manifesta: (Default)
A quick recap: I'm giving away 2 books for [community profile] three_weeks_for_dw (aka 3W4D). 2 winning participants will get to choose from a selection of books that I'll be analyzing over the course of the 3 weeks (though really now it's closer to 2 weeks... oops). Chosen books will range from romance to fantasy to YA. Here is the introductory post and giveaway rules, and all giveaway-related posts will be filed under the book giveaway and three weeks for dreamwidth tags.

Just when you think I've fallen off the face of the 'verse, I come rolling on back with another one. This time it's Skin Game by Ava Gray.

Genre: Paranormal romance
Release: November 2009

If I were to list, off the top of my head, all the reasons I like this book, they would be (in no particular order): the hero is not a rapist, asshat, or domineering to the point of controlling the heroine; the heroine is highly independent, self-confident, and assertive; her magical powers (which are minimal, but impressive) do not define her; and Kyra and Reyes' sharp, fiery banter. The sex scenes are hot, too, although what Kyra thinks is kinky makes me laugh just a little on the inside.

Kyra's a badass conwoman/thief on the run after pulling off a major heist. Reyes is an assassin sent to kill her and bring back the loot. Too bad Kyra's skill is the ability to temporarily steal other people's best skills and use it against them. This paranormal is low on the paranormal (paranormal-lite?), and I wonder if that might be why I like it so much. Not necessarily because I prefer less emphasis on the paranormal--as a fantasy reader, that's simply not true--but perhaps because, by focusing less on Kyra's magical powers, Ava Gray was able to write her as fully fleshed-out character whose identity did not revolve around her power.

As I see it, the current structure for paranormal romance and modern urban fantasy allows the heroine to rely solely on her magical powers and/or her boyfriend(s) to get her out of a jam. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, because the paranormal/urban aspects are what define the subgenres, but when magic or guns or sexuality or boytoys replace any real characterization of the heroine--her personality, her intelligence--the book loses impact. It's easy for PR/MUF heroines to become cardboard copies of each other: the gun or the mysterious powers become all there is that you need to know. Kyra's strong in the sense that she's not easily manipulated, she's cunning, and she gives back what she gets. Her ability to steal others' skills doesn't overwhelm or define her. She is also Reyes' equal, and him hers (which I think speaks to his humanity and strength, too).

Another refreshing tidbit was Reyes' lack of magical powers. He still fits the physically-strong-hero mold, but Kyra has the advantage; she's something he's never seen, never dealt with before. And whatever strength he has is negated when she steals it.

Make no mistake, Reyes does use his strength, and has flash impulses that portray him as potentially controlling and even dangerous--but he never acts on those impulses without Kyra's consent. He's manipulative; he has to be. But the danger, the real danger, stays out of the bedroom. It's a fine line and I feel like Gray walked it well.

The cover baffles me. It's clearly supposed to depict Reyes in all his half-naked glory, even though the story revolves around Kyra. Her motivations, her plotline, her actions are what propel the story forward. But at the same time, I'm somewhat grateful that it's not yet another half-naked, leather-wearing woman on the cover. And I suppose it coincides the title.

Which, by the way, I had to look up: "A term coined by renowned investor Warren Buffett referring to a situation in which high-ranking insiders use their own money to buy stock in the company they are running." I had quite the "OH!" moment, although it doesn't make sense until the end.

The ending... I don't know how I felt about the ending. It seemed rushed, and both characteristic and uncharacteristic of Kyra. Also, I'm annoyed that character ____ is going to be the hero of the next book, because he came off as such a creeper in Skin Game. It would take a lot of convincing to redeem him as a hero.

Overall, a good read. I love the concept of paranormal romance in theory, but it can be difficult to love in practice. PR books tend to follow the same pattern, a pattern I tend to take personal issue with. Skin Game shakes things up and even does a little dance in all its rebellious glory.

Want to win Skin Game? Hang around until May 13th, when I open a post for entries (and don't forget to read the rules!).

Sorry for the delay on responding/commenting. I hope everyone is having a good Three Weeks!
manifesta: (Luxurious)
Drive-by update, seeing as I have class at 8:30AM.

A few days ago I was in a rush to get to some friends' apartment and I wanted a book to read (they're gamer guys; they game, I read, it works out wonderfully) so I grabbed Blood & Chocolate off the shelf. I've read it dozens of times and it's still as amazing as it was when I was 12. Vivian is one of my favorite heroines because she's strong and beautiful and she knows it. She's not torn up about being a werewolf; she loves it.

I won't lie, the ending pissed me off the first time I read it. Eventually I came to appreciate it, and now I wouldn't have it any other way

I'm in the final stretch of reading Skin Game by Ava Gray. It's a paranormal romance that's light on the paranormal (is there such a thing as 'low paranormal fantasy'?) and the dialogue between the two protags is snappy. Kyra is a stong heroine without the help of her powers or a gun, and Reyes is adorable. I seem to be on a streak lately for picking good books from categories that I normally take issue with.

Alexandra Bracken has an extensive list of current publishing trends. Most fall somewhere along the line of what I had anticipated. I hope to see more post-apocalyptics in fantasy sometime soon (instead of YA for a change). If Guild Wars can combine a post-apocalyptic setting with fantasy elements, so can books.

I have some rambles about BWW stewing in the back of my mind, but it's getting late, so I'll leave those for another time.
manifesta: (Dangerous)

It is an unfortunate truth that I live in a wind tunnel. For some reason, Bellingham likes to show its worst side in the morning hours when I need to walk to class. The wind tunnel is a direct line from my apartment to campus. With little to no cover. My jeans are still hanging out to dry from the crazy wind and rain.

However, an hour after my last class, it became perfectly sunny out. I live in a city with a cheeky sense of humor.


Dry, warm, and armed with a caramel macchiato, I offer forth my analysis of The Raven Prince (with an introductory divergence into my reading habits).

I feel like I frequently purchase or choose to read books from specific subgenres (urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and historical romance in particular) in hopes of finding one that redeems the rest of the genre. Being a fantasy reader first and a romance reader second, urban fantasy and paranormal romance should be right up my alley. And in many ways, they are. Setting aside my dislike of repetitive tropes, I enjoy the fantasy aspects of most UF and PR. My main complaint tends to be the author's portrayal of women, using multiple boytoys or leather or guns to create the illusion of strength while still keeping them firmly tied down in the realm of acceptable femininity.  The most disturbing aspect of this is that the majority of these books are written by women for women.*

Historical romance is not only rife with strict gender roles and reduce women's worth to their sexuality, often times domestic violence is disguised as ecstacy, the laws of consent are bent until they're broken, and sexual assault is sugar-coated and justified. Given the fact that historically women are and have been oppressed by men and a system of male domination, I argue that it is inherent within any historical romance set prior to the 1970s that there will be rampant sexism.**

Which brings me back to every once in a while picking up another one of these types of books in hopes of finding something that isn't utterly appalling. I love history. To my chagrin, this is the first quarter that I've been able to take a history course since high school. And so it is a particularly awful quandry I've found myself in, wanting to immerse myself in a romance that takes place in a non-contemporary setting while also wanting the female characters to be written with respect.

There have been many women from history who we now describe as strong and empowered despite the times they lived in. These women persevered despite the oppression that surrounded them. Most didn't outright ignore their society's social norms but instead learned to adapt them. If they couldn't vote, they influenced their husbands'. If they could only wear skirts, they would wear trousers when in secret.  If they weren't allowed to fight in a war, hell, they disguised themselves as men and fought anyway.

It is because of this that I am convinced that historical romances can do better. I understand and respect the need for accuracy in historical romances, but accuracy is more than just correct fashions or dialogue--it is the little things, the details that differentiate a novel that depicts women in history as unknowing victims from a novel that illustrates women's strengths in the face of adversity.

Now. The Raven Prince

I picked it up on a whim over Christmas break and recently sat down to read it. It's a compelling, spicy tale of an impoverished widow who actively seeks a job (!!!) and becomes the resident Earl's secretary. Anna is snarky, inquisitive, and uncowed, even when dealing with Edward's temper. At one point, she questions the social construction of propriety:

"Had she ever met a prostitute? She thought not. such persons lived in a different world from poor country widows. A world that her community explicitly forbade from ever intersecting hers. She should do as John suggested and leave the poor woman. It was, after all, what everyone expected of her.

"John Coachman was offering his hand to help her up. Anna stared at the appendage. Had her life always been this constrained, her boundaries so narrow that at times it was like walking a tightrope? Was she nothing more than her position in society?

"No, she was not." (page 69)
Hoyt takes risks in writing The Raven Prince; Anna pushes more boundaries than I've ever seen in a historical. She toes the line between what is acceptable and what is not while still remaining, if somewhat precariously, on the side of societal respectability. She does not break so many rules that she becomes discredited as fringe or Other, but instead bends enough of them that she shines as a strong individual capable of asserting her opinion and taking care of herself.

This is what I mean when I say women in historical settings can and did adapt to their circumstances instead of merely conforming. This is what I mean when I say historical romances can do better.

There are flaws, of course. The constant reminder of how Anna is "feminine" and Edward "masculine" was overkill and unnecessary, explicit gender stereotyping. Edward himself was as decent a hero as I've seen, which the exception of an episode later in the book where he pinned her against a wall with his weight in a fit of rage. Believe it or not, this falls under the banner of domestic violence, and it is a prime example of how violence against women is frequently glorified as acceptable "because she deserved it" or passed off as sexual aggression in romance novels and our society at large. He didn't hurt her, but he damn well made sure she knew he could if he wanted to.

Additionally minor spoiler warning )

I also have a niggling feeling that Anna is only allowed to bend so many rules because she is a widow. I'd like to see a romance of a single, nonvirginal  single woman in a historical period that questions the structure of her society and then defies it. In many ways a single woman would have more to lose, and so I believe the risks taken would be greater and thus more compelling.

Overall The Raven Prince is my favorite historical romance that I've read by far, and I'm looking forward to the second book, The Leopard Prince.*** Hoyt did justice to Anna and wrote her as a strong, salient female character despite and within the confines of the era's social norms. 

*If history is any indication, romance novels tend to quite accurately reflect the reality of middle-class, heterosexual White women. Romances of the 50s-70s featured rape as the main form of initial intercourse between the hero and heroine; rape was used as a justification for the female character's sexual pleasure in a social climate where women were not supposed to want to have sex, let alone enjoy it. I would theorize that the sexualization of women in modern UF & PR is a reflection of an evolved but decidely insidious form of the same gender stereotypes from the 50s. Women are allowed to have sex and be sexual, but only if it takes place in the form of what men want; women are allowed to be strong, but only in ways men find acceptable. A woman is not allowed to stand strong on her own merit. This isn't to say, of course, that women shouldn't wear leather or pursue multiple sexual liasions--certainly. I am more concerned about the overall trend, and, no, I'm not convinced that the what-sells-is-replicated model is a good enough answer. I question why it sells.

**Not that there isn't sexism in contemporary romance, or any other genre for that matter. Our society was built on and perpetuates sexism, and until that system is revolutionized, even the most egalitarian novel will reflect that.

***The interspersion of the fairytale "The Raven Prince" was a charming detail, one I hope is repeated. 

manifesta: (Alex/Izzy)
Crimson & Steam is Liz Maverick's latest book, to be released on 12/29/09. From her site:
"Named for the angels, Los Angeles is a city of demons, a crucible of souls. It is Crimson City. Here vampires and werewolves vie for dominion, humans build soldiers of flesh and steel who seethe with fury. But alongside strife can be love--a love that cares nothing for species or origin. Yet, love doesn’t always conquer. Marius and Jill have long been kept apart. Bound by destiny yet forbidden true union, he is vampire; she, human. And a marriage alliance that promises peace for all others shall separate them forever. As if peace might be achieved so easily. Darkness is rising: a mysterious plot shall force every inhabitant of Crimson City to take sides. Deliverance exists, but first must come a tale of impossible passion and discovery, of Marius and Jill in a race against time leading back to the city’s paranormal beginnings, to Victorian London, to an era of invention and a world of *CRIMSON & STEAM*"
I enjoyed the intertwined storylines of the Victorian era and present-day. The steampunk elements revitalized the tired trope of werewolves and vampires. I hope some of the other Crimson City books focus more on the mechs, who I think are far stronger than they realize. I also adored Charlotte and Edward's romance, and in some ways the book is two stories for one, as their story unwravels alongside Jill and Marius'.

Unfortunately whereas I loved Charlotte and Edward, I wasn't as convinced by Jill and Marius. Jill annoyed the hell out of me. Marius coming to her rescue was a theme of the book, and more than once she calls out to Marius for help when she isn't in danger simply because she is desperate to see him. Even when he's practically dead and she sets out to save him, yet again does he end up saving her. Marius himself didn't stand out as a character, though there was nothing wrong with him, per se. I am impressed that Maverick tackled the difficult obstacle of writing a romance between two characters when one of those characters is already married to another.*

Tatiana and Hayden were intriguing side characters, and if they feature in any of the previous books, I may pick those books up just for them. I wish there had been more interaction between Tatiana and Marius, though I realize why his absence was a strong motivating factor in Tatiana's plot. It just seemed weird that they didn't really interact until the very end; even fleshing out the one scene toward the middle where they do encounter each other would have made it seem more fluid.

As far as paranormal romances go, I did enjoy it, and the steampunk elements make Crimson & Steam unique. Unlike with many (paranormal, or otherwise) romances, Marius was not abusive, which I appreciated, but Jill became increasingly pathetic. I do hope Hayden shows up in another book; I'm curious as to what became of him.

*Though I would love to see a romance where the woman is the Badass Supernatural Leader who arranges a political marriage for herself in order to save her race and has a secret affair with a human man. Without being labeled as a slut.

Disclaimer: I received this ARC from the author via a contest hosted by Carolyn Jewel. I have not read any of the previous books in the series.
manifesta: (Default)

I finished Califia's Daughters by Leigh Richards before I left for home, and I was right: there certainly was a plot twist. Kind of. And then that entire plot line that drove the first half of the book was completely dropped, and a much stronger, more evocative story emerged. I feel like the book would have been even better had Richards eventually tied up the ends of the first half and expanded the second half, but I suspect a page limit was involved. 

Crimson & Steam also arrived before I left! If you're keeping track at home, C&S doesn't hit the shelves until 12/2/9/09. I've never read or seen a novel pub'd by LoveSpell (sub of Dorchester), so I'm not familiar with what's typical for this brand, but despite being just over 300 pages, the ARC is glossy, beautiful, and super thin. Here's a comparison with Marjorie Liu's The Fire King, which is also just over 300 pages:

It's less than half the size! I love the weight and feel of it, and I hope the final version is also this way. If more paperbacks were printed this thinly, they could fit more on the shelves, and I could fit more in my suitcases (think of all the 800-page epic fantasies I could read!). The contest didn't specify whether it would be a signed ARC or not, but Liz Maverick not only personalized it, she also included a signed bookmark and congratulatory note. Thank you, Liz!

I haven't yet finished reading it, but thus far it's been a delightful bubblebath companion. A full review to come soon.

manifesta: (Sailor Moon)
Justine Musk on Why You Need to Write Like a Bad Girl, Part 1 and Part 2.
"As girls we are taught that we do not belong to ourselves: our time, our sexuality, our ambition, must be channeled into fulfilling the needs of others while our own needs are dismissed as unimportant, trivial, ‘female’.

The need to write isn’t about the desire to find meaning in the world, but to make meaning. If you have it, you know it; it’s lived inside you from a young age and will never leave. It will continue to call and nag and eat away at your soul until you start to do something about it. To deny it, to allow others to deny it, is to kill off a part of your personhood."

As Veronica from Dangerous Beauty says, "A woman's greatest, and most hard-won asset... is an education."

I'm currently reading Califia's Daughters by Leigh Richards, a present-day post-apocalyptic  based on the Amazon women of Mexico/California from the 1500s. (Present-day California is rumored to be named after Queen Califia.) A plague has killed off most of the men, leaving women to take up what had once been men's roles.  It's not particularly fast-paced, but I sense that there's an epic plot twist coming that I'm hoping is worth the wait.

I recently won an ARC of Liz Maverick's Crimson & Steam, the first paranormal romance with steampunk elements that I've heard of. I'm hoping it arrives in the mail before I leave for home next weekend, otherwise I may not get to post a review until after it comes out later this month.

Also: I'm deeply saddened that The Hunger Games is not coming out in paperback until July 2010. That's nearly two years after it came out in hardback.

In psych news, Experiment #1 has been laid to rest. I turned in my final paper and gave a presentation on it last week (nothing was statistically significant, nada, nothing) and now all I have left for school is my final on Tuesday. Over break I'm going to be studying for the GRE, researching one of my pet theories for a possible experiment, reading books, and eating candy canes. And writing BWW... but let's not think about that right now.

Oh! And I forgot to mention: Congress was fabulous. I took class taught by Liz Lira, a 16-time national and 6-time world champion. One of my favorite of her performances is from the 2002 Mayan World Championships. No pictures yet, but hopefully soon.
manifesta: (Black Widow's Walk)
I'm 1/3 of the way done writing Black Widow's Walk! *dances* *snuggles book*

With the end of the last scene Deahnna realized something partly inaccurate, and in the current scene I switched to a POV I haven't written in before. She's a minor character, but an important one. I was also finally able to write in some nonheterosexual secondary characters that are adorable and make me squee with happiness. (It also helps that they're courtiers but not nearly so awful as the others.)

I'm not currently reading anything other than psych articles, though I did pick up Lynn Viehl's new Shadowlight in an attempt to keep it on the NYT list for a second week (which it did, and totally because of me). I also found Califa's Daughters by Leigh Richards a few weeks back in an indie store. It has the makings for a feminist fantasy, or in the very least a fantasy that plays with gender roles (ala Anne Bishop). 

It's been raining nonstop lately, which has been disheartening. I love autumn... but I love autumn more when it's sunny and chilly, not rainy and chilly. I just hope it doesn't pour on Halloween. I don't fancy walking down the street in a rather long dress (albeit with boots) and getting soaked.  (For those curious, I'm going as River from Serenity.)

The dress is actually longer than it should be for River's dress, but it's blue and layered like hers. As I was walking around in it the other day, I realized that it's an outfit Deahnna would approve of, if not wear.

I know. I'm weird.

Black Widow's Walk
30, 009 / 90,000
manifesta: (Dangerous)
This is old news, but several months ago Annette Curtis Klause posted the new cover art for The Silver Kiss (released in July). You tell me: does it ring any bells?

New and Old versions, respectively:


The Silver Kiss is one of the original romantic vampire YA out there, written well before the sexy-vampire boom. Twilight's plot is highly reminiscent of it, something I hadn't realized before now (I've been blinded by my undying love for Blood & Chocolate--the book, not the movie). I will say that I'm not a huge fan of the original cover, but it's better than this black background-red object combo I keep seeing everywhere. (The last is technically purple but still counts.) And the tree branches? Cool at first, but now its old.

Does the abuse of Klause's works ever stop? First the decimation of Blood & Chocolate in movie form, and now this. Klause was writing paranormal YA when most current paranormal YA authors were still aspiring writers. I'm just waiting for the TwiHards to start crying that she ripped off Twilight. (If anyone sees evidence of this, please do send me the link.)

On the bright side, in the new edition there are two new short stories about Simon and Zoë.
manifesta: (Alex/Izzy)
I've been gnawing my fingernails off with worry about the beginning of Black Widow's Walk. Is it too edgy, too potentially triggery? Did I do injustice to a subject that is very serious?

I texted my former roommate asking if she could read it and tell me if I was an awful human being (she does so enjoy informing people when they're awful human beings). She read it, gave me some feedback, and basically told me that I wasn't a disgrace to the population (yet). Major sigh of relief.

It's been a dark and twisty, to quote Meredith Grey, past few scenes. I've had to walk away from it at points. I'm hoping with the scene I begin tonight, a new character will add some light-hearted banter into the mix, and though the book will always be dark and twisty at heart, it'll cheer up a little more from here.

On a brighter note, I went to Borders today and came away with Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente (an urban fantasy harking back to the more traditional lines of Charles de Lint), The Drowning City by Amanda Downum (sword & sorcery?), and The Fire King by Marjorie M. Liu (paranormal romance). 

I also picked up Psych Major Syndrome by Alicia Thompson, a recent YA debut. I've been uber excited for this book because I'm, um, kind of obsessed with my major. Social cognition (how we think when we interact with others + how we think in general) is a lover of mine. In the fall I'm going to be conducting research with one of my professors on stereotypes and prejudice.

I probably won't get to read these for a little while because of I have oodles of other books to read, but I'll ramble on about them when I do.