16 September, 2013

Review: A Woman Entangled by Cecilia Grant

While I admired much about Cecilia Grant's debut novel, I didn't love it. A Woman Entangled caught my eye because it promised all the things I love most. Class conflict. Toxic family dynamics. Social climbing beauties. Younger sons. I was ready for Grant to bring it on. Ultimately the experience was the same as our prior hook upA Woman Entangled took me months to finish and left me dissatisfied. (Is there a reading equivalent of bad sex?)  Our heroine, Kate, is a social climbing beauty desperate to reclaim the social status her father's uneven marriage cost him. She alternatively positions her goal as being for herself, or for her father, or for her siblings. It's never for her mother, because everything about Kate's goal is a rejection of her mother's self and that is something Kate would rather not consider. Kate prefers to consider more reader friendly things. Here Kate is reflecting on a potential suitor:

"Perhaps he followed Mr. Brummell’s regimen of a daily bath, instead of the usual cloaking of one’s odors in perfume. Though it was difficult to imagine he paid much heed to any of the Beau’s dictums. Likely he disdained the man for living profligately and then fleeing his debts, if he hadn’t already disdained him for an excessive preoccupation with the trivial matter of personal style. And that was presuming he even knew who Beau Brummell was. He very well might not." - Cecilia Grant, A Woman Entangled

There's no point whatsoever to this passage. Much like the later passages on various Jane Austen books it feels forced and indulgent. A shouting of "Regency Tropes, I am in you!". Beau Brummell never comes up again. He isn't a friend. He's a celebrity that our characters may or may not have followed in the media of the day.

"Perhaps he followed Miss Kardashian's regimen of a daily bath, instead of the usual cloaking of one’s odors in her designer perfume. Though it was difficult to imagine he paid much heed to any of Kim's dictums. Likely he disdained her for living profligately and then fleeing her wedding debts, if he hadn’t already disdained her for an excessive preoccupation with the trivial matter of personal style. And that was presuming he even knew who Kim Kardashian was. He very well might not." Cecilia Grant and Meoskop

I strongly suggest we institute an immediate Kardasian test on the inclusion of historical characters not directly involved in the character's lives. If Kim can wear the shoe, toss it out of the wardrobe.
I wanted to love Kate. She was my favorite character in the book. Kate is so very self aware. She wants a path out of the middle class life her parents value and one back to the life of empty luxury her father left behind. I was frustrated by the resolution of her desires. In the end Kate comes to realize she valued the striving more than the goal itself. As the reader, I can't agree. Kate barely tastes the gilded world she longed to inhabit before embracing the economically cautious one in which she was raised. During that experience she lives at the edges of the family disharmony without fully exploring it's depths. Kate is neither embraced nor renounced. She is unspoken, even when being spoken to. We are to believe that Kate comes to value her open relationship with Nick more than her constrained and conditional one with her extended family. I can get behind that but only if I believe it. Kate goes too quickly from a cautiously shocked kiss under the stairs to a total willingness to have her first sexual encounter in a stranger's crowded home. I found it hard to believe that a woman of her control would so easily cast that aside.

Nick is hungry for status of his own. His life on the edges of the nobility has become painfully difficult following his brother's marriage. Having rejected his brother in an attempt to preserve his own ambitions, he initially castigates Kate for hers. Willing to have sex in stairwells and with casual acquaintances, he harshly judges his brother's wife for doing the same. A woman who fucks you for free is a friend. A woman asking for financial support is a whore. it seems a curious line to draw, but draw it he does. Granted, the misalliance of courtesan and gentry is not to be understated. It is completely authentic to me that Nick would lose status and find his ambitions beyond reach.

Yet Nick is still greeted by old friends. He is still welcomed in many fine homes. We are not shown Nick struggling for clients. We are told he is and invited to watch him wallow. I had the same problem with Nick that I had with his sister Martha in Grant's first book. Why, when his focus has been solely on maintaining the good opinion of Kate's family, would he take her to his rooms? Why would he consider her an unsuitable wife for a man with upwardly mobile goals when she herself is rigidly in pursuit of them? Why would he blame her for having an actress mother yet bring his most important client to that women for instruction? Why? Why? Why? Nick is a straight up whiner. His better moments elevate him to sequel material but he fails to convince me he is not going to disappoint Kate.

A Woman Entangled is likely to have many readers swooning. It's a Masterpiece Theater set piece of a book, hitting all the right marks in all the right order but ultimately leaving me distant and cold. The sexuality is original and important enough to the story development that I skimmed little of it. The reinforcement of family over finance is not seen often enough in the genre, despite my overall dissatisfaction with it's implementation. Grant remains at the edges of my awareness. She is an author I can neither embrace nor dismiss.

*This review first appeared at Love In The Margins.

13 September, 2013

We Can't Have Nice Things: General Hospital Edition

Much like romance the daytime drama (soap) genre frustrates the hell out of me. I'm an ABC girl, so my shows of choice have always been All My Children and General Hospital. I drop in, I get mad, I drop out. General Hospital recently (in soap years) changed leadership. The prior team often seemed to hate women. Women were props for men, things to be shot or raped or put in peril so the men could have feelings about it. They were slut shamed, marginalized, institutionalized. Women were impetuous creatures who failed to think ahead and men were awesome sauce. The new show runners seemed far less hostile to women (although still deeply problematic). It was too good to be true.

GH & I are on a break because they are retconning a serial killer rapist who terrorizes women without being named Jerry Jacks. (Sebastian Roché or it doesn't count, people.) I didn't like Franco before and (although I love Roger Howarth) I don't want Franco now. This brings us to today and me slogging through my DVR backlog. The clip below is a pivotal day in two characters history. This scene is building on decades of ground work. It is comprised of a guest appearance by one of GH's most beloved actresses (Genie Francis, of course.) and a very popular recast. I'm going to sum up what you need to know about these women and where the episode of 6/10/13 finds them.

Lulu is the young married daughter of the famous Luke and Laura. In 1981, shortly after Luke and Laura's first wedding, Laura disappeared from Luke's life. She was abducted by Stavros Cassadine who forced her to bigamously marry him. Held captive by Stavros and his mother Helena, her family  believed her dead. Upon her return to the show several years later Laura largely refused to speak of the ordeal. In 1996, when Lulu needed a medical miracle (This is a soap!) it was revealed that Laura had given birth during her captivity. While the son saved Lulu's life, his existence destroyed the Spencer family. Rejected by her father, her mother mentally ill, Lulu becomes a cynical careerist.

In 2013 Lulu is awaiting the birth of her daughter (via surrogate) when she is kidnapped by the still deranged Stavros. Laura and Luke reunite to rescue her. When they confront Stavros Laura is visibly terrified. She offers to return to her position as his wife in exchange for her daughter's freedom. Stavros isn't interested. Laura is too old for him, too damaged by time and life. Stavros has switched his obsession to her daughter. Luke, Laura and Lulu's husband Dante kill Stavros and Helena to rescue Lulu. The next few months are occupied by an amnesia storyline as Lulu represses the knowledge that she too has been forced into a bigamous marriage with Stavros. On 6/10/13 Lulu has recovered. Mother and daughter are meeting for the first time with the decades of damage Stavros did to them in the open. Roll tape.

If you're like me you just said WHAT THE EVERLOVING FUCK? I mean, is there any other response? Are these female characters or man-pain hand puppets? Genie is reading lines like she can't believe the pages. "Hey baby, you've had a total mental breakdown and while I was on my honeymoon you remembered a nightmare experience I am uniquely qualified to understand. But forget that, let's gush about your poor husband! It must have been so difficult for him to deal with you being terrorized. Really, how did he stand a few months without your adoration? Let's cook a meal!" No. Seriously. WHAT THE EVERLOVING FUCK?

"Here honey, I got you candy and a baby present. Let me reduce your life to these traditional gender roles while ignoring this massive generational storyline payout. Why don't you talk about what a failure you are for not being a chef while gushing on about Dante's hangnail? Really. It's fascinating. Tell me more." Genie's busy getting paid. (Genie, I adore you. I know what you could've done with a real script here. We'd all be crying on the floor while you put your baby girl back together and helped her redefine her childhood in the face of this new firsthand knowledge of your trauma. There wouldn't be enough Kleenex in the world. People would be sobbing on those scenes into 2035.) It's like there's a giant water cooler at GH labeled We Hatez Wimmin and every writing team must eventually drink from it.

I'm going to go watch  Lucy break down over BJ's 1994 death and remember the good times. BJ is a kid in a school bus accident. Her cousin Maxie (Lulu's eventual surrogate) is dying. Tony is BJ's father, Bobbie her mother. Lucy was her stepmother for a time. This was one of GH's golden ages, where real human relationships mattered and women were actual people. (Ok, Maxie's mom was a pouty white Aztec Princess but we try not to think about that.)

10 September, 2013

Review: Heart Murmurs by Suleikha Snyder

Reviewing Heart Murmurs is straight up nepotism. I was following two of Snyder's twitter names before I knew she was an author. Someone retweeted her into my TL. I thought she was an interesting person. Here we are. (All of this disclosure becomes relevant later. I swear.)  Heart Murmurs is a quick lunchtime read for commitment-phobes and a cut above most erotic novellas.

Let's start with Anuskha. She's still fresh faced enough at 26 to become flustered around men she's having sex dreams about but seasoned enough not to let it affect her work. Anushka was more developed than I expected her to be. She's very self aware and unwilling to compromise her long term goals for short term satisfactions. Her fatal flaw is being a character who says things out loud she meant to just be thinking. Who does that? Lots of fictional characters do but when did you last have lunch with someone who was shocked their thoughts became verbal? Whatever. I almost forgave Anushka because she was so confident in herself. (But seriously, authors, no.)

The object of her dreams, Dr. Vince McHenry,  is two decades older and far more jaded. Here is where the disclosure becomes relevant. Did I hear every word of his dialogue in Vincent Irizarry's voice because of Dr. McHenry's speech patterns or because of Snyder's love for David Hayward? I've got a chicken and an egg but I don't know which nest they belong to. Either way, Heart Murmurs works very well as a lost episode in Dr. Hayward's life or a single episode in Dr. McHenry's own. What's not to love about an arrogant doctor with gifts as big as his ego? (Healing gifts. Please.)

Making Heart Murmurs even better was Snyder's choice to mention the differences between the couple and then dispense with them. No biases related to age or ethnicity weigh down the breezy narrative. These are the people they are, this is why they are attracted to each other, this is how they resolve it. It's credible from conflict to resolution. (Well except for the thoughts out loud thing because again, no.) If Snyder switches to angsty historicals I am so there.

*This review first appeared at Love In The Margins.