What I’ve been reading lately – books by people named Penny

You know how humans are apt to generalize out of the particular? Well, I recently read books by two people named Penny (Penny Reid and Penny Watson, to be specific), and now my brain thinks that all books by people named Penny are likely to be awesome. I try to remind my brain that an author’s name does not have direct bearing on a given book’s chances of being awesome, but my brain does not listen.

First up is Penny Watson’s Apples Should be Red. 

Recipe for Thanksgiving Dinner:

Start with sixty-two year old politically incorrect, chain-smoking, hard-cussing curmudgeon.
Add fifty-nine year old sexually-repressed know-it-all in pearls.
Throw in a beer can-turkey, a battle for horticultural supremacy, and nudist next-door neighbor.
Serve on paper plates, garnished with garden gnome.
Tastes like happily ever after.

The romance genre has a diversity problem, and it isn’t just one of race and class. While there has definitely been a shift over the past fifteen years or so to allow a wider age range of heroines (used to be they were all 17-21, give or take, and now they’re closer to 24-34, give or take), it would be easy, looking exclusively at romance fiction, to assume that heroes need to be in their 30s and that there’s no such thing as romance after 40. That really is a pile of malarkey, and I’m thrilled that Penny Watson decided to tell the story of these two characters in their golden years.

Apples Should Be Red is the story of a Martha Stewartesque woman thrown together with a grumpy, garden-savvy Jeff Bridgesish guy, except that the story is way more wonderful than that sounds. For starters, Tom and Bev are more well-rounded than their summaries might imply. Bev is not just a post-menopausal widow who can decorate the hell out of anything; she’s also a woman healing from several decades of bad marriage, a woman whose motherhood and wifehood has eclipsed her sense of self for so long that she’s a little lost. Tom is not just an antisocial old coot with a flourishing vegetable garden and a disdain for the trappings of femininity; he’s also an incredibly smart dude who prefers making things with his hands to theorizing, an independent man who is able to learn the value of flowers and neighbors. These two characters come alive through strong writing, snappy dialogue, and masterful plotting. The result is both laugh out loud funny and poignant; and it’s sexy as hell. I highly recommend this book, and I can’t wait to read more books by Penny Watson (especially Lumberjack in Love, which sounds right up my alley.)

I participated in DABWAHA this year, and was intrigued by a number of the books included in the original 64, including Penny Reid’s Neanderthal Seeks Human (Knitting in the City #1). 

There are three things you need to know about Janie Morris: 1) She is incapable of engaging in a conversation without
volunteering TMTI (Too Much Trivial Information), especially when she is unnerved, 2) No one unnerves her more than Quinn Sullivan, and 3) She doesn’t know how to knit.


After losing her boyfriend, apartment, and job in the same day, Janie Morris can’t help wondering what new torment fate has in store. To her utter mortification, Quinn Sullivan- aka Sir McHotpants- witnesses it all then keeps turning up like a pair of shoes you lust after but can’t afford. The last thing she expects is for Quinn — the focus of her slightly, albeit harmless, stalkerish tendencies — to make her an offer she can’t refuse.

I fucking loved this book, you guys. There’s a pretty good chance that Penny Reid actually wrote it for me. I mean, she hasn’t met me (yet), but… whatever, it’s possible. Neanderthal Seeks Human had me from page one (which takes place in a bathroom stall without toilet paper, by the way). It is a delightfully quirky romance novel that takes full advantage of its slightly unreliable narrator and manages to be a little bit mysterious and a lot funny without downplaying any of the romantic elements. Oh, and it’s a nerd romance.

I may have mentioned from time to time that I am in favor of accurate depictions of friendship in books, so it’s kind of a given that my favorite thing about the book is the knitting group, this group of women who get together weekly to knit, drink, and tell stories about their lives. In Neanderthal Seeks Human, the group sort of plays the role of Janie’s inner monologue, interpreting the events in Janie’s life and suggesting appropriate actions. And the knitting group brings a lot of the comedy to the book’s party (including one very nearly ridiculous scene wherein the knitters take down a couple of gunmen with knitting needles, skeins of outrageously expensive yarn, and sheer moxie).

I’m not saying the book is perfect. There are some random editing issues in the edition I purchased, and I could have handled a little bit less external drama (the gangsters were a trifle OTT), and, while those elements were incredibly entertaining, they distracted just a little bit from the Janie/Sir Handsome McHotpants story. But a book doesn’t have to be perfect to be perfectly enjoyable. I have been recommending Neanderthal Seeks Human left and right, to strangers, to friends, to readers of romance, to people who would rather not ever read a romance novel. Honestly, I think anyone with a sense of humor will enjoy this book.

I wanted to move right on and read the second book in the series, but — so far — it’s available only on Kindle, and I’m pretty much a Nook girl. So I skipped to the third book, Love Hacked. Unsurprisingly, I loved it, too.

There are three things you need to know about Sandra Fielding: 1) She makes all her first dates cry, 2) She hasn’t been kissed in over two years, and 3) She knows how to knit. 

Sandra has difficulty removing her psychotherapist hat. Of her last 30 dates, 29 have ended the same way: the man sobbing uncontrollably. After one such disaster, Sandra–near desperation and maybe a little tipsy–gives in to a seemingly harmless encounter with her hot waiter, Alex. Argumentative, secretive, and hostile Alex may be the opposite of everything Sandra knows is right for her. But now, the girl who has spent all her life helping others change for the better, must find a way to cope with falling for someone who refuses to change at all. 

So I was a little worried when I picked up Love Hacked that it wouldn’t live up to the hype my brain built. I needn’t have worried. This book is, like Janie’s book before it, told in the first person past narrative from Sandra’s perspective, and it is awesome. And Alex? OM NOM NOM NOM. (Wait, is that creepy?) Further, it’s just as funny as Neanderthal, but it’s utterly distinct. And it makes me want to have occasion t-shirts (except I don’t like wearing t-shirts).

Love Hacked is slightly less recommendable to non-romance readers because it’s got significantly more sexy sexy times, but I still want to recommend it to all the people (all of them). It’s funny and touching and enjoyable and interesting. (And, again — I’m not saying that it’s perfect… editing errors and external sources of drama annoy me.)  But let’s just put this into perspective for those of you who know me well: this book has editing errors and I loved it anyway, and I want you to read it. I don’t know that there’s a better way to communicate how very much I liked it.

So there you have it: books by people named Penny are fucking awesome.

*FTC Disclosure – I received a copy of Apples Should Be Red from the author in exchange for an honest review. I purchased the other two books.*

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4 thoughts on “What I’ve been reading lately – books by people named Penny

  1. I haven’t read Penny Watson, but I have to agree there is definitely some lack of variety in the romance genre – so it is refreshing to read a love story of an older couple, and for it to still be fun and sexy!
    On to Penny Reid, whom I adore. You should definitely pick up Elizabeth’s book too when you have a chance (2nd book), but I loved both Janie and Sandra… and Alex, lol! Don’t get me started 🙂 Great reviews!!!

  2. Pingback: 2014 – a summary of my reading, contemporary and quirky romance edition | Reading with Analysis

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