I think you have to be pretty well-versed in the convention of the romcom (in either its literary or cinematic forms) to appreciate just how delightfully weird Jennifer Crusie’s Welcome to Temptation really is. In this relatively short novel, she subverts as many genre tropes as she luxuriates in, with a plot that careens wildly between a small-town farce, a family drama, and a murder mystery. That and a couple of pretty involved sex scenes.
The story begins with two Dusty Springfield-loving sisters, Sophie and Amy Dempsey, who drive into a sleepy little town called Temptation and promptly involve themselves in a car accident. This is only the first of the disruptions that they cause, however, because the short film that they had originally planned on shooting somehow devolves into gauzy, soft-core porn. As the responsible one in the family, Sophie has to do her best to protect their little production, which means dealing with Temptation’s handsome mayor, Phin Tucker. Sparks fly between them, because it must. Continue reading
A Guilty Thing Surprised by Ruth Rendell
Despite my fondness for British Golden Age mysteries (Christie, Sayers, Marsh), I have yet to find a more contemporary mystery writer that I really enjoy. To wit, Ruth Rendell is widely regarded as a master of the form, yet this manor mystery about a woman found dead in the woods left me cold (pun not intended). There’s a certain amount of wit that I feel is lacking here, despite erudite nature of the story.
A Guilty Thing Surprised is a novel that features Chief Inspector Wexford and Inspector Burden investigating the murder of Elizabeth Nightingale, the mistress of a manor that only seems genteel on the surface. Suspects immediately crop up as a series of interviews reveal the victim’s manipulative nature. The retiring husband, the worldly au pair, and the professor brother–each one has something to hide. The novel’s title is from a Coleridge poem, alluding to a setting that involves many literary and academic preoccupations.
Tai: Why should I listen to you, anyway? You’re a virgin who can’t drive.
Cher: That was way harsh, Tai.
I wonder how many people begin Emma with the movie Clueless as their point of reference. This revelation pegs me as an irredeemable child of the 90’s, it’s true, but the contemporary reimagining of Jane Austen’s novel by director Amy Heckerling provided a level of accessibility that would’ve never existed had I entered the text cold. The lives of gentlefolk in a small English countryside is hardly something I can relate to, but conjuring up images of a young Alicia Silverstone traipsing around Beverly Hills prepared my expectations for a ridiculous, over-the-top romantic plot peppered with insight and comedy. While I loved the movie as a young kid, the novel itself is a surprise as an adult, the humor so fresh and razor-sharp two centuries after its first publication.
Emma Woodhouse is the darling of Highbury, heiress of her father’s estate, and–in her own mind–an unparalleled matchmaker. She’s young, rich and precocious, certain that she will never marry and therefore committed to pairing off the people she loves in a tidy fashion. Everybody in town defers to her except for the gentleman George Knightley, Emma’s brother-in-law. He is constantly unimpressed with Emma’s insights about romance because underneath her seemingly altruistic intentions lies the heart of a spoiled young girl.
Let’s talk about the good things first.
State of the Onion is the quick, engaging debut for a mystery series by Julie Hyzy set within the storied walls of the White House kitchen. Assistant Chef Ollie Paras has her eye on the top position since her mentor and boss is preparing to retire. Her quest for a promotion isn’t going to be easy, however, with a celebrity chef as her competition and a new “sensitivity director” looking over her shoulder. On top of that, an intruder at the White House raises everyone’s alarm bells just in time for some highly sensitive trade negotiations. Since this is a cozy mystery, the charmingly nosy Ollie is always in the thick of things–from preparing the banquet in honor of two feuding nations to hitting a potential terrorist in the head with a frying pan.
I blazed through this book in a day and a half, and for the most part enjoyed it. Ollie is ditzy yet headstrong in the way cozy mystery heroines typically are, but her role as a White House chef adds some interest in her characterization. None of the other characters are particularly fleshed out but they serve their purpose just fine and I get the feeling their personalities will be given more depth throughout the series. Plus one for the hilariously entertaining “villains” that put Ollie’s career in jeopardy, minus one for the tiresome and weirdly sanctimonious Secret Service boyfriend.
Day 10 – A book you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up loving
Melissa Bank’s Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing
NPR’s Monkey See blogger Linda Holmes has done a series of funny and insightful articles about what people call “chick lit” and how the label tends to reduce writing by women into a very narrow, undeserved box. I entirely agree with her assessment. As someone who likes to read romance novels occasionally, I get a little defensive about people who look down on “women’s writing.” And this book is part of the reason why.
The first time I read it, I had the same preconceptions on what the story ought to be: A novel about a literary agent in Manhattan trying and failing to find love, peppered with witticisms and ultra-hip whining, drinking of cosmopolitans, et cetera. I actually became a little annoyed when I found out that Girl’s Guide is actually not a full novel so much as a collection of loosely connected narratives. The stories takes us through the lives of these urbane individuals who weren’t immune to heartbreak, cancer, and professional ennui, despite their perfect haircuts and their perfect vacations. But I ended up reading this book again over the years, and I found that I take away something new from it every time. The very last story is my favorite one, and makes reading the whole book actually worth it. It makes a gentle mockery of people looking at self-help books to get them the love of their lives, while at the same time acknowledging the in these modern times, a girl just really wants someone who can help her with the answers.
Day 07 – Least favorite plot device employed by way too many books you actually enjoyed otherwise
This will be brief because I’m exhausted today, sorry. One of my biggest pet peeves in reading are POV changes within a single scene when it’s done for no reason. This is different from an Omniscient Point of View where the narrator is a naturally freewheeling voice, like in old Victorian novels. These POV shifts frustrate me the most when it comes to romance novels because the thing that makes the angst compelling for me is insecurity and doubt. I just feel that this device is the lazy way to write. I wish you would stop doing this, Johanna Lindsey. ;_;
Note: I don’t mind changes in POV after the scene or a chapter has finished. Within a scene, however, it gives me whiplash.