I’m trying to blast through the last of the books I read in January – and attempting to read my next books really, really slowly. In the month of January, I read eleven books: four Real Books and seven romance novels. These are the final two! (And then I can start on February…)
The Viscount Who Loved Down the Lane by Elizabeth Boyle is a motley tale of illegal trespass and extreme alcoholism for the ages – particularly because it strips the Beauty and the Beast plotline and fills in the gaps with petty crime and PTSD-driven dependency.
The best part about this book was the play between the inexperience and knowledge of the clumsy femme fatale: she’s completely innocent in her previous dealings with gentlemen, but – BUT – she’s lived in a house in which a book of French sexual positions was housed (on a discreet high shelf, but accessible nonetheless). It’s good to read a book in which the swooning half of the duo actually knows what happens during sex – and has a healthy amount of curiosity about it. I really hate it when the women huddle between the sheets as they are initiated into physical intimacy: I’m queasy about ow much consent is really possible when someone doesn’t actually know what is meant to happen, especially with a partner who is generally…liberally experienced.
It was also lovely to read a book in which the woman is driven to be useful – explained by her upbringing at the hand of her pastor father – most of her time is spent rehabilitating Sir No Shirt’s house and garden. We don’t hear about so many balls, routs, or social occasions; it would still be too much to give the pushy lady an actual profession or mission in life (sigh), but it’s a helluva start.
There were many things that I had a hard time writing off, such as the half-baked nickname – the female character’s last name is Tempest, so she becomes ‘La Tempesta’, but the male counterpart never calls her that; it’s a frail, thin reference to the time he spent in Spain, fighting for his country and (inevitably) losing his best friend. Speaking of the late friend, his late name was Poldie: what is that supposed to be short for? And of course, the dead last friend saves the day, in the form of a powerful letter to a third party. You can always count on the dead guy for a parting shot.
However, the worst of it was the clear disregard for what quitting alcohol actually does to a person, particularly one who has used it as his main nourishment for such a protracted period of time. People don’t get to the ‘fresh-faced’ and cheerful stage until much, much later in the process. This guy would be retching into buckets on the wedding day, sweating through his clothes and sheets, and holding his head delicately between his knees for the foreseeable future. Instead, however, he bounds about, happy as some clams, and shtoops his beloved with nary a yellow tinge to his sallow, sun-deprived skin.
The Famous Heroine and The Plumed Bonnet by Mary Balogh is another of the twofer books. In general, I like Balogh’s books, because the stories tend to be slightly different than the normal libations in store from other authors: the usual tropes are used, but tweaked so that they feel at once familiar but fresh. The one persistent problem: well. Let’s examine the following:
[Said of the Vauxhall Gardens of London] “She had not been there before and was excited at the prospect of seeing the famous pleasure gardens at night, when they were reputed to be magical with their lamp-laden trees and shady walks and pavilion and music and food and fireworks” (121).
I’m sure you spotted the problem immediately. How can you appreciate a shady walk at night? It’s night. EVERYTHING is dark and obscure and shadowed and dim and murky and perhaps even gloomy. And. And. And. This, coincidentally, is the reason why my sister hates borrowing my romance novels – and has been very snippy about lending books to me in the past: I have a black pen and I make good use of it. My version of this set of stories now has a substantial amount of commas, and many, many fewer ‘and’s.
Anyway. The first story is about your classic ditsy country chit who arrives in town with a disgraceful secret she tries to keep a lid on – her now-dead mother slept around. Gasp! She falls for a heterosexual dandy (who steps in at just the right moment), so of course, she trips over everything and nothing, acts impetuously, and ruins several sets of clothes in one way or another.
The tale has its oddities, which makes it actually interesting. Miss Left Feet mistakes Sir Fine Coats for a homosexual – and then is thoroughly disabused of the notion, but the conversation they had to have was one that could potentially happen today, minus a lot of the unnecessary bluster and prudish evasion. The story ends with another intriguing idea: a small boy is told that it’s perfectly okay to cry, if he has reason. I’m all for it!
The one major thing that I scratched my head over occurred on page 163: [during a round of post-wedding hugs] “…Jane might have crushed every bone in her body had she only been a little larger and a great deal stronger.” Uhm. How would you know how strong someone has to be to crush every single bone in your body? From the humerus to the pinky-finger bones? How is this a thing? Does Balogh run with the mafia? Jane should lift weights and become an enforcer.
The second book, The Plumed Bonnet, features a couple of cases of standard mistaken identity. She thinks that he’s a wealthy Mister, when in fact he’s the Duke of Somebody; he thinks – because he picked her up off the side of the road and because she’s wearing a fuchsia cape – that she’s a hooker, when she is actually a wealthy heiress and former governess. I would find it hard to believe a straight-laced teacher could be mistaken for a streetwalker, particularly with her attitude; it’s more believable that a duke might roll incognito…except for the telling crest on the side of his carriage, which she would have seen before his face. Her overall sexual innocence is also a bit dubious, as she describes being accosted by various friends of the family for whom she worked.
However, it’s not without its positive attributes. While His Grace gets lost in how beautiful his new bride is (because, of course, he bails her out, realizing that he had besmirched her honor over the course of the three day carriage ride), Her Grace is more and more troubled at how she is losing herself in the union. He is proud she is glamorous enough for his social circle, while she is dying inside: “Perhaps…Oh, perhaps one day she could be herself again. Or was self always lost in marriage? Even when one did not owe one’s life to one’s husband, one became his property after marriage” (392). Finally, her feelings explode into the scene, jarring Duke Stupid out of his stupor; he sees her for the first time, but she loses herself anyway in the happy ending, becoming fully immersed in her marriage, disappearing. Is it comforting to fade into someone else if you are happy?
And there you have it! January! February’s reviews will start with a couple of Real Books, so hold on for that (altogether astounding) development!