Monday, July 9, 2012

I'm basking in the "Moonglow" and loving every minute of it.

5 out of 5 stars

*e-ARC graciously provided to me by the folks over at NetGalley*

I cannot believe how much I adore Kristen Callihan's Darkest London series and its latest entry, Moonglow. No, really, I can't. Because, you see, I don't particularly care for the PNR sub-genre, not because of the paranormal elements--actually those are what draw me. It's because, for the most part, I loathe, detest, and despise romance novels. Those romances which I do happen to read, written by authors I know and trust not to become too ridiculous, are picked out because the other story elements are stronger, as in a thriller which has some romance (such as those by Iris Johansen or Tess Gerritsen); otherwise, I avoid the genre like the plague. The only time I've ever really read "straight" romance was when I was younger, when I was a bit more idealistic and ready to believe in "twue wuv": In my mid-teens, I read a couple of titles by Jude Devereaux (A Knight in Shining Armor is the one I really remember), as well as Jewels by Danielle Steel, the one and only Steele title I've read. Currently the only romance novels I actively seek out and enjoy are contained in the Eve Dallas series written by Nora Roberts (as J.D. Robb). And even with those novels, as much as I like them, it's the futuristic setting and mystery/thriller nature of the stories which drives me to read them, not the romance between Eve and Roarke. Nowadays, when I do read a romance novel, whatever the title or author, when things get hot, I skip over the panting, writhing, and moaning so I can get back to the story all the panting, writhing, and moaning has interrupted.

See, the problem I have with the Romance genre is the unreasonable expectations the novels engender. The women in these novels, all of them wish fulfillment avatars for the author, are always perfect: Short or tall, willowy or curvaceous, every single romantic female lead has a perfect face, perfect breasts, a perfectly formed body, giving the impression that only the beautiful find true love, deserve true love, are worthy of true love. The plain, the fat, the imperfectly endowed, they don't exist, so therefore they aren't aren't worthy of being loved. And it's just as bad for the men. All the men are walking Adonises: Perfectly sculpted abs, wide shoulders and narrow hips, with Goldilocks muscles (not too big, not too small, but just right), these guys are always endowed with the ideal combination of savagery and sensitivity, not to mention enormous cocks. They may have their faults, but nothing so disagreeable or disturbing as to derail the romantic buildup; just something small enough for the woman to “fix” with the power of her love (which is just another myth perpetuated by the genre: Women, you cannot “fix” men, no matter how hard you try or how much you love them or how loudly you nag. That's the man you fell in love with, warts and all; if you can't accept that, walk away). It's enough to give a man, should he dare to be seen reading a romance novel, a complex. Frankly, the whole genre feeds into the obsession for beauty and perfection, just as guilty for female self-image dysfunction as beauty magazines and ad campaigns. Not to mention the perpetuation of the whole “Happily Ever After” myth, the idea that love is perfect and once you fall in love, all your troubles are over and marriage will only enhance this rosy state of being. There's never any mention of petty disagreements, marital spats, the sensation of coming to hate all those little quirks and habits which once you found cute but now gnaw at you until you snap at your partner for every little thing he or she does. Yup, you guessed it, I'm a cynic. So the idea of perfection--perfect people, perfect love, perfect sex--presented in the Romance genre makes me ill. That's why I skip over the sex scenes, not because I'm a prude, but because if I want to experience so much unrealistic sex, I might as well go watch some porn.

Not so with Kristen Callihan's sex scenes. True, they still feature perfect people in perfect bodies, yet the scenes are hotter because there's a sense of connection, of the occasional awkwardness, of two people exploring each other, with words, with touch, with every sense in their bodies. Not to mention a real sense of affection, even of humor and, in the case of carriage scene with Daisy and Ian in 
Moonglow, palpable frustration. It's a depth of reality which seems to be missing from other romance novels and which makes for some pulse-poundingly, seat-squirmingly hot scenes. Then again, maybe it's just that the sex, as it's written, is so bloody hot, it was easy for me to overlook such things as “...her pillowed bottom lip and the taste of her, like sweet strawberries and dark chocolate” and “...she traced a path of kisses along his jaw... He was better than caramels, richer and saltier.” Do people really taste like candy?

Okay, so now that the important stuff is out of the way, let's get down to the story. This is the second book in Callihan's series and features Daisy, sister to Miranda, the heroine of book number one, Firelight. Daisy, widowed just over a year ago, is just coming out of her mourning period, though there was no love lost between her and her loathsome husband, Sir Craigmore, and his death came as an immense relief. Daisy is, well, let's just say she's a lusty lass and knows the pleasures which can be found in a little flesh-on-flesh romping. But just as she's spreading the wings of her new-found freedom, in the form of a social outing and a bit of 'hide the sausage' in the back garden, Daisy finds herself face to face with a hideous beast who attacks her. She gets tossed aside in the mayhem and the creature begins to munch on the bodies of her erstwhile lover and the hostess of the soiree Daisy ducked out on, Alexis, another recently widowed young lady and Daisy's friend. Oddly, at the time of her death, Alexis is wearing the exact same perfume as Daisy; in fact, it's Daisy's signature scent, meant to be worn by no one else. As she follows this clue, helped, hindered, and distracted by the infuriating Lord Ian Ranulf, Marquis of Northrup, she discovers not only is her life in danger, so is her heart as she defends it from the persistent attentions of Ian.

Now, we all remember Ian from Firelight, right? He was the shit who kept coming between Miranda and Archer, so much so that many readers assumed he was the villain of the story. Here, though, we see that he's much more complicated than what we saw of him in the first book, and as his story unspools and the reasons for his previous behavior come to light in 
Moonglow, we discover the vulnerability beneath his swaggering facade. The heat and the chemistry between Daisy and Ian, as the two discover each other in both physical and psychological ways, is immediate, especially of the physical kind. (Hoo boy, is it hot!) However, as the story progresses, the two find each other connecting on a deeper level as their long-held secrets come out to one another. The requisite third act forced-separation* comes a bit later than normal in romance novels, setting the reader up to believe that it might not occur, that for once the two romantic leads will solve the greater exterior problem affecting them without an interior problem causing a rift between them. Yet when the two do separate, once I understood the solution Callihan was setting up which would bring them back together, I was actually happy as the whole thing solved a larger issue plaguing Daisy and Ian's relationship, paving the way for their 'riding off into the sunset as they lived happily ever after' moment. 

The book develops the mythology introduced in Firelight, not only by adding to the roster of supernatural creatures (the 'Ghost in the Machine' creature is brilliant--creative and ooky. Yes, that's a legitimate descriptor), but by making us aware of a sort-of supernatural police force: the Society for the Suppression of Supernaturals. The S.O.S., as it's known, is responsible for keeping the general public unaware of the activities and the presence of creatures which have crept, climbed, and clawed their way out of myth and folklore. As to the story, it's a worthy successor to Firelight and certainly doesn't suffer from the "second book slump": it's thrilling, mysterious, comedic, heartfelt, passionate, and very, very entertaining. The prose moves along at a steady clip, never dragging or becoming dull. From the very first book, Callihan has managed to avoid the dreaded info dump syndrome, giving her readers all the information necessary to keep them interested and engaged in the story without dumping great gouts of exposition on them. Her dialogue is lively and sparkling, her descriptions vivid, and while I'm sure there are a few minor faults in the novel, they're undetectable in the greater excellence of her work. (At least to me they were.)

As an added bonus, the novel lays the groundwork for the third (and, I would presume, last, even though the thought saddens me) book of the series, starring the eldest sister, Poppy. Now, after I finished reading Firelight and heard about Moonglow, I figured there would be a third book; makes sense after all--three sisters, three books. But what stumped me was how that could be. After all, romance novels are all about two unattached persons finding and wooing each other. Yet Poppy's been happily married to the man of her dreams since the very beginning of the series--how could she star in her own romance novel? Well, Callihan settles the issue with events which occur in the last half of Moonglow and I can't wait to see how she pulls things together for Poppy and her Detective Inspector Winston Lane.

All in all, I thoroughly recommend this series and personally I can't wait for Winterblaze.

*As outlined in the following script: Boy meets girl, boy saves girl from some difficult yet minor trouble, boy and girl fall in love and vow to be with each other forever, girl suddenly finds some reason not to be with boy through some fault or doubt of the boy's character, girl leaves boy in heartbreaking manner, boy mourns then gets angry over girl's leaving, girl finds herself in trouble, boy stiffens backbone and discards pride to rescue girl, girl realizes depth of her feelings for boy and boy's depth of feelings for girl, boy and girl head off into the sunset to live happily ever after.

Read July 2-6, 2012
Reviewed July 8, 2012 

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