Review: Skin Trade

Skin Trade (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, #17) Skin Trade by Lau­rell K. Hamilton

My review

rat­ing: 3 of 5 stars
I kept say­ing I was giv­ing up on Hamil­ton’s books, then giv­ing her just one more chance as each nov­el came out, hop­ing that at some point she’d give up the porn and write real nov­els again. With this vol­ume, the effort is final­ly vindicated.

Don’t get me wrong–there’s def­i­nite­ly sex in Skin Trade. Sex with yet more new men, even! But it does­n’t start hap­pen­ing ’til well into the book, and when it does occur there’s a lot more jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for it than at some times in the past. It’s still explic­it, and there are still like­ly to be more than two peo­ple in any giv­en bed at a time, but if any of that squicked you, you would­n’t be read­ing any of her work.

The book near­ly earned four stars, but there were a few plot holes that both­ered me too much to for­get them.

View all my reviews.

The Girl Is Better! And More Reading

That’s a relief. I was get­ting quite wor­ried. She spent most of the week­end sleep­ing or look­ing like a zom­bie, eat­ing only what Sam could coax into her, and using heat­ing pads. I’m start­ing to think that we should accept the offer to refer her to a pain man­age­ment doc­tor, if only to have some­thing she can take dur­ing a flare.

Blood NoirSo I read the lat­est Ani­ta Blake nov­el, Blood Noir. I’m not sure why I con­tin­ue to read these. Hon­est­ly, Hamil­ton is a decent writer. I enjoy her prose. She just needs to go back to plot school! Or maybe work with a co-writer who is strong on plot, but not rela­tion­ships or descriptions?

There was no plot at all for the first few hun­dred pages of the book. When some­thing involv­ing a pre­vi­ous “big bad” did hap­pen, it was noth­ing but an incon­ve­nience, and over with­in an hour of Ani­ta find­ing out about it. Whoopee. There was a cri­sis and dan­ger, of course, but I found them anti­cli­mac­tic after the vil­lains Ani­ta has van­quished in the past.

There was, of course, lots of sex. This one could have been called, “Ani­ta gets a fuck buddy.”

SunshineOh well. On to Sun­shine by Robin McKin­ley. Some­one rec­om­mend­ed it to me years ago, and I hap­pened to see McKin­ley’s name some­where and remem­bered it. I don’t think that I’ve read any of her nov­els before. Short sto­ries, maybe.

Review: Bump in the Night by J.D. Robb, et al.

cover of Bump in the Night
This para­nor­mal romance anthol­o­gy con­tains four novel­las. I’d nev­er heard of three of the authors, but I haven’t real­ly looked to see what else they’ve writ­ten, either.1 They may be well-known to romance fans. I fell into read­ing J.D. Rob­b’s books because of the sci­ence fiction/mystery angle, and did­n’t ini­tial­ly know that J.D. Robb is a pseu­do­nym for well-known romance author Nora Roberts.2 Her romances may be great, but I’m not inter­est­ed in them. I’m actu­al­ly get­ting pret­ty damned tired of the para­nor­mal romance thing, but since any­body who writes them seems to be able to get a book con­tract, I doubt they’ll stop flood­ing the mar­ket any time soon. I try to stick to the ones that have more plot than romance, but some­times it’s hard to tell where a book will fall. Lau­rell Hamil­ton, for instance, began writ­ing real­ly good dark fan­ta­sy books that got a lit­tle sexy, and now she’s writ­ing romance nov­els that hap­pen to have vam­pires and were­crit­ters in them.3

It’s often said that we read fic­tion to get more of some­thing that’s miss­ing in our lives. I’m gift­ed with a part­ner who is one of the most roman­tic, lov­ing peo­ple in this world, and, to be blunt, we have a great, um, pri­vate life, which may explain why I don’t find romances or erot­i­ca much of a draw. I don’t have many mys­ter­ies or much out-and-out adven­ture in my life (thank­ful­ly!), so I enjoy read­ing about them in fic­tion­al char­ac­ters’ lives—especially if they take place in set­tings com­plete­ly unlike my own world.

Any­way, on to the review.

The book opens with “Haunt­ed in Death” by J.D. Robb, which her read­ers will imme­di­ate­ly rec­og­nize as an Eve Dal­las sto­ry4 Robb/Roberts is a pro, and the sto­ry is a decent read. But! Is it just me, or are the Eve-Roarke fights and rec­on­cil­i­a­tions get­ting more and more bor­ing? They’re always about the same thing!

“Pop­py’s Coin” by Mary Blayney was my favorite of this anthol­o­gy. Yes, it was obvi­ous from the cou­ple’s first encounter how the rela­tion­ship would go, but that’s the way it is with the entire romance genre, isn’t it? I might actu­al­ly look for more of Blayney’s work at some point. After look­ing at her web site, I don’t think I’ll be read­ing any of her nov­els. I learned that there’s anoth­er anthol­o­gy fea­tur­ing these same four authors, Dead of Night, and that the pub­lish­er has con­tract­ed them for a third vol­ume, as yet unnamed. Blayney’s piece in the sec­ond col­lec­tion seems to be con­nect­ed with “Pop­py’s Coin,” so I’ll prob­a­bly take a look at it. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, hav­ing read this one sto­ry and the descrip­tions of her nov­els, it seems that she’s stuck in some­thing of a rut. I can’t say more with­out giv­ing spoil­ers for this sto­ry, so I’ll leave it to you to vis­it her site if you want to know more.

Ruth Ryan Lan­gan’s “The Pas­sen­ger” was okay, I guess. Maybe. Some­thing about the male pro­tag­o­nist set my teeth on edge right away, and I would have kicked his oh-so-self-assured butt out of my abode as soon as he referred to him­self by his famous moniker. Then again, I’d also tell the female lead to put on her big girl panties and get on her with life, as she comes across as way too emo for my tastes. Lan­gan needs to remem­ber to “show, not tell.” I might have giv­en her a bit of a pass in a short sto­ry, but this is a novel­la. She had plen­ty of word-count in which to show us some­thing pos­i­tive about her char­ac­ters, instead of label­ing them.

I near­ly stopped read­ing the book when I got to “Mel­low Lemon Yel­low” by Mary Kay McCo­mas. I was total­ly dis­in­ter­est­ed in read­ing about anoth­er whiny chick, right after Lan­gan’s sto­ry. I did­n’t feel any con­nec­tion at all. I fin­ished out of sheer dogged­ness, and will prob­a­bly for­get the sto­ry and the author very quick­ly. I can hope, anyway.

If you’re a com­pletist, as I am, and you read the In Death books, you’ll want to read this vol­ume. If I col­lect­ed the nov­els5, I’d buy this one used if at all pos­si­ble. As it is, I’m glad I checked it out of the library instead of invest­ing any mon­ey in it.

1 Well, I had­n’t done so before I began writ­ing this review. I looked up their web sites to link to them, obviously.

2 Well-known to romance fans, any­way. I had­n’t heard of her before read­ing the Robb books. Come to think of it, the first thing I read by Robb was anoth­er anthol­o­gy, Out of This World, which I picked up because of the Ani­ta Blake novel­la in it. That was before I real­ized that all such novel­las are real­ly the first chunk of Hamil­ton’s next nov­el, and if I read them it spoils some of the plea­sure I’d oth­er­wise find in that novel.

3 I con­sid­er the Ani­ta Blake books to be her first nov­els. That hor­rid Night­seer thing is just a bad tran­scrip­tion of some­body’s role­play­ing cam­paign. If I were Hamil­ton, I would have acquired and destroyed every copy in exis­tence, then prayed that the world would for­get about it.

4 They’re all enti­tled “(some­thing) in Death.”

5 I don’t, as I don’t antic­i­pate ever want­i­ng to re-read them.

Review: A Lick of Frost, Laurell K. Hamilton

I hon­est­ly did­n’t think Lau­rell K. Hamil­ton had it in her, but A Lick of Frost moved me to tears in spots. She man­aged real romance. I don’t even like read­ing romances, and I real­ly hate cry­ing, but I could­n’t help it. I even found a quote to keep.

A Lick of FrostI don’t want to give out any spoil­ers, espe­cial­ly since it’s quite new, but this nov­el could rea­son­ably be seen as the end to the Mer­ry Gen­try series. I believe Hamil­ton will write at least one more book, to tie up some details and bring the series to sev­en vol­umes. All of the vol­umes have been fair­ly slen­der, and Hamil­ton is a guar­an­teed cash cow, so who knows how many books there will actu­al­ly be? I could, how­ev­er, stop read­ing now.

This series is not one to start if, like me, you don’t like wait­ing for anoth­er book in order to know “what hap­pens next.” Gen­er­al­ly, I try to wait until a series is fin­ished before I begin to read it, in case it isn’t ever fin­ished. I detest cliffhang­ers, most espe­cial­ly, and Hamil­ton has indulged in several. 

Unlike most, the Mer­ry Gen­try series is good enough that I keep read­ing despite my per­son­al pref­er­ence. I’ve nev­er lost track of any impor­tant details between books, which is also strik­ing. I’d actu­al­ly like to have copies of this series to keep, as I might re-read them. In con­trast, I stopped buy­ing the Ani­ta Blake books years ago, although I would con­sid­er pick­ing up used paper­backs to accom­pa­ny those I already own just because Katie has expressed inter­est in them.

Sam is total­ly dis­in­ter­est­ed in just about any­thing hav­ing to do with vam­pires, were­wolves, or any­thing else that is too sim­i­lar to World of Dark­ness. I think it’s a reac­tion to hav­ing been so immersed in research and devel­op­ment when he worked for White Wolf, but I’ll leave him to explain it if we wish­es. He does tend to scoff at any­thing too far off the “canon,” as it were.

Since he was involved in Changeling (his favorite), I would have thought the same applied to urban fan­ta­sy con­cern­ing faery. That’s true, usu­al­ly, but he’s been drawn into the Mer­ry Gen­try books once or twice, and that’s say­ing some­thing (if only for the qual­i­ty of some sex scenes).

I know that one rea­son the Blake series has got­ten so tire­some is that sex has tak­en them over, but Hamil­ton’s attempts to make the sex part of the plot fall flat. An even big­ger one is Ani­ta’s angst over the species and num­bers of her loves and sex part­ners. While she occa­sion­al­ly men­tions her reli­gious upbring­ing as jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, as an ani­ma­tor (one who rais­es zom­bies) she left the safe­ty of the Catholic church behind years ago. One could argue that its the­ol­o­gy left real­i­ty behind, but in any case, her life is per­me­at­ed by and depends on mag­ic that is bound up in reli­gion, but her overt reli­gious beliefs no longer match her real­i­ty or how she’s tru­ly living. 

I don’t even like to include the books in that short list of those that tru­ly deal with polyamory, due to the fact that Ani­ta has been so guilt-rid­den and unhap­py (until the last book or two), while con­tin­u­ing to fol­low her crotch (okay, the mag­ic, if you believe Hamil­ton, but seriously…).

Mered­ith Gen­try nev­er has that prob­lem. It is unfor­tu­nate that Hamil­ton has to reach into an imag­i­nary cul­ture to depict peo­ple who are com­fort­able with their sex­u­al­i­ty, includ­ing mul­ti­ple sex­u­al part­ners, but at least she has done so. There is still an annoy­ing “I must pick only one!” theme, but it is made clear that Mer­ry is being forced into such a choice by rel­a­tive­ly recent Sid­he custom—not her heart or her con­science. She repeat­ed­ly stress­es, in her inter­ac­tions with humans, that she has absolute­ly no shame about her lifestyle, and that the Sid­he have very dif­fer­ent ideas about such things than humans do.

I espe­cial­ly appre­ci­ate the repeat­ed theme of accept­ing diver­si­ty and appre­ci­at­ing beau­ty in every­one. “Every­one” nev­er goes to far as to includ­ing, for instance, fat peo­ple, but there don’t seem to be any of those in fairy. Her lovers are all ter­ri­bly beau­ti­ful, even the half-Gob­lin and half-Slu­agh, but she express­ly does not reject those who are scarred or “dif­fer­ent” because of their her­itage or expe­ri­ences. There is over­much atten­tion to descrip­tion of appear­ances for my tastes, espe­cial­ly details of every char­ac­ter’s cloth­ing, but that seems to be all too com­mon in any­thing with any focus on rela­tion­ships these days (or I’m just notic­ing it more—was it always there?)

While there’s still a lot of sex, the rea­sons for the abun­dance of sex and vari­ety of part­ners has been inte­grat­ed into the Gen­try plot from square one. Despite that, it does­n’t feel like the sex scenes take over the books. Any­one with the least bit of prud­ery should still stay away from the series com­plete­ly, of course, but that’s made clear on the cov­ers and in the excerpts on the book flaps. Nobody who has ever picked up a Lau­rell K. Hamil­ton book in the last five years, at least, has any excuse for claim­ing naÏveté if he finds the con­tent too racy!