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REVIEW:  Flirting with the Camera by Ros Clarke

REVIEW: Flirting with the Camera by Ros Clarke

Dear Ms Clarke:

Karen of “Karen Knows Best” piqued my interest in this novella by saying the plus-size heroine has a great body image and is “an absolute breath of fresh air.” Then Jackie of “Romance Novels for Feminists” posted about the heroine’s rare backstory (she’s not only had an abortion but wasn’t utterly devastated by it) and I was even more intrigued. I already knew from reading Twelve Days that a Clarke story may take an unexpected direction, and I love romance which breaks with the standard cliches. I found it here… mostly.

flirtingFashion photographer Tom Metcalfe is looking for the right model to help him break into artistic photography, but the usual models he sees are all so young and uninspiring. (This section bugged me a bit, when Tom thinks about “stick-thin limbs” and “the dullest coat-hanger of a model”; I dislike it when people build up fat women at the expense of thin women. But the book doesn’t do much of that overall.)

Then Hattie Bell walks in, a charismatic, confident woman with a unquenchable dream of being in front of the camera, even though she’s too big even by plus-sized modeling standards:

“When the fashion people say plus-size, they mean average in the real world. I’m too fat.”

Tom didn’t bother to contradict her. None of the plus-sized models he’s worked with had breasts like Hattie’s. They didn’t have double chins, either, or fat which spilled over the top of their skirts. On the other hand, none of them had ever fizzed with energy the way Hattie did. And none of them had ever made him want to break through the invisible barrier of the camera lens to touch them.

Tom is not only attracted to Hattie, but senses a vulnerability behind her sassy exterior which speaks to his artistic side:

Bold, cheerful, confident Hattie with eyes that told a very different story. He would dress her in strong, powerful clothes, and then capture the chink in her armour.

Hattie’s equally attracted to Tom, and she has no hesitation at all in going after what she wants, but a sad history with a former lover makes Tom resistant to becoming involved with another model. This aspect of their relationship is pretty funny: Hattie is so flabbergasted and irritated by Tom pulling away from her, despite their chemistry. It’s a bit of a gender-bending scenario; I half expected her to complain of blue balls.

I enjoyed Hattie; her attitude is very refreshing but she’s also real — a fat woman in a fat-phobic society. No matter how great her self-esteem, some people (like her mom) will still give her a hard time.  (I loved it that she never even considers trying to lose weight — perhaps she has in the past, but that’s all well behind her.)  Her dream won’t be easy to achieve, yet you can also see why it’s closer than you might think, because her strong personality is an incredible asset — and the eventual resolution of her ambitions is a perfect blend of triumphant and plausible.

I have a particular love for reading about creative people, so I also really enjoyed Tom’s artistic journey, with descriptions of what he was trying to achieve and what he found in his photographs. This aspect of the story also highlights Hattie’s unique beauty.

The last quarter of the book was much less satisfying. The plot takes a standard romance turn and suddenly Hattie, who had been so wonderfully straight-forward, started being passive-aggressive and playing games. And commitment-phobic Tom goes into an uncomfortable emotional tailspin. I think the intent here was to continue genre-subversion by showing a more realistic, human reaction than we usually get in romance, but the result is that we see both characters at their absolute worst, and I’m not sure the romantic element ever entirely recovered.  This should have been the emotional heart of the story, so its failure for me had a large impact on my feelings about the book.

Overall, I think this falls into what Liz at “Something More” called “the good C+” — “what happens when a writer takes a risk that doesn’t quite work… Books with some real flaws, but also some great stuff.” I’m going to grade it up a bit, because at Dear Author, a B officially means ” It’s good and I would buy it again, given the chance.” I didn’t actually buy this — but I would. B-

Sincerely,

Willaful

 

 

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MANGA REVIEW:  Walkin’ Butterfly volume 2 by Chihiro Tamaki

MANGA REVIEW: Walkin’ Butterfly volume 2 by Chihiro Tamaki

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Story & Art: Chihiro Tamaki
Publisher: Ohzora/JManga
Rating: T+ for Teen Plus
Length: 3/4 volumes

Dear readers,

I recently reviewed the first volume of this josei manga series about Michiko, a young woman who’s self-conscious about her height and decides to become a model to overcome it and break out of her stagnation. Though I found the initial volume to be shorter than expected, I was intrigued by her rough personality and desire to reinvent herself so I picked up the next installment. Now I’m wondering if perhaps my enthusiasm got the best of me.

After the events of volume 1, Michiko has joined a small modeling agency — small in the sense that she is the only client — operated by an alcoholic, former runway model. She has a lot to learn. Modeling is more than just standing there and looking pretty, something she should have guessed considering the public humiliation that led her on this path in the first place. She has to learn how to walk in heels — a tricky skill that many people overlook. A runway walk is nothing like walking down the street. She also has to learn how to pose to show off clothes to maximum effect. In short, she has to learn how to be the type of model designers and runway directors will want to hire.

Unfortunately, Michiko is impatient and stubborn. While she realizes that she needs these skills, she can’t get over her desire to get revenge on Mihara, the designer who embarrassed her. So even though it takes time to become the type of high caliber model to do so, she wants to rush things and get things done now. Hardly a recipe for success.

This was a frustrating volume to read. Ironically, the traits that make me like Michiko as a character — her rough and brusque personality — are also what made me dislike this current point in the narrative. Michiko goes to auditions and go-sees and even occasionally gets a job (like modeling clothes for a print catalog) but she doesn’t approach these for the learning experiences they are. Instead she considers them wastes of time and obstacles to her ultimate goal.

While completely in-character for her, it makes Michiko unlikeable. In volume 1, she hates her body and is uncomfortable in her own skin. But modeling is all about being comfortable in your skin and knowing how to display that body — and anything on it — to its best. How does she expect to reach her goal of being a supermodel if she doesn’t stop to reconcile those two things? She doesn’t practice walking. She doesn’t bother to learn how to pose her body. She’s run into other models at auditions and clearly seen the difference between their abilities and hers, so it’s tough to see her not make the connection.

Michiko’s mishaps in this volume are briefly interrupted by a look at Mihara, the fashion designer. It offered a little backstory into his character; to no one’s surprise, his family thinks his occupation is ridiculous and hopes he’ll come back to the family medical practice. He’s also given the chance to become part of a larger fashion house, but at the expense of his own vision. It’s interesting to see the mirror of his refusing to compromise and going after what he wanted with Michiko’s desire to reach a goal. I think this is mostly why I wish Michiko had better self-awareness about her situation.

Even though I enjoyed the first volume of this series, I found volume 2 to be less enjoyable. Not quite enough to be put off the series — something happens at the end that I hope spurs Michiko on — but I’m no longer so charmed by it. While I love rough and difficult characters, I dislike it when they’re also obstinate and unwilling to put in the work they need to, especially when it comes to achieving highly competitive goals. C-

My regards,
Jia

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