Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Brains, Power & Courage: My favorite romantic heroines

Girl Power!

Single/white/female, twenty-six years old, stunningly beautiful virgin, living in modern day New York City seeking sexually experienced bad boy with a heart of gold who will teach me the wonders of carnal love.

Why is it that we think this sounds ridiculous in a personal ad, yet we accept it so easily in many of the romance novels that we read?  Are readers really so sexist that they can’t accept a heroine who is sexually experienced?  Or is it the authors who are simply giving us what they think we want?  I don’t know about you, but I am getting fed up with heroines being treated sexually inferior to the men.  With this in mind, I thought it would be nice to talk about what qualities make for a good heroine, and who some of my personal favorites are. 

Let me start with a classic romantic heroine.  Scarlett O’Hara from Gone with the Wind started off as a feisty, spoiled girl, but the tragedies of war hardened her into a strong, fascinating woman.  In a time when women were expected to sit back and let the men take care of them, Scarlett did the opposite.  When tragedies struck, it was Scarlett’s intelligence that prevailed.  She knew how to work with the cards that life dealt her.  She married Frank Kennedy for money and security, farmed a plantation to keep her household from starving, transformed curtains into dresses and took advantage of reconstruction by starting her own successful lumber business.  

And then there was her sexuality.  Even as a teenage virgin, Scarlett knew how to wield her sexual power like a sword in battle.  Her pouty lips and blue eyes were her weapons of choice.  But by the time she and Rhett Butler came together, Scarlett was far from the blushing virgin.  She had been married twice and had conceived two children already.  (The kids prior to Rhett were cut out of the movie version.  I think this was done so that the first time sex is mentioned, it would be with Rhett, not her two former husbands.  That was Hollywood in the 1930’s for you!) 

Another of my favorite heroines is Claire Fraser from the time-travel romance series, Outlander.  Claire is one of the most practical and capable heroines I have ever read.  Very few women I know would willingly give up the conveniences of the modern world in exchange for a harsh life in eighteenth century Scotland.  Not only did Claire do this, but she put herself through medical school first so she could have useful skills to share with the highlanders.  I love the scenes where she sets bread out purposely to spoil so she can make penicillin from the mold.  Every twist and turn this strange and brutal culture throws at her, she meets head-on with strength and courage. 

These qualities were the glue that held together her relationship with her husband, Jamie.  No time or distance would ever stand in the way of their love.  She didn’t even allow their marriages to other people get in the way.  As far as sex went, Claire had been married in her own time period before meeting Jamie, and it was she who took his virginity in the marriage bed.  But from that point on, the two met each other as sexual equals.

When it comes to female sexual power though, nothing beats Georgina Kincaid from Richelle Mead’s Succubus series.  Georgina is a succubus, which means she literally feeds off of the sexual energy of others.  Since she needs sex at least every couple of days and she is a couple thousand years old, I think it is safe to say that she is the most sexually experienced heroine I have ever read.  For me, this is a symbol of female empowerment.  Women should be able to take control over their bodies and their pleasure. 

Before you assume that Georgina is nothing but a walking sex machine, she is also a productive member of society.  She is the assistant manager of a large book store with a good head for business.  She also enjoys her quiet time with good books and spending time with her close group of friends.  There is a strong moral streak in Georgina which she must balance with her feeding instincts. 

So, now I’d like to open it up to you.  Who are your favorite heroines?  What qualities set them apart from the crowd?  And what are your thoughts about sexuality in female romance characters?  

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Best rest + #Amreading = 7 books in 5 days & micro-reviews!

So I had surgery last week and not able to work for a few weeks. While I have certainly been better, it's kind of nice to catch up on my reading. Unfortunately, I don’t have the energy to write full reviews right now, but I thought I’d post some micro-reviews on the few books I’ve read in the last few days.  (I'm not including the summaries, so for more info, click the cover art.)  If you have read any of these books, feel free to let me know what you thought of them in the comments.  Enjoy!

Broken Pieces by Rachel Thompson

Not my normal read.  This is a collection of personal essays and poems where the normally comedic author gets serious about tragedies in her own life.  Honest and sad.  Not what you might want if looking for a pick-me-up, but still an important, emotional read.  Sometimes it’s good to know that you are not the only one who has experienced pain.  The weightiness of the subjects might be tough, but this is a book that is easy to read a little at a time between other things.

* I don't do dream casts for non-fiction. It's a little weird.

The Deepest Cut by J.A. Templeton

Ooh, a YA ghost story with kissing! I loved the paranormal aspects of the story.  It was a bit insta-love, but it’s a short book, so you’ll have that.  The evil spirit was super creepy.  The only part that felt off to me was the whole cutting thing.  It felt disconnected from the rest of the story.  It could have been left out without losing any of the emotion.  I also think the title and cover art should have focused more on the creepy paranormal plot line. 

Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) - Britt Robertson (Riley), Brant Daugherty (Ian)

The Eternity Cure by Julie Kagawa

I would read Julie Kagawa’s shopping list.  She has never disappointed me with anything she has ever written. The Eternity Cure is a perfect follow up to The Immortal Rules.  The characters all had a chance to grow and come into their own.  Allie is getting super bad-ass.  Jackal provided some much needed comic relief in this dark and serious novel.  Seeing him, Allie and Zeke have to work together was fabulous. 

Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) -  Brenda Song (Allie), Armie Hammer (Zeke), Chris Pine (Jackal), J.D. Pardo (Vampire Prince dude...forgot his name)

Gameboard of the Gods by Richelle Mead

It’s no secret that I’m in love with Richelle Mead. But when you add together Richelle Mead + sci-fi world + kick-ass heroine + brainy hero + ancient gods + a murder mystery, that equals up to a whole lot of AWESOME!  I took me a few chapters to get into the book because there is so much world-building that needs to be set up and a lot of characters to introduce, but stick with it.  I can already tell I am going to love this series!

Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) -  Anna Torv (Mae), A younger Dean Cain (Justin), India Eisley (Tessa)

For Everly by Raine Thomas

Excellent new adult read!  The characters were fun; I liked the awkwardness between Everly and Cole at their first business lunch; there was some great family drama; the love story was exciting.  My only problem--and this is a major pet peeve of mine and is no way isolated to this book alone--but I am so f’ing sick of the virginal heroine.  Twenty-two years old, looks like a super model, and never been kissed? Really??? Why can’t women and men meet on a more level playing field in the bedroom?  We're all about having empowered heroines in every area except when it comes to sex.  There still seems to be a stigma around girls who embrace their sexuality.  I’m ready to go on a crusade to champion realistic female sexual power.  Who’s with me?!?!

Okay, done with my rant.  Seriously, For Everly is a really good book.  Don’t let my bitching discourage you from buying it. 

Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) - Channing Tatum (Cole), Karen Gillan (Everly)

Damaged by H.M. Ward

Yeah, I’d say these characters were damaged. Both Sidney and Peter come with serious emotional baggage.  Add to that he is both her professor and boss...yeah, there is no shortage on present drama either.  While I liked the book and thought the characters were interesting, the back stories were a tad bit on the over-dramatic side.  They just felt too contrived and not so believable.  That said, I'm a sucker for a great love story, and there were enough comedic elements to keep the story from getting too bogged down. #CouchSniffer 

Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) - Sarah Hyland (Sidney), Xavier Samuel (Peter)

Unbreak Me by Lexi Ryan

This book was really messed up, but I loved it!  Maggie has made one poor decision after another in her young life, but she has the best intention of getting back on track.  The book opens with her as a bridesmaid for her sister who is marrying Maggie’s ex-fiancĂ©, Will.  I immediately did not like Will for this reason alone. Whether Maggie broke up with him or not, how could he move on to her sister?!?  Then, enter Asher, the hot next door neighbor.  While he wasn’t perfect either, he was so much easier to like.  The book started as a train wreck of family drama, but ended up turning into a beautiful love story. 

Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) - Jacqueline Emerson (Maggie), Penn Badgley (Will), Robbie Amell (Asher)

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Anastasia V. Pergakis discusses her writing and causes close to her heart. #Interview & #Giveaway @AVPergakis

Joining us on the blog today is fantasy author and my friend, Anastasia V. Pergakis.  Her novel Cleanse Fire is the first in the Kinir Elite series, a military inspired fantasy series about an Elven Captain who leads his team on a missions while he is haunted by his past.  

Welcome, Anastasia!

Jesi:  First of all, I loved your book!  Cleanse Fire opens with an incredibly emotional scene. What was it like to write that scene? Did you have any reservations about starting the book out setting such a dark tone right in the beginning?

Anastasia:  I honestly don't remember much of the "writing" part for that scene. It just was sort of, 'there'. It wasn't until after it was written and I went back to read it over that I felt shocked and surprised. I knew the scene going in was going to be emotional and graphic, but I didn't expect that. I was a bit scared that I could write a scene so graphic. I almost didn't include it because of the graphicness of the scene, but in the end, I left it there as it really is a great scene and gets the reader into Derac's head right from the start.

Jesi:  Many times when I read fantasy, I have trouble with the names. Either they are ridiculously long, unpronounceable or spelled crazy. I love the names of your characters because they are different enough to set a fantasy tone, yet very readable. How did you come up with your character names?

Anastasia:  Some of them I made up – or felt like I made up – out of thin air. The name was just there and it fit. Kie's, Derac's, Rakan's names were like this. I also get out my baby name book and try to find names that have a particular meaning. But, to make it fantasy, I often change the spelling in a radical way to make it fit with the language and culture I've created for my fantasy creatures. Aeli's name was one such name where I changed the spelling in a funky way to fit with the elfish language. Other times I take two different names and mush them together to form a new name. Tyn's full name is Tyngrad and I came up with it looking at the names "Tyler" and "Grady" at the same time. Surnames though, are always just me throwing some letters together until it sounds right.

Jesi:  I know you have donated some of the profits from Cleanse Fire to charity. Can you tell us a little about the charity you support and why?

Anastasia:  I support two charities now, actually. Wounded Warrior Project (http://www.woundedwarriorproject.org) helps wounded soldiers and their families in the United States heal after returning home with both the physical and mental injuries of war. Help for Heroes (http://www.helpfforheores.org.uk) is an organization that helps wounded soldiers in the United Kingdom.

My Dad served in the US Army for 20 years, so soldiers hold a special and personal place in my heart.

I'm sure some are wondering why I would help an organization in the UK when I live in the US. Well, I could get all political and talk about them being our allies and on the same side, etc. But, truthfully, it's from a long story my Dad once told me that for some reason has wedged itself into my heart. Many times the US and the UK soldiers get together for some "skirmish war games" and my Dad gained a close friend through one of these times (after the guy knocked out his two front teeth!).

A soldier in the UK makes the same sacrifices a soldier in the US does. It's wonderful when they work together toward a common goal and so I support both with all the thanks I can muster.

Jesi:  Such great causes!  Thank you for your generosity. You recently produced your first audio book for Cleanse Fire. How was that process for you? Can you tell us about your narrator and why you chose to work with him?

Anastasia:  It was a whirlwind of fun! Chad Tindale and I met through ACX.com when he auditioned to be the narrator for my book. He read the excerpt I posted with such intensity, I listened to it about five times in a row! He totally blew me away with his talent and energy.

I sent him a copy of the book and he fell in love with it. He went above and beyond than just "reading" it in audio format. He gave each character their own voice and unique accents even! The girls too! He got into reading the lines as if he was on a stage acting – full of emotion. His wife even loved the story so much, he wasn't allowed to record chapters until she was at home to hear it!

It was great fun having such powerful feedback for my book and then having a great new medium to showcase it, is just a bonus for me. The audio book was finished much sooner than I ever anticipated thanks to Chad's love of the book and his dedication to helping me get it out there. I could never thank him enough and I can't wait to work with him again when the next book in the series is finished.

Jesi:  As readers of my book reviews know, I have a habit of casting real people, usually actors, in my mind as the characters when I read.  As you are writing, do you base your characters on real people?  If Hollywood made a movie of Cleanse Fire, who would you like to see playing the leading roles?

Anastasia:  Well, I so love the cast you came up with when you reviewed Cleanse Fire. I even shared it on the Kinir Elite blog because the cast was so fitting!

While writing though, I do have a particular person(s) in mind when writing each character, if only to get personalities shown correctly and such. But when it comes to their looks, no, I don't think of any particular person.

So, to answer the last question, if Cleanse Fire was made into a movie, I'd probably go with the cast you saw while reading it because like I said, they fit so well!

Henry Cavil (Derac)
Keira Knightly (Kie)
Sean Patrick Flanery (Tyn)
Rosamund Pike (Aeli)
Sean Bean (Rakan)
Armie Hammer (Jardel)

Jesi:  The Speak Loudly campaign has been fighting censorship in teen books, specifically in schools.  Of the books under fire, many include issue books which deal with heavy themes or controversial subjects such as eating disorders, abusive relationships, sexuality issues, teen suicide, alcohol or drug abuse, etc.  Do you feel there are topics which should be considered off limits in Young Adult literature? 

Anastasia:  As a recovering alcoholic, no I don't think these topics should be off limits. Teens have always struggled with these things and in my personal opinion it seems to get worse with each generation as the drugs are stronger, culture views on things like sexuality change, and even the way parents raise their children change.

Having these "controversial" books, even those that are fiction, can help struggling teens make it through hard times. I was bullied and ridiculed as a teen and like I said, I was a raging alcoholic and addict during my teen years as well. But books – reading about the same struggles, knowing that I wasn't alone, that someone at least thought about the things I was going through - made all the difference to me. The characters in the books were able to make it through – they dealt with whatever monsters were in the book, and within themselves. They made it! Feeling alone is the worst thing a teen can feel and knowing that I wasn't, even on a subconscious level, kept me going.

Books – not even controversial ones – ANY book, can help a teen cope. It's an escape and sometimes even a life lesson thrown into an epic adventure. I'm an adult now (and sober for almost 7 years) and I still read for the escape and for the adventure. Books should never be banned. EVER!

Jesi:  I appreciate you sharing your story with us.  People who overcome such obsticles in life never fail to amaze me.  What are you writing now that Cleanse Fire has been released? 

Anastasia:  "Blood Trade" is the sequel to "Cleanse Fire". The story picks up a few days after Cleanse Fire ended but it's an entire new adventure for the team. They are asked for help from the Tinally Elite (the faery team) dealing with a ruthless terrorist.
The other project is titled "Burden of Prophecy" and it's the first book of an entirely different series, "A Faery's Tale". As the title suggests, there is a prophecy that must be fulfilled - unite the five faery kingdoms. But, of course, tensions are high because of hatred and ignorance brewed over the last thousand years. It's heavy on the romance themes as the two main characters, Aelic and Rosyani, are a fated pair meant to bring about the fulfillment of the prophecy, but they were born as enemies and now have to make their sudden and rash marriage work somehow AND fulfill the prophecy.

 Jesi:  Thank you so much, Anastasia, for joining us today.  Readers, Anastasia is hosting an awesome giveaway.  See below for details!


Use the rafflecopter widget below to enter to win an E-BOOK COPY OF CLEANSE FIRE. Simply leave a comment on this post, answering the question: "Who is your real life 'super hero' and why? (Can be anyone!)" then enter on the raffle copter! I can't wait to see your answers, and I wish you luck!

Giveaway runs from June 1 to June 7!


Grand Prize #1: A paperback copy of “Cleanse Fire” – signed by the author, a color poster of the team – signed by them, a special edition bookmark of Derac – signed by him, and five Kinir Elite bookmarks.

Grand Prize #2: A paperback copy of “Cleanse Fire” – signed by the author, a black and white poster of the team – signed by them, and five Kinir Elite bookmarks.
Head over to the Kinir Elite website (http://kinirelite.com/2013/05/cleanse-fire-tour-2013/) to enter! Follow along on the tour to have more chances to win one of these amazing prize packs. Contest ends on June 12, 2013!

*Open Internationally!*

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