Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Book Report: Dragons and Jerks

As I suspected, the changes I needed to make in the scene I'd been procrastinating on for days turned out to be minor. It was the next scene that I hadn't even been thinking about that was the critical one. But I think I've figured that out by just picking up on the end of the previous scene and asking myself what the character really would do next. And, you know, it was totally different from what she did in the existing draft. Some of that was because of the minor changes I'd made earlier, but some of it was the writer trying to force events instead of letting the characters be themselves. Bad writer! No cookies!

I've started making a good dent in the giant stash of books I got from the library. I have another book that would have made it to the "books of the year" list if I'd read it last year and that I may nominate for the Andre Norton award (the children's/YA award) with SFWA: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. This is what I'd call "adult-safe" YA in that I believe twenty or even ten years ago, before the YA boom, it likely would have been published as regular fantasy rather than young adult. The heroine is 16, but in her society that makes her essentially an adult. She lives on her own and has a job with some responsibility. She never really acts like a teenager.

Seraphina lives a dangerous existence trapped between two "worlds," where either  side would consider her an abomination if they knew what she was. To keep her secret, she isolates herself, doing her job as the assistant music mistress at court but not forming close ties to anyone. In this Renaissance-like world, the humans and dragons have formed a truce. Dragons have learned to take human form and live among humans, but there's still a lot of prejudice and bigotry on both sides, and there are factions on both sides that would love to end the truce and get the conflict going again. When the heir to the throne is killed in a way that looks very dragon-like, Seraphina finds herself drawn into the investigation. Her teacher was a dragon and her father is the legal expert on the treaty with the dragons, so she knows more about dragons than most people and has a different perspective on them. The prince who heads the royal guard finds her insight useful. They have to solve the case to stop a potential war, but solving the case may bring her secret into the open. This is an intriguing murder mystery with magic and dragons and Renaissance music, with a really nice slow-build romance. It looks like there will be a sequel, and I'm looking forward to it.

And then I finally finished the Little Lady Agency trilogy by Hester Browne. I was starting to think that she'd be another one like Sophie Kinsella for me, where I love the standalone books but can't read the series she's best known for. I loved the first book but hated the ending. Then when I was in the mood for that sort of thing, I read the second book and pretty much disliked it entirely, especially the ending. It was very frustrating reading an entire book about an obviously, painfully unhealthy relationship. But the online reviews reassured me that the story wasn't over, so I picked up the third book because as much as I disliked the second, I didn't want to leave it that way, and I was certainly rewarded. This series is about a young woman who finds a business niche in being "the little lady" and doing for unmarried men the kinds of things a wife would do -- wardrobe consulting, reminding about or sending flowers or gifts to friends and family members, polishing off the rough edges, sometimes even posing as a fake girlfriend to fend off matchmaking attempts from friends and family members. In the first book, she ended up getting together with one of her clients, and the problem with the second book for me was that it took her away from the business that was a lot of the fun as she spends most of the book on vacation in New York, where her boyfriend has moved for business. And then there are all the issues with the boyfriend who manages to be both neglectful and controlling at the same time. He keeps putting her off and brushing her aside for his business while complaining if she tries to do any work at all. In the third book, she's making wedding plans (well, making plans to make plans) when her grandmother asks a huge favor on behalf of an old friend/former lover, a displaced European prince. They need someone to rehab the prince's playboy grandson so they can get their old realm back (having the royal family in the old castle would be good for tourism). That project brings up all kinds of issues with her fiance, her own business goals and her male best friend from childhood. And we finally get a satisfying ending that didn't make me want to hurl the book across the room. I guess this is a reason why romances are seldom written in series with the same main couple unless there's a lot more stuff going on because it does get frustrating when the wrong parts are dragged out to delay the inevitable.

The third book is as much fun as the first, with all of our heroine's crazy family members and with her finally really finding herself. I would almost say to skip the second book in this series because the ending just re-sets, but if you do read the second book, have the third handy to begin immediately or you'll just end up annoyed if you leave things that way for any length of time.

1 comment:

Heidi Anne Heiner said...

I felt the same way about Little Lady Agency trilogy. You nailed it. Skip the second book. And I read her Swept Off Your Feet last week on your recommendation (somehow I had skipped it) and enjoyed it. I think I had neglected it when I didn't really enjoy her Finishing Touches. Last year I read Browne's The Runaway Princess and did enjoy that one. It's fluffier than Swept, sort of like a novel version of The Prince and Me, but better than the movie in many ways although the heroines are completely different.

And while I'm here, over the holidays I picked up Twelve Days of Christmas by Trisha Ashley--it was 99 cents and a pleasant surprise when I tried it. It's pretty much the kind of book you were seeking, light holiday emphasis, light romance, quirky people with nothing graphic. It'll be a reread for me in the future. I picked up some of Ashley's other books as a result and they are along a similar vein, reading her Winter's Tale now which isn't as holiday based, but is certainly that nice, sweet but not sticky, British chick lit feeling without the overwhelming silliness some of them can suffer.