A Review by Hamo Geek Girl
So here’s why I don’t read romance novels. You know, those chick-lit ones narrated by yet another sad, lonely, neurotic female who lusts after an impossibly perfect demi-godly man, who by some miraculous mercy of fate happens to pay some attention to her. And then they have steaming hot, acrobatic sex. (Woohoo!)
First: I’ve already read them all.
Which means I’ve read maybe 20 straight up romance novels in my life (including my teenage dabble in Sweet Valley High then Mills & Boon) but I really could have just stopped at one.
They’re all the same.
Lone female. Hot man. A sprinkling of stock supporting characters who don’t reeeaally matter: best girl/gay-guy friend. Overbearing mom. Hot rival for the hot man (cause what’s a romance without a triangle?). Obligatorily descriptive sex, etc.
And then choose a plot from only a handful of Hollywood standard options: 1. Insecure hot girl can’t believe a man can possibly love her and then he proves her wrong. 2. Hot good girl is infatuated with hot bad-boy and doesn’t notice her best buddy a.k.a. hot good-boy pining after her. 3. Hot crazy girl with issues constantly runs away from all threats of real affection until that ONE hot guy. Or, 4. Romeo and Juliet.
Slap it all together with melted chocolate peanut butter and voila! Harlequin book deal.
Second: Nothing ELSE happens in them.
Don’t get me wrong. Like any other female with a pulse, I love me a good love story, even one with a paint-by-numbers plotline, but hundreds of pages of googly-eyes and ‘will-they? won’t-they?’ round and round the infatuation merry-go-round is just… tiresome.
Especially when you already know this story. Because you’ve already read them all.
For me, truly convincing love stories happen in a world where a bunch of other – often complicated, thought-provoking, unpredictable, exciting (in a completely non-romance sorta way) – STUFF is also going on.
This other stuff gives characters things to work with, you know? So you get to see different dimensions to their personalities and then you start to believe in them and start to really understand their attraction (or not) to each other… and so forth.
Anyway, Lani Wendt Young released a new novel recently – a grown up romance called, Scarlet Lies. (Definitely NOT for impressionable fans of her young-adult Telesa series.)
I’m not sure if this novel has sold me on romances just yet, though. See what you think:
So Scarlet is a beautiful Samoan lady with a bunch of self-esteem issues including body dysmorphic disorder (she spends the entire novel reminding us that she’s fat and no hot man could ever want a fat girl) and an unhealthy obsession with
She randomly meets the rock-hard perfection that is Jackson on a plane (while she’s taking an over-the-top wedding dress to Samoa for her much prettier, much luckier-in-life sister’s wedding). On the flight she gets drunk and tells a bunch of far-fetched lies to this stranger, whose good-natured personality, it turns out, is as perfect as his abs.
And then lo and behold, that same exact man turns up again as part of her sister’s wedding party. (Bet you didn’t see that coming).
As you can imagine, it took me a while to get through this book even though it’s not very long. Not to say it was all difficult to read. The story had moments of humour and insight and, as fans of the book kept telling me, it does get a lot more entertaining near the end.
But it was hard to ignore a few things that didn’t really work for me:
The Not so Great
- As a writer, I think Lani Young is at her best when she’s blogging – I’m a huge fan of her blog, Sleepless in Samoa.
The character of Scarlet is also a talented blogger. BUT, a lot of Scarlet’s blog entries in the book are almost verbatim copies of Lani’s past blog entries. (I don’t understand why…?)
Also, a lot of Scarlet’s opinions about life and Samoa are the thoughts Lani has posted on her social media sites. I don’t know if this was intentional, but it made it really difficult to believe in Scarlet as her own character. I got to 85% of the book before I finally started to appreciate her as not-just-Lani.
- Although the novel seems to be aimed at Samoan readers, Lani/Scarlet spends a lot of time trying to explain Samoan culture, which I guess was necessary, since her Samoa is very um… different from MY memories of Samoa.
I know people experience culture in different ways and, to be fair, most of what I know about Samoa comes from the stories of my elders, but 5 lavish wedding dresses at the one wedding? Running around in bikinis at a Samoan beach? Either Samoa has evolved in some unexpected ways since my parents grew up there or the story refers to only a small group of Samoans (in Apia?) because this culture that defines Scarlet’s world is, at times, pretty foreign to me.
- The novel reads like a long string of political statements – some glaringly obvious, others a little confusing (that scene with the kids and the condescending doctor?) – wrapped in lipstick and insecurity. If you follow Lani’s very opinionated blog, the book will just be an extension of her thought process… and it will also not be difficult to predict what’s going to happen in books 2 and 3. (Oh yeah, it’s a trilogy.)
Like I said before, though, the story DOES get better. Scarlet eventually becomes more likable – I love the octopus outfit! And ‘other stuff’ happens in the story to make the romance part a little more interesting.
What Worked for Me
- Samoa. Lani’s descriptions of everyday Samoa – the sweltering heat, the racket of too many people (and a bunch of grubby children) in one confined space, the picturesque winding roads heading out of Apia – are beautifully accurate. And reminds me that (sighhh) I’m way overdue for another trip to the mother land.
- Hot sex. (Woohoo!) In that, very important respect, this romance novel does NOT disappoint. I’ll let you discover for yourself what I’m referring to. 🙂
- Remember how I said that a love story doesn’t work for me unless it’s set against a realistic backdrop of other STUFF – drama, mystery, philosophy, anything – going on? Although I already know what that ‘other stuff’ is (because I read Lani’s blog and follow her on Facebook), it was very satisfying to finally get past Scarlet & Jackson’s clumsy, drool-y infatuation days and discover the beginnings of a real relationship… one where she’s going to have to deal with her issues already and he’s going to have to figure out how to accept them.
That, for me, is when this story is going to get good.
This Book in
One Two SentenceS
Moments of humour and insight in an otherwise awkward romance – but it does get better. (Also, somebody get this girl some therapy!)
Hoodie’s got a very different opinion about Scarlet Lies. Don’t forget to check it out.
Have you read this book? What are your thoughts?