So, Six Ways to Write a Love Letter was recommended recently by commenter Alison.
And I have to say, for me, Six Ways is right up there for favorite-ever contemporary romance — maybe for any romance.
Remy Young — his actual name is Remember Young, which I must say is a very cool name — is a drummer and producer in LA. He belongs to a small band that had one hit song some years ago — the other real member of band is his brother, Val, whose actual name is Valor. Val and Remy ran away from their Pentecostal family a good while back. Now here they are in LA, struggling to make ends meet, but not really in desperate circumstances. Val had a problem with cocaine, but he kicked the habit. Remy and Val are very close, very loyal to each other. Remy could build a career as a producer, but doesn’t want to leave Val alone. Not that his brother would be entirely alone, as Val has a girlfriend, Celeste, a celebrity-focused blogger. But Val is struggling with his inner demons and Remy is afraid he might start using again.
All that is backstory. We get glimpses of the backstory in the form of half a dozen flashbacks.
Vivi Swan is a super-popular pop star who does fancy performances in huge arenas in front of 60,000 fans. Her image is The Wholesome Girl Next Door, but her specialty is breakup songs. Well, that’s her thematic specialty. Her real specialty, the thing that pulls in the fans, is her gift for empathy, for making every single fan feel like they’re in a personal relationship with her. She does small-group meet-and-greets after her shows and gives the lucky fans who get a spot in one of those chocolate chip cookies, which she bakes herself …
… does she really bake those cookies herself?
Yes, she does. I just thought I’d say so right now, because although that’s not clarified until later in the story, that tells you SO MUCH about Vivi. She’s been a celebrity since she was fifteen, but she still bakes chocolate chip cookies for her fans herself.
Anyway, her shows are really spectacular, and her drummer just broke his elbow. She needs a drummer, people in the industry recommend Remy, and Remy thinks … Well, I don’t want to leave Val alone … but Celeste would be here … and this would be such an opportunity … And that’s the basic setup for this story.
What did I like about Six Ways?
The characters. I loved Remy. And Val. Also Vivi Swan. Honestly, I liked them all. More about everyone in a minute.
The technical background. I know almost nothing about the music industry, except what absolutely everyone knows. I didn’t know what a producer does, for example. This story pulls you right into this world, which was almost as unfamiliar to me as a secondary fantasy world. I really enjoy books that can do this. It almost doesn’t matter to me whether the profession or avocation is, though of course I have a prior interest in baking and anthropology and so forth, but I really, really loved this background. It was not too technical for the ignorant reader, which I can say with assurance because I’m as ignorant as it comes in this respect.
The plotting. This was about as low-stress as any romance novel can be.
You know how the beats are supposed to go in a romance. They go like this: Protagonist… in a setting … experiences an inciting incident … new situation … problems … problems get worse … problems get worse … huge crisis followed by black night of the soul … protagonist experiences a revelation and takes action … resolution.
This is fine! But you know what is more fine? If it goes like this: Protagonist … in a setting … experiences an inciting incident … new situation … problem, which is resolved … problem, which is resolved … concern, which does not turn out to be a problem … problem, which is resolved … huge crisis followed by the protagonist coping … protagonist experiences a revelation and takes action … resolution.
That’s pretty much how Six Ways works.
You noted that I said the brothers are close and that Val used to be an addict, but kicked the habit. And I said Remy is afraid to leave him alone. Who immediately assumes that Val will crash when Remy leaves? Raise your hand if that would be your expectation given this backstory. Everyone, right?
Nope! Val does fine — in fact, he pulls much of his life back together and he and Celeste turn out to to be even better suited than the reader might have expected. Also, they stay in touch through the story and support each other all the way through and don’t have a personal crisis. IN FACT, when Val gives Remy good advice, Remy follows that advice in the very next chapter! And it WAS good advice.
And now back to the characters, because this is something I really loved. No one falls apart. There are misunderstandings, but no one deliberately betrays someone else. Everyone tries to be supportive of everyone else — everyone IS supportive of everyone else. I’m talking about Remy/Val/Celeste here. Vivi is pretty much trapped in her own image; her story is almost entirely about overcoming her painfully learned self-protectiveness. But she tries hard! And, of course, because this is a romance, she ultimately succeeds.
Okay, what else?
I was surprised and pleased to find that the whole story is from the pov of the male lead. That’s unusual. I can’t think of another romance written solely from the guy’s pov. It worked better this way than it would have if the author had switched back and forth because Vivi works well seen from the outside only.
Also the writing itself.
After the first six-week tour for which Remy was hired, he thinks:
It was done. Whatever it was, it had to be. The job, Vivi, the tour, his role in it, and her and the music. It was over almost as suddenly as it had started — the rest of the tour would belong to the original drummer, which was appropriate. It belonged to him, after all — this entire experience was just something Remy had borrowed for a time. Like being a one-hit wonder. Like living in Florida. It was a slice of a life, not a life.
I love that line! It’s a slice of someone else’s life, it’s not your life. That’s great.
Or there’s an intense moment between Remy and Val:
[Val] stretched his arms to the ceiling and yawned. “I have that new song almost done. Want to hear it?
This was said so casually, so effortlessly, that Remy did a sort of mental double take, where his mind processed the words, then had to immediately do so again. He met Val’s eyes and saw recognition there — that despite the yawn, despite the effortless words, Val knew how big a deal this was — yet also wanted, desperately, for Remy not to recognize it as such.
“Sure,” Remy said, and shrugged, while his internal organs rearranged themselves. Val was writing again. Val was writing again — no, wait: Val was finishing again, and doing it without drugs. It was the inverse of hearing that Val was using again — a level of joy that would have perfectly mirrored Remy’s devastation.
That’s just a great moment! Plus, if it wasn’t yet clear to the reader that no one is going to get ground to emotional paste in this book, this should help with that, because look at how the author is stepping smoothly around devastation and pouring joy into her story instead.
As a side note, I personally appreciated that this is a closed-door romance.
This is Jackson Pierce’s first adult novel; she’s got some YA fairy tale retellings, of which this one caught my eye. I’m going to try that one on the strength of Six Ways.
13 thoughts on “Recent Reading: Six Ways to Write a Love Letter by Jackson Pierce”
What a great review! I loved the book, too- especially the writing. I was drawn in from practically the first page. And I agree, we are drawn straight into that world, in such a great way. I also loved that it was from Remy’s POV, and Remy’s POV only. ‘Oh simple, stupid, younger Remy.’ I think I was hooked from there.
Interestingly, I found the book Bc it came up on my Facebook feed. Idk how or why that happens. But I click on those books that come up, and occasionally hit the jackpot.
I’m glad it did, Alison, but these things certainly do seem random sometimes, don’t they?
Completely, but it’s not like I go browsing in a library or bookstore anymore. I believe I may have read the first of your griffin books in print a long time ago, but I became a rabid follower after reading your first Black Dog book. I didn’t realize you were one and the same writer til I went back and found the entire trilogy and recognized that first book. Then Teyre sold me completely. Finding great authors is random, and difficult, but completely rewarding.
Of the Griffin Mage books, my favorite is the second. I really enjoyed writing that one. My personal feeling changes depending with time, especially depending on how difficult something was to write and how long I worked on revision, but I think I still like that one the best.
I would miss so many authors whose work I love if it wasn’t for this blog. Everyone here keeps pointing me to books I love.
I’ve got it on my TBR pile based on the recommendations here. It’ll have wait a bit though, because someone reminded me in the recommendations here about how much I liked Jo Beverley’s romances, so I’ve plunged into a reread of the Georgian Malloren series and really want to finish those first!
If you want to search for them, remember the extra E in BeverlEy at the end of her name. I keep forgetting that and not finding the results I was looking for.
I also read and enjoyed this book after it was recommendation last week. You write great reviews Rachel, I agree with it all. What I noticed and appreciated while reading it were: 1. that it was from Remy’s POV, and 2. the window into the music industry, a foreign land for me as well. But when you pointed out how problems were resolved instead of having the tension constantly building, and the way we can admire all the characters, I realized those 2 factors also contributed significantly to my enjoyment. Thanks Alison and Rachel for the recommendation. I hope Ms. Pearce continues to write more adult books.
BTW, there was an ad at the end of that book for The Stand-In, by Lily Chu, which I tried on a whim and also thoroughly enjoyed. Maybe you can read it one day Rachel and tell us what you think. For me it helps that it is set in Toronto, a city I know well but rarely get to read about.
Thanks, Melanie! I didn’t play any attention to the ads at the end, but I’ll try The Stand-In. I mean, eventually …
I didn’t even bother trying a sample based on your review, and the comments! Excited to start reading. :)
Did not need to add to my TBR, but this sounds too far up my alley!
Melanie, I’ve read The Stand-in and found it delightful: all the wish-fulfillment tropes plus a great friendship arc.
And to return the favour: Nora Goes Off Script, by Annabel Monahan. Found this one in my library after seeing Sherwood Smith’s review and really, really liked it. Particularly enjoyed that it was an older heroine with kids.
Kim, I loved Nora Jones Goes Off Script! I’d add The Unsinkable Greta James by Jennifer E Smith as a wonderful book to read, but it does deal with grief, which some may not want to read about.
FINE, I’m picking up samples of Nora Jones Goes Off Script and The Stand-In. Neither sounds like anything I’d usually pick up, since I’m ordinarily not that interested in contemporary romances, but since you all recommend them, I expect I’ll enjoy them!
You do know that Taylor Swift bakes cookies for fans when throws them a listening party for a new album…
(I mean, it makes me want to read the book even more!)
No, really? That’s such a charming thing to do! I thought it was completely fictional!