- Hear What Happened At Boston’s Symphony Hall After JFK’s Assassination
- Isaac Asimov’s science fiction prompted look into whether he was communist informant Sadly, nothing about him being a serial harasser.
- Ichabod’s Voicemail for Abbie from “Midnight Ride” Best. Voicemail. EVER.
- You Don’t Have To Like It
- The Ethics of Unpaid Labor and the OSS Community
- Why GitHub is not your CV
- The Meaning of Meals
- The Pentagon’s doctored ledgers conceal epic waste Incidentally, if any non-governmental entity were to deal with their books in this way over such a long period of time, it would be in violation of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.
- Gender Identification and Behavior
- The Archaeology of a Dress
- Thinking About Reading and Radicalisation
- Neville Longbottom is the Most Important Person in Harry Potter
- Wal-Mart Asks Workers To Donate Food
- What I learned at law school: The poor need not apply
- Gettysburg Then and Now
- Why Sleepy Hollow is both the Silliest and Most Important Show on TV Right Now
- Internet Linguistics and ungrammatical language is awseome u guys srsly
- What If?: Loneliest Human
- This may be the best Baen cover of all time. Of all time.
Note from Natalie: I am absolutely delighted to have another wonderful guest post here at the Radish from Jessica at the newly revived (!!!) Read React Review.
There was something unusual about Sandra Antonelli’s debut contemporary romance, A Basic Renovation besides the “older” characters (in the romance genre, forties is definitely considered older): a semi-serious rival for the heroine’s affection who was actually a good guy. I enjoyed Antonelli’s debut, and was delighted to learn that the rival, Los Alamos Detective John Tilbrook, is the hero of her second book, For Your Eyes Only.
Both books are set in Los Alamos, and both feature a pair of forty-something protagonists, one of whom is a physicist who works at the famous national lab, as well as several of the same secondary characters — friends, colleagues, and family members. But A Basic Renovation is more of a domestic romance (literally, since the heroine was a home renovator), while For Your Eyes Only, thanks to its detective hero, physicist/undercover FBI agent heroine, and murder/stolen classified documents investigation, veers towards romantic suspense.
Willa Heston is a quantum physicist, a widow with an angry teen step-daughter who blames her for her father’s death, a shock of white hair, and a mission to protect her old best friend, Los Alamos resident Dominic Brennan, from an innocent mistake he made with classified information at the lab years ago. In order to help (illegally) divert an FBI investigation away from Brennan, Willa has to conduct it, and she also has to come clean to her old friend that while they worked together, she was an undercover agent. Dominic (platonically) helped Willa through her grief after her husband died suddenly, and she wants to help him now. But Dominic doesn’t like knowing his BFF was an undercover G-woman, and the reconstitution of their friendship on new and more honest terms is a major subplot of the book.
Willa certainly isn’t looking for love, but she meets Detective Tilbrook on her way in to town, when he helps her with a flat tire (she knows how to change it, but the lug nut is stuck), and instant attraction flares. When she rents an apartment across the way from his, additional opportunities for sexual tension and witty banter arise, and despite all the secrets Willa has to keep, she gives in. It’s been too long since she’s had a man, and she finds John incredibly attractive.
John is a nice guy, and he knows it. While his ex-wife used “nice” as an epithet, John is pretty secure in who he is. He knows “nice” doesn’t mean “boring”, he knows he wants Willa, and he’s pretty sure she wants him, too. He asks her out, he shows up at her house with pizza, he even accepts a quick grocery store date when she tells him she doesn’t have time for a longer outing. John represents calm, security, home, and everything Willa needs in her life, but his true beta hero status doesn’t mean For Your Eyes Only is lacking in the sexual heat department:
She’d assumed a kiss from him would be as nice as he was, but nice was an understatement.
He’d kissed her.
The instant his mouth was on hers and his fingers slid into her hair, she’d dissolved then regenerated as if the beam-me-up-Scotty science fiction of Star Trek had become reality. Unbalanced, lightheaded , long unaccustomed to the feeling of a man’s hands touching her, it had shocked her empty system. John had kissed the shit out of her and kissed life into her half-dead body until she was dizzy with it. In a rush, passion had burst from her skin, desire pooled in her belly . Exhilarated, frightened, she’d wrapped her hands around his tie, pressed against him, and held on as the Earth spun underfoot and revolved around a sun about to go supernova.
This scene did not end in any kind of sexual satisfaction for either partner, due to an inopportune event. In both A Basic Renovation and For Your Eyes Only, the first several attempts at sex are interrupted by wacky and unlikely events. I hope the author relies less on untimely interruptions to build sexual tension in future books.
The above passage also highlights Antonelli’s frequent use of pop culture references in the book. Sometimes they serve the story really well, as in the passage above, perfect for a pop-culture loving physicist. I also thought the use of Bugs Bunny cartoons was great. They are what Willa uses to relax, and they are sometimes the way she sees the world, herself, and her problems:
What she wanted, what she needed were cartoons— a Martian searching for an illudium 36 explosive space modulator, Bugs Bunny square dancing with gun-totin’ hillbillies.
The fact that John and Willa are both pop culture junkies gives them a way to banter and bond, although sometimes the pop culture references felt a little too frequent or heavy handed, taking the conversation on distracting tangents.
For Your Eyes Only is definitely more Willa’s story, in terms of the emotional work she must do to put her late husband behind her, reconcile with her step-daughter, and make amends with Dominic, all while solving an FBI case, but John is not one dimensional: his relationship with Willa forces him to find the line between being nice and being a doormat, between his genuine concern for her relationship with Dominic and outright jealousy of it, and between taking a risk on love at first sight and being a foolish old(er) man.
I really liked Willa — she’s funny, smart, resilient, interesting, and vulnerable — and I especially liked that her sexual attractiveness (i.e. low self-esteem about her looks) was not her main concern in life, or a barrier to her relationship with John. I did wish for a fuller fleshing out of her life pre-narrative. I also found her response to the inappropriate “crushes” not one, but three of her co-workers had on her (inclusive of ass-pinching) to be surprisingly passive. I suppose her effect on men was meant to combat the idea that a middle-aged woman is “on the shelf” as they say in Regencies. But was Willa’s reaction to some pretty overt sexual harassment a long-term strategy she adopted being a woman in two “men’s worlds” — of physics and the FBI? Just a temporary strategy due to her “greater fish to fry” situation with Dominic? Either the narrative wasn’t totally clear, or I wasn’t reading carefully enough.
If this review makes it sound like there is a lot going on in FYEO, there is. Maybe too much. Leaving space for all of these other subplots meant that the relationship had to go from zero to sixty pretty fast, and without a lot of time — either page time or narrative time — together. But interestingly, and refreshingly, rather than being a huge burden or barrier, the fact that John and Willa are “older” is used as an explanation for why they don’t want to waste time getting together. Still, the romance plot verges on being just another subplot, and I think the boundary between women’s fiction and romance fiction is pushed a bit with this book.
The writer Antonelli reminds me of more than any other is Jennifer Crusie. A Crusie hallmark is snappy, witty, “romcom-esqe” dialogue. As I was reading, I was picturing many of the scenes on film. Another Cruise hallmark is humor, especially physical humor, and this book is full of spills, trips and splats. Also like Crusie, there are some ongoing food motifs (peanut butter) and a few oddball characters. Thanks to intelligent writing, deft plotting, and fully realized protagonists, I really enjoyed this mature-yet-zany romance.
Last week, Liz Bourke suggested that Julian Griffith’s Love Continuance and Increasing might be my sort of thing as it’s a queer polyamorous Regency romance. Utterly unable to resist that sort of catnip, I immediately purchased it. Liz is a terrible, terrible enabler.
I read it over Labor Day weekend and just wowsa. So great. But also a bit flawed in that the ending is crap–it’s not an unromantic ending, just that the story just sort of stops. But the crap ending did not in any way diminish my extreme enjoyment of the rest of the book.
This is the sort of book where it would likely help to have a cheat sheet to keep track of the characters–I don’t know why I had such a hard time keeping track of Thorne and Rockingham’s first names, but I did.
But despite that, this book hit just about every trope required in a Regency romance while still queering it all up–there’s a country dance with matrons keeping track of how many times each girl is danced with, men in uniform, a dead older brother and an unexpected inheritance, dalliances on the terrace, a trip to Vauxhall…
But the first half of this book is a romance between two men–the aforementioned Thorne and Rockingham, the former a naval officer and the latter an army officer. Thorne comes from humble beginnings while Rockingham had his commission purchased for him before his older brother was killed in a riding accident. Their attraction is immediate and mutual, but they both move slowly because, well, their relationship is illegal. That’s one thing I loved about this book: it seemed to be extremely well-researched and the author was not interested in showing a fairyland where queer people were accepted but, rather, how actual queer people of the time would have negotiated their desires around the social and legal constraints of the time. Here’s a post where the author talks a bit about the period.
It’s just lovely. Also lovely is the relationship between Alexander and Marcus and how both Thorne and Rockingham gently let them know that they each figured out that they’re each other’s particular friend and that they don’t need to hide it from them; especially lovely is the scene where Thorne comforts Marcus while Marcus still believes that Alexander is dead (why I can keep Marcus and Alexander, er, straight in my head while Thorne and Rockingham’s first names confuse me, I have no idea).
Since Rockingham is, in addition to his army position, also a viscount he knows that he will eventually have to marry–so both he and Thorne are aware that their relationship cannot be permanent because Thorne refuses to be a party to the breaking of marital vows. So there’s a bit of foreshadowing there, but again: a this fits with what I know of the period. Marriages were a matter of contract, not of love.
But in the meantime, they have relationship which is conducted primarily in letters and in person when Thorne’s ship happens to be near where Rockingham is stationed. The sex scenes are hot but not too explicit and they are more about the emotional connection between the two men than the mechanics. There is a lot of emotional intimacy in this book which is, I think, one of my favorite things about romance.
When Rockingham eventually does marry, he marries a young woman coming out of her first Season. Caroline is exceptionally sensible and intelligent and neither of them are marrying for love and honest about it–and Rockingham also makes sure that Caroline knows that if she ever should find herself in love that she should come to him and that they will figure something out.
This being a romance novel, what happens of course, is that when Caroline meets Thorne when he comes to baby Stephen’s christening, it’s practically love and angst at first sight for them both.
And this is where the book gets awesome: everyone acts like an adult and talks to each other. And they totally figure something out and it was just, oh. Exactly my sort of thing. They’re all aware for the need for discretion because they know that what they’re embarking upon is completely unconventional and not anything that needs to be flaunted, especially since both Rockingham and Thorne have no intention of giving up their military careers. The way they negotiate the strictures on their relationship is just fantastic and I appreciate that Griffith made it explicitly clear that she was trying to work within existing social structures and not overthrow them. The result of this is a story that feels firmly grounded in time and place but which also doesn’t erase the existence of queer people.
As I said that the beginning, the only real flaw in this book is the way it just stops–it’s definitely a Happy For Now ending, but apparently the author has a story coming later this year that features these characters. And a bunch of other interesting possibilities, too! I’m so glad Liz recommended this book–I’ll definitely add Griffith to my list of writers to keep an eye on in the future.
When I saw that Jeannie Lin’s Capturing the Silken Thief was free on Kindle I decided that I needed to read something different from what I have been reading, which is a bunch of historicals and contemporaries with white people all up in them.
What sets Silken Thief apart is that it’s set in imperial China and its main characters are both Chinese and they come from lower class origins, although they both aspire to more.
Luo Cheng is a poor scholar from the provinces who is studying for his second–and final–attempt at the civil service exam. If he passes, he will be assured of a position in the civil service and will bring great honor to his family and home town.
Yang Jia-jing is a pipa player indebted to her troupe leader–but if she can locate a pillow book, she will be able to pay her debts and be free t o choose her own fate.
Cheng’s on his way back to his rooms when he’s mugged and loses his satchel of books and essay in progress–and when he arrives at his rooms he discovers Jia there. She’d been searching his room for the pillow book but was unable to find it. Eventually, she tells Cheng that she was behind the mugging and that she will get him his books and essay back if he helps her get the book. Since Cheng has a pretty good idea who actually has the book–which is in and of itself stolen property–he agrees.
Cheng and Jia have a few narrow scrapes and then one big scrape together and the ending is a bit “Gift of the Magi-esque” but way less ironically tragic, but this was a straight forward and fun read.
My only complaint was the slightness of it–this is only about 56 pages long and ended at the 75% mark in my Kindle, so a good quarter of the file is promotional material for other titles, including a full length novel in this same setting.
Lin’s extraordinarily good at grounding a reader unfamiliar with the ins and outs of imperial China in a way that’s not info-dumpy at all–Lin could give lessons on this to a few spec fic writers, in fact!. I also had no problem understanding the intricacies of both Jia and Cheng’s situations and why their respective successes were so important to them. They were both engaging and well-rounded characters, even if the romantic development was pretty darned fast. It also felt like there were missing scenes–there could have been better transitions as there were a lot of abrupt shifts.
Overall, though, I really enjoyed this and I’ll definitely be checking out more of Lin’s work in the future. I’m off to buy The Lotus Palace right now, in fact.