This Week, I Read… (2017 #33)

110 - Tattered Loyalties

#110 – Tattered Loyalties, by Carrie Ann Ryan

The worldbuilding in this was terrible. I know all the titles of the various positions within the shifter pack, but aside from the obvious Alpha, I have little knowledge of what any of them do.

The story zips along at a fast pace, glossing over any explanation, any detail, that would  have helped me understand the world. For example: these “wolves” live in the Middle of Nowhere™, Oregon. They’re protected with magic from the outside world knowing about them–but they have homes with electricity and running water and all the usual first-world amenities. Who built these homes out there in Nowhere Land? How are the residents “hidden” if they’re hooked up to the power grid–are they doing it illegally, or is some shell corporation the pack has set up paying their bills? Do they have actual addresses and get mail service from USPS? Does “magic” account for everything with no explanation of how?

How on earth can they live in secret and still have nice things?

So I hated it, basically. The rushed, semi-forced “mating” romance isn’t even the biggest disappointment I had when the worldbuilding had more holes than a screen door.

111 - More Than A Feeling

#111 – More Than A Feeling, by Sara Richardson

Built from a puzzle kit of standard tropes–the untrusting battered woman on the run, the cop who can’t shut down his need to know the why of everything–but reasonably enjoyable, even if it was predictable at times. Ruby was annoyingly flip-floppy about her interactions with Sawyer (kiss, no wait I can’t, another kiss, this is a terrible idea, yet another kiss) but Sawyer was more interesting, with him trying to cope with his feelings about the loss of his unborn child and the recent divorce that stemmed from it.

In fact, Sawyer was most of the reason I liked this book at all, because Ruby’s tragic backstory felt heavy-handed, doubling down on how awful her life was by pairing foster-kid life with later domestic abuse.

Bonus points, though, for being a true standalone within a series–this is the third Heart of the Rockies novel, and I never once felt adrift for not having read the earlier ones.

112 - Wild Irish Ride

#112 – Wild Irish Ride, by Jennifer Saints

DNF around 30%. This was over-the-top in every possible way it could be.

Runaway bride? Check. Former almost-lover she hasn’t seen in twelve years standing around nearby to rescue her? Check. Immediately having drippingly-purple-prose sex with him? Also check. Her family reporting her kidnapped so the police drag her back? …Really?

Oh, and of course her family is excruciatingly overbearing and awful, telling her to marry her fiancé anyway, even she’d seen the photos of him having group sex. (Which is horrific and completely shameful, by the way–I mean, being down on him for cheating is fine, but the sheer level of moral outrage over the way he did it was amazing. You’d think he was drowning puppies, not engaging in consenting-adult funtimes.)

Why should she still marry him? Oh, my dear, that’s just what men do. They’re not faithful and you can’t expect them to be.

Listen, I know this is because her family is supposed to be horrible, but they don’t have a shred of redeeming value, they’re villainous on the level of Snidely Whiplash. It’s not credible.

And, on top of this, I had to stop when I realized the bride had this horrible confrontation with her family while covered in cinnamon oil. That’s right, she got totally greased up during her “wild” romp with the hero, and she was immediately returned to her home by the police with barely a chance to put clothes on, let alone shower. So she should have been glistening and uncomfortable, but oops the oil is never mentioned again. At least not before I gave up.

113 - Inevitable

#113 – Inevitable, by Angela Graham

So I said I wanted a single-dad romance to scratch an itch, and it turns out I’d already picked up a free one back in one of my Kindle binges. Too bad it wasn’t very good.

Dad is a total player who we’re supposed to believe goes strait-laced for the (much younger) girl next door. His son is believably adorable and by far the least annoying character in the book, which is a total surprise because kids can be a pain to write. But our heroine bounces between being disgusted by Dad’s player ways and deliberately flaunting her singleness and attractiveness under his nose because she knows he’s into her.

Then, somehow, they actually become friends? Like, real friends, who talk about their days and their troubles with each other and don’t constantly flirt. Well, he still flirts a little.

So then, finally, something approaching a real romance develops, and I found myself liking the second half of the book much better–

Until the cliffhanger. I’m not morally opposed to cliffhangers if done well, but I didn’t like these characters enough to want to buy the next book, so I’ll simply never know how it’s resolved.

114 - The Long Road Home

#114 – The Long Road Home, by Danielle Steel

DNF @ page 90-something, though out of curiosity I skimmed the rest briefly.

My first Danielle Steel, and most definitely my last. It was wretched.

From my imperfect skim of the overall plot, this is the story of an abused little girl who grows up to have three different love affairs over the course of her life, the third one being the one that finally sticks.

Her first lover is a priest who commits suicide after their affair is discovered. Or at least that’s what she’d told–I found that part, but for all I know that’s just what she was told. Traumatic.

Second lover also abuses her? Because, you know, the first 90 pages I actually read about her childhood weren’t bad enough. Newsflash: her entire personality is that she’s abused. There is nothing else interesting about her, hence why I stopped reading.

Third lover is apparently okay, because that’s who she ends up with. But what I saw of that seemed pretty bland.

Where I stopped reading was when the girl’s AWFUL DISGUSTING EXCUSE FOR A HUMAN BEING OF A MOTHER WHO HAS NO GOOD QUALITIES SO THE READER CAN’T POSSIBLY HELP BUT HATE HER drops the girl off at a convent because she doesn’t want her anymore.

Which is where the story should have started.

If I’d picked up a book that began with a ten-year-old girl starting a “new” life at a convent, and gradually her troubled past and lack of real love from her parents came out organically as part of her character development as she formed new relationships with not-terrible adult figures–that could have been a good book!

But front-loading the character’s misery was well, miserable for me to read through.

On top of that, the writing style was also miserable–paragraphs shouldn’t always be pages long. WALL OF TEXT ALERT.

This Week, I Read… (2017 #32)

105 - Chesapeake Blue

#105 – Chesapeake Blue, by Nora Roberts

My first Nora Roberts novel, and of course I ended up with the last book in a series instead of the first. And I even have the first two, but I picked that up from a LFL just a few months ago, so they’ll have to wait until I’ve reached the peak of Mount TBR.

What impressed me most was the strong sense of place. A lot of romances I’ve read skimp on the setting, but here, it’s deftly woven into the narrative with brief, beautiful descriptions.

The playful chemistry between the leads was charming, though I feel like their reasons for not being together were fairly one-sided. Seth was worried about the interference of his trashy bio-mom in his life, while Dru was just…against being in love? Not that wanting to maintain independence isn’t a valid reason to resist pursuing a relationship, but when one half of the equation is basically stubbornness while the other half is actual physical danger, it feels unbalanced.

And speaking of that danger, the end was plain old weird for me. To have something potentially terrible happen after Seth had stood up to his mother (and thus finished his character arc) felt strange, shoving a random explosion into what should have been the denouement.

But it was a quick, pleasant read that certainly makes me want to go back to the first books in the series and see what they’re all about.

106 - Barefoot in White

#106 – Barefoot in White, by Roxanne St. Claire

Mixed feelings about some aspects, but overall, I enjoyed this. The intense focus on Willow’s weight loss got old, though I understand why it was such a fundamental part of her character. Her mother was the worst kind of stereotype, completely over-the-top, and her father was pretty flat and uninteresting.

Nick’s partial deafness had the potential to be more interesting than it was, especially since it was magically “healed” at the end…that’s terrible representation for disabilities. I don’t know what the healing/recovery process for damaged hearing is like, but I couldn’t say how realistic this is, because the exact nature of the injury isn’t explored. So it just left a bad taste in my mouth.

I liked Nick being a struggling writer, though, who found his muse. I know the value of having an alpha reader who gives honest feedback, and I definitely sympathized with him in the scenes where Willow was reading his book and he was all pins-and-needles about it. Adorable.

I can’t say I’ll go on with the series, though, because I bet it continues with the stories of Willow’s friends/business partners who also appear in the story, but are bland as unsalted crackers. I hardly remember a thing about them, so I’m not eager to read more.

107 - The Reluctant Suitor

#107 – The Reluctant Suitor, by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss

This lengthy tome, a tale of diffident romance, contains the greatest volume of unnecessary and truly purple prose I have ever had the displeasure to dive into, prose so purple it would offend Barney, prose so offensively overwritten it’s beyond purple and shading well into ultraviolet, burning invisibly in my brain as rage and fury at how very, very terrible it is.

Prose so terrible I can’t even imitate it properly for sarcastic review purposes.

I gave up after the first chapter. It was 20+ pages where almost nothing happened: a sentence or two of action followed by anywhere from two paragraphs to two pages of exposition detailing the recent history, exploits, or tremblingly fragile emotional state of the character who said the line or did the thing. Or a solid page of elaborate description of the entrance hall of the manor where it was set, because I needed to know the exact position of every vase and how much gilt was splashed around the room. Yawn.

I had two other Woodiwiss novels in the stack I pulled for ReadMoreRomance in August–I skimmed the first few pages of each and found the writing style was identical. They’ve been culled from the TBR, because I’m not subjecting myself to this again.

 

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#108 – The Prince of Midnight, by Laura Kinsale

I had the exact opposite problem with this work as I usually do with random romances by unknown-to-me authors–great writing style, boring plot.

I was pleased to discover I’d managed to pick up a historical romance that wasn’t set in Regency England–in fact, this story begins in France in the 1770’s. (It does travel back to England later, but still, it was nice after all the Regency-era stuff I’ve been reading lately.) I was even more pleased to discover the narrative was smoothly descriptive without being bogged down with excessive detail, and utterly free of head-hopping.

I never managed to connect with the characters, though. Both leads had good points, but they were both incredibly volatile–nearly every scene with the two of them together ended in one or both of them pulling an emotional one-eighty. Ping-ponging between growing intimacy and disdain/contempt/outright hatred with such frequency was taxing and unenjoyable.

So the dramatic climax–and there is a ton of well-written action in this book–lacked punch for me, because I really didn’t care by the end if the romance succeeded or not. I considered giving up a few time throughout the story, but I kept hoping it would get better.

109 - Dangerous Ground

#109 – Dangerous Ground, by Josh Lanyon

It’s rare that I level this particular criticism at a book–but this was too short.

Not because I think it was amazing and I wanted more of it, but because I see potential cut off by the lack of space to develop it. Everything is rushed, from cramming Will and Taylor’s epic-partnership backstory (they’re feds) into no space at all, to turning them into lovers with almost no ground to stand on.

Everything is told. They’re partners. They’re best friends. They’re both gay but have dated other people instead of each other. They’re best friends. They’re great partners. Oh, wait, did you forget they’re best friends?

But by setting the novella exclusively in the small segment of time when their relationship is at its breaking point, we can’t see any of that. From what I actually read, Will and Taylor don’t even seem to like each other, let alone have the potential for love.

Even though I’m not much of a mystery/suspense fan in general, I didn’t hate the non-romance plot. Sure, it’s a bit of a stretch to imagine two guys out on a camping vacation stumbling on a crashed plane from a heist case they both know about (even if they weren’t the ones working it) and recovering the money, but I’ve suspended my disbelief for greater things than that. And the action writing was quick and sharp.

But again…didn’t care much about the characters, so I’m just disappointed I didn’t get the chance to.

 

Let’s Talk About Tropes #7: Second-Chance Romance

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There’s a special place in my heart for a good second-chance romance story, but when this trope goes bad, it goes super-bad.

Why?

To answer that, let’s break down the basic elements:

#1 – Establishing the previous relationship and conflict

For the current story to qualify as a second chance, there needed to be a first one. Were the characters already dating/engaged/married? Was this a childhood sweetheart situation, all innocence and cuteness, but then they went off to different colleges? If the separating conflict is too serious (cheating, abuse, etc.) it may be hard to show the characters recovering from it believably. If the separating conflict is too weak or mundane, our beloved second-chance aspect of the new romance may feel shortchanged.

#2 – Reconnecting the characters

By far the most common one I’ve seen is for one character to move back to their hometown–second-chance romances are often paired with a Small Town Setting™ to up their charm factor. But that’s not the only option by any means. If the characters work in the same field or related ones, one of them could take a new job that puts them in the other’s sphere. They could run into each other randomly in a Big City Setting™; they could both attend the same important event, like the wedding of a mutual friend; they could stumble over each other on social media somehow. The Internet is a magical thing, after all.

But with all these viable options and more, why do so many seem forced? Well, because, to some degree, they are. If the point of the story is the romance (which it is, of course, to us romance authors) sometimes we’re more focused on getting the relationship going again than how the characters reconnect, which means we’ll slap any old reason on the face of it to put our two leads into each other’s faces. Take a little extra time to think through reasonable situations. Ask your friends where and how they’ve run into people they used to know, and what (if anything) came of it, whether the relationship is romantic or not. I mean, I ran into someone I had a crush on in junior high while we were both in line at the post office to send Christmas presents to our families. Absolutely nothing came of it–no number exchange, no attempt to contact each other again, I haven’t seen or heard from him since–but for a pair of fictional characters, that meeting could have had different consequences.

#3 – Layering old and new conflicts

Every romance has to have conflicts; the best question to ask is always “Why aren’t they together now?”

But second-chance romances have an extra layer to handle: resolving the old conflict somehow while maintaining new ones. Your leads aren’t the same people they used to be, no matter how familiar they may seem to each other–they’ve changed. What is it about how they’ve changed that means the unresolved conflict from their previous relationship can be overcome?

Sometimes I’m disappointed by the couples rekindling their flame too quickly, because they toss the old conflict out the window with barely a pause to breathe. Make sure the issue is given the weight and consideration it deserves (which will depend, of course, on how serious it was to begin with) before letting your couple fall into bed together.


So, my lovely readers, do you like second-chance romances? What is it about them you enjoy, and what pitfalls are you tired them falling into?