Category: book reviews (page 2 of 83)

Dangerous Books for Girls

Dangerous Books for GirlsTowards the end of her book, Dangerous Books for Girls: The Bad Reputation of Romance Novels Explained, Maya Rodale sums up the problem with the current discourse surrounding the romance genre as a whole:

“Romance novels feature nuanced portrayals of female characters having adventures, making choices, and accepting themselves just as they are. When we say these stories are silly and unrealistic, we are telling young girls not to expect to be the heroines in their own lives.” (pg 180)

The rest of Rodale’s exploration of the history and development of the romance genre is exactly like the excerpt above: insightful, intelligent, unapologetic, and eminently quotable. (I would have used my Kindle’s highlight tool for the entire thing, but that seemed a little bit excessive in hindsight.) Rodale is the author of many successful historical romance novels (among them her Writing Girls series, which is one of my favourites) and she wrote Dangerous Books in part to address, head-on, the lack of critical acclaim and respect that most romance novels (and, indeed, most romance authors and readers as well) seem to get.

Stemming her own her graduate school research on women’s fiction and backed by extensive one-on-one interviews with romance industry insiders as well as two comprehensive surveys (one for romance readers and one for non-romance readers), Rodale grounds her book in historical details and demonstrates how the romance genre grew and evolved from the burgeoning publishing industry in the 18th and 19th centuries. It’s incredibly well researched, drawing from a variety of academic sources and the aforementioned interviews and surveys. (Be still my academia lovin’ heart – there are even footnotes!)

Throughout the book, Rodale breaks down the stereotypes about romance novels, romance authors, and romance readers, highlighting over and over why “there is no room for guilt when reading for pleasure.” Covering everything from the actual covers of romance novels and the enduring appeal of Alpha heroes to the financial realities of many romance authors and the need to change the way we talk about fiction that is written by women, about women, for women – all in “a culture that doesn’t place much value on women.” Rodale’s book is also incredibly accessible; she writes as if she’s talking to and with her friends, with an easy conversational tone that conveys the passion she so clearly has for this topic. Additionally, all of her survey data is available on the website for the book, along with expertly designed infographics highlighting the results of those surveys.

I loved every minute of reading this book; even in the middle of writing my own MA thesis, when I was knee-deep in academic journal articles and book chapters (and when, you might assume, I wouldn’t want to touch another nonfiction, footnoted book with a ten-foot pole), I couldn’t wait to get back Dangerous Books for Girls. Moreover, I think this is an important book – a book that needs all the love and attention it can get. Because, as Rodale points out, the romance genre is “inextricably linked with the status of women in our society” and changing the perception of these novels may ultimately require also challenging and changing deeply held principles on gender roles and sexuality – a daunting task, to say the least.

If you love romance novels, if you’re indifferent, even if you dislike them (or especially if you dislike them), do yourself a favour and pick up Maya Rodale’s Dangerous Books for Girls. You’ll be surprised by how much you learn.

“Romance novels have been – and still are – the dangerous books that show women again and again that they’re worth it.”

[Photo Credit: Goodreads]

Four Nights with the Duke

Four Nights with the DukeWhen Emilia “Mia” Carrington was 15, a poorly written poem about her unrequited love for Evander Septimus Brody, future Duke of Pindar, fell into the wrong hands. Teased and scorned, Mia swore that she was never marry Vander, even if he was the last man on earth. Years later, however, Mia is desperate to secure her nephew’s future and turning to Vander is her only option. Despite their scandalous and complicated past, Vander surprisingly agrees to Mia’s bold proposal, but only on his terms. When Vander realizes that Mia has no intention of meeting his terms, the battle between childhood enemies becomes a seductive back-and-forth between the Duke and his wife.

Four Nights with the Duke is Eloisa James’ latest novel, continuing the story of characters first introduced in Three Weeks with Lady X and loosely connected to her Desperate Duchesses series. Four Nights takes two seemingly disparate main characters and throws them into a classic and familiar “forced marriage of convenience” plot. The trope is a classic one in romance, especially historical romance, but James makes it feel fresh and new with her own twists – a heroine engaging in blackmail, a hero initially more interested in horses than wives, and one utterly hilarious (and inappropriately drunk) uncle. I personally enjoy these types of novels because there is something supremely satisfying in watching a hero and heroine fight against their circumstances until they finally realize and accept the inevitable: love will conquer all. And because it’s Eloisa James, the journey of getting to that point is the best part.

In a strange way, Four Nights reminded me a lot of many contemporary romance novels. (Bear with me here, because I think this is a good thing).  Much like real life in the 21st century, Mia and Vander’s story is messy and complicated. Vander is still scarred by the choices his parents made, while Mia wrestles with insecurities and that lingering, unpleasant memory starring Vander himself. They both must learn to communication and compromise, as they figure out what they really want. And, without giving too much away, the story thread involving Mia’s first fiancé, demonstrates that sometimes, other people – good people – do get hurt when love is on the line. So, for me, Four Nights really emphasized the universal and timeless nature of romance and love. No matter what century or country you might be in, love can be a mess. But ultimately, it’s worth it. 

While Mia and Vander’s love story is the central focus of the novel, my favorite part was not their relationship, but rather James’ sly (and, in some cases, not-so-sly) nods and odes to all things literary. Four Nights is James’ meta novel, since Mia is a romance novelist herself. The snippets of her work in progress give readers a little bit of insight into a writer’s mind, and into Mia’s internal struggle as she tries to write a fictional happy ending while finding her own.

Aside from Mia’s literary accomplishments, James’ includes a number of other little winks to beloved literary inspirations, from Mia’s nephew Charles Wallace (A Wrinkle in Time), Sir Chuffy’s frequent Twelfth Night references (and his resemble to one Sir Toby Belch) and a shout-out to fellow historical romance novelist Julia Quinn, in the form of Mia’s devotion to a Miss Julia Quiplet’s books. There’s even a passing reference to Miss Butterworth and the Mad Baron (and those infamous pigeons!), a fictional book-within-a-book that appears in many of Quinn’s own novels. Oh, the meta-ness! My literary-loving heart keep leaping with joy at each new reference I discovered.

So if you love fun, tongue-in-cheek references to other literary sources, appallingly bad poetry (seriously, it’s bad), novel-writing heroines, and a devastatingly handsome duke groveling and atoning for his errors, then you will certainly want to read Four Nights with the Duke. It’s classic, wonderful, delightful Eloisa James at her best. Now, may we please have a Sir Chuffy prequel? (Please?!?)

Note: I received an advanced copy of this book from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. I also bought my own copy, because of course! 

[Photo Credit: Goodreads]

A Bollywood Affair

A Bollywood AffairAt the age of four, in a small Indian village, Mili Rathod was married. 20 years later, even though Mili hasn’t seen her husband since that day, her status as a married woman has allowed her a rare freedom – the opportunity to study in America. Mili jumps at the chance for her bit of freedom, all while wondering when (or if) her husband will ever come to find her. Then, one day, someone does find her – Samir Rathod, the younger brother of Mili’s supposed husband and a hot-shot Bollywood direction. Samir tracked Mili down to secure a divorce on his brother’s behalf, but the woman he finds is not at all what he expected. As Mili and Samir are drawn closer together, both will question what matters more: family obligations, or personal happiness?

Sonali Dev’s gorgeously-written debut novel, A Bollywood Affair, is a wonderful, heartfelt and deeply emotional love story. Steeped in contemporary Indian culture (with all its diversity and variety), Dev’s book captures the confusion, hope and struggle found both in a new romance and in those trying to balance family and tradition with a modern world. And even though Mili and Samir’s romance is an integral part of the plot, Dev’s novel extends beyond romance to explore the complicated and complex relationships between parents and children, siblings and the families we make for ourselves.

A Bollywood Affair is bursting with details and descriptions that are bright and vibrant (particularly the chapters featuring a hastily-planned Indian wedding) and the precise commentary on all of the food is sure to leave you hungry – or Googling the nearest and best Indian restaurant. Dev has a way of making everything in her novel feel fresh and new. So while A Bollywood Affair does feature some fairly familiar romance tropes, it never feels that way. Moreover, Dev’s characters easily avoid stereotypes and stock characterization. There are no dastardly villains or Rube Goldberg-style obstacles standing in Mili and Samir’s way – it’s just them, with their own flaws and strengths, their own choices and behaviors and their own beliefs in love winning out in the end.

A Bollywood Affair is exquisite, a carefully planned combination of heart, hope and heat. Even if you don’t think you like romance, I defy you to read Sonali Dev’s debut novel and not enjoy. That’s a bet you’ll lose, I’m sure. And, as an added bonus, A Bollywood Affair is currently duking it out in Round 3 of DABWAHA, so go vote for it!

[Photo Credit: Goodreads]

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