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March 20th, 2008

_Shaken and Stirred_, Kathleen O'Reilly

Okay, Arlen Specter is now (time-shifted) listing off all his cancers; that's compatible with reviewing a romance novel. I think.

Warning: massive, massive spoilers ensue.

At times, I felt like I was reading a Lori Foster Winston Brothers novel. This, for me, is a good thing. There's a bar. It's owned/run by a bunch of hot brothers (in the biological sense, not in the idiomatic sense). A hot young woman with a seriously messed up approach to relationships is in the bar (in this case, as a coworker; in a Foster novel, that's not typical) not getting it one with one of the brothers because they're close friends and neither one of them wants to compromise that friendship.

Now, in a Foster novel, she'd get tarted up for a Valentine's Day contest and claim to be her own (non-existent) twin sister. In O'Reilly's novel, her roommate flakes on her so she needs a place to live in a hurry; this is Manhattan (not somewhere in the South where beautiful old homes are cheap and plentiful), so the hero-boss invites her to come live in his spare bedroom (which, miraculously, in Manhattan, he _has_). She agrees to do so until she can find another place. He sees she's down and pries her out of her room to go to a party elsewhere in the building where she gets tarted up (ah, now we're getting somewhere), juiced up and flirts with every guy in the room until he tosses her over his shoulder and take her back downstairs where, in addition to doing something pretty dodgy from a boss/employee perspective, very likely qualifies as non-con, at least initially.

In a Foster novel, the ex-boyfriend would show up around now and start stalking her. But no, this is an O'Reilly novel. So instead, the major hangup is internal to our heroine, who can't cope with the idea of having sex with someone she likes (look where that went the last time she tried it), so she pretends they are strangers. Antics ensue (sex in public places, primarily).

First off, I want to say that the ladies over at the Smart Bitches blog know what they are talking about. This is _really_ good stuff, much better than Lori Foster novels (which I like because I like even tho I know they are pretty bad), indeed, much better than the vast majority of romance novels. I have no idea how Harlequin Blaze managed to sign Kathleeen O'Reilly, and I'm looking forward to the obviously planned sequels with the various brothers (odds on, she'll hook the real estate agent friend up with the brother whose wife died in 9/11, and Sean will be knocked for a look by someone slightly geeky who we haven't previously met). I do expect to see O'Reilly's name move out of categories in the not-too-far-distant future. She's really good.

Second, this is a really interesting development in romantic fiction, imo. The main problem with a romance novel is to figure out ways to delay the consummation (whether that's sex, marrriage, saying I-love-you, some other form of commitment to the union). Old Skool, that was rake/deb or family or class conflict. Contemporary romances often have geographical or career barriers, or move the romance along with relatively few internal problems but with a mystery/suspense plot along the way (stalker exes being a fave). While attachment disorder/commitment phobia is a common element (whether on one, the other or both), the heroine here is actually pretty crazy. Crazy enough for me to wonder if O'Reilly was going to be able to convince me she could get over it, or if I was going to be shaking my head at the end, thinking, gawd, watch the cycle begin again.

Here's the basic structure of the mental health issue: heroine has some family issues (people keep calling her, expecting her to be in trouble, and not in a helpful way). Heroine, at 18 or 19, decided not to go to college/not to finish college, but rather to work in a tanning salon and spend the day at the beach (this is in Florida), and coast through life with her boyfriend Denny, whose name she has tattooed on her ass (really!). Denny decides he's not a one-woman man when she's 22 and turfs her out. She goes to NY with a high school diploma and very little else determined to Prove She Can Make It On Her Own (yah, _that's_ a good idea). And she absolutely will not accept help from anyone until she does. And she's also decided not to have any romantic/sexual relationships either, because look what she got talked into the last time she did that.

Her boss at the bar she gets a job at gives her some basic assistance/advice on surviving in NYC and she starts slowly putting herself through college (bad degree choice, but whatever) while obsessing about her dream apartment. Then the events described above start happening and honest to god, the boss/hero/dude starts trying to force her to be dependent on him. This is way creepy. How is he not Denny? Right to the point of basically trying to make it be, live rent-free with me, or we're not having any kind of relationship, I'll even figure out a way to avoid you at work.

Real-estate-agent friend (oh, and there's some more craziness) asks hero at one point why the brother who lost his bride of a few months in 9/11 hasn't gotten counseling, and the answer is, we don't do that.

Yeah, we can tell. I'd be okay with the no counseling if you, like, read a book or something and maybe had some insight but Holy Neurosis, these people are pathetic.

Things are resolved tidily by our heroine switching careers (on low-key suggestion from hero) so she drops out of college (again!) in favor of getting her real estate license. She's so good at the real estate thing that in less than a year she's in her new apartment and when it goes coop has enough income to swing it, which generates another crisis. Happily ever after winds up with her at his doorstep with her five boxes and mattress which she moved herself on the subway BUT a discussion of selling his place and buying into the building she just moved back out of (but a bigger place). Independence and dependence =? interdependence and therefore healthy? Maybe.

I will absolutely be reading more O'Reilly, but if this is The Theme of O'Reilly novels (uninspected co-ordinating attachment problems in which the man and woman engage in non-con activities and he pressures her into some form of dependence), you _will_ be reading my complaints on the subject.

This was another kindle purchase, so <$4. Nice.

_Sacred Clowns_, Tony Hillerman

I've read several Hillerman novels (the first being _Falling Man_ or something like that, that I listened to on audio). I like Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee. I like the slow prose and the careful development of an intricate set of relationships that aren't so much as a puzzle as an inexorable road to a Bad Place involving dead bodies (usually bodies -- few of the ones I've read have only one body).

In this outing, there's a dead white teacher, a missing Indian student (from a different school), a dead Indian. And, unrelated (apparently and in reality), a vehicular homicide. There are on-air confessions. And eventually, another dead white man. Leaphorn is planning a trip to China with Bourbonnette, which gets derailed by the antics (which included his suspension!). Chee is agonizing over whether he can date Janet Pete or whether that risks incest because no one knows her full clan background. Someone's trying to turn an abandoned mine into a landfill location for who knows what. And Chee discovers he's considered a semi-heretic for his attempts to adapt ritual/ceremonial to current culture on and off the reservation.

So. Lots of fun. It's particularly enjoyable because Leaphorn and Chee both have relationships that are headed in positive directions (not true in some of the other entries).

It would probably have been better if I'd read these in order. You might try to do that, if you decide you like Hillerman, but it isn't, strictly speaking, necessary.