Tag Archives: love

Review: DYING WISH by Shannon K. Butcher

I just finished Shannon K. Butcher’s DYING WISH, the sixth novel in the Sentinel Wars series. I think it may be the best so far. (I can’t say for sure, since I haven’t read Paul and Andra’s story.) Butcher pulled me into the story with the first sentence and didn’t let me go until the last.

Previously, I reviewed the first book in the series, BURNING ALIVE. While I enjoyed that book a lot (obviously, since I’ve since read most of the series), I wasn’t entirely happy with the emotional blackmail that results from the way the world is structured. (Theronai women must siphon off the energy their bonded mates automatically accumulate, or the men will eventually die. They’re faced with a “choice” of bond with the man that is their physical match, or sentence him to an agonizing death.)


This is an amplification of two old, and effective tropes. Romance novels have long featured relationships where the woman must surrender to a more powerful force, whether it’s a dominating man, or economic compulsion. That’s one of the aspects of paranormal romances that is so effective: non-human characters often have biological compulsions that override choice, or raise the stakes on the choice of whom to love and when. The characters are drawn together against their will. It’s a new take on the arranged/forced marriage plot.

The second trope, an essential one, is that of the healing power of love. In the best romances the couple doesn’t just learn to love each other. Their love brings about their transformation and healing. The individuals give up their self-focused perspective, and the whole of their union becomes greater than the sum of their individual desires.

All of this comes together to make DYING WISH a smashing good read. Butcher does a fantastic job of creating characters (both of whom were introduced in previous books) who are broken but unbowed. They’re both strong, but they’ve been holding it together by themselves for so long that they can’t see they need the other to be whole again. They don’t even think it’s possible to be whole again.

Butcher forces her characters to deal with a horrendous dilemma. She did such a great job of writing her protagonists into a corner that despite the genre demands for a “happily ever after” ending, I doubted the outcome. The solution made an interesting kind of sense, and I’m looking forward to the fallout in subsequent books in the series.


Shannon K. Butcher was a guest of honor two years ago at TusCon Science-Fiction Convention in Tucson, AZ. This year’s guest of honor is S.M. Stirling.


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Chapter Two

“Hello?”  Beth said into the telephone, then sighed as the perky soft rock resumed.  She was on hold again.

When Ell had collapsed two days ago, the ambulance crew had taken her forty-five minutes away, to the emergency room at the nearest hospital.  The doctor said Ell and the baby were fine, but she should take it easy for a while.  So while Ellie sequestered herself in her room, Beth worked off the invitation list for the wedding reception, calling everyone to let them know about Chris’s death.  It was an awful job, breaking the news to old friends, but it would be even worse for her sister to do it.

More. . . .

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Free Will is Sexy

Tell me you want me. Love me.  Need me. Mean it. But not too soon, or too easily.

That’s part of what makes a romance work.  The struggle to connect.  In “Why Isn’t Free Will Sexy” I wrote about a current trend in paranormal romance that I’d noticed, the physical compulsion of the protagonists to come together, a biological need so great that one or both of their lives hang in the balance.  I had a problem with authors creating what I felt was a false choice to love.  If the object of your desire is desired because of extreme chemistry, and will die if you don’t commit to him or her, is it really a freely made choice?

Posed like that, the answer has to be no.  But I’ve since read more in this sub-sub-genre and I’ve come to the conclusion that the characters in these books have as much freedom of choice as most real people do.  They resist the urgent demands of their bodies, pulling back from the almost drugging influence of the partner’s presence and wait to make the commitment that will change their lives.  Of course, this delay, this URST (unresolved sexual tension) is what drives traditional (not erotic) romance and makes the culmination, the consummation, so satisfying.  It’s no secret that the pattern of traditional romance mirrors the pattern of female sexual arousal.

There’s more to this pattern than sexual arousal, however.  The life and death need for the right partner is a literal representation of a basic tenet of the romance genre, that love heals and transforms the beloved, and that giving love is transformative as well.  The alchemy of freely giving and receiving love makes us whole, and that love is as essential to life as air and water.

Central to these stories is the inevitability of love.  We know going in there will be a Happily Ever After. (We are talking about romances after all.)  No matter how you try to avoid it, once you step in it, there’s no getting it off your shoe.  This trope wouldn’t be so satisfying if we didn’t have a deep cultural belief that when you find the One, you’ll know.  No matter how you struggle, resistance is futile.

Does that undercut free will?  I don’t think so.  Freedom of choice really only applies to what actions a person or a character takes.  No matter what they feel, the characters still choose how and when to act.  (Or at least the author chooses. :-))

Some neuroscientists believe free will is an illusion created by our brains.  Society needs us to believe in free will and the consequences of choice, however, so we pretty much have to go with it.  But fiction has to make more sense than real life.That’s why we tell ourselves stories:  to reinforce the big Truths.

Love makes us stronger.  If we let it.


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Winning the Genre Wars

There’s a line in the 1993 movie Demolition Man that tells us that in the future all restaurants are Taco Bell — they won the restaurant wars.  I’d like to suggest that romance is already winning the genre war.

I’m not saying that every book or movie or play is, or will be, a romance.  (To be a true romance the relationship has to be central, and there has to be a happily-ever-after (HEA) ending for the couple.  Not necessarily marriage, but an optimistic or happy-for-now conclusion.)  But look around.  Romance is an element in almost every form of entertainment out there. Even in traditionally male oriented action/adventure dominated by explosions and car chases there’s often a love interest.  In the Bond movies, where Bond is a love ’em and leave ’em kind of guy, one lucky girl always wins an all expenses paid holiday with Bond at the end of the adventure.  Love, even temporary love, is seen as a reward.

Hugh MacLeod, cartoonist and author, expresses a sentiment on one of his fine art prints that I really like: “A story without love is not worth the telling.”  He’s not referring only to romantic love, but it’s certainly included.

We’re wired to connect.  We need community and we need a sanctuary where we can take refuge from the wild world, where we can feel safe.  For many of us that sanctuary is a loving relationship.  There’s a reason online dating services are so successful.  No wonder romance is winning the genre wars.


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Poetry Monday: Love this Life by David Culiner

I bought a lovely soft t-shirt when I was on vacation last May.  On it was printed the manifesto of Love this Life, by David Culiner.  It feels a little new agey, like the Desiderata, but it contains ideas that I’ve long held and still struggle to implement in my own life.

Love this Life
is about celebrating the moment
and that we’re not guaranteed
or owed another day

My dad survived a heart attack when I was nine.  For the next eight years or so I thought he could die at any time. (He lived to eighty-six – yay!)  When I was a teen I passed out from lack of oxygen during a serious asthma attack.  More recently, I’ve had eight friends my own age or younger pass away (I’m not that old :-)).  So while I’m not morbid (much) I’m very aware of the temporary nature of life.

. . . it’s never too late
to pick up a guitar or a paintbrush
or to make an amend or to make a new friend.

I really appreciate the sentiments expressed by Culiner.  Don’t waste a moment.  Live Life!


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Poetry Monday: The Tale of Tinuviel by J.R.R. Tolkien

J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy had a HUGE impact on me.  I read them the first time at age eleven, and it was a qualifying question for my boyfriends when I began dating:  “Have you read LOTR?” (At the time we met, my husband had read it seven times — more than my mere four times.)

Yes, I am a geek.

For today’s poem I decided to refresh my memory of the tale of Tinuviel and Beren, son of Barahir.  It’s been many years since I read the trilogy, and I was a little surprised to find how much poetry Tolkien had included in the first half.  You can hardly read twenty pages without finding another verse.

The tale, as it appears in The Fellowship of the Ring, is told in an abreviated form by Strider as he and the Hobbits camp on Weathertop.  Beren escaped the disastrous battle with the Great Enemy where his father was killed and came to the hidden kingdom of Thingol, where he saw Tinuviel.

Enchantment healed his weary feet
That over hills were doomed to roam;
And forth he hastened, strong and fleet,
And grasped at moonbeams glistening.
Through woven woods in Elvenhome
She lightly fled on dancing feet,
And left him lonely still to roam
In the silent forest listening. . . .

Beren looks for her everywhere, and then in the spring he sees her again.

Again she fled, but swift he came.
Tinúviel! Tinúviel!
He called her by her elvish name;
And there she halted listening.
One moment stood she, and a spell
His voice laid on her: Beren came,
And doom fell on Tinúviel
That in his arms lay glistening. . . .

I like this tale despite the usual aura of loss that surrounds Elven/mortal pairings.  The hoary old romantic trope of (one-sided) love at first sight works well here.  Beren’s sorrowful heart is lifted at the sight of the beautiful Tinuviel, and though he doesn’t know her, he faithfully searches for her until they’re reunited.  Initially relucant, Tinuviel softens when he calls her Nightengale in the elvish tongue.

. . . Tinuviel the elven-fair,
Imortal maiden elven-wise,
About him cast her shadowy hair
And arms like silver glimmering.

Though it’s not included in the poem, Tinuviel later rescues Beren, and together they do what armies failed at, casting down the Great Enemy and recovering one of the three Silmarils.  Yet even in their triumph, tragedy strikes, and Beren is killed.  They have to wait for the afterlife for their Happily Ever After (but not, aparently, for the consumation of their love, since Aragorn and Elrond both are descended from them).

. . . And long ago they passed away
In the forest singing sorrowless.


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Why Isn’t Free Will Sexy?

I just finished Shannon K. Butcher‘s paranormal romance Burning Alive, the first book of her  “Sentinel Wars” series.  (Disclosure:  Shannon and her husband Jim Butcher will be the guests of honor at TusCon, a science-fiction, fantasy, and horror convention this November, a convention for which I’m doing the programming.)

I enjoyed the book and went to Amazon right after finishing it to put another of the series in my shopping cart.  But I must admit there were elements that bothered me and got me thinking about whether I should be including more of them in my own writing.

The basic premise of the series is this:  In our contemporary world there are secret groups of powerful, long-lived beings (the Theronai and the Sanguinar) who are sworn to protect us humans from the monsters (the Synestryn).  The male Theronai gather energy from the environment and if they don’t find a mate to bond with who can syphon off the energy and use it to power her magic, the men’s souls eventually die.  The Sanguinar are healers, but because they power their magic by drinking the blood of others, they’re not well tolerated.

I like the complexity of the universe Shannon has created.  It’s not all straight forward good guys vs. bad guys.  But a central element of the romance gives me pause.  The bond between the Theronai hero and the heroine is largely physical.  An emotional bond does grow between them (over three days) but first and foremost is the physical need they have for each other.  Helen’s touch relieves Drake of the pain of his overabundance of magical energy, and taking it into herself (even before she knows what’s happening to her) feels really good.  They hunger for the other’s touch.

I could get all English Lit. major on this and talk about how this is symbolic of our primal need to connect with others, to belong in a greater social context.  I could talk about how it’s representational of the biochemistry of falling in love.  But let’s not.

This trope of being swept away against our will is a common one in the romance genre.  The physical component isn’t unique either.  C.L. Wilson also uses the concept of having the hero’s life depend on complete bonding with his one and only soul-mate in her Tairen Soul series.

Can’t you just hear an obsessed lover shouting, “I’ll die without you!”  In real life, wouldn’t that give you the creeps?

But Romance isn’t real life, and it’s not meant to be.  It’s fantasy.  It’s wish fulfillment.  And that’s probably the key.  We like the idea of being important to someone.  Of being needed and valued.  This trope, of having the hero’s life depend on his mate’s love and commitment, is symbolic of that.

Shannon does give her heroine a choice — but what a choice!  Fortunately, Helen both loves Drake, and loves making love with him.  But she also knows that if she refuses him, he’ll die in agony.  Is that really a choice?


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Poetry Monday: “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes

A number of years ago, when I was studying occupational therapy, I was hired to be the eyes and ears of a woman who lived in New York City.  Her mother, Marian, was in a nursing home here in Tucson after having had a stroke that had left her paraplegic and non-verbal.  As luck would have it, I was the perfect fit for this job since I had a degree in English Lit and her mother had been an avid reader.

For the most part, in addition to making sure the staff was doing well by her, my job consisted of visiting with and reading to Marian.  Listening to poetry was one of her favorite pastimes, particularly poetry with rhythm.  My friend Jennifer Roberson had just edited an anthology inspired by “The Highwayman” (Highwaymen: Robbers & Rogues) and Alfred Noyes‘ (1880 – 1958) famous poem became one of our favorites.

The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed on cloudy seas.
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding–
Riding – riding –
The highwayman came riding up to the old inn door.

. . . Look for me by moonlight;
Watch for me by moonlight;
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way!

“The Highwayman” is a rich trove of romance, betrayal, death, and eternal love, perfect for reading aloud.


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Poetry Monday

I recently read Charles Baudelaire’s (1821-1867) “Possession.”  During his life Baudelaire was reviled for the depravity of his work and convicted on charges of obscenity.  He’s now considered one of the great poets of the 19th century.

“Possession” is one of those poems that is easy to understand the main thrust of, but requires several readings and some thought to appreciate the subtleties of the imagery.  It can be interpreted as a declaration of the poet’s obsession, but it can also be read as a tribute to the complete acceptance of love (although lust factors in there as well).

Anything goes:  sullen or submissive,/be what you will, black night, red dawn–/each nerve of my trembling body cries:/’Dear Demon with this I thee worship!’

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