TBR Challenge

TBR Challenge: Vintage

July’s theme prompt for Super Wendy’s #TBRChallenge 2022 was “Vintage.” Here are the books we chose to tackle our TBRs this month.

Erin Read: Band Sinister by K.J. Charles (2018)

Why was this book on your TBR?
I decided I should try K.J. Charles, and this was the first book I bought. Not, as it happened, the first I read.

Why did you choose this book for this month’s challenge?

It’s a book that’s got some old school romance vibes. Just look at the cover!

What are your thoughts on the book?

I didn’t really know this going in, but after a few chapters I thought, “This really has a Georgette Heyer vibe.” And what do you know?! KJC has a little note on Goodreads that she went “full Heyer” on this book. So it’s extra vintage, I guess, but also bonus—it’s all that Heyer repartee (at least in the beginning) but without the racism or the antisemitism. And with on-page sexytimes! Woot! 

Here’s how it goes: Guy’s sister, Amanda, has secretly published a gothic novel in which their neighbor and his best friend are very clearly caricatured as the villains. Oh, and those naughty, villainous men just so happen to be in the neighborhood for their regular “Murder” houseparty. Thinking she’ll get more fodder for her next book by spying on Rookwood and his scandalous friends, Amanda rides off, only to break her leg in a riding accident, at which point she’s taken to Rookwood Hall, but too ill to do anything about it. Guy goes to take care of her and protect her from the horrible men, only to discover that they’re all really cool, open-minded men. Who also have sex with each other. (He wasn’t supposed to find out about that, whoops!) Of course, Rookwood is also surprised to find that he likes the uptight bumpkin, and both he and Guy find themselves catching feelings. But Guy is in no position to thumb his nose at society, and publicly befriending Rookwood would not only ruin him, but also his sister. 

I liked the whole of this book. I liked that Rookwood and his friends were comfortable enough with themselves (and financially independent enough) that they could live their best lives. I liked that Guy had to figure out how to live his best life after being too scared to step out of line. I liked that Rookwood and his friends are diverse – the Murder includes Black men, a Jewish man, and a trans man, and they’re also not all aristocrats or gentry (there were a lot of characters, and I read this fast, so I might be forgetting some, but the point is they’re way not all rich cis white guys from the privileged class). I liked that Amanda was independent. I liked that the Murder joked with each other in sometimes rude ways, but they also set that aside and took care of each other with love and gentleness when needed. I liked that Rookwood was hotheaded and Guy would turtle up, but they still managed to talk to each other and work through things together. I liked that it was a house party (you can get away with so much at a house party). I just really, really liked this book.

Buy Now: Amazon

Holly Read: Moonrise by Roberta Gayle (1996)

Why was this book on your TBR?

Like two years ago, I put together a list of historical romances featuring Black love that I wanted to read, and I came across this book, and desperately wanted to read it. Art dealer and pirate in 19th century Paris! Art shenanigans! A gorgeous clinch cover! Except it’s out of print. Lucky for me, Erin has a superpower and found a copy, which she sent me for my birthday.

Why did you choose this book for this month’s challenge?

Well, it’s a historical, and it’s more than 25 years old. 

What are your thoughts on the book?

Unfortunately, the execution did not live up to the promise of the premise. I think the main disconnect here stems from the blurb: Devlin is going to smuggle a legendary masterpiece to Spain, but then revolutionaires get involved. So I thought we were looking at some art heist shenanigans, where Pascale gets caught up in Devlin’s nonsense. But the “legendary masterpiece” is actually a painting by Pascale’s father, that he’s hidden from her. She wants it so that she can cement her father’s reputation as an artist by getting accepted in the Salon, and she is pissed that Devlin is in cahoots with her father to get it out of the country. (For the record, I am 100% team Pascale here; she manages her father’s career because he’s a man-child who would have let her starve while he focused on his art. Why the heck is he suddenly adult enough to not sell his “best painting,” if it would make life more financially stable for his family? Is he gonna start hustling? I thought not.)

On top of the letdown about the source of the “legendary masterpiece,” there’s a lot of surface-level art history going on. And I’m sorry, but I do not care about the Impressionist Movement. Oh no, Édouard Manet, you are worried about the reception of Olympia? Yes, that painting was controversial, but I really don’t care. There are a lot of scenes where Pascale is interacting with all these artists to try to get some information out of them about her father’s painting, which included extensive discussions about the nature of art and the role of the critic and I was bored. As far as I could tell, they didn’t serve the romance. 

Now, the race dynamics in this book were interesting. Gayle talks about the race of her protagonists a lot (she reminds the reader that Pascale has cocoa-colored skin three times in the first 90 pages)—and does a lot hedging, showing the reader that Pascale and Devlin are exceptional, so that the reader will accept that there might have been two Black people at a fancy ball in Paris in 1865. Also Devlin made his money running goods to the Confederacy during the Civil War, and I really don’t know how I feel about that (reminder: he is a Black man). I don’t know that the way Gayle dealt with the race of her characters was wrong, necessarily, but it was very striking, and very different from the way I expect that an author writing in 2022 would present a Black character in that same setting.

I am working on not reading books that are not bringing me joy, so I DNFed this one. Maybe I’ll return to it someday—it had some fascinating components that would be interesting to really dig into and analyze. But if I’m just reading for fun? Nah.

Buy Now: Amazon

Want to join us in tackling you TBR? Next month’s theme is Blue Collar.

5 thoughts on “TBR Challenge: Vintage”

  1. Band Sinister: oh man, I will have to break down and finally read it,won’t I? (I hoard KJ Charles’ books for terrible times so I’m actually overdue here)

    Moonrise: Welp, that’s disappointing. But then, I’m finding that while there were a few people writing really forward stuff in category romance inthelate 80s and through the 90s, most people were very constrained by editors and publishers. I wonder how much this happened here (i.e., having to make the Black main characters exceptional to render them acceptable, or even *possible* to white readers)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, I’m sure that there was some editorial constraint re: making the characters possible. But I do think having Black characters in this space was pretty daring, and something I haven’t seen in newer romance either.

      The real deal breaker for me was about expectations though…I was expecting more bonkers and less art history. I think if I were to try again in a few years with different expectations I might like it better.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Re: expectations, I have come to believe that, with the exception of truly offensive and/or harmful things, *when* we read something (both time-wise, and where we are in our own life’s journey), has much more of an impact on how we read it than we believe.

        Liked by 1 person

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