How do you find the books you love? I’ll tell you what I do, but first, a (shameful) confession.
After a youthful love affair with paperback Harlequin romances (my younger sister and I loved to borrow stacks of them from the library and binge read them when my mom wasn’t watching), I stopped reading romance. In high school I turned my attention to popular literary fiction and whatever my dad recommended or lent to me (Tom Clancy, Clive Cussler, Robert Ludlum). After college, I didn’t read nearly as many books as I’d used to, and my ‘reading’ was largely reserved for gossip and fashion magazines and the New York Times. When I did read novels, I read the selections picked by my book club, and they did not read romance. Ever. So neither did I. Well, except books by Rosamunde Pilcher – whose books I adored. Fancy-pants reader Em somehow failed to realize Ms. Pilcher’s novels were romances packaged as women’s fiction. Oops.
Anyway, flash forward to 2014, and a conversation that changed my life. My younger sister (the same one who binged Harlequins with me) called shortly before Thanksgiving and asked if I was watching Outlander. I’d never heard of it. Then she started telling me about the show. Let’s just say I was skeptical – Time travel? Two husbands? HISTORICAL ROMANCE? Friends, my sister is a proud feminist and staunch liberal; she’s interesting, beautiful, and one of the most intelligent people I know. When she talks I listen. But not this time. I was embarrassed for her.
Fast forward twenty minutes. I’m telling my husband about the bizarre conversation I just had with my sister when I get an email alert from Amazon:
S——- (my sister!) has just gifted you the Outlander eight book series
The attached gift note urged me to “give it a try,” and watch the show. I did.
I started reading Outlander and was completely sucked into Clare’s story, and I fell in love with the fictional Jamie. Then I started watching the show and… well, Outlander became my life. I raced through the series, binge watched the season one episodes available, stalked Sam Heughan on social media, and talked about it to anyone who would listen. I was obsessed.
And then I ran out of books. And season one ended. And I’d watched my favorite episodes (you know the ones) too many times to count and re-read Outlander whenever I could sneak away. I was desperate for something else like it – more specifically, a romance like it – to read.
Not surprisingly, I turned to one of my favorite Outlander blogs (shout out to That’s Normal) and a diverse list of romance novels their columnist recommended. The list included books by Karen Marie Moning, Sarah Maclean, Robyn York/Ruthie Knox, Kristen Callihan, and Elle Kennedy. I inhaled their back catalogs – one-clicking with no remorse. Well, not until I got my bank statement.
Concerned with my new addiction/habit, I joined Oyster, the now defunct subscription ebook service. OH MAN! IT WAS AWESOME. I raced through Liz Carlyle (she wrote so many great books!), Lisa Kleypas, Julia Quinn… I went berserk. As did every other romance reader who used the service – and we bankrupted them. I started doing a bit more research into the books and authors I wanted to read before spending my $.
So why am I telling you all this? Well, somewhere along the way I discovered All About Romance. I started limiting my purchases to the DIK reviews on the site and I quickly identified reviewers whose reading tastes seemed to align with my own. I checked the site every day and if Caz Owens gave a book an A, I bought it. I spent hours perusing the old site, searching for authors with large back catalogs to glom – I especially loved a section that provided suggestions for what else to read if you liked a particular author – and trying genres I hadn’t considered reading before.
All About Romance, and more specifically Caz Owens and Dabney Grinnan, largely informed which authors I read and what books I bought. In fact, the only reason I joined Twitter was to follow Dabney! Which turned out to be a very good thing because it’s where I spotted an All About Romance call for new reviewers. Folks, let’s just say I blew my audition (submit a review for a book you loved and a book you hated). My reviews (I loved How a Lady Weds a Rogue by Katharine Ashe; the book I disliked shall remain nameless) read more like book reports – OMG they were novels. I didn’t hear back. I sent Dabney a follow-up a week later and joked that she might still be reading my reviews. Ha! Anyway, she liked my email and gave me another chance. The rest, as they say, is history. I’ve been a reviewer at All About Romance ever since (going on three years now). I read voraciously and I still buy A LOT of books. I’ve discovered many more favorite reviewers on our site (BJ introduced me to queer romance, and still guides me to great books I might not discover on my own), and I have a strictly curated group of “friends,” on GoodReads (many of whom I found via the comments section of my reviews!) I know and trust. I’m not nearly as impulsive with my book purchases these days.
So, obviously you’re reading this blog post and you visit our website for book suggestions. Where else do you go? Do you follow blogs or particular reviewers? How long is too long for a review? Do you only read books with great reviews or will you read anything by an author you love? Tell me, I want to know!
~ Em Wittmann