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#RomBkLove Day 31: HEAs

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#RomBkLove Day 31: Why are HEAs are essential & necessary for you? What must a HEA deliver? What makes for a swoon-worthy HEA?


Melissa Blue is not wrong. I came to romance when my family was going through a rough time and I just couldn't read one more dark dystopian fantasy. The security of the HEA, lets me ride out dark or angst-heavy conflicts and to take risks with settings and premises because I can trust the author will not leave me in despair, but always work the couples back from the brink.

However all HEAs are not created equal. Some are rushed, others too pat.  For me the HEAs have to be earned on the page, rather than magically resolved pages from the end. Character growth and true repentance for bad actions and choices, needs to happen on the page in order for the restoration or establishment of relationships to be believable.  However I don't need babylogues or extensive epilogues. I am comfortable with HFNs, especially when relationships are new or couples are very young.  

My husband and I are approaching our 19th anniversary in less than a month. We married young, and have now outlasted our parents marriages by more than half a decade.  We have had to figure out this HEA business on our own and our marriage has evolved as we have grow up, finished educations, changed careers and raise our family. So for me a HEAs doesn't mean the lovers will never again struggle, and that things will always work out how they want, just that they are committed to facing those struggles and setbacks together.

What do you look for from a HEA? 

 


#RomBkLove Day 30: Old School/Classics

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#RomBkLove Day 30: Old School/Classics Which romances stand the test of time? What elements do you miss?

I came to romance within the last 6 years. I haven't read a lot of Old School romances  and I am honestly a bit fuzzy about what qualifies.  I think most of the older romances I have read, date from the period immediately after so I am curious to hear how others define old-school and what eras they are referring to when they use the term?  Because there are some older romances that I am just scared to try.

A few years back I sent in HABO for honest-to-goodness bodice ripper I read one rainy holiday weekend when I was around 12.  The awesome folks at Smart Bitches found it for me, but I honestly couldn't get past the summaries, to try reading it again.  It was one of those rapey sagas with hero that actually lashed the heroine so badly he left her back terribly scarred.

So what do you mean by Old School Romance?  Any I absolutely have to try?



#RomBkLove Day 29: Friendships

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#RomBkLove Day 29: Friendships. Bro-mances, Best Buds, Girlfriends, galpals, what are the best friendships in romance?

Friendship is super important to me as reader. I love romances where the protagonists have close friends, people who love and care for them and in many cases act as family. I actually keep a GR list for books that feature "great friend group" versus packs of frenemies or sexual rivals.  I have lived far from my family for most of my life, so friends have stepped in to fill that void, and acted as surrogate grandparents to our children, and essential part of our lives in every way.  While I love my spouse, I still need my friends and he needs his. We value and respect that.

One of my favorite things in Anne Bishop's The Other Series is Meg's human pack,  the women who grew from strangers into her family, and Meg's unique friendships with Erebus Sanguanati & The girls at the Lake. She and Simon might have a special deeper friendship, but Meg needs all these people in her life.

One of my favorite things in Beverly Jenkins' Forbidden were the friends Rhine and Eddy both had. Their friends challenged, encouraged and embraced them when they had hard choices to make.

Ruby Lang's Practice Perfect series has great friendships too.  Her three heroines are all doctors and work together. They give each other crap, and known when something is going wrong. The might snip at each other but it is out of love.  Olivia Dade's Lovestruck Librarians also features strong friendships if zany friendships.  Whether they are watching amateur hockey games together or forging dating profiles, these friends have each other's best interests at heart.

How essential are platonic relationships for you in Romance novels?


#RomBkLove Day 28: Novellas and Short Stories

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#RomBkLove Day 28: Novellas and Short Stories Short & Sexy? Which novellas deliver the HEAs?

In the last two years I have read three fantastic romance anthologies.  I adored The Brightest Day and Daughters of a Nation anthologies by  Kianna, Alexander, Alyssa Cole, Lena Hart & Piper Huguley.  Their stories were all set at different points in American history, and they are fantastic. Their stories packed their punches, tackling history, social issues and crafting beautiful HEA's.  I don't think these collections are still available digitally but all the novellas have been republished as stand-alones.

The third anthology that I adored was Gambled Away with included stories by Rose Lerner, Jeannie Lin,  Isabelle Cooper, Molly O'Keefe and Joanna Bourne.  This was collection of historical romances, all tied together by a gambling theme. The stories were great showcases of their writing talent. Each and everyone of them is worth tracking down.



#RomBkLove Day 27: Romance Icons

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#RomBkLove Day 27: Romance Icons Their names are synonymous with romance. Who are they? Where do you even start?

Growing up if I associated romance with anyone person, it was probably Barbara Cartland. Her all-pink ensembles, manor house and British accent where often featured on TV shows I watched as a kid.  But when I actually started reading romance two names more than any other kept coming up.  Nora Roberts and Georgette Heyer.  I would then look at their immense backlists and despair.  Where does one start?  Chronologically? With something on sale? A trusted rec?

In the end for both of them I ended up starting with a book that came with both recommendations and a low price point.  I bought a copy of the McKade brothers trilogy on sale, on the recommendation of several Nora fans.  I started Heyer with Venetia, for the same reasons.  Reading them has given me a better appreciation of the romance genre. I understand references to their work that previously passed me by.

What writers do you consider romance institutions? Are there any you are scared to try?


#RomBkLove Day 26: PNR, SFR, UF & Fantasy

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#RomBkLove Day 26: PNR, SFR, UF & Fantasy Magic, shifters & spaceships? Beyond the imaginative settings, what makes it special?

Magic, spaceships, shifters, I read them all. I love action, imaginative settings and I have a high tolerance for worldbuilding. In some ways I am more comfortable reading about kissing on the bridge of a spaceship than in corporate office. I came to Romance through PNR and UF and before I read romance I read SFR, UF and Fantasy for the romantic storylines.  These stories, whether it is the X-men or Tolkien, superheroes or mystical elves, helped me reflect about about our own world and many universal questions about humanity.  

PNR is really a huge genre, everything from mermaids to vampires and witches, and every mystical, supernatural creature in between. Personally I adore romances with Shifters. My favorite PNR is Nalini Singh's Psy-Changeling series. Her worldbuilding is imaginative and even though I sometimes have issue with some of the dynamics of her world (where are the LGBTIA people?? ), I am in too deep, I am deeply invested in the pack and family saga and the fascinating by the political suspense.

My favorite UF Series is probably Patricia Briggs Alpha and Omega series (a spin-off of her Mercy Thompson series).  It feature two wereworlves, Anna, a newly made wolf, who is neither a dominant or submissive wolf but something else. Anna had been forcibly turned and abused by her pack, and Charles, the chief enforcer for the supreme leader of the North American wolves, has been sent to investigate her pack and put things right. Their romance is gentle and sweet and it grows with each book as they learn about each other and how to make each other stronger. The stories have a lot suspense and political intrigue. 

I am currently reading a ton of SFR via KU, Ice Planet Barbarians. I was so skeptical (sex-toy like sex organs, aphrodisiac-pumping parasites), but the subtly expanding worldbuilding and family survival sagas aspect sneak attacked me into reading a dozen books about super-tall, blue, betailed aliens living in Hoth.  

But my SFR heart belongs to  Kit Rocha's amazing Beyond series. What started out as story about a diverse free-loving gang of bootleggers, carving out their own kind of happiness in the shadow of repressive city, grew into a sophisticated political saga, that grapples with the costs of war and moving beyond hedonism to building community, where family and belonging is not simply defined by blood relationships.

My favorite fantasy romance authors are probably Grace Draven whose Entreat Me (a retelling of Beauty and the Beast), is emotional and rich in characterization.

What do you read? Why?



#RomBkLove Day 25: Series & Sagas

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#RomBkLove Day 25: Series & Sagas: Comfort, Continuity, Connection? What is the appeal of long-running series?

 Two of my very favorite series are actually PNR and SFR so I am going to save them for tomorrow's post (Nalini Singh's Psy-Changeling Series and Kit Rocha's Beyond Books).

In the past year I have re-read or binge read a ton of series.  The shared world-building whether in PNR/SFR, Historical or Contemporaries, provide comfort and continuity to me. When I am so exhausted by the constant adversarial change in the world, going back to a familiar & welcoming place in my books is emotionally restful.  After an initial investment, in learning the world-building of particular series, I can sink into it deeper and deeper with each book. The only thing I don't love about series is that when they get better and better and I can't in good conscience tell someone to skip ahead because they would miss the gradual buildup of the story and not have as much meaningful pay-off.

Stephanie Laurens and Julia Quinn's big series (Cynsters and Bridgetons)  are not those kinds of series however. Their series share characters and setting but the books essentially stand-alone. What they share strongly is tone.  These two series were integral to my romance education. They both have things that I have sought again and again in romance: a great sense of the ridiculous and scene-stealing secondary characters.

In contemporary romance, the first series where I really became invested was Shannon Stacey's Kowalski Family books. Centered around a extended family in small-town NH. The family feels really genuine, the family is struggling and chafing because of big and small resentments, and unvoiced feelings. As the series progresses, many of these issues get resolved without them sinking into plasticky perfection. The romances are fun and sexy without being wacky, sweet without being saccharine. I just want to hug these Kowalskis and stay at their inn.  

Although I initially resisted, I fell deep into Kristen Ashley's sprawling and lightly interconnected series. While I read all the Rock Chick, The 'Burg and the new Magdalene series books, my heart is firmly in her Colorado Mountain books. Set in two small Colorado towns, Gnaw Bone and Carnal, these books have strong action & suspense plots, sprawling casts, and colorful secondary characters.  I cared about Sunny and Shambles  and Jim Billy and Nadine just as much as I cared about Tate and Lauren.  These books are cracky and have many things about them that drive me absolutely crazy (house-design porn and macho-insanity) but I fell for the friendships and the action.  I can't re-read one, without re-reading the rest.

What series do you return to? Why read series and sagas?


RWA15: Wrapping it up.

Right now my twitter feed is full of people saying goodbye and thank yous to everyone they have met this week and I can't help but want to favorite every post. I had wonderful friendships and connections with people before I came here but the time at RWA affirmed and deepened them.

RWA was exhausting, exhilarating and thought-provoking. Again and again I am struck with how accessible everyone is at this conference. I rode the elevator with some of my favorite authors, shared drinks with others at the bar. I had the fun of seeing authors be unapologetic fans of each other.

I loved that everyone wants to know what was the last book you loved.

 

I had the chance to smile and share with people just starting out writing Romance and people with 30+ plus years and dozens if not hundreds of novels to their name (or names) and every one of these people were impressive to me.

 

They are navigating a very tumultuous and ever-changing market.

 

They are trying to figure out how to hone their craft, how to best market their stories and how to cope with the pressures and stress of it all.

 

They do it because they love these stories. They love to read

 

& write them and they want to share them.

I was struck by the incredible variety within Romance. All the little nooks and niches people write in and for. I only had a chance to attend a fraction of the panels offered and I think depending on your track and interest you could walk away with a completely different conference expereince than mine.

 

Outside of the Keynotes, people had the opportunity to engage in the conference in different ways, and will take away different impressions.

 

I was happy to see a larger conversation about diversity and for that conversation to spill out of the sessions into the general conference.

 

When I was among other bloggers and readers I took part in a lot conversations about how fragmented and specialized the blogging community has become. There has been a lot of turnover and shifting of the conversation to different platforms away from traditional blogging. I'm a newcomer to blogging romance so a lot of the older voices were before my time, but it was still fascinating to see how the community has evolved and changed.

Many of conversations I had this week with writers centered on how much there is to do as a romance writer. Most people have day jobs and families to support.

 

They squeeze in writing around the fringes. Yet there is incredible pressure to produce, produce, produce.

 

The keynotes

 

spoke again and again of slowing down to think, slowing down and refocusing on their love of writing, slowing down and connecting with others. As a reader, I know that I always want a new novel or work from an author I love but I am always happy to wait for it. I rather have a late novel, that has been well edited, and produced than one that was rushed out. I can wait for quality. But it is clear that writers feel pressured to give readers what they want as soon as possible.

 

The panel of depression was incredibly powerful. Again and again the reminder to love and care for yourself, by knowing yourself and doing for yourself what you would do for a friend really stuck with me.

 

I am so glad I came. I hugged so many people

 

(probably a couple who didn't want to be hugged, sorry Erin!) and I laughed a lot.

 

I've gone to lots of conferences with booklovers but it was such a treat to be at conference with people who don't even question but instead celebrate the very things I love to read the most.

I hope everyone had as good of an experience as I did. I know I will be back for another. Safe travels home everyone!

 


But I had a plan! Organizing my reading & reviewing life.

Screenshot 2015-04-21 09.02.19I'm coming up fast on my second anniversary as book blogger/reviewer. So I've been doing a lot of thinking in the past few months about how and why I do this.  As reviewer one of the biggest perks and challenges are ARCs.  Free books offered by publishers and authors for review consideration. ARCs are both a blessing and curse.  They are a blessing in that they allow me to try books I might have not tried otherwise.  But ARCs come with implicit and sometimes explicit expectations.

When I first started using NetGalley, I was using it as a librarian. Which meant I requested books to evaluate purposes.  Often I requested for a chance to look  at the format more closely or double check it had the content I was looking for.  I didn't feel any responsibility to offer any additional feedback except through my ordering. Eventually however I started using my NetGalley account to request books that interested me personally (Romance & adult fiction), and  I started writing reviews since I was not requesting those books as a Librarian.  Then somewhere along the line NetGalley changed their dashboard and user profile.  They started posting reviewing/request stats. Mine were abysmal (under 30%), because I had dug myself a pretty huge hole during my library evaluation copy request period.  Because I am easily affected by grades, seeing the stats in my profile made me more selective. While I'm as susceptible to the lure of a pretty cover and interesting blurb as the next person (okay...maybe more so),  I stopped requesting unless I was absolutely sure I wanted to read it or someone I trusted a lot told me I really should try it.  As a result my request to review stats started climbing, and I don't have as many unread ARCs haunting my TBR.  My stats are still under what NetGalley thinks should be the right amount (hoovering around 50% vs 80%) but I don't feel so badly now.

One of biggest challenges as a reviewer however is not the over-abundance of ARCs but the fact that I'm a moody/emotional reader. I have never had much success reading on a schedule.   When I feel like reading, it is all I want to do.  I walk around with my book, and steal moments of reading whenever I can.   But reading is not discipline for me, even if it is habit. I like to read to everyday, but every so often I get stuck and I can't power through. Maybe I don't have the right thing to read, or I'm not ready to return to a book that I was enjoying but it is going to take me places I don't feel like going to.

 I really respect people who can read one book cover to cover without picking something else in between, but I rarely do that, even with books I adore.  One of my favorite things about reading on a e-reader is that no one needs to know about my poly-readerish way. They don't have to know that I read sections from six different books yesterday, they only see that I'm reading.  The only place they can see cheating ways is if people peek at my currently-reading shelf on Goodreads.  Late last year I started tracking my reading on GR more faithfully for two reasons. One is that  I've been reading romance regularly for about four years now, so I have read a lot of books, after a while they can start running together and I hate having to rely on my own fuzzy memories. Secondly because I read on mixture of platforms at the end of the year I rarely know how many books I actually read, I only know the number I reviewed.  I want to see how many books I actually read in year. Because I do like stats I'm enjoy checking on my Reading challenge numbers.   My currently-reading shelf is quite cluttered. About a third of books the books on it are ones that I'm actually reading, and 2/3rds are books that I will eventually DNF but I am not ready to admit defeat on yet.

While I am loving participating in SuperWendy's TBR reading challenge my real challenge right now isn't remembering to dig books out of my TBR, it is making sure I write the reviews of what I have read in a timely manner.  Because I read based on my moods, I can get well ahead of myself.  Last month I ended up reading four books due for review in May, a couple due in April but ignored several of my March books. As a result I have started using a spreadsheet to track my reading and keep myself accountable for reviews.  I'm really liking how it is working for me.  While I refuse to treat reading as discipline I can treat review writing as one.  I am now tracking release dates, source of ARC, whether I have read it, and if I have started a review.  As a result those May books that I read ahead of schedule all have reviews in progress.  It is simple enough of a system for me to use regularly and even if I end up reading books all out of order, I can at least make sure the reviews come out in a timely manner. Sometimes I still end up waiting a long time after a reading a book to review it because I need to wrestle with it, but I think I write better reviews if I at the very least write down my impressions pretty soon after I read it. 

What are you biggest reading challenges? Do you track or schedule your reading? Do you have system? What works for you?

 

 


World-Building in Romance

Books that have a strong sense of place really help me sink right in. It makes the story feel solid and tangible.

— Ana (@anacoqui) April 9, 2015

 

Last week I was reading two very different kinds of romance novels (Joanna Wylde’s Silver Bastard and Laura Florand’s upcoming All for You).  Although they are both contemporaries on the surface, you can’t pick two more different types of stories and settings yet I felt fully engaged and immersed both these books in no small part because of the way the authors described and rooted the action in their locations in macro and micro ways.

The novels didn't use their cities/towns as interchangeable backdrop or wallpaper but instead took the time to develop a distinctive location for the reader. Locations were consistently described, attention was paid to the way people experience and interact differently with the landscape when walking versus when they are driving. While I couldn't have drawn you a map based on the descriptions I had a sense that the writers could have. 

I grew up reading Fantasy, Sci-fi & Mystery and I still have weakness for novels with maps. I love books that take the time to develop a setting so it feels like it had depth and solidity. I don’t care if we are talking about books set in steam-punk China or Victorian England, a post-apocalyptic future or planet far far away,  small-town or urban contemporary, world building is important to me. I think one of the reasons books by Jeannie Lin, Courtney Milan,  K.J. Charles, Kit Rocha, Shannon Stacey & Julie James work so well for me is that they do excellent world building.

Reading is an act of trust. As a reader I routinely gift authors with my goodwill and enter their books with a willing suspension of disbelief. When I do that I trust the author to take me someplace amazing, some place worth going.  There are lots of ways to screw that up. Everyone has different things that trigger disbelief and kick them out of story. For me repetitive vocabulary, vague geography & continuity mistakes are some of the more common ones.  

How important is place and world building to you?  What are your essentials? I've listed a few authors I think do a consistently good job, any authors you feel do this particularly well? Do you have higher expectations from some kinds of books than you do of others?