Friday, November 18, 2011

The Black Dagger Brotherhood: Lover Eternal

Oh man, I think I'm in love....

I've always had a thing against arrogance, particularly arrogant men.  They just make my inner feminist want to put on her shitkickers and bring out a blowtorch.  It's an irony to call oneself humble, but I'm generally not the type to trot out my accomplishments or act in a superior manner to others (unless they are arrogantly ignorant, which is a subclass of arrogance that really sets me off).  To see others act as though they are the best and only game in town just makes me want to go to another playground.

Now, I say that knowing that I find confidence attractive.  Without getting into a semantics debate over the difference between arrogance and confidence, suffice it to say I have often found self-confidence to be more of turn-on than a well-tailored suit or a fast car.  Confidence in one's abilities, knowledge, and talents denotes a sense of honesty and introspection; you have to know yourself before you can sell yourself.

Arrogance, on the other hand, is a front; it's a paint job to hide the underlying fear of inferiority and lies told to cover up that fear.  Arrogance usually comes out in a public display of false feathers, a showmanship of self that leaves others feeling less, engendering a sense of envy that might not be based on anything tangible.  Sometimes, though, arrogance blinds the self more than it does the group.  The lie that covers up a sense of inferiority is sometimes on that makes the self seem less, a false sense of modesty.  Arrogance can blind us to what is in front of us and can keep us stuck in a parody of reality.  The fantasy that we tell ourselves, that we bolster ourselves with, is in fact the most detrimental confidence we could give ourselves.

The second book in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series, Lover Eternal, is focused on Rhage.  The story begins about a month after the end of the first book.  The Brotherhood has moved in together at the Tombs mansion, and they are settling in to a more coordinated team, being led by Tohrment.  The brothers are now living, working, and training with each other 24/7; one hopes the end result is a more cohesive group to go after the Lessening Society.

Rhage is an arrogant git at first glance.  By far the most gorgeous member of the Brotherhood, he would make actors feel like trailer trash.  He's a blond beauty, an angel with the nickname of Hollywood, and he has a talent for having a big mouth, usually pissing someone off at least twice a day.  (Personally, I think of this guy, only with blue eyes instead of his normal brown.  Mmmmmmmm...).  He also has a talent for getting laid; he would make Wilt Chamberlain look like a choir boy.  Of all the vices to have, being a god of random hook-ups is one most guys respect.

However, Rhage's excesses are not so much by choice as by necessity.  Due to previous bad behavior, which is explained in the course of the story, we learn Rhage has been cursed by the Scribe Virgin.  Intense emotions will bring on an immediate change, forcing him to transform into a violent beast (think along the lines of an Eastern dragon, like Haku in Spirited Away).  Certain releases found in intense physical activity, such as extreme exercise routines, binge eating, and sexual release, help keep the beast at bay.  If he could choose for himself, Rhage would choose the life of a happily monogamous man.  Unfortunately, he can't choose, so he puts up a front, showing the world an arrogant man who is thrilled to be a love god.

Mary Luce feels like "ordinary" should have her picture next to it in the dictionary.  At age 31, she sees her life as mostly over, having never started in the first place.  Alone after her mother's death, and taking a mandated break from her volunteer work at a suicide hotline, Mary's life spins further out of control as she learns her leukemia is out of remission with a vengeance.  All this in just the first thirty pages.  However, a chance meeting with a young mute man propels her life in a whole new direction.

John Matthew is a total mystery.  To date, he is an orphan raised by nuns, mute since birth as far as they can figure.  He becomes friends with Mary and her neighbor Bella; Bella recognizes John as a pre-transition vampire, and she calls in to the Brotherhood for help.  Mary, John, and Bella are almost instantly caught up in the thrall of three of the brothers.  One can only hope it is for the better.

When Rhage begins to show interest in Mary, she assumes it can't be real.  Someone who looks like an angel shouldn't be going for the plain girl, right?  Everything in Mary's mind tells her that Rhage's attentions cannot be anything more than pity.  Relying on anyone, much less someone who she feels vulnerable around, scares Mary to the core.  This time, her confidence in her conclusions about Rhage is true arrogance.  Despite the truth to Rhage's feelings, Mary's refusal to let him in borders on the annoying.  She confuses being a strong person with an unwillingness to be reliant on anyone.

In the end, Mary finally gets it, and learns that Rhage's unwillingness to do anything for her is real.  To him, confronting her illness head on walks the same line of humility and sympathy as his own hard-won self-control.  The author does a good job experimenting with plot twists in this particular story.  Though everything ends well, the author tosses in a major plot twist twenty pages before the end of the book.  I imagine she did it as a bit of a fake-out for the audience, and also as a way to play around with (and solve) twists in plot lines.  Also, the writing style is definitely developing, though the continual use of certain abbreviations does annoy me because I hate losing the flow of the story to figure out what they mean.  And it looks like I'm going to have to get my sister to make me a Brotherhood soundtrack; she would know most of the songs mentioned in the books, and I'd like to listen to it to get a better feel for the story.... and get my Rhage on.....

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Black Dagger Brotherhood: Dark Lover

Dark Lover by J. R. Ward

I was really into vampire sex appeal late in my teens and early in my twenties.  Of course, at the same time, Goth was the hot counterculture, and Anne Rice was the apostle of the Dark Side.  As I grew into an adult, the love of all things undead began to wane.  Nihilistic attitudes are great when you are young and seemingly impervious.  The need to feel young forever got old quickly; I wanted the dream-life of a thirtysomething.  I wanted a husband, kids, and a house.  Those dreams are rather incompatible with the vampire lifestyle.  Truth be told, I couldn't swallow the lie necessary for that fantasy to continue; I didn't have a Peter Pan complex, nor was I in love with death or my own suffering. 

Given that, I haven't been into the vampire-Goth subculture in a long time.  I read Anne Rice in high school, and then I got into the Anita Blake series by Laurell K. Hamilton just after college.  I petered out on that series; it just harder and harder to remember who all the characters were and what the plotlines were.  (That might be due to the gratuitous sex that tended to COMPLETELY overshadow some of the plots....).  The most recent take on the vampire mythos, the Twilight series, might be the exception to my general avoidance of the genre.  The writing was addictive and at times comical.  I liked the story, as it stood.  However, applying the themes to our modern society made me throw on the brakes.  Philosophically speaking, the story was not one I would want any teenaged girl to fantasize about or be inspired by.  Outside of that, I maintained a congenial apathy to all things vampire related.

So why am I reading the first book of a vampire series?  Good question.  It mostly started started as a distraction; I had finished the most recently published book of a different series by the same author.  In reading some of the reviews for that series, I found out that the setting was the same, and some of the characters were tangentially related to both series.  I figured if I liked that last series so much, maybe I'd enjoy this one as well.  It would seem my rebound series is turning into something serious....

Dark Lover is the first book in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series.The author, like many before her, has put her own creative spin on vampire legends, weaving a new look out of old threads.  It is clear from the flow of the story that the author had planned to write a series of books, entwining plot ties like a Maypole dancer.  The story itself was a solid introduction to the universe the author created, complete with a lexicon and a metaphysical philosophy.  Overall, I gave the story itself 3.5 stars; not as addictive as her other series, but a very good warm-up to the main event contained in the rest of the Brotherhood books.  I just finished the second book, which has taken me all of 48 hours to devour.  Let me say that if you find this first book a little slow or not quite to your liking, it definitely gets better.

As to the plot of Dark Lover, I'll give a brief outline without giving too much away.  Beth Randall is a woman in a man's world.  Working as a journalist, she is often treated as a "lil' lady", valued more for being female than for her brains.  She finds herself wishing for some excitement, a change of pace from her normal life.  So Fate grants her wish, though not in the way she thought.  This particular adventure is named Wrath, and he is the last pure-blooded vampire, sent to protect Beth while she goes through her "transition".

Wrath had decided long ago that the name of the game was emotional isolation.  Outside of his fellow warrior brothers, Wrath refuses to develop any emotional ties, including to the woman to whom he is blood-bonded.  When his fellow brother-in-arms, Darius, asks Wrath to protect his half-human daughter during her transition into a vampire, Wrath refuses at first.  Then, after Darius is murdered by vampire slayers, Wrath fulfills this duty as an act of grief and atonement.  Beth is unlike any female he had met before; his attraction to her is immediate and all-encompassing.  Wrath finds himself opening up in ways he previously found impossible, to the point of admitting maybe isolation isn't a way of life.

The extended cast is primed for individual plots as well.  Each member of the Brotherhood, with the exception of Tohrment, all have some major issues.  The names are an interesting play on words: Vishous, Phury, Rhage, and Zsadist.  I give the author a gold star for creativity.  Who wouldn't love having six super-huge warrior vampires watching over them?  The Brotherhood is paranoid-protective of its members and their shellans, or mates.  And the sex is pretty hot too.  Once again the author does discuss safer sex issues and practices, even though the characters practice unprotected sex; apparently vampires can't catch or carry human diseases, and pregnancy for females is only viable once a decade.  Now those would be some great terms to live with!

So maybe I'm not as apathetic about vampires as I thought.  Perhaps I just needed the right motivation, or maybe a walk on the dark side is a good way to recapture that youthful sense of indestructibility.  Whatever the reason, Dark Lover is a strong hook with excellent bait, and it looks like I'm willing to bite...

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Fallen Angels series, part II

*SPOILER ALERT*  You've been warned. I mean, serious spoilers, because I am analyzing the crap out of everything.

Ok, so where was I?  Oh yes, the titles as themes.  The titles themselves have made me stop to ponder their meanings.  What is it in the book that exemplifies the title?  What in the nature of the characters fits in with that theme, and how does it shape their development? 

Let's look at Covet.  The character of Vin diPietro is almost self-explanatory.  From a young age, he desired a place in the world that was a far cry from the one he knew.  He wanted more than what he had.  Using that desire, the demon Devina exploited Vin, nurturing in him a covetous nature that wold lead him to an exceptionally wealthy lifestyle.  Later, after his meeting with Marie-Therese, Vin's desire for ownership seems to shrink from the whole world to just her.  He also realizes very early on that with her, it is not about the monetary ownership; he could buy her if he wanted to.  The crack in the glass that is Devina's hold on him is the realization that he wants to be chosen by Marie-Therese.  I think if he had tried to buy her body and/or affections, it would've just deepened the hold Devina had on him.  Also, Fate gave him the one person he couldn't buy; Marie-Therese's own past would have made it impossible for her to give herself to Vin if he had tried outright financial branding.

Marie-Therese is a bit harder.  Her nature seems to be the very opposite of covetous.  The nightmare of her past makes it hard for her to accept a financial free ride.  So she doesn't desire money, or at least not in the way a banker does.  She just wants a way out of her situation.  More specifically, she desires a normal life for her and her son.  The ability to walk around with her head held high, her son attending a regular school, and the lack of fear from her past would all be high up on her wish list.  However, her fear at repeating past mistakes almost traps her in a reality she can't live with.  I suppose then she covets a normal life, though not with quite the same avarice that Vin wants his life.

As for Jim Heron, he wanted out.  His background in black Ops made it impossible for him to live a normal life too.  He just wanted out of that old life, and to start over again.  Or maybe, deeper down, he wanted to be the good guy.  His life had lead him down some dark paths, and his conscience had begun beating a path to his door.  In the end, I think he wanted to be the person his mother would want him to be.  He coveted the normalcy that it seemed others had.  However, he could also see he wasn't cut out for life in the 'burbs with a wife and 2.5 kids.  So maybe it was just as simple as to be the hero, for someone, anyone.  I'm not sure he'd voice the wish that way, but that's how I see it coming out.

Crave is a harder one for me to see.  In what ways were the characters exemplifying the theme of craving?  In the end, the only one who shows an attitude of craving anything is Devina.  Her attempts to defile and break Jim Heron fail miserably (at first), and this only intrigues her.  It's like the Prom Queen in high school; she's so used to everyone falling under her spell, that the one person she really wants is the one person who tells her to f*ck off.  It's like an itch under her skin, she can't satisfy it.  As for the other characters, I'll have to think on it a bit longer.  I'd welcome anyone else's input.

I guess you could say that Isaac exhibited an attitude of craving in his feelings about Grier.  To him, Grier was exactly the kind of person he felt he couldn't have.  She was raised in an affluent, urban setting, receiving the best life had to offer.  In drastic contrast, Isaac grew up in a rural area, one of five sons in a lower class family.  Grier was a double-decker chocolate cake with frosting and sprinkles; Isaac wanted her despite thinking she was something he wasn't supposed to have.  

As to Grier herself, I think her relationship with her dead brother could be considered in line with the theme.  That one is a bit harder to define.  Or rather, I suppose Grier's lifelong yearning for the truth might fit the bill better.  It's hard to say on this one.

Finally, a few questions/theories on the story thus far.  One, is Colin really Dog?  From the first book on, I felt that Dog was definitely more than met the eye.  My own theories seem to switch every 100 pages of story.  Could Dog be one of the archangels (Colin being the most likely)?  Or could the author being using a dyslexic joke as a plot point?  Will Eddie be given his body back?  I personally like the idea that God would be so benevolent that once the contest was over, S/He would be willing to reinstate Eddie to his former glory.  What is going to happen with Jim and Sissy?  It seems like the author is making overtures that perhaps they will have their own story, streaming as a subplot.  I am totally intrigued with Devina's OCD/mental illness, and her crush on Jim is also a neat twist.  I am looking forward to how that will play out.  All in all, a very good series, and I am totally bummed I have to wait so long for the next one. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Fallen Angels series

Seeing as this is all new, I'm going to repost some of my GoodReads reviews here (with some editing).  In this manner, you'll have something to read while I work on new material.  Once again, it goes without saying that I've probably written spoilers, so read at your own risk.  With that in mind, on with the show!

The Fallen Angels series, by J. R. Ward

In a new line of paranormal romance (i.e., stories for those who are tired of lamely written romance in the fantasy/sci-fi genre), J. R. Ward tackles something even more elusive and controversial than vampires or werewolves- angels and demons. The ultimate fight between Good and Evil is the new "goth/vampire/black". Jim Heron, a "saint in sinner's clothing", is charged with the task of saving or damning seven souls. It's the final round for the Stanley Cup in a way; whichever side wins four out of the seven souls first wins the fight between Heaven and Hell.

Here's why I like this book. In twenty years of reading romance novels, this is the first one that I have come across that discusses safer sex practices. The vast majority of romance novels rarely have the main characters talking about condoms, much less using them, unless it is a plot device. In fact, pregnancy is oftentimes a favored outcome for the story; other times the idea that anything could result from unsafe sex (pregnancy or diseases) is blithely ignored by the author. I have to applaud Ward for not only having the characters discuss condoms and their use regularly throughout the book, but also use them consistently.

I'm sure this seems a bit off the topic of the story itself, which I also found to be awesome. But it is such a rare thing, and I was so blown away by it, that I felt it merited discussion in my review. I think it shows great rolemodeling for a demographic that goes largely untargeted by safe sex campaigns. Women in their late forties through their sixties are becoming a rising segment of the population that are contracting STI's. Most of these women were already in committed monogamous relationships when the HIV/AIDS epidemic first started to hit US society, so they were mostly ignored in the campaigns for sexual education. Now they are going through divorce, and they are dating again. According to polls, most only think of condoms as a way to prevent pregnancy, and thus do not use them regularly. This book is a great alternative way to reach that demographic, positively demonstrating the consistent need for the use of condoms. Big fat gold star for the author on that one.

As to the story itself, loved it. Could. Not. Put. It. Down. The plot twists were very cool, and left you guessing to the end. The character development was also nicely done. I think the super-plot of the series is deeply metaphysical without religious vigor. The characters were well-defined, and each had a clear voice and purpose. Overall, very good book, and I recommend it anyone looking for a different flavor of (paranormal) romance.


The second book in this series is just as addictive as the first.  Here's a copy of the synopsis from GoodReads-

"Seven deadly sins. Seven souls that must be saved. One more no-holds- barred battle between a fallen angel with a hardened heart and a demon with everything to lose.

Isaac Rothe is a black ops soldier with a dark past and a grim future. The target of an assassin, he finds himself behind bars, his fate in the hands of his gorgeous public defender Grier Childe. His hot attraction to her can only lead to trouble-and that's before Jim Heron tells him his soul is in danger. Caught up in a wicked game with the demon who shadows Jim, Isaac must decide whether the soldier in him can believe that true love is the ultimate weapon against evil."

In all all honesty, the romance is kinda like a side show to the main event of Jim Heron and the paranormal plot.  Even for that, it was still well-written, sophisticated, and dirty.  I like that combination a lot.  Also, another gold star to the author in the safer sex department.  Though it did bug me a little bit that condoms weren't used by the characters, I liked it just as much that they at least had a conversation about their sexual history and mutually agreed to the condomless sex.  In this particular book, pregnancy turned out to be a plot device for the author, so I'll let it slide.

This series is almost like Buffy/Angel/Charmed in reverse.  Instead of monster-of-the-week and in-depth character growth over time, this series has the romance-of-the-week with overarching monster plot dovetailing with in-depth character development.  I find it to be very addicitve; this is the perfect recipe for my imagination.  Thus far, I find the character of Jim Heron to be intriguing is his evident simplicity.  Between his sidekicks, Adrian Vogel and Eddie Blackhawk, this is one shit-kicking team.  A sexy, muscle-bound, shit-kicking team. 

The author's own inner monologue comes through very clearly as well.  Some of the one-liners are just perfect, and you might find yourself laughing out loud.  I'd give quote examples, but I don't have the book with me.  Overall, book well done, and I give it 4.5 stars.


GoodReads synopsis- "As the son of a serial killer, homicide detective Thomas "Veck" DelVecchio, Jr., grew up in the shadow of evil. Now, on the knife-edge between civic duty and blind retribution, he atones for the sins of his father- while fighting his inner demons. Assigned to monitor Veck is Internal Affairs officer Sophia Reilly, whose interest in him is both professional and arousingly personal. And Veck and Sophia have another link: Jim Heron, a mysterious stranger with too many answers... to questions that are deadly. When Veck and Sophia are drawn into the ultimate battle between good and evil, their fallen angel savior is the only thing that stands between them and eternal damnation."

Wow, if I was addicted before, the plot twists in this third book have me by the short hairs.  Worse yet, this one was just released, so I probably have another six months to a year to wait for the next one.  On the other hand, I have recently discovered that the author has another series that predates this one.  AHA!  Not only that, but the setting are of the same universe.  It's possible that some of the characters I already know from this series will show up in the other one.  As for Envy, I'm still reeling from the plot.

The titles themselves have made me stop to ponder their meanings.  What is it in the book that exemplifies the title?  What in the nature of the characters fits in with that theme, and how does it shape their development?  Things for me to think on, and I'll post my results here later.  Back to the world of being Mommy.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Ego Has Landed

It would appear I have truly grown bored with my cranial conversations, and I am on to blogging.  Again.  In times past, I've maintained one or more journals, blogs, and in-depth profiles.  After awhile, I get tired of hearing myself talk, or write, as the case may be.  I begin to doubt my desire for feedback, because in all honesty, blogs seem like the ultimate in narcissism.  "Pay attention to what I have to say, because I need the validation to soothe my fragile ego."  That sort of thing grates at me; on the one hand, I am grateful that those I find it hard to keep in touch with have someplace where I can catch up at my own leisure.  On the other hand, I remember to check such sites less and less frequently.

Hopefully, though, given the somewhat narrow focus I've given this particular blog, I'll be able to maintain it with ease, and others will be more than welcome to join in or ignore, as they choose.  At the very least, I'm giving myself a more appropriate place to comment on various aspects of books; when other sites ask me to give a review, I want to say more than just the synopsis of the plot line or the development of the characters.  In this space, I'll be able to at least hash it over with myself in front of others, like participatory intellectual masturbation.  Given this overarching goal, you all have been warned now that I'll most likely have plot spoilers, though I'll make the attempt to offer up such caveats in the future.

So let us adjourn and enter into our first round table session.  The future is bright with possibilities, and I am back to being an exhibitionist of bibliophile proportions.