Although I spent many years as a book-a-day reader, I haven’t done much pleasure reading in recent months. My typical daily schedule is (1) day job, (2) work-in-progress, (3) pleasure reading and, since I am a regrettably slow writer, I rarely get past item (2) before it’s time to call it a night.
I was schooled on the error of my ways by none other than Eloisa James at the recent conference when I mentioned that I was rather behind in reading her new books as writing was taking all my time. She said “let me give you some unsolicited advice” and then (paraphrasing) said as a writer, you need to make time to read. It is advice we’ve all heard before, in posts on this very blog even.
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” ~ Stephen King
So, in an effort to turn over a new leaf (and because my WIP was conveniently off sitting in a drawer ‘resting’) I made some modifications to my schedule so that reading is no longer a “when there is spare time left” activity.
“Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.” ~ Ray Bradbury
Luckily for me, the recent conference provided me with a tremendous infusion of things to read in my newly scheduled free-time. I picked up a number of books by new-to-me historical fiction authors to get a feel for what is currently being written/published in that space, as well as a variety of contemporary stories, chosen because a title caught my eye, the back-blurb sounded interesting, or in a few cases, because the author was delightful.
“We write by the light of every story we have ever read.” ~ Richard Peck
So, here’s what I’ve read recently:
A New Book by a Favourite Author
First up was the historical The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy by Julia Quinn. The book, which was told from the hero’s point of view, featured one of the Smythe-Smith girls, a family readers of Quinn’s Bridgerton series are quite familiar with. Like her previous books, this one was light and entertaining, with lots of witty banter. Iris Smythe-Smith was charming and well drawn and there was a familiar feel to the story. The weakness for me though was the hero. He had a secret that he needed to tell Iris and he kept putting it off and putting it off because he didn’t want her to hate him. Each time he thought “I should tell her” and then didn’t, I liked him a little less. It wasn’t until more than 250 pages into the story that we found out what the secret was and that didn’t improve things at all. While happily-ever-after triumphed at the end, it was only because Iris saved the day and let the hero off the hook far more easily than it felt like he deserved. All in all, it was a diverting read, but not a candidate for the keeper shelf.
A New Author
This month’s “new to me” author was Kristan Higgins. I’d had one of her books in my TBR pile since the RWA conference in Dallas, but somehow it never made it to the top. In New York she did a reading in the Bryant Park with several other authors before the conference and she was so charming and funny (plus the snippet of story she read was so engaging and entertaining) that not only did I move her to the top of the reading list but I picked up another of her books as well at the Harlequin signing.
I started with In Your Dreams, a contemporary story that is the fourth book in her Blue Heron series. I (obviously) had not read the first three books in the series, but the book stood on its own quite well. It was entertaining and funny and kept me engaged all the way through. It also kept me up far into the night reading, as I just kept reading “a little bit more.” One of the things I liked was that the heroine wasn’t perfect. She was believably flawed with her hair that took industrial strength products to subdue, a body that she felt the need to squeeze into Spanx, and her very real desire to avoid attending her ex-fiancé’s wedding alone. I was empathizing with her and cheering her on throughout the story. The hero, who apparently couldn’t resist a damsel in distress if he tried, was endearing as well, despite being tall, blond, and gorgeous. The book also featured an ensemble cast of secondary characters that provided a nice community feel – something I’m a sucker for. This one goes on the keeper shelf and the other books in the series have been added to the TBR pile.
Next was Too Good To Be True, Higgin’s Rita award winner from 2010. Like the previous story, there was an ex-fiancé (dating her sister this time), unruly hair, a good looking hero, and an interesting cast of secondary characters. It featured Grace Emerson, a heroine with a tendency to make up imaginary boyfriends and a disinclination to attend a wedding without a date. I sympathized with Grace through her dating woes, enjoyed the touches of humour, and found the story entertaining. This one is not going on the keeper shelf though. The story is told in first-person, which means there is a strong connection with the heroine, but not with the hero. It didn’t give me a strong sense of who he was and the fact that he was a felon (no matter how well intentioned) bothered me a little bit. Your mileage may vary, of course.
An Old Favourite
I rounded out this month’s reading with Jenny Crusie’s Bet Me. It recently topped the contemporary list on NPRs “Happily Ever After: 100 Swoon-Worthy Romances” and is a well-read favourite of mine from the keeper shelf. Snarky dialogue, engaging characters, good food and great shoes – what’s not to like?
Once upon a time, Minerva Dobbs thought as she stood in the middle of a loud yuppie bar, the world was full of good men. She looked into the handsome face of the man she’d planned on taking to her sister’s wedding and thought, Those days are gone.
While the other books I read this month were fun and entertaining, this one was different. Richer. The first chapter did all the things we were taught at McDaniel and in countless other workshops. It got the hero and heroine on the page quickly, set up the conflict, established time and place, and did so in a way that seemed effortless. It delivered an invitation that promised a great time and then the rest of the book delivered completely. Plus, there were donuts.
So, what have you read (or started reading) recently? Anything you’d recommend?