Wednesday, August 17, 2016

#TBRChallenge 2016: How Times Have Changed

Title: No Mistaking Love by Jessica Hart

The Particulars: Contemporary romance, Harlequin Romance, 1993, Out of print, not available in digital

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: A few years ago I fell in love with Jessica Hart's Harlequin Romances, and naturally she has a ginormous backlist that I've been collecting ever since.  This is one of her oldies.

The Review: One of the misconceptions about genre fiction that tends to annoy me the most is when people seem to think that genre doesn't evolve.  That it doesn't change.  That the romance novel published today is going to be identical in style and tone as a romance novel published 20 years ago.

Um, no.

No Mistaking Love is a perfect example.  Cracking open my battered used copy, reading the first few paragraphs, I knew I was reading a Jessica Hart story.  This is truly amazing, but her style and her skill in the category format was just as strong in this 23-year-old book as it is in her more recent works.  The words sing off the page.  Her way of setting her stage, of developing her characters - I knew these people inside and out before I was clear of the first chapter.  Where this book shows genre evolution?  Baby, it's all in the content.  I wanted to gut the hero before I got out of Chapter Two and my opinion of him never rose above garden slug.

And that's probably an insult to garden slugs everywhere.

Kate Finch had a horrible crush on Luke Hardman (get it? "hard" and "man?") when she was a gawky, awkward teen girl with Coke-bottle glasses.  She's all grown up now, but that doesn't mean she's not above feeling flummoxed when she spots Luke at the theater one night.  After all, most girls don't forget their first kiss.  But it's a brief moment, they don't even speak in fact, and she's put it all out of her mind until she shows up to a job interview she has the next day.  You guessed it - that too-good-to-be-true sounding secretarial job?  Turns out Luke Hardman is now her boss.  Oh, and he doesn't recognize her - which any romance reader worth her salt knows is going to come back to bite Kate in the butt during the final chapters.

Luke is cookie-cutter, high-handed, Alpha jerk.  The author tap dances a bit around his insecurities of "not being good enough," but this is so minimally explored he merely comes off as a boorish AlphaHole.
"Oh really?  In my experience, women have a fine disregard for the truth when it suits them!  I'm sure you can type, I'm just not convinced that you haven't increased your speeds - oh, just an extra ten or twenty words a minute! - to make your CV look more impressive."
And this would be on page 29.  DURING THE JOB INTERVIEW!!!

Luke is like this for the whole blessed book.  Right down to telling Kate she WILL get her hair cut to look more stylish and sophisticated and he WILL buy her a new wardrobe for the same effect before they go on a business trip to Paris.  And even though he told her to be polite and charming to the French businessmen he wants to broker a deal with, when she is polite and charming he accuses her of forgetting that it was a "business meeting":
"Instead of tarting yourself up like a dog's dinner and leaning all over Xavier so he could get a good look at your cleavage?  Anyone watching you would have known that business was the last thing on your mind!"
This is Luke for the whole blessed book.  When he's not being insufferably rude, he's being a possessive jerk.  I seriously loathed him from the moment I met him to the close of the final chapter.

Kate on the other hand?  Despite the fact that she falls for Luke (thereby making me question her intelligence) - this was the early 1990s.  Which means romance heroines were starting to push back a bit more against brutish heroes.  They'd still swoon, but at least they'd do some pushing back.  Kate verbally spars with Luke to the point where you can almost confuse this with an Enemies To Lovers story.  She gives as good as she gets - it's just a shame that Luke doesn't seem to learn his lesson.  At all.  They're blissfully in love at the end (because of course), but there's nothing on the page to make me think Luke will change his ways AT ALL.  He was a high-handed jerk at the start of the story, he remains one at the end.

And did I mention that at the start of the story he's dating a model Kate knew growing up?  And that towards the end of the story he's sending Valentine's Day flowers to not only Model Helen, but some chippy named Lynette as well?



However, I'm not entirely sorry I read this.  Hart's writing and style sing for me, even when it's 23-years later.  The way she weaves a story is just marvelous.  This is also an interesting book when looking through the lens of category romance history.  The story is entirely the heroine's point of view (as it so often was back in the day), but she's got some backbone.  This isn't a damsel waiting to be rescued.  It's just too bad it's 1993 and we were still stuck on this sort of insufferable hero.  Although really, these days the genre is boasting criminals, mafia bosses and stalkers as "heroes."  Luke is positively Boy Next Door in comparison.

If you're a Hart fan, I do think there is some merit to reading this - if only to further immerse yourself in the history of her writing.  As a category romance history nerd?  There's also some merit to be found here (did I mention the fairly graphic - by 1993 standards - sex scene?  In a Harlequin Romance!).  However if you don't nerd out on old categories and you've never read Hart before?  Yeah. It's not worth a treasure hunt through library sales or used bookstores.

Final Grade = D+


Erin Burns said...

Ah, older stories can be so hit or miss. I had a loss and a win this go round.

Lynn Balabanos said...

I'm going to skip this one. I cannot (will not, refuse, makes me throw my Kindle against the wall) read the book if the hero is an Alpha-male jerk. The only thing they are good for is hilarious reviews - like this one. :)

azteclady said...

Thank you for biting this bullet for the rest of us.

Jill said...

I love Jessica Hart and I think reading her older books and newer books helped me see how writers and trends evolve in category. Liz Fielding is another one of my favorites for that.

I'm sad too that both seemed to have parted ways with Harlequin but I wish them the best!

Wendy said...

I was truly amazed by the writing. Hart has always been strong in the category format (she's a pro!), but to see how strong she was even back then - over 20 years ago!

It was such a conflicting book to read. The writing was great, the characterizations fabulous. But UGH! That "hero?" The literal worst.

Dorine said...

I've never read Hart before - do you have a favorite newer release?

Wendy said...

This is a tough question! I think a good place to start is with Under the Boss's Mistletoe. Mistletoe Marriage is also good.

Books I LOVED: Oh-So-Sensible Secretary (but it's written in first person and if that's a stumbling block for you, maybe don't start with this one?).

We'll Always Have Paris (pretty sure this was RITA-nominate?)

Promoted: To Wife and Mother (ignore the HORRIBLE title, this one is awesome! Older couple - hero's kids are mostly grown, heroine in her 40s)

Kimberly Keyes Romance said...

Thank you for another entertaining review! And since I just closed my sentence with an exclamation point, what's your take on her use of those (or any author's use of them in regular dialogue)?
I will definitely put Hart on my TBR list. I wonder if I can't read her already? Looking forward to finding out.
Kimberly Keyes