Seasonal Reading?

I have written before about how stressful I find December. I had my last class yesterday, and our department office is decorated for Christmas. But I am so not done with the term–still lots of grading, an exam to give, other work, Christmas shopping, etc. etc. etc. I am not in the Christmas, or even Advent, spirit, and I don’t want to think about it yet, because when I do panic sets in.

So while many people I know are tweeting about the Christmas romances they’re reading, I’ve been in the mood for mystery and romantic suspense. Perhaps I should binge on the Christmas novellas languishing in my TBR come June? Otherwise, they may stay there forever.

After reading actor David Sutcliffe’s comments on loneliness (linked in my last post), in the intervals of grading I binge-watched the 13 episodes of Cracked available on Netflix. (It’s a Canadian show, so I suspect for once geo-restrictions worked in my favor). It’s a fairly conventional cop show in which Sutcliffe plays Aidan Black, a troubled detective with PTSD who is assigned to the “Psych Crimes” unit and partnered with a forensic psychologist. Thinking about Sutcliffe’s words about his own loneliness added depth and poignancy to his portrayal of a lonely character, and was part of what kept me watching. [Also, to be honest, it’s the kind of show designed to hook female viewers into thinking, “Let me help with your loneliness, handsome sad character. I can fix you!” I’m not immune to this sort of thing. At all. If I wrote fanfic it would be about Mary Sue Me and dudes like this.]

I had mixed feelings about the portrayal of mental illness on the show: on the one hand, it’s sometimes sensitive; on the other, they’re the Psych Crimes unit, so, you know, there are a lot of violent mentally ill characters featured. The two  main characters may be attractive white people, but the core cast is really diverse, and I also liked the color blind casting of minor characters (like a veteran named Kovacs played by a black actor). I wanted more.

This week, I read Laura K. Curtis‘ romantic suspense novel Twisted. This was one of those times when the author’s social media presence helped sell me the book. I’ve enjoyed interacting with Curtis on Twitter and reading some of her blog posts–her perspectives made me think I’d likely enjoy her book–plus her Lego book trailer was fun.

In Twisted, true crime writer Lucy Sadler Caldwell comes home to the small town of Dobbs Hollow to investigate her mother’s murder, which happened when Lucy was a teen. Her reappearance stirs up trouble, other murders happen, and eventually the cops get the villains and Lucy gets police chief Ethan Donovan (come on, it’s romantic suspense–that’s not a spoiler, is it?). I found Twisted required some suspension of disbelief: could so much criminal behavior really go unremarked in a small town for so many years? But I suspended mine willingly, because the suspense was page-turning and I really liked the characters.

Lucy isn’t “feisty” or “kick-ass,” but believably a smart, skilled survivor. She’s taken self-defense lessons and owns guns that she knows how to use, and her career has made her a good investigator. Her foster father and a number of friends are law enforcement officers, and she understands their world. Ethan has come to a small town because injury (and other things we don’t learn about right away) left him feeling he is unsuited for his job on the Houston force. He’s protective and a good cop, but not a bossy alpha. He doesn’t know how to stop being a detective, but he’s not sure he’s up to the job anymore. Ethan and Lucy have good reason not to trust each other, but slowly they learn to do so, and to work together. They need each other. This respectful partnership is my favorite kind of romance. I liked many of the secondary characters, too. The investigation had the ensemble feel of a good police procedural.

There were elements of this book that I often dislike. There are a handful of scenes in the villain’s point of view, but not too many, and they’re brief. I don’t think I’m giving too much away in saying there are serial murders and rapes. But for the most part, the violence is off screen and I didn’t get the torture porn, victimization of women feeling that I get from some romantic suspense. I thought Curtis showed enough to make the crimes feel serious, but the focus is on the investigation.

At the end, Lucy does something some readers might call TSTL. I would not. She has a plan and backup, and she’s not helpless. Her actions set up the kind of confrontation scene I expect in a book like this. She takes the kind of risks we expect from male heroes and tend to belittle in female ones. It worked for me.

One of my favorite secondary characters was TJ, finding a role for herself as a cop in the small town where her father is mayor. As soon as she was introduced, I thought, “I’d like to read her story.” And I will get the chance in Curtis’ next book. Female law enforcement characters are so rare in romantic suspense. I’d like it even better if she were going to be paired with a civilian instead of an FBI guy, but I suspect that’s regarded as Too Emasculating in the genre (if anyone knows of such a book, please tell me). Twisted was a win for me: the gripping, slightly creepy pleasures of romantic suspense without the gender politics I dislike.

In a change of mood, but sticking with mystery, I’m now reading Catherine Lloyd’s Death Comes to the Village, a Regency-set cozy mystery with a Rear Window vibe, pairing the injured Napoleonic war veteran Major Kurland with rector’s daughter Lucy Harrington. I learned about it from this post by Victoria Janssen. I’m really enjoying it so far. (This author also writes historical erotic romance as Kate Pearce).

What’s your pre-holiday (or Thanksgiving holiday) reading?

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7 Responses to Seasonal Reading?

  1. willaful says:

    I’ve been feeling very burned out from review responsibilities, so have been taking a mini vacation and reading a little out of genre. Today I finished Fangirl, which was immersive and emotional in a very real way. I wish there were more NA like that. I started Covet by the author of On the Island but sadly was bored to tears. Desperate housewives without any of the humor. Have been reading Dad Is Fat off and on — it’s quite funny, but a little goes a long way. Now I’m just about to start Stuck in the Middle With You a book about parenting by a trans woman. I read her previous book She’s Not There and enjoyed it a lot. I also have The Rosie Project to get to.

  2. Miss Bates says:

    Sadly, no holiday here. But I did read another Livingston Hill and, though I found same problems in this one as first, I’m feeling some affection for Hill. Presently, a rarity for Miss Bates, I’m reading a paranormal romance novel & am reminded how silly they can be.

  3. Sunita says:

    I skipped the second half of the post because your tweets sucked me into reading the sample for Twisted and I enjoyed it so much I immediately bought the book. I never do that! But thanks, I’m enjoying it quite a bit.

    I’ve been reading a raft of Christmas stories this month. I wonder if the reason I enjoy them is because (a) I’m not Christian, so no particular investment; and (b) we have very few Christmas traditions and therefore almost no holiday-related anxiety. If we’re spending it with family we have to buy presents and cook more elaborately on the day, but otherwise it’s just getting TheH to make his Christmas cookies at some point and that’s it. Very restful. Well, except for the end of semester panic and grading, but that’s normal anxiety!

    I do hate the fact that the media/shopping frenzy begins before Thanksgiving now, though. We spent the week up until Thanksgiving in London, which we’ve done off and on for years, and we noticed that this year all the Christmas decorations were already up and the ads were in full swing. It didn’t used to be this early there (that was part of the point of going). Ah well.

    • Kathryn says:

      I did read Sarah Morgan’s two Christmas releases – Sleigh Bells in the Snow and Ripped. They were both enjoyable and fun, but not memorable. Just finished Miss Buncle’s Book and loved it and just ended up buying the second book in that series.

      Harvard is bringing out lovely annotated and illustrated editions of all Austen’s work and this year was Sense and Sensibility. So I’m slowly enjoying my reread of adventures of the Miss Dashwoods. Austen is just perfect for the holiday season.

  4. Ros says:

    I read the Sarah Morgan single title a month ago and have been feeling grumpily grinchy ever since. Too much schmaltz for me. So I am avoiding Christmas stories at the moment. Instead I have been reading some vintage M&B’s which I have been enjoying very much. I have one left but I shall be scouring ebay and amazon for more.

  5. Lynnd says:

    I have been in a huge reading slump for months. I’m sure that part of that is due to the craziness at work. I have managed to complete a couple of books which I enjoyed, but for the most part, I have put down more books than I have finished. Most of them were well-written stories by authors I enjoy so it’s not the books, it’s me. I rarely read Christmas themed books/stories. As I have gotten older, the whole holiday hype just turns me off completely (the stores here have had their Christmas displays up since Hallowe’en) and everywhere I turn it’s wall-to-wall and over-the-top Christmas. I’m already sick of it and it’s just now getting into full swing. Luckily this year, I have most of my Christmas shopping already done so I can try avoid the stores as much as possible over the next month. I’m hoping that this will actually put me in the Christmas spirit by the time December 24th actually comes.

  6. Liz Mc2 says:

    Thanks, everyone, I have enjoyed your comments. I think I’m not just in a “no holiday stories” mood, but am not really in a romance mood. I downloaded the unabridged version of Heyer’s Sylvester, but gave up on it for now, despite thinking Nicholas Rowe’s narration was excellent. I’m just not in the mood (or it may be Sylvester–I always found that one dragged out the misunderstandings and crazy situations too long, though I enjoy it. I started listening to a mystery instead.

    I’ll have to save my Sarah Morgans for June, but Austen might hit the spot!

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