At Hawthorn Time, by Melissa Harrison

I read and listened to a lot in July and August, especially on my vacation, and in the next couple of weeks I’m going to try to catch up on my blogging. In between getting myself ready for the start of fall semester and my son ready to go off for his first year of university, neither of which is causing me any anxiety. These posts may be disorganized and unedited, but I’ll try to say something interesting.

I’m reading way less romance now than I did when I first discovered the genre. But my time as a nearly exclusive romance-reader, and my ongoing conversations with romance readers, have colored my other reading in a way that may be permanent. So when I was thinking about how to summarize Melissa Harrison’s At Hawthorn Time, I was thinking about the ways that it conforms to criticism of literary fiction offered by genre readers: there isn’t a whole lot of plot; two of the central figures are a middle-aged, middle-class couple whose marriage is falling apart in totally predictable ways; a lot of sad stuff happens and the ending is both downbeat and unresolved. I didn’t love all those features, but I liked the book a lot, and I’ll try to explain how it won me over.

The prologue of At Hawthorn Time is its final scene, so we know from the start that some of the book’s characters will come together in a car crash at the end–though we’re not sure at the start which ones, and we never know for sure which ones survive. The four central characters are Howard and Kitty, the above-mentioned couple who are drifting apart after retirement and a move to the country village of Lodeshill; Jamie, a rather aimless twenty-something born in Lodeshill who both belongs to it and dreams of escape; and Jack, a drifter who has skipped out of his halfway house (he was arrested for trespassing) in London because he can’t bear being shut in, and is looking for temporary farm work. I found Jack by far the most interesting and uncommon characters; the others did feel like clichés of literary fiction. Continue reading

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TBR Challenge: Adam and Eva, by Sandra Kitt

The August TBR Challenge theme is “Old School,” a book published 10 or more years ago. “Old School” (or at least “Old Skool”) is a term I associate with historical romance for some reason, but having finished Dunnett’s Game of Kings just now (yes! I did it!), I wasn’t ready for more historical fiction. Then I remembered Sandra Kitt’s Adam and Eva, in my TBR because of Sunita’s review–which turns out to date from last year’s Old School month.

Published in 1984, this was the first Harlequin category romance by an African-American featuring African-American characters. I didn’t like it quite as much as Sunita did, but it did hold my interest, both because of that place in romance history and for its own sake. That in itself struck me as an “old school” feature, because I find that many newer romances aim at hitting a reader in the feels and have little to offer someone who doesn’t connect emotionally. That wasn’t true of Adam and Eva. Continue reading

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TBR Challenge: The Romance Consensus?

July’s TBR Challenge theme is “award nominee or winner,” because this month sees the Romance Writers of America conference and RITA awards ceremony. I wasn’t sure how I’d squeeze a book in before my vacation, and then I realized the one I was reading counted: Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women: Romance Writers on the Appeal of Romance, a collection of essays edited by Jayne Ann Krentz. A number of the contributors have won RITA or RT awards, and the book itself won the Susan Koppelman Award for Feminist Studies. I’ve been hearing about this book for years, especially Laura Kinsale’s idea of the heroine as “placeholder” for the reader, so I was glad to finally read it.

I have way too many thoughts for one blog post, even this tl;dr one, so I’ll focus on the things that stood out for me. A lot of what I have to say is about things I wish had been explored in more depth, or from more angles. That might make my assessment of the book seem negative, but in fact I can raise these questions because it is so rich, thoughtful, and thought-provoking.

Continue reading

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Heartache and Other Natural Shocks, by Glenda Leznoff

Disclaimer: I read Glenda Leznoff’s YA novel Heartache and Other Natural Shocks because she is a colleague, though I don’t know her well.

The Globe and Mail review compares Heartache to Judy Blume’s work “because of the deliciously juicy realism.” I can’t speak to how the book stacks up to Blume–I haven’t read her since I was a pre-teen, and I also first read her as a pre-teen, which gives her books special status in my reading life. But I’d agree Leznoff is working in that “juicy realism” tradition, and her teenagers and their preoccupations, like Blume’s, largely rang true to me. And like Blume, she is frank and nonjudgmental about teenage girls’ sexuality. Continue reading

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Red Star Tattoo, by Sonja Larsen

In a post on her blog, Sonja Larsen reports her husband’s response when she said she needed an explanation for why she was publishing her first book at 50:

Oh that’s not hard is it? he says. You spent 10 years trying to forget it, 10 years dealing with it and 10 years writing about it.

Reading her memoir, Red Star Tattoo: My Life as a Girl Revolutionary, I could see why it took so long to find a way to think and talk about her childhood growing up in a commune and then–as a teen independent of her parents–in a cult-like political organization, the National Labor Federation. (It’s a political science student she meets after leaving the group who helps her learn to name it as a cult). Continue reading

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