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cross-dressing

REVIEW:  Prince Charming Wears Garters by Clancy Nacht

REVIEW: Prince Charming Wears Garters by Clancy Nacht

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Sara feels like her life is on track. She has the career of her dreams as a senior art director at one of the hot ad agencies in town. Her only real annoyance is the womanizing account executive in the office next door, Chuck.

When Chuck lands a new account, he sets his sights on Sara to work with him, but she gets the feeling he’s looking for more. Working late one night she discovers Chuck’s secret: he loves wearing ladies lingerie. Surprising to her, she can’t resist his long legs in silky stockings and her lust drives her to begin an ill-advised affair.

As a career-oriented woman, she’s not sure if she’s ready to balance her steamy encounters with work life, and she’s positive that trying to date Chuck would be a disaster. Yet, each time they get together she can’t help but speculate on what Prince Charming’s wearing under his well-tailored trousers.

Dear Clancy Nacht,

While looking over the latest offerings from Loose Id, it struck me that I can only recall ever reviewing one book with a transvestite character. That was enough to make me request your book. But while I thought I was going to get Lite and Funny, things took a turn for darker while also veering away from the lingerie.

“Prince Charming” has a fast, funny start with the image of prairie dog junior workers popping up over the cube farm that is their workplace to check out the latest office scandal – Chuck’s newest ex yelling at him- or later on – his riveting interactions with Sara. Sound, and gossip, certainly does carry there.

Sara and Chuck are quickly thrown together on a new ad campaign but I liked that Sara is already established and successful at her job. She can yank Chuck’s chain a little and not worry about losing her job as well as putting him in his place a few times to remind him she’s not to be messed with.

The plot then moved zippity quick to sex. The main pull of story could have been utilized more and I wish it had. By the end, even I was starting to think I might share Sara’s men-in-garters fetish. You did make that sexy and hot. Still Sara never asks Chuck what got him started wearing women’s undergarments nor does she ask him where he buys his lacy, frilly, silky smooth, fishnet wonders. But then see above about hot smexy smex in the office – though watch that carpet please.

Dane and Trey are Sara’s two GBFFs but at least Trey is an architect and Dane makes a living at his art production. Yeah it’s a little much with the trip to day spa but they’re happily married so that evens it out a bit. Chuck is already pre-programmed to fall for Sara due to her ex’s rants which told him that this unknown woman was his perfect match. That helps my belief in his belief in their relationship jump starting so quickly.

Chuck’s angsty back story life also gets ladled on which moves their feelings way deeper than would be expected but with a shorter page count, every shortcut to emotional intimacy counts.

Sara really has the sh*t luck in her jobs and this is where the book took a sharp right turn into the dark side that I wasn’t expecting. All of a sudden, my fun flirty little read is all Really Deep Shi*t and where did that come from? Should I have been expecting this in a book set in the advertising world? Is it still Mad Men and sexual harrassment for all women in that industry regardless of their position? Wow.

Which leads me to warn about triggers. The scene is written so well that I was with Sara in feeling helpless as it progressed. I just wish she had been the one to administer a sharp kick where it counts but I guess in the end, she and the others hit the whole agency where it hurts.

Sara’s initial shame and feelings of responsibility for what almost occured make me sad for her and mad at the world that this still happens. I mean really? Even her female mentor was going to let this go on? Wow. Just makes me so glad my profession is not this way.

I like the funny, I like the sexy and I’m still turning over my thoughts about liking the lace (though I wish there’d been more of it) , plus I always like cats but I think readers need to be ready for some office harrassment and the “quick on the draw” relationship. B-

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas

REVIEW: The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas

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Dear Ms. Thomas,

Unlike many of the other reviewers here at DA, I’m not familiar with your romance novels. I’ve only read one book from your backlist. But when I saw you were switching to young adult, I decided I would give your work another try. It’s a genre I’m more well-versed in, after all.

Traditional fantasy is still an underutilized subgenre in YA. Or it seems that way, at least, given all the paranormals/UF and dystopians out there. I can see how YA readers would be hungry for more, given the success of Rae Carson’s books. But coming from a traditional fantasy background, I’m picky. The worldbuilding and execution in the books I’ve read often leave me underwhelmed.

The Burning Sky uses many tropes in its construction. There’s nothing wrong with that. Tropes exist for a reason, and I’ll be the first person to admit I specifically seek out books because they use certain tropes. (Friends to lovers, anyone?) But I believe they should be used in moderation. Too many tropes, and the story gets bogged down.

Let’s start from the beginning. The Burning Sky is set in a sort of alternate Britain where there are two parallel dimensions, magic exists in one of them, and the denizens of the magical world can cross over to the nonmagical one. Based on my reading, I saw it more like the parallel worlds of the Black Jewels trilogy rather than Harry Potter.

Magical Britain is under the rule of Atlantis. There’s some longstanding conflict between the two that’s never explained so I can’t tell you what that’s all about. In fact, I can’t really tell you much about Atlantis at all other than they’re oppressing magical Britain. If I sound unimpressed by this, there’s a reason. I belong to that school of readers that considers Atlantis to be lazy, shortcut worldbuilding. If a novel is going to use Atlantis, it needs to do something with the mythos surrounding it. Don’t just drop it in a story and expect it to stand on its own. That’s just as bad as relying on pseudo-medieval-lite settings in your average traditional fantasy novel. (And we all know how I feel about that.)

The female protagonist is Iolanthe Seabourne. She is purported to be the greatest elemental mage of her generation. Yes, she is the chosen special one. The male protagonist is Prince Titus of Elberon. He is the prince who pretends to be an idiot while plotting to free his people from oppressive rule. He sees Iolanthe as the key to accomplishing his goal and intends to use her, even if it means their deaths.

How is Titus so sure about Iolanthe’s role in all this? His mother was a seer, and she left behind a journal full of her visions. You could say it was a prophecy. But he miscalculated. He assumed the key to destroying the Bane of Atlantis was going to be a male elemental mage. Instead, he gets Iolanthe, a girl. What does that mean? It means Iolanthe must disguise herself as a boy! But what’s to keep Iolanthe tied to Titus? After all, he’s a complete stranger expecting her to sacrifice her life for his goal. Why, a magical bond, of course!

And so it goes. My main problem with The Burning Sky can be reduced to this. I can see the tropes as pieces and none of them fit together smoothly. The story never gelled for me and in fact, read very deliberately put together. Maybe I could have forgiven this if the writing wasn’t so dry and unemotional. More emotional writing might have masked the obvious construction better. As a result, I could never sink in because I could see the strings clearly.

It’s not just because I’m not a fan of the “girl pretending to be a boy” trope either. The fact is, the way the trope was used in the novel lacked risk on Iolanthe’s part. The whole point of the trope is that the girl’s true gender can be discovered at any moment. This means any number of threats such as walking in while she’s changing or taking a bath; or her getting an injury that requires medical treatment and therefore, a physical examination. I’m sure readers can think of other examples. It’s a common trope.

But in The Burning Sky, none of these things happen. The main risk to finding out Iolanthe’s true gender? The other students might realize she’s too pretty to be a boy. That’s not a legitimate risk of discovery. That’s just a way to show Titus thinks she’s hot. For the most part, Iolanthe’s crossdressing masquerade goes off without a hitch. This is even taking into account Titus’s magical interference. Things that should be a problem are not. For example, she knows nothing about cricket but she still manages to be an ace player. Amazing athletic ability does not translate to team sport playing genius. I love strong female characters, but the way to show their competence is by putting them under pressure and showing how they excell under duress, not by making things easy for them.

The burgeoning relationship between Iolanthe and Titus is rife with problems. As readers can guess, the two are attracted to each other. After all, we’ve covered all the other tropes. Why not this one too? But their relationship starts off massively imbalanced, in favor of Titus. He controls the information Iolanthe gets and manipulates things so that she has no options but to stick with him. The fact that Iolanthe falls in love with him despite that didn’t sit well with me. In addition, we’re also supposed to be okay with Titus falling in love with her while treating her horribly and controlling her life. That does not speak well of him at all. Power differentials are tricky to portray in romantic relationships, and the execution here didn’t work for me. I was actively repulsed by their dynamic.

Given how many people are fans of your work, I suspect this is a case of me simply not connecting to your writing. I have no objections to the use of tropes in a story, even a lot of them, but at this point, I prefer more subversion when they’re used. When they’re played straight, I’m afraid it doesn’t work for me and that’s just too big a hurdle for me to climb. C-

My regards,
Jia

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