Monday, January 9, 2012

Book Review: Accidentally the Sheikh's Wife [2010]

My friend Kristin (@shinyinfo) collects sheikh-related romance novels as part of her work at the Arab American National Museum, and I have been happy to send along those that come across my desk, either discards or donations that I don't add to my library's collection. I decided to read Accidentally The Sheikh's Wife before I sent it on to her.

Pilot Bethanne Saunders has been hired to deliver a private jet to her company's wealthy client, Sheikh Rashid al Harum, after picking up his fiancee in Morocco. However, once the plane has landed, it's clear that the fiancee never made the flight. Anxious to save face and conclude the lucrative business deal that the marriage was supposed to consummate, Rashid suggests that Bethanne play the role of his love interest for a short time. Despite complicating factors--her father disappeared several years ago with his father's plane and she is attempting to find out what really happened--she agrees. Mutual attraction ensues. Will these two crazy kids ever manage to get together?

First of all, let's discuss the title. Accidentally The Sheikh's Wife exemplifies a lot of what I dislike about romance novel titles. Let's call them the three Is: inaccuracy, irrelevance, and inanity. It is extremely difficult to imagine anyone getting "accidentally" married. The only romance novel I've ever read where it was almost believably done was Sanguinet's Crown by Patricia Veryan, and we are a far cry from that level of sophistication here. In addition, Bethanne enters into a bargain with the sheikh of her own volition. It is not accidental. It is not even an accident that she's the only eligible female on board the plane when it touches down in his fictitious country of Quishari,* it's the result of his fiancee running off with another man. One could call it coincidence or even contrivance, but it's not an accident. However, it may be an accident of birth that she's apparently smokin' hot. But when it came down to it (on page 182), he asked her to marry him and she said yes.

Author Barbara McMahon seems to quite enjoy the setting; she's written eight books for Harlequin with "sheikh" (or the less preferred "sheik") in the title, and another (Her Desert Family) that features a sheikh. As for the plot itself, it was slight but surprisingly non-mockable. Rashid pursues his business deal, Bethanne pursues her inquiries into her father's death, and they gradually get to know each other against the backdrop of a tiny Middle Eastern country. I am not in the position to analyze the faithfulness of McMahon's depiction of sheikh life, but it did seem a bit strange that no one would bat an eye about Bethanne's extreme whiteness, not to mention her humble origins. Instead, her potential mother-in-law was skeptical of her un-feminine choice of profession and the main obstacle was the fact that everyone believed her father was a thief.

Grade: C+

The text didn't even have that many typos, although I do have a favorite: "Bethanne didn't abuse her of the idea that she was being considered for Rashid's wife" (104). The writing was incredibly tame--there wasn't even any [spoiler alert] sex! Which was kind of refreshing, actually.

Bottom line: It's no The Master's Mistress.

*I've been inspired to start a list of fictional romance novel countries. Feel free to submit any that you know in the comments.

Book Review Index
Dead Mother: No

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Meditation on My 2011 Year in Reading

It's hard to believe that another year has come to a close, and with so many books on my TBR list still unread! This past year I challenged myself to read 50 books, and I exceeded that goal handily, so obviously I am going to have to up the ante for 2012.* As usual, I did a significant chunk of my reading in audio format. This was the first year that I read a significant number of books--more than one or two--in electronic format. I can't say I prefer  reading on a screen, but I appreciate the convenience factor, especially where review copies are concerned. I've been keeping track of books I've read using Goodreads, because I no longer have the time or energy to write reviews here for everything I read. Here is the breakdown:

Read: 62 books + one awful novella (including 19 audiobooks and 10 ebooks)
Lesbian Fiction: 12
Fantasy: 11
Science Fiction: 8
Young Adult: 8
Mystery: 5
Romance of the non-lesbian variety: 5
General Fiction ("literary" or otherwise): 5
Nonfiction: 4
Humor: 2
Manga: 2
Children's: 1

I read fewer Young Adult books this year in my attempt to branch out, and those I did read were generally SF or Fantasy. Some of the books I finished, such as Reamde and A Dance With Dragons, were real doorstops, and I read several SF works that collected 2-3 books in one volume (Goodreads estimates the total page numbers as over 23,000, but of course the audio factor complicates that statistic).

I read many first volumes of a series and failed to read the next installment, even if it had already been published (Wake, The Penderwicks, The Name of the Wind, Acacia, The Red Wolf Conspiracy, Dust, Leviathan). My uptick in lesbian fiction reading was due largely to signing on as a reviewer at the Lesbrary. In that capacity I now have a monthly deadline to read books that I'd probably read at some point anyway. Everyone wins. For a full list of the books I read last year, visit my Goodreads page.

In last year's meditation on my reading year, I claimed that I would read more books that were recommended to me, and that I wanted to participate in the "Women of Science Fiction" online book group. I did in fact read several books that were out the usual way, placing impulse holds on things when I came across a review that particularly appealed to me. The online book group started well but my attention petered out quickly as my priorities wandered. It turns out that I am terrible at reading books on a schedule now that I've been out of school a few years, and the Lesbrary takes up all of my minimal power in that regard. However, I did read Cordelia's Honor as part of that group, which led me to the Vorkosigan universe in which I am still happily enmeshed.

In the coming year, my goal is to read as much nonfiction as I do fiction, not only because reading The Swerve reminded me that I love history (there's a reason I had a History minor to go along with my English major), but because I'm participating in a panel at ALA 2012 entitled "The Great Non-Fiction Readalike: If You Like This, You’ll LOVE That!" I have ideas on what makes for good reader's advisory in nonfiction, of course, but I would like to do a little more personal experimentation as I prepare.

I am looking forward to a year full of books and discussion!

ETA my favorite books of the year:

In the Woods
The Spymaster's Lady
The Long Goodbye
Cordelia's Honor
The Swerve

*Although if I counted the many, many picture books I've read to my son in the past year, I'm sure I'd be in the 200s.