Weekend Update

Because the weekend is when I meant to write it, but I had to give myself an extension. I was grading research papers all weekend.

I give a final exam on Wednesday, and once that’s graded I’m done with the semester. I have plenty of work lined up through the end of June, but my time is also more flexible and I hope to have more energy for reading and blogging. Here is some of what I’ve been reading/will be reading, when not mired in end of term craziness.

Catherine O’FlynnMr. Lynch’s Holiday. This novel, O’Flynn’s third, confirmed me as a fan, though I still think her début, What Was Lost, is her best book (and I’m not alone). O’Flynn is one of those authors who returns to particular themes: loss, memory, and the importance of place–all of her novels center on buildings being developed or redeveloped. In Mr. Lynch’s Holiday, it’s Lomaverde, a Spanish housing development intended for ex-pats, but abandoned half-completed because of the economic downturn (it reminded me of the unfinished Las Vegas development in Donna Tartt’s Goldfinch; what richly symbolic spaces these are). Widower Dermot Lynch arrives to visit his son Eamonn and finds that Eamonn has lost his job, his wife (at least temporarily), and himself in this nowhere place. The book isn’t as dark as this makes it sound. It’s often funny, and also tender and moving as father and son find each other, and other things/people. 

Here is one moment I loved. Dermot remembers waiting for his then-fiancée, Kathleen:

There was something dramatic about her entrances. Her hair blown from being on the bike, her face glowing, a slight breathlessness as she swept through the café. He always stood to greet a lady, but with Kathleen it was never courtesy or manners, it was an involuntary response. His legs straightening of their own accord, propelling him up to hold her, to catch her somehow.

I feel I’ve been bashing romance lately, but look: these lines convey so vividly Dermot’s love and physical attraction, and with none of the obvious signifiers romance so often resorts to (although you can read Dermot’s involuntary standing symbolically if you like, I suppose). I found this more believable, more moving, more romantic than any pebbling nipples, perpetual erection, etc. I thought of the feeling I still get when I unexpectedly catch sight of my husband coming towards me down the street, or spot him across the concourse at work.

Neither Dermot nor Eamonn is anything like a typical romance hero, but they did remind me of real men I know, and I cared about both of them.

Mary Jo Putney, The Bargain (read by Emma Newman). I tried a more recent Putney book without success, but was hoping this older one would work for me, especially as it features my favorite trope, marriage of convenience. I didn’t dislike it, but I thought it squandered all the most interesting possibilities in its setup. Lady Jocelyn marries David,a dying soldier, so she can keep her fortune and he can secure his sister’s future. And then he lives! I thought that could be difficult for him to come to terms with, but no–he even gets over opium addiction in a night. He’s perfect and charming, and the main conflict is Lady Jocelyn’s boring belief that she isn’t worthy of love because Mommy Issues. Oh also, David doesn’t feel himself her social equal, and I couldn’t fucking believe how that was resolved, but won’t spoil it. Even the potential love triangle with the man Jocelyn thinks she wants didn’t come to much. I liked the secondary romance with David’s prickly sister and the gruff Scottish doctor who saves David’s life, but that too was wrapped hastily in a bow and not nearly as interesting as it could have been. I think Putney is Not For Me. And also that I’m still not in a mood to fully enjoy a romance, perhaps.

I am reading Toni Anderson’s Edge of SurvivalAfter she was nominated for a RITA, @saschakeet and @dougalgodfrey noted on Twitter that they had enjoyed some of her books, and I noticed my online library had a number. I’m really enjoying the unusual setting: the heroine is a wildlife biologist doing a fish study in Labrador (I think?), the hero is a helicopter pilot. (This set-up reminded me of Rosie Thomas’s Sun at Midnightthough the books are very different). Heroine Cam has diabetes, and that seems to be depicted well–it’s part of who she is and what she can do, but doesn’t define her, and she’s tough and disciplined because she has to be. I am not a fan of villain point of view, especially if the villain is over-the-top crazy eeeevil, and this book is not changing my mind.

I’m nearly done (well, 5 hours left, but considering the length that’s nearly done) with my Middlemarch audiobook, which I have enjoyed tremendously. In the middle (ha!) I paused to listen to Rebecca Mead’s My Life in Middlemarch, which enriched my hearing of Eliot’s novel. (Rohan has a good review here).

I have big dreams about all the summer reading I want to do (please let it involve enjoying romance fiction again, as well as finally getting into Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles). In April, I’m planning to read some political romances: Emma Barry‘s Special Interests, Rose Lerner’s Sweet Disorderand Karyn Langhorne’s Unfinished BusinessThese are books I wanted to read and thought would “go together,” but I got more recommendations on Twitter, so if it goes well, I may keep going.

Tomorrow I’m heading to the library to pick up the latest Julia Spencer-Fleming mystery and Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking by Anya Von Bremzen, part of my Read Non-Fiction from Best Of 2013 Lists project.

I have too much to read. What are you reading? *gets ready to note down more titles*

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9 Responses to Weekend Update

  1. willaful says:

    Well, I just put a hold on Mr. Lynch’s Holiday…

    I’m reading The Angel Stone by whatsername who is also Carol Goodman, and honestly, I don’t much care how it comes out. Other than that I want it to end happily. I wish skimming an ebook wasn’t so difficult…

  2. lawless says:

    these lines convey so vividly Dermot’s love and physical attraction, and with none of the obvious signifiers romance so often resorts to (although you can read Dermot’s involuntary standing symbolically if you like, I suppose). I found this more believable, more moving, more romantic than any pebbling nipples, perpetual erection, etc….

    Neither Dermot nor Eamonn is anything like a typical romance hero, but they did remind me of real men I know, and I cared about both of them.

    Agree 1000%. I think the problem is with the conventions of genre romance, not with you or with romance writ large. I don’t care how long or loudly people say genre romance isn’t formulaic, or is no more formulaic than other genres; they’re largely wrong, especially with regard to how characters are written. In fact, I’d argue that that predictability is what draws some people to romance while it drives others way.

    The only genre m/f romances I’ve found satisfying are historicals written by a handful of authors like Sherry Thomas, Courtney Milan, Loretta Chase, and Jeannie Lin, Teresa Weir’s Cool Cats series, and Mary Stewart and J.D. Robb’s romantic suspense. (And I’m not sure Mary Stewart’s books qualify as genre romance anyway; they certainly predate its birth.) M/m is a whole other story; yes, it’s fairly trope-filled as well, but authors are allowed more leeway with characterization, writing style, and plots than they are in m/f romance, and they start from footing that is not unequal because of supposed gender differences.

    I’m reading Jo Nesbo’s first Harry Hole novel, The Bat, and so far am enjoying it even more than the later novels in the series that I’ve already read (The Redbreast, The Nemesis,, and The Devil’s Star), which is odd, because it’s set in Australia, not Norway, and so far the book spends a lot of time on Australian social history, particularly vis-a-vis the aboriginal peoples who inhabited Australia before the first whites came. It has the potential to be exploitative as well as appropriative, but it doesn’t read that way to me so far.

    I’m particularly sensitive to that issue at the moment because I’ve been reading Olivia Waite’s posts on intersectionality and a comment of mine brought me bang up against her perception, shared by many, that women writing about gay men (at least in the form of romance) — or anyone in a non-marginalized group writing about a marginalized group — is inherently exploitative and appropriative. If that’s so, there’s a lot of writing by straight white men we should stop reading, too. Shogun? Heart of Darkness (which I haven’t read and which for all I know is colonialist in outlook)? Anything by Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee, even though he is South African, because he’s white? IDK, it seems like a stupid and limiting distinction to me. Read the book and see where it’s exploitative and appropriative; don’t just assume it is because of the genre, topic, or who wrote it.

  3. rmaitzen says:

    For some reason I decided to mark the end of term (and the onset of marking!) with two door-stoppers – Sacred Games and In Sunlight and In Shadow. I am still dithering about whether to put The Goldfinch on my summer reading list — but right now I kind of feel like I need to speed through a few lighter things, if only to give my wrists a break! So you like Mead’s book?

  4. Lucy Warriner says:

    I recently finished and loved Kate Manning’s My Notorious Life. It’s based on the biography of Ann Trow Lohman (aka Madame Restell), who provided birth control and abortions in nineteenth-century New York. The narrative contains a love story, but it’s in no way the center of the novel, which I really appreciated. I’d call the book solid, highly relevant historical fiction with an engaging narrator. Based on your above comments about depictions of romance, and on your expertise in Victorian literature, I think you might enjoy it.

  5. Sunita says:

    Another Flynn to put on my TBR. I have her second book on my audio TBR already. Like you, I really enjoy the way her work takes up issues of space and place.

    I wonder how The Bargain would work for me now. I remember enjoying it when I read it ages ago but I have a feeling MJP won’t wear well.

    I am a little over 100 pages into David Peace’s Red or Dead. I’ve been eyeing it since it came out last year but I find Peace to be challenging, so I’ve hesitated. But I’m completely immersed in it and can’t wait to read more. The repetitions and the simplicity of the vocabulary and the sentence structure is hypnotic and almost poetic, and so far it does an amazing job of mimicking the rhythm of a long sports season. I’m not sure how it would work for someone who isn’t a sports fan, but I don’t think you have to be a Liverpool fan to find it immersive (being one helps, obviously).

  6. Allison says:

    The MJP that still works for me is The Diabolical Baron–but only for the rom between the downtrodden noble’s daughter who is a composer, and the noble in hiding. Their connection, while slightly silly in parts still makes my stomach ache (a good thing for me!). The conventional rom between the alpha Baron & the widowed but gorgeous ‘aunt’ bored me. Too much of a muchness w/genre.

  7. Ros says:

    I have read two MJP’s (Thunder and Roses, and The Rake) both by personal recommendation from someone who knows my reading tastes well. I liked both of them but not enough to make me seek out more.

    At the moment, I’m mostly glomming Jo Beverley’s backlist, but I also read a nice Sarah Mayberry novella today, Almost A Bride.

  8. sonomalass says:

    I also read Almost a Bride, and it’s companion novella by Trisha Morey, Second Chance Bride. (That one is actually first, chronologically.) Short romance, but good, especially the Mayberry.

    Of your books, Liz, I’ve read Sweet Disorder, which was good,, and I have Special Interests TBR.

    I also read two novels that deal with women who were institutionalized for, essentially, rebellious behavior, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, by Maggie O’Farrell, and The Forgotten Seamstress, by Liz Trenow. The first was good, the second brilliant — hoping to do a post covering both, once the Trenow is released.

    And, as I have said elsewhere several times, I am loving Meljean Brook’s serial, the Kraken King.

  9. joopdeloop says:

    I really loved “Boy, Snow, Bird” by Helen Oyeyemi. I’d been on a pretty stark genre glut, with very few completed forays outside romance and some scifi/fantasy. I was surprised how quickly this book devoured me, and really enjoyed the characters (plus pretty awesome epistolary sections! and i am always a sucker for good fairytale retelling). I had also just finished “Ancillary Justice” by Ann Leckie and between these two books delighted in the ways that these authors play with gender (and race in the Oyeyemi book) and the ways that people love. Am saving recent Jeannie Lin and Laura Florand and Rose Lerner for … im not sure what? But I feel smug to have some good books in hand, kind of like a stash of Scharfenberger bars in my pantry. Or maybe its like dj-ing, I am finding it hard to find the right segue books to read before dropping myself into these worlds. Most recently I caught up with the Patricia Briggs 2nd to latest Mercy Thompson book, Frost Burned. (Being out sick for a week, I took advantage and reread the whole series – the 7 books stood up very well to re-reading all in one bite.) So, feeling the opposite of rut: happy and hoarding some good stuff in case my run of luck breaks.

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