Sunday, October 23, 2011
TBR Challenge 2011: The Kindness of Skin and the River-ness of Books
Yesterday, I finished Ava Gray's Skin Game (finally) for the October TBR Challenge, and immediately did two things. First, I looked up who Ava Gray was when she wasn't writing romantic suspense with light paranormal elements. She's Ann Aguirre. I'm not sure why she wanted a pseudonym for a new genre so close to what she'd previously been writing, but hey, it's a fairly transparent disguise. (And a side note: she looks nice, the sort of person you want to meet at a conference. Impressive but not intimidating.)
The second thing I did was look Ava Gray up at All About Romance, my go-to source for reviews. Their reviewer didn't like Skin Game as much as I did. (It's not a perfect book, but I still paid it the highest compliment possible: I wanted to read the sequel immediately -- and even paid FULL AGENCY PRICE for Skin Tight to be downloaded to my Kindle.)
So what was it about Skin Game that worked for me? I think it's how her characters are presented. I may be projecting here, but I got the impression that Gray really likes her characters, even the bad guys. Which may be why I think she herself must be a nice person -- as a writer, she seems to be pouring all kinds of love into her books.
That's a different issue from storytelling ability. Anne Stuart is a wonderful storyteller, but her relationship with her characters is a lot darker than what I saw while reading Skin Game. The storytelling in Skin Game isn't harmed by the affection Ava Gray has for her protagonists & secondary characters, either. I deduce (on this very limited sample) that the relationship the author has with her characters is unrelated to her ability to tell their story in a compelling way.
But somehow that affection, that warmth and appreciation, that Ava Gray has for her characters did affect my experience while reading about them. It didn't make me fall in love with them, or even miss them when the book was over. The effect was more about the vibe -- I wanted to get invited back to another of Ava Gray's parties. (And I've already started Skin Tight, the second in the series.)
Having read the AAR review, it's clear that my joyous experience with Skin Game wasn't universal -- the AAR reviewer liked it but in a fairly tepid way. That's cool; I'm a great believer that books are both stable and mutable, like the river in Siddhartha. The words are always the same, but each person's experience reading them is unique. No one can recreate that first-read experience.
You can never read the same book twice.