Thursday, December 13, 2012

Blue Skies (2009) – Ali Vali

I wish I could take it back. I rue the day I purchased Ali Vali’s Blue Skies for Cerulean Lambda. While I thought it would be the gay Top Gun story she’d always dreamed of, what I discovered was instead the most boring lesbian romance ever. After finishing it, Cerulean Lambda made me read it because, like Ali Vali, she hates me and wants me to suffer. This is the only reason I can put forward for this novel’s existence. Why else would you promise a super-cool novel about TOP GUN PILOTS who do things like FIGHT IN THE AIR and then devote only a handful of pages to what should be the novel’s climax?

Its cover describes it as a “romantic adventure.” Let’s unpack that a bit, and start with the romance. Ahem. Berkley Levine, a Top Gun instructor also known by her callsign Cletus, and Aidan Sullivan, a giant asshole, used to be together. But then Aidan let her dreams of career advancement get in the way of their relationship, and she decided to forego the picket fence, dog, and everlasting love for being a badass instead, as well as the first woman to captain a Navy carrier ever. Women, especially lesbians, can never have it all. Lesson learned.

It’s a few years later when Aidan comes knocking on Cletus’s door. She’s just gotten that big promotion but it can’t fill the Cletus-sized hole in her heart. Ostensibly, she’s here to ask Cletus to fly a mission for the Navy, but makes it very clear that her true purpose is to get Cletus back. Aidan, who has “decided on her course and doesn’t want to wait,” doesn’t seem to understand Cletus’s initial reservations about letting Aidan into her pants and her heart (in that order). It is a mere few pages after their decidedly unsexy reunion, however, that Cletus decides to let bygones be bygones: she introduces Aidan to her parents and listens to Aidan happily fantasize about their future together. She even gets on board with the picket fence, dog, and kids, and has never been more eager to give up everything she’s worked for if she can have the love of a good (enough) woman in exchange. Cletus and Aidan have a little government business to take care of first, though.

And here’s where the adventure begins. And then abruptly ends. In a matter of pages. Most of the “adventure” is devoted to pre-mission sex shenanigans and tearful farewells, and post-mission sex shenanigans and tearful reunions. And this only counts as an adventure if you think, as I suspect Ali Vali does, that the real adventure is what happens when two lonely hearts connect across a vast cosmic space and learn to beat as one. This is a regrettable mistake; the book would have been much more enjoyable had I felt like their respective careers mattered in some substantial way, rather than functioning as easily discarded plot devices.

I might have been more inclined to forgive the lack of adventure if I felt the romance were more compelling instead of the most terrible idea ever. If Cletus / Berkley were a friend of mine, and you know, were interesting at all, I would want to sit her down and process the shit out of Aidan’s return with her. And we would eventually conclude (when I say “we” I mean that I would ask leading questions, but you know, she’d figure it out) that only an insane person or someone who is desperately needy would willingly board that crazy relationship train again with Aidan. Because really.

I was initially going to start this review by talking about how terrible the sex scenes are, but I don’t even really care anymore. I mean, some of the language is almost deliberately a turn-off (“she painted Berkley’s jeans with the evidence of her desire”), but there are bigger problems here. Like the fact that there’s a sequel. I might not even read it, because it took me for-fucking-ever to finish this book, and that’s saying something.

Rating: Like half a star. For good behavior.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Flight Risk by Kim Baldwin (2007)

Baldwin's romantic thriller Flight Risk resides in a zone of competent mediocrity that neither overly annoys nor remotely pleases this reader.  A skippable 2.5 out of 5 coolly professional brunettes pursued by spunky strawberry blondes.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Blue Skies by Ali Vali (2009)

Knowing my weakness for women in uniform, Indigo Labrys gifted me with a copy of Blue Skies by Ali Vali.  Hotshot naval aviator Berkley Levine thinks she has it all: Hawaiian beaches, supersonic jets, and the love of fellow naval officer Aidan Sullivan.  But Aidan, who has her sights set on making captain, ends their relationship rather than risk being discharged.  Stunned, Berkley retreats to Fallon, Nevada, where she trains a new generation of pilots at TOPGUN.  But when Aidan, now captain of the Navy's newest aircraft carrier, comes to Fallon to recruit pilots for a top secret mission, can Berkley put her broken heart aside long enough to stop North Korea's nuclear weapons program!?

I should have loved this book.  But the writing is awful and the plot is so boring I would have stopped reading had I not wanted to review it for this blog.  Part of the problem is that the plot does not actually follow the structure I outlined above: we begin with Aidan's return, and are simply told about the fabulous relationship that Aidan sacrificed on the altar of her career.  (Of course, now that Aidan has finally made captain, she's ready to chuck it all without experiencing so much as a shakedown cruise and love Berkley the way she deserves to be loved!)  Although the characters repeat (and repeat) how made-for-each-other they are, there's nothing to actually convince me of that.  In fact, the only character I got a real sense of was Jin Lee, a North Korean fighter pilot (and also a lesbian, because why not), who deserves her own novel by a competent author.

On top of the weak romance, the adventure side of the story doesn't pick up until about page 150, whereafter it manages to be interesting for about fifty pages before the wheels come off spectacularly.  It speaks to Vali's failure of imagination that she doesn't anticipate the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, but does expect us to swallow caricatures of displaced Bush Administration officials carrying out terrorist attacks on American soil.  But even if the plot were better constructed, it would not be enjoyable because Vali's writing fails at the sentence level: it's oddly choppy, with strange word choices, and the dialogue sounds like it was written by aliens who learned English by picking up soap opera transmissions.

How could something with hot naval officers leave me so cold?  One out of five atom bombs.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Candidate (2008) - Tracy Richardson

Jane cursed a blue streak, but only in her head. Five more minutes alone with Alex the other night, and the rumors might have been true. What had she been thinking? Had she really been willing to throw her future away over a sudden impulse?

Potential Democratic nominee Jane Kincaid has just spent a night of almost-passion with her bodyguard Alex Warner - a result of drunken antics at her mother's palatial island estate after Jane receives a super serious death threat that functions almost exclusively as an excuse to get them drunk and alone on an island. Where they start sharing their feelings, as ladies do, and wrestling (or "wrasslin'," as Alex might say, because she's Southern, y'all, and we know that because she says things like "dawg" and "darlin'"). Anyway, so they wrassle atop a bed and it's super confusing for Jane because she's straight.

But anyway. This passage is one of the things that annoyed me the most about this novel. Firstly, I think, because totally contrived events kept happening that seemed to exist for no other purpose in the novel other than forcing the two leads to admit their burning desire for each other. When, you know, they could have been used to develop character, or give Alex a chance to show off her supercop skillzors, which we are told about but never actually see.

This tendency to tell rather than show is a problem with the development of their relationship as well - we're told that it's special and magical and soul-bonding, but we don't get to know either character especially well, so it's hard to imagine what they see in each other (except Alex's "glacier-melting green eyes," as those are mentioned quite frequently). Like the many threats Jane faces in this novel, their relationship isn't particularly believable.

Credibility, then, was one of the biggest problems of the book for me - Alex isn't credible as a bodyguard, nor is Jane particularly credible as a politician (at one point, she says, "Carter, I need some background on Islamic religion ... I don't know a lot about it, but I'm sure Islam no more condones murder than Christianity," and this as a statement from an American politician post-9/11 was incredibly silly to me). (Her speeches are also pretty lulzy).

The book also participates in the worrying trend of lesbian instamarriage - something that never ceases to terrify me with its implausibility. In the novel, they kiss, and it's like all the rumors circulating about Jane's sexuality are suddenly true. But this is because as soon as they kiss, these rumors are true - in this world, kissing a woman means having soul-bonding sex with her means insta-marriage.

Also, as a final pet peeve, they call each other by their full names ALL THE TIME. ("Kiss me, Alex Warner." "God I love you Jane Kincaid"). Even while making sweet sweet love. Seriously, who does this?

Rating: two out of five fleas on a dawg, y'all.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Candidate by Tracey Richardson (2008)

Whenever Secret Service Agent Alex Warner feels unsure, all she has to do is remember the time she rescued those children from the burning building. Or the time she won the gold for the U.S. women's Olympic hockey team. Or the time she saved the Dalai Lama and he declared her a bodhisattva. Okay, that last one's not true, but the former make up our introduction to Alex, who is about to assume responsibility for the titular candidate, Jane Kincaid. But don't worry, it's Alex's friends who relate these acts of bravery and excellence, so it's not like she's bragging! Of course, an alternate strategy for establishing Alex's character would be giving her an opportunity to display competence and even heroism within the timeline of the story, but I much prefer this exposition, don't you?

(No, you do not.)

Jane Kincaid, a two-time senator running for the Democratic nomination for president, is much easier to like—right up until she (spoiler alert!) falls in love with Alex, and then it's all darling's and insta-marrying. Still, this book pulled me in much more than the last one I read (The Sublime and Spirited Voyage of Original Sin by Colette Moody), so I'm rating it 2.5 out of 5 children rescued from a house fire.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey (2009)

Ahh, I had almost forgotten what it's like to read a really good book.

Santa Olivia is the story of Loup Garron, a girl born in what used to be a Texas town, but is now a military outpost in a cordon separating the United States from Mexico.  She and her neighbors have been stripped of their citizenship and cannot escape to the United States—unless they or someone who loves them wins a boxing match against a military champion.  Loup may have a fighting chance: like her father, she is super-fast, super-strong, and feels no fear.  But revealing her gifts will invariably bring the army down on her.

The narrative took several chapters to really hook me, but once I was hooked, I couldn't put the book down and in fact stayed up past my bedtime to finish it.  While a coming of age story, Santa Olivia isn't aimed at younger readers (at least, I wouldn't gift the novel to anyone younger than sixteen).  Carey's writing is sparse but powerful, as befits the setting.  Oh, and the reason you're all here: part of Loup's growing up involves falling in love with a girl.  Aww, my heart.  (Plus, in addition to the f/f romance, there's a background m/f/f triad.)  Best of all, there is a sequel (!!!), which I have in my hot little hands and will be reading shortly.

4.5 out of 5 fearless young women.

Lethal Affairs (2008) - Kim Baldwin and Xenia Alexiou

Lethal Affairs is the first of the Elite Operatives series by Kim Baldwin and Xenia Alexiou. (And being part of a series that's ongoing is certainly a point in its favor - I think the fifth book is being published this year).

Even better, though, Lethal Affairs is actually pretty awesome. I have no idea why it took me so long to read it. The basic premise is that there is a super sekrit organization of spies (the titular elite operatives) and they take care of threats to national security while also being totally badass. And also kind of emotionally stunted because they've spent their entire lives from childhood onward being trained to be badass, which understandably takes its toll.

In Lethal Affairs, one of these operatives, Domino, is doing undercover work to save the super sekrit spy organization (and herself) from being compromised after an operation goes awry and she gets caught on videotape. The videotape ends up in the hands of a plucky journalist, and Domino is sent to retrieve it slash take care of business. You can guess what happens. (It's sexy business).

This isn't to say that Lethal Affairs is predictable - it's not. While its development of the relationship between Domino and her target is pretty much par for the course, it's sexy and fun 'cause SHE'S A SPY! (I eat that shit up like candy). (Also, there are no words like "nubbin" or "love button" and I didn't want to claw out my eyes and never have sex again). Additionally, Baldwin and Alexiou deal with the suspense / thriller aspect of the plot masterfully (and the writing is really tight, too - always a plus).

It's a great read, and I'm working on the second book of the series now - Thief of Always - which is just as much fun.

Elite Operatives is one of my favorite reads of 2012 so far and you should read it if you like any of the following: spies, lesbians, suspense, and secret pain.

Rating: five out of five smooth criminals.