So what are you reading guys ... anything good you'd like the rest of us to know about?
After I blogged about the shortlist for Romantic Novel of the Year Award, one of the nominees Linda Gillard was kind enough to put a copy of her book, Star Gazing into the post for me. And looking for a lighter read, I picked it up a few days ago.
Now I've always had certain preconceptions about romantic fiction, based on the one-and-only Mills and Boon novel I read years ago on a fishing boat from Tioman (there being no other reading material at hand), but Gillard manages to very nicely shatter them, and to keep this fussiest of readers with her throughout.
Marianne is in her forties, and has been blind from birth. She was widowed in her twenties when her husband was killed in the Piper Alpha oil rig disaster. She's long given up on love, and now, living with her sister finds her pleasure in attending concerts and long walks. She's fiercely independent, and so stubborn you sometimes want to shake her. But her courage comes through time and again.
Of course, the author places a bloke in her path. She encounters Keir literally on her own doorstep when she accidentally drops her shopping and he comes to her aid. Later, she agrees to visit his home on the Isle of Sky where he lives an almost hermit like existence when he isn't on the rigs. (He's another oilman, yes, and there are for Marianne disturbing echoes of the past throughout the novel.)
Keir's the kind of hero I would fall for myself in two shakes. Never mind the tall, dark and handsome (which Marianne of course can't appreciate in the same way, of course) he loves classical music and nature, is involved in conservation work, and is able to paint the beauty of the island for Marianne through words alone.
I loved though the second love-story in the humourous sub-plot - Marianne's sister Louisa writes vampire novels set in Edinburgh and falls for her much younger goth assistant.
The writing is good, the charcters well drawn and the dialogue realistic. An interesting theme of ways of seeing and perception runs through the novel, and Gillard helps the reader to inhabit Marianne's blindness.
The pacing of the novel just right and (quite cleverly because you always believe romance novels are written to a formula) the reader is led to a point where the happy ending no longer seems a safe bet. One of the main events that propels the plot, Keir's misadventure in Kazakhstan, and its aftermath could have done with a bit more space (but then, I suppose, Gillard would be wandering into the territory of the thriller and away from the romance).
So, yes, there are love stories that steer clear of all the mush and the cliches and heaving bosoms and provide even a jaded old cynic like me with an enjoyable read.
And now I've wandered into genre fiction of a different kind - caught up in the darkness of Irving Welsh's Crime.
Am also savouring Alina Rastam's new collection of poetry All the Beloveds ...