Comfort reading and librarian romances

It’s March and my fiction reading still has not taken off. I’m a tad busy at the moment (understatement) as I have my part-time librarian work, I have taken on teaching a new subject which is slightly shifted from my previous subjects, and of course I am still chipping slowly away at my PhD meanwhile I am continuing with my whole family’s habitual 2 episodes a night of How I Met Your Mother  (priorities peoples!) while trying to perform motherly duties, so there will be no self-flaggelation over my lack of recreational reading. That said, I still wanted to contribute to SuperWendy’s TBR this month as I really love the comfort reads theme so I dug out an old draft post I had started writing on my favourite librarian romances which are high up on my comfort reads list.

There are quite a few librarian novels and SuperWendy, who is also a romance reading librarian, has an ever-growing Librarians in Romance Novels page with over 125 novels listed. I’ve read many on her list but I’ll only discuss my favourites.

Karina Bliss wrote What the Librarian Did which became an automatic buy up for libraries with a Mills & Boon buying plan (ahem!) I think this was a favourite because we were all wondering “What did she do!?!?!”.

Let’s just say that Rachel Robinson was a great academic librarian but a little bit reluctant in the relationship game because, you  know, life decisions can sometimes suck and come back to haunt you.

But this book isn’t my absolute favouritest librarian comfort read…..

Continue reading

How low a hero

I took another long haul train ride two weeks ago. $45 interstate fares have a tendency to mobilise me so I hopped on a 14 hour train to Queensland and visited the hatchback-hero-denier-and-in-all-other-ways-wonderful woman Sandra Antonelli and then hopped on another (2 hour) train to stay with amazing Rachel Bailey, both of whom are writer friends who put me through the thinking and writing paces to get my scholarly brain functioning.

Just as 2016 has been a shit and rubbish year for many people – from political recoil, particularly with the heart-wrenching realisation that the citizenry of the world prefers racist, bigoted, lying narcissists as their leaders (thanks Australia for Turnbull, Hanson and Roberts, thanks UK for your vile Brexit and OMG-that-horror-story-that-Stephen-King-couldn’t-imagine-yet-YA-could USA) to the loss of musical greats (David Bowie, Leonard Cohen and Prince), I have had a few of my own personal problems that surmounted to PhD writing meltdown. These long train rides during October and November have served me well in providing thinking and reading time. Though my main activity on the train rides has been university work, I did have enough travel time that I was also able to read some fiction. And on my northbound journey, I found myself grappling with Maisey Yates.

But first, the blurb:

Carides's Forgotten WifeCarides’s Forgotten Wife by Maisey Yates

Greek billionaire Leon Carides has it all: wealth, power, notoriety, even a wife—though he’s never touched his convenient, innocent bride. Then an accident rids this damaged, debauched playboy of his memories… 

Leon remembers nothing, except his wife’s sparkling blue eyes. Now the desire he feels for Rose overrides the gaps in his past, making her impossible to resist! But when his sins catch up with him, can Rose forgive the mistakes of the man he once was? Or will Leon lose more than just his memory?

Continue reading

If there’s a ghost from yesteryear in it, is it a historical?

It is Wendy the Super Amazing Super Incredible Super Sensational Librarian’s TBR Challenge and this month and the topic is historical romance. I would like to ponder – just briefly – if a contemporary set book has a ghost from the World War 2 era  in it, does it qualify as a historical even though there are barely any flashback scenes? I will answer my own question here and say no but then again, if a book has a ghost in it, I am already needing to stretch my As-if-O-Meter (well….not really as I love ghost stories), so I am asking that this incredibly tenuous link with barely-a-hint-of-historical novel is applied to Lisa Kleypas (historical novelist extraordinaire)’s Dream Lake which is one of her few contemporary set books.

I very nearly claimed Kleypas bankruptcy last month. I had read Marrying Winterborn and though it was okay, it certainly didn’t thrill me enough to merit spending time with another 300+ page book. Time is of essence and there are many books to be read! I have read only 4 of her novels over the years and though there is a lot of Kleypas love not only in the interwebs but also at my library where, despite having many of her titles, it is a rare day for there to be more than 2 on the shelf at any one time, to me, she is a “yeah-she’s-kinda-allright” read. She is an author that I would not binge read. Yet here I was, reading her twice in a row. And why? Let’s just say that I love a good ghost story so how could I go past a ghost romance!

First, the blurb:

Lisa Kleypas - Dream LakeDream Lake

by Lisa Kleypas

They say that opposites attract. But what happens when one has been devastated by betrayal and the other is so jaded that his heart is made of stone? Enter the world of Friday Harbor, an enchanting town in the Pacific Northwest where things are not quite as they seem and where true love might just have a ghost of a chance….

Alex Nolan is as bitter and cynical as they come. One of the three Nolan brothers who call Friday Harbor home, he’s nothing like Sam or Mark. They actually believe in love; they think the risk of pain is worth the chance of happiness. But Alex battles his demons with the help of a whiskey bottle, and he lives in his own private hell. And then a ghost shows up. Only Alex can see him, Has Alex finally crossed over the threshold to insanity?

Zoë Hoffman is as gentle and romantic as they come. When she meets the startling gorgeous Alex Nolan, all her instincts tell her to run. Even Alex tells her to run. But something in him calls to Zoë, and she forces him to take a look at his life with a clear eye and to open his mind to the possibility that love isn’t for the foolish.

The ghost has been existing in the half-light of this world for decades. He doesn’t know who he is, or why he is stuck in the Nolans’ Victorian house. All he knows is that he loved a girl once. And Alex and Zoë hold the key to unlocking a mystery that keeps him trapped here.

Zoë and Alex are oil and water, fire and ice, sunshine and shadow. But sometimes it takes only a glimmer of light to chase away the dark, and sometimes love can reach beyond time, space, and reason to take hold of hearts that yearn for it…

So Alex is a hard hero to redeem. He’s surly, he’s rude, he’s a drunk verging on becoming an alcoholic. He’s in the process of getting a divorce yet continues to have cold, hard, angry convenience fucks with his-ex wife. Alex goes to help his brother with a house he is restoring one day and finds himself saddled with a ghost who realises that Alex is the only human that can hear and see him. Enter Zoe who is sweet, shy and has also gone through a divorce due to her BFF husband realising he was actually gay. Zoe hires Alex to convert her grandmother’s home to make it habitable for old-age care.  The two of them constantly come into contact as he is repairing her home. Alex has had a difficult life growing up as the youngest child of 2 alcoholic parents so he keeps himself detached but he just can’t detach from Zoe eventually realising that he loves her (when it is nearly too late and he has a deus ex machina moment which could have been perfect if…. [MAJOR BLACK MOMENT IN THE BOOK SPOILER ALERT]

Tap dancing from Singing in the Rain

….there was an ambulance involved when there is an accident that has Zoe bawling and Alex dead….but there wasn’t and they all walked away from the scene. Now I could do a reader whinge and say “How believable is that?!” however my As-if-O-meter has totally embraced the awesome ghost that has partnered Alex everywhere for the past many months so I just add it as another notch on my believability scale and enjoy the love declaration instead.

Happy dance - cartoon mice with love hearts

The romance story was relatively simple as the ghost arc is really where this novel’s complexity lies and this was beautiful woven through this story. The obstacles were all on Alex’s side with his struggles with alcohol, with going dry and his slow realisation of what it is to love. Zoe felt like a prop – a lovely one, a lovely character who does have some growth in that she finally takes a risk on loving. I absolutely loved the description of her sublime cooking and the magic it had on Alex’s soul. Alex’s ghost is pretty cool. The ghost at first is grateful to have someone to communicate with but when he realises it is ungrateful-and-hell-bent-on-self-destruction Alex, the ghost becomes snarky and rather bitter. Having lived for decades in a limbo, to see a living human being waste his time and self is frustrating. The relationship between Alex and the ghost, their sharp dialogue, their love/hate life/death and all in between just sparks up an otherwise yeah-okay romance. The ghost element was believable in this story (I cannot read most paranormal books as it crosses my As-If-O-Meter)  and the ghost too ends up having a schmaltzy ending (but of course and it was to be expected and it was very well orchestrated but well it still overstepped this romance reader’s schmaltz line). The ghost’s own closure and escape from limbo – though sweet – faded into the background for me in light of the friendship between Alex who drags himself out of his pending alcoholism and the ghost who finally comes to terms with his own errant ways when he was alive.

I do love ghost stories.

I sneakread this book which I took off Rachel Bailey’s shelves when I should have been working on my PhD while I was hiding out and using her home as a study cave. Shhhhhhhh! Nobody tell her!

The ghost and Mrs Muir walking off into the fog together as a door closes behind them

Train travel, sexy baklava and a retro Anne McAllister romance: a running commentary

I was in Melbourne a few weeks ago. As a total wimp and the catastrophising human that I am, instead of braving a one hour flight each way, I caught the 10 hour train to and from Melbourne instead. On the return trip I reread an old favourite Sexy Mills & Boon by the wonderful Anne McAllister called The Antonides Marriage Deal  and I wrote running commentary while I read and travelled. All the photographs are my own taken with the thoughtful and precise skills developed over the years which my sons lovingly (I’m sure) call “The Veros School of Photography”.

Though I am posting this in time for SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge, the only thing that is paranormal about it is the smokey jackaroo….

Oh. And a warning: FULL of SPOILERS!

You can fast forward to the end of the blog for the review part.

The TL:DR for this book is Tis Great!

The Antonides Marriage Deal by Anne McAllister

The Antonides Marriage Deal

by Anne McAllister

The Greek tycoon’s takeover…
Greek magnate Elias Antonides has single-handedly regained his family’s fortune. So when his father gambles away a vital share he’s furious! Elias now has a new business partner…stunning heiress Tallie Savas.

The terms of the deal…
Tallie’s eager to prove herself, but she hasn’t counted on Elias being so sexy. Elias has underestimated Tallie, and now wonders if he can make their business arrangement personal — as in marriage!

 

 

 

8:00am Melbourne

The Yarra River in Melbourne, AustralianI’m at Southern Cross Station having just received a text informing me that my train was being replaced by buses

Successful business man Elias Antonides is fending off phone calls from his mother, his sisters, his brothers and other business partners like a pro. He is deliberate in keeping his fickle father waiting on hold but is unable to shake him. His dad, as the majority owner of the company but totally inept of keeping it afloat, insists that his son who saved the family biz from bankruptcy meet with him. The two meet just for μπαμπα to tell Elias that he has sold off half the company from under him to a buy-and-destroy self-made Greek magnate Socrates Savas.

Socrates is an Old Skool Greek man who props up his footloose sons (as Greek sons are known to be ζαχαροπαιδα/sugar boys who dissolve if they aren’t treated as though they are something special – trust me on this) and dismisses his sharp and intelligent daughter Tallie as a possibility to work in his company and instead keeps trying to match her up with Greek dudes (that said, you get to meet Tallie’s brother Theo in The Santorini Bride and he is far from a ζαχαροπαιδο in his romance with Martha, Elias’s sister). Continue reading

Sealed with a Kiss – TBR challenge

It has been a while since I last read a contemporary British romance that wasn’t a Mills and Boon or Historical romance. I occasionally enjoy chick lit and I really do love reading Harriet Evans novels so this was an easy loan when I saw it on the library shelves and it easily fits in with this month’s TBR challenge of something different. But first, the blurb:

Sealed with a kiss by Rachael Lucas

Sealed with a Kiss

by Rachael Lucas

Bingo Squares: Epic disaster wardrobe tragedy or train travel

Kate is dumped on her best friend’s wedding day by the world’s most boring boyfriend, Ian. She’s mostly cross because he got in first – until she remembers she’s now homeless as well as jobless. Rather than move back home to her ultra-bossy mother, Kate takes a job on the remote Scottish island of Auchenmor as an all-round Girl Friday. Her first day is pretty much a disaster: she falls over, smack bang at the feet of her grouchy new boss, Roddy, Laird of the Island. Unimpressed with her townie ways, he makes it clear she’s got a lot to prove.

Island life has no room for secrets, but prickly Roddy’s keeping something to himself. When his demanding ex girlfriend appears back on the island, Kate’s budding friendship with her new boss comes to an abrupt end. What is Fiona planning – and can she be stopped before it’s too late?

Heroine Kate’s boring boyfriend of 5 years breaks up with her on the dancefloor at her bestfriend’s wedding (seriously! who does that!)  Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Romance genre captivity narratives & Australia

Guest Post by Merrian Weymouth

@MerrianOW

Janet’s series of opinion posts over on Dear Author about historical North American captivity narratives and the antecedents of the romance genre have led me to try and think out what I know about Australian settlement history – a very general laywoman’s view and to wonder what our captivity narratives would be like. These are the three posts with discussion that form the background to this blog post.

“Life During Wartime” on Dear Author .

“Take The Long Way Home” on Dear Author

“Can’t Find My Way Home” on Dear Author

I started writing a comment to Janet’s “Life During Wartime” post but it became very long and Vassiliki kindly volunteered her blog as a place to share my ramblings.

I can describe three forms of captivity for women that arose from the way in which settlement happened here in Australia but I’m not sure we have equivalent Australian captivity narratives unless we count stories such as Henry Lawson’s fiction of the 1890’s “The Drover’s Wife” about a woman who is captive to her husband’s absence, the bush and the snake, and who does not have her own name.

Women Convicts

Male and female convicts arrived on the First Fleet in 1788 and the last convicts to be transported to Australia arrived in Western Australia in 1868. Female convicts made up 20% of the convict population. Nearly all white women who arrived in Australia in the late 18th and early 19th were convicts; that is, they were captives of the government. To grow the colony, women were needed to breed the next generation. This meant that in Britain women received the harsher penalty of transportation for offences. Women, especially those of marrying age were transported mainly for petty theft and property crimes. Their function was to give sexual gratification to the men of the colony and have babies. The government turned female convicts into unpaid sex workers. Crowds of men would meet the arriving ships to pick whom they wanted. Male convicts had the capacity to earn their passage back to Britain after their term had expired. The reality for women, especially once children were born, was that transportation was a life sentence.

Effectively any existing marriages of all female convicts arriving on Australian shores were set aside. Female convicts were initially sent to ‘factories’ and their way out of these harsh holding cells was to be taken as servants (often a euphemism for concubine) or directly into a co-habiting relationship. Men could go and view the women; there are descriptions from the Parramatta Factory of men dropping a handkerchief at the feet of the one they selected. The women had the choice as to whether they picked up the handkerchief but given the limited options they faced, was it really a choice? The female convicts’ agreeing to be one man’s partner obtained some protection for the importunities of the many, although even so they were still considered whores.  This attitude to women in the colony was so prevalent that even free women who settled in Australia before the 1830’s wore the same label. Legal marriage was very difficult to achieve for convicts due to the cost of the licence and the lack of Anglican clergy. If convict women had any bargaining power it was because of the scarcity of women, an issue in Australia throughout the 19th century.

Consequently, settler Australia grew into a very sexist, misogynistic culture with very distinct male and female worlds of opportunity and action. Men had great power over women; this made Australia a land where women waited for the man to claim to them and to change things for them where men despised them for this and even as they were desired as wives and de facto partners, they were seen as corrupting whores. The process of settlement built a greater power imbalance into male/female relationships than already existed in the British culture of the times. Free women migrating as potential wives and mothers were subsumed into this culture.

Women and settlement

This leads to a story I was told by a local man about life on the Atherton Tablelands in the hinterland behind Cairns in Queensland. Roads into much of the interior of Australia are an essentially 20th century invention; movement around Australia until around WW1 was mostly via coastal steamers and latterly railways. The vast distances (today it takes around 19 hours to drive 1704 km from Brisbane to Cairns) meant that regional areas could be incredibly isolated. Men who had taken up land in the Tablelands would go down to Cairns, Brisbane or Townsville to find a wife, woo her and marry her then bring her back to their properties. They would deliberately take a long and convoluted trip from Cairns into the Tablelands so the woman would not be able to find her own way back over the distance of several days journey. The isolation of life in these places was a known cause for women wanting to leave; the problem was solved by making sure she couldn’t leave because she didn’t know the way out.

White men abducted Aboriginal women as sexual and working slaves. This was a common practice of stockmen moving large cattle herds over great distances and particularly of Sealers working in Bass Strait who abducted women from Tasmania.

White women living with Aboriginal tribes was so rare as to be regarded as mythical and only potentially occurring when ships were wrecked on the coast, not because of abduction.

Beginning in the 1830’s, the Government assisted the immigration of single women between the ages of eighteen and thirty to work as domestic servants and to become wives. Migration to Australia boomed with the discovery of gold in the 1850’s. The population tripled in the next 20 years bringing migrants from countries outside the British Empire. It was not uncommon for migrant women from Europe to marry fellow countrymen by proxy who had already settled in Australia. They made long journeys alone to a new future with nothing but their hope that they were married to good men. Often not speaking any English, their point of contact with the wider Australian world was dependent on their husbands.

Women and the land

Female captivity in Australian historical terms cannot be considered without thinking about our relationship with the land and the great, absorbing silence of the bush. The dominant myth of 19th century settlement was that of the lost child who wanders into the bush never to be seen again. There are many sad stories of real events. Children traditionally represent the future in stories and poems. So these are stories about the harsh and alien environment and European uncertainties and fears about being swallowed whole by the realities of making a life here. Aboriginal people were never the abductors in real life or in stories, they were the ‘black trackers’ who searched for and hopefully found the missing; able to do so because of their relationship to the land and under the direction of white men leading the search parties and dominating their environment. Many free settlers were remittance men, disgraced in some way or unable to fit into British society so sent to, or escaping to Australia with the intention they vanish into the Terra Nullius; the empty land. The long sea journey to Australia meant that settlers were unlikely to see family or friends ever again e.g. until late in 19th century letters back to Britain could take two years to receive a reply, so the land and its distances itself was the captor.

What’s in a name…?

Female life in early settler Australia was determined by strong systemic, social and cultural imperatives implemented through government policy of the day and shaped by the geography of our silent landscape. A whole category of women whose sexual consent was neither needed nor required were created by government fiat. The actual process of settlement turned women as a group and as individuals into nameless objects. “The convict stain” is the colloquial term for having a family heritage of descent from convicts (1 in 7 Australians has convict blood). It was not until well into the 20th century that the stain was regarded without shame. It seems to me the shame wasn’t in the transportation for crime but in what happened on these shores. Australian women settlers were made nameless and silent and ashamed. Their self-reliance, loyalty to each other, determination and economic successes were hidden away by the general view taken of female convicts and inherent cultural misogyny. In the North American captivity narratives, women and children are named and have some form of individual agency in contrast to the nameless, silenced women of early Australian settlement.

Further questions

In her post “Take The Long Way Home” Janet says: “Romance, beyond its focus on a romantic relationship, is also very much preoccupied with the relationship between the individual and society, between freely chosen love and social obligation, between personal aspirations and social roles.” In the case of the female convicts – personal aspirations are likely to have been reduced to being raped less and their relationships primarily instrumental – what can you do for me and what must I exchange for it? Where is the romance?  Are any meaningful mutual obligations possible between individuals? If the state is your rapist what do you owe the social contract? Convict women and the Aboriginal women who survived these early years of settlement were seen as recalcitrant and always ready to battle authority, they were always other.

How does our Australian settler cultural history and mythology construct and engage with the romance genre? How do the captivity, marriage of convenience and ‘fated mate’ tropes of the romance genre then speak to our historical experience of convict and immigrant women and proxy brides for strangers?

If we accept the modern romance genre as seeded from the history and myth of the North American captivity narratives does this enforce markedly American approaches to thinking, writing and reading the romance genre even when readers and writers come from other cultures?

Some Background:

“The Proposition” film set in the 1880’s http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Proposition

“Lost” painting by Frederick McCubbin http://www.artistsfootsteps.com/html/McCubbin_lost.htm

Books about female convicts http://www.femaleconvicts.org.au/index.php/resources/books

“Bush Studies” by Barbara Baynton http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks01/0100141.txt

“The Drover’s Wife” by Henry Lawson (scroll down to find story)  http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks/e00108.txt

“The Babies In The Bush” by Henry Lawson (scroll down to find story)   http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks/e00025.txt

“WHITE WOMAN WITH BLACK TRIBES Believed To Be A Myth“  in Gippsland Times Thursday 7th February 1935 http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/62949799

Merrian Weymouth can be emailed at mezzky.mow@gmail.com

Things fluttered appropriately – an interview with Sandra Antonelli

A Basic Renovation is available from Escape Publishing, the Itunes Bookstore, and Amazon.

A Basic Renovation by Sandra Antonelli

Two years ago, I met Sandra Antonelli through her writing on Twitter. Here was an author who I thought was funny, smart, relished earworms, rat terriers and spider scares, and could tell great stories all in 140 characters. Following her twitter feed was a given for me and she followed me back resulting in many interesting exchanges. Last week I ventured into reading her first published book with Escape Publishing.

Property renovator Lesley thinks she can combine a little business with her annual visit to her parents in Los Alamos, but that’s before she runs into Dominic. Single father Dominic, quantum physicist turned hardware store owner believes Lesley is A) poison; B) a lesbian who ruined his little brother’s life; and C) the detonator to a 50 megaton secret. What starts as cold fury turns into nuclear attraction, and naturally, they fall for each other, but can their love survive the fallout when Dominic’s little atomic bomb goes off?

This is a contemporary romance set in New Mexico, USA. I already liked Sandra’s writing style (why else would I have followed her on Twitter for so long) but would that style extend to reading a 314 page novel? I was nervous! Well, by page twenty, to quote her character Lesley, “things fluttered appropriately”. I fell in love with this story. And just a teeny weeny bit more in love with Sandra, who was kind enough to agree to being my first ever Shallowreader interview.

Shallowreader: Hello Sandra! Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed by me today. You are popping my interviewer cherry so please be gentle.

Sandra: ‪I’ll use coffee as a lubricant.

Shallowreader: ‪Oooh! Now you are even more appealing 😉

Sandra: ‪Coffee fixes everything.

Shallowreader: ‪Let’s get straight into your book – there were no cherries popped in this book. Tell me why you chose to write a romance with older characters than you find in traditional romances?

Sandra: A variety of reasons really. First, why not? I’ve always appreciated characters who had interesting life experiences. When I was thirteen I was reading about Jane Eyre and the second Mrs DeWinter (from Rebecca) and they were older than me. When I was seventeen I was reading about women who were older than me. Then in my twenties I was reading about women who were roughly the same age—and they bored the crap out of me because they were so inexperienced. By the time I was thirty I found it harder and harder to relate to the heroines in romance because they were younger with very little life experience under their feet. The harder I looked for a more mature-aged heroine, the more I was led to Women’s Fiction—which to me, is not romance. That annoyed me. Chronological age becomes irrelevant if the story engages you or the reader—if you connect to something. I wanted to read romance not Women’s Fiction ‘relationship’ novels about best friends and cheatin’ husbands. Writers are often told to ‘write what you know’ or to ‘write the book you want to read.’ So that’s what I started doing. I took that life experience and life baggage and jumped on the romance train.

‪Shallowreader: I’m so glad you jumped on that train! As a reader, women’s fiction and finding-one’s-true-self-due-to-broken-relationships books have never appealed to me either yet so few romances depict older women. Do you think cultural expectations (and by default publishers predicting readers expectations) still relate back to the juvenile attitude of “Ewwww! It’s like knowing that your mum and dad still do it“?

Sandra: ‪To some extent yes, there is that ick factor inherent for some. For others it’s a matter of ‘romance is fantasy and I don’t want an ageing body in MY fantasy’ or ‘I want to picture pretty, not as I am, I don’t want a reminder I’m getting older’. Then there are readers (like me) who are fine with more realism in the fantasy, fine with getting older and would like to see that translated into romance fiction. The heroine’s beauty/allure is in the eye of the hero; he finds her crow’s feet sexy or her big ass sexy. People over forty fall in love and have sex like demented bunnies. Why not have that fantasy in romance?

Shallowreader: ‪I agree. I have owned demented bunnies. I loved the part in the book where Dominic points to a hair that Lesley thought she had removed and their ensuing aging body banter. I swooned!

Sandra: ‪I think some people think, as one editor did, that forty plus sex scenes are gong to include long descriptions of sagging boobs and flaccid penises—which of course would spoil any romantic fantasy. As a side note here: One of my favourite romance novels has two romances running simultaneously. Jenny Crusie’s Trust Me On This—to me the more engaging romance was between Harry and Victoria and they were sixty somethings. Harry was so turned on by the sight of Victoria’s skin. It was fantastic! They deserved the entire BOOK!

Shallowreader: I was still in my twenties when I read Jenny Crusie’s Anyone But You. Her female character was in her forties and this was a non-issue for me as a reader as the story was wonderful. I feel the same way about Lesley and Dominic in A Basic Renovation. They are in their forties and this just makes the romance stronger.

‪Sandra: As I said earlier, chronological age becomes irrelevant if the story engages the reader. I have read a few twenty-something heroines who, because of their circumstances have more experience than most women their age, and those stories have enthralled me. In fact, unless it’s specified or it constantly hammers me in the face—which happens more than I like—I forget about the heroine’s age as I read. It’s, as you said, a non-issue because I’ve engaged with the story and the heroine’s age becomes irrelevant. Her age is not driving the plot; the romance is driving the plot. That being said, if I were to read a romance with a mature-aged heroine who was all wrapped up in her age and worried about ageing (and I’ve read two) I would feel hammered in the face. I don’t want to read about someone ageing, I want to read about someone falling in love and getting a happily ever after despite their age because that is what happens in life.

 

Shallowreader: Is Crusie a big influence on your writing? Who else has influenced you?

Sandra: I really love Elmore Leonard. He writes crime and Westerns. Some readers may know him. Movie lovers will know his work like Get Shorty, Out of Sight (and the oh-so-sexy boot/trunk scene with George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez) and Jackie Brown. He has the most fantastic characters and THE most sublime dialogue. Right now his work is on TV with the show Justified. I adore his character Jackie Brown from Rum Punch—she’s an over forty flight attendant/smuggler who beats the mob. Jackie’s awesome and I can only pretend my romance emulates Leonard. I admire Suzanne Brockmann, Rachel Gibson and Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Jo Goodman because they write such multilayered and engaging stories, so I supposed they influenced me though osmosis. Or I like to think they have.

‪Shallowreader: I certainly see the Elmore Leonard influence – particularly your dialogue. I love that she nicknames Dominic “Walks-with-hard-on” and the verbal slamming was great. Your use of “fuck” and flipping the bird just made me want to read more books by you. I saw, not only Leonard, but a touch of Tarantino too but without the blood and gore, just with all the juicy language and wit. And I found your book really funny. I struggle to find books that are funny. I think writing humour is the most difficult of all writing crafts as timing and intonation is key. The act of reading internally differs so greatly from dramatisations or audio books where the actors or readers help convey the humour. I was snorting and laughing out loud as I read through this book. Did you find the humour writing difficult?

‪Sandra: You’re being very nice to me. I’d like to see a Leonard-esqueness in my writing. My sense of humour is that of a 12 or 13 year old boy, but I have a rule when I write: Sort of. I try not to do fart jokes or poop humour because, while I appreciate them, I know they’re not, uh, everyone’s cup of tea. I laugh like hell when I write the comedy scenes, but I never know if someone else if going to find the scene funny. I can only hope the readers do. Your snorting and laughing out loud is a good sign!

‪ Shallowreader: Farts can even be romantic in the right context

Sandra: Yes, farts can be romantic if the situation is right–say like in a car…

‪Hang on….Tarantino? Me? Oh, if you could only hear MY soundtrack for A Basic Renovation…

Shallowreader: ‪That IS my next question! Music and food are a big part of your book. What would be your soundtrack to your book and what do you recommend your readers to eat while they read it. For the record, I ate lots of cashews and salt and vinegar chips while drinking rosé – I’m a classy shallowreader.

Sandra: ‪Salt and vinegar with rosé? Coffee. Coffee and cookies. Or Cherry Limes from Sonic. Or apple pies from McDonald’s (if only Oz MCDonald’s had the cherry pies!). Music…well, I had to edit out the references to the songs Lesley listens to because not everyone would care or know the music but I have a playlist. It’s a little long…

Shallowreader: Do share it!

Sandra: ‪Here are a few of the songs. Any more and we’d be here for a week.

  • ‪In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida Iron Butterfly–very important
  • ‪From My Head to My Heart Evan & Jaron Evan and Jaron
  • ‪Glory Days Bruce Springsteen
  • ‪Goodbye Girl Squeeze
  • ‪New Shoes Paolo Nutini
  • ‪Phantom Limb The Shins
  • ‪Buy a Dog LUCE
  • ‪Red Dragon Tattoo Fountains of Wayne
  • ‪Seven Nation Army The White Stripes
  • ‪Supernova Liz Phair
  • ‪Worn Me Down Rachael Yamagata
  • ‪Wounded Nik Kershaw
  • ‪You Can Bring Me Flowers Ray LaMontagne
  • ‪That’s Just What You Are Aimee Mann
  • ‪Trust Me To Open My Mouth Squeeze
  • ‪Fought the Law Bobby Fuller Four
  • ‪No I In Threesome Interpol

Shallowreader: Can I say that I started reading your book with a bit of trepidation. We have known each other for a while as we met on Twitter as romance reading and studying followers so reviewing a tweep’s book could have gone belly up for both of us, and you used my least favourite romance trope in that Lesley was married to Dominic’s brother over 16 years earlier. This always creeps me out yet in your book you address this relationship and it is an issue and it isn’t all resolved despite getting past Regis‘s point of ritual death and the betrothal. I was interested to see that you added one of her optional elements “The Scapegoat exiled”. You took this disliked trope and turned it around for me. You also left a couple of unresolved issues which I liked because life is not nice and tidy yet so many books end with a “life will be perfect from here on” view.

Sandra: They were married but not really married and not divorced….I liked playing with that. I like when an author can turn a trope on its ear. I hate Secret babies in Contemporary romance. I mean I really, really hate them, but Susan Donovan took the secret baby (Girl Most Likely To) and make it work for me, and like you, I was shocked that she reeled me in! I’m glad I did that to you!

Hitchcock said you don’t need to give every little detail, you simply have to reel the movie-goer in. It’s a MacGuffin of a sort, to have a few devices or hooks that keep the reader reading… And did you notice that Lesley thought Dominic was having an issue about her past with his brother/her ex Terry before she realised what the REAL issue was?

A very lovely, well-established author was kind enough to look at this book when I stated writing it. She told me she thought readers would have an issue with the two brothers thing—which made me all the more determined to keep it in! Even a character in the book, Fabian, Dominic’s buddy mentions this too.

Shallowreader: Do you kill fairies?

Sandra: ‪Nope. I like to be surprised. And it bugs me if there’s a ‘baby epilogue.’ Come on leave something to my imagination.

Shallowreader: ‪Baby epilogues don’t bother me – and I love a secret baby plot too .

I’ll finish with saying: Your book oozes romance on many levels, from Dominic’s son Kyle on his first dates, Lesley’s still in-love parents and her sharp-tongued grandfather with ‘tude courting a woman for the first time in thirty years, as well as the wonderful primary romance between Lesley and Dominic. Thank you so much for writing this book and for being gentle with my first time interview. I’d like to say that I lay back and did it for my blog.

Sandra: Thank you for reading it and thank you more for enjoying it, for laughing out loud, and thank you for letting me get there before anyone else! I used protection.

A Basic Renovation is available from EscapePublishing, the iTunes Bookstore, and Amazon.

You can find Sandra on twitter @SandrAntonelli

and Facebook http://facebook.com/AuthorSandraAntonelli

I don’t need to like the characters or the story to enjoy reading a romance novel

This post started its life as a comment over at the blog Something More but it morphed and took on a life of its own but is still tangentially related to @Liz_Mc2‘s piece.

When I was 15, my friend (who was 17) came to my home with her fiance (who was in his 30s) with wedding invites. It was an arranged marriage as her parents felt that their daughters must marry young otherwise they will stray from God’s path. I recall my dad asking my friend if she was going to continue her studies to which her fiance answered that she will not need to complete studying as her task will be to take care of their children and home and it was his job to provide for the family. He then said to my father “If women are equals to men then why is it the man who is on top in the marital bed”. She giggled while the rest of us were stunned. At 15 I knew that there was more than missionary yet this smarmy, arrogant man at 30 had not imagined a life beyond it,  but also felt missionary was a divine sign of man’s superiority to women and that he expected a wife that submitted to his patriarchal needs. At 15, I recognised that this man was controlling, possessive and dismissive of his wife-to-be’s capacity to think. However, she accepted and married him (and is still married to him) and is always smiling and happy when I see her and their many children.

They have a romance story which I don’t particularly like. But it is theirs. And there are many dysfunctional marriages and relationships that I see around me daily that creep me out – but it is their story.

And that is why I read romances. Romances, for the most part, are character driven. They are about the slow reveals of humanity, vulnerability, conflict, anger, humour, the struggle of deciding whether to compromise personal values in order to accept someone who may not have the same values as oneself. Romances are reflections of that most personal interpersonal decision – finding a life partner.

Some romances are wonderful and I truly believe that the couple will be happy together for a long time. And other romances are awful. Not awful as in poorly written – but awful in the portrayal of the abhorrent characters. I may not like who the main characters are, I may not like the way they came together or why they came together but I revel in their engaging story. As a reader, I have never felt the need to like the characters I read about. I need to gain some understanding of why people who think differently to me, whose values and ideas are polar to mine, function the way that they do and how they find themselves in the situation that they are in. I can believe their story is likely without liking their story.

And there are many romances that when I finish reading them I mentally create my own epilogue in which I calculate the date of the divorce and how that divorce came about (was it an SMS, was it an amicable separation, was it a covert project that involved fleeing to a women’s refuge after finally getting that beating he felt she deserved). There are other romances that upon finishing them I imagine a miserable life of two bitter and angry people, one submitting, the other over-bearing (let us not be gender biased here – I have often seen the male submitting to a horrid female). For some it is a long life filled with regret for staying within a relationship that only occasionally raised some hope and for others it is a life that they are happy within because it is in line with their life values (and it is my problem not theirs if it is not in line with my values). And there are just as many romances that upon finishing reading I imagine the joyous life the couple have together, travelling, working, building a home, creating a family, dancing, smiling and laughing together until they die.

As a reader, I relish being engaged by the characters in all these different romance stories but I don’t necessarily like them. I do not think that the relationships I am reading end with the Happily Ever After the author has provided me. The romance is just a snapshot in the life of these characters who live on in readers’ minds. The sign of an amazing romance novel is one in which the book gives me a structured beginning which then informs the rest of the story that grows in my mind.

Postscript: It is a good thing my friend’s fiance had never heard of the reverse cowgirl because who knows how he would have reasoned that it was a position of submission.