Thursday, January 27, 2011

You Tease!

In my last post, I commented on some of the difficulties that authors face when writing a series. Thinking about the difficulties in writing series led me to ponder on the popularity of “teaser” chapters. These teaser chapters are often included at the end of a book, and usually are the first chapter of the next novel in the series. I’m impressed when authors manage to do this, because I’m a procrastinator and can’t imagine being far enough ahead to have a completed chapter available for publishing in advance. Usually I enjoy these teaser chapters and look forward to the next book in the series, but there are two OUTSTANDING teaser chapters that have always impressed me. What’s striking about these two well written chapters is that they evoked very different responses at the time of reading, yet clearly achieved their purpose in encouraging me to read the next novel in the series. I could not wait for the following books to come out, and I believe both chapters are excellent examples of how to write a first chapter of a novel.

Patricia Briggs is one of my all-time favorite authors, and I cannot recommend her highly enough. Her novels are well crafted and her characters inspire intense feelings of loyalty in her readers (this reader being no exception). Her Mercedes Thompson series is a wonderful series, but I really enjoy her Alpha and Omega series, which is written in the same fictional world and around the same time as the Mercedes Thompson books. Currently the Alpha and Omega series features a novella (“Alpha and Omega”) and two novels (Cry Wolf and Hunting Ground). The heroine of this series, Anna Latham Cornick, was attacked and changed into a werewolf. Her werewolf pack in Chicago brutalized her to keep her under control, but the hero, Charles Cornick, rescues her and the two become mates. What makes the series so fascinating is the strength of character and mental toughness that Anna displays. She could easily be just another victim, but she is “tough as shoe leather,” as her mate describes her in Hunting Ground.

Normally Ms. Briggs doesn’t release teaser chapters with her novels, but after reading Cry Wolf, I went to her webpage, where I found she had posted the first chapter of the second novel in the series, Hunting Ground. If I taught creative writing, I would include this first chapter as an outstanding example of how to keep the reader guessing while immediately drawing her in. The chapter begins with an unnamed “she” who is stalking an angry man, apparently to kill him, but we soon realize that the “she” is Anna in wolf form and the angry man is her mate Charles. He’s been arguing with his father, and about to lose his temper. Charles is the enforcer for all werewolves and losing his temper would mean someone would get hurt. Anna’s “attack” is an attempt to get him to play and relax. After reading this chapter on Ms. Briggs’ webpage, I could not wait for the next installment of her series, and I re-read that chapter over and over.

Ilona Andrews is another of my favorite paranormal authors. Ilona Andrews is actually the pseudonym of a husband and wife team, Andrew and Ilona Gordon, and they write the Kate Daniels and The Edge series of urban fantasy. Both series are excellent, but my favorite is the Kate Daniels series, partly because it takes place in Atlanta, my home town. Kate Daniels is a mercenary in an Atlanta where magic has suddenly returned and destroyed much of the technology we take for granted. She has a love-hate relationship with the shifters (think werewolves but with lots of different animals) and a definite “hate” relationship with the People, the group that controls the vampires in the area. Kate is snarky and obnoxious but also cares about her friends and looks after them in ways that often get her into trouble.

The teaser chapter that I find so intriguing is for the fourth book in the Kate Daniels series, Magic Bleeds. This chapter was included in On the Edge when it was published, and it made me so mad I almost refused to read the fourth book. The third book of the series had ended with Curran, the alpha of all the shifters in Atlanta winning a bet with Kate that she would cook him dinner in her undies. In the teaser chapter, Kate has cooked the dinner, applied make-up, and fixed her hair, only to be stood up by Curran. When she calls to find out where he is, she is told to direct all future inquiries to the security chief. I loved how the authors had developed the sexual tension between Kate and Curran in the previous books, and I was really peeved that the authors were breaking them up. Of course, I absolutely had to see how the authors resolved this situation, and ended up reading the book, which is the entire point of having teaser chapters! Magic Bleeds is longer than many of the other books in the series, and the length really pays off in character development and intensity of action. This book is the fourth in what is supposed to be a series of seven, and we learn just enough about the characters and their pasts to question how the rest of the series will resolve different issues. Really well done of the authors, because it keeps the readers invested in the characters, which makes us buy future books!

I’ve since read numerous teaser chapters, but I’ve yet to read one that comes close to intriguing me the way the one for Hunting Ground did and I certainly haven’t had one evoke such a visceral reaction as the teaser for Magic Bleeds. I can’t wait to read the future installments of both these series.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Two Rogues and an Angel

Lately I’ve been thinking about the complexities of writing a series of novels. Many of my favorite authors have several different series out at once, and I always wonder how they can keep all the details straight. The obvious answer is good editing, but for a really good series to be successful, the author has to consider her different audiences. Once a series has begun, the subsequent novels have to be accessible and enticing to new and returning readers. Ideally, a reader could pick up any novel in the series and not get lost if she hadn’t read the previous books. But there must be a balancing act, because you can only provide so much background information from the earlier books without boring the heck out of fans who have followed every book faithfully. Here are a few comments on three series with recently released installments that I’ve enjoyed. Two are Regency romances, while the third is a paranormal, but each author takes a slightly different approach to how she ties the series together.

In Regency romance, I’ve noticed that many series seem to focus on families, with each family member being featured in a separate novel. As a reader, this is a lot of fun, because if you’ve followed the series from the beginning, you enjoy seeing the returning cast of characters. Sabrina Jeffries’ The Hellions of Halstead Hall series does precisely that, and the third book, How to Woo a Reluctant Lady, has just been released.  Ms. Jeffries’ series focuses on an aristocratic family of five siblings whose parents’ deaths years earlier have led to outrageous behavior on the part of the now-grown children. In frustration, their grandmother decrees that if all five do not marry within a year, she won’t leave them any of her money. In this third installment, our heroine, Lady Minerva, is a writer of gothic novels who (gasp!) publishes under her own name. The hero, Giles Masters, is a friend of her older brothers and appears to be a complete scoundrel. He is actually a spy for the Home Office. Unfortunately for Giles, he broke Minerva’s heart when she was 19, and he’s been the villain in all her published novels since. How to Woo a Reluctant Lady is a great deal of fun, not least of all because Ms. Jeffries has featured a writer as her heroine and pokes fun at readers who see themselves (erroneously at times) in the different characters.

Elizabeth Hoyt’s Notorious Pleasures, the second book in her Maiden Lane series, has also just been released. Unlike Ms. Jeffries’ novel, the characters in the series are connected by a home for orphans, rather than by blood. This second entry focuses on Lady Hero Batten, who helps fund the orphanage. Lady Hero is the sister of a Duke, and her behavior is strictly all that it should be, until she meets the hero, Griffin Remmington, Lord Reading. He is actually the brother of her fiancĂ©, so their subsequent romance is quite the scandal. Ms. Hoyt has long been a favorite of mine, and her books stand out among the crowd of Regency romance. Her writing is outstanding, and before each chapter she includes a part of a fairy tale that replicates the themes of the novel. Her secondary characters are intriguing, and she does an amazing job of balancing the reader’s interest in the supporting characters while not taking away from the principle story.

Unlike most Regency romance, series in paranormal romance tend to follow Ms. Hoyt’s example rather than that of Ms. Jeffries. Each novel in Nalini Singh’s paranormal Guild Hunter series is connected through the hero and heroine, rather than familial ties.  This approach has certain advantages which I enjoy as a reader, mainly that it allows for deeper character development from novel to novel. Archangel’s Consort is the third book in Ms. Singh’s Guild Hunter series, and it’s a pleasure to read.  In this world, angels are powerful beings that rule the world and create vampires to serve them. Humans can petition to be Made into a vampire, but once Made, must serve the angels for 100 years. The Guild is a group of human bounty hunters who track down vampires who’ve skipped out on their contracts. Elena Devereaux is the best of the Guild Hunters, and in the first novel of the series, she met and fell in love with the Archangel ruling New York, Raphael. What makes Archangel’s Consort so enjoyable is the deepening relationship between the two. Raphael is a powerful immortal who has fallen for a hunter, and Elena is a warrior who fights to remain herself while dealing with a growing romance.

Part of the pleasure of reading a series of romances is looking forward to future installments. After reading the three novels mentioned above, I’ll be very excited to see what awaits us in the next novels of each of the series.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Steampunk: Sid Vicious, meet Queen Victoria

Thanks to Georgette Heyer, I’ve always been a fan of the regency romance. But in recent years I’ve started reading more paranormal and contemporary romances, and by chance I picked up Gail Carriger’s Soulless, which combines a paranormal romance with a Victorian setting. It turns out that Carriger’s novel is an excellent example of the steampunk genre. For those of you who, like me, have never heard of steampunk, Meljean Brook describes it on her webpage as “historical science fiction.”[i] Steampunk novels feature anachronistic technology that relies on steam, so you’ll see a lot of dirigibles for air travel and mechanical devices powered by steam engines. Two really great examples of the steampunk genre that I’ve read recently are Gail Carriger’s Soulless and Meljean Brook’s The Iron Duke, and if you’re looking for fun, interesting books with amazing world-building, I can highly recommend both.

Gail Carriger’s Soulless

Ms. Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series currently includes three novels (Soulless, Changeless, and Blameless), and all three are laugh out loud funny. The first of the series, Soulless, introduces Carriger’s heroine, Alexia Tarabotti. The novel begins during a dreadfully dull ball, and Alexia is hiding in the library, only to be accosted by a vampire. Instead of being alarmed by the vampire’s appearance, Alexia is indignant that the vampire would dare approach her without a proper introduction. She chides the vamp (“Manners!”) as she defends herself with her trusty parasol by bopping him on the head, then accidentally killing him with her hair pin. To prevent scandal, she feigns a swoon when she hears others approaching, although she is more distressed that the dead vampire fell on the treacle tart, thus robbing her of a proper tea.   

In this alternate version of Victorian England, supernatural beings are an everyday occurrence. Alexia is on the shelf, as she is in her mid-twenties, half-Italian, and quite intelligent, and it is made clear to the reader that in good society, any one of those qualities would have been enough to doom her to spinsterhood. Additionally she has quite the forceful personality, which results in hilarious conversations with her asinine family and the supernatural beings in the novel. Her interactions with Lord Conall Maccon, the alpha werewolf of the London pack, are delightfully witty. He cannot understand why men are not more interested in her, since she is no shrinking violet and possesses a superb figure. That does not prevent his objecting to her attempts to solve the mystery surrounding the disappearances of rove vampires and werewolves. Alexia is determined to find some useful occupation for herself, since marriage is clearly (to her mind) out of the question. Add in Alexia’s preternatural state, which allows her to return any supernatural being to a human state with merely a touch, and you have a mix of characteristics that make for a fascinating and funny heroine. If you’re looking for a light-hearted mystery and romance, I highly recommend Gail Carriger’s Soulless!

Meljean Brook The Iron Duke

Meljean Brook’s novel also takes place in England, features steam-powered airships, and has a strong-willed heroine. However, the world in which the action takes place is much darker than that of Ms. Carriger’s novel. Two hundred years before the novel begins, an Asiatic Horde (think Ghengis Khan with technology) overtook Europe and Great Britain by infecting sugar with nanoagents called bugs. These bugs healed anyone infected with them, but they also allowed the Horde to use radio waves to control anyone infected. The British unknowingly infected themselves by consuming sugar with their tea and crumpets, which made it all too easy for the Horde to conquer England. The Horde maintained control of the population by building a tower in London that emitted radio waves that would control the bugs. These radio waves then left the person infected at the mercy of the Horde – he would remain completely aware while his body would be out of his control.

The novel begins twenty years after the titular Iron Duke, Rhys Trahaearn, sails his pirate ship up the Thames and blasts the Horde’s Tower to bits. England is now free from the Horde’s control, but most people are still infected by the bugs. The aristocrats and wealthy merchants who fled England when the Horde conquered the island have returned, uninfected. The conflict between those infected with the bugs (buggers) and those who have prospered in the New World (bounders) takes center stage when the heroine, Mina, is called from a Victory Ball celebration to the Iron Duke’s estate. Mina is a Detective Inspector with Scotland Yard, but she is also a product of her mother’s rape at the hands of the Horde during one of the Horde induced sexual frenzies. As a result, her features are clearly Asiatic, and she experiences harassment on a daily basis from Londoners still bitter over Horde occupation. Once she arrives at the Iron Duke’s estate, she discovers that a corpse has been dropped on his house from an airship, and she must solve the mystery of the man’s death while attempting to defend herself from Trahaearn’s amorous advances.

Brook has created a detailed and compelling world in her novel. Mina is a complex and principled heroine who longs to give in to her desire for the Iron Duke but knows that doing so would result in her and her family’s ruin. How Brook resolves this difficulty while the two protagonists solve the mystery and save the day makes for a fascinating read.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Forays into the Blogosphere

Welcome to my blog and Happy New Year! I feel as though I'm a bit of a luddite when it comes to social media, so this blog will hopefully improve as I gain experience. My plans are to comment on some of my favorite books and and authors, and through your comments learn about new authors as well.

At this point, I plan on discussing romance novels, as that's what I like to read in my spare time. My literary tastes are, to say the least, eclectic, as I enjoy several different sub-genres of romance, including historical, contemporary, paranormal, fantasy, and mystery. I also enjoy more heavy-hitting literature, but quite frankly when it's cold, dark, and dreary outside, I find it hard to motivate myself to start War and Peace! (Although I can recommend Don Quixote if you need a good laugh.)

So I'll be sharing my thoughts on my favorite form of escapism. Enjoy!