Tag Archives: Romance

What if the “Villains” Were the Heroes? A belated TBR Team Challenge Review of Dong Lan Xue

“Summary”: The maid in charge, Shen Yan, has assisted the Seventh Prince Chu Ning Yuan in seizing the title of crown prince. The two, who also had tragic experiences, became cold-hearted in order to seek revenge and seize power. They are used to seeing the dark, and the little warmth is only left to each other. Chu Ning Yuan gradually fell in love with Shen Yan who was always by his side, but Shen Yan was indifferent to his love, and even took the initiative to match Chu Ning Yuan to marry the daughter of a powerful minister in order to destroy the current crown prince’s plan to stabilize his power by taking the prime minister’s daughter as a concubine. Chu Ning Yuan saw Shen Yan’s intentions and became more determined to keep Shen Yan by his side. [Lightly edited by me, initially taken from MDL]


Dong Lan Xue is a short webdrama that is obviously low budget but doesn’t look like it at all. The costumes are gorgeous, as are the actors, the sets are well done, the script is excellent, the acting is good, there’s great fight choreography, and even nice background music. I think it was the first super short I’ve seen – as in each episode is only 2-3 minutes, and I was impressed with not only how much gets packed in, but how well the story is told. Continue reading

Team TBR Challenge Review: The Autumn Ballad

Here are two [synopses] of the series:

The story of a witty young girl named Qiu Yan and a cold-faced duke named Liang Yi, who goes from battling each other with wits and boldness to understanding and accompanying each other.

Qiu Yan is the least favored eldest daughter of the Qiu Manor. She managed to reap happiness step by step relying on her own efforts and wisdom. (From MyDramaList)


As the eldest daughter of an influential scholar and Vice Minister of Works, Qiu Yan (Qiao Xin) ought to have been highly favored within her family. Alas, as the daughter of her father’s concubine, the favor Qiu Yan should have received often went to her younger sister, Qiu Min (Kabby Hui). Often overlooked and frequently mistreated, Qiu Yan’s only chance of escape from her less-than-fortunate life comes in the form of an arranged marriage. Unfortunately even that goes awry at the last minute, leaving Qiu Yan an object of scorn and mistrust.

Determined to clear her name, Qiu Yan takes on the investigation herself; but she isn’t the only one looking into the case of her newly departed husband. As head inspector of the government’s investigative agency, Duke Liang Yi (Jeremy Tsui) is determined to uncover the truth. Often crossing paths with Qiu Yan, the two form an unlikely friendship, which works out advantageously for both, as the closing of their case gets them both what they want most. But the fates that tie Qiu Yan and Liang Yi together aren’t finished meddling just yet.

When her family is threatened by an unexpected accusation, Qiu Yan and Liang Yi must work together once more, to save her family from ultimate disgrace. As they work to clear her family’s name, the sparks that often fly between them eventually ignite a much bigger flame. But can love blossom in the midst of a major family crisis?

A fantastic story of clashing wills and melting hearts, “The Autumn Ballad” is a 2022 Chinese romance drama directed by Ding Ying Zhou. (From Rakuten Viki)

(Today was the first time I’d ever seen the trailer… anyway.) The “prompt” for the challenge this month is “Starting Over” and I’m currently having my heart ripped out by my rewatch of The Autumn Ballad … and I think it really fits well. (The book I’m reading very slowly, Kraving Tavek by Zoey Draven, would fit well too but I have a feeling even much more angst is in the second half and I fear it turning into wangst … so we’ll see.) Anyway … it’s funny because I think I actually tried watching The Autumn Ballad a while back but the opening scene turned me off – but last week I saw more of the episode when someone else turned it on and I got hooked. Hard. I literally watched all 34 episodes in two days … so there you go. (I also literally didn’t sleep the second night which is not recommended for healthy responsible adults.) 😅 It also means I’m fuzzy on some details so a piecemeal rewatch is called for, although I’m fast forwarding through all the parts that annoyed me the first go round, so there’s that too.

I don’t know if I’ll do a good job describing things/doing it justice because I’m so in it … but here we go.

Overall, I really liked the series. Obviously, considering I binged it, and immediately turned around and started it all over again. (And am nearly done with my second watch.) That being said, I have some mixed feelings – and this time I love parts more and hate parts more

Qiu Yan/Su Yiwan (although in my opinion she never really becomes the latter) is a wonderful heroine, and I loved that she had flaws that the show just … let be. The actress (Qiao Xin) does a great job portraying the character. I’ve never seen her in anything else before, but I’d definitely watch another historical she’s in. I did feel there were holes in the plot/script where this supposedly incredibly intelligent girl was TSTL – but I didn’t know if that was due to her age or just … “lack of care” in the writing. Anyway, she’s smart, stubborn, bold, brave, petty, independent, and clueless. I don’t think she ever really understood how deeply the hero loved her until like the last five minutes. (Or last minute? Spoiler: the show blessedly ends with them reuniting, but they don’t speak – they’re like ten yards apart staring at each other meaningfully. This was one of my major hate moments.) Considering her difficult background, and how poorly almost everyone has treated her her whole life, she feels that strength is the most important thing – being bold and fearless. She doesn’t understand compromise or standing down for most of the series. Oftentimes this is a benefit, but sometimes it causes major problems. What bothered me about her/this is … for such a smart girl, how could she not understand consequences. She had such tunnel vision in the beginning. Qiu Yan has such a big heart, and is willing to help and protect her family, giving up her own wants and desires, all for family. Throw in extreme danger, burden, and ungratefulness from many of them. (This I think is a strong cultural factor.)

Liang Yi have moved into my top five heroes in C-dramas. Maybe all heroes. He’s willing to do anything, and give up everything to help the heroine. He puts his life on the line for her countless times, and even turns back on his major vengeance to help her family (because of her). He definitely isn’t perfect though. Through the first ten plus episodes he’s really an asshole to the heroine. (He thinks she’s a calculating social climber with no real redeeming qualities, and she’s trying to seduce his best friend just to be a rich lady.) Circumstances continue to throw them together though, and he sees her much more clearly, and the attraction grows. Through this he also softens. In the later episodes there are a few times we see him utterly heartbroken, and I loved that the actor (Jeremy Tsui) really went in hard with that – willing to show us an ugly cry face, actual tears, it feels like your heart is getting ripped out along with his. To the world, he’s a cruel, calculating bastard. He’s ruthless and only cares about power and clout in the imperial court. In a small part he has lost his way for his vision for justice and a better country, because at the beginning he doesn’t care any more about protecting the little people who are collateral damage when it comes to big picture change. But his motive has always been to protect and strengthen the country, and weed out corruption. (Obviously unpopular with corrupt court officials, who clearly hold a lot of control in terms of public opinion.) He’s hated and feared. And he understands it – he says he chose his own path, and walks it willingly.

As I mentioned, I hated the ending. Not just in how unsatisfactory the reunion is, but also what led to the separation. Granted I was sleep deprived but I felt it was very badly done, all the events in the last (two) episodes. They’re thrown together and nonsensical. I also don’t think I understand the purpose of it/if I’m right … it’s a shitty ass purpose that doesn’t stand up for all that was given and lost. And here we potentially have a cultural disconnect (obviously I have a much more Western view than the original target audience), and then >.> indelicately put, the whole commie message. “It’s worth giving up your everything for the sake of the country, even if/when it isn’t deserved.” I can’t think of how to describe it because I’m too angry at what I’m seeing on screen right now. Which is another thing I hated. The villain in the show wins. At the end we have this thrown in “subplot” that … well I don’t want to give spoilers, so there’s this whole thing but … the asshole who has been a thorn in the hero’s side for the entire series wins everything. He gets everything he wanted, a promotion, becomes basically the most important person in the imperial court (other than the emperor of course), his rival, Liang Yi, our hero is gone, his name tarnished …

The villain is a corrupt evil asshole. He lies and ruined the heroine’s family – causing her father’s death, and it’s only through the basically unreal machinations of the hero and heroine are her family partially restored. The villain also tortures the heroine (I’m still mad that was such a minor blip to the show), and literally ruins the hero’s life. The villain frames Liang Yi, calls him a traitor to the world, the hero’s home is sealed off, makes him become a hunted fugitive …

And for what? The villain has no purpose or goal other than “take down the hero” until nearly the end where they work together to save the country. And … we’re … supposed to believe that redeems the villain? Are you fucking goddamn kidding me? And THAT is a guy who you want having incredible power? Like … am I having a stroke here?

So anyway … looking at the plot itself/the story one would be utterly “what. the. fuck.” At least I was.

In part I guess it “doesn’t matter” because our hero chose to give things up. (I’m still not 100% clear if the hero loses his title as well – he was a marquis/the equivalent … so I don’t know if he just lost his position in court, or also the marquisate. I think we all know I’m a petty monster, so I care. Even if he doesn’t. I care. Even if he doesn’t do anything with it – he should still have it. Especially after all his contributions and sacrifices.

I also hated her third sister (Qiu Min), who is one of the main secondary characters. Seriously we could’ve had a better ending if the show had cut out her sniveling and sniffling. She spends probably a good thirty minutes of the series doing that, if not more. Beyond that though, she’s fucking evil. She absolutely never understands her older sister, and only sees her in the worst light. Real talk – and I haven’t seen this mentioned anywhere in the few reviews I’ve read… Qiu Min rapes the guy she’s interested in (Qin Xuan). The show definitely doesn’t describe it that way … but she gets him drunk, roofies him … (and also told him her sister (Qiu Yan(, who he loves, is dead, and that he should pretend she’s her sister. So.) Qin Xuan and Qiu Yan had actually been a couple, although Qiu Min has always had a crush on him. It’s a mess. And a whole thing. Other spoiler/warning: Qiu Min is raped … and a possible trope I’m noticing that I hate is … “woman is raped and turns evil.” So now she’s a sniveling brat who is also evil. (I do feel very badly for her. But god damn does she just really go hard on the “I’m going to be the worst person possible but absolutely think there’s nothing wrong with what I’m doing and everything bad is my sister.”) She does do some good which the show is supposed to make us think “well everything before was fine then” but … I’m not snowed. Note: you don’t really see anything re: the rape(s) happen on screen, but you definitely know it happens. I also hate the useless emperor.

What I loved … the romance. Even though I wanted more … what’s funny is it starts off as a love/hate – which is a trope I strongly dislike in writing. Here it works though because while each doesn’t think much of the other, they are impressed by the other person. They’re both very smart and direct, and don’t feel the need to pretend with each other or observe inane social niceties, because they don’t think much of the other person – so why bother? But it also makes things a lot easier, and they get to be exactly who they are. But as stated, as they spend more time together working to solve cases, the attraction develops. The hero starts to fall for the heroine in episode ten, in my opinion. And he changes. The furtive looks, the softening of his expression … our hero loves the heroine more than she loves him. Or at least, he shows it more. The heroine is more concerned with her own freedom once she’s in a place to consider what she wants/has saved her family (again). I’m not mad at her for that. Live your life, girl. Especially in ancient China – grab what independence you can, and enjoy life as you want it when you’re able. It’s what she ~initially thinks is the most important.

With all the censorship [rules] in China the only thing you ever see on screen is really chaste kisses … and here’s how strict/PG everything is … I was super excited to see the hero actually hug the heroine in sympathy. (Like generally in other shows other than a kiss or two the most meaningful contact is a gripped sleeve or *gasp* clasped hands.) So a comfort hug was nice to see. I also deeply enjoyed the scenes between the hero and heroine when she’s forced to be a courtesan due to her circumstances, because they get to be more affectionate than would normally be allowed. (They’re acting to throw off the villain … but it’s not all acting on the part of the hero. And he says so!) There are also a few “I love you I’m so happy to see you” hugs. Well, two. Still – it’s actually a big deal.

I also have to shout out the largely unsung (or at least not sufficiently celebrated) characters of Song Jun, Yao Gui, and Shi Xiao Xiao. (I just rewatched that one scene three times in a row and ugly cried each time.)

I’d actually thought the series was 40 episodes for some reason, so I think in part that’s why I felt so cheated by the ending. I thought we had more after 34, and didn’t even consider as I was watching how rushed/”botched” things were. Aside from the “let’s throw the kitchen sink in/at it” aspect … I felt the development of the relationship was really good, as was the lead actors’ chemistry. Seriously – the way the hero’s face softens when he looks at the heroine – his eyes light up and sparkle … it’s darling.

A lot of the plot is really engaging – there are twists and turns that are totally unexpected, so you’re always engaged. There are a LOT of really well written scenes too, as well as touching lines. At times things get very emotional – I found myself crying at scenes I’d already watched, and some I’ve watched over and over and over already. And seriously the “we live or die together” in episode 31 had me hugging myself. First for the lovely sentiment, but also because they FINALLY AND ACTUALLY SAID IT OUT LOUD.

I can definitely see The Autumn Ballad becoming one of my future go-to rewatch series.

You can start watching it on Youtube with English subtitles. I think they do a good job with them here.

🤦🏻‍♀️ ETA: I forgot the “new beginnings” part of this … so … the heroine escapes death a few times – as does the hero. (A few times they escape death together… <3) The other times are spoilers so I won’t go into detail, but there are definitely huge “new life begins” or “begin again” moments.

Guest Post: On Fat Heroines (in Romance) by N.R. Lines

Hi friends! So this post was inspired by just an offhand comment about how fat heroines are [rarely] actually fat in romance, or there’s something ridiculous about them – e.g. the “fat heroine” has visible ribs the hero counts or runs his fingers over. Anyway, I then asked N.R. in the spring if she wanted to write a post, this was sent to me back in June, but I’m basically awful and had to put this off because scheduling and then time got away with me, so if anything is off, this is my fault. And also, thank you N.R. for your patience! I really hope you all take the time to read this post. <3

I’d also like to note that all covers shown here are recommended romances, regardless of placement in the post. I just like pictures, ok? 😉 

On Fat Heroines (in Romance) 
By N.R. Lines

We have a problem in the romance genre. It’s been a problem for as long as I’ve been reading romance back in1981, and likely much longer than that. It’s a problem that impacts many women , whether they know it or not. And few people seem to be talking about it. The problem: Romancelandia lacks fat heroines. Or at least fat heroines who are written well.

I have divided the fat heroines I’ve seen in romance novels into the following categories:

  • The Fake Fat Heroine
  • The Confident Curvy Girl
  • The Full Figured Fat Heroine

There are three types of Fake Fat Heroines. First is the heroine who the author is authentically trying to write as fat, but uses descriptors that could never apply to a fat heroine. For example, a truly fat, or even curvy girl will never be described as having jutting hipbones. A partner would never loving run their hands down the fat heroine’s ribs and feel the outline of her rib bones. These Fake Fat Heroines make me shake my head and laugh at the absurdity of it all. To fix this we need to be better at describing a fat heroine in a manner that is both realistic and affirming. We can do this, I know we can!

The second type of Fake Fat Heroine is the heroine who describes herself as fat because she is insecure about an aspect of her body. Fat or slender, we’ve all been there. But what if we stopped doing that? What if instead of making your heroine feel and see fat when she thinks about those insecurities we give her an insecurity that she overcomes. Pick one thing about herself, not her entire body. I get it, fat is that ubiquitous descriptor that is used to describe a woman who doesn’t feel right about her body. I’m in no way minimizing the issues we have as women, but as romance writers, perhaps we can do better and can find other ways to describe these insecurities. And we can write the stories where these insecurities are overcome in positive ways that don’t inadvertently put us fat girls down.

The final type of Fake Fat Heroine is more damaging. This is the heroine an author presents as a woman who believes she is fat, who sees a big girl when she looks in the mirror, but as we get into the story we come to realize the heroine isn’t a plus sized gal at all. Maybe the heroine has been called fat by family and friends because she’s a size eight instead of a size two. Maybe she was fat at a different point in her life, but has been at a lower weight for some time and is suffering from body dysmorphia. Maybe she is a trans woman who has some dissonance between how she feels in her skin and what she sees in the mirror. All we get from the heroine’s inner dialogue, and maybe dialogue with her evil family and friends, is that she is fat. Continue reading

Guest: Hanna Martine on Castles and Whiskey

Hi friends! So Hanna Martine and I were discussing her blog post, and she sent a description of her new book. The Good Chase just came out this past Tuesday, so we’re still in release week. Whoo! Everyone remember to congratulate Hanna on her newest book! The following explains it all – so I’ll let Hanna tell you. 😀

The email communication went something like this*:

Limecello to me: OMG the heroine in your next book is a whiskey expert? I love whiskey! Especially Balvenie.

Me to Lime: Yes, she is! I And by the way, I’ve actually visited Balvenie Castle in Scotland. Hmmm, I think I have my subject for my guest post on your blog!

*paraphrased, not quoting, haha

100% True Stories of Castles I Visited in Scotland


Duns Castle

As you can read in my author bio, I got married in a haunted Scottish castle. In 2001 we eloped to Duns Castle in Duns, Scotland, where the ceremony was performed in the drawing room. The butler and his girlfriend were our witnesses. That night at dinner the owners (whose family had lived in the castle since the 1500s) informed us that the ghost Sebastian inhabited the halls and had tormented their daughter throughout her childhood.

The tower we stayed in was built in 1342. Knowing a ghost was lurking about was a most excellent and romantic thing to think about on your wedding night.


Huntly Castle

I was enchanted by the remaining details in this castle—the windows and fireplaces and doorways. In the basement there was the old kitchen and storerooms, empty now. I got separated from my husband and as I was walking through the halls alone I felt a distinct chill breeze and the presence of something else. I freaked out and ran to look for him, but acted all cool and calm when I found him in another room.

BALVENIE CASTLE (for you, Lime)

Balvenie Castle

We had attended the Highland Games in Dufftown, the town where Balvenie Castle and The Balvenie Distillery are located. Satiated by beer and whiskey, our ears ringing with the sound of bagpipes, we hopped on over to the ruins of the castle for a quick walk-around. As we pulled up, so did this fancy car. Out stepped the freakin’ Baron of Balvenie, dressed to the nines in his kilt and tartan. We never got a picture. Of course.

My newest release: The Good Chase, a contemporary romance with a modern Scottish flair

The Good ChaseGleann, New Hampshire’s annual Highland Games always deliver the best of Scottish culture—rowdiness, rugby, whiskey, and unexpected romance…

Even though Shea Montgomery’s swanky bar and distinguished palate have made her a highly regarded whiskey connoisseur, she’s happiest bringing her favorite spirit to various Highland Games around New England. Her demanding ex made her wary of men obsessed with money and status, and she’s now more comfortable in the country than in the city. Still, when a gorgeous rugby player straight from Wall Street barrels into her whiskey tent, she’s tempted to change her mind…

J.P. Byrne went from poor beginnings to international high roller by using his charisma and wit, and holding fast to his dreams. A strong, independent woman like Shea is exactly what he’s looking for, only he has no idea how to prove he’s more than his three-piece suits—especially when he’s spent years doing just the opposite.

But as Shea and Byrne battle old demons, they discover together that the best remedy for past pain is a good, stiff shot of pleasure in the present…

Hanna Martine has loved stories—particularly the romantic kind—since she was very young. She writes sexy, character-driven romance novels in several different sub-genres—sometimes there’s magic (paranormal); sometimes there isn’t (contemporary). After a decade working in an office, she’s since dedicated herself to writing. She’s traveled to many wonderful places around the world, including the haunted Scottish castle in which she got married. Though she lives outside of Chicago with her family, her heart will always belong to Australia.

Connect with Hanna here: Website, Newsletter, Facebook, Twitter,Goodreads.

So what do you think? Whiskey? Castles? Romance? What’s not to love right? 😀 And if you’re not tempted enough, you can read an excerpt of The Good Chase here! Or you know, buy it here 😉

Updates, Apologies, TMI, & Ramblings on Happy Endings

Really, the subject covers it all. Obviously you see updates haven’t been happening. I am sorry about that. Please accept my apologies. One reason is … well, general illness. I spent the majority of today just trying not to throw up. (There’s the TMI).

Now for the rambling. Have I ever mentioned that while I read romance exclusively, my other entertainment aspects are more varied? In fact, I don’t like the “romance movies” or “romantic comedies” generally. The sweeping romantic dramas. Generally? Bleh. I love … psychological thrillers. My new show glom is Hannibal.

But, what I want to know is – how do you feel about happy endings? As in – how far must they go, and how much do you demand them?

I have to say – I do. Definitively. I absolutely do not like “happy for now” and would argue that’s not even truly a romance novel. Romances have happily ever after. Does the author have to show it? Well, no. Not necessarily, and I get that it wouldn’t always work. I don’t want forced scenes, rushed or pat endings either. (You see I’m not a very demanding reader at all ;)) What I don’t want to read is the hero and heroine hooking up and being happy – with no true relational background or build up. If they’re just in the flush of ‘hey let’s spend some time together” instead of “I really think this is real and will last.”

In fact, a great story will pretty much be ruined in my estimation with a HFN ending.

What about you?

Guest Post: Lisa

Hi everyone! So I “met” Lisa on twitter and she was all “omg! I watch those shows too! Let’s talk!” And then I was all like “you should do a guest post for me!” *all innocence* and there you have it. 😀 This is Lisa’s first ever blog post, she tells me, so everyone please give her a warm welcome!

When and Why I First Started Reading Romance

I was about 13 or 14 years old when I first started reading romances. I was at a local bookstore in town browsing the shelves, and ended up in front of the romance section. Something made me actually stop and check out the titles instead of just walking past like I normally do. The one book that caught my eye was Nora’s The MacGregor Brides (hey, if you’re going to start, you might as well start with one of the best, right?) Back then, I still had the mentality that romances were naughty books with little to no redeeming value, and I shouldn’t be reading them. But something pushed me to take the book off the shelf and check it out. I read the back blurb about three cousins (Laura, Julia, and Gwen) who fall in love at Christmas, all due to the machinations and plotting of a larger than life, meddling, matchmaking grandfather, Daniel MacGregor, aka,“The MacGregor.”. So despite myself, I found the premise fun and intriguing enough to start thumbing through and reading a bit of the book.

I immediately fell in love with the book, and was completely swept up in Laura, Gwen, and Julia’s story. Not because of the sexy parts, though of course that played a part in it. I loved the sense of family Nora built into the story. The three cousins live together in Boston, and the friendship and bond between them immediately reminds you of hanging out with your girlfriends. Each novella also includes a scene where the whole entire family comes together that reminds you of a Norman Rockwell holiday. But instead of it being overly sappy and sentimental, it just made you want to imagine yourself right there as an honorary MacGregor celebrating Christmas with a family who loves each other and support and care for each other, no matter what. Very fitting, as the holidays are all about family togetherness right?

And the book was funny. The scene when Julia and Cullum fight at her Christmas party/housewarming party and he picks her up and throws her over his shoulder while she’s cursing and spitting mad always makes me laugh, as well as the scene when security expert Royce (hired of course by Grandpa Daniel) walks into the house and sees Laura with her head in the fridge, butt wiggling as she’s dancing to the music in her earphones.

Our heroine is no weakling naturally, and faces Royce down with a kitchen knife before he can get a word out.

Most of all, the heart and romance in the story is what won me over. Branson wins Gwen over by giving her all twelve gifts from the song “12 Days of Christmas”. I defy anyone not to be charmed by a ceramic bowl painted with eight maids a milking, or nine music boxes with dancing ladies on top. Julia is in the business of developing and rehabbing real estate properties and Cullum is the contractor who’s hired to do the work, even though they couldn’t stand each other. (Of course, we all know that it’s all the unresolved sexual tension that’s the cause of all the sniping). Julia has just bought a new house she’s rehabbing. Watching the house come together and come alive as a physical manifestation of Julia and Cullum’s growing love and relationship was lovely. You know, by the end, that this is the house they’re going to live in and raise their family.

Of course, I then went on a mission to devour any other Nora Roberts’ books I could get my hands on. I sped through the rest of the MacGregor series (Ian and Naomi’s story in The MacGregor Grooms is my favorite), and went on to her Chesapeake Bay series. By then, I was a full on convert. Because after all, even under my pragmatic exterior, I am a romantic sap who wants to believe in the true love and happily ever after of it all. Nora’s books and the other romances I read reinforce for me the idea that there is nothing more important in life than love and friends and family, and love is more than just sex. Finding the right person for you, and demanding nothing less than a relationship built on love, trust, respect, commitment, as well as passion is worth waiting for and fighting for.

So my question for you lovely people: What was the book that turned you into a romance fan? What was it about the book that won you over?