Elmore Leonard said: I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances ''full of rape and adverbs.''

Sunday, 16 November 2008


When I stated my intention to read and review the latest McKenna, despite my troubled relationship with this author’s previous work, it was suggested that I might end up reading ‘with extra suspicion,’ or ‘looking harder for the wrongness.

Guilty. Despite my protestations, that is exactly what I’m doing. See, I’ve read up to page 71, and - most un-Mckenna like - the hero (Val) and heroine (Tamara) haven’t even met. I mean, sure, Val has inappropriately purloined video footage of Tamara naked, and gotten suitably worked up over it (there should be a drinking game), and there has been some disturbing Skanky-Villain-Sex, and a most satisfying torture/execution of Random Henchman No. 1 (more to follow), and the evil guys (there are two sets of insane villains in this one - neat) are so over the top Eeevil they positively cast the last lot (the child ‘organ pirates’) into the shade.

And yet... and yet, I'm not hooked/ enraged/ cackling with glee and self-hate.

Is it because Val is supposed to be a cold blooded killer, without conscience, personality or desire - an efficient operative - and yet everything he does belies this? Despite constantly reaching for his analytical calm, employing his mental ‘data processing technique,’ Val has so far been jerked around by everyone he's met.

As for Tamara, deadly assassin, seductress and unrepentant badass in previous appearances - well. Tamara has a developmentally challenged adopted daughter, and nightmares of a past in which she had to bury her mother and baby sister. And nightmares, and crying jags. And endlessly long inner dialogues in which she questions her suitability to mother.

It’s been 71 pages and no one has even mentioned any ‘yummy girl juice.’ Could it be... am I disappointed?!?

Actually, no. A little bored, though.

Monday, 20 October 2008


To those of you who give not one fig, apologies, but this was far too funny not to share.

Warning - profanities galore (including one inventive turn of phrase I've never heard before; but then, that's HBO for you).

Monday, 13 October 2008


Many moons ago, I agreed to take part in a meme over at Tumperkin's. This involved getting a random letter from Tumperkin (in this case, the letter ‘C’), then thinking up five fictional characters whose names begin with that letter.

Easy, I thought. Easy peasy.

Not so much, as it turns out.

I ran out of steam after two. Strange how the names of so many romance heroes and heroines are totally interchangeable: I couldn’t think of any. Below, I’ve listed two romantic characters from the classics. I guess they’re classics for a reason, no?

Cyrano de Bergerac

Ah, poor Cyrano. Witty, smart, creative, sensitive, dueler extraordinaire - and in possession of a large, a huge, nose that completely inhibits him. Believing himself to be hideous and unlovable, he is too scared to admit his love for the beautiful Roxane.

This story has been done to death by Hollywood, in various permutations (including Steve Martin’s Roxane and The Truth about Cats and Dogs) but the play written by the French poet Edmund Rostand in 1897 came to my attention when I found this quote -
A kiss is a rosy dot over the ‘i’ of loving

This is the passage that the above quote came from. I think you’ll agree it’s a whole lot better. (Cyrano is pretending to be his handsome friend, Christian, who is also in love with Roxane).

A kiss, when all is said,--what is it?
An oath that's ratified,--a sealed promise,
A heart's avowal claiming confirmation,--
A rose-dot on the 'i' of 'adoration,'--
A secret that to mouth, not ear, is whispered,--
Brush of a bee's wing, that makes time eternal,--
Communion perfumed like the spring's wild flowers,--
The heart's relieving in the heart's outbreathing,
When to the lips the soul's flood rises, brimming!

Catherine Earnshaw, Wuthering Heights

I can’t say anything about this that hasn’t been said before, but I loved Wuthering Heights when I read it as a teenager, then read it again when I was older and wondered what crack Emily Bronte was on when she wrote it. Its a great classic for teenagers, actually, and a great romance, too, disregarding the death and tragedy of it all. I think Kinsale has a bit of the Emily Bronte crack in her, and there are some Kleypas heroes that might fit the Heathcliff mould.

Here’s a snippet from the mouth of the delightful Catherine.
"It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him: and that, not because he's handsome, Nelly, but because he's more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same; and Linton's is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire."

Ah, romance.

(Feel free to suggest all the obvious C's I've missed)

Sunday, 28 September 2008


I’ve been underground these last couple of days, watching season three of Supernatural, emerging periodically for fresh air, then going back to ground. After the atrocity of season 2 (with a season ender that was worse, even, than the infamous racist monster truck episode), I vowed never to watch the show again, no matter how cute the boys - see left - and stuck to my guns for all of three months... until I saw the season 3 box set on sale. Who can resist a bargain? A bargain with cute boys? (see left) Not I.

So where season one was spooky and scary (I have a low fear threshold), and season two was lame and emo, season three was GORE-TASTIC. For real. We are talking forks in eyes, decapitation by garrote, evil, demonically possessed children, evisceration, torture and a really bloody death by electric saw. Eek. And cool.

Better yet, it seemed as though the writing improved, the storylines got tighter, with a more comfortable tie-in to the overall season arc (Dean selling his soul to save his brother’s, leaving him a year to live). Jared Paladecki, who plays the younger brother Sam, is the weaker actor, and I think he’s improved tremendously. No more strange facial twitches to signify emotional upheaval/ hard thought. Which is good.

Overall, the show seems to have a better idea of where it’s going, with a mythology that puts me in mind of Meljean Brook’s Demons and Angels series (The Guardians, rather).

Anyhoot, amongst the better writers of the show is one Sera Gamble. From past interviews, I know she writes stories, and I remembered that the last time I visited her site, I found a link to a short story I liked, called Off, by Aimee Bender.

The story is about a woman, an heiress, attending a party held by an old high school friend. The woman has a goal for the evening; to kiss three different men: ‘one with black hair, one with red hair, and the third blond.’ As she goes about fulfilling her mission, a confrontation with an ex leaves her momentarily shaken, confronting for a moment her life and her actions.

This character is hard to like (though I do like her); she is disdainful of the other guests, of people in general. She is lonely and cold, contrary and perhaps a little damaged. Upon discovering the other guests' coats and purses, she thinks - I am rich but I consider stealing some of the stuff because they are so trusting, these people, and I feel like wrecking their trust.

There are so many things I like about this story, the landscapes the protagonist used to paint, with ‘something bad in it’ and the teacher who never noticed. The dog she called called Off, and her anger towards other women.

Read it!

And while I’m talking about difficult women, I might as well mention the book I finished recently, The Awakening by Kate Chopin, which I enjoyed tremendously.

So if you're hankering after some early American feminist writing...

In romance related news

The last couple of romances I've read have left me feeling mildly dissatisfied. I can't remember the last time I really enjoyed one, but I'm going to mention a couple that rose above the average mark.

Never Romance a Rake, Liz Carlyle. I've enjoyed this series, and I think Carlyle is a great writer, but she's also hugely frustrating. As with NRaR, she sets up brilliantly tortured, complex characters, with really gripping conflicts, and then... she pulls her punches. And I end up feeling a little cheated. I can't really explain it better than that. This is a solid B for me, but it should have been more.

Miss Match by Jo Leigh (Harlequin Blaze). Jane reviewed this in one of her lightening reviews, and I find myself in agreement with her assessment. A pretty decent beauty and the beast romance (the heroine is no beast, just no where near in the same league as the hero), with a strong female lead and very sympathetic characters. The hero's character arc was not entirely plausible, and the heroine's family was completely cartoonish, but it still proved to be an absorbing read. I don't read categories as a rule, but I think I'd read another Leigh. Another B.

Courting Midnight by Emma Holly. Having read the other two in this series I decided to give this a go. The only thing holding me back had been the horrible cover; my Sony reader took care of that. For a Holly (and I'm a fan) this was rather tepid fare. The romance was nice, the writing was nice (channeling the regency vibe I thought. Holly has a very good ear for dialogue and always captures the right tone for her various series). However, I was utterly underwhelmed. C+

To end on a positive note, I found in my possession an old-ish Lisa Klepas I don't remember buying - Scandal in Spring, the last in her Wallflower quartet. I'm no Kleypas fangirl (for the most part, I don't get the fuss), but I enjoyed it tremendously. It even made me laugh out loud in one scene, when the hero is playing a very silly parlour game against his inclination. When did romance novels lose their sense of humour? I can't remember the last time I chuckled my way through a good historical - any suggestions? (And Scandal in Spring gets a very glowing B+)

I'm embarking on the Joanna Bourne express and won't be back until I've got an opinion on The Spymaster's Lady. About bloody time, don't you think? I might be the last person in the blogsphere. I can't wait to weigh in with my opinion. From what I can tell, opinion is mostly favourable, with one or two voices of dissent. Bourne is kind enough to link to these reviews, both positive and negative, on her blog, which I think is very cool of her.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008


Oh yes, at long last, I can consider myself a member of that oh-so-cool crew of e-book reading, techno-babble spouting, device-toting vixens (you know who you are). For I have in my hot little mitts, my very own SONY READER.


It is a thing of beauty. I have spent the evening in earnest contemplation of the manual, and all the advice available on-line for getting the Reader to a state of Mac compatibility. Which I've done (phew). All that remains is the actual reading.

Alongside the 100 free classics Sony were kind enough to send me (The Sonnets! Crime and Punishment! The complete Jane Austen...) I've got a couple of e-books I've been holding off on until the arrival of this, my precious, my baby, my Reader...

Rumors, Anna Godbersen
Dark Desires after Dusk, Kresley Cole
Never Romance a Rake, Liz Carlyle

Just to conclude - Woot!

Sunday, 31 August 2008


I've just had a lousy week (make that a lousy month, with no foreseeable end in sight). Precisely the time when you need a really good, escapist read.

Which is why this book captured my attention in 'Smiths.

"All of the glitz of The O.C. but with bigger frocks and more dashing boys" cried the endorsement from Elle.

Hmm, I thought, pausing by the bookshelf. I did love The O.C (seasons 1 and 4) and I love big frocks...

I turned it over to peruse the meager blurb:

Imagine if you will,
New York City, 1899...
Society's elite: the glamour, the grandeur, the glittering parties, the most handsome beaux, the most beautiful debutantes... the rich girl, the humble boy, the forbidden love, the stolen glances, the whispers, the scandal, the mystery, the revenge.

Ah, perfect.

The concept - Wharton meets Gossip Girl - appeared to be targeting the Young Adult market. No problem. As I mentioned, escapism was key, and nothing beats the angst of a good YA romance.

Did it do the trick?

Well, yes. Sometimes, a disconcertingly large font, two dimensional characters, transparent plotting, pretty dresses and soap operatic levels of melodrama can work their magic on a mentally tired and restless reader.

So in the spirit of the novel - which is ridiculous, let's be clear - I'm going to do a dramatic review. (Props to this site, for the idea).

The Luxe: a review in four parts

Cast of Characters

Elizabeth Swann

Mama Swann

Little Sister Swann (Diana)

Will, the poor but *OMG Totally Hot* Stableboy

Lena, Elizabeth's sullen maid

Henry Schoonmaker "The baddest bad boy in New York...'

Papa Henry

Evil Brunette, Penelope Hayes

Her Sidekick, the gay BFF

Greek Chorus of Elizabeth's Male Admirers

Pictoral representation of New York society c. 1899


What a tragedy that someone as young and beautiful and pure and good as Elizabeth should die under TRAGIC and MYSTERIOUS circumstances

Oh, how we loved Elizabeth. She was so beautiful and pure and kind and good.

But why is Elizabeth's younger sister smiling?



Elizabeth, I want you to dance with all the rich boys, however repulsive you might find them. Yes, even that cross-eyed Percy with his poisonous breath and groping hands.

Because I am a doormat with no personality or strength of character, I will do as you say, even though I love Will, the totally hot but poor stableboy

My ball is a success! Very soon my plan to conquer New York society will be complete, and I will be more popular than Elizabeth Swann, who is my best friend though I secretly despise her. I will marry Henry, the baddest boy in New York, and together we will rule the city! MUHAHAHA!

You go, girl

*smoking ciggerette* Sigh, I am far too cool and unconventional for this place. Kiss me, random handsome stranger!


Nope. Nothing. Will I ever fall in love?!


Life is so monotonous and dull. I need a drink

You are a disappointment as a son and a human being. To make up for your complete uselessness, you will marry Elizabeth Swann, for reasons that make little sense but serve the purpose of the story.

Elizabeth is so boring and pure. Also, I'm totally boning her best friend Penelope.

I will cut off your allowance!

Jeez! Okay, I'll do it!


Oh, how I hate my crappy, low wage job as lady's maid to that stupid Elizabeth Swann. But oh, how I love Will, the beautiful stableboy.

Wait, what's Elizabeth doing in the stables in the middle of the night?

I love you, Will! Let's do it, but it won't mean anything because I am rich and posh, and you are a stable boy

Let's run away together. We can go to the West and be ranchers!

See above. But, let's totally have sex anyway.




Let's have some skanky villain sex and talk about our future together as King and Queen of Manhatten.

Do you love me?

What is this love you speak of? I want world domination!!!

I need a drink.


You must marry Henry or else we will be POOR!

Okay. (Note to self: don't tell Will)

Psst, Will! Elizabeth is totally marrying Henry!


Elizabeth, even thought I think you're boring and bland, will you marry me?

Sure. I guess.


I really need a drink. Hey, why are you wearing my hat?

Because I am daring and bohemian! Kiss me!


Finally - a tingling in my groin! I think I'm in love!

Diana is so daring and bohemian. I think I love her. But I must marry her boring sister or my allowance will be cut

Even though I love Will, I will marry Henry for the sake of my family

Even though I love Elizabeth, I must go to California and seek my fortune. But first, I will leave her letter in case she wants to join me.

She will never see this letter! Will will be mine!


Ice cream?

I'll stop there, in case you actually want to read the book and find out for yourselves how these tangled and emotionally complex story lines are resolved.

One thing's for certain: I can't wait to read Rumors!