January 8, 2007 - Issue #250

Laurie Likes Books: Robin's annual Buried Treasures column is a wonderful way for us to kick off our annual reader poll, which opens today and runs through midnight, February 18th. Robin's been writing about buried treasures for eight years now. As with last year, the titles and descriptions you provide on the ATBF Message Board will be compiled into an addendum that will be posted next week. Both the column and its addendum should be of great help in helping you remember some lesser-known gems from the year - and to provide some incentive to perhaps read a couple of books before polling ends at midnight on February 18th. Our reviews database should also prove useful in this regard; via power search you can look for each of the categories we discuss below.

And for those wondering, we'll be kicking off our annual Isn't It Romantic? contest later in the week.

From the Desk of Robin Uncapher:

Every year I sit down to write the Buried Treasures column feeling just a bit different about how I view what’s up in romance publishing. One year it looks like the blockbuster authors have won the day. The next year virtually everyone I speak with has a different favorite. In still another year, one or two books that one would expect to be unknown or “buried” are the most talked about books around. Despite the constant RWA chatter about “what is in” and “what is dead,” surprises are the norm. Who would have expected Adele Ashworth’s Winter Garden to win the AAR Reader poll years ago? Only those of us who read it. Who could have predicted that Anne Gracie, Nonnie St. George and a new author named Liz Carlyle would take over the conversations in their first years writing? You never know, which is what makes this job so much fun. In many years the most touted and “awaited” books turn out to be tepid when compared with those by lesser known authors.

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The annual Buried Treasures column came about as a way for all of us to take a second look at the reading year and see what we might have missed—before we sit down to answer the AAR Annual Reader Poll. For this reason we always focus on specific books published in the previous year. Laurie has talked about authors who are “buried treasures” for years and, we have a Buried Treasures Page here at All About Romance to help readers get acquainted with those authors. This one time of the year we shift our focus and, rather than talking about authors, we focus on books.

From a personal standpoint I have to say that the idea of buried treasures, both authors and individual books, is one of the most basic reasons I love All About Romance. All of us have, at one time or another, stood in a supermarket aisle staring at a full rack of romance novels. The covers certainly don’t give us many hints as to the quality of what we see. Magazines and newspapers continue to ignore the genre that sells the most fiction. For me finding lesser known romance writers and books made the difference between my enjoying romance and detesting it.

It never fails to amaze me how clueless many otherwise knowledgeable readers are about romance. My mother helped run a library book sale for years. This sale sold thousands upon thousands of books. Many of the books donated were romance novels. Until my mother suggested it, most of the people running the sale wanted to literally sell the romances by the pound! That’s right. All other genres were to be sold by the book but people who bought romance novels would be given a bag and told to fill it up. Thanks to my mom, the romance novels were organized and priced with the rest of the books, but from what she tells me, the romance novels were still not much of a success. This is not surprising because the people selling the books considered the mountains of duplicate copies of Danielle Steel to be on the same level with vintage Mary Balogh, Talk about buried treasure!

I asked Laurie and the AAR Staff to give me their suggestions on Buried Treasure books published in 2006. Here are the books they chose:

Medieval

Destiny, Fearless, and Untamed by Helen Kirkman
AAR Editor Cheryl Sneed picked this series by Helen Kirkman set in Dark Ages England and featuring knights in King Alfred's service. History lovers know that Wessex was the sole native hold-out against Viking invaders. For Cheryl, these book's sense of place and peril provided an unusually good backdrop for very good love stories.

Knights of the Round Table: Lancelot by Gwen Rowley
Reviewer Stephanie Ford wrote that she loved this book because it "had the possibility of going wrong in so many ways, but was excellent." As an aficionado of Camelot lore, she was astonished that this oft-told story seemed fresh and unique in the hands of author Rowley. Stephanie added, I thought I'd read every variation on the story that there is, but this book really surprised me and I loved every minute of it." Another strong point for her was the "very richly portrayed characterization of Lancelot with incredible depth and sympathy."

European Historical

The Inconvenient Duchess by Christine Merrill
AAR reviewer Linda Hurst picked Christine Merrill's The Inconvenient Duchess, set in the Regency, but very different then the typical regency novel. She told us that this Harlequin Historical and is “everything a series book can be, but seldom is.”

Angel in My Bed by Melody Thomas
AAR pollster Lee Brewer had me laughing with this comment “okay, the male lead is a spy, but it's still an awfully good read.” One interesting thing about Melody Thomas is that both she and her book fit the definition of “buried treasure.” As Laurie pointed out to me when Lee suggested this book, “She's earned all good grades from us and therefore fits both definitions of a buried treasure - your individual release criteria and my, 'all good grades' criteria.”

One Forbidden Evening by Jo Goodman
AAR reviewer Joan Lee picked One Forbidden Evening, saying that Goodman's prose is rich and occasionally very dense, and she can see why it may be a turn off to some readers, especially since the plot was also rather slow and Goodman likes to build relationships slowly. She did feel that she was was richly rewarded for sticking with the story and the characters writing “ There were numerous scenes that I thought were original and deliciously constructed. It had the most refreshing proposal scene I have read this year by far. The only slightly negative thing would be a cliched minor subplot, but since it wasn't integral to the relationship, I overlooked that.”

Vanquished by Hope Tarr
Editor Ellen Micheletti picked this European historical. The book was is not always easy to find. Its published by a small press and Ellen had to order it specially. Ellen rated Vanquished a B+ and wrote, “Vanquished is worth searching out. This is a very rich book. The historical background isn't wallpaper, instead we get a real feeling for the historical events of the time period and how they shaped the attitudes of Caledonia Rivers and Hadrian St. Claire. I love the late Victorian and Edwardian period and Vanquished really captured the atmosphere of that time. Booklist called it an intelligent, sexy historical romance. I agree totally.”

American Historical

Winds of the Storm by Beverley Jenkins
Reviewer Lynn Spencer suggested this romance about an African American couple: a female spy and the man she rescued during the Civil War. She wrote that “Jenkins does a wonderful job of balancing passion, emotion, an exciting story, and a masterful command of history, and, while this did not quite reach DIK level for me, it came very close. If you're looking for strong characters and a unique story, definitely check this one out.”

Series Romance

Asking for Trouble by Leslie Kelly
Reviewer Leigh Thomas nominated Leslie Kelly’s B+ graded Asking for Trouble. This was the best current-year book Leigh read during 2006: "Kelly takes the dark atmosphere, gloomy setting, and tortured hero of a traditional gothic and crosses them with the spirited heroine, snappy tone and hot sex of a more contemporary tale. The result is delightful. Heroes so often get the acclaim from romance readers, but the heroine made this one for me. She's smart-mouthed and dirty-minded, a woman who goes after what she wants and doesn't back down from a fight. One of her no-nonsense lines still brings a smile to my face just thinking about it. Add a pretty good mystery and one of the most satisfying endings I read all year, and this one's a winner.”

Contemporary

If You Could See Me Now by Cecelia Ahern
Ahern's small-town Irish setting appealed to Lee; she found it "a wonderfully imaginative story about looking for happiness."

Her Perfect Life by Vicki Hinze
Lee also suggested this book about a female prisoner of war who returns home to find her family has moved on. She warns, though that it's a "major tearjerker".

The Second Chance by Jaclyn Reding
Though Laurie didn't grant DIK status to any 2006 releases, she found herself engaged in this contemporary about a beautiful young Irish widow (with a lovely singing voice) and mother of three children who travels to New England to help open a B&B, only to find love with a handsome composer who lost his muse when his ex-wife absconded with their son. She appreciated this dance between two people who are slowly coming back to life after great loss, and for every two steps forward, there is a step backward...on both sides. (Another contemporary that Laurie truly liked was Susan Wiggs' Summer at Willow Lake, which earned DIK status from one of our review staff, but given Wiggs' stature as a lead author, it's hard to call this book, though under-discussed, a buried treasure.)

Mystery/Suspense

Rumble on the Bayou by Jana DeLeon
Reviewer Jane Jorgenson enjoyed this romantic suspense novel set in Gator Bait, Louisiana. What's particularly exciting about the inclusion of this book on this year's short list of buried treasures is that the author debuted with the novel. Jane "expects great things from Jana DeLeon" in the future.

Blackout by Annie Solomon
Lee also liked Annie Solomon's Blackout, a book about a woman wakes up one morning with amnesia and learns that she may be a spy.

Alternate Reality
(Fantasy, paranormal, time travel, etc)

The Grail King by Joy Nash
Cheryl also picked Joy Nash's The Grail King. The book , and its predecessor from 2005, Celtic Fire, is set in the second century in Roman-occupied Britannia and feature Celts finding love with Romans. The hero is a disillusioned Druid hermit forced to rejoin the world when a Roman woman, who shows signs of having magic as well, shows up. Cheryl found it to be a "great road romance as well, with great sexual chemistry between the leads." Reviewer Lea Hensley is another fan of this book; in her B+ review she wrote that she was "totally captivated" by it and its "intriguing side stories."

She's No Faerie Princess by Christine Warren
Laurie liked this urban fantasy about a fairy princess who decides to take a vacation in New York City. Our reviewer, Beverly Forehand-Anderson, liked this "grown-up fairy tale of mystery, magic, love, and lust". Laurie wrote about the book more fully in the December 18th ATBF.

Chick Lit

The Little Lady Agency by Hester Brown
Reviewer and Special TItle Listings editor Rachel Potter loved this Chick Lit book - and Lee was a fan as well. Rachel wrote in her B+ review that “Readers who like Sophie Kinsella and Elizabeth Young should check out The Little Lady Agency. Hester Browne’s writing is funny and accessible in the same way, and Melissa as Honey is a delightful heroine.”

Miscellaneous

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen
Not everyone’s buried treasures were romances. Rachel also picked a Young Adult novel. In her B+ review of the book she wrote, " The Young Adult section can be a hard sell to adults, but for many of the readers I've known who have tried YA, it's been very rewarding. The YA genre is broader – storylines can be sadder, characters can be more flawed, endings can be more untidy – but result of this lack of constraint is the occasional amazing read. And Sarah Dessen is at the top of my list of favorite authors in this genre. If you're heading into any kind of reading slump – why not give her a try? Just Listen would be a great place to start."

Plain Jane and A Lady Raised High by Laurien Gardner
Reviewer Lynn Spencer suggested both of these historical fiction book,s each of which focuses on one of the wives of Henry VIII. Plain Jane is, of course about Jane Seymour and A Lady Raised High focuses about Anne Boleyn. Of the latter Lynn wrote, “Though this novel is primarily historical fiction, it features some lovely elements of romance as well. Fans of historical fiction will likely enjoy this book and those who like their historical romances packed with period detail may want to try this as well.”

2006 was the first year in which I didn't have any current-year buried treasures to recommend. I read lots of good romance, but my favorites were by well known authors such as Julia Quinn, Rachel Gibson, Lisa Kleypas and Mary Balogh. My favorite non-romance books had been published in previous years. Frank McCourt’s 2005 Teacher Man and David McCulloch’s wonderful history, 1776, top that list. And yet, one thing remains the same...now that I have finished this column, I have a long, long list of books to buy. Amazon, here I come!

Time To Post to the At the Back Fence Message Board:

Because each new year we devote quite a bit of column space to reflecting on the previous year's best reads, we don't want to duplicate ourselves and bore you. The last ATBF column focused on general reading from 2006, with emphasis on great books read that were published in prior years. This time around the focus is on buried treasures of the past year - those lesser-known gems that seemed to have been overlooked. We've started the discussion by sharing with you some of our own favorite buried treasures of 2006...what are yours? Please share titles and authors, a brief synopsis, and why you loved the book(s).

As mentioned earlier, we plan to create an adjunct page of your favorite buried treasures and will post it next Monday so that you will have the opportunity to check out some reader recommendations as soon as possible.

(Click here for that adjunct page)

We would like the vote in our 11th annual reader poll to be the widest it's ever been, so be sure to vote. The more of you who vote, the more valid the results. There are many categories, so take your time, but send in your completed ballot via our online form no later than midnight, February 18th.

 

Robin Uncapher

 

Adjunct page of reader buried treasures
Post your comments and/or questions to our Potpourri Message Board

 

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