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REVIEW:  His Forever Girl by Liz Talley

REVIEW: His Forever Girl by Liz Talley

his forever girl

Dear Ms. Talley,

I had been meaning to try one of your books for a while, so when this one came up in the author promo thread, I decided to take the opportunity. I’m going to use your comment from the thread, since that is what got my attention in the first place: “It’s Mardi Gras, and this story revolves around rival Mardi Gras companies. It’s girl meets boy, girl falls for boy, boy steals her job…and that’s where the fun starts. All set in fabulous New Orleans!”

This is a bit misleading, however. For one thing, His Forever Girl is more serious than your description suggests (it’s also not set during Mardi Gras). In addition, Graham doesn’t set out to steal Tess’s job, and it’s not really her job, either: the book begins with the two of them hooking up while Graham is in town for a job interview, then shifts one month later when the new job turns out to be replacing Tess’s father as the CEO of the family firm, which builds Mardi Gras floats. Neither of them knew that Graham had interviewed at Tess’s company.

Tess is a designer and VP of operations, and expected to be promoted to CEO herself some day. She’s extremely upset that to be blindsided by the announcement of a new CEO and that her father did not consider her for the position. Added to that, Graham never called her after their night together, even after she’d left him a message about how she felt. It is true that she sees it as job-stealing by Graham, but she’s more upset with her father in this regard. Tess decides that she needs to find a new job where she can prove herself and maybe seek a bit of revenge as well, and ends up taking a position with a rival company. And not just any rival company, but one originally founded by Graham and his then-fiancée, Monique. Graham and Monique have a daughter together, but their relationship ended badly and he moved to Houston. He’s now back in New Orleans to start over and play a greater role in the life of their seven year old daughter, Emily.

I’ll be honest: Tess’s reaction to Graham’s hiring struck me as very immature. Her being upset made sense, but believing the worst of all involved, flinging accusations, quitting on the spot and immediately going to work for the competition seemed childish and not in line with the way Tess came across in the prologue. In addition, Monique’s stated reason for hiring Tess is that she wants her to bring in some of the accounts she had at her old job – so basically, Tess is not just working for a competition but is also in a position of really hurting her family’s business. I think I’d have had an easier time with the plot if Tess and Graham were at rival companies to begin with, or if they had both ended up at the same firm, rather than having this sort of conflict. For her to end up working for Graham’s ex-wife seemed over the top and even Tess thinks at one point that she’s in a soap opera.

Some of His Forever Girl is told from the POV of Tess’s father Frank. Early on, he finds out that he has cancer and that his prognosis is poor, but rather than telling his children, or explaining to Tess why he feels that she is not yet ready to take over the company, he keeps secrets from his family and his daughter and is then surprised when things turn out as they do. Graham seemed to me unlucky to be caught in the middle of this, because other than not calling Tess back, he was a pretty decent guy. The characterization of his ex Monique, however, was an issue for me. She’s openly ambitious, which I liked, but is also portrayed as selfish, manipulative, extremely ego-driven and uncaring of others, including her own daughter. I didn’t feel that her character needed to be so villainous for the story to work.

On the positive side, I did keep turning the pages, and I liked the setting and the details about Tess and Graham’s work – both of them are involved in designing and building floats, Graham coming from an engineering background and Tess as an industrial designer. I’m pretty sure this is the first time that I’ve come across this business in any novel, and I thought you did a good job in making it a part of the story and showing why Tess and Graham enjoyed their work. I also liked Graham’s efforts to rebuild his relationship with his daughter, and enjoyed some of Tess’s family. I appreciate that you wrote a happy ending without having everything turn out miraculously well for everyone.

One other thing that I want to point out is that quite a bit of the action takes place offstage. When Tess and Graham first hook up, the sex was pretty much fade to black and I ended up checking that this was indeed a Superromance, because I thought it might be one of the subtle/sweet lines. Once Tess has her job interview, the story jumps forward – we don’t get to see her family’s reaction to it or her first weeks at her new job (or Graham’s, for that matter). I would have liked to see more of the action actually happen and to see more of Tess and Graham actually interacting with each other, preferably in place of some of the longer conversations and internal monologues, or the other POVs. It was clear that Tess and Graham were attracted to each other and enjoyed being together, but there wasn’t enough there for me to believe that they had truly fallen in love.

Ultimately, I did like some aspects of His Forever Girl, but not quite enough to overcome my issues with it. A stronger focus on the relationship and the action would have been nice, as well as more reasonable behavior from some of the protagonists. As it is, my grade is a C.

Best regards,
Rose

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REVIEW:  Orleans by Sherri L. Smith

REVIEW: Orleans by Sherri L. Smith

Dear Ms. Smith,

I greatly enjoyed your YA historical novel, Flygirl, in which a young African American woman passes for white in order to join the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) during World War II. I loved Ida Mae’s story, so when I saw that you had a new book out, a YA dystopian set in a future, hurricane-ravaged New Orleans, I couldn’t wait to read it.

OrleansOrleans opens with a prologue set in September 14, 2004, in the POV of Edmund Broussard, a trumpet player who refuses to evacuate New Orleans for hurricane Ivan. The voice then shifts to an omniscient narrator who tells the reader that that New Orleans’ luck worsened after that.

Katrina is followed by hurricane Isaac in 2014, and then hurricanes Lorenzo (2015), Olga (2016), Laura and Paloma (both 2017). With each storm, the casualty count goes up and the survivor count goes down. In 2019 comes hurricane Jesus, which leaves only an estimated less than 10,000 survivors.

Among the ravages brought on by the hurricane is a new illness called Delta Fever, which leads FEMA and the CDC to issue a Declaration of Quarantine in 2020, sealing off the Gulf Coast region. Five years later comes a Declaration of Separation, in which US citizens “withdraw our governance of the affected states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas.”

Orleans then shifts forward thirty-one years to 2056, and we are introduced to Fen de la Guerre, a sixteen year old girl and a member of the O Positive tribe. Fen narrates her story in first person present tense narration in her tribal dialect.

In Fen’s city, now known simply as Orleans, Delta Fever has divided people by blood type. The disease manifests in such a way that those with the same blood type present no danger to each other, but associating with groups of other blood types can lead to contagion. Here’s an explanation of the dangers of this situation in Fen’s voice:

My tribe be O-Positive, or OP. And our chieftain, Lydia, don’t take kindly to the blood trade. O types don’t be needing transfusions like ABs do. The Fever be in us, but it ain’t eating O blood up from the inside like it do other types. So O types got to be extra careful of hunters and the farms where they be taking they kidnapped victims to drain them alive. O blood be the universal donor. If we give a drop, they be taking it all. Lydia say that ain’t right. Only ones worse off than us be O-Negs.

O positives and O negatives (two different tribes) are less susceptible to Delta Fever than most, and as the story begins, the two tribes have arranged a powwow which Lydia, Fen’s chieftain and surrogate mother, has asked for in an attempt to call a truce that she hopes will lead to cooperation between them.

Lydia is pregnant and due to give birth soon, and Fen worries about what will happen to her. She has acquired some bottled water and formula from a smuggler who sneaks in and out of the Delta as a present for Lydia, but wasn’t able to obtain blood in case Lydia suffers blood loss. Fen herself cannot donate blood to anyone, due to the burn scars along her arms, which, we learn from her thoughts, she gave herself.

On the night of the powwow, the O positives and O negatives are attacked by ABs, and most are slain. Lydia and Fen manage to get away but Lydia dies giving birth to her baby, a little girl. Before her death, Lydia asks Fen to ensure her baby has a better life, and Fen gives her promise.

Fen and the child she calls Baby Girl must go on the run, but they are now tribeless and vulnerable. To hide from the many predators in the Delta, one must be quick, agile, and silent, all things that are difficult to manage with a newborn.

Meanwhile, we are introduced to Daniel, a biological researcher from the Outer States and the book’s other protagonist. Unlike the sections in Fen’s POV, Daniel’s POV sections are narrated in third person past tense. Here’s a sample:

Daniel tried to remember the boy his brother Charlie had been before the Delta Fever set in. The happy kid with a snaggletooth and a love of banana-flavored candy, comic books, and surprisingly, movies about horses. Danny and Charlie. A nine-year age difference, yet somehow they’d still always been a team. Daniel had been off at school when the Fever swept through Charlie’s class.

Daniel’s brother Charlie dies of Delta Fever. His death leaves Daniel determined to find a cure for the illness, but in the process of trying to find that cure, Daniel creates a virus that turns on its host.

The DF virus, as Daniel calls his creation, could easily annihilate the remaining population of the Delta, and Daniel is afraid that’s exactly what the military will use it for if they discover his invention. So Daniel takes his vials of the virus with him and, wearing an encounter suit to protect him from Delta Fever, disguises himself as a leper and sneaks over the wall and into Orleans.

Daniel hopes to locate other scientists in the Delta, scientists who will give him the data he needs to complete his research and arrive at the cure. But once in Orleans, Daniel goes from one frying pan into another, and when he ends up in the fire, he meets Fen who comes to his rescue.

The two join forces, but will their alliance fall apart when Fen learns about the lethal virus Daniel created? Or will it hold long enough for Daniel to realize his goal and for Fen to keep her promise to Lydia?

As I said in my intro, I was really looking forward to Orleans and hoped I would enjoy it as much as I did Flygirl. Unfortunately, I didn’t.

My problems with this book began with the worldbuilding. I found it hard to believe that a quarantine like the one described would be recommended by the CDC in this age of plane flights. And while I could have bought the Declaration of Separation under other circumstances, I couldn’t believe that all it would require was the signature of the President, the Congress, and the former governors of the five states that made up the Delta. The last time some states tried to separate from the rest of the country, we had a civil war over it.

Then there was the way Delta Fever could transmit across blood type but not within it. I didn’t understand how something like that could work. If it’s possible, then there wasn’t much explanation of how in this book.

There were other inconsistencies, too. For example, the AB’s tribe is frequently said to be the strongest, even though AB’s are the most susceptible to Delta Fever of all the blood types. Perhaps this would make sense if AB was a common blood type, but it is the rarest of the four.

Even weaker than the worldbuilding was Daniel’s character. Daniel is described as a brilliant scientist, but he makes one boneheaded mistake after another. When he arrives in the Delta, he brings old, outdated maps but no GPS. He brings no internet connection and no other way of communicating with the outside world. His portable computer, called a datalink, is damaged by the humidity after three days in Orleans.

Daniel anticipates none of this, or anything else either. In fact his role in the story seems to be to make stupid mistakes so that Fen can come to his rescue. He never uses his brain to make one positive contribution. For a man who is said to be a genius, he is never even insightful or quick-thinking, much less clever.

At one point Fen think Daniel is “useless as a baby,” at another “If I be lucky, Daniel broke his neck,” and at a third “He crazy dumb.” All three times I agreed with her, and wondered why I should believe him capable of inventing a virus or care about such a character.

Fen was a far superior protagonist to Daniel (not that that’s saying much), and at times, she was pretty interesting. This was especially the case when the story delved into her unusual childhood. Her flashbacks were poignant and it was compelling to learn who her parents were, why Fen gave herself burn scars, and how she came to be with Lydia and her tribe.

Fen was also competent, managing to protect not only her own life but also those of Daniel and the baby. In fact, had the story been about Fen and one of her friends – Lydia or Kuan Jen, another character we meet along the way, and how they survive in Orleans, I think I could have found the book more absorbing. As it was, with Daniel in the mix, it took me over a month to finish reading it.

There are some evocative descriptions and strong metaphors woven throughout the book, but with weak worldbuilding and continuity errors distracting me and Daniel annoying me, it was hard to fully appreciate them. As I wind up this review, I can think of more things I found problematic, but this review is long enough that I think I’ll close here. My grade for Orleans is a C-.

Sincerely,

Janine

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