Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Cranky Reader and the "Boring" Book

I'll be honest and tell you that this post will not be the best thing I write today -- I put a lot more time and effort into my comment(s) over on Jessica's Racy Romance Reviews site.  Go read the "best of Promantica that isn't on Promantica" over there.  (My comments are at #63, 71, and 80; Jessica's are at #65, 77, and ... ?)  The subject is feminism and romance novels, although I've taken it into a rather autobiographical cul-de-sac: Why I'm Not a Feminist (and Is It Too Late To Learn?)  I'm getting schooled by the best, and I couldn't be happier.  Thank you, Jessica!

Here's what happened:  I had J.R. Ward's Dark Lover with me for a weekend trip to visit my cousin outside Boston.  It's a goodly sized book, so I assumed that it would last me all weekend, and I was wrong.  As I also needed to get some Valentine's Day cards, I figured a trip to a local Barnes & Noble would be a good idea.  Road trip!

What to pick, though?  I'm not a "front cover/back blurb" gal.  I tend to rely on reviews, recommendations, even tweets filled with "OMG.  Best book evah!" will serve.  (Which is crazy, if you think about it, but it's how I roll.)  What I didn't have with me, either on paper or stored in my head, was a list of books or authors I wanted to try out.  I did look for some specific names, but this particular B&N was not well-stocked with new authors.

In the end, I got two Mary Balogh reprints, and started the earlier of the two: The Gilded Web.  Here's the plot:  Alexandra gets kidnapped by friends of Dominic, Lord Eden, under circumstances of false identity (they think she's Dom's twin sister, Madeline).  The Madcap Twins have an older brother, Edmond, Earl of Amberley, who discovers the trussed-up Alexandra and releases her.  Everyone confesses everything but the ton finds out anyway, and Amberley proposes marriage to Alexandra and is, finally, accepted.  That's all done in the first 80 pages or so of a 450-page book.

Now, I rather assumed at this point that there would be a hasty marriage, and then the fur would fly.  But no.  The assembled cast of characters takes off to Amberley, a stunningly gorgeous estate on the south coast of England in Wiltshire.  And a bit like a low pressure system settling in over the Gulf of Maine (for those of you on the East Coast), it's at Amberley that the story parks itself.  And virtually nothing happens.


No more mistaken identity.  No more kidnappings.  Not even a slapped face accompanied by feminine outrage.

Which should have made this a boring book.  But it's not.  It's just a different sort of story.  It's the story of how each of the five principal characters (it's a trilogy: Amberley & Alex are couple #1, then Madeline will sort out her romance with Alex's brother, James, and finally Dominic -- the least mature of the group -- will grow up and love someone for longer than ten minutes) sorts through some interesting issues:  Amberley learns what it is to need someone; Alex learns what true freedom of choice is; Dominic learns that he can't wait for permission to follow his heart; Madeline starts to learn what love entails, and James -- well, no, he bugs out before he can start to learn anything.  We'll catch you up later, James.

I'm afraid I did not do this book justice, and I plan -- someday -- to re-read it more slowly and carefully.  It's not that it's a deeply profound book, or that it doesn't make missteps.  But it's a thoughtful book.  I wondered, as I neared the ending, whether Balogh worked out the shifts in each character's thinking in advance, or did she allow them to walk along the beach, up on the cliffs, though the woods, over the river (no grandmother's house though) and inside the portrait gallery until they'd worked it all out.  I think I will enjoy it more now that I know what happens and when -- it's a book to be sipped not guzzled.  (Reading it as though it was just like Dark Lover was, thus, a huge mistake.  Ward's books are like a rave compared to Balogh's high tea!)

None of these characters is stupid, precisely, but they do get themselves into real muddles by assuming they know what they're doing.  Hmm.  Suspiciously like real life.  Unfortunately, in real life people don't always make the right choice and do sometimes stumble about a lot before getting it together.  That's way the book is so slow and ponderous -- it takes time for people to learn.

This cranky reader apologizes to this not-so-boring book.  I promise I'll make it up to you, eventually.


  1. I'm a huge Balogh fan but the Web trilogy are the weakest of her oeuvre I've read. In other words, it's not you.

  2. Thanks, Tumperkin. I still think it will, like certain wines (and men, now that I think about it), improve with age and more careful consideration. :-)

  3. I've gone crazy tonight and broken my rule against posting on blogs. I got involved in the feminist discussion over at RRR. Now I'm posting on your blog. Baby steps.

    You made me crank up my iPod for another listen of Dark Lover.


  4. Thanks for the thoughtful review! I read everything like a rave and it's NOT a good thing. Fine high tea ... savour ... I'm going to try your advice!

  5. Saschakeet -- Welcome to Promantica: don't worry, it's so sleepy over here, no one will know you've even been by. (I like sleepy, btw.)

    Janet -- It's hard to avoid the race to the finish line approach to reading romances. I always want to know what's coming next! But when all the action is in the first 20% of the books, that can make it vaguely frustrating for the reader.

    Wouldn't it be great if books had blurbs written like reviews for wine:

    "This is by no means an Important Romance, but it is a delightful one. It’s medium-dry and light-bodied, with only 10.5% racy scenes. Because of its slight, youthful protagonists, it is crisp enough in the balance for confirmed light romance readers to enjoy. Its voice and plot are as down-to-earth as they are sexy, and the physical scenes are restrained. This is a tremendously refreshing novel best read as a stand-alone or as an aperitif before reading a heavier book; it’s too light to be read at the same time as a historical."

    (That is an actual wine review, which I "borrowed" from here and modified with romance-y words.)

    In that sort of a world, Balogh's The Gilded Web would have a wine-style blurb that would warn us that "this is thoughtful romance that deserves to be savored and must not be gulped."

  6. Hi Magdalen.

    I so agree with your last comment! It would be nice to know that a certain book needs to be sipped and savoured when others need to be guzzled. Maybe we can start a movement!

  7. Thanks, Magdalen. I will visit again.


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