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Tangled Lies: A Husband/Wife Review, Part 1 (The Husband)

December 20, 2011

[Note: The husband part of the review only reviews the front and back covers.]

After some cajoling and some rum, it looks like I’ve been talked into another of these romance novel cover readings.

So. Tangled Lies. Anne Stuart. This time, I’m going to start with the front of the book, which is the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Oh, sure, it’s pretty standard for romance novels, I suppose: sunset, palm trees, kissing. Actually, they’re not really kissing. It looks like Hot Guy is trying to, but maybe his aim is a bit off, because he’s really going for the girl’s cheek. But then again, she’s got her hand on him, guiding him there, so maybe she’s trying to redirect him? I don’t know, maybe it’s like Pretty Woman, you know, kissing is fine, but not on the lips? Actually, now that I look at it, she’s got some arms on her, doesn’t she? Like Rosie the Riveter, if Rosie had been less interested in the war effort and more interested in having bland mooks whisper sweet nothings into her jawline. But hey, whatever works for you, lady.

Now, I’m not an artist. I want that to be perfectly clear. I’m also not an art critic, and I’m not a prat who says things like ‘I don’t know art but I know what I like.’ I understand that it’s hard to make a million pictures that have to convey romance and exotic destinations with such limited space and format, but what in the hell is that monk doing there? Yeah, down at the bottom, next to what I assume is an abbey. What’s he there for? Is he suggesting some religious angle? And more to the point, why does he look vaguely confused about nothing in particular? He seems like he wandered in from the book one shelf up, off on what he’d thought was a pilgrimage of some kind, and now he’s not sure where he is or how to get back. I’m right there with you, monk.

On the back, we are informed that Rachel Chandler “was all caught up in his tangled lies,” which is pretty straightforward. It suggests that simplest of romantic plots, wherein one person becomes smitten, but conflict arises among a series of falsehoods and misunderstandings and blah blah like a Shakespearean comedy. Oh, don’t look at me like that, I’m drunk and you didn’t show up for literary history lesson. You showed up for the part where these ‘serious’ writers go loony. Don’t worry, it’s in the end of the first paragraph of the blurb.

Rachel Chandler (who has a normal name, Ms. McNamara) has a brother who sends her porcelain butterflies on her birthday every year because he’s in hiding due to an implication that he was involved in a bombing in the late 1960s. Simple, right? Right.

Wait… bombing in the 60s? So our heroine is the sister of (maybe) one of the Birmingham bombers? WOW, that’s ballsy. I mean, I know romance novels have a legacy of being tepid politically, but I think that’s kind of an interesting way to take things, having a protagonist that must deal with a brother who was so dead-set against racial integration that he was even implicated in bombing a church and killing four little… oh, wait, that was ’63, not the ‘late 1960s.’ Oh well.

So… I guess he was (allegedly) involved in the bombing at Mount of Olives in 1967 during the Six-Day War. That’s cool. Nice to see a romance novel with a protagonist from the Middle East. I can see why such a suspect act of war would be on the run. I’m not sure where he keeps getting these porcelain butterflies, but hey, I’m not a guy who’s tried to send porcelain butterflies every year, so how would I know? All right, so far, so good. I don’t know much about this Rachel (kind of a whitebread name for someone from the Middle East), but I know her brother is a fierce patriot, willing to strike first for the safety of his people. Interesting, though I’m not sure how this will be a romance novel. Maybe the second paragraph will shed some light on this.

Fifteen years go by, which means that the 1982 Lebanon War has just begun, assuming it’s been exactly fifteen years – clearly this novel revolves around the turbulent times of Israel. Rachel’s going to see her brother Emmett (Emmett? That’s a weird name for an Israelite. I’d’ve thought Aviv or Lior or… oh, I get it. Code name!). So she goes to see “Emmett” in Hawaii, where I assume he’s getting ready to head back to Israel to join the fighting, when goes “terribly wrong”!

Classic! The hunted brother sends up a signal from hiding to see his beloved sister before heading to certain patriotic death, but that same humanistic effort brings his enemies upon him! Oh, this sounds awesome, full of historical intrigue and… wait, the problem was that Rachel recognizes him right away. Big deal, he’s your brother. Sure he’s hiding, but how good of a disguise would he need on the wrong side of the planet? What the hell is… oh what the hell is this!?

“[S]he hadn’t expected to be attracted to him either!”

WHAT. What. What? Okay, wow. There’s a part of me – the small, hopeful, oft-disappointed part – that really, really hopes that this novel is an amazing tour de force about a girl who grows up in the dangerous, uncertain part of Israel, questioning life and living for faith, who has a brother that gets involved in dangerous covert wartime intrigue; then, after he must vanish, she finds him just he’s about to leave on a mission of certain death, whereupon she must confront the conundrum of her youthful desire for a man of such bravery and passion and the fact that he is her brother, and to find him desirable is a sin in the eyes of the faith for which he has fought. I’m sure that this is not the case, however, because this seems to be some simplistic romance novel which, while boasting “Thirty-Five Years of Excellence” in a manner that makes me suspect “Excellence” should have quotes around it, I’m certain that Harlequin isn’t ready to make the leap into Sundance Film Festival gold. In fact, I’m pretty sure Rachel and Emmett aren’t even from the Middle East, and the whole thing is really about how Emmett has a body double and Rachel has fallen for him instead and thus never needs to address her deep-seated incestual desires. Maybe the body double is actually Ethan Blair.

So now I’m not sure what the book is about.

[My review to follow by the end of the week, on the actual content of the book.]

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