Monday, September 23, 2013

"One Perfect Rose," by Mary Jo Putney (Ballantine, 1997)

The Chick: Rosalind Jordan, a.k.a. Marguerite St. Cyr. The stage manager for her adoptive family of travelling players.
The Rub: Although her family is loving, she does long for stability and security.
Dream Casting: Anna Torv.

The Dude: Stephen Kenyon, Duke of Ashburton, a.k.a. "Stephen Ashe." When he's diagnosed with a terminal illness, he rides off on his horse to find the adventure he'd previously been too staunch and duty-bound to pursue.
The Rub: He quickly falls in love with fair Rosalind, but what kind of a future can he give her when he doesn't have one himself?
Dream Casting: Christian Bale.

The Plot:

Shady Doctor: You're dying!

Stephen: Poop. Screw this! *rides off on his steed*

Rosalind: You saved my brother! How can I repay you?

Stephen: You can't. I'm dying.

Rosalind: Poop.

Stephen: But you can marry me and have security!

Rosalind: Sure!

Stephen: ... I'm also a duke. *marries*

Rosalind: Double poop.

Non-Shady Doctor: Turns out you're just being poisoned!

Stephen: Yay! I mean, poop. I mean - what do I mean?

Rosalind: I means you're going to live. With me!

Stephen: HOORAY!

Romance Convention Checklist:

  • 1 Orphan with a Mysterious Past
  • 2 Estranged Siblings
  • 1 Loving Adoptive Family
  • Several Thousand Shakespeare References
  • 1 Shady Doctor
  • 1 Awesome Doctor
  • 1 Poisoning

The Word: I seem to be saying, "I've burned out on romance" with more and more frequency. Trusted authors are disappointing me, new authors are boring me.

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that my over-reading in romance over the last couple of years has refined my tastes in the genre - my tastes and standards have become pretty specific and exclusive and rule out a huge chunk of the genre itself. Which makes me sad - and more than a little nervous since the vast majority of my TBR pile is taken up by romance novels.

People have suggested I take a break, but I love the romance community and industry, and I also don't want to over-read in the other genres I'm enjoying now (YA especially), because I know I'm a person who, when she enjoys something, wants to do and read nothing but that special something until I grow absolutely tired of it. My iTunes account is full of songs I've listened to thousands of times that I can't bear to hear anymore.

Long story short - I was underwhelmed by Putney's One Perfect Rose, for no real reason than I think I'm growing apart from romance.

Rosalind was a foundling child who was rescued and raised by a quirky, loving family of travelling actors. While not a great actress herself, she works as their stage manager as she helps them perform Shakespeare in remote English villages. She comes complete with a Mysterious Aristocratic Past and a Dead Asshole Husband, but to her credit, she behaves like a relatively cheerful and rational person about her baggage.

While travelling to their next gig, Rosalind's brother Brian falls into a river and is rescued from drowning by a mysterious, wealthy gentleman named Stephen Ashe. The players take him in to help him recuperate from his own injuries and he and Rosalind develop an emotional connection.

Stephen Ashe, however, is really Stephen Kenyon, the Duke of Ashburton. He's also dying of liver disease. Furious at both his diagnosis and at how he believes he's wasted his life clinging to duty and propriety, he fled his privileged life and home to try and wring some last passion from life before his comes to an end. While he's quickly coming to care for Rosalind, he's unsure of how to proceed with her now that his days are numbered.

Both protagonists are empathetic, more or less sensible people who are refreshingly honest with each other (mostly) and there's some interesting conflict and drama. There's nothing that could really qualify as bad until the last third, when the author tries to forcibly inject the hero with a spiritual awakening using ghosts and past lives in a really goofy, ham-handed way.

However, I found myself growing bored and annoyed with the use of obvious tropes (Orphan with a Past! Daddy Issues!) and the romanticized perfection of just about everyone who isn't a villain (is no one on the protagonists' team allowed to be hurtful or have flaws?) and the repetition of certain words and phrases that are too familiar and overused in the genre to inspire the romantic longing I'm sure the author intended.

I did enjoy a measure of comfort reading throughout part of it, and the hero and heroine are such genuinely nice, reasonable people, so I would recommend it - but you may want to get a second opinion from someone who's more engaged with the genre than I am, at the moment.


  1. LozzaAtl3:43 PM

    I also follow you on twitter, and one recommendation I haven't seen yet (though others have recommended Heart of Steel, the second book in Meljean Brook's Iron Seas series) is Riveted, the third book in that series. Check out reviews for it on Smart Bitches or Dear Author- I think it might appeal to you. The hero is very much not a rapey asshole, and both the hero and heroine are unconventional in lots of ways. I think it's usually classified as steampunk, but I generally hate sci-fi and can go either way on fantasy, and I didn't mind the setting at all (I'm sure it helped that I'd read the first in the series for backstory, but I know others have said that it can also stand alone well and easily).
    Sarah at Smart Bitches also recommended Loretta Chases's Devil's Delilah as having a good beta hero, though I wouldn't be surprised if there's a little too much formulaic romance language in there for you :) Same with Carla Kelly's The Wedding Journey.
    I also see that you've reviewed a few Courtney Milan books, but not Unlocked (really interesting novella with a reformed asshole hero), Unclaimed or Unraveled- I thought those had heroes and heroines who weren't the norm and were interesting.
    Also, if one of the problems is that the whole romance "voice" seems often derivative, have you tried any of the edgier stuff that gets reviewed on romance blogs? I feel like there are plenty of blogs (like Dear Author) that definitely try to seek out unique voices in romance. For contemporary, maybe look into Fallen From Grace by Laura Leone? Very unconventional hero and heroine, complicated nuanced relationship.
    Finally, have you ever tried Sarah Mayberry? I actually sometimes find her romances to be a little TOO nuanced and realistic- sometimes I actually like my heroes to be unrealistically "you are the only one ever for me and I will get growly possessive over you!" which is not at all her thing. Her protagonists (at least in the ones I've read) tend to be complicated adults who act as such.
    Anyhow, hope you're able to find some good recommendations and books that help to revive your love for the genre! And if you're reading Rose Under Fire now (which is also next on my list), I feel like you're going to need to follow that up with a guaranteed HEA!

  2. Emily Sorge9:58 PM

    My one encounter with Mary Jo Putney (Loving a Lost Lord) was absolutely ridiculous and not in a good way,* so this review makes me think I might give her another try. I'm also a little burned out on romance, although it's more a matter of being too busy with other genres.

    *To be specific, it had several laughable turns of phrase, more resurrections than the Bible, and a heroine whose ideas about consent were...flawed, to say the least.

  3. AnimeJune7:40 PM

    Yikes! Yeah, I think for me it's because i've been reading romance too much, so I have very strongly defined senses of which tropes annoy me and which tropes don't.

  4. AnimeJune7:42 PM

    I don't often read novellas - I find it harder to get into the romance with a shorter time frame. I think maybe at this point I need to take a break and rethink how I read romance.