Sunday, January 30, 2011

Romance vs. Straight-Up Cheese

There's a fine line between a great romantic story and a cheesy romance novel, and boy do I hate when the line gets crossed.

I read a book recently that was so cheesy it made me want to grab one of the icicles hanging off my house and poke my eyes out with it.
Sounds like fun, right?  Anyhow, I won't say the title or author of this particular book because I'm unpublished and therefore probably unqualified to throw stones, but the logline on the cover goes like this:

He's New York's most eligible bachelor.  She's just not interested!

Gee... wonder how that's going to work out?  Is she really going to shoot him down for an entire novel?  I think not.  Sure enough, "he" and "she" meet on page 36 and by page 43, the narrative goes a little something like this:

And he'd called her beautiful.  Heat rose to her cheeks at the memory.  Then there'd been his touch.  His hands weren't roughened from hard work, nor were they soft and manicured.  In fact, his fingers felt just right as they'd wrapped around her hand and the jolt of awareness sizzled straight through to her toes, and other body parts she'd be better off not concentrating on too closely right now.

Um, want some crackers with that cheese?  What happened to not interested? 

And let's not leave out his thoughts on her:

She presented a puzzle he wanted to take apart and put back together with a deeper understanding.

What?  So if she's a puzzle and she's already put together, why would you need to take her apart to understand her?  Can't you just look at the pieces?  Or am I missing some sort of sexual innuendo, or a reference to the borderline gross makeout scene that's coming up in the next fifty pages?

But the worst - the absolute worst - are the sex scenes.  Now don't get me wrong, I love a sexy magnetism between two characters.  But there is a difference between hot and hard core.  And when physical attraction seems to be the only thing driving them together, I just feel dirty reading passages like this:

Coop had died and gone to Heaven.  Or at least he was on his way there, as Lexie's damp hot body glided down over his, cocooning him in the most exquisite sheath.

Exquisite sheath?!  EWW!  You've got to be kidding me!  I would love for a group of women to try that line on their partner.  "Hey baby, how'd you like to be cocooned in my exquisite sheath?"  He'll die alright.  Of laughter.  Oh yeah, and "Coop" is the male mc, who goes by something that belongs with "chicken" in front of it, despite having a nice, normal name like Sam Cooper.  That should have raised the Red Flag of Formaggio right there.

It wasn't long after this point that I stopped reading and merely skimmed through the rest just to see how it ended, which of course, was as you'd expect with some extra cheese thrown in.  Spoiler alert (yawn): they argue after more sex in a coat closet at a party and she's held at knifepoint by a deranged member of the waitstaff.  At which point "Coop" realizes Oh God, I could have lost her! and they put aside their differences and live happily ever after.  Gag.  Me.

This book had no business calling itself a romance novel.  Sex is not romance.  Overused plot devices are not romance.  Go read the scene in Shiver where Sam and Grace kiss for the first time, or the scene in Before I Fall when Samantha and Kent have their first real kiss.  That's romance.  There's more of it in those four or five pages than there was in this entire novel.

I think this is why I veer toward the YA genre.  When the characters fall in love, it's new and innocent and exciting and exploratory.  There's still the element of surprise, and it's not all about the physicality of it.  But start stepping up the ladder to chick lit or romance, and you're testing questionable waters.  Things get too heavy, too predictable, too graphic, and TOO FREAKING CHEESY. 

Now that's not to say all YA romance is perfect or that all adult romance should be written off.  But this particular book is going right into the donation pile.  I chose it in the first place because a) the back cover synopsis was intriguing (better than the actual novel, as it turns out) and b) the cover was cute, and not something I'd be embarrassed to be seen reading like most romance novels.  Lesson learned.  You really can't judge a book by its cover - front or back. 

Now, please excuse me while I hit up my YA-To-Be-Read pile for something to clear my brain of the cheddar residue!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Amazing Book Alert: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

I'm just going to put it out there.  I was blown away by this book.   Here is the synopsis:

What if you had only one day to live? What would you do? Who would you kiss? And how far would you go to save your own life?

Samantha Kingston has it all: the world's most crush-worthy boyfriend, three amazing best friends, and first pick of everything at Thomas Jefferson High—from the best table in the cafeteria to the choicest parking spot. Friday, February 12, should be just another day in her charmed life.

Instead, it turns out to be her last.

Then she gets a second chance. Seven chances, in fact. Reliving her last day during one miraculous week, she will untangle the mystery surrounding her death—and discover the true value of everything she is in danger of losing.

Amazing already, I know.  Not to mention Lauren Oliver managed to create one of the most realistic teenage voices I've read, while still incorporating beautiful writing and some of the most creative uses of metaphor and analogy I've come across.

I'll admit that at first, I found Sam somewhat unlikable.  She's pretty and popular and well aware of it, and she and her friends use it as a license to walk all over people.  They're the kind of girls I avoided like the plague in high school.

She confesses early on that she doesn't even like the way her boyfriend kisses, yet she plans to lose her virginity to him later that night just to get it over with.  She's too cool for her childhood friend Kent, who adores her.  She's dismissive of her little sister and ruthless to an outcast named Juliet Sykes, whom her friends have nicknamed Psycho.  Each year on Cupid Day, when everyone measures their popularity by the number of roses received from their classmates, they torment Juliet by sending her a rose with the note Maybe next year, but probably not.  It's exactly the kind of rotten thing high school girls will do, just because they can.  And it's heartbreaking.

But that's only day one.  Eighty pages in, Sam dies for the first time.  She realizes fairly quickly that she died and that the wrinkle in time means she needs to change something - she just can't figure out what.  From there on, each time she relives the day of her death, she learns something new - about her friends, herself, the things she thought were important and the things that really were. 

Each day brings a new plot twist and a new emotional rollercoaster.  Her interactions become more tender, more meaningful.  And (*somewhat spoilerish*) when she discovers just how amazing Kent is, I fell in love with him myself.  Extra points to Lauren Oliver for not one, but two incredibly beautiful kissing scenes.  Anyhow, the points that are truly driven home are 1) the fact that our actions cause chain reactions, with lasting effects we may not even be aware of and 2) it's never too late to be remembered well, and not just remembered - if you so decide.

The reader will get the point before Sam does, but when she gets there, she is a far cry from the unlikable girl in pages 1-80.  You'll want her to live and yet you'll be dying to know what happens next.  It's completely worth it to share her journey.  Seriously, go read this book.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Warmth? What's That?

It's eleven degrees outside today in good old Connecticut.  It was negative six when I left the house this morning, and more snow predicted for tomorrow night.

Don't get me wrong, I love the snow.  Especially when it causes my office to close.  But we've had a storm every week since Christmas and it's getting a little ridiculous.  So it's really no surprise that I had a dream about being on a plane last night.  In the dream, I didn't know my destination, but I can bet it was Aruba. 

My husband and I have been there three times since we've been married, and I don't think I could ever get sick of it - and that's despite getting stuck in an elevator on two separate occasions in two different hotels.  So yeah, I take the stairs whenever possible now.  Anyhow, I digress.

As much as I love the snow, there is no place I love more than the beach.  Which probably has a lot to do with the fact that my "finished" novel takes place in California, near and on the beach.  And ironically enough, all this snow has given me the chance to look at said novel with fresh eyes and realize I hated my second chapter.  I've demolished it and am slowly rebuilding it, finding that I am much happier with the new version.  So I'm finding that even though the weather has me longing for this:
It's been providing me with both the frame of mind and the time to devote to telling a better story.  Because the more I see this:
The more I retreat in my mind to this:

We took this trip shortly after I finished my first draft, and just looking at these photos reminds me of all the revision plans I had whirlpooling in my head.  I brought a little notebook with me to the beach every day to write down new thoughts or edits I wanted to add/make when I got home.  And ironically enough, it's my frost-bitten fingers and runny nose bringing me back to that thought process right now.  If that's what it takes to inspire a little creativity, I say bring it on.  Because when those white flakes are coming down again tomorrow, this is where I'll be:

See how hard I'm thinking?  I'm probably not even seeing that beautiful, clear water.  I'm seeing an awesome kissing scene between my main characters.  Not even joking.

Aaaah inspiration.  Where do you find yours?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

First Love

They say your first love is the one you never forget, and I still remember the first book I ever fell in love with.

Yes, I'm talking about books.  When I called this thing Writer's Blog, I meant Readers Blog Too.  And I kid you not, I don't even remember my first kiss the way I remember this book.

I've always liked to read, but I still remember where I was and what was happening when I read Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson.  My first literary love.  I (well, my parents) bought it from the Weekly Reader magazine that used to circulate every so often in our classroom.  We were given a certain amount of time for quiet reading, probably half an hour or so, but I was so absorbed in the imaginary forest kingdom that it felt more like two minutes.  I can still remember blinking and looking around as the teacher told us to close our books.  It had felt so real to me - the golden trees, the rope swinging over the creek - that I was actually disoriented upon finding myself back in a sterile, flourescently lit classroom.  I wanted nothing more than to go back to Jesse and Leslie's enchanted world.  And once I did, I kept going back, again and again.

I think that was the first time I realized what a beautiful escape books could provide.  Without ever leaving your chair, you could be transported to another world or another life or a new adventure.  You identify with the characters.  You feel for them, and as crazy as it sounds, you enjoy their company.  When you're as painfully shy as I was growing up, and with kids being as unfortunately mean as they sometimes are, having a place to feel welcome is invaluable.  And as far as I'm concerned, there's nothing wrong with that place being between the pages of a book.

To this day, books are my way of stepping outside the confines of real life.  When work sucks and the housework is unending and nothing is going the way I plan, slipping into someone else's life for a little while is still my favorite outlet.

Every now and again I come across a book that makes me fall in love all over again.  It happened with Flowers in the Attic.  It happened again with Shiver and Linger.  It's probably why I'm so drawn to books about falling love; because it's the greatest feeling ever. 

But each time a new book works its way into my heart, I think back to that afternoon when a little desk in a small Catholic school melted away and became an enchanted forest called Terabithia.  It was the greatest feeling ever.  It was love. 

So... do you remember your first love?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

L. K. Madigan's Feast of Awesome Giveaway!

L. K. Madigan's Feast of Awesome Giveaway!

Posting this in honor of Lisa Madigan, currently battling pancreatic cancer after beating breast cancer.

I hate cancer. I watched my father fight (and beat) testicular cancer when he was only 37 years old.

Both of my grandfathers died shortly after being diagnosed with stomach cancer and brain cancer, respectively.

My husband's wonderful Aunt Mary died at the age of 48, when her breast cancer returned after eight years - three years past the supposed "all clear" mark.

My uncle John went through hell fighting esophageal cancer, including a surgery that left him with half a stomach, a partially paralyzed vocal chord, and sixty-three less lymph nodes. That was two years ago, and he's still standing strong.

Currently, my husband's Aunt Rita is battling breast cancer - thirty years after a partial mastectomy.

I have plenty of reason to hate cancer. The disease and the treatment are nightmarish invasions of a person's body. There are too many people fighting cancer in far too many forms. And if it will help anyone anywhere to re-post this contest, I'll do it gladly. Please do the same.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Amazing Book Alert

I just read - no, devoured - Rosebush by Michele Jaffe

This book was A-FREAKING-MAZING.  Suspenseful, beautifully written, totally engrossing right up to the very end.  The kind of book that makes me think, This is why I'm not published... because I didn't write THIS! 

Here is the synopsis from the back cover:
Jane wakes up tangled in a Rosebush, paralyzed and without a clue how she got there.
Her friends convince her she was the victim of a hit and run accident - but Jane begins to suspect someone is out to kill her.  Now, she must use the clues left behind by each person who visits her in the hospital - friend, stranger, enemy - to piece together what really happened, before it's too late.
The truth will change her life forever.  That is, if it doesn't kill her.

Great premise, right?  It only gets better from there.  A warning though: those who are offended by the (unfortunately accurate) portrayal of teenagers having sex, smoking pot, and experimenting with same-sex kissing, this book is not for you.  While it's not the focus of the plot, it's definitely there, so I'm just sayin'.

I did have a couple WTF moments.  Without giving too much away, I'll just say the first one was the Scott Situation, call it contrived, and leave it at that.  I thought it was trying too hard.  Ok, now I'll really leave it alone.

Second... Why did Jane stop at destroying the flower vase when she knew about Ollie's freakish pasttime?  Come on Jane, even I would have gone Rambo on the rest of those gifts.

Third... I'm still not quite sure I understand the "killer's" motive.  I was left guessing up until the last second, but once I knew I found myself thinking, "Really?  Am I buying this?"  I'm still not quite sure.  I know we're never supposed to suspect the real perp, but I felt like I still had questions at the end.  Which, of course, the author could have done intentionally but I'm nosy like that - I like closure.

All in all though, this book deserves to be read.  Michele Jaffe does such an amazing job painting a picture of the loneliness teenagers can feel - even pretty, popular girls.  As she puts it, "There's a finite amount of space at the top of the social pyramid and once you've reached it, there's only one direction to go and no shortage of people who want to push you there."  Jane wanted the perfect life, but learns the hard way that perfection is all smoke and mirrors, and comes at a high price.

You'll be dying to know who put the price tag on her head.  Go forth and enjoy!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Old Man Winter Had the Stomach Flu

I have never seen so much snow in my life.  Maybe I'm the only one who finds it awe-inspiring, but I just had to share the photos.

This is what my yard looks like on a normal day in the summer (thanks to my husband and his overly meticulous grooming of it):
And this is what my yard looks like right now:

Here's the view from my kitchen sliders on a sunny day

And today
Here is what my husband's car usually looks like (alright so this was 2 years ago when it was new and freshly washed):
Still better than it looks today:
And last but not least, my two favorites.  These were taken from my front door, before anyone attempted to dig themselves out.  The black dot in the right-hand corner of the first picture is my mailbox, and the two black dots on the left are my neighbor's rearview mirrors.  The second picture is my mailbox, looking like a buoy in a sea of snow: