Favourite romance reads of 2016

2016 has got to be the year of the romance novel for me. I must confess sheepishly, that I was one of those people who rolled their eyes at romance novels, declaring them silly and shallow. And yet, I started out my readaholic journey with romances -Judith McNaught, Danielle Steele, Linda Lael Miller and Jude Devaraux were my starter romances. But I began to pooh pooh them after being bitten particularly hard by the literary bug, where I declared fiction that did not change the world was not worth my while.

Fortunately, I have recovered from such delusions and rediscovered the magic of romance novels this year after deciding to read one to break my fiction reading slump (from 2010, I only read non-fiction). Well, golly, it worked and I was swept away by the beautiful magic and I just couldn't stop after that! Here are my favourite romance reads of 2016:

1. CAPTIVE by Grace Burrowes
Hero was tortured for two years by the French. He comes home damaged and well, a little crazy. One day a distant relation - Gillian - comes to his estate and literally bullies him back to health. I love Gillian's strong, no-nonsense personality, and Burrowes captures the pain of PTSD really well. And the hero has got to be the most gentlemanly and kind hero I've ever met. They don't make them like this anymore.

2. NO LONGER A GENTLEMAN by Mary Jo Putney
Again, Putney never fails me! And yes, another hero that was tortured by the French. Hahaha. But the hero is kickass - she literally yanked him out of prison, and together they trudge through dangerous French territory back to England. I literally sighed at the end of the novel - it was that good and I would buy a physical copy just to hug it.

3. A MOST DEVILISH ROGUE by Ashlyn McNamara
I was attracted to this novel because of the cover. No, I'm just kidding. Mine was the super boring UK cover, so there wasn't any sexy butts. But again, strong heroine, who had to face society's condemnation for daring to get pregnant out of wedlock. The hero is a man who sees something beyond her stained reputation. Then there's that convenient cave during a storm. Hot. This is definitely a new author to watch for. 

4. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST by Eloisa James
Sometimes supermarket sushi is what I need, and I definitely love this because of the hero, who is gruff and absolutely rude and without tact. Fortunately, the heroine is as tough as he is.

5. FITZHUGH series by Sherry Thomas
I read the three books of the series in one day - that should tell you how good it is. Yes, yes, miscommunication and lack of talking abounds (like as if we real-life humans do that so well), but the relationships feel very deep and real. The three books, actually, read like one, entwined tale.

Most disappointing book:

TO HAVE AND TO HOLD by Patricia Gaffney
It started so well, Gaffney is an amazing writer, truly. Then the hero tells the heroine: "Don't make this a rape". Yes, it's one of those Old Skool romances where rape is ... I'm not even sure why it's there, really. Was it supposed to be romantic? Sexy? Hot? It was none of that for me and the hero was utterly irredeemable to me after that first rape scene.

 I am surprised that so many people would call this book a classic, and one of the best in the genre. Those who support and talk highly about the book say that the author was painting the picture of a less-than-perfect rake, that as a rake he was what he was. But then, why wouldn't the author paint a real picture of a rape victim? Would a rape victim marry her rapist with love in her eyes?

Perhaps I'm too modern for this book. Perhaps I'm too enlightened, having watching two documentaries of women fighting hard to punish those who raped them, and having society disappointing them again and again because society didn't believe them. Some even thought they deserved it.

After watching these documentaries, there was no way in good conscience can I call this book amazing, enlightening, complex or whatever claptrap description its supporters have foisted on it. This book is perpetuating a dangerous idea in women's heads: That there can be romance after a man rapes you.

Review: Happy City

Finally, after a string of blah reads, I score something truly amazing. I have always loved books about sustainable living, minimalism, and this book combines both of my loves.

Montgomery tells us that happiness is not an accidental thing - sometimes it can be caused by design. Urban living has torn apart village living, tossing people into isolated McMansions, taking away their freedom of mobility without dependence on fossil fuels and thus causing a ripple effect of unhappiness throughout society. But as inspiring as this book is, it's also frustrating because - there are so many things that the powers that be are doing wrong! If only Montgomery was in charge of urban planning. Ha!

But the good thing is the author doesn't leave us stewing in frustration, wishing that we lived in Vancouver or Amsterdam. 

He acknowledges that a lot of work has to be done before the urban sprawl can be repaired and village life be restored, but there are still ways to bend the city to your needs, or to change your life to get that village life you've always craved.

That's why I identify most with Conrad Schmidt, a man Montgomery interviewed, who changed his life bit by bit by instinct. Like him, I felt strangely unhappy in the urban sprawl that was the Adelaide suburb of Colonel Light Gardens. After visiting New York City in the 90s, I've always dreamed of living in the heart of a city; it doesn't matter what city, I just wanted to live where the action was, and where everything is within walking distance.

When I returned to Malaysia, by happy chance I got the opportunity to live in the heart of a small satellite city, something I've been dreaming about for a while. My apartment is a few blocks away from malls, a light rail transit station, a park, a great gym, a community book exchange and wonderful cafes. I made friends with the cafe owners, I walked daily to get my groceries and took trains to the city - I only drove my car to work, and even then my work enabled me to escape the insane KL traffic as I worked odd hours, so work is only a quick 15-20 minutes drive away. 

I've also downsized, got rid of much of my possessions, lived in a much tinier space. All this has a ripple effect in my life. I'm exercising more, spending less, and more content with my neighbourhood. I've never been happier in my life. And now I understood why!
Instinctively, like Conrad, I've re-engineered my life to make myself happier. 

This book also made me realise that maybe Malaysia is heading the right direction - at least in Selangor. The popularity of mixed developments, where residential places are above commercial areas, and light rail transits which snake through these neighborhoods makes me glad. Perhaps one day, one of our cities will be one of the most livable in the world too.

Verdict: This book could help you build a happier life for yourself!