Meljean Brook

Listorama: 11 Romance Novels for Clever Ladies

Recently, The Mary Sue--a website I have deeply conflicted feelings about--posted a super-ignorant, click-bait-y piece about romance novels and romance readers.

Rather than rebut the silliness (because what's the point), I thought I'd offer some recommendations for clever ladies looking to try out the genre, want to try a new subgenre of Romance or who want to revisit it after an absence. I'm not an expert, but I've read reasonable widely in the genre and appreciate that it is, in many ways, a deeply feminist field of offerings, particularly in recent years. 

The following are 11 smart big-R romances (read: happy ending of a central love story, as defined by the Romance Writers Association) I recommend for Clever Ladies who are interested in the genre. Keep in mind that there's just about something for everyone in this genre, so if there's not something that's up your alley on this list, there's probably something out there--leave a note in the comments and I'll see what I can do. 

Listorama: 11 Romance Novels for Clever Ladies

Podcast #20: Diversifying the Shelves (Part 2) with Author Sarah Ockler & Blogger Racquel of The Book Barbies

We're super-thrilled to publish the second half of our discussion with author Sarah Ockler and Racquel, blogger from The Book Barbies, about diversifying our bookshelves, how writers can work to authentically represent people of color in their fiction and recommendations for books and authors that do this successfully. You can find the first half over here. 

In this half, we get down to the nitty-gritty and recommend some novels that really, in our eyes, get it right, and why. It's important to emphasize that this is most definitely not a comprehensive conversation--if anything, it's framing questions and talking about our personal experiences. We hope to continue to explore this topic in future episodes. If you'd like to be involved in a future podcast discussion on this subject, get in touch and let's talk.

 

Podcast #20: Diversifying the Shelves (Part 2) with Author Sarah Ockler & Blogger Racquel of The Book Barbies

List-O-Rama: Beginner's Guide to Awesome WTFery

A couple of weeks ago, I detailed my favorite fictional Awesome WTFery. I love explosions, random ghosts and fake relationships with a possibly unhealthy passion. Much of my love of WTFery manifests itself in my movie and television watching, but it creeps into books too. 

Are you wanting to delve into a big of Awesome WTFery escapism? Here are a few I dare you not to secretly devour.

The Lux Novels by Jennifer L. Armentrout (Entangled Teen)

Why It's Awesome WTFery: Hot aliens live in West Virginia, hijinks ensue. 
Bonus Points: Sex-Positive YA; No Love Triangle

I just blew through the first three Lux novels by Jennifer L. Armentrout, and while I'm not normally ​one to be embarrassed by my reading, I'm not exactly proud of not being able to put these books down. The plot of these (marginally) sci-fi young adult urban fantasy romance series is incredibly absurd and has continuity issues, but damn... the plot just moves along at a swift clip and Armentrout manages to make the reader care about snarky teen book blogger Katy and her good-looking pain-in-the-ass alien neighbor Daemon. 

Amazon | Goodreads

List-O-Rama: Beginner's Guide to Awesome WTFery

List-O-Rama: Eight Quickies

Let’s celebrate National Short Story Week with a few quick reads, shall we?

Admittedly, some of these are novellas, but since I’m pretty sure there’s not a National Novella Week (oh, hell, there probably is—there’s a week or day for everything), I’m defining “short story” liberally. There’s something very satisfying about a shorter read—I know I pick them up a lot in the time between Thanksgiving and New Years, because it’s a nice way to get some reading in in shorter hits. 

Shannon Stacey's Slow Summer Kisses - List-O-Rama: Quickies on Clear Eyes, Full Shelvs

Slow Summer Kisses by Shannon Stacey

This is one of my favorite of Shannon Stacey’s works (her other novellas, Mistletoe and Margaritas and Holiday Sparks are also super-fun), because while it’s short, it reads like a complete novel. It’s light, funny and very current in its themes—plus, it’s only a buck and a half right now. Check out my review here

AmazonGoodreads

Lynburn Legacy Short Stories - List-O-Rama: Quickies on Clear Eyes, Full Shelvs

Lynburn Legacy Short Stories by Sarah Rees Brennan

If you’re like me and freaking out over having to wait for Untold after reading Unspoken this year, these two short stories (free!) will help get you through these difficult times waiting for Untold’s release. I particularly liked The Spring Before I Met you, since it gives you a bit of insight into where Jared’s been. 

Download The Spring Before I Met You / The Summer Before I Met You / Goodreads

List-O-Rama: Eight Quickies

List-O-Rama: Eleven Memorable Settings

I read two great blog posts this week about the idea of setting. 

The first was from the ladies at The Readventurer who put together a fantastic post about settings from books they’d most like to visit. There are some awesome ideas—though most of them terrify me because I am not adept at hand-to-hand combat (or any other combat, if I’m going to keep it real). The second great post about setting was from Molly Backes who wrote a guest post on Stacked about the importance of setting in contemporary young adult fiction

Both posts got me thinking about setting in books and what works for me and what doesn’t—and why some books have such memorable settings, sometimes even overshadowing the characters and plot. And my conclusion is that when setting is strong and memorable, the place almost serves as a character itself. Think about Dillon, Texas in the Greatest Television Show Ever aka Friday Night Lights. The characters would not be who they are if they didn’t live in Dillon—and when they leave Dillon, they’re transformed too (i.e., Tyra and Jason). 

Earlier this year, I went up to Seattle for an event featuring Stephanie Perkins, Gayle Forman and Nina LaCour. Stephanie said something that’s stuck with me, that (I’m paraphrasing) she thinks about character first, setting second and plot last. As a reader, that’s the order I think about books too. I can’t buy into a plot if the first two don’t work.

Here are a few books or series with memorable settings.

The Mercyverse - Mercy Thompson; Alpha  & Omega Series
Author: Patricia Briggs
Setting: Pacific Northwest (Tri-Cities, Washington) & Rural Montana

I love the world Patricia Briggs created over seven Mercy Thompson books, numerous graphic novels and three books in the spinoff Alpha & Omega series. What strikes me most is that Briggs has taken a very ordinary place and made it quite extraordinary with an eery underworld. When the books shift to Montana for the Alpha & Omega series, the deep cold woods of the region looms large. 

 

List-O-Rama: Eleven Memorable Settings

Book Matchmaker: Roxanne Just Wants a Good Book

Y’all, I have really fallen off the book matchmaker wagon. 

You see, the last chunk of submissions (probably around twenty) have been really, really hard. Like, how the hell am I supposed to find books for Janina, who’s basically read every book? Anyway, so y’all have basically stumped the band, so to speak.

So, I went through our (massive) backlog and found a bit of a gimme—a request from one of my clients and former students, Roxanne, who’s a very cool artist and all around creative thinker. 

Roxanne filled out our handy-dandy—and extremely scientific—Book Matchmaker Questionnaire, here are her responses:

YA or Adult: Surprise Me 

Genres: Contemporary, Historical, Action/Adventure, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Paranormal, Mystery/Thriller, Magical Realism, Steampunk

Point-of-View/Narrative Style: First Person, Multiple POV, Epistolary (told wholly or partially though documents), Present Tense, Male POV, Main Character or Narrator, Female POV, Main Character or Narrator, Unreliable Narrator

Likes: “Bathtub mysteries that actually surprise me. Well done and documented historical (and hysterical) fiction. Learn-read ie. ” “How To Think Like Leonardo DaVinci.” “Coming of age or narrative memoir.  Metaphysical or energy themes. Promotion of hope.

Dislikes: “When I read, I try not to think that hard, Sarah. I basically like to read well written material across any genre. I’m totally annoyed by lazy authors.”

Swoon Factor: 3

Gross-out Factor: 1

Smut Factor: 1

 Fluff Factor: 3

The Results

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

I’ve never once thought about the interpretative, the storytelling aspect of life, of my life. I always felt like I was in a story, yes, but not like I was the author of it, or like I had any say in its telling whatsoever. You can tell your story any way you damn well please. It’s your solo.

The Sky is Everywhere is an odd book—people seem to have extreme reactions to it. I love it. It’s got a touch of magical realism but it’s also very accessible and has a strong theme of hopefulness. 

{Amazon | Goodreads}

Book Matchmaker: Roxanne Just Wants a Good Book

Review: Riveted by Meljean Brook

But she wasn’t on another ship—and instead of a bird shitting in his eye at the port gates, an answer to an old prayer had landed in his lap in the form of a vibrant woman. Such mad luck.

Riveted by Meljean Brook

Iceland! Monocles! Vulcanologists!

Riveted, the third installment in Meljean Brook’s Iron Seas series, has a lot of appeal on the surface, but its real richness is the layered, complex exploration of identity against the backdrop of a skillfully-developed steampunk world. 

I wasn’t a fan of the first book in this series, The Iron Duke. (Laura’s review echoes my sentiments.) However, I was extremely impressed by the world-building, which led me to try the first steampunk novel I’ve truly enjoyed, Heart of Steel (which has one of the worst covers in the history of bad covers). Heart of Steel was just pure fun, a wholly entertaining classic adventure tale. 

In Riveted, Brook takes readers to another part of the Iron Seas world: Iceland. A volcanic eruption caused Icelanders to evacuate the island a century prior, but legends about witches and trolls still inhabiting the island abound.

A century before, in the years following an eight-month fissure eruption, the Mist Terrors decimated livestock and crops. Ash fell in thick layers over the land, and toxic volcanic gases poisoned half the island’s inhabitants. The remaining population had been forced to flee or face starvation. Except for a few ports and fishing villages, Iceland had been abandoned for a hundred years.

However, the mythical creatures of abandoned Iceland are actually the work of Icelanders who secretly remained—a colony of women who will do anything to keep their village hidden from outsiders.

Annika grew up in that village of women (who primarily, but not exclusively, are lesbians or bisexual—there’s a very fluid sort of sexuality in this community) and left in search of her beloved sister Kalla, who was exiled for endangering the community. She facilitates her search for Kalla by working in the engine room of an airship, looking for her at their ports of call. 

Annika encounters David at one of those ports, where he is preparing to board her airship en route to an expedition. He’s a vulcanologist (that’s the study of volcanoes, y’all—what a badass job), but he’s also hell-bent on finding his mother’s home (in Iceland) so he can bury her runes, which he carried with him for 20 years. David has two prosthetic legs, a prosthesis for a hand and a monocle-type lens embedded in one eye.

Disabled during a terrible accident, David eventually had the metal prostheses grafted onto his body, meaning that he’s also infected with the nanoagents introduced to the Old World by the Horde to control the populations (much of the story behind the nanoagents is addressed in The Iron Duke, but it’s also discussed on the author’s website); the nanoagent infection means that he is also unwelcome in many parts of the New World. He is part-indigenous and has a number of facial scars, in addition to being significantly differently-bodied (for lack of a better term), so despite David’s skills as a naturalist, people generally avoid him. 

David’s interest in Annika is piqued because, despite that she claims that she’s Norwegian, her recognizes her accent as the same as his late mother’s—and he thinks Annika will be able to give him information about where to bury his mother’s runes. 

These two characters are fascinating because David and Annika have both defined themselves by how they are perceived by others. 

Review: Riveted by Meljean Brook

{Book Matchmaker} Matt Wants Books with Action, Sex and Violence

Okay, okay… so that headline is a tad inflammatory, but since I’ve known our latest Book Matchmaker victim volunteer since we were freshmen at good ol’ Canby High School, I’m going to take the opportunity to embarrass Matt, a fan of urban fantasy, adventure and Star Wars, just a bit.

Side note: when we were in high school I knew that Matt was nerdy, but I had no idea how incredibly nerdy he was until he filled out our Extremely Scientific Questionnaire. I mean, we were both in the Advanced Nerding Classes, but still… ;-)

Matt’s responses:

YA or Adult: Surprise Me

Genres: Action/Adventure, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Urban Fantasy, Mystery/Thriller, Magical Realism

Narrator/Style: First Person, Third Person, Multiple POV, Graphic Novel or Graphic Elements, Present Tense, Past Tense, Male POV, Main Character or Narrator, Female POV, Main Character or Narrator

Swoon Factor: 2

Gross Out Factor: 4

Smut Factor: 4

Fluff Factor: 4 

Fave Authors: Clive Cussler, Tom Clancy, Patricia Briggs, Kim Harrison, Orson Scott Card, Anne McCaffrey, Vicki Pettersson: Sign of the Zodiac, Hunger Games, The Call of the Wild, Harry Potter, the Star Wars novels. I am a guy: I like action, sex and some violence in my stories. I am also a tad whimsical, and like to believe there is more out there than what we see in our everyday life.

Dislikes: Victorian, Elizabethan, anything that doesn’t use common language; I don’t care much about nonfiction; I read to be entertained and “turn my brain off.” Twilight makes me want to throw up because it’s too teenage-girl-angsty. No horror, please. 

The Results:

Unholy Ghosts by Stacia Kane

Stacia Kane’s Downside Ghosts Series (Adult Urban Fantasy)

Dude. This series. It’s completely effed up and awesome, as it follows drug-addicted witch and ghost hunter Chess during the Ghost Apocalypse. This is a rough series, with Serious Consequences™ around every corner. 

 

{Book Matchmaker} Matt Wants Books with Action, Sex and Violence

Noelle vs. The Embarrassing Book Covers

[Editor’s note: Noelle shares with us her story about a fight many a reader has had—to read or not to read books with “those covers.” You know what I’m talking about.]

Round One: Scorn

I have always been a book lover.

I have always been a fan of awesome.

But unfortunately, I haven’t always been so open-minded about certain genres—-especially those with questionable cover designs. Nowadays, I usually subscribe to the Stephon Marbury philosophy that [book] love is [book] love but only a few short years ago, I was that girl side-eyeing your selections in the Barnes & Noble checkout line, rolling my eyes at the ratio of abs to cover space and assuring anyone who would listen that I didn’t read those kind of books.

That is, until I did…

Round Two: Begrudging Curiosity

One of my college roommates was what I affectionately refer to as a Romance Shark. She was unabashedly addicted to romance novels of all kinds and had a multi-state swap network set up with her extended family. I held out for as long as I could but browsing her bookshelves and observing what she was reading was inevitable. 

Slowly but surely, I succumbed to curiosity. After more than a few books were “accidentally” left on the coffee table, my snarking evolved from catcalls at the shirtless dudes on the cover to,

Wait—so he’s a time traveling highlander?

 

and

What’s an urban fantasy?

 

The Romance Shark immediately sensed a weakness in my defenses—-blood in the water, if you will—-and dared me to read one—just one—of those books. 

And, crap… I liked it.

{Review} The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook

FNL Character Rating: The guy that kept trying to rape Tyra.

This is harsh, I know, especially in comparison to the many rave reviews I’ve read.
However, I cannot abide by the effed up sex stuff & the attitude of Rhys Traehaern, the Iron Duke from the title. In my eyes, he is the prototypical abusive male. I guess some people might see Traehaern simply as an alpha male and find that attractive. I find him possessive, controlling & abusive, yet somehow making the object of his interest, Wilhemina “Mina” Wentworth, believe that’s what she wants.

{Review} Heart of Steel by Meljean Brook

Well, this is embarrassing. 

Heart of Steel was recommended by Noelle, whose taste is very similar to my own, so I reluctantly looked past the heinous cover (thanks to my ereader) and aversion to steampunk and gave it a try. And, holy moly, am I glad I did.

Heart of Steel is seriously badass: in bullet points.

  • Yasmeen is a fantastic lead character. She’s tough and smart and capable. I loved her as the captain of an airship, and her loyalty to her crew. 
  • Archimedes Fox, the male lead, is delightful. He’s funny and a clotheshorse and awkwardly in touch with is feelings. He’s brilliant character.