My Summer Reading Orgy Continued

Continuing my review of the books I read this summer (and there really were a lot of them 🙂 ) with Lisa Kleypas’s recent series.

Lisa Kleypas, Rainshadow Road, St. Martin’s Griffin (28 Feb 2012), Dream Lake, St. Martin’s Griffin (7 Aug 2012)

Lisa Kleypas is an author at the top of the romance game with the awards and bestseller status to show it, and though I have only read a couple of her historical romances, I am fond of her contemporary series. Interestingly, Rainshadow Road and Dream Lake have been packaged and (to my observation) marketed as women’s fiction (trade paperback size, discussion group questions in the back, soft cover art with lovely women depicted). But these books are romances, IMO, where the male main character point of view is perhaps even stronger than the female main character point of view, and sexual tension drives the plot and much of the pace of the books. The covers could just as easily show men in tool belts with ripped abs! (Thanks to Tamera Lynn Kraft at Word Sharpeners for her genre definitions.)

Rainshadow Road and Dream Lake are set in yet another a small town, again in Washington State (I am sensing a publishing trend here), but this one is a real place. I have actually been to Friday Harbor on a very romantic date with the man who is now my husband. We took off into a sparkling blue sky from Whidbey Island in a Navy T-34 airplane. The seats in a T-34 are front and back, and the pilot maneuvers with a stick, like in most fighter aircraft. Cool date, right? Anyway, we swooped through the San Juan Islands with the sun reflecting on the water and—after a perfect landing at the little airport near Friday Harbor—we tied down the plane and walked into town to get a bite to eat. Interestingly, neither of us remembers where we ate or what, but we do remember how cool we thought the town was. I’m thinking we must have held hands at least! 😉

These two books are a continuation of a series Kleypas started with Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor, which I also read, but it has been a while (2010). The books follow the lives of the three Nolan brothers (another publishing trend—love comes in threes?), natives of Friday Harbor, who have to change their lives when their sister dies in a car crash and they become her six-year-old daughter’s guardians.

My favorite of the three is Dream Lake. Kleypas is a master of the dark hero, and in Alex Nolan she has created a man who is a heavy drinker with seemingly no redeeming qualities other than his skill at carpentry. Oh, and he’s haunted by a ghost too. He finds redemption and a taste of heaven in the unlikely Zoe Hoffman, a chef for a local bed and breakfast who needs Alex’s help to renovate a cottage for her grandmother who has been diagnosed with vascular dementia.

Favorite line/scene: There are several in this book for me because I love a bad boy hero, but the way Zoe lures Alex with her special talent for preparing food is magical. If I had to choose…Alex decides to sober up and his first morning after giving up booze is rough. Zoe saves him with some strong, sweet coffee and a bit of breakfast strata…

“Sometimes,” she said, “my cooking has a kind of…effect…on people.”

The back of his neck prickled, not unpleasantly. “What kind of effect?”

“I don’t let myself think about it too much. I don’t want to ruin it. But sometimes it seems to make people feel better in a sort of…magical way.” Her smile turned rueful at the edges. “I’m sure you don’t believe in things like that.”

“I’m surprisingly open-minded,” Alex said, conscious of the ghost wandering back into the kitchen.

Writing tip #3—Don’t be afraid to insert FAIRY TALE, MAGICAL, AND PARANORMAL ELEMENTS in your stories. Lisa Kleypas uses all these things to enhance her characters’ connections and also deepen their troubles. Remember Hamlet? It’s fiction after all, which means we get to make it up.

Writing tip #4—What is your character’s SPECIAL SKILL? This time I don’t mean your characters actions but what is your character acknowledged to be good at that ties him or her to the rest of the characters and the plot? Lisa Kleypas is very good at this. In Dream Lake, Alex needs nourishment (body and soul), and Zoe is a wonderful chef. Zoe needs someone to renovate her cottage for her aging grandmother, and Alex is a contractor and master carpenter. In Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor, Mark Nolan becomes the guardian of his sister’s traumatized little daughter, and Maggie Collins owns the toy store in town. Widowed Maggie needs to regain connection with the town, and Mark is the town’s coffee shop owner who roasts his own beans.

Do the differences in storytelling and packaging in the romance and women’s fiction genres (or any genre, for that matter) affect your reading choices? Which do you prefer? Do you like when authors infuse their works with magical elements or ghosts? What is YOUR special skill?

Next blog: my thoughts on The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks. Romance or love story?