Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Just Reviewed Four Romances at SBR

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Folks, it had been a while since I did a Romance Saturday review over at Shiny Book Review (SBR for short, as always), I thought I’d do more than one.

This time, I reviewed four.

And, because I was feeling a little puckish, I decided to call it a Romance Saturday “Four-Play.” (Pardon the pun. Or don’t. I’m not going to change it, so there. Nyah.)

The best of the lot beyond a shadow of a doubt is Rosemary Edghill’s excellent time-travel romance MET BY MOONLIGHT, recently re-released as an independent e-book. It is outstanding in just about every way there is, but if you are of the pagan persuasion, you probably will like it even better.  (Even if you aren’t, though, you should adore this book. Truly.)

I also reviewed a nice debut Regency by Giselle Marks, THE FENCING MASTER’S DAUGHTER. I agonized over this one, as there are some glaring weaknesses mixed in with some strong strengths, but ultimately decided that the couple of big laughs and the excellent historicity was enough to give it a B.

As THE FENCING MASTER’S DAUGHTER would be much better if Ms. Marks had somehow won access to a top-notch editor, I had to say that. (I also said whoever edited for her did a competent job. He or she presented the romance nicely, and it was grammatical and with few typos. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s not as much work as most of the really good editors I’ve been around would do if they’d seen a manuscript like this one land on their desks.)

Then I was presented with two romances by Sherry Thomas, one a YA fantasy romance called THE BURNING SKY and the other a 19th Century English historical romance, THE LUCKIEST LADY IN LONDON. I really like Ms. Thomas’s writing style, and think she’s one of the best younger romance novelists around (by “younger” in this context, I mean “under forty”).

I liked THE BURNING SKY, but did not love it. I thought it had some nice touches, believed in the romance between the two principals, and the magical system was acceptable to better. I didn’t find it ground-breaking, though, as some reviews have called it, mostly because Mercedes Lackey has been doing books about Elemental Magic for years — also set in England, many of them set in late 19th Century England at that — and while Lackey’s Elemental mages aren’t exactly like Thomas’s, they’re close enough for government work.

As for THE LUCKIEST LADY IN LONDON . . . how can I say that I was completely underwhelmed without being a complete and utter boor? (Oops, I just said it anyway.)

Look. Ms. Thomas writes well, so even a C-level romance (which is exactly what I adjudged THE LUCKIEST LADY IN LONDON to be) is probably worth your time, especially if you’ve read nothing else by her before.

But considering the level of her other books — her excellent debut, PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS, her excellent war romance, NOT QUITE A HUSBAND, or even the recent TEMPTING THE BRIDE — this just was not up to Ms. Thomas’s standards. At all.

I’ve had to give other writers whose work I generally find to be exceptional C-ratings before, and probably will again. Most of the time, I try not to agonize over this, especially if the novelist in question has put out a number of books (by my count, Ms. Thomas has now put out eight full-length romance novels, one fantasy romance novel, and at least one novella, so she’s put out ten books). I figure that someone with a track record, as Ms. Thomas now has, should have to be held to a higher standard than someone who’s just starting out — because really, don’t you want to top yourself?

That’s why I admire the work of Ms. Edghill so much, and Katharine Eliska Kimbriel, too. Those two writers do not settle, ever. They put out top-notch efforts, their books are memorable and lively, and even something that I don’t find to be quite at an A-minus or better is still well worth my time.

More to the point, I never forget what those two write about. Never.

Whereas with THE LUCKIEST LADY IN LONDON, I put the book down for a week and a half. I forgot everything about it. I had to go back and re-read, then I saw a few really good, sparkling passages that reminded me of how good Ms. Thomas can be when she puts her mind to it — and a bunch of passages where the editing was not there (something rare in a mass-market romance, where the editing is usually outstanding), or the focus was not there, or something just was a bit off.

Worse yet, even in THE BURNING SKY, I put the book down for a week and a half and wasn’t really inclined to finish it excepting I’d already said I’d review the thing. I was pleasantly surprised by it, as it picked up considerably after a very slow start, and I think Ms. Thomas shows promise as a fantasy novelist.

That’s the main reason why the latter book got a B from me, while the first one only received a C. A book that’s uneven, poorly edited, and unfocused — no matter how good the writing is at its best — can only garner a C.

But a book that gets significantly better as time goes on, and holds my interest despite putting it down for a week-plus at a lull, can still get a B or maybe even better, depending.

Look, folks. My own novel isn’t yet out. I know people could be coming after me with pitchforks, for all I know, because I’m willing to tell it like it is when it comes to some of my otherwise-favorite novelists.

I also know that sometimes the demands of contemporary publishing schedules means that the quality of books will sometimes be lacking.

My view is simple: Ms. Thomas can ascend to the same level of storytelling as seen by Ms. Kimbriel and Ms. Edghill, but Ms. Thomas needs to demand more. Whether she needs to get her agent to buy her more time to turn something in so she can polish it up, whether she needs to just write fantasy romances for the time being as that seems to be where her heart is, I don’t know — but whatever it is, she needs to do that.

I don’t care how many places, some of which are very well-known, give these last two books high ratings or say that they’re up to the standards of Ms. Thomas’s other books. The plain and simple fact of the matter is, they aren’t.

Anyway, this is why I wrote these particular reviews — my “after-action report,” as it were.  I hope you found it of interest.

Now I’d best get back to editing, as I have an author eagerly awaiting my latest comments . . . and who am I to make him wait?

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