Monthly Archives: August 2013

What’s With Traditionally Published Paranormal Romance Lately? Is it just me?

The_Best_Thing_Sinces6oDetailI admittedly read a lot of Indie publications. I think the Amazon KDP free list is the best thing since sliced bread and get a lot of book from it. Most of which come from small, independent presses or self-published authors. I do occasionally read traditionally published books, however, and my favourite genre is paranormal/urban fantasy romance. But I’m in a bit of a quandary at the moment.

I’ve read 8 traditionally published paranormal romances this year and I’ve hated seven of them. In an attempt at fairness, I’ve made every effort to keep the venom out of my reviews, but some of these books elicited surprisingly strong feelings of repulsion in me. I found very little that I could have called redeeming qualities in some of them.

The most recent of which I reviewed on Goodreads and Amazon, but didn’t write a blog post for. It would have been the third traditionally published book in a row to receive a poor review from me. I was afraid of being accused of being the sort of Indie reader who tries to build the tradition up by tearing traditional authors down. I’m not. I’m really just not. But I was afraid that I would look like I am.

Now, some caveats, I of course realise likes and dislikes are extremely subjective and these 8 books have been from popular series/authors, so I’m not trying to Computer keyboard - button IMHOdeclare them ‘bad book’s or anything as prosaic as that. And in almost every case the writing was not an issue. So, I’m not disparaging the authors’ talents. But I disliked the books for the same reasons and it disturbs me that this seems to be an emergent trend in the genre. I’m not trying to suggest this trend, which I’ll get to in a moment, is exclusive to traditional publications either. Indies’ often mimic what is selling in the traditional realm, so I’ve seen the same thing there too, just not as strongly. Plus, Indies don’t have quite the reach of a popular traditionally published text. Lastly, since my goal is not to name and shame I’m not listing the titles.

So, what’s got my panties in such a bunch, you ask? It’s two-fold, but essentially boils down to the portrayal female intellect and exceedingly unhealthy sexual relationships. It’s worth noting that the 8th book, the one I didn’t hate, was actually an M/M coupling and had no heroine to start with. So, I’m actually seven for seven.

Let’s start with the infantilization of women. In most of the books I’m talking about, the heroines have been treated like children by the male lead. Here’s a quote from one of my recent reviews,

His pet name for her is “little one,” as if she’s some toddler. Even my three-year-old wouldn’t stand for that. The narrative only seems able to describe her as small, fragile, innocent, and indiscriminately compassionate, all child-like attributes. Even the sex scenes make her sound like a child, full of her “soft whimpers,” “keening cries” and “sobbing breath.” He’s occasionally described as speaking to her, “softly, as if to a child” and she fills his mind “with a child’s wondrous laughter.”

That first point, the pet names, is almost a guarantee in most of the traditionally published PNR I’ve read of late. And they are never strong, empowering names. It’s always pet, little one, love, tid-bit, etc. They all carry a subtle condescension with them. Other than the habitual, stock sentence-enders like hun, sugar, etc, a person doesn’t tend to give pet names to equals. Nicknames, sure, but not pet names. That’s why it’s a pet name. A pet can be loved, cared for, and appreciated, but they are still generally owned and controlled by their masters. There is an assumed social hierarchy in the giving and receiving of such titles. I struggle to think of a single PNR in which the female gives such a cute moniker to the male lead.

Some of these cute names are supposed to refer to the size difference between the man and woman. I get that. She’s almost always little and he’s always huge. But even that only serves to exacerbate the issue. This drastic difference in size is called sexual dimorphism and, in nature, it’s most commonly found among polygynous species. Again suggesting male domination of females, as opposed to equality.

Kmfdm_naiveMoving on, I’ve seen a real trend toward female leads that rush unthinkingly and determinedly into danger, often with a stubborn ‘I’ll show him’ attitude. Yes, this is supposed to make them bold and brave, but it’s also stupid and naïve. One particular heroine in this list of books did this so regularly that I began to wonder if she was supposed to be wholly unable to stop and think through the consequences of her own actions–much like a three-year-old who is unable to comprehend that running into traffic will get them hit by a car. And always there was a man there to snicker at her and point out the very obvious errors in her logic, or lack thereof.

Yes, I’m generalising a little bit. But I am also referencing one particular series and it’s running tendency to place the heroine in embarrassing position of her own making. And like a parent who finds their child’s precocious behaviour endearing, her love interest thinks this tendency is cute and attractive–yet one more example of the portraying of women as child-like.

Two more points and then I promise to move one. A common plot device lately seems to be the need for a man to find HIS mate. He then usually claims her in some fashion, be it a bite or mark of some sort or some elaborate ritual. The problem I keep encountering is that the books often wholly ignore the fact that this means she has found HER mate too. It’s rare that she marks her man in return or that there is a role for the woman in the ceremony. It’s all focused on the male staking a claim to a female. It’s very reminiscent of ages past when a man bought or was given a wife, who had no say in the matter of marriage or ownership. Haven’t feminist been fighting to free ourselves of this burden for years and years? Why would we so readily incorporate into our own entertainment?

omgwtfLastly, there is the sex, OMG the sex! When did we decide that bondage was normal or that women really do enjoy being dominated and subjugated in bed? Where did all of the experienced, sexually self-assured, women who know what they want and are ready and willing to fully participate in sexual intercourse go? In almost all of the books referenced here the heroine was either a virgin or had very little sexual experience. What’s more, she was generally made love to, the couple didn’t make love, she was a passive participant for the most part. In each of them there was an example of either questionable consent, forced seduction, sex play that in real life would have been patently abusive, and/or the inference that the man knows more about how to please her than she knows herself, so he can and should ignore her requests, pleas, and demands and just do as he wishes.

So, add all of this together and what do you have? You have a man who falls in love with a child-like woman that he can own, control and physically/sexually dominated.  That just isn’t a plot-line that I would set out to read. But it seems to be a pretty common theme of recent traditionally published PNR, or at least the ones that have come across my TBR pile. Maybe it’s always been that way and I’ve just missed it. That’s a possibility. I think it’s probably more likely that the tendency has always been there, but that it has recently become more apparent.

One of theses books (the only one star I’ve ever given) played these themes so heavily that I half expected to get to the end of the book and find a note stating that the whole thing had been written as a thought experiment to see if readers still liked these themes when taken to their extremes, please send thought to…. It wasn’t the case though.

This saddens me. I’m not a longtime reader of PNR, having come to the genre relatively recently, but I am a heavy reader of it. I read a lot and a lot of what I read is PNR. I’d hate to give it up because the genre, as a whole, seems to be moving in a direction I can’t conscientiously advocate for.

I’d love some suggestions of series that avoid the above issues and really do have strong, self-assured, competent heroines. Many of the series I’m talking about here are touted as having just that, but they don’t. They just really don’t and it frightens me a little bit that women read them and seem to think that they do. Have we become so desensitised to the portrayal of our own subjugation and supposed social/intellectual inferiority that we really just don’t notice it anymore? *shudder*

 

Review of Christine Feehan’s Dark Prince

Dark PrinceI picked up a copy of Christine Feehan‘s Dark Prince from the charity shop.

Description from Goodreads:
A telepathic hunter of serial killers, Raven Whitney helps to catch some of the most depraved criminals. But her work keeps her from getting close to others, and has drained her body and spirit. In need of rest and rejuvenation, she embarks for a vacation far from home.

Mikhail Dubrinsky is the prince of the Carpathians, the powerful leader of a wise and secret ancient race that thrives in the night. Engulfed by despair, fearful of never finding the mate who can save him from the encroaching darkness, his soul cries out in loneliness–until the day that a beautiful voice full of light and love responds, softly soothing his pain and yearning.

From the moment they meet, Raven and Mikhail are helpless to resist the desire that sparks between them. But just as fate unexpectedly brings these life mates together, malevolent forces threaten to destroy them and their fragile love. Yet even if they survive, how can these two lovers–Carpathian and human–build a future together? And how can Mikhail bring Raven into his dark world without extinguishing her beautiful goodness and light?

Review:
Ok, I’m gonna be honest. Ms. Feehan can obviously write. I’m not having a go at her skills in any way. And I know this is a really popular series. But I hated this book. I really did. I found the whole thing tedious, disliked the characters and by virtue of being female was frankly insulted on numerous occasions.

My first issue was the style of the narrative. Purple prose isn’t a strong enough description for the writing in this book. It’s extremely flowery and overly verbose, to the point of compromising itself. More than once I simply had no clue what was meant by the pages and pages of endless text. I was reminded that I read the ‘Author’s Special Edition,’ with 100 pages of extra content. Honestly, I can understand why those 100 pages were one the cutting room floor to start with. They weren’t needed. The emotional descriptions are endless, but even worse the whole book is ridiculously repetitive. The reader is forced to sit through the same epic recounting of the characters’ emotional states over and over and over again…and then a few more times for good measure. And just to be sure you REALLY got it; the same stock phrases are used each and every time. I started to think the book would never end.

Then there was Mikhail’s treatment of Raven. It was infuriating. If he infantilized her any further I would be accusing him of pedophilia. His pet name for her is “little one,” as if she’s some toddler. Even my three-year-old wouldn’t stand for that. The narrative only seems able to describe her as small, fragile, innocent, and indiscriminately compassionate, all child-like attributes. Even the sex scenes make her sound like a child, full of her “soft whimpers,” “keening cries” and “sobbing breath.” He’s occasionally described as speaking to her, “softly, as if to a child” and she fills his mind “with a child’s wondrous laughter.”  Gag. I’m a full grown, sexual woman. I want my PNR heroines to be too.

All of that is before we even get into his arrogant paternalism. I lost track of how many times he declares, “I can’t allow,” I won’t allow,” you can’t,” you must.” Sure, Raven occasionally argues back to him, but she always gives in in the end, or is simply forced to comply. She never seemed to get suitably angry about this afterwards, though. Add to that the innumerable references to her ‘fragile mind.’ All those things Carpathian men have been shouldering for hundreds of years apparently threatens to shatter her sanity in just over a week. As a fellow female, I was insulted. Plus, he’s constantly trying to put her to sleep, as if she’s some toy he needs to shut off when not in use.

Then there was the whole premise of the males lacking emotions. I get it. It’s an interesting twist, but I don’t buy it. How exactly can the men feel loyalty or honour if they can’t feel anything at all? They’d all be psychopathic loners without any emotional bonds.

Lastly, there were all the subtle religious undertones. Honestly, I kind of wonder if the author even knew she put them in. They almost felt unintended, as if it was such a normal part of her that she didn’t identify it as out of place in the novel. They did feel out of place though. They just popped up unexpectedly on occasion, with no warning or substantial contribution to the plot. 

Now, I will admit that Feehan has created an interesting vampire myth by separating out the Carpathians. And I really did like the complexity of the antagonist(s). The fact that he was pure evil, but also pitiable was multilayered and appreciable. Again, I also admit that the woman can write. I’d be willing to give another of her books a try. But this book was not for me. I like a good alpha male as well as the next romance reader, but there is definitely such thing as too domineering and Mikhail passed that on about page 5. I’m just glad to be finished.

 

Review of Jeaniene Frost ‘s Night Prince novels: Once Burned and Twice Tempted

I picked up copies of Jeaniene Frost‘s Once Burned and Twice Tempted at the local secondhand shop.

Once BurnedDescription from Goodreads:

She’s a mortal with dark powers…
After a tragic accident scarred her body and destroyed her dreams, Leila never imagined that the worst was still to come: terrifying powers that let her channel electricity and learn a person’s darkest secrets through a single touch. Leila is doomed to a life of solitude…until creatures of the night kidnap her, forcing her to reach out with a telepathic distress call to the world’s most infamous vampire…
He’s the Prince of Night…
Vlad Tepesh inspired the greatest vampire legend of all—but whatever you do, don’t call him Dracula. Vlad’s ability to control fire makes him one of the most feared vampires in existence, but his enemies have found a new weapon against him—a beautiful mortal with powers to match his own. When Vlad and Leila meet, however, passion ignites between them, threatening to consume them both. It will take everything that they are to stop an enemy intent on bringing them down in flames.

Review:
I’m really a little surprised at myself for reading this. The only other Jeaniene Frost books I’ve read were the first of the Night Huntress series, and I really didn’t care for them. But I found a paperback copy of this at the charity shop for pennies, so I figured I’d give it a shot. Surprisingly, I liked it. I especially appreciated Frankie’s strong personality. She stood up for herself again and again. Vlad lacked warmth of any sort, but he was supposed to, so it was pretty easy to overlook. Still, this made him a little hard to like. I managed it though. He made a good alpha male. Plus, it would be pretty much impossible to not love Marty and/or at least like Maximus.

I thought it was interesting that Cat and Bones showed up here. I haven’t read past book two of the Night Huntress series, but I get the distinct impression that there may be more overlap between these series than I know about. I think that’s cool and all, but it leaves me wondering if I’m missing out on something. Is this a spinoff series?

I read a lot and a lot of the books I read come from the Amazon free list. This means that many, if not most of them are from Indie houses or self published authors. When I review them I often feel compelled to mention the editing. Anyone who has read many such books knows that the editing can be hit or miss. Well, I find myself similarly inspired to mention editing here too. These books are published by HarperCollins, a fairly big name publisher. But I noticed a ton of editing mistakes in it. I can’t honestly say it was any better edited than some of the good Indie/self published books I’ve come across. Just one more example of the three publishing methods coming closer together, I suppose.

All in all, this book encouraged me to give the author more attention in the future. Many of the things I previously disliked in her writing (what of it I had read anyway) weren’t present here. So I can honestly call this a fun PNR that kept me interested enough to seek out the sequel.

Twice TemptedDescription from Goodreads:

Dating the Prince of Darkness has its challenges…
Leila’s psychic abilities have been failing her, and now she isn’t sure what the future holds. If that weren’t enough, her lover, Vlad, has been acting distant. Though Leila is a mere mortal, she’s also a modern woman who refuses to accept the cold shoulder treatment forever–especially from the darkly handsome vampire who still won’t admit that he loves her.
Like choosing between eternal love and a loveless eternity…
Soon circumstances send Leila back to the carnival circuit, where tragedy strikes. And when she finds herself in the crosshairs of a killer who may be closer than she realizes, Leila must decide who to trust– the fiery vampire who arouses her passions like no other or the tortured knight who longs to be more than a friend? With danger stalking her every step of the way, all it takes is one wrong move to damn her for eternity.

Review:
While I didn’t dislike the book I can’t claim to have liked it as much as the first book. For one thing, I thought the characters started to drift a little. Leila went from a strong-willed, determined heroine to a whinny, clingy, girlfriend of the worst kind. Now, I still respected the fact that she was willing to walk away. That pretty much rocked, but that was only a small part of the book.

Then there was the whole pseudo-love triangle in the first half of the book. Nope, didn’t care for that much–both because I don’t care for love triangles and because I wanted to know more about Vlad, not Maximus. (Though I did like Maximus and would love to see him happy at some point.)

Then there was the whiplash worthy change of heart Vlad had toward the end that felt so very unnatural. It was, of course, necessary for the plot to progress, but if felt pretty darned sudden. (As did the wedding. Where did that come from?)

I did like Vlad’s super protectiveness. I do love seeing a strong man fighting to protect what he loves, but the reader saw so little emotion from him in general that his sudden effusiveness was almost painful. The book is still a fun little bit of fluff. I’m not wholly disparaging it. But it’s not as strong a book as Once Burned.

I also found the same editorial issues as in book one to be present in this one. It just wouldn’t be fair to skip mentioning it just because this is a big name publisher. I expect more.