The word that describes my reading lately is “scattered.” I didn’t read a lot while I was grading final papers (but I did read a couple of romances that I’ll write about here). When I finished grading, almost two weeks ago, I had a backlog of library books and couldn’t quite figure out how to start. So I’ve got way too many books on the go. My goal for next week is to organize my “summer”–I have a harder time setting work goals and structuring my time when I’m not teaching–and that includes settling down to more focused reading and making time for blogging regularly.
The pair of Harlequin romances I blasted through at the end of long days of grading reminded me of what I love about category romance: short, escapist (the quick read providing a needed sense of “accomplishment”) but with real emotional issues at their heart. I wasn’t the most attentive reader on those evenings, and some details are vague to me now, but here’s what stuck:
Julia Justiss, A Most Unconventional Match A number of Twitter friends were talking about Justiss and traditional-style Regency romance usually works well for me. Hal Waterman helps newly-widowed Elizabeth Lowery, for whom he cherishes an unspoken passion, out of financial and other difficulties. Hal’s passion is unspoken both because he’s a man of few words (his way of coping with a childhood stutter) and because he mistrusts beautiful women because of his social-climbing, neglectful mother. (The taciturn trope I enjoy, the bad mother not so much).
What I liked about this was the way Hal respected and fostered Elizabeth’s artistic talent and encouraged her to be true to herself. Also, Elizabeth learned to stand on her own feet, so at the end she chose Hal rather than needing him. The book really fell apart in the last 20% or so, though. There were numerous plot lines that seemed to be leading to a big black moment but then were quickly resolved. I was glad the dreaded Big Misunderstanding never developed and the two trusted each other, but it felt like Justiss couldn’t figure out how to wind the book up and kept throwing in half-baked complications. So kind of a mixed bag but I liked it enough that I think I’ll try her Forbidden Nights with the Viscount, which a lot of people raved about.
Marion Lennox, Stranded With the Secret Billionaire This book starts in my least favorite way: the rich big-city girl is dumped by her fiancé (for her hotter big sister), takes off for the outback, and gets her cute pink convertible stuck in a flooding creek. The sheep-farming hero rides in to rescue her (literally) and thinks of her as silly and useless. Ugh! But it quickly turned around, as Penny turns out to be a chef and Matt needs someone to cook for his shearing team. They work their butts off as a team for the next two weeks, while falling for each other. That plot, I like. Penny gets tough enough to rescue herself from her family problems, but she still appreciates it when Matt shows up for support. Matt, who’s been burned by love before, decides to take a risk on loving again.
I like Lennox a lot and find her novels sweet-but-not-too-sweet, charming and emotional. This one mostly worked for me. I didn’t entirely believe that two people so self-aware hadn’t been able to fix their problems earlier–but then again, I’ve been writing about the same issues in my journal for decades…. The big gesture at the end isn’t my favorite and everything wrapped up awfully neatly and easily, but I can accept those things as short-hand for harder work on change in such a short book. The one place I really wasn’t buying it was with Matt’s daughter. Matt, don’t declare your tentative new love in front of the unhappy teenager who barely knows you and has just been sent to live with you! (Not to mention your beloved’s new employee). This scene was creepy, not cute. I needed the parent-child relationship to be treated more seriously and realistically. More respectfully, maybe. A kid is not a prop.
Finally, there’s the Secret Billionaire part. I liked Matt fine as a successful farmer who loved his land and work, and didn’t need the fairytale element. His billions come from a bauxite mine and that didn’t really chime well with his love of the land. It wasn’t shown directly in the book but struck a sour note for me–just at this moment neither mining not billionaires seem “fairytale” (in a good way).
And that last point showed me why I haven’t turned to romance, my usual comfort reading, this last year. I don’t find easy, neat fairytale endings comforting right now. That’s not all the genre offers, of course. I need to seek out harder-won happiness in my romance reading. I did enjoy these books and find them relaxing, but they didn’t give me the joy romance used to.