This month, coagulating on the bed sheets, ignoring online responsibilities as well as the mounting stacks of Read This Now books in the house, I reunited with the romance novel. And this month, I read six of them in increasingly greedy gulps.
The last time I read a romance novel was August 2010. (And I didn’t even get to talk about it here—partly because it was in e-book form and books in the digital format flatly refuse to adhere to the rehashing part of my brain.) That was a really really really long time ago. I suppose this oversight can be partly blamed on the fact that I’ve been all willy-nilly about supposed “blog identity,” maybe because I don’t feel like I can adequately talk about a romance novel—because I squeal and sigh a lot, I fall in love with the hero, I want to be besties with the heroine. I don’t know.
What matters to me is that I’ve been reading a lot of romance novels, and that I have hoarded enough books—by Kinsale, Chase, and Campbell!—that I suspect I’ll continue being this happy-giddy little goat in the weeks to come.
I began with Suzanne Enoch’s The Care and Taming of a Rogue—when I tore open its protective plastic, it was almost like I wasn’t fully aware that I was finally reading a romance novel. Also, it’s got one of my favorite tropes: the bluestocking catching the attention of one seasoned explorer. It’s so familiar, actually, that there were a couple of moments of distress upon seeing the similarities between this one and one of my all-time favorites [the first romance I ever read], The Duchess by Jude Deveraux. Both have a hero who’s gained notoriety with his alter-ego as an adventurer and author. Both have the bookish heroine who’s half-in-love with the author of her favorite books. Both, of course, have the conflict of How to Compromise between the guy’s ceaseless desire to roam and the girl’s preference to curl up in a quiet corner to read.
Very similar premises for both novels, but, thankfully, two opposite directions, brought on by the main difference, perhaps, of there having more secrecy and angst in Deveraux’s novel. Enoch allows Society to serve as a pretty compelling backdrop to this courtship—who wouldn’t be scandalized by the romance between a spinster bookworm and an adventurer everyone’s thought to be a dead plagiarist? That kind of thing.
I have likewise been collecting the books in The Hellions of Halstead Hall, the new series of romance novels by Sabrina Jeffries—the first three: The Truth About Lord Stoneville, A Hellion in Her Bed, and How to Woo a Reluctant Lady.
Now, normally, I deplore having to follow linked books—I blame large Victorian/Regency families, good gah—because, well, I scorn the commitment of having to wait months for the next book if I really like it, or the horror of never seeing the next installment in the local bookstores. But I’ve taken a chance with Jeffries’ new series—normally, see, I’d wait for the series’ completion: there are no words for the pain of waiting for new Bridgerton stories or, say, Karen Marie Moning’s Highlanders.
The Hellions of Halstead Hall are siblings who’ve flouted convention—there’s the rakier-than-the-rakiest, the gambler, the author of Gothic novels, the horse racer, and the chick who likes to shoot at things. Beyond the individual stories, I appreciate how Jeffries drops hints of the books’ status as a collective: there aren’t overbearing or obnoxious asides about one brother or sister, no grand set-up. It’s all done very subtly, that what foreshadowing of the next relationship to be features only occurs if it serves to further the book’s plot itself.
Moreover, the central intrigue that runs through all three books [and, I assume, the last two] is the suspicious deaths of their parents—a murder-suicide having been flimsily covered up for years, pretty much the reasons why these five went hell-bent. [Then again, to truly rebel, couldn’t any one of them have been an accountant?] In the first three books, a part of the mystery gets solved by the starring pair. Which is kind of cool.
The books themselves? The romances? Also kind of cool. Pretend engagements, forced liaisons, pretend-engagements-that-aren’t-really-pretend-for-one-side. A few of my favorite tropes, haha. Of the three books so far, I particularly like the third. Not just because it involves a headstrong writer of Gothic novels [who likes to cannibalize the people she loves in her stories] and the guy who, all her life, has tried not to love her.
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Loretta Chase has been in my radar for a really long time—many readers seem to echo Julia Quinn’s words of praise on the cover: Chase is basically one of the finest romance authors of all time, and Lord of Scoundrels is one of her most-loved books.
I’ve finally read it: It’s a near-perfect novel.
I can’t decide who I’m in love with most—the headstrong [that word again!] heroine or the bad-ass hero who, I suspect, secretly likes little puppies. I can’t begin to relate how effectively that wily Chase tugged at my heartstrings by showing Sebastian’s formative years as a boy everyone taunted because of his mixed blood, his ugly beast-like countenance. As with all damaged little boys, he grows up as a rake. Enter Jessica Trent who turns his life upside down, with her sassy wit, her virginal worldliness, her pistol. Gah, I love this genre, I love this novel, I love Loretta Chase. I am squealing, still, as I recount the story and choice scenes. Oh, be still, please, my beating heart.
* * *
I have read Laura Kinsale’s Midsummer Moon years ago, in e-book format. The horrors of the medium failed to dampen the utter awesomeness of this book. I was itching to read it again, but all I had by way of research was: “That romance novel with a hedgehog.” Thankfully, like-minded souls in the interwebz knew exactly what I meant.
Merlin is the craziest heroine I’ve ever met—a girl after my own heart. She’s absent-minded, occasionally ridiculous, emotional when the façade falls, and so freaking funny. And Ransom. Ransom is your usual stern dude, but Kinsale goes beyond mouthpiece-forbiddingness by having Ransom—because of his biases, because of relevant secrets—act like a jerk re Merlin in order to “protect” her. [Men can be silly sometimes, really.] Their romance is all banter and mixed signals. The tenderness that Ransom falls prey to had me burying my face in the book. Merlin’s matter-of-fact literalness had me snorting during a seven-hour-drive. The resolution to their conflicts—the complete acceptance of each other’s characters beyond loving—is one of the most honest and truthful I’ve read.
I’m glad I read this again. [Though I do scorn the Bowdlerized cover—I adore the scantily clad breathless women with hair and skirts streaming every which way, please.] I’m glad I read all of these novels. So much fun, so much affect. And, to be completely honest, it got rid of the stick up my ass [put there by hoity-toity personal ideals of blogging]. Damn.
I wish everyone had a genre they could call home—the don’t-bother-bathing-during-the-weekends kind of home, the put-your-feet-up-while-eating kind of home, the I-will-burp-when-I-need-a-breather kind of home. I realize that I occasionally get tired having my hands clasped in front of me when facing Ooh Literature. Whatever conventional/cliché dichotomy there may be between the literary and the genre—hell, I love ‘em both—but the romance novel’s one of the few things that will allow me to parade around in my underwear and furry slippers. So to speak.