Sunday, September 29, 2013

So Tough to Tame by Victoria Dahl

Skeptic scale: ♥♥♥

Very hot book. Like, super hot. I don't like to do spoilers, and I'm hardly a prude, but I have to say that there is one particular sex scene that is even more raunchy than normal in contemporary romance. It's the thing that nice girls never do ;) It was so interesting that I read my first such scene here in 2013 when its probably been going on since the time of the Greeks and the Kama Sutra. I wonder if this is the beginning of some new trend...Well kudos to Ms. Dahl for pushing the envelope in such a matter of fact way.

I thought this was generally a good read. I didn't love it as much as the others of Ms. Dahl's contemporaries (but to be fair, those were phenomenal) because I thought there wasn't enough real mental connection between the H and h. I mean, yes they had known each other since childhood, and yes they are attracted to one another, and yes they are both nice, kind people, but I didn't feel the reason they were the One for one another. 

Here's the 2-minute summary - 
He: A nice and easygoing cowboy who likes his simple life with horses and people and doesn't really need the complication of a life with too much ambition.

She: A woman who has come home to rebuild her life after a terrible scandal that ruined her professional and personal reputation. She was a security specialist in Las Vegas who got tied up in some bad business (not of her own doing) and spent all her savings trying to defend herself against the accusations. She was acquitted of professional wrongdoing but people keep bringing it back up and she knows she can't afford anything going wrong.

Conflict: They had been friends as kids. In fact, she had tutored him when they had been younger, and knows that he has a learning disability that slowed him down in school work - but not with the girls in high school. She rolls back into town and sees at once that his flirting days are far from behind him and decides, what the heck, she never had a chance with him when they were kids, but she certainly has one with him now. She's more confident and worldly and just goes for it. He's into it, but also harbors the life long insecurity of feeling dumb and inferior. Especially when it comes to her - she of all people, knows exactly how "dumb" he is. The conflict is mainly him working through his inferiority issues so he feels like he is "worthy" of someone like her.

Neanderthal Seeks Human; A Smart Romance by Penny Reid

Skeptic scale: 

This was a BAD book, you guys. Like incredibly, monumentally, horrifically silly. I feel sad for myself that I read it. I feel sad for the genre that it has been thus maltreated. That chick-lit has taken a step backwards into the dark days of the themes of the 80s. That we took all that was kitchy and hilarious about 50 Shades of Grey and turned it into this horrid, pepto-bismol hued travesty. Oof.

The issue: I guess my main problem with this book is that I found the heroine to be ridiculous. She was clueless, oblivious and very dumb, frankly. She's always having to be taken care of by others (her ex, her bff, the hero), and can't really seem to figure things out on her own. She is supposed to be quirky and cute with all the spouting off about random facts about legal codes and mathematics, but she just reminded me of a really ditsy version of Rain Man. The hero was also ridiculous, but I guess if you like the whole Alpha/Dom type, then he's just a cliched version of that hero archetype. 

Why was I so upset? I was offended by all this because we should have MOVED ON from these types of heroines by now. These helpless, silly victims who are smart but only in a vague, totally useless way. We have so many wonderful examples of how we can do this plot in a more elegant way that doesn't belittle the female character to the point that she is a weak, pathetic entity. I feel like an opportunity was wasted here - and that frustrated me.

The plot
Allow me to provide a blow-by-blow synopsis of the salient plot points and while it may seem that I am I'm cherry picking only the most ludicrous ones, I assure you I am not. As you will soon see for yourselves, ALL the plot points are ludicrous. 

Girl whose life is falling apart in slow, painful motion meets boy: We open on the pot. As in the porcelain throne. The crapper. The john. There is a rather funny description of our heroine, who I shall hereafter refer to as "h", losing her shit. Pun intended. She's just been fired, you see. Also, she's found out that her boyfriend of many years has been unfaithful. And that she's going to be homeless pretty soon because she obviously can't live with her faithless jerk of an ex-bf now. 

So far so good, right? Fun set up. Snappy writing. Girl is both charmingly frazzled and clearly needs some good luck in her life. As purveyors of chick lit, we know that there couldn't be a more ripe situation for Mr. Oh So Right to stride in than when the chick's life is falling to pieces about her ears. 

And true to form, the hero (hereafter, referred to as "H") appears not 6 pages into the slowly unfolding train wreck of the h's life. He comes not so much as a conquering hero, but in the person of a uniformed security guard to escort her off the premises. Not a lot of dialogue except for her slightly hysterical ramblings (we rapidly learn that she has some kind of un-diagnosed Asperger's symptoms and a history of reality-avoidance that springs from her difficult childhood). The H remains impassive and stoic but we know he's obviously struck by this blubbering ingenue. Think Bridget Jones but with more talking. We also suspect that there is something more to the man than his apparent profession as a security guard. Not because of any particular clue except that we know that in Romancelandia no one falls in love with a security guard. I'm not being an elitist dick. It just would never happen.

Girl and boy continue to meet while laboring under series of misunderstandings: After a vaguely flirtatious elevator ride as he is escorting her out of the building, she finds herself in a limo being chauffeured home by an affable stereotype, Vince. She's briefly visited by the uneasy question of WHY SHE'S IN A LIMO IF SHE'S JUST BEEN FIRED, but pushes that out of the way to concentrate on ruminating on how embarrassed she was that the H had seen her in her worst moment.

The next time H & h's paths cross is random. She is at a bar with her bff. He happens to be at the same bar. He seems to be a bouncer of some sort. He appears to enjoy her smexy get up (smoldering gaze, lingering glances) but advises her to leave the bar since its not the type of place for nice girls like her. Her friend, a doctor is called away urgently but the h returns to the bar with the intention of seeing the mysterious dude again. 

We learn what happens next in flashback, but here's where things start getting a little eyebrow raising in terms of logic and rational behavior. Apparently, the h returns and is spotted by some dastardly men who roofie her drink. She blacks out and is saved (of course) by he H. She wakes up in a compromising-seeming position in a strange bed learns what happens from the H who is right out of a shower looking manly and delicious. He assures her that "nothing happened" with those guys or him (except for her getting ROOFIED). Then they go for brunch. Hmmm... seems about right. Get roofied at night, seem to be utterly underwhelmed by the news that you almost got horribly violated and go for brunch the next morning with the security guard you've been secretly ogling.

While at brunch, he learns that she's got a photographic memory and is amazing with numbers and can spout off random facts at will. He says he can get her a job at his firm in the accounting department and hands her his card telling her to call. Here's where the series of misunderstandings begins. He repeatedly says its HIS company, so even a blind and deaf mole could read the subtext and surmise that he means he OWNS the company and it is HIS. She is so charmingly oblivious that she basically thinks he means "his" in the general way that means "company where he works". Ok. Ha ha. What fun it'll be when she finds out in 2 seconds when she asks him the specific question about this company. Not. In fact. This dummy doesn't figure this out for more than half the book. 

She obviously gets the job and now that they work closely with one another, they embark on a more serious flirtation that eventually leads to sex. The H now turns into some kind of watered-down Christian Grey character (penthouse, fancy car, grim outward persona/inner turmoil, insistence on her being "kept" - provides her with a job, her own security detail, buys her a cell phone, insists she move into a fancy apartment that he provides. There's even a lame recreation of the Christian Grey/Anna Steele emailing thing, but this time in the form of even lamer text messages. Oh and I forgot to mention how his lawyers draw up a contract that is meant to "protect" her job even in case of the dissolution of their relationship. Different from the Christian Grey contract, true, but still idiotic.) The eye rolling was almost uncontrollable. 

The passion between H & h continues to grow in a weird and disturbing way and to create even more "urgency" the writer also introduces a plot by the h's criminally inclined sister, a couple of rough thugs and a fight scene that involves the h's knitting circle.

Anyway, the writing remained engaging and snappy till the end. Despite the incredibly silliness of the plot, I did find myself smiling several times throughout the book at the entertaining language.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

And Then He Kissed Her by Laura Lee Guhrke

Skeptic scale: ♥♥♥

Hmmm... I am not really sure what to say about this book except that it wasn't really my cup of tea. Maybe if I liked really boring tea...Well, no. That's not entirely fair. There is ONE interesting thing about this book at that is the fact that it is set in 1890s England - a really interesting time - well after the Regency period, late into the repressive Victorian era, and right before "Modern" Britain. Change was afoot and some of that change was reflected in this book. 

Economically, Britain was booming - there were the Railways, international trade and imperialism; even telephones and electric lights in some households. Culturally, women had a smidge more options. The heroine of this story, the delightfully Victorian-ly named Emmaline Dove, for example worked for a living as a secretary. She had independence and respectability and although she lived modestly, she wasn't in the kind of desperate circumstances of any of the unmarried, un-dowered Austen heroines of the Regency.

File:Hysteria (2011 film).jpgSexually however, the Victorian period was a bleak time for ladies. Not that any time in the past seems to have been particularly breezy for women, but the Victorians seemed to take special delight in removing any thought of pleasure or fun for the fairer sex. Like a good Victorian lady, Emma, begins as a rather mousy sex-less creature, who is taught early on by her aunt to suppress any baser instincts. 

Aside: Recall that this was a time that sexual frustration in women was referred to as "hysterical mania" to be treated by doctors providing "pelvic massage" to induce "hysterical paroxism" in order to relieve the patients hysterical symptoms

Another aside: There was this lovely movie called "Hysteria" (trailer below) that I watched a while back starring Hugh Dancy and Maggie Gyllenhaal which tells the story of Dr. Joseph Mortimer's 1880s invention of the electromechanical vibrator. The hilarious-but-also-kinda-sad reason for mechanizing the vibrator was basically because the good Doctor Mortimer's wrists starting hurting from giving so many women pelvic massages that he needed good old technology to help a brother out. The obvious question arises - how the hell many massages was this guy giving anyway? Can you get carpal tunnel from too many pelvic massages? Have All the Women been informed? Because it seems like that would be information ladies would like to have.

I seem to have digressed far, far off the garden path. 

Anyway, my POINT is, that while this story was incredibly tiresomely AND pedantically dull, it was set in a cool period in history.

I should outline the He/Her/Conflict of the book so at least you have all the facts to decide for yourselves:

He: Viscount Marlowe, or Harry, is one of the modern haute ton who actually works for a living. This was a time when the aristocracy was broke and had to either marry rich American heiress (Downton Abbey, Season 4 Coming Soon, what whaaat!) or actually work for a living <gasp!> Harry chooses to work and runs a successful publishing enterprise.

She: Emmaline Dove is the quiet, spinsterish, plain, humorless secretary who keeps Harry on schedule and is the silent force behind everything at the company actually getting done. She keeps working for him even when he asks her to do stuff like buy "going away presents" for the mistresses he ditches and even though she knows he's selfish and a faithless rake, because he is fair minded enough to pay her what he would pay a male secretary, and because she dreams of one day being able to publish her own book.

Conflict: He never wants to get married again because of a whole thing with his previous wife who was in love with someone else and ran off and now he's scarred for life and feels guilty for subjecting his family to the stigma of his divorce. There's some sexual chemistry between Harry and Emma, they embark on an affair, he unveils the hedonist beneath her starchy, repressed exterior, she knows he's a love-em-and-leave-em kinda guy but she falls for him anyway, he skirts the issue of commitment until there's a whole Grand Gesture event (which wasn't that grand, honestly - he bought her a bunch of books) and boom they live happily ever after.

Basically the plot of Any Romantic Comedy Ever. But this wasn't really that funny. It was just sort of obvious and un-funny. And I found Emma incredibly tiresome and unsympathetic. She just caved. Like in 2 seconds under his smoldering gaze, she CAVED and gives everything up. It just felt like all her snippy attitude and sense of independence and moralizing were nothing more than a cloak to hide her sexual frustration. She didn't really seem to have a personality except "sexually frustrated spinster" and then when she finally gives it up (and oh, of course HE'S the one who is responsible for all this flowering and passion, right? Honestly, it could have been ANY DUDE, she was THAT wound up) she's all hedonistic and sexual. Please. 

Anyway, the writing wasn't bad. I mean, I liked it but I wasn't transported. Maybe I was in a bad mood because I thought she was lame and he was a selfish jerk and I just hit a wall. As I said, not my cup of tea.

But I leave you with the trailer of Hysteria which WAS my cup of tea. Really funny tea.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Her Favorite Rival by Sarah Mayberry

Skeptic scale: ♥♥♥♥
I need to stop this OBSESSION already with Ms. Mayberry's books. Having one of her books on my kindle is like when I have cheesecake in the fridge. I simply CANNOT resist it, have no self control and I just HAVE to have it NOW. This is what has happened with Sarah Mayberry books. I have 3 more before I will have read EVERY SINGLE one of her super romances and then I anticipate some fierce and awful withdrawal sweats.

Let me just say (again) how very impressed I am at how beautifully this lady writes conflict. I mean we're talking proper Conflict with a capital C. Not the piddly kind - ooh she's totally into him, and he just can't commit - Mayberry conflicts are juicy, serious, intense and incredibly relate-able.

Other stuff that I totally loved:
1) The chick was kick ass, serious, awesome, cautious but when she really wanted something - she just went for it.
2) Ms. Mayberry "showed rather than told" how the H was a natural caretaker. I know authors love to say how the hero has a superhero complex, how he has a desperate need to "protect and serve", and often authors literally give the hero a profession where he protects and serves all day long. In this story, the H's every action shows how he takes care of others.  Made me feel mushy and vanilla-pudding-y inside. I wanted to weep with relief when he finally found someone to take care of him. 

"Her Favorite Rival" is a companion story to Her Favorite Temptation that featured Leah and Will. Leah's sister Audrey is the h in this story.

Here's the 2-minute synopsis:
He: Zach is a young, up-and-comer at the company. He is hard working and determined to rise above his rather horrendous childhood circumstances. He's a nice, charming guy who's wholly focused on his five-year-plan that certainly doesn't leave a whole lot of room for romancing the co-worker to whom he is so attracted.

She: Audrey grew up knowing she was second-best in her parent's eyes. She made a stupid mistake at 16 and has spent the next 17 years "atoning" for it. She keeps her head down, works hard and never complains. She's ambitious and wants the best for herself in her career and is willing to put in the time and effort to get it.

Conflict: SO MANY CONFLICTS!!! But good, meaty ones where you feel a sense of real satisfaction as Ms. Mayberry helps unravel them by the end. Not that they ever completely go away, but the characters learn the "tools" to cope with their conflicts.

One source of tension is obviously the fact that they work together and work romances are mostly a terrible idea. They both love their jobs and are intensely ambitious and don't want to do anything to jeopardize their careers for a random fling.

The other conflicts are personal demons that they both have to let go of before really jumping into something with the other. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Her Favorite Temptation by Sarah Mayberry

Skeptic scale: ♥♥♥♥

Confession: I think I am addicted to Sarah Mayberry. 

I can't stop reading her books! I finish one and barely give myself a second to catch my breath before I'm ready to attack the next one. This is reminding me of the Rachel Gibson binge of 2006. INSANITY.

Her Favorite Temptation was typical Mayberry genius. Two extremely lovable and awesome characters are facing significant personal challenges but who do it gracefully and become even MORE awesome in the process. 

And as usual I loved, loved, loved her Epilogue because it closed the loop on the way both h & H approached their personal demons and why they were so right for one another. I am constantly amazed by the way Ms. Mayberry manages to show friendship, caring and love AND show how each character is a "whole" person in themselves. They each have personal challenges, personal interests and ambitions and each is a fully realized person who manages to find a great fit with the other. I am really not a fan of characters who are shown as nothing more than almost-marrieds. Like they have no direction, interests, hobbies, passions etc except the other person. Ms. Mayberry NEVER does that to her characters. Kristan Higgins does an awesome job of writing characters that have a whole personality too and I went through a whole KH addiction phase too, I recall...

Oh man. I am just dreading the day I finish all her books. 

He: A musician who's one half of a popular band. He's in "hiding" from the world and his family because he's been given some terrible new about his health that leaves him feeling scared and unstable and he feels like he needs to withdraw from everything just to process his own feelings. He really likes her but is scared to really do anything about it because his own life hangs in such precarious balance.

She: A sweet, goofy doctor who lives next door to the H. She thinks he's a hot dish but doesn't recognize him for the rock star that he is. She has always been a good girl, always sucked up to her parents and worked hard in school and then work. But she's feeling stifled in both her job and her life. Then she meets this sweet, charming, smokin' dude who lives next door who encourages her to be brave. 

Conflict: *Spoiler ahead* After he undergoes the operation on his tumor, he realized he may have lost the use of his right hand - understandably a horribly difficult and traumatic event for anyone and even more so for someone who makes his living as a musician. He knows the next few months of rehabilitation are going to be intense and even though he loves her, he feels like he just can't put the h through that kind of situation - not when he feels so "unmanned" by his situation. The h meanwhile loves him but feels like she can't demand his attention and focus when he's going through such a difficult transition in his life. So they both hover about each other, in love, but uncertain whether they should really just go for it.