My month of reading romances turned out better than I thought. The quality of the writing was surprisingly good and I didn't end the month wishing my husband was an Irish bar owner in the middle of nowhere. If I have a complaint about romances is they are formulaic to a fault. But, the formula is part of the Romance Writers of America definition of the genre:
Novels in this genre place their primary focus on the relationship and romantic love between two people, and must have an "emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.
Which means a good romance depends on a unique setting, characters and story. There are plenty of average romances that will leave you happy and satisfied. Finding an exceptional one is much more difficult. But, so is finding a horrible romance. They seem to hum along around three to four stars and, you know what? Sometimes the book you're reading doesn't need to change the world or make you ponder deep themes. It just needs to make you feel better when you finish than when you started. Most of the books I read in May did.
Top Pick of the Month
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand (★★★★★) by Helen Simondson - Major Pettigrew is the best kind of romance; great characters, believable conflict, sweet love story and uniqueness. I've wanted to read this novel for years and I'm so glad I did. Would recommend to anyone and will most likely re-read it in years to come.
You Can't Go Wrong With...
Jewels of the Sun (★★★★) by Nora Roberts - Roberts is the quintessential romance author that will always deliver a reliably enjoyable read. Some complained on Goodreads about the ridiculous Irish stereotypes. To that I have this to say: you don't read romance for veracity; you read it for fantasy. So what if the Ireland Roberts depicts is more Brigadoon and blarney stone than reality? It's fun, well written escapism. Also, don't talk to a Texan about stereotypes. In college I was able to convince two New Yorkers we all rode horses to school and had oil wells in our back yards. If a reader is stupid enough to believe the over the top stereotype, what do you care? I stay away from Texas-based romances. I suggest easily offended Irish do the same for Ireland.
Georgette Heyer - I read two Heyer books this month (The Devil's Cub ★★★★; Lady of Quality ★★★★) because she is, far and away, my historical romance comfort read. The plots of her novels unfortunately share too many similarities, but I don't care.
This was shelved in Romance?
About a Boy (★★★★) by Nick Hornby - There is nothing romancy about it, though I suppose Romance might have the widest definition of any literary genre. About a Boy could be considered romance, if you squint and turn your head a little, as if trying to catch sight of a shy fairy.
Good, not Great
Fall into You (★★★) by Roni Loren - My first full length erotica. Eh. Well-written but I'm not overly interested in reading about BDSM. I would read another if someone gave it to me but I wouldn't go out of my way to buy one.
With Just One Kiss (★★★) by Francis Ray - Thoroughly enjoyable. Will read another. Not as well written as Roberts but still lighthearted and fun. I liked it enough to seek out the next book in this series.
Bend in the Road (★★★) by Nicholas Sparks - I'm fairly certain this is the first Sparks novel I've read, and it will probably be the last. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't great. The sex scenes were sweet instead of sexy or erotic. I'm not going to complain about the lack of drama with the pair getting together - this is romance after all - though waiting for weeks of dating to kiss is totally unbelievable. The conflict after is good, but knocked down a star because the final scene was a fade to black. I wanted to see Miles grovel a bit and I wanted to see Sarah call him out for his behavior. Sarah turned out to be way too weak and Miles was too big of an ass. Overall good, not great; I won't waste my time with another Sparks.
Let's Get a Classic in Here...
Lady Chatterley's Lover (★★★) by DH Lawrence - For a book that is known more for being banned for thirty years, I expected something much more obscene. Though, of course, for 1928, all the talk about penises and orgasms would be quite shocking. It was pretty funny when Lawrence continued to call a woman's orgasm "coming to a crisis." I've only ever thought not coming to one is the crisis, but maybe that's just me. My reaction to Lady Chatterley is contradictory - I liked it overall but hated the characters. DH Lawrence is an excellent writer but he is repetitive, especially with his social commentary. I think all romance writers, especially ones that write erotica, should read Lady Chatterley, if only to honor the author that had the courage to take on the establishment in 1928 and pave the way for them.
Skimmed or Abandoned
The Man Who Loved Jane Austen (★) - writing wasn't good enough to carry a convoluted plot. Really, one of the worst books I've read this year.
The Typewriter Girl - besides having a horrible title, there were occasionally strangely structured sentences, not to mention an unlikable main character.
Fifty Shades of Grey - I tried.