. Shut out in the cold by his family years ago, Roe survived by declaring he didn’t need a home. As his affair with Loving grows into more than just sex, Roe finds out what happens when he stays put a little bit too long: the past always catches up with you. Eventually, even a loner gets lonely, and home will grow up through whatever cracks you leave open for it — even in a place called Nowhere.

Publisher’s Note: This book contains explicit sexual content, graphic language, and situations that some readers may find objectionable: Male/male sexual practices, strong BDSM theme and elements, fetish play.

I shouldn’t have been shocked, but it turns out I loved this book. This is due in no small part to Roe, our erstwhile narrator. He is a perfect combination of tough yet vulnerable. His voice feels authentic, and I heard it as male in my head, which does not always happen when I read first-person male POVs written by women.

The thing that makes this book work for me is that it’s gritty. There is a lot of anger permeating the text, which Sarah F. highlights in this review. In addition, Cullinan doesn’t glamorize the lives of her characters. Ranching is difficult, and Travis Loving is not going to be a millionaire doing this work.

Lastly, there’s Roe. In the beginning, he’s kind of a dick. He keeps at a distance, even from the reader, and there were a few lines–particularly about how he despised women–that made me cringe. They were true to the character, though, and what Cullinan does to make this character into my absolute favorite of the men she’s written about so far is just lovely. I have to admit that the point at which Roe earned his place in my heart was when he used his newfound knowledge of good essay writing techniques to write an essay for Travis about why Travis should fuck him. So adorable, and it made my nerdy heart melt.

Lastly, I should talk about the sex. Again, Cullinan introduces me to kinks I’m not terribly comfortable with. I’m still not sure she managed to make me think they were hot, but I was shocked at how much I was rooting for there to be a certain fisting scene. (And put that on the books as the only time I have ever thought, ‘I hope there is a fisting scene’ in any work of fiction.) By the time we got there, I still felt uncomfortable reading it, but I was pulling for both the characters and I was glad they were enjoying themselves.

As for the romance itself, it was lovely. It starts out fairly understated, with Roe seeing Travis as little more than a convenient sex partner. Gradually, though, his feelings for Travis deepen, and Cullinan does a good job of letting the reader see that Travis has reciprocated those feelings in subtle ways. I also adored that Travis’s last name was Loving. He teaches Roe how to be a more loving person, and he clearly has a lot of love to give. The name was a nice touch. This is another book where the sex scenes felt integral, and even though they didn’t always work for me–because they’re not my kinks–I thought they illustrated the growing tenderness between the two men. And, oh, the ways that Travis is there for Roe make me so melty. There was one particular scene–nearly the black moment–where Roe realizes the depths of his feelings for Travis–that brought tears to my eyes.

There’s other great stuff, too. Again, Cullinan brings in a strong female character to be the foil for Roe. I liked Haley a lot, and loved that she was a positive force in Roe’s life.

I also loved the way Cullinan handled Roe’s family situation. It’s not good, and at the end, while things are better, I never felt like everyone had achieved true acceptance and forgiveness. They were working on it, but ultimately, Roe has to forge his own path, and I appreciated that.

So yes. This was another winner from Ms. Cullinan. I adored it, and think Roe will stick with me for a long while yet.

Final Grade: A.

Review: Unbound by Cara McKenna

Published April 20, 2014 by Shannon

Unbound

I have some mixed reactions to what I’ve read of Cara McKenna’s books. I approve of the fact that her books don’t take the conventional paths. I like that her heroines are self-aware and sexually adventurous. Her heroes are always interesting and multi-faceted. And yet, she hasn’t written a book that blows my mind. We’re going to get there someday, she and I, but we haven’t achieved book/reader chemistry just yet.

I came fairly close with Unbound. It’s got a lot of things I love in my romances,–cabin romance, a female dom/male sub role in the BDSM, and a broken hero, and ultimately I enjoyed reading it. I just wish I’d loved it like I wanted to.

Goodreads informs us:

An all-new novel from the author of After Hours.

She set out to find herself, and discovered the darker side of desire.

Merry’s lost a lot recently—first her mother, then close to a hundred pounds. Feeling adrift, she strikes out in search of perspective. A three-week hike through the Scottish Highlands was supposed to challenge her new body and refocus her priorities, but when disaster strikes, she’s forced to seek refuge in the remote home of a brooding, handsome stranger…

Rob exiled himself to the Highlands years ago, desperate to escape his own self-destruction. Haunted by regrets, he avoids human contact at all costs…but when Merry turns up injured, he can’t very well run her off. And as he nurses her back to health, Rob can’t resist his guest’s sweet demeanor—or her flirtatious advances. The igniting passion between them rouses a secret appetite Rob has long struggled to keep hidden. But Merry craves nothing more than to help Rob surrender to his desires, and the journey draws the lovers into an entirely different kind of wilderness.

As I said on Twitter, one of my major hangups with McKenna is that her heroines have the kind of baggage I wish I had. Merry is no exception. Having lost nearly 100 pounds, she’s trying to adjust to her new body and what that means. I enjoyed reading her thoughts on her body and the complicated relationship she has with food. I thought her insecurities were well-realized. And yet. I wanted more of a before. I wanted to get more of her continued struggles. I mean, you don’t go from being a compulsive overeater to a compulsive exerciser and then when you’re done, live your life as normal. (Or maybe you can. I don’t know. I just didn’t quite buy it.)

By comparison, Rob was incredibly vividly drawn, ugly flaws and all. He’s a sexy man, but he’s got a lot of demons, including alcoholism and a sexual fetish that has brought him nothing but shame. His struggles seemed more immediate and pronounced, and maybe that’s the other reason Merry didn’t work for me. When she enters his life, she becomes something of his Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She teaches him that life is worth living and gets him out of his self-imposed exile with her sweetness and charm and kindness. If that’s not a manic pixie dream girl, I’m not sure what is.

That said, I did like this romance far more than I usually like manic pixie dream girl story lines. It builds slowly, but when the two begin having sex, the scenes don’t feel forced or gratuitous. I liked that the couple spends a lot of time talking about what they need, and what they want, even if that conversation doesn’t come easily. I also enjoyed the fact that McKenna writes about kinks that don’t work for me–lots and lots of humiliation play and rope bondage–in a way that made me understand what the characters are getting out of the scenes.

The ending didn’t quite work for me. It’s more of a happy for now than a happily ever after, and even then I thought the HFN was a little tenuous. I’m not sure that McKenna could have ended the story any other way, but I wanted to be assured of just a little more permanence.

I’m not familiar with Lucy Rivers as an audiobook narrator. At first I was somewhat skeptical of her reading, because her voice is a little more breathy than I like. But the Tantor Audio production was no-frills, with no interstitial music or weird soundscapes, so it worked for me. After a while, I even settled into Rivers’ narration. I loved the voice she gave Rob, and the Northern English accent she used sounded authentic to my ear.
This review makes it seem like I didn’t enjoy the book. That’s not true. While I was reading, I was totally invested in the characters. It’s just not a book that holds up well for me upon reflection.

My final grade: Something like a B-.

State of the Shannon: The High on Cold Meds Edition

Published April 15, 2014 by Shannon

It’s spring here in the lovely Pacific Northwest, which I thought meant I was out of the woods as far as getting sick. Unfortunately, I thought wrong, and have spent the weekend in various states of comatose and/or highly medicated. I went back to work today, and took my boss up on her suggestion that I leave a little early and get a little more rest. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen so I’m writing a blog post instead.

Here are a few things that are on my mind recently:

  • There have been a couple of fascinating blog posts on the subject of whether or not romance novels should come with content warnings. I’m in the comments of the first post, and apparently I made sense there because there’s a link to my comment in the second post, which gave me a warm fuzzy. Anyway, the comment threads of both blog posts are worth reading. Ultimately, I think if anyone can avoid being triggered however that needs to happen, everyone’s life will be easier–the author of the potentially triggering book, the person who might be potentially triggered, and even just other people.

    I don’t have many triggers, if any. The closest I can think of is that I quit reading the Virgin River books at the one where Mel decides she’s getting fat because of all of Preacher’s cooking and it looked like she was going to blow a fucking gasket about it for the whole book. I wouldn’t say I was triggered exactly, but the whole thing looked to be badly handled because on the one hand you’ve got a woman being ridiculous about her body, but you’ve also got her husband being all, “Oh sweetie. Don’t you worry your pretty little head about anything.” I thought both characters were awful, it was also not even remotely their book, and I have refused to read another word of that series, because you know where I don’t need people preaching condescendingly about weight? My romance novels.

    I did appreciate the warnings on Heidi Cullinan’s latest book. She warns for hardcore BDSM, including water sports. I think if I’d been reading along and come to a scene of someone peeing on someone else, my happy id feelings would vanish really fast. Since she warned me to expect that, I’ll know not to be surprised, and I won’t feel betrayed because the author went down a darker path than I’m willing to go.

  • I do want to write sometime about consent in romance novels in general and my feelings on same. Surprisingly, they’re complicated and I feel like I’ve been wrestling with thoughts on those issues for years. I do know that I am one of the minority of women who would say that she doesn’t have rape fantasies of any kind, although with an author I trust I can enjoy the occasional, “My heart is saying no, but my body’s saying let’s go!” type scenarios. Also, I won’t lie. Sex pollen, we-have-to-fuck-or-the-world-will-end, or even Aliens Made them Do It scenarios get a pass from me. I also find slave scenarios really fascinating. But I have to keep all of them in the right perspective. I can suspend my disbelief for a master and slave falling in love in generic fantasy land, or a couple getting together because if they don’t, the world will literally end, but give me a book where the hero kidnaps the heroine and forces her to go on a journey of debauched shenanigans involving drugs, actual real-world sexual slavery, or whatever, then I can’t handle it. So I guess for me the key word in “dubious consent fantasies” is the “fantasy”.
  • Sunita’s post also makes me want to write more on disability in fiction. I don’t quite know how I want to frame that post, because I’ve written about my issues with disability tropes enough here that I’m sure you could all play Shannon’s Post mad libs and come to the right conclusions. I think the only thing I really want to say is that even though a lot of disability is handled so abysmally in fiction, we still need more of it, because eventually, someone is going to write stories with disabled protagonists who are neither fetishized nor used as pillars of inspiration. This has to happen, right? On the theory that if an infinite number of monkeys bang out at an infinite number of laptops, one of them is bound to write a disabled character I can personally identify with, right?
  • In completely unrelated news, I’ve been listening to podcasts over the last few days, because they don’t require the same amount of emotional investment as actual books. One of the things I ended up discovering was PRX Remix. They hand-curate segments from various podcasts and you can hear them at random. It’s so interesting, and has convinced me that my decision to subscribe to the Snap Judgment podcast was a good one. (The other reason is that the host of that show has a voice I could roll around in all day… a sentiment I have never thought about Ira Glass.)
  • One of my friends, also named Shannon, has begun doing audiobook reviews in various places. Her first review for All About Romance is here. She does an excellent job, and I’m proud of her, since as I’ve said, group reviewing projects don’t seem to work very well for me.)
  • Right now I’m reading Stephen Cjboski’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I know it’s a YA classic, and I should probably give up, because it’s been an exercise in me being unable to care at all about this kid long enough to keep going with the story. I also find myself annoyed that this is a YA classic, but if it had been about a girl navigating the waters of high school, first crushes and dealing with various related issues, it would have vanished into mid list obscurity. Which is where this book belongs, unless something changes in the next three hours of audio reading.

Review: The Mane Event by Shelly Laurenston

Published April 10, 2014 by Shannon

The Mane Event (Pride, #1)

Last weekend, my friend Meka came to my house and hung out. During that time, she was reading a book that made her laugh and laugh, loud, exuberant guffaws of laughter. When I asked what she was reading, she told me it was The Mane Event by Shelly Laurenston. I’d read Ms. Laurenston’s books written under the name G A Aiken, so when I was looking for something to read, it wasn’t much of a struggle to dredge it up from Mt. TBR.

Goodreads informs us:

One of the hottest new voices in paranormal romance, Shelly Laurenston knows how to do it all, delivering tales that are wickedly funny, action-packed, and scorch-your-fingers sexy. With The Mane Event, she proves just how delicious love can be once you unleash your inner beast…
Christmas Pride

How come all the good-looking ones are insane?
That’s what runs through NYPD cop Desiree “Dez” MacDermot’s mind the minute she hooks up again with her childhood buddy, Mace Llewellyn. It isn’t just the way he stares at her with those too-sexy gold eyes―as if he could devour her on the spot. Or the six-four, built-like-a-Navy Seal bod-o-death. It isn’t even that he sniffs her neck and purrs, making her entire body tingle. It’s more about that disconcerting, shifting-from-man-to-lion thing that unhinges her…and makes her want more.

Mace likes making Dez crazy. In fact, he likes her any way he can get her―in bed, on the desk, here, now, again. Together, they’d always been trouble, but Dez has no idea just how good trouble can feel…

Shaw’s Tail

Brendon Shaw, hotel owner and lion shifter, has seen better days. He’s been beaten, had a gun to the back of his head, and had to be rescued by a Pack of shape-shifting wolves. He didn’t think he’d survive the night, much less find the woman of his dreams. And he never thought the woman of his dreams would have a Tennessee accent and wear cowboy boots. Once he sets his sights on her, the predator in him is ready to pounce and never let go.

Ronnie Lee Reed is ready to change her life, and New York City is the place where any girl―even one who runs with a Pack―can redefine herself. First order of business: find a mate, settle down, and stop using men for sex. Even big, gorgeous, lion-shifting, oh-my-what-big-um-paws-you-have men. Then again…

I knew what to expect having read Laurenston’s dragon books. She’d give me a funny, over the top ride, with tons of characters and women who were possibly even crazier than their men. Sometimes I like that. I love that Laurenston is an example of someone writing very woman-positive romances. All of her heroines own their sexuality and aren’t afraid to go after what they want. There are strong friendships between various women in her books, and though the men are alpha, they invariably have to prove themselves to the heroines rather than vice versa.

That said, in this particular book, there was pretty much no substance to the stories. Sometimes that’s OK. I like fluff as well as the next girl, and sometimes you just need a book that you can read without thinking too deeply about. In another mood, it would have been exactly what I wanted, but I wasn’t in that mood and I found it… pretty much just OK.

My problem with the book was that both stories featured heroines who are basically cut from the same cloth. I’m not sure exactly what differentiated Dez from Ronnie Lee except for their stereotypical traits–Dez is a Bronx girl through and through, and Ronnie Lee comes from Tennessee, and pretty much any cliche you can think about involving rednecks and New Yorkers makes an appearance. The men don’t fare much better. They’re both lion shifters. They both have difficult relationships with their sisters. That’s pretty much it. That said, the second book features one of Ronnie Lee’s pack members, Bobby Ray Smith, so yay. I have more redneck stereotypes to look forward to.

As to the plots, I didn’t find either memorable. There was stuff going on around both sets of protagonists, but there was also a lot of butting heads followed by sex that was plentiful even if not all that engaging for me. I suppose no one else would put up with either set of protagonists, so both couples deserve each other, but by the time I was done I pretty much felt like the heroes spent all their time wearing the heroines down until they gave in.

I know some of the dragon books have had crazy sauce plots that have begun to detract from the romances. Honestly, I could use a little more of that, because neither romance did it for me in this book. I did have a few chuckles, and I admire an author who doesn’t seem to take her characters too seriously, but I wanted a little more substance than I got.

I listened to this one on Audible. I can’t seem to find something that will corroborate this, but the narrator is listed as Charlotte Kane, but she sounds exactly like Angela Dawe. I know I’ve encountered narrators using a pseudonym for their more erotic readings, so i wondered if that’s what happened here. I thought Kane’s performance was quite good, and I suspect that I would have found some of the stereotypes and cliches that passed for characterization much more grating had I read the text rather than listened to it.
Final Grade: C

Review: Special Delivery by Heidi Cullinan

Published April 8, 2014 by Shannon

Special Delivery (Special Delivery, #1)

I bought Special Delivery by Heidi Cullinan because I am anal about reading series books in order. I then proceeded to read Double Blind, the second book in this series, first, because poker and Vegas seemed much more interesting than calgon-take-me-away trucker fantasies. That said, Heidi’s got a new book out, Tough Love which came out today, and I knew I wanted to be caught up with the series before I started it. (Side note: I’m a little scared to read Tough Love, because while I’m sure Cullinan can make me find water sports hot if anyone can, it is one of my hard line “I don’t ever want to go there, even in fantasy” kinks. Also, one of the heroes is named Steve, which is my dad’s name. That said, the other hero looks like a hella fierce drag queen, and I am hoping Chenco can carry the book past my brain’s mad associations with water sports with my dad.)

Anyway, that is neither here nor there. Of Special Delivery, Goodreads tells us:

When your deepest, darkest fantasy shows up, get on board.

Sam Keller knows he’ll never find the excitement he craves in Middleton, Iowa—not while he’s busting his ass in nursing school and paying rent by slaving away in a pharmacy stockroom. Then Sam meets Mitch Tedsoe, an independent, long-haul trucker who makes a delivery to a shop across the alley. Innocent flirting quickly leads to a fling, and when Mitch offers to take him on a road trip west, Sam jumps at the chance for adventure. Mitch is sexy, funny and friendly, but once they embark on their journey, something changes. One minute he’s the star of Sam’s every x-rated fantasy, the next he’s almost too much a perfect gentleman. And when they hit the Las Vegas city limit, Sam has a name to pin on Mitch’s malady: Randy.

For better or for worse, Sam grapples with the meaning of friendship, letting go, growing up—even the meaning of love—because no matter how far he travels, eventually all roads lead home.

Warning: This story contains trucker fantasies, threesomes and kinky consensual sex.

This book has been previously published and has been revised from its original release.

I bought the original, first edition, copy of this book. I don’t know what changes were made between it and the copy that is available now. I don’t love you guys–or Heidi Cullinan–enough to find out. That said, I wonder if my reaction would have been different had I read the revised version.

The thing is, this was fine. I liked Sam. I think Ms. Cullinan writes young men trying to figure out who they are and where they’re going extremely well. I appreciated that she let me get a good handle on Mitch for all that the story is told in Sam’s third-person, limited POV. I liked seeing Randy, the hero of Double Blind in a totally new light. That said, none of the characters, not even Sam, really popped for me. They were perfectly adequate, but I didn’t love them the way I came to love Kelly and Walter or Adam and Denver, or even Frankie and Marcus, from some of Cullinan’s other books. By rights, I should have, but the spark wasn’t there.

I finished Special Delivery with a smile on my face, but also feeling a little tired. Ultimately, I think there was too much sex after a certain point. Once Randy enters the picture, that’s practically all the three of them did, and a lot of the fucking was with the characters’ heads. Which, hey, if that’s your bag, awesome, but it didn’t really work for me.

I do think Ms. Cullinan writes BDSM well. She’s one of the few authors who can make me get past my “Ugh, no, that’s terrible” reaction and let me see what it is the characters are getting out of the encounters, (which is the only reason I am willing to let her take me anywhere involving water sports) but in this book it was all just too much, and particularly too much “this is not my kink at all.”
All that said, I did like that the conflict between Mitch and Sam was about their sexual relationship. Mitch wanted to make sure Sam wasn’t scared off, and Sam wanted to explore his slutty side fully. These two needs, of course, make them bump heads a lot, and they have to negotiate and figure out what is comfortable for both of them. It was a quieter conflict than, say, a big misunderstanding, and I think Cullinan writes those sorts of conflicts really well.
I also have to talk about the premise. One of the reviews I read indicated the reviewer thought Sam read too young for 21. I have to disagree. Sam read like the 21-year-old that I was. At that time, I, too, had fantasies of someone whisking me away from a life where I was spinning my wheels and going nowhere. I did not, however, have a life changing road trip with a hot trucker. Instead, I had an awkward period of about six months that I devoutly wish I could have done differently, even if they did shape the person I became as an adult in pivotal ways. I’m not sure if I would have read Special Delivery if it had been around ten years ago, but I wish I could send the comforting bits I took away–about figuring out who you are and what you deserve–to my past self.

I have to end this review by harping on a tiny thing that propped up a lot. There was a character I didn’t mention who got just about as much screen time as Mitch and Randy. I am, of course, referring to Sam’s iPhone. As an Apple girl myself–writing this on a Macbook Pro–I approve of Sam’s life choice. That said, Sam/his iPhone was my crack ship du jour, and if I wrote fanfic, I would write a silly drabble about Sam’s fickleness toward his faithful iPhone.
My final verdict: I did enjoy Special Delivery. It wasn’t my favorite Cullinan, but I’m eager to see what she does next. As for a grade, I’m wavering between a C+ and a B-. I think I’ll go with the B- because doubtless my various Apple devices would immediately stop working if I graded the book lower.

Review: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Published April 7, 2014 by Shannon

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

I discovered We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler when I was cataloguing books one day. The premise struck me as fascinating, and worthy of book club discussion, so, since I have to lead a book discussion later this month, I decided to choose this book. Also, we are going to read it for the Book Hoarders podcast.

Here’s the description:

Meet the Cooke family. Our narrator is Rosemary Cooke. As a child, she never stopped talking; as a young woman, she has wrapped herself in silence: the silence of intentional forgetting, of protective cover. Something happened, something so awful she has buried it in the recesses of her mind.

Now her adored older brother is a fugitive, wanted by the FBI for domestic terrorism. And her once lively mother is a shell of her former self, her clever and imperious father now a distant, brooding man.

And Fern, Rosemary’s beloved sister, her accomplice in all their childhood mischief? Fern’s is a fate the family, in all their innocence, could never have imagined.

I did not expect my experiment in random book selection from my work cataloguing would net such interesting results, but I came to really enjoy this book. I don’t want to say much more about the plot, because to do so would ruin one of the major surprises of the book.

What I can say is that this is a story about a fractured family, and it’s a story told in the best ways. Fowler doesn’t demonize her characters. She gives them relatable flaws, and it’s easy for the reader to understand them and sympathize with the choices they make. I could believe families like the Cooks really exist, and I felt their suffering more acutely as a result. The only character I struggled with was Harlowe, a girl Rosemary meets in an unforgettable scene toward the beginning of the book. Unfortunately, while Harlowe was kind of a manic pixie dream girl gone bad, who kept the plot moving, she was a caricature. Given how nuanced Rosemary’s family was, I was disappointed and vaguely annoyed every time Harlowe showed up.

Fowler raises many questions that I think will be particularly interesting to book clubs. She talks about what it means to be human, and there’s a lot of discussion about the way we treat animals. She doesn’t propose solutions to any of these questions, but when they were raised, she did succeed at making me think.

I read the audio version. Orlagh Cassidy is not a narrator I was familiar with, but her narration was easy and smooth. She was the kind of narrator I prefer, one who is a consummate actress but who doesn’t over emote. To me, she became the voice of Rosemary Cook.

I’m not sure how many more of these experiments in finding new reads from library cataloguing there will be, butI’m glad this one turned out well. I’d love to discuss this book with anyone who’s read it, since this review is necessarily vague.

My grade is a B+.

The month that was March, 2014

Published April 6, 2014 by Shannon

Happy April. Spring is finally beginning to peek shyly at us, and I’m writing this post on a day when the temperature is pleasant enough that I can crack open a window and enjoy the sunshine.

My urge to do anything productive in late winter is pretty nonexistent. I read a lot of books this past month, but I didn’t review most of them. For that matter, I didn’t post a whole lot in general.

This month, the books I finished were as follows:

  1. Shanghai Girls by Lisa See: I liked this one a lot more than I thought I would. Also, yay for diversity.

  2. The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell: This one, on the other hand, was a giant steaming mess of a book. The plot went nowhere, and the ending wasn’t ambiguous in a “it could go either way” manner, more in a “This is a statement I am making. Admire my literary technique” sort of way.
  3. The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery: I adored this book and wanted to clutch it close to my chest and wallow in it.
  4. Ask the Passengers by A. S. King: I loved the heroine. I loved her relationship with her sister. I didn’t really dig the romance, because I wanted her to have done better.
  5. One True Thing by Piper Vaughn and M. J. O’Shea: I loved the previous book in this series and I hope they continue in this universe. The leads were both adorable and, a couple of pacing problems aside, this was a lovely fluffy treat.
  6. An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler: Adler has more confidence in my cooking skills and interest and abilities than I do myself.
  7. Riding the Bus WithMy Sister by Rachel Simon: A surprisingly compelling “memoir of people who do stuff”. There were some elements in retrospect that didn’t work for me–despite everything there was definitely an element of disabled person as inspiration that crept into the story, but in most other respects, Simon is honest about her relationship with her sister and I appreciated that.
  8. His Kind of Woman by Nona Raines: A sweet story with a few funny moments about a trans woman. I liked it and would read more by this author.
  9. Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson: Funny and snarky screwball comedy for the YA set.
  10. Geek with the Cat Tattoo by Theresa Weir: Another cute novella. The cat bits were a little too cutesy for me, but the rest of it was entertaining.
  11. The Art of Deception by Kevin D. Mitnick: This book talked a lot about social engineering, which I found fascinating. I have to admit to skimming the last part, that talked about what businesses can do to improve their security. It’s certainly made me think.
  12. Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi: I hadn’t expected to enjoy this one nearly as much as I did. The Manson murders were brutal and somewhat iconic. I was fascinated by the investigation and trial aspects of the book.
  13. Bone Rider by J Fally: I got on board this delicious crack train and never looked back. I will go anywhere this author takes me.
  14. Diamond Dust by Vivian Arend: I meant to review this one butI don’t think it’s going to happen. Anyway, it has a bear shifter, which I love. It’s also got Arend’s typical snark. The heroine was somewhat hard for me to take, but the hero was lovely. Also, I loved the structure of the novel, with a prologue that takes place at the end of the story. Someone described Ms. Arend as “a great mix of crack and genuine emotion that would be perfect for you.” This does seem to be the case.
  15. The Copper King by Vivian Arend: I got an ARC of this one from the author, who also sent me Diamond Dust. I really liked this novella, about two bear shifters having fun in Vegas. Arend’s snark is in evidence, but I liked that this time her heroine is not the hypercompetent, take-no-bullshit woman her other heroines I’ve read have been. She’s sweet and shy, while at the same time not letting the hero walk all over her. I loved them both.
  16. The Green Fairy Book by Andrew Lang: I need to do a better job of writing about these stories. There weren’t really any that made a huge impression, though there were plenty I liked.

Looks like I have 3 men and 13 women. One POC author that Iknow of. Still a thing I need to improve on.

So that was March. For April, I have only one book club obligation, which I’ll review later, and then I can read whatever the hell I want. I plan to take full advantage of this.

Review: Bone Rider by J Fally

Published April 1, 2014 by Shannon

Bone Rider

I bought J Fally’s debut novel, Bone Rider on the strength of Sunita’s excellent review at Dear Author. I’m not sure I’d have given it a second look without that review, because the premise on its face is pretty ridiculous, but if I’d passed it by, I would have missed one of the most original and cracktastic M/M reads I’ve encountered in a long time.

Goodreads tells us:

Riley Cooper is on the run. Misha Tokarev, the love of his life, turned out to be an assassin for the Russian mob, and when it comes to character flaws, Riley draws the line at premeditated murder. Alien armor system McClane is also on the run, for reasons that include accidentally crashing a space ship into Earth and evading U.S. military custody. A failed prototype, McClane was scheduled for destruction. Sabotaging the ship put an end to that, but McClane is dubbed a bone rider for good reason—he can’t live without a host body. That’s why he first stows away in Riley’s truck and then in Riley himself. Their reluctant partnership soon evolves into something much more powerful—and personal—than either of them could have imagined.

Together, they embark on a road trip from hell, made all the more exciting by the government troops and mob enforcers hot on their trail. Misha is determined to win Riley back and willing to do whatever it takes to keep him safe. When hitman and alien join forces, they discover their impressive combined potential for death and destruction. It will take everything Riley has to steer them through the mess they create.

So, right? Kind of a silly premise. It could be a summer blockbuster, and is one of the most cinematic books I’ve read lately. It wasn’t hard to see where the author was going, and her imagery was lovely. The plot never stops moving, and for the most part, she has a deft hand with suspense.

The characters were also interesting. There’s a large cast, including Riley, our hapless cowboy protagonist who is on the run from the Russian mafia after he discovers that his boyfriend Misha is a hit man. Riley is soon infiltrated by McClane, the alien armor system who crashed their spaceship into Earth, and who develops something of a crush on Bruce Willis (hence the name.) There are the soldiers who are after McClane, including a few POC women who get POV chapters. And of course, there’s Misha, who was just as obsessed with Riley as Riley was with him. And did I mention there are survivalists?

For the most part, Fally handles all these characters skillfully. All of them have reasonable motivations, and none of them are stupid because the plot demands that they be so. All of them are some flavor of bad-ass, and Fally revels in that portrayal.

For the first three quarters of the book, I was hooked. I absolutely adored Riley and McClane, and thought McClane stole every scene he was in. Watching the two of them begin to bond was lovely. There are sexytimes, which were a little weird, but erotic for all that without going into needlessly detailed descriptions. When Misha comes on the scene, things are even more intense, and I appreciated that the two of them were both men and acted like they were.

That all said, the ending was rushed and kind of a mess, which moved this from a book that was coasting high in the A range down to a B grade for me. There are more shootouts, and I thought their inclusion made the character development suffer. I would have liked a chapter or so with Misha getting used to McClane’s presence, and I wanted another chapter or so in one of the boys’ POV at the end, to assure myself that everyone was OK. Instead I got some lines thrown in hastily along the lines of, “Yep, everybody’s fine and we’re adjusting.” Which I appreciated knowing, but considering that Fally thought it necessary to include a couple of extraneous POV chapters from random secondary characters that served even less plot purpose, I was disappointed.

I wouldn’t call this a romance. There’s a strong romantic element, and it ends on a satisfying Happy for Now, (even if I was less satisfied by the ending itself), but it read more like straight pulp sci-fi to me. I know I have a couple of regular readers who aren’t so into the romance, and I’d encourage you to take a look at this one and see what you think. It’s a book that I’m sure will linger in my mind for a while, and I’m on board for whatever Fally offers up next.

My grade: A B.