After swearing off new-to-me romance authors a couple of months ago, of course I wound up reading three new authors in a subgenre I claimed to have abandoned. It was a mixed bag, not surprisingly, but it was interesting because it gave me an insight into what seems to be popular these days (or at least popular in some niche corners of a niche market).
First up is The Soldier’s Scoundrel. This seems to be a debut, although it’s hard to tell in the romance genre, what with the prevalence of pseudonyms and reinventions. It’s definitely one of the first Avon m/m historical romances I’ve seen that is marketed exactly the way Avon markets its m/f romances. Check out the cover. If you just glanced at it you might not immediately notice that it’s two men rather than a woman and a man, but that is definitely a dude peeking over the shoulder of the abs-licious central figure.
I liked the author’s voice a lot, and I liked the mystery subplot in this book. Sometimes it felt as if there was a good cozy mystery trying to escape from the pages of a stereotypical romance, but the romance was definitely front and center. It hit all the beats of a standard Avon, complete with witty banter, mental lusting, and anachronistic language and dialogue. That last feature was the worst part of the book for me; sentences felt at war with each other sometimes, with a period term mashed up next to a 20thC phrase. The story also borrows a lot of regency-romance tropes, especially from Heyer: the opening scene reminded me a bit of Faro’s Daughter, there is a road romance middle segment, and the final stretch with the aristocratic lead trying to ruin himself to make the “scoundrel” accept him as a partner was right out of Venetia. If you ignore the plot and character inconsistencies and remind yourself regularly that these are fantasy men who do not inhabit the same world we do, it’s a pretty fun read.
Second was a contemporary m/m mystery, Mystery of Nevermore. This was a lot more frustrating and disappointing. The book is described as an “homage” to Josh Lanyon’s Adrien English series, and the dedication is to Lanyon, so perhaps it was written and published with Lanyon’s encouragement. But it’s both more and less than an homage in that the plot and characters borrow very, very heavily from that series. The main character, Sebastian, has a physical disability (sight problems instead of heart trouble), he’s an antiques dealer who deals in books (rather than a bookseller), and both of his love interests are closeted cops (one on the way out of Sebastian’s life, one coming in). I mentally categorized the latter as “bad Jake” and “good Jake” from the AE series. There’s also a parent with whom Sebastian is very close, but in a not-so-novel twist, it’s the father rather than the mother.
For the next couple of weeks I’ll writing the Daily Deals posts at Dear Author while Jane is busy doing other things. I did them a couple of years ago, but the book landscape has changed since then. There are a ton of book deals sites and authors and all kinds of publishers use them as a key aspect of their marketing.
My deals posts will definitely include romance novels, because duh, it’s DA, but I plan to mix it up with mysteries, nonfiction, and maybe even lit fic. Of course Jane has always done that too, but the mix is bound to be a little different with me.
I’ve bookmarked a few sites, but I can always use more suggestions. So authors, readers, and everyone else, if you know of short-term discounts, especially ones that haven’t been seen before (or for a while), send them on!
You can comment on this post, or you can email me (my email is on the “about” page linked at left). I’ll make this post a sticky so it’s easy to find.
I was offline Monday night so it wasn’t until I woke up yesterday morning that I saw the news that Jo Beverley had died. I just sat there for a minute in shock. She was only 68, and her cancer recurrence was swift and terminal.
JoBev was one of those authors with whom I only had a few direct exchanges, but whose books permeated my reading life and set the standard for what I looked for in other historical novels. She’s best known for her Georgian series (the Mallorens) and her Regency Rogues series, and the books I’ve read in those are very good to excellent, but my favorite series was her first, the Regency series featuring the Daffodil Dandy, Kevin Renfrew.
Beverley was known for her historically rich contexts and characterizations, whether she was writing closer to the Regency trad format or longer single-title novels. One of the things I loved about her books was that her aristocrats worked. They attended Parliament, they took care of their estates, and if they were spies they actually spied, with all the unsavory aspects espionage involves.
Apart from brief Twitter conversations and the rare comment on my reviews of her books, I only had one interaction with Beverley, but I’ve always remembered it. Miranda Neville observed on Twitter that one of the best known conventions in Regency romances, that a debutante had to have the permission of Almack’s Patronesses to waltz, was nowhere to be found in the historical record. She even offered a $100 bounty to anyone who found it. Someone suggested we ask JoBev about that, since she was one of the most likely people to know. So I emailed her (with a bit of trepidation). She responded promptly and said she had never found confirmation of that either, and went on to talk a bit about Almack’s and the waltz more generally.
UPDATE: Bethany House, the publishers of For Such A Time, issued a statement in response to the complaints they have received about the book. The statement is a classic, eminently teachable, example of a non-apology. I’m not going to link to the official post. Instead, here a couple of posts that offer both the original statement and responses:
KK Hendin: Bethany House’s Statement, Rewritten
Jackie Barbosa: Bethany House’s Statement and Our Response (the “our” refers to the group of us who read the book together)
Janine’s and my joint discussion of For Such a Time is up at Dear Author. In addition, there have been several excellent posts that summarize, critique, and give you an idea of what it was like to read this book. I was part of a group of readers who took on the project at the same time, and I can honestly say that I don’t think I could have finished otherwise (some of us read the whole thing, others didn’t). They helped me understand aspects of the story that I was less familiar with, and we commiserated. A lot. I encourage you to read their takes, and I’ll update the list as necessary:
Kelly Instalove: Just Because You Can … Doesn’t Mean You Should
Jackie Barbosa: About *That* Book (AKA the Nazi Romance Everyone’s Talking About
Laura Curtis: Yes I Read “That Book” So You Don’t Have To (Trigger Warning)
Ros Clarke: Not A Review of That Book
Janine and me: Joint Discussion: For Such A Time by Kate Breslin
Emily Hubbard: A Sad (but not angry) Letter to Bethany House
Joanne Renaud: For Such a Time: I Discuss THAT BOOK
Janine read 35 percent of the book before she had to stop. As I said in the post, I’m in awe that she was able to get that far, given her family background and her childhood in Israel. We tried to address various misconceptions and inaccuracies that have been floating around the intertubes. Some are straightforward.
- No, the heroine was not presumed to be non-Jewish because of her blonde hair and blue eyes, but because she had false papers. It is probable that her features helped make the claim more credible, but what mattered to the Nazis was Jewish blood, not looks.
- No, the heroine is not converted by the end of the book, or at least not in the sense of explicitly accepting Jesus as her lord and savior. However, no supposedly Jewish character thinks or practices religion in a way that reflects actual Judaism. They all feel kind of Christian. 21stC Christian at that. Think of them as Christianized rather than actively converted.
- No, the Nazi hero is not engaged in genocidal activities while romance blossoms. The text goes into many contortions to exculpate the hero from such a charge. It’s very odd to read: he is on familiar terms with Himmler and Eichmann, but somehow he’s kept away from tangible acts (except for one, which winds up having our heroine feel sorrier for him than she does for herself).
- No, the hero doesn’t rape the heroine. This is an inspirational. The heroine isn’t allowed to have sex of any kind. She’s coerced and imprisoned and her romantic feelings are indistinguishable from Stockholm Syndrome, but the book is not “rapey.” The only people having rapey thoughts are the villainous Nazis (as opposed to the two Good Nazis) and they don’t get to act on them (see above: Inspirational Romance).
I’ve gone back and forth on whether to add to the cacophony around the RITA nomination of Kate Breslin’s inspirational historical romance, For Such A Time. This is a book set in 1944, primarily at the Theresienstadt camp, with a love story between the camp Kommandant and a Jewish young woman at its core.
I’ve written and rewritten paragraphs about the book, the controversy, etc., but I don’t think I really have much to add to that part. If you’re on Twitter, if you follow major blogs, or if you read online magazines, you’ve come across the debate. Many of the contributors to the debate have not read the book. There are all kinds of things being stated as fact, sometimes after reading the book, sometimes not. There is also a lot of “well, that’s what inspirational romance is.”
I am almost finished reading the book and will be participating in a joint discussion/review of it at Dear Author. I’ll link to that post when it is published, and for people who don’t read DA, I’ll provide a brief summary here and we can talk about it in comments if people are interested.
In the meantime, I want to talk about where this book fits in the larger historical romance (and historical fiction with romantic elements) category. This book clearly brings together a number of volatile, offensive, and arguably beyond-the-pale factors. However, when we take each of these factors in turn, it appears that they are all fairly well established in the romance genre (or at least the part of the romantic fiction genre that is reviewed and recognized by romance-centric sites and organizations).
I have no desire to defend the book, either in terms of its premise or its execution. I am interested in challenging the idea that this book is a unique specimen. To the extent it is unique, its uniqueness lies in combining elements which have gone relatively unremarked (and often praised) in other romance and romantic novels when they appear individually.