A Few Brief Thoughts About Non-Fiction: Armchair BEA Day 4

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Design Credit: Nina of Nina Reads

As discussed yesterday in my post about genre fiction and romance, I mainly read for sheer enjoyment and escape. I’m happiest when a romance novel so thoroughly engages me that I can’t wait to talk about it, and if it provokes or challenges me in some way, so much the better.  So mine is not a pure escapism; I enjoy the fantasy, yes, but I also enjoy critical and/or contextual analysis, and I’m willing to look at problematic aspects of the fantasy/ies I’m reading.

Which brings me to today’s Armchair BEA topic.  Although I’m mostly reading romance, and don’t read much non-fiction anymore, I do still make time for reading history. Really, it goes hand in hand with my love of historical romance, and provides context for looking at challenging themes such as colonialism or other forms of oppression that historical fiction sometimes raises or addresses. I’m going to keep today’s post very simple and just suggest a few works of historical non-fiction that have captured my attention and/or imagination in the last several years.

Badass History Books I’m recommending:

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The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity, by Jill Lepore

Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War, by Nathaniel Philbrick

Liberty Tree: Ordinary People and the American Revolution, by Alfred F. Young

The Wars of the Roses, by Alison Weir – this one I just read last year, in concert with all 5 Song of Ice and Fire books by George R.R. Martin. Epic fun!

3085271Out of bounds for today’s consideration of non-fiction, but very much worth your consideration as a captivating work of historical fiction, with a strong romance at the center — and a lengthy, almost-believable-for-once cross-dressing deception! — is Blindspot, by historians Jane Kamensky and Jill Lepore.

One of my favorite things about this book is that it’s an epistolary novel, like Pamela!  And the authors apparently also wrote it in epistolary fashion.  An absorbing, fun read for anyone who enjoys 18th century American/ Revolutionary history and/or romantic historical fiction.

As an aside, I do also occasionally read a non-fiction book about parenting or child development.  I am currently reading the excellent  Teach Your Children Well, by Madeline Levine, about raising resilient kids and avoiding the “extra-curricular credentials” trap.

Blogging, Romance, Genre, “Art” and Feminism? Armchair BEA Days 2 & 3

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Design Credit: Nina of Nina Reads

I’m still so new at this game, I can’t really say much about how I’ve developed as a blogger.  The blog is still in its infancy, and I find myself every day wishing I had an extra hour or two to spend working on future posts, reading other blogs, and researching best practices.  ArmchairBEA is pushing me to post more this week than I would normally be able to, although this kind of navel-gazing post is not the same as a review post or commentary on a bookish theme.  It’s less than 2 months since I drafted my About Me and Why Badass Romance posts, and then I just spent eleventy-two hours doing the long Liebster post last week, so it’s feeling like ENOUGH about me and not enough about books right now!

For this reason I’m going to segue right to Day 2’s bookish topic, which is genre (what draws you to a genre?), and Day 3’s related focus which is literary (artistic?) fiction.  The literary fiction prompt asks: Which works of art have changed your life?  Be creative and make a list outlining books featuring specific subjects (i.e., animals, recommended prize-winners, outstanding authors, etc.). Hmmm. What is it with this “art” label?? Is genre fiction a lower order of cultural production?

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As a result of the Liebster chain letter last week, I met a fellow blogger who, like me, has an academic background, has read classics, literary theory, and criticism, and now – at mid-life – prefers to read… you guessed it: (badass) romance.  Miss Bates is quite loquacious on this topic! Her new blog is a must-read, if you haven’t already checked it out.

We’ve been chatting back and forth in comments, and it’s helping me re-formulate some of my rather inchoate thoughts about why I don’t like a literary hierarchy that sets genre fiction (romance along with others, like fantasy, science fiction, mystery, etc – not to mention sub-genres) in opposition to literary fiction, thereby declaring that genre fiction is not Art. I realize no one is saying that genre fiction doesn’t have meaning or merit, but let’s face it, there is still a literary hierarchy and the main reason romance gets taken seriously at all may be its badass sales figures. But the main reason I don’t read much “highbrow” fiction anymore is that I started to feel unhappy and uncomfortable with books that felt chore-like — at times opaque, depressing, and/or pretentious. Life is too short to read books that feel like work.  I am not saying, however, that I don’t want to be challenged by what I read — to read books that spark me to think deeply and broadly about my values and assumptions and priorities. I’m just saying that I want to have this experience as a reader with books I actually enjoy reading, and at this point in my life as a reader I’m looking for happy endings.

While I recognize the importance of individual preferences in terms of genre, and the reality that there are going to be groupings of readers who read and blog mainly around literary fiction vs. any particular genre fiction, what’s important to me is enjoying what I read, and applying the same kind of critical thinking and analysis in formulating my response — whether it’s a romance novel or a Booker Prize nominee.  As a serious reader, I don’t want to have to prove I’m serious in spite of reading and reviewing romance.  I was delighted yesterday to read Book Riot’s Stop Apologizing for What You Like to Read, via new Armchair BEA blog friend Cheap Thrills.

But on the other hand, I don’t think the romance reading and blogging community should be without a robust critical discourse, nor should we shy away from thoughtful exchange of ideas about what’s political and or problematic in the books we also enjoy and celebrate. This week Emma Barry has posted a provocative set of questions about politics in romance, and there are some wonderful comments.  Also this week, at Radish Reviews, Natalie’s challenging post about reader shame and extreme romance, along with the incredible discussion it’s generating, has really got me thinking.

Although I’m new to blogging, I’ve been participating in online fan forums about books off and on for almost a decade. I’ve always been somewhat frustrated by the strong negative response from such communities when a critical view of a challenging theme or book is put forth. Frequently, critical discourse is suppressed with “if you don’t really like this, why are you reading it?” Or, “how can you like this and call yourself a thinking person?” Of course I am thinking about polarization around the proliferation of erotic romance and erotica in the wake of 50 Shades. I’m also thinking back to a fan community where a post that critiqued a problematic aspect of a beloved book was frequently perceived as an attack. But this kind of suppression is side-stepping.

Why can’t we trust that we’re mainly going to read what we like and enjoy, and that it’s OK to enjoy reading something and yet still be deeply thoughtful and even troubled by it? And to express these “troubles” in the form of thoughtful interrogation of our own reading, in concert with the cross-blog discourse of reviews and commentary? Is it OK to be a romance blogger and say “negative” things about the genre?  My response is a hearty yes. But are romance readers especially sensitive to criticism of the books we enjoy, because there is always this problematic intersection of gender, identity, feminism, and the masculine hero archetypes which embody patriarchy?

I can’t conclude this post without mentioning the discourse around feminism and romance which was (re)launched with vigor back in March (B.B.R. – Before Badass Romance), by way of an article in the Atlantic, and a series of wonderful author and blogger posts such as this one by Cecilia Grant, from which I will offer a favorite quote:

But “romance that might appeal to feminists” and “romance that actually is feminist” aren’t quite the same thing.

I also found this post at Bad Necklace extremely challenging and provocative, in a good-kind-of-uncomfortable way.

So, badass romance readers – what do you think? Is it possible to enjoy reading a book, and to equally enjoy a respectful critique that challenges our enjoyment? Are we stuck reading romance through the lens of feminism? Are such “-ism” lenses limiting or liberating?

Finally, as an aside, I must add that I am on pins and needles waiting to get my hands on a copy of Cecilia Grant’s forthcoming new release, A Woman Entangled! A Gentleman Undone is among my top 5 favorite books of 2012 (or top 5 reads of 2013 so far.)

Introducing Badass Romance for Armchair BEA

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Design Credit: Nina of Nina Reads

I admit it, I love going to conferences.  I love the chance to get away from home, and laundry, for a few days and hang out with a big group of people who are all pumped up to get motivated and recharged and who share a commitment to a common field of endeavor.  Since my kids arrived on the scene almost exactly a decade ago, I don’t travel for work nearly as much as I used to, but I still make it a point to attend a couple of meetings a year, for the inspiration and connection they yield.

sfly3But as a new blogger with no other connection to “the industry” the idea of attending a literary conference is still just a pipe dream.  Sort of like my daughters’ active fantasy that  when they turn 11 they will receive letters from Professor McGonagle with instructions for Hogwarts matriculation.  Or perhaps just slightly more within the realm of possibility – that I will eventually break down about Disney and take them to Orlando for Harry Potter World.  It could happen, and we really want it to happen, but no one’s holding her breath.  Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure my fantasy book convention trip probably gets more and more wondrous, in my mind, in direct proportion to how much the daily grind of single mom-hood is getting to me in any given week.

But just when I was thinking how I’ll probably never have time to go to a big book convention, due to minor obstacles such as my job and my children, I heard about Armchair BEA — an online version of Book Expo America, which is happening this week in NYC.  For bloggers who don’t attend, Armchair BEA is the next best thing; a way to get connected, without leaving home.

Here are my answers to 5 of the Introduce Yourself post questions:

1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you? How long have you been blogging? Why did you get into blogging?

I’ve been blogging here @ Badass Romance for about two months. I do feel as though I’ve arrived rather late to blogging and I’ve also been forcing myself up a pretty steep learning curve with tweeting (which is how I heard about Armchair BEA).  I started talking about books online in fan forums  back in 2004-2005 when my daughters were babies and I was pretty much trapped at home all the time.  I didn’t have time or energy to be in a real life book group, but found a wonderful community of readers to engage with online. Now the girls are about to turn 10, they’re more independent, and I have some scraps of time back.  I have been kicking around the blog idea with my friends (both IRL and online) for about a year, and finally decided to jump in with it. We’ll see how it goes — so far, it’s been a lot of fun. The only downside is that the more time I spend reading posts, tweeting, and talking with other book bloggers and authors, the faster the TBR stack grows. I’m starting to accept that it will always be full, and full of promise.

2. Where in the world are you blogging from? Tell a random fact or something special about your current location. Feel free to share pictures.

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in Lexington, 2012 @ Badass Romance

I’m in New England, near Boston. Revolutionary history is one of my other passions.  We love celebrating Patriots Day by attending re-enactments in Lexington and Concord. As a romance reader, for me the ultimate in perfection is a 5-star historical set in 18th-century America.

3. Have you previously participated in Armchair BEA? What brought you back for another year? If you have not previously participated, what drew you to the event?

I never heard of Armchair BEA until this week.  After the blog had been up for several weeks, I joined Twitter right around the time of the big Romance Times conference (RT13) in Kansas City, and spent a week watching the tweets and realizing how much I’d love to attend a book convention.

4. Which is your favorite post that you have written that you want everyone to read?

I jumped in to the recent spate of interest in the fate of historical romance and met some amazing reviewers and bloggers via my newbie post: Historical Romance: Lament, or Let it Die?  It’s by no means the most eloquent or my last word on this topic, but it was fun and I loved all the wonderful comments.

5. What are you currently reading, or what is your favorite book you have read so far in 2013?

I’m currently reading several books, as usual. Just finished Untamed, by Anna Cowan, and I’m working on my review post (so excited about this one — it’s really different!). I’m also reading Silent in the Sanctuary, by Deanna Raybourn, and Teach Your Children Well, by Madeline Levine.

A Blog Award for Badass Romance?!

It appears that Badass Romance has been nominated (tagged) for the Liebster Award! Squee!?! Wait, what does this mean?lieber-award

The Liebster is a friendly pay-it-forward getting-to-know-you thumbs up badge for blogs with fewer than 200 followers.  Like other history-minded bloggers who have received this compliment before me, I did some googling to try and figure out where this started.  Seems to be somewhat shrouded in mystery, but it’s German for “dearest” or “favorite” and at least one persistent blogger traced it back to a 2010 German blog, but no one seems to be able to find the original post.

It took me a while to figure out that being nominated is the same thing as “winning,” or more properly, receiving, this award. My blog and 10 others were listed and linked by two other bloggers who recently received the award for their own awesome bloggery.

My sincere and humble thanks to the Urban Book Thief and Rika Ashton for the thumbs-up vote of confidence that this represents. Please check out both of these blogs – a whole lot of clever and creative going on! I’m incredibly flattered, and in spite of my skepticism, I’m game for the good-natured chain letter-ish shenanigans involved in “accepting” the award, which basically means making a long-ass post about it and following a list of eleventy or so evolving rules.  So read on for some deep dark secrets about me, answers to odd questions you didn’t ask, and some genuine inspiration in the form of links to cool new blogs.  And here we go…!

As a recipient, I must:

  1. List 11 random facts about myself.
  2. Answer 11 questions posed by the blogger who nominated me.
  3. Nominate 11 other blogs for the award and link to them.
  4. Notify the bloggers that they are awesome and have won a shiny pink blogging logo.
  5. Pose 11 new questions for my Liebster nominees.
  6. Thank the blogger who nominated me and link back to their blog.

(*Note: Nominees, should you choose to accept this award, you will also have to complete the above tasks. 11 times everything! It’s cracking me up to find that there are Liebster posts from last year where the numerology was only FIVE of everything… sigh.  Prices just keep going up.)

Eleven Random Facts about Pamela / Badass Romance ….in which we learn things we may never have wanted or needed to know:

  1. Bicoastally mixed-up: I am a diehard New Englander but I grew up in California.
  2. I don’t like riding bicycles.
  3. Finally remembered to plant some sunflowers this year.
  4. My first job as a teen was shelving books at the city library.
  5. I have a serious bird phobia, which is why I am not answering the pigeon question, and a seagull once clawed a sandwich right out of my hand at an otherwise lovely beach.
  6. I can’t carry a tune to save my life, but I love to sing along to the radio in the car.
  7. My 5th grade biography project and heroine/role model was Nellie Bly.
  8. Last year on my birthday I went Girls Night Out dancing with friends at a burlesque cross-dressing disco version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (The Donkey Show).
  9. I secretly LOVE Abba.
  10. dark emMy children think most grownup books show people on the cover without their heads. Or half their clothes. Sigh.
  11.  I think this post by Carolyn Crane about the silliness of blog awards is truly hilarious (with thanks to Alpha Heroes!). I want to give myself the Little CJ Blog Award!

Eleven Answers to Questions posed by the Urban Book Thief and/or Rika (Ha!  I decided I get to pick a total of 11 from both lists.)

  1. Chicken or the Egg – CHOOSE! Chicken. It’s dinnertime not breakfastime here right now.
  2. How did you come up with the name of your blog? I knew what I wanted to call it but it took me a while to summon the nerve to put myself out there with the Badass label!
  3. Which one of your posts/book reviews was the most fun to write? Historical Romance: Lament, or Let it Die?
  4. What did you eat for breakfast today? I’m boring. Coffee, yogurt, granola.
  5. What are you reading right now? UNTAMED, by Anna Cowan. Plus about 4 or 5 other books. I multi-read.
  6. Which book character do you simply love the most? Rhett Butler or Richard Sharpe. Or Becky Sharp. Really, Jane Eyre of course.
  7. Which is your favourite book series? The Oz books by L. Frank Baum, or the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon.
  8. Ninjas or pirates – CHOOSE! Pirates, absolutely. 
  9. What mythical creature would you want as a pet? Buckbeak! I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t pick Buckbeak, for my daughters who are so sad hippogriffs aren’t real.
  10. What is your favourite song right now? Same Love by Macklemore.
  11. Are you a summer or winter person? I live in New England. You gotta be both.

My Badass Nominees for Liebster Award Winning and Related Shenanigans (this means they are lovely blogs you should check out!):

And finally, Eleven Questions for my Badass Liebsters – go ahead, it’s not that bad to “win” this award. And no dire consequences if you decide to forego “winning” it. But I’m dying to hear your answers!

  1. What is your favorite actual trophy or other award you can put on a shelf or hang on a wall?
  2. Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights?
  3. What book is the most recent addition to your DIK shelf?
  4. What book is at the top of your TBR stack?
  5. What book keeps getting remaindered at the bottom of your TBR pile, and do you think you’ll ever get around to reading it?
  6. What language do you wish you were fluent in?
  7. Medieval castle or Mediterranean villa?
  8. What did you eat for breakfast?
  9. How do you feel about time travel plots?
  10. What is your favorite carnival ride?
  11. What blog did you find this week that you love? (time to start thinking about your Liebster nominees!)

the original Liebster tag, before someone tarted up the glossy pink one! Also, Carolyn Crane‘s hilarious Little CJ Blog Award, which I am awarding to myself.  And to all of you!

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Regency Gossip: When a Bluestocking Is Like a Blogger

A final installment from the Lords Trilogy, In Which We Meet a Viscount in Love with Lord X, Gossip Swirls, and a Marriage is Forced

Badass: Ian Lennard, Viscount St. Clair – on the surface he’s a libertine with a wandering eye, but underneath lies a painful past, strong convictions, and a distinguished record of service to his country that it will take a VERY “tart-tongued, self-righteous spinster” to unmask.

Falls For: Lord X – no, it’s not m/m.  Gossip columnist Lord X is really Felicity Taylor, society architect’s daughter and penniless wielder of London’s most notorious pen. She may be more of a badass than Ian.  Pen mightier than sword, etc.

Brought To You By:  Sabrina Jeffries, in The Dangerous Lord (2000) (re-issued 2009)books

Hangs Out In: 1820’s London, where he has returned after a decade or so as an expat and (of course!) brilliant spy for His Majesty’s government.

Likes:  Keeping secrets secret; covering up his distinguished service record; triplets; Spanish endearments — querida — inexplicably slip out during intimate encounters.

Dislikes: Being forced to find a wife in order to gain his inheritance (but he’ll suck it up and make it happen once he encounters feisty Felicity.)

Badass Annoying Moment: Forcing Felicity to the altar.

Badass Hero Moment: Forcing Felicity to the altar. She’s actually kind of annoying in staunchly and ridiculously insisting that marriage to Ian would be The Most Awful Thing. Ever.

(too) Frequently Described As: Brooding.

Tom-Brady-s-Hottest-Pics-male-models-28291631-500-680Casting? I dunno, but don’t you think the 2009 cover picture looks almost exactly like Tom Brady?  That’s just weird.

Is it a Badass Read?   This is the final book in a trilogy of Lords, and I was distracted by the appearance of the other two heroes, whose stories I had not yet read. My bad, for reading out of order. That aside, it was an enjoyable, quick read, buoyed by SJ’s characteristic deft and funny dialogue.  Although these are not characters that will linger everlastingly with me once I close the book, Felicity is slightly more memorable due to her bullheadedness. Both are variations of the Regency rake and bluestocking.  Honestly, I had a hard time remembering details about what Ian likes/dislikes to do with his time, other than the usual gentleman’s pursuits.  The most memorable characters in the book are the housekeeper Mrs. Box (and isn’t that the perfect name for a housekeeper?!) and Felicity’s younger brothers (think slightly older versions of the manic triplets from Brave!).

I quite like the rake/bluestocking trope, and I liked the attention devoted to conveying something about Felicity’s writerly craft.  She was the equivalent of an influential blogger with 1000’s of followers, and/or a power Twitter user. As a new book blogger and super newbie Tweet-er, I found myself quite sympathetic to her near-constant worry about finding sources (access) and material for her next post, er… column. While at the same time it’s clear she really loves her work and her writing.

What do you think? Are you up to here with rakes and bluestockings? Do you think this match-up is eternally popular with readers for transparent yet genuine reasons having to do with growing up bookish in a culture that celebrates beauty…?

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Never Say Die: Speaking Up for Badass Regencies

I have to say I am loving all this talk about historical romance over the past couple of weeks. Last week I tossed around my own musings on the provocative yet substantive discussion launched by the influential All About Romance and Dear Author blogs. This week finds historical romance “troubles” cropping up again at Risky Regencies, which I think is great.  Sick of the Regency? Well maybe, but….

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As many have pointed out, readers have had a decades-long love affair with Regency-set historical romance for good reason, and if there is a real or perceived Regency Fatigue among readers, the candid discussion we’ve all been having stems mainly from deeply rooted affection for this Heyer- and Austen-inspired world. In re-examining my own sentiments this week, I realized I’m probably slightly ambivalent.  I’ve confessed to suffering a mild disenchantment with Regencies that feel too wall-paperish or insubstantial.  I do actively hunt out historicals with settings based on American history, and the erstwhile art historian in me still wishes there were more badass romances set in southern Europe during the Renaissance (and not yet another Tudor- or Borgia-inspired historical novel with romantic elements).

PDVD_415But I’ve read hundreds, probably thousands, of Regencies, and there are so many on my DIK shelf that it’s overflowing. Also, there really are badass Regency heroes /heroines who aren’t dukes, earls, or even the slightest bit aristocratic — through they’re frequently noble, in the best sense of the word. There’s an element of truth in the suggestion that some Regencies offer a fairytale version of England which is devoid of politics, or gritty social and economic realities.  sharpeBut it’s equally true that some Regencies offer well-researched military and/or social history, plots that center on wartime or post-war conflict, and even themes of class conflict, industrialization, domestic violence, and addiction — though I don’t claim to know how Regencies that touch on these darker themes stack up to their frothier siblings in terms of sales figures.

I thought it would be fun to take a few manic Monday minutes to list a few of my all-time favorite Badass Regencies.  If there’s a thread running through this list, it’s my love for intricately connected books, especially a series structured around a plausible group of badass heroes. I am probably repeating something I’ve said elsewhere, but I am drawn to fiction that explores themes like loyalty, honor, kinship, friendship, bravery, and family. Romances against such a backdrop are especially powerful, and it’s a big part of my devotion to historicals.

kinopoisk.ruI’m also a sucker for the band of brothers trope, if it’s done well, with careful and well-researched world-building. Hell, even if it’s a barely plausible Saving England From the Forces of Evil Secret Spy Ring, if it has compelling characters, a strong story and finely honed dialogue, I’m willing to suspend disbelief.

What are your favorite Really Good Regencies??  Today’s list is heavily weighted towards uber alphas, with a lot of war heroes and spies.  I haven’t even mentioned Loretta Chase once yet (!). I’ll return at some point to come up with my list of top badass Regencies where the heroes fight their battles in ballrooms, drawing rooms, and gaming hells, and there are plenty I still haven’t yet read, so please help me out and let me know who you’d add!

Badass Regencies That Won’t. Back. Down

Joanna Bourne, the Spymaster series / Darkly exquisite; French and English spies from all rungs of the social ladder. Words fail me.  If anything, these books just keep getting better and better.  The heroines are as badass as the heroes. Adrian’s story (The Black Hawk) was one of the best books I read in 2012.

Stephanie Laurens, the early Cynster books / Lush and nostalgic; curiously addictive. This family operates like a clan of badass white knights, reminding me both of Scottish medievals and, oddly, of “fixers” like Olivia Pope and her band of gladiators in suits.

Jo Beverley, the Company of Rogues series / Richly satisfying; wonderful secondary characters and friendships; some middle class protagonists. This series is wonderful and only suffers the tiniest bit from probably being constantly compared to the (Georgian-set) Malloren series.

Laurel McKee, Daughters of Erin series / Fiery and pretty political; there are riots and revolutionaries. Broadly speaking, these qualify as Regency-era historicals, but set in Ireland during and following the 1798 rebellion. I loved the theme of SISTERhood in this series, and the history is woven in seamlessly.

Gaelen Foley, Knight Miscellany/ A duke, twin heroes of the Peninsular Wars and their other siblings; these books explore sibling rivalry quite intensely, and the war-damaged brothers are heart-stoppingly enigmatic and tormented.

Eileen Dreyer, Drake’s Rakes series / A genuine band of brothers series; they fought and barely survived Waterloo together. The journey home is fraught with perils like amnesia, mistaken identity, deception, treason, abandonment and a disgraced wife.  The depiction of military life, especially the officer’s wives/daughters who traveled with the army made Never a Gentleman my favorite.  This series also reminded me so strongly of Bernard Cornwell’s legendary hero Richard Sharpe, that some of the glory of Sharpe’s Rifles may have rubbed off on Drake’s Rakes.

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Sean Bean as Richard Sharpe, a particular favorite Regency badass who fought his way to being an officer but never a gentleman, before he got involved with Lords or Rings or playing the Game of Thrones.

Widow and Orphan: What Jane Eyre and Julia Grey Have In Common

I am a latecomer to the novels of Deanna Raybourn.  She has a new release set in colonial Africa out just last week, but just last night I finished Silent in the Grave (2007), which is the first Lady Julia Grey book, a Victorian-set mystery. 6933131

Being compulsive about sequels, I’ve already begun Silent in the Sanctuary (2008), which is the second book in which Julia will — it appears — solve a tangled mystery in the smoldering and rather mysterious company of investigator Nicholas Brisbane.

Charlotte Bronte, on the other hand, has been in my life since my early teens. I’ve posted recently about the enormous influence of Jane Eyre on my tastes and preferences as a reader, as part of explaining (for myself, mainly, and also for anyone else who’ll listen) why the hell I decided to start this blog.  🙂  Jane is a key figure in my literary back story – why I love reading, why I love romance and history and moody gothic tales, why in spite of knowing the absolute opposite is true, I still sort of think being a governess sounds romantic….

I didn’t expect Jane to keep cropping up all over the place this week, but it’s been a week of Big Thoughts about romance and history, and my bedtime reading has put me in a shadowy Jane Eyre mood.  Silent in the Grave is a Harlequin MIRA romantic mystery, so not a traditional HEA romance, but it’s honestly the most achingly romantic book I’ve read in a while.

At the center is an attraction compulsion that provokes me like Jane and Rochester with its subtle complexity and oblique intensity.  Julia and Nicholas positively spark and flare, generating heat without sex scenes, just by being in a room, circling each other, worrying about each other, vaguely threatening each other.

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I realize I am not the first to see Bronte resonances here.  There’s the incredibly tangible atmosphere of a gaslit Victorian England, from the overstuffed privilege of a fashionable family home to the grim surroundings of the expendable classes (prostitutes, orphans). Yes, I know it’s 1886, and Jane Eyre was published in 1847, but I’m talking about a mood here, people.  I can’t wait to get to the third book, where they’ll head north to the moors and I can picture them, windswept and wild, stalking each other until they finally succumb to the lust!

Jane Eyre 2007Because of course the most resonant thing about this book is the relationship itself, and the way Julia and Nicholas interact.  This above all is what puts me in mind of Jane and Rochester.  It’s something about the way they inadvertently both madden and seduce one another, with intellect and conversation and a hands-off but incredibly latent and irresistible sensual appreciation for each other’s physical presence and appearance.

Of course what’s totally different for Julia is that she is in fact a widow, and not an orphan.  Her very involved and encouraging family are another delightful aspect of this book, though even without them, this heroine enjoys a much less precarious position in Victorian society than poor long-suffering Jane.  As MacPudel so astutely pointed out in a Comment on the Historical Romance brouhaha this week, heroines who are believably in a position — economically and socially — to make their own relationship choices — in a historically accurate historical novel — are hard to find.

jane_2006_4_465x310I always thought of Jane as unrelentingly strong-willed, and from the start I loved how she made herself Rochester’s equal in intellect and conversation, but when push comes to shove, her existence as a single woman of no family is dangerously marginal and fraught with peril.  When she does make her own choices, her independence comes at a huge price. But Julia has the means to be independent, or at least as independent as was possible for a young widow with a fond father to be.  Not only does she not serve Nicholas as member of his domestic staff, but she has actually sought his services as an investigator and has a higher social status.

So it would seem Julia and Jane really don’t have very much in common at all.

tobystephens

Except for the romance.  The intense fixation on a charismatic, brooding and tormented hero who himself is unable to tear himself away from watching and waiting for the woman who challenges and fascinates him.

Bottom line — if there’s anyone reading this who hasn’t already read the Lady Julia Grey series, I’m going out on a limb to highly recommend after only one book.  And I just can’t stop thinking about the ways this book is getting under my skin because of its smoky Jane Eyre echoes. Reader, find. A. Copy.

Fellow Jane fans will likely notice I’ve only used pics from the 2007 BBC production with Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson.  I know claiming a “best” adaptation is controversial, but in my mind this is absolutely it.  Love love love the sizzling chemistry between these two – it was the first film adaptation where I actually felt the heat, and where Rochester was both unappealingly beastly and astonishingly gorgeous in a way that made sense to me.  

So what about you? Which is your favorite Eyre?  And for those who are ahead of me on this, and have read the Silent series, what do you think?  Are Julia and Nicholas as epic as Jane and Rochester?