Monday, June 05, 2006

I'm Trying, Part 2

Okay, I did it. I finished Sea Swept, just as I promised I would.

Was it good? I give it a solid C.

I didn't hate it. The heroine was a delight; a woman who knew what she wanted, enjoyed sex without apology, and took responsibility for her own broken heart when the inevitable Big Mis happened. Not only did she take responsibility, she saw the situation as disappointing to be sure but not life-ending or wallowing-endlessly-worthy, and she showed the proper amount of anger toward the hero and his part in hurting her. Neither a martyr nor a shrew was she.

As for the hero, he was okay. I could never get a real read on him. Cameron Quinn is supposed to be some sort of ex-playboy rakish sort, although I never really got that.

Story in a nutshell: Playboy professional racer (boats, cars, motorcycles, I got the idea he'd race anything that moved) Cameron Quinn returns to his hometown after his father dies in a car crash and leaves behind a young boy he was in process of adopting. Along with his brothers, Ethan and Phillip, Cam must convince social worker Anna Spinezzi that 10-year-old Seth belongs with them as their father had requested. While the three men try to figure out a way to mesh their individual lives in such a way as to care for Seth properly, they battle the growing rumors that their father's death wasn't an accident but rather a suicide. As you might expect, Anna and Cam begin a relationship, one which is questionable since clearly Anna's position as Seth's caseworker presents a conflict of interest between the two.

I'd chosen this story because I'd read in several reviews that the interaction between Cam, Ethan and Phillip is an amazing example of how men really act with each other. Supposedly Roberts has nailed the dialogue and sibling rivalry and nuances that make some fictional men read like real men and others like womanized-men. Too, so many had chosen this as the best Nora Roberts title out there I figured it was the best place to start.

My biggest problem with the book was that I found it a tad bit...well, boring. Sure, the characters talked like real people for the most part. And the brothers did bicker and snarl at each other like siblings sometimes do. As I mentioned above, Anna was quite refreshing as a heroine with a damaged past but a realistic outlook on life. No quaking virginal miss here, but rather a true-to-life woman who isn't afraid to look a good thing in the eye and grab it.

But the conflict throughout the story was less than intriguing. I never had any doubt that the three brothers would eventually prove acceptable guardians for Seth. And I never had any doubt that Cam wouldn't end up with Anna. The biggest obstacle in their relationship seemed to be Cam's carefree lifestyle before his return home and the fact that Cam hid inconsequential details about the insurance investigation into his father's accident from Anna. Except, I never got the idea that Cam was dying to return to his old life. Sure, he grouched around about having to wash dishes and do laundry and thought about his Porsche and felt bad when he had to turn down a lucrative racing gig. But once he and Anna were doing the horizontal mamba, he seemed fairly satisfied. Nor did Anna seem like she'd be devastated when he left, at least not until the story required that she mind it.

Too, when the big showdown hit the fan and Anna learned what it Cam had kept from her, I kept shaking my head wondering what the big deal was. I didn't blame Cam at all from not telling her; none of the information had anything to do with Seth's need for a stable homelife. Nor had Cam and Anna been a couple long enough for Anna's feelings of betrayal to ring true.

All this being said, I do have to give Roberts her due props in writing a story that I kept reading. While I wasn't dying to find out what happened, I did want to know how she'd play it all out.

The whole experience reminds me of eating comfort food. It isn't devine, it doesn't make you want to eat the entire plate and lick it clean, begging for more. The experience was pleasant and filling in a non-bothersome way, much as a slice of meatloaf fills you up, tastes pretty good, but doesn't necessarily sighing in rapture.

I do think part of my reaction to this story is my overall preferences for books with higher stakes at hand. I'm not big on family sagas, where kids play a big role and the ultimate goal of everyone seems to be the quaint little house with the white picket fence, matching minivan and SUVs sitting in the driveway, 2.8 kids, a puppy, kitten and hamster inside. I live that life. I really have no desire to read about it.

I have on hand the other three books in the Chesapeake Bay series. I have no doubt I'll read them eventually. Maybe even sooner rather than later, as they make good airplane reads and I'm heading to Florida in a few weeks.

But I'm still baffled on the whole Nora phenomenon. I just don't get the appeal - not the general appeal, just the avalanche of success that she's achieved and the legions of fans who claim her stuff is solid gold. I think it all needs to be chalked up to that old adage, different strokes for different folks.

I'm just different folks.


meljean brook said...

I think a lot of the phenomenon is that she's consistent -- though she's not always great, she's often good, and her characters fleshed out, her heroines strong and modern. So she's reliable, and she's prolific. A sure thing for a reader, especially someone who already likes her voice/storylines. Comfort food, as you said.

I do weary of the family trilogies (I only read one of the Sea Swept series, but have read quite a few of the others -- I enjoyed them, but haven't picked up the last In the Garden one, just because I felt a little Nora'd out. I'll probably eventually get it, though) and so have taken to J.D. Robb a bit more than Nora, particularly lately. Robb has more of an edge to the writing and the characters that I enjoy -- though the craft issues that bothered you when she's writing as Roberts would likely be the same (I don't notice them as much; I'm not sure why, because I do with other authors -- maybe it's that I'm *so* used to her voice, it becomes a part of the Nora experience or something). Of course, I know people who are exactly the opposite -- they can't stand Robb, but love the trilogies.

Arlene said...

I agree with Meljean about the consistency part. She is a known quantity for people who want something like comfort food. Also, I think she writes male dialogue better than a lot of people. I have enjoyed the books of hers that I've read, but agree that the plots are very similar. But lastly, I think she is a tremendous success because she has stuck to it for a long time and is a very fast writer which gives her a tremendous backlist (and you're right - her people are good at marketing her.)