Sunday, May 31, 2009

Old School Romance Lurve

I've said it before and I'll say it again - what makes a book a "keeper" has just as much to do with the space and time the reader is currently occupying as it does with the book itself. Nothing illustrates this more than reading a romance "classic." I love genre fiction with the kind of slavish devotion usually reserved for stalkers, but even I'm one to admit that genre fiction tends to work best in what I call The Here And Now. A large chunk of genre fiction is not designed and written to stand the test of time. Some of it does.....

But a lot of it doesn't.

And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It just means that reading a "classic" of any genre sometimes requires the reader to approach the story from a slightly different angle.

Lightning That Lingers by Laura London (the pseudonym for husband and wife writing tandem Sharon and Tom Curtis) was first published by Bantam Loveswept in 1983, and is a favorite among many long time romance readers. I will say for a 26-year-old category romance, this story held up better than I thought it was going to. That doesn't mean it didn't show it's age though, and it doesn't mean that I'm ready to shout from the hill-tops that this is the greatest category romance ever written.

Jennifer Hamilton is a Plain Jane children's librarian (oh, of course she is!). She's young, fresh-faced, and innocent. So when her friends haul her to a local male strip club (The Cougar Club - no I'm not joking) she practically dies of embarrassment. However instead of the floor opening up to swallow her whole (which is what she wants to happen), she catches the eye of the "star" stripper, Phillip Brooks.

The Brooks family is old money American aristocracy. Phillip is actually an out of work biologist (seriously, I'm not joking) who lives in the former family summer home. He's stripping for a "greater good" - and takes care of injured wild life. The moment he spots Jenny he's smitten, flirtation and pursuit ensues, and a happily ever after is right around the corner.

First things first, this book was published in 1983, so it is dated. That can't really be helped. Jenny has a Dorothy Hamill hair cut. Phillip does a strip tease to a Stray Cats song. Swear to God, STDs are referred to as "social diseases" (which I'm pretty sure was dated even back in 1983) and Jenny mentions "Mr. Greenjeans." All in all though, really not bad for a 26-year-old category romance.

Parts of this story are just patently absurd. The first chapter begins by introducing the reader to Phillip and his pet owl, Chaucer, who lives and flies around freely in the rambling family summer home. Insert major eye roll here. Also, I didn't know it was humanly possible to cram so much purple prose in a story that only clocks in at 180 pages.
"Like frigid poison, the icy water bled through her clothes, lacerating her raw flesh, washing her in agony, convulsing her muscles."
Or another gem:
"As she had eased herself gracefully into the bath, he had seen her wince when the sore petals of her femininity touched the water, and he was sorry."
Admittedly I'm a "less is more" kind of reader, but I found myself rolling my eyes or fighting giggles more than once. Sigh....but again, 1983. Purple prose was pretty much the standard back then. Just makes me appreciate today's romance genre more, which allows writers to be a bit more....ummm....frank with their language.

So where does that leave me? Well, I can see why so many readers like this story. Phillip is charming and roguish and Jenny definitely fulfills a common reader fantasy; that of the Plain Jane who manages to snag the attention of the drop dead gorgeous hero. That being said, I didn't believe this romance. Yes Jenny is nice and sweet, but I couldn't figure out what Phillip saw in her. What was it about her that kicked his hormones into overdrive? I have no idea - other than it was probably the fact that she was the only woman not throwing her panties at him. And that's just not enough for me to believe that they're in love. Also, one of the things I really loathe about old school romance (and even some new school romance!) is that innocence is shorthand for "heroine" and Miss Slutty McSlut Slut is shorthand for dastardly "other woman."

Ahem, sorry. Got off track there. There is no dastardly "other woman" in this story and no Miss Slutty McSlut Slut. I might have been a tad annoyed however that the socially awkward, shy, bashful heroine just happened to be a librarian. Stereotype much?

I will say that if I read this book when I was teenager I probably would have loved it beyond all reason. I was a very shy Super Librarian-in-training when I was a teen, and thank the good Lord above, largely outgrew it by the time college rolled around. At 16 I would have been a swooning mess of teenage emo hormones reading this story. But now? As a more....ummm....forthright woman in her 30s? Yeah, not so much.

Final Grade = C

Teenage Super Librarian Grade = B+/A-

Contest Alert!
Because I love to pass along the Old School Romance Lurve, I'm giving away my copy of Lightning That Lingers. It's pretty beat up. Lots of spine creasing, and the pages are pretty darn close from starting to separate from the spine. But it's a decent reading copy, and I would love to pass it along to another reader curious to read one of "the classics." Winner will be chosen from random comments on this post Friday, June 5 @ 8AM PST.

ETA: Contest is open to everybody - including published authors and those who live outside the US.


Kati said...

I love the old school and even more, I adore the Curtises.

That being said, I routinely describe their writing as overwrought. I cut my teeth on romances like theirs with hyperprose.

I read Lightening that Lingers about three years ago for the first time. I loved me some stripper cum biologist cum bird whisperer action. But I'm learning the more I hang out with other romance readers that my taste is slight cracked.

Phyl said...

I'd love to read this. I still haven't read anything by the Curtises.

And just to get in the spirit, if I win, I'll pass it along to someone else when I'm done.

corrie71 said...

I would totally love to read this one! Thanks for the giveaway!

Katiebabs a.k.a KB said...

Lighting That Lingers is my all time favorite category romance. I thought it was to sweet for words. Sometimes you just need a romance like this to read.
Where else can you read about a hot stripper scientist who has cute pet owls?

Barbara said...

OOOOOOHHHHH!!!! Count me in!! You know I love those old school romances!!! C Grade or not ;)

azteclady said...



No, seriously, you know how long I've looked for ANY Laura London to be available around here?

*puppy eyes* pretty please?

JenB said...

No need to enter me in the drawing, but I just gotta say...

I had a Dorothy Hammill haircut in 1984-1986. I was a few years late and I was in pre-school and kindergarten, but OMG, I love those old pictures. :)

I don't mind dated stories. I think anything written in a certain time period for that time period will be dated.

But purple prose...blech. I still have a hard time getting past it.

Mayberry Mom said...

Stripping for the "greater good"?! You gotta explain that one a little more because I am very curious!! LOL

Wendy said...

Mayberry Mom: LOL! In a nutshell, he's stripping for the money and putting it towards a "noble cause."

Cathy in AK said...

So he doesn't HAVE to strip? Can't he just write a check for this noble cause?

Owl flying about house = bird poop and fur/bone-filled pellets hacked up on your oak floors and Chippendale ('cuz he's a stripper!) furniture.

I am so glad I wasn't drinking anything when I read about the "sore petals of her femininity."

And oh, the hazards of incorporating pop culture into the story. Otherwise, this sounds like a fun blast from the past.

Wendy said...

Cathy: Well, he kinda does have to strip for the noble cause - because while he's from an "old money" family, said family has no money left. He's hanging on to the summer home by the skin of his teeth.

It kinda was a fun blast from the past. I was a big Captain Kangaroo fan as a kid, and I hadn't thought about Mr. Greenjeans in years! LOL

Marion said...

Oh yes please count me in.. I will make it a bookcrossing book when I'm done. So it can travel all over the world, starting with me in The Netherlands, and blogging the BCID, so you can follow it too.
I'm a dutch librarian and i love your blog :)

Kati said...

Wendy - I should have said, I won Lightening that Lingers, so no need to enter me.


Cathy in AK said...

Well, he kinda does have to strip for the noble cause - because while he's from an "old money" family, said family has no money left.Ah, the old, "We are now nearly penniless but still have our pride. Um...Tuck the dollar bill in here, ma'am. Thanks."

I think it would have been a bit more fun if he stripped because he liked it. But that's just me.

limecello said...

Omg. You know I love the categories. (I first read one in 6th grade? 5th? Waited til middle school to read another... and I'd sneak reading them at the library :P)
Now, they comprise of the majority of my book purchases.

I LOVE the old school ones but they're hard to find. Very intrigued by this one. And heh. The cougar club. Maybe the author(s) did know a lot more about standing the test of time ;)

Devon said...

I read this back in HS. Love it! LOVE! May have inspired me to become a children's librarian, on the off chance I might score some smart stripper action. Hey, at least it didn't inspire me to get a Dorothy Hamill haircut.

Remember her shame over being illegitimate? That always amused me.

I've still got my copy. Good luck to whoever wins it. Love this book.

Devon (google account is giving me trouble).

Tracy said...

Wow that WAS some purple prose...but I do love the old school romances. Count me in for the contest chickie.

Oh and my kids are home sick youngest said to tell Wendy Hi on the computer! :) Too cute.

Wendy said...

I'm pretty confident that if I had read this story as a teenager that I would have been shouting "keeper, keeper, keeper!" from the rooftops. And LOL about the illegitimacy revelation. My immediate thought was "Oh, how times have changed."

Tracy: Ahhh, tell your daughter "Hi" right back for me.

Lime: I know! I about died laughing over The Cougar Club. Maybe the Curtises are trendsetters when it comes to pop culture slang?

lauren said...

The purple prose has definitely intrigued me. It seems like the sort of writing I lurved in high school and I'm surprised I've never read it back then. It's going on my TBR list for sure.

Kelly in Hockeytown said...

Not much to say other than

GO WINGS GO !!!!! :)

Kristie (J) said...

No need to enter me 'cause I have a copy of this book. As silly as you make it sound and LOL you do make it sound pretty silly, I really liked it. Dated yes, totally improbable - yep, but it does have a certain charm about it. And I figured you'd know what his attraction was - she was a librarian!!!

Wendy said...

Kristie: ROTFLMAO! ::headslap:: Of course! It was because she was a librarian! What man could possibly resist the charms of a librarian?

OK, so yeah - I did make it sound silly - and really, parts of it were. The purple prose, the owl living in the house - but for a 26-year-old category romance I was pleasantly surprised how well it held up. Also I didn't find myself slogging through it - so yeah, some of the charm was still there after all these years.