Review: His Lady Mistress

His Lady MistressDownload the book for free at eHarlequin.com

Dear Harlequin:

I want my money back.

Yes, I know I got His Lady Mistress by Elizabeth Rolls for free as part of your 60th Anniversary celebration, but I still feel that somehow I was cheated in this deal.

Not that this is a poorly written book. In fact, I commend Ms. Rolls’ writing for drawing me in and keeping me reading even as part of me cringed and another part of me wanted to fling the book against the wall (which I didn’t do, seeing as I was reading this on my phone, and it was definitely not free). The prose flowed nicely and was unobtrusive — by which I mean that I didn’t see any glaring errors or awkward phrases that jolted me out of the story. The only time the prose got purple was during coitus, which is pretty well par for the course. Although the reoccurring comparison of her hair to “cool fire” or “cool silken fire” was a little paradoxical.

When Verity Scott was fifteen, her father killed himself. He is not allowed a proper burial due to the nature of his death and conventions of the time, so Verity tries her best to do what she can for him. A kind stranger named Max, who served under her father’s command, swoops in to help her honor her father and wins a place in her heart. For the next five years she is treated like dirt by her aunt, uncle, and female cousin and accosted by her cousin Godfrey Farringdon. She is forced to pretend her name is “Selina.” Mysterious and aloof Lord Blakehurst shows up to visit and protects “Selina” from Godfrey. She recognizes Lord Blakehurst as Max, and when he offers “Selina” a chance to be his mistress, she accepts.

Max came to the Farringdon’s to check up on Verity Scott, who he considers his responsibility (although he didn’t bother checking up on her for five years, which seems contradictory, but I digress). To his dismay, the Farringdons tell him that Verity is dead. Seeing a chance to make up for his failure to protect Verity, he offers “Selina” a chance to become his mistress (not at all because she makes him hornypants, no no). Then, of course, he finds out she’s really Verity, and has to marry her.

My problems with this book stem mainly from the number of tropes present. Not only do we have a heroine with Cinderella Syndrome, but she also has a Molesting Cousin (who Harms Animals!). The whole initial premise of the plot is a Big Misunderstanding, and just when you think they’ll start being smart and talking, another Big Misunderstanding rears its ugly head. A couple times the characters seemed to be forced to act a certain way just to fit in another BM. Almeria (Max’s aunt) seems to show up just in time to say something to set off another BM, and then disappears again. Verity is a martyr to end all martyrs and at times TSTL, not to mention a virgin. There’s Punishing Kisses. And for crying out loud, there’s even a Secret Baby tossed in for good measure.

All of that would have been tolerable — almost enjoyable, even, in a campy sort of way — if it weren’t for Max. Max is not an Alpha hero, he is an asshat. He calls Verity a bitch and a whore, insults her repeatedly, sees that he’s hurting her emotionally, and doesn’t stop. That right there is emotional abuse, folks, and it ruined the happy ending for me. I couldn’t help but feel that the abuse cycle would repeat itself sometime after the book ends. Plus, there was not nearly enough grovelling on Max’s part to even close to make up for what he said (bitch and whore? That’s damn near unforgivable when you consider the circumstances). Also, the age difference is never really addressed but it is hinted at that Max is older than 27. Verity is 20. That’s a heck of a gap and would probably have been an issue.

If I had borrowed this book from the library, sure I would be miffed that it was a waste of my time to read and yes I would be upset by the content. But what really bugs me is that this is part of the free eBook giveaway you are running for your 60th anniversary. I am a relatively new inductee into the romantic fold (yuck yuck) and I have to say that I’m lucky I read Bet Me and The Bride Thief before I read this. If this had been the first romance I read, I might never pick one up again. It not only propagates but encourages the negative stereotypes of the genres. A free eBook promotion is a great way to get new readers hooked on the genre and to attract readers who would never have thought to pick up a romance novel before. It seems like it would make more sense to offer some of your best and most stereotype-breaking books if you want to use the full potential of the promotion. But instead you offer us this trope tripe and readers get exactly what they expect — and not in a good way.

Well, Harlequin, I’ll give you one more chance, since even though this book had many (many) issues, it was very well-written. I’ve downloaded Crime Scene at Cardwell Ranch and hopefully it will surpass this offering in enjoyability. Overall Grade: D+

Sincerely,

Dee

Advertisements

Judging a Book by its Cover

The question has been bouncing around on blogs I read — most notably Dear Author and Smart Bitches, Trashy Books — as to why so many people, without ever having picked up a romance novel, instantly declare the whole genre as trashy, pornographic bodice-rippers.

Having long done exactly that, and being a recent convert to romance-reader, I believe I can answer that.

It’s the covers, both front and back.

Take this as an example:

The title itself is a little off-putting: Forced Wife, Royal Love-Child. And get a load of the back copy:

Sienna Wainwright has one passionate night with international financier Rafe Lombardi before he unceremoniously casts her out of his bed. Sienna hopes never to see his seductively arrogant face again, but six weeks later their world changes—forever….

Rafe is no longer just a billionaire, but is revealed as the prince of Montvelatte. What’s more, Sienna is pregnant—with his twins! What choice does she have now? Rafe is determined to claim his heirs and take Sienna as his royal wife!

In two short paragraphs, several tropes are blatantly played, and the story sounds like the stereotypical one that most non-romance-readers expect in a romance novel. But this could very well be an excellently written novel with rich, engaging characters and surprising twists that take the traditional tropes and bend them in new ways. It must be doing something right — it is the number 2 best seller on eHarlequin.com.

Unfortunately, being a relatively new initiate into the world of Romance, I don’t have many examples to cite as to a great book wrapped in a terrible clinch cover with violent violet prose on the back. But, being new to the genre, I do know how hard it is to find that true gem amongst the gaudy baubles that line the shelves of the Romance section. When every back cover reads just about the same — vary only whether there’s a Secret Baby, a Marriage of Convenience, SexyVamps, or the time period — and the front covers either feature scary men in chest-baring poses clutching bored women or porn stars dressed up Regency style, it’s not hard to see where romances get their reputation. And when the books themselves are only available for a short period of time — a month or two, depending on the company and the author’s reputation — it makes it that much harder. Heck, I’m still trying to find a copy of Mr. Impossible, which is far more difficult than it should be.

Another way to think about this is to take a classic, one that is almost universally acknowledged as being well-written and enjoyable, and slap one of those terrible clinch covers on it, one of Fabio, dressed as a Regency gent, clinging to a narcoleptic Lady who is draped on his side, standing in a field of heather somewhere. Then imagine flipping it over to be assaulted by this for a back-cover summary:

HE was the ultimate gentleman, but he was as cold as ice.
SHE was a woman ahead of her time, unwilling to stoop for any man.
They were attracted by a force stronger than nature…but when scandal strikes, can the budding feelings they have for each other be saved, or will they remain forever slaves to HER Pride and HIS Prejudice?

Would you really buy that book if you saw it on the bookstore shelf? Or would you say “meh” and put it right back down? (Note: Hopefully you can tell that I’m referring to Pride and Prejudice, and if you can come up with a more groan-worthy or accurate back cover copy, please let me know and I’ll feature it here)

I don’t speak for all the people who either used to hate romance without having read it or still do. However, I think that this is a pretty reasonable explanation for the logic behind it.

Hopefully publishers will get the message — which they have, to an extent, especially with Paranormals — but I somehow doubt it. Their books sell no matter what they package them in, so there’s little motivation for change. So I’ll stick to reading Romances that have been recommended to me, and taking my chances with the rest, until the covers catch up with the content.

Side note: It’s not just Romance that suffers from this. Sci Fi and Fantasy have been suffering quite the cover conundrum lately too. In fact, I’ve avoided new Sci Fi and Fantasy for quite a while because they all have the same plot summary with a few subtle changes, and the covers are all either ridiculously boring or really terrible. Anymore, it seems like I don’t read something unless somebody recommends it to me or I recognize the author as someone I like to read.

Published in: on March 10, 2009 at 2:30 pm  Comments (4)  
Tags: , , ,

Purple Prose: Where’s the Line?

Budding authors looking to get published live in fear of the dreaded purple prose, painstakingly going through their rough drafts and debating the necessity of each and every adjective. With the preponderance of critique-less form replies from publishers and agents, the newbie author struggles to determine whether their prose was too purple or too stark and barren. What with the recent publication of some suspiciously lavender novels, and the resulting backlash from the Purple Prose Patrol, the world of eloquent writing is doubly scary for the entry-level author. Is purple prose inherently bad? Yes, it is; it jars the reader out of the world created by the author and either leaves them laughing or confused. But where to draw the line between pale lavender and ultraviolet is an issue that budding authors, including myself, struggle with, often without much support.

So what, exactly, is purple prose? According to Wikipedia:

Purple prose is a term of literary criticism used to describe passages, or sometimes entire literary works, written in prose so overly extravagant, ornate, or flowery as to break the flow and draw attention to itself. Purple prose is sensually evocative beyond the requirements of its context. It also refers to writing that employs certain rhetorical effects such as exaggerated sentiment or pathos in an attempt to manipulate a reader’s response.

Television Tropes & Idioms echoes this definition, if you can ferret it out of the ultraviolet passage. Deb Stover, a prominent romance writer, has a definition that is more accessible and may be of better help to a writer:

One way of identifying purple prose is by your reaction when you read it. Does it make you laugh out loud because it’s so ludicrous? Or does it make you shake your head in disgust? If it does either, feed it to the Purple Prose-Eater. He’ll appreciate it a lot more than your readers will.

So where does that line fall? Of course, there’s no objective way to define that; much of the definition of purple prose is in the reaction of the reader, and every reader reacts differently. However, there are a few things that can act as tips that a passage is dyed purple. Take the following passage, for instance, from Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight (I didn’t record the page number, unfortunately, and I no longer have my copy, so apologies for the poor citation):

His skin, white despite the faint flush from yesterday’s hunting trip, literally sparkled, like thousands of tiny diamonds were embedded in the surface. He lay perfectly still in the grass, his shirt open over his sculpted, incandescent chest, his scintillating arms bare. His glistening, pale lavender lids were shut, though of course he didn’t sleep. A perfect statue, carved in some unknown stone, smooth like marble, glittering like crystal.

Now, there are several indicators that this passage is at least a little lavender, even if it doesn’t read like the examples given on Wikipedia or Television Tropes and Idioms. First, the sentences are generally long, with several clauses linked by commas. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it can make the passage seem long-winded. Second, it reads like thesaurus tossed in a blender. Even though different adjectives are used, because they’re all synonyms or very close cousins, it comes across as repetitive. Also, there are far too many adjectives; a few of the nouns are modified by at least two adjectives, and the rest have at least one. This lessens the impact of the scene, as well as making the reader groan. The last tip off is the use of certain phrases — “smooth like marble” for instance — that are used with all due frequency throughout the book. If you overuse a certain descriptor it can lead to Purple Prose-itis, rapidly followed by Gangrene of the Modifier. Generally, if you describe the character once, unless there’s significant changes to their appearance, it is acceptable not to describe them again.

Romance seems to be the genre most affected by Purple Prose-itis, though certainly not in its entirety, and no genre is truly safe from its grasp. While romance tends to resort to purple prose in erotic scenes due to the need for euphemisms, as hilariously detailed in Deb Stover’s article, any other genre may devolve into a lavender mist when confronted with an awkward, uncomfortable, or difficult passage. Science Fiction might face issues when trying to describe future technology in as brainy a way as possible. Fantasy, with the need to describe an entirely new and unique world to the reader, faces almost as many issues as romance. Mysteries might get purple while trying to describe a murder scene in detail, or some sort of forensic science. Horror could become purple while describing the terrifying thing chasing the protagonist. A historical or steampunk novel might be very purple to elicit the feel of writing of the time period. The list goes on and on.

The bottom line is that there is no line except for the one you draw yourself as an author. Some writers have been able to write extremely purple prose and be published and lauded for it (although most of them lived in the late 19th century). What is most important is bringing to life your world and your characters so that the reader feels that they are truly engaged in the plot. If a passage or phrase feels to you, or your test readers, stilted or jarring, it’s probably in your best interests to edit it. Otherwise, keep on writing how you write best and worry about the Purple Prose Patrol later.

Do you have an opinion on purple prose, or an example for us? Then drop a note in the comments section!

From Dead To Worse

Caution: Spoilers ahead, though I’ve tried to keep them light.

I’ve been a long-time reader of the Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris, and while I consistently enjoy her writing and her world, I have to say that over the past few books (there are 8 currently; the ninth comes out in May) I have been having more and more difficulty believing the world setting. While From Dead to Worse certainly goes in for some of the less-believable elements (there’s a Secret Baby. Seriously), it also compensates by bringing back Sookie’s feisty independence, and giving us the barest hint that maybe, just maybe, Sookie will find her happy ending soon.

I had initially intended to do this review as a liveblog, but it’s a testament to Ms. Harris’s writing that once I started reading, I couldn’t put the book down. I read the book in about a day and a half, and every time I needed to put the book down and do something else, I kept telling myself “Just one more page…or chapter…eh, doing [insert important chore] wasn’t that important anyway, it can wait…” Sookie’s wry and occasionally simple views on what’s going on around her add a dash of reality to the often absolutely bizarre events that are going on around her. Ms. Harris manages to describe complex scenes like the werewolf showdown or a murder scene and make them feel real without going into great detail or delving into the world of purple prose. Some of the descriptions made me laugh out loud, literally —

But I was clinging to her like a homicidal monkey. (pg 160)

The air around him got hyper. (pg 164)

And he poofed. (pg 348 )

But as silly as these descriptions sound, they work because they are in line with Sookie’s character. One thing I must say, however, is that it felt as if Ms. Harris is just as tired of writing the crazy stuff Sookie has to go through as Sookie is of going through it. I can’t point out anything in specific that made it feel that way, but an overall sense of exhaustion pervaded the writing. That could be intentional, but I’m not sure.

As for the plot itself, there’s only so much I can say without giving away the whole thing. Suffice it to say that the Secret Family thread shows up more than once. The Weres of Shreveport are having some serious issues, most of which stem from the pack leader contest from a few books back. Debbie Pelt makes her presence felt from beyond the grave (again), which stirs up some trouble in Hotshot. There’s Bob the cat, again, and Amelia’s mentor. Quinn is missing, which causes Sookie no end of hurt, especially when she finds out where he was. And, of course, the vampires have a turf war, which I can’t discuss much about because of mega spoilers.

This much plot is almost too much for the length of the book, but each of the plots couldn’t really fill a book on their own. As it stands, the Secret Family portion shows up in the beginning, and while certain parts are mentioned throughout the book, the Secret Baby part is mostly forgotten until the end. The weres’ war is resolved a little too conveniently for my tastes, wrapping up in the middle of the book. Its conclusion felt a little forced and pat, but it served its purpose. Ditto for the Debbie Pelt sub-plot; it got resolved way too easily, so easily that I kept waiting for the catch. The vampire issue showed up in the beginning, went into hiding, and showed up again in the end. It was somewhat disappointing, but it was the only one of the sub-plots that really felt like it had a realistic conclusion. I got the definite feeling throughout the book, especially with the easily-wrapped-up sub-plots, that Ms. Harris is going about the business of tying up loose ends. As it stands, the only loose ends are the Secret Baby and Who Sookie Ends Up With, with the caveat of How Does She Get Out of This Mess. I have a strong suspicion that the next book will be the last in the series, or at least an acceptable conclusion.

On a side note, there were far fewer instances of Oblivious Sookie than in the last book (come on, even an idiot would be suspicious of suitcases they don’t recognize when there’s terrorists threatening the convention). There were, however, plenty of instances where I wanted to reach in and slap the characters. Somehow, even though not communicating has caused life-or-death problems for the seven books prior, they still haven’t gotten the clue that telling the whole story could save lives.

As far as the romance goes, I have to say I’m pretty happy how this one went. Sookie dumps Quinn for a very valid reason, but her explanation of why is lacking. She tells him that it’s because she wants him to put her on top of his list, and he can’t. Honestly, it seemed to me more like she dumped him because he already betrayed her once because of his mother and sister, and she can’t trust him not to betray her again as long as the mother and sister are around. Given that she’s already been betrayed by Bill and carries some pretty hefty scars from that, I’m a little surprised that the rationalization given didn’t match what I knew of the character. In any case, I’m happy to see Quinn go. I didn’t like him from the get-go — he’s kind of a Gary Stu, what with being the last of his kind and having purple eyes, a tragic past and few or no character flaws. There was no out-and-out romance in this book (which is a bit of a departure from the others in the series) but it was irritating that eligible males kept getting thrust in Sookie’s direction. There’s Marley, the chauffeur for Amelia’s father, who is described as attractive and kind; Amelia’s father, Copley, hints that he’s interested in Sookie; Bill shows interest again (which drove me crazy — we dealt with that angst for several books already); the Fabulous Vegas Vamps think she’s hot to trot; about the only new characters that aren’t at least alluded to being potential love interests are Bob the cat after he’s uncatted, and Niall (although some of the descriptions of him/his actions are mildly squick-inducing). Of course, Sam and Eric are still interested in Sookie, and they’re the primary love interests in this book. The others are more there for the what-if and potential.

As far as Sam and Eric go, I have to say that this book does exceptionally dealing with the complicated nature of their relationships with Sookie. I’m a bit of a Sam/Sookie shipper myself, so this book was full of long-awaited squee. They don’t go all the way, of course, but we get to see Sookie analyzing what she really wants, and realizing who in her life can give her that. She has lost a lot of her initial love for vampires, for one thing, and she realizes she wants kids. But mostly, she wants a bit of peace and quiet. She and Sam end up bonding quite a bit, and I wouldn’t be surprised if their relationship takes the front seat in the next book. Of course, Eric is always the obstacle, but he gives Sookie a lot to dislike this time around, from knocking her cellphone out of her hand to refusing to respect her wishes.

While I have my issues with the world setting itself — there seem to be far too many types of magical critters for us humans not to notice — the problems that plague it are pretty common in the genre as a whole. The book itself is well-written, with engaging characters and a plot that keeps you turning the page, wanting to know what happens next. The writing style is humorous and keeps the book from being too dark. For the first time in a few books, it seems like there actually might be a Happily Ever After out there for Sookie, which is a breath of fresh air. I’m eagerly awaiting the next installment, and you can bet your butt that I’ll be one of the first to check it out from my local library!

Hello World!

Welcome to Fools Errant, a blog for those of you who enjoy the art of writing and the pleasure of reading. This blog will feature reviews of books in just about every genre, discussions of important writing techniques, and anything interesting I pick up along the way and want to share with you. If you want to read some of my writing, you can check me out at Scribophile, and if you’re interested in my art, check out my gallery.

Published in: on February 11, 2009 at 8:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , ,