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REVIEW: Suddenly You by Sarah Mayberry

It’s not suddenly you, it’s suddenly me – Suddenly You by Sarah Mayberry

There is absolutely nothing wrong with Suddenly You. The words are arranged on the page in a perfectly reasonable way. Some of them form entertaining or otherwise vivid conjunctions. There are characters, who seem perfectly nice. There is a beginning, a middle and an end that is happy. I suspect, if it’s the sort of thing you like, then it would be a charming example of the thing that you like.

It is not the sort of thing I like.Suddenly You by Sarah Mayberry

Our heroine Pippa is a MILF in vintage glasses. Our hero, Harry, is a man with tattoos who works as a car mechanic. Pippa briefly dated Harry’s mate, Obnoxious Steve (this is not his actual name, I mean, his name is Steve, it’s just not Obnoxious Steve, but it should be) during which time he impregnated her, dumped her and then screwed her out of child support.  Harry and Pippa encounter each other by chance when Pippa’s car breaks down. He fixes her car. She gives him beer. He then fixes her ceiling. So she cooks him dinner. Then they have sex. Then they settle down together.

It’s honestly the first time I’ve read a romance and genuinely felt like the genre wasn’t for me. Even books I haven’t particularly enjoyed, I’ve been able to understand on some level, and I had an idea of what they were doing, or trying to do, and why they were doing it. Even, for that matter, Bared To You. I mean, I totally get the dominant, messed up billionaire fantasy, I just had issues with certain aspects of the execution.  But Suddenly You was completely alien to me, in every conceivable way. My initial thought was actually that it was a gender thing but that just depressed the heck out of me because it’s such a lazy, essentialising explanation. And then I realised that plenty of my dude friends want to settle down and have kids and a picket fence, and plenty of my female ones want to drink, shag and party until the artificial hip gives out … so it’s not actually about gender. It comes down, basically, to values.

I completely respect the right of anybody to read, write, and enjoy books about nice women who meet nice men who fix their ceilings, but there was nowhere for me in Suddenly You.  I mean, Pippa was … well … nice?  I admired her for her commitment to her daughter, her cheerful disposition and her natural kindness. I enjoyed her colourful underwear. I would probably shag her. But, and I feel bad for saying this, she didn’t interest me at all. I vaguely wanted her to be happy but I feel like that about most people, and it’s not really enough motivation to get me through a book about them.

Harry, similarly, seemed like a nice guy. But I don’t really daydream about nice guys coming to, ahem, tweak my motor, and I’m the sort of man who pays other people to fix his car and repair his ceilings. Not because I’m too good to get my hands dirty but because it bores the crap out of me, and I’m happy to have reached a stage in my life where my masculinity, or worth, is no longer directly reflected by my interest in cars or DIY. I do, however, construct furniture like a boss.

The problem is, not really being that interested in the characters, or particularly wanting to bang them, left me with no spaces of either fantasy or identification. And I know settling down together with a kid is kind of the implied endpoint of most romances anyway but there’s a difference between potential future and literal HEA. I think Suddenly You is meant to be a quiet, everyday domestic kind of fantasy, and I can see why that’s appealing. I think most of us have some deep, primal longing for a place and person (or people) to call home. But, for me, it simply can’t be like this, and I’m not sure I’d want it to be. And I know I’m not the target audience, so that’s kind of fine, but at the same time it did mean I spent this novel sitting on the doorstep, looking sad.

There were, however, some aspects of Suddenly You that I sort of enjoyed. I quite liked Pippa – she was clearly admirable, but not implausibly perfect, navigating the treacherous waters of personal pride and financial vulnerability. Harry was, you know, okay too.  I liked his relationship with his father and, for that matter, his relationship with Obnoxious Steve which frays at the edges and almost, but not quite, falls over when they have to have a discussion about something that really matters.  That’s pretty much how friendship goes, for some dudes at least. Obnoxious Steve is, well, obnoxious but it has a vague basis in recognisable human frailty, so he’s not really ever what you’d call a proper villain. I quite like romances without obvious villains, just people in various states of mess, not quite getting past their mess sufficiently to calculate the impact of that mess on the messes of other people. I think there’s often something banally tragic and real in that.

The humour, on the other hand, was pretty hit and miss for me. There’s stuff like this, which frankly just made me a cringe a bit:

“How have you been, Harry? How’s Hogwarts going? Cast any good spells lately?” The Harry Potter/ Porter jokes had gotten old around the time Ms. Rowling had made her second billion […]

“Made some underwear disappear the other night, if that’s what you mean.”

She laughed appreciatively. “Dirty dog.” (p. 9)

It’s not quite up there (or do I mean down there) with the precum hilarity of Painted Faces but I was still a bit, um, why are you laughing appreciatively Pippa? Does a remark like that really merit it? On the other hand, there’s a bit where Harry apparently gets a raging boner at the top of a ladder while doing his ceiling fixing thing, and it turns out to actually be a tube of filler in his pocket. This just amused the heck out of me because I’m often quite bewildered by the way romance heroes will spring spontaneous and unflagging erections at wildly inconvenient times, just because the heroine is vaguely in their vicinity.

But there were other bits of Suddenly You that just left me completely bewildered and on the borderline of uncomfortable. There’s this, for example:

Unlike many of the women in her mothers’ group, she had been unsuccessful at breast-feeding. A series of infections and an inadequate milk supply led her paediatrician to recommend bottle-feeding Alice when her daughter was barely a month old. Consequently, Pippa wasn’t nearly as casual about flinging her breasts around as some of her friends. To her, they were about sex and intimacy, not sustenance. (p. 42)

Okay, look, I’m not a breastfeeding expert but this strikes me as just plain mean. I’m aware that sexy is not really high on the agenda when you’ve got an infant attached to your nipple but I know plenty of women who have breastfed their children and nevertheless either retained or reclaimed their bodies for sex and intimacy. It’s not an either/or. And breastfeeding sort of requires women to “fling” their breasts around by necessity, so if you didn’t move to a space of feeling relatively casual about it, I suspect you’d get pretty miserable pretty quickly, but this does not de-value the boob. A breast is a breast, you know, it doesn’t matter how many people have seen it, and under what circumstances.

I just felt that this was the text going out of its way to somewhat uncharitably emphasise that Pippa is the hot, bangable sort of mom, not the sort who heaven forefend, ever had stretch marks or leaking nipples.  Let’s face it, there’s not all that much about motherhood that’s conventionally sexy. A lot of the time – as far as I’ve seen – it’s just physically and emotionally demanding, but it doesn’t mean you permanently stop being a sexual, or sexually desirable, person.

And the portrayal of Alice, Pippa’s child, struck me as similarly timorous. I know about as much about children as I do about breast feeding, but I have a goddaughter and, honestly, I love her beyond human reckoning, but there’s no getting away from the fact she was a fucking monster when she was tiny. Babies, when they’re yours, are – as far as I’m concerned – vulnerable and ugly and furious and terrifying and beautiful. They’re a pile of constantly leaking, constantly needy human flesh. With tiny, perfect toenails. We’re told that Alice is occasionally cranky and throws up, but on the page she’s usually desperately, desperately convenient. She’s quiet and smiley, she has a gummy thumb and big eyes, and when she cries it’s only ever after Pippa and Harry have finished having sex. She even facilitates sexual tension by unbuttoning Pippa’s clothes at apposite moments:

Then Harry lifted his gaze to hers and realized he’d been busted. Dull color stained his cheeks. “Sorry. It’s just … your dress …” He gestured toward her chest, his gaze trained resolutely over her shoulder now.

She glanced down and discovered that the top two buttons of her bodice were undone, offering him an untrammeled view of her deep red bra and a whole lot of cleavage. (p.41)

Seriously, if I thought having a kid was even remotely like this, I’d have four or five. And you might say Pippa has just been inordinately fortunate, some children are just angelic and my goddaughter happens to be a goblin changeling but according to her mothers she’s pretty standard for the breed. And, here’s the thing, being a raging wildling has in no way detracted from the fact she’s still the human I love most on the planet. Again, it’s really not my place to judge but I just sort of felt that Suddenly You was presenting me with, well, the child equivalent of margarine: baby-lite, if you will.

And maybe that’s the nature of this fantasy: a child who never gets in the way of your bonking, but, for me, my fantasies need an edge of reality to let me truly lose myself in them. I don’t think children need to be shot in soft-focus to entrance us. I don’t think women are any less desirable, or beautiful, for being mothers. I wouldn’t have thought any less of Pippa if she’d flung her breasts about, or less of Alice if she’d occasionally been arbitrarily monstrous. I think, in all honesty, I’d have liked them more.

Because of this, I felt a bit dubious of Harry’s conversion to the pleasures of domestic life with Pippa, since the domestic life he’s being offered seems to be nothing remotely like the reality of being responsible for a small human being. I feel bad that I didn’t like Suddenly You more. I got the sense that it was probably a very likeable book. And it’s certainly mostly harmless.  It’s just so completely and utterly not for me that I almost feel writing about it is actively unfair, like asking a non-drinker to review a bottle of wine. So, please, take this piece not as criticism of Suddenly You – or as denigration of particularly fantasies, values or  preferences - but as a reflection of the way our personal tastes, preferences and lifestyle choices inform our responses to texts and, occasionally, exclude us from them.

Everything I learned about Life & Love from reading Suddenly You: babies are lovely human beings who helped you get laid. Shopping trips are less boring if you know your partner is wearing lacy underwear. Just because it’s a tube of filler in his pocket, doesn’t mean he’s not pleased to see you.

Housekeeping: Just to let you all know, I’m off on holiday (yay), so there won’t be any articles for the next two weeks. I’m also going to take this as a small opportunity to take stock of where I am in my reading and indulge myself shamelessly by re-visiting some of my favourite authors while I’m lounging in cafes and dashing between venues up in Edinburgh. So, on my return, there’s going to be a brief flurry of Laura Kinsale, Loretta Chase, JD Robb, Suzanne Brockmann and Nalini Singh. And then normal service will resume with Julie James and Cecilia Grant. Have fun, I’ll miss you and see you on the other side.

182 Comments

  1. Carolyne
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 12:57:19

    I’m afraid I’d never have gotten past the cover. It looks like a (forgive me for being uncharitable) 70s Tampax ad. But it’s the branding for the line, so it must be effective and catch just the right sort of person who likes a lighter, comforting romance between decent, quiet people.

    I was just noticing yesterday that the mature hero of my current read is constantly sprouting inconvenient erections, and I was really getting bored of it. The hero seems to be enjoying it, though, even though they have all gone unfulfilled so far.

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  2. DeeCee
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 13:00:48

    I do, however, construct furniture like a boss.

    :) Awesome.

    …but I have a goddaughter and, honestly, I love her beyond human reckoning, but there’s no getting away from the fact she was a fucking monster when she was tiny.

    Fantastic statement and completely true for most of the babies I have known.

    AJH-just saying, but I love your reviews. They always make me laugh. :)

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  3. Meri
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 13:02:24

    I’ve read a couple of Sarah Mayberry books (not this one), and they didn’t work for me, either – pleasant books, but I didn’t find the characters or their stories all that engaging. One of them also had too much focus on the characters’ dogs; I’m not a huge fan of romance novels in which the pets play a major role.

    The section on breastfeeding that you quoted makes me uncomfortable too, but more because it seems to be emphasizing that Pippa didn’t just decide to not breastfeed, she had a somehow more valid/legitimate/socially acceptable reason not to do so. I don’t think it’s my business why a woman chooses to breastfeed or not to breastfeed, and I don’t require assurances that a heroine did so for a “good” reason.

    @Carolyne: I don’t like the cover, either.

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  4. Darlynne
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 13:02:32

    On your way to the festival, is it? Have a wonderful time, wherever you go.

    I’ve enjoyed the books of Ms. Mayberry that I’ve read, although this one is new to me. Your review, which took great pains to explain why it didn’t work for you, was honest and thoughtful. Readers and books are not always in harmony, or on the same page, as it were.

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  5. Jane
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 13:16:18

    I actually had a problem with how breastfeeding was depicted in the review rather than the book. Pippa’s reaction toward breastfeeding isn’t mean at all but read very authentic to me. Breastfeeding is a huge political and personal issue for women and feelings of inadequacy arising out whether they can or can not breastfeed are fostered by the non stop propaganda about breastfeeding. (I’m a huge BF advocate but understand, as my friend once said, that you can spit faster than you can pump into a bottle).

    And many women feel discomfort with the desexualization of their bodies post pregnancy. I actually thought the whole section of the review on breastfeeding was very much from the male gaze. Pippa, feeling less sexual about her breasts if she used them for a source of nutrition for her child, was a feeling spot on for many women. Thus her “devaluing” of the boob was a reflection of what woman can and do feel.

    “I suspect you’d get pretty miserable pretty quickly, but this does not de-value the boob. A breast is a breast, you know, it doesn’t matter how many people have seen it, and under what circumstances.”

    But moreover, I felt that this “dosmestic” romance is one of the brilliant components of Mayberry’s writing. She takes the ordinary and makes it interesting. It’s so much easier for writers to make a book interesting spinning a tale out of fanciful world, strange creatures or high angst. Taking the mundane and writing romance stories that area appealing from that aspect takes quite a bit of skill.

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  6. Carolyn
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 13:21:10

    I bought this book mostly because so many people here on Dear Author had good things to say about Sarah Mayberry and it was… fine. It wouldn’t keep me from trying one of her other books, but it didn’t make me want to glom her back catalogue, either.

    Enjoy your holidays! We’ll be here “sitting on the doorstep, looking sad” until you’re back.

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  7. Isobel Carr
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 13:25:04

    After Her Best Worst Mistake (which I really liked), I went on a Mayberry binge, but I’ve yet to find another one that worked for me the way that first read did. The others have ranged from enraging to dull. This one was decidedly dull. I think the difference for me may be the heroines. Bad girl Violet totally worked for me. I got her. I got her choices. I would want to have drinks with her. The other Mayberry heroines, not so much.

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  8. pamelia
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 13:34:38

    What Jane said! :)
    I really enjoyed this one and have read it twice, but I can see it being too intrinsically feminine for a bloke to feel the connection I felt.
    I love how plausible and normal and real the characters feel, but it results in a rather quiet and quaint story which I found more comforting and sweet than exciting.

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  9. Moriah Jovan
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 13:54:32

    Okay, look, I’m not a breastfeeding expert but this strikes me as just plain mean.

    You have no idea how those of us who DO NOT breastfeed are treated. It does not matter if you are anatomically incapable of it (like I, my mother, my aunts, my grandmother, and almost every one of my oodles of female cousins on my mother’s side). If you don’t, you have sinned against the highest of the most high … something … because I’m not really at all sure who’s behind the breastfeeding nazi movement.

    However, I have known my share of women who fling their boobs around to flaunt not only their willingness to breastfeed, but to rub my non-breastfeeding sin in my face.

    So…how is this ‘mean’ again? Maybe it’s just pointing out that other breastfeeding mothers are just…ableist and privileged when they’re giving you the side-eye and chastising you for feeding your baby formula. Because letting the baby latch onto a dry nipple for the couple of weeks before they starve to death is so much more virtuous than formula.

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  10. CD
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 13:55:29

    I don’t know if it’s really all you – ordinary decent characters with white picket fences don’t have to be dull. And outlandish ridiculous characters with moral lines all over the place can be a snooze and a half. I haven’t read Mayberry as I tend to avoid categories, but if you’re giving them another shot, I’d recommend probably anything by Karina Bliss.

    “So, on my return, there’s going to be a brief flurry of Laura Kinsale, Loretta Chase, JD Robb, Suzanne Brockmann and Nalini Singh.”

    Oh fun!! Be warned: you’re going to be stuck in your hotel room in Edinburgh for the whole two weeks catching up on your reading instead of the acts.

    Any chance of giving us an idea of what you’ll be reading so we can argue about whether you’ve chosen the right ones?

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  11. Maddie Grove
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 14:05:53

    @Jane: I agree that Pippa’s feelings about breatfeeding are authentic, but that doesn’t preclude them being mean. Having feelings about her own breasts (“When she’d tried breatfeeding, she’d felt like a sexual nonentity”) would be cool; making judgments on what other women do with their breasts (“They just flung out their breasts all the time and were very unsexy, unlike Pippa”) isn’t so much. Also, if I were a woman (I am) who was breastfeeding or had breastfed in the past (I am not and have not), I might feel kind of shitty about the author’s validation of the “either breastfeeding or sexiness” idea. Then again, I might not, but I don’t think it would be unreasonable to be offended.

    Of course, I haven’t read the book, so the subject might be treated with more nuance than that. I’m fine with heroines who are sometimes unfair or mean-spirited, as long as their lapses aren’t treated as good. I do get the impression that this passage is kind of a one-time thing, though. It wouldn’t ruin the book for me.

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  12. Maddie Grove
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 14:14:01

    Having read some of the comments posted while I was writing, I also know that there’s a lot of vitriol towards women who don’t breastfeed for whatever reason, but does the novel actually engage with that issue? Do the other mothers really treat her badly or, uh, wave their breasts in her face? This isn’t a rhetorical question; that would change my reading of the text.

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  13. Moriah Jovan
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 14:15:51

    @Maddie Grove:

    but that doesn’t preclude them being mean

    Why is it bad for a heroine to be mean occasionally? And I didn’t even get that from the excerpt. But if she WAS, is she not allowed? Heaven knows I get tired of the longsuffering/martyr heroine, even when I admire that, knowing I personally couldn’t contain myself that long. I like seeing some humanity, some indication that the heroine has genuine thoughts and feelings–even if they don’t reflect well on her. ESPECIALLY if they don’t reflect well on her.

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  14. lawless
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 14:19:57

    I haven’t read this, but I have read Mayberry’s Her Best Worst Mistake, which a lot of people raved about, and found it “meh.” Nothing wrong with the writing or anything, but it was nothing special and didn’t move or grip me. I thought it was because it’s a contemporary, but then I read one by Teresa Weir that I liked very much (with one caveat). I’ve since concluded it’s because nothing else happened in the book outside of the development and consequences of the relationship. It felt dull and claustrophobic, as if nothing else mattered.

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  15. AJH
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 14:29:46

    @Carolyne:

    Actually , and you can all laugh at my complete lack of taste here, but I actually quite liked this cover. I mean, yes, it’s very pink and the branding has, as you say, a touch of the feminine hygiene product about it but the model both looks like the heroine (soft brown hair, intelligent eyes, vintage glasses) and like a person (I mean she’s not tumbling wild-breasted out of a satin dress or something). And I like the fact it seems to be focused on the heroine, rather than depicting two generic people snogging.

    I know hero erections are a trope but I’m always amused by the way getting a boner like a teenager is totally sexy and manly in romance novels. Also that the heroes are never bothered when it happens. If I was standing next to a woman, talking to her about repainting her ceiling or saving her from terrorists, and got a sudden erection I’d be deeply deeply embarrassed and trying to hide it behind my paint roller or my 9mm.

    @DeeCee:

    See, I have at least one useful man skill. My father would be so proud.
    And thank you – glad you liked the review.

    @Meri:

    It’s possible I just picked up the wrong Mayberry book but, then again, perhaps not. Although I can certainly see the appeal of pleasant people falling pleasantly in love, I don’t think it’s something I find personally engaging to read about. And that probably makes me sound like a horrible person.

    I honestly found the whole breastfeeding section difficult. It seemed to go to a lot of trouble to explain and justify things I thought required neither explanation nor justification. As you say, it’s not my business whether a woman breastfeeds or not.

    @Darlynne:

    Yes, we’re off to the Fringe. I’m so excited. There are spreadsheets involved.

    I was worried about this review, because I was very aware that my reaction was very personal and I didn’t want it sound dismissive of the book or the genre, particularly because I’m aware that, as a category, I suspect it’s typical of particular type of writing directed at a particular audience, and I no way want to denigrate that audience.

    @Jane:

    Obviously, I apologise if I’ve been insensitive in my review and I do appreciate that breastfeeding is a huge political and personal issue for women, and one it’s not really my place to pontificate on.

    That said, I think I interpreted the breastfeeding sequence very differently to you.
    If it had been about Pippa’s reaction to her experience of breastfeeding (or not breastfeeding) I would have had no problem with it, but it sort of isn’t. It doesn’t seem to be about Pippa’s feelings or experiences at all. It’s just a slightly demeaning generalisation about women who have breastfed based on the public behaviour that breastfeeding necessitates.

    It feels to me that the text takes as read both that women should breastfeed if they are capable of it and also that breastfeeding unavoidably and irrevocably desexualises your breasts. And then goes to tremendous lengths to establish that not only did the heroine not breastfeed (because that would make her unsexy) but also that she didn’t just choose not to breastfeed (because that would make her unsympathetic). To me, the text doesn’t engage with women’s concerns about their bodies after pregnancy, which, as you say are real and complicated and affect a lot of people, but rather it reinforces the stereotypes on which those concerns are based and, essentially, absolves the heroine of having to actually deal with them.

    To put it another way, I understand that Pippa’s attitude to breastfeeding reflects feelings that women really do have, but the problem for me was that it felt like Pippa, as someone who didn’t breastfeed, was making judgements about women who did. I, for example, would hesitate to describe a woman feeding her child in public as “flinging” her breasts around.

    On the subject of domestic romance, I can see how this could be an engaging read. However what makes something interesting, ordinary or extraordinary, is quite subjective. I genuinely wasn’t troubled by the lack of vampires, wizards or serial killers – it’s just that the domestic life portrayed in the book didn’t resonate with me.

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  16. Robin/Janet
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 14:30:51

    I just felt that this was the text going out of its way to somewhat uncharitably emphasise that Pippa is the hot, bangable sort of mom, not the sort who heaven forefend, ever had stretch marks or leaking nipples.

    I did not read it this way at all. I think there’s a great deal of anxiety here around her inability to breastfeed and about the INCREDIBLE pressure women are under TO breastfeed. And about how breastfeeding can, in fact, change your relationship to your body in ways you never anticipated. The politics around breastfeeding are brutal and for Mayberry to actually buck the trend of the heroine is who is a serene paragon of breastfeeding is already a controversial choice. So I just think there’s a lot more to it than this.

    Also, you might find Maybery’s explanation of the Harry Potter joke (and the ceiling work) interesting: http://www.sarahmayberry.com/bts/suddenlyyou

    In general, my first reaction to this review was that it reads as kind of insulting, both to the book and to anyone who falls into this group: “I suspect, if it’s the sort of thing you like, then it would be a charming example of the thing that you like.” Which, quite honestly, read to me like, ‘well, if you’re the kind of person who likes these horrible books, I’m sure you’ll like this one, but gag.’ I don’t really think you meant to be insulting, though, and I certainly don’t want to suggest that it’s impossible to dislike Sarah Mayberry’s books in general, or this book in particular, because obviously it’s very possible to dislike both.

    But I also wonder if it’s not so much a gender thing, as you note, but a genre thing. That is, there is fundamental genre work category Romances do, work that is foundational for the genre, in fact, that can read as very “alien” in the beginning, because of the way its elements are coded for readers, and because, as Jane notes, so much category Romance is about the more overtly domestic aspects of the genre. In general, Mayberry is known as a writer who deals with these issues pretty thoughtfully and progressively, in part because of her willingness to focus on the “ordinary.”

    There is also the complicated question of what constitutes “fantasy” and how Romance is coded to serve different facets of a wide range of fantasy scenarios. Sometimes, and for some readers, dragons, billionaires, or shape-shifting sex present engaging fantasy scenarios, while other times, and for other readers, it’s the fantasy of uninterrupted sex, despite kids and family responsibilities. The domestic, and domestication, is central to the genre as a whole, though, even though it’s investigated in many different permutations.

    When I first read Kinsale’s The Shadow and the Star, I thought that it was a perfect example of everything that I knew (without reading the genre, of course) was wrong with Romance — traditionally unfeminist heroines who defined strength in terms of emotional endurance, ridiculously dramatic plot lines, overly aggressive heroes, etc. I had to read a crapload more in the genre to understand how the books was constructing, interrogating, and reconstructing genre types and devices. Now I love the book, but it took several re-reads and at least a hundred Romances in between.

    I’d be curious to see if you had a different reaction to this book had you read it later in your genre exploration, or if you ever go back to it at some point after reading a lot more Romance, including a broader range of categories.

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  17. Joopdeloop
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 14:38:56

    Fascinating… Sarah Mayberry works for me on a pretty consistent basis (but so do your reviews, even when I don’t see the books the way you do). It’s like peeking through a looking glass, a familiar world suddenly magnified and revealed in mirror fashion. (In high school art class, I remember holding drawings up to a mirror to see if it looks as good reversed as it does viewed head on. Sometimes yes, sometimes no.)

    Here’s a few differences from my side of the looking glass: Pippa’s attitude about breastfeeding didn’t smack of condescension to me. In my mom’s group, I remember one mom reporting that she was continually received judgmental and critical comments for feeding her baby a bottle instead of breast feeding. It seems like everyone has an opinion about what your boobs should be for, and I thought Mayberry caught that detail for a new mom in a way that was convincing and made sense (without passing judgement per se). I’m going to agree with Jane, in that what I love about Mayberry’s writing is how she observes and frames her romance from close and mundane issues, instead of high drama, billionaires, exaggerated swagger. It’s often welcome relief. (Also, I think I have seen far more egregious use of the plot moppet aka babies who help you get laid.)

    Hope you have a great holiday… and I hope you get to Charlotte Stein soon, b/c the other day I had this weird epiphany where my brain said CS: romance novels as AJH: romance reviews (yes it was like answering an SAT problem)

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  18. Meri
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 14:51:05

    @Robin/Janet:

    The politics around breastfeeding are brutal and for Mayberry to actually buck the trend of the heroine is who is a serene paragon of breastfeeding is already a controversial choice.

    I would have been more impressed if it had been presented as Pippa’s decision rather than assuring the reader that it was a necessity. I haven’t read this book – though I have enjoyed some category authors, Mayberry isn’t really one of them – but to me it seems as though it’s offering a very narrow justification for not breastfeeding, and I don’t feel like that’s particularly brave or controversial. If it were more long the lines of “breastfeeding hadn’t been right for her or for Alice”, without that level of detail, I think that would have been better.

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  19. reader
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 15:08:49

    The breastfeeding remark surprises me, but for more than the reasons you mention. I was only able to breastfeed my baby a couple of days because I got sick and had to go on medication, but even two days was enough time to come to view my breasts as tied to something more than sex and intimacy. A whole month (lucky Pippa) would make me think Pippa should’ve come to that understanding, herself.

    Still, to be fair, the text read to me that she’s shyer about her body, not that she’s being disapproving about anyone else who may be more comfortable with theirs.

    I do agree that you can see your breasts as being about both the intimacy and the sustenance.

    Oh, and it is possible to have an extremely placid baby. Mine was amazingly serene. Don’t ask me why. I just got lucky.

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  20. Robin/Janet
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 15:10:43

    @Meri: I think there are plenty of breastfeeding advocates who would find Pippa’s reasons completely unpersuasive and her choice anything but a necessity. What’s a little mastitis?! Feed more and you will produce more milk! Your daughter’s IQ and health are at stake! I think the pressure to breastfeed, even under extreme circumstances, is so powerful, I was perfectly okay with how Mayberry handled it.

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  21. farmwifetwo
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 15:17:52

    Tells you how little I enjoyed the book since I don’t remember the breastfeeding part.

    I lasted 4 weeks with my eldest and was headed into a nasty dose of post partum when I quit. #2 never latched and having nw lived 12 yrs in the severe end of ASD I’m just happy he took the bottle.

    IMO women need to tell other women there opinions are not welcome and to ignore them. Do what you do… only. Each is different and truthfully that should always be respected.

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  22. Willaful
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 15:18:48

    @Robin/Janet: As a “failed” breastfeeder, I have to agree. :-\ There is no reason good enough for some folks.

    I wish I could remember my reaction to that scene. I gave the book 4 stars and it’s not on a negative shelf, so presumably it didn’t bother me. I pumped exclusively, so I did do a bit of flinging my boobs around, though only in my own living room. ;-)

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  23. Jane
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 15:20:14

    @reader: Oh mine was a pretty wonderful baby too so I didn’t identify with @AJH’s desire for more realistic depiction. There’s a certain sense of disconnection between wanting all women to appreciate their breasts no matter how many times they’ve provided milk & wanting to have sexy times interrupted by a squalling infant. The latter would surely prevent the former from occurring.

    Every kid is different. Placid baby is really not all that unusual.

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  24. AJH
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 15:23:02

    @Carolyn:

    I think ‘fine’ encapsulates the most positive end of my response – fine with a side order of meh. But these things are so very personal. I probably wouldn’t read another, since I think Mayberry is just not an author, no matter how talented, who is ever going to appeal to me.

    See you on the other side – you’ll barely notice I’m gone :)

    @Isobel Carr:

    I have no idea why I read SUDDENLY YOU, I can just vaguely remember lots of people recommending it to me. HER BEST WORST MISTAKE sounds like it might have appealed to be more, to be honest. I certainly didn’t find anything enraging here, but I didn’t find anything engaging either. I’m very aware it’s me, though.

    @pamelia:

    I can see the appeal of comfort romances, I really can. But I find the idea of a woman wanting me to fix her ceiling far from comforting. Into terrifying.

    I honestly have no objection to quaint or quiet stories (I don’t know if you’ve read Robin McKinley’s SUNSHINE which is about a vampire and baker, and despite the vampire bit of that, it’s actually an incredibly domestic, cinnamon-scented read and I find it deeply comforting, actually) but this one just didn’t work for me.
    I have to confess I’m very hesitate to fall back of notions of gender to explain (or explain away) our responses. I think it’s just that the scenario is so alien to everything I want, or know, or aspire towards that I didn’t really enjoy reading about it.

    @Moriah Jovan:

    Obviously this is a very complicated issue and one in which I am in no way qualified to talk about, so I’ll try to restrict my comments to the context of the book as far as possible.

    The passage I quoted in the review is basically the only reference to breastfeeding, or otherwise, in the whole text so it didn’t read to me as the heroine responding to social pressure she’d experienced as a result of her inability to breastfeed, it just read to me as her being randomly judgemental about women who did.

    My very very limited experience of the social and political pressure surrounding breastfeeding is that women seem to be in a kind of damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. The impression I get is that women are under tremendous pressure to breastfeed in general, and under tremendous pressure not to breastfeed in any specific instance. You get all kind of stories about women being chucked out of restaurants or just getting really shitty looks in the street just for feeding their child. But, at the same time, as you quite rightly point out, women who don’t breastfeed for whatever reason are constantly treated like they’re bad mothers.

    To go back to the book, it felt to me like the one paragraph (which was the only reference to breastfeeding I found) captured the worst of both worlds in that it seemed to reinforcing the idea that breastfeeding is “right” (the heroine only stopped under medical advisement) while also suggesting that getting your breasts out in order to feed your child is in some way vulgar or socially unacceptable.

    Reading some of the other comments, it seems to me that reactions to this scene vary widely and seem quite dependent on your experiences of both the wider genre and the issues involved.

    (Incidentally, I used ‘mean’ as a cheap shorthand, and I shouldn’t have. I have no problems with heroines being mean – I just felt that this scene was judging women in both directions and it troubled me).

    @CD:

    I’m a bit nervy of categories now, because it seems a bit futile to criticising something just for not being to your taste, but I’ll certainly add Karina Bliss to my list. Maybe, um, to the bottom of my list.

    Let me see, I’ve got The Dream Hunter, The Unsung Hero, Captives of the Night, Naked in Death, and Slave to Sensation. It’s going to be fabulous holiday.

    @Maddie Grove:

    Just for context, as I mentioned above, that’s the only reference to breastfeeding in the whole book.

    @lawless:

    I’m generalising from a sample size of one, but I’m getting the sense that this sort of novel is the kind of thing that either works for you or it doesn’t. I don’t think there’s anything wrong, on principle, with a book in which nothing happens but the development of a relationship – but this particular example just didn’t really engage me.

    @Robin/Janet:

    Thanks, that actually clarifies an awful lot. Obviously, this is the first category I’ve read so I was very much unaware that “serene paragon of breastfeeding” was the default. Within that context, it makes a lot more sense and I can understand some of the more nuanced readings better.

    The element of breastfeeding politics I’m most familiar with is the pressure not to breastfeed in public – although I’m obviously also aware that there’s contradictory pressure to breastfeed in general – so, to me, that short paragraph read as a iteration of a problematic social trend which presents breastfeeding as something unpleasant and vulgar. If not breastfeeding is genuinely such a controversial trait in a romance heroine (I’ve not read that widely in the genre and I’ve only read a couple of books in which the heroine has had kids at all) then I think one short paragraph has a lot more meaning to it than I was able to read into it at the time.

    I still think it’s a complicated issue, and that section still makes me feel a little uncomfortable. I have a better understanding of what it was trying to do now but it still feels a little like it’s challenging one problematic attitude by reinforcing another.

    Obviously, I’m very sorry if I came across as insulting or dismissive. It wasn’t my intent. It’s just I’ve so little experience with this kind of book – I think the jump into category was much bigger than I expected it to be – that I genuinely found it hard to engage with on any level. I’m sorry that I came across as damning with faint praise. I could rationally recognise strengths in the book but I couldn’t appreciate them in any meaningful way because the whole thing was so fundamentally not for me. It was kind of bewildering actually.

    I think you’re very right that fantasy can have a lot of meanings and a lot of different permutations and I can absolutely see how uninterrupted sex in spite of kids and family responsibilities could be an appealing fantasy for someone who has, well, kids and family responsibilities or wants those things or has access to them. And I absolutely agree that notions of domesticity seem to be very important in romance, from the little I’ve read – I think I might say domesticity is to romance but adventure is to fantasy – and I think the romance I’ve responded to most positively have been the ones which have presented domestic situations which I can ultimately understand or feel a connection to. In BLUE SMOKE, for example, Reena has a large, extended family which is very important to her and I can understand that and her relationship with Bo is sort of like the kinds of relationships that I recognise in my life amongst my friends, in that its between two people with careers, who came together quite late in life.

    I have to admit, I am a bit timorous about going back to category again not, I should stress, that I think there’s anything wrong with the genre, but because I suspect I’ll personally find them less engaging reading.

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  25. mari
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 15:35:26

    I actually found Pippa’s remarks about breastfeeding kinda refreshing. I felt it humanized her, made her real and less than perfect. So she’s judgemental and resentful of women who can breastfeed. So what. I have heard of moms who formula feed their babies almost being described as child abusers.

    I do find it funny that Jane chides AJH for looking upon the breast feeding scene with a “male gaze.” Well, yes. Being that he’s a man, I think that can be expected. But I thought the point of having AJH write these reviews/considerations is to give a different perspective. AJH has really breathed fresh life into this blog and his voice truly embodies intellectual diversity…so yay for the male gaze! Where would romance be without it? ;)

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  26. Jane
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 15:47:38

    I felt the breastsfeeding referenced was part of a nuanced look at motherhood and particularly in Pippa’s case, single motherhood. It was unexpected and a challenge and she struggled quite a bit. I liked that. It was so refreshing.

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  27. AJH
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 15:55:45

    @Joopdeloop:

    I’m really glad you’re enjoying the reviews. Glad it wasn’t too annoying to watch me scratching my head and looking confused about something you really like.

    And thank you for the glimpse into the mirror – I always really enjoy other people’s interpretations of books, as they help me contextualise my readings.

    Also I appear to have turned this into the breastfeeding review. In the light of all the comments, I’m starting to see that I really underestimated the strength and toxicity of the pressure to breastfeed – as I mentioned above, I’ve always see it from the other side, women getting harassed for feeding their children. So, with that particular background, talking about women “flinging” their boobs about struck me as really judgemental. To be honest, I still think it comes across as quite judgemental, but I can see what it reacting against.

    For me, it wasn’t about the lack of high drama, it was just a type of mundane that I find particularly alienating. This idea of a man who does these sorts of things, and a woman who does those sort of things. And while I have no problem with men and women doing whatever things they want to do, it’s just that, because I don’t naturally fall into those sort of roles, I don’t really enjoy reading them when they’re so absolute.

    I’ve already half-read my own holiday reading which just goes to show how hopeless this whole exercise is. I’ll take some Charlotte Stein with me.

    @reader:

    Gosh, I’m learning a lot of breastfeeding today. I can totally see your reading, it makes a lot of sense, I guess I just find it problematic when characters’ responses to situations are juxtaposed against a nebulous idea of what other people are like, or how they feel about things. Like, when you have to breastfeed your child, you have to breastfeed your child, that doesn’t necessarily make you less shy about your body. And the casual way she describes other mothers flinging their breasts about suggested to me this bizarre idea that once you’d breastfed all bets were off and you’d suddenly be whipping your boobs out at the slightest provocation.

    (Also my first attempt to type that sentence went “and all breasts were off”)

    I feel like I’ve misrepresented poor Kathryn now – she wasn’t actually demonic or anything, it’s just there’s something about the vulnerability of a very small human that makes their helplessness sort of frightening and ferocious.

    To me, anyway.

    @farmwifetwo:

    To be fair, it’s one paragraph in a whole book, so it’s perfectly possibly you wouldn’t have randomly obsessed over it like I did.

    I think health in general is one of those horrifying topics on which people believe they have the absolute right to tell total strangers who to live their lives. I can only imagine how much worse it gets when there’s a child nominally involved.

    @mari:

    You know, when I was responding to Moriah I nearly suggested at women who don’t breastfeed get treated like child abusers but I was afraid it would sound too extreme. But apparently not.

    I think what troubled me about the breastfeeding paragraph was that it didn’t read as Pippa’s POV, it felt to me like it was the text taking certain assumptions as read. I’d have no problem with Pippa herself being judgemental, or bitter or resentful but it didn’t seem to be a character thing to me. But, as always, that’s just my interpretation.

    For what it’s worth, I very much see these articles as being written by someone who is new to the genre, rather than being necessarily gendered. I think Jane was right in that I did underestimate the intensity of feeling and depth of context surrounding breastfeeding in life and fiction. On the other hand, I’m not sure that’s just because I’m a man. The experiences of individual women seem to vary quite widely in this area.

    That said, I’m extremely pleased that you feel I make a positive contribution to Dear Author. I very much enjoy writing here, and being part of the community.

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  28. Moriah Jovan
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 15:56:17

    @mari:

    I do find it funny that Jane chides AJH for looking upon the breast feeding scene with a “male gaze.” Well, yes. Being that he’s a man, I think that can be expected.

    Well, that’s all well and good until it starts coming across like mansplaining.

    @AJH

    You know, when I was responding to Moriah I nearly suggested at women who don’t breastfeed get treated like child abusers but I was afraid it would sound too extreme. But apparently not.

    No, it is not. In fact, it’s a very common accusation and it’s delivered with great vitriol.

    See, this is the thing: Women who think this way will accost a total stranger who is feeding her baby by bottle and DEMAND to be given an explanation. Total strangers.

    So while *I* will (and have) (more than once) say, “Fuck off,” most women are conditioned to be nice. Either that, or the ambush just works and would work for anyone.

    The idea a woman would be resentful of the general atmosphere surrounding breastfeeding and feeling a need to EXPLAIN why she COULD not (like, if it had been a simple choice, she would have been hauled over a cheese grater naked) is just part and parcel of the culture.

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  29. Susan
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 16:03:01

    I read, and enjoyed category romances when I was younger. But I ended up taking a very long romance hiatus and, when I returned, they just didn’t work as well for me. I’ll read these great reviews here at DA (or SBTB) that get me all excited to give them a go. And then. . . nothing. My head can often appreciate what the author has accomplished within the set parameters of the subgenre, but my heart is far more rarely engaged. Eh, maybe I just need ballgowns and dragons.

    Enjoy the vacay, AJH. Fridays just won’t be the same ’til you get back.

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  30. AJH
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 16:03:06

    @Moriah Jovan:

    I know your last comment wasn’t directed at me but I’m genuinely sorry if I descended into mansplaining at any point.

    With that in mind, I should probably back away from this topic. It certainly hasn’t been my intent to dismiss or minimise anyone’s lived experiences.

    @Susan:

    I wonder if what you might call deep genre texts, like category romance or pulp fantasies, are an acquired taste in a more directly analogous sense. When I was in my teens I ate quite a lot of blue cheese and I stopped when I was at university and then I didn’t like it any more. I think reading genre fiction, particularly deep genre fiction, is a habit you have to learn and then stay in.

    Thanks for the good wishes – I’ll be back before either of us know it :)

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  31. Shelley
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 16:09:49

    @Jane:

    “But moreover, I felt that this “dosmestic” romance is one of the brilliant components of Mayberry’s writing. She takes the ordinary and makes it interesting. It’s so much easier for writers to make a book interesting spinning a tale out of fanciful world, strange creatures or high angst. Taking the mundane and writing romance stories that area appealing from that aspect takes quite a bit of skill.”

    I agree completely. Mayberry is in my top 5 authors and has been for this very reason. I enjoy reading about dominant billionaires as much as the next person (well, not really) but I’ve found myself lately loving extraordinary stories about ordinary people. It takes a very talented author to pull that off time and again which she does brilliantly.

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  32. Darlynne
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 16:10:08

    @AJH: You didn’t. Your review, your further explanations, everything else; there was no mansplaining. Honestly, I get that the issue is a sensitive minefield, but, c’mon, people, don’t go after the reviewer, not in this case.

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  33. AJH
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 16:16:26

    @Darlynne:

    Thank you for the support and kind words, but I’m very comfortable with the fact that these sorts of things are very subjective and what one person reads as perfectly okay, another person will read as condescending and offensive. I do my best to avoid upsetting people and, when I do, I like them to feel able to tell me I have.

    The community has been extremely and supportive, and given me a lot of encouragement. I genuinely don’t mind when people call me out on stuff.

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  34. Robin/Janet
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 16:18:54

    @mari: There’s a difference between the male gaze — which is more of a theoretical construct — and the male perspective. I think what you are appreciating is the male perspective. What most people mean when they refer to the male gaze is, in part (there’s much more to it than this), the sexual or physical objectification of the female and the essentializing of the female as the female body. Which, in Romance, especially, can be quite problematic.

    @AJH: I was given a conversion package when I started reading Romance. Because I had done a lot of work in domestic fiction already, the leap wasn’t as long for me, but it still took a lot of reading to understand the variations and the fundamentals of the genre, especially the particular coding of different elements, devices, tropes, archetypes, etc.

    There is actually a great deal of diversity within categories — there’s PNR and suspense and billionaires and NASCAR and, well, lots of stuff. This cover art retrospective tells just a small part of the story: http://www.cnn.com/2009/LIVING/wayoflife/06/03/harlequin.romance.novels/. I love this observation in particular: “Rather than being retardataire [outdated], many of these images are extremely cutting edge,” she said. “There are images of women doctors before women were really embraced by the workplace. There are women who are adventuring around the world before independence is really part of women’s culture.”

    Anyway, if I were going to recommend a category to you, I’d probably go with something like Charlotte Lamb’s Vampire Lover. It’s a kind of riff on the old tv show Dark Shadows, and the heroine actually rapes the hero (with only a mind to her own sexual satisfaction). It’s quite a book, and a good example of how broad a range categories represent. But precisely because of that range, it can be very difficult to recommend them, in part because there are so many variables to consider, especially for a reader who is somewhat new to the genre.

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  35. Shelley
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 16:31:55

    @AJH:

    “Thank you for the support and kind words, but I’m very comfortable with the fact that these sorts of things are very subjective and what one person reads as perfectly okay, another person will read as condescending and offensive. I do my best to avoid upsetting people and, when I do, I like them to feel able to tell me I have.”

    Unfortunately, this is such an emotional subject and can be easy to misstep into and I’ve never really understood why. I nursed my child and it went well but never, ever have I judged someone who did not want to or could not breastfeed. This is a personal choice and I’m ok with it. Truthfully, it’s beyond me why some women (and men) take such militant stances on it. My daughter tried for a couple of months to nurse my granddaughter and it just didn’t work out. No biggie cuz guess what? They now make this thing now called “formula” with all the nutrients baby needs to grow up healthy and strong. :O)

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  36. pamelia
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 16:44:20

    @ AJH “I don’t know if you’ve read Robin McKinley’s SUNSHINE which is about a vampire and baker, and despite the vampire bit of that, it’s actually an incredibly domestic, cinnamon-scented read and I find it deeply comforting, actually”
    I’ve read SUNSHINE a couple times because the first time I read it I felt like it was almost really good, but I must have missed something. On reading it the 2nd time I realized there was just something missing for me in the book. To me it felt like a really cool idea that just didn’t get fully executed. I can understand it’s appeal although I was really tired of reading about baking by the time I finished it.

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  37. Marianne McA
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 16:49:55

    “See, this is the thing: Women who think this way will accost a total stranger who is feeding her baby by bottle and DEMAND to be given an explanation. Total strangers.”

    But isn’t this just generally people-are-pillocks territory? Maybe somebody who has done both could say, but seems to me people are equally happy to accost a total stranger and demand an explanation of why you feel able to breastfeed your baby here. Some people are just prats.
    Though I’m in the UK – maybe cultural values are different here. My favourite WTF moment was from an all female discussion on TV where the argument was made that because breasts are sexual, meaning men can’t help but be turned on by them, it is clearly wrong to feed your baby in public. QED.

    As for breast feeding in romance, I recommend the category ‘Murphy’s Child’ by Judith Duncan. Happily, none of my babies had colic, but she’s spot on – for me – in her description of the anxieties and messiness of breast feeding. I have a physical response to the way it’s described: I feel an echo of the let-down reflex as I read.

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  38. Laurie Evans
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 16:51:09

    Love Sarah Mayberry, but this one didn’t work as well for me. I just couldn’t get into the characters enough. Love that he’s a handyman, and I really appreciate “quiet” love stories like this, in general. Slowly going through and reading her backlist.

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  39. Isobel Carr
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 16:54:07

    @pamelia: My friends and I call SUNSHINE the best 3/4 of a vampire book ever written. It just doesn’t feel *complete*. What’s there is amazing, but I always come away vaguely dissatisfied.

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  40. Shelley
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 16:59:55

    @Marianne McA:

    “Though I’m in the UK – maybe cultural values are different here. My favourite WTF moment was from an all female discussion on TV where the argument was made that because breasts are sexual, meaning men can’t help but be turned on by them, it is clearly wrong to feed your baby in public. QED.”

    Uh…wow. Some people really are assholes. I know LOTS of people who literally gag when they see a woman nursing in public and it makes me see red. I’ve tried to have reasonable conversations with them and all I get is “It’s gross” “It’s disgusting”. Even with a coverup, they DO NOT want to see it. Well, at least now I know it’s because men can’t control themselves when presented with huge, swollen, leaking boobs. Who knew?

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  41. Susan
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 17:04:06

    @Moriah Jovan: It’s not just breastfeeding/children. It never ceases to amaze me that some people feel entitled to remonstrate with complete strangers about, well, just about anything at all. Their appearance, what they eat/drink, what car they drive, what they’ve got in their shopping cart–it all seems to be fair game without the “preacher” feeling any need to know the first thing about the person they’re berating. (And don’t get me started on the touching.) “Fuck off” really is sometimes the only effective response to these people.

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  42. Jane
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 17:07:55

    When you have a man explaining how women should or should not feel about their breasts, that’s pretty much the definition of the male gaze.

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  43. Susan
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 17:12:36

    @Robin/Janet: See, I’m so suggestible! I just finished saying categories rarely work for me, but then had to go buy Vampire Lover.

    And something about your post did remind me of one of my favorite category romances (really, one of my favorite romances): Christina Dodd’s Lady in Black. And I just checked–it’s now available as an ebook!

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  44. Mary
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 17:28:26

    “I don’t know if you’ve read Robin McKinley’s SUNSHINE which is about a vampire and baker, and despite the vampire bit of that, it’s actually an incredibly domestic, cinnamon-scented read and I find it deeply comforting, actually”

    I *love* Sunshine. I read it about once a year, and it never fails to make me happy. But anything by Robin McKinley works for me TBH. Sunshine’s definitely my favorite though. Or The Blue Sword.

    I think I’ve read one book by Sarah Mayberry? I don’t know. I like some domestic romances but since I got into Romance through fantasy novels, I don’t really read a lot of them, and I’ve had bad experiences with most category novels so I tend to stay away. If I want contemporary I usually read either Jennifer Crusie or Susan Elizabeth Phillips.
    I think in a book that is just about ordinary people, I need those people to be people I would want to spend time with, which is why it’s harder for me to get into them. If it’s a fantasy book, I can just think “werewolves (or whatever) are just different, etc.”, but in a straight contemp its harder for me to connect with characters who aren’t people I would want to be around in real life.
    Which is a very long way of saying that I get where AJH is coming from. If you don’t connect with characters, and there’s not an interesting external conflict, then, even if it’s a really good book, you won’t enjoy it.

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  45. Melissa
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 17:30:00

    This angle was touched on here by @mari and I think it’s worth bringing up again. What interests me the most after reading the comments is the question that what if a heroine really is judgmental of others because of (fill in the blank; it’s breastfeeding here, but what if it was something else). Everyone in real life is judgmental sometimes–both of themselves and others–but we as readers often have trouble feeling sympathy for romance heroines when they’re given real flaws that aren’t charming. Sometimes, those flaws flat out ruin books for readers.

    What if a heroine secretly thinks of herself as sexier than other women because she didn’t breastfeed? (rhetorical question here; I’m not trying to make a personal statement about breastfeeding.) Would that make her unsympathetic? Maybe, which is odd because it’s realistic. We all have shallow thoughts sometimes about others and ourselves that aren’t logical, so one might think it would make her more relatable to readers–but that’s not how these things work.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that each of us readers has a flaw threshold for books’ characters, and it is often different for heroes and heroines. And it’s different for everyone, depending on what we’re each looking to get out of the books we read.

    To me, there’s something refreshing about the idea of a heroine in a straight (read: no vampires or leather bustiers) contemporary romance who’s allowed to not be perfectly nice or have perfectly justifiable reasons for her opinions and yet is rewarded at the end of the book with a forever love–someone who loves her anyway despite her unattractive flaws.

    My comment is probably way off-topic for the Mayberry book, especially since it seems that the one paragraph referenced is the only such occasion of potential controversy in the book, but others’ comments got me thinking about my own flaw threshold.

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  46. Jill Sorenson
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 17:32:45

    Oh dear. I’m with Jane on this one. I’m a big fan of Mayberry and I really enjoyed this one. I love ordinary, good characters and everyday struggles. I like stories about mechanics and single moms. It all worked for me.

    I don’t agree that Pippa is portrayed as more bangable because she doesn’t breastfeed. This whole section of the review made me sad. It sounds like babies freak you out. Which is fine; babies aren’t for everyone. But your criticisms of Pippa’s attitude towards breasts and breastfeeding come off as uninformed. Many women *do* feel less desirable after giving birth. I don’t think Mayberry glossed over that or gave us soft-focus.

    I’ve considered writing a young mom heroine before and have given this some thought. Writing a sex scene with a breastfeeding heroine would be tricky. While I was breastfeeding, any kind of breast or nipple touching stimulated milk production within seconds. It *was* an either/or situation for me. Having breasts full of milk during sex isn’t comfortable. Breasts were for feeding the baby only during those years. I’m not saying my experience is universal, but it’s probably common.

    I read Pippa’s “flinging” as referring to her friends (who are childless?) wearing lowcut tops. It’s probably about mothers, now that I reread, but I don’t see it as mean or a moral judgment. Just an honest, sort of insecure reaction. I related to Pippa and felt for her. That is the key to a successful romance novel for me.

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  47. Jill Sorenson
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 17:34:20

    @Jane: Yes. I felt uncomfortable with this section of the review.

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  48. lawless
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 17:40:56

    @AJH – I don’t think there’s anything wrong, on principle, with a book in which nothing happens but the development of a relationship – but this particular example just didn’t really engage me.

    Other than erotic romance, a book whose sole focus is the relationship is not going to engage me. There was some social context in the book, but it all has to do with other people’s reaction to the relationship. At any rate, it’s convinced me to pass on Mayberry’s books in the future.

    Also, I think people are confusing AJH’s response to Pippa’s thoughts on breastfeeding with his attitude toward breastfeeding or women. I understand him to be saying that neither the book nor his previous life or reading experiences gave him the context to understand it the same way you do.

    Finally, @Jane, @Robin/Janet is right; male gaze is not about men telling women what to do or what not to do. It’s about a male viewpoint that is all about exploiting women and reducing them to body parts that appeal to men rather than treating them as independent human beings of equal worth. Although the concept was originally coined in the context of film criticism and theory, advertising provides some of the best examples. I’d link examples but I’m afraid of my comment being put into moderation.

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  49. Amber Lin
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 17:42:13

    As someone who dealt with a lot of unkind comments about the fact that I breastfed my son, the tone of this passage felt familiar. I’d be hard pressed to see how “flinging” can be anything other than an insult. Neither is it particularly accurate. Of all the times my boobs have possibly been flung, during breast feeding wasn’t one of them. That’s far more likely to happen during the ” sex and intimacy” portion of the evening. Which yes, breast feeding women still have.

    I can see that this attitude might be realistic in some women. I can also see that it might stem from defensiveness. I’m not sure either of those make it above criticism.

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  50. AJH
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 17:47:35

    @Robin/Janet:

    Sorry, I was probably using the term ‘category’ ill-advisedly. I confess I’m not quite certain of the difference between category billionaires and, for example, BARED TO YOU.

    VAMPIRE LOVER sounds amazing, by the way. Also is that the same DARK SHADOWS that the Tim Burton movie is based on?

    @Shelley:

    I can sort of see why it’s the sort of thing people get militant about, because it’s this enormous mash-up of hot button issues, of which health and kids are the two most obvious.

    Obviously, that’s not to say it’s right to condemn people for making decisions that don’t match your own. I just meant that I can see why this would be the sort of thing that would get a lot of people very passion.

    @pamelia:

    No, I think that’s fair, there’s a certain … yeah … there’s something not quite entirely there. But I really love the sensuality of it, and it makes me feel all warm and snuggly. And I can almost smell cinnamon when I’m reading it.

    Also I can totally see why you were bored of baking it by the end. I guess I just mentioned it because comfort books are so wildly subjective.

    @Marianne McA:

    I do wonder if this a US/ UK thing actually, because I’m far more familiar with women getting accosted for feeding their babies in public than not breastfeeding, which is probably why I had such a strong negative reaction to the flinging their breasts around line.

    @Laurie Evans:

    I can see why it would be an appealing book, it just really didn’t work for me. I just couldn’t find anything to latch onto really – and DIY just isn’t my thing, ever.

    @Jane:

    I’m genuinely a bit confused by this. I’m really sorry if it came across that way but I honestly don’t think, at any point in the review or the comments, I’ve actually told women how to feel about anything.

    As I think I said in my original reply to you, I very much didn’t read that scene as being about Pippa’s feelings, which was sort of my problem with it.

    Pippa wasn’t talking about her own breasts, she was talking about other women’s breasts, in what seemed to me to be quite a dismissive manner – describing a breastfeeding mother as flinging her breasts around doesn’t seem terribly appropriate to me.

    I know I said that public exposure doesn’t devalue the boob, but that wasn’t me telling fictional Pippa how she should feel about boobs, it was me directly addressing what I read as the implication of the narrative – which is that flinging your boobs around inherently and necessarily devalues them. And, the direct causal link, the text, to me, drew between breast feeding and automatic desexualisation.

    I certainly didn’t mean to imply that it wrong for an individual woman to feel that her breasts were desexualised by the process of breastfeeding. In fact, I think – ironically enough – my problem with the text was it seemed to be telling women how they should feel.

    Also I’m quite confused by the way we’re using male gaze here. My understanding of the term aligns very closely with Janet/Robin’s, but you seem to be using it differently.

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  51. Jane
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 17:54:01

    @AJH:

    And breastfeeding sort of requires women to “fling” their breasts around by necessity, so if you didn’t move to a space of feeling relatively casual about it, I suspect you’d get pretty miserable pretty quickly, but this does not de-value the boob. A breast is a breast, you know, it doesn’t matter how many people have seen it, and under what circumstances.

    So if a woman feels devalued about her boob, then she is in the wrong because a breast is a breast. It doesn’t matter how many people have seen it, and under what circumstances.

    and

    I’m aware that sexy is not really high on the agenda when you’ve got an infant attached to your nipple but I know plenty of women who have breastfed their children and nevertheless either retained or reclaimed their bodies for sex and intimacy. It’s not an either/or.

    So women who have felt sexless or struggle with reclaiming their bodies for sex and intimacy within a proscribed period of time are not the norm or somehow to be criticized?

    That’s how I’m referring to the male gaze, as in the sexualization of the woman’s body and the woman’s need to always be in control and exerting herself as a sexual object.

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  52. AJH
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 18:39:52

    @Mary:

    Yay for Sunshine. I’ve read pretty much everything by Robin McKinley – I have a deep, abiding fondness for her Beauty and the Beast re-tellings.

    That’s an interesting point about wanting the ordinary people romance to be about people you’d want to spend time with. I think that was probably a large part of problem with SUDDENLY YOU. I just wasn’t that interested in either of them. I don’t think Harry would want to be friends with me, and I don’t think I’d particularly want to be friends with Pippa.
    The Cruisie I’ve read (BET ME) was a little bit less domestic but also about what I would call ordinary people, but I found them deeply engaging as characters, and maybe that made all the difference because I loved BET ME to pieces, and I felt absolutely nothing about SUDDENLY YOU.

    I was just quite lost having nothing to engage with – even though I could rationally see there were good things about the book.

    @Melissa:

    For me, I genuinely don’t have a problem with unsympathetic heroines. I don’t care if they’re immoral, judgemental, or just plain messed up. I respond to heroines who have a reputation for being awful – I just finished THE DREAM HUNTER and everybody hates Zenia but I was basically fine with her. I felt terribly sorry for her actually, and I found her very human indeed, even though she’s awful a lot of the time.

    The problem for me here was that the slightly judgemental dismissal of women who breastfeed didn’t seem to come from the heroine, but from the text.

    I personally wouldn’t mind if this heroine / a heroine thought of herself as being sexy than other women because she didn’t breastfeed but I genuinely read it as the text sort of making a case for that anyway.

    @Jill Sorenson:

    I’m sorry I made you sad. Again, I do get that many women feel less desirable after giving birth but, again, the scene that bothered me didn’t seem to be talking about Pippa’s own feelings, so much as other women in general.

    I’m honestly quite confused at this stage. I keep reading the section again and again to see if there’s something I’ve missed and, honestly, what I think I might have missed is social context or genre context.

    But the words on the page – to me – don’t seem to convey a personal feeling. They make a very broad, arguably slightly insulting statement about women who breastfeed. It’s kind of the word “consequently” that trips me up as it directly connects the ideas:

    1. Pippa has been unable to breastfeed
    2. Therefore she hasn’t been inured to exposing her breasts in public
    3. Therefore her breasts remain intimate and sexual for her
    4. Compared to women who have exposed their breasts in public and whose breasts are therefore forever denied intimacy and sexuality

    And, obviously, the way women feel about breastfeeding is personal and up to them, but this feels to me like its presented so much in absolutes.

    Also, I don’t think it can be about friends in low cut tops (and even if it was, it seems equally unfair to criticise other women for the clothes they choose to wear) because it would be just plain bizarre to equate wearing a low cut top with having breastfed.

    @lawless:

    I can see where you’re coming from. Certainly I find it hard to be interested in a relationship that’s completely decontextualized.

    @Amber Lin:

    What I’ve learned from this comment thread is that this is all incredibly personal.

    From my experiences (and obviously I haven’t breastfed) women who do breastfeed do get a lot of hostility – and that was very much in the forefront of my mind when I was reading that passage. And, as you say, I kind of questioned its accuracy. If I was to draw a Venn diagram between “women I know who have breastfed” and “women I know who fling their breasts around” there would be pretty much zero overlap.

    @Jane:

    So if a woman feels devalued about her boob, then she is in the wrong because a breast is a breast. It doesn’t matter how many people have seen it, and under what circumstances.

    If a woman feels devalued about her boobs, that’s her call to make, because it’s her body.

    If a woman feels another woman’s boobs have been devalued because that other woman got her breasts out to feed her child, then that’s far more judgemental than I am personally comfortable being. Again, I’m not denying Pippa her right to be judgemental but, in this instance, I didn’t see that as coming from Pippa. I saw it as coming from the text.

    The source of our disagreement here seems to be that you feel Pippa is talking about her own breasts. And I feel the text is talking about other women’s breasts.

    So women who have felt sexless or struggle with reclaiming their bodies for sex and intimacy within a proscribed period of time are not the norm or somehow to be criticized?

    Again, you are reading this as being about how women feel.

    In the text, as I read it, feeling and struggling doesn’t come into it.

    According to the words that I read and responded to, the breasts of a woman who has breastfed are no longer about sex and intimacy. Period. It is this generalisation I find problematic.

    Also I’m not sure where you’re getting proscribed period of time from.

    I’m not objecting to the fact that Pippa doesn’t want to get her breasts out after having had a kid, or after not having breastfed her kid. I am objecting to the fact that the text seems to be presenting not wanting to get one’s breasts out as a norm from which women who have breastfed deviate.

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  53. Jane
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 18:44:51

    @AJH – But how you describe female sexuality in the review text is not a criticism of Pippa’s POV. “I’m aware that sexy is not really high on the agenda when you’ve got an infant attached to your nipple but I know plenty of women who have breastfed their children and nevertheless either retained or reclaimed their bodies for sex and intimacy. It’s not an either/or.”

    I know plenty of women… It’s not either/or.

    You’re making a value judgment about what is the norm and who is deviating from it. “I am objecting to the fact that the text seems to be presenting not wanting to get one’s breasts out as a norm from which women who have breastfed deviate.”

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  54. Ducky
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 18:51:01

    @AJH:

    Totally off-topic but I got excited when I read this comment that you love “Sunshine” – any chance you might review it here?

    On topic – I haven’t read this book and so all I can really say is sorry you didn’t enjoy it. Breast feeding politics scare me, there is so much vitriol on both sides.

    Enjoy your vacation!

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  55. Vanessa North
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 19:00:32

    As a woman who breastfed twins for nineteen months (which often necessitated baring BOTH my breasts, simultaneously, in the Deep, rural South), I am appreciative AJH’s sensitivity to the breastfeeding mother’s plight.

    I don’t disagree that there is an unfortunate backlAsh a gainst formula feeding in the US. FFS, women feed their children to the best of their ability by the best method for their family. Feeding your child is never abusive.

    However, as a woman who carried a printout in her pocket of state laws for TWO years, solely for purpose of defending myself from being listed on a sex offender registry for feeding my children, I appreciate that AJH recognizes the dismissiveness toward breastfeeding that is RAMPANT in our culture. Formula feeding moms face (possible) disdain from breastfeeding moms. Breastfeeding moms face the possibility of prosecution for sex crimes. For feeding their children.

    I appreciate his critique of this issue.

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  56. bookfan
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 19:01:26

    I really enjoyed this book and am huge fan of Sarah Mayberry’s in general. As far as the breastfeeding comment, I liked that the heroine in a romance novel was allowed to be a little snarky. This is what I really enjoy about Sarah’s heroine’s in general -they are refreshingly normal. They come from all sorts of backgrounds and have very different personalities (as do her hero’s for that matter). Most importantly, they are allowed to be flawed. And her hero’s are delish. I love how in this book Harry did what he could for Pippa but did not act like he was entitled to anything nor did he hold it over her head.

    I did appreciate the review however. In particular, I liked that you were so direct in just saying you didn’t like the book. I have enjoyed all of your reviews (even when I have had a completely different reaction to the book as here) but have felt sometimes that you were dancing around your real opinion. That may just be your style however.

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  57. Liz Mc2
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 19:06:52

    Like Robin, I found the tone of this review, especially at the beginning, kind of dismissive and insulting (it doesn’t help that I find “MILF” offensive in all kinds of ways).

    In general, I support a reader’s right to be bored by whatever bores him, and to say so. But your reviews have a different context here. You’ve presented yourself (successfully) as a thoughtful newbie working to “get” romance, and so far your reviews have always engaged a book on its own terms, though about how it works as well as how it works *for you.* Here you say “I can see why people like this kind of thing,” but reading your review, I actually can’t see you analyzing or engaging anywhere with the nature of its appeal, in the way you did with other books you reviewed here, whether or not you liked them.

    I do think gender matters here. Not yours, individually (I’m not trying to say you’re sexist because you didn’t enjoy this book), but the gendered nature of the novel and of reading. In its origins, the novel was seen as a genre *for women* even when written by men, in large part because it dealt with domestic stories and courtship. And for that reason, it wasn’t “real literature.” More recently, genre romance has been dismissed for the same gendered reasons–it’s just about relationships, a female thing, not *important*. And romance readers have defended the genre for making those “female” concerns central and giving them importance. I think this is part of what Robin meant when she talked about the domestic work of category romance.

    This is the most “feminine” novel, in that sense, that you’ve reviewed here. It’s firmly in that domestic realist tradition. This makes it easy to dismiss, because culturally, books like this have been dismissed since their inception. And of all your reviews here, it is the book you engaged with least thoughtfully and deeply, in my view. I do think there is a gendered context for this lack of engagement.

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  58. Moriah Jovan
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 19:09:18

    @Vanessa North I hang out on a website called Free Range Kids, and not only do I believe you, but you wouldn’t believe what other otherwise innocent, normal human things will get you (or, more likely, a man) arrested and slotted onto the sex offender registry. Your example is, I believe, also a symptom of a much bigger social/cultural problem.

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  59. Dhympna
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 19:15:24

    @Robin/Janet:

    Nice use of the subjunctive. I approve. :)

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  60. Joy
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 19:39:31

    @AJH – I hope you have a fantastic holiday! It sounds like you have a great pile of reads to take with you. I usually find that I need a little more “something else” for a book to become one of my favorites, so this review really resonated with me. My favorite books straddle the line between paranormal romance and fantasy with a strong romance thread. Well, and also some regency historicals, which have always read kind of like fantasy to me in a “Here is this world and these are the rules of this world” sort of way.
    I’d like to say that I really respect that you are willing to politely engage every person who has commented here regarding the hot button breastfeeding topic while maintaining your own thoughtful opinion.

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  61. AJH
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 19:40:41

    @Jane:

    Again, I think we’re having trouble because we’re reading the text differently.

    “Consequently, Pippa wasn’t nearly as casual about flinging her breasts around as some of her friends. To her, they were about sex and intimacy, not sustenance”

    I read the text as making an absolute statement here. Specifically, I read it as implying breasts that had breastfed could not be about sex and intimacy.

    My statement about female sexuality was simply that I knew women for whom that was not true, which I intended as a rebuttal of that absolute statement. To rebut an absolute, all you need is a single counter example. There are several in this comment thread.

    I never claimed that women who felt desexualised after pregnancy were in a minority or wrong, merely that it was not the place of the book to make judgements about how other women feel about their bodies, and how that impacts their behaviour.

    You’re making a value judgment about what is the norm and who is deviating from it. “I am objecting to the fact that the text seems to be presenting not wanting to get one’s breasts out as a norm from which women who have breastfed deviate.”

    I’m sorry I’m a little bit unclear about what you mean here.

    Do you meant that be that I am a making value judgement by objecting to the idea that not wanting to get your breasts out is a norm from which women who breastfeed deviate?

    If so, I suppose I am and it’s a value judgement I would stand by in that I generally think it is wrong to suggest that anything is a norm from which anybody deviates.

    Alternatively, do you mean that by saying I know women who have reclaimed their bodies for sex and intimacy after breastfeeding that I am making a value judgement and declaring that reclaiming their breasts for sex and intimacy after breastfeeding is a norm from which women who do not reclaim their breasts for sex and intimacy deviate. If this is what you mean, I just don’t think I ever said that. Nor would I.

    What I objected to about this paragraph was that it made a generalisation about women who breastfeed which I felt was firstly bizarre (I don’t get this whole breastfeeding and flinging your breasts around connection) and secondly felt to me judgemental and dismissive.

    @Ducky:

    It’s probably a bit off-topic but I’ll ask Jane. It’s kind of one of those books that you either find really really boring or strangely enchanting. I’m in the latter camp.

    It just wasn’t a book for me. You win some, you lose some.

    Thank you – fully intend to enjoy the heck out of my holiday.

    @Vanessa North:

    This is all just insane. We’ve got people being treated as child abusers on one side and sex offenders on the other.

    At the risk sounding unbelievably naïve, I don’t understand how something so utterly fundamental as feeding babies could get so utterly messed up.

    @bookfan:

    I very much appreciate a little snark in my heroines but, yes, as I’ve argued at length and ad tedium, I read this particular sequence as being narration not POV. But, yeah, it’s all interpretation, so I can see your reading too.

    It’s a bit depressing but just nothing worked in this book for me. I honestly found Harry pretty dull, and I feel bad for saying it, since he’s clearly appealing to many people and he’s not a psychotic alpha type either.

    That might just be my style I’m afraid. I tend to talk myself round in circles – and, even when I don’t like something, I hesitate for fear of sounding dismissive, as I fear I have done here.

    I’m glad you liked the review though.

    @Liz Mc2:

    In hindsight, I am aware that a lot of people have problems with MILF and I shouldn’t use it so casually. I think because the book didn’t engage me, and I was quite bewildered by what I saw as an attempt to make Pippa motherly yet hot, I was glib and flippant. Which was not okay. So I do apologise for that.

    In truth, Liz, cards on the table here, of all the books I’ve read, this is the one I’ve had a completely blank reaction to. I didn’t dislike it, really, but I didn’t like either, and everything it does and everything it’s interested in is so alien to me … I honestly just didn’t get it. And, although I do make a good faith attempt to engage with every text on its own terms, and I’m glad that comes through to people, I was lost here. Rationally, I could see it was … well constructed, well written, had a hero I think some people would like, and a heroine I think some people would identify with … but I couldn’t find any purchase on it at all.

    But equally I didn’t want to not review it because that felt like it would have been cheating. I kind of standby what I said in the conclusion which is that this is a like a wine review from a non-drinker. I’m honestly think this is the least successful thing I’ve written for DA. I was trying to find my way through my own bewilderment but I’m afraid it came across dismissive, which is not what I want at all.

    I think you’re probably right about the gendered nature of the novel in general and the romance novel in particular, and that the domestic has always been seen as the purview of women. But, as I think I said in the review, what really scuppered this book for me was not the domesticity itself but the specific type of domesticity. Again, as I think I said, a longing for someone and something to call home is something that does move me quite profoundly, but SUDDENLY YOU presented me with something I would never want and could never have.

    By the way, I’m totally fine not to be the audience of this book, and I didn’t mean to feed into cultural dismissals the genre, or of this type of narrative, but I genuinely felt the book had no interest in me and nothing to say to me. And that sort of makes me feel bad because I feel I could have, should have tried harder to engage with it but … sorry this sounds pathetic … but it was really hard, simply because of the complete lack of connection on either side.

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  62. Jen
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 19:44:47

    Love the review, as usual! I see some others saying your review sounded dismissive but honestly I don’t think it read that way at all. I’ve only read one Sarah Mayberry and it did NOT work for me at all, but I do love Jill Shalvis and she usually writes in the “ordinary” vein. I gave one to my husband to read and he had a very similar reaction to yours. He liked that I liked it, but he just found it boring and unengaging. And I agree, in some respects. I read the more ordinary books because I like to see people negotiating that everyday space–I like the tension to be very subtle and to come from the characters, not from something outside them.

    Does gender play a role here? Sure, probably. But I don’t know whether or not it plays more or less of a role than personal narrative/reading preferences, textual expectations, mood, etc. All of those things come to play when reading a book, and certainly category romances are not for everyone. I really appreciate hearing your perspective because you DIDN’T really like it, and I love hearing why.

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  63. Elyssa Patrick
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 19:51:53

    Liz already said it so well about the problematic nature of your review, so most what I will say will be a reiteration of that. I’ve also been thinking about how to write this response for the better part of the day, but I keep going back to this one thing: the male gaze, and your insistence you’re not employing it.

    You say you aren’t writing from the male gaze or that you don’t see it when you look back st your review. (I’m paraphrasing here.) But here’s the thing, “MILF” definitely stems from a male gaze. Honestly, I found that term so offensive and it just went downhill from there.

    As someone who also writes stories who are on the quieter side, I found it disturbing you could so casually dismiss something, while you haven’t with your previous reviews. I think it’s great you’re discovering romance, but I do wish you had taken the same consideration into this review as your previous ones that dealt with romances that were not as quiet.

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  64. Jane
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 19:53:19

    @AJH – in your comments you parse it out far more than you did in the review but in the review text, you are clearly making a distinction between what you feel is the “norm” and your criticisms of those who violate whatever “norm” has been created. The norm of what babies are like – ” fucking monster” or the norm of breasts being breast etc.

    Mayberry was unsuccessful in protraying Pippa as a sympathetic or believable or relatable character for you, but in the review text, you asserted value judgments about how women should feel about their breasts, their bodies post pregnancy, and yes, even their children.

    I should note that while I had a placid, non fucking monster child, I was nothing like Pippa as it relates to any other aspect of her child rearing experience but I do know women like her and completely empathize with their feelings of inadequacy and sexuality and struggle with day to day life. I’ve said often I cannot imagine how heroic it is to be a single parent.

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  65. Willaful
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 19:56:19

    @AJH: What you say here reminds me of something my mom once told me, which was that she disliked reading Richard Brautigan because she felt as if women like herself (i.e. not young or particularly attractive) don’t exist in his world. It took me many years to understand her point of view.

    I hope you have a terrific vacation, full of pleasure reading.

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  66. Jane
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 20:00:13

    I finally found my damn copy of the book. The scene were Pippa references “flinging” is when her baby unbuttons her shirt and exposes her to Harry.

    The moment seemed to stretch. Then Harry lifted his gaze to hers and realized he’d been busted. Dull color
    stained his cheeks.

    “Sorry. It’s just…your dress…” He gestured toward her chest, his gaze trained resolutely over her shoulder now.

    She glanced down and discovered that the top two buttons of her bodice were undone, offering him an untrammeled view of her deep red bra and a whole lot of cleavage.

    SHE GATHERED THE sides of her dress together in her free hand, heat burning its way into her face. “Sorry. Alice
    must have— She’s never done that before… .”

    It was true. Alice was always fiddling—with Pippa’s necklace, her earring, the collar of her shirt or the buttons on her coat—but she’d never unbuttoned anything before.

    Pippa tucked her chin and tried to rebutton her bodice one-handed, very aware of the warmth in her cheeks.

    Unlike many of the women in her mothers’ group, she had been unsuccessful at breast-feeding. A series of infections and an inadequate milk supply led her pediatrician to recommend bottle-feeding Alice when her daughter was barely a month old. Consequently, Pippa wasn’t nearly as casual about flinging her breasts around as some of her friends. To her, they were about sex and intimacy, not sustenance.

    And Harry had copped a very decent eyeful.

    “Here, I’ll take her.” Harry held out his hands, ready to accept the baby so she could secure her dress.

    For me this passage read as a clear self deprecation and embarrassment at having flashed Harry.

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  67. Barb
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 20:01:06

    I have never commented before, but Ialways enjoy these discussions. I feel compelled to say that over the past twenty years (I am 60 yo) I have encountered a great many angry women who assaulted me verbally because I admited to having breast fed my children. I have given up discussing the topic for fear someone will think I am ‘judging’ them. A shame, really. Rational conversation might help heal this unnecessary schism between women.

    I found the breast slinging quote snide, but seriously? I sometimes think these realistic novels are more fantasy (the little kid who helps undress Mommy?) than a vampire or dragon novel.
    And I think the notion of ” male gaze” is better applied to men who want to shoot girls for learning to read. Who do not treat or speak to women as fellow human beings.

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  68. Elyssa Patrick
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 20:05:31

    @Jane, I agree with you about the quote.

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  69. Jane
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 20:07:56

    @Barb – I hope you aren’t serious about not criticizing individuals using “male gaze” as it relates to writing otherwise we’d be castigated for ever discussing anything unless it relates to real violent crimes against women? In other words, “words” are never to be analyzed or commented on, discussed, or addressed in any critical way?

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  70. Deljah
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 20:19:22

    I wonder how this review and the subsequent comments would have gone if AJH had omitted his reference and reaction to the one paragraph from the whole book. He has explained and re-explained, clarified and apologized, said he’s reading it differently vs how others are, narrative vs POV, etc, etc, and it’s still “not enough”. It seems to me that people are having a visceral reaction to the topic of breastfeeding itself and aren’t objectively hearing his opinion at this point. I feel that AJH is now being unfairly dismissed b/c at this point, it’s become that he just doesn’t get it b/c he’s a man.

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  71. Robin/Janet
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 20:20:21

    @AJH: Yes, Tim Burton’s film is (loosely) based on the same television show. In Lamb’s case, the hero is an actor who is compared in all sorts of ways to a vampire, even though he is human. It’s really fascinating and twisted and pushes the envelope right into an open flame (@Susan: get read for a wild ride!).

    Regarding what @Jane has been saying about your reaction to that breastfeeding scene (and I think it’s interesting that –given that it’s the only reference to breastfeeding in the book, it was significant enough for you to use in your review), I think her point intersects with what @Liz Mc2 says here:

    This is the most “feminine” novel, in that sense, that you’ve reviewed here. It’s firmly in that domestic realist tradition. This makes it easy to dismiss, because culturally, books like this have been dismissed since their inception. And of all your reviews here, it is the book you engaged with least thoughtfully and deeply, in my view. I do think there is a gendered context for this lack of engagement.

    I know you were not consciously trying to be insulting or essentializing/objectifying in your treatment of Mayberry’s book or of Pippa’s thoughts about her breasts. But I think the way in which you seem to see her behavior as deviating from a norm you have pretty much defined in your interpretation of the passage as judgmental against other women, even against a good deal of push back from actual women who have struggled with precisely the insecurity Pippa articulates in that little bit of text, is coming across like you’re telling women how we should be perceiving our own breasts and/or Pippa’s. I totally get that you’re not intending to do this, and perhaps you don’t think you’re doing it at all.

    I initially thought you were intentionally misreading that passage in order to make the other points you wanted to make about kids and female sexuality and MILF’s (and that acronym — besides being a function of the male gaze — actually problematizes some of the points you have made about female sexuality outside of identification as a mother). To me, it’s just so clear that Pippa is expressing HER OWN insecurity there, that I didn’t see how it could be read any other way. As the discussion progressed, I realized that you were not intentionally reading it otherwise. However, it may just be that the combination of the genre codes and the gendered construct of the genre in this novel has set up a barrier to mutual understanding between you and those of us who have had some difficulty with this review.

    You know, it may be that these novels never appeal to you. However, if your goal is to really know the genre in full, there are a lot of great literary treatments of domestic fiction that will give you a solid background to understand their origin and evolution (because Romance is domestic fiction, even those novels that don’t seem overtly domestic). Cathy Davidson’s Revolution and the Word or Lori Merish’s Sentimental Materialism are two I recommend regularly.

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  72. Jen
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 20:20:49

    Hm, I haven’t read this book but reading the quote Jane just posted, I can definitely see where @AJH’s comment came from. “Casual flinging” is kind of pejorative, isn’t it? That’s how it reads to me, at least. So Pippa seems to be implying that women who HAVE breastfed just tossed their breasts around willy nilly, while she kept hers covered. Again, I don’t know the larger context of this scene but that’s definitely how it sounds to me based on the quoted text.

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  73. Jane
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 20:23:21

    @Deljah: Actually, I think that AJH gets a ton of leeway because he is a man. In fact, I think he gets away with a lot of stuff in reviews and comments because he is a man in a largely female dominated space.

    But in this instance, his portrayal of women and motherhood is, in my opinion, written from the male gaze, a distinct male point of view about the appropriate responses of females arising from pregnancy, breastfeeding, and child rearing.

    The entire book “Suddenly You” is about taking on the responsibilities of parenthood and how that changes people. It changed Pippa and had a huge effect on Harry.

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  74. Kaetrin
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 20:23:56

    I’m an unabashed fan of Sarah Mayberry books. I have her entire backlist and have about 5 or 6 left unread so far, for rainy day reads. She does fill a specific reading niche for me. There is something refreshingly ordinary about her super romances (her earlier Blaze books are great too but have a very different tone, including less mundane settings). I felt like I could have lived near Harry and Pippa – its possible they could live in my street now. They seemed familiar to me, partly because they’re Australian but partly because they are of the lower middle class. (Dragos, Wrath, et al don’t have to wonder how they will pay for ceiling repairs. LOL)

    I was interested in your comment about not thinking you’d be friends with them and contrasting that to how you felt about Cal and Min from Bet Me. For myself, I think I’d have more in common with Cal and Min than Pippa and Harry, and therefore I probably fall into the same category. Which is interesting, because, unlike you, I was completely engaged in the book from start to finish – I’m fairly sure I gave it a B or B+.

    Books either engage you or they don’t. I get that. There’s an alchemy between reader and book. I’m sorry this one didn’t work for you. Reviews for books you didn’t really care about are the hardest to write, I think.

    I would add that babies sleeping sufficiently to allow sexytimes is very common in the genre and akin to the general lack of morning breath in romance novels. Even the most ordinary romance has to have some fantasy!

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  75. Robin/Janet
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 20:41:17

    @Deljah: I think you’ve got it backwards: that he formed such strong judgments from the single, short reference to breast feeding is part of what set some of us off.

    And sentences like this: “I would probably shag her.” If anyone wonders why some of us have referenced the male gaze, there are uncomfortable moments like that in the review.

    Also, I think this is where snarkiness has the potential to backfire. Things that are perhaps dropped because they come across as clever, or because for a man they will not have the same import as they will for women, or because it’s difficult to write a review of a book one did not relate to at all — there are a lot of ways in which I think the breezy, even flippant quality to AJH’s snark contributed to the way some of us felt that the book and those who enjoyed it were being dismissed — even if that was an unintentional consequence.

    What I think some of us are asking — directly or indirectly — is for a little more thoughtful care in approaching a genre that is already so commonly dismissed for precisely the reason that it does so often elevate the ordinary and the feminine, sometimes in tandem.

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  76. Jen
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 20:55:21

    I guess I fall somewhere between Deljah and Robin/Janet, because I think there is nothing wrong with the review, at least as a starting point for discussion. It’s reviewing a book, not a live human being, and through clarifications and explanations I think the meaning and intentions are clear. (That doesn’t mean they are “correct”, but it leaves the door open for dialog.) We are reading this review with the understanding that it was written by a man, and I personally think it’s really enlightening to hear an initial take on a book from an outside perspective (albeit one who is attempting to read sensitively and thoughtfully). Plus the review brings up good points about what I myself consider kind of lazy storytelling, such as excessively perfect children. (Yes excessively perfect children do exist but a) they are not the norm and b) in many books they’re just a plot device, which robs them of that realism anyway.) On the other hand, Robin/Janet’s point about the way “mundane” stories have been viewed in the past is valid, and it is tricky to understand them if you don’t like them. Women’s fiction has been pretty marginalized, but I don’t see this review as part of that because it’s opening a thoughtful, engaged discussion about the topics.

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  77. Meriam
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 21:02:31

    @Jane – that excerpt *is* problematic to me.

    Pippa is implying that, had she breast fed for longer, she would be more casual about accidentally exposing her breasts to this man. Ergo, women who breast feed would feel less embarrassed because their breasts are linked to “sustenance” rather than “sex and intimacy.”

    This is problematic because: theoretically I could breast feed a dozen kids (eeek) but still feel embarrassed/ flustered if my blouse opened up in front of a guy I fancied: nurturing doesn’t preclude sex/ intimacy, which is what that excerpt is somewhat (unintentionally?) implying.

    I didn’t find the review patronising. I’ve never read a Mayberry, but I can’t really fault AJH for essentially finding the novel boring. It sounds pretty unexciting to me. Domesticity as fantasy can work for me, but it needs to be wittier, with meaty characterisation, conflict and, preferably, hot. I don’t like “cosy” – its not my thing, and I’m speaking as a single young (ish…) woman. I don’t think this is about the *male gaze* per se.

    Vampire Lover is insane. It is one of a small handful of categories I’ve enjoyed. Bonkers, though.

    AJH, very excited to hear you will be In Edinburgh – ME TOO!

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  78. Jane
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 21:07:47

    @Meriam: It is not taking issue with her feelings about breastfeeding that is the problem. It’s the judgment about how she should be responding that is the male gaze combined with the MILF, I’d shag her (which I took to be unserious and weird from AJH but let it go), as well as instructions on how our breasts should be viewed, how we should respond post pregnancy, and how we should view others.

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  79. cleo
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 21:11:57

    @Jane: That was my interpretation too. I looked it before I got through the comments and that’s what I thought. It’s more about why she’s uncomfortable with accidentally flashing Harry than anything else.

    @AJH – I was one of the many who recommended Suddenly You and I’m sorry it didn’t work for you (I also recommended Bet Me, so at least I got to have that happy book-recommendation-worked glow first). It is interesting how personal taste is – because SY really worked for me. Of course, I read my first category romance when I was 14, so I imprinted early. Categories vary widely depending on the line, but they tend to focus on one couple and their relationship.

    ETA – Jennifer Crusie wrote categories early in her career. I like Manhunting or Charlie All Night

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  80. Susan
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 21:18:40

    @Robin/Janet:

    “And sentences like this: “I would probably shag her.” If anyone wonders why some of us have referenced the male gaze, there are uncomfortable moments like that in the review.”

    Uh oh. I’m feeling all kinds of cheap now because I’ve certainly said this about male characters (mentally, if not aloud) often enough.

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  81. Meriam
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 21:35:32

    Thanks for clarification, Jane. For what it’s worth, I didn’t feel as though the reviewer was telling me how I should feel about my breasts or breast in general, and I still don’t quite understand… I think there’s a divide here in POV that might be insurmountable!

    @Susan – well, yes. Exactly. I’ve been reading a lot of reviews lately, and there are plenty of comments about heroes being shaggable/ hot/ yummy etc. And why not? These perfectly formed heroes are created to be all of that. So are the vast majority of nubile, painfully young heroines in the genre. Are we uncomfortable because a *man* said it?

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  82. Jane
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 21:37:16

    @Meriam: No, I’m uncomfortable because it seems patronizing. Because AJH wouldn’t shag her, but was using the phrase to suggest that she was acceptable to him as a sexual object but not as a character who he could connect to and one whom he actually found me and somewhat objectionable. (not remotely interested, I think were the terms used)

    Like her only redeeming qualities was her fuckability – she’s a MILF, I’d shag her, she has colorful underwear.

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  83. Maria
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 21:39:14

    I disliked all of Sarah Mayberry’s books for exactly the same reasons you state, AJH. I think they are terribly boring.

    The text about the breastfeeding irked me. I was a bottle fed baby, and I breast fed all three of my children. So what? It makes no friggin difference. My mum wasn’t capable, but she fed me just the same.

    Just because I breast fed didn’t mean I stopped thinking of my breasts in a sexual way. I didn’t get that way while feeding, mind you, but my hubby loved my huge boobs. :) Really really loved them. I didn’t feel less, and I didn’t feel more, it was just a different aspect of being a woman with a baby.

    It’s disgusting how women will cut down others no matter what their preferences — if a woman takes her boobs out, she’s flashing … but if you’re truly uncomfortable with that, then go somewhere else. If that person is in your house, then … as I have done … go with whatever you want to do, but in no way harm a woman’s preference on how she feeds her baby. Breast or bottle — it’s between the two of them.

    I completely disagree with Jane. I’ve heard enough women telling me that BF my babies was uncivilised or wrong, that I shouldn’t do it in public, that I shouldn’t do it past 3 months, that BF totally desexualises you. Bullocks. Neither does not using your breasts to feed! Those women aren’t living the mother’s life! They have no idea of their particular struggles with their children. Everybody is different and we should embrace our differences, they make for a wonderful, varied life.

    As for Sarah Mayberry’s books, I tried to read some recommendations of her books from this site, couldn’t get past a few chapters. They were the most boring books ever. I’ve been given some for free and can’t summon the enthusiasm to read them.

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  84. Robin/Janet
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 21:48:21

    @Susan: There is definitely a point where female objectification of men is problematic, but I *really* don’t think what you’re describing and this comment I quoted in the middle of a book review are equivalent. The male gaze carries the weight of patriarchy and the cultural objectification, marginalization, and fetishization of women and of the female body and all things “feminine.”

    Then there’s the context of the comment:

    I completely respect the right of anybody to read, write, and enjoy books about nice women who meet nice men who fix their ceilings, but there was nowhere for me in Suddenly You. I mean, Pippa was … well … nice? I admired her for her commitment to her daughter, her cheerful disposition and her natural kindness. I enjoyed her colourful underwear. I would probably shag her. But, and I feel bad for saying this, she didn’t interest me at all. I vaguely wanted her to be happy but I feel like that about most people, and it’s not really enough motivation to get me through a book about them.

    He would shag the heroine even though he didn’t find her interesting. I had a flash of frat parties and any number of men who would happily reduce a woman to a willing body, regardless of the lack of any more sophisticated appeal. And those sentences are in the context of a book review, which, as Liz pointed out earlier, is much less intellectually engaged than his previous reviews.

    As I’ve said, I don’t think any of this was intentional. But I also think a number of things, in combination, made this review problematic. I do think it raises some fascinating questions about the extent to which a reader feels they need to identify with a fantasy scenario to make it work for them. And what it means to evaluate a book on its own terms.

    However, there’s another aspect to all of this that we haven’t addressed, which is that AJH *writes* in the genre, too. That, more than anything else, makes me feel like it’s okay to expect more in terms of really trying to meet the genre on its own terms. I’m not going to condemn him for not knowing what he doesn’t know, or demand that he like what he clearly doesn’t like. But I’m also not going to give it a pass when I feel like there’s a substantial disconnect (and even a perceived lack of respect flowing from that) between the genre and someone reading, reviewing, and writing it.

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  85. Maria
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 21:54:55

    When does a breastfeeding women “fling” her breasts around? They’re bigger than normal usually, more tender and sensitive. I found Mayberry’s line about breastfeeding women “flinging” their breasts around extremely offensive!

    The character is making a derogatory statement to women who breastfeed. Saying they “fling” their breasts around, that unlike all the other BF women who saw breasts as sustenance and no longer sexual organ, she saw them as intimate. Is she inside these other women’s heads knowing how each woman sees her breasts? Does she know that’s how women see their breasts when feeding? No. Well guess what? I can tell you from my experience, women who BF CAN and DO feel both sexually attractive as well as having sustenance for their child. If BF women were to say to women who bottle fed, “They criticize from their own lack of self-confidence.” that’ would be an attack. Just the same as BF women “flinging” their boobs around.

    I don’t need the author’s opinion on BF in reading.

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  86. Jane
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 21:58:13

    @Maria – I read it completely different. She was self referencing her own flinging around of boobs and how uncomfortable she was with this, particularly in front of Harry. It’s such a throwaway, non important line in the entire book and to focus on it, as if the author was trying to make some stance on breastfeeding, seems to take away from the entirety of the positive portrayal that the author was trying to place on parenthood.

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  87. Meriam
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 22:04:16

    You know, what I took away from the review was the reviewer’s inability to connect with the two characters. AJH mentions that Pippa’s physical attributes are perfectly inoffensive – she is “shaggable” and a “milf” – but that her personality left him cold. I could say the same about any number of heroes. I could say: “Christian might be six foot two inches of pure Italian hunk, with a six pack and the sexual stamina of a much younger man, but his personality left much to be desired. Christian is an asshole/ bore/ moron.” Etc etc. Not much different from what AJH did IMO.

    *milf is a lazy shorthand. I don’t have a problem with it, and wouldn’t if used in any review, by any other reviewer. I understand, however, that it was not the sum of it parts, but the review as a whole that you disliked.

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  88. Dhympna
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 22:14:31

    @Meriam:

    I would not accept “MILF” or finding a character shaggable from any reviewer–male or female. To say MILF is a lazy shorthand is a lame excuse for an acronym that is so charged with rank and stinky misogyny.

    As an aside, as one who often flings her breasts around. I do not find the word “fling” being used in conjunction with breasts to be problematic or offensive. I will often fling my breasts about and do so proudly, sometimes to the chagrin of those around me.

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  89. reader
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 22:25:59

    @Jen:

    Casual flinging in the story context comes across as rueful humor on Pippa’s part. And maybe a little wistfulness that she couldn’t be comfortable with some casual flinging of her own.
    It just doesn’t come across as nasty or pejorative to me.
    I read it pretty much as Jane did, I think. Just Pippa being chagrined.

    It doesn’t surprise me that a male reviewer is struggling with this subject. While I think it’s nice that he’s trying to connect to romance novels and he’s sharing his experience via these reviews, he’s going to hit stumbling blocks simply by virtue of being male. The MILF is an example of that. I have to admit to a wee bit of amusement in watching him work to explain himself more concisely while the commenters try (fairly and kindly) to set him straight.
    I have a feeling there will be more stumbling blocks in future and the resultant conversations will be as interesting as this.

    What strikes me as bothersome in his review is his dismissal of the book because it isn’t his experience nor an experience he’d ever want to have, himself. Ordinarily, when I read a novel, even if the experience is totally alien to me and my life, I can engage with characters whose experiences are far outside of my realm. I don’t say “Well, that’s not a reflection of my own existence, so the story can have no impact on my emotions.”

    I just got the feeling that the reviewer took a sort of contrary pleasure in rejecting the quiet domesticity of the story. A weird sort of almost defiant tone, as if he can’t even summon the imagination to take an interest in lives so totally different from his own.

    Maybe I’m reading too much into his insistence that the story left him feeling indifferent. I do appreciate that readers can come away from a story with wildly diverging reactions.

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  90. Deljah
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 22:44:11

    I can recall other reviews and comments where AJH has mentioned the bangability of the male and female characters and that as he read, he considered whether he’d want to bang or be those male or female characters. This bit about banging is not new to his reviews, but it’s suddenly very problematic and being picked apart? I agree that MILF brings it home in an different way, but it seemed a consistent extension of prior comments he’s made and since the main character is a mother, then there ya go!

    For my part, I wasn’t offended about his comments on the breastfeeding part. I feel that he substantiated his view that the heroine was judging other women, and that even so, that judgment seemed to be an insert by the author and not the heroine’s POV. It was just one aspect of his review of a book that did not work for him for a number of reasons. He didn’t like the book. I’m fine with that, but to start saying maybe the genre – the genre!? – won’t work for him b/c he’s a man and he doesn’t get it b/c he’s a man? His views aren’t valid b/c he’s unquestionably using male gaze, despite his explanations and the agreement with his views of some female posters? I love a good robust debate and discussion of issues, but a lot of this feels like reaction to the issue of b’fing itself and a bit of it feels like backlash against the leeway and squeeing he’s received in the past.

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  91. Barb
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 22:52:03

    I think AJH is being condemned by some for not identifying with/dismissing this book because it is a realistic story,’just’ about courtship and relationships, not serious literature. Only for poor, simple minded women. Really? Some of the world’s greatest literature is about no more than that…Jane Austin, admired and read by generations of misogynistic men, is only the first of many to spring to mind. It’s not what the novel is about but how the story is told that would seem to me to be the issue. I am going to go out and read this book now, but if it has no wit or charm, I doubt I’ll finish it.
    @Jane I was not saying you could not criticize or analyze words. I am simply objecting to your definition of male gaze as too extreme when there is so much worse out there to be upset about that we, as women, need to keep in perspective. As a young girl I got into some horrible books, written by and for men, not porn but male action stories. Their ‘male gaze’ met your definition, I think. AJH’s review is hardly in the same league.

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  92. Shelley
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 23:24:43

    I’ve thought more on this as the day has gone on also and am bugged by a couple of issues.

    As Liz said earlier, you didn’t seem to be near as engaged with this book as with others and to me, you actually seemed to go into this particular book purposely refusing to connect with these characters, and even in a way, took particular aim at Pippa for some reason, when in the past you’ve given well thought out and in-depth opinions on both story and characters. Even your earlier reviews of books that you ended up not liking weren’t this blah.

    This leads to my next point which is your complete and total inability (or refusal) to understand, at all, what the attraction could possibly be to this type of book even though you say you can understand, to a degree, the motivation of characters in Bared to You. Um, really? There’s nothing AT ALL in Suddenly You that you got but you get Bared to You? Unless you actually happen to run around in social circles consisting mostly of dominant sexy billionaire psychos, it seems unlikely that you couldn’t possibly understand, at least to a point, what is attractive about this genre and/or this book.

    I get that this type of book may never be your cup of tea and that’s ok, I just wish it was for that reason and not because you seemed determined not to like it from the get go.

    On a lighter note:

    @Dhympna:

    “As an aside, as one who often flings her breasts around. I do not find the word “fling” being used in conjunction with breasts to be problematic or offensive. I will often fling my breasts about and do so proudly, sometimes to the chagrin of those around me.”

    Ok, seriously, this killed me! As I’ve gotten older, I find I don’t give as much of a damn about keeping them corralled, so to speak, so I’m right there with you. ;o)

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  93. Janine
    Aug 09, 2013 @ 23:54:45

    I have read three books by Mayberry and while I haven’t loved any of them, I think she works for me somewhat better than she does for you, because I liked her books just enough to keep reading in search of one I would like a lot. I haven’t found it yet, but I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility for me.

    I wonder, is it possible that the problems with this review stem from you forcing yourself to finish reading the book? I find that if reading a book starts making me feel frustrated and irritable, I can often write a more thoughtful (in this case DNF) review if I quit reading while I can still give the reasons I quit a lot of thought than I could if I were to force myself to finish a book that wasn’t working for me and reach the point of such frustration that I couldn’t clearly articulate its strengths and weaknesses.

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  94. CD
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 00:35:14

    @Robin/Janet:

    “What I think some of us are asking — directly or indirectly — is for a little more thoughtful care in approaching a genre that is already so commonly dismissed for precisely the reason that it does so often elevate the ordinary and the feminine, sometimes in tandem.”

    I totally understand where you are coming from in terms of the gendered nature of the common response to romance novels – it’s something we’ve all had to struggle with as romance readers. And I’m aware that when you talk about a gendered response, you are not necessarily talking about *men* passing judgement on a *female* genre, but gender norms of what is valued or not in a society.

    So speaking for myself, although I haven’t read this book, I’ve read others which sound very similar. And, quite honestly, it’s not a sub-genre that appeals to me. I’m not saying that it can’t be done – I have been pleasantly surprised by certain quieter “domestic realism” romances that I’ve read. But generally, I’ve had similar reactions to AJH: I am simply not interested in reading about the characters or the plot or the world. Sometimes, it’s because they are badly written, but often it’s because I just can’t connect with them and, frankly, find them dull. And I honestly don’t think my reading preferences are an unconscious gendered response or judgement on my part – I think what you enjoy reading about/connect with is more to do with life experience, background and personality. For example, if I had children, I probably would have had a different reaction –but as it is, it’s simply not my cuppa tea.

    Reading the review again, I simply don’t see it as being dismissive. In fact, I felt AJH continually stressed [probably too much] that this was *his* reaction to the book based on his lack of connection with the characters. Yes, maybe the snarkiness backfired for some readers of the review and came across as dismissive, but that (I imagine) is also why people enjoy reading his reviews. Like others here mentioned, I’ve certainly thought that I’d probably shag this particular male hero but only if he kept his mouth shut and left before we had to make any kind of conversation… I know it comes differently from a woman than from a man, but I read still read it as a humourous offhand comment rather than dismissive or patronising, or a problematic “male gaze”.

    “I do think it raises some fascinating questions about the extent to which a reader feels they need to identify with a fantasy scenario to make it work for them. And what it means to evaluate a book on its own terms.”

    I definitely agree. But this is similar to the discussion we had about MOTOCYCLE MAN some time back, and the appeal of those “extreme alphas” being predicated at least in part by personal experience.

    I had no idea that AJH writes in the genre [interest perked] but he’s clearly here as a reviewer only. And I do think he manages to make clear why certain things don’t work for him based on his own personal preferences – a hell of a lot better than I would have done, which makes me rather nervous if I were ever to write a review of a book I disliked…

    @reader:

    “What strikes me as bothersome in his review is his dismissal of the book because it isn’t his experience nor an experience he’d ever want to have, himself. Ordinarily, when I read a novel, even if the experience is totally alien to me and my life, I can engage with characters whose experiences are far outside of my realm. I don’t say “Well, that’s not a reflection of my own existence, so the story can have no impact on my emotions.””

    Well, I read it more as going overboard with the: “I found it and the characters dull but don’t want to offend people who have liked it so am stressing that my reaction was all about me, not the book”. From the reaction, he probably would have been better off just saying that he found it dull!

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  95. CD
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 00:48:14

    @AJH:

    “Let me see, I’ve got The Dream Hunter, The Unsung Hero, Captives of the Night, Naked in Death, and Slave to Sensation. It’s going to be fabulous holiday”

    Ooohhh!!! I love THE DREAM HUNTER. I’m one of the few who loved Zenia – yes, even in the second half. And Arden is too delicious for words. FOR MY LADY’S HEART is definitely my favourite Kinsale, but TDH and THE SHADOW AND THE STAR are close behind…

    But only one Chase? What happened to LORD PERFECT and THE DEVIL’S DELILAH? What sort of vacation is that?!

    BTW, I’m also a Robin McKinley fangirl – the only thing wrong with her is that she doesn’t write enough books… And now you got me hankering for cinnamon buns.

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  96. AJH
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 06:22:53

    @Joy:

    Thanks for the good wishes. I think well written historicals do occupy the same sort of mental space as fantasy or parnoramals. I especially find that with Laura Kinsale actually because she tends to depict quite a specific history, rather than the generic past, so that feels almost like a secondary world to me.

    I think I underestimated how emotive this topic was going to be. I hope I haven’t upset too many people.

    @Jen:

    I think dismissiveness is very personal – what reads as dismissive to one person might read as entirely fair to the next. And I do actually understand why the original review felt dismissive to some people. I think I tend to write in quite an irreverent style, and I can see how that could come across very badly if I was writing about something I had difficulty engaging with.

    I genuinely don’t think it was the quietness that troubled me. Of the romances I’ve read, when they haven’t been turned up to eleven and full of explosions and monsters, I’ve really like internal conflicts resolved by, well, humans talking. But the particular domestic context of this book just didn’t really work for me at all.

    Like you, I very much categorise as reading preference thing, not a gender thing. Obviously gender influences how we respond to things and our understand of the world, but so do so many factors I’m very uncomfortable singling out one as primary.

    @Elyssa Patrick:

    I think the term male gaze has been used in a variety of different and occasionally contradictory ways in this thread. I do agree that referring to Pippa as a MILF was inappropriate and objectifying, and for that I apologise.

    One of the things that confused me when I was reading, and that I tried perhaps unsuccessfully to articulate in the review, is the book seemed to go out of its way to distance Pippa from the less conventionally sexy elements of motherhood. All the same, I shouldn’t have reached for such a loaded and offensive term to encapsulate what I saw as a difficulty in the text.

    It honestly wasn’t my intent to casually or cruelly dismiss the book. It’s just I found it so personally unengaging I genuinely had difficulty articulating my feelings about it. And while I was rationally aware there were good things going on, they had no reality for me because I was so stuck outside the text.

    Again, I can’t really judge because I haven’t read enough, but I don’t think the quietness was the issue, so much as the particulars of the domestic fantasy as presented. I’m never going to be a man who fixes a woman’s ceiling, and I don’t want or need a woman to cook me a meal (unless she really wants to) so it just felt like the whole book was grounded in values I don’t share.

    @Jane:

    You are clearly making a distinction between what you feel is the “norm” and your criticisms of those who violate whatever “norm” has been created

    You seem to be conflating several elements of the review here, which makes this a little bit difficult to unpack. There were aspects of the portrayal of children and parenting that struck me – from my admittedly limited experience – as just being unrealistic. Obviously, realism is quite subjective and children are very different, but I don’t think personally finding something unrealistic is the same as establishing a norm and criticising people who deviate it from it.

    I’m not even sure what that would mean in this context. Are you saying my review is somehow insulting to people whose children are well behaved?

    You asserted value judgments about how women should feel about their breasts, their bodies post pregnancy, and yes, even their children.

    Again, I’m very sorry if it came across that way but I really don’t think I did this.
    I think, ironically, the problem we’re having here is that I read the book as making value judgements about all of these things and responded against them.

    So, for example, I read the book as suggesting women who breastfed weren’t allowed to feel like sexual beings and so I responded by saying they could. I read it as suggesting that feeling comfortable “flinging” your breasts around was a side effect of breastfeeding, and so I responded by saying it wasn’t. I felt that Pippa’s unflagging patience with her child reinforced some quite harmful stereotypes about how it is and is not appropriate to feel about your children. So, once again, I responded by saying it was okay to get cross with your kid sometimes.

    It seems like you don’t see those judgements as existing in the text, which is a perfectly valid reading, but it doesn’t square with my own, and I think that’s the source of our disagreement.

    @Willaful:

    Thank you for the good wishes – I’m very much looking forward to my holiday.

    I think everyone looks for sources of identification in a text and, if you can’t find them, it is genuinely difficult to enjoy the book. Obviously, as a white cisgendered man this isn’t a problem I usually have, and my problems engaging with SUDDENLY YOU are very much “this book isn’t for me” problems not “oh my God this book is misandrist” problems.

    @Jane:

    To me, the context doesn’t change my reading.

    Of course she’s embarrassed to have flashed Harry – that’s perfectly understandable. If someone undressed me in front of someone I fancied, I’d be pretty mortified as well.

    But what I don’t understand is why it felt the need to take a random sideswipe at women who breastfed. To me, whether it is or is not embarrassing for you your child to unbutton your blouse in front of the guy you like is wholly unrelated to how you fed that child when they were a baby.

    @Barb:

    Thanks for the comment, Barb. I think I’d underestimated quite how emotive the breastfeeding issue was – from the comments, it seems to be an absolute nightmare of judgement and censure not matter what you do, or how you express it.

    The male gaze has been used quite flexibility in this thread, and I do admit that I have used some dismissive language in this review and I don’t object to people picking me up on it.

    @Deljah:

    Obviously it’s not my place to tell people what they are and aren’t allowed to disagree with me about, and what form that disagreement is and is not allowed to take. And I think, generally, if you say something that upsets someone, no matter how often or sincerely you apologise, they’re never under any obligation to turn around and say “oh that’s all right then.”

    To me, it’s very much a matter of textual interpretation: I see that paragraph as dismissive value judgement on women who breastfed, but if you don’t see that in the paragraph, then my reaction to it probably comes across really badly.

    @Robin/Janet:

    I know we’re going round in circles a bit here but, again, I think the fundamental source of disagreement here is that I don’t read that passage as being Pippa’s thoughts about her breasts at all. To me, the text seems to be making very absolutist and unhelpful statements about women who aren’t Pippa.

    Pippa’s insecurity about her own breasts, I’m perfectly okay with. It’s not something I’m in a position to comment on. I’m sure it’s very realistic. I’m sorry if it felt like I was suggesting otherwise.

    Going back to the text, it’s the fact that the authorial voice asserts as a matter of fact that a generic non-specified woman who had breastfed would not see her breasts as intimate and sexual and, therefore, would not be embarrassed to have her child unbutton her blouse in front of a man she is attracted to.

    This struck me as a gross and rather problematic generalisation. Maybe some women would be fine with that, maybe some women wouldn’t, but I’m not sure that connects directly to breastfeed or, for that matter, to your sense of yourself as a sexual being.

    I think – having followed this discussion – that the people to whom this sequence reads non-problematically see it as Pippa articulating that she feels in herself that she lacks a confidence in her breasts that she perceives women who have breastfed as having. In which case, I totally understand why everyone is furious at me.

    But I think you can only get to that reading if you’re a bit more aware of the cultural and genre contexts you’ve articulated for me. To me, as someone who is new to the subgenre, it felt a lot like – as I said in the review – that scene was saying to me “but don’t worry, she’s the hot sort of mum.” I kind of felt the book in general seemed to be going out of its way to emphasise Pippa’s sexiness by contrast to other mother’s. I think this is part of what led me to my inappropriate and ill-considered use of the term MILF to describe her at the start.

    To be honest, I think the part of the problem here is that I don’t think either of us can see where the other person’s reading is coming from. I think I’ve finally got to a place where I can sort of rationally understand how other people must be interpreting it but I just can’t get to that from the words I see in front of me.

    (Thanks for the recommendings by the way, I actually quite enjoy 18th and 19th century domestic novels –the books Eliot described as silly novels by silly lady novelists. But, again, I find the problems in them easier to parse because I can keep them at arm’s length).

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  97. Imelda Evans
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 06:54:26

    AJ, just wanted to say that I thought your review was fair and balanced and actually, I don’t think it would put off people who are in the market for Sarah’s books. I haven’t read this one, but I’ve read a few and enjoyed them and if anything, your review made me curious to read this and see if I agreed. It’s a shame you didn’t enjoy it, but we don’t all like the same things. There’s a place for all sorts of stories in this big bad (or even quite domestic) world!

    Have a great holiday and I’ll look forward to the next review!

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  98. Maddie Grove
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 07:00:12

    @Moriah Jovan: I did say, in so many words, that I have no problem with a heroine sometimes being mean or unfair. I just don’t think that’s intended to be part of Pippa’s character. If I’m feeling charitable, the author made some unfortunate word choices that inadvertently echoed some really horrible arguments made (mostly by men) against public breastfeeding. I doubt anyone involved, fictional or not, actually wants to ban public breastfeeding, but I got an intense feeling of irritation and alienation when the talk about flinging started.

    Also, while it’s relatively rare for a heroine to DO something bad, I’ve found that being judgmental about other women is too common in fiction to be inherently refreshing, and too common in real life to be fun.

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  99. Diana
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 08:09:12

    @CD: I’m just going to go-ahead and co-sign your post. :) . I downloaded the excerpt for this book, realized it wasn’t my thing and moved on. Sarah Mayberry/cosy-domestic romances have never been my jam, no offense meant to people who enjoy them!

    And… Just to throw it out there, I also read a lot of internalized, problematic issues in the way that Pippa described breastfeeding. Yes, it was about her self-esteem, I think, but the way she choose to describe breastfeeding with those casually flinging breasts (and the implications behind it of sexiness vs. motherhood) had me wincing a bit. I’m a breastfeeding mom and that bit took me back again to the bite of shame I used to feel when breastfeeding in a public space, in front of others. I appreciate the sensitivity and non-judgement in this review regarding the breastfeeding topic; I found it very refreshing. :)

    I hope you enjoy your vacation, AJH! Mark me down as someone who loves some Zenia in The Dream Hunter. She is prickly, maddening and I love her! I am also in the camp of not being a huge fan of categories (exception: Sarah Morgan), but if you’re going to take a journey into Charlotte Lamb territory — Vampire Lover, as suggested by Robin/Janet — I would also recommend considering some of her earlier books (Forbidden Fire, The Long Surrender, etc).

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  100. Tina
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 08:57:50

    Disclaimer — I loved this book. Really did. And more, I really like Sarah Mayberry’s writing because she doesn’t write about flashy Navy SEALS rappelling from helicopters or BDSM billionaires or Werewolves snarling ‘MINE!’ all the time. You just need to normalcy of regular people falling in love sometimes.

    As I read your review I simply couldn’t find the book I read in it. It makes me think about the nature of reviews and perspective and what jumps out for one person may not necessarily for another.

    I could tell right off the bat that you simply didn’t engage with the book and that is perfectly legit. Non-engagement is another aspect of reading and reviewing and I respect it. I know that when I don’t engage in a book and then write a review I tend to highlight those things that did jump at me. And more often than not they are not flattering to the book.

    So as I read this review and the ensuing comments I had to think and say ‘Wait…Pippa talked about breastfeeding?’ Because to me it was such a small moment and a throwaway comment so negligible really, that it did not even register with me at all.

    Instead, for me the book was all about Harry. It was an examination of his place at this crossroads where he was suddenly being confronted with how he lived. His contentment on having no responsibilities, his happiness with a simple 9-to-5 job where he can easily check out at the end of the day with no worries. His satisfaction as being able to party on the weekends and bang a different woman each time. So now he is attracted to a woman who has the type of responsibilities he’s always shunned and on top of that his father is pressuring him to take on more work related responsibilities. For me this whole book was how Harry responded to these challenges.

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  101. AJH
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 09:09:23

    @Jen:

    I think this is definitely a situation where interpretations vary.

    I saw it as pejorative but a lot of people didn’t and I guess if you didn’t read it that way, then my response seems strange at best and judgemental at worst.

    @Kaetrin:

    I think there are a lot of factors at work here – culture, class and stage of life. Neither of them felt like anyone I’ve ever really interacted in on a personal level. I guess maybe someone like Pippa in a professional context, but men like Harry aren’t generally friends with men like me. The way he lives his life and the way he interacts with Obnoxious Steve, although I think it’s probably fairly recognisable as certain type of male subculture, is just nothing like the way I socialise.

    I am genuinely sorry that the review came across as dismissive, I was just bewildered by my lack of response to it, and I didn’t really know how to articulate it or discuss the text. As you say, books are about connections between reader and writer and the characters between. There was just nothing here I could hold onto.

    @Jen:

    I think that’s entirely fair and I do very much respect everyone’s position in this. I am troubled that the review came across as dismissive or marginalising, which was not my intent.

    Having read the comments and understood a little more about the context, it’s hard for me to disentangle my own negative reaction.

    I don’t think I’m against quiet or mundane stories, in general. It’s just that this book, in particular, didn’t work for me at all.

    @Meriam:
    *high-five* I love Edinburgh, I go every year.

    @cleo:

    I’m really sorry for responding so badly to one of your recs. As you say, reading is very personal. I do wonder if a greater familiarity with category would have helped. I did spent a lot of time just feeling lost. I might have look at Crusie’s early work, since I already I respond very positively to her writing, so it might ease me in a bit.

    @Maria:

    Boring is very subjective. As I think I said right at the beginning of one of my first posts, a lot of it comes down to what you’re expecting to find in a text at the first place. I find Lord of the Rings boring because it contains far too much walking and storytelling, and nowhere near enough plot or characterisation. But, again, that’s a purely personal judgement. And I know for a fact that I’ve responded very positively to books that other people have found as dull as ditchwater (SUNSHINE is actually a good example, I never got bored of the heroine baking).

    I think what I was trying to get at in my review is exactly what you say here – that ceasing to think about your breasts in a sexual way is not an inevitable consequence of breastfeeding, and that basically how women feel about their bodies is kind their bag and nobody else’s.

    But obviously, again, that comes down to how you interpret that paragraph and a lot of people clearly read it as Pippa’s internal reflections on her own body.

    @Meriam:

    MILF is a difficult one. I’m aware that some people see it as completely innocuous, while others see as deeply misogynistic. And I do normally try to avoid language that people see as deeply misogynistic.

    I do quite often the bangability of otherwise of characters in books, but I think because of the context here it came across very differently. I think since I didn’t have very much to say about Pippa as a person, mentioning her physical attributes just came across a bit creepy and objectifying, which again wasn’t my intent but, as I think I’ve established quite firmly, I had real trouble with this review.

    Basically, what I was trying to communicate was bewilderment. Mayberry does want to present Pippa as attractive and sexually desirable, and I was trying to communicate that she had succeeded, but I did it really badly because when you’re not interested in a character, it’s really hard to appreciate anything about them at all.

    @Deljah:

    As I say above, I think because this was a more negative review and because I had less substantive things to say about the book since I had so much difficulty engaging with it, I think that changed the context of my idle speculations on the attractiveness or otherwise of the characters.

    And although I do stand by my assertion that I think my problems with this book were to do with expectations, genre-familiarity and this specific text, rather than gender, I think some people have raised some quite valid points about the gendered nature of this type of story in general.

    Obviously I’m very new to romance, and even newer to its various sub-divisions, but I understand that even within romance, category is often a little bit looked down upon. So I can see why people were disappointed that I wasn’t able to engage with this book as thoroughly as I’ve engaged with others.

    @Barb:

    For what it’s worth, I think people are right to point out that there is a wider context to reactions to this kind of book. And, to an extent, I don’t feel like I’m being condemned here, I think people are expressing disappointment. I’m a little disappointed with myself in some ways because I don’t think this review is up to my usual standard. I had such difficulty reading the book, I probably wouldn’t have chosen to write about it if I hadn’t already made a commitment to do so.

    @Shelley:

    Obviously I can’t convince of what was going on in my head when I started reading this book, but I assure you I didn’t go into SUDDENLY YOU expecting or wanting to react to it in any particular way. By contrast, I have reviewed a couple of books I have gone into expecting to hate, but have still come out with a reasonable response to at the end.

    I’m sorry if it came across as a refusal to connect – I just genuinely couldn’t. I agree my comments on Pippa were somewhat tepid but I don’t think I said anything especially negative about her, apart from the one paragraph I quoted in which the text itself seemed to be randomly judgemental about other women.
    As for comparing SUDDENLY YOU to BARED TO YOU, I think the difference between the two books is that BTY didn’t expect me to run around in social circles consisting of sexy billionaire psychos. So I was able to understand why dominant sexy billionaire psycho might be a fantasy for someone. By contrast, because SUDDENLY YOU was a lot more lowkey, I felt like it expected me to have an element of familiarity with those people and their situations. And I, well, didn’t.
    I don’t have a social circle consisting of sexy billionaire psychos but nor do I have a group of mates with whom I drink, talk about cars and go out to pick up women. I could be wrong but I think an integral part of this kind of fantasy – as opposed to the sexy billionaire fantasy or the sexy vampire fantasy or the sexy shapeshifting panther dude in an alt-history cyberpunk future fantasy – is an expectation of recognition. And there’s something a little bit alienating about not recognising yourself when you feel like you’re supposed to.

    To be honest, I’m not sure any more what this “type” of book actually means? Category romances? I don’t know, I haven’t read enough. Domestic romances, again, I don’t know, I haven’t read enough. Sarah Mayberry? Again, I don’t know, maybe I just picked the wrong text.

    I know you feel that I went into this book determined not to like it, and I apologise for that. But I honestly didn’t go into it with any expectations whatsoever.

    @Janine:

    I think you might be onto something there. I was already quite frustrated with the book by the time I got to the breastfeeding paragraph, and I think it was fairly clear early on this wasn’t going to be the sort of thing I could get a grip on. I found finishing this book and writing this review extremely difficult, and I’m very much aware it’s not my best work.

    @CD:

    I actually sort of finished THE DREAM HUNTER before I went on holiday, like somebody eating their popcorn in the cinema before the film starts. It was wonderful. Zenia is awful, frankly, but I fell in love with her in the first half and her fears and her sense of dual cultural alienation was so well realised that I sort of stayed in love with her anyway, and desperately wanted her to find some sort of happiness. And Arden was, as you say, too delicious for words. Like Burton and TE Lawrence and all those wonderful imperialist bastards rolled into one person and made very very hot.

    Actually I have much Chase. Cough. Including LORD PERFECT.

    @Imelda Evans:

    Thanks for the good wishes. I know this probably sounds weird but I don’t think this type of negative review is necessarily going to put anyone off reading. I think we can recognise from a review whether your response will coincide with the reviewer’s. I’ve seen a few in this thread say they’re going to buy it now. And, truthfully, if you think you’d like this, I think you should buy the book. I don’t think SUDDENLY YOU is at all a bad book. I just … didn’t like it.

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  102. Jill Sorenson
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 09:23:37

    So many great comments here. I think part of the problem is the tone of the review, as Liz pointed out upthread, and the defensiveness in the thread. I don’t have any problem with @AJH disliking this book, rejecting traditional gender roles or having no interest in “domestic realism.” I just don’t agree with his reading of this book and the breastfeeding passage in particular. If I remember correctly, Pippa is exhausted and struggling to make ends meet. She’s not taking pains with her appearance or trying to attract men. I don’t think the text supports Pippa as a MILF and I can see why some women took insult to the term. Does a red bra make you a MILF?

    I don’t feel that anyone is making attacks based on gender. Those of us who are more familiar with the issues raised in the review are offering alternate viewpoints. It’s not just that we have different readings of the text; we have different life experiences, as women, to back up our readings. I see @AJH making an effort to understand, but maybe making more of an effort to defend his interpretation.

    Many readers have spoken up to say they don’t like Mayberry’s books. Some women agree with AJH’s interpretation of the breastfeeding sentence. Those of us who’ve read the book all seem to disagree (correct me if I’m wrong there) with him. The thing is, we’re not just more familiar with the issues raised, we know this author. We know the genre. There’s no way Mayberry is using Pippa as a mouthpiece to express anti-breastfeeding views or value judgements on female modesty. We’ve read this author’s other works, and her smart comments about women’s issues. We know her style.

    I appreciate AJH’s reviews, but my initial reaction to this one was very negative. I hope he can take a step back and process some of these comments as educated opinions about women from women, not just different interpretations of a tiny piece of text.

    Moving on from this, I’d like to throw out a rec for Cara McKenna. I haven’t read much by her but my impression is of erotic realism, rather than domestic, and (maybe) less traditional gender roles.

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  103. cleo
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 09:59:34

    @ Tina – Well said! Harry’s emotional growth was one of the many things I loved about this book.

    @ Jill – Also well said. You put your finger on why the MILF comment bugged me. I didn’t read the text as trying to make me see Pippa as a sexy mom – I read her as a smart, funny, overwhelmed young woman with a child.

    I did want to comment that I agree with AJH’s reading of Steve. I liked that he’s not a cardboard villan and that Harry is able to help him be less of an asshole. I thought that wa well done

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  104. Shelley
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 10:35:11

    @AJH:

    “I know you feel that I went into this book determined not to like it, and I apologise for that. But I honestly didn’t go into it with any expectations whatsoever.”

    You must like this book! I command it! Just joking. Maybe. I really am ok with your not liking it. Really. I think you should be made to read a few Harlequin Presents (except for Sarah Morgan) category novels, then you’ll really know what torture really is. Just joking. Sort of.

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  105. Shelley
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 10:38:23

    @cleo:

    Ditto on all of this. Did you really see Steve as less of an asshole? Maybe I need to reread cuz I didn’t. He was a class A jerk throughout to me. I know there are people like that in real life but damn, he made me mad! :-/

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  106. Meri
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 11:31:14

    @Jill Sorenson:
    I’m going to avoid the breastfeeding discussion this time, other than to say that what readers take from a text is often not the author’s intention, but of course once the book is out there, there will be different interpretations and reactions to it. I have read Sarah Mayberry before, and I no doubt that she did not intend to suggest that breastfeeding (or not breastfeeding) is bad – but I still felt that paragraph was problematic as written (though as I noted yesterday, not for the reasons AJH did).

    Moving on from this, I’d like to throw out a rec for Cara McKenna. I haven’t read much by her but my impression is of erotic realism, rather than domestic, and (maybe) less traditional gender roles.

    Oh, yes! AJH, you should definitely add After Hours to your list.

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  107. Liz Mc2
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 11:33:06

    A number of people have referred back to my comment so I feel the need (probably only in my own head) to clarify what I mean when I said I found this review dismissive. It’s not because AJH found the book boring. I don’t care if people are bored by this book and others of its ilk and decide never to read this kind of thing. I pretty much avoid PNR and small-town contemporaries for the same reason. (Though I do think you can say “not for me” without the damning with faint praise tone).

    And it’s not just the tone. It’s that there is so little substance here. Is there a conflict in the book? Issues the characters are dealing with? A plot beyond DIY and shagging? I don’t really know–so no wonder it sounds boring.

    The question of whether a reader needs to be able to identify more closely with the characters in a quiet, domestic contemporary book like this than in one with dragons, viscounts or kinky billionaires? Also interesting, but not unpacked in the review, which basically just says “I can’t see myself here and it doesn’t push my buttons so I have nothing to say really” (this, to me, is maybe the most dismissive aspect, because it basically treats the genre as fantasy material, not fiction).

    And then there is the part about this vision of HEA domesticity being exclusionary, which is left vague. Is it because it is so heteronormative and gender-typical? Because “family” seems to include a child by definition? I think these are all issues in category particularly, and romance more generally, that are worth talking about–we’ve talked about them before–but I’m not even clear from the review if that’s what AJH means.

    It’s hard to engage intellectually with a book that doesn’t grab you. And most of the time, we don’t bother. But I feel like AJH has established an agenda for these reviews and didn’t follow through with this one, and that did seem dismissive to me, especially given the specific subject-matter of this book.

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  108. Darlynne
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 11:45:53

    It only wanted this.

    Those of us who are more familiar with the issues raised in the review are offering alternate viewpoints. It’s not just that we have different readings of the text; we have different life experiences, as women, to back up our readings. I see @AJH making an effort to understand, but maybe making more of an effort to defend his interpretation.

    The thing is, we’re not just more familiar with the issues raised, we know this author. We know the genre.

    Let me make sure I understand. Only people who know an author’s work are qualified to write a thoughtful, detailed review of that author’s book. Only people with breasts or a particular life experience can talk intelligently, or at all, about breasts or that life experience. Only people who are familiar with category romance can comment adequately, or in a way that we agree with, on their own reading experience within the same.

    Got it. ‘Cause, you know, no one around here ever talks about penises or what to do with one, since most of us don’t have one.

    What bothers me the most about this whole topic: We’ve enjoyed these reviews, they are a lot of
    fun. They can be snarky. I like them the same way I like RedHeadedGirl’s reviews at SBTB and
    Kelly’s at Insta-Love Book Reviews. I don’t care about a reviewer’s gender, life experience or hat
    size. I care that she or he describes their experience of the book honestly, articulately, what they liked or disliked, and does so from their perspective as a human being. Not mine, not yours, theirs. I cannot and will not ask for more than that.

    But here we are, hoping he can take a step back and process some of these comments as educated opinions about women from women, not just different interpretations of a tiny piece of text.

    Asked and answered, many times above.

    Apparently, it’s not enough for us; apparently we say we want to hear from other reviewers with other POVs, but only within a very defined and proscribed way, one that runs in line with our own.

    I don’t usually stick my neck out like this, but telling a reviewer that you don’t agree with his
    “reading” of a book? Give me a break.

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  109. Willaful
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 11:51:06

    @AJH: “And there’s something a little bit alienating about not recognising yourself when you feel like you’re supposed to.”

    You know, this is something I’ve gotten so used to when reading romances, it kind of just flows over me now. (And perhaps I’ve also gotten better at avoiding the kind of books in which it’s most likely to happen.) It’s interesting to see it from the perspective of someone new-ish to the genre. I rarely see myself in romance, I rarely see men like my husband in romance, I rarely see (TMI) sex the way we have it in romance. Everything from friendships to politics to relationships to food… there’s this whole general idea of how they’re supposed to be that I don’t relate to, and have just gotten used to no relating to. Or perhaps even start to think I do relate to.

    After watching some really disappointing children’s movies, I was just thinking about how the stories we consistently tell reinforce themselves, and become a vicious cycle. Maybe I need to be more aware of these things in romance.

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  110. cleo
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 13:04:01

    @Shelley – at the end of the book Steve acknowledged his daughter by setting up a trust fund for her and agreeing to pay child support. He still wants nothing to do with her but he’s meeting his financial obligation. So, in my book he’s less of an asshole. Or maybe he’s still a complete asshole, but his behavior is better. Whatever – it’s an improvement and it’s because of his fight / talk with Harry.

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  111. Robin/Janet
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 13:14:18

    @AJH:

    Going back to the text, it’s the fact that the authorial voice asserts as a matter of fact that a generic non-specified woman who had breastfed would not see her breasts as intimate and sexual and, therefore, would not be embarrassed to have her child unbutton her blouse in front of a man she is attracted to.

    Can you break down why you see this as the authorial voice and not as Pippa’s voice and experience?

    Again, I can’t really judge because I haven’t read enough, but I don’t think the quietness was the issue, so much as the particulars of the domestic fantasy as presented. I’m never going to be a man who fixes a woman’s ceiling, and I don’t want or need a woman to cook me a meal (unless she really wants to) so it just felt like the whole book was grounded in values I don’t share.

    You’ve mentioned values a number of times, and I’m curious about what, specifically, is different about this book than, say, the Brockmann book you liked more. Or Abe’s The Smoke Thief. Especially since I think Romance *as a genre* is circling around a somewhat shared set of values (first and foremost: domesticity, which is why I’m shaking my head at the references folks have made to Mayberry as domestic Romance, when, in fact, the whole freaking genre is about the domestic). And also in light of this comment you made: “And maybe that’s the nature of this fantasy: a child who never gets in the way of your bonking, but, for me, my fantasies need an edge of reality to let me truly lose myself in them.” Because I think there are some readers who would argue that Mayberry’s text is the height of realism next to, say, The Smoke Thief. And if it all revolves back to this: “And there’s something a little bit alienating about not recognising yourself when you feel like you’re supposed to,” then what is the basis for recognition?

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  112. Willaful
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 13:22:44

    AJH — if you’re still around, I’m expanding what I wrote into a blog post and hope you don’t mind if I quote some of your comments.

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  113. AJH
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 13:32:15

    @Tina:

    I think it’s kind of often the case when somebody has a radically different response to a text from you, that’s it almost like they read a completely different book. I think you’re very right that not being able to engage with the book meant that things stood out for me that didn’t stand out for other people.

    To be honest, the breastfeeding thing was throwaway to me as well. I just happened to notice when I was reading, and I thought it was a bit odd and kind of problematic. It didn’t shape or particularly change my reaction to the book, I just mentioned it because it struck me as this really weird detour into … well … apparently making judgements about other women.

    It’s really interesting you interpreted the book as being all about Harry and, actually, I can rationally see that. But, once again, I just couldn’t engage with his arc. Basically he went from one life I’m not invested in to another life I’m not invested in.

    @Jill Sorenson:

    Obviously you’re not obliged to agree with my reading of the book, but I find it faintly troubling that you seem to be suggesting that my reading is not only different from yours but actually invalid. I don’t really see myself as defending my reading so much as explaining it because, as I think I’ve said many times, most of the disagreements I seem to be having with people on this thread result from their interpreting the book in a fundamentally different way from me.

    On the MILF thing, I absolutely don’t want to put words into other people’s mouths, but I think what other commenters found objectionable about the term MILF is not what you seem to be objecting to here. I think a lot of people feel that MILF is an inherently misogynistic term whereas you seem to feel that the problem is that I describe Pippa as a MILF when she isn’t one. I could be wrong about this but, to my mind, those are two very different sets of complaints. The first is just a matter of my failing to avoid misogynistic language, which is something I should know better than to do. Whereas I’m a little confused by the second because I’m not sure whether Pippa is a MILF or not is relevant to the fact I shouldn’t have used that language in the first place.

    Outside that problematic term, we’re still in a space of interpretation since I read the text as explicitly trying to emphasise that Pippa is still sexy, despite being a mother, overwhelmed, impoverished etc. I can understand why you might have interpreted it differently but it’s still a matter of interpretation and texts, by their nature, support multiple readings. Often other people’s readings will help me nuance and contextualise my own but I think it’s rare to completely change your inherent emotional reaction to a text or a character.

    Also I’m wary of the idea that having read more of a particular author’s work makes your interpretation of an individual text, be that a book, a chapter or a scene, more valid than the interpretation of a person who has read less of that particular author’s work. I’m not suggesting that Sarah Mayberry has some sinister anti-breastfeeding agenda, but that doesn’t change the fact that there were elements of this book that I found troubling. And I respect the fact that other people do not find them troubling but that doesn’t mean I have obligation not to be troubled by them.

    I’m also wary of the notion that you have to have read a book to have an opinion about whether a particular element of that book is problematic. If nothing else, people tend to avoid reading books that contain elements they find personally problematic. I know I do.

    I know the breastfeeding line is one small throwaway line but it made genuinely uncomfortable and was part of a number of other things that also made me genuinely uncomfortable. Again, I’m willing to listen to and respect other people’s responses to the book, but that doesn’t undo my discomfort.

    @Shelley:

    :)

    I do understand why you were troubled and upset by my review. When somebody appears to be dismissing something out of hand, or have gone into something in bad faith, it’s totally infuriating.

    @Liz Mc2:

    Again, I think this is a very fair comment. And, again, I really struggled writing this review because I really didn’t want to treat the book unfairly. I realise I may not have been entirely successful in that regard.

    And, basically, yes my most personal problem with this book is that – to me – it felt deeply and uncomfortably heteronormative and gender-typical. On the other hand, I really didn’t feel it was my place to raise that as a criticism. I thought that, as a white dude, it would just be profoundly annoying. Most of culture is for me anyway.

    In hindsight, this was probably an error but I really didn’t want to give the impression that I was coming into the community and making self-righteous declarations about exclusion because, well, it’s not really my place to do that.

    Also, as I said in the review, the book is just not for me. It doesn’t want to be for me. And that’s okay. It clearly is for a lot of people – and enjoying a fantasy that I personally found heteronormative and gender-typical is entirely legitimate. I just felt that it would be borderline hypocritical of me to engage with this book in those terms and, ironically, I did really think that would be dismissive since I’m very aware that accusing a genre already targeted at a marginalised group for not being sufficiently targeted at slightly different marginalised groups is not something I feel is appropriate to do as a genre outsider.

    Unfortunately that left me with very little to talk about, beyond a sort of vague sense of disengagement, unease and discomfort. And, looking back on it, I don’t think I’d quite recognised how far that sense of discomfort I still feel is only semi-legitimate had made me completely resistant to everything else in the book.

    @Willaful:

    It’s possible I over-reacted because I’m simply too used to all media I consume being basically targeted at me personally.

    Obviously I don’t particularly identify with psychotic billionaires or 18th century virgins, and that wouldn’t be a natural fantasy for me either, but I think – as I was sort of saying above – because they’re not really meant to reflect me or anyone I know, it washes quite happily.

    Normally, I don’t look for myself at all – and, actually, when you do find yourself it’s really nice but a little bit rare. I remember liking Cal in lot in BET ME because he seemed genuinely like someone I might be friends with.

    But I think what I got in a tizzy about with SUDDENLY YOU is that the low key realism of it made me sort of feel I supposed to identify with the characters, their lives and their aspirations, on a more personal level. And I, well, didn’t. I mean, nobody reads 50 SHADES OF GREY and feels like they’re expected to be Christian Grey. But I kind of felt like maybe I was expected to be Harry and want a woman like Pippa. And, actually, Pippa was fine but she’d probably want me to fix her ceiling and I wouldn’t be able to do that, so she’d get terribly disappointed and it would all be awful.

    PS – you’re very welcome to use any of my comments that you like :)

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  114. Shelley
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 13:38:08

    @cleo:

    Well, how the hell did I miss that? Duh. Thanks for pointing that out. Yes, he does come down slightly on the asshole meter. :o)

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  115. cleo
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 13:52:14

    @AJH @ Willaful – that’s a really interesting point about seeing yourself in a book. This thread has me thinking about how I relate to and want to relate to fictional characters. I’m not sure I expect to see myself (which doesn’t really happen) but I do want to connect emotionally, or read something that feels emotionally true ( if not objectively true).

    I get that SY didn’t resonate emotionally with AJH, and that he didn’t connect with that characters and that’s ok. For me, Harry’s courtship of Pippa worked emotionally – it wasn’t really about fixing things. I don’t need a man who can fix my ceiling, but I do want a partner who will show up and pitch in when my life is falling apart. For me, Harry sending Pippa care packages was as emotionally resonate as Cal buying Min bunny slippers – it’s not about the stuff, it’s about truly seeing someone.

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  116. cleo
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 14:28:34

    @AJH – I can see how this could be too heteronormative and gender typical for you. That’s interesting to me, because SY is definitely more het-norm and gender typical than I am but it still worked for me. I’m a bi woman, childless by choice, married to a nurturing straight man who would LOVE it if I would just earn enough so he could stay home and cook for me. And yet, SY worked for me at an emotional level. I guess, at some level, I read romances, even the so called realistic ones, as a type of fairy tale.

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  117. AJH
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 14:29:18

    @Robin/Janet:

    Obviously it’s a very short line, so it comes down to some very minor things but it’s largely the neutral tone in which the cause and effect is expressed. It’s descriptive, not emotive, and moves from the specific to the general in a way that I read as quite absolutist.

    It says that Pippa was unsuccessful at breastfeeding. That seems perfectly uncontroversial. It then goes on to say that, as a consequence, she wasn’t nearly as comfortable flinging her breasts around as some of her friends. I felt that flinging was a little pejorative but I was basically okay with that as character exposition. Again, I feel this is still uncontroversial because, to me, that reads as Pippa being uncomfortable exposing her breasts as a result of being unsuccessful at breastfeeding, which seems perfectly reasonable and understandable.
    However, I’d also say that this does not read as Pippa’s viewpoint, it reads as the narrator expositing facts about Pippa’s character: she did not breastfeed, this meant that she was self-conscious about her breasts.

    The problem, for me, comes with the next line which, again, is delivered in the same neutral, factual tone and contextualised by the two preceding lines. The issue, for me, with this third line is that it recontexualises Pippa’s discomfort relative to her friends from being her insecurities about not having breastfed, when her friends did, to her breasts being about sex and intimacy, when her friends’ aren’t.

    If it was just about Pippa’s breasts, the distinction between character voice and narrative voice wouldn’t be an issue because all the narrative would be doing would be describing Pippa’s feelings about her own body, which is entirely Pippa’s affair. But because the friends are in there as well, suddenly we’ve gone from the narrative voice describing Pippa’s personal feelings about her own situation to describing – in what felt to me to be a very over-generalised, absolutist way – the differences between women who have breastfed and women who have not breastfed.

    Obviously this is just an interpretation, but I think it’s textually supported. It’s not to say, however, it’s the only interpretation.

    On values, as I said to Liz above, a lot of it comes down to the gender normativity and the heteronormativity. Basically the whole concept woman who cooks, man who fixes things is something I’ve been running away from my whole life. Again, I absolutely don’t think it’s my place to criticise this book on the grounds of its portrayal of gender because I’m very much aware, for a lot of people, being able to make the choice to live a life within conventional gender roles is very powerful and important. But it’s just very hard for me to engage with the story of two people who want something that is fundamentally at odds with what I want.
    It’s not the domesticity in general. As you observe, all romance has a strong domestic element, and I do understand the appeal. I want love and family and a ceiling that doesn’t break as well. Just not in the way its presented in this book.

    And I should emphasise, as I did above, that I don’t think it’s wrong that I am not the target audience for this book. Or even necessarily that it reinforces conventional gender roles. It’s just that all of that made it not for me.

    Why I reacted badly this book, and not others, is so complicated and personal a question, I’m not sure I could meaningfully answer it. At least not within a sensible word count.

    @cleo:

    I think, as I’ve said above “seeing yourself” is complicated. I’ve read plenty of romances where I didn’t see anyone remotely like me or anyone I know. I think you’re right that connecting emotionally is more important than literally seeing someone that is like you.
    I can definitely see what you’re saying about Harry and Pippa. But, for me, that courtship was so rooted in doing Man Things that I failed to connect.

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  118. cleo
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 15:35:28

    “for me, that courtship was so rooted in doing Man Things that I failed to connect”

    @AJH – ah ha! Now I think I see where you’re coming from. I’ve had some pretty visceral negative reactions to romances where the courtship was rooted in GIRLY THINGS / a version of femininity that I’ve rejected, so I can see your point.

    I think it’s safe to say that there aren’t many romance heroes like Harry – that’s one of the reasons I suggested SY instead of the many other Mayberrys I love. But guys who fix things with their hands are rare in romance – unlike millionaires who fix things by spending lots of money, they’re quite common.

    Babies, on the other hand, are everywhere in romance. Although now that I think about it, this may be the first romance you’ve reviewed that had a child in it. But children are a big part of the genre, something that gets discussed a lot by romance fans, both pro and con.

    You might try a couple romances with children by authors you trust – although it may be that this part of the genre isn’t your thing. Jennifer Crusie has a retelling of The Turn of The Screw with a low key romance and two children who are integral to the plot and hea. Think it’s called Maybe This Time. Loretta Chase has a good one with a single mother – it might be called Lord Perfect, it’s the third in her Carsington series.

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  119. Robin/Janet
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 16:22:21

    @AJH: It’s descriptive, not emotive, and moves from the specific to the general in a way that I read as quite absolutist.

    Okay, I see what you’re saying. For me it’s very difficult to see this as anything but Pippa’s POV, albeit third person omniscient deep:

    Pippa tucked her chin and tried to rebutton her bodice one-handed, very aware of the warmth in her cheeks. Unlike many of the women in her mothers’ group, she had been unsuccessful at breast-feeding. A series of infections and an inadequate milk supply led her pediatrician to recommend bottle-feeding Alice when her daughter was barely a month old. Consequently, Pippa wasn’t nearly as casual about flinging her breasts around as some of her friends. TO HER, they were about sex and intimacy, not sustenance. [emphasis mine]

    The scene as a whole, before and after this passage, is from Pippa’s POV, her embarrassment at having her chest exposed to a guy who is a) the best friend of her baby’s deadbeat father, b) a guy who she is just only starting to see *as a guy*, and c) a guy who has just done her a huge favor, for which she feels a combination of shame, resentment, and relief. To me, this is clearly third person deep narration, consistent not only with her own character’s shyness (note the reference to getting “decent” in the next section, when she “rushes” to button up her top), but also with the way in which the relationship between she and Harry is just starting to edge toward something other than friend of an ex.

    I mean, check out her reaction, just a few paragraphs before, to Harry having fixed her car:

    The first emotion to hit her was shame. She’d thought she’d been doing a decent job of covering how damned desperate she was, but clearly Harry had seen straight through her. That he understood exactly how powerless she’d been to change her situation and had been moved to act was galling and humiliating in the extreme.

    And this: To think that not so long ago she’d prided herself on being unconventional and marching to the beat of her own drum. Whenever one of her more conservative friends had asked if she ever worried about the future, about owning a house or being able to afford to retire or having a career, Pippa had laughed and assured them she didn’t lose sleep over that stuff because she was too busy enjoying the journey.

    What a load of old bullocks.

    She’d been off with the fairies, tripping around in a fantasy world. Alice had been a cosmic wake-up call that it was time to stop playing around and grow up— there was nothing like being responsible for a tiny, helpless human being to sort a person’s priorities out, quick smart.

    Pippa propped an ankle on the opposite knee and massaged the arch of her foot, digging in her thumbs until it hurt. Her thoughts drifted to Harry’s visit the other morning. He’d been the last person she’d expected to find on her doorstep at 7: 30 a.m. Definitely he was one of the last people she would have chosen to catch her in her fluffy robe, complete with tangled bed hair and smudgy glasses. There was something very unsettling about being caught unprepared for the day by someone as dynamic and charismatic as Harry.

    She’s shy, she feels shame over her current lack of resources, and she is living a life that is not what she thought she would be. She never expected to be trying to balance school, parenthood, and being a sole income provider and single parenthood. And then this man, who has been nothing more than her ex’s best friend, does this incredible favor for her, right at the point where they are both beginning to see each other as something other than part of the ‘no go zone’ — Harry as Steve’s friend (on Pippa’s side), and Pippa as Steve’s ex (on Harry’s side).

    So, yeah, you can read that statement as absolutist and divorced from the context of the rest of the passage, but I think it fits so seamlessly into the way Mayberry has characterized Pippa and immersed the reader in her POV, that I guess I wonder why you’d want to pull it out and set it askew of the rest of the text. Why not read it as reflective of Pippa’s terrible embarrassment of being exposed to a man and *feeling* that as sexual, because she doesn’t have the comfort level of having breastfed everywhere in public? Especially when that sexual awareness is so much a part of that scene? To me, your reading seems like so much more narrative work, and what I mean by “work” is that I think you have to force your reading against the construction of the text, which does not strike me as inconsistent, unmastered, and erratically slipping in and out of Pippa’s POV.

    @AJH: On values, as I said to Liz above, a lot of it comes down to the gender normativity and the heteronormativity. Basically the whole concept woman who cooks, man who fixes things is something I’ve been running away from my whole life. Again, I absolutely don’t think it’s my place to criticise this book on the grounds of its portrayal of gender because I’m very much aware, for a lot of people, being able to make the choice to live a life within conventional gender roles is very powerful and important.

    Thank you for clarifying here. I actually wish you had started your review with this perspective, because it would have provided a context for your reading that we readers could have used to a) understand what you are defining as gender-typical and heteronormative; b) measure this against your interpretation of the book; and c) measure all that against our own interpretation of the book.

    I have a lot of thoughts about this, and they’re not at all well-ordered, so I apologize in advance for that.

    For me, this book isn’t any more gender-typical or heteronormative as the Gaffney book, the Crusie book, or the Brockmann you reviewed. Except for the lack of children, it seems to me that Min and Cal’s relationship is not exactly unconventional, especially when you think about the fact that Crusie consciously wrote that book in fairy tale format. So I’m wondering what makes SY that way for you.

    In terms of this book, Pippa makes it pretty clear that she had no fantasy of being a SAHM — and I assume that’s what you’re defining as gender-typical; if it’s not, please correct me. Sure, she cooks, and she even offers Harry a meal, but it’s not like she has a lot to offer him; food is one thing she has to be able to afford to buy, and she has to feed herself and Alice. And yeah, Harry’s a mechanic, but he’s also a surfer and a guy who likes to party. Is that gender-typical, and if so, in what ways? Would it have been better for you had the roles been reversed? What defines gender-typical behavior, and why couldn’t a same-sex couple have the exact same kind of dynamic? All of this kind of analysis would have, I think, been a way for you to engage with the book in ways that could have opened a really valuable discussion about how the genre constructs the concepts of home and family and domesticity. Instead, I think what happened was your review read like you were shut down, instead of reading as an authentic narrative of exclusion or marginalization by a text. I think a lot of us would have been really interested in the latter, especially those of us for whom this is also NOT our fantasy, but perhaps we found other things in the text to connect to or find interesting and engaging.

    But again, I would not have started you out in categories with Mayberry. Because you don’t have a lot of experience with the genre in general, you wouldn’t know that the fact that Harry is Steve’s friend is already a deviation from what would be considered gender-typical within the genre. The more stereotypical route would have been to have Steve and Pippa get back together and live happily ever after. That Mayberry pairs Pippa with her ex’s best friend, while the ex is still around, already goes against genre and gender cliches. You also see more working class heroes in categories, which is itself kind of against the fairy-tale fantasy of a book like To Have and To Hold, for example. Then there’s the whole issue of how, for a single parent who’s struggling financially, the opportunity to have an intact, financially secure fantasy *can be* a subversive fantasy. So there are many layers of norming and defying those norms and reconsidering those norms and reaffirming them going on in this book, although I think you need to have read pretty broadly and comprehensively to recognize all that. I think another reason your review hit a nerve with some of us is that categories are routinely dismissed, even by Romance readers who haven’t really read them and don’t see the incredible diversity in them, or the way they so often defy genre stereotypes and cliches.

    Back to Harry and Pippy, I think their relationship is, at least in part, intended to be about realizing that one can be a parent and get married and have a family without it meaning that you have to give up on your dreams and your life and who you really are as a person (whether it succeeds or not is an open question, of course). Which brings me back to the heteronormativity issue. For all of the gay couples who have a family and children, does that mean they are conforming to a heteronormative lifestyle? I have a hard time with that (and I’m not suggesting that you are saying that), because to me family should not at all be defined by gender, and I guess the question is whether if Pippa and Harry could not stand symbolically for a gay couple, why could Min and Cal,or Sebastian and Rachel, or Jed and Kate (which, as you pointed out in your review, features a scene of objectification regarding the heroine’s breasts)? Is it just the cooking and the kid and the fixing that defines these characters for you, and if so, how is the book working with and/or perpetuating that norm?

    I think this is where Liz’s point about analytically engaging with the text resonates for me. I know you say you don’t want to make these judgments, but by not engaging these issues directly, you kind of are, but without explicitly stating them. Because there’s a whole debate to be had around what constitutes gender-typical behavior and how it may or may not be working in this book and in the others you’ve reviewed (in comparison). I think you would have gotten some interesting responses to the question of whether others view Pippa and Harry as stereotypes within the genre and in what ways they conform and deviate from a particular norm you see as operating in the text. But it’s tough when the paradigm you’re applying to the book isn’t transparent for the reader.

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  120. AJH
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 17:11:53

    @cleo:

    Are heroes who fix things with their hands really that rare, because I’ve read at least two now. There was Bo in BLUE SMOKE and now Harry. I would have imagined it was a fairly common archetype, but what do I know.

    I’ve read a couple of romances with children in, just not for DA. THE DREAM HUNTER has a child in it, and she’s sort of horrid and sort of charming and sort of smothered. And I’ve read BIG BOY which, again, dealt with issues of motherhood and selfhood. I liked both of those books a lot actually but I’m not sure I’d naturally seek out romances with children in them, not least because I think children are quite hard to right well.

    Mind you, Crusie re-telling The Turn of the Screw sounds like the best thing ever. I am so there.

    And I’ve definitely got LORD PERFECT on my Kindle.

    @Robin/Janet:

    I can absolutely see what you’re saying, and I really appreciate the close analysis because I haven’t been quite sure how other people were reading this, just that they weren’t reading it like me.

    I think part of it was that because I wasn’t particularly engaged with Pippa as a character, I didn’t feel particularly drawn into her viewpoint, so it read to me as much drier, more descriptive narration. I think the breastfeeding line leapt out at me because I already wasn’t getting on with the text at that point. I can see why, for you, it doesn’t leap out – for me it still kind of does.

    It wasn’t Pippa’s emotions as a shy, flustered, humiliated person in a difficult situation that jerked me out of the passage. I was fine with that. As you say, it’s entirely consistent with her personality and, frankly, in her position, I’d be embarrassed too. It was this sudden switch to making what I felt was a random generalisation about these nebulously defined friends and their breasts. I know you’ve emphasised the “for her” in the passage but, to me, that doesn’t locate something solely in Pippa’s own emotions and experiences, because she is explicitly described by contrast to these other women who we know nothing about except that they fling their breasts around. And that they, presumably, would not be humiliated in her position because … something?

    For what it’s worth, I didn’t feel the text was erratic, inconsistent or unmastered. I’m sorry if it sounded like I was criticising Mayberry as writer – it was just these three lines, working together, I found really odd.

    I feel like I’m out of my depth in this conversation. As I said above, I very specifically didn’t choose to address issues of gender and heteronomativity in this review, or others. I could make vague cases for why I didn’t think the books you mentioned were gendertypical or heternormative, or why it didn’t bother me that they were, but I feel we are inclined to see positive qualities in things we like and negative ones in things we don’t, so I genuinely don’t think it would useful, fair or interesting of me to try. And the questions you ask, while very important, are all huge and complicated and not really ones I think I’m in a position to answer.
    I kind of see this project as a personal one – and that sounds a bit selfish, but actually I very much do not see myself as having the authority or the experience to open discussions about the broad themes of the genre as a whole.

    And I very much didn’t want to construct a narrative of exclusion around SUDDENLY YOU because I honestly thought that would be shitty. It seems really petty of me to complain that Sarah Mayberry excluded my white nerdboy arse from the book she wrote for an audience of women. And similarly I don’t feel it’s my place to speak on behalf of those members of the community who might feel excluded by this kind of text because, well, they can do that themselves – they absolutely don’t need me to come in here and do it for them.

    I mean, look how much trouble I caused by talking about breastfeeding. I thought that was relatively uncontroversial. I read it as judgemental and it didn’t occur to me that anyone would not. If I’d seen an alternative reading (and after many many comments I can haltingly find my way to one) I wouldn’t have mentioned it.
    I think heteronormativity was kind of a false lead. I kind think het romance is sort of heteronormative by definition, and I don’t mean that as a broad criticism. I very much don’t think that a heterosexual couple can ever “stand symbolically” for a gay couple, and I’m not sure it’s right that they should. I think it’s just that the husband, wife and kids definition of family is sort of an inherently heterornomative one. So there’s quite a lot of overlap here between gender normativity and heteronormativity, and I was probably using the terms a little bit arbitrarily and a little bit interchangeably.

    I understand why Liz was disappointed in this review, and I do agree with her. I’m not sure, however, that my articles are really the place that I want to be engaging in debates about what constitutes gender typical behaviour. Maybe I’ve oversold what it is I think I’m doing here, but I very much see myself as reading books and talking about them. I don’t think I engage with them particularly analytically or academically (a lot of the time I make jokes about wangs) and I’m not sure I should be trying to engage with wider questions about the nature of the genre. This is not because I’m not interested in them, but I honestly don’t feel I’m in a position where I could contribute meaningfully to that discussion.

    As you yourself point out, there was a lot going on in this book that only made sense in the wider context of category, of which I was completely ignorant.

    I’m kind of flattered that you feel that I’m in a position to start these kind of discussions about these kind of issues but, given how new I am in this community and how uncertain my role is (if, indeed, I have any right to have one), I’d feel under-qualified and deeply presumptuous trying.

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  121. Ridley
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 18:03:32

    /popcorn

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  122. Linz
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 18:24:46

    @Melissa:
    Great question about flaw thresholds for characters. Sometimes I get overloaded on backstory angst, but present flaws for heroines seem to be much trickier ground, potentially. Which is a shame.

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  123. Kate Hewitt
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 18:35:35

    I have to confess this entire comment thread mystifies me, considering how many discussions I’ve read here and on other sites about how the reader/reviewer has no responsibility to the author, the book, or basically anything or anyone when writing a review. So what if a reviewer is dismissive of a book or an author? So what if he’s not respectful of the characters or issues? Everything I’ve read online has basically been about how a reviewer can say whatever he or she wants about a book, because it is his or her opinion and an opinion isn’t wrong. Many commenters here have enjoyed total snark reviews that lambast the book and the author so what is the difference here? Why are people calling AJH out on the tone of his review? Am I missing something?

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  124. Shelley
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 18:43:35

    @Kate Hewitt:

    I thought the point of AJH submitting these reviews was for everyone to get a take of an in depth male perspective on romance novels therefore promoting discussion. Am I wrong? I don’t think it’s been necessarily vicious or backbiting, per se, though it’s gotten pretty lively.

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  125. Robin/Janet
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 18:49:32

    @AJH:

    I know you’ve emphasised the “for her” in the passage but, to me, that doesn’t locate something solely in Pippa’s own emotions and experiences, because she is explicitly described by contrast to these other women who we know nothing about except that they fling their breasts around. And that they, presumably, would not be humiliated in her position because … something?

    Because for her (and for lots and lots of other women), breastfeeding is an activity that means having her breasts potentially and regularly exposed in public – a breast pump in pumps. It’s something that makes many women comfortable “flinging their breasts around,” in public, because they see their breasts as over-used, likely sore, milk-leaking, feeding vessels, not objects of titillation. With Alice at six months old, Pippa would most likely still be breast feeding. Because Pippa barely breastfed for a month, she doesn’t have this comfort with her breasts – for her they remain in the private sphere of sexual intimacy, not the public sphere of feeding.

    @AJH:

    Maybe I’ve oversold what it is I think I’m doing here, but I very much see myself as reading books and talking about them. I don’t think I engage with them particularly analytically or academically (a lot of the time I make jokes about wangs) and I’m not sure I should be trying to engage with wider questions about the nature of the genre. This is not because I’m not interested in them, but I honestly don’t feel I’m in a position where I could contribute meaningfully to that discussion.

    No reader is in a position to talk about everything in the genre. Nor do I think joking about wangs excludes you from discussing books analytically (Case in point: Smart Bitches, Trashy Books). In fact, I think we’re all in a position to deliver opinions about books and about the genre and about gender and cultural stereotypes, because we’re readers. That is, we’re all qualified to talk about what interests and doesn’t interest us in as narrow or broad terms as we want. And we’re all in a position where our opinions may be critiqued and/or questioned. Now, you may not want the heat of that, which I would certainly understand (it can be a real drag) — but this is not a degreed course here, or anything.

    This next bit is kind of directed as you as an author. Because whether or not you assertively present that part of yourself here, it’s always in the background, merely one click away, so to speak. Romance is a very profitable genre, and one of the reasons that’s the case is because it encompasses such a great deal of cultural and narrative ground — love, fantasy, home and family, emotional justice, social and cultural issues, etc. And while I appreciate that you want a sort of escape hatch of casual ‘I’m just exploring the genre,’ at some point you’re going to come to a crossroads (maybe this is it, maybe not), where the way you talk about books is going to represent, in some small way, the way you may be perceived to think about books, and, in turn, to write books.

    Which is not to say that you need to produce a Master’s thesis on Sarah Mayberry — or on any book or author, for that matter. Maybe it’s more a question of why are you taking this project on at a Romance blog, and how do you see yourself as engaging with the books, and whether at some point readers take you more seriously than you perhaps perceive yourself, and how that plays when you do rip over more of these hot buttons. I think some of that is bubbling up here, precisely because you are talking about (and writing?) books directed largely at a female readership.

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  126. AJH
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 19:38:33

    @Ridley:

    I hope you brought enough for the whole class.

    @Kate Hewitt:

    While I agree that in reviewers in general don’t have any particular towards authors, I personally don’t want to be dismissive of books in this genre because I’m very much aware I’m coming to it as an outsider.

    @Shelley:

    I know you’re talking to Kate here, but I very much don’t feel that my job here is to provide a male perspective. I do occasionally mention it if I feel my reaction to a book is gendered, but I think it often isn’t. As I said in my very first post here, I think that our reactions to genre fiction are formed through exposure to the genre, its tropes and formulations, not intrinsically determined by our gender identities.

    @Robin/Janet:

    On the breast thing, it still feels dismissive to me to assume that just because a woman has breastfed or is breastfeeding that she would therefore have no problem with her kid unbuttoning her blouse in front of a guy she was attracted to. To me, this scene didn’t read as Pippa saying she lacked a confidence that she felt other women had, it felt like it was saying that Pippa retained an element of her sexuality that other women had lost. And, even if that is true of a large number of women, I feel there’s a very big difference between many and all. And the way it’s expressed here seems to suggest that it is impossible that a woman who breastfeeds may still feel her breasts are an intimate and sexual part of her body. And, for that matter, that she would have the right to feel embarrassed at her child undressing her in front of a man.

    I fully accept that a lot of people don’t read that scene this way. I know I’m probably coming across as unbearably stubborn here in refusing to change my interpretation, despite many people disagreeing with it. But, to me, this is a disagreement over an interpretation of a text, not what it is like to be a woman. I’ve never said I don’t believe that some women may feel desexualised after breastfeeding, I’ve just suggested that presenting this an absolute – which I still feel the text does – may be considered problematic. For some people.

    On the rest, I’m actually quite confused here. As you may have noticed, I already take quite a lot of heat and I don’t just mean this review. I like to think I have made myself very available to critiques of my position and my opinions, and I do receive quite a lot of both. I absolutely don’t mind. I think it’s a natural consequence of talking about things in public. I’m slightly bewildered that you think I don’t, or that I am particularly trying to avoid it.

    I genuinely don’t think I am in a position to come into a community of romance readers and make generalisations about romance. Nor do I think I’m in a position to come into a community of women and make generalisations about gender. I see myself very specifically as being here to talk about books.

    And, again, although I am very touched that you believe I have a right to be here, the truth of the matter is I feel my position in the community is genuinely tenuous. Given that what I do right now is controversial, I think it would be suicidally hubristic and borderline disrespectful of me to try impose myself further on the community. I don’t see my casual approach as an escape hatch, I see it as recognition of my junior status in the community.

    I am very uncomfortable discussing my writing on DA because I’m aware that Jane has very strict policies about keeping these things separate and I completely respect that. Dear Author is a site for readers, and it’s as a reader that I contribute. When/if we come to the crossroads you predict, I believe it will be Jane’s call not mine. I’m very happy to be a member of DA and I will continue to be so for as long as it seems that I bring something positive to the site, and as long as Jane is happy to have me here.

    For me, reading and writing are very separate skills and very separate issues. I’ve been a reader all my life, I’ve been a writer for about five minutes. To be honest, I don’t think I’m in any position to control what conclusions people do or do not draw about the way I do or do not write from what I say on this site or anywhere else.

    I’m a bit confused – again, still – why I need some kind of deep reason to want to read books and talk about them. I don’t really have anyone to talk about romance with in my present life, so these discussions are genuinely valuable to me. I enjoy them. I’ve discovered I also enjoy reading romance books, and I’d rather have a community to share those experiences with than not.

    I don’t think I can really be answerable for how people perceive me. I can just present myself as honestly as I can and hope that means something to someone. I’m well aware that plenty of people don’t like what I do here. There’s nothing I can do about that except keep trying to produce interesting, entertaining content. I don’t think I lived up to that with this review, but I’m human. Not everything I write is going to be as good as I would like it to be. This form of discourse is very fluid, I try to learn from my mistakes and I try to apologise when I upset people.

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  127. Kate Hewitt
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 20:34:53

    @Shelley:

    I think it’s been an interesting discussion, but I’m just surprised at the comments about the tone of some of the things he has written in his review, as I have never seen that become an issue before. I’m wondering if it is a gender issue in some ways, because to some he is coming across as a man being dismissive of women’s issues?

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  128. cleo
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 21:45:06

    @Kate Hewitt – I think tone, and especially gratuitous snark, is discussed at DA, at least sometimes. I remember some extremely snarky guest reviews / rants here where people commented on the tone (I’m thinking particularly of that series of guest rants about a self pub series about cowboy brothers but of course I don’t remember the title).

    I can’t speak for everyone who was bothered by the tone here but I’ll try to sort out my reactions. I think part of it is AJH’s (self declared) status as an outsider – he’s male, but more than that, he’s new to the genre. He invited us to participate in his exploration of romance by asking for suggestions and feedback. I kind of felt like a wise mentor sheparding a newbie into my favorite genre. And you know, as his mentor and guide, I feel perfectly within my rights to let him know when I think he’s NOT DOING IT RIGHT. For his own good, you know. I’m being a little tongue in cheek here, but I do think that the mentor / guide mentality is part of the dynamic of this thread.

    I will also say (to everyone, not just Kate) that I’m enjoying this thread immensely. Immensely. I’ve bypassed the popcorn and broken out the chocolate.

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  129. PeggyL
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 22:00:14

    Because of (1) time difference, (2) the lack of a computer to type, (3) a lack of interest on the subject matters, and (4) my not wanting to just echo but contribute something new, I seldom take part in robust discussions like this one.

    After reading the review and all 128 responses (at the time of writing this anyway), here’s my own.

    AJH – I enjoy your style of snark; but I appreciate even more the humility in your writing. It is established in this review that you couldn’t invest in Pippa’s character, thus reflected in the so-called dismissive tone. That’s all, to me, case closed.

    As regards the topic of breastfeeding and its connection with “child abuse” or “sex offence”, this is entirely new to me as it never occurred to me the act of nurturing a baby can be *this* controversial in Western countries. (We just don’t talk about it in public.) And I can’t help but remember how angry I was when I first learnt of the recent breastmilk scandal involving some government officials in mainland China. This is sexual objectification to the extreme – sometimes I’m not proud of being Chinese.

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  130. Robin/Janet
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 23:32:48

    @AJH: I’m slightly bewildered that you think I don’t, or that I am particularly trying to avoid it.

    What I said was that I would understand if you did want to avoid it. Because I don’t think you expected the pushback you got with this review, and I think at first you tried to wave it off a little bit. I still don’t know exactly why that was the case, but I could understand it if you just felt like you would fan the flames by explaining in more depth why you were unengaged with the book.

    I genuinely don’t think I am in a position to come into a community of romance readers and make generalisations about romance. Nor do I think I’m in a position to come into a community of women and make generalisations about gender. I see myself very specifically as being here to talk about books.

    I think the reason you got so much pushback here is because you didn’t really engage the book in depth (as Liz pointed out), especially as compared to your other reviews. And I think that the perspective some of us have been trying to offer is that sometimes when you’re talking about Romance books, you have to talk about all of these other things. Not as an expert or as The Voice of a particular community — but in terms of your own experiences reading the books you have read, especially as they may compare to the other books in the genre you’ve read. Because Romance routinely implicates gender, socio-cultural issues, social justice, and many other extra-textual things that have real political importance, even, and sometimes especially, when the text does not appear to have an overtly political agenda.

    I am very uncomfortable discussing my writing on DA because I’m aware that Jane has very strict policies about keeping these things separate and I completely respect that.

    I don’t expect you to discuss your writing on DA. My only point is that I’m always going to think of you as an author, and the longer you’re around in the community, the more others will, too. So your engagement as a reader will never be completely disconnected from that, especially because you’re writing in the same genre. And with every book you discuss, you become a more experienced reader, and in turn, the more other readers may expect from you in terms of talking about the books.

    In regard to why you want to take this on, you already offered a pretty powerful – and not exactly superficial — explanation in your DA introduction (http://dearauthor.com/features/letters-of-opinion/guest-introduction-im-in-ur-genre-havin-ur-emotions/). To wit:

    Truthfully, I think we over-essentialise about genre in general. We read a couple of books, don’t find them especially memorable and peremptorily decide we don’t like sci-fi, or thrillers, or fantasy, or whatever else it happens to be. Not so long ago, I did a bookswap with a friend. I gave him a book about dragons and he gave me a book about spaceships and we both came back with the same basic complaint: “dude, nothing happens in this.” To which we both responded with the same basic outrage: “dude, loads happens, there was like a space war / an epic mystical quest / a rift in the time-space-continuum / a dragon.” The thing is, reading genre fiction is an act of habituation (in a good way) and the tropes that are often dismissed by those outside that particular genre as stereotypes, acquire meaning and impact not just from the context in which they are presented in a particular book but the expansive, extensive, exciting backdrop of the genre as a whole. In short: you have to learn a genre before you can love it. Unless you were fortunate enough to read it as a child or teenager, in which case – like a second language – those interpretative pathways will stay with you forever.

    And, in my case, you’ll read quite terrible books simply because you remember the pleasure dragons gave you when you were young.

    Of course, when it comes to romance, this becomes even more problematic because the process of habituation becomes about gender as well as genre (ohhh, did you see what I did there, all this AND puns). Instead of merely saying “I just don’t don’t get this yet” it seems both fashionable and, indeed expected, to take the George Eliot approach, dismissing these ‘silly novels by lady novelists’ as neither intended for us nor interesting to us. But just because something isn’t explicitly for you, doesn’t mean it has nothing to say to you. In fact, it’s usually a good indication you should be listening.

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  131. AJH
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 06:06:37

    @cleo:

    I think that’s fair. I am very happy for people to tell me when think I’m doing it wrong, and I hope I have always responded positively to that.

    @PeggyL:

    As I think I’ve said before, I can understand why people found my tone dismissive and I obviously don’t want to offend people here. This is one of those situations where mileage varies a lot.

    I always knew breastfeeding was a complicated issue, but I hadn’t realised it was this controversial.

    I hadn’t heard about the China breastmilk scandal, but having looked it up, woah that’s kind of not okay. That said, I think it’s very easy as Westerners to look at things that happen in other countries and be all “oooh those Chinese” but, as we’ve seen from this thread, our own attitudes leave a hell of a lot to be desired as well. I think we all have moments of not being proud of our nations and usually, funnily enough, it’s because of things government officials do.

    @Robin/Janet:

    I always, in general, expect pushback. Again, I don’t know why you think I don’t. It doesn’t trouble me, and I entirely respect people’s right to their opinions, but I do get a certain amount of flak for just being here, doing what I’m doing. Even when it’s not about hot button issues.

    For what it’s worth, Jane told me that she disagreed with me about this article and I told her if I’d been offensive, I’d happily edit but she said that I should leave it. So I was expecting a certain amount of pushback, I just wasn’t sure about what. I entirely see the concerns that I’ve been dismissive and I think, if I was to re-write the article with hindsight, I’d try to do something about my tone.

    I agree that can texts can impact a wide range of political and cultural issue, but I don’t think it’s correct to say that anyone has to engage with those issues in a review. Obviously I try to keep a vague eye out for things that strike me as problematic – and, for what it’s worth, the breastfeeding thing struck me as vaguely problematic, and I mentioned it, and people seemed actively offended by the fact that I was troubled.

    When it comes to gender normativity I’m very aware that, for a lot of people, traditional gender roles are an important part of a romance. So I honestly felt that criticising the book on that basis would be dismissive of people for whom that was a reflection of their lives and values. Similarly, I don’t think it would have been useful to talk about the gender normativity in this book bothered me more or less than it did in some of the others because I’m already too verbose, I don’t have a large field of comparison and the books I’ve read so far are quite eclectic. I mean, honestly, I think the reason the gender normativity in SUDDENLY YOU bothered me more than the gender normativity in THE SMOKE THIEF was because THE SMOKE THIEF had dragons in it. And, actually, I seem recall I did express a vague sense of worry that Rue, who was this awesome, interesting, powerful woman, ended the novel returning to a very narrow and oppressive community (albeit with the man she loved).

    Also I feel, in general, a lot more comfortable getting into difficult issues with a text, if I had a more positive reaction in general. I loved THE SMOKE THIEF so I was happy to talk about the gender issues. Same with DARK LOVER (well, I didn’t love it, but I found enough to respond to in it that I felt okay saying ‘gosh the gender dynamics here are a bit screwed up.’). With SUDDENLY YOU because the focus is just a relationship and it was the read to me as an utterly gender normative relationship and it was the only category I’d read, then it felt to me that criticising the book for presenting a gender normative relationship would have felt an unfair and ill-informed attack on the book and the sub-genre. I think it’s very common for people outside a genre to appropriate social justice issues as a way of bashing that genre. And I was very consciously trying to avoid doing that.

    So, to me, the thing that seemed most important about my reaction to what I saw as a very gender normative relationship in SUDDENLY YOU was that it meant I couldn’t engage with that relationship or that text. And basically, I think a major part of the problem here is that if you don’t buy the relationship in SUDDENLY YOU, there’s nothing else there.

    I’m not sure and now I am speculating but it seems to me (from my position of ignorance) that categories, because they are short and specific, are designed for readers to go for the specific ones that work for them. Whereas obviously if you read a book like THE IRON DUKE and the central relationship doesn’t work, you’ve still zombies and steampunk and a world building to draw into the narrative.

    So if, for example, I was to read another Sarah Mayberry or another category author, (and I think I probably should) I’d actually just go down their catalogue and pick the book that immediately appealed to me. Maybe I should have read the one about a single Dad, or the one about the sexy musician. To be honest HER BEST WORST MISTAKE sounds pretty cool.

    By saying I was uncomfortable talking about my writing, I meant I was uncomfortable talking about it, like, literally right this second. You may think of me as an author, but I don’t think of me as an author and I don’t think most of the DA community think of me as an author, although the fact I’ve now used the word ‘author’ four times in one sentence may change that. But since I write in a terribly small, niche subgenre it seems unlikely.

    I kind of stand by my initial introduction. It was very important to me, and also very important to Jane, that this didn’t become the Man Reading Romance series. I think I said very specifically that I saw my series as getting to know the genre, not about talking about wider issues within the genre. More specifically, I very much feel that I have a responsibility to approach the genre on its own terms which is why, again, I didn’t feel “this book is gender normative” was an appropriate criticism.

    I do agree that I failed to engage with this book as carefully as I have with some others, and thus probably failed in my mission statement, but this is a long process, and I will make mistakes in it, and I kind of see that as part of the journey. Also I suspect there will be other books I will just be unable to engage with. Hopefully, I’ll be able to explain that less dismissively future but I see these pieces as being very much about personal reactions.

    Sorry, this is getting very long and you’ve talking to me for 2 days, and I just wanted to say I do appreciate the time you’ve taken to do that.

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  132. Kaetrin
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 06:14:51

    FWIW, when I read Suddenly You (which I liked very much) I didn’t pay any particular attention to the paragraph about breastfeeding. But I can see why AJH read it the way he did. I don’t think his reading is wrong either, even though I personally took a different view of it (in that I did think it was Pippa’s POV). I breastfed and there was no flinging of any sort and I never became comfortable flashing people – the sentence does clearly say that Pippa’s breastfeeding friends became casual about showing their breasts and she makes a link between regarding them as for sustenance as opposed to being for sex and intimacy. I’ve always regarded my breasts as “private” whatever I was doing with them and personally, breastfeeding didn’t make me more comfortable with random strangers (or even people I knew) seeing them, (in exactly the same way that giving birth didn’t make me comfortable baring any of my ladyparts). And this was true for all of my friends who had babies at the time actually. (Perhaps my group of friends is/was particularly modest/prudish.) Some women breastfeed, some don’t, some want to, some don’t, some are more comfortable showing their cleavage/breasts to other people than other (regardless of the reason). None of that is inherently wrong. It is merely personal.

    Like I say, the paragraph didn’t particularly bother me when I read it, even though it did not reflect my experience. But, I think, paragraphs like that stand out more when you’re not enjoying a book than when you are.

    I quite often get a lot out of reading a negative or “meh” review of a book I liked – it makes me reflect on my reading and the reasons I like something. Many times it strengthens my view of a book (but sometimes, it opens my eyes to things I missed and I modify my opinion). I’ve been the outlier enough times to feel sympathy with AJH’s bewilderment here. I’ve felt “I should like this, why don’t I?” I can only talk from my own perspective: the hardest reviews to write are the “meh” reviews. It is difficult for me to write passionately about something which I feel no passion. If I hate a book I can give you chapter and verse of the reasons but when I’m “meh” mostly it boils down to “it just didn’t do anything for me” (which from a reviewing standpoint isn’t terribly helpful to those wanting to use the review to see if they might like a book).

    I would like to think that AJH would give category a few more tries because I know there is a vast array of style and substance in category-land, but he is of course under no obligation to do so. And, whatever he chooses to read, personal taste is personal taste and there is no accounting for it (and no need to either) – in other words: “vegemite”.

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  133. Kaetrin
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 06:19:58

    I also wanted to say that I very much enjoyed Robin’s comments regarding the subversion of genre in this book and, frankly, I’d love to see posts about this sort of thing (*hint hint*) because while I might pick it up unconsciously, it isn’t the sort of thing I see natively and I find it fascinating.

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  134. Gennita Low
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 06:31:14

    AJH,
    Take a break. You’re on vacay. Go play. Have fun at the festival!

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  135. cleo
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 07:33:43

    @AJH – I think you have responded well.
    I feel you take feedback and criticism seriously, even when it doesn’t change your mind, and that’s really what I want in a discussion like this. I hope I do the same. Have a great vacation.

    @Kaetrin – well said. I ended up having the same reaction to the breast feeding passage. I didn’t have a problem with it but after all the discussion, I can see why it bothered others. Vegemite!

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  136. cleo
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 07:56:39

    fyi and fwiw – here’s a link to Kaetrin’s lovely Vegemite post – http://kaetrinsmusings.blogspot.com/2013/06/vegemite-its-matter-of-taste.html?m=1

    @PeggyL – I also had to look up the breast feeding scandal in China. I’m glad you mentioned it.

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  137. PeggyL
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 07:59:05

    @AJH – Forgot to say earlier: Enjoy your holiday in Edinburgh! Actually mine starts 5 days from now (yes, I’m counting down…) and London is one of the places to visit. :-) & very excited!

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  138. Jill Sorenson
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 09:50:13

    @Meri: I read your earlier comments, along with Amber Lin’s and others who agree that the flinging comment sounds insulting or is problematic. I’m with Robin about Pippa’s “excuse.” If she’d simply said breastfeeding didn’t work for her, I’d wonder why.

    @Darlynne: A review is a discussion. As AJH said, multiple valid interpretations are possible. I’m not telling him to change his opinion. I’m not troubled by him pointing out a problem he sees in the text. I just disagree with his reading. That’s not fair game?

    I don’t think a reviewer needs to be well-versed on the subject matter, to read the author’s full body of work, or even to finish the book to write an articulate review. AJH mentioned (I think) that the breast thing seemed like the author’s personal feelings. The author (her other works/reputation) is relevant to this discussion because 1. he brought up 2. she’s known for writing sexually forward heroines. I assume that she doesn’t believe women should be modest. Public breastfeeding is a feminist issue that the majority of romance authors support. Does that mean no one can read that section of text as problematic? No. But again, I just don’t agree with that reading. It happens.

    Thanks for your response. I’m glad to clarify what I meant there.

    Part of my point was that the women here who have read the entire book didn’t seem to find that single line troubling. I value those opinions a little more than the others because context matters. I also value opinions of women over men on many issues and I won’t apologize for that.

    I appreciate what AJH said here:

    “Obviously, I apologise if I’ve been insensitive in my review and I do appreciate that breastfeeding is a huge political and personal issue for women, and one it’s not really my place to pontificate on.”

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  139. Darlynne
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 11:46:28

    @Jill Sorenson: I couldn’t disagree more.

    To quote a friend who is not part of this current discussion, all readers have the right to interpret the text anyway they want. Except here, this book, this reviewer. Changing his mind, getting him to back down, pointing out the error of his ways, parsing every f*cking word: this is exactly what some of us have been doing and, thankfully, failed to accomplish, for two days.

    AJH doesn’t need me to defend him and I’m not. What I’m railing against is this insistence on schooling and lecturing a reviewer, any reviewer, about that reviewer’s experience with and interpretation of a book.

    You got the apology you wanted, in fact, the place is littered with apologies and explanations and still more explanations. Stop. Enough.

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  140. Kathryn
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 11:54:57

    @AJH: I too was surprised at the dismissive tone of your review for some of the same reasons as Jane, Robin, and Liz, etc. You’ve given such interesting readings and reactions to other texts (even those that you didn’t care for) and even when I didn’t agree with you, I really understand where you were coming from and why you might have had that reaction. This time I was a bit puzzled – but after having read through all the comments (and this has been a wonderful discussion), I’m with Robin wondering if the problem here is that category romances, even more than single title romances, depend on the reader’s “habituation to the genre” (specifically to the reader’s habituation to category romances).

    I say this because where you saw SY as conforming excessively to gender-normative standards, I read this book as one that was playing against several category romances tropes and gender stereotypes found both in romances and in real life.

    As Robin noted above Pippa is not interested in being a SAHM, Harry is not the father of Pippa’s baby (but rather the ex’s best friend), and Steve the father is actually still alive. This set-up itself is rather usual in a category romance, especially since Alice is not a secret baby nor is Pippa suffering silently from Steve’s rejection of her and Alice. Pippa is actively trying to get child support from him and she is using the powers of the state legal and welfare systems to do it. Romances have in my experience an ambivalent relationship with the social welfare system (even those set in countries, where the political and cultural discourse on this matter is considerably less fraught than the debates in the USA), and most romances do not like to show either the hero or heroine in any way, shape, or form accessing social support services (unless it is in their childhood, e.g., they were a child at the mercy of foster child system).

    Nor is Pippa betrayed as a passive welfare recipient – she is a member of the working poor and is actively working hard to improve her situation by completing her teaching certificate and working as many hours as possible. While the trope of the heroine as someone who is one paycheque away from disaster is common in category romances (until the hero saves her with his billions). Pippa’s disasters are not as common — there is no evil landlord illegally raising her rent because he wants to sleep with her nor is her uncaring, rich family rejecting her because she had a baby out of wedlock. Her disasters are more mundane: a car breaking down, not having the resources to repair the cheap, rundown lodgings rented from an indifferent (rather than lecherous) landlord. Her mother loves her and Alice, but she herself doesn’t have many resources, and Pippa is reluctant to borrow from her mother precisely because she doesn’t want her mother to go without. All this I find is unusual in category romances (heck in single titles ones as well), which although they often place the heroine (especially if she is the single mother with a baby) in precarious economic situations – they also often make situation seem more like Cinderella’s storyline—a temporary test of the heroine’s worth that is quickly solved once the prince comes along.

    Pippa’s economic situation will definitely be better because Harry is now in her life. But there are still difficult times ahead for them – Harry is buying his father’s business, there will be Pippa’s school loans to pay off, etc. No private jets for them or heading off to Tahiti for three-week sun and fun vacations. But together they will have a better life than they would apart not just for economic reasons, but because they compliment each other, have shared values, and love being together and with Alice.

    For me the question was not whether I have much in common with Harry or Pippa (I don’t) or whether I want their lives (I don’t), but more about how this book situates itself within and against the constraints and conventions of category romances and romances about ordinary lives. And for me this book was an interesting read and a largely successful one (although not my favourite Mayberry). That doesn’t mean there aren’t problems – many of which I think are caused by very constraints of the category romance genre and its conventions, but this post has gone on for way too long so I’ll end my comments on this here.

    Do enjoy your time in Edinburgh at the Fringe. I’ve a couple of friends who have written and produced plays that have played at various Fringe festivals here in Canada and they are hoping someday to be able to show their work at Edinburgh. If they do, perhaps I’ll get a chance to travel across the pond and cheer them on.

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  141. Aoife
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 12:50:54

    Wow, this has been an interesting thread, and not always in a good way. I’ve only read some of AJH’s reviews, but most of them seem to have a fair amount of snark/fun-poking, and I don’t really see this one as being that different from his other reviews. The overall impression I am left with is that he failed to engage with, and then criticized a book that many people love. I think he’s apologized and explained with the utmost patience, and it still doesn’t seem to be enough. I’m puzzled as to what else he could say at this point that would satisfy the majority of the pile-on.

    For the record, I like a lot of Sarah Mayberry’s books, and consider her one of my autobuy authors; I had many of the same issues with this book that AJH had, including being put off by the breast-flinging bit, so I don’t think his lack of engagement and critique of this particular book has solely to do with him being a category romance neophyte, and A Man, since I am neither.

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  142. Luce
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 13:03:45

    I understand the volatile or controversial angle when it comes to breastfeeding. What I don’t get is some of the commenters’ reactions to AJH’s review. Reading some parts of this thread has left me both puzzled and frustrated. As far as I know, AJH’s reviews have had snark. Are some of his word choices (such as MILF) a little off-putting for some DA readers ? Sure. However, the dog piling I’ve seen in some comments have left a really bad tasted in my mouth in regards to some of the members of DA. There’s nothing wrong with engaging in dialogue/exchanging opinions. I also know that not everyone’s going to get along. But that doesn’t mean that people should keep going on and on, practically in circles, about what’s wrong with the reviewer after said reviewer has replied to them.

    Like @Darlynne , @Aoife and a few others have pointed out, AJH has been thoughtful in his replies. One hopes that people will move on from the discussion. Mostly because, at this point, I’m all out of popcorn. /sarcasm

    ETA: I hope you have a marvelous vacay, AJH! :)

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  143. Willaful
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 13:26:32

    @PeggyL: I don’t think there’s a country in the world where women aren’t treated like shite in one way or another. If we all took it personally, we’d be too depressed to have time for long arguments about romance novels. :-) (But activism is a good antidote for shame, of course.)

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  144. Camille
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 15:15:58

    I really enjoyed this review.

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  145. Ducky
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 15:19:17

    @Luce:

    I agree with this. I always enjoy the reviews of this reviewer (which have always been snarky) and until now I have enjoyed the comments to his reviews. But this comment thread is very bewildering and off-putting. Especially since this is hardly the first time on this site that a reviewer has posted a negative review of a book. But usually the reviewer doesn’t get preached to and “schooled” with some folks making the same point over and over again.

    Despite the negative review I still intend to read this book as I have enjoyed other Sarah Mayberry romances in the past and this one sounds appealing to me too.

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  146. Lynn S.
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 15:49:18

    Oh Goldilocks, you agent provocateur with your complaints that the porridge is too smooth. I’m going to assume that your statement about rethinking the genre was meant as hyperbole; otherwise, that is a great deal of pressure for one book to bear.

    While I have a soft spot for Mayberry because of All They Need and the couch scene in Can’t Get Enough, I do find that the smoothness of her writing and an overearnest quality in many of her books somewhat hamper my enjoyment of her. She does have a gift for exposition though and it is nicely showcased in Below the Belt.

    If you avoid category romance altogether, you’re going to miss out on some interesting books. I’ll suggest Susan Napier’s Mistress of the Groom which features a couple who are a Payday bar full of nutty goodness.

    @Susan: I remember when I read Lady in Black thinking that Dodd would have been a kick-ass category writer.

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  147. Mary
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 17:18:48

    @Lynn S.:
    I don’t really read that many categories, except for old ones by authors I like (Crusie, Anne Stuart, even one by Nalini Singh), but Susan Napier wrote a book that is definitely my all time favorite guilty pleasure read…Price of Passion features literally every trope/overwriting device that normally drives me nutty, but in her book I totally loved it. I keep thinking about trying more of her books and your description has kind of sold me on Mistress of the Groom.

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  148. Willaful
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 17:32:41

    @Mary: Oh, try The Mistress Deception too. It’s not quite so over the top, but still delightful.

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  149. Robin/Janet
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 18:13:52

    @AJH: I hope at some point after you’re much deeper into the genre that you investigate category Romance, and perhaps even revisit this book to see if your perspective has at all changed. Category Romance may not be your cuppa, including this book. But I do think there are elements in category that have helped define and build the genre as a whole, and are therefore interesting in that arm’s length kind of way you mentioned.

    @Kathryn: I had forgotten what a self-deprecating smart-ass Pippa was. I think it’s difficult to see that fully in the early scene where she feels horrified at exposing her bra, but she consistently downgrades herself first, and, in fact, I cannot find one instance in the book where she judges any other woman. I hadn’t really looked for an example until this discussion prompted me to re-read the book. Had That Scene occurred later in the book, maybe it would have been easier to see that it was meant in a self-deprecating way.

    Nor is Pippa betrayed as a passive welfare recipient – she is a member of the working poor and is actively working hard to improve her situation by completing her teaching certificate and working as many hours as possible.

    Yes! In fact, not too long ago, someone on Twitter (Ridley, perhaps?) was asking for recommendations of books with characters who are poor but not dysfunctional. Suddenly You is most definitely on that list.

    @Those of You Who Think This Thread Has Been Too Hard on AJH:

    This is really the first review where he’s gotten significant pushback, and it’s also the first book he has not really engaged as thoughtfully as the rest. Note that there’s not even a plot summary to speak of – how would anyone even know what this book is about if they had not read it? I haven’t done a word count, but I suspect the parts of the review that talk specifically about the book are comparatively small.

    On the other hand, I don’t think this is a situation in which he should feel the need to continually apologize or that in general he should avoid reviewing a certain way because he’s afraid of pissing off the women-folk (that can, case in point, backfire). Even when I wildly disagree with his take on a book (and sometimes I do), I can appreciate an effort to thoughtfully, substantively, and respectfully engage a book for the sole reason that it’s an objectively solid example of Romance, and therefore deserves as much respect as any other objectively solid example of the genre. Hell, even The Flame and The Flower, despite it’s *incredibly* problematic elements, was approached with a great deal more thoughtfulness and care. Had a female genre newbie written this review, I think she would have been tossed out a metaphorical window within the first ten comments.

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  150. Jill Sorenson
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 20:27:57

    @Aoife: Thanks for weighing in on this.

    I left the house right after posting my comment and felt conflicted about it all day. I usually enter debates with a certain amount of optimism, hoping I can change someone’s mind and we can all hold hands at the end. When it became clear that wasn’t going to happen (after I shared embarrassing personal information and became invested in the discussion!) I was disappointed. That last bit I quoted wasn’t helpful to the discussion. I meant to be snippy and I apologize.

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  151. fairyfreak
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 20:49:20

    “I cannot find one instance in the book where she judges any other woman.”

    It must be a different definition of the word choices, then because “Pippa wasn’t nearly as casual about flinging her breasts around as some of her friends.” sounds like a whole lot of judging to me. But I’ve never seen or heard of an instance of “flinging her breasts” that wasn’t used in a judgy way. Of course, I haven’t read the book, so I’m aware that my opinion doesn’t count. *slight sarcasm*

    On topic (somewhat), I don’t think this review was any more snarky than any of his other ones. I even felt he articulated why it didn’t work for him quite well. As for plot, I assumed from the review that the plot revolved around the couple becoming a couple and there wasn’t much else going on. If that’s not true, then that’s a non-emotional criticism of the review. Although I have to admit that the term “MILF” doesn’t bother me, but that might just be because I like the American Pie movie, and because I like to think I can still be sexy even after having a kid and breastfeeding. :)

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  152. Shelley
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 20:58:13

    @AJH:

    “I know you’re talking to Kate here, but I very much don’t feel that my job here is to provide a male perspective.”

    I apologize if I assumed that. I was taking this from the intro Jane gave when you started your guest reviews:

    AJH contacted me a few weeks ago to pitch a couple of ideas at me. I loved his self deprecating voice and the fact that he is a fairly new romance reader. We can watch his journey into romance through his eyes.

    @Kate Hewitt:

    “I think it’s been an interesting discussion, but I’m just surprised at the comments about the tone of some of the things he has written in his review, as I have never seen that become an issue before. I’m wondering if it is a gender issue in some ways, because to some he is coming across as a man being dismissive of women’s issues?”

    I definitely see what you’re saying. Romance as a whole is pretty much marketed toward women. Any of these novels he reads, he is going to read from a male perspective. He can’t help it and that’s fine. I’ve enjoyed reading some of his thoughts on these books. I guess I was going into reading his review hoping for more of his thoughtfulness and maybe even some snark but ended up reading his wishy-washy opinion.

    I will admit also I also felt a wee bit defensive of Pippa who is not the norm for heroines in this genre – she is a non-virgin (obviously) single mom raising her baby on her own. I had gotten really bored with category romance in the last 10 years or so and this new breed of heroine is refreshing to read.

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  153. Robin/Janet
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 20:58:15

    @fairyfreak: On what basis do you think that’s a judgment?

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  154. Shelley
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 21:45:54

    @Lynn S.:

    If you avoid category romance altogether, you’re going to miss out on some interesting books. I’ll suggest Susan Napier’s Mistress of the Groom which features a couple who are a Payday bar full of nutty goodness.

    ROFLMAO…so true!

    One of my favorites was Penny Jordan – OMG some of the best ever. When she went into mainstream writing, SILVER ended up as one of my all time favorites.

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  155. Janine
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 22:11:28

    @Shelley: Silver was my favorite of her mainstream books too. It was crazy and all kinds of wrong, but a page turner.

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  156. Shelley
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 22:17:28

    @Janine:

    “It was crazy and all kinds of wrong, but a page turner.”

    You so hit the nail on the head. LOL! I almost picked this up at my UBS the other day and now I think I will next time I’m in there. I’m feeling a little nostalgic. *sniff*

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  157. Meri
    Aug 11, 2013 @ 23:32:19

    @Shelley:

    I will admit also I also felt a wee bit defensive of Pippa who is not the norm for heroines in this genre – she is a non-virgin (obviously) single mom raising her baby on her own. I had gotten really bored with category romance in the last 10 years or so and this new breed of heroine is refreshing to read.

    The only part of this that struck me as unusual is that she has a baby, and even that isn’t that unique. Romance, including category romance, has a lot of single mothers and considerably more heroines who are not virgins. But maybe this is a question of which lines one reads?

    @Robin/Janet:

    Had a female genre newbie written this review, I think she would have been tossed out a metaphorical window within the first ten comments.

    I’m not sure this is true. My guess is that if a female newbie had complained in a similar way, people would have concluded that Mayberry/domestic-focused romances/category romance weren’t right for her. I would like to think that the commenters here wouldn’t have tossed a female reviewer out the metaphorical window for not finding certain tropes or characters particularly interesting or appealing. Janine (I think) wrote earlier that this might have worked better as a DNF review, and I agree – I’m not sure it’s fair to expect a reviewer to fully engage with a text that didn’t engage him or her (engagement doesn’t have to mean liking, of course).

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  158. Shelley
    Aug 12, 2013 @ 00:12:58

    @Meri:

    “The only part of this that struck me as unusual is that she has a baby, and even that isn’t that unique. Romance, including category romance, has a lot of single mothers and considerably more heroines who are not virgins. But maybe this is a question of which lines one reads?”

    That may be true now but I’m basing this on a time period from 10 or more years ago which is the last time I really read a lot of category romance. I know 10 years ago was still in the 2000′s but I honestly do not remember that this genre featured all that many heroines in these particular circumstances (single mother, never married with daddy still in picture but not the hero). Generally the only time you found a single mom was one who was divorced or widowed. And as far as virgins go you didn’t find those too much either not so long ago unless, again, they were widowed or divorced.

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  159. Meri
    Aug 12, 2013 @ 00:43:30

    @Shelley:
    Oh, I guess I misunderstood, I thought you meant that you’d not come across many such heroines in the past ten years rather than ten or more years ago. Certainly there have been changes in the romance genre over that period, although as someone who started reading romances in the early 2000s, I don’t recall that many virgin heroines in contemporary romances in my early reading days (or since then). I’ll admit I didn’t really read category books until a few years ago, though, and the only older ones I’ve read are by Brockmann and Crusie, so obviously not a very representative sample.

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  160. Shelley
    Aug 12, 2013 @ 01:12:00

    @Meri:

    I apologize, Meri, I should have been clearer.

    I started reading Harlequins when I was about 13 in the early 70′s. Boy talk about an eye opener! And you for sure didn’t find unmarried non-virgins in those books back then. That was also the time I started reading Barbara Cartland historical category novels. I don’t know if you’ve read those or not but if not you might have gnashed your teeth over the virgin heroines in those. I would be gnashing my teeth now. I do remember those fondly though. ;o)

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  161. fairyfreak
    Aug 12, 2013 @ 04:33:44

    @Robin/Janet:

    I think it’s the combination of the words and placement. Specifically the words “casual” and “flinging”, which give the impression of being dismissive and, IMO, judgmental. I get (I think) that she’s embarrassed and that the author is trying to explain why she’s embarrassed, but is that really necessary? I mean, her kid just opened up her shirt in front of a guy she likes. I think that’s pretty self explanatory. It just seems like a random topic to introduce that has nothing to do with anything other than saying she’s embarrassed by her boobs being out because she couldn’t breastfeed. Huh? I would be embarrassed too, and I breastfed, so I don’t see the point, and so it comes across as a weird, random judgment against her friends to me.

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  162. Aoife
    Aug 12, 2013 @ 07:21:38

    fairyfreak explained my reaction to the “flinging” passage very well. It was jarring to me at the time I read it, and when AJH brought it up again in his review I had no trouble seeing where he was coming from.

    @Robin/Janet

    I have no particular investment in AJH as a reviewer. As I said in my post above, I haven’t read all of his reviews. I have treated his reviews the same way I treat any other DA reviewer: if he’s reviewed a book I have an interest in, I read it, if the book doesn’t interest me, I move on. What I have an issue with is this particular thread is the overall tone of “You’re doing it wrong” that has been directed at him. He was too snarky, he was dismissive, he didn’t engage, he didn’t engage correctly, he didn’t have the correct word count, he didn’t consider the wider social, legal, political, etc aspects of single motherhood/breastfeeding/category romance conventions–in other words, he didn’t do it right.

    All of this may not have been the intended tone, and some of the things that AJH was called out on may very well be legitimate gripes. But when someone with no particular investment in it, like me, reads the thread in its entirety, it reads as a pile-on from which AJH cannot extricate himself, because whatever he says, It Isn’t Enough.

    I do not believe that a female genre newbie would have been tossed out the window the same way, because it’s fairly clear that part of the problem that some posters have had with AJH and this review is that he is a male.

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  163. Aoife
    Aug 12, 2013 @ 07:29:24

    @ Jill Sorenson

    I’ve certainly posted on the fly and regretted it, so I can empathize.

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  164. cleo
    Aug 12, 2013 @ 09:48:46

    @ Aoife – I agree with you that AJH was treated differently in this thread than DA reviewers usually are treated (with one exception). I’m glad we’re talking about it. I have a different interpretation of why. AJH isn’t a normal DA reviewer and therefore the dynamics are different. He’s not here to review books, he’s here to explore a new genre and share his impressions with us – we who’re more experienced in the genre. I don’t think it was intentional, but it set up this mentor/guide dynamic and lead to this ‘you’re not doing it right’ tone in this one thread. I expect it to be a one time thing. It does seem like AJH is ok with it, however – and I sincerely hope that he’ll let us know if he’s not. I don’t feel like he needs to apologize for anything. And once we started talking about Harry and gender norms etc, I feel like the conversation got juicier and shifted away from ‘you’re doing it wrong.’ Maybe that was just my personal shift.

    To me, the conversation about breast feeding and flinging is completely normal for DA and has very little to do with AJH as a reviewer (this is my one exception to AJH being treated differently in this thread). This happens all the time at DA – someone disagrees with someone’s interpretation and conversation ensues. If we’re lucky we get to learn about how different perspectives lead to different readings of the same text (and if we’re unlucky it turns into one if those awful loops of ‘this isn’t offensive – you shouldn’t be offended’ followed by ‘don’t tell me how to feel, you SHOULD be offended’ and it gets ugly and unpleasant).

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  165. Deljah
    Aug 12, 2013 @ 10:15:21

    @cleo: @cleo:

    Can you clarify your comments in #164 a bit more? To me, they are reading as if AJH will share his own impressions, and then he’ll be corrected and molded, such that the end result will be him attaining to some sort of standard or conforming to a particular methodology and approach in his thinking and when providing his remarks? It makes me wonder how “independent” his reviews will be in the future, so it would be helpful to get a little clarity. Thanks.

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  166. cleo
    Aug 12, 2013 @ 10:52:14

    @Deljah: Here’s AJH’s post, explaining his project – http://dearauthor.com/features/letters-of-opinion/guest-introduction-im-in-ur-genre-havin-ur-emotions/ – the quick version is that he’s starting to read romance, after mostly reading other genres, and is sharing his journey with us. As he writes -

    … I’d like to share this journey.

    The plan, such as it is, is fairly simple: tell me what to read and I’ll read it, assuming I can readily get hold of it. It can be a book you love, a book you think defines the genre, a book you feel is historically important, any sub-genre you fancy, whatever you want, no limits, no safewords. I won’t really be reviewing books as such because I don’t have any basis by which to judge, or arguably any right to do so. And, equally, here’s my promise to you: I’m going to try to my level best not to be stupid about this. Fresh perspectives can be invigorating, if they’re offered with grace, but there’s nothing worse than somebody standing on the sidelines of your genre, being clueless and demanding that every trope justify its existence. So if I start sliding down Mount Stupid, just tell me to stop it and I will.

    I think a lot of us took his request to tell him to stop it if he started sliding down Mt Stupid seriously, and that accounts for the tone in this comment thread, but (as far as I know, anyways) there’s no plan/goal to mold him into some “correct way of thinking about romance” or to convert him to anything except reading more romances.

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  167. Deljah
    Aug 12, 2013 @ 11:07:06

    @cleo:

    Aaah, I see now, I think. Thanks for replying, cleo. I was looking at AJH as an impressionistic reviewer, reading these books b/c he likes to read and wants to read something different, somewhat of a newbie presenting his reactions to various texts with other readers responding in turn. I didn’t catch from the outset that there was something of an academic angle to his series, but to the extent that he shares that agenda, I say “wax on, wax off, grasshopper!”

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  168. AJH
    Aug 12, 2013 @ 11:42:16

    @Deljah & Cleo:

    I was looking at AJH as an impressionistic reviewer, reading these books b/c he likes to read and wants to read something different, somewhat of a newbie presenting his reactions to various texts with other readers responding in turn.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve always thought that was exactly what I was doing as well.

    I think I can be quite an analytical person sometimes so that probably colours my writing style a little but, while I have tremendous respect for those who do take an academic approach to the genre, I’ve always considered myself to be writing much more personally and reading for my personal enjoyment (even if I wind up not liking individual books that much).

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  169. AQ
    Aug 12, 2013 @ 14:23:02

    I read the entire passage Jane typed in the comments.

    I get to this paragraph:

    Unlike many of the women in her mothers’ group, she had been unsuccessful at breast-feeding. A series of infections and an inadequate milk supply led her pediatrician to recommend bottle-feeding Alice when her daughter was barely a month old. Consequently, Pippa wasn’t nearly as casual about flinging her breasts around as some of her friends. To her, they were about sex and intimacy, not sustenance.

    I happen to agree with the reviewer on this one.

    That’s not an embarrassed Pippa giving an off-the-cuff emotional response to the reader, that’s a seemingly clinical omni narrator giving an out-of-the-blue judgment type statement.

    I found it jarring.

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  170. Susan
    Aug 12, 2013 @ 18:42:01

    I downloaded and read the book this weekend so I could be better equipped to address some of the issues raised in this discussion. As I mentioned upthread, category romances just don’t work as often as they used to for me so this isn’t my favorite subgenre. I think Suddenly You was (maybe) about my seventh read by Sarah Mayberry and I have to say I liked it much better than expected going in. Stirring? No. Pleasant? Yes.

    That’s not to say the book didn’t push some buttons with me. It did, and in a pretty big way in a couple of instances. (It just didn’t push the same buttons for me as it did for AJH.) I’d probably rate it a perfectly acceptable C/C+.

    The passage about the breast-feeding (why Pippa didn’t) was pretty insignificant to me. It served to explain why she was bottle-feeding Alice but, honestly, if it hadn’t been included it never would have occurred to me to wonder about it. The “flinging” statement, OTH, was a bit jarring. I knew going in that it was a hot topic so I tried not to pay undue attention to it, but I think it would have caught my attention even so. A number of other words could have adequately conveyed the meaning without being so dramatic and judgmental. But it was just one word, so. . . I dunno.

    MILF. I don’t care for the term, but it didn’t offend/bother me over much in the review. But it also didn’t strike me particularly that Pippa was being portrayed as a MILF.

    Tone of the review. IMO, it didn’t rate excessively high on the snark-o-meter. I quite enjoy a bit of snark as long as it isn’t mean-spirited or OTT (like the SBTB Book Rants) and I thought this was well within the acceptable (and entertaining) range. Was it dismissive? The review was relatively short, lacking the usual degree of analysis, and not favorable. So, maybe that does come across as dismissive but, reading it, I pretty much accepted it as being a product of the fact that both the subgenre and the book simply didn’t work for him. He could have been asked to write a meatier review, but he still didn’t have to like the subgenre/book.

    There are spirited discussions, disagreements, and push-back–and then there are pile-ons. This was a pile-on. I thought many of the comments were patronizing, rude, and ugly—just for starters. And I don’t for one minute think that a female reviewer, new or not, would have been subjected to the same level of scrutiny and push-back. Jane mentioned that, by virtue of being male, AJH had essentially been given a free pass up to this point. Well, that sure was rectified in spades as he was chastised for not taking into consideration every conceivable female viewpoint. Like some others, this thread as a whole left a very bad taste in my mouth.

    There seemed to be a degree of backstory/innuendo to the some of the DA comments. My view, at least. Also, Ms. Mayberry is not only an author appreciated by many of the DA contributors and posters, she’s also a fairly regular commenter herself. I can’t help but wonder if that didn’t to a degree influence some of the defensiveness (protectiveness) of the comments. And that would be unfortunate.

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  171. Susan
    Aug 12, 2013 @ 18:45:58

    BTW, as suggested, I also downloaded and read Charlotte Lamb’s Vampire Lover. Feel free to give me an F for my reviewing skills because I’m totally without words.

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  172. MikiS
    Aug 12, 2013 @ 20:54:15

    @Susan: Haven’t read the book, but I agree about the “pile-on” comments. On the other hand, I think it’s very likely a female reviewer might have gotten the same harsh response. I’m not a mother, but at one point in my life, every person in my social group was breeding and the discussions (pro-and-con) on breastfeeding became incredibly heated. I was amazed at how judgemental women got on this topic – usually from the pro-breastfeeding side, but not exclusively.

    When I read the comment about “flinging breasts around”, I tried to remember how I felt back then and the comments made in my social group from the other women and the men in the group. We were fairly young (college age or just out of college) and the guys were pretty unanimously uncomfortable because “boobies turned them on”. Luckily, most of the women were cool with it and supportive, although some had been raised in very conservative households, so they preferred the blanket-over-the-breastfeeding-baby method. It was actually in that context that I read the “flinging breasts” comment – I wondered if the heroine came from a background that she was more expressing her general discomfort with public nudity (or even just her own nudity, private or public) in general.

    I also had a breastfeeding friend who told me her view on her breasts changed after her first pregnancy and she couldn’t see them in a sexual light while breastfeeding (and if I’m not saying it correctly – that meant they were off-limits to hubby for that time period). It was definitely an either/or thing for her. So AJH’s comments weren’t all that odd to me either, because they reminded me of that particular friend’s comments.

    Totally off this particular topic, I didn’t realize Lamb’s “Vampire Lover” was available digitally. I’ve heard *so* much amount it, I feel like I’ve just got to get myself a copy!

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  173. reader
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 00:01:49

    @Susan I can’t help but wonder if that didn’t to a degree influence some of the defensiveness (protectiveness) of the comments. And that would be unfortunate.

    Unfortunate? Comments in the thread were defensive (protective) of the reviewer as well as the author. That’s not unreasonable and I don’t think it’s unfortunate in either direction.

    I’m assuming a fair and open conversation about the review and the book is what everyone wants, including the author and reviewer.

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  174. Robin/Janet
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 00:14:10

    @fairyfreak: I know this is total overkill, but once I started thinking about the book and about Pippa’s character, and about this passage, I couldn’t stop myself, especially since so many people who haven’t read the book weighed in on this.

    In part the initial analysis relies on the question of whether the words “casual” and “flinging” are negative words. I don’t think they are; in fact, I thought the use of the word “fling” was pretty clever, because the word not only means to toss, but it also refers to a passionate romantic affair, so I thought it created kind of a subtle double entendre there.

    But anyway, back to the quote: A series of infections and an inadequate milk supply led her pediatrician to recommend bottle-feeding Alice when her daughter was barely a month old. Consequently, Pippa wasn’t nearly as casual about flinging her breasts around as some of her friends. To her, they were about sex and intimacy, not sustenance.

    So the argument here is that Pippa is judging her friends who are “casual about flinging [their] breasts around.” However, the entire context of this passage is Pippa’s inadequacies. Her inadequacy to breastfeed; her inadequacy to NOT be embarrassed by having her bra exposed; her inadequacy to handle the situation without blushing madly. In fact, she’s next described as “racing to push the buttons home” afterward, because she’s so embarrassed. So she’s basically narrating her own inadequacy here.

    Further, she is unaware of Alice unbuttoning her top while it’s happening, and by the time she realizes what has happened, Pippa is “offering him an untrammeled view of her deep red bra and a whole lot of cleavage.” And Harry is staring at it. Then, a few minutes later, Alice grabs on to Harry’s t-shirt and won’t let go. This brings Pippa and Harry into close proximity, and sexual awareness begins to make itself known: She was very aware of the firm warmth of his chest beneath the fabric and how close she stood to him. It hit her that this was the most intimate she’d been with a member of the opposite sex since she’d gotten pregnant. A less than impressive reflection of her social life, but also a solid explanation for the way her heart suddenly pounded in her chest.

    And then comes this: He dutifully picked up his cutlery and started eating. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, trying to regain her equilibrium. From the moment he’d dropped her car keys into her hand she’d been off balance. Exposing herself and then prying her daughter off him hadn’t helped matters.

    Funny, but she’d never thought of Harry as someone she could ever be nervous around. But then she’d never been alone with him at nine o’clock on a Friday night before, either.

    Right, because so much is going to happen. He’s probably just waiting for his moment to pounce, single mothers being a huge turn-on for him and all. Add to that the fact you’re his best mate’s ex and you’re practically irresistible. It’s a wonder he’s still got his pants on. [this is in italics in the book]

    The thought calmed her. The very idea of Harry being interested in her or her being interested in Harry was absurd. Beyond absurd, really, moving into insane territory.

    So she’s off balance, embarrassed, uncomfortable at the sexual spark between her and her ex’s best friend, AND she perceives herself to be completely unappealing to Harry. Notice the wry, even snarky, self-deprecating tone of the passage where she chides herself for having any sexual awareness of Harry. This passage is in the same scene as the one about her bra and her breasts. Again, a reference to her own inadequacy, in this case of being attractive enough to lure Harry in, especially with a child (Harry has made it clear he wants a life free of adult responsibilities). And a reference to her feeling like a fool for even imagining that there might be something blossoming between them (which there is, but she is not aware of Harry’s burgeoning interest at this point). This is Pippa’s thing: she’s a wise-ass who overwhelmingly uses her own sarcasm against herself.

    In fact, her relationship with Harry shows of this pattern of self-implicating snark quite robustly. She and Harry good-naturedly rib each other back and forth, and the one time she truly gets angry with him – because he wants to help her fix her completely rundown and unsafe house, she feels her pride get wounded and lashes out – she immediately and profusely undertakes an apology, even telling him, “I deserve to squirm.”

    But for the most part, they sarcastically rib each other. For example, when they are moving her bed to fix her ceiling (this happens quite a bit later in the book, although it seems in the review that it happens tout suite), all the stuff underneath is revealed:

    Lifting it revealed the many small odds and ends she stored beneath the bed— a pretty keepsake box, stacks of books, a few pairs of old shoes, her radio— as well as dust bunnies the size of small ponies.

    “What can I say? Vacuuming is not my forte,” she said when Harry nudged one with the toe of his boot.

    “Better be careful one of them doesn’t crawl up and eat you in your sleep.”

    “Idiot. Everyone knows dust bunnies are vegetarians. As if.”

    They were both smiling as they shuffled the box spring into the hallway…

    Idiot, by the way, is a term Pippa uses on herself, as well. When her ceiling breaks, she refuses to call Harry initially, because she thinks he won’t want to do anything else for her after she got angry with him. “You are such an idiot,” she tells herself.

    But the comment about the dust bunnies again implicates Pippa’s inadequacy, suggesting that even the dust bunnies would not find her appetizing.

    Or take this exchange, when Harry shows up to fix her ceiling and he smells dinner cooking (they make an arrangement that he’ll fix the hole in her ceiling if she makes him dinner. And really, Harry expects nothing, but Pippa’s pride won’t let her accept what she believes to be charity):

    Harry’s gaze swept over her before returning to her face. “Is that dinner I can smell?”

    “Why, yes, honey, it is. Can I take your tool belt for you before I fetch your pipe and slippers?”

    Of course, the joke is on Pippa, and she knows it, because she lives in a virtual hovel, the father of her child has abandoned her, and she has crashed through her own ceiling while she was in the attic checking out two huge leaks in her roof, one of which is streaming water right into Alice’s bedroom. At this point she is a parody of domesticity.

    I think it’s difficult to see this aspect of Pippa’s personality, both in that early scene, and in the review as a whole. Even referring to Pippa as a MILF is problematic, because one of the biggest elements of her own conflict in the novel is that of feeling a) adequately sexy, b) adequately capable of keeping her own life together, c) adequately providing for her daughter, d) and adequately keeping an emotional distance from Harry, because he has told her that he’s a “bad bet” for anything but a short term “fling.” She certainly doesn’t think of herself as a MILF, and Harry does not fetishize her as a mother.

    Then there is Pippa’s commitment to Alice, which she knows is her top priority, even over her own romantic happiness. It’s not just a sense of obligation. She talks about Alice as “the best thing that ever happened to [her]” and is always patient and loving with her daughter. Not once does she express resentment or regret for having her. In fact, when Harry wants her to consider a long-term relationship with him, she’s worried, because “She wears the consequences of all my mistakes.” And she has a right to be worried, because Harry has always been a good time guy who insists he doesn’t want anything permanent. His respect for Pippa and his sincere appreciation of her as a person are among the main things that catalyze his own maturation.

    Back to Pippa, the few times we see her interacting on page with other women, there is no sense of jealousy, competitiveness, or judgment. In fact, when she and Harry are Christmas shopping in a toy store for Alice, the saleswoman makes an assumption that they are a couple. Instead of being upset with the saleswoman, “Pippa stole a glance at Harry, worried he might have overheard the conversation after all and thought she’d deliberately let the woman maintain her assumption.” Again, Pippa takes the responsibility.

    So why would a woman who is always pointing out her own inadequacies, who has nothing but love and gratitude for her daughter, and who is struggling like hell to make a life for herself and Alice, be judging other women — her friends, especially — for breastfeeding? As I said to AJH, the passage can be read that way, but I think it goes against the grain of everything else in Pippa’s character. If anything, I think the word “fling” is a just a throwaway, because that whole section of the book is about Pippa’s sense of her own shortcomings.

    In fact, I consistently wished that Pippa’s smart-aleck self-awareness WOULD make her LESS self-deprecating. She wasn’t a full-on martyr, but she did seem awfully comfortable with allowing herself to struggle, in part because she knows that she was pretty much screwing around with her life before she got pregnant, and now she has a steep maturation curve. By the same token, I wanted Harry to be a little bit MORE inconsistent in his own growth into a mature, self-aware partner for Pippa. Not that I don’t think they can make it — but they’re going to be struggling for a while, and whatever domesticity is being achieved in this book is not by any stretch easy or idealized.

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  175. fairyfreak
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 11:18:09

    @Robin/Janet:

    I think we’re talking about different things. You’ve made a great case as to why she’s a nice person who would never, ever think something mean about anyone, ever. But there are two problems with this. 1. I don’t think people like that exist :) and 2. I don’t think anyone was trying to say she’s a mean person.
    “So why would a woman who is always pointing out her own inadequacies, who has nothing but love and gratitude for her daughter, and who is struggling like hell to make a life for herself and Alice, be judging other women — her friends, especially — for breastfeeding?” – Because she’s human? Everyone thinks snarky or judgmental thoughts about other people at times. It’s a human response, especially when they’re feeling embarrassed. She was feeling awkward, and she had a judgmental/snarky thought about a group of people she thought wouldn’t feel awkward. It came from a place of slight jealousy at feeling awkward when she didn’t want to, and it’s an entirely human response. It doesn’t make her a bad person. She can be nice and still have snarky thoughts. I do it all the time! :) Sometimes, I even say it out loud to my close friends. But just like having snarky thoughts doesn’t make her a mean girl, being a nice girl doesn’t stop the thought from being judgmental. It’s two separate issues. Now, whether you think the thought was judgmental is an individual response, and we’re not going to agree on that. Which is fine. I just don’t want you to be upset thinking people are calling Pippa a mean girl, when I don’t think they are. I also stand by my other point, that the whole paragraph on flinging breasts was unnecessary to the text, which is why it feels so jarring to people.

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  176. Robin/Janet
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 11:52:57

    @fairyfreak: Uh, no, I am not trying to say that Pippa is the nicest person ever. She’s a wise-ass. Although, as I said in my comments, I *wish* Pippa were a little more of a mean girl,because even when she does break under the load she’s got, it’s short-lived. That’s not my issue. My issue is with what AJJH said about that passage and about how people came in and flatly said they agreed with his reading (I apologize if you were not among those who agreed with his meaning, but that’s what I got from your comment). To wit:

    Okay, look, I’m not a breastfeeding expert but this strikes me as just plain mean. . . . I just felt that this was the text going out of its way to somewhat uncharitably emphasise that Pippa is the hot, bangable sort of mom, not the sort who heaven forefend, ever had stretch marks or leaking nipples.

    I do not think that reading is supportable either in terms of it being the authorial voice overlaying Pippa’s or in terms of showing Pippa as a MILF. That’s what I was speaking to. I think it’s clear from the book in its entirety that said passage most definitely matches Pippa’s voice, and that in context it’s clear that all of her snark around attractiveness is self-directed, and that we’re not supposed to see her as a paragon of domestic fantasy bliss.

    As for whether it’s necessary to the text, well, I do think that judgment is difficult to make if you haven’t read the book, and, as I’ve noted, I think AJH had to stretch really, really far to make that reading. And it’s not about liking Pippa — it’s just frustration over what I think is a careless reading, one on which a great deal of the review — and the comment thread — is based. I don’t even need to like a book to undertake this kind of thing. Hell, I’m not a fan of 50 Shades, but I’ve written extensively about why I think that book is important to Romance and why I think it’s doing core genre work and is much more complex than many have perceived it to be.

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  177. fairyfreak
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 12:53:11

    @Robin/Janet:
    Sorry if I missed your overall point, I was responding to the quote I included where you were asking why such a good and struggling person could think such a snarky thing. Good people think snarky things all the time! :) And no, I wasn’t arguing that the book was trying to make Pippa out to be a hot mamma vs. other mammas, but I do agree that the breastfeeding comment was judgmental and random. My issue was with your post saying you couldn’t find a single instance in the book of her being judgmental. *shrugs* I think she was in that passage.

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  178. Jill Sorenson
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 14:16:08

    @fairyfreak: I had a couple of people on twitter tell me they’d read the entire book and agree with AJH, so I wanted to add their voices to this discussion. Because it clearly needs a few more opinions and comments. ;) On reflection, I can see why some readers agree that Pippa is judging. I don’t think she is, but I can’t say it’s an invalid reading. AJH’s arguments failed to sway me and maybe I didn’t value his opinion as much as I would a female reviewer. I do think he’s done a fair job with women’s issues on other reviews.

    Recently a female reviewer (not a romance reader) got a lot of pushback for her article comparing Nabokov to Nora Roberts. That seemed like a pile-on to me. I didn’t have as strong a negative reaction as others and I actually felt sorry for her, so I understand the defenses of AJH here. The argument always seems a little petty when you don’t feel passionately for/against, and the tone harsher when you disagree. I’m sure some readers are like “omg this thread who CARES.” I’ve been there.

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  179. Susan
    Aug 13, 2013 @ 15:16:55

    @MikiS: You’re correct that Pippa was–I guess modest is an OK way to put it. This was touched on a bit with some other scenes, too. Still, the “flinging” comment was a bit harsh and seemed out of character for Pippa despite her personal modesty. It definitely struck me at the time although, admittedly, I may have been influenced by the shitstorm that had erupted over it. Since the breastfeeding issue isn’t a trigger for me, that passage and the flinging comment might otherwise have just been a momentary blip in my reading.

    My point was really that, no matter what people felt about that single passage/word and the reviewer’s interpretation of it, I didn’t think it merited being beaten to death over and over and over so utterly exhaustively.

    @reader: Open discussions, even heated discussions, are the goal. But balance should also be in the mix, and I don’t think that was achieved in this instance. Deference to either the reviewer or the author shuts down meaningful conversation. I wouldn’t like to think that was a factor here–but it seems to me it might have been. So, yes, that’s unfortunate in my view. Naturally, others may have viewed the thread in a different light.

    @Lynn S.: I just started reading my new Lady in Black ebook. I haven’t gotten very far yet, but it’s definitely been updated/revised to some extent. I really hope the character of the original hasn’t been lost.

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  180. etv13
    Aug 14, 2013 @ 04:15:23

    This whole discussion is a real tribute to the power of fictional consructs. You watch Lawrence of Arabia, and sure, four hours is long for a movie, but it’s really short for a lifetime, or even the course of World War I, and yet you feel like you’ve been on an epic journey. Here, likewise, so many people rush to defend Pippa as if she were a real person whose opinions and feelings deserve our consideration. But she isn’t a real person. She’s a literary character. And I think it’s fair to say that the controversy here springs from an artistic failure on the part of the author, in that it really isn’t clear whether “flinging” is properly part of Pippa’s POV or unimpersonated narrarative. I haven’t read the book, but just reading the stretch Jane quoted, it seemed to me that the paragraph about breastfeeding was really gratuitous, in that it seemed to be there to explain something that in my view didn’t need explaining — why a woman would be embarrassed at having her breasts/bra exposed to aman she might be dating/thinking about dating. That’s not a criticism of Pippa as a person, it’s a criticism of Sarah Mayberry as a writer, and that’s what I read AJH to be saying.

    Maybe it’s time for all of us to read/re-read “How Many Children Had Lady Macbeth.”

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  181. Jane
    Aug 19, 2013 @ 16:27:45

    @etv13: Actually it’s not a criticism of Sarah Mayberry as a writer, unfortunately. It was a criticism on how women should or should not feel. It came off very strange to many readers of the review.

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  182. etv13
    Nov 07, 2013 @ 02:41:45

    I disagree with you and those readers, then. When someone says, as AJH did, “this is the text going out of its way to” whatever, that is a criticism of the writer, not the character, and not a comment on how women in general should or should not feel. And it appears that this foofaraw has led to the disappearance of AJH’s reviews from this site, which I regret very much.

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