Unfinished Business by Suzanne Forster

Unfinished Business, Suzanne Forster, Harlequin, 2005

2.5 Stars

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Book – Unfinished Business by Suzanne Forster

Suzanne Forster was an author I’d read before Unfinished Business. This book arrived in one of my monthly subscriptions to category romances. Receiving it was a pleasant surprise, as I’d enjoyed Foster’s previous works. Sucks for me that this one was not as fun as what I’d read before.

Back in the early 2000s I briefly subscribed to Harlequin’s Blaze imprint (they don’t publish those anymore, do they?). To my disappointment, I was not too impressed with most of them. I think I DNFed half that I started. The romances either were all about sex with little plot or mildly sexy stories with lots of suspense, better suited to Harlequin’s Intrigue or Romantic Suspense lines.

Blazes were the replacement for the Temptation imprint, which I preferred as they ranged from run-of-the-mill romances to paranormals with just about anything else in between, and enough steam to satisfy. In the new millennium, romance novels were less euphemistic than in the past with more erotic scenes. Harlequin’s Blaze line was supposed to cash in on that.

In my eyes, I thought the authors were trying too hard to be kinky. Most love scenes read the same: vanilla BDSM, being tied up, light spanking, use of toys… Sure the sex was there, but the love stories lacked heart.

The Plot

A while back, Melissa had a one-night stand in Cancun. She awoke in a hung-over daze with a ring on her finger. Had she just marry some random stranger? Before her hunk’s sleep can be disturbed, Melissa flees and leaves Mexico behind her.

In the ensuing years she becomes a wildly successful author. Her books? Well, they’re about sex, of course! She details all all the naughty ways to make love. Melissa uses her “marriage” for her credentials. In truth, Melissa has no love life at all, just what’s in her memories and imagination. But she’s a great faker and the media makes her a sensation.

To Melissa’s shock, after she’s interviewed on a talk show, who should return to her life, but Tony the very man she “married.” Tony wants answers as to why she left him behind. Moreover, why is she pretending they’re still together?

Melissa makes lame excuses and is perturbed by her intense attraction to him. Tony pursues her, accompanying her while she advertises her book. He becomes part of the promotional campaign. The pair pretend to be deeply in love. Pretense turns into reality as Melissa and Tony spend more and more time together.

Later on, Melissa and Tony appear on a 24-hour reality show and have rather boring sex under the covers while the cameras are on.

He also shaves her legs with a straightedge razor. Was that’s supposed to be erotic? When my legs are hairy, I do not want my man touching them, even if it’s to help groom.

Opinion

I remember being really disappointed by the lackluster love scenes in this one. The plot was rom-com cute, but poorly executed. (I could swear a Lifetime flick starring Laura Prepon from “That ’70s Show” ripped off this plot, or at least part of it [Note: It did! The movie was called “Romancing The Bride” and was only loosely based on Unfinished Business]).

So what were the highlights?

The story was mildly funny, as Suzanne Forster has a good sense of humor, so that was a positive.

Lamentably, the erotic scenes failed to titillate. For example, Melissa and Tony engaged in lots of finger-licking, which is fine for Cheeto-dusted fingers. When it comes to bedroom foreplay, that’s gross. Hey, I believe in different strokes and all that, but do people really get turned on by having their fingers sucked? Like, what if the woman has pointed, acrylic nails or the guy hasn’t watched his hands after going to the bathroom? That’s as sexy as licking the inside of somebody’s stinky, lint-filled belly button.

All in all, however, this was a mediocre read, as it lacked that sexy over-the-top oomph I was expecting.

The Highwayman by Kerrigan Byrne

The Highwayman, Kerrigan Byrne, St. Martin’s Press, 2015

2 1/2 Stars

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Book Review – The Highwayman by Kerrigan Byrne

The opening chapter of Kerrigan Byrne’s The Highwayman had me hooked. It has a lovely, heartbreaking beginning. Two lonely orphans in a child-care facility fall in love & “marry.” There’s a nice quote from the beginning where 8-year-old Farah teaches 11-year-old Dougan to read…and love. 

“Love is quite like reading, I expect. Once you know how, you can’t ever imagine not doing it.”

Young Farah tells Dougan before the pair are cruelly separated.

Fast forward 17 years, the heroine’s an independent, progressive yet virginal widow working for Scotland Yard & the hero’s an underworld king. Farah doesn’t recognize Dougan, but he does her, is furious she broke their vow to marry another man, so he kidnaps her and brings her to Scotland.

Then what started so beautifully took a turn into anachronistic historical. Eh, par for the course. Still, it was good. Or at least it was better than most modern historical romances I’ve read. So far.

But Farah was DUMB. She couldn’t guess who Dorian truly was? Same age, same coloring, & how did he get a scar on his eye just like Dougan did? Sharp as butter knife she is.

Dougan’s intriguing, yet while his attitude of “I don’t like touching because I was raped in prison” makes sense (and gave me shades of the film Buffalo ’66“No touching! I don’t like to be touched!”) but his “So just stand there and I’ll just ogle you while I bathe & masturbate” came off as pervy, not sexy. Damaged heroes=meh.

(PS: Walters=Hodar)

At 35% through listening to this book on Audible, however, I decided to return it. The narration was very good, but the story was getting way too repetitive. After a promising start, I found the heroine was both incomprehensibly modern & stupid at the same time. The hero…a douche, but nothing unforgiveable. Although his “Woe is me, you don’t know how much I’ve suffered” attitude was getting on my nerves.

So I returned the audiobook, and read the DTB version.

Alas, it was not to be. The angst was too overwrought, even for me, who adores an angst-ridden romance. And the mindsets were all wrong, far too modern. If I want contemporary attitudes in a romance, I’ll read a contemporary romance. This romance couldn’t decide what it wanted to be, which is fitting, as I couldn’t decide whether it was worth my time or not.

Dark Disciple by Christie Golden

Dark Disciple, Christie Golden, Lucas Books, 2015

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

2.5 Stars

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Look How They Massacred My Girl!

Oh, Don Corleone, I know your pain.

I gave the Christie Golden penned Dark Disciple a liberal 2.5-star rating only because I listened to it on Audible. Otherwise, I do not think I would have had the patience with what they did to my beloved Asajj Ventress, a major villainess in the Star Wars galaxy.

Ventress is a bald-headed Dathomirian Nightsister who, as a Sith assassin, wields two red lightsabers. Her people are so badass that the women enslave Dathomirian Zabrak males as their workers and mates. You know Darth Maul, the devil-looking monster with the dual-bladed crimson lightsaber who killed Qui-Gon Jinn? He and his brothers are the Nightsister’s playthings!

She was the great Ventress, who was introduced in Genndy Tartakovsky’s “Clone Wars” micro-series and fought Anakin Skywalker in an epic death-match on Yavin IV. In Star Wars Legends, it was she who gave Anakin Skywalker his dashing face scar. After Darth Zannah, she’s my favorite female character in all of Star Wars (yes, I am prejudiced in favor of the Sith!), and one of my top 10 overall.

Or she was, until Dark Disciple.

In DD, her character is ruined. I don’t know if the blame lies with George Lucas, Dave Filoni, or author Christie Golden, or all three of them, but why did they have to do that to Ventress? I know this was a lost 8-or-9-episode arc from the show, that, thankfully, never made it to the little screen, but unfortunately is set into canon with this book.

Not My Ventress

Last we met Ventress, she had been abandoned by her Master Darth Tyrannus (aka Count Dooku). Her life as a Sith acolyte over, she now resides in the lower levels of Coruscant, working as a bounty hunter. In a contradictory-mess of a plan, the Jedi have decided that the way to end the Clone Wars is through the assassination of Count Dooku, leader of the Confederacy of Independent Systems. Assassination goes against the Jedi code of self-defense, but whatever. Their plan is to use Jedi Master Quinlan Vos to con his way into Dooku’s life via his former apprentice, Ventress, and he will do the evil deed.

Along the way, Ventress and Vos get close, as close as two people can be.

Oh, but you thought the Jedi couldn’t have attachments? Well, apparently that huge plot point of the Star Wars Prequels gets thrown out the window here. Attachments are ok, so long as you are planning the cold-blooded murder of your political enemy.

You know, the more I think about it, the more I hate the plot of this book.

Ventress grows her hair out into a bleached-blonde cut and wears revealing miniskirts. She goes from this menacing creature:

Ventress inClone Wars”

To this brutal, yet sensual fighter:

Ventress in “The Clone Wars”

To the unholy mother of all evil, Karen:

How I pictured Ventress in Dark Disciple

(Thank you Google for that last one).

Major Spoilers Below (Scroll Quick to Avoid)

I never read the EU comics having to do with Vos. I don’t care how cool he was then. He’s a tool, now. Ventress constantly refers to him in her head as “that idiot.” You know that means she secretly loves him. Vos is a tattooed, dreadlocked, muscle-bound caveman of a Jedi and I cared not one whit for him.

The story here is a mess. Is Vos secretly working with Dooku? Is his partnership with Dooku part of the original plan or has the plan gone awry? When those questions are answered, more arise. How could Vos turn to the Darkside so quickly? And then turn back again? And back and forth, etc.?

The end is meant to be redemptive to Ventress, but she needed no redemption! In Season 5 of “The Clone Wars,” she helped Ahsoka out when Ahsoka sought out the killer who framed her. That was enough. There was no need to make Ventress fall in love with Vos and save his life by taking on Dooku, thus losing her own life in the process! Vos brings Ventress’s body back to Dathomir to bury her with her fallen sisters. And that’s the end of Asajj.

Opinion of Dark Disciple

Look, I love romance novels, the good, the bad, and the extra-cheesy. Asajj Ventress could have had a love story, or many love stories, in her life. But to have it go that way was so underwhelming and out of character. They transformed Ventress from a deadly, savage killer and replaced her with a bland action heroine whose fate is that of a Nicholas Sparks protagonist.

Asajj Ventress deserved better!

2 stars for the book, 3 for the Audible version.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins, Riverhead, 2015

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

2.5 Stars

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Book – The Girl on the Train

Everyone at some point in their life has fallen into despair. Perhaps we have all experienced a moment where we want to lapse into oblivion and forget everything awful that ever occurred. When there is no hope, there can only be a dark, deadly, void.

From the moment I picked up Paulina Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train, the main character intrigued me. Here is a woman, Rachel, an alcoholic divorcee, unemployed and unable to have children. She is prone to blackouts and has deep psychological issues. Her husband, Tom, left her for sexy Anna, a younger woman, with whom he has a baby. Now the new happy couple lives in Rachel’s old house, a house she passes every day as rides the train into London, to a job which she no longer has.

Just a few houses down from her old home lives another couple: a young, beautiful pair, into whom Rachel puts all her feelings of hope. Now here is a truly happy couple. She doesn’t know their names, so she builds a life for them in her own head: a perfect life, calling them Jess and Jason.

But then Jess goes missing. Where did she go? What happened?

Little by little, ugly truths are revealed. Jess’s real name is Megan and her husband’s is Scott. Everyone in the book is a suspect, especially Scott, Rachel, and even a ham-handedly placed “red-herring.”

An Imitation of a Better Book?

This book has been compared to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, and it should, for there are similarities.

–The word “Girl” is in the title.

–A supposedly perfect married couple and a blonde, possibly pregnant, wife goes missing and the husband is accused.

–There are crime groupies (In this case, it’s the main character).

–Use of first-person-present tense and unreliable narration that alternates from character to character to add a sense of confusion.

–A supposed critique of upper-middle-class marriages.

But while Flynn’s writing is gleefully over-the-top, her characterization rapier-sharp and spot on, The Girl on the Train is self-indulgently mopey. At first I felt so bad for Rachel, a woman callously screwed over by life. But does she shake herself off, say “Eff you haters!” and make things better for herself? No. She just whines and drinks and sulks. And while she has every reason to be angry with life, at a certain point it’s just too much! She makes for a very unlikeable character, and not in a good way.

That is the major difference between Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. While Amy is irrefutably an evil, messed-up person, she takes control. Shit happened to her, but she is no victim. She will rule her life by any means necessary. Psycho stuff, for sure, but hell of an entertaining read. Perhaps Amy is not the perfect ideal of feminism, but she is a not someone who lets people screw her over. Rachel is just a sad-sack of misery, she should have just left town and moved on. I’m not an encourager of suicide, and Rachel was leading down that path, so it’s no fun to watch.

Weak Female Characters

Actually, in “The Girl on the Train” every woman is just there, saying, “Woe-is me! There’s nothing I can do about life, but pout and pine or do really stupid things and make it worse.”

Woman A: “My life sucks. It’s my ex-husband’s fault. Why did he make me so unhappy?”

Woman B: “My life sucks. It’s my husband’s fault. Why can’t he make me happy?”

Woman C: “My life is starting to suck. I’ll wait for my husband to do something about it and if he doesn’t, then I will…Maybe. But I’ll give him lots of chances first.”

The one character I felt awful for was Scott, the missing girl’s husband. 

If male-imposed misogyny was the theme of this book, then it failed. There was only one male who was a real woman-hater in this. The rest of the women-haters were the women themselves.

This book was popular enough with readers to become a motion picture.

I was conflicted about it. The ending is a major reason why.

Spoilers Ahead

The first half of this book is quite entertaining, with the plot zig-zagging and coiling to keep you guessing. But halfway through, the first mystery is revealed, and now instead of wondering what happened, it’s all about who did it.

I expected a twisted, dark ending, something on a par with Susanna Moore’s In the Cut. After a month of reading Agatha Christie, I was in the mood for a modern murder mystery with shocking revelations.

However, the ending was so predictable. The villain just sits there and does that “Let me tell you what I did and exactly how I did it” routine that just annoys me.

The crime is “solved” and the killer is dispatched.

I thought it would have been a perfect set up to have Rachel sent to prison for Megan’s murder. There Rachel is, standing before a stopped train that is filled with bored commuters looking on as she stabs her ex-husband in the neck in front of his shocked wife.

The way Anna was written, it would have made sense if she accused Rachel of being the killer. Anna had tons of documentation of Rachel’s drunken harassment and stalking. With a little bit of ingenuity, the real killer would have gotten away with it, albeit still dead. And poor Rachel would have suffered the consequences. Now that would have been an ending. 

Opinion of Girl on the Train

I listened to this mostly on audio while also reading it on the Kindle. Perhaps it was the soothing British accents that made this book tolerable instead of a wall banger. It’s one of those bestsellers that everyone is reading, and might even be a major motion picture in a couple of years.

To a certain extent I liked it, at least the premise, but there were many problems with the execution, so it’s a mixed rating.