Even more books

I really enjoyed Mischief and Mistletoe by Lauren Willig.  It was probably a 4/5 star book.  The first couple and the last chapter or two are PHENOMENAL.  Boyfriend material levels of funny and clever, just packed with humor.  The rest of the book was fine.  Irritating they should have just talked third act which was out of character for the heroine.

The first three novellas in The One that Got Away were delightful surprises.  Two of them were unexpected!  And they made me want to read the books for the side male characters.  Sadly, the Eloisa James book, Much Ado about You, was a DNF– the heroine is great but the hero shows none of his promise from the novella he was in– it was like he was a different person with none of the cleverness or humor.  The library didn’t have the linked Victoria Alexander book, so I tried out a few of her others.  Same Time, Next Christmas was cute, though the hero was a bit 2-D and the heroine was … a character.  Like, not totally sensible, and not entirely likable, but she seemed consistent.  Then I tried and DNF The Importance of Being Wicked.  The heroine was awesome.  The hero was a sexist jerk.  At the point in which she changes her entire wardrobe because he says she looks like a governess (as he is trying to seduce her even though/because she’s working for him), I skipped to the last three chapters and… he never stops being a sexist jerk.  He just is like, “You’re different from other women” and she’s all happy and promises of course she would never advocate for women’s right to vote.  And when a bunch of her workers get hurt and she’s upset he immediately starts berating her for loving her dead husband (who died in the same kind of accident) more than she loves him.  It made me realize how important it is to read feminist authors when you’re trying to get a HEA.  I also don’t like how the author continually talks about being content and not arguing as if it’s a bad thing.  Like, you can have passion AND discuss things as adults without screaming.  The Lady Travelers Guide to Deception with an Unlikely Earl was pleasant, but I think I’m done with Victoria Alexander, at least for now.

Tommy Cabot Was Here was an interesting post-war style novella by Cat Sebastian.

The latest Cat Sebastian, The Queer Principles of Kit Webb, was pretty good.  I think she was inspired by reading KJ Charles’ Any Old Diamonds but only by the McGuffin, not the mindflip stuff– this one is more straight-forward than the KJ Charles book.  This one also has a plot, if you didn’t like the meandering of the past couple/few Cat Sebastians.

The latest KJ Charles, Subtle Blood, the third in the Will Darling series, had a very satisfying ending!  Her books are a bargain and I love how she’s so prolific!

Accidentally Engaged by Farah Heron was ok.  It had a strong start and finish but the middle dragged and I skipped chunks.

I tried to read two books by Soyna Lalli, The Matchmaker’s List and Serena Singh flips the script… and they just kind of dragged.  Maybe if you’re more patient than I am.  They weren’t bad, they were just… they had long middles?  I skipped large chunks.  The Matchmaker’s List may actually be kind of bad because it uses “Heroine pretends she’s gay (not that there’s anything wrong with that) to get out of being set up on dates” trope.  The actual romance in Serena Singh seems kind of rushed if you’re looking for a romance– it’s likely better if you’re interested in a coming of age.  Like at the beginning of the book it is overabundantly clear that she’s just not that into her boyfriend or dating but is just being pressured, and also I dislike the “married people don’t pay attention to their single friends” stereotype and just generally the selfishness of people who get pissy if their friends lose touch for a while.  It probably would have been better without the slapped on romance at all!

Very much enjoyed A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Murder by Dianne Freeman, the third in that series because the price dropped to $1.99.  Quite fun! (and maybe it is still on sale?)

Secrets of a perfect night, a set of 3 novellas by different authors was pretty meh all around.

Her big city neighbor by Jackie Lau was fun.  The heroine is very pollyanna and the hero is broody and IIRC there’s a stupid third act (but I may not be recalling correctly).  The most memorable part of this book are the detailed descriptions of big city food.  It’s a nice snapshot of what you could get fast upscale casual in a major city a few years back.

I’m not sure what to feel about Ridiculous! by D. L. Carter.  The heroine is an identity thief and there’s not really enough justification about why these impoverished women need servants and money more than any other impoverished people at someone else’s expense.  There’s hints, but not enough really to make it completely stick.  If you allow that conceit it is DELIGHTFUL until about 3/4 of the way through when it suddenly becomes super homophobic.  Like, why you gotta do that?  I do appreciate it not having the trope where the otherwise straight hero is attracted to the heroine when he thinks she’s male, but it goes much worse and shows both hero and heroine thinking that homosexual males are degenerate and worse than identity thiefs!  That wasn’t necessary, they could be worried about the illegality without being disgusted by the idea (even 19th century people could be not disgusted by the idea… they could be just as puzzled or mildly amused or not thinking about it as most 20th century straight people were before gay marriage became legal).  Add to that the hero changing his personality (it changes back) for the third act drama followed up by lots of unexpected (because of how the book was written up to this point) and sudden explicit sex… it’s hard to say what to feel.

Not a fan of Act Your Age Evie Brown by Talia Hibbert.  Neither main character is particularly likable, the meet cute is ridiculous (culminates in the heroine hitting the hero with her car) and I really really hate boss/employee relationship tropes.  It is very rarely done in a way that isn’t squicky (see:  Rafe a buff male nanny and A Gentleman’s Position for the only two that come to mind).

A Master of Djinn was … well, at first you could tell it was very high quality but I had such a hard time getting through the first chapter (more like a prologue) until DH reminded me I could skip it.  Once the heroine showed up it was better.  I learned a lot of new words!  It took me a while to get through the first part of the book with all the fight scenes and so on.  And then around chapter 21, something happened and everything came together and got interesting and I couldn’t put it down.  I definitely recommend it and am looking forward to getting more.  There is a short story and a novella that comes before this one I think, but this is the first novel and you don’t need to have read anything prior (although they are referenced).

Saving the best for last:  A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik was so good that I read it again the next day.  Like, read it, then read it a second time.  It is one of the three best books I’ve read in the past 12 months (the other two being Boyfriend Material and Any Old Diamonds, both of which are different genres entirely, rom com and heist, respectively).  You may remember Naomi Novik from the His Majesty’s Dragon series 15 or so years ago, which were good, but almost entirely populated with (mostly white) doods.  Not so this book– it is beautifully diverse and she does diversity right.  And it is a delight to read and the main character is so … likeable?  understandable?  easy to identify with?  … I don’t know, I can’t explain it.  And the “Harry Potter meets Hunger Games but 1000 or more times better” also isn’t a good description.  You’ll have to read it yourself!  I am greatly looking forward to the second coming out in September.

I’m running low on library books.  Hit me with your recommendations!

Ask the grumpies: Books for people who liked Addie LaRue?

minca asks:

I loved Addie LaRue—anyone have suggestions in that vein? The author’s other books seem more fantasy/sci-fi, which isn’t typically my thing.

Jenny F Scientist replies:

You might like P. Djeli Clark’s recent books about djinn in a magical pseudomodern Cairo!

Books like this one recommends these.  IIRC, Cloud Atlas is TERRIBLE, so I’m not sure about the quality of the others.

Goodreads recommends these, but I don’t think they’re very good matches.  Some good stuff in there (shoutout Martha Wells), but I don’t see how they’re related at all.

Literature and movies suggests another odd set of readalikes.

Bibliode’s list includes The Time Travelers Wife which was my first thought, but that book is pretty out of date and kind of racist and depressing, so maybe not?

Here’s a list of recommendations from people at reddit.  And another one. And another.  There may be even more.

Grumpy Readers, do you have book recommendations for minca?

 

 

Books! Always books!

The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai was really good!  The heroine was super cool and understandable (you know, for a CEO of a major company that she founded) and the hero was a cinnamon bun.  Precisely my kind of pairing.  A lot of good wish fulfillment in this one.  Also a nice take on current events.  Girl Gone Viral wasn’t as good.  Remember that IRL thing where the “meet cute” of a couple of strangers on a plane got video taped and went viral?  She uses that as her base for her plot, only with a coffee shop.  Like the amazon reviews say, the book itself is fine, but the chemistry between the two leads was forced.  I think part of the problem is that the heroine finds the hero annoying to just be in the same room as because he makes little tapping noises while working… which… that’s like a huge turn-off for a relationship and makes it really not believable.  Another problem is the employer/employee to lovers trope which is exceedingly hard to do well (only KJ Charles and I can’t remember the other person have done it well to my recollection).  But really there just isn’t enough interaction between the two early on and then later with the forced Bachelor Nation style interactions (a romantic hay fight?  uncomfortable family dinners in which dirty laundry is aired?) you’re already bored.

A Gentleman’s Guide to Getting Lucky was pretty meh.  It’s a short story set between books and is written in present tense.  The library had it whereas it didn’t have the two full-length novels and I have no desire to read the other two novels., much less buy them.

Never Seduce a Scot by Maya Banks was surprisingly excellent.  Again, a heroine with problems and a lovely strong Beta hero.  There was some not necessary kidnapping in it– I think the resolution would have been just as good without the trauma.  It looks like the next book might be rape as a backstory, so I won’t get it.

I couldn’t get into The Stolen Mackenzie Bride by Jennifer Ashley.

I enjoyed both The Lady and the Highwayman and The Gentleman and the Thief by Sarah M. Eden.  They’re both “clean” (it even says “proper” on the cover) if you prefer to avoid sex scenes.  The latter I think was better than the former– the Lady and Highwayman dragged a bit in the third act.  The best part of both books were books within books by Mr. King (the heroine of the first book), and in the second book the mini-book by Lafayette Jones (the hero of the second book).

Read Do you want to start a scandal by Tessa Dare.  It was fine.  A decent library read– went down easy, didn’t really make a lasting impression.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Getting Lucky by Mackenzi Lee was not very good.  I can’t remember if I got it free or paid 99 cents, it just wasn’t any good and did not make me want to read the full-length novels.

I’m not sure how I felt about the Bullet Journal Method.  All the examples were definitely aimed at 20-somethings or maybe early 30-somethings.  I was like, well, I guess I’ve already achieved everything except going to Hawaii and in theory, flights are still pretty cheap, I could just go if I wanted to.  But… I don’t want to.  He says not to take other people’s goals, but I would have liked to see some more non-standard ones as examples.  (I have no life goals!  Which is probably good because if I had them I would achieve them at the expense of smaller things I wanted more.)  Still, the idea of the Bullet journal is a good one, but I think I picked up on the parts that are useful to me prior to reading the book.  The second half the book was all about meaning and gratitude and stuff and I was not there for it.  I wish there’d been more examples and more discussion of the different add-ons people have done.  It was weird to have 5 pages of examples from real people and no actual explanation of their systems, just a page about the people.  Like, why did that lady highlight some things? What is that guy’s date system that you say lots of people use now?  (And again, I am stunned by how little some people have to put on their planners– one woman had lots of pretty designs and motivational words but there wasn’t actually much listed other than the occasional playdate.)

I didn’t really like Mal’s story in A Rogue Meets a Scandalous Lady by Jennifer Ashley.  I just didn’t much like the hero.

If the boot fits by Rebekah Weatherspoon was delightful!  A Cowboy to Remember is good too, but I prefer the second in the series.  I’m not sure if I’m going to try the third– the hero in that book seems too angsty and angry in books one and two and I am tired of redemption arcs for angry brooding heroes who try to tell their grandmas they’re not allowed to date (this plot point is in the second book and appears in the blurb of his book).  I don’t care that he has a “softer side.”  But it won’t be out until October so I can see what reviews say before I remember to check for it at the library.

I LOVED Grimoires and Where to Find Them, the latest Shinigami detective book (I guess they’re now called the Case Files of Henri Davenforth) by Honor Raconteur.  They’re just really clever fantasy/police procedurals.  Super relaxing the way they track down clues and hit dead ends and keep working until they figure things out or catch the criminal.  And all the characters are really likeable.

I tried really hard to read Jennifer Ashley’s murder mystery, Death Below Stairs, and it is high quality and good (and I’m sure my mom and #2 would love it) but for some reason I just couldn’t get through it.  I read about halfway and read the last chapter and was done.  It’s a five book series.  There is nothing wrong with it, I just need something lighter and faster, I guess.

I reread Scandal by Amanda Quick and loved it.  I also reread all the KJ Charles Magpie Lord books.

Couldn’t get into A Loyal Companion or An Enchanted Affair by Barbara Metzger.  But I enjoyed rereading A Suspicious Affair and I really liked Saved by Scandal which was a delightfully silly madcap romp.  Valentines was a set of three novellas and the first one was hilarious (the other two pretty meh).  I can’t give anything away, but the service the hero performed the heroine to cement her interest was over the top slapstick and so funny, and the ending was also amusing.

Mistletoe Mischief by Sandra Heath (which I found when looking for another, much better book, with mistletoe and mischief in the title that will show up in the next one of these) was an easy read.  It’s actually similar to that first novella of Valentines in the way that it was funny, though not quite as slapstick– a light farce.

Have I not talked about the latest Courtney Milan?  The Devil Comes Courting was EXCELLENT and you should read it!

What are you all reading?

New-to-me French Toast Technique #LifeChanging

The Easter Bunny brought cookbooks and DC2 has started making something every week along with DC1.

DC2’s cookbook is from America’s Test Kitchen and is called, “My first cookbook.”  Technically it is hir second cookbook, but it is the first one zie has used with minimal parental help.  Zie has made ricotta toast and avocado toast and chocolate dipped things.  Next week zie is planning an oven roasted bbq chicken and broccoli one sheet meal, which we’re excited about (DC2 loves broccoli and dislikes cheese… I don’t understand but more power to hir).

This week’s was a revelation to me.

So basically the idea is you spray a jelly roll pan with cooking spray.  Then you mix up the custard/egg stuff.  Then… get this… you POUR THE CUSTARD INTO THE JELLYROLL PAN (!) (!) (!)  Then, working quickly, you put 8 pieces of bread into the jelly roll pan to cover it.  Then, starting from the top you turn them over.  Then you wait a minute.

After a minute, the egg mixture has completely been soaked up into the bread(!!!!!!)  This is AMAZING.  When I first saw the instructions, I was certain this was going to be a nightmare to clean up after with egg baked into the pan, but it wasn’t!

Then you bake it for 10 min on the bottom rack and then you broil it on the top rack for like a minute until it’s brown on top.  And you end up with perfect French toast. It’s not soggy in the middle. The bread is not dry.  It’s not burned. It just works!

Here’s a version of their recipe online (since I’m not going to violate copyright).  (But I will say you need another egg and 1/3 cup more milk if you use whole wheat or multi-grain bread instead of white bread.  And their recipe really needs nutmeg, that they did not list.)  If that link doesn’t work, here’s the google cache.

How do you make French toast?  Am I the only person who did this the fussy way with dipping and frying and occasionally baking after?

Ask the grumpies: Where do you find suggestions for books to read?

First Gen American asks:

I’ve been struggling with books lately. It seemed so much easier to find good books to read when I was younger. I did work In a cafe In a bookstore, so it helped to know what people were buzzing about.

Although I love the disruptive nature of being able to self publish, it seems like it’s much harder to sift through the junk these days. When I come across blatant spelling errors or a complete lack of editing, I just can’t go on reading a book. I don’t trust best seller lists either as some of the titles are on there just because of the success of their publisher’s marketing machine. NPR used to do a best books and summer reading list that was pretty good. I wonder if they still do that. I am finding the same issue with new music content as well.

How do people find new interesting things these days?

#2 listens to a lot of books podcasts.  She also loves to browse at libraries and book sales and reads some book blogs.  Also librarything has recommendations.  #booklife

#1 piggy backs from that by stealing book ideas off #2’s amazon wishlist.  She also takes book ideas off her SIL’s amazon wishlist.  And she leans heavily on amazon recommendations (after seemingly decades, amazon has finally figured out that it should recommend new books by authors that I’ve bought from before– before that I was having to check library thing for new books which I could never quite remember how to do and would have to ask #2 every time).  Overdrive (from the library) also seems to have a good idea of what to recommend for me, though sometimes the books are low quality.  I get a lot of recommendations from the comments of our books posts– many of our readers have excellent taste!  Sometimes I’ll feel in the need for something and I’ll find a list from Google and systematically go through it using the library.  I somewhat avoid terrible books by not reading many books that are lower than 3 stars on Amazon/Goodreads and by checking the 1 star reviews on any unknown books because it seems like there are a lot of people out there who also dislike having their cozy romance interrupted with rape or attempted rape, or (to a lesser extent) TSTL main characters.

I will sometimes spend an entire evening just trying to find things to put on my library wish lists.  I do browse.  The year after we left paradise, I still had access to their free online books (not overdrive, something seedier with a lot more self-pubs) and I searched by “historical romance” and read all of them in alphabetical order by author that had more than 3 stars (I was desperate).  There were some gems and also … a lot of spanking.  Which really isn’t my thing.

Grumpy Nation, how do you find new things to read?

More books!

I tried to read more of the Ravenels by Lisa Kleypas and was reminded why I stopped reading her last time. Marrying Winterborne was ok, a reasonable library read. Hello Stranger … starts with an attempted rape and then is an eternity of the trope where the seemingly capable of defending herself heroine is told by the hero that she’s not actually capable but is instead deluded which she denies and then he teaches her to fight dirty and then it’s more he doubts her capability and she disagrees, rinse, lather, repeat. I hate this trope. So… basically I just stopped reading before any plot could happen. I read the last chapter and found I didn’t care. So…

I found a list of Beta heroes and got Backstage Pass, which turned out to be erotic fiction, which… not my cuppa, but whatever. The irritating thing (besides the author not really understanding academia) is that the hero was NOT a Beta hero– he refused to be understanding about the importance of her work and whined when it took her away from him and forced her to make sacrifices, never him (though he framed it as he was the one always sacrificing, which… he wasn’t, also that’s irritating controlling Alpha behavior, not can we find a solution together Beta behavior). That is obnoxious and not what I am looking for in an understanding supportive Beta guy. Nope. (Also three-somes with two guys sound *really unpleasant.* And there was some cringey not really understanding consent stuff with the BDSM portions– one of the characters, Jace, sounds like the reason I can’t listen to Moxy Fruvous anymore. So I won’t be reading any more of that series.)

A duke, the lady, and a baby was ok, but I think would have been better if the hero wasn’t such a jerk.  Like, the idea was good, the heroine is pretty cool, the side characters are intriguing (with lots of set-ups for future books in the same series), but the hero himself… not great and especially not great in interactions with the heroine.  He’s much better with people who are not the heroine.  Awful pushy alpha hitting on his nanny, following her with the baby once he finds out she’s not the nanny (this is not a spoiler– it’s in the first chapter) because she doesn’t follow his orders anymore.  Just… could have been a lot better.  I don’t agree with the author about what makes a guy attractive, I guess.

Ten things I hate about the duke by Loretta Chase was much better than the previous book in the series that I DNF.  It wasn’t worth purchasing, but I do not begrudge having read it.

The Devilish Lord Will by Jennifer Ashley was quite good.  I accidentally borrowed it when I meant to just look at it, so it I read it out of order in terms of the series, like WAY out of order, but it was an excellent stand-alone so I think that’s ok.  I’m not usually into to Scottish heroes, but this one was not at all brooding.  Quite jolly, really.  A++ do recommend.  Not sure if I’m going to buy it or not… maybe?  (Oh hey, it’s only $4.99, I think I will just get it.)  I then read a bunch more of these MacKenzies books and have so far liked all of them (but not all of them are library available– I suspect I wouldn’t enjoy the one about Lady Isabella because I tend to dislike the estranged-for-a-stupid-reason spouses trope.  It is so rarely done well (really only done will when it’s for Scarlet Pimpernel reasons!)).  I especially like the 18th century ones about Will (see above) and Alec (haven’t read the one about Mal yet, but I bet it is also good, cw: the villain was also a rapist, but no rape is shown and he does not survive very long after that is found out).  There’s some problematic stuff very early about Roma in the 19th century series, but Ashley seems to learn throughout the novels what not to do with respect to that so it gets better.

Gave up on Strange Neighbors (I think this was another from that list of beta heroes) because it started with an attempted rape right after the heroine mentioned to her new landlord who was hitting on her that she hadn’t been allowed to move out of her dad’s house until she was 25 because her mom was murdered after leaving the house and… could we just not?  I didn’t even finish the first chapter.  UGH.

A Notorious Vow by Joanna Shupe had such a great setup, but didn’t really deliver.  It was almost Grace Burrows-esque in terms of the villains not getting their comeuppance because the heroine was too milquetoast and forgiving.  Like, if she could have become braver and the hero could have helped her grow into a more confident version of herself, this would have been an amazing book.  It had that promise.  But it didn’t go that route.  Sometimes the trope way is the best way.  I mean, sometimes you just want the joy of seeing Trump prosecuted and landing in jail, you know?

DC1 noted that there are a lot of dukes in the titles of the books I read and we talked about how when there isn’t a social safety net the safest person to marry is a duke (assuming he’s not abusive) because it sucks marrying a prince and might even be dangerous if someone decides to depose you, but dukes are the most powerful and safest you can get without actually being in direct line for the throne (some ducal exceptions apply).

The library and amazon both claim I tried reading Fortune Favors the Wicked by Theresa Romain, but I think I must have lost interest right away because although I remember the cover I don’t actually remember reading it(!)

The Deadly Mystery of the Missing Diamonds by T E Kinsey was not at all cozy like the books in the previous series although it started out that way.  It made the fatal mistake of unexpectedly killing off someone that the reader has come to care for, on screen even(!).  Which, not what I am looking for.

Drops of Gold by Sarah M. Eden was too boring to finish.  Also:  Nanny trope, not my favorite.  Pollyanna trope, also not my favorite.

The other two books in Tessa Dare’s Castles ever after series were fine (Say Yes to the Marquess and When a Scot Ties the Knot) but not as good as the first one (Romancing the Duke).  Not perfect, but ok.  I don’t regret having read them though I’m not going to buy them.  Even at $3.99.  I think Harper Collins might be having a sale– I just picked up Romancing the Duke for $2.99.  It may not still be going on when this posts.  :/

A Rogue of One’s Own by Evie Dunmore was pretty good.  I stayed up late finishing it because it got exciting near the end.  I was astonished to realize I’d also read the first in the series because the heroine from that book is in this book but I had no idea it was the same person(!)

I really wanted to love The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows (lesbian beekeepers, what’s not to like?)… but Olivia Waite has this problem where she creates stupid angst and drama from lack of communication.  It was nonsensical in her last book where the heroines had a ridiculous fight with basically no provocation.  Here it took the form of 9/10 of the book being them not talking about how they were into each other, which made sense when neither of them knew the other was into women, but about halfway through the book the lesbian started giving extremely strong signals to the bisexual including straight out saying she was into women and had done women etc.  And the inner thoughts of the bisexual at that point just made no sense.  Then everything interesting in the book happened in literally the last (or technically the second to last, since the last chapter was just setting up the next book) chapter.   Waite needs an editor who is going to say cut the angst in the middle 5/6 of the book, stretch out this awesome part at the end so it’s not so rushed, and if you’re going to go with drama, them make things actually happen instead of repeating the whole, I like her but she couldn’t possibly like me ad infinitum.  I am glad our local library has started purchasing her so I can continue to test her books as they come out.

A woman entangled by Cecilia Grant was quite good.  Plus it actually did have a beta hero (though one who isn’t a doormat– he does yell at the heroine but she deserves it at the time).  Both the hero and heroine are interesting but not completely likeable, and they both grow up during the story which is nice.  The twin separate storylines about family estrangement, scandals, and choices also work well together.  It is a well put together book.  Not perfect (the ending is a bit rushed and to be honest, I completely skipped over the sex scenes), but definitely worth reading, maybe even buying at 7.99 depending on your price point for books.  I realized near the end that I’d read the first in the series and though it ok, but apparently not good enough to even mention in one of these round-ups (I vaguely remember it being a silly storyline about a recent widow paying a man to get her pregnant so her late husband’s estate doesn’t go to a Bad Man– if the sale is still going on, only $2.99 on kindle right now if you want to give it a shot) and had skipped the second.  I think I will not pick up the second given its lower reviews.  You don’t need to have read the previous books to read this one AT ALL.  In fact, the heroine of the first book was complete unrecognizable.

For some reason I don’t remember, I put “A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Mayhem” by Manda Collins on my library holds list.  I’m still #5 on that list.  But I noticed it doesn’t have great reviews, so I investigated it further and it turns out a lot of people *thought* they were getting a new book with a similar title, “A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Murder” by another author, Dianne Freeman.  That book being the third in a series.  Those books have much higher ratings and the pictures on the cover are DELIGHTFUL– full of the whimsy of Edward Gorey, though not quite in his exact style.  So I picked up the first two books in the series, A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder and A Lady’s Guide to Gossip and Murder from the library.  They are fun!!!  They’re kind of expensive so I probably won’t get my own copies, but if they were more in the $5.99 range, I would– the mysteries themselves are fine but kind of rushed, but they’re also fun romance novels set in the late 1890s (no sex), so…

What are you reading, Grumpy Nation?

Ask the grumpies: Recommendations for happy fun novels by underrepresented writers?

MSWR asks:

I’d love to know your recommendations for romance novels and other HEA novels written by BIPOC, especially women.

We both read a lot of books by BIPOC, especially women (maybe even only women in #1’s case?), so if you cruise our link love books tag you’ll find a lot of them.  They’re not all HEA romance novels (although all the books #1 contributes are…) and they’re generally not labeled as such.  So it’s good to have a collection here.  First, let’s see what I’ve been collecting here from internet sources since you first posted this question (every time I see a list, I think of you!).

Sadly the owner of this original tweet has gone private, but the replies have some suggestions.

Are you interested in Black Women Equestrians?  It is a genre!  And here are suggestions.

Here is a list of names of Steve Ammidown’s favorite Black romance novelists and editors from the 80s and 90s.

This gorgeous thread of book covers as donuts includes a lot of our favorite BIPOC romance novelists.

Here’s a list from SELF magazine.

This sad but sweet memorial thread includes lists of lists of HEA romance novels and novelists, not only of BIPOC, but also other under-represented groups.

I keep trying to find a post from a few years ago that had some HEA YA by Asian American authors, but I can’t.  (Apparently I didn’t list Jenny Han or To all the Boys I’ve Ever Loved before even though we both read it before it was a major motion picture!  And I cannot remember the name of the JV author who inspired it– not Grace Lin though DC2 is LOVING her books right now.)  A blog gets really dense after 10 years, eh?

In any case:  Must buy favs of ours that are also HEA Romances:

Courtney Milan.  LOVE LOVE LOVE.  They are ALL good.  Even the bad ones are good.  Many of them have White protagonists and her early books when they do have BIPOC or non-CIS/hetero people, they’re side characters or only get novellas instead of full books.  BUT.  That’s changing.  If you want to start with a short novel/long novella with BIPOC protagonists, her latest, The Duke Who Didn’t, is like a burst of happiness.

Talia Hibbert.  She does a lot of biracial romances, often with neuro-diverse heroines, set in England.  I don’t like her newer stuff as much as her older stuff, but she’s still a must buy.  For an inexpensive dip in, start with A Girl Like Her.  (Not all her books are great though– I thought Merry Inkmas was kind of messed up with what we would now call workplace harassment.)

Rebekah Weatherspoon  is another must buy.  Her heroes and heroines are always so *mature* and their problems are external problems that are real.  The beta heroes are wonderfully supportive (because they are secure in their manliness given their physical attributes!).  Start with RAFE, the buff male nanny, which somehow manages to make the falling in love with the nanny trope not squicky by addressing it head-on at the beginning of the book.

Jackie Lau writes light little novellas about Asian romances that often hit my favorite tropes.  Her Holidays with the Wongs series is probably a good place to start.  You can get the entire series for $5.99!  The nice thing about novellas is that they’re not larded down with stupid misunderstandings in order to get to novel length.

I liked the Boyfriend Project by Farrah Rochon so much I bought it after reading the library copy and definitely intend to buy the next one when it comes out.

I’m mentally going through some of the library books we’ve read.  Slay by Brittney Morris was fantastic, but it’s the opposite of a romance.  There was a series about football players and their girlfriends but it was uneven and one of the “heroes” had anger issues that were totally glossed over.  Beverly Jenkins is uneven just like famous white romance novelists that have similar length careers– I need to do a better job reading her newer work because she has the same problems with consent in her earlier works that the entire industry had.  I couldn’t really get into Alyssa Cole because even before Meghan and Harry I just wasn’t into modern day royalty as romance heroes.  I should probably try a different series.  Maybe the AI who loved me (only $2.99!).  The Crazy Rich Asians series has a pretty satisfying final ending, but you have to get through all the books to get to it, so it is HEA, but not necessarily at the end of each book for everyone.   DC2 has been LOVING all the Rick Riordin presents series and the other books by the authors highlighted, and similarly books by Sayantani Dasgupta and Grace Lin, but those are more about children saving the universe than romance, though they do have HEA.  Also, not for romance, but I recommend going through the last 10 years of Newberry winners– they are diverse and DC2 has been LOVING them (going backwards in time they don’t start getting into the “my best friend died/tragedy is the only thing that makes books about minorities worthy” tropes until 2005ish– newer stuff allows winning the award even without tropey heartbreak!).  Then of course there’s so many great Spec Fic books with/by minorities, but none of those are romances and they don’t always have HEA, so I won’t link here, but Octavia Butler, NK Jemison, Nnedi Okorafor, Tomi Adeyemi, and so on.  DC1 is a big fan of these.  (Still not *enough* spec fic by minorities– there will be enough when published books by minorities are allowed to be as mediocre as those by white dudes.  There’s a LONG way to go before that happens.)

Grumpy Nation, Who are we forgetting!?!?  What amazing recommendations do you have for us?

Books books books

Pretty much done with the Agatha Christies– there’s a handful of singletons that weren’t available at the library that I haven’t read/reread, but I’m mostly done.  I quite like the Harley Quinn short stories for the most part (the last/second to last depending on your viewpoint, that is, the one directly before the Harlequinn Teaset is stupid).

I’ve been cranking through Lord Peter Whimseys as well.  My local library didn’t have Murder Must Advertise and I wonder if it’s because of the completely unnecessary use of the N word or if it’s just that their copy fell apart.  (But they have two copies of 9 little tailors, which is the next book in the series, so…)  I swear, the number of times I have read the N word in the past year from these 1930s British mysteries.  Ridiculous.  In any case, my university library had a first edition of Murder must advertise, so I as able to continue my reading mostly uninterrupted.  The Nine Tailors was … boring.  I ended up skipping large chunks even though I had no problem with the previous Scottish Five Red Herrings case which is supposed to be one of the duller Whimseys.  Then I read Gaudy Night which continues to be a masterpiece.  I’m not sure how good it is if you haven’t read the previous two Harriet Vanes, but it really is a classic.  I also read through the short stories again (except the last one which I’m saving for after Busman’s Honeymoon, though I should have also saved the second to last for then too!) and with the exception of the Harriet Vane novels, I think the short stories might be better than the novels.

The big city library recommended Nina Coombs Pykare to me.  They are for the most part forgettable retreads, but go down easily.  A Man of her choosing was TERRIBLE and I eventually gave up on it– TSTL heroine who is not like other girls (because she likes horses) and thinks she’s ugly “a wren” and says so about every other page.  Hero who has no personality other than occasionally jealously shaking the heroine and yelling at her.  The Lost Duchess of Greyden Castle was a nice Gothic that may be worth trying out if you can get it for free from  your library.  A Daring Dilemma and A Matchmaker’s Match were both soothing and forgettable (unless you care about historical accuracy, in which case you should completely avoid this author).

I tried a few more Alexis Hall books but none of them have quite jelled.  They have good bits, but haven’t really been cohesively good like Boyfriend Material was.  I have to wonder if what was lacking was an excellent editor, or if this is a matter of becoming a more experienced author.

The big city library also recommended Emily Hendrickson and I tried A Man of Her Choosing… and it was just super boring and forgettable so I didn’t even bother reading the last couple of chapters, I just DNF.

Joanna Shupe was pretty fun… reading her books in rapid succession left a bit to be desired because she reuses tropes and characteristics and turns of phrases and so on.  But The Prince of Broadway was pretty good.  A scandalous deal not as good, but readable.  The rogue of fifth avenue, similar. The Lady Hellion was a fun romp (cw: a serial rapist/murderer is the MacGuffin), though the heroine had some TSTL manic pixie tendencies, but I think the hero with his interesting anxiety disorders made it readable, AND it had the smartest “how to get someone killed without actually doing it yourself” thing I have ever seen.  Magnate had a great set-up but was ultimately a huge disappointment– it would have been 10x the book if she had spent more time on the heroine and heroes’ fascinating careers (steel magnate and wall street consultant) and less time on boring married-too-soon tropes (and interminable filler sex scenes… literally the first sex scene went from 62-72% on my kindle, and it wasn’t the only one.)  The Devil of Downtown was solid and maybe even a bit better than the previous two books in the series.

I tried out a Shana Galen bundle based on the library recommendation… Couldn’t get into The making of a duchess or The making of a gentleman, but the Rogue’s pirate bride was worth reading the first few and last few chapters and skipping the middle.

The Trouble with Harry by Katie MacAlister is silly and pretty funny (and also I kept going… did I accidentally check out an erotic novel?  but maybe this is too silly to be erotic?)

The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie was interesting.  The hero was nice.  There’s a mystery (more dead prostitutes, though only two this time around).  It’s got gothic bits.  I’d like to read the second from the library (but not buy it because I am not a fan of the estranged spouses trope and the hero doesn’t seem so great from his appearances in book 1), but alas, neither library has it available, so I guess I will skip and try the third next.

I’m not sure how to feel about In for a Penny by Rose Lerner.  I LOVED the way that the protagonists spent a day writing up a list of rules for marriage together (No Mistresses)– that was cute and fun and unique.  I had been hoping that the second half of the book would be watching them quietly building up the hero’s falling down estate while falling in love.  Instead, the second half was full of so many tropes… all together (no carriage accidents though… well no important ones anyway).  There was a two pager that had at least 3 things that would have been stunning drama game changers in another book, right after another from the beginning of the chapter.  Finally, I almost threw the book across the room (if it hadn’t been a library book, I might have) when I realized the entire story was just a huge long walk to get to a terrible terrible pun.  I think I may have to buy it.  And maybe read some more by this author.

Chasing Cassandra by Lisa Kleypas was solid.  It’s another in a series and I found myself wishing I’d read the other ones more recently because I think it would have been more rewarding.  I may have to reread these someday.  This one by itself isn’t really worth owning, but maybe it is if I reread it as part of the entire series?  I’m not sure.  Update:  Apparently I didn’t read all of the prequels because I got annoyed by too many attempted rapes on the heroine in one of her books and just gave up on the author entirely.

The latest Jayne Ann Krentz, “All the Colors of the Night” was a solid Jones book in the Fogg Lake sub-series.  I also wished I’d read others in that series more recently (amazon tells me there’s only one, but I feel like some of the other Jones books must have overlap).  (Also… I wondered if twitter was making fun of her recently by riffing off authors who use the book’s title in the book’s last sentence…)

Ask the Grumpies: What do you think about the Netflix series Bridgerton

Lady E asks:

I would love to read your review of Bridgerton on Netflix! I would be here for a full breakdown of your thoughts. I just binged the whole season, and am wondering how the show compares to the books (if you’ve read them)? Are the books worth my time if I need my next Bridgerton fix?

We were not aware of the series, so we can’t give any reviews.  #1 is still several seasons behind on Psych (which ended in 2014!) and has difficulty watching anything longer than 20 minutes, so you would probably have to wait until her kids are both in college to get a review of the series.  #2 generally prefers books to video adaptations.

In terms of the books… Some Julia Quinn books are decent, but overall she tends to have this problem where she has a strong start and then it just kind of peters out near the end.  She does not stick endings.  I think she writes under time pressure and doesn’t take the time to think or smooth out the endings and she doesn’t have an editor willing/able to fix them.  She also has a lot of problematic “attempted rape as a plot device” tropes which are meh.  She’s not one of my “must buy” or even “must check the library for” authors.  I think I last read one of her books ~5 years ago and just kind of gave up on her after several duds in a row from the library.  According to romancelandia, she’s one of the writers that (IMO better) writers grew up loving.

I asked a friend who has more time.  She said they have a lot of on-screen sex… talking about sex is the reason DH and I are so behind on Big Bang Theory because it has been a few years since the in-laws took our kids for a week while we were at home.  DC1 is old enough for BBT now, but not for watching on-screen intercourse with hir parents in the room.  DC2 is not old enough for either.  Bridgerton and this question will likely be long-forgotten by the time the youngest is out of the house.

Anyhow, here is her review, via text:

It was meh.  No rape.  Plenty of sex but not so much that I stopped watching.  Lots of dancing and courting– a little boring.  Like, my main complaint is that not enough happens.  IMO there is nothing deep there to comment on.  I like hearing Julie Andrews’ voice.  I guessed correctly who the gossip writer is.  The male lead is supposed to be damaged and complicated but he makes me roll my eyes.  The female lead is sweet and pretty uncomplicated.  There were no characters with enough depth for me to really fall in love with or feel any affinity for anyone.  That’s all I’ve got.

I know romance twitter was pretty excited when Bridgerton was announced, especially with Shonda Rhimes involved (and lots of articles about how regency romances are not real in any sense of the word and yes there were plenty of not-white people in regency England so don’t be a racist bigot).  They think the Duke is hawt.  But since the series has come out I haven’t seen any commentary other than a cut of the Duke being hot set to Cardi B’s WAP.  Oh, and apparently episode 6 is really questionable about consent, though my friend didn’t find it problematic.  It could be that they’re underwhelmed but don’t feel like saying anything since they love Julia Quinn and Shonda Rhimes, or, more likely, they’re busy with their own deadlines after saving the future of US by helping to fund Stacy Abrams.

Here’s a commentary on the costumes … and a lot of other stuff too (spoilers!):

Grumpy Nation, what do you all think about the Bridgerton series?  Which Julia Quinn books do you recommend, or what would you recommend for fans of the series?

RBOC

  • Courtney Milan and friends on twitter recently had a conversation about how at the core of a long-regency romance novel is that people want to be safe and that money is one way to be safe.  People want to marry a duke because that is the safest place to be in that time period.
  • I read a lot of long-regencies.  But I’ve also read a lot of mystery novels.  What has been interesting to me in my most recent juxtaposition, jumping from one to the other is how all these 1920s-1960s murder mysteries I’ve been binging on c/o Christie and Sayers make it very clear that it is *dangerous* to have money, especially if you are leaving it to other people and not charities.  If you have a lot of money you might as well put a target on your back.  People will marry you but then *kill* you.  They will come to your aid when you are sick, but only until you sign a new will in their favor.  Kind hearts and coronets.
  • I think it is not random that this transition between 19th century and 20th century measures of literary safety happens– the 1920s bring the strong rise of the middle class and forcing minor gentry to work for a living, though I guess the Mapp and Lucia series show that that element of society is still going strong into the 1930s.  And of course, Benson makes it clear (much like Jane Austen did before him) that idle hands truly are the devil’s playground and the idle wealthy are a ridiculous drain on society.
  • But I also want to have a lot of money because it helps me feel safe.  And I want to leave money to my children because I want them to be safe.  I like being able to escape.  But we won’t have enough money to make us worthwhile targets… and I would hope our children wouldn’t want us dead!  That’s a good reason for them to have their own income and careers.  We spend so much on investing in them so they can take care of themselves.  Which is another mistake that those 1920s victims make– they ask their children to live on their expectations rather than training them as solicitors or financiers or what have you.  No vocation, idle hands.
  • Though I guess finance is a bad choice, come to think of it, because a pretty common murder motive is needing funds to cover up embezzlement!  So maybe just stick to law.  Not medicine because they have too much access to poison.
  • Agatha Christie seems to be really pro-LGBT, particularly gay men.  It’s sometimes a plot point (won’t spoil it, one of her many plays).  Reading the mysterious Mr. Quinn it is quite lovely how in the first story she’s pretty clear, though using coded language, that the hero, Mr. Sattherwaite (who I think appears in the occasional Hercule Poirot when HP needs gossip, ah yes, wikipedia says he does) is gay, or possibly asexual (though in later short stories she gives him a failed marriage proposal).  In contrast, Sayers seems like a pretty awful homophobe, particularly when it comes to lesbians.  She straight up says pretty terrible things.  And yet, Sayers seems, on the whole, less anti-Semitic prior to WWII (as noted in an earlier post, Christie seems to realize she shouldn’t be anti-Semitic once the Nazis come into power).
  • When I was in elementary school, one of the children’s moms came in once a year to teach about Judiasm, usually around Hannukah.  I didn’t realize until I was much older that she did this to help combat antisemitism.  We also had a disabilities unit in 4th grade where we learned about different kinds of disabilities and how people worked around them and how to treat people we met who had disabilities. People would come in and talk to us about how to treat their seeing eye dogs and so on.  The learning specialist talked about how she taught people with dyscalculia to add (which… was how I did adding at the time).  It was a really wonderful program and definitely helped me not be a jerk or idiot when meeting new people.  I’m not sure we could do that these days because people would be too afraid of making mistakes.  And I’m sure there were stupid things we did, but on the whole all those old educational videos from the 1970s and the community volunteers themselves made us less likely to be harmful and more likely to support ADA legislation.
  • This blog really is a random mix of things.  I think that’s more unusual than it used to be?  But maybe not.
  • One of DH’s relative’s “friends” traveled to DC for the coup and stormed the capitol.  He was really excited about it and posted pictures and videos all over his social media.  Then he came home and found out that everyone he knew IRL was horrified and deleted all his social media and is pretending he didn’t go at all.  I hope the FBI finds him.
  • DH’s relative’s youngest (the only one in college) got an additional bill for $2K for last semester because financial aid was based on the number of people living in the household and so he included his oldest and her kid.  But, apparently the oldest got some kind of food assistance last semester (I don’t know if WIC or foodstamps or what) so the school decided she and her kid didn’t count as part of DH’s relative’s household, so they sent a retroactive bill for the difference(!)  That seems crazy to me.  (We paid it.  We don’t know how much this semester is going to cost even though classes start soon.)
  • Speaking of DH’s relative– he kicked a covid positive mask-denier “We’re all getting it anyway so who cares” off the work site where he was working twice.  The first time he threatened to kill the guy (“If you give me covid and my immunocompromised wife dies, I will hunt you down” “That’s not fair, you won’t know it was me”) , which in retrospect, he regrets.  The second time he called the guy’s boss and threatened to tell the city.  That actually worked.  It’s nice when doing the things we tell our kids to do (talk to a responsible adult when someone is being dangerous) actually works.
  • Speaking of anti-maskers, DH tried to get our car inspection sticker renewed and had to go to three places before he found one where the people were wearing masks (the dealership).  Except… after it was done the cashier had her mask around her neck instead of her face.  He also went to drop something off at a government office and didn’t realize until he’d left that none of the people working there even had masks.  7 people died yesterday and our ICU has been 130% full for almost a full week now.  The students aren’t back yet.  DH is shaken.  I wonder if I should start doing errands.  Maybe DH can do my work instead.  I’m not sure what I would have done in the moment, but I definitely would have reminded the cashier to put her mask up (I would have assumed it was an accident).  As for the government office, if I’d noticed, I think maybe I would have just left the item we were turning in on the inside of the door.
  • The library was still quite lovely for curbside, and Target curbside was great.  Hopefully he won’t have to do any more errands for a while.  I can pick up and drop off library books myself once my school starts since the library is on the way to work.  Also I’d completely forgotten that some people don’t wear masks because last week I went for my annual doctor’s visit and everyone at the hospital was masked without a single nose showing.  I switched hospital systems and it has made a HUGE difference.  Also everyone there was super nice and seemed genuinely happy to be working there, which is also really different.
  • The bad news though is that I am now obese(!) which I have NEVER been before (BMI exactly 30, but I’ve also gained a lot since my last checkup so it’s been a fast weight gain, which is the least healthy kind).  I had my glucose checked but it’s fine.  My bad cholesterol is up too– usually it’s nicely in the low to middle healthy range and only my good cholesterol is high.  The doctor’s notes say the cholesterol is fine, but the automatic thing says “borderline high”.  I’m having a bunch of other weird health problems too which I should probably just give their own post.  Pandemic is bad!  I’ve told DH he can still make bread but he needs to cut back on the sweets.  The children have noticed and have been complaining.