All links lead to the full review on my blog. Feel free to clicky or not. I promise not to bite either way. (Well, not much.)
Something About You by Julie James
Publisher: Berkley, 2010
One of the things that makes this different from other romances is that the Big Misunderstanding has happened long before the book even starts. The plot basically deals with the two of them dealing with and getting past the Big Misunderstanding, rather than bringing it in as a bit of extra conflict 3/4 of the way through the book.
There's no secret as to who the killer is, since he narrates a few passages, trying to cover his tracks. This can backfire on an author but James does it well, making it fit the tone and style of the book and letting those sections add to the tension and the reader's understanding of the plot instead of trying to cover it in mystery. That being said, this is not really a romantic suspense. It's contemporary romance played fairly straight, albeit self-aware (the detectives assigned to guard Cameron have a discussion about "meet cute" at one point).
I really enjoyed the characters in Something About You. The story starts off on the slow side, but I didn't care because I had so many fun people to hang out with. Jack and Cameron are both primarily reasonable people who make reasonable decisions based on the information they're given. Jack's partner Wilkins was a nice and sunny foil to Jack's "scowliness" and Cameron's friends Amy and Collin (the requisite gay best friend) are charming. Actually, I kind of wanted Wilkins to get his own book, but no word on that yet.
Something About You is exactly the kind of book I can see being made into a "chick lit" movie. It's got the cute banter, the quirky side characters, the reluctant but undeniable attraction between hero and heroine... Formulaic? Sure, but it's done well enough that it remains enjoyable and even re-readable.
Publisher: Bantam, 1998
Genre: Science Fiction
Sub-genre: Alternate history/time travel
When I asked for recommendations for something light and fun, starmetal_oak suggested To Say Nothing of the Dog. And since not only did it sound like a fun premise, but the library had an e-copy of it available (meaning I could read it without having to, like, go outside and talk to people), I went for it.
To Say Nothing of the Dog doesn't just bend genres, it defies them. It's a mystery, it's science fiction, it's a historical comedy of manners, it's an homage to the works of several writers. Somehow Willis weaves everything together in a way that feels natural, and the whole thing is really a lot of fun. The well researched world is highly detailed, the humour has a British feel to it, and while the characters are over the top, they're at least caricatures of people you know.
Light on the science fiction elements, which serve mostly to push the plot forward rather than to provide a world for the characters to inhabit, the strength in here is Willis's ability to juggle several plotlines without letting any of them fade into the background or grow too fractured or confusing. Even when you know where the plotline is going (I knew who the mysterious Mr C was early on), seeing how they get there is worth turning the pages for. And, of course, there are all the literary references, the absurdity of the characters involved, and the clever self-awareness of all the genres the book has a toe-hold in. To say nothing of the eponymous dog. And the cat.
His Robot Girlfriend by Wesley Allison
Publisher: Self-published, 2009
Genre: Science Fiction
Sub-genre: Near future
Ever since his wife's death, Mike has been lonely. Eventually he decides he's had enough and orders a robot to be his companion and finds his life improves in every way once she arrives.
No, really, that's it. That's the plot. His Robot Girlfriend wasn't the title, it was the plot summary. This novella is 100 pages of male fantasy fodder about the perfect woman, which apparently means someone inhumanly and eternally hot who will take care of your house and your life so you never have to lift a finger. There's no plot, no character development, not a whiff of conflict. Every time something arose that could have developed into a plot or even an element that could have been moderately interesting, the book took the fastest turn-off road to get out of there. Mike's two adult kids have no reservations about their father having a romantic relationship with a robot. Patience (the robot) doesn't bring up any questions of sentience or emotions or free will. She just quietly does what she's told, which mostly involves things like cleaning the house, cooking the food, finding ways to bring in extra income, and doing most of it while naked or dressed in a skimpy outfit, described in loving detail.
Look, I absolutely think there's room for male fantasy fodder within a book. Let's face it, most genre fiction basically exists as some sort of escapism and/or wish fulfillment. Fantasy fodder fits comfortably in there. Being a chick, male fantasies don't as a rule appeal to me, but I understand their inclusion, as long as there are other elements to hold my interest. Quantic Dream put together a short demo of their new motion capture technology. Their female robot protagonist is naked through almost the entire thing, but in less than 7 minutes they have more conflict and emotion than this entire novella. Even Futurama did an episode about society disapproving of human/robot relationships. In typical sitcom format, everything was resolved and returned to status quo by the end of the half hour and included a cartoon Lucy Liu in a skintight catsuit, but it explored society's reactions to human/robot relationships and involved a plot much larger than "man gets sexy robot and sexes it up a lot." I basically made it through this novella because I kept waiting for something to happen, some conflict to pop in. More fool me.