Romance Novels, Spies, and Women Doctors | Readers' Advisory (RA) Crossroads

Welcome to Readers’ Advisory (RA) Crossroads, where books, movies, music, and other media converge and whole-collection RA service goes where it may. In this column, romance novels, spies, and women doctors lead me down a winding path.
As Lewis Carroll’s Alice so aptly points out, “What is the use of a book…without pictures or conversations?” Welcome to Readers’ Advisory (RA) Crossroads, where books, movies, music, and other media converge and whole-collection RA service goes where it may. In this column, romance novels, spies, and women doctors lead me down a winding path.

Begin:

Hello Stranger by Lisa Kleypas. Avon. (Ravenels, Bk. 4). Feb. 2018. 400p. ISBN 9780062371911. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062371898. HISTORICAL ROMANCE The Victorian-set “Ravenels” series here features the highly capable Dr. Garrett Gibson, the first female doctor in England, who finds herself unexpectedly distracted by the enigmatic Ethan Ransom, a man as skilled in violence as she is in healing. That Ethan seems to be a doppelgänger for West Ravenel only adds to Ethan’s mystery, which involves the sprawling Ravenel family in his life. Kleypas has charmed readers for years with a winning mix of feel-good sensibility and a sweetly sexy approach to courtship. Her stories stress the importance of family and showcase witty, well-crafted dialog and background detail. While the first three titles in the series luxuriate in the whirl of courtship, this fourth pushes what Ethan calls the "sweethearting" a bit to the background, as the lovers get tangled in a deadly government plot.

Read-Alikes:

Beauty Like the Night by Joanna Bourne. Berkley. (Spymaster, Bk. 6). 2017. 304p. ISBN 9780425260838. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780698188648. It's in His Kiss by Julia Quinn. Avon. (Bridgerton, Bk. 7). 2017. 432p. ISBN 9780062353795. pap. $5.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062424150. The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig. NAL. (Pink Carnation, Bk. 1). 2005. ISBN 9780451217424. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781101210543. HISTORICAL ROMANCE The latest in Bourne’s wonderfully achieved “Spymaster” series (after Rogue Spy) makes a great next-read for those who enjoyed the details of Ethan's work and appreciate Garrett's abilities and tenacity. For readers wishing to be immersed in the middle of a loving family, with plenty of characters to marry off, Quinn excels with graceful prose, protective yet forward-thinking men, and a witty style. The story of the unwanted Gareth St. Clair and the last unmarried Bridgerton daughter is a high-water mark for the eight-book “Bridgerton” series. Similar to Kleypas, both Bourne and Quinn craft novels about women with keen intelligence and men who value their talents. Adding to the thrills, with its mix of romance and espionage derring-do, are Willig’s beloved “Pink Carnation” novels, which span time and place (a contemporary character doing her PhD research on the group pulls the stories into the modern world) and exquisitely blend history, romance, and action.

Read-Arounds:

Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin. Berkley. (Mistress of the Art of Death, Bk. 1). 2008. ISBN 9780425219256. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781101206751. MYS Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Random. (Outlander, Bk. 1). 1998. ISBN 9780385319959. pap. $18; ebk. ISBN 9780440335160. FANTASY Garrett Gibson is not the only female doctor breaking ground in fiction. Gabaldon’s “Outlander” series offers multiple passages in which Claire Randall, who gained battle-hardened skills as a combat nurse in World War II, also practices medicine. Later in the series, Claire becomes a surgeon and gets a will-be-famous Boston silversmith to craft modern-day medical instruments. Franklin’s books, set in the medieval world, feature Dr. Adelia Aguilar of Salerno. Adelia does not have Claire's time-hopping abilities to aid her work, and she struggles through a school perhaps even more arduous than Garrett's to become a forensic expert. Ultimately, Claire's expertise is demanded by King Henry II, when a series of murders threatens his control of the kingdom, putting her life on the line and sending her into the company of the intriguing Sir Rowley Picot.

Listen-Arounds:

All the Queen's Men by Linda Howard. Read by Kate Forbes. 9 hrs. S. & S. Audio. 2012. ISBN 9781442353688. $14.95. digital download. ROMANTIC SUSPENSE Devil's Bride by Stephanie Laurens. Read by Simon Prebble. 15:30 hrs. Recorded Bks. 2008. ISBN 9781440779718. $29.99. HISTORICAL ROMANCE Howard's romantic suspense novel pairs well with Hello Stranger, even mirroring a few scenes. Overall more intense and overt than Garrett and Ethan's story, the compelling attraction between agents John Medina and Niema Burdock, as well as their willingness to risk all for each other, echoes brightly with the Victorian tale, with narrator Forbes’s husky tone modulated to amp up the tension. Closer in time period to Kleypas’s book is Laurens's sexy and smoldering Regency-set romance featuring the domineering Duke of St. Ives and his reluctant wife-to-be Honoria, a woman more interested in travel and solving crimes than falling in line with the duke's plans. Prebble’s voice brings the novel alive, showcasing Laurens’s focus on family, the shimmering steps of courtship, and the importance of characters appreciating one another.

Watch-Alikes:

Bramwell: The Complete First Season. color. 54 min. Shanchie Records. 2005. DVD UPC 016351350497. $32.87. DRAMA Persuasion. color. 106 min. Roger Michell. Sony Pictures. 1995. DVD UPC 043396039520. LIT Kleypas’s work hints at the conditions Garrett faces and the prejudice she endures as a female physician in Victorian England, but the PBS series Bramwell makes them plain. Dr. Eleanor Bramwell (Jemma Redgrave) runs the Thrift, a charity in the slums of East London. The show, which spanned four seasons, is tense, bloody, and to the point; Bramwell is often called out for telling truth to power. Full of period detail, the series fleshes out the world in which Garrett resides. For wit, charm, and banter, turn to Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Taking place in a time earlier than Kleypas's series, this more somber of the Austen adaptations, centering on Anne Elliot (Amanda Root) and Frederick Wentworth (Ciarán Hinds), traces a romance full of longing, abiding love, and mutual respect, making it a good follow-up to Hello Stranger. Focused on worldbuilding and character, Persuasion features wonderful costumes, lavish settings, and two characters who discover each other's strengths.

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