My Recent Bad Luck with Books

 

rock addiction with shadow

This is Nalini Singh’s foray into contemporary romance, first in a series. I received my copy from Net Galley. I don’t know if it’s a DNF. I kind of hopped skipped and jumped. I certainly did not read it all cover to cover. Is there a DNRTM (Did Not Read The Middle) designation? Right now in romance, certain things seem very popular. Little sexual tension and lots of sex scenes, bad boy “bro gangs” (bikers, assassins, rockers, etc.), highly emotional protagonists with high conflict. I think to some extent the popularity of New Adult, which features some of these things, has bled over into contemporary romance. In fact, Rock Addiction reads like an NA to me. Everything is super dramatic and the heroine is youngish (twenty-four, just getting started with her career, still not really emotionally emancipated from her family of origin). To see if I was just confused (I’ve only read about a dozen NA books), I checked Goodreads and Amazon reviews, and my sense that this could be shelved in NA is shared by a lot of other readers.

I had a hard time with the book from the beginning. As in Fifty Shades of Grey, we just have to accept that a regular young woman, a librarian, walks into a room and does this to a gorgeous, rich, successful, world famous rock star:

Her smile smashed into him with stunning force. Her heard nothing of the party around him, saw no one but her. … Then she laughed and the sound was chains around his heart, a thousand guitar strings pulling tight. It hurt and it was beautiful.

Aestheticized emotional agony, another hallmark of NA. I thought I was in the mood for this kind of larger than life love story, but I wasn’t. When less than halfway through the book Molly leaves her home and follows Fox to his LA life, she says, “Fox is the only reason I’m here — he’s become my home… I don’t need anything else” and all I could think was, “Oh, honey. No.” It’s funny, but for all of the words in the text that signify high conflict, this romance was actually very low in conflict. They both fell fast and hard for each other. The bulk of the tale (besides the many sex scenes) was Molly getting used to Fox’s superstar existence, which was handled way more realistically than any other romance with this theme that I’ve read. This isn’t badly written by any means, but it’s a romance that caters to a specific kind of of-the-moment taste. Which isn’t, I guess, mine.

 

Loretta Chase Vixen in Velvet

 

I got this on audio, and also own the digital version. I stopped at the half way point. It’s the third book in Chase’s Dressmakers series, but the first I’ve tried. I found myself very bored with this one. Leonie Noirot is a dressmaker from France who has a shop in London. She meets Simon Blair, Marquess of Lisburne. He decides to seduce her, I guess because she’s pretty. She resists for a while. There was nothing especially interesting about either of these two. He was supposed to be a charming rake and she was supposed to be uptight and focused on business, and on her  “home for unwanted girls”, but the conflict just didn’t generate sparks. I became frustrated when it looked like Leonie was in dire financial straits because in the previous two books her sisters married a duke and an earl, respectively. Couldn’t they help her out? Especially since they were ostensibly still working at the dress shop after marriage (a nod to modern sensibilities, I guess). Where were they? Also, the fact that her two sisters just married up should have made Leonie think a good marriage to Simon was possible, but no, she was convinced that all aristocrats are selfish. Like Singh, Chase is an author who knows how to write, who has written some of the best romances I’ve ever read. There is truly nothing wrong with this book. It’s well-written and written for intelligent readers, but it just didn’t hold my interest. It’s the kind of DNF that makes me worry I may be done with romance, not just with a specific type of romance.

 

Motley Crue The Dirt

 

My third and final DNF. I like reading memoirs, and I have a special weakness for trashy ones. I’m not kidding. One of the most satisfying reading experiences of last year was Brandi Glanville’s Drinking and Tweeting, and I couldn’t even tell you why she’s famous. I never listened to Motley Crue (or any of the “hair metal” bands), but I grew up in the 1980s and I thought this memoir, written in chapters rotating from the four band members’ points of view, looked interesting. I did actually find the early chapters intriguing. But once they hit the LA scene, it was the misogyny that killed me. I’ve read rock bios and memoirs before, but nothing that catalogues episode after episode of disrespect and abuse of women they way this one does. From the story of the time one guy left a women he was fucking in a dark closet and asked a fellow band member to take his place without telling her, to the one where a guy was in the hot tub with his chick and a bunch of other men, and forced her to go down on all of them, to the girl who got puked on by a band member and then had sex with him, to the many women who had telephones, guitar heads, and whatever else was at hand, shoved up their vaginas and anuses … I just felt sick reading it. What finally did me in was not actually a story about women but the story from 1984 about when the lead singer drove drunk and killed his friend, the passenger, as well as grievously, probably permanently, brain injured two teenagers in an oncoming car. Rather than feeling bad about it, he referred to it as “an accident.” The Dirt was published in 2001, so these morons had twenty odd years to reflect and grow. Which they did not. I regret buying this book.

***

I’ve actually had a number of good reading experiences in the last month, which I hope to write about in another post. But I’ll just mention one now. On Wednesday I went to visit my hospice friend, who has been an avid reader all her life. She turns 99 in two days, so that’s a long life of reading. She usually has a National Geographic or a Christian novel on her lap when I see her. The other day, she was asleep, and what did I find on her lap? THIS!

 

Forbidden Paradise

 

It’s a Zebra Heartfire romance from 1989 by LaRee Bryant. You know, the ones with the covers that make you dizzy if you look at them for too long. Here’s the blurb:

Jordan St Clair had come to South America to find her fiance and break her engagement, but when the overbearing guide she’d hired refused to lead her through the steamy jungle, she demanded her money back. To her surprise the handsome adventurer agreed to fulfill their bargain on one condition. She’d do exactly as he said. Well, no man was going to rule her, but once the expedition began, she couldn’t deny that the great white hunter evoked spine-tingling fantasies that made her blood race with desire. And before this trip was over, she was determined that her sweet imaginings would become reality…

I read about 30 pages while my friend napped. It seemed written for an audience that was … not highly literate. And it had that wacky sense of adventure that seems more common in some of the older historical romances. Those Zebra Heartfires were set every which place (in the Americas?) with all kinds of nutty plots and exactly one kind of heroine and one kind of hero. I think every single blurb refers to the heroine as a “vixen,” and most contain words like “willful”, “impetuous”, “fiesty”, “defiant”, and “provocative.” Heroes are “renegades”, “rebels”, often pirates, spies, or soldiers, always, always, “arrogant.” These books wear their gender power struggles on their jackets. Definitely old school but with a lot of charm.

See? I can write a blog post. I just need a three day weekend!

14 responses

  1. Ah, those willful heroines… my soulmates. 🙂

    “became frustrated when it looked like Leonie was in dire financial straits because in the previous two books her sisters married a duke and an earl, respectively. Couldn’t they help her out?” I have run into at least three other “three sisters” series that have this problem. They’re always in financial straits and yet somehow, the marriage of the first and then second one to never helps.

    I really liked the first in the Chase series, but for some reason have never caught up. She’s more hit and miss for me these days than she used to be.

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  2. I’m on one of those streaks myself. I just read four in a row that were totally uninspiring. Go back and read some Meljean Brook or I recommend Bec McMaster, both for steampunk world building and awesome heroines. 🙂

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  3. Yay, a post from you! But boo, bad reading luck. I definitely feel that there is a trend to more high-emotion, high-angst books right now (and I’d agree NA is part of that). Or at least, those books are getting a lot of attention. I think other kinds are still out there but are harder to discover because a lot of bloggers like the big emo books. They aren’t to my taste either.

    Like you, I have read some perfectly good romances lately that left me cold, and I’m wondering if I’m done with the genre and why. But I was thinking today that I do go through reading phases. For a while I read almost all mysteries, then a ton of children’s and YA lit, then a few years of romance. Maybe I’m coming to the end of a phase, and romance will be a smaller part of my reading life, at least for a while. Maybe whatever I needed from that reading, I’ve gotten? I don’t know. I can’t always see the reasons for these phases.

    Wishing you better reading luck!

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  4. Yeah! You wrote a post! I’m just celebrating that I managed to read a post 😀

    I am completely bored with the “Little sexual tension and lots of sex scenes” books and it has made me rather particular in what I will read.

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  5. In the minority here, as I really liked Rock Addiction, but very glad to see you blog.

    I hope this week you’ll find books that leave you happier than these three did.

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  6. Ooh, a reviews post! Sorry there are so many DNFs, but they sound understandable.

    That excerpt from Singh sounds an awful lot like the excerpts of her PNRs I’ve read. A commenter at DA called her prose melodramatic, and it’s hard for me to disagree. And there are some basic similarities between PNR and NA, in terms of characterizations, etc.

    I found the juxtaposition of your first and last examples interesting. I think it was Moriah Jovan who said that 80s bodice rippers haven’t gone away, they’ve just shape-shifted into other subgenres. I know they aren’t the same, but many of the things people like about NA and MC books (not to mention NA/MC mashups) are similar to what was so prevalent in 80s historical romances, especially the high conflict, the sense that there is a lot at stake, and the alphahole heroes. I didn’t read those then and I don’t read NA and MC books now. NA seems to be more diverse now that it’s broken out of the Twific straightjacket, but there’s still plenty of examples of the original model to be found.

    I am sorry but not surprised to hear that the Chase didn’t work. Like you, some of her books are among my favorites in the genre. But a Duchess and a Countess working as dressmakers? Even she doesn’t have the skill to make me buy that one.

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  7. Like you, I also DNF Rock Addiction. It’s actually the first Nalini Singh book I’ve read. I just couldn’t get into it. It didn’t feel very deep to me. There are a lot of good books out there and I wasn’t going to waste my time on a book I couldn’t connect to. Glad to see someone else felt the same way I did.

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  8. Willaful — that’s interesting that you have come across the Conveniently Disappearing Siblings problem. I must not be very good at sticking with series because I can’t think of another one with this problem. Lucky for me, I guess.

    Heloise — Good reminder that I need to read Meljean’s serial, which I think is coming out as one book any time. And I have never heard of McMaster, so thank you!

    Liz — thanks for sharing that you go through these reading funks with other genres. I don’t read any other genres with any frequency, except maybe commercial general fiction which seems less genre-like. I’d like to post more. But if I do, they just aren’t going to be really detailed thoughtful posts like you folks have been writing.

    Vasiliki — The other day I mentioned some news Liz shared on Twitter about her son and soccer, and my husband said, “Is it the Australian of Greek descent or the American ex-pat living in Canada’s kid?” I’m just grateful that you have the time to read a post, and I know how hard it can be to keep up at all.

    Azteclady — you may be in the minority here but not in Romland generally. I mean, she’s a skilled writer. This could have been a total wallbanger in someone else’s hands.

    Sunita — We are on opposite tracks with you becoming an NA fan (does two books make one a fan?). I have read some NA I really liked, the Tamar Webber and the Katie McGarry books for example. And your PNR point is exactly right. Maybe a factor to consider is that when some readers got werewolved and vampired out they just naturally sought a new, fresh setting for romance with the same high emotion.

    And yeah, I felt that part of the Chase was a stretch, even for me who is notoriously ignorant about history.

    Helen Marie — Thanks for stopping by and commenting. You might want to try some of Singh’s other books. Her PNR Psy/Changeling series is excellent. It starts with SLAVE TO SENSATION.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The ones I’m thinking of are Connie Brockway’s “My” series and another that was by Julia London IIRC… and there was one by Gayle Cullen, I think, though I haven’t read her in ages.

      My husband and I also have conversations about twitter like “Oh, he’s the one who lives in England?” and so on… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • I like reading what people who disagree with me think about books. It makes me take a deeper look at the book and at myself, and that just enriches the experience for me, regardless of whether I change my mind or not, or even whether I see the point the other person is making or not!

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  9. I also DNF’d the Singh, but the things that made you think the book was NA (insta-love/lust, bro-gangs, highly emotional characters and conflict), read, to me, like bad PNR habits that didn’t translate well to a contemporary setting. Although by the time I had more time to think about it, I just blamed it all on lazy writing and shortcuts. I will say this, though, I didn’t feel like her overwrought prose and writing tics were on full display here, so at least there’s that, I guess.

    “Aestheticized emotional agony”

    That is so spot on that I’m going to steal it and use it on my next review to trick people into thinking that my reviews are getting smarter 😉

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  10. I had really mixed feelings about Rock Addiciton. I had just finished Lauren Dane’s Librarian/rocker romance which I absolutely loved and RA just didn’t measure up. It had good scenes, some stuff I really liked but I was generally very annoyed by the whole bad boy tutors sexual innocent trope, his insta-love, PNR like obsession with making her his and how she blithely abandoned her career and country to follow him to LA. The book also had structure issues with too much series set up, and intros intruding. I did enjoy Rock Courtship a lot more, but I won’t be coming back to read anymore of the Rock Kiss series.

    I have a whole pile of DNF arcs, I need to write about too. They are sitting on my kindle accusingly and I really should just write them off. I put the books down in July, and I’m not likely to pick them up again anytime soon.

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  11. Yay, you did a review post :-).

    I DNRTM Rock Addiction as well. I found myself saying “oh, honey NO” so often during the course of my reading of that book that it became like a mantra. There were so many things that I found problematic with this book that I started skimming after the third chapter. Given that I have enjoyed other Singh books, I did try to keep going to the end in the hopes that it would improve, but it never did and I could not buy into the HEA at all. The “we have had a lot sex in the past two weeks so we must be in love and I’m going to give up my entire life for you because that is what you demand I do if you want to have a relationship with me” trope is just not my cuppa. I particularly find this hard to buy into in a contemporary romance. Had this been any other author, I would have DNF’d the book after the third chapter. I have enjoyed Singh’s PNRs, but I suspect that, in most cases, has more to do with the external conflict in the world of the books, rather than the relationships themselves.

    I have found the whole dressmakers series pretty lackluster. They are very well written, but they are so much the same as the other historical romances being published now. I have found very few historical romances written in the past year which have captured my interest – in most cases, I don’t even find the blurb interesting enough to even want to try the book.

    I am finding that, aside from a handful of authors, there is very little that is capturing my interest in the romance genre these days.

    I really look forward to hearing about your positive reading experiences.

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  12. Brie — I agree on the PNR. The little PNR I have read this year has been of the calmer variety so I wasn’t even in the headspace to make that connection.

    Ana — I really liked Dane, but haven’t read her in a few years. I’ll check those out. I feel awful when I DNF an ARC. I really don’t know why I get ARCs. They cause me nothing but guilt.

    Lynn — I find my circle of authors getting smaller and smaller. That’s an interesting point about the external conflict in the Psy/Changeling series. I read about 3 or 4 of them and gave up. Looking back in light of your comment, I think it was that I really prefer internal conflict.

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