Originally posted at WordPress.
Bear, Otter and the Kid by T.J. Klune
© 2011, published by Dreamspinner Press
Three years ago, Bear McKenna’s mother took off for parts unknown with her new boyfriend, leaving Bear to raise his six-year-old brother Tyson, aka the Kid. Somehow they’ve muddled through, but since he’s totally devoted to the Kid, Bear isn’t actually doing much living—with a few exceptions, he’s retreated from the world, and he’s mostly okay with that. Until Otter comes home.
Otter is Bear’s best friend’s older brother, and as they’ve done for their whole lives, Bear and Otter crash and collide in ways neither expect. This time, though, there’s nowhere to run from the depth of emotion between them. Bear still believes his place is as the Kid’s guardian, but he can’t help thinking there could be something more for him in the world... something or someone.
I’m not entirely certain how this book came to my attention. Maybe a give away, or a review online somewhere? The blurb reminded me a great deal of the plot of the movie Shelter, and it prompted me to see how a novel might treat the same general plot.
As the blurb indicates, Derrick (aka Bear) is acting in loco parentis for his mother, who abandoned his young half-brother, Tyson (aka the Kid) to him just as Bear finished high school, putting the kibosh on any plans Bear had for a college education or escaping her white trash ethos. He’s lucky, though, in that he has a strong support network made up of his childhood friends and their families, who stick with him for emotional and financial support as he raises the Kid, a “vegetarian eco-terrorist-in-training”. In addition to Creed, his BFF, and Anna, his girlfriend and other BFF, who have been physically present for the last three years, there is Oliver (aka Otter), Creed’s older brother who was an original part of the support network but who disappeared abruptly for reasons that are made clear very early – there’s huge tension between Bear and Otter because Bear, ostensibly straight, kissed Otter, out and gay, while upset and drunk. Otter disappeared, more or less, for three years because of his guilt over Bear kissing him and feeling he took advantage. Until the beginning of the book, when he returns and all the tension comes to a head. And that is just the set up of the book and the first couple of chapters!
With Otter’s return, the two of them have to negotiate some sort of truce or ruin their extended family unit. Creed and Anna both notice the tension, and bug them to figure things out while not really understanding what the problem is. The vast majority of what follows is Bear realizing he loves Otter, despite the fact that he is not gay and is not attracted to any other men. In fact, he dismisses the idea of being “gay for you” as being impossible but for the fact that he does love and physically want Otter. Otter is kind of a doormat, indulging Bear in whatever he wants relationship-wise and keeping everything on the down low in front of his brother and Anna. Just as the two of them have begun to figure that out and are ready for the big reveal to Creed and Anna (who have a surprise of their own), potential disaster strikes, pushing them and their relationship back to square one.
There are the bones of a potentially good book buried here. But the bones are buried deep. The book read like a rough first draft, one that had not yet been betaed or reviewed by a crit group, let alone a content editor. Pacing, narration, and some language usage need tightening or review in the book.
Vacuous Minx, SarahFrantz, and I, among others, have noted on Twitter and elsewhere that many of Dreamspinner’s works need better content editing. Even one of our mutual favorites, Sean Kennedy’s Tigers & Devils, could have been just a little bit better (from A- to A) with some words trimmed and the pacing tightened up. And that is very much the case here. BOatK was a Kindle book for me, and it had more than 9,000 “locations”; in comparison, an average mass market paperback usually has between 4,000 and 6,000. Parts of the book dragged incredibly, and there was a great deal of repetitive angst that served no larger purpose. Cutting a good third of the book would have been a mercy.
The Kid as a narrative device is both original and unoriginal. He’s the center that Bear rotates around, and he’s essential to the plot. And yet he’s conveniently absent or able to entertain himself through large chunks of the book, reappearing to give sage relationship advice to his older brother and to take care of him. He’s quirky and different in his fascination with eco-terrorism, and his abandonment issues are realistic and very well done. And yet his emotional intelligence is unrealistic for a child his age – having an eight year old give romantic advice to a twenty-one year old is just plain weird and kind of creepy.
The narration is by Bear in first person for the entire book, but for an epilogue narrated by Otter. And in many places, the narrative style is extremely awkward and self-conscious. Parts of the book scream for the POV of the other characters, but instead of changing POV, those passages are narrated by Bear in a “tell tell tell” fashion, filtered entirely through him and retold by him, even when dialogue or other stylistic devices could be used to better convey the events or speech/opinions/actions of the other characters.
The Gay4U trope and the relationship dynamic between Bear and Otter left me feeling uncomfortable, and I’m struggling to identify and articulate why. I noted in a comment over at Vacuous Minx’s that a couple of the issues were: 1) failure to address the Gay4U issue other than to dismiss it out of hand completely while acknowledging that is exactly what Bear is for Otter – what a waste of an opportunity to actually explore the trope; and 2) the history of the relationship between Bear and Otter and the hints of very early attraction told via flashback, which seems a little squicky to me as it falls a little too closely into the gay=pedo smear.
The nicknames? Cute for a minute and then irritating.
Bear comes perilously close to being a self-sacrificing Mary Sue. And he spends large chunks of the book being an asshat, too.
Some words were used oddly. For example, machismo for macho, tact for tack or tactic, etc. At one point, Bear describes his eyes as being “tacky and crass” after crying himself to sleep; while I grasp what he meant, there is no usage of “crass” that makes sense in that context.
The ending is simultaneously delayed, in the sense that it should have come at least 10,000 words earlier, and abrupt in the sense that the HEA feels manufactured and way too soon for where Bear and Otter are in their relationship.
Someone on Twitter mentioned that the author is planning a sequel to this book, where some of the lingering questions and issues may be resolved, and that better pacing would come with practice and experience. That’s a charitable position to take, but as a reader and consumer, I don’t appreciate being the testing or practice run for an author; if I’m paying full price for a book, I expect it to be polished and produced appropriately by the publisher, with the best efforts of both the author and the publisher. The time for learning your craft is before you start asking people to pay for your work IMO. (Yes, writers learn continuously and continue to hone their craft, but readers should be able to have minimum expectations of the books they buy, in terms of what the authors and publisher bring to the table and charge them for.)
As I read the book, I enjoyed it even as I noted all the things that were awkward or clunky or should have been fixed by a good editor. But ultimately, I can’t really recommend this book to other readers without a huge caveat or warning.
Title: Stroke to His Cox
Author: J.L. Merrow
Copyright: 2011, Dreamspinner Press
Length/format: e-short story
Poking around Dreamspinner a while ago, I ran across this short story. At first the title made me roll my eyes, then once I read the blurb, I appreciated the word play: the narrator is the coxswain for his college’s boat crew at Cambridge. Also, I’d read a couple of the author’s other ebooks, which have been generally well reviewed elsewhere. Meant to write a review at the time, but then time got away from me. A recent twitter query for interracial m/m romance from SarahF reminded me of this short story once again.
David Tanaka is the coxswain of his college’s rowing team at Cambridge. In comparison to his crew, David is a midget, but he is utterly in charge. It’s clear by their interactions and how they respond to his orders on the river that they trust him implicitly and that his size is relevant only in the sense that the smaller the better since it means less weight to propel. David also has a huge crush on his lead rower, Archie, which he’s suppressed so far for the good of the team.
The wires of the rudder thrumming between my fingers, I had one eye on our heading and the other constantly scanning the crew, watching for signs of weakness or bad timing. My gaze kept returning to Archie, though, and not just because he was the one sitting right in front of me, rowing stroke. His face was tense with concentration, and his eyes were still locked on me as those massive arms pulled on the oar again and again. Blond hair blown back by the wind during the recovery flopped over his eyes as his legs powered him backward on the drive. I felt a tug in the pit of my stomach as the boat surged forward — and then it began again. Catch — drive — recovery. Catch — drive — recovery. Does he dream about this? I wondered.
I used to wank off thinking about this, about Archie rowing stroke, gazing back at me like I’m some sort of god. I used to, until the day we were out on the river and I realized I was getting a hard-on. I nearly dove into the water out of sheer bloody embarrassment. I mean, it’s not like I hid the fact I was a poof, but I made sure I didn’t rub it in their faces.
God, I wanted to rub it in Archie’s face.
The heart of the action of Stroke is a boat race in which the team is trying to earn their oars. I don’t really understand enough about the import of earning oars or “bumping”, but it’s clearly a rite of passage for the team. There’s a fair amount of explanation of the process, but it is conveyed without weighing down the narrative or boring readers (or this reader, at least). The exposition sets up the competition and helps sketch in the team’s dynamic, which otherwise is a little light because of the book length.
Merrow manages to pack a lot of back-story into Stroke. Readers learn that David grew up on the Isle of Wight as one of very few non-Anglo residents. In addition to being non-Caucasian, he grew up being the shortest kid in the class…which was often taught by one of his parents. Then add in the realization that he was gay as a teenager. A less flattering way to describe David’s need to be in charge would be to describe in as a Napoleon complex, but he seems to be pretty self-aware.
My only warning is that this is an EXTREMELY short story. If you keep track of price/word length, you may be a little unhappy. Dreamspinner’s website says this is a 25 page book, but it’s actually 18 pages in the epub format, and five of those are the copyright, cover, author bio, etc.
Having said that, the story fit the short format. It was a quick, fun read, with a different voice, narrator and setting. The story ends with the narrator in a happy place and the potential for an HEA or at least an HFN.
Excerpt available here. Available for purchase at Dreamspinner in multiple formats.
As coxswain of a Cambridge college rowing team, pint-sized Dave Tanaka has eight strapping athletes hanging on his every word, their strength at his command. Leading his crew to win their oars might be easier if Dave didn’t have to hide his crush on Archie, the stroke rower – but as they prepare for their final race, Dave doesn’t suspect that Archie is in the same boat as him in more ways than ons coxswain of a Cambridge college rowing team, pint-sized Dave Tanaka has eight strapping athletes hanging on his every word, their strength at his command. Leading his crew to win their oars might be easier if Dave didn’t have to hide his crush on Archie, the stroke rower – but as they prepare for their final race, Dave doesn’t suspect that Archie is in the same boat as him in more ways than one!
Based on the potential recommenders, I wasn't sure what to expect, since they all have very different taste in books. The information in the blurb and the excerpt reveal that the narrator, Fiona Yu, is an American-born Chinese woman, a 28 year old lawyer who lives with her family, who are pressing her to marry a good Chinese boy. All of that is sort of chick-lit-ish (and I don't mean that in a derogatory way) and not very original, but an opening in which a narrator decides clinically to rid herself of her virginity via sterilized and lidocained dildo? Different and promising and satiric and funny.
Another chick lit cliche fulfilled: Fiona's smart, went to Yale, is miserable as an associate at a Big Law firm. She likes expensive bags and shoes. And because it's expected of her, she works in her family's laundry. She wears stilettos not because she likes the way they look but because they hurt, which reminds her that she's alive, and likens them to modern Chinese foot-binding. She resents that despite her academic success and good job, she isn't skinny enough or pale enough to please cultural stereotypes.
At the outset, her rebellions seem small: she sows discord via planted pocket contents at the family laundry. She's obsessed with Kurt Cobain and "Smells Like Teen Spirit". She makes serial killers her heroes (which probably should have told me something). One early passage that reveals a lot about Fiona:
The FBI profiles are almost always the same: White men. Age twenty-five to forty. Female serial killers account for only eight percent of all American serial killers. And they are white too.
White people get to have all the fun.
For once, I'd like to hear "The unsub is most likely female. Asian. Age twenty-five to forty."
Unlikely. Just look at Hello Kitty.
I hate Hello Kitty.
I hate her for not having a mouth or fangs like a proper kitty. She can't eat, bite off a nipple or finger, give head, tell anyone to go and fuck his mother or lick herself. She has no eyebrows, so she can't look angry. She can't even scratch your eyes out. Just clawless, fangless, voiceless, with that placid, blank expression topped by pink ribbon.
Fiona and Sean are soul mates but not lovers. The romance trope is that meeting your soul mate makes you more fully yourself, makes you a better person in some ways. Sean and Fiona do this for each other, egging each other on, bringing out pieces of themselves suppressed by civilization, by programming, by weight of humanity and social expectations, into daylight, for better or worse (mostly worse). The closest relationship that I can think of is that the twisted dynamic of Archie Sheridan and Gretchen Lowell in the HeartSick series...except Fiona's not trying to catch a killer. Fiona loves Sean and fears him, likening the feeling to someone who keeps a dangerous pet snake -- loving it but being vulnerable to damage if the snake isn't properly contained and fed. Readers never get Sean's point of view independently of Fiona's narration, but he does seem to feel something for her. Is it love? Or the relief of having a partner in crime? I don't know. Certainly his "tokens" to her put me in mind of a cat presenting its owners with dead mice or birds in tribute.
Choi basically takes all the tropes and cliches of chick lit, uses them, ties them in a knot and lobs them back at readers like a grenade. Narrator/heroine set free and empowered? Check. Able to take action for the things she wants in her life? Check. Hero who *gets* her? Check. But it's like an impressionist painting or one of those optical illusion posters that were popular years back -- look at a different angle and what you'll see is not what you expected and might shock you.
Grade from me: A
Blurb from Choi's website:
On the outside, 28-year-old Fiona Yu appears to be just another Hello Kitty – an educated, well-mannered Asian-American woman. Secretly, she feels torn between the traditional Chinese values of her family and the social mores of being an American girl.
To escape the burden of carrying her family's honor, Fiona decides to take her own virginity. In the process, she makes a surprising discovery that reunites her with a long-lost friend, Sean Killroy. Sean introduces her to a dark world of excitement, danger, cunning and cruelty, pushing her to the limits of her own morality. But Fiona's father throws her new life into disarray when he dupes her into an overnight trip which results in a hasty engagement to Don Koo, the spoiled son of a wealthy chef.
Determined to thwart her parents' plans to marry her off into Asian suburbia, Fiona seeks her freedom at any price. How far will she go to bury the Hello Kitty stereotype forever? Follow Fiona's journey of self-discovery as she embraces her true nature and creates her own version of the American Dream, eliminating anyone who stands in her way without fear or remorse.
Reginald Mason is a wealthy, refined, and, by all accounts, a gentleman. However, he is not a gentleman by birth, a factor that pains him and his father, Bernard Mason, within the Regency society that upholds station over all else. That is, until an opportunity for social advancement arises, namely Lady Annabelle Ashton. Daughter of the Earl of Havercroft, a neighbor and enemy of the Mason family, Annabelle finds herself disgraced by a scandal. Besmirched by shame, the early is only to happy to marry Annabelle off to anyone willing to have her.
Though Bernard wishes to use Annabelle to propel his family up the social lade, his son does not wish to marry her, preferring instead to live the wild, single life he is accustomed to. With this, Bernard serves his son an ultimatum: marry Annabelle, or make do without family funds. Having no choice, Reginald consents and enters into a hostile engagement in which the prospective bride and groom are openly antagonistic, each one resent the other for their current state of affairs.
So begins an intoxicating tale rife with dark secrets, deception, and the trials of love -- a story in which very little is at it seems.
I can remember a time when Mary Balogh’s European historical were auto buys for me. It was a narrow window, just after I’d discovered her backlog of traditional Regencies, as she was making the jump to hard cover series and single titles.
I stopped buying her books because she didn’t make my short list of hard cover auto buys, and then gradually stopped borrowing her books from the library or buying them in mass market release, too, although I couldn’t give a specific reason. Lack of distinctiveness in a glutted genre market, maybe, or just that I had other things to read that caught my attention first.
How have the more recent releases been received by readers? Now that I’ve read A Matter of Class, I’m going to have to look.
The cover art is nice, although I'm not clear which scene it might be representing. More interesting to me is the use of cover quotes from Debbie Macomber and Christine Feehan. Macomber used to write good categories but now her work seems to be more cozy and inspirational (I'm guessing, I haven't read anything of hers in at least 5 years). Feehan is a big paranormal author who writes edgier, sexier stuff than either Macomber or Balogh (I'm guessing based on reviews, haven't read her). So what market was Balogh's publisher trying to tap into by having cover quotes from both? Is there a big overlap between the two readerships, or was the intent to appeal to both?
As a romance novel, well, it wasn’t bad or poorly written. The characters were fairly flat, but I attribute that to the very short nature of the book – very little page space for anything other than clichés. The plot was extremely predictable. The backblurb hints at dark secrets and deception. Not sure what the dark secrets were, but I guessed the deception by the opening paragraph of the second chapter.
As an object, the mmp price ($6.99) was too high: length-wise, it was shorter than many category romance novels that sell for $4.50 to $5.50. The book is quite slender but is padded by 10 page author Q&A and then 5 pages of discussion questions. (Really? What market was the publisher going for? That seems very unusual for genre romance.) And it was originally released as a hard cover. Personally, I would have been very unhappy to pay $15.95 for that.
Meh. C for me.
The title is kind of ridiculous, even more ridiculous than the usual mistress/virgin/Greek/sheikh mix and match titles that HP specializes in. The heroine isn't a princess; even at the end of the book, once she has married into royalty (no spoiler there, really, given HP tropes and genre requirements, yes?), she's still not a princess. And there's no disgrace. But whatever. Standard cover art, embracing characters with wind-tossed hair.
Now Gerd has taken the crown, and His Majesty needs a princess. The obvious candidate for marriage is Rosie—a chance to take sweet revenge for the wound that has never healed. Only, once he has his royal bride, he is astounded to find that she's still a virgin....
The first paragraph is actually accurate. Shocking, I know. The second not so much, since Rosie isn't an obvious candidate, and he realizes she's a virgin when they have sex long before they get married. And there's really no revenge involved.
Things I liked:
- Getting the hero's POV, so even if the heroine isn't aware of the seriousness of his feelings, the reader is.
- That the characters actually address the age difference, which is a little creepy -- 18/30 in the flashed back scenes, 21/33 at present
- That the heroine had realistic career goes and executed those plans, going to university and getting a business education, working in the industry she was interested in, even if the economy put the kibosh on her job plans
Things I didn't like:
- The characters conflating the morning after pill with abortion
- Virginity again
- Paparazzi as an excuse to railroad the heroine into marriage
- The vast power imbalance in their relationship
Things I was on the fence about:
- The heroine's immediate abandonment of her life plans for the hero
- The convoluted familial relationships that are never really explained: the h/h are related by marriage, although I didn't really understand how
- How/why the hero grew up in New Zealand but was the heir apparent for an Adriatic/Aegean duchy
As an HP, this one is pretty good. But as usual, a reader unfamiliar with HP tropes would be not impressed.
Today's SBD is brought to you by Groupon and its awesome $20 for $10 Barnes & Noble gift certificate. Otherwise, I would not have bought The Perfect Play, no matter how pretty the cover art is, because the Kindle sample I downloaded kind of irritated me.
Football pro Mick Riley is an All-Star. Both on the field and in the bedroom. But a sexy, determinedly single mom just might be the one to throw him off his game...
For years Mick has been taking full advantage of the life available to a pro athlete: fame, fortune and a different girl in every city. But when he meets and beds confident, beautiful event planner Tara Lincoln, he wants much more than the typical one-night stand. Too bad Tara's not interested in getting to know football's most notorious playboy any better.
As the single mother of a teenage son, the last thing Tara needs is the jet-set lifestyle of Mick Riley, even though their steamy and passionate one-night stand was unforgettable. her life is complicated enough without being thrust into the spotlight as Mick's latest girl du jour. Tara played the game of love once and lost big, and she doesn't intend to put herself out there again, especially with a heartbreaker like Mick.
But when Mick sets his sights to win, nothing will stop him. And he has the perfect play in mind.
Objectively, this book is fine. Its prose isn't particularly fluid or artist, but it is steady and serviceable. The plot advances evenly and is well-paced. And I wanted to love it -- the cover is gorgeous and it's a sports romance!
But it just didn't work for me. Let me count the ways it did not work for me:
- "I don't do this kind of thing." Bitch, please, you're having a one night stand with a total stranger: obviously you *do*. Own what you are doing.
- Thin world building, in terms of Tara's history and family, which is given a huge weight in terms of why she is who she is and justifying or explaining her situation and parenting approach, but is explained late and is somewhat hollow.
- Mick's constant denigration of the women he dated and screwed before meeting Tara: it reflects poorly on him that he thinks so badly of them, yet he continued to date them and have sex with them because it was convenient.
- The also constant effort to show that Tara was both sophisticated and an aww-shucks down to earth gal.
- The wibbling about whether or not they were in a relationship. Dude, the instant you introduced Mick to your son, it became a relationship, because you do NOT introduce your children to your booty call. So either it's a relationship or you are the trashiest person ever.
- The big conflict at the end, which required the vilification of an otherwise interesting character, did not impress me. Yes, yes, that character gets to be redeemed in the next book of the series. But that brings up another point: female sports agents are rare, and in a male-dominated industry, under a huge amount of scrutiny. Having your female sports agent sleep with one of her clients? Instantly kills her credibility and reputation; even if she ends up marrying him later, it is potentially career sinking if they get caught or when news of it leaks, unless it's totally on the down low until they announce their marriage.
- Also, what appears to be a trend in this series: slutty heroes and heroines who haven't had sex in years.
Title: Lord Carew's Bride
Author: Mary Balogh
Subgenre: Traditional Regency
Publication date: June, 1995
Her Heart's Dilemma
Samantha Newman's heart skipped a beat when she found herself dancing with the irresistibly handsome and notorious Earl of Rushford. This ruthless libertine, who had betrayed Samantha six years ago, was waltzing back into her life. She had vowed never again to become his plaything, yet she could not deny the strong attraction that drew her to him.
Faced with a marriage proposal and feelings that have been stirred by Rushford's charming cousin, the Marquess of Carew, Samantha must decide if she can ignore the embers of an old passion--and ignite the flames of a new one....
I can remember loving Mary Balogh's European historicals back around 2000-2002. Since then? Eh, not so much. The Bedwyn series killed my interest: they were all pretty interchangeable, and were part of her move to hardcover. Was disinclined to pay hardcover prices for material that didn't feel original. But I have some of her older trad Regencies in the TBR mountain.
My synopis of the plot: While staying with her happily-married cousin (see Balogh's Dark Angel), Samantha meets gentleman who works as a landscaper on the Marquess of Carew's estate. He's lame, but lovely company. Except he's actually the Marquess, he just introduced himself as plain Mr. Harley Wade. But she doesn't know that and just enjoys his company until it's time to go back to Town for the season. While there, she becomes entangled with Rushford, a nasty bit of work who nearly ruined her cousin (again, see Dark Angel) and Samantha herself. Slimy, smarmy, smirky, he's still nearly irresistible to Samantha, who is dumber than a stump. Up pops Mr. Wade to her rescue: he proposes and she accepts, thinking it will be a friendly marriage but not a love-marriage. But then she learns he's the marquess. And later that Rushford is now her cousin by marriage. Sturm und drang follows. But eventually they get a happy ending.
What did I think? Well, I might've enjoyed this if I'd read it when it was first released. Now, though, I think Samantha is a self-centered, ignorant twit, and Wade deserves better. The plot was slow. Extremely slow. I spent most of the book waiting for something - anything! - to happen. Maybe if you're looking for a quiet, slow read, with very little action and mostly introspection, this would be a good read for you? But I was bored.
Title: One Real Thing
Authors: Anah Crow and Dianne Fox
Publisher: Carina Press (excerpt available)
Release date: January 3, 2011
Format/Source: eARC from Net Galley
Nick Addison has taken care of Hollister Welles since college. Though the responsible grad student and the uninhibited partier were total opposites, they had always shared an inexplicable bond. Nick knows he should stop saving the out-of-control Holly, but when Holly hits rock-bottom hard—and publicly—he can't resist coming to his rescue one last time. Can't resist the feeling of having Holly need him again.
Bringing Holly back to New York City, Nick gives Holly the chance to face his demons and break his dangerous habits—while keeping Holly's presence a secret from Nick's wife. He doesn't want to face Caroline's hatred of Holly...or the reasons she might have to resent him.
Then the tables are turned. Just as Holly pulls himself together, Nick's life falls apart. Now it's up to Holly to bring Nick back from the brink—and to make Nick finally face the desires he's long denied.
There's no polite way to put it: Hollister is a complete fuck-up. He'll screw anything that moves, drinks, drugs and parties to excess, and has essentially blown his career, friendships and family off and or away. And yet Nick, his college friend/mentor, can't let him go and won't let him utterly ruin himself. Nick is living the perfect life: married to Caroline, his college sweetheart, a successful investigative journalist, wealthy but not too much so. But when Holly self-destructs in an extremely public way, Nick rides (flies) to the rescue, despite the fact that he has to lie to his wife to do so. Holly doesn't really want to be rescued at first: he's a bundle of insecurities and addictions, and he likes it that way. The sex and drugs keep him from missing his estranged and/or ill family and Nick, whom he has adored since college. Nick's intervention changes things for both of them: he's Holly's bedrock, the support Holly uses to begin to wean himself from destructive behavior, while Holly eventually becomes the crack in the foundation of Nick's safe, yuppie life.
Why this book? A while back I read Anah Crow's Uneven, a S/M romance; while I wouldn't say I enjoyed it exactly, it was an extremely thought-provoking read for me. Later I read the Crow/Fox collaboration, Becoming Us, the coming out tale of a young man in college, a sort of gay-for-you love story that managed to be very sweet while also including copious amounts of very hot sex. Although GFY is not my favorite gay romance trope, I enjoyed the story. So when I saw this among the eARCs available at Net Galley, I clicked the "request" button.
What did I think of it? Spent the first half of the book really uncomfortable with the dynamics of any kind of sexual relationship between Nick & Holly, BDSM or otherwise, because Holly is so vulnerable and ill -- mentally ill, addicted and broken -- and they are so clearly NOT equal at that point, in terms of ability to make decisions and give informed consent. I wasn't sure Crow & Fox would be able to move their relationship past that vulnerability. But then as the plot progresses, Holly manages to clean up his life; he is able to function independently (and does so successfully) without Nick's intervention or guidance. The role reversal that follows outlines that growth or change in Holly, so that when their M/s relationship resumes, or really begins anew and moves in a sexual direction, they are on a level footing. The BDSM or M/s aspect of their relationship reminds me in some ways of the relationship of the characters in Laney Cairo's A Bad Case of Loving You, in that they never label what they are doing or engage in any stylized or scene play; it just is what it is, and that's how they work best together. It's just who they were.
What else? Nick came across as a bit of a Gary Stu. I liked that the story was not overwhelmed by sex. Loved the secondary characters Jules & Danner. Perhaps the only knock I have is that I was disappointed by the use of the cold/snooty/snotty wife as excuse for Nick's poor choices rather than having him own his path to disaster, and especially the emphasis on physical infidelity vs. emotional infidelity as the fulcrum for Nick's meltdown. Frankly, he checks out of their marriage long before his wife even if he pretends otherwise to himself, and I felt kind of sorry for her, which I don't think the authors intended.
Grade from me: solid B.
Would read more from Crow & Fox.
Author: Saundra Mitchell
Publication Date: March 7, 2011
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Source: eARC via Net Galley
It's the summer of 1889, and Amelia van den Broek is new to Baltimore and eager to take in all the pleasures the city has to offer. But her gaiety is interrupted by disturbing, dreamlike visions she has only at sunset—visions that offer glimpses of the future. Soon, friends and strangers alike call on Amelia to hear her prophecies. However, a forbidden romance with Nathaniel, an artist, threatens the new life Amelia is building in Baltimore. This enigmatic young man is keeping secrets of his own—still, Amelia finds herself irrepressibly drawn to him.
When one of her darkest visions comes to pass, Amelia's world is thrown into chaos. And those around her begin to wonder if she's not the seer of dark portents, but the cause.
Why this book? The setting caught my attention: late 19th century Baltimore? I'm in.
Amelia is sent to Baltimore to stay with cousins, essentially to find a husband. After living under the thumb of her brother, August, she relishes the freedom to be had in the Stewarts' household, and the companionship of her cousin, Zora. At dinner one evening, Amelia "sees" the future -- her cousin in a dress not yet made, dancing with a young man. When she first mentions it to Zora, they both treat it as a joke: Zora has a dress being made, but her young man never dances. But eventually the vision comes true. And then another. And soon Amelia is receiving calls from many people who want to know their futures.
In addition to popularity via prediction, Amelia meets a mysterious young man, Nathaniel Witherspoon. Poor and working class, he's inappropriate as a suitor by her family's standards, but she doesn't care about that. She does care and is fascinated to learn that he has a paranormal gift, one quite different from hers: he can travel by wind and be called when she whispers his name to the wind.
Sadly, some of Amelia's predictions rebound upon her, ending with her exile. (I don't think that's a spoiler, given the information revealed in the first paragraph of the book.)
What did I think of the book? I enjoyed it, and I think anyone who likes YA paranormals or Anna Godberson's The Luxe series would probably appreciate the book. The narrator is impulsive and self-indulgent, which is to say she is a teenager and acts like it. She sees things, dreamlike, in the twilight, hence the name of the book. The book had a sort of frothy gothic feel to it.
Liked the use of the Baltimore "hon", arabbers, and the mention of different neighborhoods, although I do wonder if the Inner Harbor was called that back in 1889 -- at that time, it was still a light freight and passenger port, not a location a young lady would expect to inquire about or visit unless in the company of her family for some business purpose.
Random editing comment: Mademoiselle Thierry would be abbreviated Mlle. Thierry, not Mme. Thierry, which is short for Madame.
It arrived last week and languished on my coffee table until today.
Payback . . . delivered on a silver platter
Notorious Nikos Katrakis was looking for a new mistress when, out of the blue, heiress Tristanne Barbery offered herself to him. Could satisfaction and revenge really be that easy to obtain?
Tristanne knew better than to play games with a man of such devastatingly lethal charisma as Nikos. But, though she had a good idea of the kind of sacrifice she was offering, she had no choice.
To Nikos’s surprise, Tristanne was not the weak, biddable good-time girl he’d expected . . . and soon his plans for vengeance came crumbling down around him.
The cover art: Quite appropriate in this case – I am impressed! There is a scene in the book in which the heroine wears a scanty red dress while the hero is in formal attire, and while this dress looks longer than the dress described in that scene, it comes pretty close.
The book opens with Tristanne joining a party on Nikos’s yacht and asking him for a kiss, then following that up with an offer to be his new mistress. They’ve never met before or even been introduced, but each is aware of who the other is: Tristanne saw Nikos once ten years before and never forgot him, struck by his air and looks, while Nikos has been plotting revenge against the Barbery family because Tristanne’s brother, Peter, ruined his sister and nearly toppled the family business. Underlying Tristanne’s proposition is Peter’s blackmail: he won’t release her trust fund or pay for her mother’s medical treatment unless she more or less whores herself out for his business interests. Tristanne sees Nikos as an attractive target who will please her sleazy brother but has no intention of there being any sex involved. [Yeah, I’m not sure what mistressing entails other than sex, but the no sex part didn’t seem realistic to me. :shrug:]
Anyway, after some verbal fencing and internal bemusement, they eventually succumb to their attraction and have loads of hot sex while vacationing on the Mediterranean. The hot sex is followed by the successful execution of Nikos’s plan to humiliate and ruin the Barbery family, which breaks Tristanne’s heart but also leaves him feeling empty and blighted. Since this is a category romance, there must be a happily ever after, so after drowning his regrets in whiskey and feeling sorry for himself, Nikos hunts Tristanne down and grovels appropriately, apologizing for his revenge and ruination of their relationship. Et voila, all is well again.
KLM has many of the standard HP tropes, but is better than most, I think. I really liked that Tristanne stood up to Nikos and didn’t let him walk all over her during their relationship. Their banter and debates worked really well to demonstrate how their minds matched. Also liked that the hero really did seem to recognize the wrong he was doing, even as he did it, and regretted it later: so often the alpha heroes of romance novels blunder over things and never apologize for the damage they do.
The only things that really made me roll my eyes were: 1) the utter sleaze of the bad guy of the book, Tristanne’s half brother, Peter; and 2) the weak use/excuse of Tristanne’s mother. Her illness (and I’m not really clear on what the illness is or why she doesn’t qualify for government subsidized medicine, since she seems to live in Europe) is what is forcing the entire plot, yet Tristanne spends zero time with her and she has no page space. Further, she apparently let Tristanne essentially be disowned as a teenager but now is expecting her to provide for her care?
This was a quick, fun read, and I look forward to reading more from Ms. Crews.
Pre-order and other information here.
Source: Net Galley eARC
Release date: December 6, 2010
Josh Lanyon is the anchor author of this anthology, followed by Z.A. Maxfield and LB Gregg, who are established authors, plus relative new-comer Harper Fox. Each story is available individually, or bundled as the anthology.
Spicing Up the Season
Hope brightens a bleak Edinburgh December. A man gets a second chance with his high school crush. A decade-long game of cat and mouse comes to a passionate conclusion. And Santa Claus drives a red muscle car. Heat up your holidays with this collection of four festive tales from some of the top talent in the male/male genre.
The cover art is generic but also accurate: the guys kissing on the cover signal gay romance, and the snow flakes are a signal for the winter settings.
Mistletoe at Midnight by LB Gregg
Owen McKenzie has traveled to Vermont to spend an old-fashioned Christmas with his family when he finds himself staying at the same inn as his first love. Owen is disconcerted to realize he’s still attracted to Caleb Black but refuses to pursue him. Caleb left him once, and Owen’s not going down that road again.
Caleb is ready for a second chance when Owen and gets it when fate and the matchmaking McKenzies conspire to strand the two men in a rustic cabin during a snowstorm on Christmas Eve. Can Caleb convince Owen to rekindle their romance so they can stop spending their holidays apart?
What did I think? I think this blurb is not very accurate. Owen has moved to Vermont, is not just visiting for the holiday; readers have no idea what Caleb wants since we don’t get his POV; the stranding was due to weather not the family; etc. Beyond that, I found the extended separation to be a little silly in the age of facebook and google to find long lost friends and lovers.
Having said that, I really enjoyed Owen’s interactions with his family and the secondary characters, and the story worked well within its format constraints. (B)
Nine Lights Over Edinburgh by Harper Fox
Detective Inspector James McBride is riding high on the belief that he’s about to bust a human-trafficking ring. But just five days before Christmas, his unorthodox methods catch up with him and his world comes crashing down.
McBride tries to concentrate on his new day job as security for the visiting Israeli ambassador. He even starts to feel a renewed sense of self-worth when the leader of the Israeli team, the aristocratic Tobias Leitner, takes a bullet for him in the lien of duty. But he can’t forget the trafficking case, especially when his investigations result in the kidnapping of his own daughter! McBride has no one to turn to for help – no one, except Toby.
Can these two very different men work together to bring about a holiday miracle – and heal one another’s heart in the process?
What did I think? I think Harper Fox loves to pour on the angst, which is not my favorite seasoning for romance. Human trafficking, alcoholism, grief, loss of lover, loss of family, closeted homosexuality, all of them are wedged into this short story. I wanted to like the story, which is well-written, but it just felt over-wrought to me. So much time was spent on the outside conflict and on showing how damaged McBride and Toby are that I didn’t really trust their rapid HEA/HFN. (C)
I Heard Him Exclaim by Z.A. Maxfield
Who likes a skinny Santa?
Steve Adam’s heart hasn’t been in the Christmas spriti ever since doctors put a stent in it and order him to clean up his act. No longer filling out his Santa suit or allowed to make merry, he’s forgoing the holidays this year and heading to Vegas to indulge in the few vices left to him: gambling and anonymous sex.
His road trip takes a detour when he encounters Chandler Tracy, who’s just inherited guardianship of his five-year-old niece. Overwhelmed, Chandler’s on his way to deliver Poppy to his parents. But fate has other plans and, after car trouble, Chandler and Poppy accept a ride home with Steve. Though the heat between the two men is obvious, they put it on simmer while they band together to make Poppy’s Christmas as perfect as possible.
Steve soon comes to believe that while Chandler is the right person to look after Poppy, someone needs to look after Chandler. Fortunately, Steve knows just the man for the job.
What did I think? My perspective of Santa is now permanently skewed: forget the jolly old man, he’s now a burly bear who's got an eye out for twinkish elves. No, really, I enjoyed this story – it is a fairy tale in the Calgon-take-me-away sense. Chandler’s at the end of his rope, suddenly a parent and unprepared to be so, broken down on the way to Christmas with his parents, when his Santa/savior arrives on the scene. Steve is very much a Prince Charming in a Santa suit: he fixes the car temporarily and then gives them a ride when the fix doesn’t hold; he invites them into his home and his family; he’s basically perfect, with a perfect extended family who welcome Chandler and Poppy into the fold without question or hesitation. The holiday theme is integrated into the story pretty well, too; I loved the family obsession and decoration detail. (B)
Icecapade by Josh Lanyon
On the eve of the new millennium, diamond thief Noel Snow seduced FBI special agent Robert Cuffe, then fled into the dawn. Now a successful novelist, Noel uses his capers as fodder for his books, and has modeled his hero's nemesis (and potential love interest) on Cuffe. Though he leaves Robert a drunken phone message every New Year's Eve, Noel hasn't seen or heard from him in a decade.
So he's thrilled when his former lover shows up at his upstate farm one Christmas Eve. Elation quickly turns to alarm when Robert acuses Novel of being responsible for a recent rash of diamond heists. Robert is all business and as cold as ice: it seems his only interest in Noel is to put him behind bars.
Innocent of the crimes, and still as attracted as ever to the oh-so-serious lawman, Noel plans a second seduction -- providing he can stay out of jail long enough!
What did I think? Josh Lanyon is the author I’m most familiar with in this anthology, and as a general rule, I enjoy his style. This story is an INYIM (TM to KristieJ) story: it did not work for me for reasons unrelated to the writing quality or style. Thieves as romance heroes are a very hard sell, and Lanyon didn’t close the sale for me. The unrepentant ex-thief narrator whined about the unintended consequences of his actions, which got old. A cast of secondary characters assured me that the narrator really was reformed and a nice guy despite his chosen profession, and Lanyon chose to have him suffer from a physical injury that was probably intended to garner more sympathy. Eh, no, especially when the narrator excuses himself since he was never violent and hadn’t carried a weapon when he was out and about burgling people but apparently not harming or victimizing them. Potential suspect and cop relationships are a staple in genre romance, but this one just didn’t work for me. (DNF)
Overall, I enjoyed the anthology. Two of the stories worked extremely well for me, while the other two were less successful because of my tastes as a reader and through no fault of the authors.
Edited for typos.
Author: Christine Danse (new to me)
Publisher: Carina Press
Release Date: November 29, 2010
Source: Net Galley
Field Journal of Jonathan Orms, 1893
En route to polite exile in the Galapagos Islands (field work, to quote the dean of my university), I have found myself marooned on a deserted tropical paradise. Deserted, that is, except for my savior, a mysterious American called Marcus. He is an inventor—and the proof of his greatness is the marvelous new clockwork arm he has created to replace the unsightly one that was ruined in my shipboard mishap.
Marcus has a truly brilliant mind and the gentlest hands, which cause me to quiver in an unfamiliar but rather pleasant way. Surely it is only my craving for human companionship that draws me to this man, nothing more? He says a ship will pass this way in a few months, but I am welcome to stay as long as I like. The thought of leaving Marcus becomes more untenable with each passing day, though staying would be fatal to my career...
Why this book? I was browsing at Net Galley by publisher and ran across this one. I've had good luck with the Carina Press books I've read so far, so it's one of the publishers I make sure to check periodically. The "steampunk" subject also caught my eye -- I'm new to steampunk romance but have enjoyed the little I've read so far. Make it m/m steampunk romance and I'm sold!
What did I think of the book? On the whole, I enjoyed it. Was predisposed to doing so, given the category.
The story opens with our narrator, a biologist at an English university who has recently lost both his fiancee and an arm, being sent off on sabbatical to the Galapagos Islands. At the end of an unremarkable journey, a storm blows up; venturing above decks unwisely, Jonathan is washed overboard and wakes on an island north of the Galapagos. His rescuer, Marcus, is an American surgeon and engineer. Once the survivor of a shipwreck, Marcus is now the lone occupant of the island by choice. Marcus's specialty is prosthetics (how serendipitous!) and he is able to repair and improve Jonathan's prosthetic arm, which had been damaged at sea. Marcus's obsession is flight -- so many things can be mechanized, why not human flight? Surely if he can design proper wings and the proper engine, he'll be able to fly. Jonathan is anxious to be rescued by a passing ship -- they call in periodically and Marcus trades with them -- but also intrigued by Marcus's experiments.
Since this is a romance novel, you can probably imagine what happens as they live together on the island with only each other as company. The relationship development is slightly complicated by the fact that they are men: part of Marcus's self-imposed exile is his frustration with societal attitudes about homosexuality, while Jonathan has never really acknowledged that he is gay or at least bisexual. In fact, one of the most irritating lines of the book is one of his musings that he "was a ruined man, destroyed by [his] affections for a woman." Readers later learn that he lost his arm because he was distracted by his fiancee's desertion and got caught in a "library difference engine", which might explain that comment. But it smacks of self-pity and blame-shifting since Jonathan later admits that he neglected her, avoided her presence and hurt her, and that leaving him was the only thing she could do.
The steampunk elements in the book were limited primarily to Jonathan's prosthetic arm and Marcus's inventions. The library difference engine and Langley's aerodrome are also mentioned, however it's not clear that whatever industrial or mechanical or social changes that are usually inherent with steampunk exist in this setting. There's the Panama Canal (real); Darwin's journey on The Beagle (real); shadowgraph (which sounds like an x-ray in context, also real). Is that standard? [The little steampunk I've read to date has taken a culture or society and completely changed it via the steampunk elements, which is why I'm wondering.]
Would I read this author again? Certainly.
Keep or pass on? This was an eARC from NetGalley, so I can't do either. But if I'd purchased a copy, I certainly would keep it.
Related only generally, take a look here for some gorgeous steampunk cakes.
Release date: December 1, 2010
Why this book? Found it while paging through upcoming releases at Net Galley, and the blurb piqued my interest. It’s all Johnny Depp’s fault: until Captain Jack Sparrow’s metrosexual swishing about the deck of the Black Pearl, pirates didn’t interest me much in romance. Also, I've read relatively few Hqn Spice books; the first few put me off a bit and I hadn't been back to try more. This seemed like a good opportunity to do so.
What about the cover art? Content-wise, it was nice to see that the woman on the cover was tattoo’d, since Imena was described as being tattoo’d. The red velvet/brocade and food are supposed to be sensual, I’m sure, even if they don’t really fit any particular scene of the book.
The title? *sigh* Pirates sell, obviously. And The Duke and the Privateer Queen likely wouldn’t sell as many books. But within the world of this book, there is a clear social and legal distinction between pirates and privateers, and the heroine is VERY anti-pirate. So while the title will sell to readers, it is a little inconsistent with the content of the book.
Aboard her privateering ship, The Seaflower, Captain Imena Leung is the law. Ashore she answers only to her liege, Duke Maxime. They are a powerful couple, with an intense attraction neither can disguise nor deny. As a nobleman, Maxime is destined to wed strategically, so his seductive advances must be purely for pleasure. And what self-respecting pirate denies herself any pleasure?
Their delicious dalliance is prolonged when Imena is forced to abduct Maxime to thwart a political plot against him. At sea, with a stunningly virile man bound and held in her private quarters, Imena can imagine—and enact—any number of intoxicating scenarios.
The heat between captain and captive is matched only by the perils that beset The Seaflower and her crew. Violent storms, marauding corsairs and life-or-death sex games on a desert island— how fortunate for the seemingly insatiable lovers that danger and desire go hand-in-hand.
As usual, the blurb is sort of accurate and also inaccurate. Imena is NOT a pirate. Privateer and pirate are not interchangeable. Also, Maxime is not her liege, she's not a citizen of his duchy or oath-sworn to him; he is instead her employer. But lots of sexual tension and adventuring, so the blurb is accurate on those fronts.
What did I like about the book?
I loved the gender role reversals: the “pirate” being the woman and the duke/titled person who was rescued being the man.
I also liked the world building; didn’t realize at the beginning that this book is loosely related to other books set in the same world.
Really enjoyed the adventuring of Imena and Maxime: pursued by the royal navy and pirates, kipnapped by natives while on what they thought was a deserted island, navigating through a storm at sea, sword fighting in port, etc.
What didn't I like?
The mystery needed better development. First, kidnapping Maxime rather than reporting the threat to his life seems drastic and rather foolish. Yes, it sets up the entire plot, initiating their travels and enforced intimacy, but carrying him out of the palace naked and wrapped in a rug without telling him why seems a little abrupt; keeping him tied up in her cabin for a while without telling him still just seems petty. Second, the resolution of the mystery was told rather than shown for the most part. To be honest, I’m not sure how Janssen could have done so without lengthening the book considerably and also spending much more time away from Imena and Maxime and their adventures at sea, but the mystery component just felt poorly integrated with the other parts of the story being told.
More traditional romance gender role swapping here. Maxime knows he wants to marry Imena, while Imena is attracted but doesn’t take him seriously. Imena’s discounting of Maxime’s ability to gauge his own emotions and make his own choices was a little frustrating at times, especially her “you don’t really mean it” and “I’m not good enough and won’t let you sacrifice your standing” attitude. She came across as kind of patronizing and self-sacrificing in not a good way. But objectively, her behavior matches the gender role reversal, in that romance heroes are often emotionally constipated, and the traditional heroine says the Three Words first. [Hmm, that behavior in heroes drives me crazy; does having a heroine do the same thing and irritate me equally mean true gender equality has been achieved?]
I enjoyed the book, and would read more by Janssen. B-
Tech/editing issue: I downloaded a copy of this as a PDF to read in Adobe Digital Editions, and it was fine. It also read fine in the BlueFire app on my iPhone. But the version that Net Galley emailed to my Kindle had the F-L typesetting problem again, previously seen when I bought a copy of Kinsale’s Lessons in French. F-L doesn’t seem like a very common letter combination, but I highlighted most instances of “stif led” and “f lexing” and “far-f lung” and “f lowers” and “f lesh”, and it approached 200. Oddly, the ship title, The Seaflower, which was always italicized, never had that problem. I wonder if it is something in the font type and whatever script or style sheet is used to convert the file to mobi for Kindle.
Next NetGalley book: Island of Icarus, a November Carina Press release.
Next book generally: still reading The Annotated Persuasion.
As I mentioned last week, Dobson's Karen Pelletier mysteries are old favorites, and I thought the series had died a premature death but recently learned that a new book was published after a long hiatus.
Karen Pelletier is about to realize her dream. After six years in the English Department at New England's exclusive Enfield College, she is up for a tenured position. But when her rival for the one available tenured spot is found dead from an overdose of Peyote buttons, Karen is first on the list of suspects. Now a homicide cop with a grudge against Lieutenant Piotrowksi, the love of Karen's life, is breathing down her neck.
On campus, political passions rage, inflamed by the politically-correct English Department chair and by the Distinguished Visiting Professor of Whiteness Studies. Two of Karen's favorite students are caught up in the furor.
Will Karen be able to survive the investigation, protect her students, and find a permanent niche in the world of academe, all without her beloved Charlie, now serving with the National Guard in Iraq?
As usual, the back blurb is over-the-top and exaggerated. Passion, rage, survival, immediate suspicion? Eh, not so much. Although I'm not entirely certain the designation fits, this is much more a cozy mystery than a hard boiled crime novel.
What did I think of the cover art? It fits the content of the book. One of the characters is a Native American narrative specialist; the office of the victim and its contents are described as being piles and piles of print outs and paper, so the stacked desk suits, too. The text of the cover art is interesting to me, because the author's name is in all caps above the title and the font is almost as large as the title's font. I would take that to mean that the art/marketing department is selling Dobson's name/reputation/series as much as they are the individual book. [What do you think? Yes? No?]
The book opens with Karen angsting over her tenure application package -- from its contents to the box in which all the materials will be delivered to the Dean's office. Her anxiety increases tenfold when she learns that her department head (and tenure committee member) really wants Joe Lone Wolf, her competition, to get the sole tenured spot, despite the fact that he does not publish or attend conferences and has not actually finished his dissertation. He gets rave reviews from students (Karen and readers learn why later) and the English chair believes that using his lectures in lieu of publication is suitable given the oral nature of much of Native American literature and storytelling. Meanwhile, Karen's estranged sister deposits their ailing mother on Karen unannounced, and Karen's tenure box disappears from her office two days before it is due. Karen's bad luck worsens when she gets a call from the state police, asking her to come to Joe Lone Wolf's home because he is dead. Why Karen? Because a student found the body and asked for Karen when the police questioned him. But the detective on the case has an ax to grind with Charlie, Karen's absent lover, and uses Karen as a convenient outlet for his ire. I wouldn't say that he twists the facts or misuses evidence, but he certainly doesn't look far for any other potential suspects.
Feeling under the gun (and also forced to teach one of Lone Wolf's classes until a replacement can be found), Karen sends out some feelers via Facebook and other online academic listserves, trying to see if anyone knew much about Lone Wolf, who had zero internet presence, even to the point of lacking a photo on the college's home page for him. Her inquiry garners an interesting response from an old colleague, and creates an ever-growing pool of people who had reason to want Lone Wolf punished, one way or another.
What did I think of the book? I'm ambivalent, to be frank. The peek into the very competitive world of academia, especially for tenured slots, was intriguing to an outsider. And I enjoyed visiting Enfield College and Karen again. But I struggled with the plausibility of the set up. Would a talented teacher without a dissertation or any publication be considered for a tenured slot when there are other candidates who are multi-pubbed and also well-rated as an instructor? While I grasped the thread of ethnophobia, establishment guilt, and reparation that was used through out (sometimes not so subtly), some of the subplots felt extraneous and not well integrated into the over-arching story.
It wasn't until I was finished reading that I realized this mystery is different from earlier Karen Pelletier mysteries in that no literary text is the subject of the mystery. To the extent that a piece of writing is important to the plot, it is only revealed as the end of the book approaches and is not front and center as the plot progresses.
That all sounds negative, but I really did enjoy this book. B for me, and a recommended if you like cozy mysteries.
Next book: The Annotated Persuasion
Author: Laura Lippman
Series: Tess Monaghan mysteries #11
Publication date: January, 2011
Length: 171 pages
Format: I read an eARC, but it appears that this novella will be released as a trade paperback, according to HarperCollins' page for the book.
I mentioned last week, I think, that I have succumbed to the lure of Net Galley. While poking around among the genre lists, this cover caught my eye, followed by the author's name. When I saw the name Tess Monaghan in small print? Sold.
Background information: Tess Monaghan is a private investigator in Baltimore, Maryland. She began as a reporter for the Baltimore Star, a failed local daily, and did freelance writing and bookstore clerking to make ends meet. Eventually, she put her journalism skills to use in a different way: as a private investigator. I don't recall her age at the beginning of the series, but by this ninth book, she's thirty five. She's Baltimore born and bred, which is a good thing for her business, since the city and its close-knit neighborhoods tend to play roles in each mystery (see especially The Sugar House IMO). For more background on Tess, check out Lippman's bio of her.
The book opens with Tess confined to bed rest during during the last two months of a high-risk pregnancy. Like her relationship with Crow, the baby's father, the pregnancy was unplanned and a bit of a surprise, and she's ambivalent about how her life has changed already and the changes coming after the birth. Bored spending all day on a chaise lounge in her sun room, Tess takes to watching the neighborhood park through binoculars. One park regular in particular catches her eye -- a woman in a green raincoat who walks her dog, a greyhound dressed to match, while talking on her cellphone. One day, though, the dog dashes through the park unattended, no owner in sight. Concerned and then obsessed, Tess badgers her friends and family into doing the legwork that she cannot, finding out who the woman was, and questioning her disappearance, especially when Tess learns that her husband has a history of suspiciously-dying wives.
Essentially, Lippman has written an homage to Rear Window and The Daughter of Time. In addition to the whodunit, the mystery of relationships is a key theme. As in, relationships observed from the outside are seldom exactly what you think they are, and the things that glue people together can be surprising. Tess is confronted with relationship conundrums for the missing woman, for herself, and for different members of her family circle.
I enjoyed the unfolding of the mystery and did not see the twist at the end until it was almost upon me. Even as I began to suspect the actual culprit, I was nowhere near the motive. This particular episode has less of a sense of place than the other Tess Monaghan mysteries, probably because Tess was so physically confined. I'm also curious about Tess's future and this series' future, since the book ends with Tess at a crossroads in her life.
The mystery is independent and contained within the novella, so a reader could pick up this book without having read the books that came before. Having said that, I do think that for context, subtext and character background, it's best to read the series in order.
There were some typos in the eARC, which I hope will be caught before the book goes to print, things like using contact for contract, etc. The only one that really concerned me was the changing spelling of the missing girl's last name.
Would I recommend this book? Yes.
Would I buy a copy? Yes, I'm planning on it, although I'll probably buy an ebook or wait for the mass market paperback rather than the trade paperback.
After the Iron Duke freed England from Horde control, he instantly became a national hero. Now Rhys Trahaearn has built a merchant empire on the power-and fear-of his name. And when a dead body is dropped from an airship onto his doorstep, bringing Detective Inspector Mina Wentworth into his dangerous world, he intends to make her his next possession.
But when Mina uncovers the victim's identity, she stumbles upon a conspiracy that threatens the lives of everyone in England. To save them, Mina and Rhys must race across zombie-infested wastelands and treacherous oceans-and Mina discovers the danger is not only to her countrymen, as she finds herself tempted to give up everything to the Iron Duke.
The world of The Iron Duke is an alternate version of Victorian or Edwardian England, in which the residents are emerging from centuries long enslavement to the Horde. Language has changed while under the Horde’s control – there are buggers and bounders and tinkers and more – as have social customs, gender roles, and political tensions. Technology is in many ways advanced (nanotech that aids in healing and bionic body parts that function better than organic parts are common place) but people don’t really change, do they? There’s racism directed toward anyone of Horde/Asian descent, like Mina, and violence as people learn to cope with emotions long suppressed by the control of the Horde.
I loved that MB showed the social reconstruction and re-engineering that was going on within the book, but also historically by the Horde’s use of crèches and the elimination of marriage among the working class. What happens to society when you take away the basic social unit and then regulate or control reproduction?
Traehearn, the hero, is a fascinating character. I struggled with him at first, because he seems like a bit of a jerk early on. Not emotionally constipated in the traditional alpha hero sense, which includes (for me) an element of selfishness, but emotionally undeveloped, capable of loyalty and friendship but oblivious to familial relationships and social notoriety or snubs. When he realizes he’s in the wrong early on, he admits it, which won me over. And when he realizes he’s in love, he focuses on what he perceives as the obstacle to obtaining his beloved, even as he fails to communicate to his beloved. Mina is an intriguing character as well. She’s both an insider and an outcast because of her birth, and she’s extremely vulnerable while also being a stalwart, independent creature.
The plot? Well, it’s much too complex for me to recount, but suffice it to say that although the Horde has been vanquished, there are other threats to Britain both abroad and at home. There are social and political tensions between those who were infected with nanites (buggers) and those who fled to the New World only to return when the Horde was vanquished (bounders). The economy is adjusting to the change as people attempt to reconstruct their long-neglected land holdings and bounders return with their Manhattan City money. And just because the Horde is gone now doesn’t mean they couldn’t return, so how should Britain prepare to defend against another attack?
I want more of this, all of it.
Is it too early to ask when MB’s next steampunk will be published?
How did this book come to my attention? A popular gay romance review site reviewed it. I tend to discount their reviews, since my tastes seldom match any of the reviewers, but skim the book descriptions, since they seem to get a wide variety of books from more traditional gay publishers and newer e-publishers. When the summary mentioned gay men in the professional tennis arena, I was sold. Tennis is one of my favorite sports, one that I play (poorly) and watch (regularly). I can't find it right now, but there was an article a while back at either ESPN or Sports Illustrated online, that touched on gay,athletes and even mentioned tennis, since there are no openly gay players in the ATP today. Although there are a few women on the WTA who have been out while still playing professionally (Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, Amelie Mauresmo), there are no men. None. The one gay male tennis player that people refer to, Bill Tilden, was not out while playing or even after. It seems odd, given the lack of physical contact in the sport (meaning less physical risk/threat from homophobic opponents) and the fairly large subset of gay fans...but then again, maybe not according to this article.
In the four years since being forced off the professional tour for being gay, Daniel Bottega has taught tennis at a second-rate country club. He found a sanctuary to hide from an unkind world, while his lover, Jared Stoderling, fought a losing battle with alcohol addiction to cope with his disappointment of not playing on the pro circuit.
Now Daniel has another chance at the tour by coaching tennis prodigy Connor Lin to a Grand Slam championship win. He shares his chance with Jared by convincing him to return to the pro circuit as Connor’s doubles partner.
Competing on the world tour is challenging enough, but Daniel and Jared also face major media attention, political fallout from the pro association, and a shocking amount of hate that threatens Connor’s career in tennis, Jared’s love for Daniel, and Daniel’s very life.
You can read an excerpt here.
Cover Art: the cover art is both specific and generic. Tennis racquet, tennis ball, stadium tiers, so the cover fits the content, but it doesn’t tell you anything about the story otherwise. If it were a print book sitting on the shelf, I wouldn’t be able to guess its genre without reading the blurb.
What did I think? As I first sat down to write about Match Maker, the 2008 Wimbledon Men’s Final was playing in the background. Given the characters of MM, the French Open might’ve been more apropos. If I hadn’t already been sold on this book by virtue of the tennis setting alone, early on it is revealed that David’s favorite tournament is the French Open. He and his protégé are fans of the terre battue. Which made me all *heart eyes* because my favorite part of the tennis season begins in Monte Carlo and ends in Paris.
The set up: readers first meet David at work. He’s the tennis pro at a small club, watching a challenger match, knowing what’s about to happen. Connor Lin, an American-born Chinese teenager, is losing badly despite his talent and skill, but Daniel sees huge potential in him, if only he can master the mental part of the game. Imagine David’s surprise when his club (specifically David) is offered the chance to coach Connor and work on his mental game. Why David? Because he is half Chinese himself and Connor’s family wants an Asian coach. Thus begins a coach/mentor/friend relationship that changes both of their lives, professionally and personally.
After David and Connor meet, the narrative backtracks a bit, and readers learn how David began playing tennis; about his family’s history; how he met and fell in love with Jared; and how they were blackballed from the professional tennis circuit because of their sexuality. Then back to the present, full of training and strategizing, along with the travel and match play that comes with the life of a tennis player on the tour. The narrative style didn’t bother me, but some of Chin’s prose was, well, a little florid. There were times when I itched for a red pen, even as I enjoyed the overall story.
This book is not a romance novel. By definition, a romance novel is supposed to focus on the relationship of the primary couple, and while Jared and David’s relationship is part of what goes on, it is a small, small part of the story told. In fact, Jared and David share relatively little page space, which is fortunate, because it is the weakest part of the book IMO. Much more time is devoted to David’s development of Connor as a player and a young man, and his own issues, which begin only with his professional frustration and morph into something much larger after a confrontation with a homophobe in Miami.
Chin either knows and loves tennis, or he did an immense amount of research, and it shows. He knows about the scheduling, the tournaments, the tiers, the drug testing, the sponsorship deals and pressure to perform, and the media scrutiny of the top players, and it’s all there in the book. The current real top players are there, too, with names changed, but there as competitors for Jared and Connor to face on court. There are a couple of places where I had to roll my eyes, though. First, some numbers. Two million Americans watching ESPN for the quarter final of the French Open? I don’t think so. First, the French is usually aired on tape delay; second, tennis ratings are horrendous even for the US Open, let alone the French. And 32,000 cheering? Not from Chatrier or Lenglen; the largest tennis court in the world is Arthur Ashe, and it seats only 23,000. Second, the wild card situation. After a promising start, Jared & Connor are reliant on wild cards into the European clay court season in order to get their ranking up and not have to qualify into the French Open. But when David and Jared offend the ATP president by being out rather than quietly gay, the wild cards suddenly are revoked. While I have no doubt that the ATP president could influence a tournament’s decision about to whom to give a wild card, they aren’t controlled by the ATP but by the tournament and once given generally aren’t revoked without reason. [Please thank Ana Ivanovic and the Canada Open wild card brouhaha for my knowledge of this process.] This is a little picky of me, but the revocation is a huge deal, plot wise, so it stuck in my mind.
Gender and family in MM:
I felt ambivalent about the portrayal of women in MM. The strongest women in the novel were criticized overtly or implicitly as being unladylike, while the more positively described women were either in traditional maternal roles or ethereal presences with little impact on the plot. On the other hand, family and their expectations and impacts are quite significant. Would Connor be playing tennis at all but for the persistence of his father, who sees him as a golden goose? Although David has relatively little interaction with his own family, Connor’s family, particularly his grandfather, has a huge influence on David and on Connor, in terms of motivating them both and giving them a support network when things go bad.
To be honest, the romance is the weakest part of Match Maker. It suffers because there’s so much else going on, but also because Jared isn’t a particularly likeable or sympathetic character. Empathetic, yes, but he spends a lot of time being a monumental jerk with an ego the size of Center Court, wallowing in his own misery, and David lets it go because he’s been done wrong by the ATP and life.
Language quibbles: prospective /= perspective, they are not interchangeable; and referring to the players as gladiators -- what a sports cliche, must it be overused even here?
SPOILERISH LINK here: Midway through the book, something happens that changes David permanently, and it also changes the focus of the book a bit, in terms of David’s simultaneous coaching of Connor and Jared. In a bit of serendipity, at about the same time I was reading MM, a similarly situated real life person was making headlines and appearing on magazine covers.
Ultimately, I would probably give this book a qualified recommendation. If you like tennis-set books, you’ll probably enjoy Match Maker. And if you are looking for Asian characters in gay fiction, you’ll enjoy Connor’s family.
Author: Cathy Lamb
Author/Book website here.
Why this book? I was looking for something to read while away from home and away from my Kindle. Thus, paper book browsing occurred. When I saw this cover, I remembered it being on a "books I'm looking forward to" list on one of the reader/reviewer blogs I subscribe to, although I can't remember which one. Book Binge, maybe? Or the Bookpushers?
What about the cover art? It did its job, captured my attention. Probably on its own, the cover art would not have been enough for me to buy the book, but between the cover art and the vaguely-remembered sort of recommendation-slash-heads-up, it was enough.
But for everything that's changed, some things remain the same. Stevie's shyness refuses to melt away. She still can't look her gorgeous neighbor in the eye. The Portland law office where she works remains utterly dysfunctional, as does her family -- the aunt, uncle and cousins who took her in when she was a child. To to it off, her once supportive best friend clearly resents her weight loss.
By far the biggest challenge in Stevie's new life lies in figuring out how to define her new self. Collaborating with her cousins to plan her aunt and uncle's problematic fortieth anniversary party, Stevie starts to find some surprising answers -- about who she is, who she wants to be, and how the old Stevie evolved in the first place. And with each revelation, she realizes the most important part of her transformation may not be what she's lost but the courage and confidence she's gathering, day by day.
How is the story told? First person POV from Stevie; no other POV included. The narrative structure is divided into alternating chapters of present-day Stevie and child-Stevie, with present-day Stevie also relating large chunks of her adult history.
What did I think? Very early on, readers are presented with the family trauma that is the core of Stevie's neuroses and food pathology. To be honest, if I had read the first few pages of the book while in the store, this book would not have come home with me, because the drama and heartbreak introduced early on are not my favorite subjects for reading. They make for great women's fiction, though, which is what Such A Pretty Face is.
Even reading with the WF filter, I feel rather ambivalent about SAPF, really. Stevie's ultimate control over her life and her history and her future make for an uplifting ending. But the constant ladling on of problems, some dictated by Stevie's life choices and some not, was often Too Much.
One of the hallmarks of women's fiction (I thought) was that there is no perfect HEA, that problems still exist but the main character is better able to cope and make her way at the end of the novel. Stevie is better able to cope at the end of SAPF, but mostly because all the hard or bad things have suddenly been erased with a wave of her fairy godmother's wand: Evil Uncle's villainy has been revealed; toxic best friend has been vanquished (without ever really acknowledging that Stevie *chose* to be her friend for years); Stevie has been absorbed into the extended family that disappeared 25 years ago and been given her rightful inheritance; her cousins are both on their way out of dysfunction; etc. Essentially, thirty five years of familial dysfunction have been wiped away, which seems...not as realistic as women's fiction usually is. Is this a women's fiction fairy tale?
Would I read this author again? No, probably not, because I tend to avoid women's fiction unless it comes very highly recommended by another reader I trust.
Keep or pass on? Pass on. Anyone want it? Otherwise it's going to the UBS or PBS.