Reading Romance: “The Morning Gift,” by Eva Ibbotson

BOOK The Morning Gift

Hey, I’m still reading titles off NPR Books’ list of 100 Swoon-Worthy Romances.

Sometimes I’m a bit of a slow reader. Maybe I’m not all that engaged by the material, or maybe I’m having trouble grasping it, or maybe the writing is thick and dense and it takes more time than usual to slog through it. Other times … Well, I wouldn’t say I’m a quick reader, because I can only consume the words as fast as my brain can take them in, but I am what you might call a relentless reader. That is to say, I gobble up page after page at my steady pace, unwilling to put the book down even for a moment until I read the end.

Generally, I become a relentless reader at some point during the course of a book. Often it’s near the end, when I’m in a rush to get to the climax and the resolution and see how it all winds up, but sometimes, in a really great book, in a book I’m enjoying quite a bit, my relentlessness kicks in quite a bit sooner. The Morning Gift definitely was one of those books, not because of a built-in urgency to the plot structure or anything — it’s not a thriller — but simply because the characters were so engaging, and I wanted very much for them to come together. I wanted to know — urgently, immediately — exactly how they would end up, and I found myself putting off all sorts of other things in order to get further into this book and find out.

I think it’s always quite an accomplishment for an author to create that kind of driving need in the heart of a reader over a romance novel, because by definition we all know how romance novels end: happily ever after. So to pull me along for that ride, desperately wanting to know when and how things will work out for our heroine and her hero, as well as all the supporting characters we care about, which this book has in abundance, is to build people of substance. As a writer you’ll hear a lot that character drives plot, and that’s certainly the case here. Who Ruth is drives what she does. And the same goes for Quin. And everyone else, to be honest. It makes for a very organic, very touching and believable and sincere story.

I’d recommend this book to anyone.

Reading Romance: “Nine Coaches Waiting,” by Mary Stewart

BOOK Nine Coaches Waiting

This is another entry off of NPR Books’ list of 100 Swoon-Worthy Romances.

It’s been quite a while since I last covered one of these titles, for a couple of reasons. In large part, I took a long time to read this one because I’ve spent so much time writing, and it’s never a good idea to read too much when I’m flexing my own creative muscles. But it also took so long because this book, in particular, was really difficult for me to get into.

I have to admit, I chose this book off the list because the somewhat bland name of the heroine — Linda Martin — caught my eye. Those of you who know me probably know why. The other reason I chose the book is the forward is written by Sandra Brown, absolutely my favorite contemporary popular novelist. Beyond that, I didn’t know at all what to expect, and in fact had to remind myself several times that it was supposed to be a romance.

In truth, there’s not much romance to it at all. I mean, there are a couple of potential love interests (presumably so as to leave a little mystery regarding the intentions of one), but other than dear Linda declaring almost out of the blue that she’s in love with one of them, and his somewhat out of the blue acting on those feelings, mostly the book is a dark, mysterious story about a wealthy French family filled with secrets, tragedies and bad intentions, with a lot of near-miss accidents almost befalling the young heir to the family fortune and title.

That being said, once things become deadly dangerous for the young Count and our Linda — his governess — the book turns into a gripping, fast-paced tale. For the last third, I couldn’t read it fast enough. I hated interruptions and I stayed up extra late last night to get it done. And to be honest, I was pretty satisfied with the ending.

Overall, though, I thought the book had several holes in the plotting and was mostly a meandering tour through inconsequential nonsense. There’s a bit about Linda’s past that seems like it might mean something but doesn’t go anywhere, there’s some really confusing goings on concerning pills and drops, and in the first half literally almost nothing of consequence happens. In retrospect, it feels like Stewart was attempting to spring the villainy onto unsuspecting readers after weaving several lanes of misdirection, but the construction was flimsy and the red herrings weren’t deployed with enough impetus, leading to a haphazard mystery and a very lightly developed romance, which needless to say is disappointing on the whole.

So, Mary Stewart is apparently not my thing. The good news is, I still love Sandra Brown and she has a new book out I can’t wait to tackle.

Writer’s Log

As you may have guessed, I abandoned my attempt at a daily writer’s log, because it felt boring to me. (It’s my blog; I can do what I want.) However, that doesn’t mean I’m not writing. I’ve got over ten thousand words down on a novel that’s been haunting me for over a decade, I’ve got the first act of a screenplay finished, I’m planning various other future projects, and I applied for two fellowships in the past few weeks. Right now the novel is my focus, though, and I’m shooting to be finished with it before my next birthday in early 2016. Keep me in your thoughts!

Writer’s Log, Day 6

I took the weekend off (from logging, not from writing) and then went to bed super early last night. But from the weekend through today, I have over 1500 words down, PLUS (and more significantly) I finished the complete outline/roadmap of my novel. Feeling pretty goddamn good about that.

Writer’s Log, Day 5

I actually did a lot of editing/revision on a scene today, so I probably only added about 200-300 words overall, but since I’m utterly incapable of not moving on until I’ve tweaked something to my satisfaction, I’m okay with it. I also participated in several class discussions for this online writer’s workshop, which meant a lot of thoughtful, academic-type writing. And I’m planning out a rather daunting scene as well.

So I feel okay. In fact, I’m going to go right back to it. Write, write, write.

Writing Log, Day 3

Tonight was a slog. I did almost literally anything else but write for most of the day, made even easier by the fact that I’m obsessed with listening to the full cast recording of Hamilton, which is so good I can’t possibly concentrate on anything else. I finally buckled down, though, and managed to get some stuff I’m pretty happy with. Plus I figured if I average the same number of words my movie posts were, by spring I’ll have this thing completely done. (I regularly do speculative math planning when I want to put off other things.)

Over 1300 words today, because sometimes when you push yourself through the slog, you emerge on smoother roads.

Writer’s Log, Day 2

An astute observer would note that several actual days have passed between my day 1 and my day 2. In my defense, I only meant to chronicle my writing of actual content for projects I’m working on — novels, screenplays, articles, etc. — and not writing of any other kind, even having to do with the projects themselves, like correspondence, planning and pitches. However, it does feel a bit disingenuous to say I’m going to log my writing every day and then drop the ball for several straight days, even if I have done planning and pitching and organizing toward my larger goals. So I’m going to be writing more actual content today, and I’m going to try to write in that capacity EVERY ACTUAL DAY, not only so I can log it (even if it’s only a defeated 20 words I manage to accomplish), but so I can keep myself accountable and on track. I promise.

ETA: 334 words written today. Not impressive, but I did do some significant planning.

Writer’s Log, Day 1

So I started an online course with the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, and am revitalizing a few projects I had in the works, and thought this would be a good way to keep myself going. I don’t have specific goals, really, beside write something I’m satisfied with every day, but nevertheless I feel like recording my thoughts here might help keep me accountable. The thoughts might not even be coherent, but I’d like to record them anyway. How much have I written? How do I feel? What am I struggling with? Et cetera.

So today I wrote something for the course I’m taking, which was supposed to be around 500 words but ended up being around 600something. I don’t figure that’s a bad thing, necessarily. It wasn’t a hard limit.

I scribbled down some notes last night pertaining to the assignment, and then sort of slept on my thoughts surrounding what I wanted to do. It turned out well, I think, and it folds quite well into a larger project I’ve had in various states of progress for the past however many years. Man, years. Anyway, I’m proud of it. Good start.

Reading Romance: “Sweet Filthy Boy,” by Christina Lauren

BOOK Sweet Filthy Boy

Going contemporary on NPR Books’ list of 100 Swoon-Worthy Romances.

Zut alors! “Sweet Filthy Boy” is one insanely sexy book. If “Sweet Filthy Boy” were on a Chinese takeout menu, it would have AT LEAST four spicy peppers listed next to it. For some, explicit sex in a romance novel can be too awkward or too graphic or simply too much. Not for me. I LOVE a sexy sex scene, and “Sweet Filthy Boy” has about a million of them. Mon Dieu.

It’s become readily apparent (to me, at least, if no one else is paying attention) that most of these books I’ve been reading off this NPR list have been historicals. Not surprising, really, since I’ve always loved historicals that truly evoke a certain time period (my favorite book of all time, for example, is so anchored in the history of New Orleans the author apologizes in an end note for adding a fictionalized event), but kind of surprising to realize how resistant I apparently am toward contemporaries. If I try to analyze it, I can’t say it makes much sense. After all, Sandra Brown is one of my favorite authors and all she writes these days are contemporary romantic thrillers. And I LOVE THEM. But those seem different from typical genre romances, somehow, and I tend to get overly hesitant when thinking of reading a contemporary one of those. Perhaps I think they’re more frivolous or more contrived, since dating in the current day is more casual? Less likely to lead to permanent commitment? I honestly don’t know. I do think it’s hard to keep a contemporary novel truly contemporary, though, with technology being so changeable these days. Sometimes a book is painfully dated by the time I get to it, even though it’s supposed to seem current. And while the easy identification of the era is something I treasure in a historical novel, it’s something I dread in a contemporary one; I want a contemporary novel to feel like it could be happening right now, as I’m reading it, or just last week perhaps. I want that immediacy, and I recognize how hard that is to achieve. To its credit, “Sweet Filthy Boy” feels supremely Of the Moment.

More than being simply current, however, “Sweet Filthy Boy” is honestly charming, with characters and situations that feel true and earned. The book is told from the perspective of Mia, a recent college graduate who meets (and impulsively marries) a supremely sexy Frenchman named Ansel during a wild Vegas weekend. She follows him to Paris, as you do when you find yourself married to someone who lives in Paris who is also the best sex of your life, and in addition to having a super sexy, adventurous time with her new husband, Mia also comes into her own, growing into a confident and expressive woman from someone who was closed up and timid throughout college. In this way, the book really becomes as much about Mia’s personal blossoming as it is about the romance, and it gives the resolution a lot more emotional weight — to the point where I was legitimately tearing up at the end.

The sex, as I mentioned, is very hot, and I think I’ll have to add cerise — cherry — into the lexicon of sexy French phrases that I know, along with ménage à trois, Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir, and J’ai envie de toi. But while the sex is a huge part of the novel, it’s also a vehicle for Mia and Ansel to open up with one another, to be free and open, and ultimately to fall in love. And that’s a very good thing.

I love this book. There is no way in hell I’m not reading everything else by Christina Lauren, starting with the rest of this series. Maybe I’ll get some fun ideas.