flirting

I meant to post about this ages ago but, alas, that never happened. Back in late March, my debut book review at the Wonkette vertical, Happy Nice Time People, was published. And it was a gushing review of Ruthie Knox’s novella Making It Last:

It’s an emotional ride, and one that might be difficult to get through. You can likelly see yourself in both characters, recognizing the struggle to (and the messiness of) maintaining a long-term relationship. You might quit reading if you didn’t know that Knox was driving us all toward a happy ending. These are the books we read for escape, not soul-searching. Your trust in the formulaic genre allows you to push through in moments when the plot and the feelings were too close to home, too personal. You need the resolution and you need the happy ending.


Also, over at Sulia, I have a short review of her novel, Flirting With Disaster, which is cross-posted in full here:

Here’s the synopsis of Flirting With Disaster, from Knox’s website (http://www.ruthieknox.com/book/flirting-with-disaster/) :

Fresh out of a fiasco of a marriage, Katie Clark has retreated to her hometown to start over. The new Katie is sophisticated, cavalier, and hell-bent on kicking butt at her job in her brother’s security firm. But on her first assignment—digging up the truth about the stalker threatening a world-famous singer-songwriter—Katie must endure the silent treatment from a stern but sexy partner who doesn’t want her help . . . or her company.

Sean Owens knows that if he opens his mouth around Katie, she’ll instantly remember him as the geeky kid who sat behind her in high school. Silence is golden, but he can’t keep quiet forever, not with Katie stampeding through their investigation. It’s time for Sean to step up and take control of the case, and his decade-old crush. If he can break through Katie’s newfound independence, they just might find they make a perfect team—on the road, on the job, and in bed.

The genius of this book is that Sean stutters and all of those things that people carry around that impede relationships with other people, those are represented physically through Sean’s speech. But it isn’t that Knox makes it corny or that this aspect of Sean’s character is seen as a problem by any other person except for him. He is the one who must come to terms with a past that includes a harsh, not-very-motherly mother, a years-long crush on Katie, and a desire to escape the town where he grew up. His journey to find himself is not some kind of triumphal moment where he overcomes a disability and is cured. Knox is too smart for that and she knows her readers are, too.

It is a love story about acceptance, not from someone else but from yourself. This is as true for Katie as Sean, as she is dealing with the scars of a relationship that she felt had buried her own identity under that of her partner’s. Who is she? And does she like that person?

Good stuff, Ms. Knox. As always.

bellaandre

This is the first book in Andre’s beloved Sullivan series. I’ve read almost all of the series and then the connected series. I find them irresistible even as they often (though not always) take place in a short period of time, the two protagonists falling quickly in love and committing long-term in less time than it takes me to read a Sullivan book and write a review for it (which says as much as it does anything).

Chase, the photographer Sullivan brother, meets Chloe when he rescues her from a ditch where she has crashed her car. And he is smitten! Immediately! He is done with his womanizing ways and Chloe is it! But she has a past that is chasing her and Chase must convince her to trust him as they deal with her troubles together.

Sometimes predictable and comfortable are you want you want in a quick romance read. It’s not revolutionary in its plot and you basically can tell where it’s going long before it gets there. But damn it, Bella Andre, I can’t quit you. As true with Look Of Love as any of your many other Sullivan books.

herfavrival

[cross-posted from Sulia]

One of the things I like about romance novels is that it is often a space where female authors work through the issues around work-life balance. This is the main issue in Sarah Mayberry’s Her Favorite Rival.

Audrey and Zach are rivals at work and now, both up for the same big promotion, must work together on a project. With an inevitably you would expect in this genre, they find they like each other, a lot.

Zach throws down the gauntlet when, after their one night of passion, tells her he wants a relationship with her. Audrey then has an internal debate with herself:

While there was no official nonfraternization rule within the company, Makers was a conservative organization. She knew eyebrows would be raised, questions asked. After all, how could they have possibly fallen for each other when they were supposed to spend every living breathing moment working for the company’s good?

Capitalism is fun!

I love Sarah Mayberry and will forever read anything and everything she writes. I find her description of characters and their motivations to be honest and complicated in ways that rarely feel forced.

In the case of Her Favorite Rival, a main complication for Audrey is that she is not in her position at the company due to college degrees and internships.

She’d started in the warehouse at Makers when she was nineteen years old. She’d studied at night to finish high school, and she’d put her hand up for every training program the company offered.

She fears leaving the company for whatever reason could send her to the back of the line career-wise.

What I also appreciate is that Zach also struggles with replacing years of programmed ambition aside to fill space in his life with happiness. The parallel between the characters reveals the fact that work-life balance discussions are not just about women and their dream of “having it all.”

How Zach and Audrey work this out in the end isn’t for me to spoil. I suggest you read and find out yourself.

[Some words in this here post are NSFW]

Blog posts titled “Why Romance Novels Are So Popular” always say things like this:

Romance novels unlike other types offer you a chance to fall in love with the characters while they fall in love with each other. Despite whatever events occur during the novel, you the reader, know that in the end there will be a happy ending. And everyone loves a happy ending. Didn’t all of our favorite Fairy Tales end with “And They Lived Happily Ever After”. I also believe that romance novels are so spectacular and popular because there are so many types of romance novels available. Readers can find everything from sweeping historical novels, to sweet contemporaries and paranormals to steamy eroticas.

And that’s fine and good and TRUE, even.

But it would be SO refreshing and endlessly funny to click on one of these posts and it just pop up with a series of quotes like these:

From Elle Kennedy’s As Hot As It Gets:

“Why, Mia, I am a gentleman.” He peered up at her with an evil grin. “But I’m also a dirty motherfucker who wants you to rub your cunt all over his face. Got a problem with that?”

From Jaci Burton’s Melting The Ice:

“Take your bikini bottoms off and let me lick your pussy.” Shuddering at the prospect, she stood and untied the strings at her hips, then pulled away the material and tossed it to the side. “Now come sit on my chest and let me suck your clit. I want you to scream for me.”

from Rachel Gibson’s True Love And Other Disasters:

“Put your feet on my shoulders.” Then he parted her thighs and took her into his hot mouth. He didn’t show her any more gentleness now than he had to her breasts a moment ago. He ate her like she was strictly there for his pleasure alone. He ravished her with his mouth and tongue, and God help her if she didn’t love that too.

pullmeunder

[Originally posted on Sulia]

I loved this book. I mean, LOVED. And I can’t, for my life, narrow down exactly why.

It begins with Ben Jimmer, a famous British soccer player, waking up from a night of celebrating and drinking and drinking and drinking, and apparently spending some real quality time at a gay bar and outing himself to a journalist.

His agent, also a gay man, suggests that one way to lessen the tension in the locker room is for Ben to say that he has been in a committed relationship for a while and is not interested in any of his teammates. And so he begins to pretend to date Henry Brown and to act like they are in love.

But life is complicated and, while not in first person, Zetand tells the story ONLY from Ben’s perspective (and the WAY in which it is written is just so…authentic and honest and I just love it, though I imagine not everyone will). Ben has never dated a man and is so thrilled to be able to be out in public. It also turns out, he just likes Henry. And is unsure if Henry like likes him back. And so they do this frustrating dance of kisses, misunderstandings, jealousy, and falling in love.

All of it feels real.

Here is a scene after Ben hosts a big party at his house:

The last cab with party guests leaves at around six, the sun already coming up, and Henry switches the music off just as Ben returns into the house. The silence that follows is abrupt and poignant, like a bungee jumper poised on the edge of a cliff. Which might not make any sense at all. Ben’s brain feels as if someone had crossed a couple of wires.

He enters the living room to find Henry picking up stray plastic cups from the floor, and Ben walks towards him and doesn’t stop, not until he’s up in Henry’s space.

They get each other off on the floor, in between empty bottles and crisp crumbs, with Henry’s finger forming a tight circle around the rope tattooed into Ben’s wrist, holding him down as they grind against each other.

Am I using you? Ben thinks and doesn’t ask.

He comes with his eyes shut tightly and the new day casting stripes of sunlight on the floor.

If anything is wrong with this book, it’s too long. There is so much build up. But also, damn if I didn’t want it to go on forever. So, while I was impatient for the happily ever after, I also was sad when it ended. So it goes.

rushingamy

[cross-posted from Sulia]

“Does it occur to you that the reason why Matt came after you was that he was tired of the façade? He wanted you, not someone he’d seen in a magazine or on a TV show. He wants someone he can be who he is with.”

“He takes over.”

“He takes care of the women he loves.”

“It’s suffocating.”

“You’re just making excuses now.” Emily let out a long sigh. “Do you want to spend the rest of your life running? He’ll spend the rest of his life chasing you.”


This is a conversation between two sisters in Julie Brannagh’s Rushing Amy.

Here’s part of the blurb for the book:

Matt – an ex-NFL star – lives by a playbook—his playbook. He never thought his toughest opponent would come in the form of a stunning florist with a stubborn streak to match his own. Since meeting Amy in the bar after her sister’s wedding, he’s known there’s something between them. After she refuses—again and again—to go out with him, Matt will do anything to win her heart … But will Amy, who has everything to lose, let the clock run out on the one-yard line?

So, Amy feels like this dude crosses line and breaks boundaries (which he definitely does, despite how clearly Amy sets them) and her sister’s response is: “But he loves you, so it’s ok. And even if you do try to get out of this relationship, he’s not gonna let you.” GROSS.

The reviews for the books at Amazon, though, praise Matt’s “alpha male” persona and the fact that Amy holds her own for a lot of the novel. I mainly just found watching Amy hold her own to be emotionally exhausting.

images

[cross-posted from Sulia]

Yesterday I wrote about Brenda Novak’s Coulda Been A Cowboy and how I was disappointed that the NFL-centered story perpetuated the cultural myth of the scheming woman who lies about being raped.

Well, today I am cleansing my palette by writing about Brad Vance’s Given The Circumstances.

This novel follows two male athletes from their junior year in college through their professional careers, showing how they navigate both the world of pro sports and their own personal lives as gay men in a long-term relationship.

I just loved the story. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking but also hopeful.

But it’s also very topical. And Vance is responding directly to the conversation around NFL players and homophobia.

Here are some of the best quotes:

You can beat a dog or a wife or a man in a bar but kiss another man and they’ll never let you play football.

AND:

Jacob snorted. “I doubt that. All those men grabbing ass, snapping each other with towels, showering together, wrestling each other to the ground? You gonna tell me there’s nothing gay about that?”

“Ha. Yeah, but that’s why they’re so freaked out about the gayness, right? Because it’s all so…”

“Full of repressed homoeroticism.”

“Yeah, that. So homoerotic that if any of them broke the rules and really were homo, it would spoil the fun.”

FINALLY:

“Watch out for promophobia is all.”

“For what?”

“Professional athlete homophobia. You know. What happens when a bunch of guys spend so much naked time together, share hotel rooms, lots of body contact on the field.”

“So they’re always saying ‘no homo’ because it’s all pretty gay.”

There was something about reading these things coming out of the mouths of characters who in the NFL, not feminists or sports/cultural critics analyzing from the outside. I think there was something powerful about that reality being juxtaposed with a gay relationship that was loving, if not perfect or always healthy.

cover_couldabeenacowboy

[cross-posted from Sulia]

Much of the discussion around sexual assault and romance focuses on two things: 1) women’s desire to be controlled or dominated during sexual situations in ways that mirror or even attempt to recreate sexual violence; and 2) how rape scenarios between two protagonists can serve to free the woman into exploring sex in ways that society deems troublesome without ever having to *choose* to do so. A lot of great pieces have been written around these topics.

But then there are times where rape culture, like that mythical stranger in the bushes waiting to attack, jumps out from nowhere and smacks you in the face while you are reading a novel you otherwise think is okay.

This was my experience a couple of days ago as I was plugging along through Brenda Novak’s Coulda Been A Cowboy. The basic plot is that a famous NFL wide receiver, after a public scandal in which he pays off the mother of his child to hand over the child to him, escapes to a small Idaho town. The nanny he hires to watch his son, whom the NFL player cannot manage, eventually steals the father’s heart.

The wide receiver has a terrible and toxic relationship with his son’s mother, though. And she is painted only as a manipulative and greedy liar. Her worst offense of the many is that she falsely accuses the NFL player with sexual assault.

This is what he says to the nanny when they are discussing the mother’s accusations:

Of course she’s lying. That’s all she ever does. But once a woman makes that kind of claim, a guy has no way to defend himself. How can I prove I didn’t do anything wrong? It’s more sensational to think I’m some sort of predator, so once the press gets hold of it, my reputation will be completely destroyed. I can’t even point to all the things she did before she met me without coming off like I’m claiming she deserved it.

Experts believe that somewhere between 2 to 8% of rape claims may be false. This plot line feeds the false idea that women lie often about being raped in order to manipulate a man. And we view this only from the point of view of character we are conditioned to empathize with. Of course, we also know that the woman is lying.

It’s also ridiculous this idea that “my reputation will be completely destroyed.” What about Mike Tyson? Kobe Bryant? Ben Roethlisberger?

This part of the book ruined this for me. I thought of the many women who will read this, survivors of sexual violence, and see yet again how society paints them.