Sometimes you enjoy a book, reading cover-to-cover with a speed usually reserved for eating your way through a family-size potato chip bag, and you have no idea why. Maybe the plot isn’t all that new. Maybe there are flaws in the reasoning by both the heroine and hero. Maybe there are a few (or more than a few) “wait, what just happened?” moments. Maybe there’s an overly annoying character, or an immature character or an unnecessary character. Yet you keep on munching. Debra Mullins’ Two Weeks With A Stranger, an enjoyable read-it-in-two-sittings historical romance, has a bit of that flavor.
There’s little room for surprise in the clockwork art that is genre fiction. What is expected of the formula is, after all, the expected. But fiction, good fiction, needs the element of surprise, some bit of plot or character or device that isn’t as expected. It is in the unanticipated, the unforeseen, the unpredicted that talent shines brightest and readers are given something memorable. Debut author Colleen Gleason has neatly sidestepped the issue of triteness with The Rest Falls Away, by stretching and straddling genre boundaries. The result is a story that isn’t strictly a romance or strictly a paranormal or strictly a Regency. It’s a romance without a central love story, a paranormal that never looses sight of the fact that vampires are monsters, and a Regency whose heroine has something besides the ton on her mind. All that makes for a read that surprises.
As I confessed in a previous review, there is a certain element of randomness when it comes my book selection process. I judge books by covers, by clever synopses, by really bad synopses, and, sometimes, by guilt. For example, let’s say someone sends me a book for review and I haven’t gotten to it, then I get an email reminding me that this book is in my possession, and guilt nudges me, saying “You should at least open the package.”
Rest assured that this latter scenario rarely happens. But a week or so ago, I received a friendly reminder from a publicist suggesting that I should have received, read, and loved Elizabeth Hoyt’s The Raven Prince. Whoa there, I thought, you think I get around to this stuff in a day or two? You don’t know me.
And of course I’m also thinking that I’m going to show this publicist. You get all “you’re gonna love this book” with me, and I’ll show you. Take that and that and that.
The primitiveness of 1136 Scotland can make the modern mind shiver. Those pesky Romans were gone from England but the Normans had come and conquered and subsequently left their mark on: the English language (the beginnings of its modern version anyway), the monarchy, and well, sufficed to say, Western history. Outside of the political arena the daily lives of average folks were pretty tough. There was no Costco back then. Which might not matter as there was also no refrigeration to keep five gallon tubs of mayonnaise fresh. For that matter, there were also no cell phones, TiVo, internet, cars, or anything approaching modern convenience. It actually gets much worse than no electricity, there was also no public sanitation (that’s for humans or livestock). It would be another seven or eight hundred years before people started to bathe regularly (and by people, that means: people with money; and by regularly: that doesn’t mean daily). Given the harsh and unhygienic conditions, it’s no surprise that the life expectancy was only in the early thirties. All things considered, it was a dicey time.
There are times when I feel like I need to confess the awful truth to Wendy and HelenKay (and, well, Lorna and L.J.). This is one of them. When it comes to picking books for review, I have almost no process. I pretend I do, and sometimes that pretending leads to an actual thoughtful choice.
But mostly it’s a matter of serendipity mixed with my desire to read where no reviewer has read before. But it’s the serendipity that seems to lead me to the most interesting books. In the case of Lady Anne’s Dangerous Man by Jeane Westin, I was poking through the teetering book pile, desperately seeking something new and different to read. Not even for review. I just wanted something that would let me escape for a little while. I was aiming for disposable but interesting.
There are some books written to be savored and pondered, thought about and argued over long after the final words have been read. There are others that do not aspire to such lofty heights. Instead they seek to momentarily entertain, asking only that the reader step into their pages and go along for the ride. Most of romance is the momentary variety; disposable even. Read it once, enjoy it or not, and then there isn’t a need to think on it again. Cheryl Holt’s newest historical romance, Too Wicked to Wed, should be of the fleeting sort. The romance is engineered to be light reading, the plot is not complicated enough to inspire deep thought. The result is strongly crafted diversionary entertainment. On that front, Too Wicked to Wed succeeds at what it sets out to do. On the whole, however, it is not as ephemeral as it should be. Holt makes story choices that feel uncomfortably like moral judgments and the discomfort generated lingers beyond the fiction and ultimately overshadow the romance.
A mere six months ago, I reviewed the ostensible second-to-last novel in Jo Beverley’s “Rogues” series. At that time, I pondered the idea of series that have run their course. Specifically, I wondered if thirty years was too long for one series. Especially if said thirty years was punctuated by periods of unavailability for some of the titles in the series.
I am the ultimate series sucker. You write them, I will come. And will keep reading and reading forever. In fact, I will keep reading long after I have sworn I will stop. There are possibly twelve-step programs for people like me, I simply haven’t found them. But still, there’s a point where even I wonder why I keep coming back…and then suddenly I remember who’s in charge of me, and I take the initiative and stop myself cold turkey.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the beauty of a good Regency romance comes from the execution. Ever since William Makepeace Thackeray made his name skewering the social structures in Vanity Fair, writers have used the Regency era to excellent comic effect…while allowing the Regency’s unique point in history to explore specific cultural issues.
While Nicole Byrd’s Seducing Lord Oliver doesn’t quite achieve the standard of Thackeray (honestly, who could?), it reminded me that nothing beats a good Regency. Sure, I think this could have been a better story, but it’s been a while since I sat down and devoured a historical romance. What Byrd lacks in plotting and story development, she enhances with energy and nuanced characterization.
As previously noted, I have read, sometimes voraciously, romance since, well, my whole life. Yet, I managed, somehow, to avoid all of the big names of the genre. As I’ve rectified my omissions, I’ve discovered some great authors, puzzled over the success of others, and wondered what was the big deal about some. You know, the authors who are okay but not great, write nice stories but nothing that rises above the crowd, have a certain something but not enough to make you seek out more.
Thus we come to Linda Lael Miller. I won her title Daniel’s Bride through a Paperback Reader contest. Or rather, I won the privilege of reading and reviewing Daniel’s Bride through a Paperback Reader contest – my idea, which should teach me something. Hey, I thought, I like new stuff. I make macaroni and cheese with chipotle cheddar.
Every first novel has an interesting story of its road to publication. Interesting, at least, for the author. Few have a story that would interest anyone else. Of the tens of thousands of works of fiction that come into the marketplace every year, few have a tale like A Confederacy of Dunces which was published eleven years after author John Kennedy Toole’s suicide (a suicide widely attributed to Toole’s publishing failures) and only after the book was championed by Toole’s mother. Once released, it won a loyal and rabid fan base, and went on to take the Pulitzer. In the end, it’s a success story, the rarity of which authors everywhere should be thankful for.
Caitlin Scott-Turner’s journey to publication doesn’t rival Toole’s, but it is worth repeating. Her first novel, The Queen’s Fencer was written two and a half decades ago. At the time, it was very nearly published, only to fall through the cracks. After years of languishing, the novel was self-published before finding its way to the small press Five Star. Yes, more than a quarter century later, Scott-Turner’s novel was published.