Recommended Read, Review Revisited

Review Revisited: Erin’s Take on By a Thread by Lucy Score (2020)

In addition to her review, Ingrid has recommended this book in four other discussion posts or listicles. And also she tells us to read it in the group chat even more than that. And so, finally, I did. I actually listened to the audiobook, and Dominic’s POV is voiced by Sebastian York, who has what I consider this perfect, er, asshole voice (Sorry, Sebastian! You’re really fun to listen to!), so when Dominic is all up in his feelings but still going through with his, er, bad behavior anyway, it’s just perfection. Erin Mallon voices Ally’s chapters, and she’s also a great narrator. So easy to listen to. Great audio. 

Okay but the book.

My primary takeaway from this book is that it addresses the power dynamics of an employer/employee relationship better than any such romance I have ever read. And that is a trope I enjoy, even if it’s problematic. Fiction is great, right? Anyway, Ingrid definitely touches on this, too, in her review, but I think it should be said again. 

Because he’s lived through the repercussions of his father’s actions, Dominic is so fully against a workplace romance – for all the right reasons! – that he actually fails to see the difference between what his father did to the women in his employ and Dominic’s own relationship with Ally. There were actually times when I was frustrated with Ally, who got mad at Dominic for his refusal to engage with her even though she was very clearly consenting, because Dominic was so utterly clear that consent doesn’t work the same way when their workplace power dynamics were in play. And yet, because Score included the component of Dominic’s dad’s sexual assault and harassment, the reader is still able to see the difference between what Dominic’s going through and what his dad was doing. As the numerous harassment trainings I’ve attended have told me: sexual harassment is not about sex; it’s about power. And that’s exactly what Dominic’s dad very clearly illustrates, but what Dominic fails to see in his own feelings about Ally. 

(Also, once things pull together, they go straight to HR, which is great, although HR really shouldn’t have allowed Dominic in the room with Ally while they were discussing the relationship, because if she were being pressured, she couldn’t say so in front of Dominic – but hey, FICTION! There’s a beautiful hand-holding moment that we would have otherwise missed out on.)

The other thing I really liked was that Dominic knows he’s being so bad but just can’t help himself. I like a self-aware protagonist. Makes the naughty behavior less gross. But also Dominic is a big softie. He wants Ally to eat, but he knows it’s not appropriate to buy her food, so he buys food for the whole department. Still not entirely appropriate, and not very sustainable, but definitely shows his soft underbelly while he’s being a, um, little stinker. 

Anyway, it’s a long one, but very well thought out. Read on for Ingrid’s original glowing review.

Continue reading “Review Revisited: Erin’s Take on By a Thread by Lucy Score (2020)”

Review: Mad for a Mate by MaryJanice Davidson (2022)

BeWere My Heart, Book #3 

(It doesn’t say it’s part of the series on Goodreads or NetGalley, but it is.)

Reviews of BeWere My Heart Book #1 and Book #2

Heat Factor: The slowest of horny slow burns, with hot fading to deep purple after 90%

Character Chemistry: I liked them for each other, but there was more focus on the banter and the danger than on the emotional development

Plot: A loner werebear with a checkered past finds a naked woman washed up on his island. Then she hops up and swims off, and he goes after her. Banter ensues.

Overall: I definitely laughed out loud.

Continue reading “Review: Mad for a Mate by MaryJanice Davidson (2022)”

Review: Melt for You by J.T. Geissinger (2018)

Slow Burn, Book 2

Heat Factor: This series is called “Slow Burn,” so don’t be surprised when the sex happens pretty late in the story.

Character Chemistry: It’s obvious to everyone but Joellen that Cameron is completely smitten.

Plot: Joellen’s new neighbor is suuuuuper annoying and suuuuuper hot and somehow now he’s giving her kissing lessons.

Overall: I really liked this one, but I also know that some readers may find some parts of this book challenging.

Continue reading “Review: Melt for You by J.T. Geissinger (2018)”

Review: The Wedding Crasher by Mia Sosa (2022)

Heat Factor: They accidentally end up at a sex party and I was fanning myself. 

Character Chemistry: Banter

Plot: She only wants the kind of love that’s all in, he’s wary of the emotional roller coaster of love, they’re in a fake relationship for Reasons

Overall: Mia Sosa is good at words.

Continue reading “Review: The Wedding Crasher by Mia Sosa (2022)”
Let's Talk Tropes

Let’s Talk Subgenres: Rom-Coms

Bottom line: Do you like Rom-coms?

Holly: If a rom-com is done well, there’s nothing better. The problem is finding the ones that are done well.

Erin: I do really love them, but I typically don’t seek them out because the marketing is often so spectacularly bad for the label. 

Ingrid: I probably seek out rom-coms more than anything else, but I’ll also admit that I DNF these the most. With rom-coms, either the humor and romance are BOTH crackling, or it just doesn’t work.

What criteria are required for a book to qualify as a Rom-com?

Holly: It needs to be a romance, and it needs to be funny. 

That sounds simple, but it isn’t always. For example, books by Jenny Holiday, Lucy Parker, and Kate Clayborn are sometimes called rom-coms—and they all have funny bits and excellent romance, but they also feature characters dealing with serious issues like grief, illness, or trauma. I do laugh when I read books by these authors, but I also cry buckets. 

Erin: My expectation is similar to Holly’s. When we were looking at what to read for this week, I reviewed several lists, and I’d already read most of the books included in them, and I would not have categorized them as rom-coms. The levity must outweigh the serious issues, so either the issues aren’t super heavy serious (think The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa) or the issues are presented in a humorous or sardonic way (think Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall).

Ingrid: I think both Erin and Holly make excellent points. And, I’ll admit that in retrospect some of the titles that moved me the most were rom-coms that elicited a very broad range of emotions.

What do you think is fun about the subgenre?

Erin: It’s specifically designed to evoke laughter and spark joy. Theoretically I suppose all romance – with all the happy and optimistic endings – should spark joy, but romantic comedies are designed to do so in a way that other stories are not. The catharsis of getting through an angsty book fills one emotional need, but the laughter that we get from rom-coms fills a completely different one. Which is why it’s such a bummer when the label isn’t right.

Ingrid: Well, laughing releases a lot of happy hormones the same way reading about love does. So I think rom-coms tend to really fill the reader up with a bubbly happiness that lingers, and I find that absolutely wonderful.

What do you find problematic about the subgenre?

Holly: This is not about the books in and of themselves, but rather about marketing. It seems like every contemporary romance is marketed as a “rom-com,” regardless of content. Part of this is that humor is really personal, so what one person finds humorous, another will find cringeworthy. Another is that people have different thresholds for how much humor is needed for a book to be a comedy. Should I be rolling on the floor laughing the whole time? Can it also deal with serious topics? How much seriousness can balance the levity before a book becomes more a contemporary romance with some jokes than a rom-com? 

To give a specific example, I picked up Three Little Words by Jenny Holiday because all of the cover blurbs talk about how funny this book is. Imagine how shocked I was to discover that the heroine had an eating disorder and the hero was a recovering drug addict who was estranged from his parents. Let’s just say this book was not all sunshine and rainbows and I felt very lied to. (It was still an excellent book.)

Erin: This is also not specifically problematic as such (though it can certainly veer into that space), but as Holly mentioned, the humor is subjective, and sometimes that doesn’t jive with the reader. Maybe the book is completely absurd, and the reader has no patience for that, so they say it’s not funny. Maybe it’s full of banter, and the reader doesn’t enjoy it, so they say it’s not funny. I often fall into a category where I don’t think that the behavior of the characters is particularly amusing because their maturity levels don’t seem to match whatever my expectations are for them. OR – and this is where the actually problematic stuff comes in – maybe the jokes are made at the expense of others in order to get a laugh, and that’s just not cool. 

Holly: Erin’s totally right. I definitely DNFed a book marketed as a rom-com because all the jokes were of the Men are from Mars / Women are from Venus school of thought, with a sprinkling of fat-shaming thrown in for good measure. (It was Hot Winter Nights by Jill Shalvis.)

Ingrid: YES. I can pretty easily skate right past jokes that just don’t land with me, but nothing makes me walk away from rooting for a relationship like watching a hero or a heroine crack jokes at someone else’s expense, or play up tired and hurtful stereotypes. And I love banter, but when it’s just constant one-upmanship, that’s gets very old as well.

What kind of humor do you look for in a Rom-com?

Holly: I think that rom-coms come in a couple of distinct flavors. There are banter rom-coms, where the humor comes from really sharp dialogue; think Julia Quinn. There are voice rom-coms, where the humor comes from a strong narrative voice, usually told in 1st POV; think Mia Sosa. And then there are situational or slapstick rom-coms; think Pippa Grant

If I’m reading something purely for the humor, I tend to prefer voice rom-coms. I can buy a lot more snark as a character’s internal voice than as part of their dialogue with others. Too much banter just makes me tired.

Erin: I also love a strong narrative voice (both Mia Sosa and Alexis Hall have this), but I also find situational humor funny. When one thing after another went wrong for the protagonists in I Think I Might Love You by Christina C. Jones, it totally made the book. The beats were all just perfect and nothing felt forced. Actually, in all three of the books I’ve mentioned so far, it was probably the combination of voice PLUS situational humor that made me laugh out loud over and over again.

Ingrid: I feel like I tend to binge a bunch of one type, tire of it, find a new schtick, love it, read everything that hits like that, tire of it…etc. I read it all, and I just cycle right on through.

What’s one rom-com you loved? What’s so great about this book and why is it so funny?

Erin: Y’all, I’m still selling Boyfriend Material to anyone who will buy it. I laughed so hard I cried reading it more than once. As in, more than one instance the first time I read it, and also more than once because I’ve read it several times. In the first place, Luc is completely ridiculous and he knows it, but also he’s got co-workers that interact with him in just the funniest ways, and now I think I want to read it again… (Alex Twaddle 4eva!)

Ingrid: The last series that got me going was the Leveling Up series by K.F. Breene. Unfortunately, the series isn’t done. And Holly said she didn’t laugh as hard as I did…but I really, REALLY laughed with that one.

Holly: My go-to rom-com that I’ve been recommending for years is A Week to be Wicked by Tessa Dare. However, I haven’t read it since it came out, uh, ten years ago, so maybe I should reread it and see if it still stands up as my platonic ideal of a historical rom-com?

Books we mentioned in this discussion: