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Author Archive: "Billie Bloebaum"

Winger

Ryan Dean is a fourteen-year-old high school junior who is doing his best to navigate adolescence and all its highs and lows. And you know what? Synopsizing this book doesn't really do it justice or explain why it's my #1 pick. Andrew Smith gets teenagers. He writes teen characters that are awesome and imperfect and completely identifiable. With this book, Smith manages to perfectly capture that ineffable something about the high school years that made them both the best and worst of times, and he will make you feel it all just as deeply as Ryan Dean, whether you want to or not.


Villainless

I love a good villain. I mean, Maleficent is my favorite Disney character, so I appreciate how truly amazing a well-done villain can be. I even have moods where I want nothing more than a two-dimensional, mustache-twirling, melodramatic villain to add a dose of over-the-top crazy to my reading. But here's the thing: not every book needs a villain. And, in particular, not every romance book needs a villain. Let's face it: feelings are messy, and relationships are hard enough without always having to contend with a creepy cousin who wants to steal your inheritance, or a shady man of business who is embezzling from your company, or a deranged ex who wants to kill you and/or your new lover. Sometimes an external villain is just too much and feels like a shortcut around the hero and heroine dealing with the real obstacles to their Happily Ever Afters.

Recently, though, I was fortunate enough to read two lovely novels that don't play up external villains but instead focus on the hero and heroine working through their own, internal obstacles on the road to love.

The Importance of Being ...


Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas

I don't reread books often; I just don't have the time. But this is one book that will get reread annually, if not more often. While the bulk of Redshirts is a comedic romp that gleefully skewers the conventions of sci-fi television, the three codas at the end provide depth and poignancy to what has gone before.


A Love Deferred

Let me be perfectly honest: I'm not a terribly religious person, nor did I, in the years I was growing up, ever have a parish priest who was hot enough to be crush-worthy. So I'm not sure what sparked my love for historical romances featuring vicars as heroes. But give me a vicar (or a virgin or, best of all, a virgin vicar) for a hero, and I get all swoony even before I begin reading. Add in a former courtesan who has the gall not to feel ashamed of her past, a village full of judgmental gossips, and a gaggle of besotted young ladies, and what you would seem to have is the recipe for a comedic romp or even a farce.

What you have, instead, is A Notorious Countess Confesses by Julie Anne Long. Although this book has its moments of levity, what it's truly full of are pages and pages of unfulfilled longing. It's the kind of longing that is all furtive glances and "accidental" brushes of hands and that I, as a reader, felt all the way down to my toes. It had ...


The Pop-Culture Romance

Why is it that if I read one romance novel with a particular theme, I seem to read several all at once? It's happened with fairy tales and with spies being held prisoner by the French, and now it's also happened with pop-culture references. Two authors whose work I've really enjoyed in the past have dipped their buckets into the world of 20th-century pop culture for the foundations of their most recent novels.

First, there is Jeannie Lin's My Fair Concubine. As you can probably tell from the title, Ms. Lin got her inspiration from My Fair Lady. But she only borrowed the most basic plotline: a young man from a good family must turn a girl of a much-lower social class into a "princess" in a very narrow window of time. Of course, in My Fair Concubine, over the course of this transformation, our hero, Fei Long, falls for our heroine, Yan Ling.

The major conflicts at the heart of the novel — the enormous debt left by Fei Long's father at his death, and the problem of how Fei Long and Yan Ling can be ...


Falling for Another Fairy-Tale Romance

Gack! Another fairy-tale-themed romance. It really wasn't my intention to go back to this particular well, but I thought this book was so lovely that I almost felt like I had no choice but to share my affection for it with you.

Eloisa James is one of my must-read authors, and in The Ugly Duchess, she combines two of my favorite tropes: friends turned lovers and a story borrowed from a fairy tale. In this case, it's Hans Christian Andersen's The Ugly Duckling (surprise!). Before you go all history police, Ms. James herself is aware of the anachronism inherent in basing a novel spanning the years 1809–1816 on a fairy tale first published in 1843 and acknowledges it clearly in the afterword. (And, really, isn't "The Ugly Duckling" just a Cinderella story with feathers?) The fairy tale is just a framework, anyway — a dressmaker's dummy around which to shape the fabric of the tale.

And, oh, what a tale it is.

Theodora and James have been friends for years. When James proposes, he does it in such a way that Theo is convinced he ...


A Romance Novel That Doesn’t Need the Love Story

Wow. It's been quite a while since I nattered on about romance here. Part of the hiatus was due to a busy, busy summer, and part was due to the fact that nothing I read had really knocked my socks off. Oh, I read a lot of books that were good, and some were even really good, but I didn't come across anything that stuck with me for days and made me want to shove it into other people's hands.

Until this week.

The book that finally broke the meh streak was Almost a Scandal by Elizabeth Essex. I'll be honest and admit that the heroine, Sally, was a bit too good to be true (but not quite into Mary Sue territory), which was occasionally annoying. But there was so much that I liked about the book that I was willing to let some things slide that, in other books, might have made me stop reading. What really, really, really worked for me was that the book was set almost entirely on a naval ship, and there was a big, climactic action scene set during the Battle of ...


Spies in Prison

I have learned a lot from reading historical romance novels. Unfortunately, one of the primary things that I have learned is incorrect. During the Napoleonic Wars, many Englishmen were spies, as many as a quarter to a third, apparently. Not only that, but a lot of them were seemingly very bad at it and got captured by the French. Not all of these fictional English spies were awful enough to be captured, but enough were to make me wonder how, if this was the quality of the opposition, Napoleon was ever defeated. Okay. Okay. It's true that the villainous French captors often let slip Very Important Information during their sessions questioning/torturing their British captives. And these captors almost inevitably met their deaths at the hands of their erstwhile captives. But that doesn't excuse the fact that they got caught in the first place.

I think the book that finally made me roll my eyes at the frequency of the capture of English spies was A Lady's Revenge by Tracey Devlyn. Not that the book itself is deserving of eye-rolling, just that it started right off with the rescue of a captured spy called ...


The Original Happily Ever Afters

Over the past several weeks, I've found myself reading a lot of books that take their inspiration from folk and fairy tales. This isn't unusual — I've long been attracted to this sort of story — but, what is unusual, at least for me, is how many of them have been traditional historical romance novels. I've always snapped up fairy tale-inspired young adult novels (like Cinder by Marissa Meyer) and literary fiction (The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey) and especially fantasy (almost anything by Robin McKinley), but, although I have occasionally come across a romance novel built on the foundations of a classic fairy tale, it seems to have either become more common for these books to be published, or I'm just finding more of them recently.

I think the realization of how many fairy tale-inspired romance novels I was reading first hit me this past week when I was reading Nicole Jordan's Princess Charming. The story is only very, very loosely inspired by the Cinderella story, but it reminded me that Kieran Kramer's most recent Impossible Bachelors novel, If You Give a Girl a Viscount was also a Cinderella story. ...


British Chick Lit

Recently, I've been on a streak of reading a lot of British "chick lit." I put chick lit in quotes because it's a fairly loaded term that isn't exactly accurate, but there isn't another shorthand term that quickly encompasses the idea of the genre. These aren't the books of bubblegum-pink covers and city girls questing for the perfect job, fashionable accessories, and/or Mr. Right. Instead, they're books about women, usually in their 30s, looking for happiness but willing to settle for contentment.

There is a formula — Dear gods, is there ever a formula! — but it's one that I quite like. It generally goes something like this: A middle-class woman in her 30s experiences a crisis of some sort (adulterous husband, early widowhood, job loss, mountains of debt/impending poverty... or sometimes several of these in combination) and moves to a new home, often in the country. (If she already lives in the country, there will be no moving.) There are at least two potential love interests — one who is OMG hawt and the other who is the best friend/shoulder to cry on. (Guess who she ends up with.) There are animals: usually ...


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