The Reading Writer

Writer of the steamy romance series, Stockholm Diaries. 

I'm also a former English teacher, so when I read, I look for what makes books work.

The Far End of Happy

The Far End of Happy - Kathryn Craft This book is at the far end of romance. It is about a failed marriage and divorce, but every good divorce story originates from a love story. Craft has written a story about love that dies a slow death. Since the tragedy of any divorce is grounded in the loss of true intimacy, as a romance writer, this premise is worth looking at.

The story takes place during the course of the day of Jeff, the husband's, suicide standoff. Ronnie, our protagonist, has filed for divorce from the man she still calls the love of her life. And despite his many faults, Jeff clearly loves Ronnie in the best way he can. Still, after years of steady downslide, all markers of a happy marriage have faded. Alcoholism seems to be at the root of their problems, but even this assumption is called into question as the plot unfolds. So many anecdotes from this marriage suggest that this was true love many years ago, the kind of love found in romance novels, the kind that can save both Jeff and Ronnie from the loneliness and depression that they have suffered from. But in the end, it doesn't. Instead of ending in happily ever after, the reader slowly realizes that at this stage Jeff and Ronnie's story cannot end happily, no matter what choices the characters make.

The story is larger than just Jeff and Ronnie's. Both their mothers get a perspective, and their own stories are relevant to the course of events as well. But Jeff's story is never really told or clearly explained. This is intentional, and it shows the line between romance and tragedy. In many ways, Jeff is the "perfect" romance hero at the beginning of the relationship, and he loves Ronnie with the kind of intensity and devotion that would make Christian Grey proud. But after 12 years of marriage, love isn't enough.

Romance novels often end with a moment of true connection, where the hero and heroine finally begin down the road of togetherness. But this book suggests that even storybook romance isn't enough to chase away problems left unattended. A relationship based on true love isn't immune to total destruction. The events in The Far End of Happiness are made even more poignant by the author's note that they are based on event in the author's own life. Craft tells the story of love and tragedy that could even be called a counter-story to a romance novel, the way romance can and does also end.

Just Over the Mountain

Just Over the Mountain - Robyn Carr Dr. June Hudson is content with her small-town Northern California life, surrounded by family and quirky, familiar friends… and an often-absent secret lover on the side. But she gets a curveball in the form of Chris, her high school boyfriend, who had returned from big city life, divorced and pushing for another chance.

Well, that’s the official blurb, but this reading writer would say that the book is just as much about the bones found in June’s batty old aunt’s back yard, the secrets behind one of the town’s most steady marriages, and the adjustments Chris’s twin teenage terrors need to make. But these aren’t the kind of events that populate the back of a romance book.

This reading writer thinks that Robyn Carr is a good writer, but the romance in this book is… well, not so exciting. Actually, isn’t quite a romance. It’s women’s fiction with a cast of quirky characters and a side of romance. She writes from multiple perspectives, including June’s but, interestingly, not either of the potential heroes of the book. Carr has created a world first, romance second, and judging from the reviews, her tactic is successful. And, yet, the back cover still reads like a romance novel, focusing only on June and Jim’s relationship and following the romance blurb rule of not mentioning Chris, the other romantic interest, by name (i.e. spoiler to anyone who knows about romance practices). One of book's subgenres is even listed as "Erotica" on Amazon (chosen by the publisher)!! Why?

Romance draws readers unlike any other genre, and this reading writer thinks publishers push its definition to reap the benefits. What Carr writes we can call the “comfort food” of romance writing. Not too exciting, not innovative, not edgy. Comfort food. For the publisher, this is a mixture that makes a whole lotta dough. Ha! I just had to go there:)

Turning It On

Turning It On - Elizabeth  Harmon This is not your typical romance. Instead of focusing just on the hero/heroine relationship, the book is a fun look into the different reasons why normally sane people might participate in reality TV. All different roles and motivations are explored, from the wannabe actor to up-and-coming director who slowly throws every last value out the windown in the name of success. Harmon writes a whole cast of characters, many three-dimensional and engaging.

Ultimately, the plot competes a little with the development of the romance, but as long as you open the book with that expectation, the ride will be fun!

Stockholm Diaries, Caroline

Stockholm Diaries, Caroline - Rebecca  Hunter I love this book, but since I wrote it, I'm a little biased!

This is Caroline and Niklas's first book, and a follow-up on their story is coming in early 2016 ("Part 2," not a serial), along with some shorter stories about their adventures.

It's also the first book in the Stockholm Diaries series of steamy romances between North American women and Swedish men. My husband and I have lived in Sweden twice, and both times I met women from around the world with interesting, unique stories about meeting Swedish men and moving to Sweden. These stories involved chance meetings, uncertain risks and sacrifice, all in the name of love. The whole Stockholm Diaries series is a kind of tribute to all these stories.

Stockholm was our own home for three years, so the series is also a tribute to a city I know and love. One fundamental idea behind my stories is to explore romance and love with someone who comes from a different background—both the appeals and the difficulties.

I hope you enjoy the book!

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works--A True Story

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works--A True Story - Dan   Harris I'm not a big self-help reader, and yet here I am, posting on a book that is essentially a guide advocating for meditation, mindfulness and a bunch of other Buddhist practices.

Yes, this book does sit squarely in the self-help section of the bookstore. But that's not why I'm writing about it.

In addition to its message, which, incidentally, I think is worthwhile, the book is essentially narrative non-fiction--really good, really funny narrative non-fiction. And that's why the reading writer should pick up this book: Because Dan Harris knows how to tell stories.

I have a friend like this--we'll call her Suzy. I get together with Suzy about once a month, and each time she winds up telling a story that results in the whole table of us doubled over in laughter, tears rolling down our faces. This is how I felt when I was reading this book. There were even times when I wasn't sure where the book was going, but I decided I didn't really care; the ride was entertaining enough to keep me going. And Harris manages to do this with within the category of non-fiction self-help, which suggests that good storytelling can take place just about anywhere.

As a writer, I'd love to be able to master this kind of story, the anecdote. It gets better with each telling, not because of embellishments but because of details, connections and self-depricating insights dotted throughout the narrative. Interestingly, Suzy claims that despite her very entertaining storytelling she can't write stories at all. Are these two different skills?!thereadingwriter/cjq1


11 - Kylie Brant The plot (no spoilers): Mia escaped from sexual sadistic The Collector, but when she returned, no one believed her story—or that fact that he’d come for her. So she disappears. But hiding in Vietnam on a fake passport isn’t enough.

Private security expert Jude Bishop helped her disappear, but now he’s looking for her again. He finds her in the middle of a chase that takes them back across continents, deeper into both their pasts. Together they search for the man who called Mia #11 in his collection, who won’t stop until his collection is complete.

After reading a few romance suspense books, the discerning reader may begin to tune into this trend: most romance suspense writers are either good at the romance or good at the suspense, but finding a writer who is good at developing both these pieces evenly is difficult. This external plot vs. romance problem crops up in all kinds of romance, but it’s the most prominent in romance suspense since the suspense genre has (arguably) the highest plot expectations.

Ms. Brant pulls Mia and Jude together and pushes them apart for suspense plot reasons, giving them time to piece together the clues leading them closer to The Collector while slowly exploring their mutual attraction. In this book, romance and suspense aren’t two separate plots; they’re intricately woven together. Though Mia makes some not-so-astute, go-at-it-alone decisions that can feel like plot devices rather than natural next steps, we’re right there with her, wanting to know what she will find next. Ms. Brant keeps us invested in the both the relationship between Mia and Jude and the puzzle they’re solving at the same time, within the same scene.

More romance analysis at!thereadingwriter/cjq1