Wednesday, April 19, 2017

#TBRChallenge 2017: The Story Guy

The Book: The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers

The Particulars: Contemporary romance novella, LoveSwept, 2013, part of the Lakefield novella series, digital only

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: When this novella came out everyone and their dog was reading it and squee'ing about it.  I wasn't purchasing a lot of ebooks during that period outside of Harlequin - but at the 2013 RWA Conference, Loveswept was giving away special print editions and I snagged one.

The Review: I haven't been reading. I haven't finished a book since late March and then it was an audiobook.  I'm in a cranky reading mood at the moment, so keep that in mind while reading this review.  I feel like I probably should have liked this more but there were things here that rubbed me the wrong way.  And since everyone and their dog seems to have loved this story - well, this could be another case of Wendy being cranky about hyped books.  Cranky Wendy gonna crank.

Carrie West is the type of heroine who keeps trying to convince the reader she's "happy" with her life but she's not really.  She's lonely.  And she strikes me as the sort of person who stays on the surface of everyone's life but never lets anyone get truly close.  For amusement, this thirty-something single librarian who lives in a studio apartment likes to read personal ads of the Craigslist variety.  When she reads Brian's ad, she responds.  Brian wants to meet someone on Wednesdays for kissing. Just kissing.  The first time Carrie and Brian meet in the park near the library where she works - their kisses are enough to set the park bench on fire.  But Brian has baggage.  Baggage that he is unwilling to share with Carrie, no matter how drawn he is to her.

On the surface this is just the sort of unique plot spin that I should find appealing, but the writing never really resonated with me.  There's a confessional style here, but the dialogue smacks too flowery, too convoluted.  For example, during an IM chat Brian says:
I can't...I'm not a one-night-stand guy.  I'm not wired to enjoy that.  I seems weird, I know, because what we did isn't that far away on the map from one-night-stand.  There is always this moment, when you take a woman home just to take a woman home, some moment right before it could get awesome but you don't know yet if it will, that you, or maybe not you, but me, gets all still inside.  Quiet.  And for me, that moment always seems like it lasts forever.  And it's enough time for me to live some kind of life from that moment to the end of time and back again.  With this woman I've taken home or gone home with, with my one-night stand, someone who isn't mine, but for that one crazy long heartbeat, I want to be mine.
My first thought was "What the hell did I just read?," my second thought was "Who the hell talks like this in Real Life?," and my third was "What GUY talks like this in Real Life?"  It's entirely possible I've only known Neanderthal Men who communicate through a series of semi-intricate grunts, but seriously.  No guy talks like this.  Says Wendy.  And it's my blog, so it must be true.

But everyone and their dog loves this novella so I persist until I get to the stereotypical Gay Best Friend who doles out pearls of wisdom like:
The part of yourself that opens herself up to a man based on nothing but a little intuition that there is goodness in him and that he kisses like the world's ending.  Do you want to know that part?  Because you don't have to.  You're right.  Your life is a nice one - there are no guarantees, but it's on the right path to stay a nice one.  Brian is not on this path.
Great.  So basically we've got a Gay Best Friend crossbred with Yoda.  Gay I am.  Offer sage advice I will.  Hmmmmm!  (Read that in a Yoda voice - it totally works!)

I'll admit, I'm cranky.  But I also don't feel like this is some deep love connection.  Basically these two kiss, feel some Insta-Lust, and I'm supposed to buy that it's a great love match.  And I'm not really convinced since it kind of smacks as a love at first sight thing (which I, admittedly, am not a big believer in).  I also had issues with Brian's Big Secret.  Delving too deeply into it veers all the way into Spoiler Territory, but in a nutshell?  I'm not buying it as Big Secret material.  Yes, his life is complicated but dude - man up.  Yes, your life is complicated and you have obligations but treating it all like some Deep Dark Secret just....well, it dehumanizes the other players in the Big Secret which just bothered the heck out of me.

I probably should grade this lower - but I can't.  I very well could be excessively cranky (well...more so than usual).  I feel like this is a story I should have enjoyed more than I did.  The plot should have worked for me and the style is in the same zip code as other authors I have enjoyed in the past (there are shades of Megan Hart, Molly O'Keefe and Charlotte Stein here).  But it just never gelled. I could just be cranky or...not.  I leave it up to you, dear blog reader, to decide.

Final Grade = C


Liz Mc2 said...

I (most unusually) read this when everyone else did, so I decided to put up a discussion post. And then I kind of regretted it, because the more I thought/talked about it, the more issues I had. And some of my friends loved it and I had been kind of friendly with the author and her friends on Twitter so it was all an object lesson for me in the perils of social media reading. But that's why I remember my reactions so well.

While I was reading this I absolutely swooned and loved it--and lots of credit to Rivers for that, because I am a reader who often resists being emotionally swept away. I agree the dialogue/writing is often highly artificial, but that didn't bother me in this context as much as it sometimes does: a short story, heightened emotional effects, it seemed to fit. Also, a lot of their communication is in writing and as someone who has been known (in my younger days) to write highly artificial, posing letters/emails, I guess I bought that these two would sound like this.

What ended up really bothering me is the Big Secret, for much the same reasons you were bothered--it seemed to really diminish the other person involved, and then the way that whole plot resolved seemed Convenient and made another person just a plot/emotional tool. (I know other readers did NOT feel that way). I also ended up being really bugged by Carrie's idea that as a librarian she was a keeper of stories and that somehow gave her the right to pry Brian's out of him for his own good and take charge of him. That view never really seemed challenged to me. So, yeah. She has some real gifts as a writer but this one ended up not working for me. And I think she didn't resist over-writing/over-thinking the story, which has made me wary of reading more.

Dorine said...

Sorry this didn't work for you, Wendy! Bravo that you finished and got your thoughts down. I must be experiencing the same crankiness, or maybe my problem is that I can't focus on anything written. I'm only halfway through my TBR challenge book so you're way ahead of me! LOL I keep hoping I'll get something done on time this year. :D

PK the Bookeemonster said...

Wipe this from your memory. Read CAKE: A LOVE STORY by J. Bengtsson. If you hate it, I won't recommend anything else again. Maybe. :)

Jill said...

Wendy, I was intrigued by "The Story Guy" but I didn't buy it when it came out. Since it's short, I mean check and see if my library has it.
I had so many DNFs for this challenge. Sooo many. Which is funny because contemporary used to be my jam, but I think some combination of getting older/BDSM billionaires swallowing the subgenre whole caused me to lose interest in it. I did read an awesome contemporary this month (Hold Me by Courtney Milan), but it was a library book, so I kept pressing on. DNFs are one way to work through the TBR pile.
I finally settled on "For the Win" by Sara Rider, which was cute, but not great. The heroine, Lainey Lukas, is an up and coming professional soccer player and her hero is Gabe Havelak, charming hometown hero and also a professional soccer player. The two of them have a really great meet cute (at a press event) and it quickly escalates into a "Battle of the Sexes" rivalry over a favored practice space.
The good? I liked Lainey. She was driven almost to the point of obsession with being the best, but it was well-motivated and it was also something Gabe loved and respected about her. He taught her to loosen up a little but I didn't think she had to "change for him." Also good, the first half has a lot of entertaining sexual tension.
The bad? I felt like the characters got together a little bit too early and then the plot relied a lot on external conflicts (a cursed field, really?). I almost hesitate to mention this, but I felt like some of the love scenes felt a little forced and over the top for me, but maybe that's more of my personal preference for a slow burn coming through. The love scenes didn't seem to fit the tone of the rest of the book.
I can't quite pin it down on a letter grade, somewhere between C and B- because the beginning was so great, I had high expectations that weren't met.
I'm looking forward to the next challenge!

Laura K. Curtis said...

I am so glad I wasn't the only one not enraptured with this story. I didn't actually finish it and then I felt bad because it's only a novella and I STILL couldn;t make myself do it.

MamaBlanks said...

So, I'm curious as to what you think of Carrie's tattoo.

I read this one when it came out and must be cranky right there with you because it took me a full week to finish and I gave it 2 stars. It didn't work for me as a romance at all. I also went into it expecting it to be like a Ruthie Knox book--I can't remember exactly why anymore; maybe these authors debuted at about the same time or something. Anyway, my expectations were not in line with what I got. At all.

S. said...

Hello Wendy!
I haven't read this novella, but I read two other books by her, Live and Laugh, both in the same "world". The writing seems to be her thing as an author so I think this wouldn't be a good story for me, as I found the other books boring. Trying a different style can work out and be great but I think this author is just a little too boring for me.

Happy reading!

Jazz Let said...

Sorry you are in 'not finishing books hell' sadly I'm right there with you, even for authors I love. Frustrating is the least of it, I swear it's affecting my health!

Wendy said...

Liz: Yes, the "convenience" of the resolution. And then you tack that on with the Big Secret in general and it's all...well a bit unsavory. It bothered me.

Dorine: I get like this occasionally where I just don't want to read. Anything. It's usually because I'm tired or cranky and admittedly I'm gearing up for a busy time at work. Lately all I seem to have the energy for is zoning out in front of the TV. Blah.

PK: I know, I know! You're wearing me down. Off to download...

Jill: I think a lot of us are suffering from Billionaire Fatigue. These days I can really only read them in category romance - but if it's a single title or an erotic romance I'm just so over them. I think it's because I view category through a high filter Fairy Tale Lens and the billionaire blokes are still OK in that context for me.

Laura: I persevered only because it was a novella and I didn't have time to complete another book for my own challenge. I should have gone with my first instinct and dug a Presents out.

MamaBlanks: As far as literary tattoos go, I did like that one. It's clever at least! I think you're correct - Knox and Rivers debuted with LoveSwept right around the same time.

S.: Yes, I felt very disconnected from the writing style, and the artificial sounding language that the hero uses - it just didn't work for me. I'll need to go digging in my TBR, I'm not sure if I have other books by her or not. If so, I'll likely try her again just to see.

Jazz: I had family in town this past month and work is gearing up - so yeah, my brain is all over the place at the moment. It's been hard to sit down and just sink into a story :(