TBR Challenge: Cherry Marbles by Shukie Nkosana

I’m doing Super Wendy’s TBR challenge this year, in part because my own to-be-read pile has engulfed practically an entire room of my house, and I needed some extra encouragement to get started on it.

This month is for category romances/novellas/short stories, so I chose Cherry Marbles, which is two of those things: a category romance and a novella. And I LOVED it.

The book: Cherry Marbles

SAM_2022
Also shown: The Bridesmaid’s Lover.

The synopsis: Langa Buthelezi owns her own events company and lives in a fabulous New York-style flat in Quinn Street, Johannesburg. She is engaged to Richard, a cameraman for the SABC. One Sunday afternoon, on her way home from church, she has an embarrassing encounter with a handsome stranger–to whom she is very rude. During a major event proposal a few days later, Langa comes face to face with the very same handsome stranger–Regile Mabhena, owner of Mabhena Oil Limited, who will decide whether she gets the contract. It’s while organizing the event that Langa finds herself working intimately with Regile, realising at last what true love is…

How this ended up in my TBR pile: Last year I scooped up everything by Sapphire Press that I could get my hands on. They’re a romance imprint of South Africa’s Kwelo Books, and basically they do local (local to SA, I mean, not to me; I’m on the other side of the globe) romance novellas of about 30,000 words. I’d read a couple, liked them, and bought up all the others I could find. The ones I’ve read are making their way through my family, because even the non-romance readers (like my mother) are loving them for their setting. It’s impossible to explain how much these books give you a flavour of South Africa; it’s kind of like what old-school Harlequins tried to do, only instead of “exoticizing” the place these books give you a taste of insider-perspective that is just delicious.

Which makes it sound like this book was appealing mostly for its culture and setting, but that’s not true either: it completely holds its own as a short, hilarious contemporary romance, setting aside.

Opening paragraph: An unexpected case of inflamed vaginal thrush and the Sunday paper brought the two together in a Parktown pharmacy. Langa had burst into the pharmacy, fresh from church, the ailment in question behind the manic and illegal parking of her Volkswagen Beetle on the pavement. She cursed under her breath despite the holy anointing she had just received as she made for what she felt was refuge.

One more quote for the road: “I’ll have you know I’m engaged,” she said as she opened her car, uncertain why she felt she had to justify herself. Then Langa flashed her diamond ring at him before uttering, “I also recently found Jesus!”

Which, let’s be honest, sounds like exactly the sort of painfully awkward thing I’d blurt if I dumped two tubes of yeast infection cream at the feet of a gorgeous stranger. Langa is entirely believable as the successful-at-work but still easily embarrassed heroine. Her doomed engagement is treated sympathetically: neither of these people are a villain, they just don’t love each other enough to be getting married. And exasperating younger sister Nandi, and supportive best friend Naledi, make Langa’s life feel realistic rather than romance-land-y.

This is a book with homework, though, at least if you aren’t from South Africa and want to know who the pop stars, designers, brands, places, and cultural touchstones are. I personally enjoyed that part, and so do my footnote-loving family members (I started jotting my own notes in the book in case my aunts don’t feel like going on Wikipedia while they read), but it might not be everyone’s cup of tea.

Mail!

blog 001So although (thanks to my stupid New Year’s resolution) I’m not BUYING any new books this year, the stuff I had ordered back before Christmas has finally escaped the holiday mail-pile and is trickling in. That’s a picture of what arrived today. Yes, that’s a bunch of Sweet Valley Twins books and a little machine for making stickers.

Apparently my inner ten-year-old had control of the credit card some day back in December.

rereading: Sweet Valley High Super Edition: Special Christmas

I promised myself that in 2015 I was going to reread the Sweet Valley books heaped on a top shelf in our library, and then I got overexcited and couldn’t wait for the start of the new year. So I semi-cheated: I read one of the Christmas special editions, since it’s Christmas.

It has such a pretty cover.

It's a little creepy how excited they both are by that gift.
It’s a little creepy how excited they both are by that gift.

It’s really different reading this book as an adult. When I read it as a teenager, I HATED that Todd ended up with the evil Suzanne Devlin. It felt like she “won.”

On rereading…Todd isn’t such a prize. The part where he accuses Elizabeth of starting an argument (for trying to find out why he’s acting so weird around Suzanne) instead of just telling her the truth made me want to reach right into the book and slap him.

Also, Elizabeth sounds so trapped by her long-distance relationship with Todd that it comes as a relief to see her escape it.

Still, it had been a long time since she had been on her own–really on her own, without Todd to think about. She wondered now how it would feel to get excited about seeing some guy in the hall, to spend hours getting ready to go out…

That’s just really depressing, coming from a sixteen-year-old girl.

Also, Elizabeth is too damned nice. Charged with phoning Suzanne to let her know that they don’t want her to visit, she instead waffles on about how Suzanne will be bored in Sweet Valley. She’s the first to feel sorry for her, the first to forgive her, and hands over the gently used Toddster at the end like a saint–no tears or anger or sarcasm to make anybody else feel guilty or uncomfortable. And it just strikes me as really unhealthy.

I’ve seen people remark on how this series does a lot of fat-shaming and body policing (which it does, though less obtrusively in this book), but I think it’s also worth noting that it presents “constant niceness and selflessness” as unexamined Good Things for girls, which isn’t great either. The ideal teenage girl as modeled in this book looks beautiful and acts so accommodating, she might as well not be there at all. It’s creepy, and I wanted therapy for poor Liz.

I loved Jessica in this, though. I mean, she was wrong in thinking Elizabeth would be devasted-unto-death by losing Todd, but it wasn’t an entirely stupid thing to think, given how invested everyone is in Liz-and-Todd as a couple. And at least she didn’t roll over immediately in response to “niceness.” Sometimes “nice”-seeming people really are awful, but Jessica is the only one who takes that possibility seriously.

Things I would not have been allowed to have when I was sixteen:

  • a bottle of champagne, especially when my parents weren’t in the house
  • a Secret Santa exchange that took place over the Christmas break–there’s no way that would have worked. People would have forgotten it, or blown it off, or used it as an excuse to be horrible since it wasn’t happening under school supervision.
  • a school dance that took place at one person’s home, for similar reasons.
  • a week-long Christmas visit from an out-of-town boyfriend.

Now you need to go read this post at Cliquey Pizza I just found.

New Year’s Resolutions

1. 2015 is going to be The Year of the To-Be-Read pile. Not only am I going to tackle and review some of the teetering towers of TBR books, but I’m not buying any NEW books for the first two quarters of the year.

That’s right: no book shopping. None. (Don’t worry, I am in considerable danger of being buried alive by the books already in the house. Also, I won’t cancel any of my pre-orders, so I’ll be getting new Kimani Romances for a few months.)

newyears

2. No blog posts about my own books. No tweets about my own books. No advertising except for the actual ads I actually pay for.

Why? Because the constant stream of thinly-veiled advertising on Twitter and elsewhere is driving me mad, and I don’t want to contribute to the clutter.

pepsi

3. Speaking of clutter (and that seems to be the theme here, doesn’t it?), I refuse to do that thing whereby a single piece of “content” is blown up to appear to be a half-dozen things. You know what I mean: a blog post gets trotted out as a tweet, a Facebook update, rejigged slightly to be a guest post, and stuck in a bloody newsletter. By the end of the process whatever faint interest I had in the subject is long since dead and I’m filled with a vague loathing for the product or service or person being shilled.

So I won’t be doing that.

Happy New Year, everyone. May it be uncluttered and peaceful.

beer-ballantine-54-swscan05931-copy

TBR Challenge Review: “Lovely Rita” Month Saw Miss B. Read Marion Lennox’s HER ROYAL BABY

C.M.:

“Romance narrative has a sister-soul in melodrama: exaggerated protagonists and antagonists and centred on evoking and portraying emotion.” That’s so exactly right.

Originally posted on Miss Bates Reads Romance:

Her_Royal_Baby
Charming cover: check out Tammy’s flipflops!

Miss Bates is content to return to her neglected TBR Challenge! Check it out chez Wendy here. This month’s theme was to read a nominated, or winning Rita title. Because Miss Bates is pathetically slumping along to Ros’s Summer Big Fat Book read-a-long, she chose a category romance. They’re short and she’s already behind the BFB, and summer reading piles litter her apartment and slow down two e-readers. (Way too much time on Twitter for Miss B.; also lolling, gazing at sunbeams, and sleeping in. It’s a feline life.) Reading Rita winners was one way Miss Bates segued into romance: their annual nominated and winning title lists provided tried and true romance reading as Miss B. figured out what she liked and didn’t in the genre. (Shudder PNR.) It was with nostalgia for her early romance reading days that she looked at titles…

View original 1,745 more words

Christmas. Books.

My husband made the most incredible find at the used-book rack in the giftshop at his work. I mean THE MOST INCREDIBLE.

005
The Sheik and the Christmas Bride

It is a SHEIKH ROMANCE set during CHRISTMAS.

Now, my husband didn’t know this when he bought it, but I have been on Book Depository looking for Christmas Sheikh romances, because to me that sounded like a thing that should exist. I mean, the local grocery stores have broken out in tangerines (from Tangiers) and dates and figs, and when I was a child I associated Arabian Nights with Christmas for some reason (it seemed to be one of those books you got given illustrated versions of at Christmas).

So…sheikh Christmas romances. That should be a thing, right?

It is, but barely. Searching permutations of sheikh/sheik and Christmas brought up one result (the one my husband just bought me, because he is a genius and also knows me way too well). Sheikh/sheik plus “desert” gave me four. and

Why isn’t this more of a thing? I mean, I understand *real* sheikhs don’t have anything to do with Christmas, but romanceland-sheikhs seem barely to have heard of Islam, let alone practice it. (Although THAT is also on my romance-novel wish list, if anyone’s listening.)

In non-desert-related Christmas-romance-novel news, I have gone overboard a little.

001
It’s a thing I do.

Also I finally found time yesterday to wrap the books for the Advent calender of books. Ours aren’t as fancy as the ones on Pinterest, but we really loved doing it last year, so I thing it’s officially a tradition for us now.

002

This house is full of books.

Like, crazy cat lady levels of full, only with books instead of cats. Admittedly the books are easier to shelve (though at this point not MUCH easier, because we are running out of shelves).

Part (okay most) of the problem:

amazonterti

Yeah, I know. I love books, okay? Also I don’t spend on much other “entertainment” stuff right now, and we next-to-never eat out, so this is where my entertainment budget has been going.

But between my urge to step back from reviewing new releases for a while, and my even greater urge to get through some of my TBR pile and clear some shelf space, I’ve reached a decision: I’m going to try to go six months WITHOUT buying books.*

This will also give me more time to work through my stack of Old School Romances, and maybe review a few of those for a change. (No one will show up on my doorstep for reviewing something ten or twenty years out of print, right? Right??)

*Except for the children’s Scholastic Book Club orders.