Saturday, October 25, 2014

Retro Review: The Sex on the Beach Book Club by Jennifer Apodaca

This review of The Sex on the Beach Book Club by Jennifer Apodaca was first published at The Romance Reader in 2006.  I rated it 4-Hearts (B rating) with a sensuality/content rating of R.

+++++

Holly Hillbay is a private investigator working in the coastal town of Goleta, California. She’s a former cop, tough as nails, and needs money. A lone operator (that’s the way she likes it) she just lost her bread and butter client thanks to her ex, Brad The Cad.

However, things are looking up. A husband who thinks his wife is cheating on him has hired her. If she is, then hubby can invoke a clause in their prenuptial agreement. He thinks the lovely Tanya is stepping out with bookstore owner, Wes Brockman, so Holly infiltrates Wes’ book club to get the dirt.

Almost immediately Holly realizes that hubby is off base. Tanya isn’t diddling Wes, she's playing footsie with lothario Cullen Vail. Even worse, Wes is really cute and Holly’s dormant libido kicks into overdrive. He wants to spend more time getting to know her, but she’s playing hard to get. Then Cullen turns up dead in Wes’ locked bookstore and he hires her to work the case.

Apodaca puts her Samantha Shaw mystery series on hold with what is being coined a “romantic mystery” for the steamy Kensington Brava imprint. Since hot sex has been cropping up in her mystery series of late, this isn’t too much of a stretch.

Holly truly carries this story. She’s a strong woman hiding behind a chick with a gun attitude. She’s been hurt terribly by Brad the Cad, and by the abandonment of her mother, so she talks a good game and never cries. Crying is for sissies. While some readers might find the tough girl act a bit thick at times, the fact that Holly is self-sufficient is a welcome breath of fresh hair. She’s still feminine, although she hates dresses and high heels, but she can take care of herself. She doesn’t need Wes to rescue her, and she’s darn good at her job.

Wes is, naturally, hiding a big secret – and when the dead body shows up in his business he’s spooked. He thought his past was behind him, and while he had nothing to do with Cullen’s murder, he can’t ignore the fact that the body was left where he would find it. So was his bookstore just a convenient scene for the crime or is Wes in danger? And while he does not trust cops are far as he can throw them, he suspects immediately that Holly will do right by him. So he cajoles her into taking him on as a client by doubling her regular rates.

The sexual tension here is very good, as is the dialogue. The opening chapters are a bit bumpy because the author immediately jumps into the story with both feet, and has a tendency to compare her characters to celebrities (Wes is described as resembling George Clooney). However, things perk up with chapter three, when Holly’s older brothers (both cops) show up. This first appearance of Joe and Seth tells readers more about Holly’s character than her first scenes with Wes. She’s the little sister who grew up being a tomboy to two older brothers. They taught her to be tough, and she wards off their meddling with smart aleck comments.

The mystery is well thought out, although the author occasionally tips her hand. Not only is Holly trying to figure out who killed Cullen, she’s sparring with her sleaze-ball ex and trying to figure out if Wes is in danger. There are quite a few balls the author has to juggle and she ties up all the loose ends well in the end.

With a title like The Sex on the Beach Book Club, readers can expect to find a fun, sexy beach read between the covers. Never mind that Brava is publishing it in the throes of winter. It won’t change your life, or alter your emotional consciousness, but it’s a sure bet for readers suffering from the winter blues or a wicked holiday hangover.

+++++

Wendy Looks Back: There was a stretch in the mid-00s where Kensington Brava experimented with publishing fun, sexy romantic suspense.  I read a few of them, and while they didn't change my life - they could typically be counted on to serve as ideal "Calgon, take me away!" reads.  Apodaca was a natural fit for this concept, having written a handful of books in her sexy cozy (I know, oxymoron) Samantha Shaw series, also for Kensington.  However, looking to infuse more romance into her work, she gradually made her way over to the Kate Duffy edited Brava line.

Apodaca is still writing these days, under this name and as Jennifer Lyon.  She's strayed away from mysteries, but continues to work in paranormals and sexy contemporaries (categories and single title).

Friday, October 24, 2014

Retro Review: The Shadow Side by Linda Castillo

The review of The Shadow Side by Linda Castillo was first published at The Romance Reader in 2003.  I rated it 4-Hearts (B rating) with a sensuality/content rating of PG-13.

+++++

Dr. Elizabeth “Eli” Barnes is a dedicated scientist who has spent the last 10 years working on the latest wonder drug. Valazine was designed to help people with previously untreatable forms of depression. It is a drug that has made Eli’s career – she is to be the recipient of the Distinguished Woman of Science Award. It should be the highlight of her life; only Detective Adam Boedecker shows up to ruin everything.

Adam is the very definition of a burnt-out cop. On leave from the Chicago PD after taking a bullet in the head, he endured months of excruciating physical therapy. As if that weren’t enough – his wife leaves him for his best friend, who just happens to be his former partner. Then the call comes that his older brother, Michael, was the victim of a murder/suicide. Seems Mike killed his pregnant wife then turned the gun on himself.

The fact that Michael would do something so heinous is inconceivable to Adam. Therefore, even though he is on leave, he does a little snooping and finds out that his straight-arrow brother was taking Valazine for depression. Adam then discovers other instances where previously nonviolent people, who had been taking Valazine, were later perpetrators of violent crimes. So, he hops in his truck, and drives to Ann Arbor, the home of Roth Pharmaceuticals and Eli Barnes.

Eli is not about to listen to some cop who is spouting threats. She has devoted her life to Valazine, oversaw the clinical trials herself, it’s just not possible that it’s a killer. Besides, what is to say it’s the drugs' fault? Isn’t it possible that the mental illness these people suffered from was to blame and not the treatment? However, when she learns of more evidence, and it appears that someone is out to silence her, Eli begins to suspect that what Adam Boedecker is telling her just may be the truth.

Adam and Eli seem to be polar opposites on the surface, but they are cut from the same cloth. Adam may be a blue-collar cop – but he’s also a man suffering from the betrayal of two people he trusted and the ramifications of the shooting. The head injury altered his personality to a certain degree, and left him the victim of debilitating migraine headaches. He’s been living in a hole for the last three years – not venturing out to his job, let alone on a date.

Eli devoted her life to science in order to help people. As a teenager, she was a witness to the horrors of depression, and those images still haunt her to this day. She herself is a little lost, unwilling to get close to anyone beyond friendships. While she’s no shrinking violet virgin, Adam does attract her on a baser sexual level that she hasn’t experienced with the other men in her life – and it scares the hell out of her.

The suspense angle isn’t much of a puzzler. By the very complicated nature of medical research and drug trials, it’s evident that something is afoot at Roth. While the author does throw in a nice little red herring, the conclusion doesn’t really come as too much of a surprise. The romance takes a little more time to build, but I found it very credible. Adam has the personality of a wounded animal, and it’s emotionally satisfying to watch him come to terms with his growing feelings for Eli. These scenes were easily the highlight of the book – featuring some deep emotion and well-written dialogue exchanges between the two. It was gratifying to read their happily ever after.

The Shadow Side is an enjoyable page-turner. The suspense didn’t always have me on the edge of my seat – but coupled with the interesting characters and emotional romance, I found it nearly impossible to put this book down. With her second single title release, Castillo has penned a very solid effort – making hers a name to look for while browsing those bookstore shelves.

+++++

Wendy Looks Back: I remembered this to be a very solid read although the finer details had eluded my memory until I reread my review.  Castillo has since moved on to mainstream suspense, and has written five books in her Kate Buckholder series - featuring a police chief in a small Ohio town who was raised Amish.  I recently DNF'ed the first book in that series on audio (ho-hum narrator and I was unmoved by the heroine's desire to keep, literally, a deadly secret) but it reminded me of this old review, and the fact that I've still got a couple of Castillo's romantic suspense titles buried somewhere in the depths of the TBR Pile of Doom.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Retro Review: Come What May by Leslie LaFoy

This review of Come What May by Leslie LaFoy was first published at The Romance Reader in 2002.  I rated it 4-Hearts (B grade) with a sensuality content rating of PG.

+++++

Claire Curran might as well be all alone in the world. After the death of her father, she’s left at the mercy of her Uncle George - who finds it nearly impossible to tolerate his headstrong, unconventional niece. The fact is though that Claire is a smart, resourceful girl, even if she is a bit of a headache. So for the last several years she has been traveling abroad, seeing to her uncle’s numerous business dealings.

Her latest travels have taken her to colonial Virginia where she learns the extent of her uncle’s distaste for her. Seems one Wyndom Rivard owes her uncle a rather large of sum of money and he’s calling in his marker. Unfortunately, Wyndom is completely useless and the job of cleaning up after him is left to his brother, Devon.

Devon is one step away from debtor’s prison and has been valiantly trying to keep the family estate, Rosewind, afloat. It hasn’t been easy. His mother, aunt, and brother are notorious spendthrifts, and Devon has to walk the very thin line of frugalness and public hospitality. Naturally, he cannot pay his brother’s debt, which means he has no alternative but to accept Uncle George’s ultimatum. He’ll call off the debt if Devon will marry his niece.

This doesn’t make either Claire or Devon happy, but they see no alternative. They decide to enter into the marriage on the understanding that they will annul it the minute they receive word that the debt is forgiven. It’s never that easy in Romance Novel Land though. The couple soon find themselves attracted to each other, and the plot soon puts their newly discovered, if unvoiced feelings, to the test.

If Romance Writing 101 classes ever exist, Come What May should be required reading simply because of Claire. I loved this heroine. She’s smart, practical, hardworking, resourceful, and utterly wonderful. No, not feisty - smart, and believe me there is a difference. I liked her so much that if it were possible jump into a fictional book, I would want to be friends with this woman.

Devon is an intriguing hero, because he is being pulled in many different directions. He’s desperately trying to keep the family estate afloat, but is getting no help from his family, who continually whines about the lack of baubles and extravagances. On the brink of bankruptcy, he has nothing to offer a wife, or so he thinks, and this largely makes up his internal conflict involving Claire.

Come What May is a largely plot driven novel. The author writes in several obstacles for Claire and Devon to struggle with including, visiting politicians, unsupportive relatives, impending war and a witchy other woman. These episodes keep the story moving along at a brisk clip, and further allow the couple to explore the depth of their feelings. My minor quibbles revolve around some of the secondary characters. The other woman, and Devon’s aunt are one-dimensionally nasty and the few slave characters present are relatively saintly. However, I did enjoy seeing these various secondary players through Claire’s eyes. This practice did add depth to Devon’s mother, brother, and Mary Margaret, an Irish indentured servant.

I currently have two other Leslie LaFoy novels buried in my to-be-read pile. You can bet that I’ve moved them up towards the top of the heap. With a truly magical heroine, world-weary hero, and an all too infrequently used colonial setting, Come What May is one of the better historicals I have had the pleasure of reading this year.

+++++

Wendy Looks Back: I've always been relatively indifferent to colonial settings.  I blame this spending my school years getting the Revolutionary War crammed down my throat for half the school year with the rest of American history passing by in a blur.  That said, I know many romance readers who adore the setting and it's not a terribly common one to find - today or back in 2002.  To this day when someone asks "Anyone know a good colonial romance?" - this is the first book to pop into my head.

LaFoy wrote several well-regarded historicals and her last book on record is a Silhouette Desire from 2008.  After that?  Nada.  Sad indeed as my experience with her work was always quite solid.  In fact I still have a few of her titles buried in the ol' TBR Pile of Doom.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Getting Back To Center

Little Miss Crabby Pants really is tired.  I'm loathe to admit it, but the incident of an author stalking a reviewer and then getting a podium at The Guardian (of all places) has knocked me low.  I'm sure some of you are reading this and thinking, "Really, Wendy?  It has nothing to do with you."  Except, you know, really it does.

Fifteen years ago I was a wee lil' Super Librarian with training wheels.  I was in my early 20s, and the ink on my MLS degree wasn't even dry.  I had grand plans in college to stay in academia (I know, it is to laugh!) and fell into public libraries quite by accident.  The accident being, "Holy cow, I needs me a job!"  Which is how I fell into collection development.  Totally by accident.  Lo and behold, I loved it.  I also realized (quite quickly) that my knowledge of the romance genre was 20 years out of date.  You mean they're not all bodice-ripping rape fantasies?!  Who knew?

Getting educated on the genre began to happen when I discovered The Romance Reader (now defunct).  I started reading books that got 5-Heart reviews (A grades) and got hooked.  It helped I was reading nothing but gems.  I thought to myself, "I love these books!  I want to review these books!" and I contacted the editor, sent in some sample reviews and got hired.  What a great way to learn about the genre.  It was liking diving right into the deep end.  Oh sure, I probably should have spent my time reading mammoth backlists of Roberts, Krentz, Garwood and so on - but there's something to be said about immersing yourself deep in the waters of midlist and debut folks.  Oh the gems I read!  The new authors I discovered!

Up until the end (when burn-out hit), those years at TRR were a joy.  Yes there were kerfuffles.  Yes there were times when people got caught with their panties down.  And while it seemed epic at the time?  Compared to authors stalking reviewers (!!!) it seems positively quaint now.

In response to this troubling incident many blogs are going "dark" until Monday, October 27.  Every blog is handling this differently.  Dear Author has kicked it off with an Open Thread for Readers post encouraging reader discussion on our favorite topic: books!  Book Binge is getting back to basics to talk about our mutual love of reading.  And so on and so forth.

As for the Bat Cave?  Now seems like a good time to dip into the personal archives and post some retro reviews from my TRR days.  Original publication dates on these reviews range from 1999 to 2007.  It seems a good way to get back to my personal center.  To remind myself that sharing books, my undying love for stories, should be something simple and untainted.  And the fact that has been tainted makes me angry enough to spit nails.  In the end I'm sure this blackout probably won't make a darn bit of difference to the industry, to supporters of The Stalker etc.  But it's a simple way for me to get right with myself again.  To realign my head space. To rediscover why I've been blathering on about books online for the past 15 years (other than having no life).

I like it.  It's as simple and complex as that.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Little Miss Crabby Pants Is Getting Tired

OK, seriously now?!  Little Miss Crabby Pants can literally go several months between appearance and yet this is the third time she's somehow managed to break her restraints and crawl down Wendy's mental attic stairs in the past couple of months.  But here she is again to discuss a recent Guardian article written by a YA author (who I will not name because damn the woman has gotten enough free publicity already) who tracked down (as in PAID FOR A BACKGROUND CHECK, found out where the reviewer lived AND worked and proceeded to CALL HER AT WORK and SHOW UP AT HER HOME!!!!!!!!!!!!) who didn't like her book.

I'm sorry, it bears repeating: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Please see Dear Author and BookThingo for more concise round-ups.  Both have done wonderful posts.  As for Little Miss Crabby Pants?  She's here to swing a baseball bat and hopefully knock some sense into the situation.  You know, assuming any sense can be found - which at this point is highly dubious.  Especially since I've seen a lot of "victim blaming" (well that reviewer had it coming to her!) and some authors and readers somehow, for reasons that total escape me, "sympathizing" with The Stalker.

First, authors who somehow think The Stalker is some sort of Folk Hero - let's stop for a moment and put the shoe on the other foot.  Would you feel the same way if it was the reviewer/blogger/GoodReads participant who PAID FOR A BACKGROUND CHECK, found out where the author lived and worked and proceeded to CALL THE AUTHOR AT WORK and SHOW UP AT THE AUTHOR'S HOME?  Yeah, my guess is not so much.  I'm guessing if The Stalker was The Stalkee, you'd feel a whole lot different about this situation.  Would I be seeing the same amount of victim blaming?  Something tells me Not So Much For $200 Alex.

So yeah, authors who somehow think that The Stalker was in the right?  Check yourselves at the door.  Do NOT pass Go.  Do NOT collect $100.
But, but, but - Little Miss Crabby Pants, that Mean Ol' Reviewer/Blogger was using a *GASP* pseudonym!
Yeah, well guess what cupcake?  So frickin' what?  Reviewers, blogger, Average Joes use fake names online ALL THE TIME.  And you know what?  Not everybody does it because they're a Big Ol' Meanie up to know good.  They do it for personal reasons.  Some of the same frickin' reasons that authors use pseudonyms.  Maybe the reviewer likes to review kinked up BDSM novels featuring shapeshifting dragons and doesn't want her employer to hit upon her using a Google search.  Because guess what?  Employers ROUTINELY look at things like Google, Facebook, Twitter all the blasted time, especially when we're talking about a hiring or firing situation.  Or, you know, maybe the reviewer/blogger has an abusive ex in their past, enjoys social media, but doesn't want said ex to come a-knocking on their door.

Or, you know, maybe they just want to keep to keep their private life, here's a thought - PRIVATE!

Reviewers/bloggers don't necessarily use pseudonyms to be Big Ol' Meanies.  Sometimes they do it for very serious reasons and sometimes they do it for totally mundane ones.  You know, maybe for some of the same reasons you write romance novels under the name "Candy Bush."

I spent some time over the weekend hanging out with writers - one of whom who has been published for several years now.  Her first question to me was to ask if I'd spoken directly with Jane (the whole DA/EC suit that is a separate cluster and we've already hit upon).  Said writer feels about it the way I do - which is to stay it's really, really eff'ed up, that Jane now finds herself in a big ol' mess that she shouldn't be in in the first place and that it's really unfortunate for all the authors/editors/contractors stuck in limbo.  She knew that as far as talking romance novels online that I'm older than dirt and I expressed how I thought nothing like this could possibly ever happen.  Which is where I'm at with this new development of an author going to great lengths to stalk a reviewer/blogger/GoodReads participant.  Granted The Stalker isn't a romance author - but still.

I feel it's worth mentioning that 15 years ago I thought I saw a lot of unfortunate things in terms on online behavior.  Authors who weren't fans of emerging sites like The Romance Reader, All About Romance and Mrs. Giggles.  Things were said.  And my eyes did bug out on occasion.  I now feel like I owe everybody back then who may have had a moment where they got caught with their pants down an apology.  Why?

BECAUSE THEY DIDN'T RUN BACKGROUND CHECKS AND STALK ANY OF US!!!!!!!!

Several years ago I thought "it's gotten better."  We had a whole crop of "new" authors who had grown up with the idea of an online commentary.  They grew up with TRR, AAR and Mrs. Giggles.  Social media did throw a new wrinkle into things, but I truly thought - everybody "gets" the sandbox now.  They may not always LIKE said sandbox, but they "get" it.

Well, some people have clearly not "gotten it."  The only thing, and I mean the ONLY, thing that gives me some comfort is seeing authors I've routinely interacted with online, authors I've had professional relationships with, see this the same way I do.  Which is.....

OMG SHE PAID FOR A BACKGROUND CHECK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  SHE CALLED HER EMPLOYER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  SHE SHOWED UP AT HER HOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Look, let's say, devil's advocate time - that the reviewer/blogger/GoodReads commenter was a Big Ol' Meanie and "had it coming."  Let's say, for a nanosecond, that I don't think the victim blaming in this incident is so far out of bounds that it's three states over.  That still does not justify:

PAYING FOR A BACKGROUND CHECK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  CALLING HER EMPLOYER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  SHOWING UP AT HER HOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Because, you know, if there was something egregious going on?  If there was something that was totally out-of-bounds?  There are other avenues.  Legal avenues.  Options.  Instead this author decided that stalking was just a Grand Ol' Idea.

Here's the thing authors: sometimes readers are jerks.  We are.  We just don't "get" it.  But guess what?  This is not a new development.  We've not been "getting" it for eons.  Shakespeare had his critics.  Jane Austen had her critics.  Mark Twain had his critics.  Charles Dickens had his critics, and so on.  And you know what?  Those critics sometimes said things about the work, about the authors personally that were "out of bounds."  But guess what?  Once the book leaves you, once the work is out there, YOU KNOW LONGER HAVE CONTROL OVER IT.  Yes, I know - that's harsh.  It's tough to hear.  And yes, there will be Big Ol' Meanies who don't like your book and somehow attribute that to you as a person.  But that does not mean you should:

PAY FOR A BACKGROUND CHECK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  CALL THE READER AT WORK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  SHOW UP AT THEIR HOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

If you want to keep "control" over your work?  Write it.  Don't publish it.  Keep it buried on your hard drive or collecting dust under your bed.  The minute you put it out there for consumption, for good or ill, it's no longer yours.  It belongs to the masses.  And if you don't like the masses?  If you only want the masses to blow sunshine up your butt?  (Good luck with that by the way)  Then you cannot publish it.  Because nothing ever is all or nothing.  Nothing is ever universally loathed or universally loved.  Period.  End of discussion.

I've been online talking about romance novels since 1999.  I've been blogging since 2003.  In that time many, many, many readers have asked for my advice about blogging.  How to get started, what they should do, is it a good idea.  I've always encouraged them.  Always.  Because I believe that talking books online is better, stronger the more voices there are.  And the more divergent those voices are?  The better.  I believe in Something For Everyone.  If you don't like one blog?  That's OK.  There are literally HUNDREDS of other places you can go to get your book fix.  And really, isn't talking about books the bestest?  What do I tell these advice seekers now?  What do I say to them?  Because honestly, I have no clue.  I'm at the point where even I don't know what to say, what I should do - and people, if that's not eff'ed up after 10+ years of blogging I'm not sure what is.

I was wrong.  Things have not gotten better.  It wasn't the Wild West 15 years ago.  It's the Wild West right now.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Audiobook Round-Up: Trigger Alert Edition

The universal law of putting items on hold at your local public library is that they'll all inevitably come in at once.  So I've been binge-listening to audiobooks that have been equal parts compelling and disturbing.  As in WTFBBQ Did I Just Listen To?!?!?! disturbing.

First up is Still Missing by Chevy Stevens, a debut novel that made a splash a couple years ago.  It's the story of Annie O'Sullivan, a realtor who is kidnapped by a madman while she's packing up an open house.  She's held for a year, and then she manages to escape.

The story hops back and forth in time - from Annie's sessions with her shrink, to her captivity and her eventual escape.  It's a seriously messed up read that should have "Trigger Warning!!!" slapped on the front cover.  We have violence against women (well, one woman - Annie - and yes, she's raped) and Bad Things Happen To Kids.  If you can get past that?  This was a very good psychological suspense story.  It also made a compelling read on audio because the nature of the framework means the style is kind of "tell-y."  There is some showing, but since a good portion is Annie talking to her shrink?  Yeah, telling.  It literally kept me glued to the driver's seat, the narration was very solid, and I was going out to lunch entirely too much that week so I could listen some more.  Not for everybody - but if you can handle the triggers? Highly recommended.

Final Grade = B+

These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf is women's fiction with a dash of suspense thrown into the mix - but it's mostly women's fiction.  I could see it making a good book club selection.  It's one of those books that tells the story of four different women - parolee 21-year-old Allison, her 19-year-old sister Brynn, 19-year-old nursing student, Charm, who is also caring for her dying stepfather (lung cancer) and Clare, married, owner of a bookstore, and mother to an adopted five-year-old son.  What we know at the beginning of the story is that Allison got pregnant when she was 16, hid her pregnancy, and then murdered her baby girl.  She's getting out of prison now thanks to good behavior and wants to reconnect with her younger sister - which seems impossible as Brynn and their parents want nothing to do with her.  How do Charm and Clare fit into the picture?  Well, that's a spoiler.

So yeah, the story starts with a dead newborn - so that's your trigger warning.  This story is a train wreck - which is to say that as the reader you know disaster is ahead for everybody, you're just not quite sure how, why and when.  Watching the author fit her pieces together was fascinating, and even when I wasn't sure I liked this story, I couldn't stop listening.  The narration is done by three different women - and they were all good except for the woman who read for Clare and Charm.  Mostly because every time she did a child's voice the kid was in Perpetual Whine Mode.  The women who read for Allison and Brynn were much better, and I got to the point where I was dreading Clare's sections because that meant inevitably her little boy would get dialogue and - whine, whine, whine.

The one solid quibble I have with this story is the father of Allison's dead baby girl.  He plays a major role in the events that drive this story forward, and yet he's off-page other than to show up in couple of flashbacks.  I felt the story would have been better served had he been a more fully-realized character.

I'm still not sure how I feel about the ending of this book.  I'm not even sure I liked it.  But I had to keep listening and it certainly kept me engaged.  And even though I knew the train wreck was coming, I couldn't stop myself from listening.  That's hardly a fail.

Final Grade = B-

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

TBR Challenge 2014: She Walks The Line

The Book: She Walks the Line by Roz Denny Fox

The Particulars: Contemporary romance, Harlequin SuperRomance #1254, 2005, Out of print, Available digitally, Book 5 in 6-part continuity series.

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?:  Chinese heroine and it's a SuperRomance.  That was all it took.

The Review: Books like this one always depress me.  The sort of book where you can see in between the lines that it could have been a very good story if not for this, that and the other.  There are the seeds of a good story here.  Truly.  Unfortunately it's buried and lost under a mountain of other "stuff" that doesn't work at all.

For one thing, I must have been so excited about a Chinese heroine back in the mid-2000s that I was asleep at the wheel and didn't realize this was part of a 6-author continuity series.  Now I've enjoyed some of Harlequin's continuity stories in the past, and they can stand alone.  Unfortunately this one does not.  The plot never lost me.  No, it was the inclusion of a bunch of characters whose sole purpose was to be window-dressing for the "series stuff."  These characters are there because the continuity dictates it (the series follows six women who go through the police academy together and are trying to crack the Old Boys Club), but none of them serve any purpose to the story at hand.  They're filler.  They're taking up space.  Get them off the page already.

Anyway, that rant out of the way, the story follows Mei Lu Ling who investigates white collar crime for the Houston PD.  Her father is Chinese-American and runs an import business.  For a time Mei worked at the family's Hong Kong office before she decided to join the academy, disappointing her father and horrifying her mother (who immigrated from China).  Why did Mei chuck family duty behind?  What drove her to join the force?  I'm not really sure.  It's never really addressed here other than she wanted to be her own woman - but why police work and not, say, a chef, librarian, teacher, advertising exec....well you get the idea.

She's paired up with Cullen Archer who is an insurance investigator on the hunt for some stolen Chinese artifacts that are rumored to be in Houston, of all places.  And these are serious artifacts - the kind of stuff that belongs in a museum.  There are two dead couriers and notes written in Chinese that he needs translated - enter Mei, who has been assigned to work with Cullen.

So this sounds like it could be good right?  Chinese heroine straddling old and new worlds, who hungers for her own life, chaffing against her parents' ideals.  Then you have the mystery of the missing artifacts while her father works in the import business and she's paired up with Cullen, a white dude, that her parents would most definitely not approve of.  So why exactly was this so boring?  A slog to get through?  The kind of book where I was skimming big ol' chunks.

For one thing, the author spends way too much time on "other stuff" from the continuity - and delaying Cullen and Mei from getting on page together.  Then there's the minor detail that Cullen has twins (a boy and a girl) who are visiting him while his party girl ex is off globe-trotting.  I read a lot of category - so I'm obviously fine with kids in romances.  Really.  But these twins were totally pointless.  A time suck.  Annoying.  And they served no great purpose to the story other than to annoy me at great lengths.  They're the sort of tots that come barging into Daddy's home office while he's meeting with Mei.  You know, those ideal moments when the author should be laying out some actual ground-work to the suspense.  When our couple should be spending time together discussing the case.  Instead you get the plot moppets barging in, the daughter whining about something or other and the son glowering because there's a vagina in Dad's office.

I never thought I'd say this - but this needed to be a lot shorter.  Oh, like say, a Harlequin Intrigue.  Strip away the plot moppets, dump the secondary characters that have NOTHING to do with this story, and just get heroine, hero, suspense, on page together.  Period.

All this being said, I was willing to concede that a lot of this (OK all of it) is personal preference on my part.  A sure sign of a C read for Wendy.  Then I got the ending.  The big reveal.

The word preposterous comes to mind.  Also the phrase "out of left field."  I think I might have actually said, "you've got to be kidding me?" out loud.  And there definitely was eye-rolling involved.  It just flat-out didn't work for me.  The irony being that it probably could have worked had the author spent more time developing the suspense (instead of saturating the word count with plot moppets and secondary characters walking through the story).  As is however, it was liking blaming the whole thing on Big Foot or the Loch Ness Monster.  Disappointing to say the least.  A Chinese heroine in a category romance deserved better.

Final Grade = D