June Romance Reading

I read three romance novels over the last week and a half (don’t mock me… my romance reading tends to come in spurts): Seven Secrets of Seduction by Anne Mallory; Between Mist and Midnight by Kathleen O’Brien; and Duty, Desire and the Desert King by Jane Porter. The first is a recent historical, the second is an old (1992) Harlequin Presents and the last is a newer Presents.

The Seven Secrets of Seduction by Anne Mallory‘s heroine is a woman who works in a bookshop, which was my main draw to the book. Historicals always have issues with heroines who are inexperienced with men and just about faint when the man with the Mighty Wang shows interest, which of course he does. I love historicals, but there’s really only so much of these women I can take. They are often interesting and bright and have their own stuff going on, but it really wasn’t *that* uncommon for women, especially of lower classes, to have sexual experience. So why is it so rare in these books? Also, I’d like to see more heroes that aren’t of upper classes. It’s fairly common now-a-days to see women of mostly middle but also occasionally lower class, but I honestly can’t recall the last regency I read where the hero wasn’t a noble.

There was one other major frustration I  had with the book aside from the typical-ness of the characters’ experience and social status, but it’s a spoiler so I won’t mention it here. Just… creepy. Also I had guessed it waaaaay before it was revealed.

It sounds like I really didn’t like the book, which isn’t true. But I do regret staying up until seven in the morning to finish it, that’s for damn sure.

So, here’s the thing with Harlequin Presents: the men are always sneering and cold and powerful (but of course they secretly love the heroine and are just douches because they’re either emotional idiots or they’re trying to force her hand and realize that she loves him or whatever) and the women are fiesty, but don’t know how to deal with these assholes that they are either super attracted to or have been in love with for ages. Also the man is always rich. Always.

In Between Mist and Midnight (which I’m not linking to as it’s out of print), Eleanor is coming back to her family home after staying away for five years for an extended family reunion. Also her Gran is dying. Also her hot stepbrother, Edan, is there, taking care of Gran and the family business and being hot and being an asshole. Nell (a nickname for Eleanor*) hates him and loves him. It’s all very emotional and he gets on her nerves and she gets on his nerves and they’re both JUST. SO. SEXY. (to each other, at least). Anyway, eventually, they get together and work on their issues and (presumably) live happily ever after.

One thing I liked about the book is, as overwrought as the drama was (which is very typical for Presents), it was also real. Nell’s father remarried when Nell was 15, and brought in this son that he’d never had and was soooo proud of him. Nell felt neglected. Edan’s own father had left him, so when he, at nineteen, got a new proud poppa, he unthinkingly milked it for all it was worth. And you know what? That’s real drama. Aside from the whole attraction/love thing, that could be real life. (Actually, I had a co-worker once who married her step-brother, so that part could be real life, too. :P) But man, sometimes these characters get soooo annoying.

Oh, and did I mention there’s an old Civil War ghost?

I thought it would be interesting to read a more recent Presents after BM&M to see if the Alpha Hero thing had changed at all. (Alpha heroes were what was it up until the mid-to-late nineties in all romance sub-genres, but they’re not very common in most sub-genres now-a-days.) The answer? Not too much. Rou, the heroine, had a laptop, soooo… :P

Anyway, I have a secret thing for these sheikh books. When I was in middle school and just discovering my mom’s romance stash, there was this one sheikh book that I read at least half a dozen times. ANYWAY, DD&DK was pretty good, if you can get through the typical Presents shit. Rou is a stilted, awkward heroine (with not much sexual experience, though not a virgin, at least) who is a professional matchmaker. Sheikh Zayed Fehr is super hot and a major playboy. But when his older brother, Sharif is lost in a plane crash, he must marry in order to become king. And he remembers that Sharif was a mentor to this young psychologist who became a very successful matchmaker…

Anyway, I liked this. I liked that Zayed starts of thinking that Rou is not beautiful, but then as he gets to know her, he just starts calling her beautiful. I liked that the ways they both underestimated and misjudged each other, even though it resulted in some stupid situations. Don’t people ever talk to each other, like for reals? I did NOT like how Rou lost her brain whenever Zayed was around. I am willing to give some leeway in that regard (mostly because it really is par for the course in Presents novels), but she should at least be able to make semi-intelligent choices SOMETIMES.

Also, and this is barely a spoiler, there is a secret(ish) baby at the end, which is WAY TOO DAMN COMMON in the Presents line. Like, I had to read the summaries for five Presents books before finding one that did not have a secret baby. What the fuck.

*I do know that Nell is a nickname for Eleanor, but my grandma’s name was Nell, just plain Nell, so I tend to forget it as a nickname.

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YA Best Overlooked Book Battle

I believe I mentioned a few weeks ago that I am a judge in the 2011 YA Blogger’s Best Overlooked Book Battle (phew, what a title!) over at the Shady Glade. My co-judge for our bracket is Erika at Moonlight Book Reviews, who I am pretty sure is me in high school with her nose always stuck in a book!

We were to read two books. Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher and Threads and Flames by Esther Friesner. To make a long, slightly embarrassing story short, I only read Whale Talk. (Threads and Flames was checked out of my local library right before I was assigned to it and still has not been returned.) How, then, could I fairly judge the two books if I had only read one? I asked Erika which one should win and she didn’t hesitate. Here’s an excerpt from her decision:

“We decided on Threads and Flames for it had the most emotional intensity and a story we thought needed to be told. I actually cried during the novel and as we know that doesn’t happen often. I wish it was required that everyone read this book! Whale Talk was a great concept that was done incredibly well but I kept thinking it was missing something.”

(Erika kindly didn’t reveal in her decision that I had only read Whale Talk. Thank you, Erika, for saving some of my dignity!) Threads and Flames is a story culminating in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire (link is to Wikipedia). Whale Talk is about a multiracial boy who deals with stuff, like athletic competition, small-town prejudices, and child abuse. (That’s Chris Crutcher’s MO.) I didn’t think Whale Talk was missing anything, personally. It had been on my TBR for a long time. I even owned it!

So how could I pick a book I didn’t read? Well, ultimately, for two reasons. The first was that I trusted Erika’s judgment about the emotional intensity of Threads and Flame. The second is that this is a tournament for Overlooked Books. While Whale Talk might be under-appreciated when compared to the Twilights and Hunger Games of the blogging world, I had heard and read about it in multiple blogs. It also has its own Wikipedia page. Threads and Flames, on the other hand, I had never even heard of! Though I can’t compare the two based on content, I can say which one seems to me to be more overlooked. And that’s why Threads and Flames will be moving on the Battle.

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

It feels like a million years since I’ve been around with an honest-to-goodness book review. Know why? Not because I was hiking up K2, not because I was curing German measles, not because I was rescuing three-legged kittens off the street. Well, okay, I’m guilty of that last one. But more to the point, I’ve been in a reading slump.

I wasn’t feeling inspired! And it’s not that I haven’t been reading fabulous books, because I have: The Blue Sword, by Robin McKinley; Master and Commander, by Patrick O’Brian; Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest. All at the same time. And the problem was, none of them were tugging at me, demanding that I read more. I was halfheartedly interested, flipping through at lunch, but when I got home I would flip on the TV and Mike and I would watch four or five straight episodes of Death Note instead. I was, as I said, in a reading slump.

Apparently, though, all it took to break that slump was a little book called Just Listen, by Sarah Dessen, which I picked up a month or so ago when I went to a library book sale with Jessica. I grabbed it off the floor shelf three days ago, a little bit out of desperation, a little bit out of boredom. And then I proceeded to read it nearly straight through to the end, only stopping for necessities like sleep and, you know, work.

Now this is what I was looking for! That feeling of needing to know what happens next, of “OH MY GOD IS SHE TALKING ABOUT WHAT I THINK SHE’S TALKING ABOUT.” Dessen spools out the story so well, bit by bit while keeping the tension tight enough to hang laundry on. It’s contemporary YA, and very well-written: Annabel’s apparently perfect life shows cracks and faults upon even the slightest examination, and everything threatens to fall apart around her while she’s trying to hold herself together. She’s been outcast by her popular friend Sophie, her sister Whitney is taking all of her family’s energy and attention with her eating disorder, and the only person she can talk to is Owen, the boy with the anger management problem.

Annabel’s fear of confrontation permeates everything, and while Owen teaches her how to confront her own problems and bring them to her family, to the people who can help her, it’s never too pat or unrealistic. I wanted it so, so badly, but there was never any big throwdown with Sophie, where she sets Sophie straight and finally gets the apology she so (SO SO MUCH) deserves–and that’s okay. A throwdown, even after Annabel learns how to speak up about her issues, would have been out of character, and at the end of the story, Sophie isn’t the one with whom Annabel really has the issue. Annabel! My heart went out to her so much, and while I know punching doesn’t solve anything, Owen gave me a little bit of satisfaction at the end. Thank you, Owen, for sacrificing your fist and your freedom to make the readers cheer a little.

There are certain things in the book that gave me pause–all the boys like Owen that I knew in high school hadn’t learned the art of showering or deodorant yet, and that’s about all I could think about each time he and Annabel started to get close–but in the end, I was able to let the slightly more fantastical parts go because of the very real core. I think this would be a valuable book for (ahem) actual young adults to have on their reading list, because it’s a book about very important issues without becoming an “issue book.” Plus, Owen’s musical pretentiousness is kind of adorable, even though I find it completely obnoxious in people I know in real life. (Coughmybrothercough. There’s only so much talk one can listen to about how great 70s Italian Prog Rock is, okay?)

Now I know that if I fall into another reading slump, all I have to do is turn to Sarah Dessen for a little kickstart!

(Also, what is up with the US cover? I agree with Poshdeluxe from Forever Young Adult, it looks like a book about menstruation and Teenage Body Changes. The UK cover is way better:

Am I right or am I right? Man, US YA covers are all kind of whack.)

Seasonality in Novels

Here’s a question: how much do you think about seasonality in the books you read?

For the last couple of weeks at work, on my breaks and at lunch, I’ve slowly been reading John Ajvide Lindquist’s vampire novel Let the Right One In (translated into English, obviously, since thanks to IKEA the only words I know in Swedish are “lingonberry” and “Allen wrench”). The main portion of the book takes place in October, and, as it takes place in a suburb of Stockholm, there are many descriptions of the cold and ice and snow and mastodons and whatnot. Both because of the season and because of the book’s subject matter, it would make a great Halloween read. I can’t say that I’ve ever really paid attention that much to appropriate seasonality in the books I read, but it definitely feels a little strange to read about Oskar’s cold hands or how freezing Eli should be in only her thin pink sweater when the Californian June sun is beating mercilessly down upon me during my break. I might set it aside to pick up again in a few months, but I might not.

I’ve been thinking about making my reading more seasonal, because now that I’m out of school and out of my parents’ house, it feels like the seasons are much less defined. I rarely make a big deal out of holidays on my own because I’m a lazypants, and now that I’m a Real Adult Human Being I don’t get a summer break, and it seems like the different parts of the year easily slip by without any real demarcation of what makes those seasons special and distinct from each other. I miss the big to-do of making paper jack-o-lanterns or snowflakes, of handprint turkeys and Easter egg coloring. (Maybe I just need to get back into first grade arts and crafts?) Reading with the season might help me slow down and appreciate each season for its own special offerings instead of whizzing through them with little to no consciousness.

What about you-all? Do any of you bother to match up your reading materials with the weather or season that’s going on in real life? Is this important or only silly? Are there any books you’ve read recently (or not) that feel particularly rooted in a season? Jessica sent me a really interesting blog post for writers some time ago about considering the season of the story that you’re writing and how it might or might not impact the plot and characters, but I’ll be danged if I can find it. Maybe if we ask real nice she’ll post it up again.

A Bit of Fry and Laurie Re: Jane Eyre

You may be one of those people who never bother to watch videos when other folks post them. (I know. I’m one of those people too.) It takes an agonizing five to ten long minutes when you could have looked at forty pictures of kittens in that time. It’s too much work! I know, I know. Shhhh shhh shhh. It’s going to be okay.

You’re going to watch this video and enjoy the hell out of it because it’s not somebody’s baby sneezing and then laughing at itself while the parents talk gibberish in annoying voices over the audio and ruin the whole thing–it’s a clip from “A Bit of Fry and Laurie” regarding Jane Eyre, and you’ll find it so funny it will suddenly restore your faith in watching videos online again. If not, then you must be dead inside.

(Please note: NSFW due to some language. Perfectly safe and even required viewing for all times outside of work.)