Top Ten Tuesday: Romance (genre) books

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

February 9: Valentine’s Day/Love Freebie

I think for a long time I didn’t give romance as a genre the attention it deserves because I bought into a lot of the misogynistic accusations that have been hurled at it over the years. I’m only recently started to question that more and more (see here and here for more). But in the past few years I’ve been trying to rectify that by seeking out books that I’ve heard are good, in the romance genre. And even before I made the conscious effort, a few slipped in here and there! These are some I’ve enjoyed.

  1. Flowers From the Storm by Laura Kinsale– The Duke of Jervaulx is well known in the newspaper’s scandal sheets as a womanizing rake, but is also a brilliant mathematician, who occasionally collaborates with Mr. Timms a blind Quaker. One day, the Duke (Christian to his friends) collapses after presenting a paper to the Analytical Society, and Mr. Timms, and his daughter Maddy, believe he’s dead. Christian isn’t dead. He’s suffered a stroke, that’s left him without the ability to speak. Maddy encounters him sometime later at asylum, where she’s considering a job. She comes to realize that the math genius her father worked with is still in there, but he can’t communicate. The characters in the book face several problems on the road to a happy ending. The primary one is Christian’s disability, but Maddy’s crisis of faith is given almost equal weight. She worries that she’s compromising her Quaker principles by falling for Christian, whos exploits are the stuff of scandal. She also worries about getting her heart broken.

2. An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole– This is the first in Alyssa Cole’s Loyal League trilogy. I really enjoyed it, and intend to read the rest, but I haven’t gotten to it yet. It’s about Elle Burns, a former slave, with an eidetic memory. She uses her gifts to act as a spy for the Union Army, posing as a slave in the household of a Confederate senator. Malcolm is a detective for Pinkerton’s Secret Service, who is pretending to be a Confederate soldier, so that he can get information for the Union Army. When Malcolm and Elle come upon information that might turn the war the Confederacy’s way, they must get the information in the right hands no matter the cost. I was impressed with how Alyssa Cole managed to keep the stakes and suspense high. Presumably all her readers know how the Civil War ended, but I was still worried for Ellen and Malcolm’s mission as I read!

3. A Knight in Shining Armor Jude Devereaux- When Dougless Montgomery’s boyfriend ditches her on their English vacation, she goes to a church and cries on the grave of Nicholas Stafford, earl of Thornwyck, who died in 1564. She’s very surprised when a man in 16th century clothing shows up claiming to be Nicholas Stafford! Dougless helps Nicholas discover what brings him to the 20th century and how he was wrongly accused of treason. They fall in love and he decides to stay with her, only to be pulled back in time again, to the 16th century. Dougless goes after her beloved, only to discover that the 16th century Nicholas has no memory of the 20th century or falling in love with her. I liked that this broke the time travel romance “mold” a bit. For one thing it involves someone from the past, coming to the present and vice versa.

4. Remembrance by Jude Devereaux- Hayden Lane is a best selling author of romance novels, who becomes so obsessed by one of her heroes that she barely notices when her fiance breaks their engagement! She goes to a psychic to learn more about this man she supposedly made up. The psychic tells her that in a past life she was Catherine Tavistock, Lady De Grey, an Edwardian woman whose ghost haunts her husband’s English home. Hayden undergoes hypnosis, desperate to learn more. But the hypnosis goes wrong and instead of just remembering the past, Hayden is living it. She discovers that in earlier lives she loved a man, and they betrayed one another, and cursed their future incarnations. Now Hayden has to figure out how to set things right in the past, so that she can find happiness in the present.

5. Too Deep for Tears by Katheryn Lynn Davis– I wasn’t sure about including this on my list or not, since I’m reluctant to recommend it after this but I read this book a long time ago and enjoyed it, and since that’s the criteria for this list, I decided to include it. Charles Kitterage travelled the world and left behind three daughters with different mothers. Ailsa lives in the Scottish Highlands, Li-an (this portrayal may be very problematic, as is explained at the link above, but I didn’t realize it when I read it) lives in Peking, China, and Genevra lives in Dehli, India. They never met one another, and each has grown up haunted by a legacy of betrayal. But when a dying Charles wants to meet his daughters, they meet for the first time.

6. Lord of the Fading Lands by CL Wilson- I think this is technically classified as “paranormal romance” but I’m including it because it’s my list. Plus the book has a cheesy cover and is tropy enough to be considered romance! It’s the first in Wilson’s Tarien Soul series which follows Rain, the Tarien Soul, King of the Fey. When he claims Ellysetta, the daughter of a woodcutter, as his soul mate, no one is more surprised than Ellysetta herself. But their lands are facing an unseen enemy that threatens everyone and everything they care about and the happiness that they’ve found. It’s only by working together and facing their dark pasts, that they can find the hope of a future together. The first book sort of sets the stage for the rest of the series, and it’s one that you have to read in order if you want it to make sense!

7. The India Fan by Victoria Holt– I went through a phase at one point where I read a lot of Holt’s books, which are often classified as historical romance. To be honest, a lot of them blend together in my mind, but for some reason this one stands out, so I’m including it on my list. It’s about a parson’s daughter, Drusilla, who enthralled by her wealthy neighbors and friends, the Framling family- especially their handsome son, Fabian. But when they give her a beautiful peacock feather fan as a gift, Drusilla has no idea that it’s cursed. It brings with it a long history of death and destruction. But ultimately it may be less dangerous to Drusilla than Fabian Framling.

8. Public Secrets by Nora Roberts– Just a note, I read this one a long time ago, and have no idea how well it holds up. But I remember it fondly. Emma McAvoy is the daughter of a British rock star. At the age of six, her baby half-brother, Darren is killed in a kidnapping attempt gone wrong. Emma was the only witness, and remembers little of that night. Investigators believe that someone close to the family was involved, but can’t solve anything. So Emma grows up under the shadow of guilt. Over the next twenty years, Emma carves out a career, falls in love, and builds a life for herself. But this long ago crime, could threaten everything she’s worked for. I would call this an “ensemble romantic thriller.” The mystery storyline is just as important as the romance and there are actually several secondary romances as well.

Top Ten Tuesday: Series I Plan To Finish Someday

For That Arsty Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

June 25: Series I’ve Given Up On/Don’t Plan to Finish (Submitted by A Book and a Cup). (Feel free to switch this to Series I’d Like to Finish Someday)

I decided to series I do plan to finish because it’s more fun. There are a lot of series I’ve given up on when the characters became caricatures of themselves and the plots became ridiculous. But who cares about those? Also, I’m doing only series that are currently complete, not series that are still being written. Basically, all the books in the series need to be out to make it onto this list.

1. The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett

First book: The Game of Kings

I’ve read the first two books in this series

51zpob-ijil-_ac_us218_

This series features a really compelling hero, who is often a mystery both to characters an to readers. Set in 16th century Europe (the first book is set in England and Scotland, the second is set in France), the series follows the adventures of Frances Crawford of Lymond, a Scottish nobleman, who is a sought-after military leader, spy, and diplomat.  But Lymond’s motivations and goals are often a mystery to the reader, at least initially, and only become clear over time. He’s also a well-educated polyglot who enjoys making references to obscure sources, which can make some of his dialogue rather tough. Even though the books present a vivid historical background and a compelling character, they can be rather dense reading. I’m slowly making my way through the six book series.

2. The Obernewtyn Chronicles by Isobelle Carmody

First book: Obernewtyn

I’ve read the first six in this series of seven books. (In the US the 6th book is split in two, so there are eight books total)

51dbpd2qpul-_ac_us218_

Elspeth Geordie is a young girl living in a world that has long since been destroyed by a nuclear holocaust. Elspeth must keep her mental powers a secret from the Council, the governing body in this new world, as well as the Herder Faction, a religious authority.  It’s a brutal world, and Elspeth finds herself sent to Obernewtyn, a place where people investigate Misfits and look for a “cure” for their mental abilities. Or so it’s said. When Elspeth discovers what’s really happening at Obernewtyn, she and her friends begin a rebellion to create a safe place for themselves in a hostile world. But as time goes on, they realize that the fate of their world is still being shaped, and they may be able to save it or destroy it forever. Carmody began writing this series at the age of 14 and finished the first book when she was in college. Like the Harry Potter series, the books become darker and more complex as the characters become adults. They’re hard to find in the US, and the later books in the series of quite large. My friend in Australia is usually the one who gets these to me. But the last volume is 1120 pages, which is a monster to ship!

3. The Jacobite Chronicles- By Julia Brannan

First book: Mask of Duplicity

I’ve read the first book in this six book series.

51uywe9mfql-_ac_us218_

Beth Cunningham is living a pretty happy life in the English countryside until her father dies. Her brother, Richard, who has been away in the military for most of her life, returns home, to find that his inheritance isn’t nearly as large as he’d assumed. He wants a military commission, and the only way he can afford it is to marry Beth off well. Richard reconciles with some extended family, that disowned their father when he married Beth’s mother and drags Beth to London, where she is launched into society. Here she encounters a band of Jacobite rebels (with whom she sympathizes) and the mysterious Sir Anthony Peters, an effeminate nobleman, who is hiding something that Beth may find very interesting. Since the series is known as “The Jacobite Chronicles” I imagine that Beth’s Jacobite sympathies will be explored more in the future books and that the rebels she encounters will take center stage at some point. But it seems like this was setting up some interesting characters and storylines.

4. The Tairen Soul Series by CL Wilson

I’ve read the first two in this five-book series.

First book: Lord of the Fading Lands

515vcf5e7ol-_ac_us218_

A thousand years ago, Faerie king Rain Tairen Soul’s wife was killed. In his grief, he destroyed half the world. Now his people are dying out and an old enemy is rising. Ellie is a woodcutter’s daughter. At twenty-four years old, she’s entering spinster territory, when her path crosses Rain. Ellie is Rain’s soul mate, the first true mate of a Tairen Soul in history. Ellie is drawn to Rain, but she has some secrets of her own. The first book in the series is very much a Cinderella story, that sets the stage for numerous conflicts that begin to develop in the later books. Or at least, in the second book. I haven’t read farther than that yet!

5. Glamourist Histories by Mary Robinette Kowal

First book: Shades of Milk and Honey

I’ve read the first four of this five-book series

51mmrr0hqcl-_ac_us218_If Jane Austen had written fantasy, it might have looked something like this. Jane Ellsworth envies her sister Melody’s beauty and Melody envies Jane’s ability to manipulate magical glamour. Mr. Vincent is a highly accomplished glamour artist, who has been hired to create murals in a nearby mansion. He’s brusque, mysterious and brilliant, with no interest in social niceties. When Jane discovers a secret that may destroy the Ellsworth’s and other local families, she finds herself torn between keeping it, and avoiding the trouble that she knows it will cause, or telling the truth for the sake of the greater good. As the series continues we see the family grow in a variety of situations both magical and nonmagical. The fantasy aspect of these books is pretty light most of the time.

6. William Marshal Series by Elizabeth Chadwick

First book: A Place Beyond Courage

I’ve read the first in this four book series.

51immr0h0gl-_ac_us218_William Marshal was an obscure knight who saved Elinor of Aquitaine, tutored her son, Henry, heir to the throne, and was eventually responsible in part for the Magna Carta. His descendants include George Washington and Winston Churchill. Of course, I don’t know much about him, since the first book of this historical fiction series focuses on his father, John FitzGilbert. John was also a knight of some renown, who backed a woman’s claim to the throne over the king, which forced him to take a gamble that he may not be willing to lose. We really only meet William as a child in this book, but it was an interesting read, and I’m very curious as to how William sees his father’s actions.

7. The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell

First book: Justine

I’ve read the first of this four book series.

41lrxakb1ql-_ac_us218_Set in Egypt between WWI and WWII, the plot of the first book in this series is hard to describe. An unnamed narrator tells this story of his various friends and acquaintances. The plot essentially deals with the narrator’s affair with the mysterious Justine. Justine is a Jewish woman, married to Nessim, the son of a wealthy Coptic Christian family. However, her religious background keeps her from being truly accepted in her surroundings. This has writing that’s sometimes very beautiful and evocative, but at other times seems a bit too flowery. It’s also difficult because the story isn’t linear. In a way, this seemed hazy and impressionistic. It’s more about atmosphere than plot. Yet something about the ending suggested to me that there’s more to this plot and these characters than meets the eye in the first book.

8. MaddAddam Trilogy by Margaret Atwood

First book: Oryx and Crake

I’ve read the first book in this trilogy

510o1wih4jl-_ac_us218_Snowman (once called Jimmy) is struggling to survive in a world where he may be the only person left alive.  Humanity has been decimated by a plague. He mourns the loss of Crake, his best friend, and Oryx, who both Snowman/Jimmy and Crake loved. We eventually do learn what caused the plague, and it’s frighteningly easy to imagine this actually happening in our lifetimes. It’s compelling enough that I want to read more of the series, but I think I need to reread the first book because I don’t remember too much about it.

9. Asian Saga by James Clavell

First book: Shogun

I’ve read the first in this six-book series

51vjdahwfal-_ac_us218_Technically these books can be read as stand-alone, but when taken together, they all deal with the experiences of Europeans in Asia.  Thematically, they’re united by the ways that East and West impact one another when they meet. Shogun is set in feudal Japan in the year 1600, but other books take place elsewhere at different time periods. I read Shogun a long time ago. As I understand it, some of it isn’t completely accurate historically, but it’s still a good story that depicts the meeting of two very different cultures.

10. War at Home series by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles 

First Book: Goodbye, Picadilly 

I’ve read the first two of this five book series.

51r2dchl-zl-_ac_us218_This series depicts WWI from the point of view of a wealthy (but not aristocratic) British family and their servants. Each book covers one year of the war. Yes, there’s a Downton Abbey vibe at times, but I found the characters compelling. Very little seems to take place on the battlefield. Rather it looks at how the war affected the people who stayed home. It looks at how they deal with loss and worry, and how they try to pursue a future in a world that rapidly looks like it might never be the same again.

 

Top Ten Tuesday: New To Me Authors I Read in 2017

For The Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday:

January 2: Top Ten New-To-Me Authors I Read In 2017

  1. 51f6ex2-vul-_ac_us218_Mary WebbPrecious Bane– I read Precious Bane at the end of 2017 and loved it. It’s a beautiful story about Prue Sarn, a girl with a harelip, her (crazy) family, the village where she lives and her seemingly hopeless love for the weaver Kester Woodseaves. It’s been compared to the likes of Charlotte Bronte and Thomas Hardy. While I see some parallels in terms of setting and theme, I think Webb’s work has its own identity. Author Kate Forsyth recommended Webb’s Gone to Earth as a follow up read, so that’s on my 2018 TBR.
  2. 515vcf5e7ol-_ac_us218_51bn96akpgl-_ac_us218_CL Wilson– Tarian Soul series- I suppose that I’d call these books romantic fantasy. I had some issues with first one, Lord of the Fading Lands, in that it was a bit too Cinderella-ish. But some of that was changed in the follow-up Lady of Light and Shadows. It’s still not perfect mind you, but it’s got my interest enough to keep reading the 5 books series.
  3. 51dqnh9enml-_ac_us218_Lyndsay FayeJane Steele– After finding Jane Steele to be a lovely surprise (I recommend it to anyone who wonders what Jane Eyre would be like if Jane were a serial killer), I definitely want to check out some of her other work. I’m not sure if I’ll get to Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Jack the Ripper Killings by John H. Watson (basically Sherlock Holmes meets Jack the Ripper) first or The  Gods of Gotham, the first in her Timothy Wilde trilogy about a police officer in 19th century NYC. But both are on my TBR.
  4. 61xeuwoxcl-_ac_us218_1Marisha PesslNight Film– Night Film was like a crazy fever dream of a read. It was entertaining, disturbing, and innovative. I definitely want to read more of her work in 2018. Her debut, Special Topics in Calamity Physics received a lot of acclaims, so that might be where I go next. But there’s another book coming out called Neverworld Wake that also looks good…
  5. Marina WarnerFly Away Home- I really enjoyed Marina Warner’s short story collection Fly Away Home. Like many collections of short work, some stories were, of course, better than others.  But I liked how she played with the line between fantasy and realism in different ways in these stories. Next up, I may go for a novel or some nonfiction like From Beast to Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers.
  6. 51vp6vchi4l-_ac_us218_Hanya Yanagihara A Little Life– I’ve spoken about this book before. Even people who say that it’s too dark have praised the beautiful prose. Personally, I found it dark, but appropriately so, and ultimately I took something hopeful from it. I hope to read Yanagihara’s first novel, The People in the Trees in 2018. Hopefully, that’s got something equally beautiful to offer.
  7. 41hn3x56n9l-_ac_us218_Ali SmithAutumn– Autumn was the first in Ali Smith’s seasonal quartet. While it wasn’t perfect, I appreciated the emphasis on how art and current events influence our perceptions of what is temporary and transient and what is eternal and unchanging. I also appreciated that the crux of the story was about the platonic friendship of an older man and a younger woman. Platonic relationships don’t get much attention! Anyway, I definitely want to pick up the follow-up, Winter in 2018. Preferably before spring hits!
  8. 51t-vfynk1l-_ac_us218_Susan Bishop CrispellThe Secret Ingredient of Wishes– Well done magical realism- especially when it’s not the highbrow Gabriel Garcia Marquez/Isabelle Allende/Salman Rushdie kind- is hard to find. I enjoyed The Secret Ingredient of Wishes enough to want to read some more of Crispell’s work, though with titles like Dreaming in Chocolate I suspect it might make me very hungry…
  9. Johanna SinisaloTroll: A Love Story– This was a weird book. Actually, her work has been dubbed “Finnish Weird”. Troll is about a Finnish man who stumbles across an injured, sick troll (a rare species but not unheard of) and takes it in. The events of the story are mixed with excerpts from “sources” about troll folklore and scientific “sources” about where and how they live. Her only other book that’s been translated into English is called The Core of the Sun, and it sounds equally strange.
  10. 51-xlyewull-_ac_us218_Richard SikenCrush– I’m  not usually a poetry reader. I mean I’ll read a poem in a magazine here and there but I’m not usually someone who goes out and buys a volume of poetry. But Siken’s collection is a ferocious look at love and obsession. Some poems had an almost violent linguistic impact. For that reason, his follow up War of the Foxes is in on my TBR for 2018.