Read & Win: Daisy Goodwin's <i>The Fortune Hunter</i> Read & Win: Daisy Goodwin's The Fortune Hunter Daisy Goodwin "She smiled and put a finger against his lips..." <i>Driving with the Top Down</i>: Excerpt Driving with the Top Down: Excerpt Beth Harbison True friends provide a roadmap to finding what you’re really looking for... <i>A Woman Made for Sin</i>: Exclusive Excerpt A Woman Made for Sin: Exclusive Excerpt Michele Sinclair "When he showed his pleasure with a low growl, she smiled against his mouth." <i>Why Lords Lose Their Hearts</i>: Excerpt Why Lords Lose Their Hearts: Excerpt Manda Collins "Archer seemed prepared for it, and pulled her against his chest..."
From The Blog
July 21, 2014
Sandra Schwab’s Historical Romances
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July 18, 2014
Friday Beefcake: Tim Howard
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Non-American Authors for Your Staycation
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Faith and Romance is Not a Contradiction
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Find Your Own Hot Warrior!
Coreene Callahan
Showing posts by: Alexis Hall click to see Alexis Hall's profile
Wed
May 7 2014 12:00pm

Surrendering Slowly to Cecilia Tan’s Slow Surrender

ISlow Surrender by Cecelia Tan’m always really wary about reviews that begin with “I don’t like genre/subgenre [x]” like it’s a badge of honor. It inevitably leads to the reviewer making trite observations about what are probably quite sophisticated tropes, and winding up with a comment along the lines of “I’d have enjoyed this romance a lot if the central couple hadn’t got together at the end” or “This space opera would have been so much better if it hadn’t been set in space.”

Nevertheless, I feel I can’t really talk about Cecilia Tan’s Slow Surrender without first offering this bit of context: of all the subgenres of romance I’ve encountered, the one that appeals to me least is the one I think of as Billionaire & Human Female, books where the hero is some kind of tormented, maverick genius billionaire, and the heroine is, well, a human female, and often seems to have no distinctive features beyond this. Fifty Shades of Grey kind of typifies the subgenre for me. That said, this is entirely personal taste. There’s nothing wrong with B&HF, and, if it’s your kind of thing, then I suspect you’ve probably already read Slow Surrender. If not, you should. You’ll like it. See you later.

[Are you still there? Onward!]

Fri
Feb 28 2014 10:30am

Kiss Me Kate: Ilona Andrews’s Magic Bites

Magic Bites is the first book in Ilona Andrews' Kate Daniels series and, well, I should probably start this review by making the same observation I always wind up making about volume one of a series, which is that the first book inevitably has to do a whole lot of heavy lifting. Magic Bites is set in an alternative Atlanta, some time after a magical apocalypse. The basic premise is that technology and magic sort of compete for control of the world, and one or the other will be “up” at a time, at semi-regular intervals. During tech, magic is unpredictable, during magic, tech is unpredictable. Hilarity ensues. And by “hilarity” I of course mean “a series of grisly murders.”

Oh, as always, I should say that there are spoilers coming. I mean technically the “grisly murders” thing was a spoiler but…seriously when aren't there grisly murders?

Our heroine is a mercenary with unknown and mysterious supernatural heritage. At the start of the book, she discovers that her guardian has been brutally killed which, given that he was a member of some kind of superpowered magic warrior cult, suggests that there's something very powerful and very nasty running around. She wangles her way onto the investigation (there's some indication that the superpowered magic warrior cult is deliberately using her as a distraction), and proceeds to kick over every pile of rocks she can find until something shows up.

[As you do...]

Mon
Feb 10 2014 5:30pm

Officially Better Than the Queen: Cecilia Grant’s A Lady Awakened

A Lady Awakened by Cecilia GrantI read Cecilia Grant's A Lady Awakened not so much over Christmas as on Christmas, ignoring my partner’s family, the Queen’s speech, and even Toy Story 3 to finish reading it. Because it’s honestly that good. I think it’s unavoidable to make more of the things you read at the end of the year compared to the beginning, but A Lady Awakened simply has to stand has one of the most original, intriguing and tiny-mind-blowing books I read in 2013.

The book opens with the heroine, Martha Russell, childless, newly widowed and about to return to her brother’s home to live out the rest of her days as a quiet burden upon his family, a fate she has no choice but to resign herself to enduring. Her solicitor, however, encourages her to remain at her late husband’s estate until it is absolutely certain that no heir has been conceived. Martha knows that she isn’t pregnant, but she has her own commitments to Seaton Hall: specifically the servants and tenants, who rely on the family for their livelihood, and the building of a local school, to which she has given her support. She also learns that the man who stands to inherit is a dissolute character, who previously forced himself upon some of the women of the household. Realising that all these problems would be solved if she was pregnant, Martha strikes a deal with her new neighbour Theo Mirkwood, temporarily exiled from London for extravagance and general debauchery. They’ll have sex every day for a month, and Martha will pay him, “regardless of issue” to quote the lady directly.

[There's an unusual deal for you...]

Tue
Nov 12 2013 3:00pm

Power Dynamics in Category Romance: Reading Susan Napier’s Mistress of Deception (Napier Binge Part 2)

The Mistress Deception by Susan NapierThis is the second part of my accidental Susan Napier binge (read Part 1 here), which was itself part of a wider attempt to get some sort of handle on category romance. And the truth is, when I picked up The Mistress Deception and saw it was by the same author as The Mistress of the Groom my little heart sank a bit. It wasn’t that I was particularly averse to The Mistress of the Groom but, as anyone who has actually read that book will testify, it does rather leave you feeling like you need to lie down for a while in a quiet room. But The Mistress Deception turned out to be quite a different experience altogether.

It opens with the hero, Matthew Riordan (who we know is non-alpha because he wears, wait for it, glasses) being unpleasantly surprised to receive a blackmail message and some kinky photos of himself tied to bed by a hot chick. He immediately concludes that the blackmailer is the hot chick because blackmail works really well if you put yourself in the same compromising position as your victim. Of course, the hot chick is the heroine Rachel Blair, who works for a private security firm and, of course, is absolutely not the blackmailer because she possesses many excellent qualities as a heroine and a human, and one of those is common sense. And I like to think if she did decide to blackmail someone, she would do it effectively. We learn in a flashback in the next chapter that she did, as it happens, tie Matt to the bed but it was For His Own Good because he rocked up horrendously wasted to a formal dinner party where Rachel was in charge of security.

This is another deliciously absurd premise but I think part of the reason I eased into it better than I did in The Mistress of the Groom was because, unlike poor Jane who spends the whole of her book being shafted, The Mistress Deception takes Rachel’s competence and independence very seriously. She has a job, and she’s good at it, and the only people who question either of these facts are idiots. And while I’m willing to concede that getting into sexualised shenanigans with a drunk you’re trying to subdue is probably not present as a beacon of best practice in The Big Book of Private Security, Napier does a fairly decent job of make Rachel’s actions seem…well…not totally outlandish in context.

[I'll take it!...]

Fri
Nov 8 2013 2:00pm

Do You Take Checks?: Reading Susan Napier’s Mistress of the Groom, Part 1

Mistress of the Groom by Susan NapierI recently made a slightly doomed attempt to get into category romance. The ‘doomed’ part of the endeavour was my own fault because my research was basically on par with the sort of background reading that leads you to name yourself Ford Prefect or, in my case, read two books by the same author from the same imprint. Win! But, in my defense, category romances are so trope driven and context dependent they can be quite opaque to the newbie reader, so I found it a bit hard to know where to begin.

To reach for an analogy that makes sense to me (and also dates me horrendously), I think seeking out recs for category romance is like trying to get into Buffy the Vampire Slayer; everyone has their favourite episodes, but the problem is they’re always outliers, like ‘Hush’ or ‘Once More With Feeling’ and their power derives from the wider context of the show, and the ways they subvert and play with your expectations. Really, if you wanted to get someone into Buffy you should probably show them ‘Puppetshow’ because it’s absolutely typical in every conceivable way. It contains none of the really transcendentally awesome stuff about Buffy, but it also demonstrates its strengths (snappy dialogue, interesting characters, a twist) without getting too far away from the type of show it actually is. If you don’t like ‘Puppetshow’, you’re probably not going to like Buffy full stop because if you can’t invest in the monster-of-the-week format or get behind a blonde cheerleader kicking vampire arse, you’re probably not going to care when her boyfriend turns evil or her mother dies.

So basically I think I’ve been reading the category romance equivalents of ‘Once More with Feeling’—the sort of books people remember because they do something different. Which has made my adventures in this particular corner of romance, shall we say, interesting because, without really knowing what something is different from, or what it’s working within, it can occasionally come across as just plain weird. But I guess what struck me the most was just how very different two books by the same author within the same category could be. So my next two columns are going to be about the two random books by Susan Napier I read, which are united only by the fact they’re category romances and they have word ‘mistress’ in the title when neither of them seem to involve mistresses at all.

[Okay, that's a little confusing...]

Tue
Oct 8 2013 9:30am

Everything is Better with Sky Pirates: Reading Meljean Brook’s Heart of Steel

Heart of Steel by Meljean BrookPirates Versus Zombies – Heart of Steel by Meljean Brook

I've been reading and reviewing romance novels for more than six months now, and not every book I've read has worked for me. I’ve spent quite a lot of time thinking about the books I’ve read and my reactions to them, and I think I’ve finally worked out what was missing in some of the books I’ve read to date.

Their heroines weren’t freaking sky pirates.

That is basically the whole substance of my review of Meljean Brook's Heart of Steel. Seriously. The heroine is a sky pirate. There is nothing about that which is not awesome.

Pedantic readers may point out that Yasmeen (a.k.a. Captain Corsair, a.k.a. Lady Corsair—although that’s technically the name of the ship) isn’t actually a pirate per se but a mercenary skycaptain. But you know what, you say pirateato, I say pirateahto. Besides, she wears thighboots, lives on a ship, and fights with curvy edged weapons. Pirate.

Oh, as always, I should point out that this review will contain spoilers.

Anyway, Heart of Steel tells the story of Yasmeen (who is a sky pirate) and Archimedes Fox (who is not a sky pirate). Both of these characters appeared in the Iron Duke and, indeed, one threw the other off an airship into a city full of zombies (he apparently recovered). Archimedes catches up with Yasmeen in a place called (I think—I’m afraid I sometimes lose track of geography) Port Fallow, shoots her with an opium dart, and tells her that he needs her to give him the sketch by Leonardo da Vinci that she took from him at their last meeting, and also that he intends to fall in love with her.

[Because of course he does...]

Thu
Sep 19 2013 4:00pm

Never Miss Your Best Friend’s Wedding: Julie James’s Something About You

Something About You by Julie JamesGetting into a new genre can be a challenging because they all come with their own particular signs, signifiers and tropes that can leave a newbie floundering and confused. Alexis Hall invites readers of Heroes & Heartbreakers to join him on a journey through the genre. This week, we’ll be looking at Julie James’s Something About You.

They Do, In Fact, Fight Crime: Something About You by Julie James

Fair warning, this article contains SPOILERS because I’ve never really been that spoiler-averse and I like to discuss things in detail. The way I see it, if Romeo and Juliet can get away with giving away the ending in the opening paragraph, it can't be that big a deal.

That said, I was a little bit surprised by the fact that Something About You has a spoiler in its actual series title.

The book tells the story of Assistant US Attorney Cameron Lynde and badass FBI agent Jack Pallas. The title of the series, however, is the FBI/US Attorney series. So…umm…anybody what to guess what career changes Cameron might experience over the course of the book?

There's a lot to like about Something About You, and a couple of things I found confusing. Okay, that's a lie, there was only one thing I found confusing: the title. Leaving aside the fact that I keeping wanting to call it There's Something About You (perhaps due to the unfortunate parallel with '90s sex comedy There's Something About Mary) I just wasn’t sure how the title went with the book. It doesn’t really suggest, well, FBI agents or (Assistant) US Attorneys.

[What does it suggest? Let's discuss...]