Thursday, July 30, 2009

Take me AWAY!

Well, I have had one of those weeks! Overscheduling, duelling deadlines, clients expecting magic and getting lumps of lame-o, one pathetic bout of me crying at a downtown busstop, and one narrowly averted double-scheduling. Where's my evil twin when I need her?

Anyway, I can barely even express how wonderful it has been to be reading Silent in the Sanctuary by Deanna Raybourn this week. Settling into the world of this book every night has saved my sanity.

Much of it takes place in the family ancestral home, a great Abbey in Sussex. The characters dress for dinner, which I always enjoy reading about. Lady Julia Grey's maid sometimes suggests outfits, frequently velvet gowns, as well as accessories. As far as I'm concerned, the book cover is totally Lady Julia in her gray pearls which she wore one night. Even though the pearls are black in the picture.

I love that the family and their houseguests play games after dinner. In the part I read last night, they considered charades, but settled on sardines, a kind of adult hide and seek. And stormy handsome mysterious Brisbane, stormily mulling in the background.

I so want to live there! I have so enjoyed luxuriating in this world. Yes the writing is beautiful, the story amazing, the series one of the best in known existence, but the world! Raybourn, take me away!

Contest: Anybody else want to be transported to this most delicious world? I will personally buy and send you a copy of book #1, Silent in the Grave or book #2, this one plus another goody. Just let me know you are entering in the comments and I'll pick one person on Tuesday. Open to all countries.

Image: Portrait of Madame Paul Poirson by John Singer Sargent, wikimedia

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Six Cool Things about Mark of the Demon

While I was reading Mark of the Demon by Diana Rowland, I remember thinking how much I love all the creativity and just plain old excellence in the urban fantasy genre these days. This book in particular was so entertaining and fascinating, I was quite pleased to have it to read on my trip - and I was bummed when it was over and I was still on a plane.

Yeah, I had other books to read, but you know how it is when you finish a book you're really rocking on, and no other book will do?

Charlaine Harris describes Mark of the Demon as a cross between a police procedural and an urban fantasy, and I think that's apt description. Main character Kara Gillian is a newbie police detective by day, reclusive demon summoner on certain nights. Much to the dismay of the other detectives, she's been assigned to lead big case--a serial killer!

Cool thing #1: Interesting & realistic details
I enjoy learning new things and getting nerdy little details in books. Rowland spent time as a cop, a crime scene investigator and even in forensics, so she really delivers--not on the dry details, but the way real people behave in that world.

I loved getting the view of a smart, sensitive woman making it in a male dominated profession, how the different people work a crime scene, the way the cops kid each other, the little things they know about each other, autopsy room biz and more.

#2 The odd involvement of a comic book artist and his work in the plot
I won't say much about this, except it was cool. And whenever I thought I had the relationship of the comic and the comic artist to the plot figured out, I was wrong.

#3 Excellent hero/subtle romance balance
Hmm, I better not say anything here, either! Whoa, what kind of review is this, huh? Maybe I'll say this: some people found this book to be a love triangle, some feel it's clearly not a love triangle, and I'm in the not a love triangle category. I felt there was one appropriate hero, and he's evolved through the book in a way that really satisfies me, and also makes me look forward to more from this pair.

Cool thing #4: Demon world details
The whole demon thing was well thought out, but not overly labored. One little detail I thought was so charming - Rhysel, a minor, part-animal demon Kara frequently summons, enjoys Barq's root beer as an offering.

#5: Use of Clothes
I love the way clothes make Kara feel real and even vulnerable. For example, one time cops come to her home and see her in her demon summoning outfit, and they think she's in her pajamas, and actually, her summoning outfit is sort of like simple silk pajamas. (She doesn't get into the "whole flowing robes thing.")

At another point Kara is feeling vulnerable about the investigation and getting all this push-back from male detectives and handsome Fed Ryan, so she puts on a spiffy-looking detective outfit instead of going with her usual casual look. The highly professional suit is a kind of armor against the flak she's getting, but she also looks good in it. These are not "bang you over the head" clothes details, they are just simple, perfect details.

#6 Villain backstory
There's a whole villain backstory, and I rather enjoyed how it made sense when you got to the end. I enjoyed thinking about the plot in retrospect, ruminating on how past events in the villain's timeline intersected with the morality/amorality of the demon world.

Diana Rowland's next book, Blood of the Demon comes out spring 2010. I am SO there!

Images: Demon portrait: Français : Vitrail néogothique dans l'église Saint-Martin de Florac: Saint Michel et le Démon, détail by Vassil, Police photo, both from

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

My own damn RWA pictures.

I'm back from California where I visited my childhood friend and my in-laws (see post below). What few of you know is that I was also at spirit!!

Here I am having a wonderful time at this get-together with many of my online pals. Oh, everybody was so charming and delightful! I wished I could join in with the conversation. Oh well. Instead I just admired how clever and beautiful they all were. Don't worry, Kristie J, you were never in any real danger of having your head bitten off.

Katie and Kati! Can you hear me? It's me, Carolyn! Oh, I so wanted to come to RWA and meet you guys!

I loved the hotel lobby. It was so grand! I felt like a princess. I understand the coffee was no good. Not my problem.

Uh! LisaBea! I couldn't even believe she met Janet Evanovich! I was SOOOOO jealous! And look how lovely they are.

Okay, enough of the freakiness now. Hey, don't forget to enter Barbara's contest for a mind-boggling 35 books she got at RWA!!! A few of my faves in there. And note that Book Smugglers is having a blowout YA month. Also, I read several books on vacation. Usually I only report on the ones I REALLY REALLY like, and for sure I want to talk about Diana Rowland's Mark of the Demon! It was so fun to read, I just tore through it. I will talk about it soon.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Letter from California & Deeper wrapup

Oh, wow, look how long it's been since I blogged! But I have an excuse: I have been on a trip to California where I have been both busy and computerless. First I went to Berkeley to visit an old dear friend (BFFs from 7th grade through high school & beyond). We had such a great time exploring San Francisco and Berkeley by day, hanging out with her wonderful boys and husband, and making yummy dinners and talking.

My old friend reminds me of my distinguished literary roots
One funny thing, she reminded me of this thing we used to do where we'd hang out in the high school library writing the most torrid, smutty fictional letters, like as if between a boyfriend and girlfriend, and then we'd place them on the floor as if they'd been accidentally dropped from a student's backpack, and wait for other students to pick them up and read them, reveling in their shocked and offended reactions. I had forgotten about that, which is apparently my earliest fine literary effort.

Will get kicked off computer soon
Anyway, now I'm in Carmel Valley visiting my in-laws, writing this from the ancient PC in the hotel lobby that I probably have to get off of soon. This is a beautiful area. Horse country. Will be back Wednesday!

However, I finished Deeper and never got to report back on it! (See initial impressions in the post below.) It's absolutely wonderful. It is not Megan Hart's most rolicking, most hot and juicy work, but I think it is her most mature work. There is a way in which I think it is her best.

I still sort of think Dirty is a good one to start with. Sometimes when people say you should start with a certain book they mean it's the author's best book. That's not the case here. I think Dirty is the one you start with for the ultimate Megan Hart fun, and I also loved Stranger (still haven't read Broken) but Deeper is the one you graduate to.

Later amendment: Actually, I've changed my mind on the para above. Deeper is great to start with. I think I might just think Dirty is the one to start with because I started with it. Do you ever do that?

The ending (no spoilers)
I honestly didn't anticipate the ending, but once I got there, I was like, Yes. In a way, the ending made a perfect circle back to the beginning and it paid off certain details richly. I won't say more than that. Oh, except that, I loved that this book was written about a woman who is older (the protagonist is 40-something, like me). I mean, because it switches back in time to her 20's, you get two ages, but both time periods were just a treat.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Feeling dorkily serious about the Deeper experience

Great moments from last night’s reading
Book: Deeper by Megan Hart
Page: I’m currently halfway through
Spoiler level: Oh so low

Every night this week I've been reading a few chapters of Deeper before bed. And then I turn out the light and just lay there in the dark with this strange, lovely, bittersweet feeling about life and love and the passage of time.

It’s been so long since a book hit me like that. Not to get all dorky, but what the hell, that’s what a good book is supposed to do, right?

Don’t be fooled
Don’t be fooled by the contemplative state I seem to have been thrown into: Deeper actually happens to be quite the sexy and riveting page turner.

Plot, in a nutshell:
Deeper takes place in two time periods: then (about 20 years ago) and now (present). Then Bess spent the summer at Bethany Beach and fell for townie bad boy Nick. Now Bess is older, with two sons and a crumbling marriage to a philandering lawyer. She goes to spend time alone at the family beach house.

And Nick inexplicably appears. Nick hasn’t aged for 20 years, and he doesn’t eat or sleep or have a heartbeat, but he can still have sex (and no, he’s not a vampire!) Even Bess doesn’t seem clear on what happened to him after she left Bethany Beach all those years ago, though it seems clear he died. Neither of them want to delve into all that, or how/why he’s reappeared—they are so into being together that they don’t want to question it, though Bess sometimes wonders if she’s going crazy. In the then storyline, we get the teen romance, presumably leading up to what happened to Nick.

This whole mystery
What exactly is Nick? What will happen when Bess’ two boys join her at the beach home? Her oldest is nearly Nick’s age. Will they buy that he’s a boarder? What will happen when/if the other townspeople see Nick? Will they remember him from 20 years ago? Can Bess and Nick even have a real-life relationship? And what happened back then?

Sometimes when you have books that alternate time periods, one time period is more fun and interesting to read about than the other, but in Deeper, both time periods are hugely compelling.

And of course, the hotness
Nobody does a sex scene like Hart. There’s something about the details she chooses—everyday, mundane clothing or choreography details that create this hyper realism, this fresh, frank sensuality.

How in the world will this thing end?
Obviously I haven’t hit the endgame yet. Really, a million different things are possible: some heartbreaking, some juicy, some exciting. And of course, this is an Erotic Novel, not a romance, so you aren’t guaranteed a HEA. That said, I have complete trust in Megan Hart: she’ll give me a HEA or something better.

This has been one of my best reading experiences of the year. It will have to go really wrong for it not to end in my top five. I may or may not report in about it. I might be verklempt!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

More morsels on The Highwayman & my husband spots a vagina!

I am continuing to enjoy catlike fun of The Highwayman by Michele Hauf. It's the story of Aby, a cat-shifting familiar, and Max, an immortal demon hunter (see my post from a few days ago for the blurb and my thoughts on starting the book.) I'm nearly done with it now. The setting has moved to Paris, always a plus.

Morsel #1: Breed characteristics woven into the heroine
As I said last week, our heroine Aby is an Abyssinian cat shifter. We get a description of the breed early on (Max reads about them) and I love how Hauf stays true to the breed character, almost as a touchstone for the character of Aby.

A few items from Wikipedia on the Abyssinian:
Abyssinians are extroverted, willful and intelligent, but are usually not "lap cats", being too preoccupied with exploring and playing as they would in their natural habitat. Abys need a great deal of contact with the family to keep them happy and can get depressed without daily activity and attention. Abyssinians are known for their curiosity and enjoy exploring their surroundings, including heights, although they are sensible cats that do not take unnecessary risks.

This really fits, but she doesn't hit you over the head with the cat stuff. Hauf has made other entertaining cat extrapolations; for example, Aby loves to soak in baths, but hates the rain or to swim. There is this great scene where she falls in a pool and is SO upset and miserable.

Morsel #2: Intriguing side characters:
I like Aby's bossy werewolf pal Severo, the bossy wolf who is a true friend. The next book in September will be about him, so I'll definitely be reading it. And the thing here is that you never feel like you're being series baited: Severo is an important part of the plot.

Morsel #3 Max and Aby as an opposites pair
Max: The world-weary, deprived fighter. Back in the 1700's when Max was a highwayman, he and his partner Rainer got pulled into a demon raising and Max ended up with a Demon shadow in him. Result: he's immortal, but he can't eat, sleep, or have orgasms, so he has this lonely grinding existence of hunting demons. Max is weary and has lived for centuries, and is on the verge of going crazy from deprivation.

Aby: The fresh and innocent one. Aby is almost the opposite of Max: maybe she wasn't born yesterday, but darn close: she's on her fourth life, but she came back as a teenager and doesn't remember things from her past life. So she's sensual and kind of naive. But not a virgin, due to her paranormal doings.

Max's old partner Rainier: I won't tell! Though most of the book, Max doesn't know what happened to his partner Rainier, but it's fun finding out. It's one of those little inner-book mysteries.

Morsel #4: I still find the prose catlike.
It was delightful to have author Hauf visit on the last post (or just see below.) She noted that she didn't intentionally make the prose catlike. But does that mean it's not there? Did she achieve a catlike style subconsciously and wasn't aware of it? Am I reading things into the prose? Is it a little of both? Does it have anything to do with my own cats currently staring at me, waiting for dinner?

Morsel #5: Best understatement in a book
So there's this witch Grim who has a bit part (so far, at least). As Max tells it, centuries ago, Grim wanted to marry a vampiress, but the vampiress married a werewolf instead, so Grim had her locked in a glass coffin buried beneath the streets of Paris. Worst of all, a spell on her means she stays alive, motionless, and is always aware, presumably insane now. Max's commentary on the subject of Grim: He's an asshole. I thought that was kind of hilarious.

Late-breaking morsel #6 My husband spots a vagina on the cover
Okay, after completing this post, I brought the book to bed to finish, and my husband inspects the cover and he's like, what's that he's holding? And I was like, It's a whip! And my husband goes, That's not what it LOOKS LIKE. And I go, Well, that's what it is, a WHIP--a demon killing whip. And he's like, No, look at it. It's a vagina!

It sort of does look like a vagina. Okay, Silhouette Nocturne cover artist, WHAT is going on? Are you having some naughty fun with the Nocturne readership? Is this subliminal advertising? Am I hallucinating cat-like prose and my husband is seeing vaginas? What IS he holding? Look where he's holding it!!! Meow.
Free books:
•Win a signed copy of The Highwayman! Go read Sci Fi guy's much more proper and intelligent review and win a signed copy of this book! You have until July 10th.
•Or win a copy at Fang-tastic books. You have until July 8th.
•Get a free download of Hauf's Kiss Me Deadly, perfect for fans of the Kiss Me/Kill Me motif, here!
•Or buy the book - this month only. The Highwayman is only out for a month.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Pleasingly cat-like fun: The Highwayman by Hauf

Great Moments from last night's reading
Book: The Highwayman by Michele Hauf
Series: Wicked Games, this is book 1
Page: I'm only to 40 so far
Spoiler level: none

In Michele Hauf's WICKED GAMES miniseries, a match between cat and demon takes on a most delicious spin...

Max Fitzroy, the legendary Highwayman, had slain scores of demons with a razorlike whip and a burning need for revenge. Now, to rid himself of the demon inside him—who'd cursed him with immortality and stolen all sensual pleasures—Max needed a witch's familiar, the one creature he'd made a career of killing.

But the Highwayman wasn't prepared for the familiar named Aby. The sleek and sexy conduit to the demon world saw past his swirling shadow as easily as he scaled the walls she'd erected to protect herself. Max needed Aby to grant him his freedom, and then he needed to slay her. But how could he destroy the only creature he'd desired in centuries?

I'm just starting this novel, which I won from Chris at Stumbling Over Chaos, (and who lives just a few blocks away from me! On my same street!) I'm really enjoying it so much! Things I really like so far:

-The hero, Max, is this doomed loner immortal highwayman who wears a long dark duster and spurs. Sorry, I'm just a sucker for this sort of hero. Max starts out with bad intentions for our heroine Aby: get her to summon a demon, which involves having sex with her, then kill her.

Zoiks! On her fun blog post full of little tidbits about this book, Hauf notes that she has Max driving a Mustang because she wanted "
to somehow work in the image of a highwayman riding a horse (mustang; horse; get it?)" There are so many great little details like that here.
- The heroine is a CAT shifter familiar. Well, she hasn't shifted yet, but I'm looking forward to it a great deal. Even as a human character, Aby is pleasingly cat-like. Slinky, curious, a certain coy, bright, alert personality. I've always loved how Kelley Armstrong does wolves, especially in the book Bitten, but as cat person, I'm super happy to see this. I'm really looking forward to more of this cat.

- Cooler still: in the Aby sections, there is a certain subtle cat-like music to the prose. Here is an example (oh, and at the bar she orders cream with a touch of grenadine):
Aby sipped the pale pink cream from the wine goblet. This didn't feel right. She should walk away and find Severo.

And yet, the stranger smelled so interesting. A girl could lose her sense of right and wrong from an enticing scent.
"I'm retired." Aby turned and, leaning against the wall, offered a forced calmness. It was difficult to be too standoffish when the man was so delicious.

Sex all night with this one?

It could never happened the way she'd like it to go.
Do you hear it? It's in the short sentences and the internal music of the long ones. Maybe it's just my cat-addled brain.

Another tidbit from Hauf's fun blog post: "The heroine started out as a white Persian cat-shifting familiar. Halfway through the book I thought "I so cannot see a fluffy white persian kicking butt" so I switched her to an Abyssinian, which, through research, I learned was a breed that is very chummy with dogs. Worked out perfect because her best friend is a werewolf."

Another cool thing:

-As you see above, our cat shifting heroine, Aby, is friends with Severo, a wolf. There's a cool dog and cat dynamic between the two. I also like when Max, Aby and Severo are onstage together--the evolving dynamics between the three of these characters is already starting to be very interesting. Here, an excerpt, narrated by Max.
The pixie-haired familiar shook her head and slunk against the wolf's side. The mongrel lifted his chin, eyeing Max down the bridge of his nose.

She'd been confident and open earlier, when she had not been in the wolf's presence. Max would get nothing further from her until he could speak to her alone. That is, if he could convince her he had no intention of harming her.

He could lie with the best of them.
I may report back later. Note that the book is only out for a month! Info, excerpts and prologue here. Reviews: You gotta read, Alternative worlds, Darque reviews, anybody else?
Cat images: Tiberius, mine.