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REVIEW:  Apples Should Be Red by Penny Watson

REVIEW: Apples Should Be Red by Penny Watson

Apples Should Be Red by Penny Watson

Dear Penny Watson:

I’ve mentioned before that I love novellas. Done right, they can be perfect story gems, and possibly because of my crazy workload or possibly because I am myself a writer, I love being able to curl up with a story and finish it in one evening, without having to either stay up until two in the morning or take a break halfway through. (If I’m deep into work on one of my own books, I don’t want to spend the next day more anxious to figure out what is going to happen in this other author’s book than what is going to happen in the one I’m trying to write.) To me, a novella can be an utterly delightful visit to another author’s world and sense of story.

I’m also busy working on Mack Corey’s story (that’s Cade and Jaime’s father, for those of you who read the Chocolate books), and possibly because of this might be more alert to mentions of books with “older” couples. (The term does drive me a little bit crazy, however. Can I just mention that most of the fifty-year-olds I know are fit, active people who are in the prime of their careers and sense of confidence and personal power? Their sore muscles are usually from their latest triathlon or Ultimate Frisbee tournament, a soreness which, granted, lasts a couple more days than it did when they were forty or thirty, but I’m not sure why that seems to disqualify them from the average romance. When I first started trying to sink into Mack and his heroine’s point of views, I thought through every single fifty-year-old I know, and not one of them seemed to qualify for an “older” couple. Now I do understand that I am entirely surrounded by obsessive achievers, in my social circle, but even accounting for that bias: fifty isn’t ninety, people. It’s a great age to write about.)

Anyway, in this context, I happened to catch a Tweet from Penny Reid recommending Penny (no relation) Watson’s APPLES SHOULD BE RED, and since I had just read and loved Reid’s NEANDERTHAL SEEKS HUMAN, I snatched this up.

I’m still grinning. Oh, lord, this story. It puts the comic back into romance and the romantic back into comedy. It is absolutely precious. Although given that if you did a word cloud of the story, a big giant FUCK would probably dominate the cloud, that word precious might surprise you.

But that giant F word is because 62-year-old curmudgeon Tom, our hero, is utterly incorrigible. He’s the cussing, go-to-hell-and-leave-me-alone, impossible grump we’d all like to be sometimes. His scowling, swearing point of view was the hilarious highlight of this book. Don’t get me wrong: Bev, the heroine, is a wonderful character. But Tom had me in stitches.

Tom Jenkins’ son is married to Beverly Anderson’s daughter, and this year, through some catastrophes of termites and plumbing at the other houses in the family, Tom finds himself with the horrifying responsibility of hosting Thanksgiving. Tom mans up to it, though: He figured what the hell, he’d throw a bird on his grill with a beer in its ass and slide a can of cranberry onto a plate. Mrs. Anderson, Karen’s mom, would be horrified. Which made the whole debacle even more appealing. She was so buttoned-up, he wondered how she didn’t choke on her perfect strand of pearls.

God, shopping for a grill is such a pain in the ass, though. The prices people charge for their retarded grills. Seven hundred goddamned dollars.

This whole holiday bullshit was going to drive him to drink.

                  More.

                  Drink more.

But, worse and worse, with all those plumbing/termite issues, Karen’s buttoned-up, pearl-choked mother, Bev, must crash alone at Tom’s place for the three days leading up to Thanksgiving.

Beverly.

                  Fuck.

                  He had no idea what Mrs. Beverly Anderson expected. But he wasn’t a goddamned bed-and-breakfast. Also, he wasn’t feeling particularly welcoming. Mrs. Anderson was a snooty-ass bitch, and her late husband, who’d keeled over from heart disease the year before, had been a slimy snake dressed up in a three-piece suit.

                  Tom pulled out a rumpled pack of Marlboros from his front shirt pocket and grunted. Empty.

                  Fuck.

Not to worry, Bev’s impressions of him are even more straightforward: Tom was an ass.

                  …A horrible, rude man. Crude and raw…He hated everyone, and everything. And talked about it all the time.

His garden stinks, his grass in front is four feet tall (although oddly perfectly manicured in back) and even his truck was rude.

And it only gets better from there. As Tom tries to make everyone eat Thanksgiving off paper plates and as Bev tries to pull off a Thanksgiving worthy of the only value she’s ever had in her life, that of being the wife and mother who waited on her slimy husband hand and foot for thirty years and got a string of pearls to show for it.

It is hilarious. The battle of wills between Tom, with all his cussing, and Bev, who, oh horrors, redoes his front yard to make it inviting, so that people might feel comfortable stopping by and talking to him, and who even finds the perfect grumpy looking gnome to plant in it by the daisies, in honor of Tom…it’s just priceless.

But through all the humor, there is this amazing heart and sweetness, and even tenderness, as Tom cusses his way to love and Bev agrees to take a bite out of an apple that isn’t red. (Because, in case you didn’t notice the title, apples should be red.)

While it might be going too far to say that Tom has a heart of gold, his heart does turn out to be gold for Beverly. And as it happens, his leathery hands and willingness to call a slimy snake a slimy snake might be just what Bev needs in her life.

It’s such a delight of a story. It’s hard for me to imagine anyone would regret spending an hour with this couple. You hate to finish it and be forced to abandon Tom’s point of view to, sigh, go and be polite to people. If you can’t bear stand-up comedy levels of profanity, maybe you should give this one a pass. But if you’re looking for something a little different, for characters who aren’t your standard formula, for a thumb-your-nose-at-life-and-fall-in-love-anyway comedy full of heart and a fundamental sweetness, I can only urge you to give this one a try.

It’s worth it just to see how Tom reacts to the gnome.

Laura Florand

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REVIEW:  The Nekkid Truth by Nicole Camden

REVIEW: The Nekkid Truth by Nicole Camden

Nicole Camden Nekkid Truth

Dear Ms. Camden:

 The story is narrated by Debbie Valley, a photographer who does crime scene photos on the side. She suffers from a disease called prosopagnosia, a type of face recognition amnesia, which resulted from brain trauma incurred during a car accident. She cannot recognize anyone’s face. Not her mother, her father or even a lover. It drove her slightly crazy when she first realized she had the problem but Debbie is the kind of person who is able to recognize the value of just being alive, particularly each time she take a crime scene photo.

After the accident, Debbie became fascinated with bodies because she couldn’t recognize faces anymore. Much of her work is of nudes which garners three reactions: “shock, disgust, or rapture”. But to Debbie, it’s her way of surviving, of living. “I can’t help but feel that if it’s my destiny to live life without ever again knowing the relief and joy of seeing a familiar face, then at the very least I can enjoy what I do without shame and sometimes with a great deal of pleasure.”

The real problem is that Debbie is in love with Detective Marshall Scott. Scott and Debbie have a complicated history since it was Scott’s partner who caused the accident leading to Debbie’s disability. Debbie doesn’t hold it against Scott, but Scott holds it against himself and despite his attraction toward Debbie, has never taken any action. He also recognized that she was a mess, emotionally, following the car accident. Everyone seems to know that the two of them are hot for one another but until his birthday party, they’ve been circling like wary beasts in a cage.

And the man himself, where’s he at?” I was starting to calm down, though if I had to move off this stool I was going to lose it again.

“He’s over at the other end of the bar,” he said gently, pointing, and I jerked to attention.

A dark-haired man with a stubbled jaw and a dress shirt opened to reveal a tanned throat sat almost directly across from me, surrounded by men and women vying for his attention. He would say something occasionally, but mostly he just stared at me, and I supposed it must be Detective Scott. God, he was hot.

Debbie, for all her pluckiness, is still suffering from her disability. “Since I’d gotten hurt, I had doubted, often, whether I was capable of loving anyone anymore. How could I? I wouldn’t recognize Mel Gibson if he walked through the door, much less someone I loved.” But Scott realizes that he and Debbie belong together and act on his long time feelings and her long time invitation. The sensuality of the book was increased because Debbie’s narration, her focus on the other senses, on the beauty of the body, the sweet musky smell of man, sex, and lust all created a visceral image for the reader. ‘It felt as if he did me for hours, so tirelessly, so carefully did he work me.”

While the relationship is tender and sweet and joyous to read, it is because the reader falls so hard for Debbie that the story has so much appeal. This is one of my favorite passages from the book:

When I woke from the coma they’d kept me in to keep the swelling in my brain under control, the first thing I’d seen was a tiny blond woman with blue eyes looking down at me. She was crying and laughing at the same time and calling me her baby. It took me a minute to recognize her voice, and when I did I became even more frightened than before. I didn’t recognize her. This stranger had my mother’s voice. I panicked and jerked away, screaming, and the doctors came in and sedated me. It took days to sort out what was wrong with me, and I cried every time I looked at my mother and didn’t see the woman I loved more than my own heart.

I remembered learning in college that when a baby first looks into its mothers face, there is an instant connection. Something about the mother being a mirror of that child’s self, and that mirror in some way defines what it means to exist. I would argue that it also first defines what it means to love. I think that was the hardest part for me, losing that connection, and it wasn’t till I looked down at her hand clasped in mine weeks later that I found a measure of peace. They were my mother’s hands, wrinkled and tiny, filled with love.

The remarkable thing about this story is how much emotion and depth the relationship is given despite just the one narrator. I never felt as if the hero was a mystery. Debbie’s struggle to come to grips with taking the chance of loving someone, despite her disability, was a tender and meaingful. The A- is because the suspense thread was weakly inserted and unnecessary in this short story space.   A-

Jane

PS this book is free right now. FREE!

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