#WeNeedDiverseBooks, Comics, Respond to Reading, Responding to Reading

Responding to Reading: The Comics Edition

My comic book collection is rapidly expanding at the moment; partly as my other half treated me for my birthday, and partly because there’s something about the marriage of images and words that appeals to me.

I’m a little bit addicted to Image comics at the moment.  I fell across them because they publish The Wicked + The Divine by Jamie McKelvie and Kieron Gillen (of Young Avengers:  Marvel NOW! and Phonogram fame).

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WicDiv (as it’s affectionately referred to by its fans) encapsulates pretty much everything I love about adaptation and appropriation.  Being more than a little obsessed by literature that rewrites mythos and classic stories, it suits me perfectly with embodiments of gods ranging from Baal to The Morrigan to Lucifer.

It’s set in London, has an incredibly diverse cast (as befits any work set in the capital) and examines the relationship between music and godhead, even going so far as to draw a parallel between celebrity and worship in a way that I haven’t seen done so well since Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.

From there I’ve expanded out, exploring other comics published by Image.

Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona StaplesSaga is one of these.

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The first thing to say, is that Saga is not for the faint of heart.  The word “shit” appears in the very first panel and it deals with and illustrates pretty vividly violence and sex.  It’s also one of the most beautifully illustrated comics that I’ve seen in a very long time.

Image characterises the series as:  “an epic space opera/fantasy comic book series… [that] depicts two lovers from long-warring extraterrestrial races, Alana and Marko, fleeing authorities from both sides of a galactic war as they struggle to care for their newborn daughter, Hazel, who occasionally narrates the series”.

It’s moving, funny and complex with a sprawling narrative that’s tightly woven, despite its expanse.  I’m particularly in love with the depiction of novels in the series as redemptive, with A Night Time Smoke in particular being partly responsible for the bridge between the two protagonists.

I’m also a big fan of Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Wiebe.

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Described by Wiebe as “a love letter to my years of D&D”, it plays with traditional characters with the gang of the Rat Queens comprising of a mage, cleric, fighter and thief – but each character has a twist.  The cleric is an atheist, the thief a hippy hobbit, the fighter a hipster and the mage an elf with a taste for all things rockabilly.

It’s incredibly funny and satirical, poking loving fun at tropes and storylines in a way that makes the reader complicit in its laughter.  The third volume’s just been released and I’ve already got it ordered!

And finally, I’m stepping away from Image to talk about Freakangels, the online lovechild of Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield.

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“23 years ago, twelve strange children were born in England at exactly the same moment.  6 years ago, the world ended.  This is the story of what happened next.”

Freakangels is an online webcomic that was serialised from 2008 to 2011 and is still available to read online (although you can also buy the very nice trade paperback editions).  Post-apocalyptic, it follows the twelve eponymous Freakangels, working backwards and then forwards to show us what happened and what is happening in the the Whitechapel of this new London.

Mind-blowingly good, it’s definitely worth a read.

So, those are the comics that I’ve been reading of late, but I’m always looking for new recs, so feel free to fling some my way in the comments!

#StrongRomanceHeroines, Avon, Reading, Respond to Reading, Responding to Reading

Respond to Reading: Good Guys Wear Black

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Th final book in Lizbeth Selvig‘s Kennison Falls series, Good Guys Wear Black, is a fitting end to a series that I’ve loved (I even wrote about the heroine from Beauty and the Brit, Rio Montoya, in a piece earlier this year).

Once again, Selvig doesn’t shy away from thought-provoking topics and handles delicate issues with the deftest of touches.

There are two storylines that remain inextricably intertwined with the main romance narrative: that of Rose’s son, Jesse, and his struggle to adapt to life in a new town and school; and that of Banned Book week.

I’m going to start with Jesse.  He’s got Asperger’s Syndrome which is difficult to approach in any case, but Selvig’s appreciation for the struggles that both Jesse and his mother face ring true – particularly when you take into account the fact that there’s a lot of well-meaning but misguided advice being given by everyone from th hero to Jesse’s PE teacher.

There were a number of times when I had to check my own privilege when reading this; especially as coming from a teaching background in the UK where IEPs in education can be incredibly valuable.  I’d never stopped to think about the stress for both parent and student caused by having to sit tests that would only say the same things.

Either way, Rose’s clear bond and love for her son shone throughout the novel, and Dewey’s reaction to that was heartwarming.

And then there’s Banned Book week.

I’m irrevocably against banning books; if there are things you don’t want your kids reading, don’t let them read them.  That doesn’t mean that all books are suitable for all ages, but I do feel very strongly about freedom of speech.

I came up against myself in my brief stint as a school librarian where Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series were questioned by some parents as being suitable due to Pullman’s fairly staunch anti-religion sentiments.

It’s important to note here, that I was supported by a headteacher who stood by me wholeheartedly.  In the end, I moved the books from the Junior to Senior section of the library (bookshelves a full five feet across the room) and said that if students wanted to read them, no matter what their age, I’d let them (this was in a 11-18 school).

So when Rose, as new Head Librarian, is faced with a large group of angry members of a community she’s only just joined, due to celebrating Banned Books week, it’s pretty stressful for her and is dealt with by Selvig brilliantly.

Of course, it’s impossible to forget the blossoming romance between dewey and Rose.  I think it’s so easy to forget how external influences can have an impact on a new relationship in romance novels, but the educating of Dewey about Jesse, and his unwavering support of Rose over the library issues, made for delightful reading.

Reading, Respond to Reading, Responding to Reading, Romance

Respond to Reading: Lay It Down

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Cara McKenna‘s Lay It Down has been sitting on my Kindle shelf for months.  Ever since her Irish-set Red Hot Cosmo novella, Her Best Laid Plans, I’ve all but devoured her standalones; they’re untidy and messy and more real than most romance novels.  I find my heart aching in the way it should when you discover something that mirrors life back at you.

So it’s a mystery to me why I hadn’t read this before now.  Perhaps it was because the cover and blurb implied that it was an MC-romance.  Don’t get me wrong, I adored Sons of Anarchy as much as the next person, but after the series was finished, I felt so utterly drained that I gave books featuring bikers a bit of a wide berth.

Big mistake.

Lay It Down is the first in the Desert Dogs series (the rest of which will be purchased with my annual Christmas kindle vouchers) and it does things you don’t expect.  The characters aren’t actually part of an MC, though they do ride motorbikes (something which can only be a positive; I do love a motorbike), but rather the narrative focuses in on a mysterious death.

The tone reminded me of Laura Kaye’s Hard Ink series, in that it marries gritty complex characterisation with a mystery in the best kind of way.

I’m fairly new to the subgenre of romantic suspense, and it turns out that I’m a big fan; when there’s higher stakes, everything seems so much more urgent.  And boy are things urgent here.

Mysterious deaths, what appears to be a near-conspiracy and a small town standing up to a big corporation – what’s not to love?

I also love Vince as a hero.  He’s not polished or backward in coming forward, and the stark truth and honesty that I see in him is one of the things I love most about my own partner.

Kim, as a heroine, made me look twice.  When we’re first introduced to her, an apparently out-of-place suit seen through Vince’s eyes, I wasn’t convinced;  I’m so used to the good girl meets bad boy trope that my heart sank a little.  this isn’t the case at all.  Kim’s not all that much of a good girl and Vince, for all his tattoos and motorbike-riding habits, isn’t really a bad boy.

Nothing delights me more than having my expectations upended, so this was great.

Also, there’s the mystery aspect of the narrative.  I want to read on.  I want to know what the hell’s going on and (this is where I stop talking for fear of spoilers).  It’s gripping and entertaining, but it’s McKenna’s teasing out of her characters – both main and secondary – that makes this shine.

#StrongRomanceHeroines, Erotica, Reading, Respond to Reading, Responding to Reading, Uncategorized

Respond to Reading: Seven Sins

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For some reason, I don’t often read novella anthologies – I wouldn’t be able to tell you why- but when I saw the concept for Seven Sins, where each novella was based on a different sin, I was sold.

And when I read them, I fell in love.

It should, however, be pointed out that these novellas are incredibly sexy.  I read them on my work commute and might have had a couple of moments where I prayed that no-one noticed how flushed I was.

Envy

Blaze for Me – Natalie Anderson

When Austin Tate busts Nicoletta Valeri in a blistering moment of voyeuristic orgasm-envy, it’s the perfect chance for some payback, but instead she’s lit a fire than can be extinguished by only one thing…

There’s something quite delicious about a narrative that opens with a sex scene that isn’t between the hero and the heroine.  Anderson sets up Nicoletta as a sweet but frustrated sportswoman with plenty of talent and more than a little bit of a thing for Austin Tate.  Incredibly hot, but with a realistic conflict that made me fall a little in love with the characters.

Gluttony

Glutton For Punishment – Amy Andrews

With a sudden hankering to be spanked, Darcy Henderson figures Mitch Callaghan is the man for the job. But is she woman enough to take it?

Rarely is a sexy novella set against the backdrop of a senior citizens’ apartment complex, but it works.  This reminded me a little of Andrews’ Holding Out for a Hero, in that the secondary characters stood out as three-dimensional and developed as the main two, much to my delight.  This is Andrews’ first foray into BDSM, and it works beautifully, with a clear understanding of the different levels of kink.  Plus it’s laugh out loud funny at times and I fell pretty hard for both Darcy and Mitch.

Lust

Burned by Lust – Michele de Winton

Biker, Hade Corban is set to take over the Raising Hellfire Gang and love isn’t on his agenda, but lusty goodtime girl Lee Delevinge is hell bent on burning up his heart.

De Winton’s heroine, Lee, is anything but ashamed of her love for sex – especially when that sex involves none other than gorgeous bike Hade Corban.  I love the way that de Winton presents Lee as she is, without any judgement or criticism; it’s a refreshing attitude towards women’s appetite of sex.  And Hade’s internal conflict makes him realistic and well-balanced between biker and hero.

Wrath

Sleeping with the Enemy – Robin Covington

All’s fair in love and baseball…but when Kat Carter, the newly-minted GM for the Virginia Venom, is determined to recruit rival superstar shortstop (and former lover) Derek Foxx the last thing she expects is a sexy ultimatum…

I’m a massive fan of #StrongRomanceHeroines, and Covington’s Kat Carter is definitely one of those.  She’s worked hard to earn her place as a general manager in a world dominated by men, and her fear that a romance with a player could ruin her reputation, is one that I can understand.  Luckily, Covington works out a way of giving Kat both her career and her lover.

Sloth

Princess Sin – Avery Flynn

There’s trouble on the horizon when Cynthia Aston, who the tabloids have nicknamed Princess Cyn for her slacker party girl ways, stows away on a yacht that belongs to workaholic billionaire Hunter McKenney, her older brother’s sexy best friend.

Out of all of these novellas, the one that dealt with sloth seemed to me the hardest one to marry with a love narrative, however, Flynn’s story of entitled Cynthia Aston, more than happy to laze away and not bother working and her passion for Hunter McKenney – her opposite in every way – met the brief perfectly.  Cue a sizzling sex scene on a yacht and my heart melting.

Pride

Accidentally Sinful – Carmen Falcone

Stranded due to a snowstorm, Santiago Cruz must let go of his pride and acknowledge forbidden feelings for the woman he loves but can’t forgive—his stepsister.

I love a good snowstorm – especially when it forces two characters to reexamine their feelings for each other.  Tiffany Burrows and Santiago Cruz are both hiding secrets from each other, and Falcone’s skillfulness in unwrapping each piece of the puzzle slowly and carefully is what makes this a delightful read.

Greed

How to Seduce A CEO – Talia Hunter

Hot shot CEO Marcus Bolton’s decided who to hire for the top job, and it’s not Angel Moore, no matter how temping she might be. But Angel will do whatever it takes to land the job of her dreams—even seduce the boss.

Angel’s a strong business woman, who’s been backed into a corner by a boss who’s incompetent and misogynistic, so she’s determined to get this promotion by any means necessary.  But little does she expect Marcus Bolton to get under her skin the way he does.  Hunter’s story of two people, determined to keep their careers going, whilst heading for a collision is charming and sizzling.

Reading, Release Post, Respond to Reading, Responding to Reading

Respond to Reading: See Me

This is the first stop on the blog tour for Nicholas Sparks‘ See Me, and I’ve got a signed copy to #GIVEAWAY!  Details are at the end of the review.

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I’m a big fan of catharsis.

There’s something innately satisfying about reading a book or watching a film that wrenches your heart out of your chest, stomps on it a little bit, and then shoves it back in, leaving you with an indelible ache that you can’t quite put into words.

And that’s pretty much how I feel about anything that’s got Nicholas Sparks at its core.

You read Sparks for his ability to capture intense emotional connection, and See Me, his first book in about two years, didn’t disappoint.

At its heart are two characters who are in the middle of starting again. Colin Hancock has a history of violence and is finally at college, studying to be a teacher. He’s stoic and bluntly honest in a way that’s sometimes a little shocking, but I suppose what I like best about Colin is his role as a second chance character.

Second chance characters have made huge mistakes in their past, but have turned (or are in the process of turning) their life around. The flaw that often rears its ugly head with these kind of characters, is how that process of starting again is portrayed; it`s all too easy to have a turning point after which everything falls easily into place. Life is never that simple.

Needless to say, Sparks doesn’t fall into this trap. Colin’s blunt honesty can be attributed to the fact that he has to be honest with himself at all times, as that helps him stay grounded.

He’s also got a support network in his friend Evan, and Evan’s fiancee Lily, but we rarely see his family due to their strained relationship. And most importantly, Colin doesn’t find this easy. He has strategies in place, things he does to keep himself out of trouble, but his instincts are darker than most people’s and that’s captured with sensitivity.

Maria Sanchez, our heroine, has led a pretty sheltered life and so when she asks Colin about his past, and why he’s at college so late, he tells her with some of that blunt honesty. Sparks doesn’t shy away from the fact that there are differences between the main couple; their instincts are quintessentially different, and their backgrounds even more so. But opposites attract and there’s a gentleness to their burgeoning relationship.

All of this is set against the backdrop of suspense and fear. As the narrative unfolds, we find out more and more about why Maria left her previous job and has returned to her hometown, and it soon appears that something or someone may be watching her.

Romance suspense can be hard to get right, and Sparks perfectly balances the love story and the development of Colin and Maria’s feelings for each other with a thriller-esque plot that unfolds at the perfect pace.

There is, of course, a fair amount of heartache and conflict, but I fell in love with these characters, this setting and I’m entirely convinced that this book assays any misconceptions people may have about love stories not being well-written. Utterly gorgeous.

Now, I’m lucky enough to have a signed copy of See Me for a giveaway! So leave a comment about your favourite Nicholas Sparks book, and I will choose one commenter at random on Friday morning.

Exploits of a Chick Lit Aficionado, Reading, Respond to Reading, Responding to Reading, Tule Publishing

Respond to Reading: Claimed by the Warrior

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I first discovered Joss Wood with the launch of Modern Tempted (or KISS, as it was called in the US), back in August 2013. My review of that novel, If You Can’t Stand the Heat, was accompanied by a Mills & Boon boy (one of my male friends caroused into posing with the book) and so a love affair began.

I love Joss’ writing, which is one of the reasons why she’s an autobuy author for me. Her characters have heart and sass and there are plot twists which I love.

Claimed by the Warrior is no exception.

It’s got a typically Wood-ian hero in Jed Hamilton (yes, I`m making that a thing): a man who is strong and fiercely independent, who doesn’t usually rely on anybody else. I’m a sucker for these heroes, partly because my own fiance’s incredibly similar. There’s something swoonworthy about someone who won’t open up to anyone but the heroine; it helps create a special bond between the characters that is impossible for either of them to deny forever, however much they may want to.

And to go along with this (rather delicious) hero is McKenna Dixon. I love the way that she interacts with Jed, calling him out when he unintentionally upsets his little sister`s wedding dress shopping and standing up to him when she doesn’t think he’s being upfront with her.

The chemistry between the two of them is sizzling from the outset, with a particularly steamy scene at a restaurant standing out, but the thing that’s most apparent to both the reader and the characters, is that there’s genuine tenderness and affection amidst the heat.

In addition to all this, there’s a thriller-esque element to the story, with Jed stepping up when he realises that McKenna has a stalker, and the eventual revelation at the end came as a bit of a surprise (in a good way – I like that writers can still surprise me sometimes). Romantic suspense is a sub-genre of romance that I’m beginning to enjoy more and more, so I was delighted t see this kind of writing from Joss.

All in all, a delightful read, with Wood’s strong characterisation once more at the forefront of a darn good read.

#StrongRomanceHeroines, Reading, Respond to Reading, Responding to Reading

Respond to Reading: All I Need Is You

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I first discovered Wendy S. Marcus when I read her The V Spot, one of Cosmo’s Red Hot Reads.  It stood out for me as it embraced its plus-sized heroine and since then I’ve had her pretty much on auto-buy.  (Plus, anyone who bases their hero on pro-wrestler John Cena has got their priorities right!!)

All I Need Is You is the second in a duo of romances that follow two friends who start writing letters to soldiers serving in Afghanistan.  The first, Loving You Is Easy, follows politician’s daughter, Brooke, but the second stars adagio dancer Neve.

Now, I like my heroines flawed – there’s nothing worse than a female character who has every virtue under the sun, and next to no personality, and that’s far from Neve.

She’s loud and brash and yet unwaveringly fragile at moments.  I love the fact that Marcus doesn’t shy away from the fact that she’s had a number of sexual partners before she meets Rory, and that there’s no judgment of her.  she is who she is, and she’s had the experiences that she’s had.  They don’t change who she is, or make her any less moral.

She also doesn’t shy away from the fact that that isn’t always the easiest thing for Rory to deal with, but Neve’s sexual history is so far from the central conflict, that it’s incredibly refreshing.

Instead, it’s the truth of Neve’s parentage, and Rory’s PTSD that take centre stage.  Both of these are difficult things to discuss, let alone explore in novelisation, and Marcus does a fantastic job.  The characterisation of these issues is thought-provoking and moving, without shying away from the issues that they can cause.

Not that it’s all dark, by any means.  There are deliciously steamy sex scenes that are tender and unbelievably hot simultaneously.  And they’re both funny.  As characters they bond well together and its well worth a read.