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.

Flirting with Disaster by Victoria Dahl

Flirting with DisasterVictoria Dahl’s Flirting with Disaster is my belated March TBR Challenge for Series catch up. I am a fortnight late to the party but I finally made time to sit and read. Though Victoria Dahl’s latest book has not been on my TBR for long, I really wanted to read the second (third when you count the novella) book in her Jackson: Girls Night Out series. I am a total sucker for Victoria Dahl’s books and I have not been shy in reviewing them on my blog over the years. For this particular series, I enjoyed the novella Fanning the Flames with the sexy firie and the “not sad to be an empty nester” librarian. I also mostly enjoyed Looking for Trouble. I LOVED the whole story actually – I just didn’t enjoy 1 tiny aspect of 1 sex scene. That tiny aspect did make me feel a bit ambivalent when I started reading Flirting with Disaster but I should not have worried. Firstly a quick blurb cut and paste:

There’s no hiding from sizzling chemistry… 
Artist Isabelle West has good reasons for preferring a solitary life. Tucked away in a cabin in the woods, she has everything she needs…except a red-hot love life. That is, until a hard-bodied US marshal threatens to unearth secrets she’s spent years protecting. But giving in to the sparks flying between them can only lead to one thing…disaster.

Tom Duncan lives by the letter of the law. But no one has tempted him—or confused him—more than free-spirited Isabelle, who arouses his suspicion and his desire. As their connection grows, and their nights get hotter, they find their wild attraction might shake everything he stands for—and expose everything she has to hide.

 

This book is pure Victoria Dahl goodness. It is funny, it embraces friendships and it also explores relationships and the trust levels with new people in your life when the previous people in your life have destroyed your trust. I love the way Dahl’s characters have to negotiate their relationships that fit their own boundaries of what they want – which is not necessarily what the society they live in wants. At ARRC2015, Victoria Dahl discussed that she wanted her heroine to be 40 but for various reasons wrote her to be 36. I think that had I read this book without knowing that I still would have picked this up as there is a certain acceptance within the character that I would possibly not expected at the slightly younger age. Isabelle West is an medical illustrator living in a cottage hidden away out of town. She has secrets and you realise in the first few pages of the book that she is hiding from the law. Tom Duncan is a US Marshall who is charged with monitoring Isabelle’s neighbour, a judge, while he presided over a contentious case that had brought death threats to him. Tom realises that Isabelle is lying and nervous around him and due to his sensitive case started looking into her background. In the time (several days) that it takes him to uncover her real identity, the two of them heat up the pages and sleep together even though they both internally worry about the ethical implications (for Tom) and the risk of discovery (for Isabelle). Secrets get revealed, problems get heightened but throughout the book Isabelle and Tom have a rapport and conviviality that made them a great couple and had me, the reader, wanting them to get to their happily ever/for after/now with as little angst as possible (hah! Like that would happen in a romance). I liked how at first Isabelle is amused and slightly mocking of Tom’s fear of her medical illustrations but with time comes to understand him and is more sensitive to his needs. I liked the sex scenes, I liked the crime plot that drove the romance but did not dwarf the emotional build in this story. Overall, I liked this book.

An aside: There is a discussion of guns in this story which, as an Australian reader, I struggle with in American fiction. It is a pointed cultural difference between Australians and Americans that it can often throw me out of a story as it did with this book. The discussion wasn’t overtly gun-ho or anything like that. When Tom finds out that Isabelle has a (legal) gun he says (and I read this as flippant with a touch of serious) “don’t shoot any of my people if you see them poking around on girls’ night”. It was quite moderate but still way out of my own cultural understanding. Accidently shooting people seems like such an American news story. It fits the narrative of this book, and it is barely a few lines in the book but coming from a country where gun ownership is relatively low and strictly controlled it stands as a reminder to me that I am reading a book in a cultural setting different to my own.

The most important thing in this book is the heroine’s awareness of herself and her growth as a person before she met the hero. Isabelle reflects back to a time when she was a compliant, quieter woman who passively accepted her lot in life. This passivity “horrified” her. And it is a passivity that many readers would feel familiar with. I think Isabelle’s inner monologue of long ago rejecting her passivity, rejecting the need for a man to reveal her body to herself – which as romance readers we are more than familiar with in romances with younger female protagonists or virginal protagonists – resonated throughout the book and, I think, is one of the primary messages that all of Victoria Dahl’s books carry. Women who are sexually confident and body confident get to be that way as part of their emotional journey.

I really enjoyed this book. So much so that my husband is now reading it. It depicted strong friendships, humour and a courtship dance of mutual respect and lusting. I highly recommend it.

 

 A copy of Flirting with Disaster was given to me (and all the other lunch attendees) by Victoria Dahl as I won a “Lunch with a Keynote author” at the Australian Romance Readers Convention 2015. She autographed it. I will keep it clutched to my bosom forever more. This one is a keeper.

 

 

 

 

March catch up: Readers Convention, Victoria Dahl and life

March has flown by. I have had some posts in my drafts but I decided to summarise them all into one because life has become busier than I anticipated.

 

Australian Romance Readers’ Convention 2015

With Kat Mayo, Kate Cuthbert and Adele Walsh at ARRC2015 Flickr user// Bookthingo

With Kat Mayo, Kate Cuthbert and Adele Walsh

I attended the Australian Romance Readers Convention 2015 this past weekend a fortnight ago (note: I drafted this post immediately after ARRC yet it has been sitting in drafts ever since). It was a mostly enjoyable weekend away. I say mostly because my husband was supposed to come with me but the day before we left he discovered he had scheduled eye surgery 8 months previously and forgotten the date. I ended up leaving a rather ailing hubs at home in the care of our teenage sons and the occasional care package from my mum and sister. As much as I enjoyed ARRC2015, he was in the back of my mind the whole time. He is slowly improving but it will be another month before he is 100% better.

ARRC of years gone by

As I have been to all 4 ARRCs, I found some interesting similarities and differences between this convention and others. There seemed to be more writers than readers at this convention than previously. Though I know that the organisers capped the author registrations, I do believe that many authors registered as readers. Which is OK as they too are readers but it made me wonder as to how accessible this made the event to readers who do not aspire to be writers. The first ARRC has been pivotal to changing my life so far. Prior to ARRC2009 I was quite happy in my workplace as a librarian but several moments during ARRC made me question what I wanted to do when I grew up. Part of that discovery was the academics panel which has not been repeated since the first conference. I would love for ARRC to shift some of their events to focusing on romance reading. Every event was author focused – and I LOVE listening to authors discussing their writing critically and these are authors who for the most part do not get invited to writers festivals so this convention is an absolutely important platform for them to share their work. However, I would like to see alongside author discussions, readers and their journey too, academics and their work in progressing the understanding of romance fiction – not in a self serving way but just with the knowledge that it made such a difference to me that it may just make a difference to someone else too.

Panels and speakers

Hangin' with Fabio

Hangin’ with Fabio

I attended many panels. I was quite happy to see Kat Mayo moderating the category romance panel. For regular readers here, you will know that I have a deep deep love for category romances and though in the previous years I have enjoyed their panel discussions, Kat Mayo managed to bring a depth of understanding of the category novel with critical commentary and serious questioning of the authors. Previous moderators had been authors themselves, so of course the questioning was going to take a different slant but Kat’s questions varied from feminism, writing and being socially responsible, and of course, sexy times. I also enjoyed the NA panel moderated by the wonderful Adele Walsh. It is impossible to attend all sessions as they are run concurrently but those I did attend were professional and mindful to all the participants and audience members. I also lurked lurked lurked and spent a stupid amount of money at Doreen Watts’s retro romance stand resulting in over 40 books to take home.

Nothing shits me like reader disdain

We are not a clique. We are readers of a certain type. The type who like photobooths

We are not a clique. We are readers of a certain type. The type who like photobooths

I thought carefully about whether to acknowledge the post from a few weeks ago but I feel that I need to place some of my own context here (I did consider responding to the blogger but I felt that her blog is her space and she has every right to feeling safe and not attacked or taken to task by too many people over there). For those of you who are unfamiliar with the post I speak of (I don’t want to link to it), an attendee that came to ARRC complained that no-one was friendly to her, that the attendees were fat and old and that ARRC was made up of cliques.

Up until 2009, I had never taken part in any online community, not on blogs, not on forums or listservs beyond necessary workplace groups. The day before ARRC09, I joined Twitter with the thought of live blogging as I knew only one person who was attending. By the end of the convention I had met wonderful welcoming, sharing friendly women who had all known each other for many years (from online and real life spaces). These same women and many more are still in that Australian Romance reading community, are still welcoming to newcomers and it was thrilling to meet up with them again. I saw people who have become dear friends, I also met people for the first time that I have known for many years through Twitter. The atmosphere at ARRC2015 was friendly and fun amongst the people I spoke to. Some of us did discuss though how difficult it must be if you were on your own and we were mindfully looking out to include those who looked lost into our conversations. So when that post came out, I was mightily annoyed. How on earth can you expect people to be friendly to you when you slink off to the bar everytime there is a break? How on earth would anyone know that you were part of the convention? I think that the blogger turned up thinking that she was better and smarter and ever so cleverer than everyone else. In her blog she writes about those over 40 year old, fat “readers of a type”, those who read categories because they don’t understand how awful they are – don’t they know that this prose is sooo awful and all my friends tell me my writing is sparkly balls in comparison (I’m paraphrasing here). Well, I am over 40, overweight and deeply in love with categories and perhaps one could say my reaction to her is personal. But I know myself well enough to say that it isn’t. My reaction is one that comes from an understanding of how the disdain of readers, the condescension in the voices of those who consider themselves to be superior readers, can impact people’s self worth and their confidence in their reading choices. Reader shaming is unacceptable. ARRC has been for years a safe place for readers who cop it regularly to gather without judgement and this woman shat on our space. No-one inadvertently spoke to her because she felt herself above everyone that was there. This was not a clique reaction. And as for a 33 year old thinking NA represents her age group….wellll……perhaps she should look up a definition of New Adult fiction. Personally, I don’t judge people by their age. I am just as comfortable chatting with a 19 year old as a 70 year old. But I do judge people by their attitudes to others.

Victoria Dahl

When I first heard that Victoria Dahl was coming to ARRC I was excited! Victoria Dahl was one of the first authors I followed in 2009 when I started tweeting. She followed me back. We have shared many a twitterchat over the years. I have read most of her books. I love some, I like the rest. She has yet to write a clunker. So I knew I was a fangirl. But when you are on twitter, you sometimes get a feeling that maybe you are that weird amalgam of fan/follower/friend/mindhive. Over the years, I have met many twitter authors in real life. Some have been interesting “lovely to meet you” and that is where it stays, a tiny number have made me grit my teeth and politely move away, others have been “we get on in Real Life as much as on Twitter how lovely is that” and there are others who end up becoming wonderful colleagues, friends, mentors, confidantes. And I was scared and weirded out that Victoria Dahl sat comfortably between those last 2 categories. She is that person that if I had met her on the first day of my kids schooling we would have hit it off. She isn’t a fan of babies (me too!), she is raunchy (I’m not *cough*), she drinks sangria and Pimms (yes please), she is funny (I am too – just ask my sons!), she is, her words not mine, a lazy feminist (same here) and her Keynote was possibly the best BEST keynote I have ever heard at an ARRC – and that is saying A LOT! That is some hard core competition. I seriously recommend you forking out the money to buy the ARRC2015 CD for this speech. She spoke about female heroines that are unlikeable, who have made mistakes and that as readers we need to give them the same level of love that we give broken heroes. Her speech kicked off International Women’s Day and was empowering and worthy of a Helen Reddy song. I just wanted to hang out with her all the time. I hope I didn’t make her feel uncomfortable (hah! I most probably did) but OMG! She was just like having a fun girlfriend to hang out with.  Despite being sick she carried herself with grace and humour. She was gorgeous. I tried hard not to be too clingy. She did seek me out once (was that to check my location so she can run away and sit elsewhere?) and she did say that Sarah Mayberry and I were her love train *swoon*. I’m happy to share her with Sarah who probably summed us up well by calling our love train “mildly stalkerish”. I think I am also the only person who got in trouble from a moderator for talking to Victoria too long and keeping her panel from starting. For shame!

Life

Aside from my husband’s eye operation and living with a manky, piratical eye glimmering at me, life is in full swing. I am once again teaching Information theory, this year to both undergraduates and postgraduate students. I am still working once a week in a public library faraway from home (the one hour commute each way equals reading time). Both my sons started in new (separate) high schools this year and the past 6-8 weeks has been an intense transition period for all of us. New routines, new institutional regimes. Their two schools are diametrically different in their teaching and discipline styles though they each suit our sons perfectly. One is on the habourside with no fences, flexible timetables and encourages longhand writing juxtoposed with study apps on devices. The other is at a suburban Catholic school (we are not Catholic) which does not allow phones, requires laptop use in class, has automatic prison like gates and has a strict uniform regime (damn it! more ironing!). Their very different styles of teaching environments seem to be having similar outcomes – 2 very engaged, young men who are learning.

I am finding that all this has taken over my reading life. I have only read a handful of books so far this year and I really need to up my reading game. How I will achieve this, I do not know as I also have my own thesis to continue working on too. But reading recreationally is not something I can give up – not even for a short amount of time. I find that everytime I do give it up I end up in a work slump. I have, however, become incredibly selective as to my reading choices as I cannot bear to waste any time on DNFs, 1 or even 2 star reads. Experimental reading has been left by the wayside as I just want guaranteed reads and many of the narratives I am enjoying are TV and youtube/Vine based (Thug Life – I love you). My blog reading has slowed down but some make me play with ideas on reading that they pose (I will return to Vacuous Minx‘s and Robin’s Dear Author posts on culture of buying vs the culture of reading in a later post). I relish my commuting time as I get to read first chapters (when I am not trying to catch up reading journal articles). Ultimately, recreational reading drives me as a person. It brings meaning to my workplaces and it gives substance and purpose to my own studies. Hopefully, I will manage the whole work/life/reading/socialmediaing and still manage to meet up with friends and get some sleep. Hopefully.

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