Romance: Kimani and Harlequin Blaze

As any good librarian should, I am attempting to become familiar with the romance genre. The Adams Street BPL branch keeps their romances in upright, spinning wire display racks, and I picked one each from two major publishers: Kimani Romance (African-American, their teen imprint is Kimani Tru, which my female students read like crazy) and Harlequin Blaze (“Blaze” being the more “red hot” imprint). Here go my reviews:

Sizzling Seduction, Gwyneth Bolton (2009), Kimani Romance.

Really just an anodyne, classic fantasy love story with about 6-8 slowly escalating sex scenes thrown in to get the female readers wet. A clean-cut, conservatively dressed kindergarten teacher single mom who has been burned by love meets a muscled, hunky, kind, and too-good-to-be-true firefighter. It is love at first sight, but she pushes away his advances out of fear. He wiggles his way into her life very respectfully, taking it slow and winning the affection of her son with out-of-this-world committed daddy qualities (this has got to be a trope in African-American romance/fantasy). Drama enters the story in the form of their crazy exes and a scheming aunt, but it is all just a tactic to see if the love between the protagonists will remain strong in the face of (mild) adversity.

I am more familiar with urban fiction / street lit books that are way more hardcore, including constant profanity, violence, poverty, and exceedingly grim situations (Sister Souljah, Sapphire). So this, by comparison, felt like middle class Sesame Street. Black English is used very sparingly, except to add “flavor” to one side character, and instead of profanity and violence, angry male characters say things like, “Watch your mouth. . . .You should know that I will press charges.” There are no references to Christianity in this book, but there is a strong moral vibe that makes me feel like I am watching a Tyler Perry movie. Traditional notions of heterosexual courtship, love, and family loyalty are really what this book is about. Is this really comforting to female readers who just want a fantasy man to dote on them, care for their kid(s), be kind, gentle, and safe, and give them great sex? This book holds no appeal to me, but it must appeal very widely to others based on the market strength of this genre.

Intent to Seduce, Cara Summers (2002), Harlequin Blaze.

This book has a totally ludicrous premise: a sexy yet virginal white female doctor believes seduction is a science, so she embarks on complicated “research” scheme in which she will seduce a stranger using the top fantasies that “science” has proven will work with men. After reading all of the world’s treatises on sex, her schemes somehow boil down to a reliance on seductive role playing (meeting your man in public dressed scantily and using a false persona) and the use of a string of pearls during oral sex. This female-initiated seduction is meant to be feminist, I gather, but as in the Kimani book, it is all so vanilla and clean cut (no real risk or danger).

Well, the man falls for her plans when she surprises him by showing up at the tropical resort that he owns (oh yeah, he’s a hunky and wildly successful businessman). They run through a series of crappy role play and sex scenes, including the supposed turn-on of sex underwater in a sort-of public place (a hidden “cave” at the resort). Totally NOT a turn on. There is also an intrigue/spying subplot running throughout the book, which is totally boring. You know everyone is just flipping through to the sex scenes to see if they are any good–why do romance writers use these narrative techniques when they must be aware that their characterization is weak and their plotting is thin?

Really, I should just talk with a bunch of women in a romance book group to get more of a feel for why they spend their time and money on this genre. I just don’t understand.

Aside

reading crime: I’m trying to figure out why, when I want a book to blaze through for sheer “entertainment” value, I choose crime, and not just happy-go-lucky crime (No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency), but gritty, dark crime. Not just mystery–as in my younger days of obsession with Encyclopedia Brown and Nancy Drew–but stories that involve brutal death and the search for justice through the police procedural subgenre. Most of these books could be adapted to 2 hour TV shows (as Mankell’s have been), and the experience of reading them is very much like “watching” a more in-depth, more psychologically gripping CSI, or NCIS, or Dexter, or (my favorite) Waking the Dead. Maybe there’s just something about reading a series that has, in itself, always been thrilling to me. And reading duds so that I can find a few authors I really cherish. Thoughts?

Contemporary Scandinavian Crime Fiction

Over the past few years, I have read every Wallander mystery by Henning Mankell (my favorite was the one in which he worked alongside his adult daughter for the first time–I hope Mankell will continue this trend). When Steig Larsson’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series came out, I read them all too. Wanting to delve deeper into this crime subgenre, I read the following:

MY FAVORITE: Kjell Eriksson
Swedish crime fiction, police procedural

Inspector Ann Lindell: I am immediately drawn to this series because of single-mom Lindell and because the setting is more rural, in small-town Uppsala, Sweden. Very atmospheric, lots of moral ambiguity, large casts of characters. I read these last summer, so details are gone from memory, but what sticks with me was the extent to which I empathized with the criminals, the families in crisis, and the police. Very nicely written. Read more.

The Princess of Burundi (2007)
“Eriksson not only reveals a deep, sympathetic understanding for his large cast of characters but also evokes a pervasive sense of despair” (Publisher’s Weekly). Lindell is just one amongst an ensemble cast of inspectors in this first book. I believe this one was my favorite of the three.

The Cruel Stars of the Night (2008). More focus on Lindell here. “Once again Eriksson displays considerable finesse in portraying the inner lives of his cast and in showing how the various inspectors attempt to cope with the strains of the job” (Booklist).

The Demon of Dakar (2009). Third in series. “With Kjell Eriksson, what we find is an extraordinary depth of feeling for honest people caught up in serious crime” (New York Times Book Review).

MY SECOND FAVORITE: Arnaldur Indridason
Icelandic crime fiction, missing persons cases (gentler than homicides)

Inspector Erlandur notes repeatedly that Icelandic crime is often petty, sloppily done, and easily solved, and that the justice system is often lenient to a fault, an “insult” to the victims of crime. Also, Icelandic diet is shocking–sheep heads, weird meat pates. One reviewer said Indridason is “reminiscent of Simenon.” I LOVE Simenon.

Hypothermia (2007)
Loner Inspector Erlandur with recovering drug addict daughter and ex-wife with whom no reunion is possible, obsessively follows leads on a suicide and 2 missing persons cases long gone cold. No repartee with co-workers, in fact only a few lines in book to show that nobody likes him and he has no relationships at work–this is so refreshing! Thoughtful, haunted by disappearance of own brother when he was a child. This book is not a police procedural. It is a puzzling out of linked cases by a lone inspector. Nice tone, relaxed pacing, introspective, compassionate. All loose ends tied up into a neat, finished ending. Erlandur is quiet and unassuming, but dogged, mulls over his cases nonstop, and is periodically interrupted by his painful broken relationships with his son and daughter. (Icelandic place names are even longer and stranger than Swedish ones.)

The Draining Lake (2004)
Erlandur is again obsessed with a long-cold missing persons case, brought to life again when a skeleton is found in a draining lake. The backstory is of Cold War Stasi espionage amongst Icelandic university students in Communist Leipzig, East Germany–not compelling to me beyond the love story. This book is a police procedural since Erlandur here works alongside two fellow inspectors, one female and one male. Erlandur’s daughter, Eva Lind, is in the throes of drug addiction in this installment; I wish this relationship was given more space in the book, perhaps made integral to the case somehow. Indridason continues his style of writing alternating chapters from the point of view of the killer, allowing the reader to empathize fully with the killer, and taking disparate pieces of a missing persons puzzle and drawing them together until the case is solved in a neat bow at the end. I prefer the cases to stay within the border of one country, and ideally within the borders of a family or small community (like P.D. James stories all do). More domestic. Though I like Erlandur’s character and his family backstory.

LEAST FAVORITE: Ake Edwardson
Swedish police procedurals / crime fiction, homicide cases in Gothenburg

Inspector Erik Winter: “A bit remote and contemplative, a loner, quite a bit of a snob, likes expensive brands and jazz, slightly philosophically oriented” (from fan site: http://akeedwardson.com). Not too fond of Winter’s arrogance and snobbishness, but intrigued by the extremely atmospheric and psychological nature of these books. Frustrated by the VERY loose endings–conclusions only slightly hinted at; much mystery left to reader’s imagination. The sociological aspects, particularly racism / Swedish nativism in a changing country, can be refreshing and annoying simultaneously. Think I will NOT read more of this author.

Death Angels (1997; translated for U.S. in 2009)
Pretty gory, with killings of Swedish tourists in London and London tourists in Sweden. Winter pairs up with a British inspector to solve the crimes. Echoes for me of the Dragon Tattoo series with grit and violence. Not as well written, though.

The Shadow Woman (2010)
I enjoyed this one significantly more–a woman is killed and her young daughter is held hostage. Gritty and atmospheric, but violence is less brutal than in Death Angels. Alternating chapters from the viewpoint of the daughter. Current case links to a cold case from decades before.

NEXT READS:

  • More Kjell Eriksson: The Hand that Trembles (coming summer, 2011)
  • More Arnaldur Indridason: Jar City (2000), Silence of the Grave (2001), Voices (2003), Arctic Chill (2005)
  • Explore Karin Fossum: Norwegian, Oslo, teen characters, Inspector Sejer (male, shy). Start with When the Devil Holds the Candle (2007).

my first LibGuide

I have really enjoyed making my first LibGuide research pathfinder, and look forward to using the LibGuide platform in my future school library work. Stretched myself a bit by focusing on science content for high school researchers.

http://libraryschool.campusguides.com/animalcommunication

Thank you, NELA

for granting me a scholarship this year. . .

My first screencast tutorial

Made for high school seniors doing independent web research for a persuasive essay. WAY too long, but a good start and I love learning new technology. Comments and suggestions welcome!

Creative Commons License
Evaluating Website Credibility Tutorial by Susanna Hall is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Definitely Dead and All Together Dead: Sookie Stackhouse Novels

Charlaine Harris, 2006, 2007
Books 6 and 7 in a series of 10

Genre: I have seen these books filed under science fiction in bookstores, but they are definitely more a mixture of romance and mystery. And more romance than anything. In terms of romance subgenres—maybe contemporary paranormal romance is best. The major plot elements center around whichever macho hunk Sookie is dating or fantasizing about, whether it is vampire Bill, vampire Eric, werewolf Alcide, or weretiger Quinn. Sexual chemistry blossoms, traditional dating rituals begin (dinner, dancing), passionate kissing ensues, and one traditional sex scene is the eventual reward. In the meantime, Sookie becomes more enmeshed in the culture and politics of the supernatural world and generally her spunk and telepathic insights save the day for humans and supes alike.

Historical events: These two books were written pre-Katrina and post-Katrina, respectively, and the hurricane figures its way into both, since Sophie Ann, the teen vamp queen of Louisiana, has her headquarters in New Orleans. I like to see what writers choose to do when a historical event occurs while their series is in full swing. Here, Harris simply folds it into her plot—an evacuee witch lives with Sookie for a while, Sophie Ann gets a lot of sympathy for the damage to her mansion, and Alabama’s vampires are all but decimated by the storm.

Text to TV: I keep thinking about the decisions Alan Ball had to make when adapting this series for television. For an HBO show with an ensemble cast, he had to beef up a bunch of the characters that are flat in the books and give them backstories and pieces of the plot. Though Sookie’s brother Jason, the local cops, Sophie-Ann, and Russell stay pretty much the same from page to screen, Sam, Tara, and Lafayette are fully developed. On the supernatural side, Lorena and Jessica hold our attention and gain our sympathy. Even Arlene and Terry feel fully formed, whereas they are just blips in the books. I love that these folks get more play on TV; I am often tuning in just to see what’s happening with Lafayette (my favorite), Sam, and the Jessica/Hoyt love story. And I adore Terry’s vulnerability as a shell shocked Vietnam vet. A strong ensemble of characters makes the show feel more like a community coming to terms with its supernatural citizens, which I much prefer to the Sookie-centeredness of the books.

I can’t believe it, but: this series is growing on me. I keep going back to the library for more, and I even read these two in Large Print because it was the only format available. The books are entertaining, and I am even beginning to like  Sookie’s mainstream, working class flavor. In the books, this comes out more clearly than on television–she buys her clothes and lingerie at Walmart, religiously uses a Word-A-Day calendar, and goes on a date to see The Producers. Her lack of sophistication is actually kind of endearing, though I tend to prefer the sleek, hard-assed Sookie of the HBO show. (Pam, vampire Eric’s “child,” also prefers pastel twin sets in the series). I also appreciate that there are lots of LGBT (well, LGB) minor characters in the book, since vampires aren’t so picky about the gender of their sexual partners. Harris has created an appealing southern supernatural world.