Allison Temple Blog

Awkward and Thoroughly Kissable
Posts tagged #tbt
#tbt review: Wolfsong by TJ Klune

#tbt reviews is a periodic feature in which I gush about a book I finally got off my TBR pile. I don't read fast enough to review new releases. This is what you get. 29233804

I often don't realize how much enjoyment I get from a book is determined by random circumstance.

TJ Klune is new to me. I've been suffering from were- and shifter fatigue for a long (LONG) time. In many circumstances, I wouldn't have picked up Wolfsong, much less devoured it in two days. But sometimes things come together in the perfect circumstantial storm.

Circumstance 1: It was on sale on Amazon.

Circumstance 2: I couldn't sleep.

I read the first third of Wolfsong at 2 a.m. on a Saturday morning. I couldn't sleep after a freak storm tore up three trees in my parents' yard and made noises like the T-Rex in Jurassic Park while it tried to blow rain and wind through the seals on our door.

Turns out that shit's scary.

Wolfsong is happy and sad, lyrical and tragic, and also occasionally scary. It's a great 2 a.m. read.

What's it about?

Ox is just Ox. He's just a guy. Not very smart, not great at words or friends or (really) self-esteem.

Joe is a werewolf. Maybe that's a spoiler, but you can probably guess from the cover and the blurb. Joe loves Ox, Ox loves Joe, but it takes a long time and a lot of angst for them to get there.

Angsting gay werewolves at 2 a.m. is my jam, just so you know. Actually, it was more like 5 a.m. by the time I got to the really good angsty bits, but still...my jam. When Joe finally professed his love, I cried. Hard. I'm a sucker for that kind of thing.

There's pack. There's love. There's violence and blood and heartache. It's all told from Ox's simple, honest point of view. I'm not usually one for first person narration. I usually like both my romantic leads to have a chance to tell their story too. The narrator's voice has to be really clear and grounded for a single first person POV to work, but when it works it sings.

Wolfsong sings.

If you ask Joe, Ox smells like candy canes and pine cones, and like epic and awesome. It sounds silly, but it's so right in the rhythm of the narrative that I'd get it printed on a t-shirt and wear it just to see who notices and comes to gush with me.

In the meantime, I bought the audiobook, just to double down on the experience. Kirt Graves' narration is also epic and awesome. Tragically, it has no discernible scent.

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#tbt Reviews - Top 100 Romance Novels

book-1760998_1920 Sometimes I feel like I came to romance novels late. I didn't have an older sister who would sneak me her battered dog eared books when our mom wasn't looking. My friends were more likely to read Tolkien. I went straight from reading Nancy Drew and the Babysitters Club to epic fantasy and then I lived there for a long time.

I didn't actually pick up my first romance novel until I was probably 27 or 28. I didn't even know it was a romance novel. It promised me vampires and I was still riding the Twilight wave (I know, I know. We'll talk about that some other day. Along with the time I had to buy the complete series of 50 Shades of Grey, even though I've never read it to this day). I bought what I thought was a vampire novel, and by page 50 there were blow jobs, and by page 178 I was hooked.

All this to say that Goodreads published their list of Top 100 Romance Novels and I have read exactly 24. Not a stellar record, but not bad given my late start. If you're looking for well vetted titles, I have a few recommendations.

Twenty-four books is lot. I'm not going to review them all here. A few (like Wallbanger which I really liked) were also in this earlier post of best rom coms. Some, while I did read them, I honestly just don't remember well. But there's enough here to keep you going through the our long winter nights.

Beyond the Highland Mist, Karen Marie Moning

743599KMM is my homegirl. Okay, we don't actually know each other, but I love almost everything of hers. Her Fever series consumed my life when I read them, and if you like urban fantasy, dark broody alpha heroes, and slow burn (seriously slow. I'm still not 100% sure they're really together), read that series now.

If you like slightly more traditional romances, the highlander series is lovely. I like the later instalments with the Keltar men, but might as well start at the beginning and bask in all the tartan, no?

 

The Bride, Julie Garwood

107779This one, along with Julia Quinn's The Duke and I, is like historical romance 101. Sadly, I still haven't read The Duke and I. But I did read this one! It has all the tropes. Misunderstood youngest daughter. Highland laird. He wants her. She doesn't want to want him, but maybe she does, just a little. We all know what's going to happen, but it's all so frigging sweet I bought in before the end of chapter 3!

 

 

 

Cut and Run, Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux

5199022I've already talked about Ty and Zane. I talked about this exact book in fact. But I love there are queer romances on Goodreads' list, and I'm still working through my re-read of this series. The first instalment is still problematic from a writing perspective. There are too many adverbs. Too much lip licking. The plot doesn't follow anything approaching convention. But Ty and Zane are so compelling as partners, as lovers, as men and ultimately, as characters, that I can't tell you enough to read this series.

 

 

Dark Lover, J.R. Ward

42899The Black Dagger Brotherhood were not my gateway to vampire romances, but they followed close on the heels of that initiation. Yes, the language is a little goofy (everyone talks like a gangster). The spelling is weird (there are names like Rhage, Zsadist, Tohrment and well....you get the idea). But the sex is hot, the writer is committed to her world building, and there's enough angst in later instalments to keep me engaged. Also, Dark Lover refers to its hero as being so ripped it looks like he's hiding paint rollers under his t-shirt, and I live for descriptors like that.

 

 

Fallen Too Far, Abbi Glines

16070903I'm getting older every day, and that means I struggle with NA as a genre more and more all the time. But Fallen Too Far hits all the buttons that used to keep my nerdy epic fantasy-reading teenage self awake at night thinking about boys, for better or worse. Hardworking girl with no allies left in the world catches the eye of the hot bad boy, toils away like a Disney princess until the hot bad boy is finally won over by her innate goodness, love follows. 15-year-old me is salivating. Also, just go ahead and buy the sequel up front, because this book ends on a giant cliffhanger and you're going to want to know what happens next.

 

North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell Don't read this. I mean you can. I love the story. But I can't get through it. There are just too many damn words. I feel bad as both a reader and a writer to say it, but there it is. Thank god they don't make 'em like they used to.

giphyDo, however, watch the BBC mini-series. It's 4 hours. It always seems to be on Netflix. It features Richard Armitage in a stiff collar, standing in a snowy courtyard, begging the woman he loves to look back at him as her carriage pulls away. Also, there's a young Brendan Coyle in a pre-Downton Abbey role, but we're all here for Richard Armitage.

Promises, Marie Sexton

7493186This is the first gay romance I ever read and it will be one of my favourites forever. It's contemporary romance at its best. Matt and Jared are just guys. There are no vampires. No bad boys.  No serial killers. No tartan. Just two people trying to find their way to love. I don't even know what else to say, besides read this book.

 

 

 

 

So there's seven recommendations for the next time you are looking for something old-but-new-to-you to read. Like all lists, I would debate some of the winners, and some of my favourites aren't there. What about you? How many of the hundred have you read? What's not on the list that should be?

#tbt Review - Hard Time, Cara McKenna

19091520I read a lot of older books. Not old books. Not Dickens or Melville (not often anyway). Just stuff that's not currently on the new releases page at Amazon. My TBR pile's enormous and I'm not much of a spender, so I'm constantly trying to catch up on stuff I already own. I've never gotten close to clearing the queue. I blame my writing habit for taking up my free time. Also my full time job that limits my available reading hours. So I've decided to introduce #tbt reviews, and maybe you'll find a few oldie but goodie titles to add to your gigantic TBR pile.

So Hard Time. Published in 2014. I actually read this one not long after it came out, but I re-read it recently and I'm inspired to gush.

The first time, I read Hard Time in a day. It was the kind of reading where you open up the first page, and suddenly it's three hours and 100 pages later and dinner's cold and it's bedtime, but you stay up for another hour anyway, even though you'll be wrecked in the morning. And then you read it over breakfast, squeezing every last possible second out of your coffee because you have to leave for work, but the foreplay...

OMG the FOREPLAY!!! He writes her letters!!!

All I can do is watch your mouth. I watch your lips and I think about kissing you, when I'm alone at night...Sometimes I watch your hands...I watch your hands and I imagine them...on me.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me back up a second.

The premise: Annie's a librarian recently moved to Michigan. She's in a romantic and sexual dry spell after her last boyfriend turned out to be a nasty drunk who never learned you don't hit girls. Part of her new job involves outreach at the local correctional facility. That's where she meets Eric, an inmate with a learning disability and a penchant for writing the most smoulderingly hot where's-my-chardonnay letters to poor lonely Annie.

Let's be honest. This book should not work. Lonely librarian. Felon with a sensitive side. Sexy pen pals. This book should die a lonely death on Cliche Hill.

But holy moly it works. I've actually even referred to it in other reviews on Goodreads. "For a better book on how to write sexy pen pals, try Hard Time by Cara McKenna." Yeah, you heard me.

So why does it work? A couple things stood out to me on this second read.

1. Eric's a believable as both a bad boy and a romantic

Bad boys are a thing in romance, I get that. But badly written bad boys are a massive pet peeve of mine. Either they're alpha douchebags who are apparently attractive for being uncaring of their woman's feelings but dynamite in bed, or else they're not really bad boys at all, just guys with labels and improbably huge vocabularies*.

Eric's a blue collar (at best) guy, and while his letters to Annie are Amazing with a Capital A, they're remarkably sweet and simple. He knows he's not much of a catch. He gives her an out at the end of every letter. But he has wants, he expresses them. Simply. He's not crude, but he also wouldn't know purple prose if it bit him in his well defined abs. And after he's released, he expresses everything, from his relationship with his family to his desire for Annie, in the same blunt way.  He doesn't want to be anything more than just a man who loves Annie and tries to do right by his family, and that makes him a well realized character in my opinion. Sometimes less is more.

And the other reason this book works is...

2. Annie's a real person with a sex drive

So the premise is that Annie hasn't had any interest in sex or being with a man since she left her previous relationship. That condition clears itself up right quick after Eric starts writing to her. You could argue that this is another example of a damaged woman being healed by the power of her man's magic love wand, but we've already covered that this book isn't going to die on Cliche Hill. And once Annie's sex drive wakes up, it feels fully awake in a human way. She's got some fantasies about dark brooding Eric doing dark brooding things to her, but he's really much happier when things are all sweet and mushy between them, and they have to work to find a balance. She buys her underwear at the Gap. She talks about masturbation. She's just like a real person!!

So lonely librarian. Romantic ex-con. Actual human beings with actual human feelings and preferences. That stuff's like catnip for me. If you missed it the first time around, take this #tbt recommendation and go back and read it now.

Here's some links to help you out:

Amazon

iTunes

*seriously. I tried to read another bad boy romance recently, but he kept saying things like "her mouth was hot and velvet as I caressed her with my tongue. We explored each other lazily" even though he had admitted chapter 1 he could barely read. So he's a drop out with a Regency lexicon? I chucked that offering out the window.