Review: Imprints by Rachel Ann Nunes

Shadow Mountain was kind enough to send me their summer/fall catalog early this summer and ask if I’d be interested in reviewing any of the titles therein. I have been meaning to tackle something by Rachel Ann Nunes as part of my wm-reads-lds-genre-novels project, so I jumped at the chance to get a copy of Imprints ( Amazon ). This title marks Nunes’ foray from Romance in to the Mystery/Thriller genre so it seemed like it would be a much more approachable entry in to her work for someone like me.

For this review, I’m going to break it in to four parts: the set up; what works; what doesn’t work; and the novel as Mormon literature. Each of those is going to be written from a slightly different point of view as I negotiate between my identities as a fan of genre fiction but with a bias towards genre work that has strong literary elements (the good ones — not the precious/precocious literary stuff); a writer and editor of fiction; a cheerleader for Mormon fiction; and a Mormon literary critic.

The Premise and Setting

Adopted by hippie parents, Autumn Rain lives in Portland, where she runs her late father’s antiques shop. She has also recently been reunited with her twin sister (also adopted — and apparently the main character in a previous Nunes novel) and has a crush on Jake, the tall dreadlocked African American dude who she sold her father’s herbal remedies store to. Autumn also has discovered (post the trauma of her father’s death in a bridge collapse) that she has a paranormal power: she receives impressions and memories from physical objects (assuming that they have been imbued with strong emotions [love, anger, terror, etc.]). She used these powers to solve a previous case, and the word gets out so one day a community college instructor turned private investigator named Ethan McConnell shows up with a pair of worried parents. It turns out that their daughter has semi-recently joined a commune that may or may not be a dangerous cult — the same commune that Ethan’s sister had joined almost a year previously. Autumn gets sucked in to the investigation, eventually going undercover with Jake and with Ethan’s help.

What Works

The setting: Portland and Oregon is the perfect place for a hippie chick with paranormal powers, and Nunes weaves in some good details and locations.

The powers: there’s always room to be a little tighter as well as push the limits more (especially towards the end of the novel), but on the whole, the type of power and how it works and especially the situations where it is useful or not — and the effects it’s use can have on Autumn — is very well done. Very much in the magic-with-rules-that’s-use-can-be-both-negative-and-positive vein that Orson Scott Card has preached and Brandon Sanderson has perfected.

The sisters: Autumn and her sister Tawnia (who is pregnant) are vibrant, interesting characters. When they are on screen, especially together, the novel really sparkles.

The plot twists: there are several. None of them are earth-shattering, but they work, and they are genuine twists that don’t come across as cheap or out-of-nowhere.

What Doesn’t Work

The overwriting: Nunes spells so much out, repeating information that we already guessed or knew or expressing feelings and thoughts that are already clear from what has been said or gestured. It really threw me out of the narrative; it’s quite grating. But nothing a good editor could have fixed. And it isn’t as bad in the latter part of the book.

The action scenes: Now some of these actually work quite well and Nunes is to be credited for not making anyone who gets involved in a fight or a piece of action superhuman. People get hurt. People do the wrong thing and although they show pluck and endurance and push beyond their comfort zones, they don’t show skills that are way beyond. But at times the blocking seems a off and at the end there’s too much going here and there. Tighten this up (and deal with the overwriting) and you have a much stronger novel. And to be fair, the blocking is much crisper than in many novels, where things tend to go hazy in the fight/action scenes.

The love triangle: It’s hard for me to judge this because I am so not the target audience here, but both Jake and Keefe needed added dimensions here. In fact, the two male leads are the weakest part of the story in terms of characterization. Jake, especially, needs to be more awesome. And the heat could have been turned up a bit. And Autumn is just a little too coy and conflicted.

Imprints as Mormon literature

Here at AMV, we follow the Association for Mormon Letters definition that anything by, for or about Mormons counts as Mormon literature. Imprints falls into that peculiar category of novels that don’t feature Mormonism but are written mainly for a Mormon audience e.g. “clean fiction.” Yes, it’s published by Shadow Mountain, which is ostensibly Deseret Book’s national market-oriented imprint, and it’s conceivable that the title will find non-LDS readers, but unlike Shadow Mountain’s YA/children’s fantasy series, this really seems to be for the female LDS audience. So any discussion of it in relation to Mormon literature is likely to turn to what is gained vs. what is lost in creating the clean, non-Mormon-themed-but-for-an-LDS-audience novel. And so I do have the same complaint with it that I did with Lemon Tart (although I think Lemon Tart is the better crafted novel): “…it sometimes creates reading moments where the fact that it’s a non-LDS-themed-book-written-by-an-active-LDS becomes a little too present.”

On the other hand, I was going to ding Nunes for something because (and this is perhaps a tiny spoiler) any novel featuring Portland and hippies and communes is going to have account for a particular herb, and it looked like it was never going to come up — but in the end it did. And it’s true that by making Autumn a hippie, natural foods chick you can avoid the major Word of Wisdom issues. But at the same time, I don’t see why, if you’re going to include, for example, violence (both real and emotional) in the work at a certain level of graphic-ness, you can’t, say, the moderate consumption of alcohol. Or the use of black or green tea. Although I have to admit that I didn’t mind the lack of swearing. And Nunes did push things a little further than one might expect (but still very, very PG), for example, see her open letter on the AML blog (where I claim in the comments that obsessing over the clean thing isn’t the best idea, but I’m a mercurial personality and what may sound good in the abstract doesn’t hold when it comes to actual reading experience — although I have to say that Imprints provided much less “oh, come on” moments than I would have expected c.f. the herb mentioned above).

Of course (and this again is reflecting my own bias), how cool would it be if Autumn was a hippie LDS chick? Pretty cool, I think. And then trying to situate her powers could be an interesting added dimension (A gift of the Spirit?). And then make Jake a non-Mormon and you have the recipe for some more tense romantic tension between the two.

I do think, though, that this is a work worth exploring if you have an interest in LDS genre literature. It embodies much of the tensions and issues in the genre and shows the improvement there has been in the field while highlighting the work that still needs to be done.

For another perspective, read the Mormon Times review. See also the AML Review.

17 thoughts on “Review: Imprints by Rachel Ann Nunes”

  1. I enjoyed this review from your different identities. As a soon-to-be-published author, I found your perspectives very interesting.
    I applause Nunes’s breakaway from romance to paranormal, and I agree with you about the love triangle. I didn’t feel that she needed to choose either of these men. Maybe that will deepen in the series.
    Thanks for the link to Rachel Ann Nunes’s letter. I truly hope LDS publishers are considering the needs of clean, edgy romance/paranormal, scifi, and we continue to see changes in books exploring the wonders, beauties, and challenges of life.

  2. Thanks! And I’m glad to know that I’m not way out there with the love triangle. I’m not a Romance novel fanatic, but I have read plenty of Jane Austen and I just wasn’t feeling it here.

  3. FWIW, love triangles aren’t popular in genre romance. One of two things happens:

    1) You make Dude #2 some flavor of undesirable (even slightly), in which case, the heroine becomes TSTL (too stupid to live) for even wanting him

    or

    2) You alienate half your readership by picking the one THEY didn’t like.

    It’s very rarely done, and it’s even more rare that it’s done well.

  4. No no. A polyamorous relationship is a threesome/menage/triad.

    Some get worked out. Some don’t. The line between a love triangle and a triad is whether the book ends with a couple or a triad living HEA or HFN (happily for now).

    I actually know of several IRL polyamorous unions that seem to work. “Seem” being the operative word here.

  5. Wm, I think you are right on the money about the overwriting. That is the biggest problem I, as a reader, have with LDS romance/genre novels. You don’t run into it as much with the YA novels. I’m not sure why. It almost feels as if the writers are assuming the teens are smarter than their parents.

    Also, I wonder if Nunes left out anything about wine or green/black tea because she simply didn’t know what to write and maybe assumed her readers wouldn’t care about it anyway.

  6. Also, I wonder if Nunes left out anything about wine or green/black tea because she simply didn’t know what to write and maybe assumed her readers wouldn’t care about it anyway.

    Funny you should say that. I formatted a book for a chemist who is a wine lover and writes books about the ins and outs of wine and beer. I have him vet my wine references.

    For instance, I had my character drinking wine and eating ice cream. My vetter’s head exploded.

  7. Great review, William. I’ve been wondering about Imprints, and I love your multifaceted take on it. What else are you planning to review from the catalog?

  8. Thanks, Emily. I only asked for Imprints. I do have a Zarahemla Books title and one from Signature to review, though.

    —–

    Re what Laura says about overwriting, here’s an example from page 51. To set up the scene — Jake, the PI/college instructor, Autumn and her sister and brother-in-law are all having dinner. The tension between Jake and Ethan is high:

    “I’m taking a botany class right now,” Jake said. “The professor is adequate. Mostly.”

    Another veiled insult toward our guest, who by profession was linked to the comment. What had come over Jake?


    Thankfully, most of it isn’t quite so egregious, and as I mention, it gets better as the book progresses so I want to be clear that the above shouldn’t be taken as the whole of Nunes writing abilities — some scenes really work. But I could have used less of the above. First of all, it’s a very poor veiled insults. Why should a math instructor interpolate a mediocre mention of a biology professor as referring to him? But then we not only get told that it’s a veiled insult towards Ethan, but we also get that who clause, which is so completely unnecessary. And then, of course, Autumn’s unawareness of what has come over Jake doesn’t really jive with how in tune she is in general with people and emotion and motivation.

    —-
    MoJo:

    Wine and ice cream? I don’t drink wine, and yet even I shudder at the thought.

  9. Wine and ice cream? I don’t drink wine, and yet even I shudder at the thought.

    I don’t know from wine. And my ice cream taste runs to vanilla. Chocolate chip if I’m feeling adventurous/lucky.

  10. Man, I am so confused. I updated the post to change the PI/math instructor’s name to Ethan because that’s what it says in the book (which I figured out when I posted the excerpt in comment #11), but then I couldn’t figure out where the Keefe came from so I went searching — it turns out it’s in the news release that came with the book which is where I took it from originally (and it looks like is repeated on Nunes site — http://www.ranunes.com/Imprints_book.php — and the GoodReads page — http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7378690-imprints and the Shadow Mountain page — http://www.shadowmountain.com/products-page/new-releases/imprints ). The exact same copy is used on the back of the book with the name Ethan McConnell instead of Keefe. I wonder if Keefe is actually used in the book at all.

    Was there a last minute replace-all name change? Or am I missing something in the text and Keefe is a nickname or something?

  11. For instance, I had my character drinking wine and eating ice cream. My vetter’s head exploded.

    Ha! Everyone knows you pour the wine over the ice cream, like chocolate sauce . . .

  12. Ha! Everyone knows you pour the wine over the ice cream, like chocolate sauce . . .

    Now, see, to ME that sounds perfectly reasonable. (My character was intent on getting completely smashed. My vetter said rum would work nicely with ice cream.)

  13. Rum, brandy, port, certain liqueurs, a very dark stout (like Guinness) — these I have all heard of. But not wine.

  14. Or make ice cream out of wine. Or better yet, make gelato out of wine.

    We talk about some very strange things here…

    And William: Yes, it sounds very much like the kinds of problems that a good editor should have caught. (I assume that your phrase “nothing a good editor could have fixed” is a misprint for “nothing a good editor COULDN’T have fixed.”)

    Have you read other books by Nunes? Is this a persistent problem in her writing? Or possibly just poor editing for this particular book?

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