Issue #60 (October 1, 1998)

Stranded on a Deserted Isle:
One of my favorite movies is Swept Away by an Unusual Destiny in the blue sea of August, an Italian film made in the late 70's about a petulant, spoiled and beautiful woman who finds herself deserted on an island with an angry man. They have to fend for themselves for a period of time during which the tables are turned. He, who had been part of the crew of the yacht she sailed as a guest, takes charge so that they can survive. When he is not spouting socialist rhetoric, he is yelling at her for causing their dilemma. When she is not complaining about their predicament, she is chastising him for not getting them rescued. And while all of this is going on, there is some serious sexual tension in the air. If you've not seen this movie, I recommend you rent it. I've seen it both dubbed and with sub-titles; it works just fine either way.

Movies are not the only form of entertainment to take a couple and force them to be alone together. Romances do it as well. While I've enjoyed romances with the hero and heroine stranded in an isolated winter cabin, I've loved romances where the hero and heroine are stranded on an island, with nothing but their wits, some torn clothes, and each other.

One of my favorite romances to use this premise is Calypso Magic by Catherine Coulter. More recently, Merline Lovelace's Tiger's Bride used this theme. I asked Merline about the deserted isle scenario and why it's such a great one for romance. She said:

"Like you, I'm a big fan of deserted isle romances. One of my all time favorite books in this vein is Julie Tetel's Swept Away - I remember laughing until my sides hurt as her rogue hero and prissy heroine fine love and the courage to survive.

"I think that's the appeal of that kind of book. It's just her and him, all alone, against the elements. Once the characters assure themselves of basic survival (food, water, shelter), they literally and figuratively begin stripping away the layers, the artifices, the social restrictions, and begin to appreciate the real persons beneath.

"At least that's how it works in our books, right? In real life, we'd probably get stuck on a postage-stamp-sized island with a real jerk!!! Thank goodness for romances!!!!"

Reader Carol reminded me of Lina Wertmuller's Swept Away when she wrote in about one of the survey questions I posed not too long ago about readers choosing their favorite heroes to be stranded with on a deserted isle (and choosing which heroine they would want to be as well). The hero she chose was Bryght Malloren from Jo Beverley's Tempting Fortune because, "Although Bryght Malloren seemed very dominant and arrogant at the opening of the book, it became apparent to me soon after that this was a guy who would do anything for someone he loved. The scene he did in the brothel to save the heroine was my all time favorite scene from just about every standpoint: sexually, emotionally, romantically.... I don't think he was what you all term the alpha male although he certainly looked that way to many people in the society he lived in." So far Carol hasn't been able to come up with a heroine, but she's trying.

Carol isn't alone in not being able to pick a heroine. I finally picked a hero myself, but can't decide on a heroine. The hero I chose was Tyber Evans from High Energy by Dara Joy. He's brilliant, good with his hands (in more ways than one), gorgeous, has a great sense of humor, and isn't the least bit tortured.

Here are the choices of other readers who wrote in:

Joan: "The hero I'd like to be with the most is Jamie Fraser of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. He's big and strong and wonderful as a lover. He's vulnerable, religious, and spiritual. He can shoot, hunt, and is good with his hands. He's a leader, a listener, and a thinker. He loves without question. He's educated. He is a man's man. Heroine? I guess I'd pick Claire. They're made for each other after all."

Andrea: "I'm going to have to vote for Tucker Longstreet from Nora Robert's Carnal Innocence as the hero I would most like to be trapped with on a Deserted Isle. This might have something to do with the fact that I am in the middle of a fifth reread of this book. But while I love those Alpha guys of Linda Howard and Tami Hoag (they are so sexy), someone like Tucker works better for me. He's not only sexy, but he's got a great sense of humor and a sweet nature as well. He has be be way more companionable out of bed than those dark and dangerous types."

Christine: "Ooh, that's a toughie. I'd have to say Rourke from Nora Roberts' In Death series. Witty, gorgeous, rich, a great lover and Irish. What more could you ask for? As for a heroine, I would choose Deanna Jones from Knight of a Trillion Stars. She was intelligent, humorous, and had a lot of backbone. One of the few heroines that I unreservedly admire. (I also admire Eve Dallas, but I couldn't imagine being her...)"

Lainy: "Hero - Either Eric from Elizabeth Lowell's Forbidden and Enchanted (he doesn't even have his own book yet, but he has intrigued me and a friend of mine for years) or Tearle from Jude Deveraux's The Conquest because he sees everything Zared tries to hide yet doesn't want to. Heroine - OOOH, that is tough. I get into the heroine in every book I read (at least every good book), so I am not sure. I guess it would have to be Amy Mallory from The Magic of You by Johanna Lindsey. She is just so sure of herself, and follows her heart."

AAR Reviewer Rebecca: "It would have to be a Kurland hero - Alex from The Very Thought of You. Any man who can easily dispose of the bad guys and know when to provide chocolate is one terrific hero in my book."

Tanya: "Hero - That's an easy one. Rueben from Patricia Gaffney's Crooked Hearts. I love everything about him, from the physical description to the fact that he's a con man. Heroine - That's much harder, I'm sitting here racking my brain.... I'd like to be myself, but if I had to pick a heroine from romance fiction, I'd have to say I like Emily from Teresa Medeiros' Once an Angel - definitely mischievous and high-maintenance. But in a good way!" (note from LLB: Once an Angel is one of my favorites. If it's one of yours as well, I'd love for you to write a Desert Isle Keeper Review for us!)

Deanna: "Jeremy from Love Me, Marietta. He's funny, thinks the heroine is perfect while her oh-so-proper live in lover thinks she's a whore. He risks his life on a maybe chance of rescuing her. Plus, he's not prim and proper. Me - not prim and proper. I need someone I can have fun with!" While I generally like Garwood's heroes, they have a little bit of the lofty I'm-a-man attitude and look down a tiny bit at their oh-so-amusing women. Gimme a break. How long would that last on a desert island? Until I can find the nearest coconut and crack it over his head. One of my favorite heroine's is Chloe from Dara Joy's Tonight or Never. That's a chick after my own heart. She knows what she wants and goes for it, and of course gets it. Works nice!"

Sylvus: "Actually, I don't think I'd want to be stranded on a desert isle with anyone, so I've always wanted to rephrase the question as with whom I'd like have tea: for years, it was Lord Peter Wimsey. Now I have to admit I'd have a hard time deciding between him and Miles Naismith Vorkosigan. Both of these fellows have such wit, humor, brilliance and humanity. Naturally, I'd love to have the intelligence, independence and creativity of a Harriet Vane or Ekaterin Voissoyson (who respectively are the objects of their affection)"

AAR Reviewer Alina: I pick Jamie Fraser as the hero I'd most like to be stranded with because he's very brave, strong, and good at building things or solving problems. He's also very loving and very smart - so we'd have lots of fun cuddling under the palm trees, talking about all sorts of things. He's not intimidated by an intelligent woman."

Katsy: I would have to pick Trevor Miles from Sara Blayne's Sea Witch. He is a very skilled and honorable captain in the British Navy. He has the courage of his convictions and yet is sensitive to the feelings of Sabra, a Patriot. He is strong, brave, and also has a sense of humor, which he needed in his dealings with Sabra. I would like to be Maeve from Danelle Harmon's My Lady Pirate. I admire her ability to take control of her life without having an arrogant attitude."

Nora: I'd have to choose Reggie from The Rake (after he's gotten over his alcoholism of course). He's funny, smart and honest. It also never occurs to him to treat the heroine as anything other than an intellectual equal. He's a bit old for me, but I've got a good two years on most heroines!"

Ana: "I prefer the strong, stubborn types. I like muscular brutes rather than high-society rakes (call me primitive), the man of action over the ballroom sophisticate...but smart, of course, and naturally vulnerable in an interesting way, or just placed in a vulnerable plot situation. There are tons of these types populating romance novels, but a few that come to mind that perfectly match this description are -

  • Alek (Patricia Simpson, The Night Orchid), a pre-Roman warrior who time-travels to modern-day Seattle. Imagine a man, whose sole existence was, in another time, to hone himself to be a warrior, placed in a modern-day setting battling modern-day thugs, and you've got yourself a hero.
  • Raine Montgomery (Jude Deveraux, Velvet Song), who is mystified by his own strange reaction to his new 'boy' squire (the heroine in disguise) and endeavors to make 'him' more of a man, with natural comedic results. Sexual tension and conflict are built right into the plot.
  • Jack McCain (Karen Robards, Night Magic), a tough CIA agent on the run who accidentally whisks Clara, and Puff, her fat and ornery cat, away on an unforgettable ride, in a story both harrowing at times and funny."

J.: "I would definitely love to be on a deserted isle with Viscount Darlington from Laura Parker's book The Gamble. He's dangerous and able to take care of himself. He doesn't particularly like killing but if he has to, he will. There was only one small way to get to him, and the heroine found it. I was thrilled. He is, without a doubt, a cold individual. . .except where Sabrina (the heroine) is concerned. I wouldn't mind being the heroine from The Gamble. She seemed to have a good sense of self and of course, she was pretty."

Benita: "I would love to be stuck on a desert island with Dara Joy's Rejar. He is so sexy, kind, and loving towards Violet, in fact, much more than she merits. His 'nine hundred strokes of love' technique would definitely help pass the time in isolation on the desert isle! If I were the heroine I would be Esme Crabb from Pamela Morsi's Garters. I liked the way she knew what she wanted and her resourcefulness in executing a way to get her man!"

Adel: "My favorite hero is Ruark, from Kathleen Woodiwiss' Shanna. He is well educated, courageous, intelligent, fearless, and of course, handsome and faithful. Perfect!!!! I guess he is the perfect gamma.

Teresa: "Galeran de Heywood and I'm Jeanne (his wife) from The Shattered Rose by Jo Beverley. I chose them because I think they represent everything that's best in the romance genre - forgiveness and undying love."

Desert Isle Keepers and Buried Treasure:
Sure we want to be stranded on a deserted isle with these great heroes, but what books would we want to take with us? AAR has been posting Desert Isle Keeper Reviews for a couple of years now.

Last spring I heard from a reader during the multi-cultural debate we had going here at AAR. During our correspondence, I discovered she was about to become a published author and that she planned to send us her book for review and hoped it would get a C or better. We continued to correspond throughout the summer, and when I started discussing heroes and political correctness, we started brainstorming. Through a series of e-mail messages, we took the discussion to an entirely different level, which she then developed into a segment for a recent column.

Just as that column went online, her publisher sent us a copy of her debut romance to review. I immediately sent it off to be reviewed and kept my fingers crossed that the reviewer would at least like the book. While I knew this author could write terrific commentary, I had no idea if she could write romance. When the edited copy of the review landed in my inbox, I was thrilled to discover the book had received Desert Isle Keeper status. The book? My Darling Caroline by Adele Ashworth.

After posting the review, I started thinking how many other authors have achieved Desert Isle Keeper status with their first book. There was Julia Quinn's Splendid, Diana Gabaldon's Outlander, Kathleen Woodiwiss' The Flame & the Flower, and Candice Proctor's Night in Eden. This is an extremely small number when you consider there are well over a hundred titles which have achieved Desert Isle Keeper status from AAR.

Last week, we posted a page prepared by reader Shelley Dodge, who had conducted balloting for the Top 100 Romances here at AAR. A reader wondered why so many lead authors were represented on the list when so many of us buy mid-list authors? Shelley is working on a follow-up piece explaining how many mid-list authors received many votes but their votes were spread across more than one title. But it started me thinking that, yes, we all do read a number of mid-list authors. It also reminded me of a feature here at AAR that could use a bit of a jump-start. I'd like everyone to think of an author they've truly enjoyed that should be better known than she is. We term these authors Buried Treasures. Once you've decided on which author(s) to share with the rest of us, post your choice, along with the reason why, and we'll add it to our Buried Treasures page.

While debuting authors and buried treasures may seem to have little in common, hey, that's how my brain works sometimes.

The Flip Side:
On the flip side of an author whose first book becomes a favorite, of course, are authors sharing with us the first romance they fell in love with. While I'll be sharing with you readers' first beloved romances in a subsequent issue of LN&V, I thought I'd give some authors a chance now:

Amanda Ashley aka Madeline Baker: "The first romance I remember reading was Rogers' Sweet Savage Love....been reading them ever since! Why? I was mesmerized by Steve and Ginny....it was the first romance I read, and I was smitten....Steve was a hero different from any I had ever read...I remember going back and reading the book again years later and thinking Ginny was little more than a tramp...she seemed to sleep with every man she met, but I still loved Steve.....who can explain it?"

Suzanne Barrett: "The first romance I read (and actually, it was pre-romance as we know them) was Anya Seton's Katherine. I even remember it when it came out as a serialized story in (I think) the Ladies Home Journal. I would have been fifteen at the time. Between then and now I have read a lot of romances. Became interested in the Mills & Boon Harlequin Presents in the early eighties and read every one, then stopped. Became re-hooked when I read LaVyrle Spencer's Hummingbird a few years later. Katherine was lush, vivid - like no other book at the time. I was completely caught up in the story of Katherine de Roet and John of Gaunt. Hummingbird epitomized all that is wonderful about LaVyrle Spencer. One comes to be her characters, to care what happens to them. In both cases, I was completely caught up in the stories of these people, couldn't put the books down. I have since reread them many times; they never grow stale.

Stella Cameron: "Oh how strange this may seem! If I don't count the classics, my first romance novel was Captive of Desire by Alexandra Sellers. This is a Superromance and was published in 1982. Someone who thought I ought to try writing romance gave the book to me. Her reason was that everything I wrote dealt strongly with love relationships. I didn't know whether to be flattered or offended, after all, I had heard the many negative comments about our genre. I read Captive - and doubted I could ever achieve that degree of emotional and physical tension. I also deeply admired some of the imagery Alexander Sellers used. There's a scene early in the book when the heroine looks at a painting and knows she's seeing a man in love, painting a woman who is the object of that love. Wonderfully done - especially when we discover the hero is also looking at the painting. Made me tingle!"

Ruth Langan: The title was They Loved To Laugh (I don't know the author). About a young woman who first falls in love with the laughing, teasing handsome younger brother in this wonderful family who takes her in when she is orphaned. After his death, she learns true love in the arms of his solemn, serious older brother, who had always loved her but kept his love a secret for the sake of his younger brother. I recall laughing and crying over this book, and being so touched by it. I wish I had it now. And I wish I knew the author so she could get credit for creating such a remarkable story."

Shirley Hailstock:

"I don't remember the title of the first one. It was an Emilie Loring book and I all that she wrote. In college I read a Harlequin that belonged to my roommate and after that never stopped reading them, but I don't remember that one either. What I do remember was discovering Janet Dailey and books set in the United States. The first one of hers I read was her Delaware book. It took place close to where I lived (DC at the time). I was thrilled and in love with romances from that day on. Emilie Loring's books appealed to me because I grew up in a time when there were 'things women didn't do.' No reason why they couldn't except someone said they couldn't. In Emilie Loring's books, which were often set during WWII in New England, the heroine's would get angry and tell the hero to leave. They would do what they wanted to do, whether someone sanctioned it or not. The heroines were people I could identify with. They were like me! I often did things people told me I, as a girl, couldn't do.

"Then in the 70's Janet Daily came along. I'd been reading Harlequin's set in England, Greece, Spain and Italy and here was my kind of book set right here on U.S. soil. And it was riveting. I couldn't leave my chair. I loved the stories and the familiar locations. I think Janet Daily increased the sensuality too, which appealed to me and I just couldn't read enough of them. Happily ever after didn't fade to black, leaving a huge gap in the story.

"Since those beginnings I've followed romance through it evolutions and I love where it is today. The relationship remains at the core of the story, but I think learning how both men and women think and feel is important to telling a tale and it makes me feel good when I close a book."

Stephanie Laurens: The first romance I ever read that hooked me for all time was These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer. It was the adventure, the rich setting plus the incredible 'suppressed' romance that got me in."

Romance-loving horror author Douglas Clegg aka Andrew Harper: "For me it was Rebecca, followed closely by The House on the Strand, both by Daphne DuMaurier. I was perhaps 12, and I considered these murder stories and science fiction (the second one), but in fact, I realized they were romance, and romantic suspense at that. This took me eventually to Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels, and then I was hooked on romantic suspense, which is still my first love in the genre."

Janet Evanovich: "The first romance I fell in love with is The Law is a Lady by Nora Roberts. I still have the book. It's definitely a keeper. And Nora was nice enough to autograph it for me a couple years ago."

Deborah Simmons: "I'm afraid I can't tell you specifically the first romance I read, but thanks to my seventh grade teacher I discovered Mary Stewart, Phyllis A. Whitney, Victoria Holt, and all those wonderful Gothics, plus Georgette Heyer, thereby launching my love of the Regency. I do remember my first historical romance was The Wolf & the Dove, which immediately converted me to the genre."

Claire Delacroix: "Kathleen Woodiwiss' The Wolf & the Dove. Someone lent it to me (I don't even remember who), with the words 'You must read this' and I was smitten! I couldn't believe that there were books out in the world like this - historical romance was all very new at the time. I must have read that book ten times before giving it back - then I bought my own copy!! Because it had all the hallmarks of historical fiction (which I adored) - the historical detail, the characters caught in events of their time, the atmosphere - as well as the emotional intensity of a romance. It was a completely new kind of fiction at the time, and I found the combination very compelling. There was also a book by Tom Huff aka Jennifer Wilde called Angel in Scarlet which was a great sweeping read. It was very easy to get caught up and carried away by these books."

Another TW&TD lover also had this to say about the book, but you'll have to guess who - I've been sworn to secrecy. "I'd be afraid to go back and read it now because of the whole un-pc attitude of the era. Between you and me, I have a theory on that. I think that because Woodiwiss put those 'rape 'em till they like it' scenes in her books and they were so popular, the editors and publishers assumed that's what women wanted, when, in fact, all they wanted was a little sensuality in their romances. I guess I'm glad I'm writing now and not then." Do you think there's any truth to that?

And Now for Something Completely Different:
Sorry about that sorry segue.

One of my own peculiarities is that I sometimes "save" books for when I feel I "deserve" to read them. Is this my own unique peculiarity, or do others share it? (One of the reasons I share these idiosyncrasies is to help us get over ourselves - if we know we are not the only ones out there with what might be considered unusual reading habits, it can only help.) I asked readers some time ago, and here is a smattering of what you wrote in:

Tamera: "I consider myself a 'mood' reader. I have to be in the mood to read certain plots, or genres, etc. But since I might forget about a book that got rave reviews, or sounded interesting to me, I try to buy them so that when I am in the mood for that particular genre/plot/theme/story, I have it in my library! For example, I bought, brand new, Amazon Lily by Theresa Weir when it came out in what, the 1980s? and I still haven't read it! I will eventually, I just never am in the mood to try it whenever I explore my tbr pile. Talk about weird! Another consideration for reading a particular book is whether it is a book I will likely want to read in one sitting. For example, Sweet Baby by Sharon Sala sounds like it will be an intense read, so I am waiting until I am

  • In the mood
  • Have a long weekend, or a day to read the book in one sitting
I have books in my tbr pile from the early 1980s still! Please don't tell me I am alone out there!"

Debbie: On the subject of saving books as a 'reward'. I do that all the time. For a favorite author or a book that I am really looking forward to, I want uninterrupted time. I also agree with Tamera that I base what I am going to read on the mood I am in. I also have some books I have had for years that I know will be a good read when I am in the right frame of mind. Sometimes I want a quick 'category romance' read and other times I want a book I can really 'sink my teeth into' and immerse myself in for a long time. That's what makes reading romance so much fun. There's a storyline and place and time for every mood."

Speaking of Idiosyncrasies:
I tried desperately to read a book recently, but gave up mid-stream. Even utilizing my last-ditch-effort tactic of trying to read from the end backward to where I'd stopped failed. What was the problem with this book, you ask? It was too depressing.

Even though this book was not set in the medieval period, I think I have figured out why most romances set in the Middle Ages feature the nobility. Would you want to read about the serfs in a time when just living was so damn hard? Their day-to-day existence was far from romantic, and, in the future, whenever I start to wonder why so many medievals feature similar story-lines, I am going to remind myself that reading about the Norman hero and the Saxon heroine is better than reading a book where daily survival was difficult.

But, back to this book I couldn't finish (and, because of that, I won't give the title). The hero's current circumstances are horrible. The heroine's whole life has pretty much been horrible. The villain is relentless, making their lives horrible throughout. This book suffered from a lack of balance. When I interviewed Jill Barnett a couple of years ago, we talked about tone. Her books have humor interspersed with very dark moments. The humor makes the dark moments darker, but also keeps the tone balanced throughout the read.

A book doesn't need to be a humorous one to achieve this balance. Most authors know they need to create highs and lows, and that readers won't be satisfied with unrelenting lows. After all, where's the pleasure in that? As much as anyone else, I love a good cry when reading a romance. But a romance that maintains such a level of sadness throughout hardly seems worth reading.

I asked members of my listserv to comment on this, and asked as well whether any of these books ended up being keepers. Here are some of their comments:

Jo Beverley: I avoid such books as if they were discarded needles in the worst part of town! If a friend wants to unload her pain, misery, and fear onto me, I'll accept it out of loving friendship. I don't see why I should be expected to do that for strangers, still less pay for the privilege."

Grace: I'm always hesitant to post about a book I truly disliked, but since you asked for specifics...The most recent one was by one of my absolute favorite authors Iris Johansen. I enjoyed her 2 other romantic suspenses but I thoroughly disliked And Then You Die. Talk about depressing. When you have entire villages wiped out by viruses, children included. Siblings being murdered and having the hero be a cold blooded killer type. Yuck. I was depressed and no I didn't come to love it, like it , warm to it...nothing. . . I did however do an about face on Dream a Little Dream by SEP. I didn't think I'd be able to finish that one but it became a very uplifting book if you can get past the 1st 100 pgs. The humiliation the heroine went thru was almost more than I could stomach. I couldn't read it again but am glad I stuck with it.

Robin: The second book in the Commanche series by Catherine Anderson - Commanche Heart. I cried so hard and long while reading this book. I thought this can't be a romance it's so depressing. But in the end it became a keeper if no more than the sheer will power that the heroine showed me."

Laurie: "Yes, I have. Just recently as a matter of fact. Penelope Williamson's The Passions of Emma. It wasn't slow moving but it was depressing as hell and I cried throughout most of the story. But I loved every tear filled page and it's one of the best books I've read this year. I'm usually a love and laughter type reader but this book just struck me emotionally in all the right ways and its images will haunt me for quite a while. But I did need to read something very light when I finished it."

The Message Board:
It's time to post to the message board again. Here are the questions I'd like you to consider responding to:

The Deserted Isle - what terrific romances have you read where the hero and heroine are stranded? We can expand this to include being stranded elsewhere.

Desert Isle Keepers and Buried Treasures - Which authors have blown you away with their debut novels? Which authors do you feel are buried treasures but deserve to be shining stars?

What do you make of our mystery author's comment on The Wolf & the Dove, rape scenes and sensuality?

Romance Reader Idiosyncrasies - Do you "save" books until you deserve them, glom, GWHR (glom without having read), read backwards in an attempt to finish the book(!)? If not, what are some of your reading idiosyncrasies?

Balance & Tone - Which romances have achieved a balance between highs and lows? Which had you laughing one minute, and crying the next? Which romances failed to achieve that balance?

Until next time, TTFN, Laurie Likes Books

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