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I have never been one for romance. I don’t read romance novels, and I prefer the literary fiction I read to be light on the love. Call me a cynic, but boy-meets-girl stories usually just make me feel eye-roll-y. But one of my reading resolutions for this year is to read more diversely. I intended this to mean I would read more literature by people who aren’t white Americans, but it SHOULD also mean trying out genres I’m unfamiliar with. When I learned about the Literary Love event, I decided it was the perfect time to try reading a romance novel! I can’t TELL you how far out of my comfort zone this was, but I did it!
I’m a long-time listener of The Bookrageous Podcast (It’s so great; if you aren’t already listening to it, you need to go download a few episodes right about now. I promise you’ll be hooked), and one of the hosts, Rebecca Schinsky of Book Riot, has recently been dabbling in romance, herself. Her endorsements of Sarah MacLean’s books made me really interested — mostly because she promised that MacLean doesn’t use silly words for body parts. I may be willing to try reading romance, but I can’t handle bad euphemisms like “throbbing member.”
So. I took the plunge and bought an e-copy of A Rogue by Any Other Name, the first book in the Rule of Scoundrels series. (It was only $4!) And I had thoughts about it.
Okay, so we’ve got Penelope, a 28-year-old woman in 1830s England. Many years before, her fiance threw her off for a love match, and it was the HUGEST scandal. She’s now close to becoming a spinster, and her father is desperate for her to get married. To entice the menfolk, he adds an important estate to her dowry — an estate that had belonged to Penelope’s childhood friend, Michael Bourne, until he lost it gambling as a young man.
Bourne, now a co-owner of London’s most exclusive gaming hell (yes, hell), is desperate to get his estate back, and he’s willing to go to any lengths to restore it. He essentially forces Penelope to marry him, threatening her with ruination if she doesn’t. The two marry, but time has changed their relationship; their childhood friendship is long gone. Bourne has been hardened by the world and refuses to see their marriage as anything but a business transaction. Penelope, who at 28 is still hoping for a love match, is unhappy with her greatly changed, destructive husband.
Of course, the couple has some steamy sexy times, and they actually get to know each other again, and their sham of a marriage transforms into a beautiful, passionate one.
Alrighty. Thoughts. I didn’t care much for the writing style. Things like this tend to make me giggle and roll my eyes and remember this REALLY emo guy I knew in college:
“She hadn’t looked away until he had turned onto the main road.
He knew because he’d watched her, too.
She’d been his friend.
When he’d still believed in friends.“
I just can’t take it seriously. But how seriously are you supposed to take a romance novel? Writing like that turned me off, but I’ve gotta say the sex writing was pretty good. (I may or may not be blushing as I write this.) Like Rebecca says, there are no silly euphemisms, and there wasn’t anything that made me feel squirmy, like I sometimes come across in literary fiction. (I’m looking at you, Murakami.)
I also really liked MacLean’s portrayal of her heroine. Penelope is smart, brave, and witty. After being dumped by her fiance, she refused four more suitors, holding out for the love she believed she deserved. She knows what she wants, and she’s willing to wait for it. I also loved the way she stood up to Bourne’s jerk-facedness at the beginning of her marriage. Now that she’s married, and married to such a scandalous man, she wants to live a life of adventure. I thought it was pretty kick-ass, and I enjoyed reading about such a strong woman in the Victorian era setting.
At the same time, though, I got really annoyed with Bourne. Like, why do you have to be such a jerk? You can’t even entertain the POSSIBILITY that your marriage doesn’t have to be a miserable thing? Give it a chance, you used to be friends, there’s no reason for you to hate each other! UGH.
So, uh, there you have it. I’m glad I tried reading romance, but it confirmed my belief that it’s not really my thing. It was a fun romp, but it turns out I’m too much of a snob to fully enjoy it. I may read some more Sarah MacLean occasionally, but I don’t think it’s going to become part of my regular reading.