Sunday, December 28, 2008

Review: Under The Boardwalk - anthology

So far, I’ve featured Regency anthologies, holiday anthologies, a chick-lit anthology, and lots and lots of contemporary paranormal anthologies. It turns out that there’s kind of a dearth of just straight-up contemporary romantic anthologies, although it’s possible I just wasn’t looking hard enough. Under the Boardwalk, headlined by Linda Howard, is a themed anthology revolving around beach stories. Five stories, four eras, three coasts, two terrible storms, but only one actual boardwalk; this anthology packs a lot of variety.

Personally, it makes more sense to me somehow to keep everything in the same era. I found it kind of jarring to move from a southern American contemp, to 1880s Texas, to Victorian Cornwall, to colonial Massachusetts, and then back to contemporary American Jersey shore. Not to take anything away from any of the individual stories, I just wasn’t a fan of the time-jumps, and I was sort of expecting all contemporaries – although the word “Victorian” did appear on the back cover, so, my fault for skimming, I guess.

So earlier this year, Shannon talked me into reading Mr. Perfect, which I liked rather a lot, other than the psycho-killer aspect. No surprise then, that I found Blue Moon to be perfectly delicious – all the things to love about LH and no psycho-killer. Yay! I rather wished for, if not a full book, then a longer novella, because I had quite a few unanswered questions about how the h/h were going to merge their lifestyles – she lives in a swamp off the grid, he’s the county sheriff, and this causes her a fair bit of angst early in the story. In the end, this was all handwaved away, which is always annoying but particularly because Lilah is such a fascinating character and I thought more details about her day-to-day life would be really interesting. I’ll forgive it though, because, well, Jackson Brody is just perfectly yum in the way that Sam is perfectly yum.

I had a mixed reaction to Castaway by Geralyn Dawson. I value well-done humor a lot in an author, and some of Dawson’s worked well. Some though, just made the hero seem kind of mean and a bit crude, but then he has a pretty decent motivation for wanting to make the heroine squirm a little. The set-up was a little artificial, too – she is “stranded” with the hero by her own choice – she tells the captain that brought her to the island to leave her there for 3 days. And of course the hero can return to the mainland whenever he wants. I don’t know. I didn’t love it, but enough of it worked to make me curious about a full-length novel from Dawson. Maybe the problems I had with it were exacerbated by the format.

I really liked Ruined by Jillian Hunter. In a fun departure from the usual Regency setup, the setting is slightly later, mid-19th century, and the cast of characters consists mainly of a handful of shallow society friends, of which our heroine seems to be one, and a Heathcliff-like author living reclusively on a Cornwall cliff. Hunter is a master of the comic-relief character – the shallow betraying “friends” of the heroine were a stitch to read. A little touch of a ghost story adds some oomph to the plot, but IMO isn’t especially necessary. Not that it was bad, it just seemed a little extraneous.

Of the five stories, I liked the colonial contribution from Miranda Jarrett the least. For no particular reason, the era and setting don’t appeal to me much – now, that isn’t a terribly hard thing to overcome if the story is great, but it’s a disadvantage. The characters were just really flat to me. Miriam’s childhood love left her four years ago, after taking her virginity and love to sail the seas for adventure and piracy. She has decided to marry a complete idiot a stable, unexciting fellow because he’s the complete opposite of Jack and therefore unlikely to cause her hurt. Pirate returns and seduces her into changing her mind. Blah blah blah. No surprises on the way to the happily ever after either. The writing and language are competent enough, but the characters are blah and the plot is totally linear. Meh.

Bringing it back around to modern day is Swept Away from Mariah Stewart. I liked this one quite a bit. It starts with a prologue of sorts, showing Jeremy in action as a private investigator, and giving us a very good insight to his character in less than six pages. In some ways, this story is as linear as the last, with no real obstacles between Jeremy and Jody, but the pacing is totally different. The characters get to know each other in this story; scene by scene they learn more and more about each other while going about adorably corny summer-beach-resort activities, like roller coasters, seafood restaurants, and hot-air balloon rides. Jeremy has a little soul-searching to do about his past, but other than that, it’s a lovely, lightweight summer romance; perfect beach reading or in my case, excellent escapism for the latter half of my snow-bound captivity.

Five stories: three very good, one ok, one meh. Not too bad as anthologies go.

1 comment:

RfP said...

"I value well-done humor a lot in an author, and some of Dawson’s worked well. Some though, just made the hero seem kind of mean and a bit crude, but then he has a pretty decent motivation for wanting to make the heroine squirm a little."

That's a dynamic that could be interesting to explore. I've had that reaction to a few men--wondering whether they're teasing me in a good way or a bad way, or if they're stuck in 3rd grade. I realize that doesn't sound like it's the focus of this particular story; it's just a getting-to-know-you moment I don't see explored a lot.

One of the things I love about short fiction is the way it can focus on a vignette of a relationship, emphasizing the exciting first meeting, the first bump in the road, or one central problem in the relationship. As you've said, though, there isn't room to explore everything else too.

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