Romantic Fiction, Reality Shaping and The Work

Laura

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<snip>
But even though Balogh's stories all have a happy ending, I'm always left with a bittersweet feeling after finishing her books. She dissects human emotions without any complacency, and she's so terrifyingly accurate. You know it's never gonna be "happily ever after" as in fairytales. The couples may have found happiness together, but the story goes one. There will still be struggles, conflicts, heartache and loss. As in real life. I don't get that bittersweet feeling with Gracie.

Balogh describes both the horror and the beauty of the human condition and human struggles so perfectly that reading her books somewhat feels like torture. And I can't even say that I personally related to the characters' struggles. I don't know how to describe it. It's just that the feelings and emotions are so real, I mean it feels so real that it's very hard to distance oneself and to just superficially "enjoy" the reading. Not that the point is to distance oneself, mind you. I couldn't even if I tried.
Can't wait to read James and Mad's story and am bracing myself for that future "ordeal". But yeah, as Alana wrote, what a story, what a writer! In all the authors I've read so far, Balogh's really the best.

Yes, Balogh is in a class by herself. As you say, she "dissects human emotions without any complacency, and she's so terrifyingly accurate."

That is a big part of what we are after here: learning objectivity by PRACTICING it even if only vicariously. In a sense, this reading project is like doing page after page of mathematical calculations in order to sharpen one's skill.

What is so darned amazing is the fact that Balogh takes us inside the heads of her characters and so often what we find inside their heads is what has been inside our own heads. At the same time, we witness the external events and learn to see how twisted thinking can distort reality. Then, we see what it is like to gradually shed the distortion and learn to face reality as it is. It's like practicing within some kind of feedback system.

And no, you can't just "enjoy" Balogh... you enter that world and experience it through numerous eyes/minds/hearts and I think it develops and grows empathy along with objectivity.

Thankfully, Balogh wrote a lot.
 

iamthatis

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I had a great conversation with a friend of mine last night. We were talking about 'pain as information'. It's somehow easier to recognize, diagnose, and treat physical pain, given sufficient knowledge of probable causes and cures. A splinter in the hand is more straight-forward than a splinter in the heart. In my experience, emotional pain is much more ephemeral, and there's a widely-available smorgasbord of pleasurable coping strategies to run from it - alcohol and drugs, sugar, video games, and on and on.

While physical and emotional pain are often woven together (like when 'the body says no' due to accumulated stress and inflammation), it seems like emotional pain threatens the self-importance more. It takes a significant degree of honesty and humility to admit and accept the damages that have been done to us, that we've allowed to be done to us, and also that we have done to others. And the emotional pain-signal can also be harder to detect, because we're not really taught how to do it. For me, understanding pain as information is a first step. It means the possibility of looking at it objectively, as a signal being sent that offers a chance to choose how to relate to it.

It's like there are two kinds of self-love, or maybe two phases. The first is the self-love that interprets the pain signal automatically, ie. through the amygdala, and runs, often seeking pleasure as an escape - crystallizing the false personality. But there is also Self-Love, where we care about ourselves enough to turns towards the pain with conscious intent to heal, to meet the difficulty head on, with a mix of tenderness and unbending intent.

What I love about these stories is that it's the presence of another beautiful, somewhat hopeless and often totally lost and incomprehensible human being who inspires this. It's not a me-me-me thing. It entails a huge amount of sacrifice. It's done on behalf of another person's healing - and often the whole family's healing - and your own. Its all simultaneous. So now I'm seeing romance as the description of an increasing resonance that reaches the perfect 'hum' to shatter those false crystallizations and let the Water of Life flow.

The cumulative effect of having read so many of these stories has been awesome - I'm definitely feelin' some kinda wonderful 'hum', too!
 

seek10

The Living Force
FOTCM Member
Gracie's books are pleasant reads, more on the lighter side for me, though I shed a couple of tears during certain scenes, which weren't so much about the main protagonists as about the ordeal of poor veteran soldiers and their wives and families who were bereft and left to fend for themselves after the Napoleonic wars. I took my time to finish the series as I found the stories weren't as gripping as some others I read before (like Seven nights), so I read at a leisurely pace. I'd describe the experience of reading her books as "comfortable", like a nice walk in a beautiful, tidy garden, where the path is quite safe. Pretty, but somewhat lacking in 'substance' (for me).
Yes, Gracie's books were a pleasant read and she doesn't go too much into introspective style of Balogh. There is certain amount of practicality in Balogh's stories.

I finished Merridew series and this series is a very good page turner. Gracie uses hardship, hope(dreams as a motivator), Love, comedy and dash of deja vu. I laughed loudly in the 'the perfect rake' with the honest
goof ups Prudent made at duke's place
. But the best joke is in her third book 'The Perfect Stranger'
when the faith threatened the caption
. The perfect Waltz is full of hope-ful quotes. If the right ideals are instilled in the kids in the early age with love, it will go long way to motivate them to face the reality with optimism and adventure. In this case, it is " love and laughter and sunshine and happiness".

"The Perfect Stranger" is my favorite book in this series. It was a heart warming to read the life of Soldier's Wife. How easily our current scientific priesthood forget the complex patterns of human reality with one theory or other. some quotes

Love can hope where reason would despair
***
If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties
***
The miserable have no other medicine but only hope
***
Perhaps, but if duty and joy can be combined, why deny personal happiness when it is possible?”
***
It was so much easier dreaming of love than being caught in its toils. Love was torture. Why had nobody told her that?
 

Laura

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I've discovered a new author with several series out: Lorraine Heath. The first book I sampled was "Beauty Tempts the Beast". I was a bit put off by the book description, but the "Beauty and the Beast" theme always interested me. So, I bit. And it was quite good. The "beast" part goes into the subject of congenital deformity. The love part was very moving. And there was internal dialogue to compare favorably with Balogh - not totally, of course, but really quite good. There is also some adventure/mystery in her books (I've read two more since and finally determined that these books are quite in line with our project.)

"When a Duke Loves a Woman" was the second book I read. A very interesting heroine and moving love story.

I've just finished "Passions of a Wicked Earl." I really hate the titles they give these books because they really don't reflect the true nature of the stories. This one was also very moving.

So, having read three titles by this author, all of which really captured and held my interest and moved me rather deeply, especially the way love unfolds in them, I think I can recommend them.
 

Ennio

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I've discovered a new author with several series out: Lorraine Heath. The first book I sampled was "Beauty Tempts the Beast". I was a bit put off by the book description, but the "Beauty and the Beast" theme always interested me. So, I bit. And it was quite good.

After reading Seven Nights in Rogue's Bed in particular, and a number of others after that, I couldn't get over how strong the themes of "Beauty and the Beast" played into so many of the novels in one way or the other. I guess it goes to show just why the fable has such lasting power and has been re-told in so many movies and novels; it seems to be an almost archetypal depiction of relationships between men and women. So that Heath would allude to it so overtly with the book you mention "Beauty Tempts the Beast" just confirms this further I think.

One fairly strong dimension of the Beauty and the Beast story is that of hospitality. Before the protagonist and would-be hero becomes the beast he breaks the rules of hospitality by callously turning away a beggar from the safety and care of his 'home'. As the narrative goes, the beggar is really a magical figure (who may be said to represent some universal laws) who places a spell on - and turns the narcissistic young man into a beast - with a limited period of time to redeem himself before his condition remains more or less permanent.

The expression "home is where the heart is" comes to mind here. The hero of Beauty and the Beast turns the beggar/magical individual away from his home/house - which is really his heart, or his self. And the rest of the story is about how he works to grow his heart/self enough to welcome Belle, the heroine of the story, into it. Belle has an important function in all this too. She must help the Beast to see how self-centered his being is in order to help inspire the growth (and love for her) necessary to make the change out of his beast mode of being. And she has her own growing to do as well as she must be strong enough to see beyond the ugliness of the beast, take a stand for his potential, and grow herself in the process.

The animated Disney version of Beauty and the Beast is, to me, a surprisingly moving depiction of all these themes. It begins with the law of hospitality, and lack of recognition of the beggar/magical being/representation of the gods (a dynamic understood as theoxeny - extensively discussed in the Odyssey thread) setting the stage for all that's to come. In this sense, whenever a man (or woman) is so contractile/selfish in being that one is unable to recognize and correctly respond to the higher or divine or god-aligned in another, one lacks the being to engage in a truly loving/romantic relationship. And which seems to be one of the main lessons here.

Below is a clip from the animated Beauty and the Beast which seems to convey some of these themes quite well. And it gets to me every time.

 

Mariama

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I had read another Burrowes book that I did not recommend for all of the above reasons of style, etc, however, I'm going to mention it now because some of you may actually like that style of writing and it was a darn good story. It's called "Tremaine's True Love". Another entitled "The Laird." These last two deal with issues that are represented in way too modern a way to be considered good historical fiction. Nevertheless, the issues are important and reading about them in a historical, romance setting, might be helpful to some
In The Laird, the elaborations of the characters, their thoughtprocesses and gestures are clear enough to give a good idea of the setting as is the process of healing from trauma and abuse which in this book involves the cooperation between lovers and friends perceptive enough to help the processes along, as the situations and circumstances allow. It was touching and admirable how gentle they went about it.
I finished The Laird a couple of days ago and thought it was a hard read from time to time, because it dealt with trauma and abuse, even though as thorbiorn wrote one of the main characters dealt with it in an admirable and sensitive manner. But it is written in a way that the abuse was up close and personal, at least that is how I experienced it. Perhaps it was hard for me, because of all the romance novels I have read before this one and the effects are becoming more and more cumulative, which makes me more open to the lessons that are waiting for me to explore. I have ordered Tremaine's True Love, but decided to read Mary Balogh's The Temporary Wife first, in case TTL deals with the same issues as The Laird and I felt I needed a break from reading about and vicariously experiencing sexual abuse. Maybe it's me, but at times the story became pretty detailed and graphic, but I agree with Laura that Burrowes's books could be helpful for some.

One thing I love about The Temporary Wife so far is that the main character turns into an objective observer in this family drama she is drawn into and can look at this new family of hers with fresh eyes, unlike her husband. But I haven't finished it yet, so that's all I can say!
 

Lys

Jedi
I've read "Untouched" by Anna Campbell, This was the first time I read a book which was not Balogh's.
Fortunately I've been prepared with the previous reading of "The Secret Pearl" as it started harsh.

But "Untouched" ! My goodness, I've been surprised by the sexual tension of the first half of the book and then some very violent scenes. Some of them made me look away for a moment.
I like the characters though, and the way they totally give themselves to each other and, although they want to stay together and want each other they show a true love by letting each other leave and do their own experiences.
This is something I find hard to do, so I quite admire that.

As the story is very harrowing, I would expect it to stir tears from me but so far, only Balogh has succeeded to make me really feel what the characters do feel and make me cry while I first wouldn't understand why.

So after those two I started to read Devils Riders series which I like very much, a lot of adventures in the first book and Anne Gracie has a great humor.
I finally can share my thoughts on this series with Starshine as he started reading it while I was reading the other books on kindle.
I'm happy that he started doing it, it feels good for both of us as the reading makes us share more again about how men and women think, what they want and the difference between them. Very interesting.
 

Redrock12

The Living Force
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I finished The Laird a couple of days ago and thought it was a hard read from time to time, because it dealt with trauma and abuse, even though as thorbiorn wrote one of the main characters dealt with it in an admirable and sensitive manner. But it is written in a way that the abuse was up close and personal, at least that is how I experienced it. Perhaps it was hard for me, because of all the romance novels I have read before this one and the effects are becoming more and more cumulative, which makes me more open to the lessons that are waiting for me to explore. I have ordered Tremaine's True Love, but decided to read Mary Balogh's The Temporary Wife first, in case TTL deals with the same issues as The Laird and I felt I needed a break from reading about and vicariously experiencing sexual abuse. Maybe it's me, but at times the story became pretty detailed and graphic, but I agree with Laura that Burrowes's books could be helpful for some.

One thing I love about The Temporary Wife so far is that the main character turns into an objective observer in this family drama she is drawn into and can look at this new family of hers with fresh eyes, unlike her husband. But I haven't finished it yet, so that's all I can say!
Halfway thru The Temporary Wife. Really don't like Anthony's violence towards Charity. He actually drew blood, but Charity just brushes it off. And it was done with others present, and no one steps in to defend her. A feeling of anger welled up in me towards Anthony. I lost all empathy and respect for him. A total jerk. Why didn't someone step in and punch his lights out? I'm angry just writing this.:mad:
 

Redrock12

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Finished The Temporary Wife. I don't quite know how to reconcile my feelings of anger with the above-mentioned scenario, and the emotion generated by the character of Charity. She is so much the quintessential heroine, willing to sacrifice material wealth in order to maintain her integrity and decency. Balogh even gives her a near-psychic ability to know what Anthony is thinking and feeling.
Compassion and gentleness, spontaneity, her love of family, stand in stark contrast to Anthony's, ruled by decorum, customs, and tradition, as well as anger and resentment.
Charity's character emotes a feeling of love and protection for her. In fact it could be said she is the embodiment of love, judging by the influence she has on Anthony and his family.
Any feeling of empathy I might have had for Anthony was severely dampened when he hurt Charity.
Balogh has the uncanny ability to bring her characters to life, and drawing out emotional responses from the reader.
This one anyway.
 

Color

Jedi Council Member
I've read quite a few of recommended titles and so far, as I can tell, they are ALL dealing with abandonment issues. Not to brag or anything but I'm the expert on those, you name it - I've played it out. :cool2: Prove me wrong. Give me an example.

It all comes down to -Why did you (God) leave me all alone here?!? Can he/she fill in the void and bring me back to heart/love/unity? If I dare to let myself go...

Relationship with God is a tricky one, once you are brave enough to admit all that you resent, all that God put you through, only then you may stand a chance.

"If I free myself from this self-imposed cage, will God finally approve of me, as I am, at this moment? Will God finally accept me through this person? Will I finally be loved if I chose to Love no matter what?"

The answer, btw, is "Yes!"

Just don't pick a lost cause and you'll be fine.
 

Gruchaa

Jedi
I don't know if it was shared here, so I am posting.
On Netflix there is series titled The Bridgerton, which is based on Jill Quinn books. I have finished whole season together with my wife :) She even cried couple of times (I tried to not :))I think, it's made quite good ;)

Unfortunately, there are some "today's world" adds, which I think, were not present in original books (I haven't read yet). Maybe someone who read that, also watched the series and can comment more on this?
 

ryu

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I finished "Silent Melody" from Mary Balogh. Again, my hat off to her. Emily, the lead female protagonist, raises herself against all expectations you might have when you hear "handicaped, pretty young woman of a good family in the 18 th century." The girl has a mind of her own and a spine of steel. Of course I doubt many families would have tolerated what she did (or rather didn't do) back then. It really shows her integrity, even it she goes again the rules of society.

What I liked about Emily is that she managed to create a life of peace, harmony and happiness while being confined at home, seen as an oddity (at best) by outsiders because of her handicap. It stuck a cord, because we are all "ill fitted" for this mad world here, and its our challenge to live the best as we can under those circumstances.
Ashley, her beloved, was free to roam the world, he had titles, money, good breeding, but he created an hell for himself.

This book follow the trope of "Beauty and the Beast" where the woman save the one she loves by showing him who he really is, by loving him and he allowing himself to be loved, which is just as hard if not more.

Overall those books have helped me feel with a newfound intensity feelings I had buried deep within the surface over the years. I always considered myself lucky and so I realized these last weeks that I dismissed feelings of loneliness, longing, sadness, anger that I thought I didn't have the right to feel because I was better off than most human beings on this planet. I thought I had to suck it up because I was among the priviledged ones. I don't know where that comes from.
Anyway, thanks to those of you who shared on this thread, on the "what-are-your-thoughts-on-having-children" thread and others, those feelings bubbled up to the surface and I cried and cried during the Christmas holidays. I also had violent dreams of being raped, enslaved, having my children taken away from me, seeing my family (in the dream) being killed, dreams of WWII and the horrors of nazism... I also felt a sense of intense lost, that someone had been taken away from me but couldn't remember who it was. Each time I felt it, it was like I was ripped apart from the inside. I remembered that I felt it as a little child, but I pushed it away from my consciousness because I couldn't take it.

EE was a blessing during those times, but I couldn't do much else because those crying sessions and dreams exhausted me. Even if it was painful, I tried to be present with those feelings. I am glad that I have the maturity now to welcome them. I feel refreshed, washed, old and young at the same time, it's hard to explain. I feel so much better than in my early 20's. I'm going to take a new step in the 30's soon so it's nice to feel happy to advance in age! I may not be following the typical path of getting married and having children, but I know myself more and more and that's also a pretty nice achievment IMHO.

These books and this thread are better than a therapy :-)
 

KristinLynne

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Wow! This has been a very interesting thread because many of you have brought so many personal views and observations to it and I thank you. As stated way earlier in the thread, my mom read a lot of romance novels and a few of the historical ones. Being bored as a kid between the ages of 10 to 16, I read many of them as well. I remember thinking that even though these were fictional characters that this was the way things ought to be even though reality was far from it, even back then. What drew me in was the characters were eventually willing to work on themselves, the relationships and the processes they used despite what hardships, traumas or perceived personal failings they may have had. Over the years I had thought that maybe those novels had set me up to fail in many relationships and not just romantic ones because that is not how the real world worked. I had stopped reading them because it was painful to realize there was a better way but found no one else who could even conceive of the idea in real life. It was pointed out to me that I was a commitment phobic and all though I knew it to be true; it has taken this thread to really understand WHY.

So 30+ years later from reading the last of those types of books and finding that they are not only useful in imagining a better reality than the one we are currently experiencing, but there is much emotional and karma cleansing involved if taken into account properly. It is a relief of the greatest magnitude for me. So far I’ve completed the Anna Campbell’s Son of Sin series, Anne Gracie’s Devil Riders (my favorite so far) and Marriage of Convenient series and have started Scarlett Scott’s Sins and Scoundrels series. And thank you Laura for all the recommendations to other books that have been added to my list.

Some of you have brought up the sense of longing these books have brought up within your true selves and that is certainly true with me. I denied it for a long time now because it was easier to deny than to live with. But it just wasn’t a longing for a partner, it was a longing for a family who has faults but works to overcome them or even being loved in spite of them when they can’t at the time. It was about yearning for things such as trust, honor, responsibility even if it was inherited, determination to go against societies standards when it was appropriate for the cause or relationship and the developing of real, lasting connections with family, friends and mates. The happy endings in these books imply that there was a lasting relationship between all those.

I can see now in my youth even though I may have understood some of these basic principles, I sure had no clue how to go about living them. Full of my own self-doubts, insecurities, ignorance on a massive scale about how the world truly worked and of course the ever present programs were a recipe for one disaster after another. Reading the recommended psychology and psychopathy books on this forum also helped me tremendously but going back to these novels where I started takes on a whole new meaning. I mean these characters didn’t have the benefit of reading those types of books but they managed to fight through all their own issues as well as taking on some of the others because what they finally realized was that the other person was worth it in the end as they themselves were worth loving too!

I noticed that some of the members were uncomfortable with some of the various sexual scenes to varying degrees and it is understandable. For me personally I have always believed that it is just that… personal and private. So it is hard for me to even try and put things into words. The physical act itself was a way for my younger self to try and find that intimacy that I craved and as you can imagine, it did not happen. With everything in this world ponerized the intimacy of 2 people connecting with their heart and expressing it through the body was all but lost except in fictional characters. But because most of these novels seem to be written by women for women they have a better understanding of what women desire in bed and out. It is not just sex, it is about making, having and experiencing love in ways that haven’t been experienced very much in today’s world. For me the power of the human touch can convey so many emotions and thoughts but in a sexual encounter when our defenses are down it can also open doors to being our true selves with the right partner. In my very embarrassed if not humble opinion. But the idea of using our sexual centers to fuel other creative outlets is a beautiful idea.

What I see in many of these romantic characters are two people who have been dealt a raw deal in different ways, finding themselves with a choice and that choice is taking a chance on opening up to the power of a real, healthy and lasting love. This is something I was unable to do, hence my commitment phobia. After my son Trey died in 2008 I gave up trying to have a relationship, dating or any interest along those lines. I can’t say I was afraid of getting hurt anymore because I was already hurting and badly broken by his sudden departure at age 17. Nothing really mattered at that time and I knew I didn’t have anything to give anyone on that level. Trey’s death fractured an already strained family past the breaking point. I had posted on the forum way back when, that I had felt empty but some of these books bring back emotions like hope, laughter and simple joy. That’s when I shed a few tears because it touches me the most. It has taken many years to get to this point but by reading these books again, I can see so much potential, promise and hope for a much different way of doing things… like moving into a new reality one step at a time.
 

Mililea

Jedi Council Member
FOTCM Member
I am currently reading this thread again from the beginning. I find the project really exciting and I am currently reading the third book in the MacKenzie series. I dared and ordered it in English. It is easier to read than I had feared. It's just a matter of a few individual words that I have to look up. Thank you @Laura for this great tip.

I have already had my first success, as Ian has helped me to find courage in a life-changing situation for me, as described here
And I have to say, I thought about it just before the conversation. How would Ian Mc Kenzie behave? He would have just said it... because he can't help it.... Very interesting I think... I only just realised that detail. It also gave me courage to think about the heroes of the Mc Kenzie series. I was too excited :lol:
Interestingly, it was only afterwards that I really realised I had thought of him, I was so excited in the situation and it happened automatically. Because of his nature, he can't help but say everything according to the truth and it was an inspiration to me and I am very grateful for that.

Unfortunately, I sometimes feel a bit in a quandary because I am also reading "The True Story of the World" / "Amazing Grace" / "The Wave" / "Political Ponerology" / "In Search of the Miraculous" at the same time. Not to mention following the forum. And I always feel like I'm interrupting my "studies" when I indulge in a novel. It's almost like school, a different subject every day. And I also go to work on the side :lol:
In the meantime, I've taken to reading the novels in the evening before I go to bed, which seems to be a good compromise. But still, I sometimes have the feeling that I'm lagging behind. Although I really make the most of every free minute and enjoy it. I've learnt more in the last year than I've probably learnt in my whole life. I'm soaking it up. :clap::grad:

Reading the themes of the other novels would interest me, but it's probably better to finish the one series first, isn't it?
 
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