Friday, May 29, 2015

Gabriel's Ghost—Linnea Sinclair

I closed my eyes, felt as if my heart had been ripped in half. Then I opened them, quickly. Because I knew where that other half of my heart was: at the end of the corridor behind me, in the Meritorious's crew's quarters. (138)
Part of Vaginal Fantasy Rewind

Fleet Captain Chasidah "Chaz" Bergren has been accused of murdering fourteen members of her crew and dropped on the prison world Moabar. She's picked up by Gabriel Ross "Sully" Sullivan, an allegedly dead space mercenary with whom she has a long history. Together with a few friends, they attempt to secretly uncover corruption within the Fleet, corruption that is producing monsters that have been essentially extinct for years and are being manufactured again to basically start a religious war. There's no small amount of "romance" along the way.

This was one of the most exemplary instances of telling not showing that I've ever encountered. When we first meet Chaz and Sully, they already have all of this backstory that we don't know anything about. Coming into the relationship so far into it with all of the assumptions and understandings already in place was a frustrating entry point for me. I would've even preferred a bit of time in their backstory and then a flash forward to the timing of this story, even though I'm not a super fan of time skips. Here's an example of the telling not showing that I'm talking about: "We didn't know what might be waiting out there when we came through. We still squawked an Imperial ID. There wasn't time to alter the Meritorious's codes now. 'Thirty seconds to hard edge.' 'Got it. Preparing to disengage hypers.'" (143) What does that even mean? We have absolutely no context for understanding this space speak. Instead of doing actual worldbuilding, we get told a bunch of stuff but never how it works. Or this: "Sublights disengaged at forty-eight percent, hypers were on full." (165) WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?!

And another example of this specifically re: Chaz and Sully's relationship: "Could I risk that again? He was a man I'd known for years, yet didn't know. Our interactions had often been colored with flirtatious innuendoes. But they'd just as often hinted at something deeper. It was something I'd always felt, even when he was my constant adversary. And I was his beautiful, interfering bitch." (120)

On that subject, if Chaz was referred to as an "interfering bitch" one more time, even by herself, I was going to vomit.

As the ladies talked about during the Hangout, the mention of rainbows...ugh. Just ugh. "I sent him my oh, shut up rainbow." Ugh. Just kill me now. The quote that Veronica read made me laugh out loud too.

I hated that Chaz continued to make excuses for Sully's lies, and the fact that Sully contined to invade her thoughts, even when he wasn't invited, just because they had a "connection." Messed up. He even changes one of her memories, and she's like, "No, you're right. It was obviously your only option. All is forgiven." He even bonds her to him for life, a bond that if broken will cause his death, and does it without even telling her about it afterward because he says it's the only option. Get it together, dude. You don't get to just decide everything. OR APPARENTLY YOU DO! The sappiness and all of the rolling over for his continued mental abuse coming from her seemed diametrically opposed to the tough guy exterior we were supposed to believe she had. (See above pullquote.) This made it even more crucial to have seen some of her being the badass she's alleged to be, but because there was so much telling, I didn't believe any of it. Also, she calls him Gabriel Ross Sullivan 34 times (thank you, Kindle, for that search feature) which rivals Paper Towns for use of main characters full name, although there was actually a purpose for it in Paper Towns (idealizing Margo).

Sully was the typical possessive alpha male, making decisions for both of them without even telling Chaz after the fact until his deception is discovered. And we get the added bonus that he could completely violate her by entering her brain without her permission.

I really found the whole concept interesting, Ren was my favourite, I like the space surroundings, Chaz's snap bracelet dagger was the coolest, but the writing and worldbuilding were so subpar I couldn't get into it.

Finally, I like tea as much as the next girl, more probably, but do we really need to know EVERY SINGLE TIME SOMEBODY GETS A CUP OF TEA?! Maybe if there had been more character and world development instead of tea, I would have enjoyed this more...maybe...

Five down. That happened fast!

I love the feeling of finishing a book for VF Rewind and then going to watch the Vaginal Fantasy episode and being justified in my thoughts on the book. Also, always a bonus when the conversation moves to Labyrinth and prompts some "Dance Magic Dance" recitation.

In other news, I kind of miss the days when the ladies discussed both the main and the alt during the Hangout...

How much do you like tea? Enough to write a book and include 17,000 instances of your characters drinking it?

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Dark Road to Darjeeling—Deanna Raybourn

"You cannot play at being a detective, Julia. To do so demeans the work of one who does it seriously." (261)
Thoughts on Silent in the Grave, Lady Julia #1

Thoughts on Silent in the Sanctuary, Lady Julia #2

Thoughts on Silent on the Moor, Lady Julia #3

Eight months after Lady Julia and Nicholas Brisbane were married, they are still traveling the Mediterranean, in no hurry to return to England. Unexpectedly, Julia's sister Portia hears from her old lover, the recently widowed Jane Cavendish. Jane is expecting, and wants the comfort of people she knows; it isn't until the group arrives at the Cavendish tea plantation near the Himalayas that Jane reveals she believes her husband was murdered. Having quarreled with Brisbane and left him behind, Julia starts investigating the case herself, encountering some new characters and some familiar ones.

This one was a little slower for me to get into. I don't know if it's because the tension of will they/won't they—or rather when will they—between Julia and Brisbane was gone. Or because there seems to be less personal threat as they investigate. I don't know. But once I got into it, I was hooked.

I really liked the journey in India and the landscape. I appreciated that Raybourn used quotes from Indian writer Rabindranath Tagore—rather than Shakespeare, as in the previous books—to reflect their location and mindset. I didn't love the condescension of Miss Cavendish regarding the locals and needing to give them jobs and take care of them; this same sentiment was present in A Spear of Summer Grass as well. But I forgive that because it was period appropriate.

Mysteries were a little meh. I knew immediately that the White Rajah was Brisbane's dad, although I don't know that Raybourn was necessarily trying to hide that from the reader. I was unsettled by Robin from our first real introduction to him, and especially the dissection and taxidermy of animals seemed very much in line with the triad of indicators for a serial killer. I knew that Lucy was not talking about Harry Cavendish, but wasn't sure who she would be talking about. The illegitimate twins again, right after the same device was used in Silent on the Moor, was surprising.

Even though I was well hooked by the time it happened, I was very upset about the way that Brisbane treated Julia when she found out that he had hired her brother to help him, and that he'd completely deceived her about many of his activities while he was in India and at the plantation. He actually locked her in the dressing room when she confronted him about his deception because he didn't want to deal with her. Use your big boy words, Brisbane. This seemed kind of inconsistent with their relationship. Was Brisbane ever keen on Julia trying to be a detective? Well, no. But this was a step too far. And then the way that she reacted? Come on. Brisbane actually stoops to trying to explain to her how he feels, and basically pleads with her not to get involved because he doesn't want her life in danger—was that so hard that you had to lock her in a dressing room rather than elucidate?—and Julia thinks to herself, "His tone was gentler, almost pleading for me to understand, and I hated myself for reducing this proud and dignified man to a supplicant." (269) Do you remember the way he just treated you? And now you hate yourself for actually holding him accountable for that treatment and the lies that he told you? She's always seemed like a lady who had a spine, but I'm not going to lie, I lost a bit of respect for her with this sentence.

Jane dying was one of the most heartwrenching things that has ever happened. It was probably the thing that has affected me most while reading this series. Just so incredibly sad that she's just gotten everything she wanted and then she dies. And for her and Portia to be reunited and to think they are going to get to be a family...ugh. Especially because we don't know a whole lot about Jane, but what we do know is that she is basically the kindest, most supportive woman ever. I coincidentally got something in my eye around that time. Good thing my tear ducts were doing their job to flush whatever it was right out.

As I said, it took me a minute to get into this one, but by the end I was really excited for what was to come in the next book. I'm hoping there will be more about Portia and Jane the Younger, because I think that situation has a lot of potential.

Silent on the Moor—Deanna Raybourn

I reflected that one of the primary components of happiness was a worthwhile occupation, a thought that would likely horrify my brother Bellmont. (224)
Thoughts on Silent in the Grave, Lady Julia #1

Thoughts on Silent in the Sanctuary, Lady Julia #2

In this third installment in the Lady Julia Mysteries series, champion brooder Nicholas Brisbane has inherited Grimsgrave Hall, somewhere in the abyss of Yorkshire. Brisbane invites Portia, Julia's sister, to help him with the revamping of the place, and Julia invites herself along for the journey—despite the fact that Brisbane has specifically forbidden Portia to bring her. Their youngest brother Lysander accompanies them in order to keep things above board. When they arrive, however, they find the remnants of the family who used to own the estate, a proud family that, as the Goodreads description says, "keeps their bloodline pure and their secrets close." Dun dun dun. Julia endeavors to draw Brisbane into some sort of commitment, but then is told that he is marrying one of the Allenby girls so that they can stay in their home. She also meets Rosalie, a Gypsy woman who lives on the estate. Meanwhile, Julia starts to catalogue the Egyptian artifacts left over after the Allenby boy, Redwall, passed away. When she discovers two mummified babies in a sarcophagus, she and Brisbane must uncover the mystery behind them.

Moors always make me think of Wuthering Heights, and this was very reminiscent of that: brooding hero, lots of walks along the moor. First thought when I saw this was, "This cover certainly looks more bodice-rippery than either of the previous books. Hopefully Julia and Brisbane actually cover some relationship ground in this book. Also, why is her head cut in half? That's weird."

Like with the first book, I figured out most of the "twists" before Julia did. For example, maybe it's because I've read Game of Thrones, but I figured out that the babies were Ailith and Redwall's pretty much as soon as they showed up. I didn't quite comprehend the full nature of Ailith's insanity, but I knew that the twins were a result of incest. It's the first thing that popped into my mind. I also totally deduced that the twins at the inn (Jerusha and Deborah) were daughters of Alfred Allenby's—thus half sisters of Ailith and Redwall's—a fact which emphasized that the babies were Ailith and Redwall's because twins are often genetic. I realized that Brisbane was going to be the guy that Redwall was so upset had joined the Egypt excursion and was causing problems for him, although I don't think that one was meant to be so much of a surprise. But I knew right away that Rosalie was Brisbane's aunt; obviously she was going to have a connection to him, especially after we found out he had been at Grimsgrave as a child, and it's not like the Roma population is so extensive. Pure odds indicated that there was going to be some sort of connection. Or maybe I'm just a really great literary detective.

I really loved getting to find out more about the ever-mysterious Brisbane and his family. Rosalie was delightful, and I loved her interactions with Julia. We got what seemed like Brisbane's complete backstory, the whole deal about his dad (Black Jack Brisbane, how ominous) and his mom Mariah. All of which had been hinted at and vaguely outlined before, but here was the whole story.

I was devastated when Jane wrote and said that she was leaving Portia in order to get married and have babies. I mean, there are other ways to make that happen. And they're so happy! Their relationship is truly one of my favourite things about the books. This feeling of devastation was nothing to how I felt after reading the next book, Dark Road to Darjeeling, though. Ugh, the feels. (See my thoughts on Lady Julia #4, Dark Road to Darjeeling, here.)

Silent on the Moor definitely wraps up much more "happily ever after" than the other two. Oh look, how convenient, Brisbane happens to find the mineshaft he's been looking for, which allows him the means to feel comfortable to marry Julia and not be mooching off her money. Oh look, they actually get married. (Finally.) It definitely feels like a culmination to a story line, especially since the next book titles transition from the "Silent in/on..."

I loved every minute of it, I promptly read the next one (Dark Road to Darjeeling), and will definitely continue to read this series.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Soulless—Gail Carriger

Her heart was doing crazy things, and she still could not locate her kneecaps. She took a deep breath and put some serious attention into tracking them down. (118)
Soulless was the alt pick for the fourth ever episode of Vaginal Fantasy. (The main that month was The Iron Duke, post premiering June 2.) The first alt pick, too.

As I mentioned in my review of Silent in the Grave, I am a sucker for fiction set in Victorian times. Also, I talked about in Grave Witch how I felt as though I was vampired and werewolved out, but this new twist on the lore kept me interested. I'm not certain that the whole notion of "soullessness" was completely fleshed out, but the idea of a preternatural being who could negate the supernatural facets of vampires and werewolves, rendering them essentially human again, was intriguing.

Alexia is totally a favourite heroine now. I liked that her lack of tact was an apparent byproduct of her preternaturalness, as well as her assumed spinsterhood. (If only we all had a ready-made excuse for our bluntness.) And the kind of by-the-by, scientific way that she thinks about the sexy times that happen between her and Conall. "Alexia was scientifically intrigued. Had he gotten even larger down there? What was the maximum possible expansion ratio?" (169) The fact that she was stubborn was incredibly relatable to me, as I've had people mention that's a trait I have; although I have no idea what they're talking about.

Alexia's mother reminded me a bit of Mrs. Bennett from Pride and Prejudice, in that same "concerned with appearances but not realizing how ridiculous I am, and also why are you not married" kind of way.

I enjoyed the playful style of writing. I liked that it was fun but also developed enough to not leave me with a bunch of questions. (I mean, some questions. But not a bunch.) The information about how history was slightly changed as a result of the presence of supernatural characters was believable, and introduced in a not-overbearing way. For instance, this moment when Alexia is recalling history: "She knew her history. The puritans left Queen Elizabeth's England for the New World because the queen sanctioned the supernatural presence in the British Isle." (144) Interesting twist on our reality of the situation.

It did seem like the actual physical moments came a bit out of left field. I mean, sure, there was some chemistry and tension between them, but then Connal was just like, "Nope, can't handle it anymore. Just going to kiss you in the middle of the street, even though I've shown no indication of having any feelings for you and don't even realize that I have them myself." What? Also, I'm not sure I'm in love with the idea of "impaled" as a euphemism for penetration.

I definitely didn't get a little teary when Alexia takes Lord Akelmada out to watch the sunset. That wasn't super touching at all. Shut up. You are.

The italics to emphasize Lord Akelmada's speech patterns got a bit irritating, but I liked the character so that evened out.

The mention of Snow and his belief that cholera was spread through tainted water supply was very period appropriate and also super nerdy. I read a book about this, and felt impressed with myself that I immediately knew the historical reference. Although I'm a total history nerd, and majored in History at university, my focus was definitely not Victorian-era medical advances. The book was The Ghost Map, and was quite enlightening and also sad to think about all of the people who still struggle with the essentially obsolete disease as a result of lack of clean water. (You can read my thoughts on The Ghost Map here.)

I'm looking forward to reading the others in this series as soon as they are available via my library. By the way, if I haven't mentioned it already, this whole eBooks through the public library things is primo.

Four down!

The ladies didn't talk about Soulless much—perhaps because there was absinthe involved for some of them during this Hangout—but you can catch some of it at the end, and then hold onto the rest for The Iron Duke post next week. I have some strong feelings about it.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Grave Witch—Kalayna Price

"You're a danger to yourself when left alone." He closed the door behind him.
"That's not true." Or, at least, it wasn't completely true. I was quite obviously a danger to people with me as well. (214)

This was the first book ever in the Vaginal Fantasy Book Club!

In this first book in the Alex Craft series we meet, wouldn't you know it, Alex Craft. She's just a normal grave witch trying to live her life. About seventy years prior, the Faerie community—which had always existed under the radar—revealed itself in an effort to survive. (Like Tinker Bell, these fae need human belief to sustain them.) Nekros, where Alex lives, is a recent addition to the United States and emerged from the landscape at the same time as the Magical Awakening. Alex is a consultant for the police, helping to solve murders by raising the shades of victims and getting the scoop straight from the horse's mouth. But when a shade in a high profile murder case attacks her—which they're not supposed to be able to do—and then there's an attempt on her life, things get a little complicated. Not least because the events bring Falin Andrews into her life.

I love Alex Craft. I know that especially in Vaginal Fantasy we tend to read books with the smartass female heroine, but I found Alex one of the most realistically portrayed of those, even with the added component of her being a grave witch. She also is in charge of her sexuality, and has no problem with the fact that she seeks heat (literally, after grave witching) in one-time situations, and that people know that about her.

I really appreciate that she has friendships, and friendships with ladies, that are not completely antagonistic. Often with the abrasiveness of these smartass female characters, they tend to drive people away. That seems to be the norm for books like these. But Alex had strong female friendships, and they didn't only talk about men, so that was awesome. Along with that, I like that she has male friendships that don't include sexual tension. She already has two love interests, so more isn't really necessary. But I found her relationships with Caleb and Roy really delightful. Then there's her little dog PC, who is just adorable.

The worldbuilding was well done, and left me with just the right amount of questions. There's room to discover more about it, but it didn't leave me feeling incredibly confused. 

Falin was gruff, as the men tend to be. But I appreciated that, even when he was trying to take care of and look out for Alex, he wasn't domineering and overbearing. Death is super mysterious, and that's always a huge attraction. Will we ever learn his actual name?!

There are no overdone supernatural characters. No vampires, no werewolves. Just fae and witches. That was refreshing. I sometimes feel a bit vampired and werewolved out.

[Side note: I read an IAD (Immortals After Dark) book after this, and actually felt even more compelled to read the second one in THIS series because of the insane possessiveness and rapey vibe of the IAD books.]

It was quick to get through, which is good because I didn't want to put it down. I devoured the next two in the series, and am now anxiously awaiting the next in the series. I should've paced myself!

Three down.

As I've mentioned in previous VF Rewind posts, it's really interesting to go back and watch the videos, especially this very first one, and see how much things have changed...and also how little things have changed. The quality of the videos is so much better now, especially the sound quality, and Vaginal Fantasy even has its own YouTube channel now. But the ladies are still as funny and delightful and sidetracked (and sometimes drunk) as ever.

Watch the very first Vaginal Fantasy Hangout below!

Find out more about my VF Rewind, and the Vaginal Fantasy Book Club itself, here.

What's your least favourite supernatural being to read about?

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Silent in the Sanctuary—Deanna Raybourn

He took a step closer, using his height to great advantage. The breeze had risen, whipping his greatcoat about him like great black wings, and he loomed over me like some sort of fallen angel. "Are you enjoying yourself?" he demanded. I nodded. "Oh, immensely!" (157)  
"Of course, dearest. I am entirely shattered. Now finish your whiskey." (77)

I just recently read Silent in the Grave for my Vaginal Fantasy Rewind endeavor, and loved it so much that I continued on in the series. Thus far I've read up to Dark Road to Darjeeling, which is the fourth book in the series. You can read my thoughts on Silent in the Grave here, and thoughts on books three and four will be forthcoming shortly.

As I mentioned, Silent in the Sanctuary is the second book in the Lady Julia mysteries. Following the conclusion of the investigation into her husband's death, Julia decides to leave town for a while and join two of her brothers in Italy. When their father summons them all home for Christmas, ostensibly displeased with the impromptu marriage of one of his sons, Julia is a bit disappointed to have her plans interrupted but also a bit excited to get to spend time with more of her family at Bellmont Abbey. When she arrives there—with her two brothers, a new sister-in-law, and her new Italian friend in tow—Julia encounters some unexpected guests. Then, of course, there's a murder. Isn't there always? Julia and Brisbane must work together, whilst being snowed in at Bellmont Abbey, to determine who and how and why the man was murdered.

Once again, I found some of the "reveals" expected. Obviously, the guest who was already in the room Julia wanted for her Italian friend Alessandro was going to be Brisbane. But I don't imagine that Raybourn was necessarily thinking the reader wouldn't figure that out. Same with regard to his alleged fiancee; obviously he's not going to marry her, because he's going to marry Julia.

I really enjoyed getting to meet more of Julia's family members, as well as getting more insight into the circumstances of her childhood and where she grew up. Like this description of her father: "Father regarded him with something akin to amusement. Father loves nothing better than a spirited debate, and I have often seen him adopt a contrary opinion in the company of like-minded people, simply for the sport of disputing with them." (97) Who doesn't know someone like that? Or this: "Father adored grandchildren, and the only thing that made him happier than being covered in them was escaping them and spending an afternoon locked in his study while they overran the Abbey like savages." (280) This reminded me a bit of Mr. Bennett from Pride and Prejudice, a character I have always found endearing. I find Julia's father thoroughly charming, and would love to read some books of which he is the protagonist.

I adore her relationship with her sister Portia, and find it markedly similar to the rapport I have with my sister and some of my closer friends.

We also get to see a more jealous Brisbane. In Silent in the Grave, Julia was still a recent widow, so even though there was clear chemistry between them, the focus was on other things. In this book, Julia is being actively pursued by the younger Italian man Alessandro, and Brisbane is not pleased with that. But instead of acting super possessively, as men tend to in books such as this, Brisbane attempts to take the measure of the man and assess him; he doesn't tell Julia she can't be with Alessandro because she is "his." To be fair, Brisbane is publicly engaged to be married, but methinks this fact didn't change the manner in which he dealt with the situation.

The way that Julia downplays the romantic interludes between herself and Brisbane was amusing. For example, she said, "he was kissing me with thoroughness and enthusiasm. It was highly gratifying." (230) Ha! If it weren't for this dry nature of speaking that is a trait of Julia's in all areas of life, I would consider her somewhat cold. Here's another, non-romance example of that nature: "His complexion darkened further still and I began to fear he would have an apoplexy, an eventuality too gruesome to consider. To begin with, there would be no place to store another body." (272) Towards the end, Julia mentions how this investigation has made her feel useful; that, although she enjoyed gallivanting around Italy with no purpose, she much prefers feeling necessary. I appreciated that about her. Even though she comes from a well-off, well-esteemed family, the fact that she doesn't feel content just sitting idle speaks volumes to her character.

While Brisbane and the murder were expected, I never did piece together the criminal until it was directly spoonfed to me. But I loved the journey. Julia and Brisbane took one step forward and two steps back in their relationship. If only they had actually gotten together. But that's a story for another time...

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Slave to Sensation—Nalini Singh

He raised a brow. "I'm listening." And so was the panther inside him. Both man and beast found Sascha Duncan captivating in a way that neither could understand. Part of him wanted to stroke her...and part of him wanted to bite. (10)
The second book in my VF Rewind was the third book for Vaginal Fantasy.

In a sort of alt history universe there exists the Psy. In the 1960s, in an effort to weed out incidences of extreme violence, the powers-that-be instituted Silence, an initiative to condition young Psy to not feel emotions. Now, over a century later, Silence is considered a huge success. "The Psy are known to be icily controlled, inhumanly practical, and impossible to push to violence." (1)

Which is quite an unfortunate situation for Sascha, a Psy who feels things all too deeply. She has trained herself not to show her emotions to other Psy, because she knows that if she's discovered to be different she'll basically be given a lobotomy. But Sascha can't ignore her feelings anymore when she starts working with Lucas Hunter, leader of the local Changeling panther pack. And as she can't hide her feelings anymore, her safety becomes more and more tenuous within the Psy society. Add in the complications of a serial killer who is targeting Changelings and is most likely Psy.

An interesting element was the PsyNet, which is like the Internet but for Psy people and connected via the brains. I don't know that I completely understood all of the development that Singh introduced with the PsyNet, because Sascha did some pretty intrusive, high-level stuff within it. I envisioned it as a kind of Mind Palace—or a Hive Mind Palace, as it were—and she was like a ninja, invading the secret rooms in the minds of other Psy. But that may be wrong...

One of the amusing things in this book to me was the dream steam. Sascha is attracted to Lucas, but because of her upbringing she doesn't really understand what that means or how to recognize it, so she resists it. Lucas is attracted to her as well and doesn't try much to resist it. But in Sascha's dreams, she lets go of her protective unemotional walls and they get pretty intimate. Really, though, Lucas is "dreaming" the same things, they experience the dreams together, so...that's interesting.

Of course, because he's a Changeling/animal, we get the possessiveness and ownership as soon as he thinks that she's his Mate. Which is my favourite, obvs. (Note: That was sarcasm. Possessiveness is not my favourite.) The ladies talked a bit about why this might be a common device during the Hangout.

I agree with Veronica about the chapter transitions and the villain; he was pretty creepy from the first moment we meet him, and was really one of the only tertiary people who didn't have an express purpose for being introduced. And I agree with Bonnie about the weirdness of the pack and all the kissing on the mouth, and Kiala's comment about Sascha kissing all of the other pack members once she and Lucas actually get together.

Apparently the series continues within the same world, but with different characters, ones who were secondary in this first installment. I might read the next one to see if it's worth continuing in the series because, while I wasn't sold on the series with this first book, it really only took me a few hours to read. So why not? Especially since Felicia said that the world gets more developed and the writing gets better.

Alright, two down!

To find more about VF Rewind, and about the Vaginal Fantasy Book Club itself, read this blog post.

Check out more of the Vag Fan ladies' thoughts on the book in the video below. I love how they talk about books and authors that I know are read by the group later. It kind of makes me feel like a time traveler...

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Geography of You and Me—Jennifer E. Smith

When there was nothing but space between you, everything felt like a leap. (317)
This is the second Jennifer E. Smith book that I've read; the first being The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight—for which they are currently in pre-production for the film if IMDB is to be believed, which it usually is. I got both books at the Scholastic Warehouse Sale, which I have celebrated before and will continue to do.

I've also seen the cover of This is What Happy Looks Like, another Jennifer E. Smith book, and I really appreciate the design similarities amongst them. See below:

Don't they look so pretty and thematic? But then again, I'm a nerd who notices quality of paper and other such nonsense, so...

Anyway, I liked this one, but not as much as I remember liking The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight. I find them both sugary sweet and lovely, but it was more charming with the first of her books that I read; now the novelty of it was starting to wear off. Perhaps it was because the first was so clearly about love at first sight—notice the title—whereas I thought this one might portray more realistic, everyday relationships. (It did not.) I also remember liking the male love interest, Oliver, more in the former.

In The Geography of You and Me, Lucy and Owen meet while stuck in an elevator in New York City during an eastern seaboard-wide blackout. She'd noticed him when he moved in, but had always thought him somewhat standoffish. He was dealing with the recent death of his mother and moving from his childhood home in Pennsylvania. Through the blackout, they start talking and bonding. Once they are rescued from the elevator, they spend the rest of their time exploring NYC with no electric lights (an incredibly rare occurrence) and watching the stars from the roof of the building. But once the lights come back on, things get a little awkward. Lucy wants to approach Owen and spend more time with him; he feels the same. But instead, they both do nothing. Until Lucy finds out that her family is moving overseas when her dad gets a new job, and Owen finds out he and his dad are leaving the apartment building and wandering the states because his dad can't find a job. Several other moves follow, for both of them, and eventually [SPOILER ALERT] they end up meeting back in New York, where they first bonded. The bedrock of their entire relationship is not even twenty-four hours spent together.

The sharing of postcards was cute and quirky. It seems like no one sends mail anymore, let alone postcards. The structure and breakdown of the book was good, with the four different sections. There was also a bit towards the end where Lucy and Owen are missing each other more and their lives are basically paralleling each other, and this was reflected in the writing, which I enjoyed. But I just didn't find their relationship all that compelling. It wasn't meant to seem that they'd experienced love at first sight, because they'd seen each other around the building a bunch before they ended up even introducing themselves. But instead of building a solid relationship, and then sending them on their separate ways to struggle with a long-distance thing, they had a couple of hours of connection.

It was enjoyable, if a bit saccharine, and I zoomed through it. Worth reading, at least.

Silent in the Grave—Deanna Raybourn

I laid aside my muff and removed my gloves.
He watched as I stripped off the kidskin, and I felt as bare as if I had removed my gown. (76)

First up in my Vaginal Fantasy Rewind: Silent in the Grave. Merely because I happened to have already purchased a Kindle version after reading another Deanna Raybourn, A Spear of Summer Grass, coincidentally also for Vaginal Fantasy. Silent in the Grave was the second book that VF ever read, when there was still only one book a month, before there was even the idea of a "main" and an "alternate."

This is also the first in a series called the Lady Julia Mysteries. As of now there are five primary novels out, as well as several novellas that take place amidst all the action in the full-length stories. In Silent in the Grave, we are introduced to Lady Julia Grey, nee March, part of an eccentric family comprised of five sons and five daughters, of whom she is the youngest daughter and the second youngest child. Julia is mourning the death of her husband Edward, who has suffered with a lifelong affliction, so it is not a great surprise when he dies. When a mysterious man, surly detective Nicolas Brisbane, shows up and tells Lady Julia that her husband had been receiving threatening letters, she is startled that Edward was keeping the letters secret from her, but convinced there is no way that they could have really led to Edward being murdered. But as she uncovers more secrets, and spends more time investigating with Brisbane, Julia comes to realize that maybe she didn't know her husband as well as she thought.

Although I anticipated most of the elements of the mystery well before Julia herself did, there were a few reveals that I did not see coming. The romance is entirely secondary to the plot, especially in this first installment, which I actually appreciate. Julia is mourning the death of her husband and even more than that mourning the death of who she thought he was. Brisbane is surly and gruff and I didn't always enjoy his treatment of Julia, but I think ultimately they are well matched. There are mild supernatural elements, with the belief that Brisbane has "the Sight" as a result of his Romani roots, but nothing that was incongruous with the time period.

Julia is often quite ignorant, but this also made sense considering her family status; practical skills are not exactly top of the list for children of nobility. But she is genuinely keen to learn and help Brisbane discover what has happened. Does it seem as though sometimes Julia and her family are a bit anachronistically accepting of social situations that were taboo for polite society during the later Victorian era? Sure. For instance, Julia's sister Portia is in a long-term relationship with a woman, Jane, who was also the cousin of Portia's deceased husband. Basically all of Julia's family is cool with it, although the rest of society is not necessarily on board. But I felt like this anachronism was explained adequately with the rather unconventional nature of Julia's family.

The quote above reminded me of a quote I remembered seeing on Pinterest from Keira Knightley in reference to Pride and Prejudice. She said, "They don't really touch. Women don't shake hands with men. So the first time Darcy touches Elizabeth is when he helps her into the carriage. Which is a really beautiful moment. Because it's the first skin-on-skin touch. I think today, we don't think twice about that at all. I shake people's hands, I give them a kiss, whatever. It's interesting to think, if you don't have that tactile nature, how important one touch can be." Although there would have been several decades between when P & P was set and when the Lady Julia mysteries take place, the same sensibility is present. It makes something as simple as somebody watching you remove gloves an incredibly loaded moment.

If you liked this book, and you haven't already, you should check out North & South on Netflix. It's another romance period drama set around the same time and is regular watching for me. I'm admittedly a sucker for English period pieces. 

I liked Silent in the Grave so much that I immediately got the next three in the series from the library and read them within three days. Thoughts on the next Lady Julia books coming soon! And more Vaginal Fantasy books!

To find out more about my VF Rewind, read my post about it here.

One down, thirty five to go!

Watch the Vaginal Fantasy Hangout on Silent in the Grave.

It's interesting and nostalgic to go back and re-watch these old videos. The audio quality has greatly improved. I'm pretty sure all the ladies have professional level microphones at this point; but lo, in the beginning, things were much more simple. The conversations were more meandering too, as everyone was figuring out exactly what Vaginal Fantasy was going to be.

Have you read any of the Lady Julia mysteries? What did you think of them?

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Vaginal Fantasy Rewind

I've been a participating member of the Vaginal Fantasy Book Club for over a year and a half now. But before I was actively engaged, I was creeping around the edges of the club, watching the monthly Hangouts since their beginning in January 2012. The club was started and is hosted by four nerdy internet mavens: Felicia Day, Bonnie Burton, Kiala Kazebee, and Veronica Belmont. As the Goodreads forum says, Vaginal Fantasy is "a book club for romance genre books with strong female lead characters." Although I would argue it's evolved beyond that, since I don't believe that all the books we read these days have romance as their primary genre typing. But the female lead character thing is still solid.

Since I'm currently just freelancing, I thought I'd put my (excessive) free time to good use, and do what I'm calling a Vaginal Fantasy Rewind. I'm going to go back and read all of the books that I missed, from the beginning. Then I get the joy of rewatching the Hangouts and reassessing which host I like best. (Jokes. It's always a four-way tie.)

Over the next few weeks, depending on library availability, I'll be reviewing VF Rewind books and linking to their associated videos. It may be that there will be two reviews with the same video, because chances are I'm not going to get the main and the alt of a particular month at the same time; when I review them separately, I'll link to the video for both of them.

Follow along with me by looking for posts with the label "VF Rewind."

To find out more about Vaginal Fantasy, here are a bunch of places where VF occupies space:

Vaginal Fantasy Book Club Goodreads Forum

Vaginal Fantasy YouTube
(Although most archived videos are on the Geek & Sundry VF playlist here.)

Vaginal Fantasy Twitter


Monday, May 18, 2015

The Warlord Wants Forever & A Hunger Like No Other—Kresley Cole

Scars, any external evidence of pain, attracted Myst. Pain forced strength. Strength begat electricity. (The Warlord Wants Forever, 6)

Disclaimer: This review is about two romance novels, so there may be some explicit NSFW content.

I just finished reading the Arcana Chronicles for May's Vaginal Fantasy Book Club. (See review here.) This series, Immortals After Dark, is by the same author and has been mentioned by the Vaginal Fantasy ladies multiple times. Plus they seemed like they'd be quick reads, which is what I'm aiming for. (Thus far in May, I've read at least one book a day. I'm trying to stick with that, while also taking my time reading other, more dense books.) So I thought I'd give them a go. These are the first two in the series.

The Warlord Wants Forever is shy of 200 pages, and is actually considered a novella. It is kind of an introduction to the series, and characters and themes within the series, while also introducing a romance. Of course. The series is urban fantasy and focuses on supernatural characters; in these first two books, we meet vampires, werewolves, and Valkyries.

Usually I would wait to present this, but my biggest problem is the same with both of these books: there's a HUGE lack of consent and I would consider them "rapey." (For those unfamiliar, we actually have come to use this term quite a lot in the Vaginal Fantasy Book Club to refer to the overwhelming and overbearing threat of rape that is present in basically every romance book ever.) I've talked about how I feel about using rape as a character-building plot point before—the tl;dr version of it is that I'm against it. This vibe is particularly present in books where there are supernatural characters, because the lore of supernatural characters seems to inevitably include the concept of "the One," however that manifests; in The Warlord Wants Forever, she is his vampire Bride, and in A Hunger Like No Other, she is his Mate. Notice the capitals there. One and only. Because she is his one and only, and he is convinced of this even when she is not, he basically treats her like crap, sometimes to the point of just barely not raping her. After all, she is his, right? Here are some examples of what I'm talking about:

"Join me, Bride." 
She was compelled to, though she had an expression of disgust on her face. "You keep calling me that, but you don't have that right. I've given no consent, so I think the term you're looking for is slave." 
His eyes narrowed as he took her tiny waist and pulled her into the water with him. "Semantics. The end's the same. You forget that I'm from a time when men needed no consent to take what they wanted." (The Warlord Wants Forever, 47)

He took her by the wrist and forced her hand to his naked shaft. "You feel me hard. Know that the only reason I'm no' inside you right now is because I'm weak. No' because of any concern for you." 
Briefly closing her eyes with embarrassment, she tugged at her hand until he finally let go. "You would hurt me that way?" 
"Without a second thought." His lips curled. (A Hunger Like No Other, 33)

"Emma, let me help you." 
Her head whipped up. "You should buy stock in a lock company! I said alone!" 
He nodded in agreement. "Aye, you usually say that, and I still stay. It's our way." (A Hunger Like No Other, 185)

Honestly, I could go on and on. The instances were multitudinous.

The plot is basically the same for both of these. Here's the gist: creature male encounters creature female, becomes convinced she is his "One," treats her poorly as a result of his innate ownership of her, realizes he's been an asshole, she forgives him because after all he was right she is his "One." Happily ever after.

The notion of "the One" is one of my least favourite tropes of all time. This may be because, while I consider myself a romantic, I don't believe in the idea of the One. I think that, much like some's disbelief in other intelligent life in the universe, it's incredibly closed-minded to think that, of the 8 billion people on the planet, there is only One that is your partner. While a romantic notion, it's also an enormously overwhelming one. I think that there are any number of people that someone could happily make a life with, and it's more romantic to work at a partnership than to just assume that everything will work out because you are destined to be together. But maybe that's just me. It certainly follows, though, that I wouldn't appreciate this particular device.

Okay, summary of each of these:

The Warlord Wants Forever—In which we meet Myst and Nikolai Wroth. (Just go with it.) She's Valkyrie, he's vampire. When he's raiding a castle, he finds her in the dungeon and she sort of seduces him in order to get him revved up enough so she can escape instead of having him re-capturing her. During this encounter, he realizes that she's his Bride, and he only gets one of those in life, so he's feeling very frustrated. In all the ways a man can be frustrated. Five years later, he tracks her down and basically kidnaps her, holding her hostage and commanding her utilizing the weird belt that basically has all the power over her. Of course, despite his terrible treatment of her, she's just so lusty for him that eventually she realizes that she loves him. (Because lust and love are the same thing, obvs.) And scene.

A Hunger Like No Other—In which we meet Emma and Lachlain. She's half vampire, half Valkyrie, he's all beast. She's in Paris trying to discover more about her mystery father—stereotypical daddy issues—and he escapes from a dungeon he's been confined to for 15 decades because he senses her in the city above him. He's been waiting centuries, possibly even a millenia, to find her, because she's his Mate. He's 1200, she's 70. Perfect match! He almost rapes her upon their first encounter, and then several times after that, but she gradually comes to forgive him for his brutish treatment because he lets her drink from him and saves her from a couple of vampires. Turns out, her dad is the one who kept Lachlain hostage for decades. Awkward! But Emma kills daddio, so everything is kosher between her and Lachlain.

I actually really like the intricate tie-ins with The Warlord Wants Forever; basically the two are happening simultaneously. I also think that Cole set herself up well for them to go forever, because every tertiary character can become part of their own romance down the road. Because why have fully fleshed out secondaries if they're not going to be useful later.

There's little supernatural lore that is new. It would be so refreshing to read a supernatural book without a single vampire or werewolf. That said, I don't often see Valkyries, so it was nice to get to learn a bit more about them in the world.

The sex scenes are pretty steamy, but I can't seem to get over the getting there and how incredibly emotionally, and often physically, abusive is the journey.

I might try to read a few more—it does only take a couple of hours to read one—to see if they get any less rapey and more romantic-y. But my hopes are not high.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Poison Princess & Eternal Knight & Dead of Winter—Kresley Cole

"Let me guess—now it's the Sun's turn?"He nodded. "These events have a way of pulling Arcana together and keeping us from the notice of humans. One doesn't look up to the sky to see a flying boy if bodies are writhing all around one's feet.""The field of battle." Just as Matthew had told me. "But those other tragedies weren't apocalyptic. Why was this one?"With raised brows, he glanced at my untouched glass. Fair's fair. I chugged, gasped, winced at the refill."I believe something about this damaged world—the planet, not the card—couldn't take the sunlight. The gods might have salvaged things, but they've gone.""So we're champions of various gods, right? Like you were tapped by a death deity?" A curt nod. The idea made me shiver. "And what about me? You said I was more Aphrodite than Demeter. Were you being literal?" (Endless Knight, 221)

The most recent in this series, Dead of Winter, was the alternate for Vaginal Fantasy for the month of April. (My review of the main, Driven.) The theme for the month was post-apocalypse. VF had actually read the first two of these towards the beginning of its existence, but at that point, I was only watching the videos and not reading the books, so I read all three of them this month. Or rather, in the span of three days, because I was riveted.

Collectively known as the Arcana Chronicles, they take place after a cataclysmic event when most of the world's population is vaporized, along with most of the large bodies of water. The first book, Poison Princess, introduces us to the heroine, Evie. We meet her about a year after "the Flash," as those who survived have taken to calling it, and then goes back to relate all that has happened, starting a week before the Flash. We find out that Evie is the personification of the Empress, one of the twenty-two Major Arcana in tarot cards. She has power over plant life, and in fact can grow plants with nothing but her blood. Of course her name is Evie Greene. Come to find out, every couple of centuries or so, something life threatening and epic happens and the twenty-two cards come together to fight, basically to the death, each with powers relating to their card. (Some of the other precipitating events have been the Black Death and Pompeii.) When one card kills another, a tattoo of the defeated card's symbol appears on the victor's body. Only one of them can survive, and the ultimate winner then lives an immortal life until the games start again, not aging, and the only one to remember the previous game. Evie must deal with the repercussions of the events from her past lives, as well as make choices about how she wants to survive in this one.

Poison Princess is comprised of mostly flashbacks, but ends with Evie embracing her powers in order to defend herself from a serial killer Arcana—by way of ripping him in half with her plants. It also sets up what will eventually become a love triangle between Evie and one of the few surviving people from her old life, a Cajun boy called Jackson who helps her to stay alive in the new landscape.

Another of the Arcana, Selena, takes to calling Evie "Little Shop of Horrors," although before we even encounter Selena we learned about Evie's ability to grow plants with her blood, and as a musical theatre nerd, my absolute first thought was of Audrey II and Little Shop. I adored that.

In Endless Knight, Evie is essentially kidnapped by another of the Arcana: the Death card. We find out that Evie and Death actually have quite a history, although she remembers none of it, and she's the only person that he can touch without killing. He remembers their history because he has been the winner of the last three games. Like Evie, I came to feel quite a lot of sympathy for Death. He can't touch anyone without killing them and he's been alive for centuries, cursed with the memories of past lives and games, waiting for the next cycle to begin. That's got to be a pretty sad and lonely life. (It reminded me a bit of Alisha on the British show Misfits.) Death, or Aric as we come to learn he's called, can't seem to decide if he wants to kill Evie or kiss her. Meanwhile, all she can think about is getting back to her love muffin, Jackson. Towards the end, we are reminded that there is a card that is not activated until it kills one of the other Arcana. (It's obviously going to end up being Jackson, because Evie makes such a big deal about Jackson not understanding what she's going through because he's not Arcana. It's the only thing that made her even hesitate when, later, she decides between Jackson and Aric.) I didn't appreciate that the reason Evie finally admits to her "love" for Aric is after he reveals that they were married once but then she killed him, and she feels guilty for it. Not only was that a completely different life and a completely different girl, really, but the reason that they got married was because back then Aric kidnapped her and wouldn't let her go. So should you really feel guilty about killing your jailer just because you've schemed to marry him and lull him into a false sense of security? Nope. The answer is nope.

Not a lot happens in Dead of Winter to move the overall plot of the series along. It's mostly hemming and hawing from Evie about who will she choose, Jackson (the boy who murdered her mother and lied to her about basically everything, but then beats her up emotionally if she tries to keep one secret) or Aric (the boy who kidnapped her, who she killed in a past life, and who is mildly obsessed with her)? Tough choice. There is also a bit of the growth of the alliance that she is trying to create among like-minded Arcana, although some try to convince her that it is pointless, as fate will always intervene to create one winner. At the end of the book, she is just making a decision on the love interest front when basically a bomb goes off and the fate of everyone is left up in the air. Cliffhanger!

Kresley Cole actually writes some pretty racy adult romance books, which are considerably less plot driven. (For example, see the Immortals After Dark series, through which I am making my way. There are about fifteen currently published, and I am on the second one in the series. The sex scenes are good, but the overall content seems to be kinda...borderline rapey, which I do not appreciate. So I'm not sure how much farther I'll be able to get...) There were some writing quirks that I didn't appreciate, particularly when she went out of her way to try to sound like a teenager, and I just ended up feeling disgusted. (Which is not to say that there aren't teenagers out there who talk like that, or that I wouldn't have been equally as disgusted by them in real life.) Evie's best friend refers to some girls as "slores," which is not only abhorrent slang but also completely unnecessary slut-shaming. The same character tells Evie, "When I'm OTR, I scourge the halls like Godzilla." OTR being an acronym for "on the rag." I couldn't imagine a less attractive phrase for the monthly sloughing of the vaginal lining, including "monthly sloughing of the vaginal lining."

As much as I love the tension that is created from these types of romantic scenarios, it brings to mind a quote from another book I read about how popular culture has convinced us that in order to have chemistry with someone, the relationship must start out being antagonistic.
The messages about love that we take away from the media are as contradictory as they are counterproductive. If the typical love story goes like this--Boy meets Girl, Boy and Girl hate each other, Boy and Girl exchange witty banter, Boy and Girl grudgingly realize they love each other, Boy and Girl live happily ever after (although we never see this part)--what message does that send? Should we look for the person who annoys us initially or who attracts us initially? And if love comes when we least expect it, does that mean if we actively seek love, it's not true love? (From Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough.)
That's how Evie's relationships with both Jackson and Aric begin.

I really appreciate that there are actual sex scenes even though these are considered young adult. Okay, I guess one sex scene, and one oral sex scene, and some naked scenes. But still. I would've appreciated seeing more of that in books actually aimed at my age group when I was a teen. I think the way that the physical nature of the relationships are handled are realistic, even post-apocalypse. More and more I see YA distinguished from "adult" fiction for the only reason that it should be, which is that the protagonists are young adults.

My biggest frustration is that I don't love ANY of the characters. I'm not completely on board with Evie and regularly find myself annoyed with her, I find things both redeeming and detrimental with Jackson and Aric. I find Jackson emotionally abusive and deceptive, and I find Aric obsessive and overbearing. Probably the closest that I get to liking a character is with Matthew (a fellow Arcana who is a little bit off because of his constant view of the future), who is not fully fleshed out. Maybe that's why I like him? But I'm so in love with the idea of tarot cards personified and the post-apocalyptic, dystopian world that I forgive the series its trespasses. I can't wait for the next book(s) in the series, but I suppose I will have to because this one only came out earlier this year and there has not been a date released for the next one.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Driven—Eve Kenin

She always found it strange, that name: Noble War. As if there was anything noble about a nuclear holocaust that led to tectonic plate shifts, floods, earthquakes, and the decimation of the entire world. The Second Noble War had ended about a third of the lives on the planet along with the civilization as it was known at the time.

This is the main pick for Vaginal Fantasy this month. The theme in April is Mad Max, or more broadly post-apocalypse. The alternate being the third in the Arcana Chronicles. (Post about those three books coming soon!) I actually got this in a Women of the Apocalypse bundle (8 books) on Kindle for $.99, so I'm looking forward to reading some of the others in the collection as well.

In Driven, Raina is a trucker, attempting to win a competition by getting her cargo to the designated location before anyone else. She is hoping to win in order to be able to comfortably support a sister she's just discovered exists, and to hopefully retire from the life. But of course, her journey to the finish line is not without obstacles. Before she can even embark on the journey, she needs a pass to help her expedite the traveling along the road which is run by a corporation; without the pass, she'll have no chance of winning. Raina is meant to meet up with a trucker called Wizard, who has the pass. But when she encounters him, he's about to get into some trouble with employees of the evil corporation who are bent on killing him. Raina drives in on her motorcycle and helps him escape, only to find that the big bad guys have rigged Wizard's truck to blow up. So she's stuck with him, even though she finds him infuriating. Or unbelievably hot. Either one. Turns out, Raina and Wizard have the same enemy: Duncan Bane. But can they defeat him before he finds and destroys them?

I really liked the IDEA of this and was excited in the first chapter or so, but then it kind of went downhill for me. Raina was too much in her head. For example, in the middle of fight scenes, thinking about Wizard and his emotions or lack thereof. Focus on the task at hand, maybe! Think about emotions later when your life is not in danger. It could have used some serious editing. There were paragraphs where Raina would repeat the same thing like three times, as if Kenin assumed I had short-term memory loss and would forget what I'd read by the time I got to the end. Raina also seemed to be kind of dimwitted for somebody who allegedly survives on her wits. Like when she notices the finger tapping that Wizard does, and she's like, "Where have I seen that before?" when she'd literally just seen Yuriko do it.

I also called immediately that Wizard's Tatiana and Raina's Ana were the same person, as soon as Raina mentioned her. Especially since Kenin makes an excruciating effort to have Wizard constantly remind us that Tatiana is dead. Like this passage: "If he let himself think, then his mind filled will images of Raina and with raw and bitter regret. Regret was not new to him—he had regretted Tatiana's death for many years—but the intensity of the emotion was new. Unfamiliar. Unpleasant. And it was leaking out of the compartment he had assigned it to, permeating his every thought. That, too, was new. Even the loss of Tatiana had not eroded his control in this manner."

Raina also states that Wizard smells "warm and male and clean" and then a few pages later states that he smells "fresh and clean and male." Do you not know any other adjectives? But I suppose this is a common downfall of romance-genre books.

I found most of the characters two-dimensional, not least of them our villain, Duncan Bane. He had the potential to be a menacing, psychopathic, disturbing character but was instead more of a caricature of a villain than anything else.

The sexytime scenes were good. Those and the concept were enough to balance out the things I didn't like as much, so I didn't feel like I wasted my time reading it, but that may be the most I can say for it.