I spent the day in the juror room. No one was called for seven hours. After a while, it looked like an airport when all the flights are snowed in. People were doing crossword puzzles and sleeping on the floor. They had a little library, which contained a nice hardcover edition of Georgette Heyer's rare and excellent Cotillion, which I do own but was still tempted to steal. However, given the location, I decided it was too risky. Also a very handsome and not terribly old judge had earlier come in and very charmingly lectured us on our civic duty (he reminded me of the Flying Congressman, only not sleazy and evil. And blonde.) and I felt guilty.

I got as far as being called into a courtroom and told about a case, and sat in the audience while eighteen of us prospective jurors were put through voire dire. Given that only two were dismissed so far and there are still about fifteen of us left who haven't even been questioned, I am very unlikely to get on the jury, but I still have to go back tomorrow. If I get dismissed then, I'm off the hook for the next year. (Actually, I've always wanted to be on a jury. It's just not very convenient right now.)

I brought Downbelow Station, but Cherryh, or anyway that Cherryh, is too dense to read when you're in a freezing room with a hundred people and a TV set. But I did finish several New Yorkers and two books. I enjoyed both books, but I have a mouth and I must snark (plus I am totally fried from a full day of civic duty-- I got off jury duty and immediately voted), so...

Mary Stewart's The Gabriel Hounds in Fifteen Minutes:

Heroine: While I'm in Lebanon, I think I shall visit my crazy old aunt Harriet, who has modeled herself on Lady Hester Stanhope.

Sinisterly Handsome Young White Man at Lady Harriet's Exotically Crumbling Estate: Eek! You're a relative of hers? Uh... she hardly ever sees anyone... totally a recluse... I mean, no one but me and her two sinister Arab servants and sinister missing doctor have seen her in months and months... Say, you haven't seen her in years and years, right? Like, you don't even remember what she looks like?

Heroine: Not a bit! But if you don't let me see her, I'm calling the cops.

Sinister: Oh goodie! Well, in that case I believe she'd love to see you. Of course, she only entertains visitors in dark and shadowy rooms at night. Yep-- eccentric! Just gimme a few hours to find and make up an imposter let her wake up.

Heroine: Okay!

Hot Lebanese Chauffeur: This seems fishy. By the way, did you notice that he's stoned?

Heroine: Uh, what?

Hot But Sadly Ill-Informed Lebanese Chauffeur: Yep! Marijuana is a gray plant whose flowers may be smoked to induce a hallucinogenic high. It's bad stuff and can totally ruin your life, but luckily you're not likely to get addicted if, for instance, Sinister drugs you with it as part of his evil plot. By the way, for later plot reasons you should know that there is an enormous drug trade. Did I mention that I'm hot?

Heroine: Sorry, but I am in love with my cousin.

Kissing Cousin: This seems fishy. I have a theory about what's going on.

Heroine: Yeah? What?

Kissing Cousin: I'm not gonna tell you.

Marijuana is fun! )

Laura Kinsale's Uncertain Magic in Fifteen Minutes:

Heroine: I am telepathic in 1797 Yorkshire and every woman in my family with that cursed gift has died as a wretched old hag, because no man can bear to be around a woman who can read his mind. Woe!

Faelan Savigar, the Devil Earl who also happens to be immune to telepathy: Yo.

Heroine: QUICK, MARRY ME!

Devil Earl: I am a bad, bad, horrible person. I ruin women for fun, I dissect cats, and did I mention that I murdered my father when I was ten?

Heroine: o.O. ...I don't believe you. I think.

Devil Earl: Here's one of my wretched ruined women!

Heroine: I HATE YOU!

Devil Earl: WELL, I HATE YOU FOR HATING ME!

Heroine and Devil Earl: Dude. We're kind of well-matched, aren't we?

Devil Earl: You thought the plot was on crack before? Let me take you to my ancestral home in Ireland!

Ancient Telepathic Blind Family Retainer: Hello Robert Post's child. Only you can save the Devil Earl, so you better get cracking.

Heroine: Uh, what am I supposed to do?

Ancient Telepathic Blind Family Retainer: ...Not sayin'.

Heroine and Devil Earl's Mutual Buddy: I'm starting a rebellion!

Fae Folk: Hello!

Redcoats: Down with the rebels!

And then a plot twist ensues )
I spent the day in the juror room. No one was called for seven hours. After a while, it looked like an airport when all the flights are snowed in. People were doing crossword puzzles and sleeping on the floor. They had a little library, which contained a nice hardcover edition of Georgette Heyer's rare and excellent Cotillion, which I do own but was still tempted to steal. However, given the location, I decided it was too risky. Also a very handsome and not terribly old judge had earlier come in and very charmingly lectured us on our civic duty (he reminded me of the Flying Congressman, only not sleazy and evil. And blonde.) and I felt guilty.

I got as far as being called into a courtroom and told about a case, and sat in the audience while eighteen of us prospective jurors were put through voire dire. Given that only two were dismissed so far and there are still about fifteen of us left who haven't even been questioned, I am very unlikely to get on the jury, but I still have to go back tomorrow. If I get dismissed then, I'm off the hook for the next year. (Actually, I've always wanted to be on a jury. It's just not very convenient right now.)

I brought Downbelow Station, but Cherryh, or anyway that Cherryh, is too dense to read when you're in a freezing room with a hundred people and a TV set. But I did finish several New Yorkers and two books. I enjoyed both books, but I have a mouth and I must snark (plus I am totally fried from a full day of civic duty-- I got off jury duty and immediately voted), so...

Mary Stewart's The Gabriel Hounds in Fifteen Minutes:

Heroine: While I'm in Lebanon, I think I shall visit my crazy old aunt Harriet, who has modeled herself on Lady Hester Stanhope.

Sinisterly Handsome Young White Man at Lady Harriet's Exotically Crumbling Estate: Eek! You're a relative of hers? Uh... she hardly ever sees anyone... totally a recluse... I mean, no one but me and her two sinister Arab servants and sinister missing doctor have seen her in months and months... Say, you haven't seen her in years and years, right? Like, you don't even remember what she looks like?

Heroine: Not a bit! But if you don't let me see her, I'm calling the cops.

Sinister: Oh goodie! Well, in that case I believe she'd love to see you. Of course, she only entertains visitors in dark and shadowy rooms at night. Yep-- eccentric! Just gimme a few hours to find and make up an imposter let her wake up.

Heroine: Okay!

Hot Lebanese Chauffeur: This seems fishy. By the way, did you notice that he's stoned?

Heroine: Uh, what?

Hot But Sadly Ill-Informed Lebanese Chauffeur: Yep! Marijuana is a gray plant whose flowers may be smoked to induce a hallucinogenic high. It's bad stuff and can totally ruin your life, but luckily you're not likely to get addicted if, for instance, Sinister drugs you with it as part of his evil plot. By the way, for later plot reasons you should know that there is an enormous drug trade. Did I mention that I'm hot?

Heroine: Sorry, but I am in love with my cousin.

Kissing Cousin: This seems fishy. I have a theory about what's going on.

Heroine: Yeah? What?

Kissing Cousin: I'm not gonna tell you.

Marijuana is fun! )

Laura Kinsale's Uncertain Magic in Fifteen Minutes:

Heroine: I am telepathic in 1797 Yorkshire and every woman in my family with that cursed gift has died as a wretched old hag, because no man can bear to be around a woman who can read his mind. Woe!

Faelan Savigar, the Devil Earl who also happens to be immune to telepathy: Yo.

Heroine: QUICK, MARRY ME!

Devil Earl: I am a bad, bad, horrible person. I ruin women for fun, I dissect cats, and did I mention that I murdered my father when I was ten?

Heroine: o.O. ...I don't believe you. I think.

Devil Earl: Here's one of my wretched ruined women!

Heroine: I HATE YOU!

Devil Earl: WELL, I HATE YOU FOR HATING ME!

Heroine and Devil Earl: Dude. We're kind of well-matched, aren't we?

Devil Earl: You thought the plot was on crack before? Let me take you to my ancestral home in Ireland!

Ancient Telepathic Blind Family Retainer: Hello Robert Post's child. Only you can save the Devil Earl, so you better get cracking.

Heroine: Uh, what am I supposed to do?

Ancient Telepathic Blind Family Retainer: ...Not sayin'.

Heroine and Devil Earl's Mutual Buddy: I'm starting a rebellion!

Fae Folk: Hello!

Redcoats: Down with the rebels!

And then a plot twist ensues )
I excerpt a bit from page two of this romance novel, in which the hero is meeting the heroine for the first time:

Her mouth puckered. She lifted her hand, resting one delicate forefinger on that sweetly shaped lower lip.

"Square the coefficient of the diameter of the number three strut," she murmured.

"I beg your pardon?"

An naive female inventor obsessed with flight meets a manipulative Duke who's terrified of heights. With that kind of set-up, you just know that she's going to take him flying by the end.

Merlin Lambourne is an eccentric, absent-minded inventor who was raised by wolves (actually, by an equally eccentric and, as the book begins, deceased uncle in the countryside) and so has no idea that the primitive radio she's invented so she can communicate with her ancient gardener without leaving her laboratory is anything worthy of note. This is because she's fixated on building a flying machine, and anything else-- I mean anything else-- tends to slip her mind.

Midsummer Moon is set in the early 1800s, which is a hundred years before the official inventions of both radio and airplanes, and makes it, as [livejournal.com profile] coffee_and_ink noted, a secret history. It's the sort of book where Melin's pet hedgehog, which she keeps in an enormous pocket filled with everything from sunflower seeds to homemade rockets, is not only a source of comedy but facilitates several crucial plot points.

Lord Ransom Falconer, who is so acrophobic that he can't sleep on the second floor of his own mansion, has been sent on a mission to obtain a device built by Merlin Lambourne which will be useful in the war with France. He's not aware that Merlin is female until he meets her, and almost immediately accidentally ingests an aphrodisiac which Merlin mistakes for table salt. Events progress as might be expected, to the innocent Merlin's confusion and delight. Ransom, however, is horrified when he wakes up the next morning, and feels honor-bound to ask for her hand in marriage. But when he goes to fetch a bishop, Merlin wanders out to test a new kite, Ransom comes back and finds her gone and decides the French have kidnapped her, and is so upset that he breaks her kite. Merlin realizes that he does not understand or respect how much her work means to her and refuses to marry him. Then she gets kidnapped by French agents, and he rescues her.

This basic pattern-- happy together, Ransom interferes with her work, Merlin puts her foot down, Merlin gets kidnapped, Ransom rescues her-- is the basic structure of the book. Luckily, it's a romantic comedy (well, this is Kinsale, so it's a rather angsty romantic comedy) so the repetition, especially of the kidnappings and rescues, works to comic effect.

It's not a perfect book-- for instance, Ransom does something toward the end which is not only reprehensible but so stupid and obviously doomed to failure that I felt like the author was holding a gun to his head-- but it's quite funny and entirely charming. Merlin is a great heroine-- fumbling and naive in social situations but handy with a wrench or a tourniquent, easily entranced by the pleasures of the body and the mind, and unshakable in her sense of self. The tug-of-war between her and Ransom over her insistence that her work is not merely what she does but what she is, and his conviction that he needs to protect her from her own dangerous inventions is a serious one, but the novel offers a model for how to work through conflicts without being hateful (unlike The Dream Hunter) or one person having to sacrifice too much (unlike Flowers from the Storm.)
I excerpt a bit from page two of this romance novel, in which the hero is meeting the heroine for the first time:

Her mouth puckered. She lifted her hand, resting one delicate forefinger on that sweetly shaped lower lip.

"Square the coefficient of the diameter of the number three strut," she murmured.

"I beg your pardon?"

An naive female inventor obsessed with flight meets a manipulative Duke who's terrified of heights. With that kind of set-up, you just know that she's going to take him flying by the end.

Merlin Lambourne is an eccentric, absent-minded inventor who was raised by wolves (actually, by an equally eccentric and, as the book begins, deceased uncle in the countryside) and so has no idea that the primitive radio she's invented so she can communicate with her ancient gardener without leaving her laboratory is anything worthy of note. This is because she's fixated on building a flying machine, and anything else-- I mean anything else-- tends to slip her mind.

Midsummer Moon is set in the early 1800s, which is a hundred years before the official inventions of both radio and airplanes, and makes it, as [livejournal.com profile] coffee_and_ink noted, a secret history. It's the sort of book where Melin's pet hedgehog, which she keeps in an enormous pocket filled with everything from sunflower seeds to homemade rockets, is not only a source of comedy but facilitates several crucial plot points.

Lord Ransom Falconer, who is so acrophobic that he can't sleep on the second floor of his own mansion, has been sent on a mission to obtain a device built by Merlin Lambourne which will be useful in the war with France. He's not aware that Merlin is female until he meets her, and almost immediately accidentally ingests an aphrodisiac which Merlin mistakes for table salt. Events progress as might be expected, to the innocent Merlin's confusion and delight. Ransom, however, is horrified when he wakes up the next morning, and feels honor-bound to ask for her hand in marriage. But when he goes to fetch a bishop, Merlin wanders out to test a new kite, Ransom comes back and finds her gone and decides the French have kidnapped her, and is so upset that he breaks her kite. Merlin realizes that he does not understand or respect how much her work means to her and refuses to marry him. Then she gets kidnapped by French agents, and he rescues her.

This basic pattern-- happy together, Ransom interferes with her work, Merlin puts her foot down, Merlin gets kidnapped, Ransom rescues her-- is the basic structure of the book. Luckily, it's a romantic comedy (well, this is Kinsale, so it's a rather angsty romantic comedy) so the repetition, especially of the kidnappings and rescues, works to comic effect.

It's not a perfect book-- for instance, Ransom does something toward the end which is not only reprehensible but so stupid and obviously doomed to failure that I felt like the author was holding a gun to his head-- but it's quite funny and entirely charming. Merlin is a great heroine-- fumbling and naive in social situations but handy with a wrench or a tourniquent, easily entranced by the pleasures of the body and the mind, and unshakable in her sense of self. The tug-of-war between her and Ransom over her insistence that her work is not merely what she does but what she is, and his conviction that he needs to protect her from her own dangerous inventions is a serious one, but the novel offers a model for how to work through conflicts without being hateful (unlike The Dream Hunter) or one person having to sacrifice too much (unlike Flowers from the Storm.)
rachelmanija: (Default)
( Jan. 5th, 2005 05:49 pm)
Midsummer Moon, by Laura Kinsale. Sounds like an alternate history about a woman inventer, and also possibly a romantic comedy? I hope so, as I really enjoy Kinsale's sense of humor even though it doesn't come up that often. Incidentally, the heroine and hero are Merlin Lambourne and Lord Ransom Falconer. Excellent!

The Game of Kings, by Dorothy Dunnett. I have already obtained the second book, Queen's Play, and am taking them to Japan in the hope that a nine hour plane ride will allow me sufficient time to plow through the totally opaque opening which I failed to get through when I had it out from the library, and then get to the good stuff.

Reforming Lord Ragsdale, by Carla Kelly. Regency romance, which sounds completely dreadful from the back cover and generic from the front, but I recall [livejournal.com profile] coffee_and_ink recommending Kelly, so I bet it's actually good. Unless I managed to get her only sucky book, which given how the rest of the week has been going seems totally likely.

Snare, by Katharine Kerr. Anthropological sf.

Stopping For A Spell, by Diana Wynne Jones. Three novelettes.

Touch Not the Cat, by Mary Stewart. A thriller where the heroine has been getting psychic messages from an unknown man for years. I think [livejournal.com profile] sartorias might have recommended this? I have mixed feelings about Stewart's romantic thrillers-- the few I've read have started out with a bang and then petered off, but I've read a few. Her style is quite gripping.

Kilmeny of the Orchard and A Tangled Web, by L. M. Montgomery, author of the Anne of Green Gables and Emily of new Moon books-- both touchstones from my childhood. I recently read The Blue Castle, about a woman who is diagnosed with a fatal illness and decides to defy her hideous family and live a little, and enjoyed it very much. Two twists at the end are entirely predictable, but the hero's secret-- no, his other secret-- is both surprising and gratifying. The romance is also very satisfying.

Kilmeny is about a mute woman and a substitute teacher. According to the back cover, the protagonist of A Tangled Web is a brown jug.
Lord Winter hates and fears English high society, disappointed his dysfunctional family by refusing to marry and provide an heir, and spends his time dashing about in dangerous parts of the world having adventures and regretting that he was too young to get involved with the wild adventurer Lady Hester Stanhope, whom he regards as a feminine ideal. He also has a Dark Secret and diabolic eyebrows.

Zenia is Lady Hester Stanhope's bastard daughter who has been raised by wolves Bedouins and her semi-crazy, dysfunctional mother in the Middle of Nowhere, Arabia. All she wants is to be a proper English lady and never have another adventure or see another grain of sand as long as she lives.

Clearly, they're perfect for each other.

When Lord Winter, on a quest to find the Arabian mare String of Pearls, meets Zenia at her mother's funeral, he mistakes her for a teenage Bedouin boy. Zenia, who doesn't understand how English society works (her exact misapprehension is too complicated and goofy to get into here), agrees to take him on a dangerous desert journey on the condition that he take her to England afterward. Stuff happens, a prince mistakes Zenia for the disguised queen of England, and Lord Winter realizes that she's female when they're both locked up and supposed to be executed the next morning. They have sex, they get rescued, Lord Winter is separated from Zenia and apparently killed, she realizes that she's pregnant and returns to England to seek out the father she never knew, and also Lord Winter's family.

That's Part I. The sheikh-of-the-desert setting and story has an inherent absurdity, but its dangers-- physical and emotional-- are compelling reading. I found Lord Winter, in particular, to be a very sympathetic character, and while I am inherently prejudiced against fictional characters who don't want to have adventures and do want to immerse themselves in the stilted rituals of high society, I could see how Zenia had had it with the desert.

Then Zenia gives birth in England, Lord Winter returns two years later, and the book falls apart as they proceed to be absolutely horrible to each other, often for no good reason, and to use their daughter as a weapon against each other. Kinsale's need to maintain conflict once the characters were no longer fighting for their lives against outside forces produced a story in which I ended up disliking both of them, and also thinking that they were utterly unsuited for each other and would be miserable together.

I had a similar, although less intense feeling about Flowers From the Storm. I like Kinsale's romantic couples when they have external forces to battle against together, but once the conflicts become primarily between the couple themselves, it makes me uncomfortable and I start thinking that they can't really be suited for each other-- they're arguing too much, and about deep-seated personality traits that can't be changed or compromised between, and not in a lighthearted, fun, Beatrice and Benedick type way either.

I think this is why, Kinsale aside, I tend to prefer romances to have strong elements of other genres, or to exist within other genres, or to be comedies. In comedies, the tone means the conflict between the couples can be playful and even fun for the couples themselves, even if they don't immediately realize that this is the person they want to bicker with for the rest of their lives. In books which are primiarily sf or fantasy or mystery or whatever, the couples can interact with each other in a friendly or at least non-hostile way while they try to resolve a different conflict side by side.

My trouble with stories which are straight romance, or in which conflict between the romantic pair is significant, is that it's often either driven by misunderstanding, which seems stupid on the part of the characters and ham-handed on the part of the author, or by genuine irreconcilable differences, which to me invalidate the happy ending.

The only types of major psychological inter-couple conflict which don't bother me, that I can think of, are conflicts driven by resolvable psychological issues, or conflicts of honor. Bujold does both of those beautifully: Mark and Kareen love each other, but Mark is terribly damaged and needs to fix himself before he can have a real relationship; Miles and Ekaterine love each other, but a) they both have good reasons why they shouldn't pursue it, b) Miles tries too hard and screws it up and hurts her without meaning to, in a way which gives Ekaterine good reason to believe that he might not be a good person to marry. Bujold also does external-driving-internal conflict-- soldiers on opposing sides, for instance-- beautifully.

The other way romance can work for me is if the story is one of discovery, where the characters don't realize that they love each other until the end. But they can't be jerks to each other up to that point, though.

I think for me, the best relationships are based on friendship. That's why Megan Lindholm's Ki and Vandien series really works for me, and so do Barbara Hambly's romances, and why I spent the entire second half of The Dream Hunter wishing Lord Winter and Zenia would have one single uninterrupted moment where they just enjoyed each other's company without ripping each other's clothes off or threatening to kidnap each other's child. But they never do.
Lord Winter hates and fears English high society, disappointed his dysfunctional family by refusing to marry and provide an heir, and spends his time dashing about in dangerous parts of the world having adventures and regretting that he was too young to get involved with the wild adventurer Lady Hester Stanhope, whom he regards as a feminine ideal. He also has a Dark Secret and diabolic eyebrows.

Zenia is Lady Hester Stanhope's bastard daughter who has been raised by wolves Bedouins and her semi-crazy, dysfunctional mother in the Middle of Nowhere, Arabia. All she wants is to be a proper English lady and never have another adventure or see another grain of sand as long as she lives.

Clearly, they're perfect for each other.

When Lord Winter, on a quest to find the Arabian mare String of Pearls, meets Zenia at her mother's funeral, he mistakes her for a teenage Bedouin boy. Zenia, who doesn't understand how English society works (her exact misapprehension is too complicated and goofy to get into here), agrees to take him on a dangerous desert journey on the condition that he take her to England afterward. Stuff happens, a prince mistakes Zenia for the disguised queen of England, and Lord Winter realizes that she's female when they're both locked up and supposed to be executed the next morning. They have sex, they get rescued, Lord Winter is separated from Zenia and apparently killed, she realizes that she's pregnant and returns to England to seek out the father she never knew, and also Lord Winter's family.

That's Part I. The sheikh-of-the-desert setting and story has an inherent absurdity, but its dangers-- physical and emotional-- are compelling reading. I found Lord Winter, in particular, to be a very sympathetic character, and while I am inherently prejudiced against fictional characters who don't want to have adventures and do want to immerse themselves in the stilted rituals of high society, I could see how Zenia had had it with the desert.

Then Zenia gives birth in England, Lord Winter returns two years later, and the book falls apart as they proceed to be absolutely horrible to each other, often for no good reason, and to use their daughter as a weapon against each other. Kinsale's need to maintain conflict once the characters were no longer fighting for their lives against outside forces produced a story in which I ended up disliking both of them, and also thinking that they were utterly unsuited for each other and would be miserable together.

I had a similar, although less intense feeling about Flowers From the Storm. I like Kinsale's romantic couples when they have external forces to battle against together, but once the conflicts become primarily between the couple themselves, it makes me uncomfortable and I start thinking that they can't really be suited for each other-- they're arguing too much, and about deep-seated personality traits that can't be changed or compromised between, and not in a lighthearted, fun, Beatrice and Benedick type way either.

I think this is why, Kinsale aside, I tend to prefer romances to have strong elements of other genres, or to exist within other genres, or to be comedies. In comedies, the tone means the conflict between the couples can be playful and even fun for the couples themselves, even if they don't immediately realize that this is the person they want to bicker with for the rest of their lives. In books which are primiarily sf or fantasy or mystery or whatever, the couples can interact with each other in a friendly or at least non-hostile way while they try to resolve a different conflict side by side.

My trouble with stories which are straight romance, or in which conflict between the romantic pair is significant, is that it's often either driven by misunderstanding, which seems stupid on the part of the characters and ham-handed on the part of the author, or by genuine irreconcilable differences, which to me invalidate the happy ending.

The only types of major psychological inter-couple conflict which don't bother me, that I can think of, are conflicts driven by resolvable psychological issues, or conflicts of honor. Bujold does both of those beautifully: Mark and Kareen love each other, but Mark is terribly damaged and needs to fix himself before he can have a real relationship; Miles and Ekaterine love each other, but a) they both have good reasons why they shouldn't pursue it, b) Miles tries too hard and screws it up and hurts her without meaning to, in a way which gives Ekaterine good reason to believe that he might not be a good person to marry. Bujold also does external-driving-internal conflict-- soldiers on opposing sides, for instance-- beautifully.

The other way romance can work for me is if the story is one of discovery, where the characters don't realize that they love each other until the end. But they can't be jerks to each other up to that point, though.

I think for me, the best relationships are based on friendship. That's why Megan Lindholm's Ki and Vandien series really works for me, and so do Barbara Hambly's romances, and why I spent the entire second half of The Dream Hunter wishing Lord Winter and Zenia would have one single uninterrupted moment where they just enjoyed each other's company without ripping each other's clothes off or threatening to kidnap each other's child. But they never do.
On a side note, I got my Dad and step-mother hooked on Jennifer Crusie by slipping them FAKING IT and saying, "It's a mystery-comedy about a family of art forgers." My step-mother likes mysteries, my Dad collects art, and they both like comedy, so I figured that would sell them. When they both praised it and asked for more, I gave them FAST WOMEN, then WELCOME TO TEMPTATION. I'm wonder if they'll ever figure out that Crusie is really a romance writer, and if they'll care if they do.

GETTING RID OF BRADLEY is similar in some respects to CRAZY FOR YOU, in that both involve a woman who wants to break out of her boring life and a man who's stalking her. I liked the former better; the tone is lighter overall, even when it comes to dark elements, and it's set up from the beginning as a playful romantic comedy with elements of mystery and suspense, rather than a romantic comedy with unwelcome intrusions of creepy reality.

High school physics teacher Lucy Savage is getting divorced from her husband Bradley. He's stood her up at divorce court, her sister is bossing her around, and she hates her newly blonde hair. When someone shoots at her and she mistakes the cop who pushes her out of the way for a mugger and beats him up, it actually improves her day. Next thing she knows, she's being stalked by a mysterious person, who may be her Bradley or the Bradley the cop is looking for (they may or may not be the same Bradley) so naturally, the cop has to move in with her and her three dogs (one of whom has invented a dog joke) and her ever-mutating hair. To guard and protect her, of course.

This book cracked me up. If you want to learn how to use repetition for comic effect, study it. If you want to be cheered up, just read and be cheered. I was particularly gratified to find a Crusie heroine who knows self-defense, even if it's not always directed at the correct parties. The police work is less than plausible and the sex scene is generic (Crusie got much better at writing them later on) but generally the book made me very happy.

In FLOWERS FROM THE STORM, the Duke of Jervaux, who is a rake and a mathematical genius, is called out for a duel for having an affair with a married woman. But before anyone can fire, he has a stroke and collapses. He wakes up in an asylum. He's unable to speak, understand spoken language, or read and write words, though his mathematical abilities are intact. Unfortunately, at that time no one understands what's happened to him and they think he's insane. Enter Maddy, whose blind mathematician father was in a mathematics society with Jervaulx. Maddy and her father are Quakers, and she gets a message from God that she needs to rescue Jervaux, who she realizes is not insane, but only unable to communicate. (The mad chemistry between them has nothing to do with it, she tells herself, because he is a man of the world and if she gets involved with him, the Quakers will disown her.)

The first third or so of the book, before Jervaulx starts to recover, contain some fascinating attempts at writing from the point of view of someone who has lost language. Kinsale does a good job of conveying a state which is inherently impossible to portray in words. I liked the way both Jervaulx and Maddy had inner worlds which were intensely important to them, and also came from diametrically opposed backgrounds, and how difficult it was to communicate with each other because of it, and how comparatively easy it was for them to bridge the gap of his aphasia.

The main problem I had with the book was the pacing. Although I liked the characters and was engaged by their predicaments, there were a number of places where I found the book easy to put down, unlike, say, SHADOWHEART or THE SHADOW AND THE STAR or even MY SWEET FOLLY, all of which I was glued to from beginning to end.

There's also a point at which Kinsale probably should have stopped adding new complications and reasons why Maddy and Jervaulx were doomed as a couple, because eventually I started to think that their relationship was just too difficult, that they didn't have enough in common and there were too many obstacles and too much Maddy especially had to give up, and that they would never be truly happy together. That mad chemistry had better keep cooking, or they will be in trouble a year or two after the end of the book.
On a side note, I got my Dad and step-mother hooked on Jennifer Crusie by slipping them FAKING IT and saying, "It's a mystery-comedy about a family of art forgers." My step-mother likes mysteries, my Dad collects art, and they both like comedy, so I figured that would sell them. When they both praised it and asked for more, I gave them FAST WOMEN, then WELCOME TO TEMPTATION. I'm wonder if they'll ever figure out that Crusie is really a romance writer, and if they'll care if they do.

GETTING RID OF BRADLEY is similar in some respects to CRAZY FOR YOU, in that both involve a woman who wants to break out of her boring life and a man who's stalking her. I liked the former better; the tone is lighter overall, even when it comes to dark elements, and it's set up from the beginning as a playful romantic comedy with elements of mystery and suspense, rather than a romantic comedy with unwelcome intrusions of creepy reality.

High school physics teacher Lucy Savage is getting divorced from her husband Bradley. He's stood her up at divorce court, her sister is bossing her around, and she hates her newly blonde hair. When someone shoots at her and she mistakes the cop who pushes her out of the way for a mugger and beats him up, it actually improves her day. Next thing she knows, she's being stalked by a mysterious person, who may be her Bradley or the Bradley the cop is looking for (they may or may not be the same Bradley) so naturally, the cop has to move in with her and her three dogs (one of whom has invented a dog joke) and her ever-mutating hair. To guard and protect her, of course.

This book cracked me up. If you want to learn how to use repetition for comic effect, study it. If you want to be cheered up, just read and be cheered. I was particularly gratified to find a Crusie heroine who knows self-defense, even if it's not always directed at the correct parties. The police work is less than plausible and the sex scene is generic (Crusie got much better at writing them later on) but generally the book made me very happy.

In FLOWERS FROM THE STORM, the Duke of Jervaux, who is a rake and a mathematical genius, is called out for a duel for having an affair with a married woman. But before anyone can fire, he has a stroke and collapses. He wakes up in an asylum. He's unable to speak, understand spoken language, or read and write words, though his mathematical abilities are intact. Unfortunately, at that time no one understands what's happened to him and they think he's insane. Enter Maddy, whose blind mathematician father was in a mathematics society with Jervaulx. Maddy and her father are Quakers, and she gets a message from God that she needs to rescue Jervaux, who she realizes is not insane, but only unable to communicate. (The mad chemistry between them has nothing to do with it, she tells herself, because he is a man of the world and if she gets involved with him, the Quakers will disown her.)

The first third or so of the book, before Jervaulx starts to recover, contain some fascinating attempts at writing from the point of view of someone who has lost language. Kinsale does a good job of conveying a state which is inherently impossible to portray in words. I liked the way both Jervaulx and Maddy had inner worlds which were intensely important to them, and also came from diametrically opposed backgrounds, and how difficult it was to communicate with each other because of it, and how comparatively easy it was for them to bridge the gap of his aphasia.

The main problem I had with the book was the pacing. Although I liked the characters and was engaged by their predicaments, there were a number of places where I found the book easy to put down, unlike, say, SHADOWHEART or THE SHADOW AND THE STAR or even MY SWEET FOLLY, all of which I was glued to from beginning to end.

There's also a point at which Kinsale probably should have stopped adding new complications and reasons why Maddy and Jervaulx were doomed as a couple, because eventually I started to think that their relationship was just too difficult, that they didn't have enough in common and there were too many obstacles and too much Maddy especially had to give up, and that they would never be truly happy together. That mad chemistry had better keep cooking, or they will be in trouble a year or two after the end of the book.
I was really impressed with this novel. Unlike the previous two Kinsale novels I read, the plot actually made sense. (It was weird, and also silly and absurd in some ways, but it did make sense.) However, that wasn't what impressed me.

This book has some of the best sex scenes ever.

(I refer here to scenes involving consensual and enjoyable sex. Rape scenes and scenes of consensual but bad or unhappy sex have a different set of issues and are, I think, easier to write, if not easier to read. My favorite bad sex scene occurs in Lois McMaster Bujold's KOMARR.)

Sex scenes are difficult to write. Writers are embarrassed. Readers are embarrassed.
Readers have widely varying emotional associations with the names for the key parts of the body, so the same colloquial names may seem obscene to some readers and euphemistic to other, clinical names may seem cold and sterile, and invented or romance-standard names, like manhood and rod, may evoke inappropriate giggles. But if you don't name the parts where the action's occurring, it seems coy.

And once you do figure out how to describe what's physically happening, you're left with the realization that one act of intercourse, in terms of what goes where when, is pretty similar to another. This, I suspect, is why so many movies and books resort to varying the locale, so the same acts may be occurring, but on a kitchen counter, on the beach, in an elevator, in a forklift, and so forth.

In terms of what these deeds actually feel like to the participants, you get the "one orgasm is pretty much like another" problem, plus a lack of good vocabulary words to describe the sensations. Writers can bring on the superlatives and the comparisons to fireworks, fires, oceans, tides, explosions, guns, dying, and being born, but in the end they've mostly just quoted, in more flowery terms, my college roommate to me, back when I was trying to get a first-hand account by someone who had actually done the deed: "It feels... good. Um... you know... really good."

So what's left? Plot and character. A good sex scene will reveal character or advance the plot. An excellent one will do both. A fabulous one will do both, and also be hot-- admittedly a subjective quality.

On to SHADOW HEART.

Elayne is a teenage girl in medieval England. Because she was taken under the wing of the local countess, she can read and write and speak several languages. In an effort to attract men and exert a little power, she dabbles in witchcraft. Then it turns out that she's the lost princess of the fictional European country of Monteverde. Off she goes on a sea voyage, where she's kidnapped by pirates and taken to the island castle of Allegreto, aka Il Corvo (The Raven), a man who is described about a thousand times as looking like Lucifer and practices black magic and wears a silver shirt and a sable cloak (and sometimes robes inscribed with cabalistic signs), and is an assassin who's surrounded by child assassins he's training, AND is also the heir to Monteverde, by means of a house with a rival claim on it.

Whew!

This set-up, and especially the entire section taking place in Il Corvo's castle, is so over the top that it achieves a kind of whacked-out grandeur. The set-up is for the old story of the innocent virgin who's kidnapped by a testosterone-oozing alpha male, ravished (raped, really, but the genre trappings beg for the word "ravished"), and despite herself is awakened to her sexuality and falls in love.

I HATE that story. So I am rather amazed that even though that's the basic template here, Kinsale made me like the book. Part of how she does it is that she pulls a complete 360 on what happens immediately after the ravishment.

Read more... )

If you can get past the genre romanceness of it, this is one sizzling novel. The characters are interesting and peculiar and have great chemistry, and their dilemmas feel real and weighty. Like Melymbrosia said, the politics are not 100 percent convincing, but after the Il Corvo episode I wasn't expecting convincing politics anyway.
I was really impressed with this novel. Unlike the previous two Kinsale novels I read, the plot actually made sense. (It was weird, and also silly and absurd in some ways, but it did make sense.) However, that wasn't what impressed me.

This book has some of the best sex scenes ever.

(I refer here to scenes involving consensual and enjoyable sex. Rape scenes and scenes of consensual but bad or unhappy sex have a different set of issues and are, I think, easier to write, if not easier to read. My favorite bad sex scene occurs in Lois McMaster Bujold's KOMARR.)

Sex scenes are difficult to write. Writers are embarrassed. Readers are embarrassed.
Readers have widely varying emotional associations with the names for the key parts of the body, so the same colloquial names may seem obscene to some readers and euphemistic to other, clinical names may seem cold and sterile, and invented or romance-standard names, like manhood and rod, may evoke inappropriate giggles. But if you don't name the parts where the action's occurring, it seems coy.

And once you do figure out how to describe what's physically happening, you're left with the realization that one act of intercourse, in terms of what goes where when, is pretty similar to another. This, I suspect, is why so many movies and books resort to varying the locale, so the same acts may be occurring, but on a kitchen counter, on the beach, in an elevator, in a forklift, and so forth.

In terms of what these deeds actually feel like to the participants, you get the "one orgasm is pretty much like another" problem, plus a lack of good vocabulary words to describe the sensations. Writers can bring on the superlatives and the comparisons to fireworks, fires, oceans, tides, explosions, guns, dying, and being born, but in the end they've mostly just quoted, in more flowery terms, my college roommate to me, back when I was trying to get a first-hand account by someone who had actually done the deed: "It feels... good. Um... you know... really good."

So what's left? Plot and character. A good sex scene will reveal character or advance the plot. An excellent one will do both. A fabulous one will do both, and also be hot-- admittedly a subjective quality.

On to SHADOW HEART.

Elayne is a teenage girl in medieval England. Because she was taken under the wing of the local countess, she can read and write and speak several languages. In an effort to attract men and exert a little power, she dabbles in witchcraft. Then it turns out that she's the lost princess of the fictional European country of Monteverde. Off she goes on a sea voyage, where she's kidnapped by pirates and taken to the island castle of Allegreto, aka Il Corvo (The Raven), a man who is described about a thousand times as looking like Lucifer and practices black magic and wears a silver shirt and a sable cloak (and sometimes robes inscribed with cabalistic signs), and is an assassin who's surrounded by child assassins he's training, AND is also the heir to Monteverde, by means of a house with a rival claim on it.

Whew!

This set-up, and especially the entire section taking place in Il Corvo's castle, is so over the top that it achieves a kind of whacked-out grandeur. The set-up is for the old story of the innocent virgin who's kidnapped by a testosterone-oozing alpha male, ravished (raped, really, but the genre trappings beg for the word "ravished"), and despite herself is awakened to her sexuality and falls in love.

I HATE that story. So I am rather amazed that even though that's the basic template here, Kinsale made me like the book. Part of how she does it is that she pulls a complete 360 on what happens immediately after the ravishment.

Read more... )

If you can get past the genre romanceness of it, this is one sizzling novel. The characters are interesting and peculiar and have great chemistry, and their dilemmas feel real and weighty. Like Melymbrosia said, the politics are not 100 percent convincing, but after the Il Corvo episode I wasn't expecting convincing politics anyway.
The only thing Orson Scott Card has ever said which I wholeheartedly agree with is that writers should consider cutting off their fingers before writing a prologue. Prologues are almost always boring and unnecessary. Up until now, the only book I could think of which had a prologue which was both a good story in its own right, and relevant to the plot and crucial for the emotional impact of the ending, was Guy Gavriel Kay's TIGANA.

MY SWEET FOLLY has a prologue which is some ways is even better. It's the correspondence between Folie, a young married woman in England, and Robert, an English soldier stationed in India, beginning in 1800 and concluding in 1807. It's witty, heartfelt, and has wonderful characterization and two distinct voices. A very few pages show an entire love story between two people who change and grow, and whose relationship changes and grows, and yet who never meet. It's a perfect little short story with a beginning, middle, and (excellent) end.

I wish the entire book had been epistolatory. Unfortunately, it picks up after the end of their written (I almost wrote online) relationship, and becomes a conventionally written story about what happens to them years later, in England, after Folie's husband has died. Robert, who was her deceased husband's cousin, is the guardian of her grown step-daughter, and summons the two women to his amusingly described and parodically Gothic estate.

Folie is a charmingly eccentric woman, and a pleasure to read about. (She has a charmingly eccentric pet ferret, who is also a pleasure to read about.) But though Robert's correspondence suggested a lonely, socially inept man who has funnelled his repressed passions into imagination and research, the man she meets is an insane control freak with a number of personalities, most of them deeply unpleasant.

There is a reason why he's insane (a contrived, implausible, and weird reason, but a reason nonetheless) but although it's not really his fault that he's staggering around hallucinating, hiding in the closet, and threatening the heroine, this does not make for an appealing romantic lead.

Robert eventually stops being insane and starts being interesting and sympathetic, but by then the plot has swept him and Folie off on a tide of peculiarities, and leaves them only brief moments to interact like normal human beings. Those moments are good, but when I'm reading a romance novel, which is essentially a story about two people interacting, I want to see them interact more.

Let me explain what I mean by "peculiarities."

Read more... )

Though the book has a compulsively readable quality and a touching final chapter, as an artistic experience perhaps it would be best to just read the prologue.
The only thing Orson Scott Card has ever said which I wholeheartedly agree with is that writers should consider cutting off their fingers before writing a prologue. Prologues are almost always boring and unnecessary. Up until now, the only book I could think of which had a prologue which was both a good story in its own right, and relevant to the plot and crucial for the emotional impact of the ending, was Guy Gavriel Kay's TIGANA.

MY SWEET FOLLY has a prologue which is some ways is even better. It's the correspondence between Folie, a young married woman in England, and Robert, an English soldier stationed in India, beginning in 1800 and concluding in 1807. It's witty, heartfelt, and has wonderful characterization and two distinct voices. A very few pages show an entire love story between two people who change and grow, and whose relationship changes and grows, and yet who never meet. It's a perfect little short story with a beginning, middle, and (excellent) end.

I wish the entire book had been epistolatory. Unfortunately, it picks up after the end of their written (I almost wrote online) relationship, and becomes a conventionally written story about what happens to them years later, in England, after Folie's husband has died. Robert, who was her deceased husband's cousin, is the guardian of her grown step-daughter, and summons the two women to his amusingly described and parodically Gothic estate.

Folie is a charmingly eccentric woman, and a pleasure to read about. (She has a charmingly eccentric pet ferret, who is also a pleasure to read about.) But though Robert's correspondence suggested a lonely, socially inept man who has funnelled his repressed passions into imagination and research, the man she meets is an insane control freak with a number of personalities, most of them deeply unpleasant.

There is a reason why he's insane (a contrived, implausible, and weird reason, but a reason nonetheless) but although it's not really his fault that he's staggering around hallucinating, hiding in the closet, and threatening the heroine, this does not make for an appealing romantic lead.

Robert eventually stops being insane and starts being interesting and sympathetic, but by then the plot has swept him and Folie off on a tide of peculiarities, and leaves them only brief moments to interact like normal human beings. Those moments are good, but when I'm reading a romance novel, which is essentially a story about two people interacting, I want to see them interact more.

Let me explain what I mean by "peculiarities."

Read more... )

Though the book has a compulsively readable quality and a touching final chapter, as an artistic experience perhaps it would be best to just read the prologue.
Despite the hideous cover, typical of supermarket romance, in this case depicting a black-haired Fabio clone in bare chest and leather pants, this extremely strange book cannot possibly be typical of the genre.

While reading it, I tried to figure out if its aura of surpassing weirdness was solely because it was a genre romance with plot elements that (I assume) do not normally appear in the genre, or if it would have been peculiar no matter what genre it had been written for. But I was unable to think of any genre that might normally feature a blonde ninja in recovery from childhood sexual abuse who was trained by a Japanese butler in Hawaii in the late 1860s and is nicknamed Mano Kane (Man Shark)-- there's a long o which I can't reproduce here, but Kinsale uses a bar over the o, which makes it even crazier, though I can't explain why.

The closest match would be Peter O'Donnell's Modesty Blaise series, but those are set in the present day and would not have had an excruciatingly proper heroine whose highest ambition is to become a typist, doesn't know what sex is, and gets saddled with someone else's baby. Though I could certainly see O'Donnell writing the scene where she smuggles a sword out of a sleazy boarding house (where the ninja had previously climbed up into the rafters to hide it, _after_ she had accidentally broken his leg with her sewing machine) by hiding it up her voluminous skirts.

One of the things which makes this book even odder is that Kinsale appears to have meticulously researched everything, even the Japanese and ninja stuff, so there's a sense of solid background despite the completely ridiculous goings-on. Also, the hero says he knew he wanted to marry his sort-of adopted sister since he was eleven. Later he mentions that he's ten years older than her. He wanted to marry a one-year-old???

Unlike, say, Jennifer Crusie or Georgette Heyer, Kinsale doesn't transcend the genre in the sense that I would recommend her, at least going by this book, to people who wouldn't normally read romance or don't have eccentric tastes. Though there's a very interesting loss of virginity scene, most of the sex and romantic scenes are generic and use generic description rather than being particular to the characters. The book also loses momentum at about the four-fifths point, despite a later scene involving sharks, seppuku, and a cursed sword. (The plot elements, in this case, are more fun than the scene is.)

But I liked the way that the heroine's attitudes were of her time rather than ours, the chemistry between her and the hero, the sheer weirdness of the story, and the cast of likable supporting characters.

So, you readers of genre romance, is this sort of plotting actually more common than I realize, or were readers across the country picking up the book and saying "What the hell...?" Also, does the genre ever have interracial romances other than those between white women and Native Americans?
Despite the hideous cover, typical of supermarket romance, in this case depicting a black-haired Fabio clone in bare chest and leather pants, this extremely strange book cannot possibly be typical of the genre.

While reading it, I tried to figure out if its aura of surpassing weirdness was solely because it was a genre romance with plot elements that (I assume) do not normally appear in the genre, or if it would have been peculiar no matter what genre it had been written for. But I was unable to think of any genre that might normally feature a blonde ninja in recovery from childhood sexual abuse who was trained by a Japanese butler in Hawaii in the late 1860s and is nicknamed Mano Kane (Man Shark)-- there's a long o which I can't reproduce here, but Kinsale uses a bar over the o, which makes it even crazier, though I can't explain why.

The closest match would be Peter O'Donnell's Modesty Blaise series, but those are set in the present day and would not have had an excruciatingly proper heroine whose highest ambition is to become a typist, doesn't know what sex is, and gets saddled with someone else's baby. Though I could certainly see O'Donnell writing the scene where she smuggles a sword out of a sleazy boarding house (where the ninja had previously climbed up into the rafters to hide it, _after_ she had accidentally broken his leg with her sewing machine) by hiding it up her voluminous skirts.

One of the things which makes this book even odder is that Kinsale appears to have meticulously researched everything, even the Japanese and ninja stuff, so there's a sense of solid background despite the completely ridiculous goings-on. Also, the hero says he knew he wanted to marry his sort-of adopted sister since he was eleven. Later he mentions that he's ten years older than her. He wanted to marry a one-year-old???

Unlike, say, Jennifer Crusie or Georgette Heyer, Kinsale doesn't transcend the genre in the sense that I would recommend her, at least going by this book, to people who wouldn't normally read romance or don't have eccentric tastes. Though there's a very interesting loss of virginity scene, most of the sex and romantic scenes are generic and use generic description rather than being particular to the characters. The book also loses momentum at about the four-fifths point, despite a later scene involving sharks, seppuku, and a cursed sword. (The plot elements, in this case, are more fun than the scene is.)

But I liked the way that the heroine's attitudes were of her time rather than ours, the chemistry between her and the hero, the sheer weirdness of the story, and the cast of likable supporting characters.

So, you readers of genre romance, is this sort of plotting actually more common than I realize, or were readers across the country picking up the book and saying "What the hell...?" Also, does the genre ever have interracial romances other than those between white women and Native Americans?
.

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