I’m Reading: Written in the Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur

Elle’s blind date with the beautiful, snobby sister of her new business partner is a disaster, but she considers that emblematic of her life in general. It’s for the best, really. Darcy strikes her as a particular kind of stick-up-the-butt snob who would hate everything about Elle and her chaotic life. But every time her mother asks if Elle is seeing anyone, it’s one more reminder that Elle is a failure in her family’s eyes.

Darcy is fresh off a painful breakup and done with her brother’s pressure to “get out there” and open her heart up again. All she wants to do is stay in and stay the course of her quiet, orderly, successful life. Her brother’s latest setup for her (with an astrologist, of all people) was the final straw. But she never could say no to her baby brother’s puppy-dog face. When he tries to push her into speed dating, she lies and tells him the date with Elle was a raging success, just to get him off her back.

Elle and Darcy’s fake relationship makes both their families happy, even if it comes with an agreed-on expiration date. Falling for each other was never part of the plan, but the chaotic pull of Elle’s gravity turns out to be too much for Darcy to resist. As Elle learns to believe in her value and Darcy learns to open her heart, they both find themselves reaching for the stars.

This is a great, tightly-written contemporary romance. I’ve seen it billed as a Pride and Prejudice meets Bridget Jones’s Diary, but I’m not sure I agree completely with that comparison. The elements of P&P are more about the characters than the plot. We have the aloof, snobby love interest with a cinnamon roll bestie-brother; and the free-spirited woman with catty sisters, passive father, and judgy mother. Bridget Jones is more of a stretch. Sure, Elle thinks she’s a mess, but she’s actually pretty together with a successful career about to launch. Her brain weasels come straight from her parents. She doesn’t need anyone to hand her success, either. She knows what she wants to do from the start, she pursues it, and she’s damn good at it. That competence makes Elle much more likeable and relatable than Jones.

Overall, I found it charming, sexy, funny, wholesome, and well-written. The romantic and sexual tension are nicely crafted, and there are moments of lovely imagery and connection. I highly recommend it to any fans of contemporary romance. Check out the author and their work at www.alexandriabellefleur.com, and look for the book at your local library!

Commas and Hyphens in Adjectives, Oh My!

Multiple adjectives modifying a single noun need commas, right? But in a writing group I’m in, we spent some time debating why this sentence is incorrect:

“He sat at a hand carved, oak dining table.”

We could all tell by instinct that it is incorrect, but had trouble expressing why.

The correct punctuation would be:

“He sat at a hand-carved oak dining table.”

Understanding when noun modifiers need punctuation is a hair-tearing exercise in frustration for many writers. We rely on instinct and experience to recognize when to place commas and hyphens in noun/adjective combinations, but any editor will tell you our instincts are often wrong.

Turns out, there are actual (not-so) secret rules to this.

It starts with something called “compound nouns.”

Compound nouns are like Lego builds. They’re single items comprised of multiple components, but those components don’t really modify the noun; they are an essential part of it. Some examples include “Christmas tree,” “golf ball,” and “ice cream.” Even though they’re multiple words, they serve as a single, modifiable idea.

In our example sentence, “oak dining table” is a single compound noun. The only modifier is “hand-carved,” so as a single adjective, it does not require a comma.

So why is “hand-carved” hyphenated?

Sometimes we use groups of words to express a single thought that modifies a noun. That becomes a “compound adjective.” We hyphenate these when they appear before the noun they modify. In this example, we want “hand-carved” to represent a single thought, because “hand” and “carved” don’t modify the table individually (what’s a hand table?). They are a single modifier.

Another reason to hyphenate an adjective is when the meaning of a phrase is unclear without the hyphen. It serves the same purpose as above, to group words together as a single thought and make the meaning clear. For example, if I say that most of the children in a class live in two parent households, we have some ambiguity. Are these two separate parental households, or one household with two parents in it? In this case, using “two-parent households” clarifies the meaning. We’ve grouped “two” and “parents” into a single thought, modifying “households.” These situations are judgment calls, though, and your editor might disagree with your usage.

Now it gets tricky

Some compound nouns are written as one word, like “waistline” and “haircut.” Some are always hyphenated, like “mother-in-law.”

Also, the rules can differ by region, specialty, and publication. I’ve seen “dining table” hyphenated in several places, even though the majority of dictionaries do not do so.

The good news is that many publications HAVE a style guide that specifies things like hyphenation and treatment of common phrases. There are also wider-use style guides such as the Chicago Manual of Style or APA Stylebook, which can be good general guides to follow in the U.S. when no other guidance is available. But they’re not universal. Regardless of what you’re used to or you’ve been taught, always defer to the stated preferences of the publisher when dealing with punctuation.

I’m Reading: Finding Joy by Adriana Herrera

Warning: Contains Spoilers

26-year-old American Desta Joy Walker begin his life in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The country was his father’s first love as well as the place of his death. When Desta tries to follow in his father’s footsteps as an aid worker, he finds the shoe doesn’t quite fit. He reconnects with his heritage and understands the love his father held for Addis Ababa, but feels the pull of a social work career back in the U.S. He must balance his own identity and calling against his parents’ dreams. The stakes for his decision skyrocket when he falls hard for the gentle, beautiful Elias Fikru. Both under the pressure of family legacy and in a place where gay relationships are illegal, they risk everything if they choose to be true to themselves.

This was a beautiful mix of steamy-hot sex and sweetly beautiful love of all kinds. We fall for the beauty of Ethiopia through the eyes of the character, and our hearts break for him and Elias for the intense pressure and danger they face together. The blend of Ethiopian and Dominican cultures and their fierce family loyalty is a rich tapestry to frame the story and the decisions the characters face.

The only downside for the story for me isn’t a downside for many: The story is low-angst. That means there’s some very real, plausible sources of conflict and danger the author chooses to leave on the table and not throw at the characters. They would greatly increase tension, but for some, tension is not always the goal. Some people want their happily-ever-after without putting their characters through hell and breaking them, first. I would chalk this up to simple differences in taste, rather than anything actually wrong with the story.

Similarly, some reviewers have mentioned the sex scenes being “out-of-tone” for the slow, sweet pacing of the story. They are indeed high-steam and graphically erotic, but I wonder if the same reviewers would complain if the main characters were M/F? This is a sensuous story, where the food, coffee, and other richly detailed textures of life in Ethiopia are an integral part of the story. I think the author brings the same sensual details to the love scenes.

You can find this and the author’s other books at https://adrianaherreraromance.com/

Content Notice: Contains LGBTQ discrimination and ethnic discrimination