Wednesday, June 28, 2017


My June Reading


I continued my foray into Traditional Regency Romances with a lot of Balogh and a touch of Overfield. I also read Julie James as a palate cleanser. Balogh's trads have storylines that over the years have become tropes, so it was great to see what the original plots looked like.

Under a Sardinian Sky by Sara Alexander
Category: General Fiction
Comments: Sometimes a family's deepest silences hide the most important secrets. What an evocative story, redolent with hidden passions and a deep abiding love rising from the ashes of mistrust, despair, and duty. Set in a small town of Sardinia in the 1950s, native resident and gifted seamstress Carmela Chiringoni meets American Captain Joe Kavanagh. While Carmela is engaged to a jealously possessive fiancé, Joe is married. She is hired as his interpreter and so begins their relationship. My review is here.

A Temporary Wife by Mary Balogh
Category: Traditional Regency Romance
Comments: This is one of those perfect romances, where the emphasis is on romance rather than a lot of extracurricular activity. And within the scope of the category-sized story, Balogh delivers a master class on writing a Marriage of Convenience plot. My review is here.

The Ideal Wife by Mary Balogh
Category: Traditional Regency Romance
Comments: Someone told me not to read The Ideal Wife right after The Temporary Wife, because of the similarity of the plot. So I proceeded to do exactly that: examine how an author works almost the exact same premise twice. This iteration was less successful than Temporary, because the characters felt more caricature than heartfelt. In the above book, I could understand the characters' motivations and why they did what they did; in this book it felt more on a whim and tedious.

The worst aspect of the book was the heroine's predilection for unnecessary volubility. It was cute at first, because the last thing the Earl of Severn wanted was a managing talkative wife. Guess what kind of female cousin he rescues from impoverishment? She looked meek and submissive at first glance, but turned out to be a loquacious virago after the wedding. I spent most of the book feeling sorry for him, because Abby quickly began to grate on my nerves. After reading a few paragraphs of her speech, I started skipping every time she spoke, which didn't bode well for her character development. I'd give this one a miss, if I were you.

A Promise of Spring by Mary Balogh
Category: Traditional Regency Romance
Comments: Fabulous story of a young ingénue, a marriage of convenience, and a spouse ten years older—only that, the hero is the young innocent and the heroine the older experienced. This book is a true commentary on how a couple, who've known each other peripherally but are now yoked together, negotiates marriage. Powerful, powerful story with moments of such tenderness. A must read! My review is here.

A Chance Encounter by Mary Balogh
Category: Traditional Regency Romance
Comments: The story starts with a "Netherfield Park has been let at last," kind of a storyline. Mr. Mainwaring is Mr. Bingley here and comes with his Mr. Darcy-like friend, the Marquess of Heatherington. Both men create a stir in the countryside neighborhood and set many young hearts pitter-patter. Among them is a stoic spinster in her mid-twenties, Elizabeth Rossiter, working as a governess-cum-companion in a prominent gentleman's household.

SPOILER: Unbeknownst to everyone, Heatherington is Elizabeth's husband. For six years, they have set aside their marriage and refused to speak to each other. Distance has only served to embitter them. Little did either of them know that they would be in the same neighborhood at the same time and be forced to be civil to each other. When young Heatherington and Elizabeth had been deeply in love, Heatherington's uncle was dead set against their marriage and sought to wreck it and succeeded.

This story is the classic Big Misunderstanding. I'm usually not a fan of it at all, but this time, I considered it as one of the first instances of a storyline that has now become a trope, and it's a Balogh, so I persisted with it. At one point I tweeted, I'm at 92% mark in my digital book and the H/H haven't reconciled yet or are even in the same county. But Balogh makes the story work.

The Sinister Spinster by Carolyn Madison / Joan Overfield
Category: Traditional Regency Romance
Comments: I picked up this book because it involved foreign diplomacy with a spot of spying and detecting. While there are a plethora of Regency historical romances involving spying by the nobility, diplomacy is an under-utilized plotline. An alliance with Russia in 1814 in the wake of NapolĂ©on’s destructive path through Europe was of crucial importance to international relations, so I was hoping to see more politics and not the murder mystery that this book focused on. Ultimately, this proved to be its weak point. It tried to do too much in the beginning and so set the story up with a complexity that failed in the execution. By the end, even the mystery failed to satisfy and the heroine's behavior towards the hero was a big no-no. My review is here.

The Thing About Love by Julie James
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: In recent years, Julie James's books have received much acclaim from critics and readers. I really enjoyed her first two books, but was meh about a couple of the other ones. However, this book was much touted, so I decided to give James a go again, and the results have been mixed. James has gotten better and more assured over the years. She does good characterization and plotting—I liked the story.

My problem with James is the voice. I enjoy her humor, so it's not her comedic voice that doesn't go over well, but it's the hyper-contemporary, deliberately-breezy style that doesn't work for me. This book will be dated in five years, not only for the frequent popular culture references, that are not momentous enough to have a long shelf life, but also for the writing style that is so reflective of Twitter-style. Don't get me wrong: She's not writing in sound bites or the compressed tweet-style of sentencing, but rather employs frequent use of slang that you find only online, but is not in common parlance.

The other problem I had with this book, that I don't remember if other books had, was the repeated mentions of the protagonists' motivations—in this case, their joint past and why the hero decides to choose this new job he does. These motivations don't have to be replicated over and over again. And then after having set up why the hero chooses to go away from the heroine forever, his change-of-heart comes about too conveniently and unconvincingly.

In general, I don't see why one character has to give up what they love to do in order to win the love of the other. Yes, sacrifice and compromise do exist in real life, but abandoning a career, they had agonizingly professed over and over again they love, is so unnecessary. It immediately raises the specter of future disenchantment in their HEA.

Caring for Your Lion by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Troy Cummings
Category: Children's Picture Book
Comments: "Congratulations on your new lion! We know you ordered a kitten, but we ran out of those. Luckily, a lion is practically the same thing! Caring for your lion is easy. Just follow this handy guide." Are you dismayed? The boy in the book sure was when he saw the huge box outside his front door. The only accessory the lion came is a feather, so that in case the lion swallows you, you can tickle him in the tummy, till he throws you up. Yeah! It's very much a book meant to induce giggles.

T.Veg: The Story of a Carrot-Crunching Dinosaur by Smriti Prasadam-Halls, illustrated by Katherina Manolessou
Category: Children's Picture Book
Comments: This darling dinosaur could roar, stomp, gnash, and leap with the best of them, but he did not fit in at mealtimes with his dinosaur friends. While others munched on juicy steaks, he ate crunchy carrots, broccoli, grapes, and greens. Everyone laughs at him all the time, and so finally, he runs away from home hoping to find better friends who will understand him more. On his journey, he looks for herbivore dinosaurs. When he finds them, he's delighted, but they flee in terror. What is he to do?

Over in the Ocean In a Coral Reef by Marianne Berkes, illustrated by Jeanette Canyon
Category: Children's Picture Book
Comments: This is a gorgeous book for the very young with ceramic concentric circle designs of the ocean floor with detailed and highly colorful drawings of sea animals on top. It's a counting book with repetitive rhymes that explains the characteristics of different sea creatures. For example, octopi squirt, parrotfish grind, and pufferfish puff. We have read this book over and over again.


4 comments:

azteclady said...

I love that you are reading all these old Baloghs. Many years ago, at least a dozen, I discovered her through the first of the Simply novels, and proceeded to glom everything by her that I could find. Of these four, I've read The Temporary Wife, The Ideal Wife and A Promise of Spring (aside: I really like the Web novels, of which this is the fourth, and a prequel of sorts). Now I'm very curious about A Chance Encounter, even though I'm not usually a fan of the Big Misunderstanding.

On the James, I have a confession: I've never finished one of her books. I've tried two, and I just can't get into them, and you just articulated for me *why* her voice just...not quite puts me off, but simply doesn't resonate with me, at all.

On more general terms, I agree with you, completely, about the almost requirement, in a lot of genre romance, for one half of the couple to give something up. I don't mean when one has a CAREER and the other has a job, but when one of them has to literally give up something they enjoy and are good at--and more, if that something both makes them happy and gives them independence from the other/the relationship.

True power imbalance is an almost certain recipe for unhappiness and resentment, if not outright disaster, down the road.

Keira Soleore said...

I came to Balogh through her Slightly and Simply series. I used to belong to Candice Hern's message board, and she was a huge fan of Balogh.

Which are the books in the Web series?

I really liked James's first two books when they first came out. I still liked Practice Makes Perfect when I re-read it fairly recently. However, then she fell off my radar for some reason. Then I tried reading a couple when someone whose recs I trust rec'd them, but I didn't like them. Then I read this one, again, because a few people rec'd them. She's not for me even though I can tell that she is a good writer. The circular navel gazing was a bit too much for me.

Yes! Why should the relationship have to supplant a job that engages their interests and passions? Why can't they coexist? Somehow, giving up something is supposed to show their commitment to each other. If each is compromising, or one is compromising for a finite period, I can understand. But completely giving it up for the other will, I believe, lead to resentment in the long term.

True love allows each person to become a better individual, and it supports each other's journey.

willaful said...

"simply doesn't resonate with me, at all"

Exactly.

Keira Soleore said...

Glad to know that I'm not alone in having a dissonance with James's voice.