Shannon (Giraffe Days)'s Reviews > A Novel Seduction

A Novel Seduction by Gwyn Cready
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's review
Dec 10, 11

bookshelves: 2011, romance
Read in December, 2011 — I own a copy

Ellery Sharpe writes high-brow book reviews for Vanity Place magazine in New York, but her witty, contemptuous review of the memoir of romance publisher Bettina Moore has her boss, Buhl Martin Black, seeing red. He's just started an affair with Bettina, so for punishment, and to appease Bettina, Black gives her a new assignment: write an ode to romance. It's a suitable punishment: Ellery thinks romance novels are drivel and not worthy of serious consideration; but also, unknown to Black and almost everyone else in her life, Ellery is a top contender for a new publisher job, and an article that takes romance novels seriously will ruin her chances.

To top it off, Black has assigned her ex-boyfriend Axel Mackenzie as her photographer. Axel still has a thing for Ellery though they broke up in Pittsburg five years before. But Black offers Axel more money if he can get Ellery to write the article he wants, and Axel has a dream of buying his friend's microbrewery. So he gets Ellery three romance novels and plans their itinerary: a trip to Pittsburgh to the real Monkey Bar, where Bettina Moore's big selling paranormal romance novel, Vamp is set; then on to London to meet a romance reader's group and interview a couple of university professors on the topic.

Along the way, Ellery and Axel do little to fend off their mutual attraction, fuelled perhaps, on Ellery's side, by the romance novels she's now reading. The journey doesn't just enlighten Ellery to a side of being human that she never really considered before, or show the merits of romance novels, but forces her to confront the reasons why she broke up with Axel, and what she really wants in life.

This book is really an ode to Diana Gabaldon's Outlander , which Cready acknowledges as the book that inspired her love of romance novels. So one of the three books Axel gives Ellery is Kiltlander, starring Jemmie Forster and Cara, and throughout A Novel Seduction are snippets of Outlander and, for the third book, Cready used one of her own: Flirting with Forever . I wasn't sure whether Vamp was representative of one book or paranormal romance in general. Essentially, this is a book romance lovers will really appreciate, and Cready did a good job of explaining why we love romance, and the value to be found in it, with her usual humour and intelligence. I love the discussion Ellery has towards the end with a German sociologist at Edinburgh University, Dr Albrecht, which may be obvious but is still fun and satisfying to read:

"So you think [romance books] are literature?" Ellery said, grabbing a stray carrot.
"I suppose if vun vuz going to eliminate them from the hallowed world of literature, it would be for their overused plot drivers; the central conceit of characters overcoming impossible odds to fall in love; and happy endings--"
"--in which case you'd have to eliminate Chaucer, Jane Austen, Dorothy Sayers, and half of Charles Dickens as vell."
"But wait," Ellery said, thrown for a loop, "what about the sex?"
"You're right. Toss out Shakespeare, Toni Morrison and Philip Roth too."
"The characteristics you identify vith good literature - unadorned, complex prose, dark themes, moral ambiguity - are constructs of the twentieth century. And," she added with a sly smile in Ellery's direction, "very male-driven." [p.250]

I loved how realistic Ellery was, and also how I could identify with her reluctant appreciation of romance novels - because it reminded me of me, and I'm sure a lot of women will identify with her if they, too, always dismissed romance novels, found one they loved, and then struggled to reconcile their intellect with their enjoyment. Some genre fiction are more "acceptable" than others - notably, the ones men enjoy like science fiction and mystery/crime - while the others, we have to constantly defend our liking for.

Ellery's well-paced introduction to romance novels, her resistance to taking them seriously, how she ran and hid in the loo to feverishly read a bit of Kiltlander, is reminiscent of those stories, movies especially, where the heroine learns to let her hair down - figuratively and literally (it's a common and effective device in films for the uptight heroine to start off with a very controlled hairdo, and by the end of the film her hair is wild and free and relaxed and so is she). It wasn't until Ellery heard her own old arguments against romance echoed back at her by the publisher she's hoping to work for that she realises how wrong she'd been, and how much her thoughts have changed.

And then there's the corresponding romance - or re-ignition of - with Axel. We get chapters from both Ellery and Axel's perspectives, interspersed with short chapters from a few minor characters, and Axel was another wonderful, realistic, fun character. He also grows during the story, and he has none of the annoying tics of many romance heroes - he's fresh, real, and very sexy. He felt like a good mate, since Ellery had dibs. Flawed, honest, and easy-going, he's not a rehash of Cready's previous heroes but a man in his own right. There could be nothing worse than a romance novel extolling the virtues of romance novels that is itself poorly written and full of clichés: A Novel Seduction is extremely well-written, an ode to romance novels that maintains a high degree of freshness through its engaging characters and a plot that moves.

This is an intelligent, fun and funny romance novel for the intelligent, fun woman who enjoys her romance and isn't afraid of it. It's also the romance novel for those of you who've yet to try a romance novel because you're sure they're just bodice-busting drivel full of historical inaccuracies, impossible sexual positions, weak character development and tired plots. Yes, this is like reading a romantic comedy, but it's a really good romantic comedy.

And it really makes me want to re-read Outlander!
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