Tuesday, March 23, 2010

TBR Tuesday: Something About Julie James's Latest Book

Welcome to the inaugural TBR Tuesday, where I virtuously read one of the hundred or so books on the TBR bench (yes, they've effectively taken over an entire piece of furniture) and blog about it. (More below on the photograph at left.)

Now, I don't review books (to see why, go here), but virtually everything I read makes me think about something, so I figure I should be able to generate a blog post no matter what I'm reading.  First up (because it was the last addition; I'm clearly working on a LOFO approach to my TBR piles: Last On, First Off) is Julie James's Something About You.  Which I liked, a lot.  But which I didn't love, and that got me thinking about why not.

What is it about a book that makes us enjoy it but not love it?  When and why do we fall in love with some books?

I will admit I have not been a wild fan of Ms. James's books up to now.  I had a problem with Just the Sexiest Man Alive, in which a Chicago lawyer falls in love with the titular Sexiest Man Alive (a movie star); because Hollywood actors seem such a bad bet as "forever and ever" heroes, it was hard for me to believe in the HEA.  I enjoyed Practice Makes Perfect a bit more, although the "I hate him I hate him I hate him - ooh, wait, I love him" story arc isn't my favorite.  (And, as a lawyer, I found some of their antics to be distasteful.  I was assured on Twitter that such antics do happen in some large law firms, but I guess that strikes me as a weak defense at best.)

Julie James is clearly improving and growing as a writer; Something About You is much better than its predecessors.  The couple is believable together, the set up was interesting, the writing tight & well-paced, the sex was yummy, and the ending charming.  I even found myself, in my RWA meeting, thinking, "Can't wait to get back to my book."  That's always a good sign.

So why didn't I love it?  I had a couple objections pretty early on, but I know they weren't the problem.  [Just for the record, I am tired of her heroines all having uber-masculine first names: Taylor, Payton, Cameron, Jordan.  It was particularly confusing in SAY, where all the FBI agents and police officers are known simply by their surnames.  Wilkins, Pallas, Kamin, Phelps, Cameron, Briggs -- spot the girl's name?  That's right, it's Pallas (as in Pallas Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and heroic endeavor).  Wouldn't it have been cool if the heroine had been named Pallas Lynde, and the hero had been Jack Cameron?  My second objection came from a couple places where it seemed a heroine with that skill set would have been a lot smarter about the criminal investigation, and one place where I thought the FBI would have been a lot smarter.  Eh.  All minor quibbles.]

At first, I thought it was just that odd alchemy between reader and book such that a book that thrills you to your toes on one occasion doesn't have that effect upon re-reading years later.  (The converse can be true as well: I'm re-re-re-reading a book now and enjoying it for a whole raft of reasons I know I didn't have the last time I read it.  I still love it, but now I appreciate it even more.)  Maybe yesterday just wasn't the right day, or March the right month, or 2010 the right year for me to read SAY and love it.  Maybe I'll love it next week or next year.

Maybe.  But I don't think so.  And I think I know why not.

As it happened, last night was my third meeting with my new chapter of RWA.  The discussion was on public speaking, and we were requested to bring a book from which to read a couple pages.  I took Island Nights by Glenda Sanders because its ending is so moving, and I love it so much, that I have twice tried to read it to my husband.  (Once with each husband.)  I've never been able to read it without crying, though, and thus this seemed the greatest challenge I could set myself for public speaking.

I've written about Island Nights over at Monkey Bear Reviews, so I won't do a compare and contrast with SAY.  It wouldn't be fair to either book; one's a straight-up contemporary romance, the other a lighthearted thrillerish romance.  (It might be fairer to compare SAY with Linda Howard's Blair Mallory romances, To Die For and Drop Dead Gorgeous; they share the dead bodies, hot detective & occasionally funny perspective.)  But as I read the ending of Island Nights aloud for a third time (I teared up in a couple places but did not actually cry), I realized what was missing from SAY.

They never fall in love.  Or, to be more precise, they fall in love but we don't read about it.  With all the things that James does very well, in SAY she didn't even try to convey what it feels like to fall in love.  It's still a fun book to read, and it's still fast-paced, well written, sexy as hell, and satisfying in its way.

It's just not very romantic.

I promised you an explanation of the TBR bench.  Well, first of all, I couldn't photograph it as it had been: far too revealing about my inadequate housekeeping habits.  Second, it wasn't intact; a significant number of books were hanging out uselessly on my bedside table.  (I carried a full LLBean boat bag's worth of TBR books down and entered them into my database on Microsoft's OneNote.)  And finally, a certain amount of tidying of the adjacent areas had to occur before this photo was snapped.

The books are now all nicely organized into historicals, contemporaries, mysteries & thrillers, paranormals/fantasy/sci fi, general fiction, and non-fiction.

And it yielded my first-ever contest.  I have a brand-new copy of Eloisa James's Duchess by Night to give away.  That's right -- a two-year-old book you've all read already.  That's so perfectly consistent with me and with this blog that I can't resist offering the book to anyone who wants it.  Leave a comment saying you'd like to get this book, and I'll pick at random.


  1. I've only read PMP by Julie James and, like you, wasn't really moved by it. Also, like you, I put much of my reaction down to being a lawyer. I struggle with books in which the protaganists are lawyers because it strains my reader-belief so badly - I don't see how anyone could write the job as it really is (in a romance anyway) and it not strain reader-belief for someone like me - so I don't really say that to criticise it (although it did irritate me that Payton was depicted as always winning her cases). However, on reading your post I have to agree that actually, that is not my main glitch with the book - it is - as you've said- the lack of a sense of them falling love. As you've said it's all a bit I hate I hate you I hate you .... oh wait! I just remembered, you're fabulous and actually I've been a bit unfair to you, oh heck - I love you! Unsatisfying romantically speaking.

    I can't see myself picking up SAY.

    Oh and BTW I keep meaning to mention that we have something else in common - my husband is also a crossword fiend. Not quite the expert that yours sounds like but his habit has been deepening recently. In the last few months he's gone from doing the Sunday crossword and the Times one a couple of days a week to doing the Times nearly every day - and checking crossword blogs. Before you know it, we'll be bumping into each other at crossword conferences...

  2. Your TBR doesn't look that bad at all... *hides face*

  3. I've never read Eloisa James, so I'm a good candidate for your give away. :-)

    I did read Something About You and enjoyed it. It hit the spot at that particular time and since I'm in the medical field and not law, any mistakes and discrepancies more or less went over my head.

    I finished the book feeling content. On another day, in another mood, it might not have been so. But the lack of depth in the character's relationship didn't bother me on this first reading.

    I will try some of her other books based on my experience with this one. Sometimes you just need to stay away from the angst and go with the froth.

  4. Janet W here: I wouldn't even call the first Julie James frothy ... it was a lalaland bubble that required me to suspend my disbelief to a point that it just shattered. Did enjoy #2 and #3 was even better. Good point though by Magdalen ... would have enjoyed seeing them fall in love.

    Looking forward to #4 where the heroine is NOT going to be a lawyer!

  5. Tumperkin: Tell your husband when he's graduated to doing The Listener in the Times (Saturday), I'll send him the book Ross edited from back in the day.

    {Note to self -- hit Tumpkerkin up for "beta testing" any novels I might write with lawyers in...}

    Victoria: Thanks, but don't let its tidiness fool you; it's still huge. (Of course, size doesn't matter . . . it's what you do with it.)

    Carolyn: I think you can safely assume the Eloisa James is yours. DM me your address on Twitter, or email me at Magdalen (at) MagdalenBraden.com.

    Janet: I really think Julie James is improving as a writer. And, as Carolyn points out, sometimes you don't need or even want all the sturm und drang of a full-blown angsty romance. Still, I think a little more of what the heart wants, alongside what the head and loins are voting for, wouldn't have gone amiss.

  6. Thank you Magdalen!

    I don't twitter but tried to email you. Copied and pasted the email address you posted and changed the (at) to @, but Yahoo says "recipient info doesn't seem quite right".

    My email address is bamaclm (at)Yahoo.com. If you could send a test email, I could reply.

    Thank you again for the gift, very much appreciated!

  7. Carolyn: I've emailed you, and that should work. (It could be you cut & pasted the period at the end of the sentence as part of the email address; my apologies.)

  8. I think you were right about the period. I'm past my 'use by' date when it comes to computers and the internet. :-)

    Email is sent and thank you again.


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