1. Cold Cold Heart by Tami Hoag. I read 8 chapters (117 pages) of this suspense novel before giving up. I think that’s a fair shot. And the thing is, I don’t really have anything bad to say about the book. It’s well-written, very suspenseful, gory, and exciting. I could have easily continued on to watch poor messed up Dana emerge from her confused mental state following her horrific ordeal at the hands of a madman. I could have hung on for the ride as Dana figured out exactly what the hell went on 7 years ago with her best friend Casey and that handsome tormented soldier turned pizza guy who of course will turn out to be some kinda hero there in the small town in Indiana. Dana has to return to said ‘burb as she recovers from the madman attack in order to be cared for by her sweet mom and her creepy rich politician stepdad, who just has to be some kind of nogoodnik, right?
But I just don’t care. That’s the thing, I guess. In those 117 pages Hoag has not made me care about Dana enough to plow on through her physical therapy and nightmares and stuff. That’s all a lot of work for me, the reader, and I suppose I’m a bit lazy these days. You gotta make me care about the protag if I’m gonna slog to her doctor’s appointments and deal with her anxiety attacks. Hoag has Dana freaking out at every shadow and that gets tiring really fast. See, Dana was this super pretty blonde high school girl who hung around with this super pretty brunette Casey yada yada and then … something happened to Casey, we don’t know what yet, maybe she’s dead, we’re not sure, but Dana went on to college and began her perky journalism career in Minnesota until the madman attack. But so? Why should I care? What about Dana is compelling here? Why should I hold her hand as she struggles for words and freaks out at every little trigger? Some of it is so gory that it’s triggering for me and I am not invested emotionally enough in the protagonist to bear with the story.
That’s what a writer needs to do. Make us care. If this were a movie, I might stick with it because it would be filmed dramatically with voices, expressions, music, etc., and it would engage me in a more visceral way. But reading is a different experience. Scenes play in my mind, with some input from me to fill out the descriptions, and the writer needs to engage me emotionally by making me identify with the protag, in order for me to want to turn those pages. I probably would have cared more about Dana if she’d been an ordinary high school girl instead of a popular perfect girl who never struggled. I’m supposed to relate to a cheerleader? Meh. And Dana does nothing remarkable during her career to make me root for her during her recovery. There was a hint she may have done a heartwarming story about an animal shelter… now that could have grabbed me. Make Dana an animal rescuer, yeah! But… nothin’. Just a pretty pretty princess. Feh.
(Obviously I’m in the minority here because this book has racked up loads of fab reviews.)
2. Cold-Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas. Ah, now this one I loved! This was a traditional hot old-fashioned romance novel, set in London in… idk, whenever they were messing up the tenant farmers’ way of life by ripping up the land with railroads (1850s?). Our hero Devon inherits an earl’s title and some lands plus a decrepit castle, and before he sees any of it has already decided to sell off the lot because he doesn’t want to be bothered with any earlish nonsense. His younger drunken brother agrees with this plan and both gents are totes hilarious, as one would expect from well-educated snotty Brits. Lisa doesn’t make me care about these two at the start ~ they’re obnoxious after all ~ but I’m drawn in regardless because they’re so funny and I want to see what happens.
Next we meet Kathleen, the late earl’s widow, who’s a total icy bitch. Now, CHR gets a lot of bad reviews because readers dislike how Devon treats Kathleen at the start, but hello he is a COLD-HEARTED RAKE, remember? And he’s not treating some sweet little miss to his cold-hearted rakishness and causing her to have an anxiety attack ~ he’s being rakish to someone who can take it, freeze it over, and fling it right back in his snarky face. A match made in heaven! I enjoyed their witty banter so much. I loved the supporting cast too: brother Weston, as mentioned, the late earl’s sisters, the servants, the tenants, etc. Lisa took great care to give all her characters distinct and interesting traits. I know there will be more novels coming with some of the other characters in starring roles and I hope to read those as well.
Lisa drew me in by first creating interesting characters, though they certainly didn’t seem like nice people. That’s not necessarily important (many of us were riveted to Tony Soprano’s antics week after week and he was an asshole). Devon and Kathleen were complex. I wanted to figure out what made them tick; I wanted to see what they’d do next. And the story itself was interesting ~ it seemed impossible that the castle and lands could be saved. How would they get the money? As D&K worked on the estate, their personal relationship deepened, and they changed. They began to care more about each other, and then about things beyond themselves. I know, I know, some of you think romance novels are soooo shallow. But the good ones are not.
This was one of the good ones.