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The Ninja Reader

High-brow or downright pretentious, good PNR or sparkly vampires, I don't care about the premise so long as it entertains me.

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Bullying: The Social Destruction of Self
Laura Martocci

There's something odd about reading a romance series that's almost as old as you are

Born in Fire - Nora Roberts Born in Ice - Nora Roberts Born in Shame - Nora Roberts

Nora Roberts is the Stephen King of romance - incredibly prolific (to the point of repetitiveness, but hey, why re-invent the wheel?), has been around for a long time, and you know exactly what you're getting from her works. Depending on the book and time of day, you may love the story or you may think it was the biggest waste of your time, but you always come back, hoping that the next one would be more hit than miss.


(As for how I became such a Roberts "conoisseuse", it can be summed up as: Like menstrual cramps, I've grown to accept Roberts cravings as a part of my life.) (It's an accurate comparison - both periods and romance novels put me in a chocolate mood.)


You don't need to look further than the "Born In" series if you want an example of that. Three books, centered around three sisters, their family secrets, and of course, the handsome men in their lives, the stories are both heartwarming and infuriating, although as someone who has read Nora Roberts novels from the 80s, 90s, 00s, and 10s, I might say that she does move with the times.


And if you pick up these books, you will constantly need to bear their "age" in mind, because damn, these are dated! And I don't mean charmingly dated as in: OMG, they're using typewriters! And they don't need to get to an airport 4+ hours early to get through security! I mean dated as in the conflict here doesn't make sense unless you remember it's the early 90s. 


After the death of their father, Maggie and Brie Concannon are left with a difficult, hateful mother and no idea what to do. Maggie, who is a master glassblower, sets out to make money with her art, while Brie, who is more of a homemaker, turns their old house into a B&B and looks after their mother. After a while, the  two discover their father had an affair, which resulted in the birth of a third sister, Shannon, who comes from New York after the death of her parents to meet them. The three sisters have their respective romances and mini character arcs, but the overarching story is one where they deal with the legacy of their parents - especially because Mrs. Concannon, Maggie and Brie's mother, is a spiteful, abusive shrew who pretty much fucked up her daughters' lives because she got pregnant with Maggie and was forced to give up a successful career as a singer.


The themes of following your dreams, balancing art and profits, and having a career while married, are seeped into these books like the syrup in a cake, sometimes to the point of being annoying. Some of the things Maeve Concannon does to her daughters are downright abusive, and yet the books never really acknowledge just how psychotic she comes across. In fact, by the end of the series, her character is reduced to this grumpy, crochety old lady that is all bark and no bite, and her daughters eventually forgive her because... kin? I dunno.


Balancing art and profit might be the theme that really sells this series, though. In the first book, Maggie falls in love with Rogan, an arts dealer, but not before making a big deal about not selling her artistic integrity. (Which he didn't ask for to begin with.) In the second, Brie meets Grayson, a writer with no permanent home and a Tortured Past (TM), and who eventually decides to settle down with he. Shannon's book is about her coming to Ireland, falling in love, feeling bad because she has a high-flying career in New York as an ads artist, but eventually settles down because big corporations suck and being away inspires her to draw "properly" again.


Hence why this series is such a mixed bag for me.


Brie and Grayson's romance is easily the one I like best because it's the one that strikes me as the most realistic. (That, or I'm a sucker for stories where a woman, for once in her life, isn't the one to sacrifice everything for love.) I liked Maggie and Rogan well enough, but after a while, the drama started to seem overwrought. And as for Shannon...


Oh, Shannon.


Okay, first things first - I get it that she's lost and dissatisfied. I get it. Sometimes jobs can be difficult, careerism without anything else to balance it is soul-destroying, and Shannon is portrayed as having one hell of an identity crisis after she  discovers her father was not her father. But not all corporations are bad, not all corporate art is bad, and there's no need to present one type of art as better than another. Maggie was disdainful of Shannon's job before they even met, and the book doesn't really go out of its way to point out there is more than one way to be happy. 


Also, the whole "we were lovers in another life" thing with Murphy? It annoyed me throughout the whole book. Surely there were more organic ways to make their romance develop than whipping out a can of Insta Love. 


Totally unrelated aside: Does anybody else get annoyed at this trend in romance where obscene displays of wealth are seen as signs of affection? I get it that some peeps have money to burn and how they burn it is their business, but why is that in nearly every romance I read? Surely there's better ways of doing that, right?