O Brave New World, That Has Such Books In It

Official blurb:

The woman of his dreams…with the secret agent of his nightmares

Alix Gordon is a woman who doesn’t take life too seriously. What’s the fun in that? So when she stumbles across occult software that can bring any computer image to life, she conjures up lots of awesome outfits and accessories. And then, on one drunken, horny night, she conjures up Sir Kendall, the sexy TV ad spy . . . who looks exactly like Paul Reinhardt, the hot martial arts teacher who kicked her out of class a few years ago.

Fighter Paul Reinhardt has good reason to hate Sir Kendall, the character he brought to life to land a part in a TV ad; he’d do anything to forget him. A cross country road trip seems just the thing . . . until Paul finds himself inexplicably drawn to Minnesota and is shocked to discover Sir Kendall – in the flesh – with the girl he’d once loved from afar. He barges into Alix and Sir Kendall’s love nest, determined to stop the madness – somehow.

But is super spy Sir Kendall transforming into something more dangerous anyone can imagine? And what will Sir Kendall do when Paul and Alix finally give into their mad lust for each other?

Carolyn Crane describes her new novel, Mr. Real, as “a paranormal romantic suspense spy tale mashup.” Which gives you an idea of how unusual the book is, but barely scratches the surface of how interesting and wonderful an experience it is. At least, that’s what I found.

I quote Caliban from Shakespeare’s The Tempest in the title of this review because I truly believe that in the old world of traditional publishing, I would never have had the privilege of reading this novel. It is too unusual for most traditional agents or editors to take a chance on — it belongs firmly in the realm of popular fiction, but it doesn’t fit neatly into any specific genre. It’s paranormal romance, for sure, but not the paranormal that most readers expect. Not only are there no vampires or shifters, there aren’t really special powers either. There’s magic, but it is mostly an external influence on the characters, which is why some of the book feels like romantic suspense — with other-world villains. And while the specifc paranormal elements make the book absolutely unique, to me the dominant flavor was contemporary romance, the kind that Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Victoria Dahl, among others, write so well, the romance of the “unlikeable heroine.” So hip-hip-hooray for the digital age and the growth of self-publishing, which allows an author to put a book this unique out there to find its audience.

Alix, the book’s heroine, is definitely difficult to love. (I liked her, but then I often enjoy heroines labelled “unlikeable” by other readers.) She is variously described as “free-spirited” (the author’s web site), “a woman who doesn’t take life too seriously” (the official book blurb), “unconventional” and “a wild-child” (quotes from other authors). She’s all of those things; she is also insecure, with low self esteem, and that goes a long way in explaining (not necessarily justifying) the immature behavior that I think some readers will find too annoying to get past. Which is unfortunate, because the beauty of this book for me is largely in Alix’s growth — as she gains a sense of self worth, she finds the strength to make better choices. She undergoes a metamorphosis that wouldn’t be possible if she hadn’t started out the way she does.

And then there’s Paul, the hero. A martial arts fighter, “Hardass Paul” (Alix’s nickname for him) has a complex past and a lot of baggage. He was having trouble keeping it hidden even before Alix started playing around with forces she didn’t really understand, but once she meddles, it becomes impossible for Paul to avoid facing his personal demons. But Alix turns out to be the key to Paul’s victory over his past; they help each other, and each makes the other stronger, which is the kind of romance I most appreciate.

This sounds like pretty serious stuff, and it is. This book deals in themes that are powerful and that rang very true to me, about how our childhood molds us, and how imprisoned we can be within our own limited view of who we are and what we’re capable of, and how the love of someone we admire and respect can be a key to seeing ourselves as being worthy of love and respect. But part of the joy of reading Mr Real is that it’s a crazy, fun plot, full of surprising twists and turns, so much so that you almost have to put the book down in places to really think through the emotional growth the characters are experiencing. Seriously, read the blurb: fictional characters brought to life! lookalikes with differing agendas! magic computers! It’s like a comic book in places, with way-out-there elements that eventually all make sense. I was in awe of Crane’s skill by the end of the book, because everything fit together so well.

I don’t think this book is for everybody (is any book?), but I loved it. I hope other readers interested in something different will give this book a try.

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