Friday, June 18, 2010

MMM - Morning Glory by LaVyrle Spencer

romance novelsThis is Ross here, aka Crossword Man, reporting on Magdalen's Mandatory Manread assignment. I can't say I was thrilled with the prospect of reading a romance novel, much less write about it, which is perhaps why it's taken me since January to "get around to" a post about the experience.

Why did I agree to do it then? Well, for one thing, I give in to Magdalen easily. She also went for the old trick of giving me lots of options about which book I could read, while making it clear I had to read something. Plus I had a certain curiosity about the bodice-ripping world into which Magdalen immerses herself. And, although thinking what to say isn't easy, I love choosing the pictures for a blog post.

Morning GloryOf the books on offer, I opted for Morning Glory by LaVyrle Spencer, largely because of its setting in the American South around the time of World War II. As a Brit recent arrived in the USA, I'm trying to immerse myself in American culture, current and historical, a challenge I write about every day in An Englishman Solves American Crosswords. The last thing I wanted to do was read a historical romance set in England, which (to judge by Magdalen's experience) would be sure to contain a host of actual or suspected inaccuracies.

Oliver TwistAt the start of Morning Glory, I immediately felt alienated from the hero Will Parker, who steals apples and buttermilk in the second paragraph. That made me a little uncertain of his character throughout the book, though less so as the story progresses. I particularly relate to his gradual tidying up of the heroine's property; this seems to be our lot in life too, although we haven't tried to keep bees yet. Anyway, the author paints an ambiguous picture of Will, quite unlike what I'm used to in a Dickens hero, who would rather die than steal from someone else.

The heroine Elly Dinsmore also starts out as a relatively unsympathetic character, seemingly still half-crazy after a childhood in which she isn't allowed out of the house (and then when forced to, to go to school, is of course teased mercilessly). She advertises for a husband (did that really happen??), as follows, which is how she meets and comes to marry Will (only falling in love with him after he proves himself in the early months of the marriage):
healthy man of any age willing
to work a spread and share the
place. See E. Dinsmore, top of
Rock Creek Road.

The lurching gyrations in the hero and heroine's life towards the end of the book are I gather par for the course for the romance genre: things seem to be going along swimmingly until Will is wrongly accused of murder and in a moment the relationship falls apart - admittedly Elly soon changes her mind about her husband's guilt, but Will goes to pieces in jail and imagines his wife couldn't love him. A few pages later, Will is cleared of the charges and the couple are back to normal just in time for the book to end.

I'm a librarian. Don't make me Shush your ass.The character I like the most is the librarian Gladys Beasley, and there's a hint at the end of the book that she'll belatedly get into a romance of her own with Robert Collins, the lawyer who saves Will from the murder charge. Miss Beasley is a wonderful comic character, who appears stern to start with, but sees the good side in Will and gives him a job as a janitor in the library.

Some of the other minor characters are less believable to the point of being clich├ęd: I've never come across anyone quite like Lula Peak, the town floozy who has the hots for Will; and the sadistic foreman Harley Overmire seems reminiscent of many movie villains.

Gordon County Courthouse - Calhoun, GAI'm puzzled about Whitney, GA, the town where Elly and Will live. Although there is a small place by that name in Georgia, I don't think it's the one in which the book is set. Will and/or Elly make trips into Calhoun, Georgia to get married and see movies such as Gone with the Wind (1939) there; it's also the setting for the climactic court case at the end of the book. Whitney, GA is presumably fictional then, set somewhere in Gordon County ... I imagine the courthouse as looking very like it does today (see right).

Here are some random things I learned from the book:

row houses in Atlanta
how to tell a row house from a frame house (terraced and detached houses in Britspeak)

Ball jar
that a Ball jar is like a Mason jar

civilians had to make do with the "rotten" Sen-Sen because Wrigley's gave all the gum to the troops

rural 1930s kitchen
if a kitchen didn't have a faucet, water was stored in a "reservoir", the lid of which was a great place for keeping food cool

To sum up, I enjoyed reading Morning Glory, but less for the romantic story than the picture it paints of the time and place, and the comic aspects. Clearly it is a well-regarded romance, winning a Romance Writers of America RITA Award. It's just not my fav genre and when I get a chance to read fiction, I'll stick to my preference for comedy (Wodehouse, Waugh et al) and classic fiction from Dickens onwards.


  1. Thanks, sweetheart.

    There are so many things in this review that are news to me, even suggesting some cultural differences. To our American sensibilities, Will's theft of the buttermilk and clothes is mitigated by need, and his character isn't completely tarnished because a) he is aware of the moral crime, b) he tries to keep to a minimum the actual loss to the rightful owner, and c) as soon as he's able, he repays for the items stolen.

    And I am a bit surprised you haven't got more sympathy for Elly Dinsmore, whose childhood seems just a bit Dickensian. Watching her soften and come to love Will is one of my favorite parts of this book.

    Oh, and honey? I'm really, truly grateful for your willingness to do this. But given your admission that romance isn't your "fav genre," you'll understand why you aren't the first person I ask to read my work-in-progress. Because if you can't enjoy LaVyrle Spencer (whose writing chops I can only aspire to) I have to be realistic about the odds of my work ever pleasing you! ♥♥♥

  2. I've tried Sen-Sen. UCKGLARGH!!!!!

  3. All I know of Sen-Sen is the marvelous bit of lyrics from The Music Man--"covered their tell-tale breath with Sen-Sen." I have been spared an up close and personal contact with the item.
    This is not my favorite Spencer, which is her contemporary "Spring Fancy", with The Gamble as a close second. But I have re-read it recently. Alas, it is not a keeper for me.

  4. Okay Gamble or Hummingbird by Spencer is a must. You know to give him that American vibe -- lol

    Also I loved the bit at the end with the pictures and what he learned. Too funny. :)

  5. 'Morning Glory' is one of my favourite romance novels! Great review, Ross. I need to remind Christian to write up his review of 'Lord Perfect'.


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