Say My Name – A Review

This review includes spoilers

My 2018 reading project takes me to the library weekly for another handful of romance books. One of the four I grabbed last weekend was this novel by Allegra Huston. Please don’t read further if you haven’t yet read this book, because I’m going to talk about details.

Apparent in the first few pages was this book’s noncompliance with standard romance fare. As the story developed, that first impression solidified. For one thing, the author’s skill with language and flow set it apart from average fiction. Delightful reading full of luscious description and mysterious character development.

I don’t quite agree with the library’s decision to classify this a romance. Maybe that’s good because that category might gain it more readers than if was shelved as literary fiction. But that’s the feel of it—literary.

Yes, it’s erotic but only here and there. That was the main deviation from the romance norm. Even Regency romances with all their corset stays manage to convey intense physical desire and the ripping of clothes pretty much on a page-by-page basis. Say My Name? Not so much. Rather, this novel includes a lot of navel gazing by this woman who changes so much in the course of the story.

The premise is that a middle aged severely under-developed woman meets a man twenty years younger who manages to wake her up in all possible ways. The story doesn’t hang on that however, but rather on her discovery of an antique viola da gamba with a bashed-in back. Turns out the young man is a musician and their mutual interest in the instrument drives the plot alongside their mutual attraction.

Then there’s the largely absent husband of said woman, a tormented soul flailing around trying to discover himself while, in the process, continuing to walk all over her. There’s a point near the end where he gets what’s coming to him, a triumphant moment for any woman who ever wanted to take a two-by-four to a similar man. So thanks for that, Ms. Huston.

The novel is set in the present day. For me, the drawback in reading this was my disbelief that any woman of our times could possibly be this inexperienced, this utterly out of touch with herself. I suppose it’s possible—anything is. But that particular aspect of her personality, which happened to be a major factor in how the story unfolded, really kept coming back as I read.

Are there really housewives out there who silently cook, clean, do laundry, and put up with a completely disinterested aloof husband? For all those years? On what planet? I mean, there are television shows, movies, novels, wine, and girlfriends to help you out if that condition applies. Who simply curls up inside herself never questioning that life might be better? Are there people out there who never listened to rock ‘n’ roll? Never heard The Doors sing “Break on thru to the other side…”?

But okay, I’ll set that aside for a minute while I talk about the younger guy. Mmmm, he’s scrumptious. Tall, dark, and handsome with green eyes that never let her go. Bold, ready to take her the minute they meet. But wait—I never hear him say what exactly it is about her that draws him like a moth to flame. Why does this fabulous young male so sought after by an endless herd of young attractive women decide he has to have a woman twice his age?

He thinks she’s beautiful. He likes that she’s cloistered inside herself. Maybe it’s his heroic urge to free her from all that swaddling and help her breathe in the air of life as an independent strong adult female. If so, his prescience is kind of staggering.

There are several places that drifted off the page for me, one of them her dive into sculpting and then her crazy idea to create a dildo in the shape of a tulip. This makes NO SENSE! How such a shape could be inserted is one painful question, but then how could it possibly be pleasurable while riding along inside her is another. For me, the story also fell off a cliff in the last scene of their sexual intimacy when he convinced her to swallow a Quaalude and then she wakes up to the vicious actions of one of his former girlfriends. I mean, why? Non sequitur.

Throughout the book, which I lingered over just to savor the language, I kept thinking this had to be something of an allegory. But what? What possible metaphorical meaning could there be behind an older woman and younger man joining in a bizarre love affair?

I haven’t figured it out, so if you have a clue please let me know. My thoughts so far are that if the author had any such intent, maybe the characters represent different parts of ourselves, she the intellect with its obedience to rules and patterns and habits we all craft to give our lives structure, structures that become a prison of sorts keeping us locked in step with what we’ve been doing for too long. Maybe he’s the art, the muse, the music and poetry and wild uninhibited rush into the unknown that –if we allow it into our lives—can awaken us to the terrible awful joy of being alive. That’s sex for you, a mechanism that takes us out of the ho-hum daily grind and, at least potentially, pops us up on top of a cloud where light shines brilliantly all around us.

Maybe that’s just me. In my writing, my objective is to show how sex serves a transformative role for people caught in an unhappy life. Sex is a doorway, an opening to the inner self—if we let it. That’s why I remain so frustrated with people/society who continue to be uncomfortable with open sexuality in literature. That said, the author here doesn’t linger on nipples and clitorises and neither does she actually ever present the word ‘cock.’ That’s another clue that this isn’t ‘romance’ in its standard iteration.

I’m happy that Ms. Huston created this story. As I read, I kept getting the feeling that it’s based on a real life experience in more ways than one. It seems older than our present day, mostly because the woman is so repressed, almost Victorian. But then, the present day is when we might be most likely to find a young man like this, dissolute and unstructured and so determined to pursue his reality in unconventional ways. I won’t soon be able to forget it.

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Apocalyptic Romance

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Okay, 2016 is over. Hopefully we’re not barreling toward a complete apocalypse. I kind of predicted this in my House of Rae series. The good news? Sex for hire is legal. The bad news? The world is on fire.

Here’s an excerpt from Book I, Salvation, set in 2060. Smashwords coupon WF94N puts this book at $1.99 (half price) through January 5. This is not a cliffhanger, fully standalone. Don’t miss it!

~~~

Lu wrangled his vintage Harley through heavy Kansas City traffic of early evening, coming in off Oak Ridge Road and onto the Loop for several miles before exiting to Ward Parkway. Red taillights and blue-white headlights glared on his face. The rushing air dried and heated his skin, poured over his head and pounded like a hard massage, whipping his clothes and hair.

A car whizzed past with its moto-tunes turned up way beyond the legal limit. Kids. Lu laughed. Night had always been their time to play. Off to the left, light poured up from one of the sports arenas. Like so many other activities, sports happened now in the protection of night. Construction, road repairs, athletics—anything that took place outside had become too dangerous in full sun. The mixing of worlds remained a congested and uneasy one with nighttime recreation now butting heads with work hours for so many.

The venerable Plaza district vibrated with activity. He loved the art deco buildings with their decorated facades and ornamental towers. A European village atmosphere made the shops and restaurants a uniquely appealing destination in the old town. People clustered along the sidewalks and around the splashing fountains and their bronze statuary—a mermaid blowing her conch, bare-breasted Pomona clutching ripe fruit, Poseidon amid rampant stallions. Lu parked the Harley and started toward the dance hall.

Absently, he looked at faces as he ducked and shouldered his way through the crowds. The mood here buoyed him. It had been one of the first places in the state to embrace the new agenda with buildings that accommodated energy collection and direction. The Plaza Energy Center had become a healing mecca for people from all over the region as well as the gathering and distribution point for energy sent out over the grid. Even now, he could see people crowding the entry to the three-story building and feel the buzzing furor of the energy healing process underway there. Above the roof, the air crackled. If he ever had time, he wanted to see the stats showing how much of the metro area population was covered by the Plaza grid. It had to be a major contributor, and that gave him deep satisfaction.

At the glossy red doors of Figaro’s, Lu waited in line until he faced the muscled attendant.

“Tiberius.” He grinned at the big man.

“Hi Lu, good to see you.” Tiberius flipped the switch and the door opened.

Lu pushed through the doorway and stood momentarily in the lobby.  Music crashed through from all directions, momentarily louder when one of several doors opened. The walls glistened and throbbed with a kaleidoscope of lights and sound. People came and went: men in tuxedos escorting elegant women in silk gowns, a cluster of enthusiastic young people with wildly coiled hair and fake buckskin clothing, two women with jeweled bracelets and ruffled flamenco skirts.

“Lu!”

He turned as he recognized the voice.

“Randy, how have you been?” He embraced the older man and exchanged a quick hug with the woman beside him. “Amber. You guys working a shift here?”

Randy nodded. The braid of his long reddish hair had partly frizzed out around his ears and neck, creating a coppery halo. “Tiring, though, for old geezers like us. Lots of energy pouring up the lines.”

They laughed, enjoying the company.

“Hell, it’s tiring even for young geezers,” Lu observed. “New adept at the House—and we need to hire at least another two subs.”

Amber nodded. “Next shift is training a new one here, lots of good people learning these skills. All the institute branches have waiting lists, especially for the dimensional stuff. Really gives me a lot of hope.”

“Me, too. But I wish science would catch up with us. What the hell is a dimensional shift, anyway? Are we hallucinating or are we really jumping past the fourth dimension?” Lu shook his head.

“I know, it bothers me, too,” Randy agreed. “Makes me wonder what we’re missing. I think we could be accomplishing more.”

“Need some kind of get together one of these days,” Lu said as they started their separate ways.

“Absolutely,” Amber called back, her long turquoise and pink skirts flaring as she strode off.

Lu smoothed back his hair, straightened the white silk shirt, and brushed his hands against his black slacks before pushing through the door marked “Tango.” Subdued light outlined the long room and its crowded dance floor. Once inside, all the building’s other music and noise died away leaving only the compelling strains of “Gallo Ciego.” He cruised along the tables of people before stopping by a woman sitting alone. Her dark eyes settled on him.

He bent at the waist in a formal bow. “Lieutenant Whitman.”

“Mr. Haverson.” She gave her hand, standing and smiling as they strolled to the dance floor without talking.

Her long fitted dress split to the hip, framing her left leg in shimmering yellow. Lu dropped her back against his arm, waited for the beat, and then they were off. Their dance with its rigid poses and abrupt turns became another of the many on the gleaming dance floor, elongated and rhythmic as their bodies pulsed to the tight drum and guitar thrums. Her skin brushed along his, her legs matched his steps thigh to thigh.

After a time, when their breath had quickened and outpaced the pulse of the music, they returned to the table.

“Fabulous, Lu,” she said, fanning herself with her hand and sipping from her tall frosted glass. “Been too long.”

“My pleasure, Cass. I love dancing with you.”

“Now, of course, you want to know what I found.”

“Yes.” Lu leaned forward, apprehensive about what she would say.

“Nothing. That’s the short answer. The long answer is a wreck about four days ago out on I-70 East. Might be a terrorism connection. The guy carried large quantities of explosives, looks like C-4, but the event didn’t leave a lot to pick through. Domestic thinks there was some kind of self-destruct mechanism involved. Driver evidently fell asleep, wrapped his ass quite neatly around an overpass support.”

~~~

And now, a glimpse of the bad boy of our tale, Josh Carter:

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Free — Limited Time Offer!

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Free E-Books to THREE WINNERS!
 
For your chance to win an ebook copy of the newly released Caerwin & Marcellus PLUS an ebook copy of the first book in this two-book story, Caerwin and the Roman Dog, subscribe to Liz’s Hot News! This e-newsletter arrives in your inbox once a month full of sexy shorts, special offers, and much more. No obligation, no cost–this newsletter will quickly become one of your favorite hot spots.
 
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In one day’s time, Caerwin’s life changes forever. Everything she knows is lost in a vicious bloody battle—her family with its network of kinsmen, her home at the bustling hillfort of western Britannia, her ancient way of life as a Celt. Reeling in shock, her wrists and ankles bound, she faces the man responsible.

She spits at his greeting and vows to kill him.

Marcellus, commander of Rome’s Legion XIV Gemina, spares this fiery young beauty from the slave traders who take away survivors of her tribe. War hardened and even more inured by Imperial Rome’s dissolute ways, he’s drawn to her innocence.

He wants her. He’ll make her his no matter what it takes.

Contest ends at Midnight Saturday July 30. Adults only due to explicit and occasionally dark sexual content.

A Scene in the Forum

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Image of Rome’s Forum circa 312 AD. A rendering developed through the auspices of the University of Texas, Austin. See http://teachingwithoutpants.blogspot.com/2015/05/the-ruin-of-rome-or-something-happened.html

Once the priests had offered prayers and the sacrifices had been made, the crowd moved slowly outside. With his arm firmly wrapped around Caerwin’s waist, Marcellus stopped on the temple steps looking over the brightly garbed crowds still thronging the plaza. Surrounding the Forum, the great temples, statues, and official buildings of the Roman Empire stood like sentinels. Fountains splashed in brilliant sunlight. In the distance, the hills of Rome gleamed with their buildings, streets, and greenery.

Nothing in her life had been this overpowering. The city, the empire, all of it seemed summed up in this man standing beside her with his strength and beauty, his internal conflicts and passions. His easy use of violence. His knowledge of all things. His absolute power to conquer and hold her.

They descended the steps and walked a short distance. His head turned sharply and he looked down on her as if to speak. His face, which had become thinner in the last weeks, lightened with a tender expression. For a breathless moment, Caerwin thought he would kiss her or speak words of love.

She would say what she longed to say. “Marcellus, I…”

His gaze shifted to a person standing nearby and his face hardened. “Vedius,” he said, raising his voice over the clamor. “Yo Saturnalia!”

Excerpted from Caerwin & Marcellus, the sequel to Caerwin and the Roman Dog. Coming soon! Watch for a special offer.

Caerwin and Marcellus

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COMING SOON! Release date to be announced soon.

Finished! A week ago, I finished writing the last page of the second novel about Caerwin. I’ve been sad ever since. How do you live with two compelling characters for over two years and not get attached? I’ve watched them grow, fight, suffer, and grow some more. Now they become part of my past. I’ll miss them.

Truth be told, I’ll miss more than Caerwin, Marcellus, and supporting cast. I’ve been immersed in Imperial Rome with all its triumphs, perversions, violence, and accomplishments. The fascinating world that was Rome endured a thousand years. Looking back on those years, the progress of their culture, and the countless ways in which we today follow in their footsteps is both depressing and exhilarating. It’s impossible to imagine where we would be today without Rome.

While I sing Rome’s praises, I also recognize how much better we are today than the people of Rome. For one thing, we don’t accept slavery as the norm. Rome’s social class system included the ‘noble’ classes (patricians and equestrians) who considered work beneath them. They held the bulk of the empire’s wealth, controlled its government and industries, and owned both city houses and country villas. The plebian class, roughly equivalent to our middle class, were the freeborn men or freedmen who worked every day to sustain the modest circumstances in which they lived.

Then there were the slaves, vast numbers of persons captured in Rome’s relentless military expansion over most of the known world. Wealthy household might have as many as 300 slaves. Slaves were like livestock or furniture–zero rights. Could be raped, branded, or killed without consequence. Yet they could also become part of a family, cared for, and often freed to live as freedmen (and women).

So while we can thank Rome for establishing the foundations of our legal system, our economic system, our tradition of the arts, social customs, and more, we can also thank the people who came after–from the Dark Ages to the Middle Ages to the Renaissance and down to those who fight each generation for better working conditions, more social justice, refinements of law and wage equity for the conditions we live in today. It’s a sobering perspective.

And this, dear friends, is why writing historical fiction will always be part of my writing experience.

New Year, New Start

hot news Jan 16

And a new chance to win a fabulous Surprise Gift Box including my latest novel, Caerwin and the Roman DogSecond place wins a paperback copy of the novel.

How to enter —

1.  Like and share this post on your Facebook page.

2. Like my Facebook page.

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4. Comment below saying you’ve shared, liked, and subscribed. This is important!

Entries close January 9. Winners chosen by random drawing and will be announced January 11. The contest is solely my responsibility.