Romantic Fiction, Reality Shaping and The Work


Jedi Council Member
I also tend to agree, 'Romance Novel' book reviews is not really the purpose of this exercise.

Sure, but then again, reading something like this:

When they first meet, James has that sort of instant horniness

is kind of priceless :lol2: :rotfl:

Neil, thank you for your brilliant book review and yes, you may have 'missed the point', but - as long as you put it under spoilers and keep it honest, I'm sure the Universe will survive and we'll all have some extra fun along the way! 🤟


The Living Force
FOTCM Member
I've thought about this too, but my point about this is that there has to be a certain degree of "literary excellence" for me to stay interested and for it to not become drudgery.
Maybe you could let yourself get turned on when reading about the lady's body in her various states of undress. I think that is supposed to interest you somewhat, despite the literary quality. Also, I didn't full on cry though I became misty eyed in many different nonsexual scenes, such as in Marry in Secret when Thomas finally fulfilled his promise and rescued his men from slavery after all those years.

My wife finished the Merridew Sisters series and liked it more than the Marriage of Convenience series, though she enjoyed both series by Anne Gracie. I've just started Marry in Scarlet. We didn't like part of the ending of Marry in Secret, when Thomas lets Ambrose escape despite 3 assassination attempts, 2 of which almost killed Rose. My wife couldn't understand why in the beginning Thomas insisted on an annulment after Rose said she didn't want one, and I understood that he didn't want to ruin her life again. I guess it's appropriate that she understood Rose's viewpoint and I understood Thomas's. I also didn't like part of the ending of Marry in Haste, when Cal gave the assassin's money to the widow, instead of the families of all victims of the assassin. That was blood money. There's a common theme in both books of villains killing in cold blood for money.

I've been thinking as if I was a protagonist in a book, and what changes I need to make before the end of the story for a happy ending/epilogue.


FOTCM Member
It's simple, and I will ensure that my emotions stay in their place in the future. I'm not spending any more energy on this tempest in a teapot. Yes, I planned to read that some time before Huxtable Quintet. I've thought about this too, but my point about this is that there has to be a certain degree of "literary excellence" for me to stay interested and for it to not become drudgery. For me to enter positive dissociation, I have to at least somewhat like the book. I came up with a grading scale for this to place the books in general categories, but obviously it will vary a bit from person to person. I've considered not writing any reviews unless one really knocks my socks off, and taking a more holistic approach when I get to the end of the books I've selected. While I had initially planned to wait awhile and see how the thread evolves, this is probably what I'm going to do.

The students are not expected to be architects of the school or its curriculum. However, I do notice that you impose such expectations and demands on even life itself. It hasn't met your demands, and so you are in a perpetual bad mood with a chip on your shoulder and employ cynicism to hide the hurt. Perhaps you should just read awhile longer and see where it takes you?


The Living Force
FOTCM Member
I also didn't like part of the ending of Marry in Haste,
I also didn't like part of the ending of Marry in Haste, when Cal gave the assassin's money to the widow, instead of the families of all victims of the assassin. That was blood money.
Maybe, It is like in Jonathan Hyde's spectrum of characteristics.
Empathy towards window and children is more dominating than the cold justice, given that he himself knows how his own parents neglect hurt his childhood (despite having money). Maybe that money is more valuable to poor people(that have the potential to transform their children) than the victims, who are already dead. In the end, it is the need for money, that started the path of killings. Moreover, he is not happy with the killer's family is unjustly lockedup.
In the process, he is trying to heal his own hurt.


FOTCM Member
I finished "the wicked deeds of Daniel Mackenzie" from Jennifer Ashley and wow! This was the best so far IMO. I even thought, while I was at work "if I ever have a son, I'll just un plug the wifi one day and give him that book to read. The kid will thank me later".
This book is a joy to read, especially if one is sick and tired of hearing that men are useless and women perpertual victims. For example,
Daniel has been raised by his father who risked his life to protect him from his wife who tried to torture and kill her own flesh and blood . Before that, he endured beatings and sexual abuse at her hands, because he refused to abandon his son. Violet's mother on the other hand was perfectly okay with the Idea of sacrificing her daughter and then run away while her child endured the consequences of her actions. Many predators in the story are women😈
Thank you, ryu. I am currently reading Mary Belogh's "Huxtable Series" and enjoying it immensely, but your spoiler piqued my interest considerably, as I for one am also sick and tired of hearing that women are perpetual victims and that men are always to blame.

I am beginning to think (especially after having read two books of the "Huxtable Series") that these novels are like balm for the soul, the mind and the heart.:love: I'm really happy that Laura has started this project and continues to educate us and perhaps it is one of the most important things we can do in these crazy times.

Also a big thank you to the people who pour their hearts and souls into writing a post in this thread. It is really marvellous to read about the progress that many of us are making.

Like Jefferson I also think it is hard to describe what is going on on an unconscious level, although these novels are like a perfect mirror on a conscious level as I can see my own internal considering and oh boy, it isn't pretty.:umm: So, I am not always on cloud nine, as I have observed that I am resisting certain lessons, but I just have to keep reading and hopefully I can integrate what I am learning!


Jedi Master
As much as I have preferences over the Merridew series (the first two volumes) although the four books are really good, the Huxtable series is equally good for my taste over the five volumes. The Huxtable quintet is really excellent. I loved !

I couldn't say if my emotions were heightened tenfold during this reading because it is extraordinary, richer and more detailed in the thoughts and feelings of the characters, or if it is just the fact of accumulating the readings. But it really feels good. I feel like I am releasing a lot of certain emotions buried too deep within me for too long.

I will now start the Mackenzies series.


The Living Force
FOTCM Member
I finished the Marriage of Convenience series yesterday and I really liked it. I think I will miss the characters a bit now that I'll move to another series.

My favorite book in this series was the fourth, Marry in Scarlet. The main character in this last book has so much in common with me in terms of personality that it really stirred up some emotions and made me reflect a lot on my own choices and behavior in the past. Also, the story in this one is slightly different than in the other three and it seemed to me that the author deals more with the characters' internal thoughts and their dialogues.

The book ends with a speech by George that made me cry a bit because I can relate so much to what she says... and the heart-warming experience of having friends and family who love you, support you and who you can support and love as well. They make a toast to the power of love. What a beautiful ending!

The whole series is about love and support from family and friends, while it is also about how these men and women discover love where they thought they wouldn't find it. In the process, one can see how they find courage, how they learn to understand each other, how they seek advice and how they stand for each other as a family. Wonderful indeed.

It also seems to me that in the last book we can see an interesting process of transformation which is very realistic and common (I think) in the experience of most couples (an in relationships in general), that is, how we project our parents onto the other and that clouds our vision of the true person we have in front of us. George projected her idea of her father (she didn't know him), who she disliked, onto Hart. She thought he was just as any other rich person full of himself, irresponsible and arrogant. That's what she thought about her father, who abandoned her mother and herself too. Hart, on the other hand, projected what he thought about her mother onto George and every women. His mother was manipulative, dishonest and a drama queen, so he thought that all women where a bit like that, including George, so he didn't trust her. Little by little, they both start seeing each other for what they really are, and they fall in love... then comes true intimacy and they share what they really think and feel.

In the third book, Marry in Secret, I take away how Rose learned to be patient with the Thomas' process of overcoming the trauma he had lived and how she too goes through the process of grieving for her lost child. Also, how they learn to support each other.

The second book, Marry in Scandal is beautiful, especially because Lilly is such a character. She develops into into a strong courageous woman with such a good heart who can understand others and has a great intuition. And she helps Edward go through his grief and overcome the trauma of war that left him stuck in an empty life because he didn't want to feel all the pain he had gone through and the guilt he felt because his friend died in war and he couldn't help them.

So, all the stories were very inspiring and each had lessons that I'm still letting sink in.

As others said, I'm also dreaming a lot more and most dreams seem to bring up people from my past, friends mostly... so I think I'm processing some things through dreams.

I started Courting Julia now and will got through that series. Anne Gracie did an excellent job, IMO, so if Mary Balogh is even better, I can't wait to see it for myself! :-D


The Living Force
FOTCM Member
A little update. I finished the 5th Book of the Mackenzie series. I didn't like it as much as the others. It was a downturn for me because I loved the fourth tome and was impressed that the author managed to make me like and relate with Hart, the Duke.

My big problem is that I couldn't relate to Juliana AT ALL, I felt she was too "bland" or "perfect". I absolutly loved Isabella and Eleanor and could identify myself with them, but not Juliana. I was more invested in secondary characters like Stacy, Priti's mother or Fellows. I was much more intestered in Elliot's story before marrying Juliana and got to like him toward the end. I really like the complex relationships he has with his servants, his former friend and with Priti. I also began to get tired of the "strong, tall and handsome Highland Guy" trope. Nevertheless, I was touched by the deep friendship, the forgiveness, the will to move on in life. But not the Elliot-Juliana love story.🤷

Thanks for sharing your overview of the book, I just finished it and liked it as much as the others in the series. Here are some of the things I've thought about while reading it:

I think that the reason that Juliana was shown as a perfectionist in the book is because that was the coping mechanism she adopted to deal with tragedy while growing up. She had to learn how to run a household while still a child basically. So she got good at organizing and making lists, and being hard on herself, and so on. It was her way of keeping the world from overrunning her. I sympathize with her, and we all do the same basically, it's just that we adopt different coping mechanisms based on both our external environment and inner temperament. Towards the end of the book, she is shown that she can loosen up on her perfectionism, here's what Elliot tells her:

"I'm trying to demonstrate to you that you can thrown off your shackles and enjoy yourself once in a while. The world will not stop if you do."

"I'm not demanding that you give it up every day." Elliot stretched out on the blanket. "Just every once in a while."

Juliana also comes to realize that because of her perfectionism, she was trying to fix Elliot and remake him in the image that she wanted him to be, instead of coming to understand him and help him.

"She didn't need to be Elliot's caretaker, she needed to be his friend and guide, his lover. She would anchor him when he rode the storm of his fears, listen when he needed to speak, and provide a safe haven for him when his journey was done."

In other words a relationship where they weren't using each other as a crutch, but one in which they cared for one another.

J. Peterson writes:

"Perhaps you might start by noticing this: when you love someone,
it’s not despite their limitations. It’s because of their limitations.
Of course,
it’s complicated. You don’t have to be in love with every shortcoming, and
merely accept. You shouldn’t stop trying to make life better, or let suffering
just be. But there appear to be limits on the path to improvement beyond
which we might not want to go, lest we sacrifice our humanity itself."

As for Elliot, he is yet another wounded hero in the series, suffering from PTSD. I kept thinking of something Peterson wrote about soldiers coming back from war zones with PTSD, not necessarily only because of what was done to them, but also because of the things they did to others, in other words, they came into contact with a side of themselves that they couldn't integrate into their personalities, the side that acted like a monster towards others. And we see that with Elliot. He was trained to kill people for his captors, and to do so in a brutal manner. So that was the reason that he kept somewhat aloof from others, and those he loved. He was afraid that that dark side of himself would overcome him and that he would hurt those he loved. I don't know if Jennifer Ashley read Aleta Edwards' Fear of the Abyss, but themes from that book keep recurring in the series.

While being imprisoned and tortured, what kept Elliot from succumbing to darkness and despair and losing his will to live, was a memory of Juliana from childhood. "He who has a why to live can bear almost any how," as Nietzsche wrote. And his "why" was the love he felt for Juliana. Dostoevsky wrote something similar in The Brothers Karamazov:

“You must know that there is nothing higher and stronger and more wholesome and good for life in the future than some good memory, especially a memory of childhood, of home. People talk to you a great deal about your education, but some good, sacred memory, preserved from childhood, is perhaps the best education. If a man carries many such memories with him into life, he is safe to the end of his days, and if one has only one good memory left in one's heart, even that may sometime be the means of saving us.”

Eventually, as their relationship grows, as they learn to love one another, and as they reveal more of themselves, Juliana loses some of the perfectionism, and Elliot finds it easier to cope with his PTSD. Their problems aren't magically solved though, they are still "broken" to a certain degree, so there isn't a fairy tale happy ending, just like there isn't one in real life. The need to pay attention and stay vigilant is always there.

There is also another recurring theme in Mackenzie series, the heroine and the hero bring out of each other parts of themselves that were buried, or neglected, or 'killed off' in order to cope with life.

I think that what these books show is an incredible power or possibility of the human spirit to overcome the hardship of life, and the inherent darkness that is both inside and outside. There are hints and models of how one might do just that. As Peterson notes, who knows what the world would look like if we all got our act together. I sincerely hope I'm up to the task.

Now I'm looking forward to reading Fellows and Louisa's story.
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FOTCM Member
I finished Marry in Scandal and started Marry in Secret a couple of days ago.

Will reading Marry in Scandal I noticed similar emotional and physical reactions to the story, especially towards the end of the book. I found it interesting that these feelings were centered in my solar plexus and not my throat, which is where I felt the most activity with the first book.

I have to admit that I was not super keen on the idea of reading "romance novels" when you first proposed this Laura, but I think I'm hooked now. Something about the way they are written seems to be linking up the centers in a way that is facilitating healthy release and movement and integration, just as you said.


FOTCM Member
Something about the way they are written seems to be linking up the centers in a way that is facilitating healthy release and movement and integration, just as you said.

I finished Marry in Scandal, and HOLY MOLEY it was good. I had the same types of emotional things going on as Séamas.

Of course, I also had events in my personal life that were strangely coincidental as I read, so that helped a lot. So, I can't say, "Everyone should read THIS book!" but that's certainly how I feel having finished it.

The first thing I liked was the development of the Rutherford family's relationships with each other. There were all kinds of "subplots", reflection on why people are the way they are, and how to deal with all of it.

Even the ending was not your standard romance novel fare! No shooting or stabbing this time. ;-D

The rest I'll have to put in a big spoiler:

Throughout the whole book, I wasn't sure why Ned didn't want to go back home. When I finally learned the reason, it occurred to me that much of the story revolved around telling the truth or telling lies - for various reasons.

Lily's kidnapping revolves around a big fat lie that she has some difficulty coming to terms with.

Lily doesn't want to tell her family she loves Ned, because they're all against the marriage. She doesn't want to tell Ned she can't read due to ridicule in the past - even from her own father. And she doesn't want to tell Ned she loves him because he's trying so hard to be totally numb due to his past with the war.

Ned doesn't want to go home because he lied to the tenant families on his grandfather's estate, giving them stories of how heroic their sons were instead of the brutal reality.

Neither Ned nor Lily can tell each other the truth about their "bedroom activities", each for different reasons.

Various characters lie to themselves, to others, or are afraid to reveal the truth and so they don't lie but just avoid telling truth.

The story about the sons who died at war was particularly interesting to me.

What IS the right thing to do? Would the families even want the truth that their sons died horribly?

Also, in the end Ned goes to talk to Merrick (the guy who survived and lost a leg). Merrick could have told the tenants the truth, but he didn't either.

You can imagine most families would be happier with the lie.

Ned beats himself up for 10 years about the whole thing, never thinking that if those boys who had died had had the choice, maybe they would have chosen to sacrifice themselves anyway so that he could live. After all, Ned was his grandfather's only heir. Without Ned, there is no estate, no tenants, no jobs, and no families.

On top of that, his grandfather says he chose the infantry after they bought him a commission. Ned chose to be on the front lines with his buddies when he could have taken the easy way out.

Also, at the end of the story when Nixon bites the dust, Lily finally confronts Sylvia and she doesn't believe Lily that Nixon is dead. Everything Sylvia has done in the book is basically lies and deception. In the end, it effectively destroys her... or rather, she destroys herself.

Those who tell the truth can often only do so after much time has passed, trust has been built, and they have processed and accepted their own pasts to a large extent. When they finally do it, magic happens... but it ain't easy! And in most cases, it is exactly some kind of developed relationship - familial or romantic - that helps them to 'get there'.

At the same time, sometimes people don't want the truth. Ned could have told the families the truth about their sons just to unburden his own soul, but would that have been the right thing to do since maybe they didn't really want to know? So, sometimes NOT telling the truth is the right thing to do in certain circumstances, and it's even harder than being 100% honest.

Anyway, IMO there was SO much food for thought in this one...

In any case, I have to say that this one had me stopping and thinking about my own past, present, and future more than once. Lots to digest.

Well, 2 more books to go in the series!

Windmill knight

FOTCM Member
I too finished the Marriage of Convenience series. I enjoyed the whole lot, although I liked best Marry in Scarlet. For me, Marry in Secret was the weakest, although it was still good and had some great moments too!

I thought Marry in Scarlet dealt with the most interesting situation in terms of the psychology of the main characters, how they saw each other and their relationship - and how that evolved into something completely different.

I dropped some tears at different points in at least 3 of the 4 books, and not always in regards to the romance itself. Some moving scenes related to loyalty, friendship and family, for example. As has been mentioned before, the very end of the last one was particularly touching!

I've started Courting Julia now and I'm liking it a lot, even though I'm only 3 or 4 chapters into it. The style of writing, the development of the characters, their thoughts, the dialogues, the situation - so far it's great! One shouldn't judge so early into the story but if the writer keeps it up this one is going to be awesome. :cool:


FOTCM Member
Very late to the party, but I'm a rather slow reader.

Just finished The Beast of Beswick, and it was truly enjoyable. I must admit that years ago I would not have enjoyed this book as much as I did. I think a few years ago I wasn't mature enough to appreciate the subtleties that the story presents.

While it's a simple story and easy to follow and somewhat predictable, none of that steals from the impact it can have on the reader. There's a dose of feminism that I think was properly executed as part of the features of a character that is embroiled in the story, and when it's done in such a way, it works.. it adds depth. It's a story that happens to a character that happens to have certain views, and not a story about an ideology. So it's barely noticeable and I enjoyed it.

Favorite things about the book from a story telling point of view, the main characters are active, they're moving the story forward, they're making choices and some of them are very difficult, but it's the only way to beat the villain, which is not who one thinks it is in the end (more on that on the spoiler section).

I saw a post here about doing an exercise to try to notice what others might notice, and I must say that the way the author describes the scenery and the clothing items was rather entertaining, and if one allows oneself to be carried by it, it really colors the scenery. Something I would have normally simply mentally bypassed as simply an accessory detail.

I'll try to be brief, but I enjoyed the way the story kicks right into gear with the conflict to be resolved, Lady Astrid is determined to not allow her sister to fall under the control of Lord Beaumont. That's the conflict, that's chaos at the doorstep and she responds by taking a risk and proposing marriage to the Duke of Beswick, which is badly injured and so is called the Beast by everyone. I think this is the theme of the entire story that is developed quite nicely if I must say, takings risks.

In some instances the conflicts felt a bit forced and out of nowhere, specially right before the big breakthrough when Astrid tells Beswick that she loves him, what lead to him to push her away one last time happened all away from the reader's view and it felt a bit forced, but I guess it worked in the end to add to the catharsis.

Throughout the whole story Lord Beaumont is meant to be the villain, but he's dealt with in such an easy way and sort of "off camera", that at the end I realized that he wasn't the villain at all. He's simply what the main characters all had in common that kick started the arch of their discovery and transformation.

In my eyes, Beaumont was the embodiment of fear, which is the real enemy:

Astrid could have been afraid of public shame, and could have ended with Beaumont
Isoblel (Astrid's sister) could have had the same fate, should she have been afraid
Beswick could have become Beaumont if he had been afraid and not courageous in war

But they didn't have to confront him directly, they all overcame Beaumont when they faced their fear and took a chance at being vulnerable and honest, and happy.

Another thing I liked about this book was that the message wasn't that Love will save you, and so all you need is love or someone to love you. The way I took it is that love can transform you, or rather you need to transform to attain it, but you need to see it outside of you before you can attain it within.. sort of like an inspiration from without that then creates the opportunity within to choose, if that makes sense.

Astrid and Beswick did not remain the same people they were at the beginning, they both changed by taking the risk of being someone else, someone they were afraid of becoming, and then love ensued. Love was the result of their sacrifice of their old self, and their false security and it bore fruit. So it wasn't, I love you the way you are, it was more like... I love the good in you, and so I'll encourage it out so that the bad is easier to manage. But it took conscious effort on both parties.

Another thing I enjoyed about it was the strategic enclosure, or how they had to navigate the world within the boundaries of legalities or nobility or society rules. It wasn't simply.."oh I rebel and so I must get my way.." They had to work within the system to attain their goals. That was entertaining and interesting to observe.

On to the next one!


The Living Force
FOTCM Member
I finished the Marriage of Convenience series - for me it´s the best series so far.
Not hat SOS or 1797 C or Courting Julia were bad - they were excellent too but to me this series had it all; plots, romance, feelings AND humor!
I see that on the reading list is only one more Anne Gracie series (:-() so I´ll save it for later. :-)

My favorite book in this series was the fourth - Marry in Scarlet.
I just loved our Gorge; her spirit and her honesty. And her betrothed´s patience especially during the wedding ceremony 😂
I couldn´t stop giggling when Gorge said her wedding wows:
... to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to rub, cherish, and to olé, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I give thee my troth.
It was perfectly sane: one cannot make him/herself to love somebody so she couldn´t promise to love him.
And she definitely cannot blindly obey men so - she didn´t lie and make promises she couldn´t keep.
I could only picture Harts face when looking at her at that point.... 😂

Also Hart had a lot of patience with her and it was soooo good written:
Hart didn’t know what he wanted most—to strangle her or to kiss her senseless. Preferably both.

I also liked how George was handling the children; at the time when children supposed to behave like little soldiers, she was quite right with her thinking, like:
George distrusted “good, quiet and well-behaved.” In her opinion, it wasn’t a natural state for a small boy.

“Phillip has been almost naughty several times.” Hart gave her an incredulous glance. “You’re happy that he’s becoming naughty?”
“Of course. It’s healthy in a small boy. He was so painfully well-behaved and responsible before.”
Hart frowned. “You say ‘responsible and well-behaved’ as if they’re bad things.”
She grinned, understanding. “In an adult, responsibility is admirable—even necessary—but in a small child it’s . . . it’s unnatural. Poor little Phillip is afraid of making mistakes—even small, insignificant ones. But how can anyone learn if they don’t try things and make the occasional mistake?”

Marry in Secret (Book 2) was a shocker; I didn´t expect so tragic Thomas´ past. :-(

I enjoyed Rose´s patience, Lilly´s kindness, Emm´s care and George´s independence.
I enjoyed Cam´s sense of duty and his ability to change, Ned´s honor and honesty, Thomas´ courage and will and Hart´s patience and how objective and honest with himself he was when presented with George´s comparison with his mother.
The series left me with such sense of warmth and joy.
Much different than the others, because of soft humor and so live characters.

Now I´m back to Balogh and started with The Huxtables.
Huh.... ...and aaahhhhh.... 😩
It´s not that I don´t like her writing and her stories, but how she writes it and how the female characters are scared - it just strikes me deeply.
I like Vanessa optimism and her sense of humor and ability to find joy in life. But nevertheless, I have too much in common with that character and wasn´t able to fully enjoy the story.

It was so dark to me and brought painful memories.
And realization that I don´t laugh (or cry) any more.
My friends always told me that I make them laugh and how I was so bright and optimistic and how I was able to talk to all different kind of people.
Now I hardly laugh except with my kids and I miss that. I feel like I´m missing one big part of myself.
And yesterday when I came to bed I felt like I´m gonna cry, my eyes almost shed tears - and I couldn´t.
It´s too much to process but I´ll keep reading blasted Balogh.

I also like the message presented in all books so far: that home is not a place at all but wherever one felt most sense of belonging.
And from a person that has moved quite a few times - this is so true.
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