Monday, September 06, 2010

"Under Fire," by Jo Davis

The Chick: Corinne "Cori" Shannon. An exotic dancer working her way through nursing school, she's wary of men, that is, until a sexy firefighter saves her life and steals her heart in the bargain.
The Rub: Despite their growing relationship, it's clear he's hiding something from her - plus, it looks like a creeper is out to make sure she dances her last lap dance.
Dream Casting: Yvonne Strahovski.

The Dude: Zack Knight. Unbeknownst to his firefighter buddies, beneath his glorious six-pack lies a desperate man who's up to his neck in debt to a ruthless casino owner. Lovely stripper Cori seems to be the only light at the end of his tunnel --
The Rub: -- until his learns she came into town to escape her controlling brother. Her controlling casino owner brother.
Dream Casting: Jake Gyllenhaal.

The Plot:

Cori: Hey! You crashed into my car! You're a dick!

Zack: Sorry...

Cori: Hey! You saved my life when that same car nearly went over a bridge! You're awesome!

Zack: No, you're awesome.

Cori:, No, YOU'RE awesome.

Zack: We are BOTH AWESOME. And I'm a virgin.


Crazed Stalker: Hey, mind if I repeatedly try to murder you both?

Zack: Not awesome. *defeats Crazed Stalker* Crap, guess it's time for some angst.

Cori: You're too awesome for angst.

Zack: You're right. Let's get married!


Romance Convention Checklist

1 Virgin Hero

1 Stripper Heroine

1 Crazed Stalker

2 Car Accidents

1 Deceased Abusive Ex-Husband

1 "Don't Worry I'm On the Pill" No-Condom Excuse

1 Almost-Deceased Abusive Dad

Several Uses of Hero as Human Punching Bag

1 Asstastic Drunken Boss Destined for the Final Book in the Series

The Word: How the HELL did this book end up less than awesome? I mean REALLY. I went into this book with ridiculously high expectations, thanks to the following:
  1. I attended Jo Davis' synopsis workshop at RWA 2010, where she was both helpful and fabulous
  2. At the same workshop, we read the synopsis of this very book, and it sounded terrific
  3. It's about a firefighter who falls in love with a stripper
  4. And did I mention the sexy firefighter is both a bookworm nerd AND a virgin?
It was like a guaranteed recipe for a tasty romance souffle - unfortunately, perhaps my expectations stomped in a little too heavily and made it collapse, because when I took this book out at my library and read it, I was less than impressed.

Firefighter Zack Knight's life goes from bad to Hella Bad when he dozes off at the wheel and rear-ends a gorgeous woman's car. He sure as hell can't afford a higher insurance premium. Although he's hidden it from all but one of his team mates, he's already sold his house, emptied his savings, and worked himself sick trying to pay off his father's enormous gambling debt to a cruel casino owner. Despite running himself ragged, he's barely made a dent and the owner's threatened to hurt his father, who's been incapacitated in a nursing home since having a stroke.

However, despite his life suckage, when the station gets a call about a car accident on a bridge, he puts on his gear and heads out with the rest of his teammates. To his surprise, it's the same car he rear-ended, only with one major difference: someone put a bullet hole in the woman's tire. While he manages to get the woman, Cori Shannon, to safety, the car tumbles into the river with him in it and he only barely survives.

Cori knows a lot about nursing school and stripping - especially since the latter helps pay for the former. She only knows one thing about Zack Knight: that he risked his life to save hers. Still, that's enough to rouse her curiosity about a man who seems different from every other man she's ever met - particularly her abusive late husband. She visits him regularly at the hospital, and after he's released, allows him to bunk with her when he discovers he's been evicted from his shithole apartment.

Cori and Zack take to each other with incredible speed. However, a few things stand in the way - one of them being the deranged and incredibly obvious villain who wants Cori and everyone she cares about out of the picture.

So why didn't I like this book? Well, by the end of the novel, the main impression I took away from the characterization was that it was shallow. We are told a great deal about the protagonists, and while that sounds interesting in the context of a synopsis, when I read the book expecting to be shown the elements of such characterization, I was disappointed.

We are told that Zack is a nerdy bookworm hero, who wears glasses and struggles against a fat-kid past with an unloving father. But nothing in Zack's actual behaviour seems to indicate this. We aren't shown how his fat-nerd past impacts his present. Is he super careful about what he eats? No. Do we see any scenes of him reading or talking about books? No. Is he awkward or tongue-tied around Cori? Not especially. I think he mentions Greek philosophy once in a phone conversation and that's about it.

No, what we are shown is that he is Male Perfection Personified - he's sweet, he's caring, he's honest, he says all the right things, etc. etc., which in my book, translates to Dull. The only really interesting thing about his character is that he spends nearly every chapter getting the physical or emotional shit kicked out of him at least once. He gets pneumonia, he nearly drowns, he learns his has two weeks to pay his debt or else, he gets bashed over the head and gassed, he learns Cori's new house is the one he was forced to sell after building it from the ground up... He's just a nice dude reacting to a Series of Unfortunate Events, instead of a fully-fleshed out character. There's a wee bit of 11th-hour angst where he fears that wanting to go all Batman on bad people makes him a bad person, but it's weakly developed and easily vanquished.

Ditto for Cori. We are told that she is stripping her way through nursing school and that her late husband was monstrously abusive - but do we get any details? Does this impact how she behaves around strange men? Does this influence how she reacts to danger? Are we shown the damage this might have done to her confidence or sense of self-worth? No to all of the above. That's what I mean by shallow characterization, where what we are told about the characters is more interesting than what we are shown by the characters.

Oh, and one more thing about showing and telling, I nearly threw this book against the wall when the heroine - who is four months away from being a registered nurse - tells the virginal Zack he can ride bareback because she's been tested and is on the pill. AND *spoilers ahoy* when she winds up pregnant, she says (quoted verbatim): "Whoopsy-daisy, the pill isn't always one-hundred percent effective." OH REALLY?! Who would have thought? I mean, it's not like there are BOOKS in your CURRICULUM that could POSSIBLY have explained that to you. *here endeth the spoilers*.

Ultimately, the book I was hoping to read wasn't there. The romantic conflict is almost entirely external since Zack and Cori pretty much adore each other unconditionally from day one. The villain is obvious from the very start, so I'm not sure where the "suspense" part of the novel was supposed to come in. As a result, neither the romantic nor the external conflicts provide much heat. Under Fire under-performs.


  1. Wow, does ANYONE actually say Whoopsy-daisy in real life?

  2. I have just installed iStripper, so I can have the sexiest virtual strippers on my desktop.