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WiB Summer Edition, Week 11: On the Flipside

July 30, 2010

[So, uh, this got a little…curse-laden.  You’ve been warned.]

You know, I always try to edit my permalinks so that they’ll be consistent, but I don’t think they are.  Oops.

I’m in a bit of a rush because I have to get to a doctor’s appointment where I believe they’ll tell me I’m missing documentation and send me home (an hour’s drive) with my degenerative discs between my, uh, spine, but I only read five books this week and they were all Harlequin Flipsides, so this won’t take long. [Note: my doctor’s appointment had to be rescheduled, so…there you have it.  Longer than previously expected.  Aren’t you pleased?]

I’m not going to review them in chronological order, chronological order by series, or anything like that.  Oh, no.  I’m going to review them in the order in which they irritated me.  And BOY, did they irritate me.

I must have crossed some sort of invisible barrier that defines the age gap.  I’m sure that, a few decades ago, women were sitting around reading the Harlequins I glommed on to as a child and said to themselves “Mary [or Patricia or Sue], these gals just don’t act like gals I’d want to spend time with.  Look at them, putting their careers before their men and turning themselves into knots over things that don’t matter.”  Well, this week I became those women.   I said to myself “Self [Alana], I wouldn’t want to spent ten minutes with almost any of these women.  There’s no better word for them than HARPIES.”  Don’t get me wrong; that gendered insult isn’t lost on me.  I am, in part, using it deliberately.  These women are primarily stereotypes of everything vapid, shrill, and materialistic.  They are “that which snatches”–they snatch happiness, of a sort, in ways that baffle me.

But on to the books themselves.

The best one of the five was without a doubt Without a Clue by Trish Jensen.  This book sets Meg, an events planner, against Matt, an overworked guy who bought a big old house and plans to fill it with kids.  Unfortunately, Matt’s house is the location of Meg’s latest event–her first murder mystery weekend–and when Meg’s lead dead body shows up filled up with painkillers, the show’s unable to go on until Matt agrees to play dead, if only to keep an eye on his investment.  The result is a sometimes-hilarious, oft-romantic comedy of errors–and, uh, possible ghosts.

There are some problems here–mostly the pushed-to-the-background secondary cast, including Meg’s assistant or co-worker or something who I could not get a read on no matter how hard I tried–but for the most part, it’s an enjoyable book.  It does not tie up neatly, which surprised me, but I figured it was just a sign of the times, and a welcome one at that.  No weekend-of-canoodling-followed-by-ridiculously-fast engagement here.  If I’d read this one first, I would’ve been pleased and expected more from the others.  Thank goodness I didn’t.

The second best one was Playing Games by Dianne Drake.  I didn’t enjoy it as much, character-wise, but I felt the book was solid–so solid, in fact, that it seemed longer than its 200-ish pages, generally a sign of a well-written book.  The cover is my biggest complaint: it does an appalling job of telling you what the book is about.  Maybe it’s because Flipsides refuse to show you faces or something, but couldn’t they somehow cut off someone’s head on a shrink’s couch or in a radio booth to represent the two headshrinking leads of the book, rather than the dude playing chess and the chick with dice?  I mean, it’s not like Roxy takes a break from her job, or her flirtation with Ned, to head down to Atlantic City or, um, some nerd conference with D&D.  (Like those would be six-sided anyway.  Unless they were doing the Doctor Who RPG.  Not that I know from experience or anything.  Except that I do.  You really lose your crush on Tennant when he’s being portrayed by your twelve-year-old daughter.)

At least Roxy has a best friend.  Sometimes I think these books should be judged by whether the female lead has a bff, because who in life has no friends at all?  But this wouldn’t pass the Bechdel test if the two didn’t share a workplace.  Oh well.

There were no three-star books here, so I’ll move on to the ones I rated with two stars on Goodreads.  Dishing It Out by Molly O’Keefe was an awkward book with an awkwardly-named male lead: Giovanni MacAllister.  Really?  Anyway, Giovanni–or Van–sounds like Eurotrash so I imagined him in my head as that guy from Crossing Jordan.  Marie is one of the harpies; she just grated on me the whole time.    Almost as annoying is the way that it feels like we’re supposed to know allll about her sister.  (Don’t worry; this will come up again.  With another harpy.)  See, because, if you’re going to have a line of books, why not start marrying all the characters and their siblings off in that line?  People like that stuff, right?  Welllll…maybe if you’re an established author.  But not if you have a couple of books in some random Harlequin line that just started.  Maybe they thought it would keep people coming back?  Nice try.  You’d have to like the couple to want to read about the next one, and even though I’m doing it backward, I’m fairly certain I can assure you I don’t give a crap about the story of how Marie’s sister and her husband got together.

See, the thing is, Marie’s supposed to be, like super-damaged, part of which comes from her upbringing.  But that’s BARELY touched on here, with the sense that maybe her sister’s story has most of the details.  Well, fab.  Thanks a lot.  That really helps those of us who don’t have a subscription.

This is why I don’t like to read things out of order.  But who knew I’d have to be like that with Harlequins that weren’t labeled, like, “The ____ Sisters” or “Men of Action!”?

The second-to-worst book was Seeking Miss Scarlet, the first book I read.  This book is the one I discussed before, with the book description problem.  So when it’s not the cover, it’s the FLIPSIDE of the jacket.  See what I did there?  Ugh.

This book, penned by Natale Stenzel (who sounds like and writes like English isn’t her first language) is the story of harpy Val, an irritating woman who’s decided to, for all intents and purposes, throw herself at the hot guy down the street, by way of trying to bully him into working with her–wait for it–murder mystery weekend thingy.  (Huh.  They’re only five books apart.  So that’s, I suppose, like two or three months, but still.)  Val is getting threats, and Dudester (these books blend together after a day apart from them, so I forget most of their names) is a PI, but hey, wait, instead of asking for his help, Val blows the threats off.  Over and over again.  Like an asshole.  Even when they announce the date of her murder, Val doesn’t really gaf–she just wants to have a party.  TAKE THAT, JERKFACE.  Then there’s the blatantly-obviously-obnoxious-creepy-stalker girl who blows a gasket because Val flirts with the PI.  Even though I don’t think she ever met the PI before that moment.  But oh, Val feels sorry for her because she has dreams of stardom, just like Val and blah blah omggggggg blah.  Oh, and there’s a—wait for it–ghost.  It’s like she read the other book and wrote her own poor imitation.

Did I mention the aunt who’s a pale imitation of every quirky aunt that has ever been written in a Harlequin?  Gee, I wonder who her mystery suitor could be!

And seriously, that wasn’t even the worst of the lot.  The worst, flat-out worst, was Random Acts of Fashion by Nikki Rivers.  Rivers’s Gillian (whose name I’d already forgotten) is the Harpiest of all Harpies, and in fact makes a huge argument for the use of the word “asshole” as a verb.  Gillian assholes her way around a small town in Michigan called Timber Bay, a town where she, as a little girl who wanted to be girly in the midst of a bunch of brothers, assholed her away around to alienate the underage townies.  One of these townies is Lukas McCoy, whose name I remember because it’s like the Veronica Mars of Harelquin names; rarely does anyone say Lukas by itself.  Lukas (I DARE!) is a manly-manly-manly-man, who we’re told is outgoing with everyone but Gillian, who he felt was a spoiled and snobby.  Well, she is definitely spoiled, even if it turns out that she didn’t come from money but dressed well because of a doting seamstress aunt, and she is definitely snobby, because she turns a blind eye to the concept that the women of a small town in Michigan might not want her edgy, size-2 designs.  But if Lukas, a manly man so manly that for some reason he doesn’t go by Luke–I guess because the author is in love with the name–is really anything but introverted with everyone but Gillian, you can’t really tell.  His conversations with other characters are brief and distracted; they mostly talk about Gillian.  Go figure.

Gillian assholes her way around the McCoy family, constantly bemoaning her expensive fashions and keeping the weight off so she can fit into them.  She flips out at Sister McCoy for making sweet buns that taste good–HOW DARE SHE (really, she freaks out over this like it’s all about her)–she flips out at SisterBaby McCoy for being a baby, and, oh yes, she flips out at Lukas McCoy for not knowing she was standing on the manhole cover he comes out of chasing a cat through The Tunnel of Love.

Yes, the Tunnel of Love.

See, the Tunnel of Love was introduced in another book, one this book seems to assume we’ve read because, Lord knows, we don’t get decent backstory on it at all.  The Tunnel of Love is supposed to have magical properties, and now the town is debating whether Lukas and Gillian will get together because the Tunnel brought them together.  And by “together,” I mean, she sues him because she hurts (NOT BREAKS LIKE IT SAYS ON THE BACK OF THE BOOK, FFS HARLEQUIN) her arm and the country judge is all “Now he has to work for you setting things up!”

The characters use that time to make out, for even though Lukas never liked Gillian, I guess she’s purty enough that she’ll do.  And even though Gillian was always mad at Lukas, he sure does look purty so her hormones are more important.  They only act about half-conflicted about this, don’t really discuss it, and generally asshole their ways through not really having anything anywhere near a relationship.  Oh, but they manually get each other off.  Girls never touched boys before in Harlequins to completion (they don’t give blow jobs to completion either), so this is a change.  I guess it’s a good change.  More realistic sex stuff.  Good on them.  This is pretty much the only positive thing the book has to offer us.

Gillian also assholes her way around the richest woman in town.

And, as everyone predicted but Gillian refused to hear, no one wanted to buy expensive clothes for thin women from New York.  Rather than trying to sell her stuff online, like any reasonable human being in the New Millennium would, Gillian wahhhhs her way through the book until Lukas sends people her way to make sure she’s being of use in the town.  But she gets super-pissed at him for it, because WAHHHH, and then they go down into the Tunnel and decide to get married.

Yes.  I’m not kidding.

Oh, and there’s a magical cat.  I guess.

They do actually go on one date, but afterward, they have sex and have pretty much decided they’re in love.  Super-duper love.  Even though there’s been no sign of that before.  Is the Tunnel’s job to match up people who would spectacularly fail in real life?  They’re supposed to have a ~*connection*~ because they both feel drawn to make things–her from fabric, him from wood–but that’s all that they have in common, as far as I can tell.

I’ve read a lot of Harlequins.  I’ve gotten to the point where I can see the layout of it and think, “You know, this would be good if…”  So I feel like every one has potential.  There could be a good story here, between the fashion-obsessed dressmaker and the country-boy whittler.


Okay, now I’m taking my crabby out on those near and dear to me.  This must end.

So what have we learned about the Harlequins of today versus the Harlequins of twenty years ago?  Well, the women are far more pushy and obnoxious, but the sex is better.  So…yeah.  Call me a geezer, but I’d like a blend of the nice girls of the past and the sex of the present.  So, sign me up for some more Crusie, basically.

But I guess I already knew THAT.

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