tbr challenge post: May

I’ve really fallen behind on Wendy’s 2015 TBR Challenge (which could be why my TBR pile is approximately ceiling high). But May’s theme is “Kickin’ It Old School,” and I have SO MANY vintage paperbacks on my shelves, so I couldn’t pass this one up.

Title: With Open Arms

Author: Kathy Alderling

Publication date: 1986

Line: Candlelight Ecstasy Supreme #111

barn elves
Locked in a passionate embrace, they failed to notice the tragedy that had befallen the tiny Barn Elves.

Reading something from the past is like time travel. There’s a clunky, clunky “to our readers” note at the beginning that talks about “the great romantic tradition you’ve come to expect only from Candlelight Ecstasy.” Wow, be less subtle. I guess the Romance Wars really were a thing.

Also, I don’t think Dell had worked out that romance readers were in the mood for romance novels, because the ads at the back not only include the order form for other Candlelight Romances, and a page devoted to some book called “How to Make a Man Fall in Love With You” (ugh), but ALSO something called “Victim: The Other Side of Murder” AND a book about a nine-year-old who died of leukemia. It’s like the marketing department launched a full-out assault on the happy ending by sticking their Ultimate Buzzkill Selection at the back.

The book is about grad student Ruth Mueller, who has been overworking herself as the assistant to a self-absorbed anthropologist she’s convinced herself she’s in love with. The rose-coloured glasses shatter when the jerk replaces her with a younger infatuated-assistant whose father chairs a private endowment fund–in other words, he casts away Ruth’s devotion for funding. She salvages enough of her self-respect to convince him she needs to go do independent research for her Ph.D., and he agrees to keep her teaching position open for the year she’ll be gone.

So she returns to her elderly aunt’s farm in Elkhart country, where she intends to study her Amish neighbours. Her aunt has gone into partnership with (and sold half the farm to, yikes; every nerve in my body was on edge about this EVEN THOUGH this is a romance novel, so of course it was going to work out. Seriously, though: don’t bestow major chunks of property on men you’ve known for three years.) Jacob Yoder, her formerly-Amish farmhand.

He left the Amish, was shunned for ten years, and is only now returning to a state of uneasy peace with his family and neighbours. Which leads to the book’s biggest conflict: he’s sleeping with Ruth, but won’t acknowledge her in front of anyone Amish because he doesn’t want to jeopardize the fragile ties he’s forming.

Which was just too high on the Jerk Quotient for me to overcome, even with the declarations of love at the end. I liked the book–I liked Ruth and her aunt, like the tiny glimpses of the Amish, liked the way Jacob kept reminding her that they were people, not just subjects for research–but I just couldn’t overcome my dislike of the hero.

Silently they drank their coffee and listened to the conversations around them. Once Ruth tried to start a conversation of their own, but Jacob shook his head. “Too noisy. Can’t hear you,” he said.

Ruth smiled and looked down at her cup. Don’t push, she thought, and tried not to feel too discouraged. (p.250)

It’d be one thing if he’d wanted to get involved with Ruth but didn’t, resisting their attraction because of his reputation among the Amish. Being willing to bed her but ashamed to acknowledge her? Yuck. A man who does that, for ANY reason, is not a Good Man.

Her voice smoldered with contempt. “You worked awfully hard at keeping our relationship hidden. Afraid, were you, that your fine Amish family would find out about us? Have you found someone more acceptable now, and so it’s time to break it off between us?”

Jacob looked away. His fear and confusion had been spent in a single burst of mindless retribution. Shamed by his own words, Jacob could not look into Ruth’s anguished eyes. (p. 253)

He doesn’t explain for another fifty pages, though. It was upsetting enough to me that even the happy ending couldn’t quite overcome it.  It was like a rerun of Ruth’s issues at the beginning, with Jerk Professor, only with sex added in to make the rejection more crushing. Jacob’s explanation–that because she didn’t tell him she’d accepted a job at a local college, he’d had no idea she was staying–doesn’t really help.

He was afraid to ask her to stay because it would be urging her to give up everything she wanted (except she’d told him all about her various disappointments with academia anyway, and he knew she loved the farm, so….couldn’t they discuss it?). She was afraid to tell him AGAIN that she loved him because she wanted him to be free to return to an Amish life (which was a reasonable assumption, given that he wouldn’t let her touch his arm in front of some Amish people, and yelled at her for attending a barnraising that literally everyone in the county went to).

Perhaps I am just Old and Cantankerous, but two people this afraid to impose on each other in any way should maybe just keep their clothes on and learn to use their words first.

March 2015: romances read

This is really a “just for me” post. I’m trying to ease back into my regular reading habits, after a period of distraction, so I’m flailing around a bit grasping at possible motivating habits to keep myself on track.

Romances this month:

best friend to wife

Best Friend to Wife and Mother by Caroline Anderson. I hate the title (so much so that I’m puzzled as to why I pre-ordered it, actually), but I ended up liking the book quite a lot. The relaxed visit with a large Italian family did wonders for my nerves (and filled me with envy tbh), and the baby was neither an annoyingly precocious moppet nor one of those “wonder babies” that show up in books needing no care whatsoever. I mean, she was still a terribly GOOD baby, but not inhumanly so.

a pregnancy a party a proposal

A Pregnancy, a Party & a Proposal by Teresa Carpenter. Did someone else pre-order a bunch of books for me? Because these titles are really, really terrible, and don’t appeal to me personally at all. Although I suppose this one has the virtue of announcing its contents precisely, because that’s exactly what happened. This was nice and readable, and kept me up an hour past my usual bedtime because I was in the mood to gulp down a romance in one evening (which hasn’t happened in a long time), but I’ve forgotten the details already.

mother by fate

Mother by Fate by Tara Taylor Quinn. Ha. That title’s not just bad, it’s threatening. Like children might just start SHOWING UP in your life because you are FATED to be a mother and that’s all there is to it. But the book itself was wonderful. This is easily my favourite of the romances I’ve read in the last while (not that I’ve been reading many. *sigh*), and I can’t even explain why without getting mildly incoherent with enthusiasm. The heroine works at a women’s shelter, and I SO WISH that The Lemonade Stand was real so I could volunteer or donate or something, because it’s wonderful. A well-funded, well-run, perfect-in-every-respect shelter is a nice bit of fantasy. The heroine is also admirable, and appears to have swallowed The Gift of Fear at some point, because she has way better self-control and gut instincts than many heroines (or actual people–I was nowhere near as careful and self-possessed when I was younger). I want to shove the book into people’s hands and say “This. This is what I mean” during conversations about being careful and taking precautions. She’s also dealing with a horrible ex, and yet dealing with him in an adult, appropriate way that avoided that “Saint Doormat who lets horrible people treat her horribly” standard of behaviour still found in way too many romances.

Sweet Valley Twins Super Chillers, OMG

Wow, February was pretty much a total write-off for me. All I did was shovel snow and read children’s books. For a variety of reasons I won’t bore you with (they boil down to stress and busyness) I couldn’t concentrate on anything any more demanding than Sweet Valley Twins.

They are SO CUTE. Okay, I never actually read any of these before now, but I recently binge-purchased a whole stack of them, and February being what it was (dreariness and suckage, though also thankfulness for my family and my neighbours) I finally tackled them. So far I’ve read five Super Chillers. (Eventually I will track down the four I’m missing, but right now I’m sticking to reading the stuff I own already.)

ghost in the graveyard

In The Ghost in the Graveyard a second set of twins–separated as babies–are haunted by the ghost of their grandfather, and eventually they prove their ownership of a huge old house. I’m making that sound boring, I know, but that’s because it was. The actual haunting all happened to Sam and David, not to the Wakefields, so though it was a comfortable “let’s escape reality for an afternoon” read it wasn’t terribly compelling.

sweet_valley_twins_chiller_04_the_ghost_in_the_bell_tower

The Ghost in the Bell Tower was much more fun, possibly because it felt like such a classic “children and ghosts and summer vacation” kind of story. I would have loved this to bits when I was a kid. I kind of still did.

The Curse of the Ruby Necklace was actually the one I read first, because even when I have five clearly-numbered paperbacks in my hand I can somehow manage to read them out of order. Oops. It featured the twins acting in a movie, a thing I feel like I have read a thousand times. The movie is based on an old murder curse of the ruby necklaceso of course the Wakefields solve it, finding the true killer with the help of a ruby necklace that Jessica finds on the beach, because if you’re a perfect, perfect Wakefield twin haunted jewellery just washes up out of the ocean for you.

sweet_valley_twins_chiller_07_the_haunted_burial_ground

The Haunted Burial Ground annoyed me at first, with its conveniently-visiting Native American girl who gets befriended by Elizabeth just in time to be part of events surrounding an obviously-this-will-turn-out-to-be-a-Native-burial-site. But it was as respectful as it could be, given the time and the age range of the intended readers, and Mr. Fowler gets a chance to be unexpectedly awesome.

Evil Elizabeth was like Dear Sister, only instead of a head injury there’s an evil sweet_valley_twins_chiller_09_evil_elizabethmask, and instead of glomming onto rapetastic Bruce Patman she starts hanging out with Betsy Martin. Jessica gets to look on in horror as her twin turns into a living embodiment of her own worst impulses. I guess this was kind of a practice session for later.

Which brings me to a very important question: why don’t the Wakefields remember any of this stuff? I mean, why don’t they ever reflect on how, when they were kids, they encountered ghosts? How come they never discuss that time Liz was evil? (Okay, I know the Doylist explanation is “because the SVH books were written first, so the ghostwriters had no way of knowing what would be in the spin-off series that didn’t even exist yet,” but what’s the Watsonian answer?)

Goosebumps S01 E04: The Girl Who Cried Monster

So for reasons I won’t go into I’m having a month of “no ability to concentrate,” which means my reading time has been devoted entirely to Sweet Valley and similar fluff, and I’ve been watching television.

Well, actually I’ve been watching DVDs and Netflix, but in my head it’s all categorized under “Watching Television,” that faintly forbidden time-wasting activity I wasn’t allowed to do much of as a child.

As a result all sorts of stuff everyone else has already seen and practically memorized is brand new to me, and I actually get excited about it. It’s fairly pathetic, but at least it keeps me entertained.

I shamelessly love the opening credit sequence.
I shamelessly love the opening credit sequence.

So I’ve started watching Goosebumps. I literally had no idea this had ever been a show until about a year ago. Netflix starts off with what wikipedia swears is episode four. I won’t argue. Continue reading

Jessica Wakefield Changed my Life: Rereading Sweet Valley High

So, I’ve started rereading SVH as part of my desperate effort not to buy new books this year. It is definitely distracting, I’ll say that for it. The books are both better (more hilarious, more deliciously dramatic, more wholeheartedly ridiculous) and worse (more rape-y, creepy attitudes) than I remembered.

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A few thoughts, now that I’m on book seven.

1. The books are as big a tease as Jessica is supposed to be. I mean, come on: “Double Love”? “All Night Long”? Those titles definitely give the impression that more goes on in these books than is ever actually the case. But nothing ever happens to justify those titles.

doublelove1

2. The first seven books have more of an over-arching plot than I’d expected. Elizabeth starts out annoying, with no evidence of a backbone or any will of her own. She reaches Peak Doormat in book five (All Night Long), setting her up to be martyred in book six (Dangerous Love) and then to give Jessica a taste of her own selfish, sociopathic behaviour in Dear Sister. It’s…surprisingly satisfying, when you sit down and read them all in a row.

3. I had the most dreadful, melodramatic taste back when I first read these.

4. I think I still do.

5. Jessica Wakefield did more to shape my teenage-and-early-adult life than you’d think a two-dimensional series’ character could. But it’s true. Let’s face it: I was a total Elizabeth, bookish, chronically “nice,” and well-trained to think “selflessness” was the ultimate ideal (for girls). Then I read a metric tonne of these books, and started to think selflessness wasn’t always a great or healthy option, and selfishness (at least, enough selfishness to admit you HAVE wants and to pursue them) could be rewarding. And you know, I think I ended up happier than I would have otherwise.

This ALSO comes up when searching for "double love." Yum.
This ALSO comes up when searching for “double love.” Yum.

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.