Recurring themes of the month: Heroes who get shot protecting their heroines. Voluptuous Latina heroines. (Could we please have a flat-chested Latina heroine sometime? Or literally any other body type?) Romance between colleagues. Villains with narcissistic personality disorder. Really good cooks. (Useful for this month!) Heroines with “masculine” nicknames. Heroines who think they’re plain. Southern accents. Abusive/downright evil parents. “Other side of the tracks” romance. Interfering fathers. Secret couples caught at high school dances. Theater. “Awakenings.” Pittsburgh. Chubby Jewish teenage boys. (Aww.) References to Pride and Prejudice. Unions (pro and anti.) Video games (pro and anti.) Fighting against isolationism. Manhoods, presumably throbbing. Recommendations from #ownvoices chat on Twitter. Recommendations from friends, with mixed results.
Christmas Gifts *wink wink nudge nudge: Sweetest Regret by Meredith Duran.
“Lucas. Two years, I’ve waited. Will you keep me waiting longer? Or will you give me my gift?”
Reunion novella set during a Christmas houseparty. It was a very nice gift indeed.
This is a pretty good story, especially if you like a serious bluestocking heroine, but more conventional/samey than I expect from Duran.
Do You Remember: Inherited by Ferranti by Kate Hewitt.
“You undid me, with your loveliness. I was caught from the moment I saw you, at your father’s palazzo. Do you remember? You were standing in the drawing room, wearing a pink dress. You looked like a rose.”
There wasn’t a lot going on in this story, but I liked the strong emotions. Pining hero for the win.
September: Craving Jamie by Emma Darcy.
“His skin was warm, despite the coolness of the September evening. How did he transmit the electric vibrancy that was racing through her?”
A Harlequin Present version of the classic “childhood sweethearts” tearjerker romance.
A Woman in Her Prime: Mayday by Oliva Dade. (Usual disclaimer: author is a friend.) 35 year old virgin finally gets her long-time crush into bed… and it’s TERRIBLE. (Let’s hear it for her getting it on with another guy to try to wipe the memory out of her mind.) Then he has to win her back and make up for it. This hit my sweet spot, because it had pain as well as laughter.
Balance: On The Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis.
I decided fairly early on that this book would get the “balance” square, because I thought there was excellent balance in the portrayal of an autistic person in an emergency situation. She’s freaked out and having a really hard time but she’s also contributing. By the end of the book though, I realized that the whole point is it shouldn’t matter–that people don’t need to be useful to be valuable. I’ll still leave it in this square, in appreciation of a depiction of autism that isn’t either super powers or tragedy. This is why we need #ownvoices. More random thoughts.
Where There’s a Will: Carides Forgotten Bride by Maisy Yates. Romance manipulated from beyond the grave, mwah ha ha ha ha!
This seemed like a fairly standard amnesia story, with way too much naval gazing… and then it got interesting. I actually reviewed it at GoodReads (something I almost never do any more unless it’s for an ARC) because I was so irked at reviewers who will happily read heroes who’ve had more lovers than hot dinners, as long as there are no unpleasant consequences for their actions. If you like old skool HP intensity but aren’t fond of old skool rapey-ness or brutality, give this one a try.
Taming of the Shrew: The Awakening by Jude Deveraux. A REVERSE-SHREW! My tbr challenge book.
BIRTH DAY: Downtown Devil by Cara McKenna.
“If you’re there, God, hear my birthday wish: Give me just three hours alone with that man and I’ll die a grateful woman.”
I didn’t read this straight through, so I’m not sure how much is fair to say about it. Also, it’s hard to articulate my complaints without spoilers. Basically, I was not buying the story’s premise, and then I read a spoiler which made me feel that the writing was very manipulative. However, since I didn’t read the entire thing, I may not have gotten nuances that would have changed my opinion.
You Complete Me: The Way Home by Linda Howard. Not exactly the most psychologically healthy relationship.
Twenty Fifth: Blue-Eyed Devil by Lisa Kleypas. I got a yen to reread this old fav (the only contemporary Kleypas I really love) just as my husband and I were leaving on a trip, so it turned out to be the book I read on our 25th anniversary. 🙂 To make it even more appropriate, Hardy calls Haven “brown-eyed girl”; one of my husband’s favorite memories from our wedding is dancing to that.
Coupling: The Object of the Game by Vanessa James.
“…she leapt into the bath, leaned back luxuriantly, propped her copy of Couplings on the soap tray and prepared to read. She stayed there quite a long time, her eyes growing rounder and wider as she read on…”
Almost any book I read could fit this square, but how perfect is that?
Gush: The Italian Millionaire’s Virgin Wife by Diana Hamilton. Much gush about the hero’s hotness.
Swooning: Merry Christmas by Emma Darcy.
Well, I haz a sad. I wanted this square for a book that made me swoon, even if just metaphorically. Instead I had to go for a swooning woman in a book I DNF’d with extreme prejudice. If there’s one thing I hate, loathe, despise, and abominate, it’s the trope of “selfish or otherwise terrible adoptive parents conveniently die so the adopted child’s REAL parents can get the child.” Not even amnesia could make me finish this. (The hero’s amnesia, that is.)
Naked Truth: Shrill by Lindy West. Audiobook.
This was the perfect square for this book, because it’s true and it’s raw. I really admire how West writes about the importance of body positivity and fat acceptance while not being afraid to show the many ways in which being fat in a fat-hating world has affected her emotionally and psychologically.
You’re History: Night Broken by Patricia Briggs. “You’re history” is a message that Adam’s ex-wife has not quite gotten.
I was putting off reading this one because it sounded uncomfortable — and it was. The dynamic with the ex-wife taking over and Mercy being all put upon… she came across as a real Mercy-Sue.
69: Never Let Go by Deborah Smith.
Why is this older Loveswept reissue in the “69” square? I have no idea! I went to Overdrive, searched on “69” and almost 10,000 romances came up. I went with this one because it looked chock full of betrayal.
It was a fairly fun read, but hasn’t aged all that well. Lots of mockery of country stereotypes… perhaps meant to be fond, but it didn’t feel that way to me. I enjoyed the angst — though the heroine’s actual innocence made very little sense — and there was some cute banter. This turned out to be a sequel to another book featuring the same couple, but I didn’t feel lost.
Somewhere Around the Corner: This Side of Home by Renee Watson.
This square seemed appropriate for a story about a neighborhood, and also about people who spend a lot of time thinking about their futures. Set in a traditionally black Portland neighborhood that’s becoming gentrified, it’s a poignant YA coming-of-age story narrated by Maya, who coping with a lot of change in her life: her identical twin sister Nikki has developed different interests, their best friend was forced to move, their new high school principal is pandering to white parents… and she’s falling for a white boy. There’s sadness and painful themes, but also hope for Maya’s community, depicted in prose that’s beautiful and accessible. (Romance fans, take note: though there’s a romantic element, it’s not a genre romance.)
Ravish: Awakened By Her Desert Captor by Abby Green. Kidnapped by a Sheikh, dude!
HATE: Shifting Shadows by Patricia Briggs. There’s much hatred in this collection of stories, usually because someone was turned into a paranormal being against their will.
These are good stories — including the wonderful “Alpha and Omega” and a very poignant vampire/ghost story — but the grouping makes the similarities of themes very obvious. I’d recommended reading in small bites.
Cool Dude: Looking for Group by Alexis Hall. Self-aware and self-accepting 19 year old Kit is who I want to be when I grow up.
This was a NetGalley arc, so I reviewed it for GoodReads.
Flip Back: All I Am by Nicole Helm. Lots of flipping back and forth in this relationship.
Mixed feelings about this one. Both characters are very emo. But there were some fresh touches I liked, including a more realistic than usual initiation for a virgin hero.
HOME cooking: The Girl from Summer Hill by Jude Deveraux. Heroine is a chef who “can make dirt and rocks taste good.”
This modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice was a recommendation from the awesome Janet W, so I’m sad that I really, really didn’t like it. 😦 It got up my nose so much, I’m not sure there’s even any point in detailing the things I didn’t like, though I will anyway:
— So, so many characters, with complicated relationships. And many are related to Deveraux’s other long-running families, because of course they are.
— Nobody notices any resemblance between Pride and Prejudice and the events actually happening in the story until near the end. Even though each character is playing the role in a play version of P&P that they play in the retelling, including sometimes using similar dialogue.
— Tate, the Darcy, is basically perfect. He does absolutely nothing wrong. How can this be a Pride and Prejudice story if it ignores one of the most basic themes?
— There were many scenes of described action, which seemed intended to seen in a visual medium rather than read, and they were extremely dull. It didn’t help that Deveraux’s prose style is not well suited to audio; it has a very bland rhythm. Towards the end, I actually got so bored I switch to print. At least it went faster.
One positive point: I did like the modern interpretation of Lydia, which really brought out the awfulness of what happened to her in the original story. “Lizzie Bennet’s Diary” did it better, though.
Pillow Talk: September Morning by Diana Palmer. Meh. Very irritating hero constantly blows hot and cold. But Palmer does write a nice sex scene, even when there’s no sex.
Subtle: Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle. 13 year old musicals geek Nate doesn’t feel remotely ready to have a sexual orientation yet — “I am a freshman at the College of Sexuality and I have undecided my major” — yet somehow this sort of thing keeps happening to him:
“out he comes from the bedroom, wearing pajama bottoms and — oh how funny — no shirt.”
It’s like Nate is living this scene from “Community.”
Jokes aside, I loved this book. Nate’s search for freedom to be himself, and his appreciation of the wonders of New York — “Everything is so flipping jubilant here” — made me laugh and cry and wish I had found a way to let my musicals geek shine when I was young.
Gamma: Earth Bound by Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner
me: Can I justify “gamma” as the bingo square for a book about space flight?
hub: bit of a stretch, but there was a gamma rocket engine back in the early days of rocketry
me: good enough!
I would have enjoyed putting this one in “You’re history,” but this way I don’t have to worry all month about what definition of Gamma to use.
Terrific book! There’s nothing like a grumpy irascible hero who is totally ground to dust by a strong heroine. 🙂 The tension is excellent, and though the historical setting is important, it doesn’t overpower the romance.
Also read (or not):
Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed. DNF. It’s not you, book, it’s me… It’s a very important real life topic — forced marriage, and not the fun fantasy romance kind — but I read spoilers and just couldn’t face how the story was going to go.
First Star I See Tonight by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. DNF It’s not me, book, it’s you. Super cringey attempt at including diverse characters which includes white savior storyline.
The Cosy Teashop in the Castle by Caroline Roberts. DNF. Not my cuppa.
Carrying the King’s Pride by Jennifer Hayward. Another friend favorite that didn’t work for me. The prose was awkward and I didn’t feel much connection between the characters.
The Unromantic Lady by Lucy Gordon. How many of my favorite category writers will turn out to have written Regencies under different names? This was originally written as Penelope Stratton.
Smoke and Secrets by Suleikha Snyder. Reunited lovers with secret babies — it’s like Harlequin Presents in Bollywood!
Fire Touched by Patricia Briggs.
Self-Reg by Stuart Shanker. Very interesting book about the factors affecting self-regulation. I wish it had more concrete ideas, however; just when I thought it was about to put forward a specific plan, it ended! Still, I picked up a lot of helpful information.