Dear Ms. Ashley:
After Kati D reviewed Knight for Dear Author, I had to read it myself. It was rough but Ruthie Knox, in the comments, suggested I give Sweet Dreams a try and I did. Sweet Dreams is an interesting story and one that I am going to review later but I actually went on to read several of your books and I wanted to start writing reviews with Rock Chick. Rock Chick is the beginning of a series of books that are interrelated. (another author used the word “Daisy Chained” to describe books that are loosely connected by a series of characters). Rock Chick is one of your better works and it also contains nearly every one of your signature writing features so that if readers like Rock Chick, they are likely to enjoy most of your writing. If they don’t like Rock Chick, then it is probably best for readers to pass on your extensive backlist.
Rock Chick reads like Stephanie Plum fan fiction for the Rangerettes (the shippers who wanted a pairing between Stephanie and Ranger). There is the intrepid heroine who rushes into danger. There is the hot, mysterious security guy. There are drag queens, irascible older people, people getting shot at and cars exploding.
India Savage, known as Indy, grew up loving Liam Nightingale. The Savage and Nightingale families were close. The parents knew each other. Allie Nightingale was Indy’s best friend. Their mothers, especially, wanted the two families tied together by marriage. Indy pursued Liam relentlessly as a teen until Indy finally got the message at the age of twenty that Lee (as he is known to all) would never want her back. From that point on, Indy made a point to avoid Lee at as much as possible. When Indy’s life is endangered, Lee steps in and declares to all and sundry that Indy is his woman and sets out to convince Indy of this new to her truth.
The storytelling is conversational, as if Indy is sitting next to you in her bookstore, Fortnum’s in Lower Downtown Denver. It’s as if you’ve made a new friend and she is telling you all about her crazy mixed up love life and how she got the man of her dreams. It works exceptionally well. The best part of all these books is the unapologetic brashness of the characters. Indy, in particular, is a bold. Indy is a full figured woman with great T&A. She is comfortable in her skin. She is independent, has a great group of friends, likes to wear tight clothes and lots of makeup. Also, she is in danger and every guy, even the bad ones, wants her. While Indy meets the definition of a Mary Sue squarely, she also represents a complete change (at least for me) from the demure, never been kissed, heroines who shy away from loving their body and appreciating their own personal agency.
Ranger, err, Lee is a more reserved guy who owns a security firm that does things like skip tracing and bodyguard work, amongst other security tasks. On more than one occasion, he wades in to save Indy from a dangerous scenario arising from some impetuous act. Indy describes Lee as badass, several times. Despite how bold and independent Indy is, there is a vague tone of msygony that runs through these Rock Chick books. It might be totally unintentional but the men, like Lee, look at the women with benign amusement. They frequently make demands that result in female capitulation. All the demands seem to end in an imperative “get me?” either in tone, eye contact, or verbalization. (I.e., do you get what I am telling you?) Lee cuffs Indy to the bed more than once in order to prevent her from engaging in behavior that he thinks will endanger her (and given her past record, maybe the cuffing is justified). But just about the moment that I (and Indy) are ready to blow our stacks, you have Lee (and the other men in your books) say something completely endearing, making themselves vulnerable:
“Jesus,” he buried his face in my neck, “there’s nothin’ better in the world than hearin’ you say my name when I’m inside you.” He slid in deep, filling me. “I’ve been waitin’ years to be right here.”
His mouth was at my ear.
“I could be on assignment, in a desert as hot as an oven, in a jungle as close as fuck and sometimes I’d get through it dreamin’ of you sayin’ my name like that.”
I told a friend of mine that these books read a little like old school Linda Howard. Lee is full of take charge machismo. He’s written as if he can do anything including negotiate a detente with a criminal who is after his woman. No lock can keep him out. No situation is too dangerous for him. It’s only dangerous for those that oppose him. The characters drink a lot of beer, curse a lot, watch sports on TV, gossip with their girlfriends, party regularly, and in every aspect seem ordinary and relatable and somehow so very different than many characters I’ve read in contemporary romances of late.
Indy is a good match for Lee. She stands up for herself and pushes back against Lee. The secondary characters are well drawn even if they are exaggerated eccentrics. Plus, Indy’s exchanges (especially the ones with Ally) are funny:
“Did you bring me a Sushi Den outfit?” I asked Ally.
You didn’t go to Sushi Den in jeans and cowboy boots. Sushi Den demanded something else entirely. Clothing… black. Shoes… stiletto. I had a full section of my closet devoted to Sushi Den clothes.
“You bet your ass,” Ally replied.
“You just hung up on my brother?” Ally asked, sidling into bitch smackdown mode in defense of her sibling.
“Ally,” Kitty Sue said placatingly.
“We’re on a break,” I told Ally.
“You’re on a break? You’ve been together a week!” Ally yelled.
“We’re on a break,” I repeated.
“I don’t believe this,” Ally snapped, her hand at her hip, countdown to bitch smackdown mode hitting critical.
“Ally,” Kitty Sue put in, “it’s none of your business.”
“What do you mean it’s none of my business? Lee’s my brother, she’s my best friend.”
“She means it’s none of your business,” I told Ally, “back off.”
“Back off? Did you just tell me to back off? I’ve been waiting twenty-two years for this!” Ally was back to yelling. “You can’t be on a break. That’s ridiculous! Hank’s never gonna get married, there’s no one perfect for him. You’re perfect for Lee and you won’t sort it out with him. I’m never gonna get a niece named after me.”
“For God’s sake, Ally, make your own babies,” I yelled back.
“No please, don’t do that. Not until you’ve found someone special,” Kitty Sue threw in.
“Um… I don’t mean to interrupt your asinine conversation but, are we gonna let those diamond earrings just sit on the counter?” Tex asked.
I laughed out loud at several points in the story even as I was simultaneously worn down by the non stop description of Indy’s every outfit, of Indy’s every meal, and of every street in Denver. Your books really need an editor. There are many sentences like this dispersed throughout the book “A body like mine isn’t difficult to maintain, just feed it loads of crap to keep the curves but keep in shape because you’ve got to lug it around everywhere.” I’d often have to read the sentence twice to ascertain its precise meaning. Anytime a reader stops to puzzle out the meaning of a sentence is a break in the mood, the fantasy you are creating.
The stories need a content editor that will help to smooth out some writing tics and to introduce some brevity. Some of the characters make epic long speeches. Speeches so long I wonder at their lung capacities. The stories need a copy editor and a proofreader to eliminate the typos, misspellings, and grammatical inaccuracies. The blurbs for these books are some of the worst I’ve read. You are a great storyteller and I think you are telling stories that aren’t out there right now. Unfortunately, every time I give a recommendation for one of these books, I have to be up front and tell my reader friends that the writing is really rough, that there are serious periods of momentum lulls, and an unholy amount of repetition. (And its repetitive from book to book. In nearly every Rock Chick book there is a time when the hero will go through a litany of things that they love about the heroine and end with an “you’d be a pain in the ass.”
“Honey, it’s good you’re gorgeous or you’d be a pain in the ass.”
Here’s one writing tic that I find challenging (and by challenging I mean difficult to follow and thus annoying)
But, twenty minutes ago, my employee, Rosie, told me something I didn’t want to hear. Rosie could be difficult but this was ridiculous.
And he’d involved another employee (and one of my most favorite people in the world), Duke.
* * * * *
Then, five minutes ago, Rosie and I locked up and stood at the front of my bookstore, Fortnum’s, wondering what to do about that something.
Then two guys came up to us, we had a chat that did not go well (and if I’m honest, the reason it didn’t go well is because of me) and then they shot at us.
Guns filled with bullets.
Another writing tic is to use the word “after”
After, we had pie.
Then, we had a shower.
What with wet, soapy, naked bodies, especially with one of them being Lee’s, things got out of hand and we tumbled out of the shower onto the bath mat.
After that, I said a silent thank you to the unknown Judy as the bathroom was sparkling clean and the bath mat smelled of fragrant drier sheets.
Later, we were in bed and I was pressed up against his side, his arm around my waist ….
I’ve read all the Rock Chick books. I’m not going to do a full review for each of them, but instead do a summary review of the next 6 in tomorrow’s post. Obviously I was captivated by your writing, but I can’t give a full throated endorsement. Instead, I feel it necessary to caution readers and hopefully arm them with enough information so that they can make their own decisions. I’d love to grade this book higher but even though the storytelling was engaging, I just can’t. C