In the interest of complete transparency, you should know that Melanie Jacobson and I are friends. Like, the kind of friends who save seats for each other at conferences, and talk on the phone for four hours in one night, and stop at each other's houses as we're passing through town and have lunch together. Those friends.
And we're friends who met blogging, so once again, give it up for what brings us all together today.
Now, in the continued interest of continued transparency, you should know that Melanie knows that she writes a type of book that I don't really like very much.
Melanie writes LDS Chick Lit. And I'm not wild about LDS fiction or Chick Lit.
For one thing, if someone isn't murdered in the first ten pages of a book, that author had better have a darn good explanation. For another thing, I like my protagonists' flaws to be something other than their crippling beauty, charming banter, and unfortunate tendency to inspire totally hot guys to make complete donkeys of themselves.
And that's Chick Lit in spades, no matter what religion the star practices.
I prefer my female characters to have problems with accidentally blowing up buildings while they floss their teeth. I've written a couple of 'romantic' scenes, and in one in particular the only way I survived the couple kissing was that right after they did so, someone took a shot at them.
And honestly, Mormons don't often work on paper. We tend to come off as impossibly perfect, impossibly dull, or impossibly weird. And if I want to spend an afternoon with someone like that, I'll just --
-- see? That's the other thing about LDS fiction. You can't say things like I was about to say at the end of that last sentence. Because on paper, Mormons are also impossibly nice.
And yet, both Melanie and I are totally fine with the idea of my reviewing her new book, "The List."
I can't tell you why Melanie is OK with this. It may be due to her extreme optimism and confidence in the inherent goodness of all God's children, even those who read her manuscripts and return them covered in red ink and crying for their mommy. She's awesome that way.
However, I'll tell you exactly why I'm OK with reviewing "The List."
Page twenty-eight of "The List" contains, without question, some of the most brilliant prose ever crafted by any writer in the history of crafting brilliant prose.
Allow me to quote: "He shrugged. 'I like Sister Powers's class. She's rad.'"
Didja see that? RAD! Sister Powers is RAD! Wait! It gets better!
Quoting from page twenty-nine: "'I love Sister Powers. She's such a good teacher...'"
Holy Cri-ZAP! I know you're all aflutter, wondering, "Just who is this awesome Sister Powers, anyway??" I'll give you a moment to compose yourselves.
OK, ready for more? Also quoting from page twenty-nine: "I could understand why Matt enjoyed (Sister Powers's) lessons. Her balance of humor and insight kept the pace moving. After a few more stragglers wandered in, the class was nearly full, a cool trick for an Old Testament teacher."
Cool Trick? Cool Trick?? I'd say the woman is freaking Houdini!
Isn't she FANTASTIC?? Don't you just LOVE this Sister Powers? Doesn't she just FLING herself off the PAGE in an EXPLOSION of CHARACTER and GRATUITOUS CAPITALIZATION?
And while it doesn't actually say so, I think we all agree that the implication is that Sister Powers also has FABULOUS legs.
So, any guesses who this mysterious "Sister Powers" is based on? Would it help if I told you that my maiden name is 'Powers,' that I won a contest on Melanie's blog back while she was writing "The List" wherein I was allowed to name a character, and that those legs up there are actually attached to my very own personal --- feet?
How about the fact that I've taught multiple Old Testament classes, and am so enamored of it that when Melanie was expecting her last child and she told us that the baby's name was 'out of the Bible,' I guessed it would be "Ur of the Chaldees Jacobson?"
Oh, all right. You dragged it out of me. "Sister Powers" is really Leonardo diCaprio. But you knew that already, huh? Sigh. She was so wonderful in Inception.
Now, here's what I think of the other 287 pages of "The List."
First, there is a lot of Melanie in "Ashley." Although on Annie's blog Mel denies liking sushi, having waited tables, or ever learning to surf, there is no getting past the reality that Melanie is smart, sassy, and can rock a pair of hot tamale heels like nobody's business. Add to that the fact that she met her husband on the internet and lives in Southern California, and -- well, you do the algebra.
More things I like about Melanie's book: I like that Ashley has a life plan that includes marriage and a family, but that also includes getting an education and gaining a bit of real-world experience.
Along those lines, I like that Matt is smart. I find smart men incredibly sexy.
I like that if you read this book, you could learn a couple of things about being a Mormon, but that it doesn't preach. For that matter, there is relatively little 'Mormon-ese' in the book, which, given my feelings about LDS fiction, I found refreshing.
Like I said, Melanie is a very intelligent woman, and it comes through in bright neon in her writing.
There are a couple of side-stories that I found especially touching, like the romance between another young man and a lovely, deaf girl. I hope Melanie won't mind my telling you all that both of her parents were deaf, so this character matters.
So does the band's lead singer, Kenny.
Here's what I would like to see in future writing from Melanie:
- I would like to see her male characters not quite so eager to get the girl. Considering Matt's numerous charms and countless female options, he seems totally wiped out by the one girl he can't have. Come on, dude. Make her work for it a little!
- I would like a little more pizazz in her secondary characters. "Megan" really should have given Ashley a run for her money. I confess to a perverse pleasure in seeing the "Ashleys" of the world put through their paces by some real competition, in fiction and in life.
- Where my writing tends to be narrative-intensive, Melanie's stories are stuffed full of dialogue. This is a compliment; I honestly think she should consider writing screenplays. NaNoWriMo does a screenplay challenge every April, and while she has a pretty tight schedule with her writing contract, I would love to see her take a stab at script writing. Her books would make great romantic comedy-type movies.
It's as plain as the feet on my legs.