September Reading Retrospective

Traditional Regencies

My library has a lot of the backlist titles re-released as e-books by Belgrave House (list here), and there have been some cheap for Kindle as well. The ones I’ve read so far are witty and fairly light, which I enjoy. My recommendations have been coming from Twitter mentions. If you’ve got suggestions for e-available trads I should try, please comment!

Candice Hern, A Proper Companion I think this was Hern’s first novel, and it shows. The plot (aristocrat falls for his grandmother’s companion rather than the proper wife he thinks he wants) is pretty formulaic, and the characters didn’t feel fully developed. I don’t remember much about it. I also read Hern’s A Garden Folly, which I enjoyed more. I thought the heroine’s struggle over whether true “safety” lay in marrying for love or for money wasn’t as poignant as it could have been, though. The book felt a bit shallow.

Joan Smith, Imprudent Lady I don’t think she ever really rose to “imprudent.” The hero in this one is a somewhat rakish aristocrat and celebrity poet whose work is clearly based on Byron’s; the heroine is a novelist, whose descriptions of the “small canvas” of her domestic fictions evokes Austen’s “little bit of ivory.” Real life literary personages–Coleridge, Burney, the publisher John Murray–make appearances. I liked the literary milieu and the comic minor characters. The main characters are friends first, and their falling in love with each other is really believable.

Mary Balogh, A Chance Encounter Trad Regency guru Janet W. kindly sent me this, with the proviso that she didn’t think it is among Balogh’s best. I have to admit I have yet to find a Balogh that I’ve loved (*ducks*). This one had a Big Misunderstanding plot, which I don’t love. I also couldn’t believe in two people who loved each other through years of estrangement during which each believed the other had betrayed him/her. (This isn’t uncommon in romance, but I always wonder what kind of loser wouldn’t move on. Only Austen ever really sold me on this plot. Falling back in love, sure, but staying in love all those years?) Balogh has a real gift for exploring heartbreak, betrayal and disillusionment convincingly and movingly, and this book is no exception.

There was one historical clunker: the heroine muses that “someone somewhere had said that it was better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Since that someone was Tennyson, whose In Memoriam was not published until 1850, a Regency-era heroine could not have quoted it. Sure, they didn’t have Wikipedia in 1985, but I bet even a small-town Saskatchewan library had Bartlett’s Quotations. And Balogh was an English teacher. Aside from my google-break to make sure I wasn’t crazy, it didn’t really bother me, but I’ll certainly never believe the internet claims that Balogh gets all her history right.

Romantic Suspense

Jill Sorenson, Tempted By His Target I’ve challenged myself to read something by all the authors I follow on Twitter. The fact that I own a book by every author I follow (I think) is a sign of the power of social media. I don’t follow them unless they have interesting conversations, so I think they’re doing Twitter right. Bestirring myself to actually read these books is another matter. I read this because of Jessica’s review, and I pretty much agree with what she said. I liked the opening surfing scene, though, because it established the characters as having something in common besides being on the run together. This book was perfect for a moment when I needed something fast-paced, gripping, and exotic to take my mind off real life. One thing I miss in a lot of romance is the evocation of a realistic setting, and this book did that very well, as a lot of mysteries do.

Contemporary Romance

Tracy Kelleher, Invitation to Italian I often enjoy Harlequin Superromance for the realistic characters and issues, but this one did not work for me, despite having elements I usually like (including a heroine who’s taller than the hero!). There were entirely too many sub-plots for convincing development of the romance. I like the hero and heroine to have work they care about, friends, family and community, but not at the expense of the central courtship plot. The writing was quite wordy and repetitive, as well: “something about him–be it his normally entrenched aura or some indefinable spirit–appeared to contract within.” Say what? I also didn’t think every Italian phrase needed translation.

Erotic Romance

Anne Calhoun, Liberating Lacey A lot of people loved this book, and I do see why. The sex scenes are integral to the plot and to the development of the relationship. They don’t seem mechanical; they’ve got an emotional impact. In the end, though, this book made me think longer-form erotica/erotic romance is not for me. There was just too much sex (which is hardly a fair complaint about an erotic romance, I know). And while I could believe the hero and heroine–a cop and a business-woman eight years his senior–respected each and desired each other, a lasting relationship was less convincing, because I didn’t see enough of them outside  . . . well, not the bedroom, because they had sex all over, but outside of sex. What will they talk about in five years, I wondered?

Jackie Barbosa, Carnally Ever After (with Bonus Material) This is another author I follow on Twitter, and I’m providing a link because even though the rights reverted to Jackie and she self-published it for Kindle, the older version hasn’t disappeared and is showing up first in search results, despite her repeated e-mails to Amazon. This is a fun, light Regency erotic short which I read as pure fantasy. Jackie commented somewhere (I cannot track it down) that since people today violate norms all the time, she expects people did in the past, too, and I found her erotic romance kind of a gleeful take on that idea. The characters are supposed to be marrying other people but really want each other; the heroine doesn’t believe she can be attractive and the hero convinces her otherwise. There is a comic scene with a cucumber, for those who enjoy such things. I am not a fan of the “anal will allow you to remain a virgin” argument (which seems more like today’s evangelical college students than Regency people) or the instant agreement to and enjoyment of same by the heroine, but otherwise I liked this. And I really enjoyed the epilogue, “Epiphany,” in which the hero convinces the heroine that her post-childbirth body is still sexy. Never have I more identified with a romance heroine than in that description of her stomach (sorry, TMI).

Mysteries on Audio

Colin Cotterill, The Coroner’s Lunch Set in 1970s Laos, with 70-something protagonist who’s been a revolutionary much of his life but is bemused by the reality of a communist society. Good writing, great characters, a fascinating setting. Keishon has reviewed a number of the books in this series.

James Church, A Corpse in the Koryo The fairly hard-boiled style of this novel (first-person narrator, confusing and unresolved plot) seems perfect for an exploration of North Korea, a society more corrupt than Chandler’s LA, and surely even more in need of an out-of-place knight errant.

These were both really interesting (especially one after the other) and I’ll “read” more from both series.

Other Reading

I feel I’ve OD’d on romance lately. Hence more mystery and non-fiction on audio (I finally finished Tony Judt’s excellent Postwar). And more “literary” fiction, too. Right now I’m listening to William Boyd’s Any Human Heart. I really like the Boyd novels I’ve read; he’s great at creating realistic characters and he believes in plot, too. I’m almost finished reading Catherine O’Flynn’s The News Where You Are, and plan to write something about it in the next few days. I’m enjoying it, but not as much as her first novel, What Was Lost, which I really loved. My favorite thing about her books: her interest in the physical fabric of the city.


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3 Responses to September Reading Retrospective

  1. Ooh, Tony Judt’s book’s been sitting on my shelf for a while now. You’d recommend it?

    • lizmc2 says:

      If you like a sweeping narrative/thematic history, yes. Very readable (or listenable) and brings so much together. It is opinionated, but I know so little about the period that I was mostly not aware of that (only when he got onto stuff like French theory).

  2. kelly says:

    Have you read Lord Carew’s Bride? That’s the Balogh I love.

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