Tag Archives: betrayal

In Bed with a Highlander – Maya Banks

In my quest to decipher just what inspires a seven-figure advance to a romance novelist, I tucked into a different series by Maya Banks. In Bed with a Highlander was definitely a better story than the  quasi-military pandering and weird paranormal oddities in the last Banks book I read. This one has a classic story of gruff lord of the keep–laird in this case as we are in Scotland–falling under the spell of the obstinate and spunky young woman who enters his protection unwillingly but eventually romps with great enthusiasm in his bed. Plots of regicide, internal perfidy, threats and violence abound. The characters were as unstable as romance characters usually are–tough and then unaccountably shy and then tough again, no real substance to them. But attractive, volatile, highly-sexed, multi-orgasmic and beset by battles at every turn.

The oddest thing is the way these books are slapped together and marketed, as if the story there is exists only to fill the pages with predictable dangers and sex–and then more danger and more sex, punctuated by startling moments of personal enlightenment in which the main players admit that they love each other. It’s a convention of the genre; it’s fine. But the cover! The cover of In Bed… was truly weird. A battle-scarred Scottish laird, muscled and shaggy, is depicted as a hairless, shirtless bodybuilder from Venice, California wearing a pair of shorts. The heroine, a Scottish bastard with green eyes, Celtic curling hair and clothes of the period is a sinuous Asian vamp with long dark hair and a sort of blue teddy-like thing that has just a little too much fabric in it to be from Victoria’s Secret.  Does this indicate that the publisher believes the intended audience for a Scottish period romance is too stupid to require more than half-naked bodies in a clinch set against a backdrop of green tartan? Tacky.

I’m getting this genre a bit now.  I’ll probably need a few more books to suss out why it is so appealing as a storyline to so many people.  Romance sells like hotcakes–hot romance like hotcakes with real maple syrup. Is it Cinderella for grown-ups, or Sleeping Beauty maybe? I’m puzzled at the flattened-out nature of it but that might just be because I’m not reading more complex, nuanced versions of the basic plot. Murder mysteries are more satisfying, in general, although the badly written ones are as bad as anything unreadable, whatever the genre. So, no more contemporary military types with their bulging jeans and Wal-Mart spectrum of emotions.  I might hunt for historical romantica so there is at least some marginal world-building to examine in between the sighs, moans, poisoned goblets of ale and clashing of bloody swords.

In Bed with a Highlander (McCabe Trilogy)   Maya Banks | Ballantine Books  2011

Treason at Lisson Grove – Anne Perry

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Really, I was so glad to find an Anne Perry crime story on the library shelves I could have wept.  No experimental literary fails. No mind-numbing clog of words to cut through. No plot that assumes I have the intelligence of a dung beetle and not one iota more than its sophistication. (Sincere apologies to dung beetles.) Just a well-made Victorian thriller with Charlotte and Thomas Pitt sharing the honors and the remarkable Vespasia in a brilliant and essential cameo role. Treason at Lisson Grove was a delight.

I read it until I couldn’t make out the words anymore just before turning out the light. I read it in line waiting for free tickets to the Shakespeare Festival in the park–didn’t score any but the weather was perfect. I read it after the daily agony of coaxing my wheezing laptop through the tedious research needed to write web content that syphons off all the time I should be writing a book. It was excellent Anne Perry, which is to say that the story and the characters and the dilemma hold up splendidly and spending time in that book was pure pleasure.

Treachery is everywhere in the Special Branch and the very future of England is at stake as Thomas Pitt chases a spooked informant down alleys and through traffic with the help of a junior colleague. He is too late. The informant is stabbed–throat slit–moments before Pitt reaches him and the two detectives set off in pursuit of a murderer. So it begins. Pitt has no idea what he is pursuing. He and the colleague end up in France just as his mentor, the head of Special Branch, is ignominiously removed from office under the cloud of an embezzlement that cost an Irish collaborator who trusted him his life. Tip of the iceberg. Victor Narraway has painful ghosts in Ireland, and plenty of the living with long memories who hate him enough to nurture revenge plots for decades. So he plans to leave at once for Dublin.

Charlotte Pitt doesn’t hesitate to inform Narraway she is going along to help discover the truth. If his career is ruined, so is her husband’s–and her family homeless, no hope of work or an income to raise their children, everyone out to menial jobs, even the kids. Besides, she believes Narraway has been framed and she sees how completely wrecked his life is without the job that defines it. Her dour new housekeeper chooses that moment to walk out. Pitt is incommunicado in France on a stakeout. Things couldn’t be worse. And then Pitt realizes he has been set up to remove him from London just as some dark political plot is about to unfold.

Complete craziness in Dublin, Dover, London and the Isle of Wight follows. Treason at Lisson Grove is very good. Anne Perry is so reliable.  More than fifty books in four separate series. I wish I could write that fast and that well.

Treason at Lisson Grove: A Charlotte and Thomas Pitt Novel  Anne Perry | Ballantine Books   2011

Heat Wave – Penelope Lively

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“What is character but the determination of incident?” Henry James asked. “What is incident but the illustration of character?” There is a particular kind of novel—James wrote them as did Jane Austen—in which the actors and the action are as interdependent as oxygen and flame. Those books can be exceptionally satisfying and thoughtful reads.

In Heat Wave, Penelope Lively constructs a tense drama out of the fervors and failures of the human heart. Pauline is settled for the summer in a two-family stone cottage in the English countryside. She has a list of books to edit and an avid appreciation of the rural environment that surrounds her—its deceptive bucolic appearance and its roiling, half-hidden complexity.

Next door her only child, Teresa, spends her days tending to toddler Luke and husband Maurice. Teresa is in love with the perfection of her life—the delightful demanding child, the attentive amusing academic she has married. Maurice is writing a book about the marketing of pastoral settings to tourists. His editor, James, and James’ girlfriend Carol are frequent guests as the two men hammer out progress on the book and the two couples visit historical theme parks and tour grand estates.

Pauline was once married to an academic, Teresa’s father, who also wrote books and expanded the bright cocoon of their marriage to include his many serial dalliances. When Maurice shifts slight attention to Carol, Pauline’s antennae pick up the reprise of an old, damaging story. Teresa hovers over Luke, protecting him from harm. And Pauline holds her breath, anticipating a harm she knows too well that begins to affect her daughter.

The summer stretches into a record heat wave as lives come unraveled. The writer of the romance Pauline is editing loses his wife and his way. Carol and James turn up more and more often and Maurice finds moments to linger over Carol. Teresa is radiant and clueless—and then she is not. And a stunning twist at the end of the novel opens the door to questions that can never be asked but arrive with answers anyway.

Lively can write seductive narratives about scenery and weather. Every detail is lovingly portrayed and each one reveals another layer of the story. Pauline reflects on the wreckage of her marriage and the wasted years of misery when she could not let go. She dreads the very real possibility that Teresa is headed into the same dark passage as Maurice makes charming excuses for his absences and slips into the neighboring village for clandestine phone calls. Heat Wave is a meticulous rendering of intimacy and betrayal. Its characters are effortlessly and vividly drawn; its calm surface masks fierce passions and desperate pretensions—as compelling a page-turner as any thriller.

Heat Wave: A Novel   Penelope Lively | HarperCollins 1997