Tag Archives: romance

Class of ’59– John A. Heldt

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Class of ’59– John A. Heldt

Plot: 3/5        Characters: 3/5       Writing: 3/5       Entertainment: 4/5         World Building: 5/5

Mary Beth McIntire just wants a quiet summer in 2017. Mark Ryan wants to know what’s hidden in in the basement of the same house in 1959. When Mark discovers a key and a few mysterious crystals, he gets his answer and Mary Beth’s quiet summer is ruined thanks to his appearance. The summer vacation that follows was more than Mary Beth and her younger sister, Piper could imagine in this decade, or the fifties.

I want to preface this review by saying that I have the utmost respect for John Heldt. He breaths life into the past, his dedication to research and accuracy is admirable, and he clearly has a passion for what he does.

That’s probably why “Class of ‘59” felt like such a step down after “The Mine” and “Indiana Belle.” Especially “Indiana Belle.” 


To be fair, it’s as well researched and put together as Heldt’s other works. If you have any sense of nostalgia for the 1950’s, this is still definitely the book for you, but it could have been much more. While his other works had interesting conflicts and/or exciting plots, “Class of ‘59” felt like fluff show casing how great the 1950’s were. Both “The Mind” and “Indiana Belle” felt like well-rounded snapshots, so I was hoping for something similar here. What conflict exists is underplayed in favor of small talk and simply strolling around the era.

So, if you want to take a break and step into the 1950’s and like romance, “Class of ‘59” is a solid read. Like Heldt’s other books it’s also a good example of how to put together and execute a historical era. For you writers out there. However, if you’re looking for something with a bit more excitement, you might want to take a look at some of Heldt’s other work.

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Indiana Belle–John A. Heldt

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Indiana Belle–John A. Heldt

Don’t miss your chance to get Indiana Belle for free on Chirstmas on Amazon!

Plot: 4/5       Characters: 5/5       Writing: 4/5       Entertainment: 5/5       World Building: 5/5

This is the second novel of Mr. Heldt’s that I’ve read and I’m beginning to think he can do no wrong. His dedication to portraying history in all of it’s nuances, layers, difficulties, and beauty is admirable and his ability to craft brilliant and unique stories shines across the lines of genre and time alike.

When Cameron Coelho began his doctoral dissertation, he never expected to find a photograph of the beautiful Candice Bell, nor did he expect to fall in love with her. The possibility of stepping back in time to save her from an untimely death in 1925 never even entered his wildest dreams until he met her distant cousin, Geoffrey Bell, who just so happens to know how to time travel.

When I first read the description for this book, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. As some one who doesn’t usually like romance, I didn’t expect much. I figured Heldt’s world building would be just as good as “The Mine,” but the plot would be a passable indie love story as best.

Oh, boy. Was I ever wrong.

I was right about the world building, at least. Heldt continues to floor me with his expertly crafted depiction of the past. Not only does he paint wonderful, creditable scenes with his words, but he captures the 1920’s in it’s entirety. Yes, the Roaring Twenties were new and exciting, but it wasn’t all jazz and flapper dresses for everyone. I don’t want to give anything away because I really want everyone to check out this book, but as someone who’s biracial–White and Black–I really appreciate the other half of my heritage being acknowledged in this time period. I feel like the experience of Black Americans is often over-looked when talking about history outside of the Civil Rights Era, so I really appreciate that Heldt included that experience and handled it well.

Not only is the history well done, but it’s woven in with the story beautifully. The two work together to create a unique and unforgettable narrative with plenty of twists, turns, and a climax that will have your heart racing and pages turning.

And then there’s Candice. Oh my days, is Candice Bell a delight. Anytime she’s in a scene she absolutely steals the show. She captures the sense of independence that the 20’s are so often associated with, but still stands out as her own own character, making her the strong female protagonist romance novels so often try to create, yet so often fall short of doing, in my opinion. In fact, if you writing romance, or if you find you struggle to write women regardless of genre (which is a longer conversation for another day), check out Indiana Belle for Candice alone. She’s worth it.

So, whatever you usually read–romance, historical fiction, mystery, sci-fi, you name it–take a break and get whisked away to the 1920’s with Indiana Belle no time travel required.

My Fair Assassin–C.J. Anaya

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My Fair Assassin–C.J. Anaya

Plot: 4/4       Characters: 5/5       Writing: 4/5       Entertainment: 4/5       World Building: 4/5

My Fair Assassin is a rare gem in the Paranormal Romance genre. The two main leads are both enjoyable, the writing is engaging, and the alterations to traditional faerie lore lend themselves to some fun and creative world building.

Crysta has come to accept that she’s strange. For years she’s tried to hide her white hair, strange powers and pointed ears in hopes of finding an adoptive family with little luck. Now, at seventeen, she’s chosen to be on her own, but her independence is short lived when an assassin from another realm appears in her living room. While his intentions of killing her seem clean cut, the more he learns about her, the more complicated their relationship becomes.

As someone who was in high school when Twilight was getting big, I honestly thought I’d seen it all when it came to YA Paranormal Romance. I’m so glad Anaya proved me wrong.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I actually really liked Crysta. She’s a rarity all on her own in that she’s a girl who is legitimately not like other girls, resulting in a personal struggle that my heart broke for. Normally I roll my eyes at these kind of characters, but Crysta’s struggle for belonging and identity felt real and sympathetic, making her a character I would actually like to see teen girls exposed to and sympathize with.

Her relationship with Jareth, the assassin, is pretty great as well. Their interactions are funny and genuine. Nothing feels forced or contrived. Every line of dialogue and interaction feels like a real interaction between two people, even if one is an assassin sent from Faerie. In fact, if you write YA, especially romance, I recommend you check this book out for Anaya’s use of dialogue.

Her take on Seely and Unseely fae seems interesting as well, all though I can’t say too much about it since we don’t actually get to see either of the courts. However, as someone who’s seen a fair amount of them in urban fantasy (heck, I’m even working on a book about them), it was nice to have a different take on the lore. I’m actually really curious to read more about them in future books.

I just wish the actual romance held my interest like the rest of the book’s elements. As great as the rest of the book was, the actual romance felt a tad bit cliche. What do romance writers have against letting couples fall in love like normal people? I don’t understand it.

However, I do acknowledge that it’s a matter of personal taste and a symptom of the entire genre more than an error on Anaya’s part, so I’d still highly recommend giving it a read, even if you’re not usually a fan of Paranormal Romance. There’s still plenty of great stuff there to enjoy, so if you’re looking for a quick light read with some great characters, fun dialogue, and an interesting take on Faerie, give My Fair Assassin a try.

OUT TODAY!!!: If I Could Turn Back Time–Cindy Cowles

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OUT TODAY!!!: If I Could Turn Back Time–Cindy Cowles

Plot: 2/5       Characters: 3/5       Writing: 3/5       Entertainment: 3/5       World Building: 2/5

“If I Could Turn Back Time” is a passable love story. Due to its short length and the fact that I’m not usually one for romance, there’s really not much else to say about it. For the sake of a decent word count I’ll add that that the title made me want to break into song every time I turned on my kindle, but I’m not sure how useful that information is.

Sarah is a college senior who has carried the weight of regret on her shoulders every day for the past four years. When a heart-breaking news story brings her pain back to the surface, she’s uncertain how to process it or why it’s come back to haunt her in the first place, but that all comes to screeching halt when she wakes up to find herself at home, four years in the past. Now it’s up to Sarah to right past wrongs, make new choices, and even save lives.

The premises is interesting and relatable enough. Who hasn’t wished they could back and make different choices if they had the chance?  The idea lends itself to a lot of creative scenarios, especially since Cowles placed the story in the future, and great character development, but due to the book’s short length (152 pages to be exact), very little of that is taken advantage of.

                The characters are believable enough, but we don’t get a lot of time to get to know them or, more importantly, come to care about them. Sarah’s internal struggle has a similar problem in that the reader can understand why she wants to change things, but she does it so fast and with such ease that there’s never any sense of urgency. The writing is good (with the exception of some misplaced quotation marks and odd formatting choices), but I don’t think I’d recommend anyone read the book for its craft alone like I have with books in the past. Over all, the elements come together to make an okay, but not great, read.

                So, if you’re a die-hard romance fan, have enjoyed Cowles’ other books, or just need a quick read, you might enjoy “If I Could Turn Back Time.” If you’re looking for something with a bit more meat to it, you might want to keep browsing. 

Moonchild-Kate L. Mary

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Moonchild-Kate L. Mary

Plot: 4/5       Characters: 4/5       Writing: 5/5       Entertainment: 5/5       World Building: 5/5

With its captivating setting, riveting plot, and heart-pounding action, “Moonchild” is a much needed breath of fresh air in the world of YA fantasy. I’d say the same in the context of New Adult fantasy as well since the novel teeters between the two, which works to its benefit. Whichever age bracket you want to put it is, mature YA or NA, “Moonchild” is an original, creative, and exciting read whether you’re familiar with the world of steampunk or not.

Scarlett Moon lives on the streets of a world where computers are a sin and airship rule the skies. Those in control are controlled in turn by corruption. Those who go against them are sent to the coal mines to pay for their crimes. When her best friend, Rory, meets such a fate, Scarlett’s life begins to crumble. Even after she and the rest of her friends are rescued by a band of coal-smuggling pirates, Scarlett finds it hard to fix the invisible walls she has built to protect herself. Among the pirates is the dashing Asher Kimura, who only makes Scarlett’s efforts all the more difficult. When she discovers that there might be a way to save Rory, Scarlett will have to put her friend’s life before her own, even if it means leaving herself vulnerable to Asher’s charm and affection.

There’s so much great stuff in this book that it’s hard to know where to begin.

For starters, the setting is a lot of fun. It blends steampunk and the post-apocalyptic genres together seamlessly and brings something new to both categories, which is refreshing seeing as the post-apocalyptic side has been sufficiently milked. The world that Scarlett inhibits is so vast and vivid that it lends itself to a lot of future stories and creative set ups. The characters that inhibit this world are fantastic as well. While not the most memorable, they all offer something important in every scene they’re in. If they’re not moving the story forward, they’re offering insight about the world around them, providing foils to other characters, or helping to build conflict. They each have a job and they execute it perfectly.

I liked Asher in particular.  It takes about two paragraphs to figure out that he’s going to be Scarlett’s love interest, but Mary does a wonderful job making him just as believable and likeable as Scarlett. If anything, he’s more believable and likeable than Scarlett, but I’ll talk about her soon enough. I especially like the way Mary uses Asher to explore some mature themes that you wouldn’t expect from a book like this. That little detail gives “Moonchild” a depth that transcends its genre and intended age group (even if that detail is still a little fuzzy).

The main conflict ensnared me from start and I was thankful for the route it took. In the first few chapters, I was worried that “Moonchild” was going to be another “Hunger Games”/“Divergent” clone, but despite its small scale in comparison to the rest of this new world, it proved to be exciting, captivating, and emotionally gripping, much to my surprise. That is due in no small part to the magnificent writing. Both the narration and the dialogue do a great job introducing the reader to both the world and the characters. Despite the newness of it all, nothing feels like exposition. Everything feels like natural storytelling. The entirebook flows like a bullet train heading for a destination you can’t wait to reach, even if the scenery outside is immensely enjoyable.

Despite all of “Moonchild’s” strengths, its protagonist, Scarlett, was rather disappointing. To be fair, she really shines in the action scenes. She’s a headstrong force to be reckoned with and has no trouble getting her hands dirty. In the quiet moments, however, she begins to fall apart. She suffers from that “strong female character” syndrome where “strong and confident” is confused for “emotionless and cold.” Normally I’d shrug it off, but she’s so incredibly bad at it that she started to get on my nerves. She spouts Queen Elsa-esque rhetoric of “Conceal, don’t feel,” but she never seems to follow it. She’s constantly letting her negative feelings color how she sees people and situations and ends up making bad choices because of them. If she were fifteen or sixteen, I might have just made a footnote about the discrepancy, but she’s nineteen. If she’s going to give into emotionally-driven recklessness, Mary should have just called it than rather than hide it behind the need for a “strong female character.” It would have made Scarlett a bit more mature and likeable.

Thankfully, Scarlett is only one piece of an otherwise expertly crafted novel and I won’t deny that she could mature over the course of future novels (which I would love to read, just so you know, Kate L. Mary).

As a whole, “Moonchild” is brilliant. The world is fascinating and vibrant, the characters are enjoyable, the conflict will have you desperate to see the end, and the brilliantly written first-person narrative is worth taking a look at in and of itself. If you’re a long-time fan of steampunk, post-apocalypses, mature YA and NA, or even if you’re new to all of it, I highly suggest you pick up “Moonchild” and get swept away on an air ship. I’m sure it’ll be an adventure.

 

Originally posted on tabbyafae.com on August 20, 2016

“Love Stinks”: A Cynic’s Look at the Romantic Genre

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“Love Stinks”: A Cynic’s Look at the Romantic Genre

Despite popular mockery and academic criticism, it continues to outsell every genre, including Classic Literature, year after year. In 2014 alone, Americans spent 1.08 billion dollars on these books and it has sparked some the most popular, and most hated, franchises in the last ten years with no signs of slowing down. I’m, of course, talking about Romance: A genre I have spent my entire adult life avoiding like the plague.

Mention Nicholas Sparks and my eyes nearly roll out of my head. Any talk of “50 Shades of Grey” makes me cringe. Bring up “You Before Me” and I just about have a hernia. Romance has always been a genre that earned my skepticism and annoyance, if not flat-out scorn, depending on the book. Its appeal just never made sense to me.

Before I go any further, I feel like I should mention that I don’t actually think love stinks. I think Jamie and Claire in “Outlander” are the ultimate power couple, I’m happy Katniss ended up with Peta at the end of “Mockingjay,” and the only “Walking Dead” characters I still care about are Glen and Maggie, but those relationships all take place within a bigger story. It’s when the whole catalyst for a book or movie is romance that I don’t understand and its huge popularity flat out baffles me. So, like any modern day free-time scholar, I hit up Google to see if I could find some answers.

The first and least believable hypothesis I came across is that the appeal of romance boils down to biology. At first glance, it makes sense. Our culture teaches that women are relational creatures who want stable marriages with men that would provide for their children, as opposed to men who are said to be visual and supposedly have to be dragged into such relationships, so it makes sense that books designed for women would focus on romantic relationships that lead to commitment. A study that appeared in the Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology in 2009 looked at 15,000 Harlequin romance novels and, just by the titles alone, concluded that women go to these novels because of the strong, financially secure heroes that could easily provide for and protect a family (“Friday Weird Science”). However, on a closer look, this idea falls apart.

For starters, the study itself doesn’t hold up. The words features in titles that feed into the marriage-and-baby hypothesis don’t actually show up that frequently. The most common word in this category, “Bride,” only showed up in 5.5% of the 15,000 titles. Other words such as “Baby,” “Marriage,” and “Husband,” showed up even less frequently. So, even though those were some of the most common words, I don’t think they were common enough to say these ideas are what draw women to romance. This also signals another issue with this hypothesis: there’s too much variety. The fact that there are so many subgenres signals that these books are written to appeal to multitudes of different women from different sub-cultural backgrounds. If the appeal was based on women’s biological need for marriage and children, there would be more consistency in the love interests’ personalities and backgrounds across the subgenres. Instead, each category speaks to different women’s taste and, to some extent, their desires and fantasies.

The second explanation, which I think holds more water, is that romance allows women to fantasize about what they desire from romantic partners, particularly when it comes to sex. This especially makes sense considering how expansive and, shall we say, creative the erotica genre is on Amazon has come to be. Not to mention the (rather unfortunate) overnight popularity of “50 Shades of Grey.” It’s no secret that our culture breaks into a moral panic whenever women, both famous celebrities and the girl next door, express any interest in anything remotely sexual (Ungar-Sargon). We, as a people, dislike the idea so much that we’ve created a whole slew of hateful names and terms for such women. So, why not retreat into the pages of a book to explore such desires free of any judgment?

There’s also the fact that there aren’t any real consequences with reading romantic fiction. Readers can run away with the hero, fall in love then shut the book or turn off their e-reader with no harm done. Many books are even written for such a purpose. A lot of romances feature heroines that are described in relatively little detail so that the reader can place herself in her shoes while, on the other hand, the hero is described in excruciating detail (Fisher). Stephanie Meyer has even said that’s why she wrote Bella as such a lifeless pawn I mean a blank slate. It allows the reader to put themselves in her shoes and escape to Forks, Washington for a while.

As much as I think this theory has an element of truth, I think its applicability is rather limited. As popular as erotic fiction has become, it’s only one subgenre of romantic fiction and, while sex may be a part of the others, it’s typically only a very small portion of a story that focuses on much bigger elements of a relationship and life in general. There’s also the fact that half of romance readers are already married (Rodale). You can’t seriously tell me that most of those women are desperately looking to escape the relationship they already have. So, there has to be more to explain romance’s appeal to so many women. There must be a reason there are so many diverse stories, character backgrounds, and love interests, despite most of them ending in “Happily Ever After.” Turns out, the answer was right in front of my face: these are hopeful stories about women.

Over the years, romance has gotten the bad rap for being about helpless damsels who constantly need to be saved, but the more I think about it, the more I think this is pretty unfair. There are plenty of helpless, useless, downright aggravating women in other genres, but their genres aren’t given nearly as hard of a time for it. Many people who read and write romance cite the popularity of terrible titles for the reputation, which, given just how truly terrible hot-button romance titles have been in recent years, I’m inclined to believe them. These authors and reads also talk about how most romance novels today feature working women, emphasize the importance of economic independence, and, in a world of hook-ups and dating apps, there are still good men worth waiting for (Bateman).  There’s also the fact that romance fiction reinforces the validity of women’s wants and needs in a time when something so basic and universal is politicized and sometimes even villainized (Crusie). If a woman wants to advance her career, she’s somehow neglecting her family. If she wants to focus on being a mother, she’s too dependent on her husband’s paycheck. If she wants marriage but doesn’t want kids, she’s selfish. If she has a checkered past, no matter the reason, she’s “broken” and unworthy of love. Romance, as a huge, diverse, and ever-changing genre, takes all of that, throws it to the wind and tells the reader that truly happy ending are possible, but in our increasingly cynical culture, that hope is seen as a bad thing.

One argument against romance that I’ve heard repeatedly, and that I even believed until doing this research, is that such hope is unrealistic. It’s much more believable for stories to end in some element of tragedy. However, life isn’t just made up of tragedy any more than it’s made up purely of happy endings. Well-written romance (and yes, by now, I’ve read a few for research’s sake) aren’t usually made up only of happy things, anyway. They tackle complicated real-world issues in the context of a developing romantic relationship and, more often than not, the protagonist and her lover triumph together over these issues the end. This results in a reoccurring theme that crosses sub-genre and audience distinctions alike: “We can be happy. Regardless of who we are or where we’ve been, we’re worthy of love, redemption, and personally fulfillment. Happy endings are real.”

That raises an interesting question: when did the idea of happy endings in the real world become something so unbelievable that reading about it became something to be mocked and scorned? That’s a question that will take more soul searching and research than I have left in this article to explore.

So, after all this reading, research, and thought, can I say I like romance? Absolutely not. I still prefer my books filled with magic, explosions, action, new worlds and concepts, and mystery. And the “You Before Me”-induced hernia is still a real possibility, let me assure you. However, I can see the appeal of the genre itself. It lets women explore sides of themselves and walks of life that are often either considered taboo or they have limited access to. A reader can pick up a romance novel and explore how love and courtship work on the other side of the world or in an Amish community, my grandmother’s personal favorite, or they can figure out what turns them on. More often, however, they can catch a glimpse of the world in a brighter, hopeful light. They can imagine endings where women, who might be very much like them, can find love, happiness, and fulfillment in a larger culture that’s constantly telling that such desires are unrealistic or impossible. It’s hope such as this that makes both the romance reader and writer worthy of admiration rather than scorn, even if their tastes might differ from our own.

I only got to really explore three reasons why women read romance, but I’m sure there must be more. Leave a comment below with the reasons you like or dislike romance, regardless of your gender. I’d love to see what you think!

Work Cited

Fisher, Maryanne Ph.D. “How Much Do Romance Novels Reflect Women’s Desires?” Psychology Today. 16 July 2010. Web. 01 July 2016.

Bateman, Freddie. “Why is the Romance Genre so Popular?” Linkedin. 15 May 2015. Web. 01 July 2016.

“Romance Reader Statistics.” Romance Writers of America. 2014. Web. 01 July 2016.

Rodale, Maya. “Who is the Romance Novel Reader?” The Huffington Post. 07 May 2016. Web. 02 July 2016.

Crusie, Jennifer. “Romancing Reality: The Power of Romance Fiction to Reinforce and Re-Envision the Real.” Paradoxa: Studies in World Literary Genres. Number 1-2, 1997: 81-83. Jennycruise.com. Web. 03 July 2016. 

Ungar-Sargon, Matya. “Can You Enjoy Romance Fiction and be a Feminist?” Aeon.co. 25 Sept 2015. Web. 03 July 2016.

“Friday Weird Science: The Evolutionary Psychology of the Romance Novel.” Scienctopia.org. 21 Dec 2012. Web. 03 July 2016. 

Featured image from clipartpanda.com

Article originally featured on tabbyafae.com on July 28 2016.

Someday Girl (The Someday Series: Book 1)–Melanie Shawn

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Someday Girl (The Someday Series: Book 1)–Melanie Shawn

Plot: 3/5       Characters: 4/5       Writing: 4/5       Entertainment: 3/5

          “Someday Girl” is a well-written, heartfelt love story and a great introduction to the New Adult genre.

Cat Nichols has needed to get out of her famous mother’s shadow for some time now. Moving away to college happens to be the perfect opportunity. As Cat’s life fills up with great friends and interesting classes, she begins to see herself  in a new, healthier light. Then, she meets Jace Butler, the sexy bartender with shadows of his own and an infatuation with Cat that won’t let up. Can Cat and Jace outrun the shadows holding them back from starting a new life together, or will they be swallowed by the demons that lurk there?

As someone who doesn’t usually like romance, I have to say that “Someday Girl” was pretty good. Both Jace and Cat are well fleshed out and believable enough. They play off each other okay. Not great, but okay. Instant infatuation just isn’t my cup of tea when it comes to writing devices. It sort of defeats the purpose of making the characters get to know each other in my opinion.

I really appreciate that Jace is a genuinely good guy, despite his rough past. He never uses what has happened to him as an excuse to be mean or hurtful to Cat or anyone else. If he had turned out to be a total jerk because of what he’s been through, I probably would have stopped reading. My tolerance for manipulative/abusive love interests has been at “0” for some time now. He does inevitably mess up, but you can see why he makes the choice he does and he eventually sees where he goes wrong, which was great to see in terms of character development.

The writing is also well crafted. The narration alternates between Cat and Jace’s point of view and Shawn does an excellent job giving them their own voices. She doesn’t just rely on telling us who’s talking, like I’ve seen in many books. She actually gives both characters distinct idiolects that work great for their personalities and backgrounds. Alternating narrators takes a lot of effort, trial and error, and attention to detail, so kudos to Shawn for pulling it off so well. I just wish the great writing could have made Cat’s self-perception a little more original and creative.

In Shawn’s defense, she does a great job explaining why Cat sees herself the way she does, but I really wish she would have tried a little harder with the resulting insecurities. There’s a few mentions of her feeling a bit awkward in social settings, but most of the focus is on how Cat doesn’t see herself as beautiful. She sees herself as smart and capable, but for some reason she can’t realize that she’s physically attractive. It usually wouldn’t bother me that much–just about every young female protagonist seems to have this issue and I doubt that’s going to change–but everyone constantly harps on her about how gorgeous she is. Apparently Cat is kin to Aphrodite herself, so if she could go against what she’s been told and see that she’s intelligent, what was stopping her from realizing she was pretty before Jace showed up?  If Shawn had focused on one particular physical shortcoming—or if the protagonist actually had a physical shortcoming for once—it could have worked, but as is, Cat’s insecurity about her appearance feels flat and doesn’t garner any sympathy from me as a reader.

But, like most romances, the most important element of the book is the interaction and relationship between the two leads, with Shawn does really well, both through the characters themselves and her excellent writing. So, if romance is your thing and you’re looking for something to read, give “Someday Girl” a try.