Oh, but it was so "readable." Like sinking into a comfy chair, putting your feet up and having a cup of tea brought to you. I settled in and I didn't want to get out.
May you live in interesting times.)
What I mean by "readable" is a book that meets all your minimum standards for hookiness, character, plot, writing, accuracy, and so forth. If your standards are generous, then lots of books may be "readable" and therefore it's not going to be a glowing recommendation. If you're a cranky reader like me, "readable" is high praise.
I value readable books and I want to celebrate them. In a heirarchy of encomiums, I'd put "readable" just below "keeper." I may never reread Hour of the Lion, but I'll not give it away. (Yeah, okay, it's digital and therefore not easy to give away, but you know what I mean.)
In An Independent Wife, Sarah "Sallie" Baines, neé Jerome, is a dashing international correspondent for a weekly news magazine that has just been bought by Rhydon "Rhy" Raines, a former war correspondent for a TV network nightly news program. They've been married for eight years and separated for seven. Sallie doesn't get spousal support now that she's a decently paid reporter, but it's going to be a bit awkward having Rhy as her boss. Oh well, maybe he won't recognize her now that she has a nickname, lost weight and grown her hair.
Yeah, like that's enough of a disguise to fool a Linda Howard hero! He recognizes her, goes all caveman on her ass, and actually maneuvers it so that she can't go travel to a Middle Eastern country for an interview because of some local civil unrest. They may not be living together, but she's his wife and women aren't allowed to have jobs that put them in danger.
The irony is that this is what broke them up in the first place. At 18, Sallie couldn't handle the stress of having Rhy leave for an assignment and not know if he was going to come back to her or get blown up in some war zone. She got clingy and whiny and he walked out and she grew up.
Yes, Howard stacks the deck. Sallie's whining annoys us as much as it annoyed Rhy. His trying to stop her from doing her job comes across differently. It's wrong but it's more understandable. He loves her and worries, they should be together, he's her boss so he'd feel terrible if anything happened to her, etc. That conflict, written today, would be resolved in the time it takes for the heroine to say, "Hey, bub -- it's my career. Back off." Thirty years ago, men and women's roles in careers and in relationships weren't what they are today.
If someone else were to read An Independent Woman and hate it because of this antiquated notion of women's rights, I wouldn't argue with them. That's the beauty of "readability" -- it's irreducibly subjective.
Here's an excerpt from a Regency romance written forty years ago, Mira Stables' A Match for Elizabeth:
[The hero, the Earl of Anderley, is questioning his newly-found ward, Miss Elizabeth Kirkley, about what subjects she'd prefer after she had refused to study those languages and pastimes deemed fitting for a young woman about to be launched in society.]
"I would like to study the lives and writings of people whom I admire," she said at last.
"And they are?"
"Cobbett and Jeremy Bentham and Elizabeth Fry. [ . . . ]"
"Dear me," said the Earl, divided between amusement and amazement. "For a female you seem remarkably well informed. May I ask who has helped to guide your tastes in social philosophy?"
"My Aunt Clara, my lord, was an admirer of Mr. Cobbett, having once heard him declare that the best religion was the one that gave all men plenty to eat and drink. [ . . . ]"
I'll admit, I'd only heard of Jeremy Bentham. I had to look up Elizabeth Fry, a Quaker social reformer, and William Cobbett, a pamphleteer who worked to end poverty in rural communities.
That Elizabeth should make the speeches she does (which I've shortened here) comes across as realistic -- meaning a young woman raised as she was could know what she knows and feel as she feels. It's liberal by today's standards and by the standards of the time Stables wrote it, and for the period it depicts. Plus, it demonstrates that Stables had a far better knowledge of the time period than I do.
I *like* Mira Stables' books. A Match for Elizabeth isn't her best, but it's a keeper for me, and I'll almost certainly reread it at some point. Other people don't Stables' style -- and their complaint usually reduces to one of readability. So a historically credible book isn't necessarily a "good" book.
Mind you, if a reader is so knowledgeable about the period that she can fault Stables because Cobbett never made public speeches (for example), then that reader might get disgusted with the book for other reasons. But Stables was a canny writer. She seems to make the mistake Carla Kelly did in Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand, where the heir to the title is the sister's son. But where Stables refers to the Earl's nephew as his "heir" it's never in the context of the earldom. There are Scorton family properties, and it makes sense that the only son of his only sister would inherit any unentailed estates in the event that the Earl never marries. Stables just doesn't explain it, so the reader has to trust that she knows her property law.
Mira Stables, Linda Howard and Cherise Sinclair are among the authors I trust to write a book I'll want to read. You undoubtedly have your own list of readable writers. And we annotate those lists to account for our shifting tastes and an author's improving or diminishing writing abilities.
Above all, readability is a deeply personal perception. For all that it's glaringly obvious which books have it and which do not, I see no point arguing with someone who disagrees.