Well, hello, all; it’s that time of the month again. Yup, the time when we wow you with the talents of assorted FTBers, partly just because we can but also partly because we’re hoping some of you might be persuaded to donate to our ongoing (and, thanks to you, reasonably successful) efforts to pay off the SLAPP lawsuit from a few years ago, which you can read all about here (long version; previous link is the short version).
This month, as you might have noticed, the theme is ‘Darwintine’.
(Picture courtesy of Iris.) We’re blending Darwin’s birthday with Valentine’s Day and providing contributions related to evolution, love, or both. Thus, several of the bloggers are collaborating on a story chain with the title ‘Natural Selection‘, several are writing fiction for the prompt ‘The Descent of Man’, and I believe that our very own published poet, Megan Rahm, is going to be providing a reading of some of her erotic poetry. I don’t have that level of talent myself, but please do go and enjoy the work of those who do!
However, I have thought of one appropriate contribution that I can make to the spirit of the day and the blogging platform. You know I’ve been putting all this time into picking apart a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad romance novel? Well, today, just for once, I’m going to do the exact opposite. I’m going to review a couple of romance series that I really love, and that promote healthy views of relationships and progressive views on social justice issues. And, if you have your own recommendations, please chime in in the comments; I would love to make this a yearly thing and have more to review by next year.
First up: the ‘By The Numbers‘ series (serieses?) by Abigail Barnette, who is none other than Jenny Trout writing under a pen name. (Yup; that’s the Jenny Trout whose partial snarkreview of ‘Beautiful Disaster’ is what got me into snarkreviewing ‘Walking Disaster’.) ‘By The Numbers’, which most of the readers probably think of as ‘the Ian-and-Penny series’ (or is that just me?), is a spin-off double-series from Jenny’s Sophie Scaife series.
Quick bit of backstory for anyone interested: This all started as Jenny’s reaction to her snarkreviewing of the notoriously appalling ‘Fifty Shades’ series; a couple of books into the nightmare of dysfunction and abuse that is the three book series, she realised that, if she set out to write a romance in the exact opposite way, she’d end up with a feminist romance. She gave it a shot, and ended up with first a novel and then with what ended up being a six-book series about a woman who falls into a BDSM relationship with a billionaire and ends up marrying him; all from a feminist, sex-positive, pro-LGB viewpoint, with lots of issues being explored. It’s a good series but it’s not actually the one I’m talking about here, although by all means check it out.
The one I’m actually talking about, ‘By The Numbers’, is a spin-off about two minor characters in the initial series, who start a relationship after Sophie matchmakes them. There are some problems from the start, of course: Ian’s a cynical recent divorcé not sure he’s ready to get back into dating again, Penny’s had some rough experiences that have left her confidence badly shaken, and, on top of all that, there is the smaaaaalllll matter of an age gap of over thirty years. But… despite all of that, it quickly turns out that Ian’s respect and thoughtfulness are just what Penny needs, Penny’s bubbly enthusiasm is just what Ian needs, and, when you add in that they’re mad attracted to each other and love being together, well, this might not be the most obvious relationship but it’s one with a real future. And, because they’re both willing to talk and to listen and (with some hiccups) to deal with the problems that arise, they manage to make it together.
Here’s what I love most about it, although I realise this isn’t for everyone: it’s one of those series written from both points of view. Each book is written twice, once from each viewpoint. (Jenny deliberately wrote them this way from the start and published each pair together, rather than one being a spin-off from the other.) Now, I don’t know about you guys, but I love reading stories from both viewpoints like this. And Jenny does it beautifully; the contrast between the two sets of reactions is sometimes hilarious, sometimes poignant, sometimes enlightening, and always worth reading.
A bonus is that they’re also trans-positive books (not a major theme, but there’s this thread running through of ‘trans people exist and that’s cool’, which I think was nicely done).
I love the characters and these books; they’re one of the series I keep coming back to and reading over and over when I want something to relax with. I don’t know whether Jenny still has fourth books planned in the series, and she might not – although that was what she originally planned, the third books do have a pretty clear happy ending – but I do hope so.
Aaaaand now for something completely different… C. L. Lynch’s Stella Blunt series. (‘Chemistry’ and ‘History’ with ‘Biology’ still upcoming. Spoilers in the descriptions at that link, by the way, especially for the second book.)
This, again, is a series that got written as a result of the author looking at a terrible problematic romance series and deciding to write the exact opposite. Clearly that’s a winning formula. In this case, the particular romance series that inspired this author to write a romance as different as inhumanly possible was ‘Twilight’. This series also starts out with a teenage girl having to move across the country and hating it even before she meets the guy in her science class who’s acting weirdly, adores her, and happens to have a really unusual secret. Oh, and with a brief initial flash-forward in which our heroine is facing imminent death. And that, dear readers, is where the similarities end… well, except for when they occasionally get brought in again for the deliberate purpose of snarking ‘Twilight’. For one thing, when Stella faces imminent death she starts wielding a chainsaw.
On the slight off-chance that I’m not the only person in the world who doesn’t realise the plot twist in ‘Chemistry’ in advance, I won’t spoil it for you; read the books and find out for yourselves. What I will tell you is that these books have snark, interesting comments about other books, a fat heroine with a fat-positive approach, the most adorkable cinnamon-roll love interest, incredibly cool parents, a call-out of ablism (though that’s not till the second book), a really positive gay/interracial relationship, scenes that quite literally had me laughing out loud (which is not something I do easily), suspense, and some brilliant plotting. What more can anyone ask for (other than, of course, the third book in the series to get published already, HINT HINT C.L. Lynch)?
And there you go. My recommendations for this Valentine’s Day. If you’ve read them already or if you read them on my recommendation, please let me know what you think; and if you have others you want to recommend, as I said, please do so! I’m well aware that both of the series(es?) I just recommended do feature white cishet couples, so if anyone knows of great romances involving more diversity, or great romances by more diverse authors, I would definitely appreciate that. Meanwhile, I wish a happy and love-filled day to you all.