My metadata article, motherhood narratives and This One Summer

I’ve been published again! I am honoured that The Journal of Popular Romance Studies has published my second (well third but I rarely ever mention my first paper published on hypermedia) scholarly paper. This article is on metadata interplays, the paratext of category romance and Public Lending Rights. I am particularly pleased that the Journal is open access so you can read the full text when you click here.

 

My reading in the past week:

Once again, Tessa Dare’s book is left waiting in my TBR pile but I still don’t have time for a prolonged read. It is now spring so maybe by next week I will have read it.

Last week, I also had a right royal whinge about JM Coetzee and how I didn’t like his short stories. Despite this, I ended up recommending the offending story for my son to use as a related text for his high school English assignment. A timely reminder why people must not only read widely but also engage with materials that they may dislike as you never know when they will be useful.

Things I wish I'd knownThings I wish I’d known: women tell the truth about motherhood

edited by Victoria Young

Mothermorphosis: Australian storytellers write about becoming a mother

edited Monica Dux

I enjoy reading motherhood narratives. I like getting an insight about how bringing up babies and children changes different women’s understanding of themselves and their connection with their community. I run in horror away from those publications filled with flowery, precious epithets and aspirational motivation quotes as, for me, they just serve to diminish the real experiences that women go through, and instead, serve as a false benchmark of earth mother “your instincts lead you” precious proselytising that only serve to make me feel inadequate. Nor am I interested in parenting “how to” books. I want the personal stories. The narratives that reflect the difficulties and the enjoyment that different women experience when they have their kids.

MothermorphosisBoth the publications managed to have stories reflecting how women writers have coped with their own individual circumstances. From single parents, couples, sleeplessness, the Breastapo (hehe – I’m familiar with the Lactose Nazis but I do like this term too), tears from both babies and mothers, anger at officialdom which seem more focused at meeting government targets than dealing with individual needs, sadly at the expense of a woman’s mental health and many more. The stories were touching and lovely (though in the Australian publication they were a tad too drawn out). However, all the women were writers and after a while the stories all melted into one, despite all their personal differences. I think I would have preferred more varied voices and not only writers so I will just keep searching. In the meanwhile, I did like the UK publication a little bit more than the Australian one.

This One SummerThis One Summer

by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki

I’m a sucker for gorgeous art work and I must say that I borrowed this graphic novel completely on the strength of the delightful cover art. Rose spends her summers at a lakeside with her parents but spends most of her time with her summer holiday friend, Windy. The girls are in those pre-teen years where watching the dramas of older teens in this holiday location is part of their daily routine. Rose’s parents are still trying to deal with a miscarriage from the previous year, their sadness permeating the family’s life and vibrating off the pages. Rose is still young and is quick to judge and misunderstands the actions of people both close to her, as well as those who are in her community but not part of her own social sphere. Windy is less judgmental and worries when she hears Rose speaking harshly. Despite this, the two girls enjoyment and closeness, especially when they are watching horror movies, is remininscent of summer holidays when I was younger. I loved the different stories occurring around these two young girls. The storytelling is slow and languorous, just like a heated, lazy summer holiday. I really enjoyed this book.

All three of these books were borrowed from a NSW public library.

Impulse challenge

I’m not really an impulse book buyer. However, I am a chronic impulse book borrower.

Last week, SuperWendy’s TBR challenge was to read an impulse buy and as I searched my burgeoning bookcases I realised that very few of the books I owned had been purchased without thought and planning. Each one seemed to have a back story. Either a review I had read, a cover artist I had admired, a recommendation from a friend or an award I wanted to consider. It isn’t as though I don’t purchase from bookshops. It is just that somewhere in the recesses of my mind I am hesitant to purchase a reading experience without having tried it out first. I have limited space in my small(ish) home and I also have a small(ish) book budget. Despite spending hundreds of dollars every year on my reading choices, these are more often for keepers as I cannot afford to make dud purchases. It made me realise how dependent on libraries I am for that serendipitous author discovery.

The other week, I went to the library to pick up two reservations that had arrived, and I left with 22 other books which I am slowly getting through. This past week I have read two of my serendipitous impulse borrows.

Roz Chast's Can't we talk about something more pleasantCan’t we talk about something more pleasant?

A memoir by Roz Chast

Just a quick warning for those of you who may not want to read about death, skip to the next book or just stop reading.

Roz Chast is a cartoonist with The New Yorker. Having grown up in Brooklyn, she moved to Conneticut when she was expecting her second child. However, her elderly parents continued to live in Brooklyn and as they entered their progressed through their 90s she found herself returning to the apartment she grew up in to take care of them until their increasingly ill-health necessitated their moving to a retirement home which Chast (and her parents) refer to as The Place. This graphic novel, traces those last years of understanding parent foibles, taking care of the people that have raised you and trying to make the right decisions for the ones you love despite their refusal to discuss their end of life desires.

In my own Greek tradition (or at least in my family), talking about death and last wishes, though not dinner table talk*, is relatively open. I’m so open on these that I am even happy to list them here. If possible: donate my innards but not my body which needs to be washed with red wine (tis’ Greek tradition not a personal quirk!), there is no way on earth that Baloubis the Phlegma Gang member from high school turned funeral director is allowed anywhere near my cold, dead corpse and if this is not respected I will haunt haunt haunt all those who thought it a good idea to hire him, to the funeral director who does get to bury me – my family and friends are more than welcome to haggle for a better price dammit!, I want an open casket (a warning to my indigenous friends) of untreated wood planks (no fancy schmancy polished wood velvet lining for me thankyouverymuch) for a burial so that worms can get in and break me up, an Orthodox service in the church I was christened and married in, the gospel reading in English all the rest in ecclesiastic Greek and absolutely no eulogy from anyone in the church, leave that for the wake after my internment and even then make sure it is a wake and not a celebration of my life, I want commiserating, I don’t want music in respect of my love for shhhhh!, I want a wake with crying and grieving that makes way to storytelling and hopefully laughter. And if all this is not possible, oh well. Life (and death) take their own paths**.

Not all plans need to be adhered to as Chast shows in her book that making decisions around the care required by her parents during their sunset years is much more difficult when health and economic reasons narrows their choices or takes them away completely.

I was deeply touched by this book. It made me look around my own (minor) hoarding habits and I spent all of Saturday clearing 3 of my cupboards of rubbish that my children will never need. My bins are full and my local op shop is about to receive a whole lot of board games and jigsaw puzzles that were taking up a ridiculous amount of space. I already feel happier. This is the power of writing. Thank you, Roz Chast.

* I lied. These discussions have also been had at the dinner table.

**Except I will NEVER travel the Phlegma Gang funeral director path.

JM Coetzee's Three StoriesThree Stories

by JM Coetzee

Occasionally, I want to return to reading literary fiction by male authors. I am so deeply embedded in women’s writing, I often feel as though I am missing out on “greats” of writing, those Nobel, Pultizer, Booker winners that were my reading mainstay 25 years ago and are still the books that receive accolades and reviews. I dip my toe in reluctantly. Often trying out a few chapters of a novel, but more commonly, I find their short stories, published either in literary magazines or in small collections. So, having never read any of JM Coetzee’s work, I borrowed this volume of very short stories (less than 20 pages each). I love short stories. The sparcity of words to deliver an understanding not only of the story but also of the elegance of an author’s wordsmithery, both serving as a threshold to the longer works of fiction for an author. Sadly, Coetzee’s short stories did not make me want to read more of his work, but instead, made me agitated and annoyed that he receives accolades such as the Nobel Prize for literature. There are so many female writers whose works are equal and/or surpass his in complexity and craft yet they do not get recognised. It just serves to lower my respect for, not only the author, but the awarding institution.

So how could a short story collection give me such agitation? I will only discuss the first story “A House in Spain”. The story is about an unnamed man who buys himself a house and he discusses falling “in love with objects” ie his house in Spain. He (the main character) starts talking about the parallels of love of a house and love for a woman (because, you know, both are objects). I can run with this idea. Fine. Sure. I get it. The depth of man, the symbolism of the house in place of a woman. Sure. Let’s run with it even if I am already gritting my teeth. So here are some kernels of Nobel prize winning wisdom that I was to ponder:

His plan, at the beginning, was to spend two seasons of the year here. Summers he would avoid because they were too hot, winters because they were too cold. Plenty of men have marriages like that, he told himself. Sailors, for instance, spend half their lives at sea.

Fair weather husband. Awesome.

Thankfully, the house endears her(its)self to him so he stays year round. He gets to know the village which remembers the previous owners, or in our narrator’s words “the previous husband” (italics are Coetzee’s not mine)

If this is marriage, he tells himself, then it is a widow I am marrying, a mature woman, set in her ways. Just as I cannot be a different man, so I should not want her to become, for my sake, a different woman, younger flashier, sexier.

Charmer. He’s so respectful of his house/wife. No mutton dressed as lamb for him. He likes his older women respectfully restrained and creaking.

When one marries, one cares deeply who one’s wife was married to before, even who she slept with before.

Hmmm. There are so many talking points here. I’ve already slipped into thinking that he cares only to judge her for sleeping with anyone before him but then again, that statement can also be thought of in terms of caring because I want to understand you as a person. This judgement point is not unique to men and it certainly is implied in a lot of romance fiction too. The whole “good girl” narrative continued into someone’s mature years (even if that someone is a house). So as a male point of view, once again we see the passing of wisdom words on to more men, who will bestow awards to these words, set them in some school curriculum and then all who will read them will nod and take them on as their own wisdom words to judge the women they might want to marry. I, the reader, understand this is an analogy. And just in case I am stupid, the narrator actually tells me that this is just  an “…analogy between ownership and marriage, houses and wives…” (my use of this quote here is slightly out of context but it is not a misrepresentation).

What it comes down to, astonishingly, is that he wants a relationship with this house in a  foreign country, a human relationship, however absurd the idea of a human relationship with stone and mortar might be…..in return for that relationship he is prepared to treat the house as one treats a woman, paying attention to her needs and even her quirks, spending money on her, soothing her through her bad times, treating her with kindness.

How kindly of our narrator to want to take care of a woman *ooops* house even if it does have quirks.

As you can tell, I did not enjoy the “moral to this story is”. The writing was okay. It was fluid, cohesive but it didn’t enthrall me and neither did it stand out as different to so many other storytellers. The thing that annoyed me more than anything else was that I felt that I, the reader was being talked down upon. The reader is the lesser in this relationship. I, the reader needed to have lessons of life bestowed upon me and this was not done subtly or subversively but it felt as though the writer was telling me rather than showing me how he viewed life. I finished the other two stories in this short collection (all written before he received the Nobel) but they too left me unimpressed and doubtful that I will ever want to expend any time on a longer story by Coetzee.

Both these books were borrowed from a NSW public library.

 

 

More August reading

Once again, I have put Tessa Dare on the back burner, waiting for some quiet, peaceful time to read her book. I haven’t read any novels this past week, with most of my book selections being dip-in-and-out reading. I have always loved visually beautiful books but they are:

  1. Too expensive to buy so I go to the library and
  2. Too heavy to borrow from the library and carry home

But the other week, I *shock and surprise* drove to the library so I stocked up on big, heavy, pretty coffee table books.

Infographics series 

Infographica : visualizing a world of information; Infographic guide to music; Infographic guide to literature

I love well-designed infographics and the majority that are in these books are interesting representations of the comparisons and visual narratives they are trying to represent. My only complaint, unfortunately, is that infographics lend themselves best to posters and larger (than A4) sized paper. These books are small in size (20.4 x 16.9  x 2.2 cm) and I found some of the information design was overly complex and difficult to read. I’d love to see these books published in quarto sizes.

The Thoughtful Home

by Tahn Scoon ; photography by John Downs, Anastasia Kariofyllidis and Elouise van Riet-Gray.

I love interior decorating books but this one missed it’s mark for me. The photography and styling was lovely albeit a bit beige for my tastes. However, I do not like projects in my interior decorating books (the subtitle “creating a home with heart on any budget” should have given that away . Projects remind me of my crappy craft abilities and drag me out of my dream world and into the practical realities of a home makeover. Not fun at all.

 

Ideal BookshelfMy Ideal Bookshelf

art by Jane Mount; edited by Thessaly La Force.

I love the premise of this book. It is a compilation of a variety of people from Jennifer Egan, David Sedaris and Judd Apatow who discuss their keeper books and what makes them special to them. The layout is simple. On one side the text; on the other side the books are illustrated spine out on a bookshelf. Their size varies, some had Dewey numbers stamped on them, some had no indication of the book that they were representing (I guess the original cover had no spine information). I enjoyed reading the separate reading inspiration stories and I really liked the art work. My only disappointment was that not a single person, not even Stephenie Meyers, included a romance novel. There were kids books, horror, the usual literary and classic fare but the closest anyone did get was a Judith Krantz title. The artist also does bespoke bookshelves. There is the option of getting a print from choosing books from an extensive list provided by the author. this list is broad ranging even including some wonderful Sandra Boynton board books and Mo Willems picture books. There is lots of fantasy, some sci-fi, some crime and there is even some chick lit Bridget Jones Diary though surprisingly no Marian Keyes. However, there is not a single romance title. If romance readers want a shelf of their books they have to pay double the amount for a bespoke art work. Dang it! To be fair, the artist does say that not all the books she has painted are listed.

VerandaVeranda

by Caroline Englefield

This book was splendid. Glossy, beautiful photographs of modern European homes.I enjoyed browsing through it so much that I forgot to read the notes that accompanied each image. Some rooms were so stunning that I would pathetically run my hand down the pages as though it was a tactile experience rather than just a visual delight. As we say in Greek, γεμιζη το ματι (it fills my eye).

The downside – I now have to return all of these books necessitating me to once again drive to the library rather than enjoying a leisurely train ride reading the books I will inevitably borrow.

I borrowed these books from a NSW public library.

Lynne Graham’s The Sheikh’s Secret Babies

When it comes to Sheikhs in romance fiction I feel like that lone child at a birthday party, quietly whispering “I don’t like clowns” while all the other kids are keenly anticipating fun and laughter until that horror moment when the screen door slams open and a Margo Lanagan-esque Barry the Boisterous Bastard Clown blasts into the party thunderously shouting “Who’s ready to bust this partaaayyyy up” triggering tears from all the kids bar one jumping up and down shouting “More More More”.

[added after I received the first comment] Let me articulate that I am not scared of clowns. I want them to be funny. However, they are either failed slapstick AKA Fozzie Bear funny or downright creepy but rarely do they amuse me. The same goes with sheikhs. I want to like their stories. However, I want their culture to be a little bit more realistic and not whitewashed with western sensibilities. With alll due respect to authors who work hard researching their books, I have yet to find a Sheikh romance that culturally does not discomfort me through what is left unsaid. Lynne Graham has possibly achieved this with this book better than meagre few I have read for reasons outline below.

So it was with trepidation that I picked up this latest Lynne Graham novel. It had the makings of some of my favourite romance tropes:

Autobuy author – Lynne Graham tick
Billionaire – our hero tick
Secret marriage – tick
Secret babies (plural!) – tick tick!

But then there are a few not so favourite romance tropes:

Sheikhs – *sob*
Made up kingdom – *sob*
Man with a ponytail – *whimper*

All this from just the cover and blurb! However, Miss Bates reviewed this book over on her blog (which I have yet to read). The last time the two of us reviewed the same book we used the same quote. So, it is game on!

Lynne Graham's The Sheikh's Secret BabiesBut first, the blurb!

Twin royal heirs! Prince Jaul of Marwan’s royal duty is to marry a suitable bride. But first he must divorce the woman who betrayed him. Locating his estranged wife? Easy. The intense passion still burning between them? Manageable. Discovering he has two royal heirs? Impossible! Devastated when her handsome prince deserted her, Chrissie Whitaker’s beautiful twin babies were the only balm to her broken heart. Now Jaul will stop at nothing to claim his legitimate heirs, but can Chrissie forget their painful past and recognize him as her husband in every sense of the word?

Chrissie Whitaker is the younger sister of Lizzie who married billionaire Cesare. One small detail when I have to contend with a whole made up white-washed Middle Eastern kingdom called Marwani. *sigh* Why is it that the whole of Romancelandia can adore those Greek, Russian, Italian billonaires but you never hear of the Egyptian’s Secret Babies, or the Arabian’s Billionaire Bride? If we are going to be vague about borders why don’t we just say the European’s Hot Night with Consequences.  The men from the middle East deserve established countries, dammit! *rant rant*

…but let me return to Chrissie.

We meet Jaul overlooking his kingdom, trying to decide who will be his prospective bride. His legion of carers clear their throat and mention to him that he must divorce his first wife. Jaul is surprised as he was under the impression that his quickie hide-away marriage while he was sowing his wild oats at university in the UK had been deemed illegal/invalid in his country. But nope – Jaul’s recently deceased daddy had just said that in a show of despotic control over his only son. Jaul wastes no time returning to the UK to demand a divorce from the woman he married two years earlier.

Chrissie Whitaker meanwhile hates Jaul. They met at university several years before the time of the novel. Here Jaul finds his first freedom from his father and his conservative country, he appears to Chrissie as a womaniser who has just wined and dined and slept with her consenting roommate on a one-night stand. Over several years while they are students they develop a friendship but ultimately they are obsessed with each other. They marry in his country’s embassy but Jaul wants to tell his father first and then send for Chrissie to join him. Unfortunately, while in his country, he falls victim to a bombing near the border and is in a coma for many months. During those months, Chrissie tries to desperately contact Jaul to let him know she was pregnant but instead is abused by his father and told that she was a silly Western fling.

Chrissie is a bit of a self-flagellator, as she does not reveal to any of her family that she had married, and indeed faces her father’s censure of her as a single mother. I love this exchange between her sister and brother-in-law:

Cesare stopped dead to skim her an incredulous glance. ‘You were married to the twins’ father?’

‘My goodness, I certainly didn’t see that coming! Married!’ Lizzie admitted in shock

So shock nowadays comes from having a child in wedlock. Though, later in the book Chrissie, distraught at Jaul’s father’s machinations in keeping the two of them apart points out “Now my family may not be from a culturally conservative place as sensitive as Marwan but my father didn’t speak to me for over six months once he realized that I was pregnant and unmarried because he was ashamed and embarrassed-‘”

Discussion of culture in this book is always in the background, and though it did jar me, it was not as bad as I expected.

At one point, Jaul’s bodyguards from his country are upset when they hear Chrissie shouting at their King and come to his protection, Jaul observing “his highly anxious protection squad had heard her shout when nobody shouted at him and had feared that some sort of a dangerous incident was developing. But they were nervous and on edge, having never been abroad before and London was a very scary place as far as they were concerned.” Let’s give a nod to Ms Graham’s acknowledgement that fear of other cultures goes both ways. Lynne Graham also has Jaul praying with an Imam before his (re)marriage to Chrissie in what, for me (and let’s not forget I don’t ready many sheikh novels) is a first. I also like that there is no false justification or rationalisation in Jaul’s focus on his son “his heir”, at no point trying to elevate equality to his daughter. Oh! And Ms Graham uses my most adored Arabic epithet  habibti  throughout her novel.

My conviction that Lynne Graham writes about families and place through the lens of romance is further cemented with this book. Chrissie was a victim of child abuse from her mother’s subsequent husbands. This was only lightly touched upon beyond through a revelation to an understanding Jaul. My feeling is that this theme will continue to emerge in the coming years through more of Ms Graham’s ouevre. To add to that, Chrissie learns that Jaul’s father was controlling with a terrible temper. At first, Chrissie remains angry at Jaul believing his father’s lies about her but then realises that “she needed to remember how newly married they had been and how vulnerable such ties could be in any untried relationship. Did she now punish him for his father’s sins? Did she hold him to blame for having wanted to love and trust his only surviving parent? Although both Chrissie’s parents had hurt her and held views contrary to her own, she still loved them. She, more than anyone, should understand how basic and strong ran the need to love and trust a parent, she reasoned painfully.”

Jaul and Chrissie find their affection back to each other through their sexual attraction to each other, Jaul observing “Where once it [the amazing sex] had been the icing on the cake, now it was the only glue likely to give them a future as a couple.” And truly, each sex scene acts to bring them closer to reconciliation, not as some powerful wang and magic hou-ha action, but in that it is during their post-coital discussions, some of them rather heated and angry, that they were most comfortable in revealing their vulnerabilities.

Jaul eventually realises that he was too manipulative. But when it comes to the time for his whole hearted apology, the romance reader receives a meta-wink from Lynne Graham:

 ‘I’m trying to say sorry, trying to grovel but you won’t let me,’ Jaul muttered unevenly, his eyes suspiciously bright.

‘I don’t want you grovelling. I don’t want your guilt-‘

Chrissie is a star. A heroine who doesn’t need her hero grovelling. She just needs him alongside her.

I’d like to say that I fell in love with this book but sadly, I did not. There are aspects of it that I really did enjoy but overall the book lacked the storytelling fluidity that Lynne Graham usually delivers so well. In particular, her protagonists’ head jumping seemed jolted and threw me out of the story at times though this did improve as the story moved on.

But, to quote Chrissie speaking to Jaul at the end of their story “Love makes people more forgiving and I love you an awful lot.”. Ahhh! Yes. A reader’s love, too, makes us more forgiving, and I do love Lynne Graham an awful lot.

I borrowed a copy of this book from a NSW public library.

Weekly reading in August

Last week, I said that I was going to aim at 2 blogs a week. I did manage three in actual fact, but I chose to keep one in my drafts for now. Perhaps I will post it later in the week. I think I need to let it age, like a good wine. It is now the third week of semester. I am finding it a smoother semester than the one that just past but it is going just as quickly!

What I am reading:

 

When I see grandmaWhen I see Grandma

by Debra Tidball

A young girl visits her Grandma and ‘brightens her dreams’ whilst her little brother charms the nursing home residents with his playful antics.

I found this book to be heartbreakingly beautiful. 2 children have regular visits to their grandmother who is hospitalised with dementia. Stories and memories show the grandmother in her youthful life juxtaposed with bedridden self. I wept reading it. I cannot recommend this picture book highly enough especially for those who need to explain dementia to their young children.

I borrowed this book from a NSW public library.

 

I read where I amI Read Where I am: Exploring New Information Cultures

Over 80 digital reading commentators, practitioners and innovators were asked to predict the future of reading in short passages. This book poses (now no longer) new ideas and this may be that it was published in 2011. We are in such a fast paced world that in the space of four years they cease to be shiny and bright ideas, but then again, that may also be because many of these ideas are discussed regularly in the bookternet and perhaps people who do not follow other bookish innovators will still find these ideas to be fresh and innovative. The book’s materiality also takes on design principles that differ somewhat from conventional publications. The layout of the book had an index of word frequency after the contents pages which I have not come across in a print book. Each entry lets you know approximately how long it will take you to read the article from <less than a minute to read to >4minutes. This is a style that is used in my wordpress blog reader, however, in print this is a good inclusion cognizant of the time/space necessities that readers now take into consideration before they start reading. In these days of digitisation and text analysis, the word count for each short article was a welcome inclusion and I would love to see more non-fiction books take up this practice. I also liked the construction of the complex index which included definitions drawn from wikipedia at the end of the book. Despite these positives, I struggled to read the short descriptions as the alternating font shades of grey for each letter in each word distracted my reading. This may have been deliberate by the book designers but I felt it did not allow for a close reading of the ideas being posed.

I have an inter-library loan copy of this book through my university. It was recommended to me by a work colleague.

 

Steve JobsSteve Jobs: Insanely Great

by Jessie Hartland

This is a graphic novel biography on Steve Jobs. It was a well paced and an easy to read biography. Being in my 40s, Steve Jobs and Apple, along with Bill Gates and Microsoft, are the computer giants that have been everpresent and ever-influential in my life. However, I am not interested enough in either of them to dedicate myself to reading a heavy, text-only tome. I’ve read many news articles and essays on Jobs and this illustrative publication seems is an engaging description of his life. This book succeeds as it is aimed at primary school children, to whom Jobs is now a historic figure – much in the way Alexander Graham Bell was to older generations. Not only is his life discussed, but it is placed within the context of technology and broader history and its influences on Steve Jobs.

I read my nephew’s copy of this book having found it on my sister’s kitchen bench.

What I am listening to:
Get mortifiedI lurrrrvvvve the Get Mortified podcast. LOVE IT! Adults reading from their teen diaries makes for cringeworthy, hilariouslistening. This is a travelling stage show and the best of a show is recorded. My favourite (and possibly the most grossly mortifying) episode is number 25 with Ashley: Why I hate the SATs. I laughed so hard I had tears running down my face. Some of the podcasts can be rather rude and perhaps too confronting to listen to them around young kids. You have been warned. The show’s byline is Sharing the Shame and I must say that I think all the readers are incredibly brave to be reading their diaries and letters out loud. Last year, I found an unsent letter I had written to my penpal in France (who I still keep in contact with but now we Facebook together). It looked like a list of all my social media activities – a list of favourite songs, favourite movies, favourite TV, which celebrities were the hottest, what book I am reading, which friends got with which guys. Completely banal and completely mortifying. I stood staring, I considered the quarter of a century between having written it and finding it again, and I still tore it up. Some things do not deserve keeping. I really hope that Get Mortified travels to Australia but there is no way that I would ever grace its stage.

Get Mortified was suggested to me by friend, ex-library borrower and Book Blogger extraordinaire, Kat Mayo from BookThingo.

That book and commentaries:

[removed] I initially wanted to write a quick, shortish commentary on Kate Breslin’s For Such a Time but it ended up being unyielding and it overwhelmed this post that acts more as an overview of the past week. I have moved it to my drafts for now as I need to gather my thoughts and make them clearer on this topic.

What I plan to read:

I once again put Tessa Dare on the backburner as I just finished reading Lynne Graham’s The Sheik’s Secret Babies…there is a review on the way!

 

 

 

 

Love Finally Requited

Proof Of Their Sin is my second Dani Collins book and I am now devoted to tracking down the rest of her novels to read as I have fallen in love with her writing style. She adheres to the otherworldliness of Mills & Boon Sexy (or Presents depending on which country you are in) with billionaires, glamour settings and beautiful people yet brings a pathos, humour and reality to her characters. I am giving you a heads up that there are spoilers, relationship unravelments and all here today.

But first, the blurb:

Proof of their Sin by Dani CollinsA beautiful mistake

Pregnant. Lauren Bradley’s heart stops—there’s only one man who can be the father and it’s not her late husband, the man everyone thinks is a celebrated war hero….

Ravaged with guilt at sleeping with his best friend’s wife, Paolo Donatelli closed his heart to Lauren forever. But in nine months’ time, the proof of their incredible night together will be there for the world to see. Marriage is Paolo’s answer to avoiding more scandal, but it’s Lauren’s worst fear—she still bears the scars from the first time she said “I do.” Can she trust Paolo enough to reveal the truth?

We meet Lauren as she is making her way to reveal her pregnancy to Paolo, her late husband’s best friend/frenemy with whom she slept with on the night she found out her husband died. The story slowly unravels, going back and forth in time to reveal small details of their initial meeting in a bar, to their subsequent marriages to other people and the handful of times they met before they fatefully slept with each other on a night that the rest of the world will view as a betrayal (Lauren’s deceased husband Ryan is a high profile soldier that has died at war). Lauren carries with her timidity. Though tall and thin, she does not crowd out other people, she is compliant, always putting others before herself. Lauren, is depicted as not a particularly “strong” character as we are used to seeing in so many romances. She is not kickass, she is not feisty and she struggles to assert herself but she is slowly learning how to find strength from within her introversion and though she may perceive herself as weak but she is anything but. Lauren is stoic. She looks at her situation in life, accepts her lot and makes the best of it.

Lauren’s perception of power banker Paolo Donatelli was that

Those eyes had been flipping her heart since the first time she’d seen them watching her from across that upscale bar five years ago, but he was Italian. He did that to women. It wasn’t personal.

This is signature Dani Collins prose. Reflective and cheeky.

Paolo is my favourite type of hero, flawed (not damaged), he may carry the signs of success but poorly made decisions from the day he met Lauren have left impacts on both of them. Their first meeting should have been just a guy and girl who met at a bar, flirted, went out on dates and ended up marrying. But this was no Mary and Prince Fred story as Paolo’s engagement to another woman kept him from pursuing Lauren. Instead, he introduced her to his longtime friend Ryan. Deceased Ryan plays a large part in this story, his spectre ever-present as both Lauren and Paolo struggle to reconcile themselves with their betrayal of him, as well as acknowledging his faults. Ryan and Paolo had always had a competitive friendship and Lauren became an unwitting pawn, marrying Ryan as a naive 19 year old. Ryan and Lauren’s marriage was not strong, as he was often deployed overseas and eventually we find out he had been unfaithful to Lauren. Lauren found herself marrying a man who wasn’t all that attached (though he definitely was attracted) to her.

Paolo starts as a mean, horrible hero who denigrates our heroine, denying that he is responsible for her pregnancy but as you get more insight into his character, you discover that Paolo has deeply misplaced (yet genuine) feelings of shame attached to his attraction to Lauren. Paolo loves being in control of himself as well as in control of his environment and the people around him. The reader slowly gets to meet him outside of the 1% swank New York scene and sees him interacting with his family. He shows his love to his mother, he bickers with his sisters and he plays and has fun with his nephews and nieces. The outside world sees him as a successful banker, but the insider sees him as a family man. As much as he wants to be a family man, his first wife had tried to cuckold him so he does not believe Lauren’s claim that she was pregnant with his child, angering her:

 

Somehow she reached through the miasma of shock to locate contempt for a man who dared to denigrate her when he’d been in that bed exactly as long as she had.

Oh but I do love this line. In so many romances, men are often angry at their perceived fall at the hands of the woman. It is all so Adam pointing at Eve “Lord she made me do it” denying their own agency. Lauren may perceives herself weak but Paolo perceives himself weakened by her power over him and she is constantly calling him out on this throughout the novel. Paolo’s ex-wife had managed to devastate him. Not because she had tried to pass off another man’s child as we initially believe, but because as we come to understand at the end of the book, Lauren by this stage was betrothed to Ryan, Paolo had lost his chance with a woman he had an instant connection. Such a connection that he begged her to leave with him on the day of her wedding to another, both of them kissing passionately and being found by Ryan and the wedding party. Paolo’s thoughts were “The degradation never left him. Best man. To this day, no one else had asked him to hold the position, always joking it wasn’t in the groom’s interest”.Paolo is filled with jealousy of Ryan with Lauren. But Lauren had not been immune to him either. Later in the book she acknowledges her years long attraction to Paolo and the guilt she carried within her when she discussed Ryan’s infidelity. Lauren is very much a trophy for Ryan to flaunt at Paolo, with Lauren eventually asking Paolo “Do you think he married me just to hurt you”?

The heartbreaking moment for me was when Paolo gives her access (shelter) in his lake home in Italy. He tells her that his home’s pincode is her birthday just to find out their first meeting had not been her birthday, her cousin, who had taken her out to that New York bar so long ago, had lied at their first introduction:

Well, didn’t he feel a fool. he’d been using that date as one of his pin codes for years.

Oh BIG HUGE MOMENT: This man fell in love with Lauren that first night they met in the bar. Oh and the regret that he introduced her to his friend who went on to marry her! The only thing left was the drawn out realisation he had loved her all along and revealing, first to themselves and then to each other their love.

She was careful about showing her feelings because she was sensitive, not manipulative.

EXACTLY! I read a lot of commentary from romance readers (at times, myself included) saying “if only these two had just communicated” or “One big miscommunication” or “OMG JUST TALK!” etc etc. Don’t most people guard themselves, particularly in affairs of the heart? Not communicating openly is not being devious, it is being protective of your deeper, private self. Lauren and Paolo are both feeling vulnerable and unsure of who to trust, particularly because their trust has previously been breached but also because they also breached their own moral code due to their attraction to each other. My only criticism is that I would have liked the moment of revealing their love and their devastation at not being together since their first meeting needed to have been more visceral and raw. This also brings me to the sex scenes. They were perfect. No mention of “penis’ or “vagina” or “her clit”, terms that are fast turning me away from authors who push the sex explicitness but write conservative, boring romances. Collins instead uses beautiful allusion and euphemisms full of desire which perfectly suited the narrative.

I do love an infidelity plot but sadly, Dani Collins plays this one on the safe side and reveals to the reader that Lauren had asked for a divorce from her errant husband months before sleeping with his best friend. This felt like a tacked on aside. Whether Collins does this because she always intended to or because it is her first Harlequin Presents (though her second Mills & Boon) and it is too soon to push those reader/publisher boundaries will be something that unravels over the development of her ouevre. Nonetheless, this is a heartfull love-at-first sight story. The narrative slowly revealed to both Lauren and Paolo the root to their devastation at their first marriages lay, not only at their failed relationships but, at their years of not being able to be with each other.  It was emotional and strong and I highly recommend Proof Of Their Sin.

 

I borrowed a print copy of this book from a public library in NSW.

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