Kini Allen (Smexy Books) and Andrea discuss Time Served, a steamy second chance contemporary by Julianna Keyes. We cover “unlikeable” heroines, social class/Otherness, steamy revenge sex, and why it’s ok to like books in which characters do problematic things.
Kini Allen (Smexy Books) and Andrea discuss Time Served, a steamy second chance contemporary by Julianna Keyes: a lawyer who made it out of her rough neighborhood reconnects with her ex-con ex. We cover “unlikeable” heroines, social class/Otherness, steamy revenge sex, and why it’s ok to like books in which characters do problematic things.
CW: Boundary-pushing, consensual intimate encounters are discussed.
From Instagram: B.andherbooks, Now_Booking, Boobiespodcast, AddictedtoRomance, Amanda_Baller
From Twitter: Ainsley Wynter of Tarth, Lisa Donaldson, Booked and Busy
Booked and Busy - Twitter
Ainsley Wynter of Tarth
Featured Romance Book Club:
[00:00:00] Andrea Martucci: Hi, thanks for joining us for episode 5 of Shelf Love, the book club where we talk about romance novels and how they relate to our personal lives relationships and the society that we live in.
Each week my guest and I discuss a different romance novel and also share crowd Source contributions from other romance read.
I'm your host Andrea Martucci and I've been reading romance novels for longer than Billy Eilish has been alive. I'm recording north of Boston. And today. I'm joined by Kini Allen from Smexy Books. Kini is a romance novel reviewer and active participant of romance. Recommendations flow from her like water from a tap.
If you live in the greater, Washington DC area, you can find her at local book events like the Maryland Romance Writers 10th at the 2019 Baltimore Book Festival, which is coming up soon on November first to the Third. Our book pick today is Time Served a steamy contemporary by Julianna Keyes. I do want to warn you up front that this book has some problematic elements and boundary-pushing intimate encounters, which we will be unpacking.
I realized when editing this one that we never said the word class but a lot of our discussion of character conflict in time served is essentially about social class in America. This is also a second chance for romance. So we are going to have lots of recommendations for other books that you may like with Old Flames reconnecting in Trope Town at the end of the episode.
I'll let you know all about the exciting upcoming guests and book picks plus an in-person romance novel book club. You might want to join as always this podcast contains explicit language and mature themes.
Kini Allen: I don't really have a clear recollection of like the first time I read a romance. I think I read one probably in my late teens and like I wasn't really ready for it then. I was too kind of thinking like they were bodice rippers and they weren't for me. So fast forward into my early 30s, and I was reading a lot of women's fiction and it just got really expensive. Like I had just gotten an e-reader and I was just reading a lot. So on my Nook I started searching for like lower-cost options and I was reading.
Like maybe some Jill Shalvis and some other authors that I don't really remember and then I read Jenny Crusie and I was like this genre is for me. I'm here for all these romantic comedies with like a happily ever after and that's been about 10 years since I've been reading romance pretty hardcore since then.
Andrea Martucci: And so what's your local bookstore if you if you do go buy a physical book. Where do you go?
Kini Allen: One of the [00:02:30] stores that's closer to me or close-ish to me is One More Page. It's outside of DC and the staff there is fantastic. They've been holding romance events. They're just really upbeat. They're really friendly and welcoming to romance readers and just everybody in general.
I'm in like central western Maryland. Yeah, and so I will be doing some of events, some panels with Maryland Romance Writers in November at the Baltimore Book Festival.
Andrea Martucci: Have you done anything at the Baltimore Book Festival before?
Kini Allen: I have so last year. I was on a couple of panels one of them with like Kate Clayborn a couple of other people and of course, I'm like blanking out right now, but it's a really fantastic event.
They have like panel. They have signings. It's free. It's really it tends to be really intimate because the crowds aren't always very big. So it's a fantastic way to meet authors. Like I think this year and EJ Christopher would be there Alexis Daria. I mean like a lot of Maryland local authors. So I'm a huge advocate for it.
Andrea Martucci: It sounds like you have quite the contingent of Romance Writers in that area.
Kini Allen: So when I first started reading I didn't know like a lot about like romance Twitter or any sort of organizations, especially not locally and as I got involved and started connecting with people, I just found out that there's so many authors local, like Andy (J. Chrisopher) even the New York authors. They come down. It's not too far like Alexis Daria like Avery Flynn is close by I've met her a couple of times and so it's great for some of these like local type events to see these authors and even bloggers that are local and it feels very like, close-knit sometimes
Andrea Martucci: So: print to digital reading ratio.
Kini Allen: I'd say about 95% digital 5% print. I just I love reading in bed and with the lights off and it's so easy to highlight and turn the page and my Kindle weighs like next to nothing. I do get a lot of print ARCs or galleys from publishers. So I'm trying to be better about reading those. You know, I still just prefer my Kindle.
But there's still a lot of value and print books. I still love them like the one that I'm talking about that I just got it's a galley of Love lettering by Kate Clayborn and it has like this soft touch finish on the cover and it just feels so nice like my Kindle doesn't feel like that. So,
Andrea Martucci: Right.
Kini Allen: Yeah, so it was just a nice feeling to read that.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah, there is something very nice about having the tangible object, especially with [00:05:00] beautiful as well. Look I think most of the time I'm just too impatient and yeah, I decide I want to read a book and I'm like, I need it now.
Kini Allen: Yeah.
Yeah, thank you e-publishing for that.
Andrea Martucci: So what's your favorite romance Trope?
Kini Allen: So I have a feel marriage of convenience as a big one that I love fake dating which I think is kind of related to marriage of convenience. I really like friends to lovers, Second Chance At Romance, marriage in trouble is one of my absolute favorite tropes. I wish we saw it in the more.
I just think there's something special about seeing a relationship that's struggling. I mean because it feels like sometimes in these books, it's very easy to fall in love, but with the marriage in trouble you have to work at it and make it last so I really like that seasoned romance. So characters over 35 or 40.
I'm over 40. So after like as I've gotten older it becomes a little bit harder to read books where the main characters are 24, 26 even 28.
Andrea Martucci: I remember as a young woman always thinking 28 seems like a really great age. Probably because in every romance novel The heroine was like 28, right and it was like, wow, what a great time in my life. Can't wait to be there. Now I'm 32 and I'm like, oh my God, I'm older than these people now what's happening? Yeah, and also when you read the books with the 22 year olds. Oh God. Nothing makes you feel older than the concerns of a 22 year old.
Kini Allen: Right and so my son is 23 and so reading characters that are like 23, 26. It just feels like oh my gosh, I could be this character's parent. I don't want to read this. So yeah, so all that also to say like I hardly ever read new adult anymore and like I read a book recently that I really liked, but I had to like age up the character in my mind because I just I wanted her to be older.
I joke about this all the time. Like I used to say like I never am going to read another billionaire book and like every now and again one comes across my way that I'm like I have to read this billionaire book. So it's the same thing with like younger people like I don't actively seek them out, but I'm not going to be like, oh this book sounds fantastic, but the heroine is only 24. I'm not going to read it.
Andrea Martucci: So yeah, and I mean you really should stop being so [00:07:30] discriminatory against billionaires like they can't help it.
Kini Allen: I know I know
Andrea Martucci: I mean they probably could help it but it could give you their money away. But
Kini Allen: Exactly it's not their fault that they have all that money.
Okay. So Julianna Keyes. I discovered her like when she first was a debut author. I'm pretty sure it was a post on Dear Author that I read that tipped me off and she had like a couple of self-published books before she was published with Carina that I read and like right now I don't really remember them because if this was probably like 2014.
That's a long time ago, especially in book world, you know. I've probably read hundreds of books since I first discovered her, but at this point I've read almost everything in her catalog. So I feel like. I'm semi knowledgeable. She writes these really flawed characters, which is one of my favorites and they're not perfect at the beginning and they're not perfect at the end.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. She actually says on her website, she talks about that a little bit where she says "I like characters with flaws characters that complement each other, contrast with each other, and ultimately find a way to coexist. I like to see them fighting and making up and falling in love in the process. I don't consider that hair that frizzes in the rain or a penchant for clumsiness flaws in my heroes and heroines. Sometimes do things that aren't perfect or adorable, but they do learn from their mistakes and they repent and I think that's what's truly important."
I really enjoy that that's her philosophy of writing and I want to talk about this concept of unlikable quote-unquote heroines or heroes, but I think particularly readers have trouble with unlikable heroines because I think a lot of times the heroine is like a stand-in for yourself, in the story. And if and if you're you know, if you see yourself in that person, I think that's harder. I think this goes into the conversation that I think we'll probably have later where fiction is not reality. Right? Like we don't have to be friends or think we would be friends in life or think that we are the character to kind of enjoy seeing the conflict.
I think ultimately all of us if somebody wrote the book of our lives, I think also it would be full of troubling things that we've done or mistakes that we've made and ultimately [00:10:00] it's not so much -- I mean there are some very egregious mistakes that people can make but most of the time mistakes that we make and sometimes those mistakes do hurt other people, as long as you learn from those mistakes and work on yourself and you're kind of constantly improving. I don't know, that sounds like The Human Condition.
Kini Allen: Yeah, absolutely and unlikable heroines is like one of the things that I'll get on a soapbox about because I think as a society we are so tough on women what we expect from them what we expect from ourselves this idealistic notion that women are nice and kind and pretty and we do only good things and then if you don't then you're terrible, you're a bitch, you're a whore like there's no middle ground, right and that's not true that I mean, I think that's like the idealistic version the version that were sold as young women that were sold by the media
Andrea Martucci: And women are punished if they don't fit into those roles.
Kini Allen: Right. Absolutely, you're punished. If you're not fit into that you're cast off you're whatever, you know, and it's terrible but the heroine in this book she's not perfect. She's kind of mean sometimes, she really struggles with herself what she wants out of life who she thought she is and I think that that rings much more realistic to me than the heroine that you know, like comes out of college and just goes into her job and everything is sunshine and rainbows and everything is perfect. And there's a place for that, like that story is fantastic and I've enjoyed many of stories like that, but that's not, that's not my favorite type of story anymore. And what the unlikable heroine. We're just so tough on heroines especially even in Romancelandia, you know, a lot of times people will say, oh she was so rude or you know, if she had sex with somebody before like she's a slut she doesn't deserve the hero and it's like what?
Andrea Martucci: Yeah.
Kini Allen: So all this to say like, I think Keyes, think she really captures unlikable heroines imperfect people, but her heroines they make bad choices sometimes and they do try to grow from them. They do try to do better and that's not to say that like I said, they're not perfect at the end. Love doesn't -- it's not a magic cure. There's no magic penis in her books [00:12:30] it just.
They're just better and they do they complement each other and they try to it seems like they try to work through it.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah, I think that with all difficult characters that people perceive to be difficult to like or other problematic things that happen in writing -- and we will talk about some of the problematic things that happen in this book.
I think that as long as it's well written and the character motivations make sense you get away with it and it can still be enjoyable and I do think that Julianna Keyes builds characters-- her writing is great and she builds characters where you're not ever wondering why they're doing what they're doing.
She really explores the why and oftentimes she has the main character saying things and then saying "she lied" like "I'm not mad about this she lied" and I love that insight into the character. And they are told --this book Time Served, is told in first-person, but only ever Rachel's point of view.
Kini Allen: Right. So single point of view
Andrea Martucci: The main character Rachel grew up in this small town about -- is it two hours from Chicago, and grew up in kind of a trailer park in a kind of depressing town where nobody gets out and she's desperate to get out, leaves in the middle of the night to go to college and leaves her boyfriend Dean and doesn't even say goodbye. She loves him, but she is worried that if she has to say goodbye that she won't be able to leave and do what she needs to do to kind of move on with her life and be successful.
So we're ten years later. She's a successful lawyer in Chicago at this big deal law firm, and she runs into the guy that she left behind, Dean, and shortly after she skipped town he went to prison for a crime. It was an armed robbery where he was not the one committing violence, but I believe you know, it was a it was a holdup. So guns were involved. So, you know, it's complicated but he spent about eight years in prison and has now been out for a while and his life is basically exactly the opposite of the future Rachel was hoping to have but there is this connection between the two of them and they start engaging in a what starts as kind of like very complicated revenge sex and then just becomes "let's be lonely together, but we're not in a relationship" sex and then evolved into something else and there's lots of unresolved guilt lots of anger. Lots of revisiting [00:15:00] of the past and dealing with it. So that's Time Served.
Kini Allen: Yes. That's a very good high level overview of this book Thank you.
Andrea Martucci: You're welcome.
So there's a couple of major themes as you probably can guess. So the first one is second chance, they were boyfriend and girlfriend for two years in high school and loved each other. And here they are 10 years later and they never even really broke up. So needless to say there are unresolved feelings.
Kini Allen: So when they reconnect she's working as a lawyer as you said and she's investigating a case kind of like an Erin Brockovich type of thing like a large class action suit where people were getting sick. So she's in this like outskirts of Chicago and she's in like a bodega. Getting empanadas or something and she runs into Dean and you know, there's a little bit of that whole kind of like romance-y eye rolly thing happening like okay, but I got over it very quickly and they reconnect and like instantly she feels like some sort of connection him because like you said their high-school romance never really ended it just kind of stopped. There was no closure. Dean wants to, he I think like at that first encounter, he says like call me or something and she's like no. She's pretty adamant that she's never going to see him again because she really wants to close the door on her past. She's a mixture of I think ashamed and embarrassed and just felt like it was a no-name town that she had no options there and by looking back at it that she's going to get trapped in it again or something.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah, I think her main style for relationships up to this point in her life is just avoidance.
Kini Allen: Yeah,
Andrea Martucci: She leaves town in the middle of the night and she can't even manage a phone call back to anybody to say. Yeah. I left for these reasons because she is unable, I think, to deal with that conflict or she worries that she will crumble under that conflict and not do what's best for herself and instead maybe do what's best for another person.
Kini Allen: Right? Right, and she talks a little bit like the character a little bit about like her relationship with her mother and I guess her mother was an alcoholic [00:17:30] and there was no other parent involved and so she didn't have a great foundation it read like. So it's not like she was intentionally being mean but perhaps she never really learned how to deal with conflict and how to deal with people and by leaving that was her one chance for herself to do something for herself and get ahead. But I mean she didn't handle it very well.
Andrea Martucci: Admittedly did not handle it well and so with this second chance, they were I mean they were very young. Right and I think the main conflict that kept them apart the first time was I mean, it was like the town it was the situation that they were living in. She wasn't running from the relationship with Dean but he was part and parcel of that environment. He did not seem to have any problem with staying there and spending the rest of his life in the same situation.
And so I guess you could say that that's the main conflict is that she had greater ambitions from life and he didn't. So she's talking to him at some point about when she left and she says, "I'm sorry. I loved you more than anything, but I wanted a better life and I was afraid that if I return to Riverside, I'd lose everything I'd been working toward. You thought I'd hold you back? He says. You went to prison I want to point out but I just shake my head. I was afraid." So the "you thought I'd hold you back?" And she's like, um, hello you were committing petty crime every week you for sure would have held me back. Especially after you went to prison. I mean, what what was she going to do visit him in prison for eight years, right?
You know that just would not at all have helped her further the goals she had in life and you know, you can kind of say that the goals that she had were shallow and maybe not very well thought out but I don't think that her capacity to imagine a well-rounded life where she's successful, like I don't think that she had the capacity to imagine that she had no models for that in her life,
Kini Allen: Right. I don't think she had any healthy models for. For anything really like her mom was dysfunctional alcoholic. It didn't sound like there was a lot of opportunities in this town. For me as a reader, it felt like there's kind of like this gray cloud sitting over this town where she grew up and that's all based on Rachel's perception of it, but that's kind of how it read to me.
So she felt like she didn't have choices and she got a choice and she took it.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah, and I think that the second chance trope in general is appealing to readers because I think there's an element of wish fulfillment where in real life [00:20:00] a lot of times the reasons people break up, there's very good reasons why you broke up and very infrequently are people able to resolve those issues in such a way where starting a relationship again is a good idea
Kini Allen: right
Andrea Martucci: for both people. So I think there's a lot of catharsis for readers in seeing relationship issues resolved on the page with characters where you know, there is a very legitimate reason for breaking up. I don't think readers love it when the reason that they broke up in the first place is kind of silly and you know, you're like well good God if you would just talk to each other. And sometimes honestly people's inability to communicate is a barrier to having a healthy relationship. So I think Second Chance is really the ultimate fulfillment of seeing characters work through very real issues. Not just that keep them apart initially, but that keep them from being able to live a happily ever after or a happy for, happily for now future.
Kini Allen: Yeah. Yeah, and for me as a reader one of the reasons why I think Second Chance works well is typically because they're together when they're young like teenagers very early 20s, and it is kind of maybe maybe not quite as silly but it can be a silly thing that broke them up or because they're young and they just don't understand how things were life love and then you know, they go about their their their lives and then they reconnect and yet it definitely is like wish fulfillment.
Oh, this would never really happen in real life, but in this book it's working for me. It's making me feel some sort of way about them. And I want them to get their happily ever after.
Andrea Martucci: Musical Interlude
Before Rachel and Dean get their happily ever after, first they have a lot of angry revenge sex.
Kini Allen: Yes.
Andrea Martucci: I'm pretty sure this book is in total number of pages at least 50% sex scenes.
Kini Allen: Oh my gosh, so I read this book originally when it was published and like 2015.
I haven't read it since then so when I started reading it again, I was kind of shocked at how much sex there was, not in a bad way because it definitely fit the story but there's so much sex and it's so angry to start with you know, it kind of teeters on that line of being inappropriately [00:22:30] angry, but it works.
Andrea Martucci: There's a lot of emotion pent-up and I think that they're really not great at communicating with each other so they're communicating exclusively through sex.
Kini Allen: Right Dean is super angry that Rachel left him without telling him, without contacting him, you know, he's angry that she shut the door on him and her her life before and he takes it out on her with sex as like a punishment and she I guess on some level feels like she's due this punishment.
And so she keeps going back for more.
Andrea Martucci: So I think is why it works for me, where for the most part Rachel enjoys everything that is going on in the bedroom or not in the bedroom, in the hallway, wherever it's happening. And the few times he does something that does make her uncomfortable, she does tell him and they talk through that but the feeling of, her feeling like she deserves the punishment is the catharsis that she needs in that situation. And you know, obviously they get to a point where that's not the only dynamic that's going on. At one point Rachel thinks back to the their sexual encounters and she says "I think back to Dean's bossiness his coldness his control and what I thought was his determination to get the most out of his limited opportunity to fuck me, I now realize was his effort to work it out of his system to take back the power that you imagined I possess."
Kini Allen: I think I highlighted that same passage.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah, I think it's an interesting insight and I know you were talking about like the sex pact?
Kini Allen: Yeah the sex pact where they say -- I mean it can vary on how the sex pact works but essentially in this one how it kind of starts out is they're going to have sex the one time because Dean wants to get it out of his system and he feels like you know, once I have sex once then he can move on with his life.
And that's not true. We know that as the reader. That's basically what how they're kind of sex starts like she goes to him when she intends to go visit -- "visit" with someone else and
Andrea Martucci: Is that what the kids are calling it these days?
Kini Allen: Yes, and it's angry and she ends up walking away with a couple of bruises and I think I highlighted it here and she says "His eyes dart down to my hand. The bruises are just small yellow smudges now, I'm sorry. I grabbed you. I didn't mean to hurt you. [00:25:00] I mean fuck I did want to hurt you but not like that. I just I don't know. You want to hurt me? Dean's dark eyes flare. I just wanted you to know how I felt."
Andrea Martucci: And how I feel is angry.
Kini Allen: Right. I'm so angry that you left me. I'm so angry that you moved on with your life. Even though I feel like at the heart of it, he's not mad that she became like a lawyer and is successful. He's really just angry that she left him without telling him.
Andrea Martucci: I mean, he definitely resents her new way of life. I think ultimately because he thinks it's shallow and not actually a step up, like she has all the trappings of success.
She has a fancy apartment, nice clothes. She looks like she belongs in this world, but I think ultimately he sees that she's unhappy and tense and that's something you remarks on almost immediately from the beginning. And of course that's part of the sex pact like I'll help you relax, you know. Get some of this out of your system, so he's not wrong.
His way of communicating it and helping her understand it herself is not great, but he's not wrong.
Kini Allen: Right and I do want to mention because we're talking about this angry and revenge sex, at one point he does talk about how he had a fantasy of basically raping her anally, I I don't mean to laugh. It's not funny.
It's an odd part of the story and for me as a reader and some readers may have a hard time reading that or like accepting it but and having serious issues with it. For me it barely registered because by the time it really kind of came back up in the story, I felt pretty comfortable with knowing that Dean was into Rachel and that he, he may have had that thought but he didn't he wasn't going to act out on it. He didn't act out on it. The first time they have sex, he does, they do establish a safe word. He does kind of push her to her boundaries and with the safe word it kind of felt like Keyes was setting up very angry sex, very boundary-pushing but didn't take it too far for me as the radar.
Andrea Martucci: Yes. I believe there was definitely still an element of consent being openly discussed where Rachel did have the opportunity, and you did get the sense that Dean would respect her saying no --
Kini Allen: right.
Andrea Martucci: --Should something cross her [00:27:30] boundary and as I mentioned she does confront him afterwards about some of the behavior during sex and basically saying like that makes me uncomfortable, you know, don't keep going down that road, right and he accept it and does respect her boundaries. So
Kini Allen: right
Andrea Martucci: you know again, it's how the characters have been built. Do you trust that this person, Dean in this case, would not actually do it whether he thinks it or not.
Kini Allen: Correct, and I and I don't know if it's because I had read the book before that I felt very comfortable in knowing that Dean would not have acted out on those. I mean, I think that we can say that he's made some bad choices in his life. He went to prison but he didn't read as like inherently terrible to me.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah, and I think this gets into the topic of problematic behavior in romance novel characters, and I read this article recently in the Mary Sue by Jessica Mason and it was called "What you ship doesn't make you a bad person or a good one."
And she's talking about distinguishing between liking a story and wanting it to happen. And this is a quote "For one, stories would be very short and very boring if every character always did good things and made the right decisions. Fiction is about conflicts drama and mistakes and the reasons and consequences behind human behavior.
People make the mistake of conflating enjoying art with agreeing with what it depicts and that's just not how consuming media works. I like hurt / Comfort fanfic, but that doesn't mean I want to see my partner beaten up. I really enjoy Hannibal but that doesn't mean I approve of cannibalism." I think that this is a prime example where the reader and different readers have different things that they go for and I tend to be somebody who were like, I vacillate between wanting something that's like super feel good and then wanting something kind of darker and more complicated and -- not to say that feel good things can't be complicated. But to be feel good, the level of conflict is probably it's a very different type of conflict right, when we think about like why we read fiction, why do why are human being so obsessed with reading and hearing stories? And I think it's cathartic to experience these extreme emotions in a safe place within a story. And again, there's a place within the genre as long as, within romance, there's an emotionally satisfying ending and you know, and also the focus is of the stories on the romance. It's a romance novel.
I think there's a place within the genre for things that are [00:30:00] more of these complex, unlikable characters doing problematic things that we would never want a real relationship, and some idealized relationship stories where everybody makes fantastic decisions and it's kind of like a fantasy of what would that be like, that'd be fantastic there and there's everything in between as well.
Kini Allen: Agree wholeheartedly and I think the key though is that, saying like that, we recognize that these characters or these traits or these actions are problematic. You know, I think that's the key to it and saying like but yeah, but I still was able to enjoy the story because it is fiction. And yeah, I don't know that in real life I would tolerate a friend or you know partner that behave like this.
But this isn't my life. This is fiction and the story drew me in and I read these problematic people during problematic stuff and I liked it
Andrea Martucci: And it's fine and we don't need to apologize for it.
Kini Allen: No, no. No, we don't. I mean I think that there are especially in the romance genre. I think there are some things that are just completely off the table, you know, and that it might vary from reader to reader but there's probably a few things that I'd like to thank our universal across all of us.
But everything else is kind of gray and you know humans in real life. We're not perfect. I've made bad choices. I'll probably make some more it goes back also to kind of like the likable heroine or the unlikable heroine like no person is either one thing or the other like we all are out here living our lives somewhere in the gray.
It's just probably how it is.
Andrea Martucci: There is some slut shaming in this book and it is actually committed by Rachel whose point of view we are in and as we talked about earlier, it's a first-person POV. And she has a co-worker named Caitlin Dufresne who from Rachel's perspective is a snake.
Kini Allen: Yes.
Andrea Martucci: I was thinking later more about how it is the first person point of view and I don't know about you, but there are people in my life who -- I love this phrase, bitch eating crackers where -- I don't know the origins of it, but it's like when somebody can do no right where you're like even somebody eating crackers you'd be like look at this bitch eating crackers like you just you're just like so done with [00:32:30] everything this person does that you will interpret the worst intentions. There's no way you can like anything about this person. And you know, I don't know maybe I'm just a maybe I'm just an unlikable heroine myself, but I certainly have people like that in my life. And I think Caitlin is Rachel's.
Kini Allen: Mmhmm.
Andrea Martucci: And I don't like away Rachel articulates that to other people and internally where she talks about, her understanding is that Caitlyn is sleeping with the partners at her law firm and that's how she's getting ahead and we don't know if it's true. It's heavily implied that it's true, but we don't actually know and I know you've actually read Caitlin's book. I'm super curious about that.
But whether it's true or not that Caitlyn is having sex with the partners and using that to further her own career goals, the way Rachel expresses it is by slut-shaming Caitlin about it. And Caitlin does do things on the page that are pretty evil seeming so I don't know if I blame Rachel for having really angry feelings towards Caitlin, but I think as women who understand how damaging slut-shaming is I think that we all would have preferred that Rachel keep her criticisms of Caitlin to the content of why she disliked her more so than kind of descending into damaging stereotypes of sex being a bad thing that women can do.
Kini Allen: I agree wholeheartedly and you know, I thought about it a lot and the slut-shaming is so pervasive in this book and it's so strong. Rachel does it a lot and because it is first person like you mentioned we only see how Rachel feels about the things that Caitlyn is doing and a lot of them do feel like hurtful so I, like you, I kind of definitely understand her anger. I would have preferred that it not you know devolve into the such a me but also like I understand it. It doesn't make me happy. Yeah, but I kind of but I kind of understand it and yes, I have read Caitlin's book and I think that Keyes does a great job of laying that groundwork so that when you read Caitlyn's book, you kind of understand a little bit more about her. She's described as having like blond hair and big breasts her dad was a lawyer. She's her dream has always been to be a lawyer and she is very [00:35:00] driven at that and she wants to get ahead and part of her whole thing is that she feels like she has to be more driven than the men because she is so pretty because you know, people won't value her they won't see her differently. But also Keyes does a great job of kind of setting that up so that when you read her book you understand Caitlin a little bit more, her motivation. And you learn what's true and what's not based on Rachel's previous book. So it's not all true.
Andrea Martucci: I like to joke that like this podcast is brought to you by therapy, my therapy and one thing that I think about a lot and talk about a lot in therapy is it's easy to attribute the things other people do to being a result of their hatred for you, or they're out to get you or it's in reaction to something you did. And I think that what's interesting about getting more insight into Caitlin in a later book is you I think can realize that it was not personal necessarily about Rachel or it was her own issues. It was Caitlyn's issues that were driving her to make all these well not great choices and. And maybe it was something about Rachel that tipped her into disliking her because it pointed to a weakness in herself. So it wasn't even Rachel so much as what Rachel represented to Caitlin perhaps
Kini Allen: right, right,
Andrea Martucci: And I think also for Rachel what is so triggering about Caitlin for her is that Rachel feels this terrible sense of Otherness, where she came from a trailer park and doesn't feel like she fits in among wealthy privileged people that she's spending all of her time with and so she, a lot of her life is spent just trying to fit in and trying to not be seen as the Other but she has this acute sense of being the Other where she's all about like I need to have this apartment to symbolize how I am no longer living in a trailer park and I need to dress a certain way to show that I've made it and I need to have this image. And I think Caitlin is part of the In Crowd, Caitlin grew up around money with her, with a family of lawyers. And there is no question that Caitlin belongs in that world.
And so I think that sets up the conflict between the two of them really well and I think that Rachel's feeling of Otherness is confirmed by Cailtin because there's this really disastrous party that that involved in the [00:37:30] disaster involves Caitlin and in this black moment Caitlin says something to the effect of: yeah, well you grew up in a trailer park and obviously that's who you want to hang out with and kind of who you still are. Which this is Rachel's greatest fear. Is that all along everybody knew that she didn't belong there. She was never able to shake the stink of the trailer park, you know, like this is Rachel's greatest fear and Caitlin confirms everything about Caitlin confirms to Rachel that she can never not be the Other.
Kini Allen: Right all of that. All of that is very true. And yeah Rachel is very complicated and she's working through a lot, you know, and I think reconnecting with Dean probably forces her to work through some of that stuff that she feels like probably that she's over but it's very obvious that she's not
Andrea Martucci: yeah.
So I asked people on Instagram what their thoughts were on flawed characters who do problematic things and got a couple responses. Okay, so b.andherBooks said "it's fiction where else can you safely explore these things?" And I think I definitely that resonates with me where I'm like, yeah. Let's have fun. I mean. Sounds weird to say this is fun. But this is enjoyable for me.
Kini Allen: Yeah
Andrea Martucci: What's wrong with me? Nothing
Kini Allen: Right. Nothing.
Andrea Martucci: And @ now underscore booking said "depends on the end. Is the problematic thing just going to be left hanging like a bad smell?" I agree with that. I think that there needs to be resolution. Problematic things can happen. They need to have a reason for happening, and they need to resolve. You can't you can't get to the end and feel like, well that problematic thing happened and nobody had a problem with it. @Boobiespodcast says, "ug, it's okay to a certain degree unless those problematic hurts damage or hurt others. I'll deal." So I don't, Boobies Podcast, Kelly, I don't know if you should read this book because people are hurt.
Kini Allen: They are hurt. But I think that's the thing with problematic-ness - is that a lot of times it does damage or hurt others and it's not always intentional. But where did I hear that the other day? I can't remember but it's like hurt people hurt. Like hurt people hurt other people and that's so true. Right, like Dean and Rachel were very much hurting each other. I think maybe it started out intentionally, but also [00:40:00] they just were so hurt by all of everything that it just manifested against each other.
They worked it out with sex.
Andrea Martucci: Lots of sex.
Kini Allen: Lots of sex lots of dirty socks. I'm telling you. I did like a search - I erased it. I should have written it down, but the word fuck is used a lot, clit was used a lot.
Andrea Martucci: I'm okay with that.
Kini Allen: So am I and I. I forgot the early days occurring across how sexy these books were.
Andrea Martucci: You were saying earlier like Dean doesn't have a magic penis his penis does not make their problems go away, but I will say his penis does seem pretty magical.
Kini Allen: Yes, it definitely was magical for Rachel. But but when I say magic penis, just where like where they have sex and then everything is better, you know, like that's not even close to what happens here.
Andrea Martucci: Right. So Addicted to Romance said "I have mixed thoughts but we are all flawed and all make mistakes and all are human" and I think that is really what romance deals with a lot of times, where in the episode with Amanda Diehl, where we were talking about The Wallflowers and how Evie in Devil in Winter, has a stutter and how back in 2005-ish, this was like revolutionary like, oh my God. A heroine who has something going on that makes her imperfect like that was revolutionary and I think that we've made a lot of strides in, in the representation of people being kind of whole people and particularly the women to our conversation earlier where yeah, guess what women also have feelings that are more complex than "I need to take care of everybody and be a good person." Nothing drives me more mad than a heroine who when somebody is being evil to them is just like, oh well, like I'm sure they have their reasons. I'm like stop it, like you don't have to do anything but be angry, you're allowed.
Right. Yeah, yeah.
Kini Allen: Yeah, but I mean think about it, like how long have we been talking as women about how we're allowed to be angry, you know? That's that's kind of new, you know for so long. It's like women are nice. They're quiet. They're kind they smile
Andrea Martucci: push it down. Push it down.
Kini Allen: Yeah exactly, which is hold it in, you know
[00:42:30] Andrea Martucci: smile.
Kini Allen: Yeah, you sure would look pretty if you smiled
Andrea Martucci: And then a lighter note Amanda Baller said, so in response to the question of how do you feel about flawed characters who do problematic things she's said unless the character is a werewolf. I hate it if they are aware wolf. I will let it slide."
Kini Allen: Interesting.
Andrea Martucci: We all have our catnip and Amanda's catnip is werewolves.
Kini Allen: Yeah, I mean hey. Get it girl .
Andrea Martucci: On a 1 to 5 scale. How would you rate the heat of this book?
Kini Allen: Um, I'd say about eight?
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Yeah off the charts heat.
Kini Allen: Yeah, I think the cover where they're like on the brick wall and it looks like they're like making out? I think that's like the perfect cover for this book.
Andrea Martucci: Yes. It's very hot. It's a little kinky. Humor?
Kini Allen: Um, I'd say pretty low on the humor scale maybe like a one or two, you know, it was a very heavy book, you know, emotionally heavy. They're both going through a lot. There might have been a few little quips, but it wasn't humorous.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah, I agree. I agree. Not -- don't, don't go here. If you're looking for a rom-com. What about angst?
Kini Allen: I'd say probably like four and a half.
Andrea Martucci: Do you have a five on angst in mind?
Kini Allen: Let's see probably. Oh gosh. I don't know like I there's a Colleen Hoover book that I read called All Your Perfects. They're struggling with infertility that one it's very angsty. That's probably like at the top of my scale. Yeah, I don't really read new adult anymore. But a lot of those were like very high but I think that's also very appropriate for the age range. You know, I think angst also, you know, it's a little subjective, but I thought this one was pretty high.
Andrea Martucci: let's pull into Trope Town. We're pulling up to the station full of Old Flames.
Kini Allen: Okay, one of the first second chance romances that I remember reading and really enjoying is called Back To You by Priscilla Glenn. The heroine is a teacher. And she finds out that she is teaching the hero's daughter and the hero and heroine had been together when they were like in their early teens or 20s. I [00:45:00] really liked this book and it made me kind of seek out more of a similar type of Trope. I do want to mention that if I remember correctly, this book is a little bit on the like lower heat level. So I think some people like to know those kinds of things.
Another second chance that I read recently is called Every Last Breath by Juno Rushdon. It's a romantic suspense. The heroine is a kick-ass like CIA type agent the hero is -- her like they had previously been in a relationship. She presumed him to be dead. They reconnect like eight or nine years later and it's action packed and because the heroine is like this CIA spy type of agent. It's kind of hard to explain what she does. It was really nice to see that the hero, he has very minimal doubts about her capabilities very early on he really wants to help her and then he quickly realizes that she doesn't really need his help.
Recently also The Ones Who Got Away by Roni Lauren. So this is the first book in a series about survivors of a school shooting. So if you are able to read something that's kind of set in that world, and I totally understand that. It's not for every reader, the whole series is absolutely fantastic.
But the first one features a heroine and a hero who had been high school sweethearts or dating, in love whatever and they split up after the tragedy and they are reconnected like 10 or 12 years later when somebody's trying to work on a documentary about all of them and it's just like I said, the whole series is fantastic.
It's emotional. It talks about the school shooting and is obviously a focus but it's not so overwhelming that it's like hard to read.
Andrea Martucci: I find it really interesting when authors explore these real issues that happen, in this case a school shooting. This is obviously something that in America happens way too much. It should happen never. I assume in this case. These are characters who are very directly impacted by the events of the school shooting. I think people want to see people dealing with those things and coming through on the other side, you know to the theme of kind of catharsis, is really helpful for people dealing with these very complicated distressing emotions about things that are happening in real life and I completely [00:47:30] understand why some readers don't want to go there. Some readers want to go to romance as their their happy place and and that's fine.
Kini Allen: Yeah, I agree wholeheartedly.
Andrea Martucci: Since you you covered all the bases with contemporary. So I'll hit historical. I've got Not Quite A Husband by Sherry Thomas. I Love Sherry Thomas, beautiful writing. The heroine is a little bit older than the hero and when they initially get together, he has always adored her. But she thinks that he was not interested in her the same way she was interested in him. Although she did pursue the relationship and things keep them apart. She is a badass lady doctor in a time when women were not respected in England for this choosing this profession, so. There's a misunderstanding that, because they don't have a solid foundation of their relationship, drives them apart, but she goes off to India where she is able to practice as a doctor and he comes after her and it's a beautiful relationship.
We also had some friends on Twitter share some Second Chance recommendations with us. Bookedandbusy from Twitter suggested Before We Were Strangers by Renee Carlino, Famous by Jenny holiday, and I think you said also, there's a follow-up to Famous that you enjoyed?
Kini Allen: So Famous is a male-female couple it I remember correctly, because I have read it. It's cute. I think she's like a country singer and he I can't remember what the hero does but they reconnect it was cute. Then there's a second book kind of like an interconnected series. It's called Infamous. Where it's a male-male pairing and one of the men is a silver fox and he's a doctor and it's kind of like this friends to lover slow burn.
I liked it more than Famous. So if anybody's looking for that kind of thing, I recommend it.
Andrea Martucci: Mmm what is your definition of Silver Fox? Do you think it's more about age or hair color? Or
Kini Allen: Both?
Kind of both if I remember correctly, the doctor is a little bit older than the other hero, but not considerably. He's in his 40s and the other Hero's just a little younger.
Andrea Martucci: So bookedandbusy said, honorable mention for Undeclared by Julianna Keyes, and have you read [00:50:00] that one?
Kini Allen: Yep, I have so that's like one of her new adult ones. And if I remember correctly like the cover was a little weird at first it kind of was like is this a love triangle but it's not and this one the there's like also the heroine is concerned that she has an STI, which we don't see very often in Romance.
So not only does Keyes cover like unlikable heroines, but she also tackled STIs in one of her books.
Andrea Martucci: She's very versatile.
Kini Allen: Yes
Andrea Martucci: And bookedandbusy also recommended The Bollywood Bride by Sonali Dev.
Kini Allen: I've read that one as well.
Andrea Martucci: That's on my TBR list.
Kini Allen: It's really good
Andrea Martucci: I'm
Kini Allen: really looking
Andrea Martucci: forward to reading it. So Ainsley Wynter of Tarth suggested Winter Blaze by Kristen Callahan as a good second chance romance.
Kini Allen: I've never read that one, but I have read a lot of Kristen's contemporaries and I really enjoy her writing.
Andrea Martucci: Lisa Donaldson suggested Ellie Darkins Falling Again for Her Island Fling and she said she loves the second time around because you're aware of why the first time wasn't the right time.
Kini Allen: I've never heard of this book, but it makes me feel like it's like a Harlequin one other category romances, which are always good reads.
Andrea Martucci: Musical interlude.
All right. We are at Write This Book. So Kini, what book would you like some author listening to this to just I mean they are on deadline for another book and they're just going to say, you know, what sorry agent / publisher, I need to stop and write the book.
Kini Allen: This one was hard for me, but I'd like to see older characters. And it'd be kind of funny, humorous but also emotionally deep. They must be broken or flawed in some way shape or form but both must also be very competent in the work or the profession that they have chosen and I would like to see it set in a diverse and inclusive world. So somebody out there write that it's very vague, but I'm here for it.
Andrea Martucci: It's like a nice little checklist for, all right, and can you just do all of this and also, also figure out what happens, please. What kind of professions do you like to read about with your characters?
Kini Allen: I think I'm really open to any profession. I especially like to see heroines that are in maybe a profession that isn't, you know an ad agency. [00:52:30] Hmm, maybe some like STEM heroines. I really enjoy seeing or some sort of profession that maybe isn't traditionally seen as female focused I like seeing you know, shake that up a little bit. But as long as they are competent and they as the character feel good about what they're doing. It doesn't really matter to me.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah, I really do also enjoy when the characters are really good at what they do or at least over the course of the novel are trying to find or get into the thing that they really really doing. I don't know if that's just because it's a very important part of my life, but I really do enjoy seeing characters who are very like invested in their professional lives. And in addition to resolving things with their personal lives.
Kini Allen: Yeah, because in order for me to believe in the story, I need to kind of believe in them as like a whole person. If they have like a job or it feels very superficial or the mention of the job is very superficial like it's hard for me to believe that this character could like make a relationship work because I can't even see that they can make a job or work. And that's not to say that like some people aren't like struggling with their careers and but that's like a whole other thing, you know, like even if a character recognizes like hey, maybe this isn't the career path for me. That works for me too.
Andrea Martucci: Now. It's time for our weekly real-life romance novel book club feature the romance book group at One More Page Books in Arlington, Virginia meets the first Thursday of the month at 7 p.m. On November 7th, 2019, they'll be reading Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore. What a great pick! I just bought this book myself after Amanda Diehl recommended it and I can't wait to read this Victorian historical about a suffragist and her girl squad taking on the patriarchy and dazzling a hot Duke in the process.
If you want to join this book club, you can find the link to One More Page Books website in the show notes. If you know of an in-person romance novel book club to add to the directory, you can let me know by sending an email to Andrea@shelflovepodcast.com.
Thanks for listening to episode 5 of Shelf Love, a romance novel book club. Thank you to everyone who contributed to this episode and thank you to Kini. You can find Kini @kinilei1 on Twitter and @1KiniLei on Instagram. She also posts regularly on [00:55:00] SmexyBooks.com.
You can find me online at Shelflovepodcast.com or on social media @shelflovepodcast on Instagram and @shelflovepod on Twitter.
You can always reach me directly at Andrea@shelflovepodcast.com and I truly would love to hear from you.
Here's what we're reading next:
Wallbanger by Alice Clayton and my guest on that episode is Kelly from the Boobies podcast. Next we have The Heiress Effect by Courtney Milan and my guest is from another podcast Erin from Learning The Tropes. Next week on the podcast is the Halloween episode where I'm joined by my friend Becky to discuss ghostly boners.
If you enjoyed this podcast, I'd be eternally grateful if you rated and reviewed or spread the word to friends who might be interested. Have a great week.