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REVIEW: Lady Sings the Blues by Mallery Malone

Dear Ms. Malone:

Thank you for submitting your debut Samhain Red Hot, “Lady Sings the Blues,” a short story featuring an interracial Romance between club owner Alina Gabriel and Blues musician Joshua Hanover. I am a big fan of short stories and novellas, because when they are done well, they are a perfect portion of character and plot, able to be read and enjoyed in one sitting. While “Lady Sings the Blues” didn’t blow me away, it was competently written and had some interesting elements.

Alina Gabriel has named her club “The Scarlet Lady” after her alter ego, a seductress par excellence who was trained in the exotic dance clubs and who still emerges on occasion to strut on top of the bar in a red corset and sexy boots. She has some serious lust for Joshua, whose good looks, guitar skills, and sensual voice make him a favorite at the club. Although Alina doesn’t realize it, Joshua shares her feelings, having even written her a song, “Red Letter Woman,” which he hopes will encourage her to dance during its performance. Joshua can’t actually see Alina dance, since he is blind, but he has become attuned to her energy and her voice, and his band has described her appearance (including whatever sexy outfit she happens to be wearing) in graphic detail.

The evening the story opens, Alina has decided to work off some of her sexual frustration alone in her office, during which Joshua interrupts her. Although the scene that follows seemed rather unrealistic to me in terms of Alina’s reaction to Joshua’s presence, it does create the excuse both of them have been looking for to indulge their seemingly unrequited attraction. What follows is a sexual extravaganza that continues to ratchet up in intensity, with Joshua finally daring to ask Alina out on a dinner date. Completely taken aback by the turn in their relationship – and very insecure about why Joshua would want to date her, rather than just enjoy her sexually – the two begin a tentative courtship that brings their vulnerabilities to the fore.

Alina, despite her sexual self-confidence and business success, remains unsure of herself as love object, seeing herself as someone men are more comfortable lusting after than loving. Joshua, on the other hand, may have done much to overcome the limitations inherent in his blindness, but he is still not free of the concern that a woman as successful and strong as Alina would choose a blind man as her partner in love. Alina is also concerned about their racial differences, as part of her general issues with external approval and respect. Joshua is not concerned about this at all, caring far less about what anyone but Alina thinks about their relationship.

The conflicts that develop from Alina And Joshua’s insecurities registered as the most authentic and the most interesting aspects of the story to me. It made perfect sense to me that Alina’s fears about her lovability would manifest themselves in a way that would trigger Joshua’s fears that she could not accept him fully as a blind man. That he would not understand why Alina was distanced from him made sense given his own insecurities, and I liked the way the story revealed the way these fears eroded their fragile emotional bond. I also appreciated that Alina fully accepted her sexuality, even if I was sometimes frustrated at the way she seemed so insecure about her value as a person. I also liked that the conflict between Alina and Joshua didn’t go on and on and on, but was resolved in a relatively brief timeframe (of course it had to be given the brief page count of the story, but still, the pacing felt reasonable to me). And in general, their conversations felt realistic in voice and syntax.

The sexual content of the story is quite high and was pretty sexy. I did have a couple of WTF? moments, especially at Alina’s initial reaction to Joshua’s cock (her whole paean to anal sex there felt a bit like a means to show me how cool and sexually progressive Alina was) and, as I already said, to her behavior when Joshua first comes into her office at the beginning of the story (is she the last one to realize that a blind person’s other senses are heightened?). Those early scenes made me wonder whether the whole point of the story was to see how many times and how many ways Joshua and Alina could get it on. But as the story developed, the emotional aspects of the relationship emerged as dominant.

The one thing that concerned me a bit, and continues to perplex me, is the way Alina’s blackness seems to be compared to Joshua’s blindness in the following scene:

How was she supposed to say yes? All she knew of relating to Joshua was within the club as Miss Scarlet. She wouldn’t know the first thing to do or say with him outside of these walls. Alina knew he’d realize in the first five minutes how much of a fake she was, and then he’d be gone.

Still she tried. “You do know I’m black, don’t you?”

“You do know I’m blind, don’t you?”

Point taken. It was a stupid thing to bring up now considering how many times they’d had sex in the past week. Here it didn’t matter at all. Outside though, was a different story.

This may just be one of the difficulties inherent in negotiating a Romance in which race is an issue, but I am still struggling with the idea that Alina’s race is being presented as a physical disability on par with being blind. While it is true that both are physical conditions that are part of who each character is, and while it is also true that we are clearly not supposed to think any less of either character based on these characteristics, there is still an awkwardness in that exchange that stuck with me throughout the story. Did Joshua mean that he couldn’t see Alina and therefore her blackness didn’t matter? Did he mean that he was at a disadvantage, as well? Or did he mean that he just didn’t care what her race was and used his blindness as a way to communicate that to Alina? I’m still not completely settled on how this scene is supposed to play, and it was an issue that I would have liked to see more carefully nuanced, especially since race was a significant issue for Alina, and, by extension, within the story itself.

For a debut work, “Lady Sings the Blues” managed to hit at least a couple of high notes, especially in the realistic portrayal of Joshua and Alina’s relationship conflict. And despite its lower notes, overall I found it a competently composed story and a solid C+.

~Janet

This book can be purchased at Samhain Publishing.

isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!

11 Comments

  1. Janine
    Jul 05, 2008 @ 18:05:35

    I’m glad you reviewed this one. It looked interesting from the excerpt the author emailed us with her review request. FWIW, my interpretation of the line “You do know I’m blind, don’t you?” was that it was Joshua’s way of saying that Alina’s race made no difference to him.

  2. Barbara B.
    Jul 05, 2008 @ 18:14:01

    Despite the flaws in the story the characters sound interesting, a rarity in erotic romance in my opinion. That’s good enough for me. I’ll give it a try.

    Thanks for the review, Janet.

  3. Keishon
    Jul 06, 2008 @ 00:59:56

    Reading that title evoked a flashback of the movie of the same name, Lady Sings the Blues, with Diana Ross and Billy Dee Williams.

  4. Karen Scott
    Jul 06, 2008 @ 06:21:49

    I’ve seen that movie Keishon. *g*

  5. vanessa jaye
    Jul 06, 2008 @ 10:47:39

    I agree with Janine’s interpretation of that line.

    Keishon I was just thinking of that movie the other day because of the Amie Winehouse stuff. I said to someone that I doubted she’d see her thirties if she doesn’t make a change. The similarities to Billy Holiday (re this movie) came to mind.

  6. Robin
    Jul 06, 2008 @ 10:48:36

    Janine: I think you’re right. But it wasn’t just that scene; it was the way in which Alina’s race and Joshua’s blindness tended to be coupled throughout the story that made me focus in on that exchange here. I can fill in the blanks (and did to some degree when I read), especially with Alina’s insecurity about how their racial backgrounds would play to the outside world (since she worries in general that she is not “respectable” as a relationship prospect), but I wish all of that had had more space (aka pages) to be developed and nuanced.

    Barbara: I hope you enjoy it; the nice thing about shorts is that they don’t cost too much time if you hate them, and they whet your appetite for more if you love them.

    Keishon and Karen: I’ve seen it, too, and pretty much had to ignore the title here, lol. I can see why the title probably seemed irresistably clever, but IMO the easy reference is one of the pitfalls of choosing a title that’s so well-known.

    Vanessa: have you read the story? If so, what did you think?

  7. roslynholcomb
    Jul 06, 2008 @ 17:42:54

    I read it. Can’t resist a musician hero, even from a new to me author. I really liked it. I read that line the same way Janine did. I think she did a good job with the characterization, which is usually a fatal flaw with shorts. I’ll definitely read her again. I liked the emotional connection between the two, and you could really ‘see’ them falling in love. Which is another fatal flaw in all too many books.

  8. Lynne
    Jul 06, 2008 @ 19:16:20

    I agree, Roslyn. In novellas, characterization and pacing are often casualties of the shorter page count, but I felt both of them worked very nicely here. And that first scene in Alina’s office at the club was totally hot, IMO.

    I don’t read much erotic romance anymore, but if this is representative of the quality of stories Samhain is putting out, I’ll definitely be giving their novella offerings another look. I’ve bought a number of their full-length novels and been favorably impressed with the quality there, too.

  9. Dear Author Reviews LStB! «
    Jul 06, 2008 @ 22:21:19

    […] 7, 2008 by mallerymalone I just saw that Dear Author read and reviewed Lady Sings the Blues!  They gave it a C+.  I can’t really complain about […]

  10. Robin
    Jul 07, 2008 @ 14:26:48

    Another great thing about shorts is that they are easy to pick up for reading and reviewing.

    I’m glad that people are liking this story, because I would definitely be interested in seeing more work from Malone (some longer work, too).

    One comment I want to make about the scene I quoted in the review, which goes to the difference I’ve been trying to articulate between what an author might intend and how something reads to me regardless. I am willing to believe that the author intended just what Janine, Vanessa, and Roslyn think it does — that Alina’s race doesn’t matter to Joshua.

    But even if I accept that fully — that such was the intention of Malone’s writing in that scene — I am still left with how the exchange plays as it’s written. The hero is still saying to the heroine, in response to her concern that she is black, that he is blind. Now, if he had said, “Well, I’m blind, but even if I wasn’t your race wouldn’t matter to me,” but just, “You do know I’m blind, don’t you?” It’s the subtle difference, but when I really took a moment to reflect on what was being said there, the scene opened up in a number of different ways. I started thinking about how it’s his blindness that’s used to deflect her concern, and totally independent of what Malone intended with that comeback (I can see where it would sound clever and be an easy shorthand for exactly the kind of dismissal readers are getting out of it), it becomes his blindness that’s used there to neutralize Alina’s concern, which ironically heightened my sensitivity to the race issue.

    If my review was a conversation, I probably would have said something like, “I know you probably meant, A, but I also got the suggestion B, C, and D. Did you intend that, because it presents some issues for me.”

  11. All About Samhain « Jorrie Spencer
    Jul 08, 2008 @ 07:58:41

    […] Lady Sings the Blues by Mallery Malone C+ […]

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