Obligation reading

Published July 23, 2014 by Shannon

I’ve been having an issue lately. Though I don’t have many books I’m obligated to read, there are certainly some. And I’m not reading them. This even includes voluntary obligations, like the Rifter.

I took on running a book club this year for an organization I’m passionate about. I should not have done this, for a variety of reasons that aren’t related to anything except my personality.

So I’m feeling really rebellious. There are books I should be reading, even books I have promised to read, and I just don’t want to. At all.

I will get a Rifter post up soon. But it falls under the category of obligation for me. Luckily, it is the shortest of my latest batch of obligation books, so I’ll probably finish reading it first.

I think what makes this batch of books harder to get through is that many of them I’m anticipating to be horrible. The book club I shouldn’t have volunteered to lead is reading something that is marked as religious fiction, which I do feel somewhat obligated to at least attempt. The one I go to for work next month is reading Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, which, if it is secretly awesome, I would love to know that, but basically it looks like a giant pile of things that annoy me. And our Book Hoarders book, though it was my suggestion, has not grabbed me yet.

In the meantime, I plan to keep with the strategy I’ve used before-mix in pleasure reading with the obligation stuff and hope the “I don’t wannas” go away.

Review: Grabbed by Vicious by Lolita Lopez

Published July 17, 2014 by Shannon

Grabbed by Vicious (Grabbed, #1)

There’s something that captivates me about alien captive romances. They appeal to me in a visceral way that I know is extremely problematic. Nine times out of ten, I will read a book with this premise, and either give up in disgust (Hello, Sharon Green, with your book that had an exchange like, “[Warrior dude] rolled me over and raped me. Then we ate breakfast.”) or I read to the bitter end and deeply, deeply regret doing so.
So when I learned that one of my trusted reader friends read and loved all of the Grabbed series by Lolita Lopez, I was cautiously optimistic. My friend and I had a Twitter exchange that went something like:

Me: “Should I read these?

Her: “Totally. The first book is as nonconsensual as it gets. And there are female friendships.”

So, because I am nothing if not a sucker for cracky ebooks, I bought the first one, Grabbed by Vicious and started it with some misgivings.

Here’s the blurb:

Hallie has never run so fast in her life. One of the frightening sky warriors from the warship Valiant is hot on her heels and intent on capturing her as his bride. He takes her down, places his collar around her neck. With one word, he claims her.

Mine.

Born and bred for the military, Vicious has spent years rising through the ranks. Hallie is his reward, the beautiful sprite ensnaring him with a glance.

Despite her fear of Vicious, Hallie surrenders under his skillful hands and mouth. If she’ll submit, he promises pleasure and comfort. After a lifetime of hardship, his offer tempts her greatly.

One night with Hallie and Vicious feels his protective instincts flaring. He’ll do anything to make her happy and keep her safe, even if that means surrendering his heart. Though he intended to master her, Vicious realizes it may be his sweet Hallie who masters him.

Inside Scoop: Our heroine endures trials and violence with strength equal to that of her warrior mate. (She also witnesses F/F play, and endures a collar and light BDSM. Fortunately she likes that part.)

After that huge setup, it will not surprise you if I tell you that I loved this book. It’s not perfect (the pace slows down a lot and I’m not sure it needed to be quite so long), but I feel like it was meant for a reader like me.

First of all, this is a heroine-centric story. In many ways, Vicious is less interesting than Hallie. He’s got a typical romance-hero past, and is basically a giant teddy bear. He is a walking male fantasy, a care-giving alpha who protects Hallie and wants to make sure she’s always happy. A few side characters remark that he’s awfully whipped, and he kind of is. But he’s the kind of female fantasy that works for me, even with the J. R. Ward-esque name.

Hallie, though? She reacts the way heroines usually don’t in this kind of book. Oh, she tries to avoid being captured, but once it happens, she tries to make the best of it. She’s on a giant space ship. It’s not like she can go anywhere, and after Vicious seduces her, she quickly learns he won’t harm her. There were no ham-handed attempts to escape, nor were there shrieking hysterics. Also, her reaction mirrored mine when she learns Vicious’s name. She actually has the “… huh? WTF,dude?” reaction that I experience every time I read a speculative romance with silly names.

Hallie’s a sweet, domestic goddess sort of woman. She also has a past that is much more colorful than Vicious’s. And she’s interested in social justice. She wants to make life better for the women that have also been captured by Vicious’s people. I love that the times she actually gets herself into trouble were because she did something for other people.

There is BDSM play in this book, although not much of it. The first few scenes do flirt a little with dubious consent, but by the time Hallie has her first orgasm, it’s made explicit in the text that she wants everything to happen. I never got hit with the whiplash of wondering where the hell her enjoyment was coming from. I was never made uncomfortable by the text, and I thought Lopez explored some interesting dynamics in the bedroom.

This is the kind of story where the heroine may be submissive in the bedroom, but outside of it she has her own agency. She and Vicious are also fairly vanilla, with a little kinkier play thrown in to spice things up every now and then. The next book plays with more explicit BDSM themes, and as I’m reading it now I’m appreciating that Lopez is writing about very different people with very different kinks. At least this way I know the formula won’t be dull or repetitive.

As I said, the book isn’t perfect. The writing feels very contemporary, and some of the phrasing is repetitive, and Lopez loves to make sure lots of verbs have their little adverb friends to play with. There’s also a big misunderstanding that occurs toward the end of the book that made me sigh and roll my eyes. Mostly, I thought the romantic conflict was over too quickly as well, though I don’t really know what I’d have wanted instead.

For all that, though, this is some delicious book crack. It worked extremely well for me, and I was sad to see the book ending. I’ve begun reading the second book in the series, and it’s started out very well. If things continue, Lolita Lopez is definitely going to be an author to watch.

Final Grade: B

Top Ten Blogging Confessions

Published July 8, 2014 by Shannon

Oh, look, I remembered to look at the Top Ten Tuesday prompt on actual Tuesday. This meme comes courtesy of Broke and Bookish

Blogging Confessions

1. I really hate that gifs have become the way we express ourselves on the textual Internet. Finding and posting book covers is a good 40% of why I don’t review everything I read. Just getting past coding in the URL for a picture I can’t even see is sometimes more than I want to deal with.

2. I wish I were better at reading challenges. I can never remember due dates, or even what I signed up for. Every time I think about Wendy’s TBR Challenge I sigh wistfully and promise myself I’ll participate, but the date always slips my mind.

3. I’m so glad my regular commenters aren’t authors. It’s not that I wouldn’t welcome author voices, but even though I follow a bunch of authors on social media, the fact that they wrote books I love still intimidates me. I don’t consider myself a fangirl, but sometimes i worry that the authors who know how much I fangirl them don’t think I’m capable of having real conversations.

4. I do not always believe authors when they say they want honest reviews. When I google you and I see that you have reviewed your books on Goodreads, (sometimes modestly only giving them 4 stars like that’s supposed to prove your humility) I immediately don’t trust you not to come back with a scathing comment if I dare to give your book less than an A.
5. While I don’t consider myself one of the cult of nice shiny happy reviewers who never have a mean thing to say about anyone, there are some reviews I just don’t want to write. If I have had coffee with an author, I immediately feel uncomfortable writing about them. I worry that, if I go to romance conventions and actually do this more than twice, I will soon be left not reviewing anybody, because see also 4.

6. I am an aspiring writer. I don’t know if I’ve ever brought that up here. But I am working on edits for a paranormal romance I co-wrote with one of my BFFs. We are likely to self-publish it, and I will fail to market it effectively because I will be instantly afraid all my blogging friends will hate it.

7. I don’t use an RSS reader. All the blogs I follow are on live journal feeds, and I have an LJ for the specific purpose of reading my blogs. Even then, I often forget to actually check it, and end up going to people’s sites regularly.

8. Sometimes I miss group blogging. I would love for people to write guest posts for me, or to take on other reviewers. But more, I like the freedom to post as much or as little as I like without having to manage someone else’s posting schedule, too.

9. Sometimes a book will strike me as so amazing and spectacular that I can’t bring myself to finish because then it will be over. This is something I have to fight in myself. (Most recently, Victoria Dahl’s Close Enough to Touch has hit me that way. I love the heroine and her snarky thought processes so much, but even though I know there are other books in the series, leaving Grace is something I’m reluctant to do.)

10. According to my Goodreads shelves, my most read genre is contemporary romance. I mock contemporary romance all the time, but it does seem that I reach for contemps when I want a light, comforting and fluffy read. Maybe I just need a lot of those lately.

Rifter Readalong: Servants of the Crossed Arrows

Published June 29, 2014 by Shannon

Servants of the Crossed Arrows (Rifter #2)

I know it’s been nearly three weeks since we last visited these characters. This probably explains my somewhat tepid reaction to these chapters. But we’re here now, so let’s get moving. As always, there are spoilers everywhere.

When we last left John, Laurie and Bill, they’d been hiding in the woods for eight months in a show of being the least proactive characters ever. But hey, John met Ravishan, so that was OK. Anyway, the cliffhanger scene in the last book involved John meeting a group of bandits, including a talking dog, who were planning to kill a young man who was supposed to be an Ushiri candidate–the Ushiri being the priests that can eventually open the gates between Basawar and our world.

John, against the protests of Bill and Laurie, goes to warn the convoy escorting the nobleman to expect an ambush. They’re skeptical, but eventually send John along to verify the ambush. It’s a slaughter, with the noble family–the Bousim family, to be specific–coming out victorious. In the course of battle, John saves the lives of Alidas, the Bousim soldier he was riding with, and Saimura, one of the bandits.

John and his companions are brought back to the Bousim estate. After a tense conversation with Lady Bousim, who thinks they are from the Eastern Kingdom, John meets up with Pivan, the military leader for the Bousim clan, who charges John with bringing the Ushiri candidate up the Thousand Steps in the side of a mountain that lead to the temple of Pashir and his priest training. John has no choice but to agree, so he and the boy, Fikiri, begin the journey, which they complete successfully. We end the John POV chapters as John runs into Ravishan and they exchange more sexy banter.

Meanwhile, Kahlil has been taken in by a group of mercenaries, lead by Alidas. It becomes clear that Kahlil is a lot farther forward in time than John et al. are, because Alidas is definitely the same guy John met, but older. Anyway, Alidas gives Kahlil an assignment. he’s supposed to prevent the assassination of Jath’ibaye, a warlord from the north who has become prominent. Kahlil takes an undercover job as a runner for the Lisam household. As he finds out about elicit plans, he discovers that there is someone else who can manipulate the Gray Space as well.

I have to be honest with you guys. I was not interested in much of John’s storyline. He continues to be fairly reactive, and to be honest I find him a shitty friend. The few conversations here between him, Laurie and Bill were hard to read, because I found myself being more on Bill and Laurie’s side of events. Here they are, trapped in a world that isn’t their own, with Bill being actively very ill, and instead of trying to find a way out of the situation, their friend who got them here in the first place is swanning around the countryside being one with nature and flirting with young, hot priests. Then, when John does get them under the protection of Lady Bousim, he immediately leaves them in a volatile situation without telling them why. He has good reasons for what he does, but considering that Bill and Laurie wouldn’t be in dire straights if it weren’t for John, I feel like he owes them more than, “Gosh, well, I can’t tell them I’m leaving because it’ll be better for them.” I have to believe Bill and Laurie do serve some plot purpose–and it’s been hinted at that Laurie has power–but right now I find myself resenting the way they are written as the millstones around John’s neck.

The Kahlil chapters are much more interesting to me. Now that I understand that he’s some 20 years further ahead in time than John is, I’m left with lots of questions and theories. Kahlil is also a fairly reactive character, but since his memories have been shattered, I think that’s more reasonable. I can understand and sympathize with his struggles. I also find myself curious. The text seems to be implying that John = Jath’ibaye in the same way that it’s implying that Kahlil = Ravishan.

As to the romance, considering I spent most of the time I was reading being vaguely impatient with John, and since there were no real developments on that front, I don’t have much to say.

Lastly, I loved some of the side characters. The brash runner Fensal really appealed, as did Pivan, the military commander, although honestly that probably had a lot to do with the fact that he was willing to tell John he was being an asshole.

I haven’t fallen in love yet. I can see that the writing is very good, and if I’ve connected enough to the characters to find their tics annoying, that says something. But this installment rated a pretty solid C.

What did you guys think? Hopefully, y’all liked this part better than I did.

Another reading goal not met

Published June 25, 2014 by Shannon

So I read five out of Andrew Lang’s twelve fairy tale books, but I have to throw in the towel at book 6. On the one hand, The Grey Fairy Book draws from wider cultures than the standard European. On the other hand, a lot of the stories are rambling and I encountered a nice dollop of outright racism and antisemitism. Since I’d like to spend time not hating the entire fairy tale genre, it’s time to pack this one in.

Still not rifting

Published June 23, 2014 by Shannon

So last week I went to Boston and had a great time at a work conference. This weekend I mostly relaxed and read the Internet, but was feeling fine. Then today my body remembered it had breathed circulated air and sent me flashing neon signs that I was going to get sick. I wanted to catch up on work, though, so I did go into work. This was not one of my finer plans, because now I feel even worse.

TLDR: No Rifter post today. I’m going to try to write one sometime this week, but if I don’t, it’ll be because I was laid out flat with a cold.

What I’m reading

Published June 22, 2014 by Shannon

I wanted to touch on a few of the books I’ve been reading. None have left me feeling a strong urge to write complete reviews, but I have a few scattered thoughts.

  1. The Protector’s War by S. M Stirling. Second in the Emberverse series. I really, really love that one of the major characters was a deaf woman who was allowed to kick ass. Stirling certainly includes plenty of women. That said, there were pacing problems I didn’t notice the first time through.

  2. Adulting by Kelly Williams Brown. This was a surprisingly engaging self-help book. I discovered it while cataloguing, and pretty much devoured it. She acknowledges that we all have areas in our lives that we need to work on and none of us is perfect at being an adult. Also, she got me to start making my bed every morning, so there’s that.
  3. Among the Living by Jordan Castillo Price. I didn’t think I’d like this one nearly as much as I did. It’s a paranormal mystery, and it totally works because the narrator, Victor Bane, is an engaging character. I wanted to take him home and give him cookies, but respected his competence. Kind of an unusual feat in M/M. Anyway, I will be back for more.
  4. Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey. I read this on Renay’s recommendation. It’s a space opera with an engaging culture. The characters were interesting if a little archetypal, and there was a distinct lack of the ladies. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, and I realized while reading this how uncomfortable I’ve gotten with books featuring character death. I pulled through and I’m glad I did, and I’m excited to read the sequel, but I did look at spoilers to see who would survive the book.
  5. A Meeting at Corvalis by S. M Stirling. A good way to end the first trilogy of the Emberverse. Except for all the pitched battles, which made me yawn. I do wish he hadn’t dropped at least one of his character romances. One moment the characters weren’t together… then they were. You’ve got to give me more to work with here, dude. Other than that, I enjoyed the reread and intend to begin the second trilogy soon.
  6. The Little Country by Charles de Lint This was one of the seminal fantasy novels of my growing up. I like to reread it every few years. It’s hard to write about it objectively, because it made such an impression on me. However, I’d forgotten more than I realized. And now I want to go visit Cornwall.
  7. Rebel by Cheryl Brooks. I love this series beyond all reason, bad writing and silly world-building and all. This volume isn’t out yet, but for some reason it was up on Bookshare, so I took advantage. I love that Cheryl Brooks consistently writes lovely beta heroes, and the “I am unworthy of the heroine” internal conflict is one that gets me every time. I really could have done without the threatened rape of the hero by an ape-like gay alien though. Ugh. That is a trope that I could cheerfully never again encounter.
  8. Rocky Mountain Heat by Vivian Arend. I listened to this on Audio while I was on a plane. It was a perfect length for a long flight. I really like Arend’s sensibilities, and I love that her heroines know what they want. She did a good job of hooking me with some of the other heroes, although I’m sort of skeptical about the next book, because the hook didn’t quite work. That said, this is Vivian Arend. She’ll probably win me over in that case, too.
  9. Witchling by Yasmine Galenorn. My book on the flight back. The blurb for this urban fantasy series really does the book no favors. The writing is also a tad clunky–complete with requisite physical description of the heroine dropped in at the beginning–but I really loved the characters. I’m willing to forgive a lot to read books about competent women who work together and genuinely care about each other. The relationship between the three sisters was just lovely. I also like that Galenorn’s doing something unusual with the urban fantasy love triangles–Camile has two love interests, and she’s not ashamed about wanting to pursue them both. I can see where this will create conflict, but it’s not of the “pick one already, Jesus” variety. I’m pretty optimistic that the series will get better as I read the other sisters’ books.

And here, let’s have a bonus DNF:

Blinded by Sight by Osagie Obasagie. This book got added to our collection recently. The researchers surveyed a bunch of blind people and came to the radical conclusion that blind people do experience race. I wanted to read more about the studies, but this is not a book aimed at me. As a blind person, I do not need a university grant and peer-reviewed journal articles to inform me that my peers can be as much assholes as anyone else. I’m glad the book exists, and it’s certainly a piece of the conversation we should be having about race, but I think I’m going to bow out.

The Rifter Readalong: Book 1: The Shattered Gates

Published June 9, 2014 by Shannon

It looks like these posts are going to happen every two weeks. I’m going out of town next Monday, and while I do expect to have reading time, I don’t want to give myself extra stress.

Anyway, on to book 1: The Shattered Gate
Note: Spoilers! There are totally spoilers everywhere for the first book. There will probably even be spoilers in the comments. So if you don’t want spoilers, do not read past this point.

What happens: John opens his weird roommate Kyle’s mail and discovers a note with only the word “Don’t” on it, and a key. It actually turns out that Kyle is a guy called Khalil, who hails from the fantasy world of Basawar. He is fighting some sort of evil thing, but he also needs to hang out in our world for some reason having to do with John, who is something called a Rifter, a fact that John is completely unaware of. He’s just returned from one of his trips back home, and convinces John to take him out for breakfast. There they run into Laurie and Bill, friends of John. Laurie, it turns out, is a psychic.

after breakfast, John and his friends drive out to a place in the wilderness, where some strange-looking stones have randomly appeared. One of the stones has a hole that looks big enough for Kyle’s key. John puts the key into the stone, and the three of them find themselves in Basawar.

Khalil, meanwhile, discovers the note and figures out John has the key. He knows he must pursue his roommate. Thus, he’s now in Basawar, too, where he ends up injuring himself by picking a fight with some guy in a bar.

John, Laurie and Bill are nowhere near a bar. They’re in the boonies, and don’t freeze to death because John has survival gear. They end up camping out and barely eking out an existence until John meets Ravishan, who wants to become a khalil. Ravishan begins teaching the three of them the Basawar language, and promises that once he’s khalil, he will take them home.
Overall, I liked this installment. It does a good job of setting up the world and introducing the characters. When I was finished, I wanted to keep reading. Hale has a strong ear for dialogue, and I didn’t end up spending the time I was reading wondering which plot cliches she was going to bring out.
That said, I think I’d rate this installment a C overall because while I liked the characters enough to keep going, there were things that didn’t really work for me in retrospect. My main gripe is that once John and his friends arrive in Basawar, they spend eight months surviving alone in the wilderness but doing nothing to try and find help. John meets Ravishan by chance. If he hadn’t been swanning around that area on that particular day, who knows if they’d be spending years just sort of existing? Sure, it’s revealed that John’s first encounter with Basawar civilization wouldn’t make anyone want to visit, what with people being burned alive, but his friend was literally dying and there were other cardinal directions. Why would he just assume there would be no help from anyone until he discovered Ravishan?

I need for my protagonists to do something. Khalil is clearly doing something, even if we don’t know what it is, but which largely involves a whole lot of pain, but John et al. basically seem to mope. So here’s to book 2 having more for them to do.

As a portal fantasy, I think the story works well. I liked the juxtaposition between our world and Basawar. We have more technology, but less warfare. I liked that Khalil saw our world as a place to rest and recuperate. Basawar seems like a place no one would actually want to live in, which I appreciate–at least as compared to, say, places like Westeros where you might be OK as long as you weren’t female, a peasant, or mindless cannon fodder. I also appreciated that Basawar had guns. I can’t think of any other fantasy novels I’ve read recently where gunpowder is a thing people have access to.
Thus far, there’s not much to comment on about the romance. There are certainly things keeping Khalil and John apart, (nothing quite like “You’re probably going to destroy the world so I have to kill you” to be a mood killer.) and I am beginning to see how a relationship might develop.

I like that there is at least one strong female character in the cast so far. I also appreciate that she hasn’t yet gotten raped. Always a good sign.

So what did the rest of you think? Anything I forgot to touch on?

Back in two weeks with the second part of this serial.

In which I drop the Ball

Published June 5, 2014 by Shannon

The first of our Rifter book club posts was supposed to go out tomorrow. I did some reflecting, and realized this is a thing that will not happen. I’m going to try to get it up on Monday, so all of you procrastinators can have a few more days to read.
Incidentally, what little I’ve read I’ve liked. I just need more time in my days.

Friday shipping war

Published May 30, 2014 by Shannon

I wonder if anyone has ever written Mary Lennox/Dickon fanfic. Because I always thought Mary’s life would be markedly more interesting (if maybe less comfortable financially) if she ended up with the outdoorsy Yorkshireman rather than her mopey and spoiled cousin. (Granted, nobody was shipped at all in the books, but one of the movies sort of ended on Mary/Colin IIRC.)

Or maybe that is just me and I have thought this over way too much.

Also, where did Martha go? She totally disappears from the narrative once Dickon shows up, and considering she did have to put up with whiny, spoiled beginning-of-book Mary, you’d think Frances Hodgson Burnett could have done something with her.I am also not over the fact that there is no Jo/Laurie. I mean I get it, but Professor Baher was way too patronizing and sanctimonious. Maybe he comes off better in the sequels, but I haven’t read them because I feel like Jo March as mother is likely to be far less interesting to me than Jo March as young wannabe writer and tomboy.

And while I am on this subject, John Brooke is my favorite of the March girls’ suitors. Because he’s smart. And adorkable.