A review of The Three, by Meghan O’Brien

ONLINE SUMMARY: Twenty-five-year-old Anna is ready to give up on living in a post-apocalyptic world where unchecked sickness and slaughter have killed off her childhood tribe, family, and best friend. But when Anna unexpectedly interrupts an attack on a beautiful woman lounging by a lake, she is drawn into the relationship of two other survivors of the sickness: young, idealistic Elin, who welcomes Anna into their makeshift family with open arms, and Elin’s lover, the older, more jaded Kael, whose dark and brooding nature initially keeps Anna at bay.

The threesome journeys south for the winter season but is beset by accidents, relationship strain, and an attack upon Elin by a group of religious fanatics who believe that a woman’s duty in the post-apocalyptic world is to bear children and repopulate the earth. Kael and Anna’s fragile connection will be tested repeatedly. Will they find a way to work together to save the woman they both love?

Intense, exciting, and sexually provocative, The Three is one book you do not want to miss.

MY REVIEW: Having read and very much enjoyed a couple of novels by Meghan O’Brien some time ago I figured it was way past time to dip into her works again. I’m glad I did and extremely glad I chose The Three. (Actually, it was an amazon recommendation and sometimes they’re kind of hit or miss.) As it turns out, The Three was a dead center bullseye.

O’Brien’s Wild and Infinite Loop featured engaging, even fun characters who also earn your respect and admiration, intriguing stories with perfect pacing as well as flawless execution in the mechanical aspects of writing. The Three definitely lives up to those high standards. Moreover, here we have, as the title suggests, a third main character to enjoy; this is more than lagniappe, though: all three characters, Anna, Elin and Kael, are absolutely essential to the story. It takes some time for the reader to warm to Kael, just as it does Anna, who has just met the other two; this, I assume, is by design, and adds another element of conflict for the characters to overcome. Elin, however, is adorable from the git-go. Despite her innocence in some areas, Elin is every bit as strong as her two companions. And, folks, in a world where a candidate for POTUS can brag about sexual assault with complete impunity, we need all the stories about strong women we can get.

I began reading science-fiction when I was about ten, so I’ve read my share of post-apocalyptic stories. What makes The Three different is that the disease-ravaged world merely provides the setting whereas, in most other such novels, the disaster which has befallen our world is the entire raison d’être of the work. Almost all dystopian novels are cautionary tales; The Three, on the other hand, is an intensive character study in triplicate. It takes a special writer to make such story quite entertaining as well, and O’Brien is more than up to the task.

A couple of online reviewers said they wanted more details about what caused the illness which devastated the Earth. If this were the typical post-apocalyptic tale, I might agree, but here, despite the fact that the adventure-filled plot holds your interest and is often riveting, it’s the characters that matter. The plot is certainly compelling enough to keep you turning pages but extraneous scientific detail would make this an entirely different novel.  What backstory there is occurs in the dialog, avoiding the common info-dumps which plague many science-fiction stories.

As for the mechanical aspects of the work, the nuts and bolts, if you will, of a writer’s craft, we’re also on very solid footing. Yeah, it’s a Bold Strokes offering and I can’t imagine Radclyffe and Stacia Seaman putting out anything but highly polished books, but something about O’Brien’s writing makes me think her work doesn’t need a lot of tightening up. In any case, there are none of those gaffes of grammar, etc. that can seriously interrupt the narrative flow and leave you scratching your head.

Finally, of course, there’s the sex. And, yes, there’s lots of it but it never feels like too much. Each such scene is certainly erotic but, though graphic, it never feels gratuitous or “porn-y.” Every lovemaking event is there for a purpose. I’m reminded of Katherine V. Forrest’s remark that you can show things about character in a sex scene that can’t be depicted any other way. The Three perfectly illustrates that.

One of the important things about O’Brien’s writing, in my opinion, is that she understands that people are people irrespective of orientation, gender, race or any other descriptive. While a character’s response to the events of a story is inevitably colored by experiences based on any or all of the above, what O’Brien’s characters always display is basic human emotion and that makes it easy for any reader to relate to them.

In summary, then, Meghan O’Brien’s The Three is an extremely well-written, logically plotted, entertaining novel with terrific characters whom you come to root for because they’re admirable and have become very real. If the overall tone is more serious than Infinite Loop or even Wild, that merely serves to underscore O’Brien’s versatility as a writer. I highly recommend The Three, as I do the other novels mentioned.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

A review of I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You (Gallagher Girls #1) by Ally Carter

READ OCTOBER 2013

ONLINE PLOT SUMMARY: “Cammie Morgan is a student at the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women, a fairly typical all-girls school-that is, if every school taught advanced martial arts in PE and the latest in chemical warfare in science, and students received extra credit for breaking CIA codes in computer class. The Gallagher Academy might claim to be a school for geniuses but it’s really a school for spies. Even though Cammie is fluent in fourteen languages and capable of killing a man in seven different ways, she has no idea what to do when she meets an ordinary boy who thinks she’s an ordinary girl. Sure, she can tap his phone, hack into his computer, or track him through town with the skill of a real “pavement artist”-but can she maneuver a relationship with someone who can never know the truth about her?

Cammie Morgan may be an elite spy-in-training, but in her sophomore year, she’s on her most dangerous mission-falling in love.”

MY REVIEW: No doubt, given the popularity of Bond flics for over four decades now, and TV shows like Alias, most of us, whether tweens, teens, or (putative) adults have daydreamed about being a spy. Those daydreams come to life in Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls series, beginning with I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You. Protagonist Cammie Morgan aces her studies related to espionage, but, unfortunately, doesn’t have much experience in being a girl. As the blurb says, she speaks fourteen languages; unfortunately, “boy” isn’t one of them, and that’s the story in a nutshell.

If book one is any indication, Gallagher Girls is played more for fun than Carter’s Heist Society series. The incidents are much more tongue-in-cheek, and over-the-top, but I think that’s by intent. The improbable gets piled onto the improbable. Yeah, it’s interesting that the founder of Gallagher Academy supposedly saved President Lincoln’s life in an assassination attempt prior to Booth’s successful one, an attempt we’ve never heard of and it’s cool that Amelia Erhart was a Gallagher Girl. But…by the time we’re told that Velcro was invented at Gallagher Academy, the long series of unlikely events, which started out being cute, has simply become too much. In my review of Heist Society I wrote “This would be an easy book to let get out of hand as far is realism is concerned.” This is what happens in I’d Tell You I Love You… yet it doesn’t make the book less enjoyable as much as it makes you shake your head wondering “What next?” And not necessarily in a good way.

The characters here are pretty much stereotypes, almost to the point of caricature, but, despite that, Carter somehow manages to make them very likable and we actually come to care about what happens to them. I think that’s because, although we have a computer geek/science nerd, a gorgeous femme fatale, a rich, spoiled brat who’s also an outsider, and our protag, the girl nobody notices, literally, there’s still enough character development and depth to make them more than just “types.”

As I said, I’d Tell You I Love You… is, by design, not nearly as serious as Heist Society. It is, however, an awful lot of fun, and the engaging, sometimes confident, sometimes out-of-her-depth voice of Cammie as the first person narrator seems just right, as a mid-teen with a unique lifestyle who falls in love for the first time. Unfortunately, she hides that unique lifestyle, and the deception eventually blows up in her face. What makes this even more interesting is that her situation is really a Catch-22: She pretends to be a normal girl because Josh is a normal boy, and she assumes that being “normal” will make him like her. On the other hand, if she were to be herself, she would jeopardize the Academy’s security. Though the moral seems to be “be true to who you are,” the school’s security protocol makes that impossible. It adds a nice element of extra tension to the usual teen-angst of a first romance.

While a lot of this review may seem negative, I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You is a light, very enjoyable reading experience, a nice, sweet romance, mixed with some not quite believable spy stuff, and plenty of well-delivered humor. Despite it’s shortcomings, it’s a fast, extremely fun read, and recommended as such. The overall humor, Cammie’s engaging voice, which is the book’s greatest strength, and a cast of strong, smart female characters make it worth your time.

 

A review of Passion Bay, by Jennifer Fulton

READ JULY 2013

ONLINE PLOT SUMMARY: “Passionate romance, mystery and intrigue on virgin beaches under a tropical sky.”

MY SYNOPSIS: New Zealander Cody, whose lover has just left her, and who has been made redundant at her job, receives a severance check for S100,000 instead of the expected $10,000. American Annabel Worth, meanwhile, has inherited Moon Island from her recently deceased Aunt. Cody, fearing she’s being hunted by her former emploryer or by the bank, books a flight to the same tiny island, which rents its five cabins to women only. Adventure and romance ensue.

MY REVIEW: An quick, easy read. Though I don’t usually read novels which are strictly romance, this is one of the better ones I’ve come across. A nice enough story, enjoyable, with very good writing from a technical standpoint. Two likeable characters. Secondary characters, all save one, are colorful and add to the reader’s enjoyment. There’s a bit of suspense when a hurricane strikes, as well as a mystery, involving Annabel’s true identity and her aunt’s diaries.

At first, I thought that having Cody reading a novel about Amanda Valentine (written under another of Jennifer Knight’s synonyms, Rose Beecham) roughly 3/4 of the way through was sort of cute, but later when Annabel has a one-night stand with a writer actually named Rose Beecham, cute became “hokey” and almost completely ruined an otherwise very pleasant reading experience. It made it nearly impossible to take anything in the book seriously. I felt as though the author, under whichever name, had been, as the Brits would say, “having us on” the whole fucking time. Too cute by half. Really disappointing given the otherwise solid story and excellent writing.

A review of Infinite Loop, by Meghan O’Brien

Online plot summary: “Regan O’Riley has just about given up hope that she will ever find a woman into shy, geeky programmers. She yearns for a connection, but can’t seem to make the first move. Mel Raines knows all about making moves. After a childhood under the thumb of her alcoholic father, she avoids intimacy by drowning herself in fiery, fleeting encounters with strangers.”

My review: As I was reading Infinite Loop, Meghan O’Brien’s immensely enjoyable and very, very sexy first novel, I couldn’t imagine not giving it five stars. That it ultimately failed, in my estimation, anyway, to deserve that accolade in no way detracts from how thoroughly entertaining it was.

There are many pluses here: Great characters, not just the two principles; realistic growth of both main characters, which adds the depth needed in a novel; some gorgeous descriptive passages; a really sweet romance; some off-the-charts sex; plenty of humor and wit; drama — not exactly cataclysmic, but enough to liven things up from time to time; intense emotion; believable dialogue, including some totally cute geek-speak; some cool pop culture references; an improbable premise made credible. Oh, and did I mention the totally hot sex…

Characters, and character growth: Mel, street cop, something of a “player,” realizes she’s dissatisfied with her job and her lifestyle; Regan, adorable computer geek beginning to wonder if she’ll ever find “The One.” Regan’s not only a computer geek, but of Irish descent. (Somewhat geeky, unrepentant Hibernophile reviewer sighs wistfully.) After what Roger Ebert would have called a “meet cute” opening, they decide, after only a few week’s acquaintance, but an undeniably strong mutual attraction, to take a mega road trip. Improbable? Sure, but, they’re obviously falling for each other, and, as Buffy told us — god, was it really sixteen years ago? — “love makes you do the wacky.” Both characters, despite obvious strengths, exhibit considerable vulnerability. In a sense, though both are adults, you could almost call this a coming-of-age story, as Mel and Regan are ruled by childhood trauma. Mel is still working at the impossible task of trying to live up to her father’s unrealistic expectations, and Regan’s insecurities are the result of high school bullying. How they help each other overcome their individual bêtes-noires is the story’s driving force. What’s impressive here is that, despite the intensely emotional personal issues involved, Mel and Regan are both completely engaging, likable, and entertaining, the most fun characters I’ve read since Kate Allen’s Alison Kaine and Stacy, in fact.

The road trip, and the instant romance: As I said, improbable, but somehow, O’Brien makes it all work. The frequent and effusive professions of undying love, potentially cloying and hokey, even in a romance, don’t seem at all out of place, here, largely because the intensity of feeling results from the character growth that both women are experiencing, and it seems perfectly natural.

Some have referred to this as an erotic romance, but, I prefer the word sexy. Did I point out, very sexy? To me, erotica’s primary raison d’être is to titillate, to arouse. In Infinite Loop, the focus is on the characters, the romance and how the characters grow; the sex is just (very enjoyable ) lagniappe. I’m reminded of Katherine V. Forrest’s comments about sex scenes as a unique means of developing character, displaying facets of the characters you wouldn’t see in more mundane scenes. That’s exemplified in O’Brien’s tale. Of course, these scenes are one helluva lotta fun, too; if that’s what you’re looking for, look no further.

So, why only four stars? What’s unsatisfying to me, despite how much I enjoyed the book, is that it really isn’t a novel, but a string of, admittedly quite pleasant, individual vignettes. Though there are several dramatic incidents throughout, there’s not enough sustained conflict to lead us to a satisfying climax and denouement, though there are plenty of other climaxes. (Wink-wink, nudge-nudge.) Since this one structural defect is the only issue I have with Ms. O’Brien’s book, I still highly recommend it. It’s fault is in the area of serious lit-crit, but as sheer entertainment, it’s an unqualified success.