This ‘n That: Long ass version

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Unsurprisingly, being back in the classroom after sabbatical has hit me like a ton of bricks. I had a goal of posting once a week, but to my surprise, it’s been two weeks since my last post. I was moved to write this tonight because since WordPress just kindly auto-renewed my domain registration, premium theme, and other unfree goodies, I figure I better use them.

Things are going very well at school. The students in my classes seem really attentive and interested. I’m getting excellent questions, especially in 100 (contemporary moral problems), which most students take to check a gen ed box in their transcript. We got into a fairly non-superficial discussion today of whether Kant would have argued against abortion on the grounds that no one would consent to be aborted.

I also got to make a couple of Justin Bieber digs. Bieber is one of the very few celebrities I actively — and irrationally, since I don’t know him — dislike. But (based on what I realize is probably a skewed media image) his contempt for working people, his failure to show appreciation for any of the blessings he has received — many unfairly–, his lack of respect for his fans, his inflated ego … add up to “I’m so glad he got arrested.” The other side is his young age, the influence of irresponsible adults including his own parents who should know better, the fact that in teen boys impulse control is hard enough without having everything laid out on a silver platter, etc. Anyway, his arrest made for a good case study in a class about ethics.

One of our VPs sent me a section of a college guide that singled me out as a good teacher. I was really flattered for about five seconds. On the sixth second I realized it was a publication from a conservative organization. They were ranking professors solely on whether their “liberal bias” showed and whether they welcomed religious and conservative students. While I’m glad religious and conservative students feel welcome in my courses, I wasn’t pleased with the way this “guide” ranked faculty, and I have to wonder if the VP who sent me a congratulatory note was even aware of the political agenda of this book.

This is my last semester as a rank and file professor. Beginning in July, I’ll be chair of the department. It’s something I’ve put off for a while, but we are such a small group (five full time, and about three adjuncts) that it makes sense to do it now. It looks like my spouse will be chair of his department as well, so we’ll be seeing a bump in both income and stress levels. I warned him that I won’t be sitting next to him at chairs and directors meetings. His response: “Does that mean we can’t make out?” Men.

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Johanna Lindsey’s Prisoner of My Desire

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I definitely remember reading some Lindsey when I was a teen. More specifically, I remember her author photo. That super long Crystal Gayle-like hair and those short bangs are an arresting combination. In 2012 I read Savage Thunder, and later this month plan to read Gentle Rogue with a small group on Twitter. I heard this one involved the hero and heroine raping each other, and I had to see what that was all about.

Lindsey books, at least the ones written in the 1980s (in 2013 she published her fiftieth novel), have all of the political issues you can guess, but as a story teller I think Johanna Lindsey is terrific, and here’s a fan site that proves it.  Apparently, she now lives in Maine, which means the stalking potential is there for me (just kidding!).

Anyway, medieval romances are not my thing, but by the time I realized Prisoner of My Desire (1991, Avon) is set in 1152 England, it was too late. Within two pages Gilbert, the step-brother of Rowena, a “little flaxen-haired beauty” is (a) flogging her mother in order to (b) seduce her, while somehow, at the same time, (c) forcing her to marry some old rich guy, and I was hooked. Unfortunately, all of the insane plotty goodness was almost completely derailed by one of the worst and most inscrutable info-dumps ever. Here’s just a tiny sample:

But last year Hugo d’Ambray had thoughtlessly decided to take Dyrwood keep, which sat between one of Rowena’s properties and one of his own. That was tantamount to stirring up a hornet’s nest, for Dyrwood belonged to one of the greater warlords of the north shires, the Lord of Fulkhurst, who not only came to the aid of his vassal at Dyrwood, routing the besiegers and sending them back to their own borders, but then systematically set out to destroy the man who had dared try to steal from him.

Unfortunately, not only Hugo’s properties became this warmonger’s targets, but also those that Hugo had control of through wardship. And he found out how helpful a weak king was when Stephen refused to come to his aid, too busy with his own problems. But even though Hugo had been killed two months ago in this war that his greed had started, Fulkhurst was not satisfied. Gilbert was finding out that this particular warlord thrived on vengeance.

What? Anyway, here’s what happens: Gilbert forces Rowena to marry some old guy, under threat of killing her mother. She’s supposed to have sex with the old guy and get pregnant, after which Gilbert will kill him and take his lands and Rowena for his own. Unfortunately, the old guy dies on their wedding night before consummation. So Gilbert gets the bright idea to pretend the old guy still lives, secretly kidnap some random serf from the local inn, tie him up, and force Rowena to rape him.

I know what you’re thinking:  what could possibly go wrong?

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Connie Brockway’s All Through the Night

Whenever I’m in a romance reading slump, the answer is to go back a decade or two. Brockway’s recently digitized historical romance All Through the Night (99 cents on Amazon, or free loan for Prime members) was a real treat. It was first published in 1997, and seems to have been a reader favorite. It was European Historical of the year at All About Romance, made it onto their list of top 100 romances for a couple of years, and got an A reviewThe Romance Reader gave it four stars, and a 99 from Mrs. Giggles.  Even Wendy the Super Librarian — who waited six years to read it — gave it a B.

Note: There are some spoilers in what follows.

ATTN features one of these ridiculous romance novel plots which succeeds on a strong core of emotional truth. Colonel Henry “Jack” Seward is a bastard and orphan turned England’s super spy (“the War Office’s premier agent”) under the tutelage of Jamison, a very bad man who is proud that he’s “taken a boy with the rudest of skills and molded him into this splendid, remorseless, and analytical being.”  Anne Wilder is a widow, a merchant’s daughter barely in society thanks to her marriage, a demure chaperone to Sophia North. When away from society, he’s the ruthless, but terrifyingly civilized “Whitehall’s Hound,” and she’s the daring, acrobatic, sensual thief  known as “Wrexhall’s Wraith.”

Anne and Jack meet in the first chapter, in the dead of night, as she creeps into a marchioness’s suite to steal something and he waits for her. He doesn’t realize at first the Wraith is female, and she lets him know in no uncertain terms with a lingering kiss before she escapes via London’s rooftops. For Anne, it’s just another daring step out onto the precipice that’s become her life, but it sets the terminally bored Jack — who already felt “the respect of one professional for another” —  aflame with desire and curiosity.

I actually didn’t love this scene while I read it, and if you plan to read ATTN, I ask that you power through it. It felt heavy handed when the author wrote without mentioning the thief’s gender in a very conspicuous way, made references to a “treacherous mouth”, and had the ice man melting under the thief’s — of course! — unpracticed but miraculously effective touch. But I am very glad I stuck with it, and reading it again for this review, I actually feel more affection for the overwrought scene.

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3 Recent romance reads

Sarah Morgan’s Ripped is a just-published Christmas themed novella. You can read an excerpt on her blog. I bought this from Amazon for $3.03 because I didn’t want to pay  her full length title, Sleigh Bells in the Snow at $6.15. I know. Totally irrational, but there it is. Luckily, I enjoyed Ripped, like so many other readers in Romanceland.

Ripped is set in the world of hip London professionals (the heroine lives in Notting Hill) and has a bit of a Bridget Jones/Four Weddings feel with a kooky mishap in chapter one that leads to an ill-timed and embarrassing sexcapade with the hero, Nico Rossi, sophisticated, condescending, unsmiling Italian. The story is told from heroine Hayley Miller’s first person point of view. She’s self-deprecating, funny, and perpetually off balance around Nico, while his stern, indifferent demeanor hides strong passions and deep feelings.

Morgan imported a lot of the sensibility she developed as a Harlequin Presents author into the flustered Hayley/cool Nico dynamic, but when the story shifts into second gear, deeper layers of heroine strength and hero vulnerability emerge. If you like the care taking alpha, a lot of sexual tension (notably in an excruciating Christmas party scene), and some surprisingly sweet emotional backstory, this is the story for you.

***

Ruthie Knox’s Room at the Inn (.99 at Amazon) is another contemporary Christmas themed novella, this one set in upstate New York. Carson Vance, world traveler, ball of barely suppressed energy, is home to see his recently widowed father in small town Potter Falls. He’d much rather be building buildings all over the world. But he’s home to check in on his dad, who hasn’t been taking care of himself since his wife died. Carson feels antsy whenever he’s home, having a fraught relationship with his father and a lot of unresolved feelings for his first love, Julie Long. When their college romance ended, and Carson left, Julie stayed in Potter Falls, and became a vital part of the community and of Carson’s family. She turned an abandoned home into a beautiful inn, threw herself into civic and charitable activities, and even donated a kidney to Carson’s mother.

Carson stays at the inn, and he and Julie give in to their sexual feelings for each other. Julie has never stopped loving Carson but she’s built a full life for herself. It’s Carson who really needs to grow up, who seems to be always running and deeply unhappy. Or at least this is what readers will have to focus on if they don’t want to worry too much about whether Julie’s altruism isn’t a little too doormat-like.

I did think the kidney donation was overkill, but on the other hand, I recognize that Knox has written a heroine who always wanted small town life, domesticity, a husband and children, and who created that for herself in Potter Falls the best way she could. She did have other (unfulfilling) sexual and romantic relationships in Carson’s absence, but she was usually available to Carson in between times, something that may put her in doormat territory for some readers. So, whether you like this book will depend on your tolerance for grown men who have adolescent commitment issues and grown women who tolerate them until they wise up. I happen to be a sucker for those stories, and I really enjoyed this one. I thought Carson was given much less sympathy by the author than by Julie, and that his relationship with his father was handled very well.

***

I picked up Driving Her Crazy by Amy Andrews because (a) it was recommended by @Vaveros on Sydney radio, and (b) because I had read and enjoyed a couple of other Andrews books in the past. This one is set in the Australian outback, as 24 year old journalist Sadie heads out with 36 year old taciturn, world renowned photojournalist Kent to meet with a reclusive artist, Leonard Pinto, and get a story. Kent experienced significant trauma when working in Afghanistan years prior (with two years of physical recovery) and hasn’t taken a job since. Sadie has a secret of her own: as a young art student, she had an affair with Pinto that left her devastated and crippled her own ambitions as an artist.

I loved the setting and the setup. I think Andrews is a very good writer. I did have a hard time with some of the gender dynamics. Sadie is terrified of a spider, she crash diets to please Pinto (but gets over it at least), then feels ashamed by her quick orgasm with Kent:

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Thoughts about Georgette Heyer’s Sylvester

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$1.99 for Kindle right now

I recently listened to Sylvester or the Wicked Uncle on audio, narrated wonderfully by actor Nicholas Rowe (there is also an abridged version narrated by Richard Armitage).

Warning: total spoilerage below the cut

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Reading in bed: illicit, stolen, feminine?

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I have a bad habit of chasing ideas down rabbit holes when I do my research. I see something interesting, and off I go. That’s how I ended up reading Reading in Bed: An Inaugural Lecture delivered before the University of Oxford on 21 October 1999 by Hermione Lee, Goldsmiths’ Professor of English Literature.

Lee, a scholar, literary critic, and biographer of writers like Virginia Woolf and Willa Cather, is the first woman holder of the Goldsmiths’ chair, held until 2008, when she became president of Wolfson College, University of Oxford. She used the occasion of her lecture to talk about “the solitary space of reading which for many woman writers has embodied one of the most formative pleasures of their lives.”

She begins with Woolf, noting how “erotic, sensual, and pleasurable” are her descriptions of reading:

“What a vast fertility of pleasure books hold for me! I went in & found the table laden with books. I looked in and sniffed them all. I could not resist carrying this one off and breaching it.” [Woolf, 24 Aug. 1933: The Diary of Virginia Woolf, as quoted by Lee]

“Sometimes I think heaven must be one continuous unexhausted reading. It’s a disembodied trance-like intense rapture that used to seize me as a girl, and comes back now and again down here [i.e. in the country] with a violence that lays me low.” [Woolf, Letter to Ethyl Smith, 29 July 1934: The Letters of Virginia Woolf, as quoted by Lee]

“Love is so physical and so’s reading.” [Letter to Vita Sackville-West, 29 Dec. 1928, The Letters of Virginia Woolf, as quoted by Lee]

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Uncontrolled passion in medical romance

As regular readers know, I’ve been working on an academic paper on medical romances, so I’ve read just about everything published from an academic or clinical point of view on medical romances — not exactly an amazing feat, since there is so little. Sometimes I come across a claim that has me scratching my head, like this one:

“These [medical romance] novels draw attention to the romantic possibilities of primary care and the apparent inevitability of uncontrolled passions of emergency medicine, especially as practiced on aeroplanes.” — Brandon D. Kelly, thelancet.com, Vol. 370, October 27, 2007.

Kelly is an Irish psychiatrist who read twenty medical romance on holiday and wrote a short tongue-in-cheek letter to the editor on them for The Lancet, which is one of the oldest and most influential medical journals. the BBC picked the story up, and Kelly elaborated:

If you were to take these novels literally, one would think uncontrolled passion is an inevitable consequence of working in the emergency room

The most amusing thing about this coverage is that it led major news outlets like the BBC and US News to breathlessly report, about fifty years after medical romance was well established, that “The medical romance novel appears to be a major subgenre within this category.” US News is on it!

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