January 26th, 2011

_Exclusively Yours_, Shannon Stacey (kindle) Spoilers

ETA: D'oh! I well and truly screwed up this time. Carina is Harlequin's digital publishing arm. *sigh* Research the imprint _First_. Research the imprint _First_. Rookie mistake on my part.

If you don't like romance plots that revolve around The Big Miss, give this one a Big Miss. I sort of wish I had.

It's a -fantastically- well constructed contemporary. Unfortunately, it is fantastically well constructed in support of a life perspective that creeped me out.

The back story is a woman (Keri Daniels), her best friend in school (Terry, that is until the last couple years of high school, when Keri became a cool kiddie and Terry pre-emptively froze her out) and Terry's cousin Joe who becomes Keri's first love. The back story is delivered in dribs and drabs from various people's perspectives -- it's handled _really_ well. In any event, Keri notices in high school that her mother is so-and-so's mom, so-and-so's husband, etc., but never Janie. And Keri is worried that's going to happen to her. She heads out to California for college, leaving Joe behind. Joe's family is tight, not just with each other, but with Keri's family, so they never entirely lose awareness of each other.

Joe goes through a depressed drinking phase that involves a successful career writing horror novels (first outing: a revenge fantasy involving a character named Carrie Danielson). A _really_ successful career. He becomes a bit of a cypher after a period of being a celebrity with a romantic partner that ends with a settled lawsuit. An old classmate of Keri, Terry and Joe's (Alex become Alexis, a blogger) sends Keri's boss Tina a photo of Keri and Joe from high school days. Tina sends Keri out to get an interview.

Joe has some restrictions and it's fairly obvious from the restrictions that Tina won't be happy with the result regardless, but Keri plays along anyway, going on a family vacation with Joe for two weeks involving a lot of four wheeling (ATVs) and rambunctious nephews at the pool. While this isn't (I don't think) a Harlequin, the structure is almost exactly like one (two people spend two weeks thrown in close company, then separate, agonize, then get together again. The End.).

The Big Miss comes in several pieces. First, the college years: why didn't you ask me to stay/why didn't you ask me to come with you. Second, Terry's husband Ethan: he leaves to get her attention, but then does a terrible job using the attention he got. Third, the other sister, Lisa and her husband Mike: does Mike _really_ want to be married to Lisa? And finally, will you move for me _now_.

You could make the case that none of these are really a Big Miss, but actual, real life real problems that are tough to deal with. You could try, anyway. But if you're going to make _that_ case, then the book revolves around a very tight theme: how much can you give up to be with the person you love? Can Joe give up his family? Dumb question (which is why I call it a Big Miss): there are airplanes. These two can afford plane tickets. Can Keri give up her career? She's lost her job before this whole novel really even properly gets going; she just isn't willing to commit to the math.

That, I think, is what really bugs me about this book. Lisa gives up her desire for a fifth child -- but she didn't "really" want a fifth child anyway. She just wanted to be certain her husband loved her and a cruise vacation and vow renewal will do the trick. Terry has to tolerate an ugly table, stop telling her husband to take off his shoes when he comes into the house, and generally be a little less control freaky. Keri gives up her career (more on that in a minute). Mike doesn't give up anything. Ethan moves back in and gets to have the sex on the table that he didn't get that precipitated his walking out in the first place (_yes_ I know that wasn't the real issue). Joe _says_ he'd be willing to move, but he never has to.

Keri, who spent 20 years climbing her way up a really tough career path, gets to walk away from it and do a little freelance editing for a friend in NYC. Maybe she and Joe will have a kid. Who knows.

Now, you can question whether Keri's career is one worth having, or whether it was an appropriate choice for her. You can speculate about whether Keri will decide the commute to Boston isn't that awful and work her way up there (a _really_ tough thing for an outsider to do, btw). But a novel structured around a woman having to choose between a job and a guy isn't exactly what I expected I'd be reading in 2011 -- even if the guy is loaded and hot and if they're going to reproduce, now is a pretty good time to be doing it and he's at least claiming he'd like to be an involved parent.

The author did make an effort to make it _not_ about choosing between the job and the guy. But it was a very Harlequin-y effort. She goes back to where they spent their two weeks away from the world to see if it was getting away from the world that made her feel good or if it was the guy. But then she found out it was the guy. You know, even in _Manhunting_ by Crusie, a big part of Our Heroine walking away from her high-powered finance career to stay in the little town with The Guy Who Fishes (without bait or a hook, to make absolutely certain a good day fishing isn't spoiled by actually catching something) is figuring out a way to put together enough for her to do with her skills so her life continues to make sense. And _Manhunting_ was originally published in 1993.

I don't read a lot of literary fiction or "literature" because while it is often really well written, I don't much care for the point(s) being made, the people being depicted, the relationships being explored, etc. I'm honestly shocked to run across this "problem" in romance. It's been a safe bet in romance that nothing was well-enough written for me to stick with it if it was ultimately going to be something I didn't like. This is a first. I hope it never happens again. I read trash for a reason.

If you are basically fairly -- but not completely -- conservative, you enjoy good literature and wish romance was written better, can tolerate a Big Miss storyline and don't object to the 2 weeks together, some time off, then reunite structure, this is the _perfect_ book for you. Lots of people on Amazon LOVED this book. I'm a little unclear on which parts they thought were funny, because I wasn't laughing, but my sense of humor is notoriously weird.

I will not ever be reading Stacey again.

_Fit to Be Tied_, Kate Willoughby (kindle) Spoilers

I have previously read a trilogy by Willoughby (the wishes trilogy), published be Ellora's Cave. This is published by Liquid Silver Books. I believe Liquid Silver is e-only (altho I could be wrong; they might be e-mostly, which is what EC seems to be these days). In any event, I don't think you can get this in paper form, but you can get it in e-form through other retailers.

It is not a full-length novel. It is mostly about Bondage, specifically, Shibari. It is not about the D, S or M parts of BDSM.

Weirdly, this is another story in which the hero and heroine had some high school backstory. But in this case, they hooked up briefly (made out in a car) and then she snubbed him because she was Cool and he was a Geek. She feels bad about it, so when she runs into him at a science museum a decade or so later, she starts out with an apology then asks for his assistance with the tarantula she just bought. I spent a good fraction of the beginning of this book really worried that she was Not Trustworthy, even tho I know this author and the character is actually extremely sweet and quite believable.

The geek as man has turned out truly fine, as our heroine discovers quickly. She grew up a service brat, traveling constantly and has continued to ramble as an adult. Her roommate boots her when roommate's husband gets leave; Our Hero turns out to have a Very Nice Place in Pacific Palisades and is eager to have her surf on his couch, er, in his guest bedroom. The detailing on his place is awesomely delicious: his garage is organized (hey, Kate! He should have had metal shelving for the bins, instead of stacking them up in columns -- that's what my husband did ;-). His study has a wall of terraria. He made Beaucoup Bux designing climate controlled terraria now sold at Wal-Mart (dorkily delicious). But best of all, he has adopted a serious rope hobby.

I think I want to complain slightly that Our Hero got Our Heroine into the private club without her having to go through Orientation. But only slightly, because while I know how things work at one of these kinds of clubs, I don't know how universal the orientation-required practice is. Willoughby's depiction of a couple guys glomming onto our heroine in the gift shop was truly perfect, and her depiction of Dennis missing the significance of the collar then really blowing it by what he said after and getting booted from the conference was a nice bit of fantasy (in a good way!).

In so many ways, Willoughby did a great job: Our Hero not only provided aftercare, he did a decent job telling Our Heroine ahead of time that he would need to provide aftercare to the person he used in the demonstration; he made mistakes (failing to talk ahead of time about possible previous experience being tied up) but he acknowledged them after and talked them through without pressure. Our Heroine did a _fantastic_ job of calling Our Hero out on phrases like "you're not ready yet". And the relationship was consistently depicted as one of equals, despite numerous "real world" ways in which inequality could have crept in (top/bottom, disparate wealth, whose house it was, etc.).

I was tickled when I read it, and I'm even more tickled having read Stacey's book after this one. I know what I like and I liked this.