Friday, February 13, 2009

Book Review: A Different Kind of Honesty

A Different Kind of Honesty
Jane Richardson

PRINT ISBN 1-60154-218-6
(272 pages) Spicy
[I would call it mildly spicy -lkh]

At the beginning of my quest to read/review contemporary Ebooks and invite the author to respond, I’ve just finished reading A Different Kind of Honesty by Jane Richardson. Billed as a Contemporary Romance, I found the classification rather narrow for what it actually encompasses. But then, I suppose Contemporary Suspense Travel Psychological Romance would be a bit much to use in marketing.

It is all of these things, and it’s one of those books that will keep you up later at night than you plan and leave you pondering the story during the day while taking care of more mundane activities. I consider a story I wake up thinking about pretty successful.

Maggie, Honesty’s heroine, is such a mix of personality traits that it makes her truly a well-rounded character. Her past affects her current decisions and her present shows her being fully present. She’s spontaneous and cautious, fun and mournful, and the kind of person you’d love as a friend. Sidekick Danny Chang is a delightful addition and I would love to hear more from him. Tony, the hero, remains fairly elusive, despite glimpses into his POV that explains his decision process. I didn’t get a strong grasp of him, which left me to fill in my own thoughts of who he was. Whether or not that was intentional on the author’s part, it was effective in maintaining the suspenseful mood.

What I really liked other than the characters: detail, description, and luscious scents. Richardson did her homework , as is apparent in the details of police work, with enough to keep it sounding real but not so much to make the reader skim over unnecessary bits of info. I loved the comparison/contrast of the three settings, London and New York in particular, but also the end setting, which I won’t reveal here. Many authors forget to let us smell the scenes. Not so in Honesty. When Maggie is cooking or shopping, we are there with her and wish we could taste what we’re smelling. Also, there is the reality of Maggie noting different kinds of scents than Tony does, true to their characters.

There were a couple of things I would suggest to the author/editor as far as a critique. First, there were a few places the POV wavered a touch and I had to remind myself who the POV character was at the moment. It wasn’t enough to throw me out of the story, though. There were also minor editing things such as skipped periods and different spellings of the same word. Of course, as Richardson is a UK author and the editor is US based, along with the story jumping from one country to the other, the word change might have been intentional, as well, and something I would guess most readers wouldn’t bother to notice.

Overall, this was a fun read, at times emotional, and well-written. As a language and travel lover, I thoroughly enjoyed the interplay of British and American phrases and scenes that added to the fun of the story.

A Different Kind of Honesty is Ms. Richardson’s debut novel. We can only hope her next won’t be far behind.


[Stop back by to find out if Jane Richardson will grace us with an interview/Q-A session!]


Unknown said...

Loraine--it's Jane! Beautifully written review--well done. This is a good idea for a blog--I'm studying the blog idea. Like I didn't have neough to do. I like yours very much. Celia

LK Hunsaker said...

Thank you, Celia! I look forward to your blog. ;-)

Jane Richardson said...

Loraine, as you know, events have conspired to keep me away from cyber-world recently! I’m so, so sorry to take so long to get here. At last I’m catching up, and I must thank you so much for your review of A Different Kind of Honesty. To have someone say they’ve woken up thinking about my book is praise indeed. :)

You made some really interesting comments, some of which I’ve never had before. First, I really appreciated what you said about the heroine, Maggie. It was very important that she was a truly well-rounded character. I’d imagine the majority of readers of Honesty would be female – though there’s no particular reason why they should be - so she had to be someone other women could truly identify with. That sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But I’ve read so many books where I’ve perhaps liked the heroine, I’ve maybe even understood her, I can see why she’s doing what she does – but deep inside, she’s not spoken to me on a level that matters. I really wanted Maggie to reach out, for other women to truly identify with her. They may not know her world, her job, her background, but I didn’t want that to get in the way. What mattered to me most is that someone else could read about Maggie, and say ‘yes – I recognise that feeling, that emotion, that experience.’ She’s not perfect, she’s contrary, she’s often her own worst enemy and you could just about smack her, but I wanted her to be real. From what you said, maybe that’s worked.

You mentioned the occasional point-of-view waver. I’m pretty sure I don’t shift POV between characters, because that’s actually something I can’t bear to read myself! It's resulted in many a book being thrown across the Richardson household to ricochet off a wall and land in the nearest garbage receptacle! Harsh, sure, but there you go. ;-) But one thing I’m pretty sure I DO do is move between deep pov and out into a wider, maybe more of a narrator pov. There are a couple of chapters in Honesty where there’s a fairly large cast appearing on the stage, and I think I’ve tended in those instances to step back a little, let them play, and keep just a loose rein on the main pov character. I don’t have any other excuses, except perhaps that in a book where emotions run high on a pretty regular basis, it’s possibly no bad thing for the reader to have a chance to lean back, breathe out and take things a touch more lightly for a while. It’s a good point you raised, and I’ll be aware of in the future.

The character of Tony being a little more elusive, less easy to grasp – yes, you have something there. It’s intentional in that he is a slightly more isloted individual, a man who's lived a dual identity. The nature of his job (an undercover FBI agent) has forced that on him. He’s been living two lives, and his private life has suffered because of that. He’s also still caught up in the fall-out from the case he’s been working on, and so in a sense, he’s still forced to be those two people. Yet he finds his ‘true self’ in his relationship with Maggie. By the end of the book he’s a little more relaxed, he’s taking big steps to make major changes, he’s allowing himself to step away from his past. But that’s at the end of the story, and if I’d made him suddenly open up much earlier, I’m not sure he would have rung true.

Interestingly, many romance readers have loved him, even though I knew he’s not so easy to grasp. I wonder if the ‘filling in your own thoughts of him’ made him somehow more romantic to some readers? It’s possible! I wasn’t trying anything tricksy with him, it’s really just the way he came out, and yes, that elusive quality that one special woman finds and touches with ‘a different kind of honesty’ is really what his story is all about.

To some of your other points – yes, there were some issues with US/UK characters, words, etc. Some are intentional – Maggie lives in a London ‘flat,’ not in an ‘apartment, for example, but she’ll use the word ‘apartment’ when people in the US are talking to her. I’m sure other things slipped through, and some things simply had a view taken and a decision made. But it would have been very wrong of me to have my London characters speak American words while in London, or the other way around. Yes, there is a certain amount of slippage between the US/UK settings, and the US/UK writer-editor relationship. But as you say, I think most readers wouldn’t notice or care. :)

One interesting thing was the immense value in having a wonderful US reader for this book – there were things I simply wouldn’t have known about. I glibly wrote about a ‘Perspex’ canopy over a pay-phone, and my US reader had no idea what ‘Perspex’ was. Thank goodness she checked and saw that what I really meant was 'Plexiglas.’ Yes, there were other things I did change for the sake of a predominantly US readership – ‘cell phone’ instead of ‘mobile,’ for example. But hey, I read a lot of US authors, and I can work out the foreign words! I bet many US readers can handle the UK expressions, and as I’m told UK comedy/TV/etc is pretty popular in the US, then maybe it’s okay. So far I’ve had no-one say ‘what the heck is one of those??’ – apart maybe from Perspex!

Danny Chang, Maggie’s best friend, was a character that came out of nowhere. He wasn’t planned - he arrived on the page fully-formed, and wrote himself as I went along. He’s been just as popular a character as the protagonists, and I have no idea where in the heck he came from, or, incidentally, why he had to be British-Chinese! He just said he was, so I believed him. By the way, he might have a short story of his own soon. He’s been a rare gift.

The senses – well, you know me personally, so you know how important scent is to me! And haunting scents are a big thing in the book, because I believe that scent can conjure up a feeling, a memory, a joy or a sadness far more than any other of the senses. I’m glad you mentioned how Tony notices different scents to Maggie, and vice versa. Yes, that is quite deliberate. Then we have Italian food, a multi-ethnic London, plants, flowers, perfume.....the reader had to be a part of that! You’ve mentioned the differences between the UK/US settings, and then the final setting, which I won’t reveal either – those were such fun to research and to write, and one of them in particular is a great love of mine, so was a joy.

I wanted this book to be about finding truth, coming to know yourself, and finding that reflected in one special person. I also very much wanted that to tie in with a sense of ‘coming home.’ ‘Home’ isn’t necessarily where you were born, but it’s a place you know the second you find it. ‘Home’ can also be within the heart. I hope that came through.

Thank you so very much for your review, Loraine! It’s been fascinating for me to go back and re-visit the story and the characters, and it’s been no bad thing at all to look at it with a different perspective from the one I had over a year ago when I finished it. I’m happy to know that it worked. Oh, and as for the next one – can I say, ‘work-in-progress???’!!!!

Thanks again, and all the best!

Jane x

LK Hunsaker said...

"What mattered to me most is that someone else could read about Maggie, and say ‘yes – I recognise that feeling, that emotion, that experience.’ "

Jane, yes, that worked well. It was very easy to relate to her. I love heroines with real flaws, especially when they know and accept them, as Maggie does. :-)

The POV shift was likely what you mentioned, veering from close to distant perspective. I think POV is such a subjective thing. Like you, I get annoyed when it shifts in the middle of a scene but many readers like it, or accept it. I should've written notes on where I saw them ... possibly I was reading too tired. ;-)

Tony being not easy to grasp was very realistic. We have to try to figure him out while Maggie is trying to figure him out and I think it's a nice literary device. Too often, romantic heroes are "too" filled out so there's nothing left to imagine. That can work, also, depending on the reader's wants. I like trying to figure things out on my own!

I understand about the US/UK differences and am dealing with that in my series set in both the States and Scotland. Of course, as I'm in the States writing for a primarily US audience, I use all US spellings but add an accent for the Scottish characters. I'm sure some readers won't appreciate the accent, and maybe UK readers especially won't. But it's a reality that the Scots accent stands out to us over here and is generally considered very charming, so I wanted to play on that. I keep waiting for someone to jump me for it. ;-)

I do adore your Danny and will jump at reading a story about him sometime in the future! I have a comedian-type character who did that as well, and he's one of my faves. I wonder if something in our psyches is pushing that in to balance the drama of the stories?

I pay more attention to scent now in my own work because of our chats. A big thank you for that!

And I love your definition of home.

Jane, I know you have lots going on and I'm so appreciative that you stopped by and took the time to chat about your book.