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Wednesday, March 03rd, 2010 | Author:

I meant to link to and endorse a review my friend Marie Carlson wrote a couple of weeks ago, and then got super-busy (reading and writing, naturally. Oh, and doing dishes. Much less glamorous) and forgot. But now I have remembered!

The reason I’m linking to Marie’s review instead of writing up my very own is pretty well summed up in her introduction:

I will start this mini-review with a bit of funny that happened. The other day I sat down to continue reading Wolf Signs, the awesome Elizabeth Reeve popped up on IM, and we had this exchange (mostly paraphrased):

Eliza: I read some short stories I liked. They were about werewolves. You like werewolves. Let me tell you about them! (She also thoughtfully provided links, because she is awesome. Because I am also awesome, I will pass those links on to you: “First Howl” and “Second Howl” by Vivian Arend.)
Eliza: *talks a little about the short stories and the things she likes about them*
Eliza: And a female lead who is deaf!
Me: *double take* I think I am reading these books! I was just going to tell you about this free book I got for the Kindle. (Because I am still awesome, I will include a link, though I can’t guarantee how long the freebie will last: Wolf Signs.)
Me: Shared brain for the win!

So, you can see that Marie and I had very similar thoughts on this series right from the beginning, including the “oh, hey, I want to recommend these stories to someone!” thought.

The rest of Marie’s review can be found here: I Recommend…Wolf Signs by Vivian Arend (spoilers). As you can guess from the title, she spoils bits of the plot of the first book of Vivian Arend‘s Granite Lake Wolves series, so be aware of that before you click through.

We continued to have very similar thoughts on Wolf Signs right through the end of reading it, so you can look to Marie’s review for a more in-depth take on some of the things about the book that didn’t quite work for me. But the things that did work were very appealing. I loved the heroine, Robyn Maxwell. She’s a fun character, and I was really pleased to see a deaf heroine whose disability wasn’t treated like some kind of horrific, over-the-top curse. Robyn’s deafness makes some things in life more complicated for her than they might be for a hearing person, but she’s resourceful, and perfectly capable of taking care of herself.

Arend also avoided going too far in the other direction in her portrayal of a character with a disability. Robyn isn’t some kind of inhuman (well, okay, a little bit inhuman, but not like that) paragon, either. She’s not a cautionary tale, or an object of pity, or an inspiration to “the rest of us.” She’s a person, and a well-developed heroine.

I would have enjoyed the book for Robyn alone, but the other characters in Wolf Signs are equally engaging. Combine that with a really appealing setting and an intriguing take on werewolves and pack politics, and you’ve got a series-starting book that I’m happy to recommend. And I’ll be picking up the next book in the Granite Lake Wolves series as soon as I’ve caught up some with my backlog of reading material.

And my dishes.

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Friday, January 15th, 2010 | Author:

I downloaded “Fall, Falling, Fallen,” by Karalynn Lee because it was offered as a freebie from Samhain Publishers, knowing absolutely nothing about the it. I’ve been stocking my new e-reader with as many free short stories and novellas as I can get my hands on, the bulk of which have failed to move me. “Fall, Falling, Fallen,” however, caught my attention right from the beginning and held it firmly straight through to the end of the story.

The heroine is Melea, one of the daughters of the lord of Jenne, who spends her time breeding and working with hunting hounds, even though it’s considered an unsuitable pastime for a woman of her status. She prefers to chase after a missing dog rather than stay in Jenne to greet visiting Prince Kaen and, in true romance fashion, winds up running into him alone in the wilderness. The attraction and flirtation proceed from there just as any fan of romance might expect.

Though the basic plot outline is conventional, “Fall, Falling, Fallen” has plenty of interesting and unexpected details of character and setting which keep the story fresh. Instead of a typical, vaguely European setting for a story featuring royalty and magic, the characters are dark-skinned, and the hunting hounds pursue gazelles through a landscape dotted with baobabs. Lee also manages to pack a lot of personality into just a few pages, and Melea and Kaen are so appealing that I wished the story would turn out to be the first chapter of a novel.

Lucky me! Karalynn Lee has a novella available from Samhain right now, Summer-set, featuring the same setting, though it focuses on Kaen’s companion, the wolf-born Ryuan, and his own romance. I’ll be purchasing my copy today, and if it’s anything like as engaging as “Fall, Falling, Fallen,” I’m sure I’ll be recommending it here soon!

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Thursday, April 23rd, 2009 | Author:

Candy Tan, of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, has done a couple of guest posts at Powell’sBooks.BLOG recently, including one titled “The Genre Ghetto’s Genre Ghetto: How I Got Here, and Why I Love It.” The whole blog post tickled me pink (I can actually hear my mother’s voice in my head as I type that phrase, and it’s creeping me out a little bit. But now that I’ve written it down, it’s too funny not to use. Sorry. End digression!), but I particularly liked Tan’s reasons for why she keeps reading romances even though the publication rate for the genre ensures that “the total amount of pure crap pumped out is higher than it tends to be in other genres, and they tend to be more shoddily edited.”

So why the hell do I still read them, and why am I so passionate about them?

Part of it’s because when they’re good — or when I find one that I enjoy; these two sets don’t always intersect — they’re incredible. They’re smart, they’re moving, they’re subversive, and they speak to the deepest bonding urges we have. Humans are social beasties, and romance novels, more than any other genre, explore the human experience of building intimate connections with each other.

There’s also no other genre I can think of in which female protagonists are so consistently victorious, and so consistently happy by the end. I’m not saying that this in and of itself makes romance novels good, but it’s certainly part of what makes them attractive, and it definitely sets them apart from any other genre out there.

And romance novels are where a lot of interesting, tangled issues about societal expectations and gender norms and heteronormativity and sex roles are not just elements of the story, they’re centerpieces to the conflict.

Tan’s reasons for liking romance are closely in line with my own, both as a reader and a writer. I like to write – and read! – romance and erotica because it’s sexy and it’s fun and there’s a frothy sort of pleasure in it that goes along nicely with hot bubble baths or staying in bed all morning, sure, but there are also richer, more subversive pleasures. There are fantastic challenges waiting for writers who want to really dig deep into our cultural notions about relationships and love and sex, and there’s a lot out there to love in the genre for readers who want to try out new ideas while remaining within a familiar framework.

Anyway, check out Tan’s blog post, and then you might like to read a later post where she recommends some specific titles. I’m jotting down a list of titles to look for next time I’m at the bookstore right now.

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Saturday, April 18th, 2009 | Author:

My friend Marie Carlson has just started up a website/blog! Marie and I met through a writers’ workshop, where we discovered that we work very well together as critique partners. She and I are interested in the same basic genres of writing, but we have different approaches and processes which are very complementary when we’re helping each other through story drafts.

Marie was one of the first readers for “Lunacy,” and I’ve had the pleasure of reading several of her stories, which I hope to see in print soon! In the meantime, you should definitely check out her site.

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