Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Wrong Way To Write a Romance

Next, next, next.  One you haven't heard of, since it's a brand new book from a first-time author.   I heard of it on Lauren Willig's website (where else? I guess Austenprose :)) and she pretty much raved about it.  Beatriz Williams's Overseas, a time travel romance.  Time travel I can take or leave (I do like Outlander of course) but romance I can always take... at least if it's romance in my style.  Question is, was this? We'll get there.  Meanwhile, all signs pointed positively, since there definitely wasn't much else in this book besides the romance (a little mystery, but it didn't look too overwhelming).  And, you know, rave reviews... certainly worth a shot.

So at the start, it was all very promising.  Heroine is fairly successful and very pretty nice girl, hero is billionaire hedge fund manager who is also gorgeouso.  And he woos our heroine with every luxury we can think of, and with every gesture of romance too.  OMG... who even wants that?! I mean come on, he loves her right away, he tells her he loves her right away, and she loves him right back! How boring can you get? Quite boring I will tell you.  On and on about his dedication and love/obsession with her and we're supposed to be enjoying it.  But I tell you, I was NOT.  I just get absolutely nothing out of hearing his speeches and watching his oh-so-sweet overprotective behavior.  Yes, yes, yes we get it, you love her, now finish this up already.

I mean, there is a point to the story of course - this is a time travel tale, and it switches back and forth between some "future" time back in the past and the present (2008) and we have to resolve how we get from one to the other and what happens at the end.  I found the ending somewhat interesting, if more than a bit of a cop out.  It's kind of funny actually, since the whole time we're all worried about this big cataclysmic danger that turns out to be mostly a storm in a teapot.  But anyway, who cares? Like I said, I can take or leave time travel.  The big disappointment here was the total, complete UTTER lack of what  I consider good romance.  Are there really people who enjoy such drivel? I guess there are... (and I'm sure there are *plenty* who would say the same about the drivel I enjoy :)) But what I'm almost reminded of is the Mark Helprin book I read last summer that I hated so much.  Both just kind of revel in whatever they're talking about without really caring too much about advancing a plot.  Of course, a plot advances, but the extraneities are too excessive to be considered anything but the main point of the book.  And as the main point, seriously, if I wanted to read about great love, I'd read Shakespeare's sonnets or something.  Not someone's overblown ideas about what constitutes ideal romantic devotion.

So altogether, thoroughly, thoroughly disappointing.  Somewhat surprising, given that I'm all for romance with not much else getting in the way.  But I guess there's a wrong way to do everything.

Verdict: 2/5

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Still One To Hold On To

Well, well... all caught up and now... 3 behind.  That's what happens when you spend a 3 day yom tov all alone (ok, all alone except for the 3 other frum families in Carteret + my DH).  Anyway, Shavuos is over and I have 3 new books to review... fresh in my mind-ish for now, but let's see if I can get them all done while that's still the case.  Numero uno was begun before Shavuos (first half was finished, but I'm reviewing both together) - Court Duel (or actually, it's Crown Duel for both together).  Not sure when the last time I read this was, certainly not since I started the blog.  So does it hold its flavor? Does it still pass muster?

The thing about Court Duel is, I never thought it was perfect.  Meliara was always annoying in some ways (and yes, Huvi, Branaric can make we want to scream) and while Shevraeth is awesome, I'm not sure I ever thought the romance was ideal.  And of course, I always had very little interest in all the political intrigue and whatnot.  So if I had any of those complaints this time around, I wouldn't say Court Duel isn't what it once was.  I'd say I had all of those complaints - Meliara is as stupid as ever, the romance doesn't have enough interaction or enough from his POV (I have to say, the former might be a new complaint, I'm not sure this is something I minded initially), and the nuance imagined behind every word, glance, or action at court seems excessive.  But like I said, nothing new.  What was new? Well I find I did appreciate Mel's finer qualities a little more -  I think they stand out much more in the first book, which of course I have read far less frequently.  Yes, she's stupid and mostly wrong - but she is brave, spunky, and even heroic. I can see what Shevraeth likes about her, she's definitely got something.  And I always like it when the romance doesn't feel ridiculous or made up.  She's pretty too - something I'm always trying to determine and which is also more clear from reading the first book.

So much for the new - what about the old? Is it still one heck (apologize, apologize) of a romance? I'd say so.  He's just awesome, that Shevraeth.  And he loves her, he does.  It is definitely problematic that we don't see anything from his POV and even more so that they really don't interact much (at least in the second book) but it got me back into my somewhat abandoned habit of imagining what isn't written.  And there's plenty of fodder for that here.  And the details of court life are as enjoyable as ever of course - nobility being, after all, my preferred milieu.  The book remains a solid historical (fantasy - whatever) romance, though years of chic lit have somewhat deprecated my appreciation of its uniqueness (that is to say, I don't know many other fantasy romances - I guess Sharon Shinn) but the usual chic lit fare does a fine job with romance in its own way).  Still, still, still - I don't feel stupid that I know this book almost by heart (not quite as well as I used to of course).  It satisfies my ideals of a romance with angst, tension, and happy culmination, and a royal hero to boot.

Verdict: 4.75/5

Friday, May 25, 2012

Religion Makes For Boring Chick Lit

And... Number 2! Don't know if I'll have time to finish this b/4 I get off the bus, or failing that, before Shabbos starts, followed by Shavuos, but I will do my best... and that's all that can be expected of me.  A fitting segue into the next on our list, another Robin Lee Hatcher.  Her best books were the ones written not as Christian romances.  I kind of like that short series from last year / two years ago... but this latest series, of which I now review the second (it's called... um... Where The Heart Is? I think? nope that's something else, this on is heart of gold)  is just too... Christian for me.  I mean, put in all the religion you want, but give us something else too!

Here, if there's something else (well there is) it's civil war politics.  Yeah, that doesn't exactly make me do jumping jacks either.  I mean it's not crazy tense of course, the war is far away in the east for the most part, but it doesn't make for a fun romp when the heroine is concerned for her beloved Virginia, and rightfully too.  And what else? What about the romance? Sigh... I'm not saying it wasn't there at all... but at one point I found myself getting a little excited about its potential... and even that potential didn't realize materialize.  It was one of those that just moved along with no angst, no tension, no fun.. just gradual realization on the part of each of their being in love, followed by an engagement (there was a short break-up, but that's the potential I mean didn't materialize, it was just kind of blah).

So overall, not much to recommend the book.  Pretty vanilla, nothing distasteful, but where's the fun? I just get no kicks out of following along with people's religious growth and whatnot, and there just wasn't much else accompanying it.  Oh well.

Verdict: 2.3/5

Not With a Bang But a Whimper (Ok, That's a Little Harsh But I Like The Phrase)

Oy veis meer.  I am *behind*.  I have two books to review and it's erev a three day yom tov! Need to bang these out, and fast.  Luckily, since I finished the first one like, what, two weeks ago? I've somewhat forgotten whatever I had to say about it (not that I had a ton at any point in time) so maybe this won't take too long.  Anyway, this first one is a familiar name - (not that the second one isn't, more on that of course when I finish this one) - Gail Carriger.  The fifth (and last) in the Parasol Protectorate series, all for of whose previous installments I have reviewed right on this very blog! You can't expect much about of the fifth in a series, though I think expectations are somewhat raised for the finale.  But you know, I tend to be sanguine, and I enjoyed the previous ones, though some more, some less, so I was hoping for a good read.

I'd say I was fairly disappointed, at least in the most promising elements.  Characterization-wise, we continue going off the cliff (getting farther to the edge?) of pairing off everyone as she pleases and wrecking some heretofore steadily admirable personalities (Biffy no longer confidently flamboyant, Lyle not the calm presence of mind, and Floote, oh Floote, no loyal and utterly capable butler any longer).  Then there's the lack of humor, or rather the failure of what forced humor there is.  Turns of phrase, light absurdities, they just fall flat.  And romance is long gone by this point of course.

So we're left with plot... well this is the last book, so of course we get lots of loose ends tied up and that's always satisfying.  And there was plenty of excitement, and new scenes (Egypt!) and new background to keep one interested.  So I read it more eagerly than I might have expected, at least once I got into it.  But I have to say, the ending left me disappointed - in not one, but two ways.  First,  I just didn't like it - (spoiler alert) - Ivy as a vampire queen? no.  And then it just seemed like there were plenty of little strings still waving gently in the breeze (I mean by that that not everything was tied up tidily). I suppose the excuse fo r the latter is that I think there's some kind of follow up series with Alexia's daughter, and something had to be left for that? But come on, it's the final book, couldn't it have just been final? Or maybe that is final, maybe the lack of explanation of the book's "science" was on purpose? Dunno, and not sure how much I care.  I'll read the follow up if it's in a normal format, but I seem to recall it's either manga or a children's series, neither of which excites me overly much.  So series over, all tied up, one way or the other.

Verdict: 2.75 / 5

Friday, May 11, 2012

Why JA Is Where It's At

I have been sadly remiss in posting - it's been over a week since I finished my latest, but I haven't felt like posting on the bus (with good reason, I'm sitting here posting in stop-and-go traffic and ugh it does not make me feel good) and these days, that's my goto posting time.  But at least I haven't finished another book in that time, since last Shabbos was busy (CL! :)) and I haven't felt like reading on the bus either.  But, you know, it's almost Shabbos again, and this time I might end up finishing something... so better get on with this one.  This one is Northanger Abbey, next in line of books I own that I felt like re-reading.  It was a very different experience than rereading P&P, since I know it so much less well.  I think this must be maybe my fifth time reading it, and the first since 12th grade, the ITV movie, and my general immersion in all things Austen via the blogs.

I definitely had some anticipation going in - I never haven't enjoyed NA, and Henry Tilney's popularity among some (the Austenblog Editrix) made me eager to get to know him, at least, again.  And JJ Field in the move is adorable of course :) But I must say, whatever my expectations, they were surpassed! I finished the book in a few days, mostly on the book, and I never wanted to put it down (yes, I was often heading into work :)) NA is probably JA's least serious work, written as a satire on horrid novels, and that lightness of tone never really abates.  JA's wit reigns supreme, and I am reminded, or reassured, of her amazing ability to write in such a well-formed, yet such a far from ponderous, and ever humorous vent.

As for characters - Catherine herself is likable, if stupid.  And she is quite stupid, at least where human nature is concerned.  I was surprised to find that her predilection for seeing the world through the eyes of Mrs. Radcliffe and co. was less pronounced than I had thought - she only really lets her imagination overcome her at Northanger.  Most of the satire comes from JA's interjections that "a heroine must this" or "as was appropriate, he reacted thus" contrary to the usual course of events followed here.  But anyway, her naivete when it comes to Isabelle is really on the annoying side, since, at least until the end, I feel like Isabelle's false professions and airs never result in consequences unpleasant to herself.  But I suppose in the end, Catherine sees even Isabelle for what she is, and her appreciation of John Thorpe comes rather earlier.

Then there's Henry Tilney. !!!!!!! The perfect combination of flirtatiousness, kindness, humor, and wisdom.  He seems, at least to me, quite a modern type of hero, one whose charm lies in his manner, rather than his character (though his character is very good, don't worry :)) I mean, I could easily see GH creating such a man (like Mr. Beaumaris, though he's definitely more jaded) but I feel like JA must have been the first to have put such charm to the page (ok, maybe she wasn't, but I never read anything like it dated anywhere near that time).  I can see why he such a fave among the ladies ;)

So the humor is great, the story flows easily, the characters are just as they should be... what about the romance? So here's the thing - I think last time (or maybe it was the time before?) I was disappointed by the romance, since it's really not much of one at all (in the tension/angst sense I mean of course :)).  But knowing that going in, I didn't care all that much this time.  I thought maybe there would be some bits I missed that I could pick up on and enjoy... and maybe there were.... kind of.  But in general, it basically says straight out that Henry falls in love with Catherine because she's in love with him.  A very un-GH-like behavior, but in keeping with the theme of anti-horrid novels.  And it really didn't affect my liking of the book at all.  It was just so perfect the way it was, light satire and a good story too.

Verdict: 5/5