Category: romance genre

SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge for February: Moonlight Over Manhattan

February’s challenge is to read a book that is part of a series. Given my Harlequin backlog, that’s got to be half of them. This doesn’t double-count for my Harlequin TBR Challenge, those, because I didn’t buy it from the Harlequin site. It’s one of my many other Harlequins!

This novel is the third installment of the From Manhattan With Love series, featuring Daniel and Fliss’s sister, Harriet. Harriet is the shy one who prefers dogs to people and who would love to have a home and family but doesn’t think she’ll ever get there. She has a hard time dating because her anxiety goes into overdrive. She tells herself that she’s happy with her dogs, her friends, and her family, but now that Fliss and Daniel have found the loves of their lives, she’s not just alone but lonely.

Enter Ethan Black, an ER physician Harriet encounters first when she injures her ankle extricating herself from a bad date and then again when Ethan is required to take care of his sister’s dog and Harriet is drafted from dog walking to dog sitting. Ethan is very much not a dog person, but he loves his sister and has a strong sense of responsibility, so there he is, saddled with a spaniel and Harriet.

Harriet is hesitant and nervous about dealing with Ethan, which brings out her long-buried stammer and makes her even more anxious. But she is determined to make sure Madi the dog is treated well, so she whips both Ethan and Madi into line.As they get to know each other she relaxes and Ethan discovers that there are women who will cook and make a home for themselves, not just to land a Hot Doctor.

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SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge for January (and Harlequin TBR #513): The Taming of Mei Lin

I decided to join Wendy the SuperLibrarian’s TBR Challenge this year, since reading from the TBR is my main 2019 reading goal. And I do have my towering TBR of Harlequins to get through. January is always short reads, to ease us into the year. I knew I had books in Harlequin’s various short-story and novella lines, and I found a Jeannie Lin short from the Historical Undone line. It is the prequel to her debut novel for Harlequin, Butterfly Swords. I finally read that last year, so The Taming of Mei Lin sounded like a perfect follow-up.

This story is about 40 pages, more of an amuse-bouche than anything, but it packs a nice romance into its brief wordcount, complete with some sexy romantic scenes as well. Mei Lin is the grandmother of Ai Li, the heroine of Butterfly Swords, and her romance with the stranger who comes to town, Shen Leung, provides the ancestral backstory for the novel.

Mei Lin is an orphan who lives with her uncle, aunt, and cousin. She has resisted being married off as the third wife to the local magistrate, Zhou, which displeases both her uncle and Zhou. Mei Lin is adept in the use of butterfly swords and has decreed that she will only marry someone who can best her in a swordfight. Zhou can’t, and the emissaries he sends can’t either. But then Shen arrives. They are a well-matched pair in every way, and Mei Lin thinks this is a best deal she can probably get, but Shen doesn’t seem to want to claim his prize.

Their battle of swords turns into a battle of something more, as Mei Lin continues to fight Zhou’s thugs and Shen tries to stick to his plan to continue his solitary life. The attraction between them is convincing and well depicted, and the sex is integral to the story (as is always the case with Lin’s fiction, in my opinion).

As I said, this is a very quick read but a rewarding one. The cultural milieu is established well despite the word count constraints. If you haven’t read Butterfly Swords, start with this prequel, and if you have, read this for the backstory.

Midweek links

Remember when every blog had a regular links post feature? Now no one does them because everyone gets their links from Twitter and Facebook. But since I’m not hanging out there, I decided to revive the links, at least occasionally. 

The Columbia Journalism Review writes that book coverage is increasing in major US publications. Which is great! Until you read the article and realize that “coverage” is an amorphous category ranging well beyond reviews and analysis. For the New York Times this means:

“In the past, when a book came into the Book Review, the question we would ask is, ‘Does this book deserve to be reviewed? Should we review this?’” Paul says. “Now the question is, ‘Does this book merit coverage? And if so, what does that look like?’”

For New York magazine the new direction sounds even grimmer:

[The] strategy, which cuts across Vulture, the Cut, Daily Intelligencer, Grub Street, and The Strategist, incorporates far less “up and down” reviews, opting instead for highly specific recommendations, debate-inciting rankings, and reviews that take into account a reviewer’s personal point of view and say something more about the culture.

This sounds closer to book industry hype than it does to talking about what is between the covers and in the text. 

This New Yorker article gets at what I mean in an article about the English-language debut of Dutch-origin dwarsliggers, or Tiny Books. These are very small books, about palm-sized, with small print on onion-skin paper. The first English release is of John Green’s YA oeuvre and is presumably perfect for holiday gift-giving. Overall Waldman is kind of positive, but she gets at the non-reading aspect of the format’s appeal:

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Harlequin TBR #515: A Convenient Gentleman by Victoria Aldridge

I apparently bought this book in 2012. It’s a backlist historical by Harlequin/M&B, originally published in 2004. Victoria Aldridge published half a dozen category romances, all historicals set in New Zealand. This book has a Marriage of Convenience (MOC) trope, an unbelievably naïve heroine, and a hero with some unusual qualities. If you’ve been looking for non-wallpaper historicals, this is one for you. 

A Convenient Gentleman cover

Caroline Morgan wants nothing more than to run the family farm and other holdings when her father steps aside, but Ben Morgan refuses to consider a woman for the job. The eligible son of the property adjoining theirs in New South Wales is smitten with Caroline and Ben is pushing for a personal and business union. Caroline, who is naïve and feisty in equal parts (not my favorite combination in a heroine) refuses and runs away to New Zealand, where she hopes to find her mother’s sister, Charlotte. 

She does indeed find Charlotte in Dunedin, a bustling city that serves the New Zealand gold rush of the 1860s. Charlotte is the owner of the large and luxurious Castledene Hotel, which she inherited from her recently deceased husband. But the hotel is in disrepair, the staff aren’t being paid, the debts are mounting, and Charlotte, who cares nothing about the hotel, is in thrall to the oily and lecherous Mr. Thwaites. Thwaites runs the adjoining bar and makes a healthy profit on it but pays no rent to Charlotte. Caroline knows she can turn the hotel around, but she needs money, and the banker holding Charlotte’s notes won’t lend to a woman. 

Enter our hero. Caroline needs a husband and fast, so she pays Leander Gray, a drunk she finds in Thwaites’ bar, to marry her. Of course Leander turns out to be More Than He Seems, and together they start putting the hotel to rights. Plot developments send Charlotte and Thwaites off-page (separately), and the first half of the story has our MOC’d couple working together and getting to know each other. They’re getting fond of each other and Leander has cleaned up nicely, but we still have half a book to go. 

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Harlequin TBR Review (TBR Book #516)

The first of my Harlequin TBR reviews is a Harlequin Romance by a new-to-me author, Jennie Adams. I used to buy a lot of HR because I liked the fact that the heroes and heroines were more or less ordinarily people and the settings weren’t over the top. There are a lot of babies in this line, which I prefer in moderation, and I probably picked this because it was baby-free. 

It wasn’t a great read. But I read the whole thing, and I get to cross one off the list. 

Surprise: Outback Proposal by Jennie Adams

Surprise Outback Proposal cover

This is an Australian-set romance in the regular Harlequin Romance line. The main trope is older woman-younger man, with workplace romance and road trip as secondary tropes. Sadly, I found the heroine unbearable and I couldn’t believe in the HEA. Jayne is 35, outwardly successful in her career, and attractive. She’s working in the family company and trying to persuade her father, the boss, to promote her to partner, but he’s fixed his eye on a young new male hire as his heir apparent (picture the ambitious shark played by James Spader in Baby Boom but with less charisma). The father is basically a selfish, sexist jerk whose first wife (Jayne’s mother) walked out on him, leaving Jayne and her sister behind. Since then he’s gone through several wives, with each being younger than the last. This upbringing has made Jayne pathologically insecure and distrustful of all relationships. She has no friends we can discern, either. She “socializes” with men to go to events, but these are all entirely chaste encounters so the men don’t stick around.

The hero is Alex, who has his own sad backstory: he was abandoned on the doorstep of an orphanage by his mother and he only learned her name and circumstances when he received a posthumously mailed letter from her. He joined forces with two other boys at the orphanage and made a found family, but he’s also wary of attachment. So we have two damaged people.

Given that, it’s a bit disconcerting that the story opens with Jayne and Alex having an introductory business meeting about a potential contract and half of the exposition and internal monologuing is about how hot they find each other. And in Jayne’s case, how unattractive she must be, given her ancient age. My eyes, they could not stop rolling. There are all kinds of problems that can come with a 10-year age gap between a 25YO and a 35YO, but the obvious one of maturity is brushed aside quickly. No, it’s because Jayne is a cougar and Alex can’t possibly want her.

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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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Harlequin reminds us we don’t own our purchased ebooks

Last week I saw a discussion about a change Harlequin Books is making at its website with respect to how ebooks will be delivered to buyers. Until now they have used Adobe DRM and if you wanted to download your books you had to do it through Adobe Digital Editions. This was a pain, given how awful ADE is, but it meant the files were resident on your computer and could be transferred to any compatible ereader, i.e., one that read epub files and played nice with ADE. I’ve used it for my Sony, Nook, and Kobo ereaders over the years. I’ve also stripped the DRM and put the files on a Kindle. This was handy because Harlequin.com would occasionally have sales and it was worth buying from the site. Also, I found when checking my account that I bought my first Harlequin ebook back in June 2007, before Kindles or Nooks existed (I read it on my Palm phone, as I recall).

Anyway, at this point I have 620 books on the Harlequin site. I’m pretty sure I’ve downloaded most of them, since I long ago stopped trusting ebook retailers to stay in business. But Harlequin isn’t shutting down. Instead, they’re changing their DRM system from ADE to Overdrive. This seems like not a big deal, except that Overdrive system requires you to read the books in its app. In other words, you can’t put it on an ereader unless you can figure out a way to get it off the app (which may be straightforward, but I haven’t seen discussion of it). You can still buy the books at Kobo, Amazon, and other major retailers, of course, and maybe they will have sales and promotions there that are comparable to the ones Harlequin has had at their site in the past.

The biggest inconvenience for me is that I have to decide whether I want to download/re-download hundreds of books, or spend almost as much time checking to see if I have them already. The changeover date is November 12, so I have a week to decide. It’s not that big a deal; I have most of the books, I know, and it’s probably only the oldest ones that are likely to have gotten lost in a computer/ereader/platform transfer. Still, it’s a hassle I don’t really have time for now.

In addition, for me at least it’s a reminder of two things:

  • Ebooks are licensed, not bought in the same way as print books. As long as the DRM is applied, you are subject to the terms of the license. If ADE goes away, you can’t read ADE-DRM’d books anymore. In the future, if you don’t have an Overdrive app, or you don’t want to put it on your phone or tablet, you have to read Harlequins on a computer with a data connection. This is what I don’t like about Hoopla, by the way; I don’t like their app interface at all and it’s frequently glitchy.
  • Today’s Harlequin is not the Harlequin I bought from in 2007, or the Harlequin whose books I reviewed at Dear Author for years. It’s owned by HarperCollins and it’s a shadow of its former self. Some of my favorite authors still publish there, but a lot don’t. It’s less reader-focused and reader-friendly. It’s a Big 5 imprint and it feels like one.

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AAR’s Top 100 Romances List: Diving into the Data

Today the long-established website All About Romance released the results of its reader poll of the Top 100 Romances. The site has done this survey periodically over 20 years (this post has links to the earlier polls): in 1998, 2000, 2004, 2007, 2013, and now again in 2018. The method has varied somewhat over time; in earlier years readers just sent in their ranked lists (up to 100 but they could submit fewer items), and readers often used the previous lists to help refresh their memories for the current poll. This year the poll was a combination of reader submitted and site-provided candidates, and the final result was a ranking for the Top 10 and an alphabetical list for the remaining 90.

Obligatory social scientists’ disclaimer: This was not a scientific poll. It is not representative of all romance readers, all online romance readers, or even all AAR’s site visitors. It is a poll comprising responses from people who chose to take part. They were solicited via Facebook, Twitter, the site itself, and perhaps other venues, but as far as I know there were no attempts made to weight the responses to conform to any universe of romance readers. AAR has never claimed that it is representative; I just want to specify the makeup of the poll at the outset.

AAR was kind enough to offer the list as a Word document containing author, title, subgenre, and date of issue. I used the list to create an Excel spreadsheet of the 100 books. I made a few modifications, including using the original date of release of the books rather than re- or e-release dates, and I collapsed and standardized some of their categories.

Authors:

There are 45 authors represented on the list, so as has always been the case, some authors have multiple books on the list, ranging from Lisa Kleypas with 9 to 21 authors with a single entry:

  • 9:  Lisa Kleypas
  • 7:  Susan Elizabeth Phillips
  • 5:  Nalini Singh
  • 4:  Ilona Andrews, Courtney Milan, Julia Quinn
  • 3:  Mary Balogh, Loretta Chase, Jennifer Crusie, Tessa Dare, Julie Garwood, Elizabeth Hoyt
  • 2:  Jane Austen, Joanna Bourne, KJ Charles, Georgette Heyer, Linda Howard, Eloisa James, Julie James, Sarah Maclean, Nora Roberts/JD Robb, Penny Reid, JR Ward, Mariana Zapata
  • 1:  Jennifer Ashley, Amanda Bouchet, Sarina Bowen & Elle Kennedy, Charlotte Bronte, Meljean Brook, Alyssa Cole, Kresley Cole, Grace Draven, Meredith Duran, Diana Gabaldon, Laura Kinsale, Thea Harrison, Stephanie Laurens, Julie Anne Long, Judith McNaught, Amanda Quick, Lucy Parker, Mary Jo Putney, Alisha Rai, Sally Thorne

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Recent Reading (tropetastic m/m edition)

After swearing off new-to-me romance authors a couple of months ago, of course I wound up reading three new authors in a subgenre I claimed to have abandoned. It was a mixed bag, not surprisingly, but it was interesting because it gave me an insight into what seems to be popular these days (or at least popular in some niche corners of a niche market).

Soldier's Scoundrel coverFirst up is The Soldier’s Scoundrel. This seems to be a debut, although it’s hard to tell in the romance genre, what with the prevalence of pseudonyms and reinventions. It’s definitely one of the first Avon m/m historical romances I’ve seen that is marketed exactly the way Avon markets its m/f romances. Check out the cover. If you just glanced at it you might not immediately notice that it’s two men rather than a woman and a man, but that is definitely a dude peeking over the shoulder of the abs-licious central figure.

I liked the author’s voice a lot, and I liked the mystery subplot in this book. Sometimes it felt as if there was a good cozy mystery trying to escape from the pages of a stereotypical romance, but the romance was definitely front and center. It hit all the beats of a standard Avon, complete with witty banter, mental lusting, and anachronistic language and dialogue. That last feature was the worst part of the book for me; sentences felt at war with each other sometimes, with a period term mashed up next to a 20thC phrase. The story also borrows a lot of regency-romance tropes, especially from Heyer: the opening scene reminded me a bit of Faro’s Daughter, there is a road romance middle segment, and the final stretch with the aristocratic lead trying to ruin himself to make the “scoundrel” accept him as a partner was right out of Venetia. If you ignore the plot and character inconsistencies and remind yourself regularly that these are fantasy men who do not inhabit the same world we do, it’s a pretty fun read.

Mystery of NevermoreSecond was a contemporary m/m mystery, Mystery of Nevermore. This was a lot more frustrating and disappointing. The book is described as an “homage” to Josh Lanyon’s Adrien English series, and the dedication is to Lanyon, so perhaps it was written and published with Lanyon’s encouragement. But it’s both more and less than an homage in that the plot and characters borrow very, very heavily from that series. The main character, Sebastian, has a physical disability (sight problems instead of heart trouble), he’s an antiques dealer who deals in books (rather than a bookseller), and both of his love interests are closeted cops (one on the way out of Sebastian’s life, one coming in). I mentally categorized the latter as “bad Jake” and “good Jake” from the AE series. There’s also a parent with whom Sebastian is very close, but in a  not-so-novel twist, it’s the father rather than the mother.

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