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.
Eloisa James is a fine writer, a sharp crafter of words, and a good storyteller. Her latest release, the fourth and final installment of the Essex sisters’ stories, Pleasure for Pleasure, is a first-rate example of each of those points: the narrative is charming, the dialog is rapier swift, and the telling both elegant and engaging. It’s odd then to also find, amongst all that good writing, little in the way of cohesive plot. Odder still to make that claim of a four hundred page book. But, the fact is, there’s not a lot of there there in Pleasure for Pleasure. And oddest yet, the book is thoroughly enjoyable despite it.
Some books, like JR Ward’s Lover Awakened, are eagerly anticipated with pre-orders numbers that one would expect from a New York Times best seller veteran. Other books, the sort in a superstar stratosphere unto themselves, like the Harry Potter books, are obsessively waited for: countdown clocks are made, lines form, the devoted sleep on sidewalks for the chance to be the first with the book in their hands. And then, there are books like Teresa Medeiros’ The Vampire Who Loved Me, a book, like the others, awaited, but with sanity and patience. A book fans of After Midnight (Merdeiros’ first look at the Cabot sisters) are certainly interested in, but one unlikely to inspire camping out for. As it turns out, The Vampire Who Loved Me isn’t a book to sit nicely on the to-be-read pile, but demands to be read immediately and without interruption.
Lorna Freeman and I both worship happily at the altar of Georgette Heyer. We discovered this the usual way. You know how it goes…you enter into casual conversation with a new friend, “Hey, wow, so you like Regencies?” She says, “I’ve been known to read a few in my day.” You look at the ground and say shyly, “So, read any Heyer?” She’s far cooler than you, but not quite sure where the conversation is going. “Some.”
You grow bold. This is a rare moment. Probably not to repeated in this century You say, “So, wanna co-review Black Sheep with me?”
Much to your surprise and happiness, she agrees. Eagerly. You have found a soul mate. Which is good, because Black Sheep is all about soul mates. The good kind, the you-honestly-believe-these-people-are-meant-for-each-other kind, the you want this romance to go on forever kind. Black Sheep is romance at its best. Trust us. We’ve hardly every lied to you.
**Today we are deviating from our usual current release schedule to review our January contest winner’s choice, Every Which Way But Dead.
Romance, for all the suppleness it possesses as a genre, rigidly adheres to certain axioms: the heroine must be likeable (the most limited definition possible for this), the story must center on the emerging romance, the ending must satisfy. These elements, while enjoyable time and again, do limit possibilities. They are the creative equivalent of a coloring book versus the wide open space of a blank canvas. This is never more apparent than when another genre of fiction plays around with the elements most traditionally associated with romance, but doesn’t then bother with those axioms. Such is the case with Kim Harrison’s three-books-and-counting Rachel Morgan series. Like any good romance, Harrison’s story is tightly focused on the heroine, but with the freedom found outside the genre—in this case fantasy—Harrison doesn’t waste a single word on making Rachel saccharin likeable, when gritty and downright dirty make for better conflict. There is a romance with a male character who is just that, a male character, not a hero. It’s long in coming and spicy while only accounting for a portion of the overall story, and it isn’t sugar-coated with hard to ground concepts like destiny. The romance never feels buried behind other plot points, but rather blends nicely with the underlying theme of Rachel learning not everything is black and white. Why then do so few offerings in genre romance accomplish all that?
I am a heretical Regency fan. I don’t care much about historical accuracy. Don’t worry about lines of succession. And, frankly, I’m not all that much fascinated by muslin, sprigged or not. When it comes to reading Regency, I’m all about the style of the story.
Michelle Martin’s The Adventurers, published in 1996 (and sadly out-of-print – go forth, pay lots of money on the black market for this one), is one of my favorite Regencies. Let’s call it my comfort Regency. Oh sure, I adore all of Martin’s work, but The Adventurers is the one I pick up first, second, and last.
Wendy: Had Jane Austen created Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the result might very well have been Teresa Medeiros’ After Midnight. Of course, Medeiros’ version of Buffy, Caroline Cabot, is much more a Suspecter of vampires than a slayer of one, as After Midnight is a Regency romance that steps ever-so-lightly into the paranormal.