Three nites ago, I was looking through my ten year old TBR pile (that would be books that have been on my TBR pile for at least 8+ years) looking for a book to read. I found books that I had forgotten I had like The Painted Veil by Susan Carroll. I had bought this book, new, strictly because it had the same title as a Somerset Maugham novel (I’m a sucka for Somerset Maugham) and it’s been sitting there in my TBR pile ever since. I found out that I had three Suzanne Simmons novel (I had no idea.) I found out that there is an author named Susan Sizemore that is a different author from Suzanne Simmons (who knew?).
Anyway, I was looking through all these books and I still didnt feel like reading any of them. Then I came across Taken By a Texan (SD#1137) by Lass Small and I thought it would just be what I needed.
If I was asked which romance author, who was no longer writing, that I miss the most, it would be Katherine Sutcliffe* who wrote fabu historical romances in the 1990s. Second place, though, goes to Lass Small whose last book was in 2000. I was reading Lass Small when she was still writing Second Chance At Love books (anyone remember those?) back in the 80s as Callie Hughes. I have a low threshold for humorous books but Small has an incredibly unique, strong, whimsical voice. Lass Small goes her own way and her way is “Sit back. Put up your feet while I tell you a story. I will tell it in my own intermittent style and I will not be rushed.”
I was reminded afresh just by the first page of Taken By a Texan (TBAT). For the first 12 pages of this 176 page story, she follows this dude who is not even the Hero of the story. She follows him as he has a father-to-son talk about the universal question of Men & Women. Small’s men and women have their own sense of logic that they follow. Take, for instance this bit on Page 1:
He knew cars and understood them. Any woman knows on sight that cars are obstinate and male. Men get along with cars. Women get towed.
But finally, Small introduces the Hero and Heroine. She does the bit with the eyelashes, a Small trademark. She does a LOT of narrative from the Hero’s POV, another Small trademark. The Hero is a virgin. Okay, that is NOT a Small trademark, but most of her heroes are Beta, which is another reason I love her.
But there are some new (to me) bits: a Dog plays a big part in the romance and there is a lot from his POV too. Actually, there is so much of the Hero and Dog POV that I have no idea about what is going on with the Heroine. So much is told but very little is felt or done. There is very little plot (another Small trademark). By Page 100, I’m having a hard time trying to finish. I’m thinking “Has Small changed or have I?”
So, I stop and start digging up one of my favorite Smalls — Marry Me Not (HT#197) — which Small wrote 10 years before TBAT. This is an older woman/younger man romance in which the H/H pretty much both fall-in-love during a weekend affair. I start skimming it and I could. not. put. it. down. even though it was 2:00 AM in the morning. It was as good as I remembered. Just very tender and funny which are traits I greatly treasure in romance novels but dont really find as often as I should. The heroine is very skittish because she is aware of the nine year age difference and the hero has to pursue her throughout the story and thus, we get classic bits like this one:
Later, in his darkened room, where they lay naked and entwined in his bed, he told her, “I’m beginning to entertain an affection for you, rather like –” he chose the description carefully “–a creeping fungus.”
Comparing the two books, it looks like Small has even less plot and more meandering detours than in the older book. She is also more repetitive with certain catchwords. In TBAT, it’s “sly”. The Hero is sly. The Dog is sly. Hell, even the Heroine’s eyes are sly. I go back to TBAT and its takes me 2 days just to read 70 pages and the ending is WTF. Absolutely no mention or exchanging of “I love you” and it looks like Small just decided to stop writing on Page 176 just because that was her allotment. The hell?
I just hope that Small was just burnt out toward the end and she will come back to romance writing one day. Despite the fact that TBAT was less than stellar, the romance biz needs mavericks like her.
Taken By A Texan (1998) — D
Marry Me Not (1988) — A-
*Note: Dear Susan Andres (aka Lucia Grahame), I would have picked YOU as the author I missed the most if A) you didnt state in 2000 that you prefer “weeding” to <gasp> writing and B) if you had written more than one novel.
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