24 April, 2012

Review: The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan

If I just say Buy This would that be enough? It's a buck. You can't even get coffee for a buck anymore. (Wait, maybe you can. I don't drink coffee.) Courtney Milan is to my romance shelf what MadMen is to my DVR. I finish it. Like it. Think about it. Like it more. Think about it.  Bore everyone I know with semi-coherent ravings on the deep brilliance of it all. She is the Roger Slattery to... wait. I'm getting  pretty far afield.

On the surface The Governess Affair is a long novella setting up Milan's next series. (The Turner Brothers are dead, long live The Brothers Sinister.) TGA is also an amazing example of folding content into a short form. Within The Governess Affair Milan delivers a satisfying and light romance while also exploring some dark themes. At play in the story of Hugo and Serena are issues of consent, the basis of power (interpersonal and societal), reactions to trauma, self perception in mental illness, family dynamics both functional and not, dignity, self determination... the list goes on. I could talk longer about The Governess Affair in a completely spoiler way than I could about the last five books I read put together.

All of that praise being heaped, The Governess Affair has a slow start. The first few pages feel choppy, like the story isn't quite sure about itself. Hugo handles the Duke's life while quietly despising him. Got it. Less than a handful of pages in, TGA finds it's footing and never lets go again. Hugo is our Duke's fixer, his enforcer, his right hand man, the master behind the puppet. Serena is the governess who has chosen to occupy their square. She is taking a stand for recognition and she's taking it on Hugo's doorstep.  From here we have an unfolding of quietly revealing moments as each shows glimpses of their cards. Both have been dealt their hands by other people, both are trying to play them to the best advantage they can. Neither is willing to fold and both are willing to bluff. The bluff isn't over what they could do, rather how much of it they are willing to do. Each of them could completely ruin the other. It is impossible for the game to end in a draw.

I identified with the forces driving Hugo and Serena. I found their emotional reactions authentic and believable. Hugo is holding out for one big payoff, the stake for his future, the justification for all the struggle he has gone through to get to it. He can't see that the payoff is costing him as much as the road to it ever did. Serena has a compelling family situation (in multiple respects) and an equally strong desire for her struggle to end in security. The events leading to her occupying the square, her reaction to them, was very familiar to me. In keeping with The Turner Brothers, neither Hugo nor Serena have the sort of warm family that Julia Quinn's characters do. Which sets up an interesting question for The Brothers Sinister. It is likely that at least one of the leads from that series will come from almost exactly such a stable and caring home. How is Milan going to kneecap him?

Spend the buck. Skip the cheap coffee. Join in me in waiting feverishly for The Brothers Sinister.

22 April, 2012

Culping the ME-a.

Bahia Mar by meoskop
Bahia Mar, a photo by meoskop on Flickr.

Once again, real life drama and (non-serious) health issues have temporarily derailed the blog. Hopefully you weren't bored last week. I offer you this peaceful shot of Fort Lauderdale beach as a token of my esteem.

Of course, if you've ever been to Fort Lauderdale, you know a day like this means all the rain in the world is coming up next.

13 April, 2012

Review: Blame It On Bath by Caroline Linden

Oh, Gerard de Lacey, I kind of hate you.

Everything negative I say from this part forward is totally about my reading preferences and not about how Linden assembles her books. Well, except for a few things. Ok, mostly everything negative I say from this point forward will ... just write your own disclaimer. Linden turns in a decent book. She's brave enough to discard the more annoying recent genre conventions (no near death episodes, no nonsensical coach chases) to focus on giving her characters depth. Since she can't win for losing, aspects of that depth are entirely my problem with Blame It On Bath.

Let's start with Gerard. He's your basic good hearted fraternity brother. Soldier by day, lover by night, he responds to the possible disinheritance of his family with a completely understandable "Oh crap, what about me?" panic. As a man of action (So far the brothers appear to be Uptight Dude, Responsible Pledge and Charlie Sheen) Gerard is going to track a blackmailer down with his own two hands. The need for secrecy is over! (Except later he decides it isn't.) He's going to turn England upside down to discover the truth, but first he has to find out what this chick in the cloak wants. And thus we meet Katherine, who presents herself to Gerard as a winning lottery ticket.

Katherine infuriates me. Both she and Gerard have a habit of treating their trusted personal servants as serfs. When Gerard's man first meets Katherine he says something like "She's a lady..." to which Gerard immediately snaps "...and that's all you ever need to say about her." I think Linden is trying to show that Gerard is already protective of Katherine but he comes across as a complete tool. For her part Katherine has a personal servant that has been with her from infancy. I think her name is Birdie. Anyway, Birdie has an inheritance from Katherine's father meant to make her a woman of independent means so that Birdie can continue to devote her life to Katherine even if Katherine's first husband fires her. Birdie does anything Katherine wants and shines rainbow glitter everywhere she turns. Of course the moment Birdie expresses any concern about anything Katherine snaps at her, at one point telling her to remember her place. These may be servants in a more limited time, but they are people with options. People with self respect. People who are good at their jobs and could be forgiven for packing their bags and stranding Mr. & Mrs. Self Important at a moment's notice. Making Katherine's attitude toward Birdie even more egregious is the set up for our heroine.

Put on a timeline, it makes my head hurt but here we go. Before Katherine's father became rich but after Katherine's titled mother married him for his cash, Katherine was walking down the street in the rain and Gerard gave her a ride home. It was the only kindness anyone (but her father) had ever shown her (but Birdie) so of course she promptly fell in love with him. Ok. Katherine age 30 is 2 years older  than Gerard's 28. This encounter happens before she marries her mildly abusive first husband, so how old is Katherine to be shopping without a chaperone, and thus how old is Gerard to be riding about rescuing wet damsels? And will Train A reach the station first if Train B is pulling circus cars? Anyway, so yes. Katherine is going to propose marriage to a man she once met in the street because she fell in love with him after he gave her a ride home when they were of uncertain age to be wandering the streets.

Katherine is a Daddy's Girl and a widow worth a bajillion dollars. She can assert herself enough against her controlling mother and erstwhile suitor to meet with her attorney and discuss her inheritance, she can sneak out in the middle of the night and propose to Gerard, but she can't buy a small cottage and retire? No. Katherine is the sort of woman who needs a man to run her life for her. The parts of the book where Gerard and Katherine come to know each other are charming, but they are undercut by the set up for their marriage. Of course Gerard treats the wife that fell into his lap like a Powerball Jackpot casually. He's clothed her, housed her and rescued her. Why would he talk to her? Katherine makes some friends, throws some jealous fits and then runs off with the mother she hates because gosh golly gee willikers that will show him.

And it does.

Gerard freaks out that Katherine isn't there to adore him with meager cause. He drops everything that was motivating his life to that point so he can rush to her side. Look, we knew the mystery was going for all three books. I'm just not thrilled that Gerard transitioned from a guy who would tackle the 1810 version of Hoarders in his quest for justice to the guy who says "Well, this really is my brother's problem so he can fix it." (No wonder Charlie never gets upset when his brothers stress out over the latest crisis - they can't be arsed to finish anything.) Gerard stops caring about being cast out of society as a bastard the minute he realizes his wife can be self destructively pissy. Why worry about their children's future when they can make some?  In Gerard's defense he has (via Katherine) almost certainly proven his legitimacy, moving the mystery of the next book from are-they-or-are-they-not to who-hates-Charlie-Sheen-and-why? I don't know about Charlie, but I know who hates Katherine. This girl. Me. Right here. I do. She and Gerard are perfect for each other since needy, dependent and moody appears to be his type.

11 April, 2012

Celebrity In Death by J.D. Robb

 New York To Dallas left me with a lot of optimism for the In Death series. I felt like finally closing the book on Eve's past might open the series up to a new direction, or at least relieve it from the heavy baggage of the first thirty something books. Celebrity In Death isn't the book I was looking for. It is solidly okay. Emphatically okay.   Without a real advance in the character's lives (no, that moment for Peabody doesn't count) the reader's focus is shifted to the crime. I expected to be fine with that. Surprisingly, I just didn't care very much who did it.

I didn't have page turning urgency for this installment of the In Death series. There's a wonderful moment toward the end of the book between Eve, Nadine, and Eve's thoughts in Battery Park. That moment reassured me that I still love Eve Dallas. There is no need for her to hand up her cuffs. But Even should have more moments like that. We shouldn't need a random squirrel to bring her alive. I felt, reading Celebrity In Death as though Eve is as trapped by our expectations as we are by her conventions. A certain amount of backstory is required for a new reader or a reader who hasn't kept up with the series. At this point I am like a kid with new vegetables. I just don't want any backstory. I want everyone to move forward, to stop talking about the past. I want to set down the mental checklist that Roarke will give Eve gifts, that Eve will want to have sex after exercising, that all of these things that have happened before will happen again.

You'd think moving Eve out of her office and into a film stage would shake things up enough. We do get a longer passage from Peabody's POV and for a change Nadine gets a shot at being the hero. Overall, it's a little too familiar. So many great moments failed to pull into a compelling whole. I normally read In Death books over the space of a few hours, but Celebrity In Death took me a few weeks to finish off. I kept forgetting about it. A chapter here, a library late notice there. Talking it over with another reader, we both felt it's time for something radical to happen. Eve has become too accomplished. No cop closes every case. I'd like Roarke and Eve to have something real to deal with, something not so easily resolved in a single volume. Maybe Eve blows a case and the killer walks because of their use of unregistered equipment. Or the evidence fails to come together and she has to make a choice between compromising herself or letting a killer walk free. Something bigger than the normal stakes, something outside of Eve's routine. Or, y'know, not. Robert's doesn't need me to tell her how to get her readers on. I'll be back for the next In Death, but I was glad I didn't purchase this one. As a library read, it was fine.

09 April, 2012

Things You Should Listen To: Suddenly by The Bogmen

*Oh, DRM. It looks like I can't embed the glory that is The Bogmen's 1995 song Suddenly. Click through. I swear.

A few days ago I insisted Courtney Milan watch this video. (I think that might have gotten my Fan Girl card filed under Approach With Caution.) All I can tell you is Suddenly should be on every break up playlist ever. It's the happiest song about hitting bottom you'll hear today.

07 April, 2012

Review: Sleepwalker by Karen Robards

Really, April 7th? Really? Where did the first week go? After the brilliance that was Jenny's Lawson's Let's Pretend This Never Happened everything else I read failed to connect. It was a pretty high bar to jump and most of the books in my bag took one under the ribs. I did what I always do in circumstances like this one, I hit the bestsellers.

Karen Robards is what Linda Howard would be if she gave up on abuse dynamics. I've been a fan of Robards for her entire career. She often has an eye for the realistic detail. When a character lights a small stove, she worries about where the carbon monoxide vents. So do I. While I've faulted her in the past for having overly durable heroines Sleepwalker ended up on this side of believable. Which doesn't mean it cleared all it's plot hurdles. To fully enjoy Sleepwalker you have to believe that a young police officer with a rich honorary uncle would be unaware of his criminal connections. She's grown up with his private security force and immense riches surrounding her, but never deeply questioned the source. I couldn't give that a full pass. If you can, then the second hurdle shouldn't be a problem either. When we meet Micayla she has just found out her lover is a cheat. In less than 24 hours she will be in a new relationship without giving him a third thought. Jump those two and you're going breeze through the rest of the course.

Micayla is housesitting to soothe her broken heart. Jason is breaking and entering to soothe his broken bank account. Soon they are on the run (in her pajamas, no less) while Uncle Nicco's men hunt them. Sleepwalker is cinematic. This is the sort of book you cast parts in while you read it. (Michael Bay would almost certainly direct.) Whatever your taste in Cops and Robbers, Sleepwalker has you covered. Cold cases? Political Corruption? Kidnappings? High body counts? Mick and Jason barely escape it all. This is Sleepwalker's final hurdle. While I enjoyed the frenzy, Mick and Jason never become real. (Their emotional connection makes Ocean's Twelve look like a production from Merchant Ivory.) The subtitle reads A Thriller and Robards means it. Mick and Jason fall in love because they do, ok? Why do you have to talk about their feelings so much? Can't we just enjoy being together?

Normally I'd recommend Sleepwalker but suggest waiting for the paperback. With the hardcover already being bargain priced (Amazon has taken it down to 8.50 as I write this) and the MMP not due until late July, you can probably pick it up in hardcover if that's your inclination. Its a great popcorn book. Sleepwalker is perfect for that night you just want to be entertained without having to think too hard about anything. Everyone makes it to the end of the book, except the characters that don't. Amidst the betrayals and bullets some faith is restored. The good guys get off, the bad guys get shut down. When the sunset arrives on the idyllic beach, you can picture the teaser clip for a sequel. (Samuel  L. Jackson would definitely make an appearance.)