Posts Tagged Book Review
Title Something About You
Series FBI/US Attorney #01
Author Julie James
Genre Contemporary Romance | Romantic Suspense
Publication Date March 2nd 2010
Setting Chicago, Illinois, USA
Synopsis: When Assistant U.S. Attorney Cameron Lynde checks into an upscale hotel for the weekend as the newly tiled floors in her house dries, she expects a peaceful night’s sleep. Instead, she finds herself kept awake by very noisy copulation by the guests next door. But calling in security on the lovers lands Cameron as a key witness for a murder case – a case that involves a dead escort, a philandering Senate, and Cameron’s nemesis FBI Agent Jack Pallas. Three years ago, Cameron and Jack had a falling out when Cameron was made to axe a case for which Jack had worked undercover and been tortured. Not knowing that the decision to shut down the case was Cameron’s boss’s idea, Jack had slandered Cameron on national TV. With no love lost between them, Cameron is reluctant to work with Jack but her sense of duty has her cooperating. She is put under police surveillance when they discover the Senate did not commit the murder and the real murderer is a faceless man at large. Though most of the surveillance work is handled by the CPD, Cameron and Jack are thrown together more often than they desire since he is the lead investigator. Tension mounts as they continue to bait each other at every encounter but their raw sexual attraction is also undeniable. And then the murderer appears masked in her house one night and Jack enlists himself to act as her live-in bodyguard.
Experience: I’ll admit, the humor in opening scene of this novel was very forced. The loud headboard banging from the next guest room occupied half of it and I thought a bit unnecessary to prolong. But luckily, the book then took a very positive turn and I LOVED IT! In fact, I loved it enough to breeze through the rest of the series and found that James sustains her ability to hold me as a reader.
It was a feel-good romance, which is what got me into writing romances in the first place. Both the heroine and the hero were solid individuals that I could like and become friends with if they were real people. There were some great tête-e-tête between Cameron and Jack that made me laugh outloud (or at least sport a goofy smile in public). And I really admire how James generally makes her female characters such women of the world, professionally successful and settled, and the men so driven. That the men are so mucho doesn’t hurt either but I appreciated that their moral radar is so intact even more.
Yet, they are not without imperfections. I admired how Cameron travelled with a whole case of cosmetics to make herself presentable or that she put on makeup after a shower even if she was staying in. This made her more real, more accessible to the contemporary women of our generation. James broke the mold of gorgeous romance heroine who look shiny and brand new even when they wake up in the back alley of a seedy bar after passing out from participating in a night of drunken carousel – not that traditional romance heroines would participate in such activities. The supporting characters are equally charming, with men owning up to watching chick flicks and having heart-to-hearts even while the hero tries to remain alpha though with twitchy smiles. Stereotypes, be damned.
Julie James also has gone intersectional with her romance. In fact, all of the books in the series had people of color, different faiths, sexual orientations, etc. who were NOT put in negative roles. And since the books were written in the pre-Trump campaign era, I would have to say James demonstrates a lot of foresight by portraying the true face of America today. It wasn’t that she was blaring her endorsement of tolerance but had the presence of mind to not white wash all her characters. In Something About You, Cameron’s best friend is a homosexual man who is a sports writer and Jack’s partner is a heterosexual African American man top cadet from Harvard who dresses like a fashionista and is unabashedly in touch with his feminine side. Again, out with the stereotypes.
The plot was totally plausible and there wasn’t too much hullaballoo over the setting to draw attention away from the matter at hand – the blooming romance between two professional adversaries. But the one thing that I thought could have turned out better is the element of surprise. For a romantic suspense, there wasn’t much suspense. In fact, reader is introduced to the murdered from act one, name, role, and POV. We are informed why he committed the crime, we are exposed to his moral sense, and we are hinted on what his next move will be. The only thing left to do was read how it all pans out. In essence, the suspense belonged to the characters within the story and not for the readers to work through. But I actually understood why James did not sweat over arranging the scenes in the novel in a way that bolstered the mystery. Despite being a murder mystery, the main motivator for the story is romance. And when all things are said and done, for a reader of romance, that is okay too.
Recommendation: I recommend reading the entire series, even though I am not reviewing all of it. If you love contemporary romance that stays true to the modern society, this book is a great read.
I thought I would go back to the basics this week with a brief on the various types of narrators and POVs fiction writers employ. I have gotten my reading mojo back thanks to The Ex-Wife’s Survival Guide by Debby Holt (you can read my review here) and have been indulging heavily in my TBRs since. Needless to say, I have written very little in the meantime but it’s okay for once since I just published a book, yay. But the point is, I was reading a novel over the weekend and it made me reflect on how even established and traditionally-published authors sometimes get their POVs all mixed up. I pondered maybe it’s because once we become “mainstream”, we stop revising the guidebooks on creative writing, maybe we become complacent.
For me, keeping my POV on the straight and narrow is fundamental. Your story is the product of your imagination but that does not mean it does not deserve your full attention in selecting the right devices and techniques to make the storytelling impactful. And jumping POV-to-POV, and selecting different narrative styles in one book is a rookie mistake that should have been corrected during the editing process. So I hit the academic texts and Googled and brushed up on the subject because part of choosing the right narrative style and POV for your story is knowing all the options out there. I thought I’d share my notes with fellow writers here just in case there were others also needing to pace themselves.
Narrator – According to my ‘A’ Level textbook Literature, Criticism, and Style by Steven Croft and Helen Cross (Oxford), the narrative is “a piece of writing that tells a story”. So by means, the narrator is the person, animal, or object that is telling the story. This storyteller is inserted into the text most often as an imaginary entity separate from the author whether or not he/she is a character living within the story. In essence, it is the voice that describes what is happening.
Point of View (POV) – The POV is the perspective from which the narrator tells the story. Whether the narration is conducted from a singular POV or multiple, I have always felt that the POV breaks down and identifies the various components of the storyteller’s voice, i.e. the personality, style, tone of the narrator. It demonstrates to us the level of involvement with which the narrator relates the tale, how far into the story the narrator is willing to insert themselves.
While the narration and the POV are closely related and often overlap, the distinction is that the former is the device with which the plot is moved forward, the characters are revealed, the setting is built, etc., while the latter allows the reader to experience the story from the angle(s) that makes these various illustrated components relevant and relatable.
The most common forms of narrators are the first person, second person, third person limited, and third person omniscient. However, academicians have further broken down the types of narrators to include the [detached] observer or third person objective, commentator, and unreliable narrator. The following is a description of each of these major types of narrators with an example of popular works where they were successfully employed: Read the rest of this entry »
Title The Witches of New York
Author Ami McKay
Genre Historical Fiction, Paranormal Fantasy
Publisher Knopf Canada
Publication Date October 25, 2016
Setting New York, 1880
Synopsis: In the year 1880, as suffragettes roamed the streets of New York demanding civil rights and Cleopatra’s Needle slowly made its way from the banks of Hudson River to Greywacke Knoll, witches and witch hunts were far from being a thing of the past. But just as the settlers of Salem misdirected their fear and abuse, the religious fanatics of the Gilded-Age failed to appreciate the value of suffragettes and witches alike, in differentiating them as well as realizing their commonalities. At a time like this, Beatrice Dunn, a country orphan living with her spinster aunt responds to an advertisement placed by two self-sufficient witches, Eleanor St. Clair and Adelaide Thom, to help around their shop of alternate solutions to womanly woes, St. Clair & Thom: Tea & Sympathy. Beatrice’s arrival in New York City coincides that of the Egyptian Obelisk and her first adventure in the city is to touch the monument, her innate magic only serving to draw from its magic. Sensing her as a kindred sister, she is hired by Eleanor immediately, though Eleanor had first objected to Adelaide’s ad. Adelaide is slower to be convinced and only accepts Beatrice when the younger woman demonstrates an ability to see and communicate with netherworld dwellers. Adelaide takes on Beatrice as a show-stopper for their enterprise while Eleanor sees the girl as a magical apprentice to be honed and cherished. As the more experienced witches go about passing on their wisdom and craft to the newly initiated, and Beatrice tries to navigate between the two people looking out for her “best interests”, a sinister predator lurks in the background. Reverend Francis Townsend is a preacher revered by his parish for his austere regulations, but when no one is looking, he takes it upon himself to punish and rid the world of “devil worshipers”. And he is on the warpath to save the lovely Beatrice who has been “bewitched” by the ladies of the tea shop.
Experience: The first thing I noticed while reading this book was McKay’s unique writing style. With descriptive short sentences, she very economically sets up and explores the setting of the novel, flitting from scene to concise scene. It gives the readers glimpses of the various active characters (minor as well as major) of the plot from the get-go. At first, I was not able to comprehend why so many different characters were being introduced at once (I lost my place in the novel numerous times) but, eventually, the bigger picture began to form. It helped me, as a writer, to see how completely unrelated characters may go through the world [i.e. of the novel] to coalesce in a series of events that provides deeper exposure into the main characters of the plot. Once I managed to settle down with the book, I could appreciate the nuances of the various heroines, their counterparts, and the villain better. But it took me a while to settle down.
I think my favorite character of the novel was Adelaide Thom, who is apparently the heroine of a previous book, “Moth” in The Virgin Cure. Adelaide is not a typical heroine of all goodness. She has been abused by life, having lost an eye and been left with the scars from an acid attack by a jealous mad woman, and this has left her heart riddled with cynicism. She is often self-serving and refuses Eleanor’s (who really is the mothering type of good sort) advice as well as her magical visions when it suits her immediate agenda. This brews the main conflict of the novel and inadvertently propagates the climax. But essentially, she has a good heart and can be kind to those in need of kindness. What makes her interesting is her wholly unapologetic claim to procure that which she believes she wants and deserves, perfectly in line with the background activity of the suffragettes. The happy aspect is that while she runs from romance, she manages to find the perfect hero for herself in this book, a man with an equal number of imperfections but an open-minded and perhaps more compassionate spirit.
However, the novel is not without flaws. I felt that although the various glimpses into minor characters added to the main character developments, effectively the mystery of the novel was lost a little too early in the novel. While the arrangement of the chapters was such that it jumped from character to character so that each aspect of the story developed parallel to the others to accommodate the passage of time, but it left me a bit frustrated to have to keep breaking off just when things start to get interesting. Perhaps it also intended to keep the pages turning but it, in fact, made me slower to adhere to the novel with any form of gusto. I could easily put aside the novel and pick it up later (in fact, at one point I completely left to read another book), and by the time the story returned to one character development, the interest was lost. The whole business made it a very slow read.
Recommendation: This is a tough one. Although I found the story pleasant enough, if the purpose of reading is to be enthralled by a page-turning plot, I say leave off. Our TBR lists are long enough and those seeking entertainment are better off without this book. However, if you are a writer and wish to explore new writing styles and voices to find your place in the authorship, this might provide an interesting experience.
Title Jane Eyre
Author Charlotte Brontë
Genre Classic English Literature
Publisher Penguin Classics | Originally by Smith, Elder & Co.
Publication Date June 29, 2011 | Originally 16 October 1847
Setting North England, late Georgian Era
Synopsis: With both parents deceased Jane Eyre lives with the brutish wife of his dead uncle Mrs. Reed and her equally self-serving three children. She suffers abuse until her aunt decides to place her in the austere orphan school of Lowood. There she utilizes her observant intellect to cultivate her mind for 06 years before spending another 02 years as a teacher. When all her friends and role models either pass away or move away, she advertises to become a governess and finds herself teaching the child ward of Mr. Rochester, a wealthy gentleman and owner of Thornfield Hall. Soon Thornfield Hall becomes her home, gaining her friends. She even learns to like the brusque, self-centered ways of Mr. Rochester, developing somewhat of an infatuation. When he brings a big party to the Hall, among which is a beautiful heiress playing for the role of his wife, she discovers she may even be in love with him. Following this, after Jane is called away for a month to take care of Mrs. Reed at her deathbed, upon her return, the two confess their love for one another and prepares to marry. On the wedding day, it is discovered Mr. Rochester is already married and is hiding his violently mad wife in the attic and the wedding is called off. Jane runs away since the only other choice of becoming his mistress is beyond her moral bounds and while begging door-to-door in a distant village, finds herself on the stoop of Mr. St. John Rivers and his sisters. There she finds new directions but she can’t seem to leave behind the concept of never being with Mr. Rochester.
Experience: I got into this novel as a self-imposed challenge, given my dislike for Charlotte Brontë the person (you can read more about that in my article on Jane Austen Vs Charlotte Brontë). To ensure that I remained completely objective in my reading, I decided to venture through the book the first time as I would any novel instead of holding it to the expectations of a classic. Once I got the story down, I immersed myself in the literary analysis. Both times, I enjoyed and disliked the same scenes and aspects so this should be a fairly unbiased review. Read the rest of this entry »
Title The Nearly-Weds
Author Jane Costello
Genre Chick Lit, Contemporary Romance
Publisher Simon & Schuster UK
Publication Date July 07, 2009
Synopsis: After being jilted at the altar by her boyfriend of seven years, Zoe Moore is on the run from her past. Falling back on her experience in early childhood development, she seeks sanctuary across the pond from Liverpool in Boston to become a live-in nanny for a young family of four with the prospect of even an all-expense-paid summer holiday in the Bermuda. Upon landing in the land of dreams, however, she learns that there has been a change in her arrangements and she now will be looking after two children, aged six and three, in Boston with their widowed father, Ryan Miller. Zoe is an instant hit with the children but warming up to daddy is another ballgame altogether. Unfortunately, the father is the heart-stopping gorgeous kind with the bite of a barracuda. As Zoe navigates a life in a new country with the help of a band of new friends (other British nannies in the affluent neighborhood and their myriad of romantic prospects), she has to also deal with checking her hormones whenever Ryan is around even while fending off his attacks on her competence. It is obvious that Ryan is not coping well with the death of his wife and has spent the past two years boozing, womanizing and becoming exhaustingly efficient at his job as VP of Communications. But when sparks fly between them, it isn’t always amid altercations. Still, sex with the boyfriend is strictly a no-no, not only because of the unprofessionalism but also because he is bad news for a woman already trying to fall out of love with her ex-fiancé. Except, her ex-fiancé Jason doesn’t seem to want to lie low either.
Experience: This novel gave me a lot of mixed feelings. First of all, it took me about 03-04 days to get into the mood for the novel and then again 03-04 days to finish reading it. This happened despite the fact that the chapters are very short (mostly ending below 05 pages) and the writing was quick paced. So what was the problem? The style of Costello’s writing.
Usually, a 419-page Chick Lit of British comedy would take me 02-03 days to complete on regular workdays (I’m a meticulous reader, or in other words, slow). But this novel had me rolling my eyes and sighing with a bit of discontent by chapter 05. Don’t get me wrong. Costello made me laugh quite a lot by this time with the witty self-effacing first-person narration from the single POV of Zoe Moore [who doesn’t like a protagonist with a healthy dose of insecurities, right?], but Zoe Moore thinks and talks in similes to the point of exhaustion.
Even though it is my first time reading her work, I could immediately surmise how pop culture savvy Costello is because the aspect blossomed on every page – nay every paragraph – of the book. I thanked my lucky star that I was brought up in the West during my formative years and have been a fan of American television since because otherwise I would have been spending as much time on Google researching to understand the content of the book as reading it [and possibly more than Costello spent while writing it]. E.g. the kids, when challenged to quickly put away their toys, is not merely enthusiastic, they’re “possessed by the spirit of Mr. Sheen”. Even when she is running away from her second home, depressed as hell and sobbing, she carries out her luggage to the taxi as though “dragging the dead body of a large yak”.
But it’s not only Zoe but her mother and new friends who also speak this way. The mother I could understand because maybe Zoe picked up her tendencies from her but when other characters began showing the same speech pattern, I began wondering if it was just a thing with the British characters or was Costello mixing up character appeals. So I was really spending a lot of time sorting out who was talking when. In fact, if we cut out the constant bombardment of similes and metaphors, I think the book would end with about 300 pages. I kid you not.
Fortunately, later in the book, individual character approaches do begin to emerge. For example, the male characters have fewer tendencies to exaggerate their statements and the similes and metaphors are kept mostly out of their dialogues [thank god]. The children show certain unique characteristics and so does Zoe’s dad. But these characters have much fewer dialogues. Yes, even the hero. For most of the book, Ryan is kept in the background of the scenes although fresh on Zoe’s mind. He only picks up in making appearances halfway through the novel, which I found refreshing. Hence, I would shelve the book firmly in the chick lit genre more than contemporary romance.
Actually, far as the plot goes, I thought it was very well planned. The gradual development of Ryan’s character was a required element to help Zoe adjust to her recent relationship trauma. While Zoe had not recovered from the jilting-by-Jason fiasco till the near end of the novel, that she had a healthy six months on the job before sleeping with the boss works out as well as the fact that Ryan’s wife had been dead for more than two years before he can come to terms with the death. Really, all of the characters were very believable and the plot too was very relatable. If Costello could have just skimmed it on the adding-of-the-similes a bit, I would have few bad things to say about it. [To be fair, I plan to read at least one more of her book to see if this was something she incorporated for Zoe’s character or is it really her own personality seeping into her work.]
There is one aspect that I could really commend Costello for, though. It is her keeping Zoe so secretive. For a character who has such natural tendency for humorous overtures, Zoe sure kept it mum throughout her yearlong stay in the USA about her failed wedding. Costello’s ability to keep the topic consistently on Zoe’s mind but never bring it to her lips was a very intelligent addition to the suspense. It certainly kept me wondering what would happen once she finally revealed why she ran away from home. And this also actually adds to another consistent element of Zoe’s characteristics – that she has a tendency to make a run for it when her romantic relationships show a first sign of failing.
Recommendation: Really, it’s a good story. I enjoyed it despite the writing peccadilloes once I adjusted myself to reading through the similes. In fact, my eyes eventually were trained to skip phrases upon contact with words such as “like” and “as”. Still, I would suggest you read it on the tab with Wi-Fi access if you are not Western pop culture savvy.