If you've ever wanted to read every book in the library, maybe you should rethink that.

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Grandma secretly hates me. I just read (well, “read”) a book for this post that came highly recommended by her. Either she hates me or she’s the kind of troll who lights fire to things and runs away without staying to watch the world burn. But I digress.

A wise person would probably not do this reading challenge, At the Mercy of My Library, knowing that following through with the entire challenge would bring nothing but pain and suffering.

I am apparently not wise; after pursuing both selections from this post’s D- authors, both of which appear to be Romance novels in their own way, I will continue to finish this challenge if it’s the last thing I do. At least I never promised to finish every book.

Let’s get this over with. Here’s a reminder of my rating system:

0/4 In the words of Homer Simpson, “AAH! Burn it! Send it to Hell!”
1/4 It was bad, but I’d still recommend it to people who don’t like books.
2/4 It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good enough for me to want to finish it.
3/4 It was good. I finished it.
4/4 It was fantastic!

Spellbound
author: Day, Sylvia
title: Spellbound
year: 2013
special sticker: none
guess the genre: Ooh, my first smut book!
pre-read impression: Well, I’m glad it’s a short one.

LAST impression: I’m not even sure how far I got into this novel. As soon as I decided to stop reading it, I succeeded in putting all of it out of my mind. A few plot points stayed with me, but I’m probably wrong about all of them. Forgive me (I’m being sarcastic).

Even if this book was around 100 pages, it didn’t seem to be worth the read. One character basically says to the other in the first chapter, “We’re going to have all sorts of dangerous sex because I’m the boss of everything.” See, that’s just unappealing to me. I like to be–dare I say–teased. (And when you read the next book’s review, you’ll wonder if I even know what I want.) And while the descriptions of people and sexual tension were probably well written (honestly, I didn’t even get that far), they still made me question why this book was in existence. A cheap thrill? Let someone else have it.

STARS: 0.5/4. I give this book a extra .5 because (a) it cuts to the chase, (b) it doesn’t try to advertise itself as anything else, and (c) at least the heroine isn’t, you know, uninteresting. You know what I mean.

Would I suggest this author and/or book? Okay, fine, I would suggest it to certain people. Look, it got bumped up to 1/4 stars! You win!

A Knight in Shining Armor (Montgomery Saga, #16)
author: Deveraux, Jude
title: A Knight in Shining Armor
year: 1989
guess the genre: Romance?
pre-read impression: My grandmother gave me this book one or two years ago. She’d just finished it, and the way she described the plot made this book seem like something I’d enjoy. I never say no to a free book.

LAST impression: It’s time I started saying no to free books. It’s probably also time I started doubting my grandmother’s taste in everything.

The first chapter introduces Dougless, your typical push-over who is in love with someone imperfect and cries every time she turns a corner. (Seriously, so much crying. More on that later.) She anxiously awaits a marriage proposal by Robert. Robert doesn’t tell her until they reach the airport that his daughter from a previous marriage will be joining them on their romantic getaway to England. In a random churchyard on this vacation, Dougless finally loses her temper and gives the child a smack. The child then steals Dougless’s purse and Robert drives off with his daughter. Um, what? This guy left this woman WHO SHARES A HOUSE WITH HIM stranded in a foreign country without money or identification.

Dougless starts to cry. This is the only time I can believe her tears are justified, but at this point I’ve gone from, “Robert is a trope of a character, but at least he has some personality” to “Oh my fuck, no person would ever do that.”

If the first chapter was an insult to my intelligence as a reader, following chapters were jokes. Robert doesn’t return for any reason (until the second-to last chapter). Instead, he cancels reservations to all the hotels they were supposed to stay at in England. So Dougless is going to be murdered and no one will be able to identify her body because the one person who shares her mailing address left her stranded in a foreign country without identificaton so Jude Deveraux could write a story. Kidding. (Okay, the last part is true. Seriously, that’s the worst plot device I ever saw.) As soon as we meet Nicholas, that doesn’t matter because we learn the novel’s theme is “Our souls will forever be tied because you look at me from under your lashes.” (More on lashes later.)

Anyway, Dougless’s magical tears bring an earl (Nicholas, who has a statue in the church. Isn’t that convenient?) to life from the depths of history. Nicholas believes Dougless is the key to sending him back to his own time, yadda yadda yadda, she goes back in time for some reason.

yadda

But you yadda yadd’ed over the best part!

I got four chapters in. Seventy pages. (That’s over my fifty-page “I’ll read whatever” rule.) After that, I flipped through to see what I would be missing when I stopped reading. Yes, they go back to Nicholas’s time.  This was why Grandma thought I’d like the book. Because a knight/earl shows up in present-day England and there’s some mystery surrounding his destiny. She’s right in that I do love historical fiction. However, I wasn’t going to put up with shoddy writing for a historical thrill.

Check out this steaming pile of gems:

She started to speak again but he told her to be quiet and she was.

That sentence is its own paragraph. That sentence must be the most unneeded paragraph in the history of all books.

Here’s another riveting one:

He looked at her but said nothing and Dougless quit smiling.

Can someone tell me what’s wrong with using mid-sentence punctuation?

So Dougless commits herself to someone who both threatened her with a sword and won’t stop following her around. Never mind the vicar, who was at the church the whole time. He could help both Nicholas with his time travel conundrum and Dougless’s identity theft. The general population (i.e. writers of all things books, movies, and TV shows) doesn’t seem to remember church employees are good for fictional people other than spiritual guidance. (That’s something I have to work on, too.) But no, Dougless has to skip around town doing errands for someone she never met even though she promised herself never to take on another needy man. And why? Because the heroine in these kinds of romance novels are required to be idiots in order for true love to do its thing.

Don’t get me started on the self-imposed misogyny. About half of Dougless’s thoughts are on her own appearance, including that fact that it’s perfectly normal to spend someone else’s money on makeup because she thinks he’s cute whenever it’s convenient.

While these two go around playing Wow Look At This Thing That Didn’t Exist In My Time, the heroine becomes attached to him even as she continues convincing herself this is a person she just met yesterday, who she believes has suffered either amnesia, a mental breakdown, or has never been in his right mind in the first place.

She woke before dawn, smiling before she woke to feel Nicholas’s warm, big body next to hers.

Something about that doesn’t seem right, and it isn’t just because she snuggled next to a naked man she believes to be clinically insane. Is it me or did she wake up twice in the same sentence?

So, what about the ending? Surely the payoff is worth it.

Dougless figures out how not to be a doormat, leaves Nicholas back in his own time, tells off Robert in an unsatisfying way, and meets an incarnation of Nicholas. I skipped everything but the last chapter, where there were more entire paragraphs made only to insult me:

She looked at him then, really looked at him. He glanced down at the portrait, then up at her, and when he did so he looked at her through his lashes, just as Nicholas used to do. “What do you do for a living?” she whispered.

I see three problems with this.

  1. She’s really looking at him and we don’t receive much feedback. What is it about him besides basic movement that enamors you? The Nicholas comparison? We already received comparisons. We know by now in the story they’re spiritually related. Just stop.

The other two problems are common in Romance novels (as far as I know).

2. The whispering. I guarantee you no one does that much actual whispering in the author’s mind. No one walks around whispering! Readers, what authors are actually trying to portray here is a softness in the speech that becomes redundant when described as “said softly.” How many times in romance films and soap operas do you hear people whispering to each other in public? None that I’ve seen.

3. Lashes! Everyone in romance novels every look at each other through or from under lashes.

Dear Lash Looker Haters,

This isn’t a new descriptive concept. Dashiell Hammet did this in The Maltese Falcon, but just because it worked for him doesn’t mean it’s going to work somewhere else. That was film noir he was writing for. It worked for the style. Go on hating it when it’s used in terrible novels, but don’t you touch my beautiful noir!

Dear Lash Looker Lovers,

All your characters look like they’re giving each other the stink-eye. Does anyone look each other in the eye any more? Put down your phones and have a real conversation, damn it, that doesn’t require the heroine to recount all her previous fifty steps while we have to read about it!

This is something Jenny Trout complained about when reviewing Fifty Shades of Grey (love ya, JT). After reading this A Knight in Shining Armor, I’m starting to believe all romance novels are terribly written on purpose and ‘Grey isn’t all that special or especially bad after all. It uses many of the same over-explored devices:

irritatingly innocent heroines;
men who treat women like shit;
annoying women/girls who adore the men who treat the heroine like shit;
men who show up for the sole purpose to save the heroine;
poor writing;
poor descriptions of gestures, habits, and appearances on top of other poor writing;
the list goes on!

If this is what the entire genre of Romance is like, count me out forever.

 

STARS: 0/4. Maybe I’m being harsh. Other books by Deveraux are, I’m sure, better. This one was her first, after all. My version was also published before her fabled rewrite that may or may not have fixed everything. I don’t care.

MercyChallenge

I wrote this post with the most calming music in the background, cuddled up in my warm, comfy chair, and I’m still stewing in anger!

This challenge has a long way to go before I find anything worth writing home about. Next time, I’ll read an Amish Romance. That will be new and exciting. (keyboard breaks due to sarcasm overload)

Living in Harmony (New Beginnings, #1)  The Walk (The Walk, #1)

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I’ve come across a few “styles” since the beginning of this year that tick me off.

Of course, I should start with a disclaimer: I know I’m not a perfect writer. And because I’m not yet published, you may pretend I’m merely a reader. But as a reader, I’m allowed to have opinions and be annoyed at things. As long as I have the ability to back this up, my opinions care be valuable.

Let’s get to it. These are two things that have been ticking me off lately.

1) What is everyone’s obsession with eye color?

Profiles are important. There’s no doubt about this. We want to visualize each person in a scene, especially if that person is or will become important to the story. When a writer finds eye color to be more important than what’s going on in the scene, especially when there are over three characters present, I either lose sight of what’s going on or get everyone’s eyes mixed up.

“I really like this cake,” John said, taking a huge bite and smiling. His eyes were green.

In the above sample, eye color is an afterthought.

“I really like this cake,” John said. He took a huge bite, green eyes smiling.

I fixed it for you. Now we have some context. Now we can remember the color in relation to an action instead of trying to remember the color after it was awkwardly tacked onto the end. “But taking a bite backs up John’s statement about the cake,” you might say. No, the fact that John voiced his opinion makes it stronger. Watching how he smiles when he eats the cake backs up his statement.

When creative writing teachers tell you to be more descriptive, it doesn’t mean they want useless information. I have over twenty co-workers that I see every day, and I can’t recall the eye color of any of them. It’s not as important as their stature or vocal quality to me.

2) Please stop having your protagonist ask the reader what’s going to happen.

Observe:

I’m hungry. Should I eat something? I could make a sandwich or eat the leftover pasta. Would a sandwich be as filling? If the pasta tasted bad yesterday, would it be worse today? Should I add better spices to the pasta or eat the sandwich more slowly so it can fill me better? Who else will eat the pasta if I don’t?

If you were a little frustrated by the speaker the end of that paragraph, welcome to the club. I’m aware these are supposed to be rhetorical questions, but it gets to a point where the more questions there are, the less I care about what happens. Go outside and eat dirt for all I care! If the speaker is contemplating a more complex problem, the questions he/she asks can potentially give away what ends up happening. When I’m not surprised by a story, I don’t usually find it it to be a good book.

Some authors might defend that the protagonist is asking these questions to him- or herself. Unless some actual answers are provided, I believe a paragraph such as the one above is evidence of the author running around going, “Hell if I know!” because they haven’t figured out their own plot yet.

I’m hungry. Should I eat now? A sandwich sounds good, but there’s a lot of leftover pasta in the fridge. A sandwich might not be as filling, but given how awful the pasta was yesterday I think I should stick with the tastier option. I try to think of what spices to add to the pasta that would overpower the awful rosemary and come up with nothing. I make myself a sandwich, planning to chew slowly so it fills me better. Someone else can take the leftovers.

That’s a little better. We see how the speaker comes to the conclusion to make a sandwich. Although I happen to love leftover pasta, I can agree with this decision based on the evidence provided.

 

I kid you not, I’ve read published fiction very similar to the first example in each point. I have also made these mistakes myself, and I’m working on them. This is why multiple drafts are so important. Each time you edit, you’re getting a more complete look of the protagonist’s thoughts and perceptions.

I’m hungry again. All that talk about food. Should I eat now? I’m looking around the room with my blue eyes.



On the way out of a Kroger after one shopping trip, I passed a man with the angelic poise of John Lithgow. He seemed more familiar as I approached him, and with the giddiness of a new crush, I realized why. Was it really him? One of my favorite characters in my new series? I studied his hair, his face, his posture, and soon found my steps leading me directly to him. He turned his head to meet my gaze and trapped me in the pure blue eyes of Henry Czerny.

John Lithgow

Henry Czerny

I approached him short of breath, open-mouthed and ready to gasp, “It’s you!” It had to be my favorite villain, or so I believed. Although  it was impossible to be true, I wanted to ask even if it meant confusing a complete stranger. I would re-enter the store with him if it meant discovering who he was.

But before I could embarrass myself, my family called to me to cross the street with them. I tore myself from the doorway and left.

He wasn’t who I hoped; I knew so without asking. It was silly of me to think so. My character’s hair has less white in it, and he wouldn’t do his own grocery shopping because he’s stinking rich. The following week, I saw the same man at Kroger in a uniform. Apparently, my villain is a supervisor. (I said nothing to him then and was relieved he didn’t recognize me.)

The funny thing is this wasn’t an odd occurrence. A few months before, I saw another of my beloved villains at work. Of course, this one didn’t look exactly as he should either, but a gal can dream. I began to watch his movements for character inspiration, and thankfully I didn’t open my big mouth and tell any of my co-workers about my enthusiasm for the potentially evil clown making copies in our library.

I know this is somewhat delusional. I know characters don’t walk around in real life. Sometimes, you consume enough of something that it’s all you see in the world. For example: when you marathon one show for a whole week, everything in your day-to-day life reminds you of that one episode or that set or a quirk of some actress. I’ve been enjoying the writing process, much to my surprise, and I’m happy to be reminded of the lovely world I’ve created. It must mean I’m doing something right.

Someday, in the near future, I’ll see another character in real life. Like the others, I’ll be struck with inconceivable adoration and may even have the balls to approach him or her or you. It will be very embarrassing and we’ll both laugh it off when I explain why I approached you. As I work more with my novel’s characters, they become more real to me. So real, it won’t seem strange that they’re no longer in my imagination. I won’t risk the chance that, in some other universe, they could be real people.

If you who are reading this recall a complete stranger looking on you with awe, that stranger was probably a writer, and that writer was probably me, and you—yes, you—are a beloved character in someone else’s imagination. (If this is true and you are one of my characters, sorry about the crap I put you through. It was needed for your personal development.)



Is it just me or did the standards for Young Adult Fiction all but disappear between 2006 and 2011?

To research my own novel, I recently started reading a work by someone else.I wanted to compare my novel to others of the same subject. I wanted to stick my foot in the water and see how many piranhas there were. There is no better inspiration to publish your own work than to read something horrible.

I don’t get competitive with writing. Not usually. When I read a book I feel “meh” about I don’t go out and try to do better than that author just because I know I can do it. When I read a brilliant piece, I don’t try to be better than that writer, either. Rather, I purchase the book and place it on a pedestal (or as some may call it: a bookshelf) to give me inspiration when I’m down in the dumps.

This novel I’m currently reading, which shall remain nameless, reminds me that I’m a better writer. When I say this, I’m not being haughty. No. I’m furious. Here I am reading a book that needs so much attention, a character’s name changes in the same chapter he’s introduced! He’s a minor character, sure, but this is the least of this book’s problems.

Instead of a call-to-editing rant in which I could go on about the state of young fiction these days (you’re putting this in print; why won’t you read your own ****ing book just once from someone else’s point of view to make sure nothing’s wrong with it?!), I’m enraged about something petty but dear to my heart.

Another character belonging to this guy shares a name (and some physical qualities) with one of mine. It’s an uncommon name—trust me—and he was the first to use it. However, I’m glad for this. This coincidence inspires me to make my book (and character) of a higher standard. It inspires me not to change my character’s name but instead make him more meaningful to the reader. I was putting off writing this character’s most important scene (sorry about what happens, buddy) until today. He’s probably more important to my book than this guy’s character is to that terrible novel. (Again, I’m sorry about what happens in your big scene, but you know it will do [another character of mine] a lot of good.) I’ve become quite fond of mine in the past few months (*poke* love youuuu) and the more I know him the more it’s a joy to work with him.

No, I’m not competitive with writing, but when I see another author putting one of my characters to shame I can’t stand for it. Look out, people! This literary world may be big enough for the two of them, but that doesn’t mean it should be.

A year after writing out the plot to my new series, I’m still excited for it. Several years in and many drafts later, there will finally be justice. The terrible state of Young Adult Fiction will come to pass and any young author who takes good care of her imagination (I said I’m sorry, okay?!) will release her babies into the world to entertain. Between now and then, my experience with poorly written stories will inspire me to do better because I know this name for a certain type of character can belong to someone readers will adore. The genres for this age group is already improving, and I want to be part of it when my story is finally in print.



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