I Am Buried in Romance Books by Filipinos (And You Should Be Too)

If you’re like me, you’re probably familiar with the agony and ecstasy of having a gigantic book pile. You’re probably also familiar with its random growth spurts, triggered by book sales and events like the recently-concluded Manila International Book Fair.

Want to know the reason why I was quiet for a long time? It’s because I was trying to embark on a clearly fruitless quest to make a dent in my pile of books.

To be fair, this wouldn’t be so hard if I didn’t have to work. Or sleep. Or eat. The spirit is most definitely willing, but my flesh is weak and I find myself just staring at (without actually seeing) pages so often that I sometimes just give up and go on YouTube instead.

Give me some credit, though. Over the last few months, thanks to the amazing people in #romanceclass, my bookworm self has been nourishing itself with loads and loads of romance books written by super talented Filipino writers. And I’m quivering with feels because they’re so good.

Wanna browse my current bookshelf? Here are the books I’m currently reading (or have read recently):

Sexy Suspense – The Takedown Trilogy

Image from romanceclassbooks.com

I’m swept up in Bianca Mori’s Scorched Earth (the third book) right now, and I’m equal parts afraid of it never ending—because the stakes are so high—and afraid that it will—because that means I’ll have to say goodbye to Peyton and Carson. I mean, how can you NOT love two characters who have complex souls and a complicated attraction to each other? I’m finding it hard to not spoil this book for everyone else because there are so many cool bits here.

5 word summary: Clandestine operations and European travel

Buy it here: Print

LGBTQ Love – Another Word For Happy and Don’t Tell My Mother

ReadinginBetween_Another Word for Happy and Don't Tell My Mother
Images from romanceclassbooks.com

I read these two books by Agay Llanera and Brigitte Bautista back-to-back because…well, it just felt right to do it that way. And frankly? I’m so freaking happy that I did. Even though it felt like I got heavily punched in the feels at certain points in these books (for a person who has near-pathological attachments to her family, the parent issues were so painful), you ultimately get some catharsis at the end. If you’re going to read these books, please read them one after the other. They’re enlightening and satisfying.

5 word summary: Coming of age and LGBTQ

Buy Another Word for Happy here: Amazon Smashwords Print

Buy Don’t Tell My Mother here: Amazon Print

Strange Romantic Realities – Wired Differently

Image from romanceclassbooks.com

Describing all the feelings I have for this book by Chris Mariano is tricky. Quite frankly, I’m still digesting it all even though I’d read this a couple of months before. Something about it stuck with me, burrowed into my bones the way “Instructions on How to Disappear” did. All I can say is that all the pieces are beautifully written and wonderfully structured. It pretty much blew my mind and my soul, and I think it should be required reading for everyone.

5 word summary: Chris Mariano is a genius

Buy it here: Amazon Print

Beautiful Body Positivity – If the Dress Fits

Image from romanceclassbooks.com

I’ve been beating myself up for not buying a copy of this book by Carla de Guzman sooner, since I’m a huge fan of fabulous girls who are totally okay with who and what they are. Martha definitely falls into that category, and damn if I didn’t relate to her from the beginning (in which there were lots of yummy, yummy takeout). I’m not plus-sized, but I do like to eat and there are people who feel the need to comment on that. And then there’s Max, who reminds me of a human puppy even though he’s actually a veterinarian. This book is so good, you guys!

5 word summary: Food, family, fake boyfriend, doggies

Buy it here: Amazon Smashwords Print

Of course, I’ve read tons of other books over the last several months; and the only reason why they weren’t featured here is because I binged by author and I can’t pick just ONE from their work (I’m looking at you, CP Santi). Someday, I might start writing full-blown reviews for each of them again.

But right now, I just want you to know that these beauties exist and that they deserve your money.

To find more awesome romance books by Filipinos, visit #romanceclassbooks

2 Ines Yao Books You Should Read Back-to-Back on Valentine’s

I’m back (sort of)! Viruses felled me and I didn’t get as much as I wanted done last week, but at least gave me time to savor some great books. 

Two of those books happen to be perfect for Valentine’s Day. The best part? They’re connected to each other!

Ines B. Yao published “Only a Kiss” in 2014, and its prequel “When Sparks Fly” came out in 2016. I was psyched to find copies of these on nearly the same day. I love reading stories set in the same universe, so being able to read them back-to-back was bliss for me. 
I had the luxury of reading these chronologically, story-wise. It really worked for me, though you don’t really need to do that to enjoy either book. But I really recommend that you guys read these back-to-back for Valentine’s because the characters just suck you in.

“When Sparks Fly” is about Regina and Ben, who felt an instant connection when they first met. Unfortunately, Regina’s insecurities plus Ben’s…interesting track record with women make the road to their happily ever after bumpy.

“Only a Kiss”, on the other hand, follows Regina’s little cousin Katie and the long and complicated road to romance she and her best friend Chris took. I can still help but compare it to “Saving Sally”, minus the abuse storyline.

My only real complaint over these books is that they should have been longer. There were so many interesting characters and plot points that I felt could have been explored a bit more. And the inclusion of all those made parts of the story feel rushed in light of the length. Those bits didn’t get to breathe.

Apart from that, though, you get complex characters with complicated emotional journeys, grand romantic moments (I want that restaurant in “Sparks” to exist), and great humor. Those more than made up for the hiccups.

Seriously. Read these for Valentine’s Day.

You can find Ines Yao’s books in National Bookstore – I think her newest release there is “All That Glitters” – and on Amazon.

Just Finished: “Savor” by Kate Evangelista

ReadinginBetween_Savor

*gasp* Are you seeing this right? Am I actually writing a book review? After all this time?

Well yes. Because I’m crazy nuts about this book. But first, a bit of background:

Ever since I joined #StrangeLit I felt like I had to read more Filipino genre writers (outside of the Komikon stuff—I’ll get into that some other time, after I get through what passes for my Komikon haul). It’s not very hard for me to find Pinoy authors now, by the way; the very act of joining the workshop introduced me to a bunch of great writers.

One such great writer is #StrangeLit mentor Kate Evangelista. We were required to read one of her works prior to the class, and I became an instant fan.

Which is why I bought a copy of her book “Savor” as soon as I saw it in National bookstore. Took a while to get to it thanks to my mountain of books backlog; but when I finally read it…let’s just say I lack sleep and am now WAY behind on my writing revisions.

ReadinginBetween_Savor

Totally worth it, though. Read on to my review!

Continue reading

The Thing About My Romance Preferences

As you should all know by now, I’m a ridiculously big fan of romance stories.  I like reading about two very unique people who get to know each other and (this is the important part) find a way to make the relationship work WITHOUT compromising their principles and independence.  Hotness is a bonus factor that is very much appreciated, but not necessary.  The important part is the believable connection forged between the characters.  That doesn’t seem all that difficult, right?

Actually, I think it is.  Because as much as I love romantic stories, I also acknowledge that a good number of the ones I come across are…well, they’re disappointing.  It’s not about the plots being stagnant (seriously, EXACTLY HOW MANY Greek tycoons/Sheiks/Lords are out there falling in love with spunky American/Australian/British brides anyway?) or that they’re unbelievable.  It’s mostly about the falling in love process being unbelievable, the actual story of how one sort of person falls in love with another sort of person under certain circumstances.  The fact that many of these stories fall back on the OMG instant attraction tactic without following it up with, I don’t know, ACTUAL CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT, is a little bit frustrating.  It may be just me, but in my experience stuff like that doesn’t typically end in a “happily ever after” kind of marriage – it culminates in something horrible like divorce or, at the very worst, marital abuse.

Assholes in Romance
Of course, the women fight this – but they stay anyway because…I ACTUALLY DON’T KNOW.

They sell remarkably well, of course, because who doesn’t like the idea of reforming a bad boy/asshole?  Nevertheless, I think there are some ways to go about this that won’t, essentially, piss me off.  For example, said reformation needs to be credible and not just “Oh wow the power of her love/vagina!”  And maybe, just maybe, it shouldn’t involve an asshole whose only boon in his character is that he doesn’t hurt animals.

…if I think about it hard enough, maybe my MAJOR peeves about popular love stories is that they’ve become so LAZY.  Man meets woman and they clash, which apparently means or leads to attraction.  Then they have a bonding experience of some sort (a child, calamity, stalker, whatever) that reveals just how much they really care for each other – this typically involves one saving the other from some catastrophe.  After that, they have the cheesy confession time (sometimes, they are well-written, but they’re often overly-sentimental drivel that don’t even seem realistic given the context AND the characters).  Possibly, you get an epilogue in which they’re expecting their first child.

The worst ones for me are the ones in which the chemistry between the characters was not properly established AT ALL.  I mean yeah, physical attraction’s there, but what about the emotional and personal connection?  The exploration of HOW they can make the relationship work beyond their feelings in the bedroom?  See, I understand how personal conflicts between two characters can make a story interesting.  But unless you reveal some particular non-superficial values that these characters share, you will not be able to make ME believe that they will have happiness forever after.  Unless you can prove to me that the chemistry between these two people isn’t as volatile as you first implied, I cannot in good conscience buy into the story you just wrote.  And I realize just how terrible it is to have some standards when it comes to something as simple as love stories, if only because the sheer volume of these works means I will be disappointed again and again.

Of course, there are romance novels that I absolutely love.  One of them is this:

UK cover of Just Like Heaven
I think I read this every three months.

Not everyone is into Regency romance novels – and to be truthful, it’s rarely my cup of tea, too.  I tend to be picky with my Regency romance authors.  But Julia Quinn came into my life one day and just made things shiny with her Bridgerton series.  THEN she published Just Like Heaven, and pretty much nailed everything I wanted out of a good love story.

The main protagonists didn’t have the sudden and explosive physical attraction to each other at the beginning of the book, and the thing that brings them together is not necessarily the fact that one saved the other’s life – it’s the recognition, in each other, values that they themselves find important (in this case, it’s family, which is a theme I love in my romance).  Of course, it’s the utterly adorable fact that Marcus and Honoria both have a weakness for sweets.  Their love story is, with the exception of the sprained ankle, extremely undramatic but utterly believable in its quiet inevitability.  Marcus is his own person, as is Honoria, even though their are both shaped by their relationship with Daniel Smythe-Smith (friend to the former and brother to the latter who has his own, less satisfying, novel; it was only saved by Hugh Prentice).  Together, they are still themselves but more.

Of course, this book isn’t perfect – it had some continuity issues that I, as a fan of the entire Quinn universe, was a little disappointed by – but the error was not as important as the story of the relationship itself.

Happy Kitty
So maybe I’m no so hard to please with romance novels after all.

I guess my point is this:  while I don’t expect perfection in my romance novels (despite the fact that they’re supposed to be perfect escape fantasies), I still want them to make the relationship believable.  I need to believe that the happily ever after for the two characters I just “traveled” with can last long after  I’ve finished reading the final sentence.

Maybe I’m just that kind of person, and I’m hoping that there are more romance books out there that cater to people like me.

Is that crazy?