I’m Reading the Remember When Trilogy by T. Torrest

I have a habit I’m sure others can understand: sometimes I download a book, start to read it, and for whatever reason . . . I’m not feeling it. Maybe I’m not in the right mood. Maybe I’ve just finished a book that really slayed me, leaving me unable to be open to a new love.

Who knows?

But it happens. And apparently it happened earlier this summer, when I downloaded a book called Remember When. I know I started the book, but for some reason, I didn’t get very far. I’m thinking maybe Sarina or Kristen or Elle had a release about that time and I jumped into that.

Anyway, this week as I trolled the ‘Zon for something new to read, I found a book that intrigued me. It’s called Down The Shore, and of course that pulled me in, since I’m a Jersey girl myself and know exactly what that phrase means. True, this love story was about North Jersey, which any respectable Jersey girl knows is a totally different beast than South. But still. It was also about rock n’ roll and the early ’90s and cover bands, so I decided to give it a shot.

I LOVED this book. The main character pulled me in, her love interest was sweet and hot and wonderful, and the juxtaposition of the friendships was also very cool. Great storyline, wonderful, familiar setting . . . all in all, a wonderful read that I was happy to recommend to my friends.

About halfway into the book, I realized that its author T. Torrest was also the author of the Remember When books. 51OKFbC+kcL._UY250_And since I already had that first one downloaded, I decided to give it another shot.

I’m so glad I did. And I’m pretty sure T. Torrest is trying to kill me.

Just this morning, I finished the second book. The third one is downloaded and ready to go, but today I’m on the road, heading home from a family trip north. So no reading today . . . and then I’m under deadline . . . but still. Odds are I’ll be losing sleep to finish this trilogy.

And no pressure to the author, but this book better bring my two characters together . . . I’m dying here!

This trilogy follows Layla Warren and Trip Wilmington from his first day at her NJ high school during their senior year. The first book is all about the ups and downs of that senior year, how their friendship evolves and then crashes and burns when Layla’s certain Trip can never feel the same way she does. They manage to get it back together, but be warned: this book doesn’t end with a HEA. Not even a HFN. But that’s okay, because there’s book 2 . . .

. . . in which our leads have aged ten years. Are they together? Will they be together? Yes and it’s unclear. Because book 2 ALSO ends on a down note.

But I have faith. And I’m sure the author won’t let me down. Right?

I’ll be sure to let you know.

Find all of T. Torrest’s books here.

I’m Reading the One Week Girlfriend Series by Monica Murphy

<12345>You know my latest reading trend has been New Adult sports romances . . . I tore through Cora’s Rusk University books, Sarina’s Ivy Years, Kristen Callihan’s Off Campus books. . . and my next logical step was Monica Murphy’s series.

To be honest, as I always am with you, it took me a while to get into book 1. I didn’t feel like I could relate to either character until about halfway through the book. I’m happy to say I persevered and was glad to see improvement in all areas in the subsequent books.

Last night I made it to Four Years Later. I wasn’t sure how I’d like it, but wow! It was my favorite yet, and I just fell totally and absolutely in love with Owen and Chelsea. I couldn’t put it down.

Owen is a flawed character for sure–the younger brother of the female lead from One Week Girlfriend. Owen’s messing with drugs, drinking too much, letting his grades slip and getting suspended from the football team–and lying to his big sister about their no-good mother showing up again in his life. Still, we know Owen cares; he’s struggling to do the right thing, even when it feels way too hard.

As I’ve said here before–girls in college, if you want to get yourself a hot athlete boyfriend, be a tutor. Because once again, that’s how uptight and super-smart Chelsea–a girl with secrets of her own–meets Owen. She knows he’s not what she needs, but that doesn’t matter–because he’s what she wants.

They go through the typical ups and downs, but as always in these books, there’s a healthy realism. Chelsea and Owen struggle with their demons, but ultimately, they realize that they’re stronger together. (Everyone now, say it: awwwwwww . . .)

Now I did discover there is a follow-up book to their story, called Five Days Til You. I’m not sure I can handle it–I don’t like more angst for my people after they’ve made it to their happily-ever-after. But you know I’ll read it anyway.

If you haven’t delved into any of these series, I encourage you to check them out–great writing, awesome stories and amazing characters. What more can you ask?

I’m Reading The Mistake by Elle Kennedy and The Friend Zone by Kristen Callihan

I was trolling the ‘Zon last week when lo and behold, I saw that The Friend Zone by Kristen Callihan had been released! I gobbled it up–you might remember that Kristen wrote The Hook Up which I’d found earlier this year. I was so excited to read this book, and it didn’t disappoint. I absolutely loved the relationship between Ivy and Gray and the easy way it developed. Both were well-rounded, believable characters, likable and real. I was thrilled with the bumps along their way and how they were resolved. It was a story worthy of the huge hangover it gave me.

I sighed as I finished, flipping back onto the home screen of my Kindle, and I blinked in surprise and then glee–because there was The Mistake by Elle Kennedy, the follow up book to The Deal. It was like a miracle . . . a reader’s miracle.

While I was enjoying it, though, I was surprised to come across a familiar name from another book. Drew Baylor? But he was a character in The Hook Up. I loved it, though–characters crossing worlds. How cool! So imagine how giddy I was when I reached the end of the book and found out about a very cool Facebook group that lets fans of some of my favorite authors hang out and chat!

The Locker Room celebrates the books and characters of Cora Carmack, Elle Kennedy, Kristen Callihan, Monica Murphy and Sarina Bowen. It’s a dream come true.

So to recap: this week’s books were both excellent follow-ups to the fabulous first books. Both were deep and sassy love stories, deep and realistic characters, men who make us all go ga-ga and women who are more than capable of kicking a little ass.

What could be better? So glad you asked. All Played Out, the Rusk University book I’ve been waiting for over the last months, finally hit my Kindle last night. You know what we’ll be discussing next Wednesday.

Sigh.

Signed,

One Really Happy Reader

I’m Reading The Shameless Hour by Sarina Bowen

We’ve been playing with a theme here the last week or so: strong females, sexuality and how it’s all portrayed in contemporary literature, more specifically in New Adult romance. The book I’ve been reading over the last week is a perfect example of how that’s done well.

You might remember I read the first two Ivy Years books last month and really enjoyed them. I was thrilled to see this new installment come out in April, but since it didn’t involve the main characters from the first two, I was a little worried. Happily, the story was so good and the characters so very engaging that I was immediately captivated. But what drew me in even more was one of the main themes of this novel: healthy sexuality and the role of shaming in our culture.

Bella, the female lead, is an unabashedly sexual character. It’s clear early on that she’s perfectly comfortable with her own body, with her sexuality and with a series of partners. She’s the hockey team’s manager, and she’s definitely more at home with men than she is with girls; we notice that she doesn’t really have any female friends, and the attitudes of the hockey girlfriends are less than warm. Still, the fact that Bella doesn’t feel shame–and in fact celebrates her choices–makes the reader comfortable with her, too.

When she encounters her upstairs neighbor Rafe needing some cheering up, Bella does what comes naturally. His response–or Bella’s perception of it–in the weeks that follow shake her convictions, but what happens next nearly destroys her life. I won’t spoil it, but the way the author weaves this story, subtly showing how easy it is to jump to judgement in situations we don’t understand, is remarkable and extremely well-done.

The juxtaposition of Bella’s open sexuality and that of the men at her school, and how both of those are perceived by others, is eye-opening. (More on that Thursday.)

From a strictly-story point of view, this was fabulous. The love story is gently developed, with believable ebbs and flows. Bella’s evolution and maturity is also nicely done, and I’m excited that one of the related characters will have her own story! (Yay! More Ivy Years!)

If you haven’t tried these books yet, I highly recommend them. Actually, I can’t say enough good about them. One click ’em now.

Sex, Power, Feminism and the New Adult Heroine (Part 1)

Now is that a blog title or what?

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This might seem a little weighty for a Thursday morning, but it’s been on my mind for a while, and I think it’s worth talking about.

When the New Adult genre first began to emerge a few years back, there was considerable confusion in both the author and reader worlds about what defined this type of book. Was it age of characters? Age of readers? A specific type of situation? Or, as some began to insinuate, was it the enormous amount of sex happening in these NA romances?

The answers have been slow to come out. Most of us agree that NA means the main characters are post-high school and pre-30. That’s a fairly wide gap, so we might further define it via situation: the characters are usually either in college, just out of college or in a situation (job or otherwise) happening in place of college. Age of readers is immaterial; as in YA, the readership for New Adult romance spans from pre-teen (yikes) to senior citizenship. As for situation, most of these books showcase characters in transition, either physical, academic, emotional or relational.

Sex? Yeah. Most–not all–NA tends to feature a lot of that.

But for me, it’s not the amount of sex in an NA book that’s intriguing. It’s how the sex is handled. I’ve discovered that in my favorite stories, the female leads have one thing in common: a healthy sexual attitude and appetite. Thinking about that led me to another line of questioning: why is it that until recently, a healthy attitude about sex in a female lead who was under 30 and/or unmarried usually signified a character flaw in that woman? We were okay with the heroine fawning over the hero’s eyes or voice or his take-charge attitude, but most of the time, she wasn’t checking out his other, ah, assets. On the other hand, they male leads were all about the curves in their love-interests; it was perfectly okay for the hero to exhibit obvious signs of sexual interest in the girl, but rarely did we see likewise from the women. Her heart might pound, or she might feel butterflies in her stomach, but we didn’t delve too far into what was going on in other body parts.

And most of these books also faded to black during love scenes. The only female characters with overt interest in the bedroom activities were the ‘bad’ girls, and you knew damn well those gals weren’t getting the guy–he was reserved for the dewey-eyed good girl.

I’m happy to see that changing. Nowadays, we’re seeing female leads who take charge of their own choices, including sexually. They’re comfortable with their bodies and with finding pleasure. Most are mature in their decisions, being both responsible and sensible.

Now, I’ll say right here that I’m not coming out as an advocate for premarital sex or suggesting that the choices made in books are necessarily right for all girls. The only one who can make a good decision for a young woman is that young woman, hopefully with the guidance and counsel of her mother or other wise relatives/friends.

My point is that books are now offering a wider option of role models. There’s no longer only the virgin or the slut; New adult has opened the door to the advent of the sexually-confident and responsible female. While we can find these women in a growing number of wonderful books, I’ll spotlight a few that have impressed me recently.

Sarina Bowen’s The Ivy Years series is a terrific example of healthy sexuality, explored in a matter-of-fact setting. If you’re a fan of NA romance, you really must read these books. My favorite is probably the one I just finished, The Shameless Hour, in which the female lead is unabashedly sexual and sexually active. Over the course of the book, she experiences numerous attempts by others to change this in her, and how she deals with it was extremely well-done.

My own journey as an author of NA romance has been a learning experience. When I began writing, I wrote young adult books, and I was happy not to have to tackle the sex topic. I’ve been married to the same man since I was 20; we’d been dating since I was 17. I have three daughters, and I wanted to write a story that they could read (and even though they’re older, two of them don’t read books with sex!). I had no doubt that Tasmyn and Michael would wait until they married, and that decision worked for them . . . until we came to Restless and Rafe got in on the action–figuratively speaking. Rafe is probably one of my most sexual characters, and for him, being with Tasmyn and sensing her reluctance to touch him was a blow. Tasmyn’s experience with Rafe played into her relationship with Michael in Endless, where both of them are tempted to take their physical bond to the next level. Of course, they don’t, because these are YA books.

Best Served Cold was my first NA romance. I struggled with the right balance for Julia; she was undeniably attracted to Jesse and they did have a sexual element to their relationship, but it wasn’t actually consummated until the end of the book, mostly because Julia had been burned by Liam. Through flashbacks, though, we learn that their sex life was probably the healthiest aspect of Liam and Julia’s relationship.

But it was probably the process of writing Undeniable that opened my eyes. Joss, Rafe’s love interest in that book, was an unknown quantity for me at the start. I knew what her role was, but I didn’t really know her. Once I began writing the story, suddenly Joss blossomed into a main character whose assertiveness and independence helped shape the plot line. She was the perfect foil for Rafe, the hot guy who’d just spent a summer sleeping with a different woman every night in his attempt to forget Tasmyn. And Joss was also a nice difference from Cathryn, who presents herself as aloof and almost cold (although those of us who’ve read Stardust on the Sea know differently!).  Joss is comfortable in her sexuality. She knows she can enjoy Rafe without being in love with him, though maybe this doesn’t quite work out the way she’d planned.

Writing Joss was so freeing for me as an author that it changed my subsequent NA romances. Joss made way for Ava, who lusted openly for Liam even when she was wracked with guilt–it wasn’t a sexual guilt. And Meghan is clearly comfortable with her own desire; she makes no secret of her feelings for Sam, even when he can’t handle it yet.

Writing Flynn and Ali’s story was especially fun, because through the flashbacks, we get to see them discover each other. Their honesty and frankness helped them in the future, when they needed that re-established connection. And even Rilla, as protected and innocent as she is, responds eagerly to Mason.

So how does that increased sexual assurance translate into a twenty-first century feminism and female and empowerment?

Come back next week and we’ll talk about that.