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.

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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. 

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sexual Evolution

Christine Feehan's books and I share a weird relationship. With her Carpathian series, I can't stand them. And I really tried. 5 different (and completely read) Carpathian books. I just think there's too much going on. There's the vampire part (which is what drew me to them in the first place), but then there's also this nature element with their connection and rejuvenation in the Earth, the animal connection, and everything that makes the Carpathians what they are. In the end, I feel like the series is a combination of too much and the darkness of the characters without a hint of any levity is too unbalanced for me. 

However, I do love the Ghostwalkers. When I first picked up Predatory Game, I was very hesitant about it given my past with other Feehan novels. But something about that particular book drew me in. I liked the characters more than the plot or setting and something about the alpha-male hero, Jesse, being in a wheelchair flared an interest in me. I then picked up the rest of the Ghostwalkers and enjoyed them. Some more than others, but overall, I felt like there was a definite shift in the writer's voice from the Carpathians to the Ghostwalkers. So much so, that at times, I can't believe that these two series came from the same author. 

The newest to the series, Murder Game, brings forth an author's evolution within her own series. Not only is the book significantly longer than the others, but the pacing and feel of the book was different as well. Sex was much more prevalent than in the others and the hero, Kadan, felt like a meshing of the previous male Ghostwalkers. There is a lot of Jack Norton's possessive drive that shows up in Kadan, perhaps more to an extreme this time around. 

However, there is also humor that seems to be lacking from some of the previous books. We see a lot of the other Ghostwalkers: Rye, Nico, Gator, the Norton twins, Tucker, and Ian with a strong emphasis on the first three men and also mentions of their wives with a short glimpse of Mari, Ken's wife. Though to my great disappointment, there was the notable absence of our previous hero and heroine, Jesse and Saber.

Back to the evolution of the series. I found that sometimes, when authors are feeling out a new series, things not only get more complicated (as they should be), but sometimes the idea of sexual boundaries are pushed further within the series. With Murder Game, I was surprised to see the mention of oral sex written out so blatantly and early in the course of things. There was also a really hot scene where right after they finish, Kadan tells Tansy to "slide down my body and get me hard." (Feehan, 242) There was just something so hot about Kadan telling Tansy that he wanted her again like that. I've not yet come across that request worded quite like that before even though I've read about 500 of these romances. Not only was there much more sex within this book, but things seemed more desperate and Kadan is much more possessive than what is to be normally expected of an alpha-male. 

I found that Kadan and Tansy's courtship was swift in getting serious. Unlike with Nico and Dahlia where Nico was still trying to convince Dahlia to stay with him forever in the last chapter, Kadan really gets to business straight away. Within the first fourth of the book, Kadan and Tansy have already slept together and Kadan makes his lasting intentions known. But what was pleasantly surprising was Tansy's acceptance of it. In addition, I liked how the heroine was not easily embarrassed. But she wasn't the maneater, sexually out there, kind either. She realized early on that Kadan needed her physical touch, even in front of his teammates, and Tansy didn't hesitate to let him pull her close or kiss her in front of others. Feehan walked a fine line there by writing Tansy like that, but it worked and I liked it. 

Murder Game is heavy on the characters; mainly, it's connection between the hero and heroine instead of plot. I felt that the plot moved rather slowly up until the very end, where I felt like it was rushed, but there was a lot of repetitive scenes. There were many scenes with Tansy feeling the murder scene game pieces and getting sucked into other people's feelings and darkness and then Kadan pulling her out of it, telling her that it's too dangerous, and eventually getting rid of her nightmares with sex. The entire bulk of the book was like that. Tansy seeking out further clues about the murders and Kadan hovering near by protectively.

But when we reach the end of the book, where the Ghostwalkers go hunting, the killing of the murderers are done less than a page each. I felt like the conclusion of the book was too rushed. Instead of revealing bits and pieces of the plot's conclusion, the reader was quickly pushed headlong into the ending. However, if you prefer the character connection more than the plot, then you will enjoy this one as much as I did. I think that the love evolution between Kadan and Tansy was very well written (given the characteristics of the male Ghostwalkers), though I can pinpoint many elements that appeal to my personal tastes and therefore why I've enjoyed this one so much.

The plot of the book, like I've mentioned, seems thin. There are murders happening both on the East and West coast and it's apparent that the men who are committing the murders are enhanced and the Ghostwalkers are being blamed. To clear their name, Kadan seeks out Tansy who has used her psychic ability to track killers. But every time she handles the game pieces left at the murder scenes to dig out more clues to help the Ghostwalkers, Tansy gets a huge rush of dark emotions and most of the time, she can't control the energy flowing into her. 

A continuity thread throughout the book are some personal descriptive words in certain situations. Eyes are repeatedly described with Tansy's odd violet/blue eyes shifting from opaque to shimmering as a sign of her psychic abilities and Kadan's dark blue eyes described as a part of the darkness within him. Kadan is the "Ice Man" with ice flowing through his veins, devoid of all warmth due to a traumatic event when he was a child. Tansy is always (and I do mean, always) described as smelling like cinnamon and it serves to be an aphrodisiac for Kadan which leads to a funny scene about the other Ghostwalkers teasing him about it. 

Like I've said, the bulk of the book is repetitive and the plot isn't really all that exciting. I felt like the reason this book is longer is that the editor did minimum cleaning on the manuscript. A lot of so-called "extra" scenes depicting hero and heroine interaction that would've been cut from other books were left. Some of the scenes felt like a collection of "additional scenes" that an author would've posted up on a website as a bonus for readers. For example, while some books only have one scene showing some early morning/post-coital cuddling, Murder Game has a handful. If you like that kind of thing, you'll love this book.

However, I don't think the cover was done well. The main draw of the cover is the man's face which really pulls your eyes to that graphic. First of all, the face doesn't have enough angles to be Kadan. The graphic clearly shows a male with brown eyes while Kadan is repeatedly described as having blue eyes so dark that they seemed black. And the little sillhoutte of the climber didn't fit in either. Yes, we first meet Tansy out in the wilderness but I don't think the climber fits well into the book. A cougar or even just a depiction of the game pieces would've worked better. 

Ultimately, I liked this Ghostwalker the best because of its concentration to the couple pairing more so than the plot. But for those fans who are looking for a wild adrenaline-filled ride with bullets flying and whatnot will be disappointed with Kadan's book. But if you like a male who recognizes his mate straightaway and his (slightly easy) acceptance of it, you'll like this book. Murder Game is about connection and the characters falling in love when neither thought they would ever be able to be in a normal relationship with another person. There was something very sweet about Kadan's mother hen tendencies. Well, if a mother hen looked and acted like a wolf. This book is a great reunion of the other Ghostwalkers and with a hint of humor that lights up this book where the others were a bit lacking. 

Murder Game is a must read for any Ghostwalker fan but those new to the series who expect more action might want to start with the others first. There are a lot of connective facts that were presented from previous novels that might confuse readers if read out of order. Fans of previous Ghostwalker heroes will be delighted to see a large role as secondary characters throughout the entire book.

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4.5 out of 5: I give it a higher rating because it appealed to my personal tastes more than an universal romance audience. Heavy on hero and heroine connection while thin on plot movement.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Big E

Erotica.

Ah, the wild child of the Romance Family. The book that's hidden under your pillow or in the bedside 'goodie drawer.' The niche within the genre that even the regular romance readers wouldn't be dared caught with. So, is it really that big of a deal? Or has the E of the family garnered a much bigger rep than deserved?

Let's take a look...

Okay, let's face it, erotica is basically everything that non-romance readers (and therefore, ignorant) ridicule about the entire genre of romance. But is that deserved? I don't think so.

Once a reader can get over that Jr. High giggly feel of "oh my god are they really doing that?", erotica isn't all that abnormal. I think some readers would be surprised to know that sometimes, erotica can cross very much into the regular mainstream romance field. In fact, sometimes I scratch my head when finished reading a book that was published under the heading of erotica and wondered why it wasn't labeled as run-of-the-mill romance. And the reverse is true as well. I've been thoroughly surprised at some of the 'regular' romance and wondered why it wasn't published as erotica.

Here are some of my thoughts and theories...

Erotica, as many can deduce, usually combines much more sex within the plot. And yes, well written erotica actually have plots. The good ones are not just a few hundred pages of straight up sex. Sometimes, yes. The ones that are published with those little e-publishers or specific sections of e-books such as Samhain or Ellora's Cave where they have little novellas of a hundred pages can be pure sex. Sometimes good, but mostly bad without a plot. 

But even those e-publishers can churn out pretty good stuff and some of it isn't even steamy. In fact, some very common romance names arise from those smaller e-publishers. Those who are fans of Lora Leigh know that the Breeds started as e-books and was later picked up by Berkley, as well as her Bound Heart series. Many authors that are a commonplace on today's Borders shelves began as e-books. So don't knock those e-publishers before you've tried.

Back to plot and erotica. Well written erotica have plots. But what makes it different from mainstream romance? The lines aren't all that well defined, but here are some of my thoughts. Erotica usually explore some kind of female fantasy. BDSM, threesomes, various toys, etc. You get the idea. Why would those appeal to a wider generalized female audience that might not actually be open to doing those things in their real lives, you might ask?

Well, let's remember that most, if not all, romance writers are women. So, there's already that female slant apparent there from the get-go. But erotica writers take those things mentioned above and twist those fantasies with a side of female perspective. Let's take the threesome fantasy. 

Threesomes. Yeah, every college guy's dream to be sandwiched between two women, right? Well, erotica writers usually have two men instead of two women making up the threesome. Most mainstream erotica writers have two men because the base point of the threesome is giving the woman ultimate pleasure instead of the singular male taking pleasure from two women. And usually, the men don't interact with each other, solely concentrating on the female. Yes, there are authors who break the rules with bisexual male characters are fool around with each other and the female in question, but as a rule, there is no male to male contact happening. Why is this a female fantasy? The men in these threesomes are always written as channeling all their focus to the female. They are dominant, possessive, and protective of that female. And the usual ending is that the female ends with only one of the guys with the happily ever after. Though threesomes might not generally appeal to everyone, those who like their alpha heroes protective and possessive can understand that one upmanship mentality of this plot line. 

As I have said, there are authors who break the rules. There's an unspoken romance rule that once the hero meets the heroine, he or she doesn't have sexual contact with anyone else. It's hard for the reader to reconcile that image with what they know will eventually become a happy ending for the main couple. Even if the rule is broken, there's usually a misguided attempt to protective themselves or the partner from what the character views as a necessity. In general, they just don't fool around with anyone else once they've met their mate.

Who breaks the rules? Well, Emma Holly comes to mind. She breaks the sleeping with others rule and the bisexual rule as well. You might have noticed that mainstream romance don't have bisexual characters. Emma Holly does. I've read a nice handful of her books and they're just not my style. I had a hard time in her books where the hero or heroine not only has sex with others even though the main couple has been established, but that they play for both teams. Just not my style. 

Sometimes, I wonder just how erotica is labeled versus romance because just saying that erotica has more sex doesn't seem to apply. (More research is needed as theses are just my thoughts and observations versus actual knowledge of publishing). Take Shannon McKenna or Lora Leigh. Have you read a McKenna and sometimes had to put her down because all that child abuse, organ harvesting, sex for forty pages get too much for you? Or have you read a Leigh book as a Breed newbie and been shocked at the roughness of the sex? How do they get shelved as normal romance? Perhaps it's the amount of plot that balances the sex or maybe there's just not enough of sexual fantasies that qualify them as erotica.

Think erotica might be for you? How do you find the right one for you? Erotica is definitely not written for the general public. Especially the ones that have sexual fantasies versus copious amounts of (unnecessary) sex. Read for yourself. That's my advice. The ones that I've enjoyed more than once are ones that I would have never thought I would enjoy. And the ones that I thought might be my taste wore off their sheen much faster than anticipated. 

For me, a good plot is necessary for my erotica. And the sexual fantasies have to have a viable reason to exist. I think one of my firsts was Lacey Alexander's Voyeur. Don't let the title fool you, it isn't just all voyeuristic stuff. It's actually a surprise hodgepodge of fantasies. Everything from threesomes, usage of toys, (semi) public sex, to yes, voyeurism. The plot, however, is very weak. In fact, when I do pick it up from time to time, I skip it. It was a fair introduction to erotica but tended to lean towards unnecessary and somewhat unbelievable sex.

Choosing erotica is very personal. (Obviously). One that I have enjoyed is Shayla Black's Decadent. Very surprised that I enjoyed it as much as I did, and still continue to enjoy it. I wasn't all that into the first one in this loosely connected series with characters who know each other. Wicked Ties wasn't the right fit for me. The dom/sub theme wasn't quite right. I did, however, enjoy the steady plot that accompanied it. When I tried out Decadent I was shocked to find that the story of the threesome to appeal. It was written with all the right plot points that made it work for me. Two men made up the menage, but it was clear from the beginning that it was only Deke that Kimber had deeper feelings for and not the other male, Luc. But with two alphas that were strong, protective, and covering all a girl's fantasy needs...well, Shayla Black is a go for my erotica.

For my mainstream need so-called erotica that sometimes crosses the line of romance into the big E is Lora Leigh. Her books definitely have a plot as a main function of the book instead of just seemingly random sex peppered throughout the book. However, a few of her books certainly have a harder edge to it. The new continuation of the Bound Heart series published through St. Martin's Griffin have a more selective brand of sex. It tells the story of the Trojan men who are a part of a Club that was well established in the e-books. The first oversized paperback was Forbidden Pleasure which was enjoyable but ultimately not my kind of book. The idea of the two men ending up sharing one woman was definitely a fantasy for me but wasn't my bag. 

However, the second one, Wicked Pleasure, was more to my tastes. The hero, Cam, is definitely in love with the heroine while his twin brother, Chase, just holds affection and lust for her. Cam was always in the light as the hero for the book and Jaci was his ultimate heroine. Cam was scarred from some mysterious childhood nightmare that haunted his present. Leigh just wrote an alpha male that was delicious. All hard angles and arrogance. Possessive and protective to a fault. There's nothing better. Plus, Jaci took no crap from the men but was soft enough to provide the comfort that Cam needed and craved for his life. 

And come on...is that not a sexy cover for the book or what? I like how the graphic artist paid attention to the book, adding in that pop art yellow belt and the rain detail. Great to see a cover actually have a legitimate tie-in with a scene in the book.

I am looking forward to seeing Chase get his own happy ending in Only Pleasure, a novel that comes out in January of 2009. All in all, Leigh is my more mainstream brand of erotica that blurs the lines between run of the mill romance and the "harder stuff." 

So, is erotica for you? Maybe not. But you never know until you try...

Saturday, June 7, 2008

He Said, She Said

Here and there, on and off, I've picked up Jennifer Crusie through BookMooch. I started out with one of her novels with great disappointment. Hailed in her reviews as somewhat of the premiere of romantic comedies, I had originally been really excited to read her. I love a fun comedic-romantic romp especially lying under the lazy sun on weekends with nothing to do but breeze through a book with a bottle of sunscreen on the side and something cold to drink close at hand. But my first Crusie was such a disappointment. The chemistry was lacking, the characters were too many, and I found myself utterly confused and I gave up trying to work out who was related to whom, which couple was interested in each other, what their backgrounds were, etc. 

But times went by and as usual, I ran out of things to read so Crusie was once again making my reading list. And it got better. Marginally. I found Anyone But You mildly entertaining even though I'm not always a fan of the older woman-younger man plot simply because I feel that many authors simply concentrate on the age and it feels like they're beating a dead horse. But the characters were fun and the dog in the story provided some interesting moments and I closed the book with a shrug and a decision to give Crusie another try. Next was Getting Rid of Bradley. It sounded fun and uncomplicated and though I thought a lot of the Bradley mixups were a bit eye-rolling-worthy, I went with it and enjoyed it on the most part.

When I found a copy of Manhunting on BookMooch as well as a downloadable version of it as an audiobook via the online library catalog, I thought Crusie would provide another brief respite between my bouts of reading heavier books. As this was now my fourth Crusie, I was able to pinpoint what I enjoyed and what I found disappointing with her books. 

While her books do provide some fun characters and the tension is adequate, I find that she would serve as a 'lite' sort of romance read. The kind where the tension slowly builds, but not a frenzy fever-pitch kind of tension, just a slow pressure cooker that boils up to a quick simmer. The sexual chemistry is enough but doesn't melt the reader and the sex scenes are more vanilla and tame in terms of not being graphic. There's usually one single sex scene, the first, and the others are not as explicit and evoke more of a 'lead the reader up to the moment where they hit the bed and the scene closes.' While it's not the lack of sex that doesn't hit the spot with me as a reader, it's the simmer-type of tension that leaves me feeling that something is lacking. The tension and connection between the hero and heroine seem to be just enough but not quite enough to make me truly care for them and be totally involved in the story. The tension, or lack thereof, makes me just want to read to the end for the sake of finishing the book because I know they'll end up together. 

Back to Manhunting. Specifically, what I just mentioned above about the tension applies to Jake and Kate. Yes, the reader can see the underlying attraction between the two even though they each respectively think that the other doesn't fit the bill for their idea of a perfect mate. Obviously, as the reader, we can see the currents when they're out together every morning 'fishing.' But when they got that jolt touching while playing pool, I wasn't surprised. And when they had that moment where Kate was giving Jake his beer and he flirted, I was only thinking, "Geez, finally." The tension between the two of them just simmered.

But the purpose of this post and its connection to Manhunting is the audiobook version. First off, I have to concede to the point that I did enjoy the narrator voicing Jake. There was a slight southern drawl that was just enough and not over the top. Plus, her 'man voice' was low enough to convey a male character without seeming outrageous as I've complained before. However, I do have some complaints about this one. The narrator does not allow enough time between sentences and characters to give the listener a true distinction between narration, dialogue, and switching of characters. It seems that the sentences flow together too quickly, as if I was just reading the book out loud instead of hearing it acted out on audiobook. And while the first complaint is dependent solely on the narrator, the second one isn't. I just noticed it more because I was listening to it.

Crusie uses a lot of 'he said,' 'she saids.' Take a look. At first I really didn't notice. But then it became really apparent. Especially when the narrator rushed through the 'Kate said' and 'Jake said.' The lack of adequate pause exasperated the problem because right after the dialogue, I would be hearing, "Kate said." It got to a point where I could just speak along with the narrator while I'm driving even though I'm just guessing when the next 'Kate/Jake said' will appear. Come on, Crusie, vary it please. And perhaps other descriptions would work just as well without having to use the words, 'he/she said.'

Funny how a book can take on a whole new face when listened to in an audio format. Some authors are just not meant to be converted into audiobooks. My favorite author in audiobook format? Though it's not in the romance genre, the honor would hands down have to go to Orson Scott Card. Quoted as saying that the ideal way to enjoy his books is through an audio platform, the cast of characters are properly voiced with amazing talents, the characters are acted out for the listener without being overdone, and overall, it adds a new dimension to enjoy Card's books. That's the ultimate audiobook achievement: being able to give the reader a new and higher level of appreciation of the book. If the audiobook gives the reader new insight on top of what the print version provided, then the audiobook is a success. 

Understandably, it's much harder to make an audiobook a success even if the book is a raving hit.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Urban Paranormal Eve Dallas?

I wondered why Amazon kept on throwing Servant: The Awakening at me. Then I realized that L.L. Foster is Lori Foster's pen name for her new adventure into urban paranormal romance genre. Good move to write under a new(ish) name because it certainly is a departure from the usual Foster fair. The setting, tone, and characters are dark, the wit is bounding off the pages as it usually is, and your heroine is so stubborn that it makes you want to strangle her sometimes.

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The plot itself isn't all that fantastic: Gaby Cody, has a calling from God, sending her into the world with the unique vision of seeing evil for what it truly is. She alone can penetrate the facade of skin and bones and recognize evil at face value. Alone in her vigilante efforts to save the world, she is an extremely odd mix of innocence and world-hardened weariness. At twenty-one, she has the eyes of a warrior and the cynicism that is unparalleled. When a crime attracts the attention of Detective Luther Cross, Gaby's world is suddenly embroiled in the tangling mess of legalities. 

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Okay, first off, as it appears from above, the plot is no master work. It's straightforward, with little to no twists. To cap it all off, it's a very obvious effort to launch a new series. Given all that, I must admit that I did not want to read it when I first came across it. And I also didn't want to read it when I came across it the second, third, and fourth time either. First, it was the cover. Ironically, Foster has a note on her new L.L. Foster site that states she's quite happy with the cover. On one hand, I can see that Foster was given the star treatment in the sense that the art department did take time to incorporate Gaby's likeness into the computer generate model, specifically adding the leather choker that comes into play during a scene between Luther and Gaby. Other than the glaringly large misrepresentation of Gaby possessing cantaloupe-sized breasts when they're described more in the lines of mosquitoes bite-sized. Another PR ploy that one must overlook...

Second reason why I never wanted to pick up the book was the issue of names. I don't like the name Luther. Don't have much of a reason other than it doesn't exactly strike me personally as a hero name that signals strength and all that. But obviously I got over all of that and took a shot in the dark...

Funny how I immediately thought of Eve Dallas when I began reading Gaby's character. Why? All that surly, snarky, tomboyish behavior. However, there's a very contradictory innocence that softens Gaby's character even though she's got the mouth of a sailor. As a side note, for those who complain about the amount of bad language: I don't think it's all that bad as some reviewers on Amazon makes it sound. Perhaps it's coming from the heroine that makes people cringe. But eh, I can let it go given the urban paranormal genre. Gaby's innocence provided a few scenes that were a bit lighthearted, given the circumstances. The ones where Gaby is questioning Luther about what she saw brought a smirk to my face. For me, I can't compare Eve Dallas to Gaby Cody simply because I don't see enough parallels other than what I mentioned above. Eve is a grown woman and for some reason, the fact that Gaby is so young makes a difference for me. Maybe the largest linking factor to Dallas is that both these series feature the heroine first and the couple second. It threw me off in the reading pattern when I anticipated seeing Luther's point of view but was not given to me until a good handful of pages later.

The biggest kicker? There is NO sex. Admittedly, I can see several reasons for it. First, it's an obvious set-up to make sure the reader buys the next book. The lack of sex is enough to prompt me to want to pick up the next one to see how Luther and Gaby settle things. Second, the book is too short. I say that because the book starts off very slowly and the fact that it's only 292 pages just wasn't enough with all that internal dialoging going on. With Gaby's extreme innocence and the slowness of the plot, it wouldn't have made much sense to put in a sex scene when Luther is just beginning to give Gaby her first kiss. But come on! A romance book with no more sexual action than a brief few paragraph kiss? Feel shortchanged? Perhaps. But I admire the bold move. In fact, for this reader, it did its job of prolonging the anticipation. 

The connection between Luther Cross and Gaby Cody is sufficient but not electric. It amused me when most of their meetings began or ended with her trying to unman, maim, or generally dispose of him. And oddly enough, it didn't put me off as much as I thought it would. Some readers might question Luther's attraction to Gaby, buy hey...who can really explain Roarke's intense attraction for Eve who can be as surly as a baited bear most of the time? Therefore, I don't question much the idea of 'why' Cross is attracted other than his own explanation of "scent, attitude, and expression."

Is it worth the $7.99? No. Is it worth the dollar I paid at the used bookstore? Yes. It's interesting enough and for me, the oddly (and perhaps, twisted) mix of Gaby's vigilante save-the-world hero complex and her naive mentality works. I know that it won't work for many. But I have no problem with it. It's no brain teaser. It's a straightforward, call 'em like you see it plot with characters that are only showing the potential for growth by the end of the book. A fairly decent beach read, but don't expect it to give you the thrill of the entire rollar coaster. For me, I would say it's more like a mediocre little bump, not a jaw dropping feeling. Still, as I turned the last page I couldn't help but want to know what happens next. So yes, this first in the series did its job of luring me into the next...

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2 out of 5: Lower rating because the book does not have a plot and characters that can truly cast a wide net as normal Foster novels do. But, I can admire her new foray into a new genre. It had some unique moments between the characters but it's doubtful that it will be a reread book.
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Sunday, May 11, 2008

An Angel for a Drinking Buddy

Erin McCarthy's second venture into a darker world has proved to be more intriguing than the first. Originally, when I picked up My Immortal, I didn't know that it was McCarthy's 'dark side.' But while I found the concept interesting, and definitely a journey away from her lighthearted romantic comedies, it just didn't do much for me. The story, the characters...it didn't work as well as I had anticipated. However, I wasn't about to write off the second installment, Fallen, simply because I found some hiccups with the first book. Good thing, because Fallen was much improved.

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Gabriel was sent to Earth to watch and protect humans. But once he waded into the darkness of humanity, the sins, the crimes, the sorrow, he turned to the bottle to drown out the desperate cries. His fall from grace is due to the sin of gluttony. Specifically that of addiction. Addicted to absinthe, and other various drinks and drugs, Gabriel lives for every night to crawl away from the grime of Earth for the comfort of his mistress's arms and the green fairy of absinthe. But when his mistress, Anne, is murdered right before him, Gabriel cannot remember a thing because of his drug-induced haze. 

Soon after Anne's murder, Gabriel discovers his penance for his sin. Every woman he comes into physical contact with, especially after sex, all become obsessed with him. Obsessed with his touch, his presence, his entire being. The women become obsessed to the point where they feel like they cannot live without him. Many took their own lives. The need to be with Gabriel consumes the women. It mirror's Gabriel's obsessions of addiction.

A hundred and fifty years later, and sober for seventy-five of it, Gabriel is still seeking to solve the murder of Anne. When a similar murder pops up in the present day, Gabriel contacts the victim's daughter who is also a forensic scientist to collaborate on the true crime novel he's writing. Gabriel, however, isn't as focused on writing the book as he is determined to find out once and for all, with the aid of modern science, whether or not he was the killer.

Sara has an a personal motive to help Gabriel as well. Not only does she see the similarities of both murders: her mother and Anne were murdered with a similar weapon, setting, and both boyfriends were accused of doing the deed, but Sara's interest is just as personal as Gabriel's. What Sara is hiding is that not only was her mother murdered, but Anne is her great-great-grandmother. The women of her family, save one, have all been cursed to die from unsolved murders. And as the sole surviving female in the family, Sara's next.

Working together to slowly piece together the details of Anne's murder, Gabriel finds that Sara's quiet presence in his life is making him crave contact again. While the draw together, Gabriel knows that he cannot touch Sara. Though it's evident that Sara's will is strong and can therefore kiss Gabriel without falling into addiction, Gabriel cannot risk too much contact for fear that Sara will meet a gruesome end. 

As their relationship moves to its zenith, the search for the answer to the murders come together. The murders of Sara's mother and of Anne seem to be more than just similar, all signs point to the same killer.

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In some sense, Fallen follows closely to the example set by the first book. They both deal with a heroes that are fallen angels whom are now demons, heroines that have a link to the hero's past, a climax that involves the heroine finding out that the past and the present concerns the same man, and a desperate search to be together. The heroes have both been burned by love in the past and for that, they are currently paying for their sins. The biggest obstacle in both books is the fact that the heroes are immortal, while the heroine is not. Similarly, the sex in both are very limited with large portions of the book dealing with the eventual slow build up because of the nature of the story: the heroes know that it is 'forbidden' to touch in the sense that it can cause the heroine harm. 

However, what makes Fallen a better story for me is the characterization and the surprising twists of the plot itself. Fallen doesn't deal too much with the 'forbidden touch' effect as much as the character's need to solve the murders. So, from the beginning, while the slow sexual tension builds for Gabriel and Sara, the story is much more about them finding out clues about Anne's murder than it is Gabriel and Sara each internally dialoguing how they want to be together. That element was much appreciated because the reader wasn't constantly barraged with fact that Gabriel can't touch Sara for her own sake. The plot moves quickly because they are coming closer to the mysteries of the murders. 

The characters were also written in a more fluid manner this time around. Each deal with their own problems, though they mirror each other's. Not only does Gabriel struggle with his past addiction, but so does Sara. And while Gabriel has had a hold on his addictions for the past seventy-five years, he can see Sara's fresher struggle with sleeping and pain pills. Since Gabriel knows what Sara is going through, it creates a safe haven for Sara to finally begin to cope with her inner demons. But what made this story flow much better is the fact that it does have its moments of light heartedness. Not a lot, but enough to give a ray of light to shine here and there. Specifically, the fact that Gabriel instigates a few of those moments, and doesn't resist some lines of gentle teasing, lightens a dark paranormal book just enough for the reader to feel like they're not constantly surrounded by darkness. For me personally, My Immortal was too consistently dark, page after page with no moments of relief. And while Fallen is written in the same dark prose, setting, and feeling, the few moments of lightness are enough to balance the story. For example, the discovery of the kitten, the random quality of Gabriel's character, and other tiny moments were appreciated to give the story a more well-rounded feeling.

Another thing that makes this story better than its predecessor is the surprisingly quality of Gabriel being the one to express love first. While it was ironic for this kind of plot for the hero to say the three fateful words first, it felt right for the story. Additionally, it wasn't until the very last pages for it to happen. It was about seventy-five percent of the way through. I thought that it was a good move to place the acceptance of love (somewhat) earlier in the novel so that the real climax centered back on the murders and of Sara deciding if she can have a relationship with Gabriel knowing that they can't physically touch. I liked how the big explanation of Gabriel being immortal and an ex-angel who's now a demon wasn't too drawn out. McCarthy sneakily slipped in Gabriel being able to open a person's mind and giving them his own memories. It was a nice little device for McCarthy to write in so that there wasn't going to be a whole denial scene where Sara just rejects the truth. There's no denying it when Sara is able to feel all of Gabriel's past and present emotions for herself. It was refreshing to read that Sara just accepted the truth for what it was with little to no rejection of it being impossible. 

While categorized as paranormal, there wasn't too much paranormal things happening in the story itself. Other than the fact that Gabriel is a fallen angel and an immortal, there isn't a lot of paranormal elements in the sense that most of the story is very much 'normal.' Gabriel still eats and sleeps, functions during the day, and everything else that is normal to a man. Even though it's labeled as paranormal, this way works much better because the story is all about the solving of the murders and of Gabriel drawing closer to Sara. 

Like I mentioned earlier, because of the basic premise of the story, the sex is limited and most of the novel is spent on a slow sexual build up of tension. Surprisingly enough, I didn't feel cheated in terms of a lack of sexual chemistry. The tension between Gabriel and Sara was a slow culmination and while the actual deed was done with little bells or whistles, it was sufficient. I didn't feel like the passion exploded off the page as I would expect for so much build up, but it wasn't lacking so much that I felt disappointed. Funny enough, I wanted the murders to be solved more than I cared about the sex scenes (which is practically a first), but I felt that the emotional connection was written strongly enough that I wanted to read about it instead of the actual sex. So, while this story contains minimal amounts of the actual sex, the emotional content was done nicely. The characters took their time in getting to know one another instead of just jumping into bed and their feelings took precedence over physical release. 

I can't say that I appreciate the cover very much. The angel concept I think was a good addition to parallel the actual story, but the figure of the woman didn't jive. The lower back tattoo was especially out of place. Too much of an obvious attempt to sex up the cover. It didn't match with the characterization of Sara other than the fact that she's a blonde. But the cover does reflect the darker turn of writing that McCarthy is trying to advertise. While not the best of covers, it's certainly not the worst I've seen and other than the back-baring dress and the out-of-place tat, it's a decent job of the art department.

The concept of the seven deadly sins coupled with that of fallen angels that are now demons is an interesting one. From the first book to the second installment, it seems that McCarthy is honing the delicate craft of writing a darker romance. There seems to be an evolution of her writing and I can only hope that the next one continues that learning experience. 

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4 out of 5: Novel is focused more on the actual plot than the sexual tension but it's written in a way that that reader wants to find out about the mystery more than read a run-of-the-mill sex scene. Connection of hero and heroine is more emotional than physical but it fits with the tempo of the story. Plot provides a twist here and there and is interesting to see the mystery continue on for a bit even when it seems that questions have been answered. A few moments of light heartedness are provided to balance out the darker overall feel of the story. A keeper and a reread copy for when I'm in the mood for a bit of darkness.
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Saturday, May 3, 2008

Props to the Art Department

Who hasn't read Lori Foster? Truly? If you like romances, or more specifically, contemporary romances, it's a pretty safe guess to say that you've come across at least one of Foster's books. She's quite the heavy hitter. Penning mostly light hearted contemporaries (not counting her new foray into darker urban fantasies), Foster has consistently turned out books that I have thoroughly enjoyed. 

However, I must note as an aside that I never become too emotionally embroiled in a Foster book. While I wouldn't go as far as saying they're just a dime a dozen, she gives me just enough to whet my appetite, satisfy it for the moment, but never really pull at my heartstrings. When I say that, I mean that I'm not teetering on the emotional ledge like I would for some other books. But, I will say that they are very enjoyable and it's a rare instance for me to come across a Foster that I really didn't like. If I happen to favor one book over another, it's just because of character traits of the hero/heroine and nothing to do with Foster's writing. 

Foster's heroes have a bit of an old world feel to me. That is, the men are men. Big, protective, possessive, and I can't help but notice that all her men are usually described as hairy. That always makes me laugh. Apparently, in Foster world, hair on a man makes him manly. But the descriptions are always followed by something along the lines of: But not too hairy to turn her off. No, it was just enough to make her feel that pang of delicious heat deep inside... I'm guessing that for Foster, manscaping is nothing a real man would do. Heh, heh...

In continuing with Foster's men, they don't waver much from her (so called) formula. If you like reading male characters that are manly, capable, and generally good-looking, Foster will please. She does for me. Personally, when I'm in the mood for reading Foster, it means that I'm in the mood for a male who feels that his one reason for living is to protect the innocent and that, without a doubt, includes the heroine. No matter if she wants him to or whether she's attractive or not, she's going to get that protection.

So, why was I so hesitant to read Unexpected? The gender roles seem to be reversed. Since Ray was the merc who is hired to help retrieve Eli Connors's missing brother, I wasn't sure if I wanted to read a Foster in which the heroine gave off more traditional masculine vibes than the hero did. Glad I was wrong!

Yes, Ray Vereker is quite the tomboy. She can break up a bar fight or participate in it herself with a smile on her face. Able to handle whatever her job throws at her, she is not the girly girl. However, it was with a very deft pen in which Foster was still able to endear such a character to me. I liked how Foster did not beat me over the head with the fact that Ray wasn't all that feminine. It helped that Eli noted all the innate feminine qualities in Ray that was obvious Ray didn't see herself. Foster also didn't constantly have Eli confused about Ray in terms of her not being 'typical.' If he constantly thought of her as too manish, it would have turned me off immediately. 

Of course Eli would need to be a strong character himself to match up with Ray. That was a given. But his masculinity wasn't in question and it was nice to see that there was no competition in terms of "who's going to wear the pants in the relationship." I think sometimes, when authors reverse gender roles, the heroine is too concerned about the hero usurping her role such as driving the car, opening doors, paying the check, etc. There wasn't much of that in Unexpected.

However, it was the plot itself that made this book much more enjoyable. The plot about rescuing Eli's brother just too the reader up to half way of the book. The rest, was really the unexpected news of Ray ending up pregnant. I liked it. It certainly did its job of softening Ray's character and gave her more of a traditional feminine edge that was needed for a reader to see that she does indeed, need Eli in her life. I have to admit, that the plot wasn't all that exciting nor was it the best I've ever read. It did its job in balancing everything in terms of the characters. Totally character driven as a whole, it makes it a more traditional Foster in my point of view. Her books are more about the character connection and that's what makes me love them.

But what tied the whole package together for me was the very nice cover decisions made by the art department. Choosing the bright, almost neon pink, was a very nice touch. Ironic, yes. The pop art feel of the cut out picture of the woman and the stork pulls at the eye while serving its purpose of showcasing the author's name first, and then the yellow color of the title. Font choice was also very appropriate in accordance to the clip-art feel of the pictures. 

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3 out of 5: Overall, Unexpected delivered on its name. I was pleasantly surprised at how I was softened in reading a plot I would normally not choose. Personally, the characters did not connect all that much with me emotionally and I read with a dispassion that showed I wasn't all that involved into the ending. The chemistry between the characters was all right, but it didn't sizzle for me and definitely didn't singe the pages during the sex scenes. I appreciated the uniqueness of the story and while it will not be a re-read for me, it's something I would recommend for a fun day at the beach.
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Friday, May 2, 2008

It's a Conversation, Not an Alien Invasion

I've recently discovered the enjoyment of, and dispelled some of my doubts for, audiobooks. 

I always held the belief that I would loose some fundamental enjoyment out of physically holding the book, feeling the crinkle of pages beneath my fingertips, and toting around the comforting weight of the written word in my bag. However, when I was finding myself sneaking in paragraphs here and there between red lights, I realized that audiobooks could rescue some of the reading time that I wasted while toiling in traffic.

I've realized that audiobooks work best when I've already read the book. Why? Well, because then I'm not waiting on baited breath for the next paragraph to be read. It also helped that I could pay more attention to the cars in front of me instead of the voice filling the interior of my vehicle. I've also found out the joy of rediscovering some things I might have missed when I'm reading myself. When I'm listening to the audiobook, unless I fast forward, I can't skip words as sometimes my eyes are prone to do while reading a particularly uninteresting part. 

Biggest complaint? The narrator!

Case in point: I've recently ventured into the In Death series and since Eve Dallas has solved so many crimes, I thought that listening to some of her adventures would cut down on my reading time. I found a copy of Glory In Death in which I loved the narrator. Since Eve is not a typically feminine character, the narrator did a beautiful job of softening Eve with her voice. So while the book told me that Eve wasn't one to give into her appearance, weddings, and general "female stuff," the narrator's soft voice for Eve buffed out the sharp edges. I also liked how Roarke's Irish accent was just the barest hint and not an overwhelming feel like I was watching the Travel Channel. 

Delighted with my first In Death audiobook, I was equally excited to find out that I could get them online through my local library for free. However, I was outraged to find out that the narrator changed and what I listened to was the older cassette tape version that someone changed into a MP3 file in which I downloaded. Saddened, I still gave this new narrator a try. Big mistake. First off, Eve was all rough and tumble in her voice. It was like listening to a pre-teen boy before his voice deepened. I mean, J.D. Robb's words were already telling me that Eve wasn't a girly girl, but now the narrator's voice was reaffirming that point as well. It was like beating me over the head again and again. Another thing I found annoying? Roarke was now really Irish. I got lost in the accent instead of the book. And that voice for Peabody! Geez Louise! Peabody now sounded like a bad cartoon character. 

I've come to find out that male narrators are by far, superior to that of females. Why? Because when males do female voices, they just soften their voices. They don't make their voices higher. But for female narrators, their male voices lowered. I recently listened to a recording of Jayne Castle's Silver Master in which the hero's voice was done in such a cheesy woman-trying-to-imitate-man-voice that I stopped listening and ran out to buy the book instead. 

But the problem with this genre is that men just don't narrate books plunked into the romance shelf. I did, however, find one I really liked. Ironically, I think if I read the book instead, I wouldn't have appreciated it. Lori Foster's Caught in the Act was recorded into an audiobook and the male narrator was a wonderful choice. (Though he's the only one I've listened to in the romance genre in which the narrator was a man). Good choice to pick a male narrator because the books is mostly told from Mick's point of view. But like I mentioned, the male narrator didn't raise his voice for when he narrated the female part. He simply softened his voice. That made all the difference.

For this point of audiobooks, I must concede to the point that perhaps, men are more enjoyable to the ears instead of women. In my (fairly limited) experience thus far, the women narrators who do male voices make the men sound like some sort of alien creature with that extremely fake deep voice. But for male narrators doing female voices, it's much better because they soften their voice and it just sounds more natural to this reader.

So while I'm not entirely convinced that audiobooks can give me the same experience as reading the actual book can, I'm liking the diversion for when I would normally yell at the gridlock traffic. Instead, I'm reading with my ears.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Time For Last Call?

Anyone a fan of the genre will eventually come across, read, and/or love Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark Hunter series. And to be honest, even if you don't like the Dark Hunters, you can't deny the fact that Kenyon has created an empire and her hunters have reached cult status. Just take a peek at the section of her website where it showcases fans displaying their double bow and arrow tattoos and you'll see what I mean by cult status. 

With that said, I'll admit that I didn't start the series with the best outlook. I always heard of the Dark Hunters through Amazon recommendations, but never picked it up because at that time, I was weary of paranormals. But then Ward converted me with those spectacular brothers and when I traveled for Thanksgiving, I was armed with the first four Brotherhood books and Fantasy Lover

I knew from reading Kenyon's commentary on her website that when she wrote Fantasy Lover all those years ago, she went the "safe" route because at that time (and I'm paraphrasing here), vampires was pretty much an expletive or at least, a no-go area for romance. 

So, I knew the premise of Julian being a god stuck in a book with his only purpose of being a sex slave. I wasn't expecting much. My return on investment wasn't much either. The plot was unique but very much romance-y in the sense that it reminded me of some of Harlequin's prince/mistress/virgin stories. The characters were sweet enough and there were enough cute scenes between them that made it endear to me. The quick quips, the novelty of Eros being a biker and all of Julian's relatives were interesting enough. The scene where Julian teaches Grace to eat spaghetti all proper and stuff and the fact that he can't drive without running into something was fun. But the whole premise of them not being able to have sex because of the curse was a transparent way to keep the sexual tension going. Still, it was a fun, quick read. 

It was by accident that I picked up the Dark Hunter gift set that contained books 2-4. After I read Night Pleasures, I began to have my doubts about the story. Though Kyrian and Julian were friends in their "previous" life, the two stories were too close for me to consider it separate. Okay, I get it... they suffered a lot in their lives, death, betrayal, etc. All right, drive home the point that they're weary of love and all that...It was too obvious that Kenyon was just doing all that torture stuff to wring out emotions for her characters. And so, I put the books down.

But I had that set. I still had Night Embrace, Dance with the Devil, and various out of sequence Dark Hunters that I had already received free from BookMooch. I couldn't just waste those books. When I had nothing else to read, I picked up Night Embrace with a weary hand. Okay, I enjoyed Sunshine and Talon (though the thought of her name first made me cringe). Her quirky disposition and the whole deal with Talon's affection for Pez was too cute to pass up. I was back on board with the Dark Hunters again. Though I was apprehensive about who many different solutions Kenyon could come up with to somehow unite and give longevity to her heroes and heroines. 

Then came Zarek. No longer was the heroine a human who was unaware of the Dark Hunter world, but Astrid, who knew all about Zarek and was sent in to judge him. I also got my first taste of a were, Sasha. Even though the story of Zarek was very much like the previous hunters, with all that betrayal, hurt, and anger, there's something really hard to resist a story like Zarek's. The poor young boy who was beaten and now appears to be a monster but actually does good for his neighbors in secret? Who can refuse? 

And on and on the Dark Hunters came and went.

I won't say that I enjoyed them all. In fact, I really didn't like the first four all that much. They had their high points in terms of some quirky dialogue and situations, but the books as a whole didn't do much to truly capture me as a reader. 

There were some that got my attention. The story of Wulf and Cassandra did its job at pulling my heart. I mean, the story of the Dark Hunter pairing with the enemy? Not only that but she was destined to die soon. Man, that killed me. The scene with them making memories for their unborn child and Cassandra constantly writing letters to the baby really did a number on me. Who can help but shed a few tears for that?

I got to Night Play with Vane and Bride and now...I felt it was romance first, action plot second. (I'll come back to that point later). It was the "chubby/not so chubby girl who gets the handsome guy" story told in a paranormal setting. I for one, cannot resist such an underdog story. Pardon the pun. The sweetness of Vane learning to date a human, his instinctual need to be near Bride, and all the sweet things he does for her melted my heart. Throw in animals, which always makes me like the story, and the funny situation of Bride's father being the neuter king...well, I loved that.

Same with Wren and Maggie in Unleash the Night. The loner story with the younger crowd, that was original. Seeing Wren as practically a baby, since he hasn't been around for centuries and Maggie being a co-ed, was a fresh view. Plus, who can forget the big surprise when Wren walks into the room, sees a tiger, rushes it yelling, "Dad, how could you eat my girlfriend? She's all I've ever had!" and see Maggie's eyes staring back at him instead? I didn't see that happening. And the fact that the mating mark never appeared until the end with a little help was a new take on things. I loved reading Wren as the outcast and the story of him falling in love with Maggie.

But then, few books go by...things kinda went south. 

Kenyon has without a doubt hit cult status. The books now have become more about plot than about her main pair and the romance between them. Now, I understand that once in a while, in a series this large, it's necessary. But recently, as I've been catching up on the Hunters, it's become way too much. With Dark Side of the Moon, the Dream Hunters parallel series, etc...it's obvious everything is becoming a setup for Acheron's book. Not that I'm not totally looking forward to it myself. But come on. 

After all these books, we sometimes see Ash in action, helping the hunters in need, his obvious devotion to them, and his equally obvious hatred for Artemis. But how many times do I have to read interludes that have Ash stuck with Artemis needing her blood and only having sex? Frankly, I'm quite over it. I'm getting sick of reading the love/hate thing they have going on, and only the recent disclosure of Kat's parentage did it finally revive some Acheron interest for me. But geez, how much setup does Kenyon need? It's too much of a marketing scheme to make Ash's book a big hit. And coming in at around 1200 pages, (rumored online), no doubt it will hit the best sellers list. Just like the recent Dream Hunters, though they have proven to be flops. 

Some readers out there, having been wondering if it's time to throw in the towel. I say, Yes! Hit us with Ash's book, close the series. Go out with a bang (hopefully). But we all know that won't be true. We'll see the Nick/Acheron thing come to a head, and some have suspected that Nick will be the next Ash. 
In truth, the only thing I'm looking forward to in Ash's book is to see who the heroine is. And how that relationship will work out. Really, the Acheron/Artemis thing is too entwined that if Kenyon doesn't do a good job with Ash's heroine, I can predict, everything will fail. The female in question will need to be strong with a certain vulnerability to appeal. 

In addition, she has to be a hell of a heroine to match up with Ash. And in doing so, will bring on the wrath of Artemis. Really, who doesn't hate Artemis? Even with Kenyon trying to give her a softer side once in a while, with her secretly wishing for Ash to love her like he once did, the commentary offered by Kat on her mother, etc...it doesn't even make Artemis one of those "love to hate" characters. I simply just hate her. And Kenyon, trying to make Ash's relationship with Artemis so twisted has made everything quite the greek tragedy. Pun intended. 

I have to say, reading Kenyon is tiring at times. A critic praises her writing as "ironic" but it's not. It's sarcastic. I like sarcasm. But not in every single character. I think that pretty much all of Kenyon's characters, especially the recent ones are so freakin' sarcastic. An ironic tone of writing would be much better. But no, it's the characters who are insanely droll and dry. I thought it was refreshing in the first few books, but then the majority of characters possessed such a wit. I'm fine with seeing Ash's droll humor from book to book, but come on...who can forget the back and forth of Ravyn and Susan and the constant parry of Sin and Kat. Give me a break. Give me some actual humor without that razor edge. Show me, Kenyon, that you're able to write differently. 

The problem, even though I myself love a good sarcastic comeback? It feels like her heroes and heroines have now become interchangeable. There's no distinguishing marks on the stories since they have now moved from romance first, action second, to action and doing its job of setting up Acheron's book first, and romance if there's room. 

Which books possessed less sarcasm? Well, they turned out to be my favorites. The ones that have secondary characters with the sarcastic remarks and only a few peppered in for the main characters seem to be the ones I favor. Zarek and Astrid, were a good read with only Sasha's witty comments to provide the punch. With Bride and Vane, it was Fury who did the remarking. Like all the neutering comments and his funny antics of going to "rack" Vane in "typical dog fashion." But Kenyon has now seemed to move into an overload of sarcasm. Her main characters, the secondaries, and the villians. Everyone has some sort of comeback armed and constantly ready. Give me a rest here and there, please. Really, Kenyon, it's supposed to be romance first. It's like Kenyon has forgotten her roots in favor of setups and subsequently, book sales. 

The Dark Hunters have gifted me a fabulous share of fun reads, a few tears, and some laugh out loud moments, but they've waned. And appears to be on a downward spiral. Now, all I want is to see how Acheron finds his heroine. That's it. Seriously, it's time to call a quits. Just like how I think it's past time for Eve Dallas to hand over her badge, but that's another post for another time...