Reading and aftertaste 5


I don’t drink things with artificial sweeteners in them. It’s not the taste that I don’t like, it’s the aftertaste. Ugh. A couple of the books I’ve read this week have had unexpected aftertastes for me. But first, here’s what else I’ve been reading:

Fools Rush In
, Janice Thompson. More inspie reading. I struggled through this one, mostly because the setting and the humour are just not my thing at all.

Backstage With Her Ex
, Louisa George. New to me M&B author. There was lots I liked about this and I would read her again.

Turn to the West,
Sara Seale. M&B first published in 1953. I enjoyed this very much indeed, so thanks must go to Sunita, who recommended Seale and a handful of other vintage M&B authors. It’s a boss/employee story and in addition to that, there’s a big age gap. And yet Seale managed to make it work without the power dynamic becoming too imbalanced.

One of the Family
, Mary Burchell. M&B first published in 1939. I really liked this. The characterisation of the mother is masterful. In fact all the secondary characters are very well done. It’s a lot longer than modern category romances and I really appreciated that. But this was one of my aftertaste books. Once I’d finished reading and got to the wonderful happy ending, I couldn’t get the publication date out of my head. I couldn’t let myself forget what 1939 entailed and what it would mean for this couple and their family. I don’t know if M&Bs were published throughout the war – I have a vague memory of paper shortages meaning that lots of publishers had to cut back. There is just one line in the book that hints at the wider political situation, when the heroine says that ‘it’s a daily thing now for people and even whole nations to shirk their decent responsibility…’ Indeed. I have one more vintage M&B left from the boxed set I bought on Amazon for 1p, and it was first published in 1947. I’m very curious to see whether the war and its after-effects are mentioned. There was still rationing in 1947, for instance. I will report back when I’ve read it.

Author: Jenna Dawlish

Publisher: E-scape Publishing

Date: 2009

Cover Art:

love-engineered2

love engineered

The copy I bought has the first cover. The second cover was the one listed at the Book Depository. I don’t like either. They are classic amateur book covers using one stock photo with inappropriate and distracting typography. The stock images aren’t particularly eye-catching in the first place and don’t signify romance to me. Plus I’m not sure which historical period was the one where women wrapped themselves in curtains and tied the tassels round their necks. The amateur treatment of them makes it even more likely that I would pass over this book. I didn’t because (1) it was free, (2) Victorian Lady Engineer!, and (3) it was shortlisted for an RNA award, so I was hopeful that the writing might be pretty good. (Spoiler: it wasn’t.)

Hero: Charles Lucas, engineer. A bit like Brunel, but not as good or as famous. From a middle-class background; his father was a lawyer. He is… okay, I guess? At one point he jumps to conclusions, so that there can be a Big Misunderstanding. Mostly he’s pretty nice, but a bit blah. He has a sister who conveniently becomes friends with the heroine, and a business partner who pushes him to become friends with the heroine so that she’ll invest in their bridges.

Heroine: Louise Thomas, secret engineer. I just didn’t buy this at all. I mean, I would LOVE books to be written about secret and not-secret lady engineers. But I didn’t believe that Louise was one. There was nothing about the way she talked, the questions she asked or the so-called experiments she undertook that made me think for a second that she had a scientific mind. For example, she first meets Charles after hearing him lecture about a new bridge he is building. She asks questions about working conditions for the labourers, how to pick contractors, and whether Mr Brunel would have won the contract if he had entered the competition. She does not ask anything about loads or tensions or pivots or balances or indeed anything to do with the engineering. And then she is irritated when other people start to ask questions about things that she considers basic.

Other: Cartoon villain. Wholly superfluous friend from Louise’s village who accompanies her on wholly superfluous trip to Paris where NOTHING HAPPENS. Several engineers. Charles’s mother and sister. Louise’s cousin whose only role is to make Charles think she’s going to marry him. She isn’t. This is not the Big Misunderstanding, it is a Medium-Sized Misunderstanding.

Marriage: Yes, blessedly brief in its description.

Enjoyment factor: I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so bored by a book. 24% of the way through I contemplated giving up. I made myself carry on, in the hope that it would improve. It didn’t. I wanted it to. I really wanted to read an awesome book about a Secret Victorian Lady Engineer. I hope someone else will write one. But this book suffered from tedious prose and lack of narrative structure. There were a lot of strands that could have been brought together in much more exciting ways. I’d love to see what a Courtney Milan or a Sherry Thomas would have done with this plot.

Epilogue: Hahahahaha! This was the main reason I wanted to review this book. If you look on Amazon or Goodreads or wherever, you’ll find lots of reviewers getting excited about this book being based on a true story. Spoiler: IT ISN’T. The epilogue is written in the form of extracts from encyclopaedia (a MADE-UP encyclopaedia) entries for Sir Charles Lucas, Lady Louise Lucas, and Robert Adams, the pseudonym for the Secret Victorian Lady Engineer, Louise Thomas. It’s quite well done and is possibly the most imaginative writing in the whole book. But, still NOT TRUE. There is no International Institute For Female Engineers and they do not award the Robert Adams Award for Excellence in Engineering. Sorry if you’ve read this and I have just dashed all your illusions.

So, I didn’t enjoy reading the book, but it also had an aftertaste. Partly from seeing the reviews, which made me think a lot about when fiction tips over into deception. I don’t think there was any intent to deceive in Love Engineered. Readers who confuse an Epilogue for an Author’s Note are clearly wrong. But I’d just finished reading this when someone tweeted about a different book that had false information in an Author’s Note, and it did make me think about how easy it is for authors to mess with readers heads.

But mostly I’ve been wondering how on earth this book ended up on an RNA shortlist. RNA prizes aren’t quite RITAs. We don’t have such a big romance industry here in the UK. But they are still prestigious awards. I just don’t know. Maybe it’s a matter of taste and other people loved this. Maybe there aren’t many nominations to choose from. Maybe I’m missing something.


5 thoughts on “Reading and aftertaste

  • Sunita

    I’m so glad you enjoyed the Seale! I don’t know if I’ve read that one; the title doesn’t ring a bell. Some of her books are wonderful but some are a bit uncomfortable for me to reread now, because the heroines can be so very young and innocent and the men are always older and more jaded by life (but not in a billionaire way). So there can definitely be power imbalances. But she’s always interesting.

    I am not sure I’ve read that Burchell either; there are about a dozen I haven’t read, I think. I was going to collect all her books but ran out of energy (there are over 100, I think). I’m intrigued by your comment that you have trouble with the HEA because of the date. Both my parents were the youngest in their families, so their older siblings were coming of age or in the 20s during the war, and several of them (and others in my family) met and married then and had long and happy lives. So I don’t think of the war (or WW1) as somehow spoiling or invalidating the HEA. Or did you mean something else?

    I have a few M&Bs that were published in the post war era, and I’m pretty sure the ones that feature ordinary British people at least make passing reference to coupons, rationing, etc., but I’m not absolutely sure. I must look!

    • theoldshed Post author

      Yes, I meant the war. They’re living in a London suburb, so at the very least they will go through the blitz. Gregory is in his early thirties, so he’s likely to get called up at some point. Even if they all survive, there will be years of separation and fear and hardship. The heroine’s mother, who lives with them, will absolutely hate it and make life miserable for the rest of them. I know people did meet and marry and go on to have long, happy lives then, but I just found it harder than normal to forget the rest of the world. I didn’t really think about it while I was reading, but afterwards I couldn’t just imagine them in a state of ongoing bliss, like I normally do. That’s probably more to do with the way I read than anything else. And the fan-ficcer in me.

      • Sunita

        Thanks for explaining. I’ve heard other people say they don’t want to read about HEAs that come before WW1 or WW2, and since I have read and enjoyed a fair bit of romance and romantic fiction around those times I’ve never quite understood. But your explanation helps a lot. Have you read Angela Thirkell’s books? The Barsetshire novels start in the mid-30s and continue until her death in the early 60s, and she wrote about one a year, so there are a number that engage directly with war and conditions at home. Every book has a romance as part of the plot, and the ones set during and directly after the war are considered some of her best. I’d love to know how they read to you.

        I will definitely look up those sets!

        • theoldshed Post author

          I haven’t read Thirkell but I’ve had a lot of recommendations for her, so I will give her a try.

          I’ve read and enjoyed a fair bit of war-set fiction, but I’m not sure I’ve read much romance set in those eras. But also, I think I find it easier when the war or impending war is part of the book so that the characters are already dealing with it. The almost total absence of any reference to it in the Burchell book left me feeling that they had no idea what was about to hit them.

    • theoldshed Post author

      Oh, and if you want to read it, I found it was easy to get on Amazon UK because it was reprinted in 1985, in the boxed set I bought for 1p. So even with postage to the US it shouldn’t be much.

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