Big Kids’ Table: My Romance Novel “Guidelines”

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Hiya! Welcome to the first Big Kids’ Table post of 2014. If you are new here, this is where I recommend some titles outside of the young adult genre. As much as I love YA, sometimes I just need to branch out and hope you’ll decide to as well!

As the date of this post inched closer and closer, I toyed with the idea of giving the feature a more uniform layout. But you know what? I love writing something new every single month so this feature is going to continue to be experimental as always! (By all means, feedback is appreciated. Email me!)

So today, I’m talking about ROMANCE NOVELS. This post is actually inspired by Ellice who guest reviews over at Paper Riot (she is awesome so make sure you follow her everywhere, okay?). Like anyone else unfamiliar with a genre, she wanted to know where to start when it comes to romance novels. There’s totally no right answer to this so I thought I would share some of my own romance novel “rules”.

Where I started

My mom absolutely loves to read. I definitely inherited this from her, and I still remember the awesome summer days we spent at library, checking out all the shelves. My mom took out a lot of paperback Harlequin romances back then. (They didn’t even check them out separately, just counted them.) This is where it started. On vacations, and long road trips, I stole a few of her romance novels and got hooked. But it wasn’t until I read Danielle Steel that I fell in love. I’ve always been a huge fan of books set in the 60s and 70s and Message from Nam had it all. (Think Forrest Gump!) From Danielle, I learned you could tell a lush, full story in romance. It wasn’t all about the lust.

Message from Nam by Danielle Steel

When I was re-introduced

Confession: for four years after I finished college, I wasn’t reading that much. I think I just wore myself out. But then I got an eReader, I went on a long honeymoon, and I met Magan (not on my honeymoon) and my love of books came rushing back. (It was nice to be home.) So my journey back to romance novels came after the launch of RBR when I started reading Susan Mallery’s Fool’s Gold series. I forgot how fun, how sexy, and how wonderful a community of people looking for happily ever could be.

Here’s what I learned:

♥  I didn’t mind reading this series out of order because happily ever after was the outcome.
♥  Even though these are a lot of fun, reading them back to back got to be a little difficult. The stories can feel a bit repetitive, the characters can get a little flat, and you can only read about tongues stroking each other so much. (True story.) Fool’s Gold became my feet up on the couch, palette cleanser.

A few of my favorites: Three Little Words; A Fool’s Gold Christmas; Just One Kiss.

Susan Mallery Fool's Gold Favorites

The hits keep on coming

In the past two years, there have been a lot of winners in my romance reading. (And, sadly, losers but we are being happy and positive today!) To make it easier, a short list:

♥  Star Crossed by Jennifer Echols: one of my favorite YA authors taking on the big kids? Love it. Hot chemistry, a Las Vegas setting, and a little mystery. So good.

♥  Let Me Be the One by Bella Andre: showing off my rebel streak because I started Andre’s series out of order too but this one. I loved stories of old friends with crushes who reunite as adults. This one was off the charts sexy with great background stories on both and a lot of sweet, REAL moments. (So many times emotions fall flat but not in this one.)

♥  Close Enough to Touch by Victoria Dahl: COWBOYS. That is all. No really. This one was almost TOO hot for me but I loved the back story, the setting, and the tension was just so intense. I basically read this in one sitting.

♥  The Perfect Match by Kristan Higgins: Funny and sexy? What what? I couldn’t put this one down. I loved the supporting characters, how unpredictable the couple was, and the vineyard setting.

Recommended Romance Reads from Estelle

Don’t be scared; historical romance doesn’t have to be stuffy.

I lost my historical romance virginity in December, and I’m pretty glad I had such a great experience for my first time? (Is this getting too uncomfortable for you?) Wicked Designs by Lauren Smith features a sly and spunky leading lady, an aggressive (yet vulnerable) duke, and a team of Rogues — protective, lovable, and all around enjoyable to get to know. From the setting to the smallest details, Smith made me feel like I was smack dab in the middle of London watching the hi-jinx myself. I can’t wait to check out more!

Wicked Designs by Lauren Smith

With a little help from my friends

Need more recommendations? Try The Book Barbies, Heroes & Heartbreakers, Gone with the Words, Lusty Penguin, or Michelle and Leslie’s Book Picks.

Or some recent personal recommendations from Alexa (Julie Garwood’s Ransom) and Ginger (Lisa Kleypas’ Sugar Daddy).

Now it’s time to say goodbye

As you can see, I’m no expert. My guidelines are just my own personal preferences. It’s not a huge necessity to jump into series right at the beginning because happily ever afters will come no matter what. And for me and this genre, that’s what it is all about: -a reading experience that makes me feel good and keeps me smiling.

↔

As always, I would love to hear your recommendations + even how you got into romance novels yourself.

Be sure to check in at the end of February for your next dose of Big Kids’ Table.

(Big thanks to Hannah, Alexa, and Jamie for all their recent feedback on this feature!)

The Big Kids’ Table: HACKED by Gone Pecan

big kids' table - adult fiction feature on rather be reading

We have an emergency situation on our hands!

I innocently clicked into this post like I do every single month and SOMEONE WROTE IT FOR ME ALREADY.

What is going on here?!

Honestly, DAPHNE wasn’t really too careful about disguising herself. She even included a description of herself. AND A PICTURE. So if you see this gal, be sure to let me know. I’m still working on the consequences for this offense… but just know it will be very, very mean.

Daphne From Gone Pecan Takes Over the Table

But ya know since she took the time to write her own Big Kids’ Table… what the heck? I’m going to put my feet up, sip my beer (it’s nighttime when I’m writing this, don’t worry), and let good ol’ Daphne take the reins.

♦

Hey!

I am a 30-something southern wife, mom, reader, procrastinator, student. I like books with kissing. On our blog, Gone Pecan, Kristina & I mostly review YA & romantic fiction. I like books with regular, flawed people, cute stories, and happy endings.  I also really love a good, long series, preferably set in Small Town, America.

One of my favorite books last year was Emily Giffin’s Where We Belong.

Where We Belong by Emily Giffin

I love all of Giffin’s books, but this one is probably my favorite (I know, this is shocking since her book Something Borrowed is probably the book I recommend most). Where We Belong is about a 30-something woman who is confronted by the daughter she gave up as a teenager and with the choices that followed.

This book definitely could have been marketed to YA readers.  We get the perspective of both these characters, Marian, the mother, and Kirby, the daughter.  My favorite part of the book was the flashbacks of Marian as a teenager, her life before, during, and after her surprising relationship with Conrad, Kirby’s father.  Kirby’s side of the story was very intriguing as well and could have worked as a book on its own.  But both of these disparate stories came together with these fleshed out, real women who are still learning about life and themselves.  It left me hopeful and happy at the end, which is the feeling I chase after with the books I’m reading.

These are some of the books I’m looking forward to in the next few months:

Love Overdue by Pamela Morsi

Love Overdue by Pamela Morsi | Release Date: August 27 | Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Summary from Goodreads: Buttoned-up book lover DJ is all sensible shoes, drab skirts and studious glasses. After an ill-advised spring-break-fueled fling left her mortified, she’s committed to her prim and proper look. When she’s hired by a rural library in middle-of-nowhere Kansas, she finally has the lifestyle to match-and she can’t wait to get her admin on. But it’s clear from day one that the small-town library is more interested in circulating rumors than books.

DJ has to organize her unloved library, win over oddball employees and avoid her flamboyant landlady’s attempts to set her up with the town pharmacist. Especially that last part-because it turns out handsome Scott Sanderson is her old vacation fling! She is not sure whether to be relieved or offended when he doesn’t seem to recognize her. But with every meeting, DJ finds herself secretly wondering what it would be like to take off her glasses, unpin her bun and reveal the inner vixen she’s been hiding from everyone-including herself.

Why I want to read this: Well, let’s see:  small town, librarian, a MC who seems to be socially awkward? I’M SO THERE. This looks completely cute & funny.


The Perfect Match by Kristan HigginsThe Perfect Match
by Kristan Higgins (Blue Heron #2) | Release Date: October 29 | Publisher: Harlequin HQN
Summary by Goodreads: What if the perfect match is a perfect surprise? Honor Holland has just been unceremoniously rejected by her lifelong crush. And now—a mere three weeks later—Mr. Perfect is engaged to her best friend. But resilient, reliable Honor is going to pick herself up, dust herself off and get back out there…or she would if dating in Manningsport, New York, population 715, wasn’t easier said than done. 

Charming, handsome British professor Tom Barlow just wants to do right by his unofficial stepson, Charlie, but his visa is about to expire. Now Tom must either get a green card or leave the States—and leave Charlie behind. In a moment of impulsiveness, Honor agrees to help Tom with a marriage of convenience—and make her ex jealous in the process. But juggling a fiancé, hiding out from her former best friend and managing her job at the family vineyard isn’t easy. And as sparks start to fly between Honor and Tom, they might discover that their pretend relationship is far too perfect to be anything but true love.

Why I want to read this: I have read everything Kristan Higgins has written and I’m always anxiously awaiting her next book.  Plus, I really liked the first book in this series and I’m looking forward to getting back to Manningsport.

Surrender to Sultry by Macy BeckettSurrender to Sultry by Macy Beckett (Sultry Springs #3) | Release Date: August 6 | Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Summary from Goodreads: Leah McMahon is back in Sultry Springs, Texas to help her dad recover from surgery. But there’s a new sheriff in town and he’s none other than Colton Bea, the wild-as-weeds boy who stole her heart a decade earlier. Colt’s a changed man now, and the feelings between these high school sweethearts are stronger than ever. But Leah’s got a secret so devastating that he may never forgive her. Can she find a way to earn absolution and build a future with the sultry man she’s loved half her life?

Why I want to read this: Sultry Springs is a fun place to live, lots of hot, sexy, southern men who just need the love of a good woman.  Colton is particularly fascinating to me after reading the two previous books in the series and I want him to have a happy ending.

…

I hope you give these books a try, though they may be different than what you’re used to reading! You know what they say, sometimes it’s healthy to sometimes go outside our comfort zone!

Thanks, Estelle & Magan, for letting me have this opportunity.

♦

Ahem. Letting her have this opportunity? SHE STOLE IT!

Okay, I’m kidding. I may have asked Daphne to step in today. But does that really matter than there are new books to read?

Happy reading + be sure to let us know what’s on your grown up TBR lately!

P.S. Thanks to Daphne for being a great sport throughout this process! Be sure to follow her on Twitter too!

Estelle: Better than Chocolate by Sheila Roberts

Better than Chocolate by Sheila RobertsBetter than Chocolate by Sheila Roberts
Publication Date: September 25, 2012
Publisher: Harlequin
Pages: 400
Keywords: sisters, small business, small towns, romance
Target audience: Adult
Format read: ARC from Little Bird Publicity (Thanks!)

Summary: With little time to act, Samantha and her family are forced to come up with a solution when they find out their chocolate business is in trouble.

You know that feeling when you want a chocolate bar and you reach into your shoulder bag and all you find is granola? Sure, the granola still fills your appetite but it’s just not the same.

That pretty much captures how I felt reading Better than Chocolate.

I was expecting to be swept up in some big, epic romance but, instead this novel focused on Samantha and the struggling chocolate business that has been in her family for generations. After her step-father unexpectedly dies, she finds out the business owes a huge amount of money to the bank. When she receives no help from the new bank owner/that popular football player from high school, Blake, she and her sisters decide to hold a chocolate festival by Valentine’s Day in hopes of saving the company.

Even though this book is more about Samantha’s determination and loyalty to her family’s legacy, I liked watching her band forces with her sisters and her mom to organize this huge event. Everyone wants to root for the local company, the underdog, when it comes to a bigger company taking over the town. In Icicle Falls, we see the town support the event and tons of creative ideas make it to the table. It was exactly the kind of project I would want to be a part of.

In the meantime, Samantha is sure Blake is anxious for her chocolate company to fail and is intent on making him the big, bad enemy. But of course, he’s super attractive and she can’t stop thinking about him. He’s also conflicted because he loves Samantha’s passion (and her butt) but he knows he can’t help her the way he really wants to. While they are more on each other’s minds than physically spending time together, the sizzling moments only made me want more of the book dedicated to the two of them.

So while romance was more like the icing on top of a scrumptious chocolate cupcake, I did like reading about four women who all had different feelings on careers, independence, and love and took different routes to get to where they were. The fate of their family company caused them to face certain truths, and make crucial life changes and that was nice to see.

Better than Chocolate will make you crave the delicious morsels featured in the book, but also leave you wanting more. After 400 pages it wraps up a little too perfectly, totally softening any tension, and falls together in too much of a fairy tale fashion. Though the trend of setting books in cute small towns with tons of charm? I’m so on board with that. Book me a ticket!

Make It Yours: The Price is Right: Rather Be Reading's rating for affordable books you can't miss!

Goodreads | Buy on Amazon

Estelle: Spring Fever by Mary Kay Andrews

Mary Kat Andrews' Spring FeverSpring Fever by Mary Kay Andrews (Tweet!)
Publication Date: June 1, 2012
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Pages: 402
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: romance, small town, family businesses, divorce, family secrets
Format read: ARC from Netgalley! Thanks!

Summary: Annajane is totally okay with her ex-husband, Mason, remarrying. In fact, she’s engaged and about to move out of the small town she has always called home, which is why she’s all decked out in a vintage dress and sitting in a pew waiting for their ceremony to start. But after an incident halts the wedding, she can’t help but start reminiscing about their courtship and the pain of their divorce. Is it possible she’s not as over him as she thought?

Just imagine living in the same town and working for the same company as your ex-husband, a man you have been in love with since your teens. Never in your wildest dreams did you think your marriage would end after a few years and somehow, despite the hurt, you are co-existing. And then he goes and gets engaged to a beautiful woman who has usurped your job at the company. Oh wait, he also fathered a child during your separation who you have fallen in love with.

Dramalicious, right?

The hits just keep on coming too because there is a complex sub-plot that involves the future of the Quixie, the family cherry soda company. Mason and his brother, Davis, have run the company since their father’s passing but it seems like they have two different ideas of what it should become. This twisty storyline involves Annajane’s career, the entire Bayless family, and the economy of small town Passcoe.

There are secrets and strategies and secret rendezvous and much devious behavior.

In fact, Spring Fever is heavier than the turquoise cover and a bunch of flip flops. It definitely had small reminders of The Notebook or Sweet Home Alabama films, but there’s a lot more at stake than an old relationship and moving forward. The underlying ‘business’ plot intensified the entire story, and left me guessing until the very end. I’ll admit… this story is soap opera central in its entirety (could have done without the typical Celia scenario) but that didn’t stop me from connecting with Annajane who cannot for the life of her decide what to do about Mason. To me, it seemed they divorced much too soon but she couldn’t decide if they could really make it work again if given another chance. She didn’t exactly fit in the ‘rich wife socialite’ box that Mason’s own mother belonged to. And that misunderstanding and lack of communication led them down a wrong road in the first place.

But ooh, the romance… the longing. It was good. Really good. Andrews can certainly write a tender love scene but also the fun ones where everyone is a teenager again. With mix tapes! And hot cars.

Why do small town books always have the most intriguing characters? (I actually saw that Andrew’s book, Summer Rental, is set in Tybee Island, South Carolina and I have immediately added it to my to-read list.) I loved the gossip, little mimic Sophie, the ridiculously adorable men who own a neighborhood hotel, and the friendship and scheming between Annajane and her bestie, Pokey (who also is Mason’s sister). Spring Fever was fast paced and majorly addicting (yes, I hid this one under my desk) and it would make the perfect companion on a bus ride or a beach trip.

Goodreads | Amazon

Estelle: Summer Nights by Susan Mallery

Summer Nights by Susan Mallery
Part of the Fool’s Gold series.
Publication Date: June 26 2012
Publisher: HQN Books
Pages: 384
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: romance, sex, cowboys, second marriages
Format read: ARC from Netgalley!

Summary: Bitter from his divorce, Shane is determined to find a quiet, boring woman to marry when he settles back in Fool’s Gold. Things don’t go as planned when his eye catches Annabelle, a red-headed knock out, dancing on a bar. He knows she is trouble but he can’t get her out of his head. Little does he know, she’s the town librarian and he’s about to get roped into giving her riding lessons on his ranch.

A cowboy and a librarian meet in a bar… sounds like the perfect joke, right?

Summer Nights kind of starts that way. Shane thinks he’s going to be teaching a mousy librarian with cardigans and glasses how to ride a horse, and instead the redhead from the bar shows up. The very woman Shane thinks is bad news. Annabelle may be an knockout (not that she’s aware) but she’s learning to ride a horse to make money for a project that would bring books to people who can’t get into town. She legit has a heart of gold and Shane is just too stubborn to realize it.

The truth is, for him, it’s easier to believe that Annabelle is just like his ex-wife. He doesn’t have to get invested or get all swoony over her. Instead he can sort of lust after her from a corner of his ranch and let that be the end of it.

But that’s not the end of it.

It’s a romance novel, people. A hot one. That had me blushing, and it’s not because Shane remained in that corner daydreaming about Annabelle. Nope. Instead he gave her the kiss of the century and invited her to engage in a whole lot of other activities that gave me my own education. Whew. It was steamy, way steamy.

At the same time, Annabelle is frustrated because she has no idea what Shane really wants from her and she has no idea how to convince him she is just her, a woman who could love him (and rock his world), and not be deceiving jerk like his ex. Both Shane and Annabelle have their baggage and I like how Mallery went back and forth between the two. So many of the romance novels I read when I was younger seemed to focus just on the woman and her thoughts. I liked getting both sides.

Mallery has created quite a world with her Fool’s Gold series and there are a ton of characters that enter and exit the scenes in Summer Nights; she also plants the character for her following book and it was a surprisingly serious storyline that balanced out the romance and the “will they/won’t they” theme. No fear though. Summer Nights is perfect as a standalone, so you don’t have to reread the books before it (unless you want to, of course). While I enjoyed Mallery’s characters and dreamy setting, she did have a tendency to repeat certain actions during hot make out scenes that had me cringing toward the end (or even anticipating that phrase).

The thing about romance novels is that they are fun and extremely addicting, even if they are light and have sort of a fairy tale like quality to them. Mallery inserts a lot of comical moments as well (like with Shane’s growing farm) and really knows how to build chemistry and intrigue.

Goodreads | Amazon

Bonus, as a fan of country songs and the boys who sing them, I made a playlist that screams Summer Nights. Here’s one of the songs and you can check out the playlist on Spotify. Enjoy!