Thursday, April 17, 2008

Non-Laughter Lightning Reviews

Realized today that four historical romances have been 'consumed' in recent weeks. Good opportunity for a little lightning 'compare and contrast' -

1. No Regrets, by Michelle Ann Young (19th century England and France) -
Premise: BBW (for the uninitiated: big beautiful woman) cannot believe her childhood friend is genuinely attracted to her, and enters into a sham marriage for a limited time with him.

2. An Honorable Rogue, by Carol Townend (Medieval Brittany and South English coast) -
Premise: Young widow travels to England during unsettled times to marry a knight but is secretly attracted to travelling minstrel/spy escort.

3. And Then He Kissed Her, by Laura Lee Guhrke (19th century England)-
Premise: Female secretary to aristocratic newspaperman has authorly ambitions that challenge him on multiple levels.

4. Let Sleeping Rogues Lie, by Sabrina Jeffries (19th century England) -
Premise: Naturalist schoolteacher seeking to vindicate father makes a deal with a rake in order to use his connections.

Cover art: 'Best' goes to 'No Regrets' - lovely partial face detail taken from a classical painting. Stands out in a sea of masculine pectorals. 'Most reminiscent of a pantyhose commercial' goes to 'Sleeping Rogues' - nice purple background, but emphasis on apparently freshly shaven legs.

Heroine and Hero who grow on reader after initial dull impression: Emmaline and Harry from 'And Then...' Things don't look so good for them, reader-interest wise in the beginning, with many pages devoted to etiquette books and newsprint, but by the end reasons for their initial stiffness on multiple levels is clear and engages reader sympathy. Thankfully, they've also learned to be more flexible, and the banter between them is enjoyable. Very satisfying ending.

Biggest Pet Peeve: Two authors undermine their credibility by not applying foreign language snippets correctly. In one instance, the heroine answers in the affirmative when asked if she speaks French, but she does so IN ITALIAN. Or possibly Spanish; either way, it's not French. (Actually, to make things even more complicated, it IS French - only for 'if' instead of 'yes'.) In the second instance, the term 'comme il faut' ('as is necessary or required') is used to mean the opposite.

Most interesting historical detail: Easily 'Honorable Rogue'. Though the story had too much space devoted to hero and heroine endlessly reliving an early kiss and being dismayed that they were attracted to one another (first half) and Could Never Be Together (second half) and not enough about actual story developments for Apprentice Writer's taste, reading about the details of daily life (architecture, clothing, food, social classes, professions, customs, names) in such a fresh time/place combination was fascinating. Let Apprentic Writer be clear: the imbalance of hero/heroine introspection and plot points is not an indication of weakness of the book; it is an indication that AW is clearly not part of the target demographic for this particular imprint. Harlequin demands that its writers operate within tight wordcount and outline boundaries, for the simple reason that it provides a specific product for specific readership. That the story managed to capture AW's interest despite not being that reader is a testament to the skill of this author.

Most unusual stimulant: Countless historicals include an element of alcohol abuse, a few refer to opium, hashish or other narcotics. This was the first AW ever encountered involving nitrous oxide. Even better, it wasn't just a background detail at a party for jaded, fashionable aristocrats, but a major plotpoint, apparently based on real historical events. So although AW felt that there was a whole lot of buildup compared to how much space the actual party occupied, she still gives the author major credit for writing about something unusual. Plus: finding a way to insert a rhinoceros in the plot is always good.

Most puzzling self-image: Much of 'No Regrets' heroine's internal conflict revolves around comparison of her generously proportioned self with the slender sylphs she see around her, which has a negative effect on her self-esteem and leads to her refusal to accept that the hero could find her desirable. Modern mass media aggressively promotes thinness as a feminine ideal, so the thinking behind such internal conflict is not hard to follow. But: in the story, except for herself ,there weren't any characters that seemed to look down on the heroine due to her shape. To the contrary - younger sisters loved and respected her, female characters she met offered friendship or saw her as a equal, multiple male characters wished to pursue her, a long-lost relative expressed no disappointment. So, while AW very much enjoyed reading about a different type of heroine, and wouldn't wish sizeist rejection on her just for the hell of it, there was some feeling of disconnect.

Most tiresome device for expressing emotion: It is a constant challenge for authors to convey the emotion their characters feel without naming it explicitly. AW understands and empathizes with the difficulty. Even so, the heroine's habit in 'Honorable Rogue' of speaking in a mini-stutter whenever she felt nervous was so frequent AW started counting number of pages in between ocurences. There has to be a better way.

All in all - each story offered something unusual and worth reading about.


Julia Smith said...

I hear you on not being part of the target market. That happens to me so often in historicals that I seek out the unusual on purpose.

Wylie Kinson said...

I loved the pet peeve section - LOL! It's those seemingly minor details that yank me out of a story.

Great lighting reviews. Clear, concise, informative-without-bitchery. Bravo!

Amy Ruttan said...

Awesome job.

But see I sympathize with the No Regrets heroine. She feels that way about herself she can't see what others see. So she won't believe it, so coming from her POV she doesn't see beyond her own personal self image of herself.

I know, I've been in her shoes. Not understanding how my DH can love me the way I am.

So I do feel connected to heroine in No Regrets. I get why she feels that way and can't see what others see.

Great reviews. :D

M. said...

julia - i'd be interested to hear your historical recommendations!

wylie - thanks. i quake for the day some astute reader spots a glaring 'd'uh!' in one of my stories...

amy - i think you're probably right that many readers would likely be able to identify with that feeling of the heroine. so in that sense, it was a very smart thing for the author (yay, michele!) to structure her heroine that way.

Thomma Lyn said...

Great reviews! Yes, as Wylie said, messed-up minor details can jerk me out of a story.

Recently ran across a published novel which has several little mistakes and a surprisingly egregious "borrowing" of characters from another novel, recasting them in a different time and context but a remarkably similar circumstance. I was so amazed I was reading with my mouth open. Not plagiarism, but darned close.

M. said...

thomma lynn - i had that feeling watching 'eragon' with my son. he was enthralled, i was saying 'star wars, lord of the rings, anne mcgaffrey's pern series.....' i think the author of 'eragon' was cut major slack because of his youth