Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Bibliovile: Done with the Written Word

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Hip Check, by Deirdre Martin
For this round of the Terrible Book Exchange, Mick and I had intentions of finding each other the worst fantasy novels that we could locate in the Ames Public Library. Unfortunately, finding truly terrible fantasy novels is difficult, because they are virtually indistinguishable from phenomenal fantasy novels. It’s one of life’s inalienable truths that cover art for fantasy books is lame and awful. It’s like a publishing rule or something. Because of this, both of us struck out when it came to finding awful fantasy books. Fortunately, however, we both managed to stumble on books that fit the normal TBE profile. Naturally, both books are romance novels, because that’s the best kind of insufferable book to make your fiance read.

Normally Mick and I will wander through the stacks on our own until we find our Terrible Book, and then we’ll meet in the main area of the library to swap. This time, however, he dragged me over to the Ma-Me section of the library, because while Deirdre Martin’s Hip Check looks awful enough on its own, it reaches its full potential for terrible-ness when you see it in context. Literally every single book that this woman has written is exactly the same. They’re all hockey-related, following the storylines of the fictional New York Blades, and they all have titles like Hip Check, Body Check, Breakaway, Fair Play, and The Penalty Box. All of the covers are identical, with a young, attractive, heterosexual white couple in various stages of dress/undress, usually with some sort of hockey attire or equipment featured.

The blurbs on the back of the books are virtually indistinguishable from each other as well. New York Blades hockey player so-and-so is content living his life. Then he meets a woman and decides that he hates her. But they are forced by circumstance to spend time together! What will happen!? Just kidding, they fall in love. The end. They ALL looked lame, and this book appeared to be no exception. I started reading in the car on the way home, because I wanted to get it over with as soon as possible.

In the first sentence and a half of this book, we are introduced to two characters named Esa Saari and Ulf Torkelson. This did not give me high hopes for the book.
Ulf Torkelson! Hinga-dinga-durken!

The plot of this book is completely and utterly predictable. After reading the blurb on the back, I could have told you the basic outline of the plot, and after reading the first three chapters, I could have filled in a few extraneous details. Esa Saari is a Finnish playboy hockey player for the New York Blades. His sister dies unexpectedly, and he finds out that he has been named guardian of his eight-year-old niece, Nell. Esa hires a nanny named Michelle because he has no idea how to raise an eight-year-old girl. At first, Michelle hates Esa because she thinks he’s a selfish, philandering jerk. She’s right. But slowly, with Michelle’s help, he becomes a good uncle and guardian. They give in to their sexual tension and sleep together, eventually starting to date. Her father gets mad about it and stops talking to Michelle, then he has a heart attack. Michelle blames herself, and thus breaks up with Esa, but is still the nanny. They are all miserable. Months pass. Then Dad has a change of heart and tells her to get back with him. They all live happily ever after. It’s every other story that’s ever been told about either someone falling in love with the nanny/babysitter or an adult unexpectedly being left with the care of a child. Predictable, predictable, predictable.

Also, for some reason, Esa Saari keeps his coffee beans in the fridge. Why does he put his coffee beans in the fridge? It seems so illogical and unnecessary. Coffee beans don’t need to go in the fridge. Fix this, Deirdre.

Although this book is completely and utterly predictable, Mick was a little disappointed, because it wasn’t necessarily bad. Sure, there’s awkward dialogue and the sex scenes are kinda weird, but other than that, it’s a better-than-average romance novel. But that’s not very fun to write about in a blog post, so let’s talk more about the awkward dialogue.

Awkward Dialogue
Deirdre Martin doesn’t seem totally comfortable writing dialogue between male characters. It just feels very awkward and forced. When writing dialogue between Esa and his teammates, it really seems like Martin hasn’t heard guys interact with each other before. There are way too many “f*ck you, dudes,” and unnecessary sports references for any of the male-to-male dialogue to sound natural. Also, all of the players on the New York Blades are apparently from northern European countries, have accents, and like to curse in their native languages. Which results in insults like, Trading insults in the locker room, “you’re a Swedish idiot,” “you can be a real Finnish f*ck,” “who are you, the Irish Dr. Phil?” Why is it necessary to verbally acknowledge everyone’s national origin in every sentence? I don’t get it.

There’s also a lot of unnecessary dialogue that I think is intended to help develop characters, but just feels awkward. Dialogue like this scene, where Esa goes to visit his teammate Rory and Rory’s wife:
Rory: What about you, you Finnish prick? Anything exciting going on with your
Esa: In a manner of speaking.
Rory: In a manner of speaking? Since when do you talk like that? Are you hooked on
that feckin’ Downton Abbey like everyone else in the world?
Rory’s wife: You leave Downton alone!
Why is any of this conversation necessary? It’s like she wanted to emphasize that these two characters are Irish, so we had to include some accented swear words. I can imagine her sitting at her computer thinking to herself, “What would Irish people talk about? Ooh, I know! Downton Abbey!”
Martin also does that thing that almost all romance writers do, where she includes far too many references to things that are culturally popular. Authors usually do this to try to make a book seem ‘cool’ and ‘hip,’ but it normally come across as trying too hard and inevitably dates a book within two years, when popular culture changes. This definitely happens in Hip Check, which references Downton Abbey (which, while still popular, relevant, and amazing, ended this year) and describes Starbucks as a new phenomenon that not many people know about yet... How delightfully 2010.

Awkward Sex Scenes
In addition to the generally awkward dialogue, some of the, er, intimate moments of this book are also a little forced. When it comes to the first sex scene especially, sequences of events don’t always seem to make sense, or follow the progression that real life would take. For example, on page 80, Esa comes home drunk from a date with two models (we later super awkwardly find out that he had a threesome, and then skip right on to the next thing like that’s no big deal). He enters the apartment to find Michelle waiting for him, furious that he left Nell on what was supposed to be their night together. In the span of half a page, we go from Esa being super icky about his evening activities to Esa being frustrated with Michelle for telling him about all of the things that he’s always doing wrong, and then ALL OF A SUDDEN THEY’RE KISSING WHAT THAT JUST CAME OUT OF NOWHERE. Throughout the majority of the book, Martin is pretty good at building sexual tension between these two characters EXCEPT FOR THE TIMES WHEN THEY ACTUAL HAVE INTIMATE CONTACT. It’s so out of left field.

For the most part, Martin avoids using the sex scene tropes that romance writers normally fall into, like using adjectives that make the reader squirm uncomfortably, or describing genitalia with weird metaphors or slang words. There are a few times, though, when she doesn’t manage to avoid the trap, resulting in sentences like this, “All she wanted to do was get him out of those clothes and ride what she had no doubt was that magnificent cock of his.”

One of the worst examples of dialogue in the book occurs during the first sex scene as well:
[Michelle talks dirty]
“Jesus, who are you?”
“I’m the nanny.”

No. Just no.

I have a confession to make...
I have to be honest with you all. Despite the awkward dialogue and the sometimes really weird sex scenes, I actually didn’t hate this book. As I mentioned before, it’s entirely predictable, the plot hooks are a little too prosaic, and the dialogue appears to be written by a woman who has never heard other human beings speak before (which makes sense, honestly -- any woman who can write hockey-themed romance novels so prolifically must not get out much), but the three main characters are pretty well developed, the author inspires fairly genuine interest in the will-they-won’t they theme, and you’d have to be entirely heartless to not care about what happens to Nell.

Once I got through the first five chapters, I found myself legitimately interested in the developing relationship between Michelle and Esa. Martin writes sexual tension well (something I was not expecting when I started this book), and you find yourself rooting for the characters throughout the book. I read about 75% of Hip Check in one sitting, and when Esa and Michelle break up in the middle, I was actually very sad. I hated myself for it, but I was.

So, in summary, this book is actually a pretty good romance novel. It’s predictable, and silly, and sometimes awkward, but if you’re in the market for a romance novel, this one actually isn’t a bad pick.

**immediately reads literature to cleanse brain of good thoughts about romance novel**

Midnight Sins, by Lora Leigh
  I tried my best you guys.
              When we came up with Bibliovile, I swore, promised, wrote in blood and gave to a very confused bank teller for safekeeping, that there would be no book I would not finish. While Sue skipped most of Choosers of the Slain on the first go-round, I managed to stay locked in to every book I’ve read. Skin of the Wolf, Lessons for Bombshells, hey, even the Christmas sex novella collection, A Very Merry Christmas. I swore there would be no amount of literature pain I could go through that would cause me to tap out.
              And then Sue presented with me with Midnight Sins, by Lora Leigh. And then I got five pages into Midnight Sins.
              It is the impossible book. The back cover, alone, reveals all of its faults, namely, that I can’t get through the whole thing without getting confused.
              Three men are bound by one tragedy that continues to bring danger and passion to their lives—and the women they love…
              HE ALWAYS WANTED HER.
              His name is Rafer Callahan. He was a kid from the wrong side of the tracks who found through life the only way he knew how: with his fists. But Rafer never meant to bring any harm to Cambria Flannigan, the girl—the lover—whose sister he’d been unable to save…
              SHE LIVES IN FEAR OF HIM.
              Cami lost her sister in the brutal murders that rocked her home-town so many years ago .Some still believe that Rafe, along with his cousins Logan and Crowe, were involved. But how could Rafe—who haunted her girlish dreams, then her adult fantasies—be a killer? That is the question that keeps her up at night.
              Now a prosperous ranch owner, Rafe is trying to build a new legacy for himself. It’s finally time to settle the score with Cami—and make her his. But old wounds open up with a serioies of new murders… and each of the victims has a connection to Rafe, Logan, and Crowe, with suspicion, fear, and loyalty tearing her apart, Cami is once again at risk of losing her heart—or her life.


              What the hell does any of that mean, how does it connect? I should have known about this book, you guys, but there was no way to know about The Impossible Book. I only made it to page 104. Here is what had been filled in from the back cover; Cami is the nickname of Cambria. That’s about all of the plot that made it into the first 104 pages.
              In the first 104 pages, here is what we know; nothing about the plot. Not about the inciting event, the antagonist, the rising action, nothing. The first 50 pages include six time jumps. From first page to page 25, we get to over 12 years in the future and no actual plot. That may not sound so bad, but remember, we don’t know what the book is about at this point. The sister of Cami is introduced in such excruciating, unnecessary detail that you are sure she’s the protagonist. She amicably breaks up with Rafe, our male lead (I think?). Then, the scene jumps two weeks. Why the original scene?
              Oh, her sister is now sick. Then we have to review the last two weeks that we skipped (ugh). Then, she is brutally murdered. End chapter one.

              You can tell she wanted this to be a Law and Order cold open, or something, but Law and Order’s cold open is about 45 seconds until someone dies or finds a dead body. We might get a phone call so that you’re like, “Oh this person is a lawyer and is mad at someone.”
              Inside of this first chapter, which is 24 pages long we learn that Jaymi is her father’s favorite daughter, over Cami, and she figures out the world’s easiest secret, that Cami is the product of her mother cheating on her father. We learn that Jaymi’s husband, Tye, died in the Marines and now she’s doing his best friend Rafe, who along with his cousins Logan and Crowe, is hated in their community because their fathers all married sisters of rich and respected families in their hometown of Sweetrock Colorado, but don’t worry because he said actually made him promise that he would do her if he died and also Cami is hated by her dad, Jaymi is loved by him, despite her loving Rafe and also Cami has a crush on Rafe despite her being 13 and Rafe being hated in the community because of who his parents are and they died mysteriously, but since Rafe is hated in the community, the rich families have tied up his and Logan and Crowe’s sizable inheritance in the courts and believe it or not but all of the mothers and the Cameron fathers died on the same night and
              OH MY GOD. That. Is. Page. Three. This isn’t a Law and Order cold open, it’s an eight year old reciting the plot to a soap opera that he watched instead of Pokemon. The book starts with a 14 paragraph description and summary of the town’s weekly Youth Social Nights. In the rest of the 101 pages I read, they’re never brought up again.
              The first page should be setting a scene, introducing and describing characters, or otherwise settling you in. This book gives you absolutely everything and nothing at the same exact time. I drew a family tree on page four. The first five pages read like a brainstorming session for a better book.
·                        Family trees
·                        Stupid hick names
·                        Community focus, social pressures
·                        Serial killings
·                        How about 10,000 names and relations
              It’s impossible to follow. Dream sequences are thrown in for no reason, in the middle of a conversation she’s having with another major character, unrelated to anything else. We’re totally unmoored and the author seems intent on pushing us further out to sea instead of steering us home. Frankly, a dream sequence seems apt, because the reading of this book is like trying to make sense of a dream upon waking. There’s a progression of action, but you’re not sure how anything or anyone relates to each other. Thoughts surface and vanish immediately.
              There’s no physical or expositional description of the characters by page 10. With nothing in our heads to picture them by, all of the words denoting characters flush together, and the toilet that this book in overflows immediately. Later, sure, you can make sense of the turds on the floor, but buddy, the landlord is showing your apartment in 10 minutes and you don’t own a pair of gloves.
              I really do not know if this book had an editor. We skip between story beats, details, character intros, and every single facet of storytelling faster than an ADD cook in an exploding kitchen checks on different details of his meal. Not to mention the mechanical mistakes, the simple failure of novel writing on display here makes me seriously question if literally anyone read this before it was put into print.
              Then come the time skips.
              First two weeks. Then 18 hours or so. Seven years. Five Years. Two years. 18 months. No common thread between them except that Rafe and Cami are meeting and more useless details are thrown in our face. After every time jump, we’re treated to an explanation of what happened between, rendering them more impressively useless. Major characters are reintroduced, despite being so overly explained in the first place that I already hated them. Cami’s father’s hatred for her is explained every time he is brought up, almost always using his full name. Rafe’s uncle or great uncle is introduced as well every single time he is brought up, as well as his other uncle that was adopted out of his oh god I’m doing it again. I think the author is being as confusing as possible on purpose. Two tangential characters that are given a full page of backstory for no reason are named Ella and Eddy, and they’re married. Two of the three Snidely Whiplash comically hateful rich people are named James.

              Reading this book, I honestly feel bad for the cover models.

              I’m not even going to talk about the sex scene. I got through one. I assume there’re more, but the one in the first 104 pages was 24 pages and spilled over a chapter and a half.
              This entire book is an ouroboros. Not in a cool, meta, modern literature way. But in the way that major characters are just always being reintroduced. Even the sentence structure eats away at itself and at its own relevance. “… [P]ulled back from the aching nipples. Her nipples ached.” WELL YEAH YOU JUST SAID UGH FIRST OF ALL GROSS. Later, after the two dozen pages of sex
If you think about it, it's also auto-erotic
scenes is passed like a storm system (there’s even an eye of the storm where she’s too weak from orgasms and he cleans her up and you know what we’re not gonna get into it), it gets worse.
              “This wasn’t the same warning, or foreboding as his recruiting officer had called it, that had served Rafe so well in the Marines. This was something he had only felt when heading into the most dangerous of the missions he’d undertaken. This wasn’t just a foreboding, it was a straight-up f*cking warning.”
              WHY DOES THAT ENTIRE PARAGRAPH EXIST. It’s solipsistic 3rd person narration. It exists only to refer to itself.
              I’m not even going to get into the hum-drum awfulness of this book. Every sentence is regrettable that it was ever set to a page. “The acrid, spicy sweet taste mixed with the smoke had the immediate effect of easing the worse of the tension that had begun to fill him.” Every sentence is like that.
              I read 104 pages of this, and this review is longer and angrier than any other I’ve written. I didn’t even really get into most of it. The majority of the book I actually read was sex scene. It was awful.

              Language is overrated.

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