Friday, July 31, 2009

The House on the Shore by Victoria Howard

Book Review by Zinta Aistars

· Paperback: 360 pages
· Publisher: Vanilla Heart Publishing, 2009
· Price: $15.95
· ISBN-10: 1935407244
· ISBN-13: 978-1935407249

I was looking forward to reading my copy of The House on the Shore for a couple of reasons: the main character is a female writer, and she happens to live in a remote cabin, or croft, set back in something of a European wilderness. I could relate, and we all enjoy reading about characters to whom we can relate.

That was where my pleasure in this read ended. Before I’d reached the bottom of the first page, I knew this wasn’t going to be the literary style I much prefer. Well, okay. Still hope for a good storyline. Quickly enough, however, I sensed this was a book more in the romance genre… and those who follow my reviews will know how I feel about the romance genre. Cold. Very cold. In a lifetime of avid reading, I have yet to read a single romance that impresses me with its quality and literary value (and a good love scene is one of the most difficult types of scenes for a writer to write well—very few succeed). Why that is, I don’t know. Maybe there is just something about the audience for this genre that I simply don’t understand. Or, maybe it is unfair to expect gourmet food when you have just walked into what is obviously a fast food joint. Maybe I simply need to revise my expectations to something more realistic and fitting the genre. I’m not entirely sure, though, that the author intended this to be a true romance, perhaps also a suspense thriller or mystery.

Mustering up my efforts to remain open minded, my enthusiasm flagged again within the first chapters. I am not acquainted with the publisher, Vanilla Heart Publishing, but they seem to have no proofreaders or editors in their employ. The pages of this book are so riddled with errors, typos, missing words and scene glitches (in one scene, the main character is driving the very same Land Rover that she is searching for after a mysterious car crash), that it soon becomes distracting from the story itself. A good editor might also have made revisions to such implausible inaccuracies such as having the character wonder if an overheard language might be Polish or Estonian. Sensibly, one might wonder between two similar languages. These two languages couldn’t possibly sound more different; there is no mistaking one for the other.

Let’s move to the storyline, then. The author creates a romance-mystery with a main character, Anna, who has discovered her boyfriend cheating on her, angrily dumps him, her job and her apartment, finds herself without income as result, and so moves to Scotland, where she has recently inherited a small house called a croft, tucked away on a Highland loch. It seems the perfect time to write a book that she’s been thinking about for some time and test her ability to make it as an author. A beautiful and remote place, by all description, and the nearest town has its own cast of characters. Soon enough, however, we veer into cliché.

Want to guess? Tall, dark, achingly handsome stranger (named Luke, a predictable romance name, I would guess) comes loping across her land to knock on her door. He is also obviously achingly rich, as seen from the wonderful yacht that has become stranded in the loch with some broken part that, conveniently, is not available for many weeks.

“He stopped a foot from her door, close enough for her to smell the lemon spice of his cologne. Now that she could see him more clearly, she noticed the laughter lines around his eyes and mouth, hinting at a softer side to his character. His body was lean, the outline of his muscles visible through the shirt he wore. A faint white scar creased his right cheek, and she thought it gave his face a handsome rugged look. He gazed at her with dark brown eyes and smiled, slow and warm, and for some reason her breathing quickened.” (page 21)

We then witness an inexplicably rude and grumpy conversation. I have no idea why they must be rude to each other, but they are, and I suspect because this, too, is part of that cliché romantic encounter—two people who bristle with conflict and anger that then turns into bodice-ripping passion later. Which, of course, it does. I only wish there were some plausible reason for the rude exchanges and behavior. Nearest phone is 12 miles away, and Anna gives him one heck of a hard time about giving him a ride. He’s done nothing but come to her to ask for use of her phone (apparently, expensive yachts have no communication systems on board). Shrug.

So the story continues. On one hand, Anna is portrayed to be a strong, independent, smart woman. Then, with Luke around, she turns into a wincing little girl, annoyingly helpless, prone to tears and screams and faint spells. Disturbingly, he at times turns into a bully, borderline abusive, physically grabbing her and chiding her for her behavior, becomes overly possessive, and so on… behavior that I would think would have any self-respecting woman head for the door rather than skip a heart beat. Flip side, he can be overly protective, and on very first meeting with Anna’s best friend, Morag, who doesn’t know him at that point from Adam, tells him to “take care of Anna.” Sorry, but the feminist in me by now is rolling my eyes. I would think a woman living in the wilderness alone, by profession something of an adjunct professor back in the States, can take pretty good care of herself. There’s a dichotomy here that perhaps says something about why the women’s movement has shown serious signs of failing these days…

I’m sure I don’t need to fill in anymore. There are bad guys who are bad through and through, dripping evil so that our loyalties are clear, and Luke is brilliant and gorgeous as he protects his little woman, who manages to scream at sometimes the most absurd moments. And often. And loud. Oh, come on.


I try to find something positive in all that I read, and I’ll try hard here. I’m sure there is a place for this type of story. Romances, after all, sell, as the cliché goes, like hotcakes. There are obviously readers who don’t long for the finer turn of a phrase, the deeper exploration of a character’s psyche, and even look for the predictable outcome (you’ll find it here, too). For such, this is maybe better than most. Just not for my taste.


Anonymous said...

Excuse me? Review copy? Didn't you win that copy in the Goodreads giveway, specifically under romantic suspense? If you do not enjoy reading that genre, why did you enter and accept a copy when you won? Seems to me that deprived someone else who enjoys the genre the pleasure of reading it.

I don’t mind a scathing review; actually they’re usually interesting, but this one is so biased against the genre that it’s laughable.

Next time, be a little unselfish. Don’t enter for a genre you do not enjoy reading.

Zinta Aistars said...

No, this copy was actually sent to me by the author. It was not a Goodreads win.

Anonymous said...

Here's the link that shows you won the copy. If you do not know how it works, you enter to win a free copy of a book and usually people enter to win a copy of a book in a favorite genre.

Then, if your name is selected, Goodreads notifies the author, who in turn, pays the postage to send the copy to you. It was NOT a review copy.

Here's the link, again, that shows you were the winner:

Zinta Aistars said...

I had an exchange with the author. And this changes my review's validity how exactly? And your name is?

Anonymous said...

I'm someone who also entered to win. I actually would have enjoyed reading it.

Stretching the truth or downright lying in one instance diminishes your credibility in others. Now I have no faith in anything you say - about the book or anything else.

So next time, realize readers aren't dumb and can easily check facts.

You had an exchange with the author? I'll check that fact as well.

Zinta Aistars said...

Feel free to send me your address and I'll be happy to send you my copy.