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Queer Romance Month: HEA's for All of Us to Read

We All Need Stories badgeAt RWA this summer, I had the opportunity to have lunch with a bunch of amazing interesting women (Elisabeth Lane, Carolyn Crane, Joanna Bourne, Rose Lerner and Sarah Lyons) at a small french restaurant. During lunch  Sarah Lyons extended an invitation to all us on behalf of Alexis Hall to write a post for this year's Queer Romance Month.

My first thought was YES! soon followed by oof. I read and enjoy Queer romance, wanted to celebrate it and I review it here on my blog. The oof was from trying to think about how to approach it.  I've spent a large part of my year thinking about how to support those with queer identities as a cis straight parent and friend. I've tried very hard to shut up and listen and be there for them in every way I can, whether it be in celebration and laughter or pain and tears. So my post is about how reading Queer Romance has helped see  HEA's for people I love whose stories didn't get told when I was growing up.  I am not sure when the post will be live today but I believe sometime around dinner time.  I'll add a link here once it is up.  

Happily-Ever-Afters For All Us to Read

There have been so many great posts this month about identity, discovery, and life, so please check them out.

 


Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

41LaBpUJBHL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_My brother is seven years younger than me.  As a family we frequently talk about how he grew up in a different family than my sister and I did.  My parents were married, my father juggling night-school and a full-time job, while my mom was a stay-at-home mom. My parents were just generally getting started in life (starter cars, starter homes). His parents were divorced, both had busy careers and there was generally more than enough money for travel and fun. As a result our attitudes toward our parents and our expectations are often very different.  His experience of dating and romantic relationships is also vastly different than mine and not just because we are different genders. I was married at 21 to someone I met in college, starting a family at 24.  He is in his early 30's, had some serious heartbreak and much to my parents's frustration is not even close to settling down. My brother is also Aziz Ansari's age, so as I listened to Modern Romance, I couldn't help but feel it was listening to someone explain the vastly different landscape of love and romance my brother is navigating.

Modern Romance was an interesting but not wholly successful book. The mix of comedy and serious research was often uneven and uncomfortable.  In the audio version, Ansari's comedic voice was irreverent, self-deprecating and occasionally biting but didn't always transition well in segments meant to be insightful or argumentative.  The chapters that focused on the international dating scene (Qatar, Japan, Argentina & France), were dull and lacking in any real attempt at research. The observations felt superficial and poorly researched.

The more interesting chapters were the ones were Ansari tried to make sense of his generation's dissatisfaction with dating. his own personal struggles to connect, the effort it takes to build lasting relationships in a world full of seemingly endless choices. His advice to become aware and self-conscious about the way experiences in the "phoneworld" bleed into face to face interactions and to invest more than one date into the people a dater encounters were thoughtful and sensible.

I really appreciated the way the book tried to place in historical context the vast changes in expectations people have about romantic relationships, and marriage. They provided a wonderful overview about the way expectation of personal happiness,  increased personal autonomy and economic freedom have reshaped how people view marriage and romance.

Ansari does acknowledge in the introduction that the book is not fully inclusive of LGBT relationships and instead deals for the most part with only heterosexual relationships. While I understood their choice, the lack was felt most strongly in the chapters that addressed how and why people have entered marriage relationships over time. Much of his discussion on the rise of soulmate marriage over good-enough marriage feeds into the growing cultural acceptance of same-same marriage.  I also felt that the book could have benefited from a woman's voice, as I felt Ansari was often too sympathetic to men who ineptly try to message women online and he generally glosses over many of dangers and inconveniences women encounter in the dating scene.

Overall the book was entertaining, pointing out the positive and negatives of the new relationship marketplace. I feel like I have a better understanding of the unique challenges my brother's generation faces.  It makes me wonder how much it will change again by the time my daughters are both out there dating too.

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The Girl Next Door (Bend or Break #3) by Amy Jo Cousins

811EYqcZ1iL._SL1500_This is book three of Amy Jo Cousins's mixed/crossover NA series Bend or Break for Samhain. I have not read the first two books which were M/M, and while some past conflicts and events are referenced the book stands well on it own. 

Cash is a former rich/jock/party boy who has radically remade his life. He left a job at his dad's firm, leaving the fancy car and downtown condo behind, to go work his dream job. He has been working in the inner city coaching kids for little more than minimum wage for two years and generally just working very hard at doing things the right way.  He has never felt like the smartest kid in the room, but is very aware of how massively privileged he has been in life, so he is doing his best to do something worthwhile and real.  But his life is complicated by the surprise arrival of his runaway gay teen cousin.  He doesn't want to screw things up further for his cousin, so he calls on his best friends Tom and Reese  for help. Tom and Reese urge him to call Steph. 

Steph is the reason for Cash's life change only she doesn't know it. She broke his heart when she ended their friends with benefits arrangement, to pursue a relationship with a closeted Muslim girl their last year of college together.  Although it has been two years since Cash and Steph have had any real contact when Cash needs help she drops everything to help him. 

I liked how quickly Steph and Cash fell back into their old habits of sexual flirtation and interest and how that was both very good (in bed) and very bad (emotionally) for them.  Their sexual compatibility and interest has never been an issue, but falling into bed together easily just masks their inability to honestly confront and talk about their feelings for one another. They are both playing the same game, hoping not to be hurt if they don't push for more and if they don't define what they are doing together.  The what-are-we-doing-but-I-want-more conversation between Steph and Cash gets pushed back into the background for a very long time, but once they do have it is spectacular. I loved how big and out of control their conversation became.  It felt like just the kind of friendship-splitting fight that could and would happen if a couple have been dancing around each other emotionally for months.

I liked the book as a whole a lot, particularly the exploration of the complicated ways friendship/relationships rules develop. There was an incredibly hot threesome (mentioned in the blurb) that I thought was fantastically executed but that I struggled somewhat to make sense of story wise. In talking to a friend about it I  realized that I might have been carrying some Erom expectations into this book as I don't usually read NA.  I had expected the threesome to serve as challenge or confirmation for Cash and Stephany and their relationship. But they were at the same place emotionally at the end of the threesome as they were at the beginning.  Cash trusts Steph and is blown away by her sexual adventurousness.  And it did not turn into a relationship test. What we do see is what a loving, tender and all around good guy Cash is by the way he treats Varun through out. We also see a continued exploration of Cash's straight but not narrow sexuality. However the threesome might have been pivotal for Varun and I'm curious if it will be revisited in Varun's book.  

Despite the story being told exclusively from Cash's point of view the story sometimes felt crowded. While Steph is first and foremost in  Cash's mind, his life is complicated. He is trying to figure out how to make his budget balance, how to take care of his cousin, how to do well at his job, how to be a good friend and at the same time figure out how to keep Steph in his life however much distance and artificial obstacles she wants to put between them. I thought his realization of how to finally achieve that was wonderful and true to his character and I can only wish Cash and Steph many many years of happiness.

I received a review copy of The Girl Next Door from the author, Amy Jo Cousins.


Blogger Blackout -- Or why online reading communities matter to me.

B0jelcuCYAAM44xFor as long as I've been online, I've gone online to talk about books. Back in the 1990's it was on small websites and discussion boards, in the 00's on social media and blogs. The internet for me above anything else has been a place where I find other readers with which share opinions and perspectives. The kinds of books I went online to talk about has changed from Fantasy & Sci-fi to Comic Books & YA to Romance but talking about books and participating in online communities of readers has always been a huge part of my online life. The friendships and connections I've made online are real ones. The people behind the screen-names matter to me, their opinions matter to me and their real lives matter to me. My life is made richer because over the years I've been able to talk about books I love with a stay-at-home mom in the deep south, teachers in Quebec, Pennsylvania & California, doctors in Indiana, a teen-ager from No.Cali, the "baron" in New England and a reporter in Memphis among the many others.

Auth0rs have sometimes been part of my reading communities and I haven't had a regretful interaction with one yet. Nearly every author I've interacted with online has been gracious, respectful and encouraging, passionate about books and readers themselves. I am thankful for the lovely email Anne McAffery wrote back to my sister in 1992,  the emails I've exchanged with Mr.Shanower about his comic books series Age of Bronze over the years, and the tweet exchanges I participate in today with some of my favorite Romance novel writers.

However positive my interactions have been, however lucky I've been, other bloggers, readers and reviewers have not been. I've seen author verbally abuse readers, some have been harassed by street teams, been subjected to tantrums and now most appallingly been subjected to stalking, while their stalker is applauded. I am just plain angry to see that kind of behavior rewarded and supported, and to see fantastic voices quieted out of fear or disgust.

On this blog I regularly review books I obtain directly from authors or from publishers via NetGalley or Edelweiss but I am not  someone's else's promo platform.  This blog is my platform where I alone choose which books I want to review.  If I love a book, I will praise it and promote it. If I dislike it I will do my best to articulate why that book didn't work for me in a way that someone else might be able to recognize if it is or is not a book for them.  I don't end up reading all the books I receive, but I do try to review all the review books I actually read. I always strive to write fair, honest and articulate reviews.  

Even though my reviews tend to be positive (I rarely finish books that bore me, or enrage me, and I don't often write DNF reviews), I reserve the right to be critical of story elements or choices that didn't work for me.  My reviews are my opinions and reactions, and they are not absolutist  judgements, but I hope they are valuable and helpful to other readers. This might be my hobby but I strive to be professional in all my interactions.  

One of the best thing about online reader-reader friendships and relationships is learning how something that appeals to one reviewer is the very same thing that repulses me.  Something that crossed the line for me, was the very thing someone else is looking for. The trope or HEA one reader loved is the very same I  dislike. There is also something precious when you find a fellow reader whose reviews you can trust to lead you to good books because you have a reading kinship.

So today I join other book bloggers in choosing not to publish any new book reviews for a week.  I've not yet decided what I will write instead. I do this out of respect for fellow reviewers & readers and out of a desire to show support to those who are having their lives disrupted because of hurtful and abusive author/publisher behavior.

 To read what others have said about the ongoing situations and how they are participating: Smart Bitches, Trashy BooksVacuous MinxRomance Around the CornerLove In the MarginsBook ThingoSonomalass’s BlogWendy the SuperlibrarianKaetrin’s Musings, Dear Author, & Miss Bates Reads Romance

 


Private Politics by Emma Barry

The second book in the Easy Part series by Emma Barry, Private Politics is the story of Washington fundraiser Alyse Phillips and political blogger Liam Nussbaum. Alyse didn’t always know what she wanted out-of life, only what she didn’t want. She knew she didn’t want to have a just-good-enough-marriage in the upper East Side just like her parents and sister. Alyse essentially stumbled into a career she loves. She is passionate about her work raising funds for an international girl’s literacy non-profit, even if most people see her as a glorified party-planner. Often dismissed by others because of her good looks and sparkling persona, Alyse is distraught to discover irregularities in donation paperwork as she gathered materials for their auditor. Alyse turns to her roommate Millie for help, who calls her fiance’s good friend Liam to help Alyse investigate and figure out what her options are.

Liam Nussbaum has been infatuated with Alyse for months, a crush Alyse does little to encourage. When Alyse turns to Liam for help, he is wary and guarded. Exposing the bad-actors in at YWR could catapult his political blog to the big-leagues but working with Alyse could either be his best shot at getting closer to her or put his heart through the wringer. Liam with his round soft face, less than chiseled body is acutely aware of how out of his league Alyse is.

Private Politics is well rooted in Washington DC, the city’s pulse and local color a vivid part of the book and Alyse and Liam are distinctive and original main characters. Alyse is beautiful and knows just how to use her beauty as distraction and manipulation. She is not mean-spirited just calculating and skilled at managing people. She knows the value of appearances, of head tilts, timely words, and has the right touch to make her a very successful fundraiser. She is a serious person who excels at appearing un-serious. Liam is affected by her, infatuated even, but all the same deeply aware of the artificiality of the composed persona Alyse presents to the world and treasures any genuine interaction he has with her.

While Alyse is careful and calculated, Liam is a not. He open,genuine,earnest, brilliant and principled. He has built up his college blogging hobby into a thriving small business. The transition isn’t without growing pains, as Liam is learning to trust his staff with editorial decisions and to take the necessary journalistic risks order to make waves. He is the perfect anti-dote to the alpha-hole hero. He is a responsible, thoughtful adult who cares how the decisions he makes affects the people around him.

When a threatening note pushes Alyse out of her apartment, Liam invites her to stay at his place, much to the amusement of their mutual friends who have been waiting for Liam to make a move for months. Liam’s struggles with the appropriateness of expressing and acting on his desires and complicating both their lives. I just loved them together, how they surprise each other, and how hard it is for them to negotiate their relationship. I loved the romance, how Liam’s honesty about his feelings and wants both spook and fascinate Alyse. I loved how Alyse slowly comes to see Liam as increasingly attractive the more she gets to know him. I loved their self-deprecating inner voices, their banter and the perfect dose of investigative hijinks. As soon as I finished Private Politics I jumped online and bought Special Interests.

Come to Washington for the political intrigue and fall in love with Alyse and Liam, who are almost too smart for their own good. 

 

I am grateful for the review copy of Private Politics provided by Carina Press.


Seeing myself in Romance Novels

In the last day or so there has been some discussion on twitter and Dear Author about a upcoming Kristan Higgins' book that a blogger cited as part of Harlequin's strategy to address the overwhelming whiteness of their books.  The cover features to white-looking protagonists, one who is described as Irish American and another as half-Puerto Rican.  As mother of two half-Puerto Rican children, I am more than happy to count a half-Puerto Rican character as move toward diversity, however I do think the blogger/article author over-stated the impact the book is likely to have and Dear Author commenters are right to point out that there is something very off about having this promoted as in any way ground-breaking.

I don't go out of my way to find Latino/Hispanic characters but I am almost always excited to see them.  Finding Hispanic/Latino characters that feels right is hard can be hard because we are such a complex fluid bunch.  We have immigrant/native Latinos, legal and undocumented, urban and rural, poor and rich, Spanish or Spanglish or English speaking, and that isn't touching the complex brew of racial, national and cultural heritages we carry. An author could be trying to craft complex Latino characters and still get slammed for not crafting one just right.

As Puerto Rican of predominately White European descent, growing up I have often feel the weird outsiderness of people judging me as not Puerto Rican enough, because my skin is not dark enough, or my Spanish accent not strong enough.  One my most painful moments in high school when I had a classmate and rival for exchange student slot, said to me that because I was lighter skinned than he was, I would have a easier to time fitting in at the rural Western NY school we were  doing the exchange with, thus he should be selected the opportunity because he was more Puerto Rican than I was.  In the years since then I have come to appreciate the privilege my white skin and my minimally accented English grant me.   For the most part, unless I tell someone, people don't immediately know I am Latina. I don't wear my culture on my skin, and that is awkward thing in our heavily racially focused American culture.  I have ended up hearing many a bigoted comment from people who don't realize they are talking about my people or had people try to compliment me in weird ways because I don't fit their stereotype. So as result I usually extra glad to see Latino characters with non-stereotypical backgrounds, characters whose racial/cultural identity is more complicated.

Last year I really enjoyed Audra North's One Night in Santiago because the hero  Bruno Komarov, was a Chilean American with Russian ancestors.  He was California born and bred but with strong historical and cultural ties to his parents and grand-parent's Chile.  In Laugh, Mary Ann Rivers' upcoming book the heroine is a first-generation Mexican American, born in the US to migrant worker parents.  Although she is described as having her father's strong Mayan features, and dark hair, she was raised English speaking, and the strongest elements in her identity are not necessary about being Mexican-American but being a daughter of a migrant farm laborer,  her grief and urban farm.  As I read the book I ended up contacting Rivers over Twitter to ask her about Nina's use of the curse word 'joder' un-conjugated as replacement for 'fuck'.  It jarred me when I read it because I am more familiar with the conjugated uses of 'joder'.  Turned out that Mary Ann Rivers had Nina use it that way, because the primarily-English speaking 1st and 2nd Generation Mexican-Americans she recorded speaking as part of her research used it that way.  I loved learning that.  Cursing is so regional in Spanish, and it just added to the building of character that is uniquely themselves and not just a token.

Last year I read most of Serena Bell's "Yours Keep” which featured an undocumented Dominican Spanish tutor, heroine, Ana Travares. While ended up bailing on reading the whole book because some ass-hattery by the love interest Ethan, I thought Bell did a great job crafting a complex Dominican family for Ana.  The book actually touched on some of the complicated racial politics within Latino cultures, where variations in skin shade/hair texture within a family are often commented upon and whiteness often privileged.   I liked having this internal racism acknowledged and getting that detail right gave me confidence that the author had some actual knowledge of the workings of Dominican families.

But sometimes a character can be given all sorts of little details, and still not feel true. I read and enjoyed "A Righteous Kill" by Kerrigan Byrne, even though the hero, Luca Ramirez described as half-Puerto Rican, half-Brazilian, felt off to me.  His mother was supposed to have been a Puerto Rican underage stripper from El Paso, TX who got involved with violent "euro-trash" Brazilian that gave Luca nothing but grief and abuse.  Beyond mentioning their ethnicity, there was little about this back-story that carried into the characterization of Luca.  Maybe it wouldn't have felt that way to others, but I thought, why go to the trouble of giving this character this back-story and not do something with it.  Ramirez was completely disconnected to his family or ancestral cultures and so it was nothing more than window dressing. But maybe I am being unfair, and out there are Puerto Rican/Brazilian Texans for whom Luca feels familiar but I doubt it.  I thought Hero, the heroine's Irish-Russian, Shakespeare spouting spy family received much more development and weight.

One thing that does ring true in all these recent depiction of Latinos is the fact that they are entering into multicultural/interracial relationships.  According to  recent Pew Studies, Latinos and Asians have the highest rates of intermarriage to whites, and some of the highest rates of acceptance of marrying out.  In my family, all my siblings and step-siblings have either married out or involved with people  partners who not Latino (White, Indian-American, Japanese-Brazilian), and all but one of my high school best-friends have also married out.  This is my reality and I certainly want to see more of it in Romance novels I read.