Starting Over By Looking Back: Observation Notes 112-114 and Reading Notes 47-51

Observation Note 112: Starting over. As I do every January, I start out with a post of my favourite books. But this year, that post is running late so instead, I’m going to mess with the natural order of things and do my first post on SuperWendy’s TBR reading challenge. Last year, I only managed to post in the first half of the year. However, let’s just say I was busier reading than writing. I did manage to read through a big chunk of my TBR which is my ass-backwards way of kicking off on the theme of Starting Over. Well….let me tell you how I took charge of my 220 TBR waiting-to-read books that had accumulated on my Goodreads over the 10 years I have been documenting my reading habits…

Observation Note 113: Looking back. So let’s start in November, I was heading to the Blue Mountains a few hours west of Sydney for an academic writer’s retreat where I was going to try to be scholarly and thinkerly (true word). I was being driven by a friend in what I would call a white-knuckle drive on a Friday afternoon crazy Sydney motorway weekend exit frenzy, when I saw a friend contacted me via Twitter (yes – I am still there and happy to accept the side-eyes) to tell me that Queens Public Library in New York City had an overseas non-US citizens membership availability. For US$50, I got to subscribe to the most incredible elibrary. So I paid and added that sweet library to my Libby app for I now had some procrastinating reading to do rather than writing.

Have I been reading a book a day for the past three months. I sure have! Have I been reading in bed? Yes I have. Have I been reading instead of watching TV. Damn yes! Have I been reading instead of swimming. Ummm….no. Even I have reading boundaries. I can’t read when the harbour view is astounding!

Brilliant blue sky
sea ripples out through the harbour
yachts boats masts floating beyond. 
Houses bound Little Manly
Cheerful cabanas, 
Cheerful sun tents. 
A beautiful day on the sand.
View of Sydney Harbour from Little Manly

Here is the link for those who want to be part of this amazing opportunity! https://www.queenslibrary.org/get-a-card/eUser

So how did that TBR go?

Well…my list has gone from 221 books to 121. 100 books are off my TBR. Of those 100, I have read 44, I have another 12 on hold, and another 44 which were reassessed off the TBR list – some due to sampling the first few chapters and finding I was no longer interested, and others just deleting as I couldn’t work out why or when I had added them. Of course, in the last week, I accidentally added another 10 to my TBR want-to-read list but I am not counting them here. Also, no book cover pics – I hate this wordpress layout. It makes adding images a nightmare.

So now for some of the more notable books I read: 

Reading note 47: The Longest Wait 

The Trouble with Joe by Emilie Richards.

I added this book, published in 1994, on the 29th of September, 2012 and read it on the 17th of November, 2022. A 10 year, 2 month wait. I have read and kept several Emilie Richards category romances from the 1990s so I was familiar with the calibre of the authors writing. She usually grapples with issues of the self, overcoming problems not necessarily of love, but of pressures that society can bring to a couple. The love between the protagonists is undeniable, however they are grappling with Joe’s infertility problems. Joe’s wife Samantha is a teacher and she has a neglected child, Corey,  in her class. Over the summer holidays, the two of them find themselves as foster carers for Corey, unravelling a lot of emotions around what it means to be parents, have family, responsibility, love and neglect. This is the only romance I recall reading which also gives the child’s point of view and it adds such depth to the story. It was well worth the 10 year wait to read it. 

Reading Note 48: The Best Wait.

Cara Bastone. About two years ago, in a catch-up conversation with Jayashree Kamblé, she recommended to me to try and find some Cara Bastone books to read. There were none in any of Sydney’s library systems so I left the recommendation hanging in the TBR. So I was delighted to find 3 of Bastone’s books at Queens Library: When We First Met, Can’t Help Falling and Flirting with Forever. All three novels had these fully fleshed, deeply understandable characters – not only the main protagonists but all their neighbours and friends and colleagues. The setting felt known and lived in, well understood, I felt like I could smell the air of the city through her writing. And the relationships, well they too were these nuanced courtship tales, thoughtful of differences and the tensions that can bring people together. I particularly loved the hero from  Flirting with Forever. In the opening scene of the book, he comes across as awkward and thoughtless but as the book unfolds, you discover a deeply thoughtful, principled man with grace and reason. I highly recommend you seek out Cara Baston’s books.

Reading Note 49: Most Annoying Wait.

To Sir With Love by Lauren Lane – I cannot tell you how frustrated I’ve been with my public library where I had a long-standing purchase request with them for this book in 2021. It was finally satisfied 14 months after I placed the request, so my reserve on the request expired and it got borrowed by other people and I had another 3 month wait and I was just furious and annoyed and I just didn’t bother going and it was so much more pleasurable reading it online. 14 months wait and a shitty reservations system – just do better, Sydney.

Reading Note 50: Yeah books from the TBR.

Some of my reading highlights from the last three months.

Blended by Sharon Draper. This was on my TBR since 2018. A children’s novel about mixed race young girl dealing with her divorced parents and her difficult experience. This is a book about seeking your belonging, grappling with your parents custody issues, the concept of home, and how race and identity can differ depending upon which parent you are with. A good read.

Accidentally Engaged by Farah Heron. This is one my favourite books for this year so I won’t write too much about it on this post as I still plan to do a 2022 post in the next few days. Basically, this is fun, family dynamics, Tanzanian-Gujurati-British-Canadian migrant story, lots of food, lots of cultural expectations and cultural pushback all set in lovely Canada. A great read. 

Anne of Manhattan by Brina Staler.  Thoroughly Modern 21st century fanfiction of Anne of Green Gables as young adults living in Manhattan. It’s well-written and I really liked the book. The author definitely captured the (kindred) spirit of of Anne and Gilbert and their connection though it had quite a different plot trajectory. Well worth the two year wait to read it.

Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Pérez. I wrote about this book in my previous post (Reading Note 46).

Tweet Cute by Emma Lord. A YA/teenage romance conducted across several social media platforms as well as being set in a New York high school. The usual teen coming of age issues compounded by pressures from parents especially around insisting their older teens making corporate social media decisions. It was complex, it was good, I really liked it. Well worth waiting to read it since 2019.

The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing. A memoir reflecting on the loneliness of the city, seeking connections and not finding them, the impact of the AIDS crisis, and how artists such as Andy Warhol and Edward Hopper grappled with their own loneliness. Impactful and wonderful. Another well worth waiting for since 2019.

Reading Note 51: Meh books from the TBR

I am so far from the zeitgeist on these ones. Many of them are lauded as “hits” and “must-read” stars of booktok and romancetok. If this is the future of romance fiction, I will cry.

The Roommate by Rosie Danan. Bleh. Call me a prude. Porn hero was boring. The plot was inane (seriously – the heroine leaves her city to keep a low profile and then hooks up with a high profile porn star just doesn’t make sense) and there was zero tension. Just. waffle.

Below Zero by Ali Hazelwood. Double Bleh. I totally cannot stand the “smart” heroine romance trend. Let’s face it. All these STEM heroines are just another iteration of targeted career-girl romance novels. And this one – well the heroine may have had a high IQ but she was definitely lacking in emotional intelligence. Imagine cracking onto your research project’s interviewee IN HIS WORKPLACE! That’s is serious misconduct. Not sexy. A breach of work health and safety too. Just no.

Corner Office Confessions by Cynthia St. Aubin. Great title. The story didn’t grab me.

Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Sutanto.  SPOILER ALERT FOR THIS ONE. Everyone raves about this book as being hilarious and great and I will admit that it started out that way – just super super funny and cheeky. But then the main character Meddelin accidently kills her date (who was catfished by her mother!) and rather than call emergency services, get him to a hospital, go to the police, etc., like a normal person would, she shoves him in the boot, takes him to her aunts where they hide him in a freezer and all of a sudden I am reading horror murder meets Weekend at Bernies. I know that I should be able to overlook all the problems in this book and haha have a laugh but IT WAS GHOULISH!  A (fictional) person died. Someone has to care. Someone has to pay. And they didn’t. And I just couldn’t. Just say no!

The Wedding Party by Jasmine Guillory. Look, the premise was great – I do love a hook-up becomes lurvvve story and Guillory writes some lovely witty repartee but she substitutes way too much food in her novels for her lack of sexy times. Unlike Farah Heron’s book, the food is a prop in this novel, it beefs up the novel (sorry, not sorry) but it doesn’t further the plot. Not that books need detailed sex, but good god – that constant eating annoyed me. Waiting since February 2019.

The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver. A sliding doors story. Great premise, ho-hum delivery. It didn’t do it for me. Waiting since January 2020.

Time is a Mother by Ocean Vuoung. Listening to the audio narration also by Vuong was the wrong thing for me. Whispered wistful poetry is totally not my thing. I couldn’t bear it but I persisted to the end. Perhaps I would have liked the poetry better if I had just read the text, but now the poet’s voice is in my head and it won’t work for me. Suited to a whole different type of person. Frustrated at the anticipation of waiting since 2019 for On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous but opting for the 2022 publication instead due to availability.

Moral to the story is: stick with the book you have already listed on the TBR

Observation Note 114: In conclusion.

I feel so pleased with my overhaul of my TBR. I am so happy that Queens library membership has slayed my seven year reading slump, and I will definitely be renewing it for as long as it is offered to non-US citizens. 

As for my procrastination during my writing retreat…it was a successful enough attempt at being “scholarly” that it kickstarted my re-engagement with a journal article which had been accepted pending revisions which I hadn’t completed for many different reasons. I managed to finish it and submit it a month later. I think the deep diving into the TBR reading probably energised me as much as the retreat, if not more so. Thanks, Super Wendy!

On writing The Library Agrafa

Occasionally I write not-so-shallow articles. This week my essay The Library Agrafa was published in The Aleph Review a Pakistani journal for creative expression. Here is an excerpt:

This story was anathema to me. It lacked the necessary romance and love that I would read about in the novels that I would buy from the newsagency on my way home from the one-room children’s library, arms laden with books borrowed and books bought. Romance to me was a meeting of two people who share a feeling of intimacy, desire, a visceral connection. Marrying for a business transaction, the joining of two large herds, lacked spark, lacked the necessary frisson of a dramatic coming together.

You can read the whole essay at this link: https://www.thealephreview.com/post/the-library-agrafa

Continue reading

Graced with books: Observation notes 95-96

Observation Note 95: Collecting the books of others. In May of this year, I responded to an FB notice from romance researcher Donna Maree Hanson offering her romance collection to interested romance researchers. I was fortunate enough for Donna to have said Yes to my response. However, due to the 3 month long Sydney lockdown, as well as some other logistical issues, it took many months to finally get the books to my home this weekend thanks to my lovely husband who was working interstate and was able to pick the books up on his way back home.

Donna refers to these books as The Grace Collection which I think is so apt and lovely as I feel that I have been graced with the care of over one thousand romance novels. Donna too had received many of these books from someone else, a reader who had been collecting them for many years. Donna has also added many of her own books to this collection and as the new owner, I am not able to differentiate between readers and owners. At least not yet. But there are lovely markings on these books that are so familiar to me; the books with second hand books shop price tags, with library discard stamps, with spots and dots and lines and circled page numbers, broken spines and unbroken spines signifying books bought and read, as well as books bought and left unread, a readerly quirk so many of us know deeply. I have already seen books from the early 1970s and a few from the late 2010s. I am interested to see if the collection is overwhelmingly 20th or 21st century category romance publications – Mills & Boon, Harlequins of all lines, Loveswept, Silhouettes and Candlelight Ecstasy. All up, the Grace Collection had 7 plastic crates/containers, 3 archive boxes and two plastic bags of books. From what I can see, there is no other paperwork that accompanies the books. I have already gone through every container. Storing these books will be another blog post altogether!

It is not the first time that I have taken on another person’s romance novel collection. Many years ago, Merrian Weymouth graced me with a large part of her collection, the majority of which still sits on my romance shelves. They are literally romance shelves as I bought them from the now long-gone Burwood Book Exchange. This fabulous second hand bookshop on the Burwood Road was nine parts romance fiction and one part all the other fictions – a cornucopia of romance fiction closing in on you as you walked down their aisles. I would travel there multiple times a year to swap out my books while searching for new ones. Like so many romance bookstores, Burwood Book Exchange closed down early in the 2010s. I didn’t know the owners well so I never found out if it was due to the massive shift in romance readers moving from print to ebooks or something else but their closure impacted my own access to new-to-me books. I returned nearly weekly in those closing weeks, buying books and books and more books, hoarding for those desolate years ahead of me (LOL I’m so dramatic) with a dearth of access points for second hand print books (a dearth that continues – woe is me). In the last days before the shop closed I asked about their shelves and I managed to secure two shelves which are in my study/sunroom and house a third of my romance collection. I merged Merrian’s collection with my own sizeable one, sending any doubles I found to other reader/collectors, paying Merrian’s kindness forward which is what I hope to do with doubles from The Grace collection. My long term goal is to find an academic library that wants this collection for their own repository and book researchers – lofty dreams as I aim high, an unemployed ideologist in this awful era of higher education decimation and the freefall of humanities and sociology faculties in universities across Australia. With over 40, 000 university staff having been stood down or made redundant since 2020, my aim is like a smidgeon of hope. A way to keep going forward. In the meantime, I am going to sort through the books that I do have and hopefully make sense of all my holdings.

Observation Note 96: Work should stay at work unless you aren’t working and you are keeping a pandemic at bay. I have always resisted the urge to catalogue my own books. There is embracing your profession, being a boffin to its practices or just letting every aspect of your work permeate you every hour. I chose to leave my work at work (something that some people no longer can do). As I don’t consider reading for pleasure to be a core skill for being a librarian (shock! horror! let’s discuss this later!), I happily keep a list of all my reading over at Goodreads (included as a widget on this blog) as I choose to not consider it to be work (bear with me as I have many contradictions). I’ve often balked at the thought of keeping records of what I own, wanting it to be my reading that is my focus rather than an inventory of materials to which I can apply my professional cataloguing skills. I like having a separation from my work practices, and I kinda like sorting my books by colour as it is such an amusing anathema to so many people, as though aesthetics are not part of book production and the reading experience.

So, in embracing my inner (former? out of work? not even looking for this type of work? call it what you will?) librarian and finally documenting my own books, I have also decided to not use any apps or library specific websites to store this information. I looked up some suggestions and just got too tired of reading all the T&Cs, and all the ways that my data was going to be mined as business intelligence. I feel all data-mined out. Instead I am going to use a simple spreadsheet saved on my computer not on any cloud and I will see how I go from there.

Meanwhile, enjoy some photos of The Grace Collection from when it arrived at my home.

Tubs and boxes of category romances in the boot of the car.
Boxes in the boot of the car
The tubs and boxes of books placed on my verandah, the verdant greenery of my front yard framing the photograph.
The Grace collection on my front veranda/h

Finally! A Romance: Observation Note 94 and Reading Notes 37-38

Observation Note 94: Finally! I didn’t feel that I could go a whole month of blogging daily and not have read a romance in that time. It took me eight whole days to finish reading a novel which twenty, ten, eight, and even five years ago would have taken maybe two days to fly through. I don’t know if it was the book (doubtful), the person I now am (probably), or the anxiety brought on by the current Sydney lockdown (most likely) but I could not bring myself to read more than a chapter at a time. My attention was scattered, and the story didn’t resonate with me. In actual fact, there were elements that I quite disliked. I realise that I am an outlier on this.

Reading Note 37: A Romance – likes. So first I will touch on the parts of Talia Hibbert’s Take a hint, Dani Brown that were good. Those parts that made me persist in my reading of the book. Firstly, I really liked the characters. Zafir, the ex-rugby player turned security guard moonlighting as a coach for a youth team while giving them mental health support was a stellar character. He read romance, he was quiet and contemplative, that he was a Muslim man that embraced the tenets of his faith (lying is haram), that he understood himself, and he had experienced deep grief which had changed the person he was.

I liked Danika, her self confidence, her strength of convictions and her need to control her own narrative. I like that she was a witch, drawing on the tendrils of knowledge passed down to her from her grandmother. Her PhD life was ideal and her own anxieties over conferences and symposiums was relatable (anyone else curl up in a ball screaming with a panic attack a day before a presentation??? Yeah. Not doing that again).

Like the emotional grappling that both Zafir and Danika have to go through to reach an understanding of their own self and the way they wanted to lead their lives. I loved the way that they each were able to connect through laughter and through desire. Their compatibility and connection was palpable. Electric even. But this was not enough to make me like this story.

Now I have left for last my liking of the premise, I guess you could say the romance trope, that underpins this romance. I adore a fake relationship turned real. It usually buzzes with fun. As this one should have but sadly, it didn’t.

Reading Note 38: A romance – dislikes. I feel like I am the only person who became totally squicked out with the execution of fake relationship plot premise? The thing is that Zafir and Danika pretend to be in their fake relationship so that they can entice people to donate money to his mental health for kids organisation “Tackle it”. Part of the fake relationship include becoming fuck buddies for the duration of the public social media fundraiser and I did not feel comfortable with this at all. For two people who are so in touch with their emotions, especially Zafir and his aim for honesty and truth, falsifying his relationship with Danika for public consumption and monetary gain was never resolved for me. There was no remorse or even conscientious grappling with the ethical issues that it raised (I mean – there was a bit of a tussle that was glossed over with a “the end justifies the means” thought.

Then there was the constant mention of dick and cock and pussy and vagina in contexts which jarred the flow of the story. It felt overused and just threw me out of story, wondering why it was even mentioned (this is the point that I am annoyed with myself for not keeping notes while I read just so I can show examples but I can’t even bring myself to browse through the book to find one). The thing is, that a metaphor (bleh!) would not be good either. In the sex scenes, in the build up to intimacy, sure. There is a time and place. I just think that there were too many in this story. I am more than happy to be accused of being puritanical and uptight and that it is my prissy-ness that makes me feel this way but I personally don’t think I am any of these.

There was a library scene that just got my librarian (well former librarian) back up. Zafir finds Danika in the library and they get all hot and heavy and he gets an erection and they are performing for their social media fake relationship and I just wanted to shout at them to stop and that their PDA was not acceptable. Having had to interrupt many a young couple being WAY TOO AMOROUS in public libraries, being WAY TOO HORIZONTAL, being WAY TOO HEAVY BREATHING, I wanted to tear this scene up and scream NOOOOOOOOO! Be adults! Have some respect for the poor library staff.

And then there was the length. This is an old bug bear of mine. At 9pm tonight I still had 50 pages to go. 50! And they had only just had their big break up. My eyes feel like they are bleeding. 50 pages of black moment and make up/love/self realisation to sit through. Ugh. Too long. And then there were about 10 pages of fricken epilogue. Noooo! I mean, I finished the book by 10:30ish. But the length is my perennial complaint with most fiction. TOO LONG! Make it shorter. This is not about my focus or my attention span. I have plenty of that. This is about the propensity for navel gazing, copious amounts of backstory, and excuciatingly detailed filler angst in just about all fiction. YA fiction – too fucking long. Literary fiction – too fucking long. Fantasy fiction – too fucking long. Let me be clear here – my only ONLY reason for not reading 50 Shades of Grey has nothing to do with the story, the public perception, the kink, or any other alarmist shit. It has everything to do with 500 page doorstoppers per volume. *deep breath*

So yes. I felt Take a Hint, Dani Brown was too too long. I got bored when I should have just loved the whole story.

Desire, choosing your panels, and hinting (again): Observation Note 92-93 and Reading Note 36

Observation Note 92: Desire. When I woke up this morning, I propped myself up in bed with my computer and watched a New Yorker live event called Words of Desire with Alexandra Schwartz interviewing Emma Cline, Garth Greenwell and Ottessa Moshfegh. From the outset I want to point out that I have never read any of these writers’ books or essays so I cannot make any comment about their own work. I was however curious as to what these four literary writers could bring to the discussion of desire. Unsurprisingly, The New Yorker didn’t include any romance writers or romance scholars into their panel so I didn’t expect the discussion to be deeply nuanced on the subject of desire or even sex. I also want to point out that I still was groggy from sleep, and my coffee was brought to me a good ten minutes into the discussion (thanks wonderful Husband!), so my notes and my memory may be rather dodgy. All mistakes and misunderstandings are the fault of my morning brain.

The panel started out being asked about what they read – who were the masters of writing sex. Of course, none named romance writers, however Cline did point to Scott Spencer’s Endless Love and I was all “A-ha! Didn’t all teen girls read Endless Love like I did, hiding in the bathroom so that my older sister didn’t discover that I had stolen her copy that she had claimed I was much too young to read”. It made Cline feel that tad relatable to me (and then I realised that she was born nearly a decade after I read it as a new release, and seriously, she would have read it in the ‘noughts and it just made me furrow my brow that it was even still available then – but I digress). Greenwell pointed to poets Dickinson and Whitman as well as queer writers (whose names I missed – one might have been Carl Philips???). However, it was Moshfegh that was the least surprising who said (and I am paraphrasing here) that she had never read a successful sex scene and that she considered their plot use as failure or revulsion. *sigh* … *double sigh*.

I can’t fault Moshfegh for how she described the use of sex in plots or even the role of sex and desire in both her books as well as the books she had read. I am not at all interested in attacking or criticising these ideas. I completely understand their importance in the way that fiction is written and felt by reader/writers. I was totally on board with her description of her fiction writing approach. But I did feel sad that she had never read a good sex scene. But, damn!

The questions moved on to discuss different ideas around sex, deviance (huh??? was this a hint to 50 Shades and the changes it has brought in reading???) and its new space in society – Greenwell points out that there will always be forbidden topics to write about, as well as the challenge of writing happiness. The two women seem constrained in their answers on happiness as that they can only get themselves to write comedy or dogs. They only notice “the moments that aren’t happy”. But once again Greenwell answered eloquently saying that any human emotion can reveal insights (I especially liked Garth Greenwell as a panelist though all were very good. He’s now on my TBR). I found that the panelists kept slipping and calling it “sex writing” not “desire” and I personally think these are both quite different writing styles with possible overlaps.

What I did find interesting, and I can’t remember who on the panel said it, was the idea that in literary fiction, the sex scene was where the tension between two characters was created – it was the point that caused problems. This is so different to romance fiction where quite often, it is in the sex scene that the characters find congruence, where they find compatibility, love and connection.

Reading Note 36. Hinting again. So despite not really feeling warmly towards Talia Hibbert’ Take A Hint, Dani Brown, (Reading Note 35) I decided that I would continue to read the novel to completion. The chapter I am up to has the protagonists Zafir and Danika finally in her apartment with the agreement that they were to become “fuck buddies”. They quite clinically laid down their ground rules of how long their arrangement will last, how they will negotiate any affection between the two of them, and some other minutiae. From their, their sex (not love at all) scene just went off. A whole detailed chapter that sizzled with desire and sex. I wouldn’t call it beautiful but it certainly was emotional and carnal, suited to the story’s trajectory. And it certainly was not a failure.

Observation Note 93: Choosing your panel accordingly. Actually, having such low expectations for this panel meant I was pleasantly surprised that it was thoughtful even though the conversation lacked the depth of the dialogues I have become accustomed to when I attend romance writer panels or author talks, whether they are at writer’s festivals or scholars presenting on romance fiction at conferences. The one viewer question did address the topic of romance fiction but I got a phone call from my doctor right at that point so I didn’t hear the answer (seriously! how inopportune!!!).

The thing about this New Yorker panel was that it felt like a missed opportunity. I felt disappointed. Though there was an unspoken sense of romance fiction’s presence. From Endless Love, deviance in writing, the really uncomfortable suggestion that perhaps the writing was autobiographical which was diplomatically dismissed by Greenwell (but yeah – why does that stupid question always come up when sex is discussed? Isn’t that the deviant idea? As romance authors are always pointing out, would you ask a crime author if they are writing from an autobiographical lens? And there was of course the question on writing happiness – perhaps even for The New Yorker, it is too scandalous to ask literary authors about writing Happily Ever Afters.

This event was good but not great. Its promotion was very romance fiction-ish with all those red and black hearts and lips flowing out of an open book but that was just cosmetic. The panel could have benefitted from the richness of ideas that, say Beverly Jenkins or Jennifer Crusie or so many other erudite romance writers could have contributed. Unfortunately, this lack of at least one romance fiction panelist diminished the contribution of this event.

PS: I deeply appreciate that I can now attend so many wonderful events all over the world. A major shout out to my son who bought me my subscription to The New Yorker and is happy to keep giving me the same gift every year.

Book with one word title!!!!

I’m taking a break from my notes today so that I can take part in Wendy The Super Librarian’s TBR challenge – and she is Super. I know because I have met her. Anyway, I usually don’t even look at the monthly challenge until the day due for posting as I like being relaxed and not feeling any pressure to read in a specific way. This usually works for me as there is either a close link or a tenuous link. However, this month’s challenge is to read a Book With One Word Title. There is no way that I could find a book or even essay I had read this month with a One Word Title.

So I thought, how hard could this be. I’ll just quickly read an ebook.

I go to my library cards, I search for romance books and firstly there were slim pickings. I mean SLIM. The statewide system seemed to have only 80 titles under the keyword search for “romance”. There were about 5 one word titles but they were only 500 pages. Yeah but nah.

I got agitated. So I moved on. I went to my local library. There were a lot more books but once again, there were few with only one word titles, and absolutely none with a low word count.

I got agitated. So I moved on. I thought I’d check the YA books. I found a few with one word titles but they were all ALL overly long. 400 pages plus. Publishers – take note. Teenagers and young adults are ALL studying. Who has time for 400 page novels. I say bring back the Sweet Dream length teen romances. Bring back the Paul Zindel, S E Hinton, Judy Blume teen novels of the late 20th century. Short and fast. Easy and quick. Over and done with in an afternoon so you can pass them around to your friends in a short week. None of these ridiculous doorstopper tomes.

I got agitated and moved to my bookshelves. I found all my Charlotte Lambs with One Word Titles. Desire. Heartbreaker. Temptation. Crescendo. Fever. I chose to read Scandalous. It’s only 180 pages. I can do this. However, I was starting at 6pm and interruptions and dinner time and phone calls kept me from progressing beyond a chapter.

I got agitated and gave up. I ate my dinner and my son suggested we watch Superstore.

Superstore. One Word Title!

Sure. I’m far behind as I only started watching the series a month ago. I’m halfway through Season 2. TBR tick!!!

We start watching the episode we were up to and it is the Valentine’s episode! JACKPOT!

For those that don’t know, the show is like a Walmart but it is called Cloud 9. The premise of the episode was that the main characters Amy (a staffer played by America Ferrera), Jonah (another staffer played by Ben Fledman who looks like he is the love child of Scott Baio and Scott Baio) and Glenn (the store manager played by Mark McKinney) get so caught up with Valentine’s Day fever they accidently overstep boundaries. Nothing romantic between the main characters so I guess it is going against the Valentine’s Day Trope that says that “characters face romantic challenges or break new ground on episodes that revolve around Valentine’s Day”. There was a sweet moment between character Mateo and his (secret) boyfriend Jeff. And there was the end of day destruction of all the Valentine’s merchandise by Amy and Ben who smash all the hearts and eat all the chocolates. Even though Amy is married (though her marriage is on the rocks), it is totally obvious that she and Jonah will be getting it on at some point in the series. The spark is there. They are fun to watch together. Visually, they are just like Joanie Loves Chachi but WAY BETTER.

I really enjoy this show

The fairytale, marriage and another fun read

I’m over 10 days late for this month’s TBR challenge having completely missed posting for March and April’s TBR. The May topic being Fairytale/Folktale and my connection to the theme is a bit of a tenuous stretch and only mentioned briefly towards the end of this post. As for how long this book has been on my TBR, I’m just going to say that I have borrowed it three times, with a three month loan period (inclusive of renewals), and I only managed to read it at the tail end of this latest loan.

A lilac shadow shaped like skyscrapers in a city as a backdrop, with a cartoon bride holding open a yellow taxi door which just doesn't make sense because there was no taxi in the wedding scene.

Book: Marriage on Madison Avenue by Lauren Layne  (the third in the ˆ series) 

The Blurb: Can guys and girls ever be just friends? According to Audrey Tate and Clarke West, absolutely. After all, they’ve been best friends since childhood without a single romantic entanglement. Clarke is the charming playboy Audrey can always count on, and he knows that the ever-loyal Audrey will never not play along with his strategy for dodging his matchmaking mother—announcing he’s already engaged…to Audrey.

But what starts out as a playful game between two best friends turns into something infinitely more complicated, as just-for-show kisses begin to stir up forbidden feelings. As the faux wedding date looms closer, Audrey and Clarke realise that they can never go back to the way things were, but deep down, do they really want to?

This is the final instalment to the Central Park Pact series.

How did I find this book: Lauren Layne has become an auto-read author for me since Dr Jayashree Kamblé recommended her novel Walk of Shame to me several years ago.

Meet Cute: A bit of series backgrounding first: this is a trilogy with the protagonists of each book, Audrey, Claire and Naomi having dubiously met at the funeral of their (yes – plural THEIR) dead boyfriend a couple of years earlier, having discovered that they had all been duped (ahem sleeping with) the same man. On the day of his funeral (no – they didn’t kill him), the three discover that they weren’t his only girlfriend/wife. Though horrified by their own role in being “the other woman”, they forge an unlikely friendship where they look after each other – especially when it comes to finding their true love as they all now, understandably, have trust issues. Claire and Naomi in this book are already paired up which leaves Audrey to find her love match. 

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New to me author and getting a life

I have surprised myself in that I have managed to read yet another novel! What is this new life of mine? I’m liking how being liberated from being a student feels. Unemployed for the while, I am listening to podcasts, reading, watching TV and attempting to clean the house. Reading is still super-slow as I had a whole lot of administrative things to do around the thesis as well as finally sinking my teeth into some research that I have had on hold for a while (now to get some funding!). Meanwhile, it’s SuperWendy’s TBR challenge once again and this month’s theme is a new-to-me author and as is my usual way – there are some vague spoilers.

Book: Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert

Blurb: Chloe Brown is a chronically ill computer geek with a goal, a plan, and a list. After almost—but not quite—dying, she’s come up with seven directives to help her “Get a Life”, and she’s already completed the first: finally moving out of her glamorous family’s mansion. The next items?

• Enjoy a drunken night out.
• Ride a motorcycle.
• Go camping.
• Have meaningless but thoroughly enjoyable sex.
• Travel the world with nothing but hand luggage.
• And… do something bad.

But it’s not easy being bad, even when you’ve written step-by-step guidelines on how to do it correctly. What Chloe needs is a teacher, and she knows just the man for the job.

Redford ‘Red’ Morgan is a handyman with tattoos, a motorcycle, and more sex appeal than ten-thousand Hollywood heartthrobs. He’s also an artist who paints at night and hides his work in the light of day, which Chloe knows because she spies on him occasionally. Just the teeniest, tiniest bit.

But when she enlists Red in her mission to rebel, she learns things about him that no spy session could teach her. Like why he clearly resents Chloe’s wealthy background. And why he never shows his art to anyone. And what really lies beneath his rough exterior…

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The Prenup: a happy read

It has been several years since I have felt motivated to read novels back to back. Yet here I am, finally with two books in one week! Time for cake! I want to point out before I go any further that 1. I absolutely loved reading this book and 2. SPOILERS ABOUND. If you hate spoilers (’cause these ones are not subtle), maybe just bookmark this post and come back once you too have read the book.

The cover of The Prenup includes a byline "Love wasn't part of the deal"

Book: The Prenup by Lauren Layne

Blurb: My name is Charlotte Spencer and, ten years ago, I married my brother’s best friend. I haven’t seen him since. Charlotte Spencer grew up on the blue-blooded Upper East Side of Manhattan but she never wanted the sit-still-look-pretty future her parents dictated for her.

Enter Colin Walsh, her brother’s quiet, brooding, man-bun-sporting best friend, and with him a chance to escape. He’s far from Charlotte’s dream guy as but they need each other for one thing: marriage. One courthouse wedding later, Charlotte’s inheritance is hers to start a business in San Francisco and Irish-born Colin has a Green Card.

Ten years later, Colin drops a bombshell: the terms of their prenup state that before either can file for divorce, they have to live under the same roof for three months. Suddenly this match made in practicality is about to take on whole new meaning…

How did I find this book: I loved Lauren Layne’s The Walk of Shame so I went searching for her and borrowed her only two books my library held.

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Love Lettering and Comfort Reading

Having barely read for pleasure in 2020, I wanted to start 2021 by reading in my favourite genre as well as take part in SuperWendy’s TBR challenge with this month’s theme being Comfort Reads. New Year reverting to old readerly me! I do want to point out that this review has a MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!

Book: Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn

Book cover for Love Lettering

Blurb: Meg Mackworth’s hand-lettering skill has made her famous as the Planner of Park Slope, designing beautiful custom journals for New York City’s elite. She has another skill too: reading signs that other people miss. Like the time she sat across from Reid Sutherland and his gorgeous fiancée, and knew their upcoming marriage was doomed to fail. Weaving a secret word into their wedding program was a little unprofessional, but she was sure no one else would spot it. She hadn’t counted on sharp-eyed, pattern-obsessed Reid . .. A year later, Reid has tracked Meg down to find out—before he leaves New York for good—how she knew that his meticulously planned future was about to implode. But with a looming deadline, a fractured friendship, and a bad case of creative block, Meg doesn’t have time for Reid’s questions—unless he can help her find her missing inspiration. As they gradually open up to each other about their lives, work, and regrets, both try to ignore the fact that their unlikely connection is growing deeper. But the signs are there—irresistible, indisputable, urging Meg to heed the messages Reid is sending her, before it’s too late …

How did I find this book: Twitter conversations

Meet Cute: Meg did the calligraphy for Reid and his former fiancee’s wedding invitations. They met when he turned up to approve the design. Their own story starts a year after this event, with Reid approaching Meg to ask why she encrypted the message “Mistake” into the invite. Meg doesn’t really have an answer to this but when Reid tells her that he is leaving New York City because he hates it, she feels that she needs to show him the New York she loves so he can understand the city better.

This inexplicable and kinda weird insistence for Reid to see the beauty of New York City left me feeling confused and I kept reading back over her proposal to find hand written signs across the city to try to understand 1) what’s in it for her and 2) what’s in it for him. I just couldn’t work it out or why he would agree to take part. But this doesn’t really matter because what happens next were these lovely walks through New York City, part game and part tour, where Meg and Reid searching for hand-drawn signs and colours and letters. These regular rendezvous allowed them to build a relationship where they talked and had fun searching for the textual rhythms of the city. These walks were incredibly endearing and were instrumental in revealing Meg and Reid’s selves to each other. These walks become the backdrop to Meg’s relationships with her friends,  employers and clients, and Meg hopes that they help her to resolve her artistic block that was keeping her from meeting her work commitments. I liked the way their walking builds up to Meg and Reid’s friendship, and then builds up to Meg and Reid’s intimacy where they both revealed their vulnerabilities. I especially like that when they realised that they were going to be having sex, their is a long break involving walking and catching transport with “no self-respecting New Yorker PDAs on the subway” intimating their restraint until they reached his apartment. The walking allowing them space for reflection and thought, a way for consent to be reached through the clarity that time and thinking while walking can give you, and the loveliness of walking through their city to their amatory destiny.

Meg’s problem however is that she is a not a confrontationist. She would rather friendships and relationships peter out than confront problems and grapple with possible arguments or fights that need to be resolved. Throughout the book, this becomes a major issue which she needs to overcome with her best-friend Sibby and then with Reid too. She slowly builds up to being able to argue with them and resolving these arguments. Which was fine. It was lovely. It showed care. But it made me a tad bored. Not bored enough to stop reading, but still, bored.

And then the very odd end of the book happened when all of a sudden, instead of reading a romance (THIS PART IS THE SPOILER)…. I’m reading a fraud case, and Reid is an informant (still waters run deep!) and is now in witness protection, and Meg has to decode coordinates??? Just. Really? Why did this just happen? I feel confused again. I feel cheated. I know that I was bored in parts but this wasn’t a change of pace as much as a change of book. So this was a romantic suspense novel and I didn’t even realise it. Switch and bait. I grumbled, I did. This ending really annoyed the shit out of me because of this. It felt fabricated and orchestrated due to not enough tensions being available in the relationship. I don’t mind a story that goes from no drama to high drama in a flash but it felt out of kilter with this particular story and its conciliatory strengths.

I do want to point out one that I stuck with the book because it was beautifully written. The turn of phrase, the loveliness of the narrative. The lettering and planner details gave a rich experience of the text, and though I personally don’t pay lots of attention to details (I just buy whatever is on offer), their description in this book kept me engaged. I also absolutely adored the city walking. I am an urban bunny, I cannot bear bushwalking as I find nature rather boring (oh look – there’s a tree. And just beyond it another tree just like it). I’m glad nature exists and all, but I’m happy to protect it by not going to it. In the city though, the thrill of noises and sirens, the smells, and the crowds (this books is written in a pre-Covid world). Ah! I just loved the city as character in this book and it worked its magic on me.

Will they last: I’m undecided on this one. Do I think that Meg and Reid have a relationship that they can sustain for all their lives – Yes. Do I think that Reid can live 25/40/60 years in a city he once hated? I’m unsure. Which is the whole crux of their relationship. Meg loves the city and somehow Reid claims that he now loves it too because he saw it through her eyes but I remain unconvinced. No doubt they love each other. But I doubt Reid loves NYC. They’re really going to have to think carefully about which neighbourhood they choose to live in if they want to ensure that city living doesn’t become their insurmountable problem.

Feelings: Overwhelmingly though, this book was heavy with sadness. Both Reid and Meg carry their worries on the page. From Meg’s inability to vocalise her problems to Reid’s skin flares making it impossible to hide the stress he wished he could internalise. Though there are some funny exchanges and witty repartee, sadness was stronger in this book as an emotion. And perhaps this is why I did not enjoy the book as much as I would have wanted. With the sadness of living in plague times, with the political zeitgeist being one of oppression and obfuscation across the world, and all the other usual personal problems I carry in my soul, I was really wanting a lighter book to read. I needed a light breeze and Love Lettering was certainly not that for me. Would I recommend it to others? Yes. But it definitely was not the right book for me. I sought a comfort read but I didn’t find comfort.

This book was borrowed from a NSW public library.