Hunting for Happily Ever After: a massive pile of romance novel recs

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Image by Rowan Heuvel. Used under a CC0 license.

Yes, you read that right. Romance novels. I’m not going to defend my taste in reading material  when Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books (check out the podcast!) does such an excellent job of it. There’s also Kelly Faircloth over at Jezebel with an examination of just why romance gets such an undeservedly terrible rap, not to mention this long (and eye-opening!) history of Harlequin. For a more intellectual perspective, here’s tenured academic Catherine M. Roach’s first experience at the Romance Writers’ of America’s annual convention.

While some people’s experience with romance might be limited to Georgette Heyer, or Mills and Boons with ridiculously over-the-top-titles (The Playboy Sheik’s Virgin Stable-Girl, anyone?) the genre is actually hugely diverse, with something for just about everyone. This post is just a small sampling of what’s out there, with the caveat that it’s pretty heavily influenced by what I like to read – in other words, Regency romances, and heroines with spine and spunk, and a little bit of action mixed in with the romance.

So, without further ado… a whole raft of dashing heroes, feisty heroines, and happily ever afters under the cut!

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Review: A Court of Thorns and Roses

 

So I have a confession to make: I actually bought A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas on release day. Pre-ordered it, even. And then let it languish, sad and ignored, on my Kindle for a year and change between grad school and the fact that I’ve been leaning more and more towards non-fiction.

acotarAnd then I found the sequel (A Court of Mist And Fury) in the library, so of course I had to go back and finally read ACOTAR.

I have been a dingbat, y’all. An absolute dingbat, letting this absolute treasure of a book go unread so long. This book is if someone took about half a dozen things that make Poorva make happy seal noises (world-building! kick-ass women! beautiful imagery! fairytale retellings!), bundled them all up together, added in a spoonful of romance and a large dollop of gorgeous writing, and baked it all up into 474 pages of utter gorgeousness.

From Maas’ site:

When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.

As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow over the faerie lands is growing, and Feyre must find a way to stop it…or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.
  
At its heart, this is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast… but Maas adds so much depth and richness to it that it took me a while to realise it. None of the characters, even the secondary ones, are quite what they seem and while I’ll hush now before I spoil anything, there were pages that made me tear up – and gasp in delighted glee.

One thing I’ve always loved about Maas’ writing is her heroines. Like Celaena from Throne of Glass, Feyre is complex, and flawed. She makes mistakes, she has shortcomings – real ones – due to her background that almost wreck the story, she’s not perfect… but she’s also brave, and loyal, and willing to do anything for the people she loves.

And then there’s Tamlin. Oh, Tamlin. I loved him in this book, loved that he’s Fae and therefore Not Human in some very important ways (leaving aside that he transforms into an actual beast) but (without spoiling ACOMAF) all I can say is that Maas is bloody brilliant at foreshadowing, and I’m going to be eagerly rereading ACOTAR to see if I can find the breadcrumb trails she left.

The thing with a romance – and this is a romance at heart, even with all the brewing war and political intrigue – is that it’s easy for secondary characters to get lost in the bargain. I loved Lucien’s slow warming up to Feyre, and Alis helping her even as she thought Feyre a stupid human… and Rheysand, oh, Rheysand… but to say anything more would be spoiling it, so… run, don’t walk, and pick up A Court of Thorns and Roses (and A Court of Mist and Fury!)

Available at: Amazon.in | Flipkart | (fingers crossed) your local bookstore/library.
 

Book Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

UK cover of Divergent. Silhouette of a girl sitting on  a rock against a deep maroon background, three birds in flight on the top right. Text on top left: She turns to face the future in a world that's following apart. Title, bottom centre: New York Times Bestseller Divergent Veronica Roth.

 

 

Post The Hunger Games, it seems you can’t throw a stone in the YA section of the bookstore without hitting a dystopia of some sort. Considering the flood of vampire/werewolf fiction that came before it, I’m not complaining. Divergent by Veronica Roth is the latest of the bunch. 

From Amazon.com:

In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

 

Generally, I’m not a fan of dystopias, because I’m a big believer in Oscar Wilde’s line of thinking- “The good end happily, the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.” But I’d read and enjoyed Susan Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy (for values of ‘enjoyed’ that included ‘sobbing my heart out on multiple occasions,’) so when I found a copy of Divergent in the bookstore only a few days after one of my favourite bloggers had raved about, it had seemed like Fate.

 

I’m very pleased with my impulse purchase. Although I generally avoid first person like the plague (too much bad fanfic, I suspect) it really works here- Tris feels real and relatable, and I enjoyed her development through the book. The other characters are also well drawn for a YA novel, Four and Al in particular. One of the things that struck me the most is how realistic the characters’ reaction to pressure is- having their backs against the wall, sometimes literally, brings out the best in some characters and the worst in others.

 

I have to admit, though, I was a little surprised by the way the violence suddenly ramped up close to the ending. I’m not sure why, since the first Hunger Games novel was definitely a gorier book overall (which, considering it’s a book about two dozen children fighting to the death…) I think it threw me because the vast majority of the book, while it does contain some level of violence and death (one of the characters dies before even entering the faction compound, for instance) and more focused on Tris’ psychological and emotional development and her reaction to the world changing around her. That said, while unexpected, it didn’t feel excessive or unnecessary. On reread, I think there are hints scattered all along, I just got so caught up in the story I missed them. Which made the climax both more heartbreaking and a lot better, in my opinion.

 

To my complete surprise, it turns out that Ms. Roth is younger than I am (23) and she wrote Divergent when she was in college. In retrospect, I’m very glad I found out only after reading the book. All issues of jealousy aside, if I had known before, I might have assumed things about her writing abilities given her youth (/cough/ChristopherPaolini/cough/) and not picked up Divergent, which would have been a crying shame.

 

In sum: Divergent is a fantastic book, well plotted, well paced, and very well written. I can’t wait for the sequel!

 

 

 

In defense of Chick Lit

Photo by Graeme Robertson. Image: Four Mills and Boon novels laid out in a fan shape.

 

I have a confession to make.

I read romance novels. I enjoy reading romance novels.

But confession is a bad choice of words. I’m not ashamed of reading Julia Quinn, Meg Cabot, Cindy Dees, and the rest, indeed, of enjoying them.

But, according to some people, I should be.

According to some people, there are two kinds of literature. One that’s worthy of being read, and one that isn’t. 

And chick lit falls near the top of the latter list. 

If I had a tenner for every person who’s expressed shock that someone like me (read: someone smart) reads chick lit, and romance novels at that, I’d be a rich woman indeed. 

 

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