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REVIEW:  Archer by Debra Kayn

REVIEW: Archer by Debra Kayn

Dear Ms. Kayn:

Jane Beaumont fell in love with an illusion. She thought her attentive boyfriend was a catch but it turned out he was a violent, possessive heroin dealer who threatened her multiple times with dismemberment and death if she ever left him, ever ratted him out.

Debra Kayn ArcherSomehow, she found the will to escape to her brother’s body shop back in Oregon. Beaumont Body Shop serves as a front for a private investigative team.  Jane hides inside the body shop doing paperwork during the evening hours until one night her teenage love turned hot private investigator drags her out to a bar where he stamps his ownership all over her to the amusement of his buddies and the approval of her brother. In order to keep up the facade of conflict, Jane is portrayed as having the intuition of a jellyfish.  None, in other words.

Garrett’s eyes went to Kage, and a slow nod passed between the two men. The unspoken conversation confused her, and she didn’t like not knowing what was going on in their heads.

Lance elbowed Tony, and their eyes landed on Kage too. She frowned.

“What’s going on?” she asked.

“It’s about time. That’s all I’m saying,” Lance muttered.

Lance leaned against the bar beside Garrett, black T-shirt stretched across his broad chest, black jeans, and black cowboy boots. It wasn’t lost on her that his black goatee matched everything about him. Although Lance attracted a lot of women, he couldn’t compare to Kage’s size and quiet strength. Kage made her feel feminine and protected, yet he gave her strength.

She turned to Kage. “What’s Lance talking about? Time for what?”

Some of the early scenes didn’t make sense. Kage slips her a phone number at her father’s funeral. This is the number she calls when she is at the end of her tether with Scott. Yet, when she’s at home, she acts like Kage doesn’t know her troubled past and is upset when she finds out her brother has revealed all to his partners.

The fact she is worried that she has brought trouble to her brother’s door in the form of Scott, the drug lord, doesn’t sit well given that she wants to keep everything secret and that she’ll handle it herself. How exactly will she allow them to protect her and themselves if they aren’t aware of the danger? If she couldn’t handle it when she lived away from Oregon, how will she handle it now?  And then I remember she’s got the brains of a jellyfish.  Because despite the following description, Jane steadfastly refuses to believe that a) they can protect her or b) that they will simply turn away from her problems.

Each one of them was scary in his own right. They’d kill or be killed protecting those they loved or were hired to protect. The guys were certified in weaponry and martial arts, and, if pushed into a corner, were street smart enough to kick ass without making a sound.

Let me enumerate just some of her jellyfish ways:

  1. She steals from the drug lord who has beaten her and raped her repeatedly.
  2. She doesn’t tell either her brother or her lover that she has stolen from the drug lord, even though she knows that her brother and lover are actively working to try to protect her and/or bring down the drug lord.
  3. She carries around a loaded gun with the safety not engaged.
  4. After said gun is taken from her because she obviously can’t handle a firearm, she steals her lover’s gun and then lies about having taken it.
  5. When things go missing in her house, neither she nor her lover (the private investigator) think this has any significance despite emails being sent to her that pretty much state her drug lord ex is watching her (i.e., if you sleep with him again, I’ll kill you).
  6. When her lover and brother are engaged in checking out the property after a security scare, she screams bloody murder because her cat is missing.
  7. Despite being protected by four experienced private investigators who are supposed to be so bad ass that women can barely walk within a 100 mile radius without dropping their panties, she decides to take on the ex drug lord lover herself.
  8. She intentionally loses her guards and takes off with an over 50 ex showgirl to battle the ex drug lord.  Herself.

Faceplam of all facepalms.

The prose reads like it cobbles together a bunch of catch phrases “You’re my woman” etc etc. It’s like corporate buzzwords but instead it comes from the alpha male handbook.  The “He’d rejected her previously, so it couldn’t possibly be that he wanted to be with her or spend time with her” just didn’t work for me either because, you know, she was a jellyfish.

Worse, the book couldn’t decide whether it wanted Jane to be an inept Stephanie Plum trying to wield a paint gun as a weapon with a retired  showgirl as her Lulu sidekick or a dark angsty story replete with the horrible ex boyfriend and the new lover who is fighting his old underground drug world ties to save her.

Sure, it’s got a trope I love – little sister in love with the brother’s best friend who rejected her so many years ago but even my fondness for the trope couldn’t overcome how dreadful the characterization of the heroine was or how forced the narrative prose came off.  This was just really really bad in my estimation. I’m sorry to give it an F but really it failed for me.

Best regards,

Jane

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REVIEW:  A Fallen Star by Janie Summers

REVIEW: A Fallen Star by Janie Summers

Dear Ms. Summers:

When it comes to retro romance there’s “charmingly dated” and then there’s “should have been left buried.” This book, originally published in 1987, is of a time and place that I really did not enjoy visiting.

fallen2The story concerns Holly, a photographer still mourning the accidental death of her mountaineer husband. Her family persuades her to take a job as a “girl friday” at a center for outdoor sports in Scotland; her godfather tells the director, Torquil, that Holly is “lost like a fallen star. The life’s out of her.”  We don’t see much of Torquil’s point of view, but he apparently makes it his personal mission to fix her, which in classic style takes the form of sneering and criticizing at every opportunity, and forcing her back into mountain climbing when she’s not ready.

Torquil is one of the most crazy-making heroes ever: he sets Holly up to be shocked and upset, then tells her she’s overreacting, and then tells her, “You will care, Holly… Even if I have to teach you myself.” In other words, you will care about what he thinks you should care about.  Somehow while he’s playing his little mind games they fall in love, and she is magically cured of wanting anything other than what Torquil thinks she should want.

But astonishingly enough, that was not my biggest problem with this book. It started off in an annoyingly sexist vein, but since I often read old romances, I’m used to running into characters who talk about women’s libbers and girl fridays. (Though “lady instructress” was new.) Then we were introduced to a minor character named Dan, aka the Golliwog:

Golliwog was an apt description for Dan. Another sturdy Scotsman but with curly black hair that stood out from his head. Even his beard threatened to curl. Dan’s eyes went heavenwards for an instant, revealing the whites of his eyes, completing the golliwog image.

I was still in culture shock from that when we got to the Hogmanay costume party, which Dan attended as “an African native,” with “blackened face and torso.” Yes, you read that right — this book has a character in blackface.  After that, the introduction of a “half-caste” girl named Affreka barely shook me.  The Great Britain of 1987 was certainly very different, to put it as politely as I can.

I sincerely tried to find something of worth in this story, and I did enjoy the sections about Holly’s photography, and her growing ambition to start a new career as a children’s photographer. (Which all goes by the wayside at the end, as far as I can tell.) A heroine who climbs mountains to take photographs is cool, even if she (understandably) makes a rather poor job of it her first time back, and I thought it interesting that, unlike most current romances, this passes the Bechdel Test. But when I wasn’t finding the book offensive, I was finding it baffling. It seemed to be written in some kind of narrative shorthand that I just didn’t get, and there are numerous subplots taking up space that the primary romance desperately needs. I don’t know what was really going on with Holly, I don’t know what was really going on with Torquil, I have no idea when or why they fell in love.  The casual attitude towards grammar didn’t help; it was often hard to tell what was an editing error and what was just the colloquial style.

Even without the offensive elements, this book would not score high with me; it failed as a romance as well, and I honestly can’t recommend it at all. F.

~Willaful

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