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REVIEW: Because of the List by Amy Knupp

REVIEW: Because of the List by Amy Knupp

Dear Ms. Knupp:

In looking in my past reviews, I don’t see that I’ve read you before but I believe I have and just not reviewed the book(s) that I’ve read.  Because of the List starts out with a old but favorite premise.  Hero is best friends with heroine’s older brother.  The twist in this book is that the hero, Alex, is beset with guilt for having piloted the BlackHawk helicopter in which the older brother Quinn was riding when the helo was shot down.  Quinn died in that crash.  Alex returns home to recuperate and return to service because while it was only a job for Alex, the military and the war was a calling for Quinn.   Returning to service is a way for Alex to honor Quinn’s death.

Because of the List Amy knuppTaylor’s only family was Quinn and she was so socially awkward, she had zero friends. No female friends, no male friends.  Her only companionship was the presence of two household cats.  There was a real opportunity to explore grief and loneliness in this book but instead the focus was on the heroine’s lack of confidence and the story rolled out in a multitude of clichéd scenes with clichéd characters and unclear emotional transitions.

Taylor was a list maker. It’s something that Alex ribbed her about and is, obviously, referenced in the title.  She makes lists about everything including the kind of man she wants to marry.  Yet, it wasn’t until midway through the book that Taylor’s internal monologues included list making.  This is a small point but it exemplifies the shallowness of the characterizations in this book. The list making is a hook and instead of being integrated into Taylor’s character (as it should be) it’s used as a gimmick to provide laughs and point of conflict.  Both Taylor and Alex’s characterizations are inconsistent with certain attributes being tacked on to provide conflict at certain points.

For instance, Taylor is so fearful of dating that she is nearly hyperventilating at one point yet she is sexually aggressive at with Alex the first time they had sex, initiating it with a proposition.  I actually had a hard time buying that Taylor wasn’t a virgin given she had zero friends and she’s even portrayed as having nerve wracking anxiety by a non sexual overture from a female who wants to be her friend (that female is Alex’s sister). Her social awkwardness was played up at certain points in the book that I felt like she verged on having a true psychological disorder, but of course, social awkwardness like the list making was only there superficially to provide conflict in the moment.

The tearing down of the geeks in this book was ridiculous.  Taylor was a self declared computer nerd yet it seemed at every opportunity, she was internally mocking the geeks she went out with.  The first date she had was with someone she met on the internet who had “hidden his weirdness” which included being addicted to a computer game, so addicted that he left their date to rush off to save his guild.  Later, another nerd she dated actually wasn’t over his ex and had asked Taylor out only to make the ex jealous.  Taylor chalks this up to more geek bad behavior yet she wasn’t an innocent schoolgirl herself. She had very little heat with Joel and she was thinking of Alex the entire time they were together, comparing Joel unfavorably to Alex.   In many ways, she was using him as well yet sees nothing wrong with activities.  Her actions aren’t absolved simply because he’s a dick because she doesn’t know he’s a dick until later.   Post hoc activities showing Subject A to
be a douche does not wipe away a priori acts of douchebaggery on Subject B’s part.

Another nerd she dates gives her some qualms because he has a hard time getting dates. “As he’d humbly admitted, his dating life had been almost nonexistent of late, Taylor had smiled and nodded. She ignored the fleeting voice in her head—the one that sounded a lot like Alex— cautioning her to beware of a man who willingly admitted to having trouble getting a date.”

Alex describes one of the “nerds” as follows:

inches shorter than Alex and as scrawny as a teenager. His hair thinning—he’d be half-bald in two years, max. In his favor, he didn’t have a pocket protector or tape on his glasses. His wardrobe was nondescript but neat…wasn’t that another criterion on the holy list.

There was an uncomfortable focus on physical manliness in this book, particularly when juxtaposed with Alex’s mocking thoughts of how deficient the geeks were in his eyes.

“Joel Cavelli wasn’t drop-dead gorgeous or dripping with raw masculinity the way Alex was. He didn’t turn her into a tongue-twisted idiot just by looking at her. “

and

When she’d taken two steps into her room, her heart nearly jumped out of her chest. Alex lay diagonally across her double bed, sound asleep. That was the raw masculinity she was talking about. Lord above.

and

Brian rested his warm hand on her arm, which helped marginally. As they listened to the relaxing music, she studied his hand. It was white- collar all the way, nails neatly manicured, wisps of light hair on each thin finger. Gentle strength. Reassuring in a way. Unlike, say, Alex’s hands, which were rough and calloused. Brimming with raw masculinity that could make her squirm.

The constant references to how hot Alex looked particularly juxtaposed with how smart and nice the “geek” typified the shallowness of the characters. Just because Alex had a hard body didn’t make him a hero or a heroic lead. It merely made him a man with a good body and that is hardly sufficient in creating a fully dimensional character.

In fact, the only thing that Taylor seemed to really love about Alex was his body.

For Alex, he seemed to like that Taylor was pure and innocent. Or strangely he could smell this on her.

“As he breathed, he caught her scent. Apples and sugar. Sweet, pure.” and “Damn her sweet scent of apples and innocence.”

So pure and innocent smells like a baked apple pie?

But the gaming geek was just another clichéd character like the waitress that comes on to Alex while he is drinking and eating with Taylor. (So many inept waitresses in romance books!) Taylor doesn’t need condoms. She’s on the Pill for medical reasons. I’m not sure if this even needs to be an excuse any more. Is there
any other reason for a romance heroine to be on the Pill?

I actually would have enjoyed seeing Taylor hook up with one of the Five Brainiest Bachelors of Madison (a newspaper article provides this fodder) rather than mopey Army helicopter pilot who was one dimensional and who, while bartending at his sister’s MBA graduation party, rates the chicks around him. Probably just something those guys with “raw masculinity” do all the time:

He managed to continue to interact—albeit in a half-assed way—with his apparent fan club while making a game of privately rating the women who came up to the bar on a scale of one to ten. He probably
would’ve given Page and Kylie a seven and a six and a half when they’d first approached, but they’d each had a point deducted for wearing out their welcome.

It wasn’t so much that Alex rated these women but the way in which he gave points and deducted them (points deducted for flirting and looking sexy!) But still, Alex’s predilection for rating chicks shows how highly he values other women. Fortunately he is attracted to the brainy types now and so I’ll assume Taylor is his ten, even though it is unstated.

In the whole story, though, Alex and Taylor’s love for each other is never defined. Why does Alex love Taylor? We know that Taylor loves Alex for his raw masculinity and hard body but Alex’s attraction to Taylor is unexplained. We readers are left to fill in those gaps. What we do know (and what is stated repeatedly) is that she’s not good enough for him and that he cannot love, standard issue military bad boy think.

There were other areas of the book that contained throwaway lines which, if you thought about them, led not to the conclusion that was intended. For instance, Taylor comes upon Alex sleeping in her bed after he’s been fixing things around her house. They haven’t slept together yet and she has no idea that he is attracted to her but her thought was that if she were a different type of woman, she would throw off her clothes and climb in bed with him. What kind of woman is that? The type that gets rated down by Alex for “wearing out” her welcome? The type that accosts men while sleeping? I’m sure it is supposed to mean that if Taylor was a sexually adventurous woman that she would climb into bed with random sleeping men but I don’t think that a sexually confident women actually needs to accost sleeping men. Sexually confident women approach men who are awake and capable of consent.

Another consistent problem was that the emotional transitions were absent.  We would flip from one point of view to another but we wouldn’t get the transition.  For instance, Alex was resisting having sex.  Then he agreed to a one night stand but that was going to be it.  No more.  Then next sex scene is Taylor climbing on top of Alex and Alex showing no resistance.  There was no transition between Alex internally deciding that he wasn’t going to have sex with Taylor ever again and Alex and Taylor’s subsequent encounter. I expected some voiced resistance given his previous adamant stance.

This story was shallow, reaching for the clichéd, low hanging fruit for emotional angst. There are appealing elements but those were overshadowed by, well, everything described above. C-

Best regards,

Jane

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REVIEW: An Unlikely Countess by Jo Beverley

REVIEW: An Unlikely Countess by Jo Beverley

Dear Mrs. Beverley,

When I hear the name “Malloren,” I go to point like a champion gun dog. I’m there, poised and ready to read. But, after my disappointment that your last book didn’t work better for me, I opened this one mentally chanting, “please, please, please.” My prayers paid off as I enjoyed this book with it’s realistic view of the challenges 18th century women endured.

An Unlikely Countess by Jo BeverleyPrudence Youlgrave (love the name, BTW) allowed her anger to get her into a situation one dark night in Northallerton, Yorkshire. But luckily a knight errant charged, albeit drunkenly, to her rescue. In the aftermath of being escorted home as quietly as Prudence could make him act – the neighbors will talk you know – Catesby Burgoyne, second son and disappointment of the Burgoyne family, learns about why Prudence is living in near poverty.

After losing their home, she and her mother scrimped to allow her brother to train as a solicitor. Her mother recently died and now Prudence is waiting for said brother to come for her as he’s soon to be married to a prosperous merchant’s daughter. But he hasn’t come, hasn’t written, hasn’t made any move to rescue his sister. Catesby and Prudence part with fervent well wishes for her on his part but as a near penniless man he’s in no condition to offer more.

Tired of waiting, Prudence decides to take charge and head to her brother’s new house when she discovers he’s not even invited her to the wedding. She and her new sister-in-law take each other’s measure and come to an agreement that Prudence will be presented to Darlington society to find a husband. Prudence’s desires are modest – a home of her own, a man she can respect and children – but when only one man offers for her, she takes a deep breath, tries to ignore her inner longing for a man like the dashing Catesby and agrees to wed the older widower.

Meanwhile, Catesby’s fortunes have changed dramatically since the death of his older brother the Earl of Malzard. Though he’s never wanted the Earldom and its attendant duties, he is fiercely glad to be home again despite the fact that he knows his mother and widowed sister-in-law are just waiting for him to screw up. Escaping from the pressures for a day, he travels to Darlington where he discovers that Prudence is to be married that morning. But as he watches the wedding unfold, he knows it’s a disaster in the making. That inner voice which served him well as an Army officer pipes up and he objects right on cue when the vicar asks, “Does anyone know of any reasons….?”

But now the fat is in the fire and Catesby and Prudence must wed to maintain the fiction Catesby wove to support his actions and to keep her reputation from being ruined. After Catesby brings his most unsuitable Countess home, they have to learn about each other, face his scandalized family and dodge the attentions of a thwarted man bent on revenge.

Despite the fact that I love the fashions of the mid 18th century, I know I wouldn’t have wanted to be born then. Compared to the opportunities and freedoms I have, the position of women then could be ghastly. Under the control of men for almost their entire lives, their happiness depended on whether or not those men were saints or sinners. Denied the chances available to men, they were forced to make their way as best they could arrange it. The story upon which you based part of this book is heartbreaking. Thank goodness Prudence gets a fate better than that at your pen.

I like both Prudence and Catesby. They are strong characters in a world which expected little from them and thought less. Prudence, as a woman, is supposed to be meek and allow her brother to run her life but instead she supports herself and tries to make her own pathway to a life she wants. Catesby, the ‘nail that sticks up’ in the Army, inherits a position he never wanted but is doing his best to see to those who depend on him. And not throw over the traces too much. As these two discover more about each other, they find a fellow comrade-in-arms and support.

But they’re also not perfect. Prudence really isn’t initially suited to step into the shoes of a Countess and flounders a bit before finding her feet. I like the way you impart information about what the position entails, the day to day running of the house, the servant heirarchy and the fact that simply marrying a peer was only the beginning of Prudence’s duties which were as demanding of her as Catesby’s were of him.

Catesby has never been trained to be an Earl and though he’s got the aristocratic bearing, he’s still learning about field drainage, crop rotation plus a 1001 other things. He does take advantage of his perks though when the occasion calls for it. I like that he’s honest with Prudence about certain situations her actions cause even as he shows his decency towards the people involved.

The romance proceeds slowly despite the short time span of the book. I didn’t feel it was rushed and it makes sense given the fact that though these two feel a deep immediate connection, they still really don’t know each other well and have another issued hanging over their heads given what Prudence’s first fiance alledges. There’s a delightful lack of stupid mental lusting though you make it clear that they each find the other very attractive and are looking forward to consumating their marriage. And when the “I love yous” are said, they are timely and believable.

As for the villains of the piece, the bloodthirsty wench in me agreed with Prudence and Diana, Countess of Aradale, that I wanted to see that man go down. The revenge Catesby engineers might not have done the man in but, as he says, losing power and wealth were far worse for that person than death. The other malcontents of the story might not ever change their baseline opinions of Prudence and Catesby but their guns are spiked and perhaps one of them might eventually come around.

I closed the book with a happy smile on my face and a feeling that all’s right in the Malloren World. Prudence might still need a bit of time to settle into her new life and Cate probably still needs to brush up on his agricultural knowledge but with the two of them standing side by side, they’ll do just fine. B+

~Jayne

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