Well, that pretty much sums up how I feel right now. (Actually, I feel lousy. I have a crappy cold -- the kind that never sounds as bad as you feel, so people don't get how bad you feel -- but even that's part of the same sentiment. I wanted to have written this post earlier, but couldn't get to it. And this post, of course, was to have been nicer if I hadn't caught this cold...)
Back to romance novels. Here's what I am really talking about. On Thursday morning, I read Lynn Spencer's glowing review of In for a Penny, by Rose Lerner and thought, "Hey, maybe it's at the Barnes & Noble I go to on Thursdays and I can buy it!"
This was good news because I've been having the TBR blues, where none of the books in your TBR pile is calling your name and whispering, "Read me." So I set off with my then-current-read, The Painted Garden by Noel Streatfeild (yes, Ross, it's spelled that way), but not so secretly hoping that I would get the new Lerner romance.
I was able to buy it, and even able to start it right away. My first disappointment -- but entirely my fault -- was that it was set in the Regency Era. I had clearly misread Lynn's review because I thought the book was set in 1919, just after WWI. Because the plot relies on the hero, newly elevated to his rank as earl upon his father's death, marrying a brewer's daughter for her sizable fortune, my mistake wasn't entirely stupid. A lot of the English aristrocracy had financial difficulties maintaining estates in the early 20th century. I can't help thinking that Nev and Penny would have been more interesting in a post-Industrial setting: better educated, more worldly, and so forth.
At first blush, it doesn't seem as though a century would make a lot of difference. Plus, silly me minding something that was my own mistake. So I skipped over that detail and got deeper into the book. There are definitely some little things that can drive me crazy when I read a novel set in Regency England (overuse of the word "bloody" being one of them), but that's just me being picky and critical and a Bad Sport. So I skipped over those things as well. (And, to be fair to Ms. Lerner, she had a lot of historical detail that I can only assume is accurate, so kudos there.)
As I got further along in the book, though, I discovered it wasn't making me happy the way I had thought it would. I wondered if this wasn't precisely what people were thinking of when it was posited that writers can't be reviewers, or at the very least need to disclose the intention of having a career as a writer. Was I bringing too critical an eye to Lerner's book, finding microscopic faults that a more relaxed reader would miss or dismiss as unimportant?
Well, fair enough, I thought. It's not the author's fault if all I can say is, "I just don't like it," in the manner of a petulant child. I can't write about a bad reading experience if it's all just my own demons getting in the way of a good book. But finally, as I finished it, I identified what the problem with In For a Penny is, for me at least.
Penny and Nev, the protagonists, aren't allowed to have fun. For one thing, they have complicated relationships with each other and everyone else who might help them deal with their problems. No one is on hand to comfort and support them, and they aren't allowed to do that for each other. Which might have been okay, except these kids have the weight of the world on their shoulders, and among the difficulties they're facing are all the problems that come from a hasty marriage to someone you don't know very well.
What I mean is, I don't mind reading a well-written book (and this is a well-written book) where the hero and heroine work out their issues. I don't mind a book where the hero and heroine band together to deal with issues external to themselves, as in, say, a romantic thriller or mystery. But here's a book where the hero and heroine have to do it all, and aren't having a very good time in the process. We have his poverty, her being a Cit, his former mistress, her former suitor, his mother & sister, some hinky financial dealings, his former friend, poaching, transportation to "Stralia," (as one little boy puts it) and a very Gothic ending.
Others clearly love In For a Penny, and I think that's great. I hope Ms. Lerner sells lots of copies and writes many more books. But I also hope she's learned that she doesn't have to throw everything at her couple while they're trying to learn how to love each other. Here, I think, less is definitely more.