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Monthly Top 5 Lists

Each month we compile a list of our top 5 things on a topic.  It can range from topics like our favorite heroes or story lines to our top 5 reasons we don’t like something we’ve found in fiction or nonfiction books.  Sometimes our top 5 lists will be serious, but it’s a safer bet they’ll be funny or racy (see August and July below for examples of those types of lists).  Feel free to comment; we love hearing from readers.  Enjoy!

For September’s Top 5, we discuss our favorite nonfiction books.  We don’t only read romantic books, so we thought we’d do a Top 5 on books that are a bit more analytical.  It’s a little more serious than our previous Top 5, but we promise to get back to fun and frivolity next month with a Top 5 about why vampires are our favorite monsters (you know that will be fun).

Alexandria/Moira

1.  The Art of War/1776
2.  On Liberty/Reagan’s War
3.  The Art of Seduction/Londonistan
4.  Real Education/Holy War for the Promised Land
5.  Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England/Mere Christianity

What makes the top of your nonfiction list?

Alexandria:  My top nonfiction book is one called The Art of War by Sun Tzu.  Written in the sixth century B.C. by a Chinese military general, The Art of War is a relatively brief book that deals with military issues.  It’s interesting because Sun Tzu’s ideas on how to conduct war are applicable to everyday situations, from the boardroom to the classroom, because they’re about a very basic idea to all people:  the desire to succeed.  The thirteen chapters deal with topics such as how to wage war, how to use strategy to avoid war, how to use your opponent’s weaknesses to your advantage, and even such things as how terrain affects military planning and how weather can be a decisive factor in a campaign.

I have read The Art of War many times over the years, and it’s an immensely useful book in understanding military history, but it’s also great for understanding human nature because in the end, that’s what war is about–mankind’s desire to control.

Moira1776, by David McCullough ranks in the top five of my favorite non-fiction books. This wonderfully written book follows the Revolutionary War through the year 1776, which often looked very bleak for the colonies.  The strong character and sincere belief in the cause for which he acted combined with his unwavering faith compelled Washington to continue in the face of seemingly impossible odds.  George Washington and the other men who formed the Continental Congress risked their own wealth, the safety of their own families, and their very lives to procure the liberty that we enjoy.

This book should be required reading for all American high school students.

What books make it into the number 2 spot?

Alexandria:  My second favorite nonfiction book is entitled On Liberty by John Stuart Mill.  On Liberty is an example of what liberal thought was in the 19th century, as opposed to what monster it’s morphed into today.  Mill discusses the right of all people to do as they will, as long as their behavior doesn’t harm another.  How liberals of today, who seem to constantly be attempting to dictate to the rest of us how we should think, act, and be can claim that they come from the same school of thought as Mill is astounding.  In fact, Mill deals with just this kind of group in On Liberty when he discusses the tyranny of the majority, the power that a vocal majority will have over the minority, be it a minority of sex, race, religion, or any other kind, and how it stifles the rights of that minority.  Mill argues that the tyranny of the majority is worse than that of a government.  He sees government as a political animal, whereas the majority is an all-encompassing beast looking to dictate to each of us in every part of our lives.

Reading On Liberty is like having your eyes open to liberty for the first time.  If you haven’t read it, do so now.  It’s worth the time, particularly in the current political climate.

Moira:  Another of my favorites is Reagan’s War, by Peter Schweizer.  This book is another that I believe should be required reading for all high school students in this country.  In addition, it is not difficult to read and gives insight into the character of Ronald Reagan that no textbook can ever impart.  Reagan battled communism throughout his lifetime, and this battle led him from the big screen to the highest political office in our land.  The policies this president effected were at times highly controversial, and yet ultimately successful.  He was unwavering in his quest to end the Cold War, a firm believer in the supremacy of American ingenuity (because of the freedom we enjoy and our capitalistic economy which rewards high achievement), and a man who could not be cajoled, manipulated, or bribed.  He stood for something.  He believed in America.  He was truly a fascinating and interesting man.

Good stuff!  Now on to number three.

Alexandria:  My number three book on my list of top nonfiction books is The Art of Seduction by Robert Greene.  Greene’s book is often seen as controversial because it advocates what many see as extremely manipulative methods in achieving a goal.  The problem with the naysayers’ arguments is that human beings naturally do such things every day; it’s just that now it’s politically incorrect to admit it.  Look at all your great leaders, even those of groups who don’t like this book.  The people at the top didn’t get there not understanding human nature.  Greene’s The Art of Seduction is good because it explains just one part of human nature and how to know it to use it to your advantage.

I think the problem stems from the fact that the word seduction is in the title.  When people think of romantic relationships, many assume that power doesn’t come into play.  There’s no explaining to these people that power is a part of every human relationship.  All Greene argues is that it’s how you use power that differentiates the successful from the unsuccessful, in this case, with the opposite sex.  But read the book knowing that what he writes, as what Sun Tzu wrote in The Art of War, can be applied to any situation.  Those touchy-feely types who don’t like Greene’s book shouldn’t worry anyway. They’re so easily read, one doesn’t need a book like The Art of Seduction to figure out how to get around them.

Moira:  Another top recommendation of mine, Londonistan, explores the nature of radical Islam, causes and effects, spread into western nations, and  its foothold in Great Britain.  Melanie Phillips chronicles the passivity of the British government in confronting the jihadist faction operating boldly in its midst and recruiting in its cities.  Whether motivated by faulty logic or fear, Britain’s government refuses to act in its own best interest Philips warns.  One need only look to the growing areas in France where police no longer set foot, areas of Britain where the same is now occurring, court battles in the UK where fundamental Islamic groups are demanding their own separate family courts which will judge according to Shar’ia Law (yes, in Great Britain!), school systems changing curriculum, meals, and gym classes to accommodate Islamic students to understand the dangers posed to western society.

In our world today, we must understand the nature of Islam, its goals, its tenets, its mission, and its agenda ( including social, missionary, and geo-political agendas).  The information is plainly written and spoken by Islamic leaders around the world.  Phillips presents all these plainly.  I highly recommend this book to high school students and adults.

And the number four nonfiction books on the list?

Alexandria:  My fourth book on this list is entitled Real Education: Four Simple Truths For Bringing America’s Schools Back To Reality written by Charles Murray.  I reviewed this book in August (see the review here).  As an educator who sees everyday how high schools are truly failing our students, I think this book is important enough every parent should read it.  However, beware:  Murray doesn’t pull any punches, and he doesn’t sugarcoat the reality of what the American education system has devolved into.  He also doesn’t worry about hurting feelings, and some readers who are parents of students who are low performing will probably have a hard time swallowing his prescription for improving America’s schools.  Murray doesn’t argue in favor of neglecting these students, but he does strongly argue against the “educational romanticism”, as he calls it, that drives our school system today and claims that everyone can succeed at the level of going to college.

Murray argues against what the inevitable outcome of so many low level students going to college will be:  a college degree meaning nothing but a huge bill and it being equal to a high school degree.  The problem is that what this means is that not everyone gets to be the engineer; some will have to be the laborers, and in our society today, this is seen as unacceptable.  So they continue to go off to college, not realizing that every student who forces colleges to lower the standards is another step toward a college degree being worth nothing except the paper it’s printed on.

Moira:  The Middle East continues to be at the center of the news, with peace seemingly no closer than it was hundreds or even thousands of years ago.  Understanding the history behind this conflict is imperative if we are to help bring about resolution in the area.  David Dolan, Jerusalem based journalist reporting for CBS (at the time of publication) has written, Holy War for the Promised Land. Dolan explains the history of the region, the religious struggle at the center of the conflict, the implications of the rebirth of Israel as a nation and its continuing struggle to survive in the Muslim Middle East.  This book was published in 1991, and much has happened in the 19 years since.  However, without the knowledge of the well documented history of the area, one cannot understand the significance of the ongoing conflicts of the present day.

Again, I highly recommend this book.  I must note that the beginning chapter and conclusion include a little of Dolan’s personal story, including his journey as a journalist and how he came to be in the Middle East as an American Christian.  However, the news and history reported in the book are from a purely journalistic approach.

And last, but not least, in at number 5?

Alexandria:  My number 5 is entitled The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England. Written by Ian Mortimer, it deals with a favorite period in time for me, the 14th century, and one of my favorite places in history.  I also reviewed this book during the summer (see the review here).  Mortimer’s writing is easy and interesting, and he makes what can be a very dense topic come alive because he deals with the everyday things that one must know to live in any time:  what to wear, where and what to eat and drink, who’s in charge, and what to look out for, in addition to things such as money, telling time, and even the interesting and outlandish fashions of the day.

Ian Mortimer’s The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England is a fantastic way to study the 14th century. Read it and realize what a great history book is like.

Moira:  To finish off this very hard task of choosing only five non-fiction books to recommend, I have chosen, Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis.  This classic is a must read, regardless of one’s religious affiliation (or lack thereof).  Lewis, a self-proclaimed atheist at one time, became an unabashed Christian after examining the basis of his beliefs against nature, human nature, the human condition, and logic.  Extremely thought provoking, Lewis conveys the basics of Christian thought and logic in his wonderful style.  Uncomplicated and straight forward, Mere Christianity, would be enjoyed by anyone interested in the human condition.

For August, we tackle the top 5 things that romance writers include in their stories that we wish they didn’t.  We love these books, but some things we read in them we just don’t like. These are things like topics, story lines, and even settings that just make us want to scream and close the book or make us look around and say “What??”  Below the list is our discussion of our choices.

Alexandria/Moira

1. Virgin romantic heroes/No diversity in heroes
2. Sick female characters/Rape in romance
3. Scottish settings and accents/Heroes who change into animals
4. Impossible sex/Heroines who cave in to the hero’s seductive charms but fight the romance
5. Dialogue that would never happen/Heroines’ jobs

So why do you hate your number ones?

Alexandria: This trend in romance novels to have virgin heroes is counter-intuitive to the whole idea of why women read romance novels. How can a virgin be a sex machine that the role of romantic hero requires?  Readers want a romantic hero who can please a woman completely, not a man who doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing. Worse yet is that romance writers want us to believe virgins can take a woman to heaven and back. J.R. Ward’s Zsadist and Phury characters are examples of this. Neither vampire has had sex, and in fact, she has them both wondering how to please their respective women. Yet somehow readers are to believe that when they have sex, they’re expert lovers right out of the gate. Hint to writers: leave virginity to the females.  We do it better.
Moira: Virginal male heroes don’t irritate me necessarily, but the idea that they are expert lovers from the “get-go” is not realistic.  Where we differ in opinion is that I think a patient lover….a giving lover….an eager lover ….a tender lover… could all also be virgin lovers.

Moira: #1 Thing I love to Hate…….  Where are all the sexy Persian, Eastern European/Gypsy, and Native American heroes? Although I love a strapping Scot, variety is the spice of life.  I would like to enjoy heroes from the groups above.  I mean, seriously…this broad, if doomed to a life as the bride of a green-toothed frontiersman named Jed, who dared to approach my bedroom in his smelly, red, woolen long johns…Please!  The next Indian attack on our wagon train would have me yelling, “No!  You all run back and save yourselves. Don’t worry about me…I’ll lead those golden brown, mostly naked heathens the other way…I’ll sacrifice myself and force myself…somehow…. to ride bareback on a pony behind one of those lean warriors covered in war paint with that silken black hair blowing in the breeze…”.
Alexandria: I think I got a little sick thinking about Jed, Moira.  But I’m all for some more Eastern Europeans.  The big strapping kind.

Ok, so what is the deal with your second hated things?

Alexandria: I don’t know when sickness became associated with romance (Is this because of that sappy 1970 movie Love Story? Damn you Ali MacGraw!), but it needs to stop.  Think about the last time you had the flu.  Can you imagine doing anything sexual, even if the most beautiful male who ever existed came to you to seduce you and please you like no other man ever could?  Of course not!  You’re sick!  Even your hair hurts.  Sickness, however, doesn’t seem to stop romance heroines from fucking like porn stars and behaving like you and me on our best days.  Once again, J.R. Ward is on our list.  Rhage’s woman, Mary, in Lover Eternal has leukemia.  Yet that character can sex that 6’8″ superhot vamp and fight with him like any feisty woman.  Amanda Ashley’s female character Shannah in Dead Perfect is dying from some unknown disease and is close to death even at the beginning of the story, yet she can follow the hero for months and camp out across the street from his house stalking him.  Writers, please stop giving incredibly hot romantic heroes sick girls to fall in love with.  Sickness is not sexy, and a person close to death has a pallor that is anything but a turn on.
Moira: Being sick is the absolute worst in my world.  Fevers leave me delirious, aching with what my grandmother referred to as the “old fashioned grip”, and whining for Advil.  I look and feel like Medusa on hard-core drugs, and couldn’t have a romantic thought if I tried. (Picture yourself the last time you slathered yourself up with Vick’s Vapo Rub, swallowed  a double dose of NyQuil, and slept with a Kleenex stuffed up your nose……uhhh yeah, see what I mean….?)  None of this is sexy.  I’m so glad you addressed this irksome trend by romance writers.

Moira: #2 Thing I love to Hate…….Rape In Romance…..  I understand we need drama in our romance novels, but I’m not a fan of rape in any circumstance, especially a novel that’s supposed to be about romantic love.  Authors!  There is nothing sexy about rape.  Stop writing it, please.  I have nothing funny to say in this second complaint, as there is nothing funny about this topic.
Alexandria: I blame General Hospital/Luke and Laura from the late 70s for this.  He rapes her one night in the disco he owns and they’re the greatest couple since Romeo and Juliet by the next year. Yeah, rape usually leads to marriage, right?

And your number three things you love to hate about romance books?

Alexandria: Holy fucking bagpipes, Robin!  What is with all the stories set in Scotland?  I can’t troll the romance aisles at the local Borders without finding dozens upon dozens of romance novels about Scottish Highlanders.  Why?  It’s not that the setting of Scotland is that bad, but it certainly isn’t the sexiest place to set a story.  I would think Italy, Spain, anywhere that would allow characters to wear something other than woolens nine months out of the year would be sexier.  No, it’s not the setting so much as the dialogue that comes along with a story set in Scotland.  The Scottish dialect isn’t sexy the way it’s done in romance novels.  Sentences like, “Ay, lassie, mayhaps I be in love with you” are simply pure torture.  Mayhaps?  Even Sean Connery circa late 1960s wouldn’t have been sexy with words like mayhaps leaving his lips.  If I didn’t have such an incredible aversion to the lie that virgins are good in bed, this Scottish story issue would be at number 1.
Moira: Nay, Alexandria, I canna agree with ye on this matter.  Dinna I tell ye of my love for a handsome hunk of a highlander?  I want my highlander to whisper an, “Aye Lass, dinna I tell ye I would have ye for my woman?”  Oh, and I’m sure he would also refer to “getting his bairn on me”, too… Ha!

Moira: #3 Thing I love to Hate……Heroes who are/change into animals/beasts/etc…..  It would seem you can’t swing a dead cat (no pun intended…well, okay, it was intended) without hitting a romance novel in which the hero changes into a cat, dog, werewolf, or a logosh.  Werewolves are usually not a problem, as long as they stay in human form when involved with their romantic partner, but many of these wretched stories come quite close to bestiality, and I have only one word to say about that…deee-sgusting.
Alexandria: I could definitely do without men who are also some kind of animal.  The only kind of changing I like is some sharp teeth in the mouth.

Why are your number fours on the list?

Alexandria: It’s understood by anyone who reads romance novels that the sex is going to be more incredible in these stories than actually occurs in real life.  In fact, that’s probably one of the main reasons why readers love them.  Who wants to read about how some woman’s boring husband got his 5.5 inch penis semi-hard and proceeded to pound away at her, never thinking of how she might want it, and eventually after sweating all over her, came about an ounce?  No one.  So I’m not asking for pure reality, but when a character is said to have been neglected by her husband for 12 years after she only had sex twice (once each time to become pregnant with her children), then I find it a bit difficult to believe that she can have super sex with the romantic hero who possesses a cock sent straight from God with dimensions that include the number 10 and a head that resembles a plum.  A plum?  I stood in the grocery store after reading that story and held a plum and all I could think was “Damn…”  After 12 years of no sex, she’s basically been revirginated, for God’s sake.  There’s no way she’s accommodating a 10 inch member and its plum sized head.   I understand well hung men need loving too, but not with a woman who is tighter than a frog’s ass.  It just doesn’t work.  Also in this category are the male virgins who somehow can rock a woman’s world with no experience behind them and sick females who can do things when they’re close to death that would require any other woman to visit Helga’s House of Pain for a session with Inga to ensure she didn’t dislocate a hip during the kind of sex found in romance novels (thanks Moira).
Moira: ….. you said “revirginated”…..(mimics my best Beavis and Butthead laugh..huhh huh…huhhhh huh..hu huh…)  I can only add that I gave a hearty “oof” when I contemplated that meritorious member you refer to from our infamous sheik.

Moira: #4 Thing I love to Hate…..Women who succumb to the romantic endeavors of the hero, only to run away/leave him/lie about how they feel……  Stop the madness!  If one of these tall drinks of water invaded my personal space so ably, you wouldn’t catch this broad running anywhere….and neither would you run……  Just admit it, I did.
Alexandria: I wouldn’t stay around for any virgins or men who are also animals. I don’t care how fine they are.  I don’t teach men in bed and I don’t comb them out.  Two very solid rules of mine.

Finally, what are the problems with your number fives?

Alexandria: Dialogue is a very difficult part of the writing of a story.  Even some of the greatest authors struggled with this skill, and some, such as Hemingway, never succeeded at writing dialogue that works.  This seems to be a problem for romance writers.  Dialogue should reflect the character’s individual style and experiences.  For example, if you are writing about a vampire who is hundreds of years old, why the hell would you have him end sentences with the word true?  When did he pick this up and why has he kept it despite the fact that no others around him who he’s lived with for years say anything like it?  And why write male characters’ dialogue that has them speaking like they are analyzing Tiger Woods’ latest lame attempt on the green?  Statements like “She’s one fine female” are simply not something that would come out of any man’s mouth after watching some heroine do something he thought was cool.  This area also includes strange uses of body part names as sexy turn ons during conversations.  Referring to anything with the word glands is just not sexy, true?  See, it doesn’t sound right.
Moira: It takes a special writer to conjure good dialogue in romance.  I can think of a good many things I’d like a man to say to me, and it has been rare that I read anything that comes close.

Moira: #5 Thing I love to Hate……The Same Professions for Heroines…..  Are there no sales clerks in romance land?  How about insurance sales people?  I enjoy romance books, but could be perfectly happy if I never encountered a female doctor, archeologist, reporter, or FBI agent/investigator again in romance land.  There is nothing wrong with these professions; however, they are overused.  Remember, teachers, farmers, and deli workers need love too.
Alexandria: I think a great occupation for a romantic heroine is college history teacher.


In the last week of each month, we broads will post our top 5 of a certain theme.  For July, we offer our top 5 romantic heroes from the books we’ve read. Below the list is our discussion of our lists.

Alexandria/Moira

1.  Lord Safyre (The Lady’s Tutor)/Lord Safyre (The Lady’s Tutor)
2.  Rhage (Lover Eternal)/Gregori (Dark Magic)
3.  Gregori (Dark Magic)/Maximilian Downing (Seven Secrets of Seduction)
4.  Wrath (Dark Lover)/Zsadist (Lover Awakened)
5.  Count Andre Dragulescu (The Dead Travel Fast)/Rhage (Lover Eternal)

Who is number 1?

Alexandria:  Ramiel is definitely my first choice.  He’s got the skills to handle a woman, the tool to do it with, and takes care of business inside and outside of the bedroom.  That kind of man is incredibly sexy to me.  Also, I’m a teacher during the day; I’d love to be a pupil at night. Where can I find a man like this?  Now, please?

Moira:  A man who has a way with words will always steal my heart over a man with anything else.  Tall, dark, and handsome with the ability to instruct me in anything already makes Ramiel a winner; that his tutorial lies in the bedroom adds to his appeal.  His competence in matters of all kinds would allow my primary focus to be the evening’s lesson and nothing else.

Who are your choices for number 2?

Alexandria:  I have to go with Rhage.  I do love a tall man with demons inside him, and Rhage has got both of those things covered.  Sexy as all hell and deadly…..love that combination!  As sexy is the idea that he’s experienced with women and knows how to take care of business. That he’s sweet and wants to take care of his woman is even better. Finally, that he’s willing to trade his happiness for hers is incredibly appealing.

Moira:  Well, I simply cannot resist a man others refer to as the Dark One, a man others respectfully fear, a man who knows he is the answer to what I don’t even know I seek–with the patience to let me figure it out.  (Well, Gregori, how about just a few searing kisses to help me along in the thought process?)

Who makes it in at number 3?

Alexandria:  Number 3 is Gregori, an incredibly sexy character who still stands as one of the gold standards in romantic men for me.  He’s experienced the world and let his female go to experience the world too.  Love that selflessness!  In addition, he’s fearsome, a man who commands respect from not only others of his kind but all who meet him.  That’s quite appealing.  He also knows how to take care of a woman.  All of this adds up to a winning combination for me.

Moira:  Maximilian Downing,  affectionately known as #3, again comes out a winner in large part for superior language skills (and not just skills in whispering naughty nothings).  His ability to control a conversation, as well as manipulate a situation to his own interests makes him incredibly sexy.  True rakes are few and far between in this present day.  I’ve always had a bit of a thing for a rake.

And the romantic hero in at number 4?

Alexandria: I put Wrath in at number 4.  Another big man–6’9″–and feared by vampires and mankind alike is sexy.  Men who command respect are the kind of men I find desirable. Power is an incredible aphrodesiac, and this man has it.  Plus the height thing is a huge turn on for me.  Love me a big, powerful man!

Moira:  The bad boy with issues tugs at the (very small) soft spot in my heart, and lands Zsadist at number four on my list.  Tall, lean, and dangerous are three of my favorite things.  Zsadist has these and more.  Having been both a warrior and a slave, Zsadist has tattoos on his neck, arms, and legs…something I find appealing.  The author’s description of the scar running from his forehead down across his face added to the bad boy/bad ass image for me.  My mind’s eye feasted on this man-candy.

Finally, which romantic hero rounds out the Top 5?

Alexandria:  Count Andre Dragulescu comes in at number 5 for me.  He’s dark and mysterious, but his brooding is brainy, in a way.  He’s a vampire with a telescope.  Also, he’s charming and likes a smart female.  All of those things are attractive.  In addition, I have to admit that I find that Eastern European type quite appealing.

Moira:  Rhage rounds out my top five heroes to date.  Massive hunk of man is the best description I can give that may do justice to his 6’8″ frame covered with solid muscle.  The consummate ladies man, when he falls in love, falls hard, and Rhage was no exception to this rule.  His deep love makes him quite desirable.

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