Friday, June 30, 2006

Friday Review -- The Perfect Stranger

I'm always looking for new Regency/Historical authors, as my old favorites don't publish as often as I would like and as much as I've come to appreciate contemporary romance, it just doesn't sell the conventions in the same way that historicals do. Secret babies? Much better in historicals. Marriages of convenience? Ditto. Anne Gracie's The Perfect Stranger takes the marriage of convenience convention and spins a lovely story out of it.

Stranger is the third in her "Perfect" series about a gaggle of sisters who lost their parents at a young age, survived years under their abusive grandfather's brutal hand and are now searching for the "love and laughter and music and sunshine" that their mother once promised they would have as adults. I previously read the first two books in the series. The first, The Perfect Rake, I found enjoyable but nothing special. A little too precious for my tastes. The second, The Perfect Waltz, I lost interest in halfway through and abandoned. There was nothing wrong with it, but it felt like so many other "innocent-but-spirited young girl in London captures attention of nobleman with some minor problem" stories.

I was a little trepidatious about giving Gracie another chance, but the back cover blurb drew me in. I'm happy to report that Stranger was, in Kate's termination, Very Good and bordering on Superb.

First, a little plot: Faith Merridew is alone and abandoned in France just after the Napoleonic Wars. She followed an itinerant musician to Paris, where she thought they were married, and lived with him for a month. Turns out he's lied about his identity, his nationality and his marital status -- he's got a wife and five kids back in Hungary (or Bulgaria, I can't remember which was the fake nationality and which was the real).

Penniless and ruined, Faith flees. She's on the verge of being caught and raped by some miscreants when she finds a former English soldier on the beach, who protects her. After learning her sad story, Nicholas commits to a marriage of convenience with Faith. He'll give her his good name, send her back to his mother in England and then continue with two of his soldier friends on what he calls his "mission." But Faith refuses to leave his side after they're married and sets about becoming a good soldier's wife, much to Nicholas' reluctant pleasure.

There's considerable angst in the protagonists' situation, which I always enjoy. And Gracie does a wonderful job with Nicholas and Faith's relationship. Of course he would marry her, and of course she would take her vows seriously and want to be a true wife to him. And of course they would fall in love in exactly the way they do -- and of course he would continue to push her away, given his predicament. The characters are both appealing, behave in ways admirable and pigheaded but always believable, and the dilemmas don't feel contrived. The secondary characters are also interesting. For once a secondary romance doesn't feel like a way to rot the time spent away from the main story.

In addition, Gracie's prose is very nice. I always feel conflicted when a writer does an excellent job with characterization, plot and even dialogue but has awkward, workmanlike prose. No such conflict here.

Part of my enjoyment of this novel probably comes from its subject matter. The journey through France and Spain is somewhat similar to that in one of my favorite romances of all time, The Suitor by Sandy Hingston. But whatever the reason, I finally feel that a Gracie novel is as gripping and enjoyable as I always hoped they would be but never quite were. Keep it up, Anne Gracie. By my count there's at least one more book left in the Perfect series. Fill it with this sort of action and intensity, and you'll hit the big times!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

She Woke Up Married

Title: She Woke Up Married
Author: Suzanne MacPherson
Genre: Contemporary
Year published: 2005

Series information: a stand-alone title, but you can read about friend Marla's earlier romance in MacPherson's
Risky Business.

Book Review Rating: Very Good

Why did you get this book? I've been trying to read books by members of the
Seattle chapter of the RWA. MacPherson's a member, and this title intrigued me.

Do you like the cover? Love the cover! Great cartoon figures--especially the expression on the female. No
uncanny valley here.

What were the high points of the book? To those readers who wish that writers would tackle realistic, modern issues in their books: this is a book for you! We've got post-partum depression, money worries, and even confidence issues based in the hero and heroine's income gap. Moreover, the secondary folks were strong characters, portrayed as complicated individuals and always pushing the plot forward. Turner Pruitt was an intriguing hero, as well. As a devout Elvis-impersonating minister, his relationship with God played an interesting role in the text. (Flitgirl, remember that discussion we once had about religion in romance tending towards the obnoxiously sappy and/or melodramatic? Meet Turner, a totally believable and complex man of faith.)

What really got to me was the relationship between the two characters. As we all know, I'm a sucker for couples who started out as friends. Plus, I just think that it's more believable when the hero and heroine have a prior relationship before they go at it like rabbits. I won't spoil the nature of their history for you. Suffice to say that it's sweet.

Finally, this writer created some truly hilarious moments. Witness:

She'd been like a vision: same crazy red hair, same beautiful, flashing green eyes. Granted, she'd had a champagne bottle in one hand and had been swigging straight out of it every few minutes. Also, it had been slighlty indelicate of her to catcall at him to "Take it off, preacher boy! Take it all off!" But he'd thrown her his silk scarf just the same. (6-7)

Any low points of the book? These two were also so clearly meant for each other--and struggling through such compelling problems--that I really wanted more page time to enjoy their happy ending!

Was the author new to you and would you read something by this author again? I vaguely remember reading something by this author when I had my wisdom teeth pulled... so for all intents and purposes, yes, a new author. I would definitely read something by her again!

Are you keeping it or passing it on? This is a library copy, so I don't own it. However, I'm recommending it to you. I'm also going to put this on my UBS must-buy list.

Anything else? I think more romance novels should feature Men Who Sing. Carrying a tune is sexy--worked for Turner Pruitt, worked for
Cal Morissey. Authors, it could work for your hero, too!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Update -- State of the Novels

Flitgirl: Despite a hectic week since leaving my job (four freelance assignments, younger sister's high school graduation party and my own engagement party, and bridesmaid dress shopping with my sister), I've managed to get started on the next book in the Merry Widows series. I'm two chapters in to Aimee's story and enjoying it so much. In the sludge of all my revisions I'd forgotten what fun it is to discover a novel for the first time.

I also...[drum roll]... sent out five copies of the ms of The Wedding Widow to friends and authors I know for critiquing. This may seem like no big deal, but having objective eyes look over my draft is a huge deal for me. Up until now, my criticism (provided by the lovely Kate D. and Theresa) has been more of the cheerleading, You can do it! variety. I'm excited to get feedback, but also bracing myself.

As far as Kate's Revising Mr. Right goes, I quote from her e-mail: "Coming down to the final chapters... writing diligently... so excited."

You can do it, Kate! Everyone, get into the comments and give her those good cheerleading vibes.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Snarkilepsy: a LONG rant

Audience or author: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous blog posts
Or to take arms against a sea of critics
And by opposing... multiply them?

Picture this: Changeling Press has just published the bard’s latest masterpiece, the erotic novel Shrew Taming. The cover portrays a muscled naked man (clearly CG) walking through flames (also clearly CG). Petruchio, perhaps? Whoever it’s supposed to be, the cover strikes you as ugly. You immediately make fun of it on your blog and, since you get so much site traffic, Shakespeare hears about it. Should he:

(a) address your comments on his own site;
(b) briefly and intelligently respond to your blog post;
(c) spend hours of his day torpedoing you (and any other potential readers who dare criticize any aspect of his work);
(d) ignore the Internet entirely as he composes his next masterpiece?

This may seem like a rhetorical question because, of course, Shakespeare hasn’t been exhumed to write erotica. But since modern authors must negotiate so much online criticism, it’s not rhetorical at all to ask yourself about bad reviews, rumor-mongering, and cover snark. Bloggers: how much is too much? Authors: what’s the appropriate response to critique?

Put on your seatbelts, readers. It's going to be a long and bumpy rant.

I’ll be the first to admit that I love intelligent snark. This is one of the reasons DSW heartily recommends you to follow the Smart Bitches link in our sidebar—their
Ranty McRants defend our right to mock everything about the genre we love, from the medieval cover models sporting eye-shadow to the virgin secretaries who suffer amnesia after being knocked up by dashing Arabian sheiks. And if you don’t feel like producing your own criticism, satisfy yourself by reading theirs: it’s intelligent, it’s funny, and it’s clearly rooted in love for the genre’s authors and readers. (Similarly savvy soapbox thoughts to be found from Mrs. Giggles.)

Lately, the snark has spread. In fact,
Karen S’s post about Changeling Press prompted a snark storm. Some of the writers’ responses prompted Indida to post this little diatribe about the relationship between readers and writers. And an anonymous someone clearly thought that the blog rants were getting out of hand, because she’s decided to criticize people who criticize other people. Sweet lord, folks: meta-snark.

I don’t know how to feel about all of this. On the one hand, I love a good blog post that sparks intriguing debate. On the other hand, I know that—regardless of whether or not I like her novels—a writer’s process and efforts deserve some respect. So, is it possible to simultaneously value and mock the romance genre? I think so. After all,
a sense of humor and perspective does wonders in any aspect of life.

I’ve come late to the debate, but I can’t resist putting on my Civics Teacher Hat to share some of my thoughts:

To everyone who has an opinion: good for you. I hope you exercise your
First Amendment rights and shout whatever you’re thinking to the intrigued masses. With that in mind, though, might I make a suggestion? Consider the purpose and potential impact of your words before they go public.

Put another way: don’t dish it out if you can’t take it.

To readers: Authors don’t “owe” you anything except their best possible work. If you have a blog then, by all means, critique away. As a reader, I especially appreciate other readers who give me information I can use. That said, if you absolutely can't stand an author, tell us once and then stop reading her. It's really that simple. Yes, authors are responsible for the gems and the dross that they produce—but as a consumer, you are responsible for whatever’s lurking in your TBR pile.

Indida, I thought your blog post was funny as hell, but I disagree with you. Yes, authors provide a service—but that doesn’t make them servile. Teachers and doctors also provide services, but shouldn't we respect the time, money, effort and education they’ve invested in their craft? I believe authors deserve the same respect. After all, they spend countless hours creating a novel, seeing it through publication, and enduring the reviews. That can’t be easy.

To authors: Please keep in mind that readers have a right to critically evaluate the texts that you provide—be they best-selling novels or blustering blog posts. Once it’s out in the world, it’s available for public consumption and critique. Specifically on blog posting: anything you say can and will be used against you in the court of the cash register! Your blog entries and comments become part of your public persona; which can help you (Angelina fights child poverty!) or hurt you (Author fights free speech!)

Don't get me wrong, though. I believe in your right to defend your work. There’s nothing I love more than an author’s
salty, intelligent response to her critics. Just keep in mind that messy, incoherent outbursts tend to alienate people. Just look at what happened to Tom Cruise post-Oprah: he went from “A-List Box Office Sure, Sexy Thing” to “That Crazy Dude Who Jumps on Couches and Can’t Carry a Summer Blockbuster.”

Everyone, let this be your couch-jumping cautionary tale: don’t succumb to the Tom Cruise Overshare.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Kate D's June TBR Challenge--met!

As per the monthly TBR challenge over at Brianna's Mommy...

Title: A Great and Terrible Beauty
Author: Libba Bray
Genre: YA Fantasy
Year published: 2003

Why did you get this book? I got this book for several reasons. First, I enjoy young adult literature. Second, the
Flitgirl spoke highly of the series last August, and I've been meaning to read it ever since.

Do you like the cover? Very much. If I'd seen it in the store, I would have been compelled to pick it up. A young woman's graceful back, bound in a lacy shift and her laced corset... what's not to love? Victorian underwear on display perfectly conveys the book's themes: freedom vs. constraint.

Did you enjoy the book? Yes! The only thing I don't enjoy is waiting to get my hands on the second book, and waiting for Libba Bray to actually publish the third. Because, really, who wouldn't want to read a series about teenage girls in Victorian England playing with potentially sinister magic? And then there's that dark, omnipresent edge of imperialism... did I mention that it all starts in India? Oh, and the mysterious Hindu hottie that I'm totally in love with, even though he's probably only supposed to be 18? I'm a dirty old woman... and there's so much here to keep me hooked...

Was the author new to you and would you read something by this author again? The author was new to me, and I am aching to finish the next book in the series (hurry up, other library patrons!)

Are you keeping it or passing it on? This is a library book, so I can't pass on the particularly copy I just read. However, it's now on my Amazon Wishlist. I'm hoping The Boyfriend gets it for my birthday, so that I can have my very own copy to reread (and loan to my friends!)

Anything else? I must endorse the writer's style once more: the content is JK Rowling meets Sharon Shinn and Robin McKinley, written in the lush prose of the Victorian era.

Monday, June 19, 2006

The Writing Life?

So here I am. Noon on a Monday, papers all around and no one but myself for company. I finally feel like a writer. Can I get myself together and act like one?

I quit my job. It's not entirely as scary as that sounds, as I'm going to graduate school in the fall. But for two and a half months I have no employment that I don't find for myself. Freelance articles, freelance press releases. And writing, writing, writing.

The first day's going well. I spent the morning contacting authors for a story I'm writing for the magazine I just left. But this whole "manage your own time" thing is a lot more terrifying than I thought it would be. All my writing assigments for this week have formed an unsettling miasma of anxiety. They swirl around, vague and indeterminate, until one pops out clear and focused to scare me a little more: Bridal Blog entry! Lost Writers assignment! HarperCollins press release! And bridesmaid dress shopping with my sister for two whole days.

How will I find the time to just sit in the park in the sunshine? How will I get to the yarn store for cones of cashmere? How will I work on Secrets & Spies (Wedding Widow's sequel) or Katie Malloy's Last Con? How will I get myself to the Library for all the research I need to do on Napoleonic spies and contemporary conmen?

One day at a time. One page at a time. Okay, back to work.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Mohamed rips off a tiny chunk of the mountain

Kate D and I are busy women. We have work and school and relationships. We have friends and family we need to call occasionally, and we have novels to write.

We also have mountains of unread books. So we've joined Brianna's To Be Read Pile Challenge, in which we must read one book from our stacks that was recommended to us by another reader. Kate is reading Libba Bray's A Great and Terrible Beauty — based on my recommendation on this very blog, I'm proud to note — and I'm reading Lani Diane Rich's Time Off For Good Behavior, based on the recommendation of pretty much the entire romance community.

We've got till the end of the month, so we'll check back soon with our reviews. In the meanwhile, why don't you dig into your stash, too? We've got some past reviews here to guide you (turn eyes to scrollbar at right).

Cutting Room Floor

What happens when you have to cut a beloved part of your first draft? Oh, I am in agonies! I wrote the following excerpt from Revising Mr. Right in response to a writing group exercise, and it doesn't fit with the rest of my novel at all. For one thing, it's written in first-person and the rest of the novel is third-person POV. For another, if I included this excerpt then I'd have to write about a whole camping trip... and that leaves them up in the woods too long. Not good. I want the ex-boyfriend to have quick and easy access to SeaTac Airport, so he can get the hell out of my narrative.

So. I know I need to cut it. And yet... it's so fun to write about men behaving badly. I feel weirdly attached to this scene. I enjoy it more than the alternative "pissing contest" I've set up over a game of pool. And I also feel bizarre and slightly naked posting it on this blog, but I wanted it to exist somewhere in the world, if only for a little while.

Soon I will feel self-conscious and paranoid and ashamed of taking up so much space on DSW. At that point, I'm sure, I'll remove it from the blogosphere. But in the mean time... here's an excerpt that won't make any sense to anyone but the Flitgirl. With that warning, please feel free to wade through my prose. And if you manage to get through to the end, riddle me this:

What's an author to do when an alien chunk of cut text feels more fun than the rest of her draft, but would spin the final third of her (much beleaguered) manuscript in a wholly new direction?

* * * * *
Revising Mr. Right
by Kate Diamond
Jessica Jo Carter, the heroine, tells her story (excerpt):

Bad things happen when I feel generous. Case in point: Walter sitting in the cab of Jude's truck, his knees not quite relaxed because he doesn't want his khakis making any more contact than necessary with the old, duct-taped bench seat.

I'm literally sitting between the two of them, wishing I could be anywhere but here--except not really, because then they'd be alone in the vehicle without my specialized supervision. Perish the thought.

I never should have said yes to this. It was supposed to be just like old times, a birthday camping trip--leave the presents in the trunk, hike in enough cupcakes and Ramen to last us the weekend. The only difference was that now we were actually old enough to bring beer. Oh, and Becca was on her cell phone every five minutes making sure her deadbeat husband hadn't managed to lose, mangle, or kill their kid in her absence.

And Walter. Walter was suddenly there, too, an outlier with his oatmeal colored Eddie Bauer sweater and barely concealed hostility. Why my ex thought it so important to join us--to the tune of $800 in new camping equipment--was beyond me. Personally, I could have done without the Cape Cod contingency.

He didn't really love me. I think we both knew that by now. When I'd told him to get over himself and go back to Boston, I think he was just annoyed to hear the word "no." I mean, let's face it: we were never the best match on earth. He spent countless hours drilling me in etiquette and railing against my aversion to pantyhose and high heels. And from my point of view, no true romantic should ever marry a guy who thinks faxing a prenup counts as proposing.

He knew all this. I'm sure he did. But Walter? Walter hated to lose. For that reason he refused to leave without a fight, and Jude seemed more than willing to give him one. This left me on horrified standby, wondering why men's logic seems to drop as their testosterone levels rise. Suddenly, my childhood best friend felt the need to pose and beat his chest over me--would probably drag me around by my hair if I let him. It was creepy. More than that, it was obnoxious. After all, thanks to Jude's lack of maturity my nostalgic birthday trip was about to turn into some sort of nature boy pissing contest.

If he'd listened to me, we'd all be spared some heartache. I'd told him he'd win any kind of contest against Walter, hands down. I'd said that he was my choice, that I was staying the Northwest for good this time, and that I wanted to make things work between the two of us. But apparently Jude didn't believe me. Either that, or he felt the need to test my love by goading my ex in the great outdoors.

I'd tried to change his mind that night at the bar, when he first issued the invitation--or was it challenge? I'd made another effort when we were packing up the food supplies and adding extra rations for Walter. This morning was my last attempt. By mile twenty, I'd realized that Jude refused to hear anything I'd try to say to him. He was too busy being macho, singing along with Johnny Cash to the "Cocaine Blues."

"Don't you have anything else we could listen to?" Walter practically hissed.

"Sorry, Walt," Jude laughed, not sounding sorry at all. If we hadn't caught the insincerity in his voice, the fact that he then turned up the volume was a big tip-off. And I couldn't believe he had the audacity to glare at me, as if this was somehow my fault.

I crossed my arms over my chest and hoped he could read my mind: no sleeping bag nookie for you, Neanderthal Boy. Finished glaring at my annoying beloved, I stared out the windshield at the car up ahead of us.

Hmm. All things considered, maybe I should have ridden with Becca after all.

* * * * *

All rights reserved. No part of this Revising Mr. Right excerpt may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without the author's written permission except in the case of brief, credited quotations embodied in critical comments.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Oh. My. Gawd

I'm done.



No more plot holes. No more rewrites. No more fixing.

I'm e-mailing it to my first writer acquaintence tonight. Sending it in the mail to others (and to the long-suffering Kate D.) as soon as I can get my ass to Kinkos.

Holy crap, I'm actually doing this. I know I'm not sending it to agents and editors yet, but I'm still nervous at the thought of someone who doesn't know and love me, someone in the biz with an objective eye, reading over this thing I've created. My people, my world, all 418 pages worth of it.

Okay, Wedding Widow, it's in your hands now. I've got to get started researching con men. The next book's not going to write itself.