Tuesday, March 21, 2006

If Angels Burn by Sheila Viehl

I first read this book as a set of author proofs that Lynn Viehl distributed as part of a teaser contest. I found it hard to read from the proofs as a book and so felt I might have missed some of the story. Therefore, I didn't want to read Private Demon until I'd reread If Angels Burn. This is quite a statement for me because traditionally I cannot reread books within 10 years because I absorb the story so completely that even the details are fresh in my mind, making rereading a skim search for anything I might have missed the first time through. That wasn't the case here. I had no inclination to skim and was absorbed throughout even though I knew the answer to some of the jump out and get you surprises in the book already.

Having completed my re-read despite my normal inability to re-read, I can say a couple things about me and about the book. First, either reading in the proofs is not the way for me to read for fun, or I've lost my talent to absorb a book. Sadly, I think it's the second. On the other hand, though I don't really have time to reread books, at least now I'd have the opportunity if I wanted to.

Okay, enough about me. Once again, Sheila (in the form of Lynn Viehl) has managed to capture me and pull me into her world. I enjoyed reading this book not once but twice in rapid succession. That says something to me at least. There were points I had remembered that I enjoyed reading the second time and things I had forgotten or missed that I enjoyed for the first time. I'm thinking, "No man ever refuses a blowjob," will be sticking in my mind for some time to come. It's a good tip and a great scene :). The characters were strong and distinct, the gimmies interesting and plausible within the limits set, and the story itself was fun to read.

My quibbles are simple and did not harm my reading in the least bit. They dealt both with "writerly" things that I only notice upon analysis and "marketing" which really only affects what's written on the spine :).

I had wondered if my impression of the romantic elements would change from first read to second, but it did not. I would not consider this a romance, though I saw the draw between Alex and Michael better this time. It's hard to explain this without spoilers, but I think the unique circumstances took the place of a true connection between the two. Would they have been attracted under other circumstances and let the attraction develop? Well, because of the characters I'd have to say, "No," so maybe this was the only way. I still have a hard time equating what happened with romance though. Maybe that element is more of a minor one than I would expect of something marketed with that label. However, meander back to the previous review and you'll see my prejudice there. People have different tastes. You might find this the epitome of romantic love :). If not, then read it as a vampire story with a unique twist and I doubt you'll be disappointed.

My second quibble is a little difficult to articulate, and honestly just something that bothered me as a writer upon analysis rather than as a reader. This novel seemed more of an introduction than a self-contained story. That's not to say there weren't plot threads that start, climax and complete. There definitely were. My feeling is a little more subtle. It seemed almost as if those plot lines were designed to put the characters in the right place, rather than plots of their own. The main one runs from the very start and ends dramatically, but there were too many questions left hanging, hints of things unexplained. While normally I'd consider those a book 2 issue, because of how the thread resolved, I didn't get that sense. I don't think there will be much to clarify what was going on behind those events at all, but we'll have to see.

Anyway, don't let my quibbles discourage you. If Angels Burn is a good read and the characters will stick with you. Alex is classic Sheila with a mind of her own, skills she can use to benefit or harm, and a smart mouth she uses with great effect despite vampire mind controls. The story itself is a domino race with heavy blocks falling across attempts to escape the events that pile up to overwhelm. Me, I'll be pushing Private Demon up in the pile so I can find out what will happen next with this world and these people. If the primary goal of If Angels Burn was to set up a world of potential stories, it succeeded to a grand degree and those things that raised issues will not interfere with my enjoyment at all.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Two Harlequin Presents Novels

Blackmailed into Marriage and His One-Night Stand

I read these two books together because I'm supposed to fill out the same reader form for the Harlequin We Hear You reader survey program. This was a little disconcerting because the female leads have the same name. It's a coincidence, but still surprising :).

Both of these novels are Harlequin Presents and take me back to the very beginning of my reading romance novels. Unlike many of the others, these are pure interpersonal conflicts without an outside situation pushing the issue through terror, stress or what have you.

In Blackmailed into Marriage, a very traditional Spanish grandfather manipulates his daughter into marriage with the man that really is best for her, but she fights the relationship because of its beginnings and must be wooed.

His One-Night Stand, on the other hand, involves an affair with unexpected consequences, both a child and a bond such that neither forgot the other despite him not even knowing her name or face.

These are the true heart of romance for me: the story is about how people undermine their own love life because of reasonable assumptions or life circumstances. There are no dramatic chases, murderers, kidnappings or anything that forces emotions to bloom out of time. These are true love at first sight (or at once they figure it out ;)) stories where two people must battle their own mistrust and the impact of their past to discover future happiness.

Interestingly, Blackmailed into Marriage also addresses a sexual disorder in a manner that is neither preachy nor overdone. Everything else I can safely say because of the assumptions a romance reader has when picking up a romance novel, but I was surprised and impressed at the way this novel made one of the "unspeakable" topics into something that love can conquer, but not in an easy "love conquers all" type of way. Though I love these novels for their essential nature, they do have a framework which makes the unique elements somewhat restricted. I would never have expected one to take on such a delicate topic, much less so successfully.

Therefore, though I know basically what to expect when reading a Harlequin Presents, neither of these felt old or overdone. They both contained the unique elements that arise from a specific situation and specific characters. While the traditional nurse stories of the 80s and earlier grew a bit similar, neither of these novels has that failing. The characters stand out because of who they are and the circumstances they find themselves in. It's wonderful to feel drawn into a novel even when you already know the end. It's not the happily ever after that's the surprise, nor is it some outside element. In these, it is most simply how the characters find their way past the emotional, and in one case physiological, barriers between them and that ending I know they have to achieve. This is how I got sucked into reading romances in my early teens and this is why I still read them today: for the pure emotions they offer to share with their readers.