I suppose it was inevitable that February should become Romance Reading Month. There’s St Valentine doing his bit on the 14th to remind the world that romantic love is a) universal b) important and c) can be awkward. The material of good stories, in fact.
It seems to me that Valentine’s Day gets increasing attention every year. Partly this is because Bloggins’ Aniversary And Activity Day has long been the jobbing editor’s lifeline to fill an blank column or an empty four minutes on broadcast magazine programmes.
Clearly there’s even more and more slots to fill these days, what with social media ‘n’ all. And, frankly, St Valentine doesn’t face many candidates for rival celebration attention in the shortest month. Ground Hog Day anyone?
Spring in the Air?
“In Spring a young man’s fancy,” my mother would say, half joking, half warning, whenever I said was going on a hike with a (male) fellow student. She was quoting Alfred Lord Tennyson, though I’m not sure she knew it.
In dramatic monologue, Locksley Hall, the then 26 year-old poet compared several birds to the human animal. And here is the young man sniffing the air, starting to get his act together in the hormone department.
(In this particular case, the female seems to have been ahead of him. She says, “Dost thou love me, cousin?” weeping, “I have loved thee long.” Her parents object . They steer her instead towards a rival the narrator despises. It does not end well.)
Noting that robin redbreast gets brighter and the lapwing renews its crest, he goes on:
In the Spring a livelier iris changes on the burnish’d dove;
In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.
What to read in Romance Reading Month
Also, it’s 97 rhyming couplets long. Some of them are pretty turgid, not to mention nasty.
In the hands of a modern writer of romantic fiction, the hero would have to grow up – and I mean grow up a lot – stop blaming everyone else for his feelings, probably get over his fixation with his cousin. And stop feeling so SORRY for himself. He might even do it on the page and the readers would go with him.
The Alpha Male was a classic hero when the RNA was founded in 1960 and for a generation or so afterwards. Even gentle Betty Neels’s strong, responsible surgeon-heroes regularly called their beloved “you little fool”. [Wince.]
For Hoover’s characters, controlling behaviour is still interesting and a great driver of the plot. (Tennyson would loved that.) And the reader may even find him attractive. (Another tick from Lord T, I guess.) But not for ever.
#RespectRomFic in Romance Reading Month
There are some interesting suggestions coming out from the Romantic Novelists’ Association, as you’d expect.
For instance, there are still three topics to pick up on Instagram, all well worth the detour. Heidi Swain on Thursday 23rd at 6.00 pm #ProudToWriteRomFic and Amy@wordsandkissesclub on Monday 28th, 6 pm again, #ProudToReadRomFic are both right in the middle of the on-going movement #RespectRomFic.
I really take my hat off to all concerned. Someone has to save the world from terminal gloom.
You rock, people!
And tomorrow, Monday 20th, to kick off #RNADiverseLoveWeek, Frances Mensah Williams will be there from 6.00 pm. I’ve been laughing with her lovely heroines, beset by culture clash, everyday life and falling in love, since I first bought From Pasta to Pigfoot seven or eight years ago. Unlike Lord Tennyson’s narrator, her characters are real life-enhancers.
The tag line on her website is …because love travels. In her books, it surely does. Enjoy!
Romantic Novelists Association Awards
Of course, the obvious place to go for a steer towards new titles that are broadly in the romantic field is the shortlist for the RNA’s book awards. Romance Reading Month is the perfect time to start, too, because the Final announcements are imminent – March 6th.
This year there are ten categories – they stretch wide and deep – and 46 titles, only one of which has yet been decided and that was by popular vote. It’s A Christmas Celebration by Heidi Swain. Who, by happy chance, you can hear on Instagram next week – see above.
Some of my favourite writers are on there, mostly with books I haven’t read yet. (It’s been a full and complicated year.) Maybe half the books are by writers new to me, some of which I will undoubtedly read, some I will pass on because, well, time.
But there are three I have read – and cheered aloud when I saw they were on their respective short lists. All three were a delight and keepers. In fact two I have already gone back to read some or the whole of again. (I said this had been a difficult year, didn’t I? Well, books like these got me through it.) So what follows is a wholly personal thank you to the authors concerned.
Thank you, Regency Author
Louise Allen for The Earl’s Mysterious Lady . Georgette Heyer sold me the Regency a long time ago and Louise Allen is a fellow traveller along that road whom I think Heyer would have respected. They share a tone of discourse, the passion for historical accuracy, a strong sense of time and place and that wonderful ability to make me laugh out loud.
But Louise Allen’s love affairs are definitely earthier and mostly more emotional, even allowing for Heyer’s feelings-in-the-space-between-the words.
This one’s a cracker, with some well-placed mystery and a couple of characters who need to come clean with themselves as well as each other.
Huge fun. Just what I needed.
Thank you, Saga Author
Mollie Walton for A Mother’s War This is pure luck. I read and very much enjoyed Walton’s Ironbridge Saga, which has definite touches of both George Eliot and Elizabeth Gaskell. But when I found that she had moved forward to World War 2, I admit I hesitated and for a rather low reason.
My parents lived through that War. I grew up listening to their stories. And even more, listening for what they didn’t say and must have been there. At some point, of course, all that curiosity and hypothesising were bound to fight their way out of the subconscious and onto the page… and I’m starting. But it makes me leery of reading someone else’s take on it, at least at this stage.
Still, I bought A Mother’s War so I could read it when I had finished my own first draft. And then stuff happened and I needed a good strong read and oh, I’m so glad I did. It is such a generous book.
The family is lovely but this story is just as much about friendship and other, deeply believable relationships. You get the sense of how fast things changed, especially at the start of the war. And Rosina is a character in a million. I have gone back to her already, more than once.
Love her. Love the book.
Thank You, Science Fiction Fantasy Author
Everina Maxwell for Ocean’s Echo. I read Maxwell’s first book, Time’s Orbit entirely on spec. In the spring of 2021 I downloaded onto my Kindle a dozen samples of books by authors I’d never heard of
I was feeling pissed off with myself and thought my imagination needed an adrenaline shot. Or at least a kick up the pants. I got it.
It wasn’t surprising I hadn’t heard of the author, it was her first book.
Basically it was (a louche version of) Bertie Wooster; plus his Aunt Agatha, the one who eats broken bottles. Only she ruled a planet rather like a sort of dodgy protectorate within a powerful Federation. This was a book about power, and public image; and someone who thinks of himself, quite justifiably, as an idiot boy.
And that was before I had even got to the measured, heroic character that I was going to fall in love with.
I put Everina Maxwell on Kindle speed dial for the next book.
Ocean’s Echo is not a sequel but is set in the same universe. It has all the great qualities of its predecessor. But darker. Much, much darker. This time the horrors are closer to home and terrifying. Think a Spock mindmeld against your will. You might want to keep a cat handy for a comforting cuddle in places.
The military are chilling. The stakes are life, death and personal integrity (in every possible sense of the word).
When individuals gather into a loyalty hive, you hope and fear for them. Against this, the exploration of friendship is deeply moving. Yes, so is the love story.
And yes, even with all that going on, the book still made me laugh in all the right places. A gift. An absolute gift.