Open Thread for Readers for November 2021
Got a book you want to talk about? Frustrated with a book or series? In love with a new one? Found a buried treasure? An issue that keeps popping up in the books you are reading? Just want to chat about stuff in general?
These are long-standing romance-novel conventions that I’ve read hundred of times before, so I don’t know why suddenly they irritated me when I recently encountered them, but:
1. Exactly how heavily do romance-novel MCs sleep? For the umpteenth time, I just read a book where, after a night of passion, a character awakens to find the bed empty and the person they spent the night with gone. I tend to be a light sleeper—the slightest noise will wake me—so perhaps I just don’t get how deeply some people sleep, but it seems impossible to me that someone could get out of bed, get dressed, possibly visit the bathroom, and somehow sneak out of the house without awakening the sleeping partner. (Plus, what if the house has an alarm system?)
2. Is bacon really de rigueur in every single person’s fridge? Again this week, I read a book where a character awakens to the smell of bacon and realizes the person they spent the night with has made breakfast. The “morning after” breakfast almost always includes bacon, although pancakes come a close second in the “I’m making you breakfast after our night together” scene. Looking back on my single days (admittedly many years ago), I don’t recall ever having bacon in the fridge unless I needed it for a recipe I was planning (and then I would have been really ticked off if someone had decided to cook it when I had plans for it).
@DiscoDollyDeb: Alarm system notwithstanding, I can speak to your first point as I am also a light sleeper. Ever since we bought a memory-foam bed, I absolutely cannot tell when, if, how often or for how long my husband gets up. We’ve joked that if put on trial and asked to swear that he was home all night, I’d have to say I have no clue. If he sneezes? I’m wide awake.
Bacon *should be* a staple, but until Whole Foods puts cooked bacon back in their breakfast buffet, I am bacon-less. And, ironically, the reason is because the smell never goes away. I will eat my weight in bacon, but would prefer not to cook it indoors. So the MC could come back the next day and still think someone has fixed breakfast.
@DA in general: I cannot thank you enough for the thread about describing romance heroes, describing anyone really. Less is more, but even more can be effective if skillfully deployed as we saw in some of the examples. Just don’t tell me someone brushed their hair.
I’m hosting my book club this month and selected A PSALM FOR THE WILD-BUILT by Becky Chambers. A book written “For anybody who could use a break” is a book that deserves my attention. I will serve all kinds of tea, small cakes and some kind of hearty soup. As Sibling Dex does, I will spread a blanket on the floor, add lots of pillows, some flowers and even tiny tree lights. The idea of giving people an opportunity to be heard and cared for; to lay down whatever they’re carrying for just a few minutes, had and has great appeal to me. I’m not sure why I mention this here, but maybe it’s been that kind of year for all of us. Plus, am I the only one who looks at the book’s cover and sees A PSALM FOR THE WELL-BUILT MONK AND ROBOT?
@DiscoDollyDeb: LOL, DDD you’re a gift! If you stayed over at my house, you’d get toast and yogurt in the morning!
@Eliza: Toast and yogurt are good. Is there jam/jelly to go with the toast and is the yogurt Greek? If so, I’m having breakfast with you soon.
@Darlynne: I agree that bacon should be a staple but since I can eat my weight in bacon, too, I rarely have it in my house or I would be as large as my house. Can I come to your book club? Your reading choice is great and the nibbles sound wonderful. You realize there’s a follow-up novel due out next summer, right? I also saw “Well Built” and wrote it that way on my book calendar.
@DiscoDollyDeb: I sleep fairly hard. Recently my neighborhood had a bad storm come through one night. A huge tree snapped about 9 feet up the trunk and crashed down across several backyards. I slept through the whole thing. But I would bet that bacon cooking would wake me up because – see my post above about how much I can eat. ☺
@Jayne: You would be more than welcome and July has never seemed so far away.
@DiscoDollyDeb: I sometimes sleep like the dead and like Darlynne, I am here to sing the praises of memory-foam mattresses. The guy at the mattress store told us ours would give us vivid dreams too and he was right.
Bacon, though, that’s interesting. When I was an omnivore I loved it but rarely made it. I’m not a good test case though. In Israel, supermarkets are both kosher and, I believe, halal, so that’s two counts on which they won’t carry it. I never even knew it (or burgers with cheese on them) existed until we moved to the US when I was eleven. I think that the reason bacon is so frequently the food characters in romance wake up to is that the smell of it could wake the dead. I personally can wake up to the smell of an omelet but I’m not sure how many readers would relate to that.
@Darlynne: Can I join your book club on a permanent basis? You’re describing the book club meeting of my fantasy that I never knew I had.
@All of you: What is everyone reading?
@Janine: I just finished The Kringle Family Christmas trilogy. It’s about three adult siblings—last name Kringle—trying to save their family’s Christmas tree farm and inn (and each falling in love in the process). Each book is written by a different author. S. Doyle’s THE GRUMP WHO STOLE CHRISTMAS features the Kringle sister, an executive at a major insurance company, who falls for the guy who runs the family’s Christmas tree farm. I usually don’t care for S. Doyle’s writing style, but I enjoyed this, although I didn’t think either MC was particularly grumpy. Molly O’Keefe’s VERY MERRY MARRIED is about a Kringle brother who drunk-married a showgirl in Vegas. When she shows up looking for a quickie divorce, he persuades her to stay for a few weeks and help run the inn. Love blooms between them. I love O’Keefe’s angsty and somewhat melancholy style—and this book was no different. Julie Kriss’s JINGLE BELL BEARD was my favorite book of the three. It’s about the woman hired to spearhead PR for the inn. She gets a second-chance with the remaining Kringle brother, now a professional NHL player, but once the boy whose heart she broke in high school. Kriss is one of my favorite romance writers and this book is a great example of her smooth, sweet, and sexy style.
@Janine, I’m reading Mary Balogh’s Someone to Cherish. I almost put it aside in the first chapter (when the family was plotting) but am glad I kept reading.
And now I am craving bacon!
@Jayne: Jayne, yes! Orange marmalade with whiskey and greek yogurt with honey. Although I do make awesome pancakes :)
For my work book club, I’m reading Balli Kaur Jaswal’s EROTIC STORIES FOR PUNJABI WIDOWS. It’s so, so good. Set in the UK, it’s about the daughter of Indian immigrants who starts teaching a creative writing class at the local Punjabi community centre. The women taking the class stumble upon a book of erotic stories and – because it’s so much more intriguing than phonics – start writing their own. These women crack me up! Take this line: “He would pinch and twist as if tuning a radio.” I feel so seen!
o Rainbow Rowell’s Simon Snow trilogy. I very much enjoyed the books, page-turners all, but I’m feeling ever so slightly unsatisfied by the ending because in some ways it didn’t feel like an ending. There were so many unanswered questions, so many “what about?” and “that wasn’t truly resolved” and even a few “new issues introduced in the last book”.
o Several Mick Herron Slow Horses mystery/thrillers. The Slow Horses are MI5 agents who’ve made big enough mistakes to be put out to pasture but who’ve not actually been let go, just sent to Slough House in hopes they will be so bored they will resign. Of course, Things Happen, Adventures Ensue, and the horses are not so slow after all.
o Right now I’m in the middle of reading “Memorial”, by Bryan Washington. Benson, who is black, and Mike, Japanese American, are lovers who live in Houston (there’s a fair amount of description of the city, and I think if I knew Houston it would provide color and depth that I totally miss). Mike goes to visit his dying father in Osaka just as his mother, Mitsuko, arrives for a visit. Mitsuko and Benson become unconventional roommates. From the original description I thought this would be more of a comic novel, but it’s not, it’s about discovering oneself and family and one’s place in the larger world. Still not sure of my final assessment, but then, I’m only half way through.
o Also read Pat Barker’s “The Silence of the Girls”, another retelling of the Trojan War, this time through the eyes of Briseis, but liked Madeline Miller’s “Song of Achilles” better; V.E. Schwab’s “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue”; Maggie O’Farrell’s “The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox”, but liked her “Hamnet” much better. Realized I’ve not read a romance for a while so will turn to one next. There’s so much going on in the Real World I very much need a HEA right now.
I read and enjoyed Neil S. Plakcy’s mystery In Dog We Trust, the first of this series. The titles are available on KU so I added them to my KU list. A set of the first three became available so I know what I’ll be reading for the next two evenings. The series character spent a short time in prison for hacking, was divorced by his wife, and ended up with a golden retriever when his neighbor died. Yep. I know it’s been done before but the mystery was well put together, characters interesting, and I’ll read almost anything with a goldie in it.
I finished Teresa Medeiros’ Charming the Prince, didn’t enjoy it as much as I expected from the blurb and didn’t pay attention to the cover illustration: castle = medieval period. It’s odd. I enjoy NF history of this period, but not romance. Nothing wrong with the writing, on reflection I think irritation with the absolute powerlessness of the women overwhelms the storyline. Not that men had great power, either.
I read Caroline Linden’s A Scot to the Heart and liked it so much that I immediately went to purchase the next in the series – at *gasp* full price – and found that it has not been published yet. Grrr.
@Susan/DC: Susan, I am with you in wanting more from the Simon Snow trilogy! I hoped to find more answers in the Epilogue. Alas, Rowell chose to leave much to our imaginations, and I am choosing to imagine wonderful lives for these vivid characters I loved so well. I am hoping that she will get the itch to answer those questions herself after taking a well-earned break from this wonderful series.
@DiscoDollyDeb: Not a fan of Doyle and I’ve never read Kriss but I do really like Molly O’Keefe’s writing when she is on. I should pick one up sometime, but I’m tired of mobsters unless they are the thoughtful bookworm type forced into it such as the hero of Baby, Come Back (that’s my favorite of her books and for the non-fans of secret baby romances and babies in books, there is only a secret pregnancy and the baby isn’t born until the epilogue). I also liked Everything I Left Unsaid a lot. To what degree does Very Merry Married stand alone?
@Kareni: The plotting of the Westcotts is so annoying! I am so glad you’re enjoying Someone to Cherish, though. Am I remembering correctly that you hadn’t read Balogh in a while before this one, or do I have her mixed up with another author?
I am reading Balogh’s upcoming Someone Perfect, which is Westcott-adjacent (it’s Estelle Lamarr’s book) but I’m at 76% and so far not a single Westcott (unless you count and her twin Bertrand; I don’t really) has turned up. Avery has been mentioned and I think he will but he’s quite possibly my favorite Balogh so I’m looking forward to that. I am liking the book.
@Eliza: Oh my, I have to read this one! Are there actually erotic sections in it? Just wondering how it is as book club material.
@Janine Ballard: all three books can be read as standalones, although the characters appear in each other’s books and the timelines run concurrently. I am also not a fan of S. Doyle—although her book here was fine (but, as with other Doyle books I’ve tried, the heroine is constantly monitoring her food intake). The O’Keefe book was fine—I especially liked how the heroine eventually confronted her mother’s cynical worldview. Julie Kriss is one of my favorite romance writers—I think she’s vastly underrated. Her book in the trilogy was my favorite.
I’m re-reading the Becky Chambers book, but also reading THE LUMINOUS DEAD by Caitlin Starling. As others have said, it is really good, not as creepy as I feared, but the evolution between the only two characters in the story has been so interesting. Finally, listening to FUGITIVE TELEMETRY by Martha Wells. I love Murderbot.
@Susan/DC: Sunita is a fan of the Mick Herron series too and there’s an Iliad retelling she recommended that I read and thought was good, Country by Michael Hughes. It is set in 1990s Northern Ireland, and Hughes maps the Homer epic onto that setting really well. What did you think of the Schwab? Sirius and I didn’t care for it (you can find our review joint here somewhere, and I also have one of Country).
@Becky: Is Rainbow Rowell still writing? I haven’t heard of a new book from her in quite a while.
@DiscoDollyDeb: What is your favorite Kriss? I’ll take a look if you tell me.
I just finished the new Balogh. It is melancholy and I’m still trying to make up my mind.
@Janine Ballard: Rainbow Rowell released the final book in the Simon Snow trilogy, Any Way The Wind Blows, in July. This is a YA m/m fantasy trilogy which deconstructs the Chosen One trope. The characters are great, and there is humor, action, and, of course, romance. Rowell is a thoughtful writer, taking time with her books. She had some serious health issues which slowed her writing, but also enriched it. Her characters deal with trauma in a way that feels real, and her dialogue is always so natural. It’s been a fun and surprisingly moving series. I know YA m/m fantasy is not everyone’s jam, but if it is, then I urge you to give it a try!
@Janine Ballard: Yes these widows do write down their erotic stories! There’s an interesting bit about why Indian women describe male genitalia using vegetable imagery – so far I’ve encountered a carrot, a cucumber, and a juicy-juicy aubergine. I’m kind of intrigued how my work colleagues are going to handle this one as well. The average age is probably 35 but there might be some pearl-clutching going on!
@Janine, you are indeed correct that I had not read any Balogh books in a while; I read the first two Westcott books then took a break. I did finish Someone to Cherish and ultimately enjoyed it though my pleasure would have been greater had I started with Chapter 2.
@LML: Interesting about the medieval period. For me my feelings about these issues of agency in a certain time period are all in how they are handled. It is tricky though because if the story doesn’t fit the time period at all, that can create problems too.
@Becky: Thank you! I’m glad to be corrected and sorry to hear about her health issues. I used to be a big fan of YA fantasy but the genre has gotten less inventive in recent years so I only read about one a year now. But I’m open to it and to m/m, too. Is this book connected to the Harry Potter fandom? I remember that Rowell wrote at least one of those. I’m one of the few Harry Potter non-fans in the world—I tried more than once but it wasn’t my thing.
@Eliza: I’d love to hear what your colleagues thought after your book club meets. Unfortunately, I can’t suggest anything like that to my book club though because I run it on a volunteer basis for a nonprofit and the organization publicizes the meetings and book choices in their newsletter.
@Kareni: FWIW the upcoming Balogh has almost no Westcott presence outside of Marcel and Viola (Estelle’s father and stepmother). Avery only gets one line. There is however an enormous family on the hero’s side. Balogh sure loves to write about people with lots and lots of relatives.
@Janine Ballard: Probably my favorite Julie Kriss book is TAKE ME DOWN (transgressive catnip alert: therapist heroine & ex-con/client hero), but it is part of Kriss’s Riggs Brothers series and, I think, works best if read as part of the series. I also really liked THE PLAYER, which features the stepbrother trope, but Kriss puts a nice spin on it. Kriss usually has a freebie or two available in the Kindle Store and most if her books are also available through KU. Don’t be turned off by the number of her books that have “Billionaire” in the title (or series name)—I suspect that was more a marketing decision than reflective of the heroes’ financial status—because her characters are rarely that wealthy and, even when they are, usually grew up rough on the wrong side of the tracks and never expected to be rich.
@DiscoDollyDeb: Therapist/client is a hard pass for me, even if it happens after the therapy ended. It’s an abuse of power and a coercive relationship by definition. Stepbrother–that very much depends on how old they are when their parents get together and they meet. If they didn’t grow up together it’s fine.
@Eliza: My local library branch has a used book store (it sells donated books to raise money for library programs), and when I was there a few days ago I saw they had a copy of the Jaswal book so I grabbed it. One more book to add to the massive TBR pile, but based on your comments I will put this one near the top. First I need to finish Mick Herron’s Real Tigers, which is a library book with a due date so it comes first.
@Susan/DC: Oh I’m glad you picked it up! I’m about halfway through the book now and my enthusiasm has dampened a little, mainly because I have so many questions. Would this really happen? Would these widows talk like this and act like this? It does give a fascinating window into Punjabi culture. I was raised in the thickets of evangelicalism which I’m guessing is at least as sexually-conservative as Indian culture if not more so. Even my most progressive Christian friends would never have conversations like this with me. One of the members of my book club is Indian and I cannot *wait* to hear what she says about this book!
@Darlynne: @DiscoDollyDeb: On my morning walk today, I was strolling down a street in my neighborhood when all of a sudden, I sucked in a lungful of the aroma of someone’s morning bacon. Ah, sweet bacony goodness.
@Eliza: That’s too bad. When is your book club meeting? I’ll be very curious to hear how it went.