I mentioned a week ago that Sonya, in consultation with Twig, had loaned me half a dozen romance novels. These past few days, I haven't had the brainpower to do much else besides read them (when I'm even awake enough to do that), so here's an interim report on the first one and a half of them.
I ended up starting with a book that they'd recommended but hadn't loaned me: Susan Elizabeth Phillips's First Lady, which turned out to be available in ebook format on iBooks.
I had mixed feelings about it. There was some fun stuff in it, but there was also a fair bit that made me roll my eyes. Various recurring tropes bugged me, and it felt somehow even more like a wish-fulfillment fantasy than romance novels generally do to me; the male lead in particular seemed even more an idealized embodiment of The Perfect Man than romantic male leads always are. (He's the most masculine man ever (to the point that he “manhandles” the female lead repeatedly, which she loves), but he's also tender and sensitive (so she knows he would never actually hurt her, and she knows that his gruff exterior hides a heart of gold), and since he starts out not wanting a family, you can guess—if you've ever been within ten feet of a romance plot—how he's going to end up.)
And there were a fair number of sentences that seemed kind of clunkily obvious and/or unnecessary to me, laying things out explicitly that didn't need to be laid out, and having to be somewhat awkwardly constructed as a result. (Wow. Speaking of awkwardly constructed, Jed. I'm gonna leave that sentence in place to demonstrate that I am no paragon of well-constructed-sentenceness myself.)
But every time I started getting impatient or annoyed with the book, another fun bit of dialogue or nice moment would come along. So it certainly wasn't all negative. But the book didn't really grab me overall.
But after finishing that one, I moved on to one of the books Sonya had actually loaned me, Infamous, by Suzanne Brockmann, and (despite a mildly generic-seeming opening) I'm enjoying it quite a bit. The paranormal aspects of Jennifer Crusie's latest (Maybe This Time) kind of annoyed me, but the ghost in Infamous is handled so matter-of-factly that it's not bothering me at all. (It helps that a fair bit of the book is from the ghost's point of view, and that he's a charming character.) All the characters are fun, and they have some depth to them, and there's some great dialogue.
I particularly like this bit of throwaway banter after A.J. saves Alison from a snake, and she's removing a painful sliver of glass from his hand:
“You didn't scream,” she pointed out, still holding his hand, holding his gaze. “How could I know that it hurt, if you're too busy being stoic and manly to scream?”
“I try to save the bulk of my screaming for when I'm killing giant snakes,” he told her. “Although a giant squid could probably get a rise out of me.”
Alison laughed. “Not a lot of giant squid in Arizona.”
A.J. nodded. “That would make it even scarier, don't you think? Giant squid attacks from behind the desert scrub . . . ?”
That's the first bit that made me laugh out loud, and it made me like the book and the characters and the author more than I already did.
And since then, there've been a couple of other bits that I've laughed out loud at, and a couple of lovely sad bits, and some refreshingly charming dialogue when the characters explicitly talk about what they're thinking and why they're hesitant about various things, and there are some marvelous queer-friendly bits, and all in all I'm really liking this one quite a lot.
I'm only about halfway through it, so it could still go bad, but Brockmann has piled up a bunch of author points in the first half; I'm trusting her to know what she's doing.
I don't like it quite as much as I like the best of Crusie's, but I'm enjoying it at least as much as the middle rank of Crusie's books. Which is saying a lot.