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Happy New Year!  Today is the day! Last Shot at Justice has its new cover, and is now up for pre-order on Amazon. That's right, ALL th...

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Review of Crush by Vivienne Savage


This book in the Dawn of the Dragons series is such a fun story. Yes, there's some heavy stuff, with the whole idea that Nate must choose between his reincarnated brothers and his growing attracting to Chloe, and another event that I'm not going to spoil. But I wasn't prepared for the excellent injections of humor. Nate's internal dialog had me laughing out loud on more than one occasion.

Did I mention that I loved Nate? In the first scene, when he shows up in his Navy whites I pictured a young Jon Bon Jovi - I think "Pete Emmett" was his character in the movie U-571. And I must say the vision got my heart rate up.

Astrid was wonderful, too. Strong and caring, and so confident even when she was treading into new territory. I loved how she pretty much wore her heart on her sleeve, and how they both were so honest with each other about their feelings. I liked some of the very endearing scenes between her and her family. Chloe and Saul seem like fun parents. I also loved the dynamic relationships of all the dragons. And Nate's brotherhood was multi-layered and fascinating.

The plot was both deep and lighthearted, if it is a nod to Romeo and Juliette, just know it is NOT a tragedy - although there was at least one... Well. No spoilers. You'll have to read it. It was layered enough that I did not figure out what was really going on until right before the reveal, and it's safe to say it kept me guessing much of the way.

And yes, there is some classic Savage spice to this story. One scene was told from a particular POV that I just loved. I can't say more without it being a spoiler, but just be prepared to sit back and enjoy.

So, let me sum up: Fun read with a great plot, totally worth reading - but in my opinion, you will want to have read the other books in the series, first. They just keep getting better and better. (The world building has grown so much since the first book - which was originally intended to be a one-off. If you have even the slightest enjoyment of Loved by the Dragon, know that these books get better with each story. Every one that comes out I think, no THIS ONE is my favorite...) 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Strong Women and Likable Characters

I was thinking about the fictionalized strong woman, recently. I consider myself to be a fan and supporter of strong women and humbly count myself among their number. I even have a Facebook group dedicated to strong women, so strong women—real and fictional—are near and dear to my heart.

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The other day I was watching the movie Leap Year, and didn’t find the lead female to be particularly likable. I thought she was determined and spirited, but did I like her? Having seen it before, I knew by the end she'd be likable. Same with several Meg Ryan characters, notably Kate in Kate & Leopold, or Kate in French Kiss. And even Kristen Bell in When in Rome, Katherine Heigl in The Ugly Truth, or any number of Rom-Coms. Which right there is saying a lot. These strong women characters are so often portrayed in the romantic COMEDIES! (Okay, maybe I just notice it the most in Rom-Coms, when viewers are expected to root for the couple to end up together.)

I was wondering if I'd be able to tell when the gal in Leap Year became likable. What happened in the movie that made her relatable to me as a viewer? I think it was when she was running to make the train, in the rain, and fell down the hill and got covered in mud. This bedraggled woman showed me her humanity. She was torn down to the worst physical representation of a strong woman, and she broke down, but she still pulled herself together and moved forward. That made the respect I felt for her blossom into full-blown admiration, and from there I grew to like her.

Isn’t that what we do as strong women? It isn’t that we’re never down, never afraid, never broken. It’s that we get back up and move forward, often by ourselves, and make whatever has happened work for us. 

I just realized that a common factor in the movies I mentioned is that the women don’t have that bevy of girlfriends they can turn to for help and encouragement. These women are on their own, by their own design, and they deal with life on their own. They fall in love in spite of the men, and they don’t let the fact of that love get in the way of being strong. We like them by the end, and feel like they deserve the love of the man. But is it because of their strength, or their humanity and flaws?

This brings me to another question. Why does the strong woman have to be likable? How many times have you said, “Now there’s a woman I love to hate”? I’ve said that about plenty of male characters, and the actors who portray them. But women? At the moment, I can’t think of many. Mags Bennett in Justified. Cruella DeVille in 101 Dalmatians. I know I run into it more in novels. I like to think I’ve written a couple strong women villains, myself. (Angelisa in Last Second Chance, and Tawnia in the Bonnie Isles Trilogy.) But they're villains, not anti-heroes. Why aren't we expected to like strong women characters in movies and on TV?

I think we’ve been trained for it as a society. This great article by Caroline Siede on BoingBoing.net talks about this training as it relates to female politicians, specifically Hillary Clinton, and I won’t try to say it better than she does, or again, but I strongly recommend reading the article—whether you care about the politics of it or not.

I also challenge you to watch movies and read books while keeping your eyes on the female characters, and try to identify specific characteristics—not just physical traits. If she’s “strong,” what makes her strong? Do you like her? If not, why not? If she’s “weak,” how do you feel about her? Do you like her, or just feel sorry for her? Consciously look for the plot device that's designed to help you come around to liking her. See if you can recognize the manipulation. (Yes, the art of a good storyteller is in manipulation, so I guess I'm asking you to look at the "man behind the curtain.")

I would love it if you came back and engaged in a discussion with me about the likability of strong women. Do you see a disparity in how we look at men vs. women? Should we "get over" the bias against strong women?

In the meantime, I’m going to continue creating strong women characters, and challenge myself not to force them to be likable.

(Full disclosure: Most of the links in this post are Amazon affiliate links, and any purchases you make after clicking through on them will net me a tiny kickback.)

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Update on Activities and Review Catchup

It's done! It's on its way! I finished Should Monarchs Stumble in time for the release date I was aiming for, which is September 24th, the day of the Florence Festival of Books. It is available for pre-order NOW!

I have been so busy getting finished with the final story for the Bonnie Isles Trilogy - Should Monarchs Stumble - that I have totally neglected reviewing the stories I have been reading.

I listen to most books using a text to speech feature, and I'm allowed to do this while at work - driving a delivery van around town. That's the only way I've been able to "read" so many books. 

Now that I have the book "in the can" and the posters and banner made for the Florence Festival of Books, the Complete Trilogy formatted, uploaded and ordered, I can take a breather and catch up on some reviews. They're not going to be very detailed reviews, but you'll get the idea as to whether and how much I liked them.

Without further ado - several reviews, in no particular order.

From Fire Into Fire by Normandie Fischer - ★★★★★
I enjoyed this tale of two spies and their son very much. I have not yet read Two from Isaac's House, but I certainly will if this book is an example of the writing. (I have already procured it, but haven't started it, yet.)

This clean read is bittersweet, exciting, and full of interesting perspectives on the Israeli - Palestinian conflict.
Content rating: This is a PG-13 read all the way. Totally flinch free.

Revolution by Adrienne Dunning – ★★★★★
What a sweet, fun read.
It's hard to miss with this sweet tale in which a ghost and feisty grandmother who team up as protectors/matchmakers for a woman running from an abusive fiance and a widower still aching for his lost love.

Content rating: PG 13, except there is a theme of domestic abuse - while I'm not opposed to kids knowing that that kind of abuse is NOT okay, it might be a trigger for some.

Shenanigans (Love, Sex & Magic #1) by T.B. Bond ★★★★
Fun story. Jackson makes a great book boyfriend. He's almost too good to be true, but I like my heroes like that.
I liked Edward, and the premise that all the sisters have boys names. It's going to make for a great series, I think. I'd say this is a bit of a serial - the story is not entirely wrapped up, and I expect to hear more about Edward and Jackson in other installments.

This has some fully depicted, graphic love scenes, so I would call it R-rated, but there is far more story than sex, so the sex scenes are not the driving force of the book. I don't remember the language being too coarse, but a quick search did reveal some f-bombs, so that is in keeping with the R-Rating, too. Language and Sexual content.

I think I read that this book has been overhauled, maybe since I got my copy (I'm working through a huge TBR) so hopefully the small errors that were littered throughout have been corrected.

My Name is A’yen (A’yen’s Legacy #1) by Rachel Leigh Smith - ★★★★★
I thought this was a wonderful book. It deals with a lot of tough topics - slavery and rape for starters - and has LGB themes to it, and yes, one questions the motive of one character who is only present in the story as a memory. (Some would call him a pedophile - but as this is Sci-Fi, I chose to believe that A'yen's people age faster than humans.) There are things in this book that will trigger some readers.

But the story is full of hope and perseverance and healing and learning to trust. The world building is exquisite, in such fine detail that I really felt I could understand the world I was reading about. I loved A'yen's strength and character, and I felt for him and the torment he experienced. I loved Farran's character, too. She was just as strong as A'yen and dealt with much of it alone, while he had so many friends to help him. For a long time, I wasn't sure he deserved her, until he got is head out of his you know what and saw what a great woman she was.

There are some sex scenes with a mostly closed door, and definite references to both hetero and homosexual love and abuse. It is not easy to read about the things that happen. I'd have to give it a PG-17 rating, for violent and sexual content. I think the language was pretty clean. A quick search revealed 0 f-bombs.

The Healer’s Rune – Lauricia Matuska - ★★★★
3.5-4 stars. (Can't make up my mind.)

I had the problem that I sometimes have with new adult, where I dislike the main character because she is so real. She's got a temper, and it almost makes her a strong woman, but it gets in the way of her listening to people who are trying to help her. The story also makes me uncomfortable, because it showcases the worst in people--pettiness, letting fear dictate your words and actions, and throwing others under the bus to save yourself. I spent the first 3/4 of the book not sure I was going to like it at all, but in the last 1/4 it started to come together, and I can see that it is actually working for the story.

I think I have more to say about this, but I need to process it some more, and write more when I have more time. Suffice to say it was well worth reading, and I will probably seek out the other books in the series when they come. A book that makes you uncomfortable isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Across Our Stars: Hamish – by A. Payne & N.D. Taylor - ★★★★★
5 stars all the way.
This is a fantastic follow up to Across Our Stars: Victor. The pacing is quicker and the action sequences more kick-butt.
I wanted to give a shout out to tell you all this sci-fi novel is great. If you like Sci-Fi that is more character-driven than technology-driven (although there is plenty of cool tech to read about) with complex characters and a twisting conspiracy plot, then this is the story for you!

Murder at Twin Oaks by C Z Bracket - ★★★★★
4.5 Stars
This was a very fine, clean cozy mystery. I liked the progression and the introduction of the various suspects and the investigation. I thought the resolution was good, though I may have missed some of the finer nuances since I was listening while driving.

I liked the rebuilding relationship with Victoria and the detective. I wondered by she didn't give her colleague a chance, though. I might have missed something, but I didn't really get why that was a non-starter as far as she was concerned. He seemed intent on firing something up with her.

The other thing I didn't quite get was why the clues kept getting sent to her. I wasn't satisfied by the explanation at the end. Again, maybe I just missed it, but those were enough to lose that full fifth star. I do look forward to reading more Victoria James Mysteries.

Content rating: this is a clean read. PG-13 - Any violence is off scene, although there is brief mention of some disturbing occurrences.

That's all for now - I'm still reading more, and will surely have more to say. Thanks for sticking with me.