Things have been busy at work. The “how do I solve this problem?” kind of busy that leaves me tired and cranky. I looked at my pile of library books and thought “Ugh. I hate you all!” I requested them because they’re supposed to be good and I thought I’d like them. I just don’t feel like them right now.
Maybe because they’re supposed to be so good, they got sucked into my “I hate hype” vortex; or maybe their acclaim plus the need to read them before they’re due equals a sense of obligation that makes reading them seem like a chore. I’m going to return them. They’ll still be there weeks or months from now. And they’ll be just as good then–better, if I actually want to read them.
So I haven’t read a lot. I am (very slowly) reading Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time of Gifts, a memoir of his walk across Europe in the mid-1930s (he was 18). Last night I grabbed a Betty Neels paperback, a used bookstore find, off my bedroom shelf and fell into Betty-world in the first few pages. Hype-free (though beloved by many) choices.
A couple of other January reads I haven’t got around to discussing yet:
Edie Harris, Wild Burn
[This is a pumped-up version of my Goodreads review]. I found this Western historical romance just OK, but it was a mixed bag of good and weaker stuff, not uniformly average.
Good: a setting you don’t see much these days, and great characters. Ex-nun schoolteacher and former-Confederate-soldier, Indian-hunting gunslinger, each haunted in their own way by the Civil War, in Colorado Territory? Yes!
Harris conveyed the physical hunger of falling in love really well. That’s no mean feat. I read plenty of books filled with mental lusting that don’t get across that feeling of seeing him across the room and needing to be touching him now, or never wanting to stop kissing. I liked some of the writing a lot: “He was a war machine, made of iron, hollow inside and unbreakable out” or “She’d fallen asleep with lambent pleasure still tripping along her nerve endings.”
Not so good: The editing was disappointing. Good sentences, yes, but also overly modern phrases like “skill set” and strange word choices like “unprepossessing” kiss (from the context I think Harris meant it wasn’t possessive). And then sentences like this: “Even as she heard John repeat her name questioningly, his hand having fallen away from her shoulder when she tripped, she glared up at the man toward whom she’d earlier decided deserved the brunt of her displeasure.” Say what? I suspect something got accidentally deleted, or not deleted, in an edit. If Delaney had been described as “hard” one more time, I would have hurled my Kobo at the wall.
Looking back on this book, it seems like one big hot make-out session occasionally interrupted by a somewhat under-developed plot. I prefer my romance the other way around. The characters were rather inconsistent, or underexplained. Yes, war changes people, but nothing about Del said “scion of a wealthy Savannah plantation” to me. I guess a romance hero has to be against slavery, and there was a semi-plausible reason for it in his Northern mother, but I still had trouble believing. Moira’s position was precarious and she wanted safety, so I found some of her actions with Del in semi-public places surprising, or at least I would have expected her to consider consequences more. I wondered why she didn’t befriend other women, like the mothers of her pupils, to help her feel secure. Aside from Moira, and the Mother Superior in flashback, there’s not a single adult woman with a speaking part. (Of course, the way the Mother Superior treats Moira may be part of why she doesn’t seek out other women). Secondary characters were under-developed, particularly the over-the-top villains who had no obvious motive for their actions.
The plot around the Dog Soldiers was disappointingly truncated. Just when I thought Del and the Marshal were going to work on solving the mystery, boom, there was a big action scene and the book was over. I was left with a lot of questions and no sense that this is a to-be-continued plot arc.
In a word, uneven. But the good stuff was good enough that I’ll try Harris again. This is her full-length début.
Lois McMaster Bujold, Barrayar (narrated by Grover Gardner)
The second (depending on how you count) book in the Vorkosigan saga. I don’t think the world needs me to summarize or review this one. So I’ll just say I really loved seeing Aral and Cordelia adjust to a marriage in which she’s left her world behind and is trying to adapt to his without losing herself. I moved to Canada a few weeks after my marriage. I was writing my dissertation and hardly knew anyone–it was a hard year. Sure, it wasn’t a patch on suddenly finding yourself married to the Imperial Regent of a warlike planet you regard as backward, but I identified with their struggles.
I got into a Twitter discussion about Romance series (series as interconnected books about 6 siblings, SEALs, werewolves, etc. vs. series as the currently hot trilogy about a single couple). I am not interested in pure romance series about one couple, as opposed to mysteries or speculative fiction with a romance thread. They seem to rely on the characters being really messed up, immature, and drama-llamatic to stretch out the conflict long enough. But I do like the idea of a couple from a previous book in an interconnected series coming back not in a “look at their perfect HEA” cameo but in a secondary storyline showing them adjusting to marriage. I don’t mean a marriage in trouble. I never had any doubt that Aral and Cordelia loved each other and would figure it out. I mean a marriage under construction. I think I am the only romance reader in the universe who would like this idea, though, so I’m not holding my breath.