Wednesday, December 26, 2007

NonLaughter Reviews #2

A departure from the regular focus on humorous content for a look at a different genre.

Contemporary Romance

Ex-spouses work together to launch an inn while the issues that drove them apart simmer.

What Works
The protagonists in historical romances are often too good to be true; the most beautiful, elegant, charming, fashionable, etc. if women, the tallest, most goodlooking, best fencers/riders/marksmen if men - so as to lend a more make-believe, fairytale quality to the writing perhaps. The hero Gabe and heroine Alice in this book are not flawless. They are real people, with weaknesses and mental baggage galore to overcome. They do so in a genuine manner, a little at a time, taking some missteps along the way. The fact that they keep on trying in the face of discouragement makes the reader like and sympathize with them.

This volume is the first of a series, subtitled “The Mitchells of Riverview Inn”. The other Mitchells introduced so far include charming, single-father Patrick and ex-cop turned carpenter/troubled teen supervisor brother Michael, both appealing characters and both carrying different sorts of emotional scars. Brief hints at how they were damaged and what it will take to heal leave the reader itching to find out more.

What Doesn't
This story is categorized as a ‘Super Romance’, with tagline reading ‘where life and love weave together in emotional and unforgettable ways’. For readers searching for a highly emotional story, this novel delivers in spades.

Readers who want lots of action, changes of pace and setting, and subplots for secondary characters may not be satisfied. Except for a scene apiece at beginning and end of the story which take place in Alice's town, the book unfolds almost entirely indoors at the inn. The focus is on primary characters' emotional growth - secondary characters appear exclusively in support of that development. The circumstances that force the protagonists together - Gabe's investment in his inn and Alice's work as an executive chef - serve the same purpose, meaning that apart from prep work for a wedding there is little text focused on actual hotel/culinary elements. Readers hoping for the literary version of 'Iron Chef' will need to look elsewhere.

Let Apprentice Writer be clear: it is not that these types of elements should be included and are lacking; it is that this story (and, she assumes, this imprint) is for readers searching for a particular type of reading experience, and those who want a different kind should look elsewhere.

Unlike many who can quote the ins and outs of each imprint and subgenre in the vast and powerful empire that is Harlequin publishing, Apprentice Writer has had very little exposure to the Big H. This may be the result of inborn contrariness; the sheer chunk of bookstore real estate these titles occupy usually triggers something in her to walk in another direction. Probably for similar reasons, Apprentice Writer has likewise (gasp!) never read a Nora Roberts title.

As is often the case when one finally tries something new after a long period of not dong so, Apprentice Writer wonders why she took so long. The heart of this story paints a multi-layered picture of how a couple live with the longterm effects of infertility. Having friends who dealt with that form of heartbreak, it seemed to this reader that the description was senstive without descending into bleakness. Perhaps this type of balancing act is the strength of the authors writing in this particular category.

Usually, the final question is But does it make you laugh?
Today, the final question is But does it make you feel? YES
The feelings depicted surge and ebb in a natural, convincing way, drawing the reader in to the characters’ anger, resentment, determination, and hope. Gentle Readers in the mood to experience powerful emotions that are resolved in a believable, non-premature way will get the cathartic release they desire, without having to fear for the Happily Ever After (this being Harlequin, after all).


Unknown said...

I tried to find this the other day when I was at the book store, and couldn't. I'm scared I'm going to miss finding a copy and not get to read it. I'm going to have to go hunting tomorrow again.

Anonymous said...

That's an excellent review! I hope you and your family had a wonderful holiday season, and I wish you a Happy New Year in 2008! :)

Wylie Kinson said...

Great review, M!
When I talked about this book on my blog, I admitted to being a bit of a Harlequin snob -- only because they were my first venture into romance back in high school. I thought I outgrew them. D'oh.
One doesn't 'outgrow' great emotional stories...

Molly is an amazing writer, whether there's an H on the book or a binder clip ;) and I look forward to the rest of the Mitchells' stories.

M. said...

christine - this book placed molly as a nominee in the 'romantic times reviewer's choice awards'. with any luck, your difficulty finding a copy means others are snapping it up as fast as they can! if you still can't find a copy - i'll lend you mine

thomma lyn - hi! happy new year to you too! talk to you separately soon

wylie - makes me feel bad for H authors, how they risk being unfairly dismissed. but still - i have trouble getting past the covers. they just do nothing for me.