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REVIEW: Dark of Night by Suzanne Brockmann

REVIEW: Dark of Night by Suzanne Brockmann

Disclaimer:   So as to avoid the appearance of impropriety, Dr. S is “a  complete, utter, and unabashed FanGrrl” and has “a professional relationship” with Brockmann. Dr. S does not enjoy any monetary gain from the sales of the books.   We encourage you to seek out other reviews (or read a few chapters in the bookstore) should this review leave you with some questions about whether this book would work for you.

  

Dear Ms. Brockmann:

034550155101lzzzzzzzDespite your best efforts, the only way one would not know spoilers for this book is if one (a). didn’t care, or (b). lived in a dark, dank, cold, internet-less cave in the middle of a spooky forest surrounded an impenetrable   and very smelly swamp.   So while I’m going to try to review this wonderful book without too many spoilers, I’ll be employing the spoiler font with a very liberal hand.

You are famous (infamous?) for your innovative story arcs in which future primary couples not only meet in books previous to their own, but they actually start the relationship.   Gone Too Far (Book 6 of your Troubleshooter series) finished the overwhelmingly popular story arc of Sam and Alyssa (that starts in earnest in TS#2).   Flashpoint (TS#7), Tess Bailey and Jimmy Nash’s book, starts the arc of Sophia Ghaffari, Lawrence Decker, and Dave Malkoff.   Well, actually, it looked like it started the story arc of Sophia and Decker, while Dave was just a secondary character.   Dark of Night is TS#14, so this has been a long damn arc and Dark of Night provides quite the culmination.

The story so far: in Flashpoint, Sophia is the forced bride of a brutal warlord in Kazbhekistan, the fictional country that combines the worst of the post-war chaos of Iraq and the repressions of Taliban-led Afghanistan. She resourcefully escapes during the earthquake that the TS squad (Tess, Nash, Dave, Decker, and a few others) use as an excuse to enter the country, under the guise of humanitarian aide workers. Sophia, hunted and desperate, basically forces a blowjob on Decker, using it as a tool to try to distract him, at the culmination of which she tries to shoot him. Decker finally realizes Sophia is one of the good guys and manages to get her out of the country and set her up in an apartment and gets her a job with TS Inc., but he never forgives himself for not saying no forcefully enough and for, in his mind, adding to the overwhelming abuse she had already suffered. She hero-worships Deck over the next…five? years and bemoans her crush to her best buddy, Dave, who is completely and utterly in love forever and ever with her. It’s the kind of crush that everyone in TS Inc. knows about, and, in fact, they both almost lose their jobs when Decker refuses to be in the same city with Sophia.

The controversy, of course, lies in that despite the fact that both Sophia and Decker get their HEAs in this book, they don’t get them with each other.   Sophia, in fact, ends up with Dave. And Decker, well, Decker, super-SEAL that he is, Decker ends up with the ditzy secretary.   And this controversy is OMG!HUGE.   The online wank, it runneth over. Readers, we have been Betrayed! You, Ms. Brockmann, are performing character-ectomies! You’ve led us on for six, no, seven, no, wait! eight books! You’ve lied to us! Deliberately misled us! How dare you, you evil evil woman?!   Don’t you know we’ve got expectations, dammit!

I think this outrage gets at a core issue in the romance community, an issue similar to the condom-conundrum. Do we read romance for “reality” or for “fantasy”? Do we mind if our “fantasies” are interrupted with safe-sex? Do we mind if the romantic reliance on One Twu Wuv is derailed because, you know, sometimes someone will crush on the wrong person? Or does one fraught sexual encounter and some subsequent emotionally-charged, one-sided pining mean that these two people are destined for each other, no matter what?

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the outrage, even if I’m far from participating. I get how (intentionally?) misleading clues, both internal to the series and external in the meta-discussion (pairing Sophia and Decker in reader polls and your Extras Booklets), can lead to readers feeling betrayed. But, as a complete, utter, and unabashed FanGrrl (although, I like to think, not in the creepy or crazy-ass sense), and, full disclosure here, as someone with a professional relationship with you, I was willing to trust you to convince me that Sophia and Decker were better off without each other.

And, getting back to the review, you managed that 110%. As the author who made me like Mary Lou, Sam’s racist ex-wife, and made me believe in her love for and HEA with a non-white Muslim immigrant (Into the Night, TS#5), I trusted that you’d convince me that Sophia and Dave loved each other with a full, passionate, consuming love, and that Decker and Tracy, TS Inc.’s apparently ditzy secretary, could build a full, passionate, equal relationship.   And you did.   Boy howdy, did you.

You make us believe by not denying the very things that are causing the reader controversy in the first place.   Yes, Sophia absolutely goes into her relationship with Dave thinking that he is her second choice, behind Decker, and you don’t hide that. So readers who say “But how can we ever believe that Dave isn’t just a second choice?” are shown precisely how, because he IS initially Sophia’s second choice. Dave knows that Sophia thinks this and he’s (mostly) content with this. He’s just happy to be with her, even if he also KNOWS that he’s her second choice. You don’t hide that and you therefore manage to convince us when Sophia realizes that Dave is, and always will be, her first and only choice. Decker can’t see himself with Tracy anymore than any of us can, and you don’t hide that. So when we see him bemusedly fall for her, and her with him, we can believe it fully.   You don’t flinch, you don’t falter–in fact, you REVEL in the relationship expectations you’ve nurtured for seven books. And then you show us, without a shadow of a doubt, that Sophia and Dave, and Decker and Tracy, belong together, that there’s no way that they could be happily, passionately, fully in love with anyone else.   And therein lies your genius and why I keep coming back to your books, even when disappointed with some of them.

Another reader concern: this book is absolutely a romance. While some of your previous books in the Troubleshooter series seemed to be edging away from full-on romance into military suspense with some vaguely romantic themes, this one is 100% romance extraordinaire. There’s a suspense plot that’s seamlessly woven into the romance in that the characters would not be able to come to the emotional realizations they do in order to be able to grow and mature and deserve their happy ending without the suspense plot, but the romances drive the book and keep you reading. Or at least, they kept me reading.

As a super-extra bonus for your readers: multiple Happy Endings.   Generally, because your character arcs span four, five, seven books, this means that, although the main couple get their HEA, the secondary couple(s) are usually torn apart (Sam’s marriage to Mary Lou, for example), punished for not having their shit together enough to deserve their happy ending. No double or triple weddings at the end of your books, a la Susan Elizabeth Phillips, or, say, Shakespeare’s comedies. Your readers get one happy ending and one doom and gloom ending and you’ve said explicitly that you do this on purpose, not only to make the happy ending that much more precious and rare, but also precisely to elicit emotion from your readers. So to have two (or even, depending on how one counts, three! because Tess and Nash are finally fully happy) full-on happy endings is almost unheard of from you (well, except for Ric and Annie AND Jules and Robin in Force of Nature TS#11)   and so satisfying.

One last point, because this is my self-proclaimed area of DA expertise. Thank you for showing a safe and Oh so sexy D/s relationship. Thank you for showing a strong alpha male as a submissive. Thank you for showing that BDSM is an integral part of a person’s sexual identity and that acknowledging it, learning not to be ashamed of it, and exercising it will make a person healthier, happier, and, paradoxically, more normal.

I wish I had some niggles with this book, so that I could prove that I’m not a total, unthinking fangrrl.   I guess, if I were thinking hard, my niggles would all have to do with the bad guys: their apparent omniscience seemed a little over the top. And the figuring out of the WHY of the suspense plot — that is, who exactly is hunting the good guys and why — is a little bit of an info-dump, even if done in dialogue. But I like the reason. Its very mundane-ness makes a larger point than if it were a huge Plot of Terror. And why the final villain didn’t just cut his losses and run, I’ll never know. For what it’s worth, there are books of yours, especially TS Inc. books, that I would grade with a B or even lower, books that seem to be filler that gets us to the point of being able to complete the other, more important, story arcs.   But this one isn’t like that, of course, because it IS the end of a story arc. But I also think it does a MUCH better job than the other story arc endings: Gone Too Far (TS#6: Sam and Alyssa’s book) or Breaking Point (TS#9: Max and Gina’s book). Maybe that’s because Decker’s romance both starts and is rewarded solely in this book? I’m not sure. I just know that this book ranks, for me, with The Unsung Hero (TS#1) and Heart Throb (non-TS stand alone) as your most perfectly plotted, most brilliantly written books.

I have always admired (WARNING: long PDF biography of Brockmann) the innovation you bring to the romance genre. Its authors like you who keep romance alive and interesting.   I think the sheer volume and vitriol of reader outrage whenever you do something new is a testament to how well you manage to do this.

Grade: A-

Sincerely,

-Joan/Sarah F.

This book can be purchased in hardcover from Amazon or ebook format from the Sony Store and other etailers.

Dear Author

Does an Author Have to Live It to Write It?

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This is the third in a three part series of what part the author plays in the marketing of a book. In the beginning of Crystal Hubbard’s book, Mr. Fix It, Hubbard’s heroine suffers a crisis of confidence. She is a romance writer but has stopped believing in love, let alone romance. Because of this, she doesn’t know that she can be a writer of romance books anymore. She feels that she is a fraud, writing about love and togetherness and happy ever after when she doesn’t believe in those concepts anymore.

The question is a great one. Does an author have to be in love to write romance? Extrapolating this a little further, does an author who writes from a male point of view be a man to have an authentic voice; does an author have to be gay to write the m/m books for the stories to be authentically homosexual; does an author have to be married, wildly in love and a parent in order to write romance; does an author have to experience the out of the mainstream lifestyle in order to be able to write about those out of the mainstream activities (I.e., BDSM, threesomes, etc.)   How much of a writer’s real life have to mirror the story in order for the reader to buy it?

First, my own biases. I rarely read books written by men, regardless of genre designation. I’d rather read a female author’s voice whether it is mother/daughter writing team, PJ Tracy, Julia Spencer-Fleming, and JD Robb in the police procedure sub genre or YA or it’s romance. I’ve read men before: Jeffrey Deaver, John Sanford, Thomas Harris, Brett Easton Ellis (I still have nightmares from reading American Psycho), George RR Martin, and a few authors.   But it’s very few.   As an aside, the creepiest books I’ve ever read were by men writing about characters doing horrible things about women.   I stopped reading Deaver after A Maiden’s Grave and the milk/snake/deaf girl scene!   

More importantly, though, I have a bias in that I don’t believe that a man can know, intimately, the female path to self actualization and thus articulate it in an authentic manner even in fiction. I think I can acknowledge from an objective viewpoint that it doesn’t really matter who the writer is as long as the writer is good, but I believe that is why I reject the male author. I believe that they can’t speak to me in a way that another woman can.   I suppose that is how men feel about female authors.   According to John Howell of Waterstone, “Subconsciously, I think men stick to male writers. They think that what women write doesn’t appeal to them.”

This particular study suggests  (word doc) that male readers are more likely to dismiss an author based on gender than women.   (read the quotes, it’s an article in and of itself).   “While 40% of women surveyed said they would read books they believed appealed mainly to men, only 25% of men said they would consider a book they felt was for women.”   In the romance genre, I’m guessing the percentage of women that would pass over an author based on gender would increase otherwise there wouldn’t be a need for the female pen name for male romance authors. Conversely, there are female authors such as Devon Monk and Rob Thurman  or PJ Tracy and JD Robb whose gender seems to be disguised by their pen names to attract a broader male readership.   

There was the discussion on the review by Jayne of Dangerous Ground by Josh Lanyon  as to whether Laanyon was a gay male or whether she was a female author who has created a gay male persona to help sell books. Teddy Pig noted that  

  

I think most people know I am a very nitpicky hardass reviewer who not only reads but likes Gay Romance which is written mostly by women but I also have some experience in the area of Gay Sex and being Gay and I must admit I am far harder in my reading of Gay male writers because I for one expect a Gay writer to have the total experience of being Gay and I guess I expect he probably should be able to riff on all that in unique but realistic ways even in a fictional story.

  

I for one would never say women cannot not write Gay men or even Gay sex well. They probably have to make more of an effort in framing the story and characters to get that authenticity and maybe they should get a little more respect for that when they do it well.

I think what TP said “I expect he should be able to riff on all that in unique but realistic ways” points out what I think is the difference in the authenticity of a story.   Maybe it’s that a female writer writing about love and relationships from a female point of view can be less perfect, less articulate and still evoke a positive response. Maybe it is easier to write at a deeper level if the author has actually experienced what she is writing about and that translates into a reader (like me) thinking hey, this author person really knows what she is talking about even before the book is cracked open.

However, even as I say that I think of Kathleen Gilles Seidel, an author who has made me believe that she must have been an Olympic figure skater (Summer’s End), a soap writer (Again), a famous rock and roll band groupie (Till the Stars Fall), a well connected player in the film industry (More Than You Dreamed), and a former beauty queen (Don’t Forget to Smile) even though her biography states that she has a Ph.D. in literature.   Part of Seidel’s gift is in her details. In Don’t Forget to Smile, the female protagonist thinks to herself how a young beauty queen in the making has to learn to do makeup for black and white stills and how beauty queens are rarely blonde.   In Till the Stars Fall, Seidel includes excerpts from a biography of a rock and roll groupie that sound so authentic that you might as well be reading Rolling Stone.   Summer’s End  has the hero noting that the heroine’s training as a figure skater made her more athletic with better endurance, despite her small stature, than any other adult in the group.   In reflecting on Seidel’s work, I can acknowledge that an author’s background has very little to do with her ability to make a story authentic, yet I am beset with certain prejudices.

The author bio and the author picture all feed into certain bias held by readers.   They are designed to make the book more attractive and appeal to a reader’s desire for purchase.   The author bio might sell to readers that the author is fully in love with her own white knight (you read alot of this in the dedications) and thus her true love story is really from the heart or that she or he has some degree on the subject matter in which she is writing to lend instant authority to the topic (even if there is a better written book by a less credentialed author).   The ironic thing is that the more that an author’s life parallels her book, the less likely I am interested in reading it.   Memoirs make me uncomfortable, I guess.   (Although I love the “Based on a True Story” Disney movies – clearly I am a mass of contradictions).   Generally, when an author’s biography closely tracks that of the storyline, particularly in terms of looks, I’m thinking that the author is inserting herself into the book and I’m reading some strange fantasy.   I guess that is a bit how Robert Pattison feels about Stephenie Meyer’s books.

It’s hard to shake off those biases.   It may be that these bias are inescapable. Over time, they become ingrained beliefs rather than loosely held opinions.    The question might be how much those learned beliefs turn into expectations that effect the reading of the story.   Obviously, my own feelings are conflicted.   I want to not be biased and recognize that I should not be biased but somehow I can’t shake loose of at least the author gender bias (although it doesn’t apply for me in regards to m/m fiction).   

Does it really matter, though?   Should we, as readers, look at the book and solely the book without regard for the author in anyway?   Isn’t that the true reading experience?   To what extent does the author and the author’s experience affect your view of the book?   Does it matter when you find out about an author’s background (either before reading or after reading the book)? What affects you, if anything, the most?   I.e, gender of author, background of author, author looks, author bio?   I’m interested in seeing whether we, as a readership, believe like Crystal Hubbard’s heroine did and that is the author must live it to write it.