One, it's shown me several pitfalls NOT to stumble into with my own Beauty and the Beast retelling, which I'm currently writing the first draft of. Such as, if your 'beast' is going to have some kind of physical 'otherness' that is supposed to be shocking and off-putting... make it something that actually would be shocking and off-putting.
Two, it hammered home the fact that Research Really Matters. A lot. And getting lazy with your research is not okay. Especially not in the age of Wikipedia. Now, this book is set in 1890. My own books are set from 1866 to 1884, so far, which means I have a reasonable idea of what kinds of words, fabrics, slang terms, music styles, and things of that ilk are contemporaneous to the last half of the 19th century...and also with how easy it is to find out if they're period-correct or not.
For example, hey, guess what? In 1890, no random chick in Virginia is going to know what ragtime music is. It's just barely being invented in New Orleans right then, and it'll be years before it becomes mainstream enough that a random chick in Virginia would be able to recognize it, much less spontaneously play ragtime music on a piano (and that after not having touched a piano for five years). And that's just the one thing that I was so annoyed over that I ranted to Cowboy over it for minutes on end, so I still remember it vividly. There were a lot of other things that yanked me out of the story because I wondered so hard if they were accurate or not.
I HATE being yanked out of a story by having my credulity stretched until it snaps. (I also kept getting yanked out by the sloppy/clunky writing... and I'm not sure which annoyed me more.)
Also, if you're going to write about a 7-month-old baby, maybe check with the parents of some 7-month-old babies to see if what you're having this fictional kid do and eat is plausible. I know it's been 8 1/2 years since I had a 7-month-old, but... most babies that age don't have very many teeth, for one thing. They can gum soft foods like bread, but... I'm just sayin'.
I suppose I should briefly mention what this book is about. A young woman named Ella who dreams of becoming a nurse comes to the rescue of a man named Charlie and his sick baby. Charlie is a lion-tamer in the circus. (He's actually named Richard Lionheart, because subtlety is not a big thing with this book.) Ella is beautiful and Charlie has shaggy hair and tattoos, so that makes them Beauty and the Beast. Romance ensues.
|(Mine from my Instagram.)|
(SPOILERS IN THIS PARAGRAPH). So, the tattoos. I know that they were a way bigger deal in the past than they are now. Especially in the Victorian era, when people were Extra Sensitive about certain things. But I really can't think of any evidence from any of my own historical research that would make me believe that people then found them so disgusting that, wow, it would be a tough choice between getting a lot of tattoos or becoming a male whore. The whole tattoo thing seemed blown way out of proportion. Yes, they're permanent. Yes, they're unusual in that era, for people who weren't sailors or South Sea Islanders. Yes, circuses would have a Tattooed Man or a Tattooed Lady as a curiosity or "freak" in their sideshows. But... I did not buy that there was any reason for Charlie to assume that the fact that he had tattoos would make him unmarriageable or unfit for ordinary human interaction. Seemed very contrived to me.
(MORE SPOILERS) Also, while we're at it, what was up with the semi-erotic scene where Ella touches Charlie all over his bare chest and back and arms? Now THAT would have been completely unacceptable behavior in Victorian times. No way was she going to feel comfortable doing that, especially not with her lingering trauma from her rape five years earlier. That felt very much like the whole scene was just there to give female readers a chance to vicariously get all hot and bothered, and I was NOT cool with it.
(END OF SPOILERS)
The romance in this is sweet and relatable, and I really did love Charlie in particular. Men with Sad Pasts and Kind Hearts always draw me, you know. But every time I'd get drawn into the story by the characters, I'd get thrown out again by the clunky writing. I know this is an earlier book by this author, so maybe her writing skills have grown to match her story-creating skills by now...
If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-16 for memories of a teen girl's rape, a visit to a brothel, suggestive comments made by minor characters. There's also some kissing, but that's tame.
This is my 20th book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021.