ReaderWriterVille

Blog in progress

Tag: romance

Taming the Harlequin TBR

Harlequin logo

Downloading my purchased Harlequins made me nostalgic for the days when I read a lot of categories and there were multiple online venues to talk about them with like-minded reader friends. Sadly, there aren’t as many anymore (either Harlequins I want to read or venues I want to hang out at). BUT! I have hundreds of them in my TBR, and now they’re reminding me of their presence. So I have hatched a plan to read them. 

My main reading device is a Kobo Aura H2O 2, and I like it very much. I like Kobo’s e-bookstore, I like being able to sync my library books to it, and for the most part I like the larger screen. But I still had my Nook Glowlight Plus in a drawer, and it’s a great travel ereader because it’s smaller and the cover doesn’t bulk it up too much. It occurred to me: why not charge it up and transfer all my Harlequins to it? So I did.

I deleted the books that I could immediately identify as ones I had read, which got me down to about 550.* I’m sure there are at least another 50 that will turn out to be familiar, probably more. Which still leaves me with so many books. And how do I choose the next one? 

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Recent Reading: Romances

I don’t read as many romance novels as I did a few years ago, but I never fully stop reading them. And a heavy dose of literary fiction almost demands some palate cleansers, in my case mysteries and romance with the occasional SFF novel thrown in. I usually turn to auto-buy authors or something in the TBR that’s been recommended by someone whose tastes align with me. This time it was Sarah Morgan, one of my favorite authors, who is now writing women’s fiction, and Kate Hewitt, who writes UK-set and UK-style romantic novels. They’re both still recognizably romances, but they have a larger cast of characters, fewer pages devoted to sex scenes without being necessarily closed-door, and characters who are older or at least not usually on their first relationship. 

The Christmas Sisters by Sarah Morgan

Christmas Sisters cover

I’m always a sucker for Christmas stories from Morgan, and this one is set during the holidays in a remote village in Scotland. Three sisters gather at their parents’ house, two coming from New York and the third from down the road (she never left home). All three have family and relationship issues to deal with, as well as a shared trauma in their past that they’ve never really resolved. The trauma resurfaces in an unexpected way, shaping their interactions with each other as well as their romantic choices. This is an intergenerational story, with the parents’ history and contemporary circumstances getting equal billing with their adult childrens’ concerns. 

Many romance readers haven’t been thrilled with the shift to women’s fiction, but I haven’t minded it. I’ve always enjoyed books that straddle that boundary, and in the case of UK writers, the books remind me of the types of romantic novels that don’t always make it across the water. There is still enough focus on romance for me to enjoy the stories for that element, but there’s also more going on, and you can have lots of characters without feeling like they’re being set up for their own installments in a multi-volume series. 

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Reader, I blogged.

Hello again. I tried the newsletter thing but it wasn’t for me. I’ve abandoned Twitter (I read my feed occasionally but don’t tweet now), and while I like Mastodon as a microblogging platform, it’s still finding its identity as a community, and the decentralization means it’s harder to find kindred spirits. So it’s a work in progress. But I still read a lot of blogs even though blogs are apparently dead dead dead, and they’re still my favorite form of conversation, especially about quotidian activities like reading and organizing my life. So I’m back.

Like a lot of people I know, I had trouble reading in the last quarter of 2016, especially after November 8. I found a bridge solution in reading fiction and nonfiction about people who had experienced or been raised in the shadow of collective traumas and managed to come out the other side. Robert Graves’ Goodbye to All That, Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory, Alejandro Zambra’s My Documents, and some post-apocalyptic genre fiction. Then this past January we took a week’s holiday where I read a lot in a short time, and I was off and running on the reading front, excepting times when work was overwhelming my waking hours.

I’m back to reading some romance, but only from a small handful of autobuy authors. Most of the romance novels being published today are emphatically Not For Me, at least not now. I’ve gone through these kinds of stretches before, where I read mostly other genres. Six years of reviewing at Dear Author meant that I neglected other types of fiction I’ve always enjoyed, and I’m catching up now.

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The Hating Game (a sort of review)

Work has been eating up my every waking moment for the last few weeks, so I’m behind on reading and blogging. I finally took a day off and decided, thanks to an interesting review by Liz at her blog and the subsequent Twitter conversation, to spend part of it reading the latest Hot New Romance. I encourage you to read Liz’s post as well as her discussion with Vassiliki (and also Vassiliki’s review).

This book got a ton of buzz in romance circles when it came out, and it has a load of 5-star reviews at GR and Amazon. I love a good enemies-to-lovers story, but the enemies part has to be well motivated for it to work. This wasn’t. The MCs are assistants to co-CEOs who hate each other (both the assistants and the CEOs hate each other), and aside from that tension, the main reason for their apparent mutual loathing seems to be that they have opposite personalities but are forced to work together after a merger that saved both firms.

I came close to DNFing in the first 75 pages, because I found the setup and the female MC, Lucy, so unappealing. If you take the workplace setting and rivalry as fantasy it is more palatable, but the text implies Lucy is adorable and likeable and I found her to be neither. But once Lucy and Josh stop needling each other and drop their guards a bit, the book improves. The romantic scenes between them are quite sweet.

Overall, though, the book is a misfire. The setting has been scrubbed of any identifying characteristics, so it could be set anywhere with English-speaking white people. Sometimes it feels Australian like the author, sometimes British, sometimes American. Mostly it’s a white fantasyland, which is fine but a bit sterile. There are some weird choices, for example Lucy’s parents own a strawberry farm and that apparently makes her an object of ridicule (there are no organic-food hipsters or farmers’ market aficionados in this world).

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Nazis heroes in romance novels

I’ve gone back and forth on whether to add to the cacophony around the RITA nomination of Kate Breslin’s inspirational historical romance, For Such A Time. This is a book set in 1944, primarily at the Theresienstadt camp, with a love story between the camp Kommandant and a Jewish young woman at its core.

I’ve written and rewritten paragraphs about the book, the controversy, etc., but I don’t think I really have much to add to that part. If you’re on Twitter, if you follow major blogs, or if you read online magazines, you’ve come across the debate. Many of the contributors to the debate have not read the book. There are all kinds of things being stated as fact, sometimes after reading the book, sometimes not. There is also a lot of “well, that’s what inspirational romance is.”

I am almost finished reading the book and will be participating in a joint discussion/review of it at Dear Author. I’ll link to that post when it is published, and for people who don’t read DA, I’ll provide a brief summary here and we can talk about it in comments if people are interested.

In the meantime, I want to talk about where this book fits in the larger historical romance (and historical fiction with romantic elements) category. This book clearly brings together a number of volatile, offensive, and arguably beyond-the-pale factors. However, when we take each of these factors in turn, it appears that they are all fairly well established in the romance genre (or at least the part of the romantic fiction genre that is reviewed and recognized by romance-centric sites and organizations).

I have no desire to defend the book, either in terms of its premise or its execution. I am interested in challenging the idea that this book is a unique specimen. To the extent it is unique, its uniqueness lies in combining elements which have gone relatively unremarked (and often praised) in other romance and romantic novels when they appear individually.

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