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Beautiful Wreck Paperback – January 15, 2014
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About the Author
Larissa Brown writes romantic speculative fiction, as well as books and essays about creativity and knitting. An avid reader of science fiction, gothic romance, time travel literature, and knitting stitch dictionaries, Larissa lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and son. Visit her at larissabrown.net.
Amy Landon is a classically trained actress with numerous off-Broadway, film, and television credits. Her voice can also be heard on many television and radio commercials. She has an easy facility with dialects, and she is happy to find that her lifelong obsession with books is matching up with her acting and vocal work. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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- quote from first chapter of Larissa Brown's "Beautiful Wreck"
Jen, a linguistic artist, lives in a stark future. People pay to submerse themselves in bygone eras, and Jen's part of a programming team that creates authentic virtual realities or `sims.' Her area of expertise is 10th century Viking times. Touching ancient artifacts and reading an early diary about the Viking people lives fills her with wonder and longing. It's bliss escaping into a place where there's real green grass, a blue sky, an abundance of life, and real purposeful living. When Jen wakes up freezing cold on black sand beach after entering a Viking sim she can't `tap out' of the program. She wakes on the black sand of Iceland's freezing coast. Then, she is saved by Heirik, a Viking chief and becomes truly immersed into the people, land, and the `cursed' man. To find a way back to the 22nd century or find a way to reach the lonely, disfigured chief becomes Jen's dilemma.
I read this book based on a reliable Goodreads friend's review. She loved it. She didn't love it. Five star potential and yadda yadda yadda...I was very curious. The price was right. I decided to try it. What the heck, right? I would put it down and move on if it was not my cup of tea...I read this book until 2 o'clock in the morning ON MY iPHONE!!! Waking up the next morning with a raging headache, I popped some tylenol and finished the last 6% of the novel. This is why I'm rounding up the stars to 4.
"Beautiful Wreck" is compared to Diana Gabaldon's "Outlander." There are similarities (time travel, heroine's first-person narrative, and love of panoramic setting or `exposition') and notable differences, which I was hoping for and was relieved to find. Let's start with the differences. First, this story has a clear conflict and resolution - no plot-oriented tangents and no cliffhanger! Second, the focus stays on the hero and heroine (perhaps, a bit too much attention to the heroine). Jen/Ginn's friend Betta has page time, but she's part of the plot (and she's interesting too). Next, life is mostly peaceful in comparison to "Outlander," which means no rapes, beatings or torture. Finally, "Wreck" is simply a love story - a love of Heirik, with an appreciation of nature and Iceland. There's isn't an over-achieving goal to alter history.
What was so addictive about the book was that I couldn't get enough of Heirik. Born with a disfiguring birthmark over half his body doomed him as `cursed.' Forbidden from taking a wife or feeling the touch from one his clan members from birth he has learned to adapt and survive. He protects his people and has earned their fearful respect. His life is what it is. Overall, Heirik's loneliness was a tangible thing for me.
Jen, who became known as `Ginn,' was lonely too, but it was never explained to my satisfaction. She's a linguistics artist from the barren future (not sure why...it's not explained). She can't make connections to the people in her time...no backstory. Ginn travels through time...hazy.) And she reaches a time where she finds someone as lonely as her (and falls in love really fast). She finds a beautiful, lonely man who needs her as much as she's compelled to need and connect with him. There was so much longing in "Beautiful Wreck" that I felt almost afraid for a sad ending. Be at ease; there's a happy and clear ending.
There is beauty in the exposition. (There's also a bit too much repetition.) What this book is lacking is a focus on meaningful interactions with dialogue, as other reviewers have commented upon. The way `untouchable' Heirik and Ginn tip-toe around each other is nearly frustrating - too much angst with Heirik that didn't seem quite in keeping to his character. There is so much build-up, but I couldn't stop reading!
I can live without graphic sex in my romances, but I do wish there would have been more detail in their lovemaking. Intimacy! I needed it because here is a man who hasn't been touched by a woman since his mother cared for him and...I was hoping for a variety of poignant scenes involving touch - the face, the body ...everything!
Anyway, I really enjoyed this book. The characters were compelling, the setting rich. The ending was satisfying. Although, I would have liked more happiness between the characters on the pages, I look forward to more of this author's work, and also considering that this is a debut novel I am impressed. She does leave this world open for future books, and I've been told there will be an upcoming novella.
Jen/Ginn is the main character, and we get to know her slowly. Her own time, the 22nd century, is a bit sketchy, because it isn't really the focus of the book. The author gives us just enough to know when Jen is coming from and how the past will be different. And this is where the glory of this writer's prose will shine: because in coming from a clean, controlled, flat-screen world into the rough-hewn, smelly past, we experience, through Ginn, the wonder of it all. Sunsets and flowery slopes. And the awakening of her heart.
The love interest is like all good heroes should be: flawed and complex, but strong. At one point in the story I truly did not know how they could end up together. That is refreshing for a "romance"--a genre dulled by its predictability. This is a very human story, full of sweat and grubby fingernails, earthy and sensual. It is for mature readers, yet the love scenes are not graphic. It's not a bodice-ripper.
It've seen it compared to Outlander by others. It has the same strength of prose, and the same kind of research effort behind it. But I find it gentler. Outlander is raw and graphic at times, with psychopathic villains. I think I prefer Ms. Brown.