Tag Archives: romance

Bizzaro Book Review: Scoop by Kit Frazier

We’re in dangerous waters with today’s review folks. I’ve left the safe harbour of nerdy dude fiction and ventured out over the deep and shark infested seas of…Chick Lit.

Why am I reviewing this book again? Two reasons:

1. I’m a sucker for obscure authors with a great voice.

2. I’m an even bigger sucker for ebooks with a 99 cent price point.

So, without further ado lets get on with the show.

Scoop is a book about a reporter named Cauley McKinnon who has made some…less than stellar choices in her love life which in a roundabout way has led to her working at the obituary desk of the smallest of Austin’s newspapers. And that would be Austin as in Austin, TX, a town so clearly realized in this novel that it comes to feel like a character in and of itself. In this and other things Scoop is a clear example of the old mantra, Write what you know. It was clear to me when reading the author was drawing many of the details of her fictional surroundings from real life, and that realism of setting made the story all the more believable.

The author’s writing style is both clear and compelling, which was really one of the first things that made me want to buy the book. The second reason is that from the first page the characters seem to leap off the page and into your mind.

The books characters are both its greatest strength and greatest weakness. On the one hand the main cast is strong and well developed, filled with well rounded villains and subtle flawed heroes. On the down side the supporting cast of characters, mainly represented by Cauley’s friends and family, are also fully developed. You may be wondering why I’ve put this down as a negative. The essential problem is that while this cast of miscellaneous characters are both colorful and interesting, they do almost nothing to move the plot forward. Occasionally they provide support to our heroine in her times of trouble (and Cauley McKinnon has loads of trouble on her plate) but they do very little to push the story forward which by the end of the book leaves the lot of them looking decidedly superfluous.

As to the story itself it was compelling enough as both a mystery and a romance, keeping me turning the pages till the very end. Unfortunately once I got to the end I found the resolution to both threads to be slightly underwhelming. On the one hand Cauley solves the mystery and ostensibly finds the right man for her but her happy ending feels somehow shallow and tacked on.

And of course since this book is partially a romance its time for my to insert my obligatory rant about such things here. Cauley McKinnon suffers from what I will call Bella Swan syndrome. Bella Swan syndrome is when a female character downplays her own attractiveness and then every single unattached guy she meets wants to jump her bones. And I know I’ve complained about the double standard before but I’m gonna hit it again here:

Ladies, don’t tell me you want me to love you for who you are and not what you look like and then write stories in which your heroine has guys drooling all over her because of what she looks like. Your desire to be desired is practically omnipresent in the books you write for other gals.

If you really meant what you said you would write characters that are truly unattractive, that don’t get noticed by guys, that have to prove their inner beauty over time to win the heart of the man they love. Or better yet, write a guy character who isn’t superficially handsome. If what’s the inside is so much more important than what is on the outside then why aren’t there ever any nerdy, balding, overweight male love interests in your books? (wrote the nerdy, balding, overweight male)

Okay I think that’s all the soapboxing you can handle.

In the summation Scoop is fun book with great writing and believable characters. The plot tapers off a little toward the end, but on the plus side this book has a sequel so hopefully the intrepid Cauley McKinnon will get a more satisfactory resolution in that one.

I already mentioned the 99 cent price point and Scoop is more than worth that. If you like romantic mysteries or mysterious romances this book has got you covered. You can get it for your eReader type devices here.

Bizzaro Book Review: My Zombie Valentine

Zombie romance.

Did you just get that little tingle in the back of your head? Did you just think to yourself, “That is the greatest idea ever, of all time”? Apparently the publishers of My Zombie Valentine got that same tingle, and they made it happen. Well, sort of. We’ll get into that later.

My Zombie Valentine is a collection of four novellas by four romance authors on the theme of zombie romance. I’m going to give each story its own look, so lets dive right into this thing, shall we?

“Bring Out Your Dead” by Katie MacAlister

This story was…interesting. It had a lot going for it. I enjoyed the way the author portrayed the world she had created for her characters. Not too much description, just a few offhand details here and there to let us know we’re in a place that is radically different. This is a world were everyone knows about zombies, and invasions from the strange spirit world are taken as a matter of course.

But there were some problems. For starters, the story tries to mix slapstick comedy with steamy romance which works about as well as if John Williams had scored the attack on the Death Star with mariachi music. Also the pace of the book is rushed to the point that it becomes difficult to care what is happening. The world the author creates reminded me of some of the more outlandish creations of Jasper Fforde, but it seemed like there wasn’t time to really stop and appreciate any of its bizarre weirdness. I’d very much like to read a longer story set in this world (also, maybe not a romance?) but as it was, I was slightly disappointed with the end result.

Also, the main male lead is a zombie that is ultra-perfect physically and needs to drink blood to survive. I’m sorry, but I think you spell that V-A-M-P-I-R-E.

“Gentlemen Prefer Voodoo” by Angie Fox

This is a story about a voodoo witch who casts a spell to find her true love and accidentally calls forth a zombie. The story revolves around the zombie trying to convince her that he is really the right man for her while she tries to send him back to the grave.

I found this story both enjoyable and suspenseful. The author does a great job of telling us what the stakes are. If the female lead doesn’t fall in love with the zombie within three days he will die again, never to return. And even though we know how it’s going to end, she still spins out the suspense beautifully.

In addition, this story managed to throw a little humor into the mix without corrupting the overall tone of the narrative, which I rather liked.

“Zombiewood Confidential” by Marianne Mancusi

This was easily my least favourite story in this book. Why?

For starters it’s paint-by-the-numbers bland. It’s story about Hollywood that follows stereotypes out the wazoo. The blond actress is a brain-dead bimbo, Hollywood types are only in it for the money, all action movies are mind-numbingly stupid gore-fests…I could go on, but you get the idea.

I think the author may have been going for some kind of mockery of the movie making culture she does it so ham-handedly that I find myself wanting to defend them.

The romance is pointless and based on nothing but physical attraction (which the story hypocritically derides at another point). Seriously, you it kill you to make your romantic leads into real three-dimensional characters?

Also, I would like to point out that at no point do either of the romantic leads actually becomes a zombie. They have to fight zombies but that’s not what I’m thinking when you say “zombie romance.”

“Every Part of You” by Lisa Cach

And here we have the cream of the crop. They saved the best for last, and thank goodness for it.

You know what this story has that none of the others did? The thing that made it both engaging and believable?

People talking.

That’s all.

Our two romantic leads spend something like fifteen pages just talking and getting to know each other. You’d think that would make for dull reading, but it’s actually quite enthralling, mostly because it’s clear that the two characters really do have some chemistry between them that goes beyond sexual attraction. The author doesn’t just tell you that they’re falling in love, she actually shows you.

Also, this story had the most effective horror out of anything else in this collection, a terrifying “take that” to the cosmetic surgery industry in which women’s breast implants are rejected by their bodies and squeezed out through oozing pustules. You will think twice about cosmetic surgery if you read this story.

Overall My Zombie Valentine isn’t a bad book, although I do have a few complaints.

First, is it really necessary to have all these characters be unbelievably physically attractive? No, wait I’m sorry. Only the guys have to be perfectly physically attractive. The female leads should be slightly less than perfect so that insecure women can indulge in vicarious wish-fulfillment. Rant much? Why yes, thank you, don’t mind if I do.

And while we’re on that subject, why is it that when women objectify men it’s “romance”, but when guys objectify women, now we’re crossing the line buddy. I can’t get away with going into a detailed description of a beautiful woman’s physical attributes without being a perv, but no one bats an eye when a female romance author talks in-depth about what a hunk her male lead is.

My final disappointment was that none of these stories contained romances where one of the partners was an actual honest-to-goodness flesh-eating zombie. When you say “zombie romance” I’m expecting a story about a woman who’s trying to cope with the fact that her rotting corpse of a boyfriend wants to eat her brains. I didn’t get anything close to that.

So yeah, My Zombie Romance was enjoyable enough. In my opinion it would have fared better if it had focussed more on the zombies and a little less on the romance. Maybe if it had featured a mixture of romance authors and horror authors it could have gotten closer to what it purports to be.

Still, it’s a decent read. I picked it up for two dollars out of the remaindered bin at Walmart and I do not feel as if my money was wasted. If you’re into romance or if you’re just intrigued by the quirky concept, I’d say definitely give it a look.

The Truth about True Love

When I was growing up I heard a lot about this concept of “True Love.” It was everywhere, in movies, in books, practically smothering me with it’s syrupy goodness. As near as I could tell, True Love was a perfect idealized love that existed in and of itself, a thing wholly perfect, without beginning and without end.

But about two and a half years ago, I got married to the woman of my dreams. Before I met my wife I never believed in the idea of “the one.” I just thought people looked around until they found the best possible match for them and settled for that. I never in a million years would have believed that fate or destiny played a role in any of it.

But all that changed when I met my wife. She was…perfect. Well, maybe not perfect exactly, but perfect for me. We could sit and talk for hours on end and feel like only a few minutes had passed. I knew I had found my soul mate. So I asked her to marry me.

And now after two wonderful years of being married to my soul mate I’m here to tell you that I’ve yet to spot that mythical beast named True Love. But that’s okay, because I’ve found something better. Something real. Something I like to call Real Love. And this is what it looks like.

Real Love is hard work. In a way, it’s like tending a garden: it’s something that must constantly be nurtured day in and day out, and it isn’t always fun. You have to water it and feed it and weed it out on a daily basis. It’s not a glamorous job, but the fruits are always worth the work.

Real love is boring. You know that fireworks romance stuff you see in the movies? Yeah, turns out you can’t believe everything you see in the movies. Who knew? Real love, if it is going to last, has to become a routine. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be moments of fire and passion, but on the whole it’s about staying consistent every day, no matter what happens.

Real love is not about feelings. Because, let me tell you something, if you are in a relationship for the long term there will come times when you won’t have that warm and bubbly feeling in your heart. But real love keeps going even when it doesn’t feel like it. Emotions are flexible, they change like the wind. Real love is stronger than that. Real love is a decision.

Real love is every day. Ever heard of Happily Ever After? Well guess what, turns out that’s fiction too. There’s no magical sunset you can ride off into where all your troubles will be over. You have to keep going, keep working, keep doing everything you can to shore up your love against all the storms that will come and try to tear it apart. Real Love it never done till you’re dead.

Real love is forgiving. Because, let’s face it, there are going to be some fights. And that’s okay to a point. People disagree. It’s one of the things we do best. And sometimes people screw up. I’ve given my wife plenty of legitimate reasons to be angry with me over the years. The key isn’t in never having a fight. The key to real love is being able to work out your differences and imperfections.

Real love takes sacrifice. It might seem like a nice idea to have a love that magically springs up from the depths of the heart and is ever impacted the realities of life. But the truth is that kind of love, if it existed, wouldn’t be worth anything. Because it wouldn’t cost anything. And real love always costs something.

So yeah, maybe Real Love isn’t the wonderful and perfect ideal maybe you’ve been told about all your life, but that’s okay. Because Real Love is…real. For all of it’s flaws and imperfections it means something. And for what it’s worth, I wouldn’t give it up for all the True Love in the world.

Bizarro Book Review: Censoring an Iranian Love Story by Shahriar Mandanipour

I’ve talked before about the urge to buy a book based on nothing more than its cover. I keep telling myself that a good cover does not automatically guarantee that the book will be good, but time and time again I am drawn in by clever fonts and evocative graphics only to discover that the actual content of the book is vapid and boring. And yet, on occasion, my superficial method of choosing literature has served me well.

Take for instance the cover of a strange and fascinating work by Shahriar Mandanipour, Censoring an Iranian Love Story. The image generates a kind of visual magnetism that draws the reader closer until he cannot help but pick it up, and brings to mind something both strange and surreal, oppression and censorship mingled with something altogether more bizarre and wonderful. And that is exactly what the book delivers.

Within the pages of Censoring an Iranian Love Story you will find not one story, but two. The first is a simple tale of love between a Iranian man and woman desperately trying to find their way to each other in a society where romance is taboo. The second follows the writer of the first story, a harried man trying to craft a meaningful tale without incurring the wrath of totalitarian government censors. But as the book progresses the two tales mingle in such a way that the lines between them become blurred into obscurity. The writer often enters the substory to push his characters in one direction or another, but as he delves further into his dark and twisted labyrinth of words he finds himself pursued by a dark figure which has taken form from the pages of the story and materialized in the real world. Gradually the story looses focus on what is real and what is fiction, leaving behind a patina of surreality that colors the narrative in ways both strange and wonderful.

The book plants itself firmly in the soil of postmodernism with entire sections of text presented with strikethroughs followed by the writer explaining at great length why he could not include that part of the story. Yet for all of its strangeness Censoring and Iranian Love Story somehow makes a connection that resonates with the deepest levels of the human soul.

The blossoming love between the romantic leads feels real and powerful, and their struggle to find a way to be with each other in spite of societal taboos closely mirrors the author’s struggle to tell their story without running afoul of the all-powerful censors. Its beauty grows out of its tragedy and struggle, and it paints a vivid picture of people trying to be human in an inhuman society.

Though the title of the book makes reference to a love story, this is nothing like your mother’s romance novels. Given the strange structure of the book you would think the romance might be swallowed up entirely. But even though the writer’s frequent interjections about Iranian society and the difficulties of dealing with censorship take up more than half the book, the romance blooming between the two young people still manages to seem touching and real, and as a result of the restraints of Iranian society there is a sense of suppressed passion throughout the book which often seems to be bursting to tear itself free from the dead pages and become something more than fiction.

In addition to all of its more lofty accomplishments Censoring an Iranian Love Story is a fascinating look into Muslim culture today. It manages to be deeply critical of the excesses of the oppression that exists in Iran without becoming an overbearing diatribe.  In American society where too few people truly understand the mindset and culture of the people living in Muslim countries, this book offers as clear a window into their world as you might ever hope to find.

The final verdict? This book isn’t for everyone. If you’re allergic to so-called “gimmicks” then give this book a wide berth; there are gimmicks aplenty here. But if you’re looking for a book that stretches the bounds of fiction and tells a wonderful and moving story in the process then Censoring an Iranian Love Story is a book you need to check out. You may be confused, but you won’t be disappointed.

I give it @ out of # stars.*

*No I’m not going to explain my rating system.  This is the Bizzaro Book Review. Things get weird around here. Deal with it.

[I’m looking to do one of these reviews every Friday, and I’m fully open to suggestions and requests. I only require that the book be weird and that it be good. The second one is slightly optional. Also, I’d love to review more self-published and indie-published fiction so if you can point me in the direction of quality work by undiscovered authors I’d love to check it out.]