My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Initial reaction: Much better than the first book, but I’ll admit there were many points of this where it was rather formulaic and lacked a certain amount of consistency/plausibility.
Be also prepared for an extended discussion on song lyrics in fiction, because that was a good part of this particular work and it did play a part in my perception of the work overall.
I have to give it to Cora Carmack in that I think “Faking It” was better than “Losing It”, and more bearable than some reads in its peer category because it has more of a root in adult contemporary romance with a combination of chick-lit humor, musical elements, and coming to terms drama. Yet, there are formulaic elements that bothered me in this as much as its predecessor, and I’ll admit I had more than a few qualms that I’ll address through the forthcoming review.
The story picks up where the last book left off – taking the perspective of the heartbroken Cade as he struggles to move on from loving his former best friend Bliss Edwards. Yet, when he least expects it, Max – a tattooed rebel chick singer – walks over to him with a proposition: play the part of my boyfriend.
Given how much romance I read in a given scale, I actually liked this premise and figured I was in for a less cumbersome read than most of the New Adult romances I’ve read as of late. However, and rather unfortunate, I think the amount of cliches noted in this story both spanned New Adult and Adult Contemporary Romances.
Abrasive tattooed hero? (or in this case, heroine) – check!
Near sexual assault in which hero saves heroine? – check!
Tormented hero with dark past (or in this case, heroine)? – check!
Hero that starts off with flaws but somehow turns out to be the perfect person to heal the lover? – check, check, check!
I could cite more, but I think those were a part of some of the major plot points here. On one hand, if they were handled with more weight and didn’t stick out like sore thumb plot points, I probably wouldn’t have had as much of a problem with them.
At the same time, I have to give credit where credit’s due because I felt for Max’s grief within the struggles she has with her family. It felt far more realistic and was presented in a linear, progressive fashion without necessarily milking the sentiments of the reader. That I appreciated. I think the relationship that builds between her and Cade is natural in points, and I felt their chemistry even without some of conflict points (i.e. the near assault) they face.
Cade himself is a likable hero (and by no means abrasive save for said assault scene where he saves Max), but at the same time – I was a little skeptical of the progression of his individual character because while I saw plausible growth in Max, his character didn’t necessarily take the same progressive arc except with respect to his relationship with Max. He had flaws in the previous work, but suddenly seems to have these talents that come out of thin air. Call it a “Wonder Boy” complex (or I guess in Max’s words, it would be “Golden Boy”). He’s seemingly perfect in the way he sings, picks up a guitar, suddenly can become the “gentle lover” that Max needs to “heal”. And I wish his development wasn’t so contingent on that. I think it would’ve helped to have a little more vetting of his background which revealed those talents progressively, for example.
Now I hit my soapbox on a part of the book that also bothered me. Max is the lead singer of a popularly rising band. There are lyrics and portrayals here that emulate that experience in more ways than one. Yet, I had problems with the portrayal because I thought the song lyrics were emotionally flat and the play-by-play felt a bit over much in *showing* those particular scenes.
Here’s one of the challenges – writing about the experience of watching a stage performer can be difficult because you capture them in the moment. I’ve read a number of music biographies where journalists recall their experiences watching musicians on stage performing. There’s a separation to be had between the lyrics and the actual stage depiction of the artist. You DO NOT mix the two, otherwise it makes the scene go over long. That’s how I felt reading Carmack’s depiction of Max performing on stage when Cade first watched her performance. It threw me out of the scene and took me out of the impact of the emotion intended by that scene. It was overmuch on the telling and showing in that scene. In the case of depicting an artist on stage in their stance – less is more. You can do a separate summary of what a performer looks like on stage, whether they close their eyes or scan the crowd, the way they hold the mic or an instrument, etc. But playing it between the lyrics in multiple parts can actually cut away from the impact of both.
In contrast, with respect to the actual lyricism, you need more of it in order to convey the emotional weight of it – it needs to stand on its own with whatever part of it you choose to highlight, whether it’s a portion of the lyrics, or the lyrics printed in full. In fiction, shaping the lyrics in a story needs to be strong enough to carry itself, like poetry, because you neither have a melody or a voice to accompany the emotional resonance and quality of that piece. There’s a greater weight on the cadence, the meaning, the imagery, the subtlety, the rhyme (or if you don’t have rhymes, the syllables and meter), among other elements.
I’ll give a few examples to show you what I mean. *cracks knuckles and puts on her songwriting instructor hat*
I’m going to hope it’s okay for me to do this with a few examples from recording artists and then lead into what Carmack did.
Fitz and the Tantrums, on their latest album “More than Just a Dream”, have a song called “The Walker” that conveys a meaning that’s matched in that actual rhythm of the song as well in the lyrics. If you think about measuring beats: one, TWO, three, FOUR, one, TWO, three, FOUR – it actually mimics a “walking” beat. Try keeping that rhythm while reading the following lyrics (though if you guys want, you can cheat and actually listen to the song on Spotify or elsewhere):
“Ooh, crazy’s what they think about me
Ain’t gonna stop ’cause the tell me so
Cause 99 miles per hour, baby
Is how fast that I’d like to go
Can’t keep up with my rhythm
Though they keep trying
Too quick for the lines they throw
I walk to the sound of my own drum
It goes, they go, we go…”
Cadence and beat are just as important here as the actual lyricism, and gives it a clever play in scenario, meaning, and beat.
This is important even in songs where you don’t necessarily have rhymes, like the first several lines of Radiohead’s “Bodysnatchers” from their “In Rainbows” album, where the three syllablic structure dominates the style of the lyrics (shown here separated by lines):
Songwriters know how to both play with the style and rhythm of the lyricism as well as the emotional quality. Which is something I think could’ve added to Cormack’s narrative and given it a little more lift and authenticity if it were projected in Max’s form, since she is a lyricist and singer.
I feel like the only time Cormack actually managed to weave the lyrics in the right way in the book was in the epilogue where the song “Ten Years” (which I could cite, but that would be a spoiler warning for those reading the book) and a printing of “Silent Night” (the Christmas carol).
I’m going back to the songs “Better” and a song from the previous book called “Resist”. Not only was the cadence hard to tell, I think there wasn’t really all that much subtlety or imagery in the lyrics themselves. The problem with that is if you already have a context for the emotion that song is supposed to provide (which was spelled out in the scenes before hand where those songs were featured), you want the song to be able to capture that emotion and also take it one step further, so as not to A.) overemote and thereby be melodramatic and B.) repeat itself. They were okay songs, but I felt like more could’ve been given to them.
The lyrics to “Better” go something like this for a portion:
“I pick a smile and paint it on,
Smooth the cracks, right the wrongs,
Try to push some life into my eyes,
I’ve lost my soul under all the lies,
It’s better this way
Better that no one sees,
It’s better this way
Better when I’m not me
I’ll be better,
And so forth. It’s not bad, and while I did see the mention that some musical influences were taken from Rilo Kiley (who I love, love, love), I still think more could’ve been done to give more lift to those lyrics. Even Rilo Kiley has songs where even in the minimalism of the lyrics, they convey a depth that’s not as overt but still has a melodic quality that’s easy to follow (i.e. “Sliver Lining”).
The lyrics themselves as Cormack has them in the story have no layers to them, and in print, they don’t stand out as much as they could. And maybe that’s a challenge, because if these lyrics were sung, in contrast, or shown a meter for, it would be easier to say – “Ooh, that’s how it’s supposed to sound!” Not so much by itself.
Even in songs where the stories and emotions are overt, there’s still depth to convey in the actual lyricism. Take Gin Blossoms’ “Found Out About You”:
“All last summer, in case you don’t recall,
I was yours and you were mine, forget it all,
Is there a line that I could write,
That’s sad enough to make you cry,
All the lines you wrote to me were lies.”
I guess I’m harping the point because I know it can be a challenge to translate lyricism to prose and be able to provide the weight behind them without the aide of emotion provided in voice and melody.
But I digress. On an overall note, I’m interested in seeing the next story Cormack has in this series and while I found this story formulaic and it didn’t engage me as much as I would’ve liked, I think it was worth the time read and it’s a much better effort than Cormack’s previous book. I just wish it hadn’t lent to so many cliches in order to present its respective story.
Overall score: 2/5
Note: I received this as an ARC from Edelweiss, from the publisher William Morrow/Harper Collins.