Archive for the ‘Jeffries’ Category

Formulas, Both Good and Bad

March 13, 2008
After reading several hundred of these books that are labeled romance in just under six months or so, I’ve come to realize (as every avid reader will inevitably see as well) the formula of authors. And yes, of course I realize that every author has their own formula that applies to the way they write their characters, the writing style, and the timing of their plot. It’s unavoidable. Not everyone can be totally original in every book, especially in a genre like this. On the other hand, that so called formula is what makes that author recognizable. 

But what I’ve come to realize is that the authors who have their formula but are able to disguise it to appear new in each successive book are the ones that are the ones who earn a higher place in my proverbial, and literal, bookshelf.

It’s such a delicate balance to play. When the formula is way too apparent, as a reader, it totally turns me off. I’ve actually turned down a lot of authors that I’ve come across simply because I knew how the book would turn out even when I hadn’t read it yet. At the same time, when the author tries something new and totally turns a 180 with a new formula, it’s hard to get into a new groove and can sometimes feel like you’re reading a foreign author instead of one that you’ve known for years. Like I mentioned, the authors who are able to disguise their formula are the ones to keep an eye out for.

Let’s examine some of the formulas…
First up: Sabrina Jeffries. Jeffries was really my first romance. Not the literal first, but One Night with a Prince was my first self-chosen one. The literal first romance was one that was borrowed and read as a joke. But Jeffries’ last Royal Brotherhood book was the one that I choose for myself. With Jeffries, it’s a standard formula. Her hero and heroine meet and usually there’s a bit of deception going on on behalf of the hero. The deception seems to be standard Jeffries and it’s not a totally original formula. She pretty much sticks to a classic form: Meet, Attraction, Deception, Sex, Climax/Downfall, Resolve. From what I’ve read of Jeffries, and I’ve read them all, it feels that she doesn’t stray from her formula. Now, what makes some of her books better than others simply lie in character developments, plot strength, and time constraints as a writer. With Jeffries, after you’re familiar with the formula, you can actually just eyeball the pages that have past and gauge how close you are to the big blowup of the plot and the climax of the story.

Another author who sticks with a formula religiously is Jill Shalvis. She is strictly a whodunit author. There is no deviation from the formula. At first, I enjoyed Get a Clue and then Strong and Sexy, but by the time I got to the end of my third Shalvis novel, I knew that I would never get anything but a story straight out of the game Clue sprinkled with some mediocre sex that was fitted between the pages of the bad guy chasing the hero/heroine with a gun, a knife, or dead bodies popping up unexpectedly. Though the settings change, the overall trend of the plot does not. Somehow, I always end up feeling that the characters are sacrificed in order to develop the mystery and for me, the characters of a romance must be the most important. Even a lousy plot is easily rescued by strong characters, but a plot with no character development 
will never make the reader care about the outcome and therefore the plot becomes a moot point. Shalvis is a ‘stop reading’ author for me now. The formula is just too predictable. 

One author who comes to mind when I think of formula is Deirdre Martin. I had high hopes for her books initially. I was looking for something fun and nothing too adrenaline rush in terms of action, nor was I in the mood for real emotional pull, so I thought Martin would be a fast and satisfactory read. My first Martin was fine. I thought the plot was mediocre and the idea was okay but the characters had their funny moments and so I decided to give her another shot. It only got worse. I really did want to like the books, and some had their potential but it got too redundant. Her characters meet, attract, date, encounter a problem, break up, mope, and get back together. 

An author who changed their formula recently is that of Lisa Kleypas with her venture into contemporary fiction with Sugar Daddy. I couldn’t finish the book. And that’s really saying something. Of all the hundreds I’ve read, there’s only been maybe three at the most where I just stopped reading all together. While I can admire (but not appreciate) Kleypas’ trying a new formula, I cannot say that it worked. She introduced her heroine and one hero that we read for a large chunk of the novel. However, it’s at least half-way if not more into the novel when we finally meet the second hero who ultimately gets the girl. Switching from one hero to the other is too hard when the readers are way too engaged with the first hero that we’ve read. It’s especially hard to switch to the ‘other guy’ when readers see the characters as children or young adults who have experienced a large part of their growth together. I really was appalled at the outcome of the pairing. 

Off the top of my head, two authors who stick to a certain formula but are able to disguise it are J.R. Ward and Sherrilyn Kenyon. With Ward, her plots are continual and I think that makes all the difference. The stories are so intertwined that some secondary characters will appear in books and not be resolved until future books. Case in point: the character of John Matthew. We see the introduction of John Matthew in the second book, Rhage and Mary’s story in Lover Eternal. To this day, John Matthew’s story is still going on and Ward will be releasing the sixth book come June. Even with that, it’s not even John Matthew’s novel yet. His story is really a constant thread in the Brotherhood fabric. In Ward’s writing, though there is a formula, it’s harder to really guess as a reader when events will come. For example, with some authors, readers can gauge when bad news is about to occur. Not so with Ward. It can happen for the main hero/heroine at anytime and for secondary characters, it’s true as well. As readers of Ward can attest, those secondary characters can hit just as hard as the main couple of the book. For instance, in Z and Bella’s Lover Awakened, the shock of Wellsie and Tohr really caught me off guard. With Ward, it’s not easy to point out a formula, which makes for a good book and a happy reader. 

In the case of Kenyon, she has an ongoing plot but I wouldn’t categorize it as extensively as Ward’s. With Kenyon, it’s more of the feeling of an ongoing mystery. The mystery of Acheron and other various characters. But still, while I wasn’t an immediate Kenyon fan, I have grown to be a loyal one and I’m glad that I stuck with the books. Kenyon is now one of my favorites, right after Ward. Kenyon has a formula, though it’s not as easily categorized as other authors I’ve mentioned. For me personally, I feel that with each kind of Dark Hunter, whether it’s the originals, the Weres, or the Dreams, they each have their own timeline formula within Kenyon’s subcategories of DH’s. In some sense, it was smart of Kenyon to sprinkle a Were-Hunter in the midst of reading normal Dark Hunters. Right when I got into the groove of reading Dark Hunters, she throws in that first Were-Hunter and it shakes up the formula. Quite inventive to shroud her formula so that readers don’t get bored. 

Overall, while I’ve come to see many (if not all) of the formulas from authors I’ve read, I think that characters really make or break the book, formula be damned. Though Jeffries follows a formula I’ve come to expect, she has characters who can bring out the best in her stories. But someone like Shalvis where I feel that the characters are chopped down in favor of the formulaic plot…well, that’s no good for this reader. But the authors who keep me guessing…those are easily everyone’s favorites. It’s no wonder why legions of loyal readers flock to Kenyon or Ward. 

By the way, I saw my first Kenyon Dark Hunter license plate the other day on the 5 freeway. A plate that read DRKHNTR on a truck. I’m pretty sure that was what it read. Either way, no matter the spelling, I knew with almost complete certainty that it was a Dark Hunter salute. 

It’s the Teacher’s Turn

February 18, 2008
The School for Heiresses series has released its newest addition: Let Sleeping Rogues Lie.

Madeline Prescott has taken a teaching position with the school as her own family troubles concerning her ailing father weigh on her shoulders. Her father, a doctor, is depressed for an accident done that is now deemed a crime concerning the use of nitrous oxide. Anthony Dalton, Viscount Norcourt, needs the guardianship of his young niece and therefore will need the backing up of a good school for him to fight the custody battle in court. Too bad he has carefully cultivated a reputation for bad behavior since his childhood has told him that he cannot be good. But to rescue his niece from the fate that he suffered as a child, he must win Madeline’s approval and has agreed to teach the girls at the school lessons on how to spot a rake in exchange for the guarantee of his niece’s admission. 

The fourth full novel of the series, not counting the small part in the anthology entitled Anthology: School for Heiresses, seems the confirm the slump that the author and the series has fallen into. Perhaps it’s unjust to label it a slump, but maybe a ‘rush’ would be more appropriate. While I don’t think that the series started on a solid footing with Never Seduce a Scoundrel, I did love Only a Duke Will Do. I thought the emotional complexities of Simon and Louisa and the weaving of multiple plots and roadblocks was well done and classic Jeffries. Maybe with Simon and Louisa, they enjoyed the ability to begin in a previous book and finally finish in their own novel. However, I think, should we have first met SImon and Louisa in their book and not before, the story would have still been told with the same effect. The stories after them just don’t seem to be as complex. There is one major roadblock to the happy ending, and even those are becoming paltry and not sufficient.

Anthony’s childhood, while sad, was not written with enough depth to consider it to be his true hinderance for romance with Madeline. And Madeline’s constant search for her father’s truth to set him free was a stretch and not emotional enough. The connection shared by the hero and heroine was adequate but not heart-wrenching like other characters written by Jeffries. Anthony’s fear of ‘releasing his beast’ was too contrived and at odds with his character. Though I can understand how his upbringing would turn him into the ‘bad boy,’ his fear of his sexuality was a nice try for Jeffries to explore new territory. However, it was not fleshed out enough and at the end, it seemed to be a plot thread that the author was grasping at for an attempt to pull the strings together. The ending was anti-climatic and I was not on the edge of my seat, nor was I fearing that the happy ending was too far from reach. Those two elements, the ‘sitting on the edge of my seat’ and ‘oh, my is this story going to end happy?’ feeling have been cornerstones of Jeffries’ historicals. But, it seems that she has lost her touch recently. Though I love her writing, I would not recommend his book.

One of the few highlights of the story was to see Simon as Anthony’s friend and Simon’s brief mention to his happy marriage with Louisa. Unfortunately, Let Sleeping Rogues Lie was obviously rushed and did not have significant time to stew and develop into a true Jeffries novel. Disappointing, seeing as how I’ve waiting with baited breath since I did not particularly enjoy the last novel either.

While the book did not have glaring spotlight-type flaws, it was not on par to what I’ve come to associate with Jeffries’ books.

2.5 out of 5: Disappointment in terms of being a Jeffries, but is definitely not the worst I’ve read. There are many more that would be considered lesser but this is not worthy of being novel to Jeffries’ standards. Will keep copy because it adds to the collection but is not a re-read.

Let Sleeping Rogues Lie