Saturday, October 31, 2009

Dangerous Secrets

The title: Dangerous Secrets
The author: Lisa Marie Rice
Publication: Avon, 2008
Got it from: Amazon

You know how I kept saying that one of these days, I would keep notes while I was reading a book so I would finally remember everything I wanted to say? Well, this time I did!

Behold, a detailed review with 175% more observational goodness!

In a nutshell, this book is about a small-time librarian, her Delta Force operator lover disguised as a Wall Street millionaire and the Russian Nobel Literature-nominated writer who's the librarian's good friend. Who also happens to be the psychotic leader of the Russian mafia. Who also happens to have the hots the librarian because she looks just like his dead girlfriend.

I feel like I am highly qualified to write this review, because if there's one thing I know, it's about being a small-town librarian. And scary Russian mafia leaders mistake me for their dead girlfriends all the time.

The story opens at the end of the saga with the Nicholas Ireland, the Delta Force operator who calls himself Iceman, attending his own funeral. Nice!

We then jump back to the beginning of the story to visit a Russian airfield, where somebody bad is preparing to bring something bad to the States, which I'm sure we'll learn all about in a later chapter. (Psst –it might be a nuclear wessel, er, vessel!) This scene is notable because it mentions having to bring the bad thing through Canada. Go Canada!

Then there's a brief scene with Mr. Russian Mafia in Vermont, who is remembering his sweet Katya who died in the Russian gulag, and how he wrote a poem about it, "in ink made from burnt shoe leather on a piece of intact shoe." Aw, that's so romantic! I love it when my scary villains are such sensitive soft hearts. He does some moustache-and cape-twirling as he announces his intentions to have the librarian for himself, for she is the reincarnation of dear Katya!

Then to the library! Where Iceman-disguised-as-rich-millionaire-to-learn-more-about-bad-Russian goes to visit the librarian. We now learn that the librarian's name is Charity Prewitt.

Also acceptable would have been Prudie McSpinster, Virginia O'Prig, or Chastity Shushington.

But oho! What's this? Little Charity is not the old prune Iceman thought she would be. For one thing, she's only twenty-eight. She's also "small, curvy, classy with large eyes the color of the sea at dawn," she has "the most delicious skin he'd ever seen on a woman," a "quiet knockout," "the classiest-looking dame he'd seen in a long while." Did I mention that he thinks she's classy? Because he does.

When Nick goes to visit her at the library, he sees her through the window: "through the huge library windows she looked like a lovely little lamb staked out for the predators...Charity Prewitt had been showcased against the darkness of the evening. One very pretty young woman all alone in an enclosed space. It screamed out to any passing scumbag - come and get me!"

Thanks, Iceman. Thanks a lot. Now I'm going to feel really good working alone in the library at night.

Nick asks Charity on a date and of course she says yes because, as we learn, she's desperate. The only bachelor in the whole town worth having is Vassily, but he's out of the question because he's "fifty-four years old and horribly scarred."

Oh yes, and that whole mafia thing she doesn't know about. That might also kill the romance.

Charity, like all good romance novel heroines, is selfless and taking care of her sick, elderly aunt and uncle and hasn't had time to date. Nick is rich and handsome, so what the hey? Let's go out with a total stranger!

They go to a restaurant and we learn a little more about Charity. I have to be a spoilsport and step in here with my librarian tsk-tsking, because the author commits two grievous sins in talking about Charity's librarian degree. Sorry to be nit-picky, but I hate it when authors get this wrong and they do it all the time. One: it's very rarely referred to these days as "library science." The proper term now is "library studies," or "information studies" if you want to be really progressive. Two: it is almost never obtained as a bachelor's degree, as it is in Charity's case. I'm speaking from Canadian experience, but we haven't had a professional librarian degree at the bachelor's level since the 1970's. It's a Master's, damnit! Nora Roberts made the same mistake in Key of Knowledge and I wanted to bite something then too. Look, I didn't do a two-year Master's and become an ALA-certified professional librarian to have every Tomasina, Dilly and Harriet think she can be a librarian with a bachelor's degree.

Charity sits in the restaurant, looks at the fine specimen of male sitting across from her, and thinks "[I'm] up for sex with this man. Right now." It's always a good idea to sleep with your patrons the first day you meet them, because it eases the tension later when they come looking for information on how to build bombs.

Nick, meanwhile, sips his wine and fondly remembers his last mission, where he was forced to infiltrate a South American drug lord's posse and sleep with the drug lord's scary sister, who was into hardcore S&M. Good times. He's also trying to think unsexy thoughts, because Charity is Turning. Him. On. He describes to himself what may be the best analogy ever: "undercover work is like proctology. You poke and prod around assholes, looking for something bad, and then you zap the bad things you find."

We also learn that Vassily has come to Vermont specifically because Charity is there. Can anyone tell me how a Russian mafia vor would know what a small-town librarian in Vermont looks like enough to move five scrillion miles to be with her? Anyone?

But it's snowing hard so the date is over. Nick comes to Charity's rescue and offers to drive her straight home, since her own car has bald tires and he can't bear the thought of her getting in an accident. Just like how in Lisa Marie Rice's other book Dangerous Lover, the hero comes to the heroine's rescue by offering her a drive home in a snowstorm because her tires are bald and he can't bear the thought of her getting into an accident. Also like in Dangerous Lover, the hero and heroine are both orphans and the heroine's parents died in a horrible, horrible accident, forcing her to care for an ailing family member and suffer alone.

I'm just saying.

Nick and Charity make it home and start getting busy when they are rudely interrupted by the phone, which they don't pick up. The scene flashes to Vassily, who we discover is the person calling. When Charity doesn't pick up the phone, Vassily freaks in the way only a stalker can because he knows she doesn't usually stay out late. Here we also learn that Vassily has set up a sweet apartment in NYC for Charity: “[it had] been decorated in the pastel colors Charity loved, filled with her favorite music CDs, stocked with her favorite teas. He'd bought an entire designer wardrobe in her size, just waiting for her to step into them." I don't know, this whole mafia girlfriend thing sounds pretty good to me.

The next fifty or so pages can be summed up nicely by one of those "The Least You Need to Know" Idiot's Guide boxes.

-Nick and Charity get it on 'til the break of dawn, then get it on some more.
-Nick focuses on Charity "like a laser beam" three times and calls her "classy" three more times.
-Vassily reminisces about his beloved Katya, who was raped and murdered in the gulag and you almost feel sorry for him
-Nick receives a call from his crippled-orphan--turned-investment-billionaire best friend, who informs Nick that he's made him a million dollars in the stock market.

In fact, the similarities between this book and Dangerous Lover call for a Lisa Marie Rice drinking game. Take a drink when:
-Heroine drives in snowstorm with bald tires
-Hero goes "hard as a club" looking at her
-Hero comes into unexpected wealth
-Hero acts like a Neanderthal around heroine (try this and get drunk in minutes)
-Villain thinks about how rough he's had it and how much power he has now
-Hero reminisces about his crappy life
-The story ends abruptly with no explanation of HEA
-Take one drink for each family member/friend the heroine/hero have taken care of because they're physically and/or mentally incapacitated
-Take one drink each time heroine displays a feminine charm that blows the hero away
-Take one drink for each mention of the hero/heroine's lousy ex-boyfriends/girlfriends/one night stands

In the middle of their 1400th boinky boinky session, Charity’s uncle calls. It seems that her senile, elderly aunt has disappeared at night in the middle of a snowstorm. Now call me crazy, but something seems a little off about a 28-year-old having an 87-year-old uncle. My grandmother is that old. Even if Charity’s parents were 40 when they had her, that still means that there’s at least a 20-year age difference between her parents and their siblings. Naturally, Nick saves the day, finds the grandmother and keeps her from getting hypothermia. As a “reward” he demands, uh, stuff from Charity. I told you this guy is a Neanderthal. At this point I was thinking if it was me, I’d tell him to *bleep* off but I’m getting the sense that Charity is a doormat. Also, Nick is an asshole.

Charity *finally* goes back to work the next day, but not for long. Nick comes marching back in after about an hour and the two go at it in the library’s supply closet. Where they’re discovered by the cranky ex-head librarian. Busted! Clearly this is a demonstration of Charity’s bachelor-level library degree. At the master’s level, they teach you to lock the library door when you want to bump and grind in a supply closet with a patron.

Next thing you know, Nick and Charity are attending Vassily’s Thursday-night soiree. Wait, it’s Thursday now? It was just Monday. What have they been- oh, wait. Forget I asked.

Vassily is all over Charity and Nick gets all angry and protective, but he has to keep his cool because he is supposed to be doing recon on the guy. The two men’s eyes lock across the room, and hatred and jealousy flare between them as their eyes narrow. Dun dun dun. After the party, Vassily calls one of his flunkies to get a hitman out on Nick. Is it wrong of me to be a little bit cheerful at the thought of Nick getting whacked?

So the plot is thickening, but not as much as Nick’s turgid manhood.

Nick then formulates a great plan. He’ll marry Charity, and that way, if he’s killed, the Unit will be able to protect her. So they rush off to the courthouse and they’re married.

Fun Fact -->
Did you know that at this point, Nick still hasn’t told Charity who he really is and why he’s there? It’s true!

Nick then leaves Charity for the afternoon. At this point, the plot gets very exciting as the hitman chases Nick up a mountainside in a blinding snowstorm.

Fun Fact -->
Did you know that in late November, Vermont gets snowstorms every day?

But the Iceman is far too tough to get himself killed. He finds a way to kill the hitman, puts the body in his own car and sets it afire before sending it over the cliff. Now everyone thinks he’s dead! Aaaand we’ve come full circle to the funeral.

Poor Charity doesn’t even get to wear her $300 nightgown. She spends her days crying and throwing up. Admittedly, it does pretty much suck. Nick, meanwhile, lies naked in a seedy motel room, getting drunk and missing Charity. Finally he pulls himself together enough to stalk her house.

Just as soon as Vassily arrives to comfort the widow. Uh oh…

Oh yes, and here’s another great moment. We discover that the man with the mysterious package has almost arrived in North America and that he’s “sixty miles south of St. John, New Brunswick, Canada.”

I can just see the author looking at a map and going, “what godforsaken place can I put this crazy Russian where no one will ever find him? Oh here, that looks good.”

Well, I’ve got news for you. I happened to grow up in Saint John, and we ate people for breakfast who abbreviated the “Saint” in Saint John. I’ll grant you that the area is slightly godforsaken, but I will not tolerate you abbreviating the Saint. Shame.

Vassily comes with food and drink for Charity and proceeds to pour them some Russian tea (2/3 tea, 1/3 vodka), while urging, nay commanding, Charity come visit him tonight. So he’s this big jerk who wants to take care of her but bosses her around, sees her as a sexual object, has no clue how to respect women and has no idea what Charity’s really like? And the difference between him and Nick is…?

Of course, after Vassily leaves Nick bursts in and is all, “no way am I letting my wife go hang out with the mafia!” Which causes delicate little Charity to faint into his arms because of course she still thinks Nick’s dead.

Nick then has what may be the first normal, sane thought to ever cross his brain:

Damn, he should have played this differently, but how? How do you tell a grieving widow – Whoops! Husband not dead, after all! Big mistake, sorry about that. Hey, s—t happens.

Nope. There was no way he could have revealed himself without shocking her in a big way. And no way he could keep her from going to Worontzoff’s tonight without revealing himself. What was he supposed to do – send her e-mails from beyond the grave? Leave her messages written in lipstick on her bathroom mirror?

You know what else would have been a good idea? Telling her the truth before you got married. Yeah.

Nick has a lot of ‘splaining to do, but deep down Charity is all, “aw, you’re so handsome, how can I stay mad at you?” Nick announces that all that throwing up she’s doing is because she’s pregnant. For verily, like the ancient gods of yore, if thou hast unprotected sexual relations with a romance novel hero, thou whilst get child without fail.

At this point Nick’s partner busts through the door and they have a long chat with Charity about Vassily’s true identity. Charity finally shows some initiative and agrees to go in wired.

As a reviewer, I’m not supposed to give away the ending of a book. So I’m going to give you three endings. Only one of them is real, two are just ones I wish had happened. You get to guess.

Ending #1
Charity shows up at the event but Vassily and his goons forget to frisk her. Charity busts a move and uses her vast arsenal supply to take down all the goons. She holds the nuclear canister for ransom until Nick’s people agree to pay. She runs away to an Eastern martial arts training school and she and her daughter train as ninjas. They later devote their lives to taking down rapists, perverts, and other assorted scum.

Ending #2
Charity goes in wired and Nick and his pals get all the information they need and head inside to rescue her. The FBI swat team busts in, but unable to figure out who is the a-hole they want, they arrest both Vassily and Nick. Both men are sent to prison, where out of boredom they take a correspondence course in feminism. When they finally get out, they decide to invest their riches in helping female African AIDS victims. Meanwhile, Charity decides she doesn’t want to have some idiot’s child, gets an abortion, and finally obtains her librarian degree at a Master’s level. She ends up as a rural bookmobile driver, where she meets a kindly rancher whom she teaches to read and they end up getting married.

Ending #3
Charity goes to Vassily’s and discovers he’s gone insane and really thinks she is Katya. The contact he’s meeting has an anti-counter surveillance device, which goes off as soon as Charity enters the room and Vassily throws himself in front of her, protecting her from the contact’s bullet. The swat team busts in and Nick goes hysterical thinking Charity’s dead. When he discovers she’s not, he sweeps her into his arms and announces they’re not leaving bed all week. Charity meekly replies, “yes, dear” like the spineless jellyfish she is. Nine months later they deliver a stropping baby boy who looks just like Nick and he weeps over having a wife he can control and a son he can use to further his patriarchal lunacy. The End.

If you can’t figure out what I thought of this book by now, please go back and reread this whole summary. You clearly weren’t paying attention!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

An announcement

I know things have been quiet around here for awhile, but now that Austen season is over, stay tuned. There will be lots more reviews before the year is out, including one that I'm working on now that may even rival Yankee Mistress. I can't tell you exactly what I've got cooking, but you can be sure of some Christmas-themed romances in the near future. Now I just have to get spine-cracking and do some serious reading.


The title: Persuasion
The author: Jane Austen
Publication: Crown, 1981 (org. 1818)
Got it from: Mom, Easter 1996

Reading Persuasion is like having a comforting Thanksgiving dinner at home, which is good because I didn't get to experience that this year. You know exactly what to expect, so you can just sit back and enjoy the good wholesomeness.

Persuasion is the story of twenty-seven-year-old Anne Elliot, who in the Regency period is considered an old maid spinster. Eight years ago she had a brief but dazzling romance with a young navy man, but was persuaded by an older friend that the match would be imprudent. Now her family are in financial ruins and he's come back as Captain Wentworth, a well-respected and rising star in the navy and rich to boot. Oh, the thousands of Regency romances this plot has generated. Poor Anne, who has lost the bloom of her youth and must watch him court two silly relations instead!

If Captain Wentworth wasn't such a nice guy with a lot of sense (unlike some heroes I can think of, Edmund) this story could have been painfully awful. But Anne isn't entirely a shrinking violet and it's wonderful to watch as his presence makes her regain her sparkle. He doesn't realize it because he's still angry with her, but his attraction to her is still powerful: carefully read the scene where he's taking her nephew from her and watch the electricity almost fly off the page. One of the great things that Jane Austen does is contrast their seemingly indifferent feelings for each other with the way they listen intently, almost breathlessly, to each other's conversations in the hopes they might understand each other's feelings. When it finally begins to dawn on them that they are still in love, it's a profound moment. I defy any woman to read Captain Wentworth's letter to Anne in which he pours out his feelings at last - you pierce my soul - without feeling her heart break in a good way. Anybody who isn't touched by this second-chance love story must have concrete in their veins.