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20 February 2014 @ 11:15 am
Recent Reads: The School for Manners  

My reading lately has not been going so well. I’m bouncing off a lot of well-reviewed books hard, and I’m retreating to fun and easy reads.

I’ve said before that I enjoy reading MC Beaton’s books because they take me about 70 minutes and therefore allow me to feel like I’m reading a lot, even if in wordcount I’m not really. I’d been reading Agatha Raisin and Hamish McBeth, but I picked up one of her Regencies lately and it was great fun, so I’ve recently blown through the whole School for Manners series.

It’s quite delightful, if not actually worth reviewing each book individually. The series is about spinster twins who have breeding but not money and who hit upon the idea of taking in Difficult Girls (ie, ones who have not gone off to be obediently married at a suitable age) and reforming them. Hijinks ensue, and with each book the twins’ personal lives grow a little more complicated even as they manage to make good matches for all the young things.

The characterisations are good; all six of the girls in the books are distinctly different people (the heroes are perhaps a bit more interchangeable, but still are pretty individualized), and the twins themselves are a riot of incompatibilities. One is gruff and not conventionally attractive, which is Beaton’s default female lead, but she’s also soft-hearted and has much more sense of humour and charm than, say, Agatha Raisin does. The other twin is silly and pretty, but with a core of steel, and overall they’re both delightful characters.

There are some romance convention things in the books that persist in making me twitch: the hero’s seizing of the heroine for a deep probing kiss Because He Can’t Help Himself, or to Teach Her A Lesson (That Goes Awry Because He Finds He Means It), that sort of thing (although I note that there is no Shaking Of The Heroine in these books, which I was really on guard against and was relieved and surprised to not encounter), but overall, those kinds of conventions are better-handled (ie, less likely to make me scream) in these books than in most.

These were written in the early 90s. I need to get a handful of modern comedy-of-manners (as opposed to smouldering sexy) Regencies to see if/how those conventions have changed, because while I can go for the Inevitable Kiss That Neither Party Can Resist, the whole machismo/dominant/controlling thing still squicks me and I kind of want to see if/how people have worked around it.

Anyway, super charming books, lots of fun to read, highly recommended even if you don’t typically read romance. Which I don’t. :)

(x-posted from The Essential Kit)

Deborah Blakedeborahblakehps on February 20th, 2014 12:26 pm (UTC)
I'm on a contemporary romance kick because my brain is too fried by winter and writing to manage anything else :-)

I used to like MC Beaton, but eventually they got a little too mean-spirited for me.
Deborah Blakedeborahblakehps on February 20th, 2014 12:26 pm (UTC)
Oh, HEY! I got a great idea for something for you to read. It's fast and easy and fun. Baba something...
M. C. A. Hogarth: presenthaikujaguar on February 20th, 2014 02:15 pm (UTC)
Oh, the heroine shaking thing. I was re-reading Pern a few months ago and was aghast at the whole shaking thing. The first man who shook me would be the last man who shook me, because I would rage-punch him so hard he'd tear a hole in the space-time continuum.


Modern fantasies of manners... I just finished Mary Robinette Kowal's Shades of Milk and Honey (which has a paranormal twist), and that was really nicely done. In straight romance, The Taming of Lady Kate was diverting (Vandagriff's that author). I am blanking on others, but there was one about a magic chocolate pot... oh, here we go. Sorcery & Cecelia: The Enchanted Chocolate Pot.
kitmizkit on February 20th, 2014 03:34 pm (UTC)
I'm actually thinking not-fantastical, but straight Regency romance comedy of manners stuff, but thank you for those suggestions anyway!

Oh wow. Yes. I remember the last time I read the Pern books, which was a while ago now, going "holy O.O" at all the shaking and stuff. Yes. Indeed. Holy crap. o.o
M. C. A. Hogarth: presenthaikujaguar on February 20th, 2014 03:37 pm (UTC)
*squints* Okay so only the Taming of Lady Kate fits in that. I have been reading some period gay romances, but I don't think they count as fantasy of manners (though I did like the one where the man who ended up in the loveless marriage got maneuvered by her into a relationship with her brother, because she was fond of both of them).
Mary Annepers1stence on February 20th, 2014 05:13 pm (UTC)
Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander: A Novel by Ann Herendeen was an interesting twist on the regency romance genre but with unconventional relationships (gay and bisexual and straight) all featured in the main storyline. Greatest regency story ever told? no. a nice change of pace and competently told? yes.
Amandabranna on February 20th, 2014 07:48 pm (UTC)
It depends how allergic you are to a certain amount of modern sexual politics creeping into your romance---the farther you get from the whole alpha male/shaking machismo the higher the risk of that. It doesn't bother me, but that's because I treat all Regencies as existing in an alternate ahistorical universe anyway. But I would say there is a definite trend away from the old alpha male "teach the woman a lesson" garbage overall.

Eloise James is notable for having a lot of Regencies that involve protagonists working out failed marriages rather than traditional marriage mart plots. In one case the couple actually have to (gasp) start communicating and working at it before the sex becomes good. I don't recall any shaking in those. Courtney Milan's latest involves a couple who have known each other for years and might also fit the bill.
Mary Anne: pixelpers1stence on February 20th, 2014 02:46 pm (UTC)
I first read Marion Chesney (aka, MC Beaton) in early high school, with the 7 Sisters books and I think that's where I got hooked on the genre. Re-read them a few years ago and still liked 6 of the 7 quite a lot. I enjoyed the School of Manners, but they didn't stay with me mentally nearly as much.
kitmizkit on February 20th, 2014 03:35 pm (UTC)
I've only read one of the 7 Sisters books so far (gotta get the rest) and thought it too was cute.
Mary Annepers1stence on February 20th, 2014 04:55 pm (UTC)
My bad - it's six sisters. As I recall, the one with Frederica (or possibly it was Diana -- it's been a while) was the one that had the overly "masterful" hero, in a way that I found a little creepy even at 15. But there was only the one "hero" that was like that, as I recall.
Chrysoulachrysoula on February 20th, 2014 05:08 pm (UTC)
I have not read these. Well, possibly one, not sure.

Having just come off writing romantic (or semi-romantic) encounters between 4 different couples, I'm giving my tropes the side-eye. Let's see. We have one, "I'll show you!" (but it's not a kiss, or anything physical), one frank sex-positive conversation about duty vs desire, and let's see, yes, one Kiss That Backfires By Making Him Realize He Means It. >.> <.< (to be fair, she was pretty much thinking oh god please kiss me when he did. does that matter?)