Show Me the Romance

No cherubs. No doilies. No crap.

Archive for the tag “literature”

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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Romance is about the journey, not the ending

I think people who love romance novels, and who seek out romantic movies (even though so many Hollywood rom-coms are cold, formulaic crap from beginning to end) are wired a little differently from the rest of the population.

“The ending was so predictable!” critics say. “You know who’s going to end up together from the beginning,” others complain.

Well, yeah. That’s the point.

Reading a romance isn’t like reading a mystery or a thriller. In a mystery, readers are on guard for clues from the very first page, trying to outguess the characters and, by extension, the author. That’s the fun of it all. If a reader has guessed the culprit halfway through the book, the author hasn’t done his or her job, and most mystery readers will roast the book accordingly.

In a romance, the fun is not in trying to predict the ending. Please. The fun is in seeing how it all plays out. There are sacrifices to be made, there’s growing up to do, there are adventures and daring rescues (by heroines just as often as by heroes), there are mysteries to solve, and all the while there’s a delicious emotional journey playing out on the page. If the author has done his or her job, we get a front row seat rooting for two people we care about while they work through ALL that stuff before finding their way to a happy ending.

So yeah those characters had better actually wind up together. If I got emotionally invested in two characters being together, and then I reach the end of their story only to find that they’ve decided to “see other people” I’mthrowingthebookacrosstheroom.

But a romance novel would never end that way, so I’m in good hands.

Movies and TV shows are a little bit more of a romance crapshoot (which is why I try to point out the ones that deliver and the ones that don’t on this blog).

Take this thought-provoking review of The Five Year Engagement by a colleague of mine over at Media Matters. Jerry Holsopple has good questions about the clues romantic movies give readers to identify which characters are meant for each other. By my definition of romances, it ought to be head-slappingly obvious who the Hero and Heroine are (hint: it’s a romance, so they’re both pictured on the movie poster), but all snarking aside, his questions are valid.  And one sentence inspired me to write this blog post:

Five-Year has a predictable ending but the creative way it accomplishes it is satisfying.

Then that means it’s probably a good romance. Predictable ending? Good. Satisfyingly creative way it’s accomplished? EVEN BETTER. That’s where romances are made and broken, not in the ending.

And one final thing about predictable endings to romances: I don’t want to waste my time and emotional investment rooting for the heroine to choose one guy only to find out she winds up leaving him for a different man. Team Edward and Team Jacob might be fun for lots of people, but love triangles only work for me when it’s pretty darn clear which side is going to come out in the wash.

It’s about the journey. Not the ending.

Friday Frivolity: Fiction is GOOD for you!

Recently, the New York Times published an article on the neuroscientific effects fiction has on the brain. The upshot is, fiction doesn’t rot your brain, it stimulates it.

Photo by Jayel Aheram

As a lifelong bookworm, I’m doing a little happy dance in my chair. Clever metaphors, evocative words, intense emotions felt vicariously through readers…it all has a positive effect on the brain, stimulating multiple areas at once and giving us the next best thing to living out these experiences in real life.

My husband is always giving me a hard time for binge-reading fiction while neglecting non-fiction. I do agree that whenever I make myself read non-fiction I enjoy it, but fiction is my passion—and now I can come back at him with proof that all my fiction reading (apart from being excellent research for writing) is worthwhile.

Happy Friday to fiction lovers everywhere 🙂

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

Friday Frivolity: Bring on the Pulp

I tweeted a couple of times today about John Carter—the new movie based on 19th/20th century author Edgar Rice Burroughs (of Tarzan fame)—and the decidedly mixed reviews.

The reviews range from pans verging on the eloquent:

John Carter is one of those films that is so stultifying, so oppressive and so mysteriously and interminably long that I felt as if someone had dragged me into the kitchen of my local Greggs, and was baking my head into the centre of a colossal cube of white bread.

To the rather glowing:

For me, this is the first movie of its kind in a very long time that I’d willingly sit through a second or even third time.

Knowing my rather pedestrian tastes (did anyone see me give a Bollywood rom-com 4 arrows?) and the fact that I’ve been fascinated by old pulp fiction ever since I stumbled upon a row of dusty Ian Fleming novels in my college library, I’m fairly certain I could be entertained by this movie. The only trick is convincing my husband to spend a few hours with a movie his favorite critic called mediocre.

Wish me luck!

If I’m successful, I may even post a Show Me the Romance review for John Carter–reviewing only the romance, of course :-).

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

Friday Frivolity: A Seusstastic Birthday

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

Green eggs and ham, I like them not,

But your wise books I loved a lot.

Your “One Fish, Two Fish” gave to me

Proof of my own literacy

And though my rhymes are blech as snot,

 Your books are gems for old and tot.

Aren’t you glad I’m not a poet?

How many of us giggled with Sam I Am, learned important lessons from Horton and the Lorax, and received Oh, the Places You’ll Go! as a graduation gift?

To this day, I still laugh when I see this image of the Grinch at his most vile (from the 1966 animated Christmas special) , and I can hear the narrator’s voice repeating Seuss’s words:

“And then he got an idea. An awful idea. The Grinch had a wonderful, awful idea.”

May all our ideas make us this happy. 

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