I’ve been doing this Orangeberry book blog tour, and for me it’s like taking a walk on the wild side. A lot of self-published authors are doing deep genre stuff that appeals to a very specific market, and that’s not the kind of thing I usually read. But I wanted to get all crazy and wild, and so I decided to review a romance, and not just any romance but a historical romance. The first one on the list I saw was Marilyn Holdsworth’s The Beautiful American and so I figured, “Why not?”
This is exactly the kind of book I should hate. Set in a very clean and tidy version of American history, it’s a book where not a lot happens, and where people speak in long, reasonable sentences like:
“You have thought it out very carefully, James. I know how hard you have been working on the land and the help we have received from our friends, the Madisons, and Thomas as well. They have been so supportive, offering not only their hospitality to us but sharing their supplies. We are truly blessed to have such devoted and generous friends for neighbors.”
And yet something clicked when I read this, I experienced my very own “eureka” moment and realized that this is what comfort reading feels like. Because The Beautiful American is like pulling on a pair of flannel pajamas on a cold night. I don’t mean to damn it with faint praise, but it’s so…comfy.
A framing story sets things up. Abby Long is a modern day antiques dealer with thick strawberry blonde hair (she runs her fingers through it a lot and comments frequently on its thickness). She scores an antique desk at an auction, where she also scores a meet-cute moment with Nathan Edwards, an architect who is awesome and likes to sit in front of the fire with her and compliment her on her cooking. But who cares? These two are incidental to the meat of the story, which starts when Abby discovers an 18th century journal hidden in the desk.
Kept by Jasmine, a slave on James Monroe’s plantation (before he became the fifth president of the United States), the journal tells the story of the two years Monroe spent in France as the US ambassador. While in Paris, Jasmine meets a hunky artist named Andre and they fell in love. Also, a lot of really pleasant things happen to her. Eventually, Monroe et. al. return to Virginia, there’s a slave rebellion that lasts for two pages, and everyone finds happiness in the end.
I sound dismissive of The Beautiful American, but criticizing this book is like stomping on a kitten. There’s something deeply comforting about it, and it radiates a strange sort of charm, like my grandmother’s guest bedroom: I wouldn’t choose to have so many embroidered pillows on the bed, but they’re kind of sweet. The writing is fine throughout, and the author knows her history, but there’s something else at work here, some kind of powerful, primal drive for a book that feels like a warm bubble bath for your brain. The characters never argue, they speak in long, self-aware sentences, there’s no fighting, no drama, no threat, no angst, no real plot to speak of. And yet everything’s so posh and everyone’s so nice that you begin to feel crass hoping for some action, and eventually you give over to their lotus eater spell: “Come join us in this happy past where everything is terrific and no one ever raises their voices.”
It works. If this is escapism, I’ll have a double.
[The Orangeberry Summer Crush Book Tour is giving out tons of prizes, and you can win a Kindle Fire and a whole bundle of free ebooks to load onto it. So go ahead and enter on Rafflecopter. You literally have nothing to lose.]