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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Thinking About...The Professional by Kresley Cole

I've been going back and forth about what I want to write about this series since I finished installment three last Monday.  I hadn't even planned on reading this when it first came out back in December but ended up giving it a shot when a significant chunk of it was free from the author as a teaser.  I originally wasn't a fan of the serial release but the fact that holiday hysteria occurred in between the various release dates meant that the wait wasn't that much of an issue.  I was reasonably confident that I would at least enjoy the writing in this story, because I love both the IAD series and the author's previous historical releases, so I figured all would be well.

All was well, for the most part.  The classic Kresley Cole snark was present in force and it was fun to read it coming from someone who wasn't a thousand year old immortal.  The story was decent- the focus is definitely on the evolution of the relationship between the two leads with a little bit of Russian mafia whatnot thrown in to break up the sex scenes.  The sex scenes comprise most of the word count and are not for the faint of heart or fans of blush romances.  I've not read Fifty Shades or anything by Sylvia Day (hard to believe, I know) but fans of those series would find a lot to like here, I think.  Overall each installment brought a pleasant read and the price tag for each one ($1.99) was easy to handle.  Most of my famous authors have first release in hardback at this point so an inexpensive Kindle book is a fun event indeed.

And yet...there was something about this story that left me with a funny taste in my mouth at the end.  Not disappointment, per se, more...a feeling that the dust hadn't quite settled.  I was surprised- normally I finish a Kresley Cole book and I'm ready to stand up and shout hooray and go back and read everything I own from her backlist in one sitting without blinking.  I was puzzled, and it took a couple of days for me to put my finger on what the issue was for me.

Spoilers ahead.  Ye be warned.

The first person narrative in these installments was challenging for me- I admit I got a little tired of Natalie's me, me, me after awhile.  We didn't get the point of view of any other characters for comparison so I felt like a lot of other story elements were there to account for the fact that the sex between Natalie and Sevastyan wasn't completely 24/7.  There were a lot of other avenues I would have enjoyed exploring, and the descriptions of the settings were so lush and vivid that I wanted to know more about that stuff instead of dealing with Natalie's relationship problems.

I had issues with the addressing of Sevastyan's past history as well.  Here's where it's about to get really spoilery so you have absolutely no excuse if you keep reading.  It turns out that Sevastyan's childhood was even more horrific than we had imagined previously- physical/verbal/sexual abuse, homelessness, and eventually the event that saved him was being assumed into organized crime, where he's been ever since.  He has strong opinions about the implications of his sexual proclivities and we know from part 2 that he was reluctant to indulge in those proclivities with Natalie, even though she was raring to try them all out and it would have been completely consensual.  We knew he had issues- we didn't truly grasp how serious those issues were.  The climax of the story is a scene between Natalie and Sevastyan where he finally discloses all of these things to Natalie in an effort at full disclosure to save their relationship.  I wasn't cool with the fact that he disclosed these things under duress, from Natalie.  If the gender roles were reversed and he had pushed and pushed for Natalie to either disclose every detail about her past or face the fact that the relationship was over, I would have said he was an abusive misogynist and thrown the book across the room. I was pretty close to doing that here too.

The resolution of these issues is, for me, where the author's skill as a writer really shines through.  Right when I was about to get upset and disconnect from the story, Natalie realizes the position that she has put Sevastyan in.  It hits her like a bolt of lightning- what she's asking from him is huge, and forcing him into a corner isn't something that would make the basis of a good relationship. Even though the topic is something they would eventually have to explore, forcing someone to tell you about their past under duress isn't cool.  It's not enough that she's offered to let him know every detail of her past, because her past isn't all that scandalous. His is.  She also has to confront the reality that although she may have a lot of vicarious sexual experience and he has a lot of actual sexual experience, neither one of them knows jack squat about having actual, successful adult relationships.

Also, and it might have been explained in the story, I didn't get a clear picture of how long these two knew each other- I can understand attraction being immediate, but I wasn't sure if they had known each other all that long, and if maybe these big revelations would have come more naturally with a little more time or a little less stress, like fewer people getting murdered and all that.

Anyway, the big revelation for me as a reader was the realization that the author had done a really great job of portraying Natalie exactly as she was billed- 24 years old, not a lot of life experience, stepping into several totally new worlds all at once and realizing abruptly that none of those worlds is as it seems on the surface.  Natalie was very multifaceted and it was okay that there were facets that I didn't care for.  Real people are hard to classify as totally likable or totally unlikable.  It's easy to portray someone as a hero or a villain but harder to put them somewhere in the middle.

The door is definitely open for more books in this series so it will be interesting to see what develops from here.  I'd be open to possibilities, and the adventure of trying something new from an author I really love cemented for me the fact that I really love her writing.  Now, I can more clearly identify what it is I love about it.  What's not to like?

Have you read this series? What did you think of it?

Friday, January 10, 2014

Review: Dark Wolf

Title: Dark Wolf
Author: Christine Feehan
Page Count: 432 pages
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: paranormal romance
Copy for review was purchased by me

Back Cover Summary:
#1 New York Times bestselling author Christine Feehan now delivers her most eagerly awaited novel of all — ten years in the making.

In Dark Lycan, Christine Feehan journeyed into the heart of the Carpathians, and into the souls of two lifemates stirred by the flush of passion and the threat of annihilation. In Dark Wolf, the breathtaking story continues as the bonds of family are imperiled, and the fate of two lovers lies hidden in the seductive shadows between life and death.

Skyler Daratrazanoff always recognized the miracle that was Dimitri Tirunul, a man beyond any dream that had ever engaged her nights. But she was human. Vulnerable. He was Carpathian. Nearly immortal. She was nineteen. He was an ancient. Yet she held half his soul, the light to his darkness. Without her, he would not survive. Caught between the two warring species, Dimitri has spent centuries hunting the undead to keep his people free, and humans safe. He had survived honorably when others had chosen to give up their souls. But now, marked for extermination by the Lycans, Dimitri found himself alone, and fearing for his life. But salvation was coming…

No Lycan would ever suspect someone like Skyler to dare mount a secret rescue operation. A teenage girl. A human of untested abilities. But she had something no one else had. She was predestined for Dimitri—as he was for her. And there was nothing stronger for Skyler than her desire to see her life-dream come true. Whatever the risk.

Well, here it is.  The one we've all been waiting for.  I've run hot and cold on this series and am happy to report that I was pleased with this installment, easily the most anticipated for me as a reader and (I think) for many others as well.  Many, many Goodreads reviews of this story are told in GIF format, so I think I'll add one of my own to the conversation:

This was the make or break moment for the series.  If I opened the box, so to speak, and all that came out were bees, I would be sad, and also completely done with this series forever.  I would have my favorites to revisit and that's it.

Happily, this was a strong story, with a great leading couple, and a conflict that could evolve into something in the next volume.  That's probably what stood out the most for me as a reader- something actually happens in this series.  The past few volumes consisted of introducing more characters with a view factoids added in to sort of function as a plot, and here was the exact opposite.  For the first time in awhile I felt like the series has long-term direction again.

This book continued some positive trends that started in Dark Lycan:

The leading man isn't an asshole- Imagine that, a well-drawn male character that isn't gross! This makes two in a row for this series (three if you count Dark Storm, where regardless of the book's other failings at least the guy wasn't an ass) and while I have read every installment of this series I can easily say that Dimitri is my favorite.

Previous characters put in an appearance- Seeing Ivory and Razvan again was enjoyable for sure.  And for crying out loud, we're 25 books in at this point so there's plenty of material to work with.

The relationship between Dimitri and Skylar was center stage, and it was a healthy one.  I know some people out there in internet land were disappointed that we didn't see more of their developing years as actual storyline and not just offstage, but the strategy used in this book totally worked for me.  Skylar's early years were so traumatic and so bad that I think it would have been pretty much impossible to address them on stage without seriously offending someone.  Instead, the author used her power as the architect in this fictional world to make certain facts true.  We wanted Skylar to come into her own, so she did! We wanted her to be respected by her partner, and she is!  Because this is fiction, I'm totally okay with taking the author's word for it that these two had their issues but worked them out. I think dealing with these heavy things onscreen isn't a risk this series needed (or should have) taken at this point, and I'm glad it didn't.

The next book in this series comes out in September and is the final installment of this three book arc, and I'm comfortable at this point saying that I'm in for that.  I'm interested to see how this business with the Lycans works itself out, and I think Zev and Bronnie will make an excellent couple.


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