4/27/09

Highland Scandal by Julia London


London's latest Highland romance was a huge disappointment. I'm not quite sure where she went wrong, but what started out as a story with lots of potential humor turned into melodrama material with a rushed ending.

Part of the book's issues lie in the pacing, as most of the book drags on without anything of import occurring. Then, in the last 5o pages, London squeezes travel, intrigue, danger, imprisonment...

I normally enjoy Julia London's books and finish them quite quickly. Usually within a day or two. This one took me nearly a week to finish because I found myself wanting to put it down to read something else.

The characters are terrific, as always, with Newton being a stand-out for me. I just wish the cast had a better plot to play with.

4/24/09

Devil of the Highlands by Lynsay Sands


After finishing a long-awaited historical by Lynsay Sands, I have just one thing to say: What happened to the funny? Sands has always delivered laugh out loud outrageousness, regardless of genre. But although there are a few, small amusing scenes, not one of the made me smile, let alone laugh.

As an historical romance, it's perfectly fine. The characters are fine, if a bit stereotypical, and the plot is predictable and easily figured out. In short--it's just another rubber stamp historical without any of the wit, charm and humor that Sands normally puts in her writing. Bummer.

4/23/09

Lover Eternal: Black Dagger Brotherhood #2


The second installment in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series was just as satisfying as the first. The characters continue to be engaging, the plot full of suspense, the narrative voice truly edgy and unique.

My only complaint is that Ward was a little too skimpy on the important details revealed in the previous book, meaning those who start the series with THIS book will likely be a little lost. It's always a tricky balancing act to provide back story without sacrificing the current story's excitement. That's one of the pitfalls of series.

The good news for those with vampire fatigue is that this is not a series where the same character types appear over and over. Each character is VERY distinct. They are not interchangeable and you can't predict the twists and turns based on previous characters and plot lines.

The strangest thing for me is how Ward channels urban male culture here. I'm a rural country girl, so the urban slang and dialogue seems just as foreign as the more formal translated "vampire" language. That's part of what makes this series so engaging though. You can see that Ward has a good grasp on how men really are when they hang out away from women. What's important to them, how they communicate on a minimal level but understand each other nonetheless. In a lot of romance, you really don't get that deep into the men's thought processes. Or, if you do, they have a female-interpreted veneer over them. Ward's men are unfiltered, raw, and utterly believable.

4/22/09

Why I hate eBooks and DRM

Aside from the obvious tactile differences, most mainstream ebooks are saddled with a handicap far more weighty than appearance: DRM or digital rights management.
Those familiar with digital music are likely aware of this issue but it comes down to this:

Downloaded material shackled by DRM licenses are not property of the people who paid to download them. They are considered 'licensed' with restrictions placed on what devices they'll work on, how many devices they can be transferred to etc. Which fundamentally means you don't own the books in your library. I find that completely unacceptable. If I pay for something, I own it. It's mine. First Sale Doctrine should apply to all items--even digital ones.

Intellectual property rights debates have existed for centuries: should lending libraries, used bookstores, etc have the right to lend/sell copies of books? The Supreme Court says yes--copyright owners must get all profits from the FIRST SALE of the book and cannot control what happens further down the stream of commerce.

DRM changes that by treating ebooks as digital items instead of BOOKS. And digital items are governed by the Digital Millenium Copyright Act.

I refuse to give money to an industry that is fundamentally ruining our access to information. Sure, artists and authors should receive compensation for their efforts. But that should not be able to tell us when and where we can use their work after we have legally paid for access.

4/16/09

#Amazonfail and the dangers of information monopoly

Easter weekend, a firestorm broke out on the social site, Twitter . It was discovered that thousands of books on Amazon.com had lost their sales ranking and were being labeled as 'adult.' The majority of the excised books had Gay or Lesbian themes or characters. Non-explicit books were deranked while heterosexual, explicit books remained accessible with rankings intact. Twitter users used the hashtag of #amazonfail to spread the word, and spread it did. Within hours, it was the #1 search on the site.

Why is this a big deal? Amazon sales rankings are a major factor is exposure for books on the site. They feature in recommendation areas, bestseller lists by category etc. Without a sales ranking, some books are virtually invisible on the site--and hidden in the main search. If people cannot find a book, they cannot buy it. They may not even know that the book exists. And to have that access arbitrarily messed with by a flick of the switch is scary.

Twitter was ablaze with accusations of censorship on Amazon's behalf. While it is still officially being called a glitch, this episode resulted in a HUGE backlash against the Amazon brand as well as an even larger concern for intellectual freedom advocates: what to do when the world's largest bookstore restricts, hides or otherwise impedes our access to books and information. And it also exposes the dangers of allowing one media source grow so big that a book's publishing success is wholly dependent upon it.

Here's hoping that many of the Twitter users so outraged by this glitch take the opportunity to support their local, independent bookstores. Allowing a monopoly for any type of merchandise is unwise--allowing it to happen to books is unthinkable.

4/15/09

Lady Betrayed by Nicole Byrd


Is it light hearted or merely shallow? Not all romances have tortured heroes or heroines in the style of the Bronte sisters, but should they have no real concerns at all? It seems like many authors make the mistake of making their characters a little too shallow and unconcerned. Without angst, they throw plot hurdles at their beleaguered characters and end up with a book not worth reading.

That's what happened to Ms. Byrd in Lady Betrayed. The writing isn't bad, but there is absolutely no depth to either main character. They are not fully realized, are not emotional, are not--well--interesting. The plot, itself, strains credulity as well. Sure, it's a frivilous piece of writing, but it lacks the charm and wit of other light-hearted romance writers.

It's nice to read a story where the characters aren't broken people in need of some serious therapy, but we as readers still have to believe in the reality of those characters. They have to be compelling. Or it won't matter what happens in the plot because we won't care what happens to the characters.

4/9/09

Beyond Heaving Bosoms: the Smart Bitches Guide to Romance Novels


This is a book on my wish list. I haven't ordered it yet, but I know I'll break down and do so soon.

Written by the duo behind Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, this looks to be an entirely new take on the Romance genre.

Now, at first glance, the blog may seem to be nothing more than a couple of young kids spouting foul language. But a second look will reveal something startling: these ladies review Romance novels the same way English lit scholars do. They don't pull any punches pointing out when something is just plain stupid, but neither do they denigrate the genre as a whole. Instead, they point out themes, characters, and underlying issues that are present in ALL great literature. And they erase the stigma attached to this booming business.

Now, this is not to say that they don't act a little immature every now and again. But that is part of the fun. Understanding and pointing out the value of what so many women read while not taking themselves or their goal too seriously.

And if the early previews of Beyond Heaving Bosoms: the Smart Bitches Guide to Romance novels are any indication, I will be finding myself laughing out loud through most of it while sagely nodding my agreement to their conclusions.

Borrower of the Night by Elizabeth Peters Audio


The Vicky Bliss series by Elizabeth Peters has spanned 20 + years. In that time, a lot has changed. When the first book was written, feminism was new. Vicky was an extremely modern character. Now, her opinions and self-sufficiency are something women tend to take for granted.

There are the political and technological shifts, too, which make rereading (or in this case listening) to the stories seem like peering into a time capsule. Vicky's adventures have taken her from a divided Germany to a world connected by the internet, cell phones and instant communication. From telegraph to email.

It can be a bit disconcerting to hear something that is so dated--it throws me out the narrative every once in awhile--but it is also fun to revisit a series with such terrific, memorable characters. And when listening to Barbara Rosenblat narrate Herr Professor Schmidt, the story just comes alive. No one does accents like Rosenblat.

I think this series is an excellent microcosm of how popular literature can truly reflect the history, culture, values, and technology of a time without us being fully aware of it. It is only when a series spans this length of time (and the characters do not age) that we notice how much our society truly has changed in the last 20 years. It's something we are aware of intellectually, but I don't think we truly understand most of the time.

4/8/09

You're So Vein by Christine Warren


Finding a new author to try in the paranormal subgenre can be difficult. New releases are often part of a larger series--which can be confusing for those who haven't read the previous novels. Fortunately, this wasn't the case for Warren's newest, You're So Vein. Although obviously the newest in a series about the "Others," Warren manages to strike a good balance between important backstory/explanations and skimping on the main story line.

I really liked ALL of the characters--even the extremely witchy heroine that no one else seemed to be able to stand.

Although not as unique in voice as J.R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood, the characters and feistiness found in Warren's Other series makes it well worth the effort of tracking down the previous installments.

Then Comes Seduction by Mary Balogh


Hurray for family series romance! The second installment in the Huxtable series has redeemed the series. After reading what amounted to a rehash of an older title in First Comes Marriage, I was hoping that Balogh would make a break from her familiar plotlines and do something different. I wasn't disappointed with Then Comes Seduction.

The second in the Huxtable series is a huge departure in both style and characters from the first in the series. It is also less stiff and formal than Balogh's stories normally are. That is not to say that her characters lack depth--they never do--but BOTH characters are of a general type I don't recall Balogh using before: the overly genial/ennui plagued nobleman and the "diamond" of high virtue.

My only gripe, really, is that the initial "almost" seduction in the very beginning seems to be just a little bit unbelievable. It strains credulity that a proper young lady would allow the extreme liberties taken without protest and without really knowing the gentleman in question. Sure, she fancies herself in love, but the acquaintence is of such short duration that it doesn't ring true to me. There is no plausible foundation for what amounts to an overwhelming attack of lust on the part of the heroine.

Still, it was a much better story and much more fun to read than the first in the series. I am looking forward to the next installment, which from the preview looks to be just as good as this one.

Gifts for the Baker