“De-stashing” is a yarn-hobby term for when you get rid of yarn, either by selling, trading, or giving away. I have a bunch of mass market paperbacks in reasonably decent to good condition that I’m finally letting go. I’ve been doing this for years and it’s time to say goodbye to another batch.
These are all romance novels, mostly historical. A lot of them have been digitized, but not all, and some you may not have heard of. I got rid of a couple dozen Marion Chesney Regency Trads quite a while back, but I held on to one series and to her books written under the Jennie Tremaine label:
The Tremaine books are mostly Edwardian-set, which is unusual in the historical romance/trad genre, and they are often hilarious.
I also reluctantly decided to let go of my Georgette Heyer paperbacks. Some are in dire shape and they’re going in recycling, but these are all OK and certainly readable:
I don’t read much chicklit or romcom, which cuts down on my romance-adjacent reading these days since they’re among the more popular and talked-about sub-genres. But when a number of my romance friends raved about this 2019 and Janine specifically suggested it to me, I put it on hold at the library and read it when the hold came in last week. I can see why it’s on a number of best-of-year lists, because it’s quite sweet and charming at times and has a great premise.
This is the ultimate high-concept novel. The main characters meet when they share a London flat, but it’s not just any flatshare: they divide up time, not space. Tiffy is an editor of craft books who needs to get away from her controlling, abusive boyfriend and find an inexpensive place to live in London. Leon is a palliative care nurse who works nights because he needs to pay a solicitor to appeal his brother Richie’s wrongful conviction and imprisonment for armed robbery. Leon’s solution is to rent his flat in the hours he’s away at work and spend his days off with his girlfriend, Kay. Tiffy convinces herself and her worried friends that sharing the flat will work out. It’s small but comfortable and convenient, and Leon doesn’t seem like a serial killer.
The story unfolds in alternating first person POV, present-tense chapters. Tiffy and Leon communicate via post-it notes and don’t meet for the first half of the book. Tiffy is quirky and outgoing (not quite Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but uncomfortably close), and Leon is reserved and the opposite of talkative. Leon’s character is conveyed through a particular and stylized form of expression: his interior monologues are written in sentences in which pronouns and articles are omitted. For US readers of a certain age he sounds weirdly like George HW Bush at times. Linguists call Bush’s omissions of pronouns, especially “I”, left-edge deletion. Leon’s more general conversational deletion occurs throughout his written and unspoken thoughts. Tiffy, by contrast, is verbose in all her forms of communication. These authorial choices highlight their personality differences, but they also come across as stereotypically gendered and quite a few readers (on Goodreads, at least) found Leon’s sections difficult to read. On the plus side, though, the 21stC epistolary form of post-it notes back and forth were quite charming and did a good job of establishing their growing understanding of each other.
Leon, being emotionally reserved and taciturn, has no friends, although he talks regularly to Richie and has warm relationships with his hospice patients. Tiffy, being emotionally open to the point of oversharing, has strong friendships at work and outside it. Her best friends are Gert and Mo from college and Rachel at work. Each of them fulfills a stereotype and all three of them, and really all the supporting characters, are depicted almost entirely in terms of their relationship to and function for Tiffy.
It’s the last TBR Challenge post of the year and I’m actually on time. Before I get to the review, though, I want to thank Wendy for organizing the challenge and encouraging us to participate in it in whatever way works for us. This is the first year I’ve managed to fulfill every month’s post (eventually) as well as stick to the categories for the most part. A few weeks ago Wendy was up in the air about whether she would continue, since the number of romance bloggers has dwindled considerably. I didn’t get a chance to weigh in but I am so glad and grateful that she has decided to keep going. Plans for the 2020 Challenge are posted at her blog and I’m absolutely in for the year. Even though I don’t read as much romance anymore, I still enjoy being on the fringes of the community and keeping contact with romance readers and old friends, and I won’t be running out of TBR possibilities any time soon. So thank you, Wendy, for continuing to center romance blogging and reviewing. And if you’re not blogging but you’re on social media, you can join and contribute through those platforms as well.
On to the book. I have a few Lovering titles in my TBR but they’re dwindling because they are the perfect reads when you want a book set in a charming place which features characters who feel down to earth and realistic. The Boys of Christmas is no exception. Mattie has left her controlling, psychologically abusive boyfriend Simon and is figuring out her next moves when she receives an inheritance from her great-aunt Millie. It’s a big, rundown, somewhat scary house in a Dorset village rejoicing in the name Christmas Steepleton (and if you think that’s unlikely, I suggest you look at a map and check out village names in England). And it’s Christmastime! She decides to down to check out her new acquisition, accompanied by her supportive friend Toby.
The weather is as forbidding as the house, and just as cold, but Mattie and Toby make do and set about planning a last-minute Christmas celebration. Mattie is also occupied with meeting the condition of her inheritance, which is to sprinkle Millie’s ashes over “the Boys of Christmas.” Now she just has to figure out who they are. Unraveling this mystery introduces her to a variety of village residents and visitors, and spending her days with Toby deepens their friendship. Toby gently chivvies Mattie into acknowledging and returning to the person she was before Simon drained her of her self-confidence and cheerfulness.
This is a grab-bag post of things I’ve been mulling over.
Goldsmith Prize: My favorite fiction prize was awarded to a very deserving book. Yes, Lucy Ellmann won for Ducks, Newburyport. There were other novels that I would have been happy to see win, e.g. Deborah Levy’s The Man Who Saw Everything, but Ellman’s work is such an amazing accomplishment. I’ve only read 50 of the 1000+ pages so far but even that short section made it clear to me that something important was going on. This doesn’t change my general attitude to prizes, but I’m very glad that both Ellmann and her publisher, Galley Beggar, will reap the financial rewards that come with a major prize.
Also, reading Ellmann’s interviews as she did her Booker publicity tour has been a hoot. She is completely unapologetic about her dedication to Literature with a capital L and to her belief (one I share) that too many men fail to take women’s work seriously. A man writing a 1000-page book about whatever is brilliant. A woman writing a 1000-page book about a middle-aged married woman in suburban Ohio who bakes pies and thinks about the world around her is doing something weird and unnecessary. Some of the more prize-obsessed readers I follow online were distressed by her answers to questions. She was insufficiently respectful of readers, etc. My reaction: You go, Lucy. You write what you want and you treat the publicity tour crap however you want. It deserves very little respect, frankly, and if writers of literary fiction can’t write what they want and expect readers to come to them, we are truly doomed as a civilization. Which we probably are anyway.
Jeannie Lin has a new book out! It’s a collection of short stories set in the same world as the Gunpowder Alchemy series. It’s her first publication in quite some time, and she made the difficult decision to keep the ebook off Amazon. Lin talks about it at AAR and more extensively at her blog (buy links are at the bottom of her post). This is a major instance of putting your money where your mouth is, given how thoroughly Amazon dominates the book market, especially in the US. Kudos to AAR for hosting her explanation, although of course they don’t miss the opportunity to point out that they make all their money from Amazon (as most blogs with referral links do) and will continue to keep that relationship. And of course there’s that one commenter who spends many, many words explaining how important and wonderful Amazon is for self-published authors. Great place to make that pitch, author-person.
While I was pretty sure I had most of them backed up in local folders, I downloaded every last one of them just to be sure. I wound up with 620 books, and I wasn’t sure how many I’d already read (Harlequin titles tend to run together). My first pass at the list got me down to 516 books. Then, as I would peruse the covers looking for new reads, I realized I had read more of them that I initially thought, so I went through and struck off a few more.
My next move was to get rid of author backlists if I didn’t like a book I’d read or was sure I was done with their work. As a result of these purges my last TBR read was #466.
But I’m still culling. A recent and very persuasive review by Miss Bates (Kay) sent me to see what I had by Maisey Yates in the TBR. I only had one book from my Harlequin purchases, surprisingly, and it was a novel in a Harlequin connected series in the Presents line called The Santina Crown. I’ve enjoyed some of Harlequin’s themed series, and I bought a number of these. But when I started reading her prequel novella for the series, The Life She Left Behind, I had trouble with it. It’s well written and it features reunited lovers, which is a trope I enjoy and which works well in a shorter format. But the hero is an Arab prince (named Taj for some reason) and I realized that I just can’t read Sheikh or Fake Middle Eastern Royal Hero books anymore. I’m probably also going to balk at books that glorify men in the military or the police, unless maybe if they are Regular Joe kind of guys (I’m pretty sure Janice Kay Johnson has written a few of these).