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REVIEW: Fever by VK Powell

fever by VK PowellI came across Fever by doing a search for lesbian fiction at my local library.   This title was available for request and I've read several other Bold Strokes books that I liked.   I was also intrigued by the blurb, which mentions an African setting.   Unfortunately, a weak conflict and confusing details made Fever a miss for me.

The basic setup is appealing.   Heroine Zak Chambers has been hired to escort Sara Ambrosini, do-gooder rich girl, to Kenya's bush country.   Sara plans to build a primary school for tribal children.   Zak is a secret agent something-or-other who knows the area well.

The story starts off murky and stays that way.   In the opening scene, for example, Zak's boss calls her Ebony.   She's described as having tightly curled black hair and a "bittersweet connection" to Africa.   We learn later, from Sara's point of view, that Zak's skin is pale, but I continued to wonder if she was of African descent.   In Kenya, she speaks fluent Swahili and calls one of the Masai tribesmen "brother."   She also has an intimate friendship with this man's sister.   I finally inferred that they weren't actually related.   Maybe Zak's heritage is addressed and I skimmed over it.   Or perhaps the author felt as though readers would assume Zak was white unless otherwise stated.   I'm still in the dark.

Not only is Zak's ethnicity a mystery, so are her motivations, her past, and her actions.   She's just come off a difficult undercover assignment in which she had to seduce a female suspect.   The suspect was cleared of wrong-doing and Zak left without explanation, breaking her heart.   I'm not sure why the relationship had to end, since the woman was innocent, but whatever.   Zak seems to think that because she hurt ONE woman, she's doomed to repeat the cycle FOREVER.   She rejects Sara many times for this reason.   It's a tiresome conflict that feels contrived.

I had some problems with Sara's character as well.   She's supposedly a savvy businesswoman but she doesn't act very smart.   She has a sleazy, shallow girlfriend who flirts with Zak right under her nose.   On the plane, she gets drunk and engages in ridiculous babytalk because she's afraid of storms.   She doesn't seem to know the first thing about the Masai people.   Building a school in Africa is her late mother's wish, not her own.   I understand that Sara is the femme in this equation, soft and vulnerable where Zak is strong and tough, but I couldn't get over the initial portrayal of her as childlike, silly, and uninformed.

Although the characterizations didn't work for me, I was engaged enough to keep reading.   The Masai cultural details seem authentic and the African setting is well-realized.   I also enjoyed the love scenes, which are sparse but intensely erotic and unusual.   For the sex alone, this book is discussion-worthy.

[spoiler]

There is a rough sex scene in the second half.   Zak jumps on Sara in a haze of passion, touching her forcefully.   I was-confused.   I felt skeptical that any woman would react like a mindless alpha male, intent on penetration.   Zak is all worked up, so she wants to finger Sara really hard!

To her credit, Sara tells Zak to stop and takes control of the encounter, soothing Zak's overwrought emotions with gentle, almost delicate cunnilingus.   This part of the scene is steamy and nuanced and very effective.

[/spoiler]

Overall, I found Fever too uneven to recommend.   I'm conflicted about the grade because other readers might consider these characters enigmatic, rather than annoying.   I also skimmed a lot.   Maybe I missed the good stuff!   I'll give the author bonus points for vivid scenes, decent writing, and a unique setting.   C-

~Jill

Book Link | Amazon | BN | Borders | Bold Stroke Books

BoldStroke Books can be purchased in ebook format but only from its website as far as I can see.

Guest Reviewer

17 Comments

  1. TKF
    Jul 16, 2010 @ 13:40:10

    Can someone–anyone!–please explain why so many romance heroines are afraid of storms? I don't know a single adult who is afraid of storms/lightening/thunder. It seems like some kind of bizarre infantilizing trope that has just become a feature of the genre. Are all the women I know just super butch?

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  2. Jill Myles
    Jul 16, 2010 @ 13:55:51

    *raises hand guiltily*

    I’m afraid of bad storms, especially lightning/thunder. I was fine at first, but the older I get, the more anxious they make me. I think my issues with storms come from a loss of control over my environment, and that’s what brings the anxiety.

    Have to admit I’ve never gotten drunk over a storm or been reduced to baby talk. Just really, really tense, stressed and unable to concentrate until it’s gone.

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  3. TKF
    Jul 16, 2010 @ 14:14:03

    So my friends and I are just butch, LOL! Good to know. I’ll try to keep the eye rolling to a minimum next time I see it in a book.

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  4. tisty
    Jul 16, 2010 @ 16:15:46

    My mum has a sort of inherited fear of storms. my grandmother lived through being bombed and the sound of storms brought that back, and she used to hug mum and tell her it would be alright whiled visibly packing it. Which worked. not. and consequently mum cant stand them, though she was careful not to pass it on to us!

    no baby talk though. more swearing than anything.

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  5. Jill Sorenson
    Jul 16, 2010 @ 16:17:22

    This is kind of funny because I’m a total stress case who hates to fly! Storms aren’t one of my anxiety triggers, but being on a plane in bad weather IS legitimately scary. The criticism is aimed at the babytalk, which just wasn’t cute for a grown woman.

    I think storms/fear can be used as a fast bonding experience. I’m actually a sucker for the “stranded in bad weather” trope. Or caught in the rain, sigh.

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  6. TKF
    Jul 16, 2010 @ 16:44:24

    I guess I’ve just always seen it as ridiculous and mostly unrealistic (unless motivated by something specific, as in tisty’s grandmother’s case). Clearly this is a case where my real world experience is simply drastically different than that of a lot of other women. The “scared of thunder” heroine is something of a joke in my crowd. My friend's dog doesn't like thunder, and every time there's a storm she jokingly says, Guess it's time for Trixie's romance heroine neurosis to rear it's ugly head. That's right baby, you go to daddy. You need a big strong man to protect you from the bad noise.

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  7. TKF
    Jul 16, 2010 @ 16:47:14

    @Jill Sorenson: I get the hating to fly thing (I don’t share it, but I understand that the fear of a bad outcome is real). And I get the fear of flying during bad weather (we hit a storm on the way to Hong Kong that had me preparing for a watery death), but the whole girly fear of a loud noise and some water when you’re safe and sound in your own house . . . that I just can’t relate to.

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  8. Liz
    Jul 16, 2010 @ 18:11:22

    @TKF: The thing is, phobias are irrational and excessive fears. That’s the definition. So of course those of us who don’t share them think they are silly. But they sure don’t feel that way to those who have them. (And they are “girly” in the sense that women are more likely than men to suffer from phobia and most other anxiety disorders). The babytalk sounds very annoying. But drinking is a fairly common, if not very sensible, way of self-medicating for anxiety. Even in otherwise savvy businesswomen.

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  9. Linda Winfree
    Jul 16, 2010 @ 19:07:04

    I used to adore a great thunderstorm – until our area was hit three times, at night, by large tornadoes over a four-year span. Now I get nervous when thunder starts b/c from a distance, a tornado may sound like a long rumble of thunder.

    I get nervous, but no babytalk. Or drinking. ;-) I did have a student who was a junior in high school who would sit in the hall and cry whenever a bad storm moved in, but the first tornado had gone through the middle of her home so I got that fear. I think often it’s not the thing that is feared, but the associations that go with it.

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  10. Jill Sorenson
    Jul 16, 2010 @ 20:17:13

    @Liz: I didn’t know that women were more likely to suffer from anxiety disorders. Interesting.

    I can understand irrational fears and irrational behavior if the author has done a good job developing the character. In this case, it seemed like an attempt at humor rather than an exploration of a personality quirk. I don’t necessarily think of phobias as a weakness, either. Sara didn’t come across as strong for a number of other reasons.

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  11. Maili
    Jul 16, 2010 @ 22:35:01

    @Jill Sorenson: I can’t stand having babytalk, for any reason and under any circumstances, in a rom. It can be creepy. I think the aversion came from overhearing a tourist couple talking like that when I was young.
    Woman: “Daddykins wants a smoochy moo?”
    Man: “Chitty-chi-doo-doo! Daddykins wants Muffy’s snuggling hug-hug!”
    The nine-year-old me: o_0

    I found your comments about seemingly vague physical descriptions of Zak intriguing. With most of those clues you mentioned and the cover, I’d assume she was from an established white settler family. Dutch or British. What was the author’s actual intention, I wonder?

    @TKF: I must admit I love the storms and the rest. I still get a thrill when I hear sounds of the first rumble. I think it’s popular in roms because it makes women appear more vulnerable/feminine? It doesn’t work for me because generally, infantilizing heroines gives me the creeps.

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  12. Angie
    Jul 17, 2010 @ 06:05:49

    @Liz: Given that phobias are irrational and all, maybe the problem then is that too many writers are going to the “Fear of Storms” shelf when creating their characters. Particularly if it’s just something duct-taped on, rather than something justified by a previous bad experience, it sounds like a lot of writers are grabbing for the storm phobia out of a knee-jerk reflex, rather than thinking it through and coming up with something less common, more interesting, and maybe even relevant to the character’s background.

    @Maili: About twenty-five years ago when I had an office job, there was a group of older women (about the age I am now, all in their forties) who’d go around AT WORK talking all oochie-woochie-cootchie-coo baby talk at each other. :/ They didn’t even keep it among themselves, but chatted the same way if there were other people, men, management, etc., present. I was pretty disgusted, and eventually mentioned that I could feel the glass ceiling lowering every time I heard them. They just cackled and did it more, aimed at me. Lovely. This kind of crap is one of the reasons why women can’t have nice things in the workplace.

    Jill — re: the cover, I notice that despite the protag being described as having “tightly curled black hair,” the chick on the cover has shiny-straight brown hair. God forbid any reader might get the idea that the protag is actually black. [eyeroll]

    Angie

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  13. Jill Sorenson
    Jul 17, 2010 @ 07:45:22

    @Maili: I got the impression that Zak was American from the dialogue, but I really don’t know. I think her parents were missionaries who went to Africa every summer. The flight was from London, though. Maybe she was supposed to be British.

    @Angie: I hear you about the cover. If there hadn’t been so many hints that Zak wasn’t white, I’d have assumed she was.

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  14. Liz
    Jul 17, 2010 @ 11:36:12

    Hey everyone, just to be clear, I didn’t mean to question Jill S’s criticisms of the characterization in the novel (I can’t, because I haven’t read it, and her examples support her critique). And I agree that this kind of trait is overused and often badly used (wallpaper phobia?) in romance, and sometimes in infantilizing ways. But knowing a lot of people who struggle with anxiety, I was uncomfortable with the tone of some comments. On the other hand, I don’t mean to start a huffy flame war, just mildly suggest another way of understanding these fears in real life.

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  15. DS
    Jul 17, 2010 @ 12:23:35

    Definitely a difference between a phobia and simply a fear of storms.

    I got stuck in an elevator with a severely claustophobic person. I thought I was going to have to knock her out and sit on her before they got us out– only about 15 minutes. No baby talk, just severe, hyperventilating panic attack.

    Nothing romantic about that.

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  16. TKF
    Jul 17, 2010 @ 13:59:33

    @Maili

    I must admit I love the storms and the rest. I still get a thrill when I hear sounds of the first rumble. I think it's popular in roms because it makes women appear more vulnerable/feminine? It doesn't work for me because generally, infantilizing heroines gives me the creeps.

    Yes! This!!! And it just seems to be done so often (or maybe I notice it because it comes close to ruining books for me?).

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  17. Jill Sorenson
    Jul 17, 2010 @ 21:10:19

    @Liz: I get what you’re saying and I agree that anxiety doesn’t equal weakness. But there are some fears that we associate with children. It kind of reminds me of the 1950s housewife who jumps on a table when she sees a mouse. There is a “silly woman” connotation to that image for me. The fear may be real but the stereotype is still demeaning.

    I also wanted to add, on a general note, that discussions are always welcome, agree or disagree.

    @TKF: I’ve always enjoyed a good thunderstorm, myself. And I’m from tornado country! We don’t get enough rain where I live now (San Diego).

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