Top Ten Tuesday: Reasons Why I Love Romance Novels

Image via The Broke and the Bookish

As I’m reading another one of Julie James’ romance novels, Suddenly One Summer, this week’s topic for Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) got me thinking about all the reasons why I love the genre so much, especially since it suffers so much ridicule and so many misconceptions in the literary world.

Why do I love reading romance novels? Let me count the ways!

  1. Overlaps all literary genres. Sure, romance novels are, in essence, love stories, but those stories can be wrapped in a variety of casings. There are romantic thrillers, supernatural romances, historical romances, among many others. There are subgenres for Christians, the military, even the Amish. Whatever kind of love you’re looking for, someone is writing the book for you.
  2. Mass appeal. Because romance is a genre that easily overlaps with others, it has a global reach. Just like some moviegoers prefer indie films to Hollywood blockbusters, some readers may prefer experimental fiction to commercial fiction. I am not one of those people–at least not when it comes to love stories. Bring on the tried-and-true tales of what works!
  3. Series or standalone. If you’re like me, you’re burnt out on long, sprawling series that take over your whole life. It may be because of the nature of my book club, but nowadays I tend to gravitate toward stories that are one and done. Julie James’ U.S. Attorney series is a happy medium: her novels inhabit the same universe of law and order in Chicago, but by no means do you need to read them all to enjoy them.
  4. Interesting, multi-dimensional characters. Don’t let bad romance novels (*cough* Fifty Shades of Grey *cough*) color your opinion about the merit of the genre’s characterization. Not all the women are Mary Sues, and most in fact, have fulfilling lives outside of their relationships. Shocker I know!
  5. Increasing diversity. Love is blind, but as a white heterosexual woman, I’m not going to declare that the entire publishing industry feels the same way. That said, I applaud efforts to increase diversity in romance novels by supporting more books with racial minorities, LGBT characters, and the disabled. It’s been proven that inclusive media makes people more tolerant, so we all benefit from reading diverse romance novels.
  6. Support of feminism. If there’s a theme that I love seeing in romance novels, it’s that the women don’t need to have men in their lives. They simply want them there. Rather than enable traditional gender norms in which the prince rescues the damsel in distress, both parties should inspire the other to become better people and treat them with mutual respect. After all, what’s truly sexy is equality!
  7. Sexual tension. Okay, I can’t talk about what’s sexy in romance novels without discussing the actual sex. While I abhor books that waste my time with nothing more than fade-to-blacks, I enjoy the slow burn of building the sexual tension between characters before watching the explosion. Foreplay is essential, and I only wish it was as present in the male-dominated forms of erotic media (aka porn) since it’s clearly men–not women–who need to learn this valuable lesson.
  8. Hilarious dialogue. Sometimes it’s good; other times it’s so bad, it’s good; and in a few gems it’s bloody fantastic. Sex doesn’t always have to be serious, and I love characters that have playful banter with one another. Whether it’s witty or even slightly on the corny side, I’m a sucker for quick quips. In my mind it’s the fastest way to verbal seduction.
  9. Happy endings. Call romance novels formulaic, but there’s a reason why Game of Thrones isn’t in the genre. The world can be downright depressing, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to read a story in which the bad guys get their just desserts and the lovers live happily ever after. I definitely use romance novels as my literary Prozac when I’m feeling blue and need a pick-me-up!
  10. Escapist fun. Extending my previous point, what I love most about romance novels is that they don’t depict real life. Yes, I know that meet-cutes are rare and that love is much messier and more complicated, but in these books, I know that the stakes are low and that everything will work out in the end. And if I can be entertained by larger-than-life characters and zany plots, then all the better!

Do you like romance novels as much as I do? Share your reasons for reading in the comments!

Book Review: Bet Me

Image via Goodreads

Rating: 4 out of 5

I’m done with my 8th book, out of the 20 I pledged to read this year! I must admit that I’m on a roll to complete my quota!

After reading an article on Jezebel, titled, “So you want to get into romance novels. Start here!“, one of my 2015 goals as Book Club Babe was to read more of the ‘classics’ in the romance genre.

There were so many great books to choose from in this article, with hundreds of internet commenters adding their own suggestions as well. A top contender was Bet Me, by Jennifer Crusie. Here’s the summary Jezebel wrote to convince me to add it to my TBR list:

Basically anyone who reads a lot of romance will sooner or later hurl some Jennifer Crusie book at your head while screeching I TOLD YOU TO READ IT ALREADY, GODDAMMIT.

Welcome to Temptation, about a woman who falls for a small-town mayor while accidentally (?) making some soft porn, is probably more universally beloved. But my fave will always be Bet Me, about charming Cal and cranky Min. She’s plump without being a pathetic sad-sack; their happily-ever-after is childfree by choice.

Childfree by choice? Sign me up! I’m so sick of female leads gushing about their love interests and how cute their future kids will look. Enough with the biological clocks already! Not all women have them!

One of those women in Minerva “Min” Dobbs, an actuary who overhears Calvin Morrissey make a bet with her sleazy ex that he could bed her in a month. Convinced that Cal is a beast, she only accepts his dinner invitation to give him grief. This plan backfires as they quickly fall head over heels for one another.

This romance novel is so different from any that I have read before. First, it stars an unconventional couple, given that Cal has a supermodel body and Min is very curvy. Min is constantly abused verbally and emotionally by her harpy mother for eating carbs and not sticking to a diet for Min’s sister Diana’s upcoming wedding. Fortunately, Cal couldn’t give a damn about her size, because he falls in love with her just as she is.

That being said, much of the foreplay in this book (and there was a LOT of it, since they didn’t actually hook up until the last couple chapters) revolved around food, which just isn’t my cup of tea. I can’t be the only one who thinks that fetishizing plus-size women by feeding them donuts isn’t the best seduction tactic.

Despite the weird scenes with chocolate icing, I thought Bet Me was hilarious and fun. Crusie created excellent secondary characters, including Cal’s nephew Harry and Min’s adopted cat Elvis. The tone was sweet and playful, encouraging readers to believe in happily-ever-afters without being overly sappy.

I highly recommend Bet Me to romance novel lovers, whether they’re new to the genre or very familiar. And, of course, I will definitely read more of Jennifer Crusie’s work in the future!

Top Ten Books For People Who Like Romance

Let’s get right to it! Today’s Top Ten Tuesday, the weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, has bloggers recommending ten books for readers of a particular genre, and I since love reading about love, I decided to choose romance as my category.

Love stories come in a variety of shapes and sizes, so I’ve broken my list down into several types. Without further ado, here are my top ten books for people who like romance!

Classic romance: Love doesn’t get any better than this

 

1. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
2. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Romantic tragedies: Bust out the tissues

 

3. The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker
4. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Romantic comedies: Love that makes you LOL

 

5. I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella
6. Talk Nerdy to Me by Vicki Lewis Thompson

Sexy romance: It’s about to get steamy

 

7. Something About You by Julie James
8. It Happened One Wedding by Julie James

Unique romance: Love outside the box

 

9. Every Day by David Levithan
10. The Thorn and the Blossom by Theodora Goss

I would love to hear recommendations of your favorite love stories! Which type of romance do you like the best, and which other novels would you suggest?

Book Review: It Happened One Wedding

Image via Goodreads

Rating: 4 out of 5

I love when I have an author whom I can rely on for always writing great stories. I have read every single novel by Julie James, renowned romance novelist known for her FBI / U.S. Attorney series set in Chicago.

You can read my reviews of James’ other novels by clicking the links below:

This book stars FBI Special Agent Vaughn Roberts and investment banker Sidney Sinclair. When a blind date goes bust for Sidney at a coffee shop, Vaughn tries pulling some moves on her instead, but she doesn’t fall for his playboy ways and turns him down.

Later that night, they end up at the same restaurant only to find out that their respective siblings are marrying each other! Awkward yet sexual tension commences as they’re forced into close contact to help plan their wedding.

This is a fun story that’s refreshingly realistic, because it takes some time before true feelings emerge. Insta-attraction, definitely, but none of that horrible insta-love that plagues romance novels these days.

In fact, Sidney and Vaughn casually hook up for most of the novel, with Sidney afraid of falling for another womanizer after suffering a broken engagement to her cheating fiancé, and Vaughn enjoying his bachelor lifestyle too much to settle down. I appreciated the slow burn as both characters realize their undeniable connection throughout each chapter.

That’s not to say that little happens between them. Rest assured, the love scenes are hot, which I’ve come to expect from James. There’s just something about combining crime-busting with lip-locking that keeps me coming back for more of her books.

If you’re looking for a contemporary romance that’s sexy without being sappy, I recommend this book and any other by Julie James.

Top ten things I HATE when it comes to romances in books

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I couldn’t resist participating in today’s Top Ten Tuesday, a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is right on the heels of Valentine’s Day, as it discusses what we love and hate when it comes to romances in books.

I’ve read plenty of romance, and whether it’s the main story or just a side-plot, there are standards that must be met for me to consider it worthy of my reading time. It’s no surprise that Fifty Shades of Grey breaks pretty much all of these rules, considering just how crappy it is. Since the movie adaptation is about to hit theaters, why don’t we take a few more stabs at the series while we vent about what we despise in romances?

Haters, let’s start hating! Here are the top ten things I HATE when it comes to romances in books:

The look of a guy with mommy issues

1. Sob story backgrounds to justify normal behavior. In Fifty Shades, Christian Grey’s mother was a drug-addicted prostitute who committed suicide, an excuse he uses for enjoying BDSM. Say it with me: Boo. Flipping. Hoo. While it’s a tiring trope to make a character orphaned or ‘troubled’ to make him more likable, it’s especially annoying when authors do it to justify typical human behavior. There’s nothing wrong at all with BDSM as long as it’s consensual, and Grey’s backstory just creates the false impression that his kinkiness is a sickness. Commitment-phobic because your parents are divorced? Distrusting because your ex cheated on you? Call the whambulance. You’re not a special snowflake; you’re normal. Now get over your sob story and become a better person!

White people almost writing: a crappy attempt by Nicholas Sparks

2. Excluding the vast majority of society. Hey, romance novelists! Where are all the people of color? How about LGBT characters? Would it kill you to write about men shorter than 5’10”, or women who are larger than a size 6? Maybe I’m not reading the right books, but most of them seem to be about stereotypically attractive white people, and lord knows there’s enough of those in romance. How refreshing would it be to see more interracial or gay couples? Reading has been shown to increase empathy, so including more diversity in books will in turn better society’s tolerance. Get to it, writers! The world depends on you!

3. No secondary characters. Just because you’re writing romance doesn’t mean you’re excused from writing sidekicks. Your main characters had friends and family before they met, and those people didn’t disappear once they hooked up. Bella Swan sacrifices her mortality and her normal teenage life for vampire love; that doesn’t make her romantic, it makes her a stupid jerk. Don’t all Twilight fans realize that Bella gets the lovely opportunity of watching her parents and all her friends die? If your love interests “complete” each other, then congrats, you’re writing a crappy romance. How about making them complete on their own? Make love the frosting, not the whole damn cake.

Lighten up, Grumpy!

4. Why so serious? We get it: your love interests have never had chemistry like this before. No one in the world has ever experienced passion at this epic level. Ho hum. Too many romances have been written about brooding, angsty men and the cold, uptight women that they turn into sensual vixens. Everyone should check out Vicki Lewis Thompson’s Nerd series if they want excellent examples of how playfulness can be sexy. Let’s face it, falling in love can be painfully awkward, and if you can’t laugh at yourself, then I don’t care about your happily-ever-after.

5-10. Bad sex. Okay, I tried to make ten unique complaints, but I realized that most were on this particular subject, so I’m grouping them together. Let’s be honest, nobody reads Playboy for the articles, and nobody buys romance novels to read about two characters holding hands. #SorryNotSorry!

What makes sex bad in books? Let me count the ways:

5. Calling your lover by name way too frequently. I’m talking to you, Mr. Grey and Ms. Steele. If you have to reference your lover’s name that often, whether it’s inside or outside the bedroom, might I suggest name-tags?

6. Referring to your lover’s nether regions with obnoxious terms. I swear, if you use the phrase “velvet-covered steel,” I will stab you in the face. Same goes for rods, members, nubs, and love buttons. You don’t have to talk like a doctor, but don’t talk like a middle-schooler taking her first shot at fan-fiction either (*cough* E.L. James *cough*). If you wouldn’t use the term in real life, don’t write it down!

7. Gasping at your lover’s well-endowed package. Cue eye-rolling! There’s nothing wrong with admiring the male form, but if your sex scene begins with a gasp and a “But…will it fit?” then you need to go back to Creative Writing 101. Not all men are porn stars, and that’s totally fine. It’s about quality, not quantity. I could add something about boats and the ocean, but I’m pretty sure you get what I mean.

8. Expecting climactic results with little-to-no foreplay. This is my biggest pet peeve in all erotic media: it’s all reward and no work, creating generations of men who are horrible in bed. No man’s “member” is so magical that he can flat-out ignore his partner’s pleasure. If your male protagonist doesn’t make a stop downtown, you can bet I’m throwing your book out the window.

9. Having an inner goddess. Imaginary friends are for children, and there’s absolutely nothing sexy about that. Your inner monologue doesn’t need a spokesperson providing commentary. If you’re having a great time between the sheets, just say so! The inner goddess trope in Fifty Shades is so absurd that even Cosmopolitan magazine makes fun of it–a huge red flag that the book really does suck.

10. Not making it safe! Look, no one is saying that contraception is a turn-on. But you know what’s definitely NOT sexy? STDs. Even Mr. and Ms. Perfect are at risk, and since they most likely fell in lurrrrvvvveeee in only a matter of weeks, they better wrap it up after whipping it out. I also feel inclined to make a joke about life’s most common sexually transmitted disease–babies–but I’ll leave that to comedic genius Donald Glover:

Alright, on that note, I’ll see myself out! There you have it: the top ten things I hate the most when it comes to romances in books! I hope everyone has a wonderful Valentine’s Day! You’ll find me at the movie theater, hate-watching Fifty Shades, of course. I’m taking one for the team, so you don’t have to! Don’t forget to come back to Book Club Babe this weekend for my review!

My Top Ten Goals for 2015!

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Every now and then, I make time for participating in “Top Ten Tuesday,” a fun meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week takes a break from books to talk about general goals and resolutions for the new year. They can be reading and blogging-related, but you can also discuss other milestones you want to reach.

Without further ado, here are my top ten reading, writing, and blogging goals for 2015!

Who needs food, anyway?

1. Read 20 more books. I’ve averaged about 20 books for the past four years, and I plan on continuing with this reading quota. Those next up on my TBR list include Invisibility by Andrea Cramer and David Levithan, It Happened One Wedding by Julie James, and J.R.R. Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf.

2. Read more fan-favorite romance novels. I’ve read my fair share of romance, from authors such as Vicki Lewis Thompson, Christina Dodd, Julie James, Heather Webber, and Meg Cabot. But after reading a Jezebel article on the genre, I’ve been inspired to read some of the greats. According to the article’s comments, I should check out Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels, Julia Quinn’s The Duke and I, and Jennifer Crusie’s Bet Me. Anyone have other recommendations?

3. Read more classic literature. Not every book I read in 2015 will be a bodice-ripper, and I want to make more time for the classics. I got a “50 books to read before you die” bookmark from the New York Public Library when I visited NYC in October, and I’m disappointed that I’ve only read 17! I’m most interested in checking off Anna Karenina, Huckleberry Finn, and The Count of Monte Cristo.

4. Reach 65,000 total blog views. My reach goal is 70,000, so I hope to create enough high-quality, consistent content to achieve this. I love blogging, and despite the difficulties of keeping up with Book Club Babe with a full-time job, I can’t imagine life any other way.

5. Create more vlogs. At the eager insistence of my loved ones, I released my first vlog for my 25th birthday, which discussed the top 25 things that books have taught me. Tomorrow, I’ll be vlogging my summary of the books I read this year. It’s nerve-wracking and time-consuming to put yourself in front of a camera, but thanks to the awesome video-editing skills of my brother Nick Jarrett, I’d like to continue doing these fun videos once a quarter if I can.

6. Research monetization. I never went into blogging to make money, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt, however how small. I’d love to learn more about online advertising on WordPress and other ways to earn some cents from giving you my two cents!

Story of my life!

7. Make significant progress on my novel. I wrote 19,000 words this year during NaNoWriMo, and I’m finally at a place where I enjoy my story enough to keep going. Although I haven’t set a specific word quota yet, I plan to making writing regularly a top priority!

8. Improve during NaNoWriMo. Speaking of November’s most popular challenge aside from growing facial hair, I would love to redeem myself. 19,000 words was better than nothing, but I can certainly do better than that!

9. Attend more write-ins. Even during NaNoWriMo this year, I only had time in my schedule to attend two write-ins. I’d like to squeeze more into 2015, since the East Bay writing group is full of fun, quirky people who love writing as much as I do. I’m positive that this goal will help me make progress on my novel, because there’s always strength in numbers!

10. Attend more book signings. After having the opportunity to meet Scott Westerfeld and Azar Nafisi, I’m wondering why I never thought about going to book signings before this fall. Now that I’ve got a couple under my belt, I just want to add more notches. Who doesn’t want to hang with awesome authors?

So those are my top ten reading, writing, and blogging goals for 2015! If you’ve got a few resolutions yourself, post them in the comments! I’d love to hear everyone’s plans for the new year!

Audiobook Review: Love Irresistibly

Image via Goodreads

Rating: 4 out of 5

Julie James does it again with yet another novel in her U.S. Attorney series. The last two installments followed the romances of the Rhodes family. In A Lot Like Love, heiress Jordan Rhodes falls in love with undercover F.B.I. agent Nick McCall, and in About That Night, her ex-con brother Kyle Rhodes (aka “the Twitter terrorist”) becomes smitten with the assistant U.S. attorney Rylann Pierce.

Love Irresistibly (2013) continues the narrative of the Chicago office with Cade Morgan, the assistant U.S. attorney who was responsible for putting Kyle Rhodes behind bars. His next assignment involves catching a corrupt senator, and he needs the help of Brooke Parker, general counsel for a prestigious restaurant company.

Brooke assists the case by allowing Cade and his team to bug the senator’s reserved table at an exclusive fine dining establishment. The case is closed without many hitches, and the rest of the novel navigates their subsequent relationship and the emotional obstacles that stand between them.

Both struggle with a fear of commitment, Brooke due to her insanely busy work schedule, and Cade due to abandonment issues with his estranged father. One of the many reasons why I like reading Julie James’ books is that even though her characters are strong and independent, they also can be afraid to show their vulnerable sides.

This story was especially enjoyable when it came to Cade’s reunion with the teenage half-brother he never knew existed. Together they bonded over football and girl problems, while working through Cade’s anger over their father who left him. The biggest lesson everyone learned was making sure not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

But enough about high-profile prosecution and family drama! Let’s talk about love scenes! After feeling major disappointment with the last two romance novels I read (Deeply, Desperately and Absolutely, Positively by Heather Webber), it felt nice to get back to the good stuff.

I can always trust that James will deliver when it comes to passion. A huge pet peeve of mine is a romance novel that lacks in romance, and this was not one of them. None of that ridiculous cut-to-black, ‘one thing led to another’ writing that is frankly both prudish and lazy.

James cranks up the heat to the point where it was difficult maintaining a poker face listening on the train. A word to the wise: if you’re going to buy the audiobook version, perhaps reserve your listening until after you complete your daily commute!

Steaminess aside, there are tons of great things about James’ books. I’ve read all six of her past novels and already bought her 7th. But for my sake, this time it’s in print!