31 January, 2011

Review: Table For Three (New York) by Lainey Reese

And thus ends the porn vs erotic romance debate.

About a million years ago (okay, it was the early 90's) I had a gig reviewing m/m romance (totally in it's infancy) and porn with pretensions, now known as explicit erotica. In many ways these two have merged into one market. I'm going to be honest and tell you I didn't finish A Table For Three. Halfway through is really all I needed to know. Having long argued that we should call porn, romance and erotica what they are, I felt if I was going to keep having an opinion on the topic I needed to catch up. Over the last few months I've read about twenty 'hot' reads from various publishers. I'm caught up, and my opinion hasn't changed. (Also, if I could go another decade or two in blissful ignorance of where the pornrotica market goes, that would be AWESOME, thank you very much.)

I am not here to judge people getting their kink on. I am not here to argue the porn debate. I am not here to say anything but let's stop pretending there's a romance element to hardcore explicit erotica. A Story of O? 9 1/2 Weeks? Beauty's Punishment? Anything by Anias Nin in her frisky phase? They may have relationship elements but they are not romance. Romance is about finding the best in each other, not the best ways to pork each other. (I'm sorry, was that rude?) After wading through the unspeakable Medusa's Folly, Naughty Bits 1 & 2, Alison's Wonderland and a grab bag of assorted books by other publishers I've chosen A Table For Three as my stopping point. It reminds me of the early 90's when m/m romance was only sold in certain stores.

The heroine of A Table For Three (in the last hour I've forgotten all their names, this points to the emotional impact they don't make) is exactly the sort of girl you expect Ron Jeremy (ew, why did I do that to myself?) to pick up in the first four seconds of an adult film. She is constantly hot for it, made out of rubber, lacks any common sense at all, and is obviously a stand in for a well trained dog. She's not a fully developed woman, she's a composite of traits assembled to resemble a woman for the purposes of furthering the male relationship. The men would make excellent date rapists, but instead they left the Ivy League to run a sex club where they can meet and (oh so gently!) coerce women into having sex with them since having sex with each other would make them gay. Even though they share intimacy, apartments, trips, businesses and fashion tips - the final barrier for them is banging each other instead of the chick. (Maybe they change their mind later in the book, I don't know.) She meets one of the guys, bangs him in public within ten minutes (despite having only limited sexual experience - two guys who were in and outers) goes upstairs with him, and by morning she's willing to bang his friend as well.

By the next day, she's ok with all the BSDM she never knew about, living with them like a house pet, and taking her punishment like the 'little one' they name her. The diminishing nickname fits. Our heroine is not the only woman I encountered. As a counterpoint to the completely submissive and startlingly elastic heroine with a pure heart (She only wants the sex!) we have a bitter waitress who has known the boys since they were young and had finally (Finally, I tell you!!) put herself in a position to be showered with gifts for banging them (Not in it for the sex! Evil!) while she plots to have their child, forcing 18 years of support! (OMGZ! Sperm Stealer!) When she realizes our doe eyed young ingenue has swept these closeted lovers off their feet she realizes she's got to eliminate her rival!

Ok, so we have two rich men that love each other (and set up charities for children, of course) while catering to rapists and the like in their sex club (that's a whole other paragraph) and the young undereducated stacked sexpot fresh off the bus who asks the taxi driver to take her somewhere - somewhere she decided to bang a guy in public and then learn about oral sex before taking his roommate on as well, and a crazed child support craving aging working class jade out for cash and prizes. Oh yea, I feel the love. How could I ever have equated explicit erotica with homoerotic porn, which is so anti female? I dunno. I'm just like that, I guess. Dude, Mr. Benson had a more believable love.

Now to be fair, because it's not Lainey Reese's fault she's the final nail in my updating the market coffin, she is getting high reviews for a reason. Many of these books make no pretension to competence, much less attempting a plot. Lainey Reese is in the higher tier of writers both from my random samplings and my prior experience. She's working it, and she's working hard. If you're looking for porn that won't make you get out a red pencil and start editing, you're good to go. I, for one, hope to remain in blissful market ignorance for some time to come as I return to my "know it when I see it" stance.

29 January, 2011

Review: The Lucky Ones by Mae M. Ngai

Are you tired of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother yet?

It would be interesting to see what Mary Tape would make of Amy Chua's book. While both women's belief in the power of education brought them media attention, Mary Tape was trying to give her children as Western (for lack of a better term) an experience as possible. It is through the records connected to Tape v. Hurley that author Mae Ngai really brings to life the matriarch of this early San Francisco family. Using public records, Mary's photographs, and the few private sources available, Ngai uses the story of the Tape family to tell the story of Chinese America.

Through the Tapes, Ngai shows how the early push for full citizenship rights by California's Chinese emigrants challenged the white idea of what Chinatowns were. Copying the architecture from popular 'ethnic' exhibits, offering 'chinese' food, the emigrants defined generations of lives after them. This early middle class had to find (and defend) their place when white America had not quite decided how to treat them. Tape v. Hurley predates Brown v. Brown more than fifty years resulting in a ruling that "Respondant here has the same right to enter a public school that any other child has." It's never that simple. Despite living a life identical to their white counterparts, the Tape children were refused their right to a public education. The Tapes did not relent until a new school was created on the edge of Chinatown.

A self made and successful business man, Joseph Tape diversified his interests and made the most of opportunities that presented themselves. Mary, a talented photographer, left a wealth of information in the form of her photos. Early pioneers of San Francisco and Berkeley, many of the Craftsman homes they built for their family stand today. Then, as now, these talented pioneers push white America to recognize that there is no distinction between us. Their family saga is America's, and their details could stand in for so many emigrant families trying to achieve the promise of America. It is a shame that so much of what the Tape family faced still exists in our national conversation.

The Lucky Ones is a family saga in another sense of the phrase as well. Its the sort of family story ABC used to run miniseries about in the late 1970's and early 1980's. Emigrant parents of uncertain background, affluent children determined to set their own course. The Lucky Ones is more than an important story, it's a good read. Set your book club up with this one and leave the Mommy Wars to burn themselves out.

25 January, 2011

Review: Unveiled by Courtney Milan

At this point it's just embarrassing.

I should have at least some pride. It's not like it's the first time I've felt this way, there was another author once. (Ok, maybe a few, I'm not going to lie.) At this point I should be able to come up with something a little better for this review than "omgIlovedyourbooksomuch" shouldn't I? I've been reviewing for various places for long enough to know better. This is probably a book with flaws. I have no idea what they are. If you show me, I'll dispute them. This is Courtney Milan's best book. The sheer hell of it is that this is my absolute least favorite romance genre jumping point. I cannot stand books that set up the disinherited heroine trying to retain her property and her resentment of the newly inheriting lordling. Hate them all.

Smarty Pants Milan has knocked the legs right out from under me. In the case of Ash and Margaret, she has every right to be outraged. Rather than a simple death setting off a legal transfer of property, Ash has set out to obtain the property through completely honest but untraditional means. In a wild youth none can even imagine now, Margaret's father married his mistress. Unfortunately, by the time he married Margaret's mother said mistress had not died. (Which begs a question - if that mistress had children would they be in line to inherit? Will Ash end up handing it off to a completely unrelated third party? He's the sort that would, if he felt like it.) So, Margaret isn't just a spiteful princess when she resents Ash so much as breathing the air on the estate, she's just sensible.

Ash isn't headed for a comeuppance, either. He is the legal heir. The current holder of the title is a complete tool who deserves taking down a peg or fifty and his sons are pretty obnoxious as well, if not obnoxious enough for Margaret to realize Ash is somewhat in the right of it all. I think the underlying theme of this trilogy is going to be Things You Don't Tell Your Family. Unveiled isn't a book with unrealistic revelations, it's a book filled with the tiny "why didn't you tell me" moments that lead to so much emotional distance between people. Ash is a creature of instinct. He wants the property because it feels like the right course to take, and his instincts have rarely served him ill. Margaret is just learning what her instincts are after a lifetime of drifting along in her designated lane. Both of them are trying to remain loyal to their brothers while wanting to be loyal to each other. It is a wonderful conflict.

My enjoyment of this book was increased by personal identification. Ash has a crazy bible thumping parent? Me too! Ash has secret reasons for living by his impulses? Me too! Ash had to leave younger siblings behind to secure all their futures? Me too! I could go on, but you were bored at the first paragraph of this review and I've no idea why you've hung on as long as you have. Read this book. Join me in my girlish infatuation. Savor the small moments, such as a few lines revealing why every historical romance sex scene at a ball ever was impossibly wrong, or when the theme of this specific volume is revealed. You matter. You are important. I used similar words last October to explain why romance, as a genre, is important to me.

Unveiled is a perfect example. Buy it. Forget what I said about her last books, buy this one first. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to compose myself before I face the next book I'll be reading. (I feel sorry for it, really. I'll just be going through the pages.)

21 January, 2011

Review: Night Betrayed by Joss Ware

Jayne Ann Krentz just got totally served. Your heroine is super sensitive, psychic, won't eat anything with a face, and tries to do good for others? Joss Ware will see that and raise you with single motherhood, a deep need to save the souls of zombies, and surviving the apocalypse. As an infant. Let's go.

I should hate this book, it has almost everything I dislike in romance thrown into a blender. But I really enjoyed it. Joss Ware may have converted me to paranormals with stupidly stubborn heroines all by herself. Let's see - take one part Internet Pioneer, one part Old Guy That Hangs Out On His Porch, one part Lightning Lad and you've got Theo. He's 80ish (he looks 30ish) and is looking for love or the return of MMO gaming. Maybe even both. Oh, and he's dead. But not a vampire. Or a zombie. There are no vampires here, so move along if that's your thing.

He's dead, then he's not dead, and in the process of not actually dying he meets Serena. (Hereafter the Krentz-Heroine-Slayer to me) Serena is 50ish, looks 30ish, and enjoys long walks out past the protective gates of the compound to save the souls of the misunderstood zombies. You might know zombies as smelly, nasty, undead creatures out to rip anything human to shreds and eat it, but Serena can see inside them to their human soul. It's kind of a mystery where all these zombies are coming from. Apparently, a few books ago, there was this group of loonies who decided to become immortal. Becoming immortal required the rising of the Island of Atlantis, which killed 90% of the world's population and knocked the earth off it's axis. I guess they succeeded, although why you'd want to be immortal in a world without pizza delivery is beyond me.

Theo and his pals are trying to restore the internet to bring the Immortal Ones to justice some 50 years after the big kill. At night, zombies wander the land to drag off blondes and munch on brunettes (really) while searching for some dude named Remington Truth. Bounty hunters destroy computers, people live in tightly isolated and guarded settlements, and some select people manage to find gas for Hummers. And old jeans. 50 year old jeans. I started to do the math on gas in reserve tanks, times number of Hummers used, times conveyance of same, and I just gave up. Some lucky people have Hummers with gas. Got it. (Plus, light bulbs! No, I need to stop thinking about that.)

The strongest thing going for Night Betrayed is the recognition that a guy who's been around for a hundred or so years and a girl who is in her twenties aren't going to have much to talk about. When Theo meets Serena he realizes that he needed an older woman in his life. Joss Ware does a decent job of setting the mood. (One character, Vonnie, made me think about what my own tween would endure if 90% of the planet died tomorrow.) She's not afraid to kill characters off. She's not afraid to acknowledge that the selfish prevail far more often than the generous. Although Night Betrayed was my first book in this ongoing series it stood on it's own feet well enough. While I don't feel a need to go back and read the prior books I am definitely interested in finding out what happens next.

*If the wait is long enough I might decide to catch up on the series just to find out more about this girl Remy. She shows up in the middle of the book for no apparent reason, gets raped a fair amount and ends unresolved. The rape, however, is not graphic or detailed and the rapists are quickly dealt with. All of the detailed sex in this book is by consent. While I personally don't care about Serena's labia, Theo does. A lot.

19 January, 2011

Movie Review: Easy A

I find it annoying when a perfectly good book blog wanders off the path and starts talking about films. And yet. While I was watching Easy A I realized exactly what's driven me away from Contemporary Romance as a genre. When I was young, I adored them. I subscribed to several different lines. I'd say for the genre my ratio was in it's favor 2:1, maybe 3:1. Along the line I've drifted away from it, now I read perhaps 1:60 possibly less.

When I was young CR's (I can call them that, right? We've been together long enough for a nickname?) frequently seemed to be written by my grandmother. That was fine. I was reading them as a stranger in a strange land, trying to understand relationships and adulthood. Now, when they are written to my way of thinking but the heroine is 22, it rings false. On the other hand, if I can't identify with the heroine at all (Looking at you, Megan Hart. Backatcha Victoria Dahl!) I realize it's not them, it's me, and I move on. There is a burden on the CR that I don't place on the HR. I have to believe in the CR in a way I don't require of HR.

Which brings us to why Easy A is taking up space in a blog about my books. There is no way Easy A is the teen movie it was pitched to me as. No way, no how, nu-uh. This is a movie aimed firmly at 28 to 38 that's hoping to sweep in some strays on either side of that demographic. Precious little about this film says high schooler to me. Almost everything about this film says adult looking back. It's funny, it's a good time (awwwkward...) but it's not a teen flick.

  • None of the parents suck. Think about that. Have you ever seen a teen film where the parents did not play into the plot? These parents are all present, loving, and Mary Sues. These are the parents we would like to think we are as we kick off our driving mocs and pour another glass of that fabulous chablis. Funny, attractive, individualistic and beloved. Right. 
  • The authority figures are sympathetic. Even the ones that do the most harm to our heroine, Olive, have problems of their own that Olive not only understands, but sympathizes with. Adulthood! So hard.
  • Her younger brother has three lines. Straight up, Easy A has some serious race issues. It's Mighty White in Oliveland. But we're going to leave that alone and focus on (ok, no we're not. One black character is shown with his long blonde white girl, her adopted brother is used for two race based jokes, the Indian is cheap and mocked as possibly Hispanic, and there's an older gay lover. That's it. for a comedy set in California. Say WHAT?) Right - so her brother sits there like a Cosby kid, has maybe three lines, and is not up in his teenage sister's business in any way whatsoever. Look, I have a younger brother. I know that's not how it works. 
  • Cursing gets you kicked out of school. I'll just let that revelation lie there. Yea. 
  • Olive is obsessed with 80's teen films and music. I don't know how to break it to John Cusack, but I think he has a much smaller fan base than Robert Pattinson among ladies of the high school. The 80's teen films are iconic - to people who grew up in the 1980s. Easy Rider is iconic - to people that grew up in the 1960's. I didn't know a single girl in school who dreamed of Peter Fonda or Dennis Hopper asking them to be his bitch. Olive, man, she sees them as the pinnacle of culture.
  • Religious Fervor is mocked. Every character of faith in this film is a buffoon. There is no room for sincerity, even misguided sincerity. They're killjoys, they're jesus freaks, they're zombies for God. Teens today are coming out of Jonas Brother hysteria, taking off their purity rings. This isn't how they view the Thumpers. That's my peeps. 
Anyway, I rest my case. And that's the problem between me and CR. If the character reads forty something, I say no way would she be thinking that way. And if the character accurately reflects what's going on in today, I can't understand her at all. There's some weird generic culture twenty something, the sort of woman Julie James or Nora Roberts writes that works for me. That's a pretty narrow road for an author to walk, and they shouldn't have to do so. 

15 January, 2011

Review: Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein

I'd like to thank Mad Men for bringing the name Peggy back. Not that Ms. Orenstein has been using a different name, just as a general point of gratitude. Peggy is a perfectly awesome name, although it is not mine.

Cinderella Ate My Daughter is the perfect gift for my sister in law. Although we both spent middle school stumping for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment we came out with different views on children's toys. She views the parade of Barbie and Princess with the side gaze of someone feeling ill, and I happily acquire all the Monster High and Bratz Whor'z a child could wish. Both of us are trying to raise body confident, high achieving, take no prisoner daughters. Peggy Orenstein is talking to both of us in her book.

Looking at the copy for Cinderella left me ready to judge the book by it's cover. Author is from Berkeley? (We've both lived there.) Author has written on gender issues in the past? I was ready for a lecture on Why Princesses Are The Training Wheels Of Pole Dancing. (Nothing against pole dancing. When I was a tween I babysat for some, they tip well.) Instead Cinderella is a nuanced examination of gender stereotyping in the market place and in our homes. It acknowledges the joint forces of conflicting maternal messages and peer pressure in raising a confident and capable daughter. The author manages to reasonably defend Twilight as a phenomenon. (I didn't think I could see anything positive in that quartet.) Peggy Orenstein has the same problem as my sister in law - she planned to ban all things pink and Barbie before her daughter was born, then discovered that her daughter had other desires. In her reasonable examination of what we think is wrong versus what might actually be wrong she sets the framework for (among other topics) a serious conversation on the early sexualization of children.

Really, forget the Oprah pick of the month. Get your book club to agree on reading Cinderella Ate My Daughter. Except for the member that will be upset that Peggy Orenstein doesn't respect Sarah Palin (and you have at least one, be honest) everyone in the group will have something to say about this topic. Does Cinderella offer solutions? Not many. That's not the point of the book. The point is to bring a new way of thinking to topics we feel we already understand. (Pageants might not be that different from dress up after all.) Opinionated without preaching, fair when a cheap shot would be popular, Peggy Orenstein has offered a great read about her own struggle to define appropriate boundaries for her daughter. Read it with some women you love and bitch about it afterward. All our daughters might be better off for our doing so. (If we're really feeling wacky and utopian, we might band together to demand publishers stop cutting our heads off on book covers.)

12 January, 2011

The SBTB Old Skool Challenge: Honey Bunch, Her First Summer On An Island

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books is running an Old Skool Challenge - asking people to revisit the romances of their past and see how they hold up. As an adult, I'm not much of a repeat reader. I like to move on. There are more books in the world than there are days in my life. But a Challenge is a Challenge, right? So I went even Older Skool.

Most of my personal books when I was a child were pre-1950, with the bulk being from 1900 to 1940 (it's a long story) so my childhood reading selection might be different than yours. I was obsessed with Oz books, and the Stratemeyer Syndicate titles. (Although I remember Honey Bunch the most fondly, it was interesting to discover I have named both of my children after obscure Oz characters. By the way? The slippers were silver.)

So, for the Old Skool Challenge I chose the only Honey Bunch book available as an ebook. Honey Bunch is a sweet blue eyed blonde girl of upper middle class standing who lives with her father (an endless source of presents), mother and a beloved washerwoman named Mrs. Miller. Mrs. Miller is actually only day help. I was shocked to find she neither lives in nor is a nanny. (In my memory, I've turned her into a nameless nanny.) It's easy to call the Honey Bunch books out for racism (you'll find it in any pre-1940 children's book, Honey's is of a very liberal bent) but looking at the series as an adult I can see what so captivated me as a child. Early on, one of the neighbor children mentions how Honey Bunch travels excessively, her parents don't leave her home as other parents might because she is so charmingly sweet (gender roles ahoy). Her mother always brings home small gifts for all the children Honey Bunch knows, much to the consternation of the other parents. (I do this!) Honey Bunch, she's not like the other heroines. She's got an intact family that adores her. When Honey Bunch is awoken by a storm her father gently lifts her into her mother's bed.

Honey Bunch is usually attributed to Mildred Wirt Benson. She certainly did write five of them, much as Ruth Plumly Thompson eventually penned a few Oz books. Just as L. Frank Baum holds the heart of Oz, the true hand of Honey Bunch was an author named Josephine Lawrence. I could detail the plot of this book, but if you decide to try Honey Bunch for yourself, you'll find that Ms. Lawrence wrote in an economical manner that nonetheless packs a great deal of detail into the characters. Take a scene where the family stops to offer a ride to a pair of crying children. The children have lost their money on the way to be recognized for their moral character. Without letting them know, Honey's mother slips money into their lunch baskets, to be discovered later. In this brief scene we learn that travelers in 1929 thought nothing of picking up strangers, nor did the strangers think a thing of taking the ride. We find out what's admirable about these children to eyes of that time period, have a gathering described to us, and learn that it's not just the neighbor children Honey's mom looks out for. While certainly idealized, Honey's world is no less authentic than any other fictional place. Honey and her friends stand out as individuals, they convey a great deal about the wishes and dreams of her readers. Ms. Lawrence certainly holds up to my memory of her.

11 January, 2011

By Request: Zazzle iPad Cover Outtakes

Some of you (and I won't call anyone out) accosted me on Twitter begging for a front view of Ozymandias's styling new case. I don't know why, but your fetish is not my fetish, so there you have it. 

A bonus shot of the front of the case, in action. It's darker than the flash makes it appear, and quite rigid while still having a silicone texture. Below, the requested action shot. The Zazzle iPad cover in the wild, proving it works just as well when held upside down by a small child.  

(Unlike most things in my house.)

Back to the books.

Review: Custom iPad Cover by Zazzle & Speck

 (I realize the pictures could be better. It's not you, it's me. I've got other things to do. Like spend time with iPad. Who loves me. More than you.) 

Shopping for an e-reader cover is exhausting. I'm acquainted with people who are on their third or fourth iPad cover, searching for one to fit their needs. Sony 505 and I went through that, until I found the perfect cover in London. (I don't live in London, so when it broke that was a bit of an issue.) I was determined to take my time with iPad and find the right case the first time. Obviously, I've never met me. If I knew me, I would realize that Instant Gratification is my first name. People don't even bother to say the whole thing. Before they've called out Insgrat, I have what I wanted.

An exhaustive search of iPad covers was conducted. Tokidoki? Only as a Hello Kitty tie in. Manila Folder? (Clever - probably too clever.) Paul Frank? Not yet. I searched through the entire product line at eBags, I dropped by the Apple store, I ran internet searches and ebay searches and called everyone I knew with a cover. None of them were good enough for me. (My middle name is Princess Bitch, or so my sibling often claimed.) So there I was, with a naked iPad and a name like Instant Gratification Princess Bitch to live up to. (Listen, I'm just glad it doesn't spell P.I.G. Thank my parents for small favors, right?) I wanted something with better friction but easy access, something that didn't weigh me down but felt protective. (What we all want!) Umpteen random google searches later, I found the custom case option at Zazzle.

I bet a lot of kitten pictures die in the name of Zazzle iPad coverage. I'm just saying.

Anyway, I thought about getting one but holey frijole, they seemed expensive. I mean, they were a whole - oh. All the iPad cases are crazy money, pretty much. They had a decent sale running, so the custom case ended up being the same price as one from the corner big box. (I'm not here to fight the big box war, but if I wanted the same skank that's gracing every other iPad on the block I wouldn't have a middle name at all.) Choosing the photo was easy. (Yes I could have gone classic pulp fiction, or even asked my Brother the Artiste to make me up something snazzy, but that would take time. And I love this photo.) Setting it up was easy. Waiting a week was hard. (My last name is Cheapskate, I couldn't pay for overnight shipping.)

I love it a little. Ok, I love it a lot. (I certainly won't pick someone else's iPad up by mistake.) While I can see the edges of the fabric inlay eventually (possibly) curling, the overall feel is of high quality. The back hardshell has a rubberized interior to cradle little iPad's sensitive bottom, while the snap on front has a nice silicone feel without being squishy. The fabric inlay gives some traction, so the iPad feels more secure in my hands and has a light canvas feel. The side seams are pretty flush to each other, putting the front and the back together took about 2 seconds. Easy doesn't begin to cover it. I had been thinking about getting a Speck case, but made by Speck and with my graphic? So much better. I can see myself getting another one of these for days I just don't feel all urban decay, but that will involve my Brother the Artiste working the commission for me.

In short, it's not cheap but it's worth it. (Hey, like.. oh wait, I am cheap.) You can get flowery kittens, pictures of your kids, or something cool on it. (Not judging!) It's easy on, easy off, and full port access at all times. (I'm starting to feel a little uncomfortable with this conversation.) Here's a last look. This might cause me to name my iPad Ozymandias instead of Master. (The Horace Smith version of course.) Obviously, this will take Miss I.G.P.B.C some time to consider. 

10 January, 2011

Review: Death Echo by Elizabeth Lowell

(I originally reviewed Death Echo in Hardcover as an Advance Read Copy for Amazon's Vine program. Parts of this summary are taken from that shorter review) 

Change is hard. Even when an author tells you that they're changing, when they write several books in a row in their new direction, it's hard to accept that they aren't who they used to be. You want them to be the girl you fell in love with, sometimes to the point that you can't see the beautiful woman they've become. 

If you look at the cover of the hardcover version of Death Echo it reads "A Novel of Suspense." There are no couples on the cover. There is no embrace. Death Echo really needs you me to stop thinking about the 80's and listen. Death Echo is not a romance novel. It's Romantic Suspense all the way. Death Echo doesn't pretend to be anything other than what it is. The relationship you I made up with it in your my head is not it's problem. 

Judged on it's merits, and not my expectations, Death Echo excels. Despite setting up a very short time frame (a week), an almost excessive number of players (you need a cluster for a - well, you get the idea), a high level of information dumping (all about luxury yachts and the operation of them) Lowell delivers a tale with real suspense. There might not be any doubt that St. Kilda's team will prevail, but there is plenty of doubt about how. Death Echo reads like a Bond movie and requires the same suspension of disbelief as governments creak into action and resources appear seemingly without restrictions. All that being said, the abilities and motivations of Emma and Mac easily pass the plausibility test. 

Where I might fault Death Echo is in character development. Emma and Max meet each other, like each other, and get on with the adventure. There's not going to be any soul searching going on here. They've got a week and they've got a lot to do so there's no time for angst. On the other hand, this isn't a romance and there are only so many pages. (Do I ask Jason Bourne to stop for a long walk on the beach with his love interest? No, I do not.) Also, the humanizing of St. Kilda series staple Joe Faroe via a small child with a teething cookie goes on far too long (Joe is a family man. Got it. One day our hero could be just like him! Got it. Joe is gruff but he loves kids! OK! Let's move on!) while hints at the history of St. Kilda's wheelchair bound leader are scattered lightly about without any resolution. 

Overall, I really enjoyed Death Echo. I found myself annoyed when I had to set it down to attend to my actual life. I'd love to see a film version of this book. There's just something very Big Screen about it. It's sort of like Speed on a Yacht with Bourne and Bond in the lead while.... I should stop. It reads much better than it explains. Death Echo would like you to know that things will be blown up, people will be in peril, and plots will be twisted without going dark. Well worth the time.

04 January, 2011

Review: Wedding of the Season by Laura Lee Guhrke

My book bag is trying to kill me. First it offers up the Trophy Wife of the Closet Queen, and now it hands me My Racist Hero. As accessories go, the dark skinned and grateful valet doesn't flatter anyone. The hero who chuckles condescendingly over saving the astonishingly capable valet's life holds about as much appeal for me as the hero who spends the first third of the book chasing down STD's. Where do these servants come from? The dark skinned, the dusky, the obviously not the right kind of brown (sunburned = adventure, birth = valet) men whose brains are packed with trivia, who can handle any crisis with the emotionless calm of "their people", who follow their employer to new lands and serve them with unquestioning faithfulness, yet still require some white guy to show up and save their lives.

I don't know about you, someone saves my life I say thank you. Maybe a fruit basket plays into it, but spending the rest of my days stroking his ego isn't on the list. Taking it the other way, saving someone else's life wouldn't make me think "Wow, I should hire this guy and put him in charge of my entire life!" Trusting Laura Lee Gurhke as I do, my hope was that Aman was biding his time. "Yes sir, very good sir, knife to the ribs sir?" Sadly, he wasn't. "Saving my life, sir? Jolly good idea! Here's your beverage!" Aman was implacable, he was unemotional, he was overly prepared and faultlessly loyal. He was everything the touch of exotic usually is, but he failed to be a real character. Citing his cultural heritage as the source of his fatalistic demeanor made me wonder how many Egyptians the author hangs out with.

I don't find colonialism a sexy trait in a man, real or fictional. (At least the STD's can be treated.) After I got past wanting Aman to school Will on who goes down when the revolution comes, I was able to engage in the story of Will and Beatrix. I am a sucker for stories of love recaptured. Early on, Beatrix showed an adorable mean streak that gave me hope. Unfortunately, like Aman, she was more promise than performance. Will ran off on their wedding for a professional opportunity that has bankrupted him. Colonialist as he may be in his private life, he thinks he's free of class issues. Being a duke was just so dreary and last century compared to the possibility of life as a paid speaker. In fact, both Beatrix and Will have deeply odd ideas of what freedom is and what confers it. Will returns not for her, but to borrow money from her cousin. (Narrow-minded AND panhandling, baby hold me back.) Far from realizing that refusing to leave her way of life was a valid choice, Will begins to belittle her. Not wanting what he wants is a sign of cowardice. Going bankrupt chasing Tut's tomb is the only life for... Well, Will. If you want to be with Will you better want what he wants, because his brain is an express train to Willville.

Once Will is firmly back in her life, Beatrix loses the refreshingly callous impulses she briefly showed. Engaged to another, it is never a true contest. Despite having six full years to do so, Beatrix has failed to fall in love with anyone. Not even a stylish footman has captured her eye. Her fiancĂ© is a friend, not a lover. In her late 20's Beatrix has all the life experience of a fifteen year old girl. She and Will begin a predictable courtship that plays to familiar lines. There are engaging touches, the dialogue between Will and Beatrix's cousin Julia is one of the books best bits. Similarly, an argument between Beatrix and Julia holds more passion than those between she and Will. Pixy's Cove, where the action plays out, is well realized. It's enough to lift Wedding of the Season out of the rut it found itself in, but not enough to place it with Gurhke's best. In fact, there are enough stumbling blocks in Wedding to make it the first Laura Lee Gurhke book I would not recommend. 

Despite some bright spots, Will reads like the beloved but toxic father of a heroine in a better book, a heroine whose loving yet weak willed mother died young, leaving the heroine stuck caring for her obsessed father. Maybe that's the World War 2 based sequel. Somehow I doubt it.

02 January, 2011

Review: Shattered by Karen Robards

Generally, I wouldn't go back and revisit a book I read long before I started this site. I'm making an exception for Shattered. The thing is, I love Karen Robards. She has an eye for detail that many contemporary authors miss. If the heroine is a single mother and she loses a shoe, she's going to worry about how to afford replacing it. Her characters are grounded in reality.

In Shattered, Lisa is the exception that proves the rule. For the first part of the book, she's exactly what I expect. Lisa has real problems and she deals with them as best she can. Her mother is ill, her finances are precarious, she's got a history with her boss and then she finds a picture of a missing girl who looks exactly like her. I am ready to go. Don't buy me dinner, just take me home. Shattered and I are taking the phone off the hook and calling it a weekend.

When I reviewed the hardcover elsewhere I was bitter. I said things like "I wouldn't consider it a failure as a novel" and "Shattered closes like a series pushing six scripts into a half hour finale and then having the power fail during filming ... The emotional payout of so many things is muted leaving the reader mourning what could have been instead of reveling in what was." It was still fresh, what can I say. I was in love, having his baby, and he left me for a waitress he met behind the truck stop. (I want to read that book too, now that I think of it.)

With time, I forgave Shattered much of it's flaws. Scott and Lisa were memorable enough to stay with me for the rest of the year. There were no plot points left unresolved, the summation was simply a bit rushed and I felt cheated by the push of events at the end. What I would still fault Shattered for today is the unrealistic healing properties of the heroine. I think you could hit her over the head, stuff her in a trunk, trap her in a fire, send her car off a bridge and it wouldn't slow Lisa down. She's the 6 Million Dollar Woman in a little red dress. She takes her lickings and keeps on ticking, because she has to. I'd have liked it better if she at least started slurring her words or listing drunkenly to one side when she walked. (I know people cut their own hands off and walk down from mountain ranges to be rescued. I know that. It's possible. But they also collapse into tiny weeping balls in the corner that flinch at sudden movements.)

Shattered is definitely worth the time in paperback. I think we forgive more when the cost is less.