Issue #34 (September 20, 1997)

Final Thoughts: Death of a Fairy Tale:
I received so many mail items regarding my coverage on the tragic death of Princess Diana that I've devoted a special page to many letters of the week - all about the death of Diana. While more than one of you found my dear husband as delightful as I do, most of us found ourselves more deeply touched by the death of a princess than we would ever have imagined. To close out the discussion, here is a posting author Patricia Gaffney sent, which I think says it well (and is no less than I'd expect from her!):

Your husband's "Is she still dead?" cracked me up. He sounds like my husband. But what I'm really writing for is to thank you for that great essay you wrote in the last edition of your column about why some of us reacted with such surprising emotion to the death of Diana. That she was a living romance heroine had never occurred to me, but I think you're really onto something. We lovers of romance love the tortured heroine, so naturally we had our eyes on Di; we not only wanted but fully expected her to survive and triumph over all her handicaps, just as our own heroines do. And she didn't - she died. It was as if LaVyrle Spencer or Nora or Jenny Crusie or Susan E. Phillips had killed off their heroines at the end of the book. What? She's dead? Impossible, it can't be!! But it happened, and now we're in shock. So - thank you for explaining this to me. I feel much less neurotic now.

The Other Cover:
We have discussed covers, front covers - the clinch, the hunk, the babe, the breasts (on both the hero and heroine), the lust, the flowers, the castles, the wrong hair color, the lack of body hair (on heroes only, please), the snide glances - many times, and, in fact, have more than two stand-alone pages, a Write Byte with author Stef Ann Holm, and at least one column on the subject. But I wanted to know how you feel about the other cover, the back cover, and if you think back covers are as useful as they should be in guiding book selections.

After the last issue of this column when I posed that question, I went to my bookshelves and randomly pulled some books to see if I thought the back covers did the books justice. As usual, there was no determinate answer, although I don't think back covers pose a major problem for me. It's hard to be sure, however, because I don't tend to keep around books I didn't like. So if I bought a book based on a back cover blurb that didn't deliver, well, I guess that's something I'll have to start paying attention to. But, of the random books I did look at, there is no such thing as black or white. As usual, there are just varying shades in between.

The back cover of Lisa Kleypas' Then Came You for instance, doesn't do justice to the torture of the Lily, the heroine, and reads as though most of the book is devoted to keeping the hero away from Lily's sister. It refers to the hero as "arrogant" and a master gamesman. This book is much, much more than the back blurb indicates. It is one of my all-time favorites. It deserved a better back cover.

On the other hand, the back cover of Jill Barnett's Bewitching (which, by the way, is another of my all-time favorites) describes the book very well. Back to the first hand, though, and the Eve Byron book Deceive Me Not. It is described on the back thusly: "At first Bruce Palmerston viewed delicate Melissa as a pawn in his plan to ruin the woman who tried to destroy two people he cherished." While this is true, it happened before the time frame of this book - talk about misleading!

Reader Bonnie's experiences sound like mine in that she finds most back blurbs accurate. She uses the backs when browsing (me too, although most of my book buying is not by browsing and is done by reading reviews). She does, as I do, get angry when she reads a bad book which she bought based on an inaccurate blurb. Since I tend not to keep most of the bad books I read, it's hard to say if their blurbs were, in fact, inaccurate, but something caused me to buy that book!

Some back blurbs lure us in with a mystery, a letter from the author, or by the author's reputation alone. I think I've learned over the years to check the back cover, the inside cover, and the first few pages of the book (and, most of you who know me know I sneak a peek at the end as well) before buying a book I've not seen reviewed. I generally choose based on story-line and/or setting, and become frustrated if that information isn't readily provided on the front or back of the book.

But that's just me. Here's what some of the rest of you had to say about back covers:

Teresa told me of a prime example of a bad back cover - Tess Mallory's A Circle in Time, which she found made the book sound like sex, sex, sex. She sent me part of the cover blurb, which read: "Investigative reporter Kendra O'Brien knew it was a dream, so when wildly handsome Navarre de Galliard charged up in chain mail, she did what any modern career girl would do. She caressed his cuirass. . . More succulent than a succubus, Kendra O'Brien seemed a sorceress. How else could her sultry glances make the knight feel like a blushing page, as her eyes spoke volumes to his spellbound heart?" In actuality, the book really did have a plot and she ended up loving it. (To read what author Mallory has to say about this back cover, click here for Issue #35 of LN&V).

Another reader, known only to me as "M", who enjoys a variety of front covers, including flowers and clinches, is bothered by inaccuracies on back blurbs. A good back blurb, along with the last chapter in a book, is her best indication of whether she wants a book or not. She added, "I have recently run into a number of blurbs that are so bad and inaccurate, particularly on reprints/reissues that a) I chuckle and b) I think the blurb writer should be flogged with wet pages of a bad novel. For example, the reprint of Amii Lorin/Joan Hohl's While the Fire Rages; the back blurb refers to the hero's brother's death, which basically sets the stage for the confrontation between the H/H. Actually, the brother didn't die, he was in a bad car crash and does actually have some dialog in the story. Hello?"

Finally, Blythe wrote in hopping mad about two books she'd recently read - Julie Garwood's One Red Rose, and Cathie Linz's category romance Husband Needed. Here's what she had to say:

"Usually I don't pay that much attention to them; however, I have bought two books recently with inaccurate back covers, and this really annoyed me. Julie Garwood's One Red Rose had a back cover with a synopsis that had nothing in common with the actual plot of the book. Even the heroine's last name was different! Then Cathie Linz' book Husband Needed had a great back cover with dialogue to die for; it was this darling marriage proposal. I ended up buying the book based on this back cover alone. I enjoyed the book, but it didn't have the dialogue that was on the back cover. This was a disappointment for me."
Something of a reminder - most authors have about as much say-so on back covers as they do on front covers, which is to say, they have none. Deborah Simmons wrote me last week to say that she's only been truly satisfied with one of her back covers, and in that instance, her editor wrote it.

I have a feeling there's more to be shared on back covers, so I'll keep this topic open if you'll e-mail me.

Torture. . .Torment. . . Stupidity. . .
In recent issues of this column, I've brought up my attraction of late to tormented heroines and tortured heroes. I've also opened a forum on a type of heroine one anonymous author called too stupid to live. I will be taking each of these one at a time, one per column, starting with the stupid heroine.

As I said last time, I don't get it. The heroine many of you find utterly frustrating, I find utterly endearing and engaging. I was on the phone with Meredith Moore from The Romance Reader earlier today and we talked about this (among other, juicy things). She, as I am, is quite fond of the screwball comedies of the '30s and '40s that were filled with heroines who found themselves in ridiculous predicaments. We also found, however, that we don't like heroines in dramatic romances who act stupidly, and it is those heroines we found too stupid to live. While we enjoy a comedic heroine who involves herself and her hero in a madcap dash into danger, we found heroines involved in similar actions in a dramatic romance dumb as a stump. As Meredith said, "Stupid heroines in serious books I can't tolerate, because I feel that neither the heroine or the author know who dumb they are. Comical heroines are another matter entirely. Usually, in one of Medieros' better books, or in a Barnett, the heroine may have ridiculous things happen to her, but so does the hero! Who looks more silly in Bewitching, Joyous or the stuffy duke?

Here's what you had to say, starting with Penny, who should have sat in on the extension when I was speaking with Meredith:

  • "Man, I can't believe people are dissing on one of my favorite books, Bewitching, by one of my favorite authors, the wonderful and warm Jill Barnett.

    Gosh, guys, she writes with her tongue firmly in cheek, and her books are fun and funny; reading them is like watching those old screwball comedies I love so much with heroines like Jean Arthur, and Claudette Colbert, and Doris Day. Jill's heroines aren't stupid at all.

    Now if you want a heroine too stupid to live, give me Scarlett O'Hara who spent a thousand pages whining after that wimpy Ashley, or the nameless heroine of Rebecca (which I love, BTW) who should have shoved Mrs. Danvers out the window and taken control of Manderly on day 1.

    Jill and Teresa Medeiros too, write lighthearted romps like all the Cary Grant movies I ever watched a hundred times. When I think a heroine is too stupid to live is when its a "serious" book and the heroine is not the 90's woman we've come to expect in our historicals.

    Anyhow, give me Joyous and a smile any day of the week. Write on, Jill, I'll be waitin' at the bookstore!"

  • Marion found that the tstl heroine does not fit her reading experience, although she agree with Karen from the last column in that utter naivete often comes close to stupidity. She takes it on an author by author basis. I've got to agree with her on this one - I found the brilliant and eccentric heroine from Midsummer Moon by Laura Kinsale to be nearly as naive about people as my five-year-old. Marion and I agreed about the heroine in Wildest Dreams by Alice Duncan - she was so naive about people's intentions she drove us batty. Marion also feels that stupidity and spinelessness go hand in hand, and those heroines who stick with truly tortured heroes are brainless. She wrote that "while a heroine without any guile is fine, I prefer them with teeth. And inner strength."
  • Rebecca mentioned another book that reminds me of the Kinsale book in terms of extreme naivete in life experience - Amanda Quick's Ravished. This has been my least favorite book by Quick to date, and I think she went too far with this heroine, who simply didn't know when she should be afraid. (Those looking for a similar yet I think better book along the lines of Ravished might enjoy The Devil Earl by Deborah Simmons.)
  • Wendi is like me in that she doesn't equate silly with stupid. She likes the Barnett heroines, the Jillian Hunter heroines (me too!), and the Rebecca Paisley heroines (A Basket of Wishes is wonderful!)
  • Bonnie finds that Betty Neals' heroines are "like children" and that Barbara Cartland's heroines are "identical, stupid, and stuttering", finding Bab's heroines an insult to stutterers everywhere. While I've not read either of these two authors work, I don't hold in esteem any author who writes an entire novel every two weeks and is proud of it. Bonnie doesn't like "wimpy, ultra-sensitive" beta heroes either, preferring smart and different heroines and tough and tortured heroes who appreciate their heroines by the end.
  • I found myself agreeing with Yolanda's comments that heroines who act and react against and in spite of their heroes can be too stupid to live. She wrote, "I can't stand when the heroine starts doing things that make her tstl because she is reckless and headstrong to a fault. It shows a lack of sense that in a way demeans women because it portrays them as one-dimensional - no thought other than 'you can't tell me what to do.' "
  • Anne says those heroines tstl are sisters in stupidity. Her first example mirrors Yolanda's comments and the other two are just plain dead-on:
    • Are defiant of suggestions or orders given for their safety. . . the "who's he to tell me not to go beyond the castle walls when I need to pick herbs" mentality.
    • Are the supposedly intelligent (scientist, teacher, computer expert) heroine who decides (although without any experience with weapons) she's going to help capture the villain and ends up getting herself taken hostage.
    • Are well trained in their field (law enforcement) and don't wait for backup before going into a dangerous situation.
    Anne says that stories filled with heroines such as these immediately lose their appeal.
  • Vonia wrote in about Julie Garwood's The Wedding and that she found the heroine tstl. Vonia said she "really lost it near the end of the book" when the heroine believed her nasty (step)mother-in-law's telling her she should submit to her stepbrother who had the hots for her. Vonia wrote, "The stepbrother ends up trying to rape her, and in the struggle, she ends up killing the stepbrother. Is she glad to be rid of the problem? No, she worries that her husband will be upset that she just couldn't be a good wife and submit, and to top it off, she killed his stepbrother! The four heart rating you gave this book was fine, up until that point. This portion of the book affected me so strongly, that it should have taken 3 hearts away from the rating"
  • Christiane called these heroines "bird-witted" and thinks Julie Garwood's heroines fall into that category, especially Lady Sara from The Gift, which, although a 5- heart read in my book, is not on my favorite tier of Garwoods (those would be 5+'s, thank you very much). She wrote, "She ran away to escape her abusive father right into the worst areas of the London docklands; that's okay, after all, she was desperate. When she poisoned half the crew of her husband's ship with spoilt meat I also thought, no problem she didn't know that. But the scene with 'My umbrella got stuck in this rope so I had to cut through it!' definitely made me resolve never to buy a Garwood book again!"
  • Laura is another reader who had a problem with The Gift although Julie Garwood is her favorite author. She could find "no redeeming features in" Lady Sara, who she found sweet but "brought no pleasure (except in bed) to the hero. I couldn't figure out what he saw in her." Laura thought Jill Barnett's heroine from Dreaming was written better than Lady Sara, although "the accidents the heroine always created for the hero were a bit too far for comfort." In the end, she found this heroine acceptable because "underneath all her clumsiness the heroine brought a great deal of comfort to the hero at the same time he learned to take himself less seriously." Overall, however, Laura just doesn't "seem to find humor in other people's fear and pain. These heroines bring those things with them everywhere they go. I prefer to laugh with the characters at the absurdities of life."

If you've anything to add to the discussion, please feel free to e-mail me. Next issue we'll tackle the tortured hero. Please feel free to e-mail me about him or the tormented heroine in the meantime, or to contribute titles to the Tortured Heroes or the Tormented Heroines Special Title Listings.

Stiff Upper Lips:
All the talk about the Royals and their stiff upper lips and the lack of affection among the British has reminded me of a thread I started on the Prodigy BB a couple of years ago, a thread that went nowhere. Now seems a good time to try again.

While it's true that an archetypal romance hero is the closed off from himself, unaffectionate one, I wonder why we so love to read romances filled with English heroes. Forget about the appeal of cracking a stone wall covering a hero's heart, because many romance heroes from England are deeply emotional and tortured. Because both types of heroes are always lovers of great renown. Why does this bother me? I always thought the English were not known as great lovers. If that's true, why are so many historicals set in England? If you can help me unravel this mystery, please e-mail me.

Laurie's Picks & Pans:

  • Dangerous to Know by Barbara Taylor Bradford - neither pick nor pan, I'd give it a 3 (current)
  • To Marry a British Lord by Judith O'Brien - neither pick nor pan, I'd give it a 3 (current)
  • Born in Ice by Nora Roberts - pick (1995 but still available)

TTFN, Laurie Likes Books

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