>> Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Jeanette Baker was Author of the Month at my favourite romance book group a few months ago (I won't say how many months; it's embarrassing how behind I am with reviews). I hadn't heard of her before, but when I checked out her books, it turned out she writes several different things, all of which sounded very good to me. So I ended up getting two books: one a straight contemp set in Northern Ireland, one a contemp with paranormal overtones (past lives, etc.) set in Scotland.
Unfortunately, as good as the plots sounded, awkward characterisation and writing made reading them a disappointing experience, to varying degrees.
Blood Roses was the first, the Northern Ireland-set contemporary. Kate Nolan is a widow whose lawyer husband was murdered in front of her. He specialised in defending fellow Catholics. In the years since his death, Kate has become more politically involved, fighting for peace.
Her son hasn't recovered from his father's death, though, and when he gets involved with the drug trade and is arrested, the police use this to pressure him to become an informant, and about more than garden-variety drug dealing, too.
The man mainly responsible for leaning on Kevin is Neil Anderson, who is quite high up in British Special Services. Kate doesn't know this, so when she and Neil come into contact and an attraction develops, Neil knows he should keep far, far away from her. But of course, this being a romance, he can't resist.
It could have been a brilliant, angsty story, but the emotions never rang true to me, probably because the characters never did, either. Neil was nice enough, but he felt a bit generic. Pity, because his guilt about the effects of his placing pressure on Kate's son (something he still feels was necessary) could have been fascinating. As for Kate, she was very hard to warm up to. Maybe it was because she's a kind of woman I've never been able to understand, the sort who let her husband take care of everything and so when he died, she had no idea what to do. She's had to fight, but for all that, she remains too much of a martyr for my taste. I just couldn't get involved in the romance at all.
The only thing I liked and thought was interesting was Baker's portrayal of the political situation, which was a hell of a lot more nuanced than her main characters. I felt that it gave me some insight into what the troubles are all about. I won't say it helped me understand the issues better (I suppose my ignorance is such that I've no idea if the portrayal was accurate, really), but the thing is, I'm an agnostic raised in a country where religion is completely irrelevant. I've never been able to wrap my mind around why being Catholic or Protestant would be an issue at all, and what I got from this book is some inkling of why it might matter, and why it might actually be something with roots in religion, but that now goes pretty much beyond that.
Gaining this insight was actually worth the effort of reading the book (and it did take me some time), but between boring characters and a final action denouement featuring cartoonish villains, I can only give this a C+.
The second book was Catriona, another one with a heroine named Kate who irritated me. This particular Kate is Kate Sutherland, an American lawyer. Kate was actually born in Scotland, although she hasn't been able to find out much about her birth. The book starts as one of her cases takes her there, where a mysterious woman tells her going to this little island off the coast of Scotland will answer all her questions.
However, arriving there only sparks more questions, as Kate begins to have visions of herself living 500 years before. With her is historian Niall McCormack, whom she accidentally met only a few days before. Together they must investigate what the relationship is between Kate and this woman, who they suspect is Catriona, the first Countess of Bothwell, a woman caught up in the fight between England and Scotland.
It sounded great on the back cover, but again, the problem was in the execution. The book quickly settles into a pattern, with regular scenes telling the story of Catriona and her "courtship" by Patrick, one of the King of England's men, and Kate trying to make sense of things in between.
I was more or less all right with the present-day story (although Kate was a bit of a twit who persisted in not eating and then feeling faint), but I absolutely hated the story of Catriona and Patrick. It felt like the worst kind of bodice-ripper, with this awful attempt at a tempestuous courtship. It was a "taming" kind of relationship, and Patrick delighted in humiliating Catriona. He was despicable bastard, really, and to make matters worse, Cat was dumb as a rock, and "fiery" and "headstrong" to boot. She was hopelessly outmatched by Patrick, who could see her "cunning" plans a mile away. So boring and infuriating, I much prefer a competent kind of heroine, and an evener, more equal match.
I could only tolerate this (not to mention the awkward writing, with POV flying around and all telling and no showing) for so long, and gave up before the mid point. A DNF, then.