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!


 

historical fiction · Romantic

Highland Crown by May McGoldrick

Do you love Diana Galbadon’s Outlander Series? Or, like me, did you love books one through four but you just couldn’t take it anymore? I mean, Jamie is great but can Claire just stay out of trouble for two minutes?!? Sheesh. If, like me, you love a lot of things about Outlander but not the infinite never-ending drama, look no further then Highland Crown by May McGoldrick.

highlandcrownHighland Crown is going to be compared to Outlander. I don’t enjoy making comparisons like this but let’s just look at the facts.

Both set in historic Scotland? Check

Hot male character that is instantly admired? Check

Gorgeous medical female lead? Check

Instant love connection in the midst of turmoil? Check

Time travel? Nope, that is just Outlander.

So, I felt a duty to get this out into the open. Yes. I see the similarities. But, I want to focus on the differences and why it all worked so beautifully. Written by Nikoo and Jim McGoldrick under the pen name Mary McGoldrick, Highland Crown is a fast paced romance told in shifting narratives with loads of historic facts that brought the action to life. Alternating between the beautiful doctor and fugitive, Isabella Drummond, and the strikingly handsome ship captain, Cinead Mackintosh, the reader is literally tossed into the action from chapter one. And, since half of this writing duo has a PhD in sixteenth century Scottish and English literature, the historical aspect felt so true and alive it was hard to step back into the present.

I am an absolute sucker for romances where the male character falls deeply in love and has to either reassure the female character of his love or somehow earn her trust. This book gave me that romantic aspect in spades and I cannot wait for the next two books in the series! I appreciate NetGalley providing me a digital copy of this book in return for an honest review.


Tell me, please!

What is your favorite kind of romance novel?


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?


 

Romantic · YA

Love & Gelato and Love & Luck by Jenna Evans Welch

 

Recently I read a review of Love & Luck by Jenna Evans Welch on Beauty and the Bean Boots. The book sounded too adorable to pass up so I requested it from my lovely library along with Welch’s first book Love & Gelato and quickly consumed them both. These sweet YA books are perfect for summer light reading!

Love & Gelato features Lina who finds herself in Florence following her mother’s dying wish that she get to know her father. All she wants to do is go back home to her best friend Addie and the world she used to know. After all, why should she want to get to know someone who has been absent for the past 16 years? But then she is given the journal her Mom kept during her year in Italy which opens with the words “I made the wrong choice.” What choice did Lina’s mother make?

Love & Luck is Addie’s story and we join her for her domineering aunt’s wedding in Ireland.  After the wedding Addie is supposed to join Lina in Italy but finds herself on a strange road trip with her brother Ian and his surprising friend Rowan. Guiding them through Emerald Isle is a book Addie found written as a Irish guidebook for the brokenhearted. But why is Addie brokenhearted? And how will she ever mend her relationship with her brother Ian?

I adored Lina. She is strong and kind and is clearly working through the unfathomable loss of her Mother. The Addie we meet in Gelato through Lina is very different from the Addie we see at the beginning of Luck. Something has happened to Addie.  Something she is hiding from everyone in her life that has caused the rift between herself and Ian. Both Lina and Addie are at that fragile stage of growing up when they must face the serious curveball life can throw your way.

In both books the author vividly takes the reader on a physical journey through Italy and Ireland while simultaneously having us accompany Lina and Addie on an emotional journey. I appreciated that there was a book in both stories that helped to guide and inspire both girls. And, any romantic intrigues were secondary to the main story of personal growth.

Between the two I would have said I preferred Gelato until I got to the last quarter of Love when we finally find out what happened to Addie and why Ian is being so closed off and judgmental towards her. In the end both books are uplifting, fun adventures and sweet YA stories that are just perfect for delightful summer reading.


Tell me, please!

Have you read these books? Or, do you have different kinds of books you read in the Summer?


Romantic

My Lady’s Choosing by Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris

I love Regency Romance novels. It doesn’t bother me one little bit that there are more Dukes in these stories than people in my hometown, the stories are lovely and sometimes all I want to read is something lovely. So, when I saw My Lady’s Choosing by Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris I had to read it.

myladyschoosingMy Lady’s Choosing is a Choose Your Own Adventure novel that stars you as a plucky, penniless, Regency-era London lady. You begin your adventure as a companion to your dragon Aunt and through a series of choices end up in a wide variety of situations and endings.

For those who don’t remember these books, Choose Your Own Adventure novels typically give you two avenues and your selection takes you to a certain page. This continues until the end of the chosen story-line. I loved them as a kid. A number of years ago I discovered that there were adult versions out there but I never really enjoyed them like I did the juvenile versions. Many of the adult choices were daunting and I kept dying or getting kidnapped. The adventure part was missing. I didn’t want to chose whether to take a job or go back to college – I was actually making those decisions already.

This is what makes My Lady’s Choosing so fun for me. Finally I get to participate in a Regency romance from inside the story. I get to decide whether to slap the gentleman caller or kiss him. One path had me taking a position as a companion to an older gentleman or choosing to teach orphans. I decided whether to help the insufferable Lord or travel to Egypt. All paths obviously included romance.

My one complaint is that I felt at times that the authors were overly mocking regency romances. I accept that this book as a parody but still, names were frequently too silly and the characters could be inconsistent in their historical accuracy. But, I let many of the details pass as the Choose Your Own Adventure stories of my childhood were riddled with similar issues.

If you enjoy historical romances this book is a fun way to participate in the story. I had a great time working my way through the book five times already and I know that there are several other paths I have not yet taken!


Tell me, please!

What do you think of Choose Your Own Adventure novels?


fiction · Romantic · YA

Geekerella by Ashley Poston

This book made me happy cry…three times. Now, maybe it is because the book reached directly into my geeky little heart and plucked at my fan-fiction loving heartstrings. Or, perhaps this delightful little re-telling of Cinderella was just swoon worthy enough to push my frazzled emotions over the edge. Either way, I love this book!

geekerellaGeekerella by Ashley Poston is a modern re-telling of the classic Cinderella. Danielle is our princess, Darien the prince. Our Prince and Princess are trying to get to the Con – the ExcelsiCon that revolves around their favorite television show Starfield. Danielle’s Father created the wildly popular ExcelsiCon before he died and their shared love of Starfield is all that she has left of him that brings her comfort. Darien is a day time soap actor chosen to star as the lead in the movie re-make of Starfield. His love of Starfield is bringing him nothing but anxiety as he tries to simultaneously live his dream of inhabiting his favorite character and prove himself to the fans.

Geekerella has been well reviewed and many great points have been made about the deeply likable characters, the plot development and the lack of a truly horrible villain. But the unique aspect of this book that really spoke to me was the desire to belong. Cinderella has always been looking for family. The Prince has always been seeking a loving relationship. Danielle and Damien are trying to find these things in a modern world made more complicated by social media and technology.

Danielle has turned inward after the death of her Father. We saw that with Cinderella. But Cinderella had devoted servants (or vermin) to bring her comfort. Danielle has no one to rely on or even someone she feels she can ask for help. Watching her find the strength to put herself out into the real world was what brought me happy cry numero uno.

Darien is a teen heartthrob whose Dad would rather be his Agent and Manager than his Father. We see this everywhere in modern American – parents who want something other than to parent their children. That leaves Darien like our Prince – constantly on guard against user friends, crazy fans and people who want to profit from him. In the end, he is looking for someone who loves him. Just him.

This book really spoke to me about believing in yourself and finding the strength to fit into this chaotic world. There is a place we all belong if we are brave enough to try again and again to find it.


Tell me, please!

Have you read Geekerella? What are your thoughts?


 

FrighteninglyGoodRead · Halloween2017 · Mystery · Romantic

Frighteningly Good Reads #9

On the first Friday of every month my local library has a $4.00 Bag of Books sale. Sometimes there is little to nothing of interest for sale. But, this time I hit the jackpot! I found a couple of books to add to some of my series collections, some non-fiction gems and two fantastically ridiculous looking YA books that were perfect for the FGR theme.

queendeadThe first one is Queen of the Dead, A Ghost and the Goth Novel by Stacey Kade. The cover of this book was just too awesomely ridiculous to pass up. And the story did begin just like a made for TV movie. But then, slowly, layer upon layer the story became more complex and the characters more likable and realistic. At first, I couldn’t believe this was actually a series. But, by the end I was so glad there were more stories!

It helped too that this book was set in the small town of Decatur, Illinois near where I grew up. Isn’t it amazing the things you will forgive a story for if you lived in the town or visited it?

The story is about Alona who died in her gym uniform and Will who is a ghost talker. Alona goes from the most popular girl in high school to Will’s spirit guide. Will finally gets to spend time with the girl he has had a crush on since sixth grade. But, admiring people from a distance is different than waking up to them every morning as Will soon learns. And Alona finds out quickly that being popular is not the same as being liked.

Now, doesn’t this sound like every book we have ever read? Except, at almost the half way point the author really puts a new spin on the whole thing. Without giving any spoilers this suddenly had a unique storyline and I loved it!

This may not be a book that you buy multiple copies of to give to friends and family. But it is definitely akin to a middle of the day, cute ghostly romance with just a dash of mystery that you watch with a cup of hot apple cider. But I really loved it. And how hilarious is that cover!?!


Tell me, please!

Do you enjoy reading books set in your hometown?


 

FrighteninglyGoodRead · Halloween2017 · Mystery · Romantic · Uncategorized

Frighteningly Good Read #3

It is hard to write about things that make me happy when there is so much senseless violence and devastation in world. I was in an utter tailspin after hearing the news of the mass shooting in Las Vegas. My heart breaks for all those who were killed, their families and for the people who were hurt, scared or had a love one in any way involved.

For moments like these, I keep a shelf of books that bring me nothing but joy. They are all dog-earned and the spines are broken but they calm me down and keep my company on long nights when sadness is almost all consuming.

I have five Jennifer Crusie books on that shelf. I fell in love with her contemporary romances that combine a strong woman, a cute guy and a bit of mystery within their storylines. I love that her character’s happily-ever-after are varied and not so cookie cutter as requiring a marriage and children. Mostly, these books are well written escape. A much needed one at times like these.

maybeSo, today I recommend for you as a FrighteninglyGoodReadMaybe This Time. This romance pits a divorced couple against a creepy old house with both figurative ghosts from their past coming back to visit and literal ghosts in the present popping up and causing chaos. Add in two delinquent children and an unfinished romance and this book cooks.

There are ways to help people. There are a million things that must and will be done. But, tonight, if you have trouble sleeping, books like these are always there for you. They can’t fix anything but they will graciously keep you company.


Tell me, please!

Do you have an author you rely on to take you away?


 

Romantic

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

You know, when it rains it pours.  I have been battling with that ridiculous cold that is going around and it is making it difficult for me to sleep at night.  The only upside of insomnia is surplus time to read.  Unfortunately, every book I picked up was uninspiring.  Finallymebeforeyou I took myself, sick and gross, to the library and packed my bag full of books.  Full.  I figured at least one of them should hold my attention.

In Me Before You I found a treasure.  I have seen this book on bookstore shelves and picked it up because it looked familiar and I was getting tired.  I sat down to read it last night and finished it this afternoon.

In this book Louisa Clark is living a simple life in her tiny village in England when she takes a new job as a caregiver to Will Traynor.  Will has led a big and adventurous life but after an accident is struggling to acclimate to life as a person with quadrapalegia.  Both Louisa and Will grew up in the same small town but with vastly different backgrounds and life goals their perspective on life and living are equally disparate.  Louisa does not make any plans for her future and is content to dress uniquely and live an unchallenged life.  Will has always looked for adventure and success and now he has a new plan, one that shocks his family and Louisa.  This book is labelled as a romantic story and it is in the very truest sense because it is the story of how loving someone means allowing them to choose their happiness.

This book says right in the dust jacket that it is heartbreakingly romantic.  If I had bothered to read the jacket before starting the book I probably would not have read the book.  I do not like heartbreak.  Well, more specifically, I do not like to cry.  Sometimes, books are “heartbreaking” because the stupid characters make poor choices or have wretched conversation skills and that results in heartache (ahem, again, Nicholas Sparks).   These books are contrived to make you feel something that always rings as slightly artificial to me.  More rarely, books take us on a journey with a character that reflects the heartbreaking growth that is a part of life.  These stories forever connect you with the characters and their experiences.  Me Before You is firmly in the second category and I enjoyed it tremendously even though it made me teary.