Reading when I am too busy to read

I get cranky when I don’t read for relaxation. Angry, cranky and just a miserable person to be around. Unfortunately, the past month has been so crazy busy that I have not read a single book. Yes – this does mean that I am currently a self-absorbed, agitated mess of a person that is humourless. I am not laughing at jokes, sarcasm passes me by and I am snapping at my sons’ banter. As a self-confessed reading addict, I am going through withdrawals. The cold-sweats, I’m curled up in a foetal position, my reddened eyes and gnawed fingernails and chipped polish. I stare longingly at the piles of books that tempt me but I lash out angrily, constantly pushing the temptation far away from me as I reach for another theory laden assignment to mark. It is, indeed a dark place I am currently inhabiting.

On the platform, reading Flickr user: Mo Riza/ CC by 2.0

On the platform, reading
Flickr user: Mo Riza/ CC by 2.0

.

Now don’t get me wrong here. I have not gone without reading for a month. It is pleasure reading which has fallen by the wayside. The whole month of June has been taken over with marking student works (both undergrad and postgrad) primarily in Information Behaviour Theory. Now I do love me some sense-making discourse, and throw in practice theory too but they suck when I am trying to wind down and relax. I am also completing 2 conference papers for June and July and on top of that, I received notification from JPRS that a paper I submitted a while ago has been accepted for publication “as is” (wooot! *blows into kazoo*) but I need to do some small edits before the end of this week.

Did I tell you I was too busy to read? Actually, I am also too busy to cook and clean (that is not as bad as missing out on reading).

So what am I reading and what is on my TBR?

I read the four chapters of Miranda Neville’s The Dark Duke of Desire at the beginning of June but I haven’t even had a chance to open my copy since then. However, I carry it around with me everywhere. I sleep with it under my pillow as if by osmosis the words will permeate my mind while I slumber and the story will enter my subconscious. It hasn’t happened yet. Matrix-like, Inception-like, I would love a future which allowed stories to be embedded into my mind while I slept as a salve to time poor wakefulness.

Also on my list is Gena Showalter’s The Queen of Zombie Hearts. I’m not big on Zombie fiction but I liked the cover on this book and I tend to judge books by their covers. And I think I have Julia Quinn’s latest book buried somewhere under the bed covers. The osmosis idea is so weak on that one that I can’t even remember the title.

Kat Mayo did introduce me to a podcast called Get Mortified. I am really enjoying it though I have so far only listened to 4 episodes (they are only about 15 minutes each). They are adults reading aloud their angsty, embarrassing teen diary entries. It is much more like Judy Blume’s Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret than Anne Frank or Go Ask Alice. This is not sombre listening. It is screamingly funny and (as the title indicates) mortifying.

Meanwhile, what I am reading (not for pleasure but for study cave PhD purposes): I have Tony Moore’s Dancing With Empty Pockets beside me. It is on Australia’s Bohemias. I heard him speak at a Bourdieusian colloquium (this is where I feel my shallowreading moniker mocking me from above) and I think his ideas around cultural and economic capital mirror some of my own ideas. I also have Elizabeth Long’s Book Clubs: Women and the Uses of Reading in Everyday Life and Kathleen Rooney’s Reading with Oprah on the go. I also just received Anne Jamieson’s Fic: Why fanfiction is taking over the world from my uni library and David Trend’s Worlding is waiting for me too.

I guess the good thing about being so busy is that I don’t even have time to read blurbs or tweets (always a source of book recommendations) so my fiction TBR is not ever growing. It too has stagnated. Though a TBR with over 200 books is hardly stagnant. I have also managed to not read any of the kerfuffles that occur in both the bookternet and romancelandia. I know there have been a handful of articles people have talked about (The Mary Sue, Hugos, Grey) but they will have to wait to be read. I’ll allow them to age, like a good wine, and I will come back and let you know if it was a storm in a teacup or truly something that will have reverberations upon our future online circles of reading. I think I have the articles bookmarked but any links to articles you think I may find interesting are appreciated.

After next Tuesday, I will give myself five days of relaxing where I can stop being cranky and start seeing the funny side of things again. Five whole days of reading fiction and blogs and twitter and travel. I definitely see a massage in my near future, perhaps a mudbath and definitely some good old fashioned chilling.

More Lynne Graham love coming your way!

I am back on my Lynne Graham kick. I finished reading her latest about 2 weeks ago but work commitments have kept me from writing about it. The Billionaire’s Bridal Bargain (I do love an alliterative title) blurb:

The Billionaire's Bridal Bargain by Lynne GrahamTo love, honour…

Cesare Sabatino never intended to marry. But if his thoughts did ever stray in that direction, the lucky woman’s answer would have been a resounding ‘yes’. Imagine his surprise when Lizzie Whitaker turns him down on the spot!

…and possess?

To get his hands on her Mediterranean island inheritance, Cesare must wed innocent Lizzie…and ensure she’s carrying his heir! Luckily the formidable Italian is legendary for his powers of persuasion. With Lizzie desperate to save her family’s farm, it’s only a matter of time before she gives in…and discovers the many pleasurable benefits of wearing this tycoon’s ring.

Cesare “Not Caesar. We’re not in ancient Rome. It’s Chay-sar-ray” Sabatino (oh Ms Graham you made me giggle when you gave me instructions on how to pronounce your hero’s name) is a bit of a silly buffoon however he is a rich silly buffoon with a manservant called Primo to boot. Though he was betrayed by his first love, Serafina, and despite swearing off love and marriage (the hurt runs deep in this one), Chay-sar-ray loves his paternal Greek grandmother, Athene (I am annoyed that he calls her Nonna and not Yiayia, seriously – nonna in Greek is Godmother and I don’t care that the woman was married to an Italian – we need more culturally correct names in romance fiction) who has given up hope in ever visiting her birthplace because of a watertight will (yep – a top notch inheritance lawyer said so) stipulates that her family cannot visit the island unless there is a marriage that joins her family and the island’s owners. His grandmother, who brought him up after his mother died and his father remarried, is also giving up her will to live. Chay-sar-ray decides to be the sacrificial lamb for his beloved nonna/yiayia and says he will marry one of the two women who stand to inherit the island. He chooses the frumpier, older daughter as the younger, prettier girl is still at university and our hero is from the 21st century and not from the 1970s. Aside: I am not being rude about the 15-20 year age difference in many M&Bs of that time. It was also a reality – see Chuck and Di and their 13 year difference when they were betrothed when she was just 19.

Change scenery and you meet Lizzie Whitaker – who starts the book in gumboots and ends it in sparkly glamour high heeled sandals – who is running her father’s farm. She has been publicly shamed and rejected by former friend and fiance Andrew the boy next door (nay! jilted) for a prettier woman called Esther. I love that Lynne Graham allows Lizzie to think of Esther with humanity rather than an evil other woman:

Esther opened the door and her look of dismay mortified Lizzie, although she had always been aware that Andrew’s last-minute exchange of would-be wives had cause Ester almost as much heartache and humiliation as it had caused Lizzie. People had condemned Esther for sleeping with a man who was engaged to another woman. They had judged her even harder for falling pregnant and thereby forcing the affair into the open and some locals had ignored Esther ever since.

I love Lizzie’s understanding of Esther and Andrew. In actual fact, I would love to read their romance story as it would be one with deep, moral conundrums. Though Lizzie was deeply upset by Andrew’s betrayal, she also feels that her undersexed ways led him to stray and look for affection elsewhere. It is much later in the book that she even recognizes that she was marrying for the convenience of a best friend and next door neighbour to help with her farm rather than loving him.

Lizzie is browbeaten by her mean father who suffers from Parkinsons and sacrifices her happiness and works her family’s farm to ensure her younger sister is able to attend university. Her family is poor and though she knows she has inherited an island from her mother, her errant mother who had died years earlier hated the place and had given her the impression that it was a useless pile of rocks that was inaccessible. Chay-sar-ray visits Lizzie to propose they marry and have a child. I love how his first visit into her home unfolds:

Cesare’s nostrils flared as he scanned the cluttered room, taking in the pile of dishes heaped in the sink and the remains of someone’s meal still lying on the pine table. Well, he certainly wouldn’t be marrying her for her housekeeping skills, he reflected grimly as the dog slunk below the table to continue growling unabated….

And then she offers him something to drink

‘Coffee,’ he replied, feeling that he was being very brave and polite in the face of the messy kitchen and standards of hygene that he suspected might be much lower than he was used to receiving.

Haha. I love a messy housework challenged heroine.

Lizzie, surprisingly for a romance category, questions the ethics behind his proposal – and to be fair so does Chay-sar-ray. However, ethics begone, in typical romance fashion they marry fast and repent in leisure. Chay-sar-ray receives her acceptance by text while he is out with another woman – which I love – he didn’t stop his wine them and dine them ways just because he has proposed marriage to someone. He decides that Lizzie is a standard gold-digger thus turning himself into a standard romance hero ready to believe the worst of any woman who he is not related to. Unlike many romances, the reader gets to meet Chay-sar-ray’s very normal, middle class family (he may be rich but they are not). His three younger half-sisters are normal young women who take Lizzie out for a hen’s night and get her very drunk and yes, our hero gets to hold the hair of our vomitous heroine out of her face. Lizzie enjoys his “gregarious” family. In fact, Chay-sar-ray enjoys his gregarious family. They are warm and loving and in true Lynne Graham fashion, the sense of family and belonging are the centrepoint issues of this book (and all her other books). Lizzie meets Chay-sar-ray’s devoted grandmother who only after a short conversation says of children “The things that happen when you’re young leave scars”. These words, I believe, underpin every single Lynne Graham novel. She writes stories about people who were harmed, abandoned, unloved in their childhood. She writes of foster children and children brought up by their siblings or grandparents or a kindly friend and how either the children or their guardians go about finding love, acceptance and belonging.

It is not often that I giggle when I read category romance. Occasionally, there is snorting at ludicrous plots (more Lynne Graham), sometimes authors throw in some awkward slap stick (I’m looking at you Jill Shalvis), there is straight out funny (Jennifer Crusie) but tongue-in-cheek silliness is not as common. And what I really enjoyed were these small moments throughout the book that had me grinning and giggling. Here is the typical alpha gazillionaire who seems to appear into every scene with a Mighty Mouse “Here I come to save the day!” thunderousness that ends up being like a disastrous puppy who has trod in a cow pat before entering the house and jumping all over the furniture. In his arrogance, on his second visit to Lizzie’s farm Chay-sar-ray flies his helicopter into her Yorkshire farm in a grand arrival worthy of a Eurovision stage lighting extravaganza. In all his self-importance, Chay-sar-ray terrifies Lizzie’s animals who start running and in the chaos her dog breaks his leg. Lizzie, rather than be impressed by him shouts “You’re the bloody idiot who let a helicopter land in a field full of stock?”. 

The man is really full of himself and thinks …In all his life, nobody had ever addressed Cesare with such insolence”. In the end, the dog does not die (this is a romance novel after all) and ends up being fed and loved and pampered by him. I love that Lynne Graham has Chay-sar-ray bring up the debate about drinking and pregnancy “Kill me now, Lizzie thought melodramatically” which is how I feel about abstinence and policing of women’s bodies especially during pregnancy. I also giggled that Lizzie’s first love was a boy band member and that she had a poster of him in her bedroom. Every girl has at one stage loved a boy band member *cough* Leif Garret *cough*.

Of couse, due to wills, grandmothers, poverty and all other cray-cray reasons Lizzie and Chay-sar-ray marry, they decide to do away with the celibacy decision (but of course) and to have sex (surprise! I’m a virgin!) and they genuinely get along until the woman that he had loved and had betrayed him, Seraphina, turns up and threatens their happiness. This plays out as a weak plot device. The evil other woman didn’t really bother me much here as there are so many happy and positive female representations throughout the rest of the book including Esther. Seraphina vamps it up and undermines Lizzie by saying that she will lure Chay-sar-ray back. Lizzie, who is still lacks confidence, becomes combative and refuses to be with Chay-sar-ray who in alpha style becomes stroppy and runs off to visit his ex-love (to tell her off for speaking to Lizzie we find out later). The next day they go to her island and despondent Lizzie doesn’t know how to react except by withdrawing. She knows that theirs was not just a rocking sex life. It was the

laughter and lots of talking and an intense sense of rightness as well

THIS! This is what romance novels that hit the right balance achieve! This sense of two people being right for each other, laughing and talking together as well as having a sexual connection. At times, I despair at this erotica romance deluge we are in at the moment as it belies why I, at least, read romance. I couldn’t care less about sexual explicitness. It’s presence doesn’t offend me and though I think that sexual connection in romance is needed, I feel as though the intimacy has been taken over by the physicality of sexed-up writing and the deep emotional connections have taken become secondary to the modern romance. I do care to see a relationship build with love and spark and joy and togetherness. This is what I look for in a romance novel. And this is what I got in this novel.

In the end, Chay-sar-ray has no idea how to get through to Lizzie. He doesn’t know what to say and how to behave. And here is the thing that I haven’t seen in a category romance before – our hero turns to his father – who has been in a strong, loving relationship with his second wife for over 30 years and is the only “touchy-feely” man our hero knows – for advice but he feels that he can’t do as his father says. Lizzie, in her sadness, goes on a loooooong walk across her island. Chay-sar-ray is beside himself worrying that she is hurt and says so when she gets home. I love that she pulls him up on his “protector” feelings and says “I’m an outdoors woman, used to working in all weathers and accustomed to constantly considering safety aspects on the farm”. She refuses to be treated as incapable even though “she could not help but be touched by his naive assumption that she required his protection”.

Lizzie is convinced that he loves another and Chay-sar-ray has to bring out the big guns to convince her of his love. He has to beg to her to convince her of his love. And it is during this moment where he has to completely strip back all his arrogance, all his airs and affectation. Lynne Graham goes all meta on her readers, our hero bares his all to Lizzie and heeds his father’s one word advice, and Chay-sar-ray goes the grand “grovel” to win Lizzie back. 

Well played, Ms Graham, Well played.

I bought a copy of this book from a local department store. It lives with my ever-growing pile of well-read through Lynne Graham novels.

TBR Challenge: Nik and Prudence: a love story

I’m a SuperWendy TBR challenge cheat. Not only am I posting about a book that, though I have reread it many times, I did not reread it this month, it is also a book that is 9 years old (published 2006) so it does not meet the “10 years and older” criterion for this month. But I am all for breaking reading rules so consider this my teen blogging rebellion.

I wrote most of this post last year but it has been sitting in my drafts waiting patiently. I recommended Lynne Graham’s The Greek’s Chosen Wife to Miss Bates Reads Romance and she slayed Romancelandia with her awesome review that has made us all judge heroines by the tilt of their chin ever since. How do I compete with a chin winning review? I don’t. First of all, my review was written months before Miss B wrote hers – I just had not found the right time to post it. Secondly, mine is more rambling thoughts than a structured review and thirdly, Miss B focused on aspects of the book that I did not address. So here is the warning: between my review and Miss B’s you have the whole story. It becomes way too spoilerish:

The Greek's Chosen WifeA wife on his terms?

It’s been eight years since Prudence’s arranged wedding to Nikolas Angelis. Their relationship was never consummated and they have always lived apart.

But now Prudence longs to have her own baby and she wants a divorce. However, Nik is horrified — he is her husband and he will be the father of her child!

Prudence reluctantly agrees to a trial marriage with Nik. But conceiving his baby? That’s not a risk she’s willing to take…

I adore The Greek’s Chosen Wife. Prudence is one of my favourite of Lynne Graham’s heroines. This story is about 2 very young adults (19 and 22) being forced into marriage by their families. Nik because his father’s gambling has bankrupted his family and Prudence because her grandfather will not assist her in supporting her alcoholic mother unless she does as he asks. This is a marriage that neither of them wanted. For Prudence, it was bad enough having a secret crush on Nik but husband on a trophy from pappou is not her way. However, Nik is not aware that Prudence was being coerced. Prudence is not slim and willowy and is actually nicknamed Pudding. At their wedding, Nik gets completely drunk and to Prudence’s horror he passes out. She is so deeply ashamed that her groom couldn’t bear being married to her that she can’t stop crying. Nik comes to in the morning and has zero memory of his wedding night but sees an inconsolable Prudence who refuses to discuss what had happened on the night. Nik spends years horrified with himself, horrified thinking he had hurt her in his drunkedness and anger at being forced to marry her “Had he sunk low enough to take his angry sense of injustice out on her in bed?” His apprehension never leaves him, he is terrified that he had raped her so he keeps his distance and though they don’t live together, they have to stay married due to the debts they owe her despotic grandfather. In all this Nik is gentle in all his dealings with Prudence and tries hard to buy her presents that she will like such as floral wellington boots.

This was not a real marriage. Not in Prudence’s eyes nor Nik’s. Nik continued being the party boy (and having numerous lovers) for a few more years – as a young man in his early 20s is wont to do. He married for money not for love. I was somewhat saddened that Prudence was not a party girl but she did have her own agenda apart from taking care of her ailing mother. I don’t really have an issue with infidelity in romance fiction. I know that there are many readers who see this as a no-go unforgivable zone but I just see it as part of someone’s love narrative (despite it causing pain to those around them – romance novels are about the central couple’s HEA and not their secondary characters). I happily look past a Nik’s infidelity. It sits well in the narrative of his story with Pudding. Chapter 1 actually opens with Nik vacating one of his lover’s beds to go to see Pudding on her birthday.

Nik and Prudence have an 8 year non-marriage but have forged a close friendship. Nik does have mistresses but they all know about his peculiar marriage. Nik visits Prudence for her birthday and finally discovers that he did not rape her, he never harmed her and this is a turning point for him. He now feels free to pursue his wife as she does (and always has) appealed to him. However, Prudence wants a divorce and though she sleeps with him that one time, she doesn’t trust him. But when he realises that his wife wants a divorce because she wants a child (through surrogancy) he coerces her to stay. And here is where the ultimate communication breaks down. Nik truly believes that Prudence married him because she loved him. He did not realise that she too had been coerced. That little part of him that was bitter to be forced into marriage at a young age had been assuaged by the egotistical feeling that at least Prudence had loved him. When he finally finds out that she too had been blackmailed, and that he had further been complicit in coercing her (he kept saying “I’m fighting for our marriage” thinking he could finally love her back since he hadn’t raped her). He even says “Had I known that you were blackmailed I would have let you go”. Nik feels guilt about his behaviour earlier in their marriage and there is a rather awkward party scene where Prudence is talking to 3 of Nik’s ex-lovers. Nik panics that she is in this position but despite initial feelings of inferiority, she comes to the realisation that they were in the weaker position because Nik was pursuing her, he wanted her despite having access to these “perfect” model women. This gives her strength in demanding her needs. Nik eventually recognises that he had needed to grow up, he was much to young to understand the position both of them had been in when they were first married.

There is so much to discuss in this story. Love, infidelity, power over youth, rape, and, as with all of Lynne Graham’s stories, there is the underlying idea of how we come to belong in a family with love. Ultimately, this story is just lovely. It is about how Nik and Prudence, two young adults who genuinely liked each other, have to allow time and maturity to be able to negotiate past the manipulation of their families so that they can finally come to love each other.

This book is full of misunderstandings, and sadness. Sadness for two young people who should never have been forced to marry one another.


I bought my copy of Lynne Graham’s The Greek’s Chosen Wife when it was first released in 2006. It lives on my keeper shelves.

Sydney Writers’ Festival bucketlist 2015 and a quickie Lynne Graham mention

For a variety of reasons, it has been 3 years since I last attended a Sydney Writers’ Festival week. Once again, this year looks like I will be in minimum attendance as I have work, student marking, 2 funerals to go to, and just as God takes away he also gives, a dear friend gave birth yesterday so I have many other places I need to go to. Despite all this, I have still marked up my bucketlist:

Beyond Dukes and Damsels

I am rather pleased at the inclusion (finally) of a romance panel at SWF2015. I would say this has been due to Kat Mayo and the rest of the Bookthingo crowd’s tireless advocacy *cough lobbying cough*. Jodi McAlister and Kate Cuthbert will be on the panel as well as authors Victoria Purman and Avril Tremayne. I have not read any of their books but I do have Miranda Neville’s The Duke of Dark Desires on my TBR (that’s close enough for me). I can’t help but feel cynical about the inclusion of one romance event. I think that it is rather unimaginative of the organisers and tokenism sucks. I’m all for shaking up reading/writing expectations. I think true inclusion won’t be reached until romance authors are included in the broader panel discussions on readerly issues and when those of us who do read romance don’t feel the need to exclaim “Oh wow! We have even a tiny presence”. I think we have a way to go, but in the meantime I will enjoy the occasional event. Baby steps for romance fiction. And of course – Yay Jodi! Goooooo Kate!

Give Me Back My Pre-Internet Brain

I hope to revisit my youth and catching at least one session with Douglas Coupland. He was my favourite author when I was in my 20s. I read Generation X as a new release and it totally blew me away. It was the first book I had read, with the exception of crib notes on Shakespeare, that used marginalia. Having loved Sergio Aragones from MAD Magazine and his marginalia, Coupland twisted my mind giving me a different way of reading. Even today I think that GenX can still disrupt your reading. I loved more than one book. My copy of Life After God used to live by my bedhead. I would read it over and over again. I wonder what I would make of these books now? I might just leave it to just listening to Douglas Coupland speak. Of all his talks I’ve earmarked this one as I am an advocate of new reading and new media and I am interested in hearing arguments on this topic.

Liane Moriarty

I have been meaning to read Liane Moriarty’s books since Jessica Tripler talked about her. But I haven’t read any as they are constantly on loan so the next best thing is going to hear her talk (and I do seriously mean that listening to an author takes second place to reading that author’s work however it is much quicker). I have yet to decide which session I will attend though I’m pretty sure I can’t get to the Penrith event due to time and distance.

Zoë Sadokierski: On Reading with Our Hands

Having read Peter Mendelsun’s What We See When We Read in January, I would like to hear someone else speak on the materiality of reading. Having not managed the transition to ebooks, I am quite interested in listening to others talk about the tactile pleasure of reading.

Everyone’s a Critic, But Should They Be

Ahhh! Just the title of this session makes me laugh. I should not predict what will be said at an event, but I think that there will be a lot of people bemoaning the emergence of the amateur critic, reviewer, blogger. Let’s make no mistake here, I fully identify as an amateur. I would never call myself a reviewer or critic. If I do follow any conventions of literary criticism, this is done accidently or by the sheer wonderful pleasure of having had Mrs Dallow as my high school English teacher for I have no other literary bonafides. However, I love my amateur banner so I hope that there is some love for amateurs at this event. Though my tolerance for Helen Razer’s commentary is pretty low so this might just be my grit-my-teeth session.

Other events I wouldn’t mind attending are Quickies and Corsets, In the age of google, what is the point of school, The Simple Act of Reading and Word Lounge: Drafts Unleashed + Slam. Apart from this wishlist, I will hopefully get the time to meander. I do love going to Walsh Bay. It is one of my favourite places in the world. I love to walk around, catching different interviews, enjoying the vibe of being around readerly people and discovering new to me authors. And maybe, just maybe, I will get a glimpse at my current girlcrush Annabel Crabb as I left looking at the program too late and every other person in Sydney who crushes on her has contributed to selling out all her shows.

*sigh*

As for what am I reading? Aside from student assignments, I am sneaking in a couple of chapters of Lynne Graham’s The Billionaire’s Bridal Bargain (alliterative titles FTW) every night. So far, this book delivers all that my obsessive love for Harlequin Presents desires….
….
….
*whispers* with the exception of calling a Greek grandmother “Nonna” rather than “Yiayia”.
Because “Nonna” is what godmothers not grandmothers are called in Greece. But whatevs.
I will forgive it this time.
Again.
And only because it is Lynne Graham.

I own all the books mentioned in the post and they were all purchased from a retailer at full price.

14 years of bookgroup and Dorothy Must Die

My bookgroup was mentioned briefly in my last post. I’ve written about my group before but I will give you a quick rundown on how we operate: We are a hotch-potch group that meets up monthly. We read widely. So much so that we never ever read the same book. Setting a specific title would makes us feel too much like we were about to sit for an exam. It would be an examination as to who had more insight, and if there is something we all proudly enjoy, it is the ability to read without the need for insight (not that insight doesn’t occur – it just is not a prerequisite). Instead, we read on themes. Just in the past year we have read on superheroes, dangerous ideas, birthright, flexing muscle, wink wink nudge nudge, Jesus and the list goes on. I don’t know of too many bookgroups that are structured the way that our group is structured. Which is a pity as I have been exposed to so many different authors and writing styles over the years due to this format. I know that some teen bookgroups run on this sort of premise, and there is the Rugby League Bookclub (this is all kinds of cool – more organised sports should do this!).

Gorgeous artwork by Onnie Cleary in the loo at Cafe Guilia

Similar to the burger menu item at Cafe Guilia (our current venue for bookgroup) which is simply described as “Burger – is good” so too does our bookgroup have an ethos of “Reading – is good” and we gather monthly to hear the adventures of each of our reading choices. We cheer those who find a strong link to the theme and we give a monthly award for the reader with the most tenuous link to the topic. Over the years, we have been known to have waitstaff join us, people at the table next to us throw in their suggestions as well as having a number of guest appearances from partners, children, friends and hanger-on-ers.

So in honour of my bookgroup’s 14th birthday, I thought I would list their various choices for our theme of “Fourteen”.

Kevin – keeps us all on track by emailing the group to remind us of the topic and that our meeting time is coming up. Kevin has his own personal challenge of finding a music connection for each theme as he plays guitar and writes his own music and lyrics. Bookgroup occasionally gets a performance if the month’s theme inspires Kevin to sing about his reading. Though his guitar did not accompany him this month, he did however cover a whole lot of songs with 14 in the title including songs from the following artists: Aphex Twin, Beastie Boys, Beck, Billy Bragg, Guns n Roses, Rufus Wainwright and The Vandals.

Kit – has also set her own personal challenge in that each theme must connect to food. For this month she found discussed the Food Republic blogpost on 14 food debates that she challenged us with. Some of the questions were: should humans eat meat, is food ism elitist?, should foie gras be banned, should people keep backyard chickens. These and more kept our conversation going for a while.

Iwona – mostly listens to audiobooks. For this month she listend to Ruby Wax’s 2014 publication Sane new world. Iwona wanted something humourous so she didn’t expect the mental health discussion. However did enjoy the book and there was humour. She did say she got a bit lost in the middle but the last section on exercises was boring though this may have been due to the audiobook form. The exercises may have been much easier to flick through in a paper format.

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 3.42.11 PMKiri – started the bookgroup 14 years ago when she first opened The Muse cafe in Summer Hill (which is no longer operating). Our group has now moved and we continue to meet at her current cafe – Cafe Guilia. Kiri read Jeanette Winterson’s Why be happy when you could be normal which was recommended by Elaine at a previous meeting. It is a fascinating memoir about being miserable having been adopted and brought up by a horrid mum. The Theme connection – Winterson loses her virginity loss at the age of 14.

Member who chooses to not have their name disclosed – read PopSugar’s post on 2014 Books to Movies that were released and then made a list of which movies he had seen and which of the books he had read and whether the movie reflected well upon the books. This member makes only guest appearances but particularly likes Guilia’s burgers so may be coming on a more regular basis than what he used to do :D

Ben – is rereading Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series which is a trilogy of trilogies which falls somewhat short of 14 books but he did assure us every book has a page 14. Even our group with our “Most tenuous link to the topic” award didn’t really feel they could pay that one!

Elaine – (who was in absentia at this meeting) read Rupert Brooke’s 1914 set of five sentimental poems about death and war and compared them to the worst of the Gallipoli romancing.

Moi – I read Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige.

“Down is up. Up is down. Good is wicked. Wicked is Good. The times are changing. This is what Oz has come to.”

Teenager Amy Gumm’s trailer in Kansas is picked up during a tornado and lands in Oz. She discovers that Dorothy Gale returned to Oz many years ago and is a despotic, megalomaniacal dictator and that Glinda the witch is not really all that good. Amy is charged (by underground revolutionary witches, munchkins and monkeys) with stealing the lion’s courage, the tin man’s heart, the scarecrow’s brains and killing Dorothy. It’s quite fun and ties in with the original source material quite closely. Though the writing style felt a bit clunky (that might just be me and my avoidance of the first point-of-view), the book was a pageturner and despite the heft of the book (440-ish pages) I read it over 3 days. I was a tad annoyed that the way that Dorothy was demonised was by showing her in extra high heels, lots of make up and big boobs. Because – yeah – everyone knows the stereotype baddy woman is the glammed up with tits chick. I think leaving her looking like the sweetheart everyone is familiar with but with a menacing soul would have been much more powerful.  On the plus side, Dorothy’s glamour blue gingham wardrobe amused me. I really loved the way events unfolded at the end of the book and I will definitely be reading the rest of the books. This book is very much a fan appropriation of the original text. Fanfiction rears its gorgeous head once again.

A special mention for 2 of our members who were in absentia, Allyn and Fiona, neither of whom at the time of writing had sent in their “14” picks.

 

Blogging in haste

For the first time in nearly a month, I am between tasks so I thought I would take a super quick moment to write a blog post. Earlier this year I accidentally agreed to take on more teaching and staff training than I should have. The past semester has resulted in my own studies being left far behind (I was already behind the point that I wanted to be) and my own reading for pleasure is barely happening. But, as experience has shown me, if I don’t read for pleasure, I lose my drive for both working and studying so I juggle my time around and between late nights and commuting to work I have managed to read a couple of novels and a handful of picture books.

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 11.56.55 pmSarah MacLean’s No Good Duke Goes Unpunished

“He is the Killer Duke, accused of murdering Mara Lowe on the eve of her wedding. With no memory of that fateful night, Temple has reigned over the darkest of London’s corners for twelve years, wealthy and powerful, but beyond redemption. Until one night, Mara resurfaces, offering the one thing he’s dreamed of . . . absolution.”

I liked the premise of this book. The prologue is quite thrilling, starting out joyfully and then having Temple wake up covered in what he thought was Mara’s blood with a household of people staring at him. This feeling occasionally returns throughout the book but, though the plot was mostly sound, the writing style drove me batty. It constantly used the 3 repeats device eg “She felt it. She knew it. She mourned it” (made up example: not in the book). I actually like this device when it is used sparingly but unfortunately it wasn’t. I swear you could turn reading this book into a drinking game for everytime that this device is used. And you would be plastered by page 100. Overall, I found that the book was about 100 pages too long for my liking (but to be fair – I adore the conciseness of category romances). The conflict between Mara and Temple could have been resolved much earlier in the book and by the end I was gritting my teeth. It was a bit dark, being set in a hell with Temple as a boxing champion (ewwww – I grew up in a boxing burb of Sydney with several of my primary school classmates serving as sparring partners to long ago world champion Jeff Fenech and a boxing mad dad and I cannot see the appeal of grown men beating each other up nor the appeal of going out with a boxer). The book reminded me of JR Ward’s BDB series (which I did not like).

Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 12.04.05 amDuel of Desire – Charlotte Lamb

It was hard to resist Alex.
He smiled arrogantly at her. “You’ve wanted me ever since we began working together four years ago. Admit it, Deborah.”
She turned away abruptly. It was true. She loved Alex St. James, a music-industry executive who had exercised his sensual powers over every beautiful recording star in the country.
But Deborah wasn’t going to become another victim of his practiced charm. She was engaged to a man who offered her affection and security. It would be foolish to throw all that away – even if she wanted to!

Several weeks ago, Miss Bates Reads Romance was tweeting about her #bathtubreading. I checked on my shelves and I had the same book. After a failed attempt at bathtubreading (I bathed and forgot to read), I managed to read it. I don’t know if it was my lack of time, the fact that it took me 2 weeks to complete a category romance (even from a beloved author) but, apart from the fabulous fashion descriptions, I struggled to connect with this book. It had all the trappings of a great Lamb read. The early career office paragon, the gentle boyfriend with an Oedipal complex (they always manage to say something along the lines of “mother can’t wait to meet you though do take care not to dress like a slut because mother doesn’t like that”) and, of course, Mr Ultra Smooth, ultra sexy, Richard Branson doppleganger, man about the town, watch those hot slacks, unbuttoned shirt and medallion resting in his sensual chest hair who spends the whole time in a jealous tizz, flaunting other women yet deep down inside needing to get down and dirty with the heroine who only wants sex if it is love to which they both succumb to by the end of her book. Charlotte Lamb though missed the mark for me on this one. Was it the hero (Alex) accusing the heroine (Deborah) of being a bitch too many times? Or was it Deborah’s incessant cleaning? Or was it that their nuptial bed was his mother’s own bed that she vacated especially for the occasion – another touch of the Oedipal hero perhaps? What I do like about Charlotte Lamb is that, in many of her books, the hero and/or heroine are with another person. She depicts her characters in relationships which they felt was right for them but it is the intense, passionate encounter that shakes them out of their complacency and makes the protagonist rethink their lives and what they want out of a patnership. I really want to write more about this but for now I will leave this thought to ruminate. Perhaps, it will be part of my next blog post.

As for my TBR, it is never ending. I had a rare visit to a bookshop as someone had given my son a $40 voucher but we walked out $250 poorer. This is why I rarely go to bookshops. I have no control.

The books I bought are “This Book is overdue: how librarians and cybrarians can save us all”. As I considered myself to be both of these job titles it was an autobuy. Now let’s see how long I will leave it sitting unread. I also bought “The Cult of the Amateur: how blogs, MySpace, Youtube and the rest of today’s user-generated media are killing our culture and economy”. I am sure this book will annoy me as I identify with the “amateur” label and I also bought Lynne Graham and Julia Quinn’s latest books. Somewhere between now and my next blog post I hope to have read them.

As for the rest of the month. I have had a paper accepted for PopCAANZ. I am very excited to be presenting but I am less excited to be travelling to Wellington. Everytime I mention my upcoming trip, people say “Whoa! Wellington. Windiest landing I have ever had!”. This does not make me happy. However, it is my first ever trip to New Zealand and I am looking forward to travelling to a country I have not seen before. I will be looking for some hot springs, for sure. My bookgroup (wellllll – let’s call it a reading group) is celebrating its 14th birthday this week. I have yet to choose a book to read (we all take our own book and review it for everyone). This month’s topic is 14 and I am open to suggestions. Essays, lyrics, poetry, films, scripts. Everything counts in this reading group and I am dedicating Friday night to reading so hit me with your recs!

The Devil in Denim and my lowdown on the HFN

A quick warning: my April TBR challenge review is a tad spoilery. I read my April TBR Contemporary Romance a few weeks ago. Melanie Scott’s Devil in Denim was a fun, (damn!) sexy read. Set in New York city, heroine Maggie Jameson’s father has sold the family baseball league team to Alex Winters. Maggie has trouble reconciling herself to her dad’s actions as she had always planned to work and live and breathe the family team life.

I don’t mind the occasional sports romance. It is the ultimate suspension of disbelief in contemporaries for me. Forget Montana cowboys or millionaire Greeks, it is the gentleman sportsman that I cannot actually believe exists. I enjoyed reading Susan Elisabeth Phillips’s Chicago Bears – Match Me if You Can is an all time fave – and Rachel Gibson’s Chinooks Hockey Team – I loved See Jane Score. I didn’t hesitate to buy The Devil in Denim when Adele Walsh recommended it to me and she pointed out it is by an Australian author.

Official blurb:

Life Just Threw Her A Curveball.

As the team-owner’s daughter, Maggie Jameson grew up in the New York Saints’ stadium—glove, cap, hot dogs, and all. Baseball’s in her blood, and she’s always dreamed of the day when she would lead the Saints to victory herself. That was before her dad had to sell the team to Alex Winters. The fast-talking, fiercely attractive businessman has a baseball pedigree that’s distinctly minor league. Maggie wants to hate him but his skills of seduction, however, are off the charts.

Will Love Be A Home Run?

Alex could never have imagined how much this team means to Maggie. He needs her to help show the players that they’re still a family…even if he and Maggie are at the verge of exchanging blows. But her fiery determination and gorgeous looks prove irresistible to Alex. And much as he wants to relegate their relationship to the playing field—and get the Saints back in the game—Alex just can’t help himself: What he wants to win most is Maggie’s heart…

I enjoyed many aspects of the book. The lovely banter between the main characters, the angsty bits, the rich kids jetting about stuff being played out in New York City was fun and flowed. There was a power imbalance between the hero and the heroine in that he is (kind of) her boss when they get together. I know there office romances both in real life and in contemporary romances is frowned upon these days but the reality is that many people do meet in the workplace. How the romance continues is often determined by the intent and the positions held by those in the relationship. In The Devil in Denim this is acknowledged as a problem from both the hero and the heroine from the begininning and this, I felt, drove so much of the romance as the two fought their attraction but they really couldn’t help themselves. This gave the book a spark that I really like in romance and for most purposes the whole story was great, funny and I should have loved it.

However, it was not enough to make me love the book. It took me a while to work out why and I think I have realised why many romances over the past few years have not thrilled and excited me: It is the lack of a thrilling grovel, love declaration and forever committment. That’s right. Though I understand the reason for a Happy For Now ending, I dislike it. It lacks meaning. It lacks conviction. It is such a meh way to finish a story that should end on a high. There is nothing romantic about “Yep, you’re a good sort. Let’s go out for a while and see where this thing takes us”. For this reader, the Happy for Now ending sucks. Occasionally, the HFN makes sense but it seems to have become the more common ending in romances. Heaven forbid someone makes a lifelong declaration, tearing their heart out and handing it to someone for life. The Happy For Now is a handshake agreement rather than a deep, longing, fiery embrace. I want my hero or heroine leaving themselves bare and saying “I love you” or better still, I want them down on their knees crying “I love you”. I want that punch drunk love. Ultimately, the HFN leaves me unsatisfied. It leaves me bored. Bored at the end of a book is not good. I don’t want to put a book down thinking “Was that it”. I want fireworks. I want that emotional “Fuck yeah!”. As much as I enjoyed The Devil in Denim, as great as the story was as it unfolded, sadly, I felt it ended with an enthusiastic and heartfelt handshake.

I bought my copy of The Devil in Denim from a bookshop.

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