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Search tags: Lover-in-PerilDamsel-in-Distress
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review 2015-01-13 13:32
One Long Cheesy, Clich├ęd Epilogue
Last Call - Alice Clayton

I am pathologically unable to leave a series unfinished. Thank goodness, Alice Clayton's Cocktail series is now finished, and I'm glad to see the end of it. I liked the first book, Wallbanger, which was funny and irreverent and original, despite some flaws -- like a tendency to ramble, a sometimes juvenile tone, and a predictable plot. Unfortunately, as the series went on, the flaws got worse -- more rambly, more juvenile, more predictable -- and the rest of the books were less funny and less original.

 

That said, Clayton's fans will enjoy this little novella, which ties up all of the loose ends in Caroline and Simon's romance (and revisits the HEAs of their friends, who starred in other books in the series) with a neat if unbe-fucking-lievably clichéd little bow. If you are the kind of reader who likes the cheesy epilogues so common in romance novels wherein the hero and heroine either have a fairy-tale wedding or a baby, or both, this book is for you: Last Call is just one long cheesy epilogue. If you're the type who, like me, would rather skip the epilogue and leave the details of the Happy-Ever-After to the imagination, learn from my mistakes, and skip this.

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review 2014-09-22 01:08
Forgot the Bring the Feelz.
The Ranger - Monica McCarty

This third book in Monica McCarty's Highland Guard series (think 'Special Ops in Kilts') should have been right up my alley. There are few things I like better than a good, angsty, Forbidden Love story, where there's some almost insurmountable reason the lovers can't be together, and yet they can't seem to stay apart, and this should have been that kind of story. Arthur "Ranger" Campbell is a spy for King Robert the Bruce, posing as a knight in the service of Robert's enemy, John of Lorn, chieftain of the MacDougall clan. Arthur has his own score to settle with Lorn, who killed Arthur's father in a most dishonorable fashion and stole the Campbell's lands years before. Anna is Lorn's daughter, and loyal to her father and his causes, which means she wants nothing more than to see King Robert defeated. Since Anna and Arthur are on opposite sides of the cause and neither can bend without betraying their families and everything else they hold dear, their attraction should have been angsty and fraught with emotion and pathos and ALL THE FEELZ... except it wasn't. Somehow, McCarty forgot to bring the feels. This book was such a snoozefest. 

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review 2014-08-14 13:42
Very Satisfying Second Chance Romance (but beware of triggers!)
Beyond Addiction - Kit Rocha

I'm a little bit torn as to how to rate this fifth full-length novel in Kit Rocha's Beyond series, honestly. As I've said before, I love this series beyond all reason, especially since this sort of thing (a polyamorous, liquor-smuggling, cage-fighting, pole-dancing motorcycle gang living in a violent, post-apocalyptic dystopia) is not usually my cuppa. Beyond Addiction is a strong entry in an already strong series, and parts of it I loved, but I do have a few complaints.

 

But let's focus on the good stuff, first, hmmm?

 

Beyond Addiction is a second-chance romance between Finn and Trix. Both were originally from Sector 5 -- (This plot summary will assume some general familiarity with the Beyond universe. If you're not familiar, start with the first book, Beyond Shame, which just happens to be free at most e-book retailers right now.) -- whose main industry is making drugs for medical use in the city of Eden and more recreational (and addictive) use in the Sectors. As an enforcer for sector leader Mac Fleming, Finn spent a lot of years doing other people's dirty work. 

 

Years ago, Trix was a junkie dependent upon Finn for her next fix, and though they had a real emotional connection and plenty of sexual chemistry, neither could be sure what she needed from him most: his love or his ready access to dope. Desperate to get clean, Trix double-crossed Mac (and by extension, Finn) and escaped to Sector 4, where she got healthy and found a home and family with the O'Kanes.

 

At the start of Beyond Addiction, Mac Fleming's henchmen have kidnapped Trix, and Finn burns his bridges with Sector 5 in order to get her safely back to the people she loves, though he doesn't believe, with their history, that he'll ever be worthy to be counted as one of those people.

 

The Good Stuff:

The real "second chance" in this story is not Finn's relationship with Trix, but his relationship with the rest of the O'Kane clan. As a long-time enforcer for a rival sector leader, Finn has a lot to answer for with the O'Kanes, including his direct role in getting Trix and Jade (and probably others) hooked on drugs. Trix is more than willing to forgive his sins, but the other O'Kanes aren't as easily won over. Watching Finn own his past, make amends, and ultimately earn himself a place in the tight-knit O'Kane family was enormously satisfying. As I posted in a status update yesterday, previous Beyond books have talked about the sisterhood among the O'Kane women, but this book gave a new and very welcome insight into the brotherhood of O'Kane men.

 

This book is the fifth in a planned seven book series (not including the novellas that come out between novel releases), and we're far enough along now that the reader (me) has a better understanding of the complicated labyrinth of Sector politics and loyalties, and a better sense of the ultimate confrontation that the whole series is building toward. As a reader, it's as if I've been working for a long time on a huge, complicated jigsaw puzzle, and I've made enough progress now that the big picture is starting to come together... and there's a huge sense of satisfaction in that. 

 

My Complaints:

I know a lot of Beyond readers will disagree with me for saying so, since the sex is such a defining part of this series, but I've gotta say that, for me, the smexy parts are losing their charm. I skimmed past most of the sex in this book. It's just too similar to all the sex in all of the previous books, and in my opinion, it detracts from the individual couples' stories. Each book focuses on a couple (and in the case of Beyond Jealousy, a triad), and each relationship has its own unique history and conflict and resolution -- and yet, as different as each couple/relationship is, we're supposed to believe that sexually, everyone in Sector 4 has the exact same kinks? Mmm, not so much. Don't get me wrong: reading about Lex and Dallas sexing up Noelle in Beyond Shame was hot, but now that we've read about them sexing up Rachel, Trix, and God knows who all else, it's starting to feel Beyond Same, and that's not cool.

 

The other thing that really, really bothered me about this book was that it had not one but two child-in-peril subplots. I hate when authors do horrible things to kids just to move a plot along or twist a reader's sympathies, and this book did it twice.

First, Flash and Amira's baby, Hana, gets sick and Finn has to make a dangerous run to Sector 5 (where he is a wanted man) to steal the drugs that will save her life. Second, the new leader of Sector 5 brutally murders the old leader's wife and children, including babies, for no good reason (except to get the lone survivor to Sector 4 as sequel-bait).

(spoiler show)

Neither incident was integral to the plot, which was good in the sense that, as a mother and thus a reader particularly bothered by child-in-peril stories, I didn't have to linger on the horror -- but then again, since neither incident was integral to the plot, why the hell include those horrors at all?!

 

In conclusion, Beyond Addiction has a lot to recommend it, and fans of the series won't be disappointed -- but it also has a lot of triggers (violence, rape, child-in-peril) to trip up unwary readers, so buyer beware.

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review 2014-07-29 16:24
Let's be real: the All Souls trilogy is Twilight-spawn.
The Book of Life - Deborah Harkness

Slightly pretentious Twilight-spawn, actually, as if all of this highbrow attention to history and science and art could obscure the fact that we're still talking about two stories where an obscenely wealthy and dangerous old vamp falls in love with a mousy, not-very interesting human and their love is obsessive and forbidden, and over the course of the series Mousy Girl gets her groove back and becomes Queen of the Mary Sues, and when the couples breed the Powers That Be are disgusted and afraid of the unknown dangers that these rare forbidden vampire-hybrid babies represent, and vow to wipe out the whole Cullen/de Clermont clan.

 

That said, there's a reason Twilight made Stephanie Meyer rich, and there's a reason all of these books are bestsellers. Mock all you want, with good reason (and even Harkness mocks, when her vampires haughtily insist they don't sparkle), but the fact is, these books are entertaining. Twilight lets you shut off your brain and get carried away in the fantasy of forbidden attraction; All Souls takes you on the same journey without shutting off your brain.

 

I read A Discovery of Witches in February 2011, with no idea it was the start of a trilogy, and when I got to the cliffhanger ending, I was so gobsmacked it took me several days before I could sleep again. When Shadow of Night came out in 2012, I got an ARC copy and took a week's vacation so I could savor it properly. But since then, I've moved house, had a second baby, weathered a lot of changes at work, and I'm generally a lot busier, and so when the long-awaited final book in the All Souls Trilogy showed up on my Kindle, while I was excited to see it, I didn't have time to drop everything and devour it. Moreover, I didn't have time to re-read the first two books to refresh my memory, which in retrospect would have been very helpful. Consequently, I spent the first quarter of The Book of Life catching up on vaguely remembered details from the complicated world Harkness developed in the previous books.

 

The Book of Life picks up more or less where Shadow of Night leaves off: time-traveling supernatural power couple Diana Bishop (a witch) and Matthew Clairmont (a vampire) have returned to the present day from 1590, where Diana was learning how to use her rare spell-weaving powers from the more powerful witches of that age. (One of the overarching plot issues is that the magical world is weakening in the modern age: witches cast less effective spells, vampires are less able to make new vampires, and daemons are more prone to insanity than genius.) Diana is pregnant with twins, a secret which will get them in very hot water with the Congregation (the governing council of the magical creatures), because witches, daemons, and vampires aren't allowed to marry outside their own kind, much less reproduce.

 

Book of Life ties up the convoluted strands of the series-wide plot: the search for the ancient manuscript, Ashmole 782, that all of the creatures believe holds the key to their survival; the long-anticipated confrontation with the Congregation over Diana and Matthew's forbidden relationship; the explanation (and solution) to the problem of weakening magic. In reaching these conclusions, the book delves deeply into a lot of less central subplots: there is a lot of time devoted to the gordian knot of political and familial loyalties and obligations in the de Clermont vampire clan, a lot of time devoted to the analysis of genetic material in the pages from Ashmole 782 and DNA-testing of various magical creatures, and a lot of time devoted to traveling and describing the many settings of this book, including various locations in France, upstate New York, New Haven, London, New Orleans, Oxford, Venice, and Chelm, Poland.

 

The entire series has been plagued by pacing problems. Deborah Harkness's attention to detail is at once the series' greatest strength and also its greatest weakness. The extensive descriptions of places, people, history, furniture, art, and so on make the reader feel like s/he is right there in the story, but sometimes Harkness gives us more detail than we could possibly need. In A Discovery of Witches, the never-ending descriptions of Diana's clothes and meals made me crazy. In Shadow of Night, Harkness told us more about arcane alchemical processes than any reader (except perhaps a Ph.D. candidate) could possibly care to know. -And here in Book of Life, perhaps more than ever, the details get in the way of the story.

 

Let me explain: As the capstone of the trilogy, Book of Life is the climax the whole series (all 1800 pages of it) has been building to. The reader therefore has a sense of urgency in seeing how certain plots resolve that the detailed narrative often frustrates. Some examples: Matthew's mother, Ysabeau, gets held prisoner early on by the Congregation. Despite expressing some concern about it (and after learning why imprisonment might be especially traumatic to Ysabeau given her history), Matthew and Diana hie off to the States and spend several months gardening and cleaning the Bishop homestead in New York rather than working on a plan to free her. Later, they learn that the Book of Life's main villain is holding a witch hostage and repeatedly raping her, trying to breed with her. Matthew and Diana express horror and outrage... and then go to Yale and spend several more weeks futzing around in labs and libraries. Then, Diana has a pregnancy complication and gets put on bed rest while she and Matthew are on separate continents. Rather than rushing to her side, Matthew spends a week carving infant cradles. Later still, Matthew himself is a hostage of the Big Baddie, and Diana hurries to France... to feed her babies. Now, as a relatively new mom myself, I get that babies need to be fed, but surely not even the most hard-core breastfeeding enthusiasts would object to the sitter offering a little bit of formula so that Mom can go save Daddy from Mortal Peril.

 

The baby plot was almost as ridiculous and cringeworthy in Book of Life as it was in Breaking Dawn. The birthing scene was less horrifying, thank God, and the Bishop-de Clermont babies have reasonably normal names and growth patterns, but they still prefer blood to milk, and there's a ridiculous scene in which Diana tells her husband that their daughter is "not a vampire. She's a vampitch. Or a wimpire." (p. 424). Seriously?!

 

Book of Life has a point of view problem (as does Breaking Dawn, now that I think of it). Some of the book is written in first-person POV, as narrated by Diana. Some of the book is in third-person POV, usually limited to Matthew or other characters, but sometimes almost omniscient. Whatever rhyme or reason there may have been to the POV changes, I found them jarring and unnecessary.

 

One plot I wish the series had developed more fully (and I say that with some hesitation, when there were so many plots that could and maybe should have been pared down), is the issue of Diana's mortality. Unlike Twilight's Bella, Harkness's protagonist has no intention of becoming a vampire. That means this is a story of a timeless, all-consuming love between a woman who will live a mere handful of decades and a man who has already survived millennia. Perhaps the most empowering aspect of this love affair (especially contrasted with Twilight) is that both Diana and Matthew are happy with Diana the way she is, and don't wish to change her... but I still think they need to confront the issues raised by her mortality in a more meaningful way. At one point, Matthew tells Diana that his greatest wish is to grow old with her, which of course can't happen -- Diana's response is to conjure him a few grey hairs for Christmas, a wholly unsatisfactory answer to a real and pressing problem.

 

Reading over my review, it all sounds more negative than my actual reading experience reflects. I have a lot of nitpicky complaints, but overall, this book, and this series, is great entertainment. It's long and complicated and full of delicious (and sometimes maddening) detail, and the romance is compelling and the stakes are sky-high, and for a lot of people (including me) the All Souls trilogy is total reading catnip. I envy newcomers to the series who have the time to dive into all three books and read them in one epic 1,800 page binge, all at once, because I bet the story would be all the more transporting and satisfying that way, rather than interrupted by the long wait between book releases.

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review 2014-01-20 17:06
I Hit The Ridiculousness Threshold and Have No More Shits to Give
Voyager - Diana Gabaldon

Last week when I posted my review of Outlander, I wondered whether it would be smart to press on with the series in one massive reading binge, or whether, due to their epic length and the difficult emotional content, it would be smarter to take them slowly... as if I could. A longstanding joke in my family is that I was absent the day they handed out will power, and sure enough, even as I knew it would probably be too much for me emotionally, I devoured Dragonfly in Amber and then Voyager. And maybe it was too much of a good thing, or maybe it was just that I hit a wall and had no more empathy to waste on Jamie and Claire and their endless trevails, but I reached a point midway in this book where I just could not willingly suspend my disbelief any longer.  

 

I'm not sure what happened. Having finished Outlander and Dragonfly in Amber, I was already well used to the endless cycle of Jamie and/or Claire finding themselves in mortal peril with no way out, only they do get out, celebrate their narrow escape with sexy times, and then shortly find themselves in mortal peril again. I'd suspended my disbelief quite a bit, and was just enjoying the ride.

 

Back in December 2011, the DBSA Romance Fiction Podcast (hosted by Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and Jane Litte of Dear Author) had an episode about the Ridiculousness Threshold -- that point at which the reader can no longer accept character or plot insanity and no longer enjoys the book. For me, I hit the Ridiculousness Threshold the moment Laoghaire's daughter walks in on Jamie going down on Claire

and calls him "Daddy!"

(spoiler show)

 

After that, no matter how I tried, I could not silence my inner skeptic. Almost every twist and turn of the convoluted plot made me roll my eyes and think, "Oh, for f***'s sake, seriously?" The entire rest of the book is one absolutely ridiculous coincidence after another, and even in a series where I was willing to believe in time travel and the main characters' repeated skin-of-the-teeth survival against all odds, I just could not believe in pirates and slasher-killers and secret babies and zombies and shipwrecks and all of the rest of the insanity writ large over the 870 pages of this book. 

 

And you know, the hell of it is that even though I'm totally done, and can't shut up my inner critic enough to enjoy reading, I still want to know what happens to Jamie and Claire next. Maybe I can find some Cliffs Notes. 

 

Let's call this P is for Pilgrims (the story involves moving someplace new) in Sock Poppet's 2014 A to Z Reading Challenge, since by the end Jamie and Claire seem on the verge of settling in colonial America. 

            

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