Take for example Cross My Heart, from Carly Phillips. Now, I really liked her first few stand-alones (a mis-nomer, since they were trilogies). The Hot Zone trio and the Chandler Brothers delivered the pacing, personality and humor that made her hugely successful, with a little boost from Kelly Ripa's short-lived reading club. But this latest one? The only way I can explain it is if Phillips found it in the bottom of a box of notebooks from her high school sophomore year handwritten on spiral paper with all of the i's dotted with little hearts, and her publisher was holding her dog hostage for a finished manuscript. Seriously, it's pretty bad; like a case study on the old creative writing saw "show, don't tell." These characters are flat and boring; they passively await the plot to happen around them while everything you ever wanted to know about them (and much, much more) is explicated in narrative like this:
Ty was as complex as the things surrounding him were simple. He was a deep man who kept his feelings inside but who gave of himself just by being there. He seemed to sense and show up when she needed him, and he knew when to give her space. Ten years apart and he knew her better than she even knew herself.
And there is more of the same before and after. Blah, blah cliche´ blah cliche´ blah blah.
Then there's the latest from Stephanie Laurens, whom I usually love. I mean, she is absolutely A-list in my book. But A Taste of Innocence really disappointed me. The hero, Charlie, is just too dumb to live: his father had gambled away the family fortune trying to support them, out of his crazy love for his wife. Therefore, Charlie decides to avoid true love at all costs because love=reckless + bad judgement. Yeah, too dumb to live. Meanwhile, the heroine had decided that she would only marry for love. Because that makes tons of sense for the era.
For some reason I also found the rhythm of the prose to be really repetitive, particularly in the love scenes: "paragraph paragraph subject verb supporting clause. Very repeat supporting clause. Supporting clause some more, paragraph paragraph paragraph." Over and over. I'm honestly not one to harp on things like sentence fragments but this happened so many times it was really noticeable and distracting.
I suspect that part of the problem is that the Cynster franchise is just getting old. In the last several books, I had a lot of trouble remembering the Malcom Sinclair thread from book to book, especially since Laurens was alternating Cynsters and Bastion Club books, which never seemed all that distinct from each other anyway, other than the shadowy spymaster of the Bastion books. However, I will say that the big redeemer for this book was in fact, the Malcom Sinclair twist at the end, which I won't spoil but I liked very much.
Lastly, a word about Mary Jo Putney's Marriage Spell. What the heck happened here? It was like Harry Potter meets Lifetime Television For Women. I like paranormals just fine, but I have to believe it just isn't MJP's forte. The magic element was forced and unimaginative, and the heroine was about as exciting as magical oatmeal. The only hook was with the hero's internal struggle-- Putney's signature theme and done far better in the Fallen Angels books.
I'm not giving up on any of these authors, because I know they can write great books. I just hope they get back to it. Soon.