I have had a shockingly bad year in the review stakes. And I haven’t posted a single time for SuperWendy’s TBR challenge for 2018. And I think the only way I will be able to get back in her TBR good books so as to take part in TBR 2019 is to do one big TBR post to cover the whole of 2018. So here goes!
January 17 – We Love Short Shorts! (shorter reads)
This is not necessarily a romance, however it is about the love and broken hearts and breakups and wonderful couples separated due to someone dying. The Museum of Broken Relationships: Modern Love in 203 Everyday Objects by Olinka Vistica and Drazen Grubisic. Using one of my favourite writing styles, the epistolary nature of this book with a few pages and photographs of objects held now at two permanent museums – on in Zagreb, Croatia and one in Los Angeles, California. There is also a touring collection. I adored this book. And I really hope that there is a sequel for unbroken relationships.
February 21 – Backlist Glom (author with multiple books in your TBR)
Molly O’Keefe’ You Can’t Hurry Love and You Can’t Buy Me Love
I adore Molly O’Keefe but I rarely stumble upon her books so when I do find them, I read them straightaway. Though I don’t consider 2 books a glom, I am sneaking O’Keefe in here.
If ever there was a case of cover mismatch it is with these two books. The covers promise you a hook-up at Spring Break when both the stories are heart-wrenching and angsty and sad. My favourite of the two was You Can’t Buy Me Love where O’Keefe tackles the irksome plot of the hero who was abused by his father hooking up with his father’s fiancé. O’Keefe, as usual, tackles complex emotions with such thoughtfulness that she otshines most contemporary romance authors, in my opinion.
I listened to both of these books, and the narrator Susan Denaker is excellent.
March 21 – Sugar or Spice (closed door romance or spicy romance)
Wal Walker’s Jane and D’arcy is based on the premise of a family secret passed on to him by his uncle, a descendant of D’arcy Wentworth, the dashing highwayman, colonialist surgeon who travelled on the second fleet to New South Wales having defrauded many rich rogues in London at the time. The secret Walker’s uncle told him was that D’arcy and Jane Austen had married, and thus created a family scandal which is the reason that Austen’s family went out of their way to destroy all of her correspondence with her family and all perspectives of her were very hush-hush. It also explained why D’arcy Wentworth never married his two in-common-law wives with whom he had many children (16???), the last of whom is my husband’s (many greats)-great-grandmother. This too was hush-hush and a family secret because respectable families didn’t admit to being related to Wentworth even if he was a “free” settler – he still was scandalous. According to this fictionalised imagining, Walker pulls out excerpts from Austen’s writing and embeds it into his own story of Jane with D’arcy. I struggled with Walker’s writing style and though I am all onboard with the idea that Jane Austen named Fitzwilliam D’arcy after D’arcy Wentworth and can even stretch my belief that they met I can’t really believe that there was a marriage between the two. It makes Jane Austen closer to Lydia than Lizzie Bennett. And I must say hmmmm…I remained unconvinced. Read more about this book here: https://quadrant.org.au/magazine/2017/06/jane-austen-highwayman/
Side note: According to Walker, Darcy Wentworth and Jane Austen had a common ancestor which is why they were allowed to meet in a social setting. They were distant cousins. Which means my husband and sons are related to the great author herself! Just saying! *swoons*
April 18 – Kicking It Old School (original publication date older than 10 years)
Though Nora Ephron isn’t strictly romance fiction, just the fact that she has written my favourite ever rom-com (When Harry Met Sally in case there was any doubt), was good enough to add her to my TBR Challenge. I have always loved Ephron’s films but I had only ever read the occasional essay by her here and there – often just those that are retweeted by The New Yorker. That is, until this year, when I went through several of her audiobooks. I loved hearing her reading her essays. I started with I Feel Bad About My Neck, Heartburn and I Remember Nothing. I love that I can hear her voice now in everything I read of hers. I don’t really need to say anything more than “Listen to it. You must!”.
May 16 – Contemporary
Welllll….what did I expect from a book whose title is a single entendre.Alice Clayton’s Nuts ended up being a hate/rage listen. The narrator was great, the story wasn’t too bad. However the female protagonist just reminded me of Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pig as she embraced the whole raunch culture. It just was gross. Like her “I want to fuck you raw” because yeah-but nah. That was so unsexy. The hero’s ex-partner was, but of course, a money grabbing bitch. And of course, so were the high school bitches that had her on the outer back then but hey girl you are just fly now. And even more of course the high school jock crush is now married with a husband and she is just so cool that she all of a sudden is BFFs with him. I was frustrated by the first point-of-view, by the city girl embracing the rural life she had previously rejected (seriously – can we just have a rural girl embracing city life, please.) This book lacked subtletly and I felt sorry for the hero until the very end when the epilogue was told from his point-of-view and he was crass and tacky too so the couple deserved each other. But I didn’t. I will never get back the hours I wasted listening to this book. Except for one thing – I adored the narrator. She brought interest to an otherwise boring book.
June 20 – Comfort Read
Archie #2 – New Archie Andrews written and illustrated by Mark Waid and Veronica Fish. I was quite saddened to see this reimagination of my favourite comic book character/s which has always served as a comfort read. Where Archie Andrews was light and fun, this new version is dark and angsty. Archie is now hot and sexy (another sadness. I liked the dorky old Archie who always brought to question why all these girls threw themselves at him except all us girls knew it was because he was nice even though he couldn’t decide who he loved more). Betty and Veronica rarely have those weird, happy teen friend moments. Everything is moody. Though I liked it more than Riverdale, I want to return to the days of happy Archiekins.
Interesting side note: My father always said that if I was a boy, he would have called me Archie after his father who was called Taxiarchi. I cannot tell you how thrilled I used to feel at this idea. Alas, Dad had no sons, and none of my cousins, nor my nephew, who carry my grandfather’s name, have opted for Archie as a nickname.
July 18 – Favorite Trope
Another book which is not really romance fiction. Victoria Purman’s The Last of the Bonegilla Girls is Women’s Fiction/Friendship story of 4 girls who meet at a migrant camp in rural Victoria in 1954. Hungarian Elizabeta, Greek Vasiliki and Italian Iliana’s families are awaiting processing and allocation of jobs when they first arrive at Bonegilla where they meet Frances, the daughter of Bonegilla’s director. The four teens develop a friendship that sees them through their love affairs, marriages, heartaches and old age. The book is wonderful and a departure for Purman who is a prolific Australian romance fiction writer. This book is one that taps into the heart of many Australian’s who can trace their families’ migrant origins to Bonegilla (though none of my family) and all the constraints that they had to live with due to cultural and societal pressures.
I also am biased as there is a character in this book named Vasiliki (the correct spelling of my name). I made a comment on Twitter about my name being in the book and only one of three Australian written fiction books where I have seen my name being used for a main character. Victoria (whom at that time I did not follow but do now) wrote to me and said that she named the character for me and I was chuffed all over again!!!!
August 15 – Series (book that’s part of a series)
Gabrielle Moss’s Paperback Crush is an excellent read on the history of paperback series for children and teens. As an 80s teen, I felt like I knew every single book that was mentioned and my teen reading was placed within a historical context that I hadn’t previously considered. I loved hearing about Paul Zindel, Judy Blume, Janet Quin-Harkin and so many more favourite authors. I would have liked a little bit more on Sweet Dreams fiction which was mentioned but not really featured. A quirk of my own reading preferences at the time and definitely not a sense of omission on the author’s behalf.
Especially interesting was the mention of the creation of babysitting fiction and the Babysitters Club. I was already well past reading this series when it first came out so I don’t have any warm and fuzzy feels about it. However, it did spike a memory of Carol Ryrie Brink’s Baby Island for me when the author discussed this phenomenon (she doesn’t mention Brink at all). I mentioned as much on Twitter and a fellow tweeter (whose settings are on private so no links!) said that she recalls Baby Island being referenced in one of the Babysitting books. Well there you go!
A great read. I liked the audiobook narrated by the author herself.
I just adored Forbidden by Beverley Jenkins. The story was wonderful. Set in the Old West, with heroine Eddy, a black woman who needs protection and a hero Rhine who passes as white and has chosen to live as a white man finding himself grappling with his decision. The book had me at the edge of my seat. It is utterly romantic and heartbreaking and I listened to the whole book in less that 2 days. To date this is one of my Top 3 books this year. The narrator Kim Staunton was excellent and I highly recommend this audiobook.
October 17 – Paranormal or Romantic Suspense
This one is the hardest one to list because, as of the time of writing, I still am only two-thirds of the way through the book. I absolutely adore retellings of Greek Mythology and there is no one that comes close to Madeleine Miller’s depth of knowledge and understanding of the mythology. So many of these myths are deeply ingrained in my life and the stories and language I have grown up with, stories that I like to believe are part of the oral history from my parents and forebearers, of being of Greek heritage where the gods and the seasons and tempestuous weather and the moon and the sun’s movements are spoken of in terms of Titans and Olympians through continued use of storytelling, despite the outwardly rejection of pagan faith for the Christian Orthodox faith.
Madeleine Miller’s Circe is phenomenal and beautiful and not a romance but definitely a book of love and relationships and the power of gods, the power of men, the way women have to navigate the relationships in their lives, the way women’s knowledge is discredited and pitted against them. Circe is a lesser god, a nymph daughter of Titan Helios who finds her self exiled on Iaia. Centuries pass with gods and mortals and demigods and naiads and nymphs visiting her island home where she discovers her skills in sorcery. The descriptions of violence in this book are at times shocking, but even more striking was the descriptions of giving birth and the struggle to emotionally connect with mortal screaming uncommunicative babies. I held my face in horror while the incredible narrator Perdita Weeks described not only Circe’s pain and struggle and frustration in coping with a young child, but my own excruciating pain. I didn’t think that the emotional impact that Miller’s The Song of Achilles carried could be achieved again, but Miller so far has surpassed the emotional complexity of her first book. I cannot tell you how much I am dying loving drowning in this book. I hope to find the time to finish it this week. It will take at least 3 hours of driving around in circles as I have gone really Old Skool on this one and borrowed the Audio CD version and I am only at disk 6 of 10.
November 21 – Cover Girl (a book with a pretty cover – or a horrid one)
I adored Alyssa Cole’s A Princess Theory. As a measure of how much I liked it – I hate reading novels off my phone and go out of my way to avoid doing it yet it was the only ebook I read on my phone this year cover-to-cover, and it was just great. Rather than try to write a review of it, here are some of my Goodreads tags for it: arranged-marriage (love this trope), booty-call-becomes-love(love this trope), contemporary, fairytale, fake-name-trickery(ZOMG I love this trope), family-dynamics, loneliness, make-believe, nyc, orphans, pretend-fake-relationship-gets-real (love this trope too!), romance, royalty-fiction (not usually a fan but this one rocked the trope!), science, sex, shiny-sparkly-glitter, stuck-in-a-blizzard (oh how I love this trope), vomit (remember vomit is the new fainting!), wonderful-hero-heroine.
Sigh. Everything about it was fun. And sad. And tropey. And ever so Coming to America. And so schmooshy. I will definitely be reading it again.
December 19 – Holiday (any holiday!)
This is a long tenuous link but I have listed these books under Holiday as New York is one of the places I visited on the last overseas holiday that I had, and it is a top level holiday bucket list item for many people. I listened to a number of Sarah Morgan’s From Manhattan with Love series. I enjoyed both New York, Actually and Moonlight over Manhattan but I had to DNF Miracle on 5th Avenue. The narrator is a bit hit-and-miss in her characterisations of the heroes and heroines. For the most part, it is fine, except in Miracle on 5th Avenue where the main character Eve is portrayed with such a high pitched, childish, breathy voice that I just had to give up listening and earmark the book for reading at a later date.
New York, Actually took me a while to get into this book but by one third of the way in, I really enjoyed it, especially the dogs in it. The only down side was that Eva and Lucas from Morgan’s Miracle on 5th Avenue are in a few scenes and the the narrator continued the voice of Eva which is so freakin’ awful that it makes my ears bleed. I had to take the book’s rating from 4 stars down to 3 just on the basis of that cameo. Moonlight over Manhattan was excellent and a fun read but once again, the narrator’s gruff voice for the hero grated on my nerves.
I have chosen to not bother listening any more of her narrations and I will eventually read the rest of the series in print instead. I adore Sarah Morgan’s storytelling, and though I am deeply saddened that she has moved over to Women’s Fic (oh my romance fiction loving heart breaks with each defection of a great author), I will slowly read her whole ouevre of romances, meting them out slowly slowly so that they can last me several years.
So there you have it. Some of my reading for 2018. I still have 2 weeks of reading so I am not calling a 2018 Top 5 books as yet. Ever the optimist, there is plenty of time for me to discover a great book! I am now hoping that SuperWendy will have me back for 2019.