Book Review: His Bride By Design by Teresa Hill

Earlier this year, my grandmother started giving me books. And by that, I don’t mean the occasional bag of half a dozen paperbacks; I mean thirteen grocery sacks of books at a time. It’s a wonder my roommates haven’t killed me yet for having random sacks of books strewn about the house.

Because of this, I’ve acquired a number of books I wouldn’t normally pick up on my own, including enough Harlequin category romances to supply my own used bookstore. I know a lot of people tend to stick up their noses at Harlequin, but I’ve found some gems there before, and I love romance anyway. So I was kind of excited at my haul.

Alas, the first book I picked up to read, His Bride by Design, wasn’t really worth it. It was a disappointment, because I had recently read a couple of fake-relationship stories that I really enjoyed, and I was looking forward to finding another one.

bride-by-designSynopsis from the back of the book:

Wedding-dress designer Chloe Allen had it all—her first celebrity client, a debut New York fashion show, even a happy engagement…her third, but who was counting? Then a catwalk catfight revealed her fiance’s cheating ways, and the media had a field day. To be painted as unlucky in love was a curse in her profession.

As brides-to-be rioted to return their Chloe originals, Fiance No. 2 rode to her rescue. Financier James Elliot IV couldn’t let her—or his secret investment in her business—suffer. They would play up a reunion romance for the cameras and get Chloe back on track. He had it all sewn up—but would their tabloid tableau vivant turn into the real deal?

Now, if you’re guessing that Chloe’s man was cheating on her with a model, you would be correct. What you might not guess is that he was cheating on her with a male model, which was a giggle-worthy twist since Chloe was kind of slow on the uptake.

What bothered me was how it was handled afterward. A blog (in the book) said “It’s the other men modern-day brides have to worry about,” which made me raise my eyebrows, as guys sleeping with other guys is not exactly a modern development.

On top of that, other brides actually were terrified their grooms were sleeping with their groomsmen, which also had me rolling my eyes. While I can kind of understand the superstitious aspect of it, this seemed like a weirdly specific fear that I just couldn’t suspend my disbelief enough for.

Then this conversation happened, after James found out someone’s put the video of Chloe finding out about her cheating boyfriend on YouTube:

“People are online watching a video of the brawl at Chloe’s show?”

“More than a hundred thousand people so far,” Marcy said.

James grimaced. “Someone’s keeping a count?”

“Of course. At the rate the video’s being downloaded, it could go viral at any time.”

A hundred thousand views in less than two days? I hate to break it to you, but that video’s not “about” to go viral; it has gone viral. Also, most people don’t actually download videos from YouTube. There’s no built-in functionality for that. And considering every YouTube video ever uploaded has its number of views just beneath it, “keeping a count” isn’t exactly difficult.

This kind of stuff frustrates the hell out of me. I don’t expect everyone to know the difference between HTML and CSS, but if you’re supposedly Internet-savvy, as Marcy is, I would hope you know how YOUTUBE WORKS.

However, even I can admit inaccuracies like that are usually minor issues in a story, and if the rest of it is good enough, I can forgive them. In this case, the rest of the story really wasn’t good enough to outweigh these mistakes.

I couldn’t get behind Chloe as a heroine. I liked her initially, but she was just so…wimpy after everything went down. She was so dependent on her assistants and then on James to do anything, it seemed.

I didn’t buy her as a woman who owned her own (successful) business. She didn’t even have any kind of plan for dealing with the fallout. Then, when James offered her a way to mitigate the problem, she burst into tears at the thought of doing it. She didn’t come across as strong enough to do what needed to be done to save what she cared about.

Then, they were kissing only thirty pages in. Which just never, ever works for me. Part of the fun of the romance is the journey in getting the characters from “Hello” or “I hate you” to “I want to spend the rest of my life with you.” After thirty pages, I’ve barely gotten a chance to know these characters; I’m not even rooting for them to get together yet. It’s like everything’s happening way too quickly.

I was excited for a reconciliation romance on top of a fake relationship, but after about the first four pages of the book, it just kind of meandered downhill. It didn’t dive straight into crazy-terrible, which might have been entertaining in and of itself for the WTF level, but just kind of settled at “not good enough for me to justify continuing to read.”

Between the heroine I didn’t like, the mediocre writing, and the Internet-related inaccuracies, I just didn’t care enough to finish the book.

Two in One Book Review: The Strange Case of Finley Jayne and The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross

The ebook version I got of The Girl in the Steel Corset came with the prequel novella, called The Strange Case of Finley Jayne. Oddly, I think if I hadn’t read the prequel first, I may have enjoyed the actual novel more.

strange-case-of-finley-jayneBut as it was, while I really liked The Strange Case of Finley Jayne, I couldn’t finish The Girl in the Steel Corset.

In The Strange Case of Finley Jayne, we meet Finley just as she has lost her position in an aristocratic household. Not just for punching the governess, but because Finley did so hard enough to shatter the woman’s teeth and send her flying across the room. Not exactly something a teenage girl ought to be able to do.

Finley is worried about losing her job, worried about telling her parents, and worried more about this strange “darkness” that seems to overtake her whenever she gets frightened or angry enough. It makes her stronger, faster, and enhances her senses, but it also makes her bolder and more violent. She has no idea what’s wrong with her, but it terrifies her.

The very next day, however, Finley is offered a position as a lady’s maid in Lady Morton’s household. The job seems too good to be true, but curious, Finley accepts anyway. It turns out the lady is well aware of Finley’s more violent tendencies, and is hoping to use them to protect her daughter, Phoebe.

I really liked this novella for a number of reasons. For one, the story perfectly fit the novella format, which is a lot harder to do than it sounds. Sometimes authors try to do too much for a short format, but this one works.

Finley’s dual nature is interesting, though sometimes it was difficult to tell which version of her viewpoint we were supposed to be in. It still very much feels like it’s the same person whether her darker nature or her more timid nature is in control.

Plus, even if Finley’s darker nature is more violent, it’s also very protective. She essentially acts as a bodyguard for Phoebe, and does a phenomenal job of it. She punched the governess at the beginning of the story because the governess struck a young boy for trying to take a treat off a cart. It’s great when she’s in that mindset, because she’s bolder and brasher, but not stupid about it. I loved watching Finley investigate the mystery.

I also really liked Lady Morton. She really wants nothing more than to protect her daughter and make sure she’s happy, and she’ll do that by whatever means necessary. She knows something’s not right, but she also knows she’s not in a position to fix it. That’s where Finley comes in.

We don’t get a whole lot of worldbuilding in the novella, but there’s enough that the steampunk aspects don’t feel entirely like window dressing. There’s a great scene with two runaway mechanical horses that was easily my favorite in the entire novella.

There was one little part from the villain’s viewpoint that felt really extraneous—Finley figured out the information shared in that scene in the very next chapter and it didn’t add anything else except perhaps to confirm that said villain was, in fact, a villain.

But really, that scene was the only serious misstep. Other than that, The Strange Case of Finley Jayne was a solidly entertaining novella.

And I enjoyed it enough that I was looking forward to reading The Girl in the Steel Corset, which started off well. Once again, Finley is facing trouble at her job, but this time it’s from the young lord of the house, who is trying to force himself on her. With the help of her darker nature, Finley beats him into unconsciousness and then runs away—straight into the velocycle (motorcycle) of Griffin King, the Duke of Greythorne.

girl-steel-corsetWhat Finley doesn’t know is that Griffin and his friends have special powers, much like her, and for the first time, Finley starts to feel like she might be able to belong somewhere. However, a devious criminal mastermind called the Machinist threatens to tear their group—and England—apart.

The novel starts off great. I loved the scene at the beginning between Finley and Lord Felix, their fight, and the terror and excitement warring within her. Unfortunately, as soon as that scene is over, the story seems to dive right into solidly mediocre territory and stay there.

My biggest problem with the novel came because of the apparently fluid nature of Finley’s darker side. In the novella, Finley gets violent, but not murderously so. She never hurts Phoebe or Lady Morton, and only neutralizes people she perceives as threats to those she cares about. And she’s much the same way in The Girl in the Steel Corset, only she’s protecting herself.

So it really surprised me how quick others—and even Finley herself—were to accuse her of murder. It just seemed so at odds with how she’d acted, even when her darker half was in control, that I couldn’t really reconcile it.

Then there was the standard love triangle with Finley, Griffin, and an underground crime lord named Jack Dandy that I think was supposed to illustrate the difference between Finley’s two natures and what they found attractive, but really just made me roll my eyes.

Honestly, none of the viewpoint characters were really that interesting to me and the ones that were—like Emily—weren’t on the page enough to make me feel like reading was worth it.

Then I had a number of issues with the writing itself.

Problem the First: Finley’s dual personas
Once again, there wasn’t a marked difference in narrative between Finley’s split personalities. While that wasn’t as big of a deal in the novella, in the full novel, it’s an issue, particularly since reconciling Finley’s dual natures is a plot point.

Her darker nature didn’t seem to be awful enough for me to understand why she was so upset about it, particularly since she’d made it work for her so well in The Strange Case of Finley Jayne. It’s almost like she takes a step backward as a character by the beginning of the novel.

Problem the Second: Plot and character inconsistencies
There also seemed to be a lot of inconsistencies between the prequel novella and the novel. For example, in The Girl in the Steel Corset, Finley thinks, regarding a ball:

She’d never been to one before—not as a guest. She’d sat in a stupid room with other ladies maids and tapped her foot to the music while sipping warm lemonade, but never had she been one of the dancers or a debutante in a beautiful gown.

However, in The Strange Case of Finley Jayne, Finley attends an engagement ball not as Phoebe’s maid, but posing as her cousin from the country. Considering that scene and that plot point are such a huge part of the novella, you’d think Finley would have remembered. That kind of character and story inconsistency is, sadly, prevalent throughout the entire novel.

I can totally understand the prequel novella was most likely written second. But in that case, you really ought to make sure that the character and their life story syncs up with where they are at the beginning of the actual novel.

Problem the Third: Pete and repeat were on a boat…
Cross tends to repeat herself in the narration, so certain paragraphs or exchanges feel twice as long as they should be.

Jasper made a face at his mention of the subterranean railway. The cowboy didn’t like tight spaces any more than Griffin did.

“No,” Griff remarked with a small smile. “I don’t like it either.”

How is “The cowboy didn’t like tight spaces any more than Griffin did” any kind of necessary if Griffin is going to tell us in the very next line that he doesn’t like the subway either?

This kind of repetition is annoying as hell to read, and it happens multiple times throughout the book. It’s almost like another editing pass could probably have cut another thousand words out just by removing superfluous sentences.

Problem the Fourth: Whose head are we in?
Cross occasionally has some absolutely wonderful lines, like this one at the beginning of chapter 5:

If the city of London was a body, Whitechapel would be the groin; a great unwashed area that only showed itself under the cover of darkness, and only for the most salacious of entertainments.

Unfortunately, this is then tempered by the fact that it then takes three pages to get to whose viewpoint we’re in (there are three different viewpoint characters), so by the time I found out it was Finley, I had already spent two paragraphs thinking it was one of the guys. It was jarring to realize I was wrong, which threw me out of the story.

Finally, at chapter 14, when I realized I was reading more out of duty as opposed to getting any real enjoyment out of it, I called it quits. It wasn’t necessarily bad, per se, but overall it seemed to be solidly mediocre, with enough irritating bits that the few good things couldn’t quite compensate.

Book Review – Shadow of the Sun by Laura Kreitzer – DNF

I was actually looking forward to reading this book. A paranormal romance with an average of 4 stars on Amazon and more than 50 reviews? An absolutely gorgeous cover? All right, I’m sold. Let’s give this a go.

I went ahead and downloaded the entire thing because it was free. And thank God it was. I got three chapters in and the ONLY reason I would have kept reading would have been the same reason I kept watching Ultraviolet: to see how bad it would get.

(Side note: This is the same reason I kind of want to read Breaking Dawn. I know pretty much the entire story thanks to the Internet, but it sounds like there are a lot of delicious, delicious crazy moments that would be even more fun to actually read.)

Shadow of the Sun coverA summary, thanks to Goodreads:

Gabriella’s past is a mystery, but that never stopped her from achieving her goals. As a Supernatural Specialist, and far more intelligent than anyone her age, she was always ignored by her peers. Because of the isolation she has always felt, she put her life and soul into her job. Being a Supernatural Specialist hasn’t given her the divine intervention she always longed for, until one day a shipment arrives from Italy containing three dead bodies with an uncanny ability to regenerate. Gabriella is frightened and intrigued, but not as scared as she becomes when a dark creature attacks her.

As the bodies come back to life, the plot takes an unexpected twist that you won’t see coming. The supernatural world only begins to unfold before her as angels appear, her dreams start to haunt her, and the very past she has forgotten comes back with startling clarity. Romance blooms, escape plans are made, an assassin is out to kill her, and death is only around the corner. But what is more terrifying than all of it is the fact she is the chosen one, the Illuminator, the one who will save them all.

…You know, after rereading that summary, I should’ve been a bit more wary about hopping in with both feet.

Problem the First: The Prologue

I have no quarrel with prologues in and of themselves. They’re a great way to introduce aspects of a story that either happen outside of the regular timeline or are from the viewpoint of a non-major character.

However, I do NOT like the prologues where the author just grabbed a page from the climax of the book and slapped it at the beginning of the story. Books and TV shows alike do this, and I hate it every time. (I love Castle, but my God, when they did this at the beginning of season 3 I could’ve kicked the TV.)

It’s a gimmick, a way of artificially heightening tension. While that does kind of work with Castle, because we’re already familiar with Castle and Beckett and care about them, it doesn’t work so well with a novel where we have absolutely NO IDEA who any of the characters are.

That’s precisely how Shadow of the Sun starts out: with a page that looks like it’s straight out of the climax of a book. No names are mentioned, except for “Aiden,” and I haven’t the foggiest idea if Aiden’s a good guy or a bad guy. It’s confusing, and it makes me think it was added to the front of the book because the first chapter wasn’t exciting enough. And, as we learned earlier this year, there are numerous problems with that idea.

So I’m one page in, and already this book has a strike against it.

Problem the Second: The Main Character

I did not like Gabriella at all. I went from ambivalent to loathing faster than I’ve ever done for any fictional character ever, and yes, that includes Bella Swan.

Within five pages, all we see from Gabby is that she’s a bitch to her assistant, Sally. (Warning: long excerpt ahead)

“You know? Top secret experiments?” I whispered with a quizzical half smile, just to goad her a bit. I knew it was wrong, but it was so easy to get her riled up.

But she wasn’t hired to do scientific work; she was hired to assist me in other ways. Some days she just couldn’t grasp that concept, and I had to remind her. Like today, for example.

“Will you take this to the post office?” I pushed a blue and white cooler her direction…”This needs to be in New York City by tomorrow morning.” There it was—the reminder of what her job was.

I decided to press her a little. It was only fair; she did it to me every day with dirty comments whispered under her breath. “And could you pick up my dry cleaning? Same place.”

She froze mid-stride and turned around more slowly this time. “Again?” she grumbled through gritted teeth. “Can’t you pick up your own dry cleaning?”

Here comes the explosion….

I plastered a huge grin on my face, ready to put her in her place. I wasn’t a mean person, honestly. I’d just lost all of my patience because I was up all night dealing with things I couldn’t fathom telling someone as small-minded as Sally.

Keeping the mocking smile in place, I said, “Sally, you were hired as my assistant. If I need you to flush my toilet, you’ll flush it. But since I’m not a horrible monster, I’m not going to give you the shitty jobs.” … “If you can’t handle running one simple errand, then I’ll hire someone who can,” I added. “Is that clear?”

Here’s what’s going on: Gabriella TELLS us that Sally is petty and spiteful. What we’re SHOWN is that Sally is, at most, insubordinate (which could be for any number of reasons). Gabriella TELLS us that she’s not a mean person. But what we’re SHOWN is her deliberately provoking, demeaning, and threatening her assistant.

And even if Sally is petty and spiteful, as the boss and the main character, Gabriella ought to be taking the high road instead of being petty and spiteful right back. She acts more like a teenager instead of the 24-year-old research scientist she’s supposed to be.

I don’t care if she’s not that way normally. This is the very first time we meet the character. By the end of the first chapter, her actions have contradicted just about everything she’s said in her narration.

Unreliable narrators can work, yes, but I don’t think that’s what the author was going for here. By all accounts, we’re supposed to like and sympathize with Gabby. Instead, she comes across as a hypocrite.

And just FYI: If you have to tell us you are not a mean person, chances are you are very, very wrong.

Problem the Third: The First Chapter Structure

So we’ve given Sally a cooler to mail, asked her to pick up the dry cleaning, and threatened to fire her if she complains anymore. Now that Gabriella’s alone, it’s time to think about just what her job is (Supernatural Specialist!) and what this big discovery is that she’s been not-so-subtly hinting at for several pages.

I’d investigated everything from a man covered in mostly scales to a “werewolf,” who was actually just a really—and I mean really—hairy man. Everything seemed silly, honestly…until last night.

INSERT FLASHBACK HERE

I damn near threw my Kindle across the room when I saw that. Why the author didn’t start the book THERE instead of giving us half a chapter of bitchy dialogue and vague references to a major discovery? Why in God’s name would you relegate the inciting incident of your story—the discovery that launches the entire plot—to a FLASHBACK?

Plus, the section was so handled so poorly that it reminded me of a print version of a flashback scene from the MST3K episode Riding with Death.* I could practically see the fade-to-flashback and hear Mike and the bots saying, “And that’s when the acid kicked in.”

And as if that weren’t enough, the writing itself was amateurish and clumsy, with poor word choices (“screamed in bewilderment”) and strange structure (it takes us another four paragraphs to find out what ACTUALLY made her scream).

By the time I’d finished the first chapter, only morbid curiosity compelled me to read more. And by the time I finished chapter three, even that wasn’t enough.

I read one review that said Shadow of the Sun picks up considerably after the first hundred pages. Frankly, I don’t think I could make it that far unless Gabriella gets a personality transplant somewhere between chapter four and then. Not when I’ve got so many other, more interesting books to read.

Writing Lessons to Take Away

1) Does your prologue add something to the story, or is it a gimmick to increase tension? If the latter, take a look at your first chapter and fix it.
2) Does your main character say one thing and do another? Does what you tell us match what you show us? If it doesn’t, do you have a good reason why?
3) Have you started your book with the inciting incident? If you have not, is there a good reason why?

And now, for the bonus question:

4) Does any part of your first chapter call to mind Mystery Science Theater 3000? If so, is that the effect you’re going for?

*Seriously, if you haven’t seen Riding with Death, look it up online. It’s HILARIOUS, and one of my favorite MST3K episodes precisely because of all the random WTFery that goes on. Mike and the bots get in some brilliant lines.