Fiction: “Charade” by Sandra Brown

charadeHey guys, remember when I read that kind-of-awful romance novel by Sandra Brown a couple of months ago, and I mentioned another book I had read by the same author when I was in high school? And then I said that if I could find a copy for cheaps I was gonna buy it and read the hell out of it, hoping it doesn’t suck like Demon Rumm did?

You guys! My mom had a copy!

(I had forgotten that my mother had read Charade first, and what probably happened is that years ago I bought a copy, and then left it with my mother so she could re-read it. Merry Christmas to Alaina 2014!)

(Because yes, this was the last book that I managed to complete in the year 2014, and my stats on that will be forthcoming shortly. Hooray for snow days and increased productivity!)

This may have been the first book in the “romantic suspense” genre I ever read – when I was a teenager, I had no time for “mushy romance,” and to be truthful, even up until about five or six years ago, I still preferred romance in my violence over violence in my romance. Charade had an interesting mystery and the romance stemmed from it through coincidence rather than creating a mystery around it.

Cat Delaney, the Susan Lucci of this universe’s soap opera scene, has a bad heart, and we begin the book at her heart transplant. After her recovery, she decides to retire from acting in order to give back to her community. Inspired by her own orphaned childhood, (because why not), she moves to San Antonio to head up a television segment called Cat’s Kids, which would help get children adopted in the area.

I … just read that sentence, and I guess that during the actual reading of the book, it never hit me how ludicrous that whole thing sounds. Not the soap opera actress relocating to Texas part (although if she were relocating to El Paso, it would definitely be unbelievable), and not even the soap opera actress deciding to do a weekly segment on a local newscast part. I mean, it’s not like she’s doing hard news or anything, so a journalism degree isn’t exactly required. No, the ludicrous part is the idea of showing kids who should be adopted and getting the kids adopted quickly. Maybe it was different back in the ’90s, but nowadays, there is so much red tape when it comes to adoption that while a news program would be a nice thing, there’s no way it would make a difference.

ANYWAY. Here’s where the mystery comes in: there were five other heart transplants on the same day as Cat’s, and on the anniversary of the transplant, one of the recipients dies. And this year, Cat’s in the bulls-eye.

She meets her romantic interest, Alex Pierce, on one of her fact-finding missions: he’s house-sitting for a couple who are interesting in adopting one of her Kids. (Sidenote: I get that it’s the name of her show, but man, the characters are constantly calling the show by its full name. Cat’s Kids. Cat’s Kids. Cat’s Kids. WE GET IT, IT’S THE SHOW.) Alex is a writer, and so when she shows up at 9, he’s just pulling on a pair of jeans and coming to answer the door shirtless after a long night of … writing, and Cat is intrigued, but also appalled at his rudeness. But he keeps showing up to events and being nice to Cat, trying to make up for his earlier rudeness, and when she starts to get threats related to her heart transplant, he reveals he’s a former cop and a current crime writer, so he starts to help investigate the backgrounds of the other, deceased transplantees.

Overall, the plot moves quickly, and there are only a couple of overwritten sentences. There’s a moment where Cat, in the middle of being assigned a security detail, protests by saying that she’s not an “objet d’art.” Nobody talks like that. Oh, and there was a cute moment where Cat’s talking to one of her Kids and she likes his red cowboy boots because they’re like her red cowboy boots, and all I could think of was Ted and his red cowboy boots and his determination to pull them off.

And where does the Charade of the title come into play? Well, you’re led to believe that someone close to Cat is the killer, and he comes across as a nice guy and helpful and sweet and then she thinks she’s figured it out and accuses him of being the killer, but then it’s this other person in the story. You can probably guess who is set up to be the narrative patsy, as this is a romantic suspense story and not, for instance, Gone Girl or some other mystery that actually is able to surprise you as you read it. But I’m not going to spoil it, because that’s something I try very hard to not do anymore.

And how does it stack up, nostalgia-wise? Remember, I was reading this in late high school / early college, and my tastes and reading matter have changed in those *mumblegrumble* years. (You know you’re getting older when you find yourself rounding your age up, even though your birthday isn’t for a whole fifty-nine days.) Well, it was … nice. I mean, I had read it a couple of times back then and I knew the first suspect was just a red herring, and as soon as I saw the character list I remembered who the serial killer was, so I was pretty much just going along until everything resolved itself. I did forget a bunch of incidental stuff, and I had completely forgotten that there were a number of subplots that really had nothing to do with the serial killing main plot (Who stole Cat’s transplant medicine? Oh, it was that chick because she hates her.)

As one of the first “steamy” books I ever read, reading it now, it’s actually … very tame. It’s not a Jane Austen novel, but compared to some of the historical romances I’ve read?

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Meh.

Overall, it was nowhere near as annoying as Demon Rumm, and I maintain that Demon Rumm was one of Ms. Brown’s first novels because the writing has definitely improved in Charade. I’m going to rate it four stars, but please take note that one star is purely for nostalgia. And for finding it when I didn’t think I had it.

Grade for Charade: 4 stars

Fiction: “Demon Rumm” by Sandra Brown

Demon RummYou guys, I am the worst. How am I so far behind review-wise? Wait, don’t answer that, I know the answer: I’m lazy. I’m lazy and also the worst. I have finished reading two books in two weeks, and I should be here bitching about the time it’s taken me to write their reviews, but when I have two books to review before those? The worst. If you look up “the worst” in a dictionary, you’ll see my picture.

ANYWAY. Almost two months ago, I was suffering from a mild, self-diagnosed case of insomnia. Basically, I couldn’t fall asleep, and everything I tried to do didn’t work. I actually stayed awake through Sleepy Hollow (poor Sleepy Hollow – I love that show, but somehow I always fall asleep around the halfway mark of nearly every episode). The book I was reading at the time wasn’t quite boring enough. The melatonin I took must have been a placebo. Regardless, I wasn’t sleeping. So I reached into the bookcase near my bed, attempting to grab Ten Days That Shook the World, which is a first-person account of the October Revolution of Russia in 1917 – supposedly, as I’ve yet to get past page iv of the introduction.

So I’m reaching for the Valium in book form when I spy the spine of this novel by Sandra Brown on the shelf. Now, years ago – like, high school years ago – Sandra Brown’s Charade was one of the first books in the “romantic suspense” genre I ever read. It was great, and if I ever find a paperback copy of it for cheaps, I am totally buying it. I think I may have read other titles by Ms. Brown, but if I have, they certainly didn’t leave as vivid an impression as Charade did. So my gut reaction, when seeing this book, was “Hm … this could be interesting.”

Then, there’s the title: Demon Rumm. It had to be about a pirate, right? I mean, what else would “Demon Rum(m)” signify, besides a pirate – or maybe an alcoholic demon? And then when you pick up the book and see the cover, well – the female legs on the cover, tanning on a beach … the ocean setting removes all possibility of spirits that have a problem with spirits  — all those things led me to believe, in the split-second before I turned the book over to read the back of it, that this was going to be a suspenseful romance about a pre-Jack Sparrow alcoholic pirate. And I think everyone here knows how I feel about pirates, and especially about pirates who fall in love with women who make them want to be better men.

(look, the guy who plays Captain Hook on Once Upon a Time clearly graduated from the Derek Zoolander Skool for the Really, Really, Ridiculously Good Looking, and no, I will not stop talking about it.)

SO ANYWAY in my insomnia-esque state, I was really excited to see what exactly Demon Rumm was going to be about. Therefore, you can imagine the level of disappointment I felt when I learned this book had nothing to do with either demons, pirates, or rum.

Instead, Demon Rumm is a fairly straight-forward romance, wherein man meets woman, woman doesn’t like the man at first because she thinks he’s an asshat, man tries to change her mind about him and realizes she has baggage and/or secrets from a previous relationship, man tries to overcome aforementioned baggage and help the woman find her powerful self, woman reveals her secret baggage and therefore gets over said baggage, woman and man sleep together, man and woman end up getting married and living happily ever after.

But somehow, in my addled state, I decided to read a little bit of it. Maybe I thought it would be the final nail in my “please let me sleep” coffin of wishes.

Here’s where the book surprised me: I read seventy pages that night. How is that even possible? Of course, the chapters were a quick read, and those seventy pages took only, like, forty minutes, so in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t like it entranced me so well that it kept me awake. But I do remember looking down and seeing how far I’d read, and saying out loud, “what the fuck? How have I read so much?”

So what the heck is Demon Rumm all about?

Demon Rumm was a stunt pilot for the movies, married to Kirsten Rumm. (We never learn her maiden name, as it is not important to the story.) A few years before we begin our tale, Demon Rumm died in a tragic accident. A movie studio picks up the life of Demon Rumm as a biopic (somehow before Kirsten has finished writing the book it’s based on – the logic is handwaved in this situation), and casts Rylan North as the star. Rylan North is the late 1980s version of Matthew McConaughey, as far as I can tell. He’s apparently gorgeous, with a proclivity for sunbathing nude, and probably goes around saying “all right, all right, all right.”

Rylan invites himself to live in Kirsten’s home to get a better understanding of Demon Rumm and how he lived his life. God, he’s so Method I can’t stomach it. Anyway, Kirsten looks at Rylan’s intrusion as just that – an intrusion. She doesn’t want to talk about her husband, she doesn’t want to talk about how he died, and she certainly doesn’t want anything to do with Rylan.

Except his chiseled abs and persistence eventually wear her down. Apparently their marriage wasn’t as perfect as it seemed on the outside, and she’s harboring a terrible secret about it. A ~terrible~ secret, one that came between her and Demon (no, seriously, I know he has a real name, and yeah, the book is right next to me, but I’m not looking it up) (it may have been Charles?), and Rylan is determined to figure out what it was.

But he spends two-thirds of the book thinking Kirsten was “frigid” towards Demon, because that was a viable reason for unhappiness back in those days of yore. Spoiler alert! The real reason Demon and Kirsten’s marriage was falling apart? Demon was impotent and didn’t know how to deal with it, and he may have crashed his plane on purpose as a form of suicide. Over his limp dick.

Oy.

So now that the secret’s out, Kirsten and Rylan are able to get together and everything’s fine and dandy and I think Rylan wins an Oscar for the role, so there’s that too.

Here’s what I found … I’m not going to say “interesting,” because that’d be a lie, but, I don’t know, “out of the norm”: The entire story was written from Rylan’s perspective. Now, in many of the other romances I’ve read, historical or otherwise, usually the main point of view is from the female in the relationship – while it might not be written in first-person, the majority of the insights comes from the female character through a third person’s omniscience. Occasionally, those romances will switch points-of-view between the female and the male characters, so we the reader can understand that while Sabrina is entranced by Bruce’s dark, lusty eyelashes, at the same time Bruce is equally unnerved by Sabrina’s blue eyes and porcelain skin.

(Leave me alone, I can’t write mushy crap; I’m too much of a cynic.)

But in Demon Rumm, we never go into Kirsten’s mind; not once. We see her reactions, but through Rylan’s eyes, and therefore, his interpretations of her reactions. I get that it was most likely done as a way to keep up the suspense around the mysteriously un-erect penis (and man, that would have been an excellent mystery for the Hardy Boys to solve), but it was still different enough to be worth a mention.

Let’s see, what else – oh, I found this horrible and jarring and awful, for a couple of reasons. At one point, Rylan’s sister visits with her young son, and Kirsten gets jealous because of course Rylan doesn’t immediately say, “Oh hey, Kirsten, is it okay if my sister and my nephew visit me? That’d be really cool, thanks,” nor does he introduce them as his relatives upon their meeting Kirsten, because Rylan is somewhat of a dick. This brings up Rylan’s previous relationship with a rising starlet who got pregnant and had an abortion without telling him. I am not going to get into my personal beliefs around abortion here, for it is neither the place nor appropriate setting, and while we are discussing fictional characters here, I found Rylan’s extreme anger around his girlfriend’s decision indicative of a larger problem:

The wrath he had first felt when the young actress told him about the abortion thundered through him again. Unconsciously he clenched his hands into fists. That was the day he had learned that everybody was capable of violence. He’d wanted to kill the selfish bitch with his bare hands. The urge he had felt to destroy her frightened him even now. He thanked heaven that somehow he had kept himself from murdering her for aborting his child. [p. 188-189]

Okay, now that that unpleasantness is out of the way, what did I find funny about the novel? Well, one little word that I’m pretty sure was made up, but then the sex writing – hoo boy, are parts of that bad.

Kirsten describes the night she met Demon to Rylan, and says about her former boyfriends:

“Most of the men I went out with were academicians.” [p. 60]

Wait, Microsoft Word is recognizing that as a valid word. What? Why say “academicians” when “academics” is probably the same thing? *looks it up* YEAH, IT MEANS ACADEMIC. WHAT THE HELL. (Or, she was only dating members of the Royal Academy of Arts, which seems like a stretch.)

So now that that’s over, let’s get onto the bad sex writing. Oh Sandra Brown, please tell me this was one of your first books, because I seem to remember that Charade didn’t suffer from these problems.

His body settled more deeply into the cove of her thighs. [p. 70]

A cove? I mean, I guess it is kind of w– hm. Ew.

Oh man, this page has two good examples:

Her mouth opened up to his like a flower, then her lips closed petal soft around his intrusive tongue, hugging it.

[…]

He tilted his hips forward, until her thighs parted slightly and cuddled his hardness between them. Reacting strictly on impulse, he began lightly slamming into that marvelous softness with rhythmic movements. [p. 74]

I don’t know where to start. Her lips hugging his intrusive tongue? Her thighs cuddling his hardness? Him lightly slamming into her softness that also happens to be marvelous? I’m not even touching the actions Rylan’s making and how they’re described in almost violent tones, but whoa, Nellie – that is some extremely purple prose up there.

Oh, here’s another example of how, unlike in the classic Bush song, Sandra Brown makes sure that there is sex in her violence:

He used his tongue to make quick, stabbing thrusts against her nipples, then sucked them gently. [p. 149]

I honestly didn’t come out here to rail against the patriarchy and the violence towards women I’m seeing in this book, but apparently I only picked quotes that did that? Look, this book isn’t The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but I guess my subconscious picked up on a disturbing trend, or something. I’m not going to come out and say that this book is aggressive towards women, because really, Rylan doesn’t demonstrate** any aggression towards Kirsten, and both of their feelings are real – well; as real as emotions demonstrated by fictional characters can be. (“Real zombies? Did you just say ‘real’ zombies??) I guess I’m more disturbed by the word choices made to describe these actions, rather than the actions themselves. The actions themselves weren’t violent, but the words used implied violence, and I’m like Bush: I want no sex in my (non-consensual) violence.

**I know, aside from the murderous rage he feels about his almost-baby-mama. But even then, that’s inconsistent with how he feels about her eighty pages prior:

He held no grudge toward either woman, only felt extremely lucky that he’d escaped them when he had. [p. 104]

But then, as quoted above, eighty or so pages later, he wanted to kill her. But he doesn’t hold a grudge. But he still makes fists when he thinks about her.

Well, I’ve just written two thousand words on a very problematic book, so I’ll leave you with the one line that made me laugh until I cried (and in case you’re wondering, I fell asleep shortly thereafter):

His desire last night hadn’t been rooted in his groin, but in his heart. [p. 104]

I swear, as God is my witness, I’m going to make that into a cross-stitch pattern.

Grade for Demon Rumm: 1 star