must make with the confession. I am an Internet-Pal of Lucy March/Lani Diane Rich. It is like being a real-life friend, except we’ve never gotten drunk and talked each other into getting a Tramp Stamp of jumping dolphins at 3:00 AM. (Not that this has happened to me.) This means that I am not without favorable bias when I read her work.
However, my mild mannered mundane self is an academic, and I swore on a Roget’s Thesaurus that all literary reviews would contain some criticism. The penalties for “failing to critique” are harsh. You have to watch Jaws IV without commenting on the plot holes or bad special effects, and you are accused of having written a “hagiography” about an author. You’ll go to academic conferences and someone will have scrawled “hagiographer” across your place card in red marker. No one will sit with you at lunch. It gets real ugly, real fast.
A Little Night Magic is Lani Diane Rich’s first offering under the pen name Lucy March. Here’s the handy-dandy synopsis of the plot:
“Olivia Kiskey needs a change. She’s been working at the same Nodaway Falls, New York, waffle house since she was a teenager; not a lot of upward mobility there. She’s been in love with Tobias, the cook, for the last four years; he’s never made a move. Every Saturday night, she gathers with her three best friends—Peach, Millie, and Stacy—and drinks the same margaritas while listening to the same old stories. Intent on shaking things up, she puts her house on the market, buys a one-way ticket to Europe, and announces her plans to her friends… but then she meets Davina Granville, a strange and mystical Southern woman who shows Olivia that there is more to her life than she ever dreamed. As Liv’s latent magical powers come to the surface, she discovers that having an interesting life is maybe not all it’s cracked up to be. The dark side of someone else’s magic is taking over good people in town, and changing them into vessels of malevolence. Unwilling to cede her home to darkness, she battles the demons of her familial past and her magical present, with those she loves at her side . . . and in the cross fire. Can the most important things in life—friendship, love, magic, and waffles—get her through the worst that the universe can throw at her?”
Like all her work this book was well written. There are no parts you skip over, because the plot moves along at a fine clip. There is no egregious uses of multiple adverbs in one sentence. She runs a writers workshop called StoryWonk and it must be a good one, because girlfriend can bust an arc.
Nevertheless, there are things I can gripe about. Like how this book's cover screams “I am light chick lit with sexy times and a HAE!”. This is a mistake on the publishers part, I think. The cover should be dark and have a Pretty Goth Lady looking determined/scared on it. Then the reader would be able to enjoy the book without thinking, “In what fucking universe is this shit a light rom-com?” Because it does take a little while for your brain to switch gears, if you have formed even the smallest impression from the cover. This doesn't mean there is no humor. It's funny in spots. There is wit aplenty. For example, this interaction between the protagonists:
“I'm not mad,” I said automatically, then swished my mop over the square again. I wish you'd break out in boils. Swish.
“I'm not an idiot, Liv. I know you're pissed.” He let out a long sigh. “Can we at least talk about it?”
“I'd be happy too, but I don't know what you're talking about.” Swish swish. I hope your ear hair grows freakishly long. Swish.
I stopped mopping and looked at him. “If you're trying to get on my good side, you suck at it.”
But the book, as a whole, is not a relaxing and fun easy-read by any means. The trouble is trying to give you a sample of WHY the writing is not a “breezy romp” without making it a spoiler. This book is TIGHT. To show you the scenes that made me sad, or angry, or thoughtful, or any of the things not associated with a light rom-com, I'd be giving away great big chunks o' plot. The book has a 'thriller' vibe, and plot surprises are important.
In fact, the inherent tightness of the plot is an issue … there is a problem with the length of the book. This book needed more room for the story. If March wasn’t such a good craftsman, the story would have been a mish-mash because she couldn’t develop the characters fully. You had to take the heroine’s word for it about almost all the essential elements, and even then you had a couple of important people pop up where you thought, “Who are they again?” and had to flip pages backwards to figure it out. Give it up for March tho; if she she brought something up then she had used it to advance the plot by the end of the book. There is a literary term called Chekhov’s gun. It comes from the fact Chekhov (the Russian writer, not the Star Trek ensign) advised that, “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there.” So never write something you aren’t planning on using. I was very impressed with March’s use of Chekhov’s gun. She is Annie Oakley with that thing.
But it makes it a total pain in the ass to show a sample of the book without revealing something that needs to come as a surprise later to really enjoy the first reading of the book.
Also on the negative side, I had a hard time identifying with the heroine, Olivia. As all you Smart Bitches know, the TSTL (To Stupid To Live) heroine is anathema to us all. Fortunately, Olivia was not a TSTL kinda girl. However, she was frequently To Noble To Live. This might not be an issue for many readers. The nice people reading it will probably understand her moral quandaries and totally sympathize with her choices. I, however, am a Hillbilly. We have a different set of ethics.
To address this there must be spoilers (although I tried to spoil as little as possible). Highlight it to read:
Okay, there is a point where the Baddie is threatening to kill Olivia. The Baddie has already killed family members. The Baddie is tells Olivia that they will kill kids via a school bus accident if Olivia doesn’t comply with the Baddie’s demands. One of the protagonists in the story can kill at a distance. But Olivia just CANNOT knowingly consent to taking a person’s life. She decides she must sacrifice herself to save the others, rather than take out the Baddie. In contrast to Olivia, I am the descendant of thousands of mean little Appalachian women. If you kill a loved one, if you kill a child or threaten to kill a child, we will grab our sawed-off shotguns and turn you into an interesting splatter pattern. This will be considered a “suicide” in my neck of the woods, because only someone who wanted to die would threaten to kill a child where hard-core Hillbilly women can hear it. So the fact Olivia would, at least at first, rather die than terminate the Baddie drove me nuts. Moreover, she tried to send the Hero away to save him. I hate that shit.
The ending of the book was multifaceted. It was a HAE, romance-wise, but like Real Life is often wont to be, not everything was ideal. There was Sorrow. There was Change. On the plus side the heroine repented any dumb things she had done and grew as a person. I always like it when the protagonist grows.
In short (too late, I know) this was a good book, but not to every one’s taste. Don’t pick it up thinking it’s going to be a confectionery. It’s more like a good salad. There are a lot of flavors in it and somethings may taste bitter. You kind of need some bitter in a good salad tho.
Overall, I would give it an B+, because good writing trumps an incongruous cover design and a few rough edges in the characters.