Trailer Park: Beauty and the Beast

I completely forgot Disney had a live-action version of Beauty and the Beast coming up, so when the teaser trailer dropped yesterday, I might have screamed a little.

I know where I’m going to be on March 17 next year.

Book Review: Goddess of the Rose by P.C. Cast

Goddess of the Rose by P.C. CastI was excited when I picked up Goddess of the Rose by P.C. Cast at the used bookstore when I did my binge buy over Labor Day weekend. A friend of mine had enjoyed the book, and I loved the dedication: “This book is for everyone who fell in love with the Beast, and then was truly disappointed when he turned into a handsome prince.”

Also, I was stoked to read about a heroine named Mikki (that’s my nickname).

It sounds pretty good, right?

Well, I should have reined my high hopes in a bit more. While there were good parts to the story, I had a number of problems that ultimately made it difficult for me to enjoy the book.

Synopsis, courtesy Amazon:

Empousai family roses have bloomed for centuries, thanks to the drops of blood their women sacrifice for their gardens. But Mikki would rather forget this family quirk and lead a normal life. Until she unwittingly performs a ritual, ending up in the strangely familiar Realm of the Rose. As its goddess Hecate reveals, Mikki is a priestess-and the Realm’s been waiting for her…

Long ago, an enraged Hecate cursed her guardian beast and the entire Realm with a slumber only a priestess can undo—and she’s counting on Mikki. The beast at first terrifies Mikki—but soon intrigues her more than any man ever has. But the only way he and the Realm can be saved is for Mikki to sacrifice her life-giving blood—and herself…

Now, I love Beauty and the Beast and I love the retellings of the story, so at first glance, this is right up my alley.

The Guardian was a great hero, a gentle giant who was utterly lonely. The people around him are either afraid of him or see him as little more than an animal. He just wants to be loved, truly loved, and it’s been withheld from him for his entire life. I spent most of the book just wanting to give him a big hug, and I would have loved to see more from his point of view.

It was also great to read a book that was, at least in part, set in Tulsa. It’s very, very rare that I find a book set in Oklahoma, so it was a nice change of pace to recognize the areas and places mentioned in our world.

I liked Hecate’s realm, though I wish it had been more fleshed out. It felt a little thin, particularly for a place that’s supposed to be on the crossroads between the real world and the magical one.

And Mikki herself was a huge problem for me. She’s thrown into a crazy situation that, for the most part, she handles well, despite nobody really being around to guide her. On the other hand, she complains so much about some things that I wanted to reach into the book and slap her.

Firstly, there was a lot of man-hating. It’s a trope that crops up in romance, particularly contemporaries, on a regular basis, and it drives me up the wall.

Mikki’s complaining that all men were pigs and none of them were good enough for her made her seem bitchy and insecure. She has one terrible date that we see, but other than that, the level of “I hate men” seemed really disproportionate to the rest of the story.

When I see so much of that in a romance novel, my first thought is not “Yeah, men suck.” My first thought is, “The common denominator here is YOU, sweetie.”

I also had to wonder about the “romance novels are NOT trashy” rant near the beginning of the story. I was torn on it. On the one hand, I wanted to cheer for Mikki putting the guy in his place. On the other hand, it also seemed a little like the author was stepping in to defend her chosen genre. Which is all well and good, but I dislike it when writers use their characters as a soapbox.

Plus, Mikki spends a lot of time harping on the age difference between her and the previous Empousas. It switched between “I’m too old for this shit” and “Bah, they’re all babies. Get off my rose-covered lawn, childish nitwits, and let a real woman show you how it’s done!”

She’s been plunged into a completely new world and she’s trying to learn on the fly, and that aspect I totally understood. It was when she started the constant comparisons to the younger Empousas before her that made me roll my eyes. It added another layer of insecurity to what I already got from the man-hating.

There was also a scene with Mikki later in the book that was on par with the “don’t run up the stairs, run out the damn door!” scenes from horror movies. It’s rare that I actually yell OUT LOUD at a character for doing something stupid, but here I did. (And no, I don’t care that it was clearer later that she was under an external influence. I was already hacked off at her for being dumb.)

She had some good qualities, but she just came across as so abrasive for much of the story that I had a great deal of trouble relating to her.

Even so, I might have been able to tolerate that if the writing itself had been better, but it was just kind of meh overall. There were several instances of redundant or poorly worded phrases (my personal favorite being “spherically shaped circle”).

Plus, for some reason, the book went from having very clearly delineated viewpoint changes in the first third of the story to just cramming it all together in for the last two-thirds. (I HATE it when that happens. The rest of your story has to be AWESOME for me to tolerate it.)

Overall, I was really disappointed in the story, especially considering I had such high hopes in the first place. It had some bright points, but there just wasn’t enough to overcome all the problems I had with it.

Book Review – Firelight by Kristen Callihan

I read the prologue for this book a few months ago, and hot holy damn, you guys, I was over on GoodReads adding it to my “to-read” list faster than you can say “red-haired green-eyed sword-fighting heroine.”

(Sidenote: Either there are a million novels with heroines like that, or I am somehow psychically drawn to them. Another possibility: both are true.)

But seriously, hero and heroine with secrets? Magic? Alt-history Victorian London? A retelling of Beauty and the Beast, one of my favorite stories? The aforementioned red-haired, green-eyed, sword-fighting, fire-wielding heroine?

Sign me up.

Firelight by Kristen CallihanFor her entire life, Miranda Ellis has been able to harness the power of fire. However, one mistake demolished her family’s fortune, and Miranda has been forced into a life of petty thievery to help her father make ends meet.

That is, until the insanely wealthy (and insanely terrifying) Lord Benjamin Archer shows up and asks for Miranda’s hand. When her father gives her the choice between marriage or the streets, Miranda agrees to wed. Though she’s frightened at first, Archer shows her surprising kindness, and the two begin a tentative flirtation.

However, Archer has secrets, starting with the mask that hides his disfigured face. He becomes the prime suspect in a series of gruesome murders around London. Miranda doesn’t believe him capable of it, and dives into an investigation of her own. What she finds is a secret that could destroy her and Archer both.

Now, as I mentioned, I adore Beauty and the Beast, so I really liked the idea of a hero who wears a mask. If you like yourself dark, tortured heroes, then y’all, Lord Benjamin Archer is the man for you. Here’s a man who’s lived so long under a curse he’s almost forgotten how to be a man — until a chance encounter with a lovely young woman brings a part of him to life that he long thought dead. He hides himself under physical masks, inspiring terror everywhere he goes, because to him, fear is better than the alternative.

He wants Miranda, desperately, even though he doesn’t believe for a moment he deserves the happiness. That war within him — trying to keep his secret, trying to protect her from himself even as he selfishly wants to keep her near — makes me wish that there had been more from his point of view.

Miranda, our heroine, wields her beauty in such a way that nobody bothers to look past it to see her pain. As far as she’s concerned, the fire inside her is a curse, destructive and almost uncontrollable.

She’s also not a damsel in distress, thanks not only to her ability, but also her “education” on the streets. When Archer won’t tell her what’s going on, Miranda goes out sleuthing on her own. She’s just as protective of him as he is of her, trying her best to find the answers so she can help the man she loves.

And the final fight? Oh yes, my friends. Miranda, take thy pyrokinetic awesomeness and mayst thou go forth and kick some ASS.

For Miranda, Archer is the first person outside her family who has bothered to look past the surface of her beauty, and vice versa. I adored watching as they fall in love, trying to deal with their attraction and the desire to be together while still holding their secrets close to their chests. And I absolutely LOVE the way those secrets are finally revealed.

(Although I really, really wish it had happened sooner. There’s a point where you go from understanding the angst and conflict within a person to just thinking, “Will somebody put their big boy/big girl pants on and just TALK about this already?”, and Firelight toed dangerously close to that line at times.)

And the romantic scenes between the two of them? Oh so very sexy. Particularly the first kiss in the greenhouse, when Miranda FINALLY takes some initiative with her husband.

As you may be able to tell, there were occasions when Miranda’s hesitation drove me a little crazy. She would think about how much she wanted Archer, but she didn’t want to make the first move for no other reason than she didn’t want to make the first move. I can understand that to an extent, but come on.

SWEETHEART. YOU ARE MARRIED. YOU WANT TO KISS THE MAN, KISS HIM. YOU WANT TO BANG THE MAN, SEDUCE HIM.

When she did take action, I wanted to stand up and cheer (see: the aforementioned first kiss). It just seemed to take a long time to get there.

(An excellent example of “My God I’m going to get laid come hell or high water”: Jessica Trent in Lord of Scoundrels. When her husband is about to go off and leave her for a wrestling match, despite the fact that they haven’t consummated their marriage yet, she gets pissed, puts on sexy lingerie, and storms into his bedroom. The fight, seduction, and ensuing sex scene are FANTASTIC.)

However, one of my major pet peeves with romance novels is the nearly psychic bond that comes from Twu Wuv. If you’ve read any amount of romance, you’ve probably seen this: the hero and/or heroine is able to sense the other person the moment they walk into the room; they can read pages of thought and emotion from a single eye-twitch or touch.

Okay, I’m exaggerating, but still. It was like both Miranda and Archer developed ESP the moment they got married. It was difficult to tell if said ESP was because of Twu Wuv or because of something magic-related in the world. If the latter, it was never explained, which was frustrating. If the former, it went a little overboard.

One of the trickiest things to do with books like these is to balance the romance, the mystery, and the suspense well enough that it doesn’t feel like one aspect of the story drags at the expense of the others. Callihan balances her story well, never letting the mystery or the romance fall by the wayside. This is particularly awesome, considering Firelight is her debut novel.

That being said, I think more pieces to the mystery puzzle could’ve been revealed a little sooner. As it is, one of the characters had the distinct pleasure of turning into Exposition Man (with his trusty sidekick, Backstory Boy) at the end of the story. Not only that, but said character was also checking out our heroine and thinking about how beautiful she was during that time. And he is 92.

CREEPY. I was really glad to get back into Miranda’s point of view after that.

(Spoiler: Do not remind me that the hero is the same age as the guy who is “old enough to be her grandfather, great-grandfather in some families.” Okay? Because ew.)

And yet, I’m willing to forgive a lot of problems I had for three reasons: 1) I liked the characters and wanted them to be together, 2) it’s her first novel, and 3) I loved her writing style itself. It’s definitely a little darker and more angsty-romantic than I normally prefer, but it worked wonderfully for the story.

Book two in the series, Moonglow, comes out in August, and I look forward to reading that one as well.