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Hope Tarr – “Strokes Of Midnight”

20 Feb

GENRE: Romance / Contemporary
PUBLISHED: Harlequin Blaze, 2007

WHY THIS NOVEL: Despite me not being really happy about Tarr’s latest offerings, there’s still the fact that I liked Tarr’s Vanquished very much + the story here looks interesting.

The back blurb:
“Becky’s New Year’s Resolution:
1) Hit the
NYT bestseller list with latest novel
2) Find a great guy and start living a perfect life
3) Try to stay in her own bed!
When author Becky Stone’s horoscope predicted that the New Year would bring her great things, she never expected the first thing she’d experience would be
great sex! But after the crushing news that the only way to save her career is to coauthor a book with chauvinistic Adam Maxwell, Becky needs something to go right. And what could be more right than spending an incredible New Year’s Eve in the arms of a seriously sexy stranger?
Only, the man in her bed isn’t going to be a stranger much longer …”

The first chapters of Strokes of Midnight drove home the point how little things can work to distance me from the story. It starts with mentioning all kinds of celebrities and labels and names – think shoes and their ordinary suspects and you can’t go wrong. And I start to wonder about the heroine who has no means of income other than her writing (she quitted her day-time job) and after she is told her current release isn’t doing so hot, splurges on two expensive pairs of shoes (which makes me think of her as a twit in that regard rather than a hip modern young woman as was intended, I think). Then I remember she booked a first-class seat on the train to get to New York and that she’s staying at a hotel for 200 $ a night, I add the price of the shoes … well, she sure blew a whole lot of money on just one day.

Then (you didn’t think that was all?) I think about the reason why she stayed overnight in New York all alone in a hotel on New Year’s Eve when the train took only 3 hours from Washington, D. C. to New York and I’m sure there would be a train back she could take, and I come up blank. I wondered how it was possible she could get a room at a, as far as I gathered from the story, rather famous hotel for this night (New Year’s Eve!) with making the reservation just the day before? I always thought the hotels were full at this time of the year. And finally, although I can’t be sure about that but nevertheless it struck me as a bit improbable, an editor calls an author to set up a meeting for the next day, the author lives in another town (3 hours by train), and it’s New Year’s Eve?

This is nit-picking for the most parts. I can’t understand women who go for expensive shoes when they feel low instead of chocolate? – my problem. But when they go for the expensive shoes and they in no way can afford it? – not my problem but the author’s who should make me understand this kind of behaviour (which Tarr obviously didn’t for me). The point of this nit-picking is to show how little things, not distracting on their own, can accumulate and make my reading of a story distanced when come together. My answer to all the questions raised so far is the result of all this: what and why and how things happen is not because of the character(s) but because the author wanted it to happen this way. The hero and heroine have to meet on this day in New York so let’s see how we get them there and a shoe addiction is always cute and hip so let’s throw that in, too.

The story picks up after Becky and Max start their collaboration on the novel. I like to read about writing and a novel with characters who are writers is always worth a second look for me. And while the way it’s done in this story is certainly not something totally new – it plays upon the connection between Becky and Max and the respective main character of their novels and each chapter starts with a short excerpt from Becky’s and Max’x collaboration novel, forshadowing more or less what’s to come – it’s at least something that interests me. So yeah, things started to look up from then on.

While I had my problems with Becky (or better, the way she was written), I liked Max. He’s a nice and decent hero who’s intensly attracted to Becky (and he’s of course very well off and has a large house with seven guest rooms). The way he realizes he’s in love with Becky and how he thinks about his dead wife and Becky is a nice change from the evil ex and makes his falling in love again believable.There are some nice little touches. For example that Max comes up with a special name for Becky. I liked the walk in the snow. I also liked that there was a closure for Becky with her ex at the end of the story.

But overall, there is a “superficial” feelling – things happen for plot reasons and not for character reasons – to the whole story often creating contradictions in Becky’s character. Examples are in the first paragraph, the name dropping of celebrities, and two more instances near the end of the story (see next paragraphs). What’s up with sentences that state one thing and end with “- not”? I always associated this with a certain kind of teenage-way of speaking. I also found it a bit weird that Becky’s main character is called Angelina, has long black hair, drives a motorbike, and is a (action) spy. And the deal with the writing partner struck me the same way.

The first one is the fact that Becky keeps her rental car for the whole time she’s at Max’s house while at the same time worrying about paying the rent for her apartment back in Washington. As an aside, I got the impression she worried about paying her rent for some time now (well, she quit her day job, so there is that. And I won’t touch that because her quitting her job is also WTF? in terms of reasons and time frame) which makes her blowing 2000 $ on two pairs of shoes even more … ummm, twit. But it was needed, you see, so that Becky had a means to get away after the obligatory big misunderstanding.

This big misunderstanding comes about like this: Becky eavesdrops on a conversation between Max and his agent, does it just long enough to draw all the wrong conclusions, writes a short note to Max telling him about the end of their relationship, leaves in a huff. This leads to the second instance I talked about above.

It’s not the misunderstanding per se. You know this is coming (and there are some more pages to be filled). It”s Max’s behaviour afterwards. I thought him the guy to talk things over and not let it be just because a short note says it’s over. But he doesn’t because there’s some more pages to go. For me, this is underscored that when they finally talk (which for structure reasons has to happen on the launch party for their book), their big misunderstanding is cleared up in one page which translates to a conversation of less than five (!) minutes in reality. Now, this misunderstanding was clearly something to get huffy about, indeed – not.

One more thing about this misunderstanding. It’s possible for Becky to think that she needs “mutual trust and understanding and respect” (p. 236, emphasis mine) after the way this big misunderstanding business went? She didn’t have the respect to put the receiver back after she realized that Max got the call and she didn’t have the trust to get Max’s view of it or trust in Max at all. So I think about throwing stones and glasshouses and that Becky starts to look like a twit in more areas than just monetary things with each new sentence I read.

Maybe it’s just the wrong book at the wrong time. Maybe I just got up on the wrong side of the bed. Or maybe this is my convoluted way to say I’m sorry but the bonus of Vanquished is all used up.

Would I recommend this novel? Probably not.

Would I read this novel again? Probably not.

Grade: 2,5 / 5

Audrey Niffenegger – “The Time Traveler’s Wife”

18 Sep

GENRE: Contemporary fiction
PUBLISHED: MacAdam/Cage Publishing; 2003

The German back cover (my translation):
“Rarely it was written about love so stirring, so original/novel/witty. A book about duration’s beauty and longing’s astonishment. A journey through happiness.”

This doesn’t tell you much about the story (even if read in German) except that it’s probably a love story and – looking at the title – that time travel is involved. Here’s a bit more:

The Time Traveler’s Wife tells the story of the love between Henry and his wife Clare. Henry has the ability to travel in time. He can’t control it in any way (place/time) and he always travels naked – no clothes, no money, not anything in the time he travels to. So maybe time travel is not that much fun.

The novel encompasses Henry’s and Clare’s whole life: their first meeting, their life together, their end. It is told by both Henry and Clare in first person and it’s written in the form of vignettes. Each of these vignettes is headed by either Henry’s or Clare’s name, a date and the age of Henry and Clare at the time of the vignette. This is necessary, because Niffenegger choose to tell their story not chronological: it starts with 1991, then 1968, 1988 and 1968, 1977, 2000, …

At first, I had trouble getting into the story. This wasn’t because of constant change of time; it was because with each new “jump” I again started to think about the Niffenegger’s logic behind it: Henry goes back in time but he can’t change a thing there because the past already happened. But for him to be able to go back in time, everything must happen at the same time because how could a 36-year-old Henry exist in the year 1977 otherwise (the Henry of 1977 is 14)? And if that is so, why can’t he influence things? Or am I just too dense and missing things? Anyway, it kept distracting me for quite some time.

Right after I finished it, I thought it was a rather good read despite my thinking “when does something happen?” But then, the more I thought about the novel, the worse my opinion of it got. I think this is in part because I get easily influenced if I like the way an author writes or the way the story is structured. As it was in this case. Niffenegger seldom dropped the ball in regard to the dates and I admired that. I only remember one time travel date where there was no corresponding date in the “real” time. Incidentally, that was the one where I thought this could go somewhere.

But the thing is, told in a chronological way, The Time Traveler’s Wife is just a story of boy-meets-girl. Granted, there is an unusual twist (the time-travel thing), but this twist doesn’t influence Henry and Clare in any major way (especially notable: their wish to have a child). The novel recounts their life: Clare keeps waiting, Henry keeps travelling, and they just have to be together and that’s enough for them (and the story).

But not for the reader. I’m reminded a bit of Margaret Atwood’s short story Happy Endings which illustrates the notion that “only trouble is interesting”. The only trouble (more or less) Henry and Clare have is his uncontrollable time travelling. It’s annoying, sure, but without it influencing anything it’s just a gimmick and The Time Traveler’s Wife is just a rather mushy love story about two lovers fated to be together (and that – it’s just a romance! – is not something Henry or Clare or Niffenegger would like to hear, I think, because they are such intellectuals).

The romance?

Well, you have your characters from Romance Central: the bad boy who sleeps with everything in sight (Henry) until he meets the love of his life in the form of a Mary Sue virgin (Clare). It’s even better than your ordinary romance: they meet 2 times for the first time: Henry travelling back in time when Clare is 6 (Clare’s first time); their meeting in “real” time when Clare is 20 and Henry 28 (Henry’s first time).

But despite that, the romance didn’t work for me. There are two chances (because they meet two times for the first time) where it could be shown why these two fall in love with each other. Neither delivered. With the first time, I get a slightly creepy feeling: Clare loves Henry because he was around so often during her childhood and teenage years. That’s not fated or meant to be, that’s manipulated. And the second time? It’s shown that they lust after each other (oh yes), and then? It’s like they are together because Clare loved Henry for such a long time at that time and says so and that they will be married (the 28-year-old Henry doesn’t know about Clare), and so because of their future together I have to believe that these two love each other when I’m not shown how this happens? Again, I’m left with some kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.

A lot of romance novels do the “showing-how-they-fall-in-love” better.

Would I recommend this novel? Maybe (depends on the person asking)

Would I read this novel again? No.

Grade: 2,5 / 5