fiction · Over 18 · Romantic · YA

The Joy of Romance Books and the Struggle with Recommending Them

I’ll be honest. I have a hard time recommending romance books to a general audience. If someone asks me for recommendations, I have many.  But I have questions first. That’s because romance is personal. One person’s romantic gesture is another individual’s suffocating display of affection. Furthermore, what appeals to a reader at one point in their lives may not appeal at all later. I don’t want to speak for all women but I can certainly attest to the fact that what I found romantic at 20 is nothing like what appeals to me now.

Ultimately, though, there are some factors that are universally romantic. Kindness is necessary. Admiration for another individual’s true self (which leads to total acceptance and unconditional love) is so much more than ogling a single body part. A willingness to put another person’s happiness before your own is a foundation in romance. On top of that, most quality romances add a problem or misunderstanding to test the strength of the new couple. Realistically, what we are looking for in a romance is the same thing we look for in most books – good people making morally sound choices which results in unconditional love. One of my favorite romance authors, Jennifer Crusie said this,

“My feeling on this, which I have expressed loudly and often, is that the romance novel is based on the idea of an innate emotional justice in the universe, that the way the world works is that good people are rewarded and bad people are punished. The mystery genre is based on the same assumption, only there it’s a moral justice, a sense of fair play in human legal interaction: because the good guys risk and struggle, the murderers get punished and good triumphs in a safe world. So in romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice, unconditional love in an emotionally safe world.”

If I were being honest, what I find fun to read in a romance book is not at all the same as what I am looking for in real life romance. I will read any book or watch any movie featuring a love triangle. I sit and sigh imagining inspiring two people to fight for my attention. I’ll remain riveted to the story until the “right one” is chosen. I love those stories. In real life, I would absolutely die if I had to handle more than one person at a time. How dishonest is it to cling to two people simultaneously? Talk about leading a person on….

Similarly, I love an enemies to lovers story. Watching the characters challenge their understanding of another person as they slowly fall in love can be so enjoyable. In real life, once a guy does something unforgivable the chances of me looking at him romantically fall to zero. “Oh, you loved me all this time but you were just behaving terribly….? Well in that case no I will never date you.” I have become friends with people who made terrible first impressions but never dated one. I do not find real life bad behavior attractive. Now, fictional bad boys, those are just fine.

Romance books are no different than thrillers – they put you in positions that are fun to think about but would be a nightmare to deal with in reality. They are a beautiful escape from everyday life. Let’s take a look at some romance books I have enjoyed this month.


What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

whatifitsusArthur is only in New York for the summer, but if Broadway has taught him anything, it’s that the universe can deliver a show stopping romance when you least expect it.
Ben thinks the universe needs to mind its business. If the universe had his back, he wouldn’t be on his way to the post office carrying a box of his ex-boyfriend’s things.
But when Arthur and Ben meet-cute at the post office, what exactly does the universe have in store for them?
Maybe nothing. After all, they get separated.
Maybe everything. After all, they get reunited.
But what if they can’t quite nail a first date . . . or a second first date . . . or a third?
What if Arthur tries too hard to make it work . . . and Ben doesn’t try hard enough?
What if life really isn’t like a Broadway play?

But what if it is?

This book had me sighing all the way through. First loves are always fun to watch unfold and Arthur and Ben were uniquely likable both individually and as a possible couple. I don’t know what magic spell Becky Albertalli weaves through her stories but they always manage to stay with me long after I turn the last page. Adam Silvera is new to me but I cannot wait to acquaint myself with his other works. This books features some closed door romance which makes it perfect for YA audiences (and those that enjoy YA books).


A Bride Test by Helen Hoang

bridetestKhai Diep has no feelings. Well, he feels irritation when people move his things or contentment when ledgers balance down to the penny, but not big, important emotions—like grief. And love. He thinks he’s defective. His family knows better—that his autism means he just processes emotions differently. When he steadfastly avoids relationships, his mother takes matters into her own hands and returns to Vietnam to find him the perfect bride.

As a mixed-race girl living in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City, Esme Tran has always felt out of place. When the opportunity arises to come to America and meet a potential husband, she can’t turn it down, thinking this could be the break her family needs. Seducing Khai, however, doesn’t go as planned. Esme’s lessons in love seem to be working…but only on herself. She’s hopelessly smitten with a man who’s convinced he can never return her affection.

With Esme’s time in the United States dwindling, Khai is forced to understand he’s been wrong all along. And there’s more than one way to love.

This is the second in Hoang’s popular The Kiss Quotient series and features Micheal’s cousin Kai. Many readers have complained that Esme is unlikable because she leaves her child behind in Vietnam. This didn’t bother me. Countless families are often forced to make difficult decisions in an effort to secure a more promising future for their children. I felt Esme was doing exactly that. After all, back home, Esme, her mother, her grandmother and her daughter all share one room. Convincing Kai to marry her would provide them all with a better life. But the more she tries to win him over the more she find herself falling in love with him.

I sucked this book down like a delicious milkshake. In reality would I want to leave my child behind to travel with a stranger I met in the bathroom to marry another stranger? Nope. But I enjoyed watching Esme take that chance on a better life. More lovely was that Esme grows tremendously as a person. As does Kai. This book, like many contemporary romances, has some open door sex scenes that feel slightly gratuitous. This book has less sex than The Kiss Quotient and I was glad that the author established a basic relationship before including physical romance. I don’t consider myself a prude but I will say, if I am prudish it is when reading stories of characters I don’t know having sex with each other. It makes me feel like a Peeping Tom. Books with sex scenes are the most difficult romance books for me to recommend because sex is even more complicated than romance. With that said, the book was ridiculously enjoyable.


Meet Cute by Helena Hunting

meetcuteTalk about an embarrassing introduction. On her first day of law school, Kailyn ran – quite literally – into the actor she crushed on as a teenager, ending with him sprawled on top of her. Mortified to discover the Daxton Hughes was also a student in her class, her embarrassment over their meet-cute quickly turned into a friendship she never expected. Of course, she never saw his betrayal coming either…

Now, eight years later, Dax is in her office asking for legal advice. Despite her anger, Kailyn can’t help feeling sorry for the devastated man who just became sole guardian to his thirteen-year-old sister. But when her boss gets wind of Kailyn’s new celebrity client, there’s even more at stake than Dax’s custody issues: if she gets Dax to work at their firm, she’ll be promoted to partner.

The more time Kailyn spends with Dax and his sister, the more she starts to feel like a family, and the more she realizes the chemistry they had all those years ago is as fresh as ever. But will they be able to forgive the mistakes of the past, or will one betrayal lead to another?

I did a full review here so just a quick overview is needed here. I picked this book up because I thought it was Helen Hoang’s new book. It’s yellow and the alliteration of their names confused me! This is an adorable book and vastly different than the other books I saw by the author available on Amazon. This one really focused on character development and watching each of them change their lives as their relationship develops was more fun than any solo sexy time scene. This has some open door sex scenes but they are not graphic and are romantic in nature. Oddly, I already had another of her books on my Kindle that I had DNFed. I returned to The Good Luck Charm after enjoying Meet Cute.


The Good Luck Charm by Helena Hunting

thegoodluckcharmLilah isn’t sure what hurt worse: the day Ethan left her to focus on his hockey career, or the day he came back eight years later. He might think they can pick up just where they left off, but she’s no longer that same girl and never wants to be again.

Ethan Kane wants his glory days back. And that includes having Lilah by his side. With her, he was magic. They were magic. All he has to do is make her see that.

Just when Lilah might finally be ready to let him in, though, she finds out their reunion has nothing to do with her and everything to do with his game. But Ethan’s already lost her once, and even if it costs him his career, he’ll do anything to keep from losing her again.

Helena Hunting has a series of romance novels that don’t appeal to me but both Meet Cute and The Good Luck Charm are standalone books and each has a very sweet theme. Furthermore, like Meet Cute, the most enjoyable part of this book is the character development of the the main character, Lilah. I feel like there is open door scenes but honestly, I was all about Lilah in this book and less interested in her relationship with Ethan than her own personal transformation.


Each of these books has all the hallmarks of an enjoyable romance story. Two people trying to make morally sound choices so that they are deemed deserving of true love. There is also a problem for them to overcome either together or alone that puts the strength of their new love to the test. And, of course, kissing!


Tell me, please!

Do you read romance books? If so, what do you look for in a “good romance?”


 

Over 18 · Romantic

Meet Cute by Helena Hunting

I used to be wretched at remembering author’s names. In fact, long ago, I was interviewing for a job at a book store and when they asked me my favorite authors I completely blanked. It was mortifying. I looked like a fake book lover. Since then, I have nearly compulsively tried to remember author’s names and give due respect to the people who work tirelessly to bring me such joy.

Sometimes I still mess up. For example, I thought Meet Cute was by the author of The Kiss Quotient. To be fair, Helen Hoang and Helena Hunting are not far off and I knew that Helen Hoang had a new book coming out but still, the mix up feels like an unintentional slight to Helena Hunting. Amazon doesn’t help things either with this blurb:

“As charming as its title, but it’s also so much more… Fans of Jasmine Guillory’s The Wedding Date and Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient will love Meet Cute.” —The Washington Independent Review of Books.

meetcuteEither way, this mistake led me to the fresh and fun contemporary romance that is Meet Cute. From cute cover to the delightful ending, the book is adorable with moments of deep introspection and feeling. The premise may sound a bit ridiculous and the blurbs are misleadingly simplistic, but I challenge you to start reading and try and put it down.

Kailyn Flowers was obsessed with childhood actor Daxton Hughes when she was a teen. Running to her first law school class she collides into him and knocks him down. As she lays on top of him she does the unthinkable, she professes undying love. Cue three years of law school filled with Dax and Kailyn flirting and challenging each other but never dating. After Dax betrays their friendship they part ways. Five years later they meet again when Kailyn becomes involved with the legal needs of Dax’s thirteen year old sister.

If you read the jacket synopsis for this book it might seem like a simple enemies to lovers romance. And, as much as I love these books I’m getting a little tired of watching couples just fall in bed with each other. I want them to actually resolve their differences! Similarly, I despise when a strong female character has a tenderhearted moment of forgiveness and forgives the bad boy instantly of all wrongdoing. This book has neither of these common traps.

Instead, Kailyn is intensely driven and has an intricate backstory of her own. I loved watched this character change as the story progressed independent of the romance. Similarly, Dax’s change occurred internally instead of being wholly inspired by Kailyn. Add in a cast of supporting characters that felt three dimensional and true and this story was a winner for me!

One thing I can assure you, I won’t forget Helena Hunting’s name ever again. By creating a sweet spin on a tried and true contemporary romantic theme she has completely won me over. I can hardly wait to read her other books.


Tell me, please!

Do you have trouble remembering author’s names? Have you ever gotten them confused? Don’t tell me I’m alone in this!


 

fiction · Over 18

The Con Artist by Fred Van Lente

I picked up Fred Van Lente’s first books Ten Dead Comedians because I was searching for books for my annual Frighteningly Good Reads. The cover was adorably intriguing. I was pleasantly surprised by the caliber of the writing and subsequently not surprised at all to discover that Van Lente is a heavily published and popular comic book writer. I am always in awe of a comic book writer’s ability to tell a whole story in so few words. When I saw that he had a second book out I could hardly wait to read it. I finally had the chance to enjoy it last week and it was everything I was hoping it would be and more!

conartistFirst of all, again, how fantastic is this cover? If I didn’t know better, I would have guessed it was a graphic novel. Second, this book was published by Quick Books and I am absolutely obsessed with everything they have to offer. I found myself on their website for more than an hour just scribbling an extended birthday wish list for myself and everyone I have ever met. Check it out and I dare you to not find a dozen things you want.

 
On to the review! Much like Ten Dead Comedians Van Lente does a masterful job at blending fantasy and reality. I loved spotting points he made in Comedians and attempting to figure out who he was referencing. I had the opportunity to play the same fun game with The Con Artist. And, since Van Lente is a comic book artist and has sat on artist’s alley himself, the whole book felt grounded in reality. Well, hopefully the multiple murders haven’t been something he has experienced…

In The Con Arist, veteran comic book artist Mike Mason finds himself at San Diego Comic-Con ready to work artist alley, make some money, and give the lifetime achievement award to his mentor. But Mike’s mentor, the comic book genius Ben K, has died. Ben’s death is just the first of many during the con and as the bodies pile up so does the attention on Mike as he becomes the prime suspect. As he copes with obsessive fans, protestors, old friends, enemies, and his ex-wife, Mike will have to solve more than the murders to clear his name and help finally resolve a seedy comic secret.

If you have never been to a con, this book will bring it to life for you. If you have attended one you will absolutely recognize many of the background characters. I have only been to my local con and I still felt like a total insider reading this book. The book just painted the experience so well. Meanwhile, Van Lente cleverly slips the ins and outs of what it means to be a published comic book writer both during a con and while trying to stay a published author. Much like Mike Reiss’ insider perspective in Springfield Confidential, I was shocked at the amount of work and the apparent speed that these artists can produce a finished product. It always looks so laid back when I see them drawing at cons that it never occurred to me that they were rapidly working under a deadline. I can only hope that the industry is marginally less cut throat than in this story but I suspect this aspect is also grounded in reality.

This multi-layered mystery was just as much fun as Ten Dead Comedians with the added bonus of being at a con. If you are a comic book nerd, you want to write comic books, or you just like trying to solve clever mysteries this book is a perfect pick!


Tell me, please!

Have you ever been to a comic book con?


 

FrighteninglyGoodRead · Over 18

FGR #1: 10 Dead Comedians by Fred Van Lente

Ten Stand-Ups. Nine Murders. One Solution.


tendeadcomediansFrighteningly Good Read #1 has to be Ten Dead Comedians by Fred Van Lente. I picked up this book just recently because the cover art tickled my haunted little heart. I assumed that it was a YA novel but it is most assuredly an adult level murder mystery.

Nine stand up comedians have been invited to the private island home of the famous funnyman Dustin Walker. He is as reclusive as he is inspiring to a generation of comedians. So when the invitation arrives via his assistant all nine jump at the opportunity of a lifetime. Or is it the opportunity to end their life?

This closed room dark take on Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None kept me guessing right up until the end. With modern twists and characters reminiscent of real-life famous funnymen, I could not put this book down! My inability to solve it may be because I am terrible at mysteries or because it had so many unexpected twists and turns. Either way, the whole book was a purely satisfying way to kick off Frighteningly Good Reads 2018!


Tell me, please!

Do you love mysteries? What are your favorites?


Over 18 · Romantic

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

I hate math. So, a book with math on the cover is to be avoided. But, then the delightful Penny Reid’s fan club argued that The Kiss Quotient by Helen Huang was perfect for any of Reid’s romance ninja’s. I have been anxiously waiting for Reid’s new book (it’s out today!) so I figured, challenge accepted. I purchased a copy of The Kiss Quotient and added it to my Canadian book pile.

thekissquotientThe ninja’s were not wrong. The Kiss Quotient is a unique contemporary romance that was a quick enjoyable read. Helen Hoang’s has said that a gender swap of Pretty Woman had been on her mind for some time when she was told that her daughter might have “high functioning autism.” While family and professionals disagreed, Hoang was intrigued, what if the heroine of her romantic tale was a person with autism? More specifically a woman with autism? The result is Stella Lane.

Stella Lane loves her work. She creates algorithms to predict customer purchases and she is extraordinarily talented. However, her parents and peers point out that she is lacking in the romance department, specifically sex. Stella knows she needs practice and prefers a professional so she hires Michael Phan. Michael is an gorgeous escort and cannot refuse when Stella puts together a lesson-plan compete with a payment that will free him from long term familial burdens.

Like Penny Reid, Helen Hoang has created a female protagonist that brings a unique perspective to the bedroom. And throughout the book the shifting narrative between Stella’s perspective and Michael’s kept me engaged. I am hopeful that Ms. Hoang will write another book and we will have the opportunity to see Stella and Michael’s relationship continue to develop and grow.


Tell me, please!

Do you enjoy contemporary romances? Have you read The Kiss Quotient?