Katie MacAlister, “The Corset Diaries”

Onyx; http://www.us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780451411129,00.html?The_Corset_Diaries_Katie_MacAlisterAs reality television has evolved over the years, a typical female star has come to possess some (or all) of the following: bleach blond hair, sun-kissed skin, a lithe but sexy figure, a cosmetically enhanced visage, a narcissistic personality, a flair for drama and a love of fame. Pleasantly plump bookworm Tessa Riordan is far from such a woman. But when a friend encourages her to participate in a reality television program, she is reluctant, fearful – and intrigued. The lure of the spotlight, as so many men and women have fallen prey to, draws the cheerful gal in, and she manages to clumsily charm her way into the hearts of the viewers. And into the arms of the man cast as her husband.

Plot Overview: Love, Lust and Reality T.V.

At 39 years old, Tessa is a widow, a size 18 and a struggling genealogist. Not the ideal life. So when opportunity arrives in the form of a reality show à la PBS’s “1900s House,” Tessa decides she has nothing to lose. Except maybe a few pounds.

The show, which chronicles life in the late 1800s, is made up of actors and wannabes; Tessa’s role is the duchess of the household, a pampered and relatively easy position. She is tied (and tortured) into a corset every day but spends most of her time wandering the English countryside and awkwardly dining with her conservative “neighbors” (read: inexperienced but eager actors). The real plus, however, is Max Edgerton, the British architect playing the Duke.

Max is reticent and standoffish, but Tessa’s good-natured ways begin to smooth his rough edges. The two embark on a steamy affair behind the camera, and Tessa is only too happy to cater to Max’s needs. Complicating matters, however, are the other members of the production. Max’s daughter and in-laws are part of the cast – and deeply disapproving of Tessa – and the actors assigned to servant positions are about to rebel. What should have been a clandestine affair on a staid television show is instead a messy coupling on a hilarious, drama-filled disaster.

Criticisms and Compliments

Katie MacAlister is a hit-or-miss writer. Some of her novels (the Aisling Grey series) are excellent. The protagonists are well-rounded, the romances are hot, the dialogue is witty. But no writer is perfect, and MacAlister has missed the mark before (Men in Kilts, Improper English); her plotting can be superficial, and the female protagonists, rather than appearing clever and charismatic, are overly emotional and just plain not likeable. That said, The Corset Diaries is not only a hit, but also one of her best. Tessa is vulnerable and kind, Max is flawed but loving, and the romance has enough depth to allow the lovebirds to grow. Plus, the plot is laugh-out-loud funny.

In her more successful writing, like The Corset Diaries, MacAlister tends to channel Jennifer Weiner and Sophie Kinsella. Like many of Weiner’s protagonists, Tessa Riordan is overweight and aware of it, but she manages to find a man who loves for who she is, regardless of her size. And like Kinsella’s heroines, Tessa acts with good intentions, but those well-meaning actions constantly land in her cringe-worthy but entertaining situations. The plump protagonist plus the situational comedy makes for a great read. It’s a formula that works.

Finally, MacAlister has the ability to tap into fantasies in which to set her characters and plot: The Corset Diaries explores not only romance on a television show, but also during a seemingly idyllic historical period; A Hard Day’s Knight, another great read, looks at love and lust at a jousting tournament at the Renaissance fair; and the Dark Ones series focuses on seductive vampires and powerful magic. Her collection (of hits) is funny and sexy fare that’s fluffy enough to be light reading.

Source:

  • MacAlister, Katie. The Corset Diaries. Onyx (Reprint edition), 2004 ISBN 9780451411129

Paul Levine, “The Deep Blue Alibi”

Victoria Lord, once a naïve and inexperienced trial lawyer with untapped talent, is now thriving, thanks to her partnership with Steve Solomon. Their relationship both in and out of the office has blossomed, but only to a point. Struggling against the limitations Steve unknowingly places on her, Victoria is desperate to be out on her own, running her own firm, defending her own clients, being single and unencumbered by a boyfriend. Steve, however, can only hope that his dysfunctional and over-the-top attempts to save their love works – and if he can also save their current murder case, well, that would just be the cliched cherry on top.

Plot Overview: Murder, Competition and Independence

As Victoria and Steve enjoy the waves off the coast of Florida, both are contemplating the future: Victoria is considering how to break things off with Steve; Steve is strategizing how to seduce Victoria in the water. And so their relationship takes off in opposite directions.

Soon after, Victoria’s godfather’s boat, with a dead passenger aboard, crashes onto the beach. Victoria agrees to represent Hal Griffin, her father’s former business partner, in his murder trial despite circumstantial evidence – and logic – pointing to his guilt. In an attempt to assert her independence, Victoria devotes herself to Griffin’s case, even if it means overturning stones from her painful childhood and discovering the truth of her father’s suicide.

While Victoria finds her footing, Steve tries to reign himself in, watching his language, his attitude and his behavior to win her back. He manages to make progress as the ideal boyfriend, though Hal Griffin’s Adonis-like son, Junior, gives him pause. At his attempt to be the ideal son for his own father, however, Steve continues to fail, even as he makes a bid to have his dad’s law license reinstated.

Criticisms and Compliments

As a follow-up to Levine’s first Solomon-and-Lord novel, Solomon vs. Lord, The Deep Blue Alibi is strong. The murder that quickly takes all of Victoria’s attention is a riddle: two men are aboard a boat, one is shot with an arrow, the other slips on the deck and passes out, waking up with no recollection of having committed the murder. So, what happened, and who’s guilty? With only a handful of suspects, Levine allows the reader to learn the back story of each, which makes for a powerful ending.

Moreover, the circumstances surrounding the murder shed more light into Victoria and Steve’s personalities. Unlike Solomon vs. Lord, which was more of an introduction to this lawyer/lover pair, The Deep Blue Alibi develops Steve and Victoria beyond just their roles in the courtroom and their dynamics as a couple. This novel is about family – family stories, family histories and family secrets.

Although Steve and Victoria may not be characters that jump off the page, Steve’s brilliant nephew, Bobby, is back for another round of inappropriate anagrams and astute observations. The Deep Blue Alibi is a humorous, interesting read, one that captures the reader’s attention from the first page.

Source:

  • Levine, Paul. The Deep Blue Alibi: A Solomon vs. Lord Novel. Bantam 2006 ISBN 9780440242741

Paul Levine, “Solomon vs. Lord”

Steve Solomon is a lawyer who understands the law, its intricacies and its flaws, and never shies away from the chance to use the absurd in the courtroom. Victoria Lord, however, is a rule-follower, a new lawyer who can’t conceive of bending the law to make a case, even if it costs her a job. And when the two lawyers find themselves as opposing counsel in a case, they begin to see the law – and each other – in a new light. Solomon vs. Lord is a funny, quick-paced novel that is absolutely worth reading.

Plot Overview: The Law, Lust and Family

Victoria Lord is at the beginning of her career as a prosecutor when she encounters Steve Solomon. He easily manipulates her in the courtroom, and before Lord can find her footing, she is charged with contempt of court and quickly loses her job. Her personal life is slightly less disappointing; she is engaged, but her fiancé, though a nice man, is dull and self-absorbed, and she is staying with him out of comfort and obligation.

Steve Solomon, a defense lawyer, has a quirky band of friends and family, including his nephew, Bobby, an autistic savant with an eidetic memory. Solomon, in spite of his ornery behavior, is observant and smart, and he sees potential in Lord. After she is fired, he persuades her to join his practice. Together, they attempt to defend Katrina Barksdale, a widow accused of murdering her millionaire husband, all while fighting their mounting attraction to each other.

Criticisms and Compliments

Paul Levine is a skilled writer, and Solomon vs. Lord not only moves at a fast pace, but it also offers up humor with every page. Steve Solomon is one of Florida’s more unconventional lawyers, and his courtroom antics are unbelievable, especially when he is paired with straight-laced, inexperienced Victoria Lord. Bobby, Solomon’s nephew, however, is the real standout, particularly with his offensive anagrams and inappropriate, but laugh-out-loud observations. In short, Solomon vs. Lord is hilarious.

While Solomon vs. Lord has its fair share of courtroom scenes, the real action occurs in Solomon and Lord’s personal lives. Solomon, as a character, is better developed than Lord, who seems simpler, more of a cardboard cutout of an ambitious, young female lawyer; Solomon, on the other hand, is more complex, a man who is motivated by intense emotions, especially regarding his family. Together, Solomon and Lord make a terrific team, and in later books, Victoria Lord does become well-rounded. Solomon vs. Lord is an excellent read and a good start to a promising series.

Source:

  • Levine, Paul. Solomon vs. Lord. Bantam, 2005 ISBN 9780440242734

Sophie Kinsella, “The Undomestic Goddess”

Sophie Kinsella, author of chick-lit hits like the Shopaholic series, Remember Me and Twenties Girl, produces another charming novel with The Undomestic Goddess. Rife with humiliating moments, The Undomestic Goddess is good for a few, even several laughs.

Samantha Sweeting is a brilliant lawyer but somehow gets roped into working as a housekeeper in the suburbs of London. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have any domestic skills. She is incapable of doing laundry, fixing a meal, even vacuuming. With the help of new friends and a new love interest, Samantha begins to learn a little about housekeeping – and a lot about herself.

Plot Overview: Humor, Fulfillment and Vindication

Samantha is a high-flying lawyer at Carter Spink, one of London’s most prestigious firms. When she is on the verge of being named partner, she makes a critical mistake, costing one of the firm’s clients 50 million pounds. Shocked by her simple mistake and her certain termination, Samantha flees the office. She dazedly makes her way to the London countryside, where she is mistaken by a generous, if clueless couple as being a housekeeper. Uncertain what to do, Samantha plays along – until she realizes she’s actually been hired.

Hiding in the countryside, Samantha undergoes her own transformation. As she struggles to learn how to cook and clean, she gradually sheds the stress and unhappiness of her former career. In a happy turn of fate, she also meets Nathanial, the estate’s hunky gardener. Her feelings for Nathaniel grow – at least until she discovers his hatred of lawyers. The question is, can Nathaniel overcome his prejudice towards lawyers? And, if Nathaniel can get over his lawyer hang-ups, can Samantha summon her courage and face her former employers when she discovers she’s been wrongly terminated?

Criticisms and Compliments

By itself, The Undomestic Goddess is a sweet, humorous read. Kinsella easily blends humiliation with vindication, and like most of her protagonists, Samantha Sweeting is a little kooky. Compared to Kinsella’s other novels, however, The Undomestic Goddess falls a little short. It is funny, but it doesn’t reach the comic heights of cringe-worthy novels Twenties Girl or Can You Keep A Secret?.

In The Undomestic Goddess, Kinsella pairs Samantha’s lack of housekeeping abilities with her mother’s feminist ideals. This juxtaposition of opposing ideals doesn’t make for the funniest material, though Kinsella certainly tries. The strength of this novel actually lies in Nathaniel, its well-developed love interest. While potential boyfriends tend to appear superficial in Kinsella’s novels, Nathaniel, vulnerable yet strong, is a solid match for Samantha.

Despite its weaknesses, The Undomestic Goddess is still delightful. Fans of Kinsella will be pleased by the novel, which has a fantastic ending, and women trying to juggle between careers and housework can easily relate to Samantha. Overall, The Undomestic Goddess is cute and light, perfect for vacation reading.

Source:

  • Kinsella, Sophie. The Undomestic Goddess. Dell, 2007, ISBN 9780440242383