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Guilty English Pleasure: More Than You Know by Penny Vincenzi

English author Penny Vincenzi‘s books are like granola bars – not much more nutritious than candy, but their mini chocolate chips and tiny marshmallows or sweetened dried cranberries satisfy a candy craving, with a few nutritious oats and nuts tossed in.
None of the author’s later books have ever appealed to me as much as The Spoils of Time trilogy, a saga of the Lytton publishing family in London. (The start of the trilogy, No Angel, was the first of her books to be published in the U.S. – in 2004 – and several books later, that’s the one that’s still mentioned on the cover of this one.) But I still find her books addictive, and whip right through each new one.
In More Than You Know, fashion journalism and fashion design in the sixties (which the author had first-hand experience of) form the backdrop of the drama that plays out when headstrong career-girl Eliza Fullerton-Clark – whose shabby genteel parents are struggling to maintain their large village house, Summercourt – falls for the working-class, chip-on-his-shoulder Matt Shaw – who is well on his way to making his first fortune in property development. Money and class; marriage and career; tradition and changing times…all these make for a stormy relationship between Eliza and Matt, eventually bringing them to the brink of the vicious child custody battle alluded to at the beginning of the book.
But that’s just one of the multiple story strands that readers of More Than You Know will be following. Along with the relationship ups-and-downs of Eliza’s brother and Matt’s sister (not together), Eliza’s ex-beau Jeremy (handsome and rich, like Matt, but from Eliza’s upper-class world), and friends of Matt’s or Eliza’s, there are soaring or flattening career arcs – with Eliza caught between motherhood and her burgeoning fashion journalism career and Matt working with cutthroat competition (sometimes within his own office) – the siren call of the kinds of temptation that the swinging sixties and seventies were rife with, parenting struggles, and too many other plot threads to mention, all switching back and forth across each other.
Penny Vincenzi is a master of the sexy, literary potboiler. More Than You Know will be devoured by her fans, but it might not be the one to hook a new reader unless the London fashion scene is a big draw. I still recommend No Angel if you’re trying to decide whether you’ll like Penny Vincenzi or not.

Disclosure: I received an e-galley of this book from Doubleday through NetGalley.

More Than You Know (published as The Decision in the U.K.)
Vincenzi, Penny
Pub Date: April 3, 2012
608 pp.

Waiting on Wednesday

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases we’re eagerly anticipating.

This week, my pre-publication “can’t-wait-to-read” selection is a YA book:



City of Fallen Angels
By Cassandra Clare
Publication Date: April 5



Even though I don’t like photographs of characters on the covers of fantasy books, I guess I’m not the only one waiting for this 4th book in the Mortal Instruments sequence. The follow-up to City of Glass is #3 on Barnes & Noble tonight. I’m going to call my local independent bookstore and ask them to hold a copy for me.

Everyone Loves a Lover

Most genre fiction readers (whether they admit it or not) want some element of romance in a novel. Otherwise, the most popular series wouldn’t always at least hint at the possibility of a romantic entanglement for the male or female main character.
During the month of Valentine’s Day chocolates and roses, my thoughts about the audiobooks I was listening to focused around love. More specifically, how love seemed to show up somewhere along the line in all genre fiction — from fantasy and science fiction to mystery and suspense.
Listening to Dead Until Dark on audio, the first of the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris (which the TV show True Blood is based on), I took note of several blush-worthy scenes that made me think this series should really be shelved with the paranormal romances instead of the cozy mysteries, despite the murders and the humor in the book. But then I remembered sampling Christine Feehan’s straight-out steamy Dark Prince (first in her Dark series) on audio and realized that, along the paranormal romance spectrum, Dead Until Dark was actually pretty mild.
“Bedroom scenes” are an issue to be raised delicately, if at all, during a reader’s advisory exchange. One person’s idea of graphic detail is what another reader considers innocently suggestive. So we can avoid suggesting straight-out erotica while getting to know a person’s tastes in this area, but it’s still going to be tricky. Even a favorite author’s handling of bedroom scenes can vary between one series and the next, or between one book in the same series to the next.
Comparing Dead Until Dark to other books I listened to in February, I noticed that even the books I’d tend to suggest more often to male readers — Without Fail (Lee Child‘s sixth suspense novel about tough guy/loner Jack Reacher) and Ringworld (first in a series of science fiction novels by Larry Niven) — had several scenes of lovemaking each, although the authors were discreet about the details, compared to Charlaine Harris. But in both of the books aimed primarily at male readers, the beginnings of romantic involvement were portrayed as a nuisance — a distraction — for the male main character, something he couldn’t prevent, despite his best efforts to keep the relationship at the level of physical attraction.
In the two audiobooks I listened to in February that were aimed primarily at a female audience — Dead Until Dark and The Masque of the Black Tulip (second in Lauren Willig’s genre-blending chick-lit/historical romance series) — it seemed to be the other way around. The female main characters struggled to keep their romantic inclinations in check, to avoid becoming more deeply involved with the male characters by having the relationships progress to a physical level.
So there we have it: The conventional wisdom about the difference between men and women’s general attitudes to romance as played out in genre fiction. Luckily, we’re not restricted to reading by gender, and can roam freely through the genres.

Read a review of Dead Until Dark at the On a Pale Star book blog.
Get suggestions for readalikes for Dead Until Dark from the Berwyn (IL) Public Library.

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