Review: Cara’s Twelve by Chantel Seabrook

Published July 11, 2016 by Shannon

Cara's Twelve

This was the first NetGalley book I was able to download and read on my own, despite being a member for years. So, yay for some accessibility improvements, I guess, although the process isn’t nearly as painless as it would be, say, if I were sighted.

Anyway, Cara’s Twelve by Chantel Seabrook isn’t a bad book. It’s not super amazing, and I wanted it to be more than it was, but for my virgin Net Galley attempt, I could have done worse.

The blurb:

“Highly recommended.” -Jack Magnus, Readers’ Favorite-

Raised in the backwater province of Crowthorne, Cara finds her fate bound to a system she despises and a goddess she no longer believes in. When it becomes
clear that the heir to the Elbian throne has found disfavor in the eyes of the goddess, Cara is ordained by blood to take her cousin’s place as heir apparent.

One man from each twelve provinces are chosen by the royal council to pledge their lives and swords as champions and consorts of the future queen. From
these men, Cara must choose the future king of Elbia. Before she is able to take her place on the throne, Cara and her Twelve must visit each province
and perform a sacred ceremony, one that will make Cara question everything she thought was real.

Cara soon realizes that not all of the men who swore to protect her are what they seem, and that there are those who would use her as a tool to gain power.

Cara’s Twelve is a refreshingly different, romantic fantasy story of fair maidens and fearless warriors in a medieval land.

I was drawn to this book because I liked the notion of one woman having to choose from among twelve potential consorts, Bachelorette style. I might have also been hoping for a reverse harem situation, like In this recent read. Alas for me, that was not what happened. Instead, Cara’s choices are laid out fairly clearly in the beginning. Most of her Twelve, in fact, get very little character development, and by about the halfway point, it was clear I wasn’t getting a love dodecahedron. It was going to be a standard love triangle between the broody one with the tragic past and the sweet but overprotective one with whom Cara develops insta-lust. For me, this marred the pacing of the book. When it became clear that most of the Twelve were unnecessary, I stopped caring about them.

That’s not to say the book is all horrible. I liked the world that Ms. Seabrook has created, and I liked watching Cara grow into a formidable ruler, even if at times she was a bit shrill. I also appreciated that Ms. Seabrook didn’t sugar coat the violence. There were some dark scenes in this book, and I liked that Cara found them distressing and didn’t just shrug them off like, “Oh well.”

Unfortunately, since the romance got sapped of anything interesting fairly quickly, my enjoyment of the book suffered. I thought the ending in particular was a shade too bittersweet for romance readers. (It’s an HEA, but not a terribly satisfactory one for me.)

I feel like I’m ragging on this book more than I mean to. It’s competently written. I appreciated that there was a strong female friendship throughout that sustained Cara, because I was not expecting that would be the case at all. And though the men we did get to see weren’t well-developed, I didn’t hate any of them.

My first NetGalley book gets graded a C. I’d probably seek out more by this author, but not right away.

June book bingo!

Published July 1, 2016 by Shannon

I had a pretty good month with the shallowreader bingo. I’m so glad she’s agreed to make the cards accessible so I can play! And this time I almost filled in everything. Bwahaha. Recurring themes include books that are objectively terrible, but I read them anyway.

Naked: Some Kind of Magic by R Cooper. Werewolf cop realizes flighty half-fairy profiler is his mate. He spends six hours in audio not doing anything but suffering stoically in silence. I got extremely irritated with both characters, and even though R Cooper writes the sort of M/M I should theoretically like, her complete lack of an editor means I probably won’t read her again until she gets a better publisher than Dreamspinner.

A Child’s Grief: Nope.

June: Thomas by Grace Burrowes. I’ve read this Burrowes before, when it was called Douglas, with the competent heroine managing an estate until the hero shows up. I didn’t quite buy Thomas’s sudden elevation to baron, because he wasn’t titled in previous books, and I thought he was a bit condescending to the capable amazon heroine, but dammit I can’t stay mad at these books for long. I put this here because it was set in summer, which I thought was close enough.

Dust: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. This was a book club read. I liked it more than a lot of the people in my book club did, but it sort of… ended, which I wasn’t a fan of. I put it here because of all the vivid descriptions of bombed-out London during the blitz.

Delusion: Broke, USA by Gary Rivlin. A very angry-making look at the poverty industry–payday loans, instant tax refund services, and even pawn shops. The fact that these people think they’re actually doing good for the working poor is the delusional part.

Au Revoir: Beautiful Bitch by Christina Lauren: The couple takes a trip to France. Not much happens in this novella, but I liked the first book a lot, and appreciated the glimpse into Chloe and Bennett as they got more serious about each other.

Interrupted Intimacy: Barbarian’s Touch by Ruby Dixon. Another addition to a series of books that probably in the main aren’t very good, but I love them. When the hero and heroine plan on getting intimate, the heroine’s sister is there to ruin it.

I have to add that what I love about this particular installment of the series is that Leila, our heroine, is deaf, and even though it would be easy for Ms. Dixon to tack on a deus ex machina ending that restored her hearing, she didn’t. (The books are about earth women stranded on a planet where, in order to survive, they must take on a symbiont that keeps them healthy and able to survive in the, well, icy planet’s atmosphere. It has cured brain tumors, so hearing loss shouldn’t have been a problem.) Instead, we get Leila being competent in the way disabled people seldom are, and Rokan, her mate, deciding that learning to communicate with her was his problem, not hers. I can even forgive the fact that linguistics don’t work the way they do in the book, because he was always very much in her corner, and I loved that.

Mini: The Turn of the Screw by Henry James: This one was 5 hours long on audio, hence why I put it here. It may be a slim book, but it packs a hell of a punch, and I’m still not entirely sure I have an explanation for what went on that satisfied me. I liked it a lot, though, and would like to seek out more of his work.

Gratitude: Can’t Hold Back by Serena Bell. Gratitude was actually a running theme in this book. The heroine is worried that the hero’s feelings about her are mostly gratitude over the fact that she helped relieve his war-inflicted pain. I like Serena Bell’s writing, and I enjoy this series, which is angsty but not over the top. I did think, however, that the heroine was a bit of a martyr.

Just the Tip: Lassoing the Virgin Mail Order Bride by Alexa Riley. Not all of Riley’s books work for me. This one did, though, and it’s appropriate because the hero, Cash, wonders if he can get further inside the heroine’s tight virgin body than the tip of his penis.

I’m So Sorry: Never Sweeter by Charlotte Stein: This book is one extended grovel scene. I loved it, and reviewed it here.

Beautiful All Along: Introductions by C L Stone. Gah. These books. Sang is a ridiculous Mary Sue. She has nine love interests, and end game looks like she’ll get with all of them and they’ll share her. I didn’t know I was into this until I started reading it. And I am kind of ashamed.

Gold Star: Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell: They couldn’t agree on much after the end of the Revolutionary War, but people in the US seemed to agree that Lafayette was the best. As for me, the book was engaging if not terribly substantive.

Gesticulate: Revival by Stephen King. A quieter sort of horror novel than I’m used to, although it doesn’t really stick out much in my head. However, there was a lot of carnie showmanship going on from Charles Jacobs, the piece’s eventual villain.

Broken Pedistal: David by Grace Burrowes. Letty is hired to become the madam of a brothel that David owns. Of course, she’s a historical romance heroine, so her fall from grace wasn’t entirely her fault. And her brother also finds out that his wife is a terrible shrew and not just the misguided snarky woman he thought she was. It wasn’t a terribly great Burrowes, but it hit the spot when I was reading.

Solstice: Changeling by Yasmine Galenorn. The book closes on a Yule celebration. I liked it a lot, though again, this is not a terribly substantial
series. But the sister dynamics are great, and I’m enjoying watching the different ways they navigate interesting relationship dynamics.

Mary Sue: First Days by C L Stone. Because literally all the boys at Ashley Waters High want to be with Sang. Why? I have no idea. It’s bad enough she has her harem of nine.

White Man’s Burden: Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi. I put this here because there aren’t really any white characters to speak of. This isn’t a bad thing. It was lovely to read about disabled queer characters of color in space being awesome. The only sour note I found is that one of the characters is an otherkin, and I thought the rest of the crew were a little hard on our protagonist for thinking something mildly judgey about him. Because dammit, I was feeling mildly judgey, too.

With Pleasure: The Best Kind of Trouble by Lauren Dane. Paddy Hurley is definitely a hedonist, which makes him a great foil for Natalie, who’s a bit of a control freak. I loved all the female friendship in this one, and I adored the rest of the Hurley family. Also, Kate Turnbull was an excellent narrator.

For Your Own Good: Kneel, Mr. President by Lauren Gallagher: I still love that the President of the United States is kinky and poly in this book. I reviewed it here.

Shipping: Once a Soldier by Mary Jo Putney: There was a lot of talk both about how to transport wine out of the country in which the book was set, and about how both the main couple and the secondary couple were just perfect for each other. I reviewed it here.

Pride: Beautiful Bastard by Christina Lauren: Both Bennett and Chloe have pride in spades. Also, they’re both kind of awful people to each other, but their awfulness was endearing.

I ended up reading this one because someone showed up in my Twitter mentions to finger wag about the author’s ethics, but since they aren’t hiding the fact that this used to be Twilight fanfic, I don’t see the problem? Especially since none of the rest of the books they’ve written appear to be.

Pretty in Pink: Friends vs. Family by C L Stone: Naturally, Sang’s favorite color is pink. Because of course it is.

Hero is a Mountain: Forgiveness and Permission by C L Stone: My favorite of Sang’s harem is the gentle giant Silas. Who is supposedly Greek, which makes me wonder if maybe I should give some of those tycoons a try.

100: Nope.

Also read: Drop of Doubt by C L Stone, where we meet Volto, who points out how fucked up everything in this setting is.
Push and Shove by C L Stone: In which one of her boys is kind of a manipulative little pill, but it had a legitimately hot scene in it, so I’ll forgive that.

PS: You’re Mine by Alexa Riley: Soldier writes letters to a schoolteacher. They meet when he’s deployed, and, well, it’s an Alexa Riley book so you can probably predict what happens. It was a cute bit of fluff.

Review: Introductions: The Academy, book 1 by C L Stone

Published June 25, 2016 by Shannon

Introductions (The Ghost Bird, #1)

I don’t know how to categorize Introductions by C L Stone. As someone who works in a library, cataloguing is a thing I do on a daily basis, and if I can’t make something fit in certain boxes, I have to do the best I can.

There’s not much to the book. It is the first part of a series that is 10 books long and has a 5-book spin-off series that’s apparently got more sexytimes in it. When it ends, it’s not exactly on a cliffhanger, but the reader is left with more questions than answers.

Sang Sorensen lives with an abusive mother, a neglectful father, and an older sister who I can’t pin down yet, but who is basically awful as well. Her mother is an agoraphobe who is convinced that rapists are around every corner, so one night Sang sneaks out of the house to explore the neighborhood, just to say she did. She suffers from a debilitating case of YA heroine clumsiness, so when a dog runs her down, she freaks out until she’s rescued by the dog’s owner, a hot guy. Thus begins the rest of the book, where Sang inexplicably finds herself in very intimate situations with Kota, Victor, Silas, Gabriel, Nathan, Luke, and North. Yes, there are seven guys, one for every day of the week, and they are hot. There’s the hot nerd (Kota), the rich one (Victor), the gentle giant (Silas), the athlete (Nathan), the please-just-let-him-be-openly-bi one (Gabriel), the broody one (North), and the dreamer (Luke.)

Despite the wacko bananas premise, I was completely charmed. It’s clear to me that C L Stone isn’t taking herself too seriously, and she doesn’t seem to expect the reader to, either. Her characters all comment on what a weird name Sang is, which charms me because YA and romance are full of inexplicably weird names for no apparent reason and nobody ever seems to notice in the stories themselves. There’s no real attempt to justify the fact that there are these seven dudes inexplicably drawn to the one girl. It just is, and if you’re not on board for that type of fantasy, then this isn’t going to work for you.

If I’m going to be made to accept this reverse harem premise, I have to like the main character, and I liked Sang. Admittedly, she is painfully naive, and I worry about her ability to, say, do two complex tasks like walking and chewing gum at the same time without having an aneurism. She is awkward and shy, but she seems to bring out the best in the members of her harem, and I loved seeing these boys through her eyes. Also, she won me over because she really had a lot of crap on her plate. Her parents aren’t benignly neglectful the way parents are in a lot of YA books I’ve read, and yet she is still sweet-natured and kind. The boys bring out the best in her, too, and I can’t wait to watch her grow into her own.

The boys are still ciphers at this point. I do trust that with 10 books in the series, there will be room for character growth. I did appreciate that they weren’t the same basic flavor of hot, though. I loved Kota’s nerdiness, and Silas’s bumbling awkwardness, and I wanted more of Gabriel and his not-exactly-gender-conforming ways. (And again, I hope he actually gets to come out in due course as bi or pan or some flavor of not-straight, because that would be lovely, but I’m not holding my breath.) North was a bit too much the stereotypical bad boy I’ve read about before, and I didn’t get enough of a sense of Luke or Nathan to form an opinion. Oh, and there are two teachers who I think may show up in the harem somehow… which is a little oogey for me, but I’m tentatively going to trust the author to stay on the right side of good taste.

What this most strongly reminds me of is fanfic. In fact, though I have done no research on this topic whatsoever, I wouldn’t be surprised if C L Stone has some fics out there on the Interwebs somewhere. On one hand, this isn’t a compliment. I do think that readers who actually, you know, read for plot will be disappointed that this is some 200 pages of pure setup. On the other hand, if you’re a reader who likes to have a lot of feels, Ms. Stone is good at delivering those. There’s a huge helping of hurt/comfort in almost every chapter, owing to Sang’s Bella Swan disease and the fact that everyone evil really, really wants to hurt the poor girl. There’s also something lovely about an author writing a whole buffet of male archetypes for the reader’s titillation.

I could also see this book appealing to actual teens. I read somewhere (probably on Twitter) that one of the reasons authors embrace love triangles is that they allow the teenage heroine to try on different types of boys to see if she can make an informed choice about what’s important to her. They may drive me nuts, but I can understand the mindset. In this series, though, what I didn’t feel was a push and pull from any of the guys. They all get cozy with her in various moments of the book, but they never seem to be directly competing against each other for her affections. They seem to be a solid group of friends, and if anything, I wanted to see more of that dynamic in play.

What I found most fascinating (though, apparently, hard to articulate) is how much Sang is allowed to explore without things turning overtly sexual. She shares a room with Kota not once but twice. Gabriel insists on washing and styling her hair. All the guys feel her up on the pretext of checking out her Bella-Swan-disease-caused bruises. A lot of these scenes are sensual, and meant to titillate, but overtly, they are chaste.

In short, C L Stone isn’t pretending she’s not writing teenage girl wish fulfillment fantasy. Is it realistic? No. I don’t actually think there would be seven guys who would flirt so openly and yet be completely not jealous of each other and undemanding of any reciprocal attentions from a girl. But it’s not like there are scads of hot twenty-somethings who can’t wait to hook up with schlubby middle-aged men in real life, either, and that has certainly never stopped male authors. I’m on board for this wish-fulfillment train, and I’m going to grab the next audiobook right away.

The narration is a lot better than I was expecting, although I found it a bit distracting. There is one narrator who reads the female characters, and another who reads the men. The male dialogue is inserted into the book so that it feels something like a full-cast recording, and the male narrator had a lot of work for him distinguishing seven voices. Mostly, I thought he pulled it off, although I do wish he’d eased off on all the Southern accents.

I do have to put a couple of content warnings on the book, though. There’s a horrific scene of abuse about a third of the way through that I found hard to stomach. And the vice-principal is a skeezy, skeezy man whose one scene made me uncomfortable, although nothing awful happens.

Final Grade: B+

Don’t want to take my word on it? Heroes and Heartbreakers did a lovely write-up that tipped me over the edge into trying the book.

May book bingo

Published May 31, 2016 by Shannon

Ever since I saw it on Willaful’s blog, I’ve been wanting to play Shallowreader’s reading bingo. So this month I finally did. This should reassure you that I am, in fact, still alive.

Here’s a link to the bingo card for May. Thanks again to Willaful for sending me a description of what’s in each square.

For my first time out, I didn’t fill in all the squares, but looking over Shallowreader’s blog, I realize we can’t all be Willaful, so I’m going to consider this a worthy first effort, especially since the end of the month has seen me in a bit of a reading slump. It looks as if my running theme involved food. So many books featured people I would love to invite to dinner, even if mind-blowing sex didn’t occur afterward.

Here’s how it breaks down.

Epic disaster wardrobe tragedy: ” Ice Planet Barbarians by Ruby Dixon. I read all of these books, gobbling them up like Pringles. Young women are kidnapped from Earth by little green men. They try to escape. They land on a hostile planet, where the natives are blue, horned aliens. In order to survive, the women have to get implanted with symbionts that help keep the worst of the weather from effecting them, and coincidentally also let them know when someone’s around they can be fertile with. It’s one of the better setups for a fated mate story I’ve read, because the heroines (who are all uniquely awesome) deal with how fucked up having a random, nonsentient organism tell you who your mate is in different ways. Some embrace it. Some fight like hell. Some are sad they don’t get chosen, although, this being a romance series, it is not a spoiler to say everybody gets babies.

Anyway, the epic disaster wardrobe tragedy is that they all get abducted while in sleepwear, which is not known for being the only thing you should wear on an Arctic planet.

I could have put this series down under “unicorn”, too, because I don’t generally like fated mate storylines, and even though my heart cries out for good alien romances, I almost never get them, and I got both in these books.

Brunch: Misfits by Garrett Lee. This was a relatively quiet book about three men trying to negotiate a poly relationship. Two of them are an established couple, but they need that third to complete them. And the men own several restaurants that sounded divine.

Narcissism: Never Loved by Charlotte Stein. I really like Stein’s voice, but I can’t read too many of her books in a row, because I find the deep POV kind of suffocating at times. Her heroines seem to all be super awkward, and, hey, I am also super awkward, and that’s not a facet of life I necessarily want reflected back at me. Anyway, though, in this one, I thought the heroine’s brother was a narcissist. He gets the heroine into all kinds of trouble that the hero has to rescue her from, and everyone would have probably been happier with a little more empathy on the brother’s part.

Inchoate Cohesion: Playing the Game by M Q Barber. Another book about polyamory, this one the start of a multi-book series. The dom, Henry, tends to speak in a professorial manner, so I figured he would use “inchoate cohesion” in conversation.

I liked this one a lot. I think the slow burn might be a little too slow for some, but it’s definitely not the sort of book you could read and skim the sex scenes, because they all served a greater narrative function. I’m kind of hoping the next book deals more with the triad outside of the bedroom as they navigate the bounds of their relationship. (This one also could have gone under Silver Fox, because, again, that is how I’m picturing Henry.

Close but No Cigar: Too Hot to Handle by Tessa Bailey: Tessa, Tessa, Tessa. This was so very close to getting an A grade from me. I loved the dynamic between siblings as they go on a road trip and all find love. But I hated the ending. Tessa Bailey was convincing me she had a fun contemporary voice and characters I could see existing in the real world, but the final conflict could best be explained as: “the hero is way too fucking needy and has never heard of Skype.” Also, anytime the book ends with the heroine going, “Well, my dreams weren’t nearly as important as the dude I met three days ago,” I find myself rolling my eyes. I still want the next books in the series, but I’m going to need the heroines to step it up. (I reviewed this one at The Good, the Bad, and the Unread.)

A Walk in the Park: Status Update by Annabeth Albert. I really like Annabeth Albert’s voice in M/M romance. This was a cute road trip story. One of the heroes gets dumped while he’s visiting a national park, and ends up hooking up with the other one, who is a repressed virgin still in the closet because of self-worth issues, and I ate it up with a spoon!

Abstinence: A Little Life by Hanya Yanigihara: Oh, man, I hated this book. On audio, it was 37 hours of slogging through the main character’s depression and tragic past. And abstinence is really how he’d prefer to conduct his relationships, which is why people saying in all seriousness that this is “the Gay Novel” of this past decade should be punched in the throat. Ultimately, when I closed the book, I didn’t understand the point she was going for, other than maybe that life sucks and depression isn’t cured with cookies and hugs. Which I can applaud, but not for 37 tortuous hours on audiobook.

Bloom: The Chocolate Rose by Laura Florand: Because of the rose in the title. Duh. I liked this one quite a lot, although the hero’s clinginess annoyed me, as did the heroine’s general spinelessness. But then, I don’t read Florand for her heroines; I read her for the food porn, which was everything I wanted.

Suck it: Ruth’s Bonded by VC Lancaster: Another alien romance I liked. In this one, the hero and heroine can’t communicate at all, because obviously not everyone has universal translators. His culture is matriarchal, which I thought was a nice twist, and she seduces him at first by sucking on his tail!

I didn’t like this one nearly as well as I liked the Ice Planet books, because there are two more in this series that I haven’t read, and I feel like not being able to ever talk to my love interest would ruin a HEA for me, but I’ll be interested to see what she does with the stories.

Little Fluffy Clouds: Relentless by Lauren Dane. Because it’s sci-fi. And there is space travel. No cheesy aliens here, but lots of interesting politics. I love that Dane’s heroines are competent and bad-ass, and this one has a great family. I didn’t care for the ending, though, which relied on the equivalent of, “You know what? We can change that. You know why? Because I’m the President. Which, you know, was something the hero could have come up with a while before he did.

That Dress: Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake by Sarah MacLean: I was hoping this would stick out more, because a lot of my trust circle loves her books, but this was a fairly inoffensive historical. And there was a makeover scene. I’m not writing her off, but I don’t feel any great need to keep going.

Fifteen: Climbing the Date Palm by Shira Glassman. This is the second in her Mangoverse series. I thought the first one could have been a bit longer, but this one was almost too long, as it was juggling a lot of different things at once. One of the characters is stuck in cell 15 in the dungeons, though.

I’m hoping that a few of the plot threads that she let dangle in this one will be picked up in future books. I want the world to know what a bad-ass lady Rivka is, so she won’t have to go around in disguise all the time.

So that was my month of reading. Anybody read anything good lately? Tell me in the comments!

A Failed Experiment with Twilight profic: Gabriel’s Inferno by Sylvain Reynard

Published October 28, 2014 by Shannon

Gabriel's Inferno (Gabriel's Inferno, #1)

My first experiment to see if Twilight pulled-to-publish stories actually worked as original fiction failed. Not because the story doesn’t–I think it probably does–but it was so far from being my cup of tea that I gave up around the chapter 11 mark. I refer, of course, to Gabriel’s Inferno by Sylvain Reynard.

The Premise: Gabriel is a sinful, sinful man who sins a lot. He is also a Dante scholar who for some reason has more money than God. Julia is one of his students. They have a past connection that he doesn’t remember. He is rude and boorish, even while he decides that Julia is a delicate little wilting flower who blooms under kindness. The Jacob character is a perfectly nice guy named Paul who deserves to be in a story where he will not be the third wheel of this creepy, creepy love triangle.

At first I rather enjoyed this book. It was over the top and full of ridiculous amounts of cheese. If I stopped thinking of these people as even remotely realistic and started thinking of them as archetypes who lived on some other planet, I could get through it. Also there were manly tears in the first few chapters, and overwrought prose, and I felt a little like I was reading a bodice ripper of yore.

Then the Dante stuff started getting dropped in, and it’s not subtle at all. I read The Inferno once in high school and again in college. It was fairly easy to see where Reynard’s parallels were coming from, because a master of subtlety he is not. Clearly Julia/Bella was an analog for Beatrice, Gabriel/Edward was the Dante analog, and Paul/Jacob was the Virgil. And once we had our Beatrice, Reynard never failed to bring up how pure she was. Julia is a virgin. For some reason, this matters to everyone much more than I think it would in the real world. To put it another way, Julia is the very definition of a purity sue. And to no one’s surprise, along with that, there’s a whole host of slut-shaming.

Ultimately, it was the weird virgin/whore dichotomy that made this book unreadable. I could deal with over the top earnest crack. I was made uncomfortable for Julia, though, whose purity caused literally every man she encounters, up to and including the waiter at a restaurant, to put her on a pedestal. When I stepped away from the book, I found myself wondering what Gabriel would do after they inevitably got together and he discovered that pure, innocent and perfect Julia poops like everyone else.

Maybe it’s unfair to say this, but I was even more bothered by the benevolent sexism on display here because Reynard is a man. I think I could have put up a bit more with the purity nonsense if the book had been written by a woman. Then I could take it as female fantasy. But since the writer is male, it made the white knight in tarnished armor thing creepy rather than hot.

So yeah. I know this trilogy did well enough for itself, and I might see what Reynard is capable of if he ever gets ahold of a better editor, but I think I need to read a book where the heroine is allowed to get down and dirty without needing to put up with a guy who runs hot and cold and also puts her up on a pedestal.

Grade: DNF

An overly long justification of some questionable library purchases

Published October 23, 2014 by Shannon

Of all the things I imagined writing about when I first started seriously book blogging back in 2007, defending the Twilight franchise was not one of them. I think I’ve told the story of how I discovered Twilight before, but I’ll share it again. My sister cornered me and read the first three chapters aloud to me.

“Neato,” I said to myself, because that’s how nobody talked in 2006. “I can’t wait to go back and finish this excellent coming-of-age story about a young girl who has to adjust to living in darkest Washington and dealing with her prickly dad. It’ll be like all those YA books I read as a kid, only updated for modern readers.”

When Edward was introduced, and continued to dominate Bella’s every waking thought, my interest in the book dissipated. I mean, if I wanted to read paranormal romance, even back in 2006, I could find a lot more stuff out there, most of which contained appropriate amounts of smut. Twilight didn’t even work for me as crack, because sparkly vampires aside, it was mostly just boring.
Skip to several years later. When 50 Shades of Grey was published, I dismissed it out of hand. After all, I could go read some Harlequin Presents if I really wanted to read about alpha-hole heroes and terrible relationship dynamics. I could find badly written BDSM on Literotica for free, even. I did read all of the recaps Jenny Trout wrote of the series, and that convinced me they were really not for me. But I couldn’t seem to stop reading the criticism of both Twilight and 50 Shades.

I really liked Jenny’s take on 50 Shades, because I thought it was pretty ballsy of her to snark like that about another author’s books. Plus, the recaps were funny, and they came from a romance writer, so there wasn’t any of the subtle condescension I’d encountered in a lot of the 50 Shades material I’d seen online.

Since my abortive attempt to read Twilight, I have successfully read a lot of feminist theory as well. One of the things I’ve taken away from what I’ve read is that sexism isn’t always horrible and flashy and obvious. Often it’s quieter and more insidious. It’s finding myself on one of my favorite communities online having to read yet another screed by some know-it-all nerdy dude in his early twenties who used “Twilight” as shorthand for “awful writing.” It’s listening to other women say things like, “I mean, I like romance, but ugh, Twilight, amirite?” It’s being one of those women myself. It’s realizing that Twilight and to some extent 50 Shades can be the shorthand for “stupid romance that girls like.”

Lately I’ve been reading Anne Jamison’s excellent Fic, which is a brief overview of a few moments in fannish history. Jamison is a literature professor who’s taught courses on fanfic, and she devotes a lot of time to the Twilight fandom, including the pull-to-publish phenomenon, and what she’s written has really intrigued me. Some of the fics she used to teach actually have been pulled to publish, but she points out that they were doing interesting things with the source material that made them worthy of analysis.

Which is why I checked out several of them from the library: Christina Lauren’s Beautiful Bastard, Sylvain Reynard’s Gabriel’s Inferno, and I shelled out money for Shay Savage’s Transcendence.. I’m curious if I’ll find any of these works derivative or transformative. (I’m particularly excited about the Reynard piece because he’s a man and I’ve been promised actual Dante and fewer marriage contracts. Also, the Savage is about a cave man who can’t speak and the time traveler who loves him. Sounds delicious.)

Jamison’s book has made me think a bit more on my position about fanfic with the serial numbers filed off. It’s not quite as easy as changing some names to make a buck, and it’s not as if alternative universe fanfic didn’t exist before Twilight. (Hello, Uber Xena… which provided a struggling bisexual wee Shannon with her first taste of healthy and sexy lesbian relationships.) So I can’t entirely say it’s always wrong. I can be dismayed that 50 Shades entered the cultural zeitgeist instead of something I find less problematic, but, I mean, Twilight didn’t give me well-rounded characters. Maybe these ficcers turned pro writers can at least improve on that score.

I don’t know how this will go. Or even if I’ll end up reading any of these books. But I’m kind of excited to see what happens.

Review: Into the Arms of Morpheus by Jessica Nichols

Published October 3, 2014 by Shannon

So yes. I do exist. And my good intentions about writing a blog post explaining about how this summer the inspiration to blog wasn’t there went out the window.

I did, however, agree to participate in a blog tour. They will probably never ask me again, but hey, I’m posting!

Just a caveat: The editor of this book is actually a friend. In case that makes a difference. She does know I’m writing an honest review, though.

Into the Arms of Morpheus

I’m not sure that I would have picked up Into the Arms of Morpheus by Jessica Nichols on my own. After having read it, I’m still not entirely sure how I’d classify the experience.

Here’s the blurb:

Sylvia has always harboured a solitary obsession with Morpheus, the Greek God of Dreams. She’s brought it with her from her adolescence in a village of Northern England where she grew up, to the university in Manchester where she now studies.
Nyx is the Goddess of Night, and has spent the centuries stewing in an ancient, unrequited love. Not easily pleased, her attention is drawn to a voice chanting its devotion and desire for her, and she seeks the source of it.
She is not the only god playing in the realms of men, however. When the God of Death and Morpheus himself become aware of this new devotee, the stage is set for the gods to secure their worship, or for a mortal to become one of them.

The Good: If Jessica Nichols hasn’t spent quite a bit of time in Manchester, I certainly wouldn’t know it. I found the description of the setting evocative. This isn’t the sort of story that you could transplant to somewhere else and have it work out. It’s always refreshing to read a book that is so centered in its sense of place.

The plot also goes in a direction I didn’t expect. I really thought, based on the blurb, that I had the book pegged. Sylvia would be our good-girl heroine, and Nyx, being a female with power and also the goddess of night, would be a slutty bitch. We would be supposed to root for Sylvia’s sweet, angelic purity to triumph over Nyx’s slutty girl with power. That’s not what happens. In fact, Nyx is easily the most fascinating character in the book, and I admit to waiting eagerly for her POV. I also thought there was genuine chemistry between Nyx and Sylvia, and I was really hoping something would come of it.
The writing style also works well for the book. It’s dreamlike, and I felt as if I was glimpsing images rather than really understanding what was going on. At first, this bothered me. (Ask me my thoughts on the virtues of linear storytelling… I’ll tell you at great length.) But as I read further, I’m not entirely sure she could have told the story any other way.

The Not so good:

I never got a sense of the characters, and particularly Sylvia. As I’d feared, she comes across as something of a Mary Sue, and people are drawn to her because of her incorruptible pure pureness. In fact, cleansing and purity are always associated with her. This makes her, quite frankly, a little boring. Also, being mortal, she’s not very proactive. Everything that happens to Sylvia is a direct result of someone else’s actions. Plus, she’s devoted to Morpheus because… I was never clear on that, but my impression was that she thought he was cool. Of course, Morpheus being the god of dreams, she practices her devotion by… sleeping a lot. Which is exactly as exciting as you think it is.

Naturally, though the slut-shaming didn’t take the form I expected it to, it was still somewhat pervasive. Nyx and Sylvia are forgiven much by the text, but every other woman is shown to be weak. The one male POV we get regularly is quite the misogynist asshole, although of course Sylvia’s pure pureness is totally different from all those other slutty whores. Honestly, seeing this sort of thing written by a female author makes me incredibly sad. Why must we denigrate all other women who aren’t the designated protagonist? What did those other women do to deserve that?

My other major quibble with the book is that there is dreamlike and then there’s simply unclear. I’m still not sure, as I said, that I could tell you exactly what happens in the course of the novel. I know it basically ends happily, with Sylvia being less bisexual than I would have liked, but if I were to write a book report for a grade in which I summarized the whole story, I’m not sure I could. Which is troubling, because it’s not that long.

I’m not sure who I’d recommend this to. It’s a fairly short read, though I’d argue it’s not all that quick. It’s a different take on dark fantasy than I’ve encountered before. I’d probably read something else from this author. (Preferably something with more smut, because I bet her erotica is awesome.) This book isn’t to my particular taste, but it might appeal to a reader willing to delve deeper into the text than I was, and whose inner feminist is less loud than mine.

My grade: A C.

Writing Hurdles

Published July 27, 2014 by Shannon

Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of nudges from the universe poking me and demanding to know why I’m not writing. It started when I read a book recently with such awful characterization (there were not only one but two self-insert Mary Sue characters) and literally thought, “I am a much better writer than that.” I’ve also come to learn that Seattle is a font of awesome writers. I just have to, you know, find them.

But there have been things that I keep stumbling over, excuses that I know are just that… excuses. They range from the ones even I know are lame, (“Where is the tiiiiiiiime?”) to the spazzy (OMG someone else wrote about a chupacabra shapeshifter, that means I can’t write my chupacabra shapeshifter romance anymore!) But the one I find myself struggling with is the fact that I’ve taught myself bad habits about the kind of feedback I like to get.

For the better part of the last 15 years, i’ve been role playing online, in freeform collaborative storytelling ventures. It’s through the gaming that I’ve learned a lot about characterization and plotting. But the downside is that I’ve learned to expect almost immediate feedback in response to my writing, in the form of people taking my ideas and putting their own spins and characters onto them. As I try to write more by myself, without that more immediate feedback, I find myself flailing. I want to talk over every minute aspect of the story I’m writing with someone… anyone… to try to figure out if I’m on the right track.

I’m trying to figure out how I can make myself write more consistently and still get some of that feedback as the process goes along. I am also having frequent conversations in which I reassure myself that everyone’s process is different, and this is mine, and if my friends are tired of hearing about the foibles of my characters, they’ll tell me. i know a lot of writers don’t talk at all about their projects until they’re done, and I’m not sure I’d, say, post my thorny plotting issues on my blog, but I can’t be the only one for whom this is a thing.

I’ve considered that I might find it a useful exercise to write fan fiction (although honestly… I don’t know what fandoms I’d even write for), or else try to serialize some fiction on a site like Wotpad. I’m a little hesitant about that because I’d want to make sure I was far enough along in a project that I wouldn’t end up abandoning it when life got busy.

I don’t have any solutions. I suspect this is an ongoing thing that I’ll struggle with until I figure out what works for me. In the meantime, I guess I have no excuses. Back to writing!

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