This ‘n That: Long ass version

4-up on 1-24-14 at 7.55 PM (compiled)

Unsurprisingly, being back in the classroom after sabbatical has hit me like a ton of bricks. I had a goal of posting once a week, but to my surprise, it’s been two weeks since my last post. I was moved to write this tonight because since WordPress just kindly auto-renewed my domain registration, premium theme, and other unfree goodies, I figure I better use them.

Things are going very well at school. The students in my classes seem really attentive and interested. I’m getting excellent questions, especially in 100 (contemporary moral problems), which most students take to check a gen ed box in their transcript. We got into a fairly non-superficial discussion today of whether Kant would have argued against abortion on the grounds that no one would consent to be aborted.

I also got to make a couple of Justin Bieber digs. Bieber is one of the very few celebrities I actively — and irrationally, since I don’t know him — dislike. But (based on what I realize is probably a skewed media image) his contempt for working people, his failure to show appreciation for any of the blessings he has received — many unfairly–, his lack of respect for his fans, his inflated ego … add up to “I’m so glad he got arrested.” The other side is his young age, the influence of irresponsible adults including his own parents who should know better, the fact that in teen boys impulse control is hard enough without having everything laid out on a silver platter, etc. Anyway, his arrest made for a good case study in a class about ethics.

One of our VPs sent me a section of a college guide that singled me out as a good teacher. I was really flattered for about five seconds. On the sixth second I realized it was a publication from a conservative organization. They were ranking professors solely on whether their “liberal bias” showed and whether they welcomed religious and conservative students. While I’m glad religious and conservative students feel welcome in my courses, I wasn’t pleased with the way this “guide” ranked faculty, and I have to wonder if the VP who sent me a congratulatory note was even aware of the political agenda of this book.

This is my last semester as a rank and file professor. Beginning in July, I’ll be chair of the department. It’s something I’ve put off for a while, but we are such a small group (five full time, and about three adjuncts) that it makes sense to do it now. It looks like my spouse will be chair of his department as well, so we’ll be seeing a bump in both income and stress levels. I warned him that I won’t be sitting next to him at chairs and directors meetings. His response: “Does that mean we can’t make out?” Men.

Sabbatical was, of course, great. I did manage to write and submit that article on Harlequin medicals, and make excellent headway on a second article on integrating clinical ethics into undergraduate bioethics courses. Of course, I don’t know if the journal I submitted the medicals article to will accept it — you never do — but I think *someone* will publish it somewhere, and I’m looking forward to it seeing the light of day, because I think it’s an unusual take on popular romance. I’ll be presenting it in April in Chicago at PCA. I’m really looking forward to that conference, especially to seeing one of my all time favorite romance writers, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, as well as the round table with Janice Radway.

In the last weeks of our sabbatical my spouse and I watched all five seasons of Sons Of Anarchy. Well, actually, I had already watched four seasons. He started from the beginning after much hectoring on my part and I then rewatched the first four seasons with him. I’m not quite ready to start Season Six, for financial and emotional reasons: (1) we’ll have to pay for it it, and (2) Bad Things Happen. I’m sure eventually I’ll be sucked in, though. I’m feeling a bit lost without a TV show to glom. We tried Vikings, and as smoking hot as the lead actor is, alas, that is not enough maintain my interest. I actually have an idea for a paper on SoA, so I may have to buy Season Six as “research.” If you have any ideas for glommable TV, please share (except for Breaking Bad, Vampire Diaries, and Mad Men, all of which I tried and gave up on.).

As you may have guessed, reading has been light. In the past two weeks, I’ve only read one book, Unbound, and have continued listening to a bit of Georgette Heyer’s The Grand Sophy (The Audible version is only $3.99, a steal). On the latter, I knew there was anti-Semitism, but no one I recall had mentioned the problematic takes on other groups, so their appearance surprised me. Spaniards are particularly hard hit:

‘Oh, she is the Marquesa de Villacañas! Did Sir Horace not tell you her name? You will like her – indeed, you must like her! She is quite stupid, and dreadfully indolent, like all Spaniards, but so pretty and good-natured!’

–Heyer, Georgette (2009-07-01). Grand Sophy (Kindle Locations 757-759). Sourcebooks, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

On Unbound: it was good, of course. Did I love it? No. I think when I first started reading romance, I loved the genre so much that I wanted every book I read to be a romance novel. If I was in the mood for historical fiction, I read a Regency. If I was in the mood for a thriller, I read a romantic suspense. If I was in the mood for supernatural stuff, I read a PNR. Now I read a wider range of books, only some of which are romance.

My point, and I do have one is … lately I have been reading romance for the fantasy. So, a more realistic novel like McKenna’s where the hero has these really dark secrets and demons is just a bit too much of a downer. When it’s revealed that he can only get off if the heroine degrades and humiliates him, I lost interest (but kept reading). It turns out this has to do with his unresolved alcoholism and other issues, but it didn’t matter to me whether it was written as a healthy expression of a minority sexuality or as the fixable result of pathology: I don’t like an erotic romance hero like that. I guess I’ve been reading romance in a very subjective and even superficial (pleasure-centered) way lately.

I’ve been reading my favorite romance blogs as per usual. Spending too much money on books I don’t need and will likely never get to reading. I’ve been thinking that when I first started blogging I felt strongly that I was entering an online community.  I remember wanting to be recognized by that community, wanting to feel a part of it. I’m not sure I think there exists any longer an online community called Romanceland/ia. But I am not sure how to explain that feeling or what it means. I still enjoy many blogs, though, and Twitter is as addictive as ever.

The fandom I’ve been spending a good bit of time in is the Disney parks fandom, of which I have been a member for twelve years. If you recall the way the Fifty Shades phenomenon rocked the book blogging community two years ago… well that’s what the Disney parks fandom has been like for the past year or so, thanks to the introduction of new technologies like the My Disney Experience App, Magic Bands, and, most distressingly, Fast Pass Plus. There are big changes (well, big to diehard parks fans anyway) that everyone is fighting over and every single post and thread somehow devolves into a fight over these changes. Of course, I can’t stay away. But I’ll be seeing for myself later this year whether the changes mean the End of the Disney Parks or something slightly less tragic.

A final note on productivity tools. I’m using Beeminder.com for two goals, (1) working 5 hours (10 poms) per week on my research project, and (2) inputting old ethics consults into a new system at the hospital. It’s “Quantified Self plus Commitment contracts.” I get an email every morning telling me where I am on my yellow brick road. If I go off the road, I pay them $5. So far it is working well (meaning I’ve kept all my money). Folks have pointed out that they’d rather pledge their money to a charity. There are other websites that do that (StickK.com is the most popular), but I just like the Beeminder interface and the flexibility it offers.

I mentioned this on Twitter and someone said that external rules didn’t work for her at all. Well, it just so happened that I caught an 18 minute video by happiness guru Gretchen Rubin on the four ways people respond to external and internal rules (video here). I’ve never read one of her books, and I’d file the video under “interesting” rather than “life changing,” but I still enjoyed it.

The other tool I have been using for several months with success is Mark Forster’s Final Version. I almost hesitate to mention it because it is so disarmingly simple, it’s hardly even a method. But basically, I capture everything I have to do in a small Moleskin notebook. When I have discretionary time, I put a circle next to the first undone item, and then scroll down the list until I find another few items I feel like doing before that one. Then I work my way back up. It gives me a clear and quick order.

Other updates:

  • It’s cold in Maine.
  • The kids are alright.
  • And so are the pets.

Hope all is well with you in your part of the world.

25 responses

  1. I really have to disagree with you on Unbound; it was very clear to me that his fetish is not explained or curable, part of why I liked the book so much. I’d say the other way around is more probable — that is, his alcoholism probably sprang at least in part from his secrecy and shame.

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    • That was my reading of it as well. I think for me it worked so well because it didn’t feel like fantasy. It’s just not a fantasy that appeals to me, so unless it’s done realistically, more in a ‘character exploration’ sort of way, I’m not interested.

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      • Yes, I agree, and thanks for clarifying.

        SPOILERS for UNBOUND below:

        The way it seemed to work was: (1) from a very young age, even as a child, the hero is sexually stimulated by ropes:

        “Always. As long as I can remember. If there was any kind of scene in a cartoon or a movie where someone got tied up by pirates, or to railroad tracks, or to a pyre . . . it mesmerized me.”

        (Probably the most Freudian take on human sexuality I have ever read in a romance novel!)

        (2) he is made to feel bad about that, first by his mother and then by the dominant culture

        He’d unnerved his mother with the games he played, got caught too many times with some manky old rope in his mouth or wound too-tight around his fingers. She’d sent him to therapy. Your father’s not to know. No one’s to know. Six years old and made to keep secrets like those before he even understood what that magnetism was, that dizzying pressure in his belly when he’d imagined those things from the cartoons and films. That the shameful thing he felt was sexual, or what that even meant. At that age, he’d only known it felt good, and exciting. And soon after, he’d realized that he must be bad, to feel those things.

        McKenna, Cara (2013-10-15). Unbound: (InterMix) (Kindle Locations 1660-1664). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.

        (3) He is “rubbish at friendships” and dating as a child and young man, and lives a very solitary life at first. Eventually, he becomes an alcoholic, as a way to sublimate his sexual desires and overcome his feelings of worthlessness and isolation. This is an addiction that is “twice as compelling” as his kink.

        At the end, he goes to a therapist:

        “I’ve found a therapist,” Rob added, turning his attention back to his tea. “Good for you. Is it for the alcoholism, or the . . . your personal stuff?” “Both. Just the drinking, at first. She put me on an antidepressant for a couple months.” He met her eyes. “Which is something I never thought I’d do.” “Did it work?” He nodded . “Took the edge off being back in a city, and it dulled the cravings. Got me eased into the routines— you know, meetings and all that. And once the day-to-day alcohol stuff was feeling manageable, we started really talking about everything else. My childhood, everything with my family and my marriage. And with my . . . kinks,” he said softly. “I never imagined I’d share those things with a therapist, but it just sort of came out.” “She’s not weird about it, I hope.” “No, she talks about it like it’s a food allergy. Neither bad nor good. Just a thing I’m stuck with, whether I embrace it or simply accept it.”

        McKenna, Cara (2013-10-15). Unbound: (InterMix) (Kindle Locations 3785-3792). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.

        So, Willaful and Rosario, I totally agree with you. What I was trying to say is that while some books where a protagonist has a fetish (or any minority sexual makeup), the novel seems to celebrate it, especially when one protagonist is paired with another protagonist whose sexual desires are a perfect match (the sub paired with a dom who didn’t know she was a dom). In other books, the novel pathologizes it (Christian Grey is a sadist/dom because of sexual trauma).

        In this book, at least how I read it, is kind of in the gray area. Rob is uncomfortable with the fetish and with his near inability to have vanilla sex. Perhaps the healthy fetish is the ropes, but the need for degradation is the pathology? In their last sex scene, there is a rope, but no humiliation. ??

        It’s definitely an interesting portrayal, but I felt it was a bit much, and it overshadowed some interesting parts of the heroine’s story that I wish had been expanded upon. The alcohol story line was enough — I thought — to motivate everything Rob did. And for me personally, it seems like every other erotic romance has a rope on the cover. To be totally honest, I felt this kink was an unnecessary addition geared to the current market.

        But now I’m trying to rationalize a very basic negative reaction to a character who wants to be humiliated in a sexual setting. I had the same feeling about Anah Crow’s Uneven. Just a feeling and I have no defense for it.

        It’s a very good book as all of hers are but I was pretty sad the whole time reading it.

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        • I absolutely won’t argue with you about that… I had a similar reaction to The Bridge recently, which I recognize is a terrific book but absolutely not what I should be reading. I told my husband, only half-joking, that it was undoing an entire year of therapy.

          But personally, I thought what was expressed in Unbound was something really good to see in romance. (And I’m sure many others felt exactly the same way about The Bridge.)

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            • Unbound was on my favorite list this year. It’s the first McKenna I’ve really clicked with. I found the portrayal of Rob’s kink to be fascinating and well done, and not at all in line with the current market. Male subs are the opposite of popular. I think it was a more realistic look at fetish, which maybe made the couple seem less of a perfect fantasy match. I remember wondering if any woman (or man?) could fulfill Rob’s fantasy by just sticking to a specific script. That element and the oddness of it took away from the sexiness for me, but the romance was magic.

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              • Jill, thanks for making the point that not all ropes are the same. I haven’t read many, so I’ll take your word that this is an unusual and unusually well developed portrayal.

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  2. Re the Romance community… it feels very fractioned to me lately, and it frequently occurs to me how grateful I am that no one has yet said “you can’t play with me if you play with them” like they did in grade school.

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  3. I always enjoy these updates. I was making Justin Beiber allusions in class today–we were discussing an article on “Cars and Behavior” and the psychological motivators for car use. (The sad thing is, here we are in Canada and I think most of them didn’t know what I was referring to).

    I have been experiencing some disenchantment with romance fiction, or perhaps it’s fairer to say I am recognizing after my initial period of joyous discovery that I don’t love it all (by a long shot) and it can’t serve all my reading needs. So I was interested in what you said about this. I actually think that I am less interested in the fantasy/escape aspects (or end of the spectrum?) at the moment. I don’t think my reading is any less “superficial and pleasure centred” or aimed at meeting my own needs, but oddly, because I have been extra busy and anxious, I find fun fantasy versions of romance don’t feel escapist. Too much contrast with real life? They feel somehow like . . . a slap in the face, a “look what you DON’T have.” Or they just feel silly. Instead I am enjoying reading about a son’s book club with his dying mother and ordinary people in North Korea. Maybe I just need to be reminded that there are people much much worse off than I am. Romance is making me feel self-pitying instead of happy. LOL. This should have been a journal entry instead of a TMI self-obsessed blog comment. Oh well.

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  4. hmmm I’m trying to think of a TV show to rec! I haven’t watched SOA so I don’t know what about it made you stick with it over the others you mentioned. Plus, I feel like anything I’d rec you’d have to pay for!

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  5. Willaful, AMEN. Folks on Twitter were saying it’s just bigger, and I can go with that. It’s also that some of the folks who were regular bloggers when I started have moved on, to write books, or to Twitter, or just gone away. Finally, I think the (totally legitimate) interest of many bloggers in the commercial aspect has changed the feel.

    Liz, I have a hard time reading more “fantasy” type romances when I am stressed out or very busy. This early in the semester I have everything under control, but that won’t last.

    Amy, thank you. I got some good ideas on Twitter. Foyle’s War, Orange is the New Black, Miss Fisher’s Mysteries, House of Cards (BBC and US versions), I would like to find something I can get on Netflix or Prime because I am already paying for those and want my money’s worth. But I’m very weak when it comes to spending on entertainment.

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  6. On Final Version: I hadn’t seen that one, but the simplicity is probably one of its strengths. Every productivity system I’ve ever run across emphasizes capture as the most important aspect, and I think that’s right. Especially as we get older and have more diverse, unconnected responsibilities, writing stuff down means you don’t have to keep it in your head. I like the reverse order idea, too. Task lists are a fraught endeavor for me, so I fumbled around a lot until I found a method that works and I think that everyone has to find one that intuitively works for them.

    On changes in romanceland: I think it’s a combination of natural churn and the commercialization of the internet as a whole. I participated in or lurked regularly on about four communities when I started spending time on the internet socially. Three hobbyist, one work-related. Of those four, three have become more commercial, and all in more or less the same way (individuals recruited by larger entities or becoming authors/professionals in their fields and online, with groups following them). The only one of these that is not more fractured now is the knitting/crocheting community, and I think that’s almost entirely because Ravelry came along. The fourth, which was not commercialized, died away as people left and new members didn’t arrive. 15 years ago people were still talking about how difficult it would be to monetize the internet. Now internet companies roll around in their billions of cash dollars. Even websites and blogs where individuals don’t actively seek to become commercial having people trying to recruit them to commercial projects all the time.

    Although I read more than just romance (in fiction), I have no desire to review anything but romance. I like reviewing for a variety of reasons and I’m glad I have the opportunity at DA. If I didn’t review there I wouldn’t review. Well, I might talk occasionally about books I’ve read over at VM and maybe I’d update my moribund LibraryThing account.

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  7. I think the rise of P2P and a completely separate romance writing & reading community (through FSoG and P2P Twilight fanfiction), New Adult, envelope-pushing, OTT contemporary romance, and self-publishing broke Romancelandia.

    The fracture was very apparent last summer/fall when Jane was criticized for–to be blunt–reading books that many in Romancelandia considered “beneath them” (New Adult, Kristen Ashley, etc). Dear Author is made up of a variety of great voices, but by and large Dear Author=Jane, and if Jane is reading and loving books they don’t want to read, Jane/DA’s status as tastemaker wanes. On that same note, if top book bloggers and readers are reading books Romancelandia doesn’t want to read, their connections are going to be with the people who do love Kristen Ashley or New Adult or whatever new motorcycle gang romance has been released onto the market. And there goes even more disconnect between everyone.

    Self-publishing completely changes the way buzz and a book community is built. With traditional publishing, you get release dates 10-18 months in the future…bloggers squeeing about ARCs 4-6 months before release day…coordinating reviews…and so on. A self-published book hits the market almost the same day the author presses “Publish,” thereby cutting off any pre-release anticipation. And then because the book/reader bloggers have to discover the book through other readers, they have no hand in building buzz or forging a community with excitement over one book (think the extreme buzz over Meljean Brook’s The Iron Duke back in 2010).

    Hmm…is there a bit of irony in wanting Romancelandia to return to the days of every blogger going gaga over one book? LOL

    But I do feel rather bittersweet over these changes because even when blogs rose to become the “New Mean Girls” and sites like AAR and TRR became the veterans, the romance community still felt connected. I’m at the point where I waste an hour or two clicking around my favorite romance hangouts in search of some vigorous, engrossing 100+ comment conversation…to no avail. 😦

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    • Although I’m not one of them, obviously a great many people want to read Kristen Ashley et.al. It sounds like you’re saying those readers aren’t part of Romancelandia?

      I agree that the new popular subgenre are part of what’s caused fracturing… I see it at my first romance home base, paperback swap, where people are mostly reading books I’ve never even heard of. But that doesn’t mean they’re not part of the romance community. It just means it’s expanded.

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      • What I mean is that new readers (and writers) are not entering Romancelandia through the longtime, familiar channels (YahooGroups, joining RWA, subscribing to RT, AAR, big blogs like DA and SBTB, etc). As a result, they’re over somewhere, like Twitter, or a Goodreads group, forming their own Romancelandia circles completely independent from how everyone else entered the community. That is what is changing the romance genre and its denizens.

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        • I think I agree with all of you: natural churn, commercialization, exponential growth such that there is no one central entry point. Evangeline, on your points about Dear Author, I think it’s natural for people to break up with blogs as they change and grow. That’s not a criticism of the blogger or the reader, just the way people follow their preferences.

          I guess I used to feel like I had a mental map of Romanceland. It wasn’t that everyone got along, or even played nicely when they didn’t. It was that everyone kind of knew of each other.

          When I got back to blogging I made a conscious effort to look around, and I found some websites that seem huge, that I had never heard of. And these websites seem to exist in their own galaxy. One example I can think of is Maryse, who has been blogging since 2009. She has almost 7000 Twitter followers (https://twitter.com/ItsMaryse), which is not huge but to me says she is very established, hundreds of entrants to her contests, healthy numbers of comments, and even her own discussion forums (http://www.maryse.net/).

          Another example is SMS Book Obsessions (http://smbookobsessions.com/). They have 10,000 likes on Facebook, 5000 Twitter followers, and 850 or so friends on Goodreads, with a very active blog with comments and lots of entries for giveaways.

          I only know about these two blogs by pure chance. In my daily internet stalking, I absolutely never run into either of them. I could say the same for Goodreads, which I don’t use, which has some really active groups full of members who don’t even frequent other sites.

          I suspect that my feeling that Romanceland was like the Cheers bar six years ago was wrong, but I also think it’s larger and more fragmented today. With the growth of YA, NA, MM, Erotic, and fan fic in those years, I think it’s much more a vast series of small overlapping hubs.

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          • I’m going to disagree with Evangeline that book bloggers don’t have as large an investment in self-published books. There is a community for New Adult like nothing I’ve ever seen before and bloggers definitely build buzz in advance. The authors have networks I can’t even comprehend. Where did all of these whippersnappers come from? Facebook? That is where I agree, that the new communities have sprung up elsewhere and don’t necessarily overlap with ours. Sylvia Day said something interesting in an interview, that many of her fans don’t think they’re reading romance. They’re reading “love stories.” I think someone else commented that this is The End. NA and 50 Shades has changed the market and perhaps eaten it.

            So not just a waning community; a waning market for the kind of romance the “old” romland seems to appreciate most–intelligent historical and the like.

            I’ve felt sort of adrift for years, and it seems as if many authors have decided to stay away from reader spaces. The “no comments on reviews” standard (which I can’t argue with) has encouraged authors to not comment, period! I think. There’s also a growing importance on author relationships, retweets, box sets, indie anthologies. This is another type of commercial shift.

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            • I never used to understand why people were hostile about new genres of books, because there seemed so many books still out there to choose from. But now that I review semi-professionally and am required to read new books… man, it is really getting hard to find things I want to read! A typical trip to NetGalley: “NA, NA, BDSM, NA, cutesy sounding historical, BDSM/NA…”

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  8. Congrats on the positive changes in your professional career, Jessica. I know I’m focusing more on mine these days. As for romanceland, I can’t make any meaningful comment since I have set myself adrift. I still consider myself a romance reader but I find it in other genre fiction these days…

    As for TV shows, I shared already on Twitter that I have given up on SoA. I know what you mean about being engrossed despite being emotionally exhausted. Kurt Sutter doesn’t do “light.” He was a major writer for The Shield and that series ended on a downer and considering the storyline from the beginning about a strike team filled with dirty cops it was apropos.

    Like you, I did give up on Breaking Bad but my sister pushed me to try it again and lo and behold, I finally caught on. I won’t try to persuade you or presume I could but I’m just saying that I’ve been there. I also dismissed Justified at first but went back and watched all three seasons when it was free on Amazon Prime Instant Video and I love it. Maybe you can give that one a try? I love the humor and the small town feel and the bromance between Boyd and Raylan.

    Hope life continues to be boring for you (meaning less drama). Take care.

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    • Thanks Keishon. Your experience with BB was my husband’s. He tried it, failed, then tried again, and that was what he was glomming when I was glomming SoA. I sometimes sat with him and watched a few episodes. It was definitely more appealing than I thought and I am sure he is up for a rewatch some time.

      And yes, drama free is pretty good. 🙂

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  9. I love Foyle’s War, and have been surprised as well as pleased by the direction they have taken in the later series. I enjoy Miss Fisher’s Mysteries too, it is a lot lighter, nothing wrong with that of course.

    Have you watched Sherlock? It is great fun even though Moffat does enjoy his clever plots a bit too much.

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    • My husband loves Sherlock, but I find it too cute with the focus on Sherlock’s eccentricities, and I don’t like mystery shows where the audience can’t even begin to figure out the mystery. I realize it is very well done, but….

      I think Miss Fisher and Foyle’s war will go on my list.

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      • It occurs to me that you may find Foyle’s War a bit of a busman’s holiday in that the ethics of certain behaviours are considered. Given the context it’s usually about what is allowed or not ‘because we’re at war’. Although there is a lot more to the series than that.

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  10. I second Keishon’s rec for Justified, and agree that the bromance aspect of the show was what drew me in; unfortunately I feel as if Raylan/Boyd as a central theme seems to be on the wane this season. But we’re only a few weeks in, so I live in hope. I do enjoy Sherlock, but agree it’s incredibly self-consciously clever.

    I’ve been pondering this question about the waning or evolving of Romancelandia since the brief discussion on twitter the other day. Then I had to come back here and catch up on all the comments. I still need to think about it more, but one other factor that, for me, has changed (expanded) the online discourse around romance over the last decade or so is the rise of scholarship and academic interest in the genre. This phenomenon is exciting and absorbing (for me, but clearly not for all romance readers).

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    • My husband watches Justified and I’ve seen eps while on the same sofa reading or surfing. I think I really should give one or two my undivided attention.

      I agree about the growth of academic interest. I’ve even gotten involved. I’m so happy to see that.

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