Reading for Escape

Permission (from me) to immerse myself in books is my favorite thing about the winter holiday. Curling up, warm and cozy, with nothing to do but sleep in, read, and eat holiday foods is one flavor of paradise.

Over the past few years, holiday reading is also about trying to catch up to my annual reading goal. I work on finishing books I started and put down, or pick short, fun reads to allow me to catch up quickly. It has inadvertently become an annual ritual. Last year it was the Brother Cadfael mysteries, and this year I’ve picked the historical romances of Suzanne G. Rogers.

Why historical romance? And why self-published historical romance at that? In addition to my usual decadent span of permissiveness where reading is concerned, I’ve been on an escapism binge. I’m a little depressed. This time of year is hard for a lot of people, and I feel grief more than anything else at holiday time. I’m also very tired of dealing with contractors. I’m also trying to learn more about the self-pub business. I didn’t want to read anything I had to work at.

My binge started on accident when I read Ruse & Romance (The Beaucroft Girls #1). I subscribe to online free/cheap book clearing houses which my self-published friends use to find new readers. Someday, *I* might want to use them, so I’ve signed up for a daily email, filled with books in various genres. I don’t know if I picked this book via Book Bub or eBook Discovery but I glance through each service a couple of times a week.

So far I’ve read eight titles by Rogers and here’s what I notice:

The books appear tightly plotted and the plots are GREAT. The books are paced to perfection. In particular, I enjoy the fact that Rogers’ M.O. is to start off with a trite, “expected” setup, and then twist. And twist. And turn before the next twist. Each time you can see what’s going to happen, like the top of a mountain while on a nice hike, there will be several switchbacks to go through before you’ll reach it. This structure makes the endings deeply satisfying.

Sure, yes, okay, it is romance. Everyone ends up with the right person in the end, the good guys get good outcomes, the bad guys get come uppance…but instead of reading about STUPID characters and screaming at the books, “JUST GO TALK TO HIM!!!” there’s a surprising amount of communication.

Within reason (because they are 19th century characters after all) the protagonists don’t hold back from talking to each other. They have useful confidantes. Rogers writes effectively from many points of view in each book, which is incredibly effective at both endearing the characters to the reader and making the communication realistic. Some plots rely on misunderstandings, but most are based on circumstances that are believable because the worst possible outcome is just as likely as all out success.

When I’m reading any book, I rate it assuming like-is-compared-to-like. What I consider “trashy” or “beach reading” doesn’t compare to “great literature” so I don’t even try. Not all of Rogers’ books earn five stars from me, primarily because some are copy edited better than others and some leave gaping plot holes. Here are some of my reading criteria, I’d love to hear if it matches yours:

  • How do I feel when I finish the book?
  • Did the story answer all the questions it raised?
  • Was I annoyed by typos?
  • Did the pacing give me a disjointed reading experience?
  • Was the book consistent?
  • Am I sad to see the characters go?

I am not going to post the images for these books because I find them off-putting and AWFUL. Historical fiction with modern-sensibility photographic covers irritate me. Still, with these criteria in mind, if you’ve ever been curious about historical romance, please try out one of the books with 5 stars below. I would love to talk with you afterward, hear what you thought of it, and debate the merits:

Larken (Graceling Hall #1)5 stars – The story of a “Miracle Orphan” who loses her well-off parents in a train wreck and is subsequently made penniless by her adopted parents. She retains her whimsical nature and imagination despite all odds, and unexpectedly finds love in an arranged marriage.

Grace Unmasked (The Mannequin #2) – 3 stars – Poor Grace, a low born girl who has to escape to London after she disfigures a lord while defending herself, was plagued by typos, plot holes, and some pacing problems. There were some inconsistencies, but I LOVED the ending!

The Mannequin (The Mannequin #1) – 5 stars – Rosamund = Cinderella + Beauty and the Beast + Princess Diaries + all the good nurse falls in love with her patient stories ever written. It sounds like too much, but again, Rogers does this amazing thing of setting up the tropes and linking them like a mobius strip: You know full well where they’re going, but you just can’t figure out how the story is going to get there.

Spinster – 5 stars – I think this is my favorite of the books. Another thing Rogers is good at is starting her stories on the “day after.” What happens if a plain girl gets jilted and doesn’t find a husband? What are her options? It is a great premise for a strong main character, and I like the way the characters do very human, stupid things. This book is quite lovely, through and through.

The Ice Captain’s Daughter – 4 stars – This book gets only 4 stars because the author set up a devastatingly handsome father, the Ice Captain, and then never utilized him. Poor man. Maybe this was an earlier-career attempt? Instead there were some abominably flat relations who were inexplicably neglectful. Again, GREAT ending, which makes up for a lot.

Duke of a Gilded Age – 5 stars – Rogers’ stand alone novels seem to suit me a bit better than multiple books telling related stories. In this novel, she does a good job of writing a male protagonist who benefits from unusual circumstances. I also like the “younger” feel to the novel (almost historical YA) and the portrayal of young men who should be at odds but end up working together.

Rake & Romance (The Beaucroft Girls #2) – 5 stars – There’s quite a bit of suspension of disbelief required when the wealthy Texans take London by storm in the sequel to Ruse and Romance. Still, assuming anything is possible and good will win out over bad is a prerequisite to enjoying the romance novel. I was especially pleased that this novel caught up all the loose ends from book 1, even redeeming the worst characters from the first book.

Ruse & Romance (The Beaucroft Girls #1) – 5 stars – This is the Rogers book that started my binge. I added it to my list in August, and got around to reading it in December. In this book, poor, beautiful Kitty, with her romantic and intelligent sensibilities, isn’t willing to marry just anyone. Unfortunately, she gets so many proposals that she begins to be labeled a flirt. What I liked about this story is the way that (just like in real life) a lie to fix one problem results in another, often a bigger problem down the line. The solution is a whole lot of happily ever afters, the true reason the romance genre is so beloved by fans.




What do you think?