Truly, Maddeningly, Awful.

Usually I enjoy Rachel Gibson books, even the ones where the hero is kind of a jerk (See: Any Man of Mine). I think of her as a poor woman’s Susan Elizabeth Phillips: less humor, more stereotyping, still satisfying. But I just read Truly Madly Yours, a 1999 novel re-released for Kindle, which was truly, maddeningly, awful.

I was leery from the start, when I realized the hero and heroine are step-siblings. Nick was produced when the rich patriarch of the small Idaho town had questionably consensual sex with a local Basque-American widow, and promptly denied the ensuing child’s existence. The patriarch later married heroine Delaney’s blonde beautiful mom.  No, they never lived together, but his whole life, Nick had watched Delaney from a distance, jealous of what she had and he didn’t. Nick, who is several years older than Delaney, later tells her that all the dirty looks, taunting and snowballs to the eye sockets were cover for lust:  “I’ve thought about you naked and willing since you were about thirteen or fourteen.” Ewwwwww.

Continue reading “Truly, Maddeningly, Awful.”

Pablo Neruda and the Singularity of the Common Experience

Romantic_couple_during_a_bali_sunset_(7590461584) by Jimmy McIntyre

Recently, I visited my hospice friend. He has dementia. I’m not sure how many people realize this, but dementia is not something that just normally happens to a person as they age. It is a terminal illness with fairly well defined causes, risk factors, and symptoms. As is typical and expected of hospice patients, my friend has been steadily declining over the couple of months we have been together.

He likes poetry and so I read it to him. His favorite is Robert Frost, but we have sometimes ventured farther afield. On Friday, I read him a poem by Pablo Neruda, I Do Not Love You Except Because I Love You. My friend is almost non-communicative. He starts a sentence and trails off. He is not well oriented to time or place or person. But if he really likes a poem, he will sometimes reward it with a curt “that’s good.”

While we talk, he often moves his hands to his face, or around in the air. He’s doing something important, but I don’t know what. To my surprise, when I finished that Neruda poem, he stilled completely, and asked me to reread the last three lines:

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Most Annoying Generalizations in Book Blog Land

Best Thing You've Read

In an effort to continue flexing my blogging muscles and fight blogging block, I present without comment a list of annoying generalizations.

1. YA is more inventive than any other genre fiction.

2. Women choose books based on desire and emotion, kind of like how men choose porn.

3. If it is written by a woman and has a female protagonist it is feminist.

4. There are no books for boys.

5. If one book is bad, so is the whole genre (especially if it is YA, NA, or romance).

6. People who read ebooks go for quantity over quality.

7. Older books are so much worse at handling political issues than current ones.

8. 50 Shades of Grey __________________ . (It doesn’t matter how you fill this one in.)

9. The future of the book is ________________ . (See #8 above)
Continue reading “Most Annoying Generalizations in Book Blog Land”

My Summer Reading: The promise, the plans, and the peril

It's summer time 08 by Huhu Uet
It’s summer time 08 by Huhu Uet

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Ah, summer. Twelve weeks to sit on the back deck with my fresh brewed iced tea and read. No interruptions, no reading slumps, no distractions, just great book after great book as the sun shines and the soft summer breezes caress my reclining form.

Are you laughing yet? You should be. I’m pretty sure my kids, husband, house, job/s, dogs, cats, fish, and friends have other ideas. But still, fool that I am, I am making summer reading plans. Here they are:

1. Georgette Heyer

Since I started reading romance about six years ago, I’ve tried to read at least one book from all the big names. But I’ve never read a Georgette Heyer. She wrote 57 romance novels, of which I own four: Venetia (1950), The Grand Sophy (1950), Devil’s Cub (1932) and Frederica (1965). I figure I’ll start with those four, in chronological order.

2. Meljean Brook’s Guardian Series

Meljean Brook’s paranormal romance Guardian Series is coming to a close in August with Michael’s book, Guardian Demon. Eight books, plus a few shorts. I’m a little behind: have only read through book five, so this is an excellent time to re-read, catch up, and fill in those missing short stories.

3. Penhally Bay Series, Harlequin Medical

This one is work, but it’s still fun. I’m writing an essay on conceptions of medical professionalism in this sixteen book series, which is set on the Cornish coast. I thought it would be a good challenge for me to view romance through a lens of clinical ethics rather than gender. It’s one of my four projects this summer/fall. More on that in another post.

4.  Shards of Honor, Lois McMaster Bujold.

I’ve owned this one in paper (bound with Barrayar) for a year. I bought it on a splendid visit to The Strand with Kristen of Fantasy Cafe during BEA last year. I keep picking it up and putting it down. I’d like to finish at least the first volume in this widely praised and beloved sci fi series.

5. Anything by Haruki Murakami.

Suggestions welcome.

6. E. M. Forster, Where Angles Fear to Tread

I just read Room With A View and loved it. Since I like romantic plots, this seems a natural next step.

I think that’s as many books I should promise yet fail to read for now.

How about you? Make any summer reading plans?

This reader’s getting pickier in her old age: Harlequin Blaze on audio

I love audio books, but as with non-audio books, there are dry spells. For all of 2012, I couldn’t get into an audiobook. I even cancelled my Audible subscription. It was Stephen King’s The Stand that got me out of it a while back. I’ve never read The Stand (haven’t read any King since a glom in 7th grade) and am really enjoying listening to it, mainly on the 2 hour each way car ride to my thirteen year old’s soccer practices. Sometimes, he wants to listen to something, and in that case I put on Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind, which he is also reading in paper. Although neither narrator rises to the heights of Jim Dale, the late great Anna Fields, or Gabra Zackman, they are more than adequate to the purpose.

Last night, on the way home from Connecticut (soccer tournament, naturally), I wasn’t in the mood for post-apocalyptic horror, but I only had a bunch of Harlequin Blazes on my ipod, courtesy of a subscription I had a few years back. I listened to three.

I started with While She Was Sleeping, by Isabel Sharpe. I quit after about ten minutes. Why? Here’s the set up: heroine is about to relocate to Florida from Wisconsin, but her kid sister, known for her bad judgment, is allowing some random guy to stay in the family home, which the sisters have just inherited. It’s full of three generations of memories, and so the heroine just has to drive there immediately, take a sleeping pill – or at least that is what she thinks it is. She’s not sure but pops it anyway — and go to sleep. Hero climbs into the same bed after a night of partying. Coincidentally, someone has slipped him a roofie. He wakes up and blurrily notices a hot woman in bed with him. He thinks, incorrectly, that she is the good looking brunette he met at last night’s wild party.

Commence double nonconsensual sex. Just no.

Also, the narrator had an annoying habit of emphasizing the words HE and SHE wherever they appeared in the text. As in, “Alana closed HER eyes, dread and fear lifting their little heads inside HER, trying to decide if they’d be needed or not.”

I moved on to Cara Summers’ A Sexy Time of It. While I recognize time travel is unusual for Blaze,  I was not too keen on the set up: Neely Rafferty has realistic dreams of traveling back to the time of Jack the Ripper, and there is a sexy cop from the future who’s time-shifting, too. But I DNF’d it when I got to this part:

It was such a crazy idea—but she hadn’t been able to shake free of it. Night after night, she returned to the places in London where Jack the Ripper had left his victims. The only person she’d confided in was her best friend and business partner, Linc Matthews. She and Linc had been friends since junior high when they’d both been outsiders at school. She’d never quite fit in with the cool crowd, and Linc’s sexual orientation had alienated him from their more conservative classmates.

Summers, Cara. A Sexy Time of It (Harlequin Blaze) (Kindle Locations 129-130). Harlequin Enterprises. Kindle Edition.

She’d never confided in them. Linc always listened, never judged. He’d taken seriously her theory that she was traveling to the past and that had made her take it more seriously herself. He’d even recommended a new book that had come in as part of a promotion from self-published author Dr. Julian Rhoades, who had been getting local TV coverage for his theory that psychic time travel might be…

The perfect gay best friend. Just no.

That one, incidendally is narrated by Isabelle Gordon, whom you come to know well if you listen to romance on audio. She’s good, but she has this habit of turning the end of a sentence into a hasty whisper. As in,

She’d been having vivid dreams for years—usually triggered by something in a book that had capturedherimagination.

It’s odd.

Anyway, I had somewhat better luck on the third try: Tori Carrington’s Private Parts. The set up was a bit dull: the hero, Greek magnate of the Pacific Northwest, Troy Metaxes, is trying to close a deal to turn the family lumber mill into a manufacturing plant for solar panels. Just as I was falling asleep over that scintillating scenario, in walks Kendall Banks. She is a leggy blonde, a hot shot lawyer, and she wants Troy. I was surprised, in a good way, that Kendall wanted a one night stand. Is that allowed in a Harlequin Blaze? I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop: she’s into casual sex because… past abuse? Fear of commitment? Daddy issues? Bad marriage? Nope. She’s just a normal healthy woman who is too busy for a long term commitment.

Alas, what gets my political approval doesn’t necessarily make for a good story. Troy is about as thrilling as a pile of lumber, and this book was about as exciting as waiting for the solar panels to dry using Troy’s revolutionary “thin film” method. At one point Kendall is wracking her brains trying to explain why she likes Troy so much — poor thing — and she stumbles on “he’s really present in the moment.” This might have worked on paper, where I could skip through the boring descriptions of an open house the Mataxes family was planning, or the constant re-appearance of the heroes and heroines of the earlier volumes in the series.  But on audio, no.

One last point about this one: I almost fell out of the car window when I heard one of the characters say that the patriarch of the Mataxes family had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, but had decided to forgo aggressive treatment because he recognized that it was a slow growing cancer and that he would likely die from some other cause first. He didn’t want to subject himself to invasive interventions of dubious benefit. Shocked at this left-field, unexpectedly accurate and subtle depiction of medical decision making after detection of an elevated PSA, I checked the author: sure enough Tori Carrington is a husband wife writing team, and while I don’t know anything about his medical history, the husband half is about the age to know these things first hand…

The Spinster’s Secret, by Emily Larkin

What would it be like to write a review straight from my memory of the text, with no way to quickly check the facts, to link to other reviews, to the book itself? No passages quoted, no proof reading? Wait, don’t tell me. That is what Goodreads is for.

The spinster of the title is an orphan who has lived with her uncle and aunt in a dark gloomy estate about seventy miles north of London for a decade. She is now in her late twenties and firmly on the shelf. She probably never had much of a chance on the marriage mart anyway, due to the fact that her cheap uncle never gave her a season, coupled with her six foot tall, “giantess” frame. The set up is Gothic, but not too much.

Mattie’s foster family has blocked up most of the windows, lights fires too small for the fireplace, disapproves of things like books and bonnet ribbons, and enforces two dreadful nightly rituals: a silent dinner and sermon reading afterwards. But Mattie is at least never under threat of real physical harm or rape. Still, she wants to get out of dodge, and, thanks to finding a dirty book and a hidden countess’s sexy diary, has found a way to do it. She’s created a literary alter ego, Cherie, whose published episodic sexual exploits are the talk of London. She hopes her publisher will pay her a handsome enough sum for her complete “memoir”, allowing her to move to the coast and set up a boarding home.

Into this scene rides Edward Kane, late of Waterloo, to return the personal effects of Mattie’s cousin, the late Toby, only child of the severe, super religious aunt and uncle. Edward has facial scars, a limp from a broken femur, three fingers missing from one hand, two from the other, and no right ear. He is a large hulking man in appearance, but quite gentle and kind in affect. He takes one look at the gloomy manse and tries to leave, but thanks to the uncle finding one of the letters, agrees to stay and find the identity of the woman who is writing them.

Why? I don’t know. Because the plot requires him not to leave. He has some guilt over Toby’s death, and feels sorry for the man who has lost his only son. It doesn’t even make too much sense that the uncle is so determined to find her, but not so determined that he ever lifts his own finger to do so. At this point, they only know Cherie is someone who lives in the village, not in the house, and ten fact that the uncle is a justice of the peace coupled with his religious nature, is supposed to be sufficiently motivating.

Mattie and Edward become friendly, taking walks together, etc. He doesn’t find her attractive at first, but slowly notices little things like her dimples. Their relationship really takes off when she asks him to have sex with her. Why would she do this? Because her publisher requires a deflowering scene and she cannot find any literary inspiration in the two sexy books she owns.

I felt the setup was unique, and I was compelled to read all the way through. I appreciated that Mattie’s aunt and uncle were, if not exactly developed, at least not totally demonized. There is nothing wrong with the writing, although it felt repetitive. Every chapter from Mattie’s point of view seemed to end on the “only one more episode and I am out of here” note, while every chapter from his ended on the mirroring, “only find Cherie and I am out of here.” Some words and phrases felt very overused.

Edward’s motives were kind of shifty as the plot required. Survivor’s guilt, feeling unlovable due to his injuries, PTSD etc. I think they are the same motives for every single Regency war hero and I find them dull at this point. Mattie was a better developed character, in some ways, but her problem was that she was too good to be true. When she eventually makes her great escape, she leaves most of her belongings to take a mother cat and her three kittens. Need I say more?

I appreciated the relationship that developed between Mattie and Edward, but it didn’t grab me until after they slept together and he made an ill-fated proposal. I should add that the two sex scenes were not sexy at all, although I would not say they were badly written, and I have no idea why that is. At that point I felt his character finally come in to sharp relief, with the result that the relationship became much more interesting, and I was riveted for the last ten percent of the book.

So, it was fine. At too many points I felt I could see the the way the sausage of the book was being made (in that house, of all houses, finding a former countess’s sexy diary, for example), and was not able to get truly lost in it, but for the unusual setting and plot, as well as likeable leads, I kept reading, and the last couple of chapters, which were more emotional and exciting than what had come before, made it worth it.

I’m guest posting at Radish Reviews

About Bonnie Dee’s contemporary romance New Life, which features a male protagonist with a moderately severe traumatic brain injury.

You can read my post here.