Westerns AAR Loves

April 18th, 2014

cowboy:cowgirlWhen AAR ran the Top 100 romances poll, our reviewers blogged their personal Top 10s weekly to share some of their favorites. Since the mini-polls are smaller, we consolidated a few of our favorites into one blog post. Hopefully this will help you finish up your own ballots before voting ends on April 25. (You can vote for your favorites here at SurveyMonkey). Read the rest of this entry »

TBR Challenge – Modern Love

April 16th, 2014

returntotomorrow When I saw that this month’s TBR Challenge category called on us to read a contemporary romance, I found almost an embarrassment of choices. Did I want to go mainstream or inspy? Small town or big city? Something serious or more chick lit in tone? In the end, the setting drew me into Return to Tomorrow, a 2010 re-release of a 1990 title.

The premise of this novel is definitely not run of the mill. The characters were all shaped by their experiences in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, and even 20+ years on, the author shows how the war affected them. Rachel McKendrick spent years in a prison camp in Laos, and not surprisingly, has a lot of emotional issues to work through. After her rescue, she never intended to return to the region but a promise made to a priest she respected deeply brings her to a refugee camp.

There she meets Brett “Tiger” Jackson, a man with a dangerous reputation. Tiger fought in the war and has stayed behind working a variety of shadowy jobs and living among a trusted group of expats who, like him, never could quite return home after the war. Rachel’s brother back home knew and trusted him, but on the ground in Thailand, he has a reputation as a dangerous drug smuggler. There is obviously more to him than meets the eye, but readers are only slightly ahead of Rachel in learning this. Read the rest of this entry »

Mixed martial arts, football, rugby, tennis, baseball, hockey—oh my!

April 14th, 2014

boxer bookDo you love sports romance? Today, Carina Press published six new sports romances, and the authors are here interviewing their sports-star characters. Batter up! Read the rest of this entry »

Reviving the AAR Mini-Polls: Your Top 10 Favorite Frontier/Western Romances

April 11th, 2014

Back last fall when we were feeling inundated with the Top 100 Poll, several readers asked if we would consider reviving the AAR Mini-Polls, or “Top Ten Polls.” Our rather quick response was, “we’ll think about it, but need to get through the Top 100 Poll and then deal with the Annual Poll in January.” Since two of us (LinnieGayl and Cindy) also update the Special Title Lists with Rike, it seemed rather daunting. But a number of months have gone by and we’ve decided to give reviving the mini-polls a try.

sexy cowboyWe’ve decided to start this month with updating the mini-poll for your top 10 favorite frontier or western romances. Why did we decide to pick this poll as our first to update? Well, it was last updated in October of 2007, nearly seven years ago. That’s seven long years when there have surely been some outstanding frontier or western romances published. Our write-up of the results of that poll can be found here. But more importantly, when the results of the Top 100 poll were released this past fall, a number of readers decried the lack of frontier and western romances in the top 100 (and actually in the top 200). So this is your chance; what are your favorite frontier and western romances of all time? Read the rest of this entry »

An interview with Elizabeth Essex

April 9th, 2014

I recently had the good fortune to listen to Ms. Essex read from her latest novel, After the Scandal, at my local Lady Jane’s Salon. There, I asked if she’d answer a few questions. The result is this interview.

After the ScandalDabney: Elizabeth, you are the current historical romance writer I most associate with the sea. And so many of your books the characters are either on the sea, defined by their relationship to the sea, and/or deeply aware of their family’s debt to the bounty and education provided by the sea. I remember reading, after I read your first novel, you have a Masters degree in nautical archaeology. So I must ask, really? Nautical archaeology? What called to you about that field?

Elizabeth: I blame those marvelous old Jaques Cousteau National Geographic specials I watched when I was a kid. They just riveted me to the screen. I grew up on the seashore, sailing all summer long in a small pinnacle on Long Island Sound, so I have always felt very drawn to the sea and ships. And National Geographic showed me that there were actually people who studied shipwrecks as a profession. That combination of being underwater, and studying the remains of ships as an archaeologist was my idea of heaven. I got to travel all over the world, and work with some of the finest individuals I’ve ever met. And my studies gave me a very deep background in the history of 19th century sailing navies. Archeology and writing popular fiction aren’t as unrelated as they might seem—they both involve studying people, and figuring out how, and why they do the things they do.

Dabney: You’ve just written the fifth book in your second series, Reckless BridesAfter the Scandal. The hero of After the Scandal is the brother of Meggs, the heroine of The Danger of Desire, the last book in your series Dartmouth Brides. I always wonder how authors plot the lives of characters that appear in many of their books. Did you always plan for Timothy, the Duke of Fenmore, to have his own book?

Elizabeth: I didn’t plan it at all! It seems that characters just stroll into my head and start talking, and I just write down what they say. I do get very attached to my characters, especially Meggs—I missed her so deeply when I had to move on to writing the next book, it took me a very long time to find the heart of my next heroine.

For After the Scandal, I began by thinking about a certain kind of hero, someone who is very analytical and detached from his emotions, or perhaps has no idea of what to do with his emotions. And then that character just seemed to fit Tanner like a glove. I had always thought that he would have had a very rocky transition from street thief to becoming the Duke of Fenmore, so off I went.

And then, I looked around the world of my characters, and there was Lady Claire Jellicoe, with every advantage, and who was supremely at home and confident in society—his complete opposite in every way. And I thought she would the perfect sun to Tanner’s dark moon.

Dabney: After the Scandal has many of the characteristics readers expect from Elizabeth Essex novel: luminous writing, subtle yet sensual sexual tension, and a lead who defies conventional description. And yet the thing I found the most unusual about it was its time frame. The vast majority of the novel takes place in just two days. That’s far more common in contemporary romance then in historical. Tell me about that.

Elizabeth: Thank you so much! For After the Scandal, I wanted to work with the idea of the “coup de foudre”—literally the strike of lightning at the heart, that changes people in an instant. But my idea was that this love at first sight had already happened to Tanner—he’s loved Claire secretly for so many years that the moment he sees his chance to finally be with her, he moves as quickly as possible. I wanted the plot—solving the murder—to drive the pace and force Claire to see Tanner in the right circumstances to let her fall in love with him. I really wanted to call this book It Happened One Scandal, to give it that It Happened One Night, lovers-to-be on-the-run connotation, but I think that was felt to be too like another title that came out this past year.

I will admit that I tried to draw the timeframe out in my earlier drafts, to give Claire more time to fall in love, but a longer timeframe removed that sense of urgency that drove Tanner right from the opening moments, so I tightened it up in defiance of a more courtly Regency courtship. And I really wanted to write a couple who don’t fight and battle with each other, but just have the opportunity to fall deeper and deeper into love.

Dabney: After the Scandal is as much a mystery as it is a romance. I was fascinated by all of the historical details you inserted into the novel that were clues guiding the reader to an understanding of both the societal evil and the evil individual that led to the murder that occurs in the beginning of the book. What kind of research did you do for this book? What did you learn about that you weren’t already aware of?

Elizabeth: One of the things I like to explore in my stories is the steaming, gritty working world outside the ballrooms of the Regency Ton. I’ve peopled my fictive world with characters who intersect with that mannered world, but don’t belong to it. After eight books, I already had a great working background for the story, but I did some very specific research about reform movements and politics of the era, especially the monetary systems and policies. I also got some very particular assistance from a former Nautical Archaeology colleague, who is now a well-known ancient coin specialist, who guided my research about counterfeit ancient coins.

But in fact, my inspiration for the crime that is at the heart of the story, came from very contemporary events—like the television commercials that prey on people’s fears in the recent recession, and urge everyone to join their schemes to invest in gold. Perhaps that’s what surprised me the most—that greed and venality are just as alive today as they were in the Regency, when the power was concentrated in one social strata.

Dabney: When I read your books I often encounter words I’m utterly clueless as to their meaning. Furthermore, the dictionary that is a part of my e-reader is also clueless to their meaning. At best I am told a word is archaic. Where do you get your vocabulary from? And would you ever consider a lexicon in the back of your book to help out those of us who love to learn new words?

Elizabeth: You have, in a very kindly way, hit upon one of my chief failings. My editor is always striking out words as too obscure. The problem is my use of language is just a part of my voice—a product of all those years of academic study, and reading, reading, reading, especially 19th century British authors like Austen, Trollope, Dickens. My language also comes from a steady diet of BBC dramas, and my habit of doing the New York Times crossword every morning to get the words flowing in my head.

I try very hard to put as many terms, especially the nautical terms, in context so the reader can get a sense of their meaning without having to resort to looking up that a halyard is a part of the standing rigging on a ship, but sometimes that just isn’t possible. If my editor objects (strongly) I’ll change the word, but there are times when the cadence of a character’s dialog just demands that word, and I can’t bring myself to change it.

For my own reference, I find my online subscription to the Oxford English Dictionary invaluable. It has an impeccable chronology of when the particular word was in general usage, with excerpts from written sources of the time. Very often I find that words, and especially phrases that come second nature to me, are (predictably) American slang, and even some British-isms I am dying to use, like ‘numpty,’ meaning a stupid or foolish person, an idiot, are modern Scottish slang.

But I take your suggestion of a lexicon to heart, and have decided that I will open a new page on my website for one, where I’ll keep an alphabetical list, and take reader’s queries for definitions. Thanks for the suggestion!

Dabney: What’s next for Elizabeth Essex? Are there more Reckless Brides for readers to look forward to? And I’m curious. Can you see yourself ever writing a contemporary romance are you firmly ensconced in the realm of the historical?

Elizabeth: There are at least two more Reckless Brides in my head, with one of them already on the page, and headed for print in August 2014. A Scandal to Remember will be a shipwreck story, featuring Charles Dance who was one of the young midshipmen in Almost a Scandal. (I have a very soft spot for those boys.)

After that book is put to print, I have a real pip of a story in my head that will feature quiet, steady Jack Denman, a secondary character in After the Scandal, as the hero, and a very unlikely heroine, who is also a fringe character in After the Scandal. Can you spot her?

As to other genres, my agent has been after me for years to write a contemporary romantic suspense series with a nautical archaeologist heroine. I’ve been hesitant to take a crack at it, as I really feel my voice is more suited to historicals, but we’ll see what characters stroll into my head, and demand that I tell their story.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to chat with you and share some of my thoughts about After the Scandal. It’s been a pleasure. Cheers.

Dabney: Thank you!

Dabney Grinnan

Speaking of Audiobooks: For the Love of Older Titles in Audio Format

April 7th, 2014

s Baby But MineAlthough I love seeing today’s top romance authors’ books released in audio format, it feels like an even bigger victory when I see the audio release of an older romance jewel with an excellent narrator to match their outstanding content. Today, we’re taking a look at books with an original print publication date prior to 2003 that are now successful audiobooks. The audio version may have been recorded 18 years ago or as recently as 2014. All were once favorites with romance readers and many are still readers’ favorites today as evidenced by their appearance on such lists as AAR’s Top 100. Read the rest of this entry »

How Pregnancy Changed One Reviewer’s Romance Reading

April 4th, 2014

cutcaster-photo-100242914-Pregnant-woman-reading-a-bookI knew pregnancy was going to change my life, but it came as a surprise to me that pregnancy changed my romance reading. I haven’t read books, especially historicals, in the same way since. Read the rest of this entry »

Music of the Soul

April 2nd, 2014

writing-arts-fountain-penRita Dove said that “Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful.” I totally agree with that. Whether it is painting a beautiful picture or capsulizing an ugly truth, a poem is language used in simplicity and beauty to help us see what can often not be captured by the naked eye.  A favorite poem can say a lot about love, about life, about the author but it also tells a bit about the person who loves it. Here are a few of the AAR staff’s favorite poems: Read the rest of this entry »

Jonesing for Jocks

March 31st, 2014

David BeckhamCurrently I am assiduously avoiding sports. Literally. Much of my family is in another room swearing at the television as my husband’s alma mater fights to move forward in the NCAA tournament. In the time they’ve cared deeply about the outcome of this game, I have chatted on Twitter, painted my nails a lovely shade of grape, bought two, actually three, new romances based on recommendations from my Twitter feed, and burned a pan of sweet potato fries. Read the rest of this entry »

I Wish You’d Come Back Revisited

March 28th, 2014

 What a difference two years makes.  Almost to the day two years ago I wrote a blog about authors, or author styles, I wished would come back to us readers.  I wasn’t planning to revisit the blog, but as I was browsing the Overdrive website today I saw something that made my eyes pop: Laura London, aka Sharon and Tom Curtis, will be available on eBook on April 1st.The Windflower Read the rest of this entry »