A mere six months ago, I reviewed the ostensible second-to-last novel in Jo Beverley’s “Rogues” series. At that time, I pondered the idea of series that have run their course. Specifically, I wondered if thirty years was too long for one series. Especially if said thirty years was punctuated by periods of unavailability for some of the titles in the series.
I am the ultimate series sucker. You write them, I will come. And will keep reading and reading forever. In fact, I will keep reading long after I have sworn I will stop. There are possibly twelve-step programs for people like me, I simply haven’t found them. But still, there’s a point where even I wonder why I keep coming back…and then suddenly I remember who’s in charge of me, and I take the initiative and stop myself cold turkey.
Okay, I admit it: I judge books by their covers. You can’t tell me that you don’t. Humans are visual creatures. At some point, you’re looking at the cover of a book and thinking, “Hmm, that looks like exactly what I want.”
I did that with Kelley Armstrong’s Dime Store Magic. It has one of those shades-of-blue covers that suggests a sexy paranormal. Oddly (for me), I was in the mood for a sexy paranormal. The blue shadows suggested something along the lines of dark, too. I was in the mood for dark. One of those weeks, you know.
I didn’t quite get what I expected.
The Young Adult genre has blown wide open in the last few years, tripling in size and print runs; where once a teen reader was stranded in the no man’s land between Intermediate and Adult Fiction they now have many authors vying for their age group and attention. With women doing the majority of the book buying, it is no surprise that young, female protagonists populate the shelves. Whether they are mean girls, the target of mean girls or dealing with issues that range from body image to rape, authors find ways to interpret the teenage experience in new and (hopefully) interesting ways. To this end, a sub-genre has even developed where authors overlay high school woes with a paranormal sheen, giving the unwanted high school label “freak” a whole new meaning.
Trust is a far reaching issue in romance. There are heroes who doubt heroines, and heroines who lack faith in heroes, and authors who don’t trust their readers. Two of those trust issues manage to faithfully resolve themselves before the happily ever after. The third is a real problem. Too often romances are plagued by authors who write down to their readers, over simplify and over explain. Unsurprisingly, the resulting fiction is a joyless chore. Authors who write intelligently, in anticipation of an intelligent readership are a rare, but welcome, find. Romance that trusts the reader not only engages, but begs the question: why isn’t all romance like this? Why isn’t intelligent writing a minimum requirement for the genre? Why isn’t it a starting point from which to improve, instead of an exceptional find?
Susan Donovan trusts her audience: it’s obvious in the way she takes a well used romance setup and treats it as though it hasn’t been done over and over again; it’s obvious from the way she doesn’t pander to the lowest common denominator; and it’s obvious from the way she expects the reader to keep up with her writing instead of spoon feeding every bit of information.
Carlotta Wren’s life is a mess. Her parents skipped town rather than stand up in a courtroom for their white collar crimes. So, at eighteen, Carlotta lost her fiancee and financial security, but gained full-time care of her baby brother Wesley. Now, years later, her baby brother continues to seek out trouble and every gambling opportunity possible. Being on the financial edge and in debt to everyone, Wesley’s antics threaten both Carlotta and Wesley.
But Wesley is the least of Carlotta’s problems. There’s the return of her ex-fiancee, the murder of the ex-fiancee’s now-wife, a mysterious detective, a hot former doctor who gives Wesley a chance and Carlotta more than one look, a questionable female attorney with a shady link to Carlotta’s father and a probation officer who looks more like a stripper than a member of law enforcement. And those are only the main characters in Stephanie Bond’s newest, Body Movers, the first installment in an ongoing series.
Let the discussion begin.
This is the fifth book in MaryJanice Davidson’s Undead series, following the death and times of Betsy, Queen of the Vampires. Though a Minnesota native, Betsy Taylor is the quintessential Valley Girl. Tall, blonde and leggy with a shoe fetish, she was living an ordinary life when she was killed in an auto accident—and rose again as Queen of the Vampires. Undead and Unpopular follows the trials and tribulations of Queen Betsy as she tries to come to terms with her undead life. Like the previous book, Undead and Unreturnable, Undead and Unpopular can stand on its own. However, it’s better to read the books in sequence, beginning with Undead and Unwed.
Chicklit gets a bad rap because over-zealous acquisitions editors went crazy with “single girl looking for love and high-paying jobs in the city” stories. The commensurate market saturation left a bad taste in many a reader’s mouth (not to mention creating much fodder for dissing an entire genre). I suspect a lot of readers were like me – desperately seeking fiction with a romantic edge, realistic stories, and smart writing (oh, for more smart writing).
I suspect a lot of readers were like me and dropped out of chicklit game because finding the good was damn hard work.
I dedicate this review to those readers. There is hope.
Romance and chick lit are not art forms that succeed or fail on originality. Readers and authors alike might chafe at the notion that every romance is the same, save for the hair color of the hero and heroine, and one chick lit novel is only distinguishable from another by the shade of pink on the cover, but those sentiments hold a lot of truth, even if the verbiage is meant to demean. And that truth — that plotlines like Cinderella’s maid to princess tale are told over and over again — is really OK. Really. There is a certain comfort in knowing what a book holds before the first page is read. What isn’t known, and where romance and chick lit have the opportunity to succeed or fail, is with what each author will bring to well used constructs. It’s the reworking of the familiar and injection of freshness into the staid that makes a twice (or more) told tale something that stands out. Without those elements, romance and chick lit become caricatures of themselves.
Alesia Holliday’s Seven Ways to Lose Your Lover is intended as a lighthearted romp through the minefield of personals relationships. Its goal isn’t any loftier than to entertain. The end result is decidedly mixed, as it’s too easy to see the well worn elements and not easy enough to see the freshness.
Though a Minnesota native, Betsy Taylor is the quintessential Valley Girl. Tall, blonde and leggy with a shoe fetish, she was living an ordinary life when she had a day from hell that cumulated in her dying—and rising again as Queen of the Vampires. Undead and Unreturnable is the fourth book in the series that follows the trials and tribulations of Queen Betsy as she tries to come to terms with her undead life. Though Undead and Unreturnable can stand on its own, like most series it’s better to read the books in sequence, including MaryJanice Davidson’s short stories in this universe. While Davidson does a decent job in reintroducing characters and storylines, there’s enough back story that a reader starting at Undead and Unreturnable might be a little confused on who fits where and why.
When is a vampire not a vampire? When is the flu just the flu? When is an engagement not an engagement? When is a bad guy not a bad guy? And…when is it okay to get bitten by a complete stranger at a literary party?
All good questions. For that last one, the answer probably is “never” but maybe not. The other answers aren’t as clear and answers are exactly what you’ll want. See, Happy Hour at Casa Dracula is one of those books that raises several questions as it goes flying off in a hundred different directions. The book is hard to define in terms of romance versus paranormal versus chick lit with a twist. But, and here’s the best part, it’s equally hard to put down. This is due, in part, to Acosta’s engaging voice and, in even bigger part, to a desire to know what the hell is happening here.