I haven’t been posting much about books here lately. I’ve been very busy. Not only do I read, I also write and I also produce ebooks for other writers. Not that I’m reading less, but I have less time to natter on about it.
In no particular order, some books I’ve read lately that you might find fun and/or interesting to read, too.
The Moses MacGuire series by Josh Stallings.
When I first started reading about Moses I wasn’t sure I’d like him. He’s a burnt out strip club bouncer with a prison record and few socially redeeming qualities. He grew on me. Bad boys tend to do that. Stallings writes gritty, unapologetic thrillers with nasty bad guys, nasty crimes and a lot of surprising twists. As soon as I finished reading Beautiful, Naked & Dead, I immediately read Out There Bad. Pretty soon there’ll be a new Moses story, One More Body. I’m looking forward to it.
Moses McGuire a suicidal strip club bouncer is out to avenge the death of one of his girls. From his East L.A. home, through the legal brothels of Nevada and finally to a battle with the mob in the mountains above Palo Alto, it is a sex soaked, rage driven, road trip from hell.
“Out There Bad is the follow up novel to the critically claimed Beautiful, Naked & Dead. Armenian mobsters, Russian strippers, human traffickers, Mexican assassins, they all want Moses dead. Hell most days, even Moses wants Moses dead, but he’ll have to put his dark thoughts on hold. Somewhere between Moscow and LA a young girl has disappeared. The hunt for her will take Moses deep into the heart of Mexico. He will be taught once again that that which does not kill you, often leaves you scarred for life.”
On the paranormal side, two stories from two of my favorite authors: Ben Aaronovitch and J.F. Lewis. Aaronovitch writes the Peter Grant series about a London cop who ends up apprenticed to a wizard. Sort of Harry Potter meets Sherlock Holmes, but funnier. The latest is Whispers Underground where Peter has to solve a magical murder with a most mundane motive. Then we have J.F. Lewis who writes the wildly funny Void City novels featuring Eric the vampire and a screwball cast of creatures. A Corpse of Mistaken Identity is not a Void City novel, it’s a novella featuring a zaomancer (a very special resurrectionist). I really hope everybody runs out and buys this to encourage Lewis to write more about the zaomancers.
If someone dies an unnatural death, an untimely death, and you have to have them back, no matter what the cost… Marlo Morne can help, but there are rules, time is an important factor, and there are always clients who want those rules to be broken on their behalf.
For a change of pace from murder, magic and mayhem, I read a Regency romance, The Taming of Lady Kate, by G. G. Vandagriff, the second in her series: Three Rogues and Their Ladies. Written with wit and style and plenty of big sigh romance.
Back to murder and mayhem, but this time in sci-fi, Riding Fourth, by M. H. Mead. Let us call it carpooling run amok. This short story (available free right now!) is a teaser for a new novel, Taking the Highway, coming in December. Can’t hardly wait.
That’s not all I’ve read, but I have to get back to work. Ebooks don’t format themselves, you know.
There’s a reason I absolutely slaughter my opponents in trivia games. I read a lot of genre fiction. Most genre fiction writers are fanatics about their interests and meticulous researchers. I don’t know how many times a novel has triggered my interest in history or mythology or science or weaponry, sending me trotting to the library or the bookstore to find out more. I love talking to writers about their interests. So when I read the paranormal romance, Incorporeal, by J. R. Barrett, and then its sequel, In The Flesh, I had to ask Julia, “Why ghosts? Why the recycling souls?” Not only did she have a ton of ghost stories to share, but she knows a lot about Jewish mysticism. Well, well, well, tell me more. So she did:
Eastern and Western philosophy collide when it comes to the mystical Jewish notion of the transmigration of souls and the Buddhist philosophy of the wheel of karma. Both philosophical systems assume a rebirth, or a reincarnation, until the soul reaches perfection. In both systems, a soul can be reincarnated into either an animal or human form.
In Jewish mysticism, a soul can be corrupted here on earth. The soul must then return until it, at last, reaches purity or perfection, at which time it can be reunited with the Primordial Cause, or, in other words, God. Sound familiar? Seems remarkably similar to karma, the Buddhist wheel of reincarnation and Nirvana, or the final obliteration of the self in the Primordial Cause, doesn’t it?
From Cabala (not pop-Cabala): Hence if the soul, on its first assumption of a human body and sojourn on earth, fails to acquire that experience for which it descended from heaven, and becomes contaminated by that which is polluting, it must re-inhabit a body till it is able to ascend in a purified state through repeated trials. This is the theory of the Zohar, which says: “All souls are subject to transmigration; and men do not know the ways of the Holy One, blessed be He! They do not know that they are brought before the tribunal both before they enter into this world and after they leave it; they are ignorant of the many transmigrations and secret probations which they have to undergo, and of the number of souls and spirits which enter into this world and which do not return to the palace of the Heavenly King. Men do not know how the souls revolve like a stone which is thrown from a sling. But the time is at hand when these mysteries will be disclosed” (Zohar, ii. 99b).
Like Origen and other Church Fathers, the cabalists used as their main argument in favor of the doctrine of metempsychosis the justice of God. But for the belief in metempsychosis, they maintained, the question why God often permits the wicked to lead a happy life while many righteous are miserable, would be unanswerable. Then, too, the infliction of pain upon children would be an act of cruelty unless it is imposed in punishment for sin committed by the soul in a previous state.
The striking similarity in these two schools of mysticism has fascinated me for years. This concept of reincarnation, or the transmigration of souls, is a running theme through both of my paranormal works, Incorporeal and In the Flesh. In both books, I also draw upon the Cabalistic notion that there are multiple heavens, or levels of heaven, angels of different standing and power, and various attributes of God – some of which take on an actual persona of their own.
I won’t pretend to a scholar of Jewish mysticism, but I did want to include a little of what I’ve learned over the years. I think a well-written, thoughtful romance contains far more elements than just hard, hot boy meets soft, yielding girl. There are deeper themes underlying a good romance novel, even if we don’t recognize them as we read a story.
Wow, thanks, Julia. There’s definitely a trip to the library in store for me.
Lightning in the middle of a blizzard? Dr. Sydney Blake has read about it, but this is the first time in all her life she’s experienced it. Has her truck been struck? Blinded by the flash, she slams on the brakes and dives from the driver’s seat, right into a snow drift. As a shivering Syd gropes to her feet, she keeps her eyes shut tight, praying she didn’t actually see what she thinks she saw in that flash of light… a golden giant standing smack dab in the middle of the road. No way. Not possible. Or is it?
So here’s the history. I’ve read a bazillion romance novels (and wrote quite a few, too). A few years ago, I got burned out and stopped reading (and writing) the genre. Much of the reason for the burn-out, I’m sure, is because the genre was so popular. The trouble with popularity is that it makes publishers more conservative, more inclined to keep publishing the same thing over and over again so then writers have to hustle to fit within the increasingly restrictive conventions while trying to write fresh stories. (which sadly, is not a phenomenon unique to the romance genre) The results of which are stories that have a formulaic feel and similar casts of characters, but are at the same time filled with tricks and gimmicks in an effort to keep readers interested. I don’t like tricks and gimmicks or stock characters. Quite frankly, the trend toward sexier and sexier novels puts more and more emphasis on the sex and less emphasis on the emotion. At the risk of bringing a lot of shit down on my head, in my opinion the current crop of romance writers know a hell of lot about sex, but not much about romance. Without a powerful core of emotion, it’s not romance, it’s a sex book.
I grew up reading Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, Frank Yerby, and Daphne du Maurier. Classics like The Scarlet Pimpernel, the Count of Monte Cristo, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, were grand adventures, but at their core, they were pure romance. I gobbled up the Bronte sisters and Gone With The Wind. I read the Angelique novels and Forever Amber. I remember vividly when bodice rippers hit the shelves (and yes, m’dears, they were bodice rippers in the most literal sense and I absolutely adored every purple-tinged word). Kathleen Woodiwiss’s, The Wolf and the Dove was the novel that made me want to write a romance novel of my own.
Despite giving up on the romance genre, what always grabs me by the throat when I’m reading other genres, are the love stories. Charlie Huston’s Joe Pitt novels are bloody, violent, and profane, but what holds the entire series together is the love story between Joe and Evie. I can’t imagine any romance hero more romantic than a guy who’ll start a war for the woman he loves. I’m a huge fan of Andrew Vachss’s Burke series. I like Burke for his smarts, for his angst and obsessions, but I love him for his doomed romances with Flood and Belle. I read Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter novels for the monsters and action and craziness, but what really hook me are the love stories between Owen and Julie, and Earl and Heather. And what about Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos and his very tough love affair with Cawti?
Give me a guy who’ll battle gods for his lady and a woman who’ll get up in a horny guy’s face and state, “Prove you’re worthy of me, buck-o,” and that, my friends, is true romance.
That’s a rather long-winded intro to what I truly want to talk about. See, I’ve been having conversations with a friend of mine, Julia Rachel Barrett. She writes mostly erotic romances. I’ve never been a fan of erotica. Lady Chatterly’s Lover and Robin Schone’s, The Lover, are the only erotic novels I count as faves (and they’re faves for reasons other than their eroticism). I like to read on intellectual and emotional levels, and I don’t particularly care for novels that have a physical effect. That’s not a judgment, just a preference. Anyway, despite Julia’s and mine divergent tastes, turns out we’re both hard-core romantics. I sent her some of my Harlequin Intrigues and she sent me a novel of hers, which wasn’t erotica, but a paranormal romance. Turns out she really liked one of my books, but the other is scaring the piss out of her (I’m very sorry, Julia). I really liked her book. Only it had one of those unintended consequences. It gave me a lightbulb moment. Or, more accurately, a “duh” moment.
Indie publishing is where I can find romances I love.
The novel Julia gave me was Incorporeal, a paranormal romance she indie published. In it she asks a most intriguing question: Is happily ever after possible when you fall in love with a ghost? Such a question goes straight to what makes writing and reading most fun for me: Dangle hope in front of characters, and then when they grab it, squash them like bugs. Heh. When I finished reading the novel, I had two thoughts. One, I really liked the story and I’m glad she’s writing a sequel, and two, no traditional publisher would have touched this because it doesn’t have stock characters and it doesn’t fit within the conventions. It is a very sexy book, but it’s emotionally charged and the emotion drives the story and that makes it a most satisfying romance.
Because romance has been on the back-burner, it hadn’t occurred to me to seek out self-published romance novels. But there have to be writers out there who are writing old-school romances (old-school, for lack of a better word). Stories that focus on emotional issues instead of sexual hijinks. Stories that ask intriguing questions and contain true suspense that rises from what look like impossible or unbearable situations. Maybe I can find heroes who battle gods for love and women who are womanly enough to insist those guy-guys act like real men.
(sidenote: as the romance genre rose in popularity and gained power in the marketplace, it was attacked and derided from almost every quarter to the point where many fans were shamed into using book covers so people couldn’t see them reading those books. My theory for the real reason behind the visceral reaction is that in romance novels the women always win. Chauvinist and sexists do not like that one little bit.)
So where does the bad influence come in? I thought I’d given up on writing romance novels. Truly. That ship had sailed. I’m writing other things, exploring other forms and genres. Only now, between the discussions with Julia and reading some romances, the fire has been rekindled. It wasn’t the genre I was sick of, it was the battle to fit my square ass into publisher defined round holes.
I don’t have to do that anymore. I can write old-school romances of the type I love and maybe, just maybe there are readers out there who’d like it. I can find old-school romances to read, too, in the ranks of the self-published.
So thanks bunches, Julia. You’ve exposed my inner romantic and kicked her out of the closet and back into the world.
Discovered: via conversations with the author
Purchased on Amazon for my Kindle, January 17th, 2012, $.99