August 26th, 2007

_Simon Says_, Lori Foster

I've been reading Lori Foster for several years now. I think the first was probably _Too Much Temptation_, a loaner that I eventually got from TitleTrader and recently reread. I haven't read everything Foster's got out, but I have read a lot of it. This particular entry is in the SBC series (Supreme Battle Challenge, because no one wants to get into the trademark troubles that setting romance novels in actual UFC fights might get one into). Unlike earlier entries, Our Heroine this time around (Dakota Dream: mom is responsible for the first name; evil first husband is responsible for the last name) admires the fighters for more than their chiseled physiques. She is described as having trained in Muay Thai for, IIRC, four years. Don't hold me to that number tho.

In keeping with Foster's usual formula, her dad's nowhere in the picture. Her step dad is evil. She married over her mother's objections when very young (I think 16 in this one). Her mom was right to object, but they didn't make up before her mother had a chance to tell her she forgave her and still loved her. Husband abused her and expected too much of her. Eventually she left him, but he is stalking her. In addition to the evil-ex-husband stalker, there is also another male hovering in the background with unrequited love; in this particular case, he turns out to be a good guy and I expect we'll be seeing another novel about Barber in the future. The biggest problem in this particular novel is the heroine. She describes herself as not getting along with women (which is a pity, because the other wives of SBC fighters, Eve and so forth, were a lot of fun, and I would have liked to see more of them). She sings (sometimes) with Barber's band so *of course* all of the men in the audience are lusting after her. At the gym where the SBC guys are training, ditto. Foster goes to a little trouble to deal with some of this unreality (her Special Skill is spotting tells, which one might expect an abuse victim to be good at), but she leaves a little too much Wishful Thinking in place: Our Heroine who can barely stand anyone to touch her and has to be on top to not freak out having sex nevertheless goes from stand-up fighting only to grappling with every guy in the gym in one or her perhaps two easy lessons. Then there's the how-fast-she-adapts-to-sex thing, which is also somewhat worrisome.

I can tolerate abuse-background-formula (even as detailed as this one tends to be). The it-just-takes-the-right-guy-to-get-me-over-my-frigidity is a lot harder to deal with. The put-me-on-stage-and-I'll-wow-them-all is just silly. But it's the mixed martial arts thing that got to me most. I don't have nearly the kind of background Foster's heroines typically do, but I have a lot of empathy for the don't-touch-me thing. It was _great_ that Foster picked a stand-up style for the heroine. It was even better that people in the novel recognized that she had to develop a ground game. But it happened too fast. Disbelief could not recover.

Still fun. I'll still read Foster. I'll also go back to plotting my own getting-it-on-on-the-mats novel.

_Magic Bites_ by Ilona Andrews

Another Amazon recommendation.

Like so much other post-Buffy urban fantasy (I know Joss didn't invent this style; probably that's LKH's fault): there are political/religious/racial factions/groups/powers. In this particular case, the typical one is the shapeshifter/werekind group. The usual vampire crowd is still vampires, but the vampires are kinda mindless and "run" by necromancer/necronavigators. There are police and military groups. There are individual powers (e.g. Saiman, another shapeshifter, but apparently not werekind). There is the Order of something-or-other, which includes Knights and Crusaders, some of whom have more specialized roles and responsibilities. Our Heroine comes from an unspecified (but I'd bet elven) group, somewhat connected to the Order. But she's got Problems with Authority (which is why virtually everyone she has any kind of relationship is at or near the top of a hierarchy, I feel sure) and so Does Not Play Well With Others. Despite this, and her comparative youth, she has Mad Skills and Great Natural Talent also Something Special With Her Blood. She is unable to sustain relationships (parents gone, altho possibly not her bio-parents anyway; dates Dr. Crest but blows that budding relationship up thoroughly -- it wasn't going to go anywhere when she stopped worrying about him getting her into trouble anyway. Clearly that's her fetish) initially, but we are given to believe She's Getting Better, in that she sort of rehabs Nick and he sort of reaches out to her. Also, there is the thing with the Beast Lord.

Is it any good?

Well, it does nice things with the Wen Spencer magic-works/tech-works idea. The Words of Power thing is kinda cool, especially the idea that there are Nasties that use the Words of Power as a Language. I have not been to Atlanta, so I have no idea how fast-and-loose she played with the city, but she developed the city well as a character.

The real problem is that SBTB mentioned Mary Sue, which I then looked up on Wikipedia. Boy, that sure brought into high relief all my problems with this and the Lori Foster novel. Oh well. I'll read the sequel when it comes out, but I do find it moderately amusing that Andrews apparently repeated some standard drivel about romance novels in her lj and got pounded for it.

Secondary problems: this world is very, very, very unsafe. I'm betting their population is declining. Steeply. What's _up_ with Curran getting all up in her face about being an attention-seeker? That does not make sense, given the importance of what she is doing and her efficacy in accomplishing her goals. Sure, she screws up, but not in I'm-a-doofus ways. Curran and company screwed up _horribly_ over the whole upiri thing, too. It wasn't her idea to i.d. the human boyfriend -- THEY jumped to that conclusion, then blamed her. It would all make sense if this, like Buffy, were straight up code for high school/college angst. But it does not make sense if there's a serial godonlyknows out there doing the horrible horrible, and Our Heroine is making progress to solving the problem.

_Agnes and the Hitman_, Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer

People have mixed feelings about Crusie/Mayer (for that matter, they have mixed feelings about this whole Crusie+collaborator(s) thing). I took these concerns seriously enough to get _Don't Look Down_ from the library (IIRC) and then enjoyed it enormously (especially the whole Wonder Woman doll theme). When I recently noticed their new effort was out, I snapped it up new on Amazon without hesitation.

Crusie/Mayer collaborations can be thought of as mashups: mix part screwball romantic comedy (with lots of food and alcohol and insane extended family, and I don't mean that in a good way), part action adventure add more adjectives someone who reads this genre a lot more than I do. On the good side, this gives Crusie's insane characters some real world stuff to have conflict with, thus saving them from obsessing endlessly about past, current and ongoing relationships (and not just the ones involving sex). The obsessing is frequently -- and often entertainingly -- interrupted by gunfire, explosions, bomb shelters, basements, etc. I can't speak to what Mayer gets out of the deal; probably a lot of additional humor and a way out of the angsty loneliness that tends to characterize that other genre I don't read much.

A couple of comments: Wow -- that bridge showed up _again_. What is up with that bridge? Should I worry about it? And can we have another book about Carpenter? Yeah, I know Crusie isn't that kind of writer, but I _really_ liked Carpenter.

It is a little jolting to have a body count in this kind of book. There's plenty of precedent (on screen, _Arsenic and Old Lace_, for example), nevertheless, ya gotta wonder about Garth formerly known as Three Wheels losing a grandfather and a cousin. OTOH, he got new clothes, indoor plumbing, a whole lot of food, probably gets to stay in school and has a girlfriend. And he didn't much like the cousin, or, probably the grandfather. *shrug*

This book is quite crazy, but very, very, very hard to put down. Be forewarned.

_Exit Strategy_, Kelley Armstrong

I've been reading both the werewolf books (_Bitten_, etc.) and the witch books (_Dime Store Magic_, etc.) by Armstrong. After I finished this one, I finally picked up _No Humans Involved_, so it should be clear that Armstrong has done nothing unforgiveable. This is not a fantasy novel (well, any more than fiction in general is, but never mind that now); Armstrong says she still loves the paranormal but mostly reads crime thrillers herself.

I'm not a big fan of the crime thriller. A lot of the crime thriller is about getting inside the head of Really Unpleasant People. I don't tend to find that very entertaining. I prefer snark, actually, so if someone were to write a crime thriller and the Big Bad Dude made snippy little remarks constantly I might be interested in giving that a try -- let me know if you know of one. I _think_ I require more of a moral dimension in my entertainment, but odds on, I'm wrong.

Our Heroine is Canadian. She was a cop, but in the wake of an Incident, she quit being a cop, lost her fiance and distanced herself from her family. Herein lies the Armstrong formula, and lo, it bears some resemblance to the Foster formula. (Horrific sexual assault in background that she is probably suppressing parts of and definitely has nightmares about; Big Pool of Rage/takes near-suicidal risks; distanced herself from everyone in the wake of it and refuses to see that anyone cares about her now; obsessed with control; looks HOT but dresses down almost all the time but when tarts up, can flirt with the best of them; no close female friends; dead dad; mom not around, etc.) The Incident involved shooting a guy they probably weren't going to be able to lock up for Nearly Long Enough. When she nearly goes broke running a Not-Hunting Lodge, she starts taking contracts to kill Bad Guys (for other bad guys, not the government, as in Crusie/Mayer) to keep the place afloat.

Into this Idyllic Picture (Canada, remember?) comes Jack, probably 20 years older than her, never-use-two-words-when-one-will-do. We eventually discover he was sent by HIS mentor, Evelyn, but is so taken with the need to Protect Our Fragile Little Flower Nadia that he deceives Evelyn into not recruiting Nadia as a new protegee. Everything is ticking along nicely until Yet Another Evelyn Protegee from the pre-Jack past decides it's time to retire and he's gonna go out with a bang. The ensuing plot is an entertaining what-if exercise. What-if a highly skilled hitman decided to start killing people on his own account? You'd have a serial killer with no victim-of-choice and a whole lot of skill and therefore virtually impossible to stop. So go after the contract killers, who you might have let slide on occasion because they don't leave behind a good enough trail to convict, they are hard to find, and they have a lot of resources in terms of running, changing id and funding a legal defense. Also, in killing off witnesses if necessary. The contract killers then get together to police their own. If we don't stop him, nobody will and it's, get this, giving us a bad name.

Humor. Har.

Whoops. Channelling the wrong contract killer there. Ooops.

Anyway. Not a plausible plot line. Whatever. Like that ever stopped me. There's some funny bits in the book because Jack oh-so-clearly wants Nadia and is oh-so-clearly not willing/able to act on that and Nadia is so-fucking-stupid she can't see it. Younger competition (Quinn) is not so shy and further is plugging his version of Good Guy Hit Man: just do for pay what needs to be done anyway.

Will I read more? Sure! Will I complain?

Like you need to ask.