Big Guns Out of Uniform, an anthology

>> Monday, October 18, 2004

I got Big Guns Out of Uniform because I'd heard great things about the third story, and I just adore Liz Carlyle's historicals and was curious about how she'd do in a contemp setting.

The first story was my least favourite, BAD to the Bone, by Sherrilyn Kenyon.

In Sherrilyn Kenyon's "BAD to the Bone," teacher Marianne Webernec wins the "Hideaway Heroine Sweepstakes" and a chance to pretend to be the heroine in her favorite romance novel. Whisked away to a remote tropical island, Marianne's fantasies become real when BAD (Bureau of American Defense) agent Kyle Foster kidnaps her. Together they uncover Marianne's every desire, and Kyle's secret fantasy, too.
I actually liked the romance here ok. Kyle falls for Marianne hard the first minute he sees her, and these two actually like each other and treat each other kindly. I could say it was a little creepy, the way he got so turned on by her "innocence" and "purity", but I guess it could make sense, given his past, that he'd find normalness attractive.

Kyle was one of Kenyon's trademark needy heros with a horrid past, but luckily the short format of the novella didn't allow her to go overboard with the pathos, as she's been known to do in other books (see my comments on her Born in Sin for more on this). Marianne, meanwhile, was a bit too much of a wide-eyed innocent, but she didn't really go into TSTL territory, so I could bear it.

Where this story went horribly wrong was with what was going on around this nice romance. I do enjoy some kinds of silly, but this was silly in a bad way. From the whole "romance novel reenactment" crap (with its not particularly flattering portrayal of romance novel readers) to the final scene, with all those big, bad antiterrorist agents who seemed to delight in spending taxpayers' money on playing their games and matchmaking for Kyle, it was all beyond stupid, crossing the line into painful.

This lowered my grade quite a bit, to a C.

Then came Let's Talk About Sex, by one of the few autobuy authors I have left, Liz Carlyle.

In Liz Carlyle's "Let's Talk About Sex," Dr. Delia Sydney dishes out perfectly sound sex advice on the radio. So how is it that this slightly repressed divorcee is so easily seduced by her bad-boy neighbor? And just what is it about Nick Woodruff, a smooth-talking sergeant on a forced "vacation," that makes Delia feel she'll do anything -- anything -- when she's with him?
Carlyle's contemporary voice is very, very different to her historical style, but it works. It's actually quite distinctive and modern, something many historical romance authors don't manage when they switch genres.

The story itself, well, I must say I enjoyed it in spite of myself. I just can't believe I liked a story with a good-ol'-boy hero who tells the heroine things like "You just need to have your brain fucked out.", or the ever classical "Let me teach you what a passionate creature you are." However, I did. I liked his sexual obsession with Delia and I liked the way Carlyle showed it turning into love.

Delia was ok, too. Yet another sex therapist who's never enjoyed sex (I really don't understand why authors seem so fond of this), but at least she a) wasn't a virgin, b) gave good advice and c) didn't get all shocked about sex... she had the theoretical knowledge, at least, down pat.

My grade would be a B.

The best in the book, though, was the story I actually bought this anthology for, The Nekkid Truth by Nicole Camden.

Things get even hotter in Nicole Camden's "The Nekkid Truth" when crime scene photographer Debbie Valley works more closely than ever with the detective who has fascinated her for years. After a harrowing accident Debbie finds her life forever changed when she loses the ability to recognize faces. She is forced to identify people by their bodies and soon finds that the wonders of Detective Marshall Scott's body never cease...and that he needs her unique gift to help catch a killer.
This was the freshest short story I've read in a long time. A story about a heroine with a strange condition in reaction to a head injury (the romance novel version of amnesia comes to mind) who falls in love with a police detective is a staple of many category romances, and yet Camden does something with it that is wonderful.

The Nekkid Truth is narrated in first person by the heroine, Debbie, and she's an amazing narrator. I loved her voice, she was a bit of a smart-ass, but didn't cross the line into being a walking one-liner. I found her attitude towards sex refreshing and I loved the way she dealt with her problem with not recognizing faces. She was very matter-of-fact about it, but this didn't really hide her angst about it.

This is (obviously) a very short story, and yet both Debbie and the hero, Marshall Scott, are very well drawn, though maybe Marshall a bit less than Debbie, an understandable consequence of the first person narration. Their relationship was believable, and I bought their HEA easily.

There is a mystery here, but it's very definitely not the main (or even secondary) focus of the story. This is very much a romance, a very steamy romance, and Camden does have a way with her sex scenes. These, BTW, had a different "feel" from what I'm used to in romance. Good, too, but different.

My grade: an A-. I'd never heard of Camden before, and it seems this is her first published writing. Unfortunately, there's no info in her website about upcoming books. I'll be keeping her name in mind.

Just the fact that there were no clunkers makes this a good anthology, as far as I'm concerned. Given that 2 of the stories here were actually good, I'd give this a B


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