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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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REVIEW:  When Summer Comes by Brenda Novak

REVIEW: When Summer Comes by Brenda Novak

Dear Ms. Novak:

I read the first in the Whiskey Creek series. It introduced us to a small town in California and a group of friends who have been connected since high school. They are close friends, up in your business, friends. They have conference calls and phone trees and none of your personal stuff ever stays private with these folks. It’s amazing and intrusive but actually comes off caring and welcoming in a strange way.

When Summer Comes (Whiskey Creek #3) by Brenda NovakIn “When Summer Comes”, Callie Vanetta has withdrawn from the group of friends, taken a sabbatical of sorts from her wedding and family photography business, and moved onto her grandparent’s farm. She’s done all these things because Callie has a form of non alcohol related liver disease and without a liver transplant, this summer will be her last. Caliie puts off telling her family and her friends because she does not want to feel their sorrow or their pity. She wanted to enjoy the last days of her life without the burdens of trying to be brave or assuring others that she will fight for her survival.

One night Levi McCloud appears on her doorstep, bloodied after an attack with a couple of pit bulls and in need of place to stay. Since Levi returned from Afghanistan, he’s been roaming from town to town on his motorcycle picking up odd jobs in exchange for housing and then moving on. When Callie sees him she thinks that she can’t save herself but maybe she can save him. She opens her home to Levi and eventually her heart.

The writing is overly simplisitic at times and there were too many medical terms explained to us in an inelegant fashion, much like an info dump in a fantasy book:

A week! Maybe she’d be gone before Levi…

She swallowed. “How bad is it?”

“It’s affected your MELD score by a fairly signifi­cant margin.”

The Model for End­stage Liver Disease or MELD score was how the United Network for Organ Sharing determined where she belonged on the national donor list. A computer­generated number between six and forty, based on blood tests, indicated how likely she was to die in the next ninety days without a transplant. The higher the number, the more serious her condition.

And really, because this was a romance Callie’s cure is a foregone conclusion. But Callie and Levi’s romance is rather sweet. Levi fell in love with a woman in Afghanistan but their love was forbidden and his mere attention to the woman placed her in danger. He still has strong feelings toward her years after he left her behind and he struggles with his attraction toward Callie. Levi doesn’t have a secret stash of wealth and he’s not going to sweep Callie off her feet but he’s strong and capable and decent.

Callie’s actions toward Levi are completely understandable in her circumstances and how she is depicted in the story. She wants to reach out to Levi and she lives, in some sense, without the barriers that may be in place in a normal situation. She’s honest about her attraction to Levi. She delights in buying him a few things like jeans or a shirt. Making someone else happy makes her happy.

Her close friends and their relationship troubles are a bit intrusive and I found them mostly irritating because they felt like they were they to set up future books than to provide insight into the burgeoning relationship between Levi and Callie.

Callie’s profession as a photographer is given almost no attention other than to make references to a few pictures in her house. Her point of view doesn’t reflect how she views things differently than someone else who doesn’t make a living capturing images. Levi’s past as a vet and a former MMA fighter are a little more integral to the storyline.

This is a slow moving romance and focuses almost more on Callie’s fight with her disease but the sweetness of the story drew me in. These Whiskey Creek novels are pleasant diversions. They aren’t breaking down barriers, but an escape from the non billionaire alpha hero was a relief. C+

Best regards,

Jane

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