Posts Tagged Book Review

#AuthorToolbox 04: the art of landscaping in fiction writing

Via: Daily Prompt – Soil

The cold was bitter, different from New England’s. Outside the city the wind spilled across the sweeping, open land dotted with abandoned farm machinery and old houses buckling in on themselves. You wouldn’t think such houses were habitable, but once in a while there would be a tacked-up sheet in the doorway, or plastic nailed over the windows, and the trace of smoke from a chimney.”

~ Brown, Karen. “The Clairvoyants.” Henry Holt and Co., 2017

51htld99dbl-_sx328_bo1204203200_I finished reading this book over the weekend. And like most well-written (or poorly written, for that matter) novels throughout my reading experience, it left me with a heightened sense of awareness of that “something-something” to consciously add to in my own work. After all, authors learn by reading the works of other authors. I thought, for this month’s blog hop, I would review some of this novel’s more beautifully written passages to summarize how fiction can be enhanced by adding descriptive imageries that are carefully composed and artfully woven to match the subject of the story [I’ll try my best to titillate without giving away any irrevocable spoilers]:

Relevance. Without a doubt, the prose was the strongest suit in The Clairvoyants. Brown approached its various outdoor and indoor sceneries to set the mood for this novel with poetic gusto, addressing both the mental state of the story’s protagonist, Martha, and the themes that adhered to the overall plot, i.e. an observant and slightly self-absorbed young woman with the ability to “see dead people” and a sense of victimhood towards her entire life, who stumbles upon a potential murder mystery when she is abandoned in a new environment. In fact, the landscape mirrors the one prevailing ethos of every character in the novel, who make a motley group of disturbingly selfish individuals, gravitating towards one another in search of companionship one moment and then forsaking each other the next.

Now, beyond my mother’s profile at the wheel of the car, Route 79 wound alongside green swaths of hills still damp from the recent rain. This was an isolated valley with a poor yearly sunlight allotment and haphazard cell phone reception—another version of a sanatorium, a place my mother could tuck me away, the way you pressed a photograph into the back of a drawer—and be free of me. But I might be free of her, too, and I might find someone else to love me.”

Precision. A bit of mastery in the medium of your writing can go a long way – and, of course, shorten the sentences. Words hold connotations that pose parity even among synonyms. Instead of depending on generic nouns and verbs to describe each action, character, object, or surrounding, knowing specific words to allocate to them will not only contribute to their appropriate portrayal but also provide the reader with a richer sensory experience. Obviously, this means having a strong vocabulary is important but does it also mean you need to swallow the dictionary? If you can, kudos to you; otherwise, do a little extra research on each subject matter you introduce in the story, as Brown has in this novel when labeling architectural attributes.

The house stood on a street of similarly grand old places, each shaded by a tree, their roots disrupting the cement sidewalks in front. Mine was a brick Italianate house with a wide cornice and elaborately carved brackets and window caps. The apartment was up a staircase that once might have been glamorous when the house was still a single-family residence. The place had been advertised as a “studio.” I would be living in one room with a twelve-foot ceiling, a decorative fireplace, and an efficiency-sized stove, sink, and refrigerator—so small they seemed like playhouse furnishings.”

Economy. We all know about the taboo on overusing adjectives and adverbs. Adjectives and adverbs are to be preserved for blurbs, and yet, funnily, that is where authors tend to scrimp thanks to a misguided sense of modesty – but that is a topic for another day. Furthering the argument for precision, knowing specific nouns and verbs is particularly useful when editing redundant descriptors that only serve to weaken and obscure the image you are trying to depict.  Consequently, you may also reveal more information about the plot and characters when relinquishing modifiers.

I had thought he wanted me. But when I touched him he took my hands away, like a correcting parent. I was resigned to kissing him, and even that he interrupted with a story about his motorcycle, a Triumph he was eager to ride again in the spring.”

POV. At every turn, it is crucial to ask oneself if the character whose POV is being used to narrate a scene, would actually experience the situation in that manner. For example, cold is a recurring premise in the novel, of which Martha is constantly aware. Other than simply using it to describe the winter that persists throughout the plot or the relationship fostered among the characters (and the wide range of dead people, in retrospect), Brown also associates it with how Martha undergoes the changes in her life or encounters new phenomena, e.g. when she tries martini for the first time.

I admitted I’d never had one, and she insisted I sample hers. She held her glass toward me by its stem, and I took a cautious sip. I said it was like drinking partially melted snow, and she laughed and poured me one, too.”

Pace. While the vivid narration is what I enjoyed most about the novel, the accompanied tangential style also led to its biggest holdback. I could fully understand why, given that the novel was written in first-person and people tend to digress when relating their experiences, Martha would oscillate between her past and present, actions and expositions. In fact, it even added to the mystery. But at one point, this became monotonous when the tempo should have picked up. The mystery began to chase its own tail and Martha’s continued attention to the mundane details of her surrounding seemed unnatural, relatability yielding before consistency, such as while escaping the scene of a supposed murder.

We drove through farmland spread for miles in either direction. Del fiddled with the radio, her hand shaking, and found a station playing Dixieland jazz, and we passed through a landscape distorted by the windshield ice—the wide open space, the few remaining outbuildings of an old farm, their gray, splintery wood darkened by the sleet, jutting like carcasses. “There are bones of families out there,” I said. Spread under layers of soil, compacted in their separateness. The Dixieland band played its tinny hopefulness. We drove this way for a long time until we could see nothing of the land we passed through save an occasional kitchen light in a house set off the road. Then we reached an intersection, a small town, like Milton, with a gas station and a diner, and Del pulled into the diner’s parking lot. After David Pinney died we’d gone on, pretending he hadn’t. I could say we were murderers now. This didn’t happen to other people twice.”

To wit, this novel made me sit up and take notes. My own stories tend to consist more of dialogues and actions than discussions on the setting but I could certainly appreciate the patience with which Brown weighed in the haunting atmosphere in her narrative. It reminded me of something I learned a few months back while attending an online course on writing fiction. There was a lot of emphasis on note taking and journal keeping throughout the syllabus. Until I took the course, I always wondered how writers sit in public places such as cafes and parks while composing tales without becoming distracted by their environments. Turns out they don’t become distracted at all because they are too busy recounting what they witness on their pages and screens.

 

Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2Finally, a word on the Author Toolbox Blog Hop:
#AuthorToolboxBlogHop is a monthly event, hosted by the gracious Raimey Gallant, featuring various resources and learnings for authors written by authors. It is open to writers at all stages of their careers and the rules of sign-up are available in the overhead link. Also, if you are just interested in connecting with actual authors and see what they have got to say, the sign-up page has a list of participants to direct you to their pages. Happy reading and writing, fellow authors!

 

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Wednesday Reflections #23 – Seducing Mr. Knightly by Maya Rodale

Via: Daily Prompt – Pluck

13552311Title     Seducing Mr. Knightly

Series     The Writing Girls #4

Author     Maya Rodale

Genre     Historical Romance | Regency | Adult

Publisher      Avon

Publication Date      October 30, 2012

Format      eBook

Setting     London, Great Britain, 1825

ISBN     0062088955

Synopsis: It has been exactly three years, six months, three weeks, and two days since Ms. Annabelle Swift fell in love with her boss Mr. Derek Knightly, the owner and editor of The London Weekly. This is precisely the amount of time she has been employed as one of the Writing Girls to feature in her own advice column and since the day she laid her eyes on the tall, dark, and determined Knightly. Unfortunately, not only is he totally unaware of her feelings but he seems also oblivious of the fact that she is a living breathing flesh-and-blood single woman worthy of male attention. Exasperated with being continuously overlooked and desperate to get out of her brother’s house where she lives as an unpaid servant and governess to her malicious sister-in-law, niece, and nephews, Annabelle decides to resort to drastic measures – she courageously reaches out to her readers for advice for a change on how to attract the attention of the nodcock! she’s in love with. Suddenly all of London swoops in to assist her cause, sending mails carrying the most outlandish and scandalous advice and, with the additional help from her fellow Writing Girls, she finds herself in lowered bodices and silk unmentionables, waltzing with lords of the ton, flirting up a ruse with fellow male colleagues, and being dropped off home after work by Knightly in his private carriage. Her quarry is finally paying attention but one obstacle still stands in the path of true love. Knightly, who has built his empire and reputation as a media tycoon to raise himself from the status of a by-blow of a late earl, has one other life goal: marry high into the aristocracy so that his half-brother is finally forced to acknowledge him as one of his class. Unfortunately, this puts Annabelle squarely out of the running for his affection… or does it?

Experience: I came to know about Maya Rodale a little late. Only this year, in fact, upon watching the live feeds of the #RomanceisFeminist discussion hosted by Avon Romance at The Strand bookstore in NY, NY where Rodale was on the panel of authors. I appreciated a particular comment she made about being more than willing to “throw historical accuracy under the bus” for the sake of diversity and inclusion. That is precisely what I have found – as much as the realm of believability will allow – since I began reading her works (three novels so far) and thought I should do a review of at least one. I picked Seducing Mr. Knightly because I have a soft corner for heroines who write professionally and this is the most hilarious piece of Rodale’s works I have come across thus far.

Imagine Lucille Ball in I Love Lucy and you will get a rough idea of the kind of scrapes Annabelle gets into in this novel. Short of hitting our hero in the eye with her spilling bosoms, she has done it all – leave a shawl behind to find herself alone with him at work during after office hours, fake a swoon and fall lush into his arms so she can awaken his “baser inclinations”, make all of London – including the hero’s best friends – fall in love with her and defend her heart for her candid attempts to lasso the hero, and climb into his bedroom via a gradually-splintering bark in the middle of the night in hopes of ravishment, etc. And Knightly likewise reciprocates with a steady repeat of “Oh Annabelle, you have some explaining to do” whenever he finds himself at the end of her courtship tactics. It makes the relationship between our heroine and hero positively adorably frustrating – just what good romances require.

But apart from the cat-and-mouse conflict development of the romantic plot, the individual characters of Annabelle and Knightly are also fully plausible. I enjoyed how much pluck Annabelle demonstrates as pushes herself to cross her self-imposed boundaries to blossom out of her shell even as her natural timidity continues to attempt to keep her in check. She may be meek by genetic disposition (her brother shows fairly submissive traits in his marriage too) but that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t dream big or aim high. After all, she pulls the wool over her family’s eyes for over three years pretending to go out on charity work while really working for a national newspaper and saving up for rainy days. She continuously challenges her shortcomings and faces her fears, which is a lovely display of feminism.

Our hero too has his demons to fight and has been fighting them quite successfully for over a decade. Being the firstborn son of and earl and a renowned stage actress, he craves acknowledgment from his step family and society. He has slogged day-and-night to build up his newspaper, laboring at the press himself and pushing boundaries of polite expectations, to get himself noticed, following three simple rules of life: “Scandal equals sales, drama was for the pages, and be beholden to no one”. It’s has made him a bit stoic but it has worked for him. And even as his heart tugs while watching Annabelle amidst her antics and his heart begins to unfurl the more details of her he starts to notice, he refuses to examine the burning question being asked in parlors across London, “Who is the nodcock that has yet failed to fall in love with Annabelle?” because he is afraid the answer might demand he surrender his heart to the heroine, which he is not in the position to do. Because all he wants to do is marry Lady Marsden, claim his rightful place in society while avoiding getting his newspaper shut down by her brother Lord Marsden’s mass inquisition against media extortion and nefarious means of procuring news, and kill two birds with one stone. The struggle is real.

Yes, I truly did enjoy reading this book. The only thing perhaps that did not suit me entirely was Rodale’s roundabout way of prolonging the story. While I loved each scene, I found reading through all the inner workings that bracketed each scene that mostly related the same conclusions over and over a bit tedious. Frankly, I felt there was more room for editing and perhaps leaving a little for readers to infer. But this is easily discounted for the fact that the overall content was engaging and oh-so-funny.

Recommendation: Well, if you haven’t read it already, what are you waiting for? I thoroughly endorse this novel as an experienced romance reader.

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Wednesday Reflections #22 – The Girl with the Make-Believe Husband by Julia Quinn

Via: Daily Prompt – Illusion

31931722Title     The Girl with the Make-Believe Husband

Series     Rokesbys #02

Author     Julia Quinn

Genre     Historical Romance | Adult

Publisher      Avon

Publication Date      May 29, 2017

Format      eBook

Setting     Manhattan, New York City, New York, USA, 1779

ISBN     0062388185

Synopsis: When Cecilia Harcourt receives a letter from the British front in Manhattan that her brother Captain Thomas has been injured, she decides to travel across the Atlantic to take care of him regardless of the fact that the Colonies is in the middle of a war and the Brits are no longer welcome. The fact that her self-serving father has finally passed away and that her oily cousin has taken the opportunity to make untoward advances on her only fuels her cause. However, when she arrives at the war-torn continent, she learns her brother is missing and his best friend Captain Edward Rokesby – second son of the Earl of Manston, pen pal to Cecilia via Thomas’s letters, and righteously handsome to boot – has been injured and lying in a coma for some time. Nurses are scarce but given his station in life, only family members may care for him. So Cecilia does the only thing she can do – she claims to be his wife. When the local army believes her story, she promises herself she will come clean soon as he wakes up because obviously, he will know that they are not married. But when Edward wakes up, he can’t remember a thing about the past four months and confusedly accepts her as his wife. And when she learns that being the wife of the son of an earl can help her get the military assistance to locate her brother, she decides to prolong the charade. Soon the pretend-wife is working her magic to return Edward to his former health and the make-believe husband is helping Cecilia work through the mysteries of one missing brother. The only problem is, playing house with the handsome captain is churning Cecilia’s heart into deeper affections. And while he may only believe them to be married, make-believe is becoming all too real for her. Worse still – or maybe it’s the best of all – Edward is falling in love just as deeply.

Experience (Mini-spoilers ahead but maybe not): Sounds like the plot for a wonderful rom-com, right? I thought so too. That plus the knowledge that it is written by the very talented JQ had me salivating for over a year (ever since I finished Because of Miss Bridgerton last year in March). Unfortunately, the anticipation came to naught. The Girl with the Make-Believe Husband is not the stuff that makes reading Quinn’s books so giddily special. And I say this as a die-hard fan who is slightly heartbroken.

But first, let’s talk about the good stuff, which in this case is the ending. I know. It sounds wrong to go straight to the end of a novel but the ending really is where the book picked up that Julia-Quinn-esque charm that has me returning to her works over and over again. Edward was desperate-to-the-point-of-being-brash in his efforts to finally make Cecilia his wife, and I do love a hero who knows what he wants and is willing to raise the stakes to obtain it. And the dialogues also made the experience more authentic. Also, there was a brief entrance of a captain of a ship who was one of Edward’s classmates from Eton that I found intriguing and funny and wished there was a bit more of. Alas, just when things were beginning to look up, it had to end.

And speaking of Edward, he was also good. JQ’s heroes are invariably good because they are so honorable even when led awry. Even when they are belligerent or worrying about their own interests amidst personal dilemma’s, you can’t help rooting for them to succeed because you know they will do the right thing. And moreover, they tend to perfectly turn-out the grand gesture so readers are guaranteed to sigh. Edward was no different. Even with his brain addled with amnesia, he had faith in a woman he only knew through correspondences made via his best friend. JQ men know how to treat women right and that is sexy as all hell. And even in his physically weaker form, he tried his best to remain self-sufficient but sometimes ceded to needing a bit of help, another thing we twenty-first-century readers can admire. Also that he doesn’t completely disregard her deception when he cottons on but has to struggle to accept it for what it is only makes his love more valuable. Yup, Edward Rokesby is swoon-worthy.

Regrettably, same cannot be said about his heroine, who is heroine only situationally. While Cecilia’s initial reason for pretending to be his wife seemed totally selfless, this impression began to gradually disassemble as the plot progressed. Which is quite the opposite of usual romance novel MO where what seems to be a selfish act on the part of a hero/heroine gradually unfolds as a selfless sacrifice, so I’m hoping Quinn intended it that way? But I sort of doubt that is what happened with this novel. Cecilia risks life and reputation to sail across the Atlantic to war-riddled America to care for her injured brother but she probably would not have done it if her oily cousin at home (next in line to inherit the family estate) was not on her tail. Cecilia claims to be Edward’s wife to take care of him but probably wouldn’t have done that either if she didn’t need to stick around until he woke up and could shed some light on her brother’s disappearance. Cecilia continues to deceive everyone, including the man she is falling in love with, to bolster her search for her brother, and when she feels remorse over her actions, she treats herself to good food and better sex. When the truth about her brother finally unravels, her first reaction is to cry over what this means for her future. And when it’s finally time to come clean with the man she loves, she bolts for England, leaving him a letter (though she claims it is to release him from doing the righteous thing since she has been compromised). This final act is equivalent to breaking up over a voice mail, isn’t it? Cecilia Harcourt is weak and possibly almost as self-serving as her father. But maybe I’m being too harsh, I don’t know. I just feel she had plenty of opportunities to be honest but she kept taking the easy way out. She did not possess the integrity of Sandra Bullock’s character in While You Were Sleeping and that was a bust for me.

Which brings me to the plot. It was unnecessarily convoluted, where other characters do a bit of deceiving themselves to prolong Cecilia’s deception prolonged. I guess to give the hero and the heroine an opportunity to fall thoroughly in love. But given that Edward and Cecilia had a healthy dose of flirtation going on over letter exchanges and that Thomas aided and abetted such interactions, I think they had a good chance of falling in love without all the deception. I mean they were in the middle of a war – not many romantic prospects, are there? Besides, if Cecilia continued to help Edward heal and Edward continued to give her his protection, there is plenty of opportunities for them to mingle on its own. Yeah, it just did not click for me but I get the feeling Quinn herself did not have her heart in it. I’m thinking having deadlines sometimes gets to even the best of authors and, unfortunately, it showed.

Recommendation: If you are a Julia Quinn fan – and those who have ever read any of her previous works would be – then you have probably buckled in for the Rokesby ride. In which case, you have to read it so get on with it if you haven’t already. But if you are not planning to go through the series, still read it. I think every author goes through a phase and this is probably hers, which is fine with me because she is generally very very good at what she does.

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Wednesday Reflections #21 – Something About You by Julie James

201003-something-about-you1Title     Something About You

Series     FBI/US Attorney #01

Author     Julie James

Genre     Contemporary Romance | Romantic Suspense

Publisher      Penguin/Berkley

Publication Date      March 2nd 2010

Format      eBook

Setting     Chicago, Illinois, USA

ISBN     1101185805

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.

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Wednesday Reflections #20 – Deep Dish by Mary Kay Andrews

Via: Daily Prompt – Polish

1197456Title     Deep Dish

Author     Mary Kay Andrews

Genre     Contemporary Romance, Chick-Lit, Southern American

Publisher      HarperCollins

Publication Date      February 26, 2008

Format      eBook

Setting     Atlanta, Georgia, USA

ISBN     0061579912

Synopsis: Everything in Regina Foxton’s life is not peachy but she can make do. Sure the kitchen from which she tapes her television cooking program is held together by scotch tape and she wished she had better wardrobe to host in and she wished her new car would run without failures, but at least she finally has her own cooking show and a car and a house and a sweet boyfriend who also happens to be her producer. But then she finds out that she is out of a job because her sponsor has canceled the show because her boyfriend did the sponsor’s child bride. Now she faces a prospect of moving back to her hometown in with her parents and has to tag along her baby sister who is already a handful with her cutting college classes to play on Xbox and party-hardy. Regina Foxton is what one would call has paddled “out of her depth”. But then The Cooking Channel is scouting her show and she really has a shot at landing the major leagues, except there is another cooking show that has rolled into town to vie for the position. Tate Moody is ruggedly gorgeous and his cooking style (kill and cook your dinner) is the polar opposite of Regina’s (Southern meals with a healthy twist) and so are their attitudes toward life. Tate is as popular in the south as Regina and often their viewers’ demographics overlap but the two become enemies on sight. She thinks he’s a brute and he thinks she’s a princess. Sparks fly and the producers at The Cooking Channel ride on the heat wave to host a reality cook-off challenge for the position for their new network chef. What no one, including Regina and Tate, is prepared for though is that some of those sparks are caused by mutual attractions.

Experience: Deep Dish is something that I would refer to as a pretty good read. It’s not what I’d call award-winning literature but far as romance novel goes, it hits the spot and you can polish off and devour (pardon the food-pun) the whole thing in one sitting. Having said that, there are a couple of noteworthy positive things about the way Mary Kay Andrews went about writing the novel, starting with the setting and world-building.

There are some great contemporary romances out there with chefs as the main characters but rarely do they remain as true to the premise of the character’s career as Deep Dish did. In most cases, novels about chefs draw on the sexiness of heating it up in the kitchen with a passive-aggressive chemistry between the hero-heroine and leave it at that. Andrews did not take the shortcut. Instead, she thoroughly researched cooking show productions and sifted through her minefield of knowledge in Southern cooking (she has her own cookbook published) before sitting down to write the novel, allowing the reader to enjoy a very hands-on experience of the stresses of producing a TV program. We even get to pick up on a few recipes of wholesome Southern meals along the way. I loved the quirky addition at the end of the novel where a few choice Southern recipes were shared, apparently created by Regina and Tate themselves.

The world-building was also rather vivid and something I enjoyed a lot. It may be due to my personal preference for geography and maps but halfway through, the story takes you to this island in Georgia called Eutaw Island. Now I looked for it and there is a geological formation in Georgia of this name and a city as well though no island fit for human habitation. But Andrews beautifully illustrated this exotic location with beautiful wild and marine life and delicious local palate. I totally believed it might be a real place until Google told me she made it all up. As a writer, I can always appreciate such in-depth dive into the author’s imagination.

With regards to character development, obviously, it being a chick-lit, Regina’s character received more attention than Tate’s. I thought their passions and insecurities nicely complemented each other. She has a one-track mind about getting her canceled show onto The Cooking Channel; her adversary-and-romantic-interest is a gorgeous man-of-the-wilds who likes to catch what he cooks and does not have the same sophisticated taste as she. You can’t do much wrong with that; in fact, it’s great recipe for romance (sorry, I can’t seem to help myself here).

The rest of the characters equally complement the two MCs and plot. Her ex-boyfriend is a self-serving jerk with enough good looks to get away with it in most circles is using her to get the show running again; her sister is a college student with badass fashion sense who studies less and parties more; her close friend and makeup artist is a bald gay black man; the production people from The Cooking Channel have all the single ruthless attitude as her boyfriend but are at different stages of life; except the assistant producer who is a shoe-in for the secondary romantic plot opposite the sister is a man with a conscious that balances his boss’s lack of one. It was actually all very smoothly written in and I could appreciate the relatability. Although I would have to say none of the major or minor characters stepped too far out of their stereotype – except maybe the hero but this was not fully explored or explained.

Which brings me to the part of the novel that I could not completely see eye-to-eye on. I found it interesting that he was a single red-blooded heterosexual man with natural sex appeal had he would turn down a voluntary booty call from a hot female celebrity and I wanted an explanation. Especially when he showed the same prudence when another hot minor league celebrity (read heroine) offered the same. If Tate was turning down women up and down the southern states despite his hot celebrity status, there must have been a reason. Being one of the MCs, he deserved a little more backstory. And the thing is there was plenty of opportunities to build up the reader’s understanding of the character since Andrew used an omniscient POV in the novel. There are quite a number of times when Tate’s POV was tapped into and that could have been more productively utilized.

But the use of POV, in general, was another thing that I had difficulty aligning with an author of Andrew’s caliber. There were a number of scenes where the POV kept jumping from major to minor to major characters and I did not understand why that was necessary. If an alternate POV was absolutely necessary for a scene, it could have been broken down and presented in separate sections or reflected by the character in question on hindsight. The use of frequent POV-switching in these scenes, though were not haphazard enough to cause distractions or confuse the reader, created a sort of comic book effect – you know, where you have the dialogues in the speech bubbles followed by the fuzzy thought bubbles and then the off-panel comments about the actions? Like the narrator took the most advantage of his/her freedom to source the characters’ thoughts. I guess it was a technique Andrews used to speed up the plot and thankfully it did not injure the reading experience too much for me other than make me conscious of the flaw as a writer.

Recommendation: It was an enjoyable read. There were a few plot elements that reminded me of Welcome to Temptation (an absolute favorite re-read of mine) by Jennifer Crusie, such as the relationship between the sisters and the visit to a new location and video production crew, etc. so obviously I felt right at home with it. And it warms the heart as a straight cut contemporary romance novel. For another, it had great food culture and I have mentioned in a previous blog Books and Cravings They Inspire how much I love it when writers explore characters’ dietary dynamics. Personally, I’m looking forward to reading Andrew’s Homemade Sin.

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WRITING CHRONICLE #20: Of narrators and POVs

Via: Daily Prompt – Imaginary

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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 »

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Wednesday Reflection #19 – The Ex-Wife’s Survival Guide by Debby Holt

51yq82nv1sl-_sx324_bo1204203200_Title     The Ex-Wife’s Survival Guide

Author     Debby Holt

Genre     Women’s Fiction, Chick-Lit

Publisher      Pocket Books

Publication Date      February 1, 2006

Format      Paperback

Setting     England

ISBN     1416502467

Synopsis: With her twin sons’ yearlong pre-college trip to India coming up, Sarah Stagg is finally ready to put up her feet and spend a little quality time with her actor-husband Andrew, star of their local theater. But Andrew has other ideas. He has been having an affair with his new co-star and soon moves out. Now, with the kids gone and the house empty, Sarah is experiencing an existential crisis. She spends her days waiting for her husband to realize his mistake and come home or wondering how she will spend the rest of her life alone if he doesn’t. Her best friend Miriam suggests she spends her time more productively by doing everything to prove she’s enjoying the independence – especially if Andrew is to find her desirable again – and pushes Sarah to join their town’s upcoming play, placing her at the scene of her husband’s crime. Suddenly Sarah finds herself cast as the female lead and the male lead Martin Chamberlain – an already divorcé with a cheating former spouse – becomes her closest confidante and comrade, and real-life savior too. Sarah’s life turns into a whirlwind of misadventures, between starring in the theater, adopting a psycho-dog bent on killing everything in the neighborhood, helping her neighbors spy on their husbands, and being whisked away to Majorca by her best friend where she enjoys a little fling with her college crush with a potential to relocate. The only problem is Sarah’s still too busy wavering between trying to reclaim her husband and finding solutions at an off-shore island to realize true love may be found in the most unexpected of person living closer to home than she realized.

Experience: It’s been a while but I really enjoyed reading this novel. Ever since I took up full-time writing, it has been really difficult for me appreciate works for the sheer pleasure of the entertainment but The Ex-Wife’s Survival Guide brought me home. It reminded me why I love reading and writing stories so much – for the sheer joy of living many lives. I could totally put myself in Sarah Stagg’s shoes and it was a pretty nice pair to boogie in.

It wasn’t so much that the characters were deeply explored. In fact, everything that took place was only observed from Sarah’s POV, and she is the type of character for whom the other shoe drops only in the distant future. But this aspect of her personality was so consistently pursued that I have to raise my hat to Holt for her patient custody of not revealing the plot to Sarah too soon. Rather, Sarah’s oblivious observations of her surrounding while keen perception into the characters of those with whom she is detached but taking close one’s for granted, all the while wincing and tiptoeing for things to only get worse, was hilariously adorable.

Moreover, Holt isn’t afraid to introduce a host of funny characters. As writers, we are always told to keep the character count limited to those absolutely necessary. Well, since Sarah is a neighborhood sort of gal, her many wacky neighbors are necessary. It is perhaps one of the reasons why no one’s but Sarah’s character is explored in depth. When you have the main character accidentally molesting priests, her maniac dog chewing up the town gossip’s guinea pig, your closest local pal trying to project her need to cheat onto her husband, and your best friend planning romantic getaways without her husband, it is difficult to dedicate much of the text to anyone but the main character. But on the whole, it worked out fine because they each helped to build up or reinforce Sarah’s own flaws and fitness.

However, there was one character I wish who deserved a little more than Sarah’s self-absorption. Martin was such a swell guy, I couldn’t but feel sorry for him. He was dependable and sweet and all things that would make most girls take him for granted, which is exactly what Sarah does throughout the book. But there were a few moments when his dependability and sweetness came out very masculine and I wish there was more of that. As far as the potential hero goes, I wish he stepped out of the shadows a little more and asserted himself. He was fully capable of it. For the sake of the plot, however, he was much sacrificed.

For the most part, the book shows that Sarah is a character to whom things happen rather than one who makes things happen. It wasn’t only being cheated on, but also all the mishaps that followed that were just a great way of preserving that Sarah Stagg had no control over her life. There was such a Bridget Jones appeal to her that made the reading fluent. Of course, as the story progresses, we see her attempting to take a bit more charge and stand up to – or at least try to stand up to – what is right, but she is essentially a pushover. Thankfully, not forever, which was hinted upon somewhere in the middle to keep the reader’s hope alive.

Recommendation: An excellent chick-lit that deserves to be read if you enjoy rom-com and women reclaiming girl power.

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Wednesday Reflections #14 – The Witches of New York by Ami McKay

Via: Daily Prompt – Pleased

20053031Title     The Witches of New York

Author     Ami McKay

Genre     Historical Fiction, Paranormal Fantasy

Publisher      Knopf Canada

Publication Date      October 25, 2016

Format      eBook

Setting     New York, 1880

ISBN     978-0-307-36678-8

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.

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Wednesday Reflections #11 – Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Via: Daily Prompt – Immerse

charlotte_bigTitle     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

Format      Paperback

Setting     North England, late Georgian Era

ISBN     978-0-141-44114-6

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 »

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Wednesday Reflections #09 – The Trouble with Dukes by Grace Burrowes

Via: Daily Prompt – Quicken

trouble-with-dukes-ukTitle      The Trouble with Dukes

Series     Windham Brides #01; Windham #09

Author      Grace Burrowes

Genre     Historical Romance

Publisher      Piatkus (Little, Brown Book Group)

Publication Date     December 20, 2016

Format     E-book

ISBN     978-0-349-41543-7

Synopsis: To say Miss Megan Windham is in a pickle would be putting it lightly. All her powerful relations of English nobilities would not be able to save her reputation if words about her youthful indiscretion with a certain Major Sir Fletcher Pilkington were to get out. Worst yet, it would ruin the prospects of her sisters. Unfortunately, the sly Sir Fletcher is bullying her into matrimony and any day her fate could be sealed. Enter Colonel Hamish MacHugh, newly instated Duke of Murdoch and Tingley and commonly referred to as Duke of Murder. He steps in to save her spectacles (she has horrible eyesight) from Sir Fletcher’s boots and ends up enlisting himself to save her reputation when Megan instantly sees through the infamous reports on his character and warms up to his protective nature. In return, she has offers to help him learn to be a duke, at least as much as it would take to properly set his sisters in society because he is reluctant about his new title. During the course of all this exchange, the two come to become confidantes and more.

Experience: There’s just something about Hamish MacHugh that sets butterflies in your stomach aflutter. And isn’t that a primary goal of romance novels, to feel that quickening of breath, the heat pooling in your nether regions, a hope that heroes who would help you slay demons do exist? The hero of this novel accomplished that from Chapter 01. It wasn’t simply his sturdy built or brusque manners, the fact that he is too content with his simple life in Scotland to yield to a title of English nobility thrust upon him, or even how his candid but coarse manners keep creeping out when he reluctantly attempts at being proper for a London ballroom that had me sighing. In his list of imperfections, the one that most had me intrigued was how a man so protective of others would come to earn a reputation as a murderer. And so the pages kept turning.

Then there is the heroine. I adore a heroine in glasses (perhaps because I have to rely on a pair) and, of course, enjoys reading. I liked Megan from the beginning because she seems to be the wily sort who manages to navigate around Sir Fletcher’s scheming for so long until Hamish steps in to assist her. Even after Hamish’s assistance doesn’t resolve the issue entirely, she continues to work her way around the problem, never entirely giving up. She appears to be a damsel in distress but she’s made of tougher stuff. Even lovelier is how she knows what she wants and chases down Hamish, literally has her way with him in the family music room, for it because she is not afraid to risk her heart. This makes a nice change of pace.

I particularly enjoyed the insight into Sir Fletcher’s character. When Burrowes narrates from Fletcher’s POV, we can see that his a thorough villain, able to put on his sheep’s skin effortlessly and charm the society of the ton completely, but his mind works to only serve himself and he takes pleasure in revenge, which he resorts to at the simplest transgressions. Yet, we also get a glimpse into his background to understand, if not empathize, what circumstances may have nurtured such deplorable characteristics. In fact, I felt Sir Fletcher’s character was more accurately and consistently portrayed than any others’ in the novel. It made the plot plausible and the conflict believable.

The book is the first of the Windham Brides series and ninth in the Windham series. And even though many of the characters, mostly heroes, make numerous appearances throughout the novel, this book may be easily read as a stand-alone. In fact, though Megan’s cousins (said heroes from previous novels) came and played their parts to help her and Hamish along, they were not all as call-to-action characters as Burrowes tried to portray them as. I sort of found the bromance between the cousins slightly forced in certain scenes. Rather the camaraderie between Hamish and his younger brother Colin seemed less trifling, even though Colin had fewer active scenes to play than the cousins. But this might be because Burrowes had already explored each of the cousins individually in their own stories and Colin is to be a hero in her upcoming installation of Windham Brides. But I didn’t see the point of re-introducing so many of the cousins in this book if they were not to be given due roles. It was the only part of the novel that I felt out of sync with.

Recommendation: Oh, absolutely! If you like historical romances, this novel is bound to entertain. Admirable heroine, hubba-hubba hero, a villain to make you properly nervous, you’ll be turning the pages. I, meanwhile, have already marked my calendar for the release of Colin’s story (he is expected to hook up with Megan’s younger sister, Anwen).

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