A Quickie: The Guilty Pleasures of Amanda Quick

Amanda Quick’s romances are a favorite guilty pleasure of mine. Like a Lauren Willig novel, Quick writes romances with just enough action and mystery in the plot to make them an overall fun read. Her heroines are independent women for their time (usually Regency or Victorian eras) and the men often have some flaws to keep them from being too perfect. Also, unlike so many romances, the conflict always comes from an outside force, not frustrating miscommunication between the main characters. For a little break from reading for work, I recently read two Quick romances. One was good, the other not so much.

The first Quick novel I read was The Mystery Woman and I slugged through it. What was supposed to be a quick read (see what I did there), took months because I put it down- something I have never done with any of her books. The mystery plot was weak and relied too much on one character’s “psychical talent”. I was also really disappointed in the lack of chemistry between the main characters. I made myself finish out of principle, but do yourself a favor and skip it. For the record though, I would recommend Crystal Gardens, the first of the Ladies of Lantern Street series if you like supernatural romances.

Onto Otherwise Engaged! I didn’t realize it, but it’s been YEARS since Quick has written a non-supernatural romance. I kind of missed ones like this.

Amity Doncaster is an independent, world traveling woman of the world (well, by Victorian standards). On a boat trip through the Caribbean, she happens on a wounded man in an alley. Benedict Stanbridge hands her a letter and tells her to make sure it makes it off the island as he believes he has been fatally wounded. Amity, the daughter of a doctor, does not give up on Benedict so easily and safely transports both the letter and him to the ship. Over the next couple weeks while sailing to New York, Amity nurses him back to health and they grow closer. Once they reach port, Benedict leaves for California with a promise to find her again in London- her final destination.

Weeks go by and Amity still has no word from Benedict, but those who move in polite society have a lot to say about them. Somehow word of the time they spent alone together on the ship is making the rounds among the town gossips. Though not bothered by her slightly tarnished reputation, Amity is worried about Benedict. Her fears for him are only put aside when she is attacked in a carriage. Benedict arrives in London just after the attempt on her life and wonders if it is connected to what happened in the Caribbean. They decide to investigate together under the guise of an engaged couple to excuse all the time they will spend together. Of course, Amity and Benedict have great chemistry so maybe it isn’t just pretend. Before they can really explore their feelings though, they need to figure out who wants them dead.

Otherwise Engaged was a fun way to burn a couple hours. If you enjoy romances or even light thrillers (think creepy killers, but maybe not the most literary fare) check this one out.


In Praise of Smut…

**This post originally appeared in the June 2011 issue of Review Direct**

“Novels that pander/To my taste for candor/Give me a pleasure sublime.” –Tom Lehrer, Smut

This week marks a great day in literature, for me at least. Neil Gaiman’s American Gods: The Tenth Anniversary Edition was released with the author’s preferred text! (Read my review here)Being one of the few books to actually stay in my ever shifting Top Five book list, the excitement for an expanded edition has me all a twitter.

I suppose at this point I should back up and explain that I do not in any way consider American Gods “smut”. Please, give me a bit of leeway. I will get there.

As much as I love to support my local, independent bookstore when I purchase books, I had a pesky Amazon gift certificate that needed to be used. So, I decided to put it to use with a preorder of American Gods.

My karmic penance was swift. The book was not delivered on the release date. But, I had cleared my reading schedule and was ready to go! Now what? Starting something too engaging did not seem like a good idea given the eminent arrival of this new edition and the workload I had returned to after a conference in DC last week. A good story at the end of the day was essential, though.

There was one clear choice: get a smutty book from the library. That’s right, I read smut. I have degrees in History and International Relations and a minor in Russian/Eastern European Studies, but sometimes I really like a good, ol’ romance. This is my first public declaration of my fondness for the genre.

For the sake of this discussion I think Urban Dictionary has the most adept definition:

“Smut: Highly developed stories with love lines and other things that appeal to women that also include a lot of sexually explicit scenes…”

Voracious even in my youth, I read whatever I could get my hands on and sometimes my hands landed on my mom’s historical romances. In one summer night I could often read, cover to cover, the thrilling tale of a woman in an unfortunate circumstance who overcame obstacles, was thrown into the arms of her great love (sometimes literally), and got her happy ending. They weren’t penny dreadfuls, but they were as close as this modern girl could get.

These days I prefer the likes of Amanda Quick, Lauren Willig, and a handful of others whose historical romances primarily feature slightly older wonks (imagine that) who find their not so mainstream heroes in ways that allow them to be part of the adventure, not just a bystander waiting to be saved. There is just something so inviting about occasionally losing yourself in these tales. The historical detail varies from just enough to be believable to plots that revolve around very real historical events with the fictional characters dropped in (these are mostly found with Willig, who has a graduate degree from Harvard). The romances are not overwrought with obstacles stemming from misunderstandings, but with intrigue and mystery. When I finished War and Peace, I followed it with an Amanda Quick novel. It is like a RomCom movie after a long, trying day.

I live and work in books. Some of my closest friends are wonderful, bright, and clever people. Great books are my life and I am lucky enough to have intelligent discourse in abundance, but sometimes I just need a mental break. I want a story I can simply enjoy, but with characters who are not insipid. I find that in a certain smut.

Am I the only bibliophile to find secret pleasure in a little romp through the romance section?