October 31, 2012

When Contemporary Romance Goes Wrong: Some DNF Reviews


After the Storm by Amy Knupp Return to Willow Lake by Susan Wiggs
Barefoot in the Rain by Roxanne St. Claire My Kind of Christmas by Robyn Carr

Source: Review copies of the books were provided by the publisher through NetGalley. 

What follows is a list of some books I've been struggling to finish for the past few months. One is by a new-to-me author, while the rest are from authors I enjoy and series I love. The thing they have in common is how disappointing they were, and that all of them are Contemporary Romances. Instead of writing individual posts for each, I've decided to list them here because life is too short to waste it on bad books, and I already spent too much time on these.

After the Storm by Amy Knupp

After the Storm by Amy Knupp
I can’t resist a Harlequin Superromance that promises angst, so I requested it and was ready to enjoy the ride. Unfortunately, I was not entertained or even engaged enough to keep reading.

Penn gets seriously hurt while trying to save Nadia from a storm. He’s a firefighter and rescuing people is his job, so the injury and the pain make it impossible for him to work. They know each other because they tried to date, but she kept cancelling because of her work. So he labels her a workaholic, and deems her unworthy of his attention. But she feels so guilty that she keeps trying to take care of him. 

Nadia’s journey is about learning to balance her life, or to work less and love more. I have a problem with a book that portrays a heroine whose main flaw is that she is committed to her work to the point of giving is preference over her romantic life. To be fair, his journey is adapting to not being able to do his job, so there are some similarities between them. But while his work ethic makes him heroic, hers makes her flawed and not worth the trouble. I believe that we should learn how to balance every aspect of our lives, but I don’t like double standards. 

Sensuality: McSexy
More info: Amazon | Goodreads

Return to Willow Lake by Susan Wiggs

Return to Willow Lake by Susan Wiggs
This is the newest Willow Lake book, a series I've been reading for years. Even though its quality has been progressively decreasing, I was hopeful this book would be different because it featured two beloved recurrent characters.  But that was not the case.

Zach and Willow grew up together and were best friends in school. But then life happened and it brought them apart. They reunite during a wedding, and have a one-night-stand. She goes back to her life, which includes a boyfriend and father she wants to impress, and he stays in Willow Lake wondering what happened. Then her mother gets pregnant and she has to go back.

The first thing that bothered me was that Zach, who has been ugly ever since we met him in the first book, suddenly grows into a hunk. The rules of romance demand that its heroes be gorgeous, so Zach got an extreme makeover. I thought it was a missed opportunity to push some genre boundaries, unfair to the character and a boring to me as a reader who wishes authors took more risks. 

Sonnet was whiny, spineless and completely different from the girl we used to know. She cheats on her boyfriend and bends over backwards to please a father who never wanted her, and is only using her to further his career. 

We have two main characters that are unrecognizable and whose chemistry has always been strong, but only as friends. In fact, they almost feel like siblings. So add a rather unpleasant romance to the list of reasons why I couldn't finish the book. 

Sensuality: McSexy
More info: Amazon | Goodreads

Barefoot in the Rain by Roxanne St. Claire

Barefoot in the Rain by Roxanne St. Claire
Barefoot in the Rain is the second book in Ms. St. Claire’s new series. I've read her Romantic Suspense stories, and was curious to see what she would do with a Contemporary Romance. 

The prologue was fantastic and when I read it I was sure the book was a keeper. Jocelyn and Will were best friends, but when their relationship was about to become something more, her father got in the way. She left town and never came back. That is until now, when a scandal forces her to go into hiding and to seek refuge in her hometown.

I had two issues with this book: the plot was bland and the main characters didn't have chemistry between them. Barefoot in the Rain is a mediocre book with a great start, and that is the best I can say about it. 

Sensuality: McSteamy
More info: Amazon | Goodreads

My Kind of Christmas by Robyn Carr

My Kind of Christmas by Robyn Carr
This is the Christmas special of the Virgin River series. The last Riordan brother, Patrick, finally gets a book, and his heroine is Jack’s niece, Angie. They go to Virgin River because they are recovering from tragedies. Patrick’s friend was killed in Afghanistan, and his plan is to marry his widow because that’s the only way to take care of her, right? And Angie was in a car crash and is in town to take some time to figure out her life. They decide to have a fling with a very clear expiration date, but it’s obvious how that’s going to end. 

The book wasn't only disappointing, it was borderline infuriating. The setting is a bit ridiculous -- the hero’s friend dies, and he decides that the only way to take care of his widow is to marry her. I guess this is a way to portray the hero as honorable and selfless, but instead he came across as an idiot.

However, that’s not the reason why I didn't finish it. There’s a little girl in town, she’s poor and her face is scarred. Her father is unemployed, and the mother is helpless. So of course our heroine takes one look at the girl and decides to help her get a new face. This girl is nothing but a prop. The only reason she’s in the book is to make the heroine look good; a heroine who’s young and doesn't know what she’s doing. Of course this is a Christmas story, so the miracle is guaranteed, but using a kid’s misery as a cheap plot device is offensive. 

My Kind of Christmas is one of the worst books in the series. The plot was contrived, the characters annoying, and the romance lacked emotion. Read A Virgin River Christmas instead.

Sensuality: McSexy
More info: Amazon | Goodreads

I expected more from every single one of these books. There’s no excuse for such poor storytelling, weak stories, offensive plot devices and flat characters. Contemporary Romance is currently one of the most successful sub-genres, but it seems like all I see is the same formula repeated over and over. Success and quality shouldn't be mutually exclusive. Are we willing to sacrifice great storytelling in order to get more of the same? 

9 comments:

  1. Awww, that's too bad about the Amy Knupp. It did sound promising. It's too bad about the double standard, although I don't think I'd mind. So maybe I'll still give it a try :)

    I've giving up on the Lakeshore Chronicles in the last couple of books. I didn't like the shift from contemporary romance to women's fiction. Although this one does seem more like a contemporary romance. I don't remember Zach being "ugly" per se. Actually, he wasn't ugly at all, Brie, IIRC, because wasn't he Daisy's favorite photography subject at one point? Anyway, I was curious about this one because of Sonnet and Zach, but not willing to buy the HC. Now, I'm just not sure anymore.

    I've never really read Roxanne St. Claire. I was going to give Barefoot in the Sand a try, but when I learn it was an older heroine with younger hero, meh. Lost interest. Not my favorite trope at all.

    As for My Kind of Christmas, I know where you're coming from with Megan and how it's made to show the heroine's good side. At the end of it though, it doesn't take away what Angie did was a good deed. I think it's the way it was written... Like Angie jumping on the case too fast... but I mean otherwise, Mel was already working on doing something. Because it's not just giving the girl her face back, but it's also saving her eye. And want it or not, the girl never would have had the surgery in time giving her situation if an outsider hadn't gotten involved. Anyway, I was able to finish My Kind of Christmas :) Definitively have some flaws, but if you can overlook those, it wasn't a bad read.

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    1. Zach used to look like scarecrow, remember? And his new hotness is pointed out in the book. When Sonnet sees him she's surprised by how much he's changed, how he's the hottest guy she's ever seen, etc. There's a lot of emphasis made on the fact that he's no longer ugly.

      I don't have a problem with wanting to help the girl. But don’t use her as an excuse for your sanctimonious characters to save the day and show how everyone else is helpless without them. Every time a minor character needs help, Jack, Mel, and everyone else come to save the day, and the minor characters look useless. There should be some balance, because even though the main characters may have the power to solve the problems, the characters in need should have some agency and be proactive instead of sitting still as a prop for the other characters to look good. So I had an issue with the kid as plot moppet, and with her parents as passive people wallowing in their misery, instead of doing something to help their daughter.

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    2. Hmmm, maybe I'm confusing Zach and Julian. I swore, one of them was Daisy's model. Ah well. Anyway, it's a series that I'm giving up. Actually, until Ms Wiggs go back to writing contemporary romance, I doubt I'll be reading her.

      Nod nod. I know that the way Ms Carr wrote it, it wasn't the smoothest. In my case, I just didn't overthink it :P Sometimes, I think that's good LOL

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  2. I have read only one of these books, and although it was not the best of this series, I thought it was a nice read. I have Robyn Carr's book ready to read. Even though you did not like this book, she is one of my fav writers and I will of course form my own opinion .. I have read other Amy Knupp books and have liked them. As for Rozanne St. Clair I have never read any of her books, but I have heard good things about them... So it remains to be seen if I do or don't like her books in the futre..
    But thats for your honest opinons.

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    1. Carr's book is getting great reviews, which means that not everyone reads it the same way. Nath liked it! I'm also a fan, so I was disappointed. Hopefully I'll enjoy the next one.

      I've heard good things about Amy Knupp, and I was expecting a different book. But you can't win them all.

      If you read the books, come back and let me know how you like them!

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  3. Well thanks for the heads up about these books, I'll be sure to steer clear. I've had a bit of bad luck with books too and I also have a couple of DNF reviews to post.

    Too bad about that first one, it at least sounded like it had potential. And the last one...gah...how awful for that little girl. And so not cool that the characters were changed so drastically from how they were described and presented previously.

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    1. This year hasn't been as great as I was expecting, but I was really sad when these books turned out to be not good.

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  4. I have the Knupp and the Carr on my TBR but I'm shying away fromt he Knupp because neither you nor Jane liked it.

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    1. Mandi liked it, so maybe you will too?

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The books reviewed here were purchased by us. If the book was provided by the author or publisher for review, it will be noted on the post. We do not get any type of monetary compensation from publishers or authors.