Carlotta Wren’s life is a mess. Her parents skipped town rather than stand up in a courtroom for their white collar crimes. So, at eighteen, Carlotta lost her fiancee and financial security, but gained full-time care of her baby brother Wesley. Now, years later, her baby brother continues to seek out trouble and every gambling opportunity possible. Being on the financial edge and in debt to everyone, Wesley’s antics threaten both Carlotta and Wesley.
But Wesley is the least of Carlotta’s problems. There’s the return of her ex-fiancee, the murder of the ex-fiancee’s now-wife, a mysterious detective, a hot former doctor who gives Wesley a chance and Carlotta more than one look, a questionable female attorney with a shady link to Carlotta’s father and a probation officer who looks more like a stripper than a member of law enforcement. And those are only the main characters in Stephanie Bond’s newest, Body Movers, the first installment in an ongoing series.
Let the discussion begin.
k2: As I was reading along, I kept thinking, “Hmm, this character’s name sounds familiar.” Thankfully, the author reminded me that I was reading about a secondary character from her book Party Crashers. Did you happen to catch that book? If not, did you get that lingering feeling that there was another book out there?
hk: I never read Party Crashers, but by the time I reached page 70 or so of Body Movers and stumbled over the third reference to something that happened pre-Body Movers, I picked up on the idea that part of this story started somewhere else. In fact, there are two quick references near the beginning of the book – one explaining why Carlotta no longer “borrows” expensive clothes from her job at Neiman Marcus and one explaining how she ended up owning a car she only meant to take on a test drive – that made me think I may have missed hints into Carlotta’s personality, motivations and life by starting with this book.
Now, Ms. k2, as someone who read Party Crashers, were Wesley and Carlotta just names in the earlier book, or is this really a continuation of an earlier work where a reader should start with Party Crashers instead of Body Movers?
k2: Good news, fine readers, you do not have to read Party Crashers first, but the constant references to the previous book will make some of you feel like you’re missing something important. Though I suspect it will add a degree of depth for Carlotta, it’s not required from a story perspective. Proceed apace!
hk: This is why I hate to miss a party – get it? Come on, you knew I’d work that in somewhere.
k2: I’m just sayin’…in bed by eight, totally missing the good stuff. Fine, read the book. I’m always in favor of selling more books.
hk: Yeah, sorry.
k2: How strong was the urge to slap some brains into Wesley? On a scale of one to ten?
hk: About a 43. Really. Now, in Bond’s defense, we all know young men who are stuck in a perpetual state of arrested development. They re-live age fourteen ad nauseum and act as if getting the night salesclerk job at the local Blockbuster is a huge career move. But, the I-can’t-find-my-shoe-without-a-map thing gets old. Early on the reader knows Carlotta is running around, trying to save her brother from his stupidity and fending off potential financial ruin thanks to his schemes. She gets our sympathy. Wesley earns our collective frustration. His offenses, while they have a basis in an ongoing family dynamic, elicit an “oh, come on” feeling. As a result, the slapping urge was tough to contain.
k2: Hmm, I had you at 57. This is why I don’t go to Vegas very often.
Carlotta’s, how shall we say it?, overindulgence of her brother irritated me. Not in a “this is a messed up dude trying to find his way and his sister is being supportive” way, but in a “get a clue, girl!” way. Wesley, who had a host of problems (gee, we should all be computer genuises with snakes, sleazy friends, and gambling problems, while secretly trying to clear our father’s name), was a loser. I suppose she’s going to get a backbone over the story arc, but right now she comes off as her brother’s doormat.
I think Carlotta’s treatment of her brother speaks to the character as a whole — throughout this book, I couldn’t get a good fix on what makes her tick. Her autorgraph obsession felt a bit too junior high. Why does a full-grown woman collect autographs? I need to understand what makes this so important to her. It carried over two books. I haven’t spent a lot of time in Atlanta, so don’t know the full scale of autograph-collecting opportunities, but this seemed like an obsession that needed better development.
hk: I had to ignore that part if I wanted to keep reading.
k2: And here I thought it was key to understanding everything. In this book, we had three men lusting after Carlotta — three very different men. Frankly, I couldn’t understand why. This is a woman who jumps up on her dresser when she sees a snake (okay, big snake, but you know what I mean — and, yeah, anyone who doesn’t see that scene coming…). She’s always getting into trouble, mostly of her own making. What makes her special?
hk: I experienced the same confusion. Carlotta is nice enough, and we hear that she’s pretty, but…ummm. Other than the mothering instinct as to Wesley and the loss of her old life and financial security, the impact of her parents cutting and running isn’t clear. I wanted so much to know more about her. The lusting men all had greater depth and richer stories – or so it seemed – than Carlotta. And that, I must admit, made me feel a bit cheated here.
k2: I think you’ve zeroed in on my problem. This is a woman with baggage, big, ugly, beat-up on the luggage carousel baggage. I felt like we were skimming the surface of her parents’ abandonment. Her lost love for Peter feels distant, almost forced. Bond tends to go for humor over depth with this character and that may be why I feel shortchanged — not that you can’t be funny and deep, it’s just that she doesn’t go there in a way that makes Carlotta special.
hk: In fact, some aspects of Carlotta’s life, while tragic, feel very familiar. Romance novels are big on the dead/missing/gone parents with big sis raising the immature sibling (usually brother) set-up. Does Body Movers add anything new to this arrangement or reason for dysfunction? Really, is it time we just let all parents of romance heroes and heroines retire to nice, quiet lives in Arizona and not take them out of the characters’ lives in such a way as to permanently wound those characters?
k2: There is a theory (which, oddly, I was discussing at a dinner party this weekend) that parents, especially mothers, inhibit a heroine’s growth (yeah, this is real, and, yeah, I’m probably totally misstating the basics). Thus, you must kill the mother to allow the heroine to reach her potential. That being said, it’s overdone. It’s cliche. And, in this case, it makes you want to do an intervention.
hk: Mothers get blamed for everything. Since I have one and since she sometimes ventures over here, let’s move to another topic.
k2 intervenes: My mother has given me carte blanche on this aspect; she believes there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
hk: Interesting. Scary, but interesting. Anyway…in terms of page count, at 400 plus pages in trade, this isn’t a short book. A great deal of time is spent in setting up the plot and in getting Carlotta from her house to her work and so forth. Does Body Movers violate the every-scene-needs-to-have-a-purpose writing rule for you, or does Bond get the pacing and characterization just right?
k2: I guess the real question you’re asking is what is this story about? This is apparently the first in a three-book series. Thus we have an overarching story (presumably the return and rehabilitation of the Wren parents). And each book will give us a story-within-the-story. And so on. In this book, for example, there is a string of society-wife murders happening — and somehow Carlotta gets herself mixed up in the case. Worse, she decides she’s more competent than trained professionals and does some (reasonably effective, thanks to story magic) sleuthing on her own. For reasons that feel like they’re courtesy of story magic.
Unfortunately, the murder/mystery element of the book is not terribly compelling. It reads like a plot device created to introduce the three men in Carlotta’s life into the story. Part of me hopes this particular thread will somehow tie into the bigger picture, but I don’t think so. I mean, it should, but I don’t have a lot of hope. Either way, all the to-ing and fro-ing Carlotta does takes away from the story and character development. Mostly these scenes provided her the means to get into yet another sticky situation.
But as to what this book is about, I’m not really sure. What purpose did the society murders serve other than to move Carlotta past her first love (frankly, Bond wrote him as a sleaze-bucket from the get-go; I couldn’t see why Carlotta gave him the time of day)? There were so many threads, big and small, that a good part of the story was, as you noted, the set-up. And not just set-up for this book, but for future books. At the end, I felt dissatisfied because the resolution of the murder mystery was a letdown and there are far too many loose ends.
hk: You think Carlotta and Peter (Mr. I-Married-The-Wrong-Woman-And-It-Took-Me-Ten-Years-To-Say-It) are through? I’m hoping Carlotta has moved on, but I fear we have not seen the last of Peter.
k2: Do not destroy my one lousy illusion.
hk: Sorry, but guys like Peter rarely go away quietly. They stick around and annoy.
k2: Great. Someday I’ll tell you about the ex-boyfriend-from-hell. Who, oddly, is still a part of my life. You may be right…
I have always believed that Stephanie Bond is just the right story away from something great — dare I imagine that she’s going to somehow do the impossible and change everything I believe about this character? Oh my, I’m getting all worked up at the thought. But, in my defense, this is an author I’ve kept my eye on since day one. I want her to show the world what she can do. And think she can. As long as she does what we say.
hk: I’d prefer it if Bond would abandon Peter and focus in on some of the other males she introduced instead.
k2: Bond is best known as a romance author — and she (joy, joy, joy!) breaks some major conventions here, including the Peter character. This gives me hope, but do you think it was too much, all things considered?
hk: The biggest being that there’s no clear hero here. I loved that. Sure, the habit every male in Carlotta’s vicinity had of falling instantly in heavy duty lust with her got old and, sure, Peter struck me as a loser, but the other two potential male love interests…well, let’s just say they grabbed my attention and interest. When Coop (the disgraced doctor turned professional body mover) came on to the scene, the pace kicked into gear and the story began to click. Detective Terry (the mysterious guy who always shows up at the right or wrong time and is on a collision course to betray Carlotta with regard to her missing parents) added a needed touch of intrigue. Both of these men were fascinating. Fascinating as in – who are these guys and why don’t we see more like them in romance novels?
And, truly, if Coop doesn’t reappear in a later work, I’m going to Bond’s home and demanding an explanation. Might even throw a fit.
k2: I feel it’s incumbent upon me to note that you are (mostly) all bark, less bite. Not that Stephanie Bond should rest easy, but we’re giving her the benefit of the doubt. But, hello, Coop? Dump Peter. He’s a loser. Coop’s a real man, and, given the push Harlequin’s giving this book, I’m hoping every romance publisher out there takes note of our reaction to this man. Just sayin’…
hk: Speaking of men… Many of the male characters here were limited. In fact, maybe all of them were. We had loan shark/bully types, gross playboy types, an ex who acted like a complete jerk, two potential heroes with murky pasts and Wesley the-boy-who-would-not-grow-up. For me, the female characters were not nearly as well-rounded. Any thoughts on the men versus the women here?
k2: Setting aside my rampant dislike of what’s-her-name the supposed Goth (please, don’t go Goth in fiction unless you mean it), I’m at a bit of a loss when it comes to remembering the female characters as individuals. Especially the society-girl types — though I’m going to give Bond props for Carlotta’s eulogy for Angela, the woman who married Carlotta’s ex-fiance. That may have been the moment where this character shined the brightest, when she realized that nobody really had anything of substance to say about the deceased. And that struck Carlotta to the core (this is what I mean about believing there’s something great inside Stephanie Bond — you know how hard it is to move an old cynic like me).
The men in this book were far more interesting, though, yes, a few suffered from clichedom. While I don’t believe you’re going to have to do Ms. Bond bodily harm, I heartily agree that all that time wasted on Peter-the-loser was time that could have been spent on Coop, a man who clearly wasn’t squeaky perfect in the past. He’s doing some serious penance here, and, well, I like the fact that he’s not cookie cutter hero material. Seems like a no-brainer to me. Detective Terry, he of the bad ties, was given personality flaws as well. He was nicely nuanced. All the men had bad boy tendencies and Bond didn’t try to hide them — I think that romantic heroes are too often neutered. She didn’t do that here.
hk: And Bond won my undying devotion for that very thing.
k2: As I’m writing this, one thing strikes me and I’m hoping I’m not off base — was it that the women in the book (except, I suppose, the cigar shop owner) were largely victims while the men were not? Carlotta is abandoned, dumped, long-suffering, and in a heap o’trouble. Dead girl was unloved and, well, dead. Ditto for other dead girl. Even the lawyer Liz seemed less in control than the men. Or am I reading between the lines a little too much?
hk: Maybe that was the problem. [Lightbulb goes on.] The men – I’m speaking mostly of Coop and Detective Terry here – were imperfect but those imperfections added depth and realism and sucked me into their world. The women, on the other hand, had issues. Nothing deep or complex – just plain ‘ole issues. The result was that the women stayed in the realm of characters while the men appeared interesting and alive. Since Carlotta was the star of this show, my inability to connect with her on a level other than as a means of bringing these men into focus kept this book from breaking out the way I wanted it to.
k2: Any final thoughts?
hk: Like you, I think Bond hovers on the brink of being spectacular. She’s funny and clever. Her plots reel me in. Her willingness to break the rules and follow the natural line of the story rather than some imaginary romance novel guide makes her a standout. Here, her wounded potential heroes steal the show. And that’s part of the problem… Coop, the most interesting person on the page, plays a background role and doesn’t appear until about 75-100 pages into the story. When focused on the main player – Carlotta – Body Movers drags. There’s nothing offensive about her. She’s just bland, and the book suffers a bit because of that fact.
hk: And you?
k2 I’m going to admit to a major character flaw: I’m going to read Book Two. Possibly Book Three. Because, well, I’m a sucker for a series, but mostly because I have such faith in this author. She’s given me enough rope here, and I’m going to trust her.
hk: Bond must be doing something right because I feel the exact same way.
You can find Stephanie Bond here. You can buy Body Movers here or here.