20 February, 2013

Review: Five Star Romance by Jacquelin Thomas

I didn't finish Five Star Romance. After struggling with the opening pages, I threw in the towel on page 136. It's rare for me to do a review on a DNF book but I wanted to discuss how the style of the book kept me from engaging in the content. Thomas is working with classic romance elements. Her lead, Blaze, is the family's lost boy. He blames himself for the troubles of his past far more than his family does. This leads him to value his privacy, where he can control the face he puts out to the world. Livi is a rich girl trying to make it on her own, without the protection of her family connections. When an enemy of his family reveals their secret marriage, Blaze find his personal life on the front pages.

Thomas gives herself a lot to work with. Both characters have a reason to have initially interacted and reasons not to have seen each other since. Both have strong family units that offer support and encouragement. Wealth is not an issue that divides them or hinders their freedom to live as they wish. Five Star Romance is a classic case of great on paper. Thomas relies heavily on telling over showing. Her characters interact with others (and each other) only in very brief exchanges. The vast majority of the story is told in informational dumps. For example, an important confrontation between Livi and Blaze takes place in less than a full page. In that space Blaze has arrived to apologize for assumptions he made that have driven Livi away. She refuses to speak to him and he leaves. Major changes in motivation and assumptions hinge on handfuls of dialogue followed by paragraphs of exposition.

We don't see Blaze or Livi evolve, we are told they are. And they evolve rapidly. On one page Blaze wants a divorce. On another he's committed. In the same space of time Livi flips from committed to finished. Their actions and motivations don't engage the reader because the reader never experiences the transformation with them. As well, their world is inconsistent. Livi works with Blaze's family. She's been part of their business longer than they have. Livi has had two years to study any aspect of Blaze's life she chooses. As a result, some of Livi's actions make no sense. At times she appears star struck by the world Blaze lives in but it's a world she was born to and has worked around for some time. Thomas chooses odd details unconnected to the world she's building.

"A few minutes later, Blaze and Livi walked back inside and headed straight to the dance floor.
At the end of the evening, guests were given a choice of an iPad case or a notepad, pen and flash drive set by Ungaro as a party favor. Blaze gave Livi one of each.
When they were inside his car, he glanced over at Livi and asked, “Are you ready to go home?”" Page 103, Five Star Romance

Nothing about the party favors matter to the plot. Caring about the party favors doesn't fit with the background of the characters so the inclusion seems aimed at the readers. The first 130 pages of Five Star Romance are filled with these secondary details used as a substitute for natural scene transitions. This happens, so now that happens. Then this other thing. And they were thinking that. But then they did this. Livi and Blaze never really come alive, they stay puppets moved through a pantomime tale. 

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