Sailing the Seven Seas of Romance Reading Challenge: September and October Update

Sorry for being MIA for a month, but I was hopelessly sidetracked by my new obsession with medieval fantasy romance and I kind of forgot about any other reading options. Over the last two months I managed 3 books!

South Africa

A Ghost in Shining Armor
A | BN | K | AB
Primarily, I read books so that I can immerse myself in a world that is completely different from my own. So I have never read a South African romance before. This was my first and I think I chose very well. Therese Beharrie’s A Ghost in Shining Armor is charming and sweet and full of emotional growth. Levi is a ghost sent to help Gemma navigate the current challenges in her life. Only they fall in love. They both fight it a lot, especially because if Levi can help Gemma sort through her stuff, then he can return to his family in his world/reality.

Beharrie writes conversations so beautifully so I felt very connected to the characters and who they were at heart. In terms of pacing, a lot of the action was packed into the last few chapters which left the middle to lag a bit for me. Levi and Gemma kept having the same conversation in the middle there and it felt like no forward progress was being made.

The emotional growth is tough stuff to read, and issues addressed include reconciling feelings about adoption and setting boundaries with friends. Both Levi and Gemma need to learn to put themselves first. I pretty much devoured this book in a single weekend so I happily recommend it to others. I really enjoyed the unique ghost world presented in the book.

Nigeria

A Little Bit of Love’s Magic
A | BN | K
Nigeria has a booming romance scene, so I was spoilt for choice. In the end, I went with the prettiest cover. Shallow, perhaps, but ultimately effective. I chose A Little Bit of Love’s Magic by Bambo Deen.

Noura is in a straight relationship and has been for years. She laments not being in love with her boyfriend so out of desperation and a bit of curiosity, she goes to see a native doctor (author’s own term). He gives her a bar of soap and some incantations to repeat.

Noura knows that the easiest solution to her situation is to just fall in love with her boyfriend so they can get married and she can meet her father’s expectations (her mother is NOT a fan of the boyfriend). She uses the soap and says the incantation but it isn’t her boyfriend who knocks on her door.

Show Spoiler

In fact, the boyfriend stands her up. It’s the native doctor’s daughter who has come to return a scarf. Noura is hit by the big loves when she claps eyes on Bewaji. Turns out the scarf isn’t Noura’s and it’s uncharacteristic for Bewaji’s dad to make her run errands for him, so I suspected matchmaking on the dad’s part, but this is never confirmed or denied.

Despite being half in love with one of her girl friends from school, Noura is baffled by her attraction to Bewaji and it’s only once they’ve kissed a few times that Noura starts to think that she might be a woman who loves woman (author’s own term). The wheels fall off the bus in the last third of the book because her now ex-boyfriend does a despicable thing.

CW: Nasty homophobia

He has Noura and Bewaji followed and has photographs taken of their more intimate moments, but nothing altogether that revealing. In other words, things that might conceivably happen between friends. He plans to blackmail her into marrying him. In the end he shows her parents the pictures. They’re long divorced and have different responses. She’s disowned by her father, but her mother stands by her.

There’s a lot I enjoyed about this book. I enjoyed Bewaji’s career as a muralist a great deal especially as she paints scenes from Nigerian mythology. I enjoyed being immersed in a culture and location completely different from my own. I enjoyed the naivete and warmth of Noura as she explores her sexuality. Bewaji is such a steady, sensual, loving presence throughout. The romance between them is pretty low angst, but the family stuff towards the end gets pretty intense. Overall, it’s a quick, immersive read.

Philippines

First Time for Everything
A | BN | K
I absolutely devoured Mina V Esguerra’s First Time for Everything. The main characters are in their forties and that is undoubtedly my catnip. Victor and Sabrina have known each other since they were teenagers and during the pandemic, something almost happened between them, but Sabrina freaked out and literally ran away.

Until she sends a text to Victor two years later saying she’d like to try again. Specifically, she’d like to have sex with him. Sabrina is a virgin by choice but now she wants to have sex, specifically with Victor. Their love story is a sweet one where it gradually becomes clear that it’s not just that she wants to have sex with Victor, but that she wants sex only with Victor for the foreseeable and unforeseeable future.

It’s a novella so it’s a quick read, but it nonetheless packs a satisfying punch. There are a lot of food references as they both work in the food industry and that really sweetened the deal for me. There are healthy boundaries and frank, open conversations about the future and what they both want. The sex mostly happens off-page, but the chemistry is definitely there on-page. I would have liked more differentiation between their voices, but that’s a minor quibble for a lovely novella.

When you take up a reading challenge, how do you stay on task? I’ve been hopelessly derailed by medieval fantasy romance (which I didn’t realise was my catnip) but I’m committed to broadening my geographical reading horizons!

As always, suggestions for books are very welcome! You can take a look at this post for more info on the criteria.

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  1. Kareni says:

    I enjoyed learning about these three books, Lara.

    One possibility to stay on track is to read one medieval fantasy romance and then one book for the challenge. (If the challenge becomes a slog, you might put it aside until a later date. Can you tell that I believe in reading for pleasure?)

  2. kkw says:

    Yeah I would absolutely drop a reading challenge that doesn’t interest me, unless nothing else interested me either. But given such a delightful sounding alternative? There will be reviews of those other books forthcoming, right?
    It’s just a matter of framing. This isn’t about quitting or giving up, it’s about finding what works. I was trained that the best way to win a fight was not to engage. Run away from that challenge and consider it a victory.
    Oh right but you want to stick with the challenge. Ok. Um, maybe get a magical bar of soap and see which book shows up for you?

  3. chacha1 says:

    My reading challenges generally have to do with research for works either in progress or simmering. 🙂 This year I also took up the 23 for 23 challenge to add more books by BIPOC authors featuring BIPOC characters, which was a lot of fun and helped re-train my algorithm.

  4. HeatherS says:

    Speaking of medieval fantasy romance, has anybody read Elisabeth Wheatley’s books? “Daindreth’s Assassin”, etc. Her Instagram videos are fantastic. I read the sample of her first book in this series and it definitely hooked me, but I’m waiting to buy it because she’s having a sale on her website later this week.

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