Saving Valencia - Stephen Cooper

Ladymol's Review

I guess if you create something unique, then you run the risk of it being a bitÖ flaky. There were moments when I thought this book was a work of pure genius, and moments when I wondered whether Iíd strayed into another book altogether.

Rico Brandywine is one of the richest young men in the world, heir to the Brandywine hotel fortune. He and his sister Valencia are inseparable, their closeness created by the numerous kidnappings they both suffered as children. Rico is openly gay, and is a very amusing narrator. He suffers from anxiety, most recently because of a weird response to shaking hands with certain men: he gets an inexplicable, instant erection. Heís also convinced that he might have Touretteís syndrome, because he can only just control the urge to scream out obscenities at inappropriate times. The fact that his internal dialogues are extremely funny and actually wholly appropriate (given the bizarre situations he finds himself in) lead us to suspect thereís something else going on entirely.

Valencia is kidnapped and one of the ransom conditions is that Rico denies his sexuality on national TV. Thereís also a sum of $7M, but thatís hardly worth getting out of bed for a Brandywine.

Itís a fast-paced amusing novel with some memorable characters. Ricoís version of Tourettes had me laughing out loud sometimes.

However, for all this, the book left me feeling a bit flat. It had too many threads going on it to give anyone satisfaction at the end. Kidnapping, mystical messages from God, secret agents (gorgeous and sexy and having sex with Rico, so that was okay), people changing sexuality. There was enough material to make a number of very different novels, and I wonder why the author chose to throw it all into this one.

Certainly worth a read, if only for Ricoís internal dialogues.

Cerisaye's Review

This novel is sort of comedy mystery thriller with a bit of romance.† That narrator Rico Brandywine is gay is everything and nothing to a story thatís not about being gay but one man making sense of his place in the world.

Rico is heir to a big multi-national hotel empire based in Boston.† His family has so much money he and sister Valencia spent much of their childhoods getting kidnapped and held for ransom, often for prolonged periods.† But itís not supposed to happen anymore. However Valencia has gone missing and now Rico is convinced she has been abducted again.

Rico has the oddest reactions to certain situations.† Involuntary thoughts- a kind of interior monologue version of Touretteís- and involuntary erections, but only when he shakes hands with some men.† His therapist says itís anxiety, but Rico isnít convinced.† There HAS to be more to it he reckons, because those men he shakes hands with at "Meet & Greet" functions- baseball players, astronauts, movie stars- subsequently come out and admit theyíre gay.

Rico discovers a bunch of fundamentalist homophobes called Walk Away With Jesus has Valencia. In addition to $7m ransom they demand Rico denounce his homosexuality on national TV, part of a crusade to convert gay men and lesbians to the straight & narrow.

A mysterious phone-call sends Rico to Puerto Rico, where he was born 36 years earlier.† From there he tracks Valencia to Israel.† Accompanying him is old friend Dívora, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.† Rico is determined when the story breaks Dívora will get the scoop, NOT ex-boyfriend Randy, the narcissistic newsman he now hates with a passion felt only where love used to be.

Itís easy to guess whoís behind the whole thing, but the mystery plot is secondary to Rico's story, a man silently screaming.† Thereís irony in the title because itís as much about saving Rico as Valencia.† The rescue mission a journey of self-discovery that gives Rico purpose as well as the love thatís been missing from his apparently perfect but empty life.

That rightwing homophobes resort to extortion to raise money to send gay men and women to the Holy Land for conversion is only too believable.†† Ricoís discovery he has power to free men to be who they really are, a kind of procreative ability making sure the gay population always increases, is magical.† I loved this idea of the two in every generation chosen, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to release latent gay men and lesbians.

The light surface of the novel covers deep issues, a spirituality often lacking in modern life and the fundamental need for love to complete us.†† Thereís some beautiful writing, though itís so easy to read with snappy dialogue and humour I had to force myself to slow down to appreciate Cooperís lyrical way with words and description, not what you expect in a book like this.

I really liked the romance element and wanted more of it.† Mordechai, the Israeli intelligence officer who helps Rico find his sister, is the handsome soldier Ricoís heart was waiting for.†

Itís filled with wicked humour and fun.† Rico is engaging and supporting characters well drawn.† Itís very offbeat, in a nothing is sacred kind of way (Ricoís final handshake is a hoot).†† A good book to pick if you need cheering up.† I would definitely look for more from Cooper.