Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Co-Authors and Other Courageous Types

The other day I went looking for Julia Quinn’s Just Like Heaven, only to realize that it’s not out until next week. Duh. So when I saw that the library had The Lady Most Likely on the shelves, I was thrilled, mostly because I wanted to read this book when it came out but wasn’t sure if it was worth the money. In case you’re not aware, The Lady Most Likely is co-written by Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, and Connie Brockway. While neither Julia Quinn nor Eloisa James’ books are auto-buys for me, I enjoy their historical romances a lot so I was intrigued to see how this book would turn out, particularly since I’ve wondered for a long time how anyone could possibly write a book with another person without killing them. Apparently the three authors of this book are all still living (or at least posting on Facebook) and have even started writing another book together. Kudos to them, because I couldn’t do it, that’s for sure. And some of my favorite authors actually co-author and are MARRIED!! STILL! After publishing several books together! I have no idea how this could possibly work, because the DH and I would have some serious difficulties getting the blood stains out of the carpet were we foolish enough to attempt such a thing. But I saw The Lady Most Likely at the library only a few days after reading on Facebook that the three authors are starting another book together, so it seemed like the perfect time to read it. While at the library, I also saw Dogs and Goddesses, by Jennifer Crusie, Anne Stuart, and Lani Diane Rich, and thought I could do a blogpost on books by more than one author. So here it is!
Before reading the two novels, my opinion was that any novel written “by committee” would necessarily suffer. Both novels were enjoyable and I do recommend them, but I stick to my opinion. I’ve read novels by several of the authors, and while neither of these two novels really suffers horribly from being written by 3 people, they aren’t as good as the books written singly. I find this interesting, because one of my favorite all-time authors is Ilona Andrews, a husband and wife team who publish the Kate Daniels and the Edge series. (The fifth Kate Daniels book, Magic Slays, is coming out on May 31st and I am soooooo excited! Can’t wait!) Their novels are outstanding, and each book is written by both. I suspect that the difference in quality between Andrews’ work and the two novels I read this week stems from the writing process used by the authors. The writing team of Ilona Andrews always publishes together, whereas these ladies do not. They usually work alone and decided to work together on these two novels this one time. While I had difficulty telling the difference between writing styles in both novels, possibly because I’m not familiar with all of the authors involved, the overall product was not as good as that of Andrews’ work, which is why I checked them out of the library instead of purchasing the books.
Dogs and Goddesses by Jennifer Crusie, Anne Stuart, and Lani Diane Rich
It should be pretty clear why I chose this novel to read and review. I’m a big fan of Crusie’s writing and anything with dogs will usually draw me in. This novel is a contemporary romance and had a paranormal aspect to it. It appears that each author focused on an individual character, since the point of view would switch from one to the other with clear breaks between changes. The novel begins when Abby arrives in Summerville, Ohio. Abby’s grandmother has recently died, and Abby has come to Ohio to look over her grandmother’s estate. She brings her dog, Bowser, and while looking over her grandmother’s bakery, sees a flyer for dog obedience classes, which Bowser doesn’t need, but which strike her as a good way to meet people in town.
It turns out that the other two protagonists, Daisy and Shar, also have dogs, and the three of them meet at the dog obedience class. At the class, they meet an odd woman named Kammani, who turns out to be a goddess. After drinking a tonic, the three women can suddenly hear their dogs speaking to them and the women learn that they are demi-goddesses, whose families served Kammani in the past. The women also meet their love interests, who vary in degrees of likeability and character development, mostly failing to be interesting. When the women realize that Kammani is trying to regain her powers, they look for ways to send her back whence she came.
Despite my comments about the male characters, the novel was enjoyable and a lot of fun. The female characters were interesting and likeable, even if the premise of the story was a bit odd. Unfortunately, I think the book suffered from having 3 principal characters, because the secondary ones were underdeveloped. While the authors did a good job of switching point of view without disconcerting or abrupt changes in voice, the limits of space (one novel, three protagonists) made it difficult to flesh out the secondary characters and thus the romance. This also was the major failing in the second novel I’m reviewing.
The Lady Most Likely by Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, and Connie Brockway
This was a cute, lighthearted historical romance. Unfortunately, it was also short. I would have liked to see more development of the characters and storyline, and I feel like one of the three couples in the novel suffered because of how short the text is. The premise of the novel is that Hugh Dunne, the Earl of Briarly, has decided to marry and asks his sister to create a list of eligible brides so the search will be easier for him. She decides to host a house party and invites several young ladies for him to meet. She also has to invite other eligible bachelors so the dinner table will be even and to encourage match-making mamas to bring their daughters. Miss Gwendolyn Passmore is the lauded beauty of the season, and thus the forerunner for the Earl’s affections. Miss Katherine Peyton and Lady Georgina Sorrell are the other two female women on the list. The male characters include the war hero Captain Neill Oakes and the new Earl of Charters.  
Unlike Dogs and Goddesses, it was much clearer that different authors had written parts of the novel. However, there weren’t awkward jumps from couple to couple. In fact, the plot flowed smoothly, with us learning about each couple in turn. I would say that despite the different structures of the two novels, both did a fairly good job of maintaining interest in the plot and having smooth transitions for the reader. The reason it’s easier to spot that the novel was written in parts and then cobbled together has more to do with authorial decisions about how to develop the romance than anything else. Gwendolyn Passmore, the season’s beauty, is shy, and her relationship with the new Earl of Charters develops too quickly to be believable, especially if the reader buys that she is so very shy. Their romance happens so fast that the Earl declares his love and proposes to her in less than 36 hours. The other two couples, Captain Neill Oakes and Katherine Peyton and Hugh Dunne and Lady Georgina Sorrell, have past histories which are not explored in depth but allow the reader to find their romances more believable.
There are two anthologies featuring Julia Quinn’s Lady Whistledown character from her Bridgerton series that feature a similar theme to this novel but I believe are a bit more successful. The anthologies have four novellas that revolve around similar events, such as a Valentine’s Day ball, and are connected by short snippets written by Lady Whistledown before each chapter, but each novella stands on its own. The characters were more developed than the ones in the novel, and the romances given more time to develop.
I think it’s fair to say that these two novels are not quite as good as the other books published individually by the authors because of the writing process and novels’ structures. Unless the novel is considerably longer than either of these two, there simply isn’t room to develop three separate romances adequately. One protagonist with one or even several possible love interests is much more successful. The authors’ approach to writing these books seems to be one of developing  the ideas and sketching out the plot together, writing parts separately, then putting the parts together and editing the novel as a whole. Clearly this is a different process from authors such as Ilona Andrews, in whose novels it is difficult to pick out sections written by individuals.
Hopefully my comments about these novels won’t dissuade you from reading the books; I truly enjoyed them! They were fun reads for summer, and I’ll definitely be checking out the next book Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, and Connie Brockway publish together. (The other three don’t appear to have plans to publish together again soon.) I do plan on getting the next one from the library, however. $7.99 just seems like a lot of money when the authors’ individual novels are longer, more developed, and cost the same.

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