Saturday, April 30, 2011

Just the Sexiest Man Alive

Book: Just the Sexiest Man Alive by Julie James

Taylor Donovan is a lawyer working towards partner in an illustrious law firm, and she's well on the track to it. When she is given an opportunity to further prove herself in a highly-publicized class-action sexual harassment suit, she jumps at it, even though the case requires her to leave her Chicago office for the Los Angeles branch and stay there for the duration of the case. After all, a couple of months in sunny, celebrity-town L.A. is no hardship at all, is it?

We are introduced to Taylor in the opening pages, where she's annihilating her opposing counsel's arguments for settlement. And it. is. awesome. I have a soft spot for competent, no-nonsense, career-minded heroines in romance novels. This is partly to make up for all those times they were cast as The Other Woman in contrast with the virginal homemaker heroine and mostly to shout: Yeah world, romance and careers CAN mix! Ahem. Moving on.

Poor Taylor gets her first taste of how celebrity-driven L.A. works, when her boss sets her a side assignment to give pointers to actor Jason Andrews on his upcoming role as an attorney in a legal thriller. Who is Jason Andrews, you ask? Why, he's Just the Sexiest Man Alive. According to People magazine, anyway. Though galled by the thought of having to kowtow to some frat boy, Taylor is still intrigued because hey, even she who's been living under a rock has watched Jason Andrews' movies. Any goodwill she may have mustered for the job is dashed, however, when the actor stands her up twice in a row. Needless to say, when he finally does come around to meet her, Taylor is less than impressed.

Jason Andrews may be larger than life, but Taylor has been going head-to-head with men all her life, and she's more than a match for his ego. Sparks fly, and hijinks ensue.

I was a bit leery about the set-up at first, because I'm kind of pessimistic about Hollywood romances in general, and wasn't sure I'd find myself believing in the eventual HEA. It didn't help when the hero Jason initially started out proving every celebrity stereotype true. But Ms James has a gift with turning her spoiled, arrogant heroes into likeable, sometimes-vulnerable and basically decent guys.

...I hesitated a little with that last bit though. Jason, the hero, IS portrayed as decent at heart most of the time, even though I felt that his past womanizing actions said otherwise. Plus those actions were only alluded to and so felt even more removed from the Jason that was presented to the reader, I guess. In the end, the only reason I could gauge why Jason was so horrible to the women in his life was because they were all attention-seeking sluts who only cared for his fame anyway. Sometimes I wonder, why do these men get so bitter about meeting exactly the type of women they were looking for?

But all that's just a minor quibble, because the author managed to convince me that yeah, he was probably just looking in the wrong places this whole time (I know, I cringed a bit at that sentence too, but Ms James honestly did a good job of it!). Once you're convinced of that, the rest of the journey is a delightful romp that makes you laugh and sigh and fall for all the characters involved (Ms James does friendships with secondary characters beautifully). The chemistry and dialogue between the characters were amazing. I think I would love Julie James for her dialogue alone.

I liked that the ultimate issue in the end wasn't Jason's past, but Taylor's trust (or lack thereof) in him. That with Jason having done his best to prove himself, there was nothing more he could do or say to convince her -- the ball was in Taylor's court. And boy, did she pick it up.

So I started out this book with two marks against it: one, it was a Hollywood romance, and two, it was a contemporary. The latter because I've always thought contemporary settings unmemorable and indeed, up until Julie James, that had always been the case for me. And despite the less than auspicious start, this book still managed to win me over with a 5-star rating. I can't wait to try out her other books. 5/5 on goodreads.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

CryoBurn

Book: Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold

Bookrant time. I've just stayed up all night to finish Cryoburn, the latest (last?) book in the Vorkosigan Saga. Got in only 5 hours of sleep since so I'm still a little bleary-eyed and will likely be a miiiite incoherent. The Vorkosigan Saga is a series I highly, highly, recommend to anyone who likes reading for pleasure by the way, and since this is one of the later books my thoughts on it are bound to be full of spoilers, so I'll put those parts below the cut.

Cryoburn follows the latest adventure of Lord Miles Naismith Vorkosigan, who was 16 when we first met him in The Warrior's Apprentice and is now 38 and (mostly) settled with a family of his own. As Imperial Auditor of the Barrayaran empire, Miles is sent by Emperor Gregor to investigate an off-worlder cryocorps' plans for expansion onto one of their own planets. The cryocorps (cryonics corporation) in question is one of many that effectively rule the planet Kibou-daini, a planet obsessed with cheating death by freezing their dead by the millions.

Kibou-daini is the first nod I've ever seen given to an Asian culture in this series (a Japanese one, in this case). Don't worry, I'm not going to devolve into a rant about diversity and multiculturalism here, because 1) I don't feel that strongly about it, and 2) my thoughts are rather preoccupied with other things. Still, I thought I'd just mention this because I overlook things like this in fiction all the time, but the extent of globalisation (universalization?) in the future written in these books have led even me to wonder about the absence of Asian characters. You'd think China having the biggest population on old Earth would mean at least a significant, if not strong, presence in the galactic world many centuries later. Oh well.

I've read some reviews that seem to be of the opinion that this book isn't one of her best. That it hasn't got any memorable characters, aside from Miles himself, who is rather diminished as well. I think I have to agree. Bujold can write yes, but I've always felt that it was her characters who made the book, and all the interesting new ones promised in the summary,
"...a young boy with a passion for pets and a dangerous secret, a Snow White trapped in an icy coffin who burns to re-write her own tale, and a mysterious crone who is the very embodiment of the warning Don't mess with the secretary."
just didn't seem to live up to their potential. Everyone felt a little flat, smaller somehow and faded into the background, even the villains, who aren't even on-page at all. This book sounds like a dud right, so why am I still talking so much about it? Well, then there was the epilogue. Which was so bittersweet and beautifully written and in keeping with what the author has effectively set up for the whole novel, that I can't believe I didn't see it coming. In fact I feel like the entire adventure in Cryoburn was really a prelude to the epilogue, a thought experiment before the actual deed -- which may be why it seems so faded as a standalone? Because it's not meant to overshadow the ending?

I'm venturing into spoiler territory here; click for more.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

a glut of everything

Maybe it's just due to the sheer volume of them, but I've come to doubt the happily-ever-after of every Harlequin Presents novel I read. There's always such a large disconnect between what the characters know of each other and who they really are. I grant that this is probably a necessary set-up for 99% of the conflicts out there, but I really don't think that bodes well for their future together, since the HP world is so fraught with malicious, conniving evil-doers bent on splitting couples up. Most of the inflammatory evidence that usually accompany such misunderstandings can be defused with a simple knowledge of someone's character, long enough for a logical, reasonable person to seek further explanations anyway.

But really, I have a lot of issues with HP novels, this being the least of it. The problem with category novels, in this scenario, is that they're like a formula within an already formulaic genre. What might work as a character study confined to a single story, when multiplied by the thousands of books you have in the same line, just seems like a glorification of the alpha-asshole behaviour (and various other stereotypes and double standards) so prevalent in them. Because of that, when I read a HP novel, its similarities (or rather, identifiers) with the other HPs I've read makes it hard for me to isolate my experiences with them from my experience with this single individual work. So yeah, my probability of enjoying a HP novel progressively declines with each successive HP I read. I guess that means I should only take them in small, spaced-out doses : /