My hiatus from blogging does not mean that I have not been reading – quite the opposite. By my last count, I’ve read fifteen books in March – and I still have a day to go.
I’ll blitz a bunch of the romance novels in one go; these are in ascending order by when they are supposed to have taken place. Some dates aren’t given, so I had to guesstimate. I’m also including the numbers of the tropes in the books, which you can find on my master list.
Title: Dude Looks Like a Lady
1813: The Impostor, Celeste Bradley
Tropes: 2, 22
An innocuous widow secretly draws political cartoons for profit, under a nom de plume; a governmental operative is sent to find her and make her stop. The operative poses publicly as the cartoonist, using her pen name. Much drama, particularly because it takes so long for the spy to realize that the widow is responsible for all the hubbub. This doesn’t stop them from consummating their relationship (on someone else’s bed, no less – a servant who likely would not have been able to change the sheets afterward). Not to mention he puts her life at risk from the beginning – he sits on a trunk he knows she’s hiding in and she very nearly asphyxiates. Is that how you know it’s love?
Best quote: “She could just see the curls on his chest in the open throat of his shirt. Were his shoulders getting broader by the moment?” (253)
Title: Book-long Prologue
~1820, What Happens in London, Julia Quinn
You might be fooled to think that this story is about the protagonists described on the back cover – it’s really to prepare you for the next book. Who is this Sarah Gorley? Why does she write such appalling books? Why is it that handsome Sebastian uses just great adjectives and reads from Gorley’s repertoire with such passionate zeal? This one’s still a normal book about spies and debutantes, with a sudden kidnapping at the end (no better way to wring a proposal – indecent or otherwise – out of a hero).
Best quote: “…it wasn’t the sort of escapade that made sense on paper.” (123) (Oh yeah? Then what does? And what is this book printed on? So many questions.)
Title: A Dude Accessing His Feelings
~1820-21, Ten Things I Love About You, Julia Quinn
Tropes: 2, 11, 16, 18
Sebastian writes as Sarah Gorley and has lots of Deep Feelings. He’s got a nasty uncle, who’s trying to marry the heroine and have babies so that Sebastian will no longer be in line to get the title. The heroine, who smells like violets and tastes like vanilla cream, is trying desperately not to marry the old letch, but doesn’t have much choice: she’s under pressure from her London relatives, and her family back in the country somewhere are living hand-to-mouth. Sebastian’s royalties solve many problems, as does the intervention of the heroine’s grandmother at the last crucial moment when the uncle takes the matter into his own hands, attempting to despoil the heroine.
Of course, this plot is stretching it already, but wouldn’t you know it? There’s some low-grade incest going on here. The aforementioned grandmother slept with the awful uncle and had a child with him; this kid went on to be the heroine’s father. So they’re all related – but don’t ask me how. I have drawn and erased so many defective family trees that I am contented in it remaining shrouded in mystery. Let’s hope nobody’s hiding any dirty genetic secrets.
Best quote: “A dead body would do less damage to her reputation than a live one.” (54)
Title: Resign Everything and Make Babies, You Old Cow
1824, Wed Him Before You Bed Him, Sabrina Jefferies
Tropes: 5, 6, 8, 9, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23
The prize for dumbest title has to be at least shared with this book – not just because the order is emphatically reversed in the story. The hero – who wears a spicy cologne with hints of rosemary and wine and tastes like peppermint – catfished the woman he loved as a young man, initially as revenge for being thrown over but then out of love for her. She runs a school for girls and has no idea that her correspondent is the guy she feels bad for wronging. They figure out that they love one another and she gives up her school (grumblegrumble), but not before they figure out who killed his first wife. Why do the women always give stuff up at the end? How does she just roll over after spending so much time insisting that the school gave her purpose in life? What is she going to do on his estates other than pop out babies and wait for death? Is she so ready to give up teaching? Really?
Best quote: There’s the use of the phrase ‘boxing the Jesuit’ on page 216 that I won’t dip too far into. The curious can look it up.
Title: Trapped and Shedding Clothes
1806/1823/1870-85, Snowy Night with a Stranger, Julia London, Sabrina Jeffries, Jane Feather
London – 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 11, 19
Jeffries – 6, 10, 13, 21
Feather – 4, 10, 14
The common thread to each of these stories is #10, The Deserted Island. In each of these, the protagonists are stuck with one another in the middle of a massive blizzard – this means that they spend lots and lots of time in close quarters and find each other irresistible. Feather’s story is pretty forgettable – a female highwayman stealing so that she can run away from a bad situation; she’s got almost enough money to make a break for it when True Love appears. Of course, True Love’s name might be Ned, but under those circumstances beggars cannot be choosers. I’ve seen this done in any number of stories, and it’s only felt new once.
Jeffries’ story is slightly better – though it could easily have been a full book, with some of the details fleshed out. A second son ascended to the title after his older brother blew himself up in a drunken escapade. The survivor is wracked with guilt – he’s the expert in explosives, after all – and has secluded himself in order to feel right about continuing his work. A couple of women and a slew of children have wrecked their carriage and are rendered snowbound with the hero. The plot peaks when the boys attempt to break into the barn in which all of the experiments are conducted, a place only the master of the house is allowed. The heroine – the unattached young lady of the group – rushes down to ensure that the hero doesn’t beat the adolescents to a bloody pulp, and after the children are gone, they end up having sex on one of the tables in the dangerous barn. Woops?
London’s novella features the protagonists traveling into the heart of Scotland close to Christmastime; the two of them have to spend a night under a tarpaulin in the middle of a blizzard. She finally figures out that under the scarves and the burned face is the man who called her ugly several years ago; he deals with his guilt at surviving a friend in a house fire. She decides that she likes freezing her butt off in Scotland and marries Scarface.
1876, Mesmerized, Candace Camp
Tropes: 10, 19, 22
I read this book and paid special attention to consent, as I felt I had been negligent on that count: I want to ensure that the books I read actually do have full willingness and participation. I am happy to say that Mesmerized, fortunately, is significantly better than normal. After the second time they kiss, the heroine tells the hero that she enjoyed it. When they do consummate their relationship, she initiates the action. So maybe it’s that I’m not reading such rape-y books as I used to?
The story itself is about the séance craze in the mid to late 1800s; even as the protagonists are looking to unmask a phony medium, actual ghosts start to scuffle up dust. Evil gets vanquished, et cetera.
1906, Thornbrook Park, Sherri Browning
Tropes: 11, 16, 22, 23
This love story is between a six foot tall PTSD-ridden man and a 5’2” woman who smells like ginger and oranges. He’s dealing with the aftermath of the Boer War by taking part in boxing matches; she’s back from India after her [impotent but beloved] husband’s demise. Her childhood friend happens to be the sister-in-law of the hero, so they are thrown together. The hero is a strange character: he wants an equal relationship with his life partner, advocates teaching women self-defense, but cannot stand to cry because he thinks it’s childish. Sigh. He was almost progressive.
I really liked this story, particularly because when modern technologies come into play, the narrative changes. The only point where I could truly fault it was at the end, when the incriminating bookend was found in the wrong room. If you murder someone in your study several rooms away in the heat of the moment, wouldn’t you use something a bit more handy? Of course, having the bookend in the sitting room aided detection of the guilty parties, but still. Harrumph!
Best quote: “His longing, pressing against her, was as undeniable as her own need curled into a tight coil inside her.” (227) Snigger.
Title: Something of Substance
1995, Charlie All Night, Jennifer Crusie
Tropes: 7, 12, 15, 22
Jennifer Crusie tends to include many of the same themes in her books – this one has a dog with character and the lack of a female orgasm during the first sexual encounter. Even though she tends to repeat herself, there is always something surprising. This time, it was a defense of unjust laws. (Didn’t see that one coming, didja?) I’m not going to say anything of my own, but leave the hero’s monologue to talk for itself:
“’One of the biggest problems this country has is that people think a law is only a law if they agree with it. And if they don’t, it’s all right to kick guys like Joe out of the service and bomb abortion clinics because there’s a higher law at work. And that’s garbage, Allie. The law is the law. If you don’t like it, change it. But don’t break it and then start whining when there are consequences.’” (270)
2005, Can You Keep a Secret?, Sophie Kinsella
Tropes: 10, 12, 16, 19
Technically, this one’s chick lit, but it’s still a love story, if an unconventional one. The heroine, Emma, always a shaky flier, is in a plane that hits turbulence and she suddenly finds herself spilling all of her secrets to her seatmate, Jack. This would be a funny but temporary situation if the guy she’d talked to wasn’t the head of her company, and if he didn’t know that she was feeding her smarmy coworker’s spider plant orange juice, or that she had a code for skiving off to get coffee with a friend. It would also be convenient if Jack weren’t fascinated by her. They end up going on a few disastrous dates, but there is such an imbalance in their relationship it can’t work. Finally, she corners him and demands his secrets. I like that in an otherwise frivolous book, there’s a real grounded need for honesty: it’s what makes it readable.
Some of Emma’s secrets: “The one time I tried to do the Heimlich maneuver, the guy thought I was coming on to him…I haven’t ever climbed a mountain, I don’t have a tattoo, I don’t even know if I’ve got a G-spot…” (23)
Some of Jack’s secrets: “I’ve always wanted to be an inch or two taller than I am. I…I don’t know what ‘codependent’ means. I…I have a recurring dream in which I’m Superman falling from the sky. I sometimes sit at board meetings and look around and think, ‘Who the hell are these guys?’” (354)
That’s it. I really ought to start reading slower.