Review: Lover Avenged

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Read the reviews for the first 6 books in the series here. WARNING- this review is for people familiar with the BDB it contains a lot of Ward's terminology and might also contain spoilers wrt previous books.

Among the number of search terms associated with the Black Dagger Brotherhood that lead people to this site every week, the question 'What is a sympath?' inevitably makes an appearance. And I thought JR Ward's Lover Avenged, the 7th novel of the BDB series would answer just that.

The focus of this novel is on Rehvenge, half-sympath, leahdyre of the vampire glymera and a powerful drug lord and pimp in Caldwell, New York. Rehvenge's illegal activities serve to pay his blackmailer for keeping the sympath side of his identity a secret thereby protecting his mother, sister and half-sympath employee Xhex.

According to vampire law any sympaths have to be quarantined in a colony in the remote northern areas of the state. The sympath laws are even clearer, ALL half-breeds must die. To keep his sympath urges at bay Rehvenge relies heavily on drugs, which leave his body numb.

On his routine check ups at Havers' hospital he often comes in contact with nurse Ehlena. Ehlena is a fallen member of the glymera and is sole care-giver to her father who is schizophrenic which leaves her with almost no social life. Rehvenge is drawn to this loneliness of hers, a mirror of his own and the two start to build a tentative relationship together.

In the meanwhile, Wrath has been secretly fighting lessers in his free time, and it's not long before he is found out. This severely tries his relationship not only with Beth, who is sorely hurt by his deceit and lack of trust towards herself, Wrath also has his annoyed Brothers to deal with. In addition headaches which have persisted almost all his life become stronger and he loses what little vision he does have. Trapped in his blindness, not being able to fight, having to depend on other people just to get around and marital problems lead to Wrath being scared, not a good emotion for any Brother to wallow in.

But, things are going to get worse for Wrath. A member of the glymera approaches Rehvenge for assassinating the Blind King and a sympath, even a half-breed canNOT be trusted, can they? Read the book to see how Ward resolves the stories - can Wrath and Beth come to terms, will Rehvenge and Ehlena find true love, where the assassination plot leads and what exactly are Lash and the Lessening Society upto?

Wrt the sympath question posed before, I have to say I'm still clueless. All I gathered from this book was that sympaths fed off emotions preferably the sinful ones (and what? no idea), and they have a decided predilection for scorpions and spiders. But, let's just say for the purposes of this book that sympath = ehvil (heh) and leave it at that.

I really liked all the action in this book, first since it plays catch up with the old stories - Wrath and Beth for example. Wrath suddenly accepting his Kingship had always seemed too good to be true so I loved the continuation of his story arc here.

I liked the real-world conundrum the Lessening Society is facing, apparently being humongously evil AND a son of the Omega is not enough in the material world. Lash has to struggle to make money to supply his people with decent weapons, hideouts, bling and sexy cars. He hits upon the perfect solution, getting into the drug business, but that slowly infringes upon Rehvenge's territory and before he knows it the vampires have been clued to his return.

John Matthew, Blaylock and Qhuinn have minor roles but we do spend some time with John Matthew and his love for Xhex. I must say, I didnt like JM ever since he was introduced, first he was all angsty and whiny, though I was able to tolerate him in LE mainly because he seemed to have matured a bit. Well, here he slides down that slippery slope into tiresomeness, nohbuddy luuurves me. He does fit right into the Brotherhood (pre-marriage) though.

What I didnt care much for was the Rehvenge-Ehlena track. Rehv in all the previous books was a hard core character, seemingly conscienceless, filled with self-loathing for himself over the blackmailing bit contrasted with being extremely protective towards his family ... let's go for tormented, yup he's a tormented hero - my favorite kind.

With Ehlena he suddenly becomes a total mushy sap all I-love-yous and I-want-to-serve-yous and sentimental phone convos in a matter of minutes. Not that it wasn't sweet, but it took some time for me to reconcile the amethyst-eyed mohawked drug lord who kills people without compunction with the gooey pillow talk. And that Ehlena, that upright figure in the vampire community accepts him warts (hmm maybe I should be saying barb :) and all.

The h/h feeling they're not good enough for each other is my least favorite theme in romance, and Ehlena and Rehv go quite a few times around this particular bush. The other reason is I didnt care much for Ehlena, she felt like an amalgam of all the earlier heroines Beth, Mary except she can handle her way around a gun. Though I did like the way she dealt with her father's illness, at one point she walks him through a new house so that his fears of intruders are minimised once he sees security cameras around.

I think Ward should move out of finding women for her heroes from the social outcasts. Surely, there's scope for someone from the glymera to have an HEA too.

Phury still being Primale stumped me, in LE he refused the joy of being sole sperm donor to the Chosen. Why does he keep the title? Looks to me just like another way to keep poor Phury away from the house (heh, I like how ever since LE he's forever become poor Phury in my mind) ...

And even though I like Xhex's character (being the sole alpha female in the series) I didnt like the kidnap motif being used again. Additionally, is it just me, or does the war between the lessers and the vampires seems like it's on a never-ending track. Not much happens in this book, the vampires basically doing their own thing and Lash his own until they intersect at the climax and I'd like to see more concrete developments happening with this in the next few books.

And of course, new characters are introduced here and I have the sinking feeling that they might have their own books coming out soon.

Will I keep reading? You bet. I'm hooked onto this series and wasn't much bothered with only a sprinkling of romance because of all the other fun stuff. The thing that might prove a problem for me is the suspicion that there is no concrete story arc for the entire series.

I learnt some new slang though - fidiot (Ward's short form for effing idiot), now where shall I use it first? :D

Series Order

1. Dark Lover
2. Lover Eternal
3. Lover Awakened
4. Lover Revealed
5. Lover Unbound
6. Lover Enshrined
7. Lover Avenged
8. Lover Mine - to be released 2010

WHY - part 2!!!!!!

If you remember my first anguished post was about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I did buy the book and even enjoyed it. Though that was because of the novelty of the idea and hey, zombies are kinda cute!!

But, apparently the Jane Austen canon is not to be left in peace. We now have .... wait for it ...

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters!!!!!

That's IT!! I'm not going to read anymore of these books, much less spend any of my hard earned money on them.

If you want more WTH moments, go to Amazon and type the sense and sensibility title above and take a peek at the second book in the list. The title includes Mr. Darcy and Vampyre ......

Tag time!

Thank you so much Avdi for the award below

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Angel's Flight

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

Rating: 3.75 / 5

Having had ample experience with the preceeding Harry Potter films and my own reactions to them, this time I was completely prepared. Which means that I did not read the book right before I went to watch, doing this always seems to endanger my blood vessels, and so come Wednesday I was all antsy and excited to watch David Yates' latest version of my favorite fantasy series.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (HBP) starts out very strong. In a brilliant sequence, we see that with Lord Voldemort gaining strength and support, the war in the wizarding world has been brought even to the Muggles, innocents dying as the Death Eaters go on a rampage in London after kidnapping the wizard Olivander from Diagon Alley.

Even Hogwarts, with the greatest wizard as Headmaster, is to be affected. For the first time, the students see Dumbledore and their teachers take strong precautions against the Death Eaters. It seems that Lord Voldemort, with the rout at the Ministry fresh in his mind, has decided to lay low until he can get Dumbledore out of the picture. And, Harry is convinced that this part at Hogwarts is to be played by none other than his bete noire Draco Malfoy with the help of Professor Snape.

As Harry protests Draco's complicity to anyone who can listen (but wont), events at Hogwarts go on as usual. There is Ron's budding romance with classmate Lavender, Quidditch matches, Hermione's bubbling anger at Ron and a newly discovered love interest in Ginny. And at Potions, after finding a used text book singed ominously 'the property of the Half-Blood Prince' it seems that Harry turns into Potioner extraordinaire impessing the new Potions teacher Professor Slughorn (Jim Broadbent, brilliant!).

But, amidst all the confusion of a year at Hogwarts, Dumbledore has not forgotten the war they are fighting and after the lessons learned in the previous year decides to share everything he knows about Voldemort with Harry, ultimately uncovering the secret of how Voldemort was able to survive the curse on that fatal night. Voldemort used a rare magic called a Horcrux to split his soul into 7 parts and spirit them in hidden locations. Dumbledore has been destroying Horcruxes as he finds them - one is the book which Harry destroyed in the Chamber of Secrets and the second is a ring belonging to Voldemort's parents. Dumbledore takes Harry on a mission to unearth a new Horcrux and it is on this night that all the events run together leading to the final showdown at Hogwarts.

HBP is all that the Order of the Phoenix tried to be a year ago and didnt quite come close. It 's dark, grim and much suitable for an older audience than the first few movies targetted. And a very good thing is that the kids have clearly evolved into better actors with age. This movie was the first one where I didnt cringe at the anomaly between the dialogues and the emoting. Even Michael Gambon as Dumbledore getting into the skin of his character this time around and delivering a wonderful performance. And as I swore that this review wouldnt be a litany of -but in the book- I'm quite prepared to ignore all the plot elements missing (though I have to point out the prop FAIL over the ring Horcrux which looked undestroyed) and come out and say that I quite enjoyed it.

If there is any fault it lies in the pacing, the writers and director not quite getting the tension right; Rowling does this so well in her book, we are treated to tantalising glimpses of Voldemort, alongwith the atmosphere of menace at the school with all the attempted assassinations of Dumbledore and Malfoy's creeping all culminating in the final showdown. A showdown which left everyone reading the book stunned and numb and me reading in a haze of tears. Let's just say that the movie doesnt deliver any such climax. Expecting to bawl my eyes out, I was hideously underwhelmed. And I was so irritated with the last scene given to Snape, I wanted Rickman roaring out 'DONT CALL ME A COWARD' to Harry, no such luck (boo, script FAIL?)

Instead we are treated to numerous reels of Ron-won's adolescent hormones, Hermione's angst and Ginny and Harry mooning around each other. Maybe it illustrates that these are teenagers but I would have been happier if a lot of the other material relating to Voldemort (a spooky Hero Fiennes-Tiffin and creepy Frank Dillane, both amazing!) or even Draco (a wonderfully tormented Tom Felton) or the criminally underused Professor Snape (the always brilliant Alan Rickman) were included instead of being slashed away. I do not grudge Rupert Grint his few moments on screen, he is pretty hilarious. As for the climactic battle, probably there was no time, but I'm also tempted to think that the director didn't want another wand battle ala Phoenix. After all, there's only so much you can do with fighting by pointing a stick.

But, the movie finally alienated me with it's final lines. As Harry, Hermione and Ron mull over events of the year, and regret that things which didnt make sense at the time should have been better interpreted, Harry should have been filled with despair over the tragic loss that occurs at the end in this movie. Instead we fade out with the three of them laughing over the image of Harry and Ginny snogging in front of older brother Ron. Life does go on, but, amidst the levity it's obvious that the movie versions of these characters are just transparent shadows of their richly characterized and rendered written counterparts.

And that, dear reader, is just another way of saying watch the movie because it is Harry Potter but read the book for the story that people love - that is if you haven't done so already.

Food tradition and everything is better with cake.

Growing up we had many food traditions in our family - festivals had specific menus, fasts had their own food items being prepared and on the weekends we ate meat. All of the traditions have very pleasant associations for me, but the ones that really take me back are Sunday lunches. Just thinking of Sunday lunch brings to mind sleeping in, my mom's chicken whistling away in the pressure cooker, dad's vegetable market shopping and endless Sunday morning TV programming. Sunday lunches were the mealtime we most lingered over, we ate meals together every night but the carefreeness of a Sunday always made the time spent together that much more special.

After moving out, I was determined to have certain food traditions of my own. Of course, Sunday mornings aren't the same anymore. I have to clean the house, shop for groceries and then do those endless mounds of laundry which only double in size once one takes a wary eye off them. A huge meal is the last thing I want to spend the time preparing in between all the work. But, lazy as I am, I do have certain food traditions and I hope to expand on these as I grow better with managing my time. The things I do faithfully every year are besan laddoos for Diwali and christmas cake for Christmas.

Christmas reminds me of heading out to my friend Tea's house to be regaled with christmas cake, rose cookies and homemade wine. The cake I bake is Tea's mom's recipe. I love it, the recipe itself is fabulous, but it carries with it a host of fun-filled memories of two immature, giggling teens who thought the world was their oyster.

Last Saturday I woke up with baking on my mind. Not surprising since it is the middle of the year, the time when I start preparations for my cake in December. So, I took 1 cup of mixed dry fruits - raisins, figs, cherries, strawberries and soaked them in a mix of brandy and kirsch. I've experimented with sherry too, but love the brandy-soaked fruits best. This year I added some kirsch, a cherry brandy, to mix it up a bit. The fruits sit in the refrigerator soaking up all the boozy goodness, I just need to top them off from time to time if the level of brandy goes below the fruit line.

It's a little unsatisfying to wake up thinking of warm, freshly baked cake and make preparations for something 6 months hence. So, I baked this Blueberry Coffee Cake later in the day. I think it's a perfect recipe, the butter quantities reduced drastically and substituted with oil and yogurt and the sugar level being very low just sweet enough to curb cravings and no more. And it still makes a wonderfully moist cake, a bit denser than normal but very satisfying with little bursts of blueberries as an added surprise. I forgot to click pictures before I cut into the cake, but here's what was left after the initial raid.

The coffee cake recipe has given me some ideas for modifying the original recipe to create a lower fat, slightly healthier Christmas cake and I'll be posting the recipe come December, when I try it out!

But, that brings me to the question I wanted to ask .... do you have any food traditions you follow/ would love to start in your home? Or do you have a favorite food memory to share?

Book Series Favorites I - Romance

As the majority of people landing on this site land on one of my series reviews, I thought I'd rehash a post from That Other Site with a list of Book Series Recommendations. I'm going to post per genre and of course I'm starting with romance :)

There are many reasons why I love a good book series- sinking into the familiarity of a well-known world, being able to follow the stories of all the characters I've become attached to and the freedom a series allows authors to completely develop their characters after establishing their world in the first couple of books. With any series, I get very anal about reading them in perfect order but of course many dont require it. I will list those which absolutely require reading in order.

The list below are in descending order of my favorites. The pictures are for the first book of every series. And lastly if you have any other reccos please do mention them! I'm always on the lookout for my next read.

The Black Dagger Brotherhood Series - JR Ward
Probably the newest addition to my list, but when I tell you that 90% of page hits per day are for my review on this series you can see how popular it is. Currently, a 7 book series, the genre is paranormal romance. In Caldwell, New York, there is an elite group of vampires called the Black Dagger Brotherhood, devoted to protecting their race from evil undead vampire slayers the lessers. Each book in the series follows the romances of one of the Brothers. My review linked above goes through the first 6 books in greater detail, but I have to add here about the addicting nature of these books. They're wonderful and that the series shot immediately to the top of my list should also tell you something. Read this in order folks!!

In Death Series - Nora Roberts writing as J.D. Robb

A futuristic romance thriller series we follow the relationship of Lieutenant Eve Dallas and her husband Roarke as a backdrop to Eve's investigations as a homicide detective in New York of the future. While this series has a mix of genres I like to classify it under romance because the characters and their relationships are center stage here with sci-fi and thriller lite elements. That being said Ms. Roberts does not shy away from any gory aspects so readers should be prepared. A very believable and fun future vision, Robert's strengths- very likeable secondary characters, punchy conversations and a dash of romance makes this a very fun read. Roberts is such a prolific writer, that the series reader can rest happy knowing that this is a series with a huge backlist to keep them occupied for months and with no end in sight in the near future. Reading in order is not strictly needed, but the characters relationships do develop over the course of the books and it's recommended.

Outlander Series - Diana Gabaldon
This is a time travel romance and contains the strongest start to a series in this list. Outlander follows time traveller Claire Randall, a nurse at the end of the second world war who is inadvertently hurtled back in time to the Scotland of the 17th century, mistaken for an English spy and meets the love of her life with Scotsman Jamie Fraser. Ms. Gabaldon's strengths are the amounts of historical research she includes in her novels and a shattering of some myths of romance writing. The series picks up the characters once they are well into their forties and Ms. Gabaldon manages to keep things extremely interesting between them. I love the first 2 books, the rest make for interesting reading. I dont think I have done justice to this series with this paltry description, so look out for reviews very soon :) Read in order.

Earth Children series - Jean M. Auel
A prehistoric romance series, the story follows Ayla a Cro-Magnon baby, who has been brought up by a clan of Neanderthals. Auel creates an amazingly rich and varied prehistoric world for her characters and I love the series for it's detail and freshness. The freshness is a little lost with the latter books but the first three are well worth the read. A detailed review can be found linked above. Again, one of those order bound series.

Looking at this list I just realized there's no representation of my favorite romance novel form - the historical romance! I think it's because it's very difficult to keep a series fresh in historicals. Certainly the ones I've read have run into one another after a few books. But, since I cannot NOT mention a few, I'm going to list a couple of reads.

The first is not a series but a list of connected books by the incomparable Georgette Heyer - The Black Moth, These Old Shades (story of Duke of Avon and Leonie), Devil's cub (Vidal, Avon's son and Mary's story) and An Infamous Army (with Vidal's granddaughter and a character from Regency Buck). The relation between The Black Moth and TOS is explained in my reviews linked above.

The second historical recco (I hope it develops into a series, even though there's only one book published so far) is for author Jennifer Haymore's debut A Hint of Wicked. Since it contained one of my favorite romance themes- the love triangle- I knew it would be an interesting read. What raised it above the ordinary for me was the amount of angst in the story and I loooove some good heart-wrenching Angst.

Sophie, the Duchess of Calton, has lost her childhood sweetheart Garrett at the Battle of Waterloo. After seven long years Garrett is declared dead and she marries Tristan, Garrett's cousin, best friend and heir. Sophie and Tristan get over their loss and start building a life together when all of a sudden Garrett returns and he wants everything back, starting with Sophie. But, Sophie is now at a loss since she loves both her husbands but in different ways entirely and cannot choose between them. I was a bit anxious towards the end, because the nature of a love triangle is that one person doesn't get a HEA and the author has created some lovely characters - I was rooting for all of them. But a short teaser for the next book that Ms. Haymore is writing, titled A Touch of Scandal, and set 4 months after the events of the last has me waiting with bated breath for it to be published.

So, that's all folks. The next installment will be for Fantasy with a couple of sci-fi reccos.

Which Austen heroine are you?

I am Anne Elliot!

Take the Quiz here!

OMG!!! Persuasion is my favorite Austen (of course, I didnt skew my answers so I would be Anne!!!) and the movie version with Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds absolutely adorable .... Capt. Wentworth's letter to Anne remains etched in my brain, it's so romantic!

You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago.
So, which one are you?

Summer temptations!

Wikipedia says

Cheese curds are the fresh curds of cheese, often cheddar.

Illuminating?? Let's just say that cheese curds taste like cheddar with the gooey stringiness of mozzarella and deep fried cheese curds is the reason this Minnesotan tries to diet the rest of the year round.

Mmmm cheese .....

Though I am trying to control myself from diving head first into the rest of what constitutes Minnesotan summer state fair food - all things on a stick. So you do get the ordinary corn dogs, but you can also get pizzas on a stick, meatballs on a stick, pork chops on a stick, candy bars on a stick (after they've been stuck in batter and fried), twinkies on a stick and even alligators on a stick.

Let's see how long I hold out!!

What summer food are you completely unable to resist??

Review: The Other Queen

Rating: 3 / 5

The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory is the story of Mary Queen of Scots one of the most romantic historical figures in Tudor history. The tale is told after an uprising by the Scottish lords against Queen Mary and her third husband Lord Bothwell (who plotted the murder of her second husband Herny Stuart, Lord Darnley) and Mary having been forced to abdicate the Scottish throne in favour of her son James I, has fled to her cousin Queen Elizabeth I of England for assistance.

Instead of restoring Mary to the throne of Scotland immediately, Elizabeth I and her steward William Cecil, fearing Mary's popularity with the English public and her claim to England's throne, ask the Earl of Shrewsbury and his newly married wife Bess of Hardwick to serve as her hosts until the court can decide what to do with her.

And so the book follows 3 POV's, Mary Stuart's, George Talbot the Earl of Shrewsbury and Bess, Countess of Shrewsbury, herself much married to improve her lot in life, from being the daughter of a humble farmer to the wife of one of the foremost earls of England.

The three years (1569-1572) which the book covers, go over a few plots to depose Queen Elizabeth - from the Northern uprising, to the Ridolfi plot and the execution for treason of the Duke of Norfolk who is pledged to marry Mary.

But, the more interesting portion of these years in Ms. Gregory's novel is the relationship between the three principals. George falls in love with Mary, while being slowly bankrupted by the cost of hosting her and her court, while his wife Bess can only helplessly watch on. It is these three peoples hopes and disappointments in each other that form the major portion of Ms. Gregory's story until the end with Mary being beheaded after being Shrewsbury's prisoner for 16 years.

Being very interested in Tudor history, I snapped up this book as soon as I saw it. I have not read much about the reign of Elizabeth I and since much of it was new, I was quite entertained.

However, once the three principals have their introductory chapters and we are presented with the central ideas - Mary the sacred and anointed Queen, Bess and her struggles to raise herself from poverty and her love of money and the property she has inherited and George being the man of honor conflicted between Mary and his wife and the Queen who commands his loyalty, I don't think I learned much from having the separate POV's. Mary and Bess are both certainly very interesting characters but I think Ms. Gregory missed the chance of exploring their characters completely.

From Ms. Gregory's account, Queen Mary is a tragically romantic figure. Stunningly beautiful and charming she is able to rally countless men willing to risk their lives in her cause. Mary herself is at the center of most of the plots and while being sly enough to spin various conspiracies, I thought her view that her person was sacred and could never be harmed, just because she was a Queen was remarkably naive. Certainly Tudor England had more than enough examples for her to be wary. Look at Henry the 8th's six wives (Mary's uncle, Elizabeth's father) - one queen discarded until she died of loneliness, two beheaded, one set aside because the king didnt fancy her and one dying in childbirth.

Ms. Gregory's Tudor novels have gained some notoriety because she often propounds theories which are different from other historians. I didnt like The Other Boleyn Girl for the same reasons. But, this time as far as I can make out there are no deviations, Shrewsbury being in love the sole small one, since it is not acknowledged as historical fact. I wonder if that is why the book, while being a good enough read, is sadly flat.

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