Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Thursday Thirteen - 57 - 13 Reasons to Read Loyalists and Layabouts by Stephen Kimber

Once upon a time, twenty-three years ago actually, I worked as the daytime babysitter for Stephen and Jeannie Kimber. At the time he was a journalism professor at the University of King's College in Halifax, and together they also published a magazine called Cities. It was pure delight to work for the Kimber's. I loved their three children so much. It was such a rich time of my life.

We kept in touch over all these years, though it had been awhile since I'd seen everyone when I attended Stephen's book launch two weeks ago. Click here for our Time Warp.

The whole family was there except for the oldest son, who's on the west coast these days. Twenty-three years later, Stephen is still a professor at King's. Well, okay, now he's the Rogers Communications Chair in Journalism. Whatever.

Since it was a book launch, I got my very own copy of Loyalists and Layabouts. Narrative nonfiction is Stephen's specialty, and opening the pages of this book is the type of thing H.G. Wells dreamed of when he wrote The Time Machine, but without actually disturbing the time continuum.

1 - Loyalists and Layabouts is a RandomHouse release and is his seventh publication. Stephen is also the author of:
Sailors, Slackers and Blind Pigs: Halifax at War
Not Guilty: The Trial of Gerald Regan
Flight 111: The Tragedy of the Swissair Crash
More Than Just Folks
Net Profits.

2 - Part of RandomHouse's Doubleday Canada imprint, Stephen's hardcover history book is part of a newer genre known as narrative nonfiction. "Ultimately, the primary goal of the creative nonfiction writer is to communicate information, just like a reporter, but to shape it in a way that reads like fiction," says Lee Gutkind, an author and editor who has helped to shape this genre from journalism into something with its own parameters.

3 - The first thing we encounter is the Dramatis Personae, where we see the names and descriptions of forty-one people whose stories beckon from the pages of the book. I don't know about you, but I think Dramatis Personae is so much cooler than List of Characters. And I suppose because each person profiled in the book was an actual - not fictional - person, they can't be considered 'characters.' They're most definitely an assortment of individuals who seem capable of rounding a corner and smacking right into the reader.

4 - The events of the book begin with the fall-out of the American Revolution. All those who'd remained loyal to Britain became instant pariahs in their rebel colonies. Mobs broke into fine homes bent on tarring and feathering, or riding the hated Tories on the 'rail'. Men formerly of means began meeting at secret and exclusive clubs. One group in particular began forming a plan to move a sizable number of Loyalists to the nearest British outpost on this side of the Atlantic.

5 - Nova Scotia in the early 1780's had expelled the French population a generation ago, resettling the Acadian farmland with New Englanders. The Loyalists who met at Roubalet's tavern called themselves the Port Roseway Associates and planned to sail an assortment of tradesmen and artisans to carve their ideal of what New York could have been out of the wilderness.

6 - Stephen uses the actual diary entries, memoirs or letters written by those who appear in the narrative. He peppers the quotes so effortlessly into the events, we can hear the actual voices of people like Sir Guy Carleton - General George Washington's British adversary. Carleton was in charge of British forces and met with Washington in this capacity to hammer out terms of British withdrawal from the newly minted United States of America. A particular sticking point were the Certificates of Freedom which Carleton granted to black Loyalists. These spelled out plainly that 'the said negro has hereby his Excellency Sir Guy Carleton's permission to go to Nova Scotia or wherever else he may think proper.'

"Washington had begun by reminding Carleton of the terms of Article 7 of the peace treaty, which forbade the British from 'carrying away any negroes.' Carleton responded [that] those Washington called slaves could no longer be considered the 'property' of anyone because they'd already been freed by British proclamation.

'No interpretation,' Carleton imperiously informed Washington, 'could be put on the articles [of the treaty] inconsistent with prior engagements binding the national honour which must be kept with all colours.' "

7 - Making the fateful decision to relocate to Shelburne speaks more of the desperate hopes of the refugees than any clear-headed thinking.

"There was no Shelburne in Shelburne. No one had even been sent ahead to survey the townsite or lay out the lots; Benjamin Marston and the other surveyors arrived just days ahead of the first 3000 clamouring refugees. Shelburne was an idea, an improbable dream of a new and better New York that would become 'an ornament to the British Empire,' a beacon of hope in a bleak time. But hope blinded them to the reality that their Mecca was nothing more than a spit of rocky shoreline bordered by impenetrable forest and icy water. The would-be settlers were selective too in who they listened to, selective even in what they heard. They heard the province's surveyor-general, for example, when he told them Shelburne offered 'the best situation in the province for trade, fishing and farming,' but they closed their ears when he qualified that with the fact that they should 'expect indifferent land in every part of the province.' "

8 - The full title of Stephen's book is Loyalists and Layabouts The Rapid Rise and Faster Fall of Shelburne, Nova Scotia, 1783-1792
For a Nova Scotian, the idea that Shelburne could ever have been considered as a rival to New York is roll-on-the-floor funny. The Shelburne of today has a population of 2000 people, while Halifax, the capital city is home to 373,000. Almost puny, when one considers today's New York City (8,214,000.)

But in the aftermath of the Revolutionary War, Shelburne swelled from a few hardy souls to a population of 10,000. New York's population by 1790 was 33,000. We can perhaps forgive the heady days of Shelburne's boom town mentality when considering that it was already a third of the size of New York.

9 - I really, really love Stephen's ability to take a nebulous concept like 'free black settlement' and show us what it actually took to make a home there. Five of the people profiled in Loyalists and Layabouts are free blacks and former slaves who originally made their way to Shelburne but ultimately helped to found the nearby black settlement of Birchtown, named for Brigadier-General Samuel Birch. His signature appeared on the majority of Certificates of Freedom held by those who finally turned their labour to their own interests.

Today Birchtown is home to the Black Loyalist Heritage Society.

10 - Stephen really knows how to end each chapter with a hook. Like this, for example:

"As one jaded loyalist soldier wrote in his diary, the colonists 'hoped that the emanations of the leaden George [a toppled statue] will make as deep impressions in the bodies of his red-coated and Tory the super-abundant emanations of the folly and pretended goodness of the real George have made upon their minds.'

The war for America had seemed to stutter into existence over the course of more than a dozen years as the legalistic feint and parry of British act and colonial resistance slowly but inexorably gave way to harsher measures on both sides. Had the tipping point been Lexington and Concord? Or had it come a few months later, in August 1775, when the British government ignored the Americans' Olive Branch Petition and issued its own Proclamation of Rebellion, declaring the American colonies in a state of 'open and avowed rebellion,' and calling on its subjects to 'withstand and suppress it.' Or had it actually come on July 4, 1776, the day the Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence?

For Benjamin Marston, Joseph Durfee, David George, and thousands of their fellow loyalist colonists, trying to determine when disagreement had turned to rebellion no longer mattered. The fact was that the Americans had now - symbolically, at least - toppled their king. And none of their lives would ever be the same again."

11 - Stephen follows a wide range of figures in his narrative, from David George, a freed slave who became a Baptist preacher, to Edward Winslow, a Mayflower descendent who petitioned Sir Guy Carleton for grants of land due to the British regiments on behalf of the men who had fought for the king. We meet Margaret Watson, a camp follower (army wife) whose first husband died in battle and who remarried his friend, a fellow captured soldier. And John Parr, Governor of Nova Scotia, a veteran of the Battle of Culloden in the Scottish highlands, a career soldier and eventual colonel promoted to Major of the Tower of London, and then on to the governorship of Nova Scotia.

12 - He has a Whatever Happened To... section at the close of the book, detailing the fates of fifteen of those we get to know throughout the course of the book.

13 - I leave you with an excerpt. Enjoy!

"Benjamin Marston stood slack-jawed on the wharf, appalled at the parade of human misery before him: 'men and women, boys and girls all together, each as naked as God made them, saving a piece of coarse linen just to cover what nature most commonly dictates to human creatures to hide.' Each had a wooden identity tag around his or her neck. Benjamin had never seen a slave auction before and, watching now - wanting not to, but mesmerized by the awfulness of it all - he hoped he would never have to see such a thing again.

Benjamin was no stranger to slaves. His family had had a few of its own at Marston's Farm, and he encountered them in the finer homes of Halifax, too. But it was another thing entirely to watch human beings be sold in a marketplace.

For the first time, he tried to imagine what it would be like to be on the other side of slavery's lash. 'If the Misses B and L and S and G, with the young gentlemen of those families, should be torn from their country and carried into perpetual servitude, we should see and feel the atrociousness, the dreadfulness of the wrong. But as it is only Miss Yawyaw and Miss Pawpee and the young gentlemen Messrs. Quashee and Quomino, whose skins are black, whose hair stout and curled, whose noses flat and lips thick, why we think there can be no great harm in it.'

Boston King knew all about that which Benjamin Marston could only imagine. He had been born a slave but was now free - or as free as it was possible for a black man to be in America in these turbulent times. He was, initially at least, an almost accidental adherent to the king's cause, as were thousands of other black Loyalists. Sometime in 1780 his loyalty was put to the test.

Fifty horses! All of them stolen from the British army, probably a few at a time, and then hidden on this island by the traitorous militia officer who'd laid claim to Boston too!

So much had happened since yesterday morning when he had left the British camp to catch a few fish to fry for Captain Grey's breakfast. By the time he returned an hour or so later, his regiment had gone. Captain Lewes was in charge of the small band of Rocky Mount Militia the regular army had left behind to disband the camp. Two hours later, Boston and Lewes and the others set off together, ostensibly in search of the rest of the regiment.

But as they were marching, Lewes surprised Boston with an out-of-nowhere question. 'How will you like me to be your master,' he'd said, more a statement of fact than a question.

'But I'm Captain Grey's servant,' Boston answered, hoping he sounded less indignant than he felt.

'I have been long enough in the English service,' Lewes confided, 'and I'm determined to leave them.'

Leave them?
Desert was what he meant. Captain Lewes was going to turn his back on the British king, the same king who had given Boston King, a poor black slave from South Carolina, his freedom and his name. Boston King was indignant. And he let Captain Lewes know it.

But Lewes was not about to be criticized by an uppity coloured boy barely out of slavery. 'If you do not behave well,' he informed Boston sharply, 'I will put you in irons and give you a dozen stripes every morning!'

He was Grey's
servant, not his slave. It was an important distinction for Boston in this new and different world of freedom, but one he knew was lost on the traitorous Captain Lewes. So Boston bided his time, waiting for his chance to escape. It would come soon enough.

The morning after they'd left the British camp, Lewes had ordered Boston and a small boy to wade across to a nearby island and fetch him some horses. Boston soon discovered that the horses had been stolen from the British. When he and the boy brought them back to the captain, Lewes immediately mounted one and went off on his own. Which is when Boston slipped away, too. In the other direction. He had to find his regiment, inform Captain Grey that Lewes not only had deserted but also was the one who'd taken the king's horses. He hoped the British would believe the story that he, Boston King, a freed black man, a loyal subject of the king, had to tell them."

- Stephen Kimber, 2008

Join me next week for a review of Wylie Kinson's Law of Averages. Then I'll be featuring Resisting Command by Jennifer Leeland on June 12th, and Fox's Bride by Amy Ruttan on June 19th.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Thursday Thirteen - 56 - 13 Reasons to Read The Hot Line by Cathryn Fox

Yes...about winning books...I've had quite a bit of luck winning copies of books at my local RWA chapter meetings. I've had amazing luck winning several books by Cathryn Fox, one of my more prolific chapter mates.

It all started with winning Making Waves, featuring her novella Liquid Dreams. Then I won Pleasure Prolonged, the sequel to Pleasure Control, which I won out of sequence - but no matter! And now The Hot Line. It's a burden, but one I bear willingly.

1 - The Hot Line is a New American Library release. It's an interlaced collection of three novellas weaving in and out of the impending nuptials of Cassie and Nick. He's a firefighter at Station 419, and Cassie's friends arrive in Chicago to celebrate her dream-come-true choice for a mate.

2 - Part of NAL's 18 and Up Heat imprint, Cathryn's story is contemporary adult erotica using frank language and adventurous situations.

3 - The first story is Fever. We meet Sara, who writes for the Trenton Gazette but dreams of writing for the glossy women's magazine Entice. Mitch is one of the firefighters who works with her friend's fiance. Will she turn their fantasy-fulfilling nights together into a spicy story that could turn her career dreams into reality?

4 - The second story is Siren. We meet Jenna, a lingerie designer who's much saucier with her sketchpad than she is in person. Until firefighter Dean joins his buddies at Cassie's place to catch the tail end of a private fashion show - and sees the designer modelling her own sexy creations.

5 - The third story is Flash Fire. We meet once-bitten-twice-shy chef Megan, who plays a one-on-one basketball game with Station 419 brother Brady. Winner gets the other for an hour - to do with whatever they like.

6 - Though each novella focuses on a different couple, the cast of wedding party members and firefighter buddies is present throughout. This keeps the reader solidly in the world of the Hot Line. Very much like a weekly TV drama where each episode contains all the familiar characters but focuses on a particular one for each episode.

7 - Sexual tension rises from this book like the shimmering air over a sweltering highway. Cathryn Fox's heroes smolder and burn for their women. And her female characters reach out for what they desire - mind-blowing sex with the men who answer the special phone down at the station.

8 - Cathryn's female characters dare to speak aloud the sort of sexual fantasies that women a generation ago could barely have admitted to themselves. Not only do they seek to make their fantasies come true, but in confiding to their sex partners, they create an intimacy that leads to emotional growth for all three couples.

9 - I really, really love Cathryn's wry wit, sprinkled liberally between passionate encounters. Here's Megan's first impression of Brady:

"Brady Wade. Lord, talk about sex appeal. The guy was smoking hot and had her hormones disco dancing in a way they'd never disco danced before."

10 - Cathryn really knows how to end each chapter with a hook. Like this, for example:

"After Brady dropped a soft kiss on her mouth, his stomach grumbled.

Megan chuckled, put her palms on his chest, and shoved lightly. 'Now that we've had dessert, I think we should have some breakfast.'

'Well, I guess I did promise you fine dining and even finer company.'

'Yeah, but you left out the part about fabulous sex.'

He chuckled. 'At Brady's Diner, sex is also served twenty-four hours a day.' He eased himself from the circle of her arms. 'You wait here, sweetheart. It would be my pleasure to serve you breakfast in bed.'

Megan's throat tightened. That considerate gesture did the weirdest things to her emotionally.

Looking sexy, warm, and rumpled, Brady climbed from the bed. He tugged on his jeans and disappeared through the door. Here was one hell of a guy, she thought.

After he left, it suddenly occured to her just how much she liked him. Did she really think she could keep her emotions under wrap with an amazing guy like him?

A guy who could easily be the poster boy for 'too good to be true', she reminded herself, yanking herself back from fairy tale land."

11 - Cathryn not only creates distinct POV voices for her female and male characters, but she does it times three. Sara is ambitious, Jenna wants to break out of her shell and Megan dares to hope all men aren't like her 'house hippo' ex-husband. Mitch protects his heart against feeling too deeply, Dean can see beneath the surface and Brady knows that the way to a chef's heart is through making sweet nothings for her to savour.

12 - As with all wonderful pairings, the couples in Cathryn's book want to find a way to make one another's dreams come true. The men of the Hot Line know how to leave their women melting with delicious pleasure. But Sara, Jenna and Megan want their heroes to fulfill their own fantasies. And they're definitely the women to do it.

13 - I leave you with an excerpt. Enjoy!

"A while back, Mitch thought that he loved his ex-girlfriend and that she actually cared about him. But he quickly learned that like every other woman he'd been with, she merely wanted the fantasy. It was his dangerous, heroic job that attracted women, not the man beneath the uniform - a man who worked long hours and was away from home frequently. Since his last breakup, he'd finally learned to shut down emotionally, giving himself physically while keeping a cool, hardened exterior.

At the sudden thought of giving himself physically, his mind raced to Sara. She wanted the fantasy with him, he could tell. One night of hot lust while on vacation. He'd seen it in her eyes, read it in her every gesture.

Although Mitch was more than willing and capable of fulfilling Sara's wild firefighter fantasy, he'd been duly warned by Nick Cameron to keep his distance. Nick had cautioned him that Sara was a small-town girl who didn't delve into brief affairs. He'd asked Mitch to keep his distance because the last thing he wanted was to see one of Cassie's best friends hurt while in Chicago for the wedding.

Not only was Nick Mitch's coworker - he was also his friend. A friend who'd saved his ass a time or two in the line of duty.

Still he could lie in bed and fantasize about her, couldn't he? Imagining what it would be like to taste her mouth and her breasts. To have her climb over him.

The shrill of their special phone pulled him from his musings and helped marshal his thoughts. 'I got it.' Welcoming the distraction, he jumped to his feet and pushed away from the card table. Without haste, he made his way across the room.

Maybe tonight he'd take the call. Although it had been a long time since he'd participated in the Hot Line, perhaps a soft bed and an even softer woman would help take the edge off and get his mind off Sara.

When he glanced at the caller ID, his heart raced, his blood pressure soared. Everything in him reacted to the name displayed in the small glass window. Tension rose in him, urging him to answer the phone.

What was he supposed to do now?

He took a measured step back, but not far enough that he still couldn't reach it. If he wanted to. But he didn't want to. Okay, he wanted to, but he wasn't
going to.

He was not going to pick it up.

No way.

No how.

Walk away, Mitch. Just walk away.

Before he could stop himself, his fingers closed over the receiver and squeezed until his knuckles turned white.

Just then Dean poked his head around the corner. Grinning like the crazy, intuitive son of a bitch he was, he asked, 'You want me to get that?'

'I got it,' Mitch growled and ripped the phone from the cradle. He pressed it to his ear and said gruffly, 'Hello.'

Sara's soft, sexy voice sounded on the other end. 'Mitch?'


Forgoing pleasantries and getting right to the point, she said, 'My kitty stopped purring. I think it needs to be resuscitated.'

Sweet Mother of God! Mitch slapped his hand to his forehead and drew a steadying breath, working overtime to tamp down his roaring libido. He failed.

Lust ripped through him like a raging forest fire, making him tremble with pent-up need. He growled low in his throat, unable to tame the primal animal rising up inside him, crumbling his resolve to keep his distance. Despite knowing better, he had every intention of breathing life back into her kitty, over and over again, using every means possible, if he had to.

If she expected anything less, she'd called the wrong guy on the wrong night."

- Cathryn Fox - 2008

Join me next week for a completely different type of book review. Yes, I'm doing a 180 degree turn to review a non-fiction history book by Stephen Kimber. That's Loyalists and Layabouts.

And the following week I'll be reviewing Wylie Kinson's Bermuda-set romance Law of Averages.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Thursday Thirteen - 55 - 13 Reasons to Read You Had Me at Halo by Amanda Ashby

When it comes to winning books, I must admit I seem to live a charmed life. I've won numerous copies of new releases by members from my local RWA chapter, including the book I'll be reviewing for next week's Thursday Thirteen.

This wonderful trend continued when I became a blogger. I've won several promo contests, including this one for You Had Me at Halo, a recent release by New Zealand author Amanda Ashby. Her debut novel has been nominated for a Romantic Times Reviewer's Choice Award, and I was only into the first 50 pages when it became obvious as to why .

1 - You Had Me at Halo is a New American Library release. I'd read an excerpt from it on Amanda's blog and was instantaneously hooked. Here's the part that snared me (as main character Holly looks down upon her own funeral):

"That was the problem with an open casket. It meant everyone’s last memories of her would be with a white puffy face, the wrong color lipstick and a dreadful polyester dress. They always said the camera added five pounds to you, but no one ever talked about how fattening embalming fluid was, did they?"

2 - Once I had the whole book to read, I had to stop reading it on the bus or else burst out in tears of laughter.

3 - Ms. Ashby's novel is part of NAL's 18 and Up Paranormal Romance category. We meet the heroine just after she's died, as she tries to adjust to her unexpected transition. The hero is one of her alive-and-well co-workers at Baker Colwell.

4 - Holly Evans had everything going for her. Recently promoted at 'the eleventh-most-benefit-friendly employer in the country', she'd been anxiously awaiting her fiance Todd's proposal after finding her honking big engagement ring in his closet. But slipping unconscious beneath the water while taking a bath threw a serious wrench into those plans.

5 - Vince Murphy works in the tech support department at Baker Colwell. Attending Holly's wedding would have been painful, since he always had a thing for her. But surviving her funeral is even more excruciating. Especially since he fainted. Now he could swear he hears Holly's voice in his head.

6 - Holly and Vince take 'mismatched couple' to a new level. Co-operation goes beyond critical when they find they're not merely in close quarters - but in a shared body.

7 - Holly's heavenly spiritual realigner gives her the chance to go back to earth to sort out her most pressing unresolved issues. He thinks he's found the perfect body to borrow for a two-day interval - Vince Murphy, who's due to depart for the afterlife himself. Holly's not thrilled with the gender switch but will make do out of desperation. What she's not prepared for is her discovery that the premises were not exactly vacated after all.

8 - The sexual tension builds slowly and steadily between the guffaws. Holly hasn't lost her feelings for her fiance at the story's beginning, and our knowledge of Vince's unrequited attraction for her gives a tugging bittersweetness to their romance.

9 - I really, really love Ms. Ashby's razor-sharp zingers, peppered throughout Holly's POV. She recalls first meeting her best friend Gemma: "They'd been friends ever since they'd both turned up on the first day at Baker Colwell wearing identical suits and black stilettos complete with little bow detailing."

10 - Ms. Ashby really knows how to end each chapter with a hook. Like this, for example:

" 'Are you okay?'

'I think so.' She gulped. 'I guess we just have to work on the assumption that nothing else could possibly go wrong?'

'Whenever they say that in the movies, it's just a link to the next disaster.'

'This is hardly a movie,' Holly reminded him as Vince dug into his pocket and paid the driver before opening the back door and getting out. 'And it's true. The day's almost over and we're back at the beginning, so how on earth could things possibly get worse?'

'Well, since that spiritual realigner guy of yours seems to be walking towards us, I'd say that was a good indication. I sure know my life takes a dive every time he's around.'

Holly felt sick as she realized Vince was right: here came Dr. Hill.
Oh, great."

11 - The writing style is filled with dark humor, which I love. Wonderfully specific detail not only grounds the story in the setting but reveals Holly's character as she observes and passes judgment on the people and things around her.

12 - There is never a question as to who's speaking - Holly or Vince - even as they share a body. Vince's POV is another character reveal, in obvious contrast to the Vince we've already been led to expect through Holly's previous arms' length opinions. His own observations of Holly's former fiance Todd act as a tonic for her starry-eyed perception of Baker Colwell's star associate.

13 - I leave you with an excerpt. Enjoy!

"Holly was perfectly still as she realized she had just figured out who had slipped her the pills. Good-bye, earthly issues and Level One. She knew all it would take was a little application and organization. Wait until she told Gemma about it.

Oh, and it made even more sense, because she specifically recalled that the morning she died - on the pretense of being nice - Tina had given Holly a cup of coffee when they'd been in the staff room. Even though at the time it had tasted perfectly normal, it was now obvious Tina had laced it with pills so Holly would be forced to cancel her presentation and perhaps risk getting demoted. It all added up so nicely.

She turned off her computer, tidied up her desk, and, out of habit, reached into the bottom drawer to grab her latest
Bride and Beauty magazine (in case she had problems sleeping) and headed for the elevator.

It wasn't until she was outside the building that she congratulated herself on being such a genius in working it out. Of course, she had always been clever. She thought back to
The Rich and the Restless, her favorite soap opera, where everyone was convinced Joanne and Carlos were going to get together, but Holly had been adamant Lee would win out in the end. And she had been right.

Being right was such a nice feeling, and she was still basking in it as she sat down at the nearby bus stop and searched Vince's pockets to find a cell phone to call Gemma.

It didn't take long to stab in her friend's number, but there was no answer, and Holly cursed. The sooner she got Tina's address, the sooner she could confront the girl and put a stop to the suicide rumors. Then tomorrow she could concentrate on clearing the air with Todd. Well, it wasn't her typical to-do list, but then, it wasn't a typical day.

'In fact, it's probably been the weirdest day of my life,' she muttered to herself as she drummed her fingers on the magazine.

'I'll say,' a disembodied voice replied.

'What? Who said that?' Holly jumped back to her feet again and spun around, only to see nothing except an empty street and a candy wrapper blowing in the breeze. Well, that was strange. And why did she suddenly feel so...

'What's going on?' the same voice demanded.

'That's what I'd like to know.' Holly tried to stay calm. After all, she was dead. Technically nothing bad could happen to her. Could it?

'Ideas would be welcome,' the voice continued with a hint of impatience.

'Who are you?' Holly croaked as she clutched at her throat. It almost sounded like the words were coming from inside her. But that was just impossible.

'I'm Vince; who are you? And more important, what the hell are you doing in my body?'

- Amanda Ashby, 2007

Join me next week when I review Cathryn Fox's The Hot Line. The following week I'll review Stephen Kimber's non-fiction book Loyalists and Layabouts.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Thursday Thirteen - 53 - 13 Reasons to Read Dance of the Plain Jane by Lillian Feisty

I just realized that this 53rd Thursday Thirteen means I've been doing this meme for a full year now. I adore Thursday Thirteen. I really enjoy working on every one of them. For Christmas my cousin gave my husband a Thursday Thirteen hoodie which he loves and wears all the time. And I got a T13 hat and mug. T13 all the way, baby.

Continuing with my e-book review series, today I'm showcasing Lillian Feisty, a fellow blogger. I always enjoy her sassy commentary. And check out her site graphic.

Last year she held an unannounced movie quote contest on her blog, and lucky me! I won a copy of an anthology she appears in, Seasons of Seduction I. Besides her own blog, Ms. Feisty is part of a group blog called Naughty and Spice.

1 - Dance of the Plain Jane is Ms. Feisty's story in a collection of six sizzling tales in the first of the Ellora's Cavemen series.

2 - The other stories in the anthology are:
Her Lance-Alot by Delilah Devlin
Club Vamp by Allyson James
Choosing Madison by Sherrill Quinn
Come Howling by Denise Rossetti
Lyrael's Sacrifice by Jory Strong

3 - Dance of the Plain Jane is a contemporary story taking place in San Diego, California. The hero is Michael Sky, a Navy SEAL who heads out for some chow at the Bombay Cafe with the guys. Between bites of Tandoori chicken he gets an eyeful of the belly dancer performing for the patrons.

4 - We meet Jane Holliday, 9-to-5 engineer by day, seductive belly dancer by night. She's had a crush on the hottie from her neighborhood for awhile now, watching him from across the coffee shop and wishing she could get up the nerve to speak to him. And now here he is in the restaurant where she dances. Tonight, she's dancing just for him, no matter how many other patrons fill the room.

5 - Ms. Feisty plays around with the reality of fantasies in this story. For Jane, Michael has been her object of unrequited desire, and now here he is in the flesh. Ms. Feisty has a knack for starting a scene as longed-for wish fulfilment, only to have it unravel into awkward reality. This puts a sardonic spin on 'careful what you wish for.'

6 - Michael's attraction to Jane makes him all the more desirable to me as a reader. What average woman wouldn't want an Adonis to flip his gourd over her? He's somewhat confused as to why he's so smitten for a woman who's not even his type. That makes his pursuit of her all the more arousing - especially when he just has to have her.

7 - Dance of the Plain Jane is a delightfully hot erotic short novella. What Ms. Feisty does so well is include wry character introspection even during the scorchy encounters. Jane's POV is filled with her impatience at being 'plain'. Her character is almost ready to believe that Plain Janes deserve to have fun, too.

8 - The short novella length keeps the plot moving, yet Ms. Feisty's world is so solid, I couldn't help wishing it was a full-length novel. Jane's relationship with her friend Abby is so well-drawn, I wish we could have spent more time with the two of them. Plain Janes usually have a beauty or two lurking about in their social networks. For Jane this is Abby, but there's no rivalry in Jane's heart for her friend. Abby is supportive and loving, and their scenes together keep the dream-come-true story grounded.

9 - The erotic aspects of this short novella propel the character development for both Jane and Michael. Jane goes to places that have been only fantasy to her as Michael pushes her boundaries, forcing the Plain Jane to be the woman he saw inside her when she danced. Jane acts as an opposite force for Michael. She makes him rethink his globetrotting job, his nomadic existence. For Michael, her siren song is home.

10 - Ms. Feisty really knows how to end each chapter with a hook. Like this, for example:

" 'You were working me out there. You had me so hard I almost lost control in front of a roomful of strangers, not to mention my team.'

Jane smiled to herself. 'I'm sorry.'

'No you're not.' He stopped pacing and placed himself directly in front of her. 'But you're gonna be.'

With a hand on each knee he opened her up and stepped between her legs. 'What's your name, anyway?'


Slowly, he lowered his mouth to hers. She waited for a forceful kiss, but instead he brushed his warm lips against hers, and when she leaned forward, frustrated and needing something more, he pulled back.

'Well, Jane,' he said with just a hint of a smile. 'It's time you got a dose of your own medicine.' "

11 - Ms. Feisty has strong POV voices for her hero and heroine. Jane's Everywoman persona is very accessible. When the story switches to Michael, his masculine voice is pronounced. I feel closer to Jane, however, whose doubts and insecurities are balanced by a newfound boldness she's developed along with her belly dancing.

12 - Jane's sexual fantasies - like anyone's fantasies - are comfortable because the fictional partner fulfills every need. When Michael volunteers to bring her fantasies to life, the tension level shoots way up. He's shown us what sort of man he is, commanding and accustomed to success. Is this the person with whom she should place herself in so vulnerable a position?

13 - I leave you with an excerpt. Enjoy!

" 'Oh, sweetie, what happened?'

Jane's eyes began to burn.

'Another obnoxious jerk at the restaurant?'

She sniffed. 'Yes.'

Abby put an arm around her shoulder. 'Come upstairs, tell me what happened and I'll fix you a drink. Have you eaten?'

Jane smiled. For all Abby's bombshell looks she was really an Italian mama at heart, and twenty minutes later Jane was seated at Abby's pink kitchen table, drinking Cosmopolitans and eating leftover lasagna.

'Can you please tell me what's wrong with me?' Jane whined after she had relayed the story to Abby. Well, most of it, anyway.

She refilled Jane's glass. 'Nothing is wrong with you.'

'We were just about to have sex and then he takes a phone call!'

'That is slightly strange.'

'Oh my God!' Jane slammed her glass onto the table. 'I know!'

'You know what?'

'I know why he took off.'

'You do?'

'It was my ass!'

'Your ass.'

'Yes. He had me bent over the table, with my butt in the air and when he saw how fat it is he booked it right out of there.'

Abby held up her hand. 'Whoa, sister. You had your ass in the air?'

Jane traced a line on the table. 'Mmm.'

'You naughty thing! Was he going to spank you?'

She took another healthy gulp of her cocktail. 'I'll never know, will I?'

Abby sighed. 'Jane. I'm sure he had an important reason for leaving.'

'It certainly was an
immense reason.'

'It was?'

'Yes. My ass.' "

- Lillian Feisty, 2007

I've had fun with my book review series of Thursday Thirteens, featuring Gabriella Hewitt, Renee Field, Stella MacLean, Christine d'Abo, Red Garnier and Lillian Feisty. I'll be posting a review for You Had Me at Halo by Amanda Ashby in two weeks, on May 15th.

Next week I've got an application deadline to make, so I'll have a romantic couples Thursday Thirteen for next week. Happy reading!