I read a romance novel over the weekend…
…It was kind of on accident.
Beyond some classics — Austen, Brontë — I don’t think I’ve purposely read a romance since I was in junior high, 25 years ago.
I rather disagree with the whole premise of romance novels. I tend to think that it’s unhealthy for women to live in the fantasy world of The Perfect Relationship; it sets them up for disappointment with reality.
I feel the same about most chick flicks — “relationship” movies. I see almost none of them, on purpose.
Strangely enough, this was a decision I came to WHILE I was in junior high. A very odd thing was the catalyst for my decision: the movie Romancing the Stone.
In the movie, Kathleen Turner plays a romance novelist who becomes caught up in an adventure. The movie opens with her, alone in her apartment, crying over her typewriter, sipping wine, and talking to her cat. As a 13-year-old or so, this made an impression: “I’ll bet that’s what it’s really like.” It dawned on my pubescent self that the people writing those books and movies weren’t relationship experts — just relationship dreamers. And I swore them off.
Now… I know that a number of friends read romance novels and some of my readers even WRITE them. I’m sorry if my stance is offensive. I’m sure any number of people can come up with good reasons to read romances, and exceptions to my stereotypes. But, I stand firm. I just don’t think romances are a generally healthy read.
So, imagine me: standing eagerly at the library counter, waiting for the librarian to fetch my reserved copy of the latest Charles Todd novel: Charles Todd who reliably writes mystery novels. Picture my surprise when I see that, on the book in her hand, the “R♥MANCE” label is slapped on the spine. I was literally, physically startled.
Charles Todd, how could you do this to me???
I have always enjoyed mysteries; since I read my first Hardy Boys book, borrowed from my brother, while I was in 2nd grade, I have been hooked. And, for the last couple of years, I have been immersed in the World War I era.
It’s hard to find compelling, literate mysteries, that aren’t trashy — full of sex, bad language, and violence, masquerading as “intrigue”. And when you add my caveat of setting it in WWI, the list is even smaller.
- Yes, I’ve read almost all of Laurie R. King’s books — I’m tired of her. She seems too impressed with her own cleverness, and her books have devolved into farce. I put The Pirate King down, midway through — something I virtually never do! — and swore her off, too.
- And I’ve read all of Dorothy L. Sayers’ works; she’s the queen, the original, and Peter Wimsey is a classic. But, she’s not writing anything new…
- And I’ve read all of Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series. I like them all right. Winspear, though, liberally injects her books with her personal philosophy, with which I generally disagree. I do like the story lines, though.
- And I’ve read Anne Perry’s World War I four-book series, which starts with No Graves Yet. They were all right only. The first and fourth books were the best. Clean: Yes. Compelling story line: Mostly. Interesting, believable-but-inspiring-yet-flawed characters: Mostly. Literate: No. Perry has written a whole lot of other books; I don’t believe I will read any of them.
- And, I’ve read a bunch of stand-alone novels set in the 1910-1930 era; I prefer series, though.
So, really… the ONLY author of whom I know who fits my extremely niche current interest, plus my long list of requirements: Charles Todd. The author is really a mother-and-son team. They have written the 14-book series featuring Inspector Ian Rutledge, who suffers from PTSD in the aftermath of his service in the war. I love Inspector Rutledge!! They have also written the newer four-book series featuring World War I nurse, Bess Crawford, all set during the war years. I’ve loved all those books. Their first novel — The Murder Stone — I must admit that I didn’t like. It was an absolute maze of characters for whom I cared nothing, and I put it down after the first 100 pages or so.
Overall, though, I do love the Todds’ work. They’re my favorite current fiction authors. Last spring, two friends and I even traveled to the Prescott Public Library to see the authors!! It was a glorious day trip — the best of company, with two friends who are also fans of the Charles Todd books.
So, having a track record of 18 “loves” and one “dislike”, I always look forward to any new Charles Todd novel! When The Walnut Tree came out, even though it is (kind of) stand-alone, rather than part of the Crawford or Rutledge series, I really anticipated reading it. However, I have done very little reading the last few months; it’s just been an insanely busy season, and when I had time for reading, it was not typically books for pleasure. So, even though the book was published late last fall, I just now got around to reading it.
So, again… imagine my surprise when I saw that offending sticker on the back…
Under partial internal protest, I read it.
And, I liked it!
I had to get past the “this is a romance” thoughts. And I had to get past my internal editor, who was highly annoyed that there are a TON — and I mean hundreds — of incomplete sentences in the book. I finally rationalized that by saying, “Well, the book is in first person, in which Todd generally does not write… and when we think, we often think in incomplete sentences… The protagonist is narrating her thoughts… Oh, well.”
I liked the story line; I found it very compelling. The book was very readable, though “lighter” than I typically prefer. And, I got a kick out of the fact that the protagonist is actually tied to the Bess Crawford series, so there were some character references and interplay that I really enjoyed….
I used to voraciously consume books. Now that I’m a mother of five with responsibilities, I tend to read in a more self-controlled manner, finding ten-to-20-minute snippets of time in which to indulge my reading compulsion: In a doctor’s waiting room, while a little one is in the tub, waiting in the car to pick up a child who is finishing an event, that sort of thing. But, I (perhaps unwisely) stayed up late into the night on Friday and Saturday nights, long after everyone else was in bed, to read… And I finished it on Sunday afternoon, in less than 48 hours. (I typically take 1-3 weeks to complete a book, using my stop-start technique.)
And, when finished, I found myself hoping that The Walnut Tree would be the first in a new series by the Todds.