Tour’s Books Blog

July 8, 2012

Is imitation really the sincerest form of flattery?

A new book hit the market and zooms to the top of the bestseller list and in nothing flat, there are dozens of clones out there, all variations on the same theme.  I’m having a private bet with myself over how many 50 Shades of Grey rip-offs will saturate the market.  (This is one case where the clones might be better than the badly written original.) Even the originator of a series can be hard put to keep things fresh and new.  In fact, having a series almost precludes too much fresh and new, especially as books pass the 8th and 10th entry.

J.K. Rowling did a brilliant job with Harry Potter, telling the story and resisting the temptation to keep Harry and friends ‘forever young’.  As the books progressed, he matured and so did the stories, growing darker and grimmer and dealing with more adult themes.  Her dedication to the initial premise was worth it and the series is, as a whole, remarkable.  Before his death, Robert Jordan began his deep, complex and beautifully written Wheel of Time series, but by book 7 he became so lost in the minutiae, I just gave up on the series.  Other series are never meant to be anything but froth and fun – and there’s nothing wrong with that so long as they aren’t also boring and predictable.  It doesn’t matter the genre – mystery, romance, paranormal, fantasy, even historical fiction, author patterns emerge and ongoing characters begin to enter certain predictable sequences of events.  To me, a certain amount of this is forgivable, maybe even a bit desirable – kind of like finding old friends just as we remember them.  What isn’t so forgivable is copying another writer’s formula and creating a clone.

Clones are as inevitable as the sunrise, and some are so well done, they become icons in their own right.  Look at all the books based on famous fictional and historical characters recast into different perspectives.  Sherlock Holmes must have 6 or 7 different versions of himself walking about the pages of various books.   Everyone from Abraham Lincoln to Queen Victoria is hunting vampires and zombies.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the Brontes’ must be spinning like tops in the graves.  Some authors can carry it off, others, simply cannot.  To purists, the whole thing is a massive insult, an abomination.  What can I say, even Shakespeare stole plots and characters, but, some of these books are, inadvertently perhaps, insults to the original.

Take The Innocent by David Baldacci.  CIA assassin Will Robie is 25% Jack Reacher, 25% John Rain, 25% early Bob Lee Swagger, 15% Mitch Rapp and 10% original.  The plot, which held great promise at the start, just didn’t stand up over the length of the book – especially when compared  with Barry Eisler’s standards in his early John Rain books.  It lacked the kind of detail in tradecraft that makes the stories seem more real and gives twisty spy novels their verisimilitude.  Still, it was good, had potential, but lacked the punch of a top of the line thriller.  Best I could do was a B- (3.7*) and a wait for the paperback, or borrow it from the library recommendation.

On the lighter side of the mystery/thriller genre sits Death, Taxes, and Extra Hold Hairspray by Diane Kelly.  This is her third installment of the Tara Halloway IRS Enforcement agent series and another winner.  There are shades of Stephanie Plum, but Tara Halloway is a very different person from the amateurish Steph.  Strong, competent, and tough, but with a real sense of humor for the eccentricities of people.  Kelly plots well, writes solid characters, has good cast of secondary characters and blends humor in without ever going over the top or forcing things to a ‘Lucy and Ethel’ farce.  With a B+ to A- (4.5*) it comes as a recommended buy for fans of classic style mysteries without the cozy oozing out.

On the romance front we have Scandal Wears Satin by Loretta Chase.  Chase is as reliable as any writer out there.  Her early books were fresh, original, and very well researched.  Personal favorites are Lord of Scoundrels, The Last Hellion, Lord Perfect, and my most re-read historical romance, Mr Impossible.  And it is the shade of Mr Impossible that hangs over Scandal Wears Satin, but nothing can disguise the slight story, which seems to wander aimlessly for 200 pages on weakest premise ever seen, then wrap up much to simply.  There were far to many, “You must joking” moments, and far too few moments of any real connection with the characters.  It wasn’t frothy, just a big ball of empty puff.  Even the romance was weak and had no real fire.  Mr Impossible had heart, laughs, and interesting plot and a great setting.  Scandal Wears Satin had a lot of detail about clothes and totally bland and unexciting characters playing out a minor plot for far too many pages.  Best I can muster for Ms Chase’s latest book is C- (2.8*) and a suggestion she go back to her more historical based books and leave the froth to others.

Once Burned, book 1 in the Night Prince series by Jeaniene Frost isn’t so much a new series and it is a spin off of her highly successful Cat and Bones Night Huntress books.  Spin-offs don’t just happen with TV shows, they happen with books all the time.  Generally speaking, Frost writes a lightweight paranormal with romance elements and a certain percentage of gore.  I’ve always felt it was used to cover up what the books lacked in character and plot.  She can’t seem to hold suspense well, and even her most ardent fan would have to admit, the books are kind of shallow.  By turning to the darker, more bloodthirsty Vlad Tepesh – who we met in the Night Huntress books – she ups the gruesome factor without with amping up the plot and characters to match.  Three-quarters of the way through, I was still waiting for the core of the story to start unfolding.  It was rather frustrating to say the least.  By the end, it was like a meal that might have filled you up, but not satisfied you appetite.  It just wasn’t an entertaining read.  I’m breaking with the majority of reviewers on Amazon and giving Once Burned a C (3.0*) and say this is for hardcore Jeaniene Frost fans only.  There are far better series out there, so give it a pass.

More to come, but I have to get away from dentists and oral surgeons long enough to be able to sit back and get some reading done!

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