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30 July 2010

Seven Secrets of Seduction-Anne Mallory

Even the most guarded souls succumb to the power of beautiful words.
Set in the London of the early 1800's, Seven Secrets of Seduction follows the journey of Miranda Chase, bookish and reserved shopgirl, as she meets a charming Viscount and is drawn into a splendid game of seduction.

Leading lady Miranda was terrific; reserved in manner, yet able to verbally hold her ground with the Viscount.  Mallory scores points with this reader for leaving the choice to Miranda of whether she will succumb to the seduction.  Miss Chase is not held against her will, is not a helpless victim of any vile villain, but simply a young woman with a keen insight who accepts a challenge.  Not that there isn't some wonderful maneuvering in the game, but it is practiced by both parties and expected as well.  Maximillian Downing, Viscount, is also a great character.  Using the gossipy and cruel nature of the "ton" against his adversaries, he ensures his rakish reputation will overshadow what he does not wish revealed in expert fashion.

Each chapter begins with an intriguing header such as in Chapter 1, "Secret #1:  Every good seduction first begins with a baited hook.", with the "baited hook" which caught this broad being the fantastic dialogue between Miss Chase and Maximillian Downing.  The banter exchanged is slightly reminiscent of a D'Arcy/Elizabeth go-round in the famous novel by Austin, only add in heightened boldness and obvious double-entendres on Downing's part.  Miranda is often caught off guard, being more innocent, but usually recovers cleverly.  The overall effect is quite adequate, because a man who expresses himself well, who realizes the power of perfectly timed and carefully chosen words, is a treasure to be hoarded.  Along with the back and forth verbal sparring, Mallory uses Miss Chase's written correspondence to add one more layer to the game/seduction.

Be forewarned, a few minor characters in Mallory's book are wretchedly misplaced and the time period she chose in which to write an otherwise delightful romance doesn't work.  Victorian-ish Era London would not have abided a Viscount parading a shopgirl around, no matter the level of "discretion" shown by either of them.  (History lovers may be challenged by these discrepancies.)  Despite these issues, Seven Secrets of Seduction is on this broad's "Read It" list for romance lovers.
~Moira

Romance Amidst A Sea of Anachronisms
Seven Secrets of Seduction by Anne Mallory is the romantic story of Miranda Chase and Viscount Maximilian Downing.  As romances go, it's interesting.  The story gets its name from a scandalous book that has been recently published in 1820s England, The Seven Secrets of Seduction.  Miranda is enchanted by the book, which explains the methods of seduction.  That she likes the book is one thing; that she announces this to Downing when he meets her in the bookstore in which she works is another.  This simply wouldn't be something a young, educated English woman would do in 1820.  It wouldn't happen because it would be entirely inappropriate for her to speak to the Viscount on such matters.  1820s English society was incredibly rigid.  It was divided into the upper, middle, and working classes, and even if Miranda were to be considered in the middle class, a Viscount is certainly of the upper class and not likely to be speaking to any female in the classes lower than his other than in a superior to an inferior manner.

Viscount Maximilian Downing is a rake  and takes a liking to Miranda.  This too is an anachronistic issue: While he may have wanted to take a taste of a woman lower than he, Downing certainly wouldn't be allowed to  spend time openly with her in his home or with her in society.   This plot device in this time period simply doesn't work.

The problem is that too much of what happens in this romance couldn't happen because of the strict social structure of 1820s England.  Does this make it a bad book?  In one very important sense, yes, it does.  This story is rife with mistakes about the time period, which is a problem.  In another sense, no, it doesn't make it a bad book because it's a romance story, and the romance is basically sound, if the reader is able or willing to overlook the inaccuracies.  But this begs a different, larger question:  Are romance stories of so little consequence and importance that they don't even need to be properly researched and edited?

Above and beyond the historical inaccuracies, the story is a good one.  Miranda is a strong romantic heroine and a very likable character.  But as in other romance novels, what saves this story from getting mired down in things that couldn't ever happen is the Viscount.  This is the one area in which Mallory shines.  Her characterization of Maximilian Downing is wonderful; she created a fabulous rake.  He's intelligent, quick thinking, gallant, sexy, and clever.  He's no Sheik, Gregori, or Rhage, but he's a good example of the classic seducer.

In addition, the use of the chapter titles from the fictitious Seven Secrets of Seduction book is great.  Each chapter heading is used at the beginning of each chapter in the story, and each relates to the action occurring in that chapter.  The fictitious book sounds like a better read, however, and was probably better researched.

Seven Secrets of Seduction
is a romance based upon errors in historical knowledge.  Is it worth the time to read it?  Not if you believe that even books some think are trashy novels worthy only of the beach should be at least accurate in their plot ideas and settings.  If this isn't a big issue for you and you won't be bothered by the anachronisms, then it might be something worth trying.  The basic romantic story is sound.  It's the setting--the time, the social circumstances surrounding the characters--that isn't.
-Alexandria

Slaughterhouse Five-Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

With Sincere Regrets to my Favorite Phlebotomist and Fellow Wild-Haired Gypsy....
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. , in an attempt to reconcile his cumulative life experience with a singular experience, namely the day Dresden, Germany, was bombed into nothingness on February 13, 1945, seemingly asserts that points of time may be experienced or lived in random order and that one may simply spring from one point to another and live in that particular moment without affectation of any other moment, and likewise return again to any singular moment. 
He never quite declares this theory in so many words, but the premise is inferred.

Although based around such a perplexing theory, I found Slaughterhouse-Five haltingly awkward and at times bizarrely random, quite possibly the very point Vonnegut, Jr. intended.  This perspective was empty and meaningless to this reader however, as I believe a story of human experience obviously felt with such force should be told from beginning to end with coherency so as to convey the brutality, the elation, the fear, confusion, and the purpose of the men who lived through this emotionally exhaustive dichotomy of reality.

Vonnegut, Jr. failed to capture the essence and soul of those whose tales he relates with flat, clinical recollections of events that feel pieced together as if he gathered the shredded remains of memories and taped them onto posterboard.  Sadly, no redeeming glimpse of acceptance or peace is found between the covers of Vonnegut, Jr.'s book.  The joys of returning home, of family, love, and success are lost.  Instead of evaluating that fateful time in Dresden among and against an entire lifetime of experiences, Vonnegut, Jr. evaluates a lifetime of experiences through that singular point of horror and emptiness, and therefore etches horror and emptiness into all.
~Moira

24 July 2010

Reagan's War-Peter Schweizer

Reagan's War:  The Epic Story of his Forty Year Struggle and Final Triumph Over Communism  by Peter Schweizer

Schweizer wrote, "The 'one big thing' Reagan knew was the power and value of human freedom, which proved to be the defining principle of his worldview."

Many Americans know little about our 40th president, Ronald Reagan, and his life's work, a war against communism.  Reagan has been portrayed by some as an "absentee" president or an "empty headed dolt", however after reading Schweizer's book, I cannot agree.  In fact, the man may well have been a genius, at least concerning his views and strategies in combating the spread of communism and ending the Cold War.

Schweizer explains that to understand Reagan, you must understand his battle against communism.  This most important struggle at first left his life in ruins, ending his marriage to Jane Wyman and straining his relationship with his children.  It also led him to Nancy, whom he loved dearly, and of course, to the Presidency of the United States of America where his policies directly led to the downfall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.  While some may attempt to disagree, the secret records now released and quoted in Schweizer's book, including sources from the U.S.A., Germany, Poland, Hungary, Russia, and even the K.G.B.'s file on Ronald Reagan leave little, if any, room for dissension on this point.

Far from dry or dull, this true, yet fascinating tale will hold readers on the edge of their seats.  Death threats and assassination attempts plagued him because of his work.  Calculated military directives ordered by Reagan changed the course of the Cold War.  Brutal honesty on his part convinced the K.G.B. that he was a man "who saw word and deed as one", and they respectfully feared him, as he would not, and could not be persuaded to compromise his principles, nor would he be deterred from his course of action.  In the world of politics, he was the rare exception to the rule.   Ronald Reagan was a man of bold word and deed, and his story is possibly the best of any political figure I've studied in modern times.  Well written and quite revealing, Reagan's War should be required reading for all American high-schoolers, for they will never glimpse even half the man Reagan was if the only exposure they get is from boring textbook snippets.

Recommendation:  Read it, and be amazed to find out just how much you didn't know about Ronald Reagan.
~Moira

22 July 2010

The Lady's Tutor-Robin Schone

Hot For Teacher Ottoman Empire Style
The basic story of The Lady's Tutor is straightforward:  a woman wants to learn how to please her husband because she believes he has taken a mistress and she turns to a man who it is whispered has the knowledge she desires.  The woman is the wife of the Chancellor of the Exchequer of England, and the man is a sheik, a bastard child of an English aristocratic woman and a Muslim sheik.   The Lady's Tutor has all the makings of a rich, sensual story, and in the first half of the story, it delivers.  However, it's the second half of the book that causes the story to become a tangled mess of too much dialogue and bizarre story lines.

Elizabeth Petre believes her husband has taken a mistress because she hasn’t satisfied him in bed.  The reader learns quite early in the book that it’s been years since they’ve been together in bed, so this plot choice seems illogical.  If it’s been 12 years since they’ve had sex, then it’s doubtful he’s taken a mistress because of a lack of it.  She is a member of the highest society in England but she seeks out a rake named Sheik Ramiel Devington, Lord Safyre, for instruction on how to please a man since he’s exotic and Arabic, and he has the reputation for bedding a significant number of women.  They meet and he agrees to be her tutor in this sexual awakening education.  He provides her with a textbook out of his personal library for her education in seduction, The Perfumed Garden for the Soul's Recreation, and the author lets the reader know early on that this man has skills and enjoys sex, so the tutoring will be interesting.

The story contains vivid descriptions that appeal to the senses, and the writing is good.  The two main characters are appealing, each in their own way.  Elizabeth is a stereotypical Victorian woman, but she is likable because she is a loyal wife and caring mother.  In addition, the reader very quickly feels sympathy for her because she is trapped in a loveless marriage and dutiful life.  Ramiel, the Sheik, is the exact opposite of Elizabeth:  his life is anything but cold, with sexual experiences most men would die for, and he lives a comfortable life.  However, he is also sympathetic because he's an outcast in the worlds of both his parents:  English society doesn't accept him because he is a bastard and the Arab world has banished him because of something he did years earlier.  Elizabeth works as the slightly sad romantic heroine, and Ramiel works as the mysterious and sexually knowing romantic hero to counter her.

However, this book suffers from too much dialogue.  It’s extremely unsexy to constantly have the two of them naming parts and the like.  Very quickly, the reader is left thinking, “Why not just have the narration tell what’s happening and have that include the allusions to parts and positions?”  This would be a major improvement on how it’s approached in this story.  An example of this can be found in the film, Dangerous Liaisons.  In the film, John Malkovich’s character, the Vicomte, seduces Uma Thurman’s very young, very innocent, and unwilling character, Cecile.  As he begins what he refers to as her “training” for her future marriage to another man, the scene shows him kissing her stomach as he moves down toward her legs and saying with a sly grin, “Now let’s start with some Latin terms.”  It’s subtle but very sexual and sensual.  The viewer likely knows what he’s referring to, and even if he or she doesn’t, they can infer.  The Lady’s Tutor takes the opposite approach and spells everything out—every last clinical reference, name, and position.  It becomes very scientific very quickly.

When Elizabeth and Ramiel discuss sex in their tutoring sessions, the effect is quite erotic and exciting.  Even though the author has them refer to sexual acts and positions in the technical, Arabic names from The Perfumed Garden, their exploration of the topic is very sexy. It is when their tutoring is over, however prematurely because Elizabeth has attempted unsuccessfully to seduce her cold husband with the Sheik's suggestions, that the dialogue becomes unsexy.  As she and Ramiel begin to act on their attraction for one another, the use of the terms and nomenclature of sex makes what could be incredible sex scenes into uncomfortable descriptions of tab A being inserted into slot B (tab A being 10 inches long....).

In addition, the story suffers from a bizarre turn of events that borders on revolting.  It is impossible to discuss it without giving much of that part of the story away, but suffice it to say that the bizarre turn of events is not sexy at all. As a plot device to bring Elizabeth and the Sheik together, it works, but it’s hardly necessary to go repulsive to put them together.

However awful the book becomes at times, there is one shining part to the story:  the Sheik.  Ramiel remains interesting and sexy throughout the story, even though the author seems to want to make him unappealing by the end of the story too. She is unsuccessful in this, however, because for the rest of the story he is a charming, romantic hero who does what is most important for a romantic hero:  he takes care of the female, and he does it well.  The descriptions of his burgeoning lust and then love for Elizabeth build slowly and his care in initiating her into the sexual world is the stuff of women's fantasies.  He's exotic, sensual, captivating, and seductive, in addition to being a man of action when he feels he needs to protect her.   That the author insists on making him sound like a sex education textbook when he finally has Elizabeth hurts him but not enough to make him unlikable.  In a story that careens to a bizarre resolution and includes so many repressed English folk, the Sheik stands out as a wonderfully written romantic hero.

Overall, The Lady's Tutor is well worth reading, especially if the teacher-student fantasy works for you.  It is quite explicit, with descriptions of sex that probably only happens in the minds of romance writers and on the pages of their steamy books.  Even with its flaws, The Lady's Tutor is a fantastic way to escape the average (and possibly below average) happenings of one's life.
-Alexandria

An Imaginary Arab Sheik Has Captured My Heart With Nothing More Than Imaginary Words.....

I have two things to say about this book:  1.  I love it.  2.  I hate it.

No, I don't have a split personality.

Robin Schone gets this story started on the right foot.  Ramiel Devington (Lord Safyre), legendary for being the bastard son of an English countess and an Arab sheik, and for his knowledge of the Persian secrets of erotic love agrees to educate Mrs. Elizabeth Petre in her hopes of kindling passion in her long but loveless marriage, pre-arranged by her family in the hopes of political gain.

Schone's inclusion of Arabic was appreciated as this reader finds that language sensual and pleasing to the ear.  The setting of Ramiel's home as well as his mother's were rich in Persian/Arabic influence and provided great contrast to the stuffy Victorian world Elizabeth lived in.  This saturation of her senses caused by her introduction and exploration of the Ottoman world was an awakening of its own and it primed the emotional/physical awakening of the prim Mrs. Petre.  I enjoyed the tension created within Elizabeth as a woman grappling with extremely conflicting worlds.  On the one hand, she had been taught passionate love and loving were things a proper Victorian lady/good wife did not think about nor did she desire.  Duty was required in marriage, with nothing more to be expected.  Quite in contrast, Lord Safyre describes a world in which love, passion, and desire are highly valued and admirable qualities within a marriage, and which are anticipated eagerly by both husband and wife.  This awakening of senses along with the intimate nature of the discussions between the Sheik and Elizabeth sets the stage for a wonderful romance, with the descriptions of body language and dialogue between the characters wonderfully delicious......hence the statement, "I love it."

Lord Safyre is a perfect blend of mature man, dangerous enemy, and skillful lover.  His use of language to confer his knowledge and mix of emotions toward Elizabeth is great reading.  Schone nicely opens an opportunity for the romance to become a reality as well, however, this is where the story loses much of its beauty as a well crafted romance and becomes too focused on sex ( Yes, this broad believes a book can be too focused on sex).  The last third of the book lacks enchantment as it becomes far too socially scandalous with bizarre drama.....hence the statement, "I hate it."

Recommendation:  Read it.  Enjoy the Sheik.  Empathize with Elizabeth and cheer her on.  Savor the romance while it lasts.
~Moira

16 July 2010

Lover Awakened-J.R. Ward

A Bad Boy With Issues (or more appropriately....A Real-Life Nightmare, A Romance Novel Naughty Novelty)
The third novel in Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood, Lover Awakened, is to date my favorite in this series.  Zsadist, while a vampire warrior in the Brotherhood throughout the series, is the least interactive character until this installment and quite frankly, the most sinister.  Ward unveils his dark, disturbing past layer by layer throughout the book and this reader found Zsadist eerily dangerous, deeply contemplative, and wonderfully complex.  Ward's description of his form and physique happen to be what I find most attractive in a male and that certainly furthered my interest in this character.

Zsadist is introduced to Bella, also a vampire, in the previous book in this series shortly before she is kidnapped and held prisoner by an extremely bizarre Lesser.  She immediately desires this warrior and is not deterred by his convincing attempts to frighten her away.  He shares an attraction to her, but has no interest in any intimate or close relationship, a direct result of the abuse and torture he endured as a blood slave.  After her abduction, Zsadist is unresting in his search for her safe return and intent on the brutal punishment of her kidnapper.  Once Bella is rescued and brought to the Brotherhood's compound, she is unrelenting in her pursuit to claim Zsadist as her mate.

The refreshing turnabout in this novel is the sexual awakening of the male lead.  Usually in this genre, some fair girl/woman, either virginal, sexually inexperienced/unfulfilled, or somehow traumatized encounters her destiny in the shape of a demi-god who introduces her to the pleasures of the flesh in the most skillful manner, bringing her to earth shattering arousal and passion, which leaves her finding herself anew because of his uber-competence and adoring her man evermore.  Ward shuffles the perspective in Lover Awakened and it is Zsadist who must come to terms with the aftermath of  the above mentioned "ills" and allow another to awaken in him passion and emotion formerly unknown.  In short, he is the hesitant and inhibited.  I admit, this point of view may not appeal to all, but I thought it "off the beaten path", so to speak, and therefore satisfactory.  In addition, Ward pulls it off in this broad's mind in part because his reaction is wholly different than any of the female characters I have thus encountered, and in part because overcoming internal adversity is ugly business (very ugly business with Zsadist), but when accomplished, praiseworthy.

Bella's strong attraction to Zsadist was great, but I couldn't help feeling she was manipulative instead of committed.  She wanted what she wanted (which is a part of us all), but it came across as self-centered and spoiled.  One example was her ability to internalize Zsadist's every resistance to reflect upon her possible lack of beauty/desirability instead of acknowledging his dysfunction, which by the way, was not a secret.  She is finally pushed away by his over the top behavior, and rightly so, but it didn't work for me because it wasn't motivated by strength, but by defeat.

It wouldn't be a romance proper without a reunion of the love-struck couple, so I don't betray too much in praising the ending.  John, a Brotherhood trainee, returns to the gym for a forgotten item and espies Zsadist working on his own training.  Trying to avoid being noticed, as Zsadist's reputation as a blood-thirsty killer is legendary to the young men, he cannot help but see Bella enter and approach with the couple's infant daughter whom Zsadist gently takes and calls "Nalla", which translates "beloved".  Along with John, this reader begins to think there is hope for the redemption of this man.   Well.....a broad can dream, can't she?
~Moira

A Doormat and Her Trainwreck (Ward's Version of Beauty and the Beast)

In the first chapter of Lover Awakened, the reader gets a description of Zsadist that includes a scar that runs the length of his face and a distorted lip.  Lips are extremely sensual and usually an important part of a romance/erotic story, but already there is distortion.  Not good.  It just gets worse (so much worse) from there. More descriptions of him include "misshapen upper lip", "bones and lean", and references to him being "ruined, not broken."  The man is a physical trainwreck, but the emotional is even worse.  He refers to his penis as "it"; yes, he calls it "it".  He also calls it a "dirty thing."  How is this sexy at all?

The idea that he was a sex slave is supposed to help the reader understand why he sees his body like this, but all his past does is make him unattractive.  Bad boys with problems can be sexy.  Bad boys with problems that make them self loathing are not.  In addition, he's never really been with a woman, as the reader finds out when it is explained that he's never ejaculated and doesn't even know what to do when his face is in between Bella's legs--his actual dialogue then is "How do I make you come?"  Is this for real?  So he's basically a self-loathing virgin.  Not sexy at all.  On top of all of this, he's illiterate.  That just makes him the least attractive male character ever in the history of literature, equal to Quasimodo, who at least didn't present sexual problems.

Virgins don't know what to do with a woman. (Ladies, let's all remember our first times right now.  Was it with a virgin?  Then you know it wasn't good. Subsequent events have shown each of us just how bad sex with a virgin is. Yeah, they can be trained, but....no.)  Males who have been sexually abused, god bless them, are not good in bed either.   Zsadist is a two for one deal with these.  The problem is that with these enormous issues, he wouldn't be much good at anything romantically, and it's simply not believable that he has any skills whatsoever that would please a woman.  That he's transformed into a lovemachine who won't work for nobody but Bella is risible.  Just as Moira called shenanigans concerning Mary and her ability to have incredible sex with Rhage even though she was sick in Ward's book Lover Eternal, I call the same on Lover Awakened.

The character of Bella is just as bad as Zsadist.  She is so pathetically needy time and again.  She continually begs him to be with her, so much so that it begins to be painful to read the dialogue.  When he tries to explain that he's basically about fucking, she tells him that if rough sex is all she can have with him, then she'll take it.  That's just needy and sad.

That Zsadist turns into a devoted man to his woman and their child is nice, but simply not believable.  He spent 100 years as a blood slave and how many years alone, self loathing, and in the span of just under two years, he's learned to read and write (courtesy of Mary, who has to do something other than cook for Rhage and coo when he comes into the room), gained weight so he looks normal (evidence of his loathing all gone), and become the man Bella always knew he would be.

Unattractive romantic hero and heroine in combination with ridiculous plot turns equals a bad story.  J.R. Ward's Lover Awakened isn't anywhere as good as even Dark Lover, Wrath's story, and doesn't hold a candle to Lover Eternal, Rhage's story.  Lover Awakened is about broken and needy characters who thankfully found each other.  Who the hell else would want them?
-Alexandria

13 July 2010

The Historian-Elizabeth Kostova

Elizabeth Kostova Takes Her Readers on a Journey Through Time and Place
To my knowledge, this is Kostova's first novel, and after reading The Historian, I eagerly look forward to reading her second release.  The story is relayed by a woman looking back over her life and the strange events that shaped it.  She begins in 1972, when she was in her sixteenth year, and carries the reader through her travels as that present unfolds for her.  The vast history and ancient lore she uncovers is unveiled piece by piece as she travels across Europe during the cold war in pursuit of her father, her purpose, and the answers to her many questions concerning mysterious events surrounding herself and her parents.  This first person account allows the reader to feel each emotion and to be lured into her quest for knowledge, however frightening and dangerous....and all from the safety of a favorite overstuffed chair.  While not difficult to read, and a real page-turner, the story is involved.  Kostova's 600 plus pages may seem much to some readers, but  the novel flows nicely and the pages slip by as one is drawn into the intrigue and suspense.

While searching for her father, our heroine uncovers the dark history surrounding Vlad the Impaler, and must confront the very real possiblity of the continued presence of that ancient evil known as Dracula, the vampire, and her eerie connection to the creature after finding a letter which begins,
"My Dear and Unfortunate Successor:  It is with regret that I imagine you, whoever you are, reading the account I must put down here.  The regret is partly for myself -- because I will surely be at least in trouble, maybe dead, or perhaps worse, if this is in your hands.  But my regret is also for you, my yet-unknown friend, because only by someone who needs such vile information will this letter someday be read.  If you are not my successor in some other sense, you will soon be my heir --  and I feel sorrow at bequeathing to another human being my own, perhaps unbelievable, experience of evil......."

I must confess, the hair stood off the back of my neck on more than one occasion and I could not always distinguish friend from foe in this wonderfully woven tale.  The author accomplished what many do not......that is, to incorporate enough fact and embellish with enough fiction to render the story believable (as far as vampire lure can be believable).  The ending is acceptably ambiguous, leaving the right amount of doubt in the reader's mind as to whether this is the end, or perhaps another beginning......

Not wanting to give away much else, I end by giving The Historian my highest recommendation.
~Moira

10 July 2010

Lover Eternal-J.R. Ward

A Selfless Hero

Lover Eternal is the second novel in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series by J. R. Ward and centers on the brother named Rhage and his romance with Mary. Rhage is the brother who has a beast inside him that is a punishment for his ways as a young vampire.  He's described as blond, 6'8", with a tattoo on his back of the creature that lives inside him.  Ward gives very little back story on Rhage, except to relate that as a youth he was brash and careless and offended the Scribe Virgin, who punished him with his demon.  So Rhage is a big, nasty vampire who gets bigger and nastier when he fights the Lessers and the demon comes out.  In Rhage, Ward has created the bad boy with problems that works so well in romance books.

In addition to a demon inside of him, Rhage, introduced to readers of the series in the first book also with the nickname "Hollywood", is also a consummate lady's man.  Having sex is one of the two ways he keeps the monster inside of him under control (the other way being fighting and killing Lessers).  Even in the first book, Ward insists on moving Rhage toward the good side with comments about finding a good woman to be with so he doesn't have to fuck every third woman he sees.  Of course, how he plans to control that demon in a mundane, committed relationship isn't presented as a concern, at least not until he meets Mary.

Ward introduces her as a woman who is a suicide helpline counselor.  As the females in romance books seem to always have to be caring and/or intelligent, Mary fits.  (Both is usually the goal with the investigative reporter who cares about the everyman and works to expose the injustices done to him or the health care professional who also cares about the everyman, but does so with tending to the physical pain instead of the societal.) Mary meets a young boy who has been calling her on the helpline just to hear her sweet, caring voice.  Mary and the boy join Mary's friend Bella, who readers a short time later find out is a vampire, but a civilian, not part of the Brotherhood or the ladies of the Scribe Virgin group, and Bella arranges for him to be taken to the Brotherhood because of a marking on him that indicates he's a vampire warrior.

Mary is possibly the least appealing female lead/heroine in literature, great and not-so-great. When she is introduced in the context of a love interest for Rhage, one of the first things that is mentioned is that when he first encounters her, he smells that she is sick and possibly dying.  Ok, stop right there.  Time for true confessions.  I seem to have the ability to smell when people are sick (no, I'm not a vampire), and I can tell you that the smell of a sick person is vile.  There is nothing sexual about this smell.  It's an odor, and in my experience, it smells like decay.  But Ward wants the reader to believe that this is a turn on of some sort.  Actually, what turns Rhage on is her voice, which enchants him.  That works, but what about the smell of her sickness and impending death (readers learn she has leukemia for the second time)?  Why include the information about him being able to smell her in this way at all?  Ward uses this to show that this hound who admits at one point that he's had eight women in that week alone is truly, deep down, a caring man.  It works in that way, to an extent, but what it does overall is make Mary exceptionally unappealing as a love interest in a romance.  Sickness isn't sexy.  Cancer is extremely unsexy.  But that a mad, bad, dangerous-to-know warrior sees past her sickness and wants to take care of her--well, romance writers see this as sexy as all hell.  I'll accept that I may be quite unique in my disgust with this storyline because of my ability, but the sickness thing is quite off putting.

Despite the fact that Mary is ill, she is still quite strong emotionally, which sets up the conflict of the story since Rhage falls for her and immediately wants to take care of her.  She seems whiny while he seems chivalrous and gallant.  He has to accept a punishment for bringing her to the Brotherhood compound when Lessers are able to find out where she lives because he is careless on a date with her and has to save her from them, leaving her purse and all her information behind.  The man is whipped by his fellow brothers for bringing her home (punishment courtesy of the Scribe Virgin, who it seems has a particular dislike for this Brother), and all Mary can seem to muster is petulance toward the other brothers for doing what they have to.

Strangely, though, the love scenes between these two are convincing, and even charming at times.  However, this is mostly due to Rhage as Mary never leaves the whiny, sick thing behind until the very end, after he has offered his happiness to the Scribe Virgin in exchange for her getting better.  Twice in the book he endures excruciating pain for her.  No doubt, that's sexy.  But she transforms from sick love interest to cured love interest who is as annoying as before.

Ward shortchanges this Brother character compared to the others.  Wrath got Beth, a bright half vampire and daughter of a Brother.  The next brother after Rhage in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series, Zsadist, gets Bella, a vampire from an aristocratic family.  Even Vishous, the most twisted of the Brothers, gets a human surgeon named Jane.  But Rhage gets a sickly Mary who seems to bring nothing to the table other than her frailty.

As with Ward's first Black Dagger Brotherhood story, the dialogue is painful at times and cringeworthy when the other Brothers are referring to Mary, especially when the beast comes out and she somehow pacifies it.  As noted concerning Dark Lover, males just don't speak like that.  Also a bit irritating is the fact that Ward uses a good portion of this story to introduce the next story in the series about Zsadist and Bella.  An introduction at the end of the story would be fine, but those two appear too often in Rhage and Mary's story.

It may be surprising, but I genuinely like this second Brotherhood story.  However, it's in spite of Mary and her collective negatives, and mostly because of the character of Rhage, who I would argue is possibly the most appealing romantic hero I've come across.  Ward is successful in creating a sympathetic character in him through his demons inside and goodness outside.  Unlike what she does to Wrath at the end of his story, she doesn't emasculate Rhage at the end of his.  He's certainly not sleeping with eight or more women a week anymore because he's with his true love, but he's still carrying that monster inside of him, even if it has been tamed a bit because of Mary.

However, despite some serious flaws that hurt the story, the hero the reader finds in Rhage is the reason this story is worth the time.  Any male who willingly chooses to suffer in order to help another, especially a woman he cares for, is a great romantic hero.  The character of Rhage willingly chooses to suffer twice for Mary, and in the end keeps the demon he so desperately looked forward to ridding himself of in exchange for her recovery, even though the Scribe Virgin is only willing to make the deal with him if he agrees that if she cures Mary, she must never know anything of him, anything of how he feels about her.  He agrees to losing someone he desperately loves so she can survive.
What else would a male have to do to be more heroic than that?
-Alexandria

Lover Eternal  J.R. Ward.....(Eternal?  I wouldn't hang around a week!)


Lover Eternal was the second book I read in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series by Ward.
The ongoing war between the vampires and lessers continues with the Brotherhood on the front lines.  Through a twist of fate Mary Luce, wholly human, befriends John, a lonely young man who is unknowingly a pre-transition male vampire.  This connection propels Mary into direct contact with the Brotherhood, the vampire world, and the warrior Rhage who becomes enthralled with her in spite of her human status.  Of course, sparks fly not only between Rhage & Mary, but amongst the Brothers as human awareness of the vampire world is avoided at all costs.  So far, so good....right?

Unfortunately, a number of things abruptly turn the good to ugly for this reader.  Within minutes of meeting Mary, Rhage smells (yes, I said smells) that she is terminally ill.  This immediately put the "quabash" on my interest in the passionate romance, however this wasn't the worst of it!  Ward treads further into mojo-killing territory with graphic descriptions of drain tube scars, trach scars, & damaged organs during the hero's sexual exploration of his woman's body.  Not Sexy......AT ALL.  Furthermore, reading on one page about the grueling treatments Mary has endured and will undergo once again, her extreme fatigue, and daily fevers------and on the next of her ability to snap right out of it and into steamy, gymnast worthy hot sex left me calling SHENNANIGANS!  SHENNANIGANS  I say.

Secondly, Mary's humanness and illness prevent Rhage from drinking from her vein.  Okay, fair enough, but we all know that vampires must drink blood, and this act of drinking is profoundly intimate and erotic in Ward's series.  The solution offered in the novel is that Rhage will drink from another while Mary watches!  Excuse Me?  And what a generous girl the donor is....she offers to have a menage-et-tois to include the poor, sickly, feverish Mary in the feeding.  Thankfully, this offering is refused, but not before even I felt like slapping a bitch around!  But Mary.....well, Mary is thankful that her man will get what he needs (and from such a kind and sweet girl, too.).....UGH.

To top it all off, Rhage is cursed to transform into a terrifying, body eating beast when his emotions get out of hand.  This dragon-like death dealer is great in combat against the lessers, but is feared even among the other warriors in the Brotherhood.  But of course, brave Mary is willing to face the beast to help her man and pets and strokes its scales until it lays down and purrs...(don't ask me people...I didn't write the story).
This is why I recommend reading at least two books in a series before passing it over permanently as I have enjoyed two other of Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood novels.  This installment, however, was not for me.
~Moira

05 July 2010

Prince of Ice-Emma Holly

Clinical Sex, Anyone? (And no, this isn't about hot nurse sex)
Emma Holly, the author of Prince of Ice, is complimented in the little blurb on the cover of the book as being a writer who uses vivid descriptions in her stories.  I can't disagree with this, but I wouldn't consider this ability praiseworthy based on this book.  Holly has created a story that's part prostate exam, part Pacific Rim, part Star Trek The Next Generation, and all weird.  As a rule, I find the mention of the word gland in any context other than when I'm sitting in my doctor's office as unnecessary.  Holly showcases glands in this story to such an extent that the sex wasn't sexy; it was clinical.  And then there's the anal sex.....oh, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

The characters in Prince of Ice have a distinctly Asian flare to them.  I'm not sure if this is what was intended, however.  It's supposed to be a book about humans and this superior race, but the front cover of the book states that this is a story of demons.  I don't know where the demons were in the book.  I do know that the superior race had evolved from humans years ago and now looked down on humans as dirty, lesser beings.  However, some of the characters seemed to have a less Asian and more Indian flare about them.

The story is convoluted, at best.  Two generations before the existence of the lead male and female characters some lesser being tricked some superior being into have sex with her and conceiving a child together.  That child was murdered after she had become a mother herself--mother to the female lead in the book, Xishu.  She is orphaned and sent to live with a boy Corum and his parents, who are royalty of some sort.  Corum, it is explained, has some deformity and his mother's doctor even suggests aborting him because of this problem.  Mama insists she will help him overcome it, but how this happens, I'm not sure.

Before the reader can see Corum and Xishu together, she is sent away by selfless Mama of Corum and basically is trained to be a sexual servant (called a "pillow girl") to royalty.  Her training period in the book gives the reader the wonderful description of anal sex between one of the male sexual servant trainees and the male former royal they get to practice on.  (I know; even the explanation here is devolving into an incoherent mess. )

The descriptions of the sex and blossoming love that happen when Corum gets Xishu as his pillow girl are strange at best.  There are many references to glands on the male that help him enjoy sex more.  It's all just so freaky.  Glands are not sexy.  And the idea of beings rutting is not sexy either.  There seems to be something in this superior race that has caused them to go into rut, just like wild animals.  The discussions of all of this are just freaky deaky.

Besides the bizarre sex there is some sort of intrigue involving the fact that the superior beings are far closer to being humans than they think and the grandmother of Xishu (the one who originally got the ball rolling by getting pregnant) is at the center of this government cover up.  Again, this is quite convoluted.

But once you make it through the entire book and Corum and Xishu are finally going to be happily together, you get to read about their making love (not rutting) and the book ends with the now free male former royal practice guy from the pillow girl/guy training academy jerking off as he watches them have sex.  Yes, you read that correctly:  he's masturbating as he watches them.  And you read about his wondering what he will do now that he's free.  Is this supposed to make me want to read a sequel?

I can't see how anyone would find this book sexy or interesting.  Otherworldly beings can be, but none of the characters in this book were.  Corum is the least appealing romantic hero in any book I've read.  He doesn't do anything to be heroic and seems to fulfill the male lead in the story simply because he has a penis.  Xishu is Holly's attempt at a heroine, but that doesn't work either.  By the end of the book, you don't give a flying damn that she's part royal and belongs with Corum.  He's lackluster and so is she.  The story is confusing, the sex is clinical and cold, and the ending is....well, you know.  When you're finished reading, all you want to do is forget you spent any time with any of these characters.  Sadly, the only thing I got from this book is the realization that I'm never getting those hours back.
-Alexandria

Another Round With The Ice Prince....

Emma Holly has written a ....well, I'm not sure what to call it.  I can say that I understand far too well the mating rituals/rutting habits of her "other species of human like creatures.  No offense, but I'm not into the whole Asian theme, which gives me a pre-supposed prejudice to combat from the start.  This novel felt more like a health class lecture for me with terms such as "glans" and "kith" and "coming into rut"....Rut??? WTF?  It was all so clinical, and I felt a bit like I should receive a certificate or a diploma at the conclusion.
Corum's character is never fleshed out...no pun intended.  Holly does nothing to make him attractive to the reader, he is simply a specimen.  Xishi....I'll only say that I was not impressed.  I'll have to read another Holly novel to get rid of the bad taste left after reading this one.
~Moira

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