Monday, July 30, 2012

Why fade to black doesn't work for me. Except when it does.

I finished Susanna Kearsley's The Shadowy Horses a few days ago and I started thinking about "fade to black" or "bedroom door closed" books.  As a generality, I prefer my fictional bedroom doors wide open and the lights left on.  But I started to wonder why that was - and why some books which do fade to black work really well for me.  And here's what I came up with.

I think there are two aspects at play during a sex scene in a romance (as opposed to erotica) - there is (often) something physically arousing about it and there is something I'm going to call, emotionally arousing.  I can't say I'm immune to the physical "symptoms" of a well written sex scene but for me, the bigger payoff is in the emotionality.  I think very often the sex scene creates a "shortcut" to the emotional arousal I'm seeking - the heightened emotions which are often present being key here.

Fade to black books, with only kisses (and few kisses) do not usually give me the emotional arousal I'm seeking when reading romance.  What causes this emotional arousal?  Well, it can be kissing or handholding, the hand on the small of her back as they walk, her hand in his (or his in his for that matter).  It might be internal dialogue or conversation (conversation is the better of the two) where the couple's emotional connection resonates (“When the day shall come that we do part," he said softly, and turned to look at me, "if my last words are not ‘I love you’-ye’ll ken it was because I didna have time.”  Jamie to Claire in The Fiery Cross - although The Fiery Cross is in no way a fade to black book of course.).  In a sex scene it can be the desperation of one to physically connect to the other, the primal claiming of "mine", a more tender or reverent loving after a crisis perhaps, the delight one partner takes in the body of the other, the care taken in ensuring his/her satisfaction - the physical display of the emotional connection.  

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook

Why I read it: I've had this on my TBR for ages and after finally reading Here Be Monsters in the Burning Up anthology, I decided to read it.

What it's about: (from Goodreads)  After the Iron Duke freed England from Horde control, he instantly became a national hero. Now Rhys Trahaearn has built a merchant empire on the power-and fear-of his name. And when a dead body is dropped from an airship onto his doorstep, bringing Detective Inspector Mina Wentworth into his dangerous world, he intends to make her his next possession.

But when Mina uncovers the victim's identity, she stumbles upon a conspiracy that threatens the lives of everyone in England. To save them, Mina and Rhys must race across zombie-infested wastelands and treacherous oceans-and Mina discovers the danger is not only to her countrymen, as she finds herself tempted to give up everything to the Iron Duke.

What worked for me (and what didn't): I've read very little Steampunk.  I listened to Gail Carriger's Soulless (which I liked) but I've been a bit reluctant to take the plunge after a bad experience with some paranormal history books a few years back.  But, I've heard time and time again that this book is excellent and I did buy it so I decided to take the plunge and read.  It did take me a bit of time to get into.  It helped I think that I had some background of the concept of the Horde and the nanoagents and "mechanical flesh" from reading Here Be Monsters so I can't say it was any worldbuilding issues which kept me apart from the story at first.     However, by about the 1/3 of the way in, things started to gel and by the halfway mark I was hooked.  I'm not sure I can say anything particularly illuminating about why I found it difficult to get into - I just did.  

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley, narrated by Sally Armstrong

Why I read listened to it: I'm up to date on my review audiobooks for AAR so I got to pick one from my own stash.   I really enjoyed Mariana and The Rose Garden and the excerpt on Audible intrigued.

What it's about:  (from Goodreads)  The dark legends of the Scotland were an archaeologist dream. Verity Grey was thrilled to be at a dig for an ancient Roman camp in the Scottish village. But danger was in the air -- in the icy reserve of archaeologist David Fortune. In the haunted eyes to the little boy who had visions of a slain Roman sentinel. And in the unearthly sound of the ghostly Shadowy Horses, who carried men away to the land of the dead...

What worked for me (and what didn't): Okay, that blurb doesn't really tell you much.  Verity Grey is a 29 year old archaeologist type who travels to Eyemouth in Scotland after hearing about a job opportunity from ex-boyfriend Adrian Sutton-Clark.  Adrian is a handsome devil but very immature when it comes to relationships.  Verity found they were much better as friends, and besides, he has a marked preference for blondes and she's a brunette.  When she arrives in Eyemouth, she finds that the proposed dig is to be led by eccentric (some say mad) archaeologist, Peter Quinell, and supported by a sexy Scottish archeology professor from the local university, David Fortune.    Peter's property, Rosehill is the site of the dig - he believes he will find there, evidence of the fate of the famous 9th Roman Legion.  The basis for his belief?  A 9 year old boy by the name of Robbie who has "second sight". (I heard from the author that an adult Robbie features as the hero in her upcoming book).

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Within Reach by Sarah Mayberry

Why I read it: I'm a fan of Sarah Mayberry and snatched it up when I saw it at NetGalley.  Release date: August 7 2012.

What it's about:  (from Goodreads) Being a single dad was never on Michael Young's agenda. Yet with the sudden loss of his wife, that's exactly the role he has. On his best days, he thinks he can handle it. On his worst… Luckily, family friend Angie Bartlett has his back, easily stepping in to help out.

Lately, though, something has changed.

Michael is noticing exactly how gorgeous Angie is, and how single she is. She's constantly in his thoughts and he feels an attraction he never expected. Does he dare disrupt the very good thing they have going? If they have a fling that goes nowhere, he stands to lose everything—including her. But if they make it work, he stands to gain everything!

What worked for me (and what didn't): The prologue begins showing Billie celebrating her 32nd birthday with her husband Michael and their 2 children (Eva and Charlie) and her BFF, Angie as well as various other family/friends.  The set up succinctly displays a happily married couple and two very close friends who are more like sisters.  When Billie dies of an undiagnosed congenital heart defect, both Allie and Michael (as well as the children of course) are devastated.  And actually, so was I.  I was only on page 17 and I was already crying.    Which tells me that in a few short words, I cared enough about the characters that their journey was going to be important to me.   So, with a sigh of relief and a box of tissues I settled in for a good read.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Something Like Normal by Trish Doller

Why I read it: I saw the Twitter buzz about this one - Brie from Romance Around the Corner and Jane from Dear Author were both recommending it and I picked it up from Kobo with a coupon which meant I only paid about $5.  Yippee

What it's about: (from Goodreads) When Travis returns home from a stint in Afghanistan, his parents are splitting up, his brother’s stolen his girlfriend and his car, and he’s haunted by nightmares of his best friend’s death. It’s not until Travis runs into Harper, a girl he’s had a rocky relationship with since middle school, that life actually starts looking up. And as he and Harper see more of each other, he begins to pick his way through the minefield of family problems and post-traumatic stress to the possibility of a life that might resemble normal again. Travis’s dry sense of humor, and incredible sense of honor, make him an irresistible and eminently lovable hero.

What worked for me (and what didn't): I'm a hero-centric reader, so a story told from the hero's POV is very tempting for me. There aren't that many of them around.

I suspect that the "new adult" stories I've been reading lately have worked for me largely because, even though the protagonists are young, they are dealing with adult issues.  Coming back from war is definitely something that strikes me as very adult and the depiction here seemed very authentic.  Travis came across as a 19 year old who had seen too much, who was starting to mature and realise that life doesn't revolve only around him (as teenagers do).  He notices his mother in a new way and thinks about her happiness, rather than just what she can/should do for him.  He reconnects with Harper and for the first time (it appears) really understands what his thoughtless exaggeration of their game of  "7 minutes in heaven" in middle school meant for her.  (Although, to be fair, it wasn't all his fault - I suspect Paige had much to do with how big the story became).  I would have liked to have seen Travis stand up to his friends a little more on Harper's behalf  and actually make it clear to them that the rumours were false but you can't have everything.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Sweet Talk by Julie Garwood

Why I read it: I picked this up from NetGalley because the blurb looked interesting.

What it's about: (from Goodreads) When FBI agent Grayson Kincaid first encounters Olivia MacKenzie, she makes quite an impression. The beautiful, tough, young attorney has stumbled into the middle of an FBI sting operation and has reduced it to chaos. Months of surveillance and careful planning down the drain, Kincaid's partner is furious and lets Olivia know that she's ticked off the wrong guy. After all, he's FBI.Olivia isn't intimidated by his partner's bullying because she's something even scarier...she's IRS. And working for the IRS isn't for the faint of heart. She's on the trail of an elaborate Ponzi scheme, one that threatens to ruin the lives of naive and unsuspecting victims, and one she has personal reasons to be angry about. But after she asks questions of the wrong people, her life is suddenly endangered. She's accustomed to fighting for the underdog but being vulnerable herself is a very different story. Smart enough to know when to call for reinforcements, she contacts Grayson Kincaid.Together they make an excellent team to fight corruption but Olivia is also fighting the immediate and intense attraction she feels for Agent Kincaid, and that may be a battle she is bound to lose.

What worked for me (and what didn't): The blurb is a little misleading.  Olivia does work for the IRS and she also does some child advocacy on the side (she's a lawyer) but the Ponzi scheme reference is a reference to a personal investigation she's doing outside of both those activities.  She's investigating her father.  And, she doesn't contact Grayson - he comes to her.  

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Easy by Tammara Webber

Why I read it: This was another "new adult" book recommended by Jane at Dear Author.  I actually bought 2 by this author but I haven't read the other one yet.  I'm saving it.

What it's about: (from Goodreads)   When Jacqueline follows her longtime boyfriend to the college of his choice, the last thing she expects is a breakup. After two weeks in shock, she wakes up to her new reality: she’s single, attending a state university instead of a music conservatory, ignored by her former circle of friends, stalked by her ex’s frat brother, and failing a class for the first time in her life.

Her econ professor gives her an email address for Landon, the class tutor, who shows her that she’s still the same intelligent girl she’s always been. As Jacqueline becomes interested in more from her tutor than a better grade, his teasing responses make the feeling seem mutual. There’s just one problem—their only interactions are through email.

Meanwhile, a guy in her econ class proves his worth the first night she meets him. Nothing like her popular ex or her brainy tutor, Lucas sits on the back row, sketching in a notebook and staring at her. At a downtown club, he disappears after several dances that leave her on fire. When he asks if he can sketch her, alone in her room, she agrees—hoping for more.

Then Jacqueline discovers a withheld connection between her supportive tutor and her seductive classmate, her ex comes back into the picture, and her stalker escalates his attention by spreading rumors that they’ve hooked up. Suddenly appearances are everything, and knowing who to trust is anything but easy.

What worked for me (and what didn't): I loved this book.  The main characters are 18/19 and 21/22 I guess and it is set at a college so it qualifies as "new adult"/YA.  But in all other respects it is a contemporary adult romance.   Eminently satisfying, with beautiful writing and a hot sexy hero - what more could you want?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry

Why I read it: Jane from Dear Author has been tweeting about how good this book is and she talked about it on the latest DBSA podcast. I'm not usually a YA reader, but I was intrigued enough about the story to request this from NetGalley.

What it's about: (from Goodreads)  "I won't tell anyone, Echo. I promise." Noah tucked a curl behind my ear. It had been so long since someone touched me like he did. Why did it have to be Noah Hutchins? His dark brown eyes shifted to my covered arms. "You didn't do that-did you? It was done to you?" No one ever asked that question. They stared. They whispered. They laughed. But they never asked.  

So wrong for each other...and yet so right.

No one knows what happened the night Echo Emerson went from popular girl with jock boyfriend to gossiped-about outsider with "freaky" scars on her arms. Even Echo can't remember the whole truth of that horrible night. All she knows is that she wants everything to go back to normal. But when Noah Hutchins, the smoking-hot, girl-using loner in the black leather jacket, explodes into her life with his tough attitude and surprising understanding, Echo's world shifts in ways she could never have imagined. They should have nothing in common. And with the secrets they both keep, being together is pretty much impossible.  Yet the crazy attraction between them refuses to go away. And Echo has to ask herself just how far they can push the limits and what she'll risk for the one guy who might teach her how to love again.

What worked for me (and what didn't):  This story sucked me right in from the beginning and even a Thailand holiday couldn't tempt me away.  I read it almost non stop on the plane and then stayed up late that first night to finish it.  Yes, it is set in a high school, with characters who are just about to turn 18, but it felt very adult to me. Both Echo and Noah were dealing with grown up problems and, for the most part, in a grown up manner (yet it still felt authentic to their actual ages).  Told in the alternating first person POV from both Echo and Noah, the story starts when Noah and Echo are both assigned to have mandatory counselling with Mrs. Collins, a new school counsellor who is part of a special funding programme.    Mrs. Collins is a little too good to be true but she does have some fun quirks which make her very likeable and not just a prop.   

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

June Reads

on Paper/eBook

NB This review first appeared in the ARRA June newsletter which is distributed to ARRA members. 

Gateway to Heaven by Beth Kery - B- First published in 2008, I picked this up as a Kindle freebie recently.  Christian Lasher is a rock star who's looking to take his career in a different direction. He meets art teacher and sculptor, Megan Shreve and is instantly captivated by her.  She's different to anyone he's ever met before and she doesn't know who he is.  Because he doesn't think she'd go for the "rock god" thing, he keeps it from her so she can get to know him without the hype.  Megan is over protected by her sister Hilary, who gives her all the dirty gossip about Christian PDQ.  When Megan was 3 years old, she was abused by the husband of her daycare provider and even though she can't remember those events, they have affected her ever since.  Hence her sister's over protectiveness. But Megan isn't as fragile as Hilary believes and Christian wants her to chart her own course and not be held in kid gloves.  There is a bit of the on again/off again between Christian and Megan - a few times there I was kind of surprised that she was apologising - especially when it was Christian being the ass.  There is kind of early shades of Bared To You and similar books in the dynamic between them - although, not quite as obsessive.  I enjoyed the chemistry between Megan and Christian and found this one an easy, fast read.  At the end, even though I believed in their HEA, I would have liked to have more about what their lives would be like - what did she end up doing with her career etc.  I do like Beth Kery's writing and I think this is one of her earlier works.  It does kind of show - I think her writing has become more polished since then. But, I did like this one.

Beginnings and Ends by Suzanne Brockmann - see my full review here. The short version?  Very disappointing.


A Different Kind of Forever by Dee Ernst - B  I picked this one up after seeing a positive review of it at Dear Author .  This is an older woman/younger man story - Diane is 45, divorced and a mother of 3 teenage girls.  Michael "Mickey Flynn" Carlucci is 26 and a rock star - singer/songwriter, keyboard and guitar player in the band NinetySeven.  Michael was all but raised by his older sisters and in Diane he has found someone who finally compares favourably with them - his womanly ideal.