17 October, 2014

September Review Recap

Wow- is October really wrapping up? It's been hard to find reading time lately, as evidenced by the list below...

Lie By Midnight by Amanda Quick

Unexpected Interruptions by Trice Hickman

The Game and the Governess by Kate Noble

When A Stranger Loves Me by Julieanne MacLean

The Luckiest Lady in London by Sherry Thomas

No graphic novels, no movies, just a handful of romances. I used to read that much in a weekend! Hopefully things will smooth out sooner rather than later.

08 September, 2014

August Review Recap

Oh hey, Summer - where'd YOU go?

As promised - a link up of my LITM reviews and my now vaguely insincere pledge to get more read and reviewed really, really (no, really) soon.


Romance: 

The Luckiest Lady in London by Sherry Thomas (technically a September Review but hey.)

The Collector by Nora Roberts

My Beautiful Enemy by Sherry Thomas

Three Weeks With Lady X by Eloisa James


Graphic Novels:

When I Was A Mall Model by Monica Gallagher


Film:

A Band Called Death

18 August, 2014

July Reviews Roundup

It's been a reasonably chaotic summer, but I had a few reviews up at Love In the Margins.

July Recap:


Romance:

The Hidden Blade by Sherry Thomas
The Suffragette Scandal by Courtney Milan
Seduction's Canvas by K.M. Jackson
Trapped At The Altar by Jane Feather
The Millionaire's Ultimate Catch by Michelle Monkou

Graphic Novels:

Watson And Holmes by Karl Bollers and Rick Leonardi

Uncategorized:

Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris

18 July, 2014

Review: The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew

In America it's the 4th of July, which means a fair amount of our readership is out baking in the sun and knocking back bad beer. It seems like as good a time as any to drop an unpopular review. The Shadow Hero is reclaiming an obscure Golden Age hero with the aim of exploring his never revealed origin. In short, it's an American comic book with an Asian-American lead. (File that under Rarer Than Domesticated Unicorns.) Yang and Liew are relentlessly talented. The Shadow Hero is expertly paced. Clever sight gags mix with atmospheric panels to create a constantly moving sense of space. It also tackles racism in a way that tries to be nuanced but feels recycled. The Shadow Hero's origin story is six parts Ancient Chinese Secret and four parts Mommy Issues with a dash of Fated Mate sprinkled across the top.

This graphic novel is tagged for ages 12 to 18. I'm not sure this age range will make the distinctions Yang and Liew demand. When a number of characters tell Hank he hits like a girl, providing girls who can fight doesn't erase the sexism reinforcement. Even the girl herself tells Hank he hits like a girl. She doesn't tell him he hits like a boy or that he hits without full force. (Serving as an exception isn't refuting an ism.) I gave this book to a group of teens in the targeted age range and discussed it with them afterward. None of them picked up that Yang intended three of the female characters to disprove the sexism. Several of the racist conventions being explored and subverted were new to them as well. While this was a group of primarily white teens who may not be exposed to the same racist concepts as others, it made me consider if The Shadow Hero is appropriately targeted. My take on the use of Tongs and secret gambling dens might be different if the book was aimed at an adult readership. 

yellow face postcards are arranged randomly over a map backdrop
I was also disappointed that Hank's growth involves completely changing who he is. When we meet him he's a pacifist longing for a simple life of domesticity. Hank greatly admires his father, a man who prefers simple sober living to warfare. His mother dreams of different things, and it is her vision of Hank that prevails, despite her being the distant and less obviously loving parent. Hank strives to keep her attention and in doing so becomes the opposite of who he once wanted to be. The book doesn't leave this for the reader to judge. The text continually reinforces that a pacifist life is for cowards. Everyone successful in The Shadow Hero lives a life of violence or fear. Hank's longing for tranquility is exposed as an unworthy goal.

A green masked superhero fights with an asian woman before they recognize each other All of that aside, I still consider The Shadow Hero a must read book. The send up of some superhero conventions are pitch perfect. The characters, aside from the Fated Mate, are individual and fully imagined. Hank's story, as well as those of his parents, is emotionally compelling. His mother's frustrated dreams, arising as much from her own poor choices as from fate, are heartbreaking in their effect on Hank's future. I wish Yang and Lieu had imagined an origin story with less Dragon Ladies and more innovation, but taking The Shadow Hero as a whole it's worth investigating. When I closed the book I didn't feel the need for the story to continue but I was glad I'd experienced it.

*This review originally appeared at Love In The Margins.

08 May, 2014

Review: Hush by Carey Baldwin

(NOTE: Between writing this review and posting it the author has corrected the Amazon page to reflect that it is a reissued work. However in the weeks between this review posting on LITM and being transferred here, no further changes have been made. What I originally pointed out at Amazon remains the case on her webpage, Kobo, B&N and iTunes. Make of that what you will.)

I DNF'd Carey Baldwin's Hush for reasons that didn't have much to do with the story. One of my absolute hottest buttons is a rewritten work issued without disclosure. When George Lucas takes his fiftieth pass at Star Wars you generally know going in that he's swapped some stuff up. There's an implicit consent involved. While Baldwin has extensively reworked her limited release anthology tale Solomon's Wisdom, there is enough of the prior story left that I went from "This seems weirdly familiar" to "I've read this before". At that point I didn't want to continue. My consent for that experience had not been solicited.
I get that Solomon's Wisdom had a very limited audience. Most readers are not going to hit the same wall. I also understand the choice to market Hush as new material given the additional work put into it. I simply disagree. So, if you've read Solomon's Wisdom and give your consent to checking out Hush, let me know how it goes. (I stopped at the point where her brother-in-law bursts through the door.)
Hush is a romantic suspense dealing lightly with domestic violence. Anna is the girl next door, the quiet librarian with a spine of steel. Charlie is the former soldier turned medic haunted by their shared childhood. A death from the past and a death from the present intertwine, potentially placing Anna and her elder sister in danger. There was a lot I liked about Solomon's Wisdom that I still liked in Hush. While I found both Anna and Charlie to have cases of arrested development, I appreciated their honest communication. Both want to understand how their past created their present. Anna is proactive in her sexuality and her boundaries. Baldwin has a straightforward style that will work for a reader or it won't. I felt the same way about Charlie and Anna halfway through Hush as I did at the end of Solomon's Wisdom. Neither of them became more than pieces on the game board. If they won or lost was less important than turning the page and seeing where they went next.
Hush was supposed to be my second swing at Baldwin's work but I think I'm out. I like her working class settings (even with the advanced degrees) and everyday problems, but she didn't fully capture me with either version of Anna and Charlie's reunion. Baldwin is worth checking out but not an author I'm planning to follow.

* This review originally appeared at Love In The Margins.

05 May, 2014

Review: A Girl From Flint by Treasure Hernandez

A Girl From Flint was fascinating in all the wrong ways but ultimately a completely satisfying read. I don't understand Urban Books. While they're shelved in the romance section most of the ones I've read have very few romantic elements. As Ridley said on Twitter "EVERY BOOK YOU LIKE WITH SEX IN IT THAT ENDS WITH THE CHARACTERS TOGETHER ISN'T A ROMANCE NOVEL." A Girl From Flint is absolutely not a romance, although it has a number of elements familiar from Romantic Suspense. Treasure Hernandez has taken that model and used it to construct a morality play. Although Tasha doesn't die, it's certainly a book intent on showing us the wages of sin are death.
It's hard to take Urban Books seriously. Between the slang and the stereotypical portrayal of black life, they read like the worst of white stereotypes. Almost everyone does drugs, even the police. Men pimp or deal dugs, women shake them down for cash unless they're a token hardworking mother left to die on their own. Bar fights are expected, if not required. With all of that said, Treasure Hernandez is compulsively readable. I completely rejected the world she was building but I found myself compelled to read on. Although the book is focused on a women who makes her living as an escort, many romance standards remain. Tasha is a hermetically sealed heroine. Men routinely hand her thousands of dollars merely to be seen with her. She saves herself for a one night stand with her one true love. Later in the book there is another (mostly) consensual sexual encounter but Tasha finds it (and the man) repulsive. This is such a fantasy world that I wanted to just stop and consider it. Tasha learns early that pretending not to be after a man's money is a fast track to having him hand her larger amounts. Men slip fat wads of hundreds into her jacket pockets and buy her designer gowns because she's willing to flatter them. She's a good girl in a world full of gold diggers so they respond generously. Tasha has a pimp she cuts into her take, but again, she doesn't trade sex for the cash. Right. Ok. Let that sit and let's move on.
Another common romantic suspense standard comes late in the book when Tasha is forced to work for the police. The heroine blackmailed into a sting operation is pretty yawn worthy at this point. We all know the hero will have her back and rush in to save the day. They might go on the run, they might not. Corruption will be exposed, names will be cleared and HEA's will fall from the sky like angel tears. Except not. The only person saving anyone is Tasha. She has to make hard choices based on incomplete evidence. Betrayal by those close to her results in... her being betrayed. There's no HEA for Tasha, no white knights and no vindication. The hard working student who had her eyes on an educational prize has been replaced by a street smart hustler with deep knowledge of the game. This is the exact opposite of the standard romance trajectory.
I'll be honest, enjoying A Girl From Flint made me feel really, really racist. Everything is wrong with this portrayal of black life. Somehow Hernandez works enough reality in there to keep the reader going. I grew up surrounded by the drug trade and street hustling. Elements of A Girl From Flint rang very true to my memory even as others made me cringe. (A character gets leg cancer. LEG CANCER. I kid you not. It's totally curable by surgery, no chemo or radiation required. LEG CANCER.) Tasha's relationships hinge primarily on how much cash her dude is putting down. She falls in love because he's the hero. He falls for her because she's "not like the other girls" who are apparently all bitches in addition to being hoes. Everything is wrong with A Girl From Flint and yet it's the only book I managed to finish this week.
* This review originally appeared at Love In The Margins.