herald

Wednesday 23 January 2019

Bringing sexy back

The romance category is massive and covers all manner of life experiences

First published in 1996, and updated for release this year, The Italian Girl has an 80s family-driven bonkbuster vibe to it, with the emphasis on the fam-dram, and not so much on the bonking. It's interesting to compare this revision to the sorts of storylines that are selling now - aspiring women's fiction authors take note: there is a satisfying number of people and their personal narratives in play, as opposed to the leaner casts of characters in the rest of the books this week. Are readers less interested in complex narratives? I think it's more likely that publishers think they are, and are not commissioning sweeping epics any more.

This falls somewhere between two stools: not quite Thorn Birds massive, but not quite the sort of smash-and-grab approach to plot that many contemporary novels seem to be taking.

Rosanna Menici is a singing prodigy - at least according to the suave Roberto Rossini, a rising opera star who has left their provincial Neopolitan village behind for the big city of Milan and the big stage of La Scala. Encouraged and dazzled by Roberto, Rosanna follows in his footsteps, certain that one day she will marry him.

She does, and all manner of emotional ups and downs ensue. In terms of her career, the narrative around her last-minute cover for the lead in a big production ticks all the fantasy-realisation boxes. There's also a storyline involving Rosanna's brother Luca, who thinks he has a vocation - again, he's not quite in the same league as is Ralph de Bricassart, but there's some good bits concerning his waffling vocation because of the love of a good woman.

What's also interesting about this is that the somewhat old-fashioned dysfunctionality of Rosanna and Roberto's relationship is something that no longer really resonates with writers. Most of the contemporary romance fiction I've come across starts with the end of such a relationship.

The world of high-fliers in the opera is well-wrought, and Irish-born Riley's grasp of the Italian atmosphere is convincing; the sheer number of illegitimate children born to one small circle? Not so much, but it's part and parcel of this type of melodramatic saga. I thoroughly enjoyed this.

THE LAST KISS GOODBYE

By Karen Robards

Hodder (2014) €11.50

HHIII

Normally a reliably steamy author, Robards let me down with this one. This is the second paranormal thriller featuring Dr Charlotte Stone, a forensic psychologist whose area of expertise is serial killers - that paranormal part is that she sees dead people who have suffered violent deaths. In the previous volume, she was on site when serial killer Michael Garland was killed, making it easier for his spirit to attach to her. He says he's innocent, and his extreme sexiness makes us wish that this is the truth.

That seems like a tonne of backstory, right? That's the feeling I got from the first 60 pages of this novel.

It took so long to get into this, I almost gave up. The thing about the romance category is that the faster things kick off, the better. If you want reality when it comes to love stories… well, I don't know what to tell you. Especially in this instance, in which the hero and heroine aren't physically inhabiting the same temporal planes.

The real killer of this book? The turgid pacing.

A LOVE UNDONE

By Cindy Woodsmall

WaterBrook Press (2014) €9.09, eBook

HHHII

Did you know that there's a whole world of Amish romances? The religious sect, which derives from settlers to the US state of Pennsylvania, eschew most aspects of modernity, especially technology and live and dress simply.

Jolene has suffered many challenges in her young life, and when she finally meets a man she fancies, and who clearly fancies her, the obstacles are out of the ordinary to readers who live outside the Amish ways. You won't get any sexy bits here a'tall. Sometimes, the formality of the way that Amish folk speak, at least according to Woodsmall, seems stilted, and occasionally rather modern colloquialisms sneak in to the dialogue, which felt jarring.

SECOND CHANCE RANCH

By Cindi Madsen

Entangled

Bliss (2014) €4.54, eBook

hhhii

Sadie Hart left Hope Springs to pursue a singing career, and it didn't go as planned. On her uppers, she returns home to her small town and by extension, to boy she loved whose proposal she turned down to pursue fame and fortune.

Royce Dixon runs Second Chance ranch, whereon trouble teens get the opportunity to rehabilitate themselves. Sadie needs a job; Royce has one going - what could possibly go right? The best parts concerned the teens and the ways in which Sadie and Royce dealt with them. The romantic journey isn't complicated, and at times the obstacles didn't feel terribly convincing.

TALK SWEETLY TO ME

By Courtney Milan

Amazon Digital (2014) €1.00

HHHII

This is a novella; what is interesting about it is that the couple at the heart of the piece, set in 1882, is interracial: an Irish-Catholic man falling in love with a woman of African descent. While there are moments of racist behaviour towards the heroine and her family, love conquers all, etc, etc.

The idea is certainly big and worthy, but its treatment in 109 pages wasn't. Milan's writing has charm, though, and Rose's genius with maths- and Stephen's attraction to her because of it - was endearing.

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