Miss Bates has many a romance novel languishing in TBR purgatory: narratives half-read until boredom set in, others which triggered something in her she couldn’t abide, some which shifted drastically from their starting-point, and some which pestered her moral, political, or aesthetic sensibilities. She refers to this as her Shame-Ful TBR: books to throw into a dank corner with the exclamation, “What was I thinking?” Sometimes, it’s a book that excited her at time of acquisition, but her taste changed by the time she came to reading it. To whittle down the voluminous TBR and put closure to purgatorial reads, Miss Bates has decided to write an occasional DNF round-up as a cleansing reading régime. Sometimes, it’s as interesting to articulate why we abandon a book, as it to think about why we stuck with it. Thanks to Wendy for the inspiration. Miss Bates’ goal is to NOT to write such a post too often …
When Miss Bates started reading romance after a 30-year hiatus (*sniff* at the thought of the romance novels she missed out), she mainly read romantic suspense. Maybe because she segued to romance via mystery novels. Dolores Fossen’s Cowboy Behind the Badge triggered all her nostalgia buttons, and some new ones too: babies in danger, virtuous heroine, Texas Ranger hero, a couple working together to save babies and fall in love and nookie! ‘Sides, did you take a good look at that cover? It promises so much sexy, denim-clad-thigh goodness! She made it to about 20% of this category romance before giving up. Her reasons be: a great opening chapter, humorous, yet, suspenseful, gave way to endless family back-story because SO MANY characters people the serial narrative. Miss Bates should have known she was in trouble when the author included a character list before chapter one: (the kiss of death to Miss B.) but she persisted. By chapter two, the character checklist was rolling out in the hero’s head; then, guns and shooting. This is a serviceable, smoothly written category romance and Miss Bates wouldn’t dissuade anyone from reading it. But her love of romantic suspense ain’t what it used to be … which explains why she still has all the Troubleshooters series in the Toddling TBR. (Miss B. received an e-ARC of Cowboy Behind the Badge from Harlequin Books, via Netgalley.)
Miss Bates really tried with Charlotte Lamb’s The Long Surrender. She wanted to read and write about it for Wendy’s January TBR Challenge. She made it about halfway through this reunited husband-and-wife category romance. Warning: there be spoilers ahead. Selina is a sad sad character, obsessed with her weight (Miss Bates thought she was anorectic) and overly protective of her gambler brother. Her ex-husband, Ashley Dent, blackmails her into remarrying him, thus saving her brother from the mob by paying his debts. It was obvious to Miss Bates these two shared an acrimonious relationship: Ashley wanted, still wants, Selina; they divorced because she refused to make love with him. She was terrified, buddy, didn’t that tell you something? Once remarried, he takes her to the Bahamas to seduce her gently… but when love-making progresses and she grows frightened, he calls her a tease, slaps her, calls her a “bitch” … and then asks to have a heart-to-heart about her stepfather sexually abusing her. He thinks it would help to talk about it. That was it for Miss B. Awful.
Like Fossen’s romantic suspense, there was nothing terribly wrong with Kristen Higgins’ In Your Dreams. It contained her signature humour, ruefully down-on-herself, smart-mouthed smartie-pants heroine and glamorous looker of a hero. But there’s malaise for Miss Bates with narratives such as this: listing towards chick-lit (at least Higgins has given up first-person narration), complete with the heroine’s commentary about her expanding butt, in this case, Deputy Emmaline Neal’s snug uniform pants. The hero, Jack Holland, really is a hero (having rescued four teens from a car accident) former Navy, now EMT, also head-winemaker for his family’s business, and covered in blonde and lusciously muscled good looks. Why wouldn’t Miss Bates want to read this? Well, there are two de rigueur scenes in small-town cutesy contemporary romance that grate: they may be fun for other readers, but they carry Miss B. into an eye-rolling stupor. The first one is the segregated men-women cutesy party/shower/dinner/Super-Bowl get-together, with men in one room and women cackling and being womanly-ish in another. Yup, there it was by chapter three: Jack’s sister’s baby shower … his brother-in-law and soon-to-be-dad whispering “They’re talking about nipple infections,” and looking appropriately male-horrified at the mysteries of parturition. Ugh. Not to the nipple infections (which Miss Bates is sure ain’t no fun), but to this stereotypical great divide that some small-town contemporary romance deems humorous. It may be fun for some readers and Miss B. doesn’t fault them for reading it, but it turns her right off. There are sniggers in passages about Emmaline’s circle of friends too, the “Bitter Betrayeds,” like, “Allison, a Southern transplant and pediatrician, had divorced her husband after he became consumed with a passion for collecting antique cookie jars ‘and didn’t have the decency to turn gay,’ ” and “Grace Knapton, who ran the community theatre group and directed the school play, had been tricked into giving five grand to a Pakistani man she’d met online who professed to be in love with her.” Miss Bates didn’t stick around for the meet-cute … (Miss Bates received an e-ARC of In Your Dreams from Harlequin, via Netgalley.)
Bonnie Dee’s Scarred Hearts was a romance novel Miss Bates took a chance on. She’d never read the author before and the blurb, as well as the nearly 70%!! of it she read, showed great promise. Indeed, Miss Bates thought she’d found a keeper. It was fresh and compelling: Tobacco Road as romance. Set in 1919 rural Kentucky, hero and heroine are not your run-of-the-mill romance hero and heroine: Shadow Robeson, baby brother to a violent set of moon-shine-making brothers, and Lettie Calloway, daughter of the local, now deceased, prostitute, living alone, working the local bar. Shadow and Lettie live in a “dry” county that yet thrives on the selling of liquor, on the eve of Prohibition. Shadow is a Great War veteran who lost an eye and nearly a leg to the war. He’s quiet, reserved, and gentle in the amidst of a brutal clan. One evening, at the local bar, Shatner’s, he rescues Lettie from his brutish brothers, especially Cutter (socalled because he enjoys using his knife on others). Dee’s portrait of nature-child Lettie, with her cat Bathsheba, care for her dementia-ridden neighbour, Agnes Barrow, and love of the woods and birds, is wonderful. Shadow is broken in body, but gentle in manner, virginal, and loving to Lettie. Their love is secret and beautiful. They are the promise of a new Eve and Adam in a callous, harsh world. Can their idyllic world survive brutality? Shadow and Lettie hope to escape to a better life, as soon as they can evade Shadow’s family and gather sufficient funds. When their Edenic world is shattered, the violation is savage and disturbing; Miss Bates couldn’t read past it. (Scarred Hearts is self-published; Miss Bates received an e-ARC via Netgalley.)