Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Lost In Time: Historical or Contemporary?

Reading all the praises for Susan Elizabeth Phillips' books on Amazon from those who claimed that reading the genre would not be complete without her novels, I was excited to try for myself. And I was looking forward to read what was considered to be the 'leading voice.' But what I found was both enjoyable and disappointing. 

While I know it's impossible to like every single book written by an author, I've yet come to one where I'm split halfway between liking her and hating her. Usually with authors that I continually read from, even the books that I don't like, there's an obvious reason for my dislike. Perhaps it's evident that the author didn't have sufficient time to plot out their book before their deadline. Or maybe it's because something about the characters just didn't appeal to my personal tastes. 

But that is not the case for Phillips. It's not the characters. It's not an obvious time rush. It's just the book itself.

While they are not all winners, not even close, the one that surprised me the most was Kiss An Angel. I remember reading it, about forty or so pages in, and flipping the cover around to check that I was actually reading the correct genre. I had to look for the 'contemporary' label on the spine of the book just to make sure. I was so surprised. And not in a good way at first. 

Kiss An Angel has a plot straight out of a historical novel. Daisy Devreaux, the rich socialite, is arranged into a marriage by her father. She's never laid eyes on this guy and doesn't even know his name when she recites her vows. Alex Markov doesn't want Daisy. He doesn't want a wife. But he agrees for personal reasons and makes it clear to Daisy that they will stay married only long enough to satisfy her father and after that, they part ways. No engaging of feelings, just a business agreement, through and through.

As if that plot isn't taken right out of a Regency novel, did I mention that Alex comes from a circus family and has taken Daisy to live, work, and breathe in the Ringling Bros-esque environment? Let's not forget the fact that Daisy's afraid of animals...

I thought that this book was a joke. A total waste of paper. And not to mention, a waste of my time. My only consolation was that I didn't actually purchase it for retail price. But even after reading hundred pages, I thought that the library bookstore overcharged me by pricing the book at fifty cents. 

Good thing I was stuck with a large block of time in which I had nothing to do but read the only book I had on hand. Good thing I stuck it out. Once I got over the feeling that I was reading a historical novel where the characters just so happened to have contemporary jargon and wore jeans and t-shirts instead of corsets and knee-high riding boots, I did find that there was something unique, if not misplaced, in this book. 

There are the typical misunderstandings in the book. Alex has pulled Daisy along, letting her think that the circus is actually his profession and life. He has brought her along because he has his own agenda, but also because he knows that the rich girl won't stand for doing manual labor. And he's right. At first. Daisy balks at having to wake up at the crack of dawn to tend to the animals and living on the constant go. Alex is relentless. He wants Daisy to work and he doesn't take no for an answer. 

It's terribly hard not to feel for Daisy's character. She's vulnerable and definitely not the spoiled rich girl that Alex thinks she is. When Daisy realizes that she has no choice but to accept her surroundings, she constantly tries and fails. She tries harder and fails greater. Phillips definitely pulls heart strings when Daisy takes hit after hit from Alex, the animals, and the other circus members. But at the same time, the reader doesn't hate Alex. It's apparent from the beginning that Alex is the type of hero that has a hard exterior. It's in the quiet moments between him and Daisy, when they're not fighting, that readers see his tender side. When Daisy is injured time after time, it's Alex who comes to her aid, though he does so reluctantly mostly. But there are plenty of behind the scenes moments where Alex shows that even though he's trying to maintain his distance from Daisy, he can't help but slowly admire her inner strength. The circumstances in which the reader comes to feel for both characters must be read to fully understand. Sometimes I think Phillips went a bit overboard with gathering sympathy, but I've come to realize that it's an almost standard with her writing. 

It's all in the characters. Especially towards the end, when the final blow is given, the way that the characters are in a sense, reversed, just breaks the reader's heart. I for one, no matter how many times I've picked it up, cannot help but be immensely moved by Daisy and Alex. 

The equal growth of the characters and their very slow evolution of trust and admiration of each other made for a good read. Once I got over the feeling that it was more suited as a historical novel, I found that the little things really did make this one of my top Phillips. 

3.5 out of 5: A general feeling of a plot anachronism, but if that can be overlooked in the eyes of the reader, there is genuine feelings to be experienced with the characters. The larger plot itself is not that fantastic. It's the characters that move the story instead. Keeper copy. Reread when in the mood for emotional character trials.

No comments: