Saturday, January 2, 2010

Dear Ross: Here are Your Book Choices

(With apologies to Dear Author for "borrowing" their epistolary thunder...)

Dear Ross:

You have generously agreed to join Christian (aka Mr. Monkey Bear) in the "Husband Challenge" where a romance blogger's husband has agreed to read and review a romance novel.

I really love you for your willingness to submit to this torture join in the fun of reading outside your usual genres.  Like Sarah, I figured I would limit your choices to a few books that you might like.  I solicited suggestions, and thought I would have time to try some books that I don't know so that we'd both get the benefit of this challenge.  But Christian is already reading his pick, Lord Perfect by Loretta Chase, and so the pressure's on for us to get moving!

You have asked that I only pick from those books I already own.  (What?  Does the fact that over 150 books entered this house in the past 8 months bother you?  Silly man.)  And I limited myself to those books I could actually put my hands on, as "looking for a book" often means "tidying all the books until I find that one book," and who's got the time for that?  Here, then, are the books you get to choose from:

First up, Georgette Heyer.  You had specifically mentioned her, perhaps because she's sufficiently famous in England that even you've heard of her.  My favorite Heyers are These Old Shades and Devil's Cub, and I know I own them, but they failed the "able to be located right now" test and so aren't included here.  Instead, we have Faro's Daughter (about a shabby genteel young woman who works in her mother's gaming establishment), Frederica, Sylvester, and Bath Tangle.  I'll be honest here, sweetheart, and confess to you that I haven't read these books in 30 years or more, so apart from recalling a rather whinging tone by the mother in Faro's Daughter when it came to the cost of candles, I can neither recommend nor discourage your choosing any of these.  You're just going to have to do what readers do all the time:  read the back cover blurb!

Here are the first two of Pat Gaffney's Wyckerley trilogy.  I thought these might be slightly more to your liking, given that they're well-written and evoke a mid-19th century English village in the style of George Elliot.  I can wholeheartedly recommend both books, but I do foresee some potential problems.  First, Gaffney is American, so there may be some slight errors that could snag your attention and mar your enjoyment of either book.  Second, To Love & To Cherish has the local vicar as the hero, and I know you're not a fan of the Church of England.  And third, To Have & To Hold has some harsh scenes all about power and redemption, which may not be what you'd most enjoy with your first romance novel.

These are some contemporary romances by two writers I know to be funny.  Humor and romance are often on a sliding scale: the more romance there is the less humor, and vice versa.  I would say that of these three, Welcome to Temptation is the funniest but least "romantic."  (I'm using "romantic" as shorthand for "focuses on the vicissitudes of a romantic relationship between two people"; for me, the more the author works to make us laugh, the softer the focus on the relationship seems to be.)  Dream a Little Dream is quirky but not laugh-out-loud funny, but the romance is poignant and lovely.  (And there's a cute kid, Edward.  You would love Edward!)  It Had To Be You is amusing and romantic in more or less equal measure; it features a fictional Chicago football team, so you'd be able to apply some of your recent education in American football.

Two series romances next: a Harlequin Temptation and a Signet Regency Romance.  You've probably figured out by now that some publishers establish a line of books that are similar in key respects: length, amount of sex, and so forth.  Twelve Across, by Barbara Delinsky is an out-of-print Harlequin contemporary romance (the "Temptation" part tells the reader that the characters are likely to have sex in the course of the book despite not yet being married).  I picked it not because it's her best -- she's a good writer who, like Pat Gaffney, has evolved to write in a genre known as "women's fiction" -- but because the heroine is a crossword compiler just like you.  Okay, not just like you, but still -- crosswords are discussed in this book.  (That may actually be a reason not to read it, for fear the author's ignorance infuriates you.)

By contrast, I consider Her Man of Affairs, by Elizabeth Mansfield to be one of the best series Regency Era romances I've ever read.  I particularly selected it because it has a fair amount of Scottish words in it, and that reminds me of every damn time one of your cryptic crosswords referred to a Scottish word I had no hope of knowing as "belonging to Jock" or "-- in Glasgow."  Plus, it's mildly amusing and the romance is very poignant.  (The fact that the hero is not titled and actually works for the heroine won't strike you as odd because you aren't familiar with the conventions of the genre, but romance-heads know this to be nearly unique for its ilk.)

Finally, the book I most enjoyed in 2009, even though it was a re-read for me.  (And I have to interject here my apologies -- I have a lot of really great books that I would have loved to have offered to you, but I haven't re-read them in so long I really wouldn't be able to tout their beauty and eloquence adequately.)  Morning Glory has been described as beginning with both protagonists being powerless.  That's a true statement, but I think it doesn't convey everything that Spencer is able to do with Will and Ellie.  Both of them are living in circumstances of deprivation and limited choices, but they are not broken people.  They are both very focused on survival, and the book shows how they come -- slowly -- to trust each other and then, gradually, others.  The plotting may see unsubtle, although I see elements of Greek mythology in the story, but the characterization is superb.  Plus, it's set in Georgia in the year or so up to the US involvement in World War II, so that's a time and place you might be interested in.

And there you have it -- a dozen books from which to select one you're willing to read.  Enjoy!

Your loving wife,



  1. LOL: a dozen books to choose from! I wish I could secretly sneak a copy of Heyer's Black Sheep into your house. Do you know, I have read 11 out of the 12 choices laid out in front of Ross!

    Still being a snuffle*luffagus :( ... I'll be curious to know which one is chosen!!

  2. Janet -- I guessing it's the Delinsky you haven't read, right?

    (And feel better soon!)

  3. Dear Magdalen,

    Ok, I've made a decision: Morning Glory it is. I will set aside my beloved Bill Bryson (The Lost Continent) so I can start the book right away.

    You did a great job of selling Morning Glory to me, so it's perhaps not a big surprise that I chose that book. But it also fits in with my current interest in American life and history: I'd much rather read stories set in the US than Britain right now. And the time and location for Morning Glory sounds intriguing.

    I did look through the other books and found the format of the Patricia Gaffney's different and strangely troubling. The front cover of the book is a innocuous country scene, but look inside the cover and there's a much more sexy image. What's going on there?

    Twelve Across stuck out because it had a crossword at the end. Wouldn't it be a good idea if every romance had a crossword at the end (at least you could check you've paid attention to the story)? Can we sell this idea to anybody ... I can compile the crosswords (for a fee)? The crossword in Twelve Across is not very good, in fact impossible to finish (though I'm still working on it); by the way, the answer to 12-Across in the puzzle is, appropriately, LOVE.

    I expect I'll try a Georgette Heyer some day, but not for this exercise: she's famous enough that I had heard of her before I met you. I think I even wrote crossword clue to HEYER once.

    I'll be back with my review when I've finished reading Morning Glory.

    Your loving husband,

  4. Dear Ross: Thanks for (finally) making a choice. I think (hope) you'll like Morning Glory, but of course that's the point of having you write a review!

    Tell you what, if I ever get published we can offer a crossword at the end of all my books. You might not get paid, but I think it's a lovely idea, and it might set a trend.

    YLW, me

  5. Marvelous choice Ross! I wonder, did you see (or would you understand LOL) @animejune* refer to Georgette Heyer as the Tupac of authors? Basically, a "better-seller" after her demise than in life.

    * her twitter handle


Hi. This is a moribund blog, so it gets spammed from time to time. Please feel free to comment, but know that your comment may take a few hours to appear simply as a result of the spam blocking in place.