Posts Tagged ‘Thanks for the review copy’

Softer Than Steel Teaser

I think by now, it’s well documented that I’m a huge fan of Jessica Topper. And her books, too.

So of course I got all excited when I heard of her follow-up to Louder than Love and Deeper than Dreams. And off to NetGalley I went.

Softer Than Steel, this new one is called, bucking the cliché that keeps trapping me (yes, I keep calling it Stronger and Jessica keeps correcting me). It’s the story of Rick Rottenberg—Riff Rotten to Corroded Corpse fans—and the woman who yanks him out of grief for his first wife. Her name is Sidra and right off the bat, I have a major complaint: I never got a good fix on the age difference between the two. There was something about Sidra that struck me as being in her twenties. Rick, of course, has kids that age. And among the issues that these two have to work through—Rick’s grief, his anxiety attacks, the band, Sidra’s ties to her life, past and present, and her ambition (or lack thereof) for herself—age isn’t one of them.

So these two meet in what has to be one of the best meet cutes in fiction, and let me tell you, Topper is a genius with the meet cute. Here, Sidra holds an elevator for a panicking Rick… and it’s just too good to believe. Best of all, they are nothing to each other, irritants: he’s a hustling somebody who seems to look down his nose at her; she’s going to hit up the rock star’s generosity. Right?

The mistaken identity doesn’t last long, just long enough for an awful lot of laughter at mostly Rick’s expense. But he’s troubled enough that before long, he’s found his way to Sidra’s yoga studio, desperate for relief from the demons that have spent fourteen years torturing him. Fourteen years of mourning his first wife? Really? We know Simone was a heck of a woman—there’s a song written about her, after all—but c’mon, Rotten. Time to let it go. I’m glad he found a way because dude. Getting whiny there.

By and large, that’s the whole plot. The story is one of the two coming together, and the first third is a bit problematic because it feels like every time things start to roll, the story has to come to a screeching stop so the backstory can be filled in. Backstory, I’ve learned as an editor, is a sneaky little bastard and always hard to wield effectively. But once we get that stop-and-start over with, as Rick’s yoga practice grows, so does the mindfulness of the narration and we are allowed to exist in the present moment more and more.

Is that kismet or technique? I’m not sure, and I haven’t asked Jessica. I should because it would be an interesting technique to take apart. It doesn’t entirely work, unfortunately—because I am not a fan of stop-and-start narrative or a lot of backstory, most of which we know from having read Louder. So the story keeps stopping for us to re-learn stuff we already know.

One more thing that doesn’t work as well in this one, and that’s that I felt Jessica herself didn’t know Rick and Sidra as well as she knows Adrian and Kat, the couple from Louder Than Love. (And yes, you Adrian lovers, he and Kat have plenty of well-earned time here.) Rick and Sidra take a lot longer to come to life on the page, and that works against the story—as it always does.

I almost wish the story had started later, or been framed by a flashback, so we could see them starting from that point when they stop being characters on a page and start being people we’re sorry we don’t know in real life. But if that had happened, we’d have missed the amazing first meeting. And if I’m still raving about it, you KNOW it’s good.

Now. Some things that work really really well. We know Jessica Topper is the queen of really awesome, quirky details. I have encountered very few authors who do it as well as she does, and while it’s more subtle than in Dictatorship of the Dress, it’s there. Sidra’s yoga studio is in the back of a record store, which is also an old building that used to be a bike repair shop. This place has history and has been in the Sullivan family forever, but the best revelation is that in Sidra’s studio, there is a light that she’s been ordered to leave on. Always. Don’t even try to turn it off.

Rick, good Jew that he is, recognizes the light as the ner tamid, the eternal light that shines in every Jewish synagogue—which, when you trace the building’s history back far enough, is what it, indeed, used to be. The idea of doing yoga in what used to be a sacred space for Jews is both deliciously heretical and absolutely perfect. Yoga, after all, is a way of worshipping the self, the body, the world. And Sidra and Rick find ways to worship each other under the unblinking, always watchful eye of the ner tamid. It lends a sacredness to their love, a preciousness that you don’t want to see end.

It’s also the crux of the conflict that tries to pull the two apart, and while the solution is patently obvious and not nearly clever enough to live up to Jessica’s own standards—don’t you hate setting the bar super high?—it’s the right solution. And sometimes, that trumps it all.

Overall, this isn’t quite as good as Louder than Love, but this isn’t a bad book or one to avoid or to think of as the failure in the series. Perish those thoughts! If anything, I feel like it was a premature baby, not quite ready for prime time yet but here it is, so sit back and enjoy. And, of course, since this is all about yoga and love and things eternal, remember to breathe.

Disclaimer stuff: As stated, my copy came from NetGalley, and we all know how that works. I get copy. I read copy. I review book. End of contract. Also, thanks to GossipGirls PR for including The Rock of Pages on Jessica’s book tour. We’d love to do more Rock Fiction features like this. Thanks again!

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I am not the heel here. Susan is.

This morning, she sent me the file containing Louisa Bacio’s The Big One. She’d had it since last Rocktober; it had gotten buried in her inbox. She’d even blogged about getting it, so we’ve all been waiting all this time. Especially me.

Let me tell you, this one was worth the wait. I wish I could do another post or three about it ’cause it’s that good and you all should go out and pick it up and read it. You really should.

If you remember, this is the one with the bomb shelter. The one with the marketing assistant ordered to show her dirty secret—the bomb shelter—to a potential client, the rocker. He may or may not be willing to shoot his next music video in there.

But disaster strikes, and believe me when I say it’s a lot less obvious on the page than it is in this review. And Kayla and Sebastian are trapped because she’s installed a lock that can’t be opened. It’s a way to keep looters out.

Or two people inside, she realizes.

This is a novella, which was the major downer of the whole experience. It took like an hour to read (Again, Susan! WHAT were you thinking???) and I got to the last page and wanted to reach out to Louise and shake her a good one. I wanted her to have Shaken Baby Syndrome ’cause I wanted more. More Kayla. More Sebastian.

But especially, more of what happened to them once they left the insulated bunker. That sucker is insulated in a lot of ways: from what is happening outside, and from what’s going on inside. The bunker becomes their safe place, where they can reveal parts of themselves that they’ve kept hidden from others. Maybe it’s the dark, maybe it’s knowing they are trapped, maybe it’s their attraction to each other… who knows? I don’t. And I don’t really want to. This isn’t one of those novellas that you want to think too much about. You want to sit back and go along for the ride even though these people are complex and real. None of that phone it in stereotype here. Well, okay, a little bit, and only where Sebastian is involved. He’s larger than life, of course. He’s a rock star! His charisma oozes out of him, even when he’s at his most vulnerable. But he’s also more than your normal stereotyped rocker, and that’s the best part of him.

This is a fun ride. It’s a sexy ride, with some great whoo boy hot love scenes. And I loved the way Sebastian talked about his man parts. Totally cracked me up. I’d kill for a man with that kind of sense of humor about himself.

My only complaint is that I wanted to be with Kayla and Sebastian longer. A lot longer. I want to know if they can make it once they’re together in the daylight.

Oh, okay, I’ve got another complaint. There’s talk of a periscope that Kayla has put in so she can see what’s going on outside. She peeks through it once. But then the whole idea of how bad it was, what’s going on, the idea of this secret tool to peek at the world from a hidden safe spot… none of that gets used. It’s dropped, and that’s too bad.

But, this was a novella, after all, and by definition, they gotta be short. Something always has to go in a novella, and here it wasn’t so major. I mean, it could have been the development of the characters.

I’m really glad character development didn’t suffer. It’s what makes this story so earth-shaking good. Get it? Earth shaking?

I’ll be here all night. Or so I’m told.

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So Susan came across another Rock Fiction author named Susan — Susan Griscom. Go check out Susan Griscom’s site.

See those two books? The Beaumont Brothers Duology?

YES. Susan’s busy with a client (read this post at West of Mars if you don’t know what she’s up to), so I get these two ALL TO MYSELF.

I love this gig.

I’ll report in when I’ve read them.

Oh, here’s the description for the first:

What would you do if you had no place to go and no one you could trust?

“The lyrics are about you, Lena,” he confessed, and I watched his mouth as the tip of his tongue moistened his lips before he leaned his head down. Then those beautiful lips were on mine, soft, tender at first, then his tongue glided over my lips, breaking the seal. My pulse throbbed and quickened as his tongue swirled around mine. Taking and controlling, and… and I wanted this, needed his touch. I went limp in his embrace, and the heat rose under my skin, my body vibrated against his strong powerful one. Was this really happening?”

After a not-so-wonderful young adulthood-shuffled from one foster home to another-Lena Benton had hoped marriage would be her ticket to happiness. Wedded a year after high school graduation, Lena was certain she’d found her knight. But when Troy Harington’s true colors surface shortly after their glorious day of elopement, things aren’t quite as rosy as Lena had envisioned. When an unforeseen event turns ugly, all she can do is … run!

But does she run far enough?

Jackson Beaumont prides himself on being a nature-loving, guitar-strumming carefree sort of guy, known for his eagerness to help injured animals find their way back into the wild. When Lena Benton walks into his bar, he’s once again swept off his feet with concern and desire to help the wounded. Will he risk having his heart torn apart again when the memory of the fawn he rescued as a child resurfaces?

So Nancy Loyan saw my post coveting her book, Special Angel. (It’s still one of the top-read posts here at The Rock of Pages, which isn’t bad for a new site! Thanks to all of you who have transferred here from West of Mars — and to you who’ve newly found us here.)

And she dropped me a note, asking if I’d like a review copy.

Of course I would! So does Jett, who was over the moon over the idea of something good to review.

Stay tuned for another new review among the reposting of the old stuff.

And a huge thanks to Nancy for being such a cool author!