Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Review: Digging Deep

Digging Deep
Digging Deep by Kay Jaybee

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

People say "sex sells," but in Kay Jaybee's Digging Deep, it's the setting that really takes the book to the next level -- and I'm making this statement about a very sexy book.

Digging Deep is at its heart a sort of "workplace romance" -- love between colleagues -- except that their workplace happens to be an archaeological dig in Tunisia. Dr. Beth Andrews has always looked up to rugged American archaeologist Dr. Harrison Harris, and when she's assigned to co-run a foreign excavation with him, she's determined to impress him. However, scheming interference from student's and Harrison's jealous ex threaten to humiliate Beth and derail any potential romance.

Jaybee's powers of description shine as she goes into details about the climate, the landscape, and the day-to-day grind of archaeology. I loved the intimacy and immediacy of these descriptions -- details I could never glean from a nonfiction book pop out here and provide the story with a sense of realism. Here's a case in point:

‘Did you know that you are the only one on this entire site whose knees I haven’t seen?’
Beth laughed. ‘I fear they are not my best feature.’
‘You mean despite being covered all the time, they are covered in bruises and scars from all the kneeling you have to do when you’re digging deep.’

‘That is my very favourite type of knee.’

In this passage, Jaybee's knowledge of archaeology allows her to write sexy, romantic lines that immerse the reader even deeper in the world of the characters.

In general, Jaybee does a good job of making the book's sex scenes flow naturally from the time in place, and incorporating hot elements of the setting such as outdoor sex and archaeologists' tools. She has a gift for vivid visual imagery, which can transform a sexual situation I've read about before into a surprisingly fresh encounter.

Digging Deep is erotic romance, and I thought it was an interesting specimen of the mix. The erotic element is stronger and naughtier than in many erotic romances I've read, and yet the romance itself is very sweet.

Beth's character is well-drawn and balanced. Jaybee particularly captures the sense of Beth as a post-doc -- more mature than a student, and yet still young and desperate to prove herself before her hero.

Harrison is a deeply masculine hero with significant flaws that keep him feeling realistic.

The book acknowledges the contrast between British and American ways of speaking, and there are some funny exchanges between Harrison and Beth on the subject. However, to my American ear, Harrison sounded British sometimes (such as when he tells Beth, "You knock spots off her and you know it.") A difficult pitfall to avoid when writing cross-culturally.

I very much enjoyed Digging Deep, but I did find some problems with the plot that held me back from entirely sinking into my enjoyment of the book. Much of the conflict is driven by Harrison's scheming former love interests, who wants, among other things, to damage Beth's reputation. To do this, she enlists a student to act as spy and troublemaker at the dig. The manipulations, however, increased in complexity so much that, when the characters expressed confusion, I felt confused along with them. In real life, people do meander when they converse, but when the characters attempted to sort out the plot, I sometimes felt frustrated by the extent to which their focus wandered (and by how much they got distracted by sex!).

I also felt the details of the manipulations stretched believability at certain points. For example, the hero and heroine consider staging a phone conversation with an imaginary interlocutor, they suspect one student of having had a conversation with an imaginary interlocutor, and another student actually has such a conversation. Talking to someone who's not really there is odd enough that when the idea appeared three times in the book, it felt unrealistic.

That said, I'd recommend Digging Deep for its vivid, exciting settings and inventive sex scenes. Also, if you've ever had a thing for Indiana Jones, Harrison will probably do it for you. ;)

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