Worst Romance Reader Ever

It’s official: I must be the WORST Romance reader EVER!!!

I love Romance. I even welcome some of the nitty-gritty TMI stuff. So why is it that the last e-book sample I read, written by a respected Romance author, prompted me to make gagging noises and chuck my Nook across the room?

In the writing community, everybody is always talking about HEAs (Happily Ever Afters). And when I come across samples like I just read, it all sounds so suave—even when it’s the detached prodigal son watching a prostitute leave his bed. Bad Boy, okay yeah, I can dig that. But don’t romanticize him. Give me all his rough edges. Let his roughness come across in the writing. Let me feel him. Not feel what “good girls” want him to be underneath from the get-go. I want him to be raw. I want him to be work to get through to.

The last thing I want to do is bash on fellow writers. Indeed, these people have massive followings, so they must be doing something right.

Or everybody is just used to their favorites.

I, for one, have been spoiled off the cultured, individualized character perspectives of Fantasy novels (Teen/YA and otherwise) and manga, down to the things certain characters notice and the language they use—language which often grows and changes through the course of the book, as the character himself grows and changes. So when I start in on a stereotypical Romance novel, and everything reads across in the same smooth monotone, I start to skim. And skim. Until I realize: I’m going to be skimming through this whole book. And then I grunt and groan and flail and flop, because I thought I finally had that book that I was going to read all the way through, and enjoy—that one I’d stay up all night to finish. And instead, I got one I would have set back on the bookstore shelf.

Somehow, I’ve gone from my childhood habit of reading every book that I can get my hands on in my subject of interest, to garage-selling books I don’t like and rarely finishing any books at all.

They say that writers should read widely in their genre of choice. And that’s a nice idea. BUT what happens when you throw those “wide reads” across the room—repeatedly? What happens when that becomes the reason why you keep writing the unpublished manuscript you cart around from coffee shop to coffee shop?

At this point, I just want a good read. A good Romance read, with Fantasy elements, if at all possible. Something I wouldn’t push “snooze” through. It doesn’t have to be spectacular…just, not uniform. Not post-apocalyptic. Not exclusively sci-fi. With realistic, non-sappy, non-bratty, non-stereotypical fictional characters. I mean, come on, this is the Romance section, people! It shouldn’t be this hard to sell me on the male character. He doesn’t have to be a werewolf or a vampire. In fact, I’d prefer if he’s not. He just has to be special.

If you’ve read an adult Romance-Fantasy story that you absolutely fell in love with, feel free to leave a comment below and give it a shout-out! I don’t care if it has mature content, but I DO care if the sex is pointless; character development through sex is an art form. The story doesn’t have to have sex though, just decent Romance with Fantasy. So GO! List away! PLEASE! I’m dying of suaveness overdose and bad storytelling styles.

Cruel Beauty: Pure Love or Wicked Love?

Cruel BeautyCruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My Summary:
Nyx is trained from childhood to take down her future husband, the Demon Lord of Bargains, who holds the kingdom of Arcadia captive and offered the bargain that stole her mother’s life. Knowing the mission will cost her own life, she grows to resent the people around her, who are allowed to be happy. Nyx faces her fate squarely, but neither her husband, nor his servant, nor the house they live in are what they appear to be. She starts to fall for her husband’s tranquil servant, a shadow who desires to help her but is unable to lend much assistance. The lines between hate and love blur as Nyx realizes that the resentment and selfishness in her own heart are not so different from the quick-witted wickedness of her doomed husband, and that he may be the only person who does not ask anything of her. In the end, the fate of the world rests upon the choice of embracing pure love or wicked love, who to betray, and whether once-in-a-lifetime love is worth sacrificing the rest of the world.

This is a paranormal/occult Beauty and the Beast novel, set in Greco-Roman times, in the kingdom of Arcadia. Multiple Greek gods and myths are referenced throughout the book, as the belief system of the majority of the characters.

My Thoughts:
The book started off pretty redundant and slow, with the recurring theme of Nyx’s hurt from her father’s inaffection, disgust toward her aunt’s affair, and internal battle against hating her sister Astraia (who was not chosen to wed the Gentle Lord because of her resemblance to their dead mother) and hating her mother (whose death began Nyx’s life of revenge). I felt like I really didn’t need these themes hammered home as many times as they were within the first couple chapters.

Once I figured out that this story was not about an epic take-down, but about solving riddles, I was able to sit back and enjoy it. The fact of the matter is, nobody really knows that much about the Gentle Lord, a.k.a. the Demon Lord. And certainly nobody but his wives and the doomed people he’s bargained with know much of anything about his house. The only person who seems to know stuff is Shade, who is bound not to tell, and the Kindly Ones (who aren’t so kind, and aren’t so available). Everybody else is trying to figure stuff out. Once you see the story as one big puzzle, it makes a heck of a lot more sense.

What really threw me was that Nyx’s original tactic for taking down the Gentle Lord’s house (with him, and probably herself, inside it) was almost irrelevant. She needed to find the rooms, yes. And they had massive significance. But it felt like there was virtually no point to all that world-building about Hermetic sigils and workings, except to give context for her father’s position. I think Nyx only used a sigil once in the entire book (turning off her bedroom lamp once to show how it works doesn’t count). And her “virgin knife” never made an emphatic comeback. Not to mention, throwing away her only true trump card—her virginity—didn’t make that big of a splash. Not only was it not played up after all those nervous warning bells in the beginning, but it didn’t make any difference to the outcome. She drops her dress, and then *bam* next scene. I thought, Wow, that could have happened a lot sooner, with virtually no ripples.

It was about halfway through the book that my mind started doing gymnastics, attempting to guess the answers to all the riddles and how they all tie together. It got super fun from there, though not a lot more emotional until nearer to the end. I won’t tell you the ending, but I will tell you that it’s worth getting to. And, DON’T SKIP AHEAD!!! Seriously, you’ll be soooo confused, because at one point the chronology becomes super important. If you read the book in order, you’re already getting pieces from all different parts of the chronology, so skippers beware. I didn’t skip, but if you do, you’ll just jumble the brain-bending ending.

Consensus:
If you’re intrigued by the book’s cover blurb about an unconventional Belle and a not-so-charming lord, this is definitely the book for you. If, however, you are waiting to see that there’s a lovely Prince Charming beneath that gruff, scarred male exterior…go find another book. Part of this book’s charm is that it doesn’t conform to that old-school/Disney pop-culture transformation; it’s more realistic.

I really enjoyed this book, as a story full of puzzles and riddles and mysteries and unconventional romance. The heroine is smart (but not too smart), and doesn’t give up easily, and she doesn’t change all that radically. This book is very much about loving people as they are, and loving within your capacity to love.

So, don’t read this book for the assassination action. Read this book to get to know Ignifex and Shade, the two juxtaposed, troubled men that Nyx is not sure she can save.

In all honesty, I would have liked some more details in the narration—more narrative coddling and in-depth, in-their-head emotional action. I felt a bit distanced from the characters, like I was watching the story unfold rather than feeling my heart race when I looked at one guy or the other, or almost drowned in a supernatural pool, etc. But I wouldn’t be able to pinpoint exactly how this should have been incorporated, because I feel like all of the characters were intentionally distant; they all had secrets. And the secrets were what made the book interesting.

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Frostbite: Graduating High School with a Frosty Touch

Frostbite (Touch of Frost, #1)Frostbite by Lynn Rush (Touch of Frost #1)
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My Summary:
Amanda’s mother had super-strength, and the ability to create and manipulate ice, snow, and sleet—abilities she passed on to her daughter, but not her son. The organization that experimented on Amanda’s mom, and eventually murdered her, is out to capture and study Amanda too…or possibly kill her if she won’t comply. Every time the scientists’ henchmen find Amanda and her brother Scott, the siblings flee and have to start over again in a new town. Except this time, Amanda has a best friend and a potential boyfriend, and her brother has a girlfriend, so neither one wants to leave. They resolve to stay as long as they can, and fight for their new small-town life. But some of the people around them aren’t who they pretend to be, and Amanda’s hard-to-control emotion-driven powers are escalating with her raging hormones and stress level. If Amanda and Scott choose to stay and fight for their newfound happiness, can they really win?

My Thoughts:
There is death-by-freezing in this novel, and Amanda’s parents did die a brutal death, but the teenage voice of the story keeps it from reading like angst or tragedy. However, that same teenage tone gave me the feeling of all relationships (other than sibling) being transitory—like they were important and desired, but were just as easily ditched as adopted. That annoyed me. But maybe that’s just a personality preference. Or maybe that’s what you’re supposed to feel, because that’s how Amanda’s would-be boyfriend feels.

The premise of this story sets up the reader to be suspicious of all characters, so I felt just as unsure who to root for as the characters are uncertain who to trust. I kept waiting for everyone to not be who they said they were. It’s beautifully written suspense, but it made it very difficult for me to buy into the sweetness of Amanda’s budding romance, and the “coincidence” of that romance beginning just as everything began to hit the fan.

The powers were very well orchestrated, with emphasis on the emotions that trigger the powers, and what the powers actually feel like. As the reader, you discover the extent of those powers along with the characters, and can almost imagine the ice growing along your own arm. Impressive.

A surprising theme in this story is love between siblings. Most of the book consists of siblings banding together and taking care of one another. It’s endearing, but it can get irritating when you keep waiting for the romance to go somewhere and you end up with “I can’t”s and sibling care instead.

I wasn’t really reading this story for the sci-fi part, but it does lend credibility to the existence of freezing powers, and adds a sense of urgency to all the happenings in the story. Information about the powers and the organization at large is gradually revealed throughout, but it’s not until the big blowout at the end that the sciencey stuff was presented in a way that really mattered to me. The rest of the time were just teases based on flashbacks and fear.

Consensus:
The story is an interesting read, and the powers are well-handled. It’s a nice, comfortable story with a fluffy romance. But if you’re looking for a high-speed sci-fi chase with a kickass boyfriend, this isn’t it.

I personally needed to feel more depth and permanency. And I needed reassurance that Zack wasn’t a plant, and Jasmine wasn’t a conniving bitch. But my tastes in reading are a bit darker, and I don’t really buy into WAFF that doesn’t have internal relational problems built in. More lighthearted readers will probably buy in, and love this story. To them, I say, “More power to ya!” 😉

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Going Down in Flames: Harry Potter for Dragons

Going Down in FlamesGoing Down in Flames by Chris Cannon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My Summary:
Just before her sixteenth birthday, Bryn finds out that she is a mixed breed dragon, and will be required to attend dragon school. It also turns out that the most powerful man in the Directorate (the dragon governing body) is the man Bryn’s mother ran away from to marry Bryn’s father. Against her will, Bryn goes away to dragon school, where she is thought to be a genetic impossibility at best, an abomination (to be destroyed) at worst. There she must learn the rules of dragon society, and who she can trust.

The dragons seem to exist alongside humans (though that’s not always their preference), but have a society all their own. The bulk of this story takes place in a setting reminiscent of Harry Potter, with a faraway school and a nearby small shopping town that is aware of the dragon community.

My Thoughts:
I really enjoyed the interactions between characters in this story, but to a large degree those interactions revolve around food, so prepare to be hungry! The main character eats a ridiculous amount, and though that is explained away as dragon metabolism (and possibly power and ability expenditure), she far out-eats every other dragon – so much so that eating becomes a part of her character. So you if you don’t like salivating over food, this might not be the story for you. But Bryn’s love of food does play into at least one major plot development, so it’s not without its reasons.

I was a little surprised that so much of this story revolved around everyday school life. It was handled well, even down to the subjects taught in class. But because of the school setting, there was almost no contact with the outside world; Bryn’s parents and friend Beth never showed up again after the beginning of the story. This is understandable, given the situation. However, I was waiting to see how Bryn would balance the tension between the outside world and the dragon world, and the idea of coexisting in between. I felt like this never happened.

Bryn immediately takes a moral stance against arranged marriages and the affairs they produce in dragon society. On the other hand, she is easily swayed by her crush’s assurance that he will find a way to break off his unwanted engagement. And Bryn has no problem accepting gifts from the would-be benefactor she turned down. That shakes a bit of my faith in Bryn as a reasonable character. But maybe this is just her optimism showing through?

Overall, the book was very well written, with a nice twist toward the end. I felt like the loose ends were neatly wrapped up in the ending, while still leaving room for the story to continue into another book. The characters are likable, and the bullies are enough to make the reader nervous. The ideas of benefactors, mistresses, and mates after graduation definitely appeal to an older teen audience (or people in their twenties), and did not make me feel like I was reading a Teen book. But those things are only explored as ideas, and no romance in the book is beyond a couple brief kisses. And those hints at more adult concepts are strongly offset by the strict high school setting.

I do wish there were a few more “curve balls” thrown at me. I love unforeseen twists and turns, and I felt like I mostly got that at the beginning and the end of the story. I could have used a few more loops or corkscrews in the middle.

Consensus:
I would definitely recommend this book as a refreshing new approach to dragons and a brilliant blending of fantasy with real-world problems. But do not be surprised if there are more school scenes with spark-snorting tempers, than actual dragon scenes. And have a snack on-hand.

The Boring Agony of Book Shopping

I think I’ve come to hate book-shopping. Which is really, really sad, because I absolutely LOVE reading. It’s just that there are so many things out there that I don’t want to read, that searching for the right story becomes a chore. This is why I only read series: Because if I’m going to go through all that effort to finally find the story I want to read, it better be awhile before I have to do it again. After the series I like ends, I’ll try to stick with the author. But usually when the author writes another series, I just can’t get into it. Maybe that’s just part of having a “book hangover,” like that quote I related to on Pinterest—inability to move on due to still being stuck in the last book’s world. Or maybe all that really matters to me is the story. I would call myself a book-whore, except I’m probably far too selective to merit such a promiscuous title.

Alright, I’ll tell you what my problem is: I like romance, but I don’t like it when the characters hardly even kiss, or when sex is thrown in my face. I mean, sex is welcome in the story, but I’m not reading the story for arousal purposes, so you’re going to have to make me care about the characters and the story and not just the sex. And I do NOT want something about a normal-life couple; I can walk outside to see that…sometimes I don’t even have to walk outside to see that. Give me something with fantasy or paranormal elements, where those things are vital to the story but do not overshadow the romance. I’m here for the depth and complexity, not the flashiness or the “don’t you want me?” One additional stipulation: no zombies or angels/demons, and for now I’m trying to stay away from vampires. What does that leave? Werewolf stories, but hopefully more than that.

Feel free to make some recommendations! I’m fond of mysterious male characters and not-so-chipper heroines, and I’m not afraid of a dark story tone. I do like shifters (mostly because of the mateship and alpha concepts), but I wouldn’t mind branching out of that category. I can do some sci-fi too, I’m just a bit more hesitant.

I’m finally starting to understand where following book reviewers comes in. Looks like it’s time to become a reviewer groupie.

Alonza’s Party

I got my second writing book that I ordered. It’s called Passionate Ink, by Angela Knight. I just started in on it, but I’m already thrilled with it. It looks like just what I needed to fine-tune the sexual tension in my story, and orchestrate a successful progression of limes.

Speaking of limes, I’m moving things around in chapter 9 again. I wrote one scene, then wrote another, then completely rewrote the first. Now I’m going to do-si-do them, and connect in between. So now all the material is there; I just need to reorganize and slip a few things in.

Alonza’s party. *groan* I’m about ready to take it out. Okay, let me rephrase that: I’ve figured out a vital role for it to play in the revision of volume 1, which should bring Rome out of the forest and into the noble world in a more realistic way, and spur the plot and romance forward at a quicker pace. Anything I can do with Alonza’s party in volume 2 at this point sounds counterproductive to the ending I’m working toward. I really need to bring the temple back into the story. Alonza’s party is just going to distract from that, by being too big of an anti-climax…I think. I had a plan, and Alonza’s party was not the climax of that plan. It was going to be sexy, risque, and hardcore, but reading one of Janice Hardy’s blog articles recently confirmed for me that it would not be necessary, because it was not integral enough to the plot. I’ve been entrapping myself by working toward Alonza’s party, acting like the nobles are the mainstay of the novel, when really it’s Labriella’s estrangement from the temple (and everything that goes with it) that should be driving the entire story forward.

So, I’m going to finish rearranging chapter 9, and post it. After that, I don’t know. I have to figure out if I can go forward without doing another round of large-scale inter-volume revising. I think part of why writing has been so difficult, is because I have to keep trashing content because I’m meandering away from the plot as I write from scene to anticipated scene. I wish I could say that by doing this, I’m developing a more efficient way to write in the future. But I think what I’m discovering is that for me, writing is a continual process of trial and error—generating “cool” scenes that stick in my head as landing points, and then having to continually rearrange and/or rewrite them as I slowly discover more about my characters and my plot begins to reveal how it needs to be written. Maybe I’ll get faster at doing this the more times I craft a story from scratch, or the more volumes I finish. But I doubt the process itself will change, because of the way I draw ideas out of my head.

Rabbit Trails vs. Original

It’s funny how many rabbit trails I’ve indulged.

You know, when I originally set out to write this story, I had a very different expectation of where and how it would go. I was experimenting with a more abrupt style of writing, with short sentences that would pack a punch, in order to file down on my detailing habits. But more than that was different. As a beast, Rome was childish and violent; without Bre by his side, he had been unable to mature. As a temple servant, Labriella was innocent, naïve, and practical, and that was to carry over into her service to Rome. Labriella was never meant to be thrown out that many times, never meant to be a lady of the evening, never meant to throw attitude back in Rome’s face, never meant to be randomly kissed. Rome was never meant to give off the impression that he had it all together, or so easily fit into the noble slot for him. He was meant to have to rely heavily upon Labriella’s knowledge, which would inadvertently draw them closer together (without needing sexual tension to do so).

I have already changed the course of my story once, from a lady-of-the-evening relationship with Gian and Rome and a borderline-cheating wedding disruption, in order to preserve Labriella’s sexual innocence. But I lost some of her practicality and naivete along the way, I think. And Rome knows much too much about what is the “right” thing to do, so early on. So again I find myself in the position of contemplating another large-scale revision, as far as tone of the entire series. That is in addition to moving much of the noble stuff closer to the beginning of volume 1. I guess most of what is taking up that space before the nobles is info about Rome’s estate, and the tug-of-war cycle about whether Labriella should stay or go—two things which, I anticipate, many people wouldn’t mind seeing dispensed.

However, with my tendency toward hiatus, I realize that at some level I just need to keep writing. The more things I change, the more difficult it will be to keep track of what I changed and what I kept the same. It will be easier to implement character-consistent changes when I have finished this leg of the story.

I am 3,300 words into writing chapter 7, which is complicated because it involves nobility. As I go, I am jotting down new ideas and revision ideas, and I am reading and highlighting my way through an extremely helpful book called Writing New Adult Fiction by Deborah Halverson. So I want to warn you, although I am writing, updating might be slow going for a while.

To those of you who are new readers, I’m glad to have you, and welcome along for the ride. 🙂 Making my writing and my story construction better is now a priority, and most of what I post online won’t be the final draft (everything is subject to revision). I invite you to review, and to become a part of the process.