Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Overthinking Harlequin (and other US romances), Part 4!

And on we go...wading slowly and happily through that massive box of Harlequins I bought a while back, the almost 20 year old ones in some cases.  I may even...have bought a few more along the way...ehem...

1.    Dark Knight, by Sheryl Lynn (Harlequin Intrigue, 1995)
This played the big old bear of a crude man who is very intelligent off the most prim but also not stupid woman trope very well indeed.  From the first, there was genuine liking for both characters and I cared for them and their antagonism that wasn’t weird or overdone; it was just two people who didn’t yet understand one another.  This was a very well done little thriller – to the point I finished it and went straight onto the net to order its sister book.  ACTUAL BOOK.)
2.   Dockside, by Susan Wiggs (Lakeside Chronicles, 2007)
(I liked this, though it had a slightly slow last third.  Nina and Greg spent a long time in the past and the present glancing off each other and not wanting to follow things up, especially her, supposedly entering a stage in her life where she is no longer a mother, her time for herself etc.  I felt this was more than a romance, it was all about life priorities, and coming to see that a yours may have slightly changed or adapted after you looked forward all this time to something very much in particular.  That’s an idea many of us can resonate with. 

Also, this was the one in which Daisy, the character whose story gets spread over each of these books, has her baby.  I liked the fact her labour was painful and scared her badly – since I felt this was an added note of total realism [that’s how my second labour went, only worse!].  I’m interested to see if Susan Wiggs pursue Daisy and Logan, or Daisy and Julian, or if the latter will remain friends. 

In some ways, this series of books are quite mellow, in others quite soapy, in others gentle life drama.  Not quite romance as such.  The characters often say very helpful things to each other that I find myself pausing to write down in my ‘helpful quotes for when you feel freaked out and judgemental of yourself’ book [yes, I have one].  It’s good in romance, that there is always room for so much sub-genre.  Basically there are romances that aren’t even romances at all, yet somehow still are because of their appeal to the good-naturedness in us all, somewhere. [I have experienced a lot, this week, of people being rather bad tempered towards me, on what I see as little provocation, so reading something like this, with gentle kindness and wisdom, yet also some kick-arse life decisions, *real*, is a good tonic.  ACTUAL BOOK.)
3.   The Man Who Saved Christmas, by Marisa Carroll (Harlequin 1996)
(This story, my first Christmas book of the year, was amongst the quietest of romances I have read.  There was only kissing, for a start.  The heroine was hugely pregnant, and the book seemed to written from that mindset that says sex and anything much physical is damaging for a pregnant woman, so all was very chaste.  I liked the hero and his need to remain separate after being scarred so badly and feeling guilty; the teen Matt and his similar need after anger at the same incident.  And the Santa carving that heroine did was unusual.  I couldn’t escape the feeling that this was a story told in whispers, that didn’t really get going.  In a way, it made it quite true to life – there was no drama here.  In another way, it made it a bit of a damp squib.  But that’s churlish of me, as it was sweet.  But I will be a little wary of another book by this author.  I usually like my books slightly more …awake.  ACTUAL BOOK.)
4.   The Cattleman’s Bride, by Joan Kilby (SuperRomance, 2000)
(This was lovely.  A sort of much less macho but still beautifully culture shocked Crocodile Dundee for girls.  American obsessed with flavoured coffee goes to outback Australia…and can’t really see the point of it – till she slowly, slowly does.  The simplicity, the vast open spaces, they all begin to slowly calm her, the different pace of life, the building of a relationship with the hero’s daughter, a teen who also can’t see the point of a cattle station versus the city.  This also doesn’t sugar coat the animal business of the farm; there’s no romanticizing what the animals are eventually for. 

One of the big joys of this novel was the heroine – she was just the sort  of mildly perky, mildly optimistic, very curious person I like to see have an adventure…she reminded me of me on a good day – hence: I’m in the story!

This was one of those lovely books where you get to travel mentally and learn about places you’ve never been and may never go to, but feel like you know them by the end.  One of the best things about romances is not only the close examination of the growth of friendships, relationships and thoughts, feelings – but the portrayal of far flung places – and their concomitant outward manifestation as a catalyst for change.  As the heroine views the landscape differently, so too she views herself and all around her with wider eyes, a larger perspective.  A really nice read.  ACTUAL BOOK)
5.   Fugitive Mom, by Lynn Erickson (SuperRomance, 2001)
( This I thought I might not enjoy at all…partly because I find the whole ‘mom’ versus ‘mum’ thing really annoying, and when children say it, it reminds me of 1950s black and white films where all American children seem to have the same syrupy whiny voices, especially boys – so cute I sort of want to bang my head on a wall…[I’ve heard American friends say the same about English children in old films – the cut glass crisp poshness is *tiring* after a while – and I agree!]  There’s judging a book by its cover!

Then I worried I wouldn’t enjoy this because it’s about a foster mother forced to kidnap her foster son as the courts have ruled to give him back to his drug addicted, previously robbery involved mother; who is trying her best to change but we know that in her case, she won’t be able to…I find stories with a strong emphasis on child problems so heart rending I’d rather not read them, as I read to relax and learn, to be uplifted; not to be upset or vicariously terrified for the fate of a child.  Worse – this mother reacted to the initial losing of her child exactly as I would have, her reactions were spot on.  I was terrified, and upset, and the child seemed really nice [and not the slightest bit syrupy]…

And yet – this was in the category of a damn good cracker of a story.  I am always in awe when a writer can make me believe that a romance can go on in the midst of a situation such as this, but she did, and it felt quite natural.  I say she did – Lynn Erickson is two women, writing as a team.  Well – I was very impressed, and this book took me right out of my comfort zone in terms of subject matter for a romance.  And yes – of course: you can read it, read on – there is a happy ending, after all the trouble.  And blimey, there’s trouble and a half.  Great book.  Will read more by this team!  ACTUAL BOOK.)

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