What I Read: April to June 2018

I've been keeping a reading list off and on since I was in college...let's just say many years ago. I will always regret that I haven't been consistent with it because I love having a record to look back on and remember those hidden gems that I loved but might have forgotten.

When I look back at this past three months of reading, I'll have plenty to remember fondly. Click on any of the titles below to find out more about these recommended reads. Follow me on Goodreads or leave a comment below to let me know what you think I should read next.

Fall TBR Roundup

As some readers know, I moved to London last May after nearly nine years of living in New York City. While I was excited for new adventures, one thing I was decidedly not excited about was saying goodbye to most of my books. Romance readers—and really any hardcore readers—know that it's really only a matter of time before our books take over our lives. I was definitely at max capacity for books in my old apartment on the Upper East Side. (One of my best friends once told me, "I worry that I won't hear from you for a few days and I'll come over to find you've been crushed to death because one of your book piles has fallen on top of you.") I wound up giving a ton of books to a used bookstore run out of my local library's basement so at least they were going to a good cause.

Unfortunately all of that moving and writing—I handed in The Taste of Temptation to my editor seven days after arriving in the U.K.—I lost track of what I was reading. I've been tracking my reading in some form or another since I was in college, but for whatever reason I just wasn't writing books down as I whipped through them this summer.

I restarted this fall using a pretty notebook, and oh boy can I see a comfort reading trend, especially when I was on deadline and working extra hard to get manuscripts to my editor this summer. Here are a few of my favorites:

The Shell Seekers, by Rosamund Pilcher

This was my first Rosamund Pilcher novel, recommended to me by my mother. It's a sweeping story about several generations of a family. At the center of it is a painting that's a mother's legacy but which most of her children don't appreciate until they realize its value. Throughout the 600+ pages, readers realize that there's far more to the mother's life than she's ever told her children, starting with her childhood in Cornwall and winding through World War II.




The Cazalet Chronicles, by Elizabeth Jane Howard

Another British World War II saga, this book focuses around an upper middle class family as the threat of war and then the reality of it change relationships and fortunes. I actually read the first four books and thought I was done with the series, but then I found out there's a fifth called All Change, written some years after the first four books. That's right up there on my TBR.




Silent in the Grave, by Deanna Raybourn

I'm talked a lot about my love of mystery on this site. The Lady Julia Grey mysteries tick a lot of boxes for me: amateur woman detective, Victorian setting, hero who is just outside the bounds of propriety and has secrets in his past. I've actually read the first three, but Silent in the Grave is the place to start.




The Silent Companions, by Laura Purcell

This was my Halloween read this year. I always get the urge to read something slightly spooky (although not too scary because authors need beauty sleep too). A Gothic novel seemed like just the thing, and this one was about as Gothic as they come. I don't want to say too much for fear of giving away the twisting, turning, always-leaving-you-doubting plot, but it's worth giving this one a shot if you love historical reads. (US readers: this book is available for preorder now and comes out on March 6.)

TBR Buster: Holiday 2015 Edition

I was having a drink with Tamsen Parker and Suleikha Snyder on Sunday (just as you've suspected authors do get together to hang out and it's the most fun), and we were bemoaning the fact that we don't read as much as we used to. Writing is wonderful and we love it, but it does eat away at those long afternoons when all you do is sit on the couch or in bed and read. Despite the fact that I will be writing over this holiday season, I will have a lot more time on my hands because I won't be working. Growing up in a family of readers means that we're all happy to sit around and read quietly in each other's company, so I plan to get a lot of reading done and catch up on my to be read pile—especially when it comes to historicals.

Here's a look at what's waiting for me on my Kindle:

Once Upon a Marquess, by Courtney Milan


Fool Me Twice, by Meredith Duran


Cold-Hearted Rake, by Lisa Kleypas


A Virtuous Ruby, by Piper Huguley


What Happens Under the Mistletoe, by Sabrina Jefferies, Karne Hawkins, Candace Camp, and Meredith Duran


Under the Sugar Sun, by Jennifer Hallock


 Claiming the Duchess, by Sherry Thomas


Love and Other Scandals, by Caroline Linden


TBR Buster: Vacation Reading

I'm reading down my TBR this coming week because I'm heading on what should be a gorgeous vacation to London and Spain (I can't wait!). Here's a look at what I'm looking forward to that's been sitting in my TBR pile. And yes, it's an ambitious list...

One Week in Hawaii is Out Now!

One Week in Hawaii is now out at all major digital retailers and in print! This is sexy collection of four novellas with four couples you're going to absolutely fall in love with.

The TBR Problem

I, Julia Kelly, have a problem. I have a To Be Read pile that just doesn't quit. It's the best kind of problem to have that a lot of readers share, but it's a problem nonetheless. I live in a New York studio apartment so even with two large bookshelves (that are double and triple-stacked in places) my home is bursting with books I haven't read. My bedside table isn't so much a table but a repository for the books I think I might read next. Romances, history, classics, mysteries, biographies, I've got it all. I've instituted a rule that if I don't read a book I picked up at a conference within two years, it gets sent to a friend or donated. It's a great rule, but it's not really helping me get through the books that are queued up and waiting to be read. The books I really want to read. So today I'm asking for your help. How do you guys handle an out of control TBR? Reading challenges? Quotas? Leave me a comment with your tried and true methods (or just join me in the book storage struggle).

The Fandoms That Made You

The other day I was catching up on email when I came across Gail Carriger's monthly newsletter. I'm always interested in what she has to say (and what she's been wearing recently), so I clicked on a link called Gail Carriger's Origin Story. In this article, she outlines the five fandoms that made her the person she is now. Turns out that she was influenced by this article from The Nerdy Girlie. I immediately messaged my sister, and we started to hash out the five fandoms that made us who we were. This is what I came up with (in no particular order).

1. Victoriana. 

I'm in the middle of writing a trilogy of Victorian historical romances right now. The manuscript I used to get my agent was set in 1881 London. I don't think it's very surprising that Victoriana has been one of the biggest influences on my life both as an author and a consumer.

It started when I was in high school. I read pretty much every 19th century novel I could get my hands on. Besides Jane Austen and Fanny Burney (who really is late 18th century but I consider her a strong precursor to Austen), most of my reading centered around the Victorians. Elizabeth Gaskell and Anthony Trollope are still favorites when someone asks who my favorite authors are.

And then I went to college. Declaring a history major very early on gave me the freedom to run wild in the Victorian era. I wound up focusing my study on Victorian female sexuality (through a post-structuralist lens... super pretentious, I  know).* From clothing to calling and courtship practices to prostitution, all of it was fair game. I loved reading about social history and getting my hands on primary source material. I became best friends with my college's temperamental microfiche machines.

I'm not a scholar any longer, but I still read widely about the Victorians.** When you study history, so much of how you look at the world is influenced by the work you do. I can strongly say that my ideas about and appreciation of feminism was strongly influenced by my study. And also my writing which leads me to...

2. Romance novels. I've written before about the first romance novel I ever read. It was cracktastic, and I loved it. I fell into reading as many romance novels as I could, and then graduated from sweet Kensington Zebra Historicals to more explicit books (many of them had kilted highlanders on their covers).

I read romance novels all through high school and college without really finding anyone who felt the same way about these books. I loved falling into the narratives and swimming around in the characters' messy emotions. From Regency to contemporary, I read everything I could get my hands on. I'm still doing that now because my love of those books has only grown as I've started to write my own.

3. The X-Files. My first fandom. I was babysitting my sister when I was in seventh grade and flipping around the channels trying to find something to watch. It was the top of the hour, and I landed on Fox. Since there was a cute guy on the TV, I stayed on the show and proceeded to lose my mind over the course of the hour. I had stumbled upon the a re-airing of season one, episode one of the X-Files. After the episode was done, another came on. I binged watched before binge watching was a thing.

I watched episodes new and old loyally until the show got unredeemably bad. However, in those few years, I was hooked. Everything was X-Files. I clipped out episode recaps, got the now-defunct fanzine, read the novelizations. I read fanfic (my first!). While most girls were head over heels for Devon Sawa (and would soon discover the wonder that was Titanic-era Leo), I had it bad for Fox Mulder. I know there are geek girls out there who feel me on this one.

4. Doctor Who. In 2007 I was studying abroad in the north of England, and I had a lot of downtime on my hands. British universities require far less class time and fewer (if any) regular assignments from students. Compared to the work I did at my college back in the US, I had loads of unstructured time--and that was after doing the recommended reading for my various classes. So what does a 21-year-old with a bad habit of waking up early no matter how late she stayed out at the clubs the night before do? Consume as much British TV through streaming websites as possible.

I found Doctor Who out of necessity. I'd blown through Black Books, The Mighty Boosh, and Spaced not to mention seen all of the movies at the local movie theater I had a pass to. I'd heard of Doctor Who, but I always assumed it was a children's show that my mother watched when she was growing up. However, I decided to give it a try and proceeded to binge watch five episodes of the Christopher Eccleston reboot that night. I became obsessed.

In 2007, very few people were watching Doctor Who in the US because the availability was extremely limited.^ I tried describing the series to my sister who started watching along with so at least I had her to talk to, however it wasn't until 2008 that the show exploded in popularity thanks to BBC America's airings. Suddenly we were all fans of the Doctor, and that was just fine with me.

My love of Doctor Who has not kept up with the show's schedule. I have major problems with Stephen Moffat and his portrayals of women on this show. I suspect I'm also suffering from overexposure as I have no desire to watch through the last Matt Smith season and into the Peter Capaldi years despite a deep love for Malcolm Tucker. But despite all of that, Doctor Who will always exert a strong cultural influence on the things I love.

5. Film noir. I'd grown up reading mysteries with content well outside of my age range. My seventh grade English teacher actually pulled my parents aside to ask if they knew I was reading The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler and L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy (likely due to prostitution story lines in both novels and a certain incident with a garbage disposal in the latter). I remember my mother blinking and then saying yes. If I could understand the content of the book, I could read it.

Perhaps it's no surprise then that I gleefully dove into film noir later that year. I'd been watching classic movies for years, but this genre was eye opening to me. Double Indemnity, The Lady from Shanghai, The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, Chinatown, L.A. Confidential, The Big Easy, The Sweet Smell of Success, Sunset Boulevard -- I loved it all. And then I found Laura.

I'm going to get on my soapbox here and say not enough people in this world have seen this movie. Otto Preminger directs Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney in this 1944 masterpiece. It ticks all my boxes: a grouchy New York City detective, a career woman more suited to movies in 2014 than 1944, Clifton Webb as his most acerbic, great clothes, a haunting score, a romance, a young Vincent Price, and Judith Anderson being her usual flinty, badass self. This movie wormed its way into my brain and planted itself there. Just... trust me on this one and watch it.

Time to tell me about the five fandoms that made you. Leave a comment or write a blog post of your own!

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*I could nerd out very, very hard right now but I'll save you all of that squee. Also, hopefully by now you've figured out that this is where my propensity for footnotes comes from.

**And fight the urge about every six months to go back and get a PhD or at least a masters in History.

^Read: mostly viewed through highly illegal means.

October Reading Wrap Up

Sometimes you just need a good binge read. This month has been full of historical romances for me, and I've got a couple to recommend as well as a book that touches the paranormal, fantasy, literary, and romance genres.

The Duke and I

by Julia Quinn


Amazon | B&N | iBooks

I bow down to the mistress of Regency romance dialogue. That is all.

The Wicked Wallflower

by Maya Rodale


Amazon | B&N | iBooks

Around mid-October I was looking for something fun to read. I picked up The Wicked Wallflower and subsequently binge read six of Maya Rodale's books in a row. I loved The Wicked Wallflower because it's fun, light, and features a pretty fantastic rake of a hero. There's also a Hunger Games-based house party which amused me to no end.

A Discovery of Witches

by Deborah Harkness

A Discovery of Witches


Amazon | B&N | iBooks

When a friend pops up on your gchat and demands that you read a book because she loved it so much and wants someone to gush about it to, you do. My friend Caitlin got lost in A Discovery of Witches, so I decided to give it a shot too. It follows a historian named Diana who is on a research trip to Oxford who calls up an enchanted manuscript. Diana is a witch and not happy about it, so she tries to ignore the manuscript but it sets a series of supernatural events into motion that she can't stop. Throw in an erudite, attractive, alpha vampire love interest and even I -- not known for being a huge vampire fan -- was sucked in. I bought the second volume in the trilogy on Tuesday and plan to use it as my post-NaNoWriMo reward.

It's Not Just the Sexy Scotsman

A note just for my sister: I want my old copy back... It might just be the communities that I'm in online (hi, Romancelandia), but it seems like every other tweet I've seen between Saturday evening and Tuesday morning this August and September is about the Starz adaptation of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander. Of course, I'm just as guilty as my fellow watchers. In August, I jumped right in, watching the series, listening to The Scot & The Sassenach*, and rereading the first book. Every time I get together with other romance authors, the conversation inevitably makes its way over to Outlander. The internet basically exploded when Claire and Jamie got their first sex scene. I was worried that all of the squee might create a black hole that sucks everything into and ends life as we know it. This still may happen. What with streaming and everything, the verdict's still out.

As we get closer to the mid-season break, I've been thinking a lot about what a big deal book Outlander was for me in my teenage years. I remember the old cover clearly with its red plaid, flowers, and broken clock. I used to walk by it on my mother's bookshelves all the time. One day when I was about 16, she pulled it off the shelf and slid it over to me, suggesting that I might enjoy it. Mum is a very smart lady.

I fell in love with the time slip, 18th century Scotland, that hot Highlander in a kilt, everything. I ripped through the 800+ page book in a matter of days, reading so late into the night that the next morning my eyes were gritty from lack of sleep. I even have clear memories of sneaking it under my desk in AP US History class so that I could keep reading.** I'm pretty sure I walked around school with it in front of my face, blushing something fierce because oh my goodness, people. There was sex and lots of it.

When people ask about the series, I like to tell them that Outlander was the book that made me a woman (my sister finds this mortifying).  What I really mean is that this was first time that I read a book with graphic sex in it^ where the sex wasn't meant to stand as a metaphor for growing up or as way to shame its characters.^^


Outlander is a book about a sexually self-possessed woman who knows how to ask for what she wants and the man who wants to give that to her. In fact, the show goes one step further. In the first episode, the creators wrote a scene in where Claire's husband Frank moves to kiss her. Instead, she pushes him down on his knees and he lifts her skirt to perform oral sex. The message is clear. Claire is a sexual person and not the least bit afraid of expressing it. Add Jamie in a kilt to the mix and you have serious sparks.

Outlander isn't perfect. I reread my beaten-up copy of the book while watching the show this summer, and there are some scenes that border on uncomfortable for me. I won't spoil them here, but dedicated readers of the series can probably guess what I'm talking about. However, the book does portray a lot of positive aspects of Claire and Jamie's relationship, and I'll always think of it fondly as my gateway into the world of historical romance.

If you had told me that I would be writing historical romance (or really any romance at all) before those days of reading Outlander under my desk in History class, I probably would have called you crazy. But afterwards? Well, it's all I ever really wanted to write.


*An excellent podcast that I highly recommend for not only recapping Outlander but also breaking down what works in both the show and the book from a narrative standpoint. Seriously, go check it out. It's delightful, and there's a real live Scotsman on it.

**Sorry, Mr. Hall. I did go on to get a degree in History so hopefully that makes up for it...

^Upon rereading, the sex seems so tame, but at 16 all I was reading were Kensington Zebra sweet romances where the characters held hands and had one chaste kiss on the last page. THE LAST PAGE?! I felt so cheated each and every time, and yet I read these books for three years. I had no idea that there were sexy books out there I could buy with my babysitting money.

^^I'm looking at you, Go Ask Alice. If you haven't read it, this is a book where the heroine loses her virginity while on LSD or something and then I'm pretty sure winds up addicted to hard drugs and maybe getting raped or prostituting herself or both. She might also die at the end (sorry, 40something year-old spoilers). Clearly, that was not what teenage Julia was looking for.