Wednesday, September 6, 2017

End of Summer Short Takes

Happy September! I know many folks bemoan the end of summer, but I always feel reenergized by the arrival of fall—here in the northern hemisphere, autumn signals new classes, new ideas, and a more focused, organized time in which to explore them. I have fingers crossed that now that cooler temperatures and more regular schedules have arrived, I'll do better with RNFF than the far too infrequent intermittent summer posts I managed this past summer.

I receive a lot of requests from authors, publishers, and publicity companies to review books. Many such requests seem to be bulk mailings, not taking the time to explain why their particular book is suitable to a blog about romance and feminism, as RNFF's guidelines request. Needless to say, I'm not too likely to take the time to read a memoir about dogs, or an epic fantasy novel with no adult romantic relationships, or a romance novel about an alpha special ops guy falling for a girl in desperate need of rescuing. But when I do get a message from an author who actually takes the time to talk about the feminist aspects of her or his book, I tend to ask for a copy.

Not all of them end up being worth the read. But some show real promise. Here are a few I read this summer that you may enjoy checking out.

Susannah Nix bills her debut novel, Remedial Rocket Science, a "geeky romance." While it wasn't quite as out and out geek-filled as some books I've read (Delphine Dryden's Theory of Attraction, or Penny Reid's Neanderthal Seeks Human, or Santino Hassell and Megan Erikson's Cyberlove series), Nix's heroine, Melody Gage, is an MIT undergrad in love with computer programming—both the losing herself in code aspects, as well as the field's well-paying jobs. After spending her growing-up years with a single mother on a shoestring budget, Melody's not going to waste her smarts waiting for her next big break—she's going to make her own breaks, thank you very much. Calling up a freshman year one-time hook-up was only supposed to provide her with a friendly face after she moves from east to west coast to take a job with an aerospace company. But aimless, privileged Jeremy turns out to be a not only a manager in training at her new company, but also, as the son of its owner, its heir apparent. And when Melody discovers that not only did her long-ago hook-up with Jeremy happen while he was dating someone else, but that Jeremy also cheated on former girlfriend with said girlfriend's sister (who is now his current arm candy), Melody knows that Jeremy is definitely a break of the wrong kind. Why, then, does she find Jeremy constantly visiting her office? And giving him advice and a shoulder to cry on when his personal life takes a few too many wrong turns? And pretending to be his girlfriend at important family functions? Nix does great work in showing the difficulties and the adjustments of those first months out of college, starting a new job, trying to find one's footing with new people and new responsibilities, as well as navigating the often scary shift from friendship to romantic attachment.

Best lines:
     "I never knew it was supposed to feel like this... Having a girlfriend. Being in love."
     "What did you think it was supposed to be like?"
     "I thought it was all about pretending—pretending to want things you didn't want and like thins you didn't like. Pretending to be someone you weren't. I thought that was what all relationships were like. But being with you isn't anything like that."
     "What's it like?" she asked quietly.
     "Like I found my best friend." (Kindle Loc 4049)

I really wished that Stephanie Burgis's Snowspelled, the first volume in her The Harwood Spellbook series, had been a novel rather than a novella. For there's a lot of backstory to unpack, a broken romance to it would have been great to witness in its first bloom, and a fascinating secondary world to explore in this alternate Regency-era (I think?) fantasy story. The story opens at a winter house party where high-ranking members of the ruling Boudiccate, the all-female governing body of "Angland" (yes, in this alternate England, Bouddica beat back the Romans and established female rule in the country—how cool!) are gathering to hold an alliance ceremony with the elves. But something's not quite right in the elven court, and there's something suspicious about the unusually harsh snowstorm falling about them, too. Cassandra Harwood, though, is too busy nursing her own wounds—a broken engagement, and an embarrassingly public fall from grace (the first woman to earn a place at the all-male Great Library school, Cassandra lost all magical ability after trying to perform an overly ambitious spell)—to pay much attention to the larger goings-on that are worrying the head of her family, sister-in-law Amy, and her fellow female politicians. That is, until Cassandra inadvertently makes a promise to a troll, and must bring the human magician behind the debilitating snowstorm to the elves. Cassandra's break with her erstwhile fiancĂ©, fellow magician Rajaram Wrexham, "the intense scholarship student form a Maratha-Anglish sailor's family" (255), is nothing that a little better communication couldn't have fixed, and the villain behind the weather plot is all too obvious. But the set-up at novella's end for the book series to follow—Cassandra will open a school for women who wish to study magic, previously restricted to men only—sounds very promising. I'll definitely be taking a look...

Favorite line:
The gentlemen, of course, were expected to remain at the table until a maid was sent to notify them that it was safe for them to join us in the parlor, meaning that the political conversations were officially finished for the night. (974)

Beau North's Modern Love also features a pair of protagonists that would have benefitted from some straight talk to get beyond their misconceptions about and misunderstandings of one another. Yet both are so interesting in themselves that I found myself forgiving the author for making their disagreements more contrived than character-based. University of Minnesota MFA student bisexual Alice Aberdeen does not really hit it off with the guy her sister and sister's boyfriend have invited to meet them at the annual Humane Society's Bowie tribute show. Alice may be hard up, still reeling from being dumped by her girlfriend, but she certainly doesn't need a set-up with wealthy, entitled "Earth's Grumpiest Supermodel" (283). For his part, while Will Murphy finds Alice "as cute as hell, a firefly bobbing through a dim world, unaware of the dullness that surrounded her" (258), he also thinks she's "abrasive and odd, and she clearly doesn't think much of me" (273). Of course, romance cannot help but blossom after such an obvious not-meet-cute. Two such super-cynical protagonists of course have some hefty baggage to unpack (Will, growing up not fitting into either side of his Punjabi/Irish family; Alice dealing with guilt over her mother's death and a past history of substance abuse) as well as a lot of wit to launch at one another and the world at large.

Favorite line:
This was my third date in as many weeks and I was already exhausted. How did people do this dating thing, blinding giving total strangers the benefit of the doubt, trusting that they won't be boring or mean or secretly racist? (1537)

All you feminist-writing romance novelists out there, please keep the submissions coming!

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