Obviously I am way behind on the TBR Challenge post, which was due May 20. But it’s still May! And I did Kick it Old School and read (sort of) a romance published more than 10 years ago. More on that in a minute.
I’ve found reading in general a bit of a challenge this month. It’s always a busy one at work, and this year my department had to make a major decision about entry to our first-year courses that took a lot of time and energy. Then I was reading a couple of books to review for our literary magazine. I enjoy doing this (I write one every year or two), but it’s hard. The reading challenges me: I get small press fiction and non-fiction which is often quite different from my usual reading choices, and I have to read more attentively to prepare for a formal review; the writing challenges me: it’s only 1400 words but it’s not it’s less personal and I have less sense of audience than when I’m blogging, so I get writer’s block. It usually involves a lot of procrastination which does not, sadly, involve reading other books (although I am halfway through another go-round of Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time saga on audio and have played a lot of solitaire). I’ve read only a couple of books in May besides the two review ones. And my TBR Challenge book, which took me forever and which I only really read half of.
When I looked at the TBR Challenge schedule back in January and saw that May’s theme was Kickin’ It Old School, I decided it was time to read Johanna Lindsey’s Gentle Rogue. I picked this up in a giant Lindsey sale a couple of years ago, on the theory that a) I should read something by this classic author and b) this one sounded not too crazysauce/rapey for my taste. It’s called Gentle Rogue, after all! Shipboard romance and cross-dressing heroine are tropes I’ve enjoyed before. So. Well. This book did indeed not outrage me, but it bored me. I got stuck in the middle forever (I avoided reading it) and finally got through by skimming the second half. Let me explain.
1. There’s hardly any plot. In the opening chapters we get a bunch of backstory about the hero and heroine: her money was stolen on the way to London to find her missing fiancé; he used to be a pirate, found his illegitimate son, and made peace with his family. Hang on, I thought, all the interesting stuff has already happened to these people. What’s left? Not much but bickering and having sex, it turns out. At one point a pirate ship turned up in the distance and I was like, Yay, plot! but the hero told his first mate to outrun it because he needed to have sex with the heroine. Boo, no plot! (I get that this is a sign of his unacknowledged love and how he now cares most about her but I still wanted something to happen!)
2. There are basically no conversations in Gentle Rogue that are not bickering. When Georgie and James are not bickering with each other, they are bickering with their many, many prequel- and sequel-baiting brothers (I cannot say how annoying all the extraneous Malory backstory in the first several chapters was. Irrelevant and confusing summaries of previous books. An object lesson in how not to do backstory/pique reader interest in your other books). While mired at 30% of Lindsey’s book, I got into a Twitter conversation about humor and how personal a taste it is. I could see how some people love this book and find it hilarious. I did not. I like witty banter and I can like full-on fights, but bickering is an in-between thing that does not work for me.
3. I always say I want longer romances but I wonder if that’s really true. I would have enjoyed this book more had it been pruned to about 250 pages, with repetitive and pointless scenes cut. Because there were elements I found charming and emotionally appealing. They just got drowned out. If books are going to be longer, I want more plot, more interesting characters/psychological depth, and better writing. (It wasn’t terrible, but it was wordy and rambling–not interesting in and of itself but only as a vehicle for the story). I felt reading this, “Be careful what you wish for.”
I never expected to love Johanna Lindsey, but I disliked this for reasons I wouldn’t have predicted. As I was reading, though, I found myself thinking that I probably would have enjoyed this more when I was new to genre romance, when the characters and conflict would have been fresher to me. And then I remembered that as a newbie romance-reader, because I thought of romance as “not very good,” I felt free to skim a lot. I skipped over the bits that bored me or seemed clumsy, and just read the moments that made me laugh or engaged me emotionally or when the plot got exciting. So that’s what I did here. And at that pace, I did find some scenes I enjoyed.
I’m not sure what the lesson in all this is for me. Except that I’ve realized I don’t care any more about “educating” myself as a romance-reader. I just want to read what I like. Also, don’t pick a 400-page book for a challenge in a busy month. I’d have finished on time if I’d gone for a traditional Regency, and enjoyed myself more too. So I think this was a successful challenge in that it might mean I give myself permission to dump some things I know aren’t for me but feel I should read from my TBR.
Anyway, some major work things are off my desk now and I hope to get my blogging mojo back and tell you soon about some of the books I liked more than this!