Sunday, January 31, 2016

Something About You


The title: Something About You
The author: Julie James
Publication: Berkley Sensation, 2010
Got it from: Hoopla Audiobooks, 2016

Readers of this blog know I love a romance heroine who has a job with authority, and her protective hero.  Something About You has both those elements.  Well-paced, well-plotted, funny, and super hot: I loved this book.  The first in the author's FBI/US attorney series opens with the heroine, Cameron Lynde, taking time out from her stressful job as an assistant US Attorney by staying at a fancy hotel.  Unfortunately she can't sleep because of the couple gettin' it on next door.  When she calls hotel security, they discover not sexy times, but a dead body.  Bad: Cameron spied the killer through the door's peep hole.  Worse: the FBI are called because it implicates a prominent US senator.  Even worse: the agent who shows up to interrogate Cameron is Jack Pallas, the same agent who worked with Cameron three years earlier on a case that went south.  Because of a big misunderstanding, the case ended up getting thrown out and Jack blames Cameron for the three years he got transferred to Nebraska.

Some of the real highlights of this book are the scenes where Jack and his partner are interrogating Cameron: it's right out of a 1940s screwball comedy.  Cameron's got sass, Jack is straightlaced, and Jack's partner Wilkins is the laid-back good cop.  Naturally Jack and Cameron are totally hot for each other, and it takes a good long time to clear up the big misunderstanding, as they fight their unwanted sexual attraction by trading barbs.  As you might expect, Jack soon becomes extra protective while they try to identify the killer, who the reader knows but the characters don't.  There's some pretty funny moments, often brought about by Jack's partner Wilkins getting involved in his love life (and a certain hilarious mistaken male stripper incident), Cameron's hired cop protectors who also become involved in her love life, and Cameron's gay friend Colin who Jack is jealous of. 

I listened to this on audiobook, read by Karen White, who did a great job bringing the the different characters to life (I particularly enjoyed her Agent Wilkins' happy-go-lucky voice) and made the sex scenes sound really sexy.  The danger wasn't super intense, allowing the relationship to take its rightful place at the forefront.  I do enjoy an edge-of-your seat, on-the-run romance, but this was different and it worked for me. 

Friday, December 18, 2015

Crossfire Christmas


The title: Crossfire Christmas
The author: Julie Miller
Publication: Harlequin, 2014
Got it from: Overdrive

December is one of those periods I just don't have the time or energy to read anything really heavy.  I want something light and fast-paced, preferably a romance with a winter setting.  Crossfire Christmas was a perfectly serviceable book in that regard.  It didn't really stand out for me, but it was a nice distraction.  It's part of the "Kansas City Precinct" series that I haven't read but apparently involves a lot of characters who are cops.  Both the hero and heroine appeared as characters earlier in the series.  The hero, Charlie Nash, is a DEA agent whose cover has been blown inside a big-time drug cartel.  Wounded and on the run, he stumbles across  Teresa Rodriguez, a nurse, who he basically kidnaps to keep himself alive.

I'm not sure why this book was just okay for me.  It had some elements I liked, but neither the hero or heroine really grabbed me.  They weren't annoying, but they didn't sparkle with personality either.  It also had some road trip elements, which I like, but they never really left Kansas City so that sort of fizzled out.  I also really enjoy the hurt/comfort trope, but I never really believed Nash was in any danger of dying.  And maybe that is the source of my lukewarm reaction: there were no edge-of-my seat moments where I felt the main characters were in any serious danger.   It was overall a paint-by-numbers pleasant experience. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Dietland



The title: Dietland
The author: Sarai Walker
Publication: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
Got it from: Hoopla Audiobooks

I actually finished listening to this book on audiobook a few weeks ago, and it has been running through my mind ever since.  It's not the usual sort of book I read, but then again I don't think there's another book like it.  I would never have picked it up except something about it piqued my interest from the reviews.  That something is, "shadowy feminist group takes revenge against scumbag men."

But to say "that's what it's about" is to do a disservice to this book, because it's much more complicated than that.  If I were to sum it up as succinctly as possible, I'd say it's about a self-loathing, obese twentysomething woman who goes on a journey of self-acceptance and opens her eyes to the reality of the world around her.  If you read the reviews on Goodreads and elsewhere, you'll see this book has divided a lot of readers due to its strong feminist perspective.

I can imagine that if you're not already a hardcore feminist (as I am), some of the book's revelations about the way men treat women might seem shocking.  But when you're talking about a scenario where women are kidnapping men who brutally rape a young woman (for example), and then dropping them on a freeway, the idea isn't supposed to be "is this right or wrong?"  It's to take a look at the millions and millions of instances of injustices women have faced, and think, "what would it actually be like if even a tiny fraction of violence men do to us were turned on them?"

Men's rights activists can breath easy: that's not likely to happen any time soon.  Even the novel's heroine, Plum, is shocked and horrified by the actions of the secret feminist action group, known as "Jennifer" (after a name on a piece of paper stuffed in a victim's mouth.)  Well, she is at first - when she's a downtrodden, miserable hermit with a crappy dead-end job.  If people take nothing else from this book, they will remember its depiction of the various ways Plum suffers because of her weight.

And it's brutal. I mean really, really brutal. This book holds nothing back in highlighting the shameful, disgraceful way our society, and particularly men, treat women who are overweight.  Plum's journey is heartbreaking, from her unhappy childhood to her teenage suffering on an awful diet plan to her current life as the faceless agony aunt behind the "Dear Kitty" letters in a teen magazine. Seeing the various ways Plum gets rejected, harassed and even beaten by men who are complete strangers simply for being overweight is painful.  No wonder she's desperate to have gastric bypass surgery and unleash the thinner "Alicia" she thinks is inside her.

The book takes a turn for the better when she gets taken in by a group of outcast activist women, led by Verena Baptist, the daughter of Plum's one-time weight-loss guru.  Fans of mythic tropes will recognize many aspects of the hero's quest in the way Plum must undergo a series of challenges to transform herself (at first for money, later purely for her own benefit).  Eventually, Plum is reborn.  I won't spoil it for you, except to say that her eventual self-acceptance is long, painful and triumphant.

As for Jennifer?  It didn't bother me.  Some of the stunts they pulled were actually pretty funny: my favourite was when they blackmailed a British tabloid to replace the page three girl with naked men. Eventually England is covered in images of buff men and women flock from all over the world  to see it.

I'm not even sure this book is actually condoning the violence, although these particular men largely deserve it.  Instead, it's flipped the violence around in a way we're not used to seeing.  As the main character in the wonderful movie Suffragette says, "We break windows, be burn things, because war is the only thing men listen to."

Sometimes in books, things get ugly.  They show the world as it is, not as we want it to be.  I hope it will be a revelation to any woman reading this novel that we should live our lives to please ourselves first.  As one of my favourite Oscar Wilde sayings goes, "to love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance."

Monday, November 9, 2015

Poles Apart

The title: Poles Apart
The author: Terry Fallis
Publication: McClelland & Stewart, 2015
Got it from: The library

I really enjoyed Terry Fallis's political books, The Best Laid Plans and The High Road, which poked gentle fun at Canadian politics with a healthy dose of liberal idealism thrown in (that's big "L" and little"l" liberal.)  Surely Angus McLintock, the grizzled feminist engineering professor/MP at the heart of these novels, would approve of our new PM.  Wait, did I say feminist engineering professor?  You mean an actual male writer has a feminist character in a mainstream novel?  That's just one of the many delightful touches in Fallis's stories that elevate them to must-reads, at least in this feminist's eyes. 

So imagine how excited I was that a male feminist was going to be the main character of Fallis's new book, Poles Apart.  The title is a double entendre, as the hero lives (by accident) above a strip club.  Everett Kane is a freelance writer who's drifting in life.  The only time he ever felt enthusiastic about something was in his university days, when he worked as a crusader for women's equality.  His dad is an old-school misogynist, his mom a high-powered businesswoman (they're divorced).  Everett moves to Florida after his father suffers a stroke.  At the rehab centre he meets Beverley Tanner, a feminist from the heyday of second-wave feminism and an idol of Everett's.  Beverley inspires him to write passionately about feminism, which he does on his new blog, Eve of Equality (which uses both the phrase "on the eve of equality" and Everett's name). 

In true Fallis fashion, the blog goes viral and everyone is trying to figure out the author's identity.  Everett is desperate to keep it secret, as he wants to message and not himself to be the focus of attention.  Matters get worse when the owner of a nation-wide strip club he lambastes on his blog ends up moving his strip club below Everett's apartment (unbeknownst to both parties).

Strip clubs?  Ugggh.  I hate that tired trope, but at least here's it's used ironically (a feminist living above a strip club?  Say what?).  Naturally, Everett befriends the hooker with a heart of gold one of the strippers, but thankfully that doesn't go the way I expected it to.  Along on the friend train is a gentle giant of a bouncer and the strip club owner's young and attractive lawyer. 

Naturally everything gets wrapped up in a neat package at the end but I like that don't tell anyone.  I could have done with a lot less of the macho dad, although he does undergo a conversion of sorts.  I would have loved to actually read Eve of Equality's blog posts but the book doesn't even give us so much as a paragraph.  But all that pales in my excitement about a mainstream, funny book about feminism.  Like the hero, I also think that humour and feminism go hand in hand, and that men can and should get involved.  Now if only Fallis would write a book from the actual perspective of the badass older women in his novels, that would be amazing.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Absolutely Truly: A Pumpkin Falls Mystery

The title: Absolutely Truly: A Pumpkin Falls Mystery
The author: Heather Vogel Frederick
Publication: Simon & Schuster, 2014
Got it from: Hoopla Audiobooks


Exciting news for fans of the Mother-Daughter Book Club series: after writing what was supposed to be the final book in the series back in 2012, author Heather Vogel Frederick has announced another installment due next spring.  In the meantime, I've been listening to the audiobook of her new chapter book for younger readers.

Truly Lovejoy is 13 and her family has just moved to Pumpkin Falls, New Hampshire from Texas after her father sustained an injury fighting overseas.  Truly's family is concerned about the change in their father, who has become more stern and withdrawn.  Taking over the family bookstore might be what he needs to get back on his feet.  Meanwhile, Truly has to deal with the awkwardness of moving to a new town and adolescence in general.

At first I was skeptical.  These weren't my beloved Mother-Daughter Book Club characters, and Truly seemed like a bit of a whiny brat.  But as with the MDBC series, I began to warm to the story and the charming small-town characters.  The book doesn't really start getting good until Truly starts solving the mystery.  As with the girls of the MDBC, Truly leads a busy life that involves dancing lessons, swimming, birding and algebra lessons that she has to squeeze the mystery around.  The mystery involves a series of clues found in a first edition of Charlotte's Web.  (I totally figured out who the letters were for early on.)  As an added bonus, a familiar character from the Mother-Daughter Book Club universe makes a hilarious cameo.

Hooray for Pumpkin Falls and what will hopefully be the first of many in a new mystery series.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Step Aside, Pops

The title: Step Aside, Pops
The author: Kate Beaton
Publication: Drawn & Quarterly, 2015
Got it from: Amazon

Happy Thanksgiving!  

I'm late with this review and I'm just realizing I never reviewed Kate Beaton's first comic collection, Hark! a Vagrant back in 2011.  Which is a crime, considering it is one of my go-to books when I am in need of a good laugh.  If you haven't heard of Kate Beaton or Hark! A Vagrant, the website that houses her cartoons, here's what you need to know: she's a Maritimer (like me).  She loves history (like me).  And she draws cartoons that feature the absurdity of a lot of things in history.  They're sometimes Canadian-based, sometimes not, and they often feature badass historical women, but sometimes not.  (The sassy cover model for this collection was taken from a Victorian-era cartoon about the horrors of women cyclists.  In Beaton's interpretation, the woman quips, "You see me rollin up pops you step aside," as she nearly bowls over an outraged gentleman.  He later grumbles, "bloody unbelievable," as another woman cyclist goes strutting by carrying a blaring phonograph.)

There's a goldmine of humour here if you're a general history and literature buff, and the few references I didn't get I ended up researching.  I didn't know a thing, for instance, about Ida B. Wells, but Beaton does a great job at exploring the frustrations of being a black feminist in 19th century America while still being genuinely funny.  She's also at her biting best during her extended "Wuthering Heights" saga and definitely nails all the issues I had with the book back when I was an undergrad.  Even when she's skewering you can tell Beaton genuinely loves the subjects she's writing about.

It's hard to say what my favourite cartoon in this book is.  She's unbelievably funny when she's drawing her own interpretations of classic Nancy Drew and Edward Gorey covers.  (My husband and I are obsessed with one featuring a simple scene of a woman feeding a pigeon bread crumbs.  "Aw yiss," struts Beaton's pigeon excitedly.  "Motha. Fuckin. Bread crumbs."  That's the extent of the joke.)  The prize might go to the multi-arc "Founding Fathers (In a Mall)" and "Founding Fathers (Stuck in an Amusement Park)", which features Washington, Jefferson, Franklin et al inexplicably hitting up modern locations a la Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.  If you love Revolutionary history as much as I do, prepare to be seriously amused.  "Here is a chain of carriages that will take us home!" Madison says, pointing to a roller coaster.  "Nay," disagrees another of the Fathers.  "It is merely a circle of violence, and then you retch."  I could read a whole book featuring the Founding Fathers in the 21st century.

At the outset, the cartoons seem silly, filled with sometimes crude humour.  But look beyond and you'll see how expressively the characters are drawn, how brilliant the jokes are, how deftly she skewers familiar tropes.  I know I'll return to this collection again and again.

Monday, September 28, 2015

For the Love of Pete

The title: For the Love of Pete
The author:  Julia Harper (aka Elizabeth Hoyt)
Publication: Hachette, 2008
Got it from: Barnes and Noble, Buffalo, September 2015

Elizabeth Hoyt once again proves she can write like magic with this just-what-I-needed sequel to Hot.  Special Agent Dante Torelli, last seen as the hero's partner in the previous book, is on assignment in Chicago.  His job is to protect a witness testifying against a mob kingpin.  Unfortunately something goes terribly wrong.  His partners are killed and a hitman takes off with the witness's baby girl, Petronella, or Pete for short.  Pete's aunt Zoey happens to be outside when the baby is taken - she's living in the same apartment building as her rough-around-the-edges sister and brother-in-law.  She's also one furiously protective aunt and insists on accompanying Dante as they chase after the hitman and her niece.  This being Elizabeth Hoyt, things get a little crazy when two little old Indian ladies being blackmailed by the mob accidentally end up snatching Pete from the hitman.

As in Hot, the author manages to just skirt the edges of a too-crazy plot to make it believable, satisfying and fun.  I love a road-trip romance story and this one has one in winter - even better!  The story really shines in the middle, when Dante and Zoey are arguing and learning about one another and fighting their mutual attraction (as you do in a romance novel road trip).  The action was fast-paced and sometimes too violent, but it really held my attention, which isn't easy for a book to accomplish these days when my life has gotten crazy and stressful.  As much as I love Hoyt's Maiden Lane series, I wish she would write more contemporaries if they're all as good as this.