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What Jennie’s Been Reading

Since last I wrote, I read and reviewed Patricia Gaffney’s Crooked Hearts. Here’s what else I’ve been reading:

The Great Famine: Ireland’s Agony 1845-1852  by Ciarán Ó Murchadha: Because apparently one book about innocent people starving to death just wasn’t enough for me. Actually, it wasn’t until I started this book that I realized I had inadvertently grabbed it just after finishing the book on the Siege of Leningrad. This is a well-written book, but too dry and scholarly for me. There are some human moments and personal anecdotes, but they are a bit too few and far between. At the same time some of the details are powerful enough that as a reader I was appalled at the neglect and cruelty forced upon the victims of the famine. The logic of the powers in England is a thing to behold, as when reports that potato crops would fail for a second year in a row prompted closure of relief measures, to avoid the poor becoming too “dependent” on aid. (Not a problem once they are dead of starvation or disease!) I saw some disturbing parallels between the callous attitudes shown by the privileged class in 19th century Britain and similar attitudes found in some quarters in the United States today.


At Your Pleasure by Meredith Duran: I have really liked every Duran book I’ve read, and this was no exception. At the same time I think maybe it was…slightly forgettable? I don’t know; somehow I just feel like it hasn’t stayed with me the way a really good book should. But sometimes that has more to do with my mood or what’s going on in my life at the time I read a book. Anyway, I should be doing a review of this; maybe I’ll resolve my feelings about it through that.


Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout: I wasn’t sure I would be interested in this book, Pulitzer Prize or no. It looked like it might be either too women’s fiction-y for me or too literary fiction-y for me. But my sister read it and liked it, and so I gave it a try. Set in small-town Maine, it’s not so much a novel as a collection of stories. Olive Kitteridge appears either as the main character or a minor character in all of them. Olive, a retired school teacher who is large, terse and often unlikeable, anchors the stories and serves as a sort of anchor in the community as well. Over the course of the book, I came to find her strangely loveable even when she wasn’t likeable. The other characters are interesting as well, usually in a quiet way – Strout’s strength is in insightful characterization, not flashy prose or plotting. I ended up liking this quite a bit.


Grave Mercy by R.L. LaFevers: I grabbed this one on a whim; the elements that aren’t my usual cup of tea were made up for by elements that intrigued me. This is an alternate-history/fantasy hybrid featuring a heroine who is a sort of handmaiden/assassin for the saint of death (!). I’m about two-thirds of the way through, and it’s pretty good, though there’s a slight lack of sophistication to the writing that may be due to the fact that it’s at least nominally a YA book. Also, I would like to see the heroine become a bit more kickass. I plan to review this.


Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte: I believe this was recommended to me in the comments after my review of the clusterfuck of insanity that was Wuthering Heights. Agnes Grey could not be more different. I’m about halfway through it, and so far it’s a very quiet tale about a young woman who leaves her family to work as a governess, which turns out to be a largely thankless task, at least in the case of the two families she ends up working for. Agnes has some interesting observations about human nature, though she’s occasionally a bit superior and even martryish in her detailing of how very mean everyone is to her. But she’s the classic sensible 19th century heroine: kind, down to earth, humble and devout. So far not a lot has happened, though the much-telegraphed romance between Agnes and a country pastor seems like it’s just about to get off the ground, if the two of them would stop acting like 7th graders at their first dance and actually talk to each other. So far, so good.


North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell: It was the miniseries of this book that got me started as an Elizabeth Gaskell fan; I went on to watch and enjoy the miniseries of her Cranford and eventually the book version of that story. I’m finally getting around the reading this one, and I’m glad I started it. North and South is a more serious and complex than Cranford, but I’m enjoying it so far, and especially like the ambiguity of the characterizations (I’ve mentioned it before but somehow I’m always surprised when pre-modern novels have characters that aren’t black-and-white).


A Tryst with Trouble by Alyssa Everett: I have a review of this that should run closer to the release date. I’ll just say this: meh.


Her Husband’s Harlot by Grace Callaway: I actually bought this after reading Dabney’s review. It had its moments (the sex scenes were quite hot) but overall I thought it was pretty mediocre.


About that Night by Julie James: I’m not a big reader of contemps, and this is only the second book I’ve read from this author (the other was the related Something About You). I kind of just fell into reading this; I opened it up and then couldn’t quite put it down. That sounds like a strong recommendation, but it’s probably just a reflection of the fact that I find contemporaries the most readable of romances; it’s pretty easy for me to fall into reading one. It’s a decent enough read but I’m not sure I understand the fuss about this author. But again, not a big reader of contemporaries, and I find that what makes them readable also makes them a bit forgettable and interchangeable, at least for me.


Wow, that was a lot of books! I should do these more often.

Until next time,


has been an avid if often frustrated romance reader for the past 15 years. In that time she's read a lot of good romances, a few great ones, and, unfortunately, a whole lot of dreck. Many of her favorite authors (Ivory, Kinsale, Gaffney, Williamson, Ibbotson) have moved onto other genres or produce new books only rarely, so she's had to expand her horizons a bit. Newer authors she enjoys include Julie Ann Long, Megan Hart and J.R. Ward, and she eagerly anticipates each new Sookie Stackhouse novel. Strong prose and characterization go a long way with her, though if they are combined with an unusual plot or setting, all the better. When she's not reading romance she can usually be found reading historical non-fiction.


  1. leslie
    Mar 22, 2012 @ 10:08:02

    What does meh mean?

  2. Daisy
    Mar 22, 2012 @ 10:18:55

  3. Isobel Carr
    Mar 22, 2012 @ 11:51:54

    The reason I’m a Julie James fan is that she writes really believable, relatable, modern women and to date none of them has given up the big city and their career for love (all too often in my experience, contemps seem to lean toward glorification of the quaint, small town, and motherly). In a nutshell, I can relate to her heroines (she and Victoria Dahl are my only auto-buy comtemp authors).

  4. rachel
    Mar 22, 2012 @ 13:26:12

    North and South is so good, I know it is heresy to say so but I actually love it more than Pride and Prejudice. It’s so complicated and all the secondary characters are interesting.

  5. DM
    Mar 22, 2012 @ 13:40:08

    Re: Meredith Duran. I read Duke of Shadows and really enjoyed it, but have found all of her books since somewhat…slight? Entirely enjoyable, but at the same time totally unmemorable. DOS has stuck with me. It felt rooted in a time and place. I felt like I was there with the characters. Her books since have all seemed more run of the mill wallpaper historical.

    Re: Her Husband’s Harlot. I DNF’d Her Husband’s Harlot. The action prose was muddled and I found it difficult to follow what was going on in her scenes. I was about a third of the way through when I realized there was no obstacle to the HEA that an honest conversation couldn’t overcome, and that I was bored out of my skull.

  6. Jennie
    Mar 22, 2012 @ 18:39:04

    @Isobel Carr: I agree to a point. I think there are pretty much always unrealistic elements in contemporary romances simply because they wouldn’t be romance if they were *too* realistic. But the heroines are fairly relatable, and I agree that there isn’t a bunch of that “small town folk rule, big city girls are evil” hooey. I have been a little less fond of the heroes – the first was, IIRC, a standard macho cop type, and this one was kind of unrealistic with his Bill Gates brain and movie star looks. Plus, the “Twitter Terrorist” thing, while inventive, was also kind of dumb and made him look ridiculous.

  7. Jennie
    Mar 22, 2012 @ 18:41:38

    @rachel: I’m really enjoying it so far. I actually feel more for John than Margaret at this point; I mean, she IS a bit of a snob.

  8. rachel
    Mar 22, 2012 @ 20:44:46

    @Jennie That’s actually why it reminds me of a gender reversed P&P. Also, have you read Villette? It’s Charlotte Bronte’s last novel and it’s amazing, similar in tone to Jane Eyre but much twistier and more wrenching.

  9. Jennie
    Mar 22, 2012 @ 23:09:40

    @rachel: No, I haven’t read Villette but I will definitely add it to the list! (I’m almost done with Agnes Grey. I’ve decided Agnes really is something of a drip.)

  10. Cecilia Grant
    Mar 22, 2012 @ 23:13:49

    I wasn’t crazy about Agnes Grey, but I think that’s at least partly because I read it after reading The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, which knocked my socks off with its depiction of a nightmarish marriage that I suspect must have been a lot more common for Victorian women than, say, a Jane Eyre-ish union of equals. I highly recommend that, if you haven’t gotten tired of 19th-century English stuff.

    Did you ever finish Bleak House? Did you get around to watching the BBC version?

  11. E
    Mar 22, 2012 @ 23:15:54

    Have you read Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall? Definitely my favorite heroine by a Brontë sister. Helen is so much more everything than Agnes.

  12. JenniferH
    Mar 22, 2012 @ 23:47:23

    I can recommend Villette – I have read all of Charlotte Bronte’s books, and never managed to finished any of the other Bronte sister’s books. I will have to try them again.

  13. Merrian
    Mar 23, 2012 @ 00:42:26

    @rachel: I will second this

  14. Rosario
    Mar 23, 2012 @ 02:30:43

    Ok, I haven’t read About That Night yet, but I did read Something About You, and I see what you mean. I love Julie James for the reasons that @Isobel Carr articulated, and also because in James’ books, the woman can win in a confrontation with the hero, without the author feeling the need to then “put her in her place”, if that makes sense. The book where you see this best is Just The Sexiest Man Alive, which is a lot fresher and more original than Something About You. If you feel like trying her again, do try that one (and I normally hate having movie star protagonists, so don’t let that put you off!).

  15. Marguerite Kaye
    Mar 23, 2012 @ 04:33:55

    Cecil Woodham-Smith wrote The Great Hunger about the Irish famine. I think it was originally published in the 1950s so it is the kind of slightly gossipy history that doesn’t get written much these days, but I really enjoyed it. I also loved her book on the Charge of the Light Brigade, The Reason Why, which got me interested in the Crimea when I was writing about the film for my Masters. Again, gossipy history and much looked down on by ‘serious’ historians, but incredibly readable, I’d recommend it.

  16. Jennie
    Mar 23, 2012 @ 18:49:12

    @Cecilia Grant: I did finish Bleak House! I liked it better at the end but was mostly just glad it was over (shameful, I know). I haven’t gotten around to watching the BBC version yet; I’m still trying to finish Downton Abbey!

  17. Jennie
    Mar 23, 2012 @ 18:52:18

    @E: Next books to read: Villette and The Tenants of Wildfell Hall. Looking back on comments on the Wuthering Heights review, I think I was warned by people that Wildfell Hall was better than Agnes Grey. I’d just forgotten the advice.

  18. Jennie
    Mar 23, 2012 @ 18:56:31

    @Rosario: I do agree that the women in James’ books are unusual in their equality, even for contemporary romances. Goodness knows, that’s important to me; I’m kind of hyper-sensitive about heroines deferring to heroes. I usually hate movie-star heroes too, but I will check that book out.

  19. Jennie
    Mar 23, 2012 @ 19:04:59

    @Marguerite Kaye: Thanks for the recs! My mom always told me that the Charge of the Light Brigade happened because two generals who were cousins or something like that weren’t speaking to each other. Not quite as noble as the poem (and maybe not accurate; I don’t know).

  20. Jayne
    Jul 19, 2013 @ 07:10:21

    Coming late to the party but I just finished watching “North and South” (the 2004 one) and loved the romance. Funny but I tried to watch “Cranford” and got totally bored with it. Couldn’t even make it through the original much less the sequel. But Richard Armitage is hot.

  21. Jennie
    Jul 20, 2013 @ 00:27:38

    @Jayne: You never watched “North and South” before? I’m surprised! Isn’t Richard Armitage DIVINE?! I loved him. I also loved the actress who played Margaret (I’ve forgotten her name). A great miniseries.

  22. library addict
    Jul 20, 2013 @ 01:31:36

    @Jayne: I enjoyed the first Cranford, but Return to Cranford made me so mad not even Judi Dench and co could save it.

    @Jennie: Daniela Denby-Ashe played Margaret

  23. Jayne
    Jul 20, 2013 @ 06:43:04

    @Jennie: No, I’d never seen it. Actually I think I put it in my Netflix queue after reading one of your Reading Lists.

    Mah gawd Artimage is fine. During that scene when he watched Margaret in the carriage and (almost) silently (but intensely) urged her to turn back and look at him I was yelling at my screen, “Turn around you silly twit!”

  24. library addict
    Jul 20, 2013 @ 16:42:27

    @Jayne: I love how he never blinks during that scene.

  25. Jayne
    Jul 20, 2013 @ 18:09:13

    Yes! As if he is putting every ounce of himself into willing her to turn and can’t bare to risk missing any evidence that she might care for him. You’re right there with him, hoping she’s going to finally return his feelings.

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