TBR Challenge: Fever Pitch by Heidi Cullinan

Having missed posting for June, I thought I’d take a step up and actually BUY a new book and read a 2015 RITA nominee for this month’s Challenge. Not only did I buy a new book but I bought an Ebook – a rarity for luddite me who has yet to embrace digital novel reading. And I have ventured into reading an m/m romance which is also a rarity for me (I had read about 3-4 titles).

Fever Pitch I decided to read Fever Pitch because I liked the cover art more than any other RITA covers. I am easily swayed by an awesome cover. I love the clean, funky lines of this cover. I also think the guy looks gorgeous. I’m a fan of the well-dressed man on romance covers (I cannot bear/bare shirtless manmeat covers – yech!). Having read the first chapter, I was sold. I downloaded the book and read the book in one straight sitting. No lunch, no stand up and stretch, no tweeting, no breaks, nothing but reading. It was that good.

The story is about two young men and their first year at college. They had a hook-up in high school. Giles was openly gay but Aaron was still struggling to come to terms with his difficult family life as well as trying to decide how to navigate his own coming out. When Aaron follows Giles to his college, they become awkward with each other and this is where the reader is taken to the familiar tensions of “Does he/doesn’t he like me” that is typical for 18 year olds. But add some extra problems to these young adults such as the difficulties of finding a safe place where they won’t be beaten up for their sexual orientation, negotiating coming out to your parents, to your friends, being surrounded by homophobic proselytisers.

I spent much of my reading in tears, the third point of view telling allowing me to enter Giles and Aaron’s heart aches and mental struggles. I loved the depiction of friendship and community, particularly in supporting those whose families cut them off or harm them once they have come out.  The romance was beautifully orchestrated with deeply personal obstacles, feelings of worthiness and vulnerability strong throughout the book. The sex scenes were quite explicit but they were integral to driving the plot forward and at no stage did I feel as though they were gratuitously plonked into a story (which sadly is rather common in some more erotically inclined romances).

I loved this contemporary romance filled with angst, love and melodrama (oh – how I love melodrama). I was surprised though that the love resolution occurred just over half way through the story. The rest of the book was dealing with the fall out of Aaron’s coming out as well as his change of major to his far from understanding parents.

The thing that did stand out for me was that right at the end, while at the wedding of another couple, Giles and Aaron are considering marriage. All I could think was “But they are only 18!”. I felt that, I would be surprised if an f/m romance had 18 year old protagonists considering marriage and I think I prefer an HFN, and I felt that these two young men were much more suited to having a Happy For Now ending too.  Perhaps I need to read more m/m romances and learn more about them and I am missing something that readers familiar which LGBT contemporary romance already know. I am guessing that the marriage-in-the horizon ending is a sign of same-sex marriage movement. This is not really a criticism but more a reflection. Overall, my heart was deeply touched by this gorgeous romance.

As mentioned above, I purchased my copy of my book online. Sadly, there is no library in Australia that currently holds a digital or a print copy of this book. I recommend readers fill out those purchase suggestion slips.

Getting all “Pistols at dawn” over reading

I took Julia Quinn’s The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy to my bookclub meeting on the weekend and it caused a huge argument between myself and another member of the group. When she saw my book she was all: I can tell from the shape of the book that it is a throwaway read; there is nothing to learn from romance; You read it, it’s there, it’s fun but don’t try to tell me that it has the depths of Kundera etc, etc. I’m paraphrasing here. This was from a closecloseclose friend with whom I regularly argue on many issues that affect our lives. I also think she was deliberately riling me as she knows that I jump to the bait or as my dad would say Πεταγεσαι σαν πορδος απ᾽το βρακη/You jump like a fart from undies. It was fun seeing other people around us unsure as to how to react to our shouting. I won’t go into my response or her counter-responses here, (except to say – how can you judge a book purely by its shape? ‘Tis the content not the container!) however, I LOVE and ADORE that it was not the discussion of other reading choices but the reading of romance that brought shouting and dissension. There were fists being shaken to the skies and the thumping of tables and turned heads from all around. If we had white gloves with us, there would have been a duel challenge! The cafe owners, thankfully, did not intervene.

Julia Quinn The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy

Does it really matter which cover and shape I read?

I don’t think enough people get riled up enough over books to have pistols-at-dawn moments. I think this is what I love about some reading arguments (both online and offline). People getting angry over books. People being incensed by what others read, how they read, and where they find meaning. I certainly get incredibly angry at marginalising reading interests, judgmental statements about people’s reading choices, at assumptions of people having a lesser intelligence either because they do not enjoy reading or cannot read, and my blood absolutely boils when reader shaming is bandied about.

A big disappointment for me several years ago was seeing reading evangelist Neil Gaiman talk to a room full of librarians about the power of reading. I had read the transcript several months earlier and in my head I had a powerful, expressive voice driving home the importance of reading. Watching the video, I was crestfallen (and a tad bored). It was all very English and dignified, it was a measured speech completely lacking in any emotion. Some may say that this is how professional, mature people behave when delivering a speech to a room full of other professionals (and they might actually be right).

However, I feel that reading discussions need to have more passion. I want to hear indignation and conviction and go all “Captain, my Captain” over the written words that have impacted my life. At times, being measured in our responses means that our reading has not stirred us, it has not incensed us enough to be overcome with emotion, we have not lost ourselves in a moment of passionate defense where we would rather risk offending another person by remonstrating the merits of words that reach into your soul. Writing that leaves me unmoved, dispassionate, bored and filled with ennui does not interest me. I seek out the books that fill my mind with fireworks and give me cause to shout out in their defense.

And how could I not defend Julia Quinn’s latest romance! How could I not feel riled at the suggestion that romance fiction is not a place to grapple with serious issues and that it is reading that does not get absorbed in the mind. Quinn’s latest novel, The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy, is part of the Smythe-Smith series. I was pleasantly surprised by Iris Smythe-Smith’s courtship story. Sir Richard Kenworthy who has travelled from Yorkshire to London to find a wife as he needs to be married within two weeks. Iris, is intelligent and suspicious of his courtship yet still marries him in the short time that he needed. The two travel back to his home and spend a fortnight without his sisters there. During the first half of this book, the focus is on this growing relationship. You see genuine friendship and deep desire growing between these two people. However, Richard refuses to consummate his marriage and this leaves Iris confused and devastated. Eventually, when Richard’s sisters arrive back home she discovers his reason for not consummating their marriage and the book goes from a lightweight, fun read to one that poses questions about shame, brotherly duties, anger, deception, class and women’s status in Regency society. In true Quinn fashion, her writing remains focused on the love resolution yet her weaving of serious issues with a light pen at no point becomes flippant.

I think it is this light pen that misdirects many readers who are unsure of where to position romance fiction or just consider romance fiction to be interchangeable and throwaway pulp reading. I think much of this attitude comes from the lack of broader, scholarly understanding of how romance fiction fits in the greater literary field of discussion. The literary world is used to serious books dealing with serious issues and consistently rewards them. But it rarely rewards comedy, of which romance fiction is a subgenre, even though it has always been an instrument through which to openly debate on societal concerns from Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing to Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show.

Kourabiedes and coffee

Kourabiedes and coffee

I’m not wholly convinced that this one novel is worthy of such passion. I would not call it Julia Quinn’s best novel (it does not come close to the wonderful When He Was Wicked). But it was definitely a read that moved me, adds value to Quinn’s ouevre and merits discussion. Perhaps it is my Greek DNA that relishes in public arguments, on debating contentious ideas. My friend, who dissed my choice of book/format, also has Greek DNA and I know that she too is fearless in insisting that her view is the right view *cough she is wrong cough* because when it comes down to it, the two of us have been engaging in loud arguments for over 25 years and in the same breath we will have another coffee, a kourabieda on the side, and life will calm down again until we find another point to argue over.

 

Readorama!

I’m on holidays! Yay! And I am on a big, huge, catch up readorama! Now that my marking is finished, I presented my conference paper a few days ago and my July paper is 90% complete, I feel at ease reading without guilt!

Duke of Dark Desires by Miranda NevilleMiranda Neville’s The Duke of Dark Desire

This book is the 4th in the Wild Quartet but the first one that I have read from this series. The story is of Jane Grey, who is actually a member of the French aristocracy, Lady Jeanne de Falleron, who managed to escape the guillotine in the early 19th century. Sadly, the rest of her family – her parents and both her younger sisters – were executed on the eve of their planned escape to England. Jane’s sole purpose is to avenge her family’s deaths by killing the Englishman who betrayed them and didn’t get them out of France. The hero, Julian Fortescue, is the man who is responsible for her family’s death. There is nothing spoilerish in what I have just written. All this is given to the reader in both the blurb and the first few chapters. I’m not going to give you a blow-by-blow account of this book but I do have some words I need to write.

Firstly, for me, the best writing is that which can twist you to pieces despite the fact that you know what the outcome of a book will be. Here is a romance where I know that there will be a Happily Ever After. But how on earth will this be achieved when the hero is responsible for the death of 4 members of the heroine’s family. How on earth do two people overcome this seemingly insurmountable problem. For me, this was the absolute driving force reading through this novel. These two characters build up a beautiful, caring relationship. One of humour and understanding as well as deep desire for each other so when the moment of realisation comes to Jane that Julian, the man she loves, is the man she is seeking to kill it becomes that low, low moment, the deepest, darkest place a romance novel needs to take you to so that the love redemption can feel triumphant. That low moment in this wonderful book had me weeping. Jane for her losses and Julian for his complete supplication. He lay himself at her feet, his grovel was beyond a grovel. It was a raw and heartbreaking.

Julian is a hero that is deeply flawed however he is a kind and funny man. I felt that his own loss, with a stepfather that beat him and a mother who though loved him, did not put him (or her daughters) ahead of her husbands and the impact of his abuse as a child was not explored enough in this story. The epilogue felt a bit flat for me, too. It was a snapshot of all the couples from the whole series some years later but I felt it took away from the deeply sad romance I had just experienced.

But it was Jane’s loss in this book that devastated me. Her nightmares in imagining her little sisters being executed upset me deeply. Jane gets access to Julian as he has 3 younger sisters who need a governess. Taking care of his sisters bring painful memories to Jane of her own younger sisters and their relationship drives much of the story and indeed contributes to showing her loss. Large loss has deep impacts in life. It is hard to move beyond the sadness that it leaves over you. I have not had such a loss. My father did die over 20 years ago, and I miss him terribly but he was ill and his passing was not unexpected. However, my grandmother, and by default my own mother, had more loss in her life than anyone else I know (Angela’s Ashes pales in comparison). My grandmother was orphaned (both parents) at 17, separated from 2 of her 3 sisters, twice widowed, she outlived 8 of her 12 children (one died in infancy – the rest: in battle, catatonic shock after bombings, in childbirth, after war wounds, meningitis and the others due to unknown illnesses). She survived WWII (including her village being bombed by the Germans on 3 occasions), the Greek civil war, 2 of her children (including my mum) being kidnapping by guerrila soldiers and some awful atrocities. My mum still cries for her siblings, particularly now that she is older and is unable to be physically busy to keep her mind off her memories. My grandmother’s losses make me wonder how she remained kind and calm. My grandmother’s breathing always had a startle. Every few minutes, she would gasp in memory. Reading this book just made me so sad because, no matter the promise of a Happily Ever After, I can’t help but think that both the hero and heroine will still not be able to ever recover an equilibrium of breathing. Those nightmares they both have may disappear only during their first few years but when they are old, it is inevitable that their memories will still haunt them.

This book was ever so beautiful. Because at least when they are old together they can hold hands and understand each other’s pain everytime there is a startle in their breathing.

 

I borrowed a copy of this book from a public library in NSW.

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.

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