Having cleared that up, this is an especially good time of the year to read romance. This week, (17–20 July) the Romance Writers of America holds its annual convention announcing the winners of this year’s RITA awards. Think of it as the equivalent of the Oscars, but with books. This is made even better by the bloggers at SmartBitchesTrashyBooks. Blog-mistress Sara (how does even that manage to sound naughty?) releases a list of the nominees, and followers of the blog post reader reviews of the contenders. This means I not only get a synopsis, but I get the benefit of a bunch of picky readers lending me their thoughts. If they think it’s complete crap, it probably is.
That is how I found the summer pick I will now–after a great deal of ado–begin to review. I decided to go with Low Country Boil by Susan M. Boyer. It’s among last year’s nominees, and was a Nook deal at $0.99. Hey, for a buck, you can try almost anything right? I admit that while I love my Nook or iPad, reading on these is sometimes a dicey proposition. If I happen to run across something with hurl factor, flinging your e-device at the nearest wall gets sort of expensive. In my humble opinion Low Country Boil is not quite hurl worthy. I did finish it after all.
It was nominated for the RITA, so I was expecting some more solid romance elements and a better overall book. The hint that the protagonist was caught in the web of a love triangle implied there would be some fraught relationship strain, but there was hardly any. Now that I’m done reading it, I’m not even sure who was supposed to be part of the emotional triangle. I didn’t get any of the tension I was expecting from that aspect of the story.
I was expecting a stronger, more accurate Southern vibe. I should note the stereotypes that did appear applied to the white characters in this tale, not to the African American characters. As far as I could tell, there are no characters of African-American descent. At all. None. This was glaringly obvious to me because the blend of the two cultures is an intricate part of “Low Country” history and social order. Consider this Wiki quote:
“The region contains its share of culture and history that draws from Southern, European, African, Caribbean, and Native American roots. Among the more notable are the Gullah influence on St. Helena Island, the early European settlements near Beaufort and Port Royal, and the Caribbean influence on architecture in Charleston.”
I’ve read other novels based in this region of the country, and the American South in general. I get a kick out of the Southern-lady syrup, being quite the Yankee gal myself. It’s very different which makes it fun for me. I’m a Gone With the Wind fan. I really enjoyed the exploration of the relationship between African and White characters in The Help. I completely understand that both books are the subject of a great deal of criticism and why. To me, this book is worse because it totally skips over this element. I was equally put out by the image of the White men in the story as shotgun-toting good ‘ol boys.
What kept me reading? Not much actually. The mystery didn’t have any page-turning suspense. I found the ghost popping in and out to be a fun element. I also wanted to find out what happened to the characters in some of the subplots. Unfortunately, those didn’t conclude to my satisfaction, though the loose ends did wrap up. I couldn’t help feeling many–if not all–of the characters had unexplored depths.
I know, I know. What did I really think I was going to get from cotton candy for the brain? No matter how light or fictional the story, if the author is going to place it in a very real and specific cultural framework, then I want him or her to be true to the important social elements of the region. The lack of that ruined for me what might otherwise have been a fun read. I am glad I only spent a dollar to enter it in my Nook collection. I’d have been annoyed if I spent more.