Tuesday, January 07, 2014

My Year of Reading Romances

Whenever I read a ridiculous op-ed about the state of YA literature or some such, where the author has clearly read five YA books total, I want to sit them down, give them a stern talking-to and a book list. Whenever I meet a person who "really wants to write for kids because it is so easy," I want to box their ears and force them to read a mighty stack of picture books.

Here's what I think: If you want to consider yourself an authority on any category or genre of book, you have to read at least 100 books in it. 

If you want your knowledge to be about the CURRENT state of the genre, then a handful of "classics" are fine, but the majority should be published in the last 5 or so years. Seriously. Spend a year reading your face off in any one category or genre, and I assure you, you'll end up with favorite authors, pet peeves, a working understanding of tropes, a strong grasp on what is actually being published, and most of all, opinions that are based on something besides conjecture. You'll be, if not a real expert, at least an avid amateur who speaks the language.

So, okay, about Romances. When I was twelve or so, my good friend Pamela and I would raid her mom's romance book library. Pam's mom read a TON of mass market paperback romances (mostly featuring Broad-Shouldered and Smouldering Highlanders), and she made frequent trips to the local paperback exchange to refresh her collection, so we always had something new to read. Then Pam and her folks moved out of state, and I went away to high school, then college -- and while I always read a lot, Romance Novels were utterly forgotten.

Until late 2012, when I bought a romance e-book on somebody's recommendation. I don't know what the title was -- just that it was a good choice because it was nothing related to work, just pure pleasure reading, and relaxing fun during a stressful time of year. And as soon as I finished, I bought another. And another. And my whole Christmas break I devoured them. And somehow, January happened, and I was still reading.

ANYway, I decided to start keeping track of what I read starting Jan 1, 2013. I read about 150 romance novels in 2013. (Of course I also read kids and YA books, and some regular fiction and nonfiction, and books and manuscripts for work -- I'm not counting those.) The vast majority of those (130 or so) were Historical Romances, and probably 100 of those were published in the last five years. So yeah. I'm caught up. I may not be an expert, but I really do know this genre quite well. And while my obsession may have run its course, I'd still be open to repping something of this nature if I found one I loved.

In the meantime, I'll be a fan from the sidelines. Here's what I tend to like: a bit of adventure, a ton of witty banter, preferably a cool brainy heroine who does something besides simper, and if there is cross-dressing or an unusual setting, all the better! In no particular order, these were some of the books that stuck with me during the Great Romance Read of 2013 -- Maybe you'll read some of these and love them too?

Courtney Milan - HEIRESS EFFECT: All of Milan's books are terrific, but I really love this Brothers Sinister series. In this one, an extremely rich girl who is not marriage-minded does everything possible (short of contracting a contagious disease) to get potential suitors to stay the hell away from her. Witty and fun and oh also I totally ugly-cried at a certain point.

Elizabeth Essex - ALMOST A SCANDAL: Ugh I love this book. A girl dresses as her brother and takes over for him in the Navy. She acquits herself well and nobody figures out her ruse. . . well, nobody except the Captain, that is. Too bad they are off at sea and he can't expose her for a fraud OR deposit her back in London . . . she'll just have to keep dressing as a boy and, well . . .  *rowr*

Tessa Dare - ANY DUCHESS WILL DO: All of Dare's books are delightful - most set in the little village of "Spindle Cove" (aka Spinster Cove), a beach community full of ladies who are pretty much off the marriage mart for one reason or another. In this one, a Duke is charged by his mother to get married. She declares she can make any lady into an appropriate Duchess, so he just needs to choose. NOW. So he picks the most inappropriate wench he can find, determined to foil his mother's plan. (Bonus: has a bookselling subplot!)

Meredith Duran - A LADY'S LESSON IN SCANDAL: A girl from the slums breaks into the home of a nobleman and holds him up at gunpoint, determined to right a wrong done to her mother years before. But she finds the little old man she expects is in fact long gone - and her captive is young, hotblooded, naked as a jaybird, and convinced that she is a secret heiress.

Cecilia Grant - A LADY AWAKENED: A widow's estate is about to go to a real jerk. Sooo she conceives of a cunning plan... if she can prove she's with child, she'll get to keep the estate and the people who depend on her will not be harmed. But she only has 30 days... *cue sexytimes*

Sherry Thomas - NOT QUITE A HUSBAND: Actually I've liked all Sherry Thomas's books, but I chose this one because it is set largely in India and Pakistan, and features a tough woman doctor. It wasn't my favorite while I was reading it,  but I've thought a lot about it in retrospect. Pretty much I just think Thomas is a swell writer, who tends to deal in outrageous plots (Another one, BEGUILING THE BEAUTY, is about a transatlantic ocean voyage, a widow disguised as a Baroness, and revenge!)

What have been some of YOUR favorites?

6 comments:

  1. Anonymous1:48 PM

    It's funny you should post this, because today I typed up my list of all my mother-daughter book club books, and I was reflecting on the favorites we've read as a book club. Although they are not genre-specific, of the fifty titles I typed, here are my top five:

    The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
    The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
    Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
    The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
    The Princes Academy by Shannon Hale

    Thanks for posting, Jennifer!

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  2. These romances weren't published in the last five years but I really like them:

    Wild Child by Mary Jo Putney
    The Viscount Who Loved Me by Julia Quinn
    Elusive Love (but I can't remember the author--it's REALLY old)
    Small Town Girl by LaVyrle Spencer

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  3. OMG I have to read A LADY AWAKENED, like, this instant.

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  4. I had an hour bus ride to and from school in junior high and high school (I lived way out in the country), so I read a romance novel every day. It was usually a Harlequin because the library across the street from school allowed patrons to check out an unlimited number of those at a time. On Fridays I'd stock up with six or eight, just in case I had time over the weekend. I've moved on to slightly more complex plot structures and broadened my horizons in the last thirty years! I still love a good romance (anything by Mary Jo Putney), although I read much more middle grade and YA since that's what I write. I have The Princess Academy, Wild Child and Small Town Girl on my shelves, but I'm going to look up the others. Thanks for a fun post!

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  5. Thanks for the recommendations! As soon as I hit "publish" on this comment, I'm totally going to purchase "Almost a Scandal" as well as "A Lady's Lesson In Scandal".

    I *also* love Tessa Dare and Sherry Thomas! These two ladies are always a great read!

    My recommendation--- I recently read Sara Ramsey's "Heiress Without A Cause" (#1) - which I rated 5 stars on my website. I'm now on book #2. Not quite as good, but good enough for me to keep reading the series, which has 4 books total.

    http://www.sararamsey.com/

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  6. I am not a huge romance reader, mostly because I blush excessively for the protagonist's sake, but I have a few that I got for their historic elements. Duchess By Night was a favorite for the cross dressing element and intrigue. It felt like a less dark Jane Eyre with funny twists. Here's the goodreads link:

    https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2283547.Duchess_By_Night?from_search=true

    As for your recommendation about becoming an expert by reading, I am out to do just that in PB, MG, and YA. Having two daughters who love story time before bed helps!

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