Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category

TBR Challenge – Modern Love

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

returntotomorrow When I saw that this month’s TBR Challenge category called on us to read a contemporary romance, I found almost an embarrassment of choices. Did I want to go mainstream or inspy? Small town or big city? Something serious or more chick lit in tone? In the end, the setting drew me into Return to Tomorrow, a 2010 re-release of a 1990 title.

The premise of this novel is definitely not run of the mill. The characters were all shaped by their experiences in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, and even 20+ years on, the author shows how the war affected them. Rachel McKendrick spent years in a prison camp in Laos, and not surprisingly, has a lot of emotional issues to work through. After her rescue, she never intended to return to the region but a promise made to a priest she respected deeply brings her to a refugee camp.

There she meets Brett “Tiger” Jackson, a man with a dangerous reputation. Tiger fought in the war and has stayed behind working a variety of shadowy jobs and living among a trusted group of expats who, like him, never could quite return home after the war. Rachel’s brother back home knew and trusted him, but on the ground in Thailand, he has a reputation as a dangerous drug smuggler. There is obviously more to him than meets the eye, but readers are only slightly ahead of Rachel in learning this. (more…)

Because…Romance Novel!

Friday, March 21st, 2014

james-macarthur_57154759Years ago, I used to do aerobics with an aspiring writer. One day she told me about the book for young readers that she was working on, which involved a villain who went back through time to take Joseph out of the Christmas story. “That’s interesting,” I said. “Why?” It turned out she had never thought about “why,” or what his motivation was, or what he was accomplishing by his actions, or what difference it made. But she told me she was glad I asked. No one had ever put it that way to her.

Sometimes snark can be our stock in trade as reviewers. We have genres we deplore, stock characters that we consider ridiculous, and tired tropes we hate (and at AAR, we privately used to make fun of the word trope, which we considered pretentious until we started using it all the time too). But the fact is, that when a good author uses any of these, we can buy into it, because that’s what good writing and characterization is all about.

Not everyone has that level of persuasiveness, of course. Sometimes, it makes complete sense in the author’s head but doesn’t stand up to even a small amount of scrutiny, like my friend’s Joseph-napping story. Sometimes the author just fails utterly to convince the reader of the character’s motivation. We understand what the author was trying to do, but it isn’t believable to us. Or, to paraphrase a long ago reader on our message boards, “we get it, but we don’t buy it.”

I think we see this both in contemporaries and historicals. In contemporaries the tough-sell premises include elaborate will stipulations (“You can’t inherit the family ranch unless you live here for one year with Bill, the handsome foreman, because romance novel!”) and marriages of convenience (Come on, it’s 2014). Thankfully I think we’re kind of moving away from sheikhs, whose allure utterly escaped me (“Come with me, my beauty, and live in my awesome country where women can’t drive! It’ll be great!”). In historicals the classic tends to be the heroine disguised as a man. I always like when the hero is completely fooled by this ruse and confused by his burgeoning same-sex attraction, then has sex with the heroine the minute he discovers the truth.

Sometimes it can be so over the top that it becomes fun and we just don’t care. Did anyone else watch Swiss Family Robinson as a child? My sister and I watched it obsessively for a while. Not only does it feature the aforementioned cross dressing, there is a long scene at the end where they throw logs at hordes of pirates, all of whom are easily felled even though they vastly outnumber the Swiss Family. The production values were bad even to the 80s eye, but it was fun anyway. And besides, I wanted to live in that tree house, preferably with Fritz (the picture above was my favorite scene). There are plenty of modern book equivalents to that. Do I really believe that the wealthy Roarke runs his empire just fine on no sleep and has plenty of time to assist Eve in every single investigation? Not really. Does it matter? Not really.

But I also think a really good author can simply sell us on the tough sell, even though long time readers can get a little jaded. There have been a few times in recent months when an author has made me buy into a premise I don’t usually like. I’ve seen people carry off romances with socially unequal heroes and heroines, Big Secrets, Big Misunderstandings, prostitutes, and thieves. None of these are favorites with me, but if you can sell me on the characters’ motivation, if you can make it make sense, then I’ll go along for the ride. My most recent example, Meredith Duran’s Fool Me Twice, had three of those things, and it still worked for me.

And when don’t those themes work? Pretty often. You have to have a reason you’re not sharing your Big Secret, a reason you became a prostitute, and probably a convincing villain for your Big Misunderstanding. We’re not going to buy it if you just use romance novel shorthand and depend on the hard work of better writers who have gone before.

So here’s my nickel’s worth of free reviewer advice: You can go one of two routes. The first is to go big or go home, a la Swiss Family. If you are going to have a beat a bunch of armed pirates, you should probably have them do it with a nine year old on an elephant, a log booby trap, and…wasn’t there a zebra? Or have your twenty-seven year old, Fifty Shades of Fucked Up anti-hero make more money than Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, because your whole story is already silly anyway.

Second route: Sell it. Have a reason your villain is taking Joseph out of the Christmas story, or your heroine is stealing documents, or your dashing, rich hero refuses to marry. A reason that makes sense and holds up to scrutiny. There are no shortcuts with this, and your reason can’t be “Because Romance Novel”.  Believe me, we’ll know.

 

 

TBR Challenge – New to Me Books

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

fairshine I went back to “Sunday” in the Back to School Challenge this month, to read the second of the books I’d chosen for that day.

The prompt was

- Read a book that has in its title the word “Sunday”, “Sun”, “light”, “shine”, “hot, “star” or “day”, or any variation of these words, or a word you think might have a similar connotation.

and I’d chosen a book by the British author, Sylvia Thorpe called Fair Shine the Day, which is a piece of historical fiction with romantic elements set during the time of the English Civil War. This period of English history seems to get a lot less attention than Tudor times, the Regency, or Victorian eras when it comes to historical romance and I can’t quite work out why. There’s plenty of actual history to get one’s teeth into, and of course, that whole Royalist/Puritan divide is, I’d have thought, a romance writer’s dream. (more…)

TBR Challenge – Back to School and Some Catching Up to Do

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

gatheringstorm February proved to be quite the “challenging” month for me and I finished only four books that applied to my challenges. The good news is that reading three of those books helped me finish off my geography challenge. None of the books were standouts to me unfortunately, although A Gathering Storm by Rachel Hore was certainly the most memorable.

In Hore’s novel, Lucy Cardwell’s father seemed to have some sort of breakdown shortly after his mother’s death. He divorced his wife and seemed obsessed with some strange branch of family history. When Lucy sorts through his papers she finds out about an uncle she never knew she had. Intrigued she finds herself visiting her father’s childhood home, the once beautiful Carlyon Manor. The house has burned down but the village near it is still around and it is there that she meets Beatrice, an old woman who knows all the secrets of Lucy’s family. Starting in the 1930’s and ending shortly after the war we learn of a boy, a girl and a breathtaking adventure. (more…)

My Favorite Mysteries of 2013

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

female-detectiveNext Monday – February 17 – we will announce the results of All About Romance’s Annual Reader Poll for the best romance novels published in 2013. Working on the poll has me thinking about the best books published in 2013 from my other favorite genre, mystery.

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Random Thoughts on Nonfiction Reading

Monday, February 10th, 2014

nonfictionbookclubI admit it: I’m a genre fiction reader. Nonfiction reads rarely find their way on to my TBR. Last year only 5% of my reading was nonfiction. The majority of that was religious reading done through a church book club. The one other read was a Dr. Phil book a friend told me had really helped her. She wanted to discuss it and I found it an easy if not exactly scintillating read.

This year I’ve gotten off to a stronger start. I’ve already finished four nonfiction books but once more they are religious reads and revolve around the subject we are doing in the church book group. To shake things up I’ve begun Living with the Enemy: What Really Happened by Roy McLoughlin which details the German occupation of the Channel Islands during WWII. So far I’ve found it an intense (and shocking) read. I’ve also been reading Hitler’s Furies by Wendy Lowery which details the role of German women in the Nazi regime. This isn’t exactly cheerful reading but it is thought provoking and educational. The fascinating thing about history is that it reminds us that all those times we accuse a fiction book of not having a dose of reality, we are probably wrong. Reality trumps fiction in terms of being bizarre, emotional and just plain crazy.

When I look over my favorite nonfiction reads of the last several years I realize that it is as eclectic as my fiction reading. Here are five of my favorites:

Gift of a Letter by Alexandra Stoddard – this little gem of a book is dedicated to a rapidly declining art form — the letter. Brimming with enthusiasm for her subject Stoddard gives us history, anecdotes and tips all designed to help us revive this intimate and underappreciated form of communication.

Living a Beautiful Life by Alexandra Stoddard – Stoddard invites us to add beauty to everyday living through simple things. It’s a lovely way to remind yourself that beauty really is all around us.

Home Warming: Secrets to Making Your House a Welcoming Place by Emilie Barnes – My home is more practical than lovely but I love to read books that describe the best ways to make a space both functional and pretty.

The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense by Suzette H Elgin – This is a must read for anyone who has a passive-aggressive in their life. Wonder why you feel insulted when you technically weren’t insulted? Learn the secrets behind those conversations that have frustrated you for years.

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell – This fabulously written account of what goes into being successful is an absolutely riveting read.

A lot of these books are out of print because they are older reads I’ve picked up at various sales. Still, they are books that have moved me, helped me or enlightened me in meaningful ways. It’s nice to have books like that in your life – books that haven’t just entertained or taken your breath away with their artistry but books that have really helped you know more about yourselves or others.

So what about you? Do you read nonfiction? What are the books that top your favorites list? What would you recommend adding to my TBR?

Maggie Boyd

 

 

Romance was reviewed in the NYT…. Let’s make it happen again!

Saturday, February 8th, 2014

book-review-podcast-logo2009-articleInline-v3In December I interviewed historical romance author Sarah MacLean. I had contacted her because of a letter she had sent to the New York Times taking them to task for excluding romance authors and their works from a “Sex” issue published in the Sunday Book Review. (more…)

Getting Started on Those 2014 TBR Challenges!

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

threeriverranch Once again, I’m participating in the multi-blog TBR Challenge but this year we’re doing things a little differently here on the blog as a couple of my fellow AAR reviewers are working on reading challenges, too. So, each month we’ll all be talking reading challenges and if there are any challenges you want to hop onto for yourself, you’ll find links down at the bottom.

My challenge for the month was to read something short – a category novel or a novella or short story. I tend to buy plenty of category romance so this was no problem for me. When Entangled launched, I had purchased several books from their various category lines to try and a few were still sitting unread on the Kindle, so this time around I decided to try Three River Ranch by Roxanne Snopek. Three River Ranch is a 2012 release from the Bliss line, a line that seems to feature American settings, strong family/home/community themes and fairly low-level sensuality. I have a feeling this line would appeal to readers of Harlequin American Romance or Special Edition. (more…)

Why I Love Reading Challenges

Friday, January 3rd, 2014

books.lots Back in 2008 several readers on the Romance Potpourri Board discovered they shared a similar problem – they weren’t reading much romance anymore. That problem had led to a secondary dilemma – since they were still buying romance novels they had rapidly growing TBR piles. The solution arrived at was the 9 in 2009 Reading Challenge. Participants were encouraged to read just 9 novels off their TBR that met specific criteria. For most the challenge was an unexpected success and thus the unofficial AAR Romance Potpourri Board Reading Challenge was born. (more…)

Starting a New Year

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

penpaper There’s something about starting a new year that just feels fresh and inspiring. New places yet to see, new books still to be read, and somehow on that first day of each year, the world itself feels a little more new.

I moved recently, and as I’ve been unpacking my books (and even with my Kindle, there are still tons of paper books!), I find myself thinking about how I want to be reading in 2014. Here are some of the things important to me for next year:

Discovering new-to-me authors – I started reviewing at AAR when I was not long out of school. 2013 marked my 10th year here, and one of my favorite things about being a reviewer has been the discovery of books and authors I probably would not have discovered on my own otherwise. AAR is what led me to (more…)