Monday, November 30, 2009


soulless cover

Soulless by Gail Carriger*

Source:  Once again, the library.

Soulless is an urban fantasy novel with a steampunk twist.  And yes, it is as cool as it sounds.

The place is Victorian London, and our noble heroine, Alexia Tarabotti, is settling in at a ball.  However, she's not in the ballroom, she's in the library, where she's ordered tea be brought to her.  She's about to enjoy her lovely repast when a very rude vampire comes into the room and attacks her!  Fortunately for Alexia, she's a preternatural--which means any supernatural creature she touches immediately loses all said powers.  Thus Alexia finds it ridiculously easy to stake the poorly-dressed vampire.

This incident spawns a flurry of activity around Alexia.  Her nemesis, the head of BUR (can't remember what that stands for at the moment, but it's an agency of supernaturals that polices supernaturals), and the Alpha of the London werewolf pack, Lord Maccon, quickly arrives and the two start squabbling.  It's obvious Lord Maccon harbors a deep-seated attraction for Alexia, which Alexia never notices because she believes herself to be completely unattractive and a spinster for life.  Beyond that, there's also the question of the vampire--where did he come from?  New vampires aren't made every day, and when they are they have to be registered with the BUR.  Yet this one wasn't registered.  Also, why was he so poorly dressed and what on earth was the butler thinking to let him into the ball?

As I mentioned earlier, this is a very cool, new twist on urban fantasy.  I absolutely loved the world Gail Carriger created with Soulless, blending legends about vampires, werewolves, and other supernatural creatures with history in a very clever way.  And I love, love, loved the cthulhu shout-out (a secret:  octopuses are my favorite animals).  Yet the book didn't sustain my interest all the way through, mainly due to two things:  Alexia, and the point of view.

Alexia believes herself to be unattractive because her very shallow mother and half-sisters have told her so for as long as she can remember (they are absolutely loathesome characters, btw).  Yet Alexia herself judges people based on their appearance all the freaking time.  Criticizing the vampire for his shirt was just the first in a long line of such correlations drawn between dress and character.  When people are described in this book, there is much attention paid to their attire, whether or not it is appropriate for the time of day and activity, whether it is of good quality, and then the observations move on to their manners and social standing.  I know this is supposed to be Victorian Britain, but give me a break!  I don't know if Alexia ever judges anyone based on behavior rather than appearance--perhaps Professor Lupin Lyall, Maccon's beta (because he's nice to her), and Mr. MacDougall at the very end of the novel, but that's about it.  Plus, I found it incredibly hypocritical of Alexia to call her mother and sisters shallow, when in fact she's just as shallow as they are; she's just more passive-aggressive about it. 

The center of any urban fantasy novel is the kick-ass heroine (or hero, although they tend to be more of the bumbling variety--i.e., Harry Dresden).  Alexia is not kick-ass.  She behaves with decorum and propriety in almost every situation, and expects others to do the same.  The exception is her meetings with Lord Maccon, which take a very unproper turn from the start.  Yet even in these encounters, Alexia seemed fairly passive.  I would have adored it if Alexia finally grew a spine at some point in the book, but character development doth not exist here.  Even after she's been kidnapped and knows she's going to die, she obeys her kidnappers and basically cooperates with them.  It's a good thing Lord Maccon was around, or she'd be soulless toast at the end.

That brings me to the point of view.  Lord Maccon is a great character, but I didn't need to know what he was thinking in this novel--it was obvious enough without it being spelled out for me.  Slowly.  Nor did I need to know what Lyall, Mr. MacDougall, Ivy, or the dozens of other secondary characters in this book were thinking.  Not only was the switch from one character's viewpoint to another's choppy and unclear, it ruined any and all suspense that might have been derived from the story.  We know Maccon is attracted to Alexia, so her not seeing it was simply tiresome.  Similarly, I solved the mystery of the poorly-dressed vampire before half of the book was finished.  Quite frankly, there is nothing in this book that is not absolutely obvious--no hidden agendas, no twists, no secrets.  Even the bad guys are perfectly up-front about what they're doing.  If Carriger took on the Victorian obsession with appearances and politeness, why couldn't she have adopted their literary habit of implying the darkest of things without ever saying them?  Like Alexia herself, this book seemed very shallow.

There were parts of Soulless that I definitely enjoyed (basically all the scenes with Lord Maccon), but there weren't enough of them for me to like the whole book.  I can see why others people liked it--it's definitely likable--but the lack of story telling and characterization beyond clothing put me off, and the hipness quotient wasn't enough to make up for it. 

Will I read the second book it the series?  Maybe.  The world and characters still have potential--but I definitely won't be approaching it with high expectations.

Other opinions:
Babbling About Books, And More!
Monkey Bear Reviews
Book Smugglers (probably the only people who dislike this book as much as I do, aside from Kay at Infinite Shelf)
Loves Vampires
Dear Author
E. M. Reads
I know a lot of other people have reviewed this book--did I forget to include yours?  If so, please let me know in the comments!

*This is NOT an Amazon Associates link.  It will take you to the author's website, from whence you can find many links to buy the book.

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

TSS-Too Much of a Good Thing

The Sunday

November is drawing to a close, which means my Angel Month is as well (although since I started it a week into November, I might extend it a week into December--I do have to admit I'm getting mighty sick of angel books, though).  So far I've read two angel-related books:
This week I took a break from the winged ones to read something completely different, and managed to finish two books in one week!  That's double the number of books I usually finish.  Said books were:
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (re-read)
  • Soulless by Gail Carriger
Reviews for both are pending.  Just to warn y'all... I didn't love Soulless.  I don't want you skipping over here all excited to read the review and being disappointed, okay?

I hope everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving (if you live in the US, of course).  I took Thanksgiving off from the interwebz, and I have to admit, it was nice to spend a day completely away from the computer.  So I've decided from now on I'm going to be offline for a whole day every week.  I haven't decided which day yet--I'll probably change it up depending on my mood.  But I think that one day off from blogging gave me a much-needed recharge, as well as the time to finish two books; and to tell the truth, I've been feeling the need to do a mini-break for awhile now.  So there you have it.

In the next week, I'm planning to read Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick and Angel Time by Anne Rice.  If I manage to finish both of those before the end of the week (which isn't likely, but I might abandon either book), I'll tackle Angel Blood by Nalini Singh. 

And never read another angel book again.  The end.

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Saturday, November 28, 2009


collision pic

As if I wasn't paranoid enough about getting into a car accident, Collision did a good job of convincing me that every single person on the road except for me is FREAKING INSANE and not to be trusted.

Collision, which aired on Masterpiece Contemporary the last two weeks, takes us into the fascinating world of... a traffic accident. Yeah, I didn't exactly find the premise gripping, either. But Ruth from Booktalk & More assured me that it was really good (check out her review), so I decided to give it a run on the ol' DVR. And, as usual, she was right!

Okay, so here's the run-down: a bunch of cars are in this huge pile up on the A-something-or-other, which I'm guessing is like the British version of an interstate. And every single person in this crash has something suspicious going on in their lives, and half of the people are murdered! It might even be a higher percentage than that. And yummy yummy Douglas Henshall (oh, Cutter, I missed you so {{{hugs}}}) has to sort through all this crap to find out what caused the accident, and meanwhile his ex-luvah is in charge, and his boss keeps going, "Why haven't you solved this thing yet??? You only have one more day!"

Usually the multiple-storylines-thing annoys me, but somehow Collision managed to completely suck me into all the characters' lives. I think the pacing of the revelations about their lives had a lot to do with it--the idea that all of these people have progressively bigger secrets is patently ridiculous, but I loved learning about them, and was completely willing to suspend any disbelief.

I'm not going to go through all the characters' storylines, but I do want to recount my favorite, which involved a young woman named Jane Tarrant. Jane works at the gas station, but longs for bigger and better things. Yet how can she break out of her rut? After the crash, a rich old guy (well, older) comes into the gas stop and starts crushing on Jane. Then he asks her out for a drink, and btw he's married, and oh haha Jane's actually engaged to some bloke who wants to get married in a pub (uhg). But why don't you go to this art exhibition with me, baby? Wellll, let's just say, he's rich and he loves art. *fans self* Of course, it's Kandinsky, but hey, I can put up with that. And so, apparently, can Jane, who agrees to go to Paris with him, breaks up with her fiance, and quits her job. But will Richy Richard leave his wife for a gas station employee? Oh please oh please say yes, because that would be totally cool.

Um, anyway. Aside from that guy, the other men in this show are NOT SMOOTH. Henshall trying to get back together with his ex-luvahrrrr was totally awkward. Despite that, though, I highly recommend this show. And I believe you can still watch it online at

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Angelic Songs

angel button

Hi.  I'm lazy.  So instead of writing an actual blog today, I'm going to present you instead with a bunch of angel songs.

Did I miss one of your favorite angel songs?

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Colorful Challenge

colorful books

Rebecca from Lost In Books is hosting her second-annual Colorful Reading Challenge in 2010.  The challenge is to read nine books with nine different colors in the title.  I think this is such a great challenge because it lets you be creative with what books you pick and lets you read what you want.  I already have a few books on hand that will work for the challenge:
  • Silver Falls by Anne Stuart
  • The Rose Labyrinth by Titania Hardie
  • Green Mansions by WH Hudson
  • Metallic Love by Tanith Lee (metallic is a color, right?)
  • Zadayi Red by Caleb Fox
I'll come up with other books later.

What books with colors in the title do you have on your bookshelf?

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

More Angelic Links

angel button

Naturally, as soon as I posted my last angelic links post, I found more links!  So here are more links to tickle your angel fancy:

  • Want another chance to win Fallen by Lauren Kate?  You can enter at Pure Imagination.  The giveaway ends November 25th.
  • I can't review every angel-related book for my project, but here are two great reviews of books I wish I could/did read:  The Vinter's Luck by Elizabeth Knox at Stella Matutina, and A Madness of Angels (Or, the Resurrection of Matthew Swift) by Kate Griffin (Griffin! coincidence?) at Once Upon a Bookshelf
  • Who else besides me is cashing in on the whole vampires-are-the-new-angels thing?  Self-described horror writer Lia Scott Price, who has a new series out called The Serial Killer and Vampire Guardian Angel (TM) Diaries.  My big question:  but is there a dog?
  • Finally, do you have a burning itch to write your own angelic tale?  QueeredFiction has an open call for submissions for "An urban contemporary fantasy anthology featuring queer angels of all shades and hues."  GLBT angels?  Considering angels are asexual, I don't know about this... but hey, at least they won't all be white guys right?  One can only hope.
That's all your links for this week!  Hopefully I'll be back next week with more angel book reviews--especially since the month is almost over.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Fallen

the fallen cover art

The Fallen by Thomas E. Sniegoski*

Source: Once again, I borrowed it from my mom.

This is a short, entertaining YA full of action and battle scenes, with a little romance thrown in.  It's not the greatest book ever, but it is a satisfying read, and I definitely want to read the next book in the series.

When Aaron Corbet goes to sleep as a seventeen-year-old, his life is pretty decent:  despite being an orphan, he's been adopted by a family who loves him; he does well in school, has a car, and works in a veterinary clinic.  Even before he wakes up on his eighteenth birthday, however, things are starting to unravel--he has a terrible dream about an ancient village being attacked.  He gets a blistering headache, then suddenly he can understand Portuguese!  The hottest girl in school smiles at him (well, that's actually a good point).  What is going on???  Then a crazy old guy in the park tells Aaron that he's a nephilim, a child of a human and an angel.  Good points: wings and superpowers!  Bad point: nephilim are considered unnatural beings and angels are determined to kill him.

I can't really say anything more about the plot, since that's basically it.  Young boy is unexpectedly thrust into the Other World, danger ensues.  The first 100 or so pages are pretty rough, mainly because the writing has moments of pedantry and TMI that drove me crazy.  For example:

He signed in with a password that he had obtained from the library his first year of high school, and called up a search engine that he used often when researching information for school papaers.  The screen appeared and, choosing one of the varied spellings, he typed in the mystery word.  He hit the Enter key and held his breath.

Oookay, good to know.  Wouldn't want him just firing up a computer without a valid password!  There were also times when I found myself thinking, "Hm, someone's using a thesaurus."  So Sniegosky is no JK Rowling--but even though the writing style occasionally bothered me, I can see where might not bother younger readers (who are really the audience for this book), so I can't fault Sniegosky for it.

As I said, though, the first half of the book was a little rough, story-telling wise.  I felt completely lost as to where the author was going was the narrative.  But then... the angels arrived.  Which brings us to the big question:

vampires versus angels

Are angels the new vampires?

Still no... but they are pretty kick-ass.

The title of The Fallen refers to a group of angels called the Grigori who had their wings removed for fraternizing too closely with humans.  But by the end of the book, I couldn't help but wonder if the Grigori were the only angels who were fallen--as a rule, the angels in this book are not the kind, fluffy angels that you find on greeting cards.  They're warriors who kill both humans and each other indiscriminately with their flaming swords of fire.  They have doubts and wonder if they're truly following God's purpose; and they're no better at talking to Him than humans are. 

Make no mistake, though--they are definitely not human.  In fact, they show some marked similarities to vampires:

They were deathly pale, almost luminescent in their whiteness, and their features were perfectly symmetrical--too perfect.  Aaron felt as though he were looking at mannequins come to life.

They sound like the Cullens! 

In another parallel to vampires, they treat humans like animals, literally calling them monkeys, and capturing and keeping some for use as servants.  Even these humans are treated like dogs, or worse, and disposed of quickly when they outlive their usefulness.

In other words, the angels in this book, even the "good guy" angels, are hard-core gangsters.  Once they show up, things get pretty intense and the book becomes nearly unputdownable.

I also like the fact that Sniegoski ties the angels to a god, and a heaven, although it's not necessarily a Christian view of either--it's clear that angels in fact have only the vaguest idea of what human religion is and how it works.  But there is a God (I'm going to assume only one) and a heaven and hell, and the angels consider themselves to be in the service of Him.  I actually really appreciated the religious elements in this novel, because come on--they're angels.  You're going to have an entire book about angels and avoid talking about God?  Someone already tried that; it didn't work out well.

So, while I wouldn't call angels the new vampires at this point, I did absolutely love them in this book.  They were fascinating and mesmerizing and dangerous and exciting.  I definitely want to see what they get up to in the next book.

Score: vampires 1, angels 1

Strange similarities to Covet:
  • In The Fallen, Aaron is very close to his dog, who is preternaturally smart.  And of course we had Dog from Covet.  So... why the dogs in all these angel books?  Are dogs angels?  Do all good dogs go to heaven?  Are they harbingers of angel-caused doom?  Do I need to keep an eye out?
  • In both The Fallen and Covet, all the angels are male.  ALL OF THEM.  Now, if I remember my catechism studies correctly (and I believe I do), angels are actually asexual.  So I guess male is the default sex.  Because, yeah, who would want to be a woman anyway, right? *eyeroll*  I'm going to also go out on a limb and say they're all white.

Other opinions:
None that I could find.  Have you reviewed this book?  Let me know in the comments!

*This is an Amazon Associates link.  Do not click if you love freedom.

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?

women, art, and power cover

"Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?" by Linda Nochlin, in Women, Art, And Power And Other Essays* (Westview Press, 1988), 147-158.

Linda Nochlin is considered one of the major feminist scholars in art history.  She's a great art historian (her article on Courbet's The Meeting blew my mind), but out of everything she's ever written, her essay asking why there have been no great women artists is the most well-known, and has had the biggest impact on the field.

I once read a review of this essay where the author said something along the lines of, "The question at the title of the article is facetious, of course."  I wonder if that person even read the essay.  Of course, one assumes the title question is facetious, particularly coming from a woman and a well-known feminist; and as feminists, I think our instinct is to brush off a question like this as ridiculous, or respond to it by pointing out female artists neglected in the study of art history.  Or looking at arts considered decorative, where women were the primary producers.  But Nochlin doesn't do this.  It was a serious question posed to her by a gallery owner, and she tries to answer it seriously--and I think that's the major strength of the article. 

Nochlin begins by looking at ways other people have attempted to respond to the question (mentioned previously) and says that, although each of these endeavors are valuable to the study of art history, they serve as mere excuses to hide the fact that there really hasn't been any great female artists.  There is no female equivalent of Michelangelo or Remembrandt, and no refocusing of scholarly study is going to change that fact.  In other words, the question of why there have been no great female artists is a valid one, and one that has implications far beyond feminism--after all, there haven't been any black or Chinese or Eskimo Michelangelos, either, at least not as far as the Western cannon is concerned.

So, why haven't there been any great women artists?  Nochlin's answer is two-fold:  first, the myth of artistic genius, which has been a part of art writing since Pliny, makes it seem that anyone with true artistic gifts would naturally make themselves known as a genius, preferably to some famous teacher, and then quickly surpass the teacher in skill.  The inherent genius inside these great artists always refuses to be kept hidden, despite their own lack of fortune or common sense.

This idea of artistic genius, says Nochlin, is a fantasy.  Art is rarely (and great art certainly never is) created solely by the artist for the purpose of personal expression.  Instead, if we look at art as the sum total of patronage and production and purpose, we see that there was a whole system in place that excluded women from creating the type of work that made artists like Michelangelo and Raphael famous.

Institutions--with which both art and art history have a long relationship--are built to include and exclude certain people, and that was certainly the case with the art academies of Europe for most of their history.  So even though Jacques-Louis David was a supporter of women artists, even he couldn't--and likely wouldn't--allow them into life drawing classes where they would sketch nudes--the basis upon which many artistic honors, like the Pris de Rome, where awarded.  So even though there was a plethora of female artists in Paris during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, it was a given that none of them would ever receive the insitutionalized awards and honors of their male counterparts.

One of my favorite parts of the article is where Nochlin points out that, instead of asking why there are no great women artists, we could just as well be asking why there are no great aristocratic artists.  Aristocrats have a long tradition of being involved in the arts and being trained in the arts, but there are no great artists who are born members of the artistocracy until Toulouse Lautrec--and he abandoned his ancestry to become a bohemian.  In other words, the question of women artists is not, in itself, a question of women artists at all, but one of art production.  To answer it, we have to look at a much wider scope than women, to the web of reality--not the linear legend--of how artists become artists.  I think an expanded version of that is true of many subjects in women's studies--the study of women, and the issue of women, isn't always just about women--it's about men, too, and institutions and families and societies, and all the other things that make life complicated.

In any case, it's a great essay, and one that has implications for other studies in the humanities, as well.  It reads just as relevant today as it was when it was first published twenty years ago--possibly because all of the problems Nochlin talks about are still problems!  You can read it for free online here.

women unbound button heidenkinds art history challenge button

I read this as part of the Women Unbound Challenge and Heidenkind's Art History Challenge.

*This is an Amazon Associates link.

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Saturday, November 21, 2009

An Equal Opportunity Book Lover

stack o books Image created by austinevan

Mjmbecky at One Literature Nut asked a great question on her blog yesterday about what we like to read:

The other day on Twitter, I sat in on a great conversation about what books people associate us with. What types of books do we choose, and why? Have you ever found yourself liking an author or genre for awhile, and then losing interest or simply burning out? Are there books that you just don't enjoy and never read? Have you ever tried something you don't usually like and found you actually enjoyed the experience?

Ever since I can remember, I've loved reading about romance.  So I'm definitely partial to romances, although I do go through periods when I burn out on them and don't read them for a while.  Even when I'm not reading romances, though, I'm always interested in the romantic part of a book first and foremost (this is why I read way too many romances--they're like IVs for romance-addicted veins).  If there isn't any romance?  Well, then it better be the greatest damn book ever, because otherwise I'm *yawn!*  Err... what?

Aside from romance, though, I like to read almost any genre except for:
  • Westerns (no particular reason, I just never got into them)
  • Chick lit (first and foremost, it's usually sold in trade paperback format, and that's too expensive for me.  Also, with a lot of chick lit books I've read--admittedly not that many--I felt like they were episodic and didn't have a strong plot and storyline.  Add that to very little romance and no HEAs and it's not happening for me)
  • Erotica (pretty much ditto the same reasons as chick lit)
Other than that, though, I love genre!  I'm a genre girl all the way.  It's not that I think literary fiction is bad, I just have absolutely zero interest in reading it.  I love formulas and seeing how writers play with the rules of a genre and readers' expectations (that's not just limited to books, btw--I also love genre paintings, and I'm a huge J.M.W. Turner fan (the best genre painter EVER, imo)).

Another thing I've been partial to in my reading since I started (as in literally the first book I read on my own) is the paranormal.  Nearly every book I went crazy over as a kid had some supernatural element in it--vampires, ghosts, witches, you name it.  Unfortunately, now that the paranormal has become über-popular, I'm burned out on it.  I have tons of paranormal romances and urban fantasy books in my TBR pile right now, and no desire to read them whatsoever.  Maybe part of the attraction of those books was that it was a very, very niche market back in the day.  Or maybe I've just read way too many.  Either way, it's sad.

Someone recently called me a very eclectic reader, and looking back on all the books I read, I suppose I am.  But I don't really consider myself one at all.  Maybe because no matter what I'm reading, I'm basically looking for the same thing:  romance, a great story, characters to connect with, and above all a book that can provide an escape from reality.  I'm an equal-opportunity book lover as long as said books provide that.

How about you--what do you like to read?

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Instant classic: Harry Potter

harry potter

From Booking Through Thursday:

Do you think any current author is of the same caliber as Dickens, Austen, Bronte, or any of the classic authors? If so, who, and why do you think so? If not, why not? What books from this era might be read 100 years from now?

Interesting question.  Of course, to answer it we have to ask ourselves what the classic authors have that make their work survives.  Unfortunately, the answer to that question is really too variable to be able to predict--if we knew how classic novels came about, everyone would be writing and publishing them.  I'm sure there are a lot of writers of the same caliber, but are they likely to be remembered as a classic author in the future?  Sadly, the chances aren't great.  You don't just need talent at writing, but the right subject matter, the right place and time to be published, certain people to read and review your books to convince other people they're great, and so on and so forth. 

If I had to pick one work that people will be familiar with a hundred years from now, however, I would say the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling.  Not only has it sold millions of copies, is known world-wide, and has been translated in various media, but I believe it has two major elements that will keep it popular in the style of Sherlock Holmes and Lord of the Rings:
  1. It has its own, completely convincing reality that bleeds into our own world.  People still visit Sherlock Holmes' house on Baker Street.  There are people who actually speak Elvish, which kind of blows my mind (I have enough trouble learning living languages, never mind made-up ones).  Will people still be visiting Platform 9 3/4 in the future?  I'm going to say hell to the yeah.
  2. There's a timelessness about it that makes it appealing across generations.  Although Harry Potter certainly wasn't written inside a bubble (a lot of the storyline with Voldemort seemed reminiscent of WWII to me), it's not so bogged down in current events or pop culture that it will lose its relevance over time.  Quite the opposite, in fact--there's a universiality to the wizarding world and the story of Harry that allows the books to appeal to people from many different cultures, and of many different ages, right now.  I'm sure that will hold true in the future.

How about you--what books do you see people reading 100 years from now?

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Covet by J. R. Ward

Source: My mom loaned it to me.

Can one find angels riding Harleys (apparently shirtless) or playing crickett and talking with English accents? Do demons truly prowl our waking life, waiting to get a hold of us and give us lots of shiny stuff and fabulous sex? These are the questions I found myself NOT asking after reading Covet. Questions I did ask: is Trez a supernatural creature, or just the nicest pimp ever? Shouldn't Vin have lost all his rich stuff? And, if Jim has to save seven souls, and this is presumably a seven-part series, doesn't that mean at least three of the books will be total fails? Cuz I'm not sure I want to read those three.

But I get ahead of myself, as usual. Covet is the first book in JR Ward's Fallen Angels series. Ward is more famous for her Black Dagger Brotherhood series, which is about vampires, and which I haven't read--so I had no idea what to expect from Covet. Although, I have to admit I expected more than what I got.

The set-up is this: Good and Evil are getting tired of going back and forth in their struggle for dominance on Earth. So God decided that one person will have the chance to save or damn seven souls, each afflicted with one of the seven deadly sins. When it's over, the side with the most wins will have total control of Earth for eternity. I feel compelled to point out that this outcome makes noooooooooooo sense on either a theosophical or quantum level, but whatever.

The person chosen is Jim, a character whom I loved. Jim works construction, and at first he seems like your average joe, if a bit of a loner. As the story continues, however, it becomes clear that Jim has an extensive backstory as well as a dark side. Although Jim wants to save the world from evil, one can't help but wonder if his methods will prove more damning than his intentions.

In the first book, Jim has to save Vin diPietro, the owner of the site where Jim is working construction. Vin is super-duper rich and has a beautiful girlfriend to go with his perfect life. Unfortunately, as Jim belatedly realizes, Vin isn't supposed to be with Divina--he's supposed to be with Marie-Terese, a club hooker. Luckily for everyone, Vin realizes this all on his own. Hooray, the world is saved. OR IS IT?!

I have to admit, I have mixed feelings about this book. The majority of it was humorous and fun, and aside from Jim, I loved the characters of Adrian, Eddie, Dog (although why Dog is even there is a mystery), and the other angels. I can definitely see how Ward's books can be addictive. But there were other elements of the writing that just bugged the heck out of me. For example, Ward has this habit of writing a question as a statement. I can see where this might emphasize a flatness of tone, but she uses it wayyyyyy beyond the point to where it has any useful intonation. And what was with calling Vin's girlfriend, "his woman," or "your woman"? WTF? Oh, sorry, let me rephrase that: WTF. How caveman can you get? I kept expecting them to follow it up with, "Woman pretty. Man make good hunting. I drive big noise machine home now. Argh! *chest beating*"

There are larger issues I had with Covet, too, mostly with the characters. At first Vin seems fairly interesting, but it turns out he has no personality at all. And Marie-Terese--uhg, can you say cookie cutter character? The hooker-with-the-heart-of-gold strikes again. I don't have a problem with prostitute heroines as a rule (although it's seriously icky for a romance novel), but I do want to understand and sympathize with her decision to get into that line of work. I did not get that with Marie-Terese. I might have respected her more if 1. she wasn't dragging a little kid around with her, or 2. she didn't hate what she did, or 3. she didn't turn into a mound of putty every time Vin showed up. And the explanation for why she got into hooking in the first place (which came way too late in the book) only made things worse. Major Issues train coming down the track! If I was Vin, I would start running.

Covet was okay, but has major problems with execution. It just didn't feel like the author entirely thought it out before writing it (and I don't mean that in an avant-garde, experimental way, either). There is a certain charm to the book--especially when it comes to Jim's character--that might have me coming back for more. It's definitely not a book to turn me into a JR Ward fan, though. As Colin the angel put it, "There is a point in every endeavor when one feels the burn of too many vertical steps." Unfortunately, I felt that way more than once while reading this novel.

And now for the big question, the entire reason I decided to read Covet in the first place...

angel button

Are angels the new vampires?

In a word: no.

While reading the summary, you might have noticed something. Or rather, the lack of something. That's right, angels! Although the series is titled The Fallen Angels, no angels, fallen or otherwise, make an appearance before page fifty. And even after that they don't play much of a role until the very end. So to call this series The Fallen Angels seems something of a marketing misnomer. It also makes it hard for me to judge if they're "the new vampires." But from what there was of them, I'd say no. Vampires are compelling, sexy, and dangerous--from what I've seen of Colin, Bertie, and the gang, they are none of those things.

As for the fallen angels, they have potential (although they are not dangerous), but I have many unanswered questions about them. Why are they fallen? What exactly is a fallen angel in this alternaverse, anyway? And while angels aren't exclusively Christian figures by any means, I find it to be simply wrong that these angels perform Pagan-ish rituals. WRONG. And kind of lame. You couldn't have come up with something better, Ward? So far I'm not impressed with the angels' powers--not by a long shot. Angels at the very least should have either awesome cosmic powers or kick-ass fighting skillz. And wings. These angels got nothing. They better pick up their game if they expect to even be equal to vampires on the literary circuit.

Score so far: vampires 1, angels 0 (vampires win by default whenever angels fail to impress me)

Next up in my über-scientific test: The Fallen, by Tom Sniegoski

Other opinions about Covet:
Smexy Books
Dear Author
The Good, the Bad, and the Unread
Darque Reviews
Love Vampires
Alpha Heroes
Did I miss yours? Please let me know in the comments!

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Angelic Links

That little guy just gets creepier and creepier every time I look at him.

I'm taking a quick break from all the feminist rhetoric today to devote some time to my Angel Month project (you're welcome, men-folk).  May I present:  links!

Want to read your own angel books?  The Story Siren is hosting a contest for two hot YA books about angels:  Fallen by Lauren Kate, and Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick.  The contest closes December 8th, so you have plenty of time to enter.

Bermudaonion has a great interview with Bruce Foster, who engineered the pop-up book, Angels.  There's also a contest to win the book!  It ends November 27th, so again, plenty of time to enter.

Finally, the oft-proclaimed doyenne of vampire fiction, Anne Rice, talks a bit about why she's now writing books about angels at The Wall Street Journal.  I also loved what she said about the appeal of Twilight.

Stay tuned for a review of my first Angel Month book, Covet!

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Women Unbound by Moonlight

women unbound button

I haz decided to join yet another reading challenge.  This one is for women's studies and is called Women Unbound.  Very catchy title.  There are three levels you can sign up for, and I'm going with Philogynist, which means I have to read at least two books, one non-fiction (I would have liked to sign up for more, but two books is all I think I can handle at the moment).  The good news is, I already have my one fiction book down!  But before I start with that--meme time!

1. What does feminism mean to you? Does it have to do with the work sphere? The social sphere? How you dress? How you act?

Yes, yes, and yes!  I think at its heart feminism is about women being seen as people and not just a gender.  For myself, I try to be a feminist by promoting women artists in my classes and doing research on women and women's issues in art.  For a long time, women have been invisible members of our society--we shouldn't be invisible anymore.

2. Do you consider yourself a feminist? Why or why not?

I do consider myself a feminist, but not in the proactive way--I'm not going to try to go out and be the first women to do fill-in-the-blank just because it needs doing.  I do, however, want and expect to follow my dreams regardless of whatever gender expectations there are just because I'm a woman.

3. What do you consider the biggest obstacle women face in the world today? Has that obstacle changed over time, or does it basically remain the same?

Well, I would have to say ourselves.  Not that women aren't oppressed by both societies and laws all around the world, but realistically speaking, we're at least fifty percent of the population.  If women banded together to accomplish something, I have no doubt it would get done.  The problem is recognizing what needs to be changed and passing ideas of independence and equality on to daughters/nieces/granddaughters, etc.

And now for the review portion of this post...

unbound by moonlight cover

Bound in Moonlight by Louisa Burton

Source: la bibliothèque

This is the second book in The Hidden Grotto series by Louisa Burton.  I normally do not read erotic fiction, but a few months ago I decided to try Burton because she's one of my favorite authors (previously, she wrote mysteries under the name PB Ryan, and historical roms as Patricia Ryan).  It might seem strange that I'm reviewing an erotic novel for the Women Unbound challenge, but I believe it qualifies, as I will explain later.

The Hidden Grotto series centers around a chateau in France called La Grotte Cachée, named after a mysterious cave.  The chateau is perpetually inhabited by several follets--supernatural creatures who HAVE to have sex.  Elic, an elf, is in love with Lili, a succubus.  But they can't sleep together because follets can only to do the nasty with da humanz.  Ergo, the chateau has a continuous round of visitors looking for a good time. 

The House of Dark Delights,
Burton's first book, was okay, but didn't really win me over to the
erotic romances--too much of the ick factor.  That being said, after a
few months I found myself wondering was happened to Elic and Lili, so I decided to order the next book in the series, Bound In Moonlight.

Unfortunately, Bound In Moonlight was not what I was expecting.  First off, there was very little Elic and Lili in this book at all (kind of a bummer when that's the reason I wanted to read it in the first place).  At least half of it is a short story told in epistolary format (not a big fan of that) about a former Gilded Age heiress who writes an erotic novel after visiting La Grotte Cachée.  Because the narrative is told in letter format, the erotic scenes--of which there are many--feel extremely voyeuristic.  Also, since we only have one set of letters, it's kind of like listening to one end of a phone conversation--one of the awkward ones at the grocery store where the person shopping in the same aisle as you is giving out wayyyyyy too much information.

One of the things I noticed early on in the story, however, was that Burton seemed to be drawing a parallel between sexual freedom and women's liberation--which of course makes perfect sense.  The main character, Em, is independent and comes from a debutant background.  She's all set to marry some British lord, when she finds him in the middle of a three-way at La Grotte Cachée.  She threatens to call off the engagement, he begs her to reconsider because he needs her money, and he ends up leaving her there for a few days to mull it over. 

As a result of her experiences at the chateau, Em pens an erotic romance titled Emmaline's Emancipation (EMANCIPATION, note) all about a sheltered heiress who finds freedom and confidence by visiting an English house party/bacanal.  She also takes off to Paris (after breaking it off for good with the fiance), and lives what I can only describe as a lifestyle of free love.  Plus she flies airplanes, skiis--does just about anything she wants to, really.  So I think it's clear that Burton is drawing a connection between Em's sexual liberation at the chateau and the freedom she experiences throughout her life.

This something I can definitely agree with.  Not that I'm suggesting all women need to turn into nymphomaniacs like Em (good lord, does the woman do anything other than have sex or think about sex?), but patriarchal societies definitely have a pattern of trying to contain or even debase female sexuality.  And some of who we would consider to be the earliest feminists flew in the face of these sexual restrictions--women like George Sand, George Elliot, and Mary Wollstonecraft spring right to mind.

So I got the message:  reading erotic novels=good. :P

As for the story itself, I found it a bit depressing.  Yeah, Em may be having super-hot affairs with men several years younger than her, but they don't love her.  And she doesn't love them.  Without emotion, all the sex in this book was just a total did-not-need-to-know.  I would love to read Emmaline's Emancipation, however (I was seriously hoping it was an actual book--no such luck).  Why didn't Burton write that?

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Divine Jane

I saw an online exhibit about Jane Austen (c/o Smart Bitches) the other day that is a companion to a real-life exibit in The Morgan Library & Museum in New York. What caught my attention was the short documentary, The Divine Jane: Reflections on Austen. It's basically a gathering of a bunch of famous people who love Jane Austen and tell us all why, and there's one thing I noticed right from the beginning:

This documentary starts off with two quotes and two interviews. What do all of the four people in the opening of this film have in common? They are all men. And the third person interviewed, a woman, describes Austen's work right off the bat as, "masculine... not dainty."

What?!? Woman, are you listening to yourself? What in the world does masculine writing even look like, pray tell? And why is it better than "womanly" writing? Here's a clue: Austen wrote books about women and the issues women cared about, for a largely female audience. Afterall, she was a woman, though some people in this documentary seem to be doing their damnedest to forget that fact. And I believe it was the same woman who called Austen, "small minded"--as in confined (does that equate to what Tennyson referred to as "her small sphere," one wonders?).

I'm not saying men can't enjoy Austen--of course not. And also, Cornell West is as cute as a button. However, the purpose of this mini-documentary seems to be to legitimize Austen as a major figure in literature (uh, duh) by subtly shoving aside the fact that her novels are essentially about finding love and security, and talking instead about how her books are a study of human nature. And some stuff from the Irish novelist about how he'd rather take an Austen book to bed than a real woman (kinky!).

Quite frankly, I don't think the filmmakers did Austen any favors with documentary. And in light of the PW Top Ten List debacle a few weeks ago, I think it's clear that women authors are still valued below men just because of their gender--even when that writer is someone incomparable like Jane Austen. She needs the approval of male writers and critics, and a masculine voice to legitimize her as a great novelist--never mind that probably more people have read her work than that of either Tennyson or Beckett. Oh, but then those are just romance novels.

everything austen button I'm counting this toward the Everything Austen Challenge. Because I can. Two down, four more to go!

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

My Favorite Reads: Archangel

my favorite reads button

My Favorite Reads is a meme hosted by Alyce from At Home With Books.  You simply blog about books you read and loved before you started book blogging!

The book I chose this week fits into the theme I've set for the month, angels.  It's not only one of my favorite books, but the standard by which I measure all books about angels.

The book:  Archangel by Sharon Shinn

archangel cover

Archangel takes place in another world called Samaria.  There, humans live with angels in a bit of an uneasy partnership:  angels are the governing body, more or less, and since their songs and prayers to Jovah keep Samaria running--bringing water, sunshine, even manna from heaven if they ask for it--humanity is fairly reliant upon them.  And the angels in turn generally feel pretty superior.

The highest-ranking angel in all of Samaria is the Archangel.  As the book opens, the young Gabriel is preparing to take over this post from his predecessor, Raphael.  He knows that in order to rule he must find his Angelica, the human woman (angels are only allowed to marry humans) destined to be his wife.  And when I say destined, I mean Jovah's got his hands all over this world:  most people in Samaria have stones inbedded into their arms at birth that flare when they meet the man or woman they're supposed to marry.

Unfortunately for Gabriel, his Angelica, Rachel, is not inclined to be singing to save the planet or making babies with one who is winged.  In point of fact, she's a slave.  Yes I know--you would think a world ruled by angels would be utopic, but it's not.  There's a nomadic race on Samaria that is considered fair game for slave traders.  The angels look the other way because the nomads don't rely on them to sing prayers--they sing their own prayers, and the angels kind of hate them for it.  Rachel's entire tribe was wiped out in a raid, and now she's a slave in a wealthy household.  And she remembers it was angels that attacked her tribe.  So girl's got some issues.

Nevertheless, Gabriel carries her off to his aerie, and Rachel tries to train for the changing-of-the-archangel ceremony on the Plain of Jordan and learn how to fit into the angelic community.  And she also gets to know her husband, sexy sexy Gabriel.  Yum.  With the wings and the shirtlessness, and the dark looks and leather pants (because angels HAVE to wear leather pants, that's like a rule or something...).

What I love most about this book is the absolute believability of the characters and the setting of Samaria.  I can see most of the locations in my mind--to this day--as if I'd visited them myself.  Shinn really does a great job of transporting you to another world as you read the book.  Rachel and Gabriel I got to know as if they were friends, but even the secondary characters are wonderful.  I was totally pissed when the second book in this series didn't take up where this one left off so I could find out what happened to them after laying awake for nights on end wondering.

Plus, the music--this novel bleeds music.  At the aerie, there's someone singing constantly, and the angels live and breathe music.  Being able to sing is also a pivotal part of Rachel's personality and how she heals herself emotionally from the trauma of being a slave and seeing all her family and friends murdered.  I can't imagine reading this book without mentally trying to set it to music.

Archangel is a brilliantly written novel that has all the themes I love to read about--not just love (I did mention this was a love story, right?), but equality and freedom and even the importance of faith.  I can't recommend it enough.

angel month button

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Tigress Series

After reading and reviewing White Tigress, I decided I would finish the entire series before doing a review of any of the books.  Little did I know it would take me a year to finish all seven books--but more about that later.

The Tigress series takes place in 19th-century China, largely in Shanghai (although other locales like the Forbidden City are also featured).  As far as the story is concerned, it centers around a secret sect of Taoism that uses sex to achieve immortality; but the real binding theme in the series is the interaction between whites and Chinese.  I absolutely love the culture clashes in this book and how the two main characters consistently overcome the differences in their culture.

Oh, and by the way, this is the theme song for the series, as declared by me:

white tigress cover White Tigress is the first book in the series, and definitely the best (go here for my full review of the book).  It sets up the sect of Taoism that the other books are built on, as well as the state affairs between Europeans and Chinese in Shanghai.

hungry tigress In Hungry Tigress, wealthy heiress Joanna Crane is wandering around the woods, minding her own business, when suddenly she's set upon by brigands!  Actually, they're rebels from the Boxer Rebellion, and Joanna was looking for them because she believes in equality and freedom and all that, and wanted to lend moral support.  Unfortunately, they're ALSO brigands who don't trust the white folk. 

Joanna's about to be gang-raped by the rebels, when out of nowhere a traveling monk who just happens to be passing by saves her with his amazing fighting skillz.  Phew, that was a close one.  Despite being dirty and wearing poor clothing, her knight is hawt--and, as she quickly discovers, he's a Mandarin prince traveling in disguise (a pwince! I like him already).  But her savior, Zou Tun, cannot afford to let her or anyone else know what or where he is; so he takes her to the Tigress compound, where they learn how to become immortals through lovin'.

This book wasn't quite as good as White Tigress, but I still really enjoyed it.  At the beginning I was a wee bit worried Joanna was TSTL, because she could not keep her freaking mouth shut; but really she's just very innocent and idealistic.  Meanwhile, Zou Tun is like awesomesauce.  He's like if Jet Li was tall and was in romance novel--the man's got mad fighting skills.  And did I mention he was a prince? 

We also get to learn more about the practice and discipline of the Tigress Taoist sect, and are taken into the world of the compound, which we didn't see at all in the previous book.  My absolute favorite part of the novel, however, is when Joanna and Zou Tun go into the Forbidden City!

The ending was really strange and kind of blew of my mind with it's total awkwardness, yet it was oddly satisfying.  I found myself completely convinced that Joanna and Zou Tun would have their HEA keep on banging for immortality.

desperate tigress Desperate Tigress is the story of the leader of the Tigress compound, Shi Po.  What is Shi Po so desperate about, you might wonder?  She has a lot of freedom for a Chinese wife, a very wealthy husband, and is preturnaturally young and gorgeous due to her practices in the way of the Tigress (or whatever they're called).  Well, she's desperate to become an immortal, obviously!  And all these young barbarian women are becoming immortal right and left!  What's a girl to do.

This is probably the only book in the series that I really didn't like.  The strength of the other books was that one of the parties was Chinese and the other was English, so there was a cultural tension that made their relationship really interesting.  Here Shi Po falls in love with her husband, Kui Yu, who is also Chinese.  Ergo zero of that cultural tension.  Another thing that frustrated me is that Shi Po and Kui Yu are actually already in love with each other when this book begins.  So, just to recap:  they're already in love, and they're already married.  Uh, conflict please?

There was also this one part of the book where Kui Yu (who has to be in his mid-forties at the very least), a seriously wealthy, middle-aged merchant, takes off his shirt and... he has six-pack abs.  OH YEAH TOTALLY BELIEVABLE.  That did me in.  Just imagining it makes me giggle.  You know what would have made this book 100% better?  If Shi Po fell in love with some eighteen-year-old and then convinced her husband to let him live in their house forever as Second Husband.

burning tigress After the Desperate Tigress debacle, it took me a while to get to the next book in the series.  In Burning Tigress, a friend of Joanna's, Charlotte Wicks, starts sleeping with her father's secretary/majordomo (known as a First Boy), who is also Chinese.  Class and cultural tensions there, my friends!  The servant in question, Ken Jin, is a bit of a man-whore because he likes to practice using his jade dragon (uh, so to speak) on bored European women.  He has no plans to introduce Charlotte to the ways of the Tigress, however, until she catches him doing his, er, exercises.  And because she's heard a little bit about the Taoist sect from Joanna, Charlotte decides she wants--no, needs!--Ken Jin to show her how to, urmmmm, stimulate her yin.  IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN (that's just beginning of the sexual metaphors flying around these books, trust me).

This was another enjoyable read, mainly because of the characters.  Ken Jin was difficult to like at first, because he seemed very serious and also a bit greedy.  But as the story progresses and Ken Jin's (very extensive) backstory unfolds, the reasons behind his actions become clear.  Charlotte--well, to be honest, I don't remember much about her character.  Hm.  But she is pretty fearless, seeing as how she flaunts society and defies her father by carrying on a very serious affair with their servant.  Char fancies herself something of a Chinese scholar and is insatiably curious (which no doubt leads to the whole Tigress thing). 

I became very emotionally involved in this book and really felt for Ken Jin by the end.  Although the conclusion wasn't as satisfying as in Hungry Tigress, overall it was good.

cornered tigress Confession:  I never read this book.  I have it; it's my TBR pile right now.  But I don't want to read it.

Cornered Tigress is about Little Pearl, Shi Po's second-in-command at the Tigress compound and a character who featured prominently in Hungry Tigress and Desperate Tigress.  Unfortunately, I hate Little Pearl.  I have no interest in learning about her character, and I definitely do not want to see her achieve immortality, via sexual congress or not.  Sorries!  At some point I realized that if I waited to force myself to read this book, I would never finish the series.  So I decided to skip it.  Who knows, if I'm desperate for entertainment I might come back to it some day.

tempted tigress Tempted Tigress is the last book in the series, and it covers some very serious territoy.  Anna Marie Thompson has had a pretty shitty life, from being orphaned in China, to being lured into using opium at a young age.  To escape said shitty life, Anna is smuggling opium across China to Shanghai, where she plans to sell it in exhange for passage to England--a country she's never even been to. 

Her progress is impeded, however, at the Grand Canal, where she catches the eye of the Enforcer--kind of the 19th-century Chinese version of a drug czar.  Except when Zhi-Gang finds drug smugglers and dealers, he doesn't put them on trial; he just executes them.  He doesn't execute Anna, though, because when takes a look at her qi, he immediately knows that she's going to change his life.

Zhi-Gang drags Anna off to his boat where some self-stimulation of the yin and yang of both parties commences.  Despite the fact that they're attracted to each other like stains are attracted to my clothes, Anna is no fool and manages to escape the boat and take off across farmland.  That's when she gets both herself and Zhi-Gang into way more trouble than either of them bargained for.

This was a surprisingly enjoyable read--surprising because the issues Lee deals with in this novel are pretty dark and damn depressing.  Not only do you have drug addiction and smuggling, but also the trade in young girls, which both the Chinese and whites use to finance their material wants and desires.  When we get a peek into a wealthy Chinese household in this book, one with four wives, it highlights how their lives aren't that much better than Anna's.  Lee demonstrates very effectively how women, whether white or Chinese, are viewed as little more animals.

But!  There is a solution to this problem, which Lee--or Anna--proposes, and I bet you can guess what it is.  L. O. V. E.  By believing in love, both she and the four wives have hope for a better life.

Anna herself is probably one of my favorite heroines in the Tigress series.  She definitely has her weaknesses, but she's a completely sympathic character and one I definitely found myself liking.  Anna's lived a tough life that has left her the complete opposite of pampered, wealthy girls like Joanna and Charlotte.  Even though she can barely spell (or speak English, for that matter), she's canny and able to think on her feet and manipulate people to get what she wants.  If the term tigress applies to any of these characters, it does to her.

Zhi-Gang was a bit less likable.  He's a scholar, but he has this insane temper--trust me, you do not want to make this guy angry.  HULK SMASH.  And for someone who's tired of killing, he seems to do an awful lot of it.  Just saying.  But he grew on me.

For most of the book, I kept wondering why this was part of the Tigress series at all--neither the hero nor the heroine are a Tigress or Dragon, they don't use any of the "stimulating" exercises, and most of it takes place far away from Shanghai.  Well, it turns out there is a reason for the book's inclusion in the series--but I can't tell you want it is because that would spoil the surprise.  So you'll just have to read it and see.

Despite its rather radical departure from the rest of the books, Tempted Tigress was really good.  I cried at the end; and the more I think about the book, the more I like it now that I've finished it.  The ending was a little dumb, however.

Overall, the Tigress books have to be one of my favorite romantic historical series.  Nearly every book completely grabbed me and transported me into the world of the story.  Yes, some of the stuff was a little ridiculous, but I really didn't mind that much.  This is pure escapism written with romance and thought, and plenty of originality.  None of the books were predictable, and every single one showed me a different side of 19th-century China and the lives of the Europeans and Chinese within it. 

If you haven't tried these books yet--what are you waiting for?

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Monday, November 9, 2009

White Tigress

This is a reposting from my non-book blog of White Tigress by Jade Lee, the first book in her Tigress series and a book I read in December 2008.  I'm reposting now because tomorrow I plan to post an all-new review of the rest of the Tigress series.  Until then, enjoy this retroreview!

white tigress cover

White Tigress by Jade Lee

Remember the book I reviewed a few weeks ago, The Dragon Earl, that was about the English earl who was raised in a Tibetan monastery and kicked people in the face like Chuck Norris?  Well, I enjoyed that book soooo much I decided to order the author's entire backlist from!  I decided to start with White Tigress, one of Lee's first books to feature China as a major setting of the story.

Although the hero of White Tigress, Ru Shan, is also a Taoist, just like the hero of The Dragon Earl, he's not a monk.  No.  In fact, he's a member a strange, secretive sect of Chinese Taoism that uses sex to achieve immortality.  But lately Ru Shan has found it impossible to achieve immortality, or even to remain on the middle path, due to several personal problems which are revealed during the course of book.  Fortunately for him, his "tigress" (this is how they refer to the female members of the secret sect) has a vision that, in order to achieve immortality, Ru Shan has to find a "ghost" (re: white) woman and teach her the ways of the tigress.  So he winds up buying an English woman named Lydia who has been kidnapped from the streets of Shanghai and sold to a brothel.  And in case you were wondering, yes, that does make her his sex slave.

There are three things which are fairly obvious early on in this book:  one, Lydia and Ru Shan are going to achieve immortality together.  But when they do, it will be because they're in luuurv.  Second, the book is going to somehow follow the trope of Victorian pornography.  For those of you unfamiliar, here is how the typical Victorian pornographic book progresses:

  1. A proper Enlish miss is kidnapped by an uncouth barbarian, usually of the Ottoman Turk variety, and put into his harem.
  2. The barbarian tries to convince the English miss to have sex with him, but she won't, because she's a good Christian gel, she is.
  3. The uncivilized ruler person gets tired of convincing her to have sex with him and just decides to rape her, instead.
  4. At some point during the course of the rape, the English miss realizes sex is the greatest thing eva.
  5. She turns into a sex fiend and they live happily ever after.  The end.

And third, even though Lydia starts the book off as Ru Shan's sex slave, by the end of the book, he's totally going to be her bitch, because that's what happens in these types of books.  Justice is sweeeeet.

The book doesn't disappoint on two of those expectations (sorry if I spoiled it for y'all), and happily flaunts the tropes of the second (actually, this book is nothing like Victorian pornography, but I was afraid that it was going to be, so I felt the need to mention it).  But how to describe the journey from the establishment of said expectations to the fulfillment of them?  It's quite difficult.  Above all, the book was entertaining, so that was good.  Parts of it, though were really odd and awkward; other parts, on the opposite hand, were kind of epic... ish.

First of all, the awkwardness.  Lydia is Ru Shan's sex slave, so you know their first encounters are going to be all about the sex.  But the "sex," if one can even call it that, is really strange.  It's no wonder this Taoist sect is secret, because wow.  The exercises alone would probably be enough to get Ru Shan stoned in the streets.  That being said, the sex scenes really aren't pornographic, because it is totally spiritual, at least on the part of Ru Shan.  So they're just... odd.  Then there are the LOLphrases (e.g., "open your plum flower," "jade dragon"; and let me just say, "he entered her cinnabar cave" appeared WAY TOO MANY TIMES!!!).

Now you're probably thinking this sounds like the worst book ever and you're going to stay far, far away from it (or you're thinking you should run out and buy it immediately, in which case I really wonder about you).  But!  Allow me to assure you this book has many redeeming factors, and putting up with the LOLphrases and awkwardness is totally worth it.  First of all, Lydia does not spend a lot of the book as Ru Shan's sex slave--she manages to escape fairly early on, and even before she escapes, Ru Shan starts coming to the disheartening realization that he might have been a dumbass when he decided keeping a slave girl was a good idea.  After Lydia's escape, she finds her fiance and tries to establish herself in the Shanghai English community; but her experience has changed her and she doesn't fit in with "normal" English people anymore.  Also, she misses Ru Shan.

And who wouldn't miss Ru Shan?  He is an awesome character.  As the book progresses, we get to see more and more of Ru Shan's life and learn why he's having so much trouble finding the middle path.  This is when the book starts to get epic-ish.  In fact, it reminded me a litte bit of The Good Earth, with Ru Shan's struggle being similar to Wang Lung's.  Of course, Ru Shan is a Shanghai merchant and Wang Lung is a farmer, but they both face the destruction of their livelihoods and family.  Ru Shan is supposed to be the rock on which the Cheng family stands, but he openly hates his father and finds his business in serious peril of being taken over by Kui Yu, his major competitor.

Fortunately for Ru Shan, he has Lydia, who according to the head tigress' vision is supposed to return Ru Shan to the middle path and bring gold and prosperity back to the Cheng house.  But in order to hold on to Lydia and make the vision a reality, Ru Shan has to defy the mandates of his own culture and the wishes of his family.

The ending of the book had a twist that I didn't see coming at all, even though upon reflection I probably should have (everyone loves a twist!); and although the HEA was a little hard to believe, it was really the only way the book could have ended with the two characters remaining together.

So, despite some flaws, I really enjoyed this book.  The character of Ru Shan is really the winning element in the story.  Annnnnnnd, guess what?  White Tigress is the first in a seven-part series about the tigress/dragon sect!  So look forward to more reviews of Tigress books, because I've got them all, baby.

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Sunday, November 8, 2009

TSS: Angelic Edition

The Sunday

So, it's Sunday. And you know what that means.

Here's what I read this past week in November:
Not bad for me! Of course, technically I only read one complete book this week, since I started Prehistoric Art a few weeks ago... but let's not focus on technical details, kay?

angel button

Announcing--Angel Month!

Have you noticed a proliferation of angel-themed books lately? Well, I have. I even have a few in my TBR pile. So I've decided to do a totally scientific (haha) analysis of whether or not angels are the new vampires. This may actually be easier than I think it will be, since several well-known vampire writers have just released angel-centric novels. I decided to make a reading theme for myself this month and read all the books I have in my TBR that are angel-related:
  • Hush, Hush (actually on order from the library, so hopefully I'll get it by December)
  • Fallen (the one by Thomas E Sniegoski, not Lauren Kate (note to self, do a comparison of all novels with the title of Fallen))
  • Covet
  • Meridian
Of course, at the rate I read, it'll take me a good month and a half to read these four books, but I'm going to give it a go anyway. I'm also thinking of doing some special angel-related posts in honor of Angel Month. And if you have any good angel-themed books to recommend, please don't hesitate! (As long it's not an angel banging a mermaid, please--I have to draw a line somewhere. ~_^)

Fun Stuff!

book blogger holiday swap

And speaking of angels... (pause for awkward segway), the holiday season approaches. And that means presents! Enter, the Book Blogger Holiday Swap. It's a secret santa for book bloggers. I think it's a great idea, and I hope all of you join and that I get matched with one of you so I can send you a present. ^_^

Secondly, the dates for the third Mystery Readathon have been scheduled as January 16th-17th, 2010. I had tons of fun with the Mystery Readathon in August, so I'm definitely looking forward to it for January.

I've also decided to join the Women Unbound challenge--but I will post more about that later.

Finally, updating my own reading challenge, M from Alberti's Window talks about The Challenge of the Avant-Garde by Paul Wood and her particular interest in Caillebotte's (Impressionist painter) domestic scenes and how they relate to modernity. It's not exactly a review so much as a thoughtful response, and it's an excellent post. Check it out, and have a lovely week!

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Friday, November 6, 2009

We're Having a Heat Wave, a Tropical Heat Wave

heat wave cover

Heat Wave by Richard Castle

I would never buy this book.  But my mom did, so I was willing to give it a shot.  To be honest, I was expecting a train wreck.  It's not as bad as I thought it would be... but that's not saying much.

Castle is a TV show on ABC (see prominent red circle on cover) about a quirky-but-lovable, not to mention ridiculously rich and handsome, mystery writer named Richard Castle.  One day Castle decides to follow a cop around so he can base books off of her.  Ensue witty repartee and sublimated sexual attraction.

As my mom said, Heat Wave is basically like reading along with an episode of the show.  Castle's character is replaced by that of a journalist named Rook (I was wondering how they were going to deal with that--the lynchpin of the show is Castle's and Beckett's bickering, but how weird would it be to have Castle writing about himself as Castle in his own novel?  Think about it), and Det. Kate Beckett becomes Nikki Heat (ugh, terrible name).  The comic relief twins of Esposito and Ryan are in evidence as well. 

So, yeah, it is basically like reading an episode of the show in prose form, except I kept getting distracted by the comically over-the-top pulpiness of writing.  Take, for example, this early paragraph from page two:

Detective Nikki Heat entered her crime scene past the vacant hostess podium of the sidewalk café.  All the tables at La Chaleur Belle were empty except one where Detective Raley of her squad sat with a distraught family with sunburned faces strurggling to translate German into a statement.  Their uneaten lunch swarmed with flies.  Sparrows, avid outdoor diners themselves, perched on seat backs and made bold dives for pommes frites.  At the service door Detective Ochoa looked up from his notebook and quick-nodded her while he questioned a busboy in a white apron flecked with blood.  The rest of the serving staff was inside at the bar having a drink after what they had witnessed.  Heat looked over to where the medical examiner knelt and couldn't blame them.

T... M... I....  You can practically hear some hard-boiled detective narrating this book in a grumbly voice.  I get that it's a wink wink to popular crime fiction writers like James Patterson (and btw, check out his blurb on the cover of this book--the little media whore!), but after a while it wears on one.  And by one I of course mean me.

The thing that really bothered me about the book, though, was the character of Nikki Heat.  She is basically Dt. Beckett from the show, but the actress who plays Beckett brings a lot of warmth and likability to the character that's totally missing in the book.  I simply couldn't connect with Heat at all; she's way too much of an automaton.

This is a quick (less than 200 pages), light read, and it isn't a bad book.  I can't really recommend it, though, unless you have absolutely nothing better do to with your time or money.  You'd be better served watching reruns of Castle.

Other opinions:
Socrates' Book Review
Shhh, I'm Reading
Did I miss yours?  Please let me know in the comments!

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Laurentine Spy

laurentine spy cover

The Laurentine Spy by Emily Gee

Source: Powell's--as in, I bought it.

This book is packaged as a fantasy novel, but it's really a romance about two spies.  Even more than that, however, it's a well-told, quick read about adventure and destiny that definitely qualifies as a traveling book.  It's a great novel and one that I would definitely recommend.

Lord Ivo and Noble Petra are members of the Corhonase court.  With Ivo's laziness and Petra's timidity, they don't attract much attention--which is just as they want it, since they are actually Laurentine spies.  Neither one is aware of the other's identity beyond their meetings in the citadel's secret catacombs; nevertheless, Lord Ivo (aka Athan) has developed a tendre for Petra, both in her Corhonasian guise and out of it.

This book grabbed me right away when it opened with the meeting of the Laurentian spies.  Petra (whose real name is Saliel) is known to them only as Three; Athan is One, and another spy is Two.  They are all directed by the Guardian, who organizes meetings in an embalming chamber under the Corhonase citadel (Ancient Egyptian shout-out!).  Here they wear hoods over their faces to protect their false identities.  Despite the secrecy, all three spies have formed a relationship of mutual respect, and this is especially the case between Athan and Saliel.  Little does Athan know that the beautiful woman who hates him as Lord Ivo is his fellow Three.

The story of the spies was smooth and seamless, and perfectly paced.  Athan and Saliel are quick characters to sympathize and identify with, and the development of their relationship grows with the story in a completely believable way.  I also really enjoyed the contrast between Corhonase and Laurent:  In Corhonase (Corhona?), women and men are strictly separated.  Women are not allowed to chose their own husbands; and, if they're noble, they're not allowed to enjoy sex once they're married (!).  They're supposed to be "virtuous" at all times, and most spend their entire day embroidering.  Saliel feels understandably oppressed in this environment.  In Laurent, meanwhile, although women have much more freedom, the class boundaries are severe; which is unfortunate for Saliel, since she was born into the lowest of the Laurentine classes.  So really, she's damned wherever she goes.  It was easy to dislike Corhonase society, but I was surprised at how easy it was to equally dislike the Laurentines.  Neither country is particularly better than the other one, which seems to underscore the fact that this isn't a book about politics or countries, but about the relationship between Athan and Saliel.

I didn't like everything about The Laurentine Spy--the final 100-ish pages seemed to drag on by.  Not that it was bad, but it was much less exciting compared to Athan's and Saliel's time in the citadel.  I also thought the romance part of the book took an unbelievable turn at the end.  Since we aren't given a lot of background information on Laurentines and how they perceive the classes, witchcraft, or marriage, Athan's reaction to some of Saliel's revelations seemed totally uncalled for.  And although I definitely believe Athan loved Saliel, with Saliel I'm still not convinced.  Her conversion from actively hating him to trusting him to being in love with him wasn't quite believable for me.

Overall, however, this is a top-notch romantic adventure.  In some ways it reminded me of The Scarlet Pimpernell, especially when it came to Saliel's attitude toward Lord Ivo and her confusion when she found out he was actually Athan.  Highly recommended, and I will definitely be looking for Gee's other novel, Thief With No Shadow.

Other opinions:
The Book Smugglers
Fantasy Book Critic
If I missed your review, please let me know in the comments!

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Favorite Authors

Today I'm guest posting at A Buckeye Girl Reads about my favorite historical romance authors.  Colette was compiling a list of her faves and was gracious enough to ask me to collaborate.  Interestingly, our lists don't really match up as much as I expected.

Curious to see who my favorite authors are?  Go over to Colette's blog and say hi!

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Prehistoric Art: The Symbolic Journey of Humankind

prehistoric art cover

Prehistoric Art:  The Symbolic Journey of Humankind by Randall White

You might recall that a few weeks ago I resolved to read more textbooks to brush up on my knowledge of art history, should I ever teach an art history survey course again.  I decided to begin at the beginning with prehistoric art, which I find a very difficult subject to teach.

I generally don't find aesthetics very interesting because I think that it's largely self-evident.  Usually I teach about the social, political, and cultural implications of art.  And also all the gossip about the artists, because that's fun.  But with prehistoric art, there isn't much in the way of gossip or socio-political implications, because we don't know much about the culture that created it.  So all I'm left with to talk about is aesthetics:  the long neck is elegant!  Etc., etc.  Ergo it's a struggle for me to spread 40,000-ish thousand years of art history out over a whole week.

That's why I thought Prehistoric Art:  The Symbolic Journey... would be a good bet.  Symbolism!  That's always interesting.  White's goal with the books seems to be convincing us all that 1. we do know a great deal about prehistoric peoples (and by "we" I mean, you know, the giant brain that feeds on all our thoughts), and 2. because of this, We can make a good guess about the meaning of prehistoric art.  Unfortunately, I find the former statement questionable and was never convinced of the latter.

The thing is, this was a really strange book.  When I first got it, it seemed like one of those TimeLife coffee table books that you get mainly for the pictures (which were fabulous, btw); so when I started reading it, the academispeak kind of blindsighted me.  This is some serious, hardcore academic writing.  I have a feeling White was trying to make it more accessible to a general audience, but he didn't succeed very well.

Once I got adjusted to White's writing style, I was able to get into the book more.  And it is chock-full of information.  I really enjoyed chapter two, actually (the title of Emile Cartailhac's essay in which he admits that the Altamira caves are genuine made me laugh out loud), but then it started to lose me.  Like I said, there are aspects inherent to prehistoric art that simply don't interest me.  Although I did find the idea that cave art was placed to correspond to good musical acoustics intriguing, for the most part archaeology and the prehistoric art studies where everything has to be categorized and labeled and measured is 1. tedious 2. boring as heck 3. seems fairly pointless, and 4. sucks the soul and enjoyment out of everything.  And please don't ask me to explain it more than that, because just typing that last sentence was painful for me.  Pick up a book on rock art or cave art and you'll see what I mean soon enough.  If you enjoy putting things into boxes, rock art is the art for you!

Ironically, the one thing I really wish White had addressed was aesthetics (although to be fair, he might have done so and I just skimmed over it).  Often in books about prehistoric art one sees statements like, "These beautiful and amazing images...," which always makes me go, "Hur?"  I mean, they're all right, but amazing?  Don't you think any other image from ye olde art history tome survey textbook is just as amazing, if not more so?  Some day I would like someone to explain exactly what makes prehistoric art so special and lickable, other than the fact that it's older than Moses. 

art history 101 reading project

So, so far my reading project hasn't been very successful, since I learned next to nothing from Prehistoric Art (admittedly, this was my own fault).  I think I'm going to read a book about a non-European Art topic next, since that is another one of my major weaknesses (and also since I haven't found a good book about Ancient Near-Eastern Art yet).  I suppose the little kiddies will just have to put up with my sub-standard understanding of prehistoric art.  Oh well!

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