January 20th, 2010

_Kill Me Twice_, Roxanne St. Claire (kindle)

This is the first entry in a long series of connected-but-can-standalone romantic suspense novels featuring the "Bullet Catchers", run by Lucy, an ex-CIA agent with deep tragedy in the backstory, who recruits people to act as part of a team that provides "executive protection". In this first outing, Alex, who is Cuban-American, is assigned to protect Jessica, a Miami anchor woman who has set her sights on The Network. When he arrives, however, "Jessica" is being impersonated by Jasmine, her identical twin sister who got out of the TV business a while ago and recently got her PI license in California. Jessica asked Jasmine to pretend to be Jessica while Jessica pursued a Hot Story. The plan was for Jessica to brief Jasmine, but Jessica's already gone without leaving a note when Jasmine arrives. Nevertheless, Jasmine goes through with the plan, woefully underprepared. Alex decides to play along and does not initially tell his boss.

The "clues" that convince Jasmine that Jessica really is still on the story and really is still okay were utterly unconvincing to me. However, there was some effort on the part of St. Claire to provide a psychodynamic between the twins that would explain Jasmine's decision to cover for her missing twin. St. Claire does a _nice_ job of providing a lot of possible suspects in Jessica's disappearance. A _really_ nice job. Lucy presents the job to Alex as having an official client, Kimball (new owner), but also an unofficial client that Lucy isn't going to tell Alex about. This struck me as incredibly poor judgment, and turned out to be incredibly poor judgment. St. Claire's efforts to provide an explanation for that were substantially weaker.

On a previous job, Alex chose to become sexually involved with a principal's (person being protected) spouse as a way of protecting the principal (the spouse found out the principal was having a same sex liaison and was going to carve him up). Alex's outrageous behavior (apparently of a piece with a long history of less than wise hookups) has resulted in Lucy banning Alex from getting it on with the principal in this case, telling him he'll lose his job at Bullet Catchers if he does. This being a romance novel, obviously, he'll break that rule. Equally obviously, it won't be enforced.

Slightly less than halfway through this novel, I almost abandoned it. I really thought everyone in it was being Too Stupid to Live. I went and did some baking, thought about it, and concluded that I was sufficiently wrapped up in both the characters and the plot to have trouble walking away; I finished it and don't regret doing so. But if you have a sensitive TSTL meter, you may want to steer clear of this book. The other reason I stuck it out is because later entries in the series got really favorable reviews over on SBTB. I know from other experience that early series entries can be weak, but useful to read to better understand later entries. I will (probably) be reading more in this series. St. Claire explored the Capable Woman Who Wants to Take Care of Herself But Hooks Up With Hot, Controlly Guy theme and instead of coming out the usual, Oh, Gosh, Someone To Watch Over Me exit the way that usually goes, went out the door marked, Okay, Can I Hang Out With You While You So Competently Take Care of Yourself? I liked that. It would have made up for a much, much worse book.

_Liberating Lacey_, Anne Calhoun (kindle)

Before going any further, I should warn you, Dear Reader, that this is published by Ellora's Cave. What does this mean? Well, from a practical perspective, it means that you can't get a paper copy. I got it on kindle through Amazon, but you could buy it from EC online and they have a number of different formats. From a content perspective, that means the sex starts almost immediately, and continues throughout. And then to avoid any unwarranted suggestion that I know a whole lot about EC from personal experience, I'll just supply this quote from SBTB:

http://www.smartbitchestrashybooks.com/index.php/weblog/comments/liberating-lacey-by-anne-calhoun/

"It’s not over the top spicy like one might expect from EC - no one breaks out the barnyard animals or hoses down the shrubbery with sexual fluids."

Having addressed the how-can-I-get-my-hot-little-hands-on-this-sexy-number (and pointed you at a much better review of this book than I'm likely to produce) issue, and hopefully assuaged any concerns a timid reader might have about the publisher, I will now proceed to opinionate.

I _loved_ this book. I will be eagerly awaiting more Calhoun in my future, and may actually go to some effort to read her short pieces through EC that are upcoming while waiting for her next novel to be published.

Our heroine married young. So young, the math doesn't quite work for me, but hey. Who is complaining. She was raised by wealthy people and her mother stayed home, but Lacey likes her work doing financing deals in commercial real estate (boy her life sucks now, probably, hunh?) and didn't give it up, even after her husband made partner at a law firm. He became ex-husband, promptly dating and becoming engaged to his paralegal (tacky) who is nine years his junior. Everyone is trying to get Lacey to run the script (find some guy who makes as much or more money than she does -- and that's not a huge pool); meanwhile, Lacey is like, why? These guys leave me cold. It's just possible Lacey has a good sense of what home life is like with two people working crazy hours, too, but not likely, since she picks a cop when she goes to a bar _once_ and walks out with a hot guy 8 years younger than herself.

They start in the parking lot (condom #1), make it to her house, but only partway up the stairs, and then eventually to her bed. He debates whether to spend the night and does, then makes her breakfast in the morning. When Lacey debriefs her now married, but single through their 20s and early 30s friend Claire, Claire is impressed by the Manly Man that Lacey brought home, but concerned because they are already violating the rules of casual sex.

I didn't find sticking around for breakfast that unusual for casual sex, in my limited experience of it. However, it was me doing the cooking, which definitely makes Hunter a Fantasy Object.

The book is Weird, in that Lacey is in so very many ways unnaturally undemanding, and Hunter trips so happily down the path to connectedness. Sure, in his _head_ he's all angsty, but until the OMG I can't afford to be in your life moment, he's not that badly behaved. But I'm okay with that. Normally, I read romance novels that have some other plot: a mystery (who is stalking me), a project (must save bed and breakfast from predatory real estate developer) or major emotional development (horribly abused as child). This book doesn't. Close to the end, we get a decent explanation of (a) where's Hunter's mother and (b) why does Hunter Not Trust Anyone but Dear Old Dad -- and along with it, some explanation of Hunter's contradictory attraction to Lacey's cool, poised demeanor that comes from a lifetime of wealth, and the allergy he has to almost everyone and everything else representative of her class.

There is vast consistency in character development. It makes a ton of sense that Lacey, who initially married a guy raised by an electrician and a teacher, who wanted to join her class and who dumped her once he was through the class transition, would then be attracted to Hunter, whose dad does renovations. Lacey doesn't much care for her class, either. Hunter has a lot of respect for women who are cops, altho we find that out through internal rumination rather than by Lacey seeing him around them. The only time he really sinks into the trap of gender expectations is where Lacey's money is involved (me man, must pay), and _everyone_ in the book (except Hunter's dad and Lacey's mother, oddly enough, who seem more focused on their offsprings' happiness than other considerations) gets sucked into that crap.

Lacey had a lot of boring missionary sex while married, and her ex- is the only guy she had sex with until she picked Hunter up in a bar. She's looking to catch up on a lot of the alternatives, and Hunter is happy to supply. There's a strong D/S theme running through the relationship, and for two people who are adamant about Not Talking and Having Comfortable Silences and Letting Each Other Be Who They Are, they are surprisingly safe and sane about their kinkiest scene. Rather than presenting Lacey as subby because she is female, Calhoun presents Lacey as exploring letting someone else have control by being subby with Hunter. Dear Goddess, I _love_ this. It is a _perfect_ match for the controlly, must nail down every term of every deal before I agree to it shark that she is In Real Life. Calhoun even depicts Hunter doing a bang-up (er) job supplying aftercare (altho boy howdy does he handle the ensuing several days/weeks poorly) after their biggest scene. (I like that this is the first result that google supplies for a search on aftercare: http://www.iron-rose.com/IR/docs/aftercare.htm).

I had a quibble about the New York weekend, in which Lacey takes a guy back to her hotel room, but then doesn't do any more than kiss him -- and builds it up into something huge. I was like, wtf? Come on! He was very emphatically _gone_ and there hadn't been any particular commitment anyway. I was sort of pleased with her that she gave him a shot. OTOH, the book had to end at some point, and I suppose this fit well in that it gave Lacey something to confess to when Hunter dropped the L-bomb. But I'm definitely with Hunter's assessment of the unimportance of that. And given the way Lacey is depicted throughout, her making a big deal out of a couple of kisses fits right in anyway.

It's been amazingly nice to read two romances in a row, by two authors new to me, in which strong women continue to take care of themselves, and get the hot guy, too. Calhoun's is better than St. Claire's -- but St. Claire has a more substantial body of work, so I'll be reading a lot more of her, even tho I like her work less.