Last year around this time, I joined a book discussion group. I was getting stale reading only romance novels and historical reference books. I figured my life and my writing would both improve from reading outside the genre. So far, the experiment is going well. I found something to enjoy in each of the group’s selections and I’ve enjoyed the socializing, too.
If I thought that this year I’d read some literary novel that blew away all my favorite romance authors along with Georgette and Jane and the Brontes, or even came close to the reading pleasure they’ve given me, it didn’t happen. I think the other book group members were also somewhat disappointed in this year’s reads. So first I’ll describe some that came close but were NOT my favorite reads of 2007.
One was ATONEMENT, by Ian McEwan. Brilliantly written and the characterizations and dense but evocative (slow for some readers) prose appealed to the Anglophile in me. Still, parts seemed too self-consciously clever and I was disappointed to learn of the controversy regarding what certainly appear to be barely modified passages from the autobiography of Lucilla Andrews, an author of hospital romances.
Another beautifully written book was MY SISTER’S KEEPER, by Jodi Picoult. It deals with a difficult and heartwrenching topic and the writing is strong and eloquent, but I was disappointed in the ending. Not because I expected anything but a bittersweet one, but because it felt contrived, as if Picoult had burned out near the end and fell back on deus ex machina. Nevertheless I hope to read more of her books.
THE MERMAID CHAIR, by Sue Monk Kidd, author of THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES, was a bigger disappointment. Her writing is truly lovely but characterization and plotting fell short for me. It was also galling to read a B&N reviewer’s statement that it read like a cheap romance novel.
Anyway, my point, FWIW, is that pretty wordsmanship is not enough for me. (Neither is it the exclusive hallmark of literary fiction any more than cliches are necessary in romance.) To love a book, I have to love its bones too, regardless of genre.
Based on recommendations from friends whose taste is similar to mine, I expect I’ll love THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES and THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE, previous book group selections I have high on my TBR list. But I haven’t gotten to them yet, so my two favorite reads for 2007 are romances.
Having loved MISS WONDERFUL, I was eager to read Loretta Chase’s MR. IMPOSSIBLE and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s Loretta Chase at her witty, heartwarming best. The setting is different–Regency Egypt, and the characters are delightful and different. I love that she has been writing heroes who are younger sons–although I look forward to catching up on the story of the oldest brother in this series, LORD PERFECT.
My other favorite read of 2006 is THE PROPOSITION by Judith Ivory (aka Judy Cuevas). It’s her RITA-winning Victorian historical featuring a hero that’s a rat-catcher and the lady who undertakes, a la Professor Higgins, to transform him into a gentleman. It’s warm, funny, sexy, and in places just brilliant. I’m slowly trying to catch up on Ivory’s backlist while hoping for many more.
For 2007, I look forward to reading more book club selections and catching up on the books I mentioned before. But along with those, I’m also going to continue savoring the works of favorite romance authors.
For Christmas I received this hardcover copy of SEIZE THE FIRE, by Laura Kinsale. It’s definitive proof that bad covers happen to wonderful authors. It also goes a long way toward explaining why some members of my book discussion group would never pick up a romance. But based on how I feel about Kinsale’s other books, I’m pretty confident I’ll love what’s inside. 🙂
OK, without spoilers, has anyone read any of the books I mentioned and what did you think of them? What genres do you regularly read besides romance? What are you looking forward to reading in 2007?
LADY DEARING’S MASQUERADE, RT Reviewers’ Choice, Best Regency Romance of 2005