Friday, April 28, 2006

Two Jessica Hall Novels

Into the Fire


Heat of the Moment

I'm reviewing these two together because, besides being behind, there's not much I can say without spoiling the unique elements that make them interesting. Instead, I'll say that in the past 2 years or so, I have now read all of Gena Hale/Jessica Hall's romance novels from the very first to the most recent (though I have to check if a new one is out). As you might have guessed from my reviews of the first two, I didn't like them all that much. They showed clear potential, but were trying to do too much and, in my opinion, not succeeding as well as they might. I did like the characters, but the stories didn't hold together as well as I wanted. However, the skills that were struggling a bit in those first two romances grew to their fullness in Into the Fire and Heat of the Moment.

The mastery of a multi-focus romance novel is a wonder to behold. Both these novels have a large cast and many of them get at least one POV scene. This runs counter to the traditional focus on the female and male main characters and the even older tradition of seeing the story only through the female lead's eyes. However, it's done smoothly and without jarring in both these novels.

I do have one specific gripe with Into the Fire and it is purely a personal one. I will spoil the first 10 pages or so. Here's my rant, skip to the next paragraph if you don't want to see. It's not fair to make me like someone and have hope for them as the MC and then kill them off in the first few pages! There, that's out of my system :p. I didn't like it when my hubby did so for his thesis and I like it even less in a romance :p. Which is not to say that it wasn't crucial for the story, that it didn't have important implications, that I didn't understand the reason for it as I went forward. I just don't like liking someone then splat!

And now back to the regularly scheduled program ;).

Honestly, I'm a traditionalist. I want my romance novels about two people struggling against mostly internal obstacles to find their way to each other. I think life is like that and unlike science fiction and fantasy, I read romances not to escape but to have hope and see possibilities. Sure, I'm happily married, so I don't need that hope for myself any more, but there are so many obstacles this world puts in between people finding each other and even those who have already found each other that reading about how people work things through is powerful. Because of this, though I do read the intrigue style romances, they're not my first choice and my dosage is therefore low :D. Honestly, I think the odds of anyone I know being kidnapped by terrorists, involved with the mob, part of an undercover sting, etc., are relatively low. I did have a friend recruited by the CIA, but she decided not to join ;).

That said, I read these two novels not so much for the romance, but for the story. I know I can count on a good story regardless of whether or not the romance fits into my favorite type and so I'm happy. These bring me back to the Russian novel analogy, except that in these two, the technique has clearly been mastered. Despite the large cast, the characters each have a crucial role, no matter how small, and cannot be cut without the story losing something. On top of that, even minor characters have to fight their own prejudices and grow up, or change in some aspect. None of them are easy cardboard cutouts. And when you have someone profiled in the first, that person will often get a greater part in the second, and at some point, will get their own novel. I have faith in that and have bets running with myself as to who gets the next book ;).

Because I have to ;), I will say that I didn't feel the answer to the internal mystery in Heat of the Moment was seeded enough. I figured it out before the great reveal (though not the full extend of it), but I didn't see the clues to point to that answer until much later. In fact, the clues in the beginning didn't really seem to tie into the middle-to-end clues, which probably means I missed something but if so, I don't know what.

Okay, and now I have to eat my words on the romance part for both of these novels. Though the big external events shoved the characters together (as is standard in suspense romances), in both cases, the characters had a history and internal forces working to undermine their attraction/love for each other. I especially liked the romance in Heat of the Moment, partially because I saw it coming in Into the Fire and wanted so much for them to put aside their differences.

So yes, I think these books had enough suspense to keep someone who prefers a little danger and fear in their romances entertained, but at the same time, even those who find the "thrown together by deadly circumstances" a little too much, there's enough personal connection and conflict to enthrall. The stories are good ones. The romance only makes it better :D.


Jean said...

I liked the Jessica Halls much better than the Gena Hales. The Gena Hales seemed to formulaic to me.

Jean said...

Argh! I hate it when an "o" dropa off "too."

Margaret said...

Yeah, well, if you look at the publishing dates....

It took me a while to figure that out because I discovered Sheila's books recently. I compared the Gena Hale's with StarDoc and just didn't find them what I expected. But I'm nothing if not dedicated and kept reading. Now I'm so glad that I did :D.