Sunday, August 31, 2008
Monday, August 25, 2008
First off, here’s why I picked up this specific book.
This whole blogging thing has been really good for broadening my horizons. I like contemporaries as much as historicals and paranormals, but I probably wouldn’t have picked this one up due to the psycho-killer aspect.
Here’s the thing. I can finish up a book involving werewolves, vampires, demons, and whatnot, and feel pretty sure that whatever terror befell the redshirts in that book are not going to happen to me. Some might think I’m deluding myself, sure, but on the list of things that worry me, vampires don’t actually rate (the downside of that is, I’m also pretty sure I’m not going to get swept away by V or Cade, either, more’s the pity).
Psycho-killers do make the list though. I mean, it may be true that the odds of being attacked by one are statistically similar to being bitten by vampire, but I was single once, and lived alone. I went on a few blind dates. I currently live not far from where Ted Bundy got his start, and I once worked within a half mile of John Wayne Gacy’s house. And now I have daughters. I understand why the entertainment industry, including movies and TV, create such nasty villains, but I personally just have a hard time being … well, entertained by them.
So, Mr. Perfect starts off with something of a disadvantage for me. I recognize, though, that it’s not a fault of the book – criticizing the book for having a villain I don’t like is just-- silly. Like criticizing ice cream for being too cold.
On to the good things, ie, Sam Donovan. Wow, is he ever a good thing. Yum. Seriously yum. I completely understand why the DIK ladies fight over him. Yeah, he could warm up my island hut any time.
I also completely love Jaine as a heroine. If only she were a little bit more fashion-challenged, she’d be me. (Well, me about 20 years and 40 lbs ago, but I digress). Mostly I love her sarcastic wise-cracking, and it really resonated with me when she observed that she usually had to hold back for fear of hurting people’s feelings or leaving them in the dust, but Sam not only kept up with her, he took her sparring in the right spirit and challenged her right back. OK, Ms Howard covered that better but I can’t find the quote so you’ll have to make do with my paraphraseology.
Part of the plot revolves around an off-hand and off-color List that Jaine and three of her girlfriends compile over cocktails one night on the subject of what constitutes—OK, no credit for guessing this one—Mr. Perfect. As a plot device… it was a little bit meh for me. I mean, there wasn’t anything all that outrageous on there, as far as I’m concerned:
4. Steady job
(OK, so far, your average mailman makes the cut)
5. Sense of Humor
6. Money (comfortable but not filthy rich)
7. Good looks
8. Great in bed
9. 10” (by now the girls are mostly just talking smack, but the list was transcribed by a 3rd party)
10. Able to last 30 minutes, not including foreplay
Maybe I’m just jaded. Anyway, The List takes off, hits the media, etc. etc. (which I only found marginally believable) and causes Mr. Not-So-Perfect to go off the deep end. The final twist of whodunit is pretty good, although the characterization of the killer up to the reveal is a pretty standard textbook whackjob with mommy issues.
So, is this a classic? I guess I could see it. And to tell the truth, I’m going to keep my copy for awhile just so I can re-read the scene where she tells him he needs curtains. Overall, it’s not really my kind of book—but dang, Jaine and Sam are absolutely my kind of characters.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Check it out.
Monday, August 18, 2008
Mostly I feel compelled to offer an objective reason why I don’t like the book, which might in fact mean that I need to re-read it or at least spend some time analyzing what it is EXACTLY that I don’t like.
Frankly, I’d rather move on to something that I like better. Life is too short to re-read books you didn’t like the first time.
So I’m going to offer up a short list of books that I’ve put down this summer and not gotten around to picking up again, and try not to get too hung up on being fair or objective. I just didn't like 'em, OK?
Love Is All You Need, by Lori DeVoti. This was a UBS gamble. Nadia (my 4-year old) liked the cover. Wonder why, LOL. Actually, it seemed not bad and I may eventually finish. Nevertheless, it languishes.
Shimmering Splendor, by Roberta Gellis. I actually did finish this one, but ugh. It was awful.
Jacob, by Jacquelyn Frank. Just can’t get into it.
Master of Surrender, Karen Tabke. It’s pretty bad. Very “I hate him but he makes my nether parts tingle!” And I pretty much hate him too. Also, the prologue features flesh-eating bats, which I find seriously eye-rolly.
Pleasure Unbound, Larissa Ione. I did finish this one, but probably won’t continue with the series. The characters just didn’t do it for me; it seems like Ione couldn’t decide whether her demon race should be redeemable or not. They’re pretty much NOT, except when they are… which is too inconsistent for me.
Not bad, considering my reading volume lately.
Any clinkers you readers want to share?
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Bear with me, this may involve some navel-gazing.
In 7th grade, I had a whip-cracking English teacher who made us write a one page composition EVERY SINGLE WEEK. And! she took off a WHOLE LETTER GRADE if you wrote even one single sentence fragment, comma splice, or run-on sentence. (This post would get a failing grade, since I have embraced the fragment as part of my signature style).
If that weren’t bad enough, she required a book report every other week… and the format for said report was a TWO PAGE OUTLINE. Outline!! Figure at least a paragraph for each line in the outline—that’s a long book report. Sheesh. Erm. Not that it made any kind of impression on me or anything. The outline included things like “what was the theme of the book” and “describe the mood”-- much harder than "this book was about a girl growing up and I really liked it because she was nice and the book was nice and that's why I liked it."
Then in college I took a creative writing class which broke the elements of fiction down into a list. Each week we covered a short story that featured a particular element – my favorite was The Babysitter, by Robert Coover to illustrate the power of point of view, which was sort of a literary version of this Gilligan's Island episode (wait for the 2nd half). Also memorable was Hills Like White Elephants by Hemingway, which the teacher used to talk about how setting could influence or reflect the theme/plot of the story. And so on. (This, by the way, is the sum total of my academic literary credentials, in case you were wondering.)
Then, after college, I joined a writer’s workshop. It was very lively, and the critique process was really enlightening. That group also had a pet list.
So from these sources, I’ve developed sort of a mental checklist of elements. It’s not that I cover every single one of them for every single book, but I typically write about whichever ones stand out for me, good or bad. The list is something like this:
Main Characters: are they believable, likeable, empathetic, interesting; do they develop through the story in believable ways? Do I believe in their love/attraction for each other? (this is my #1 requirement for a romance).
Plot: my bar is low here, really. Don’t screw it up. Don’t rely on the Big Misunderstanding, Stupid Omissions, the Deep Dark Secret, or the 180-degree Character Turn-Around.
Pacing: most noticeable when it drags. Love scenes and fight/action scenes are where this tends to be critical. Occasionally I might notice some choppiness, or confusing or jarring transitions. When it's good, you keep on turning pages even when dinner is burning or the sun starts rising or <fill in cue of your choice>.
Point of View: the story needs to be told from inside someone’s head. Who is it? Is the language appropriate for that person? Are the transitions between POV characters smooth and unobtrusive? Are there too many? Not enough? Are you (the author) telling me things that the POV character can’t actually know? a perfect recent example:
"So absorbed in the beauty of his pleasure, she barely noticed when something bounced against her throat. A pendant. A necklace had come free of his shirt's neckline, and the silver dagger encircled by snakes dangled against her skin, a cool sharp, caress." from Pleasure Unbound, Larissa Ione
See, that's a lot of detail for something that "she barely noticed." And if it's bouncing against her throat, how exactly did she see it? Classic POV problem.
Voicing: Related to POV. More than dialog; it’s internal as well as external; it’s about the language choices for each of the characters. Not just what they say and think, but the way they do it. Do the characters all sound the same? Is each voice consistent, and appropriate to his/her age, personality, place in the story, etc?
Setting/world-building: I’m not an expert on historical eras, so a lack of glaring mistakes is usually good enough for me. ( Please don’t have the word “Okay” in Regency dialog. Please. Pretty please?) However, in paranormal romance, urban fantasy, and sci-fi/fantasy, world-building will make or break your story. It needs to be consistent, believable, understandable, balanced, and have an interesting premise. Tip: be very wary of creating your own language. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but IMO few popular authors do it well and it can break my suspension of disbelieve pretty fast.
Secondary characters: as far as I’m concerned, you don’t NEED any characters beyond the hero and heroine. But secondary characters can add tons of interest to the book; they can mirror and/or add complexity to the main plot, give you a window to the main characters, and lend alternate points of view; they can add a humorous element to a dark story and of course, lay the groundwork for their own future stories, if we’re talking about a series. My biggest peeves with secondary characters is when they’re flat and boring, caricature-ish, or when they take over a story.
So these are the basics of the question “what works, what doesn’t work.” Usually I like my reviews to be more than “wow, this was really good, you should read it!!” so I look for a hook; something that is unique to the book or the author that I can build a “composition” on. I don’t write summaries – that isn’t a review, IMO. What happens in the story does not constitute a review. What does constitute a review, beyond what works and what doesn’t work, is why I like the story or don’t like it; what stays with me after I close the cover; what does it make me think about; what does it make me wonder about; are there connections I can draw to other books, other characters, other cultural icons.
If nothing else leaps out at me, I turn to the characters. I’m repeating myself now, but I can forgive mediocrity in almost any area of a romance IF the characters are great. Romance is fundamentally about two people falling in love – nothing else can compensate for characters that I don’t care about. So if I can’t find anything interesting to say about the characters, it’s probably not worth it to me to do the review.
So I usually spend some time focusing on the main characters and what draws them together, what keeps them apart. How do the characters slay their dragons? What’s the one thing that makes them a perfect match? And what do I have to say about it?
It can be tricky to do this without spoilering, so often you’ll just see me say things like “I love the pacing; I love how they overcome their obstacles; the author does this or that really well,” without telling exactly what is done. So it really kind of does boil down to “wow, this was really good,” but I try to be specific about WHAT EXACTLY is really good.
Oh, and PS: Thank you, Mrs. Rose! I wouldn't be doing this today without all those book reports under my belt. Sorry about the fragments.
Sunday, August 10, 2008
This review contains a plot spoiler for the first book.
Ready now? OK. So I’m assuming here that if you are continuing to read, there’s about a 99% probability that you’re already a Nalini Singh fan and are dying to know more about Dorian’s story. And well you should, because it’s the best one yet.
If you plug in “two kinds of people” to Google, you get 1,330,000 hits (today, anyway). There are two kinds of people: those who like to divide people into categories, and those who don’t.
Or, something like that. I know some people who are devoted followers of the Myer-Brigg personality inventory thingy, and can frame any interpersonal differences in MB terms. Then there’s the right-brain/left-brain theory; introvert/extrovert; hi-tech/hi-touch… it’s a very popular thing to define a dichotomous spectrum and attempt to solve all the world’s problems by understanding where you fit on the scale relative to everyone else. (Unless you’re like me and end up in the very middle of the scale on every quiz you take, but that’s a whole ‘nother post, if not a different blog…)
The reason I bring this up is because Singh’s universe, to me, seems predicated on extremes – the Psy are cerebral to the extreme, classifying emotional and bodily functions (ie, eating, sex, etc) as more primitive and therefore undesireable. The changelings represent the other extreme, relying on their inner animal for all their species’ advantages. It’s a little unbalanced though, because the changelings don’t sacrifice their intellect in the process. Which of course is why we readers are all swoony for the cats & wolves. Dorian and Ashaya are even further out on these extremes than their predecessors.
The first books were a case of opposites attracting – of the changelings helping the emotionally frozen Psy main characters, and the pack benefiting from the Psy talents. ** SPOILER IF YOU HAVEN’T READ ANY OF THE BOOKS:** Most of the Psy mistakenly believe that they cannot survive outside the main Psy network, the Net, but as it turns out, the changelings have a sort of pack-oriented net too that can support the Psy members’ needs.
What’s different and interesting about HtP is that Dorian and Ashaya are more alike than different. They both know what they are supposed to be but have been alienated from that self, for different reasons. Dorian’s leopard is latent – he cannot change physical form. Singh’s imagination in sharing with the reader what kind of pain this causes her character awes me; I mean, making us imagine the joy and freedom that a changeling feels in his alternate form is one thing, but making us feel the agony of the lack of a fictional trait? I think that’s pretty amazing. Dorian controls and hides this pain with a will of iron. His sniper abilities are a direct compensation for not having the strength and speed of his cat at his disposal. His pain over his sister's death puts him in an emotional turmoil at the far range of the rest of the pack.
Meanwhile, Ashaya is very different from the Psy we know. Unlike Sascha and Faith, whose journeys were about overcoming their conditioning to live within the Silence of the PsyNet, Ashaya already knows that the Net is flawed, and that she doesn’t belong there. Ironically, in order to live within its strictures, she becomes, on the surface, everything that she knows she really isn’t. (Hope that makes sense— if not, it will when you read the book-- Ms. Singh does it way better than I do, trust me!). Ashaya outwardly becomes the Psy ideal, using her formidable intellect to live a dual life. Also different from Sascha, Faith, and Judd, she has compelling reasons to remain in the Net even when she knows – and longs for—the alternative.
My point is that Ashaya and Dorian both have inner selves that they are aware of but cannot access. Blocking that self off causes each of them incredible pain, and molds their characters into another kind of extreme. As in all romance, the story of how they overcome those obstacles, both internal and external, drives the plot. When it’s badly done, the character bumps into a door, drops through a time gate, or gets slapped by a secondary character and they snap out of it.
But when it’s done right—as in this case—the external problems are solved by believable action scenes and plotting, and the internal problems are unfolded inch by painful inch. When Dorian and Ashaya finally take that last step, make that last connection, you know they’ve earned it and fought for it and I promise, it will make you sigh happily.
A lot of series start getting a little stale after three or four books. The world-building gets outlandish or starts building up to an Ultimate Final Confrontation that no author could possibly deliver on. Singh however, brings it in #5 with no letup in sight. Her characters get better and better, and the world is evolving in layers that feel realistic, if ominous (all too familiar, in fact, although that too is a post for a different blog). While we sense that there an eminent shift in global power, one that will have repercussions for all of the societies, it isn’t some looming monolithic Evil that Must Be Stopped.
One last point – I love the way this book is an inter-racial romance without being an Inter-Racial Romance, if you know what I mean. By polarizing three different societies in her universe, Singh can treat traditional racial lines in a lot of different ways. The only real hints as to Ashaya’s ethnicity are her name, the description of her hair texture and her skin color. Given that her eye color is blue, and her son is half Chinese, we are given the sense that race as we understand it is irrelevant in this universe. But the stories are fundamentally about overcoming assumptions about the Other, and finding commonality.
And if that isn't the perfect theme for a romance, I don't know what is.
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
-Hostage to Pleasure, Nalini Singh (this week for sure!)
-My Lord and Spymaster, Joanna Bourne
-Mr. Perfect, Linda Howard
-possibly an author profile on Madeleine Hunter
You guys have my permission to nag me if you don't see this stuff soon!