Madeline Hunter: Sinful in Satin

So I finished my second romance read yesterday, and I really enjoyed it. Madeline Hunter‘s Sinful in Satin is about Celia Pennifold, the daughter of a renowned London courtesan, who must decide whether or not to pick up the family trade after her mother’s death. It’s the third book in a quartet, all with equally silly titles, but  I thought it stood alone just fine. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for the others.

Celia, 22 or 23, has been living in the country with an assortment of friends since running away from home five years ago. Her mother’s final illness called her back to London, and now that she has inherited a house (and a mountain of debts) she decides to try and make it on her own for awhile. Returning to her mother’s house after the funeral, she finds that she is not alone: there is a tenant there, a Jonathan Albrighton, whom she’s met before but hasn’t seen in years. He won’t leave (as he’s secretly investigating her mother on suspicion of espionage during the Napoleonic wars), and the two of them must work things out as well as they can. Naturally, sparks fly.

This book is so different from the last one I read that it’s hard to believe they’re both sold as Regency romances. It’s clear that Hunter knows her period backward and forward–and, moreover, that she loves her subject. She’s also a talented writer– I never expected from the cover that I would enjoy the writing itself so much. (There is that old saying.) She doesn’t shy away from the social implications of her heroine’s (and hero’s) dubious parentage. Instead, those implications become the driving force between both characters actions throughout most of the story. There are also a multitude of beautiful little details– the morning ritual of hauling up wash-water from the well, the rarity of oranges, the high price of nails– that suck you in and make you part of the story. The protagonists are well-drawn and likable, and the rakish Duke of Castleford is a delight to read. My only quibble with the characters is that I found Verity and Audrianna hard to distinguish (a problem I wouldn’t have had if I’d read the other books, I’m sure). Apparently Daphne and Castleford are supposed to get together in the next book, so I’ll have to buy that one, and I might keep an eye out for Ravishing in Red and Provocative in Pearls (*snicker*) when I do.

I did have a few issues with Albrighton’s high-handed manner in the beginning– he has that gruff, manly, do-as-I-say-I’m-a-man bit that women are apparently supposed to find more appealing? It bothered me less as the story went on, though, so maybe he got better. I also thought that a couple of the later sex scenes felt kind of gratuitous. I’ve come to have an issue lately where the happy ending hinges on one of the characters being high-born, especially if it’s a Cinderella-style princess story. That isn’t the case in this one– in fact, the trope is kind of subverted– but I’d be interested in reading a book by Hunter featuring common-born characters. Since I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for her in the future, I hope to find one someday.

Verdict: Very good book; heartily recommended!

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Eloisa James: When Beauty Tamed The Beast

So: I have been reading. And, in the course of my reading, I have read a romance novel: When Beauty Tamed the Beast, by Eloisa James.

This was the first “proper” romance novel I’d ever read, so I don’t really have anything to compare it to. On the whole,  I… enjoyed it. It was cute, in a very sugary, popcorny way. The conversations were funny, the chemistry was good, and the story was pretty interesting. My main complaint is that all the best elements are hinted at and then never developed.

Linnet, the heroine, is a young lady of means who makes an unfortunate choice of evening gown in the beginning of the story. She attends a ball looking five months pregnant, and her reputation is instantly ruined. (This is supposedly a Regency-era story, by the way.) Linnet’s father and aunt cast around desperately for a husband for her, and are lucky enough to hear about the the supposedly unmarriageable Piers Something-or-Other, son of  a duke, who’s said to be both impotent and a real “beast.” (There’s the title. The “beauty” part is Linnet, of course– her looks are said to be impeccable.) Piers’s father, the duke, wants an heir for Piers, so Linnet’s not-baby is a godsend for him. (Even better is the fact that the not-baby’s supposed father is a prince she’s been flirting with.) Linnet is soon sold into betrothal (somehow? details are vague), and since her reputation is supposed to be tarnished beyond repair anyway, she’s sent off immediately to Wales with her future father-in-law to meet her fiancé. Said fiancé, however, is a doctor. He realizes instantly that Linnet isn’t actually pregnant, and the two of them spend the rest of the novel flirting, swimming, boinking, and swearing they won’t get married. Then there is a medical scare that almost takes Linnet’s life, a dramatic climax, a troubling skin condition, and happily-ever-after.

The book is actually not so much a “Beauty and the Beast” retelling as it is a pseudo-Regency homage to House, M.D. Piers is a crabby doctor who walks with a cane because of a long-ago injury that causes him so much pain he often turns to addictive substances to curb it. He has his castle set up as a sort of hospital, where he treats all the villagers for miles around (out of the goodness of his heart, apparently; there’s never any mention of payment). With him are his French cousin, Sebastien, who is hot and nice and smart and charming and whom Linnet doesn’t like… because. Just because. *handwave* There are also three young student doctors, popularly known as “the ducklings.” One is named Penders. The other two are, I kid you not, Kibbles and Bitts.

Anyway, Linnet is fascinated by Piers’s profession, bad attitude, and assortment of contagious patients. Not to mention his swimming pool. The two of them bond over swimming lessons and argue over Piers’s irascible bedside manner. Then Piers’s (divorced) mother arrives, and family drama ensues: the Duke, who drove the Duchess away with his substance-abuse problems years and years before, is a changed man now and wants to win her back. Then THE FEVER strikes, and everything goes to hell, and cue climax.

(The fever in question is scarlatina, or scarlet fever. I actually had that once. It’s not nearly as scary in the age of antibiotics, is it?)

Overall this is, as I said, a cute and charming book. I enjoyed it, and even when I facepalmed a bit it made me laugh. However, I did have a few issues.

1) I really would have liked to see more done with the whole “ruined woman” thing. The author actually goes into that a bit– how Linnet is having much more fun as a “ruined woman” than she ever did as a proper lady. It would have been interesting to read about someone in those circumstances, who, say, went to France and ran a salon, or became a rich man’s mistress for beaucoup bucks and comfort. In this story Linnet’s very rarely in any kind of society post-ruining, so you don’t really get to see how she interacts with “respectable” people after the first chapter or so. We know that she gets “the cut direct” from an entire ballroom when she shows up in her unfortunate gown. I would like to see her prancing around in polite society as the “ruined” fiancé of an up-and-coming young doctor of noble blood.

2) The author can’t seem to decide if Linnet is unusually clever or a complete idiot. She’s great with witty repartee, but (spoiler) thinks her fever-blister scabs are going to stay on her skin forever. (I’m not holding her ignorance of sex and the male physique against her, of course, because that’s entirely apropos for the period.)

3) The author ALSO couldn’t seem to decide whether Linnet was a born flirt and social butterfly, or whether she was shy and nerdy and just wanted to stay in her room and read. Both aspects of her character were there, and both were poorly developed.

4) Prufrock, the butler– and all the other supporting characters, in fact– were both fabulous and barely there. Would have loved to see more!

5) Kibbles and Bitts. Kibbles and Bitts. Seriously? Actually, on the whole I think I’d have been more comfortable if this had been a pseudo-historical story– a fantasy, say, set in a Regency-like setting but not really expected to conform to high standards of historical accuracy. That way you can enjoy the feel and manners without having to cringe over names like “Linnet Berry Thrynne,” which I don’t believe to have been typical of ANY period. (Here are some Regency names I just Googled in three seconds, for an idea of how difficult it is to find them.)

However, I see that this book is rated quite highly on Goodreads, and Eloisa James appears to be a very successful author in the field of historical romances. And, again, I did really enjoy the story on the whole. Despite the things that made me cringe, it was solidly entertaining from beginning to end and had terrific characters and dialogue. I think it was a pretty good first step on my journey through romance-novel land, but I hope to find other Regency romances a bit more… carefully developed.

An Introductory Post

I am a writer. I have always been a writer. I have never not been writing something for as long as I can remember. If you had asked me, when I was six or seven or eight or nine years old, what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have told you without hesitation, “An author.”

Stories are my life. If I’m not writing, I am reading. If I’m not reading, I’m thinking about something I’ve read, or wish I could be reading. If I couldn’t read, I don’t know what I would do. Turn to music, I guess. But for now, reading is my life, and writing is my vocation.

BUT. For a long time I had decided that I couldn’t be an author when I grew up. Someone very well-meaning (*cough*Mom*cough*) had a talk with me when I was ten or eleven about how difficult it was to make it as a writer. Perhaps, that someone said, I should think about something more fiscally feasible as a career, and do my writing on the side.

So I started looking for alternatives. Maybe I would be a teacher. A diplomat. A nurse, like my mother. (That idea didn’t last long– I’m terribly disorganized.) For a while, in college, I thought I’d be a singer– I even double-majored in vocal performance and English literature. Anything, clearly, was more possible than succeeding as a writer. Because being a writer is hard, and it was presumptuous to think I would be good enough.

But always in the back of my head there was the thought that if I ever finished a book– if I ever made it to the point where I could support myself solely by writing– then I would drop whatever I was doing then and devote myself entirely to the cause. All my brilliant alternatives were only placeholder plans to let me get to where I wanted to be: life as a professional author.

Then, recently, I came into some savings. Well, came into isn’t exactly accurate: I earned them myself over four years working overseas. I should have earned more: I should have saved more carefully. I was young, and didn’t think of more than doing the things I hadn’t been able to do as a broke college student or a bankrupt bookstore clerk. But I did save a bit– enough to give me a break for a while as I figured out what to do next.

And so I’m writing.

Now, the thing is: I write fantasy. I have always read fantasy; I have always loved fantasy; I have always written fantasy, when I was writing anything. (And, as I said, that was pretty much all the time. Ideas I had in spades– it was finishing things that was always my problem.) So now that I’m writing full-time– and with a serious aim of publication– it’s the fantasy market I’m aiming for, and YA fantasy more specifically.

BUT: writing a novel is a very long process. And so, to keep people from forgetting me while I finish (or, more properly, to let them know I’m here in the first place), I’ve been doing some short stories, as well. I’ve finished three since October, and am approaching completion on a fourth. Two of the four I’ve already submitted to professional markets, though whether I’ll hear back on them before I’ve died of old age is anybody’s guess. So I’ve had my mind on short stories, lately.

And so, with short stories in mind, I’ve been reading the 2010 volume of The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by Rich Horton. And in the preface Mr. Horton makes some comments about how magazines in general seem to be a dying market for short-story writers. And what venue was flourishing? The anthology.

Anthologies, I thought. Of course. I’ll look for an anthology or two and write some short stories for them! 

So I looked.

And I found.

Oh, how I found.

If you google “call for submissions” anthology 2012, you will come up with literally dozens of unique results. I thought I’d stumbled across a goldmine. I began to investigate further.

And I found (and this may surprise no one but me) that the vast majority of anthologies out there were calling for romance. Erotica. Those frilly… pink stories from the girl side of the bookstore.

And, yes, well…  I am a girl, but like any good nerd I was brought up believing that the romance was a lesser form of story. A fantasy. An escape. (No, that’s not at all ironic coming from a self-professed lover of fantasy writing, is it?) And though I do have a certain fondness for romantic comedies, and I did always sort of hope that I would someday find my soulmate and settle down with him forever (I was raised Mormon, so it was a foregone conclusion that the soulmate in question would be male, though I identify as bisexual now), I always knew that these were not traits to be proud of.

But I do have a certain fondness for melodrama.

And I did spend all those years reading fanfic, wherein Harry and Draco found true happiness together and thumbed their noses at the world.

(Or sometimes Harry and Severus.)

(Don’t judge me.)

And so you might say I have a certain inclination to be a fan of the kind of stories you found in romance novel. But I always knew– I knew– that romance novels were bad. I was a feminist. I knew full well that finding a man was not the answer to life’s questions.

(I have never read a lesbian romance novel before. Would anyone like to recommend one to me?)

And so I sneered at the frilly pink section in the bookstore. I sighed when I walked back the paperback display at the grocery store. I pitied the sort of people who would read those things for entertainment. I even kind of pitied my younger sister, who’s a voracious reader of pretty much anything she can get her hands on, but who does have an admitted weakness for what she cheerfully refers to as “cake for your brain.” (It’s a quote from one of her favorite authors, but I can’t remember who.) You were a science geek! I thought. You’re smart! You’re discerning! Why are you reading this trash?

But I had never read the trash in question myself.

And now, I am thinking that I’d like to try my hand at romance someday. Just to see. I think I might be good at it.

However, there is the undeniable fact that over the course of my life– I’m not quite 28– I have read damned few of anything that could rightly be called romance novels. If I ever want to try and write one of my own, I have got to do more research. (I was a lit major, so researching nerdy things holds a kind of instinctive appeal for me.)

And what is the best way to research romance novels?

Reading them, of course.

And it just so happens that my sister is doing a book purge this week.

I suddenly have an abundance of research materials. A whole box of them. In my closet, under the to-read shelf (they would take up most of the shelf on their own, so they had to stay in their box.)

I’ve already gotten started, with Eloisa James’ When Beauty Tamed The Beast as my first selection. I’m halfway done already.

And you know what? I’m starting to get it.

Is it historically accurate? Er. Is the situation very plausible? Uh. However: the dialogue is charming, the chemistry is great, and the book is really fun to read.

And so I shall continue. I will read the books one by one, and in this safe and anonymous space– where I may wax effusive about unicorns and puppies and Twoo Wuv Conquering All without any strange glances from my friends– I will give my reviews, one by one. I won’t say anything I wouldn’t say within the context of a writer’s workshop. That’s my policy with reviews– I can’t keep silent when I have something to say, but I will do my best to be as positive and pleasant as possible.

And if I think, when I’m done, that I can make a home for myself in this strange new world, which is full of roses and kisses and girlish delights, I will start to make an effort of my own. And you who are are reading this will be the first to know what’s up with all that. Aren’t you delighted? Aren’t you surprised? You are witnessing the birth of a  new age in the creative life of Katrina Pearl.

And if I ever submit one of these stories, and if I ever have the honor of joining the ranks of professional women (and men!) who make their living delighting audiences with stories of Love And Sexytime, I will thank you all for being with me from the start. And I hope we’ll all have fun getting there.

Thank you for reading–

Katrina Pearl