Snow Falls by Gerri Hill

snowfallsThere are those times in your (reading) life when plot makes you irritable. When the mere mention of a complicated crime story makes you want to run for the hills (no pun inteded). You look at all the books you own, you browse through your ebooks and look for that one story that is not complicated, the one that will make you feel good without having to think about it too much. Such a book is Snow Falls.

Ryan lives a hermit’s life on a mountain in Colorado with her two dogs. She’s got her reasons for being a recluse and only one of those is that she wants to write another novel. But then her life is disrupted by the arrival of Jennifer Kincaid and an avalanche. The avalanche buries Jen’s car and the road down the mountain for the next seven weeks. Jen Kincaid captures Ryan’s attention and heart as the women spent the next seven weeks talking, writing and hiking the breathtaking paths of Ryan’s home. But time on the mountain is running out and Ryan has a secret she wants to keep.

I read this novel in two days but I’m not fooling myself that I’m back in the reading mood. Yet Snow Falls was just the story I needed to read. It’s not overly complex, it’s an easy read, a pleasant read and a rather typical romance. And it gripped me like few have this year.

Here’s Hill writing a good story with likable characters and little plot. The story flows from the page into your heart and makes you feel good about life, love and being trapped in a cozy cabin in the mountains with a complete stranger. The characters carry the story, they talk, they contemplate and fall in love, only to be seperated by their inability to reveal their hearts.

I already told you that Hill is one of my favorite romance writers, if not THE favorite. Mind you, she’s written better stories than Snow Falls but I actually cherished that this story wasn’t complex, that it simply led me to a good place where I wanted to stay. It’s a warm and cozy novel, the conflicts are not too overwhelming. This may sound boring to some but I found myself wholly captivated. It’s a story about two women. They have their lives, their problems but all is put on hold for seven weeks when they only have each other and two lively dogs to keep them company. I liked it.

It’s also a story about two writers stuck in a cabin. You know I’m not a fan of writers writing about writers, it’s a little self-congratulatory, a little masturbatory. But Hill has the sensibility to not bore us with pages over pages of someone agonizing over the writing process. She doesn’t complicate, she simplifies. Maybe it’s a little too much, maybe the main conflict is just too easily solved. But for me it was just the book I wanted to read, just the story I needed to become inspired myself. And I dare say, I will pick it up again and still like it. Maybe not as much as some of Hill’s other novels but well enough to read and read again.

Second Nature by Jae

secondnature1My reading habits are all over the map right now and there’s no sense or order in what I read or don’t read these days. Luckily, this fit into my research about the supernatural. So let’s talk shape-shifters:

Jorie Price is writing a novel. Unfortunately for her, the dreams that gave her the idea for her newest story are not just Freudian seductions like Stephanie Meyer’s – they’re prophecies about a species that lives in secret: shape-shifters. When Jorie’s beta-reader who is also a shifter becomes concerned about the accuracy of the descriptions of her species, she informs the Saru, a secret police force of shape-shifters who start to investigate the writer and a possible informant.

Griffen Westmore is the investigator who is send to Michigan to find out where Jorie gets her information. She’s just as private and closed off as Jorie and the two find it easier to connect with each other than with their respective families. But when Griffen’s commanding officer Cedric Jennings pushes the shape-shifters’ council to issue a killing order on Jorie Griffen has to decide where her loyalties lie or be caught in the cross fire between humans and shifters.

Second Nature is a compelling read. It has a great story and Jae conveys it expertly. She weaves a tapestry of family relations, friendship and devided emotions and doesn’t waver in her pursuit of a fascinating and exciting story. The beginning is a little slow but that is to be expected when the supernatural elements are introduced and it is never boring. Jae combines facts and fiction so elegantly that it is a pleasure to read about her creatures, their living situation and culture.

I have stated before that I’m not a great fan of writers who make their main characters writers. Too often it ends in tedious descriptions of what we writers find endlessly fascinating – the process of writing and living as writer – but what everybody else must recognize as masturbatory self-congratulation. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen here. Jae doesn’t dwell on whatever might be her own philosophy about writing, instead she introduces us to a main character who is not defined by her profession only. Jorie is interesting and three-dimensional and thus a believable target for the affections of a liger shape-shifter such as Griffen Westmore.

The love story between these two characters progresses slowly and believable. Private people like Jorie and Griffen don’t fall in love at first sight and their developing friendship is actually a greater focus of the book than the sexual attraction which happens simultaneously but more subtle than in most romances. Jae leaves her characters with enough room to figure out their feelings in their own time and I appreciate that very much.

While I really enjoyed this story and could hardly put it down after the chase for life had begun, there’s something about Jae’s style that’s a little tiring. While her descriptions are all very good, there are simply too many of them. This is especially true during conversations where the constant interpretation of emotions hems the flow of the dialogue. Jae does not seem to trust the reader to interpret scenes by themself and sometimes her explanations are repetitive. Strangely enough, this does not ruin the fun of the book as it is part of Jae’s writing style and perfectly incorporated into the story. Still, I think I could have done with less of it as interpretation is a part of reading I really enjoy – but maybe that’s just me.

Elena Undone by Nicole Conn

More lesbian romance, right here. I hope you’re not already sick and tired of it, though this one might do the job. So, what’s it about:

Soulemetry is Tyler’s religion. He believes that the truest form of love is that of the Twin Flame, the soulmate you are destined to be with. He has found his and now he tries to make everybody else find theirs. Elena Winters is his best friend, she is trapped in a loveless marriage and paralyzed in her everyday life. Her only joy is her son, Nash, and his girlfriend Tori who practically lives with the Winters family because her own family is “out of town.”

Things change when Elena meets Peyton Lombard, a writer with OCD and a lesbian. The women connect in ways neither ever had with anyone else, they become fast friends then lovers and the artificial security of Elena’s life as a pastor’s wife shatters. Things get ugly but, as this is a romance, the heroines find their way to happiness.

There is a movie of the same title by the same writer/director. Usually, I find the book to a movie interesting as it tells part of the story that the movie cannot convey. With this book this is actually a downside because Conn seems to want to tell too many stories in one. The love story of Elena and Peyton is in the center, then there is the story of Elena’s family, the story of Nash and Tori, the story of Tyler and Lily, the story of Peyton’s friend Wave, the story of Peyton’s mother, her relationship with Margaret, adoption’s, the women’s glory project (that acts as a mere plot device), etc.

There is simply too much of everything. And usually I don’t mind a lively background and backstories for minor characters but in this case it is just too much. Maybe this is because it is not done naturally but seems constructed and showy. An example would be Tyler and Lily’s story that is related relatively at the end of the book. While Conn hints repeatedly at the improbability of the relationship between a seemingly gay man and a cutthroat female executive, she waits till almost the end to spin a tale that is even more unlikely than the pairing. It is too much and it comes too late in the story.

There is also a showy-ness in Conn’s writing that annoyed me quite a bit. It is all good and well to show not tell but when you’re handling stereotypes less is actually more. Conn uses a fair share of them all through the book, and then points to them and says: look, I used a stereotype and now that I commented on it I created a meta-discourse. Wasn’t that clever of me? Well, no, it was not so clever, it was annoying and she does this repeatedly.

It is not so pronounced in the movie as a lot had to be cut but it is still there. The strength of the movie in comparison with the book is probably the casting. Even Elena’s husband Barry becomes somehow sympathetic. But the best things that could have happened to the movie are Necar Zadegan (Elena), Sam Harris (Tyler), and Sabrina Fuster (Tori). I was actually looking forward to the scenes with Tyler, his Soulemetry, and his webisodes of love stories (I know that many found those annoying) he was conducting. The movie, though it has some of the book’s weaknesses, is watchable but I would not recommend the book.

Thy Neighbor’s Wife by Georgia Beers

Back to lesbian romance, back to what I know. I’ve read the beginning of this novel sometime in June, I think (via kindle for pc – but let me not dwell on that just now). I liked it very much. Here’s a synopsis:

Jennifer and Eric Wainwright buy a house on Canandaigua Lake in upstate New York. Their neighbor is Alex Foster who has just become a homeowner on same lake herself. Alex and Jen become fast friends while Eric works a lot and cannot really come out to the lake. The women fall in love and struggle with it, with their families’ expectations and their own notions of selves.

The novel starts with two women who become fast friends, they indulge in easy banter and their mutual love of dogs (especially that one little pooch who is Alex’: Kinsey). The description of friendship here is very sensitive, it’s logical from the point of view Beers takes in those first pages. Jen is a socialite wife, Alex has just given up her job as teacher to write: they are not typical, they fight their demons but do not want to tell each other about them just yet. I like these pages, they feel real.

Unfortunately, the sensitive notions of fast friendship and early flirting do not last. There is not a detectable break in the book when you can presume that from now on it will go downhill, the decline is gradual. The reader has been told of problems with certain family members, antagonism with friends, the death of Jennifer’s father. These things seem to become somewhat important without ever taking center stage. They seem to be violent blips that appear and disappear as Beers needs them as plot-devices. The same goes for Eric. While I thought his point of view at first surprising and rather interesting, he disappears from the novel while the women fall in love then reappears in the wings when we are told that he and Jen spend time together. But it’s almost as if nothing happens in the wings. Both know that they have problems but they are not talking. And this lack of communication seems to spread among the characters until nobody is talking to each other, least of all the two main characters.

In the end, we have an author who hammers out plot while deconstructing her characters. Where Alex had been strong and easy-going she is suddenly full of insecurities, where Jennifer has been shy and sweet she suddenly becomes a sexual predator. Beers throws a little Freudian nonsense at us to explain this but it does not convince.

The problem seems to be that Beers does not give herself the time and space to develop the story naturally. Her predisposed notions of how a happy ending should look like, on how people should behave, and even of good and evil do not allow her to let her characters guide her. Characters that have been sympathetic and likable in the beginning, are just the contrary in the end.  This is sad because Beers has talent and ability – she did just not pull through.

Something else I found rather ill-adviced was the writing within the writing: excerpts of what Alex is writing. While Alex is supposed to be a good writer with some ambition the writing she does is not even as good as Beers writing. It lacks. Maybe this is supposed to be so, maybe we are to believe that Alex has not found her voice yet because she writes heterosexual stories when she herself is a lesbian. Maybe. I also seem to have a problem with the question why Alex would choose to write romance. She was an English teacher, one would probably expect her ambition to rise above the mundane and land on reinventing the great American novel. I don’t want to diss writers of romance (I am among them) but I think we should be so self-reflective to acknowledge that ours is not the most innovative of genres. Would someone like Alex chose to write it? Especially since she also claims to want to write about things she knows and still choses to write a heterosexual love-story?

And I don’t even know why this bothers me so much. Writing about writers does not seem a good idea. Maybe it shows a little too much affection toward our passion, a fascination with ourselves that we want  to spread around, the mystery of it, the torn artist stuff that nobody’s interested in but us. Well, I am at least greatful that Alex does not write a novel in one night but actually writes at a pace that any writer can appreciate.

I don’t want to end this review on a negative note. I do not want to say that I really disliked it because I didn’t. There was a lot of good in it, the premise is actually so interesting that I would love to take it up myself (but probably won’t because who’s got the time?). The writing is good, the banter between the characters (as long as it was there) was heartfelt and honest. It was mainly the ending that had me disappointed. Which means I expect to pick up another Beers at some point and like it.