Books I read this week 2/25/17

Magic Burns

Author: Ilona Andrews

Series: Kate Daniels #2

Tags: Urban Fantasy, Kick Ass Heroine, bounty hunter, magic, shifters, vampires

Rating: Yay!

 

What a rollicking adventure! Yet another great example of world building from the Ilona Andrews team. In this world, magic and technology coexist, but come in waves. A magic surge hits and all things techy break down, weird things happen, and everything magical gets a bit more magicaler. The magic dissipates and everything turns back on.

Kate Daniels is a hard hitting bounty hunter/detective type with a magic sword named Slayer. She has a flirtation with a lion shifter named Curran, and a secret about her heritage.

I read the first Kate Daniels a couple of months ago, so it was little hard to remember the players. I enjoyed that one a lot too. These books are set up much like a tv episode: a self-contained mystery, an overarching mystery, and a romantic interest set to a simmering boil.

 

Nothing much happens between Kate and Curran in this book, which is fine with me. I like a slow build up, as long as other things engage my interest. There is nothing worse than a couple getting together in the first book.

There are only limited supply of conflicts to do with a pre-paired couple, which include:

  • losing interest,
  • a baby,
  • breaking up,
  • or “oh no! We are so blissfully paired in a perfect union!” (aka: no conflict at all).

When I pick up escapist books, I am not interested in delving into the intricacies of challenging interpersonal relationships, and babies are just boring, so I’m glad this one didn’t go there yet. At the same time, books like Beautiful Ashes drag out the love interest far too long, so that slowly beating your head with a rock is a better experience. I’m happy to say neither is going on in the Kate Daniels series yet.

 

I am of a mind to complete the series as soon as possible, before all memory of previous books is lost. However, I have other books to finish first.


 

Marked by Midnight

Author: Lara Adrian

Series: Midnight Breed #11.5

Tags: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, vampires, vampire cops

Rating: Meh.

 

I’m not entirely sure what is going on in this series, but I caught up enough to finish this little novella. Apparently, there are Breed (or vampires/magical people/idk/gross) and Breed Mates (humans chemically compatible to matebond with Breed/also have one or two powers of their own).

The plot is set up as a kind of Film Noir: detective meets victim/suspect and falls in love, mystery ensues.

 

I have to say that the word Breed makes me feel uncomfortable and I wish they would stop using it in all the books I read. In paranormal books, the word is often used to describe all paranormal species in one magical clump. Shifters, vampires, werewolves, ghosts, mages, etc. can all fit under the term “Breed.” “He’s breed.” “She’s breed.” “In the Breed neighborhood.” Etc. But doesn’t it sound a little bit like the vampire in question is a purebred Yorkie? Or maybe that they should be kept in stables, only taken out to romp together in a pasture and create a lineage of strong breeding stock that will help them win races?

If that’s not bad enough, when I switch back over to Regency romance, instead of saying pregnant, women say “I’m breeding.”

Ewwwwwww. How is that better than pregnant? That saying is as bad as “a bun in the oven.” Not matter what time period, a woman is NOT a thoroughbred mare or a kitchen appliance. I much prefer the euphemism of “increasing.” I mean, that happens quite literally during pregnancy.

 

Apparently, the girl’s superpower that she gets because she is a “breed mate” (ew) is that she can touch dead people and see the last few minutes of their death. Super lame! It’s gross, morbid, AND has absolutely no everyday application. I mean, Bobby Drake’s power is lame, too, but at least he can get a soda from the garage and cool it down instantly.

That’s all I want out of a superpower, really: some kind of banal everyday application. I could deal with being a mutant/Breed Mate/whatever if it meant I could always find my keys.


 

Ravishing in Red

Author: Madeline Hunter

Series: Rarest Blooms #1

Tags: Regency Romance, tavern, mistaken identity, horticulturist?

Rating: Yay!

 

I quite enjoyed this. It starts with the two characters meeting by chance in a tavern and the girl accidentally shoots him. Which is funny because I’m in the middle of reading The Sinner, a book by Madeline Hunter about two characters who meet in a tavern and then the girl is accidentally shot!

Hey, if the motif works, use it.

 

Taverns and inns are such great locations. I love most of the books that use them as beginnings or plot catalysts. There’s something about being forced into this strange situation while travelling that is somehow outside normal society. My English professor (talking about Tom Jones, NOT Regency novels) said that taverns are the great equalizer. No matter if they are a king or a peasant, everyone needs to stop and rest while traveling long distances.

If one needs to further an acquaintance by shooting them, so be it.

 

Other things happen, but nothing of note comes to mind. Just enjoyable. I continue to be a fan of Hunter. Not sure if I will continue the series. There are three more. I tried to read #4, but again, I found myself missing out on context. The fourth was once again reserved for the least redeemable character, much like the last books of both The Wicked Series, and The Fairbourne Quartet.

 

As far as the other book goes, I may have to give up on The Sinner, and I’m not happy about it.

It’s entirely focused on the seduction of a frigid woman, which is not my favorite plotline by far. Anna Campbell’s Tempt The Devil has the same plot, and wooo, that was a beast to get through. In both they conquer the woman’s fear of sex through some psuedo-therapy, which always makes me wince. Halfway through I always find myself saying “dude, she might just be gay. Or asexual. Just let her do her thing.”


 

Scandal Takes the Stage

Author: Eva Leigh

Series: the Wicked Quills of London #2

Tags: Regency Romance, playwright, the stage

Rating: yay!

 

This book has possibly the nicest Regency Rake I’ve ever read. Though he is supposed to be all seduction and debauchery, he steadfastly refuses to seduce her through the bulk of the novel. Dawwww, how kind of him, to hear her disinclination in being pursued and to actually listen! After reading so many Madeline Hunters, where the men openly and persistently attempt to seduce the women, it is nice surprise.

Not entirely kind, since if he were really interested in not seducing her he would not actually hang out with her, but ten points for effort.

 

I’ve read the other two Wicked Quills novels. I don’t remember #1 Forever Your Earl (about a female Scandal Sheets writer), but #3 Temptations of a Wallflower sticks out in my memory as one of the very few Regency novels that feature a vicar as the male protagonist. He’s a vicar and she writes porn. Hooray! A match made in heaven. This will probably turn out well.

I am a little tempted to revisit Temptations, solely because of its unlikely pairing. Also, 18th Century porn is hilarious! Check out the most famous one that you can still find in print, Fanny Hill by John Cleland.  Temptations pays homage to Fanny Hill by naming the vicar Cleland, which is, if you think about it, super odd.

 

Long story short, skip this whole series and read Fanny Hill.


 

The Rosie Project

Author: Graeme Simsion

Series: N/A, though there is a sequel

Tags: General Fiction, romance, nebulous autism, ableism?

Rating: Hmm…..

 

I was prompted to step slightly out of my cocoon of highly improbable, sensationalist escapism fiction and read this book for an upcoming book club meeting. It’s not a paperback romance, and may even be classified under those bookshelves as simply “Fiction.”

Now that I am finished with the book, I can say that I was entertained, moved at times, but ultimately perplexed.

I would say this book is Bridget Jones Meets Autism. It’s written in a very distinctive tone, is funny, and deals with the main character’s mishaps in romance. In explaining the plot quickly, I would say “A guy who has Asperger’s sets out to find a wife.”

However, is it true? The man in the book, Don, is not diagnosed with autism or Asperger syndrome, and continues to be unaware of his similarities. His friends, who are psychologists, passive aggressively nudge him to come to the conclusion himself, which seems irresponsible and silly considering that subtlety can be lost on those who can’t pick up social cues. I mean, shouldn’t he be made aware? Does his lack of diagnosis at the end mean that he does not in fact have Asperger’s? It’s kind of a tree falls in the forest scenario.

Surely, someone should tell him. Especially now that he is heading in the territory of interpersonal relationships. I’m sure some of the research behind the autism spectrum can help him. The character mentions multiple times that he’s “wired differently” and “unsuitable for romantic relationships”.

I’m particularly disturbed by the fact that he manages to change some of his habits to become a more socially acceptable person. As if he just decided one day to act outside of the societal norm, and it was a simple switch back. Shouldn’t the story be that he was accepted for the way he was? Shouldn’t we recognize that some behaviors are not endearing eccentricities, and actually cause real challenges for the person and those around them? Which brings me to another topic…

 

Ableism.

Ah, ableism. Sometimes I wish that I wasn’t so woke as am I now, and not feel guilty whenever a character has some sort of charming, harmless version of a mental disorder to create conflict. Though, to be fair, even before I knew of the term ableism, I was still coming to the same conclusion that something just ain’t right.

I understand the inclination. Somewhere the idea started that if you take something away from the perfect form of a healthy adult human, it will be easier to preserve innocence. Don is so much sweeter because he doesn’t understand social cues. He hasn’t been mired in the crass, jaded world that his friend Eugene lives in. His love is therefore that much more poignant and powerful.

Of course, the ideas of innocence, the perfect form, and that a disorder or similar is taking something away from a person, are all equal loads of bullshit. It’s ableism: romanticizing, and ultimately exploiting a real human challenge for the sake of plot. The character is elevated beyond the able-bodied experience and is therefore more readily liked, sympathized with, and harder to turn down. The technique can be used to great advantage, and sometimes with such a heavy hand that will leave you feeling slightly ill.

Now, as a reader of romance novels, I see this a lot, and consistently war with my own inclinations towards like just these types of stories. It probably says more about myself that I am looking for any excuse to fabricate innocence in a character, than how I feel about the disorders themselves. It probably helps that I see the plot device clearly for what it is immediately.

The disorders are often hidden behind the time period or magic to make it a little less overtly ableist. Ian MacKenzie from Jennifer Ashley’s The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie is just that romanticized version of a mental disorder that I like to call Nebulous Victorian Autism. It’s kind of autism, but it’s mostly utter bullshit, almost to the point of him having superpowers. But it’s okay! Because it’s Victorian times! Blah blah etc. etc.

Reading Ian MacKenzie made me scoff and move on, but the Rosie Project? I had to think hard about this one.

The difference is, most notably, that the Rosie Project is not claiming some vague magical escapist bullshit; it’s claiming actual Asperger Syndrome. It’s in present day, in first person, and it gives a supposedly sorta accurate view of what it’s like living on the autism spectrum. We are put in that first person, and yet we are not given the full treatment. It’s lighthearted. It focuses on his hilarious misadventures. I almost almost get to the point where I feel like the reader should be making fun of him, too. Oh, haha, that’s hilarious! His ineptitude in social situations is such a funny joke!

When those kind of funny moments were happening, I was reminded of talking about Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov in English class. Kinbote, too, made an ass of himself as a way to combat the fact that others found him strange and laughed at him and he didn’t know why. This wasn’t a particularly please correlation, since Kinbote is such a tragic character. Kinbote was excessively isolated, hung on to a completely fabricated fantastical history, was a joke to even his only friend, and killed himself. Hardy har har.

There’s got to be some balance between lighthearted fiction that can be interpreted as ableist, and bleeding-heart seriousness that only romanticizes the other way in a “poor them” situation. The opposite of ableist, I suppose, is that people with autism can be dicks, too. Is there a way this book could have been written differently?

 

I would not recommend this book to someone on the autism spectrum, since the character seems to have very high functionality, and ultimately changed himself to “win” a relationship.

It’s like saying “I would still love you if you gained 40 lbs.” But not, like, 41? What if you can’t change those very behaviors Don so easily stopped?

Shades of Milk and Honey

Author: Mary Robinette Kowel

Series: Glamourist Histories #1

Tags: Jane Austen, Regency Romance, magic!

Format: Ebook

Rating: Meh.

 

I almost wrote “50 Shades of Milk and Honey” at first, which I suppose would be Jane Austen + magic + BDSM. Interesting combination…

 

This book was recommended to me multiple times because of my 1) current romance novel reading obsession and 2) ever-present Jane Austen obsession. It is described as Jane Austen + magic, so excellent! I love both those things!

I didn’t realize until I started reading it just how much Jane Austen it was until I started reading. Echoes of nearly all Jane Austen characters haunt the characters of this book. Darcy, Edmund Bertram, Wickham, Willoughby, Henry Crawford, Frank Churchill, Lydia, Georgiana, Eleanor, Marianne, Mrs and Mr Bennett and more all take their turns in the small cast of characters that blunder along through this book. A strawberry picking expedition, an ill fated trip to Bath, a couple of clandestine meetings make the reader go, “oh, I remember that in Jane Austen’s novel ___. That was a great time.”

Except, since it’s me, I think, “oh, I remember the Box Hill Incident in Emma, where she finally realized her own conceitedness, as a turning point in the novel, and the catalyst to bring her and Knightley together, and by the way I wrote my thesis on this, and you did it wrong.”

 

I tried, dear reader, I tried.

 

I am extremely proud of myself for keeping my lectures about Jane Austen to a minimum, and attempting to read the book before what it was, rather than how it lacked to be Jane Austen.

As far as rating it on its own merits, I found the book… kinda boring. The characters are not really filled out, and Jane’s sister and friend are absolutely awful. Not surprising, because when you combine Lydia + Marianne + Georgiana you are not going to get the best result.

However, the magic was fascinating, and I kept reading mainly for it. Creating illusion is the only purpose of magic (aka: glamour), and it’s treated in Regency society as a female accomplishment similar to playing the piano. There are some great descriptions how they fold  and twist “ether” to create illusion, movement, light, and darkness.

I was a little frustrated by the ambiguity of love interests, and how they kind of just stagnate for a while.

Mr. Vincent, a paid glamourist, is the only person that doesn’t fit into the Jane Austen ambiance. He’s a big, dark, angry blotch among all that filigree, just standing in the corner and angsting wordlessly.

Mr. Vincent has some Jane Austen hero qualities, but is more strikingly Byronic. He could have been written by a Bronte. Which is odd that he just shows up in this book, hovering, brooding.

BTW, Charlotte Bronte hated Jane Austen. It makes sense. She is from the romantic period, Austen was the Age of Enlightment, where everyone is sensible and calm and controlled. Someone once reminded me that Austen would be what Charlotte’s grandmother had read. She probably felt the same way about it that I feel about Prairie Home Companion.

 

The author uses the anachronistic shew instead of show. How adorable. Fun fact: the verb shew was still being used even in the 1920’s. Thanks, Reddit!

 

There are four more books in this series, and they seem to be centered on the now paired couple. How odd, that the author started the series with broad strokes of Austen plots, and then moves onto after the wedding. I can’t imagine there being any more Darcys or Lydias in the next four novels.

Maybe they would be good, since the author now has more time to focus on her interesting idea of magic. Or maybe not. I might never know. Will I read the next book? Probably not.

Thanks for reminding me about Jane Austen!

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