Posts Tagged With: Romance Novels

Christmas Romance, Nano Wrap-Up

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Hello! As promised, it is December 1st and I am back with a vengeance. Well, maybe not a vengeance. But with bells on. I have problems sustaining vengeance, and I never have problems sustaining glee.  I miss blogging when I don’t do it.

Today I’m going to write about Christmas romance novels, after I tell you that I won Nanowrimo. Yay me!! That’s number 6. This year was easier than last, mostly because I planned better and didn’t freak out when I got stymied after writing the beginning. I just went on to write the middle and end in no discernible order whatsoever like I usually do. No existential crisis about it first this time. Now if I can just get some of those rough drafts finished, I’ll be feeling even better about myself. That’s a task for next year.

The verdict on subject matter?  I think I’m capable of writing a romance novel.  Now we just have to figure out if I can edit one.  Brian has refused to be a beta-reader on the grounds that he’ll never be able to keep a straight face.  Fair enough.

Speaking of Romance Novels… I have been binge-reading Christmas romance novels in the hopes that somewhere there are good ones out there. Here’s a quick list of what I’ve completed so far, and how I felt about it. In order of read-worthiness, in case you’re interested in joining me.  I was pleasantly surprised, I have to say.  After last year, this one could be considered a rousing success.  Several things were very readable, and a few were outright good.

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The Mischief of the Mistletoe by Lauren Willig: There’s no sex in the book, but it still manages to be exactly perfect in all ways. It starts with a Christmas pudding on which a secret message has been written, and evolves into this perfect novel of romance and intrigue that is not only Christmassy, but also sweet. Bonus points for a hero who isn’t very smart but still manages to be hot, quippy, and funny all at the same time. And for Christmas pageants and yule log rituals. This was my favorite read this season.

Married for Christmas by Noelle Adams: A contemporary that’s a little bit religious in nature. I didn’t mind it, though, because it wasn’t rampantly so and it is a Christmas novel. With a pastor as the main character. The two of them didn’t feel goody-goody, they felt like real people in a marriage of convenience, and the issues they were both dealing with were real and serious. It was also the hot and bothered kind, the first one I’ve read this season.

A Christmas Kiss by Elizabeth Mansfield: This one and the above are probably tied for enjoyment.  There’s also no sex in this book, but it ended up being one of my favorite historicals this time around. The premise is that, though a confluence of misunderstandings, the duke’s family thinks that their oldest son is engaged to this girl even though he’s not. And the duke totally starts to fall in love with her, but won’t do anything about it because he thinks he’s usurping his son’s girl. The heroine is AWESOME, and the antics that go on in the house are great. There’s lots of Christmas goodness to recommend it, too. But just know that it’s a lot more sweet and funny than it is hot and bothered.

A Family for Christmas by Noelle Adams: I can’t say exactly why I didn’t enjoy this book at all as much as the first Willow Park book (above), but I didn’t. I think that it just was too far outside my own experience to be relateable. The main character is a missionary who basically just wants to be in India, where she feels her new life is waiting. And eventually she falls in love with her husband and all, like we all knew would happen, but her inner journey isn’t one I identified with. Still, a solid book with lots of Christmas goodness. And I do think it might be the thing for some people. It was well written with a solid story arc.

All I Want for Christmas by Nora Roberts: It’s a novella, so it’s short. And contemporary. There wasn’t really anything I can put my finger on that was wrong with it, but there wasn’t anything extra to be excited about either. The kids are cute, the love interest sweet with the usual “brokenhearted previously” trope to keep the two (very) temporarily apart. It was totally fine. A solid novel with many nice Christmas touches. But honestly, I’ve already forgotten that I read it.

His Mistress by Christmas by Victoria Alexander: I just… I hate to be so disparaging. But this novel rubbed me in ALL the wrong ways. He’s so passive about her that it starts to feel like he doesn’t know what to do with a woman, even though he’s supposed to be this fancy experienced explorer with a girl in every port. She tells him he’s extraordinary every time he opens his mouth in those exact words. They fall in love in two seconds without ever spending any real time together. He’s supposed to come into some big inheritance, which turns out to be his father’s beat up watch and not actually a thing. The sexual tension wasn’t present. While it did have plenty of Christmas trappings, that’s it’s only saving grace. I’d skip.

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NaNoWriMo 2016

Well, it’s the time of the year again where I agonize over whether or not I’m going to do NaNoWriMo.  I don’t know why it’s even a debate anymore, really, except that it’s never a good time to drop whatever I’m currently working on for a new thing.  And to be honest, it’s getting a little overwhelming how many terrible first drafts of novels I have sitting around waiting for me to get to them.

Still, I’ve been doing this for six years now, and I’ve won every year.  There’s history in the game now, and I’m not going to break the streak.  Especially when I can tell myself all sorts of good stories about needing to incorporate more practice into my writing and how Nano is the ultimate practice.

On that note, I’ve decided I’m going to push through in October on getting as much done on my other projects as possible.  And then I’m going to see if I have what it takes to write a romance novel.  I’ve been reading enough of them, and I’ve been wondering for over a year now if I might make a go at writing something a bit feminist to join the immense pack of well written things that are a little bit suspect in message.  Nano is for finding things out.  If it turns out I can’t write a romance novel, then I’ve only spent a month on figuring that out.  The bonus of not being able to do it means that I also won’t have another hurt first draft of a novel sitting lonely on my computer.  The bonus of finding out that I can write one is that there will be more feminist romance out there in the world.  Maybe, eventually, if I ever get to editing it.

Because of course I’m being feminist about it.  And wildly American, surprisingly.  I’ve picked a really terrible title and am looking for better suggestions, if you have any.  It’s got to be punny, with bonus points for those that mash up second wave feminism and bawdiness (or first wave, or third… I’m not picky).  Brian came up with “Romancing The Vote” which almost works, but doesn’t quite.  Here’s my hastily scrubbed together cover and synopsis:

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In Suffrage or in Health:

Boston, 1891.  Charlotte keeps a close secret that would surely ruin her and all her marriage prospects if discovered: her pen name is Susan Catt and she’s the one behind all the incendiary suffragette articles in Frank Godwin’s Illustrated Magazine.  And with handsome but proper Henry Harcourt just about to propose it’s more dire than ever that Charlotte keep that other name from ever getting out.  After all, Henry is everything she said she wanted with plenty of gilded halls and money besides.  Isn’t he?

If only broke, uncouth Frank Godwin wasn’t so tempting… And so willing to accept her as herself.

Anyway, I’m happy I’m keeping to tradition.  I’ll have a full on outline in a few days, and then I just need November 1st to roll around so I can start cranking out the words.  It’s nice to be done with this so early in the game; quite a change from last year when I did this all without an outline 2 days before the deadline and imploded a week later. But I also know from much Nano experience that pre-planning alone is not enough to keep the implosions at bay.  Think good thoughts for me.

Need a writing buddy?  Come find me!  I’m Caseykins, and I will 100% buddy up to you back: http://nanowrimo.org/participants/caseykins

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Summer Reading List, 2016

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It’s that time again.  Or nearly that time.  We’re terribly late getting back to school in the state system, so there won’t be classes on this campus for another few weeks.  But the university near my house has started up, and so have all the kids I know.  And, of course, Hogwarts starts September 1st, so I’ll post the list a little early and call it appropriate.

The list is rather huge this time.  I’m blaming it on the fact that I go through bad books much faster than good ones.  And I also want to say you’re welcome for reading so much crap romance that you don’t have to wade through it yourself.  Here it is:

  1. Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater – CRAZY good. I’m officially obsessed with the Raven Cycle now, and this book is a big reason why.  The ladies of Fox Way take over a bit, and things start to go even crazier than before.
  2. The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater – Another book that’s crazy good beyond all reason. This is everything I was hoping the end of the series would be, and more.  And that’s saying something.
  3. The Usual Path to Publication by Shannon Page – Spoiler: there is no usual path. But this book is full of cathartic stories of joy, and also made me realize that there are more things I can be trying while pursuing my own path.
  4. Witches of Lichford by Paul Cornell – Also amazingly good, though too short to fully realize all the story lines. But I’m basically obsessed with the concept of big box store mixed with fae and devils, and it was well done. Can’t wait for the sequel.
  5. A Gentleman Never Tells by Eloisa James – I’ve read her back list, so now every time something new comes out it’s cause for celebration. This one was especially good, with plenty of house party fun, croquet, and general quippiness.
  6. The Earl Next Door by Charis Michaels – This was actually fairly good fun, if a little unbelievable. It felt like one of those books people make fun of where there’s a mean brother, and a family secret, and a chase up the moors, and a graveyard, and a haunted house, and… but all in all a solid effort at that type of thing.
  7. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – I think this is one of my favorite books right now. Cath’s crazy makes me feel less crazy myself.  Or that there’s hope for me, at least.  And you have to love Levi.
  8. My Lucky Life in and Out of Show Business by Dick Van Dyke – An interesting read for anyone who’s a fan of Dick Van Dyke’s work. He’s brutally honest and reveals all sorts of fun in addition to the hard.  Written simply, but good.
  9. Cold Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas – Okay, so I guess we should have a talk about Lisa Kleypas. I’m reading Kleypas because I’m out of Eloisa James and Julia Quinn and haven’t found anything else of their same caliber yet.  I’m not 100% on board with Kleypas because there’s a lot of: woman – “No!” man – does it anyway; woman – “ooh, nice.”  Which isn’t my favorite, even in historical romance.  No means no. That being said, the rest of the book is usually so awesome that I’m able to go on.  And romance novels are my escape now, so there’s no not reading them.  This one has nice reformed scoundrel propensities and much making out in corners.
  10. Marrying Winterborne by Lisa Kleypas – Probably one of my favorites of the Kleypas variety. Misunderstandings and class differences keep 2 people apart.  Bonus points for lady doctor who literally kicks ass, and much department store fun.
  11. Suddenly You by Lisa Kleypas – Interesting premise of hired escort that doesn’t really pan out like it should. It was fine, but nothing to write home about.
  12. Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater – I feel like this is everything I wished Twilight was; a more feminist version of teens in a small town dealing with the supernatural. But at the end of the day, it’s a book I’ve already read.  The writing is BEAUTIFUL, though.
  13. Linger by Maggie Stiefvater – Things in Linger get a little bit more original, but not much. Still gorgeous writing with a good emotional pay off at the end, but it’s also still something I feel like I’ve seen.
  14. Mine ‘Till Midnight by Lisa Kleypas – I do kinda LOVE the Hathaway sisters. This one has a Romani hero and is super steamy.  The best of historical Kleypas, for sure.
  15. Any Duchess Will Do by Tessa Dare – I mean, it was a cute idea that tried to be a bit My Fair Lady but ultimately didn’t succeed that well.
  16. The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black – HOLY CRAP THIS BOOK WAS GOOD. I always forget that I’ve never read anything by Black that I didn’t like, and she blows me away every time.  This one is sort of a dark but modern take on the Tam Lin fairy tale.
  17. Seduce Me At Sunrise by Lisa Kleypas – The Hathaway sisters book 2. Nice stoic hero and recovering heroine who have to re-connect after long absence.
  18. Tempt Me At Twilight by Lisa Kleypas – Hathaway sisters book 3. This one featured a hero who was a little too forceful for my tastes.  But, you know.  Still okay.
  19. Married By Morning by Lisa Kleypas – The governess in this series is my favorite, and her quippyness with the hero insures that there’s plenty of fun to go around.
  20. The Viscount Who Loved Me by Julia Quinn – A re-read. The Brigertons are my favorite.
  21. An Offer From A Gentleman by Julia Quinn – I really could say the same about all of the Quinn that’s below…
  22. Romancing Mr. Bridgerton by Julia Quinn
  23. When He Was Wicked by Julia Quinn
  24. Lean Thinking by James P. Womack and Daniel Jones – A read for work. It was fairly dry, but I do hope that it will lead to more streamlining within the university.  The ideas were good, if you can stick with it.
  25. Love In The Afteroon by Lisa Kleypas – Hathaways still. Kleypas left my favorite heroine for last.  Beatrix finally gets her own book, and it’s a good one.  She is a seriously strange lady and I love her for it.
  26. The Coldest Girl In Cold Town by Holly Black – A re-read. I forgot how violent and heartbreaking this book was.  But it’s still as good as ever, if more disturbing than I remembered it.
  27. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling – Oh man. I don’t know.  I didn’t really enjoy it, but I almost did.  It was nice to be back at Hogwarts and in the Wizarding world, but it moved too fast and was ultimately a bad story line, though the fact that it dealt with some real issues redeemed it a bit.
  28. Devil In Winter by Lisa Kleypas – Another book in which the hero is rather too forceful, though I did enjoy a lot of the novel anyway. It deals with gamblers and prostitutes, which isn’t something most romance novels do, so that was a change.
  29. Secrets of a Summer Night by Lisa Kleypas – Yeah, I don’t know. This one is basically a bunch of vultures lying in wait for a girl to go bankrupt so they can schtup her without having to marry her.  Eventually the hero redeems himself, but it’s not my favorite.  The relationship between the 4 girls, though, is a gem.
  30. Attachments by Rainbow Rowell – A re-read, and another one of my favorites. I’ve been recommending this one to everyone I can.  You should go read it.
  31. It Happened One Autumn by Lisa Kleypas – Fairly good. The usual unsuitable manners vs. impeccable reputation thing, which Kleypas does well.
  32. Uprooted by Naomi Novik – Made me fall in love with fantasy novels all over again. It was exactly what I wanted and reminded me of McKinley and LeGuin while still being something totally new.  Go read NOW.
  33. Scandal in Spring by Lisa Kleypas – Again, the wallflowers are good gals, but I didn’t ultimately love the book.
  34. Storyteller by Kate Wilhelm – Basically a memoir of the Clarion Writer’s Workshop that made me yearn to go even more than I already did. A great read.
  35. The Lady Most Likely by Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, and Connie Brockway – Oh so much fun. It’s basically about 3 couples who fall in love at the same house party with the premise of all of them being on one guy’s “marriageable” list and slowly being whittled away. It reads like they had a blast writing it, and it’s very well done.
  36. No Place for a Dame by Connie Brockway – On the strength of the last book and the fact that this was free via Kindle Unlimited, I decided to Try Connie Brockway. Her books are solid, but nothing at all to write home about.  I would pick up Kleypas before I would pick up Brockway again.
  37. Highlander Undone by Connie Brockway – Again, another free one. Fine, but nothing exciting.
  38. A Ring of Endless Light by Madeline L’Engle – A re-read. I’m in love with this book and have been for a long time. The Austin’s live just as I’d like to, and it says different things to me as I get older, which is the mark of a good book.  I’ve been reading this one regularly since I found it in junior high.
  39. All Through The Night by Connie Brockway – Well, the hero actively locks up the heroine in his bedroom in this book, so there’s that. But there’s some thievery and other fun beforehand.
  40. Smooth Talking Stranger by Lisa Kleypas – Holy Crap this is the book I’ve been waiting for from Kleypas for all the time I’ve been reading her work. It has all her perks –amazing use of language, fantastical richness that still somehow seems likely, strong men, steamy sex – with none of the no/yes stuff that plagues the historical romances.  Read immediately.
  41. Sugar Daddy by Lisa Kleypas – Another of the Travis series, and my favorite of them. Because of the past of the heroine, it reminded me a little bit of Kingsolver’s Bean Trees (as unlikely as that is). Another read now, if you like the romance novel thing.
  42. Blue Eyed Devil by Lisa Kleypas – Again, a Travis series novel. This one has some pretty egregious domestic violence, so trigger warning.  But it’s a crazy good book, and the heroine gets an amazing redemption.
  43. Brown Eyed Girl by Lisa Kleypas – Who doesn’t love the wedding planner trope? This book is the conclusion of the Travis series.  Good and still a read immediately, though I liked some of the other Travis books just a tad better.
  44. Pitch Perfect by Mickey Rapkin – I’m torn on this one, because it was really interesting and lots of fun. But Rapkin uses some metaphors and phrasing that kinda offended me.  And for the boys groups it’s all about getting some, and for the girl groups it’s all about managing the drama.  Ultimately I’m glad I read it, though I did leave feeling annoyed.  You can definitely see why they made a movie of it.
  45. The Writing and Critique Group Survival Guide by Becky Levine – This book is probably great if you’re new to writing and critiquing, and does have great advice on starting or joining a group. That being said, most of the book is dedicated to teaching you how to crit, which I’m already good with. I didn’t get a lot out of it, but I would expect that others would.
  46. Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake by Sarah MacLean – Holy crap this book is GOOD.  Basically, a spinster decides that her respectability isn’t doing her any good so she decides to do what she’s always wanted to.  And keeps running into the hero while she’s up to the inappropriate tasks.  Steamy and SO fun.  Just ignore the cheesy name, okay?
  47. Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord by Sarah MacLean – Awesomeness confirmed.  This one features a house full of spunky girls who are all struggling to keep their manor house from ruin while offering sanctuary to girls in trouble.  Bonus points for hot statuary.

As always, happy reading!

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Book Reviews: A Little Romance

I’m very far ahead on the reading challenge at this point, but VERY far behind on getting reviews of everything done.  Which means I’m going to review two of the romance novels I’ve read so we can get that out of the way.  I feel like love of romance novels is a personal topic, and I usually don’t review them in detail.  But I pledged to review everything on that challenge list, so…

Before I go full-throttle review, I think we should talk about romance novels.  They are full of cheesy moments, sappy dialogue, silly euphemisms for body parts, and unlikely scenarios.  I consider that a feature of the genre, not a deterrent.  So when I discuss the novels, I think you should know that all of them are typical historical romance fare and are therefore to be judged on a different standard than, say, something by Donna Tartt.

That being said, I still look for streamlined language, an interesting and new-ish storyline, and plenty of good description.  I will always maintain that good writing is good writing, regardless of genre.  It’s the stuff that happens in romance novels that I’m not sure everyone would agree on being their thing, not the quality of the writing itself.

Here we go:

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Mine ‘Til Midnight by Lisa Kleypas (a book that’s on fire)

Not only is the book full of fiery, lusty happenings, but their house eventually catches on fire.  It seemed to fit.

I am fairly torn when it comes to Lisa Kleypas.  She does that thing in romance novels where the girl says no way, the guy does it anyway, and then the girl likes it.  I hate to be all “rape culture!” on everyone, but it makes me uncomfortable and is the trope I like LEAST in the genre.  I know that in the Victorian era, women had to be circumspect about their relationships.  But this isn’t a Victorian book.  It’s a modern book, written by modern people, for modern people, that happens to take place in the Victorian era.  I demand that the fiction fit my modern values.  Which means no possible rape scenarios, please, regardless of how much love is between the characters.

It’s all throughout this book, too.  Which made it hard to like wholeheartedly even though I LOVED almost every other aspect of it.  It’s an unusual premise, the family is unlucky and really funny, and the love interest is a hot bad boy.  Bonus points for the fact that he’s Romani, and Kelypas is pretty good (to my untrained eye) at being respectful while still dealing with prejudices at the time.  More bonus points for Beatriz and her pet lizard. Who makes an appearance at the dinner table.  If we are giving kudos for originality, this one has it in spades.

While it was mostly good, it also had a supernatural aspect that I felt was thrown in at the end without enough foreshadowing, and seemed a little silly as a result.

I’m critical, but I read the thing in 1 day and then bought book 2.  So I did enjoy it despite the flaws.  I have now read the entire backlist of Eloisa James and Julia Quinn, so I now have to find a good substitute.  Kelypas is almost in that league for me.  If only she’d cut out this no/yes stuff.

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My American Duchess by Eloisa James (a book no one wants you to read)

This category was the HARDEST for me, because no one has ever cared much what I read.  My parents’ shelves were as open to me as anything on my own shelves, I always got whatever was on my book list for presents at Christmas/Easter/birthdays, and my grandparents used to hand me things that might have been considered too old for me.  Like Damon Runyon at the age of 12. (He’s one of my favorites, but the heavy use of slang isn’t something that’s easy to get into, and it can be violent).  I got my hands on my first romance novels in high school.  No one has ever really cared.

But I needed something forbidden.  Which made me think of the stigma around romance novels.  And here we are…

At this point, I’ve read all of James’ back list.  This one falls somewhere in the middle of the pack for me, although maybe more towards the top than the bottom.  It’s a good, solid romance that has all the things I’m looking for – including an awesome American heroine.  She has a reputation for being flighty after ending a few engagements, and she’s determined to stick her current one through.  Even if he’s the wrong guy, and it’s his twin brother she really wants.  Bonus points for her being from Boston, which is where a huge contingent of my own family is from.

The book features a pineapple debacle, a twist in how the two eventually get married, and much fun along the way.  About ½ of the book takes place after the 2 are already married and attempting to figure things out, so that’s unusual in a romance novel, too.  Although it may not be the best of James, it’s definitely some of the best in the Romance genre.

That’s it for now, although more reviews will follow soon.  Happy reading!

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News and Book Reviews: Christmas Romance

I had carefully crafted a thing on Romance Novels for Christmas that I wrote for today, but I got some AMAZING news last night that I want to share first.  Bewildering Stories has included my story in their “best of the quarter” list – the Quarterly Review.  I also received the Order of the Hot Potato.  Meaning that the honor of inclusion was hotly debated by the editors.  I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not, but I’m going with excitement that people are discussing my work.  🙂 Also, not bad for my first really published thing.

This was the nicest Christmas present.  Thanks, Bewildering Stories!

And now on to Christmas Romance:

Romance Ladies

I got it into my head that I wanted to read some Christmas Romance over the last few weeks.  The best part about this silly genre is that there are themed things all over the place. Christmas romance of the good kind is prolific if you’re just wanting a sweet falling in love story.  Isla and the Happily Ever After; Carry On; Landline; Dear Mr. Knightly; I could go on…

But what I wanted was a good ol’ Historical Romance Novel with all the tropes that are a part of that genre.  The hot men, the witty women, the tension, the manor houses, the Christmas decorations.  It turns out that this is a VERY hard thing to find.  There’s a lot of stuff out there, certainly, but I was having a hard time stumbling into the good stuff.  I read about a bazillion things, and I finally found some books that would keep my season steamy.  The list is below, so you don’t have to suffer through bad Christmas romance like I did.

I suppose I should also explain something.  I hate Novellas.  I know – blasphemy.  My former English professor would be aghast.  But the main reason I like romance novels is to live in another world for a while.  And “for a while” doesn’t tend to exist in novellas.  There are exceptions, of course, but they are few and far between.  So I also tried to avoid all short story collections and novella collections, although I didn’t do it completely.

Here is the list of what I read.  If you have any other suggestions, PLEASE send them along.

Buy Immediately:

Christmas Ladies: 3 Full-Length Holiday Regencies (Windham Series) by Grace Burrowes:  This is a collection of 3 Christmas novels that were all collected into one e-book.  They’re all full length (!!!) and very well done with plenty of Christmas goodness in with the romance goodness.  I LOVED the first one, and am in the middle of the second.  Best part is that they’re super-cheap right now.  You can’t beat the bargain, and the 3 novels will keep you occupied until Christmas comes at this point.

Worth it:

An Affair Before Christmas (Desperate Duchesses, Bk 2) by Eloisa James: I always love James’ stuff.  I don’t quite know why, but as soon as you delve into that first chapter you just know you’re in the hands of a master.  That was more evident to me after reading all the bad books before this one – it visibly felt like a relief to read the first paragraph.  The beginning of the book and the end are all the Christmas you could desire, but the rest of it takes place outside the season.  Still a fun romp and an excellent novel.

Mostly worth it:

Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor by Lisa Kleypas: The story moved quickly and the ending felt too unfinished, but otherwise the book was excellent. Modern, so be warned.

A Wallflower Christmas (Wallflowers, Book 5) by Lisa Kleypas: I mean, it features the trope where the guy keeps going even after the girl has said no.  And it does it repeatedly.  But otherwise this book was excellent, with Christmas tree decorating, some Dickens, and a well done story line.

Under the Mistletoe (Signet Eclipse) by Mary Balogh: A collection of 5 novellas.  They’re all good, but I’m not really sure why they decided to put all of these together.  In a lot of cases, the stories are so similar that they sort of blended into one another for me without distinction.  I would read The Best Gift and Playing House, and then forget the other 3.

Not worth it:

A Christmas to Remember by Jenny Hale:  I found myself cringing so often at the writing, and at the main character’s attitude toward things.  Like, your life isn’t complete unless you can have children and that’s your only aim in life?  Give me a break, kid.  Interactions between her and the hero also felt awkward and forced a lot of the time.  I did finish it in short order, so that’s saying something about the story arc itself, I think.  But I would skip this one in favor of something less maddening. Also a modern tale.

All links are affiliate links.  Happy reading!!

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Fall Reading List, 2015

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Well, it is  Finals Week here in college-land.  That means that it’s time for me to post my seasonal reading list.  These are all of the things I have read between July and now, and how I felt about them.  Fair warning: my romance novel habit has become encompassing.  They’re just so fluffy!  When I don’t want to read angsty things, I find those do the trick so nicely.  And I can’t not read.  For as long as I can remember, I have never not been in the middle of something, unless I’ve just finished something.

Yeah, I know.

But the good news is that you get to benefit from my insanity.

I hope you are shaping up to have a Jolly Holiday.  Or have had a Jolly Holiday (since Hanukkah is over…).

The Official Fall Reading List:

  1. Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Pamela Hill Smith: I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone who isn’t a fan of her novels or of history.  It’s basically a rough draft surrounded by a WEALTH of cool information.  Needs a bit of determination to get through, but it’s 100% worth it in every way once you do.
  2. A Slip of the Keyboard: Collected Nonfiction by Terry Pratchett: A collection of his non-fiction essays and talks. It’s good.  His wry wit shows through clearly, and he has interesting things to say about his Alzheimer’s.  Ultimately, it’s mostly fluff and opinion.  But it’s good, funny fluff, so…
  3. Rising Strong by Brene Brown: Holy crap. I always feel like her stuff is life changing, but I feel like this one brought me a greater understanding of what’s happening with me. I’ve been a bit depressed for a long time, and it feels like I found the key as to why and how to get out.
  4. When Beauty Tamed the Beast (Fairy Tales) by Eloisa James: Not as good the second time around. I mean, I still liked it.  But the first time I read it I felt like Piers was great and the story was so fresh.  This time his demandingness was a bit much, and Linnet is SO naïve.
  5. A Kiss at Midnight by Eloisa James: So much better the second time around I think. I liked it the first time, but the second I fell head-over-heels for the prince.  Add in rats of dogs, horrible wigs, and an awesomely innapropriate Godmother, and it turns into a very fun romp.
  6. Romancing Mister Bridgerton (Bridgertons) by Julia Quinn: Knowing the surprise ending didn’t ruin it for me at all the second time around, which was nice.  I do like the Bridgertons and all the silly they come with.  Colin and his perpetually empty stomach being one of them.
  7. Minx (Avon Historical Romance) by Julia Quinn: You know, I liked the book. I did.  But it fell into that uncomfortable territory for me where the main hero was a bit too forceful for comfort.  Despite that, Henry really is the best sort of girl and it was fun seeing her get the hero into a pigsty, among other things.
  8. Ten Things I Love About You by Julia Quinn: Yeah, it was a cute premise and all but I found it a bit cheesy. I still maintain that the Bridgertons are her best work.
  9. Just Like Heaven by Julia Quinn: Two childhood friends find out they have a bit more in common when he suffers a deadly injury and has no one to nurse him. There’s a lot of horrible woundiness that I skipped through – the hero gets gangrene and it’s rather descriptive about the treatment.  But otherwise great.
  10. Three Weeks With Lady X (Desperate Duchesses) by Eloisa James: A bit less salacious than it sounds. I liked this one a billion times more the second time around.  The hero is such an ass, but he’s such a handsome, principled ass.  Also, the quippy letters he and Xenobia send back and forth are hilarious.  Bonus points for neither of the main characters growing up rich.
  11. The First Frontier: The Forgotten History of Struggle, Savagery, and Endurance in Early America by Scott Weidensaul: Full of really frightening pioneer stories during the colonial eras, but an interesting read nonetheless. I felt like I got a better idea of some of the fiction books I used to read as a child (Calico Captive being one of them).
  12. The Arm of the Starfish by Madeline L’Engle: You know, I like this sort of espionage world she operates in sometimes. She does it fairly well.  I think her strength is family relationships, and there’s very little of that in here; but it’s still a compelling thriller, even if it’s a bit predictable.
  13. What Happens in London by Julia Quinn: Again with the names. And I seem to be in an espionage mood.  But this one was EXCELLENT.  Very fun and unpredictable.  Although maybe her loose ends weren’t wrapped quite as nicely as I’d like them to be. Proposal at the end was perfection.
  14. Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins: a re-read that I’m finding less captivating the second time around. Perhaps because I know what’s coming and I’m not super excited to get to the soul-crushing parts of it.  You have to love Lola, though.
  15. Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale by Holly Black: a super-gritty and dangerous delve into Faerie Land in the middle of modern day. Kaye finds out she’s a changeling when she moves back home to New Jersey when her mom’s boyfriend gets murderey.  She also becomes the target of a sadistic queen when the queen’s knight Roiben falls for her.  There’s weird human neighbors and much intrigue.  Amazing book.
  16. Ironside: A Modern Faery’s Tale (Modern Faerie Tale) by Holly Black: The sequel to Tithe, and just as crazy as the first. Kaye finds herself trapped between faery wars when Roiben gives her an impossible quest, and the Seelie queen tries to use her against him.  Where has this series been all my life?
  17. Dragonhaven by Robin McKinley: In her fabulously frantic yet real-life voice. It gets a little too much sometimes, especially by the end.  But I do love the outcome of the book so much.  Once Lois is older it starts to feel like actual life again, and it’s nice to watch and be in. Keep with it!
  18. Asking Styles: Harness Your Personal Fundraising Power by Andrea Kihlstedt: A little shorter than I wanted, but ultimately it made me feel like I could make this fundraising thing work for me despite my shyness and lack of teeth. Which I think was the purpose.
  19. How to Marry a Marquis (Avon Romantic Treasure) by Julia Quinn: I liked this one a LOT. I know I said I go to romance novels to escape, but this one dealt with poverty well.  A sweet where the heroine fell for the property manager, who was really a Marquis in disguise. I would recommend, and will probably re-read at some point.
  20. A Night Like This by Julia Quinn: It was the usual thing.  And the usual thing when done by Julia Quinn is awfully well done. It’s weird, because there wasn’t anything I can pinpoint exactly that I didn’t like, but it just didn’t stick with me like some of her others.  I liked it, but I would recommend others first.
  21. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown: I don’t know why Brene Brown is so amazing for me, but she really is. I thought that Rising Strong was helpful, but I feel like after reading this one I have a whole new understanding of how to become a better, more resilient person.  I also think I have a better handle on why and how others around me are making the choices that they are.  This one felt so do-able. I feel like EVERYONE should read it.
  22. Dear Mr. Knightley: A Novel by Katherine Reay: Oh, so good and sweet and awful and heartbreaking all at the same time. I love Sam so much.  She feels like a real girl, taking refuge from her bad social skills in books and always on the verge of dropping out.  Every small good thing that happens to her feels like such a triumph.  And the ending – !!! – wow.  That’s all I’ll say.  But this might be a new favorite of mine.
  23. Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson: I basically spent the entire time trying not to break out in a belly-laugh when I was reading during my lunch hour or next to Brian as he slept. I love Jenny SO MUCH.  This book is messier than her first, but it doesn’t seem to matter much for enjoyment.  In fact, it may be funnier than her first, the sometimes (okay always) awkward ramblings serving the subject matter so well.
  24. Carry On by Rainbow Rowell: is it bad that this is fanfiction for a series that never existed, and yet I want ALL THE BOOKS RIGHT NOW? It’s perfect, in a way that satisfied all my Harry Potter longings, with much steaminess included as well.  Baz is such a shit, and I’m head over heels for him. For all of them. “So Good” doesn’t even begin to explain how I feel about it. Maybe asdfjkl;!!!!! will?
  25. To Catch an Heiress by Julia Quinn: Good, although a little ridiculous at times. I mean, she lives in his bathroom for a week or so… I don’t know.  It just didn’t seem likely.  But funny and quippy and full of good romance like most of Quinn’s stuff.
  26. Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy: Oh, quite good. I felt like Will’s journey didn’t quite come as full circle as I’d like, but overall it was a good book and unlike anything I had read before.  It dealt not just with boys and body image, but also what happens when friends grow apart.  Worth it.
  27. Landline: A Novel by Rainbow Rowell: I forget how much this one slays me. She gets that whole “married too young” relationship right, and I see so much of Brian and I between the covers here.  I don’t think I’d ever try and convince past Brian not to marry me, though.
  28. Thornyhold (Rediscovered Classics) by Mary Stewart: I wanted my Nano novel to feel a little like this novel.  It’s one of my favorites of all time, and definitely a comfort book.  You have to love the animals, and the house just for Gilly, and her romance with Christopher.  So great.
  29. Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones: Another story I’d like my Nano novel to feel like. It’s totally different than Thornyhold, but also not.  There’s witchcraft and a magical house that becomes a home.  There’s a little bit more of the fae in this one, though.  Another favorite.
  30. Rose Cottage (Rediscovered Classics) by Mary Stewart: I thought this book was a bit like Thornyhold, which it sort of is, but it’s not really a homecoming book so much as it’s a home-leaving book. At least for most of it.  It didn’t help much with Nano, but I enjoyed it all the same.  Another comfort book of mine, with a very puzzling mystery right until the end.
  31. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: A Novel by Susanna Clarke: I picked this up because Neil Gaiman told me to (through an online article – not in person, sadly.) I’m finding it pretty slow going. It starts off as an older novel would, with much telling and exposition.  But I like the characters and it’s an interesting premise.  I even like the fact, a bit, that it feels older than it is.  I’m going to stick with it and see if I don’t love it later.  Because this is the sort that you LOVE or don’t.  Nothing in between.
  32. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: I’ve been wanting to tear apart a couple of books and see if I can’t learn something about the structure of them. This one was a 50-cent wrecked paperback that I bought at the local Thanksgiving rummage sale, so it was perfect.  The tearing-apart stuff is going well, and is SUPER interesting.  Did you know that Jane isn’t even mentioned by name for, like, almost 3 chapters?  I’m trying to figure out why Austin would do that…
  33. The Lady Hellion (Wicked Deceptions) by Joanna Shupe: Pretty darn good, of the regular romance variety. I picked it up because it was named best of the year, and I think it deserves the crown. The PTSD of the main character was a bit of a twist, as was the total spunkiness of the heroine.
  34. Carry On by Rainbow Rowell: Yes, I’m reading it again less than 3 months after I finished it the first time. This just shows you how obsessed I am.  My phone background is now Simon and Baz looking smoldery at each other. ❤  If you haven’t, you need to go read it NOW.
  35. A Wallflower Christmas (Wallflowers, Book 5) by Lisa Kleypas: I almost liked this one. I just have such a hard time with heroes who won’t take no for an answer, even if the heroine is really enjoying it – and this one was FULL of that.  But the arc of the story line was good and the writing was excellent.  I won’t read it again, although I might look up the other “Wallflower” books.
  36. A Christmas to Remember by Jenny Hale: The writing was, well, less than good. Her main character felt wooden, and played into a lot of female stereotypes that I hate (she’s nothing without a family of her own?). But there was something about the story line that wouldn’t let me put the book down, so there’s that.
  37. Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor by Lisa Kleypas: Her writing is so good, with the cinematic description you usually find in literary fiction.  The book went way too fast for my liking, though, and it didn’t feel resolved enough at the end.  Still probably the best of the Christmas novels I’ve read this month.
  38. Stranger in My Arms by Lisa Kleypas: Aside from a bit of disbelief that the main character wouldn’t confront her husband with the main problem but instead run to crappy relatives, I would consider this a pretty perfect romance novel.
  39. Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones: I usually LOVE a Diana Wynne Jones book. Even “bad” ones are typically great when compared to other authors.  But for some reason, I just couldn’t get into this one.  Maybe it was because the zaniness was so fragmented among worlds/characters?

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Some Thoughts on Romance Novels

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I usually keep a reading list of whatever I’m finishing, but I am here to confess that my reading list has been less than honest lately.  I’ve been binge-reading romance novels for the last 2 months now, with not a whole lot else stuffed in between.  I’ve been loath to admit it, so I’ve been leaving it off the list.  Why, you ask?  Oh good, I was hoping you would.  I’ll tell you.

Well, I mean… Regency romance novels with all the sex in them are definitely considered some of the worst kind of beach smut by a lot of people.  I get that, but I don’t think that’s the entire reason I hate to admit that I read them (although as a self-professed book snob, perhaps that’s some of it).  I DO advocate for reading everything and for judging a book by it’s intended merits.  Romance novels are fun.  The real reason I’ve not wanted to say anything , though, is because I am a girl who has always prided myself on being a little weird.  But if I’m a 33 year-old married lady who isn’t particularly happy with life in its current state (Why have I not received a six figure book deal yet?  Oh, it’s because I haven’t finished writing the book, you say?  And even then, that sort of money is a total pipe-dream?), I may also be a giant cliché.  Okay, I’ll just embrace it; I’m almost certainly a giant cliché.

But I’ll live with it.  That’s how much I like romance novels.  I am willing to be labeled ordinary for reading them.

There has been a TON of scholarship on why women like the romance genre, but I’m going to add my non-scientific thoughts on it.   I like them because they’re the best kind of escapism.  It’s really that simple.  For example:

There are no money problems.  Or if there are money problems, it’s because one or the other of the protagonists is hiding their vast fortune.  Or is about to be left a vast fortune.  Or is about to have an amazing idea for an invention that will earn them a fortune.  In a romance novel, no one ever spends the evening going over the finances and crying.  There is no dismay at how bad the electric bill has become in the wake of the 100-degree heat.  No cars or carriages ever need repairs that are unaffordable.  No one shops at the thrift store, the dollar tree.  They don’t have to worry about deciding where to eat, or where to spend date night, or if there will even be a date night.  Just have the cook make whatever you want! Attend the ball, or the theater! Characters buy libraries and entire wardrobes in one fell swoop in these things.  Characters buy and furnish entire manor houses in one fell swoop.  It’s relaxing.

And then… There are no job problems, because no one works.  Everyone has a title or a vast fortune, so there is no day job to make ends meet.  If you are female, your job is to dress yourself in awesome clothes, read books, and drink tea all day while waiting to be seduced or chatted-up by a VERY handsome (and often smart) man.  You can attend balls and theater performances if you’d like.  If you are a man, your job is to gamble, talk horses, tie a mean cravat, and go to the club while chatting up a lovely lady of your choice.  Bonus points for tight pants and sheer manliness.  People have professions if they want them or are good at them, but they work for themselves.  There are no crappy bosses.  There is no sacrificing time with your loved ones because the boss needs you to work overtime.  There are no assignments that make you want to tear your hair out with boredom.  No one ever has to decide what they want to “be when they grow up,” because what they’re going to be is independently wealthy.  It’s lovely.

Put that together with settings of fantastical manor houses, pretty dresses, and bleak yet beautiful countryside and you have something that is just the perfect place to escape to.  It’s so unlike my current American life of offices and cars that it’s almost like reading fantasy.  Now if only we could do something about the sappy, cringe-worthy titles.  That is the only thing left to reconcile… I can’t tell inquirers that I’m reading “Three Weeks With Lady X” with a straight face.  I just can’t.

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Book Review: 4 Romance Novels

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I started reading smutty romance novels in February, and then Amazon started to recommend them to me.  Damn Amazon.  I’ve been way more involved in the trashy sort of reading than the intellectual kind lately (and enjoying every minute of it).  They’re all a super quick read, though.  This means that I’ve been blazing through books in record speed, and I have four to do in depth reviews of.  Without further ado:

Girl In The Wild by Beth Orsoff:

What can I say, really?  Southern California working girl goes to Alaska to help the career of her client and boyfriend.  Previously cheating boyfriend does not appreciate/cheats on her again with hot red head.  She ends up with hot Alaskan scientist.  It’s predictable, and yet this one had a few twists.

The island in Alaska that the gal spends her time on is remote and lacking in amenities.  Most of the book involves cold water, walruses, chartered boats, and tagging animals.  It took me a good long time to figure out who the love interest was, too.  Mostly because he was such an asshole.  The author turned it into a Darcy thing with aplomb, though, where he was friendlier among friends.  Add that to the messages about global warming throughout the book and it was an original-ish take on a very old model.

The only problem I had with it was the love interest.  While he ends up a likable guy in the end, some of the things he does in the beginning are outright harassment.  She likes it, even though she says no.  He keeps harassing.  It sent up all sorts of anti-feminist alarms in my head, but didn’t quite kill my enjoyment of the novel.  I left with the impression that, while she maybe wasn’t in a dream relationship at the end, she was in a better one than she had left behind.

I’m not saying it will win a Pulitzer or anything, but it was fun.  If you like the chick lit thing, I bet you will like this too.  It gets four Beach Smut stars.

Out of Play by Nyrae Dawn and Jolene Perry:

This romance novel is shelved in Young Adult, and it also takes place in Alaska.  What’s with all the books about Alaska lately? I promise it was a total accident that I picked this one up at the same time as the other.

Teen angst aside, I really loved this novel.  The plot is simple, but so complex at the same time.  Bad ass hockey star girl meets undercover rock star boy with drug problem.  She is busy being awesome, and taking care of her ailing grandfather while her mother is at work all the time.  He is not so busy trying to get clean before he gets kicked out of the band and/or dies of an overdose.  Her father died a long time ago when a pill-popper ran him off the road.  Gramps is the only one he can open up to, and Gramps has the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s.  Druggie folks from the old life are still in touch.  She thinks she has a crush on her best friend, another hockey player.  There is snow machining and lots of hockey, drums, tattoos, making out, cold weather, hot tubs, fancy classic cars, and making out.  Really, what else do you need?

The novel was written by two authors. One wrote the gal and one wrote the guy.  It was nice getting inside both of their heads.  Sometimes I get confused about who is speaking when books are like this, but I was never confused in this one.  Their voices were each so distinct.  This is exactly what I look for in a romance novel.  It gets five Beach Smut stars.

The Selection/The Elite by Kiera Cass:  

The first and second novels of a trilogy (the 3rd doesn’t come out until May), and also Young Adult. Basically, a poor girl gets selected to join a televised contest at the palace.  Winner gets to marry the prince, “Bachelor” style.   There’s a love triangle with a former boyfriend thrown in for good measure.

Despite the adverbs, I found myself enjoying the book a lot.  It’s silly concept is elevated by the real problems the fictional country is facing.  Not only are people starving in the streets because of the rigid caste system (including the main character, America’s family), but there are rebels who are intent on breaking into the palace and possibly assassinating the royal family.  At times, it’s outright scary.  America is spunky and forthright with the prince that she’s only here for the money the government is paying her family for her participation.  When she falls for the prince despite herself, I was definitely rooting for her, and for them.  Balls, dinners, moonlit walks, and fantasy wardrobes are all there for the sort who like that thing.  Yes, I’m totally one of them.

Cass does a good job throughout the novels planting plot seeds and keeping the reader hooked all the way through the series.  It’s only a bit maddening that the novels aren’t really complete – cliff hanger endings all so you’ll read the next post-haste.  I hardly blame her, but I think I would also have been upset about having to wait so long if the third (and last) book wasn’t coming out fairly soon.  I’ll let you decide if that’s a compliment or not.

If you’ve ever worn a “team Peeta” or “team Gale” t-shirt or have an affinity to ball gowns, this book may be for you.  You may want to wait until May, though, so you can devour all three in one sitting.  Five Beach Smut stars, with extra points for multiple novels.

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