Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Book Review: The Monsters of Templeton

I'll just come out and say it: The Monsters of Templeton is an enjoyable book, and I recommend it.  I found it engaging and easy to stick with from beginning to end.  The book is essentially the story of Willie Upton, a young woman who returns home to Templeton, New York, after she has an affair with one of the married professors in her graduate program.  While she's home, she learns for the first time that her father is not who she thought he was.  Well, she never knew her father, but she had always been told that it was one of three men that her hippie, teenage mother slept with in a San Francisco commune.  As it turns out, that was a lie.  Her real father is someone from Templeton.  While she's biding her time back home, Willie decides to set out and find out who her real father is.  All her mother will tell her is that he is a descendant of Marmaduke Temple, the founder of the town.

A little background: Groff is from Cooperstown, and she essentially models Templeton on Cooperstown.  I've never read any of James Fennimore Cooper's work, but apparently some of it is set in Templeton?  I don't really know, but I think it was very clever of Groff to write about her hometown in this way.  Willie and her mother are legitimate descendants of Marmaduke Temple and his son, the famous American author Jacob Franklin Temple (Fennimore Cooper's fictional counterpart, obviously).  They're also illegitimate descendants through the slave that Marmaduke fathered a child with.  When Willie finds out that her biological father is also an illegitimate descendant of Marmaduke, she understandably wants to find out where that branch of the family tree budded from---if for no other reason than to assure herself that's she's not a complete inbred.  So Willie devotes her summer to researching the family history and finding which adulterous ancestor spawned her father's lineage, hoping to work her way down in order to identify her father.  

From that point on, the book alternates between historical accounts, diaries, letters, etc, of various Temple ancestors.  There are a number of interesting stories that are told along the way.  All very entertaining.  the only downside was that Willie was very hard for me to relate to, but she was still very likable.  I think that is attributable to Groff's skill as a writer.  I think I read in the reading guide at the back of the book how Groff wrote Willie thinking of the kind of wild, adventurous girls she always admired from afar.  After reading that, I was able to view Willie in a more favorable light.  I don't know why, but that made a difference.  I guess I could accept Willie's faults easier knowing that Groff wasn't necessarily advocating or condoning her actions, just writing about a character.  (Funny how that's hard to do.  I think that's what sets me apart from writers.  I have a hard time writing about things I don't know or don't like.  Again, a testament to Groff's talent.)

Book Review: Something About You

I first heard about Julie James's Something About You through the "Save the Contemporary" promotion over at Smart Bitches.  I kept hearing all sorts of positive reviews so I decided to give it a try.  I actually really like contemporary romance novels---when they're done right.  And this one was done right.  (I don't know how to fix this space...)
The heroine, Cameron, is an Assistant United States Attorney.  As a lawyer myself, it is sometimes frustrating to read about characters who are also lawyers because sometimes it is just so poorly done.  See Christina Dodd, Trouble in High HeelsHowever, I think Julie James is a lawyer herself, so she knows what she's doing.  And as someone who worked for a federal public defenders office for a year, I can attest that she knows what she's doing with an AUSA.

Hero, Jack, is an FBI agent who used to work with Cameron years ago until she dismissed one of his cases and he bad-mouthed her to the media.  His punishment was to be transferred from Chicago to Nebraska for three years.  But when he moves back to the Chicago office, the two of them run into each other again.

The way Jack and Cameron's story was set up really worked for me.  I like that they have a history together.  Too often in romance novels the relationship moves so quickly that it is hard to believe it.  By assuring the reader that the characters know each other well from a multi-year professional working relationship, it makes their eventual romance seem genuine and believable.  

Also, the action/mystery aspect of this book never overshadowed the romantic relationship; it flawlessly moved it along, however.  I've read enough books to know that that is not always easy to do.  For all of these reasons, I'm really impressed with Julie James.  My biggest complaint about contemporary romance novels is that the heroines are usually not very intelligent.  I think that Nora Roberts' success is due in large part to the fact that she knows how to write an intelligent female character.  Even though I really like Rachel Gibson's writing, I usually don't like her heroines because we usually hear more about their shopping and clothes habits than their smarts.  Cameron is a great balance.  I think that's due in large part to Julie James's own education and intelligence.  Jack is great, too.  A fun book!

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Mullet City!

I would really like to know what Lynsay Sands did to piss off the art department at Avon.  Seriously, look at the hairdos on those men.  Mullet.  City.  I wish I could find the inside cover art online, so you could see how much worse it gets.  Taming the Highland Bride's inside cover doesn't escape the horror, either.

I don't get it.  Is there some kind of historical record that establishes the popularity of the mullet in 13th century Scotland?  (Or whatever century these books are set in?)

It's really a shame.  I've only read one of Sands' books (Devil of the Highlands), and it was pretty good!  Poor lady doesn't deserve the awful cover art.