Sunday, April 19, 2009

Color Me Purple

I've noticed that some "mainstream books" that normally might appear on the Fiction shelves have made their way onto the Romance aisles at the bookstores. Like, for example, Mr. & Mrs. Fitzwiliam Darcy: Two Shall Become One. When I first saw it, it kind of stuck out like a sore thumb for me. For one, It's larger than an oversized paperback, and two, lots of these Pride and Prejudice continuations are cropping up these days.

The author starts off the book with a foreword in which she admits that before 2005 and the Joe Wright production of Pride and Prejudice starring Kiera Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen, she had never read any Austen books nor seen any previous screen adaptations of the book. But once she saw the 2005 movie, she fell in love and decided to read the original, research, and write her own continuation. Her influence of the 2005 adaptation was clear; there were many little details in the book that was obviously from the movie and not from any other versions or the original book.

Once I started, I realized that it was very similar to Linda Berdoll's Mr. Darcy takes a Wife. It starts off right after the Darcy/Bingley wedding and then the next chapter flashed back to a few days before the wedding. Both books did the same thing.

 Now, a quick note: if you're a Austen purist, don't even think about picking up either of these two books. Because if you do, you will think that the good name of Jane Austen has been entirely sullied by anachronistic language and too much sex. That being said, if you just want a Romantic read and feel like Pride and Prejudice should've ended in the sack, you might enjoy this. But beware, there is a copious amount of sex in both books. However, I must note that while the two are similar, Lathan's book contains a lot of slices of life scenes where Berdoll juggles the entirety of the cast and a (sorta) more complicated plot.  

Back to Sharon Lathan's Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Two Shall Become One. Like I said, there's is a very close correlation to this book and Berdoll's book. Which is fine with me but I did notice the similarities off the bat. Lathan has a lot of sex. I was kinda surprised. Even more than Berdoll's book, which already surprised me when I read it a few years ago. But anyways, the sex has so much purple prose. So much. And cuddling. And pillow talk. More snuggling. More good morning sex. If purple writing amuses you, you'll enjoy this. It didn't annoy me, surprisingly; I just went with the flow and enjoyed it.

But as to plot...well, it's thin at best. Like I said, the book is mainly comprised of all slice of life scenes with lots of bedroom back and forth, a few breakfasts and dinners, a party, and one incident that seemed to act as the climax of the book. Doesn't take a genius to come up with the "surprise" if the Darcys are going at it like bunnies everyday. 

In the end, I flipped through it, some parts my eyes just read the words but I wasn't too concerned that I might be missing something. I was probably only missing some more cuddling. But thankfully, I was in the mood for a super sappy read. With lots of cuddling. So, good thing I was in the mood. But honestly, I can't really recommend this book to someone else because I don't think it's a good spend of $14.99. (I got mine for free through BookMooch. Thank you fellow moocher!)

2 out of 5: 2 because I just so happened to be in the mood for something so sappy. But if you want plot, accuracy, or interesting character development...steer clear! Sex abounds in this so-called Pride and Prejudice continuation. More like well written fanfiction.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Animal Names and Bloody Appendages and Doomsday...oh my!

As a continuation to the previous post, I picked up Jessica Andersen's Nightkeepers, since it came so highly recommended by J.R. Ward, a friend of Andersen's. I didn't think to put too much weight on the rave review because 1) they're friends and support each other's writing and therefore 2) they would naturally recommend each other's work. But I still tried it because I love Ward and was hoping for something on the same level as her work and how the Brotherhood sucks me in.

I did not get that. In fact, I couldn't finish Nightkeepers.

To be honest, I would have never bought this book had I just come across it at the bookstore. I might have picked it up because of it's alluring cover, but I would never have purchased. The back cover copy isn't written to entice me and had I gone and actually flipped through the pages, I would have been discouraged.

First off, the world was disconcerting to me. I couldn't get my bearings in the environment created by the book. On one hand, it's about Mayan prophecy but the term that's constantly used to speak about how the characters tap into their magic is "jack in." To me, that term is very Matrix-y in its electronical jargon and that makes a very weird juxtaposition with what I naturally connect with Mayan culture which is something that happened in history many many years ago. So, that awkward mix of the old and new just rubbed me the wrong way.

Another thing, there's a secondary character named Rabbit?! What? And he's an angsty teen who wears black, has plugs in his ears, and is constantly connected to his iPod? The names...sigh, a hero who is Striking Jaguar, which isn't all that bad, but I learned to hate it because I just couldn't get over "Rabbit."

This book is very obviously setting up to the rest of the series. Instead of concentrating on the main hero/heroine pair, there's a large section of the book where we meet the other Nightkeepers and we don't even read about the main pair. This just turned me off. When I read a Romance, I expect to be with one or both of the main characters at least 98%-99% of the time, giving a little leeway for some secondary characters. But when a significant chunk of the book is gone to characters of upcoming can you expect your reader to engage with the characters?

There is quite a bit of jargon here and I don't think it was done in a way where the reader is just seamlessly inserted into that culture and they don't feel out of sorts. Unfortunately, I was very confused, and the language wasn't an enhancement, but all techy jargon to me. When including non-English words or words that are made up by the author to spice up the book, the author needs to be careful it doesn't detract from the book, but adds to it. But alas, this was one of the biggest things I didn't like about this book. Too much.

Lastly, what is with all the knife welding and cutting of flesh and blood contact? Yuck. It just made me cringe and not in the "I'm grimacing because something bad has just happened to the hero and/or heroine and it's written so well I feel like it's actually happening." It just made me cringe because it was gross. I mean, the hero slicing a cut on his tongue, forcing the heroine to open her mouth so he can do the same, and then mingling their blood in a bruising kiss is not sexy; it makes me think of disease, not sex. The whole bloodletting element just made me want to shrink away from the book.

Ironically, I've never really had this feeling even though I love vampire books and have read some (that I didn't like) where the blood was a big element. I don't know what it was but Andersen just didn't write it this element in an appealing way. Which sounds weird, but when dealing with paranormal and blood is involved, if the author doesn't do it right it smacks of obscene, not sexual or appealing.

To be fair, I think this series has a very interesting basic idea. Nightkeepers and magic and Mayan history seems enough rich fodder to plot an entire series. However, it was the writing and the way it was written that turned me off. Sad to say that I had high hopes for it, and if it wasn't for the source of the recommendation, I would have never even tried it nor stuck with it for as long as I did, even though I didn't finish it.

One small note: it is a very nice cover.

0.5 out of 5: I would have given it a zero because I couldn't even finish it, but I gave it half a point because it's a good idea for plot in theory, but unfortunately in reality, it was awful.

Author Pimping

Notice how authors will have a page on their websites where they link to other authors or when they blog about upcoming books, urging their readers to try them out? Well, how much stock can I place into these recommendations when I know they're obviously friends with each other and support mutual work?

Well, even though I'm not sure how much I can count on these recommendations, I will be trying one out. J.R. Ward is friends with another author, Jessica Andersen, and has recently help promote Andersen's Mayan, Final Prophecy, paranormal series.

Off to read...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Guilty Pleasure

We all have them, and I have a few in Romance. This is one of the guiltier ones.

Any Way You Want It by Kathy Love

I've reviewed her contemporary stories before, the Stepp Sisters, and came away with mixed feelings about the trio, absolutely loving the first one, okay with the second, and disastrous with the third. But this is about the first book in one of her paranormal series about three friends, two of which end up with brothers.

Maggie Gallagher is spending a nice vacation in the Big Easy with her friends, Erika and Jo. The shyest of the bunch, Maggie and Co. are enjoying their time together when Maggie is arrested by a melody that nobody is supposed to know. As an authenticator of classical music for the Smithsonian, Maggie recognizes the few bars of a piano melody written by a composer back in the 18 century.

Having just indulged a whim to stroke a few keys of a old piece of music that he had written back when he was just a mere mortal, Ren Anthony is instantly attracted to the small curvy strawberry blonde who has stopped to listen to the live music. Living as an ex-composer who now is the frontman for an immortal cover band, Ren is an auto-pilot musician these days. He just plays to pay the bills.

As a special kind of vampire, a lampir, he survives and feeds off human energy instead of blood. Having believed since his rebirth that he was cursed by his mother, he knows that he shouldn't get involved with Maggie, but can't resist her unique blend of innocence and natural sensuality. Agreeing to a vacation fling, Maggie and Ren explore each other while mutually loosing their hearts as well.

Why is this one of my guiltiest pleasures? For one thing, it's super sweet. Like, send-you-into-a-diabetic-coma sweet. Like most heroines who are shy, they're accompanied by a little issues of body image. While Ren thinks her slight curves are delectable, Maggie has been told they're more than chubby by her ex-finance. Ren takes each and every opportunity to rid Maggie of that misconception and it's so sweet, it'll give you cavities.

But I love it. When I'm in the mood for a hero that's protective and sweet, Ren is my go to guy.

Another reason for guilt inspiring reading? The plot. It's very light. As in, there could've been so much more layered on for a sturdy story. First of all, Ren believes he's cursed. Having been through two failed love affairs, he thinks that his mother has cursed him in the love department. This wasn't covered at all. There's mentions of his past lovers, but you're given scant more information than just their names. One of them, the opera singer, seemed to play a large part in Ren's belief that he was cursed but there was little to no information about that part of his life.

The conclusion is another point of weakness. In an effort to push away Maggie, thinking that he's ultimately saving her life, he does the unthinkable for a Romance alpha hero. He engages intimately with another woman. Yes, we know it's all in an effort to "do the right thing for Maggie" but it's still a little off-putting. In a previous post, I've mentioned that being with another person once the hero/heroine have been together and established is one of the cardinal sins not to be committed in a Romance. Some authors, like I've said before, dare to venture into that forbidden territory, but few make it out alive. And yes, Ren commits this sin.

With all that said, there is something just so sweet (that one word can sum up Ren and Maggie) about this book. The characters aren't the strongest, the plot is minimal at best (more like a collection of day-to-day activity scenes), and the ending is rushed for the sake of an ending. But still, I consider it an occasional reread because I just can't resist this guilty pleasure.

Monday, April 13, 2009

I Like Roller Coasters...right?

Having just read (and liked) Susan Elizabeth Phillips' What I Did for Love and in the midst of listening to Lisa Kleypas' newest contemporary, Smooth Talking Strangers, via audiobook, I got to thinking about emotional roller coasters. 

Emotional roller coaster books are exactly like they sound. The emotions run the gamut and takes the reader through high highs and extreme lows, usually where tears threaten to prickle the eyes and your heart clenches for these imaginary characters. Like I've mentioned before, one of my Good Read Triggers is that tightening of my gut where I don't know how the story can possibly end happily even though logically, I know that it does. So, if I base a good book on that, then I must like those emotional coaster reads, right?

Surprisingly, the answer is, not always.

I've recently come to this conclusion because I've noticed myself buying books from authors that I've read and really enjoyed in the past, but putting them aside for some reason. And then I realized why I've been doing that--those authors are known for an emotional read and I just wasn't in the mood for something that takes so much out of me to read.

Having just finished What I Did for Love and working on Smooth Talking Stranger, I realized that there are times where those flat emotional reads are much better suited to me. Both of these books take the reader on a sort of plateau in terms of emotions. It sets the bar in the beginning and doesn't deviate very far from the plan. And there are times where these reads are just plain comforting. You want a feel-good read and these deliver. 

There are good points and bad to these non-emotional reads. These tend to be the books that pick up when I'm looking for a Romance reread. But these also tend to be the ones where when I'm finished, I wonder if they are a keeper copy because they feel so...interchangable. A good portion of these books feels like they lack substance.

But there are times where those emotional reads set themselves apart from the vast category of Other Romance. By that I mean, the giant numbers of Romances that mean nothing. There's no depth of plot, no real planning of character development, and no sizzle to the chemistry. Those that set themselves apart in my opinion, are most often the emotional reads. Because of their nature to take the reader up and down, they really stand out in the sense that they have substance and depth and makes the reader care for the characters beyond the end of the book. These authors cultivate active message boards and the devoted fan base will want to know of the characters' well-being after their books are written.

While I've recently discovered that my palette for books is diverse, one is not better than the other for they balance each other out to create the beautiful range of Romances.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Amazon Debacle

Yes, in case you haven't read, people are up in arms about the recent activity occurring on Amazon. It appears that Amazon has removed books deemed "Adult Content" from their ranking and the search engines. 

Google it to read about more about this issue. Amazon has replied that it's just a glitch, but people aren't buying it. Not at all.

My take? This won't last. No way will people put up with this form of censorship. And really, where does this "Adult Content" label end...oh the dangers of censorship. A slippery slope, I tell you...very slippery. 

From Browse to Checkout

What makes you buy a Romance book? I'm talking about the times when I'm just browsing at Borders, coupon in hand, but no specific book in mind. In those times, there's probably a one in ten chance that I'll leave with a purchase.

Why? Well, first of all, I'm terribly picky after having read so many of these. Second, I have to waste my money and I will have certain buyer's remorse if I finish the book and feel like I could have spent my time doing something else. 

So, I got to thinking, what catches my eye when I don't have a purchase in mind?

1. A familiar name. For those authors whom I know (matter of speaking) and love, I'll know well in advance when the next coveted book is coming out. I'll have the up and comers catalogued on my shopping list on Amazon and I'll usually be waiting and out to the bookstores on the day of release. But for those names that I'm familiar with but not in love with...that recognition of their name is vital in me picking up an unforeseen purchase. 

2. Placement. I'll always check out the "New Paperback" selection that usually is consisted of 90% Romance for new reads. It's the first place I check when looking for any new release as it's easier to pick them up there instead of scouring the specific shelves alphabetically. So, that's also a good place to check for an impromptu read. 

However, Placement is two-fold. Not only am I talking about placement in the New Paperback display, but I'm also referring to placement of books near or around authors that I consistently read. If a new book is placed conveniently placed near ones that I've already read, I'll almost certainly pick them up as well just to check out the back cover synopsis.

3. Cover. Ahh, the infamous cover art. How many good books have they ruined simply because of lame cover art. One that comes to mind is the original mass market cover art for Shelley Bradley's Bound and Determined. If I hadn't already been acquainted with Bradley's work, I would've dismissed that book entirely. And it's a fantastic read. Hot and sexy with heart and plot. She's mentioned in the past how she received angry (not) fan mail stating that readers were misled by the cover. It displays a very out-dated art with two models that look like they're dressed for a lazy tropical vacation. But instead, the plot has quite explicit sexual scenes (done tastefully), with a plot that has its ups and downs in terms of excitement and emotional level. Happy to say, this book has been re-released into an oversized paperback with a cover that accurately portrays the "higher" heat factor. But I won't mention how that same cover art was recycled from a Janice Maynard novel. Smartly, it was also released into Bradley's alter ego pen name, Shayla Black, the name she uses for her more erotic romances. (Not quite sure I'd put Bound and Determined on the same level as her explicitly erotic Decadent and Wicked Ties, but it's certainly not as tame as her other Bradley releases).

But I must admit the reverse, I've picked up many a Romance simply because they had a nicely done cover. And not all of those good covers were explicitly romance with a heavily muscled man flexing his goodies. Some were just a nice collaboration of colors, a good manipulation of Photoshop, or maybe it was just simple in style with clean lines and text. There are many things that make up a good cover and sometimes, it's not the revved up sex factor. 

There you are, three reasons why I might buy without planning. But the occasion is rare; I usually go into Borders knowing what I'm going to buy. Most of the time, I'll leave the same way I went in, empty handed, but there have been a time or two that I found a new author to pursue from one of those surprise buys.

Interestingly enough, while on the subject of impromptu buys, Romance books recently made the New York Times. The article mentions how Romance readers are loyal and therefore sacrificing other things in order to continue to indulge in these hard economic times. I agree; readers of Romance are devoted and the thought of a happy ending is too hard to pass up when real life might be crap. Besides, who doesn't love a guilty indulgence of a hot alpha male and a good read?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Keeping Secrets

I'm not a big fan of Harlequin. Don't get me wrong, I know a lot of the big names that I read and love started their Romance careers with Harlequin. But I'm just not an instant fan. Maybe I still have a bias against what people view as typical Romance novels. That super gushy, no plot line, all sex, bodice rippers from generations past. I know this prejudice, but I still don't gravitate towards this line.

I don't do their serial Romances, and I also feel like their books aren't long enough to warrant my time or money. However, lately, I've noticed that they're releasing "normal sized" mass paperbacks with nice covers and a diverse set of sub-genres. 

For example, I saw Victoria Dahl's Talk Me Down, a while ago at Borders. What caught my eye was the cover, it was simple and understated but definitely a Romance with the female wearing a man's white dress shirt with a bright red tie and some sex-kitten peep toe pumps to match. But it wasn't a cover that had rippling abs of some long-haired Fabio and it was nicely done. The colors worked and it drew my eye. 

I've never read any of Dahl's work and found out that she writes historicals but this particular book was a contemporary. Though I thumbed through it for fifteen minutes, it didn't look good enough to purchase. But a week later, I came across it for fifty cents at the library bookstore and happily gave this book a new home.

I read some reviews about it and it seemed positive. What really sold me and got me excited was how one reader mentioned that Ben, the hero, wasn't the typical alpha. He was the beta hero who blushed when the heroine made a dirty joke. I'm sometimes weary about this "role reversal" because sometimes authors don't write this well. The heroine comes off too masculine and the hero looses that edge that makes him a good candidate for the protector. But this book did an admirable job in very subtly shifting some stereotypes about gender without loosing too much.

Molly Jennings has come home to her small home town for some R and R. There's some familial connections to why she comes home, but point is, Molly's back in town. Ben Lawson, was/is Molly's older brother's best friend. But now he's the chief of police and still as handsome as he'd been in high school when Molly worshipped him. 

Incidentally, back in the day, Molly had accidentally walked in on Ben and his girlfriend. Molly hasn't forgotten that sight of Ben in his truck with his pants around his ankles, and neither has Ben, judging by his embarrassment. 

But Molly's back in town and Ben has to deal with it. She brings with her a secret because no one, not even her own family, knows what she does for a living. She writes erotica for an e-publisher, and has garnered her very own stalker. Ben, on the other hand, is going crazy wondering what she does for a living. Having gone through his own share of family shame, thanks to his father's sex scandal back when Ben was a teen, he definitely isn't too keen on Molly keeping secrets. But they can't stay apart and soon Molly's problems find their way into their new relationship.

The plot's pretty basic. Girl goes back home, brings mystery and stalker, and Boy is there to fix things as best as he can while battling his own issues with Girl. Eh, nothing that's earth shatteringly original but it's not too bad either. The "surprise villain" isn't much of a surprise and I was just waiting for that to come to light. 

While I thought that the slight role reversal was handled well, with Molly being the more aggressive one, Ben wasn't written off as weak because once he gets going, he's not shy at all about pursuing Molly and a physical relationship. So, he might be the beta hero, but he's not that far away from alpha status. That was really important to me. That even though Ben was more of the emotional and sensitive guy, he didn't loose his edge and still had the potential to go all caveman on his women, even if he never actually did it.

But what lost me as a loyal reader was the Big Secret. Molly's career. It just dragged on way too long and her excuse to not tell Ben was lame. He would ask about it and she would hedge. When he got frustrated, she got frustrated back and asked why he just couldn't let it go. This went on for the entire length of the book. The secret just didn't have enough meat to last that long. 

The only cute part about the secret was when Ben would brainstorm about what the secret was and scribble his ideas of "hooker, phone sex operator, chatroom sex hostess...etc" at the beginning of the chapters. But all in all, the secret wasn't all that big and it just didn't have enough steam to carry the entire book where in the end, they didn't even make a big deal out of it nor did they resolve much concerning the secret. 

So, was it worth the read? Yeah. It had it moments of humor and while the sex wasn't written to be too explicit, it was still done well and generated enough heat to keep the reader interested. But worth the cover price? And a coveted place on my crowed bookshelf? No. It was well worth the fifty cents I paid but I'll be recycling the book on BookMooch soon, letting someone else enjoy it.

3 out of 5: Decent, but not great. Fun contemporary that is a definite easy read. Good for beach reading but not something to look forward to reading all day and burn through normal sleep hours to finish.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Coming Soon

For all the posts that I've done about books that are already out on the shelves, I feel like I should do one about the ones that are coming soon.

These are some that I'm looking forward to...

1. The first and foremost would be J.R. Ward's Lover Avenged. I can't even begin to describe how excited I am for this to come out at the end of the month. It's no secret that I'm a big Ward fan and since I wasn't all that happy with the last Brotherhood book, Lover Enshrined, I'm thoroughly looking forward to this book. However, in all fairness, it wasn't that I didn't like Lover Enshrined. I loved how the Brotherhood world got so much more complex and the secondary plot lines were amazing, it was the main hero and heroine that didn't exactly do it for me. 

So needless to say, I'm very much looking forward to the next installment. Only downside? It's coming out in hardcover. Andwhile the price is a factor for me, I also love the ease of carrying around a paperback. Plus, the mass market issue is coming out in December and I just can't justify getting a hardcover while the paperback will be released so soon afterwards. And may I just add, "hello, hot cover..."

2. Bengal's Heart by Lora Leigh. Basically anything by her is an instant to-buy for me and this will be no exception. Leigh is really on a roll this year. 2009 seems to be her year because she's basically releasing a book every month. Well, so far. But she's skipping May with a novella coming out in June and then Bengal's Heart in August. Bengal's Heart will feature Cabal, the twin of Tanner Reynolds who was the hero in Tanner's Scheme. I very much enjoyed the pushing of boundaries in that book and am looking forward to Cabal's story.

3. Rachel Gibson is releasing another book as well. True Love and Other Disasters is coming out the same day as Ward's book on April 28. It looks to be another Gibson that connects to her hockey player characters and though I've read all her books, I don't always love them. So, I'm not sure that this will be a purchased book, but I will read it one way or another.

4. Demon Can't Help It by Kathy Love will also debut at the end of April. While I really liked Any Way You Want It for its utter diabetic sweetness, I was disappointed by the subsequent read, I Want You To Want Me. So I can't help but feel like the disappointment will continue in the same vein, but I won't cast the decision before I have a chance to read it myself. Nevertheless, Love has given me some good reads and I am looking forward to this. Ironically, looking back, I can say that I love the first book in each of her series but have been unhappy with all others following.

5. I just found out that Shannon McKenna is releasing a trio of novellas in July. Tasting Fear is about three sisters and typical to McKenna, there's a crime and a supposed murderer on the loose and three sisters meet three super alpha males who barge their way to a rescue. Hopefully, I'll have finished Ultimate Weapon by then because I just haven't been in the mood for such edgy contemporaries. But while McKenna might not always be the best of reads, I can always respect how she pushes the envelope with her writing, plot, and characters. 

There are a few more that I'm looking forward to but these five seem the most promising...

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Not Original Enough?

In past reviews, I've made my (sorta) love-hate relationship with Susan Elizabeth Phillips' books clear. I find her writing funny as hell at times, to the point of laughing out loud, but I'm generally left feeling unsatisfied at the end. Doesn't bode well for a Romance. Insert all jokes about "feeling unsatisfied" here.

So after the disaster of Glitter Baby, and whew, does that disappointment list run long. I had such high hopes for it too. So many reviews raved about Phillips' first romantic work as being epic and the love story as unsurpassed. My confusion was clear when I cracked open the re-issue and found that the story began decades before the birth of the heroine and that somehow, we were taken back to read about her mother and her story. What? 

Long story short, I was entirely disappointed by the plot, I didn't feel the heat between Jake and Fleur, and basically didn't care how the book ended one way or another. However, I feel like I'm being harsh on the book. If it were labeled as a coming-of-age story versus a Romance, I would have been happy. It really is a book about a girl coming into her skin and becoming a woman. But the so-called love connection between her and Jake? Didn't buy it. Nope.

And when SEP released her newest book, What I Did for Love, I wasn't flying to the bookstore to pick it up. Coupled with the fact that it released into a hardcover...well, I wasn't going to spend so much on an author that wasn't an instant hit with me. I checked Amazon to read the reviews about the new book and they certainly didn't help. Reviewers criticized the plot as being a thinly veiled attempt to fictionize the Jolie-Pitt-Aniston triangle and the uncomfortable divorce and husband swapping.

And really, the plot to the book is almost identical. Georgie York was America's sitcom darling and though the show has been off the air for eight years, she still can't shake that image. By the opening of the book, Georgie finds herself divorced from her movie-star husband who left her for an exotic looking, humanitarian actress who recently announced her pregnancy. Come on...anyone can see where Phillips got her inspiration from. 

The real story starts when Georgie finds herself pulling a Britany Spears a la the Vegas nuptials, and married to her old co-star Bram, whom she detests (the hate is basically mutual between the two). Desperate to pull together her ruined image, she agrees to pay Bram to stay her husband. Bram, the bad boy actor who ruined his career by way of drugs, drink, and women, is also desperate to renew his credibility in Hollywood. Although he's not as outwardly desperate as Georgie, each has a stake in their pretend marriage.

Despite what should have been a recipe for disaster, it surprisingly wasn't. In the past reviews of SEP's books, I complained about the secondary romances. I felt like they dominated the books and that the main pair didn't get their deserved room. But in What I Did for Love, that wasn't the issue. Yes, there was a secondary romance. Two actually. One that involved Georgie's father and her agent, and another with Bram's housekeeper/chef and Georgie's personal assistant. But the wonderful part about these romances? They collectively added up to be about less than fifteen pages total, versus what normally would've been at least a good third of the book. That was the biggest plus in endearing me to this book.

Another reason I thoroughly enjoyed the book is the nicely time-lined romance. Bram and Georgie genuinely don't like each other in the beginning. I was suspicious about Bram's feelings because it's so typical for the hero to have those love/hate feelings but secretly lust after the heroine. But not so much in this case. Bram might have the ability to appreciate the nice picture that Georgie's legs might make, but they really don't like each other. Georgie especially for the heartache Bram caused her as a kid. 

But the romance between the two evolved progressively and steadily. It wasn't as if they went from hate and full-throttled into lust and then love straightaway. They bickered for a good third of the book with them taking cheap shots liberally laced with sarcasm at each other's expense. If I wanted to nitpick, I would say that Bram's fall into love was kinda cheesy. One minute he's not, the next he has some ocean-induced revelation about his feelings and finds himself in everlasting love with Georgie. But by then, I'd already fallen in love with the characters and book that I excused that use of "divine intervention."

In addition, if you've read other SEP books, you'll notice consistent appearances by other characters. Natural Born Charmer and Glitter Baby characters make an appearance as friends of Georgie's and Bram's.

All and all, this was an enjoyable book. I'd go so far as to say it might be my favorite SEP so far. It doesn't have really heavy emotional tones like her other ones, but if you're looking for a nice read that doesn't have too many emotional ups and downs and is pretty predictable and sweet, this is the read for you.

I enjoyed it enough to say that when it comes out in paperback, I'll be buying my own copy to put on the shelf.


4 out of 5: Predicable and sweet with the emotions pretty much on level for the entire length. 

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Man with an Accent & Romance Triggers

I've done a post before about audiobooks and how I mentioned that I prefer male narrators to female because of the way a man can (usually) cant his voice in a way that his female voice doesn't sound ridiculous. It's usually done with less emphasis on the narrator's strong deep voice using a realistic falsetto. On the other hand, a woman narrator lowers her voice to achieve the male voice and it usually sounds too fake to my ears. In other words, a male narrator can swing both ways while a female can't. Plus, I think a man's voice is typically more soothing to listen to than a woman's. 

In addition to what I wrote previously about audiobooks, I was elated to have received a comment from author Lori Foster because I had mentioned that I liked listening to her audiobook, Caught In the Act. She commented that while it was totally not what she had in mind for Mick's voice, hearing a reader/listener's POV was interesting.

In any case, I've been steadily collecting audiobook files from my local libraries and from online sources such as Which, by the way, is pretty much the go-to site for audiobooks. It's pretty user friendly and compatible with pretty much all the most popular MP3s including iPod and I've happily tried out their free trial to get a sense of the site. If you like or are thinking about audiobooks, I suggest you google "Audible free trial" and see for yourself. 

I've listened to Lori Foster's Caught In the Act, some Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark Hunters, Megan Hart, etc. Recently, I've just finished two books that I was very happy with. After I read and loved Christine Feehan's new GhostWalker book, Murder Game, I was delighted to find out that it was also out in audiobook format.

I like the narrator Tom Stechschulte. He does a nice deep voice with a hint of a Southern accent. His female voice sounds a wee bit too high to be just right but it's not bad. Prior to Murder Game, I listened to Stechschulte on another Feehan GhostWalker book, Mind Game. Same results. The "narrator voice" is nice and consistent pretty much all of the time. He gives the "hero voice" a nice alpha male deep quality though like I mentioned before, the "heroine voice" seems a little too high for my tastes. 

However, the recent audiobook I really enjoyed was Phil Gigante narrating Karen Marie Moning's The Dark Highlander. I'm new to the series and The Dark Highlander was the first I read in the series about a month ago. I'm almost all caught up with only Kiss of the Highlander left in my to be read pile. 

I was very excited to see The Dark Highlander out in audiobook, though I was a bit weary. There are a lot of accents needed to pull it off and a good reading of all the faery/fey terms and languages. I read that many people enjoyed Gigante's reading of the books and I wholeheartedly agree. 

He does a fantastic "alpha male" voice with accents that aren't too over done but just enough to really put the listener into the mindset. His "heroine voice" was very pleasant to listen to as well. High enough to be decidedly female, but not too much where I think drag queen or a man who's just been racked and lost all the testerone from his body. In the end, I was able to doubly enjoy the book. I loved it when I read it the first time around, but listening to it bought in another level of enjoyment. I will definitely be checking out the rest of the series. 

Audiobooks are just as personal as picking out a romance book. Not all romance works for everybody. And even those readers with similar tastes will differ in what triggers a good read. And fans (even the diehard ones) will disagree on what makes a particular book in a series good. So, I think that the first step in exploring the genre of Romance is to find out what triggers work for you as a reader.

I've had friends and people I've met at the local Borders ask for recommendations before. I always start off with, "Well, what do you like to read? A sweet contemporary romance, paranormal, action/adventure, etc?" And even if they answer "Paranormal" I will then go on to ask, "what kind of paranormal? Vampires, were-animals, time travel, fey, or combinations of many paranormal elements."

Personally, I've come to recognize my triggers in what makes a good read and keeper copy versus a so-so romance. And it's funny now that I've found out what works for me because I would never have thought that about myself. It really draws a line between a fantasy world in a book and the real world.

For instance, one of my Good Read triggers is the endearment. I've found that most (but not all) romances that I've come to really enjoy usually has the pet name element. I prefer the hero giving it to the heroine. Some Highlander/Historical romances include generics such as "sweet" or "love." I'm also a fan of the "baby" though I think that sometimes an author can overdo that one. A hero really has to be written as a total alpha to pull off "baby" in my opinion. Like Ward's fourth Black Dagger Brotherhood book and how Butch calls Marissa "baby." Lora Leigh is also quite fond of that endearment. And given that all her males are alphas to the extreme, I think it works. This is a weird trigger (I readily agree), but for some reason, it works for me.

Another trigger for me is the Ball Buster heroine. It's a Bad Read trigger for me. I won't say that 100% of all the super strong heroines that can be categorized as a ball buster automatically became bad reads for me, but I've come to find out that authors usually have a hard time showing a vulnerable or softer side to that kind of heroine. Some are successful though, but not all and for that, I'm not a fan of reading a heroine that doesn't show a softer edge. I can't really connect with those characters. 

This came as a surprise to me because as a relatively young romance reader, (as opposed to the middle aged/married/moms that people think of as the Romance genre audience) I thought I would appreciate the strong female lead. But I learned quickly that there was a fine line to walk between strong and ball buster. And while I really appreciate a heroine that goes after what she wants, I don't like one that doesn't have a softness to them. 

Another Bad Read sign is a lack of conversation during the intimate scenes. Now, I'm not saying that I need the hero and heroine to have a full out conversation during sex. What I find visually boring, and therefore usually has my eyes skipping over parts, is reading a sex scene in which there are paragraph after paragraph (and sometimes page after page) of straight up description of the actions. I like/need words exchanged between the hero and heroine here and there. Little phrases, not conversations. Stuff like a hero asking a heroine if she likes what he's doing or him verbally encouraging her reactions or praising her during sex. Without some conversation to break up the monotony of plain ol' description. 

Finally, I wrote earlier in a review that the ultimate Good Read Indicator was the "how will this end happily?" feeling. It's a tightening in my chest as I'm reading and even though I know that as a Romance book, it logically must end happily, a good author will write twists within the plot that make me wonder how that happy ending will occur. It is happening less often more me now that I'm reading so many romances these days, but I will admit that the feeling happens when I least expect it to. Like my post on Nalini Singh's Slave to Sensation. I really didn't expect to get that Feeling when I was reading a first time author's introductory book into a new series. But I did. And I'm get the Feeling from authors that I least expect it from and sometimes, sadly, less from authors who used to give me the Feeling.

Like I've said before many a times, Romance is a vast genre to explore but a very personal one at that. And now, as I'm enjoying Romance on a new platform via audiobooks, I'm finding that listening to Romance is just as personal as reading it.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Secondary Romances

Since Lori Foster is publishing her latest SBC Fighters, My Man Michael, I decided to pick up my copy of Causing Havoc to get in the mood for the January 27 release date. When I was reading Causing Havoc, I got to thinking about secondary romances.

In Causing Havoc, the main couple is Dean and Eve but there is a secondary romance that occurs between Dean's fellow fighter, Gregor, and Dean's youngest sister, Jacki. Jacki was a character that was rife with body image. Tall and not particularly well endowed up above, she's a character that doesn't know her own appeal and doubts Gregor's attraction to her. So while their courtship is layered in miscommunication with Gregor ultimately letting her know that he loved her and her body for just the way it was, I found their romance to be sweet but ultimately too short to feel satisfied. 

In best case scenarios for secondary romances, that's how I feel: Like the romance was too short. However, more often than not, that's not how I feel. I finish the book and feel like the author didn't have enough plot to write an entire novel about one couple and threw in the second couple to pad the book. Plus, I'll feel cheated out of the main couple by having to suffer through pages of another couple's course to a happy ending.

In my readings, I've found that Susan Elizabeth Phillips is particularly fond of this secondary romance device. The second couple is usually a family member or close friend of either the hero or heroine and they go through quite an elaborate courtship. In Causing Havoc, Gregor and Jacki's romance was short, maybe less than twenty pages all together. However, for Phillips, her secondary couple will go through an entire courtship and sometimes I find myself flipping ahead to see when I'll get back to the main couple again. 

I basically don't like secondary romances for reasons I've stated above. I've heard from some readers that they like them because it's like getting a novella within the larger book. Those who like secondary romances feel like they're getting a two for one deal. But for, it's not my thing. I feel gypped that either 1) the main couple's courtship is getting pared down because there's not enough content to write about or 2) the secondary couple is better than the main couple and they're not getting enough page space.

Personally, when I read a romance, the couple described on the back cover is the only story I want to read about. Do I want a good supporting cast to round out the book? Yes. But do I want to have a part of the book cut out to make room for another couple that could best serve their purpose in their own book or a novella? No. Just give me the story I signed up for when I bought the book, thank you very much.

P.S. I am very much looking forward to My Man Michael. Especially since it appears that she's added in a paranormal twist with the heroine...

Friday, January 16, 2009

From Great to Mediocre

During the holiday season, Lora Leigh was featured in a anthology, The Magical Christmas Cat. (Extremely cheesy title, I know, but go with it...) Now, anything Lora Leigh is basically an instant read for me (except for the August brothers, but that's another story). So, I was very excited for another Breed novella. But what hooked me in was a new author, Nalini Singh

I'd seen her books on Border shelves before but I wasn't interested because I felt like the graphics was poorly done and therefore didn't catch my eye. Yes, covers are that important. I do judge a book by the cover. But when I read the anthology, I didn't recognize the name and I thoroughly enjoyed the story.

It was a basic were/shape shifting story that featured animals. But the thing that really hooked me in instead of wincing at the attempt to be another Lora Leigh was the description of the animal counterpart. For the Breeds, and for most other "were" stories, the animal is the man. There is no separation between the two. For the Breeds, they are man spliced with animal DNA. Other explanations for it is the typical "infection" or conversion explanation, and other more fantasy inspired explanations such as alien or just a separate being from humans.

What made this unique was the description that man and cat were separate but equal. Make sense? The character would speak of the cat (or whatever animal) as a separate entity within them even though they are part animals from birth. So in the anthology story, Stroke of Enticement, the hero speaks of his leopard like a personality within his personality. Sounds confusing when put like that, but basically the cat will react to things that the man might find unnecessary. Unlike the Breeds who are animal, these weres have a separation between the animal and man. 

For instance, when the hero, Zach meets the heroine for the first time it's written like this: "Her delectable scent whispered over on disturbed air currents, ruffling the leopard's fur in the most enticing way. He barely bit back a responsive groan. Sometimes, adults had trouble with the cat too." (Singh, 10). Zach's cat is written very clearly as having his own reactions and pleasures. Another example of how these weres are different is how Zach can feel the rough rasp of his leopard's fur on the inside of his skin. This new way of writing the were story was very interesting to me. 

So, I picked up the series.

I loved the first story, Slave to Sensation. Absolutely loved it. It was the first in a long time since I read a story that gave me the sign of a good story. For me, the sign is a clenching of my stomach and a big question mark about the ending even though in the back of my mind I know that the book must end happily for the couple because it is a romance book. I was really into the story even though I was slightly confused about the state of the world and the differentiation about the Psy and changelings, and humans. But after a while, the story became about the hero and heroine, Lucas and Sascha, and the dangers of their world. 

The connection of the characters was strong with each being confused and cautious about the other. There was a great layer of "hidden facts" to which the reader was privy to but the characters did not know about each other. I liked how this mystery of Sascha's ability to feel emotions (as a Psy, she responds to logic and necessity not emotions and wants) wasn't drawn out. Lucas had his suspicions and even though his initial responsibility was to his pack, being Alpha, he later turned his allegiance to include Sascha as his number one. 

Basically, I loved the twists and turns and was thoroughly delighted in finding out that his debut novel had more than one stumble block on the way to a happy ending and that the reader was left wondering how that ending will occur all the way up until the end. It's hard to keep a jaded romance reader guessing all the way up the end. (One of the reasons I love J.R. Ward. She has an uncanny ability to get the reader wonder "How the hell will this end happily?")

No surprise that I was made an instant fan once I read Singh's first full length book. I simply adored Lucas and Sascha. I rushed out to buy the next book. When I finished it I It was okay. Okay, but definitely lacking. Not bad enough that I would drop the series. So, I plowed onto the third book. And then the fourth. By then, I was flipping through the pages of so-so scenes and just getting to the end. 

I loved seeing Lucas and Sascha and other Pack members come into successive books and make a strong appearance as secondary characters, but I felt like Singh was way too caught up in developing this future world. For one thing, discoveries made in the first book were made and/or explained again and again in following books. It got repetitive and redundant (and repetitive and redundant...) and the connection of the characters took a back seat. 

While there are romances that have a plot take precedent and the characters secondary (like in J.D. Robb's In Death series where the crime is the driving force of the story and Eve and Roarke's story is secondary), Singh didn't start off that way and I was expecting character first and plot second in her series. I felt like the level of the connection between the hero and heroine was never matched to that of Lucas and Sascha. I understand that not every couple in a series will measure up, but something in Singh's writing just tapered off from great to mediocre. 

Where did she loose me as a loyal reader? Besides the redundant facts and discoveries, the complexity of the plot was never achieved to the level of the first book. And I never got that gut clenching feeling while reading her books again. I lost that feeling I mentioned before. And for me, I was disappointed. 

All the elements that made Slave to Sensation great wasn't apparent in full force with the other books. The first book was a delightful combination of mystery, humor, and feeling thrown in with a protective super Alpha male who loved his heroine with depth, and a heroine who wasn't afraid to fight for what she believed in (and for her man) but was still able to be seen as vulnerable to the harsh realities of the world. The equation that made the first book wonderful was absent in the books that followed.

Singh has created an interesting world with good characters but the spark that I felt from the first book slowly fizzed out with each successive book. Do I think she's still worth reading? Yes. I think many fans of paranormal romance will find something unique about Singh and the evolution of her writing is evident. Her more recent books show this explicitly through her sexual descriptions. With Lucas and Sascha it was much more metaphorical and the "heat factor" was a bit toned down when compared the other more established writers. But in the later Changling books, readers can pick up where Singh explored a more direct way of writing sex as her characters got bolder. 

I honestly could not recommend Slave to Sensation more. It definitely sits as a reread copy on my bookshelf. But would I recommend the entire series without tagging on a caveat? No. 

I can understand how Singh has so quickly built up a fan base while I will continue to be devoted to the first book, I won't be so eager to buy any future publications unless I find them for free on BookMooch or fifty cents (or a dollar) at the library bookstore. I own four plus a novella and while I can appreciate new talent, I feel like the series didn't live up to the debut.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Twin; Version 2.0

I had a previous post in which I covered erotica and mentioned Lora Leigh's Bound Hearts series, Wicked Pleasures. I had also mentioned that I was looking forward to the story of Chase Falladay, the twin brother of Cameron who was the hero in Wicked Pleasures.

But when I finished I was disappointed. However, I wonder if I did Chase's book an injustice by rereading Cam's first. I had originally picked up Wicked Pleasures the night before to get in the mood for that story line. But when I started reading Chase's book, I found myself doing too much comparison of the two stories. Which, by the way, isn't hard to do since they are twin brothers and pop in and out of each other's stories. 

I will say that when I originally read Cam's book, I wasn't all that fond of it. I liked it, sure, but I wasn't closing the book on the last page wishing that there was more. I originally felt that Cam's story was fine. However, a year(ish) later, I came to pick up Cam again and enjoy him much more. So I wonder if this is the same case with Chase's story. But I still have some critiques about his book, Only Pleasure.

The plot is thin in my opinion. The heroine, Kia, was mentioned in previous Bound Hearts books as being a minor threat in the exposure of The Club's secrets. Kia's ex-husband brought in a third into their relationship without telling or asking his wife and subsequently led to the attempted rape of Kia. Okay, I was pretty excited about how this would play out. I thought it would be interested in seeing how Chase would protect Kia from her ex-husband and steal her heart in the process.

I liked Chase from Cam's book. I thought that the more easy going Falladay brother would be a fun read, his slightly lighter personality making for a different tone and feel than his brother Cam. But I didn't find that was the case. 

Though it was obvious from the get-go of Cam's book that the presence of Chase wouldn't be permanent, I still thought Chase was a good character. He had been puzzled and hurt about the broken bond between him and his brother and he did provide for a few fun moments in which he teased Cam about falling in love. I expected that Chase would be dominant, protective, and possessive, but slightly lighter hearted than the dark Cam. It worked for their twin dynamic. One darker, one lighter.

But when it came for Chase's book, it was like Cam all over again with one exception: There wasn't much of a reasoning for Chase's darkness. With Cam, it was understood that he kept the sharing lifestyle with Jaci because he was afraid of what loving his woman would mean to his heart. Cam kept his past sexual abuse a secret and the presence of his brother as the third in the relationship helped Cam keep his emotional distance from Jaci. 

But what bugged me about Chase's book was that I felt the explanation for his darkness wasn't all that plotted through. Even though there was a thin excuse that because he was the one who killed Moriah, the "villain" from the previous book, Chase made it sound that the darkness was always in him. And yes, those who read Cam's book will see that the Brockheims feature in Chase's book as well. Though I could see the logical progression plot-wise, as a reader, I thought it was too predictable and not original. I felt like Chase just got the leftovers of Cam's story and that the plot just continued through one brother to the next. 

All in all, I just didn't feel that there was sufficient explanation on why Chase had such demons in him. The details of Chase's past was glossed over on and if his previous occupation was supposed to be a factor in his present personality, that wasn't ever really fleshed out. I was disappointed because when I read the small glimpse into Chase's past, I was intrigued but it never got explained.

I also found Kia to be lacking as a well rounded character. Yes, she suffered a traumatic experience with her ex and withdrew into herself to lick her wounds. But other than that, I didn't see a lot of character development. She was a little flat to me. I didn't feel too much for her even though I tried. I was able to relate more to Jaci's longing and hurt in Cam's rejection than I did for Kia. Kia was also almost like a Jaci version 2 like Chase is for Cam. Kia feels hurt that Chase doesn't spend the night with her, hold her, etc...blah, blah, just like Jaci worried about Cameron. There was too much mirrored in the previous book in terms of how the characters were written for me to feel like Only Pleasure stood out on its own.

I think a big problem with me really loving this book was the timeline of Chase and Kia's sexual relationship. In the beginning of the story, they meet (again) and suddenly Kia's agreeing to a no strings pleasure session with Chase and Khalid. And then the story just took off like that. With both Kia and Chase refusing to accept what they have together and though Kia vows she won't succumb again, Chase always coaxes her back into bed. It was boring, in all honesty. There wasn't the spark there for me.

There was one big difference between Chase and Cam though. It was made obvious that for Chase and Kia, the addition of a third in their relationship would continue well after their happy ending, unlike Cam and Jaci's monogamous relationship. I think that worked for the two characters. It was obvious that Cam needed the sharing for the distance while Chase enjoyed it for the pleasure. So, I did like that distinction between the brothers. 

What did I enjoy? The appearance of Cam and Jaci throughout the story. Chase and Cam still have their shared warehouse converted into a large apartment with Chase's part sectioned off upstairs. And since Cam and Chase works for Ian Sinclair, there were appearances while they worked as well. It was really a great payoff to see Cam settle down, smile, and really enjoy his time with his now fiancee, Jaci. Those who read the previous book will be happy to see slight mentions of Cam and Jaci's life that would otherwise be overlooked by the newcomer. For example, there are mentions of Cam having purchased a new bed and sofa and sweet moments such as the two of them decorating their Christmas tree. In addition, those who read Cam's story will like seeing how Cam treasures Jaci and how he enjoys the little things in life now, such as cuddling with Jaci and sharing his bathroom space with her. 

What also made me really happy to read in Only Pleasure? Khalid. Those who have followed the Trojans since they were with Ellora's Cave will love to see a strong presence of Khalid. As Chase's third and a heavy secondary character, we see a new side the to the man who's normally described as the bastard son of a Middle Eastern prince who is a playboy and lives for a good time. Here, as a set up for his own story, we are given a glimpse at what makes Khalid tick and what might bring in his future. Oh, and the connection of Kia and Khalid isn't anything out of the blue, anyone reading the story can easily predict what had occurred between the characters in the past. 

For me, unfortunately, I was much more excited about the secondary characters and future stories than I was about Chase and Kia. I felt that their characters were not fleshed out. Basically, I thought the story was a skeleton plot told between pages upon pages of sex with under developed characters. Of course the sex is to be expected, but I just felt like the sex was the driving force of the book, not the characters. For a story like this to work for me, the sex needs to serve a purpose. And for Chase and Kia, I felt like the sex was steering the story and everything else took a backseat. Between Chase and choice is still Cam.

I felt that the cover was sexy and I liked the bright orange color that really catches the eye. However, I have seen the identical cover art used in another book and that always makes me disappointed when covers are repeated. 

So, Only's an okay read for those who are used to the series and the characters but not for those who are new because there are a lot of connected facts that makes things easier to understand if one has read the previous book.

Last thing...Kia to me is a car, not a woman's name. I can appreciate authors using different and unique names to make their characters stand out but I just didn't like her name. And for me, unfortunately, if I don't like the name of a character, I have a hard time getting past that. A name is really important for me, especially how the name looks on the page of the book. And while I love the name Chase, Kia is for something on four wheels, not a great heroine. 

2.5 out of 5: So-so read but plot was thin and characters under developed. Those who are fans to the series will enjoy the secondary characters and the hints of the next book.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Fact Overload

As I have previously posted, I loved Jacquelyn Frank's Jacob. However, when I delved into Gideon, I found like it was just a retelling of all the facts we discovered in Jacob with a little dose of romance between Gideon and Legna. Though I enjoyed the many appearances of Jacob and Bella as secondary characters, Gideon's story wasn't independent enough for me to think of it as a good read. 

Disappointed, I put down the series. But I must note that I do own the rest of the Nightwalkers. I have Elijah, Damien, and Noah sitting on my bookshelf waiting to be read. When I found out that Frank was coming out with a new loosely connected series, The Shadowdwellers, I was looking forward to a fresh start and hoping to relive the excitement that I felt when I first picked up Jacob.

Boy was I disappointed. There are a few reasons for my dislike of this new novel, Ecstasy. They're listed in the following...

First, the readers are inundated with facts straight off the bat. Initially, when I started the first few chapters, I thought it was an interesting concept. The heroine, Ashla, is involved in a car accident and when she wakes, finds that she is the only occupant of New York. Everything works around her and food is replenished from what seems to be out of thin air, but she is utterly alone, save for occupying herself by shopping to her heart's content without the need for green or plastic. She has a startling encounter with two men who fight to the death and while she heals the victor, Trace, she runs away when he is shocked that not only can she heal his wounds, but she can see him. 

But after I read their encounter, I found myself being loaded with paragraphs upon paragraphs of facts of the Shadowdweller world. The narrative went on for pages with no point other than the author needing to convey these facts to the readers. I found myself glazing over the facts and being bored with the lack of conversation and this method of delivery. As a reader, I want to find out about facts through character interaction or through the plot. What I don't want is being told what I need to know all at one time. I want to peel the layers of the plot and this strange new world a few facts at a time, not have it shoved at me.

Second, and this is a biggie: the character connection. To make a successful romance work, the connection of the hero and heroine needs to be established strongly otherwise readers won't buy them as they progress into their romance. I had high hopes for Trace because he possessed a lot of the same traits that Jacob did. Trace is an advisor to his people, much like how Jacob is the Enforcer for the Demons, acting like the second in command to Noah. Trace is basically like that. But Trace's connection to Ashla isn't set up as strongly as Jacob was to Bella. 

Trace and Ashla's first sexual interlude was too...crude, for a lack of a better word. It was supposed to be that way because of Trace succumbing to euphoria in the Shadowscape. But, as a reader, I didn't like seeing this first connection written like this. It wasn't done well, in my opinion. First sexual encounters set up a tone and baseline for what the reader expects. Sometimes it's fast and hard because the characters can't get to each other fast enough. Sometimes it's infinitely tender to savor the moment. 

But I found Trace and Ashla's encounter to be sorely lacking. It wasn't animistic like Lora Leigh's Breeds. Leigh's "cruder" sex scenes are sometimes hard, yes, (like in the first half of Tanner's Scheme) but there is some cushion provided for the reader. (As in the alpha male's need to sate his mate and to take care of her even if his mind doesn't jive with what his heart is telling him) However, I found that Trace's rough sex scenes and his concern for only his enjoyment because of euphoria was too tough to swallow. There was little concern for Ashla and though she didn't feel slighted, I as the reader, didn't appreciate it. I was hoping that the connection of the characters would be rectified, but it wasn't.

Third, I felt like the characters were too undeveloped. Ashla carries wounds from her mother telling her that she's the spawn of the devil. Yes, that's a bit lame but I'll overlook it. Ashla isn't a very strong character. She doesn't have much of a backbone and Trace calls her a "submissive." I, personally, do like a heroine that isn't a ball buster but my lack of feeling toward Ashla wasn't because she was submissive, but because she was too flat. Her personality was written well for a secondary character, not for the main heroine. All in all, I cared very little and connected even less about the heroine, which doesn't bode well for a romance book. 

Additionally, I think there were elements of Trace that were hinted at but sadly undeveloped as well. We find out that he was prisoner of war and tortured but that wasn't discussed much (if at all), and while we're told that Ashla helps mend those wounds in Trace, the reader doesn't feel that at all. Basically, it came down to the fact that I cared very little about the couple and thought that their connection was nil.

Fourth, there was too much going on trying to keep the plot afloat. Trace's life is on the line because there are traitors among their higher ranking counsel members and someone is trying to undermine the authority of the government. There were more than just the point of views from Trace and Ashla. There were at least four other characters having their own bits and pieces told from their POVs. A reason that I felt so under connected with the main couple is because of all that superfluous noise (POVs) from characters that shouldn't have taken precedence in a book that should be all about Trace and Ashla.

Fifth was the sexual element. As an obvious attempt to ramp up the sexuality in this new series, we're told through Trace that the Shadowdwellers really value sex ed. Now, this isn't the run of the mill "insert tab B into slot A" kind of education. Shadowdwellers are given all kinds of sexual education from different forms of foreplay to classes given to youngsters in which they observe a couple engaging in sexual play. 

Now, if this were a book under an erotica label, I'd understand this. But the reader is given no signs of this kind of turn in the plot. It kind of comes out of left field and I don't think it was handled all that well. Given the (somewhat) disastrous first sexual encounter of Trace and Ashla where it was devoid of the necessary emotional connection, it felt like Frank brought up this whole "sex ed" factor to give a little umph to the book. I did not like it. It wasn't all that hot and it just didn't work for me. Where it was intended to be sexy, came off as forced and a thinly veiled contrivance to try to sex up the book. Sex in romance books, even in erotica, should serve a purpose and I felt that in this scenario, it didn't.

In many instances, I felt like Ecstasy was a reworking of Jacob but with a different coat of paint. There were many similarities and felt like I was being cheated out of what should be an original series. Bella and Ashla share similar characteristics as to why humans would fit into this world of Others. But with Ashla, the answer comes as no surprise to the reader. Once you figure out a few hints, the "surprise" is no surprise at all. Trace is like Jacob, defending his people but caught up in this distracting web with the heroine. But Trace wasn't written as well as Jacob; his character not as fleshed out as he should have been. Both hero and heroine were too flat, too one dimensional, for the reader to truly care for their outcome. The plot as a whole was too factual and didn't flow as well as I would have hoped. Events seemed to occur and characters drifted in and out with no real direction other than to reach the end. I finished the book because it was there, not because I couldn't put it down.

1.5 out of 5: For reasons mentioned in the review, I didn't enjoy the book though I had high hopes for it to succeed. I have enjoyed Frank's books before but was disappointed by this new venture. I felt that it had some points for originality with how humans fit into the Shadow world, but the execution of the book was what made it fail in my eyes.