this image is owned by All About Romance and may not be used without express permission
May 31, 2001 - Issue #118

Welcome to the re-designed At the Back Fence!

For a long time now I've been wanting to spruce up the At the Back Fence column, which has been through name changes, contributor changes, and design changes in the past four-plus years it has been online. Talented illustrator Pat Hilliard-Barry, who lives in Berkeley, California, heeded my call for help and designed this new logo for us, which I think showcases what this column has always been about. If you are looking for a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere for some frank, entertaining, and interesting talk about romance novels, gather 'round the back fence with a cup of coffee or the beverage of your choice, and let's get to it!

this image is owned by All About Romance and may not be used without express permission

Both Sides of the Same Mouth!

Can you remember reading a perfectly enchanting romance that, as it turned out, didn't have a very unique plot line or even one-of-a-kind character types? I can; after all, it's been said that there are only seven unique story lines anyway, but I think that's besides the point, and here's why.

When I first started to read romances, I read many that had what I would consider "traditional" story lines and many others that I considered quite unique for some reason. The more traditional featured lots of conflict between the hero and heroine, older, experienced heroes and younger (not always by much), virginal heroines, and plots that we've all grown to love - the Norman knight and the Saxon lady, the regency-era rake and the beautiful and feisty virgin, the tortured hero and the lady who heals him, the beauty and the beast, the marriage of convenience, the arranged marriage, the mail order bride, the act of betrayal, the problems of trust and communication, etc.

Less traditional stories may have featured the knight who wanted out of the game, the heroine who wasn't pure as the driven snow, the beast and the beast, the hero as pursuer, the tormented heroine and the healing hero, conflict within the hero and/or heroine rather than between them, etc.

Upon my keeper shelves are both kinds of stories - stories that have been done in 100 different books by 100 different authors as well as stories that seem completely fresh. How is this possible? It's all in the execution.

this image is owned by All About Romance and may not be used without express permission

Not the Same Old, Same Old

Way back in 1996 I read Captive by Joan Johnston and remarked in my review at The Romance Reader that "while written in the traditional mold, these characters and this story are anything but stale and stereotypical. The author's talent brings everything to vivid life." I added that "the author's ability to transform traditional character types and a traditional story-line into something unique is why this book is so special." My final paragraph includes these words: "I will include (Captive) on my list of books to give first-time readers because it is traditional and not filled with extremes. But it is also a wonderful book for long-time readers - it is a lovely reminder of what romance is all about."

I can still recall what made this book so special; it was a strong B for me. There was a fabulous secondary romance, and though this was one of many guardian-ward romances I'd read featuring a worldly hero and a feisty young heroine, the characters were written in such a way that it seemed utterly fresh.

Recently I came across a review I wrote for TRR in 1997 for Julie Moffett's The Thorn and the Thistle. Yet another romance featuring an English soldier and a displaced Scottish girl? Hardly, and yet, it could easily have been so. As I noted in my review at the time, "This is not a novel plot line, but Julie Moffett makes it fresh by bringing Megan as captive into the castle where she grew up. Her scenes of remembrance are lovely and quite bittersweet...There's lots of excitement, Rolf and Megan are great characters, and great looking as well, and Rolf's injured hand did add a level of nuance, which was another nice touch added by the author."

It is true that just about every single romance out there, when pared down to its essentials, fits a basic story line. That is actually a fairly shocking statement in and of itself, but whether you pare down Laura Kinsale, Madeline Hunter, Judith Ivory, or Lorraine Heath, all of whom are considered to write very novel romances, you will find elements common to the rest of the heap.

I personally had a tough time coming to grips with this. I recently asked writers and readers in the online romance community how authors are able to breathe newness into a well-used plot because this is something I admire greatly. I had expected to hear about authors not necessarily known for their innovative styles, and yet, one of the first people I heard from wanted to talk about this in relation to Laura Kinsale.

Kelly McClymer, who writes for Zebra, wrote me the following:

"As a writer, I have studied the books that make me sit up and take notice, or that I remember for years and years. Some (like The Shadow and the Star) stay with me because every detail of character and conflict illuminates and reflects the depth of possibilities for the hero and heroine. Though I'll never meet the like of Leda and Samuel in my life, they feel like people I know and love. Even in a simple marriage of convenience story that has been told millions of times, I can be entranced by two well-drawn characters who each hold a secret to life the other doesn't. Watching them realize they have something to offer, something to gain by loving each other, no matter how hard it is, is a journey I'm always glad to make for characters who have become my friends."

I had never considered this book to tell a story that had been told millions of times; after all, hadn't Lisa Kleypas reviewed it for our Desert Isle Keeper page? Wasn't the hero a virgin, wasn't the setting unusual - aren't Kinsale's books most definitely considered not the same old, same old? What could Kelly possibly have meant? Could she elaborate?

She could and she did:

"Just to clarify, I thought you were asking about how some authors manage to breathe new life into basic romance plots. To me, The Shadow and the Star is a basic plot: boy meets girl, thinks he's in love with someone else, ends up married to what he thinks is "wrong" girl and she shows him he got the best end of the deal. There are always a large percentage of these type plots in the supermarket any given month. Kinsale gussied it up with a trip to Hawaii (which only takes place in the last few chapters) and an exotic zoo on an English estate. But what makes the book outstanding is the layering of metaphor in creating character and conflict.

Samuel as a virgin hero is less compelling than Samuel as a man aware of the pitfalls of sex itself because he has been abused as a child. I tend to put him in the category of hero who is celibate by choice because he is quite aware of the pleasure he could derive, but considers the cost too great for his soul. And, again, it is the metaphoric layering that Kinsale gives his character which makes everything work: he keeps himself pure of heart, soul, and purpose in every way he knows how using his martial arts training and eastern philosophy. It all fits together and there is a subconscious "yes" response to the complex layering of metaphor on every page.

While Leda is a simpler character to contrast to his very complex one, she has her own complementary metaphorical layers that make her obviously the perfect partner for Samuel. It is the depth of character development which makes this story outstanding, not the plot line. Interestingly, I think the small flashback chapters of Samuel's rescue and healing growth are the really unusual departure from traditional storytelling, but not from traditional romantic storyline.

But maybe the truth is all stories have those few basic skeletons and it's all about how the bones get fleshed out and gussied up "

Others who frequent AAR mentioned that Regency Romance author Carla Kelly was the perfect example of an author who can make a possibly hackneyed plot seem anything but. Patricia shared that "Carla Kelly is the queen of this. She takes typical traditional Regency set-ups and transforms them into unique, charming, and eminently collectible books." Patricia points to Miss Chartley's Guided Tour, with its "jilted-at-the-alter reunion book with reasons for the jilting unlike any other romance" she ever read. She also mentions The Lady's Companion, with its "heroine-whose-father-has-lost-all-their-money plot;" Kelly takes this in a new direction by "teaming her up with a servant who remains a servant, not with the wealthy grandson of her employer." Patricia mentions as well With This Ring and its "Cinderella-like-marriage-of-convenience where the heroine saves the day, not the hero." Then there's Libby's London Merchant with the bored nobleman who meets a penniless young woman and proposes she become his mistress. In an about-face, by the time the Duke realizes his mistake and proposes marriage, our heroine is engaged to a local doctor. Just who Libby ends up with can't be revealed here, but, according to author Kelly, the man who didn't win Libby finally gets his own romance fulfilled in One Good Turn, which will be released toward the end of this year.

Anne Gracie's two recent releases, Gallant Waif and Tallie's Knight, both of which earned DIK status from us, are described by their reviewers in a similar fashion. Blythe Barnhill wrote in her review of Tallie's Knight: "This may sounds like a hundred Regencies you've read before. We've all seen noble poor relations who dream of being rescued by true love, and arrogant heroes who think 'any good breeder will do' are hardly unheard of either. So what makes this book different and special? Gracie breathes life into these characters, from the first scenes." As for Ellen Micheletti's comments about Gallant Waif, they are included in this snippet below, in which she answers the question: What makes an old story new?

What Makes an Old Story New?

What makes an old story new?

Really, there aren't a lot of truly original stories out there anymore. Not after centuries of authors spinning tales. Also, there are not a lot of truly original characters out there anymore especially not in the field of romance.

How many times have we met these characters and situations?

  • The poor relation
  • The Cinderella heroine
  • The rakehell hero
  • Family feuds
  • Rake tamed by the heroine
  • Mail Order Bride

Yet, there are some authors who can take a many times told plot and populate it with characters we have met again and again and somehow make them all seem new and different, and the story a fresh one. How do they do it? If I had the magic formula I would bottle and sell it to all romance writers and become rich, but since I have no magic formula, I'll settle for a few examples.

The story of lovers who are torn by family hatred is older than Romeo and Juliet. In A Bed Of Spices, Barbara Samuel takes this story, places it in the Middle Ages and makes it powerful by making Rica the heroine a Christian and Solomon, the hero, a Jew. Their differing faiths make their love not only poignant, but also dangerous - a marriage between them would be forbidden by law and they have to surmount many obstacles before their happy ending.

The rakish man redeemed by the love of a woman is another old story. In The Rake, Mary Jo Putney takes this story, and adds another factor - Reggie Davenport the rake of the title is an alcoholic. Alys, the heroine of the novel does not tame Reggie. She loves him, she supports him, but she makes him take responsibility for his drinking. Reggie is not reformed by Alys, he reforms himself.

Carla Kelly's With This Ring is a variation of the Cinderella story. Lydia, the less beautiful sister is cast out by her cruel mother. She makes a marriage of convenience with Major Sam Reed, Lord Laren. So far, so true to the Cinderella theme. Then things get original. Sam may be an earl, but he is diffident and not comfortable with his title. He may be a war hero, but he cries from pain and fear. Then, when they get into physical and financial trouble, Lydia the Cinderella, takes charge and saves them.

Lorraine Heath's Texas Destiny makes the mail-order bride story her own by combining it with a road-story (Houston and Amelia have to make a three week journey where she is to meet Dallas, her intended) and a Beauty and the Beast story (Houston has terrible facial scars), and finally writing a wedding night scene that is so poignant it would draw tears from the most hardened cynic.

Sometimes a book is memorable to me for one scene. In Paula Detmer Riggs' Once Upon a Wedding, which is a marriage of convenience story, Jess is missing an arm and will not allow his wife Hazel to see him without a shirt. When she does and gasps in pity and empathy, he closes her out. She takes his silence and withdrawal from her for a short time, then lets him have it but good. Her speech is one of the best I have ever read and I go back and re-read it periodically.

In Anne Gracie's Gallant Waif, there is a scene where hero Jack Carstairs comes back from the war, scarred and limping only to find his betrothed Julia doesn't want him in that condition. Julia is not screechy and bitchy, but is cooing and almost seductive toward Jack - behavior that once attracted, but now repels him. That scene illuminates Julia's heartlessness in a way a full-blown fit would not do half so well.

I could give other examples, and again I have no magical formula for what makes a well-worn plot seem new, but it seems to me, the best writers are able to add a certain unique slant to the story, or they add slightly different characters to a very familiar story and somehow through some authorial magic make that story theirs.

this image is owned by All About Romance and may not be used without express permission

Ellen's got it right, I believe. When I go through my list of keepers and look at the ones with quite basic plot lines, there are generally two things that separate them from the pack. First is a twist in the basic plot and next is a special handling of the character types involved. They may be based on archetypes we're familiar with, but they are imbued with a special kind of dignity, grace, sorrow, humor, or some indefinable something that makes them seem fresh and/or especially real. Both of these require special skill on the part of the author, because they both transform a basic character and/or basic story line into something sublime. There's not only something quite comforting about that, but there's something quite admirable as well.

I can think of no better book that does all this than Tallie's Knight, mentioned earlier in this column, and the first book I've read in eight months to earn DIK status. Having just finished this book, it would be easy to say it has the altogether too-oft used marriage of convenience plotline between a wealthy titled gentleman and the "brood mare" he hopes will father his children. But both Magnus and Tallie are written so compellingly, and with such depth of character that their love story reads as though the author had invented the plotline herself.

this image is owned by All About Romance and may not be used without express permission

And Now for the Other Side

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of reading an advance copy of Catherine Anderson's July release - Phantom Waltz. I'd read the author before and wasn't as impressed as most have been, so I wasn't sure right off the bat if I was going to enjoy this book. Worse, I initially thought, was that the heroine was a paraplegic in a wheelchair.

I turned to my husband the night I started reading the book and asked if he could ever have fallen in love with a paraplegic. He seemed shocked at the question and answered, "Of course." The reason I had asked was that many, many years ago he had a friend who was getting seriously involved with a woman. When the women told his friend she had herpes, even though he had said he was falling in love with her, he broke off the relationship. At the time I was horrified at his friend but my husband had said he could understand it. So when my husband that night said he could fall in love with and marry a woman in a wheelchair, I asked him if there was any contradiction at all between that and the herpes scenario. He still doesn't see one, but I do.

This book has me looking at something I've never really looked at before. My husband asked me in return if I could fall in love with a man in a wheelchair and I told him honestly that I didn't know if I could make that commitment. Obviously if something happened to my husband now, my love for him would not go away, but I think it would take a conscious effort to become involved with someone who faced so many struggles. I appreciated the book for making me take a look at myself in a way I'd never considered.

The book itself was not without flaws, and I was surprised and intrigued at how integral sex is in this book - it's actually a secondary plot in and of itself because the heroine was a virgin before being injured and doesn't know if she's capable of feeling anything when making love. She doesn't know if she's capable of having an orgasm. As a result, there are two love scenes involving the hero that are quite unlike any I've ever read before. They are also incredibly, amazingly poignant and helped the author prove to me that a love like this is quite possible, even though it was a fast and furious love at first sight for both characters.

I'm quite used to reading romances that cause me to feel, but the kind of soul-searching this book engendered really put me off my "I read romance for entertainment" mantra. It occurred to me after reading this book that it, along with some others that delve into difficult subject matter, accomplished something that romance novels are not generally known to do outside romance circles. That is - to make you think, and what's more, to make you think about uncomfortable and perhaps unpleasant things.

Had I not been required to read Phantom Waltz for review purposes, I would never have chosen to read it for myself. And yet, I'm very glad that I did read it, and wonder what sorts of topics do many of us turn away from because they are difficult, uncomfortable, and/or unpleasant? There's adultery, of course, which many readers spurn not only in romance novels, but general fiction as well, which is why the reaction of many of our readers to Jennifer Crusie's latest release (Fast Women) has been so mixed. Had I not relaxed my own personal morality on this issue, I'd never have read and fallen entirely in love with Joy Fielding's amazing The First Time last year (which I had to read for review and never thought for a moment I'd enjoy - after all, the reader knows the heroine will die at the end) or enjoyed the bitchiness of Sue Margolis' Neurotica the year before.

Many readers are not only bothered by marital infidelity, but by pre-marital infidelity, as it were. There are many authors who stop short of this when the hero realizes he just can't do it with the whore or the mistress, but others have him doing the deed. For me it sometimes works and sometimes does not. Rarely is it a joyous, loving encounter - if it were, I wouldn't go for it at all. One vivid example where the hero's premarital sexual hijinks fit the book to a "t" was Gaelen Foley's 2000 release, Prince Charming.

this image is owned by All About Romance and may not be used without express permission
A Brief Fork in the Road:

Adultery Revisited Or The Impotence Divorce
by Katarina Wikholm

We've touched on the subject of adultery from time to time here At the Back Fence and on our message boards. Some find adultery in any form an absolute no-no. Others feel that there are reasons that can make adultery understandable, if regrettable.

But in those discussions we've never touched on a reason for adultery that I've now come across twice: with an impotent husband, the heroine feels that her true marriage is to the hero and so it is acceptable to get down on her back, or the hero, or whatever. Of course, she feels guilty before and afterwards, but that is the motivating thought.

I first encountered this when reviewing Wild Wind by Patricia Ryan and thought I was being picayune. After all, the affinity of souls between hero and heroine is a romance staple. In this book, Nicolette's husband is incapacitated through alcohol abuse, but unless she conceives a son within 14 months, they will lose everything. And so he conspires to have his cousin Alex seduce her, not knowing that Nicolette and Alex had once loved each other.

She knew in her heart that their love was good and pure, and that knowledge had freed her to revel in their lovemaking.

Good for Nicolette...not so good for my liking of the book. But I didn't mention this in my review, in part because I had other problems with Wild Wind, and in part because it as just glimpses here and there. Last month I reread and reviewed Kathleen Morgan's Firestar, and there it was again. All of a sudden, the question of divorce through impotence reappeared. Because all Tenuan males are sterile, Meriel, the future Queen of Tenua, has to employ a breeder. Later he returns as a conqueror and captures both Meriel and her flighty heart.

All sisterly affection aside, Pelum had never been more than a husband in words. Gage was the husband of her heart and body and soul.
"Come." She lifted her arms to him. "Come to me."

In essence: does this mean that as long as you feel the hero is your true spouse it is quite all right to go back on your marital vows? Impotence equals divorce? "Oh, my hubby cannot service me, but I think I'm in love with this studmuffin, so let's get on with it." I'm as liberal as they come, but I just don't buy into that excuse. On the other hand, just imagine what the arrival of Viagra would to the divorce statistics, if the same applied in the real world.

Another thought that occurred when me - what would we call a hero who uses as an excuse for straying his wife's frigidity? Where have we heard this before: "My wife's frigid and doesn't understand my needs?" I don't know about you, but when I hear this on television or in a film, I'm not pleasantly disposed by the fellow in question. Is this some sort of odd romance novel double standard?

What really interests me is if this is conscious or just a slip. Is it something authors write in the heat of a love scene or are we supposed to find it romantic? Or maybe it is a leftover from the beginnings of the romance genre, like the descriptions of fireworks during a female orgasm?

I sincerely hope these two novels are the only ones out there were the sexual deficiencies of spouse makes adultery permissible, even romantic. I, for one, never ever, wish to read about it again.

this image is owned by All About Romance and may not be used without express permission

And Now, Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Column

Reader Susan mentioned domestic violence as one of those topics that makes her uncomfortable and causes her to think long after closing the pages of a book. Watching the heroine struggle to attain dignity has made Linda Howard's Heartbreaker one of her favorite romances. For Elizabeth, the roughhousing elements in Nora Roberts' Chesapeake Bay trilogy caused her to re-think the view that arguing and roughhousing are very, very wrong. She writes, "These books made me rethink that view. These guys (especially Cam) fought, quarreled, yelled, tossed each other off docks, and yet loved and respected each other. The fights weren't hurtful either. It made me rethink my ideas about expressing anger, especially traditional male expressions of anger. They aren't necessarily evil. I know that sounds like a tame realization, but it was profound for me." Another thoughtful romance for Elizabeth was Pamela Morsi's Simple Jess, which caused her to "re-think all my previous ideas of intelligence and what was necessary to marriage." For those unfamiliar with this book, the hero is mentally challenged.

More than one reader pointed to Jo Beverley as an author who pushes uncomfortable buttons at times. Linda, for instance, mentioned An Arranged Marriage, with its adulterous hero, and said, "Talk a book that made me think, worry, and get upset! It's a favorite...,and that is why." Jennifer talked of a different Beverley title - Secrets of the Night. While many readers found the adultery and accompanying scheming by the heroine to be distasteful, she found that "the twists in plot and sympathetic manner in which the author portrays the heroine made it more than palatable to me. In fact, my theory on the idea of potentially distasteful topics in romance novels is that the reader's negative reaction is in direct proportion to the manner in which the author portrays the hero and heroine."

Jo Beverley herself joined in on this discussion on our Potpourri Message Board and tried to expand it. She asked:

"Are shocking things the only things that make us think? When I'm writing, I'm often encountering intriguing questions, such as:
  • What does love demand? Does the true lover try to protect the beloved, or wave her or him off into adventure with a smile?
  • How much should people change themselves for a beloved? When does adaptability rob the relationship of any reality?
  • When is it strong to forgive, and when is it weak?
  • What is honor, and where does it take people?
  • Is a love that demands signs and words true love, or should it be recognized on a deeper level?
  • Does/should love survive all changes, or can the beloved become so different that love ceases?

"Does anyone else think about these aspects of romance?"

Before reading what others had to say in response, here's my own: For the most part I respond more emotionally than intellectually to romance novels. I tend to not have those "deep thoughts" unless a book is truly remarkable in causing me to think about something I haven't considered in the past, or considered often. It may be a shocking thing, or it may not - for me it's an idiosyncratic type of thing.

That said, any time a book does cause me to have such deep thoughts, it is rather an amazing experience. I think many of us tend to take love for granted in our daily lives - I'm as guilty of this as many people. So when I read a romance which causes me to question the very foundation of my beliefs, ideas, and ideals, I take notice.

Sandy C's response to Jo's question is that she absolutely needs her emotions to be totally involved to enjoy the story. It is necessary for her to feel what the characters feel - the passion, attraction, anguish, pain, and conflict. She believes too many romances these days are suspense or adventure driven at the expense of the feelings. She adds, "A romance that involves all of these things is a wonderful thing to behold, a real DIK for me. the questions you have asked all would be great conflicts within a story, and the resolutions either way would be to me 'tests of true' love. Too me, the real questions are simply: What are we willing to do or what are we willing to change to have love and keep it? Is a selfless love a true love? So many of our today's romances do not challenge our beliefs in such ways; they do not present us with situations in which we could really feel the reality."

Jo's question about honor (what is honor, and where does it take people?) reminded reader Angela of Laura Kinsale's For My Lady's Heart. She recalls that the hero swore fealty to a lady he didn't know because of one act she committed towards him. As the story later revealed, she didn't even remember the act, but he did. She asks, "Is that honor? Is that honor as it was intended? I admired him and believed him to be honorable. But in some cases, is it more honorable, really, to preserve one's self? Did people truly make vows like that then or is this just a romantic and idealized version of what they did? Taking it into real life, I don't see anyone making and/or adhering to vows of that magnitude. Are we better off now? Or then?"

Jo responded that whether we are better off or not is the sort of question raised in a book that she finds intriguing, and relayed a story similar to one I'd heard about John Newton on a trip to Williamsburg several years ago. Clearly our tour guide took some liberties with the facts, but the story as presented was that Newton, a slave ship captain, prayed to God for deliverance from the sea during a terrible storm. After his prayers were answered, he changed his ways, wrote the beautiful hymn Amazing Grace (its opening stanza is one of the most powerful pieces of music I've ever heard), and subsequently became a minister and great friend to John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church.

Jo's story involves a man who became a 15th century pope and goes like this: "He was sailing to Scotland when they encountered a terrible storm. He vowed that if they were saved he would make a barefoot pilgrimage to a certain shrine. Being from Italy, he didn't realize that the ground would be frozen, but he did it anyway, and had crippled feet for the rest of his life. I like medieval romances that have a sensitivity to this sort of thing."

Jennifer R posts this response to Jo's question:

"I adore the concept of Medieval Honor. I think that these are some of the most compelling plots in romance novels. Not a lot of petty arguing leading to a passionate kiss and love making, but two people steeped in the honor of their respected families. If that should be occasionally inconvenient, I'd like less wallowing in self-pity and breast thumping, thank you very much.

"I wonder about soul mates. There's something special about that concept in my eyes. Not a lot of romance novels go there, but there are a few that seem to make it, and I adore them. While I hate Romeo and Juliet with a passion, there's a part of me that loves a hero I don't believe is going to live without the heroine. I've read a lot of obituaries about men, (particularly over 80) dying a couple weeks after their wife's death. I know a couple, married 57 years, she's going to be 90 in July and he's 88. He said that he wants to live 3 days longer than her so that he's always there to take care of her. My biggest question about romance novels is that, why is the getting there considered romance? Sure, falling in love is nice, but loving is even better."

Elizabeth, whom we heard from earlier in the column, doesn't think shocking things are the only things that make us think. Some romances have caused her to re-think what love is - and is not. As an illustration, she talks about the quite controversial Sarah's Child, by Linda Howard. (I considered that book for more than a year, and not long ago finally decided I liked it, although it's not a keeper for me.) In her opinion, Sarah's love, concern, and patience for Rome were misplaced and, in the end, Elizabeth "thought less of Sarah for loving the hero to the bitter end."

On the other hand, the hero in Loretta Chase's The Last Hellion is one of her favorites because he believes in the heroine throughout. She writes, "They argue of course, and disagree (he calls her a dragon), but they also go adventuring together. But it's his belief in her that is the most romantic to me - it is rather like Roarke's belief in Eve (Dallas in the J.D. Robb series)."

this image is owned by All About Romance and may not be used without express permission

That's (Just About) a Wrap

Not long ago, while on a Joy Fielding glom, I read Missing Pieces. The heroine's sister purposely involved herself with a serial killer on trial. I knew this woman - she was a great deal like someone very close to me in my own life in her behavior and attitudes and I was sucked into this book because of her character. While the book certainly featured many shocking elements (it was a psychological thriller - albeit with a strong romantic component), it was my personal connection with this secondary character that gave me pause and caused me to think about the making of bad choices.

"Shocking" things aren't the only ones that cause us to think or search our souls when we read. Sure, it might be something like paraplegia or mental disability, but it might also be brothers who fight but still love one another, or the treatment of a woman by a man who can't seem to break the cycle of pain in his heart, or perhaps even a man who utterly believes in the woman he loves.

It's the author, the book, and the person reading it whom all have to mesh in order for a story to be most meaningful. And that can happen whether the plot and/or characters are fresh or simply seem that way in the hands of the author, on pages written in a book held in the hands of a reader.

this image is owned by All About Romance and may not be used without express permission

Time to Post to the Message Board

Here are the questions we'd like to have you consider this time:
this image is owned by All About Romance and may not be used without express permission Seven Plots - Do you think it's true that there are only seven unique plots on which all books are built? If so, what are they?
this image is owned by All About Romance and may not be used without express permission Same Old, Same Old - When you read a book featuring either a plot or character types you've come across many times before, do you groan in trepidation, feel somewhat relieved that this will be a "comfort read" for you, or not really consider it at all unless the plot or character types are among your personal faves or pet peeves?
this image is owned by All About Romance and may not be used without express permission Innovation or Innovation be Damned! - When you read a romance novel, are you looking for particularly innovative writing, a particularly emotional, comforting, or intellectual read, or adventure or entertainment? Which authors do you turn to for these components?
this image is owned by All About Romance and may not be used without express permission What Makes an Old Story New? - How does an author work her magic in transforming the same old, same old into something utterly fresh and engaging? Is it a twist in plot or character, secondary character development, a style of writing, or something else? Help us define the indefinable.
this image is owned by All About Romance and may not be used without express permission Soul Searching Books? - We've named in the column some books that caused us to search our souls or think long and hard. What titles can you bring to the back fence, and why?
this image is owned by All About Romance and may not be used without express permission A New Double Standard? - Katarina Wikholm mentioned two romances featuring a plot device she finds problematic. What do you make of the device, and, have you come across it before? Is this a double standard unlike the hero-as-rake, heroine-as-virgin?
this image is owned by All About Romance and may not be used without express permission Jo Beverley Asks - Jo Beverley asks whether or not a romance has to be shocking in some manner to cause readers to really think. Do you agree? If you do, please explain, and please also explain if you don't agree.
this image is owned by All About Romance and may not be used without express permission The Book You Never Thought You'd Love - I mentioned that I never thought I'd like Catherine Anderson's Phantom Waltz, never thought I'd love Joy Fielding's The First Time and was forced to read them for review purposes. What books - romances in particular - surprised you when you read them because you never thought you'd like or love them as you did?


In conjunction with Ellen Micheletti and Katarina Wikholm

Post your comments and/or questions to our Potpourri Message Board

Click here to join aarmaillist
Click to subscribe to AAR's twice-monthly mailing list