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The Pop-Culture Romance

Why is it that if I read one romance novel with a particular theme, I seem to read several all at once? It's happened with fairy tales and with spies being held prisoner by the French, and now it's also happened with pop-culture references. Two authors whose work I've really enjoyed in the past have dipped their buckets into the world of 20th-century pop culture for the foundations of their most recent novels.

First, there is Jeannie Lin's My Fair Concubine. As you can probably tell from the title, Ms. Lin got her inspiration from My Fair Lady. But she only borrowed the most basic plotline: a young man from a good family must turn a girl of a much-lower social class into a "princess" in a very narrow window of time. Of course, in My Fair Concubine, over the course of this transformation, our hero, Fei Long, falls for our heroine, Yan Ling.

The major conflicts at the heart of the novel — the enormous debt left by Fei Long's father at his death, and the problem of how Fei Long and Yan Ling can be together without serious political repercussions — are resolved a little too quickly and neatly for my taste. But Ms. Lin's depictions of ninth-century China and the growing affection between her protagonists are enough to allow me to (mostly) overcome my quibbles.

The second book I read that made me wonder about a possible trend in pop-culture-inspired historical romances was Loving Lady Marcia by Kieran Kramer. The references in this one would have been obvious to anyone who wasn't me, but it took me until I was nearly halfway through the book before I caught on. The heroine's sisters are named Janice and Cynthia and her half-brothers are Gregory, Peter, and Robert. Her stepfather is Michael. A housekeeper named Alice takes care of the country home, where the sheepdog Tiger lives. It wasn't, however, until Lady Marcia had her nose injured by a stray ball thrown by her brother that I figured out what I was reading: Brady Bunch fanfic. And, honestly, I'm glad I was dim enough not to recognize it for what it was. I think if I had caught on at the beginning, my enjoyment of the novel would have diminished.

As it was, as soon as I recognized the source material, I started waiting for Sam the Butcher and Davy Jones to make an appearance, and wondering if Janice would invent a fake suitor named Roger Glass and if Robert would contract mumps from kissing a Millicent.

I'm sure I've read other romance novels that have drawn from similar inspirational wells, but as I proved with Loving Lady Marcia, I can be blissfully oblivious.

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Billie Bloebaum is a bona fide romance reader and would be reading romance novels even if she weren't reviewing them. She is also a new convert to eBooks, thanks to the writers of the blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, who kindly loaned her a Sony Reader. However, since Billie has a deep and abiding love for the traditional book, she attempts to review books that are available in both formats.


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