Danika reviewed Jukebox by Gina Noelle Daggett

I was a bit conflicted about this book while reading it. It’s been reviewed here twice before, and they didn’t inspire a lot of enthusiasm. I ended up liking it, but I feel like it could have been a lot better.

I really got off on the wrong foot with Jukebox in the prologue. It has a scene each from Harper and Grace’s lives near to the end of the book. The beginning scene seemed overdramatic, with flowery writing (one of my pet peeves). It also included quite a few sentence fragments and unclear sentences. The next scene was much more intriguing, with Grace’s struggle against the stipulations for her trust fund. In fact, the idea of the dead, prejudiced patriarch who controlled the family’s future generations later was the most interesting part of the book for me, and I was disappointed when it was only a minor part of the book.

Then, the book leaps backward into Grace and Harper’s childhood. After the prologue, I had expected the book to take place entirely in their adult years, so this felt like slogging through back story, even though I did find it interesting after a while. I feel like the whole book would have been more enjoyable without the prologue.

I also thought that the jukebox theme was a little thin. Yes, one of the characters enjoys picking songs out of the jukebox when they go out to drink, but this was a minor point until near to the end of the book, so it seemed odd to have songs be the framework of the novel. If one of them had been a musician or connected to music in a major way, it would make more sense.

Other than that, the writing seems less distracting the further into the book we get, and I did enjoy the romance for the most part, though their denial gets to be almost unbelievable after a certain point.

I think my problem with Jukebox was that I kept getting expectations that weren’t met. The jukebox theme didn’t seem justified. The scenes in the beginning weren’t that significant, and they happen much later. The trust fund plotline is more minor than I thought. I don’t mean to be completely negative, because I really did end up liking it for the flawed romance.

MFred reviews Call Me Softly by D. Jackson Leigh and Jukebox by Gina Noelle Daggett

Around the time I was ten years old, “horse girls” emerged and it was clear I definitely was not one of them.  Sure, I tried.  I read Black Beauty and watched National Velvet.  But I was way more into the Babysitter’s Club and Nancy Drew; horses just did not appeal.

Imagine my surprise, twenty-some years later (oh god), to find myself enjoying Call Me Softly.  As the book opens, all of the Wetheringtons have been killed off, except Lillie.  On her grandmother’s deathbed, she promises to return to the polo estate in South Carolina, and deliver herself over to Swain Butler. Swain, her grandmother promises, will help keep Lillie safe.  Swain is the Wetherington’s famed horse trainer and polo player, and unbeknownst to her, also at the heart of some serious family secrets.  Lillie carries these secrets–and all their dangers– back with her, but finds herself falling for the gorgeous horse woman too.

One thing I really liked about Call Me Softly was the even-handedness with which Leigh wrote Swain and Lillie.  Swain is fairly butch in appearance; works a traditional male job, but she has made a place for herself in her community and the wider equestrian world. Leigh allows Swain to be confident, sexy, and unapologetic about herself.  The same can be said for Lillie– who by description sounds pretty high femme to me, but never once exhibits any of the “oh god am I gay enough” crises often encountered in feminine lesbian characterizations.  It’s nice to read two queer women who are drama-free about it.

If I was going to pick at this book for something, it wouldn’t be the paper-thin mystery or the occasional lapse into passive-voiced telling by the narrative voice.  The identity of the villain wasn’t really much of a mystery– I guessed who it was within the first few chapters.   And yeah, the “will-they-won’t-they” between Swain and Lillie was a bit drawn out, because really?  It’s a romance.  They will.   Get on with the smooching already!

No, my main issue was the slut-shaming.  The book opens with a sex scene between Swain and another woman.  It’s obvious this woman is sensual and voracious; but Swain is a willing participant and enjoys having sex with her.  Later, when this Lolita shows up to make some moves on Swain, Lillie (and friends) get real ugly.  Call her a slut and a hussy, behind her back.  I found it jarring.  It completely pulled me out of the story and engaged all of my feminist ire.  Leigh probably meant this to be a sign of Lillie’s growing feelings for Swain, but hell, Swain slept with this woman too.  And Swain does nothing to defend her former partner!   I mean, it’s a romance novel– it seems a little hypocritical of Leigh to imply judgement of one woman’s sexuality while writing pretty hot sex scenes involving two others.  Hard enough being a woman and a queer, know what I’m saying?  We don’t need to be shaming each other too.

Over all, though, the book was entertaining and fun to read.  Not the greatest romance novel in the world, but not the worst either.


Mfred Did Not Finish Jukebox

I don’t care how romantic a love story may be, if the writing is bad enough, I will hate reading it.

Example #1:  Would you like to read the most boring food fight scene in the history of the world?  Ok! Here it is:

One morning, Harper and Grace had been abnormally raucous with one another.  It had started the night before when they were making cupcakes and Grace smeared chocolate mix across Harper’s face.  That alone had resulted in an all-out chocolate cake war in the Alessis’ gourmet kitchen.  When they were done, mix was on the ceiling, all over the thick wood island and matted in both girls’ hair and clothes.  Fortunately, no one was home at the time.

In the end, Grace won the cake war, pining Harper to the floor, her slippery chocolate-covered knees restraining Harper’s arms until she conceded defeat.  Grace pushed buttons inside Harper, buttons she enjoyed having pushed.

First, this scene is all set up for another food fight that starts the next day!  So why is it so detailed?  It shouldn’t take two paragraphs of exposition to set up a scene.  Second, PASSIVE VOICE IS BORING VOICE.  There is no action in this scene!  Third, what exactly is the the most important sentence here?  Grace pushes Harper’s buttons and she likes it.  Did this scene actually tell me that?  No.  The narrative voice did, and that is BORING TOO.

Example #2: Would you like to read a confusing and also strangely icky orgasm scene?  OK!

As Grace split Harper in half, she held held onto the bed sheet with both hands, crumpling it like wads of paper.

Harper squeezed tighter, again, trying to make it last.

Until finally, she let go.

Somewhere deep below the surface, as Harper’s young, fragile frame shook, her foundation gave way–just like in the earthquake–and everything about her crashed down the hill into the vineyard and olive grove.  There was no more imagining.

The big one finally hit.

When Harper smelled herself on Grace’s face, something inside her released, popped open allowing all the fear which had consumed her to dissipate.  With intention, she squirmed away from Grace and got on top; Harper was ready to dive into what she’d dreamed about since she was a teenager.

My thoughts, in the order they occurred:

  1. First of all, may the good lord keep me from ever being split in half.  Sounds frightening.
  2.  And how does one, exactly, get split in half while also squeezing tighter?
  3. “Smelled herself” is the kind of physical detail that isn’t detailed enough– is it titilating, or is it gross?  Are we really meant to wonder that, right after Harper’s first orgasm?
  4. If this orgasm was so physically and emotionally intense, why is she immediately rolling over and making moves on Grace?
  5. I mean, can a sister heave a sigh, maybe lay in bed for a second, to consider the ramifications of losing all of her fear in one fell swoop?

This is too much thinking. And this is only about 60 pages into the book!

I made it about another ten before I realized I actually hated, hated, reading it.  All of the possibilities of the story, the small delights of meeting new characters, disappeared under the passive and inconsistent voice.  So I gave up.

Kristi reviews Jukebox by Gina Noelle Daggett

Harper Alessi is the little rich girl being raised by her grandparents in Arizona; Grace Dunlop is the precocious English-born debutante. Fast friends from age eleven, Grace and Harper grow even closer as they get older. What’s love got to do with it? Everything.

This is Harper’s story–her story of meeting Grace for the first time in 1984 during tennis camp and of going to private school in Arizona, raised more by her grandparents than her world-traveling parents. Her world revolves around Grace, and most of the time she doesn’t even realize it. Harper knows she loves Grace, and as they pursue college and summer trips together, they finally admit their love for each other. Yet it is a love in denial: of course they love each other, of course they are intimate, but that doesn’t mean they are lesbians!

Or does it? As Harper slowly comes into her own identity, she finally admits the truth of her love. Can she and Grace take that final step to truly be together, or will their own privileged circumstances keep them apart?

Sometimes when a story features rich kid characters, it is hard to get in the mood. The privilege of Grace and Harper’s early years really sets the tone of most of the story. The money, the private school, the lack of financial issues in college, the summer trips abroad. It both scrapes at my nerves with the sense of entitlement that all the characters seem to have from the beginning and makes the story that much more believable when conflicts arise with Grace’s mother and boyfriend, and surrounding Grace’s trust fund.

While the start of Jukebox deals with the back story from their childhood to the fateful evening that Harper declares her love and identity to Grace, the second half of it is set twelve years later, in 2005, as both Harper and Grace deal with the choices and feelings of the past. For me, this was the hardest part of the book to connect with. While some of the underlying feelings are completely believable (who hasn’t pined for a lost love?), the way that Daggett set up and broke various plot lines and characters in the story were rather hard to read without rolling my eyes. I also struggled to feel any empathy for Grace. She reminded me of those brash, assuming men in the Harlequin romances that turn the woman inside out and then say, “Hey, guess what, even though I shredded your heart and disappeared for twelve years, I do love you!” Um, no thank you.

On the plus side, I did connect to Harper’s struggle with her love for Grace and denial of her sexual identity. I also enjoyed Daggett’s scene-setting throughout the years. As a girl of the 80s who loves a working jukebox, that was a big draw for me. It was the songs in the jukebox that let Harper first express herself, from “Lost In Your Eyes” to “I Hate Everything About You.” Chapters are not numbered, instead they are titled with expressive songs through the years. Any woman who has made a mix tape for her love will enjoy the weaving of music through the book.

Gina Noelle Daggett was a 2011 Golden Circle Literary Award finalist as a debut author for Jukebox.