Michille: Summer Reading Lists

Research Isn't Just for HistoricalsAlternative title: Like our TBR Piles Aren’t Big Enough

I’m going to piggy-back on Nancy’s post from Memorial Day Weekend, which is generally viewed as the unofficial start of summer. In my county, we are in the midst of another one – high school graduation week (there are 7 high schools in the county) – so the summer starts for them now. Only two of these lists are specifically romance but most include at least one. One surprise is that there is very little overlap on these lists. Usually there are a couple of books that are on everyone’s list. Not this year, except maybe Circe – that’s been on a couple. Continue reading

Jilly: Evaluating Also-Boughts

What’s your most tried-and-tested method of finding new authors to read? Do you ever use Amazon’s also-boughts?

I’m always checking out new search methods and new-to-me authors, but lately my selections have been especially hit-and-miss. The problem is that “I’ll know it when I read it” is not really searchable. I’m looking for a combination of qualities rather than neat pigeonholes like settings or subgenres.

I like upbeat stories with happy endings, romances or books with a strong romantic subplot. After that it gets tricky. I want heroes and heroines with intelligence, agency, and emotional depth. I love stories where strong characters deal honestly with one another, especially when that’s difficult. I prefer confrontation to secrets or lies or withholding information. My fave authors write series with strong communities. I actively seek out humor and kindness. I enjoy voice, but not when it tips over into look-at-me writing. I love a good sex scene, but only if it moves the story. I’ll try most subgenres.

I believe the Zon is one of the most powerful search engines in existence, but while it’s awesome at identifying reverse harem cowboy stories (not kidding), the search box is not my friend.

Continue reading

Nancy: Summer is for Lovers (of Books)

Here in the US, the three-day Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial kickoff of the summer season. Yes, the official first day of summer is nearly a month away, but in most of the country, temperatures are already rising, vacations are on the calendar, and list upon list of summer reading recommendations are splashed across newspapers, magazines, and various and sundry corners of the internet.

Most of us here on the blog are avid, year-round readers, so we hardly need an excuse to pick up more books. But it is fun to check out curated lists and find some books that are hot and trending, cool and refreshing, or just downright emotionally satisfying. This weekend, in between family cookouts and sipping mango margaritas, I came across some lists that have put me into a book-buying frenzy. The side effect of this is, of course, that a reading frenzy will soon ensue. #readerproblems Continue reading

Michaeline: “The Flowers of Vashnoi” (discussion and spoilers in the comments)

The Vorkosigan butterbugs in their radbug incarnation, glowing with radiation markers on their backs.

Lois McMaster Bujold’s “The Flowers of Vashnoi” came out on May 17, 2018! I’m not really a bug person, but boy, Ekaterin knows how to make a glorious bug! Art, science and passion is a winning combination for this heroine! (Image via Goodreads)

It has been a great month for short fiction for me. I started with Bujold’s latest novella, “The Flowers of Vashnoi” (Amazon), and then thanks to filkferengi’s comments last week, I discovered a couple of new short fiction magazines.

I’ve already bought and read issues 7 and 8 of Heart’s Kiss, a relatively new magazine of romance stories that is available on Kindle (and I bought it from amazon.co.jp, so it’s internationally available) and in print. Their editorial board changed with issue 7 (February 2018), and it turns out that one of our Eight Ladies, Jeanne, knows one of the editors through the RWA Golden Heart awards program.

The stories are a lot of fun – exactly the kind of short, happy fiction I enjoy best. Most of them (all of them?) are liberally laced with magic and fantasy; one series has a cupid-in-training, and a different series is full-on Outlander-style timeslip/historical fantasy. The stand-alone stories stand alone, and have been very satisfying.

I will put in one caveat: if typos destroy the experience for you, you might want to proceed with caution. I’m not the most vigilant proofreader in the world, and even I caught several words that were misspelled or small editing errors. There’s one author in the series who uses the word “fisting” to mean “grasping” . . . and I don’t want to see “fisting” anywhere near my sexy, romantic fiction, even if it’s not “that” kind of activity. Not my cup of kink!

I just mention this because I know a lot of people who are extremely annoyed by typos; I still enjoyed the series, and am looking forward to part three (even though I just know she’s going to slip in “fisting” the sheets or clothing in some way or another!).

To tell the truth, the errors in editing just add a certain gritty, blast-from-the-past flavor to the magazine; it brings me back to a time when it was quite common to pick up a magazine and find a nice short fiction piece in it – or a girl could go down to the drugstore, and pick from six different romance comics. In order to cultivate a Dorothy Parker or a James Thurber, we need fields and fields of these kinds of magazines – and the internet e-reading revolution can provide those fertile grounds. I’m glad to have found Heart’s Kiss.

Which brings me back to today’s main theme: did you get a chance to read “The Flowers of Vashnoi”? What did you take away? Like so many Bujold books, the story is great while you are reading it, improves when you think about it, and rewards re-reading. The whole icing on the cake is when you get to discuss the many issues and techniques with like-minded readers. Because even though we may be like-minded in enjoying a good yarn, we all bring different interpretations and spins to the table when we have time to discuss a shared story.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

Nancy: Story at the Speed of Light

We live in the age of speed. Everything needs to be fast, from the cup of coffee we get from the drive-through window, to the loading of our favorite websites, to our response time to every email, text message, and social media ping. As technology accelerates, it drags the microprocessors inside our skulls with it, conditioning us to think faster is always better. It’s no wonder we’ve come to expect our stories to move fast as well.

Don’t want to sit on pins and needles through commercials to find out what will happen next on your favorite show? Record it and fast-forward right through those suckers. Don’t want to wait week after week for a TV series to reach its conclusion? Watch something else while you wait for all the episodes to become available (or are dropped at once on streaming services) and binge-watch to your heart’s content. Our brains adapt very quickly to the rewards of story NOW, as services like Amazon and Netflix well know. It’s no accident that the next episode in a series starts playing on your TV within seconds of the end of the installment you just watched.

Which brings us to the favorite story delivery system of many of us on this blog: books. Continue reading

Jilly: Resisting Holiday Romances

Are you a Happy Holidayer? I suspect I’m the token Grinch among the Ladies. While my fellow bloggesses are decorating their homes with emotionally significant ornaments, baking seasonal treats, and recommending feelgood stories, I’m counting the days till it’s all over.

This week we’ve been chatting among ourselves about the Hallmark Channel’s holiday programming, aided and abetted by this article from slate.com, and this review of A Princess for Christmas (Sam Heughan!) on smartbitchestrashybooks.com. I have to confess that even reading these intelligent and amusing pieces sent me screaming in search of Dorothy Parker, or Saki, or EF Benson.

Our discussion did, however, make me examine why Christmas stories make me froth at the mouth. It’s not intellectual snobbery or political correctness. I love genre romance. I adore fantasy and fairy tales. I seek out happy endings, and I’m a sucker for community. I prefer tales told with intelligence and wit, but while that might rule out some of the more saccharine offerings, it should still leave me open to classics like Michaeline’s suggestion, Christmas in Conneticut. Nope, not even that.

I always thought I read romance for the kindness, the community and the hit of happy. This week I realized there’s another huge reason: many romances (and all the ones I love best) involve defying expectations and resisting peer pressure. Continue reading

Jilly: Eight Years of Kindle

According to various articles I’ve read on the interwebs this week, the Kindle was ten years old on 19 November 2017. I’m in the UK, where we didn’t get to join the party until a couple of years later, but still. Only eight years! Feels like a lifetime.

It’s the season for counting our blessings, and while the invention of the Kindle is by no means the best thing that’s ever happened to me, it transformed my reading life and I am exceedingly grateful for it. Here’s why: Continue reading