Thursday, July 05, 2012
EARTHLY CONCERNS was my first but certainly not last novel by Xavier Axelson. There’s something disjointed about reading an eerie, shadow-filled paranormal under the bright Hawaiian sun, but Axelson did a great job of pulling me in and making me forget that I was reading at the beach.
Anson struggles with the classic gift-is-a-curse trope in a very realistic and understated way. Although his talent and the help he can render are integral to the story, it’s a paranormal after all, it’s his struggle to come to terms with his feelings for Barrett, the ex, that drive the story forward. Barrett needs help, but is beyond saving. Emotionally unavailable, he’s toxic to Anson. Their relationship seems as doomed as the child Barrett lost.
It is loss that finally helps Anson to reconcile his feelings with what he knows about Barrett in a climax that I thought would have worked far better if not written in first-person. My personal preference to generally skip first-person writing notwithstanding, I do think the drama would have been heightened if viewed through the eyes of the man Anson was trying to save.
If you’re looking for a quiet, eerie paranormal with excellent writing, look no further than Xavier Axelson. He does first-person exceptionally well, flawlessly showing us life through the eyes of his character (whose first name I totally fell in love with).
If not for my friend Kim at SOS Aloha, I wouldn’t have found the novella FOR LOVE OR DUTY by Bethanne Strasser. I’m sure glad Kim suggested I read this author. I’m all for military spouses reading military spouses, especially if the writing also deals with military life.
I had a good time with FOR LOVE OR DUTY. It’s a light summer read for a few hours by the pool. Valerie and Kevin are just complicated enough to keep each other on their toes without weighing the story down with their issues. I really enjoyed that both were open to the idea of no-strings attached fun. And that they tried to make their friendship work. Cheryl, the sidekick, was fun and refreshing.
But what really didn’t work for me, so much so that it lowered the grade for the entire novella, was the non-communication tool Strasser used to create a very contrived way to keep Kevin and Valerie apart. Seriously? Valerie’s father knew of Kevin’s plans; he wouldn’t have told his daughter what had happened to Kevin the minute he got the news? Cheryl knew of Kevin’s plans, too; she wouldn’t have called Valerie either? If a serviceman is injured, calls are being made. Period. No one cares if there was an argument before/during the deployment.
I understand why Strasser used this tool (it’s in every new author’s bag of tricks), but her writing is beyond using such beginner tropes. She’s far better than the contrived conflict she created.
Still, her conflict led to a satisfying conclusion and my absolute favorite part of the story. When Kevin said, “I can’t assure you I’ll be there every time you need me.” I cheered. I loved that he was being honest and realistic. Separation is a very real part of military life and too often overlooked in the happy-ever-after assurances of our fictional military heroes. Kudos to Strasser (and Kevin) for keeping it honest.