Thursday, July 25, 2013

Oh, I Wish I Weren't in the (Make-Believe) Land of Cotton . . .

Salting Roses
by Lorelle Marinello
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks

1 Out of 5 Stars
Reviewed by Amanda

Salting Roses purports to be a novel brimming with Southern charm. Oh, it's brimming alright. Ridiculously so. Welcome to the land of Southern stereotypes and Bible Belt cliches. This is right up there in Sweet Home Alabama territory and if Reese Witherspoon is looking for another romantic jaunt in a charming make-believe South, here it is. If you haven't guessed by now, I'm not the target audience for this novel, so maybe it's unfair for me to proceed from here. But like that's ever stopped me before.

As a baby, Gracie Lynne Calloway was left in a bucket on her uncle's doorstep with a note from her mother asking him to watch her for a spell. A spell soon turns into 25 years and Gracie, now an adult and nursing old emotional wounds from being labeled the town bastard of Shady Grove, Alabama, is in for a shock--she's not who she always thought she was. A stranger (who is literally tall, dark, and handsome, just in case we miss that he's our prospective love interest) brings her the news that she's actually the kidnapped daughter of the wealthy financier Conrad Hammond of Connecticut. She has been named the sole heir of $650 million dollars. What's a simple Southern girl with a love of baseball and a cushy job in the backroom of the local grocery store to do? Why, turn it down, of course! Because if she accepted it, there would be no plot complications and we wouldn't have this trite little novel. Gracie has been raised to distrust those born with a silver spoon firmly in mouth and fears the money will bring too many problems to her quiet and unexceptional life. Yeah, I'm not buying what they're selling here. $650 million dollars? Who wouldn't accept that? At least one could accept it and proceed to do a lot of philanthropic good (of course, I would just use it to wallow in pure hedonism, but different strokes for different folks).

There are several things that ruined the book for me:

A) These are all stock Southern characters that are presented as though they are supposed to be quirky. They're not. They don't even dance around the edges of eccentric. We've seen them a thousand times before in literature and in movies. If you're going to play up the quirk factor in Southern literature, go big or go home.

B) I'm not a fan of romance novels and had I known this was a romance in Southern fiction clothing, I would have ran the other way. However, even I know that in a good romance novel there has to be some will-they-won't-they tension. There's none here. We know as soon as Sam Fontana walks in the door and Gracie starts having dirty thoughts that he's the man she's been waiting for. And if you're pissed over a plot spoiler, be upset with the novel--it makes no pretense that it will turn out otherwise. There's not even the introduction of another prospective suitor to throw the seasoned romance reader off track.

C) Serious crimes against vocabulary in the overuse of the following words: sass, sassy, Yankee, princess, and sugah. Apparently,we're all sassy down South and we hates us a Yankee. Foghorn Leghorn has more character complexity.

D) A plot that gets more and more ridiculous as it goes on. If this had been reined in a bit and been a realistic portrayal of realistic people then something could have been salvaged. As it is, when I managed to suspend disbelief long enough to wrap my mind around one nugget of ludicrousness, here came a side order of absurdity.

I like Southern fiction when it's done well. If you're looking for good Southern/regional chick lit, might I suggest The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, The Help by Kathryn Stockett, or Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani. If you're looking for authentic Southern lit, read Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell, True Grit by Charles Portis, Ava's Man or All Over But the Shoutin' by Rick Bragg, or anything Larry Brown. They're all preferable to Gracie and her whining about being a $650 million dollar princess. Now, I'm gonna go put me some sugah in a glass of iced tea and sass some poor unsuspecting soul. I hope it's a Yankee.

Jay Lake Pre-Mortem Read-a-thon, Review the Fifth

TRIAL OF FLOWERS (The City Imperishable #1)
Night Shade Books
$14.95 trade paper, available now

Reviewed by Richard, 4.25* of five

The Publisher Says: The City Imperishable's secret master and heir to the long-vacant throne has vanished from a locked room, as politics have turned deadly in a bid to revive the city's long-vanished empire.

The city's dwarfs, stunted from spending their childhoods in confining boxes, are restive. Bijaz the Dwarf, leader of the Sewn faction among the dwarfs, fights their persecution. Jason the Factor, friend and apprentice to the missing master, works to maintain stability in the absence of a guiding hand. Imago of Lockwood struggles to revive the office of Lord Mayor in a bid to turn the City Imperishable away from the path of destruction.

These three must contend with one another as they race to resolve the threats to the city.

My Review: What a trip. The back cover copy calls it an "urban fantasy," which to my mind doesn't conjure images of Perdido Street Station (which this book reminds me of) so much as it does Dead Until Dark et. seq. But the key factor here is to be found in the word "fantasy."

I read a fantasy novel.

There, I said it.

I not only read it, I enjoyed it. BUT DON'T FOR GAWD'S SAKE TELL ANYONE. I will swear an oath that you're lying and that you must be the one who hacked my account and wrote a glowing heap of praise for a book with dwarves, an ancient city declining under an empty throne, a reluctant hero...well, you see my predicament. I can't admit out loud that I liked this kind of guff. "The city is," runs the motto Lake gives the City Imperishable. Yeeesh, really? Portentous much?

But seriously, who wouldn't like a book with this in it:
There was nothing left of himself that he wanted, save the vague glimmer of peace that he found somewhere inside the violet smoke. Finally he understood the place to which his wife had long since retreated.
Sometimes, when the snow was not so deep and he'd managed a little soup or coffee, {he} thought about making his way {home} and apologizing to his wife. He wasn't sure she'd understand him though--the crap dust had begun to rot his teeth, getting in all too quickly through the breaks, and his tongue was always dry as leather and twice too big.
The abjection of a powerful character, the absolute fall, the hitting bottom with a resounding *crunch* is unsettlingly well-limned.

And some regulars among you might recall my utterances on the subject of majgicqk. They have been uniformly derisory and occasionally cachinnatory. But here again Lake subverts and alters my wall of defense against balderdash:
"Everything carries the seeds of its own opposition, in equal measure. Have you ever toppled a wall? ... You must press as much as it takes to move the stones. They react as they are pushed. What people care to call magic works the same way. No one calls lightning from the summer sky without burning a hole in something, somewhere."
When you put it that way....

The City Imperishable is, like all places and cultures, built on a bargain. The bargain has costs and it has benefits. Those who pay the costs aren't always the ones who reap the benefits. Each main character, Bijaz the dwarf, Imago the Lord Mayor, and Jason the fector, pays dearly for the City Imperishable to derive the final benefit: Remaining alive. But each of these men, in their turn, finds a greater benefit in his sacrifice. They become whole in their brokenness, and anneal the metal of their character, and in the testing of their different mettles, bring life raging anew through the City Imperishable.

The city is.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.