Sunday, November 27, 2011

Night Tales:

Night Shield & Night Moves
Author: Nora Roberts
Publisher: Silhouette Books
Released: 1985 (Night Shield), 2000 (Night Moves), 2010 (Two-in-One Volume)
Genre: Romance

I'd read other Night Tales stories before, but I'm not sure I realized that they were written so early in Nora's career, since I wasn't in the habit of paying attention to publication dates at that point. But knowing that, and after reading this article in the Guardian, I've contemplated things more than I have before (which was quite a lot in and of itself) and here's what I came up with:

Nora definitely "rewrote the rules of romantic fiction," and there's a good reason the only romance writer I read regularly is Nora. She took romance beyond the simplistic formulaic storylines and characters, she writes real and complex characters and plots that are actually plots and not just the romance happening. I think what Robin McKinley says is totally true: "I don’t think romance is ever a plot.  It’s something happening while the plot is thundering ahead elsewhere." Most of what makes up the romance genre today has nothing other than the attraction and complications happening in the entire book. And after reading one of those, I can't stomach another one. It's all fluff, and I need substance.

Now I've said before that I see a difference in Nora's early books and her later ones, and I do see a difference, but one thing that remains constant is her way of creating a full story, a story which does not detract from and actually adds to the romance. Yes, the focus is the romantic plotline, but that's not the only thing that's going on. In her later books, that translates into a shift to romantic suspense rather than pure romance, but that's what I love about her books. I love reading about couples meeting and falling in love, and overcoming obstacles until they finally end up together - but it's so great to experience a whole ride along with that.

Two final thoughts: Not all romance novels other than Nora's are as flat as I'm making them sound. But Nora is the only one I've found who consistently delivers the kind of stories that hook me time after time, that I could read and reread and rereread...
And I don't know why this post sounds so formal. Really I'm gushing about how much I love Nora, but I don't think that came across too well. So I'm telling you: I love Nora!!!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Language of Flowers

Author: Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Released: 2011
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Library

Victoria Jones is moving on to a new stage in her life, but her prospects are beyond bleak. Emancipated from the foster care system, but with no marketable skills, no real education, no friends, and no job, Victoria seems set on a course for disaster. Her one shining light is her knowledge of the language of flowers. She takes comfort in building herself a garden of meaning, even while she's homeless and sleeping in the park. Her knowledge soon gets her a job at a flower shop, and it appears that things are looking up for her. But her past is not so easy to disregard, and even as things seem to be going well, Victoria has to struggle to find herself and value herself for who she is.

The Language of Flowers is a really strong debut for Vanessa Diffenbaugh. She portrays the ache and pain of a young woman's self-discovery and acceptance with grace and empathy - and her craft and style of writing doesn't hurt either! I liked the alternating chapters of the present with Victoria's most important foster family situation. It's a good contrast between the unbridled emotion of the younger Victoria with the reined-in, tight-lipped present-day Victoria.

The tone of the book is interesting. In some ways, it reminded me of Camus' L'etranger, with its simple, seemingly apathetic, matter-of-fact description of events, but there's also a depth and complexity of emotion and story. And there are so many layers to explore in order to get to the real Victoria, under the imposed concealments and her own resistance to any form of real expression.

All the characters in the story (with perhaps the exception of Meredith, the case worker who basically abandons Victoria) are likable in their own way, and I loved how each one helps Victoria bloom through his or her own personality.

I'd give this book more than five stars - it's real and raw and completely touching.