Tag Archives: Reading

Our Five Favourite Winter Reads

Can you believe it’s July already? This year is running towards the finish at a crazy pace. However, I always make time to read. It’s my safe place, my fun place, and the way I refill my creative well. Here are five five-star romance reads I recommend. At the bottom of my post you’ll find links to the other, very different, recommendations from The Writers Dozen.

July books composite

First up is The Lingerie Wars by Janet Elizabeth Henderson. I fell across this delightful The Lingerie Warsromantic comedy in the best way – as a recommendation from an author newsletter. It’s the first in a new-to-me seven book series set in the small Scottish town of Invertary. Englishman Lake Benson, ex-special forces, is forced to take control of the lingerie shop he helped his sister buy – or watch his life savings go down the drain. The problem is the competition directly across the street run by former model Kirsty Campbell. Lake campaigns for victory with military precision. Kirsty takes a more creative approach. Aided and abetted by a cast of quirky characters, they are each determined to win the right to be the town’s sole lingerie shop. When the sparks fly, all bets are off. The Lingerie Warsis great escapism; funny and silly but with depth in all the right places. I’m slowly reading my way through the entire series.

Stand and DeliverStand and Deliver is the latest book in Rhenna Morgan’s Men of Haven series. I adore this family of self-proclaimed brothers, their two mums and the women they fall in love with. Stand and Deliveris Beckett and Gia’s story. Gia’s a kickass Southern belle who has built a reputation in Beckett’s male-dominated security industry. Beckett knows his brothers have his back. He wants Gia to know that he has hers; that she can let down her guard once in a while. Gia’s afraid of being overwhelmed by Beckett, but when it becomes clear someone is trying to sabotage her professional reputation, she needs to take a chance on letting Beckett guard her back – and her heart. As usual, there is an element of suspense to keep your heart racing. I love all the books in this series. They are dark and dirty but with heart and humour in all the right places. And the covers are drool-worthy.

OMG. I have to confess that before May this year, I had never read a Sarina Bowen novel. SpeakeasyThat’s the bad news. The good news is that there is a Sarina Bowen shaped hole on my bookshelf which I am rapidly filling up. Don’t you love it when you find an author you haven’t read with a great backlist?! Speakeasy is new, book five in her True North series. It’s filled with the fabulous vistas and great organic food of the series’ rural Vermont setting, the backdrop for May and Alec’s story. May Shipley is an alcoholic. Alec Rossi owns and runs a bar. Their families are intertwined on one level, competitors on another. On the surface it’s not a great combination, especially given that May is on the rebound, but Alec makes her feel good and she’s not ready to give him up just yet. Sarina Bowen explores tough contemporary issues such as sexuality and addiction, but she wraps it all up in the warmth and love that is the Shipley family, giving us a vision of what modern life should look like. And the covers are great too.

The Right TrackOn The Right Track is Penelope Janu’s follow up to In at the Deep End. The books can be read as stand-alone novels but are linked by Per and Tor Amundsen, twin Norwegian brothers destined to fall in love with complicated Australian girls. Tor is the hero of On The Right Track. He’s a diplomat (read spy) investigating murky dealings in the world of horse racing, which brings him into Golden Saunders orbit. Tor is casting aspersions on the reputation of her grandfather, and Golden doesn’t want anything to do with him – or the chaos his appearance creates in her small but manageable circle. However, Tor falls fast for the combination of fragility and fierceness that is Golden. Can Tor persuade her to extend her boundaries? Can Golden take another risk on the world? Penelope Janu’s books are funny, heartfelt, tender and beautifully descriptive. I love them.

I didn’t however, love the cover for On the Right Track. It’s pretty enough but it’s deceptive. A large property two hours from the heart of Sydney does not a rural/country romance make, especially when fifty percent of the action takes place in the city suburbs. It is also so different to the cover for In at The Deep Endthat readers would be forgiven for thinking that there is no connection between the two books and that, indeed, they are in different genres. Nothing could be further from the truth. The publisher has done their author a disservice. Hopefully readers will not be distracted. I recommend both books.

Shadow Keeper is book three in my favourite Christine Feehan paranormal series, The Shadow KeeperShadow Riders. The Ferraro family of Chicago dispenses justice when the law cannot. However, business and family cannot be separated, making it hard for the Ferraros to find love, especially when their life partner must also be a shadow rider, someone with the potential to both read and ride shadows. Giovanni is on the Ferraro equivalent of desk duty, forbidden to ride the shadows until his leg is healed. He’s sick of his role as a playboy, but then he meets Sasha, a warm-hearted, smart and sassy country girl with a shadow that reaches out and touches his. She thinks she’s tough. She thinks she can look after her brother and herself. But the predators in Chicago are not as easy to fight off as the ones on the family farm. Giovanni must overcome the initial bad impression he made and persuade Sasha to trust him – and love him. Gritty, edgy and magical romance.

For more recommendations:

 

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Diversity in Romance: US report finds only 7.8% of romance titles by people of colour

Diversity in romance is a hot topic at the moment. It’s fuelled by questions around cultural identity and sales.

Who has the right to create characters from different backgrounds? On the one hand, no one is better positioned to write a character with, say, an African American background than an African American. On the other hand, taken to extremes, that argument would mean no Othello, no Ophelia and no romance heroes with their own POV, at least not when written by female writers. And does this mean that a writer from an Asian background can’t write Regency Romance, even if she wants to? And what does it mean about aliens and shape-shifters? The world would be a much duller place if writers only wrote what they knew.

There is also, of course, the issue of unrepresented minorities in history. We think of medieval Britain as an island predominantly populated by white people, but what of the descendants of the African Roman soldiers stationed along Hadrian’s Wall before the collapse of the Roman Empire?

Then there is the thorny issue of sales. Which comes first, the demand or the story? I’m inclined to favour the perspective that the way forward is to ensure diversity within publishing houses. If editors and publishers have diverse interests and backgrounds, they will find those great books which have universal appeal regardless of the cultural identity, nationality or race of the characters.

The publishing industry certainly isn’t there yet. Bookseller and Publisher covered an 2rippedbodicereport2016Entertainment Weekly story on The Ripped Bodice’s report on the racial diversity of romance publishing in the US during 2016. The Ripped Bodice is a romance specialist bookstore. They found that only 7.8% of romance titles published were written by people of colour. ‘People of colour’ is a broadly descriptive term that not all writers of non-Anglo Saxon heritage will identify with. However, given that US census figures indicate that up to 28% of the American population identifies as either black or Hispanic, the diversity book is clearly not balanced.

Half of the 20 publishers surveyed had fewer than five percent of their books authored by people of colour, and only three publishers had at least 10% of their books authored by people of colour.

The report co-authors and owners of The Ripped Bodice, Leah and Bea Koch, said they were motivated to conduct the study ‘because they often found themselves short of options when customers come in looking for traditionally published books by authors of color’.

‘We have found it difficult to continue the conversation about diversity in romance without hard data,’ said the Kochs. ‘For many years the common refrain from publishers has been “we’re working on it.” Every year we will track industry growth and see if that promise rings true.’

The report notes that all of the publishers mentioned were invited to contribute statistics to the study. More than half engaged directly, with the missing data gathered from publisher and distributor websites.

I think this is an excellent initiative by The Ripped Bodice. I’m also giving a shout-out to all those publishers who participated willingly and all the indie authors who publish diverse romance but weren’t covered by this study. The more we talk, the more answers and solutions we’ll create and the more great romances we will have to read.

Australia has a very diverse, multicultural society. It would be interesting to see a similar study done here. I suspect the numbers would not look much better although I do know many publishers who actively hunt for and publish magnificent stories by individuals from marginalised or misunderstood groups, whether because of their cultural background, sexual preferences or other factors.

If you’re looking for a reading list of diverse authors and characters, try one of these four books, or have a browse on GoodReads, where there are many recommended book lists complete with comments.

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The history and practice of bibliotherapy

Novelist Ceridwen Dovey has written a fascinating article on bibliotherapy for The New Yorker. She asks Can Reading Make You Happier (of course) and then talks us through the science of why the answer is ‘of course’.

It starts:

Several years ago, I was given as a gift a remote session with a bibliotherapist at the London headquarters of the School of Life, which offers innovative courses to help people deal with the daily emotional challenges of existence. I have to admit that at first I didn’t really like the idea of being given a reading “prescription.” I’ve generally preferred to mimic Virginia Woolf’s passionate commitment to serendipity in my personal reading discoveries, delighting not only in the books themselves but in the randomly meaningful nature of how I came upon them (on the bus after a breakup, in a backpackers’ hostel in Damascus, or in the dark library stacks at graduate school, while browsing instead of studying). I’ve long been wary of the peculiar evangelism of certain readers: You must read this, they say, thrusting a book into your hands with a beatific gleam in their eyes, with no allowance for the fact that books mean different things to people—or different things to the same person—at various points in our lives. I loved John Updike’s stories about the Maples in my twenties, for example, and hate them in my thirties, and I’m not even exactly sure why.

Read the full article here

SPEED-READING INEFFICIENT

I call them ‘Well, duh’ studies. The research academics have to undertake to prove what anyone with a grain of knowledge and a sprinkling of common sense knew already. This one is about the benefits of speed-reading.

With the information overload that we now all suffer from, the appeal of speed-reading is understandable. Traditionally, it promises faster reading times and greater recall and understanding of the text. However, according to a recent review of the actual science published in Psychology Science in the Public Interest, speed-reading is not the answer the panacea it is sold as.

Elizabeth Schotter, a psychologist at the University of California-San Diego, and one of the study’s authors, says, ‘The available scientific evidence demonstrates that there is a trade-off between speed and accuracy—as readers spend less time on the material, they necessarily will have a poorer understanding of it.’ (well, duh moment #1).

According to the Association for Psychological Science, it’s not about reading faster, but about learning to figure out what’s important to read (well, duh moment #2). In reviewing the scientific research, they said that it proves that the biggest obstacle isn’t our vision but rather our ability to recognize words and process how they combine to make meaningful sentences

In their article they say, ‘Reading is a complex dance among various visual and mental processes, and research shows that skilled readers already read quickly, averaging 200 to 400 words per minute. Some speed-reading technologies claim to offer an additional boost by eliminating the need to make eye movements by presenting words rapidly in the center of a computer screen or mobile device, with each new word replacing the previous word. The problem, Schotter and her colleagues find, is eye movements account for no more than ten percent of the overall time we spend reading. Eliminating the ability to go back and reread previous words and sentences tends to make overall comprehension worse, not better.’

Ms Schotter says there is no quick fix. She and her team agree that the one thing that can help boost overall reading ability, science shows, is practicing reading for comprehension. Greater exposure to writing in all its different forms provides us with a larger and richer vocabulary, as well as the contextual experience that can help us anticipate upcoming words and make inferences regarding the meaning of words or phrases we don’t immediately recognize.

So, keep reading. It’s good for you. But you already knew that. J

You can read the full report at your own pace – if you have the time.