THANK YOU For Supporting Romance Month!

You guys, back in January when I came up with this idea, it seemed hare-brained. I’d felt so much like my Brand was YA and YA only. I wasn’t sure what would happen if I stepped out of that and shared with you my love of Romance.

But you all have been so amazing! I’ve gotten responses from people about how they also love these books and people who have picked up one of the books I’ve recommended to try. This gives me all the warm fuzzies. ❤

When I started this month, I had a pretty detailed plan for posts for about a week and after that…I was mostly just winging it. My goal, though, was to post something every day. I’d gotten away from posting for a while (sometimes getting a MONTH behind in reviews!) and I needed something to recenter myself here. This reminded me so much of why I’ve stuck with blogging here for a WHOLE FREAKING DECADE.

I’ve got a few take-aways from this month. I think it would be really cool to keep doing Author Spotlights (though much less frequently than 2-3 a week or I’ll run out before long). I feel more confident about posting reviews for all kinds of books I read–nonfiction, adult fantasy, romance, etc. Maybe not everything outside of YA, but I’m more comfortable with the reception now from all of you. Turns out, you all read more than just YA too! Who knew?

If there’s anything we did this month that you really enjoyed (Spotlights, posts where I talk about entire series, etc.), please let me know! I’d love to know what you want to see more of!

Again, THANK YOU so much for sticking with me through this little project/experiment. It’s meant a lot to me.

Also, please excuse me if I now disappear for a week or so to take a break from coming up with posts every single day.

~Holly

Spotlight: Katie McGarry

For my last author spotlight, I decided we desperately need to talk about Katie McGarry. For anyone who has read her books, you understand why I said “desperately.”

Katie McGarry

Most Popular Titles: Pushing the Limits, Dare You To, Crash Into You

Debut Novel: Pushing the Limits (2012)

Most Recent Release: Echoes Between Us (2020)

Katie McGarry writes some of the most interesting YA contemporary romance I’ve ever read. She focuses on characters who seem a bit…unconventional. Dangerous, even. But that means her stories have deeper, darker themes. And I kind of like that.

McGarry’s most popular series is the Pushing the Limits series, which is set in Kentucky and follows a variety of characters with dark backstories. Drugs, deadbeat parents, poverty, and even darker subjects are covered here–but it’s done in a way that makes you sympathize with the characters. You understand why they get into the kind of trouble they do. It doesn’t make it right, but at least you get it. And you see that they want a better life beyond it.

Despite it being the less well-known series, I personally prefer the Thunder Road series, about a biker gang (they call it “motorcycle club” but I feel biker gang is more accurate). Trust me, when I looked at it, I was like, “There’s no way I’m going to like this. This is the exact opposite of what my life is and I don’t think I’ll like it.” But I loved it. The first book, Nowhere But Here, is about Emily, a girl who has grown up not really having a relationship with her dad (he was in prison for a chunk of her life and then her mom moved them to Florida). When she returns to Kentucky reluctantly, she ends up caught in the middle of gang business. Seeing Emily and Oz–a club prospect tasked with keeping Emily safe–together, it was just magical. I swear.

My First McGarry Read: Pushing the Limits. I was really blown away by it at the time, but I would be willing to guess if I went back and reread it, I’d still prefer Thunder Road. I think McGarry’s writing has gotten better over time. Still, she’s a gutsy writer and she covers a wide variety of topics I couldn’t personally relate to but loved all the same.

Her Complete Collection:

  • Pushing the Limits (Pushing the Limits, #1) (2012)
  • Dare You To (Pushing the Limits, #2) (2013)
  • Crash Into You (Pushing the Limits, #3) (2013)
  • Take Me On (Pushing the Limits, #4) (2014)
  • Nowhere But Here (Thunder Road, #1) (2015)
  • Walk the Edge (Thunder Road, #2) (2016)
  • Chasing Impossible (Pushing the Limits, #5) (2016)
  • Long Way Home (Thunder Road, #3) (2017)
  • Say You’ll Remember Me (2018)
  • Only a Breath Apart (2019)
  • Echoes Between Us (2020)

That’s it for today! If you’re just discovering Katie McGarry for the first time (or if you just haven’t read any of her books yet), I’d love to know which one(s) you’re adding to your TBR!

Why I Love Love Stories

Is that title redundant? Or is it just right? Whatever, I like it.

ANYWAY, I thought I’d take this time to talk about what’s so awesome about love stories, no matter what genre, age level, or kind of relationship the characters have! I mean, it’s a month of romance and I don’t really know that I’ve talked about all that in one single place. Most of my posts have elements I love in them, but it hasn’t been compiled.

It’s Part of the Human Experience

We all want to be loved. And love comes in many shapes and forms. Family, friends, romantic relationships, pets, etc. (Yes, I did throw pets onto that list. Pets are awesome and feel love too.) It makes sense that we’d be so drawn to a book about an experience that we’ve all had or want to have.

When I was a young teenager reading stories with a love angle, I was reading it to try to figure out what love felt like, what it looked like, and when it wasn’t right. It was a teaching moment. Sure, every love is different and every person feels it differently, but I think there are broad things you can learn from everyone’s individual story. It helped to see that love could be amazing–but it could also be painful. I felt more prepared for every possibility I might encounter.

As an adult, reading YA or reading romance is all about experiencing those feelings again. The excitement of a first love. The sorrow of heartbreak, followed by the hope of a new love. It doesn’t matter where you are in your love story, someone else out there is feeling it too. And it helps when your heart is breaking to feel less alone that way.

Character Development

There’s a quote I really like that is attributed to Carl Jung that says, “The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances; if there is any reaction, both are transformed.” I feel like this sums up love on the page and off the page. It’s just a lot easier to talk about when it’s characters and plot.

I’ve always been a sucker for amazing character development. I love seeing a character start as one thing (a rake, a jerk, a naive debutante, a normal teenager, a basket case, a jock, whatever) and transform into something else by the end. When people are trying to impress someone else, they change. When people are trying to feel worthy or be better for someone, they change. When they experience new things with someone, they change. There are so many different reasons people change, sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally. Either way, it makes for a great story.

And it happens in real life too. We pick up the habits, speech, and mannerisms of people we’re around all the time. I have habits I developed almost a decade ago dating one guy in college. Or my family has specific words we use that aren’t…conventional. (It’s a “cheese toastie,” not a “grilled cheese.” Ever.) We all have those little things we pick up from people we admire and spend time with, so it makes sense that our favorite characters would do the same as they fall in love.

Love Is Only Part of the Story

Behind every good love story, there’s an even better plot. Look, I’m all for romance, but I’ll be the first to tell you that if love is all there is in the story, it’s not going to be enough. There needs to be a bigger motivation or drive for the characters besides just finding someone to love. Love may not be entirely accidental, but neither is it the main goal of the characters.

Let’s take Regency romances for instance. Even when the novels are ostensibly about debutantes finding a good husband to settle down with, the stories are also about so much more, especially in books written in the last 5-10 years. These women have goals to travel the world, experience what men experience in their very sexist society, start a career, protect their families or friends, etc. There is more that they desire than marriage. It makes them more well-rounded characters and it also introduces new–and better–themes to the stories.

The same can be said about YA. Earlier this month, we focused on Sarah Dessen. Her stories are well known for having a love story, but neither is it the entire plot. The Rest of the Story deals with class issues. Lock and Key deals with broken families. What Happened to Goodbye deals with identity. So they have bigger themes, issues the characters are working through as they fall for someone else.

Honestly, as I write this, I’m thinking this is great advice for my own life.

It’s Emotional

What I like about love stories is that it’s very rare for me not to feel something. Happy, excited, heartbroken, angry, and everything in between. When I get connected to characters, I feel for them. If I’m having a particularly bad week and want to feel happy or I feel like I need a good cry, I can turn to romances for comfort.

Emotions are the crux of romance, in any shape or form. Or, frankly, any story worth its salt. It’s why we have characters we love and hate. It’s why we feel chills when we read a particularly moving scene, or why we know we need to have a box of tissues handy when reading books by certain authors. (*cough* Gayle Forman *cough*) And it’s why we keep coming back to stories over and over again. Y’all cannot tell me you didn’t feel anything as you read literally any of the ACOTAR books. They are popular for a reason.

I love stories that I have deep, visceral reactions to, no matter how many times I reread them. I know I will still be surprised by the characters in Mortal Heart, no matter how many times I read it. I will still hate Dolores Umbridge with everything I have every time I see her name. I will still ugly cry every time I read Dragonfly in Amber. Emotions are part of that human experience I talked about earlier, and I find it really cathartic sometimes just to experience the emotions that maybe I haven’t let myself feel lately.

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So what are some reasons you love love stories? I’d love to hear! We’re going to be wrapping up Romance Month here very soon, so let’s go out with a bang!

The Ravenels Series by Lisa Kleypas

Hey everyone! So I thought today we’d talk about another series that I think is worth looking into if you’re wanting more reading recommendations.

We’ve previously talked about Kleypas’s Wallflowers series here. Even though she wrote that series first, the Ravenels was the series I discovered first.

Cold-Hearted Rake (The Ravenels, #1)

The first book, Cold-Hearted Rake, is set in 1875, which is kind of late for a lot of historical romances I read, but it still has the feel of a regency or early Victorian era story. In this story, Devon Ravenel is a renowned London rake who finds himself inheriting an earldom. Unfortunately, the earldom doesn’t just come with influence–it also comes with mountains of debt, the late earl’s unmarried sisters, and a young widow. Kathleen, the widow, knows better than to fall for a rake. But there’s just something about Devon that draws her to him, and something about Kathleen that makes Devon want to be a better man.

Character development in this book is excellent. Part of the reason for that is because the characters are incredibly quirky. For example, Devon’s brother West is also a rake and drunkard who finds himself with the responsibility of learning how to farm an estate. Two of the late earl’s sisters (twins Cassandra and Pandora) are wild and unladylike in the best ways. Seeing them develop through the story (which covers months of time rather than a couple of weeks) was so sweet and really got me invested in them from the beginning.

Marrying Winterborne (The Ravenels, #2)

The next book in the series, Marrying Winterborne, may not be the strongest showing in this series (in my humble opinion), but it does still have its moments as it focuses on Helen, the first of the late earl’s sisters. Helen is shy and fades into the background, but Rhys Winterborne, owner of the biggest department store in London if not England, sees her.

The series, which was started in 2015, is still ongoing. Six books have been published so far, with a seventh in the works. And there are a number of really cool things in these series. For one thing, there’s a female doctor that eventually becomes a main character. Seeing a real female doctor (and seeing her struggles to be taken seriously) was actually weirdly inspiring? I liked her a lot.

Devil in Spring (The Ravenels, #3)

In fact, most of the books involve strong-willed, eccentric women. And I’m not going to lie, I like that. Take Devil in Spring, for example. Lady Pandora gets her time in the limelight. Pandora is trying to get out of the marriage mart as quickly as possible–not through marriage but through spinsterhood. She is determined to start her own board game business and sell her games at Winterborne’s store. Except Pandora finds herself embroiled in scandal with Gabriel, Lord St. Vincent. Pandora’s determination to be herself and fight the system (particularly how women can’t own property or businesses after marriage) is a real hallmark of who she is. And the fact that she found Gabriel, who can appreciate that and wants to help her, is awesome.

Hello Stranger (The Ravenels, #4)

Speaking of Devil in Spring, if you are a fan of Kleypas’s Wallflowers series, you will definitely recognize a few names in this one. Gabriel, Lord St. Vincent, is the son of Devil in Winter‘s Evangeline and Sebastian. Hence the title similarity. Do you have to read Wallflowers to understand or appreciate this? No. I certainly had no idea when I started this series that two of the books (the fifth book, Devil’s Daughter also involves this St. Vincent family) would be semi-crossovers. But after reading Wallflowers, I went back and reread Devil in Spring and there were a number of little things I’d missed, particularly these little nods to characters and “wallflowers” in general that I hadn’t understood at the time.

I think this series is getting close to running its course, so I’m prepared for it to wrap up soon. (The seventh book is lead by two characters who are not Ravenels in any way. It actually seems to be another Wallflowers nod.) I’ll be really surprised if this series lasts much longer. Now a spin-off series of some kind? I could see that.

So if you like stories with quirky characters, awesome character development, and a lot of heart, this might be one to check out. Obviously I can’t promise that you’ll love it or anything, but if any of this sounds interesting, maybe add it to your TBR.

Spotlight: Tessa Dare

And we’re back for another Romance spotlight! Now that we’re almost at the end of the month, I’m suddenly discovering ALL THESE AUTHORS I want to make sure you guys know about! It’s awesome, but there are just too many to realistically cover them all. Sigh.

Tessa Dare

Most Popular Titles: The Duchess Deal, Romancing the Duke, A Week to be Wicked

Debut Novel: How to Catch a Wild Viscount (2009) [this actually appears to be a novella, but it was what she published first]

Most Recent Release: The Wallflower Wager (2019), but she’s either published or about to publish a few novellas since.

I found Tessa Dare years and years ago. She was one of my first forays into the historical romance genre. What I really liked about her books was that they were funny and cute while having completely fierce (in their own ways!) female leads. The male and female leads are usually good complements to each other, even if they don’t initially know it at the beginning.

One of her most famous series, the Spindle Cove series, is about a little village on the coast of England where spinsters flock to just to be themselves for a change. Because of this, many people refer to Spindle Cove as Spinster Cove. These women (who also range from aristocrats to working class girls), know how to fire weapons, make scientific discoveries, own businesses, write bestselling pamphlets, and more. For most of these girls, marriage really isn’t a goal anymore. But, of course, when they stumble upon the guy who is perfect for them, they change their minds. Of all of her work, this is probably my favorite.

What’s also pretty cool about her writing is that it tends to have a lot of emotion. This can be for good things or for bad. I have laughed out loud at some of the antics of the characters and I have also cried or felt like I couldn’t put the book down, depending on what has happened. I love that the whole journey feels so real and has such interesting (and quirky) characters.

My First Dare Read: A Night to Surrender. It’s the first of the Spindle Cove books, and probably explains why I like that series the best. Though, having read a number of Dare books since, from different series, I still think this is one of the better examples of her writing.

Her Complete Collection:

  • How to Catch a Wild Viscount (2009) *novella
  • Goddess of the Hunt (The Wanton Dairymaid Trilogy, #1) (2009)
  • Surrender of a Siren (The Wanton Dairymaid Trilogy, #2) (2009)
  • A Lady of Persuasion (The Wanton Dairymaid Trilogy, #3) (2009)
  • One Dance with a Duke (Stud Club, #1) (2010)
  • Twice Tempted by a Rogue (Stud Club, #2) (2010)
  • Three Nights with a Scoundrel (Stud Club, #3) (2010)
  • A Night to Surrender (Spindle Cove, #1) (2011)
  • Once Upon a Winter’s Eve (Spindle Cove, #1.5) (2011) *novella
  • A Week to be Wicked (Spindle Cove, #2) (2012)
  • A Lady by Midnight (Spindle Cove, #3) (2012)
  • The Scandalous, Dissolute, No-Good Mr. Wright (2012) *novella
  • Beauty and the Blacksmith (Spindle Cove, #3.5) (2013) *novella
  • Any Duchess Will Do (Spindle Cove, #4) (2013)
  • Romancing the Duke (Castles Ever After, #1) (2014)
  • Say Yes to the Marquess (Castles Ever After, #2) (2014)
  • When a Scot Ties the Knot (Castles Ever After, #3) (2015)
  • Lord Dashwood Missed Out (Spindle Cove, #4.5) (2015) *novella
  • Do You Want to Start a Scandal (Spindle Cove, #5; Castles Ever After, #4) (2016)
  • The Duchess Deal (Girl Meets Duke, #1) (2017)
  • His Bride for the Taking (2018) *novella
  • The Governess Game (Girl Meets Duke, #2) (2018)
  • The Wallflower Wager (Girl Meets Duke, #3) (2019)
  • When She Was Naughty (2020) *Christmas novella
  • Love Letters from a Lord (Spindle Cove, #5.5) *novella, coming July 2021

Top Ten Love Stories in Fantasy/Sci-Fi Series

Hey everybody! We’ve spent so much time lately taking a look at contemporary romances, but I definitely think it’s worth acknowledging and looking at stories that aren’t conventional love stories with still incredibly believable and addicting characters and plots and love stories.

I think you’ll be able to figure out a few of these already, but they’re worth mentioning again and again.

Top Ten Love Stories in Fantasy/Sci-Fi Series

1. A Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J. Maas (YA Fantasy)

Let’s not pretend we didn’t know this wasn’t going to be on the list.

2. A Curse So Dark and Lonely, the Cursebreakers series by Brigid Kemmerer (YA Fantasy)

Kind of hard to pretend a Beauty and the Beast retelling wasn’t going to make the list. But I truly do adore this story and how everything unfolds. It’s got all the hallmarks of a great fantasy while introducing us to wonderful characters, including a heroine with cerebral palsy who is so strong and fierce. I love her.

3. The Girl of Fire and Thorns series by Rae Carson (YA Fantasy)

I talk about this one a lot too, but this one leave me breathless. It’s not just a story of finding love with another person–it’s also about learning to love yourself. And that’s even more important than any other love story.

4. Some Girls Bite, the Chicagoland Vampires series by Chloe Neill (Urban Fantasy)

This is my one and only nod on this list to a non-YA series. I know it’s old and vampires are so 2012, but this series just grabs me every. single. time. Merit is turned into a vampire against her will (to save her life) and she’s forced to join the Cadogan house of vampires in Chicago. Lots of paranormal hijinks, but also a love story that will make you swoon. It is…it is something else, let me tell you.

5. Splintered series by A.G. Howard (YA Fantasy)

This retelling of Alice in Wonderland definitely gets marks for being high fantasy. It comes at you fast and very confusingly. But there’s a well written love triangle (something I normally try to avoid anymore) that really shows just how people can appeal to different sides of your personality.

6. Passenger series by Alexandra Bracken (YA Sci-Fi/Historical Fiction)

This time travel story is, admittedly, a little lacking in the sci-fi department if you’re looking for all the science jargon. In fact, maybe don’t look too closely at the mechanics of how the time travel works. But if you want a cool time travel story, this definitely has the adventure and a cute love story to boot.

7. The Taking series by Kimberly Derting (YA Sci-Fi)

I think it’s been a little while since I’ve talked about this series. Kyra disappeared five years ago without a trace, only to suddenly reappear–and not a day older than when she left. Everything she left behind has changed, from her parents getting a divorce to her boyfriend moving on. This story ventures into the land of aliens, which I normally find really annoying, but this series pulls it off, in part because of Kyra’s budding relationship with her ex-boyfriend’s kid brother…who is now the same age she is.

8. Under the Never Sky series by Veronica Rossi (YA Sci-Fi)

This is pretty typical of YA sci-fi at the time this came out (2012), in that we’ve got these domed cities that are save, brilliant meccas of technology and discovery–and being exiled from them is a death sentence. Aria has been cast out, only to fall in with an Outsider known as Perry, who is her only chance at survival. I really liked how the two worlds were presented and how Aria and Perry grew as characters as they got to know and understand each other.

9. Delirium series by Lauren Oliver (YA Sci-Fi)

I know this is an oldie, but I’m watching my students rediscover a lot of books I was reading back in the day and I think this one is worth mentioning. This is a society that has found a way to classify love as a dangerous disease and Cure people of it when they turn 18. Obviously, the plot very much focuses around forbidden love, but the society that comes out of a complete and utter lack of love of any form (familial ties, friendship, passions, etc.) means you’re in a complete nightmare scenario.

10. Of Beast and Beauty by Stacey Jay (YA Sci-Fi)

Ok, fine, so this one isn’t a series, but I still think it’s definitely worth mentioning…and only in part because it’s another Beauty and the Beast retelling. Like Under the Never Sky, this is another domed city story. In this one, though, our heroine is a blind princess and our hero is a half-animal creature who lives outside the dome. It’s a wonderfully twisted, sometimes dark read that is just incredible at building not only the two words, but the perspectives of our two characters. Do you understand the challenges involved with creating a blind heroine, who can’t describe the world around her in sights? It’s amazing and fascinating how Jay pulls it off.