Strip the Willow and Rip the Bodice

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Time and the Narrator July 13, 2010

My Initial Reaction to the Narrator

Now, my overall question is still: why is this a romance novel?

I think starting with the narrator, though, and the narrator’s pace is an important. After all, it’s the narrator who decides how we ‘get’ the story. My initial reaction was – eh. I like when narrators become characters themselves (this happens once and a while – the narrator gets all meta-fiction-y on us and addresses the reader). But, I had written ‘show don’t tell’ in the margins a lot but, in the end, I sort of … understood the narration style.

It was hard to get used to the time jumps:

“He had gone; now he had come back, the business details settled to his satisfaction, but with not wig.” p. 16

“That night he gave a card-party. The play was high and the bottles numerous. He lost some money, won a little, and was put to bed by his valet long after dawn. He awake later with a splitting headache, but he considered himself a man. That was in September.” p.59

Not to mention a play-by-play of a duel stretched over three pages in the form of a sort of soliloquy (pages 90-92).

I was a bit annoyed with the pace. Especially since the exposition was given dialogue, but the real meat of the book was brushed over and just told to the reader in short paragraphs with a little free indirect discourse once in a while when the characters met up. I found myself skipping a lot of the dialogue for it was taken up with talk of fashion and very little scheming – plus, there was little to scheme since the two protagonists were already in love from the beginning (but more on that in another post).

It was hard to adapt to reading this sort of style – but by the end I had an appreciation for it. The story wasn’t a complicated one – so why complicate it with unneeded description and whatnot? The book gives you exactly what it tells you – there are no surprises … at all.

The narrator is straight forward – just like the story.

So how does this lead into the whole ‘why is this in the romance section’? Well, the narrator, in her/his straightforwardness, makes it just about that. It’s the story of a man reforming (or at least pretending to reform to show the woman what she really does want she had all along) for a woman and the silliness that comes with it. There’s no side plot – it’s just that.

While I said in the last post there is very little ‘romance’ itself – that’s true. There’s no need for wooing – we get very very little of it. The girl is wooed from the start – this is more of a story about Philip than Cleone, so to say: Philip becoming a man who wears Powder and Patches.

And, wears them for love of Cleone.

Okay – there’s our romance … I guess. Again, I’m confused. I liked the wittiness of Philip trying to become why Cleone thinks she wants but it didn’t fit ‘romance’ in my mind. It was a comedy of manners, as I’ve said, and, if given the choice, I would have put this novel in just plain ‘fiction’ before ‘romance.’

The narrator revolves around society, not around love. The narrator goes in depth into fashion, into customs, into everything but ‘romance’ – yet, the characters deal with all of these because of romance.

So – is that creaky sentence the reason this novel is considered ‘romance’?

Absolutely no idea. But, I think it may be some sort of a start.

Yay!

Anyway, I think – in keeping with the length of this novel, I’ll follow it in the posts. Concise and quick – plus, the kids were over today and I had twins following me around for a few hours.

And that’s another thing … children … there are no children at the end of this novel. In this novel … but I think that’s for another post, too. The … ‘breaking of structure’ or just ‘a different structure.’

Maybe that’s really why I liked it – it wasn’t like everything else …

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Reference

Heyer, Georgette. Power and Patch. Naperville: Sourcebooks, Inc., 1930.

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Take it with a Pinch of Twatlight June 30, 2010

Let’s let Ned sum up how I felt about the two main characters, Isidore and Cosway:

Yeah, um. No.

Let’s put aside the … secondary plot? with Jemma and Villiers and look at Isidore and Cosway just for now. Their story is pretty simple.

Isidore was married to Cosway by proxy when she was twelve or something, she never met him before. Now twenty-three, she wants him to come back, thus she goes to Lord Strange’s house (which, at the time, is known for it’s sleaziness) to get a rise out of him. It works, he returns, and then rest of the book deals with balancing tempers and learning how to have sex (both of them).

I kid you not. We hear more about how Cosway’s house is cleaned of poop (that’s not a joke either) than we do actual plot between Isidore and Cosway.

You know, even if it’s ignored most of the time, a plot usually does exist for the main protagonists. As it is, the plot here is just … well, nonexistent as best. I mean, arguing over power isn’t much of a plot but then … oh wait this all looks terribly familiar.

Twatlight! That’s where I’ve seen this before. Look at it! No plot, incoherent fights about passion and love and sex and all – it makes you want to tear your hair out! Even a controlling husband/boyfriend! Ah! If Meyer can make as much money as she did out of a crap book, a book like this should be made of gold!

It just isn’t. Maybe it’s because Cosway relinquishes his desire of control by the end of the book – that don’t fly with Meyer: she wants her female Mary Sue protagonists to be docile and well … without brains under the control of a man who sparkles.

But I digress. Then again, the digression is good, you can see where my mind instantly went while reading this particular novel. I was annoyed at Cosway’s constant hounding of wanting to have control of Isidore. In the end, that power is reduced to a sex joke – of which I suppose I could approve.

(at this point, I actually took a nap for a few hours, woke up, and turned on the first Harry Potter movie because I was feeling nostalgic thanks to the new DH trailer. It’s going to be a long week with this book – thank you, wisdom tooth)

So, let’s hear Cosway ramble on about his desire for control – or what he expected Isidore to be:

“‘I’m worried that unless we have a system of command set up, such as I had with my men, this marriage will founder or, worse, in a moment of crisis, I won’t be able to save us.’ …

… He smiled ‘We have to know where the ultimate authority lies.’

Isidore didn’t like the sound of that. ‘If it’s not a moment of immediate physical danger, I would most biddably listen to the reasons behind the advice you’re offering.’

It was his turn to scowl. ‘I have to know that you’re mine, Isidore.'” p.300

Obviously, this doesn’t fly with Isidore but she lets him make up a ‘sign’ that means she’s supposed to listen. It’s some word for ‘lord of her bedchamber.’ Notice though – that the conversation above happens on page 300. The book is only 373 pages long. So we literally go through 300 pages of ‘this is the plot – oh and here’s some house cleaning’.

My main point, I guess, is that fighting over control in a relationship isn’t a fun basis for a story. It’s that whole saying ‘a leopard doesn’t change its spots.’ Sure, changing the man is a big part of these novels but this is a different sort of change. A change that actually resonates with the other side-story couple in the book, Jemma and Villiers (and the subject of marriage – more on that later).

It’s silly to dwell on this subject more because in terms of plot, this is all that exists. You can guess the end. I’d hardly even say there was an ‘impediment’ to get in the way like usual texts of this type. Now you can see why this book was tiring. As much as I’m not a fan of the genre … something has to happen besides a battle of wits over control.

I’m now grateful for the random plots such as those in Viking in Love and A Highlander’s Homecoming – it at least gave the characters a little more … umph – even if you didn’t completely pay attention to it. There was more in the world, I suppose is what I’m getting at.

Anyway, in my opinion, this book was more about Jemma and Villiers anyway.

Now – back to watching Harry Potter and bemoaning my sore jaw.

I've been pretty much rolling around like Draco from AVPM

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Reference

James, Eloisa. When the Duke Returns. New York: Avon Books, 2008.

 

Oh Blah, Eloisa James, Very Blah On You! June 29, 2010

Yep – I decided that, for this week, I would do another novel by Eloisa James – more specifically the ‘next’ novel that follows Duchess by Night to see what a ‘continuation’ was like. And that novel is … slight drumroll …

'When the Duke Returns' - Eloisa James

I have to admit – I was a bit excited. Out of all the novels I’ve so far read, Duchess by Night has really been my favorite. Obviously, I had high expectations for the next novel, even if it dealt with the whiny Isidore and her husband, who returns to take her away from Lord Strange’s house (revisit the Duchess by Night posts if you need a refresher). Anyway – here’s where we last left Isidore in the green book:

“It was as if everything was happening in slow motion. The greatcoat was gone, and the hat was gone. Harriet had hardly time to see a great tumble of inky black hair, un-powdered and not even tied back, before he turned …

…There was a moment of utter silence in the anteroom. The duke was looking only at Isidore.

Just as Harriet was about to say something – some sort of introduction! – he swept into a extraordinarily deep bow. Her eyes fixed on his face, Isidore sank into a deep curtsy. Still without saying a word, she held out her hand.

‘My duchess, I presume,’ he said, carrying the hand up to his lips. His voice was dark and foreign, like that of a man used to speaking strange languages.” p.282

And it goes on for a bit, Isidore leaves with Cosway (the Duke) and that’s that for Duchess by Night. Now, the pink book.

“‘My duchess, I presume,’ he said catching her hand and kissing it,

Isidore managed to pull herself together enough to introduce him to Harriet, but her mind was reeling, Somehow in all her imaginings, she’d forgotten to imagine – a man.” p.9

This also goes on, but obviously we’re in Isidore’s pov, not Harriet’s anymore. I thought it was fun, the intertwining of the stories – so I really was eager to read this – just to see how that unfolded, but also the build up for the next book.

So – little did I know I wasn’t going to be a big fan of the subject of the next book. Or really a subject of this book in itself.

The obvious question is – why?

(and before I go on – I’m keeping this short – my mouth is making me really uncomfortable so I plan on sleeping most of the day away until it goes back to normal)

Anyway – why.

1. I didn’t like the relationship between Isidore and Cosway (also known as Simeon). Maybe it was because she was whiney. Maybe it because he was rather … simple. And controlling. Granted, Cosway was interesting in other ways – he himself was a virgin so new stuff there. But I wasn’t really a fan of their relationship – even in the usual happy ending.

2. It seems like the author wasn’t a huge fan either. About a third of the book doesn’t concern Isidore and Cosway at all – but instead Jemma, Elijah, and Villiers. Oh yeah – Villiers – I was really excited about seeing him again.

3. More tension was built up in the side characters, than the main characters. That is, Jemma and Villiers and Jemma and Elijah (her husband who cheated on her early in their marriage). And here’s the aspect where I really started disliking the books.

4. The subject of marriage. I’m going to make a marriage post this week, I think. While reading this book, I paid the most attention to Jemma and Villiers since there was little plot actually happening with Isidore and Cosway – there was no real ‘impediment’ to keep them apart but I’ll get to that in structure. But the subject of marriage … humph. See, when I started the book, I was very surprised to see that I was rooting for Jemma and Villiers – they had a real connection. I loved it. But then, there was this about face where Jemma decided she was falling in love with her husband Elijah (the cheater – granted, Villiers has bastard children, but there’s something charming about him). Really, I was like huh? That makes no sense. So, I pulled up the summary of the next book and found out … well, she goes get back with Elijah.

Crap.

So – is this the sanctity of marriage suddenly appearing in these novels? And why am I’m more invested in this side characters (even when talking about Duchess by Night, I remember saying that I was drawn more to Villiers than most of the characters)? Did my high expectations ruin everything?

Is there something in the formula I’m missing when it comes to marriage?

Needless to say, I was putt-off when I finished this book. I’m glad I chose it so I could talk about why I was put-off, but also disappointed that it didn’t match the craft (and it really didn’t) that was it’s predecessor.

So – things that will be talked about (in no specific order): craft and structure, the idea of marriage, the idea of impediments, and canon with ending. Believe me – it will (hopefully) all make sense once I get to it.

But – as for right now, I’m going to go get a pillow and blanket, make myself comfy and watch a film or something.

If you've never watched 'Spaced' - I completely recommend that you do.

Tomorrow … maybe two posts? Maybe one – we’ll see!

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References

James, Eloisa. Duchess By Night. New York: Avon Books, 2008.

James, Eloisa. When the Duke Returns. New York: Avon Books, 2008.

 

One Woman to Rule Them All June 22, 2010

Yes, I realize that yesterday, my title had a typo in it. I fixed it without someone having to tell me – but I’m still, nonetheless, mortified. Just saying.

Anyway, because of the epic-ness that was the first part of the season finale of Doctor Who I’ve decided to double up on posts each day so I give myself some time to re-watch the series in preparation for part two. Yes – it is really that epic. Of course, it could go the way of bombing in part two but I trust Moffat. I like what he’s done so far with the series.

But I’m rambling. Back to The Seduction.

Expect lots of 'Doctor Who' .gifs - here's the Ninth Doctor & Rose

Checking back with my last post, I went through what I ‘definitely’ wanted to talk about with this book. The first being: the male protagonist.

As I mentioned, it’s a different opening. Unlike the other males we’ve encountered before, we actually see Damien’s rakish behaviour first hand – not through rumour. The entire prologue is made up of his jaunt with an actress (who, coincidentally, is the actress that Vanessa’s husband lost his life for in a duel – insert sad face here I guess, but at least it was more plausible than dying over a chess game *coughDuchessbyNightcough*.

Here are the opening lines of the prologue:

“The silken bonds bit into his wrists with exquisite pressure, heightening the sense of pleasure. A willing captive, Damien Sinclair lay defenseless, his bare arms fastened to the bedposts with scarves of scarlet silk.

He couuld see his reflection in the gilt-framed mirror overhead: his naked, muscled body juxtaposed against the snowy sheets; the full, hard length of his arousal jutting from the curling ebony hair of his groin.” p.1

Yeah, needless to say – not what you expect on page one. Or, at least, not what I expected. I grew used to the ‘pretend rake’ or the ‘rake on a break’ – but Damien is one in full force.

So … yay?

The prologue continues in this way a bracelet in involved at some point and there’s a blonde in the mix (the actress), too. The actress is trying to get Damien to take her on as a mistress since he’s currently without one (though, rake that he is, would he really only be satisfied with one woman? (at this moment?)). The scene ends, as I’ve mentioned before: Damien’s sister is in an accident and he lives the actress in bed.

Through the usual turn of events called ‘coincidence’ – Vanessa’s late husband traveled in the same circles as Damien and she gets him to notice her. Why? Because – also by coincidence – Vanessa’s brother lost the family estate to Damien during a game. And, again by coincidence, her brother happens to be the cause of Damien’s sister’s accident.

Vanessa tries to figure out how she can get her family’s estate back and first offers to be a companion to Damien’s now crippled sister. Damien is against that at first, but then agrees under a condition.

I’ll give you a mo’ to guess that condition.

“‘Well, you are in luck, sweeting. You find me in an indulgent mood. But I have in mind a more intimate arrangement than the one you envision. I shall make a bargain with you. I will offer you the position of companion – but not to my sister. To me.’

‘I … don’t understand.’

‘Then I shall put it more plainly. I will cancel your brother’s debt if you become my mistress.'” p.37

No need to raise your hand if you saw it coming – but hey, did you see it coming in Chapter Two? That’s what surprised me. My marginal note reads: what the heck happens in the rest of this book?

In Chapter Three, we even get their first kiss (yes, I pay attention to chapters and page numbers – usually sex happens around the 200 range, the kiss is debatable but Chapter Three is a bit surprising – especially at the pace this particular novel moves at in terms of sexuality) – and it’s incredibly sexually charged, as one expects.

“His thumb stroked her jaw, his touch lingering and provocative. She wanted to move, to flee his disturbing nearness, yet she was held captive by the intensity of his gaze, by the raw, powerful sexuality emanating from him.

His knuckles brushed over her moist, parted lips. A frisson of fiery sensation sparked from his fingers to her skin.

‘Your answer, sweet Vanessa?’ He tilted her face up to his. ‘Will you kiss me?’

His voice stroked her senses like velvet, weakening her defenses. The need to protect herself from this man was strong. And yet … she didn’t want him to stop touching her.

‘Yes …’ she murmured, her voice a whisper of sound.

It was enough. His palm cradled her face gently, with infinite tenderness. Vanessa watched, spellbound, as his ebony lashes lower to shadow his sensual eyes. His breath fanned warm against her lips, before his mouth settled on hers with slow, sure pressure of experience.” p.46

And with that: One Woman to Rule Them All.

Surprised?

“What the devil had he gotten himself into? He hadn’t meant for events to unfold as they had. The last thing he needed just now was a mistress to complicate his life. Certainly not the determined, defensive elder sister of the man he’d sworn to destroy.

He had given the lady every chance to refuse his offer, expecting her back down from his outrageous proposal. Yet he had to confess pleasure at the prospect of her fulfilling the wager. Intense pleasure.

Damien shook his head in bemusement. When was the last time he had felt such anticipation? The last time his pulse race at the mere thought of having a woman a woman in his arms, the way it did for Vanessa Wyndham?” p. 54

From this point on, we get back into the usual territory. Damien’s world becomes Vanessa. He becomes possessive, even dueling over her towards the end of the novel (which she leaves him over but then accepts him back, as we also expect).

I think what I found most interesting about Damien is that we do see him change. We see the other guys change, yeah – but Damien goes from having an actress put her bracelet on his penis (yes, that happens in the prologue) to:

“Eighteen was his own sister’s age, Damnien realized grimly as the girl settled on his lap with a dreamlike smile.

When she parted the diaphanous robe and lifted her peaked nipples to his mouth, his host politely rose. ‘I shall leave you to your pleasures then.’

The beauty rubbed the taut buds teasingly against Damien’s mouth. She tasted sweetly of wine, yet rather than becoming around, he had to steel himself against a strange and sudden aversion.

Instead of showing his distaste, though, or denouncing Clune for being a less than satisfactory host, Damien came to an abrupt decision and lifted the girl in his arms leaving the entertainment behind, he carried her upstairs to his bedchamber.

She was half-asleep even before he laid her on the bed, yet she roused herself to give him a confused look when he covered her near nakedness with a quilt and stepped back …

… ‘Go to sleep, sweetheart,’ Damien murmured, keenly aware of the irony in his action: Lord Sin made an unlikely savior of feminine virtue.” p.203

And of course he proposes marriage to Vanessa – once and she rejects him, twice at the end and she accepts – done deal.

I liked this sort of insight into the male world though. For so many of these novels, free indirect discourse is the most we see of the men’s world. Sure, we get glimpses here and there, but this, I think, is the first that really stood out to me as going: wait, there’s another world out there and let’s just take a jaunt into that for a bit.

As for male protagonists as a whole, I can’t say Damien was my favorite. He was cheesy, used awful pet names, and blah blah – but he did give the men their due, in a way. We got to see a little more of that side through him – even if it involved a very misplaced bracelet.

Told you - whole lotta 'Doctor Who' - this one mixed with a little 'Hitchhicker's'

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Reference

Jordan, Nicole. The Seduction. New York: Ballantine Books, 2000.

 

Reading a Book by Its Cover June 21, 2010

When I finished reaching the book for this week – The Seduction by Nicole Jordan – I sort of had a pause moment about how my strategy of picking out books for this blog has changed since the first.

Walking into Giant weeks ago, my only thoughts were: Fabio on the cover (or something like it) and the words ‘throbbing,’ ‘bud,’ ‘nub,’ and ‘shaft’ – and so on. It just took a flick through and there I went through the self-checkout and so be it.

Then, after reading then, I started to set out looking for books that I thought could help answer the questions I was coming up with. So – If He’s Wild I bought because there was only a man on the cover. Duchess by Night I bought because there was only a woman on it and she was blonde.

And this week, I bought a book with no one on the cover.

No, the Female Protagonist is not a rose, nor is the Male

And no, it wasn’t just the price, either, that caught my eye.

I thought it would be interesting to read a book with no one on the cover. In fact, I didn’t even read the back. I wanted to be completely in the dark when I read this – the only clue I had were on the cover.

I know I took issue with the cover with Duchess by Night – it was ‘misleading’ – well, as misleading as a romantic novel cover could be. I was just put-off by the fact that she was blonde on the cover and brunette in the book. Oh well. Not a huge deal.

But The Seduction – I looked at it as a sort of challenge. I wasn’t surprised to find that it was historical – it takes place in 1810 – and I wasn’t surprised that it followed the same formula as every other novel I’ve read.

That’s not to say it had it’s moments. In fact, after a long monologue to my mater last night about Shakespeare, Wordsworth, and Coleridge (I went on a mini-lit-rant), I said that this book was my favorite after Duchess by Night.

Why?

It had two interesting aspects. The first: the male protagonist was very much a rake. In fact, the prologue is made up of him having sex with another woman, only to be interrupted by news that his sister has had an accident. Yes, this all seems part of the formula, but I found it striking that we are given more of a glimpse into the life of this particular rake, Damnien Sinclair (aka Lord Sin – I know, it’s terrible). Sure, we’ve heard of past exploits in the other novels, but in this we actually open with one. It plays with the convention of the ‘one woman’ aspect – and I can’t wait to explore that.

The second this was … hair color again. While the female protagonist, Vanessa, was technically a blonde, her hair was often described as being fire-like.

I thought of using a DIAF .gif for laughs, but this one was just more fun.

So – decide – are you redheaded or are you blonde? And that’s for the ginger post.

I’m getting the feeling that these ‘first posts’ are just outlines of what i plan to do with the book of the week. I’m liking it so I’m keeping it that way.

There are other interesting bits in this book too – I’m going to return to the whole title/rank subject this week, too. Like Duchess by Night it is one of the ‘movers’ of the plot, so to say. Vanessa isn’t very high up socially (she’s nicely put, though) – but the power play she initiates with Damien is worth comparing against the other novels read. Because, hey – they’ve all had some sort of power play, obviously.

I think this week too I’m going to address the use of other literature within these novels – but just the past two. The first three novels made no mention of contemporary texts, but both Duchess by Night and The Seduction have purposely mentioned texts contemporary to their respective time periods. Since I went off on a mini-rant last night I realized, I’m going to have to take a look at this.

Why?

Because I don’t think that they’re just put there to say “Hi! Look how period-correct I am!” And, if they are, I’m totally going to be ripping into that. I’m all for allusions or references, but they have to mean something – sloppy references make me rage, let’s just be honest here.

So, subjects to be discussed: 1. the Male Protagonist 2. Hair (of course) 3. Literary References. I’m excited about number 3 – that will be fun and my Norton Anthology upstairs is buzzing with excitement.

Oh, and for your viewing hilarity, a picture of me reading this novel taken by my 5-year-old cousin:

There should be a book called "If You Give a 5-year-old Your iPhone"

Busy week it looks like – and hopefully I’ll get some other reading done that I’ve been neglecting terribly … very terribly.

Until tomorrow a …

PALATE CLEANSER! CLICK ME!

(and there is a reason behind all of this RDJ overload – I’ve found that because I become bored with reading this books about 10 pages in, I just slip RDJ’s face onto the guy and I’m fine – I guess that’s the whole escapist thing … actually it’s Restoration‘s fault but if I said that you wouldn’t believe me so I thought I’d lie and say it was the whole escapist thing even though … it isn’t)

Reference

Jordan, Nicole. The Seduction. New York: Ballantine Books, 2000.

 

For I Have Crossed the Rubicon! May 31, 2010

Barnes and Noble - My Mecca

Yes, I’ve done it. I went to the ‘Romance’ section in Barnes & Noble. Purchased two books. And had enough courage to go up and buy them.

Of course – I also bought Eliot’s Middlemarch and Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop so maybe I cheated (punishment being my new Dickens has no footnotes … again).

I can't just walk into that store and buy two trashy novels! Come on!

And to turn into a fashion blog for a mo’ – here’s the link where you can buy the dress I’m wearing. I am kind of obsessed with it – it’s all … flow-y and fun. (And yes, the room I share with mom in NY is covered with my LOTR posters from my high school years. Slowly, they’ve been falling off the walls but I haven’t made the actual attempt to actually take them down). Nostalgia, I guess.

Anyway. New week. New book. And oh god how I hated this one. I forced myself to read it in a day because I couldn’t imagine reading it longer (plus, I’m absolutely in love with North and South at the moment). Was it the romance? No. Was it too crude? No.

It was simply: boring.

Boring to the point where I would fall asleep. Boring to the point where I wondered why on earth this wasn’t just on FanFiction.net where one could be reading some crazy slash story, instead – that would probably be more entertaining to pick apart.

But I’ll get to the specifics in a moment. This week the book is – dun dun dun dun:

Hannah Howell's 'If He's Wild'

I picked out this book (at Walmart – the B&N books are for the next two weeks) for one reason: there was only a guy on the cover. Even under the sale sticker where that little lighted window is, there is no woman (if you don’t believe me, click on the picture where B&N will show you an unmarked cover). I wanted to sort of run a test – how important was the cover, first of all, to the novel. Also, would a redhead pop up? Would she be the heroine? The answer to the first two questions is – yes. The third, though, is no.

The heroine, for the first time, was not a redhead. I was a little surprised, but happy at the same time because it gave me more to question. A ginger is in the novel itself (and of course, it will make for a good ginger post), but she is not a main character. And, if the heroine isn’t a ginger – how will she be portrayed? The same way? Differently?

Does hair color really make that much of a difference?

Okay – this isn’t the ginger post. I want to start off, as usual, talking about the narrative voice because I think it really is important to situate where the narrator stands before getting further into the novel.

The narrative voice is very similar to what we have encountered before. It’s third-person limited with moments of free-indirect discourse. What I did like about this narrative was the use of practically no italicized thoughts. Everything was set in ‘regular’ save a few little things.

What I did not like about this narrative voice, though, was the way the story was told, the exposition, the way the characters were portrayed – and some of this actually ties back to the cover.

So what do I mean by the way the story is told? First of all, this is another series book, much like Mayhue’s. Apparently Howell’s written several ‘If He’s <insert sultry adjective here>’ and has also written about the families used in this novel. There’s a canon – which is easy enough to catch on to.

In a nutshell: Alethea (the dark-haired protagonist) is a virgin widow living with her uncle Iago (can’t make these names up). She has visions of this man named Hartley and of his possible death so they try to warn him. He’s known as a rake but surprise surprise, he’s only bedding women for information for the government. Really, that has nothing to do with anything. For some reason, his niece and nephew were almost killed so Alethea helps him find them, he marries her oddly (we’ll get to the oddly sometime later – in the sexy sex post), then they go back to the original plot and everything tries to resolve itself (with the help of some deus ex machinas), and Hartley and Aletha live happily ever after.

Convenience dominants this novel – especially in the beginning. The narrator fails to portray human doubt. Things are just … accepted. Alethea’s gift to see these visions? Sure, they’re questioned, but she’s trusted pretty much off the bat once she shakily convinces Hartley and his gang of her powers.

“‘I have no wonderfully logical or scientific explanation got my gift. It just is … Since it was given to me, I feel it is my duty to heed it. It told me that you were going to be kidnapped, tortured, and murdered. From what little I have learned this night, I still believe in what I saw. Since, I suspect, you know more than we do, I would think you would at least consider the possibility that I am right, If you will not, it does not signify. If you do nothing, it is still my responsibility to try to ensure that my vision does not prove to be an accurate prophesy.’

‘Makes sense to me,’ said Aldus as he and Gifford retook their seats.” p.45

Yeah, I wasn’t too fond of – Yay! We all believe her! She makes total sense! Look at those convulsions she goes into when she has ‘visions’! Ooooo! Ahhhh!

The narrator quickly whisks over any conflict that believing in this ‘gift’ of Althea’s could cause. It’s so quickly taken as fact, I swore from the first twenty or so pages I really was reading fanfiction. It was self-indulgent – the heroine had this great amazing gift, she was also too perfect, then of course twice she finds herself almost getting killed then being saved by Hartley.

Hello Miss Mary Sue.

Another fanfiction quality of this story was really the amount of times Alethea’s character suffered. She is this innocent girl, early twenties, and gets beaten, shot, etc. It’s common for a lot of fanfic writers to torture their characters – I don’t know why but there it is. Don’t believe me? Look it up. It gives not only a chance to gain sympathy for the character, but also bedside scenes were the hero of the novel can sit beside her and whimper while the other characters make whispered remarks on how much he must love her.

It’s annoying.

And I felt like that was what the whole novel was – someone getting hurt, someone sitting by their bedside, promising retribution. Blah.

And then there is the exposition. While I didn’t have trouble catching on to the canon – I sort of like stories that begin in medias res, so I didn’t feel as though I was lacking too much so far as series canon – I actually had trouble catching on to the time period. We were never told when the story takes place – pretty much just that it’s in London.

Whoop.

So me being the awful time period freak I am, I just had to pay hopeful attention that something would give me a clue. I figured since they used the word rake so much it was around the 18th and 19th century and since when the danced it seemed to be more of a couple-ly thing (rather than line dancing), that would be more 19th century, I think (waltzing, if I’m not mistaken, became popular then – but I read that a long while ago and I don’t write ballroom scenes often so I could be wrong). Anyway, I guessed this was probably the 19th century (especially with what Alethea got from her husband’s death). So, maybe I liked solving the puzzle (okay, I did) but what does that say about the narrator? The setup? Why don’t we know this simple fact?

This leaves us with the characters. Beyond the self-indulgent female protagonist, the passionless male protagonist Hartley is just boring – and he isn’t the ‘rake’ everyone thinks he is. That’s why the cover confuses me – it’s not as though he is running around sleeping with everyone and needs to be tamed or she needs to be – both of them are level headed (beyond the supernatural gift Alethea has) and just flat characters. As are the rest of the lot. There is so much explaining of the gifts (I mean, pages of just ‘this works this way, he has this gift she has this one) and cooing over being rescued that the characters sort of self-destruct into boredom.

Mix with that a plot that I think the narrator wants the reader to take incredibly seriously – I mean, the book feels heavy-handed on a rather non-existant plot by explaining all these gifts and how they’ll work – the characters beyond the Mary Sue Alethea take a backseat.

I once called Twilight a self-indulgent mess of a book. While If He’s Wild isn’t in that league of horribleness, it is still poorly written and incredibly self-indulgent mini-mess.

Once I started - I had to finish it. Pencil in hand.

And so no one asks me again, North and South is NOT about the Civil War, but about industry vs. the country in England (ie: the north and the south of England).

PALATE CLEANSER! CLICK ME!

Reference

Howell, Hannah. If He’s Wild. New York: Zebra Books, 2010.

 

I apologize for the lack of snarky-ness in my last post. May 18, 2010

Drink for Thought and/or Thank God for Wegmans

So – why am I apologizing for my lack of snarky-ness?

Well, I know that’s what a lot of you are here to read. And, let’s face it. Yesterday I went a little academic on all of you – I applaud whoever managed to get through that heap of ‘here are six points and me explaining those six points and aren’t you glad this is the first post?.’ Really, I blame it all on this kick I’ve been on lately – let’s call it … Dickens Mania. It isn’t just Dickens though – it’s Victorian writers, it’s theory – all my cups of tea.

So, tonight what I am saying is – be glad I am on my third Strongbow and am talking about canon, exposition, and the skipping of scenes.

Just to give you all a little background, I am drinking lots and lots not only to use up the obvious plentiful amounts of alcohol I have left, but also because I am packing. Packing, to me, is stressful beyond the usual ‘omg I have so much’. My OCD is through the roof plus it’s mixed with a lot of other problems that make packing/throwing things away an absolute nightmare. So the formula for today has been: Strongbow starting at 4:00 pm + the Little Dorrit mini-series starting a little earlier + a lot of music I can dance to since the morning. Happy to say – it’s working and my room is rather clear beyond my computer and a few other things that will be moved in the morning before I leave.

Anyway. Canon.

Canon - The Camera

Me and a cannon in Scotland (Sarah, either your Grandad or your Granny took this photo)

For those of you who have no idea what canon is – wiki that shit, I’m not your babysitter (god, I think I said that in my last blog almost word for word, but there you go – you know how to use google).

Before I actually get into the novel (which, as I told you last night, I would finish and I did – of course), I need to say that this particular book is part of a series. Not like Harry Potter but a series with an established canon, what I assume to be recurring characters, etc.

Thing is – canon in this book really doesn’t matter much. Exposition doesn’t matter either. I mean – the two things are there to a very small extent – but the reader isn’t treated to a warm up on the canon or even details into exposition.

For instance, look at this chapter transition – it contains these two points (lack of canon, lack of exposition):

Prologue (ending)

“With something of a plan formed, he pushed all thoughts from his mind. None of them mattered for the moment. When he finished the task his king had assigned him, nothing save death would keep him from his oath to see to the safety of Isabella MacGahan.” p.5

Chapter One (beginning)

“As it turned out, death was exactly what had kept Robert from fulfilling his oath to protect Isabella MacGahan. Or more precisely, the death he would have suffered had not Conner MacKiernan’s bride not whisked him more than seven hundred years into the future through the use of her Faerie Magic.” p.8.

While you’re digesting that – let me write out my marginal notes for you:

Are you joking?

What is this paragraph???

Done digesting? Good. Confused? Well, maybe not confused but left wanting at all? I mean … wtf? Seriously. Wtf.

I know I talked A LOT about transitions yesterday but that was from person to person – this chapter to chapter transition is unforgivable. And yet …

Okay, I’m not going to make excuses for the author. Clearly, this sucks. It just does. You can’t dance around the fact that is some shitty writing. There’s no exposition. There’s sudden introduction to canon we’re expected to know. Why I pause with that ‘and yet …’ is the whole ‘series’ aspect of this particular novel.

The plot itself is self contained, but the canon – the Magic – as a whole isn’t. It brings to light something rather interesting about these books – their following. Obviously, there is a following – I never doubted that. What I didn’t realize was how – at least in this book – how ‘insider’ it seems to be.

Let me go back to Harry Potter. And let me first say – I am not comparing. This happened in my seminar, funny enough. I made a comment – more of a joke that was misinterpreted by a few at first. I said that Stephenie Meyer needs to step away from the fog. Fog is Dickens territory. I didn’t mean that I was comparing the two. Same thing here, I’m not comparing Mayhue to Rowling. I’m just using an example to prove a point – like Dickens uses fog, Rowling uses exposition and canon. Mayhue – not so much.

Explain. Yes. I know. When you pick up a Harry Potter book, you obviously don’t start from book five and continue on. But, let’s say if you did, Rowling provides you with some backstory. Not an egregious amount of it – not an outlining of the books that preceded the fifth – just a bit of background, enough to remind the usual reader and let the newer reader slip in as best as possible (I can say this from experience. I read the first three books when I was Harry’s age (haha) and was rather out of the loop when then fifth came out so what exposition she gave was helpful as I couldn’t remember a damned thing).

But, in Mayhue’s work, we’re not really given that chance to … catch up. Granted, we gradually learn about this Faerie (god I hate that spelling and I cannot tell you why) Magic, but, in my opinion, it functions as this sort of deus ex machina (wiki that too if you don’t know what I mean). Oh the Faerie Magic can heal people! Oh it can send you back and forth in time! Oh it can control the weather! Blah blah blah – yadda yadda yadda.

Needless to say, I was the one at a disadvantage. I had no idea what the established canon of Mayhue’s world was, nor did I gain any information from her exposition … of which there’s rather little of. This time jump that occurs from the Prologue to the first chapter is strange. We never actually see this happen, we’re just told that it does.

This is where a good following comes in handy. This, I think, is one of the perks of writing a trashy romance novel – I may be wrong – I’m only hypothesizing at the moment so no one strike me down! You can get away with little to no explanation of canon or any exposition in a series because there are fans – fans who know the ins and outs and – let’s face it – probably don’t care too much about the specifics. I mean, what are these novels really centered around, one must remember.

Anyway, sum that up. Your canon is not explained – you just … tumble upon some of it and hope it’s enough to carry you through to the end. Your exposition is … to the point of hardly being tolerable, but again it’s unneeded. A plot is unneeded. In fact, when I finished the novel, I wondered why there was a plot at all, canon at all, exposition at all (though for the latter two there was very little) because we knew the ending, didn’t we? In fact, one of my marginal notes reads: ‘What does this have to do with anything?’ – strangely, it was concerning the actual plot. I’m not saying my mind was addled but plot becomes something annoying, brushed aside – not that I found it annoying, but in the flow of the novel it becomes a bump. It’s all sex sex sex PLOT sex sex sex. The poor dear plot … I wonder, at night, if it really was a good one. Needless to say, I don’t care much since it really wasn’t and I ended up ignoring it.

Moving on though – it’s important to keep this sort of … skipping in mind. The next sort of skipping doesn’t involve prior knowledge of former novels in the series explaining it away. Instead, it’s more of a time crunch.

“As the rains outside had gentled to a fine mist, he and Isa had talked long into the early morning hours. At first, she had wanted to know about her father, but soon she was asking questions about his own life. The battles he’d fought, his family, his home – she’d wanted to hear it all.

He had wanted to know everything about her life, hoping by some small miracle he could ease his sense of guilt at having abandoned her for so long.” p. 111.

“She’d spoken last night of readying her garden and of her ongoing battle with the small animals that raided her vegetables each season. Stepping out into the sunny morning, he’d decided that building a fence would be a good logical use of his time.” p. 112

Theme here is – all of this ‘talk’ they … talk about is never actually in dialogue form. We just sort of hear that it happened. I will say – all right, by pass some boring jabber but this struck me. And it has to do with the exposition and canon as well.

It is as if the author or narrator, whichever, wants to spend as little time possible going through the details between the couple. The main point is to get them together to have rather that romantic, unoriginal sex that you can pretty much find on any fanfiction website (again with the fanfiction!).

My personal preference takes over here. I like sometimes hearing mundane things. The build up is sort of fun – but we aren’t really given it. There was potential in the conversations mentioned above, for instance, for one-liners or even just to unravel the characters more … but no. This ‘skipping’ had a strange effect of me – I wrote it down almost immediately when I noticed it. As I said, there’s plenty of novels – fantastic novels – that I have read that don’t always go word for word in dialogue but the skipping of some of this vital information is strange.

But then again, not a strange choice.

Again and again, I remind myself what I’m reading – what the formula is – what the readers want from it. It’s a high – they don’t really care about Isa’s or Robbie’s background in detail … do they?

The great thing about this being the first novel I’ve read is that it’s raised a lot of questions in my mind about what I’m going to encounter in the other books I read. Will the narrative voice be similar? Will the exposition, canon, skipping be formulaic? I just may be. Or it may not be.

As I read more, I plan to compare the novels I read. I really want to see how this formula works – not just that it gives people thrills on the beach – but why people will spend $8 on these novels (if not for an academic reason …). Is it the easy reading? Just the thrill? Do they look for anything more?

There is something lacking … lacking lacking lacking (and I need to repeat that for that is how I felt for most of the novel). Not to mention that whole Ginger mess …

Right. I’ve talked about canon. About exposition. About skipping scenes. Hopefully that was more entertaining than the last post … though, you know I like that post. I was tired as hell when writing it, but I like it. Tomorrow I’m skipping a day – obviously with packing, riding in a car for a million hours, then unpacking doesn’t leave much time – or mood – for writing a post. But there will be five posts for this novel as there will be fore each I read.

Ah – and according to my outline, I tackle the Ginger problem next.

Know what it’s time for?

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Reference

Mayhue, Melissa. A Highlander’s Homecoming. New York: Pocket Books, 2010.