Thursday, June 20, 2013

Book Review: The Librarian [2012]

The title of this book by Logan Belle (aka Jamie Brenner) is properly Bettie Page Presents: The Librarian, but I'm going to use the shorthand because the other seems a bit too Tyler Perry and Page has been dead since 2008. The Librarian was not mentioned in my survey of potential 50 Shades readalikes, which is a shame, because it turned out to be one of the best readalikes I read for this project. I like to think that my natural interest in romance novels starring librarians would have led me to this book anyway. I purchased it in ebook format and don't know if it will ever be available in any other format, which may present a problem for some libraries interested in purchasing or recommending the book. Some spoilers below.

Regina Finch is a newly-minted MLIS-holder who has landed a job at the NYPL's Fifth Avenue location. Her new boss, Sloan, is an icy socialite who has Regina begin working at the Delivery Desk, despite her training in archives and preservation. Although Regina has her "dream job" and forms a tentative friendship with Margaret (the actual archivist on staff, who has worked there for fifty years), she still feels out of place and unfashionable in New York City. The naïve and virginal Regina has been raised without the influence of pop culture and made it through college and grad school without leaving home and her overly cautious mother. She is told by her new co-worker that she resembles Bettie Page, to which she responds "What's a Bettie Page?" To drive her point home, Belle also makes a point of letting the reader know that Regina's nightgown is from (gasp) Old Navy. In contrast, her roommate Carly is a Parsons student concerned only with men and fashion; her parents require her to have a roommate for "safety reasons," and she has a seemingly unlimited supply of cash.

A chance encounter with an attractive man leaves Regina feeling flustered on her first day--and she's thrown even more off-balance after she stumbles up him having sex in one of the library's private reading rooms. She soon discovers he is Sebastian Barnes, photographer and wealthy library benefactor. He wastes little time pursuing Regina, drafting her as a reader for a fiction award and inviting her to dinner. His first gift is a book: Bettie Page: A Photographic History. Soon, Sebastian begins giving Regina directives, including changing into clothes he's provided for dinner (four-inch heels, naturally, as well as undergarments that AMAZINGLY are just her size). Instead of resisting Sebastian's authoritarian approach, Regina takes the challenge each time, tired of being the odd girl out in the big city.

Regina: "Do you mind if I take these shoes off?"
Sebastian: "Yes, I do. And I never want to see you in flats again."

Sebastian wants to photograph Regina, but she resists, falling instead into a sexual relationship with him after he takes her to his apartment to view his collection of erotic photographs. He explains to her that he wants a physical relationship in which he plays the role of dominant, and she accedes. But their relationship begins to interfere with work and making her question everything she thought she wanted, and Regina is sure that she's fallen in love with Sebastian. It's difficult to be with a man who knows so much about her and refuses to talk about his own shadowed past, and Regina doubts whether what they have together is what she really wants. Is she just another one of Sebastian's muses, destined to be discarded?

Grade: C+

I would say that Sebastian more thoroughly dominates Regina in everyday aspects of their relationship than Christian does Ana, but there are still several parallels between The Librarian and Fifty Shades of Grey. Regina and Ana are both unworldly and virginal, although Regina's character takes it much farther. Sebastian's difficult past echoes that of Christian, Gideon, and Gabriel. The extravagant gifts, Sebastian's wealth, and the city setting all recall 50 Shades as well. And of course there's the requisite happy ending.

I enjoyed the library setting and the idea of Regina as a new librarian. In the credits, Belle thanks @SuperWendy for her help answering questions about the day-to-day work of librarians, so at least we know she did research. There is also a neat twist in which Regina gets to assume the dominant role for a brief time. However, I ended up feeling uncomfortable after finishing The Librarian, perhaps because despite its seeming reverence for the NYPL and libraries in general, Regina's behavior became downright erratic and uncaring when it came to work. I also did not like the way that Sebastian took Regina to a club without making sure she was comfortable and ready first. It seemed as if she was constantly breaking rules that he never explained to her.

Regina's innocence did not always match the name-dropping tendencies of the narration, which was scattered with information like "he was a walking ad for Polo by Ralph Lauren." Belle had already gone to the trouble of assuring us that Regina knew nothing about such things, so it struck an odd chord. Bettie Page's presence in the narrative is consistent, leading me to wonder how this book came about. I suppose I understand the urge to incorporate Bettie into a sexual awakening narrative, but there were times that it felt almost like product placement. Still, I would recommend this book specifically to librarians who want to get the flavor of 50 Shades but don't want to read the EL James trilogy.

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