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Posts tagged ‘romance novels’

Waiting on You

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 by: Kristan Higgins

I picked up this romance novel at Rite Aid a week or so ago (along with ice cream and pop chips; it was not a good day) on the recommendation of two of my favorite authors, Eloisa James and Julia Quinn.  With a double whammy, how can you go wrong?

And I didn’t.  While not my favorite romance novel ever, it was probably the best one from a new author I’ve picked up in a long, long time.  The characterizations were really good, with the main characters and most of the supporting characters being extremely well-developed.  There were one or two supporting characters that came across as a little “type-y” rather than depending on Higgins’ characterization to develop, but it certainly wasn’t an egregious overuse.

The plotline was good – it’s one of those “old love comes back to town” kind of deals.  I’m really fond of that plot device – I think it makes for a more believable bond between the two main characters.  And Higgins put a pretty interesting twist on it here, without making it too angst-ridden.  The pacing was really nice; at no point did I feel like it was either dragging or leaving me with my head spinning.

The book itself was light and full of humor.  I don’t think it actually made me laugh or chuckle at any point, but it certainly worked as an escape mechanism.  One of the things I liked best is how Higgins handled secondary relationships between the main characters and their friends and family.  Without overshadowing the main relationship of the book, Higgins manages to make them important to the characters’ development and believable.  It helps to round out the characters, but it also makes the book seem more grounded in reality.  Family and friends generally are an important part of any life decision and it’s always weird to me when authors neglect those relationships in favor of a romantic relationship.  Higgins struck an exceptionally good balance, I feel, especially for a contemporary novel where it’s so easy to create situations where the characters can be removed from their families.

The book draws a lot from Jane Austen’s Emma and at first, I thought it was going to be a little too much “men are like X and to trap them women must Y.”  That is not an attitude I’m fond of at all.  But instead, Higgins used that set-up to create some interesting situations and invert those expectations.  (Much like Austen’s Emma, so perhaps I should have expected that, rather than risking brain damage by rolling my eyes so hard during the first few pages.)

There was lots and lots of sexual tension in this book but very little actual sex.  (I don’t recall reading any, although sometimes I just skim over those scenes.)  I was kinda meh about this aspect of the book – didn’t think a lot or a little of it.

All in all, if you like contemporary romances that are light and fun, you should definitely give Waiting on You a try.  It was a very good bit of escapism.  If you like your romances heavy sexualized or dark, or if you like them completely focused on the relationship between the two main characters, than perhaps this isn’t the book for you.

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Feminist Sundays!

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Feminist Sundays is a weekly meme created at Books and Reviews. The aim is simply to have a place and a time to talk about feminism and women’s issues. This is a place of tolerance, creativity, discussion, criticism and praise. Remember to keep in mind that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, although healthy discussion is encouraged.

Hi guys and welcome to my first Feminist Sunday! (I probably won’t participate every week, but I’m participating this week.)

I thought I would tackle a phrase that drives me up the wall.  It’s often seen in, but not limited to, romance novels. And it goes like this, “Any other woman would’ve X, but she Y’ed.”

Why does that phrase make me so annoyed? I’ll grant there are times when it is true: Any other woman would not have been able to relate to my experience as an unmarried European monarch, but Elizabeth I truly got me. Or: Any other woman would have not been able to follow my dissertation on the physical properties of radium, but Madame Curie helpfully critiqued my experimental design.

And there are times when its hyperbolic use seems appropriate, in that there probably are other women who would share the response, but they are few and far between: Any other woman would have called the police and run far away when she realized my psychopathic murderous hobbies, but Lila was completely into it. Or: Any other woman would’ve divorced me after I caused an international scandal with my affairs, but Hillary stayed with me through the entire ordeal. 

But unfortunately, most often the sentence runs like this: Any other woman would have freaked out/cried/become emotional and therefore useless, but Heroine remained calm, assessed the situation and utilized her abilities to best help the situation OR remained calm and did nothing so I could rescue her. And this is quickly followed by romantic navel-gazing ending with the conclusion that this is why the hero loves the heroine.

That’s not super flattering, now, is it?  Most women are apparently incapable of handling any tense or dangerous situation (because EMOTIONS!) and so, boys, when you find one who doesn’t act like a woman in these situations, you should marry her.

I am going to point out here that I know plenty of women who remain calm in tense or dangerous situations and end up being quite helpful.

It’s also weird that a heterosexual man finds himself falling in love with a woman because she doesn’t act like he thinks a woman should act.  Let’s run through that logic, shall we? 

A) I am attracted to women, presumably because they look and act like women. I have very defined views on how women should act; this is part of my attraction to them.  B) But the only woman who is worthy of my love is one who acts like a man.  Which brings us to C) women are inherently inferior to men and therefore not worthy of my manly love unless they D) act like men, which makes them worthy of my manly love.  But E) I am not attracted to men.  Only women.  Just not women who act like women.

Setting aside all inherent problems with how  women are viewed in that particular train of logic, it doesn’t make much sense, does it?

I don’t have a problem with that trope when it’s as such: Most other women would not have shared my interest in restoring classic Chevy trucks.  That is a) probably a fairly true statement and b) does not imply negative things about most other women.  It is not a character judgment to say someone does not share your interests and hobbies. (Assuming you don’t murder people for fun, that is.)

And as an ending point, I do occasionally see this trope used against men, usually in a domestic sense, as in: Any other man would have run screaming from the sight of the baby, but he stayed and played with it. Which has many of the same problems as above.

The Sum of All Kisses

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by: Julia Quinn

I love Julia Quinn. She’s one of my favorite writers. I love her sly humor and witty dialogue; I love that her characters are people I could be friends with. I adore that if someone told me I seemed like one of her heroines, I would feel complimented.

The Sum of All Kisses is Quinn’s latest book and the third book in the Smythe-Smith quartet. The hero, Hugh Prentice, is a bit of an ass. It’s not his defining characteristic, by any means, but it is there. He’s truly nice, but sometimes says things that are a little mean.  And then he realizes he has done wrong and apologizes.  He doesn’t need to fall in love to respect others’ feelings; he just doesn’t always adequately consider his words before he speaks.

The heroine, Lady Sarah Pleinsworth, is caring, intelligent, and just a bit selfish.  Not a spoiled brat, completely oblivious to other’s pain; just a wee bit too focuses on how things affect her. (Also, she decides to work on this not because the hero teaches her a lesson but through an interaction completely separate from Hugh! Sigh…)

It’s so nice to have characters who are truly realistically flawed – good people who screw up sometimes.  So very nice.

The Sum of All Kisses is light and fun.  There’s witty banter, amusing situations, and great fun throughout.  I love that her characters seem to understand just how lucky they are.  Here, Sarah’s understanding that not everyone has a loving family dynamic – that her family is loving and normal but others’ may not be – is what sets her up to help (save) Hugh during a particularly sticky situation.  Without those moments of understanding, I don’t think I would have bought her kick-ass save the day moment – but as it is, I absolutely love it.

This book has a villian-esque character, different for Quinn.  I’m not sure if I like the way she handled it – on one hand, it was brilliantly over-the-top and on the other hand – well, it was over-the-top.  I can’t decide if it worked amazingly well or if it fell short of being brilliant.

However, Quinn does handle painful situations delicately enough to respectfully convey pain without darkening the light tone of the book. Shit may happen but that doesn’t mean your life is either dark and scary or transformative and healing.  Sometimes you work through your issues and have a rather normal story.

 Like many romance novels, TSoAK has a short timeline, yet at the end it’s hard to believe the characters have only known each other for a few weeks.  I attribute this to the conversations of the characters.  They don’t hold discourses on Plato, but they banter and converse and think.  The conversations hold unexpected depth, in that the characters truly connect through talking: through a shared sense of humor, point-of-view, or uncommon trait. 

As for the sex scenes, TSoAK had a fair amount of petting leading up to the main event, which I thought added some nice tension. Quinn’s not super-explicit – you know what’s going on but you’re not fed detail after detail.  And they do help the plot get along, rather than the plot revolving around them.

In short, if you like light and fluffy romance novels with unexpected depth here and there, or if you have a thing for witty, intelligent characters, genre aside, you should read The Sum of All Kisses, or any Julia Quinn.  If you like your books hot and heavy, or if you’re a big fan of action-y rescue plots, than maybe this isn’t the book for you.  (But! I encourage you to try Julia Quinn even if you don’t think you like romance novels. Don’t let hate of a genre keep you from an excellent author.)

So –

Happy Books

What do you read when you’ve had a bad day/week/month? Is there a book you turn to, an author, or a specific genre?

If I’m intellectually stressed  – like during finals back in college – you’ll find me curled up with a romance novel – generally Harlequin, though I don’t read those normally – or a young adult novel. (During one bad finals, I read 13 Reasons Why in one sitting at a Barnes and Noble.  And then didn’t buy, ’cause I was broke.  But I now have a signed copy. Happiness.)

If I am other types of stressed, I reach for Julia Quinn or P.G. Wodehouse. There’s a couple of other comfort novels I have, but those two authors are the ones I most often reach for.

So, dear readers, what about you? Do you turn to sci-fi or comedies? Does Tolstoy get you through the day? Or is it something more general – like any mystery featuring food or any Western featuring a lone cowboy with revenge on his mind? Something easy to escape into or something complex and thought-provoking? Let me what you think in the comments!

Once Upon a Tower

Once Upon A Tower

by: Eloisa James

This book is part of James’ fairy tale series – it’s (very)loosely based upon the story of Rapunzel.

Our heroine is Edie, a lady who plays the cello rather brilliantly.  It is only her gender that keeps her from becoming a famous cellist, but Edie, only daughter of a wealthy earl is happy with her lot in life nonetheless.   Attending a ball despite her illness one night, she makes the acquaintance of Gowan Stoughton, a Scottish duke (and yes, that first name does make some of the more erotic scenes just a wee bit confusing.  Or, at least, it did for me.)  He falls in love at first sight, proposes, and the rest, is well…

Quite complicated, actually.  I really like James and I thought that this book shone in ways that some of her latest works haven’t.   First of all, Edie’s parents (father and significantly younger stepmother) are the product of a fairy tale romance and they find themselves struggling after the happily ever after.  Layla is unable to conceive a child, there’s a complete lack of communication, and there’s absolutely no understanding from either party of the importance of communication.  (They just don’t work like that, you understand!)  Layla and Edie are good friends, and depictions of female friendships are truly sets James apart from other romance authors.   Though her parents’ relationship is a very secondary part of the story, it dramatically affects Edie’s love story.

Layla is also young and flighty and, though a good friend to Edie, not always the best source of wisdom, which does help create the major plot point.  The juxtaposition of a couple just finding their happily ever after with a couple answering the age-old question of what comes after the HEA is rather brilliantly drawn.  It also gives a sense of richness to the ending; that even though our hero and heroine may (do) find themselves back in wedded bliss, there are other obstacles that must be overcome.  Takes away a bit of the tint from the rose-colored glasses, if you will.

The other absolutely amazing part of this book – truly wonderful, I loved it so much – is that the sex isn’t great.

In fact, it’s terrible.  The physical attraction is there, mind you, but neither party really knows what they’re doing.  And it’s a huge point in the book; it is the pivotal issue around which several major issues rest.  James handles it beautifully – Edie’s feelings upon being unable to orgasm, when her husband so desperately wants to please her, and the choices she makes in response are realistic and, I think, felt by modern women still.  Gowan’s reactions and emotions are equally well-depicted and I imagine very relevant, though I am less familiar with the social pressures men feel than with the ones women feel. (James has used bad sex before but neither so well nor so prominently.) And the solution to the bad sex is not, as it is in so many romance novels, more sex.  Edie is thrust into the throes of passion by his magic manhood, nor does her magic womanhood suddenly endow him with the skills of a Casanova.  This despite the fact that they’re both so very attracted to each other! In fact, sex only worsens the problem exponentially.

The solution, the reader begins to believe, is what Dan Savage himself would preach – communication.  Do they begin to communicate? Does Edie ever orgasm?  Does she come down from the tower?

I’ll quickly note that I did not much care for the epilogue – one could very well not read it and still be satisfied with the ending.  In contrast to what I wrote earlier, it is a little too pat and happily ever after for my tastes; epilogues often are.

If you, dear reader, love romance, novel love romance, or are looking for an honest depiction of a common problem that is ignored in most of literature, you should read this book – even if you don’t like romance novels, you should give this one a shot. If you read romances for the torrid sex scenes or if you like stories featuring Casanovas, than perhaps this isn’t the book for you.  Although it is excellent and everyone who wants to be in a relationship should read it.  Just sayin’.

Books coming out this month!

First, sorry for my lack of book reviews.  I’m reading several classics + had a mild case of self-diagnosed tendonitis so I’m trying to lay off the typing.  But this needed to be shared.

Goodreads just sent me my “upcoming new releases” email and I’m super excited.  Eloisa James has a novel and a two-story novel coming out, Mercer Meyer wrote a new book – I won’t read it but it’s nice to know he’s still writing – and J.R. Ward, writer of contemporary vampire romances, has a new book coming out.

 I love J.R. Ward. Not for anything about her writing style, really.  I just am fascinated by the weird and/or kinky scenes she writes for her very mainstream audience.  So far, she’s given us BDSM, ghost sex – necrophilia?-, and a bestiality-tinged romance. Oh, and let’s not forget the barbed penis and poisoned skin sect of vampires.  (Yes.  I read these books solely for the sex.  I am vaguely aware of some bad guy/good guy plot line going on in the background, but I try to ignore it.) Ward really enjoys pushing the envelope, even for the vampire romance genre.  Or, perhaps, especially for the vampire romance genre, which is actually kind of boring once one gets over the whole blood-sucking thing.

Now, I’m all for (consensual and legal) kinks, but the fact that I usually buy these books from Wal-Mart, (and have way before 50 Shades of Grey was published) living in the Bible belt and in a society that likes to shout about its conservatism, brings me no end of joy.

Ward’s newest book, however, deviates further even further from the romance novel norm. No, not for the kinky or weird sex shock value.  Instead, Ward, using a hook she’s been building for 4 novels, has written her first gay vampire romance novel.  Look for a copy at your local Wal-Mart.

Dear readers, I could not ask for anything more in life.