Show Me the Romance

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Book Review: Wrapped

Wrapped
 By Jennifer Bradbury

Since I’m thinking about making my next project a YA Regency Romance (or YARR) (Mateys!) (Sorry, couldn’t resist), I’ve been trying to read every example of that genre I can get my hands on. The first one I read–The Season by Sarah MacLean–was so frustrating and condescending it made me wonder if the genre was fundamentally flawed, the casualty of tailoring a Regency Romance to fit YA expectations. Next, I whipped through a couple of chick-litty Regency YA novels by Meg Cabot that read well and didn’t reek of pandering to a younger reader (unlike The Season), but the tone wasn’t quite what I had in mind for my own novel.

Then I found Wrapped — a YA mystery regency romance with Egyptian themes. It’s pretty good, and suddenly I don’t think the YARR is so flawed after all. (YARR!)

The Premise

London, 1815. When Agnes Wilkins discovers a strange jackelheaded figurine in the wrappings of a mummy featured at a high society party, her first instinct is to hide the figurine as her own little secret. But then a series of robberies and murders begin to plague everyone who had contact with the mummy, and Agnes decides she isn’t about to wait around and let the so-called “curse” rifle through her wardrobe. She’s going to crack the secret herself . . . with the help of an attractive young Egyptologist who has a few secrets of his own.

The Pain

In addition to some historical inaccuracies and a suspiciously magical performance from an inanimate object (when the book’s world is a non-magical one), the book suffers from a slow start (I’m already seeing a YARR trend here  . . . starting the book with the heroine complaining about being fit for a gown) and doesn’t really get rolling until the first murder happens. But isn’t that par for the course in mysteries? Also, I knew who the villain was from the beginning, and I’m Ms. Oblivious. Whoops. Good thing this blog isn’t called “Show Me The Mystery”.

The Payoff

The hero isn’t a Duke! Or a Marquis, or an Earl, or even a Sir. Shocking, I know. As a museum assistant, aspiring Egyptologist Caedmon is decidedly below Agnes’s rank socially, but even if he’s a bit rough, he’s also capable and clever–and unlike most Regency Romance heroes, he hasn’t been under half the skirts in London. The romance isn’t all that strong, so I couldn’t bump this up to a four arrow. Still, Agnes and Caedmon are cute together, and combined with an ending I enjoyed (even if it was a *mite* improbable), I think I can safely say this one is a three-arrow grinner.
Rating:

3 out of 5 arrows

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Book Review: The Scarlet Pimpernel

The Scarlet Pimpernel
 By Baroness Emmuska Orczy

Many modern adventure stories owe a severe debt of gratitude to Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel. Blackadder has parodied the character. Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation novels function on the assumption that not only was the old Scarlet P a real person, he eventually retired and his flower-named pupils continued spying for England. I love both Blackadder and the Pink Carnation, so I decided to see what all the fuss was about.

The Premise

To imitate the book’s language…
It’s 1792. The Reign of Terror has Paris in its grip, and the guillotine drinks deep of France’s noble blood. A league of young English gentlemen dash back and forth across the Channel, rescuing French aristocrats from a revolution that has lost its way. Their leader calls himself the Scarlet Pimpernel—he plots every move and slips like a wraith through the French authorities’ fingers.

Now the French government has their best agent on his tail. He intends to blackmail Lady Marguerite Blakeney into helping him unmask the Pimpernel. If she doesn’t, he’ll have her beloved brother killed. Marguerite moves in the highest English circles thanks to her fabulously wealthy, incomparably stupid husband, Sir Percy Blakeney, but even she doesn’t know the secret that makes her part in betraying the Scarlet Pimpernel so awful: she’s married to him.

The Pain

Although I love the fact that Marguerite is a strong, active heroine who tells almost the entire story from her point of view, the overwrought palpitations of her heart will probably be off-putting for anyone with a low threshold for melodrama. That being said, the book is more than a century old and it gives me a happy ending, so I throw it a bone.

The Payoff

Percy, Percy, Percy . . .  you care for nothing, yet you watch your wife with incredible longing. You make the world think you’re an impeccably dressed buffoon—all so you can save innocent people from the barbarism of the guillotine. You laugh like an idiot, plot like a genius, and love like a starving man. You are worthy of Marguerite’s love, and you make the novel. Bravo.

Rating:

4 out of 5 arrows

Book Review: The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride
S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure
By William Goldman

You’ve seen the movie, oh, about a thousand times, so reading the book seems pointless. Do it anyway.

The Premise

This is like trying to write the premise of Star Wars. True love, Buttercup and Westley, Prince Humperdink, the Cliffs of Insanity, the man in black, Fezzik the Giant, Inigo Montoya, “Never go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line!” “As you wish!”, Rodents of Unusual Size, the Fire Swamp, Miracle Max, the six-fingered man, the Dread Pirate Roberts, and happily ever after. Imagine watching the movie, but getting more of it, because the experience of reading the book is just like watching the movie—complete with asides by the author, who claims to have first heard the story as a little boy.

The Pain

I wouldn’t go so far as saying the book is better than the movie. There are some jokes that work much better as visuals, but where those fall flat, Goldman has plenty more zingers that just never made the cut to the screen. You could say the pace is not as tight because the author takes the time to go back and give Fezzik’s story, and Inigo’s story, as well as more details behind the other characters. Anyone who wants to be a novelist or a screenwriter should read this book because you can clearly see what parts Goldman cut (he adapted it for the screenplay as well) and why, and how it was tightened, and how they made some scenes work when they had to cut lots of expository information to fit it all into the movie. Both the book and the movie work brilliantly, so this, my friends, is how it’s done.

The Payoff

I used to scoff at the idea of having a favorite book—there are so many I love!—but after reading The Princess Bride, this is officially my favorite book. There’s more of Westley and Buttercup’s romance in the book than there was in the movie (not a lot more, but a little!). I read slowly, savoring every turn of phrase because I was having too much fun experiencing it for the first time. The adventure is both old and new. It has everything, and it’s told in such a delightfully satiric and warm-hearted vein that I know I’ll want to read it again. And again. And probably read it to my children one day.

Rating:

5 out of 5 arrows

Book Review: The Mortal Instruments series

The Mortal Instruments series
(City of Bones, City of Ashes, City of Glass)
Novels by Cassandra Clare
Buffy-esque urban fantasy with strong romantic elements

There are more books in Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments, but these three are the original sprawling, wise-cracking, romantic trilogy. The story told in City of Bones, City of Ashes, and City of Glass is dark, fast-paced, and satisfying. It seems to me that anything more would dilute the product (see Wars, Star) but what do I know?

The Premise

Fifteen-year-old Clary Fray thinks demons and supernatural warriors lurk only on the pages of her comic books until the night she sees a bunch of kids kill another kid in a New York City nightclub. When those teenagers turn out to be Shadowhunters—humans with angel blood who protect the world from demonkind—Clary falls headlong into a world teeming with vampires, faeries, werewolves and warlocks. With her mother missing and the scent of demons everywhere, Clary has to ask the Shadowhunters for help. Unfortunately, that includes Jace, a boy her age who “looks a little like an angel and a lot like a jerk.” (That line comes directly from Clare’s own jacket copy. It captures the book’s modern tone perfectly).

The Pain

Cassandra Clare is the quintessential fangirl (if her name sounds vaguely familiar, she is the pen behind the brilliant “Very Secret Diaries” of various Lord of the Rings characters). In The Mortal Instruments, she riffs on everything from anime to Spiderman, and even references her own VSDs. I love that stuff, but unfortunately the fangirling also translates into a little derivativeness in the plot department—especially when it comes to the villain.

And “Clary” as a character name is a little too similar to Clare to avoid feelings of Mary-Sueism.

The Payoff

Romance doesn’t get more impossible or torturous than the chemistry between Jace and Clary. I’m not even sure how Clare pulled it off so well, but she lights the fuse in City of Bones, twists the cord in City of Ashes, and detonates it in City of Glass. After all that, and a satisfying ending to boot, what more is there?

No really, what more is there to fill three whole books?

—Books 4, 5, and 6 in the series are City of Fallen Angels (2011), City of Lost Souls (to be released 2012), and City of Heavenly Fire (to be released 2013). There’s also a movie in the works, featuring actors Lily Collins as Clary and Jamie Campbell Bower as Jace, pictured above.

Rating:

4 out of 5 arrows

Back?

*Michelle climbs back onto the face of the earth.* Whew, quite a tumble I took there wasn’t it? I haven’t posted anything new since July?? And I’ve read so many books I should review, too.

Here’s what’s coming in the next few weeks: review of the TV show “Farscape,” review of Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay, review of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (yes, I was living under a rock after falling off the face of the earth, so it’s taken me awhile to get on board with the book everyone and their senile uncle has read) and a Grammar Nazi post (really, she should rename herself the Spelling Nazi, because that’s all she really harps on. *ouch* Okay, she just smacked me for finishing that sentence with a preposition. And she’s seething over this entire paragraph. Heh.)

On other news, I’ve finished the major revisions to Veiled Iron and have begun querying. I’m planning on entering a few contests, and resuming work on Broadway High (for those of you keeping track, that’s the YA musical novel). My fanfiction story is finished, and several lovely readers from that experience have volunteered to read Veiled Iron for me and give me some feedback. Yay 🙂

Happy New Year everyone!

Michelle

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Book Review: Sabriel

Sabriel
Novel by Garth Nix
An epic fantasy with a nice dose of romance

It took me awhile to get through the first half of this book. Not because it wasn’t a good story or well-written or anything like that–it took that long for the romance to show up. I’d actually resigned myself to a good story with no romance when all of a sudden *boom* there it was, and I became a reading fiend.

The Premise

Sabriel is an 18 year old student at a ladies academy when a spectre of the Dead visits her to deliver an ominous message: her father is trapped in the realm of the dead, and she has become the Abhorsen, a person charged with protecting the living by keeping dead things dead. She travels into the magical Old Kingdom, hoping to restore him to life, but instead discovers the Kingdom (which has been decaying for awhile) is on the verge of destruction.

The Pain

You have to get through some rather typical obstacle/solve/obstacle fantasy plotting in the first half (though the magic system and its basis in necromancy is fascinating) to get to the romance, but once there, all the characters seem to perk up and grow more alive.

The Payoff

I won’t give away who the guy is, or where Sabriel meets him, but their romance is the product of deft writing. With only a few precious details sprinkled throughout the narrative, Nix creates the sense that these people really are falling for each other.

This is Book 1 of the Abhorsen Trilogy, but it also stands on its own (I haven’t read the others yet). If you like dark adventure and subtle romance (heck, if you like fantasy at all) I highly recommend this book.

And Mogget is awesome.

Rating:

4 out of 5 arrows

Book Review: The Secret History of the Pink Carnation

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation
Novel by Lauren Willig
A contemporary/historical romance and alternate history spy novel

Time to talk about one of my favorite authors. Lauren Willig is who I want to be when I grow up. Of course, the fact that she has a Harvard Law degree and I…do not… might put a bit of a damper on my emulation plans. Eh, well my point remains: The Secret History of the Pink Carnation and its sequels are awesome incarnate.

The Premise

In modern day London, American grad student Eloise Kelly desperately needs sources for her thesis on flower-named spies during the Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815). Everyone knows the Scarlet Pimpernel was a real spy, and they also know the identity of the Purple Gentian, his protégé—but Eloise really wants to discover the identity of the Pink Carnation, the most mysterious spy of all.

She becomes the luckiest grad student in history when she meets up with a direct descendant of the Purple Gentian. Even better, the old lady gives her permission to read the family papers—papers no academic has ever seen before. And never will, if her hostile-but-handsome grandson has anything to say about it.

Meanwhile in 1803, the Purple Gentian a.k.a. Richard Selwick is happily wreaking havoc in Paris when wannabe spy Amy forces her way into his life. Amy sucks at espionage. Suddenly, Richard has his hands full, carrying out missions for the crown while keeping Amy away from danger—and that includes himself.

The Pain

The book switches back and forth between the modern and historical timelines every few chapters. This would be intolerable if one storyline sucked, but fortunately they’re both good, so as you read it’s like “No! I don’t want to leave Richard and Amy!” and then a few chapters later it’s like “No! I don’t want to leave Eloise and Colin!” and so on.  Mildly annoying, but I can’t imagine the story being told in any other way.

The Payoff

This thing is funny. And hot romantic. And really well written. And she knows her history. And aw heck, why don’t I just squeal like the little fangirl I am.

There, done. Aren’t you glad you couldn’t hear me?

Rating:

5 out of 5 arrows

The other books in the Pink Carnation series are great, too. In order:
The Secret History of the Pink Carnation
The Masque of the Black Tulip
The Deception of the Emerald Ring
The Seduction of the Crimson Rose
The Temptation of the Night Jasmine
The Betrayal of the Blood Lily

The Mischief of the Mistletoe (coming in October 2010)

Book Review: Darcy’s Passions

Darcy’s Passions
Novel by Regina Jeffers
A retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice

So in case you haven’t noticed the ballooning words over in my tag cloud, I’ve been on a Jane Austen kick lately. When I wasn’t able to find the retelling of Persuasion I was looking for, I decided to investigate the author by settling for the only one of her books I could find in our local library: Darcy’s Passions by Regina Jeffers.

And I do mean settle. This is an awful book.

The Premise

I think everyone with even a passing interest in romance knows the plot for Pride & Prejudice (if not, check out the Pride & Prejudice Wikipedia page) and this is a retelling told almost entirely from Darcy’s point of view. I say “almost” because the author frequently slip-n-slides between her characters’ heads, all the while pretending she’s sticking only with Darcy. Also, Jeffers gives us almost 100 pages after the second proposal. Sound like a smorgasbord? Imagine how you’d feel after eating two entire double-fudge chocolate cakes in less than a half hour. Groan.

The Pain

Let’s breeze by the wrong word choices (things frequently “peak” her characters’ interest and one even says “perspective bride”) and go straight to the fact that after the second proposal the real Darcy and Elizabeth vanish from the pages (probably to go enjoy each other in private) and leave behind two sappy, chatty, PDA-prone doppelgangers. My mush-tolerance got maxed out some 90 pages before the end of the book, but I kept reading just to see how deep the rabbit hole went. The answer? Pretty darn far.

The Payoff

When you ignore those word choices, and Jeffers’ tendency to write like the academic she is, the parts of the novel that mirror Austen’s plot can be entertaining. I enjoyed seeing more of the friendship between Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam.

Yeah, that’s about it.

Rating:

1 out of 5 arrows

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