Saturday, January 7, 2012

Book Review: Jericho by Ann McMan

Jericho by Ann McMan is well up in the running for my favourite book of the year. And yes, I am aware that it's only the first week of January. This is a great book. No, really. I loved this book. And not just because it had a librarian in it. In fact, I'd rank this up with Curious Wine [reviewed here] as a classic lesbian love story. I confidently predict it picking up some kind of award this year (August edit: hah, I was right! See end of review for awards).

Jericho is a romance and a friendship that is fun and interesting and undramatic, and pulls you right into the characters' lives so by the time the drama happens, and the romance finally comes out into the open, you really, really care. And laugh and cry and enjoy it along with them, and feel their pain, and shake your head.

 It also has a librarian main character (which is a definite plus in my book, not enough lesbian librarian stories out there), a sexy workaholic doctor (aren't they all?), a dog, and some terrifying lemon pie. 

Syd walks out of a failed marriage and takes an eighteen month job setting up a small library in the rural township of Jericho. She's a nice girl, a short 'cute' blonde, who isn't good with big life decisions, and wants the space to figure out her next step. Her parents are normal, settled, average people, if a little pushy about her first marriage.

Maddie came back home to inherit her father's house and is now the local doctor. She's overachieving-smart, successful, handy at fixing basically everything, and incredibly work focused. She's also six feet tall and drop dead gorgeous. Her father was a huge part of her life before he died, her mother left without warning years before, but is still around - herself a famous and successful medical professional.

Maddie rescues Syd from a flat tyre, they hit it off with awkward introductions and bad jokes, and then they go their separate ways. Syd throws herself into setting up the new library, injures herself and has to go see the local Doctor, who of course turns out to be Maddie. And Maddie rescues her again (so to speak), and then they mutually rescue each other from loneliness, as the only educated and attractive single women in a very quiet rural area.

From then, the two women hit it off, and they spend the book getting closer to each other, bonding over classical music and opera, and endless banter, and Maddie's dog, and Syd's cooking skills, and endless pizzas and late nights around their jobs. And Maddie's enthusiastically flamboyant and social best friend David discovers Syd, and embarks on a crusade of pushing them together, while his partner tries to restrain him, and Syd wanders fairly cluelessly through the middle of it all.

I could recap most of the events of the book, but really they aren't plot points. There's mostly a series of happenings and talks and dinners and days fixing broken people (and broken photocopiers! That one rang very true for me!), and medical jargon and cooking and cheetos. And Maddie's pretending she's not attracted to Syd, while Syd is wondering why she's wants to kiss Maddie. And then they both end up sharing a bed in a hotel, but manage to deal with it like adults, by cuddling each other all night.

Maddie's mother wants to reconnect with her daughter, and Syd helps act as the conduit for that - an unintended side effect of pretending to be Maddie's date to upset her mother. From then on, matters start coming to a head - Maddie finally starts talking to her mother again, Syd calls Maddie on all her boastful flirting, and they finally end up kissing each other senseless.

But fear not! It doesn't end there! We get to read the whole beginning of their obviously-fated-to-grow-old-together relationship and events start slotting neatly into place to create their new life together. This includes sex. Lots of long, well written sex.

This isn't a corny romance novel, and - while it does have a bit of violence, tragedy and drama, which doesn't all really feel necessary (but does help push the relationship along a few final steps) - it is mostly a gentle novel. It's wordy, in a descriptive way, but it doesn't feel like someone grabbed for a Thesaurus, it feels like the author naturally uses 'abdomen' instead of 'stomach'. It's the sort of book that I mentally describe as 'literature'. It's slightly pretentious, but in the way that people with wide vocabularies who've been raised on organic food and only drink fancy wines come across as pretentious. 

I liked the focus on the local immigrant community from both Syd and Maddie. I really appreciated the whole interest in what constitutes useful library resources, though this may be a non-librarian's version of technospeak. I don't actually understand most of the Spanish spoken, mostly between Maddie and her patients, but it worked to have it included (and if you do speak Spanish, you get to feel accomplished).

I could criticise a few things - the medical jargon got pretty heavy at times, and I got a little bored with the amazing cuisine (justified, as most of it was to do with a chef, but still...), and the amount of wine that kept being drunk. And there were a fair few coincidences - the musical histories in their pasts, the fact both of them were gorgeous, and the sheer number of books they appeared to both have read - but they did fit well together, so that feels a little nitpicky. And the last few events felt a little staged - fun to read, but staged. Still, I've read far worse. Far worse. I did raise my eyebrow at the 'I avoid junk food' line from the same Maddie who seems to live on pizza... well. I would have, if I could raise an eyebrow. People who can do that are annoying.

Oh, and the whole 'gay dad' thing. Why are there so many gay fathers in lesbian romance novels? Seriously? It's fine the first three times, but after that it just gets tired. Why not a lesbian mother? For some reason, the lesbian leads tend to know a lot of gay men, but few lesbians, or otherwise GLBTQ people. Of course, this might be why there's a romance to be had in the first place...

I only found three skipped words in the whole book, and no typos (yes, I was counting).  It was also a lot longer than I expected - I kept expecting it to be over, and it wasn't, but this isn't a bad thing. It's an 'I get to reread this book and take my time next time' thing.

It is full of conversation littered with literary references, and puns, and bad jokes, and good jokes, and good wine, and discussions about wine, and affection, and friendship, and descriptions of fancy food. It's about two women who become instant friends, and fall in love, and gradually learn to admit it to each other. And when they do, it doesn't matter, because they trust each other, they're good friends, and they really do love each other - so most of the relationship angst is about trying not to go too fast, rather than misunderstandings and broken hearts.

It's the sort of book I'd like to have lived. I highly, highly recommend it. Highly.

  • Turns out it has already scooped up a bit of attention, by being the Top Vote Gett[ing] story in the Royal Academy of Bards 2011 Hall of Fame.
  • Ann McMan was an Alice B Lavender certificate recipient in 2012 for this book.
  • Favorite Romance Book,  2011 Lesbian Fiction Reader’s Choice Award
  • Favorite General Fiction Book,  2011 Lesbian Fiction Reader’s Choice Award
Poking around in the author's introduction to the original free version of Jericho confirms the nagging suspicion that I had met these characters before. In fairness, my computer spat out Xena before I got more than three episodes into the crappy DVDs I bought. But Syd and Maddie are very much their own individual characters, and the only noticeable 'fanfiction' part is their respective appearances.

You can buy Jericho by Ann McMan on Amazon in both dead tree and kindle format, or read the free version at the Royal Academy of Bards website (warning: it's very long).

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