What are we reading: Mostly still regency romance…

The new Sarah MacLean, the Rogue Not Taken was a huge disappointment.  Heavily stealing from a specific Heyer (along with some other extremely tired tropes), except in the Heyer the heroine was a lot younger so it was easier to believe her naivete about the world, and the Heyer has, you know, character development.  It’s got funny bits, but mostly it’s the hero and heroine bickering with each other and being jerks to each other and not telling each other the truth or really talking at all and then suddenly it’s the end and a forced resolution. Also lots of telling, not showing.  She has done a lot better.

The new Loretta Chase, Dukes Prefer Blondes, on the other hand, was delightful!  Very much like a Courtney Milan book, actually (without actually stealing).  I wonder if she read the Brothers Sinister series and thought, maybe I should try something like this.  It definitely works.  It’s the fourth in the dressmakers series, but doesn’t require having read the first three.  It does have a lot of hero and heroine bickering, but in a very different way than in the MacLean and they know what each other means (as does the reader) as they bicker, and there’s character development and stuff.  It’s like I wouldn’t want that relationship, but I can totally see how theirs works, whereas with the MacLean it’s like, uh huh, sure this would happen and/or last.  Unfortunately I also read a couple more kind of racist early Loretta Chases (there’s even a post in the drafts about 19th century Indian characters in Chase vs. Milan that I should really finish and post).  #2 thinks I should give up on her, but her non-racist stuff is good, so I don’t know.  I keep hoping, that, like Balogh who no longer uses rape as a plot device, she’s learned over time and won’t have racist stereotypes anymore.  (And if I gave up all authors who have racist stuff, I’d have to never reread a Jeeves and Wooster because the Wodehouse that didn’t get reprinted is horrific.)

Destiny’s Captive by Beverly Jenkins:  Meh, the prologue was violence.  The first chapter was boring.  Didn’t finish.

Did we mention Three Weeks with Lady X by Eloisa James?  This one was really really good.  Lots of fun and sexy too.  We both loved it and think it’s worth purchasing.  Very much recommend.  Not sure about the other Eloisa James books though– some of them have fallen flat and one of us has a bit of trepidation about the adultery in some of her more popular books (update:  the adultery didn’t turn out to be a problem so much as the fact that that entire stupid series was inspired by EJ seeing her irl infertile friends do anything to have a baby, and they don’t have IVF during the long regency and most of the characters are too stupid to live).  I also really liked A Duke of Her Own which is a prequel to Three Weeks.  If you have any Eloisa James recommendations, let us know!  I did just read American Duchess, and it started out well, but then got stupid in the middle and then the last half was all, “when will he say he loves her”– at least she didn’t have to get into a carriage ride accident this time, though I was *sure* that was going to happen given his parents died in a carriage ride accident and that’s how like 2 other books I’ve read in the past week or so resolved.  I think I’m at a point where I need to read me some novels that have actual you know, plots, in addition to the romance, like Heyer’s Toll-Gate or Milan’s Brothers Sinister series.  Maybe it’s time to turn from regencies to cozy mysteries…

Julia Quinn has just been terrible.  I tried three books and they all started out strong and then just kind of fell apart in the last half.  She doesn’t know how to end, or maybe runs out of time or desire to edit.  For example, How to marry a marquis was ok but mediocre until the attempted rape scene at which point it went downhill considerably.  On top of that, amazon and goodreads tell me she doesn’t seem to realize that when the heroine physically prevents the hero (who she has gotten drunk for the sole purpose of seducing) from removing himself from her body in the hope that she will conceive the child that he has told her he does not want, that is still rape.

Mary Balogh continues strong with her books written in say the last 15-20 years.  I’ve been cranking through the “Slightly” series about the Bedwyn siblings.  They’re pretty good.  Not necessarily worth buying (and maybe a little repetitive here and there), but definitely worth the read.  Her earlier stuff is still pretty hit or miss with creepy “masterful” heroes and servants being raped for no reason (also rape as backstory yuck).  I am so glad that rape is no longer “in”.

Stephanie Laurens has been pretty inoffensive so far.  Read two of her Cynster books, which were fine though read like early novels.  Her somewhat later book, All About Passion, about friend of the Cynsters, has much better pacing.  Most of these seem to be mysteries, but the mystery is pretty weak.  Still, having a plot right now is saving books from having the stupid, “why won’t he say he loves her until her carriage is overturned” lack of plot in far too many of the books I’ve read lately.  If you like lots of sex scenes and long sex scenes, then Stephanie Laurens is for you.  All About Passion has the benefit that the lengthy sex scenes are also varied and interesting.  (I, um, may have learned something new, which is a first for me with romance novels.)  I also like her novellas in both It happened one night and It happened one season collections, each of which also feature reasonably a good Balogh novella/story and a lovely Hern short story.

What have you been reading?

33 Responses to “What are we reading: Mostly still regency romance…”

  1. J Liedl Says:

    I just finished an advance copy of Ashlyn MacNamara’s newest regency, “To Lure a Proper Lady”. I love how she doesn’t write simple conventional romances among the unquestioned elites, but always mixes it up a bit in terms of social and economic class. Plus awesome romance with a bit of a mystery to solve!

    I’m eagerly awaiting the next in Balogh’s “Survivors’ Club” since I have been wondering about this pairing since it was first hinted at two or three books earlier.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      YES! The piano teacher! The man who put the survivor’s club together though he himself did not serve. The man who lost everything because of the war. The woman who was not expecting to find romance until her friend’s own whirlwind romance introduced her to the hero. And now, apparently, time has passed. I hope it is sweet and not at all stupid. :)

      re: social classes… I hate it so much when it’s just assumed to be ok for the hero to have inappropriate relationships with women and to harass women (before meeting the heroine) so long as they’re not “ladies”. That’s something Milan does well as well– treats women from all social spheres as equally deserving of respect.

    • chacha1 Says:

      I’m looking forward to that Survivor’s Club book too. :-)

  2. Shannon Says:

    Do you ever think – I should take a sabbatical or a summer and try my hand at this? I love Regency romance too, and SO much of it is crap. How does it get published? Which makes me think publishing a Regency romance must be easier than academic publishing. Traveling would become “business” expenses to do research. And my time would be totally flexible. Sigh – dreamy. Almost as dreamy as a good Regency romance novel.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Me: noooo. But #2 has tried her hand at such things, she says. (Not anything she’s shared though.)

      If I ever do write a historical novel it’s going to be about that time in British history when all the former Catholic priests were told to get married or leave the country. It will be a sweet comic romance. :)

    • chacha1 Says:

      Writing a romance novel is not all that hard if you are generally a fluent writer anyway. That is, if you write without suffering in other fields. People who struggle to write and avoid writing in daily life should not try to write books, IMO. Also, a lot – a WHOLE lot – of what is out now is self-published (including mine!). I am not exactly making money as a writer, but that’s not really why I’m doing it. :-) My recommendations if you want to try it:

      1. do basic research on clothes, actual historical events and people, actual layout of major cities in the time period/country, houses, manners & etiquette, modes of transportation, how long it takes to travel e.g. in a carriage from London to Yorkshire, diseases a lot of people died from, what people eat and drink … stuff like that. You should not have a straight Regency story in which people eat chocolate candy, for example.

      2. do an outline or abstract: what is going to happen, when, and where, and which characters will be involved.

      3. create backstory for the major characters (this should NOT all go in the book) so you know where you are starting.

      4. name the characters and keep a concordance, I remember J.D. Robb conflating a villain and one of the good guys in a couple of early “In Death” books.

      5. if you want to create a series (which I have found congenial as all the backstory and supporting characters from one book can play a role in others), a distinguishing feature, such as a unique setting, may make it more fun. Most of the big-publisher Regencies focus on London or Bath or aristocratic country houses. These have been popular with readers for a long time, but there are other English (or Scottish, or Irish, or – hell – Indian or Caribbean!) cities that could provide a fresh milieu that still tangentially is “Regency” because of the Empire.

      6. edit. A lot. :-)

    • Rosa Says:

      I kind of think, given how little of any genre I really like, that the stuff I think is crap, most people must like. Because otherwise how would so much of it get published?

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        It is true– Courtney Milan is much higher quality than Julia Quinn, yet Julia Quinn is ubiquitous. Our stocked library system doesn’t even carry all of the Milans on the system, much less in the library itself.

      • chacha1 Says:

        A lot of it is promotion. People who want a conventional publishing career have to treat it like the full-time job that it is. If an author is self-publishing, that author has to take the same risks and expenses in professional editing, cover design, etc. then having copies printed and distributed that conventional publishers do – and has to work hard on the Internet to get the word out via advertising, blog posts, and other social media.

        If an author has succeeded in developing a backlist with a conventional publisher, a lot of built-in promotion goes with that. AND it is always more cost-effective for a publisher to continue promoting an author that is already established (like Julia Quinn) than to “take a chance” on a new author (like Courtney Milan, who only entered my personal consciousness a couple of years ago thanks to Smart Bitches Trashy Books), until and unless that new author has established herself with a well-reviewed backlist.

        Most genre fiction is not intended to have a long shelf life. It is the print equivalent of broadcast television. As “literary” fiction is the print equivalent of, say, HBO! :-) All inexpensive, disposable entertainment. Most people (me included) have a pretty low bar for entertainment.

  3. Linda Says:

    I always like to read these posts so I can get some good suggestions to add to my Amazon Wish List. :-) That may or may not mean I purchase a book; it’s often just a great place to park ideas for books to check for in the ebook library catalogs.

    I can understand wanting to read escapist books like Regency romances, and I’ve gone through phases like that. Although I’ve pulled out a few ideas from this post, I’m not feeling much like reading romances these days. I’ve tried some audio books, and as I wrote in a blog post I’ve got a non-fiction book I’m listening to here and there called How to Be a Tudor.

    Over the weekend I finished Fingersmith by Sarah Waters. At first I was getting discouraged because the plot seemed to be moving slowly and wasn’t very unique, but then there was an interesting twist and I was more excited to see how the story would develop from there.

    Last night I checked out the most recent Neal Stephenson book, Seveneves. His books tend to be very long, so I expect it will take me a while. I hope I have the opportunity to renew it at least once!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I’m bummed that you couldn’t get redshirts on audible. :/

      • Linda Says:

        I probably could have gotten Redshirts on the Audible subscription service, but I didn’t want to sign up for it. I wanted to try some free audio books first to see how well I like/adjust to the format before I consider paying for audio books. Redshirts isn’t in any of the library audio book catalogs I currently have permission to access, though. I really don’t see myself signing up for Audible. It’s $14.95 a month, which is more than my current book budget. Even with the option to get one book for free then cancel, I usually don’t care for the hassle of having cancel a service to avoid fees. Plus, I just don’t get into audio books that much. Even if I did get Redshirts, I may not listen to it all.

  4. Catwoman73 Says:

    I’ve been so busy, there hasn’t been a great deal of time for reading, but I am working my way through Brain On Fire, by Susannah Cahalan. I have a patient with the same condition that the author has, so I’m trying to gain some understanding of what her experience has been. It is a great read so far, made more compelling by the fact that I am witnessing the same situation in my real life.

  5. kt Says:

    Sherry Thomas. I read her book about a (lady) doctor and her ex-ish husband, meeting in India, and it was beautiful. I like that Thomas’ book had a lot about the geography and politics of the time. Very different writing and style from Maclean, Balogh, Milan. Not Quite A Husband, I think.

    On the other hand, tried giving another Joanna Shupe novel a try and I hate every single man she’s written (as far as I can tell) and I skipped all the steamy bits (!) because it was so unpleasant to think of these people together. I ended up only skimming it to see whether the author could make me believe that this wasn’t a horribly obnoxious man. Why would you have ‘relations’ with a man who thinks of you so poorly, who alternates quite evenly between castigating you as a slut and trying to have sex with you in other peoples’ hallways, telling himself he doesn’t mind you’re a slut?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      According to goodreads the hero regularly rapes the heroine in Not Quite a Husband?

      • kt Says:

        The hero has sex with the heroine while she’s asleep, which is not ok by lots of people. I felt it made sense, not as a fully moral and a-ok act but as a story element in the context of the relationship and characters. This is influenced by my own relationships and what I have found good/bad/acceptable, and it’s also influenced by the fact that the heroine doesn’t say no (which she’s fully capable of) and is in my reading ambivalent about it, for reasons that make sense to me given the plot. Sex with ambivalent people who aren’t saying no? Hm… to anyone who says that is never ever ok, I’d say look carefully at your own marriage (if it exists). It’s certainly not ideal.

        It’s funny what we find acceptable and unacceptable. In the Harlot Countess the hero follows some sorts of “rules” and doesn’t do things my University sexual assault center would label rape (no sex while asleep, in particular) but his conduct, to me, is really morally reprehensible. In Not Quite A Husband there is sex without temporally adjacent consent, so you could very reasonably argue the guy’s a rapist according to the definition of verbal consent, but I find the guy a better person and less squicky. YMMV.

      • kt Says:

        Ok, she does end up saying no eventually. So, this might be a dealbreaker for some.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        She says no and he does it anyway (she eventually bars her door to protect herself because he won’t stop after she says no). So yeah, that’s rape. Very 1980s romance which is fortunately now out of style.

      • kt Says:

        I’ve never read any 1980s romance, though I’ve heard it discussed. So, some questions: what happened between the 1980s and now to change how we think of that? How do we deal as feminists with fantasy that involves rape, since it seems plenty of people liked those books — and plenty of people didn’t and don’t? Why is now instead ok to have (in Shupe’s book) the man who publicly insults the heroine for being a slut and doesn’t withdraw because he figures she knows what’s going and she wanted it (neither true)? On Goodreads I found relatively few people who minded, but it made me really upset!

        That old Nancy Friday book talks about “rape fantasy” as a way to get around the prohibition on enjoying sex that women suffered under for so long, and I have to admit that is how I read the Thomas book. Is it our relatively new-found sexual freedom that has rendered this unnecessary and unpalatable? (Very clear that I’m talking about fiction and fantasy here, not reality!)

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I don’t know why (or if) people liked bodice rippers to begin with. But then, I didn’t *read* romances much until relatively recently, probably precisely because they had these kinds of problems. The genre has only become worth reading for me since it’s gotten rid of those problems. I can’t speak for others– would they have preferred more feminist literature but it wasn’t available (because publishers) or were the publishers simply serving demand? I don’t know. I certainly have never enjoyed books that glorify lack of agency.

        I also don’t think it’s ok for heroes to slut-shame and I don’t see a lot of that outside of a few authors who I don’t read because their 1-2 star Amazon/goodreads reviews have warned me off.

        And I don’t think it’s ok to treat under-represented minority characters in ways that are clearly racist (more on that in a future post), even Indians, Egyptians, or Roma (since most current authors seem to get they can’t treat people with black skin with racist narratives). That may be the final frontier. I don’t know.

      • chacha1 Says:

        Speaking as someone who started reading romance novels in the 1970s, I think the ubiquity of rape storylines was a publisher-guided paradigm based on the then-still-new sexual revolution, in which women were still coming to terms with the idea that it was okay to a) have sex b) have sex outside of marriage c) have sex with more than one person in your entire life d) have sex without getting pregnant e) have sex without suffering and dying.

        A lot of people, then and now, need to have their choices culturally validated. The notion that having a man overpower you means you are not responsible for the sex that happens played, IMO, a powerful part. Having a woman choose sex, absent rape, was to a lot of people socially or culturally or morally repugnant. (It still is to right-wing moral absolutists of the Ted Cruz flavor.) There is some very deep cultural hypocrisy that we are still working through with romance storylines.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        re: chacha: This is probably why I stuck to Romantic Suspense from that era rather than straight up romance. (See: Phyllis Whitney and Barbara Michaels and other women authors who had plucky feminist heroines but no sex, just kissing, and consensual kissing at that! And the overbearing man who forces kisses turns out to be a villain, not a hero!)

      • chacha1 Says:

        Haha yes!! I also read a lot of romantic suspense back in the day. Now, I don’t – because now it is full of not only graphic sex (which has its place), but often really graphic violence (which also has its place but, strangely, does not seem romantic to me).

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        @chacha: I don’t even know what would be considered romantic suspense these days. Before it was cozy mysteries or adventures where someone didn’t necessarily die that had some fantastic element that kept them out of the mystery novel section. (I’m not really recognizing any books from this decade on google, though I am vaguely aware of nora roberts/jd robb. And I see vampires.)

      • kt Says:

        I only started reading romances recently, too, in part because of recommendations here :) It’s been interesting to see what people like and don’t like, reading Goodreads and SMTB to get some idea of what’s out there. As Rosa said, a lot of people like things that I really don’t (and I think some of it is crap, while some is just not to my taste).

        Slut-shaming: I notice a lot of the time it’s used how Shupe does, as a dramatic element that the author can hold herself away from (“she’s *not* a slut, not that there’s anything wrong with sleeping around…!”)

        As for POC, that was something I found thought-provoking in the Thomas book. It’s two colonial Brits in India, acting in ways that colonial Brits would, written by a WoC. Would it be better if they were miraculously enlightened for their time? It’s way easier to write a drawing-room romance that never leaves London and has no PoC. Instead, NQaH is set with a backdrop of the Swat Valley and the war led by Sartor Faqir, but no PoC really play a plot role — no one does but the two leads. How do you write that situation with more awareness without being anachronistic? (Not saying you can’t, just asking how — I have never seen an example, especially in a Regency. Milan’s historicals with characters of color all take place in England and since the character is a main character, they get a lot of personal development.)

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Balogh does seem to have a little bit of an irritating thing with this kind of virgin/whore thing. Even if she’s not a virgin because she’s a widow or a prostitute or had one partner once as a teenager, the hero is always the first person she’s had good sex with. And she’ll still seem really innocent to the hero. Candice Hern is pretty good about this, allowing people to have loved and enjoyed previous partners and spouses without shame.

        As to how to treat POC in ways that are not anachronistic– check out our upcoming post! (Or just read the afterword in The Heiress Effect, since we’re essentially saying that.) Also I’m fine with anachronistic characters because they’re not necessarily anachronistic– you can find feminists (not just Mary Wollenstonecraft) and anti-racists and people with remarkably modern writings throughout history. Heck, even in the bible! (Just like you can find people today stuck with 19th century mores.) Just because the dominant culture is racist and sexist doesn’t mean our intrepid hero/heroine have to be.

        Stephanie Laurens is pretty good about taking Heroes who are a little bit of cultural dicks in the first few chapters and having the heroine teach him a lesson early on so he realizes he should get with the enlightenment. Milan too.

        (Even Heyer allows a daughter of a duke to wield considerable feminist power, though only because of her rank.)

      • Jenny F Scientist Says:

        I just misread that last line as ‘only because of her RACK.’

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        hahaha, well, that’s true with some authors, but not Heyer!

      • Rosa Says:

        to add to what ChaCha said, in the mid to late ’80s writers started pushing back against the rape tropes, individually and sometimes in groups. I’m trying to remember names and failing – I know Jennifer Crusie & Susan Elizabeth Phillips have written about the change, but not who they felt were most influential in pushing it. It was very writer-led, though, even though there was quite a bit organized fandom. At least according to the writers :)

        Florence King wrote a little bit about the pressure from publishers to have rape in romance (she only wrote one and hated the genre and its readers) but she was writing in the ’70s I think.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        @Rosa– that is very cool. Obviously not cool of publishers, but cool of writers and fandoms.

  6. Jenny F Scientist Says:

    Read two Kelley Armstrong mysteries- actually, I read part of them and returned them in disgust. Boring and way less compelling than her usual, violent withoit being scary, blah. Tried to read a LeGuin (Voices), disliked it too much to continue. Gave up and read Gaudy Night for the 2000th time.

    I read Sharon Shinn’s latest and it was MEH. I tried Bone Doll’s Twin and the child-murder and creepy angry ghost caused me to return that too! I finally got a copy of Cast In Honor from the library, and gave up on the series altogether because I was so bored by everyone talking about what words and feelings meeeeaaaaaaannnnn. Clearly I am easily annoyed lately.

    Though! I did read something by Metzger- Wedded Bliss- and rather liked it. I might read something by her again! Also (finally) HPMOR which I thought was largely very entertaining.

  7. Roo Says:

    Have you tried Amanda Quick? The early Jayne Ann Krentz ones are quite dated in attitude and the Amanda Quick’s tend to mainly have virginal women but also often a mystery which I enjoy. Courtney Milan is awesome.

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