Tuesday 30 March 2010

DIK Challenge/ MM Challenge Review - Islands by Samantha Kane

I'm reviewing this as part of both the DIK Challenge and the M/M challenge.

Blurb -
Lieutenant Commander Gabriel Conlan, United States Navy Seabees, knows he’s not in Kansas anymore when he steps off the launch at the small island of Ile Dorée and sees gorgeous Frenchman René Dubois waiting for him on the dock. The year is 1943, the place is the Pacific and the world is at war. Free from the censure of the military, Gabe has an explosive affair with René. But when the world intrudes, Gabe denies René and tries to forget the best sex of his life.

The only westerner on his small Pacific island, René is desperately lonely. When the tall, lanky American steps onto his dock, René knows his life will never be the same. He teaches Gabe how to make love to a man and, unexpectedly, falls in love. René will brave prejudice, Japanese Zeros and Gabe’s reluctance to find love at last.
In keeping with January and February I've chosen a book from another DIK lady, Islands was one of Renee's picks.

I usually steer clear of historicals mainly because I read them until I was sick of the genre in my twenties. However, I am quite interested in stories set during World War 2, maybe because the history is more recent.

There were things I loved about this story but I also had a couple of niggles.

Things I loved first.

The prose is lush and there's a real sense of being on an island in the South Pacific. I can completely picture Ile Dorée, and René in particular is very clear in my head.

The love scenes between the two men are hot and beautifully written, especially the first seduction scene between the two men. There was a clear sense of almost a mating dance, that both men had to be cautious until they were each certain of the other. Being in Gabe's point of view for this moment we are aware that he knows he's being seduced.
"Christ, they were done with dinner. On to dessert, apparently."
Gabe is drawn to René but he's also wary. Gabe is in the military, whilst René is a civilian; Gabe has so much more to lose if things go wrong.

The relationship between the two men develops very quickly. I can (somewhat) accept this because of the time the story is set. People take more risks and chances with their lives during a war, they have to grasp what happiness they can and take it while it is there. However, there were a couple of times when I felt the characters had thoughts that they weren't in a position to make after only knowing each other a few hours.

In a way my main niggle relates to this. I wish the story had been longer, that Samantha Kane had been able to take more time in exploring the relationship. This is a complaint I find I often make about m/m stories. Just the feeling that there is so much more story there to be told. The main parts of the story are there - boy meets boy etc. But I think if the story could have been longer I would have loved it even more. Maybe we would have also had the opportunity to find out more about Watson (a secondary character) and have a greater insight into what he thought about René and Gabe. The focus of the story (rightly so, given its length) remains tightly on the main characters, and whilst the story and epilogue satisfies, I wish there had been an opportunity to develop the story further.

Monday 29 March 2010

Dresses and/or Food

So I accept that my UF heroine cannot spend the whole book running around killing zombies and slaying vampires - apart from anything else that would be boring! Sometimes she has to do other things - research, investigation, snog the handsome werewolf. But authors also include other things to flesh out the world in which the heroine/hero lives. I'm going to discuss two of them today - one of which bores me to tears, and the other which I love. Quite what this says about me I'm not sure.

I am bored to death by pages and pages of description about CLOTHES!

I've just read a book where the heroine spends four pages trying on various outfits and shoes, along with loving descriptions of the line, cut and colour. Arrrgghhhhhh go and slay some creature from hell already!

If it's necessary to the plot, tell me it's a purple dress, if you must, tell me it's a purple Vera Wang - like I know what that means, I'm more of a jeans and t-shirt kind of gal. But I don't care that it's a purple 'whoever' from this season, cut down to here, slashed up to there, in soft velvet with a cotton and lace trim, a scalloped hemline and gold thread detailing. If I want that much information I'll read about it in Vogue or Glamour (not). Can we get back to killing zombies now?

I also hate when authors put their heroines in impractical clothes. She's running after a vampire over uneven ground in four inch heels.



These loving outfit descriptions often seem to go hand in hand with a plethora of designer name dropping. Which usually leaves me wondering if the author is getting some kind of commission.

Rant over.

Descriptions of food on the other hand....drifts off a little. If an author can write a brilliant description of an apple pie, warm from the oven, buttery pastry crumbling underneath a knife to reveal a juicy filling and just the hint of cinnamon in the steam. I am sold.

I love authors who can write wonderful descriptions of food. Maybe this is because I'm usually reading in between meals and if I read for a long time I start to get hungry. Maybe I'm more forgiving of food descriptions (because unlike clothes, which often feel quite two-dimensional to me) because they involve so many senses - taste, touch, sight, smell - they make the world of the characters feel more solid, more real.

Maybe it's because food is easier to weave into the plot - discussions over meal times help reveal things about characters, as can what the characters eat and how they eat it. Whereas changing clothes or trying different outfits on, stops the action. I'm more willing to linger over scenes set around meals, trying to take everything in; outfit changes? I just want to get onto the next bit of plot.

Thoughts? Comments? Do you prefer food or clothes? Or are there other extraneous descriptions that get on your nerves.

I have a copy of Lord of the Dark Sun by Stobie Piel to give away to one poster to this thread. Name to be chosen by random number at random.org on Friday/Saturday.

Wednesday 24 March 2010

Rosemary and Rue by Seanen McGuire

Rosemary and Rue begins the story of October (Toby) Daye. A changeling, she is caught between the mortal and fae worlds. Living in the mortal world, working as a detective, she has a family and has made a place for herself. Unfortunately the world of Faerie doesn't release its grasp that easily and on one evening she loses everything...for fourteen years. We catch up with Toby trying to live an anonymous existence but the world of Faerie is patient and when Countess Evening Winterrose is murdered, Toby is compelled by the victim's dying curse to investigate the murder.

I've been looking at a few reviews of this story and I've come to the conclusion that whether you hate it or love it will largely depend on your opinion of the heroine. I loved her.

For me, it was very much a character based novel, the more you are compelled by the characters and their lives, the more I think you will enjoy the book. The only other author I can think of that made me love a character so quickly is Kelley Armstrong. In just a few pages Seanan McGuire made me care about October and I appreciated the fact that when she was transformed in the first few pages of the novel, that she wasn't anthropomorphised she wasn't a human being trapped in the body of an animal, she was the animal. Somehow that's more horrific, to feel yourself slipping away and know that in a few moments the only life you'll ever remember is the one that you've been transformed into.

I also admit here that I'm a sucker for a book with Shakespearean undertones. 'Rosemary and rue' comes from Hamlet, chapter one opens with a quote from the play and it also holds some parallels with the play. A protagonist being charged to solve/avenge a murder.

I think I'd almost despaired of finding something new and original in UF - preferably ferret free - and yet here it is. October is a melancholy heroine, so if you prefer something jolly, this one probably isn't going to be for you. But she has lost so much, she has a right to be withdrawn.
All thinking did was make me remember what I'd already lost.
She's working on autopilot, merely existing, but the world she's a part of won't let her do that indefinitely. And Rosemary and Rue in a lot of ways is about her seeing her previous life through new eyes and finding out things are maybe not the way she always thought they were and the people she knew maybe don't belong in the pigeonholes she's put them in. She's been drawn into this mess against her will and the situation becomes more complex the further she's pulled in.
I've never liked being looked at like I was a hero.
But that doesn't mean that when she's put on the spot she walks away. She sees her 'quest' through to the end.

Confession - I am going to be a Toby/Tybalt shipper.
...it's something I can count on. Dawn comes, the moon wanes, and Tybalt hates me.
Tybalt is the King of the Cats and I like him because he is (I think) completely different to any other 'hero' I've read. (I put 'hero' in quotes here, because there is no definite suggestion - though there are a couple of hints, that there will ever be anything more than emnity between them). I love him. He reminds me of a little boy who pushes the girl he likes into a mud puddle, pulls her braids,drops spiders down the back of her dress and then can't understand why she doesn't like him. There is such crackling chemistry between them and it's interesting that he sees her perhaps better than she sees herself.
"No," he said, "you didn't want to know. You pigeonholed her the way you've pigeonholed everybody else,..."
But when she needs help, he's the one she goes to, mainly on the theory that no one would ever believe she would.

I don't want to give the impression that it's all doom and gloom. There's some sharp and cutting humour in there - loved the comment about Tinkerbell and the microwave - but it's kept in its place. There's also some good creepy stuff, surely six of the scariest words to be put into a sentence are - "There was someone else in the car."

The whole world is incredibly well realized and peopled with interesting characters - Sylvester, Tybalt, Lily, Luna, Rayseline, Julie, The Luidaeg, the rose goblin. Information/lore about the universe is interwoven into the plot without it feeling infodumpy. But if I had one quibble it would be that rather than a pronunciation guide in the front I wish that there had been an explanation of the various faerie species that are mentioned. I'm not familiar with all of them and it would be nice to have had a reference point.

For me at the end, there was a sense of hope. She's rejoined the world, albeit reluctantly and I am counting the days til A Local Habitation is available. This is one series that I'm going to become addicted to. Highly recommended.

Thursday 18 March 2010

Do you ever...

...read a sex scene and just wish the author hadn't bothered?

Wednesday 10 March 2010

Hunting Ground by Patricia Briggs

Second full length novel in the Alpha and Omega series, Hunting Ground continues the story of Charles and Anna. Bran the Marrock of the US werewolves has decided it's time for the werewolves to come out into the public. He knows that this view will not be without opposition, and Anna and Charles are sent to Seattle to keep the peace at the wolve's conclave. But nothing is ever simple, when one of the delegates is murdered, suspicion falls on Charles and the penalty for murdering another werewolf during the conclave is death. It will be up to Anna to discover the truth and save her mate.

Sounds relatively straightforward? Actually though that's the plot in a nutshell it's actually more complicated than that. But I'm not giving any spoilers away.

The thing I love about Patricia Briggs writing is that it's like catching up with old friends. You really feel you know the characters and I'm always eager to find out what's been happening in their lives.

I enjoyed Hunting Ground more than Cry Wolf (the first full length novel in the series) I think mainly because this story feels more like a coherent whole. Everything is working together, plot, character and the overall story arc. It's a little strange because you know where the overall universe plot is going (as the Mercedes books are ahead of the Alpha and Omega) but it also gives you a privileged viewpoint.

A major part of this story was the progression in the relationship between Anna and Charles. I love how Patricia Briggs tackles the concept of the bonded couple, it makes that 'instant soul mate' convenience thing in some other stories look like nothing other than a convenience.

Most UF authors are building over the course of two or three books towards an innate trust and instinctive understanding between their main couple (usually with a few major arguments and flare ups along the way). But Patricia Briggs takes Anna and Charles to that point almost immediately, as their wolves bond before their human selves do. She illustrates in a realistic way that relationships based on a form of instant bonding have just as many problems (if not more) than relationships which build over time. Anna and Charles's relationship is incredibly strong in some ways but it's also fragile. They have to work at understanding each other, instinct can only take you so far, the rest of the way is a leap of faith.
He loved her beyond all reason and didn't expect her to love him back. He was just waiting for her to wise up.
He expects that when she sees him for what he is - a killer - that she will be repulsed and leave him. But Charle's view is biased by his own perception of himself. He doesn't see himself in the way that Anna does. She has an objectivity, she sees all that he is and knows what being his fathers strong right arm costs him. And she proves she's more than capable of defending him.
(Angus)"...I don't ever want to face that man fang and claw."
"If you don't shut up," Anna bit out, "you might not ever have to worry about it."
A quick shout out for two new characters - Moira (witch) and Tom (werewolf) - as soon as I started reading them I wanted to know more. So was delighted to find out that their story is in the anthology Strange Brew which I will be picking up very soon.

I highly recommend this entry in the series and am impatiently waiting for the next release in the series. Luckily there will be another Mercedes book before then to help me through the wait.

Monday 8 March 2010


Kris did an excellent post on this subject a few weeks ago. And I've seen a couple of other bloggers tackle it as well. It can be an emotive subject (and there are subjects I avoid reading about so I completely understand that) but I'm going to look at it more from an objective point of view - can it/does it/should it work in romantic fiction. This is where I immediately contradict myself. I don't seek out romantic fiction, by that I mean category/standalone contemporary and historical m/f. I prefer stories where relationships evolve organically over the course of two or more books rather than being constrained by HAVING to provide a happily ever after at page 350. My main reading (if you didn't already know) is fantasy, urban fantasy and dark fantasy, my contemporary romantic fiction is mainly m/m. But I think regardless of genre my opinion on infidelity between partners in fiction is:-
  1. It depends strongly on the skill of the writer.
  2. The infidelity MUST serve the story in some way. It must push the story forward either through character or plot development. Something must either change or be revealed.
I think there are three broad scenarios of infidelity where I understand the reason for the infidelity - i) to protect, ii) when one partner already knows the other will be unfaithful, iii) make or break. (I'm not even going to attempt to justify someone who fucks around just because they can, that's not something I'm interested in reading about). TO PROTECT Where one partner sleeps with someone outside the relationship, to protect either their partner or their children. This is essentially a form of rape. Although as an observer (the reader) you could argue that the character had other choices open to them, it's usually clear that the character themselves feels trapped in the situation. I've read this with both a female character and a male character as the trapped protagonist. In both cases there was a major effect on both character and plot development. Nobody walked away from the situation unscathed, there were profound consequences for all involved. WHEN ONE PARTNER KNOWS THE OTHER WILL BE UNFAITHFUL This is trickier to pull off. Again two examples. Phaedre the heroine of Kushiel's Dart is a courtesan and a masochist. Her consort, Joscelin, knows this - knows that she will have sex with other people. But the reader doesn't doubt that they have a strong relationship. Their circumstances are part of the society they live in and the social status they have. Importantly, she doesn't make false promises to him. 

Warrick and Toreth of The Administration Series are probably one of the most complex couples I've read. The more emotionally intimate they become (or seem to become), the more Toreth reacts against it by 'fucking his way round the city'. Everything they do is completely wrapped up in who they are as characters, everything serves to pull back another layer and reveal more. MAKE OR BREAK Perhaps the most common use of infidelity - one that definitely seems to crop up often and I think one that is therefore most likely to be mishandled by the author and/or misunderstood by the reader. There is a breakdown of some kind in the relationship and the affair/one night stand is either a last ditch effort to get the other partner to wake up or it's a cry for help. 

There are probably numerous examples if I thought hard enough and it doesn't always have to involve sexual intercourse, sometimes the infidelity is more about emotional intimacy. One example of this Sterling leaving Owen in Bound and Determined by Alexa Snow and Jane Davitt. I think in the end it will always come down to the individual writer and reader. But infidelity between characters shouldn't be used as shorthand for 'they've got a problem', quickly followed by ' it's okay now, all's forgiven'. If there's a breakdown in trust that should have consequences. If it's an accepted part of the relationship that will still have ramifications for how the protagonists deal with each other, and how readers respond to the characters. I don't think it's a plot direction that should be taken lightly but when handled well it can produce powerful writing that makes you think about the nature of relationships. 

Just in Case...

There's anyone out there I haven't yet converted to being an Ursula Vernon fan.

Go and Read This Post. :)

Saturday 6 March 2010

Winner of...

...the Ferrets! giveaway is


There's a copy of The Demon's Daughter waiting to be sent to you.

Thursday 4 March 2010


...I think I'd like to spend a few days vacation in Ursula Vernon's brain. It would be scary, maybe a little weird and surreal but there would always be something interesting going on.

This is a roundabout way of saying if you're interested in writing, then you should read this post. :)

Tuesday 2 March 2010

Loveless Volume 2 - Yun Kouga

I've been checking out the reviews on Goodreads and it seems that the Loveless series is one that you'll either love or hate. I fall into the former category, if I could only read one manga series I think this is the one I would pick.

Volume 2 continutes the story of Ritsuka and Soubi. This (for me) was a darker story than the first volume, Ritsuka's abuse from his mother is more apparent and the Zero's make their first appearance towards the end. Ritsuka is still trying to find out what happened to his brother Seimi, but more fighting pairs are coming after him and Soubi. Unlike the pairs that come after them, Ritsuka and Soubi do not share a name, there is an unbalance, a gulf between them that hasn't yet been breached.

There is so much packed into these volumes that for me to try and go through everything would make this review amazingly long. So I'll try and stick to the major details. The beauty of this story lies not only in the artwork but also in the language, the wording of the spell battles is almost like prose poetry. You can read them over and over again and each time get something new.

For me this volume is still about the difference between innocence and experience, childhood and adulthood, the differences between Ritsuka and Soubi.

Soubi (as a fighter unit) needs a sacrifice. It's like he's incomplete without one.
You are my law, Ritsuka. And my reason for living is you alone. I am your weapon. You can use me as you wish."
And I think this is why the dynamic between them doesn't feel unequal. Soubi is the adult but Ritsuka has the power. Soubi is almost an automaton in some ways. He is order, he follows a prescribed path. Ritsuka is chaotic, he doesn't know where he should go, but he is the one who is in charge. As Soubi says
"We are he who is commanded and he who commands."
We find out more about Ritsuka's world, we start to get a deeper idea of the extent of abuse he suffers at the hands of his mother, and learn that he visits a therapist every Wednesday. Ritsuka is convinced that when the 'real' Ritsuka returns he will disappear. He's struggling with some philosophical questions about the nature of his existence and place in the world. A heavy burden on a twelve-year old boy.

But he also has strong opinions and convictions.
I believe it's worse to hurt someone's feelings than to injure their body.
Some of his beliefs will be challenged by Soubi, but Ritsuka in turn challenges the fighter unit.

The Zeroes make their first appearance in this volume. These are a genetically engineered fighting pair, who look like young boys but they are also sociopaths. When their paths cross with that of Ritsuka's teacher she doesn't realise how much danger she is in. She gives them her name - a mistake, remember this is all to do with the power of words - once they know that they are able to take control of her. Then it becomes even more disturbing as they make the comment they should all go and lose their ears. (A child loses their ears when they lose their virginity).

Luckily Soubi arrives and engages Zero in battle. But without Ritsuka his sacrifice, he is at a disadvantage. Will he prevail and save Shinome Sensei? Well we'll have to wait until Volume 3 to find out as the main story ends on a cliffhanger. :bites nails:

This volume also has the short story In the Summer 1/2 and In the Summer 2/2. The same story told from two different perspectives. A much lighter tale and quite funny which you appreciate after the angst of the main story. 1/2 is told from Kaido Kio's perspective (Soubi's adult friend).
Hello. I'm Kaido Kio. Today I'm stalking a grade schooler. Oops, my mistake. I'm just tagging along with a pervert.
Kio is with Soubi, who is following Ritsuka. Ritsuka has decided he wants the day away from Soubi, he wants to spend it with his schoolfriends making memories (taking photographs) with them, because he has too many photographs of Soubi his collection is unbalanced.

We find out from Kio that before Soubi met Ritsuka he was a 'walking corpse'. With each book we find out a little bit more of the past, a little bit more of the mystery is revealed. (Another significant thing (I think) is that Soubi's fighting name - Beloved - which is carved into his throat, bleeds when he fights.)

2/2 is told more from Ritsuka and Soubi's perspective - the stalkee and stalker. And on page 185 there is the most beautiful frame of Ritsuka, if I knew more about the copyright of manga I would scan it, but I don't, so you'll just have to get the book and see it for yourselves.

Monday 1 March 2010


funny pictures of cats with captions
So, today a little moan. (What's new? You may ask. :) ) A while ago I wrote a post titled
10 things every potential UF heroine needs to know. It was me kind of poking fun at the cliches that seemed to be arising in Urban Fantasy fiction. I am now adding a new one to the list, and the picture is a clue - Ferrets!

If I read one more UF novel where the heroine has a ferret companion I am going to scream until my ears bleed.

I can almost understand how this trend started. A female fantasy heroine needs an animal companion, it can't possibly be a cat because that's what's expected and we have to be original and fresh. And it can't be a dog because that would be just too...doggy.

It's got to be something small, cute, independent, reasonably intelligent with a knack for getting into and out of trouble. A raccoon would just be ridiculous, and a skunk far too smelly. I think that leaves us with ferrets.

Ferrets, ferrets, ferrets.

Only they're no longer an original and fresh idea. Plus having seen the pilot episode of Warehouse 13 I now can't help but associate them with impossible wishes. (For those who missed that particular ep, if you make an impossible wish (e.g. world peace) using a magical object, what you actually end up with is a ferret. The last original idea in fantasy using ferrets that I can remember.

There are other members of the mustelid family, though I find it hard to imagine them cropping up in UF. However, it would give me the chance to use the 'a weasel is weasily recognised whilst a stoat is stotally different' rhyme in a review.

So are there any fictional animals that annoy you? Or failing that are there any cliches that you feel are really being overused recently? I have a copy of Demon's Daughter by Emma Holly to give away to one poster to this thread. Poster chosen at random by randomnumber.org on Friday (or possibly Saturday).