Romance, YA, Fiction and Fantasy Novel Reviews, Nonsensical Rants, and My Own Writing Adventures
Friday, August 28, 2009
"Slightly Tempted," by Mary Balogh
The Chick: Lady Morgan Bedwyn. The youngest of the Bedwyns, barely out of the schoolroom, she won't have anyone call her "naive" or "innocent." When her brother Alleyne's declared MIA at the Battle of Waterloo, she turns to a surprising source for comfort - the rakish Earl of Rosthorn.
The Rub: Her trust is shattered when she discovers the Earl of Rosthorn holds a bitter grudge against her brother Wulfric, and that his introduction to her had been motivated by vengeance. Does this mean their every tender moment since then was a lie?
Dream Casting: Michelle Trachtenberg.
The Dude: Gervase Ashford, Earl of Rosthorn. He spent nine years in exile for a crime he didn't commit, thanks in part to the Duke of Bewcastle's refusal to believe his side of the story. While in Brussels, when he spots Lady Morgan Bedwyn in a ballroom - he discovers a way to get revenge.
The Rub: Only trouble is, he doesn't spend that much time in her company before he falls head over heels. Will she still love him when the truth of their initial meeting comes out?
Dream Casting: Elliot Cowan.
Gervase: I don't believe we've met. *in head* REVENGE! MUAHAHAHAHAHA!
Morgan: Whatevs. *in head* Loser.
Battle of Waterloo: *WAR! DEATH! INJURY!*
Alleyne, Morgan's Brother: *vanishes*
Gervase: I'm so sorry, let me help you. *in head* Muaha...ha ha...who am I kidding? She's amazing.
Morgan: You're such a dear, dear friend! *in head* A dear, dear, HAWT friend...
Morgan and Gervase: *sexx0r*
Wulfric: Sis, Gervase is only trying to get at me through you.
Morgan: Bro, you're hot, but not that hot - besides, don't you have a sequel coming up...
Wulfric: I mean Gervase is a rapist and a thief and I kicked his ass.
Morgan: GERVASE YOU SHITHEAD WE ARE DONE! AND BY DONE I MEAN BETROTHED.
Morgan: YOU ARE GOING TO SHOWER ME WITH PRESENTS AND ATTENTION, AND THEN I'M GOING TO LEAVE AND HUMILIATE YOU, AND I'M TELLING YOU EVERYTHING I'M GOING TO DO BEFOREHAND, NOT SO THAT YOU CAN STOP ME WITH TENDER, PASSIONATE ROMANTIC GESTURES - BUT BECAUSE IT MAKES ME LOOK MORE BADASS.
Gervase: *tender, passionate romantic gestures*
Morgan: For the love of--FINE, I'll marry you for reals.
Romance Convention Checklist
1 Wrongfully-Accused Man
9 Years of Exile
1 Inconvenient War
1 Inconveniently Dead Brother (or IS he?)
1 Age Gap (18-30, baby)
1 "Just Friends" Agreement Doomed to Failure
1 Lacklustre Romantic Rival
2 Surprise Lesbians
1 Fake Rape
1 Bitter Feud
The Word: I love Mary Balogh. Love love love. By the end of her books, I always feel completely swept away into the worlds she creates and the characters she's written. Mary Balogh: Warm Fuzzies Guaranteed.
That being said, of all the Balogh novels, Slightly Tempted had a pretty rocky start, with a heroine I found kind of annoying. However, by the end of the novel Balogh once again convinced me of the Warm Fuzzies - and at the same time of the consistency and depth (however annoying) of her female protagonist.
But I digress - the plot: Lady Morgan Bedwyn is partying hardy in Brussels. She's already bored with the Season even though she's been "out" for all of five minutes, but the excitement of being on the Continent at the same time Napoleon escapes from Elba gives her a measure of excitement. She wants to be a part of history, and engage in scintillating political dialogue, even as the atmosphere of impending doom and violence threatens to rain on her parade.
While she's dancing with a hot soldier, she's spotted by Gervase Ashford, Earl of Rosthorn. He's been partying hardy on the Continent for the last nine years, ever since his dad kicked him out of England for a crime he didn't commit. Wulfric, Duke of Asshat, whom Gervase had once called friend, eased him across the Channel with a firm boot to the ass, and Gervase has felt a consuming rage for the man ever since. Gervase sees Wulfric's fresh-faced 18-year-old sister and sees a way to exact revenge.
He succeeds in starting a public flirtation with her, hoping the gossips fleeing Brussels will carry the story back to Duke Asshat that his virginal lamb of a sister is hooking up with the Big Bad Wolf. However, the saucy Morgan holds her own against his insinuating charms, and his plans go further awry when French troops start marching on Brussels. While all this promises to lead up to some delightful drama, I found the writing in this first section of the book to do a lot of telling instead of showing - as I result, I was pretty bored for the first 60 pages. Could it be (gasp!) I might not like a Mary Balogh novel?
Morgan, thanks to a budding martyr complex and a rather contrived Burninating Righteousness for wounded soldiers, forces her fleeing chaperons to abandon her when she decides to stay in the city to tend the wounded and wait for her brother, Alleyne (a diplomat and messenger) to return from the front. This part of the book was initially hard to swallow - Morgan puts herself in danger, worries her family, and thinks very badly of her chaperons (who have wounded relatives of their own to get to safety), all the while shining with saintly courage and stamping her foot at Those Horrid Social Conventions. In hindsight, however, this passage really underlines just how young Morgan really is - she is full of saintly ideals and black-and-white righteousness at the start, and only through the rest of the book does she mature.
However, her stamping attracts Gervase's admiration, proving to him that she's not simply the Duke of Asshat's empty-headed social belle sister, but a woman in her own right. He stands by her side and offers comfort throughout this trying time, and when Alleyne is declared Missing in Action, he escorts the traumatized and grieving Morgan back to England.
However - the conflict takes a darker and much more delicious turn once Morgan and Gervase return to the motherland. Unfortunately for Gervase, his stalwort defence of Morgan in Brussels has unwittingly turned the harmless gossip surrounding them into full-blown scandal. While at one time Gervase might have delighted in bringing shame to the Bedwyn name, now that he's fallen in love with Morgan it becomes an impediment. Especially once Wulfric reveals to Morgan the nature of Gervase's bitter grudge against him.
While Morgan annoyed me at the start, both with her immaturity and the age gap between her and Gervase (she's 18, he's 30), her naivete and youth serve to buttress the novel's main theme: that of forgiveness, revenge, and trust. Revenge and forgiveness are obviously themes for Gervase's character: after spending nine years separated from his home and family, his schemes for the Bedwyns eventually prove an obstacle to obtaining a happy ending. Once he returns to England to resume his duties as Earl, he also has to confront the people who initially betrayed him - people who aren't dastardly moustache-twirling villains, but rather weak and cowardly people who made a foolish decision.
However, trust and forgiveness enter into Morgan's development, too. Morgan is the youngest Bedwyn, the baby, but she always craved to be taken seriously. I'm smart and capable and powerful! Age ain't nothing but a number! Why can't anyone else see that? Once she learns about Gervase and Wulfric's feud, her self-assuredness crumbles, and she has to confront the weaknesses of her youth and inexperience. For the rest of the novel, she has to learn to trust herself as well as Gervase again. Her attempts towards maturity redeem her character and develop the romance, so that by the end of it, the twelve-year age gap between Gervase and Morgan isn't so squicky as it seemed before.
Mary Balogh has a great talent for taking stock romance plots and character types and crafting them into something unique. Slightly Married had a Marriage of Convenience that actually made sense, Slightly Wicked had the Gorgeous Character Who Thinks She's Ugly who had realistic motivations other than Plot Contrivance for her distorted self-image, Slightly Scandalous had the Fake Betrothal Plotline that brought two great characters together, and now Slightly Tempted comes in with the Naive, Spunky Adolescent Heroine and actually makes her grow up! Better yet - we apparently get an Amnesia Plotline with the next book (Slightly Sinful). Can't wait to see what Balogh does with that one.
Forgive me for doubting your brilliance, Mary Balogh. I must seem horribly predictable, but Slightly Tempted is yet another lovely addition to the Slightly series, despite its slow start - with superb gradual character development, weighty themes, a heady sense of Regency atmosphere I could drown in, and most important of all: plenty of the Warm Fuzzies. That being said, after struggling over whether to give this book an A- or a B+, I settled on the latter: even though the book ended very satisfactorily, the first pages were a slog.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
The Lemonade Award is a feel good award which shows great attitude or gratitude.
Here are the rules:
* Put the Lemonade Award logo on your blog or post.
* Nominate at least 10 blogs that show great attitude or gratitude.
* Link your nominees within your post.
* Let the nominees know they have received this award by commenting on their blog.
* Share the love and link to the person from whom you received the award.
Ten blogs, huh? Here we go (in no particular order):
1. Lusty Reader
2. Rip My Bodice - just discovered thanks to checking out the Book Blogger Appreciation Week 2008 awards winners page.
3. Janicu's Book Blog
4. The Booksmugglers - always the Booksmugglers. ^_^
5. Lurv a la Mode. Her blog design is gorgeous.
6. Racy Romance Reviews. Holy well-written academic reviews, Batman! I'm so intimidated!
7. The Thrillionth Page - also discovered thanks to BBAW.
8. The Misadventures of Super-Librarian - thanks for the Big Western Drive!
9. Romance Book Wyrm
10. The Julie James Blog. Pretty self-explanatory.
I will be contacting you all very soon, but I have to run - it's my parents' 25th wedding anniversary today!
"The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker," by Leanna Renee Hieber
The Chick: Persephone "Percy" Parker. A young woman born with white hair, skin, and eyes, she grew up in a convent. Already considered strange by anyone who looks at her, she hides the fact that she has prophetic visions and sees ghosts.
The Rub: All she wants to do is learn. Why does her professor Rychman have to be so sexy? Fraternization is not allowed! Also ... someone might be trying to kill her.
Dream Casting: Romola Garai, slightly younger and paler.
The Dude: Alexi Rychman. At age fourteen, he and five others were chosen by a mysterious goddess to be Guards, and protect the human world against incursions from the spirit world. However, the goddess prophesied that a seventh member would come among them when the time was right.
The Rub: Unlike the others, he believes that he and the seventh member are destined to be lovers. Hence, he's kept himself cold and aloof and free of personal attachments until his goddess returns. So, why does he find the strange pale girl who daydreams in his class so freakin' hawt?
Dream Casting: Richard Armitage.
Goddess: Hey, kids, let's possess you with spirits and give you magic powers! Wait for the seventh member, okay?
Alexi and other Guard Members: Hooray!
Twenty Years Later...
Alexi: If only we could find the seventh member!
Percy Parker: Oh, woe is me, everyone thinks I'm so ugly and freakish because I'm white as snow and I see visions, can talk to ghosts and freak out over mystical paintings.
Alexi: You have visions and can talk to ghosts and freak out over mystical paintings?
Alexi: Huh. What an odd coincidence. Can't be the prophesy, though! Nope! Just another case of an albino with psychic powers! A dime a dozen in London!
Assembled Ghosts: What a moron.
Percy: Oh woe is me, I'm secretly in love with my sexy, sexy math professor but surely he must think I am repulsive so I'm just going to sit here and cry until my problems go away!
Alexi: I find her drippy hopelessness oddly attractive! Crap, she is the seventh member!
The other members of the Guard: No she isn't.
Alexi: Yes she is!
The Guard: No she isn't - it's Miss Linden.
Miss Linden: Actually, I'm here to kill all of you!
The Guard: Whoops, our bad.
Percy Parker: *goddess powers* YOU. ARE. ALL. IDIOTS. *vanquishes evil*
The Other Members of the Guard: Well, now, no hard feelings right?
Percy and Alexi: *accusing glare*
The Other Members of the Guard: We were just leaving.
Percy and Alexi: Hooray!
Romance Convention Checklist
1 Heroine Chosen By But Completely Ignorant Of Destiny
1 Sexy Math Professor
4 Gullible, Easily Led Friends
1 Really Gullible, Easily Led and Spiteful Friend
Several Love Triangles
1 Inconvenient Prophesy
Several "Private Tutorials" (for tutoring, you pervs!)
1 Ocean of Tears
Several Friendly Ghosts
3 Figures from Greek Mythology
The Word: It's Victorian London, and six teenagers are woken from their beds and led to a mysterious chapel where they are possessed by six powerful spirits. A goddess appears to them and tells them they'll retain both their humanity and free will, but are "augmented" by the spirits to help perform the duties they were destined for: to become The Guard, protecting humanity from the less friendly denizens of the underworld. However, the goddess warns that a war is brewing on the horizon, and when the time is right, a seventh member will come to them. She vanishes after giving them a handful of clues.
Twenty years pass, and the Guard have evolved to become the Victorian equivalent of Ghostbusters: Alexi, the leader who is possessed by the power of the phoenix (the former lover of the goddess) can call fire with his hands; Rebecca, who possesses supernatural intuition and can track ghosts; Jane, a magical healer; Michael, a vicar who can manipulate emotions; Elijah, an aristocratic fop who can erase people's memories; and Josephine, a Frenchwoman who can control and calm people with her paintings. Together, they track down violent ghosts and subdue them.
Over two decades, they've developed into a close-knit group, although not without their share of love triangles. The only one who remains above all attachment is Alexi. Unbeknownst to the others, he fell in love with the goddess from twenty years ago, and harbours the personal conviction that he is destined to love the seventh member of their Guard as well.
Meanwhile, at Athens Academy, Rebecca (who's coincidentally the headmistress), admits a new student, Miss Percy Parker. Sent over from the convent where she was raised (after Mummie Plot Device dumped her there and promptly died), she wears a protective scarf, gloves, and blue-tinted glasses to hide the fact that she possesses no colour of her own: every part of her body (including her eyes,) is stark white. Although she's older than most of the students at eighteen, she yearns for an education and has no prospects of her own.
Percy hides more than her deformity: she can also see ghosts and visions. However, since she already looks like a living snow-sculpture she figures, why raise my Freak Meter even higher? and keeps her abilities to herself. While she excells in most of her classes (particularily languages), her greatest challenge comes from math class, party because a) she's immediately, uncontrollably attracted to her professor (Alexi) and b) because she actually sucks at math.
Percy actually sucks so hard at math that Alexi suggests they have private tutorials to raise her grades. In the privacy of his office, he grows impatient with Percy's fumblings and shyness and "woe is me" act and demands she remove her guards (scarf, gloves, glasses) and shut up already about how monstrous she thinks she is. Yay Alexi! As they spend more and more time together (math reeaaaaaally isn't Percy's strongest subject), Percy gains some confidence and a mutual attraction blossoms between both of them.
However, Alexi tries to fight it. A mysterious, demonic creature is mutilating women, and while the general public blames it on Jack the Ripper, the Guard realize it's a spirit-beast, and probably a sign that the Big Bad War is on the horizon and they'd better hurry up and find their seventh teammate before it's too late. Alexi believes his heart is reserved for Ghostbuster #7, so he's afraid of his burgeoning feelings for Percy and wants to wait to see if she adheres to the Prophesy's portents.
The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker is a fascinating read, both as a fantasy and as a romance - something that's incredibly difficult to accomplish, at least according to the paranormals I've read. I adored the fantasy aspect - while the set-up is a little rushed at the beginning, nothing was infodumped and I never felt I was being hit over the head with extraneous information. The Guard's individual powers were original and it was marvellously entertaining to read them in action (particularly Michael - whose main ability is to cheer people up during a battle. Seriously. And he's awesome at it).
As a romance, the set-up was equally intriguing. In hindsight, I realize this was a Soul Mate romance, but the conflict was so interesting and realistic that I didn't mind. Alexi believes that Ghostbuster #7 is the one for him - and while he turns out to be right, it doesn't mean he immediately recognizes Percy for who she is at the outset. He has definite expectations for who he believes his Goddess will be, so he's flabbergasted and not a little concerned when he starts falling for a woman who doesn't meet all his criteria. He holds his feelings in check and tries to wait until something Percy says or does matches up with the Prophesy, but eventually he has to go on faith.
I found that faith is the founding element in the thematic narrative of Miss Percy Parker. The Prophesy serves as a powerful metaphor for religion. At the beginning of the novel, the Guard are left with a goddess' message that seems to give clear-cut instructions regarding their destiny while still remaining ambiguous and vague in certain areas. Alexi initially believes he has to take the Prophesy word-for-word to truly figure it out, and is leery as to how far he's allowed to subject the Prophesy to personal interpretation. Eventually, the rest of the Guard fall for a false Ghostbuster #7 because they are too eager to take the Prophesy at face value instead of truly examining it, and themselves, to discern what it means. Both Alexi and the rest of the Guard have to learn just how important personal faith is to the Prophesy's true meaning.
As much as I enjoyed the thematic, romantic, and fantastic elements of this novel, there were a few flaws - mostly with the main character. She's actually the reason this novel doesn't get an A grade. For a titular character, Percy Parker sure is passive. Timid and mouselike, eternally apologizing and squeaking in terror, she spends the greater part of this book wringing her hands and crying, or else moping about how unattractive she is. I understand that she's had a rough life with her strange appearance and her visions. I appreciate that Alexi very quickly identifies Percy's problems and tells her to cut the self-pitying bullshit. I recognize that, thanks to Alexi, Percy develops a spine and that her burgeoning confidence is part of the romantic development.
However, it all happens too slowly for someone who is supposed to be the novel's protagonist, i.e. the One Who Makes The Plot Happen. She's the freakin' Chosen One, so there has to be a reason she was chosen in the first place. The Guard is supposed to be this bad-ass ghost-bustin' outfit, but it's never clear what Percy will bring to the table as Ghostbuster #7. Let me be clear - she does develop a spine. Eventually. There are some very nice scenes where Percy gives Alexi a set-down (in Arabic!) and when she meets her supposed "rival" Miss Linden and is all "bitch, please". However, she never develops enough to do anything on her own. She never acts, she only reacts. The novel tells us over and over how special Percy is and how integral she is to the world's very survival but I felt the novel never shows us what makes Percy so special.
I think the kicker comes after Alexi succumbs to the Guard's insistance that Miss Linden is Ghostbuster #7 and he dumps Percy, for fear that he'll betray the Prophesy. Heartbroken by Alexi's betrayal, when she spots Miss Linden and discovers that Miss Linden is not only a skanky ho, but an evil skanky ho, instead of actually warning Alexi and the Guard and fighting for the man she loves (like she said she would in one of her infrequent moments of awesomeness), she (ironically) pulls a trademark 19th-century-literary-heroine move. She becomes so overcome with melodramatic despair she renders herself physically ill, leaving her weeping in a self-imposed fever/coma until a glowing Plot Device drags her to the climax to finally participate in the story.
Along the way there were other problems and inconsistencies. For instance, Alexi is strangely nonchalant when he discovers Percy can not only see ghosts, but talk to them - something no one else is able to do. I expected him to be a little interested in that. Instead, he gives the same "Oh? That's nice" reaction my grandparents gave when I told them I wanted to write romance novels. As well, the character of Rebecca stood out like a sore thumb - even though she's supposed to have magical powers of intuition, she's the first to fall for skanky ho Miss Linden. The novel hints that her unrequited love and jealousy regarding Alexi motivated her choice - but really. Miss Linden turns out to be All Kinds of Evil and More - are we really supposed to believe that none of Rebecca's Magically-Installed Red Flags went up?
Uh, aside from that, however, the novel was excellent. The characterization of the Guard members was subtly yet powerfully done - even in a simple group of six there are undercurrents of passion, betrayal, and unrequited love. The mythical set-up of the plot came as an excellent surprise that actually made sense, and while the plotline and the romance are satisfactorily resolved by book's end, Leanna Renee Hieber still left plenty of material for future books. Yes, Miss Percy Parker is a bit of a Debbie Downer, but I still recommend this book for its lovely blend of original fantasy and sweet romance (which Percy actually does participate in, thank you very much), and I also recommend the series itself, since it's shaping up to be pretty awesomely epic.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Wish me luck!
You like me! You really like me!
-Best General Review Blog
"This blog doesn’t specialize in any one book genre, but it’s still excellent. Their book reviews usually cause you to add one more book to the TBR pile." Before I started writing reviews, my posts on my blog were personal and sporadic. Reviewing books, however, has changed the way I write and changed the way I read, as well!
-Best Romance Blog
"This blog is hot! And it reviews romance books in a way that keeps you coming back for more." Aaaaaaw yeah!
-Most Humorous/Funniest Blog
"This blog cracks you up. You make sure you’re never drinking anything while reading this blog for fear you may snort it out of your nose. You’ve been known to forward the posts from this blogger to friends, saying, “This is so funny! You have to read this!” Sometimes it can be incredibly difficult to come up with funny things to say about romance novels, but the difficulty also helps me to assess and analyse what I read more than I used to. And hell, I love being funny. Or being thought of as funny, I should say.
"It’s not just what they say, it’s how they say it. This blog is almost as enjoyable to read as the books (and anything else) it talks about." Okay, okay, I'm enormously honoured to have received ALL my nominations, but it's this one that gets me all warm and fuzzy. Best writing? Really? Me? Someone actually nominated me for that? I mean, wow. Considering my nomination I should be coming up with something more articulate to say... but people like my writing! Yippee!
This Just In (edited August 20th): Best Reviews. "Book reviews are the heart and soul of book blogging, and this blog is the cream of the crop - consistently well-written, entertaining and informative reviews are a staple on this blog." HELL YEAH! I love writing reviews, love it, so it's AWESOME to be honoured for it. Even reading a bad novel, I know I can look forward to the unique pleasure of writing a scathing bad review, and with a good novel, I can promote it to my readers and spread the love.
THANK YOU FOR NOMINATING ME, YOU GUYS!
Congratulations to all the other nominees, and don't forget to participate in Book Blogger Appreciation Week from September 14th-18th!
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
An Interview with Leanna Renee Hieber
My mindset changed a lot after attending the Romance Writers of America National Conference. There, I met all these authors and found they were awesome people, but people, and they liked being asked questions, even questions about parts you didn't like about their books!
And one of the most interesting people I met at RWA Nationals was Leanna Renee Hieber, shown here in a picture I took of the panel she and the other Prism Award-winners had at the end of the Fantasy, Futuristic & Paranormal RWA chapter's annual party (the Gathering). She kind of stole the whole show, really (sorry, Catherine Asaro!). A playright, actress, and writer, she won the Prism for her novella, "Dark Nest," and was delighted to have her first novel published after nine years of struggle.
Did I mention she also loves Nathan Fillion and Joss Whedon?
Anyway, we had a fantastic conversation during the Gathering and she offered to send me a copy of her debut novel, The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker (which I will be reading and reviewing next). She also very kindly consented to be the subject of the very first interview on Gossamer Obsessions (conducted via e-mail). My questions are in blue.
You studied Theatre, the Victorian Era, and even spent some time studying in London. It's no surprise that this would inspire you to write an historical romance, but what inspired the ghostly, fantasy aspect?
In some of my first memories I’m telling Ghost stories. I simply adore ghost stories, hearing them and making them up. My first and most memorable literary obsessions were Fantasy novels (Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia – Harry Potter would come later, of course) Tolkien and Lewis were then followed by an intense obsession with 19th Century Gothic literature. Right around the time I first birthed the idea of Percy Parker, I was diving into and loving the fantastical qualities of the graphic novels of Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore.
A follow-up, in what ways have you discovered the Victorian Era to be ripe for fantasy and paranormal stories? Most fantasies out there are either contemporary (paranormal, urban fantasy) or medieval (epic or high fantasy) with little in between.
Because the literature of that time was ripe with it, and no other era resonates for me like the Victorian era. It’s so perfect for paranormal because of the grit and the grandeur, the struggle and the Empire, the repressed and the passionate, it was a very bipolar, Jekyll and Hyde time. I wanted to draw a dark Victorian cloak around me and live in all of it, relish and reel in all the triumphs and difficulties as the Industrial Revolution took hold and the very heavens were questioned. It’s so ripe with possibility, fear, elegance and drama. Think of all the paranormal tales that were published in and just around the day: Dracula, Jekyll and Hyde, The Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Castle of Otranto (considered by many to be the seminal Gothic Novel), the ghosts of Dickens, Wuthering Heights, Alice in Wonderland, all of Edgar Allan Poe. To name just a few. These all are favourite books and favourite authors of mine. I’d never liken myself to that great literature but it’s been my love affair for a very long time. I liken my attachment to the period to a past life. I can’t really explain my soul-connection to it otherwise, which in and of itself, is an otherworldly sensibility.
What sort of research did you have to do while writing "Percy Parker"? Any particular difficulties in finding certain facts?
I’d been to London to soak up atmosphere. Atmosphere is big for me and big in my writing. I had to make decisions on general locales, and that I did with instinct and a few maps. I had to double check the years of inventions and most specifically, details on the Ripper murders. I sat with the language as I read my favourite 19th century authors. Richard Jones’ Haunted London was an invaluable resource for inspiring all my ghost stories, and grounding them specifically to real, documented London Haunts. They’re all actual London characters. (For more on this please join my Strangely Beautiful Haunted London Blog tour where you can learn all about them, details at www.leannareneehieber.com)
The beauty of writing Historical Fantasy / Historical Paranormal is that the history is there to help you build a rich, complex, detailed world in which you and your readers can completely escape. It’s there to give your characters setting and drama. Considering it was a hard time to be a woman, and an unusual woman like Miss Percy at that, there’s automatic conflict and tension. But within a paranormal / fantasy world, if you hit a wall, there are any number of paranormal conventions to save you!
What helped you to push on and continue to submit "Percy Parker" after nine years of grueling revisions and rejections, instead of starting to write something else?
I was just stubborn. I knew Percy was “the one”. She was the first thing that got me wanting to be a career novelist. When she entered my mind I knew my life had forever changed and when I tried other projects, I didn’t have the stamina. (It’s why Dark Nest, while I love it, is a novella *s*). Percy is like her own battery to my artistic motor. Plus my critique partner and beloved friend, Isabo Kelly (who won the Prism Award alongside me in DC for her category) maintained faith even when mine faltered. Thankfully the rejection letters still seemed to think the story had promise. And that’s what I lived on. Promise.
A follow up, how did the story of "Percy Parker" evolve in the nine years between when you first wrote it and when it was published?
Oooh, baby. Well, thankfully I had some awesome agents and editors who took the time in my rejection letters to say that while my story had promise, I needed to smooth out the narrative (it’s hard keeping track of nearly 10 characters who you feature often). And I listened. The book through the years has become shorter, tighter, swifter, with much more of the plot, such as Prophecy, planted at the beginning. My fabulous editor, Chris Keeslar, who I really respect and enjoy working with, wanted to know exactly what my characters did, particularly the duties of The Guard, earlier on in the story so that when we get to a scene where everyone is relaxed and cracking jokes, we care about them more. We’ve seen them in action, so we can now see them at rest and relax with them. It was a smart choice.
You can’t be so fixated on your baby (and believe me, this is my baby) that you can’t allow for the objective, director’s eye, to know what he or she is talking about. That’s the really fun thing for me about working with an editor, it’s like I’m in a play and my characters are in it with me and we’re listening to our director and seeing how we can adjust ourselves to make it work. It’s an engaging dynamic for me.
What was it like "after the call" from Dorchester? What elements of the publishing process surprised you?
Um, the call was indeed a phone call and it was the most awesome moment ever. And then it was a lot of work. I think what surprises me most about this industry is that it just never ends. There’s always a deadline, there’s always something to promote. If you sit back and coast you set yourself and your career back. Houses will do what they can to help you, but you’ve got to be your own PR department as well as an author who turns their stuff in on time. I’m still trying to figure out how to juggle it all, it’s really hard. You also just can’t be afraid to ask questions, because so much of the publishing process is a mystery and even with really supportive houses, they don’t have time to hold your hand through everything.
How do you feel that romance readers and the blogosphere are contributing to the promotion of books such as yours? Some have scoffed that "anyone can publish on the Internet" and that blogs don't have the same effect a professional marketing campaign does. What do you think?
I have already seen that this book has some ‘buzz’ around it. And that’s due to people like you. Word of mouth is so important, and word of mouth begins by discussing things. The blog world gets that discussion started. If this book does indeed do well I will owe it to Bloggers and I’m not one to either forget that or be ungrateful for it. Book bloggers are some of the most talented, dedicated, engaging, entertaining and informative people I have met in this business. The entire industry is changing, and anyone who doesn’t utilize the resource bloggers can provide is missing the boat. I don’t have the funds for huge campaigns. I’m doing small print ads here or there or getting a publicity program when I can, but the blogosphere is such a wonderful, interconnected and ever-expanding resource and I am very grateful for it. It’s such a vital part of the equation.
Your website says that "Percy Parker" is to be the first in a series. What are your plans for future books? Will they involve the same characters, or new stories with new characters in the same setting or vein?
Indeed! You’ll continue to see the regular faces, a few new ones coming along the way. Book II will take up exactly where Book I leaves off, continuing with Percy and Alexi in the main focus with ongoing attention given to the rest of The Guard and their story. Percy and Alexi need more time to be in the spotlight, I always knew that. They have a lot to do. *grin* The danger is bigger, the sensuality is bigger and the glimpses into the rest of The Guard are too. Book III is a Prequel where the previous Guard has to set Prophecy in place for Alexi and his Guard, and Book IV continues on a Rychman familial legacy. The stories dovetail on each other in ways I’m still discovering.
There’s possibly a 5th book but that’s dependent on how the quartet unfolds, so it’s too premature to say.
What are you working on now?
Prepping a lot for the big day, release day and getting all my ducks in a row for my Strangely Beautiful Haunted London Blog Tour. My work in progress is Strangely Beautiful III, the prequel. My agent and I are trying to sell my Historical Fantasy / Historical Paranormal YA proposal set in 19th Century New York City. So I’m keeping busy.
Thanks for stopping by! Remember folks, The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker is out August 25th!
Saturday, August 15, 2009
"Practice Makes Perfect," by Julie James
The Chick: Payton Kendall. A super-smart lawyer boasting a radical-feminist upbringing, She always feels she has to work twice as hard to impress because she's a woman, and she hates her coworker JD Jameson, whom she feels has all the easy advantages of being male, rich, and blue-blooded.
The Rub: When her firm tells her they'll only be making one of their star lawyers partner (the other star lawyer being JD), she knows all bets are off. Too bad she only belatedly discovers that, with JD, the line between hateful and hawt is surprisingly thin.
Dream Casting: Fringe's Anna Torv.
The Dude: JD Jameson. For eight years, he's continued a secret feud with Payton Kendall, a woman who insists on thinking the worst of him. Thanks to the firm's public devotion to "encouraging diversity" and political correctness, JD believes Payton gets special treatment because she's a female lawyer and thinks that's grossly unfair.
The Rub: When he learns he'll have to armwrestle with Payton over the one partner position, he wants to grind her into dust, but is hampered by his reluctant respect for her abilities ... and his secret attraction to her.
Dream Casting: Ryan Reynolds.
Payton: You're rich and a man, and therefore automatically evil! I hate you! ... you're still hawt, though. And a good lawyer.
JD: You're a shrew and a feminazi! I hate you! ... you're an awesome litigator, though. With a delicious ass.
The Firm: Too bad only one of you will be made partner!
Payton and JD: Oh, HELL NAW.
Payton: It's so unfair! JD has money and a penis - a golden ticket to success!
JD: You're so sexy when you're delusional and self-righteous!
Payton: What was that?
JD: .........nothing. Argh! I want to win but I just can't be mean enough!
Payton: Wow, you're hot when you're stymied!
JD: What was that?
Payton: .... nothing.
JD: The hell it is.
JD and Payton: *sexxor*
The Firm: Wanna know who we made partner?
JD and Payton: Not really! We quit! And we're stealing your biggest client! Nyaa nyaa nya nyaaa nya!
The Firm: Curses! Foiled by their collective hawtness!
Payton and JD: Hooray!
Romance Convention Checklist
1 Self-Righteous Feminist Lawyer
1 Self-Made Man with Rejected Blueblood Ties
2 Pairs of Thong Underwear
1 Broken Heel
1 Accidental Mooning
1 Romantically Lacklustre Rival
1 Republican BFF
1 Use of Jane Austen For Seduction Purposes
1 Big Misunderstanding
The Word: I first caught on to Julie James when I received a free copy of her debut novel, Just the Sexiest Man Alive, and I loved it. Her realistic, successful characters who cared about their jobs - and were allowed to care about their jobs while at the same time pursuing a romantic relationship - were a pleasure to read. Naturally, I was totally stoked to read her second novel, Practice Makes Perfect, but I held off so that I could buy the novel from Julie James in person at the RWA National Conference's Literacy Signing.
Our protagonists, Payton Kendall and JD Jameson, are both workaholic rising-star lawyers at their Chicago firm. For the eight years they've been working in the same building, they've hated each other - and both for similar reasons. Payton thinks JD has an unfair advantage because being male, white, and rich already gives him an all-access pass to the Good Ol' Boys club. JD thinks Payton has an unfair advantage because promoting and encouraging a successful female lawyer gives the firm a politically correct edge and allows them to hawk their "diversity" to the public.
Of course, because they are mature adults who grudgingly respect each other's legal prowess, they've managed to keep their ongoing feud private. They both look forward to the time when they make partner and can deal with each other less (as well as take the occasional vacation), but they get thrown for a loop when the leaders at their firm tell them that this year, there's only one open partner position available.
How this changes the story is that it makes their private, nasty battle an open, nastier battle as each has only a few weeks to prove they are the better lawyer. Thanks to the firm's unspoken "up or out" policy, the lawyer who doesn't make partner is expected to find work elsewhere. This increased pressure on their work relationship produces three interesting effects: first, both Payton and JD come to realize how childish their antagonism really is; second, both hero and heroine learn the true depths of the other's awesomeness under pressure; and third, they discover the source of much of their emnity lies in an unspoken attraction both are afraid of acknowledging.
The development of their relationship is a bit like the Cold War - both are afraid to be the first to drop their guard and be vulnerable because there's always a chance the other will exploit that weakness to their career advantage. There's also eight years' worth of grudges, mistaken assumptions, and insults to overcome - as well as the looming fact that, regardless of how their romance turns out, one of them will have to leave the firm while the other becomes partner. Because of this, the romance proceeds very slowly - our protagonists spend much of the first half of this novel simply learning how to be civil to each other, then friendly, and finally romantic. I have to admit I was a bit nonplussed by the slowness of the romance, even though it was realistic.
However, once they do get the romance underway, our protagonists move fast, and that made sense, too. Even for all their dislike, both are aware of the others' strengths. Payton always knew that JD was dedicated, determined, charming, and efficient. JD always realized Payton was persuasive, passionate, and quick-thinking. Once romance blossoms, it's easy for both characters to go from resenting their opponent's strengths to truly appreciating them.
As for the characters, I really liked JD. While more sophisticated than Just the Sexiest Man Alive's Jason, he still has a lot of man-boy flaws. While born to old money, he rejected his roots to pay his own way so that he could live guilt-free on the wealth he earned himself. I felt his concerns about Payton's advantage were legitimate, if not politically correct, and liked that his response was to work harder rather than stand around whining. He's also the more romantic of the protagonists - the first to realize that the burning sensation in his chest might not be rage, he lobs the first pitch to see if Payton returns the attraction. And as we learn by reading further into the novel, JD has liked Payton from the start but has had to hide it thanks to Payton's insults.
Payton, I have to admit, was a lot harder to like, mainly because she's a bigot. Yes, I'm serious. A lot of her resentment for JD springs from assumptions she's made about him that are blatantly untrue, based on the flimiest of evidence, and should have been destroyed the moment she had a pointed conversation with him. Eight years ago, Payton heard: "JD comes from old money" and became immediately convinced that:
1) JD is a spoiled brat who shits in a gold toilet next to the President and the Queen, and rides polo ponies to his country club on the weekends,
2) JD relies on his Daddy's support to further himself in the firm, and
3) JD is a sexist jerk.
Readers who've encountered JD's POV quickly discover the opposite - that JD cut himself off from his family and his trust fund so that he could live on his own salary (which, while considerable, is the same amount Payton gets). JD's actually rather proud for going off to live on his own terms, which made it doubly frustrating whenever Payton spewed her jealous, resentful bullshit about how charmed JD's life is when it's obvious she doesn't know him at all and hasn't made any effort to. One of my biggest disappointments with this novel is that I felt Payton never really confronts the complete and utter wrongness of her assumptions about JD. I would have liked to have her discover his rejection of his family connections and have to deal with the fact that her prejudices were completely unfounded.
My annoyance with Payton eased somewhat after the midway point, where I was struck in the head with a Pride & Prejudice reference, thrown by the author. Aaaaah, so Payton is Elizabeth Bennett, the one who put the Prejudice in Pride & Prejudice. Okay, I get it. Sorta. However, didn't Elizabeth's assumptions about Darcy take up all of, what, a year? Six months? With Darcy living in London for a good chunk of that time? Payton believed the worst of JD for eight years while working at the same firm. While some of her assumptions about rich people are partially explained by her hippy-radical-feminist upbringing, and a realistic grasp of the Good Ol' Boy club-ness that still exists in law firms, I just never bought that after eight years, she'd still retain such blatantly incorrect assumptions about a man she's been fixated on (for good or bad).
However, all bigotry aside, Payton is still a strong, efficient character, capable of looking out for herself and making her own choices. And she doesn't remain bigotted forever - she eventually (and thoroughly!) learns the extent of JD's charms, and romantically gives as good as she gets. There's a hilarious scene near the midpoint of the book where JD, after sawing through one of Payton's high heels to retaliate for when she dumped coffee on his suit, gets second thoughts and rushes off to Payton's trial to warn her, only to arrive too late. However, Payton recovers from the (hilariously disastrous) consequences with such confidence and aplomb that she wins her case, and JD's admiration.
Ultimately, I enjoyed this book - the dialogue was snappy, the characters interacted with each other well, and the obstacles to their romance were dauntingly real. However, while I liked it - it didn't top Just the Sexiest Man Alive. I felt the mental pacing of the romance (i.e. how the characters, in their heads, wrapped their brains around their feelings for each other) developped too sluggishly, with a lot of repetitive "Not that I notice what JD/Payton does" denials. And, as much as I grew to enjoy Payton in the later chapters, her behaviour and thought processes at the beginning of the novel just didn't make sense. Otherwise, though, it's a pleasant read with a strong heroine.
Monday, August 10, 2009
"The Time Traveler's Wife," by Audrey Niffenegger
*SPOILER ALERT*: Serious spoilers about the book ahead - if you already want to read it (and I really, REALLY encourage you to - it's an A+ review), don't read this review. SERIOUSLY.
The Chick: Clare Abshire. She first met her true love, Henry, when she was six years old, and spent most of her childhood and adolescence pining, idolizing, and eventually lusting after her secret, randomly-appearing friend. She eventually reunites with him in real time when she is twenty and he is twenty-eight.
The Rub: He doesn't remember her, because his twenty-eight-year-old self hasn't met her yet. Ouch. His involuntary time-traveling also subjects her to a lot of separation and worrying.
Dream Casting: I'll go with the movie on this one - Rachel McAdams.
The Dude: Henry DeTamble. Born with an ability to time-travel back and forth in time against his will, Henry's lived a bizarre life reliving old events, seeing concerts by long-dead musicians, and having conversations (among other things) with younger and older versions of himself. He lives and loves pretty recklessly - until he meets Clare, a woman he's never met who insists in the future they're married.
The Rub: His time traveling isn't the only thing that puts a crimp on their relationship - occasionally he gets insights about the future - insights he can't reveal to Clare because he's incapable of changing what's meant to happen.
Dream Casting: Eric Bana.
Clare (age 6): Hello, strange naked man. Let's be friends!
Henry (age 30something): Sure!
Clare (age 16): Henry! Let's have sex!
Henry (age 30something): Sweet Jesus. NO.
Clare (age 18): Henry --
Henry (age 43): No.
Clare: I'm 18.
Henry: Well, okay then!
Clare (age 20): OMG HENRY! You're young! And hawt!
Henry (age 28): I am young and hot - but do I know you?
Clare: Oh, you will! Henry, let's have sex!
Henry: Don't have to tell me twice! HOT DAMN!
Henry (age 40): Wow! My daughter can time travel! That's awesome!
Alba, Henry and Clare's daughter (age 10): It is awesome - especially to see you again, after you've died and all.
Clare (age 82): ...Henry?
Henry (age 42): Hi, Clare. Missed you.
Romance Convention Checklist
1 Inconveniently Dead Parent
1 Sexy Librarian
2 Sets of Mommy Issues
2 Lacklustre Romantic Rivals
Several Legal and Illegal Drug Prescriptions
1 Redefinition of the Phrase, "Having Sex With Yourself" (Henry [age 15]: "Don't look at me like that. I'm not gay. You would totally do the same thing if you had the opportunity.")
2 Weddings (To the same person!)
Several Conversations with Dead People
The Word: People have been telling me again and again to read this book, and when I heard the movie was coming out I decided I'd better get off my ass and read it my way before seeing the movie influenced me. And I was enchanted.
Henry DeTamble is a time traveler. He's been able to do it since he was five years old. His traveling is rather similar to an epileptic seizure: it's involuntary, often unwanted, and happens when he's stressed, tired, or subjected to flashing lights. He also can't bring clothes with him into the past or future, so over the years he's had to teach himself (in every sense of the phrase) to steal, pick locks, and break and enter to keep himself from being arrested for indecent exposure. However, while he often finds himself in unfamiliar places and times, just as often he'll end up returning to events, places, and people that mean a lot to him.
When Clare Abshire is six years old, she meets a naked, roughly thirtysomething man named Henry. She continues to meet him (at different ages and points in his life) intermittantly throughout her childhood and adolescence, eventually coming to love him. While she learns that in the future they're married, Henry is careful not to tell her too much, no matter how curious she gets.
When Henry is twenty-eight-years old, he meets a fiesty and gorgeous woman named Clare who seems to know all about him. While he knows nothing about her, he falls for her quickly, and they fulfill Future Henry's prophesy by marrying. But marriage is not the end of their story - not in the least.
The Time Traveler's Wife is a gorgeous, interwoven, complicated tale about love, fate, time paradoxes, and growing up. So many themes are explored in this book, and explored so well, that if I had to describe them all this review would be way too long. What I primarily took away from this novel was how much of a perfect Mobius strip it was. Henry has free will in the present, but feels he has none when he's in the past because, no matter how hard he's tried, he's incapable of changing what's already happened. However, part of the puzzle of the novel is trying to decipher whether Clare and Henry's relationship and individual developments occur because of who they are, or because Future Henry knows what's going to happen and sets things up in the past because he is meant to do so - and he knows he's meant to do so because that's how things end up in the future. Or something. It's pleasantly mind-boggling.
How Henry develops as a character is one of the most mesmorizing things to watch. At twenty-eight, he's selfish and self-indulgent - a respectable librarian who nevertheless parties hard, sleeps around, takes drugs, and lives for the moment. Thanks, in part, to both his time-traveling and his estranged alcoholic father, when he encounters a crisis he's almost always on his own, and so he's accustomed to living for himself.
Things change when he meets Clare. Clare has encountered older versions of Henry - Henry at 35, Henry at 38, Henry at 41. She knows Henry as a mature, responsible, and thoughtful person, so she's a bit taken aback to meet him again before he's become any of those things. Thankfully, a Future Henry meets Clare and advises her not to give up on Present Henry, as Present Henry's fast-burgeoning love for Clare inspires him to try harder to become the Henry she already knows, which in turn makes him a better person.
However, Henry's time-traveling is still a strain for both of them. Henry never knows where he's going to wind up naked next, so he's often in danger when he vanishes, and Clare worries. Henry also has to find ways to keep himself from traveling so as not to miss important events (like his wedding, which is resolved in a delightfully imaginative way). Henry's condition also turns out to be genetic, which makes it incredibly difficult for Clare and Henry to conceive.
There isn't a clear solution to all of these problems - in fact, many of their relationship problems don't have solutions, but are simply a stress that they routinely have to deal with. The joys of the book come from how they grow to react differently to the obstacles that continually face in their lives. This is a realistic (heh) tale of a relationship - for many years they are joyous, for almost an equal number they are painfully unhappy, but throughout it all they are deeply in love with each other.
And I loved reading it. The book is told from both Clare and Henry's points of view, with the dates, times, and ages of each character clearly marked out at the beginning of each section. We get Henry's kinetic POV and learn about his frustrations with, as well as the unexpected benefits of, time-traveling. We also have the story told from the static point of view of Clare, who has to live life in a linear fashion, which often involves a lot of waiting as Henry bounces around Quantum Leap-style. Feel free to draw comparisons to The Odyssey - the author sure does.
This is one the few books to make me cry (which places it on a special shelf with Bridge to Terabithia and Otherland: Mountain of Black Glass), and even as I'm writing this review and going over the novel's events again, I'm tearing up just a little. I think most of my emotional connection to this story comes from the fact that Audrey Niffeneggar knows just how to write the perfect science-fiction book: while she sets and carries out her unique concept with inventive flair, she never sacrifices on character development and emotion - instead, she ties them both together in creative ways. You can't keep the humanity of your novel's characters separate from your science fiction concept. Whether they have to deal with marital discord or a petulant younger version of themselves, the characters are still human and will react, psychologically and emotionally, to these obstacles as human beings. I never lost touch with Henry as a person, as all of his flaws and desires and resentments remained human enough to relate to, even as the obstacles he comes up against are out of this world.
At first I was troubled when, reading some of my friends' reactions to the book on Twitter, I discovered the book doesn't have an HEA. By book's end, however, I found this to be very debatable. While the book's ending is sad, it's not tragic. What's the distinction? Hmmm. It's not an HEA as in Happily Ever After, but rather an HEA as in Happier Ever After. Clare and Henry are both better off for having found each other, and their lives are immeasurably improved. While it may not happen to everyone, true love does exist and there are people who find it - and The Time Traveler's Wife puts an interesting science-fictional spin on a couple who do find it, and live with all the joys and pains it brings until the inevitable conclusion. So while it's sad that their relationship concludes the way it does, it's not tragic - the real tragedy would have been if they'd never found each other in the first place.
I won another award!
Hurray! Thank you, Aymless! I've been rated E for Excellent!
My turn to nominate more bloggies:
The Word Wenches. I don't often comment on their blogs, but I lurv historicals and the blog is run by a group of historical authors (including Anne Gracie and Loretta Chase!).
Stacy's Place on Earth. Awesome blog - she's also fun to follow on Twitter.
Anna's Book Blog. She reviews fantasy, YA, and romance. I don't comment often, but I follow her all the time. Her blog, that is. Not in real life. 'Cause that would be weird.
Lurv a la Mode. Found her when by visiting commenters on the Booksmugglers' blog. Interesting commentary on both paranormal and historical romances, as well as straight fantasy reads.
Huzzahs to all!
Friday, August 07, 2009
Book Blogger Appreciation Week is coming up!
In its second year, Book Blogger Appreciation Week runs from September 14th to 18th, and celebrates the contribution that book bloggers and reviewers make to the promotion, celebration, and popularity of literature - of all genres. They're going to have interviews, contests - even Awards for Bloggers in all different categories!
According to the website, you guys still have one week left (until August 15th) to nominate your favourite book bloggers for such categories as Best Romance Blog, Best Design, Best Name for a Blog, Best Reviews, Best Writing, even the Most Chatty (Kristie J was nominated for that one last year). Even if you aren't a blogger yourself, just a fan or a dedicated reader - you can still nominate the bloggers who meant a lot to you and who influence your reading habits!
So go ahead. Nominate a couple!
Monday, August 03, 2009
"Not Quite a Husband," by Sherry Thomas
The Chick: Bryony Asquith. A celebrated female doctor and surgeon, she fled to India to practice her talents after the annulment of her disastrous marriage. The last person she expects to meet again in this exotic, faraway country is her ex-husband, Leo Marsden.
The Rub: She's still desperately in love with Leo, even after all these years, but she refuses to forgive him for his betrayal. However, since her father's ill, she and Leo must return to England together.
Dream Casting: A slightly younger Jennifer Connelly.
The Dude: Leo Marsden. He fell in love with a woman whom he thought was simply quiet and intense, but who turned out to be heartless and cold, refusing his attentions and annulling their marriage without a reason. However, at her sister's request, he goes to find her in India to let her know that her father is ill.
The Rub: When it becomes clear that Bryony had a very obvious reason for freezing out their marriage, Leo's horrified. Now, as things begin to heat up again between them, Leo has to refuse her attentions - until he's ready to forgive himself.
Dream Casting: Being Human's yummy Aidan Turner. Yes, the hot Irish vampire. No, not the cheesy soap star.
Bryony: What the hell are you doing here?
Leo: Bringing you back to your sick dad, like your sister asked.
Bryony: I hate my dad, my sister's a liar, and I want you to go away.
Leo: *in head* Cold bitch. Why is your cold bitchiness such a turn-on??
Bryony: *in head* Studly McStud. Go away before your McStudliness thaws my frozen shell of isolation!
Leo: Why'd you break up with me anyhow?
Bryony: Because you cheated on me you ASS.
Leo: *in head* SHIT.
Bryony: *in head* Stupid stupid sexy McStudly cheating ass sexy stud. Dammit!
Travelling through India...
Bryony: Forget what I said! Let's get it on!
Bryony: *in head* STUPID MCSTUDLY LET ME GET IN YOUR PANTS!
Leo: *in head* I am a worthless human being who destroyed everything beautiful in my life, I can't destroy Bryony, perfect sexy totally-not-a-cold-bitch Bryony, ever again. Fuck my life.
Indian Rebels: *attack!*
Leo: *in head* God I hope Bryony doesn't die.
Bryony: *in head* God I hope Leo doesn't die.
Indian Rebels: *defeated!*
Leo: Let's get married again.
Romance Convention Checklist:
1 Ice Queen, Slightly Thawed
1 Sexy Math Nerd
1 Indian Uprising
1 Deadly Fever (unsexy AND sexy varieties!)
Several Instances of Surprise! Sleep Sex
Several Cuts and Scrapes
1 Inconveniently Dead Parent
1 Inconveniently Dead Surrogate Parent
1 Inconveniently Fake Dying Parent
1 Pathological Liar Sibling
1 Fancy Microscope
The Word: As many of my readers know (and Sherry Thomas, apparently, too..gah....), I didn't have an overwhelmingly positive reaction to her first novel, Private Arrangements. In fact, I had a downright uncommon reaction to Private Arrangements: it was a perfect "m'eh" grade. I liked the ideas and the story and the execution, but the novel never emotionally or intellectually engaged me and to this day I still can't understand why. So I decided to give Not Quite a Husband a try - because the setting and the characters grabbed me, and now I actually feel incredibly foolish for giving Private Arrangements away because now I want to read it again.
Hey, sometimes you just have to be in the mood. I gave An Offer from a Gentleman a B the first time I read it and an A the second (probably thanks to the fact that I spent six hours in the waiting room of a hospital waiting to be told I had a ruptured ovarian cyst the first time). It's merely enough to say, Not Quite a Husband was good enough to make me want to get another copy of Private Arrangements and give it another try.
The story opens as our heroine, famed female doctor Bryony Asquith, discovers the stress over her ruined marriage to Leo Marsden has turned a streak of her hair white. She still loves Leo desperately, but in an eloquent and heartbreaking inner monologue she equates her feelings with opium addiction - it's weakening and killing her, and she has to get away, and she decides then and there to sue for an annulment.
The novel skips ahead years later, as Bryony is working as a doctor in India. To her surprise and dismay, even in the middle of nowhere her ex Leo manages to find her, although he claims he's been sent by her sister Callista to bring her back to England because her father is dying. Bryony, aware of her sister's various manipulative attempts to bring her and Leo back together, shrugs it off as another trick. However, as Leo's already destroyed her story of being a "widow" to her neighbours (by flashing around their wedding photo), Bryony decides there's nothing better to do and decides to follow Leo back to England.
It's obvious from the start that both Leo and Bryony are still painfully in love with each other, even as each tries to deny it. Bryony is ashamed of her feelings for Leo - she has not forgiven him for how their marriage went sour, and hates herself for loving him anyway. Older than him by five years, she could barely believe, when their relationship first started, that such a young, sexy, and popular Adonis could fall for an overeducated spinster like her. In the present, she feels pathetic about her longing - and pathetically stupid for ever believing it was returned.
Leo, meanwhile, still has no idea why their marriage was annulled in the first place. Well, that's not true - he knows well enough how Bryony became cold and distant the day of the marriage, how she rejected his lovemaking attempts (eventually barring her bedroom door to him), and how she refused to speak to him or answer his pleas. After a year of this, an annulment was par for the course. What he never understood was why she changed so suddenly right when their marriage started. He's spent the last few years convincing himself that all his friends were right, that Bryony Asquith is cold and unfeeling and incapable of emotion, and that he was a fool to fall in love with her - and an even greater fool for still being in love with her.
Sherry Thomas shows us through flashbacks (although fewer flashbacks than Private Arrangements) how they met - and how their relationship deteriorated. In fact, the sabotage of their marriage is rather similar to what happened in Private Arrangements - one of the protagonists makes a Very Big Mistake right before the wedding, and the other protagonist finds out about it but decides to go through with the wedding anyway, with disastrous results. In Leo and Bryony's case, though, I was much more emotionally caught up in the story - feeling and understanding both their pain while at the same time understanding how they both were wrong.
Mild spoilers ahoy: Leo erred first, when, having doubts about his whirlwind engagement to a woman nearly everyone else said was wrong for him, he had a one-night stand with a former lover one week before the wedding. Ashamed of himself, he came out of that experience knowing now more than ever that Bryony was the only woman for him, and all the naysayers could go hang.
However, Bryony erred next when, unbeknownst to Leo, she discovered his infidelity and said nothing. Although repulsed by Leo's sin, she was too ashamed of the humiliating circumstances of her situation (imagine! The dried-up spinster doctor fell in love with the Leo Marsden and actually believed the handsome, popular genius actually loved her back! How droll!) to call the wedding off. The one year of their marriage was spent with Leo begging, pleading, cajoling his wife, trying to find out why she remained frozen and unresponsive, why he couldn't please her, why she didn't love him. All the while Bryony refused to explain, too full of shame and self-loathing to reveal the stupidity of her marriage to a man who didn't love her.
Bryony was an amazing character. From an objective standpoint, I can understand why other readers might find her the hardest to empathize with. When she was a child, she was subjected to a very lonely childhood by the people who should have taken care of her, and so she rejected them, living in an internalized world of her own. She's a very internal, precise person, used to keeping things to herself, used to living in her own world. Thus, on the occasions when she has to go out into the real world, she feels very self-conscious and isn't sure of what to do.
I went through a childhood very similar to hers and I sympathized with her entirely. I didn't have neglectful parents, but I was teased so often at school that after a while I just said, "Fine. Whatever." I figured if no one would try hard enough to be friends with me, than I didn't have to try hard to be friends with them, and I managed well enough on my own. I was the kid who'd sit by the school doors at recess, with a nose in a book. As a result, however, when those kids who'd teased me years ago tried to befriend me later, I laughed in their faces.
I got a reputation for being a bitch that was hard to break - by the time I realized in high school that doing everything by myself meant not being invited to parties or games or dating, and that acting however I wanted meant being rude to other people, and that it wasn't as fun being on my own anymore, I'd stunted my social growth to the point where it was very difficult for me to relate to people and react positively in social situations. To this day, when I'm talking to people I'm always afraid I'm talking too much and boring people or being unintentionally offensive - that's how bad I've become at reading people.
So let's just say, I totally related to Bryony on nearly every level. I completely understood her self-consciousness around Leo, how even at the start of their relationship she couldn't quite believe why an Adonis like him would be enchanted by her. I understood her single-minded focus on her interests, to the exclusion of all else (that was me, too - 90% grade average, no friends). I even got her decision to keep her knowledge of Leo's infidelity to herself because she was too embarrassed to admit how inept she was at understanding people - again.
However, I also understood Leo Marsden as well. We don't often get heroes who cheat on the heroine, and readers can be mighty unforgiving on that score, but in my mind, he got his karmic payback with the year he spent in the emotional-married-wringer with Bryony. And, when he finally does find out that Bryony knew all along, his reactions carried the story and won me over. During their danger-fraught travels, Bryony is the first to break and attempt to re-connect their relationship, and Leo is the one who has to refuse. He adores Bryony, and now he rightfully hates himself for what he did to her, but he knows they can't rekindle their relationship until she is ready to forgive and trust him again, and that can only happen after he can forgive himself.
I loved this - this wasn't a Big Misunderstanding where simply knowing the truth solves both their problems. Bryony has to deal with how her reliance on her emotional self-sufficiency has made it very difficult for her to accept flawed people into her heart, for fear they'll leave again. While she rejected Leo for legitimate reasons, she's rejected others for lesser faults (like her father, whom she's never spoken to after medical school in payment for her neglected childhood). Meanwhile, Leo has to accept the responsibility for his cowardly fall from grace, and convince Bryony that he will never hurt her again.
All the while, Sherry Thomas concocts a beautiful story without once resorting to purple or overwrought prose, one of the things that annoys me most about the romance genre. Her writing is very intricate, unique and descriptive - while I found this distancing for some reason in Private Arrangements, I adored it in Not Quite a Husband. Similarly, her descriptions of setting: this book takes place in India mostly, and she brought the setting to life without taking up too much narrative space. I liked how her depiction of the uprising was subtly integrated into the story - it had its own particular importance but at the same time it didn't take away from the pacing of the romance: even when the bullets were flying, the delicacy of Bryony and Leo's romance took precedence and I appreciated that.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed Not Quite a Husband. Even though it had a similar story to Private Arrangements, the characters were much more engaging, for all their flaws, and I cared about them so much more that it was a delight to read how their romance rekindled, even after all the pain. I related to Bryony especially, her loneliness and her social ineptitude, and more than anything I wanted her to find someone who wouldn't leave her alone again. With Leo, even after committing a grave, grave error, Sherry Thomas convinced me that he was just the person Bryony needed.